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Book Review: Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James


Book: Lost Among the Living

Author: Simone St. James

Genre: Fiction

Subgenre: Supernatural, historical, romance, thriller

My Review and Thoughts: Before I officially start my review, let me just give you a little history of me and Simone St. James' writing.

A few years ago, I found her first book, The Haunting of Maddy Clare, on a trip to the library, on the display of new fiction books. The word "haunting" definitely caught my eye and when I read the back cover, I was so pleased to read the book description. A ghost story set in England in the 1920's? Um, it pretty much ticked every box on the list that I mentally carry around when looking for a new book. It felt like it was fate that I was to find a book that so perfectly included my favorite things (historical fiction, anything set in England, the paranormal, with some romance thrown in- hey, just because I'm a feminist doesn't mean I don't appreciate a good love story) and I happily dove straight into the book.

The book was a hit with me, especially since I pictured the love interest as Tom Hardy (it's the whole British thing. DON'T JUDGE ME) and from then on I was hooked on whatever Simone St. James' next new book was (thankfully at the end of every book she has a excerpt from her next yet-to-be-released book to whet your appetite). But after reading each of her books as she released them, I grew a little bored and tired of her formula.

Don't get me wrong, her writing was excellent, descriptive, but not enough to get monotonous and it flowed beautifully. But it was just the formulaic way her stories all progressed: girl in 1920's post WWI England moves/travels to an out of the way place (a small town by the coast, a hospital for shell shocked soldiers, etc), stumbles across a restless spirit that requires her (and usually others) to solve a mystery and/or murder, which usually incorporates the people she encounters and befriends, with one of them usually being the culprit of the mystery/murder. Throw in a hunky love interest (again, nothing wrong with that!), people trying to deal with the aftereffects of the war, and some things in the girl's past that she must come to terms with throughout this adventure. While it was new and interesting to me with the first few books, after a while the concept become quite tedious and I grew a little frustrated for something a little bit different from St. James.

Which now brings me to Lost Among the Living (published this year). I wanted to give the author the benefit of the doubt and went in with an open mind, especially since I loved the description of the new book. Jo Manders, an English woman in 1921, her husband Alex disappearing during the war, becomes a paid companion to Dottie Forsyth, a middle aged wealthy woman, who also happens to be Jo's missing in action husband's aunt. After a tour of Europe, Dottie brings Jo back to the family home, Wych Elm House and Jo finds that something sinister is haunting the house and trying to get her attention. An interesting cast of characters, from Jo's newly found in-law's, to the hesitant and suspicious villagers of the town make a compelling list of possible suspects, as the mystery soon starts to unfold. Especially when a stranger from the past comes back into the family's and Jo's lives.

St. James' formula was still in full swing, but I found the surprises refreshing and I honestly couldn't guess who the suspect finally was until they were fully revealed during the dramatic climax of the book. Jo's demons (both figuratively and literally), mixed with her lack of knowledge about her husband's past, were wrestled with and somewhat conquered and I thought the love story wrung true with its realness and frank interactions. The mystery surrounding the haunting and crime was very original and St. James very purposefully portrayed the sorrow of the Forsyth family that encompassed the aftereffects of the murder.

All in all, I very much enjoyed the book and was incredibly relieved that the book lived up to St. James' first couple of novels. Though the excerpt from her new book at the end of Lost Among the Living sounds like she is going in an entirely new and different direction, which I'm incredibly excited and grateful for. It will focus on two intertwining stories, one in modern times and the other of a girls' boarding school in 1950's Vermont. It will, of course, have to do with a crime and a haunting (yay!). And now I can't wait till 2017 when it will be released. Sigh.

Should You Read It: If you enjoy historical fiction, with some paranormal, romance, and mystery/thriller vibes, then this is definitely your book. I would also recommend checking out St. James' other books if you liked this one. The paranormal aspect isn't too intense (I've definitely read MUCH creepier) but it's enough to be chilling, just not blood-curdling. Her books are perfect for cuddling under a blanket with a cup of coffee or cocoa on a rainy afternoon. Preferably around Halloween. Perfection!

What did you guys think of the review? Interested in reading any of Simone St. James' work? Have you read any of her books? Do you enjoy reading books involving the paranormal/mystery/thriller/romance? Also, did anyone picture Jo's love interest in Lost Among the Living as Armie Hammer? (I know he's not British, but he could totally pull it off) Let me know!

Stay Weird,

Book Reviews: The Firebird Chronicles, Books 1 & 2 by Daniel Ingram-Brown

Our Street Books

[Disclaimer: I have received these books for free from the author for a fair and unbiased review. All of the opinions are my own and I have not been bribed or held for ransom to write this review. Is this how disclaimers work? I've never written one before. Nailed it!]

Book(s): The Firebird Chronicles: Rise of the Shadow Stealers (book #1) and The Firebird Chronicles: The Nemesis Charm (book #2) (being released later this month- May 2016)

Author: Daniel Ingram-Brown

Genre: Children's fiction

Subgenre: Fantasy, adventure

My Review and Thoughts: I'm going to be completely honest and say that I had absolutely no idea what to expect from Rise of the Shadow Stealers. In a way, I think that was the perfect way to go in and start this sweeping adventure. It will appeal to kids and that kid inside of you who never really grew up and likes to remind you of the happy carefree days of your childhood (just me?). From the first page I was entranced by the story.

