Book Review – The Library of Fates

Title: Library of Fates
Author: Aditi Khorana
Published: July 2017
Genre: YA Fantasy
Goodreads

Rating: 4 Stars
Cover: Like It

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Synopsis:

A romantic coming-of-age fantasy tale steeped in Indian folklore, perfect for fans of The Star-Touched Queen and The Wrath and the Dawn.

No one is entirely certain what brings the Emperor Sikander to Shalingar. Until now, the idyllic kingdom has been immune to his many violent conquests. To keep the visit friendly, Princess Amrita has offered herself as his bride, sacrificing everything—family, her childhood love, and her freedom—to save her people. But her offer isn’t enough.

The unthinkable happens, and Amrita finds herself a fugitive, utterly alone but for an oracle named Thala, who was kept by Sikander as a slave and managed to escape amid the chaos of a palace under siege. With nothing and no one else to turn to, Amrita and Thala are forced to rely on each other. But while Amrita feels responsible for her kingdom and sets out to warn her people, the newly free Thala has no such ties. She encourages Amrita to go on a quest to find the fabled Library of All Things, where it is possible for each of them to reverse their fates. To go back to before Sikander took everything from them.

Stripped of all that she loves, caught between her rosy past and an unknown future, will Amrita be able to restore what was lost, or does another life—and another love—await?

“All I had now were stories, words, and hope” (p. 185)

Thank you Penguin Random House for an eARC of The Library of Fates.

This story is unlike one I’ve ever read before and I absolutely love that fact. Khorana writes an #ownvoice story about Indian folklore that completely dunks you into this awesomely beautiful culture and storytelling. The descriptions are colorful and vivid, evoking a subconscious sense of wanderlust, presenting a world that you will want to reach out to touch, taste, feel, and can’t get enough. Who wouldn’t want to explore a place like this: “Blue and silver minarets rose above the walled city of Shalingar’s capital—Ananta. A layer of marine fog settled over Chanakya Lake, revealing miniature houseboats wearing elaborate gardens on their roofs like soft, mossy hats. They sailed placidly across the flat, misty surface of the basin” (p. 7)?

Amrita is the daughter of an emperor who has kept her primarily contained within the palace walls her whole life. Honestly, the palace has so much for her, it’s not surprising that she doesn’t have huge dreams to leave. She has a great relationship with her father, a best friend from childhood who recently revealed his feelings for her, and a handmaiden-type woman who is basically a mother figure. While she can be a bit of a brat when she doesn’t get what she wants (Can you blame her, though? Everything is generally given to her usually.), she respects her dad and his leadership of their lands.

But everything gets flipped upside down when her father’s old friend comes to visit. Sikander is a sexist, entitled jerk who wants to own and rule over everything. Soon into his visit, he reveals his plan to take over the kingdom and wreak destruction to make it happen. Amrita is encouraged to flee to warn her people. She then is sent on a great journey with her new friend Thala, learning about the world outside her doorstep, about how to take risks and fight for the people she loves, about sacrifice, and that the folklore stories she grew up hearing had more truth than she ever dreamed and she played a big role in them.

While the writing was absolutely gorgeous and the adventure exciting, there were some slower parts that I just wanted to rush through. Plus, there were actually a couple love triangles and I’m not really about that life. However, even with those things, I cannot recommend this book enough!

The Library of Fates is an enchanting story that heavily focuses on love and sacrifice. The amount of sacrifices made throughout this story make you want to be a better person and love your people harder. And while there is quite a lot lost on the journey, the fight is worth it and the end is inspirational. So I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

“And we cried because I think we both understood that there was no life without loss.”
(p. 301)

Book Review – Plains of Sand and Steel

Title: Plains of Sand and Steel (Uncommon World #2)
Author: Alisha Klapheke
Published: June 2017
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Goodreads 

Rating: 4 stars
Cover: Don’t like it

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Synopsis:

A ruler’s young bride with a body to conceal, a mercenary bent on revenge, and the Fire magic that will alter their story forever. The Wrath and the Dawn meets Truthwitch in the second standalone, full length novel of the Uncommon World series. When her new royal husband dies at the beginning of an invasion, Seren must hide his body and use the visions the Holy Fire gives her to save the Empire from itself and its enemies. But if the high-ranking general who hates her discovers her secret, he’ll have her put to death.

