Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Book Review - My Name Is Iris by Brando Skyhorse


My Name Is Iris by Brando Skyhorse is about a woman, Iris Prince, who is starting over after a divorce.  Iris feels that she needs a change. She feels that she and her husband, Alex, want different things in life. She decides that a divorce will help her find her path again. She and her nine year old daughter, Melanie, move to a new town to start over.

Iris feels that she will have more time to pursue her passions and things she wants to do. She even feels that she will be able to connect and bond with her new neighbors. After spending a few days in her new place, she wakes up one morning and looks out her kitchen window. She noticed a wall appeared in her front yard overnight. The wall wasn’t there last night and it seems to be growing and looks more menacing as time goes by. 

A new law was proposed and passed that requires everyone to wear “the Band”. It is supposedly a convenient way to help people pay bills, get access to utilities, and serves as an ID. The catch is, only people who can prove that their parents are US citizens can have access to the band.

Iris was proud to be a second generation Mexican American woman. Growing up her parents has always told her that no one can take away her citizenship because Iris was born in the US. However, that all changes when Iris is no longer able to qualify for “the Band” since her parents are undocumented.  How far will Iris go to protect what matters to her the most while everything around seems to be closing in on her?

The novel started off okay but then I lost interest towards the middle. The book was boring and didn’t really have much going on. I also didn’t like that some of the characters spoke in Spanish and there was no translation to help readers understand what was going on. After a while, it became too cumbersome to look up every other sentence to figure out what the characters were saying. The ending was especially disappointing as it was mostly in Spanish also. Therefore, I had no idea how it ended and from what I was able to understand it didn’t really seem like it gave the readers any closure.

The book is from people of Mexican descent’s point of view in dealing with the changes due to the “bands”. I would have been interested in reading to see how other minorities dealt with these changes as well. I didn’t find any of the characters interesting or relatable. While they were trying to do the best they could do with the new mandates, I found some of the characters selfish and not loyal to their family members and culture. The book has tons of symbolism  and cultural references that were interesting but, it wasn’t enough to make the story more captivating. The book might be enjoyable if you understand Spanish to better grasp these parts of the story containing Spanish phrases. Otherwise I would say just skip it.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Book Review - Light Comes to Shadow Mountain by Toni Buzzeo


Light Comes to Shadow Mountain by Toni Buzzeo is about a young girl named Cora who wants to bring electricity to the houses in rural Kentucky.  In 1937, the government sent a notice to the families in the rural areas around the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. It told residents that they can join the electric cooperation to have electricity in their homes, if they paid a fee to join. This notice was sent as part of the Rural Electrification Act. The Act allowed rural areas access to electricity.

When Cora hears about electricity coming to her area, she is ecstatic. Her curious nature propels her to learn everything she can about electricity. As she learns more about it, she is confident that her family and neighbors would benefit from it. She decides to come up with some fundraising ideas to help raise the money to get electricity in her school. She also creates a school newspaper to help her fellow students spread the benefits of electricity to their families. She figured, the more they learned about the benefits, the more likely they would join the cooperative.

However, Cora soon realizes that not everyone is so excited about electricity and her fiercest opponent is closer to home than she realized. Cora’s mother is dead-set against electrification being brought to the holler. She claims that it will affect the landscape and alter their very way of life. Cora’s mother feels that electricity will bring about too many changes and it will affect their community for the worst.

The book was an interesting and emotional read. Cora is a bright young girl who wants to learn new things and try to spread the information to everyone. However, she always comes head to head with her mother. At times, the reader felt for Cora as she was trying to listen to her mother but also trying to follow her heart. I liked reading how Cora and her mother were able to reconnect and repair their bond. I also learned a lot of interesting things like the Electrification Act, how an incubator worked, and about the Pack Horse Library Project.  The author included some additional resources if readers were interested in learning more. I would be open to reading more books by this author.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Book Review - Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea by Rita Chang-Eppig


Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea by Rita Chang-Eppig is about a woman pirate, Shek Yeung, seeing her pirate husband, Cheng Yat, die. It’s also about her journey afterwards. Shek Yeung and her husband board a Portuguese ship in hopes that they can claim the ship and crew as their own, to add to their numbers. When they board the ship, they end up in an all out combat with the Portuguese who seem to know that Shek and Cheng were going to attack them.

