The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson


The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson: The Inspiration

This is a question writers get asked all the time. And some writers have really great, specific answers. Like: I was sitting on a bus and I saw a dog with a wooden leg and decided to write about wooden-legged, bus-riding dogs: their history and culture. But for a lot of writers, myself included, the inspiration for a novel, or indeed the inspiration to write in general, is a much more airy-fairy, metaphysical thing that’s hard to pin down.

My own novel, The Wolves of Winter, had a lot of different inspirations. I had the setting in mind: I wanted a snowy, post-apocalyptic Yukon. I wanted a father/daughter relationship that was prevalent (due to having a young daughter myself). And I wanted it to be part survival story, part coming of age story, part literary tale, part epic post-apocalyptic madness.

So why did I write what I did? Is it my passion for the outdoors? Is it the fact that I grew up on fantasy novels and love the blend of literary/fantasy or literary/science fiction? Is it my own family dynamics? Yes. Of course. The problem is, it’s all of those things. It’s everything that makes me who I am. From my memories to my passions, from the books I read to the movies I watch, from the myriad of people in my life to the myriad of personalities in my head. It’s everything.

So when an author tells you about that moment on the bus with the wooden-legged dog, I think she really is telling you the truth. BUT, I very much doubt it’s the whole truth. Maybe the dog was the spark that lit the fire, but the fire doesn’t burn without a giant pile of wood that’s already there. Books are like people, they’re messy things. They’re a bringing together of ideas and passions and wishes and fears. It’s why writing is so interesting. It’s why reading is so interesting. You never know what your readers are going to get out of your novel; you might not even know what you’re going to get out of it. While you thought you were writing a book about crippled dogs, in the end, you realize what actually inspired you to write was your deep-seeded fear of public transportation.

B  O  O  K    R  E  V  I  E  W  – 4 out of 5 Stars

The Wolves of Winter is a surprisingly fast read. I say that because, for all intents and purposes, it’s a book set in the post-apocalyptic Arctic where the environment enhances the feel of the desolation of the times. Whereas with other books in this genre tend to build a largesse narrative explaining the genesis of the world that they come to know, the bones of The Wolves of Winter is highly tangible; easily imaginable. I feel like we’re living in it now. The delicate global politics that only become even more so with the new American administration, it is indeed even more plausible now.

With the majority of the US population wiped out by a strain of Asian Flu, the McBrides fled to the remote Alaskan wilderness at first. But when the disease extended its reaches, they had very little choice but to flee even further up North. For years, it had only been Gwendolyn and what’s left of her family. They’d survived by hunting, foraging, and preserving their food for the bitter winter. Life was a cycle of monotonous humdrum until a fugitive named, Jax appeared in their midst. Suddenly, the quiet life of the town of McBrides – population 5 – had become far from boring.

Tyrell Johnson’s debut novel is a page-turner. There wasn’t a second when you’d lose interest in the goings on of Gwendolyn’s life. While she spent a lot of time immersed in her own self (for lack of company), her quiet introspective about the world and how it came to be pulled me that much deeper into the story.

There are a few aspects of the story that I wish was explored further, however. Ramsey, for one, had me speculating about his sexuality and his debilitating shyness when confronted with sex. Because he’s the only person not related to the McBride’s that’s close to Lynn’s age, it was only fitting that they’d be paired in all sense of the word. But any attempts at anything sexual with Lynn only led to tears and mortification. And yet, as soon as Jax entered the scene, Ramsey exuded attitudes attributable to jealousy.

There was also the appearance of white animals (foxes…crows) that I thought should’ve been better explained other than an adaptation to the new global climate of sorts. It felt like an afterthought that had no significance to the story at all. I also needed to read more about Jax’s abilities. I felt that it was one of this book’s strong points.

Regardless, I enjoyed this novel immensely. I’ve always loved reading post-apocalyptic novels, and Johnson’s debut hits all the right spots. It’s a page-flipper, a little desperate and sweet at times, but also violent. I especially loved Gwendolyn’s relationship with her father. They were close and was each other’s best friend. Lynn for her part is a strong character; stubborn and determined. Protective of those she loves. She is fearless and fierce and does what she can to adapt to a world that left her very little choice but to survive.

Overall, this was an outstanding debut. Vivid and bleak; exciting and tender at times.

