Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

station elevenTJ Burns — February 27, 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

I love well-written dystopian novels and I love solving mysteries, so Station Eleven is right down my ally. The biggest mystery throughout was figuring out how all the players fit together. One-third through, I made a mind map and a timeline to sort things out. Putting together the pieces of the puzzle was as entertaining as it was intriguing, and it took away a bit of the sting from the heavier, more deprestation eleven2ssing subject matter.

I was enraptured from beginning to end by the captivating subject matter, the puzzles to solve, and the diverse and interesting characters.

Published September 9th 2014 by Knopf

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Artemis by Andy Weir

artemis2TJ Burns — August 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

Fantastic read! Something for all of my senses! Intelligent, scientific, thought-provoking contents; action-packed, suspenseful, clever story-line; less-than-perfect, but approachable, understandable, and intriguing characters; witty, laugh-out-loud dialogues; all wrapped together into one exciting ride!

Jazz is an intriguing anti-hero. Not only does she have the most awesome name and nickname, both of which I gave to my own daughter, but her quick-witted, humorous, spontaneous, flippant, don’t-give-a-shit-what-anyone-thinks attitude is both entertaining and endearing.

Jazz, who wallows in self-pity, but puts up a don’t-give-a-damn front for everyone to see (and even convinces herself of its validity), and whose relationship with right and wrong and moral values is shady (to put it politely), and who is the self-proclaimed perpetual maker of bad life choices, and who the entire community sees as case-in-point for squandered potential, is the most unlikely of unlikely heroes… all the more reason to love her in all her imperfections.
Artemis
From beginning to end, I was captivated. Jazz and her personality move the story along at a mega-quick pace, and although there are some detailed scientific explanations, they serve to stimulate the brain cells rather than bog the story down. I didn’t look up the mechanical terms or check the accuracy of the chemistry involved… but for now, I’ll just take Weir’s word for it, and save the fact checking for a rainy day ;).

Five big fat stars for Artemis from TJ Burns!

I received a copy of this book from Crown Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Expected publication: November 14th 2017 by Crown Publishing Group (NY)

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Emily and the Spellstone by Michael Rubens

emily and the spellstoneTJ Burns — September 23, 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_4_and_a_half_stars

Laugh-out-loud, smart, creative, action-packed, middle-grade adventure!

Emily and the Spellstone claims to be a middle grade novel, but there is wit enough to capture and captivate an older audience as well.

I read this with my 10-year-old daughter and we were constantly rolling over laughing like crazy! Throughout the day we would quote both Emily and Gorgo — each clever in his/her own right. Emily’s matter-of-fact, reluctant to become involved in any kind of adventure, slightly sarcastic, slightly critical, slightly negative, but ready-to-step-up-when-needed personality combined with Gorgo’s bubbly, entertaining, over-the-top hilarious, morally dubious, but inherently helpful personality (or do you say demon-ality?) bring to life a wonderful, creative, witty, entertaining, original adventure!

I received a copy of this book from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Published June 13th 2017 by Clarion Books

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Unearthed by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

unearthedTJ Burns — September 9, 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_4_and_a_half_stars

Wow! Just wow! What an exhilarating ride! Interesting, likable characters! Unexpected, unpredictable twists and turns!

This story is amazing! It blew me away. Before I knew it, I was finished and dazed – I didn’t know what hit me!

Mia and Jules are such intriguing, interesting, and likable characters. Mia, tough, athletic, worldly, street-smart, clever, quick-witted, and sharp-tongued. Jules, introspective, sweet, highly-intelligent, soft-spoken, sensitive, and a bit insecure (at least at first).

The fact that we, the readers, were privy to both of their thought processes added depth – we could see, understand, and support (or dispute) their motivations, but even more we could see when they clearly misread, and misjudged each other’s actions and motivations.

Non-stop action; clever dialogue; intriguing characters with substantial character development; twists and turns; puzzles; mysteries; intelligent creative story line… I couldn’t ask for anything more in a novel. Absolutely breathtakingly fantastic read!

I received a copy of this book from Disney-Hyperion via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Expected publication: January 9th 2018 by Disney-Hyperion

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The Border by Steve Schafer

the borderTJ Burns — August 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

Pato, Arbo, Gladys, and Marco are such genuine, well-developed characters, I feel I know them — really know them. I had a stake in their fate – I needed to see them through their trials, to safely overcome incredible obstacles, and to reach their destination unknown. I was so emotionally involved in these four teenagers’ lives that I kept thinking about them long after I finished reading.

