Syria’s Secret Library: a Review

I received this book for free from Net Galley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. My thoughts remain my own.

Syria’s Secret Library: Reading and Redemption in a Small Town Under Siege by Mike Thomson

Book description:

The remarkable, improbable story of a small, makeshift library in the Syrian town of Darayya, and the people who found hope and humanity in its books during the four-year siege they endured.


My thoughts:

It’s hard to decide what would be the most critical item to have on hand if your city was under siege. Food, medicine, clean water? How about books? I bet you didn’t even think about books. For Darayya, a town right in the middle of Syria’s civil war, books were the thing that kept people going.

Some remarkable young men decided to save as many books as they could, gathering them from abandoned buildings, digging through rubble, even under the bombing. They did this to create a hidden library where anyone could come and escape into another world.
When the library became a hit, they started offering classes on reading, lessons in Engliah, and lectures on many subjects.

I found the story fascinating, but it was frustrating at times. It’s not organized well. They author skips from subject to subject. Sometimes the quotes are well used to illustrate a point, but often they’re just stuck in there and they go on too long.

It’s a sobering reflection on modern warfare. It makes me angry that the world stood by and did nothing. Now the flow of refugees is a crisis, but with timely intervention, perhaps it could have been avoided. Read this one not for the writing, but for the story of these brave individuals.

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The End of the Beginning: a Review

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I received this book from Net Galley for free in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. My thoughts remain my own.

The End of the Beginning: Cancer, Immunity, and the Future of a Cure by Michael Kinch

My thoughts:

Cancer is a frightening word. Even with all the advancements in early diagnosis, screenings tests, and chemotherapy, it’s still a word that no one wants to hear. My dad died of advanced cancer 9 years ago. They couldn’t even tell where it has started and it was too late to matter. He died a week later.

So if you hand me a book about what’s next in the treatment of the disease, I will definitely read it. This book, however, really exceeded my expectations. There’s so much in here, from what cancer is exactly and how humans came to understand the disease to how we began to fight it.

It’s incredibly rich and detailed. I wouldn’t call it an easy read. It’s full of names and scientific concepts you will never have heard of. But it was fascinating stuff. And for all the assumptions that people have about the disease, I came away from the book feeling quite positive about the future. So many brilliant researchers are working on so many different treatments. One way or another, humans are going to beat this disease.

Encore Review: The Face of a Stranger

This review appeared earlier and is reprinted here.

The Face of a Stranger (William Monk #1) by Anne Perry

Book description:

His name, they tell him, is William Monk, and he is a London police detective. But the accident that felled him has left him with only half a life; his memory and his entire past have vanished. As he tries to hide the truth, Monk returns to work and is assigned to investigate the brutal murder of a Crimean War hero and man about town. Which makes Monk’s efforts doubly difficult, since he’s forgotten his professional skills along with everything else…

My thoughts:

Now I remember why I don’t read Anne Perry anymore. I don’t really like her writing. This book sounded like a change from her Thomas/Charlotte Pitt series, which I did enjoy at one time. I just got a little tired of reading about the seamy side of Victorian life, and she explored deviance in all its forms, the worst crimes she could imagine, and on and on and on. There wasn’t much to smile about in her books, ever. But this is about a different character, so it was possible that it would be enjoyable.

Nope.

This is a classic example of how NOT to write a mystery, IMO. It starts with Detective William Monk awaking in a hospital to find that he is very weak, injured, and that he doesn’t remember anything at all, even his name or how he got there. He returns home and searches for clues all over his flat to find anything that will help trigger a memory. When nothing helps, he goes to visit his sister. On his return to London, he gets sent to investigate a crime that occurred the same night he had his accident, the murder of a popular gentleman with a titled family. Someone beat Joscelin Gray to death.

So far, it could have been a good book. We’ve got both the mystery of Monk’s past and the mystery of murder. But the writing was so darn bad that I really couldn’t finish the book. I was listening to it, which means that it took stinking forever to finish, so I finally gave up and got a paper copy at the library so I could skim through to the end.

The main thing that turned me off was the way the writer stuck interior monologue in the middle of PRACTICALLY EVERY CONVERSATION! So Monk is questioning someone, and then randomly thinks, “I wonder what kind of man I was before my accident. I wonder if I liked music. Did I have a girlfriend? Did I like pie? Why can’t I remember?” and on, and on, and on, while the actual conversation just sort of hangs there until Monk comes to his senses and starts paying attention again.

