Review: Daughter Of The Pirate King (Daughter of the Pirate King #1) by Tricia Levenseller

dotpkDaughter of the Pirate King (Daughter of the Pirate King #1)

Published by: Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

Publication Date: February 28th 2017

Genre: YA Fantasy

Pages: 320 pages

Format: eGalley

Rating: ★★★★★ (5 STARS)

*HUGE thanks to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, Netgalley, and Tricia Levenseller for the eGalley of Daughter of the Pirate King in exchange for an honest review

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A 17-year-old pirate captain intentionally allows herself to get captured by enemy pirates in this thrilling YA adventure.

Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map—the key to a legendary treasure trove—seventeen-year-old pirate captain Alosa deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship.

More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate, Riden. But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the Daughter of the Pirate King.

Debut author Tricia Levenseller blends action, adventure, romance, and a little bit of magic into a thrilling YA pirate tale.

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Daughter of the Pirate King is the story of Alosa, a 17 year old pirate captain who has been sent by the Pirate King AKA her father to find a hidden map. Alosa along with her crew of female pirates plot her own kidnapping, fully intending to allow herself to be taken by another ships captain. She downplays her physical capabilities as well as other abilities that would give her a serious advantage in any physical altercation. The objective is to be taken onto the ship in order to find the hidden map that will lead them to a Island filled with treasures. There are three important/royal pirate families descended from three well known & highly feared pirates. Alosa is descended from the Pirate King himself and they hold one of the maps needed to find the island, the other two maps can be found within the other two pirate families. Alosa successfully manages to pull off being kidnapped however, her mission turns out to be much more difficult than she had anticipated. Although she was trained by the Pirate King himself in a all manners of defense, it is keeping those skills hidden that will prove to be her biggest weapon. We get to follow Alosa on board the enemy ship as she gathers intel all the while trying not to raise suspicions. After all, no one can know that she fully intended to be captured or what she hopes to find…

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The characters in Daughter of the Pirate King remind me plenty of those in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise only I enjoyed this cast a bit more. Starting with Alosa, the daughter who wants nothing more than to make her father proud and follow in his footsteps ruling the seas. Alosa is strong physically & mentally, she is also very sharp & sarcastic which quickly made her a fave. We get a bit of background on her and how she came to be so strong. Her relationship with her father is not a positive one but Alosa is very proud & grateful for how it has molded her into a force to be reckoned with. Alosa has a crew of women on her very own ship, all of which she has handpicked herself. Each woman has their strengths & Alosa values everyone one her crew. Once on the enemy ship, we get introduced to their captain and first mate who happen to be brothers. Alosa & the first mate have some fierce chemistry and their banter throughout the book often made me laugh out loud and visibly shake my head. These two know which buttons to press to get the other one going & NOTHING is too far below the belt. There is plenty more that I LOVED about Alosa that I can’t quite say because *spoilers* but just know that she is seriously kick a**!  I got Merida from Brave/ blended with Jack Sparrow/Pirates of the Caribbean vibes & I couldn’t get enough. I haven’t had this much fun with a cast of characters like I have with Daughter of the Pirate King, in a very long time!

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Ok, the selfish bookworm in me just wants to get this out of the way…this book was way too short for me! I need more of this fantastic crew, more of this adventure/quest, more Riden! I had so much fun reading Daughter of the Pirate King that I seriously had to pace myself when I noticed that I was inhaling the book. I want to gush all about what I loved about Alosa but I know that I can’t for fear of spoilers lol. The YA Fantasy genre has been a go to for me this past year & therefore has gotten bit harder to find new story lines/characters. However, not only is Alosa a refreshing new character but she will catch you unawares. Just like she manages to keep the crew of the enemy ship in the dark, we the reader also don’t fully grasp the depth of her skills. We get introduced to a very cocky, self-assured, and brave female protagonist & then we are shown that she can back up everything that she says & thinks she is. Hands down my 1st fave female protagonist in YA Fantasy since…thinking…thinking…yea no, she simply is my favorite (the Illuminae Files girls don’t count cuz that’s more sci-fi lol). This being Tricia Levenseller’s debut fantasy series, i’d say she’s onto something here cuz who doesn’t like pirates? this book will leave you wanting to hop on the next ship out of port to your very first adventure with no care in sight. Many of the fighting scenes have a cinematic feel and overall was a ton of fun to visualize. I can’t wait for the sequel to Daughter of the Pirate King, the next adventure that i’m sure will be packed with non-stop surprises 😉

Are any of my bookish peeps looking forward to meeting Alosa, Daughter of the Pirate King? What do you make of that cover? I can’t stop staring at her fierce red hair contrasted against the black & cream parchment *heart eyes*

Review: The Valiant (The Valiant #1) by Lesley Livingston

30375703The Valiant (The Valiant #1) By Lesley Livingston

Published by: Razorbill/Penguin Random House

Publication Date: February 14th 2017

Genre: YA Historical Fiction/Fantasy

Pages: 384 pages

Format: Physical ARC 

Rating: ★★★★ (3.75 STARS)

*HUGE thanks to Gretchen from Chicnerdreads for her arc copy of The Valiant, Razorbill & Lesley Livingston

 

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Lost to history, the story of the female gladiator has never been told. Until now.

Fallon is the daughter of a proud Celtic king and the younger sister of the legendary warrior Sorcha. When Fallon was just a child, Sorcha was killed while defending their home from the armies of Julius Caesar.

On the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Fallon is excited to follow in her sister’s footsteps and earn her place in her father’s war band. She never gets the chance.

Fallon is captured by ruthless brigands who sell her to an elite training school for female gladiators owned by none other than Julius Caesar himself. In a cruel twist of fate, the man who destroyed Fallon’s family might be her only hope of survival.
Now, Fallon must overcome vicious rivalries, deadly fights in and out of the arena, and perhaps the most dangerous threat of all: her irresistible feelings for Cai, a young Roman soldier and her sworn enemy.

A richly imagined fantasy for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Cinda Williams Chima, “The Valiant” recounts Fallon’s gripping journey from fierce Celtic princess to legendary gladiator and darling of the Roman empire.”

