Olive is a hot mess. She’s been with the same guy for nearly fifteen years, she’s obsessed with Shakespeare, and she’s got a job that she loves as a librarian! Oh, that doesn’t scream crazy? Well, on top of all that, she also vomited all over her proposing boyfriend, fled Australia in order not to face him, stole a stranger’s coffee in the airport, and then proceeded to… make out with him?
Tame Librarian Olive is ready for a new start as she struggles to find herself and happiness in Turkey. Her mission is further complicated when she discovers that her Tall, Dark, and Sweater Wearing airplane companion is also going to be in Turkey with her– staying on the same property! Can Olive find happiness again? And maybe even love?
This is the second book by Jane that I’ve read. I don’t know why I didn’t review the first one on my blog, lol. I might have to go back and re-read it.
I’ll start off by saying that I am a HUGE fan of Jane’s writing. The first book in this series was one of my favorite 2020 reads, and I was literally racing to my computer to buy this one when it was released. I knew it was going to be good, and Jane did NOT disappoint me.
Pomegranates and Olive is a romantic comedy, and boy, does it fit the bill. You’ve got the hilarity that goes with the genre as well as the spicy scenes that will have you fanning yourself and turning your screen (or book, if you prefer physical copies!) away from whoever is nearby. This book had me ROLLING. But then I was about to cry? To say I was invested would be an understatement.
What I also love about Jane’s books is that the female leads are always more than I expect them to be. They’re not textbook “pretty” or idiots or shallow. Olive is a curvy gal with a brain to match and a personality that might be described as a wildfire. And Deniz (her love interest) has his hands full at every twist and turn. But that’s what makes her so magnificent. It’s a real portrayal of femininity, and I am definitely down for it. I also loved that Jane touched on Olive’s fragile mental state and treated it with extreme respect. She doesn’t shut down the depression that Olive’s going through or sweep it under the rug. She gives her lovely character a chance to figure it out (with or without the help of a Turkish dreamboat).
Without giving too much away, in typical rom-com fashion, all of Jane’s books are HEA guaranteed, which is just what I needed right now. 10/10. I cannot wait for the next book in this series!
To close out, I want to share some of the comments I made, not in the book, but to my best friend, whom I was texting as I was devouring this book.
“*sends screenshot from the book* I swear to you, I want him to DIE.” -Amy in regards to a not-so-lovely ex-boyfriend of Olive’s.
“I SWEAR IF SOMEONE DOESN’T GET PUNCHED, I WILL GO THROUGH THIS SCREEN MYSELF.” -Amy, speaking of a certain ex-boyfriend of Olives (maybe, definitely the same as the last quote)
*sends another screenshot* “OMG, is that not the hottest thing you’ve ever read?” -Amy, who is turning pink with shame as she reads this SPICE
And last but not least, a quote from the book to win you over….
After catching her high-school sweetheart in bed with another woman, Hannah’s life starts to spiral into a dark, dismal state. Not only are her dreams of going to art school crushed, but she’s also alone without her parents or best friend. That is, until she receives the bucket list: a set of things Libby says she must do. Hannah will have to do wild and “crazy” things. Will the list get her out of the box she’s lost herself in? Will it help her find love?
Gabe is sick and tired of fake women throwing themselves at him all because he’s attractive. After his social media influencer ex cheating on him, he’s determined to stay single and run his vet office in peace. That is, if his six Italian sisters will leave him alone long enough. When he runs into a gorgeous woman dressed head to toe in pink, totting a pink bike to match, his place for a life of celibacy might be over.
Hannah and Gabe are both tragically unprepared for the rollercoaster they’re both thrown into. Will they come out new people or be drowned by their own pasts?
I don’t read rom-coms as much as I should. I forget how much I love them until I pick one up and get swept away in it. Someone in our book club (where I read this) said that it has a “nice warm feeling after a long, hard day.” It’s almost like coming home for me. These are the books I read for a break from the heavier topics I tend to read and write. While I could never write a rom-com myself, they’re my guilty pleasure, comfort reads.
All that being said, I think it’s pretty obvious I loved this book. Michelle Angelle’s style is simplistic enough that the writing was super easy to follow but you could still easily visualize the events and characters through it. The comedy was, of course, a bit overdone, but I feel like that’s a staple of the genre. I can understand why some might see it as overdramatic, so this may not be a book for EVERYONE. But lovers of the genre will understand and appreciate the humor and drama of it all.
