Reviews

Review: The Yoga of Max’s Discontent

yogaofmax I was given an e-copy of The Yoga of Max’s Discontent by the author in exchange for an honest review. I am so happy to have had this opportunity, because The Yoga of Max’s Discontent is a gem of a story.

Max Pzoras has achieved what many believe to be the American Dream: he has surpassed his impoverished upbringing and lives a life of luxury in New York City. He works a high-paying office job where many people consider him skilled at what he does. He lives in a beautiful apartment and wears fine clothes. He wants for nothing.

Except something in Max’s life is missing. After his mother passes away, Max has a chance encounter with a street cart vendor who, although barely dressed, does not so much as shiver in the cold. Through this man, Max learns about the yogis in India who have achieved Nirvana, and stories of one yogi in particular have Max withdrawing from the obligations of his New York City life and setting out on a quest to understand mortality and the depths of the human spirit.

Only knowing about yoga through some beginner classes and what popular culture has lead me to believe, I was fascinated by Max’s journey. There is an interesting foil between the “real” yogis in India and the “fad” yogis who lure tourists looking for enlightenment into their traps. Max encounters both on his journey. However, his dedication to Yoga leads him away from civilization into extreme conditions: the frigid Himalayas and a draught-struck ashram. It is in these settings that Max’s yoga practice begins to transform and – in turn – transforms Max.

The Yoga of Max’s Discontent is a beautiful book. Do not be deterred if you know nothing about yoga or spirituality; you can learn right alongside the protagonist. Bajaj’s book left me longing to reflect and study myself, and that is a wonderful thing.

What have you been reading lately? Has it given you cause to reflect?

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

Review: Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

9780399175411_OutrunTheMoon_BOM.indd “No, the key to wealth was opportunity. And if opportunity didn’t come knocking than Mrs. Lowry says you must build your own door.”

Outrun The Moon is author Stacey Lee’s second book, and it is just as stunning and well-researched as her debut, Under a Painted Sky (which I reviewed here).

Set in San Francisco in 1906, Outrun the Moon details the journey of Mercy Wong, a fifteen-year-old girl living in Chinatown. Mercy is a US citizen, although her parents are not, and her family and friends live and thrive within the confines of Chinatown’s industry. Mercy’s father is a launderer, and her mother is a well-respected fortune teller. Mercy also lives with her younger brother, Jack, whose weak lungs keep him from running and playing as other children might. Aided by the medicine of their neighbor, Ah-Suk, Jack’s health remains in check.

Mercy is smitten with her longtime friend, Tom. Tom is Ah-Suk’s son and is expected to take over the family trade. However, Tom has dreams of flying, and he has even crafted a hot air balloon. Similarly, Mercy has dreams that would take her outside of Chinatown: she wants to run a successful business.

Mercy is an intelligent narrator who, despite her modern ways of thinking when it comes to business and the role of the female, deeply respects her upbringing and Chinese traditions. She has a dislike of the unlucky number four, and she frequently uses her mother’s body-mapping techniques to discern qualities in individuals. For example, Mercy’s high cheekbones (sometimes referred to as “bossy cheeks”) denote an assertive nature. I found this mixture of modern thinking and respect for tradition to be incredibly refreshing and interesting to read. Mercy is also witty and quick to act, and I would happily read another book narrated by her.

Mercy Wong knows that she needs to further her education if she wants to make a name for herself in the business world, and so she strikes a deal with the wealthy Du Lac family. Chocolatiers by trade, Mr. Du Lac also serves on the board of St. Clare’s School for Girls, one of the most exclusive private schools. An elaborate ruse is concocted, and Mercy is granted a trial period at the school where she must pretend she is a Chinese heiress.

Being the first non-white person at the school, Mercy garners a lot of attention – not all of it favorable. Soon after settling in, however, disaster strikes: the historic earthquake of April 18, 1906 sends San Francisco into turmoil, and the girls of St. Clare’s have to put aside their differences to survive.

Outrun the  Moon features a cast of unique and likable characters, each with their own flaws and inner battles. From enemies, to friends, to grumpy headmistresses, Mercy deals with them all. Reduced to living in a park together after the earthquake, the girls’ true natures come to light.

Although Lee takes some liberties with historical accuracy (she changes the time that the earthquake hit Chinatown, among a few other things that she mentions in an author’s note), I found Outrun the Moon to be a wonderful glimpse into a time period and a culture that I am not entirely familiar with. The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 was a history lesson reduced to one class when I was in school, and I never stopped to think about the myriad of ways that people were affected and what this tragedy meant to the city. Between this book and Under a Painted Sky, Lee has single-handedly made me want to research periods in history to learn more. Anyone who can do that outside of a classroom is doing something right!

I want to thank Stacey Lee for providing me with an advanced copy of Outrun The Moon in exchange for an honest review. The book was released in May by GP Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, and I cannot recommend it enough. Go – read – and fall in love with a time and a place.

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

uprooted cover naomi novak“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

The Dragon protects the entire valley of villages where Agnieska has lived. It’s always been this way her entire life, the Dragon and the Wood dueling. The Wood sending out waves of corruption that the Dragon stopped. And all he required was a girl from the valley, every ten years, to live in his tall tower.