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This is one of those books where Goodreads has pretty much spelled out the plot for you in their blurb so i’ll just add to it here & there. Perhaps the best part of The Valiant were the many plot twists along the way that kept me flipping pages til the very end. You quickly figure out that nothing is as it appears & the second half of the book has a different tone/pace than the first. We are first introduced to Fallon on the night of her 17th birthday, she is getting ready for her father’s festivities where she believes he will officially make her a part of his war band. The celebration itself ends up being the night that sets her on her true course after things take a very wrong turn. Faced with heart break, betrayal and murder, Fallon must pave her own path to freedom…

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Our main protagonist Fallon quickly earned my respect from the very start when she opted to put her wants/career before a possible relationship. Fallon is ambitious, brave, and has known which path she wants to take ever since she was a little girl watching her older sister fight for her father. She’s had her sister as a role model & wishes to follow in her footsteps. Every day she practices riding her chariot and honing her skills in fighting. Her sister’s words always playing in the back of her head…

“Are you a weapon or a target? Choose!” 
― Lesley LivingstonThe Valiant

Fallon has chosen to mold herself into a weapon and is ready for any curveball that is thrown her way. I enjoyed Fallon’s character development along the way & seeing her take control of her life. In the second half of the book we get to see Fallon’s relationship with another girl who was also sold to be a Gladiatrix. Elka & Fallon’s friendship was actually my favorite part of this book. It’s rare when we come across positive female friendships on the pages we read & therefore I tend to appreciate that a whole lot more than say a love interest (jussayin lol). The exchanges & witty banter between these two also proved to be entertaining. Fallon does have a love interest towards the second half however their story isn’t too fleshed out. I got the impression that this being book 1 in a series (or trilogy, not sure) that their relationship will unfold in the 2nd installment. I was ok with this because it meant that their budding romance didn’t take center stage to Fallon’s journey/experience as a Gladiatrix. There are some other characters who I enjoyed however for fear of spoilers I won’t mention. I will say though, that I hope to get a bit more depth to some of the supporting characters that are pivotal to the story.

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The Valiant is honestly a solid start to what has the potential to be a very entertaining new series featuring strong female leads. I immediately got Spartacus vibes when I started reading, and being a lover of that series I just knew I was going to devour this book. The first half of this book was a bit slow for me however, once I reached THAT point…you know the part in the story that sinks its teeth into you? yea THAT point lol, I couldn’t put the book down. I seriously took this book with me into the shower (not a drawn bath with candles that you see on tv) & read it through to the very end. The concept of female gladiators in a bloody Rome intrigues the hell outta me & the fact that this is a Historical Young Adult book made for some interesting familiar faces. We not only get to meet Julius Caesar himself but we also get Cleopatra & some actual facts were thrown in there to give it that authentic Roman history feel. I appreciated the fact that the author did not try to paint a pretty picture of life as a Gladiatrix & was actually very detailed in the brutalities experienced while training and while in the arena fighting for their freedom. I actually read the author’s note & I’m glad I did because in it I learned that Gladiatrices did actually exist. Through excavation, the remains of what appear to be female gladiators have been found. I’m a big history fanatic & these types of facts will always reel me in, knowing that they actually existed has increased my interest exponentially. I look forward to continuing with this series & seeing what Fallon has been up to since last I saw her in the Ludus.

Review: Gilded Cage by Vic James

30258320Gilded Cage (Dark Gifts #1) by Vic James

Published by: Del Rey Books

Publication Date: February 14th 2017

Genre: YA Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Dystopian

Pages: 368 pages

Format: eGalley

Rating: ★★★★ (4 STARS)

*Click on cover for Goodreads

I’d like to thank Del Rey Books, Netgalley, and Vic James for providing a eGalley of Gilded Cage in exchange for an honest review.

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Not all are free. Not all are equal. Not all will be saved.

Our world belongs to the Equals — aristocrats with magical gifts — and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.

A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.

Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?

A boy dreams of revolution.

Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.

And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.

He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?

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Gilded Cage is a dystopian Fantasy set in an alternate England where all (no matter the color of your skin or your financial status) are expected to complete 10 years of slave life at a time of their choosing. The people are governed by the Equals who have Skill, abilities they are born with that for the most part only the wielder knows it’s full potential. Skill isn’t something spoken about freely & most among the Equals consider it taboo to discuss at all. The Equals control the Skill-less by imposing  Slave Days which are typically carried out in slave towns monitored closely. Life in these slave towns proves to be very difficult due to 6 day work weeks, small food rations, and often beatings from the patrolling security guards. We are introduced to a family of five: Mom, Dad, Oldest Daughter Abi (medical student), Son Luke (middle child), and 10 year old Daisy. The parents have been convinced by their eldest daughter Abi to submit an application to carry out their slave days at the Kyneston estate belonging to one of the top most powerful family of Equals. She is absolutely certain that they each can offer up a service that would make them ideal to be accepted at the estate as opposed to the slave towns. What Abi never expected was for the application to be accepted for all except her brother Luke. The family is immediately picked up & separated from Luke who is taken to the slave towns. From this point on Abi & Luke’s paths are divided and their experiences vastly differ from one another. Told in third person narrative, each character gets a chapter and we the reader get a dose of life through Luke and Abi’s eyes as well as the Equals. Luke is recruited by a small group of characters that are determined to bring an end to slave days. through a series of “jobs” they slowly begin to tear at the seams of injustice. One thing is for certain…the revolution has just begun.

