Book Review: A Mortal Song by Megan Crewe

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A Mortal Song is a YA fantasy about Sora (which means “sky” in Japanese), a teenage girl who lives with her kami (godlike spirits) parents on Mt. Fuji. Sora is curious about humans and comes down from the mountain as an invisible presence to visit their homes. I love how Sora bows to the humans before  leaving, even though they can’t see her. That’s so Japanese.

Growing up with a Japanese mom and having spent a lot of time in Japan, I was intrigued by this story’s Japanese setting and incorporation of Japanese Shinto beliefs in kami. I was on the lookout for gaffes and have to say Crewe’s world-building was solid.

Sora’s best friend is Takeo, a kami-like royal guard. As they play and explore on Mt. Fuji, they encounter interesting modern moments like tourists with their cameras.

A Mortal Song takes an interestingly creepy turn with this passage: “dodged the pale trunk of a birch—and nearly darted right through a ghost.” And then, later: “Ghosts were prowling all through that glade.”

Crewe has written many books and has as a strong writing style. For instance: “The second he hit the water, his body shattered into a sparkling mist. It faded into the breeze, and then he was gone, his ki returning to the world from which it had come.”

When battle is waged against all kami, the story turns epic. Sora learns she is a human girl who was switched at birth with the true kami daughter of Mt. Fuji’s prince and princess.  Sora and Takeo must travel to Tokyo to find the other daughter. The true kami daughter–who’s been raised to believe she’s human–is such a unique and interesting character. So much more could have been done with her character, as well as other elements of the story, but unfortunately they take a back seat to. . . romance.

Sora immediately starts falling for a human kid, makes out with him even after he betrays her, and it just doesn’t sit right (at least not with this reader). There are other, much more compelling emotional issues set up for Sora, but they’re dismissed because. . . romance.

The overall concept is a winner, the cover is pretty, and the juxtaposition of ancient Shinto gods and modern-day Japan is interesting. The beginning is especially fun to read. Crew imaginatively weaves in ghosts, demons, and kami (godlike spirits). At one point there’s even a yakuza or two (Japanese gangsters).

If you like Japanese culture and ghosts, you might enjoy A Mortal Song.

 

 

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July Reading Wrap-Up & the Goodreads Bermuda Triangle #amreading

Hello, fellow book junkies!  I’ll say it right out, July was a total hodgepodge of reading, and somehow I read a record number of books: 16–too many to review in one wrap-up, so I’ll just highlight a few.

Surprise Faves

I’m one of those people who can’t watch violence of any kind. If a character on television is being beaten or stabbed, my hands are clamped firmly over my eyes until a family member says it’s safe to remove them. That is why it came as a surprise that two of the most entertaining books I read this month–Ice Massacre and Red Risingalso happen to be the most violent. In Ice Massacre, a band of island girls battle mermaid-sea demons.See my review here. As for Red Rising, I didn’t mind that the story of godlike military academy cadets battling each other on Mars was heavily influenced by Hunger Games. What did give me pause was the contrived reason for their barbaric battles. But guess what? I still enjoyed the book– kind of like crushing on a bad boy you know you shouldn’t have feelings for.

July 2016 violent but entertaining Ice Massacre & Red Rising

And The Award for Most Haunting Book Goes to. . .

There’s this thing I like to call the “linger effect,” when a book haunts me long after I’ve finished reading it. That’s what happened with The Walls Around Us, penned by the queen of atmospheric writing, Nova Ren Suma. In The Walls Around Us there’s a cutthroat ballet dancer, violent girls in a detention center, paranormal happenings, and just. . . can someone give this book a better cover, please?

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Off-the Hook Writing & the Goodreads Bermuda Triangle

Three books this month that featured notably exceptional writing were This Savage Song,  Station Eleven, and Reality Boy.

I have no qualms about declaring Victoria V.E. Schwab as my favorite author. I even say it right out on my blog’s “about me” page. V’s books transcend genre, and This Savage Song is no exception. I just adore the monster boy August. (Note to publishers of Nova Ren Suma’s book: THIS is how to do a good cover. . .)

