The Summer Before the War – Helen Simonson

The-Summer-Before-The-War-Helen-Simonson
Source: Goodreads

 

Accepting the position of smalltown Latin teacher was a no-brainer for Beatrice Nash. Finally on her own, she can’t wait to make her own money and get out from under her stifling family’s thumb and her father’s shadow. But war is looming. A great, big, world war, the likes of which have never been seen. With men signing up left and right, it’s only a matter of time before Beatrice’s students and colleagues start to head for the continent, closely followed by the new officers comprised mostly of the lesser gentry. A young surgeon and a poet, a Romani and a scholar, the war keeps its distance from no one. And so beings the summer before the war.

 

Helen Simonson does it again. The author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – one of my favorite reads of 2017 – is back with another well-developed look at England’s less viewed history, and hits her mark. The characters are well developed and engaging, as well as incredibly refreshing. A book about an Edwardian surgeon! The first women authors! Single women living alone and working a respectable job! POETS. and so, so many underlying narratives about race and sexuality. Absolutely wonderful. 10/10 would read again.

I would like a prequel about Beatrice’s life with her father and then with her Aunt. Also, a novel purely about Aunt Agatha and her husband who works for the foreign office and who I am sure does spy things. I think they’re all just so interesting!

The book itself starts out relatively lighthearted, following the main premise of Beatrice settling into the town and her interactions with the townsfolk. About 3/4 of the way through, the war is finally upon us, with dire consequences for many. Simonson wraps everything up neatly, but not before she rips our hearts out and forces us to acknowledge that not everyone can live happily ever after.

 

HHC Rating: 5 Stars

 

Other reviews for works by this author:
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

Geekerella – Ashley Poston

 

Geekerella-Ashley-Poston
Source: Goodreads

 

 

Danielle Wittimer and her parents had a special bond – their undying love for the too-soon gone TV show Starfield. Now that they’re gone, the show and the convention her father started in honor of it are the only things Elle has left of them. They keep her going while her stepmother and twin stepsisters make her life a living hell.

Darien Freeman grew up torn between worlds. Discovering Starfield and Excelsicon in middle school literally saved his life. Now, the chance to play the lead role of Prince Carmindor in the new film adaption of the cult TV show is more than he can pass up, but will the fans accept a new Carmindor?

Terrified to meet his new fans and foes, Darien reaches out to the Excelsicon founders to try to pull out of his meet-and-greet, only to find a friend instead. As Elle and Darien get to know each other through texts, they begin to understand just how not alone they really are. Will it be enough to save Carmindor and the reboot from disaster? Will it be enough to rescue Elle from her own personal hell?

 

 

I heard about this book last year just before it came out, and I had the chance to hear Ashley Poston speak about it at the Boston Teen Author Festival in September. Geekerella‘s charm comes from its roots in the Cinderella fairytale, tied up in its infusion of sci-fi culture – Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, and so many more. The melding together of fairytale and space opera with verge-of-adulthood problems and responsibilities makes for a totally new story that will enchant readers for years to come.

Poston’s love for everything space shines through in her writing and in her speech. Her next space-opera-meets-fairytale will hit shelves in the next year or two, and I personally can’t wait to get my hands on it.

 

HHC Rating: 4.5 Stars

 

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1) – Marissa Meyer

Lunar-Chronicles-Cinder-Marissa-Meyer

Source: Goodreads

 

Cinder is just your average cyborg, living in New Beijing in an age where people like her are enslaved, and there is a plague sweeping the globe. Oh, and the queen of the moon wants to take over Earth. You know, normal stuff. So when the handsome Prince Kai visits Cinder’s mechanics booth at the weekly market with an android of national importance for her to fix, she naturally can’t say no. Everything that follows is nothing Cinder could have imagined, and her life suddenly has meaning beyond her wildest dreams.

We all know I love a good Cinderella retelling. I was excited when I first heard about this one, but after finding out it involved a war with the moon, a plague, and Cinderella being a cyborg, I was seriously worried it would collapse under the pressure of so many ideas in one book. I avoided it for years. Then I found the audiobook and decided to give it a go.

WOW. There was so much going on in this book. The war, plague, and cyborg aspects are only the tip of the iceberg here people. This book is beyond anything I’ve read in its sheer amount different topics, yet somehow they all fit together perfectly? How is that possible? It literally defies all expectations. ‘I am not a robot book’ it says. ‘Neither am I a war book, or a fairytale, or a plague story.‘ In fact, this book is everything. It’s like literary stone soup, and I loved every happy, miserable, hysterical second of it. I might have to listen to it again before I move on to the second book just to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

This was a book I found myself thinking about constantly when I wasn’t listening to it. It’s the kind of story where you figure a few things out, and then the rest of the twists throw you off a cliff that only the next book can fix. Except each book follows different main characters and they’re all supposedly going to converge at some point. It’s a pretty cool concept, even if it is another thing to add to the pile of things going on already in this series. I get the feeling I am going to need flow charts and graphs to follow it all.