And the other main character, Hester Latterly, does the same thing. She’ll be listening to some discussion of the Crimean war and have a flashback to her service there as a nurse and we’ll get a page of her reminiscences. I know we all do that from time to time, let our minds wander now and then, but it’s really super boring to listen to! Even reading it was bad enough, but at least then I could skip ahead a couple of paragraphs.

I know that this series, and her other one, have some fans, but I am not reading anymore by this author. One series is too dark, and this one is too dumb. The writing itself is not very good and the style is extremely irritating. 1 star.

Resorting to Murder, book review

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Resorting to Murder: Holiday Murders, edited by Martin Edwards

Book description:

Holidays offer us the luxury of getting away from it all. So, in a different way, do detective stories. This collection of vintage mysteries combines both those pleasures. From a golf course at the English seaside to a pension in Paris, and from a Swiss mountain resort to the cliffs of Normandy, this new selection shows the enjoyable and unexpected ways in which crime writers have used summer holidays as a theme.

These fourteen stories range widely across the golden age of British crime fiction. Stellar names from the past are well represented Arthur Conan Doyle and G. K. Chesterton, for instance with classic stories that have won acclaim over the decades. The collection also uncovers a wide range of hidden gems: Anthony Berkeley whose brilliance with plot had even Agatha Christie in raptures is represented by a story so (undeservedly) obscure that even the British Library does not own a copy. The stories by Phyllis Bentley and Helen Simpson are almost equally rare, despite the success which both writers achieved, while those by H. C. Bailey, Leo Bruce and the little-known Gerald Findler have seldom been reprinted.

Each story is introduced by the editor, Martin Edwards, who sheds light on the authors’ lives and the background to their writing.


My thoughts:

I kept seeing this book recommended to me by Goodreads and Amazon, so when I found a copy at the library I snatched it up. This is part of the British Library  Crime Classics series, which includes reprints of some forgotten gems by popular writers of the 20th century. This book contains a collection of short stories all centered on the holiday or vacation setting. We’ve got stories at the seaside, in lonely country cottages, and in Alpine snow chalets. Some of them feature sleuths that readers might recognize from other books, like Dr. Thorndyke, Reggie Fortune, John Dollar, and of course, Sherlock Holmes.

The Holmes story, “The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot,” was the only story I had read before, and frankly, it’s not his best. All of the other stories were new to me. While I had my favorites, there really wasn’t a bad story in the whole collection. That is so rare! “The Hazel Ice” by H C Bailey and “Cousin Once Removed” by Michael Gilbert were my favorite. I also found some new authors, The funniest story was by Helen Simpson, “A Posteriori.” It’s worth hunting this collection down for that story alone! I was surprised not to see Agatha Christie in here, but I’m kind of glad they stuck to unknowns.

Encore Review: The Colony

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The Colony: The Harrowing True Story of the Exiles of Molokai by John Tayman

Themes: illness, superstition, compassion, love, science
Setting: Molokai, Hawaii 1866-1970s

Leprosy. It’s a horrible disease. It makes your extremities fall off. It’s horribly contagious. It causes nasty oozing sores that spread germs to everyone you pass by. It’s always fatal. And there’s still no cure.

Except that none of this is true. Well, it is a pretty horrible disease, if not treated. But there is a very effective treatment available. It’s not very contagious at all. Only a small portion of the population is susceptible to it in the first place. Even then, only some of them get the worst form. It’s more a matter of nerve damage and swelling. And diagnosis is a matter of minutes, so getting started with the right treatment now takes just days.

What a change from the past. This book is all about the bad old days of leprosy, and in the United States, it didn’t get worse than in Hawaii. Hawaiians were some of those that for some reason were particularly prone to catching leprosy. And back then, there was no treatment available. They could diagnose it, all right. Then they would pack you up and ship you off, without another word, off to Molokai, the leper colony. Good luck to you.

Incredible story, and it’s all true. At least, the author says it’s all true. Apparently there’s some controversy. But it made for great reading. It was shocking stuff. I couldn’t believe how they treated lepers like criminals. It’s not a crime to be sick. (Although in this country, I often wonder.) But they were treated like they had done something wrong by getting a disease. I couldn’t put it down. 4 stars.

