Book Review

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro @skippingstones

a study in charlotte

A Study in Charlotte is a novel about the descendants of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson.  Charlotte and Jamie are teenagers attending an exclusive prep school in Connecticut where they meet and are soon after accused of murder.  Hijinks ensue as they try to prove their innocence and solve the case together with several throwbacks to classic Holmes and Watson cases.  In this world, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was John Watson’s literary agent and the events of the Sherlock Holmes books are biographical rather than fiction.

By page five, I was hooked.  Brittany Cavallaro’s writing style and prose are beautiful and sophisticated and every time I thought I had it all figured out, I was very wrong.  This story was familiar but new and exciting at the same time.  It felt like reading the most amazing fan fiction I’ve ever encountered on crack- and I mean that in the very best way and say it with the highest regard for fanfiction- in the sense that it was invigorating to read a very old story in a very new and intoxicating way.

Not once did I suspect the person who was actually responsible for the murder and attack and the story was layered like a perfect pie crust that Paul Hollywood (of The Great British Bake Off fame) would be very impressed by, indeed.  The characters had depth and were very easy to love, despite their flaws.  I loved seeing Holmes and Watson work together at school age and I absolutely adored the genderbent portrayal of Holmes as a young woman. Does it really count as being genderbent if it’s a characters great great great grandchild and not the character himself?  I think it does.  I was also a big fan of characters reminiscent of Mycroft Holmes and Mrs. Hudson making an appearance.

If you love the classic Sherlock Holmes stories or the Sherlock TV show, this is a book for you!  The tagline is absolutely right – you’ve never seen Watson and Holmes like this before!  Amazon says that it’s for grades 9 and up but due to some infrequent language, references to sexual violence, and drug use, I honestly feel like this is a book for very mature teens and young adults – people age 100+.

We don’t have a release date for the second book in the series yet, but I absolutely can’t wait to get my hands on it!  You can buy A Study in Charlotte from Amazon for $10.44 new.

Book Review

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost) by Felicia Day @FeliciaDay

From the forward by Joss Whedon to the last chapter filled with profound and inspiring thoughts, this book was a delight.  I smiled, I laughed, I teared up at a few parts, and I even made it through descriptions of some of the more technical aspects of gaming (which I still have zero interest in) thanks to Felicia’s use of layman’s terms and analogies.  I love most things nerd and geek and am a member of several different fandoms, but I still wasn’t sure that Felicia’s new memoir was for me- until I picked it up and started reading it.  Before reading YNWOTI, I knew very little about Felicia Day aside from the fact that she appeared in Buffy and was on one of my favorite shows, Supernatural, for quite a while.  I was also minimally aware of Geek & Sundry, her geek start up that provides reviews and new content on things from the geek world.

I thought I would be reading about a woman who, like me, is into things that many people may not consider “cool.”  While that was true, it was much more profound than that.  Felicia Day shared experiences from her off beat and atypical childhood, finding friends online, and what it was like to be an actress, producer, and small business start-up owner.  The other thing she shared, that meant more to me (and probably many others) than she could possibly know, was her experience of mental illness.  Specifically, she described her struggles with depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

While the first parts of the book about her early life were entertaining and enjoyable to read, the book really came into its own when Felicia got the most real and started talking about her struggles.  The most important thing about this book is that it gave me hope and let me know that I’m certainly not alone.  Felicia Day has mental illnesses, and she has still been wildly successful in creating a career doing something she loves.  Maybe that means that there’s hope for me yet.

This is a must read for geeks who struggle for mental illness and also for other people who like to be entertained.  The further I read into this book, the more clear it became that Felicia Day is my spirit animal.

Here are a few nuggets of things I love that Felicia shares in the book:

“There are enough negative forces in this world — don’t let the pessimistic voice that lives inside you get away with that stuff, too.  That voice is NOT a good roommate.”

“I couldn’t trust my own mind anymore, which was the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced.” (She hit the nail on the head there!)

“I discovered that, even though the feeling had ruled me my entire life, no one could make me be anxious without my consent.”