Publication Date: January 2nd, 2018 | Simon & Schuster Canada | Amazon | Chapters Indigo | Book Depository |

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[716]: Blood Vow by JR Ward

Blood Vow
by JR Ward


I’m writing this review after a second reading and it’s not because the book was THAT good. It’s the opposite, actually. There are times when books are just not meaty enough to leave a remarkable impression regardless of whether or not one had an enjoyable time reading it. And that’s exactly how I felt about this one. I can’t say it was bad but more like status quo, you know? More of the same. Nothing to see here. Move along, folks.

One of the reasons why this didn’t leave a lasting impression is that it felt more like a continuation of The Beast instead of a story that focuses on the next trainee, Axwell. I mean, there are other subplots that vied for my attention, too, of course, but this series was supposed to drum up lovin’ feelings fans had of the BDB series. Unfortunately, JR Ward just can’t help herself. After all these years of reading Ms. Ward’s books, I should be used to it by now, right? The fact that she chooses to not have a focal character in every book she writes has become her M.O. since the beginning of time. So I shouldn’t expect any less.

Because I was more invested in reading about Rhage & Mary’s journey towards parenthood, Axwell and Elise’s story took a back seat. The definitive crux of my problem with this book lies in my disappointment stated above. That it was an extension of The Beast rather than a thorough introspection of Axwell’s storyline.

In any rate, I still enjoyed it. Axwell came from a poor family with no prospects whatsoever (besides enrolling in the BDB Training program, that is). He’s virtually an orphan since he lost his father to the raids. His mother had long since abandoned them before then. He’s carried a guilt with him for ignoring his father’s call on the night he was killed. He’s angry at himself and at the world – more particularly to the members of the Glymera. His mother took off to become the mistress of one of those people so he doesn’t really have a good opinion about them. (You can practically smell the romantic twist from a mile away, don’t you?) He ended up being employed by one as a personal security detail. And yes, you guessed it, to Elise – whose life has gotten even more restrictive since the murder of her cousin.

As for Mary & Rhage, if you’re following the series, you’d know that they were in the process of adopting a girl whose mother just recently died. Bitty has seen the worst kind of abuse at the hands of her father. It took Bit a while to get used to being loved and cared for. She was very wary at first but soon warmed up to the idea that she, too, deserves some good in her life. But all the physical abuse her body has suffered also left her with some permanent damage that if not treated might leave her invalid after her transition. Reading about the way Havers tried to correct the break in her bones had my eyes smarting in tears. Bit was allergic to any kind of anesthetics, so you can just imagine the torture this kid went through. We also learn that the uncle she was talking about was not imaginary at all which had Mary and Rhage going crazy for the uncertainty of losing Bitty.

 Verdict

I have a complicated relationship with JR Ward’s books. Yet no matter how I complain, I end up going back to her year in and year out. It’s like being in a bad relationship sometimes. No matter how bad it gets, I’m the weak one who keeps giving the bastard the second chance.

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[642]: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

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Eligible

by Curtis Sittenfeld

Random House Canada | April 19th, 2016 | 4 out of 5 Stars


I can never say no to a good Pride & Prejudice retelling. In fact, I have a shelf dedicated specifically to P & P published fan fiction. I must admit that it has been a while since I’ve read one told in a contemporary era. The last one was so bad I never wanted to read another retelling after that. Eligible, thankfully, was a fantastic modern retelling of a well-loved book. Sittenfeld truly grabbed it by the horns and directed the story as she saw fit. But she stayed true to what we’ve come to love about the book.

Majority of us probably have read the book or seen the BBC series – or the films for that matter. In here, we find slight variations to each of the characters’ roles. Like Wickham for one. Oh, trust me, he was still a douchebag. But the difference here is, he’s been Liz’s friend for years. His connection with Darcy would’ve been inconsequential had Darcy not played a role in the reason for Wick’s hatred.

Liz is a writer for women’s magazine in a different calibre as say, Cosmopolitan. They tackled issues with social relevance affecting women. Which is why I had a tough time stomaching the way she let Wick treated her. She was a strong, independent woman who – unfortunately – fell victim to what she thought was love. Her strained interactions with Darcy were comical at best. Expect the usual, “I want to marry you despite your family being poor and screwed up” hi-jinx.

Speaking of Liz’s family, well, Lydia created a different problem for the Bennett matriarch. One involving an elopement with a transgender – which, in this day and age shouldn’t really matter. But because Mrs Bennett is the worst kind of bigot in this interpretation, dramatics ensued. Mary is as studious as ever with opinions of her own. Suspected of being a lesbian didn’t sit well with Mrs Bennett. She seems to disappear time and time again and they didn’t know where she was going. That is until Kitty tracked her down and exposed her secrets.

