Passionate Reviews of The Editors' Favorite Literary Works From All Genres and Eras.
The Violet Eden Chapters
by Jessica Shirvington
Review by Morgan Ingram
Let me preface this review with a request to the reader: Let go of everything you expect from the Young Adult Paranormal Romance genre. Just let it go. You don’t need it here.
The Violet Eden Chapters by Jessica Shirvington begins with book 1, Embrace. I was introduced to the headstrong (however swooning) main character, Violet Eden, who I found highly relatable and charismatic from the beginning. Violet has some serious past trauma, but it doesn’t define her entire character. She is also an artist who has ambition for her education and talent. The discovery that she is a Nephilim (an angelic creature), and thus a defender of humans, and thus mythically soul-bound to the man she loves in a way that is supposed to be completely platonic kind of throws a wrench in those plans. Violet becomes a triumphant heroine as her life as she knows it is thrown into a mythological blender and scattered across the world. All she knows at the beginning of this beautifully orchestrated series is that her best friend, Lincoln, is hiding something from her and she is determined to uncover the truth about Lincoln, the world, and her own identity. By the end of this series, she has transcended her role as a learner and become the beacon of strength that the race of Nephilim desperately needs. This is a story of creating a love that is healthy, consensual, and impenetrable to even the greatest of forces. This is a story of growth as a woman, as a leader, and as a lover. This is a story of sacrifice in every definition of the word. You will be positively invigorated by the triumphs of Violet. You will mourn her losses, and beam at her victories.
For the drama-cravers, prepare to indulge in a wicked, tantalizing (heterosexual) love-triangle that will have you enthralled. For the action-loving thrill-seekers, get ready for some epic battle and combat scenes that will have you vigorously flipping pages. For those history buffs and theology majors who are fascinated by biblical mythology, you will be precisely in your element to apply your knowledge. For those who have a special bookshelf for feminist characters, Violet Eden makes the cut with her grit, strength, wit and leadership.
There are many characters in this series and all of them will give the reader a sentiment to be cherished. There are characters who do not speak English, Characters who are explicitly part of the LGBTQ+ community. Characters who are traumatized. Characters who defy stereotypes. Seemingly irredeemable characters who you will still ache for in months and years after the last back cover has long since closed. Be ready to fall in love. Be ready to be proud of them. Be ready to see yourself in every one of them. Be ready to wish you could leave the world in which you live behind for another.
Shirvington has artfully orchestrated all of these characters and plots with more than just the story in mind. She has, like a careful seam-hand, pulled the threads of free will, consent, trust, and honor through the entire series, weaving ruminative wisdoms into each chapter. Every book is consistent with the themes and touchstones Shirvington has incorporated. Even though I read this series in my early 20’s, I would have resonated with the lessons it gave me at ages 13, 16, 18, and probably the rest of my life. Having said that, this YA fiction should not be missed by those who enjoy the more mature themes in the genre, as this series will give you what you are looking for. It challenges the meaning of love and reminds us of how dangerously close to hate that emotional phenomenon can tread.
Read The Violet Eden Chapters, and you will reach many epiphanies about what it means to be human. I hope Violet’s story gives you what you need from it. I recommend it so adamantly because I believe it will give you exactly that.
Favorite Quote: “Love will kill us all.” – Phoenix (Shirvington, Emblaze)
Favorite Scene: Empower (Book 5) Pages 432 - 433
by Stacy Halls
Review by Madeline Wagoner
While browsing the book spines in the Adult Fiction section of my local library, a font that read The Familiars while being surrounded by intricate, floral patterns had me reaching to pluck it from the shelf and gaze over the summary on the back cover. The book is advertised as a historical fiction with a twist of the supernatural; however, this work teetered between psychological thrills and the paranormal as more and more is uncovered by the plot. This story taps into the power of atmosphere that leaves the reader with the debate of turning the page a bit quicker than usual or dreading to go onto the next chapter. With this, it is able to lead the compelling plot that follows a pregnant Fleetwood Shuttleworth through an uncertain path of trusting a mysterious midwife which gives her hope after receiving dreadful news. The stranger only raises the suspicions of others who accuse her of witchcraft which leads the protagonist, Fleetwood, in a journey of saving her own life, her unborn child’s, and the midwife Alice’s.
