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My name is Ardis and I am an avid reader and budding writer. I want to share my love of books with others. I work with kids and am interested in finding and creating books that will ignite the reader in everyone. Contact me at: ardis.atkins@gmail.com

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Book Review: The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35879387-the-price-guide-to-the-occult?ac=1&from_search=true

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
When Rona Blackburn landed on Anathema Island more than a century ago, her otherworldly skills might have benefited friendlier neighbors. Guilt and fear instead led the island’s original eight settlers to burn “the witch” out of her home. So Rona cursed them. Fast-forward one hundred–some years: All Nor Blackburn wants is to live an unremarkable teenage life. She has reason to hope: First, her supernatural powers, if they can be called that, are unexceptional. Second, her love life is nonexistent, which means she might escape the other perverse side effect of the matriarch’s backfiring curse, too. But then a mysterious book comes out, promising to cast any spell for the right price. Nor senses a storm coming and is pretty sure she’ll be smack in the eye of it. In her second novel, Leslye Walton spins a dark, mesmerizing tale of a girl stumbling along the path toward self-acceptance and first love, even as the Price Guide’s malevolent author — Nor’s own mother — looms and threatens to strangle any hope for happiness.

Review:
I saw this book some time ago on NetGalley, but really became interested in it from going to an author forum at the Bay Area Book Festival.  Although I did find the book to be entertaining, there were aspects of it I did not like.

What I Liked:
Book Design:
This is one of the prettiest books I have ever seen!  Along with a gorgeous, embossed cover in black and yellow (with creepy accents of red), the pages are all edged in a bright, blood red color!  
 
Mood & Setting:
The author does take the time to create a setting that is both creepy and realistic.  The coast of Oregon seem to be filled with tiny wind-swept islands that are both a haven for tourists and a place where someone could choose to isolate themselves from a busy world.  There is also a strong backstory that sets the tone of the book.

Characters:
Nor is the main character and I really like her character.  She struggles to understand why her mother was so neglectful (and later, out and out abusive).  She deals with her feelings by cutting herself.  I appreciated that the author made this only part of her personality, and not the most important part.  Nor is also a solid friend, and a caring person to her grandmother and other people who have stepped in to parent her.

Superficially, while she may seem like the "colorful" bestie, there is more to Nor's friend Savvy, than meets the eye.  While everyone else is infatuated with Nor's mother Fern, Savvy takes the time to listen to Nor and understand why Nor is not cheering her mother on. 

Dealing with Cutting:
Nor is a recovering cutter.  This could be a trigger for some people.  But I think the author does a good job of showing why some people do this, and how much of a struggle it is to stop this behavior.  Nor has been through therapy, and hasn't cut herself for a while.  But, like a recovering alcoholic, she must take life one day at a time to not fall back into this behavior.  She knows she still can't be trusted around sharp objects, as stress can easily push her toward her compulsion to cut.  I thought this was a very realistic portrayal of this topic.
  
What I Didn't Like:
Characters:
Nor's mother, Fern, is the story's antagonist, but I didn't feel that there was enough of an explanation for why she was so bad.  Evil people genuinely think they are good; they don't see what they do as wrong.  Or they will try to justify their bad behavior by thinking something is owed to them.  But Fern is just plain evil.

When she does terrible things, Fern says she does it because it's fun.  Aside from an incident where a man she is infatuated with is not interested, there is no real reason for her to act the way she does. This made for a rather two-dimensional character.

Plot:
Although there was plenty of suspense in the story, most of the big action actually takes place off the page.  The reader gets descriptions of what happens, but we rarely see first-hand what Fern is doing (or her mindset).  Nor does dream about some moments where Fern is torturing people, but this reminds me too much of a device used in the Harry Potter books.  This leads to a story where the characters are mostly reacting and not doing much themselves, until the very end of the book.

The island, itself, was such a wonderful setting that I wanted the plot to move forward from things that happened on the island, using the characters that I became attached to.

Pacing:
The book moves at a snail's pace.  While the author takes time to create a very creepy mood for the book, there also isn't much action for the first one hundred pages!  