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Then there was Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Literary post-apocalyptic ? Sign me up. There is a reason this beauty won a National Book Award. In St. John Mandel’s expert hands, the story kept morphing in unexpected ways.

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Here’s where we get to the part about the Goodreads Bermuda Triangle. On a whim, I picked up the YA contemporary Reality Boy and was blown away by A.S. King’s writing. “Reality Boy” is 17-year-old Gerald who’s enraged and damaged by his seriously dysfunctional family and how his home life was broadcast on a reality show when he was a little boy. I tried looking up other A.S. King books on Goodreads and, no matter how I typed her name, with or without initials, neither she nor her books came up. Thus, I have determined that A.S. King resides in the Bermuda Triangle of Goodreads. Okay, so I found a workaround, and the next A.S. King book I plan to read is Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. Great title, right?

A Book That Hurt My Brain (in a Good Way) but Didn’t Touch My Heart Like I Thought it Would

A book that stretched my brain–not always painlessly–was Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? This adult memoir penned by well-known UK author Jeanette Winterson was loaned to me by a friend who raved about how Winterson so eloquently expresses the condition of being an adoptee (which both my friend and I are). The poetry and classic literature Winterson weaves into Why Be Happy made me feel smarter.  🙂
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Disappointments

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – I’m actually kind of mad at this book. I went into it with high expectations. I mean, it was made into a movie, right? Everyone knows about it. It must be amazing, right? Well, the writing style is decent, and the story does introduce us to the beautiful culture Afghanistan, but the whiny, ungrateful, traitorous main character and the melodrama turned me off.

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco – Rich world building, mythical creatures, tons of characters with exotic names, Japanese cultural influences (bonus!), best of all, the main character Tea has the dark power to raise the dead–including her brother Fox (my favorite character). What I didn’t realize when I started the The Bone Witch is that it is the highest of high fantasy–not my favorite genre. For me, genre isn’t a deal breaker but never connecting with the main character is. And I didn’t.

Sleeper Hit

The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman – It’s not perfect but well worth reading.
Goodreads synopsis: When Ari’s boyfriend Win dies, she gets a spell to erase all memory of him. But spells come at a cost, and this one sets off a chain of events that reveal the hidden—and sometimes dangerous—connections between Ari, her friends, and the boyfriend she can no longer remember.

July Reads At a Glance w/Star Ratings

YA PARANORMAL
Red Glove (Curse Workers #2) by Holly Black audiobook 4/5 stars
The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma 4/5 stars
Inborn by Amy Saunders approx. –Netgalley ARC 3/5 stars
The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman  4/5 stars
Ice Massacre by Tiana Warner –Netgalley ARC 5/5 stars
(Secret Project) by Megan Crewe  –by author request, not allowed to post review until August.

YA HIGH FANTASY
The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco-Netgalley ARC 3/5 stars

YA DYSTOPIAN FANTASY, or whatever the f*** brilliant new genre V.E. Schwab decides she’s writing
This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab 4/5 stars

MIDDLE GRADE FAIRY TALE
The Wishing Spell, Land of Stories #1 by Chris Colfer  loaner from friend 2.5/5 stars

YA SCI-FI DYSTOPIAN
Red Rising by Pierce Brown 4/5 stars

YA CONTEMPORARY
Reality Boy by A.S. King 4/5 stars
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews audiobook 3.75/5 stars
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins buddy read w/Beth, Sophie, Emma @ The Books Are Everywhere 4/5 stars

ADULT POST-APOCALYPTIC
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel 4.5/5 stars

ADULT CONTEMPORARY
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini audio book 3/5 stars

ADULT MEMOIR
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson  loaner from friend  3.75/5 stars

— Eve Messenger

June Reads – End of Month Wrap-Up

Hello, fellow book junkies! June was a fantastic month for reading. Not that there were 5-star books across the board–actually, there was only one– but I sure enjoyed the literary ride.