The fact that the fate and the journey of these four young people is not just fiction to so many, not just in North America, but worldwide, makes this story all the more potent, and hard to swallow.

The writing is fantastic. I never felt like I was reading a novel, but felt rather like I was sharing in the experience, the tragedies, the hardships, the bonding, the friendship, the love.

I received a copy of this book from Sourcebooks Fire via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Expected publication: September 5th 2017 by Sourcebooks Fire

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Wintersong (Wintersong #1) by S. Jae-Jones

wintersongTJ Burns — July 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_3_stars

I was intrigued and thoroughly captivated at the start.

Liesl is an interesting character. Such untapped and unappreciated talent, such passion with no outlet to express it… she just had to explode (sooner rather than later).

Beautiful Käthe annoyed me to no end. But I think that’s the point. She’s self-involved and weak, but her character is just a pawn in a larger game. I liked Constanze — I thought she was a fascinating, plucky old woman :D. I didn’t know what to make of the Goblin King, although I found his personality intriguing.

I really like the concept. I’d heard of der Erlkönig before — I’ve read the poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. After finishing this book I looked a bit into the history of der Erlkönig, and I like what Jae-Jones has done with this story.

I got a bit frustrated in the middle, with Liesl’s choices. [ After all Liesl has done to save her sister and break free, after all she knows about the lies and the mischief of the Erlkönig, she was just going to give up and become his bride? Okay, I get that she lusts after him, and that she wants to be “desired” by someone…, and of course she wants to save the world, but how can she trust him?

How does she know it’s not a scam — the whole story about how he needs a bride to prevent the world from falling into an eternal winter? And even if that were the case, why does she need to decide that now, when she’s about to win her freedom and win the King of Mischief’s little game?

It would have made more sense for her to get out of the Underworld, win the game, win her freedom, and then consider his offer to marry her — with a clear head, a night’s sleep, and no games involved. It seems he’s laid his cards on the table. Why not take a day/week/month to see if what he said is really true? And to consider her own feelings in the matter? And make sure her sister is really in safety?

It just seems to me that a character, who has been rather clear-headed, smart, and brave up until now is just acting like a foolish wimp. (hide spoiler)]

Two-thirds through, the story was moving much too slow for my tastes and I was afraid I might not finish. Luckily, it picked up quite significantly at the end. It ended as I predicted, but there were still some surprises.

The writing is beautiful — descriptive and metaphoric — I especially appreciated all the music metaphors.

I received a copy of this book from St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Published February 7th 2017 by Thomas Dunne Books

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The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

the-bear-and-the-nightingale

TJ Burns — January 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_4_and_a_half_stars

Expected publication: January 10th 2017 by Del Rey

The Bear and the Nightingale was an amazing story! Fascinating and exciting! The characters were vivid, distinct, and interesting. The story line full of twists and turns, not so much the shocker (boom! I didn’t see that coming) kind, but so variable, full of intrigue, and impossible to predict.

I really enjoyed The Bear and the Nightingale — the descriptions are vivid, the tale is so mysterious and full of political intrigue. I can’t wait to find out what happens next!

Full Review Coming Soon.

 

I received a copy of this book from Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Maddie & Sayara by Sanjyot P. Dunung

maddie and sayara

TJ Burns — August 20, 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_3_stars

My 10-year-old daughter gave it 4/5 points, but I have to give it 2.5-3/5 points.

We both agree with the message: Girls have a right to be treated with respect and as equals to boys, regardless of country, political system, or religion. Women have a right to be treated as equals to men. Both women, and men, should be free to choose what they want to wear, whether they want to drive or not, with whom they associate with, and they should be free to pursue the career of their choice, without being hindered by traditional gender roles or stereotypes.

At first I was a bit confused, it was clear that Sayara is from a Middle Eastern country similar to Saudi Arabia. I told my daughter that the author may have her reasons for not saying the name of the country or the religion that the faith police claim to represent. It seemed most likely to me that she did not want to insult anyone’s sensibilities and alienate potential readership by openly criticizing a certain country or religion.

