Review: Dictator

Dictator by Robert Harris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An absolutely fantastic conclusion to a spectacular historical-fiction trilogy.

As someone who is quite familiar with the Classics — even spending a year studying Cicero’s writings — I am overjoyed with how Robert Harris has managed to make historical fact seem like a story he made up in his head. Perhaps this is the benefit of telling Cicero’s tale through the eyes of his secretary, Marcus Tullius Tiro, the very same man who invented an early form of shorthand. Through Tiro we see Cicero in all his strengths and vices: we see the statesman, the orator, the husband, the father…the man, faults and all.

I’ve always found the difficulty with any kind of historical fiction such as this, which hews so closely to its history, is that when one is familiar with the history, it can be hard to maintain tension. But this series managed it, especially in this book. I probably spent most of it groaning aloud saying: “Cicero don’t do that!” because I knew that it would end poorly for him. But, unfortunately, Harris is faithful to history and, so, we must watch the rise and inevitable fall of the man that was Marcus Tullius Cicero.

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Review: Rules for a Knight

Rules for a Knight
Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This book reminded me a good deal of Warrior of the Light by Paulo Coelho. Both books are more like manuals on how to live a “good” life than any kind of novel, but written in ways that don’t come across as pretentious or preaching. In the case of Rules for a Knight, this is definitely a book I would like to own a physical copy of — I borrowed this copy digitally from my library — so I guess I’ve got a trip to the bookstore in my future.

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Review: Written in Fire

Written in Fire
Written in Fire by Marcus Sakey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**Thank you to Thomas & Mercer for providing me a digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley for the purpose of review**

Here it is: the finale to a truly fantastic science-fiction/dystopian/political thriller. For those of you who have not yet read any of the “Brilliance” trilogy, the quick version of the premise is that 30-years ago, some people contracted a virus that imbued them with extra powers, all of which were different from each other; the world named them “Brilliants.” But even better than that is the fact that “Brilliants” can pass down their powers, because susceptibility to the virus is genetic.

As a result, you have a world on the edge, not always to blatantly; this is the kind of tension that slithers beneath the surface of everyday life; it makes itself commonplace, blinding so many to the stark truth that they live in a world where they can trust no one – not their governments, not their friends or family, and not even themselves.

Mr. Sakey’s ability to create and sustain this tension across three books has been fantastic, and in “Written in Fire” he just keeps ramping it all up higher to the point that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep breathing. The stakes are so very high, especially when we’ve been following these characters — good, bad, shades of grey — for three books and they’re brought to moral, ethical, and emotional brinks. And the pace is non-stop with a finale that I can call nothing except explosive.

A brilliant conclusion to the story of the “Brilliants.”

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Review: Every Exquisite Thing

Every Exquisite Thing
Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**Thank you to Little Brown for Young Readers for providing me with a digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley for the purposes of review**

I think you need to like either (a) J.D. Salinger and/or (b) The Catcher in the Rye in order to fully appreciate this novel. Unfortunately, I’m not such a huge fan of either of those things, so I’m left rather conflicted by this novel, the story of a young teen connecting with a reclusive author whose cult-classic novel is one of teenage angst and rebellion.

Half of me wishes to save Nanette from what is (in my opinion) a toxic relationship with a particular boy; the other half knows that such things are a part of the learning experience that is life. Sometimes we have to go wild and do things we regret. Sometimes we need to look at our lives and reexamine everything about it — we are humans and, such, we change.

I think Mr. Quick captures the turbulence of a(n undiagnosed) teenage mind quite well, and I also think he draws out the adults with equal care. Of particular note, I think, is our protagonist’s English teacher, Mr. Graves, who behaves in a very responsible manner when something rather unfortunate occurs in the middle of the novel. Despite the hurt I felt at losing the interaction of a great character, I’m glad that Mr. Graves behaved the way he did — had he not, I might have grown to dislike his character.

I don’t deny that Nanette was in need of her therapist, June, and I don’t deny that she spends the majority of the novel clearly undiagnosed with depression, at the very least, in a place that largely ignores her…but I do also think that she is rather selfish. Is this just a part of growing up and being a teen? Sure — I’m not going to get on some moral pedestal and claim I was a perfect teenager, because I wasn’t. I, too, was selfish and messed and did things that were horrible to myself, my parents, and to other people. But there is a chunk of the novel spent with Nanette conducting a kind of social experiment that, even while I understand the intent behind it, I found despicable.

Sometimes I wonder if that was the author’s intent: to have me feel sick at the idea of Nanette pretending to be someone that she is not. The only difference between this experiment and what was happening at the start of the story, is that Nanette is making the conscious choice to behave this way, knowing that she is being entirely deceitful. I may not have liked her friends/classmates very much — not at all, really — but this entire section of the novel left a horrible taste in my mouth that, unfortunately, I still have even now that I’ve completed the book. It is the only thing keeping me from giving it a full 5-star rating because, without it, I thought this novel was quite wonderful.

