The Inheritance Games

The Inheritance Games

By: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Published: 2020
# of pages: 376
Series: The Inheritance Games (#1)
Challenges: Alphabet Soup

Avery Grambs has a plan for a better future: survive high school, win a scholarship, and get out. But her fortunes change in an instant when billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies and leaves Avery virtually his entire fortune. The catch? Avery has no idea why–or even who Tobias Hawthorne is. To receive her inheritance, Avery must move into sprawling, secret passage-filled Hawthorne House, where every room bears the old man’s touch–and his love of puzzles, riddles, and codes.

Unfortunately for Avery, Hawthorne House is also occupied by the family that Tobias Hawthorne just dispossessed. This includes the four Hawthorne grandsons: dangerous, magnetic, brilliant boys who grew up with every expectation that one day, they would inherit billions. Heir apparent Grayson Hawthorne is convinced that Avery must be a con-woman, and he’s determined to take her down. His brother, Jameson, views her as their grandfather’s last hurrah: a twisted riddle, a puzzle to be solved. Caught in a world of wealth and privilege, with danger around every turn, Avery will have to play the game herself just to survive.

Goodreads

This was a fun read and the mystery was better than I was expecting! For some reason when I checked this out from the library I was thinking it was going to be a mixture of The Hunger Games (Suzanne Clark) and Legend (Marie Lu). Obviously I just skimmed the description and looked at the title! However, rather than taking place in the future and involving an organized and widespread competition, this book takes place in present day and the “game” is within a family.

I liked the character of Avery and the teenage angst and love interests didn’t bother me as much as some YA books do. It is the first in a series, but it could also work as a standalone because it wraps up at the end and doesn’t leave the reader too desperate to read the next. I will be reading the second book because of how much I enjoyed this book. Overall I recommend this to those who enjoy YA and/or these type of mystery/puzzle stories.

Queens of the Wyrd

Queens of the Wyrd

By: Timandra Whitecastle
Published:
2019
# of pages:
414
Series: Shieldmothers Saga (#1)
Challenges: Alphabet Soup, Book Bingo (Love Typography)
Quote: “Never trust a silence around children. It is as unnatural as a sudden calm on the tempestuous sea, and as much a herald of unpleasant surprises to come.”

Goodreads description:

Raise your shield. Defend your sisters. Prepare for battle.

Half-giant Lovis and her Shieldmaiden warband were once among the fiercest warriors in Midgard. But those days are long past and now Lovis just wants to provide a safe home for herself and her daughter – that is, until her former shield-sister Solveig shows up on her doorstep with shattering news.

Solveig’s warrior daughter is trapped on the Plains of Vigrid in a siege gone ugly. Desperate to rescue her, Sol is trying to get the old warband back together again. But their glory days are a distant memory. The Shieldmaidens are Shieldmothers now, entangled in domestic obligations and ancient rivalries.

But family is everything, and Lovis was never more at home than at her shield-sisters’ side. Their road won’t be easy: old debts must be paid, wrongs must be righted, and the Nornir are always pulling on loose threads, leaving the Shieldmaidens facing the end of all Nine Realms. Ragnarok is coming, and if the Shieldmaidens can’t stop it, Lovis will lose everyone she loves…

Fate is inexorable. Wyrd bith ful araed.

God, I loved this book! I bought it on my Kindle when it was on sale just because I liked the cover, but it ended up being one of my favorites I read this year!

Lovis wakes up one morning to the same old, same old. Take care of her somewhat wild and willful daughter Birke and make some money at the job she works in the evening. Little does she know life is about to change…back to the way it used to be for her and her former band of shieldmaidens. Everything is familiar and yet different as she is reunified with her old friends with Birke in tow.

I loved that the protagonist is a mother. There were so many insightful quotes and observations made by Lovis and her mom friend Solveig about being a mother and balancing work/motherhood/social life, etc. I also enjoyed the characters and settings as well as the Norse mythology.

I also loved that each chapter was prefaced with a quote from modern sources cited as “The Wisdom of the Volur.” The writing style was so casual, but also descriptive. There’s a section at the end of the book that has a pronunciation guide that could be useful to read while or before reading the story, but of course I didn’t discover it until I was through. But I feel like I pronounced everything correctly inside my head and it didn’t matter.

I recommend this to lovers of fantasy and mythology. It’s geared towards adults with adult characters, but I think young adults would also enjoy the story.

House of Hollow

House of Hollow

By: Krystal Sutherland

Published: 2021

# of pages: 304

Challenge: Book Bingo (published in 2021)

Seventeen-year-old Iris Hollow has always been strange. Something happened to her and her two older sisters when they were children, something they can’t quite remember but that left each of them with an identical half-moon scar at the base of their throats.