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Luke may have entered the slave town a teenager but he is quickly gaining wisdom and perspective that provide him with a purpose. The friends he makes are characters who just like him, have been cherry picked for their knowledge and skill-less abilities. I enjoyed seeing the character development with Luke since I didn’t think he had it in him to survive in the slave town. I also enjoyed Reenie, the first friend Luke makes and also his recruiter into this rag tag team of misfits. Reenie is described as a POC not much older than 13 years of age who appears to have been in the slave town’s for way longer than laws permit. There’s still a lot to learn about this character, I got the feeling we’ll get her background later on in the series. On Abi’s end we get the sense that she has regret over ever applying to have their days carried out at the estate. She blames herself for Luke’s predicament & sets out on a mission to gather information to get him brought to the estate. Abi has potential to grow into a strong character & her development was nice to see as well. I definitely like the Abi we see in the end better than the one we meet in the beginning.  On the other side of the spectrum we have the Equals who we get to follow & get to know individually in each of their chapters. The Jardine’s: Lord Whittam Jardine, Gavar Jardine, Jenner Jardine, and Silyen Jardine are owners of the Kyneston estate and also one of the most powerful families of Equals. Lord Whittam is a power hungry man who doesn’t deem any of his sons fit to inherit his estate. Gavar Jardine is said to have uncontrollable skill, a great amount difficult to harness. This is made all the more difficult by his temper, he is not the nicest of the bunch lol. Jenner is my favorite, he also happens to be skill-less. I enjoyed this character the most because of all the Jardines, he was sympathetic to Abi & her family making sure they stayed out of harms way. Last but not least we have Silyen, he is an oddball and I haven’t decided whether to like him or not. He also has immense power behind his skill but what his intentions are, it’s too soon to tell. Silyen plays his cards close to his chest and I can’t wait to discover more of what he’s up to. There are also some power players in the story like Gavar’s soon wife-to-be Bhouda. This character has every intention of one day sitting in a position of power & can talk politics with the best of them. She’s also colder than ice and someone to keep an eye on at all times. With many pieces on the board, I  commend Vic James for giving each of these characters their own distinct voice in each chapter. I was never confused and found their stories easy to follow which is alway good in a fantasy series with many players. Also, in case some readers are wondering some of the Equals in power were described as people of color. In this world, you were either born with skill or not. The color of your skin did not determine your fate.

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The world building in Gilded Cage was impressive on the slave town side of the story. I did however, wish to have seen a bit more on the skill of each of the Equals we were introduced to. I’m not sure if the author purposely chose to leave that obscure til the next book or not but there were hints of this throughout the book. In the next book I hope to gain some clarity on the Jardine brothers Skill. This being book 1 in a series, I felt that it set down a solid foundation. The writing itself was enjoyable and never boring, I always found myself wanting to pick this book back up. With a plethora of characters, I enjoyed the short chapters and felt that it carried the story along at steady pace. I’m looking forward to reading the second book in the Dark Gifts series & returning to these characters lives.

Are any of my bookish peeps planning on reading Gilded Cage? For those who already have, link that review down below & I’ll swing by 😉

Review:The Education Of Margot Sanchez

margotThe Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication Date: February 21st 2017

Format: eGalley

Genre: YA Contemporary

Page Count: 304 pgs

Rating: ★★★★ (4.5 STARS)

I’d like to thank Simon & Schuster for approving me to receive an eGalley of The Education Of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Pretty in Pink comes to the South Bronx in this bold and romantic coming-of-age novel about dysfunctional families, good and bad choices, and finding the courage to question everything you ever thought you wanted—from debut author Lilliam Rivera.

THINGS/PEOPLE MARGOT HATES:

Mami, for destroying my social life
Papi, for allowing Junior to become a Neanderthal
Junior, for becoming a Neanderthal
This supermarket
Everyone else

After “borrowing” her father’s credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot
Sanchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts.

With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal…

Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moises—the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood—keep her from her goal.

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Ok Guys & Gals, the time has come for me to review this awesome book & I cannot tell you how excited I am to do so! the Goodreads synopsis more than covers the plot so I won’t repeat what’s already up above, instead i’ll touch on some of my fave plot points. The Education Of Margot Sanchez is first & foremost a Own Voices book about a Puerto-Rican family living in the Bronx, New York. Margot’s dad is the owner of two Grocery Stores from which he provides for his wife, son, and daughter. Margot attends a prep school in Manhattan along with the children of wealthy families. Her brother Junior works with their father in the grocery in hopes to one day take over the family business. We start off with Margot getting caught stealing her fathers credit card to order clothes online. Her punishment is to work off the debt in one of the grocery stores throughout the summer. This does not bode well for Margot who has a social life to maintain back in the city if she ever wants to “fit in” with the wealthy kids in her school. We follow Margot’s daily routine as she fulfills her duties in the grocery store by stocking shelves, working in the deli with the meat, and basically handling all of the grunt work. Her dad has every intention of teaching her a lesson but also utilizing her knowledge of social platforms to possibly give the store a new edge. The neighborhood is experiencing Gentrification and the family business is feeling the side effects. Situated next to a college and a new and upcoming food market, the family business can either benefit or be hurt by the change in demographics in their neighborhood. Margot however, could NOT be bothered with these things. Her thoughts are occupied by that guy back in her prep school who may or may not be interested in her and the “friends” she’s made by appearing to be someone she’s not. Margot is pretty much living a double life, something she has learned to do in one way or another by her own family. When Margot meets a guy while working in the grocery store, who is the complete opposite of the guy she’s had her eyes on in prep school…everything she worked so hard to create starts to fall apart. Moises represents everything her family does not want for her & yet he seems so right. This story is about Margot & how certain events lead to her growing up & learning some hard lessons from those she loves most.

characters-bannerI’ll start off with saying what I’ve seen many readers say about Margot…she’s not the nicest, she’s self-absorbed, selfish, deceitful, and ultimately an unlikeable protagonist. However, I understood this to be the whole point in educating her. Margot hasn’t had the best examples at home. Yes, her dad does pay for her to attend a pricey prep school in Manhattan but her values are all screwed up. Her parents marriage is not all that it seems and her brother is going through substance abuse issues. The problem is, there is no communication whatsoever between any of these family members. All is solved by simply not talking about it. On the surface this family appears to have it all but underneath they are hurting and divided. As a Latina woman, my childhood/family set up looked a lot like Margot’s. I experienced first hand what it’s like to look towards Papi (dad) as the bread winner and more than anything wanting to please him with success in school. Both Margot & Junior (son) want to succeed but get lost while trying to please a man who himself was failing. Mami (mom) was pretty much a silent figure in the background but you could feel her pain through her compulsion to keep everything extremely clean & tidy all day every day. I took this as her way of keeping control over something in her life when underneath it was all a giant mess. This family touched me because I was able to relate to their experiences, culture, and pain. This after all is the beauty of reading books by Own voice authors. I still think about this family & wonder whether these fictional characters are ok now…

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The Education Of Margot Sanchez was a light read that I flew through in just under two days. I enjoyed reading from the perspective of a Puerto-Rican family since it truly is rare to come across. This family felt familiar and relatable making this read one that I devoured all the while making comparisons to my own experiences growing up Puerto-Rican. I was pleasantly surprised to see the topic of gentrification play a role in this neighborhood since it’s one that i’ve personally seen have an affect on local mom & pop stores. There are other more serious topics covered in this book however, I feel that mentioning them is very spoilery since when I came across them I was taken aback and was moved by them. Although I know that at it’s core the story is about Margot and her family, I would’ve enjoyed seeing her take on a more hands on approach with the issues & concerns affecting her community as a symptom of gentrification. I do however appreciate how Lilliam Rivera explored the morals and values of this family in a very realistic sense. These characters were deeply flawed and were all weathering internal battles that seeped into their relationships with one another. Sometimes parents don’t always have it right themselves. A lot of times the kids get caught up in the unspoken. Such is the story of Margot & her brother Junior.

