Author Archives: Agent Annie

The Rending and the Nest by Kaethe Schwehn

A chilling yet redemptive post-apocalyptic debut that examines community, motherhood, faith, and the importance of telling one’s own story.

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

Title: The Rending and the Nest
Author: Kaethe Schwehn
Publish Date: February 20, 2018, by Bloomsbury USA
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic
Source: Provided by the publisher

Publisher’s DescriptionWhen ninety-five percent of the world’s population disappears for no apparent reason, Mira does what she can to create some semblance of a life: she cobbles together a haphazard community named Zion, scavenges the Piles for supplies they might need, and avoids loving anyone she can’t afford to lose. Four years after the Rending, Mira has everything under control. Almost.

Then Mira’s best friend, Lana, announces her pregnancy, the first in this strange world and a new source of hope for Mira. But Lana gives birth to an inanimate object—and soon other women of Zion do, too—and the thin veil of normalcy Mira has thrown over her new world begins to fray. As the community wrestles with the presence of these Babies, a confident outsider named Michael appears, proselytizing about the world outside Zion. He lures Lana away, and when she doesn’t return, Mira has to decide how much she’s willing to let go in order to save her friend, her community, and her own fraught pregnancy.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Agent Annie says…

Hmmm, I’m not sure what to say about the book. It feels like all the pieces were there for me to think this was amazing. It took place in a post-apocalyptic civilization, the main character was gritty and brave, there were interesting supporting characters, a really creepy bad guy, and something new—the birthing of inanimate objects.

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t quite get into the story. The story had some graphic descriptions that seemed jarring in comparison to the rest of the book. The main character, Mira, mused about religion and the god her Christian father used to preach about. There were some very deep conclusions that Mira comes to, for instance: “The problem with love is that it craves an outlet. Love is a verb, as my father said, and so love makes us act: notes scribbled, roses purchased, hair brushed, ointment administered. Simple acts and tremendous ones.” Normally, this would really affect me, and I would connect with the characters and draw something from the story that would stay with me. This just wasn’t the case, and I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Perhaps, it was the speed in which the narrative moved. I expected something really terrible to happen, and it never did. Everything seemed to be not quite as bad, not quite as creepy, not quite so much loss as I would have expected. The stage was set for incredible emotional growth out of the depths of horrible circumstances, but it just seemed so average.

I would give this book an average rating, 3 stars.

Other recommendations…

If you liked this book, I recommend Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (one of my favorites) or California by Edan Lepucki.

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

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Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

Get a peek into Wonder Woman’s teen years in a new YA novel by Leigh Bardugo. Wonder Woman: Warbringer is the first in a series of YA novels about the DC superheroes and villains that should prove very entertaining.

Title: Wonder Woman: Warbringer
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Series: DC Icons, Book 01
Publish Date: August 28, 2017 by Random House
Genre: YA Fantasy, Superhero
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s Description: Daughter of immortals.

Princess Diana longs to prove herself to her legendary warrior sisters. But when the opportunity finally comes, she throws away her chance at glory and breaks Amazon law—risking exile—to save a mortal. Diana will soon learn that she has rescued no ordinary girl, and that with this single brave act, she may have doomed the world.

Daughter of death.

Alia Keralis just wanted to escape her overprotective brother with a semester at sea. She doesn’t know she is being hunted by people who think her very existence could spark a world war. When a bomb detonates aboard her ship, Alia is rescued by a mysterious girl of extraordinary strength and forced to confront a horrible truth: Alia is a Warbringer—a direct descendant of the infamous Helen of Troy, fated to bring about an age of bloodshed and misery.

Together.

Two girls will face an army of enemies—mortal and divine—determined to either destroy or possess the Warbringer. Tested beyond the bounds of their abilities, Diana and Alia must find a way to unleash hidden strengths and forge an unlikely alliance. Because if they have any hope of saving both their worlds, they will have to stand side by side against the tide of war.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Agent Annie says…

I have to admit that I wasn’t looking for a superhero story when I found this book by Leigh Bardugo. I was looking for other titles by the author of Six of Crows and the original Grisha Trilogy when I came across Wonder Woman. Since I had recently seen the movie starring Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, I thought I would give this a try.

