Review: I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

I listened to the audio version of this book.

I think you all know how much I loved Markus Zusak’s book, The Book Thief. Both the story itself and the way it is told are beautiful and moving in a way I hadn’t experienced in other books. After reading The Book Thief, I had several friends recommend another of Zusak’s critically acclaimed novels, I Am the MessengerThey swore that although the reading experience was very different from Book Thief, it was just as rewarding.

It’s true that I Am the Messenger varies significantly from The Book Thief. It takes place in Australia, not Germany; the narrator is a 19-year-old cab driver, not Death; and the story revolves around the stagnant and hapless Ed Kennedy instead of the clever and quietly defiant Liesel Meminger. But it still utilizes Zusak’s captivating prose, and his wholly unique method of storytelling.

The Plot (from Goodreads):

Ed Kennedy is an underage cabdriver without much of a future. He’s pathetic at playing cards, hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey, and utterly devoted to his coffee-drinking dog, the Doorman. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery.

That’s when the first ace arrives in the mail.

That’s when Ed becomes the messenger.

Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary) until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?

My Thoughts:

I have a hard time summing up my thoughts on this book. I’ve been thinking about it for months, trying to come up with a neat little 3-paragraph blurb that can adequately encompass I Am the Messenger, and I’m not sure it’s possible. I can say I liked it. I can say that the audio narration is excellent. I can say that it was smart and funny and touching and wholly original. I can say I’m still not sure I liked the ending. But I’m not sure that really covers it. So I’ll just do my best, and you’ll have to take my word for it that this book is one that really must be experienced to be understood, and nothing I can say in a review will really do it justice.

From the opening moments, Zusak grounds the story with Ed Kennedy’s authentic voice, and I immediately settled into the mind of this 19-year-old unmotivated cab driver, who in a moment of uncharacteristic fervor, foils a bank robbery. Ed’s not quite sure why he does it, but his choice is the catalyst for all that comes next. He starts receiving playing cards in the mail, and on the cards is information about a list of strangers. Ed figures out that he has to intervene in the lives of these strangers to “complete” the card and move on to the next one, and his encounters with the people he is tasked with vary from sweet and quiet to violent and disturbing. He doesn’t know who’s sending the cards or why, just that he must complete each card…or else. Or else what? He’s not quite sure. He only knows he doesn’t want to find out.

I liked Ed a lot, which is good, because if you don’t like Ed, you won’t like this book. There are so many questions floating around — Who’s sending the cards? Why? How do they decide what Ed must do? What will they do if he fails? Why does Ed comply so easily? — that the only way it works is to go along with Ed, accept his confusion and his actions as just part of who he is, and enjoy the ride. He is a remarkably well-developed character, one of the most well-rounded and personable narrators I’ve encountered. I don’t know if it’s a fault or a strength that next to the fully formed person that is Ed Kennedy, the other characters in the book — with the possible exception of his malodorous, coffee-loving canine companion, the Doorman — seem like simply that: characters. Even his best friends and the girl he’s loved forever feel viewed through a fuzzy lens when compared to Ed. It doesn’t really take away from the story; it just puts the whole thing so firmly inside Ed’s head that it sometimes felt almost dreamlike, like he was the only real thing in the crazy world he inhabits. (Interestingly enough, I noticed this same almost hazy effect with Zusak’s other critically acclaimed novel, The Book Thief, although the devices used to achieve the effect were quite different.)

I loved the intrigue of the story, although it’s not what I’d call a mystery. In a mystery, there are clues along the way that allow an astute reader to piece together the truth of what’s happening along with the characters. In I Am the Messenger, there aren’t clues. Ed spends almost the entirety of the book mystified, moving blindly from one task to the next. It wasn’t frustrating for me — I felt that I was supposed to be lost along with Ed, and that when answers were finally forthcoming, they would be because someone outside of Ed decided to let him in on the secret, and not through any deductions of his — or my — own.

I also loved all the individual challenges Ed found himself up against. They were almost vignette-like, self-contained bubbles of story that occasionally intertwined, but most often remained separate. My favorite was Ed’s relationship with an elderly woman suffering from dementia, who mistakes Ed for her late husband, Jimmy. His interactions with her were so tender and bittersweet that I could have read an entire book about just the two of them. Each of Ed’s other encounters has a distinctly different flavor, oscillating between wholesome and uplifting to dark and sinister, and everything in between. The only constant linking them together as all part of the same narrative is Ed. And being such a wonderful character, Ed is enough.