MAGICAL FANTASY WORLDS:

Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Adult Fantasy, 438 pp. 5/5 stars

I fell madly in like with protagonist Agnieszka, a wild heroine with a heart of gold. Yes, Agnieszka is a young adult character but–fair warning–the writing is not.

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Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
YA Fantasy-Middle East, 306 pp. 4/5 stars

The mythical creatures in this book are so, so good. Sure, Act Two had pacing issues, but the ending was epic and set the stage for a fantastic book two, which I’m super pumped to read. The next book in the series is tentatively titled Traitor to the Throne and is supposed to be released March 2017. Nine months to go, just like a baby. 🙂

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HISTORICAL POLITICAL INTRIGUE:

And I Darken by Kiersten White – Netgalley ARC
YA Historical Fiction (not fantasy), 496 pp. 4/5 stars

A bold new character has entered the YA arena and her name is Lada Dragwlya. I cannot wait to see where Kiersten White takes this series. See my review of And I Darken here.

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A TRIP TO PARANORMAL ROARING ’20s:

Lair of Dreams (The Diviners #2) by Libba Bray
YA Paranormal-Historical Fiction, 613 pp., 4/5 stars

Libba Bray is an architect of a writer who deftly weaves together multiple story lines featuring tons of characters without confusing the reader. Lair of Dreams made me laugh out loud and also cower in terror (in a good way?) Descriptive passages, while masterfully written, went on a bit long at times. I highly recommend listening to the the audio version of this book; narrator January LaVoy is super talented–she voices every kind of accent, different genders, and even sings beautifully.

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MIND-BLOWING ALTERNATE DIMENSIONS:

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
Adult Speculative, 403 pp., 4/5 stars

Author Claire North is all kinds of smart–only a brilliant mind could come up with the very believable but far-out concepts proposed in this book. Protagonist Harry August has the ability to relive his life many, many times over. With each rebirth, he gets to know other people with the same ability, and they pass along messages to each other through time. They can also alter events. If Harry of the analytical mind had been a bit more sympathetic this would have been a 5-star read.
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A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray
YA SciFi/Romance, 360 pp., 4/5 stars

I was thrilled to finally hold a hard copy of this book in my hands so I could get a good, close look at what may be one of the all-time most beautiful YA covers. Marguerite, the only artist in a family of genius scientists, travels through different dimensions to find her father’s killer. In each dimension, Marguerite experiences an alternate version of her life. In one dimension, the Russian Romanov royal family was not murdered in 1918, and as a Romanov descendant Marguerite still lives in modern-day Russia as a princess. I could have stayed in that dimension for the entire book. It was so good! The romance aspect of the story was fine except for the love triangle.

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ART AND LAUGHTER IN AUSTRALIA:

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil
YA Coming-of-Age, 295 pp., 3.5/5 stars

Funny story with a unique POV, set in a small Australian town. Check out my review here.

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TEARS IN TENNESSEE:

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
YA Contemporary, 384 pp., 4.5/5 stars

Writer Jeff Zenter THREW DOWN with a strong debut. The Serpent King was about friendship, boys standing up to dad issues, teens taking emotional risks, plus nice, nuanced descriptions that made you feel you were walking alongside the characters in Tennessee. Lydia, one of the three central characters, was unique and entertaining but might have crossed the line into Manic Pixie Dream Girl territory. If you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear your thoughts on that–reality checks are good.

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AND BOOKS THAT MAKE YOU THINK:

The Day We are Born by Philippa Cameron
YA Contemporary-Mental Health, 210 pp.

I fell hard for the evocative title. The Day We are Born was well written and started out nice and voice-y, but then the promising story got hijacked by pamphlet-style education about depression.

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The Light Fantastic by Sarah Combs
YA Contemporary, 320 pp., 4/5 stars
Expected pub. date: 9/13/16

This book gets you thinking. Lots of emotion and a dreamy writing style. I reviewed it  here.

— Eve Messenger

 

 

 

Book Review: The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil

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The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl is a perky and entertaining coming of age story featuring Alba, a one-of-a-kind, very funny 18-year-old girl from a small Australian town. Alba and the close-knit group of friends she grew up with have recently graduated high school and are about to embark on the next phase of their lives. Alba is uncertain what path she wants to pursue. The discoveries she makes about herself during the course of the story are reflected in the way she chooses to draw the comic book character she’s developed, Cinnamon Girl.

