Eternal Life

by Dara Horn
First sentence: “Either everything matters, or everything is an outrageous waste of time.”
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Content: There is some swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the adult fiction section of the booktstore.

Rachel has lived for centuries. Way way back, in Roman-occupied territory, she made a deal with God: save her son (the child of her and her love) and she will give over her death. Which means: she’s lived a long, long time. She’s been married many times, and reinvented herself many times. She’s had dozens and dozens of children. And yet, she’s never looked older than eighteen.

And so, in this most recent iteration of her life, her granddaughter is a scientist who is trying to solve the “problem” of death, and her lover (who also fore-swore death) has shown back up, manipulating her children’s lives, and Rachel has realized (not for the first time) that what makes life bearable is knowing that it ends.

The book was… okay. As far as musings about eternal life and what it means goes, it’s not bad. And I did finish it, so it wasn’t horrible. It just wasn’t great. It was interesting, but not compelling, and the ending was just there. Maybe I expected something more exciting (it’s about what it means to not die, after all), but really, it wasn’t all that.

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The Conference of the Birds

by Peter Sis
First sentence: “
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Content: There’s nothing. I found it in the kids poetry section, but it’s more an adult poem; something to ruminate on. So I moved it to the adult poetry section.

So, I blame Books on the Nightstand bingo for this. I started my card back in May, and the one I ended up with has a square for “written for adults but with illustrations”. I had no idea what to do with that. Then, we got a competition of sorts going at work (we all have bingo cards going and the first one to blackout wins… something), and I was doing inventory in my sections (the kids books are basically my fiefdom. Seriously. I have had  many coworkers tell me they just “don’t mess with Melissa’s sections”.) and discovered this book. It’s not a children’s book, so it fits the bill: adult book, with illustrations (but not a graphic novel).

Bascially, it’s an adaptation of a 12th-century Sufi poem, about an epic flight of birds, who fly through thick and thin, through days, through the deepest despair, in order to find their True King, Simorgh. You can pretty much sense the allegory dripping off of this poem (Deeper Meaning for my mother). And I’ll admit: I needed to read this poem this week. It gave me the reminder that I can get through all the valleys of my life, and maybe there will be fulfillment in it all.

But, what I truly loved was Peter Sis’s art. The book itself is gorgeous: thick pages, that are just luxurious to touch (and should be, with such a high price for a slim book). And the paintings were done in muted earth tones, with layers of depth to them (at least to my untrained eye). It’s a book I could imagine going back to when I just wanted to page through something lovely.

It’s not something I ever would have picked up on my own, so I’m grateful for the extra push from the bingo game. Sometimes getting outside of your comfort zone is a good thing.

The Wrath and the Dawn

by Renee Ahdieh
First sentence: “It would not be a welcome dawn.”
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Review copy supplied by the publisher rep.
Content: There is some (implied) sex and there’s some violence, but it’s mostly appropriate for those who love grand, sweeping romances. I’d give it to an 8th grader and up, even though it’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

In this land, the king — 18-year-old Khalid — marries a new bride (chosen at random) every night, just to have her murdered the next dawn. It’s horrible for the people of the country who have come to look at him as a monster. But for Shahrzad, it’s personal: the most recent young woman sent to her death was Shazi’s best friend, Shiva. So (of course) Shahrzad volunteers for the job of bride.

And what follows is her attempt to stay alive.

If you know, even vaguely, the story of Arabian Nights, you pretty much know what’s going to happen. But, Ahdieh takes the story a step further: it’s not just the tales Shahrzad tells to keep alive. She gives motivation to Khalid (though in many ways it came too late for me to care very much) and she gives drive to Shahrzad. She’s there to exact revenge for her best friend, but discovers that there’s more to Khalid than murder.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I know people are loving this book. Seriously loving it. But, I just didn’t. I wanted to; I wanted to enjoy the sweeping Persian-inspired grandeur of the story, the fiestiness of Shahrzad, the illusions to the old tale. But, mostly what I wanted to do was smack Khalid and wonder why Shahrzad fell in love with him. (Too much telling, not enough showing?) It’s not that it didn’t make sense; it’s more that I just felt it was Decreed that they Fall in Love and So Mote It Be. I didn’t feel their love story. Then again, I didn’t feel Shahrzad’s rage. Or her first love’s betrayal. It was all Grand and Distant and I really didn’t care.