We start off with Fletcher and Scoop, a boy and girl (respectively), who wake up in their rooms at Blotting's Academy on the mysterious and imaginative Fullstop Island. They have no memory of how they got there but they (and us) are quickly swept up in the action as they learn they are now attending a school that will teach them all about stories: to tell them, be told them, and even become part of the stories. Fletcher and Scoop are appointed Apprentice Adventurers and are quickly on a quest to figure out why they can't remember anything, and also to help right the dark injustice that has settled on the island.

The less I say about the plot, the better. It's best just to learn along with Fletcher and Scoop about the island, and the role of stories and characters to the story line. The author writes with such ease and his descriptions are beautifully worded, whether they are describing a hilarious and colorful character or a heart-felt moment. I especially enjoyed his descriptions of Fletcher and Scoop: he is described as resembling an exclamation point and she of a question mark. It's creative and wonderful little bookish details like that that made me happy to know an author was honoring the world of literature. He has peppered in such little homages to the world of reading throughout the book. There was also such a clever twist near the end that brings a whole new (and yet very familiar) world into the mix.

I grew incredibly fond of the characters and was so glad that I had the second book, the Nemesis Charm to start. Fletcher and Scoop, are back a year later and a terrible sleeping sickness has fallen on the residents of Fullstop Island and the lands beyond it. It's up to the dynamic duo to pursue a quest, with the starting help of a powerful and dark Nemesis Charm, for the answers they need to combat this terrible illness that is wreaking havoc on the island, along with a chilling new villain (and an old familiar one) set on stopping them. Secondary characters that added personality and color in the first book, have a much more prominent placein the sequel and add flavor and spirit to the story, which flows just as well or even better than in the first book, but with a darker tone and pace. And just as the story reaches a crucial and deciding point, it ends of a cliff hanger (of course it does!).

Knowing that the series will be a trilogy, I was so relieved to know that I would eventually know how the story ends and what Scoop and Fletcher have to face in the end. Now all I have to do is wait for the next one to come out....whenever that'll be! (Hopefully soon)

Should You Read It: Yes, you should! Everyone loves a good fantasy/adventure series. It will be a big hit with kids, and with adults who can appreciate the classic literary acknowledgements and will get a kick out of them (I certainly did). This series has my stamp of approval on it. If you've ever wished you could go on a quest and explore a land of stories, this book is for you! And while you're there, have a tankard of Noveltwist for me :)

Where to Buy:

The Firebird Chronicles: Rise of the Shadow Stealers
The Firebird Chronicles: The Nemesis Charm

Barnes & Noble:
The Firebird Chronicles: Rise of the Shadow Stealers
The Firebird Chronicles: The Nemesis Charm

Or, check out a copy from your local library!

The Firebird Chronicles: Rise of the Shadow Stealers 
The Firebird Chronicles: The Nemesis Charm
Author Page

Check Out the Author:
Official Website

What did you think of my review? Have you read any of the two current books from the Firebird Chronicles? What did you think of them?

Stay Weird,

Book List: 12 Books That Have Changed My Life (And Could Change Yours, Too)!

Have you ever read a book at just the right time in your life, when maybe you were sad, confused, or were looking for an answer? Reading has always been my hobby but in times of darkness and depression, reading becomes my escape. If I'm stuck at home, with a book I can travel to another country or even a different time. I could meet new people, real or fiction. And even at times in my life when I'm incredibly happy, a book can still change my life with its meaningful message or even just its humor. Looking at my bookshelf and seeing some of these titles pop out at me, I got inspired to write this list. Every single one of these books means something different to me, and I thought I'd share these books that will have forever shaped me into the person I am today.

I also decided that I would just include books that are either young adult or adult fiction, so heads up on that (who knows, maybe in the future I'll write a list of my favorite children's books or my favorite nonfiction books!).

Please enjoy this list of some of my favorite books. They changed my life in way or another, and maybe if you read one or a few of them, they'll change your life, too.

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

This is one of the best books I've read about pursuing your dreams. Set in 1906 and parallels with a tragic murder, sixteen year old Mattie is held in her small town, by the responsibility of taking care of her family, while she dreams of going to college and pursuing her dream of writing. She finds work at a local hotel (and also the eye of a handsome boy) but as she learns more about the murder and the victim, a guest of the hotel's, it puts into motion her decision whether to stay with her family or follow her dreams. Both heartbreaking and inspiring, Mattie is a heroine you root for, brave and imperfect, even if leaving means abandoning everything she's ever known. This is a book I turn to when I'm feeling stuck in life and need to be reminded that it's okay to put yourself first.