The characters were also extremely well-written. They were both heightened (Gabe and his gorgeous self) but also incredibly and perfectly flawed (past traumas that cause hinderance to the plot). Hannah isn’t just a gorgeous modern woman; she’s a self-conscious, nervous, anxious individual whose drawn so far into herself that even her two closest coworkers don’t know who she really is. I enjoyed how realistic her portrayal way, even amidst the drama of the story. She’s constantly looking for ways out of things, which I can 100% relate to, and failing time and time again.
Not only are the writing style and the characters well-created, but the storyline is also expertly crafted. You have this lighthearted comedic love story on the surface, and a more serious motivation underneath. Libby’s list really brings the touch of severity that you need to deepen the personality of the story.
Overall, I adored this story. If it wasn’t for other reading responsibilities, I would have picked up Michelle Angelle’s second book instantly after finishing. As it stands, it’ll have to wait, but just know, I’m very, very excited to read more from these two.
Following the Ever Rain, a global superstorm that melted ice caps, rose sea levels, and forced the survivors to seek higher ground, society exists in makeshifts towns and villages, barely scraping by the best they can in the horrific, muddy circumstances. Civilization as we knew it fell with the rain, and with its fall, divides arose between factions of those who remained.
Out of the rain, a new enemy arose– The Citadel. Inside its walls, the rich and powerful enslave the less fortunate and live in splendor while those outside survive however they can. Jessie and Calvin are two “mudders” who find themselves suddenly alone when both of their families are captured by the Citadel. On their quest to retrieve them, Jessie will discover secrets about her family that could change the dynamic forever and maybe even their world as they know it.
Lewis has crafted a splendid example of dystopian literature. The story has a double-edged sword kind of conflict, one where man faces both nature and man, simultaneously at times. The struggles of living in this muddy world (for lack of a better word) are painted clearly and aid in strengthening the even-more-dangerous dissension between the opposing factions of people. Also in terms of world- and story-building, I particularly enjoyed that there was no sprawling exposition in the story. Instead, the settings and personalities unfold with the events of the story. That alone speaks to the talent of Lewis!
While you’re following the explosive plot that Lewis has written, you’ll also be able to enjoy a large cast of unique characters. Each one is fabulously designed to be an asset (or a hinderance, since some are obvious villains) to the mission of the main characters. From young children screaming in anger and demanding people to fight to old men running both the town and a moonshine still at the same time to mildly psychotic snipers, you’ll never be bored with the phenomenal characters.
Overall, Muck World is a thrilling read that will keep dystopian lovers enthralled until the very last page. Lewis is a very talented author, and I cannot wait to read more from him.
Fair warning: This is a review for a sequel. Now, while the book would work as a standalone, I think they still need to be read in order. You can find my initial review of Illusion (Book #1) here!
The Faction War in The Life ended with the digital world in flames. For Kitty, though, her *actual* world is in flames, too.
After blowing up her lab– and a small island off the coast– Dr. Catherine Hardage (aka Kitty) faces the US Senate to face the consequences of her experiment. The hearing goes awry, though, and suddenly Kitty is the pirate she’s always wanted to be– running from the US Navy in the middle of a hurricane. Meanwhile, Blacklight (the creators of The Life) approach her with an offer to beta test their new game Deadeye. Kitty agrees and is thrown into the fully-immersive, Western style game.
Nothing is as it seems, though, both in real life and in the game world. The game quickly turns into something nightmarish and twisted, and Blacklight’s hold on her real world life is questionable at best. Can Kitty evade and ultimately escape the two very different enemies that she faces?
Style: Now, I want to start by pointing out that I didn’t do a long review of Phelps’ first book. It was a four star rated book for me. That essentially means it was good, but there was something I didn’t necessarily LOVE about it. When I first started this sequel, I knew I was going to enjoy it. A lot of the same things are true about this book, but when I tell you it HITS DIFFERENT. I mean, it hits different, okay? Let me explain.
