Review: CALL IT WHAT YOU WANT by Brigid Kemmerer

Review:  CALL IT WHAT YOU WANT by Brigid KemmererCall It What You Want by Brigid Kemmerer
Also by this author: More Than We Can Tell
four-half-stars
Published by Bloomsbury YA on June 25, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

CALL IT WHAT YOU WANT Review

Call It What You Want is officially my new favorite novel from Brigid Kemmerer.  Kemmerer is a master of creating engaging stories filled with wonderful characters that will tug at your heartstrings, and she really captured my heart with this one.

Call It What You Want follows Rob and Maegan, two teens who have been ostracized by their classmates.  Rob’s father got caught embezzling funds from half the town, including the parents of many of his classmates.  Many people have wrongly assumed Rob knew exactly what his father was up to and so he has gone from being a popular star athlete at the top of the social food chain down to the bottom rung.  Maegan is an academic overachiever but we learn in the opening pages that she has cracked under the pressure of trying to be the best and cheated on her SATs.  Not only has Maegan potentially tanked her own chances at college, but she also caused the scores for dozens of her classmates to be invalidated as well.  Maegan is no one’s favorite person right now.

When the story opens, Rob and Maegan are both just in survival mode, each trying to lay low and get through the school year drawing as little attention to themselves as possible.  When Rob and Maegan get paired up on a project in Calculus class, however, everything changes.

The friendship that blossoms between Rob and Maegan is one of my favorite things about Call It What You Want.   I love the way Kemmerer writes unlikely friendships like theirs.  She portrays that initial awkwardness of the relationship and then the slow opening up to one another so authentically and so beautifully.  I could read books like this from Kemmerer all day every day and never get tired of them.

Another gem of a friendship that appears in the book is between Rob and Owen.  Owen is a loner and he’s also poor, so poor that he can’t even afford to buy lunch at school.  Owen’s struggles are, in part, due to what Rob’s father did, so a friendship between Owen and Rob seems nearly impossible and yet Kemmerer works her magic and creates yet another amazing friendship for me to smile about.  I actually adored Owen’s character so much that I’d love to see him with a book of his own at some point.

Aside from making me smile at the wonderful relationships being forged throughout the story, Kemmerer also puts them into situations that tugged at my heartstrings so hard.  I felt tremendous sympathy for Maegan and the mess she has gotten herself into.  It felt like one of those situations that any one of us could have found ourselves in back in school.  Even more heart-wrenching than Maegan’s situation though is Rob’s.  Not only did he not have any idea what his father was up to, but Rob and his mother are stuck dealing with all of the fallout, including taking care of his father, who botched a suicide attempt and is now brain damaged and mostly paralyzed.  Rob is also being bullied by his former best friend, so every day is pretty much a living hell for him.

Finally, what makes Call It What You Want my new favorite book from Kemmerer is the fact that she really had me thinking about some tough topics, especially as they pertain to Rob. Rob is desperate to try to fix what his father did and contemplates crossing into morally gray territory to make it happen.  It really got me thinking about right and wrong.  Can you ever really make something right by committing a wrong?  I love a book that can engage me with such important and thought-provoking topics.

Wow, I actually had no intention of writing so much, but the book is just that good! Call It What You Want is a heartfelt and beautifully written story about friendship, overcoming adversity, and making amends.  I know Kemmerer’s fans are going to love it, but I’d highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a moving read.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

When his dad is caught embezzling funds from half the town, Rob goes from popular lacrosse player to social pariah. Even worse, his father’s failed suicide attempt leaves Rob and his mother responsible for his care.

Everyone thinks of Maegan as a typical overachiever, but she has a secret of her own after the pressure got to her last year. And when her sister comes home from college pregnant, keeping it from her parents might be more than she can handle.

