Working in a bookstore there are plenty of times that you see something that makes you want to drop everything and just start reading, but it takes something really special to actually make you do it. When I first saw Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez I was immediately drawn in by the cover. A young girl pondering over a piece of paper, other sketches discarded around her, seemingly oblivious to the many eyes looming from the darkness of the forest behind her. The feeling of naivety was clear, and yet even with the ominous background I didn’t really perceive the girl as being in any imminent danger. She is small, perhaps quiet looking, but she is a creator of worlds and seems unafraid of the power she can wield with paper and pencil. I see myself as a child, sitting in my parent’s backyard or in the woods at the bottom of our street. Back in a time when creativity was effortless, scribbling pictures and stories as natural as breathing, before I started getting in my own way and worrying too much about how someone is going to respond to what I’m doing to even get a sentence on the page most days. I needed to know more.
Sandy doesn’t really fit in at the all girls Catholic school she attends. She’s a daydreamer, finding solace in the images she creates even if no one else really seems to notice them or scold her for not focusing on her studies if they do. Until she meets Morfie. Morfie encourages Sandy’s imagination in ways that no one ever has, and she’s the only person people seem to notice even less than Sandy. Morfie’s interest quickly starts to morph into an obsession, and for the first time it’s no longer clear who holds the true power—the creator, the creation, or the audience?
Nightlights is haunting and beautiful, lingering long after you’ve finished its slim 64 pages. The only regret it leaves me with is wanting more and more, to be able to keep turning these pages to discover endless wonders and delve deeper into the darkly fascinating struggle. There are many questions that continue to turn over in my mind, but I suppose that’s part of the magic too. No matter how much time you spend trying to figure out the what’s and why’s and how’s, there’s never an easy answer and often times there isn’t any answer at all. All you can do is try and experience and read.
6.9999 out of 7 Lightning Scars ⚡️⚡️⚡️⚡️⚡️⚡️.9999
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Review - Cilla Lee-Jenkins
When Cilla Lee-Jenkins was four years old a woman at the grocery store asked her what she was. After giving the question much thought, she declared that she was a future author extraordinaire. This was not what the woman meant. Young Cilla didn’t understand that the woman was what she would later refer to as a “Rude Individual,” that as a biracial child she would be asked similar questions the rest of her life because the blending of culture visible across her body is considered a novelty that is on display for others to marvel over and discuss. To many this interaction may seem unimaginable, but to author Susan Tan this is but one of the many ways she shares her own life through her funny and genuine character.
At the age of eight and a half Cilla seems to love most things about her life, especially her family. She lives very close to bother sets of grandparents and so every week she has special moments and traditions with both Grandma and Grandpa Jenkins as well as her Ye Ye and Nai Nai. Though, she would like someone to invent a time machine to go back in time and make her parents name her something more exciting than Pricilla, like Supernova Lilac or Roswitha Hemingway. And she’s not very excited about “The Blob”—which the rest of her family refers to as her new baby sister. Cilla does not want to be a big sister. Her best friend, Colleen, says that it comes with LOTS of responsibilities. Even worse, Cilla is worried that when the baby is born no one will have time for her anymore which is why she decides she needs to become a best selling author before that happens. Her dad always says she should write what she knows, and so Cilla begins to write her memoir.
Over the course of the book we fall in love with Cilla’s understanding of the world and the antics she gets up to, from inventing mysterious back stories for her classmates to covering her head with glitter and stickers because she was almost entirely bald until she was five. While these moments had me laughing out loud and re-reading entire pages to whoever was near by, the true wonder of Tan’s writing is the way this whimsy intertwines with the deeper heart that builds slowly through the narrative. Even at the age of eight, Cilla is forced to question her own identity. Being half Chinese and half Caucasian she doesn’t look like the other children in her class, and when she has to draw a family portrait for class she realizes she doesn’t quite look like anyone else in her family either. She recognizes this difference, but doesn’t always have the experience to really understand what it means. With the new baby the only things she is sure of, her position in her family and close relationships she has with her parents and grandparents, is being pulled into question as well. Writing first person narration from a child’s perspective is not easy, but Tan not only succeeds, she excels. Cilla is a fully realized character, one in which I’m able to see aspects of many of the special children I’ve known in my life. She doesn’t always say or do the right thing and she often faces challenges she does not know how to overcome, but she always tries hold tight to a sense of who she is and her desire to express herself. While filled with themes of diversity and culture, this is the perfect read for any future author extraordinaire no matter their background or age, and thankfully, this is just the beginning of Cilla’s prolific writing career.
7 out of 7 Lightning Scars ⚡️⚡️⚡️⚡️⚡️⚡️⚡️
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Review - Sleeping Giants
Sylvian Neuvel’s debut novel Sleeping Giants pushes the boundaries of the various genres and labels often placed upon it. Even though the book is science fiction, the characters and the relationships built between them take center stage amidst giant robots, international politics, and mysterious alien technology. Even the traditional sense of “novel” is left behind as Neuvel allows readers a peek into his world not through traditional prose but with interviews, diary entries, and mission logs. By directing the narrative through these first person accounts, Neuvel allows his audience to stand alongside the four lead characters as they work to discover a long forgotten secret of our planet.