Phelps has this intricate style of writing about him. His descriptions are rich and vivid; his action scenes are clear and easy to follow. While he does tend to be long-winded with his book (this one was 433 pages according to amazon, which I know it shooting low), there’s not really a second of wasted time. I love the raw talent that Joseph portrays in the stories that he tells. While it’ll take some time to read these books, you’ll be absolutely absorbed. I wasn’t that in with Book 1 because some of the parts seemed to drag. Maybe it was the game style, because I’ve never really been interested in GTA-style games. Either way, with this almost-too-real Western format, I loved it from the very first moment. Plus, there’s a very real sense of discovery as we follow along Kitty. She doesn’t know how the game works, and so we get to follow along as she learns. All this to say: I didn’t mind the length this time!
Last thing I have to say about style is this: This book gave me multiple goosebump moments. Books don’t often do that for me! It’s those moments that I live for, friends. They make me put the book down, say “woah” out loud, and tear up just a little bit. I’m jealous of authors that can do that for their readers. I don’t think I’m one! So let me tell you about the moments where I just was blown out of the water by this story.
There’s a moment where a certain character (name redacted for spoiler purposes) who happens the be an NPC looks at another NPC and admits to knowing she’s a “plaything, meant to amuse beasts from another world.” Aka, she broke the virtual forth wall. When I tell you that I gasped, I mean it. This character had an absolutely heartbreaking past, and her growth and arc were just phenomenal. This was a real turning point, and it took my breath away.
Closer to the end of the story, after the baddies have cornered them, everything’s taken a turn for the worse, and thing don’t seem to be looking up, Kitty corners one of the players and says she’s sorry. Now, I cannot and will not go into any detail for you, because that would be a HUGE SPOILER. But it’s important, because over the course of the story, Kitty admits that she tends to use and choose her friends for her own personal gain. They all have something she can benefit from. But in this scene, with this one character, she says she’s sorry for exactly that. For using this person when they needed her to not. And its just…. the character arc, you all. That did it for me.
Characters: Now, I’ve kind of already talked about the character development a little up there, but I do want to consider it just a little more. Because in this book, you see the return of several characters from book 1, and a lot of them have already changed and grown. But a few of them, I really got a deeper look at them. That needs to be discussed.
So as far as main characters go, you’ve got quite the cast: Kitty, Kurt, Jimmy, Gadot, Nels, Abraham, and Jacob. At least, those are the players. Then, there’s NPCs like Mitchel, Grace, Earl, Grandma Gore… and on and on and on. Now, I’m not going to talk about every single one of these. That would take me four years. Let’s hit on the highlights.
Kitty– Catherine Hardage is everything you want to see in a female lead. She’s intelligent, snarky, bold, ingenius, and definitely not afraid to get what she wants. I was a bit concerned about a female lead being written by a male, but there’s no issues here whatsoever. Plus, with Kitty, we get so see so much growth, as I already mentioned. Kitty goes on a bit of an emotional journey through this, and it’s heartbreaking and phenomenally written. Kurt– A return character but not one that is without change. Kurt’s always been a bit of an anomaly to me, because as the main character of the first book, I didn’t think he fit into the big shoes set for him. I understand the importance of his personality, strengths, and weaknesses. I feel Kurt and Kitty’s friendship building, if they can just understand each other. Poor Kurt’s inside Blacklight, though. Abraham– A new character! And a…. tricky one. I won’t go into deep detail, but do sum it up: the man’s a cannibal. And his backstory outside of Deadeye really builds upon that status. Abraham is by far one of the most intriguing characters in the story. I love it.
NOW Jacob– This is the villain. The baddie. The monster inside Deadeye. Except, he isn’t really your typical bad guy. Not in the traditional sense. It’s hard to explain. It’s just that, originally, his only crime in the game was to NPCs. And that’s a line that is difficult to justifiy crossing when the NPCs think, act, and speak, so much like people that you start to become confused who’s-who. I would like to have known more about Jacob outside of the game, because like unnamed-character-because-of-spoilers, it’s almost like it’s Kit’s morals that make him BECOME the baddie. Idk, okay? There’s a lot of LEVELS here.
Plot: WE MADE IT. Take a deep breath with me. Inhale. Exhale. We’re almost done.
So, Joseph Phelps is a master in what we call LitRPG, meaning that it’s a story within a story. I’ve read more GameLit than ever before since I started reviewing books, and I’m coming to really like this particular genre. What I enjoy is that there are two stories. You follow Kitty’s real life adventures escaping the US Navy, and then you follow Kit’s game life as she explores this horrible wild west with its monsters and cannibals and killer snakes. And this book is different in that Kit starts to forget what’s real and what’s a game. That was an interesting added touch.