As far as the actual audiobook goes, I enjoyed the narrator almost always. Her pacing was good, the voice differences were good, and the pronunciations were clear. But the voice that was chosen for Cinder’s robot companion, Iko, still echoes painfully in my head.

HHC Rating: 4 Stars

Other reviews in this series:
Book #2 – Scarlet (Review Available 1/23)
Book #3 – Cress (Review Available (2/13)
Book #3.5 – Fairest (Review Available 3/6)
Book #4 – Winter (Review Available 3/27)

In Other Lands – Sarah Rees Brennan

In-Other-Lands-Sarah-Rees-Brennan

Source: Goodreads

Elliot Schafer is obnoxious. No one at school can stand him, his father at home ignores him, and his mother left when he was a baby. Then one day his teacher drives him to the middle of nowhere and sells him to an oddly dressed woman because he can see a stone wall where his classmates cannot. What ensues is part adventure, part education, part self-discovery, and all about the love.

 

A review of this book popped up on Goodreads about two months ago, and I requested it from my library immediately. Blurbed by many well-known authors, including Leigh Bardugo, Tamora Pierce, Cassandra Claire, Gregory Maguire, and Holly Black, this book was a definite addition to my TBR. In Other Lands was published just under a month ago, on August 17th, and a copy arrived at my library a day early! I can’t even tell you how exciting that was.

Let me start by saying that there are no chapters. The book is sectioned by year, following Elliot from the ages of 13 to 18. The ‘otherland’ is a fantastic world full of diverse peoples and even more diverse cultures. This book is not only a play on the portal-world trope but also a narrative on how our culture is being constantly blended and added to with new words and beliefs. From sexuality to gender stereotypes to machismo and sexism, this book hits it all right on the head. With a Trigon ball.

Being CisHet and having people close to me who identify on the LGBTQ+ spectrum made this book all the more dear to me. While I’m sure not everyone will agree, I felt that it did a good job of handling the differences in sexuality and not blowing them out of proportion, as often happens in literature and in other media. It wasn’t anyone’s defining characteristic, and that’s exactly as it should be. That being said, there is quite a bit of discussion throughout of intimacy and menstruation, as well as actual (but not overly detailed) intimacy. So, I wouldn’t recommend reading this if you’re under the age of, say, 14, or if you are uncomfortable at all with that kind of scene, whether CisHet or LGBTQ+. With the addition of a few of the other cultures whose major sexism is the reverse of humans, it can all become just a bit much all at once.

 

Overall I am glad to have read it and will be recommending it to many of my friends, CisHet as well as LGBTQ+, to read.

 

HHC Rating: 4 Stars

Disenchanted: The Trials of Cinderella (Tyme, #2) – Megan Morrison

Tyme-Disenchanted-The-Trials-Of-Cinderella-Megan-Morrison

Source: Goodreads

 

Ella Coach doesn’t want riches or fame, only justice for a mother who died working in a sweatshop. Prince Charming isn’t looking for true love, but he’s done playing with people’s hearts too, now that The Charming Curse has been broken. Serge is an executive fairy godfather. He’s granted wishes beyond your wildest dreams, even made queens out of barmaids, but now he caters mostly to the rich and famous who pay to be on his list. Until one day a name no one knows appears on it. Ella Coach.

 

This second installment in Morrison’s Tyme series is just as fantastic as the first. Unlike Grounded, in which we follow the characters on an epic quest of sorts, Disenchanted deals with problems much closer to home. A prince who is finally free to act like himself grapples with the world who liked him better the way he was. A girl who knows first hand the horrors of a sweatshop sets out to make things right. A fairy uncovers a nefarious plot to overthrow a corrupted king. We also get a Cinderella who’s a person of color, and she’s not the only POC character! There’s also a Crimson Fairy who is dealing with everyone hating him base don his heritage, and then the normal class wars that you see in most fairytales. There’s a lot going on here, but it all melds together beautifully.

While I was disappointed at first that we weren’t going to explore multiple kingdoms this time around, I found the in-depth look at a single kingdom infinitely interesting. Because Ella is dealing with worker compensation, the reader gets a good hard look at the economy in the kingdom of Blue. Morrison has a talent for taking real-world problems and making them understandable to the average person, no matter their age. This narrative on the importance of all lives, not just the wealthy, is something everyone can relate to, especially right now.

The world building was wonderful yet again, and I can’t wait to see what else Morrison and her world of Tyme co-creator Ruth Virkus come up with for the next book in the series, which has tentatively been titled Transformed: The Perils of the Frog Prince and is due to be published in Summer 2018.