I was quite happy that I picked it up. The author creates a very believable young Diana who is not quite an adult. Reading how Diana experiences the world outside of Themyscira, particularly her impression of NYC, was a lot of fun.

The only complaint I might have is that there wasn’t much depth to the individual characters, so my relationship to them was pretty trivial. However, the story moves along quickly with lots of action and a few twists that keep you guessing until the end.

Bardugo stays true to the mythology of Wonder Woman and the Amazons while writing a unique chapter in Diana’s life. I give this book a 4 and would recommend it to teen readers as well as adults.

Other recommendations…

All books in the Grishaverse by Leigh Bardugo, the rest of the DC Icons series, and Leia, Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Title: Pachinko
Author: Min Jin Lee
Publish Date: February 7, 2017 by HachetteAudio
Genre: Historical fiction
Narrator: Allison Hiroto
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s DescriptionPachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan.

So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Agent Annie says…

“Life keeps pushing you around, but you never stop playing.”

I picked this book up because it got several good reviews and it covers a time period and geography that I’m not that familiar with.

This is a remarkable tale that covers several decades about Koreans and the plight those who immigrated to Japan faced during and after the wars. The narrator, Allison Hiroto, did a wonderful job with the pacing and the pronunciations of the names of the characters, the various forms of address, and the Korean vocabulary. I’m not sure I would have finished the book if she hadn’t been so good.

I also picked up the book because I was familiar with the game, pachinko. I didn’t realize it was associated with gangsters in Korea and Japan. I just played it in a friend’s basement as a little kid. It was a really fun game and a bit like an upright pinball machine.

I liked the beginning of the book quite a bit. I was introduced to one of the main characters, Sunja, and the Korean peninsula during the colonial era. The day-to-day life of a rural peasant was written in such a way that I had a vivid picture in my head, and I really wanted to continue to know more about Sunja’s life.

However, the book seemed to veer off of that intimate relationship I had with the character when the author chose to have many more first-person narratives. Each of them was a member of Sunja’s family or had some close connection to that family, but I felt less and less close to the characters as more points of view were introduced.

I give this book 4 stars.

Other recommendations…

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker, The Persimmon Tree by Bryce Courtenay, or The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng.

The Girl and the Bomb by Jari Jarvela

Today’s book is one of a few translated works I’ve been reading lately. While good, it’s obvious this book may challenge US readers with its cultural and societal differences. However, it’s good for us, especially now, to broaden our minds and horizons.

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

TitleThe Girl and the Bomb
AuthorJari Järvelä, Kristian London (translator)
SeriesMetro-trilogia, Book 01
Publish Date: October 1, 2015 by Amazon Crossing
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: provided by the author/publisher

Publisher’s Description: Rust and Metro live life to the fullest in the small Finnish city of Kotka. The lovers work together by day and write graffiti by night, always staying one step ahead of the law. But their luck runs out after an ambush by rogue security guards causes Rust to fall to his death. Having literally left their marks all over the city, Metro cannot help but be reminded of Rust everywhere she goes, making it impossible for her to move past the tragedy. Heartbroken and alone, she becomes determined to get to the bottom of her partner’s death and to exact revenge on those responsible by using the tool she knows best: spray paint. As she fights to bomb the system, she is constantly—and harshly—reminded of how unfair life can be. Up against lies, betrayal, and corruption, Metro musters the strength and inspiration to persevere in the name of truth and by adding beauty to an ugly world.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Agent Annie says…

Good book. Really enjoyed the two points of view of the graffiti artist and the security officer as they told their side of the story. I thought the ending was weak because it didn’t have a sense of completeness. How did either person’s life change? Were they affected by their own or other’s actions? Did either of them have a change of mind or grow as a person? Without the events in the book, would there be a difference in the future?

However, what the thoughts were of the two as they battled discovering and being discovered was excellent. I think the translator did a great job of using appropriate American slang but kept true to the Finnish names and landmarks, which added to the flavor of the story. I also wanted to know more about the character “Baron.” It seemed like he was ignored for the last several chapters, but leading up to them, he could have played an integral part in the betrayal or even as a setup at the end. I expected something like the graffiti artists turning the tables on the investigators and taping the mistreatment during the investigation, which would be released to the press.

This is very much a book written for an audience different than US readers. There were too many cultural anomalies with difference in economies, education after high school, governance, taxes and privatization of social services and even law enforcement. I give it a 3.