Dr. Rose Franklin, a physicist trying to figure out the purpose of the giant metal hand she discovered when she was 11 years old. Kara Resnik, an Army helicopter pilot tasked with finding the remaining pieces of the body, if they even exist. Vincent Couture, a French-Canadian linguist brought on to translate the symbols found with the original hand. The nameless interviewer, always asking questions, even though he seems to be the only one who has the answers. These characters’ lives exist beyond the moments we have with them, sometimes months pass between sections and at times we are left questioning what we’ve missed, but this only works to further their reality. Like listening to a close friend recount their life before you met them, no matter how well you know them now, the past will always be colored by their perspective. Although the focus of the novel has global, perhaps even universal consequences, the way the characters live through their dialogue and shape the audience’s understanding through their own telling of these events keeps the action and clarity tight.
The publication of the novel is a story unto itself, and perhaps another facet to why I find it so intriguing. Neuvel has always had a fascination with robots. One day, he asked his son if he should build a toy robot and immediately his son began asking questions about the robot, wanting to know what it did and where it came from. Sleeping Giants became the answer to those questions, which could go to explain his deep focus on relationships. While Neuvel had difficulty finding a publisher, his belief and dedication to the story led him to self publish. A single review on Kirkus caught the attention of a movie producer who found Neuvel an agent and signed on to make a film adaptation with Sony. Once others started to sign on to the movie, which has not yet received a release date, Neuvel got a literary agent and signed a contract with Del Rey to republish his book.
Much as with his characters, Neuvel did not stop when the way forward seemed impossible. He persevered and approached every problem from a new angle, and now the book that almost never was will be receiving its sequel, Waking Gods, in April of 2017.
6 out of 7 Lightning Scars ⚡️⚡️⚡️⚡️⚡️⚡️
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Review - The Hidden Oracle
Rick Riordan’s newest series returns to Greek and Roman mythology once again, though for the first time our central hero is not a demigod (a hero who is born from a mortal and a god), but an Olympic god himself turned mortal. The Hidden Oracle, the first book of The Trials of Apollo series, begins with the Greek sun good Apollo falling into a dumpster of a New York alley in the awkward, flabby, and pimpled body of 16 year old Lester Papadopoulos. His father and ruler of the Olympic pantheon, Zeus, has blamed Apollo for allowing the most recent near-disaster which spanned Riordan’s The Heroes of Olympus series. His punishment, as it was twice before in ancient mythology, is to be trapped on earth in service of a worthy demigod until Zeus has decided the lesson has been learned. At least, that’s what Apollo assumes seeing as his godly memory quickly begins to fail him. When two thugs approach him in the alleyway under orders of a mysterious “boss” Apollo quickly learns that this will not be like his previous punishments. He is completely mortal with no access to his powers and instead of golden ichor, the ethereal life force of immortals, human blood runs through his veins.
Enter Meg McCaffery, a 12 year old unclaimed demigod who lives on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen. She quickly dispatches of the thugs and claims Apollo’s service for her own, binding him to her until his trials have ended. Together they go to Camp Half-Blood, the training ground/summer camp for Greek demigods hidden on Long Island, one of the only places young demigods can be kept safe from monsters. When they arrive though, they begin to realize there is more at stake than the god’s immortality. Apollo can no longer sit back and send demigods to do his bidding; he must now be the hero in order to discover who have been working behind the scenes of all of the most recent tragedies demigods have faced.
The Trials of Apollo series promises to continue and build upon Riordan’s world, offering both a deeper introduction and understanding of one of the Olympic gods and a return of many beloved characters from the two previous Greek and Roman series. As an individual installment though, The Hidden Oracle was one of Riordan’s weaker titles. It is innovative in many ways and is a testament to how Riordan continues to push the boundaries of his creation. In addition to being the first title with a god as the central character, it is the only book where almost all of the action takes place within Camp Half-Blood. Previously, groups of demigods would be sent on quests which would require them to travel across the country or the globe, exposing them to new threats and offering opportunities to encounter many different myths. The Hidden Oracle continues to have references to various myths, but mainly through Apollo’s sparse recollection of his previous experiences. The plot itself is tighter, but it also comes off as quieter compared to the epic proportions of The Heroes of Olympus series. To fill in those spaces, Riordan involved a wider cast of demigods at camp. While he greatly expanded his typical central cast from three to nine characters by the end of The Heroes of Olympus series, he had allowed each of them plenty of space to develop and feel true, both as individuals and in their relationships to each other. Throughout The Hidden Oracle much of the cast beyond Meg and Apollo were supporting roles, some of them characters who had previously played leading roles or had been involved in scenes at camp over the other books. The rest of them felt vague, boiled down to stereotypical traits they could be identified by, and hard to keep track of. I often found myself flipping back to when they were introduced to remind myself who was their godly parent and how they related to the other characters.
Looking specifically at the two lead characters, Meg and Apollo, is where a lot of my hopes for this series come from. Meg charmed me immediately, a stubborn young girl who is often playful and easygoing, but clearly has a troubled side she tries to hide. She’s whimsical as she does cartwheels walking around New York City, but when it comes to serious talks she analyzes things in simple and uncomplicated ways, quickly getting to the heart of the matter. Not a damsel with a tragic past, Meg knows how to defend herself and those she cares for, and when forced to face her demons she responds in a way very believable for a 12 year old. Apollo, on the other hand, took some time to grow on me. Initially his melodrama and conceit wavers between amusing and aggravating, but as the book progresses and he feels his concerns becoming more mortal in their focus, he begins to gain a better awareness of both himself and those around him. He becomes more relatable throughout his struggles, and I’m excited to see how this development continues in The Dark Prophecy, expected out 5/2/17.