Book Review: Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata

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Image belongs to Grove.

Title:   Convenience Store Woman
Author:   Sayaka Murata
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   3 out of 5

Growing up, Keiko was a strange child. She didn’t react like everyone else—two students fighting, and everyone wants them to stop? Bashing one of them in the head is the solution, right?—and she never understands why her reactions are so wrong. So she learned to mimic everyone around her, creating a nice, normal persona with nice, normal reactions.

For 18 years now, she’s worked part-time at a convenience store. She’s never had a boyfriend. She has only a few friends—who don’t know she’s playing a part. Her family doesn’t understand her. But the routine of the convenience store gives her structure, and the employee handbook gives her rules to follow—she knows the part she must play to look like everyone else.

When she meets a fellow convenience store worker who also doesn’t seem to know how to react, she decides to take action to make everyone finally believe she’s normal once and for all. But will change be for the better?

I’ve been fascinated with Japanese culture since the first time I read Shogun. That’s why I picked this up. However, this book ended up being pretty meh for me. I like feeling a connection with the characters, and I just didn’t get a sense of connection at all. I felt sorry for Keiko, but she felt so distant that I couldn’t really care. (Part of this may be due to the novel being a translation, part to the fact that Keiko may be on the spectrum, so she just isn’t easy to relate to.)

Sayaka Murata is an award-winning Japanese writer. Convenience Store Woman is her newest translated work.

(Galley provided by Grove in exchange for an honest review.)

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Book Review: The Bookshop of Yesterdays, by Amy Meyerson

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Image belongs to Park Row Books.

Title:   The Bookshop of Yesterdays
Author:   Amy Meyerson
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

Miranda Brooks loves her job as a teacher in Philadelphia. She loves her boyfriend, Jay, whom she just moved in with, and she’s looking forward to their first summer together. Until she receives a package in the mail and a clue and knows that one of her uncle Billy’s scavenger hunts has started. Except the clue is closely followed by a call from her mother:  Billy is dead.

Growing up, Miranda loved her uncle, a seismologist. He taught her so many things using scavenger hunts, and she always loved the adventure. But when she turned 12, her mom and Billy had a fight, and she never saw him again. When she returns to California for the funeral, she finds that Billy has left her Prospero Books—his beloved bookstore, now teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

Her mother will barely mention Billy—she didn’t even go to his funeral—and Miranda knows the scavenger hunt will lead her to the truth about the fight when she was twelve, the truth her mother doesn’t want her to know. Miranda works to untangle Billy’s clues while she searches for a way to save Prospero Books, the legacy Billy left her. Soon she realizes just how deep the secret her family has hidden for years goes—and wonders if happiness looks different than it did at the beginning of summer.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that I love a book about a bookstore, a book filled with literary clues and references. I enjoyed everything about this novel:  the setting (Can I just move into Prospero Books?), the clues, the mystery, and especially Miranda herself. I loved how her mind works, and how determined she is to unearth her family’s secrets. An excellent, engrossing read!

Amy Meyerson lives in Los Angeles. The Bookshop of Yesterdays is her first novel.

(Galley provided by Harlequin/Park Row in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Emperor of Shoes, by Spencer Wise

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Image belongs to Harlequin/Hanover Square Press.

Title:  The Emperor of Shoes
Author:   Spencer Wise
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   4 out of 5

Alex Cohen is a 26-year-old from Boston who lives in China. His father, Fedor, runs their shoe-making business with an iron first; profit is everything and Fedor isn’t about to change a thing. Until Alex gets involved with a Chinese seamstress named Ivy—at the same time his father names him heir to the company and places him in charge—at least in name.

Now Alex finds out the truths kept hidden by his father:  the obsession with productivity—workers’ times are assessed and anyone wasting even 8 minutes a week is a problem—as well as the cruel conditions the workers live in—hot water only at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., no safety measures in place to protect the workers. And Ivy is determined to start a movement for change.