Other recommendations…

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millenium, Book 01).

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom

Though The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom might be a great book for young adults new to the spy/espionage genre, it wasn’t unique enough to capture the interest of our spy-loving adult reviewers.

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

TitleThe Cruelty
Author: Scott Bergstrom
SeriesThe Cruelty, Book 01
Publish Date: February 7, 2017 by Fiewel & Friends
Genre: YA Thriller
Source: Provided by the publisher

Publisher’s Description: When her diplomat father is kidnapped and the U.S. Government is unable to help, 17-year-old Gwendolyn Bloom sets off across the sordid underbelly of Europe to rescue him. Following the only lead she has—the name of a Palestinian informer living in France—she plunges into a brutal world of arms smuggling and human trafficking. As she journeys from the slums of Paris, to the nightclubs of Berlin, to the heart of the most feared crime family in Prague, Gwendolyn discovers that to survive in this new world she must become every bit as cruel as the men she’s hunting.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Agent Annie says…

The best line in the book The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom is in the very first chapter when the main character, Gwendolyn, pulls a book out of her backpack and tells us, the reader,

“It’s a novel with a teenage heroine set in a dystopian future. Which novel in particular doesn’t matter because they are all the same. Poor teenage heroine, having to march off to war when all she really wants to do is run away with that beautiful boy and live off wild berries and love. Paper worlds where heroes are real.”

This is echoed two hundred some odd pages later when Gwen, now called Sophia, who is in real danger from the Czech mafia, says “Damn my luck, having to go off to war when all I want to do is run away with that beautiful boy and live off wild berries and love.”

That about sums up what’s wrong with this book: it pretends not to be formulaic but follows the same pattern as all spy/espionage novels. This could have been written by James Patterson, Lee Child or Robert Ludlum and I really wouldn’t have noticed the difference. The author simply puts a 17-year-old girl in the role of the main character and, unfortunately, this doesn’t lend itself to believability. The only training this teenager gets is about a month from an Israeli spy, and she totally eludes and ultimately defeats criminals in several European countries included the “dreaded” Czech mafia and kills several of their number through a variety of methods?

I also really didn’t think that The “Cruelty” itself, which the author tries to describe as an internal “thing” rising up in Gwendolyn and taking over her more sane (regular) self, was well defined. He mentions it a few times as “wanting to get out” or “taking over” but I don’t think he spent enough time on her internal struggle. It felt really ho-hum when Gwen had to make difficult choices, like murdering someone in cold blood!

I give this book a 3 for being too much like other books I’ve read in this genre and not having enough of what the title featured.

Percy Procrastinator says…

For me, as a forty-four-year-old long interested in thriller/spy/espionage novels, this was a tough read. I didn’t read it all, either. At about the halfway point, I realized that I had read this story before by some other author. It’s not that it was bad; it just wasn’t good enough to pull me in. I don’t know if it was because it’s geared toward young adults or if I have just read and seen too much of this kind of story.

The setup is quite good. It was easy for me to believe that Gwendolyn could become a spy. She knows languages and had gymnastics, so had some of the rudimentary skills needed. It wasn’t luck that had her know several ex-spies, people who could set her on the path to find her father. I was happy that she got a month of training and even a test so she knew if she could do it.

Reading about her training was interesting to me to see which way the author would have Gwendolyn go. And once she made her choice, I knew how the rest of the story would go, again from decades of reading these kinds of novels. I just wasn’t interested enough in reading this particular story. I skimmed through several chapters of her meeting people, going up the chain and following the leads. I can easily see how this would be a great introduction for someone to these kinds of novels. It’s just not for me.

Finally, I will say that the ending left me a bit disappointed. I read the final ten percent of the book and I don’t think I got the payoff I wanted. The twist didn’t surprise me and the ending left me with a sour taste in my mouth.

I give the book a three. It might deserve a four because it handles the subject matter well, but I can’t be the one to give it that rating.

Other recommendations…

Advanced teen readers could probably jump right into the Alex Cross, Jason Bourne, and Jack Reacher thrillers, or go with the classics and give the original James Bond novels a try. Unfortunately, those all have male protagonists. For female protagonists, here is a list of 9 Best Thrillers with Strong Female Protagonists.

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

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