When invaders slaughter Ona’s family and shatter her artist life, she joins Lucca, an experienced mercenary and her exact opposite, and heads into war. She just knows the “chanting” she can do—imposing one’s will on the world and watching it come to life—will break the invaders and give her sweet vengeance.

Both want to save the Empire but with tangled histories and new passions swirling around them, their divided motivations turn a possible victory into a deadly storm. Join the battle today.

“Ona could smell her own fear and rage like vinegar and blood. Her hands had never vibrated with this kind of power. She was going to kill so many people today.” (Chapter 7)

Happy book birthday to Plains of Sand and Steel by Alisha Klapheke, book two in the Uncommon World series. You can check out my review of the first book Waters of Salt and Sin HERE. I just want to say thanks to the author for giving me an eARC to read. PLUS, she just released the map of the world and goodness, I love book maps, don’t you?

This book goes straight into the action and conflict in the first chapter, resulting in a total emersion into the character’s lives instead of a building up of their stories. We get a chance to hear more about each character’s backgrounds, desires, fears, etc as the story continues. This is different than the first book, but I felt it appropriate for these characters (how many times can I say characters in one paragraph?). Similar to Waters of Salt and Sin, Plains of Sand and Steel deals with some conflict between different classes and roles, however, it was not as much of a focus.

Let’s take a minute to talk about these strong females Klapheke has given us! Seren has found herself in a role she’s completely unfamiliar with after her husband, the Kyros, dies. Her family has been working their way upward in the class system for generations. Seren’s father was hired as the high-ranking general, which brough Seren into the scene to be married to the Seren. After his death, she finds herself in a unique position where she has to decide whether or not to fight for the position of Kyros, a position she believes she deserves but others don’t because of her blood. And fight she does. With encouragement from her friends, she recognizes the unique power she has and the desire she has to lead her people. She not only stands up and demands her title of Kyros, but she stands by her people’s side to fight with them. Of course, it’s a process. She learns to overcome her fear and that nagging voice telling her she’s not good enough, but the journey is inspiring. Just look at this badass line she even gets in chapter 24:

“Never seen a woman with,” he made a flourishing kind of motion with his hands, “these…type ideas.”
“It’s the Holy Fire that gives me these ideas. And perhaps if you asked more women about their thoughts, you’d hear more good ideas.”

On the flip side, we’ve got Ona. Ona is badass from the get-go, she’s already gone through the character development to get her there. But she’s quite different than Seren. Her only goal in life is to kill every last invader because of the wrong they’ve inflicted in her life. She is a passionate fighter and throws herself at everything she does. Ona is ruthless. Her care for the people close to her is the only evidence that her heart isn’t rock solid. And to wrap it all up, she is vulgar and sassy. It’s like night and day, yet both are badass and strong. The only difference is that Seren knows her limits.

Okay, I should probably let you get to know the other characters by actually reading the book, but I just got so excited about these strong females! That being said, there’s some other great characters, like my dear Lucca, but you should just get the book to get to know them yourself.

There were some slower parts that were difficult to get through when life got in the way, but once you got through them, the plot picked up with vengeance. My other disappointment was the cover. I know some people love them, but artistically it’s hard to completely support them.

It was a fun and exciting read. The entire book is basically a battle: a battle with the invaders, a battle for the role of Kyros, a battle with self-discovery, and a battle of secrets. If you like action, what are you doing? Go read it for yourself.

Did you count how many times I said “characters?”

Book Blitz/Review – The Animal Under the Fur

Title: The Animal Under the Fur
Author: E.J. Mellow
Published: March 30th 2017
Genre: Action, Adult, Romance

Rating: 5 stars
Cover: Love it

Synopsis:

From award-winning author E. J. Mellow comes an action romance dripping with vengeful delight.