Alex learns a lot from Ivy, but is the change she seeks really based on truth? The more Alex discovers, the more he wonders, until ideas meet action in a showdown at the shoe factory.

This is not a fast-paced novel. Instead, it moves at a slow, languorous pace, taking time to explore the nuances of culture as it exposes the ugliness behind business and commerce in China. Alex becomes a completely different person through the course of the book, and his relationship with his father is at the core of that. A book to sip and savor, taking in all the flavors of the culture it’s set in.

Spencer Wise was born and raised in Massachusetts but now lives in Florida. The Emperor of Shoes is his new novel.

(Galley provided by Harlequin/Hanover Square Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Little Do We Know, by Tamara Ireland Stone

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Image belongs to Disney-Hyperion.

Title:   Little Do We Know
Author:   Tamara Ireland Stone
Genre:   YA
Rating:   5 out of 5

Hannah and Emory are next-door-neighbors and best friends. Until a few months ago, when they had a fight and said some things they can never take back. Hannah’s life at the Christian school her father runs is great, but is her faith really her own, or is it something she just picked up from her family? These questions become even harder when she realizes she may never get the chance to live out her dreams and gets involved with someone she should never have been involved with.

Emory is preparing for her UCLA performing arts audition and enjoying every moment she has left with her boyfriend, Luke. They’ll be going off to separate colleges, and she knows they don’t have much time left. Emory just wants to avoid her memories of the fight with Hannah—and what caused them.

The distance between the two girls seems unsurpassable, until the night Hannah finds Luke in his car outside Emory’s house, doubled over and on the verge of death. In the aftermath of that ordeal, the girls seek to sort out their differences, and realize their friendship is the strength that keeps them both afloat.

I loved this book. I could relate to Hannah so much, and the way she struggles with defining her own faith, while fighting for the chance to chase her dreams, was both poignant and uplifting. She makes some bad decisions, but learns from them, and changes as a result. Emory is a vibrant girl who practically dances across the pages. Her outgoing personality hides a secret—and a fear of the future. The two of them are drawn back together because of Luke, but their friendship is the backbone of this wonderful novel.

Tamara Ireland Stone is a New York Times-bestselling author and her novels have won several awards. Little Do We Know is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Disney-Hyperion in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Us Against You, by Fredrik Backman

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Image belongs to Atria Books.

Title:   Us Against You
Author:   Fredrik Backman
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   5 out of 5

Beartown lives and breathes hockey. Always has, always will. Last year, after the unthinkable happened and tore the town apart, the team split, with most of the players leaving Beartown for neighboring Hed. The rivalry is real—and vicious.

Peter Andersson, GM of the Bears, spends his days—and his nights—focused on the team. Word that the club is closing rips his world apart, but when a new sponsor steps in, Peter will do anything—even risk the support of those who have always been by his side—to keep his team alive.

Now a new coach is in town, putting together a team of misfits in an effort to rise to greatness—again. Beartown residents might not support an outsider—especially a woman—coaching their team, but they do support the team. No matter what. As conflict with Hed grows from harmless pranks to malicious acts, tensions rise in the two towns, until one person dies and the entire community trembles on the brink of bursting into flames.

Us Against You is the sequel to Beartown, and takes readers back to that hockey-obsessed, small town home of bitter rivalries. This is a continuation of the story, an answer to what-happened-next-? Just as well-written, engrossing, and immersive as the first novel, Us Against You will leave the reader flying through the pages to find out which beloved character will die. I loved this—and Beartown—and I’m not even a hockey fan! If you love realistic, flawed characters and compelling storylines, this one’s for you!

Fredrik Backman is a New York Times-bestselling author. Us Against You is his newest novel.

(Galley provided by Atria Books in exchange for an honest review.)

 

More reviews at <a href=” https://tamaramorning.com/”>Tomorrow is Another Day</a>

Book Review: City of Bastards, by Andrew Shvarts

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Image belongs to Disney-Hyperion.