During the battle, the Portuguese are seen as a worthy enemy in battle and Cheng Yat dies in combat. Shek Yeung knows that she will need to act swiftly to save herself and the rest of her pirate crew. As she and the rest of the crew retreat, she decides that she doesn’t have time to mourn the death of her husband and that her wellbeing is hanging by a thread because she is a woman pirate leader. When her husband was alive, they worked well together as “muscle” and “strategist” but now that he’s gone, she fears the crew will not want her in a leadership role.

She decides that she will marry her husband’s second in command, Cheng Po, and will bear him a son and heir, so she can keep her half of the fleet. Shek Yeung is desperate for the power she has after spending so much of her life not having control over anything, including her life.

Shek Yeung wants to maintain control over the fleet because she knows that she has what they need to survive. She also knows that she would need to be cooperative with the other leaders of the pirate alliance if she wants them to survive as she fears there is a larger threat coming for them. 

The Chinese Emperor in the Qing Dynasty has launched an all out war against the pirates. The Europeans are tired of losing ships, money, and men to the pirates and join forces with the Chinese to help destroy the pirates. As they are being hunted by a crafty enemy, Shek Yeung fears that the enemy might be closer to home. To compound on her worries, Shek Yeung has to navigate motherhood while dealing with a new crisis from every side.

I was super excited to read this book because I thought it was going to be an action packed read. I remember reading about a powerful Chinese female pirate named Zheng Yi Sao. However, I was quickly disappointed because the writing flowed smoothly but it was very clinical and boring. The author mostly spent time talking about politics than spending any time writing and describing the fight scenes. Most of the fight scenes lasted only a few sentences which wasn’t enough to immerse the reader in the high octane pirating lifestyle. I feel like the book is more of an artistic portrayal of the life and struggles of Shek Yeung. 

The book was billed as a “fantasy” and “historical fantasy” novel but there were barely any fantasy elements in the novel. The book was narrated mostly by Shek Yeung and it had stories of Ma Tsu/Ma Zou, the sea goddess weaved in between the chapters. The  Ma Tsu stories were interesting and had similar themes to issues that Shek Yeung was facing but Ma Tsu never herself made an entrance to the story. I feel that the author including snippets of mythology wasn’t enough to consider this novel a fantasy novel. The story did have one character that could read the fortune of other characters but I still don’t think that there are enough “fantasy” elements. 

I did enjoy seeing Shek Yeung’s evolution from a sea loving wild child to being trapped on a flower ship to a pirate wife and then finally a fearless leader. It was interesting reading about some of her inner turmoil and her reasoning behind her decisions. If you like historical fantasy novels that are more about politics, then you might enjoy this book.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Book Review - The Militia House: A Novel by John Milas


The Militia House: A Novel by John Milas is about Corporal Loyette and his squad finding a haunted house. In 2010, Alex Loyette was promoted to Corporal and team lead of his squad. He and his unit are working at a new base in Kajaki, Afghanistan and working to finish up their deployment to go to the next location.

Their duties are straightforward but essential to the new base. They unload and load cargo in and out of helicopters.  When there are no deliveries to be made, the unit finds themselves bored and with limited things to do, they are looking for any opportunity to occupy themselves. 

Before their allied British soldiers leave the base for their next assignment, they tell Loyette and his men about a rumor that is circulating the base. Not too far off from base is an old Soviet-era militia house that they claim is haunted. After spending their days being bored, Loyette and his unit don't need much convincing to make the trip outside of the base to explore the haunted barrack.

They decide to take a short excursion during the day when they are not assigned any duties. They thought it was all a joke about the place being haunted, until they enter the militia house and realize that something doesn’t feel right. In the days that follow, they try to forget the house but they have strange and unsettling dreams. Then weird things start to happen around their own base. They thought it was the stress from being in war but, maybe it’s something else that won’t let them go.

