Book Review

Quest – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★☆☆ (2.75 / 5 stars)

 Jemma is a seemingly normal teenager: a bit of an outcast, she has spent most of her life fantasizing over her crush like a woman out of a Jane Austen novel. But when popular and beautiful Veronika coerces Jemma into her clique, it leads to something Jemma never thought possible: a ring transports her to a world parallel to hers…and her crush, Aaron, is also from there. Suddenly, she finds herself having to train for a quest, all while trying to understand this new world, Aaron, and the foes afoot.

Let me start by saying that if you enjoy YA Fantasy Romance, you will enjoy this book. I might have enjoyed it about ten-to-twelve years ago as well, to be honest. But, by the time I got 40% into the book, I knew it wasn’t for me, but I hung on due to some of the good in the story.

I’ll start with the good: Lara Kellett-Smith is a fantastic writer. You get wrapped in Jemma’s insecurities, and understand her feelings for Aaron, as well as her conflicts over him. Kellett-Smith has also spent a good amount of time foreshadowing, wrapping little details in seemingly insignificant events, and building up a world with rules and a hierarchical structure that is often difficult to do in Fantasy. On a fundamental level, it’s a good book.

But it wasn’t my cup of tea. 

In a way, there was something reminiscent of Twilight in this book. Now, this goes back to what I said above: when I was thirteen, I loved Twilight. Now, I don’t. So I am sure that I would have enjoyed this book when I was younger. 

From this point onwards, I’d like to provide a spoiler warning as in order to discuss what I don’t like, I may have delve a bit more into the plot. 

The story starts off very slow. Jemma is describing her life, and I’d say nothing much happens for about 10-15% of the book. When she finally arrives in the Otherworld, she is told she has to go on a quest with five others, as Veronika did not return. In a book called Quest, I anticipated much of the book would take place on the quest. Perhaps this was my own fault. Perhaps I was expecting something different and should have looked at the book more closely. The quest itself didn’t begin until almost 60% of the way through, and it was basically complete by 85%. 

I think I went into this book expecting a Fantasy Adventure with a romantic subplot. The romance itself takes up most of the book though. While I’ll read romance, I much prefer it to wrap more into an actual story. While this book does it better than others, I found myself skimming through wondering when they would get to the quest!

While Aaron as a character isn’t a bad guy (in fact, I understand why Jemma is so attracted him), the elements of this romance didn’t work for me either. Again, this is all a personal opinion and I think some people will find it all very romantic. But a lot of the elements did remind me of Edward and Bella from Twilight. Though, I will admit, Jemma and Aaron’s romance is much healthier. 

To start with, there are multiple times when Aaron sees Jemma naked, mostly non-consensually. While most of this time is for medical or accidental reasons, these are two seventeen year-olds and I’m never a big fan of the trope where accidental touches or glances are used to show sexual attraction. This wasn’t as badly done as I’ve seen, so I let that slide. 

But where it really started feeling too much like Twilight for me was this: Aaron is a shifter, not just any shifter though! He can shift into five animals. So we’re dealing with a situation where the normal girl is in love with a shifter, but also one of the most powerful ones out there! This causes Jemma to act mostly as an observer to most situations, despite training for this quest. Her main role is to provide information or notice things, it seems. Everyone tells her she isn’t useless, but in a way, it falls mostly on Aaron. 

Then, Aaron tells Jemma a few things, all of which made me iffy. One: Jemma’s presence calms his “animal instincts” and his “hot-headedness”, further bringing home the point that she is the one for him. Two: there is an obstacle to their relationship, in that he is “promised” to another, but neither of them actually love each other. This one didn’t bother me as much as I’ve seen it before and don’t mind the trope, but added with everything else, it didn’t work for me. Finally: Aaron tells her that he knows she’s the one, because they mate for life, and he has this inbred animal instinct that tells him that he knows. This is a big revelation for two seventeen year olds. 

The final thing with this romance that really made me uncomfortable was the forced marriage that occurs towards the end of the book. Again, it works in some cases, but these are two teenagers who, for all intents-and-purposes, are from the modern world. Yes, Aaron’s world is a bit different. Not technology like phones or computers, but they’re forward thinking. So they are forced into a marriage, and while even Jemma is hesitant since she is so young, they both ultimately accept. But they cannot consummate due to Aaron’s promised relationship to his betrothed. It just felt a little odd to me.