Then we come to Jane and Bingley –  which really is where I should’ve started with this review because the title of the book references a reality tv show (ala, The Bachelor) where Bingley was first discovered. He’s a doctor looking for forever. Unfortunately, he couldn’t pick one woman so at the kiss-awarding ceremony, he broke down and cried. Cried like a baby because he didn’t want either of the women left. So yeah. He’s rich, he’s a doctor. Looking for love and found one in Ohio, no less. Until his meddling sister, Caroline Bingley interfered.

I’m sorry that this review is going a bit longer than I’d like. But I have so much to say about this book. Overall, it’s a great retelling. It was funny. It was important. It subtly discussed some of the social issues relevant to the on-going problems facing the U.S. right now. I also love how intensely conservative ma and pa Bennett were while the kids are considerably liberal-minded. It’s a delight to see Ms. Sittenfeld update a most beloved classic –  to see how the Bennetts would fare in today’s society even if it’s just a supposition.

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[640]: The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone

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The Hatching

by Ezekiel Boone

July 5th, 2016 | Atria Books | 4 out of 5 Stars


This was such an icky book. I had bouts of starts and stops because it made me paranoid. Like something was crawling on my skin, and every time I feel something brush up against me, I turn into a spazzing ninja trying to shake it off. But it’s not just the sense that something hairy was on me, it’s the thought that there are possibly millions of species of spiders that are unidentified out there in the wild. And one of them could be a man-eating, inside-a-human-body-hatching, flying, jumping spider. I shudder at the thought.

This breed of spiders is from the ancient world. Awakened because humans are curious fuckers. Especially those bazillionaire types wanting to explore the forest of the Amazon or some shit. So this Dora the Explorer wannabe and his entourage consisting of a tour guide, his bodyguard, and three supermodels (because he can) were in the forest when they stumbled upon a freaking nest. Long story short, the bazillionaire survived only to find himself (unknowingly) carrying an egg inside him. And it hatched.

Good times. Good times.

He’s not the only one who had a close encounter with the eight-legged kind. All over the world, they’re all awakening because it was their season. They live for a time, then die soon after they wreak havoc. They’re like carnivorous locusts with a taste for man meat and blood. In China, the infestation got so bad that the Chinese government nuked its own people. And these spiders don’t discriminate on their points of attack: sky, sea, water, land. They’re the stuff an arachniphobe’s nightmares are made of. But it bugs me that there was no precedent to the event leading up to their awakening. Moreover, because the epidemic is wide-spread, there was a slew of points of view. And yet, even with all the characters involved, the book is tiny. Each has a short tale of their encounters and their inevitable demises. So at the end of the book, there were only a few left. Which, oddly enough, makes me all the more excited about this becoming a series.

I’m especially curious about the survivalists in a remote California town who had the presence of mind to build their own nuclear bunkers. Though, I’m worried. Their bunkers were constructed deep in a mine. Mines are dark and deep and infested with who knows what. So I’m interested to know what will become of them. Also, implied romance between the entomologist and the FBI agent.  Crazy, I know. I mean, with horrors abound, who has the time for romance? Lol. Mind you, romance might be pushing it.

The Hatching is a perfect book to turn into a B-movie. The kind shown in the drive-ins. Despite the horrors I felt before, during, after reading this book, believe it or not, I had a great time. It  was perfectly paced regardless of the number of perspectives. When I was a child, my mom used to warn me that if I don’t wash my face and brush my teeth before going to bed, a cockroach will eat my face. I had nightmares about that. But let me tell you, that’s nothing compared to the nightmares I’ve had after reading The Hatching.

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[638]: Wild by Alex Mallory

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Wild

by Alex Mallory


I’ve always loved Saundra Mitchell’s Vespertine series. She introduced me to the Wild Wild West of YA with nature’s magic thrown in for good measure. The fact that the books were about two things that I’d never picked out on my own volition speak volumes. She also knows how to write a good romance – which is key to keeping me coming back for more. So it was an unexpected, welcome surprise to learn that she wrote a contemporary retelling of Tarzan using a pseudonym.

Book Description

The forest is full of secrets, and no one understands that better than Cade. Foraging, hunting, surviving— that’s all he knows. Alone for years, Cade believes he’s the sole survivor. At least, until he catches a glimpse of a beautiful stranger…

Dara expected to find natural wonders when she set off for a spring break camping trip. Instead, she discovers a primitive boy— he’s stealthy and handsome and he might be following her. Intrigued, Dara seeks him out and sets a catastrophe in motion.