Title:   City of Bastards
Author:   Andrew Shvarts
Genre:   YA/fantasy
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

Tilla has finally made it to safety in the city of Lightspire. She’s there with her boyfriend, Zell, and her best friend, Princess Lyriana—safe from her rebelling, murderous father (she’s his illegitimate, disposable daughter), who’s intent on overthrowing the king. But the whispers and accusations follow her even as she attends the prestigious University.

Life in Lightspire isn’t what she imagined, but she does her best to fit in…until she stumbles on the body of one of her friends and sees a mysterious mage with deadly powers. Tilla’s friends won’t listen to her—what she saw is treason, and she’s already under suspicion due to her father.

But Tilla knows what she saw and is determined to find out the truth. Things don’t make sense:  not the secretive cult causing trouble in Lightspire, not how her father’s army is beating the invincible Lightspire mages, and certainly not the secrets those closest to her are keeping.

I haven’t actually read Royal Bastards, which is the first book in this series. And that did not make much difference at all in reading City of Bastards (although it might have explained the title a little bit). Although the setting is pretty traditional for fantasy, Tilla (and Lyriana) is a surprisingly modern teenager, complete with getting drunk and how open she is about her physical relationship with Zell. (So, if you’re expecting “traditional” fantasy/medieval values, that’ll be a shocker.) Her observations give the story an edge and settle the reader firmly in her point-of-view, so we’re just as shocked as she is at the murder and betrayal she experiences. I loved these characters, and I intend on going back and reading Royal Bastards to catch up.

Andrew Shvarts was born in Russia but grew up in the U.S. City of Bastards is his newest book, the second in the Royal Bastards series.

(Galley provided by Disney-Hyperion in exchange for an honest review.)

What I read in May (2018)

Books Read in May: 16

Books Read for the Year: 72/150

Topical Books/Monthly Goal Books:

Man, Myth, Messiah:  Answering History’s Greatest Question, by Rice Broocks (spiritual book). I’ve really enjoyed Broocks’ in-depth and detailed look into the arguments for the existence of God and of Jesus as the Son of God. If you have questions, these books are detailed answers.

Made to Crave, by Lisa TerKeurst (spiritual book). As someone who struggles with eating healthy, this book spoke to me on a lot of levels.

Stillhouse Lake, by Rachel Caine (from the TBR stash). I’ve read—and loved—pretty much everything Rachel Caine has written, so I don’t know why this languished on my Kindle for so long. Very creepy thriller about a woman who finds out her husband is a serial killer, and then spends her life running from the people who hate and blame her and threaten her children. This book left me pretty disgusted with people, I gotta say.

The Question of Red, by Laksmi Pamuntjak (cultural book of the month). I’m not sure what to say about this novel, set in Indonesia in the 1960s and the 2000s. It’s a tale of love and loss amidst a cultural revolution, and I found it quite sad, but very good.

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood (classic). I know this isn’t technically a classic, but I’ve heard so much about it, plus the Chaucer reference in the title, and the style of the novel made it feel like one. And…I was completely underwhelmed.

For Review:

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Paper Ghosts, by Julia Heaberlin. A thriller about a girl ready to find out the truth behind her sister’s disappearance years ago. The man she thinks killed her sister now has dementia, so she convinces him she’s his daughter and takes him on a road trip to jog his memory. But does he really have no memories of the crimes he’s suspected of?

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The Stars at Oktober Bend, by Glenda Millard. Alice’s electrics don’t work right, as a result of a traumatic brain injury, but she writes poetry and struggles to get beyond the “forever 12” perception even her family has of her. As she struggles to unravel the secrets of her past, she meets Manny, running from his own past, but hearing the words Alice doesn’t even speak. A fantastic, emotional read!