TRIGGER WARNING for Self-Harm

Rating: 




Release Date: March 13th, 2018

Publisher:  Candlewick Press

Author:  Leslye Walton

Genre:  YA Gothic Fantasy

Page Length:  288 pages

Source:  Bought

Format:  Hardcover book

Recommendation:  An uneven, but entertaining book that uses witches to discuss the aftermath of neglectful parenting. 
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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Stacking The Shelves #125 & Sunday post #89





I am combining two great blog hops:  Stacking The Shelves (a Saturday feature by Team Tynga's Reviews), and Sunday Post (a Sunday feature by the Caffeinated Book Reviewer).  Both of these features give people a chance to post about what books they received and also an opportunity to catch a glimpse of what others are excited about.  I really enjoy seeing everyone's version of these features!   All book covers are linked to Goodreads, if you want to check them out.  If you enjoy my blog, please consider following me via Bloglovin, Networked Blogs, GFC, or by email subscription.  If you leave a comment and tell me you are a new follower, I will follow you back! 


On The Blog:

Tuesday:  Book Review:  The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

I just couldn't get the writing thing going this week.  But I was very happy to review this amazing book.  I got it in my April Pagehabit box, and it was a lovely surprise.

In "Real Life":

I had one more major health appointment this week, and I am finally in the clear!!!  I spent the rest of the week relieved and treating myself to reading as much as possible!

I also got to attend my book club at A Great Good Place for Books, in Oakland.  We discussed the book The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater. This book had so much relevance for many of the book club members as the incident in this book happened in Oakland.  What a thoughtful, great group of fellow readers!

New Books:

Public Library:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6449551-the-brutal-telling?ac=1&from_search=truehttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31933085-less

From our Work Book Exchange:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32740062-watch-me-disappear?ac=1&from_search=true
 
Bought:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35411685-how-to-stop-time?ac=1&from_search=truehttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35068432-i-ll-be-gone-in-the-dark?ac=1&from_search=true




That's it for this week.  Did you get any interesting books?  Have you read any of the books in this post?




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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Book Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33294200-the-poet-x?ac=1&from_search=true
Synopsis (From Goodreads):
A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.


Review:
This book was part of my April box from Pagehabit, so it was a bit of a surprise!  I am usually NOT into poetry, and I have only ever read one other book written in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson (very good, by the way...).  



The Poet X tells the story of Xiomara, a fifteen-year-old Dominican-American girl living in Harlem, New York.  This is a powerful story of the clash between mothers and daughters, between maintaining your heritage and being an American, between self-loathing and self acceptance.  This novel blew me away!

What I Liked:
Book Structure:
As I said, this book is told through a series of mostly poems, some short, others quite long.  The title of each poem is as telling as the verse.  I also loved that other entries are drafts of homework assignments.  This structure allows the reader to really delve into the life of high schooler Xiomara in a way that a more traditional narrative style would not.  Teens today communicate with each other in short bursts such as texts or posts to social media, and this book's style reflects that.

Characters:
The story is told through the voice of Xiomara, as she tries to navigate her Sophomore year of high school.   Her attention-grabbing curves have caused her all kinds of attention, giving her mixed messages from her classmates, her Catholic religion, and her mother.  Boys (an men) catcall and tell her she must want It.  The Church tells her to resist temptation.  And her mother literally tells her she can't date boys until after she finishes college!

As Xiomara grapples with feelings of shame over her normal sexual feelings, she uses her fist rather than her voice to show her anger when boys grab her, or when her twin brother gets bullied.  She knows this is not helping her, but she really has no other way to express herself at the beginning of the story.

I loved how Xiomara matures over the course of the book.  She finds her voice through poetry and learns to make different choices.

Xiomara's mother, Altagracia is as traditional as they come.  She goes to church every day and her natural inclination is to see her daughter as a screw-up who will let herself be carried away by lust.  Although the book never directly addresses it, I can't help but think Altagracia sees herself in her daughter.  She keeps telling anyone who will listen that she really intended to become a nun.  But I think this is the mom re-writing her past to hide the fact that she was actually a real young woman with real sexual feelings who got seduced by a ladies man.  When mother and daughter are so much alike, conflict is almost a guarantee.

Story:
There are several things happening at once in this story:  Xiomara going through Confirmation, Xiomara developing feelings for a boy, and Xiomara discovering poetry.  All of these are momentous enough, but she also has more and more conflict with her mother.  This comes to a boiling point that spills over to a dramatic conclusion.

This book filled me with such strong emotions as I thought back on my own teen years, and the conflicts between my traditional Mexican culture, my Catholic beliefs, and trying to be a modern young person.  The book perfectly captures how much pressure first and second generation teens have as they try to please their parents, but also themselves.

