Review: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

•January 6, 2020 • Leave a Comment

American Dirt-blue

Let me begin by saying that this is not a book that I would ordinarily read. Anything that is compared to John Steinbeck is typically something that I would stay far, far away from. I detest Steinbeck and I’d rather never pick up another book again than be forced to try (again) to read The Grapes of Wrath. In fact, I don’t even remember entering a giveaway for this book, but when it arrived and I posted on social media that I’d received it, the outpouring of interest was such that I knew I had to at least attempt to read this book. It’s been on numerous lists of most-anticipated books for 2020 and there is already a ton of hype and buzz surrounding this book, but despite that, I really had very little idea of what the book was going to be about. I fully expected to have an #unpopularopinion and was ready to pan the book before I even cracked it open.

Oh, how I love being wrong. American Dirt deserves ALL of the advanced praise that it has gotten so far. Cummins’ prose is beautiful and evocative, without being overblown or too flowery. This is a fictional account of one woman’s journey with her son, their escape from cartel violence in Acapulco, across the border, into the United States. There is a constant level of anxiety that permeates the novel, and the reader clearly feels the fear that Lydia and her son experience as they travel. In some ways, this novel reminds me of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. The anxiety, fear, and threat of violence is non-stop, and while exhausting, the reader never becomes numb to it.

American Dirt is an important novel and one that I think everyone needs to read. I don’t say that lightly. It’s one thing to watch the news and see the media portrayal of migrants trying to cross the border between the US and Mexico, to see images of ICE raids or detention centers, but this novel gives a face, a humanity to that sea of people that is often missing from media reports. I defy anyone to read this novel and not be moved.

Thank you to Flatiron Books for the ARC. The views expressed are entirely my own and I already have my finished copy on order. Publishes in the US on January 21, 2020.

Review: The Blue Eye by Ausma Zehanat Khan

•January 2, 2020 • Leave a Comment

The Blue Eye

I’ve been trying to figure out what to put in this review. It’s difficult because (a) I love Ausma Zehanat Khan, so writing a thoughtful review that is more than just fan-girling is hard, and (b) there’s so much going on in this book and this series that I want to both avoid spoilers, but still convince people to read the books. It is a series that among people I know is underrated and under-read.

The Blue Eye is book three in The Khorasan Archives, a Fantasy series that features a unique magical structure, strong female protagonists, and a Middle Eastern setting that I can’t get enough of in the genre. Many characters are morally gray, with often selfish motives, but the truly evil villains, like The One Eyed Preacher and his followers known as the Talisman, call to mind the horrors of modern religious zealots, which lends an eerie realism to the series.

The Blue Eye is dark. There’s still no happy ending, at least not yet, and nearly everyone’s motives are suspect. Our heroines suffer greatly. Previously concealed identities are revealed and the answers are shocking. It’s action packed, and there were many moments when I read on with my heart in my throat, fearing for my favorite characters.

I think the thing I love most about this series, though, is something that has become even clearer in this third installment. The system of magic and power is tied to The Claim, the sacred religious text of all Khorasan. As a reader, the idea of words and stories, whether fables or histories, being the center of strength and power, is beautiful and relatable. I am both looking forward to the final installment of The Khorasan Archives, which *should* be out later this year, and dreading it. I am sure there will be more loss, more heartbreak, but I am hopeful that Khan will end the series on a high note and that Good will triumph over Evil. I’m willing to send her chocolate and all the cat pictures she could possible want, if she’ll take bribes.

Into the Fire by Gregg Hurwitz

•January 2, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Into the Fire

(cover image of Into the Fire by Gregg Hurwitz from NetGalley)

I was lucky enough to receive a free copy of the newest Orphan X novel from St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review. I love the Orphan X novels and dropped everything I was reading last year to start this one. Here’s my review as posted to NetGalley, since I still can’t think of anything to add to it:

Speechless. Trying to figure out what to write for this review and all that keeps running through my head is “OMG, OMG, OMG” thanks to that ending! Hurwitz has done it again – he’s written a fantastic, edge-of-your-seat thriller, and I just want to run around with copies of it, throwing it at people, forcing them to read it, because I need people to squeal with me. 

As always with the Orphan X novels, the plot is fast paced, there’s plenty of morally gray characters, and Evan is his amazing, bad-ass self. I love that we get lots more screen time with Joey and I cannot wait to see how that cliffhanger ending works out.

If you love thrillers, you can’t go wrong with Orphan X series. They are always action packed. The characters are well-developed and Hurwitz’s pacing is perfect. He’s an auto-buy author for me, and I have my finished copy of Into the Fire already preordered from my local independent bookstore. Into the Fire releases in the U.S. on 28 January 2020.

2020: Happy New Year!

•January 1, 2020 • Leave a Comment

It has been forever since I posted. I hope to do better this year. In the spirit of New Year posts everywhere, I’ll start with my reading goals for 2020.

I’ve been steadily reading more and more every year since joining Litsy in 2016. I tried to do several of the more popular reading challenges in 2017 and 2018, but I found it to be too stressful. Last year, the only challenges I officially did were the Goodreads challenge and a MountTBR challenge, which are both purely based on total books read, with MountTBR limiting the reader to books owned prior to January 1st. That gave me the flexibility to read what I wanted (I’m a mood reader) while still giving me a goal to strive toward. This year, I decided that there are some books on my shelves that I really want to read, so I started to create my own personal challenge based around those desires. There are several chunksters I want to read, so I lowered the numerical goal for Goodreads and MountTBR, to allow me to read what I want without feeling too pressured by falling behind that arbitrary number.

