Friday, February 1, 2019

Review: The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib

The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib 
Release date: February 5, 2019
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 384
Reading level: Adult
Genre: Contemporary
Source: Netgalley
Links: Author • Goodreads • Amazon

Overall: 3 out of 5 stars 
The chocolate went first, then the cheese, the fries, the ice cream. The bread was more difficult, but if she could just lose a little more weight, perhaps she would make the soloists’ list. Perhaps if she were lighter, danced better, tried harder, she would be good enough. Perhaps if she just ran for one more mile, lost just one more pound.
Anna Roux was a professional dancer who followed the man of her dreams from Paris to Missouri. There, alone with her biggest fears – imperfection, failure, loneliness – she spirals down anorexia and depression till she weighs a mere eighty-eight pounds. Forced to seek treatment, she is admitted as a patient at 17 Swann Street, a peach pink house where pale, fragile women with life-threatening eating disorders live. Women like Emm, the veteran; quiet Valerie; Julia, always hungry. Together, they must fight their diseases and face six meals a day.

THE GIRLS AT 17 SWANN STREET followed 26 year old Anna as she fought with anorexia. The only other books about eating disorders I have read have been young adult, focusing on teenagers dealing with anorexia or bulimia. Yara Zgheib's novel demonstrated that eating disorders do not just strike the young, but can impact you at any age. Anna is happily married, but an injury left her unable to pursue her career as a dancer in Paris and her husband has a job offer in the United States. I can only imagine how difficult this transition was for Anna.

Anna was a character that I had a bit of a hard time connecting with. We got glimpses of her internal struggles, but as a whole, I felt a lot of what led up to her eating disorder was a bit rushed. The book was over 300 pages, but it went by very quickly. One of the biggest issues I've seen about the book is the writing style. The lack of quotation marks, the random aside chapters... and this actually didn't bother me much. There were a few times I had to reread a scene to ensure I knew who was saying what, but as a whole I think it made the story a little more engaging.

The other girls at 17 Swann Street all were dealing with their own body image issues. I found it interesting, although terribly sad, to see how the program worked at turning these girls' lives around. Although, I'm not sure how accurate this depiction of a recovery center is. Anna learned a lot about appreciating what she has by her interactions with Emm, Valerie, Julia, and the other residents of the center. One thing Anna could not complain about was the dedication her husband showed her throughout her time in treatment. This book really showed was how important a support system is for someone dealing with an eating disorder.

I flew through THE GIRLS AT 17 SWANN STREET and found it to be a uniquely told story that discussed a difficult topic. I only wish that I had more time to connect with the main character and that certain parts of the story were not so rushed. Although the story took place over several months, it seemed to be much less. This is a book to be read more for the subject matter and writing style, not necessarily the characters as they were not fully fleshed out.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Review: Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman
Release date: January 23, 2007
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux
Reading level: Adult
Genre: Contemporary
Source: Purchased
Links: Goodreads Amazon

Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
Call Me by Your Name is the story of a sudden and powerful romance that blossoms between an adolescent boy and a summer guest at his parents' cliff-side mansion on the Italian Riviera. Unprepared for the consequences of their attraction, at first each feigns indifference. But during the restless summer weeks that follow, unrelenting buried currents of obsession and fear, fascination and desire, intensify their passion as they test the charged ground between them. What grows from the depths of their spirits is a romance of scarcely six weeks' duration and an experience that marks them for a lifetime. For what the two discover on the Riviera and during a sultry evening in Rome is the one thing both already fear they may never truly find again: total intimacy.


CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is easily one of the best books I have ever read. André Aciman is a wonderful writer and the two characters he brings to life in this book are so vivid and memorable. Full disclosure, I saw the film first. When I first got my MoviePass in April I realized some of the Oscar Winners were still out, so I decided to go see which ones I could. I had little to no idea what CALL ME BY YOUR NAME was about, much less that it was based on this book. Hopefully more people realize that and go buy the book if they loved the film like I did! So, I did things a little backwards, but nonetheless this book was incredible. The writing brought a whole new dimension to these characters I had become so attached to on screen and I finished this book in one evening.

I was lucky enough to attend an event here in Washington, DC where André Aciman spoke about the novel and the film and answered audience questions. What a great guy! Andre had such wonderful antidotes about the writing process and if you get a chance to see him speak I highly recommend it. Andre is extremely eloquent and made me realize things about the book I may not have even picked up on. While this is one of the rare occasions that I think a film so perfectly captured the essence of a book, I highly recommend reading this for yourself.