Rating: 




Release Date:  March 6th, 2018

Genre:  YA Contemporary

Publisher:  Harper Teen

Author:  Elizabeth Acevedo

Page Length:  357 pages

Source:  Bought

Format:  Hardback book

Recommendation:  A powerful coming-of-age book told in verse.  This author has a strong voice that is exciting to read.



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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Stacking The Shelves #124 & Sunday Post #88




I am combining two great blog hops:  Stacking The Shelves (a Saturday feature by Team Tynga's Reviews), and Sunday Post (a Sunday feature by the Caffeinated Book Reviewer).  Both of these features give people a chance to post about what books they received and also an opportunity to catch a glimpse of what others are excited about.  I really enjoy seeing everyone's version of these features!   All book covers are linked to Goodreads, if you want to check them out.  If you enjoy my blog, please consider following me via Bloglovin, Networked Blogs, GFC, or by email subscription.  If you leave a comment and tell me you are a new follower, I will follow you back! 

On The Blog:
 
 
 
In "Real Life":
It's been an eventful week for me!  I got positive news on a health issue which was a huge relief.  Even though it's been six years since I had cancer, there will always be some fear that it will return.  The one thing I learned this week is that this fear is something shared by many cancer survivors.  I am NOT the only one.  Not worrying can be a challenge for me, and it's something I need to work on.

We spent all Wednesday afternoon shoe shopping for Prom!  We had to go to four different stores before we found anything decent.  But I think we found the best shoes for my teen's outfit.  And they are shoes she can wear again (ever practical, me).
 
I also learned that life is full of surprises!  My AMAZING brothers-in-laws got us tickets to Taylor Swift!!!  We were given these tickets on Wednesday, with the concert being on Friday.  Such a wonderful surprise!  I will post pictures in a post next week. 
 
New Books:
 
Public Library:
 
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4201106-a-rule-against-murder

 


For Review 
from Edelweiss:
 
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33359802-the-spy-with-the-red-balloon?ac=1&from_search=true
 
That's it for this week.  Have a wonderful weekend.
 
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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Book Review: Daughters of The Air by Anca L. Szilagyi

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35958491-daughters-of-the-air?ac=1&from_search=true

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
Tatiana "Pluta" Spektor was a mostly happy, if awkward, young girl—until her sociologist father was disappeared during Argentina’s Dirty War. Sent a world away by her grieving mother to attend boarding school outside New York City, Pluta wrestles alone with the unresolved tragedy and at last runs away: to the streets of Brooklyn in 1980, where she figuratively—and literally—spreads her wings. Told with haunting fabulist imagery by debut novelist Anca L. Szilágyi, this searing tale of love, loss, estrangement, and coming of age is an unflinching exploration of the personal devastation wrought by political repression. 

Review:
This book was recommended to me by a friend of mine who knows the author.  I really had no clue as to what this book was about, but I decided to buy a copy and dive in.  Wow!  I was pleasantly surprised by how amazing and powerful this book is.  With a difficult subject matter (the political unrest in Argentina in the 1970's), this is a tale of loss, but also of redemption.  It reminded me of Isabel Allende's The House of The Spirits.  It is both brutal, and beautiful.

What I Liked:
Setting:
The book is set in several different places and time periods:  Argentina and Brazil in 1978, and New York City and Rome in 1980.  Each place comes alive with vivid descriptions.  

In Buenos Aires, the reader gets a glimpse of a city in the throes of a repressive regime.  People are on edge as some citizens who are associated with protests disappear.  When people try to search for their loved ones, they are met with indifference, and, if they persist, intimidation.  The author uses small details such as Pluta falling into mud and ruining her dress as a portent of bad things to come.

New York seemed particularly gritty and menacing in the book.  In the 1970's and 1980's, New York was rife with crime.  Considering the oppressive and dangerous country where they had only recently lived, I was more fearful for Pluta in the Big Apple!  And with good reason.

Characters:
Pluta is a young teen who feels adrift at a boarding school in Connecticut.  Originally from Argentina, she doesn't understand her father's sudden disappearance, or her mother's abandonment.  Although she makes many terrible mistakes, I really liked Pluta's tenacity, and spirit.  She refuses to be a victim.  But she also doesn't let others help her when she clearly needs it.  But I think, given her young age, that is understandable.  

