“Future Leaders of Nowhere” by Emily O’Beirne

Want to know the surefire sign of a good book? Finding yourself confronted with the promise of a sequel, given a vague date (Autumn 2017, in this case), and saying to yourself (possibly aloud, since you stayed up until nearly one in the morning devouring said book) “ooh, I gotta get that book!”

This is what happened when I finished Emily O’Beirne’s FUTURE LEADERS OF NOWHERE last night, this morning… however you want to look at it.

I requested the book from NetGalley (in exchange for an honest and original review) because it seemed different (being listed as LGBTQIA and Teen/YA), got it (thanks Ylva Publishing!), briefly forgot about it, then read it. And I love it!

I really cannot emphasize how much I love this book!

Set in Australia (thereby ticking the box of being set somewhere I don’t usually read about), FUTURE LEADERS OF NOWHERE is set in a month-long retreat-style camp where a variety of high schools send teams of seven high-achieving students (who are “future leaders”) to compete in a nation-building game. Having been through American high school (public and poor, truth be told), I really, really, really wish this sort “game” existed for us. It sounds incredibly fun, challenging, and important. And maybe ritzier, better funded, private schools here do have things like this. Who knows. Maybe I’d rather not know.

Anyway…

The first half of the book is told from Finn’s perspective. She is “captain” of her co-ed high school (this idea of school captains is also mildly foreign to me) and her team quickly elects her their leader in the game. She does not particularly want the job and, honestly, she’s not that great at it when the game starts. She tries to please all of the people all of the time. Even in the democracy that her team is assigned, that is a doomed leadership style.

But Finn meets Willa, the leader of the team from a fancy all-girls school.

And Willa, who tells the second half of the story, meets Finn.

Both girls are coming off having been burned in relationships that they were more invested in than their partners but they move forward together, wary of history and the looming specter of the game. Finn becomes a better leader because Willa gives her confidence and Willa opens up to her classmates, thereby becoming a better leader as well, because Finn helps her see that she won’t always be hurt if she shares who she is with someone else.

Beyond Finn and Willa there is an amazing, relatable, fun cast of supporting characters that I want to know more about.

FUTURE LEADERS OF NOWHERE is sweet, heartfelt, touching, funny, sad, honest, and generally lovely.

I am so glad I requested an ARC of this book, more glad that I got an ARC, and the most glad that there is more of this story to look forward to!

“After the Parade” by Lori Ostlund

23492669It’s some kind of masterful when you spend the first quarter of a book thinking that the main character is a self-absorbed, ambivalent, almost blissfully ignorant fool but then you read the middle half of the book, getting ever more caught up in his story, and the final quarter of the book realizing that none of those things that made him unlikable and unrelatable at first were his fault and he did grow from them, whether by choice or by force. Sometimes life isn’t anyone’s fault. To alter the title a bit, sometimes life is just a parade it’s hard to see the end of.

AFTER THE PARADE is Lori Ostlund’s tale of a forty-one year old man name Aaron Englund. An ESL teacher, the story begins with him packing up a U-Haul in Albuquerque and leaving for San Francisco. He’s leaving behind eighty-two year old Walter, the man he’s been with for twenty-three years – and known a few years longer. The math works out to mean that Aaron was eighteen and Walter thirty-six when they first became a couple. That fact lands somewhere between unnerving and sad. As a reader, it’s easy to feel bad for Walter at the start. The man he loves leaves on Christmas Eve after nearly a quarter century. He’s elderly.

But then it becomes so much more complicated than that.

As Aaron travels – literally to San Francisco and figuratively to figuring out who he is – his story is told. His memories of an abusive father and a distant mother, who was more distant because of her abusive husband. His memories of never quite fitting in to normal groups at school. His tendency to gravitate toward the outcasts of society, almost as though he is searching for himself in them more than he is searching for a true friend. And so it comes that by the time he meets Walter as a teenager, his father is dead and his mother is gone.

Aaron is inherently a boy in need of something he never had. That he would find comfort in a stable older man when most boys his age would be doing anything but settling down, makes perfect sense. As in all things, defining love and the existence of love is tricky and almost impossible.

In time, woven into a rich story with so many threads, it becomes clear that Aaron teaches English to immigrants because he sees himself as one of them, in a way. He is an observer too, trying to figure out just how to make it through an uncomfortable, unfamiliar world without getting hurt. And maybe get through it with someone to love. The questions his students ask, the stories they tell him… they help Aaron to find himself.

Ostlund’s novel is harsh and sometimes breathtaking in it’s sadness but it is beautiful. Everything makes sense in the end, especially the most perfect of endings.

(I received a copy of AFTER THE PARADE through NetGalley and Scribner in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.)

