Posted in book reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Home Girl by Alex Wheatle

BOOK REVIEW: Home Girl by Alex WheatleHome Girl by Alex Wheatle
Published by Black Sheep on September 3, 2019
Pages: 288
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program
Goodreads
four-stars
Synopsis

This isn’t my home. Haven’t had a proper home since . . . This is just somewhere I’ll be resting my bones for a week and maybe a bit. This time next year you’ll forget who I am. I haven’t got a diddly where I’ll be by then. But I’m used to it.
New from the UK-based best-selling black British author and winner of the Guardian Children’s Book Award, Home Girl is the story of Naomi, a teenage girl growing up fast in the foster care system. It is a wholly modern story which sheds a much-needed light on what can be an unsettling life—and the consequences that follow when children are treated like pawns on a family chessboard.
Home Girl is fast-paced and funny, tender, tragic, and full of courage—just like Naomi. It is Alex Wheatle’s most moving and personal novel to date.


I received this book for free from LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This book appealed to me on so many different levels. First, the description itself got me interested. But being a foster parent I’ve become more and more interested in stories telling the tale of both those in care and their carers. So when I got the notification I’d won a free ARC through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program, I was super pumped! I just wish I’d been able to read it sooner!

Well, sort of…

I can’t get Naomi out of my head and have cried twice since finishing the book. Which is silly ’cause…fictional character!?!

Oh, well. Such is life when you live in fictional worlds, I guess. But this one definitely hit a little too close to home and forced me to deal with some of my own prejudices and issues as well.

The Story:

We’re introduced to Naomi, a 14-year-old white girl, as she’s being moved from her current foster placement. Her worker is trying to find her a new home but it’s proving difficult. While it’s not specifically addressed in the book, finding placement would be hard for no other reason than her age. But add to that she’s got attitude, a thick file, and that she’s being removed for accusing yet another of her carers of being a “prick fiddler,” and you’re looking at a kid who’s more likely to end up in a group facility than in a foster home.

It’s not right, but there it is.

So Naomi is giving her social worker a hard time while she’s trying to find an emergency placement for her. As a last resort, Naomi is placed with a black family on a temporary basis. Surprising to all…this is the best “home” Naomi has ever had and is the best fit for her. (Side note: As far as I know, we don’t have limitations or special classes or forms that have to be completed when accepting placement of a different race here. I’m guessing this is only a thing where the book takes place but it’s central to the story so felt it needed to be said here in the review.)

Colleen, her foster mom, spends hours on Naomi’s hair. She bonds with the two younger children in the house, and even when she acts up, Tony and Colleen are understanding. They don’t overreact and help her work through her issues.

And boy does Naomi have some issues! Her mother committed suicide. She was the one to find her and Naomi blames herself for not stopping her mother’s death. Afterward, she ends up caring for her alcoholic father at a time she desperately needed to be cared for herself and she had to grow up way too fast.

While I deeply enjoyed this read, it does have me questioning some of my own “issues.” The biggest one? Race in foster care. While staying with Tony and Colleen, Naomi has to deal with some prejudices about Tony and Colleen accepting a white placement when there are so many black kids who need a good home. I’m bi-racial and all of our placements have been bi-racial. While I don’t consciously think “I’m gonna say yes to this kid because we’re the same race,” I’m sure it does play a part. When we were taking time off but still receiving requests, there were times I had the thought “they’re white, someone is going to take them.”

Again, it’s not right. But there it is. I live in WV. There are a lot of white people. (And definitely more white foster parents than non-white foster parents. 🤷‍♀️)

The Characters:

People in foster care are complicated.

And I’m not just talking about the kids. The foster parents, the bio parents, the workers from every agency involved with the kids – even the judges and GALs – they’re ALL complicated. No matter how uncomplicated a life a person lived before getting involved in the foster care system (no matter how they became involved or what role they play(ed) in the system), once you get sucked in… COMPLICATED!!!

Life is a great big messy ball of one conflicting emotion and trial after another. It’s never-ending and there’s always something!

So for a writer to tackle a book like Home Girl, where they’ve got characters in every level of the system – kids, bio parents, foster parents, workers, secretaries, teachers, etc. – they’ve got to create some insanely complicated characters to deal with the complicated issues.