Isabel is Pluta's mother, and will not earn any awards for parenting.  She is grieving the loss of her husband, but refuses to acknowledge to her daughter that he is probably dead.  This leaves her Pluta feeling confused and abandoned.  While I wanted to hate Isabel for her treatment of Pluta, I also could see how confused and abandoned she, herself, felt.  Isabel had been brought up to believe that she would be taken care of by a husband.  When Daniel is abruptly out of the picture, she feels betrayed, even if it isn't his fault.  She is also a daughter of the air, adrift in her newfound freedom.

Story:
The story jumps between what happened when Daniel disappears in 1978, to two years later.  Most of what happens is seen through the eyes of Pluta as she tries to make sense of the unthinkable.  Her descent into Hell is frightening.  Despite the protagonist being in her early teens, THIS IS NOT A YA BOOK!  The violence that Pluta deals with as a runaway in New York is brutal, as is her methods of survival.

The book dips a toe into magical realism with the theme of wings (flying, freedom, metamorphosis).  At first I had a "What the hell?" reaction to this.  But, I later found it to be a powerful allegory to moving from the dependence of childhood to the self-reliance of adulthood.  There are also references to spirits that may, or may not, be around to guide Pluta.  I found these elements to be wonderful (and a bit trippy!)

This was a challenging book due to its gritty realism coupled with its hints at the magical.  But it was ultimately a very rewarding reading experience.

Trigger Warning for sexual violence!

Rating: 




Release Date:  December 5th, 2017

Publisher:  Lanternfish Press

Author:  Anca L. Szilagyi

Genre:  Historical Fiction/Magical Realism

Page Length:  246 Pages

Source:  Bought

Format:  Paperback Book 

 
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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Book Review: Hum If You Don't Know The Words by Bianca Marais

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28264701-hum-if-you-don-t-know-the-words?ac=1&from_search=true

Synopsis (From Goodreads):

Life under Apartheid has created a secure future for Robin Conrad, a nine-year-old white girl living with her parents in 1970s Johannesburg. In the same nation but worlds apart, Beauty Mbali, a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei, struggles to raise her children alone after her husband's death. Both lives have been built upon the division of race, and their meeting should never have occurred . . . until the Soweto Uprising, in which a protest by black students ignites racial conflict, alters the fault lines on which their society is built, and shatters their worlds when Robin’s parents are left dead and Beauty’s daughter goes missing.

After Robin is sent to live with her loving but irresponsible aunt, Beauty is hired to care for Robin while continuing the search for her daughter. In Beauty, Robin finds the security and family that she craves, and the two forge an inextricable bond through their deep personal losses. But Robin knows that if Beauty finds her daughter, Robin could lose her new caretaker forever, so she makes a desperate decision with devastating consequences. Her quest to make amends and find redemption is a journey of self-discovery in which she learns the harsh truths of the society that once promised her protection.

Told through Beauty and Robin's alternating perspectives, the interwoven narratives create a rich and complex tapestry of the emotions and tensions at the heart of Apartheid-era South Africa. Hum if You Don’t Know the Words is a beautifully rendered look at loss, racism, and the creation of family.
 


Review:
This was the book club selection for a group of readers who meet at the wonderful bookstore named, A Great Good Place For Books, in Oakland, California.   I have never participated in a book club before, but I was so thankful that I did.  This was a marvelous book!  South Africa's Apartheid is seen from two viewpoints: a ten-year-old white child who has lost her parents, and a black mother searching for her daughter.

What I Liked:
Setting:
The book is set in South Africa in the 1970's.  I was a child of about the same age as one of the main characters, Robin, at that time, but I was completely oblivious as to what was going on there.  As I learned from reading this book, that was not an accident.  South Africa was a very isolated country, with information going both in, and out, of the country tightly controlled by the government.  People in South Africa just accepted their racism as the norm, and those living in other countries didn't have a true picture of what Apartheid meant.

The novel's action takes place in several places in South Africa.  Beauty, the other main character, is shown to be very happy in her small village.  This is a celebration of a small community, where everyone looks after each other, and walking around barefoot is not a sign of poverty, but of connecting to the land.  Later, in her quest to find her daughter, Beauty must journey to Johannesburg where the noise and crowding of a large city seem depressing and scary.

Robin also moves from a small mining outpost where she can run outside all day playing, to her aunt's small apartment in Johannesburg.  She also finds the city strange, and feels isolated and alone.

Characters:
Robin, one of the two main characters, is the young white child who is struggling to come to terms with a tragedy.  I love her dawning awareness that she has been raised a racist.  Most children automatically assume that their parents' opinions are correct.  But as Robin sees more of the world, she comes to realize how wrong she is to treat people differently based on their skin color . 