The Onyx Crown: A Review

 I received this book for free in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. My thoughts remain my own.
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The Onyx Crown, book 1 by Alan Hurst

Synopsis:

The Onyx Crown is an exciting foray into the world of African fantasy. From the searing heat of the desert to the vastness of the savannah, it tells the story of three children–Sania, Gesi, and Jorann who grow up in a pre-medieval era of wars and successions, not fifteen years after the greatest king in the history of the continent has been deposed and assassinated. They must overcome the traumatic circumstances of their birth as well as many dangerous trials to fulfill the destiny bestowed upon them as infants. Can mere children use their courage, wits, and uncanny abilities to defeat legendary warriors, entire tribes, provinces, and kingdoms–allowing them to lead the worthy to the greatest prize of all, the Onyx Crown?

My thoughts:

If you’ve been reading my blog for very long, you know that I love fantasy series. Unfortunately, writers of fantasy can get stuck in a rut of relying on the same tired tropes, the medieval-with-a-bit-of-magic settings, and the same stock characters. Don’t get me wrong, I love it when it’s done well or when something fresh is added to the mix. But if done poorly, it can be a snoozefest.

InAlan Hurst is an author and entrepeneur. Hurst who spent most of his childhood reading Asian wuxia fiction, Marvel comics and encyclopedias is delving into trilogy territory with THE ONYX CROWN. He briefly studied religion at Harvard.  Later, he settled in Washington, DC where he founded a software consulting firm, hosted the Urban Nation Radio podcast, and occasionally played the World Series of Poker.  When not writing or enjoying time with his family, he prefers to take his Ducati motorcycle out for the occasional spin!
Website: https://www.alanhurstjr.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AlanHurstJr
Twitter: https://twitter.com/AlanHurstJr
@AlanHurstJr
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ajhurstjr/ this book, which is the first in a planned trilogy, first time author Alan Hurst shakes things up with an African setting and a fresh plot. The story focuses on 3 teens, Jorann, Gesi, and Sania. Fifteen years  ago their lands were united under one king, but when the royal family was killed, the lands fractured and the warlords took over. However, the heir escaped. Now a prophecy foretell his return along with 3 guardians.

The story sounds really promising. Plus I love this setting. It’s great to see some more diversity in publishing. It did take me a while to sort out the characters. Of the kids, I found the boys the most interesting. Jorann has been living as a slave for several years. He doesn’t really remember a family. Gesi has grown up with a foster father, attached to the local prince’s household. They were good foils for each other. Gesi definitely has some magical combat skills, but he was too arrogant. Jorann has been beaten down so much. We get to see him learning new skills with unrealistic speed, but he seems more down to earth than Gesi.

While I liked the kids, the adults this book all strike me as pretty horrible people. I couldn’t tell who to trust or what their motives were. No doubt this will become clearer in the next book, but be prepared for betrayal and violence. The body count is pretty high. I did find the plot confusing, especially at first, and the ending of the book was rather abrupt. But if you are looking for something fresh in fantasy, this series might be just what you need.


About the author:

Author Pic

Alan Hurst is an author and entrepeneur. Hurst – who spent most of his childhood reading Asian wuxia fiction, Marvel comics and encyclopedias – is delving into trilogy territory with THE ONYX CROWN. He briefly studied religion at Harvard.  Later, he settled in Washington, DC where he founded a software consulting firm, hosted the Urban Nation Radio podcast, and occasionally played the World Series of Poker.  When not writing or enjoying time with his family, he prefers to take his Ducati motorcycle out for the occasional spin.
Website: https://www.alanhurstjr.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AlanHurstJr
Twitter: https://twitter.com/AlanHurstJr
@AlanHurstJr
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ajhurstjr/


This review was courtesy of R & R book tours.

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Forever People: A Book Review

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions remain my own.

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Forever People by Alison Lyke

Genre: adult science fiction/cyberpunk

TW: suicide

Synopsis:

Welcome to Zeta City, where the whole world goes to die. Here, the Node System uploads the minds of the dying so they can spend eternity in a digital Promised Land. But, this cyber heaven is causing hell on earth for the living because the System forces them to earn Points to buy data in the afterlife.

Camille is a salty mercenary out to hoard as many Points as possible by exploiting the dying with illegal technology. She’s on the hunt for Toy, a rebel leader who uploaded lethal technology to her own brain in an attempt to wipe out everyone’s Node Points.

