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Wednesday, May 11

Recently Read | March/April 2016

Wednesday, May 11

What did I read during the months of March and April?

Top Read

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life—at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace.

The only antidote to all this venom is his friendship with fellow outcasts Travis and Lydia. But as they are starting their senior year, Dill feels the coils of his future tightening around him. The end of high school will lead to new beginnings for Lydia, whose edgy fashion blog is her ticket out of their rural Tennessee town. And Travis is happy wherever he is thanks to his obsession with the epic book series Bloodfall and the fangirl who may be turning his harsh reality into real-life fantasy. Dill’s only escapes are his music and his secret feelings for Lydia—neither of which he is brave enough to share. Graduation feels more like an ending to Dill than a beginning. But even before then, he must cope with another ending—one that will rock his life to the core.

Unless a book that literally knocks me over comes along later this year, The Serpent King will end up being my favorite book of 2016.

This book is superbly written, in all senses of the phrase. I very quickly became attached to Dill, Lydia and Travis while reading, and the world Zentner created (or adapted) for the novel is full of rich sights, sounds, feelings—all of the qualities that help you get sucked into a book. It's a contemporary story—i.e., no fantastical elements—but there's something magical about it. (Equally magical: This is Zentner's debut novel. I see BIG things in his future.)

As beautiful as it is, The Serpent King is also horribly heartbreaking. I cried while reading it, more than once, and even now get choked up trying to explain the premise to people. But the heartbreak only adds to the power of this book. As I described it on Twitter, "it broke my heart, but in the best of ways."

Honorable mentions

An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1) by Sabaa Tahir

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

If you're in the mood for a fantasy novel with shades of Game of Thrones, An Ember in the Ashes might do the trick. The novel, set in a world that mixes Arabian Nights and Roman history, can be, at times, brutal, but is also quite engaging.

Tahir has jumped on the recent "jinn are the new black" bandwagon, but that's not a bad thing; the paranormal creatures in the story, although based on myth, are fascinating and fresh. Her characters are complex individuals, too, who face tough decisions and sometimes choose the wrong path.

At one point, An Ember in the Ashes was set to be a stand-alone novel, but I am very glad the powers that be gave Tahir a chance to expand her world and bring the story to a much more satisfying conclusion. (Although the ending isn't a terrible cliffhanger,  it certainly leaves a lot of room for more.)

Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke

Every story needs a hero.
Every story needs a villain.
Every story needs a secret.

Wink is the odd, mysterious neighbor girl, wild red hair and freckles. Poppy is the blond bully and the beautiful, manipulative high school queen bee. Midnight is the sweet, uncertain boy caught between them. Wink. Poppy. Midnight. Two girls. One boy. Three voices that burst onto the page in short, sharp, bewitching chapters, and spiral swiftly and inexorably toward something terrible or tricky or tremendous.

What really happened?
Someone knows.
Someone is lying.

Wink, Poppy, Midnight is a weird book. It starts out as one thing and somewhere along the way does a complete 180. There's an atmosphere of magical realism to the story that's punctuated by some startlingly realistic villainy. And nothing is ever what it seems. But it's a neat read, particularly if you like the spookier, darker side of things. I don't always, but there's a part of me that's certainly fascinated by creeping myself out on occasion.

Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell

If you broke Elena's heart, Star Wars would spill out. So when she decides to queue outside her local cinema to see the new movie, she's expecting a celebration with crowds of people who love Han, Luke and Leia just as much as she does. What she's not expecting is to be last in a line of only three people; to have to pee into a collectible Star Wars soda cup behind a dumpster or to meet that unlikely someone who just might truly understand the way she feels.

This short story was penned by Rowell for World Book Day, a UK celebration I wish was more prominent here across the pond.

It can be hard to find a copy of Kindred Spirits in the states, but when I read the synopsis for this story, I knew I had to track a copy down. (I recommend the alternative sellers section of Amazon.) And if you've been a reader of this blog for a while, it'll be pretty obvious as to why. Nerd love is my jam, guys. And Rowell seems to have cornered the market on writing stories that I can see myself in, regardless of the specific plot points.

Other reads


Fallout (Lois Lane #1) by Gwenda Bond | Railhead by Philip Reeve | Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands #1) by Alwyn Hamilton | Siren's Song (Storm Siren #1) by Mary Weber | Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum | The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen


A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry | The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks | Flawed (Flawed #1) by Cecelia Ahern | Scarlett Epstein Hates it Here by Anna Breslaw | The Skylighter (The Keepers' Chronicles #2) by Becky Wallace | The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood


Season of Fire (The Remnants #2) and Season of Glory (The Remnants #3) by Lisa T. Bergren

I'd love to hear if you've read any of these titles, and what you thought about them. Also, have you read anything lately that you'd recommend?

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