BOOK REVIEW: Improvement, by Joan Silber

BOOK REVIEW: Improvement, by Joan SilberTitle: Improvement by Joan Silber
Published by Counterpoint LLC
Published: November 14th 2017
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 256
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

One of our most gifted writers of fiction returns with a bold and piercing novel about a young single mother living in Harlem, her eccentric aunt, and the decisions they make that have unexpected implications for the world around them.

Reyna knows her relationship with Boyd isn't perfect, yet she sees him through a three-month stint at Riker's Island, their bond growing tighter. Kiki, now settled in the East Village after a youth that took her to Turkey and other far off places--and loves--around the world, admires her niece's spirit but worries that motherhood to four-year old Oliver might complicate a difficult situation. Little does she know that Boyd is pulling Reyna into a smuggling scheme, across state lines, violating his probation. When Reyna takes a step back, her small act of resistance sets into motion a tapestry of events that affect the lives of loved ones and strangers around them.

A novel that examines conviction, connection, repayment, and the possibility of generosity in the face of loss, Improvement is as intricately woven together as Kiki's beloved Turkish rugs, as colorful as the tattoos decorating Reyna's body, with narrative twists and turns as surprising and unexpected as the lives all around us. The Boston Globe said -No other writer can make a few small decisions ripple across the globe, and across time, with more subtlety and power, - and Improvement is Silber's most shining achievement.

The cover of Joan Silber’s Improvement features a carpet that is woven into the connective stories. The novel is written in sparse, well-crafted prose, and connects the stories of six characters through strong, thin threads. I loved the butterfly effect explored in these pages, and Silber seems to know just what to reveal and just what to led the reader consider for themselves in the connected narratives.

I love how the novel itself is structured with an overarching narrative that is split into smaller sections in first- and third-person narration. The stories read almost like standalone stories, and I appreciated that format because each section felt immediate and personal. These stories, including the overarching story, show the masterwork of a literary butterfly effect. Each of the decisions the characters make affect their own lives and the lives of those around them, and we as readers are invited to consider those decisions in tandem with the decisions and the effects those choices have on our own lives.

Joan Silber’s Improvement explores the connective power of love and the changes — no matter how large or small — love brings into our lives. Love improves us if we only let it in.

Thank you to Counterpoint Press for sending me a free copy in exchange for a review!

BOOK REVIEW: Hullmetal Girls, by Emily Skrutskie

BOOK REVIEW: Hullmetal Girls, by Emily SkrutskieTitle: Hullmetal Girls by Emily Skrutskie
Published by Delacorte
Published: July 17th 2018
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 320
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley, Publisher
Goodreads

Aisha Un-Haad would do anything for her family. When her brother contracts a plague, she knows her janitor's salary isn't enough to fund his treatment. So she volunteers to become a Scela, a mechanically enhanced soldier sworn to protect and serve the governing body of the Fleet, the collective of starships they call home. If Aisha can survive the harrowing modifications and earn an elite place in the Scela ranks, she may be able to save her brother.

Key Tanaka awakens in a Scela body with only hazy memories of her life before. She knows she's from the privileged end of the Fleet, but she has no recollection of why she chose to give up a life of luxury to become a hulking cyborg soldier. If she can make it through the training, she might have a shot at recovering her missing past.

In a unit of new recruits vying for top placement, Aisha's and Key's paths collide, and the two must learn to work together--a tall order for girls from opposite ends of the Fleet. But a rebellion is stirring, pitting those who yearn for independence from the Fleet against a government struggling to maintain unity.

With violence brewing and dark secrets surfacing, Aisha and Key find themselves questioning their loyalties. They will have to put aside their differences, though, if they want to keep humanity from tearing itself apart.

Emily Skrutskie’s Hullmetal Girls is what I’ve been wanting to see from YA science fiction for what feels like forever! A lot of the “science fiction” YA books I’ve read in the last several years have been more science fantasy, or they’ve been shelved in the adult science fiction/fantasy section, which can keep titles out of view of their targeted audiences. And I’m happy to say that I absolutely LOVED Hullmetal Girls.

Emily calls it her “standalone sci-fi Battlestar/Pacific Rim/Sens8/Snowpiercer frolic affectionately known as Cyborg Space Jam” and in addition to loving the premise of it before, seeing her own blurb of it made me want to read it even more. It definitely lives up to that tagline, and I also can’t tell you how much I love that it’s a standalone. I sometimes feel a little burnt out on series, so knowing that this is it for these characters made me get that much more invested in the story.

