Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on July 26, 2016
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It's the Salem Witch Trials meets Mean Girls in a debut novel from one of the descendants of Cotton Mather, where the trials of high school start to feel like a modern day witch hunt for a teen with all the wrong connections to Salem’s past.
Salem, Massachusetts is the site of the infamous witch trials and the new home of Samantha Mather. Recently transplanted from New York City, Sam and her stepmother are not exactly welcomed with open arms. Sam is the descendant of Cotton Mather, one of the men responsible for those trials and almost immediately, she becomes the enemy of a group of girls who call themselves The Descendants. And guess who their ancestors were?
If dealing with that weren't enough, Sam also comes face to face with a real live (well technically dead) ghost. A handsome, angry ghost who wants Sam to stop touching his stuff. But soon Sam discovers she is at the center of a centuries old curse affecting anyone with ties to the trials. Sam must come to terms with the ghost and find a way to work with The Descendants to stop a deadly cycle that has been going on since the first accused witch was hanged. If any town should have learned its lesson, it's Salem. But history may be about to repeat itself.
Ummmm….An actual relative of COTTON FRIGGIN’ MATHER wrote a book about witches. How am I not going to read and like this book?!?!
When I started Adriana Mather’s debut novel, How to Hang a Witch, I knew I was in for a spooky-good time. My anticipation was met, and then some, by the end of the novel. Besides being historically on point, this book was a magical mash-up of some of my favorite 90s and 00’s films.
Ghost+ The Craft+ Mean Girls+The Crucible= A unique YA novel that entertains and educates to the beat of its own drum.
When Samantha Mather moves back to her ancestral family’s hometown of Salem, Massachusetts, old family feuds and ghostly apparitions are conjured, drawing Samantha into the dark history of her family’s past. As a descendant of the infamous Cotton Mather, Samantha immediately becomes a person of interest at school for the local ‘mean girls coven’, and she is swept up in a storm of rumors, bullying, hauntings, and black magic.
Oh, and there just might be a peculiar love triangle…or quadrilateral that fits itself into the story.
I loved the setting of this book. The creepy old house, with creaking stairs and A SECRET LIBRARY, absolutely seduced me from the beginning of the book.
The antagonists in the story (there are a handful of them) are the kind you love to hate, and I was left guessing until the very end about who was truly evil and vengeful, and who was just an insecure bully.
Samantha was a smart and strong MC, and I was equally torn between the two romantic interests that complicate her life beyond witchcraft.
This book was a fast read for me because I had a hard time putting it down. Besides the fact that I love all things witches, I really enjoyed the snippets of historical insight that Mather provides in the novel, straight out of her own, personal family history.
I will say that there were times when this book felt schizophrenic. It was almost as if the author could not decided what type of creepy story she wanted to write. In the end, I decided to roll with it. It was fun, entertaining, and unique because of the author’s lineage.
Have you read How to Hang a Witch? What did you think?!
And Just for FUN:
A home video of some of the Witch Trial memorial sites introduced by a tour guide:
An interesting student-made documentary about the tourism and spectacle that surround the Witch Trials:
ILLUMINAE by Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff
Series: The Illuminae Files #1
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on October 20, 2015
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This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.
This afternoon, her planet was invaded.
The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.
But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet's AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it's clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she'd never speak to again.
Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.
Disclaimer: I read Illuminae in ARC format over the summer but won the hardcover version on a blog. I am reviewing the ARC version in this post but any quotes/excerpts used were checked against the published version.
It seems pointless to do a review of ILLUMINAE this long since its release date. I’m sure there are already a billion and one blog reviews of the book out there and it’s unlikely that I will have anything new to add to the conversation, but I digress. I read the book over the summer, I really enjoyed it, and I’m gonna review it. So, if you are reading this, THANK YOU because I’m sure you’ve already read all the other reviews out there or have read the book and written one for it yourself.
I’ll start with the obvious reasons this book was bad-ass:
The premise is awesome.
The visual storytelling format is awesome.
The authors are awesome.
IT’S SCIENCE FICTION.
A screenshot of some reservations I originally had:
Originally, when I flipped through the brick-thick ARC, I though I was going to have problems staying focused on the story because of all the visuals. Turns out it wasn’t a problem and just gave the really cool effect of playing a video game or thumbing through THE ARCHIVES. And, yes. Let me tell you. I felt like a Historian from the future piecing together clues from the past while reading ILLUMINAE. It was sooo cooool. Reading the first interviews with Kady and Ezra about the initial invasion that kicks off the story made me think of the first time British civilians looked up in to the sky and saw the ominous dark clouds that were the German Zeppelins first used in WWI.