I have no complaints about the way the plots (both real and game!) unfolded. Unlike book 1, there’s no unnecessary space. I didn’t even graze over all the specs for items, lol. It was well paced, kept my attention, and honestly, to sum it up, a breathtaking read. Well done, Joseph.
I’m giving it a bright and shiny 9/10!🙂
You can buy Joseph’s book at the link below! Bye, friends!
First of all, I want to say that I’m incredibly sorry for being so silent for the past month. I hated being absent, but I couldn’t bring myself to type any words. I think I’m finally ready to crawl out of my self-inflicted hole. When I’m ready, I’ll share what I’ve gone through, but in the meantime, let me tell you about the books I’ve been reading to distract myself with. There’s several, lol.
So, without further ado, A BOOK REVIEW!
**Spoiler Alert: This is a book 3 review, meaning I may spoil the first two for you. Please check out those reviews here and here first!**
After throwing herself in danger in order to chase her father, Eliza’s back with the Sensorians. In isolation. Again. That’s where she seems to spend most of her time. This time is different, though. Markus is intent on keeping her and Zack completely cut off from the world and under his thumb.
It’s supposed to be to keep them safe, but does ensuring their safety take priority over the compound’s real mission? Aren’t they supposed to help people?
When Eliza’s father, Rick, shows up and says that her mother is in trouble, a whole new threat appears. Eliza and Zack will be thrown headfirst into danger, again, but this time, the ending will be one that no one will forget.
Style: I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Starkenburg is the queen of a simple, throw-your-feet-up kind of read. The book simply glides by, and this is a series that I could see myself never getting tired of. It’s not overly complicated or drawn out.
It just is. In the best way possible.
I really enjoy anything Starkenburg writes. This entire trilogy has been an absolute joy to partake in. I feel like I’ve really grown to love these well-written characters. Not only that, but I’ve gained a friend in the author, someone I can see growing my own craft with as time progresses. That’s irreplaceable. Truly.
Now, I’ve had the exact same issue throughout all of Starkenburg’s books. We’ve discussed this. I am of the belief that this trilogy could easily be expanded into a series. Many, many books. The world is a rich one. I wish Starkenburg would slow down and really SHOW me the depth of it.
Characters: Your favorite cast reappears for the third and final installment in the Sensorian trilogy. I’ll try not to drag on forever, but I do what to talk about how these individuals have changed. Mainly because one thing we look for as we read series as a whole is character development. A character, like any human person, should change and grow into a better (or worse? that’s your opinion) version of themselves. A stagnant character is no fun to read! So, did these young adults grow? Let’s see.
First, you’ve got Eliza. Precious, precious Eliza. She started out as this “rough around the edges,” snarky kid. I know she was grown, but some of her antics made the mom in me shake her head. Lol. She thought she could do everything on her own in book one and didn’t like following directions. But this is a new Eliza. She leans on the people around her, trusts Zack wholeheartedly, thinks on a much larger scale when making decisions. She’s grown and matured, and I am here for it.
Now, Zack. Baby Zack. This child is my favorite. He’s no child. He’s a MAN. (Insert TikTok of “Here comes the boy”). Haha. But seriously. Zack has consistently been the controlling, absolutely respect-demanding leader of the group. His temper reined supreme, and he was 100% percent in control. That hasn’t changed over time. He’s still a leader, still incredibly strong, still powerful, still in control. But he knows what he wants now and isn’t afraid to get it. He doesn’t blindly follow orders; he questions his superiors and does what’s RIGHT. If anything, I’m even more Team Zack than I was at the beginning. Lol
I feel like on average, MOST of the characters grew and in a way that I really liked! There was just one… tiny… exception. Zaphire…
I’ve always been anti-Zaphire. I don’t really know why, other than the fact that she got between her brother and Eliza. This book just solidified it. There are part of Zaph that I like: she’s committed to her friends, she’s a strong female, she’s level-headed. But here’s what I don’t like: she’s selfish. Zaph wants what she wants, and if she doesn’t get it, it’s over. Even until the very end, she CLUNG to Eliza for dear life. I get it, she loved her, blah blah blah. No. Eliza and Zack literally loved each other so much more and on such a deeper level, and instead, she had to project her jealousy on them both. (“It’s super realistic, Amy. You’re being too harsh.”) Maybe… Maybe…
Plot: No complaints, no comments! It rolled along splendidly without any holes or continuity issues. I just loved it. *chef’s kiss* It wasn’t predictable; it kept my attention. It wrapped up neatly. All excellent.