My personal challenge involves (re)reading all of the Alexandre Dumas books I own: 6 novels that make up the D’Artagnan Romances and the unabridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo (I unknowingly read an abridged version 20+ years ago and I’m still mad that I didn’t realize it at the time). I’ve chosen themes for each month, except August – I haven’t decided what to do with August, maybe BOTM titles that I haven’t read or just a month to catch up and catch my breath. I created an Excel calendar for a short summary, with more options for each month in another tab:2020 Personal Reading Challenge2020 Personal Reading Challenge Detail As for this blog, I probably won’t do lengthy reviews for everything I read, but I would like to do month-in-the-review posts with mini-reviews on everything I finish in a given month. To get a feel for it, I’m going to start retroactively, with posts for the books I read in 2019. Last year was a pretty good year for reading:

Goodreads 2019 Year In Review

Whether you set reading goals or not, I hope 2020 is a great year for you, filled with plenty of laughter, joy, and great books!

The Right Sort of Man

•April 27, 2019 • Leave a Comment

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I received an email from Kayla Janas at Minotaur Books inviting me to read this book on NetGalley. Now, I had sworn I would not request or press “read now” for anything else on NetGalley until I caught up with my backlog, but (1) Minotaur Books publishes some of my absolute favorite books, and (2) it was a special invitation, and (3) the description sounded charming and fun, so I caved.

I am so glad I caved. I absolutely loved this book and am beyond grateful to the publisher and NetGalley for providing a free copy in exchange for my honest review. I laughed and cried throughout this historical mystery. It was completely worth dropping all of my other current reads to pick up this one.

Gwen Bainbridge and Iris Sparks run the Right Sort Marriage Bureau, providing matchmaking services for men and women in post-WWII London. When one of their clients ends up murdered, and another client is arrested as the culprit, things look bad for Gwen, Iris, and their fledgling business. Convinced of his innocence and desperate to save their company, Gwen and Iris put their detective skills to the test.

These two are brilliant. They are intelligent, sassy, and determined. It was a joy to read a murder mystery that did not have graphic, violent scenes. The cast of secondary characters is fantastic as well and I really hope this is the start to a long series, because I want so much more of Gwen, Iris, and their adventures. I will absolutely be buying a finished copy and enthusiastically recommending this to all my friends. 4 1/2 stars!

A Deadly Divide by Ausma Zehanat Khan

•January 27, 2019 • Leave a Comment

When Allison Ziegler at Minotaur Books messaged me to offer an ARC of Ausma Zehanat Khan’s next Esa Khattak/Rachel Getty mystery, I nearly lost my mind. I already had my digital and print copies pre-ordered, but a chance to get my hands on my favorite author’s book early? Yes, please!

As promised, I dropped everything else I was reading and started this one. The prime case that brings our detectives together is a shooting at a mosque in a small town in Quebec. Twelve people are viciously gunned down while at prayer, and a young man is also disfigured. This turns out to be just the latest, and most horrific act of anti-Muslim violence perpetrated in this town. Esa and Rachel must contend with not only the fear in the Muslim community, but also a highly placed leak in the local investigation and the rampant racism.

Khan’s stories are mysteries with a social conscience. The last, A Dangerous Crossing focused on the Syrian Refugee Crisis, and left me angry and wanting to help. Reading A Deadly Divide was even harder. For me, I think this is because I can convince myself that the events in Syria can’t happen “here”, but I live in a country “led” by Trump. I have watched the country I love be torn apart by hate and witnessed white supremacists become more emboldened with each passing day. Not only could the events of A Deadly Divide happen here, they have, and it breaks my heart.

As always, Khan does an excellent job laying out the clues and bringing the reader along on the journey as Esa and Rachel piece things together. The pacing was consistent throughout and the solution was both satisfying and believable. I am crossing my fingers for Rachel’s potential romantic relationship, but the relationship between Esa and Alizah often felt forced or awkward. I would have preferred less of Alizah’s angst. I’m truly terrified by Esa’s stalker. I’m worried about what’s going to happen with that storyline, how it will impact Sehr and Rachel, and I can feel the ulcer forming already.

Overall, I would say Ausma Zehanat Khan has done it again. She’s written a compelling mystery that does what all good books should do: it makes the reader think, question, and feel. I look forward to picking up my print copy in February and mailing out more to friends and family as they catch up on the series.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

•January 2, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve read this book, in print, on audiobook with Jim Dale as narrator, and also narrated by Stephen Fry. I finally read the illustrated version this time, and it was absolutely delightful. A perfect choice to start off the new year. The illustrations are gorgeous and I picked up new details in the story on this reread that I’ve managed to miss all the times before. It’s funny – I hear the sorting hat in Jim Dale’s voice, but I still read all of Snape’s lines in Alan Rickman’s voice and I probably always will. I was already in my 20s when this book was first written, so I definitely wasn’t the target audience, but I loved it then. I’ve loved every reread, and I do believe I will love it…always.