Thrust back into society, Cade struggles with the realization that the life he knew was a lie. But he’s not the only one. Trying to explain life in a normal town leaves Dara questioning it.

As the media swarm and the police close in, Dara and Cade risk everything to get closer. But will the truth about Cade’s past tear them apart?

The novel opens up a little heavy on narration. It was Dara and her boyfriend fumbling through a camping trip that was meant to draw them closer but only managed to do the opposite. We also spent a lot of time in Cade’s head. Because he’s been living in the forest for so long, the appearance of a couple of intruders kept him in a perma-state of wonder. The forest had an air of slight danger. But I think it had to do with the way Cade stalked Dara. He was fascinated with her and the boy hasn’t talked to anyone for years, so I kinda get why he was all creepy.

Cade has such a sad story. From his parents’ choice to leave everything behind, to when they eventually left him behind, it was the kind of sorrow that you would feel with very little provocation. It was that palpable. I felt sorry for his lonesome existence and felt even sorrier when they took him out of the only home he’s ever known. He had no idea how to exist in a modern world. He had a child-like innocence untampered by civilization. So as much as I thought it would be good for him to learn the truth about the lies his parents fed him, his freedom cost him a lot more.

I had a bit of a hard time with Dara’s boyfriend, though. He was a jerk and I’m glad he was barely in the picture. I also felt that there should’ve been more on Cade’s adopted parents. They were really good to him, but Cade’s heart was in the forest so he didn’t know how to connect with them. Overall, I think I’d hoped for more. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the book was a decent size as it is, and most of the plot threads were woven in a nice plait. I supposed it could’ve used a bit more tightening, is what I’m trying to get at.

Wild is an entertaining modern interpretation of Tarzan. It had a lot of heart that will give you a mild case of chest pains. I think that you will learn to enjoy it, too if you go into it knowing that it’s not a perfect book, and as most interpretations go, it’s never as good as the original.

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[636]: The Mistake I Made by Paula Daly

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The Mistake I Made

by Paula Daly


Remember that time when you fantasized about being in Julia Roberts’ shoes in Pretty Woman? How about Demi Moore in Indecent Proposal? Now imagine yourself in that scenario then wake up to realize that Richard Gere or Robert Redford is actually Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. Fun, huh? That’s exactly the situation Roz found herself in.

Roz was a struggling single parent swimming in debt left behind by her ex-husband. She was desperate for money. So when Scott made a “business arrangement” that would alleviate some of her problems, she agreed with just a tiny bit of hesitation. Little did she know that Scott was not the detached, bored millionaire he’d make himself out to be. She figured she’d only have to sleep with him once and then she’ll manage. But complications arose when one of her co-workers found out about the arrangement. Soon she’s not only dealing with the guilt of sleeping with the man whose brother-in-law was someone she could potentially have a relationship with, she’s also had to deal with a blackmailing colleague who’s not in it for the money.

Then he disappeared. Feared dead by the police. Roz’ bid to solve her financial woes instantly became a nightmare of epic proportions.

my thoughts

Full disclosure, this is a re-read. It took me this long to write a review because I didn’t quite know how to write one on my first go – not that I have a better sense of how-to this time around. I think I was just inspired last weekend.

The Mistake I Made is a suspense of the mildest kind – which makes it even more enjoyable because you don’t have to contend with sweaty palms and racing heartbeats whilst reading. Sometimes, I like my mysteries that way. Though, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t vested in the story. I love that the antagonist was very calm – which, I suppose is a true mark of a sociopath. But every single thing that he did was calculated. Even right up to the point when he destroyed his own family.

Roz was a woman who was doing what she can to give her son a good life. Even with the financial difficulties that her ex-husband left on her hands, she did her best for him. It was easy to sympathize with her and understand that you would probably have done the same thing if you were in her shoes. But at the same time, sleeping with Scott and getting paid for it was taking the easy way out. So when it comes to handing out guilt, she’s definitely not home-free.

This is a great introduction to Ms. Daly’s work . I do believe this is only her third book, and I would most likely read more of hers in the future. Strong characterizations, solid plot points. It would have you thinking about the moral dilemma of Roz’s situation. All in all, I’m glad I decided to give this another go. It gave me another chance to examine what drove Roz to the decisions she made throughout the book.

