Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

absolutely-true-diaryTitle: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Author: Sherman Alexie
Illustrator: Ellen Forney
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Hardcover: 230 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

This is one book that I feel like I missed out on reading during my high school years, and I’ve always been sad about it; I’ve even owned a copy for at least 3 years, and I still wasn’t able to read it until recently, so finishing this was somewhat of a personal accomplishment for me. Not because it’s such a hard book or anything, but because this is a recent classic that I’ve been wanting to read for so long. It feels especially close to me, because while I am very much not related to any Native Americans, my grandfather lived in Spokane, WA for almost all his life, and he even lived on the Spokane reservation with his girlfriend for a large part of his later life, so it’s interesting to get a sense of the place my grandfather called home.

First, I have to say that this book is lovely. It’s about a boy named Junior who lives on the Indian reservation in Spokane, and he decides to go to the “white” high school to try to build a future for himself. I was able to read through it quickly because it’s a pretty easy read and it is so, so entertaining and hits on some very real, true-life events that were inspired by Alexie’s own life. It’s wonderful that this book is out there for teens to read when they’re feeling like an outsider, because the main character is pretty much the ultimate outsider in a lot of ways and reading about his feelings about that and how he deals with it is somehow comforting.

What makes this Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian a success is the fact that it covers everything. It’s funny and yet incredibly heartbreaking, reflecting real life in a way that most stories don’t even come close to, which I think is a reflection of its large autobiographical influence. It comes across as honest and genuine, which is something that is lacking in fiction sometimes, and which YA fiction especially needs. The illustrations are an added bonus and give further insight into Junior’s character and his overall mood at the time he’s “writing” his diary entries. They’re incorporated well and I loved reading Forney’s explanations for why each illustration was done the way it was.

There’s a reason why this is such a classic, and I don’t know what I can say that others haven’t, except that I personally liked this a lot and think it belongs on the must-read lists of everyone, because it is such a powerful, wonderful story.

Book Review: Naamah’s Blessing by Jacqueline Carey

Naamahs Blessing.jpgTitle: Naamah’s Blessing
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Series: Moirin Trilogy, Book 3; Kushiel’s Universe, Book 9
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Hardcover: 610 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Returning to Terre d’Ange, Moirin finds the royal family broken. Wracked by unrelenting grief at the loss of his wife, Queen Jehanne, King Daniel is unable to rule. Prince Thierry, leading an expedition to explore the deadly jungles of Terra Nova, is halfway across the world. And three year old Desirée is a vision of her mother: tempestuous, intelligent, and fiery, but desperately lonely, and a vulnerable pawn in a game of shifting political allegiances.

As tensions mount, King Daniel asks that Moirin become Desirée’s oath-sworn protector. Navigating the intricate political landscape of the Court proves a difficult challenge, and when dire news arrives from overseas, the spirit of Queen Jehanne visits Moirin in a dream and bids her undertake an impossible quest.

Another specter from the past also haunts Moirin. Travelling with Thierry in the New World is Raphael de Mereliot, her manipulative former lover. Years ago, Raphael forced her to help him summon fallen angels in the hopes of acquiring mystical gifts and knowledge. It was a disastrous effort that nearly killed them, and Moirin must finally bear the costs of those bitter mistakes.

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I can’t begin to express how much I adore these books. I started with Kushiel’s Dart in about 2007 and have read about one a year until I’ve now finally finished the overall series. These books are so immersive that I like taking my time through them and just enjoying the experience of reading about Phedre, or Imriel, or Moirin. It’s been a long journey with this series and I’m sad to see it end, but this series has been wonderful.

This book is the third of Moirin’s trilogy and the 9th of the Kushiel’s universe. Overall, Moirin’s series is a much different flavor from that of Phedre’s or Imriel’s, but this book is the closest to having the fully developed political scheming and intrigues as the first two trilogies. I greatly enjoyed the first two trilogies for including such in-depth political scheming and reading about how religion and relationships all played into how a country is run and how decisions are made.

It’s hard to go into depth without revealing spoilers, but this book is generally about tying up loose ends, since it is, after all, the last Terre d’Ange book. Basically, Moirin goes on a jungle adventure to save Jehanne’s daughter from being taken advantage of by people trying to raise their status in the realm, and to save the Courcel family in general. She has to finally face up to her past mistakes and make them right, which allows her to show how much she has grown and learned from her past adventures.