Orphaned on the streets as a baby, Nashville Brown, a.k.a Kill Operative 3, knows better than to rely on anyone. With heightened senses and superhuman strength to survive, she’s been raised as the perfect assassin.

The trick to her success? Keeping everyone, even her best friend, at arm’s length.

Losing his entire family in the span of a year, Carter Smith left his ability to love buried deep in their graves. His only concerns now are completing his missions and effortlessly charming the next temptress to warm his bed.

The key to his accomplishments? Working alone mixed with a Casanova smile.

But when a deadly weapon needs to be stopped from falling into the wrong hands, the lone wolves find themselves thrown into an explosive partnership. Can Carter and 3 lower their guns aimed at one another long enough to succeed, or will their unwillingness to compromise end up destroying more than their perfect records? Whatever their differences, both agree on one thing—in the game of lies and deceit, the line between friend and foe is often blurred by blood splatter.

The Animal Under The Fur is a hate-to-loath-to-love standalone novel filled with savagery, secrets, and enough angst to wrinkle the pages you’ll find gripped in your hands.

“You know,” he says, “there’s other way to work through issues than with violence.” I cock my head to the side. “But so much less fun” (chapter 35)

Happy Book Birthday to The Animal Under the Fur! I had the privilege of receiving an Advanced Reader Copy from the author to give an honest review. This review is a part of TAUTF Book Blitz.

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How refreshing it is to read something completely badass and action-packed after reading a couple of YA Romance books. This book packs a punch! While being pitched as a hate-to-loath-to-love story makes some of the story arc predictable, there were so many twists that took me by surprise. I had no idea where E.J. Mellow was taking the story and I loved every second. Don’t put this book down; you don’t know what Carter and Nashville will get up to while you’re gone.

Cater Smith and Nashville Brown are assassins working for sister agencies. They both meet when accidentally assigned the same person to kill. Though their immediate hatred for each other causes their mission to go less than smoothly, both agencies decide to attempt to put them together purposefully to tackle a bigger mission as a team.

The characters are introduced with their flaws out on display almost instantly. Cater thinks with his dick always. His language and voice is characterized by phallic imagery and descriptions. He is vulgar and obsessed with sex. Nashville has such a deep sense of independence that she gives herself a superior persona. She distances herself from everyone, which lets her do her job better. Their hatred for each other is captivating, urging you to discover what they’ll do next. As you read, both Carter and Nashville’s strengths come to the surface and it’s charming as hell.

There is a moralistic element to this book that comes up in the second half and gives humanity to every character involved. Mellow consistently hits you in the gut through her imagery, the action-packed tension, the romance, and the humanity of people. The Animal Under the Fur is sexy, raw, and so freaking fun.

“There will be a tomorrow for you after it’s done” (chapter 55).

Purchase Links

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / iBooks / Kobo

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E.J. Mellow is the award-winning author of the contemporary fantasy trilogy The Dreamland Series and The Animal Under The Fur. With a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, E.J. Mellow splits her time between her two loves – visual design and writing. Residing in NYC, E.J. is a member of Romance Writers of America and their Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal Chapter. She has no animals but loves those who do.

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

 

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Lose Me. – Book Review

Title: Lose Me. (ARC)
Author: M.C. Frank
Published: April 11th, 2017
Genre: New Adult, Contemporary, Romance 

Rating: 4 Stars
Cover: Like It

losemecover
Synopsis:

Jane Austen meets New Adult fiction in this compulsively readable romance.

“Today is not the day I die.”

Ari Demos starts every day with this thought. Fresh out of high school, she’s landed a coveted role as a stunt double in a new Pride and Prejudice adaptation starring the Hollywood phenomenon Weston Spencer. But this job isn’t going to be easy: Ari will be performing complicated water stunts and driving fast cars along the narrow cliffs of Corfu. One false step and she could lose not only her job, but her life.