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME follows Elio and Oliver through one passionate summer in the Italian countryside. These two characters were so different, and yet they connected and fell in love. It's not often you read about a relationship like this where you can literally feel every awkward moment and every spark as Elio and Oliver figure out where they fit in each others lives. Both heartbreaking and beautiful, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME will make you think about life, death, love, and so much more. I reread the final pages several times. I'm grateful that the film introduced me to this book and I know that Elio and Oliver's story will stay with me for a long time. 

Friday, January 11, 2019

Review: Priest of Bones by Peter McLean

Release date: October 2, 2018
Publisher: Ace Books
Pages: 352
Reading level: Adult 
Series: War for the Rose Thorn Book 1 
Genre: Dark Fantasy 
Source: First to Read 
Links: Author • Goodreads  Amazon  

Overall: 4.25 out of 5 stars 

It's a dangerous thing, to choose the lesser of two evils.
The war is over, and army priest Tomas Piety finally heads home with Lieutenant Bloody Anne at his side. When he arrives in the Stink, Tomas finds that his empire of crime has been stolen from him while at war. With his gang of Pious Men, Tomas will do whatever it takes to reclaim his businesses. But when he finds himself dragged into a web of political intrigue once again, and is forced to work in secret for the sinister Queen's Men, everything gets more complicated.
When loyalties stretch to the breaking point and violence only leads to violence, when people have run out of food, and hope, and places to hide, do not be surprised if they have also run out of mercy. As the Pious Men fight shadowy foreign infiltrators in the backstreet taverns and gambling dens of Tomas's old life it becomes clear; the war is not over.
It is only just beginning.

I'm so glad I took a chance on this one because it was a fast paced and exciting read. PRIEST OF BONES follows Tomas Piety and his gang of Pious Men as they work to reclaim what was stolen from him when he was off fighting the Queen's war. He calls himself a "businessman", but he and his gang are willing to do whatever it takes to protect their businesses and the people of his hometown, Ellingberg. I have never seen Peaky Blinders which it has gotten some comparison towards, but I am a big fan of more modern gangster dramas like The Godfather and The Sopranos. I flew through this book and am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

Tomas Piety is an excellent main character. We get to see and experience everything through his eyes and while he may be a violent criminal, he only wants the best for his people. Tomas Piety cares about protecting the innocent and values the opinion of women, which is rare in those days. The fight scenes are riveting. Sword fights, explosions, and sneak attacks kept me hooked. Piety is incredibly loyal and hardworking and doesn't just sit back while others fight his fights. Religion is also explored as Tomas Piety is an army priest.

There are a ton of secondary characters, but they are all so distinctive it doesn't take too long to tell them apart. Still, since the story is through Piety's eyes we only know what he sees and hears, so many of the characters are still a bit mysterious. I especially liked the character of Bloody Anne, his second. Bloody Anne is one of the few other characters who has a fairly well developed back story and after reading about what she has been through, it made me admire her even more. Character development is so important and McLean does a great job of really drawing the reader in to Piety's head. In that sense, we are able to witness everything as he does. And he certainly witnesses some dark things.

PRIEST OF BONES is not light on the violence and the Pious Men are constantly fighting to protect what is theirs. One of my favorite aspects of this book was the inclusion of magic. It was very subtle, but magicians do play a role and I only wish there was more time in this book to delve into that even deeper. Hopefully the rest of the series will explore this further. There is so much to this world that I am curious about. As a whole this was an incredibly well written and engaging read. I highly recommend it! 

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Releases for the First Half of 2019

Book 1: SPIN THE DAWN by Elizabeth Lim - Project Runway meets Mulan??? Yes! The comparison immediately drew me in and I love that this is a fantasy focusing on Chinese culture. The cover is also beautiful. SPIN THE DAWN is also the first in a new series. (Coming July 30, 2019)

Book 2: LOST ROSES by Martha Hall Kelly - Kelly's 2018 release, LILAC GIRLS, was one of my favorite reads last year. LOST ROSES will feature relatives of some of the LILAC GIRLS' characters and is set in 1914. I love historical fiction and can't wait to get my hands on this one! (Coming April 9, 2019)

Book 3: AMERICAN PRINCESS by Stephanie Thornton - While most of us are at least familiar with President Teddy Roosevelt, her daughter is a bit of an enigma. I am so excited to read about Alice Roosevelt and Washington, DC at this point in time. (Coming March 12, 2019)