“A Want of Kindness” by Joanne Limburg

33271065If I have a weakness when it comes to books, a fail-safe fallback genre, it is historical fiction. Specifically historical fiction based on queens and kings. Specifically based on queens and kings of England. Show me a queen on a cover or in a blurb and I will read that book.

It is not, therefore, at all surprising that I was excited to read Joanne Limburg’s A WANT OF KINDNESS.

To make it even more appealing, her story is centered on Queen Anne of England. Queen Anne, if you don’t know, is not like either Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria, Queen Mary, or the wives of Henry VIII who were queens who did not rule. Queen for only five years, her reign was neither glamorous nor marked by controversy nor long enough to qualify for Hollywood films. She was the second oldest daughter of King James II and she succeeded the William III, who had ruled jointly with her sister, Mary. She was the last monarch from the House of Stuart, as she died childless. Childless despite at least seventeen pregnancies and only one child, a son, surviving as far as age 11. She was married from 1677 until her husband’s death in 1708. So her story is one of tragedy, on the whole, and yet the beauty of a reportedly loving marriage despite so much tragedy.

This, perhaps not surprisingly, does not make the sort of thing Hollywood believes it can make money on. And, to be honest, it probably can’t.

It’s really too bad.

I first learned about Queen Anne in my college English history class, and even the professor talked about seventeen pregnancies and no children. And then we moved quickly on, because Queen Victoria was coming after some Georges. I have thought about her sometimes since, wanting to know more but never wanting it badly enough to search out a biography. I’m a terrible history buff sometimes!

But this book, this fictionalized account of Queen Anne’s life from her childhood to her ascension, is really quite incredible. Possibly because, despite not having the glitz, glamour, intrigue, and longevity of the more famous queens, she lived in an incredible time. She was at the center of religious upheaval. She had seen her father, her uncle, and her grandfather struggle in their reigns. She witnessed wars with France and Spain and the Netherlands.

So Limburg’s fictionalized account Anne’s life is not what can usually be read about queens and kings. The intrigue is not romantic. She never had affairs, though it could be argued from her letters – actual things Anne wrote that Limburg uses to illustrate the story – that she had something bordering on romantic love for Sarah Churchill. She tried to do good, for herself and her family, for her country, and for all. And she succeeded, most of the time, even if it never really seems like it. And the reason it never really seems like it is because she never gets her happy ending. Never gets the things she wants more than any other.

Queen Anne deserves more recognition as an important part of British history. She truly is one of the most tragic, yet interesting rulers of England I have read about. And Limburg’s portrayal makes her all the more fascinating and charismatic.

If you have a weakness for this genre, and don’t mind a distinct lack of bursting corsets and illicit rendezvous in shadowy corners, this book is a definite Must Read.

(I received a copy of A WANT OF KINDNESS through NetGalley and Pegasus Books in exchange for an honest & original review. All thoughts are my own.)

“The Young Widower’s Handbook” by Tom McAllister

The first chapter of Tom McAllister’s THE YOUNG WIDOWER’S HANDBOOK is quite possibly one of the most beautiful, romantic things I have ever read. It left me breathless. And not in the euphemistic, overdramatic sort of way. I was actually breathless.

It’s hard to review books like this, books that make you feel so much more than you ever expected to feel. Nothing seems to quite say enough good things about something that was so much more than simply good.

But we have to try so…

THE YOUNG WIDOWER’S HANDBOOKS is the story of Hunter Cady’s journey from slightly aimless young man to devoted husband to grieving widower to slightly more aimless slightly older man.

That summary seems cold and even harsh but it is a proper summary. Hunter wasn’t quite sure where he fit in the world until he met Kait. Kait loved him and he found his place. And then Kait died and Hunter was lost again.

Slightly more romantic summary, yes? Tragic too.

But McAllister tells the story with power and emotional and an intensity that can’t adequately be described secondhand. It’s one of the books where you read it, someone asks how it was and the only good answer is “oh god, you have to read it too!”

Which feels 100% like a cheat on this my book review blog but… what can you do? Oh, I know! Read the book!

This will be my final attempt at telling you about this story…

Kait Cady dies before she turns 30. Left adrift without the one person who made him feel alive, Hunter cannot bring himself let her go in the ways that everyone else thinks he should let her go. So, with her life insurance check in the bank, he takes her ashes on a cross-country trip that they’d meant to take one day. It’s all an attempt to hold onto her, to keep her in his life. That it can never work makes the story all the more heartbreaking and beautiful. That he learns, over the weeks of the trip, that maybe everything wasn’t perfect in their marriage, in their lives makes the story all the more heartbreaking, beautiful, and real. That none of this changes how much he loved her makes the story perfect.

(I received a copy of THE YOUNG WIDOWER’S HANDBOOK through NetGalley and Algonquin books in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my own.)