And then Wes Spencer, Mr Darcy himself, arrives in Greece. He’s got dirty blonde hair, a mile-long yacht and a bored look on that gorgeous face. Ari wants nothing to do with the rich actor boy, but on the day she meets him, she has an accident. One that almost claims her life. And now she can’t hide from the truth any longer:
She might be much closer to losing everything than she thought. She might be dying. And the British actor is the last person she’d expect to save her life.

She’s a hard-working island girl. He’s adored by millions.
Falling in love was never supposed to be a part of the job.
Staying alive was never supposed to be a part of growing up.

Was this story ever meant for a happily ever after?

“The truth is, people don’t survive alone. And they certainly don’t thrive alone.” – p. 312

I recently received an advanced readers copy of Lose Me. from the author, M.C. Frank. I absolutely adored her No Ordinary Star series (reviews here and here), so I was pretty excited to hear that she had written something new and a little bit different. This is primarily why I picked up this book, whereas I would otherwise tend to stay away from NA Romance books. It seems that so many NA books out there have uncomfortable covers with shirtless guys, sometimes sensually grabbing onto a girl as if their life depended on it. What’s inside doesn’t get much more engaging. I’ve only read a couple books under this category, but the ones I have read or flipped through are filled with sex and sexual tension from beginning to end. Honestly, I’d rather not spend my time reading about the sex lives of flat characters. However, since I already know and love Frank’s writing, I decided to give it a shot. The first thing that told me this book would be different was the cover. Come on, guys—just look at that cover! It is way more inviting, creative, and well done than most novels in this genre. How could you skip over this beauty? Plus, the inside gets better! Once I picked it up to read, I cursed every distraction and responsibility that forced me to put it back down again.

Lose Me. is written in a carefree, conversational way as if Ari, our main girl, were sitting down with you, fingers curled around a mug of coffee, telling you all about her life. The story takes place primarily in Greece, with some appearances in New York and England. The descriptions of Greece are gorgeous and gave me a sense of wanderlust. I felt almost like I was there and had been there before, even though I’ve never even left the US in my life. The country’s beauty was captivating and felt like home. Frank, who is Greek herself, did a wonderful job of cultivating her sense of home and conveying that through her writing.

Without getting into spoilers, the middle of the book didn’t grab me as much as the as the rest, but I genuinely cared so much about the characters that I felt a sense of urgency to continue reading. I could feel the pain the characters were going through during some of the conflict and this pushed me on. I sometimes found myself wanting to yell at poor decisions made and tuck the characters in my pocket to keep them safe. Another disappointing aspect was that it felt like the book was rushed in the editing stages. Some scenes went on for a long time and were repetitive, and some of the edits just felt like they could’ve been better. Other than these two aspects, I loved this read.

A huge theme throughout this book is trust. Who should we trust our entire life with and when is it okay to not know? Everything Ari goes through boils down to this discovery: people need people. I absolutely love this and would smile (I’d say internally, but who knows what actually goes on with my face when I’m immersed in a book) every time Ari realized that she needed the support that the people around her are trying to freely give more than she needs to protect them and their emotions or to protect herself. You go, girl. Stop thinking so selfishly about yourself and let people love you. After all, how boring would life be if we didn’t have people near to our hearts to share it with, the joys and the trials? Life is much more rich when you have people to experience it with you, to encourage you, to challenge you, and to hold your hand when things get scary. “People don’t survive alone” (p. 312).

No Plain Rebel – Book Review

Title: No Plain Rebel (No Ordinary Star #2)
Author: M.C. Frank
Published: July 2016
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Dystopia 

Rating: 4 Stars
Cover: Like it

51jlw2ncnml-_sx326_bo1204203200_Synopsis:

A soldier is summoned to the North Pole, days before the year changes, told to fix the great Clock for a celebration. He had no idea what to do.

A girl, hunted for the crime of being born, almost dies out on the ice. She is rescued by the last polar bear left alive.