Iris has spent most of her teenage years trying to avoid the weirdness that sticks to her like tar. But when her eldest sister, Grey, goes missing under suspicious circumstances, Iris learns just how weird her life can get: horned men start shadowing her, a corpse falls out of her sister’s ceiling, and ugly, impossible memories start to twist their way to the forefront of her mind.

As Iris retraces Grey’s last known footsteps and follows the increasingly bizarre trail of breadcrumbs she left behind, it becomes apparent that the only way to save her sister is to decipher the mystery of what happened to them as children.

The closer Iris gets to the truth, the closer she comes to understanding that the answer is dark and dangerous – and that Grey has been keeping a terrible secret from her for years. 

Goodreads

Review:

Something rare happened to me, which is I just found a random book from my library on the Libby app. Since I’ve switched to mostly ebooks, I don’t usually browse shelves anymore. I find all my books from blogs, Goodreads, and recommendations. However, while searching for a completely different title, this book popped up in the search results and I was fascinated by the cover and checked it out.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a unique and interesting story that was also well-written! The book is about teenager Iris Hollow, who tries her hardest to live a boring life in spite of her traumatic past and spotlight searching older sisters. However, she spends a day with her next oldest sister, Vivi, and her structured life comes tumbling down. The oldest sister, Grey, is missing and the two younger sisters set out to find her.

I was impressed at how well the story ran together. There weren’t holes or things that didn’t make sense later in the timeline. If something was mentioned in passing it would very well come up again later. The dark, modern fairytale vibe isn’t usually my thing, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am adding it to my favorites list for this year.

Trigger warning: creepy crawly descriptions, rot/decay, bugs.

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My Sister, the Serial Killer

My Sister, the Serial Killer

By: Oyinkan Braithwaite
Published: 2018
# of pages: 226

Goodreads description:

When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other…

Review:

I bet there are a lot of us out there who have younger sisters who are so favored (and spoiled) they could “get away with murder.” So what if someone took that concept literally and wrote a novel about the subject? Then you would have My Sister, the Serial Killer.

I haven’t done so yet, but I’d like to see if there’s any blog posts or interviews by the author that discuss her inspiration for this story. I have to say, as someone who is at this moment having some sister drama, I was reading it I was thinking, huh. Yeah, I could see this. I mean, not REALLY, but you know.

The unconcerned, impulsive, act first think (maybe) later, expecting others to clean up after them… And no one would ever suspect after seeing the smile, the bubbly personality. Especially compared to the not so fun older sister’s all business personality.

There’s not much else to say without spoilers, so you should just check it out yourself if you know what I’m talking about! I thoroughly enjoyed this, I just wish it had been a little longer and perhaps moved a little slower towards the end.

I recommend this to lovers of crime fiction along with some family drama. Content warning: domestic abuse.

Project Hail Mary

Project Hail Mary

By: Andy Weir
Published: 2021
# of pages: 481
Quote: “I feel like Sherlock Holmes. All I saw was ‘nothing,’ and I drew a bunch of conclusions!”

Goodreads description:

A lone astronaut must save the earth from disaster.

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission–and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crew mates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.

Review:

I shouldn’t have even picked this book to review because it’s hard to describe how much I enjoyed the story and characters! Was it the most amazingly well written book? No. Was it super realistic (in spite of the detailed scientific descriptions)? No. Usually these things will annoy me or hold me back from fully enjoying a book, but in this case it didn’t. It was a refreshing read and I must not be the only person who loved it based on its Goodreads rating of 4.57 stars.

If you’ve read (or watched the movie) The Martian, you’re familiar with the author, Andy Weir. He also wrote Artemis a few years ago, but I didn’t think that story was as good as his first and third novels. Similar to The Martian, this story follows a man alone in space who is struggling to survive a situation that has spiraled out of control.

Ryland Grace wakes up alone on a space ship but doesn’t know why he’s there or how he got there. Over the course of the story his memories slowly return. He realizes he has an important job to do fairly quickly, but how? He has no way to communicate with anyone to ask questions.

I recommend this book to all sci-fi fans. Similar to The Martian, there’s a lot of science details that I don’t truly understand, but Weir does a great job of dumbing it down and not overwhelming the reader.

The November Girl

The November Girl

By: Lydia Kang
Published: 2017
# of pages: 340
Challenges: Alphabet Soup
Quote: “‘I’m Hector,’ he blurts out. His name is centuries old. I like this. It makes me feel like we’ve met before, that maybe our histories have a more distinct beginning.”