This all takes center stage, rather than the actual conflict going on where the rulers of the Otherworld are trying to basically usurp authority and change the rules.  While I’m fine with romance in stories, sometimes it helps really make the story work, it was clear that Aaron and Jemma’s relationship was more important to the plot than those background events.

Honestly, this is probably how teenagers would act. Their relationships are more important. But it just didn’t work for me, unfortunately.

I will say though, please don’t let my review stop you from reading this book, especially if you like YA Fantasy-Romance! I think you’ll love a lot of this if that is your cup-of-tea.

It just didn’t work for me. 

What’s it about?

Jemma Alder doesn’t do the outdoors. Her books might get wet. At seventeen, she’s endured more than her fair share of tragedy, and her future is uncertain, but she has her friends, her good grades, her part time job, and her devastatingly romantic daydreams set to sweeping cinematic music – even her loathsome step-father, Lord Robert Clayworth, has treated her tolerably since ‘The Change’ last Christmas.

Then, Jemma’s familiar life deviates. Her best friend falls ill with a mysterious virus; social Queen Bee, Veronika Mason, reels Jemma into her clique; and her crush, Aaron Norling, takes an unexpected interest in her social life.

But even Jemma’s wild imagination couldn’t have foreseen how these events would catapult her into another world, nor dulled the shock of finding Aaron part of the Otherworld family who take her in. Before she can make sense of what’s happened, Jemma’s worst nightmares come true and she’s coerced into joining a team of five other teens on an expedition into the wilderness. But troubles are simmering in this land. The family are keeping secrets and the tribal system is not what it seems.

Soon, a challenging quest becomes a deadly game for survival, as it seems someone does not want the team to return, let alone succeed.

Book Review

Touch – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★☆   (3.75 / 5 stars)
Audio Book Performance: ★★★☆☆  (3 / 5 Stars)

Enter a dystopian world where deliberate physical touch is a crime. Kissing, holding hands, hugging – whether by friends, family, or significant others – are all considered heinous acts that can result in at least 10 years in prison. The Seeker has decided that she herself wants to be touched, something denied from her throughout her life. But her mother is resistant to the idea, fearful that the Seeker may become addicted; but the Seeker doesn’t care. But can she resist the temptation to touch again? Or will she be addicted to the touch for life?

This was a fantastic interpretation of a dystopian world. We often take for granted the importance of even the smallest physical contact, and the world of Touch shows how much humanity loses itself without even being able to offer a handshake. People struggle. Touch itself becomes and addiction, no matter the cost.

Briana Morgan is a talented playwriter, able to draw us into this world in one act alone. Through the play,  we’re transported in vessel-like characters, none of whom are named other than with descriptions such as “The Seeker”, “The Dealer”, and “The Cured”, giving us a chance to step into the world with nothing more than the desire to be touched. Even at such a short length, we’re able to understand the impact of the world without touch. We see Addicts struggle, we see the Seeker wanting more, and we see the Dealer in a humane side. 

Yet, the length has some drawbacks. For me, the primary hang up I have is about the Seeker’s relationship with the Dealer. Perhaps I am misinterpreting something (or missed a crucial detail), but it read to me like the Seeker was a naive teenager dabbling in the illegal deed of “touch” for the first time. She falls into the hands of the Dealer, who is portrayed as a man slightly older. So a question raised in my mind…was she a minor getting drawn into a world unknown to her? Or was she older than I interpreted, hence a non-issue? Perhaps if we had spent a bit longer with the Seeker, I might have understood more. Perhaps her full-throttle jump into the world of being touched would have been at a better pace, rather than a one-night stand. That, I suppose, is the flaw in plays or in shorter stories: we don’t get the full picture. 

But nonetheless, I really enjoyed this play! I could picture the scenes playing out on the stage (even though I wasn’t the biggest fan of the audiobook narrator), and hung on to every scene, waiting to find out what touch the Seeker sought next. 

What’s it about?

The Seeker has grown up in a world where deliberate physical contact is a crime, and for most of her life, it hasn’t bothered her. But when some of her classmates are arrested for touching, she decides to try the most forbidden of things and touch another person. When she discovers the power of touching, and how it changes her and those around her, will the Seeker be content to return to a life without it? . 