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[635]: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

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The Raven King

by Maggie Stiefvater


I’m a part of the population who died a little when this book’s original publication date was pushed back. I was devastated. I needed to read it like I needed my next breath. But there was nothing else I can do. Earth continued to orbit around the sun. Seasons changed as I came closer to my death. With very little desire to live, I trudged on and waited with everyone. Until that one fateful day when I was given a reprieve: my bookstore had it three days earlier than its publication date. Huzzah.

So I got ready to boogie. I settled in with my Trenta Black Tea Lemonade and told my family to leave me the hell alone. Hours passed. After a few starts and stops, I grew agitated.  Brows furrowed, I start to question if I might be reading a different book. For one, I was reading and rereading passages. For another, I was confused af. This is not the Maggie I knew and love. She was no longer speaking my language. Days passed. I was no closer to deciphering the words. Why was it so complicated?  What changed? Why am I suddenly struggling to imagine what she was describing? I wanted to cry. I wanted to shout at a cruel god who made me wait extra long for a book that will not fulfill its promise of greatness. But I persevered. Who cares if it will take me longer than necessary to read something that I proclaimed to be the most anticipated book to come out this year? I didn’t give up hope. Somewhere in there, I knew I’ll get all the lovin’ feeling back.

The story went on. Gansey and Blue continued to ignore the four-letter-word flashing above their heads. Blue continued to resist kissing Gansey. The women of 300 Fox Way proceeded to exist in their mystical magnificence per usual. Blue’s father was still doing his rendition of R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet. Adam and Ronan circled each other like prey and predator (which is which was everyone’s prerogative). Ronan brought strays he collected from his dreams like always. The story went on but I couldn’t even muster an ounce of excitement for what’s unfolding before me. Because the truth of the matter is, The Raven King dragged. The writing didn’t work for me. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t ever remember Maggie’s writing to be this complicated and long-winded. It’s too pretty for my taste. And I’m the type of reader who was a high tolerance for purple prose. I know how to appreciate cloaked meanings. But above all, If I was disappointed in The Raven King, I was even more disappointed in myself. Because I knew that I would be the black sheep in the community after everything is said and done. I am ashamed.

Towards the end,  a couple of things happened. There was kissing that became a preamble to chapter 39; the culmination of all my wanting happened. For the last two years, I’d imagined how it could be. Who would make the first move? Who would be the first one to  run away after they realized what had happened? I had imagined it in every conceivable way but nothing could’ve prepared me for that moment. It was glorious, splendid, beautiful and way too freaking short. But it doesn’t matter. Because in a few short pages, The Raven King was redeemed. That was all it took. Two kids kissing.

It turns out that I’m easy. I can be bought with the right bribe. You can irritate me with your beautiful words. You can prolong the agony of waiting for my ship to sail. But if you give me everything I’ve been hoping for, you can forget that I ever considered abandoning your book in the first place.

All’s well that ends well.

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[632]: Mr. and Mr. Smith by HelenKay Dimon

27876307 LOVESWEPT | May 24th, 2016
E-Arc via Net Galley
Suspense | Romance | M/M
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars


Fisher and Zach are CIA agents in a secret relationship. But that’s not all they’re hiding. Neither of them disclosed their true occupations to each other. So when Zach got kidnapped by an organization supplying arms to terror cells, Fisher had no choice but to give in to their demands and surrender himself to rescue Zach. What Fisher doesn’t know, however, is that Zach was neck-deep in a case that he himself has been working on for months.

I feel like I should insert an ominous soundtrack right here. Actually, I would have to insert them in random spots throughout the story because it was certainly that suspenseful. This book was so much fun. It had enough humor to cut through the tension. And the relationship drama between Fisher and Zach was oh, so addictive. At times, I wanted to slap Fisher because he refused to see what was in front of him. All he kept focusing on was that Zach lied (as much as he did, mind you!). He was so stubborn.

There was no doubt how much Zach loves Fisher, though. He was ready to sacrifice himself just to save Fisher. These two has chemistry in spades, and even though they frustrated me on many occasions, I rooted for them. Oh, man. The sex scenes were hot. Lol. Nothing like the threat of death to amp up the intensity in the bedroom.

But this book is not only all about sex and romance. After all, they are CIA agents who were up against some very dangerous criminals. The torture sessions were a bit hard to take. It was suspense all the time, so it left very little room for boredom. Ms. Dimon melded romance and suspense well. A one-sitting type of read, honest.

