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Ask Him Why by Catherine Ryan Hyde

I picked up Ask Him Why by Catherine Ryan Hyde on Kindle for $2.  The story hook struck me as interesting and the cost was low risk. But then I added the audible version for $2 as well so I ended up listening to it on the daily commute.

It turned out to be an entertaining and well done story.  I really enjoyed the different voices and perspectives.  It ends up feeling like an old fashioned radio drama where the voices add to the depth of the story.

Hyde does a great job of allowing the impact of the family tension play itself out as the story progresses.  As the family members tell the story from their perspective you begin to understand how the family dynamic (don’t ask questions, don’t cause trouble, financial pressure, etc.) has shaped relationships and habits.

The Day The Angels Fell by Shawn Smucker

I believe I came across this book via Twitter and as it was $.99 I grabbed it. I have been piling up non-fiction lately but then suddenly my brain is tired and I need some fiction to capture my imagination and allow me to relax.  This fit the bill.

And I really enjoyed The Day The Angels Fell even if I am not sure I agree with its theology – if you can call it that. Not surprising given my enjoyment of stories with mythical and spiritual components.

The mythical elements are mixed well with a sort of coming of age story about friendships, family and loss. While it isn’t exactly a thriller there is a nice mix of mystery, suspense and reflection. The characters are filled out enough to make the story work but there isn’t a constant attempt to fill in the details and give everyone a complete backstory.

The pacing is well done; just enough inner dialog and suspense to go along with some action and tension.

As noted, I am not really sure I am in agreement with the idea that death is a gift and the way that plays out concerning the fall, humans, etc. But it is a fascinating exploration as one thread in a larger story about loss and choice.

The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking #2) by Patrick Ness

After having listened to The Knife of Never Letting Go in the car, I reserved the The Ask and the Answer in the audio format as well. But while I was waiting for that to come in, I decided to just read it on my Kindle (I had picked up all three ebooks sometime ago but never read them).

I think I enjoyed the second book more than the first. Perhaps it was because I was not as distracted by the unique dialects while reading as I was when listening. But I think it had more to do with the larger canvas and wider angle of this story.

The first book was all about Todd and the slow revelation of what life was like on New World. It quickly becomes a cycle of run and capture, seeming victory followed by seeming defeat, right up until the end of the book. This pattern got old for me.

In the second book there is more action as Todd and Viola end up caught up in the clash of the “Ask and the Answer.”  We learn more about Mayor Prentiss, and his son Davy, and start to understand the opposing forces known as the Answer. The varied angles and the additional characters make the story seem fuller and less repetitive.

I am not a big fan of dystopian fiction, and I still found some of the writing over the top and disjointed, but I enjoyed the suspense and ambiguity more in this volume; even as Mayor/President Prentiss seems to turn even darker and more maniacal.

Looking forward to the conclusion in book three (whether ebook or audiobook).

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking #1) by Patrick Ness [Audio]

Some time ago I downloaded the entire Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness on my Kindle. It was one of many, many discounted or free ebooks I have grabbed for my Kindle never seemingly able to resist a cheap or free book.

But, like the vast majority of said acquired books, I never got around to reading the series. But then I happened to stumble on the audio version of The Knife of Never Letting Go at the local library and picked it up for the daily commute. And thus my exploration of the series began.

Interestingly, this was one of those books where I think the audio version might have hindered my enjoyment (often it seems the opposite). I found the accent and language style of the main character quite annoying. I am not sure why, but it just grated on me. I don’t think it was the fault of the narrator and I think if I had been reading it I might have gotten past it.

That experiential note aside, there was a great deal of creativity and world building in this first book that helps explain the popularity of the series.  There is tension and action from the start. And there is the contrast between the seemingly universal human elements with the otherworldly aspects; vulnerability and emotion with violence and desperation.

I did, however, find the repetitive/cyclical nature of the story frustrating at times. Run, capture, escape, run, confrontation, escape, run, confrontation, etc. etc.