Book Review

The Westing Game – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★☆ (4 / 5 stars)

Sam Westing is dead. That much everyone knows. But, why did his will call for sixteen unsuspecting individuals to his house? And why is he saying they’re his heirs? The answers aren’t simple, and soon these sixteen people are thrown into a game trying to discover who murdered Sam Westing…and what is their connection to the strange millionaire? 

I picked this up from a thrift store recently on a nostalgic intuition. Vaguely, in the back of my mind, I remember reading this in fourth grade. There were a few things I remembered about this book: it was a “who-done-it” type of mystery, riddled with clues and an interesting cast. This holds up even as I read it in my twenties. In fact, I would even go as far to say that I relate more to the hero, Turtle, now than I did at nine-years-old. Her fascination with the stock market relates to my own real-life career.

If memory serves correct, in my fourth grade class, we went through the clues together to solve the mystery. I started to do that on my own while reading this, but in the end got whisked away with the story. This is a great book for students to learn problem solving skills, while also enjoying a thrilling tale that encourages all parties to use their heads. With a hero like Turtle, little girls and boys will realize anything is possible with hard work.

But, with all this being said, it is important to note that the book was written in the 1970s. There is some dated terminology in referring to different races as well as disabilities and genders. If you read it be, be wary of when this was written, and if your child reads it, make sure to have a conversation about how these terms are wrong today. 

The story is written in a way that won’t necessarily appeal to everyone. It’s written like a puzzle, often hopping between different characters’ POVs, that takes a bit to get used to (at least for me). The authors takes on the “tell” rather than “show” mechanisms, something seen in some dated writing as well. I’m sure if this was written today, the narrative would have been different.

But, with all that said, I still had fun reliving a small part of my childhood. It’s definitely an inspiration for many “who-done-it” type of stories out there. While it might be dated, it is still worth the fun read.

What’s it about?

A bizarre chain of events begins when sixteen unlikely people gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. And though no one knows why the eccentric, game-loving millionaire has chosen a virtual stranger—and a possible murderer—to inherit his vast fortune, one thing’s for sure: Sam Westing may be dead … but that won’t stop him from playing one last game!

Book Review

The Worst Warlock – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★☆☆   (3.5 / 5 stars)
Audio Book Performance: ★★★★★  (5 / 5 Stars)

Elijah Muddle has only ever had one dream: become an amazing warlock. But as the son of a manure farmer, his prospects of becoming one are virtually nonexistent. At least, until one day, when he arrives at the doorstep of Caliban on a seemingly routine manure delivery…only to be confused for Caliban’s actual apprentice. In a series of luck (or maybe bad luck), Elijah’s magic is unlocked and he enters a blood contract with Caliban to be his apprentice. But Elijah’s magic doesn’t operate properly: every time he casts a spell, even when he follows the steps exactly as Caliban teachers him, everything goes haywire. Was Elijah not meant to be a warlock? And if not, how can he set this right?

In a fun novel that wraps us in Elijah’s misfortunes, aided by the help of his friends Marcus the Thief and Tori the Barbarian, we are transported into a world where magic is flawed. This makes for a whirlwind of adventures that sends mountains upside, causes fountains to have angry fits, and makes drinks disappear. Even when Elijah acts on good intentions, his magic doesn’t want to agree, and Caliban is stuck cleaning up his mess. You’ll never know where Elijah’s adventure will take you next! 

Carey Mulligan is also fantastic narrator for this audio book. Each character has a distinct voice, and she keeps you entertained throughout the entire narrative. In fact, I can’t imagine a more suitable narrator for Elijah’s tale than her! 

In some ways, The Worst Warlock reminds me of Dragon Squisher by Scott McCormick, especially in relation to some of the humor, as well as how the trio of friends behave. These must be a few common tropes in humorous middle grade fantasy, and I can see why!

But, while this is a middle-grade novel, I would not recommend it for children under the age of 10. There is death (some gruesome death too), and the story shows a trio of friends who break the rules to get by. This might not be the best message for children as a whole. Granted, some younger kids may be find reading about these topics, as long as they know right from wrong. 

