The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu

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I received this ARC from Simon & Schuster and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wow, do I feel completely ignorant about the world around me after finally putting this one down.  I know where Mali is on a map but I had no idea that there was a major conflict from 2012 that lingers until present day.  Further still, I had NO IDEA that dedicated and brave as all-get-out scholars, academics and ordinary citizens risked their lives to smuggle some of the world’s most precious literary treasures to safety.

Joshua Hammer certainly taught me a little something.  This book follows the conflict, loosely tied together with the story of Abdel Kader Haidara-the man who orchestrated the salvation of hundreds of thousands of manuscripts.

At a time when some of Mesopotamia’s finest treasures are being crushed or carried off in the night, and when Syria’s revered chief of antiquities has been executed by ISIS, here is a story with a good ending: In 2012, a librarian in Timbuktu pulled of a daring heist worth of Ocean’s Eleven by rescuing thousands of the world’s most valuable manuscripts from Al Queda.-Priscilla Painton, VP and Executive Editor

She said it best.  This is a painstakingly researched chronology of what happened during the Northern Mali conflict as told through the preservation of the manuscripts.  Hammer not only gives a detailed piecemeal of witness accounts but actually traveled to the sites soon after many of these events.

Haidara is a hero and I was enthralled reading about him-which for someone that rarely reads non-fiction is a big deal.

What drove him most was a belief in the power of the written word–the rich variety of human experience and ideas contained between the covers of a book.

As Al-Queda and their allies close in, Haidara doesn’t pick up the sword of his ancestors or the gun of his modern antagonists but instead wields art and culture as the most deadly weapon of all.

A jihadi, Haidara argued, in the original and best sense of the word: one who struggles against evil ideas, desire and anger in himself and subjugates them to reason and obedience to God’s commands.

An excellent read.  I am enriched for having read it.

Five stars.

Expected publication: April 19, 2016

Can You Keep A Secret? (Fear Street Relaunch #4)

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I received this ARC from St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.

Yet another new Fear Street classic!  I don’t think R.L. Stine could write a bad novel if he tried, but then again I grew up reading the original Fear Street and simply adore everything he touches.

Emmy is your average Shadyside High School student, down to the part time job and close group of friends.  She has a nice boyfriend, Eddie and plenty to do with her free time. Life is normal…except for her strange dreams.

…I was a wolf in the dream.  I was the blue-eyed wolf with the raven-black hair.

They are just dreams right?  She thinks so anyway.  Life takes a shocking turn when she and Eddie discover a briefcase full of money in the Fear Street Woods.  She and her friends agree to split it six ways, hiding it until it’s safe to spend.  A series of wolf-attacks has Emmy on edge and when the money goes missing things only get stranger.

And yes, we found the danger we thought we might encounter there.  But it was much more horrifying than any us could have predicted.

Will Emmy figure out what’s going on before it’s too late?

Five Stars.

Expected Publication: April 12, 2016

Tell the Wind and Fire

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I received this ARC from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group/Clarion Books in exchange for an honest review.

I read this book at a villa overlooking the Caspian Sea and I think that definitely set the mood that had me powering through this in a day.

With the discovery of light magic and that only some can wield it, New York City is split in two, Light New York and Dark New York.  Lucie was born in the dark, the daughter of a light magician father and mother from a family that uses dark magic.  Dark magic is evil, a necessary evil, or so they say.  After her life is completely upended, Lucie is accepted into the upper echelon of Light New York-but it comes with a price.

Once you lose something, it tends to stay gone.  This is especially true with chances.

The only thing that makes sense to Lucie in this new world is Ethan, her love for him and him for her sustains her as she remains haunted by the dark.

Maybe that is the only thing I have ever learned about love: love is when you save someone no matter what the cost.

When Ethan’s actions lead her back into the dark, Lucie must once again become the golden thread that lights his way back.  With dark magicians thirsty for blood, doppelgangers and an elite ruling council that controls everything, she can only hope her light is strong enough.

The only choice in the Light City or the Dark, was to be twisted or to break.

I enjoyed the book for what it was, but a more detailed review would betray the plot as the world-building was not quite as intricate as some of Brennan’s earlier work. I’m definitely a fan but this one didn’t quite reach the level of The Demon’s Lexicon trilogy for me.  About 25% of the way through I could see quite clearly how it would end, which would have been a disappointment had I really stopped to think about it.  As it stands I liked the book but I didn’t love it.

Three stars.

Expected Publication: April 5, 2016

The Hidden Twin

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I received this book from St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.

A girl with no name has grown up in Caldaras City, at the foot of a volcano.  She is kept hidden from sight.  This girl is a twin, the product of a human and an “other,” and she should have been killed at birth by law.  She is a redwing and her kind are monsters that masquerade as human.

The face of the dead obsidian redwing of High Ra square finds me in my sleep, haunting me because he doesn’t look like a redwing.  Because he looks human, as I do.

The girl is good.  Her father saw it in her at birth and couldn’t bear to let her go.  She hasn’t ever harmed a living creature.