The only problem I had with this book was the ending. And I’ve spoken to plenty of intelligent, well-read friends who love the ending, so take this with a grain of salt. It may just be me. But for me, after this book full of questions and genuine emotion and a fantastically authentic narrator, I wanted the ending to fit really organically into the grounded world Zusak created for Ed. And instead I got an existential crisis of an ending that seemed almost like a cheat. Like there really was no way to pull all the disparate threads of story together, so Zusak gave himself an out.

Now, don’t get me wrong. If an author is going to use a device like this, I don’t think there’s really a better way to do it than the way Zusak did it. I think the man is a masterful storyteller and a stunning wordsmith, and I have no qualms with the mechanics and skill with which he crafted the ending. I just wish he hadn’t used the device he did at all. I wish he didn’t pull me out of the story the way he did. For me, it diminished what I find to be the main selling point of the entire story, which is the authenticity of Ed. I wanted to stay fully submersed in Ed’s world, and have everything come together to make sense from that vantage point, right up until the very end. Instead, it forced me to pull back and re-frame my perception of everything that had happened, and I didn’t appreciate that.

However, ending aside, I did truly love this book. And I know plenty of people whose opinions I deeply respect that love this book, including the ending. So whether or not you like those last few pages, I still highly recommend I Am the Messenger. It’s smart, engaging, original, and will keep the wheels in your head spinning madly long after you turn the final page.

Review: Hopeless by Colleen Hoover (@colleenhoover)

I picked up Hopeless by Colleen Hoover for one reason, and one reason only. This blog post by Myra McEntire. Sometimes I just want a book to wreak havoc with my emotions, and from the looks of things, this book would fit the bill. I started it one night when I was in A Mood, and YUP. Havoc wreaked. Achievement unlocked.

The Plot (from Goodreads)

Sometimes discovering the truth can leave you more hopeless than believing the lies…

That’s what seventeen-year-old Sky realizes after she meets Dean Holder. A guy with a reputation that rivals her own and an uncanny ability to invoke feelings in her she’s never had before. He terrifies her and captivates her all in the span of just one encounter, and something about the way he makes her feel sparks buried memories from a past that she wishes could just stay buried.

Sky struggles to keep him at a distance knowing he’s nothing but trouble, but Holder insists on learning everything about her. After finally caving to his unwavering pursuit, Sky soon finds that Holder isn’t at all who he’s been claiming to be. When the secrets he’s been keeping are finally revealed, every single facet of Sky’s life will change forever.

My Thoughts

From the very beginning, Hopeless sucked me in. It was one of those “just one more chapter” books, where the pages seemed to be flying by and time appeared to stand still. Until I’d look at the clock and realize I meant to go to bed 2 hours ago.

It starts benign enough. There’s humor and fun characters, and the inevitable meet-cute of Holder and Sky. The romance builds simply and sweetly, with lots of raging hormones and “awww” moments. But even though the first half of the story is relatively light, there is a constant unease simmering just under the surface of the narrative. A feeling that although things seem to be going well, things are not quite right, and when Sky figures it out, it’s all going to come crashing down.

And then it comes crashing down.

Sky was a great character to spend the book with. She was funny and tough, secure and smart. Not your typical self-deprecating, clumsy heroine. And the fact that she was such a strong, confident character made it that much more devastating when, in the second half of the book, she becomes very broken.

Holder was a typical misunderstood-bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-gold, but there’s a reason that trope is so popular. It works. While part of me (the cynical part) rolled my eyes at Sky’s immediate and overwhelming “I’ve never felt this way about a boy” response to him, before she even knows him, the way their relationship develops gave me all the good heart flutters. And then the more I learned about Holder and his past, the more I appreciated him. (Also, eventually, Sky’s somewhat over-the-top initial reaction is explained, making me feel kinda bad I rolled my eyes.)

Now, here comes the part where I give you a warning. The back half of this book is not light reading. There are some very dark and serious issues present, including sexual abuse and suicide, and they are not glossed over. That, combined with the other mature content, makes me need to disclaim that while I loved this book, I would not recommend it for younger teen readers. It may be about high school students, but I’d categorize Hopeless as adult, as I believe that is its primary audience. It deals with some very disturbing topics, and while there are fabulous grin-inducing highs, there are also some horrific lows. So. Proceed with caution.

Hopeless is not for everyone. It may not be for you, and that’s totally okay. It’s a book about healing and surviving after something unimaginably awful. But for me personally, I thought this was a brutally honest, often heartbreaking, yet ultimately uplifting story, with strong nuanced characters and writing that kept me riveted from beginning to end.