TW: This review contains mentions of intense grief and suicide. Please read with caution if you struggle with these topics.
When Dan put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger, he hoped his life was over. He was so ready to be done, to free his fiancee from being engaged to such a weak, hideous man. What he didn’t know was that his death would be the beginning of something much darker.
Anne, left alone after Dan’s death, will struggle with her own darkness in order to come out the other end of her grief. Letting Go follows her path through unimaginable despair, a world of hallucinations and spirits, and a loneliness that no one can comprehend.
Hopefully Anne can remember this– “Life means hope. You are worth saving. Don’t give up–” before she too pulls the trigger.
I’m used to be a crier. When I was pregnant with my son, I vividly remember crying at the sight of a chipmunk crossing the road because it was, and I quote, “was just so cute.” The first book that made me really CRY– not just shed a tear, but violently sob– was Looking for Alaska by John Green. I can still visualize myself in the car on our way down to the beach. Sobbing. I cry when I’m mad. When I’m upset. When I’m happy. But, more often than not, those emotions have to be really intense. I don’t cry near as much as I use to. Books don’t move me as strongly as they used to.
I say all this to make it abundantly clear– I finished this book with a knot in my throat. I read the author’s note with fat, ugly tears rolling down my face. Yes, this was a powerful, moving, dark, spine-chilling read, but it was also real. That was the final nail in the coffin (“You’re really joking at a time like this?” -Bo Burnham) for me. Those god-awful words “every ‘real’ thing that happens in this story is exactly how I experienced it”– that’s what got me.
Because this books is horrifying. Not boo-scary. I wasn’t wanting to hide under the covers or leave the lights on. No, no. In our book club, I said it was like a car wreck. You really want to look away, but you just can’t. That’s not to say I forced myself to finish the book. Lord, no. My brain wouldn’t have let me stop if I wanted to. I absolutely had to see this through. I was clinging to every single word.
The “real” storyline follows Anne– a tortured soul who is dealing with the unimaginable grief that follows the loss of her husband. People constantly tell her to “just move on, he was only your boyfriend.” They ignore her. Don’t reach out or ask her what she needs. Anne wastes away for months without a single human soul to lean upon.
The “paranormal” storyline follows Dan– who simply cannot forgive himself for leaving Anne in this position and subsequently can’t move on because of his guilt. Dan meets the spirit of Tar (who tries to help him move on) and Rale (who seems to embody despair itself and clings to Anne as she spirals downward). He’s forced to watch helplessly as the woman he loves plans her own death.
I was more attracted to Anne’s storyline.
Because her grief is so REAL. Her experiences are so heartbreaking. The absolutely beautiful prose that is used to paint these horrible emotions that she feels. It’s all…. amazing. I honestly can’t think of another word to describe what I’m talking about. I’m sort of at a loss for words.
Instead, how about I tell you what I learned from this.
Grief is a spectrum. There are different levels to it, and just because I think I’ve experienced it before doesn’t mean I can understand EVERYONE’S grief. There’s no one-size-fits-all glove that can just be stamped on top of it. No one pill to fix it all.
I need to stop saying, “I understand what you’re going through” and instead ask, “How can I help you? I’m here for you. Let me help.” Because let’s be honest– I don’t exactly understand. Instead, let’s focus on offering someone a helping hand to lift them out of this. Anne deals with so many people telling her to just get over it. That’s not unrealistic. I mean, I’ve been told that before when dealing with hard times. Why not just try to be there for people, no matter what they’re going through?
Depression, like grief, is a spectrum. My experience with it isn’t the same as someone elses.
Dealing with depression, of any level or severity, does not make you weak. “Say it louder for the people in the back, Amy.” DEPRESSION DOESN’T MAKE YOU WEAK! It just means you have to work a little bit harder. That you might have to ask for help. That your brain needs to be managed a bit differently. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with having that diagnosis.
