Book Review: Toxic by Lydia Kang

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Title: Toxic
Author: Lydia Kang
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Publication date: November 6, 2018
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult

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Indiebound // Entangled Pubishing

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Toxic
Lydia Kang
Entangled Teen, November 2018
ISBN 978-1-64063-424-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Cyclo, the first and largest biological ship of its kind, is dying. A small crew of mercenaries have handed over the rights to their life to document the death of the ship, but the abandoned ship is anything but abandoned—one girl has been left behind.

Hana has known nothing but the isolation of a single room and the secret that has kept her there for seventeen years. When she meets Fennec, the boy assigned to watch her, she realizes that there is a world she has yet to experience but she is doomed to never meet.

When crew members begin mysteriously dying, Hana and Fenn realize that they are racing against the death of the ship to find a way to survive—unless someone kills them even before Hana’s truly had a chance to live.

I couldn’t help thinking of Kass Morgan’s The 100 when I first saw the description of this book. That’s not a bad thing as I’m a big fan of both the book series and the TV adaptation although they bear only a moderate resemblance to each other, as you might expect. At any rate, thinking of that series definitely made me want to try this and I’m very glad it did.

Imagine spending the entire nearly 17 years of your life secreted away in a 10-foot wide room from everyone except your mother on board a bioship in outer space . Logistically, that’s not as impossible as it might seem because we’re not talking about what we envision as a space vessel today; Cyclo is three kilometers wide so there’s plenty of room for hiding. Hana spends 48 to 72 hours at a time in a sleeping state so, when she wakes up one day to discover that it’s been a week since she last saw her scientist mother, she’s naturally upset and full of questions. Cyclo, usually quite willing to converse in her own way, offers no explanation other than, “Your mother is not here” and is clearly reluctant to open the door for Hana but she finally does so. Very quickly, panic begins to set in as Hana realizes Cyclo is not verbalizing as she usually does…and there are no people anywhere on board the ship. What Cyclo tells her then is the most frightening thing Hana can imagine, that her mother has abandoned her.

When Hana sees the light of a ship in the distance, approaching Cyclo, she’s sure her mother is coming back but, in fact, the ship is bringing a small crew on a suicide mission to gather data from the dying ship. The moment Hana and Fenn spot each other, not precisely a friendly meeting, everything changes for both of them.

Ms. Kang has done a wonderful job with her setting, particularly in making Cyclo seem so very real and truly vivid with her emotional colors and her ability to use her ectoplasm in so many ways. In fact, I’d have to say that Cyclo is a character just as central to the story as are Kana and Fenn. I also like that Hana is of Korean descent and that the mercenaries are all quite diverse, too. Hana’s rampant insecurities and Fenn’s roguish personality mesh well together and the author makes them, and their story, exciting and compelling. When all is said and done, this book is high on my list of favorite books read in 2018.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2018.

About the Author

Lydia Kang is an author of young adult fiction, poetry, and narrative non-fiction. She graduated from Columbia University and New York University School of Medicine, completing her residency and chief residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. She is a practicing physician who has gained a reputation for helping fellow writers achieve medical accuracy in fiction. Her poetry and non-fiction have been published in JAMA, The Annals of Internal Medicine, Canadian Medical Association Journal, Journal of General Internal Medicine, and Great Weather for Media. She believes in science and knocking on wood, and currently lives in Omaha with her husband and three children.

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads

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Book Review: Carols and Chaos by Cindy Anstey

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Title: Carols and Chaos
Author: Cindy Anstey
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Publication Date: October 9, 2018
Genres: Historical, Romance, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:
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Carols and Chaos
Cindy Anstey
Swoon Reads, October 2018
ISBN 978-1-250-17487-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

A lady’s maid and a valet become entangled in a yuletide counterfeiting scheme in this romantic Christmas YA adventure.

1817. The happy chaos of the Yuletide season has descended upon the country estate of Shackleford Park in full force, but lady’s maid Kate Darby barely has the time to notice. Between her household duties, caring for her ailing mother, and saving up money to someday own a dress shop, her hands are quite full. Matt Harlow is also rather busy. He’s performing double-duty, acting as valet for both of the Steeple brothers, two of the estate’s holiday guests.

Falling in love would be a disaster for either of them. But staving off their feelings for each other becomes the least of their problems when a devious counterfeiting scheme reaches the gates of Shackleford Park, and Kate and Matt are unwittingly swept up in the intrigue. Full of sweetness, charm, and holiday shenanigans, Carols and Chaos is perfect for fans of Jane Austen and Downton Abbey.

