My name is Ardis and I am an avid reader and budding writer. I want to share my love of books with others. I work with kids and am interested in finding and creating books that will ignite the reader in everyone. Contact me at: ardis.atkins@gmail.com

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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Book Review: The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw


Synopsis (From Goodreads):
Welcome to the cursed town of Sparrow…

Where, two centuries ago, three sisters were sentenced to death for witchery. Stones were tied to their ankles and they were drowned in the deep waters surrounding the town.

Now, for a brief time each summer, the sisters return, stealing the bodies of three weak-hearted girls so that they may seek their revenge, luring boys into the harbor and pulling them under.

Like many locals, seventeen-year-old Penny Talbot has accepted the fate of the town. But this year, on the eve of the sisters’ return, a boy named Bo Carter arrives; unaware of the danger he has just stumbled into.

Mistrust and lies spread quickly through the salty, rain-soaked streets. The townspeople turn against one another. Penny and Bo suspect each other of hiding secrets. And death comes swiftly to those who cannot resist the call of the sisters.

But only Penny sees what others cannot. And she will be forced to choose: save Bo, or save herself.

I have been seeing this book on NetGalley for a long time, admiring the beautiful cover, but not being too tempted to request a copy.  But I became much more interested when I attended an author forum at the Bay Area Book Festival in April.  I took a chance and was not disappointed.  This was a moody, broody tale with some fun twists.

What I Liked:
The book is set in a small town in Oregon with a dark history.  Nearly two hundred years earlier, three sisters were accused of witchcraft and drowned.  Now, in modern times, boys mysteriously drown each summer.  Could this be the sister's revenge?  

I liked the layers of history in the village.  The book alternated between modern times, and two centuries prior.  The author walked the reader around town, with many of the same shop buildings still standing, just with different businesses.  Not much has changed, including the attitudes of the villagers.  The townspeople were still weary of new people.  They were also very happy to blame young women for the drownings.

Also in the story island where much of the action takes place, close enough to the coast, but remote enough to have a very different vibe from the town.  The wind-swept vistas and rapidly changing weather seems to reflect the mood of each scene.

The novel is centered around Penny, who lives on Lumiere island with her mother.  She motors across the bay to attend high school, and hang out with her best friend, Rose.  But since her father disappeared three years ago, her mom has spiraled into a deep depression.  Penny would love to leave the area after high school, but feels guilty about leaving her mom.  I do not usually enjoy the "missing parent" trope, but in this case I thing it served a useful purpose.  When there are difficult family situations, I think teens do feel conflicted about leaving someone behind.

I also liked Rose, Penny's best friend.  I found her character to be very realistic. While Rose and Penny were BFF's, Rose also had other friends.  Her world was not centered around Penny.  Sometimes Rose was not as clued in to what was happening with Penny, but that is real-life.  This was refreshing, as Rose didn't exist in the novel for the sole purpose of being the sidekick.

This is a story about reflecting on the past and redemption.  The town has a lot to atone for, but only some people, mostly women, seem to realize this.  I appreciated that the ghosts of the Swan sisters would be hard pressed to forgive the town for killing them.  But how long can the sister's revenge go on?  Haven't the sisters become just as bad as those who condemned them?  If you literally only live for revenge, is that really living?

I really enjoyed how the book alternated between modern times and 1820, when the Swan sisters lived.  Of course, the truth about why the girls were accused of witchcraft is much more complicated than one originally thinks.  I liked how this unfolded, and got teary when I understood what actually happened.  

Without giving anything away, there were some fantastic twists in this novel!  Some people are not what they seem, while others have hidden motives for their actions.  These plot turns were hinted at in fun little ways, so when the big reveal happens, we can accept it. 

What I Was Mixed About:
Here is my one quibble about the book:  I think it was a stretch to believe that a town would use the tragic drownings of young men as a tourist event.   While I liked the creativity of the various traditions the town had (bonfires marking the beginning and end of the season, ringing a bell when a body is found), I found it strange that people just accepted that boys would drown each summer.  There didn't seem to be much investigating by the police as to what was happening.  And I think tourists wouldn't be clamoring to witness these deaths.  