“You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)” by Felicia Day

I loved this book for some very important reasons:

1. Not to brag (and really, I’m not!) but Felicia Day and I are almost the same age so her discovery of the wonders of the internet, of being able to not be weird because there are like-minded people on the internet, of getting lost in the worlds of the internet kind of basically mirrors my own. I mean, I’m not internet-famous, Hollywood-famous and no one is going to read my memoirs (yet! we’ll go with that, ha!). I’m not a gamer. I know some of the things she references because of just paying attention on the internet.

2. My vice is fandoms of the YA book series variety and, honestly, I have met some of the best friends I will ever have through finding a shared love of Twilight (yes, Twilight… shush, haters). I’ve never met them in person but I’ve been talking to them for years (and years is far longer than I’ve talked basically anyone I knew in school). And that’s okay.

3. I’m introverted enough to need someone to occasionally say that all this is okay. To say “me too!” And that is basically what I found myself saying over and over as I read Felicia Day’s book. “Me too!” It felt darn good!

I don’t usually read memoirs because I don’t… get them. Not unless you’re like eighty and solved world hunger or something. But people my age or younger, writing books about their lives? I generally say “you do you, I’m gonna read that book over there instead” because… I don’t know, maybe it makes me feel unaccomplished. Maybe it’s jealousy. Who can say? The point is, I was very pleasantly surprised by this. It was almost like she was as startled to be writing the book as I was to be reading it. That’s a good thing.

And, in the best sense of irony, I bought and read this book because one of those best of friends I met on fanfiction.net and Twitter through a shared love of Twilight who told me I would like this book. And I loved it! So thanks, everybody!

“Mad Miss Mimic” by Sarah Henstra

I freakin’ love this book! And I am so sad it only took me two days to read it! I’m going to read it again, no doubt about it.

But onto the details first…

Sarah Henstra’s MAD MISS MIMIC is about one Leonora Sommerville who lives in Hastings House with her sister and her doctor brother-in-law in Victorian era London. Leo, as she prefers to be called is seventeen and her older sister is desperately trying to marry her off despite the facts that she suffers from selective mutism, stuttering, and outbursts of mimicry. Naturally, Dr. and Mrs. Dewhurst decide the bad doctor’s business partner, the future Lord Rosbury, is the perfect match for the unmarried sister – he needs a pretty wife who won’t say much, after all.

This does not work out, for anyone.

As you might expect.

Dr. Dewhurst is perfecting the art of morphine, on the poor of London who suffer terribly at his hands, while keeping his wife dosed up on laudanum. The future Lord Rosbury is arguing for a ban on opium after getting very rich already on importing opium into England. Leo figures she really ought to get married to someone who doesn’t mind her speech problems, of which her sister is absolutely horrible about, so she resigns herself to a life as Lady Rosbury.

But then…

Somebody keeps blowing things up in London and killing people, all related to the potential opium ban. And Leo begins to suspect that Dr. Dewhurst and her future husband isn’t all it seems on the surface. So, with the help of Tom – the lockpick, pickpocket, mechanical genius who is working against the partnership already, she begins to investigate.

And the twist there? Tom loves Leo and Leo loves Tom.

All the wrong social circles, though, of course.

But there is drama, there is suspense, there is medicine, there is mystery, there is history, there is romance, there is angst, there is love… and everybody should read this book!

(I received a copy of MAD MISS MIMIC through NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.)

“Even In Darkness” by Barbara Stark-Nemon

I’m a sucker for World War II fiction. There really isn’t any other way to put it. That being said, I was very excited to get into Barbara Stark-Nemon’s EVEN IN DARKNESS. The story she writes is one of those tricky historical fiction ones that are based on actual events, in this case her great-aunt Klare’s experiences during World War I, World War II, and the years in between.

This balance, I’ve learned from reading a lot of these books, can be delicate because the author must keep true to historical fact, keep true to the characters who were real and who were important, and keep a narrative going that makes everyone want to keep reading.

Stark-Nemon does that well in this story.

The places her great-aunt existed, including Thereseinstadt, are described in ways that I have read them described before but not with the intense detail that might leave the narrative lacking. The focus is kept solely, for the most part, on Klare Kohler and what she sees as she goes from an eighteen year old girl with the world at her fingertips to a survivor of Nazi death camps and beyond.

Honestly, the thing I wanted more from the story was a longer, more detailed note at the end. Stark-Nemon referenced her family and how they survived but she didn’t mention Ansel Beckmann, the Catholic priest who figured so heavily in the story and who I am not sure was even real, or details on Bernhardt Steinmann and Melisande Durr, who were heroes in the story. I want to know more about them. So, basically, I want a non-fiction accounting of this story too.

And that, it seems, makes it an excellent book.