But since it’s getting pretty much universal raves from everyone else, it’s probably just me.

Monstrous

by MarcyKate Connolly
First sentence: “I will never forget my first breath.”
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Content: It’s long and slow and while the romance is fairly age-appropriate, it’s not just alluded to. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but I’d gear it to the older end of the age range/young YA.

Kymera is a newly formed creation of her Father’s.She’s part girl, yes, but also part bird and part.. something else with a scaled, stinging tail. Her purpose, her father tells her, is to rescue the girls that have been imprisoned by the wizard. She heads into Bryre every night, stinging the guards and bringing out one girl which her father then tells her is being taken to the safety of Belladoma, a nearby country.

If you’re not getting huge creeper undertone vibes from this, I’m really not doing it justice. See: everything is not what it seems. One of the best things about the first half of this book is the unease that Connolly writes into it. I just KNEW something wasn’t right, that Kymera was being too trusting (then again, being new-born she didn’t know any better), that something would go horribly wrong.

And, once she meets a boy, Ren, against her father’s wishes, it does.

I  won’t tell you how it all unravels; the twists and turns are best left to surprise. So, even though this is a slow book, with a lot of internal dialogue and musings, I was still interested enough to keep reading. I loved the dark Frankenstein-like aura it has, though it has a very Grimm-like overlay. Like Connolly couldn’t decide whether to tell a fairy tale or a monster story. But, the mashup works.

Until the end.

See, it turns fairy tale in the end, and I think we were supposed to be Moved by the ending, but I felt cheated. I suppose I wanted some sort of middle-grade happily ever after, and I should be happy Connolly refused to give it to us, but it felt… forced. And that made me dissatisfied.

But, overall, it was a well-done, dark middle grade fantasy.

The Tyrant’s Daughter

by J. C. Carleson
First sentence: “My brother is the King of Nowhere.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy downloaded from NetGalley
Content: Some mild language, and some indirect violence. It sits in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore. I don’t know if I’d give it to a 5th grader or not. I think it depends on how news-savvy the kid is.

Laila is the daughter of the ruler of an unnamed Middle Eastern country. She has a good life — trips to Paris with her mother, a private tutor, a resort by the sea. Then one day her world turns upside down when her father is assassinated right before her eyes.

Suddenly Laila, her mother, and her younger brother, Bastian (the “little king”) are exiled, taking refuge in the United States as Laila’s fundamentalist uncle takes over the country. Not only is Laila exiled from her country, she’s thrown into a world that — for all the riches and opulence she was used to — is vastly different from her own. And, on top of that, as she meets other refugees from her country, she discovers that her loving father was actually a brutal dictator.

I think the publishers are billing this as a thriller — J. C. Carleson is a former CIA operative, after all — but it’s not. It’s much more one girl’s story of awakening, and the harsh realities that brings, as well as of the plight of immigrants and how difficult it is to make a new home. Although she makes friends in her Washington D. C. school, Laila never quite belongs here, being uncomfortable with little things: from wearing short skirts to the dance to the seeming nonchalance that the students have to a bomb threat. Laila is constantly a fish out of water, and I think Carleson captures that perfectly.

There are some thriller-esque elements; Laila’s mom is a constant schemer, and there’s a CIA guy hanging around ominously. And I felt the ending was a bit too pat, not quite fitting in with the rest of Laila’s story. But, for the most part, it was a fascinating exploration of one girl’s attempt to come to terms with her family and the outside world.