Camille goes to increasingly dangerous lengths in pursuit of Toy. She soon finds that the Node is full of warm reunions with loved ones and otherworldly creations. It’s also full of lies.

“Forget poetic dreams of ghosts in the machines. We are the machine. We donated our souls to it.”


I really enjoy science fiction, so I was pleased to be offered a chance to review this new book. The author has written one other book, but this is her first effort at a science fiction story. There are a lot of YA dystopians out there, but this was a book that dealt with some theological issues, and that was something out of the ordinary.

Let me start with what I liked. I liked the basic premise. We all know that life on earth is full of injustice and a struggle to survive. What if even Heaven turned out to be set up to favor the rich and powerful? What if your afterlife depended on how much wealth and influence you have before you die? In a way, I guess you COULD take it with you.

At least, that’s how it seems in Zeta City. It was structured to favor the rich intentionally; it just worked out that way. It was supposed to be set up so that good karma would get you ‘Node Points’. It’s just that rich people have more to donate, so they wind up with more NP. I found all of this well thought out.

Next we can talk characters. Camille is our MC and I really did not like  her at first. She is a mercenary who seems obsessed with earning more NP. Then she’d surprise me by seeming more human. I couldn’t figure her out for quite a while. Eventually, though, the reader finds out what’s behind her money grubbing ways. She has a strong back story that really changed how I saw her.

Now for what I didn’t like. While the frame of the story makes sense, there’s a lot going on here that I just didn’t understand. All the technical aspects of trying to break into the Node, etc, didn’t make any sense to me. I guess in the end you just have to go along with it, but it was pretty implausible.

Some of the characters were pretty flat. Toy, the fanatic who starts the story, does seem to have enough charisma to influence anyone. We were told about how strong she was, but I didn’t see any sign of it except her dramatic suicide. The Founders are only shadowy figures with the vaguest of motives.

Finally, this isn’t a major complaint, but it would have been fun to see more of the other parts of the Node. We did get to see Maybury and the Wild West. I wonder what Wonderland was like?

Thanks again for the chance to read this one. If you are interested, you can buy it here.


tour made possible by R & R book tours.

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New Paranormal Obsession

Paranormal is not my preferred genre, but sometimes I enjoy a good urban fantasy. Somehow I heard about a series that I wanted to check out. The City Between is a series set in modern Tasmania by W. R. Gingell. Check out the synopsis for book one, Between Jobs.

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When you get up in the morning, the last thing you expect is to see a murdered guy hanging outside your window. Things like that tend to draw the attention of the local police, and when you’re squatting in your parents’ old house until you can afford to buy it, another thing you can’t afford is the attention of the cops. 

Oh yeah. Hi. My name is Pet. 

It’s not my real name, but it’s the only one you’re getting. Things like names are important these days. 

And it’s not so much that I’m Pet. 

I’m a pet. 

A human pet: I belong to the two Behindkind fae and the pouty vampire who just moved into my house. It’s not weird, I promise—well, it’s weird, yeah. But it’s not weird weird, you know?

After both her parents are murdered, Pet is staying under the radar, still living in her family’s old apartment and going to her crappy job at a local cafe. One day she wakes up and finds a dead body outside her window. After calling the police, she starts noticing 3 strange guys who keep crossing her path — and none of them look especially human.

Soon Pet and the “men” make an arrangement. Pet will cook and clean, and they will let her stay in the house. Together maybe they can figure out what’s really going on in her sleepy town.

There is so much that I love about these books! First, I love Pet. She is like a goofy mutt sometimes, jumping before she looks, fierce in protecting her friends, happy and maybe too trusting. I’ve read the first three in the series, and she has really shown some character growth, but there Pet still holds a lot of mysteries she’s keeping quiet about.

Which brings me to the second thing I love – the pacing. I love that the author has taken the time to plot these books out, revealing just enough to keep  her readers from getting too frustrated, but not enough to give them any sense of exactly what’s going to happen next. In book 3, Between Floors, we learn a lot more about Athelas, Zero and JimYeoung, but Pet herself really remains the big mystery to be solved.

What I don’t love is that these series is still not finished! The author keeps the suspense between each book, but it’s not like a terrible cliffhanger. Still, they are addictive. I’m dying to see what happens next, but it looks like I’ll just have to wait. Each of the books seems to take about 6 months to be released, so it doesn’t look like I’ll have to wait forever for answers.