Release Date:  March 6th, 2018

Publisher:  Simon Pulse

Author:  Shea Ernshaw

Genre:  YA Fantasy

Page Length:  308 pages

Source:  Bought

Format:  Hardcover Book

Recommendations:  A fun, moody book about revenge and redemption.
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Monday, May 28, 2018

ARC Review: Lifelike by Jay Kristoff

Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
On a floating junkyard beneath a radiation sky, a deadly secret lies buried in the scrap.

Eve isn’t looking for secrets—she’s too busy looking over her shoulder. The robot gladiator she’s just spent six months building has been reduced to a smoking wreck, and the only thing keeping her Grandpa from the grave was the fistful of credits she just lost to the bookies. To top it off, she’s discovered she can destroy electronics with the power of her mind, and the puritanical Brotherhood are building a coffin her size. If she’s ever had a worse day, Eve can’t remember it.

But when Eve discovers the ruins of an android boy named Ezekiel in the scrap pile she calls home, her entire world comes crashing down. With her best friend Lemon Fresh and her robotic conscience, Cricket, in tow, she and Ezekiel will trek across deserts of irradiated glass, infiltrate towering megacities and scour the graveyard of humanity’s greatest folly to save the ones Eve loves, and learn the dark secrets of her past.

Even if those secrets were better off staying buried.

I first heard of Jay Kristoff from the Illuminae novels he wrote with Amie Kaufman.  They were unlike anything I had read before: science-fiction that was fun, wildly creative, and even a bit romantic.  He does it again with his latest novel, Lifelike.  Set in the not too distant future, this dystopian thriller was a page turner!

What I Liked:

Even though this is a book that is clearly set on Earth, everything is just a little bit different.  There has clearly been some catastrophic nuclear war which changed both the landscape, and society.

I loved this off-kilter version of an America gone to Hell (okay, this does sound bad, but bear with me).  Everything from the use of language (which is totally "fizzy") to new pronunciations of familiar places, creates this mood of a country with a colossal hangover.  

As one might predict, corporations rule rather than governments, and the masses are entertained with gladiator-like competitions between people in giant robots and rogue machines that have taken lives.  

Evie is a wonderful main character.  While she is a wonderful mechanic, she is fallible.  Her rebellious nature often gets her in trouble and she barely escapes with her life, all in search of getting enough money to assist her grandpa. 

I like that her friend, Lemon, is a fully realized character with a strong backstory and has as many secrets as Evie.  She and Evie have an enviable friendship complete with their own motto, "Stronger together, together forever".  They have a shared history of harships and an admiration for Silas, Evie's grandpa.

The friends are complimented by Cricket, a small robot with a large personality.  Cricket is programmed by Silas to be the voice of reason that will (hopefully) keep Evie and Lemon out of trouble.  It is with this character that we begin to see how advanced machines have become in this future.  The girls rely of Cricket and think of it as a person, not simply a computer.

The "Lifelikes" are highly advanced robots that are self-aware.  They were created by a coporation, only to later kill everyone at that headquarters.  This subsequently got them immediately banned.

The story central theme is about what it means to be human.  Since people in the book agree that slavery is wrong, isn't it just as wrong for them to enslave machines?  This is explored in several different ways that are thought-provoking.  Are genetically-modified people the same as natural humans?  Do they have any rights?  What about a machine that has consciousness?  The tag line for the book is: Your life is not your own.  This begs the question: what is life?

Obviously, I am not going to throw spoilers your way!  


But I will say that there are enough twists and turns that you will start screaming out loud while reading this book.  The twists were delightful and added a new layer to the action.

The ending, while clearly leaving room to make this a series, is very satisfying.  I have a pet peeve about books that stop in the middle of a crucial part, as if to say, "Stay tuned for the next exciting installment!".  This lack of resolution is frustrating.  But much was wrapped up by the end of this book, but with some tantalizing set ups for a future novel.

What I Didn't Like:


 I can't wait for the next book in the series!!!