 

Elektra’s Adventure’s in Tragedy, by Douglas Rees. When Elektra’s parents decide to divorce, she ends up in a tiny town in California with her mom and sister and an eclectic bunch of neighbors. Her only wish is to go back to Mississippi with her father, but Elektra realizes there’s much more going on in life than she ever thought. I enjoyed a YA without a strong romantic plot (or subplot, for that matter), and Elektra is an intriguing, determined character.

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The Girl and the Grove, by Eric Smith. I wanted to love this tale of magic, family, race, and the saving the environment, but the uneven characters made this a less-than-satisfying read.

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The Way You Make Me Feel, by Maurene Goo. I loved everything about this book! Clara is the class clown and troublemaker, but when one over-the-top prank lands her in hot water, she ends up working in her dad’s food truck for the summer, with her arch enemy, Rose. Clara’s snarkiness and attitude kept me laughing, but her growth over the course of this book had me flipping pages to finish this book in one sitting.

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The Crossing, by Jason Mott.  This dystopian tale of a twin brother and sister who have only each other to rely on in a world where older people are just quietly falling asleep and never waking up sounded fantastic. But…Virginia, who remembers everything really annoyed me. She thought she was smarter than everyone else, and she was just unlikable.

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How to Walk Away, by Katherine Center. Loved this story about Margaret, who has her dream job and her dream fiance when a plane crash leaves her paralyzed. As she struggles to heal, a grumpy physical therapist shows her the way through her pain and sadness. Fantastic read!

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Furyborn, by Claire Legrand. This is a story of two queens, a thousand years apart; one of them desperate to keep her best friend safe, the other desperate to find her missing mother. Both of them have magic they’re hiding from the world, and a darkness they are fighting inside.

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City of Bastards, by Andrew Shvarts (review forthcoming). I hadn’t read the first Royal bastards book, but that really didn’t matter. I loved the voice in this, and the characters are absolutely fascinating, even if I didn’t like the culture (totally agree with the title on this one).

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Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe, by Preston Norton. I LOVED this! Cliff, known as Neanderthal by his crappy classmates because of his 6-foot-five-inches and 250-pound-physique just struggles to get through the days since his brother’s suicide a year ago. Then Aaron, superstar jock and total jerk has an epiphany from God—he must change certain things at their school, and he needs Cliff’s help to do it—and the two become friends. Cliff’s voice is hilarious! I don’t normally prefer male narrators, but I loved Cliff from the beginning. The supporting characters are just as quirky and likeable as he is.

Us Against You, by Fredrik Backman (review forthcoming). I loved Beartown, and I loved this follow-up just as much! I was invested in the hockey team…and I couldn’t care less about hockey in real life! The characters here are so richly detailed, that I was glued to the page to see what would happen..and which of them would die.

Left Unfinished:

Anger is a Gift, by Mark Oshiro. I wanted to like this. The diverse cast was promising…until everyone who wasn’t diverse—i.e. straight, Caucasian, traditional values—were judged and ridiculed by the main characters. I also did not appreciate that all cops were presented as bad people who abuse their power. I refuse to read a book where any group of people is judged entirely on the actions of a few. I only read about 15% before discarding this.

Blood Will Out, by Jo Treggiari. I read 25% of this. Billed as a YA thriller, I couldn’t even make myself care if the characters lived or died. Way too much distance from them, and they were too erratic for me.

Linking up with Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit.

Book Review: Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe, by Preston Norton

neanderthal
Image belongs to Disney-Hyperion.

Title:   Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe
Author:   Preston Norton
Genre:   YA
Rating:   5 out of 5

Cliff Hubbard tries to stay in the background at Happy Valley High School, a difficult task for someone who’s 6’6”, 250 pounds, and called Neanderthal by the whole school. Cliff’s life sucks:  he has no friends and his home life in a ratty trailer park has only gotten worse since his older brother committed suicide last year. He can’t stand the popular kids, and he doesn’t even know what to say to the druggies who hang around outside of school.

The guy he hates the most is Aaron Zimmerman, the perfect star quarterback who can do no wrong. All Cliff wants is to beat that smug look off Aaron’s face. Until Aaron has a near-death experience and returns to school with a message:  while unconscious, he saw God, who gave him a list of things to do to make Happy Valley better…and Cliff is the only one who can help him.