 

Curio Street Reads Rating:  5 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – Grounded: The Adventures of Rapunzel
Book #3 – Transformed: The Perils of the Frog Prince (To be published in Summer 2018)

Ella Enchanted – Gail Carson Levine

Ella-Enchanted-Gail-Carson-Levine

Source: Goodreads

Ella is cursed at birth to be obedient: any order given to her must be obeyed. Up until she is fifteen, her mother and Mandy, their cook, have kept her safe from harm. That all changes when Ella is sent away to finishing school, where she must learn to brave the world and all of its occupants. Ella’s life is further complicated by the attentions of Prince Charmont, who’s love and friendship she desires, but whose life would be in constant danger if it were to become wrapped up in hers.

 

This book was my favorite as a child and has always held a special place in my heart. There are few books that are more important to me than the Harry Potter series, and this is one of them. Ella was one of, if not the very first strong female lead character I ever read about, and she has stuck with me through thick and thin. I think I’m on my third or fourth copy of the book because I love it so much that I used to lend it out (which I never do anymore), and people kept losing it for extended periods of time. So now I just buy copies for everyone and give them as gifts.

Re-reading it yesterday on my 25th birthday for what is probably the 30th or 40th time, I noticed a number of things I’ve been overlooking in the story. Growing up I always saw Ella as the epitome of a strong female character. I saw her as selfless, romantic, and kick-butt. Yesterday, I tried to pay attention to the little details, possibly for the first time since my initial reading all those years ago. Mainly what I realized is that there are no 100% good characters in this story. Mandy and Lucinda each have ways in which they can help Ella, but they decline to use their talents. Prince Charmont readily admits that he has anger issues and holds grudges for years – rather like Mr. Darcy’s ‘my good opinion once lost is lost forever’ nonsense. Even Ella is quite selfish. The story is told in the first person, occasionally delving into Ella’s mind and often into her intentions, and typically reveals that she is at her core a human teenage girl, not the kind of hero/heroine to be placed on a pedestal. Ultimately, it is her selfishness and the opposing need to be selfless that results in breaking the curse – in a very odd, somewhat confusing and relatively anticlimactic scene that made perfect sense to my younger self but now seems a little lack luster.

Over the years, I often picked up Ella Enchanted as a comfort read. If I was stressed then I could read about how Ella defeats her demons and gain the courage to fight my own. But this time around it was like looking at one of my heroes through fresh eyes or new spectacles, and realizing they were as much of a selfish brat in their early and mid teens as I was. Up until more recently, I deeply identified with Ella’s character, and growing out of her feels like I’m finally, just maybe, growing up.

This book is not perfect. I can admit that now – maybe for the first time – but it will always be especially dear to me. I may even love it more because of its imperfections. I definitely recommend this book (not the film. PLEASE NOT THE FILM) to LITERALLY EVERYONE, because there are just so many lessons, adventures and discoveries to be found in its pages.

 

HHC Rating: 5 Stars

A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic, #3) – V.E. Schwab

Shades-Of-Magic-A-Conjuring-Of-Light-V-E-Schwab

Source: Goodreads

The third book in the Shades of Magic series picks up where A Gathering of Shadows ends, with a familiar darkness spreading across Londons and our protagonists in peril.

I really wanted to love this book, but when I picked it up soon after finishing the second volume, I found myself burned out by the constant action. Book two was fairly fast paced, and A Conjuring of Light is a continuation of that same situation. I ended up having to put the book down for three months before I could pick it up without feeling completely drained. I don’t see this as a problem for the people who read the series as it came out because the books were released a year apart, but going forward, it’s important to note the potential for burnout if you plan to read the books back-to-back.

I enjoyed all of the characters, but much like the first volume, I found it hard to be invested in them when I couldn’t personally identify with any of them. The storyline was good, the fabric of the plot woven tightly, with nearly all of the ends getting bound up neatly in the conclusion while leaving room for universe expansion both forward and backward. Some bits, such as the history of Kell’s coat, would be entertaining to explore in the future.

While I was taking my reading break from A Conjuring of Light, my sister borrowed and devoured the series in its entirety while studying for finals. I feel that I must add that she loved all of the characters and never experienced the burnout that I did.

Overall, I enjoyed it, and it was a fitting end to the trilogy. I would definitely recommend it to fantasy readers of all kinds for its plot, its diverse characters, and its beautiful world building. V.E. Schwab has done great things with this series, and I only wish I hadn’t gotten burned out and had been able to enjoy it to its fullest potential.

 

HHC Rating: 4 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – A Darker Shade of Magic
Book #2 – A Gathering of Shadows