A library waits for them both, a library built over a span of a hundred years, forgotten in the basement of an ice shack.

The world hasn’t known hunger or sickness in hundreds of years. It has also forgotten love and beauty.

The year is 2525.

Inspired by the short stories of Ray Bradbury, this futuristic novel is set in a world where Christmas—among other things—is obsolete and a Clock is what keeps the fragile balance of peace.

Written in three installments, this is the breathtaking and sensual story of how two unlikely people change the world, and each other, one book at a time.

In No Plain Rebel, Felix finds out the truth. Or so he thinks. He’s trying to come to terms with that, as well as with the fact that the Clockmaster’s shack has been discovered by his fellow-soldiers, but he can’t exactly concentrate. The match girl’s fiery curls appear before his eyes every ten seconds, distracting him, and then he starts talking to her in his head. Because she’s no longer there.

The Stadium is looming in the distance.

It’s ten heartbeats to midnight.

“Silence is not peace, Felix, my hope” (p. 188).

*I received a free copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review*

The truth is out there. *Cue “The X-Files” theme music.*

No Ordinary Star ended with a cliffhanger, so naturally I scrambled to continue the story with No Plain Rebel. (You can see my review for NOS here.) I love reading about Felix and Astra and watching them learn, and as they learn, their worlds grow so much bigger. I love how they learn about how humanity was before it was taken away from them, and watch them marvel at it: “They stand for a few more minutes there, absorbing all the newness of the Old World” (p. 25). Felix and Astra learn what knowledge, ideas, beauty, and love are when the world they live in is void of it. This continuation of their story was perfect.

All of the questions left in NOS are answered in the second installment. Felix learns the truth about who he is, who his family is, and where the world is headed. I think I could feel his mind blowing as his knowledge grew. Both characters learn who to extend a trusting hand to and who is perpetuating the bleak future of their world. There is a delightful part of NPR where Felix is forced to swallow a giant pill of humility and face reality in the fact that he can’t help change the problem without recognizing he’s part of the problem. Whoa! The character growth is through the roof!

Astra and Felix {finally} start realizing their feelings for each other, even with the knowledge that any sort of romantic relations is illegal. Heck, everything they do in this book is considered illegal. I can’t imagine living in a world where reading is treason! I was disappointed, though, that this story seemed to be mostly focused on Felix, and we don’t hear much from Astra in the second half of the book. I am a fan of that feisty red head.

Ultimately, I think book one is my favorite of the two, specifically because of the world immersion rather than the overflow of information. However, as I said, this book didn’t disappoint – and of COURSE it ended on another cliffhanger. Where’s book three?

Love. Hurt. Betrayal. The story continues.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Book Review

Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts I & II
Author: J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, & Jack Thorne
Published: July 2016
Genre: Fantasy, Play

Rating: 2 Stars
Cover: It’s okay

518vha3dh9l-_sx329_bo1204203200_Synopsis:

Nineteen years after the Battle of Hogwarts…

It was always difficult being Harry Potter, and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband, and a father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: Sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a new play by Jack Thorne. It is the eighth Harry Potter story and the first to be officially presented on stage. This special rehearsal edition of the script brings the continued journey of Harry Potter and his friends and family to readers everywhere immediately following the play’s world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

Harry: I’ve never asked you how you felt about me naming him after you, have I?
Dumbledore: Candidly, Harry, it seemed a great weight to place upon the poor boy.

Before I dove into this book, I felt I had to mentally prepare myself for the different formatted storytelling of the characters I’ve loved the majority of my life. This is not a book, but a play; therefore it should have different expectations. Even with this in mind, I felt the execution was less than expected. It felt like the writer didn’t know whether they were writing a play or a novel, often being excessively descriptive in the stage directions or using unnecessary details, such as the specific number a character dialed in the telephone booth entrance to the Ministry of Magic. An audience member is not going to be able to see what number is being dialed. It was a little confusing to keep going back and forth between mindsets – is this a script or a novel?