I don’t usually start reading Christmas-y books before we’ve even gotten to Halloween and I also don’t usually read romances but something about this one caught my attention and drew me in. Partly, it’s the really appealing cover but perhaps I also had a yen to go back to the Regency era, at one time a favorite period for me. At any rate, I threw caution to the wind and I’m glad I did.

Kate Darby is a nice young woman, not a lady precisely, according to the class distinctions of her time, but she works hard, cares for her mother, and is clever and genuinely friendly. Matt Harlow is hardworking, too, and has a certain kind of loyalty to his position and the family he works for. He and Kate have eyes for each other but, really, they don’t have time right now for such goings-on, especially after it comes to light that some nefarious activity is going on at the manor.

Drama ensues, along with holiday frivolity and the expected dynamics between upstairs and downstairs. I especially appreciated having servants as the main characters rather than the high society folks we generally get and the mystery of the missing footman and perhaps related skulduggery brings Kate and Matt together as quite capable sleuths.

Apparently, Carols and Chaos is a companion or spin-off to another of the author’s books which I haven’t read but I never felt that anything was lacking because of that. More dialogue would be nice, especially between Kate and Matt, but this is a charming lighthearted entry to the holiday season and I recommend it for those who enjoy the Regency era, a bit of romance and a good mystery to solve.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2018.

About the Author

Whenever she is not sitting at the computer, throwing a ball in the backyard, gardening or reading, Cindy can be found–actually, not found–adventuring around the world with her hubby.

She has lived on three continents, had a monkey in her yard and a scorpion under her sink, dwelt among castles and canals, enjoyed the jazz of Beale St and attempted to speak French.

Cindy loves history, mystery and… a chocolate Labrador called Chester.

Author links:
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Book Review: Star-Crossed by Pintip Dunn

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Title: Star-Crossed
Author: Pintip Dunn
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Publication date: October 2, 2018
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:
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Star-Crossed
Pintip Dunn
Entangled Teen, October 2018
ISBN 978-1-63375-241-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

In a world where nutrition can be transferred via a pill, and society is split into Eaters and Non-Eaters, seventeen-year-old Princess Vela has a grave dilemma. Her father, the king, is dying, and only a transplant of organs from a healthy Non-Eater boy will save him.

Vela is tasked with choosing a boy fit to die for the king, which is impossible enough. But then Carr, the boy she’s loved all her life, emerges as the best candidate in the Bittersweet Trials. And he’s determined to win, because by doing so, he can save the life of his Non-Eater sister.

Refusing to accept losing the boy she loves, Vela bends the rules and cheats. But when someone begins to sabotage the Trials, Vela must reevaluate her own integrity—and learn the true sacrifice of becoming a ruler.

Although Star-Crossed is reminiscent of The Hunger Games with its trials, Ms. Dunn has added a dollop of freshness with the concept of people being divided into Eaters and Non-Eaters. Woe to the Non-Eater who loses a trial because the consequences are dire but the truth is no one has a comfortable position in this world that’s focused on fighting off starvation. One facet of the society’s attention to food made me think of how certain “improvements” in our own food supply has led to our acceptance of a loss of taste in some instances. For example, the food gods apparently decided that watermelons need to be seedless but have you really compared the taste of seedless (which is not truly seedless) to seeded, the kind with those big black seeds that are great for spitting? I have to say I have very little interest in the seedless variety because they just don’t have any flavor, a perfect example of improvement gone awry.

At any rate, Vela and the rest of her people are colonists on a distant planet and their original supplies were destroyed, making food the most critical need. In an odd scientific endeavor, they developed a genetic change that enabled some people to consume copious quantities of food and process it to share with others in the form of pills. Now, a new problem has arisen in that the king, Vela’s father, may die and the succession is in question. Vela has to find a way to save the boy she cares for from the ultimate sacrifice while at the same time securing her place and future and her compassionate nature makes her choices even more difficult.

The real question is, when is sacrifice taken too far with the cost being so high that the intended benefit is no longer enough? The young princess is faced with dilemmas that are nearly impossible to resolve without possibly losing a piece of her soul and I empathized with her completely. I simply can’t imagine having to pit the survival of my father against that of the boy I loved but becoming a true queen worthy of the title does require a surrender of personal wants and needs.