Content guide: Contains profanity, sex, mentions of suicide, and sexual abuse, all involving children and teenagers. 

Throwback Thursday (March 28) – The Host

Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by The Housework Can Wait and Never Too Fond of Books.

Here’s how it works:
  • Pick any bookish or literary-related media (or non-media item) released more than 5 years ago.
  • Write up a short summary (include the title, author, and cover art, if applicable) and an explanation of why you love it. Make sure to link back to The Housework Can Wait and Never Too Fond of Books in your post.
  • Link up your post at The Housework Can Wait or Never Too Fond of Books.
  • Visit as many blogs as you can, reminisce about books you loved, and discover some “new” books for your TBR list – or some other classic!

Feel free to grab the Throwback Thursday button code from the sidebar to use in your posts.

Thanks for participating, and we look forward to seeing which books you choose to remember!

My Throwback this week is…

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

In honor of the movie releasing this week (which I am totally seeing opening night), today I am featuring that other book by Stephenie Meyer which is not about sparklepires. Here’s the Goodreads synopsis:

Melanie Stryder refuses to fade away. The earth has been invaded by a species that take over the minds of human hosts while leaving their bodies intact. Wanderer, the invading “soul” who has been given Melanie’s body, didn’t expect to find its former tenant refusing to relinquish possession of her mind.

As Melanie fills Wanderer’s thoughts with visions of Jared, a human who still lives in hiding, Wanderer begins to yearn for a man she’s never met. Reluctant allies, Wanderer and Melanie set off to search for the man they both love.

I’ll be honest – I really, really enjoyed this book. Say what you will about Stephenie Meyer and her writing (which, in my opinion, improves LEAPS AND BOUNDS between the Twilight Saga and The Host), but the woman knows how to keep the pages turning and the tension high. Yes, even when she’s writing about stalk-y sparklepires. But I like The Host so much more because it’s about ALIENS. And I love me a good alien story. Plus, while there is a love triangle in The Host – which is actually more of a love square – it’s different than in most books. The conflict is real and the solution is not obvious. HIGH FIVE for a love triangle where one of the choices is not infuriatingly stupid.

When I first read The Host – in about a day, because I couldn’t seem to stop reading it – the characters and the story stayed in my head for days after. I thought about them all the time, the choices they made, and what they would do next. To me, all technicalities aside, that’s the mark of a good story. If you think a clean alien romance might be up your alley but you’ve been putting this one off because it’s by That Twilight Lady – give it a shot. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Also, here is the movie trailer. WHO ELSE IS EXCITED? JUST ME? NO? OKAY GOOD.

This is a blog hop! Link up your Throwback Thursday post below!

Interview: Liz Long, author of Gifted (@LizCLong)

You guys, I’m pretty excited about this. It’s a momentous occasion. My first author interview! As you’ll (maybe) recall, I recently reviewed debut author Liz Long‘s book, Gifted. It’s a unique and exciting story about a circus full of people with superpowers, and I was itching to pick her brain when I finished.

She was kind enough to provide answers to my extensive questions, and I think you’ll enjoy her answers!

Where did you get the idea for Gifted?

I’ve always had a weird obsession with fire (I’m not an arsonist, I swear). I’m an Aries/Fire sign and while I certainly read and love supernatural stories, I wanted to write something that didn’t have vampires or witches. That’s not to say, however, that they don’t exist in the Gifted world, by the way…

How long did it take you to write Gifted? What was the writing process like?

Technically, I started sketching the outlines when I lived in Nashville, so start to
finish it was about three years. But I sometimes let life and junk get in the way, so
I’d probably round it down to a year and a half if I cut out the lazy times.

The process was sort of strange, really. I’m a pantser writer, which means I
write whatever comes to mind whenever it hits me. I don’t write scenes in order,
which typically results in a copy/paste chaos, then I go back and connect the dots.
(I’ve anticipated this from now on by purchasing, using, and falling in love with
Scrivener. So. Much. Easier.)

You chose to go with indie publishing. I know you go into your reasons in detail on your blog, but can you give me a nutshell version about why indie publishing was right for you?

Oh gosh, I kinda love this question. I wrote a blog article about this, actually, but
honestly, I’m sort of an impatient soul. It wasn’t about rushing to put my MS out
there, but I believe in it so much and feared it sitting out there in limbo forever.
With full control over everything (editing, cover art, marketing, etc.) I really like
knowing that I’m the driving force—I’m not afraid of a little hard work. Plus
the indie community is just phenomenal, I can’t say enough nice things about

I loved the circus setting in Gifted. What kind of research did you do to make the
Donovan Circus come to life?