The book was an okay read and moved very slowly. It did have some spooky elements but nothing that might cause nightmares. The book was a bit hard to get into in the beginning as the author used a lot of military terminology and didn't really explain what they meant until much later. The pace also didn’t pick up towards the last quarter of the story.  There were quite a few pages where nothing really happened other than reading about their day to day. It was an interesting glimpse into military processes and procedures. The novel was a quick read but I found the ending disappointing. I wish the author told us why the militia house seemed to target Loyette and his men and what was haunting them. Along with the importance of the stick figures and porcupine needles. It was an okay read and I might be open to reading another book by the author if it's not very military focused.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Book Review - Ashton Hall by Lauren Belfer


Ashton Hall by Lauren Belfer is about an American woman named Hannah Larson and her son, Nicky, finding buried secrets in an old English manor. Hannah and Nicky travel to Ashton Hall, a historic manor house outside Cambridge, England to stay with an ailing relative, who lives there. 

Hannah has given up her academic career to raise her son, who is neurodivergent and experiences the world differently. She is glad for the respite as she left her husband back in New York City. She is afraid what her next steps would be in her marriage after witnessing her husband commit a devastating act of adultery with someone else.

When the pair arrive at the manor, Hannah allows Nicky the freedom to explore the manor unsupervised. Nicky is good at noticing patterns and he was able to find a secret door hidden in the wallpaper. The door leads to a closed off wing and there Nicky finds the skeletal remains of a woman.

Hannah finds herself drawn to this mysterious woman’s story. She and another fellow researcher from the manor dig through personal papers and centuries old ledgers to piece together what happened to the corpse they discovered. As Hannah works to find out the truth, she finds her own life slowly unraveling.

I thought this was going to be a thriller or murder mystery novel as it was classified as a gothic mystery. Instead it was a boring and pointless book. The author goes into such mundane details about everything, that I found myself lulled to sleep while reading. The author would go into detail about what the person read or packed for lunch. However, even though we are given so many pointless details about everything else, we still don’t know what really happened to the dead woman. I think the book is more a research piece on how people lived back in that time period than anything else. 

I also didn’t care for any of the characters. Hannah spent so much time complaining about her husband’s affair and then dealing with his reaction to her confronting him.  Her son was also an unlikeable character. He gets violent to the point where Hannah fears for her safety and locks him in his room at night. She worries if she should tell others but never gives them any warning about his violent tendencies. If this book was billed as women’s contemporary fiction, I wouldn’t have been so disappointed.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Book Review - Codex Black: A Fire Among Clouds by Camilo Moncada Lozano and Angel De Santiago


Codex Black : A Fire Among Clouds by Camilo Moncada Lozano and Angel De Santiago is about a young Zapotec girl named Donaji, journeying to find her missing father. Donaji is known to be fearless and is a celebrated hero by her village. As she sets out to locate her father, she is accompanied by a god that lives in her poncho.

The poncho is a family heirloom that has been passed down by generations in her family. The god that resides in the poncho blesses the wearer with super strength. He also serves as a guardian and mentor to Donaji.

As she journeys to a village where her father was last spotted, she crosses paths with a young Mexica warrior with wings named Itzcacalotl. They formed a temporary partnership when they encountered a terrifying and dangerous bat monster that was terrorizing an entire village. As the duo spends more time together, their partnership blossoms into a budding friendship.

The graphic novel was colorful and well done. I enjoyed reading Donaji and Itzcacalotl’s adventures and seeing them transform into strangers thrusted into battle together, and then into good friends. I like that the footnotes explain some details about Aztec culture. The book had humor sprinkled with adventure and it’s perfect for young readers. I look forward to reading the next book in the series.

Monday, November 13, 2023

Book Review - The Spanish Diplomat's Secret by Nev March


The Spanish Diplomat's Secret  by Nev March is about a couple who set sail to England on a cruise ship and they witness a murder. In the summer of 1894, Captain Jim Agnihotri and his wife, Lady Diana Framji were going to England for a family visit. Jim is excited to spend some time with his wife as he feels that she has been distant lately.  He hopes that Diana will open up to him and they can repair their bond.

The first evening on the ship, Jim is feeling seasick. As Jim clings to the hand railing of the deck, he crosses paths with another traveler, Don Juan Nepomuceno. The passenger is a Spaniard and a fellow soldier. Jim feels a connection with him and spends a few minutes chatting with Don Juan. Within twenty four hours, Don Juan sent a note to Jim asking to speak with him privately. Before Jim can visit, it is discovered that Don Juan was brutally murdered.