When Rob and Maegan are paired together for a calculus project, they’re both reluctant to let anyone through the walls they’ve built. But when Maegan learns of Rob’s plan to fix the damage caused by his father, it could ruin more than their fragile new friendship…

This captivating, heartfelt novel asks the question: Is it okay to do something wrong for the right reasons?

four-half-stars

About Brigid Kemmerer

BRIGID KEMMERER is the author of LETTERS TO THE LOST (Bloomsbury; April 4, 2017), a dark, contemporary Young Adult romance; THICKER THAN WATER (Kensington, December 29, 2015), a New Adult paranormal mystery with elements of romance; and the YALSA-nominated Elemental series of five Young Adult novels and three e-novellas which Kirkus Reviews calls “refreshingly human paranormal romance” and School Library Journal describes as “a new take on the supernatural genre.” She lives in the Baltimore area with her husband and four sons.

Book Review & Giveaway: SOMETHING LIKE GRAVITY by Amber Smith

Book Review & Giveaway: SOMETHING LIKE GRAVITY by Amber SmithSomething Like Gravity by Amber Smith
four-stars
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books on June 18, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

Thanks so much to Fantastic Flying Book Club for including me in the blog tour for Amber Smith’s Something Like Gravity.  I’m thrilled to be able to share my thoughts on this beautifully written and moving story that explores how people deal with grief and loss and how they process traumatic events, as well as what it feels like to fall in love for the first time. The story follows Chris, a teenage boy who has just come out as transgender, and Maia, who is trying to come to terms with the unexpected death of her older sister.  Both Chris and Maia are having a hard time – Chris because his mother is struggling to accept him as transgender and because he was violently attacked at school by some of his classmates, and Maia because she has basically lost her own identity and sense of self.  To all of her classmates, she’s now just the little sister of the girl who died. When Chris leaves town and moves in with his Aunt Isobel for the summer, who is coincidentally Maia’s neighbor, Chris and Maia meet.  Maia doesn’t know Chris is transgender or that he was attacked, and Chris doesn’t know about Maia’s sister, so as they become acquainted, they see each other as a chance for a fresh start. Can a relationship survive though, friendship or otherwise, if it begins based on secrets and lies?

 

* * * * *

5 REASONS WHY SOMETHING LIKE GRAVITY SHOULD BE ON YOUR SUMMER READING LIST

 

I really enjoyed reading Something Like Gravity.  I love how Smith crafted this story in a way that tackles very serious and meaningful topics, but also has a light side that focuses on summer vacation and falling in love.  It has everything I love in a contemporary read.  I could go on for days, but instead, I’m just going to share a few highlights as to why I think Something Like Gravity should be on your summer reading list.

 

  1. Authentic characters experiencing realistic and relatable struggles.  Both Chris and Maia are characters that I felt tremendous sympathy for.  I think the author does a wonderful job of authentically conveying the emotions they each must be feeling as they deal with their own internal conflicts.  Chris is dealing with not only what happened to him at school, but also his mother’s reaction to him coming out as transgender, not to mention everything that’s going through his own head about the fact that he is transgender.  Maia is grieving for her sister and struggling to figure out how to move forward. Her parents have pretty much shut down as well, so Maia is just in an all around unhealthy environment.  Both Chris and Maia are having to rediscover who they are and that journey of self-discovery is one I think we can all relate to.
  1. Complicated family dynamics.  I have a thing for books that focus on families, especially if those families come across as real.  And for me, real is messy and complicated.   Both Chris and Maia’s families score high marks in the messy and complicated department.  Chris is caught between a father who is supportive of him and a mother who isn’t, and because both of them have become so overprotective ever since his attack, he is practically suffocating at home.  His way out is cool Aunt Isobel who supports him no matter what, even if it causes friction between her and Chris’ mother.  Watching the intricacies of those relationships play out was fascinating, as was Maia’s situation, where not only is everyone in her home grieving over the death of her sister, but apparently her parents are actually divorced but still living under the same roof, so it’s tension city all the way around, with Maia trapped in the middle.
  1. Meaningful themes. We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” This quote from Anais Nin is a running theme throughout the book and it just really resonated with me because it’s true on so many levels.  It means that for better or worse, our experiences color and shape everything we see.  And it also means that no two people see things exactly the same.  I think it’s an important message for everyone, to help them understand themselves and to understand others.
  1. Transgender representation.  I think this is actually the first book I’ve read that has transgender representation in it.  I enjoy diverse reads so I was pleased to see a transgender teen as a main character in the story.  Not being transgender myself, I can’t speak as to how accurate the representation is, but it felt like the author handled it in a respectful and sensitive way.
  1. Romance/First Love. I’m not really a romantic at heart, but I did really like the romance in this book.  There’s just something about falling in love for the first time, especially a summer romance, that makes me smile and I liked the chemistry between Maia and Chris.  They were sweet together and I was really rooting for them to be able to open up to one another about what they’re hiding so that they had a chance for a long-term relationship.