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14358410Originally from the Bronx, NYC, Lilliam Rivera is a 2016 Pushcart Prize winner and a 2015 Clarion graduate. She has been awarded fellowships and grants from PEN Center USA, Elizabeth George Foundation, and A Room of Her Own Foundation. Her work has appeared in Tin House, Los Angeles Times, Bellevue Literary Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, Latina, among others. She hosts the Los Angeles-based radio show Literary Soundtrack on Radio Sombra and lives in Los Angeles with her family. Visit her at LilliamRivera.com.

Review: American Street by Ibi Zoboi

30256109.jpgAmerican Street by Ibi Zoboi

Published by: Balzer + Bray/ Harper Collins 

Publication Date: February 14th 2017

Genre: YA Contemporary/Diverse/Own Voices

Pages: 336 pages

Format: eGalley

Rating: ★★★★ (4 STARS)

*Click on cover for Goodreads

Thank you Balzer + Bray, Harper Collins, and Ibi Zoboi for the eGalley of American Street in exchange for an honest review.

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On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.

But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.

Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?

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American Street tells the story of Fabiola Toussaint, a young teen who has returned to the United States with her mother in search of a better life or as they’ve come to call it, Une Belle Vie (a good life). Fabiola was born in the states however, her mother took her back to Haiti when she was still a baby. Fabiola was raised in Haiti where she and her mother are all they have. The books opening scene takes place in the airport, Fabiola and her mother had just landed and were to be picked up by their family in Detroit Michigan. Immigration however, detains Fabiola’s mother on grounds of suspicion to stay in the country longer than her Visa allows. In years past, Fabiola’s mother had stayed in the country with an expired Visa and she was thought to be returning with the intent to stay. Fabiola is forced to go on with her American family-her 3 cousins and aunt. She was in her last year of High School and is to finish in the states as planned by her mother and aunt. Fabiola’s mother is taken to a detention center in New Jersey where her fate is unknown and there is no way of communicating. Getting updates on her status is made extremely difficult & Fabiola’s aunt Matant Joe wants her to focus on school while she attempts to help her sister, Fabiola’s mother. We follow Fabiola’s journey in Detroit, she speaks English very well since her aunt paid for her to receive the equivalent of an American education while in Haiti. However, Detroit looks nothing like Haiti-not the land, people, food, or customs. Fabiola’s dream of a better life never had a chance to manifest before it was taken away. While in Detroit she tries her best to fit in with the family she has now been thrust into and attend school. All the while thinking of ways to get any bit of information on her mothers status & how she can get her out of the detention center. Fabiola’s family in Detroit love and accept her however, they have fallen to the gritty life of Detroit’s streets and it proves almost impossible for Fabiola to stay out of their dealings. Matant Joe has had to survive and care for her 3 girls as best she could all the while financially supporting her sister and Fabiola in Haiti. When the truth unravels, Fabiola finds herself at a crossroads. How far will she go to help her mother?

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I’ve read a ton of Fantasy and therefore, have come across many heroines and strong leaders. However, I have never come across a stronger protagonist in contemporary Fiction let alone Young Adult. Fabiola is loyal and strong in her ideals, spiritual beliefs, and love for her family. She takes the lemons she’s been given and proceeds to turn them into lemonade. We never get the sense that she is giving up on her mother or her current situation. She is observant and strategic, with one goal in mind. I admire Fabiola’s determination to maintain her identity; from the language she speaks, to the spirits that guide her, and the flavor with which she cooks food for her cousins and aunt. We also get introduced to & follow Fabiola’s three cousins Primadonna, Chantal, and Princess AKA The Three Bees. They are known for intimidating those around them and NEVER EVER allowing either one of them be disrespected. They value family over everything and in order to survive the ruthlessness of Detroits streets, have built a reputation for being untouchable. Primadonna is known as the beauty for her fashion sense, we see her journey through an abusive relationship. Chantal is known as the brains, she has sacrificed the opportunity to go to a prestigious University in exchange for staying close to home to care for her mom and sisters. Princess is known as The Brawn and goes by just “Pri”, she is the muscle and we see her deal with her sexuality. Matant Joe, Fabiola’s aunt isn’t in too many of the scenes for health reasons but nonetheless we feel her strong presence over her household. She’s been through a lot since she arrived in the states herself and it has all taken a toll. All of the characters in this book are strong in one way or another. They all are chasing a dream whether it’s theirs or their parents. In the end I was left wanting more for all of the girls who lived in the house on the corner of America and Joy Street…

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The writing in American Street is a mix between Fabiola’s native culture and the raw grittiness of Detroits mean streets. Fabiola’s religion is that of Voodoo & we get a different take on it from Fabiola than what is portrayed in main stream media. Fabiola is very vocal about the fact that her religion is not all that is seen on tv. She speaks of the different spirit guides and what they are known for. One in particular is Papa Legba the watcher of all crossroads, this is the spirit guide we see throughout the book and Fabiola believes is there to show her the correct path. I LOVED the parts we got to see and learn about Fabiola’s religion, i’ve always been very open minded and I was able to recognize many of the names for her spirit guides who go by other names in other religions. This book is also a very fast paced read and I found myself flipping the pages almost too quickly. In between chapters we do get a couple of pages where we are given a bit of story from the perspective of one of the supporting characters. Giving us backstory on events that have shaped them into who they are now and the actions they have taken to survive in a concrete jungle. I do wish we had seen a bit of Fabiola’s mothers story, its not often we see such close bonds between mother & daughter like Fabiola and her mom. I can’t speak too much on the ending for fear of spoilers but I will say that by the end of this story, Fabiola isn’t the same girl her mother last saw in the airport. We do get some character development in a very realistic sense. This is a story of new beginnings after all your dreams have been shattered. It’s not an easy one but life for immigrants/emigrants rarely is…

I recommend American Street for readers who are looking for cultural and socio-economic diversity. Readers who want a realistic portrayal of what its like for immigrants & emigrants leaving the familiar for the foreign. Lastly, I recommend this book to those with an open mind and an open heart

Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

25489134The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Published by: Del Rey

Publication Date: January 10th 2017

Genre: Adult Fantasy/Historical Fiction

Pages: 336 pages

Format: Physical ARC (Bookcon) 

Rating: ★★★★★

HUGE thanks to Del Rey & Katherine Arden for the ARC copy of The Bear and the Nightingale at Bookcon.