After receiving a letter in the mail from her doctor addressed to her husband, Fleetwood Shuttleworth finds out her life will be coming to an inevitable end by the time she gives birth to the growing baby in her belly. The protagonist has not had the best luck with pregnancies so she is desperate to save not only her own life but the child who will be coming in just a matter of months. The story takes on a supernatural twist when she meets the midwife Alice who promises her continued life after child birth for both her and the infant. This story takes place during the seventeenth century where witch trials were ramped and punishable by death. What raised suspicion even more for Fleetwood was the scuttling of a petite fox around the borders of the house when Alice was not around. She had heard of the stories of familiars; animals who assisted witches in their magic. It comes as a surprise that Fleetwood does not want to expose Alice. After all, she had not witnessed this magic. The constant investigation of Alice leads this story down a path of unbreakable bonds between the two women while tapping into controversial time in history of whether or not to put proclaimed witches to death. It also showcases a breakdown of social classes through the encounters Fleetwood has with servants and eventual other witches who are awaiting their trial of execution.
With The Familiars, it is more than a story of your stereotypical, magical story of witches. The ending leaves readers with an ambiguous answer as to whether Alice was indeed a witch or not. The story’s atmosphere is unique, unsettling, and a refreshing twist to what one might expect from a historical fiction. It is a stand alone read which challenges the readers to set aside expectations by opening the mind to challenging the laws of what is deemed moral and vice versa.
Favorite Quote: “Loyalty is earned, not demanded.” - The Familiars (2019)
by Neal Shusterman
Review by Louisa Parrish
“Human nature is both predictable and mysterious; prone to great and sudden advances, yet still mired in despicable self-interest.”
What would the world be like if humans cured death? In Scythe, natural death (except by fire) is eradicated. So the Sycthedom was created. They are death, and while they are seen as necessary when faced with “being gleaned” (their euphemism for killing), no one willingly surrenders their life. Scythe follows Citra Terranova and Rowan Damisch as they are Scythe apprentices. Through them, the reader gets to understand their world and the intricacy of the Scythedom. With the government being only the Thunderhead (who evolved from “the cloud”), whose knowledge is basically infinite, politics resides only in the Scythedom, which the Thunderhead removed itself from entirely. As Rowan and Citra start their apprenticeship together, they are separated eventually. Rowan to the “New Order” Scythes, and Citra to the old school Scythes. Newer Scythes think that gleaning is something to flaunt, to enjoy, to relish in doing. Older Scythes believe it is a necessary evil, but you should never enjoy gleaning. With infinite knowledge and no worries of death, aside from being gleaned, Scythe highlights how humanity is determined to be able to show its faults.
This story is so compelling to me and so well written. I love seeing how Scythes approach their gleanings. Some are malicious about it, some are purely statistical, some look for those who seem done with this world, and it is all very interesting and beautiful to see how people approach being Death in a world where Death is mostly temporary. The characters are beautifully written and the ideologies are executed in an alluring manner that keeps the pages turning. The world of Scythe is one I do not think I would ever want to live in, but it is one I would love to visit and observe. I get to do that through these amazing books, so I highly suggest getting your hands on a copy of Scythe.
My favorite selection from Scythe is a journal entry from Scythe Curie at the end of chapter 18:
“If you’ve ever studied mortal age cartoons, you’ll remember this one. A coyote was always plotting the demise of a smirking long-necked bird. The coyote never succeeded; instead, his plans always backfired. He would blow up, or get shot, or splat from a ridiculous height.
And it was funny.
Because no matter how deadly his failure, he was always back in the next scene, as if there were a revival center just beyond the edge of the animation cell.
I’ve seen human foibles that have resulted in temporary maiming or momentary loss of life. People stumble into manholes, are hit by falling objects, trip into the paths of speeding vehicles.
And when it happens, people laugh, because no matter how gruesome the event, that person, just like the coyote, will be back in a day or two, as good as new, and no worse—or wiser—for the wear.
Immortality has turned us all into cartoons.”
By Paul Langan
Review By Kyleaf Holland
Heavily thoughtful, unique, diverse and emotionally provoking are the very terms for Paul Langan’s series of books such as The Bully and The Gun. For example, The Bully reveals a humble beginning to readers through a character by the name of Darell Mercer who is constantly mistreated, seen as less valorous, vulnerable and unconfident. The typical highschool stereotypes such as the bully, the nerd, and the peers who hop on bandwagons of whatever seems cool. However, Darell falls into the nerd stereotype until he learns to face his fears, which is arguably his internal and external conflicts. He struggles with self esteem(inner) and Tyray, the cool kid/ bully who is his external conflict. The same could be said about Langan’s sequel to the book entitled, The Gun.