There’s an incredibly interesting PBS 6 hour documentary series called “Circus” that follows the Big Apple Circus around for a season. It’s not only about the show itself, but behind the scenes with the employees and living circus life. I watched and re-watched every episode, taking note of the general circus feel and how they work (like the way they set up their living area is similar—obviously they don’t sit in a town for weeks at a time, but the grounds are laid out in a similar fashion). Since my characters all have powers, though, it’s obviously tweaked—workers may exist in both worlds, but mine have a little extra strength or my acrobats can literally fly so there’s never any risk of them hitting the ground.

I also saw the Ringling Bros. show when they came to visit my civic center
last year. Sort of a last minute fluke thing (I got tickets because I worked at a
magazine), but it was great to see costumes up close and get an idea of how they
ran the floor.

Then there was the research I did online for things like show terms. “First of
May” and “Jonah’s Luck” are real deal vocabulary, for example.

What’s next for Lucy and the Donovan Circus crew?

Well, Lucy still needs to figure out what the heck her father’s history is, which
essentially means she needs a family tree lesson. This is going to take her on an
interesting path on how she uses her own gift.

Then there’s the fact that Sheffield’s got so many enemies. Lucy’s got a huge
target on her back now thanks to her firepower. Lucy doesn’t quite understand
just how much her world clashes within itself. There are some pretty evil gifted
beings out there, let’s just put it that way.

Plus, it’s time to move to a new city. There’s definitely new stuff within each new

Can you tell me a little bit about the YA series you’re working on?

Oh I’m so excited about this one! Currently titled “Super Nova” (not totally
set on that), it’s about a 17-year-old girl named Nova. They live in a fictional
city, Arcania, that’s being taken over by criminals. A supremely bad guy named
Fortune kills her little sister, sending Nova on a quest for justice (or revenge). The
catch? Nova’s got her own superpower. It actually is set in the gifted world, but
completely different characters and storyline. So the readers will recognize the
world and certain traits, but be taken on a totally new adventure.

What’s the most exciting thing about being a newly published author? The scariest thing?

The most exciting is definitely hearing so many nice things from everyone.
Because I’m new to it, I’m pretty much a nervous wreck, but hearing how much
people have enjoyed reading Gifted is just so nice to hear.

The scariest thing…gosh, there’s a few! Haha, um, I guess it’s the waiting game.

I can handle a poor review (I know not all books are for everyone—there are
people who didn’t like Harry Potter for crying out loud, so I know I’ll have a few
haters), but it’s literally just waiting for bloggers and others to read the book.
I don’t want to hover or annoy, so I’m kinda sitting and twiddling my thumbs
waiting to hear on a review. (Just kidding-I’m writing. But also a little twiddling.)

What have you learned during the writing and release of Gifted? How will it change the way you approach future books?

Less pantser approach, more plotter involved. I’ve done a much better sketch for
the next couple books and I’m trying to get it all well-established before writing
too much. I got in way over my head when I had so much going on in Gifted—I
had to remember that I could save a lot for another title. I’ve also learned a couple
lessons as far as the release. Actually publishing/printing will be easier because I
understand the formatting as well as making a cover and the order of how things
have to be done. Self-publishing is way harder than just uploading a document
and throwing it on Amazon.

What one piece of advice would you give an aspiring writer?

Don’t give up. You can get distracted, you can get lazy, but don’t give up. And
indie publishing is not as untraditional as it sounds anymore.

Gifted falls into a relatively new category of books: “New Adult.” What the heck is New Adult?

Oh I so hope this becomes a thing! New Adult is sort of the in-between for high
schoolers and adults, think 18-24 range. I love the idea, because as someone
who read older books as a teen, but at 27 might now roll their eyes at some of
the high school/teen stuff, that intermittent stage is a great balance of watching
someone figure out their journey but still manage to land themselves in some
adult situations.

And now for some frivolous and ridiculous questions:

Lucy compares herself to Pyro from X-Men. Who’s your favorite X-Men character?

Oh my gahhh. If I go by the gray I keep finding in my bangs, it’s Rogue. But
technically, I’d have to go with Jean Gray, aka Phoenix. She’s such a great
character and she’s incredibly powerful. Plus she’s willing to make sacrifices for
the greater good, which is always admirable.