Release Date:  May 29th, 2018

Publisher:  Knopf Books for Young Readers

Author:  Jay Kristoff

Genre:  YA Science Fiction

Page Length:  416 pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  A fast-paced, exciting new series.  Full of twists that will keep you up late reading.    
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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Book Review: The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani


Synopsis (From Goodreads):
It's 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders.

Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn't know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it's too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train but later on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult, and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha can't imagine losing her homeland, too. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together.

As the descendant of immigrants, I am always drawn to stories of immigration.  This novel, The Night Diary, by Veera Hiranandani, chronicles the largest migration in human history when India (immediately after British rule ended in 1947) was partitioned into Muslim Pakistan, and Hindu India.  

This led to massive upheaval as people were forced to pick up their lives and move to a part of the country they were not familiar with.  Long simmering anger between the two groups led to violence and made the migration a dangerous journey.

All of this is witnessed by the main character of the book, twelve-year-old Nisha.  This was a very moving book about the refugee experience.  The setting, characters, and story all contribute to a strong feeling of empathy towards people forced to leave their homes due to political policies they have no influence over.

What I Liked:
The time is 1947, and India is about to gain it's independence from Great Britain.  But this new freedom comes with some difficult compromises.  Although Gandhi, the famous man of peace, wants a united India, age-old tensions between Hindus and Muslims force India to split into two separate countries:  India and Pakistan.  I thought the book did a good job of explaining the political realities of the time, and how these manifested on the local level.  As the family progresses on their journey, the level of danger escalates to a point where if anyone recognizes that they are Hindu, they will be killed.

Amid this very grave subject matter, the author uses cooking to give a sense of place to delicious effect.  Nisha, a quiet child, connects with others through the common language of spices, recipes, and the routine of meal-preparation.  Wherever they live, Nisha will always have this remembrance of home.  The vivid descriptions of aromatic spices such as coriander, mustard seeds, cardamon, and turmeric made me feel I was in the kitchen with the characters.  

Main Character:
Nisha is a very shy twelve-year-old girl.  Their mother died giving birth to her and her twin brother, Amil.  This has her wondering if her father blames her for the death of her mother, and makes her very quiet around him.  With no one to really talk with, she pours her heart out in a diary (which she only writes in at night), and in cooking for others. 

Nisha sees so much injustice and is confused by it. Suddenly some of her friends are not allowed to play with her.  The household's Muslim cook, and honorary member of the family, cannot come with her to her new home.

Having Nisha as a witness to history brings into focus the very personal nature of such a conflict.  I think many middle-grade readers will empathize with Nisha.  

The story follows the family as they walk from their home in the newly founded country of Pakistan, to Jodhpur India, a distance of over two-hundred miles!  There is danger and hardships as the characters must find food and water along the way.  They also must be careful around Muslims as there was a great deal of violence between different religious groups.

The family goes from living a comfortable life where their father has a good job as a doctor, servants, and plenty to eat, to near starvation in a matter of weeks.  The fragility of life is on full display.


Release Date:  March 6th, 2018

Publisher:  Dial Books for Young Readers

Author:  Veera Hiranandani

Page Length:  272 Pages

Genre:  Middle-grade Historical Novel

Source:  Public Library

Format:  Hardcover Book

Recommendation:  An engaging book that captures the hope and despair of what it means to be a refugee.  Good for both middle-grade and older readers.
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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Book Review: The 57 Bus by Sashka Slater


Synopsis (From Goodreads):
One teenager in a skirt.
One teenager with a lighter.
One moment that changes both of their lives forever.

If it weren't for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.

This is a book that we picked for our book club at A Great Good Place for Books, in Oakland, California.  As the book is a non-fiction, and actually occurred in Oakland, I found this deeply moving.  It helps that this is a written account by a reporter, fairly presenting both teenagers.

What I Liked:

Non-Judgemental Style:
The book presents the facts of the case, and the underlying circumstances, dispassionately.  This leaves the reader to interpret for themselves how they feel about what happened, and if the punishment fit the crime.

Background Information: 
In order to understand what happened, and why, it's very important to see these students lives leading up to the incident.  