Secondly, the readers get a glimpse within Tyray’s character to see why he was a bully in the first place. We see almost every aspect of Tyray’s life and possibly even empathize with Tyray’s character traits as well as reasoning. Even though Darell was portrayed as weak, unconfident, and vulnerable physically as well as emotionally, the same is in fact very much the case with Tyray. However, Tyray’s weaknesses/ internal conflicts are emotionally more hectic through violent altercations through physical means with family members instead of peers at school. Once Tyray reaches his melting point it is hard to say whether or not he will be able to redeem himself from his transgressions to move on for the betterment of his life.
Overall, I highly recommend these books from Langan’s Bluford series because it relates to many situations of physical/verbal abuse in households, the struggles of urban cities which impacted many friends I know from Philadelphia. I have personally encountered fights with people of similar backgrounds who reverted to guns as a resolve for losing fights in school. Another feature I relish from the book is that the characters feel like real people to me. Darell was born in Philadelphia just like me and raised by his mother just like me and had a difficult time adjusting to his new school in California as I did when I first moved to North Carolina.
In Conclusion, Darell Mercer moves from Philadelphia to Bluford high in California with his mother. It is in this moment that every life changing interaction is introduced between him and Tyray. Tyray bullies Darell to hide the weakness his father provokes on him at home when he beats on him and in turn takes such anger out on Darell. Darell’s weakness for a short period in the book is Tyray’s anger and his own low self-esteem. These moments are shared through the Bluford series’ books made by author Paul Langan which is Purchasable through Amazon.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Review by Louisa Parrish
Before I say anything else, I have to say this: Holy Sh*t. Whether you like a coming of age, murder mystery, or any good story, you will like this book. It is in the works of becoming a movie right now, and if it follows the essential plot points, it’ll be a damn good movie. This story follows Kya from a little girl to a strong old woman. She is connected to the marsh she lives in. The marsh is her home, her family, and her most constant companion. The marsh never leaves Kya the way people do throughout her life. The town calls her “The Marsh Girl,” and she is treated like an outcast by the town her whole life. You have characters you hate (**cough cough** Chase Andrews **cough cough**) and characters you love.
I initially did not want to read this; it felt like it was too hyped up by everyone for no good reason. I was very, very wrong. This book is an excellent example of the snowball effect, though. The more I read, the more I not only wanted to read, but I needed to keep reading. So whether it’s Kya, Tate, Big Red, Jumpin’, or Sunday Justice, you will love these characters, even if you don’t want to. You’ll follow Kya as she grows up alone and learns how to survive, and then she learns how to live. Throughout the twists and turns of this story, you’re always rooting for Kya —and if you aren’t, no one cares — be quiet :)
This book was everything I needed and nothing like I expected. So do yourself a favor and read it. If you have already read it, good job, buddy! Sunday Justice is proud of you!!
“Sometimes she heard night-sounds she didn’t know or jumped from lightning too close, but whenever she stumbled, it was the land who caught her. Until at last, at some unclaimed moment, the heart-pain seeped away like water into sand. Still there, but deep. Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother.”
“There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.”
A Man Called Ove
By Fredrik Backman
Review by Jen Sherrill
“He’s the kind of man who points at people he doesn’t like the look of, as if they were burglars and his forefinger a policeman’s torch.” Ove is exactly like every senile old man you know. He’s candid, scornful, a traditionalist, mildly racist, and hard-working—he thinks that everyone else, especially those in younger generations are indolent and work-shy. From this initial description, you may think he sounds like a person you might hate, or at least strongly dislike if you met him. However, Ove is one of the most masterfully crafted characters I have ever read about as he is layered with both good and bad, full of abundant contradictions, all of which make him human. This causes this old man to be lovable, almost like a grandfather-like figure, if you will.
The story follows Ove as he goes about his normal, daily routine. He spends his days enforcing block rules that are only important to him and visiting his wife, Sonja’s, grave. To quote Backman, “One finds a way of living for the sake of someone else's future. And it wasn't as if Ove also died when Sonja left him. He just stopped living.” This routine that Ove finds himself trapped in leads to a depressive monotony that causes him to want his life to end. Suddenly, that normal routine is interrupted by loud and nosey neighbors. A flattened mailbox leads to an unlikely bond between neighbors that brings both new meaning and joy to the once isolated Ove.