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At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

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The Bear and the Nightingale weaves the tale of Vasilisa, a child who grew up listening to the Russian Fairy Tales told by her nurse every night. Tales of the blue-eyed demon and the belief that honoring the house spirits would offer protection from the demon were taken seriously. Everyone in the village would leave out milk & bread to the house spirits in hopes to ward away the evil. The difference between everyone else & Vasilisa however, is that these tales were true and she is known as what is called a seer. Vasilisa’s mother who died in childbirth knew that she was leaving behind a very special girl. A girl that one day would be needed & as such she asked that her husband take much care of Vasilisa. When the tales/demons of Vasilisa’s childhood begin to come to life and threaten her village, she is the only one who could fight the impending war. Many years later, Vasilisa’s father is advised to re-marry in order to provide his daughter with a woman to guide her in life. Her father who was still very much devoted to the memory of his late wife, decided to take this advice and travel to Moscow where he was to find a wife…and here is where all of Vasilisa’s troubles begin…In a village where she is viewed as a witch and the people are easily swayed to convert to christianity, Vasilisa herself must be weary of a witch hunt while trying to protect the entire village.

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Besides the lush world building (see writing & thoughts) in The Bear and the Nightingale, the characters quickly turned out to be some of my favorites. Our female protagonist Vasilisa hasn’t had an easy life, losing her mom on the day she was born and her seer abilities have ensured a challenging road for her. I immediately loved Vasilisa, compared by many to a wood sprite, she loved running into the woods where she would lose track of time. Vasilisa was able to see the spirits in her home as well as in the woods and the water. She maintained a good relationship with them all, many times bringing them offerings to keep them peaceful and in high spirits. She refused to be treated like a maiden & opted instead to wear her brothers clothes. If given the opportunity, she would also carry daggers like her brothers. I loved her spirit and kindness, the warrior in her made me root for her and smile whenever she got her way. The sibling relationship between Vasilisa & her brothers and sisters was interesting & at times fun to read. Vasilisa was very fond of her siblings but i particularly enjoyed seeing her relationship with her brother Alyoshka. He absolutely knew that Vasilisa was not meant to be tied to a man bearing children. As much as he feared for her safety, he also respected her free spirit and was the only one to believe her no matter what. The witty banter between these two also got a few chuckles out of me. The relationship between Vasilisa & her father on the other hand is a bit more complex. He loves his daughter & doesn’t resent her for the death of her mother (the love of his life) but he also would like if she could conform to tradition & be wed. Of course, he knows each of his children and knows that Vasilisa settling down is a challenge he can’t see himself taking on by himself. This man is as old school Russian as they get, yet he himself realized that Vasilisa doesn’t fit the mold of a traditional wife. Some may say that he wasn’t a good dad because of certain scenes where he went old school on her with a “thrashing” whenever she would disappear for days into the woods. I saw the good & the bad in this man burdened by traditions and the fact that he is a Lord of the lands with a reputation to maintain. A widow with a house full of daughters & sons to raise and marry off to ensure their good futures. I didn’t enjoy certain scenes but I saw what the author was giving us… a complex man, flaws & all who loves all of his children and fears seeing any one of them alone. Dunya who is Vasilia’s nurse is hands down my new Grandma! not only can she spin a good tale by the oven in the middle of winter, but she loves all of the kids as hard as she loved their mother when she was her nurse. Last but not least we have the house spirits who all serve their own purpose. All of the different house & wood spirits take offerings whether it be food or blood. The Vazila, a  little old man that lives in the horse stables in essence is the soul of all horses and was my favorite of all the spirits. Add talking horses to these amazing characters & it just doesn’t get better than this cast ❤

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The Bear & The  Nightingale is the ultimate cozy read which I found ideal for this winter season. Every time I opened this book & entered the village and home of Vasilisa, I found it incredibly hard to leave. This book is atmospheric, lush in Russian folklore, culture, and language. The world building is insanely magical and transcending, from the scenes in the woods to the scenes in this families home. There’s plenty about this world to gush about but I really think that it would take away from your reading experience if I were to include it in this review. Some things are just better to discover on your own, I promise you will not be disappointed with all the interesting characters both alive & not so alive that you’ll encounter along the way 😉

I’ve never been to Russia, but this author has lived & studied in Moscow and it’s clear to me that she truly loves & appreciates its culture. The well fleshed out characters made me connect further with this story & that’s key for me whenever i’m reading no matter the genre. The cover for this book captures the heart of the story…Vasilia’s home which is what she chose to protect. The strong familial bonds between Vasilisa and each of her family members was a major focal point & made this into a Fairy Tale of its own. Lastly, I appreciated that nothing was rushed especially not the ending. Instead we see the framework set down for the continuation of Vasilia’s adventure since this is book 1 in an Adult Fantasy trilogy. I am BEYOND excited & READY to go back into this world…kind of hoping that we see book 2 this Fall *fingers crossed* 

Have any of my bookish peeps read The Bear & The Nightingale? if so, who was your favorite character/house or wood spirit? Looking forward to the sequel? if you’ve reviewed TBATNG, drop that link down below and i’ll swing by ❤ ❤ ❤

Standalone Sunday

6493208The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Published by: Crown Publishing Group

Publication Date: February 2nd 2010

Genre: Non-Fiction/History/Science

Pages: 370 pages

 Standalone Sunday is a feature created by  Megan@BookSlayerReads where you select a book (not part of a series) that you loved & would recommend to others.