I’ve enjoyed Ms. Dunn’s work before and this is no exception; as a standalone, there won’t be any sequel but I’ll eagerly await her next book, whatever it may be.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2018.

 

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About the Author

Pintip Dunn is a New York Times bestselling author of young adult fiction. She graduated from Harvard University, magna cum laude, with an A.B., and received her J.D. at Yale Law School.

Pintip’s novel FORGET TOMORROW won the 2016 RWA RITA® for Best First Book, and SEIZE TODAY won the 2018 RITA for Best Young Adult Romance. Her books have been translated into four languages, and they have been nominated for the following awards: the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire; the Japanese Sakura Medal; the MASL Truman Award; the Tome Society It list; and the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award. Her other titles include REMEMBER YESTERDAY, THE DARKEST LIE, GIRL ON THE VERGE, STAR-CROSSED and the upcoming MALICE.

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Goodreads // Amazon // Entangled Publishing

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Book Review: Pride and Prejudice and Coffee by Mary C. M. Phillips

Pride and Prejudice and Coffee
Mary C. M. Phillips
eBookIt.com, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-4566-3070-6
Ebook

From the book’s “Introduction”:  Hundreds of years ago, before the world enjoyed their favorite beverage, coffee beans were chewed.  The refreshing jolt that native Ethiopians experienced might be similar to what we now encounter as we sip upon a freshly brewed cup of java; however, the method of delivery left much to be desired.”

This charming tale, sub-titled “A Caffeinated Romance and Brief Exploration of the Coffee Industry,” is just that.  While describing a protest at the premises of The Pemberley Corporation, a public corporation whose interests included coffee growers in Brazil, Guatemala and Colombia, the reader is made aware of the dire working conditions extant for those farm workers, who, along with their children, “labored in the hot sun without any respite of shade.”  Pemberley held large positions in these publicly traded stocks, and is now being held to account for “the exploitation of workers.”

I suspect that I am not alone in my ignorance of situations such as those described here, which I have no doubt reflect the actuality of the conditions described, at least in some if not all of these farms.  I suspect that I am also not alone in my complete enjoyment of a good cup of coffee [which, of course, does not excuse the conditions endured by these farm workers!].

Along with the personal lives of the protagonists, which is completely charming, each section [not denoted as ‘chapters’] is followed by a paragraph or so of fascinating tidbits of information, headed “Sip on This,” e.g., “Coffee and Romance,” “Gluten-free Food,” “Etiquette,” “Corporate Greed [discussing the Enron bankruptcy],” et al.  These take place in, among other disparate places, Jones Beach [New York], Costa Rica, and Central Park!  One does not normally think of the exploitation of workers as we sip our morning cups of coffee [apparently the most heavily traded commodity in the world, next to oil], until one reads this mind-opening book!

A complete change of pace, this short, fast-moving novel is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2018.

Book Review: And She Was by Jessica Verdi

And She Was
Jessica Verdi
Point, April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-338-15053-7
Hardcover

All teens experience tension between themselves and their parents. Many feel frustrated at times by parental evasiveness or refusal to answer questions about family secrets. For Dara, the tension revolves primarily around her mother’s refusal/reluctance to support her blossoming tennis career. Sure, money is an issue in a single parent home, but Dara’s looked at college and that route doesn’t look promising. Tennis does. When an opportunity to play and earn ranking points in a Canadian tournament comes up, she doubles down on her request for her birth certificate, a document Mellie, her mom, has been continually evasive about.

Dara’s growing frustration peaks while Mom is at work and she enters her mother’s bedroom to seek out the document. Under her mother’s bed she discovers a box. There are two prescription bottles as well as photos of people she doesn’t know. After looking up the two medications, she’s even more puzzled because one is a testosterone blocker, the other an estrogen supplement. She’s stunned by the names listed as parents on her birth certificate stashed under the photos. Neither is familiar and her last name on the certificate is not the one she’s grown up with.

Shock becomes extreme anger and when Mom returns, Dara explodes. What her mother tells her is pretty hard for her to wrap her head around. Mom is her biological father who transitioned after Dara’s mother was killed by a drunk driver. When Dara starts pushing for answers about who her grandparents are and why she’s never met them, Mom’s answers don’t really satisfy her. Still enraged and wounded by what she perceives as Mellie’s selfishness for not being honest, as well as hurting because she suspects her deceased real mom’s parents might have subsidized her hoped for tennis career, Dara packs up her stuff and strong arms her best friend Sam into going on a search for the elusive grandparents.