Agnieska’s best friend Kasia was always meant to be taken. Beautiful, strong, and brave – where Agnieska is bumbling, apt to daydreaming, and wandering farther into the Wood than she ever should. Kasia will be chosen, and Agnieska is afraid. There’s no way for her to save her friend.

But when the Dragon comes to choose, it’s not Kasia he chooses. It’s Agnieska.

I loved Uprooted. It was overwhelming and meandering at times, but beautiful and raw as well, with layer after layer of complexity. The mythos of it had Russian origins, which, as I noted with Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, is a refreshing variation.

It reminded me of Beauty and the Beast, right down to magical rose bushes. To be shamelessly honest, I was picturing David Tennant as the Dragon and Anne Hathaway as Agnieska. Whoops. I loved the Dragon’s brittle, curmudgeonly personality, and how he bristled at the unrefined ways of Agnieska. Her stumbling, improvising way with magic made me think that would be the way many of us would go about it

I loved the world Novik built, complete with other wizards and witches, beyond the valley. The man vs nature conflict was like a darker Studio Ghibli movie. Remember kiddies, don’t anger nature.

Kasia and Agnieska’s friendship was realistic and fortunately devoid of unnecessary drama or love triangles. The royalty in this world were also rather realistically depicted, in that they were very fleshed out characters. All of the characters were multifaceted, with hidden depths that slowly, organically were revealed, even as they grew. Well, some of them grew.

I absolutely, positively recommend this book to fantasy fans. It was darker than your typical YA fantasy, funny, and emotive. Like so many of my favorites, I miss the characters already.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.

Review and Blog Tour: One True Loves

onetrueloves Happy June, everyone!  I’m so thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for One True Loves, the latest book from Taylor Jenkins Reid. Last year I read (and adored!) Maybe in Another Life, and I reviewed that here.  So thank you, Atria, for giving me the chance to read One True Loves!

Stick around after my review: there’s a link to a giveaway at the end of this post!

Emma Blair lives a cozy life in Massachusetts. She works at her family’s bookstore and she has a wonderful fiance named Sam. One night when she is sitting down to dinner with Sam and her parents she gets a phone call she could not have expected to get in a million years. On the other end of the line, she hears the voice of her first love and her husband, Jesse Lerner. He tells her he is coming home.

Three years prior, on the eve of their first wedding anniversary, Emma said goodbye to Jesse before he boarded a helicopter on an assignment. The helicopter went down, leaving no survivors, as the authorities and family were lead to believe.

But somehow, Jesse survived all of this time. Jesse, who Emma grieved for, is coming back home, and he wants to pick up their marriage where they left off.

Emma, who mourned and suffered and drastically altered the circumstances of her life, is a new person, promised to another man.

“Do you ever get over loss? Or do you just find a box within yourself, big enough to hold it? Do you just stuff it in there, push it down, and snap the lid on it? Do you just work, every day, to keep the box shut?”

What follows is a intricate story about relationships, choices, and personal identity. Emma is not only caught between two men; she’s caught between the life she had built for herself before Jesse’s accident, and the life she is building for herself now.

When Emma was married to Jesse, the two lived in California and traveled the world extensively – together as well as separately – and they were always up for a new experience.

Emma’s life with Sam is rooted in their Massachusetts hometown. It is a calm and cozy life, full of domesticity, and owning cats, and having dinners at home. Both of Emma’s lives are appealing for their own reasons.

The supporting cast of characters – Emma’s parents and sister, Marie – are complicated in their own way, but fiercely dedicated to the rest of the family. Scenes between Emma and her sister are especially poignant.

Taylor Jenkins Reid is a master of tugging on the heartstrings. If you’re looking for a book to make you swoon and/or cry this summer, I highly recommend picking up One True Loves.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Taylor Jenkins Reid is an author and essayist from Acton, Massachusetts. She is the author of Forever, Interrupted, After I Do and Maybe In Another Life. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Alex, and her dog, Rabbit. You can follow her on Twitter @TJenkinsReid.

ONE TRUE LOVES by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Atria/Washington Square Press Paperback | ISBN: 9781476776903 | On sale: June 7, 2016 | 352 pages | $16.00

eBook: Atria/Washington Square Press | ISBN: 9781476776910 | On sale: June 7, 2016 | 352 pages | $11.99

RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY:

2 COMPLETE SETS OF SIGNED TJR BOOKS

5 SIGNED COPIES OF ONE TRUE LOVES

Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway HERE.

Thanks to Atria Books for supplying me with an advanced e-copy for review purposes!

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

Review: The Two Princesses of Bamarre

The Two Princesses of Bamarre Cover“I was no hero. The dearest wishes of my heart were for safety and tranquility. The world was a perilous place, wrong for the likes of me.”  

I’ve been downsizing and that means I’ve been going through my bookshelves. And it’s something that really makes me pause when I see how well-worn some of the books I have are. There are books I read over and over and over again, so entrenched I was in their stories. And they didn’t even have to be big names.