Overall, I think most children and preteens will like this book though! While certain parts were definitely a tad ridiculous, and the plot moved fast with a lot of different events happening in one book, I think it will be just the right pace for its target audience!

The Worst Warlock is a cute, endearing story that both adults and children will find entertaining. With Carey Mulligan as the narrator, I don’t think you can get a much better production at all. 

What’s it about?

Elijah Muddle’s life changed in an instant. The son of a spiteful and mean manure farmer, Elijah now has become an apprentice to the town’s warlock, Caliban. The chance to escape his terrible father and learn magic? It’s a dream come true! Until…it turns out that Elijah’s internal magic is wonky, and he is the absolute worst warlock ever – all his spells go wildly wrong, causing both hilarious and disastrous consequences all over town.

Now, everyone in town is furious at Elijah, including Caliban and his dangerous jaguar familiar. Elijah tries desperately to correct his magic with the help of his best friends Marcus the thief and Tori the blacksmithing barbarian. The trio contends with the Nighty-Knights, angry mobs, and a ridiculously dangerous and forbidden spell. Will Elijah succeed? Find out in this clever and funny audiobook from A. A. Livingston & Dan Livingston. 

Book Review

Illthdar: Guardians of Las- Book Review

Book Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆ (DNF @ Page 114)

Zercey was living a normal, unassuming life. Then one day, she is pulled by mysterious means to Illthdar: the land that logic and reason forgot. Forced into training beneath the Order of Mana, Zercey begins to hone in on her abilities while making friends like Vyxen, Scyanatha, Nyuma, and Abaddon during her training. Together, they fight foes and explore their heritage…all while training to be Illthdar’s Guardians.

I interviewed Rachel Garcia back in June as part of my launch event, and had a ton of fun learning about Illthdar. But, frankly, I wasn’t sure if this book would be for me despite the fun conversation we had. It sounds like a great premise: a bunch of individuals from all sorts of worlds transported into a land with logic or reason. What fun! But the back cover didn’t draw me in at first glance.

I gave it the benefit of the doubt though, especially after talking with Rachel. But as soon as I opened the book, the formatting immediately caught me off guard. Perhaps I just got a badly printed version of the book, so I won’t hold that against the author at all. I decided to push onwards.

The inside of the book has no paragraph indentation. While this might have been done purposely to illustrate the idea of “no logic or reason”, as a reader it was cumbersome. There was no eBook available for download either so I couldn’t compare.

*Words are purposely blurred*

The book starts like any traditional portal fantasy novel: we meet Zercey as she is dealing with her friend’s complaints, and a wish for a greater life than what she had. Sudden, she finds herself transported to Illthdar…and in the course of one chapter she goes through training and adapts to Illthdar without much chance for the reader to understand where she ended up. Woven in with exposition about the world, as a reader I struggled to connect with Zercey’s plight, and as more characters popped up, they blended in one after the other.

I really did try to continue with this book. The premise is fun. In a way, it reminds me of a video: you’re thrown into this chaotic world and have to train quickly, sort of like Legend of Zelda or Skyrim. But, the execution just didn’t work for me, and I knew by the time I crossed 100 pages I had to make a decision: continue the book and possible rate it very low, or be fair to myself and to the author, DNF the book, and not give a star rating.

I chose the latter at page 114.

Illthdar: Guardians of Las just wasn’t for me. While it wasn’t written badly, in fact the grammar was impeccable, the pace bounced from one thing to another way too quickly. For me, pacing is critical to whether or not I finish a book. I personally struggled to keep track of the characters as well as the events; this might be because I read very fast as well. If I had slowed down, I might have absorbed more of the story.

While this book wasn’t for me, don’t let the fact I didn’t finish it prevent you from reading about Illthdar. If you like fast-paced books, multi-faceted casts, diverse casts, and a land without logic or reason…then Illthdar: Guardians of Las might just be for you.

What’s it about?

Welcome to Illthdar, the land that logic and reason forgot. The ways to Illthdar are many, be it through freak weather events, rabbit-holes, mirrors, plant circles or magical wardobes. The way out of Illthdar, as the Half-bloods who unwittingly find themselves there discover, is a horse of a different colour.

