Mycroft Holmes

I have been a fan of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s since I was a kid. Some of my formative years were spent in front of the tv with my dad cheering for the Lakers. Magic was my favorite, and Kareem was my dad’s. But as I got older, I grew to appreciate KAJ for the intelligent, thoughtful, humanitarian that he is. I’ve been following his essays for awhile now. You can find many of them here in Time Magazine. When I heard he had published this book, I thought I would give it a try. Let me preface that I have read a sum total of one Sherlock Holmes book, so reading this little off shoot was a shot in the dark.

I’ve been told that Mycroft is Sherlock’s older brother and much more likeable of a character. And while Sherlock is in this book very briefly, I can say that I did think Mycroft was a great character. Very insightful and thorough, but with a good heart and nowhere near as eccentric as his brother. The story follows 23 year old Mycroft and a friend, Cyrus Douglas, who is from Trinidad. Douglas tells Mycroft about certain supernatural mysteries that are happening on the island and the two travel there to solve said mysteries. There is also a pretty clear political element going on with the setting in Trinidad. Douglas is a black man and Mycroft is his white friend, but they work together to free some slaves. The politics aren’t in your face, but definitely not ones to be ignored.

The book was a quick reader and kept me guessing. Some of the people involved were clearly playing a double role, and they were fairly easy to spot, but the story was still engaging. I appreciated all the historical details that seemed to be well researched. Overall, this was a really fun read that kept me guessing, but wasn’t too far fetched.

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The Winter Over

I started Winter’s Tale a couple of years ago, but never finished it. I got about 1/3 of the way through and was just so utterly bored that I gave up. And for the 2017 book challenge, I had to have a book with one of the seasons in the title, so I made the commitment to giving it another shot. And, obviously, by the title of this post, I didn’t do it. I just finished 2 700+ page books and am working on another (IT….wow….just wait for that review) and I just couldn’t make myself try this book again. So, I headed to my kindle to see if I had another book that would qualify. Thankfully, through the Kindle First program you get with Prime, I had The Winter Over downloaded and ready to go. Fortunately, this was just a mere 300+ pages. Totally doable.

I really hate cold weather. I live in a relatively warm state and I can barely stand the winters. So books about cold weather really make an impact on me. And this book oozes frigidity. Not just the cold weather, but the characters themselves are standoffish and cold to each other. You know something suspicious is going on really quickly. The story revolves around a science expedition in Antarctica where they are transitioning between the summer season where there are dozens of crew members to the bare bones winter season with just over forty members. Just before the last flights out, one of the members is found dead, outside frozen to death. And let me just say this book isn’t about monsters or aliens or anything supernatural. The book is very straightforward and you know early on that people are the natural enemy. There is a mystery to be solved and the author, Matthew Iden, gives you a lovely trail of breadcrumbs to follow to figure out just what in the hell is happening.

I truly selected this book simply for the title, but I really enjoyed it. I’m a big fan of a well written thriller and this is one. I was able to solve a few of the mysteries along the way, but overall, was pleasantly surprised with how everything turned out. This is a new release, and I recommend you get your hands on it. Be sure to bundle up first because the icy descriptions can permeate your brain, sending you into the shivers.

The Historian

Here’s another book that has been on my to read list for quite some time. When the 2017 book challenge came out, I noticed I needed a book of letters. Unless I know of a title right off the bat, I head over to Goodreads to search for books that might fit this category. I discovered there aren’t a ton of books of letters, however, this one fit. All I knew about this book before starting was that it was about Dracula.

At over 700 pages, it does take some time to sink into the story. You have a young girl and her father who live in Europe and travel quite a bit for the father’s job and once she is old enough, he begins to tell her a story of his youth. Unlike most stories, this one involves vampires. The father, Paul, spent a good chunk of his early adult days searching for the tomb of Dracula. His mentor, Professor Rossi goes missing, and Paul decides he’s going to find him. Along the way he meets Rossi’s daughter, Helen, and the two of them embark on the quest. All this information is revealed via letters Paul has left for his daughter. You see, Paul has gone missing as well, and his daughter uses the story in the letters to try to find him. So you also have a story within a story going on here.