This story is well written and beautiful. If you’re looking for a book that you won’t be able to put down once you start it, this is it. No, literally. Each chapter ending leaves you on the edge of your seat and yearning for more. You’re going to fall in love with the complexities of this Swedish neighborhood and its inhabitants—Parvaneh, Patrick, Jimmy, Rune, to name just a few. These characters and relationships that are portrayed are indicative of reality; they aren’t stagnant, but, rather, constantly evolving. It’s a book that will make your heart feel full one moment and shattered the next. For example, something as simple as buying an iPad, putting flowers on a grave, or making a morning cup of coffee is twisted to evoke emotion in the reader. It’s full of amazing plot twists that will leave you in awe. Backman, in all his writing, though especially in A Man Called Ove, crafts these very complex networks of characters that make the story detailed, vibrant, and heartwarming. I would simply describe this book as a form of intellectual stimulation created by an emotion-evoking story. If you’re looking for your next book, look no further. This is it.
“Death is a strange thing. People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it's often one of the great motivations for living. Some of us, in time, become so conscious of it that we live harder, more obstinately, with more fury. Some need its constant presence to even be aware of its antithesis. Others become so preoccupied with it that they go into the waiting room long before it has announced its arrival. We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves. For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.”
― Fredrik Backman, A Man Called Ove
“He was a man of black and white. And she was color. All the color he had.”
― Fredrik Backman, A Man Called Ove
House of X / Powers of X
by Jonathan Hickman
Review by Dr. Royston
It’s about time we here at the Niche Nook tell you all about a comic book. Why? Because we’re not here to be snobs about Literature ; we’re here to tell you about great books you should read, and well a comic book is definitely a book.
So why should you read this particular comic book, or to be more accurate, this particular comic book series?
Because it is absolutely hands down one of the best super hero stories of the century, it’s chock full of gorgeous art by Pepe Larraz and R.B. Silva, and it reinvents and reinvigorates Marvel’s most meaningful mutants after years of neglect while all hands were focused on the MCU.
House of X/Powers of X is a pair of intertwining six-issue comics miniseries written by Jonathan Hickman and released from the summer to winter of 2019. It has now been collected in trade paperbacks for those who missed out on the monthly releases.
House of X details Professor X and Moira McTaggart’s efforts to recruit mutant heroes and villains to create a new mutant nation on the living island of Krakoa. Their plan is for a new home for all mutants no matter their loyalties or morals, and their efforts see them recruiting everyone from Cypher (because someone needs to talk to the island) to Magneto (because, y’know, he’s friggin’ Magneto) to help forge this new land (and yes, Forge is there too). Through their efforts, we see the current state of Marvel’s mutant population and their hopes for a better future.
Powers of X details the results of their efforts at the years X0, X1, X2, and X3, or their present, ten years in the future, 100 years in the future, and 1000 years in the future. Yes, the title is a play on “powers of ten”. Yes, I think that’s awesome. At each point in time, we see humanity’s efforts to oppress and destroy the mutants escalate and the mutant’s own efforts escalate in response. We soon learn that these are different futures, different potentialities resulting from the mutants forging a new nation on Krakoa.
And then we discover that they aren’t just futures; they’re pasts. They’re Moira’s pasts. Yes, the Mutant’s closest human ally is revealed to be herself a mutant, and her power is the ability to live serial lives. Moira has lived through many futures. In each, she dies along with her mutant family and friends. And each points to the ultimate threat against mutants, humans, and eventually all organic life: massive artificial intelligences so dense with information that they collapse under their own mass and become black holes. Jonathan Hickman’s galaxy brain idea is that the ultimate bad guys are literal galaxy brains!
So you have all the classic X-motifs: island nations, heroes and villains uniting in shared trauma, time travel, killer robots, and bonkers space opera. But Hickman spins them all in new and exciting ways while also weaving them all together into a single thread, united by Moira, Xavier, and their hopes for a better future.
As the two books pivot and weave on each other, we witness two suicide missions, one in the present and one in the future time X2. You’ll feel heartbreak as Jean feels her oldest and dearest friends die one-by-one. You’ll feel triumph as Apocalypse makes his glorious final stand against Nimrod. In these tragic sacrifices, we see the loyalty and often-denied humanity that make the X-men such poignant protagonists, and we are reminded that no matter how much time travel or space shenanigans enter into the equation, they are always an allegory for marginalized people and their fight for acceptance.
And then you will see Professor X tell you and gathered mutant-kind not to mourn the tragic deaths of your favorite X-men, because he and Moira have one last trick: a way to outwit death itself. No matter what arrays itself against them, no matter who or what tries to destroy them, the X-men will always return. And in House of X/Powers of X, they have returned in glorious fashion.
Best Line: “When you wake from this earthly slumber my friend, look for me. I will be there, waiting for you, radiant and with arms wide open.”