Book Review

Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★★ (5 / 5 stars)

Andy Dufresne has been accused of murdering his wife and her lover in a gruesome murder involving over eight bullets. The jury, the verdict is a no brainer: Andy shows little emotion, is blunt, and is calculating. All the details add up: he was angry with his wife for cheating, he drove to the house that night, and he conveniently got rid of the gun. But Andy holds his own: he says he is innocent, even as he is shipped off to Shawshank Prison and becomes acquainted with long-time inmate Red, he maintains his innocence. Because of this, Red isn’t sure what to think of Andy at first; his odd interests and calm demeanor seem unwavering. Will Shawshank break Andy? Or will he get out? 

It might come as a surprise, but I never actually watched the movie (in full) of The Shawshank Redemption. While I was aware of the ending from popular culture, I managed to read most of the book blind. This was the first time I met Red, Andy, and Warden Norton, so I had no basis in which to compare the book. I think this is a good thing: I was able to look at the story objectively, unsure how each piece of the puzzle came together.

Of course, as with a lot of Stephen King’s writing, I wasn’t disappointed. King has this way of drawing readers into his mind, and despite the 100 pages that tell the story of the Shawshank Redemption, I had no problem understanding the characters and their personalities. I managed to read this book in one sitting, and to be frank, I was almost sad when it was over. 

At least I was able to pick up the movie right after. 

Having watched the movie and read the book in the same day, I was able to make a few notes. The movie is just as good as the book (if not a little bit better). Sure, the movie does make a changes to help with the narrative: Andy escapes earlier on (19 years versus 27 years), Warden Norton is there the entire time, and Andy seems just a tad more likeable, plus a few other aspects (which could be considered spoilers). Of course, this is necessary for a book-to-movie adaptation. 

As always, Stephen King never fails to impress. I am sure I will revisiting the Shawshank Redemption in the future. Now I finally understand why it is a classic. 

What’s it about?

A mesmerizing tale of unjust imprisonment and offbeat escape, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption is one of Stephen King’s most beloved and iconic stories, and it helped make Castle Rock a place readers would return to over and over again. Suspenseful, mysterious, and heart-wrenching, this iconic King novella, populated by a cast of unforgettable characters, is about a fiercely compelling convict named Andy Dufresne who is seeking his ultimate revenge. Originally published in 1982 in the collection Different Seasons (alongside “The Body,” “Art Pupil,” and “The Breathing Method”), it was made into the film The Shawshank Redemption in 1994. Starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins, this modern classic was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and is among the most beloved films of all time. 

Book Review

The Zeta Family – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★☆☆   (3.5 / 5 stars)
Audio Book Performance: ★★★★☆  (4 / 5 Stars)
Total Rating: ★★★☆☆  (3.5 / 5 stars)

Katie is looking for her big break as a freelance journalist. She thinks she has found the perfect scoop: infiltrating the Zeta Family compound and finding out the details of the cult. Yet, getting in is the easy part: as different individuals in the compound begin to foil her plans, Katie starts to worry that finding out the truth about Zeta Doug may be harder than she thought.

In a fun audio book-drama that takes us along for Katie’s wild ride, we’re thrust into the absurd world of the Zeta Family. No one seems to know much about their elusive leader, Zeta Doug, but everyone seems to rally around the common cause of finding their other selves across dimensions. 

Sounds like nonsense, right?

Well, it doesn’t surprise Katie the type of individuals who are drawn to this cult. Each of these characters is unique and hilarious in their own way. In fact, despite her own quirks, Katie is probably the most “normal” of the bunch, especially compared to her family on the outside. This helps us delve deeper into the cult with her, even if we think her own quest of being a freelance journalist is half-baked. 

I had a lot of fun listening to this audio drama though. Between all the different characters, the unique personalities, and the bizarre world of the Zeta Family, I truly wanted to believe that Zeta Doug had created something amazing. Perhaps he did: he brought a bunch of obscure individuals together, and gave them a family after they never really fit in anywhere. If that doesn’t warm your heart, I don’t know what will.

Yet, despite the silliness and excitement throughout the audio drama, it did grow a little cumbersome. The constant back and forth Katie had with her family, the narrator’s expositions, as well as trying to figure out the full situation with the Zeta Family, caused me to lose interest between chapters. Part of me had hoped, as well, for something a little more sci-fi oriented…instead of just a crazy cult. But those are personal preferences that tampered with my enjoyment and is in no way a critique of the overall story.