For Sasha, the reader gets a wonderful education (including a glossary of terms) on non-binary sexual orientation.  We see how supportive and compassionate their parents are, which explains their actions after the incident.

For Richard, we see the environment that he is from.  This is never used as an excuse for his actions.  But by understanding his struggles with impulse control, and the type of friends he has, the reader can see how this might happen.

We also get an insight into the diversity that makes Oakland such a unique community.  There is no one type of Oakland resident.  There are poor, struggling single parents, and well-to-do hipsters.  Gangs and millionaires.  Kids who go to struggling schools, and those who attend elite private schools.  And most residents see a daily mix of all these types of people.

The Judicial System:
This book really explains the current state of our juvenile justice system and how some reforms are needed.  While most people in California want strong laws to punish hate crimes, most are unaware of the unintended consequences of these prosecutions.  The author also discusses how teens can be charged as adults, and why it may not always be the right choice.

What I Was Mixed About:

Restorative Justice:
While Slater did explain what restorative justice is, I wish she would have gone more deeply into what that would have looked like for Richard.  The one example of restorative justice she gives is helpful, but is about a minor situation.  Given the gravity of the offense, I couldn't see how it could be applied to this scenario.


Release Date:  October 17th, 2017

Genre:  Non-Fiction

Publisher:   Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers

Author:  Dashka Slater

Page Length:  320 Pages

Source:  Bought

Format:  Hardcover Book

Recommendation:  A strong reporting of an event that happened in an instant, but had a lifetime of ramifications for the people involved.  This will make you reassess what you think you know about our judicial system.
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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Book Review: The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton


Synopsis (From Goodreads):
When Rona Blackburn landed on Anathema Island more than a century ago, her otherworldly skills might have benefited friendlier neighbors. Guilt and fear instead led the island’s original eight settlers to burn “the witch” out of her home. So Rona cursed them. Fast-forward one hundred–some years: All Nor Blackburn wants is to live an unremarkable teenage life. She has reason to hope: First, her supernatural powers, if they can be called that, are unexceptional. Second, her love life is nonexistent, which means she might escape the other perverse side effect of the matriarch’s backfiring curse, too. But then a mysterious book comes out, promising to cast any spell for the right price. Nor senses a storm coming and is pretty sure she’ll be smack in the eye of it. In her second novel, Leslye Walton spins a dark, mesmerizing tale of a girl stumbling along the path toward self-acceptance and first love, even as the Price Guide’s malevolent author — Nor’s own mother — looms and threatens to strangle any hope for happiness.

I saw this book some time ago on NetGalley, but really became interested in it from going to an author forum at the Bay Area Book Festival.  Although I did find the book to be entertaining, there were aspects of it I did not like.

What I Liked:
Book Design:
This is one of the prettiest books I have ever seen!  Along with a gorgeous, embossed cover in black and yellow (with creepy accents of red), the pages are all edged in a bright, blood red color!  
Mood & Setting:
The author does take the time to create a setting that is both creepy and realistic.  The coast of Oregon seem to be filled with tiny wind-swept islands that are both a haven for tourists and a place where someone could choose to isolate themselves from a busy world.  There is also a strong backstory that sets the tone of the book.

Nor is the main character and I really like her character.  She struggles to understand why her mother was so neglectful (and later, out and out abusive).  She deals with her feelings by cutting herself.  I appreciated that the author made this only part of her personality, and not the most important part.  Nor is also a solid friend, and a caring person to her grandmother and other people who have stepped in to parent her.

Superficially, while she may seem like the "colorful" bestie, there is more to Nor's friend Savvy, than meets the eye.  While everyone else is infatuated with Nor's mother Fern, Savvy takes the time to listen to Nor and understand why Nor is not cheering her mother on. 