“You made something great.  And something new will come around.  Or not.  Either way, do the work you love.  And love yourself.  That’s all you can do in this world in order to be happy.”

“I am determined to create something or express myself, no matter how hard it is, even if my mom is the only one who sees it!”

“Share something of yourself.  If you enrich one other person’s life, it will be worth it.  If you find one friend, it will be worth it.”

 

UPDATE: I just opened up my twitter app for a notification and Felicia Day made my whole world!  Isn’t it amazing how literally a second of someone else’s time can make you feel so wonderful?

Book Review

Letters to Zell by Camille Griep

letters to zell

I actually got this book from the library and read it for the first time in the end of October 2015.  I loved it so much that I just bought my own copy on Amazon so that I could re-read it, write a review, and make people borrow it and read it.

Letters to Zell, written by Camille Griep and published July 1, 2015 by 47North, is available from Amazon.com as a paperback ($10.00) or Kindle ebook ($4.99) and is also available for free through Kindle Unlimited. It is available through Audible as an audiobook for $9.95 (1 credit).

Told in the format of letters written to Zell (short for Rapunzel), this 326 page novel offers a modern re-telling of classic fairytales.  It follows CeCi (Cinderella), Bianca (Snow White), and Rory (Sleeping Beauty) after they hear the news that Zell has run off from Grimmland to help run a Unicorn preserve.  They keep her up to date on their own lives through letters, allowing the reader to see their different personalities, values, hopes, and dreams.

Given the title, I assumed that the story would primarily be about Zell.  The first time I read LTZ, I was a little disappointed at first that I wasn’t getting to hear much of her story, but I realized fairly quickly that the heart of the story really isn’t about her and remembered that the title is Letters TO Zell, not Letters FROM Zell.

I’m not sure why, but I envisioned CeCi (Cinderella) as Kristin Chenoweth as Glenda from the musical, Wicked.  I think it has to do with her sarcasm and wit.  She is the first character introduced and initially seems a bit pretentious and spoiled, but I promise she grows on you as the story goes on. In addition to giving us a little bit of information about CeCi’s life, her first letter to Zell establishes a few ideas that are important throughout the novel.  Firstly, that the princesses’ stories more closely resemble the tales from the Grimm Brothers than anything Disney has ever created; secondly, that Zell, CeCi, Rory, and Bianca are all very close friends; and, thirdly, the importance of each princess’s “Pages,” “unpredictable stories penned by a capricious author” that dictate what happens in each princess’s life.  Once a princess has completed her Pages, she is free to make decisions about her own life, within what seem to be certain set limits and societal expectations.

Bianca (Snow White) is much edgier than any version of her I’ve read or seen so far.  She cusses, which I like, even having the f word at the top of her stationary (Important F***ing Correspondence from Snow B. White).  She has really realistic ideas about love, believing that relationships “should be based on mutual interests, trust, [and] friendship.”  Until you read her first letter, it’s possible you could think this is a children’s book- which would be a mistake.  Bianca is strong, fierce, and independent and I really admire her individuality and spirit.  I think one of the main reasons I like her is that she is also quite the feminist, which is pretty amazing when you consider the implied view points of most of the other people who live in Grimmland.

Rory (Aurora/ Sleeping Beauty) starts the book as a meek and meager little thing.  I feel quite bad for her for much of the book as she seems to let people treat her like a doormat and her husband is an absolute ASS. She is naive about the world and has absolutely terrible self-esteem.  She also experienced major heart break due to the fact that 100 years ago she and Fred went against her pages, causing him to be banished to the Outside (our world) and her to be put into an enchanted sleep to save her life.  She wakes up (without a magical kiss from her true love) and there is Henry, who becomes her husband when she has new Pages written.  Towards the end of the story, I found myself really relating to Rory, but I don’t want to say too much about that.

