The Map of Salt and Stars

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The Map of Salt and Stars

By:  Jennifer Seynab Joukhadar
Published:  2018
# of pages:  361
Challenges:  What’s in a Name (both “of” AND “and”), A to Z, Monthly Motif (cover love), Book Bingo (chose because of cover)
Quote:  “People make such beautiful things, I think, even though they destroy so much.”

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Goodreads description:

The story of two girls living eight hundred years apart—a modern-day Syrian refugee seeking safety and a medieval adventurer apprenticed to a legendary mapmaker.

It is the summer of 2011, and Nour has just lost her father to cancer. Her mother, a cartographer who creates unusual, hand-painted maps, decides to move Nour and her sisters from New York City back to Syria to be closer to their family. But the country Nour’s mother once knew is changing, and it isn’t long before protests and shelling threaten their quiet Homs neighborhood. When a shell destroys Nour’s house and almost takes her life, she and her family are forced to choose: stay and risk more violence or flee as refugees across seven countries of the Middle East and North Africa in search of safety. As their journey becomes more and more challenging, Nour’s idea of home becomes a dream she struggles to remember and a hope she cannot live without.

More than eight hundred years earlier, Rawiya, sixteen and a widow’s daughter, knows she must do something to help her impoverished mother. Restless and longing to see the world, she leaves home to seek her fortune. Disguising herself as a boy named Rami, she becomes an apprentice to al-Idrisi, who has been commissioned by King Roger II of Sicily to create a map of the world. In his employ, Rawiya embarks on an epic journey across the Middle East and the north of Africa where she encounters ferocious mythical beasts, epic battles, and real historical figures.

Review:  I’ll be honest, I chose to read this book based on the cover and the title.  I’m a geographer (majored in geography with a concentration in Geographic Information Systems (GIS).  My dad is also a geographer as is my husband.  So needless to say, anything to do with maps catches my attention!

This book is hard to review.  It was beautiful and heartbreaking and enlightening, but I also felt it was a little over-the-top as far as cliches and being oversentimental.  For some reason it fell a little flat for me, but at the same time, I appreciated it and think it was an important read.  Something I haven’t figured out yet is that there’s a paragraph in the book where the mom talks about Straight Street in Damascus and how it’s mentioned in the Bible.  I didn’t have any recollection of this although it’s possible I’ve read that passage of the Bible.  The day after I finished this book I went to a church service and the sermon was about this same passage of the Bible.  Straight Street and all.  So I feel like it’s significant, but I don’t know how yet.

Sorry to get personal on my blog and mention religion, but I can’t get it out of my head.  This isn’t a religious book although Muslim traditions are mentioned here and there.  It’s also mentioned how the main character, Nour, was raised both Catholic and Muslim.  For the most part the religious aspects are just generally mentioned, but that’s one reason why I found this “coincidence” in my life even more profound.

The book is about a girl, Nour, who was born in New York. After her father’s death her mom, a mapmaker, moved her and her two sisters back to their original home in Syria.  Unfortunately their arrival takes place just before the violence in Syria erupts.  Nour and her family become refugees, just like the ones we’ve been hearing about on the news in the U.S. over the past few years.  As Nour’s family travels from place to place they meet new friends and encounter both dangers and wonders.

Nour’s story intertwines with the story of Rawiya, a young woman in the 1100s who is apprenticed to a mapmaker and goes on a journey to discover and record new places.  Not only does she discover new places, she makes friends and is forced to confront many dangers.

Overall, I recommend this book to both adults and mature young adults.  There is an intense part that may trigger victims of sexual assault.  I now want to learn more about the conflict in Syria.  This story is a great way to enable readers to “walk” in a refugee’s shoes.

Why I gave this book 3/5 stars:  Important story, beautifully written, seemed a little “empty” to me for some reason.