When the ship’s captain learns that Jim is an investigator, he asks Jim to help find the killer before they dock in Liverpool. Jim has six days to find the person behind the crime otherwise the murder can lead to international consequences. Jim’s investigative skills are put to the test as he has to figure out who committed the murder in a locked cabin room and there are over a thousand passengers on board. There were no witnesses to the crime. And to make matters worse, Jim is experiencing seasickness and is struggling to find his sea legs. He doesn’t  want to put Diana in danger but he knows he can’t navigate the high society world of the first class passengers without her help.

When I first saw the book I didn’t realize it was a part of a series. It wasn’t clear to me until I looked up the book online. The book can be read as a standalone but I think certain references to Jim and Diane’s past would have made more sense if I read the previous books.

I was excited to read the book but disappointed at how slow and drawn out the story was. Pages upon pages would go by and nothing new would happen. The mastermind and motive was very obvious but a so-called detective couldn’t see it until the very end. I also didn’t like that the book had so many political details.  I found that it  took away from the story. I did like the historic details about the ship and passengers, though. I felt that I might have enjoyed this book if it was shorter and I got to learn more about the characters, i.e. if I had more details of them from previous books.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Book Review - Every Rising Sun: A Novel by Jamila Ahmed


Every Rising Sun: A Novel by Jamila Ahmed is a retelling of the classic, One Thousand and One Nights. In twelfth century Persia, a young girl, Shaherazade, is the daughter of one of Malik's (the sultan’s) viziers. She spends her day idling around the palace courtyards, reading, and weaving stories to tell to others.

As she explores the palace, she stumbles upon Malik's beloved wife entangled with her lover who isn’t her husband in the middle of the palace grounds where anyone could find the pair. Shaherazade is conflicted on telling Malik about his wife’s betrayal. She is weighed down deeply by this decision.

If Shaherazade keeps her secret and Malik finds out about it, Shaherazade and her family will be at risk because in her mind he would know that she didn’t say anything. However, if she does tell, she worries what Malik might do to the messenger and if he will even believe her. Shaherazade decides that she will tell Malik the truth as she becomes burdened by guilt. She weaves the story of his wife’s betrayal into a story and leaves it anonymously for him to read. Little did she know that her story would set the Seljuk Empire on fire and endanger everything she held dear.

Malik, who was well known for his gentle demeanor is now enraged by his wife’s betrayal. He decides to behead her in the public square to teach her a lesson. However, his anger doesn’t subside even after beheading his wife, whom he genuinely loved. He decides to take a new bride each night and then kill her in the morning, as his wife’s betrayal threatened his manhood.

His province and townspeople are angered by his bloodlust and indiscriminate killings. They are worried about protecting their daughters against Malik and his anger. Shaherazade feels that this is all her fault, and decides to offer herself to Malik for marriage. She hopes that it will calm the people from revolting and help absolve her guilt. 

Shaherazade persuades her beloved and esteemed father to offer her up as a bride to Mailk. She knows that Malik would accept her father’s offer because they are friends. She has loved Malik since she was a child. As a treat to Malik, on their wedding night, she tells him a story to enrapture him. He is spellbound by the story and wants to learn more but she cuts the story short as the sun ascends to ensure that she will live another day. She continues doing that each night in hopes of ensuring her safety from him. Malik attends his royal duties in the daytime and they are only able to spend time together at night.

As much as Malik enjoys her stories, his rage is too deep for Shaherazade alone to quell. Therefore, she and her father persuade Mailk to leave Persia and assist Saladin, an ally,  in the fight against the Crusaders in Palestine. She and her father hope that the fight will help burn out the excess hatred in Mailk. However, her plan doesn’t go exactly as she wishes as she soon realizes that there are plots to overthrow Malik and hurt her people. Will Shaherazade be able to protect her people while saving Malik from his burning rage?

I was excited to read this book but I struggled with getting into it. The author’s writing style was a bit hard for me to find enjoyable to read. The author’s prose felt wordy and bulky.  However, once I did get into the flow of the book it was a bit more enjoyable.