Suicide, while it might seem like a solution in the moment, never truly is. To quote Lange, “When a person commits suicide, their pain doesn’t end. They just hand it over to the people who love them most.” It’s easy to think, Oh, they’ll forget about me pretty quick or they’ll be better off without me. I’m guilty of that second one. The truth is that they won’t be better off. They won’t forget. Your unanswered questions haunt them. The gaping hole you left will destroy them.
We need to remove the stigma we’ve given to suicide. Instead of dancing around it and telling everyone that it’s a shameful way to die, let’s teach children and adults how to deal with those shadowy emotions. How do I quiet the intrusive thoughts that tell me I’m not good enough? How do I convince myself that people do care about me and I’m not really alone? Suicide needs to be something we discuss. It’s not shameful. It’s heartbreaking. And it’s so common that we ought to be ashamed of ourselves for letting it get this far.
I’ve rambled on long enough. Let’s close with this:
Letting Go by Carrie Lange is an absolutely heartbreaking read that takes you through the all-too-real world of grief and suicide. It’s packed with beautiful prose that will make you feel things, whether you like it or not. It’s definitely not a read for the faint of heart, but anyone who is strong enough– like Anne and Lange– to embark on this journey will most definitely benefit from every moment. I’ve learned so much from reading this book.
I hurt. I raged. I cried.
But then, I smiled with the hope that Anne was going to be okay.
I’ll end with this quote, “Hang on for one more day. Life means hope. You are worth saving. Don’t give up. Don’t give up. Please, don’t give up.”
If you or someone who know struggles with suicidal thoughts, help is always available to you. Call (800) 273-8255, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You are not alone.
You may purchase this book on Amazon here. All proceeds go to support the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Help Lange end the stigma.
In a post-pandemic world, technology is king. Equipped with the fully automated CHIPS, humanity relies entirely on the new computers they have inserted in their wrists. It can do everything. If you don’t have a CHIP, you’re seen as an outcast.
Sage has always seen himself as different. He yearns for the peace of a chip-less world, for the human connections that people made before computer screens replaced face to face conversations. When he decides to take a much needed vacation to Hawaii, something out of this world answers his calling. A strange artifact reveals itself to him, and Sage is thrown headfirst into a world that feels more paranormal than real.
Dabideen’s writing is very smooth. This was a splendidly easy, engaging read, filled to the brim with pop-culture references and intelligence. Dabideen does an excellent job of world building and painting the image of a sprawling, futuristic metropolis. The only downside to the city? An evil (or is it really?) AI at the center of it all.
Resonance raises some important questions, ones that science fiction has been asking for decades. How far is too far when it comes to technology? Is there a way for tech and spirituality to coexist peacefully? What does technology take away from us, and is there a way to ever truly get it back? To be honest, it’s a lot for one book to tackle, and at times, the writing feels a bit preachy. It dragged on, digging into the bigger questions, when I was just really into the plot.
Speaking of the plot, I liked it! That’s a shallow answer, I know. It started off kind of slow. By the midway point, though, where we get an insight into the Nile company and the Second Moon (the corporation that runs the CHIP program and the massive satellite that houses the data collected from the CHIPS, respectively), things really started picking up. I care more about Sage and his friends than I did about answering all those metaphysical questions.
The biggest issue for me, though, is actually an easy fix. The story is told in third person narration. It helps the reader see different points of view as we travel between Sage and the Second Moon. About halfway through, though, the author switches to first person. I was caught off guard by the sudden change, but I preferred the first person POV. This may have been an intentional shift, following Sage’s sudden connection with the “alien” object that appeared to him. I don’t think it was, though. My advice would be to tackle a rewrite and pick a POV to stick with. First person would work best, I believe! That’s just preference, though.
Overall, worth a read! I definitely enjoyed it. Well done, Dabideen.
On his journey through life, Wolf goes through too much: his father’s alcoholism, his mother’s crippling fear, his brother’s carelessness, his isolation at school. Yet, he’s never truly alone. Since he was a child, his best friend has been a spiritual entity named Polly. The Japanese ghost helps him to navigate the treacherous waters of life at home and his often visions and abilities. You see, Wolf can not only travel through time to visit his past self– a Japanese samurai named Junsako– but also talk to the animals that live around his Australian home.
Together, with his friends’ help, Wolf might survive his father’s horrific abuse, but it won’t be easy.