Dealing with Cutting:
Nor is a recovering cutter.  This could be a trigger for some people.  But I think the author does a good job of showing why some people do this, and how much of a struggle it is to stop this behavior.  Nor has been through therapy, and hasn't cut herself for a while.  But, like a recovering alcoholic, she must take life one day at a time to not fall back into this behavior.  She knows she still can't be trusted around sharp objects, as stress can easily push her toward her compulsion to cut.  I thought this was a very realistic portrayal of this topic.
What I Didn't Like:
Nor's mother, Fern, is the story's antagonist, but I didn't feel that there was enough of an explanation for why she was so bad.  Evil people genuinely think they are good; they don't see what they do as wrong.  Or they will try to justify their bad behavior by thinking something is owed to them.  But Fern is just plain evil.

When she does terrible things, Fern says she does it because it's fun.  Aside from an incident where a man she is infatuated with is not interested, there is no real reason for her to act the way she does. This made for a rather two-dimensional character.

Although there was plenty of suspense in the story, most of the big action actually takes place off the page.  The reader gets descriptions of what happens, but we rarely see first-hand what Fern is doing (or her mindset).  Nor does dream about some moments where Fern is torturing people, but this reminds me too much of a device used in the Harry Potter books.  This leads to a story where the characters are mostly reacting and not doing much themselves, until the very end of the book.

The island, itself, was such a wonderful setting that I wanted the plot to move forward from things that happened on the island, using the characters that I became attached to.

The book moves at a snail's pace.  While the author takes time to create a very creepy mood for the book, there also isn't much action for the first one hundred pages!  



Release Date: March 13th, 2018

Publisher:  Candlewick Press

Author:  Leslye Walton

Genre:  YA Gothic Fantasy

Page Length:  288 pages

Source:  Bought

Format:  Hardcover book

Recommendation:  An uneven, but entertaining book that uses witches to discuss the aftermath of neglectful parenting. 
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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Stacking The Shelves #125 & Sunday post #89

I am combining two great blog hops:  Stacking The Shelves (a Saturday feature by Team Tynga's Reviews), and Sunday Post (a Sunday feature by the Caffeinated Book Reviewer).  Both of these features give people a chance to post about what books they received and also an opportunity to catch a glimpse of what others are excited about.  I really enjoy seeing everyone's version of these features!   All book covers are linked to Goodreads, if you want to check them out.  If you enjoy my blog, please consider following me via Bloglovin, Networked Blogs, GFC, or by email subscription.  If you leave a comment and tell me you are a new follower, I will follow you back! 

On The Blog:

Tuesday:  Book Review:  The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

I just couldn't get the writing thing going this week.  But I was very happy to review this amazing book.  I got it in my April Pagehabit box, and it was a lovely surprise.

In "Real Life":

I had one more major health appointment this week, and I am finally in the clear!!!  I spent the rest of the week relieved and treating myself to reading as much as possible!

I also got to attend my book club at A Great Good Place for Books, in Oakland.  We discussed the book The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater. This book had so much relevance for many of the book club members as the incident in this book happened in Oakland.  What a thoughtful, great group of fellow readers!

New Books:

Public Library:


From our Work Book Exchange:



That's it for this week.  Did you get any interesting books?  Have you read any of the books in this post?

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Book Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

This book was part of my April box from Pagehabit, so it was a bit of a surprise!  I am usually NOT into poetry, and I have only ever read one other book written in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson (very good, by the way...).  

The Poet X tells the story of Xiomara, a fifteen-year-old Dominican-American girl living in Harlem, New York.  This is a powerful story of the clash between mothers and daughters, between maintaining your heritage and being an American, between self-loathing and self acceptance.  This novel blew me away!

What I Liked:
Book Structure:
As I said, this book is told through a series of mostly poems, some short, others quite long.  The title of each poem is as telling as the verse.  I also loved that other entries are drafts of homework assignments.  This structure allows the reader to really delve into the life of high schooler Xiomara in a way that a more traditional narrative style would not.  Teens today communicate with each other in short bursts such as texts or posts to social media, and this book's style reflects that.

The story is told through the voice of Xiomara, as she tries to navigate her Sophomore year of high school.   Her attention-grabbing curves have caused her all kinds of attention, giving her mixed messages from her classmates, her Catholic religion, and her mother.  Boys (an men) catcall and tell her she must want It.  The Church tells her to resist temptation.  And her mother literally tells her she can't date boys until after she finishes college!