One thing that has always impressed me about these books, and continued to impress me in Naamah’s Blessing is just how difficult Carey makes it for her characters — they are not given easy choices to make and are put in just awful situations. The one that hurt me the most, at least, was when Moirin has to choose between remaining faithful to her husband or staying a night with a powerful man in order to move her expedition forward and basically save her country. With the previous books and with the Kushiel series in general, it’s obvious what choice she ends up making, but it’s a rough one and being married to someone I love wholeheartedly, I can’t imagine being in the same situation. (Luckily, we don’t live in a fantasy novel, so I doubt we’ll ever have to worry about that.)

I think that this was a fitting end to a wonderful series — loose ends are tied up and everyone seems to be fairly happy for the most part. I like that we’re able to return to Alba with Moirin so we can see her mother again. It really felt like everything came full circle, and while this wasn’t my favorite of the Kushiel trilogies, it was so, so nice to be back in Terre d’Ange one last time. If you like fully developed fantasies, you should try starting with Kushiel’s Dart. These books are long and the first 6 books of the series have a lot more to do with sex and romance, but they are intelligently written and have such wonderful characters to fall in love with.

Book Review: Elite by Mercedes Lackey

Elite by Mercedes Lackey.jpg
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Title: Elite
Author: Mercedes Lackey
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Series: Hunter, Book 2
Hardcover: 368 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Joy wants nothing more than to live and Hunt in Apex City without a target on her back. But a dangerous new mission assigned by her uncle, the city’s Prefect, may make that impossible.

In addition to her new duties as one of the Elite, Joy is covertly running patrols in the abandoned tunnels and storm sewers under Apex Central. With her large pack of magical hounds, she can fight the monsters breaking through the barriers with the strength of three hunters. Her new assignment takes a dark turn when she finds a body in the sewers: a Psimon with no apparent injury or cause of death.

Reporting the incident makes Joy the uncomfortable object of PsiCorp’s scrutiny—the organization appears more interested in keeping her quiet than investigating. With her old enemy Ace still active in Hunts and the appearance of a Folk Mage who seems to have a particular interest in her, Joy realizes that the Apex conspiracy she uncovered before her Elite trials is anything but gone.

As the body count rises, she has no choice but to seek answers. Joy dives into the mysterious bowels of the city, uncovering secrets with far-reaching consequences for PsiCorp… and all of Apex City.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I don’t know if I’ve been meta-analyzing books for too long, but I found myself willfully resisting the urge to do so with this book.  What I mean is that when I started reading it (more or less directly after finishing the first book in the series, Hunter), I found myself spending a lot of time trying to decide if I liked the way Lackey was trying to give enough background information for people jumping in cold vs. hampering the plot developing.  From there ,I found myself trying to decide if the pacing of the overarching story was well done.  While I have answers to both of these things now (if you are curious, I think she kept it about as short as she could and I actually loved the pacing since it didn’t seemed rushed, respectively) I found I had a lot more fun reading this book when I just took it for the story it is without trying to over think it.  And I have to say the result was one of the more immersive experiences I’ve had with a book in a while.

I get scared with sequels, particularly of YA, when I like the first book in a series.  A lot of times, authors seem to use the first story to build a great world in the opener and then just hit the turbo button to too-fast-developing-not-super-thought-out plot in book two.  This book absolutely did not do that.  At one point I found myself thinking that this book can feel at times feel like it is just an extension of adventures from part one, which some may see as a negative but I really enjoyed.  This is not to say that the larger plot does not advance.  There are a lot of pretty important developments and the conflicts between the different government programs that are theoretically all supposed to be working together is particularly interesting, however, this information is spread out throughout the book with fun “hunts” and social activity thrown in so it feels like a much more natural progression of story than other books I have read.

The conceit that was hinted at in the previous book that all of the Othersiders are represented in some way in human folklore or mythology is expanded upon in this book in an incredibly interesting way which opens up for even more questions about the worlds relationship with the Otherside.  I also found the consistency of magic in this universe to be very satisfying.  There is something almost scientific about the way magic usage is explained in this world and it leads to new discoveries in magic to be satisfying as a reader rather than random and like a crutch of some type to advance the plot.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised that I liked this book even more than the first one.  All the things I said in my previous review remain true, especially that the characters seem to act the way people really would which is something I love particularly in YA.  Now I just hope that the series does not suffer from my other largest concern which is not knowing how to end which retroactively makes me not enjoy the previous books as much, but for now I can confidently say that I cannot recommend this series enough if you are at all interested in YA fantasy!