But to call me human?  If only she knew what I would give for that to be true!

After switching places with her sister, Jey, working in the imperial gardens one day things take a drastic turn.  Priests of the temple see her for who she is and she is plunged into a quest she’s not even sure she believes in.  Can she prove that she has humanity, even if it’s a little different?

But we know the truth of monsters by their actions, not their appearance.

This was a short read and I found it easy to page through while reading another more challenging book.  I found the plot predictable but the world-building was engaging enough that I kept reading.  I hope this book spawns a series, I’m rather curious to find out more about this world in the shadow of the volcano Mol.

Three stars.

Expected publication: March 29, 2016

The Best Place On Earth

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I received this ARC from Random House Publishing Group and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Lush.  This is a word I’ve often seen used to describe writing but until now never quite understood.  Tsabari’s collection of short stories is unimaginably lush.  I poured over the pages, going back and rereading sentences and paragraphs. savoring them in the hopes that I could capture the emotion forever.

We felt like we were part of a generation, and that life had been made just for us and we’d never be sick and never grow old and nothing bad would ever happen to us.-Tikkun

These snapshots into the life of Israelis was fascinating, if fictional.  I know very little about the Yemini Jews that are the focus of most of these stories but I was inspired to do some research, to learn.  These are stories of war.

This is my generation’s war.  A war fought with plastic sheets and duct tape, a wet towel stolen from a hotel room in Eilat, a picture of a sandy beach on a sunny day.-The Poets in the Kitchen Window

These are stories of longing.

Sometimes Israel and the Philippines would blend in her head, overlap, the smell of dusty concrete in August, the outpouring of orange after sunset, the musk of old, musty homes, the ripe stench of the vegetable market.  Some nights, like tonight, delighting in the cool fall air, tipsy after an evening among friends.-Invisible

These are stories of faith and despair.

When I still believed in God, I used to make deals with him to bring Dad back.  I promised I wouldn’t watch TV on Shabbat, mix dairy and meat behind Mom’s back, or steal money from her purse.  When that didn’t work, I offered up Mom.  If I had to have one parent, I wanted one who saw me.-Warplanes

These are stories about human frailty.

Maybe there’s something good about knowing it could all end at any minute.-The Best Place On Earth

I have a book hangover and the literary liquor I imbibed over the last week is going to be coursing through my veins for many a sleepless night.  Brava, Ms. Tsabari.  This is a must read, an objective masterpiece.

Five stars.

Expected Publication: March 8, 2016

I Am N: Inspiring Stories of Christians Facing Islamic Extremists

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I received this book from David C. Cook and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was excited and intrigued when I spotted this one on Netgalley and pleased to be approved to review it.

I liked the basic premise, it is a collection of stories about Christians living in areas where they are the minority and facing persecution because of it.  However, this book blurred together into a collection of vague and general stories of suffering after a few of the stories.

As a Christian living in Kurdistan (Iraq) I expected to feel a bit more inspired.  I know that I’m a foreigner living here as a guest and that my experiences are nothing like what I read, but I was disappointed in the lack of a holistic examination of what goes on in the region.  Beyond a few passing references to Muslims that offer help in some small way, there was no discussion of the wonderful people that make up the majority of the population.  For every fanatic, there are dozens of people who treat their Christian neighbors well and even assist them at their own risk.

Christians face dangers in this part of the world.  This is a fact.

To be labeled “n” in a community dominated by Muslim extremists is to undergo an immediate identity and life change.  With this mark comes the ultimatum: If you convert to Islam or pay the tax, you can keep your material possessions and remain in this community.  If not, leave or you will die.

Again, there is a brief mention of the fact that most Muslims aren’t radicals, but it feels like lip service.  I simply couldn’t love this book, it was too superficial.  Perhaps my own Catholic background was simply incompatible with this more emotionally charged brand of Christianity, or maybe this simply isn’t the book to help me on my walk.  Either way, I applaud the sentiment but have no passion for the content.

Two Stars.

Expected Publication: March 1, 2016

Nowhere Girl

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I received this ARC from Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.

Well if this wasn’t a haymaker, I don’t know what is.

Cady’s twin sister was murdered sixteen years ago.  She felt it happening and the despair and horror never left her.  Cady lives her life in the shadow of Savannah’s absence.

Trauma climbed along the corridors of my mind and wrapped itself around the present so I couldn’t really tell the two apart.

Now a famous author, the cold case is finally reopened and she thinks she’s getting somewhere.

Instead of letting that memory drown me, I’d write.  I’d write to stay alive.  I’d write to keep the pain out of reach.

Strecker is a true wordsmith.  I honestly wasn’t sure what I was reading most of the time.  From the beginning I thought I had it all figured out and I smugly read a chapter here and there for an entire month.  It wasn’t until a lazy Saturday that I resolved to get down to business and finish it and after a few chapters I couldn’t put it down.  I was wrong.

We can barely speak our sister’s name aloud, never mind talk about what happened to her.  And then to us.