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Review: Risuko: A Kunoichi Tale

Risuko: A Kunoichi Tale
Risuko: A Kunoichi Tale by David Kudler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**Thank you to Stillpoint Digital Press for providing me a digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley for the purposes of review**

Because this was cross-listed as Middle Grade and as Teens/YA, I wasn’t entirely sure to which side of that spectrum this book would lean. Having finished it, it’s most certainly more of a middle grade novel than a YA (young adult) novel, opening in an over-digestible “Hi, my name is…” fashion.

Although I know very little about Japanese culture and history — especially compared to, say, the Classical world — I get the feeling that Mr. Kudler has done a good deal of thorough-enough research to make me believe that he understands of what it is he speaks when he spends his time describing this novel’s world.

The pacing is consistent, though there is no denying the back half of this novel is superiour to the front half, which I found almost too careful in its effort to cram lots of information into very few pages without dragging the pace to a grinding halt. Perhaps this is the design: being lulled into a sense of calm with only but the hint of a dark undercurrent because, like Risuko, I felt like I, too, was clinging to a tree, distant from what was happening.

So I’m in a bit of a bind: while I can objectively acknowledge that this is actually a very, very good novel, my personal experience was one of apathy. There was a good deal of action happening, but I could not be stirred to emotion by them; the characters were in danger, but I never felt worried for them.

The easiest answer I can come to is that I am, very simply, not the target audience for this novel. So while it is good, I find it forgettable.

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Review: Maybe Someday

Maybe Someday
Maybe Someday by Colleen Hoover

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t read romance — okay, well, correction: I very rarely read romance, often labeled as “chick-lit” or “contemporary”.

It’s just not my cup of tea. I don’t want romance as the focal point of the stories I read so, naturally, I eschew the genres of romance, erotica, new adult, et al. But, every now and again, there are books that are delightful exceptions to this rule. Even now and then, a book that is undeniably a romance shows up and I actually enjoy it.

Maybe Someday is one of those books.

Now I’d heard a great deal about Ms. Hoover over on BookTube, where she basically reigns as the New Adult contemporary queen for many a booktuber, but I’d never felt much of an impulse to read any of her work. Like I said: I don’t really do romance.

However, when I was told that this particular novel not only death with musicians/songwriters, but also featured an original soundtrack that had been commissioned by the author to accompany the novel, I found myself intrigued. I saw the ebook available at my library, shrugged and thought Oh, why not? and just brought it on over to my kindle.

What I didn’t realize is that i would get a book featuring a character the was deaf; another that was hearing impaired; a slow-burn romance; characters who respect each others; and, most importantly, consent. I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I was to see that consent and boundaries played a huge part within this novel, especially in the development between the protagonists. It’s almost sad to say that it’s “refreshing”, as it’s a clear reflection of the state of the romance genre, but, well, it is refreshing.

It’s impossible to talk about this novel without mentioning the soundtrack. As I said above: it was commissioned specially for the novel by Ms. Hoover, and the soulful vocals of Griffin Peterson are a welcome addition to the lovely (if not sometimes overly repetitive) acoustic guitar that forms the backbone for most of the songs.

Long story short: I really loved this book and you can plan on me buying that soundtrack for my own. Whether or not you’re a fan of romance, New Adult, contemporary, et al., you might find this book may yet surprise you.

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Review: The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finally writing a review for this!

I’ll be dead honest: I kind of forgot that I’d said I would. I know, I know, I know…but I just eat straight on to Wise Man’s Fear and that was that!

So, let’s review.

This book is spectacular. Truly spectacular.

From the characters, to the richly-imagined world — complete with all sorts of different monetary and coinage systems — to the sense that it’s all building up to a pivotal moment (or two) which have been teased right from the start of the series.

Part of the “conceit” — for lack of a better term — of this series is that it’s told as a massive flashback. It is the story of Kvothe, from Kvothe himself. You can’t help but wonder: just how reliable is our narrator? Does he embellish? Does he flat-out lie? These questions gnawed at the back of my mind at first, but the more I got sucked into the story, the more I shoved them aside and just said: be quiet and let me enjoy the story.

I love the plethora of dynamic characters, especially the wide-array of well-developed female characters which was, admittedly, something I was not expecting when I started this book.

I both read and listened to this book, eventually falling back exclusively into the audiobook because, given the nature of the narrative construction, this book works phenomenally well as an oral piece. The narrator was fantastic and is currently the only way I want to digest the series because he has become the voice of Kvothe for me.

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