 

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[631]: Twenty Questions for Gloria by Martyn Bedford

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Twenty Questions for Gloria

by Martyn Bedford


Gloria is a 15-year-old girl suffering from an early onslaught of ennui from life. Her parents didn’t seem to care one way or another about her. And though they would protest otherwise, their actions speak to the contrary.  Some days, Gloria didn’t care. But lately, she’s been having a difficult time ignoring the resounding loneliness that echoed in the hallways of their home.

Then Uman showed up; a mysterious specimen of a boy. Tall, lanky, and handsome in an effeminate way. Intelligent with charisma that puts everyone in some sort of spell. It just so happens that he seemed to have taken an interest in her as well. For days he hounded her until he inexplicably lost interest. Arbitrarily, that’s when Gloria’s fascination with him grew, and their friendship took a new form. When Uman suggested leaving everything behind, Gloria didn’t even flinch. With a tent, a few quids, and a deck of cards to guide their way, Gloria and Uman embarked on a journey to free themselves from their shackles: Uman, to a tremulous past. And Gloria, to an unremarkable existence.

Twenty Questions for Gloria throws you into a shroud of secrets and mysteries right from the get-go. When Uman walked into the picture, my thoughts quickly veered towards paranormal persuasion because his charm and wit were unusual for his age. It doesn’t help that he can’t seem to say a single truth about himself, and has an uncanny ability to  persuade everyone around him to do his bidding. It was as if everyone was under a spell. But as you delve deeper into  the story, you’ll learn why he is what he is.

The storytelling followed the questions being asked by the detective inspector in charge of investigating the disappearance of Uman. There was some British colloquialism used but they barely impede the rhythm of the story. When Gloria came back (relatively in one piece), she knew that she’ll never be the same person she once was. Throughout the exposition, Gloria and her mother would face some home truths about each other and their family as a whole. While Uman was judged as the instigator in the beginning, some light would be shed as to just how much involvement Gloria contributed to the events that happened in days that they disappeared. Each question is answered in a form of revelation; exposing the parts of Gloria and Uman no one knew – not even themselves.

There are so many reasons why this book had me in its trance. Uman is a very charming character. He was fascinating in such a way that one would be fascinated by a sociopath. I also needed to know where he ended up, and how Gloria found her way back home. The life of a vagabond is full of strife. Even more so if you’re only 15.

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[626]: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

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Tundra Books | March 8th, 2016
Hardcover | 384 pp.
Young Adult | Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
GOODREADS | AMAZON | CHAPTERS


This book caught me unawares. The cover led me to believe that there was going to be a man who somehow has the power to control all types of snakes or someone with an ability to turn into a snake for whatever reason, but I was way off.In truth, this book made me cry; like full on, shoulder-shaking, snot-dripping cry. I was not prepared for it at all.

The Serpent King is a book about growing up in a place that doesn’t really offer much hope for the future. And in this town is a trio of friends who has their own struggles, misgivings and misfortunes. It is a coming of age story that  teaches us the fragility of life; the friendships that give us courage, people’s different ideologies and faith, and the importance of familial love –  blood kinship or otherwise.

Jeff Zentner perfectly captured the ambiance of a Southern town entrenched in fanatic religious beliefs. A town that qualifies the worship of God and snakes, and where drinking venom equates to ordination should you survive. But don’t be alarmed, this book is not heavy on the scriptures if you’re allergic. I think Mr. Zenter was very effective in conveying the religious thematics in moderation. It is every bit your stereotypical Southern community. Some are small-minded and judgemental who held Dill’s father’s sins against him. He was a pastor who got caught with kiddie porn and who tried to get Dill to cover for him by asking him to lie under oath. And when he didn’t, his mother also held him somewhat responsible for his dad’s imprisonment.

Dill feels trapped by his responsibilities and guilt. He thinks the only future he has is working at the grocery store and helping out pay his father’s legal fees forever. But Lydia will do everything in her power to convince him otherwise. Lydia’s upbringing couldn’t be more different than Dill’s or their friend, Travis. She grew up in a progressive household who gave her everything she needed – and not just the material things but love, support and liberties. In the meantime, Travis used to live a loving environment until his older brother got killed while serving the country. After that, he’s taken the brunt of his father’s anger at the world.

The Serpent King is a welcome surprise in a short line of recent contemporary underdogs. It has a lot of heart that will appeal even to those with cynical discernable taste.

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