CeCi is really into cooking, even though princesses aren’t supposed to cook, and she learns from another character that on the Outside, you can take cooking classes.  It’s dangerous to travel to the Outside when you have unfinished Pages, so at least one person always has to go with Bianca when she travels to the Outside.  There are also really specific rules about traveling to the Outside and if the princesses stay Outside for too long, they could be trapped there with no way to return to Grimmland.  The four princesses journey to Hollywood and find a cooking school where they take a souffle class.  CeCi loves it so much that Bianca bought her a year long cooking course for her birthday.  They continue to venture out into the Outside, CeCi enjoying her cooking classes, Bianca finally starting to believe in love, and Rory doing her damndest to find ways to keep her husband’s interest.

There are lots of little jokes for the reader about things that the princesses don’t understand about the Outside.  For example, when Bianca asks the head souffle chef at the cooking school why their rubber shoes are so orange and homely, she says that the chef mutters something about it being the nature of crocodiles and resolves to ask Captain Hook about it the next time she sees him.

At the end of the day, Letters to Zell is a story about friendship and strength and love and passions and independence.  It’s about not just accepting your destiny, but getting out there and making your own.  It’s a wonderful read and I would highly encourage anyone to read it, but especially those who have a love of Disney princesses and fairytales. I’m on my second read now, but I have a feeling this is a book I will return to over and over again and I sincerely hope Camille Griep writes another book about the girls who have come to be my fictional friends.

Reading Letters to Zell convinced me to seek out every novel I could find within the Modern Retelling of Classic Fairytales genre and I have been very happy with the other books I have found so far.  Not only was LTZ a gift, but it continues to give me more gifts with each new book I find within the genre it compelled me to explore.

I would also like to note that Camille Griep is lovely.  I tweeted her to tell her how much I love the book and we had a short conversation about my favorite character (Bianca) and how I related to her realistic portrayal of depression at a crucial point in the book.  She did not ask me to review this book and no one offered me any compensation for doing so.

Book Review

Book Review: Secrets of the Last Nazi by Iain King (No Spoilers)

SOTLN

Secrets of the Last Nazi, a book written by Iain King and to be published on July 9, 2015 by Bookouture, will be available as a kindle e-book at Amazon.com. Priced at just $0.99, this 392 paged novel offers a TON of bang for your buck.  It is at once a thriller, a mystery, a treasure hunt, and an incredible revelationary work that may just change the way you look at the world,

The story begins in July of 1945 with a mysterious man, SS Captain Werner Stolz.  Though the story moves into the present fairly quickly, the secrets Stolz kept during and after World War II are the basis of the mystery and the treasure hunt that take place in the present day.  The main character, Myles Munro, is a bit strange and not immediately relatable, but he certainly grew on me as time went on and as other characters were introduced who seemed to humanize him and make him more likable.

An international investigative team starts as a way for Zenyalena Adrovsky, a Russian with a grudge, to “win one over on the Yanks,” but quickly becomes a high speed hunt for information, each clue leading Zenyalena, Myles, and the others on their team a little closer to the secret Stolz guarded so closely throughout his lifetime and a lot closer to serious danger imposed by those who want the information kept secret. With many bits of historical information woven throughout the present day drama unfolding, this book offered a little bit of something for everyone. It also offers insight to a particular branch of what I only know to describe as Nazi Occultism, though that label doesn’t seem quite accurate.

While I found the format of the chapters a bit perplexing as I fail to understand why we, as readers, need to know the specific time of the start of each chapter, I found the book enjoyable, enticing, and informative. There were a few times throughout the story when parts of the mystery didn’t seem like much of a mystery and those plot points were somewhat predictable, but it didn’t take away from the intricate web woven by Iain King and I would recommend this book to history lovers and mystery/thriller lovers alike. I will caution you that reading this book may make you wish to spend several hours on Google doing research on topics you never imagined your interest in.

Book Review

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

“Even a book can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and when that happens, you blame the hands, but you also read the book.”  -Erika Johansen

I recently began participating in the Flourish & Blotts Book Club that I discovered post LeakyCon 2014 and the first book we decided to read was The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen.  On the day that we were supposed to begin reading and read the first two chapters, I sat down and didn’t really get up again until I had finished reading the book.  That night, I accidentally read the entire book instead of just the first two chapters.  That’s right, for some people in this world, accidentally reading a whole book it is a legitimate problem.  I am unashamed to say I am one of those people.  I am now going to attempt to write my first book review since undergrad, so please bear with me.   VERY MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD.