One of them was The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine. She’s best known for writing Ella Enchanted (which in no way is at all similar to the movie).

The Two Princesses of Bamarre is set in a classic fairy tale kingdom, focusing on two royal sisters. There’s twelve-year-old Addie, who looks up to her courageous sister Meryl. Meryl wants to follow in Drualt, their legendary hero’s footsteps and do the same as he did–go on adventures and rid the kingdom of the evil beasts that lurk in the wilderness.

Addie would be content with staying at home, and not doing any of those things. After all, they already lost their mother, why risk endangering themselves any further?

But Meryl falls victim to another one of the kingdom’s evils—the illness known as the Gray Death. Finding courage she didn’t know she had, Addie sets out into her kingdom to do the impossible and find a cure.

This story reminds me of The Princess Bride because it has everything: adventure, danger, twists and turns, wit, and romance that won’t make you gag. Spectres, ogres, griffins, and even dragons lie in her path, but she keeps going for her sister. She doesn’t have strength to rely on, just her own pluckiness and willpower. As a kid who was athletically-challenged and constantly with my nose stuck in books, this appealed to me. If I ran into danger, I just had to persevere and keep fighting in spite of fear.

Acting as a backdrop against Addie and Meryl’s story is the story of the legendary hero who disappeared mysteriously ages ago. It fleshes out the kingdom’s history, a bit of world building for future readers of A Song of Fire and Ice or Lord of the Rings. 

The novel has a complex ending, one that doesn’t tie things up as nicely as you might expect in a children’s book. Like life, there is both happiness and sadness in the ending. But the one constant through the story is the sisters’ unshakable love and devotion to one another.

This is not one of your “one day my prince will come” fairy tales. Gail Carson Levine has a penchant for taking the fairy tale world and empowering girl characters within her worlds to face their fears and overcome challenges.

Even as a middle grade novel, I am ready to read this book again! And… again. Addie’s quest speaks to the feelings within all of us. About finding our inner strength, and doing what we need to for the people we love.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.

Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

everythinginevertoldyou A story that has been told a dozen times before:

A perfect daughter dies under tragic circumstances. Her family reels with shock, and then struggles to pick up the pieces.

The premise of Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng may seem simple – familiar, even – but this story is far from what you’d expect.

Set in a small town in Ohio in the 1970s, Everything I Never Told You follows the Chinese-American Lee family. James Lee is a Chinese man working as a college professor (of history, specifically westerns and cowboys); his wife, Marilyn, is a white woman whose dreams of becoming a doctor were swept under the rug with the birth of her first child.

The three Lee children are Lydia, an overachieving, straight-A, student with many friends; Nathan, an equally-intelligent loner overshadowed by his sister; and Hannah, a quiet younger child who craves attention from her family.

When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed. Old wounds are reopened. Crushed dreams are realized. Allegiances are questioned.

Word gets out that Lydia may not have been the popular girl her family thought her to be. While Nath and even Hannah begin to investigate the person that was their sister, Lydia’s parents refuse to listen and cope with their grief in vastly different ways.

“The things that go unsaid are often the things that eat at you–whether because you didn’t get to have your say, or because the other person never got to hear you and really wanted to.”

Everything I Never Told You is a haunting debut from an author who understands the nuances of relationships and renders them both painfully, and beautifully, on the page.

You may think you’ve read this story before, but this debut is all new.

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

Review: The Two of Us by Andy Jones

thetwoofus Before a snowstorm hit New York City in January, I was contacted by Atria Books with an a review request for The Two of Us by Andy Jones, which was later released on February 9th. Atria promised me “the perfect book to cuddle up to as snow and ice pelt the windows,” so I eagerly downloaded it.

In reality, The Two of Us lasted me a few chilly, soggy subway rides post-snowstorm, and while it wasn’t necessarily a book I would think of cuddling up to, it was a captivating read that was vastly different from any love story I’ve ever read.

Fisher and Ivy have been dating for a blissed-out, totally sexy nineteen days when they’re faced with a major wake-up call: one that’s set to completely change their lives in nine months time. While Fisher is certain that the gorgeous, spontaneous Ivy is the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with, the couple is forced to learn about each other, overcome hurdles together, and reach milestones together on an incredibly sped-up timeline.

While on their own I didn’t entirely enjoy Fisher or Ivy as characters, they made an interesting couple. Separately, I found both of them to be impatient, self-involved people. Together, however, they become a different entity entirely. Their dynamics, their moods, and their conversations kept me on my toes and turning the pages. The secondary characters – especially Fisher’s friend, El, who is suffering from Huntington’s disease – made this story a rich, compelling read.

The Two of Us, told entirely through Fisher’s point of view (intriguing for a romantic plot), is a funny, complicated, and heartbreaking story. While it may be easy to fall in love, it’s not always easy to stay there. I thought Fisher’s narration was incredibly interesting for this storyline; I may have read this story a dozen times from the woman’s perspective, but I’ve never read it from the man’s perspective. The frank language and candid opinions of Fisher really made this story stand out for me.

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.