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Henrietta Lacks, as HeLa, is known to present-day scientists for her cells from cervical cancer. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells were taken without her knowledge and still live decades after her death. Cells descended from her may weigh more than 50M metric tons.

HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks was buried in an unmarked grave.

The journey starts in the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s, her small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia — wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo. Today are stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells, East Baltimore children and grandchildren live in obscurity, see no profits, and feel violated. The dark history of experimentation on African Americans helped lead to the birth of bioethics, and legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.

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I highlighted the last bit of the Goodreads synopsis because I read it 3 times to myself & thought…that’s a scary thought, not having control of our own cells. This book was impactful, maddening, eye opening, and educational. So many of the vaccines and medicines we have today are because of Henrietta’s stolen cells. Just recently I stumbled across a EW article announcing the HBO movie that is being produced by Oprah. Oprah will also be starring in the movie playing the part of Henrietta’s daughter. I am really looking forward to seeing this movie get the attention it deserves. Henrietta may no longer be with us but her story & sacrifice has helped us all & continues to do good in the world.

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Review: Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

wintersongWintersong by S. Jae-Jones

Published by: St. Martin’s Press

Publication Date: February 7th 2017

Genre: YA Fantasy/Re-telling/Romance

Pages: 448 pages

Format: eGalley (Netgalley)

Rating: ★★★ 1/2 (3.5 Stars)

I’d like to thank St. Martin’s Press, S. Jae-Jones, and NetGalley for the eGalley of Wintersong in exchange for an honest review.

 

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Beware the goblin men and the wares they sell.

All her life, nineteen-year-old Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, mysterious Goblin King. He is the Lord of Mischief, the Ruler Underground, and the muse around which her music is composed. Yet, as Liesl helps shoulder the burden of running her family’s inn, her dreams of composition and childish fancies about the Goblin King must be set aside in favor of more practical concerns.

But when her sister Käthe is taken by the goblins, Liesl journeys to their realm to rescue her sister and return her to the world above. The Goblin King agrees to let Käthe go—for a price. The life of a maiden must be given to the land, in accordance with the old laws. A life for a life, he says. Without sacrifice, nothing good can grow. Without death, there can be no rebirth. In exchange for her sister’s freedom, Liesl offers her hand in marriage to the Goblin King. He accepts.

Down in the Underground, Liesl discovers that the Goblin King still inspires her—musically, physically, emotionally. Yet even as her talent blossoms, Liesl’s life is slowly fading away, the price she paid for becoming the Goblin King’s bride. As the two of them grow closer, they must learn just what it is they are each willing to sacrifice: her life, her music, or the end of the world.

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Wintersong weaves the tale of Leisl, a young woman who has more than her fair share of duties in her home. Kathe’s father is a fallen musician who is mostly inebriated, Mother is more of a partner in running the household, younger sister is seen as the beauty, and younger brother is a musical prodigy. Leisl herself is musically talented, specifically in composition but has set that aside in favor of helping her brother perfect his craft and one day gain notoriety. Besides the fact that she is running the household, her gender is one of the reasons for which her father discourages her from taking interest/composing music. As young children both Leisl & her young brother Josef would play their music in the Goblin Grove for the Goblin King, a mysterious figure who played music with them. As time passed & Kathe’s responsibilities grew, the Goblin King was slowly forgotten. That is until Leisl’s sister is taken by the Goblins into the Underworld by order of the Goblin King. Leisl finds her way into the Underworld and strikes a bargain with the King to release her sister…A life for a life…she will remain in the Underworld & marry the King and he will let her sister return to the land of the living. Although it may seem harsh at first, Leisl’s “selfless” deed is a bit selfish. She is tired of being unseen , unheard, not beautiful, and cast aside in the shadows of her younger brother’s musical genius. What Leisl didn’t know, was that her sacrifice was much heavier than at first it seems. Leisl & the Goblin King reconnect through their love for music & soon enough a love for each other. As long as her passion shines bright, the Underground will sustain and the land of the living will see Spring instead of being thrust into a deep dark never ending winter…she is essentially it’s life force all while she physically fades away…

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Our main protagonist Leisl isn’t your typical YA character & this was both a good and I wouldn’t say bad thing, but definitely someone to get used to lol. She is very much aware of her musical talent & oftentimes a bit of envy sneaks up when she is helping her brother Josef in composition. Josef is precise, he has been able to play the violin since the age of 5 while Kathe is wild passion and emotion in her composition. She also looks upon her younger sister’s beauty & is self-aware of what comes across as her own plain Jane appearance (nothing wrong with a plain Jane *winks*). Her sister is already betrothed to someone that Leisl also can’t stop herself from wanting for herself. It isn’t so hard for her to (at first) leave this life behind in favor of one where she is the center of the Goblin King’s attention & her musical abilities are praised. We get to see major character development with Leisl which I came to appreciate because it provided a better understanding of all her underlying emotions. Although her family were central to her story, they also weren’t the focus & were more in the background of the story. The Goblin King himself is actually perfectly suited for Leisl in many ways lol, he’s pretty arrogant and controlling which probably can be credited to being immortal & seeing many brides come and go. He’s also musically talented and although he comes off as having this jerk-like exterior, can actually be a decent guy…it’s a common trope, I know but it happens to work well in Wintersong. This is a a 448 page book and the author gives us full on character development & history. The Goblin King’s history is interesting and I can understand how his story and how he came to be the king of the Underworld, molded him into such a undesirable character. I wasn’t a fan of the Goblin King, particularly because of his selfishness which he fully owns up to. Also, certain parts regarding Leisl’s appearance & what he thought of her made me a bit squeamish. I appreciate however, that these characters weren’t your typical cookie cutter personalities found in YA. They were flawed & complex, which oftentimes led to me holding back judgement until I got more story. There were however, two characters that I ABSOLUTELY loved and couldn’t get enough of. Twig & Thistle are two Goblins who are tasked with the not so easy job of tending to Leisl’s needs & wants as Queen of the Underworld. Although all Goblins can’t be trusted, Twig came as close to a friend to Leisl as possible. Twig is the sweeter of the two Goblins. Thistle is Twigs opposite, sarcastic & not happy whatsoever with having to tend to Leisl. Twig is also very vocal about this and gets a kick out of withholding information from Leisl. Thistle’s mischief really added the Goblin touch & those scenes were very entertaining.