As Cady essentially simply exists with the help of her best friend Gabby and a few close friends her strange twin connection with Savannah slowly brings things to light.  Cady tiptoes towards the truth but will she ever be able to accept it?

An excellent read.

Five stars.

Expected Publication Date: March 1, 2016

A Girl’s Guide To Moving on

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I received this ARC from Ballantine Books in exchange for an honest review.

This is chick lit.  I have never been known to read chick lit, but boy did I (guiltily) enjoy this!

Nichole has recently left her philandering husband, inspiring her mother-in-law-Leanne- to do the same.  It seems like father, like son held true in this case.  Moving into the same apartment building in downtown Portland, the two create a guide to help them start their new lives-a guide to moving on.  Nichole starts teaching and volunteering part-time and Leanne puts her Master’s degree to use at last and becomes a volunteer ESL teacher.  Both finally have purpose and as their broken hearts mend they endeavor to weather oncoming storms and even find love again in unlikely places.  These women are bent but not broken and have a dash of spunk thrown in for good measure.  I especially enjoyed Leanne as she came to terms with ending a 35 year marriage and being alone for the first time ever.

He told me I was no longer alone and I believed him.

This book is not particularly imaginative and it is not a tale you’ve never read before but it is feel-good, earnest and cute.  I enjoyed reading it and I’m sure my constant “awww” could be heard all over Kurdistan.  I would not turn down another Macomber galley.

How blessed I was to have found the courage to move on.

Three stars.

Expected Publication: February 23, 2016

Bad Luck (Bad #2)

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I received this ARC from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in exchange for an honest review.

Something about this cover caught my eye and after reading the description I just had to read it.  Upon discovering it was the second in a series I quickly snagged the first book and read that in a couple of hours.  I liked this one slightly more!

Bad Luck is a fun, breezy read.  Clay is back, still at Earth Ranch with his motley crew of new friends (and his nemesis, Flint) just a couple of weeks after Bad Magic left off.

Disguised as an outdoor survival camp for juvenile delinquents, Earth Ranch was, secretly, a magic camp for young adepts-a camp that depended on its remote location and ever-present vog for protection.

As he learns more about magic and the secret world that operates in it, strange things continue to abound.  When a boy around his age-Brett-washes up on the shores of Price Island, things just get stranger and stranger.  Since this is a book for young readers and a few might stumble upon my humble blog, I won’t betray more of the plot.  Just know that the spunky youngsters embark on a fun adventure!

I would like to tell you about the brave exploits that followed.  How our heroic friends from Earth Ranch vanquished all their enemies…

I absolutely love the narrator of the series!  The completely hilarious way he/she occasionally makes it known that they are a character in the story without betraying an identity is great.

The only question we need to answer now is the perennial one.  The question every writer faces.  What happens next?

Good question.  What will happen next?  The resolution of this book is a frustrating cliffhanger of sorts and I look forward to the next installment.  Will the Earth Ranch kids and S.O.S. vanquish the more unsavory magicians?  Will Clay figure out why Max-Earnest disappeared?

The bad guys had not won.  But neither, it must be said, had the good guys.  Not yet.

Three stars.

Expected Publication: February 9, 2016

Sanctuary Bay

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I received this ARC from Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.

Sarah Merson is a foster kid, left a ward of the state after witnessing the brutal murder of her parents at the age of three.  A mixed-race foster kid from Ohio, so the whole charmed life story hasn’t ever applied to her.  That all changes when she gets accepted into Sanctuary Bay Academy, a school she never applied to and has never even heard of.

Sarah had tried to find information about the school online, a picture or something.  But she hadn’t found anything.  Maybe since Sanctuary Bay had such an amazing reputation they didn’t need a web site.  No need to advertise.  If they wanted you, they’d let you know.

Sarah is thrilled to attend this prestigious school that has been a breeding ground for some of the greatest politicians, rock stars, business moguls and scientists for several generations.  It’s a dream going to classes and making friends at SBA.  She falls in with a crowd a kid like her-moved from foster home to foster home-had never dreamed of.

Sanctuary Bay is who you are now.

Sarah is quickly caught up in the thrill of making friends, taking classes in state of the art labs and having luxuries she’d never imagined thrust upon her.  The only problem is, some things don’t add up.  Sarah has an Eidetic memory and she later discovers, Hyperthymesia.  She not only remembers everything she sees in extraordinary detail, but she can relive these memories as well.  Peer pressure doesn’t work, things that go bump in the night don’t jostle her much and she can’t push aside the things she notices.  Something is amiss on the island of Sanctuary Bay.

The world would never be normal again.

She needs to figure out what is going on beneath the perfect surface of the academy.  With the help of disillusioned rich kid Ethan and a kind teacher, she sets out to do just that.

They thought they could hide the truth but the truth doesn’t hide, the truth shines.

This was a good read, I went in with no knowledge aside from what was contained in the little blurb the publisher listed and it served me well.  I’m pretty sure this is the first in a series and I look forward to keeping up with it.

Four stars.

Publication Date: January 19, 2016