To his own surprise, Cliff agrees, and he and Aaron start on the List which includes the meanest English teacher ever, a computer hacker intent on exposing the entire school’s secrets, the local drug dealers, the school’s most sadistic bully, and a group of teens who are Christian in name only. But soon Cliff will realize the List is more personal than he ever suspected—and he must act if he’s to prevent tragedy from striking Happy Valley High again.

I’m just going to say it:  I LOVED this book! I generally prefer female YA protagonists, but Cliff was wonderful! His voice and humor brought this story to life, and I couldn’t wait to see what he’d do next. Cliff’s family life is sad and hard, and I felt so sorry for him at times I wanted to cry. But at heart, he’s such an optimistic, good-hearted person. Even the minor characters in this book are vivid (and somewhat over-the-top, making them completely realistic), and I loved every page.

Preston Norton’s newest book is Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe.

(Galley provided by Disney-Hyperion in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Furyborn, by Claire Legrand

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Image belongs to Sourcebooks Fire.

Title:   Furyborn
Author:   Claire Legrand
Genre:   YA/Fantasy
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

Rielle Dardenne has lived with a horrible secret since she was five years old:  she can control all seven of the elements of magic, not just one. Rielle tells no one, not even her best friends, Prince Audric and Ludivine, his fiancée. But when assassins ambush Audric, Rielle unleashes her magic to save his life, revealing her secret.

To prove which of the prophesied queens she is—the Queen of Light or the Blood Queen—Rielle must face seven trials, trials that will test her loyalty, her power, and her control. Her only ally is the voice in her head—Corien, one of the angels who has supposedly been vanquished. Rielle is determined to prove herself the Queen of Light, but Corien makes her question who she really is.

A thousand years later, Eliana is a bounty hunter, forced to work with the Empire to keep her family safe. Until her mother vanishes, and Eliana will do anything to find her, even ally herself with the Wolf, the mysterious man who is hiding secrets that will change Eliana’s world forever.

I’ve seen a lot of opposing reviews on Furyborn. It seems most people either love it or HATED it. I enjoyed it a lot, although the switching from Rielle’s to Eliana’s POV confused me a few times (a thousand years apart, and the world is essentially the same). I liked the strong female characters, and the female friendships were great, too. I didn’t learn much about the magic system, but it intrigued me. This is the first in a trilogy, and I can’t wait to read more!

Claire Legrand was born in Texas but now lives in New Jersey. Her newest novel is Furyborn.

(Galley provided by Sourcebooks Fire in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: How to Walk Away, by Katherine Center

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Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:   How to Walk Away
Author:   Katherine Center
Genre:   Fiction, romance
Rating:   4 out of 5

Margaret Jacobsen was on the cusp of everything she’d dreamed of:  her dream job, a fiancé who’s absolutely perfect, and her wonderful life about to start. Until a plane crash leaves her burned and paralyzed, and that wonderful life disappears from view.

In the hospital, Margaret has six weeks of healing time; after that, she must go home, and the optimal healing time has passed, meaning if she can’t walk by then, she never will. So Margaret throws herself into her efforts to heal, with the help of a surly physical therapist who pushes her to do her best—and whose bad attitude is a challenge.

Along the way, Margaret must deal with heartbreak, family secrets, and the realization that life sometimes doesn’t turn out like we plan—and that’s okay.

I enjoyed this so much that I read it straight through in just a couple of hours! Margaret is an inspiring person I’d love to hang out with. What she goes through after the plane crash is captured in blistering detail, and I can relate to the mental reevaluation that’s necessary when you wake up in the hospital with your whole world changed. If you like smart fiction with a bit of romance, a heroine whose determination will inspire you, and a quirky family, this book is for you!

Katherine Center lives and writes in Houston, Texas. How to Walk Away is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)