Book 4: SLAYER by Kiersten White - SLAYER comes out today, but it is definitely one of my most anticipated reads of the year. I recently finished White's Conqueror Saga and the Paranormalcy series so am in need of a new series by her! I am also a huge Buffy fan. Sounds like this is going to be awesome. (Comes out today)

Book 5: SEARCHING FOR SYLVIE LEE by Jean Kwok - Kwok's GIRL IN TRANSLATION was a fantastic and emotional read, so I am eager to see how SEARCHING FOR SYLVIE LEE is. It looks to be a story steeped in culture and family secrets. The early reviews I have seen on Goodreads are also fairly overwhelmingly positive which makes me even more excited to read this one. (Coming June 4, 2019)

Book 6: BLACK LEOPARD, RED WOLF by Marlon James - The fact that this was described as an "African Game of Thrones" immediately caught my eye. I am also hoping to read more books by writers of color this year. BLACK LEOPARD, RED WOLF looks to be the start of a powerful new epic, fantasy series and I can't wait to get my hands on it. (Coming February 5, 2019)

Book 7: THE NIGHT OLIVIA FELL by Christina McDonald - This is another thriller centered around family secrets. I love a good mystery and this is also McDonald's debut. The comparison to Big Little Lies also drew me in as that is one of my favorite thrillers. Can't wait to read this one! (Coming February 5, 2019)

Book 8: WE CAST A SHADOW by Maurice Carlos Ruffin - Wow, this sounds terrifying simply because of how relevant it is. Unfortunately racism is still alive and well today. Ruffin's debut novel imagines a world where it is possible to be turned white in order to protect yourself. While I am sure this will be a challenging read I am eager to see how Ruffin develops his characters in this near-future society. (Coming January 29, 2019)

Book 9: WILDER GIRLS by Rory Power - WILDER GIRLS is Rory Power's debut novel and easily one of my most anticipated YA releases of 2019. This sounds like a creepy and engaging thriller. Plus strong female characters are the best! Looking forward to getting my hands on this. (Coming July 9, 2019)

Book 10: DEAR GEORGE, DEAR MARY by Mary Calvi - Another historical fiction novel I can't wait to read. I have always been interested in George Washington, but know very little about his relationships before Martha. I always find it interesting to read about women in our country's history who are long forgotten. Many times they played a significant role that was simply lost in time. (Coming February 19, 2019)


Are any of these on your 2019 TBR list? 

Top Ten Tuesday Is Hosted By: The Artsy Reader Girl 

Monday, December 17, 2018

Review: The Similars by Rebecca Hanover

The Similars by Rebecca Hanover 
Release date: January 1, 2019
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Pages: 352
Reading level: Young Adult
Genre: Science Fiction 
Source: NetGalley 
Links: Author • Goodreads • Amazon 

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
When six clones join Emmaline’s prestigious boarding school, she must confront the heartbreak of seeing her dead best friend’s face each day in class.
The Similars are all anyone can talk about at the elite Darkwood Academy. Who are these six clones? What are the odds that all of them would be Darkwood students? Who is the madman who broke the law to create them? Emma couldn't care less. Her best friend, Oliver, died over the summer and all she can think about is how to get through her junior year without him. Then she comes face-to-heartbreaking-face with Levi—Oliver's exact DNA replica and one of the Similars.
Emma wants nothing to do with the Similars, but she keeps getting pulled deeper and deeper into their clique, uncovering dark truths about the clones and her prestigious school along the way. But no one can be trusted…not even the boy she is falling for who has Oliver's face.

I really enjoyed THE SIMILARS! It was a unique concept and kept me engaged all the way through. The main setting of the story is Darkwood Academy. The school is meant for the best and the brightest young scholars and is also considered one of the most inclusive schools in the world. So, it makes sense that this would be the school to welcome six (controversial) young clones. I haven't read any books (that I can recall) about clones and while this one only touched the surface of the science behind their creation, I am interested in seeing more of that in the sequels. Cloning is already controversial now, so it makes sense that there would be such diverse opinions about actual clones attending school. The main character, Emmaline, has recently lost her best friend and is shocked when she realizes one of the clones is of her late best friend, Oliver. Emma is quickly caught up in the mystery surrounding the six clones and who they actually are.