Goodreads description:

I am Anda, and the lake is my mother. I am the November storms that terrify sailors and sink ships. With their deaths, I keep my little island on Lake Superior alive.

Hector has come here to hide from his family until he turns eighteen. Isle Royale is shut down for the winter, and there’s no one here but me. And now him.

Hector is running from the violence in his life, but violence runs through my veins. I should send him away, to keep him safe. But I’m half human, too, and Hector makes me want to listen to my foolish, half-human heart. And if I do, I can’t protect him from the storms coming for us.

Review:

This has been on my TBR list for a while. I was born in November and the main character’s name is Anda, which is similar to mine. I felt like it was meant to be, but then the author shares a name with someone else very special in my life who also has a November birthday! So it’s even more meant to be.

This young adult fantasy follows teenaged Anda, who lives on an island in Lake Superior. During the warm months she shares the island with tourists and during most of the cold months she lives with her father, but there’s one month she spends alone: November. That is, until Hector shows up just as November is about to begin. He’s also alone, fleeing an abusive family situation. Anda knows she should leave him alone, but she’s drawn to him, and not just because he can see her when so many others don’t.

My description sounds like a sappy teenaged love story, but it’s much more than that. It was very deep and poetic at times. While I was reading it I was reminded of another story called The Tempest. I was thinking, the author should have named this character Miranda. Ooohhhh, duh, Anda! Probably other readers would have picked up on that faster, but at least I got it eventually!

Content Warning: Abuse and self harm. I recommend for people looking for a well written magical realism young adult novel. This is something adults and young adults alike will enjoy, but it is very “atmospheric” and a little heavy at times, so not a lighthearted read.

The Cabin at the End of the World

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The Cabin at the End of the World

By: Paul Tremblay
Published:  2018
# of pages:  272
Quote: “Wen never felt more proud of herself as when she made one of her dads laugh.”

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Goodreads description:

Seven-year-old Wen and her parents, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing at a remote cabin on a quiet New Hampshire lake. Their closest neighbors are more than two miles in either direction along a rutted dirt road.

One afternoon, as Wen catches grasshoppers in the front yard, a stranger unexpectedly appears in the driveway. Leonard is the largest man Wen has ever seen but he is young, friendly, and he wins her over almost instantly. Leonard and Wen talk and play until Leonard abruptly apologizes and tells Wen, “None of what’s going to happen is your fault”. Three more strangers then arrive at the cabin carrying unidentifiable, menacing objects. As Wen sprints inside to warn her parents, Leonard calls out: “Your dads won’t want to let us in, Wen. But they have to. We need your help to save the world.”

Thus begins an unbearably tense, gripping tale of paranoia, sacrifice, apocalypse, and survival that escalates to a shattering conclusion, one in which the fate of a loving family and quite possibly all of humanity are entwined. The Cabin at the End of the World is a masterpiece of terror and suspense from the fantastically fertile imagination of Paul Tremblay.

Review:  It’s been a crazy summer at my house so I haven’t written a review in months and I feel a little rusty.  I’ll start by saying this is the first book by Tremblay I’ve read, but it won’t be the last!

Wen is 7 years old and on a vacation with her parents in a remote cabin.  Wen is introspective and compassionate and it isn’t fair that her life is suddenly and violently interrupted by a group of four strangers who intrude into her family’s vacation.  Sudden and violent are the perfect words for how the rest of the book progresses.  The reader feels horrified and helpless reading the sequence of events.

I wanted to jump into the book to comfort Wen and her dads, talk sense into the intruders, and try to change the plot.  At the same time I wanted to put the book down and save myself the horror of sharing in the story.  It’s odd how the book can manage to be filled with hopelessness and hope at the same time.

Overall the book was intense, suspenseful, and unpredictable.  I very much enjoyed reading it in spite of the violence.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  Original, well-written, interesting characters, thought provoking.

Where the Crawdads Sing

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Where the Crawdads Sing

By:  Delia Owens
Published: 
2018
# of pages:  384
Challenge:  A to ZBook Bingo
Quote:  “Kya bit her bottom lip as she watched. Wondering how it would feel to be among them. Their joy created an aura almost visible against the deepening sky. Ma had said women need one another more than they need men, but she never told her how to get inside the pride.”

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Goodreads description:

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

Review:  My first book read in the new year and it was worthy of five stars and a place on my favorites list!  In a way I hate reviewing amazing books because I can’t do them justice.  This book is beautifully written, has a great plot full of thought provoking subjects and an intriguing mystery, and the character of Kya is one easy to emphathize with and understand.