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The writing in Wintersong is beautiful, atmospheric, lyrical, and dark which managed to keep me enthralled whenever I picked this book up. However, there were two things that I struggled with just a bit. This is a slow paced book which typically I don’t have any problems with, however it may just be the dark mood and setting that made this one feel a bit too slow. The second issue I had isn’t really one that bothered me too much but it did affect the reading experience a bit, the heavy use of Classical music terminology. Its been years since I took the basics of Classical music in college but that didn’t help me much here. Although one can easily say that it’s not necessary to be knowledgable of the subject, because it was such a focal point & the author used a lot of terminology…I did feel left out of the story on more than one occasion. I won’t however, take away from the writing because it is seriously some of the most beautiful writing I have come across. I also couldn’t stop diving back into this world which leads me to the excellent world building. The Underground came to life through vivid description, the author left nothing out down to the Goblin furniture. I loved the attention to detail that was given in creating this world & can honestly say it played out like a movie for me. I will most definitely keep an eye out for this author’s future works & recommend Wintersong for those who love great world building, Romance, Fantasy, lyrical writing, and especially those who enjoy Classical music/Composition 😉

Review: History Is All You Left Me

history-is-all-you-left-meHistory is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Published by: Soho Press

Date of Publication: January 17th 2017

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBTQ

Pages: 320

Format: eGalley (Edelweiss)

Rating:★★★★★ ALL The Stars In The Galaxy!

 

*I’d like to thank Soho Press & Adam Silvera for the eGalley of History Is All You Left Me via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

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When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.

If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

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History Is All You Left Me starts off with the main protagonist Griffin getting ready to attend his ex-boyfriend Theo’s funeral. Griffin has not come to fully accept the tragedy that is Theo’s death and so he begins to tell us his tale in chapters that alternate between  “History” and “Today”

Griffin and Theo were best friends since childhood before their relationship turned romantic. Griffin, Theo, and Wade were basically the modern day Three Musketeers who did everything together and their parents all knew each other. In “History” we get introduced to these three friends who enjoy playing video games, Harry Potter, reading, putting together huge puzzles, and inventing zombie apocalypse stories. During one of their usual excursions to Brooklyn on the L train (my borough whoop whoop!), Griffin & Theo’s relationship turns into something more than just friends. I loved the build-up to this moment and the chemistry between them was fully felt on my end. Wade expresses a bit of apprehension at the possible change in friendship dynamics now that he would be the odd man out but they promise to never put him in an awkward position. We get to see their friendship continue and get stronger. Things begin to change when Theo is advised by his school counselor to apply for Harvard early. Theo decides to skip on Harvard but does decide to apply to his top college of choice in Los Angeles which would mean leaving Griffin behind in New York. Griffin decides to be fully supportive even when the mere thought of not seeing Theo on the daily was suffocating and anxiety inducing. They decide to make the best of it just in case he does get accepted. I thought we were going to see them experience a long distance relationship but for some reason, I was glad that it wasn’t the case here. Griffin is a character who suffers from OCD and the representation here is one that I am beyond satisfied with, being that I myself have mild OCD. Griffin knows himself well and through plenty of self reflection he just knew that long distance & all of it’s pitfalls isn’t something he would be able to manage. Though they decide to maintain their friendship through Skype calls, handwritten letters and care packages, long distance eventually does take its toll. Theo starts to date Jackson who Griffin believes to be his real life clone and things take a turn for the awkward. Its during this time that Griffins OCD compulsions begin to take him down a path of self destruction…

In the “Today” chapters Griffin who hasn’t fully accepted Theo’s death, talks to him as if he were still alive and walks him through all of his emotions before and after their break-up. The things that he did while Theo was away at college and the things he did after learning of his death. History Is All You Left Me is a character driven book and one of the best ones i’ve read at that. Griffins mind isn’t one that can be forced to accept what he is not ready to accept. We get to see his thought process during his journey to acceptance and it’s not a pretty one but it is a more realistic one than if he were to have just completely moved on after loving Theo for so long. The “Today” chapters also see Griff come to terms with his secrets, ones that he can no longer confess to now that Theo is gone but nonetheless will bring to light since he believes Theo is listening & seeing all that he does.

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I couldn’t get enough of Griffin, Theo, and Wade which is probably why I finished this book in two days. Their friendship is pretty awesome and nerdy with plenty of pop culture references. The guys love leaving Manhattan and venturing into hipster Brooklyn or meet up at one of their homes after school. It was through these after school hangouts that we get introduced to Griffin & Theo’s parents who i’m just going to go ahead and say it…2nd fave set of parentals only to be beat by Molly & Arthur Weasley! They’re simply amazingly supportive, understanding, loving and welcoming human beings that I wish every young adult had in their lives. I also enjoyed Griffin & Theo when they were dating because of how positive this relationship was portrayed. Griffin & Theo truly loved each other, looked out for one another, and supported each other. Theo fully accepted Griffin’s compulsions and never once made him feel crazy. He learned all of Griffin’s ways and was the perfect missing puzzle piece (if you’ve read HIAYLM, you’ll know what I just did there LOL). I can’t forget about Wade aka the third musketeer who is an AMAZING best friend to Theo & Griffin but overall just a really cool guy. His besties decide to date each other & besides the initial conversation, he is fully supportive of them. I love that Adam gave us a chance to get to know Wade & that he didn’t fall back in the shadows of Griffin and Theo. I even ended up liking Jackson who was Theo’s new boyfriend in L.A. and I seriously didn’t want to but it happened *shrugs shoulders* maybe Griffin was right & Jackson really is his clone…