I found myself looking forward to reading Shaherazade’s stories. Some of her stories were standalone while others were connected but at times, it was confusing to keep track of the stories and the characters in them.  That was especially true when combining Shaherazade’s stories with the real events concerning Malik. I found myself preferring the side stories than the main story and I felt that took away from the main story line.  When the pair was faced with dangers and struggles from their journey I didn’t really connect with them. 

I found the book to be boring and moved slowly at times. The book was over 400 pages but moved at a snail’s pace with nothing happening for several pages at a time.  However, the ending came about swiftly and had an unexpected twist. It felt like the author left it up to the readers to decide or there could be room for a sequel. I thought the book was an okay read. I wish the novel just had contained Shaherazade’s stories and that would have been a lot more satisfying to read.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Book Review - In the Tunnel by Julie Lee


In the Tunnel by Julie Lee is about a family’s journey to escape North Korea. Myungi-gi knows that war between North and South Korea is inevitable. Life in North Korea has become unbearable where most people live in fear that they might disappear if they do not follow their regime’s rules.

Myungi-gi’s family decide to make plans to escape as life is becoming unbearable and harder to survive. However, things take a turn for the worse when his father is abducted by the secret police when they were about to leave. Their plans to escape hinged on their father coming with them.  Myungi-gi feels shattered because he knows that his family needs to escape to survive but he is unable to leave his father behind. He feels guilty because deep down he believes his father’s abduction was his fault.

I have read the author’s previous book, Brother’s Keeper, and enjoyed it. This book can be read as a standalone but readers of the previous book would notice some recurring characters. The book is split between the past and the present, with both being narrated by Myungi-gi. 

In the past, he talks about his family’s journey to South Korea and the struggles and dangers they faced. In the current timeline, we find that Myungi-gi joined the war efforts and is stuck in an enemy tunnel.  It was interesting trying to figure out how the shy, gentle bookish Myungi-gi ends up fighting in the war when it seemed like that was the farthest thing from his mind.

I liked the previous novel but I didn’t really like this one. I had a hard time connecting with Myungi-gi, his younger sister, Yooemi, and his parents. I felt like there wasn’t much time spent on character development. I felt that this book was missing something that prevented me from liking it as much as the previous book. In the Tunnel is an emotional read about loss and survival but there is hope for the characters that they would be able to overcome the obstacles in their lives. I was surprised that the book is targeted for middle school readers as I felt that it was too graphic and despairing at times. Overall, I did enjoy the book and learned a lot about North Korea and the struggles that refugees face when trying to escape.

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Book Review - On a Night of a Thousand Stars by Andrea Yaryura Clark



On a Night of a Thousand Stars by Andrea Yaryura Clark is about a young woman’s quest to find out the truth about her father’s past. In 1998 New York City, Santiago Larrea was a wealthy Argentinian diplomat and celebrated polo player. He was married to Lila, and they have one daughter, Paloma, who is a fashion student in NY and a budding jewelry designer.

Santiago and his family are well known for their love of throwing huge parties. The family was holding court at their latest party and everything seemed well until a guest showed up. The woman had an unflappable demeanor and made cryptic comments to Santiago. Paloma noticed that her father’s behavior had changed after the interaction, causing her to wonder who this guest was and what her relationship to her father was. Paloma realizes that she doesn't know much of her father’s past.

Shortly after the party, Paloma and her family travel to Buenos Aires for Santiago’s UN ambassadorial appointment. When they arrive, a cryptic and ominous note arrives for Santiago. Paloma is wary when he refuses to share what the message says with the family. Paloma is determined to find out what her father is hiding.

I thought the book was an interesting read. It was a bit slow moving at times. The book was told from alternating narrators. Paloma narrated the present as she was searching for the truth. And the other narrator was Santiago from the 1970s in his youth, describing his experience with the military dictatorship under Juan Peron. At times, it did get confusing when the narration switched back and forth as some of the characters were in both storylines, and the past had quite a few different characters. There were times that I wanted to read more about a specific timeline but it would switch perspectives. I did find the characters to be dull and bland though I was interested in Santiago’s narration. It was interesting to learn about Argentina’s past and political landscape. The book is a straightforward read but did have unexpected twists. If you like reading slow burn political historical fiction books, then you might enjoy it.