Once you really get into the meat of the story, it flies by really quickly. And it’s not about vampires really. Sure, Dracula’s tomb is the ultimate quest, but it really is just about solving problems, finding people, and searching for a treasure. I would consider it a quest book more than a vampire book. If you’re looking for vampires, might I recommend The Passage trilogy by Justin Cronin. Overall, a really good read and it moved much more quickly than I was expecting it to.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

Roxane Gay is a badass. This was my very first thought when she came onto my radar. This was back in, oh, 2012, maybe? I was part of The Rumpus book club for over 2 years, and Roxane was a writer for the website Roxane Gay’s work while I was there. I knew of her from her essays and articles, but never really *knew* her until she popped into the book club discussions. There was a woman in the book club who drove met bat shit crazy. I will call this woman Batty. She was rude and condescending and just awful. And no one stood up to her. Until Roxane showed up. She, very directly and firmly, put this woman in her place. There were no words minced. And I cheered from behind my computer screen because FINALLY someone had the nerve and ability to do this task that I had secretly been begging someone to do. Batty was silenced. And it was beautiful. I knew from that minute that Roxane Gay was a badass. Let me be perfectly clear. She still is a badass.

Back then during the Batty takedown, I had no idea what Roxane looked like. Not one clue. When her book An Untamed State came out, I finally saw pictures of her attached to her reviews and realized she is black. Okay. Got it. No problem. But it truly wasn’t until this book was released and subsequent podcasts, reviews, interviews, etc that I realized that Roxane is fat (her words). Clinically, she is “super morbidly obese.” And after reading this book in a matter of hours, I stand by my original statement that she is a badass.

It is perfectly clear that Roxane doesn’t want pity for her body. Because her body doesn’t reflect who she is deep down. Or it does. (stealing a bit of her writing style here) She is more than her body. Aren’t we all. But living life with her body isn’t just a challenge. It is an all encompassing every minute of every day challenge. There are things in life she deals with that aren’t even on the radar of other people. Roxane doesn’t fit neatly into a mold of what society feels a woman should look like. She is also 6’3″, which provides its own challenges, of course. But her weight is what this book mainly focuses on.

And, as she puts it, there is a before and after in her life. Before a certain event (which I will not tell here. It is much too personal of a story for her. It is her story. Not mine) she was happy, shy but friendly, typical girl growing up in the Midwest. Her family loved her. She was supported. Then the terrible thing happened and she changed. Her world changed. Her life changed. And her body changed. She ate to escape the pain. She ate to make herself bigger so people wouldn’t want her. She ate and ate and ate and tried her best to hide her sadness, blaming herself for everything. Deep down parts of that girl still live inside her, shouting from the depths “You aren’t worthy. You don’t deserve love. You are fat. You are ugly.” Her internal monologue is brutal to read. Absolutely heartbreaking. Because Roxane is a badass. And not just because she took down someone who drove me crazy. But because she is authentic. Because she is true. Because she is real. Because she is healing. Because she is human.

I am not a writer. I don’t even pretend to be any form of writer, even in these reviews. So I know I’m not doing justice to her as a writer or her book, and I apologize for that. However, let me make this as clear as I can. Every woman should read this book. Not just women who society has labeled because of their weight. Not just women who look in the mirror and view themselves negatively. Not just women who avoid mirrors at all. Not just women who struggle with finding clothes that fit. Each and every woman. Because Roxane speaks to us all. Our insecurities, our need to be loved and accepted, our desire to be seen for who we are on the inside and not judged by our outsides. Thank you for this book, Roxane, and thank you for being a badass.

Mistborn

A friend of mine has been bugging me to read something by Brandon Sanderson. A couple years ago, I put The Way of Kings on hold at the library to appease said friend. When I picked it up, I quickly realized I wasn’t ready for this commitment. It’s ridiculously long and I’m not a fantasy fan. At all. So, for the 2017 book challenge, I knew I had to read a book from a genre I don’t normally read. I was in. Ready to go. The Way of Kings here I come. And…… I read Mistborn instead because it was shorter. In my defense, I’m reading several 1000+ page books this year. And TWOK series isn’t finished. But, the good news is that I can’t wait to read more of his work.