Truth be told, I get Maddie. When I was thirteen I was right and everyone who disagreed with me was wrong. My brother used to call me a “female chauvinist pig” and I could have easily been considered as being America-centrist. So Maddie’s naive idea that she can solve the world’s problems based on the set of values and beliefs that she was raised on is easy for me to understand, even if I can not (now that I’ve collected some life experience) condone it.

My critique of the book, however, is twofold. Firstly, the characters are not diverse. Maddie, Sayara, Themi, Alisha, Aunt AK, Grammy, Matin, Grandma Danah, Grandpa Mansur, Hariz, Miss Baker (the health teacher), Sara (the engineer), Sabrina (the lawyer) and even Prince Bodhi all have exactly the same opinion on gender equality. Exactly. They are, in fact, one and the same voice. They all repeat exactly the same message and even often use the exact words. The word “ridiculous” comes to mind. Many of them also eye roll when explaining the “ridiculous” customs and traditions.

“Alisha said sarcastically, smiling at me and rolling her eyes.” (39%)
“Alisha rolled her eyes again…” (40%)

Maddie says, “I needed to find a way to talk to the king and the judgment council and make them see how ridiculous these laws against girls were.” (23%)

Alisha says, “It’s hard to play sports or run in these ridiculous tents.” (32%)

Alisha rolled her eyes and overemphasized the weak to show how ridiculous she also thought the rules were.

Grandpa Mansur says, “In my day, when I was younger… there was no ridiculous FP!” (37%)

“The FP now runs the schools and decides what kids should learn. This is ridiculous” (Grandpa Mansur , 40%).

“The FP is afraid of questions. How ridiculous! What intelligent person is afraid of questions?” (Grandpa Mansur, 41%)

Sayara says, “Not even regular guys can get near him, let alone a girl. She rolled her eyes.”

Sara, the engineer that Maddie meets in prison, says, “I can’t even drive from building site to building site. It’s ridiculous.” (85%)

Sabrina, Hariz’s mom’s eyes rolled ever so slightly.” (89%)

My second critique is that anyone who doesn’t agree with the uni-opinion purported by all the main characters is portrayed as shallow, consumer-obsessed, brainwashed, weak, not able to think for themselves, money-grubbing, superficial, afraid, and/or just plain stupid.

“Mom genuinely lived life on the surface…”

Grandma Danah adds, “it’s our own fault that we don’t teach our children to think for themselves.” (40%)

Alisha says, “My mom made me realize that for many women in her generation, they were raised in a culture that brainwashed them into believing that the tent and veil protected them in some warped way… And it’s really hard to shake that level of mind control. That’s why we fight against the brainwashing.”

“People in the kingdom have forgotten to think for themselves. We are sheep,” added Grandpa Mansur. (40%)

People? Wow. That’s a broad overgeneralization, don’t you think? (I’m rolling my eyes right now in case anyone was wondering).

Don’t get me wrong, I agree with the message in this book. In my 20s I first visited my future husband’s traditional Muslim family and later married into it, so I know first hand the frustrations an American girl (especially an equal-rights-for-all activist) experiences when visiting or living in a society strongly defined by gender roles.

But in my 30 years of experience bridging exactly those two cultures depicted in this book, I have come across many different opinions on the issue. Smart people, religious people, secular people, non-shallow people, considerate and kind people, selfless people, politically active people, peace activists, equal rights activists have many different opinions, assumptions, theories, and prescriptions regarding gender roles and gender equality — and for various reasons, many of these opinions differ from my own opinion (and Maddie’s opinion, and most everyone in this book’s opinions). In contrast to Maddie’s experience, people everywhere did not echo my opinion (or my words verbatim) on what is “ridiculous” and what not – quite the contrary. I often felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall on some issues, but was able to agree to disagree on others.

And to relegate everyone who does not share your opinion to being shallow, mindless, brainwashed, and/or greedy (as not only Maddie does, but all the main characters here do) is disrespectful and sophomoric.

There were some other problems in the execution of the story. Maddie readily admits that she doesn’t speak the language in “the kingdom” (“in a language I didn’t understand,” 35%), yet she is able to speak with everyone, both educated and non-educated, and even finds herself overhearing conversations that were clearly not meant for her ears.

I overheard Mr. Advisor say, “Don’t worry, Grand Master, the prince will not think to look for them at Block Z, at least not for a few days…” (81%).