As Xiomara grapples with feelings of shame over her normal sexual feelings, she uses her fist rather than her voice to show her anger when boys grab her, or when her twin brother gets bullied.  She knows this is not helping her, but she really has no other way to express herself at the beginning of the story.

I loved how Xiomara matures over the course of the book.  She finds her voice through poetry and learns to make different choices.

Xiomara's mother, Altagracia is as traditional as they come.  She goes to church every day and her natural inclination is to see her daughter as a screw-up who will let herself be carried away by lust.  Although the book never directly addresses it, I can't help but think Altagracia sees herself in her daughter.  She keeps telling anyone who will listen that she really intended to become a nun.  But I think this is the mom re-writing her past to hide the fact that she was actually a real young woman with real sexual feelings who got seduced by a ladies man.  When mother and daughter are so much alike, conflict is almost a guarantee.

There are several things happening at once in this story:  Xiomara going through Confirmation, Xiomara developing feelings for a boy, and Xiomara discovering poetry.  All of these are momentous enough, but she also has more and more conflict with her mother.  This comes to a boiling point that spills over to a dramatic conclusion.

This book filled me with such strong emotions as I thought back on my own teen years, and the conflicts between my traditional Mexican culture, my Catholic beliefs, and trying to be a modern young person.  The book perfectly captures how much pressure first and second generation teens have as they try to please their parents, but also themselves.


Release Date:  March 6th, 2018

Genre:  YA Contemporary

Publisher:  Harper Teen

Author:  Elizabeth Acevedo

Page Length:  357 pages

Source:  Bought

Format:  Hardback book

Recommendation:  A powerful coming-of-age book told in verse.  This author has a strong voice that is exciting to read.

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Stacking The Shelves #124 & Sunday Post #88

I am combining two great blog hops:  Stacking The Shelves (a Saturday feature by Team Tynga's Reviews), and Sunday Post (a Sunday feature by the Caffeinated Book Reviewer).  Both of these features give people a chance to post about what books they received and also an opportunity to catch a glimpse of what others are excited about.  I really enjoy seeing everyone's version of these features!   All book covers are linked to Goodreads, if you want to check them out.  If you enjoy my blog, please consider following me via Bloglovin, Networked Blogs, GFC, or by email subscription.  If you leave a comment and tell me you are a new follower, I will follow you back! 

On The Blog:
In "Real Life":
It's been an eventful week for me!  I got positive news on a health issue which was a huge relief.  Even though it's been six years since I had cancer, there will always be some fear that it will return.  The one thing I learned this week is that this fear is something shared by many cancer survivors.  I am NOT the only one.  Not worrying can be a challenge for me, and it's something I need to work on.

We spent all Wednesday afternoon shoe shopping for Prom!  We had to go to four different stores before we found anything decent.  But I think we found the best shoes for my teen's outfit.  And they are shoes she can wear again (ever practical, me).
I also learned that life is full of surprises!  My AMAZING brothers-in-laws got us tickets to Taylor Swift!!!  We were given these tickets on Wednesday, with the concert being on Friday.  Such a wonderful surprise!  I will post pictures in a post next week. 
New Books:
Public Library:


For Review 
from Edelweiss:
That's it for this week.  Have a wonderful weekend.
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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Book Review: Daughters of The Air by Anca L. Szilagyi


Synopsis (From Goodreads):
Tatiana "Pluta" Spektor was a mostly happy, if awkward, young girl—until her sociologist father was disappeared during Argentina’s Dirty War. Sent a world away by her grieving mother to attend boarding school outside New York City, Pluta wrestles alone with the unresolved tragedy and at last runs away: to the streets of Brooklyn in 1980, where she figuratively—and literally—spreads her wings. Told with haunting fabulist imagery by debut novelist Anca L. Szilágyi, this searing tale of love, loss, estrangement, and coming of age is an unflinching exploration of the personal devastation wrought by political repression. 