And I think that for the most part, Wheatle managed to do this.

I say for the most part because there were times when things were just unbelievable and characters didn’t react in a way I expected them to. Now, I understand that this is a book and part of why I love reading is that the characters get to do and say things I never could… but these weren’t always my fav characters.

For instance, while I loved Naomi, she could come across as TOO whiney and too self-involved. And the majority of other teen foster kids in the book act this way too. I know this is something that can happen with kids in care, but the opposite also happens. These kids are more aware of the world and what it can throw at them than most. So while they definitely can come across as selfish or too self-involved, it’s been my experience that kids in care (or who have been in care) have more compassion for others than those shown in Home Girl. It was kind of like the author went overboard on the “bad” kids. (Hope that made sense.)

I loved the adult characters!! Naomi’s worker was fabulous and I thought Tony and Colleen were great foster parents.

Conclusion:

Overall, I enjoyed Home Girl. It’s definitely worth the time reading. The story was great and I liked the writing, although the characters irked me at times. It wasn’t so much that it took me out of the story though, so there’s that. Since I’m one of those people who love character-driven stories and usually think the characters “make” the book, for me to say I loved it even though I didn’t love the characters is really saying something!

What do you think? Have you read Home Girl or do you think it’s something you’ll enjoy? Leave a comment below and/or find me on Twitter!

four-stars
Posted in Wrap-up

January 2020 Wrap-Up


Some of my favorite posts to read on other blogs are the monthly wrap ups so I’m excited to actually do one here! (Any feedback or suggestions on how I can improve these over the next few months would definitely be appreciated!)

One of my goals for 2020 is to post more consistently…I didn’t really manage to do that, although I did post more often than I had been so I guess that’s something!

I posted only four reviews the entire month! Click the links to read my thoughts on the following books:

Another goal I have is to post more about the audiobooks available I’ve narrated and/or the books I’ll be or I’m currently working on. I failed miserably since these are the only two audiobook posts I managed in January:

And the remaining few January posts were as follows:


So there you go.A summary of my January journey combing through the pages here on my little space of the internet. How was your January?

Posted in book reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Dragon Connection by Ava Richardson

BOOK REVIEW: Dragon Connection by Ava RichardsonDragon Connection (The Stone Crown Series Book 1) by Ava Richardson
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
five-stars
Synopsis

One crown can unite them—or destroy them all.

The three kingdoms lie splintered, their aging dragon riders content with stories of glorious battle victories. But a new evil creeps across the land. Inyene, a powerful noblewoman of the Northern Kingdom, plunders valuable resources to power mechanical dragons in her quest to gain a foothold in the Middle Kingdom. From there she will ascend the High Throne, once again uniting the realms under a single crown.

For the wearer of the Stone Crown can wield unlimited power—if it can be found.

Narissea has spent a quarter of her sixteen years slaving away in the mines, accused of a crime she didn’t commit. When word reaches her of the horrors assailing her village, Narissea knows she must act despite the risk. Already her arm is scarred with four brands signifying previous escape attempts. If she’s unsuccessful in her fifth, it will mean death.

But her life forever changes when she stumbles upon an injured dragon, discovers an ancient shrine, and learns the true purpose behind Lady Inyene’s mechanical abominations.

Now, Narissea has only one choice: gain Inyene’s trust and find a way to thwart her plans, even if it means sacrificing that which she desires most of all.

Her freedom.

This book contains violence.


I received this book for free from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I haven’t read a whole lot of fantasy lately and I was feeling nostalgic for a good ol’ Dragon tale. When I stumbled upon Dragon Connection by Ava Richardson, I didn’t just find one such tale, but discovered an entire series I’m going to need to get caught up on!!

The Story:

 Dragon Connection tells the story of a time when most of the dragons have gone and with them, the Dragon riders. The land is being dominated by a vicious wannabe queen who is enslaving many free citizens under ridiculous charges. Narissea is one of the unfortunate souls taken from her homeland on trumped up charges and forced to work in the mines for the “queen”, Inyene.

Narissea has made multiple attempts to escape. She’s been promised by the overseers that her next attempt will be her last. No more branding her arm as punishment…death will put an end to her misery.