Atonement by Ian McEwan

This was one of the hardest books I've ever read through, but once I finished, I was so glad I pushed through. Dense with detail and history, it's a beautifully written book that will break your heart with the unfairness that one misjudgment can alter everyone's lives in unthinkable ways. Young Briony Tallis's precociousness and naivete about an injustice she thought she saw, leads to her sister's lover's imprisonment and their forced separation during World War II. Briony must come to terms with what she did and what she said that one night, and even if no one is there to listen, she must atone for her sins and for what transpired. And not only was this book incredibly powerful and sad, the movie version, in my opinion, offers the most faithful adaptation of a book to screen movie. (It's also my favorite movie of all time so I may be a little biased)

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

Not only does this book make me cry every single time I read it, it also is a Gothic romance and ghost story set during World War I and the Spanish Influenza epidemic, with a spunky, modern heroine with aviator goggles at its helm. It's a fantastic book and if my description doesn't make you want to read it, then I don't know what will. Go read this book. You won't be sorry. Seriously, you'll bawl your eyes out in the best way possible. (Also, note to self: must buy aviator goggles)

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Forget what you saw in the movie and read the book. There was so much more to the story than just the romance, from the circus workers to the treatment of animals and Rosie the elephant. Some books make you go "girl power!" but this book will make you go "yeah, elephant power!" and raise your trunk in solidarity (no trunk? Oh, you're not an elephant. Sorry, my mistake).

The Giver by Lois Lowry

I remember finding this book on our family's bookshelf when I was younger and wondering what kind of book this was, with an old bearded man on the cover. Not knowing in the slightest was it was about, I went in with a blank slate and came out with my mind blown. In a world with no choice, with your path and everyone else's decided for you, Jonas decided to change his and hopefully everyone's else's in the process, no matter what the cost. It amazed me how Lois Lowry could seamlessly weave in topics of euthanasia and assisted suicide in this supposed Utopian world and make it such a conversation starter for both kids and adults alike. (Yes, this is technically a children's book, but I've always considered it more of a 12 and up book so I'll classify it as young adult)

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Yet another tear inducing book on this list but the story is breathtakingly beautiful so it's worth it (just load up on tissues first). Young Liesel lives in Nazi Germany and as she steals her first book, Death takes notice of her and follows her journey to her new foster family and life. But her world is suddenly changed when her family hides a young Jewish man in their basement. Each of Liesel's stolen books mark a time in her life and Zusak writes with such ease (with Death's narration) that the story flows perfectly until the last page, where you just want to burst out crying from the horror and wonder that is life (don't let my emotional response deter you. I'm actually trying to get you to read the book. This is a glowing review, believe it or not!).

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

If you're a human being that can somewhat function in normal society, you've most likely been in a relationship and been through a break up. Each break up is hard, but there's something about your first relationship and heartbreak that's just so devastating and real that you played it over and over in your head, questioning what went wrong while you cry to Taylor Swift or some other musical artist relevant to the time you went through during your breakup. This book encompasses all that I ever thought and felt during my first (and subsequent) breakups. Though it is hard to believe that Min wrote this entire letter of their relationship to Ed in one car ride, she perfectly captures that "us against the world" mentality of a new relationship and young love, along with our ease to look past a blazing fault in another person. Another book you will need tissues for, and maybe also some time set aside to look back at the time you dated that one guy for two weeks and how you could have made it work. (You couldn't)

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

As someone who has dealt with mental illness throughout my life, Sylvia Plath is the only writer I have ever read who has perfectly described what depression actually feels like. Plath wrote a troubled but modern heroine based on herself in a time when feminism hadn't even happened yet. Though the book may be dark, the light at the end is the perfect metaphor for conquering your troubles.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

A classic you have to read in school is rarely a book that will somehow change your life. But this book did and I will forever be grateful. It proves that sometimes doing the right thing won't bring about justice, but just the act itself is a protest that speaks volumes and can start a ripple of change.

Going Bovine by Libba Bray

If I told you the plot of this book you'd most likely go "huh"? Which is fair, because when I first heard the premise, I straight up returned the book to the library and thought, "nah, I don't think I'll read it." But I checked it out again and read it and I'm so, so glad I did. Libba Bray is a writing goddess and can make a psychedelic roadtrip, a manic pixie angel, and mad cow disease heartfelt and fun. It's proof that Libba Bray can write anything. ANYTHING.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I think you know why this book is amazing. If you haven't already read it, please do. Then you'll definitely know why. Okay? Okay.

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

Okay, okay, just hear me out first, alright? Yes, it's about a young girl who becomes possessed by a demonic entity. Yes, it's full of gross out imagery, a little girl doing foul things with her body and a crucifix, and projectile vomit and blood. Yes, you won't be able to sleep for a very long time after reading it (or even when you're still reading it). But this book is about more than that. It's a complex story of yes, demons, but also a story of a priest who doubts himself and his faith as he investigates whether little Reagan is indeed possessed (spoiler alert: she is). Plus, there's also a murder investigation going on and you'll learn more than you'll want to about Black Masses. This was the book solidified my love for horror and my interest in all things exorcism and possession stories and movies. So if you ever wonder why I like all things creepy and dark, you can probably blame this book. Thanks, Mr. Blatty!

What did you think of my list? Have some of these books changed your life? Were some of my book choices weird? (I know they were, haha) Let me know!

Stay Weird,