Thursday, September 16, 2021

Book Review: The Summoning

The Summoning 
by J.P. Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The leading ladies narrative is quite strong and well written. In fact, I was sure this was a female author. And was very surprised to learn I was wrong. Props to J. P. Smith for fooling me; and for keenly understanding that strong, smart women can still be nervous or unsure at times. I appreciated the dynamic here of our lonely widow and her struggles; but how she’s persevered regardless. The heroine of the story and her character’s voice is what makes this story for me.

I was pleasantly surprised by this mystery/thriller (with a hint of supernatural) to it. This is not my usual genre; but I was intrigued by the psychic medium spin and in the mood for something a bit different. I’m glad I read it. While not amazing or perfect; and maybe 3.5 stars would be more appropriate than 4, the reality is that I truly enjoyed the strong narrative voice in The Summoning. The slow burn of the story felt very well paced to me and quite realistic. Added to that the supernatural element tossed in and I was hooked.

The End
The ending is the key to this story and you won’t know what the plot really is until you’re almost done with the novel. Without giving it away, I can say it brings up questions of societal power, gender roles, grief, and the assumption or expectation (if you will) that most people are inherently good. This skewing of people and the ‘goodness’ of our society comes crashing down even as I still asked myself ‘am I sure whose the villain?’ Not because it’s not obvious in the end but because of the blend of the otherworldly with stark, assured realism.

Clever is the best description for The Summoning. You think you’re reading one type of story; only to realize that maybe it’s not as cut and dry as it seems. A wonderful blend of realism and paranormal. While a few moments felt slightly ripped off (I swear it’s Sleep Away Camp referenced) none of these moments change the impact of the ending. Thankfully I enjoyed the characters a lot, and found the pacing to my taste (which is to say that some might find it a touch slow). I liked how realistic the set-up (and ending) felt given the occult inclusion. This is one you have to read to decide if it’s for you as I can’t say too much because it would spoil the whole experience and ending.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

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Monday, September 13, 2021

Book Review: Piranesi

by Susanna Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Weird, weird. Kind of like the movie Inception, the moment I put this down I wanted to reread it knowing what I know now. This is a very odd story; but very good. It sucked me in and even had me questioning my own reality at one point. If you read it in one or two sittings (which I did not) I think it could really make you feel surreal. I dragged it out because I love Susanna Clarke’s writing so much and there is so little of it to enjoy for the first time. No footnotes which made me a little sad (lol); but a superb piece of surreal magical(?) realism literature.

It has been a couple months now since reading Piranesi and I keep trying to find a way to express my love for it more appropriately than the summary paragraph above. Yet, I seem to come up short every time. The thing is that Piranesi is a unique story. Unlike any other I've read to date. And so it is not only very well written and framed but also absolutely engrossing. There are pieces of it that come back to me still weeks and weeks (and many books) later. I mean who doesn't want to be the caretaker of precious artifacts or bones; who doesn't want to have the ability to find 'holes' in the fabric of reality and find another land. In fact Piranesi is almost like the Narnia for adults. We are led into a quite, relatively safe space, just as a wardrobe once put us next to a light post with snow beneath our feet. Instead we are taken to a land of stone and carvings; with lots of water, that has its own magical properties.

Overall Piranesi is brilliant. I just can't find a way to say that strong enough. So you'll just have to read it and find out for yourself if you agree. Luckily its a short page count and so not a huge investment in time; although be prepared as you may sit down to read it and not want to stop until you reach the final pages.

While I received an excerpt (sampler) from the publisher in advance to publication; I also made sure to purchase a first edition hardcover because I loved Clarke's first book so much and had an incline that Piranesi would be as loved as Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell was for me. So this is my disclaimer, but not a disclaimer write-up as technically I did purchase a copy for my own consumption. I cannot wait to re-read Piranesi in the future and see what new secrets it might unlock for me.

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Book Review: Sky in the Deep

Sky in the Deep 
by Adrienne Young
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely wonderful! I would put this right next to Graceling as an excellent YA/Teen novel that has cultural clashes, intrigue, sweet romance, and a guilty conscious to contend with. Adrienne Young has put together a wonderful story that progresses smoothly and without ever getting boring, or feeling too quick.

Our leading gal has a strong, reasonable, yet doubtful enough voice that she feels genuine. Her thoughts about love, honour, and loyalty are classic; and yet she is challenging at every turn to defend them to a certain degree. There is no lack of character growth here as our leading lady comes to realize that all people are, well... just people at the end of the day. Something our own society could certainly use a reminder of.

Just like in Graceling the romance here is very nuanced. It's in the background, not at the forefront. There would still be a plot and story to follow without the romance that blooms underneath. The nice thing about that is that if you wish to largely ignore the romance pieces you can without loosing the entire story. Near the end of course our romantic entanglements become more centered in the story. However our heroine's choices are far more intelligent and mature than usually found in YA/Teen books. And it is clear she is not choosing her path based on lust or obsession.

There are a lot of battles in Sky in the Deep. Without a doubt there is some gore (nothing too graphic) and certainly lots of death. We have two warring tribes that ritually meet on the battlefield every year and slaughter one another. The death is not made out to be elegant or romantic however. Instead it is dirty, brutal, and harsh. Young ensures that it is clear to the reader that no one wants the glory of battle (even if it seems like the younger children do) once they've been on the battlefield and seen firsthand what death truly looks like.

There are many core themes to Sky in the Deep that are put forth. The best emotion that is handled is guilt and honour. How one can feel both guilty for their actions; and dishonourable for their choices; even in the face of love. Getting over our prejudice is not just difficult; it's seemingly impossible. Young does an excellent job of showing it's not only possible; but often the key to survival. And while love does kind of save the day it doesn't feel cheesy or lame here. Our slow burning romance builds at the perfect pace and level to feel genuine and true. This gives credence to the idea that true love can lead someone to make different decisions than they otherwise might have; especially given the prejudice taught from the tribe.
This is a solid read, and an excellent YA choice for any child over the page of 12. There is implied sex but nothing erotic or descriptive that is inappropriate. Additionally said small sex scene is really well written and quite sweet; without being unrealistic. If you are concerned about the level of violence in Sky in the Deep I would assure you that it is no worse than 90% of the video games and teen shows on the market.
As always my biggest compliment is to keep a hard copy of a book. I cannot wait to put Sky in the Deep next to Graceling in my YA/Teen print collection!

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

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