The Queen of The Tearling (QOTT), the first novel in a trilogy written by Erika Johansen, was published by Harper Collins in New York, NY on July 8, 2014. Set in a future feudal society after “The Crossing,” a mysterious event where most modern technology, modern medicine, and books were lost, QOTT’s world-building and character development are on par with J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series and George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series. Anyone who knows me knows what a huge compliment it is for me to compare any part of any series to “the seven volumes of Rowling,” as the series is referred to in The Queen of the Tearling.

The Queen of the Tearling is basically an incredibly dark fairy tale with real world social problems like hunger, slavery, sexual assault, and domestic violence. Johansen manages to cover these topics with a seriousness, empathy, and sincerity that I have found other recent authors lacking.  The book is equal parts political thriller, mystery, and fantasy and makes for a compelling read.

The novel starts on Princess Kelsea Glynn’s nineteenth birthday as she is whisked away from the foster parents who raised her in exile.  The Queen’s Guard, an organization largely made up of men who served Kelsea’s mother, Elyssa, when she was the Queen of the Tearling and entirely made up of men who refuse to tell Kelsea anything about Elyssa or her reign, despite the fact that the former Queen has been dead for many years, is comprised of nine men of various ages. Their tight-lipped attitude is strange, though not entirely unexpected since Carlin and Barty, Kelsea’s foster parents, managed to gloss over the parts of history related to Elyssa in the process of providing Kelsea with the education she needs to be a good queen. Kelsea inherits a love of books and reading from her foster parents that will become an important theme throughout the story.

A good chunk of The Queen of the Tearling takes place during Kelsea and the Queen’s Guard’s journey to New London, the capital city where Kelsea was born and where she will take up her throne.  During their travels the group encounters assassins sent by Kelsea’s uncle who has been acting as Regent, dangerous trained crows who succeed in maiming Kelsea, and a group of assassin’s led by the mysterious man known only as “the Fetch.”

After arriving in New London, Kelsea’s first act is to abolish the slave trade and destroy the cages that were used to take the slaves to Kelsea’s enemy to the east, the Red Queen. Kelsey’s coronation ceremony is filled with drama and intrigue that leave her isolated in her castle for a short time afterwards.

During her time spent at the castle, Kelsea gets to know the members of the Queen’s Guard better and even strikes up a sort of friendship with a slave she freed (from her uncle) who is a seer and Kelsea’s servant. An attempt is made on Kelsea’s life and she very cleverly finds a way to tell her servant without giving away that she is calling for help. After this attempt, it becomes apparent that the attempted assassins have help from inside the castle and Pen, a member of the Queen’s Guard, is assigned to be Kelsea’s personal body guard.

One of the Queen’s Guard, who Kelsea becomes particularly close to, returns to the cottage where she was raised and surprises her by bringing Carlin’s library back to the castle.  Kelsea is thrilled by having all of the books and opens a library for castle employees, as printing presses are one of the pieces of technology that were lost in The Crossing and books can no longer be mass produced.

The ending of the Queen of the Tearling and the title of its sequel, The Invasion of the Tearling (Release Date: June 9, 2015), lead me to believe that we will be seeing a lot more of the Red Queen as the series goes on.

One of my favorite aspects of The Queen of the Tearling is the focus on the strength of women and the fact that the crown is passed from mother to daughter in the Tearling.  While Kelsea certainly has help from both men and women along the way, it is her own strength that ultimately saves the day.

The Queen of the Tearling is a gripping novel that I stayed up well into the night to finish reading. I highly recommend that anyone who likes fantasy, sci-fi, or young adult fiction makes the time investment to read it. Another thing that I find tremendously empowering is that the protagonist is described as being plain.  It is typical for a princess/queen in a fantasy series to be breathtakingly beautiful and the fact that Kelsea doesn’t play into that particular trope and unrealistic expectations forced on women is refreshing.

Buy your copy here!