Smart’s writing is simply gorgeous. There was never a moment went I felt detached from the story. I was right beside Wolf as he went on innumerable adventures with Polly and the crew. We went on a trip to visit native americans, fought a shark in the bathtub, went to a pool party with ants, traveled to ancient Japan to watch a samurai… I could go on for ages. The nostalgia that came with reading this touching third-person narration was breathtaking. I was absolutely enraptured.
The characters themselves are so beautifully written as well. They each have their faults, and even when it’s frustrating, they even have redeeming qualities. As you can tell from the synopsis above, the obvious antagonist is Wolf’s father. The reader is meant to dislike him instantly. Hate him, almost. I found myself growing more and more frustrated with Smart for trying to give this horrible man a good side. I understood the purpose, but I didn’t want to understand or like him. (PS: It didn’t work. I hated him even more as the story went.) You feel for the individuals, though. I almost cried for Wolf, I wanted to scream at his mother, and I could have honestly throttled his father. Then, I thanked his neighbors, his sensei, Polly… I could go on for ages.
Yet, I had to bump the story down one star, and I’ll tell you why. I never recovered from an incident that occurs around 80% mark. It was almost too dark to handle, and it was extremely sudden, unexpected, and, well, a bit triggering. It knocked me sideways so hard that I found it hard to keep going. I wanted the ending to bring back the magic, but I was just too depressed from what Wolf did that I couldn’t really enjoy it as much as I liked. I guess that’s part of the point (which is why I didn’t bump this down to a three). The story is supposed to be dark, I know that. Such is the reality of the lives that some children in the world lead. No one wants to see that bleak nature. It’s real, though. God, it’s so real.
I honestly don’t have a valid solution for this issue. A trigger warning would have ruined the surprise and shock that I felt when the scene came, but at the same time, I needed it. *sigh* Anywho, it’s a 4 out of 5 stars for me (which translates to an 8 out of 10 on the Amy Scale). I really, really enjoyed it up until that point. Very well done.
Zander is a mutant. Not by choice. Westport made him this way; President Crowley made him this way.
The Wastelands are full of mutants like Zander and his younger sister Kensy. They’re victims of the Cleanse– a deadly gas that leaves its survivors deformed. Cast aside by the humans that live in Westport, they are forced to survive as best they can, half-starved and deprived of even the most basic education.
Yet, each year mutants are invited to compete in the Skid Track League. It’s a roller derby-style race with deadly consequences. Win, and you get your freedom. Lose, and you disappear from the face of the earth. When Zander and Kensy manage to get to Westport and form a team, they’ll discover that not all humans hate them. Maybe with the help of the Rebellion and some sympathizers, they’ll have a chance to get that coveted freedom– for all the mutants.
Style: This is going to be a long review. I hope you’re buckled up for this one!
First of all, I love this genre. I’ve been reading dystopian for about as long as I can remember. I was a reading junkie when YA dystopian hit an all time high. I’ve read almost all the classics– Hunger Games, Uglies, The Giver, Divergent, Maze Runner, etc, etc, etc. It’s no secret that this is MY FAVORITE type of novel.
That being said, this is a wonderful example of dystopia! I would line this us beside Hunger Games with no shame at all. You’ve got all the general tropes– children competing against each other, two out-of-the-ordinary competitors, competitors joining together to beat the Man, unusual alliances, evil grown-ups. It’s all there and very well done.
Franz style is very simplistic but poetic, if that makes sense. His characters often quote their mother’s book, and it’s always done in a way that made me wonder if it was some obscure poet that I didn’t know about, lol. If you’ve read Caged, then you know how much I love poetry. I appreciate the constant tie-in of the abstract motivational quote. It’s just my style.
My one complaint about the style is actually kind of unusual for me. This book is written in third person, present tense. I don’t know if I’m just not used to that combo or what, but it really caught me off guard and took some time to really get into. I write in first person, present, so I didn’t think it’d be that odd. It was, though! I wonder if Franz chose third/present for a reason… It’s probably waaaay too late to consider changing it, but it’s something to think about!
Characters: Phew, have we got an ENSEMBLE cast. Lol. That’s one thing I really didn’t enjoy throughout this book: the sheer number of characters that I had to keep track of. I eventually gave up. *facepalm* You’ve got all the mutants in Zander’s circle, and then in Lockstone, and then there’s the mutants competing in the League, the humans, the sympathizers, the Ten Percenters, the soldiers, *deep breath* the… I’m just kidding; I think that’s it. But man, there were a BUNCH. I’ll try to focus on just a few to save your eyes.