 

Interview with the Vampire

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Interview with the Vampire

By:  Anne Rice
Published: 
1976
# of pages:  342
Series:  The Vampire Chronicles (#1)

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Goodreads description:

This is the story of Louis, as told in his own words, of his journey through mortal and immortal life. Louis recounts how he became a vampire at the hands of the radiant and sinister Lestat and how he became indoctrinated, unwillingly, into the vampire way of life. His story ebbs and flows through the streets of New Orleans, defining crucial moments such as his discovery of the exquisite lost young child Claudia, wanting not to hurt but to comfort her with the last breaths of humanity he has inside. Yet, he makes Claudia a vampire, trapping her womanly passion, will, and intelligence inside the body of a small child. Louis and Claudia form a seemingly unbreakable alliance and even “settle down” for a while in the opulent French Quarter. Louis remembers Claudia’s struggle to understand herself and the hatred they both have for Lestat that sends them halfway across the world to seek others of their kind. Louis and Claudia are desperate to find somewhere they belong, to find others who understand, and someone who knows what and why they are.

Louis and Claudia travel Europe, eventually coming to Paris and the ragingly successful Theatre des Vampires – a theatre of vampires pretending to be mortals pretending to be vampires. Here they meet the magnetic and ethereal Armand, who brings them into a whole society of vampires. But Louis and Claudia find that finding others like themselves provides no easy answers and in fact presents dangers they scarcely imagined.

Review:  At the beginning of October I traveled to my cousin’s wedding in New Orleans, Louisiana.  I couldn’t resist bringing Interview with the Vampire along.  I watched the movie many years ago, but I’d never read the book.  It was awesome being able to see places in the city that I had just read about in the book.  However, the book was way too wordy for me to thoroughly enjoy.

Louis tells the story of how he was a young man enjoying his life on a Louisiana plantation.  After an unexpected tragedy, he meets Lestat, who turns him into a vampire.  Louis is confused about his new way of life and has no one except Lestat to tell him how he must and should behave.  Louis soon learns that he seems to have retained much of his humanity, unlike his creator.  Later, Lestat makes a vampire of Claudia, a young girl.  Claudia and Louis are close companions and try to figure out how to navigate life in their immortal bodies.

The concept of the book is really neat and I would like to know what happens to the present day Louis who is being interviewed, but like I said before, the book is very wordy.  Sometimes the action was hard to follow because of the way it was told in a very thoughtful, eloquent, lengthy way.  Apparently some people really love this book, but I found it hard to keep picking up to read more.

Why I gave this book 3/5 stars:  Neat concept (especially in the 70s before the vampire theme was popular), inspiring character in Louis, way too wordy and meandering.

The Astonishing Color of After

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The Astonishing Color of After

By:  Emily X.R. Pan
Published:  2018
# of pages:  462
Quote:  “Nothing is right, she says. The only three words I catch. If someone had asked me, I would’ve said that everything seemed right except for my mother, who seemed totally wrong, and that in turn made everything else feel dark and stained. I would’ve carved out my heart and brain and given them to her just so she could feel right again.”

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Goodreads description:

Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

My review:  Part of this hit close to home since it’s in part about a mother struggling with depression.  So maybe that’s why I didn’t enjoy this book more, it was heartbreaking at times.  It was a beautifully written book, but it was hard for me to immerse myself in the story.

The story is about Leigh, who is an average teenager until her mother dies by suicide one afternoon while she’s hanging out with her best friend and crush, Axel.  One day, while she’s in the midst of grieving, a package is delivered by a bird that Leigh recognizes as her mother.  The package contains photographs and information about her mom’s family in Taiwan.  She travels to visit her grandparents and begins a journey of making new memories with her grandparents and uncovering the memories of her grandparents and parents in the process.

The story was long and felt disjointed at times.  I think it was supposed to feel that way, but it kind of lost me.  But like I said before, I think part of my reluctance to read was the way it made me feel personally as a mom dealing with depression.

Why I gave this book 3/5 stars:  Beautiful narrative, but a little too drawn out and disjointed.

Stalking Jack the Ripper

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Stalking Jack the Ripper

By:  Kerri Maniscalco
Published: 
2016
# of pages: 
337 (Kindle edition)
Series: 
Stalking Jack the Ripper (#1)

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Goodreads description:

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.


My review: 
I was excited by the description of this book and while it was slightly disappointing, it was still a fun read.  I had to keep telling myself that it was young adult and I’d probably enjoy it more as a teenager.  There’s young adult novels that are written to be just as enjoyable for adults as teens and then there’s young adult novels that are geared solely for young adults.  And this book falls in the latter category.