Kya was abandoned by her mother at age six and in the short years that follow, her siblings and father leave her as well.  She makes do in the marshes of coastal North Carolina, but while she doesn’t physically starve, she often feels emotionally starved.  In order to feel connected to the world, she falls in love with the nature that surrounds her on a daily basis.  Where the Crawdads Sing is the story of how she interacts with all of nature, that of the marsh environment and that of the townspeople floating by on the fringes of her existence.

At times this story made my heart ache, but it was also inspiring.  Kya led a rough life that no one deserves, but she made the best of it and handled situations with strength and resolve.  This would be a good book club read.  The way Kya interacts with people and the mystery that’s presented throughout the novel made me want to discuss the book with someone!  I recommend it to all adults.  And I also recommend visiting the NC coast if you haven’t done so yet, it’s a beautiful place.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  Interesting plot, beautiful story, strong characters.

The Song of Achilles

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The Song of Achilles

By:  Madeline Miller
Published: 
2011
# of pages: 
352
Challenges: Full House (historical fiction)

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Goodreads description:

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.

My review:  I can’t remember where I stumbled upon this book, but it’s been on my TBR list for a few months.  It doesn’t sound overly fascinating, but since I’m interested in mythology and want to learn more, I decided to check it out.  I’m so glad I read it because it was great!  Miller has a true talent for taking an ancient story of a time and place that are foreign to me and made it interesting and real.  I cared about the characters and learned a lot about the story of Achilles and the Trojan War in the process.  I visited Greece many years ago and was excited to read about some of the places I’ve seen with my own eyes.

We’ve all heard of Achilles, but this story is about Patroclus, a prince who was exiled from his home to the court of Achilles’ father.  Patroclus is an awkward character and definitely doesn’t fit in with the other men of Greece who live to fight for all sorts of different reasons, including the kidnapping (run away?) of Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world.  Patroclus is also very thoughtful and for the most part, he sticks with his values.

I loved how his story and the story of Achilles is realistically woven into the mythical aspects.  The gods are a regular part of men’s lives, especially Achilles, whose mother is the sea goddess Thetis.  I don’t feel like this review does the book justice, but The Song of Achilles is now one of my favorite books and I’m eager to read more by Madeline Miller.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:

Educated

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Educated: A Memoir

By:  Tara Westover
Published:  2018
# of pages:  334
Challenge:  Full House (memoir), A to Z
Quote:  “To admit uncertainty is to admit to weakness, to powerlessness, and to believe in yourself despite both. It is a frailty, but in this frailty there is a strength: the conviction to live in your own mind, and not in someone else’s. I have often wondered if the most powerful words I wrote that night came not from anger or rage, but from doubt: I don’t know. I just don’t know.”

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Goodreads description:

Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag”. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes and the will to change it.

My review:  This was an incredibly interesting memoir.  My mom had told me a little about it, but I wasn’t prepared for the shock of all the details put together.  I grew up in a conservative religious homeschool community and at the risk of exaggerating my upbringing or trying to “one up” Westover’s story, I could at times see some similiarities (thankfully not the violent aspects).  I’ve said it many times over the years, but I’m glad my parents weren’t as legalistic as many of the parents in our community and now I’m even more glad.  I’ve changed a lot over the years and while I’ve retained some of my upbringing, there’s even more I’ve left behind.  Times are changing and I have hope for the future.  Westover’s memoir gives me even more hope.

The sad aspects, besides what’s stated in the book’s description, is the confusion and heartache Westover experienced as she left her family behind.  I often hear people judging women who live in abusive environments.  Why don’t they leave?  Can’t they see they aren’t safe and their life is literally at stake?  If they obviously have the means to leave, what’s keeping them in the relationship?  This problem isn’t unique to Westover.  We’ve all heard about people who remain in abusive relationships and situations, as confusing as it seems to outsiders.  So Westover’s accounts of her struggle is incredibly honest.

I also appreciated the gradual change she made in her worldview.  Not everything she had been taught was wrong, but she had to analyze everything and come to her own conclusions.  Sometimes she admitted she didn’t have the answers and didn’t understand.  I think that’s a mark of a truly educated person.  I’ve tried to do that in my own life.  Religion, politics, lifestyles…I’ve had to think about all of that and accept that other people think and live differently.  Another quality of an educated person is to continue thinking about these things and being open to change.

I wish Westover happiness and acceptance in her future.  I also recommend this book to everyone because it’s important to realize that as foreign as her previous situation sounds to many of us, it still happens to people in this modern era in which we live.  Take it from me, it’s thought provoking and will make you think about your own upbringing, beliefs, and actions.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  Well written, interesting subject, thought provoking.