If you’re looking for a fun YA or NA urban fantasy series, and especially if you want some diversity along with those werewolves – I mean lycanthropes – give this one a try. The series is free with Kindle Unlimited.

2 YA Retellings

I’m actually getting a little burned out on Napoleon right now, so I switched things up by finishing 2 YA retellings of classic books. The first was A Blade So Black by L L McKinney, and the second was Pride by Ibi Zoboi.

I’ve heard some negative things about A Blade So Black, some of it focused on the author, some of it on the writing style. But I love Alice in Wonderland, especially when it is a really new look at such a well used tale. Alice is a Black teenager who has recently lost her dad when she meets Hatta battling a Nightmare on our world. She is unusually gifted and he recruits her help. But the line separating our world from Wonderland is unstable and Alice has to fight to keep the world safe while dealing with school and an overprotective mom.

I really liked this one, with so much Lewis Carroll-goodness in here, but at the same time I wanted to shake Alice for trying to keep too many secrets. I liked the style and the characters. I didn’t realize this had a planned sequel until almost at the end, and now I have to wait until September for book 2.

My second read wasn’t as good. Pride by Ibi Zoboi was a retelling of Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen. Zuri Benitez lives in Brooklyn with her four sisters and her parents all crowded into a small apartment. Her neighborhood is a mix of the old and familiar and the new gentrification. When a new family moved into the newly renovated building across the street, Zuri already had some doubts. But when she meets the Darcy brothers, it gets even worse.

I loved the setting and the altered family dynamic. I even loved the vibrant poetry Zuri writes. I think what I struggled with us that keeping the characters the same age as in the original (the sisters, anyway)  forced some other elements into the book that I didn’t like as much. I think I would have enjoyed this a lot more of I were younger.

There you have it! I’m recommending both books, but the are definitely for readers who enjoy YA.

The Light Between Worlds: A Review

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The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth

Synopsis:

Six years ago, sisters Evelyn and Philippa Hapwell were swept away to a strange and beautiful kingdom called the Woodlands, where they lived for years. But ever since they returned to their lives in post-WWII England, they have struggled to adjust.

Ev desperately wants to return to the Woodlands, and Philippa just wants to move on. When Ev goes missing, Philippa must confront the depth of her sister’s despair and the painful truths they’ve been running from. As the weeks unfold, Philippa wonders if Ev truly did find a way home, or if the weight of their worlds pulled her under.

Walking the line between where fantasy and reality meet, this lyrical and magical novel is, above all else, an exploration of loss and healing, and what it means to find where you belong.

Review:

I had such high hopes for this book! I think they were a little too high as I found the book to be disappointing overall.

There was a lot to enjoy about this book. I found the writing to be solid, even beautiful at times. The settings, those of the school, the museum and the Woodlands, were all done well. I really liked some of the secondary characters, especially Ev’s friend Tom. I really liked him. I also enjoyed the narration. They had two voices, one for Evelyn and one for Philippa. Both did a nice job.

However I just couldn’t connect with either character. Evelyn quickly became tiresome, with her absolute refusal to engage with her life, while expecting everyone around her to take care of her. Ev is deeply depressed after leaving the Woodlands. All she can think about is wanting to return “home.” I understand, and believe me, I sympathize. But for all that she spent so many years in the other world, she has got to me one of the most self-absorbed people I’ve read about in a long time. She never once thinks about her family and what they must have gone through when she was gone and what they must be feeling when she gets back. It was, I admit, pretty on par for a kid her age, but she keeps saying that she’s not a kid anymore. Sorry, honey, but I disagree.

Philippa is just as irritating. Her sister goes missing, and all she can do is find reasons to fight with her parents and get a new boyfriend. She has to know, deep down, what happened to her sister. But she’s so busy doing, um, stuff, that she can’t track her down for months. Meanwhile, she’s also too busy to think about her parents and her brother. Jamie was the character I felt sorriest for. He has also been through the wars – literally – and gets completely forgotten when they get back to this world.

Verdict:

I know that this book is really supposed to be about what happened after the children came back from Narnia. I don’t know, however, if Narnia fans are likely to love this book or hate it. I wanted to DNF several times, but for some reason I finished it and I don’t think it was worth it.