This book was recommended to me by a friend of mine who knows the author.  I really had no clue as to what this book was about, but I decided to buy a copy and dive in.  Wow!  I was pleasantly surprised by how amazing and powerful this book is.  With a difficult subject matter (the political unrest in Argentina in the 1970's), this is a tale of loss, but also of redemption.  It reminded me of Isabel Allende's The House of The Spirits.  It is both brutal, and beautiful.

What I Liked:
The book is set in several different places and time periods:  Argentina and Brazil in 1978, and New York City and Rome in 1980.  Each place comes alive with vivid descriptions.  

In Buenos Aires, the reader gets a glimpse of a city in the throes of a repressive regime.  People are on edge as some citizens who are associated with protests disappear.  When people try to search for their loved ones, they are met with indifference, and, if they persist, intimidation.  The author uses small details such as Pluta falling into mud and ruining her dress as a portent of bad things to come.

New York seemed particularly gritty and menacing in the book.  In the 1970's and 1980's, New York was rife with crime.  Considering the oppressive and dangerous country where they had only recently lived, I was more fearful for Pluta in the Big Apple!  And with good reason.

Pluta is a young teen who feels adrift at a boarding school in Connecticut.  Originally from Argentina, she doesn't understand her father's sudden disappearance, or her mother's abandonment.  Although she makes many terrible mistakes, I really liked Pluta's tenacity, and spirit.  She refuses to be a victim.  But she also doesn't let others help her when she clearly needs it.  But I think, given her young age, that is understandable.  

Isabel is Pluta's mother, and will not earn any awards for parenting.  She is grieving the loss of her husband, but refuses to acknowledge to her daughter that he is probably dead.  This leaves her Pluta feeling confused and abandoned.  While I wanted to hate Isabel for her treatment of Pluta, I also could see how confused and abandoned she, herself, felt.  Isabel had been brought up to believe that she would be taken care of by a husband.  When Daniel is abruptly out of the picture, she feels betrayed, even if it isn't his fault.  She is also a daughter of the air, adrift in her newfound freedom.

The story jumps between what happened when Daniel disappears in 1978, to two years later.  Most of what happens is seen through the eyes of Pluta as she tries to make sense of the unthinkable.  Her descent into Hell is frightening.  Despite the protagonist being in her early teens, THIS IS NOT A YA BOOK!  The violence that Pluta deals with as a runaway in New York is brutal, as is her methods of survival.

The book dips a toe into magical realism with the theme of wings (flying, freedom, metamorphosis).  At first I had a "What the hell?" reaction to this.  But, I later found it to be a powerful allegory to moving from the dependence of childhood to the self-reliance of adulthood.  There are also references to spirits that may, or may not, be around to guide Pluta.  I found these elements to be wonderful (and a bit trippy!)

This was a challenging book due to its gritty realism coupled with its hints at the magical.  But it was ultimately a very rewarding reading experience.

Trigger Warning for sexual violence!


Release Date:  December 5th, 2017

Publisher:  Lanternfish Press

Author:  Anca L. Szilagyi

Genre:  Historical Fiction/Magical Realism

Page Length:  246 Pages

Source:  Bought

Format:  Paperback Book 

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Book Review: Hum If You Don't Know The Words by Bianca Marais


Synopsis (From Goodreads):

Life under Apartheid has created a secure future for Robin Conrad, a nine-year-old white girl living with her parents in 1970s Johannesburg. In the same nation but worlds apart, Beauty Mbali, a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei, struggles to raise her children alone after her husband's death. Both lives have been built upon the division of race, and their meeting should never have occurred . . . until the Soweto Uprising, in which a protest by black students ignites racial conflict, alters the fault lines on which their society is built, and shatters their worlds when Robin’s parents are left dead and Beauty’s daughter goes missing.

After Robin is sent to live with her loving but irresponsible aunt, Beauty is hired to care for Robin while continuing the search for her daughter. In Beauty, Robin finds the security and family that she craves, and the two forge an inextricable bond through their deep personal losses. But Robin knows that if Beauty finds her daughter, Robin could lose her new caretaker forever, so she makes a desperate decision with devastating consequences. Her quest to make amends and find redemption is a journey of self-discovery in which she learns the harsh truths of the society that once promised her protection.