In our book club, we had some disagreement over whether or not Robin was immature, or overly mature over the course of the book.  I think she is feeling very abandoned by those who are supposed to be taking care of her, and this leads her to do some selfish things.  But cut her some slack, she is only ten!

Beauty is relentlessly seeking information about her teenage daughter, who went missing during the Soweto uprising.  She cannot accept that her daughter could be involved in (possibly) violent resistance against the government.  Although she hates how blacks are treated, she doesn't see how things will change, and just wants to live unobtrusively.  Can she learn to understand her daughter's actions?

Edith is Robin's care-free aunt.  She represents how women are changing in the 1970's.  She has a career as a flight attendant, and travels the world with no ties to a husband or children, until Robin comes along.  One can really see Edith's struggle between keeping her independence and her love for Robin.  Sometimes I found her hard to like, as many of her actions seem thoughtless.  But she is a very human character, and I appreciated that she wasn't supremely good or bad.

Story:
The story is told in alternating chapters in the voices of Robin and Beauty. They do not meet until nearly the middle of the book!  But this gives the reader time to understand each of them on their own.

I was very moved by Beauty's search for her daughter.  I know if my own daughter went missing, I would move heaven and earth to find her.  Beauty keeps asking questions and looking for clues, so much so that she is being threatened to stop her search.  But who can blame a mother for wanting to know the truth, however painful.

Robin and Edith are thrown together by a tragedy.  While their relationship is bumpy, they both do some growing up over the course of the book.  Robin starts to understand how to be self-reliant, which is a positive thing.  All children need to learn that others will not always take care of them.

Edith also makes peace with her new role as parent.  There are some rough times for Edith as she rages at this responsibility that is thrust upon her.  She is grieving both the loss of a family member, but also of her freedom. 

Rating: 




Release Date:  July 11th, 2017

Genre: Historical fiction

Publisher:  G.P. Putnam's Sons

Author:  Bianca Marais

Page Length: 432 pages

Source:  Bought

Format:  Paperback book

Recommendation:  This was a powerful historical fiction about South Africa during Apartheid, with characters you will love.

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Saturday, May 5, 2018

Stacking The Shelves # 123 & Sunday Post #87




I am combining two great blog hops:  Stacking The Shelves (a Saturday feature by Team Tynga's Reviews), and Sunday Post (a Sunday feature by the Caffeinated Book Reviewer).  Both of these features give people a chance to post about what books they received and also an opportunity to catch a glimpse of what others are excited about.  I really enjoy seeing everyone's version of these features!   All book covers are linked to Goodreads, if you want to check them out.  If you enjoy my blog, please consider following me via Bloglovin, Networked Blogs, GFC, or by email subscription.  If you leave a comment and tell me you are a new follower, I will follow you back! 

On The Blog:

Monday:  ARC Review:  Song of Blood and Stone by L. Penelope

Tuesday:  ARC Review:  The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

In "Real Life":

Last weekend, I had the great pleasure of attending the Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley, California.  I only went on Sunday, but I had a blast.  There was a wonderful street fair with lots of independent authors selling their books.  I got to talking with several of them.  Their dedication to writing was inspiring.

I also attended two panels.  The first panel had several authors of YA fantasy.  I got to meet the debut author, Laura Sebastian (Ash Princess), and many others.  It was great listening to them discuss writing and publishing.  Afterwards, I attended the book signing (and bought more books!).

Then I went to the panel I was looking forward to the most:  Sabaa Tahir!  She kept things spoiler-free, but had a lot to say about the origins of An Ember In The Ashes, and so much more.  She was charming and very funny.  I love that she is so popular!

At school, we had our annual Walk-a-Thon.  Being that it was on May 4th, it had a Star Wars Theme!

It was a beautiful day, with lots of music and walking.  I love working at this school!

New Books:
Bought:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35879387-the-price-guide-to-the-occult?ac=1&from_search=truehttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/95887.Eat_That_Frog_https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35297394-the-wicked-deep?ac=1&from_search=true
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34442446-madam-of-my-heart?ac=1&from_search=true
 I bought all of these at the book festival!  My book shelves are now getting ridiculously full, with books overflowing onto my dresser.  I will now be on a book buying ban (yeah, right).

That's it for this week.  For all those going to Yallwest in L.A., I am FULL OF ENVY!!!  
 
Enjoy.
 
 
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