Audrey Rose is an aspiring forensic technician in 1880s London.  She apprentices for her uncle and nothing makes her happier than cutting into the cold flesh of corpses.  The problem is that her father doesn’t know she’s chosen an inappropriate career for a lady of that time.  Her secret life suddenly becomes harder to hide when one of the bodies she helps dissect turns out to be a murder victim of a killer who soon became known as Jack the Ripper.  Audrey Rose feels a kinship with the female victims and takes it upon herself to solve the mystery of the murderer’s identity.  Add in a handsome, mysterious young man named Thomas and things get even more complicated.

I figured out the mystery fairly early in the book, which I’m sure didn’t help with my opinion.  Audrey Rose is an interesting character, but whether purposefully or just because of poor writing, she’s very flighty and doesn’t come across as talented and intelligent as she should have been.  Thomas on the other hand…  I’ll admit, I have a little crush on him.  If I do read the next book in the series it will solely be because of Thomas.

Overall I recommend this book to young adults who are able to handle reading about some blood and gore (nothing too detailed).  The concept of a novel about Jack the Ripper is intriguing and I wouldn’t mind trying to find another one that’s better written.


Why I gave this book 3/5 stars: 
Cool concept for a young adult (or adult) novel, steamy male protagonist, main character was meh.

The Lying Game

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The Lying Game

By:  Ruth Ware
Published:  2017
# of pages:  370

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Goodreads description:

On a cool June morning, a woman is walking her dog in the idyllic coastal village of Salten along a tidal estuary known as the Reach. Before she can stop him, the dog charges into the water to retrieve what first appears to be a wayward stick, but to her horror, turns out to be something much more sinister…

The next morning, three women in and around London—Fatima, Thea, and Isabel—receive the text they had always hoped would NEVER come, from the fourth in their formerly inseparable clique, Kate, that says only, “I need you.”

The four girls were best friends at Salten, a second rate boarding school set near the cliffs of the English Channel. Each different in their own way, the four became inseparable and were notorious for playing the Lying Game, telling lies at every turn to both fellow boarders and faculty, with varying states of serious and flippant nature that were disturbing enough to ensure that everyone steered clear of them. The myriad and complicated rules of the game are strict: no lying to each other—ever. Bail on the lie when it becomes clear it is about to be found out. But their little game had consequences, and the girls were all expelled in their final year of school under mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of the school’s eccentric art teacher, Ambrose (who also happens to be Kate’s father).

My review:  I’ve read The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Death of Mrs. Westaway and enjoyed them, so I figured I’d check this book out as well.  This novel is told from Isa’s point of view as she goes back to Salten, the town in which her high school boarding school was located.  She leaves London (and her boyfriend) in a hurry after receiving a text from Kate, who still lives in Salten.  She’s joined by Fatima and Thea to find out just why Kate summoned them back after 17 years.

All of the women are immersed in memories when they arrive at Kate’s house, called The Mill.  Some of the memories are good, the four girls cuddling on the couch in The Mill’s living room, swimming in the sea, and spending time with Kate’s father and stepbrother.  Other memories aren’t so nice.  The mean spirited game they played while at school called The Lying Game.  As high schoolers the girls didn’t always realize the consequences of the game, but as an adult, Isa can’t deny how wrong it was to isolate herself from the majority of her peers.

The book is named after the game, but it really doesn’t have much to do with the main plot of the story.  As a matter of fact, it really doesn’t have anything to do with the women’s present situation.  I wish the past and present had tied together more.  Honestly, for most of the book I wasn’t even too interested in the problem the women faced.  It’s a cool concept for a novel, but it didn’t come across as well as I would have liked.

Anyway, it’s worth reading if you like a somewhat slower paced mystery, but it’s not very suspenseful or fascinating.

Why I gave this book 3/5 stars:  Neat concept for a story, so-so characters, slow paced.

That Inevitable Victorian Thing

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That Inevitable Victorian Thing

By:  E.K. Johnston
Published:  2017
# of pages:  330

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Goodreads description:

Set in a near-future world where the British Empire was preserved, not by the cost of blood and theft but by effort of repatriation and promises kept, That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a novel of love, duty, and the small moments that can change people and the world.

Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendant of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history two centuries earlier. The imperial practice of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage like her mother before her, but before she does her duty, she’ll have one summer incognito in a far corner of empire. In Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire’s greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir apparent to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an unusual bond and maybe a one in a million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process —just like the first Queen Victoria.

My review:  I’ll be honest, I decided to read this book solely based on the cover.  The description also sounds good, but it was mainly the pretty cover!  I didn’t have super high expectations so thankfully I wasn’t too disappointed, because as great as the cover is, the book isn’t so great.

The story is about a handful of teenagers living in a future British Empire.  In Canada, the debutante season is in full swing.  The crown princess, Margaret, is undercover in Toronto so that she can have a last few months to herself before assuming the responsibilities that come with ruling a worldwide empire.  She stays with Elizabeth and meets Helena and August at the various upper class functions they all attend throughout the season.

The future British Empire is peacefully ruled thanks to society being built around “genetic matchmaking.” Supposedly, decisions such as who has money, who rules, who marries who, who is influential, etc, are based purely on the decisions of a computer.  The entire world is doing really well with this except for the United States because they were rebellious and didn’t embrace the Empire’s peaceful reign (can I insert a laughing-so-hard-I’m-crying emoji here?).  Except the Southern U.S. because the slaves revolted and, of course, made the reasonable choice to join the empire.

Sounds like a cool concept for a book, right?  And it is.  It just wasn’t well written.  And honestly, with such an advanced society that trusts the computer above all, why would you need to hide your sexuality and choice for a mate?  Perhaps that was supposed to be the point of the book, that things weren’t as perfect as they seemed, but it didn’t come across that way.  The ending was a let down and didn’t make sense, but overall the book had some cute moments and it is cool to think of a future society similar to the one presented in this novel.

Why I gave this book 3/5 stars:  The setting was a cool concept and the characters were okay, but the book wasn’t as seamless as it could have been, the end left me wondering what was the point.

The Book of Blood and Shadow

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The Book of Blood and Shadow

By:  Robin Wasserman
Published: 
2012
# of pages:  450
Challenge: 
Full House (plot twist)

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Goodreads description:

It was like a nightmare, but there was no waking up.  When the night began, Nora had two best friends and an embarrassingly storybook one true love.  When it ended, she had nothing but blood on her hands and an echoing scream that stopped only when the tranquilizers pierced her veins and left her in the merciful dark.

But the next morning, it was all still true: Chris was dead.  His girlfriend Adriane, Nora’s best friend, was catatonic. And Max, Nora’s sweet, smart, soft-spoken Prince Charming, was gone. He was also—according to the police, according to her parents, according to everyone—a murderer.

Desperate to prove his innocence, Nora follows the trail of blood, no matter where it leads. It ultimately brings her to the ancient streets of Prague, where she is drawn into a dark web of secret societies and shadowy conspirators, all driven by a mad desire to possess something that might not even exist. For buried in a centuries-old manuscript is the secret to ultimate knowledge and communion with the divine; it is said that he who controls the Lumen Dei controls the world. Unbeknownst to her, Nora now holds the crucial key to unlocking its secrets. Her night of blood is just one piece in a puzzle that spans continents and centuries. Solving it may be the only way she can save her own life.

My opinion:  Man, I wrote most of this review and then saved it for later…except that it didn’t save properly so most of my review was erased.

This book sounded very intriguing and half of it was great and the other half not so much.  The story follows high school senior Nora just as she finds a place as an intern for a nearby college professor along with her best friends Chris and Adriane.  Everything is going great, especially after Max joins their group and finds a place in her heart.

But their lives suddenly change and they realize that the project they’ve been working on over the past few months may be of interest to people other than the quirky college professor.  Nora embarks on a quest to save Max and maybe even the entire world.

Like I said, this book had a lot of potential, but I feel like it kind of went off the rails in the last third.  It wasn’t bad or anything, there were just things that didn’t quite add up and the teenage angst mixed in with a world-changing adventure seemed forced at times.

Also, I’m a little tired of these modern titles.  This would have been better if it was simply The Book of Blood or, even better, a more original title entirely.  End rant.

Why I gave this book 3/5 stars:  Cool concept, okay characters, somewhat disappointing story line.