Book Review: The Arm of the Stone by Victoria Strauss

arm of the stone.jpgTitle: The Arm of the Stone
Author: Victoria Strauss
Series: The Stone Duology, Book 1
Publisher: Phoenix Pick
Paperback: 358 pages
Summary: (Taken from Goodreads)

Long ago, when the worlds were one… So begins the Tale, the ancestral legend Bron’s family has guarded for a thousand years. Once, they were the keepers of the Stone, the most sacred object on earth, from which all the powers of Mind are drawn. But when the conflict between Mind and Hand split the worlds apart, the Stone was seized by an ambitious sorcerer. To keep the new world from contamination, he created rigid Limits circumscribing which tools might be made and which knowledge might be pursued-laws brutally enforced by a group of Guardians known as the Arm of the Stone. ** For centuries, Bron’s family has concealed the secret of its heritage. But when Bron’s brother invents a new kind of plow-an unpardonable heresy in the world of the Guardians-the Arm of the Stone reaches in once again to tear them apart. Fleeing for his life, Bron vows revenge. To strike the Guardians down, he will become a Guardian himself. But Bron cannot know how much that choice will change him. Nor does he anticipate the hatred of a powerful enemy, or the love of a beautiful Guardian named Liliane…whose mission is to destroy him.

My Review:

The beginning of The Arm of the Stone was really rocky for me. Honestly, it got to the point where I thought about giving it up; however, I didn’t and I’m glad I stuck with it.

I thought the beginning was rather drawn out and overloaded with characters, history, etc. Also, the conflict didn’t seem very interesting to me: Bron’s family swears to take back the Stone, which was once theirs and reclaim their power from the Guardians who now hold it. I thought this was too simplistic and it didn’t really hold much promise. However, there is a huge turning point in the novel, and that’s when the novel picked up its pace and started to become interesting.

What I love most about The Arm of the Stone is the story and the world. Strauss does an excellent job in making the story seem straightforward, and then she throws a curveball at you, completely changing your perspective of what’s happening. Also, the world is extremely well-constructed. When I read the novel, I was completely immersed because of the level of detail Strauss includes.

Another thing I liked was that I felt that the characters showed a lot of growth. The Bron we meet on page one is completely different than the Bron we know on the last page, which I think is one sign of a successful book. The same goes for many of the characters in the novel, including Liliane and Goldwine, to name a few.

There were times when I got confused about jumps in time and it did take me a long time to finish this novel, because it’s loaded with so much. I don’t think the latter is necessarily a bad thing, but it’s definitely not a quick summer read. It is, however, one of the best fantasies I’ve read in awhile and I’m greatly looking forward to the sequel.

I would recommend this for fantasy fans who enjoy coming-of-age adventures.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5


Audiobook Review: When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

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Title: When You Are Engulfed in Flames
Author: David Sedaris
Narrator: David Sedaris
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Length: ~ 9 hours
Summary: (Taken from Goodreads)

Trying to make coffee when the water is shut off, David considers using the water in a vase of flowers and his chain of associations takes him from the French countryside to a hilariously uncomfortable memory of buying drugs in a mobile home in rural North Carolina. In essay after essay, Sedaris proceeds from bizarre conundrums of daily life-having a lozenge fall from your mouth into the lap of a fellow passenger on a plane or armoring the windows with LP covers to protect the house from neurotic songbirds-to the most deeply resonant human truths. Culminating in a brilliant account of his venture to Tokyo in order to quit smoking, David Sedaris’s sixth essay collection is a new masterpiece of comic writing from “a writer worth treasuring” (Seattle Times)

My Review:

I have never laughed so hard in my life than when I listened to this.  Seriously, whenever I’m having a bad day or I know something stressful is coming up, I listen to these essays. Sedaris takes weird stuff that happens in life and turns them into hilarious and insightful pieces that entertain and give a whole new look at the absurd situations life frequently contains.

It’s hard to give a long review of this, because they’re composed of non-fiction essays, so there isn’t really a long plot line to critique or character development to discuss. I will just say that this collection will have you laughing out loud and will make you look differently at weird situations that arise in your own life.

Note: The reason why I put the audiobook information down is because I highly recommend listening to his essays rather than just reading them. Hearing them in Sedaris’s own voice with his intonations really sets the tone and adds to the comedy.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5