What ensues is an excellent look at not only how hope can blind us when we’re desperate, but an enlightening and very carefully drawn look at the struggles and processes a transgender person goes through. Jessica Verdi chose to reveal Mellie’s story through emails to Dara while she and Sam are on the road. It’s extremely effective. In addition, the search, and the realizations Dara and Sam come to as they follow lead after lead, help readers to see the other side of the story.

What Dara discovers, how she comes to understand not only Mellie, but her own part in the family drama and her wake up call regarding how she’s treated Sam and what her feelings for him really are, make this a dandy story. I highly suggest it for anyone who wants to understand what challenges someone who is transgender must face as well as anyone who simply wants to read an excellent story.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, July 2018.

Book Review: The Date to Save by Stephanie Kate Strohm

The Date to Save
Stephanie Kate Strohm
Point, September 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-14906-7
Hardcover

This succinct story is an oral documentary, delivered in written format.  Quite appealing to this avid reader, it seemed to create the quick, concise medium to appropriately accompany the pace of the plot.  In a kind-of-counterintuitive way, I feel like this is a fantastic format for the wary reader, too.  Essentially composed of conversations, with few notes added; extraneous minutiae is eliminated.  Fewer words means better choices.  Each sentence is carefully crafted and I definitely dig the dialogue.

Students at San Anselmo Prep are stars among California high school scholars, with none so bright as Angelica’s older brother.  Hutch, however; has graduated.  This may very well be Angelica’s time to shine.  Things are already looking up.

The school newspaper’s churlish chief-of-staff has rejected every idea Angelica has submitted.  And yet, she persisted.  Admittedly underwhelmed with the assignment to cover the upcoming Academic Battle, Angelica’s optimism easily overrode the terrible topic to embrace the opportunity.

As any decent investigative reporter knows, one thing leads to another.  The initial inquiry into the Academic Battle shows a more serious scenario.  A school scheduling snafu that cannot have been coincidence is sure to be catastrophic.  Compelled to solve the problem and identify the perpetrator; Angelica nevertheless agrees to help the school mascot when he approaches her with a different mystery, affecting the same date.

Countering the wholly consumed Angelica is Becca.  The determinedly grumpy, blue-haired-bestie is everyone’s fantasy friend.  This fierce non-conformist is a loyal companion bringing balance with her humor and unique outlook.

I found The Date to Save to be a pleasant read with one paragraph in particular that I dearly love, wherein Ms. Strohm articulates a reader’s feelings about books in a way that I want to capture for a t-shirt or bumper sticker.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2017.

Book Review: A Strange Scottish Shore by Juliana Gray

A Strange Scottish Shore
Emmeline Truelove Series #2
Juliana Gray
Berkley Trade Paperback, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-425-27708-9
Trade Paperback

If you’re a fan of historical fiction, especially if the story veers toward the mythical and takes place on one of Great Britain’s coasts, you’ve probably heard of selkies, a seal-like creature that comes ashore, sheds its skin and lives like a human. At least for a while, until the sea calls it back.

A Strange Scottish Shore opens when a wall in an ancient Scottish castle is breached and a box is found which contains a suit of peculiar texture. The year is 1906, and while the suit seems to be of a modern rubberized fabric, researchers Maximilian Haywood and his assistant, Emmeline Truelove, ascertain it is the skin of a selkie who in ancient times came ashore from the sea and married the first laird.

But then weird things begin happening. People appear and disappear. Emmeline’s “special” friend Lord Silverton disappears one night. A strange, evil seeming young man appears, and Emmeline meets and speaks with an oddly familiar young woman who gives her a warning. Who are these people? What do they want? Where do they come from, and where do they go so suddenly? It’s a mystery that will take Max, Emmeline, and Silverton from the present, into the past as well as into the future, with danger dogging their steps at every turn.

The unique story premise is intriguing, to be sure. The characters, for the most part, are strong. The dialogue seemed a bit wordy to me, and sometimes, a bit superfluous. A reader will find many twists and turns, and effortlessly, which is the best way, learn a bit about old Scottish castles, the lives of our ancestors, and even the myths they believed in. The ending holds a bit of a surprise, and I think you’ll find it all to the good. As to where the selkie skin (or suit) came from, and to whom it belonged, well, you’ll just have to read the story to find out.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, January 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.