Mistborn technically could be a young adult book, but thankfully the characters don’t act like typical teens. The main character, Vin, is a teenage thief trying to make it on the street with other thiefs and just isn’t all that successful. She’s hungry and miserable and abused. A man named Kelsier decides to help her. Not out of the kindness of his heart, but because he needs her and her abilities. She doesn’t even know she has abilities, but he can see it in her. Vin is a mistborn, meaning, she can use metal to control her body, thoughts, the thoughts of others, etc. All she has to do is ingest a few metal flakes and “burn” them using her energy and she can possess near supernatural powers. I realize this sounds really strange and far out there, but it works. Really. I’m the most skeptical person when it comes to this kind of literature, but Sanderson convinced me.

The entire plot revolves around taking down the Lord Ruler (aka God in their world) and the government he controls. Kelsier and Vin are joined by others with similar misting powers. Vin, being the youngest, isn’t treated much differently than the others which is hard for her to adjust to. And she is still a kid, really. There is a bit of a teenage love story in the book, but it isn’t sappy or stupid or unrealistic.

I flew this book in a few days, even though it is fairly long itself. And I can’t wait to read the others in the series and see what happens. I’m so glad I was talking into reading his work. And I really do promise I’ll get to The Way of Kings at some point. I actually own the first two books, so I have no excuse now.

Daughters of the North

I’ve read a lot of dystopia. More than anyone I know, really. Most of it is young adult, thanks to The Hunger Games and all it’s iterations. Really, it started with The Giver, but that book, ridiculously, didn’t catch on at first. And I’m to the point where the genre is so watered down with crap that it’s hard to find anything good. I still think The Hunger Games, Legend, Red Rising, and Chaos Walking are some of the absolute best series out there. For non YA , I loved Swan Song, 1984, The Stand, and The Road. I’m sure there are more that I’m forgetting, so feel free to comment if you have suggestions. I’m pleased to say Daughters of the North (or The Carhullan Army depending on where it’s published) is one of the better books of the genre I’ve read.

I think I enjoyed this so much for a couple reasons. First, the main character is a strong woman, but she isn’t a teenager with weepy emotions, irrational thoughts, or general annoyingness. I think teens are painted so unfairly in books, but that’s another post for another day. The main character, called Sister, lives in a miserable world controlled by the government where women are sterilized against their wills, work is mundane, and marriage is a sham. So, she runs away, plain and simple. Since she was a child, she has known about the Carhulla society, made up entirely of women, and hikes miles and miles to get there. She isn’t greeted warmly, to put it mildly, but slowly she is taken into the fold and accepted. Second, this book is full of woman empowerment. They don’t need men, aside from procreation. They are fully self sufficient in Carhulla. Everything from hunting, scavenging, fighting, to washing, building, cooking is done solely by the community.

The plot of the book is simple. Some of the women want to overthrow the government. Some of the women in the group are kind and honest, and some seem a bit off. Who Sister ends up siding with in the “should we or should we not overthrow the government” is eventually revealed. Although the end was a bit odd in that a giant event is told after the fact that it happened, rather than as it is happening, I enjoyed the book overall. And it’s a stand alone book, which is rare to find in this genre these days. I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed this book.

The Young Elites

I read Marie Lu’s Legend series when it first came out, and it’s one I recommend to people looking for YA dystopia. I consider it to be one of the better series out there. I was hoping for the same feeling when I heard she had another series out, The Young Elites, but, I can’t say I felt the same grip to read more like I did with Legend.

The premise itself is interesting. A fever strikes a country killing some, leaving others unharmed, but a select few become “marked” with different color hair, skin, and with mysterious powers. One can command the wind, another fire. Their energy seems to come from the elements. However, Adelina only discovers her powers in a time of great distress. Taken from her family, she is guided by the others like her, The Young Elites, through a series of events. The Elites are outcasts and are trying to make their place in the world, so to speak.

I am going to be vague to avoid spoilers, but one of my least favorite plotlines happens in this book. Someone has a secret, but is too scared to share it, so bad things happen because he/she kept quiet. It happens so much in YA books, and it drives me nuts. It is just so unoriginal and overdone. I was disappointed this book’s main plot involved this very concept. However, the ending was good and the epilogue was even better.

Because of these two things, I will keep reading the series. I like Adelina as a character, but the main bad guys are pretty thin and cliched. But, because the Legend series is so great, I have hope that this series picks up in the next two books.