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After reading More Happy Than Not last year, I knew that Adam Silvera would be an author to follow throughout his writing career. The emotions he was able to stir in me, made him stand out from any of the Young Adult or Adult Fiction I have read all together. I am very thankful to have received a eGalley of History Is All You Left Me, as a matter of fact I teared up the night that I received the e-mail. I knew that I was going to be reading an impactful book by a person who has now become one of my top 5 favorite authors. There is seriously nothing like experiencing one of Adams books. His characters grow within the pages while going through it & taking you along for the ride. The relationships he gifts you remain with you long after you’ve read the last sentence. History Is All You Left Me wasn’t any different. I lost track of the times that I smiled & wiped away my tears. It was heart wrenching and painful to see Griff lose his favorite person and yet this was more than a story about grief & loss. This is a story about self reflection, healing, acceptance, coping mechanisms, friendships, human error, love in all its forms. Adam gave us Griffin who struggles with OCD which was one of the things that interested me the most. He showed us the internal tug of war that is having OCD & how it can impose limitations. The scenes where we get Griff’s inner monologue were spot on accurate. During times of high stress, I myself, internally will go back & forth with my compulsions. At times it feels like you can’t move on until it is right, with Griffin it was even #’s at all times with the exception of the numbers one and seven or any number ending in seven. I happen to have the same compulsion of even numbers, but my OCD is more on the mild side than Griff’s. Besides the accurate portrayal of OCD, Adam also gave us healthy relationships on all fronts including the parentals in his book. The LGBTQ and POC (people of color) representation in Adams books, have made him one of my auto-buy authors. If you’re looking for a book that will touch your soul and make you self-reflect, this is the book for you. If you’re looking for your next diverse read with all around positive representation, this is the book for you. I was able to see myself in this book & since that is rare, I appreciate Adam Silvera’s writing and can’t wait to give this book a home on my shelves on it’s birthday 😉

“History remains with the people who will appreciate it most”- History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Review: Manipulated Lives by H.A. Leuschel

manipulated-livesReview: Manipulated Lives by H.A. Leuschel

Date of Publication: June 8th 2016

Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, psychology, Short Stories

Pages: 274

Format: eGalley (provided by author)

Rating:★★★★ (4.5 Stars)

A very special thank you to the lovely H.A. Leuschel for providing me with a eGalley of her book Manipulated Lives. All opinions are my own.

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Have you ever felt confused or at a loss for words in front of a spouse, colleague or parent, to the extent that you have felt inadequate or, worse, a failure? Do you ever wonder why someone close to you seems to endure humiliation without resistance? 
Manipulators are everywhere. At first these devious and calculating people can be hard to spot, because that is their way. They are often masters of disguise: witty, disarming, even charming in public – tricks to snare their prey – but then they revert to their true self of being controlling and angry in private. Their main aim: to dominate and use others to satisfy their needs, with a complete lack of compassion and empathy for their victim. 
In this collection of short novellas, you meet people like you and me, intent on living happy lives, yet each of them, in one way or another, is caught up and damaged by a manipulative individual. First you meet a manipulator himself, trying to make sense of his irreversible incarceration. Next, there is Tess, whose past is haunted by a wrong decision, then young, successful and well balanced Sophie, who is drawn into the life of a little boy and his troubled father. Next, there is teenage Holly, who is intent on making a better life for herself and finally Lisa, who has to face a parent’s biggest regret. All stories highlight to what extent abusive manipulation can distort lives and threaten our very feeling of self-worth. 

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Manipulated Lives is a short story collection that follows the lives of those who have fallen victim to manipulative people. Although this is a work of fiction, Leuschel accurately portrays the impact left on those affected by manipulation. Through personal experience alone, I was able to connect to her writing & feel the depths of confusion felt by those who had to have the veil lifted from their eyes one way or another. These short stories are packed with pain, sorrow, betrayal, but also hope. Hope for those that are able to escape the grips of manipulation & understanding that it isn’t something they did wrong. That it is however, a special trait in those inclined to manipulate, to target those that are seen as too caring or good hearted. I found it most interesting that in each story, the manipulator varied in age and gender. We get both sides of the coin, the effects on the lives of the manipulated but also the self destruction of the manipulator when discovered/confronted.  Each of these stories was impactful & moving in different ways but there are two that stand out the most for me. I won’t go into too much detail describing each of the stories because I do feel that it is is best to go in blind reading this collection. The manipulation described is so disturbing that it will catch you off guard which I took as a sign of great writing. The second story in this collection is titled Tess and Tattoos, this one is my favorite in the collection because it’s told from the perspective of an old woman in an assisted living complex. Tess is a very independent woman who really is in need of love & good company but instead she is lonely with not a single family relative to visit her. She befriends a nurse rather quickly who takes interest in Tess’ background & just why exactly she has no one come and visit her. Her story unfolds and ends rather sadly but I felt that in befriending Sara (nurse), Tess found the strength to liberate herself from all her demons. Tess was a living testament that you may physically detach yourself from a manipulative person however, their reach may be very far into your psyche. This story will probably stay in my soul. The last story in this collection is titled My Perfect Child, and it honestly sang to the mother in me. Although I couldn’t relate to the protagonists experience with her son, I was able to understand the need or want to be the BEST for your child because your own parent fell unbelievably short of mediocre. The mother in this story decided that her son would not want/need for anything, that she would be his EVERYTHING. She plays a big role in the man he grows up to be. I had a hard time digesting the ending for many reasons, in part because I am a mother myself. This one had me questioning what i’d do if I were in her shoes (no spoilers here lol)…it’s actually still lingering in my mind so i’ll take it as food for thought & a cautionary tale. I am really hoping to read more of Leuschel’s writing in the future, it stands out as one of the best for me in 2016.

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This was a tough read for me because of a personal experience that honestly has changed how I make and view new friendships. It’s not an easy thing to trust again after you’ve encountered a manipulative person, especially after many years of their mind games. The part that gets me, is that it’s always someone who is either very close to you or will manage to get very close to you. This book intrigued me as soon as I saw a few trusted blogger friends read & review it…that titlethat cover…it wouldn’t stop calling my attention. The author kindly reached out after seeing my re-tweet of a fellow blogger friends review & I was very happy to accept. What I hadn’t expected, was for this to be such an impactful & poignant read. I know now that there was a reason for my crossing paths with this book & it’s author. I spent many years after physically cutting ties with my manipulator,  wondering about them & how they were faring and if they were up to the same old games. I went through a range of emotions, some where I even got on myself for being so naive & blind to their intentions. See, although I had physically parted ways…that person still had a hold on my thoughts & therefore still had a hold on me. I am finally mentally liberated from this person as a whole but it wasn’t until reading Manipulated Lives, that I realized how lucky I am really, because this person didn’t get to ruin my life. I may still be a work in progress, but at least all is not lost 😉