As further punishment for her latest failed prison break, Narissea is sent into treacherous territory to hunt for Dragon scales. She thinks her luck has turned for the better when she discovers more scales than anyone ever has! And not just any scales – these are black, large and fully intact. She follows the trail and eventually finds herself in a precarious situation,which is made all the more deadly when find herself face to face with a living,breathing,black Dragon!

Narissea has no idea how the connect made that day will change her life – and possibly the lives of her people.  When she returns from her punishment/adventure, she’s in even more danger than before.

The Characters:

I fell in love with almost every character in this book! Narissea, her “uncle”, her best friend Oleer – even the queen’s brother, Abioye. And of course I grew quite attached to the mage, Montfre! I’ve got a special place in my heart for mages and dragons. I can’t wait to start the next book in the Stone Crown series to see where their story goes from here!

Conclusion:

Dragon Connection by Ava Richardson is a fun, exciting, and emotional read. I recommend it to anyone who loves stories with dragons!

five-stars
Posted in book reviews

BOOK REVIEW: The Socialite by J’nell Ciesielski

BOOK REVIEW: The Socialite by J’nell CiesielskiThe Socialite by J'nell Ciesielski
Published by Thomas Nelson on April 14, 2020
ISBN: 0785233547
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
five-stars
Synopsis

Glamour, treachery, and espionage collide when an English socialite rushes to save her sister from the Nazis.As the daughter of Sir Alfred Whitford, Kat has a certain set of responsibilities. But chasing her wayward sister, Ellie, to Nazi-occupied Paris was never supposed to be one of them. Now accustomed to the luxurious lifestyle that her Nazi boyfriend provides, Ellie has no intention of going back to the shackled life their parents dictate for them--but Kat will stop at nothing to bring her sister home.
Arrested for simply trying to defend himself against a drunken bully, Barrett Anderson is given the option of going to jail or serving out his sentence by training Resistance fighters in Paris. A bar owner serves as the perfect disguise to entertain Nazis at night while training fighters right below their jackboots during the day. Being assigned to watch over two English debutantes is the last thing he needs, but a payout from their father is too tempting to resist. Can Barrett and Kat trust each other long enough to survive, or will their hearts prove more traitorous than the dangers waiting around the corner?


I received this book for free from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

So I was browsing NetGalley and had been in a historical fiction kind of mood when I saw the cover for The Socialite by J’nell Ciesielski. I don’t know what it was, but I fell in love with that cover and knew I’d be requesting it no matter what it was about! (This is a super bad habit I’m finding myself doing way too often lately.) I’m actually thinking about doing a monthly series titled “I Chose A Book by its Cover and…” But that’s a post for another day.

Basically, the cover drew me in and the description sealed my fate. I HAD TO READ THIS BOOK! So I did (obviously) and I loved it!

The Story:

The Socialite is about two English debutantes who find themselves in occupied France during World War II.

Kathleen Whitford has convinced her father to allow her to travel into Paris in order to retrieve her younger sister, who has run away with a Nazi officer. Kathleen is a mix of bravery, cowardice, strength, sarcasm, wit and naivety all rolled up into one very complicated woman. Of course, it’s not so easy to tell all that when we’re first introduced to her, as she’s about to sneak her way into a party teeming with German soldiers. When it’s revealed the hostess of this get together is Kat’s sister, Eleanor Whitford, my jaw literally dropped open!

Eleanor believes she’s found the perfect man in Major Eric von Schlegel. Despite his Nazi ideology, Eleanor is convinced he’s a good man who will care for her in a way she has never been loved before. So, of course, she’s not interested in going back with Kat to their father’s house, where she’s expected to live by high society standards. She resents that Kat always does what’s expected of her and never seems to just let go.

Kat’s world is further turned upside down by the introduction of Barrett Anderson, a Scottish bar owner she meets as he is also crashing the Nazi party her sister is throwing during Kat’s first night in Paris. Barrett is also living a very complicated life and he and Kat are drawn to each other for multiple reasons…none more interesting/disturbing than the hidden fact that Barrett is working for Kat and Ellie’s father.

Barrett views Kat in much the same light her sister does and he’s pretty uncompromising:

And you always follow the rules, don’t you? No matter who gives them or for what reason. My guess is you don’t ask the reason. You simply obey.