 

Amber Smith’s Something Like Gravity is a heartfelt story about love, loss, and finding oneself.  I thought it was a beautiful story and would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys contemporary romances, coming of age stories, and diverse reads.  If you enjoyed Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and The Upside of Unrequited, I think you would enjoy Something Like Gravity as well.

 

 

 

Purchase Links:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book DepositoryiTunes | Google Books

 

 SYNOPSIS:

For fans of Love, Simon and Eleanor and Park, a romantic and sweet novel about a transgender boy who falls in love for the first time—and how first love changes us all—from New York Times bestselling author Amber Smith.

Chris and Maia aren’t off to a great start.

A near-fatal car accident first brings them together, and their next encounters don’t fare much better. Chris’s good intentions backfire. Maia’s temper gets the best of her.

But they’re neighbors, at least for the summer, and despite their best efforts, they just can’t seem to stay away from each other.

The path forward isn’t easy. Chris has come out as transgender, but he’s still processing a frightening assault he survived the year before. Maia is grieving the loss of her older sister and trying to find her place in the world without her. Falling in love was the last thing on either of their minds.

But would it be so bad if it happened anyway?

 

GIVEAWAY

Win a copy of Something Like Gravity by Amber Smith (U.S. only). Giveaway ends July 2, 2019.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE

 

June 18th

 

June 19th

Moonlight Rendezvous – Review + Favourite Quotes
The Reading Corner for All – Review + Favourite Quotes

 

June 20th

The YA Obsessed – Review
A Walk To Wonderland – Review + Favourite Quotes
Life of a Literary Nerd – Review + Favourite Quotes
Dazzled by Books – Promotional Post

 

June 21st

Kait Plus Books – Guest Post
Camillea Reads – Review
Gwendalyn_books_ – Promotional Post

 

June 22nd

Morgan Vega – Review + Playlist + Favourite Quotes
Confessions of a YA Reader – Promotional Post

 

June 23rd

Literary Meanderings – Promotional Post

 

June 24th

The Bookish Libra – Review
Bookish_Kali – Review + Favourite Quotes
A Bookish Escape – Review
A Dream Within A Dream – Promotional Post
four-stars

About Amber Smith

Amber Smith is the New York Times bestselling author of the young adult novels The Way I Used to Be, The Last to Let Go, and Something Like Gravity. An advocate for increased awareness of gendered violence, as well as LGBTQ equality, she writes in the hope that her books can help to foster change and spark dialogue surrounding these issues. She grew up in Buffalo, New York, and now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her partner and their ever-growing family of rescued dogs and cats. You can find her online at AmberSmithAuthor.com.

Book Review & Giveaway: ALL EYES ON US by Kit Frick

Book Review & Giveaway:  ALL EYES ON US by Kit FrickAll Eyes on Us by Kit Frick
four-stars
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books on June 4, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Thriller, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

Thanks so much to Fantastic Flying Book Club for including me in the blog tour for All Eyes on Us.  I’m thrilled to be able to share my thoughts on this compelling read today.

Kit Frick’s latest novel All Eyes on Us is a riveting thriller that kept me guessing from start to finish. It follows Amanda Kelly and Rosalie Bell.  Amanda comes from a family of social climbers.  The Kellys have gotten themselves into some financial difficulties and are secretly hoping that an alliance with the wealthiest family in town, the Shaws, will put them in better standing.  That alliance would of course come about by having Amanda marry the Shaw’s son, Carter.  When the story opens, these two have been dating for years and practically have their lives together mapped out, although all is not perfect as Carter is a known cheater.  Rosalie is a lesbian in a fake relationship with a boy because she’s trying to fool her family into thinking she’s straight.  The deception is wearing her out though and she knows it’s not fair to the boy since he has no idea she’s gay either.  The boy of course is our cheater, Carter.