First, let me give you a quick overview of the plot in non-spoilery fashion. Harry and Ginny’s son, Albus, and Draco’s son, Scorpius, become friends over their societal outcast—Albus’s being self-inflicted because of his apparent hatred of his relation to his father, and Scorpius because of persistent rumors that his father and mother used a special Time Turner to go back in time, resulting in Scorpius being Voldemort’s heir. For some reason, Albus becomes obsessed with Cedric Diggory’s death, and ropes Scorpius into running away from school in order to find this alleged special Time Turner, go back in time to save Cedric, and alter time, as well as Harry’s fame. They are encouraged and accompanied by Cedric’s cousin, Delphi.

The script starts off where the 7th book ended, the next generation of Potter’s, Wesley’s, and Malfoy’s boarding the Hogwarts train. However, we barely get to see Hogwarts, which was a surprise to me. For the first 20-ish% of the book, the new characters are being introduced in quick glimpses, flashing through years at a neck breaking speed without giving much of an in depth look at characters’ lives. This whole beginning was just a fast paced view of Albus getting moodier and more self-centered over the course of four years. When the pacing does slow down, we are then thrown back and forth in time without a moment to breathe. It was hard to get connected. On top of that, the dialogue is not natural and often awkward. I cringed several times when characters spoke to each other, particularly when Albus and Scorpius interact with the trolley lady on the train to Hogwarts. You know, the one that comes around and sells sweets? Apparently she is nuts. I would like to scrub that scene from my cranium.

My biggest complaint was the lack of depth to the characters. I’m not just talking about the fast forward introduction to the new ones, but also the characters that are iconic to the Harry Potter industry. Ginny’s character was completely flat and uninteresting (Flashback to the movies?), Ron is constantly trying to make awkward jokes and works at the Joke Shop now (What happened to George? I thought Ron was an Auror?), and Hermione’s intelligence isn’t anything special. Draco’s character was the only that seemed relatively close to what we would expect, and he brought some of those nostalgic feelings back. Three cheers for Draco! Oh, and of course we have a Dumbledore cameo. He appears through various picture frames as a painting in two scenes. I feel that his addition is completely unnecessary; his scenes could be cut out of the play completely and make no difference. The first scene in which he makes an appearance, he offers Harry advice that is promptly ignored, instead causing Harry to respond in the opposite direction. In the second, Dumbledore’s lines are extremely uncharacteristic and he proceeds to make an awkward and emotional apology to Harry for the way he’s treated him over the years. It feels that Dumbledore’s role was specifically to give fans some closure they felt they deserved, though uncharacteristic. This is completely unnecessary because we often don’t get closure in our real lives.

Hands down, beyond a doubt, Scorpius is by far the best character. His wit cuts through the awkward dialogue and brings humor to the angsty characters. He responds to situations with normal emotions and questions that one would expect. He is loyal, even when his best friend is caught up in his get-back-at-his-dad-for-being-famous schemes. He kept me going. *fist pump for the witty, strange Scorpius*

Some of the scenes were inconsistent with things readers know to be true of the Wizarding World. On many occasions, characters would come and go from Hogwarts grounds without any dancing around security spells. Harry, Ginny, Ron, Hermione, and Draco all come through Professor McGonagall’s chimney by Flu Powder and nothing is said about it other than Professor McGonagall’s complaint about the carpet getting dirty. Is anyone allowed to come onto school grounds now? Did security become lax after the Battle of Hogwarts? Isn’t this a little overzealous? One of the first things the new trio does in their vengeance scheme is use Polyjuice Potion to transform into Ministry of Magic employees AKA the parents. Did the author(s) forget that Polyjuice Potion takes a month to make? There is no way they could’ve whipped it up so fast! Apparently all Wizarding World rules are out the window though, since Time Turners play such a huge role in the story, even though they were all destroyed in the Battle of Ministries in the 5th book. However, these are special Time Turners that break all the rules because they are able to go back years instead of being limited to an hour or so. Who would’ve thought? To top it off, during one of their leaps through time in attempt to save Cedric, the three appear in the maze portion of the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Somehow they are able to navigate the twists and enchantments of the maze, while remaining completely unseen by the scorekeepers, announcer, and crowds. There are a lot of things that don’t quite connect throughout.