Told through Beauty and Robin's alternating perspectives, the interwoven narratives create a rich and complex tapestry of the emotions and tensions at the heart of Apartheid-era South Africa. Hum if You Don’t Know the Words is a beautifully rendered look at loss, racism, and the creation of family.

This was the book club selection for a group of readers who meet at the wonderful bookstore named, A Great Good Place For Books, in Oakland, California.   I have never participated in a book club before, but I was so thankful that I did.  This was a marvelous book!  South Africa's Apartheid is seen from two viewpoints: a ten-year-old white child who has lost her parents, and a black mother searching for her daughter.

What I Liked:
The book is set in South Africa in the 1970's.  I was a child of about the same age as one of the main characters, Robin, at that time, but I was completely oblivious as to what was going on there.  As I learned from reading this book, that was not an accident.  South Africa was a very isolated country, with information going both in, and out, of the country tightly controlled by the government.  People in South Africa just accepted their racism as the norm, and those living in other countries didn't have a true picture of what Apartheid meant.

The novel's action takes place in several places in South Africa.  Beauty, the other main character, is shown to be very happy in her small village.  This is a celebration of a small community, where everyone looks after each other, and walking around barefoot is not a sign of poverty, but of connecting to the land.  Later, in her quest to find her daughter, Beauty must journey to Johannesburg where the noise and crowding of a large city seem depressing and scary.

Robin also moves from a small mining outpost where she can run outside all day playing, to her aunt's small apartment in Johannesburg.  She also finds the city strange, and feels isolated and alone.

Robin, one of the two main characters, is the young white child who is struggling to come to terms with a tragedy.  I love her dawning awareness that she has been raised a racist.  Most children automatically assume that their parents' opinions are correct.  But as Robin sees more of the world, she comes to realize how wrong she is to treat people differently based on their skin color . 

In our book club, we had some disagreement over whether or not Robin was immature, or overly mature over the course of the book.  I think she is feeling very abandoned by those who are supposed to be taking care of her, and this leads her to do some selfish things.  But cut her some slack, she is only ten!

Beauty is relentlessly seeking information about her teenage daughter, who went missing during the Soweto uprising.  She cannot accept that her daughter could be involved in (possibly) violent resistance against the government.  Although she hates how blacks are treated, she doesn't see how things will change, and just wants to live unobtrusively.  Can she learn to understand her daughter's actions?

Edith is Robin's care-free aunt.  She represents how women are changing in the 1970's.  She has a career as a flight attendant, and travels the world with no ties to a husband or children, until Robin comes along.  One can really see Edith's struggle between keeping her independence and her love for Robin.  Sometimes I found her hard to like, as many of her actions seem thoughtless.  But she is a very human character, and I appreciated that she wasn't supremely good or bad.

The story is told in alternating chapters in the voices of Robin and Beauty. They do not meet until nearly the middle of the book!  But this gives the reader time to understand each of them on their own.

I was very moved by Beauty's search for her daughter.  I know if my own daughter went missing, I would move heaven and earth to find her.  Beauty keeps asking questions and looking for clues, so much so that she is being threatened to stop her search.  But who can blame a mother for wanting to know the truth, however painful.

Robin and Edith are thrown together by a tragedy.  While their relationship is bumpy, they both do some growing up over the course of the book.  Robin starts to understand how to be self-reliant, which is a positive thing.  All children need to learn that others will not always take care of them.

Edith also makes peace with her new role as parent.  There are some rough times for Edith as she rages at this responsibility that is thrust upon her.  She is grieving both the loss of a family member, but also of her freedom. 


Release Date:  July 11th, 2017

Genre: Historical fiction

Publisher:  G.P. Putnam's Sons

Author:  Bianca Marais

Page Length: 432 pages

Source:  Bought

Format:  Paperback book

Recommendation:  This was a powerful historical fiction about South Africa during Apartheid, with characters you will love.

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2020 Reading Challenge

2020 Reading Challenge
MsArdychan has read 2 books toward her goal of 120 books.


80% 80% 100 Book Reviews 2016 NetGalley Challenge
clean sweep 2017

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