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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The Adventurers Guild (The Adventurers Guild #1) by Zack Loran Clark & Nick Eliopulos

The Adventurers GuildTJ Burns — July 14, 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_4_and_a_half_stars

The Adventurers Guild was a fantastic read! I haven’t read anything this good in a long time! An exciting, suspenseful, intriguing, imaginative story, with diverse, colorful, and interesting characters, and a creative, intelligent, and witty dialogue.

I am so tired of series and cliff-hangers, but at 80% through, I was hoping, begging, for there to be a sequel. I can’t get enough of these characters, both kids and adults. (I’m happy to report this wasn’t a cliff-hanger, not really — it ended more in a teaser for the next book, which followed an exiting climax).

The Adventurers Guild reads more like a Young Adult book than a Middle Grade. The kids are 13-years-old, but I imagined them to be more like 16 throughout. I would say the target audience should be 12-18 rather than 8-12. Moreover, I highly recommend this exciting, interesting, intriguing book for adults, as well! At just over 18, a-hemm, well, a tad more than a little over 18, I definitely consider myself as being part of the “target audience” for this wonderful adventure!

Expected publication: October 3rd 2017 by Disney-Hyperion

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

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Knights of the Borrowed Dark (Knights of the Borrowed Dark Trilogy #1) by Dave Rudden

Knights of the Borrowed DarkTJ Burns — May 17, 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_4_and_a_half_stars

Knights of the Borrowed Dark is exciting, suspenseful, and entertaining! Full of mystery and intrigue. The story is both thrilling and entertaining. Particularly amusing is the contrast between Denizen’s thoughts and his words/actions.

Denizen’s personality, along with the mysterious atmosphere and the weird and unusual beings coming in from the other side, pulled me into the story immediately.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark2

I liked Denizen’s character from the start. He’s been dealt a nasty deck — orphaned when he was two, sent to this dismal orphanage at the end of the world, with these uncaring adults as staff… But still, he is able to rise above it and convince himself he doesn’t need anybody (except maybe his best friend Simon).

Then his whole reality gets dashed to the side: He has family. And he has powers. And there’s this whole other world out there that is threatening the world he knows. And he can do something to protect the world he knows. He can become a Knight. Cool.

This was a great read! The writing is fantastic. The characters are diverse and interesting. Denizen’s thought process is tons of fun to follow, as well as his personal developmentKnights of the Borrowed Dark3. Unexpected twists and turns provide suspense and surprises!

I can totally recommend Knights of the Borrowed Dark!

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

Published August 16th 2016 by Random House Books for Young Readers.

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The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon

the-bone-sparrowTJ Burns — January 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

Wow! That was a difficult read. But I’m so glad I pushed through.

The Bone Sparrow is amazing — tragic, heart-breaking, tear-jerking… yet hopeful, showing the power of friendship, family, love, story-telling, and remembering.

I definitely needed some time to process this book.

The Bone Sparrow is an amazing story — I just couldn’t take too much at once. I am definitely the target audience here. I know little about Burma or its ethnic groups, but I care deeply about the plight of refugees worldwide (especially children) and desire (need) to know more.

Everyone (13 and older) should read this book. We need to know what is going on and we need to do something about it. Refugees are not criminals and should never be treated as such or even temporarily locked up. The world may have forgotten about these refugees, but it is time to remember and set them free.

Published November 1st 2016 by Disney-Hyperion

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

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The Big L Hotel by Sjoerd Kuyper

big l hotel

TJ Burns — June 21, 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_4_and_a_half_stars

Fantastic! Creative! Refreshingly original! Surprises at every turn (and there were a lot of turns)!

Kos is a sympathetic, interesting, and entertaining character — I loved following his thoughts and being privy to his thought process. Having Isabel offer her version of the events is an added plus! Isabel’s perspective is cleverly mixed into the story, provided only after she had listened to Kos’s audio-tapes completely, had access to his point of view, and thus had insight into Kos’s motivations and opinions before she tried to justify and explain hers.

Kos’s sisters, Libby, Briek, and Pel, are as diverse as they are intriguing. I would have liked to get to know them better, understand what their motivations and thoughts are, and learn what makes them tick. But, alas, as Kos doesn’t really understand girls, least among them his sisters, we, the readers, will just have to piece the puzzle together with the clues Kos provides us with and draw our own conclusions about them.

The eclectic mix of flavor added by the colorful supporting characters, the plot twists, and the creative narratives all pull together this unusually clever and entertaining story into one fun read!

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

Expected publication: October 1st 2018 by Lemniscaat USA

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Bug Girl (Bug Girl, #1) by Benjamin Harper & Sarah Hines Stephens, Anoosha Syed (Illustrations)

bug girlTJ Burns — June 15, 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

A girl who loves bugs? That was enough to captivate me. Amanda is a likable character, who despite being mobbed and bullied because of her tastes and interests is still able to rise above it all to higher ground — like her beloved insects!

But a bug-loving superhero? Who is also brave and selfless and rises above her own insecurities to save the day? My daughter and I were smitten! We both laughed out loud as we read this exciting story. We were angry and indignant with the way Amanda’s ex-best-friend and her cohorts treated such a nice person, we were scared for and worried about Amanda’s mother, and we cheered out loud for Bug Girl!

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

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