Lucy also says Star Wars was her dad’s favorite movie. Who’s your favorite Star Wars character?

Han Solo. No question. He’s smart, he’s capable, he’s a lone wolf until suddenly
he realizes maybe he can do some good against the Empire. And if you wanna
argue or throw down, be my guest. I’ve poured water over my best friend’s head
and got into shouting matches with my husband.

If you were Gifted, what would you want your power to be?

Argh, there are so many! I’ve learned from Sookie Stackhouse I’d never want to
be a Telepath. No way would I want to be a Firestarter. I think I’d want Bianca’s
Transporter gift most—the ability to be anywhere you want in an instant is pretty

In Gifted, Lucy’s decision could really go either way, but are you Team Gabriel or Team Keegan?

I love them both for different reasons. I’m afraid I don’t want to say because I
don’t want it to reflect back to Lucy’s choices. Sorry!

Chocolate or vanilla?

Always chocolate

Tea or coffee?

Diet Coke

Star Wars or Star Trek?

Wars, but I’ll watch Chris Pine as Kirk all the live long day.

Batman or Superman?

Batman’s far cooler. He’s got gadgets and is actually human enough to get his
butt kicked and make us fear for him. (Dark Knight Rises, anyone?)

Gale or Peeta?

If it’s the books, Peeta all the way. If I’m looking at that cute Hemsworth kid
from the movie, Gale.

Favorite book?

Harry Potter series. I’m in sheer amazement at the smallest details she included
from start to finish. She’s just a genius. I can talk about it for hours, as a reader or
as a writer!

Favorite movie?

Again with the toughies! Geez…I love so, so many movies. I’m a huge fan
of Indiana Jones (really anything with Harrison Ford as I have an unhealthy
obsession). I also love all the geek movies—Iron Man, Star Trek…I need to stop
before I rattle off 20 titles. Though I suppose now I’ll say: The Avengers!

Favorite TV show?

It’s a toss up! I watch too much TV for someone who wants to write novels. 30
Rock is my go to (everyone calls me Lemon or LL), but I also adore Parks & Rec,
Modern Family, and Grimm. Oh and Game of Thrones (it makes me want to write
a ridiculously epic battle scene every time I sit at my computer). I can’t pick just

Favorite food?

I’ll go with pizza, since I tend to eat that about four times a week. Just kidding.
Sort of.

And finally, since you wrote a book about characters with superpowers and that makes you an expert, give us your review of The Avengers movie in 10 words or less.

Visually stunning, chill-inducing, cheer-worthy, perfect superhero flick. (I love
being an expert on stuff!)

Thanks so much, Liz, for agreeing to let me interview you! I enjoyed your answers, and look forward to reading about the future happenings in the Gifted world!

Review: Gifted by Liz Long (@LizCLong)

I first heard about Gifted, a new urban fantasy novel by debut author Liz Long, when I heard on Twitter that she was giving away free Kindle copies in exchange for an honest review. Well, I love me a free book, so I read the summary on Amazon and instantly knew I wanted to check this one out. Circus performers with superpowers is too awesome a combo to pass up. So I emailed Liz, and she promptly got back to me with my review copy.

I even paused in the middle of my current books (I’m sorry, Kvothe!) to read this one, because there was a little voice in my head that kept chanting, “you need to read about circus performers with superpowers!”

I’ve got to say, I’m glad I did.

What it’s about:

Gifted is the story of Lucy Sullivan, a young woman grieving the semi-recent loss of both her parents. The book opens as she contacts Sheffield Donovan, owner and Ringmaster of the Donovan Circus, to ask if she can join up. Lucy was raised in the circus until her parents left to have a normal life. Now that her parents are gone, Lucy is anxious to re-enter a world where she can feel comfortable, accepted, and understood. She’s never felt truly at home in the world outside the circus, and knows that Donovan Circus is where she truly belongs.

You see, Donovan Circus isn’t your everyday circus. Because most of the performers in the Donovan Circus are Gifted. They have special powers that set them apart from the outside world. And Lucy is no exception. She is a Firestarter.

Lucy is quickly embraced by the young performers in the circus, a group that includes other Firestarters, a Telepath, a Runner, a Shape-Shifter, a Transporter, and more. She also quickly finds herself a (mostly) unwilling participant in a love triangle, which she does her best to ignore as she works on honing her abilities and developing her power.

But her new life with the circus is threatened when someone starts attacking and killing the Gifted. And she’s the prime suspect.