In an attempt to be spoiler-free, I have not talked about Delphi in depth, nor the big plot twists in the second half of the book. Please comment if you’ve read this so that we can talk about these things!

The suspension of belief required during this read is exceptional and the dialogue cringe-worthy. The most redeeming quality of The Cursed Child is the humor Scorpius and Draco bring to the table. If you are hoping to reconnect with the story and the familiar characters, you may be left wanting more.

Book Review – True Notebooks

IMG_7875Title: True Notebooks: A Writer’s Year at Juvenile Hall
Author: Mark Salzman
Published: 2003
Genre: Sociology

I finished this book while riding the subway to my internship in New York City. It took every ounce of self-control to reign in the tears threatening to overflow. Why? I’ll tell you.

Mark Salzman writes about on opportunity he had in 1997 and how it affected his life. He was stumped while working on a novel and wanted to get some insight on the life and character of a juvenile delinquent. Somewhat reluctantly, he started volunteering in L.A.’s Central Juvenile Hall as a writing teacher for teenagers charged with murder and other violent crimes. He had all these expectations of what to expect from these boys. I’m sure all of us do. That’s not a situation most of us would desire to find ourselves. Some of these stereotypes seemed to be well-labeled at first, but then…Through their writing, the boys found their voice and began exploring their experiences, their emotions, their thoughts. Many wrote about how it feels to be locked up, awaiting their court date, knowing the eventual outcome–often a life sentence in prison. Through this experience, they struggle to understand their lives now that these mistakes they’ve made define them.

A few of the boys stayed in the class for most of the book, but one of the hardest things was reading about boy after boy who came into the class, found hope in their self-expression and a positive role model in their teacher, and would suddenly, unexpectedly leave, being sent to spend a lengthy amount of years in prison. Salzman’s writing connects the reader with all the characters, no matter how vulgar or what they had done. They weren’t criminals in my mind. They were humans with passions, thoughts, creativity, longing, and personalities. Salzman humanizes the convicts and calls the reader to allow them in your heart.

One of the biggest themes the boys strive to work through in the book is their struggle with hopelessness. What would they do with their lives if they had done it differently, if they had had another chance? Some find hope everywhere they can, like being able to see a cloud out of their small window. Some are unable to find hope at all.

The reader learns about the culture of the boys and why they feel they need to do the things they do or why they wish they hadn’t done what they did. We learn about how gangs run and influence their lives and about how they believe they must be strong for their families. One boy explains that, when they go to court, they have to wait to cry until they leave because they don’t want that image to be the last version of them their families see. He wrote a long piece about his experience in court, how he was unable to stay strong, and one passage in particular hit me in the gut:

I thought about all the people that were sitting in the courtroom giving me their support and love and I lost complete control of my emotions. The tears that I had held in for so long streamed down my face as I cursed myself for letting these people down. Why couldn’t the judge see that the young man sitting before her was not the same person that had entered juvenile hall two years ago? Why couldn’t she see that I had dreams of getting out and getting my life together, to be somebody?
p. 207

This book caused me to feel a wide range of emotions and feel completely connected. Salzman’s writing is uncensored and raw. He gives a real look at what life is like for these boys while in juvie, and what their lives look like after. By including the writing from all the boys he was able to teach, he allows us to feel for the characters as if they were people in our own lives who made mistakes. He makes us feel hope, fear, sadness, anger, and joy with each of the characters. The boys all discover more about themselves and their world through their writing. My only wish is that they could’ve had an experience like this before they made the choices they did. My only hope is that others can experience the therapeutic aspects to writing their hearts.

Now you know what happened. Now you know my story.
I hope I’m not just a face for you to see.
I’m a person with a past. I’m a person with a future.
So if I may, can I ask you to please pray for me?
p. 68