But my reservations were quickly overridden:
I cannot stress enough how satisfying it was for me to read this book. As a History major, feeling like I was putting together a picture of the future-past by reading oral future-histories WAS AMAZING.
I felt cool like this:
ILLUMINAE is the kind of book that will appeal to a very wide audience. It’s the kind of book that my gamer husband would read because it plays out like one of his video games. The book is very reminiscent of Dead Space and Bio Shock. Both are video games that I enjoyed and was terrified of watching my hubs play. That’s the kind of effect ILLUMINAE had on me : FUN+FEAR= DAMN GOOD ENTERTAINMENT.
The pacing was like an interval workout. Moments of intense suspense and anxiety alternated with moments of background story and character development and awesome world building. Kady and Ezra were fun, interesting, and well written protagonists that I am so excited to see be brought to life on a movie screen in the near future. Oh, and of course the A.I. antagonist was masterfully done. I mean, there were times where I felt like hugging the damn invisible-techno-electric-circuit-crazed-creepy-ass-thing.
Yeah. So this book is a masterpiece and if you have not read it yet because you had similar reservations like myself, I cannot recommend you get over them quickly enough. THE BOOK WAS AMAZING.
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
Published by Knopf, Penguin Random House on June 3, 2014
Source: Purchased by Reviewer
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A dazzling, heartbreaking page-turner destined for breakout status: a novel that gives voice to millions of Americans as it tells the story of the love between a Panamanian boy and a Mexican girl: teenagers living in an apartment block of immigrant families like their own.
After their daughter Maribel suffers a near-fatal accident, the Riveras leave México and come to America. But upon settling at Redwood Apartments, a two-story cinderblock complex just off a highway in Delaware, they discover that Maribel's recovery--the piece of the American Dream on which they've pinned all their hopes--will not be easy. Every task seems to confront them with language, racial, and cultural obstacles.
At Redwood also lives Mayor Toro, a high school sophomore whose family arrived from Panamà fifteen years ago. Mayor sees in Maribel something others do not: that beyond her lovely face, and beneath the damage she's sustained, is a gentle, funny, and wise spirit. But as the two grow closer, violence casts a shadow over all their futures in America.
Peopled with deeply sympathetic characters, this poignant yet unsentimental tale of young love tells a riveting story of unflinching honesty and humanity that offers a resonant new definition of what it means to be an American. An instant classic is born.
If you’ve ever been curious about how the other half of America lives- the immigrants and the undocumented and those who would never even imagine having enough money to spend any on buying books to read for pleasure- then this powerful piece of fiction is a great place to start.
This book is for readers that enjoy character studies and learning about other cultures and socioeconomic classes. What I had first thought was going to take a very sociological and subjective approach, ended up taking a very poignant and objective look at the lives of American immigrants from multiple Central and South American backgrounds. Despite what’s being examined in this book, it reads like a lyrical page-turner.
The author’s writing is vivid and beautiful and cuts to the quick. The thread that connects all of the lives examined in this story creates a seamless and emotive narrative that relates what it’s like to fall in the kind of love that’s outside of the pop-culture idea of love, and what it’s like to be an outsider in America on top of that.
I was born in Patzcuaro, Michoacan, Mexico. I lived there all my life until I came here. Other people from our town had gone north. Most of them left because they wanted a better life. That’s what they said. A better life. But it wasn’t like that for us. We had a good life, a beautiful life. We lived in a house that I built. We married in the town square when Alma and I were young, when people told us we didn’t know anything yet about the world. But we knew. Because the world to us was each other. And then we had Maribel. And our world grew larger.
We came here for her.
The characters are beautifully realized and capture the essence of what it is to be a human trying to navigate this world without the proverbial life-jacket of financial security and favor. The love story that blossoms between the two teenage characters was utterly different and refreshing. Their story is definitely a tearjerker.
I couldn’t put this book down. I practically read it in one sitting. It’s for those of you who need a therapeutic cry every now and then, or those of you who want something completely different than what you’ve been reading in the Adult and Young Adult mainstream. The Book of Unknown Americans will make you obsess over the incredibly talented Cristina Henriquez, and make you anxiously await her next novel.
About the Author
Her stories have been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Glimmer Train, The American Scholar, Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, and AGNI along with the anthology This is Not Chick Lit: Original Stories by America’s Best Women Writers.
Cristina’s non-fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Oxford American, and Preservation as well as in the anthologies State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America and Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary: Women Writers Reflect on the Candidate and What Her Campaign Meant.
She was featured in Virginia Quarterly Review as one of “Fiction’s New Luminaries,” has been a guest on National Public Radio, and is a recipient of the Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation Award, a grant started by Sandra Cisneros in honor of her father.
Cristina earned her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She lives in Chicago.