Hullmetal Girls will make you think about bodies, about the role of bodies and physical forms in society versus what’s going on in your mind or someone else’s (or, daresay, a collective), and about challenges and consequences do to the spirit before, during, and after action or inaction. I loved that the cyborg aspect had a little bit of alien/artificial intelligence thrown in and that the body modifications ended up being more of a symbiosis kind of meld rather than the body merely being a host for the implants and modifications.

If you liked Kameron Hurley’s The Stars Are Legion (which, SPOILER ALERT, that’s one of my favorite science fiction books ever), Hullmetal Girls is something you need to add to your TBRs immediately because the styles and themes are very much riding on the same wavelengths. RIGHT NOW! Go preorder it! I’m buying myself a physical copy too!

Many thanks to Netgalley and Delacorte for the free review copy!

BOOK REVIEW: Furyborn, by Claire Legrand

BOOK REVIEW: Furyborn, by Claire LegrandTitle: Furyborn by Claire Legrand
Series: The Empirium Trilogy #1
Published by Sourcebooks Fire
Published: May 22nd 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 512
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley, Publisher
Goodreads

Follows two fiercely independent young women, centuries apart, who hold the power to save their world...or doom it.

When assassins ambush her best friend, the crown prince, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing her ability to perform all seven kinds of elemental magic. The only people who should possess this extraordinary power are a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light and salvation and a queen of blood and destruction. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven trials to test her magic. If she fails, she will be executed...unless the trials kill her first.

A thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a mere fairy tale to bounty hunter Eliana Ferracora. When the Undying Empire conquered her kingdom, she embraced violence to keep her family alive. Now, she believes herself untouchable--until her mother vanishes without a trace, along with countless other women in their city. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain on a dangerous mission and discovers that the evil at the heart of the empire is more terrible than she ever imagined.

As Rielle and Eliana fight in a cosmic war that spans millennia, their stories intersect, and the shocking connections between them ultimately determine the fate of their world--and of each other.

I think Claire Legrand’s Furyborn is going to be one of the biggest YA fantasy books of the summer. It’s full of magic, strong-willed young women, and nearly impossible challenges for each of them to overcome. The two main characters are connected to each other (and no spoilers!), but each of them live over a thousand years apart. For me, the idea behind this series is exciting, but I found that the execution of it is a little overwhelming. Connecting two characters across a span of a thousand years brings together two completely different stories told in alternating chapters.

Legend has it that two queens will possess extraordinary power. The Blood Queen will bring catastrophe and destruction to her reign; the Sun Queen will bring light and and salvation to her reign. Rielle, the prophesied powerful queen of a thousand years ago, is merely a legend to the bounty hunter Eliana. However, Eliana knows that she possesses extraordinary powers and struggles to keep her powers a secret from everyone else.

The things I loved most about this and hope will be explored more in the future books are the magic system and the history of what happened between Rielle and Eliana. I thought the initial world-building of the magic system and country engaging; I just wanted more! Rielle and Eliana are fairly well-developed, though sometimes I felt that their voices sounded too similar and had to remember which chapter I was reading (but considering their connection, I shouldn’t have been so thrown off by this!). The secondary characters really added to this story. I loved Simon and Ludivine the most, and loved the twists and connections they brought to the story.

Overall, this is an ambitious fantasy novel that will appeal to fans of Sarah J. Maas and Erika Johansen! I gave it four stars for the pacing and the scope, but it’s almost a little too much. I think maybe this could have worked better if two books of the trilogy focused each Rielle and Eliana separately and the final book bringing their stories together, because this novel felt like a very long and divided set-up for the rest of the series.

A copy of this book was provided for review by Netgalley and Sourcebooks Fire; all opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Get Money, by Kristin Wong

BOOK REVIEW: Get Money, by Kristin WongTitle: Get Money: Live the Life You Want, Not Just the Life You Can Afford by Kristin Wong
Published by Hachette Books
Published: March 27th 2018
Genres: Non-Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Learn how to live the life you want, not just the life you can afford!