Let’s talk about Zander and Kensy. I can kill two birds with one stone! They’re both hardened characters. Zander is more of a realist and a pessimist. He doesn’t give up easily, and he’s loyal to his sister beyond all else. Kensy, on the other hand, is a bit of a dreamer and an optimist. They’re both so strong. I enjoyed the juxtaposition between them while keeping the similarities. I appreciate how brave they both were, especially towards the end. I was annoyed that Zander lied to REDACTED at the end, but that’s also something I would write. Lol. It had me tearing up. And I also really, really liked that REDACTED was the one who tied together all of the mutants and sympathizers. #femaleempowerment LOL (Also, sorry to be so secretive, but those were both big spoilers, and you NEED to read this one!)
As far as the human sympathizers go, you’ve mainly got the focus on Rachel and Raulson. I was a bit confused about how old Rachel was, but I think I figured out she’s like… mid-twenties? Lol. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Another amazing strong female. She overcomes so much and fights an uphill battle. I was rooting for her from day 1. Raulson I kinda worried about. I didn’t know whether to trust him, and I was a bit suspicious at the end. I think he had a strong redemption arc, though! Kudos for that.
Now, the BADDIE– President Crowley. I really want to spit in his steak. I do. I want to grab him by the back of the head and just…. smash him into a table. We all know by now– I love a well-written villain. Crowley doesn’t even fit into the half-bad category. He’s all the way bad. Giving me HUGE President Snow vibes, and I’m here for it!
Plot: I’ve kind of already talked about the plot here and there. This is a long book, friends. We’re tapping 400 pages. She could weigh down a starving child, I’m sure. LOL
In my opinion, the plot actually started out kinda slow. I pushed through in the hopes that it would pick up once the main group got to Westport. And man, did it ever pick up! At about the 25% point, when you get past all the exposition, everything falls into place and you’re in. Waiting for the next race, wondering what’s going to happen to Rachel, worrying about Fins and Rance… It’s one punch after another. Absolutely no complaints from me about ANY of the plot.
Well, one complaint. I reached out to the author with a concern about whether or not there was going to be a sequel. The end kind of threw me for a loop. I don’t know that it was necessary to kill REDACTED. It felt like a solid ending before that final chapter. All the ends were tied up except for Rance. The ending almost reads like a forced cliff-hanger.
Overall Thoughts: I really, really enjoyed this book. It was very well-written and unfolded magnificently. I’m giving it a solid 8/10!
Zane Carter is a survivor– a hardened, broken soldier. The confidence he used to have in his country is gone, and he knows, without a doubt, that the US is going to lose WW2. So, when a battle goes sideways and Zane blacks out, he’s sure he’s dead. This is the end for him.
Except, it’s not. When Zane wakes up, he finds himself behind enemy lines in a German-run world. The US did lose, and now the Nazis have taken over. As the days progress, though, Zane discovers that this world isn’t what it appears to be. Weird shadowed men lurk around him; strange visions keep appearing to him.
Unlocking the truth to this new strange land will be more than he bargained for. Zane will learn that, believe it or not, he’s more than just a soldier.
This was a REALLY good, quick read. As far as genres go, it’s a surprising blend of historical fiction, alt-history, and science fiction. You don’t really see the sci-fi at the end, and it did throw me for a bit of a loop. Yet, I still enjoyed it! I saw a lot of familiar themes from pop-culture and novels. For example: the obsession with uniformity and one person who stands out from the Divergent series, the looping aspect from movies like Groundhog Day, and the weird simulation-like scenarios from the Matrix.
The storyline is interesting and engaging enough to keep you guessing up until the very last moment. The reader is just as lost as Zane is, and the act of putting together the little puzzle pieces was so much fun. It was like a guessing game. I went from “he’s in a coma” to “he’s stuck in an experiment” to “omg aliens.” It kept setting me up for one thing and then proving me wrong. I absolutely loved it. Somehow, the ending STILL caught me off guard!
Essentially, if you’re a fan of alt-history or science fiction, you’ll enjoy this quick read. Solid 8/10 for me. Very well done, H.G. Ahedi!