For me, the first thing I thought of with the clones is Twilight. They were all raised by a foster father in the middle of nowhere and are basically siblings even though they aren't related. Thus, it seems weird that some of them are couples. The six clones all hang out together and are very mysterious. It all just made me think of the Cullen family and people's reaction to them at school. Anyway, beyond that, I found the idea very new and intriguing. The clones all have a "twin" at Darkwood and while some of the students welcome their clones, others are hostile and worried about how to handle this new version of themselves. There is romance, but it's not the main focus until closer to the end. Friendships have more of a key role. There were quite a few twists and turns in the plot and Emmaline quickly realizes many of the adults and peers in her life are not what they seem. The ending left me with a lot of questions, but I know a sequel is already in the works.

Maybe I missed it, but I'm not entirely sure what year this is supposed to be. There were mixes of new technology beyond the clones such as self driving buses, but I'd be interested in seeing more of this new world in future books. I definitely recommend checking out Rebecca Hanover's debut especially if you enjoy futuristic settings with a strong female character. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

Review: Outrun the Wind by Elizabeth Tammi

Outrun the Wind by Elizabeth Tammi
Release date: November 27, 2018
Publisher: Flux
Pages: 360
Reading level: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Source: NetGalley
Links: Author • GoodreadsAmazon

Overall: 4.25 out of 5 stars 

The Huntresses of Artemis must obey two rules: never disobey the goddess, and never fall in love. After being rescued from a harrowing life as an Oracle of Delphi, Kahina is glad to be a part of the Hunt; living among a group of female warriors gives her a chance to reclaim her strength, even while her prophetic powers linger. But when a routine mission goes awry, Kahina breaks the first rule in order to save the legendary huntress Atalanta.

To earn back Artemis’s favor, Kahina must complete a dangerous task in the kingdom of Arkadia— where the king’s daughter is revealed to be none other than Atalanta. Still reeling from her disastrous quest and her father’s insistence on marriage, Atalanta isn’t sure what to make of Kahina. As her connection to Atalanta deepens, Kahina finds herself in danger of breaking Artemis’ second rule.
She helps Atalanta devise a dangerous game to avoid marriage, and word spreads throughout Greece, attracting suitors willing to tempt fate to go up against Atalanta in a race for her hand. But when the men responsible for both the girls’ dark pasts arrive, the game turns deadly.


OUTRUN THE WIND was fantastic! I am so glad I took a chance on this one. The Greek mythology intrigued me and the beautiful cover gave me the final push I needed to download it on Netgalley. Elizabeth Tammi's debut follows Atalana and Kahina through alternating chapters as they make their way through Ancient Greece. The Greek mythology was fascinating to me. Kahina is a huntress with the Greek goddess Artemis and Atalana is a well known part of Greek mythology herself. I loved reading about the girls' adventures and how they dealt with danger, family conflict, and romance. This was a highly engaging read and I was eager to research the mythology of the characters after I was finished.

Atalana and Kahina were two very different characters and yet they both shared the same drive and self-determination. It's not every day you come across a novel with so many strong female characters. OUTRUN THE WIND was full of them. These girls were independent and could easily take on any challenge that came their way. The story opens with Atalana and Kahina crossing paths unexpectedly and what follows is an exciting story as the two girls defeat enemies old and new. Atalana's father wants her to marry to secure a future for their kingdom. If you are not already familiar with the mythological background on Atalana, I would recommend not researching it until after you finish reading. I liked not knowing how things would unfold and seeing the challenges Atalana devised for her suitors.

I wish the book was able to delve deeper into the history and background of Artemis and Apollo and how the Hunt works. The ending also did seem to wrap up a bit too easily. Still, I think there may be a sequel in the future so there is time to build on this world. OUTRUN THE WIND was extremely character-driven and the romance was slow-growing but I started picking up on signs earlier than I think even the two characters did. I like the fact that OUTRUN THE WIND featured an LGBT relationship, as that is unique for a fantasy novel like this one. I am excited to see a more diverse set of relationships represented in young adult novels. OUTRUN THE WIND was simply a story of two powerful young girls and how they navigate all of the challenges thrown their way, their feelings for each other are just one small part of these well-rounded characters. When I first finished OUTRUN THE WIND I found myself continuously thinking of Atalana and Kahina and researching the Greek mythology contained in the story. It was not completely accurate, but Elizabeth Tammi was open about the liberties she took with the true stories.

This was a nice break from the nonfiction and political memoirs I have been reading so frequently. Definitely recommend.