Amanda and Rosalie find their lives unexpectedly intertwined when an anonymous texter, known only to them as “Private,” goes after them both with an ultimatum – either help take Carter down or the texter will take them down.  For Amanda, that would mean exposing her family’s financial woes, while for Rosalie, it would of course mean outing her to her family.

Who is this person and what do have they have against Carter that they’re willing to make Amanda and Rosalie collateral damage in their effort to bring Carter down?

 

* * * * *

5 REASONS WHY ALL EYES ON US SHOULD BE ON YOUR MUST-READ LIST

 

All Eyes on Us sounds pretty cool, right?  Now I want to dive just a little deeper and share some of the highlights of the story for me.  If you love these qualities as much as I do, then All Eyes on Us is a must-read for you!

 

  1. A Suspenseful Read Filled with Twists and Turns.  The synopsis on Goodreads compares All Eyes on Us to Pretty Little Liars and I think this comparison is spot on.  The story definitely has a Pretty Little Liars (or maybe even a Gossip Girl) vibe to it with the anonymous texter and the taunting threats he or she kept making.  Just like I was with Pretty Little Liars and A’s identity, I was on the edge of my seat waiting to find out who Private was and was suspicious of pretty much every character in the book.   The writing is also fast-paced, which makes this book very easy to binge read.  Always a good thing when you’re dying to get to the big reveal!
  1. Is it a religion or is it a cult?  I found the religious group in the story to be extremely disturbing. Every time I read about something they had done to a person in the name of “saving” them, I just wanted to scream.  Frick’s presentation of the power of this radical group had me mesmerized though. I spent much of the book fascinated by them and how they managed to indoctrinate so many people to their extreme conservative ways.  It felt more like a cult than it did a religion and if someone didn’t follow along with every one of their beliefs, they would be told they’re going to burn in hell.
  1. Messy, Complicated Characters. Amanda and Rosalie both really drew me into the story because even though they come from completely different backgrounds and on the surface have nothing in common, they ultimately have one thing in common – their parents are trying to run their lives and dictate who they should and shouldn’t be with.  Amanda’s parents have her life planned out to the extent that it’s little short of an arranged marriage with her childhood sweetheart, Carter, even though they are all aware that Carter has cheated on her at least once already.  Rosalie’s parents, on the other hand, refuse to accept that Rosalie is a lesbian and are determined to “fix” her.  The only time she’s allowed out socially is to date boys.  Amanda is desperate to hold on to Carter so as not to disappoint her parents, while Rosalie is equally desperate not to let her parents control her.  Their predicaments lead both girls to make some questionable, potentially hurtful, choices along the way, but I understood where their hearts were so I was sympathetic to both of them.  They are both definitely living in dysfunctional family environments.
  1. The Dangers of Conversion Therapy. I loved that Frick wasn’t afraid to tackle tough topics in this story.  In addition to it being a riveting thriller, All Eyes on Us also goes a step further and exposes how truly harmful conversion therapy is and that it can have lasting negative psychological effects. It was heartbreaking to read Rosalie’s painful flashbacks to when her parents and their minister did everything in their power to try to get rid of her homosexuality.
  1.  A Message That Resonates. The overriding message All Eyes On Us conveys, that you can’t force a person to be someone they’re not, is so important.  People are who they are, and if you want them in your life, you have to accept them that way.  Trying to force them to be otherwise is just so psychologically damaging.

 

If suspenseful stories like Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl are your thing, then you should definitely give All Eyes on Us a try.  It will keep you on the edge of your seat!

 

 

 

Purchase Links:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository | Kobo | iBooks | IndieBound

 

 SYNOPSIS:

PRIVATE NUMBER: Wouldn’t you look better without a cheater on your arm?
AMANDA: Who is this?

The daughter of small town social climbers, Amanda Kelly is deeply invested in her boyfriend, real estate heir Carter Shaw. He’s kind, ambitious, the town golden boy—but he’s far from perfect. Because behind Amanda’s back, Carter is also dating Rosalie.

PRIVATE NUMBER: I’m watching you, Sweetheart.
ROSALIE: Who IS this?