The Zeta Family is a fun, quick listen that is great to fill up time while working out or in a car ride! So if you want a cultish investigation that doesn’t end like you imagine, I encourage you to check it out! 

What’s it about?

This entirely fictional (and entirely hilarious) immersive audio drama features performances by Kevin Nealon (Zeta Doug), Natasha Lyonne (Narrator), and Amy Goodmurphy (Katie).

Set on a large ranch in rural upstate New York, it’s early days for the eccentric group of people who call themselves The Zeta Family—quite possibly the next big cult phenomenon.

Our protagonist, Katie, is an aspiring reporter who has decided to infiltrate the compound, and her future success as a journalist depends entirely on her ability to win the confidence of Zeta Doug, the likable spiritual leader of the group.

He’s like a cross between Hunter S. Thompson and George R. R. Martin, with a little too much sci-fi in his head and acid in his blood stream. Like all good cult leaders, Doug is elusive and mysterious, and Katie quickly begins to wonder if this cult is truly just a gnarly collection of weirdos hanging out in the woods, or is there something else going on here?

This product features dynamic multi-cast performances, musical scoring and immersive sound design.

Book Review

Becoming – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★☆ (4.5 / 5 stars)

Michelle Obama captured millions as she entered the world stage as President Barack Obama’s wife and the First Lady of the United States. But there is so much more to her than just that: she is an accomplished career woman, inspirational mother, and a determined leader. In these roles, Michelle Obama instills a single the lesson throughout her memoir: we must be ready to change and evolve. We are all always “becoming” something and dwelling on the past will do little to alter the future.

In this reflective memoir that guides us through Michelle’s early life, to her role alongside the 44th President of the United States, we see how the choices earlier on shaped her future. Most often than not, it’s our family that guides our decisions early in life, whether it is what we want or not. But life throws curveballs and the grand plan we often set out for ourselves never entirely works.

This is true for even a well-off career woman turned into the First Lady of the United States. Thrown into the public eye, we witness the stressors placed on constant attention, and the issues Michelle, and her husband, both had to weigh while raising their daughters and fulfilling their own dreams. Life is a journey, after all, of becoming: me, us, and more – as the sections are aptly named. Sometimes when we see these political figures, we forget what led to their positions in the White House, Senate, or elsewhere in the government. They’re human, even if they do live in their own bubble.

There’s a certain grace that comes with reading about the Obamas. Michelle Obama treated her role and country with dignity, just as she handled each part of her story with grace and honesty. She doesn’t spend her pages belittling the newcomer in the White House, despite a clear distaste towards his politics, instead focusing on what she did and her accomplishments. It’s something often missed in politics.

But then again, Michelle Obama is not a politician.

While I was completely enamored by her story, the only reason I am not giving this 5 stars is due to the length of time it took for me to read this book. A 5 star read, for me, is one I can’t put down. To be frank, I put this one down for long lengths of time, before picking it up again.

But Michelle Obama is an inspiration to many, including me. I think there are some many women of color (or just women in general) who see her and think “I want to be like her one day”. She’s braved adversaries, kept her head high, and most importantly…was an asset in her husband’s message for change.

What’s it about?

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.
 
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.

Book Review

Convenience Store Woman – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★☆☆   (3.5 / 5 stars)
Audio Book Performance: ★★★★☆  (4 / 5 Stars)
Total Rating: ★★★☆☆  (3.5 / 5 stars)

Keiko Furukura has never quite fit in anywhere. At the age of eighteen, she finally finds a purpose as a convenience store worker though. For years, she has worked there, but as she reaches the age of thirty-six, so many of her peers have moved on in life – getting married, having kids, having careers, and succeeding where she has not. Keiko doesn’t understand why everyone keeps pushing their life style upon her: she’s happy. Isn’t that all that matters? Or is there more to life than the convenience store?

In a heartwarming tale that investigates a neurodivergent psyche, we enter Keiko’s world. She puts on the persona of a convenience store worker, a persona that makes her happy and where she can blend in without much of a problem. This confuses many people, and even her sister tries to transform her into something she is not. More than anything though, Keiko feels the stress of change approaching on her doorsteps.