The idea that people who are planning conspire against the prince to wiz Maddie away to a secret prison would speak to each other in English and not in their native language sounds to me to be a bit ridiculous.

Still I clearly approve of the message of this story and I was happy my 10-year-old daughter (half-American/half-Arab) read it so that we could discuss issues of culture and gender-equality, and so that she can learn that while she has every advantage and equal opportunities, sadly many girls and women around the world still do not – and that is plain ridiculous.

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

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Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

dark matterTJ Burns — August 19, 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_4_and_a_half_stars

Stimulating, thought-provoking, suspenseful, captivating! I couldn’t stop reading and when life (or sleep) forced me to stop reading, I couldn’t stop thinking about it – I even dreamed about it, sending the story off in all different ways!

The underlying theme resonated with me. There are infinite ways in which my life could be played out – and could have been played out – and every decision I make creates a new and distinct parallel life.

I can identify both with the university professor who chose family over a shooting-star career, which he knows he had the talent and ambition for, and with the successful ground-breaking scientist, who regrets missing his opportunity to choose love and family, having sacrificed both for his career.

The writing is amazing. I really feel like I know Jason and Daniela. Even Ryan, and to a lesser extent Charlie and Amanda.

The choices we make define us. We make mistakes (or what may in retrospect be perceived as mistakes); some we can repair, to some we can apply damage control, but we can never go back. Regrets? I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention…. No time for regrets. That just gets you stuck in a chat-room with 78 other Jasons and creates a big mess. 😉

Exciting, suspenseful, philosophical, introspective, creative, intriguing, quick-paced book!

I received a copy of this book from Crown Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Published July 26th 2016 by Crown Publishing

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RoseBlood by A.G. Howard

RosebloodTJ Burns — January 10, 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_3_stars

I received a copy of this book from Amulet Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Published January 10th 2017 by Harry N. Abram.

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A Shadow Bright and Burning (Kingdom on Fire #1) by Jessica Cluess

a-shadow-bright-and-burningTJ Burns — February 28, 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

I very much like Ms. Cluess’ writing style – it flows nicely. I was pulled in right from the start –intrigued, interested — and had so many questions:
What is the prophecy? What does it mean to be “unclean” and can Rook heal? What are the Familiars? Scary bunch, those… And the Ancients?

Nettie is a fun and interesting character, at times brave and feisty, at others insecure and questioning her abilities — very real, very much the typical teenager, despite her less than typical abilities and environment.

Romance
And of course the possibility of romance looms before Nettie: There’s Rook, the loyal and constant best friend, there’s cavalier and charming Mr. Magnus, and there’s cool, mysterious, and arrogant Lord Blackwood.

Rook was my preference from the start, but I am worried that there may be “complications” (see spoilers on my Goodreads Review page — link below).  I like Magnus a lot — who wouldn’t? But Blackwood may turn out to rise above his upbringing and prove himself worthy… ahhh the choices one must make when one is young… ;). 

The Chosen One
I am not thrilled about the whole “chosen one” business. I’m not a fan of predestination. I think a hero is made through her actions and her choices, not because of predestination or some prophecy. I would really love it if Henriette turns out not be “the chosen one,” but a hero nonetheless (or in spite of it).

I am also worried about Henriette’s connection to the Blackwood family. She knows the house and it feels like “home” in her dreams. I hope she is not part of that noble sorcerer family. That would just make all her claims that even a commoner can rise up and be a hero (and/or a great sorcerer) crumble and support Blackwood’s claim that noble blood is more valuable than common blood.

No sooner had I written my thoughts about disliking the “chosen one” scenario than Ms. Cluess remixed the cards entirely! Yes!

Conclusion
While I was able to guess and predict a few events, many more were total shockers! Despite an exciting and thoroughly satisfying climax, still many unanswered questions remain. Guess I’ll just have to wait for the sequel… 😉

A Shadow Bright and Burning is an exciting story, with interesting characters, full of mystery and secrets, that culminates in a suspenseful and exciting climax!

[Update: I have already got my grubby little hands on an ARC of A Poison Dark and Drowning — So excited to read the next installment!]

 

 

 

Published September 20th 2016 by Random House BFYR

I received a copy of this book from Random House Children’s books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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