And of course, the whole story ends with a giant cliffhanger.

But I was intrigued enough to push on through and keep with the series. The hook for the series, is just creative enough to keep me going and the characters, particularly Todd, are interesting enough that I want to know more.

My reaction to the next two books, alas, will have to wait until another post …

Girl on a Wire by Gwenda Bond

Photo Source: Berkshire Museum

When I reviewed Gwenda Bond’s first novel, Blackwood, in 2012 I began with my standard “I try to read books written by people I know even we just interact online” spiel. Today, I feel like I know Gwenda a bit better having recently read another of her books (The Woken Gods), have continued to interact with her on social media, and even met her in “real life” at a book reading.

So I was excited when her third book, Girl On A Wire, was announced.  And I was even more excited when it was a Kindle First choice which meant I got to read it on my Kindle a couple of weeks early.

Girl On A WireSixteen-year-old Jules Maroni’s dream is to follow in her father’s footsteps as a high-wire walker. When her family is offered a prestigious role in the new Cirque American, it seems that Jules and the Amazing Maronis will finally get the spotlight they deserve. But the presence of the Flying Garcias may derail her plans. For decades, the two rival families have avoided each other as sworn enemies.

Jules ignores the drama and focuses on the wire, skyrocketing to fame as the girl in a red tutu who dances across the wire at death-defying heights. But when she discovers a peacock feather—an infamous object of bad luck—planted on her costume, Jules nearly loses her footing. She has no choice but to seek help from the unlikeliest of people: Remy Garcia, son of the Garcia clan matriarch and the best trapeze artist in the Cirque.

As more mysterious talismans believed to possess unlucky magic appear, Jules and Remy unite to find the culprit. And if they don’t figure out what’s going on soon, Jules may be the first Maroni to do the unthinkable: fall.

And in many ways like Blackwood, I enjoyed it despite not really being in the target audience. Most of my YA reading is from the fantasy adventure world whereas GOAW is a blend of mystery and romance (albeit light).

Gwenda Bond

Gwenda Bond

As is typical of Gwenda, the central character, in this case Jules, is once again the strength of the story.  Gwenda really takes you inside the circus world and inside a particular family from that world, the Maroni’s.  Jules unique perspective (how she sees the world, how she views herself and her family, what she likes and dislikes, her style and personality, what and who she wants to be, etc.) shine and make for a strong character. A girl with ambition and verve but also with doubts and struggles as she seeks to navigate relationships and challenges.

The circus and its history is also a character of sorts. The entertainers and their suspicions, superstitions, habits, culture and traditions provide a great backdrop for a classic tale of family rivalries, forbidden love, revenge and the threat of violence that can lurk behind them.

I also really enjoyed the hint of the supernatural that is an undercurrent in the story. Gwenda lets the characters tell the story and we see the talismans and events of the past through their eyes. Is there magic involved, dark magic, or is it simply someone out for revenge using magic as a cover?  Does the coin have real power or is it the owner’s fierce belief in the luck that powers events?  These questions never really are definitively answered but rather lurk in the background as the events play out.

The budding romance between Jules and Remy (AKA Romeo and Juliet for those who might have missed the allusion) is well done. Again, I am not a romance reader but I appreciated the way that element was handled. It was not overdone or overly sentimental. The emotions and perspectives surrounding the relationship seemed authentic and natural; and kind of sweet at times.

If there is a weakness it is that the farther you move away from Jules the less defined and filled in the characters become.  Jules and her family are well done and developed as is the relationship with Remy. The secondary characters are less well-developed and so pack less punch when they are brought into a scene.

But all in all, it was a well done and enjoyable story with a unique setting and background. The mystery builds its tension nicely and there are a couple of plot twists to add excitement.  Jules is a strong female protagonist with personality and character. And the circus is a unique enough setting to make it that much more enjoyable.

If you enjoy YA literature and are looking for a fun, unique and well done female lead character definitely check out Girl On A Wire.

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