Convenience Store Woman does a remarkable job not only examining the peculiarities of society, but also the difficulty a neurodivergent individual when navigating society. While Japan has different ideals than America or Europe, Keiko’s experience is universal. She struggles to understand social cues or requirements, and when she finds something she is good at, she sticks with it for a long time (such as her job at the Convenience Store). In a way, the Convenience Store offers her something of normalcy: she learns how to copy their actions, how to exist in their world, and how to pretend to be a “normal” person. But society belittled Keiko. Why? She doesn’t pass up as a normal human-being.

By placing us straight into Keiko’s mind, we are given a chance to see how this behavior impacts individuals like her. This is fundamental to creating a stronger, and better, society: understand that not everyone will fill the “roles” perpetually assigned.

Yet, while Keiko’s insights are so important to our understanding, the narrative dragged (and it’s already a short book). It has persistent commentary on the issues at large in society, often being repeated in circles by multiple characters. At times, I found myself trying to hurry along these moments. Yes, these repeats might be a good point for Keiko’s character, showing her fixation on the Convenience Store and the topics, but in a way, this might have been better as a short story.

That being said, the story is bound to stick with me. Convenience Store Woman is an important look at atypical individuals…and gives us a chance to see them as human. They just fill a different role than us, but if they’re happy, then we should be happy too.

What’s it about?

The English-language debut of one of Japan’s most talented contemporary writers, selling over 650,000 copies there, Convenience Store Woman is the heartwarming and surprising story of thirty-six-year-old Tokyo resident Keiko Furukura. Keiko has never fit in, neither in her family, nor in school, but when at the age of eighteen she begins working at the Hiiromachi branch of “Smile Mart,” she finds peace and purpose in her life. In the store, unlike anywhere else, she understands the rules of social interaction―many are laid out line by line in the store’s manual―and she does her best to copy the dress, mannerisms, and speech of her colleagues, playing the part of a “normal” person excellently, more or less. Managers come and go, but Keiko stays at the store for eighteen years. It’s almost hard to tell where the store ends and she begins. Keiko is very happy, but the people close to her, from her family to her coworkers, increasingly pressure her to find a husband, and to start a proper career, prompting her to take desperate action…

A brilliant depiction of an unusual psyche and a world hidden from view, Convenience Store Woman is an ironic and sharp-eyed look at contemporary work culture and the pressures to conform, as well as a charming and completely fresh portrait of an unforgettable heroine.

Book Review

The Curse of the Amaranth – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★☆ (4 / 5 stars)

It sounds like a joke: a princess, a prince, and a wizard embark on a quest to save on a prince…only to unleash vampires upon the entire world. But this story is not a joke; this is the story of Zelina, Kerr, Daniel, Walker, and a malicious sorcerer named Bo. Can the crew stop the sorcerer? Or will this bring about the end of the world?

Probably.

In a fast-paced story that takes us to Polaris, we are whisked away in an adventure that seems simple: find the Amaranth, free Daniel, defeat Bo, and live happily ever after. But as the layers of the story unfold, leading to one misfortune after the next, we discover that defeating this sorcerer will be much more difficult than we can imagine.

Some parts of the voyage are adorably tongue-in-cheek, with characters exclaiming lines such as “we’ll see!” or “maybe!” to straight forward questions. Bo is malicious, but amusing; Zelina is kind, but fierce; and the rest of the cast each has their flaws while showing a comparable positive trait. This is the charm of the story.

The only downside to the novel is the length. While Violet Schofield does a good job at keeping the pacing on point throughout the novel (better than some other authors I have read), I do wish we had a chance to experience more of the voyage. We are passed from one point to another, meeting characters along the way (each unique in their own right too), but never get a chance to just sit and experience the world.

That being said, Schofield still paints a wonderful picture of Polaris and the characters, despite the length. That in itself deserves a kudos, since not every author is able to do that.

With a cliffhanger finale that leaves us with the statement “we’ll see!”, I can’t wait to pick up the next book in the series! Will Bo succeed in his quest for domination? What about the curse placed on Zelina? Who is going to be successful?

I guess we’ll see!

What’s it about?

A perfect Princess, a fun-loving Prince and an anxious wizard must go on a quest to save a knight in shining armour. Will they succeed? Probably Not!