“. . . her [Cinnamon Girl’s] face materializes on my page, I can tell she’s not at all happy with me. She plants her hands on her hips, her solid thighs busting out of her star-spangled shorts, and I swear she’s glaring at me with contempt.”

Each chapter of this book opens with a one-page comic-style drawing, but The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl is not a comic book or graphic novel.

Alba’s observations throughout the book  are often pleasantly tinged with comic book references. For example, when Alba becomes irate at an annoying stranger she thinks, “I’m visualizing myself soaring into the air with a backward tumble and punching Penny-Farthing Man in the neck.”

When asked what she wants to do with her life, Alba responds, “Me? I have no idea what powers I’ve got hiding underneath. Maybe something cool, like optic-blast eyeballs.”

And in another passage she thinks, “I’m already halfway down my bluestone path at a speed that would make Captain Marvel herself proud.”

Alba is funny! She’s a unique girl devoted to her collection of garden gnomes, and if she’s in a foul mood might wear her black dress decorated with pink skulls, a signal to her loved ones to beware. The story, told in Alba’s 1st person POV, offers lots of smile-inducing lines like these:

“This house looks like the place personality came to die.”

“I. . . kissed a boy partly out of curiosity, partly to make him stop talking.”

“I graciously decline to participate in a nudie dance-off.”

Bonus points for the small town Australian setting. Minus points for something I can’t specify because it’s too big of a spoiler. Suffice to say I was mildly disappointed in one major aspect of the plot. Overall, The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl was a pleasant read.

— Eve Messenger

Book Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

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Kiersten White’s newest book And I Darken, is beautifully written and epic in scope. It is told from the alternating viewpoints of Lada and her younger brother Radu, children of Prince Dragwyla of the kingdom of Wallachia.

Lada is ferocious (“She had a soul. At least, she was fairly certain she did.”) but, contrary to what some reviewers say, she is not psychopathic nor even particularly vicious. While Lada has no qualms about killing people, her logical mind serves as a sort of moral code, holding her back from wanton murder. As she tells Radu, “Why do anything without purpose?”

Considering that the character of Lada is based on Vlad the Impaler (AKA Count Dracula), known for having impaled over 50,000 Turkish soldiers, I predict Lada’s personality will “darken” significantly through the course of this series.

Vlad the Impaler

Radu is an interesting contrast to his older sister Lada. While Lada is warrior-like, sharp-toothed, perpetually disheveled, and could care less about manners and good graces, Radu is watchful, cerebral, and physically beautiful.He is sweet but not as compelling a character as his sister.

One of the biggest misconceptions about And I Darken is that it is a fantasy. It  is not. There are no supernatural elements or magic of any kind. It is historical fiction, set in the 1400s, with treaties and border invasions, and people who could commonly speak multiple languages–an interesting setting for a story.

Through chapter eight, And I Darken is a five-star read across the board. It’s very powerful when Lada, after losing her mother, begins to think of her kingdom Wallachia as her true mother. She is committed to her kingdom and will defend it at all costs.

Then the trajectory of the story changes.

Lada and Radu wind up in Edirne, the capital of the Ottoman Turkish empire, and Lada’s devotion to her homeland takes a backseat to the interests of the sultan’s youngest son Mehmed. In essence, Mehmed becomes the center of this story’s universe. Through Act Two, practically everything Lada and Radu do revolves in some way around Mehmed. Political maneuverings also become a big part of the story. Lada continues to train as a warrior, but the fighting spirit she exhibits earlier in the story diminishes.

In addition to Lada(!) and Radu, there are many memorable characters in the story. Some of my favorites were the nanny who raised Lada and Radu, the slave soldiers (called Janissaries), as well as women in the  harem who must use wits, feminine wiles, and whatever other resources at their disposal to survive their oppressive situation.

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–Eve Messenger