Barrett Anderson, The Socialite by J’nell Ciesielski

As the story unfolds, Kat, Ellie and Barrett are all shown to be more than meets the eye. And the trio end up trying to escape the Nazis together among multiple twists and turns that come together to create an amazing story I can see myself reading over and over again!

The Characters:

This is a novel where the characters really make it a memorable, wonderful read. They’re well developed and likable. I even found myself at I’ve point not completely hating evil Eric!

I think it’s speaks a lot to the writing itself that the author was even able to get these characters to a dinner with Hitler and make it believable. In fact, dinner with Hitler was one of my favorite scenes!

My favorite stories are always those where the people and places stick with me for years. The characters in The Socialite are definitely going to do that!

Conclusion:

If I haven’t already made it clear, let me just wrap up this review by saying I absolutely loved reading The Socialite by J’nell Ciesielski and definitely recommend picking it up if you’re looking for some historical fiction! It’s way more than just a pretty cover!

five-stars
Posted in First Lines Fridays

First Lines Friday – January 17, 2020

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?  If you want to make your own post, feel free to use or edit the banner above, and follow the rules below:

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

If you’re using Twitter, don’t forget to use #FirstLinesFridays!

Here we go…


There is blood under my fingernails. I wonder how many of my people I’ve killed this time.


Can you guess what book this is from???

Read on to find out…

First Lines Fridays

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

Blurb:

Fall in love, break the curse.

Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year, Prince Rhen, the heir of Emberfall, thought he could be saved easily if a girl fell for him. But that was before he turned into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. Before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

Nothing has ever been easy for Harper. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, Harper learned to be tough enough to survive. When she tries to save a stranger on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s pulled into a magical world.

Break the curse, save the kingdom.

Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. A prince? A curse? A monster? As she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.

Posted in book reviews

BOOK REVIEW: God of Manna by Daeus Lamb

BOOK REVIEW: God of Manna by Daeus LambGod of Manna by Daeus Lamb
Published by Independently Published on April 10, 2019
ISBN: 1093395915
Pages: 72
Source: the author
Goodreads
four-stars
Synopsis

The hideous God of Manna has taken away the soul of Mortristan's father. Now, it is Mortristan's doom to find what his father never could: something worth living for.But when Mortristan is forced to hunt an intruder in the God of Manna's paradise-city, he learns just how enslaved he is. As bad as life is with the God of Manna, it's impossible to live without him. Can Mortristan really sacrifice everything he has to find just one thing that's lasting?The God of Manna has reigned for millennia and he doesn't take rebellion lightly...The world needs a savior. And if Mortristan doesn't find a way of escape, he will too.God of Manna is a fairy tale that explores the human search for satisfaction in both its glories and disgrace.Buy your copy today to follow Mortristan as he battles to free himself from the God of Manna.


I received this book for free from the author. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I’ve had God of Manna book on my TBR for a really long time now. I started to read it right after receiving it, but I wasn’t really in the mood for a book I had to put much thought into… Now I kinda wish I’d given it a chance because I ended up really enjoying the allegory in this story!

The crazy thing is, I wasn’t a big fan of the beginning. But it made me curious enough to keep reading – so right when I was thinking “I’m gonna DNF after one more page,” I ended up speeding through the rest of the book, unable to set it down.

This dystopian world is beautiful and ugly and full of dark secrets. Everyone is separated. Those lucky enough to live in the lush land of Elysigard care nothing for the people outside in the desolate wasteland, who work and toil to keep the God of Manna and the people of Elysigard happy. The world itself is a major player in the book.

The main character, Mortristan, is on a search for something his father never finds (or many of us, for that matter)… something that lasts. Mortristan’s journey changes him in ways he could never imagine. He doesn’t seem like a courageous or even all that caring of a person, but he ends up doing miraculous things. He overcomes the land, himself, and even defies the God of Manna.

And that ending…At the time I’m writing this, I finished the book two weeks ago and I’m still thinking about it!

If you enjoy high-concept, allegorical dystopian stories then this novella is definitely worth the read. My only real complaint (other than the slow start) is that I REALLY wish it wasn’t so short. God of Manna could easily be a full-length novel and I think it may have been even better if it was.

What do you think? Have you read God of Manna? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave me a comment below!

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four-stars