Managing your money is like going to the dentist or standing in line at the DMV. Nobody wants to do it, but at some point, it's inevitable: you need to clean your teeth, renew your license, and manage your personal finances like a grown-up. Whether you're struggling to pay off student loan debt, ready to stop living paycheck to paycheck, or have finally accepted that your Beanie Baby collection will never pay off, tackling your finances may seem immensely intimidating. But it doesn't have to be. By approaching personal finance as a game--something that requires you to set clear goals, as well as face challenges you must "beat"--personal finance can not only be easy to understand, but it can also be fun!

Sometimes life brings you a book exactly when you need it. Get Money by Kristin Wong came at just the right time. Nobody likes to actually think about money or talk about it or do anything about it, and by nobody, I mostly mean me. But at thirty, I need to really start planning for my future and stop being so lazy and inconsequential about my finances.

Most money management books I’ve flipped through seem condescending and critical to their readers, but Get Money is like having a short, but serious, financial conversation over coffee with a friend who wants to see you succeed in all aspects of your life. The book is divided into chapters after which you “level up” and proceed to the next more challenging, more serious step in getting your money under control. I love that Wong provides no-nonsense advice along with worksheets to track your planning and money. The worksheets are in the book as well as on a website listed in the book so you can print them out to keep yourself organized!

For someone like me, turning something as tedious and boring as money management into a game is what works for me. I’m already applying some of the ideas Wong offers in the book to build up my savings and get a better handle on my goals and how I want to make my money work for me.

If you are wanting to learn some money management skills or just to get a few new ideas to boost your portfolio, check out Kristin Wong’s Get Money!

Many thanks to Hachette Books for sending me a free copy to review; all opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Italian Party, by Christina Lynch

BOOK REVIEW: The Italian Party, by Christina LynchTitle: The Italian Party by Christina Lynch
Published by St. Martin's Press
Published: March 20th 2018
Genres: Historical, Fiction
Pages: 336
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

A delicious and sharply funny page-turner about "innocent" Americans abroad in 1950s Siena, Italy. Newly married, Scottie and Michael are seduced by Tuscany's famous beauty. But the secrets they are keeping from each other force them beneath the splendid surface to a more complex view of ltaly, America and each other.

When Scottie's Italian teacher--a teenager with secrets of his own--disappears, her search for him leads her to discover other, darker truths about herself, her husband and her country. Michael's dedication to saving the world from communism crumbles as he begins to see that he is a pawn in a much different game. Driven apart by lies, Michael and Scottie must find their way through a maze of history, memory, hate and love to a new kind of complicated truth.

Half glamorous fun, half an examination of America's role in the world, and filled with sun-dappled pasta lunches, prosecco, charming spies and horse racing, The Italian Party is a smart pleasure.

As soon as I began reading The Italian Party, I was swept away to post-WWII Italy and enveloped in a domestic spy thriller that captivated me from the first page to the final sentence. Scottie and Michael are newlyweds moving to Siena, Italy, to start their new lives as husband and wife. Michael’s been sent to Italy to sell the Italians some American tractors to propel Italy to more “modern” industrialization, or so Scottie thinks. Scottie appears to be the perfect person to fulfill Michael’s want and need for a wife, or so Michael thinks. Each of them have secrets upon secrets of their own, and the book deftly explores and unravels these secrets as the story progresses.

Michael has been sent to Italy with orders from the CIA to stop the Communist candidate from winning an election. His Ford office in Siena is merely a cover for his actual work. Without spoiling too much of the novel itself, Lynch explores one facet of the post-WWII/Cold War fears of the rise of communism and the fears from America about that rise. Little struggles throughout the book, including the “favored” American dessert of a can of peaches topped with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry over delicious Italian gelato, showcased the “rightness” and “righteousness” of American idealism over anything else.

The Italian Party is probably going to end up on my favorites of the year list. I loved the secrets weaving themselves through Scottie and Michael’s marriage and life outside their marriage. I love the development of the characters from beginning to end, and I love how both of them choose to support each other after all of these secrets between them come to the surface. The 1950s were mostly a different time and place compared to now, but Lynch shows that even then, people struggled with and faced the same difficulties in a relationship that people do today. So much of this novel reflects the current time, and it’s eye-opening to see history begin to repeat itself.

Christina Lynch weaves in domestic life with a spy thriller incredibly well, and the pacing of the book was excellent. I loved how the chapters themselves were divided into small sections, and somehow that made it even easier to zip right through and enjoy this book. Lynch’s sparkling prose makes you feel as if you are a fly on the wall in Scottie and Michael’s life in Italy, and it’s the perfect spring escape.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press for sending me a free copy to review; all opinions are my own!