My Thoughts

After reading the synopsis of Gifted, I thought to myself, “okay, so it’s Water for Elephants meets X-Men.” And Gifted absolutely bears some similarities to both of those, as well as some other gems of pop culture. An orphan joins up with the circus. Everyone has superpowers. There’s a wise Professor X-ish mentor-type (sans wheelchair and bald head, and plus handlebar mustache). There’s an evil supervillain that’s kind of a cross between Magneto and Peter Petrelli, if Peter Petrelli was evil (did I just lose cool points with the Heroes reference? Admit it. The first season of Heroes was awesome) [Edit: Sylar would be a much better comparison. I realized this last night as I was falling asleep. It bothered me I didn’t make the comparison earlier. So now I’m correcting myself. He’s a cross between Magneto and Sylar]. And of course Lucy’s Firestarter ability calls to mind (duh) FirestarterBut even though Gifted bears similarities to several other more familiar works, I still found it to be a fresh take on the more traditional comic-y superhero tales.

Lucy was a great main character. She’s strong and smart and sarcastic; all traits I like in female protagonists. She’s not without her flaws. She tends to be a tad on the oblivious side (especially when it comes to men, and her own abilities). And, like most strong female protagonists, she also has a strong stubborn streak. But she kept learning and growing and struggling to understand the big picture throughout the book, and I admired that in her.

There is a very pronounced love triangle in this book, and it’s not like a lot of books where there’s an obvious frontrunner for Lucy’s affections. She flip-flops between them a good amount, and so did I. Truthfully, I’m still not sure whether I’m Team Gabriel or Team Keegan.

*gag* I can’t believe I just said that. Never mind. I’m not Team-anyone. I hate Teams. My point is that it’s really not obvious who she should/will choose (in large part because of the previously mentioned obliviousness). Honestly, I think that’s a more realistic way to portray a love triangle than a lot of books that have the poor, ignored, frustrated guy patiently waiting in the wings as the female protagonist displays zero interest in him while fawning over his rival.

The overarching murder mystery plot was intriguing. Ms. Long drops tiny hints here and there about what’s going on in the Big Picture, but mostly we discover tidbits of information right along with Lucy. I was kept guessing for a big chunk of the book, and right when I thought I had everything figured out, she threw me for a loop. It wasn’t chock-full of twists and turns, but the road to the end was winding enough that it kept my full attention.

As for the superhero action, it is abundant. There’s a good amount of action sprinkled in throughout the book, and the climactic showdown is really satisfying. It’s fun to watch Lucy develop her Firestarter ability, especially when all the Firestarters are training together. And since nearly every character in the book has some sort of “gift,” not a lot of time ever passes without something supernatural happening.

The only real problem I had with this book was that Lucy and her friends go through some experiences that I imagine would be horribly traumatizing in real life. There’s a couple instances of sexual assault, brutal beatings, and several of the characters are forced to kill. And yet, none of them seem all that bothered by what they’ve gone through, or what they’ve had to do. Even if the person that died is unequivocally a Bad Guy, I’d think taking a life would still take a heavy toll on a previously innocent circus performer.

Now, I’m not sure the book would have been that much fun to read if the characters were constantly in mental anguish after having attacked or having been attacked. But I think I would have appreciated if there was at least a bit more of a psychological price to pay for their actions and experiences.

I do want to mention that there’s a good amount of strong language in this book. If it was a movie, the MPAA would give it an R rating. I mention it because the plot and subject matter give it a YA feel (even though Lucy and her friends are all at least in their 20s), but as far as parents or teachers giving it to young readers, it has a lot more cursing than I’ve seen in other YA books. I understand why it’s in there — Ms. Long wanted to be true to how most adults traveling with a circus would actually talk — but I didn’t want a parent to give it to their young reader thinking, “little Sally loves X-Men!” (you go, little Sally), and then get mad at me because I didn’t warn them about all the f-words.

Overall, Gifted was a fun read, chock full of stuff I like (including X-Men and Star Wars references), with an exciting plot and really likable characters. I know Liz Long has some other stories for the Donovan Circus crew swimming around in her head, and I’ll be anxious to read them!

Content guide: Contains strong language, smoking by most of the main characters, some scenes of violence and sexual assault.

Also, Liz Long has agreed to let me interview her here on this blog sometime in the near future! Yay! I plan to ask her all sorts of geeky questions about X-Men and Star Wars. And I will probably ask her some stuff about Gifted as well. And maybe unicorns. Stay tuned!