Rosalie Bell is fighting to remain true to herself and her girlfriend—while concealing her identity from her Christian fundamentalist parents. After years spent in and out of conversion “therapy,” her own safety is her top priority. But maintaining a fake, straight relationship is killing her from the inside.

When an anonymous texter ropes Amanda and Rosalie into a bid to take Carter down, the girls become collateral damage—and unlikely allies in a fight to unmask their stalker before Private uproots their lives.

PRIVATE NUMBER: You shouldn’t have ignored me. Now look what you made me do…

 

GIVEAWAY

One winner will receive a finished copy of Kit Frick’s All Eyes on Us.  The giveaway runs from June 10-June 17th and I will email the winner to get their mailing address.  Sorry, U.S. only per tour guidelines. Also, no giveaway accounts.  Please note:  There are several giveaways taking place during this blog tour.  If you enter more than one of them and happen to win multiple copies, FFBC requires that you decline the second book won or face disqualification.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE

 

June 10th

Hauntedbybooks– Review & Favorite Quotes

June 11th

Morgan Vega– Review

June 12th

Utopia State of Mind– Review/Creative Post

June 13th

onemused– Bookstagram Review
Snark & Squee– Review

June 14th

Bookishly Nerdy– Review & Favorite Quotes
Cinnamon Summers– Bookstagram
four-stars

About Kit Frick

Kit Frick is a novelist, poet, and MacDowell Colony fellow. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, she studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA from Syracuse University. When she isn’t putting complicated characters in impossible situations, Kit edits poetry and literary fiction for a small press, edits for private clients, and mentors emerging writers through Pitch Wars. She is the author of the young adult novels See All the Stars, All Eyes on Us (2019), and Windermere (2020), all from Simon & Schuster / Margaret K. McElderry Books, and the poetry collection A Small Rising Up in the Lungs (New American Press). Her fiction is represented by Erin Harris at Folio Literary Management / Folio Jr.

Mini Reviews: VIRTUALLY YOURS & WILD AND CROOKED

Mini Reviews:  VIRTUALLY YOURS & WILD AND CROOKEDVirtually Yours by Sarvenaz Tash
three-half-stars
on June 4, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Modern love plus online anonymity is a recipe for romantic disaster in this lighthearted new romance from the author of The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love

How bad can one little virtual lie be?

NYU freshman Mariam Vakilian hasn’t dated anyone in five months, not since her high school sweetheart Caleb broke up with her. So, when she decides to take advantage of an expiring coupon and try out a new virtual reality dating service, it’s sort of a big deal.

It’s an even bigger deal when it chooses as one of her three matches none other than Caleb himself. That has to be a sign, right?

Except that her other match, Jeremy, just happens to be her new best friend IRL.

Mariam’s heart is telling her one thing, but the app is telling her another. So, which should she trust? Is all fair in modern love?

Review:

Sarvenaz Tash’s Virtually Yours is a delightful and lighthearted read that is sure to please romance fans.  It follows Mariam Vakilian, who is a freshman at NYU.  Right before leaving for college, Mariam and her long-time boyfriend Caleb broke up and now Mariam finds herself struggling to move on and date new people.  When she receives a coupon from a new virtual reality dating service called HEAVR, she decides to give it a go. Maybe it will give her the kickstart she needs to get over Caleb. HEAVR throws a monkey wrench into Mariam’s plan, however, when one of her top three matches ends up being Caleb of all people.  Mariam is torn because as much as she knows she should move on, surely this must be a sign that she and Caleb were meant to be together, right?

Mariam was my absolute favorite part of Virtually Yours.  She’s incredibly relatable because she’s so perfectly imperfect.  She’s a sweet girl, one I could easily see myself making friends with if I was at NYU, She’s also that friend that you love so much, but at the same time, find yourself wanting to scream at because she doesn’t think and ends up doing cringy things.  Or maybe she’s me.  Haven’t we all made bad decisions at times even when our hearts are in the right place?  Anyway, I just loved Mariam, flaws and all.  I especially loved her journey because at the beginning of the story, she’s clinging to her past so tightly that she can’t even see what’s right in front of her face.  It was fun to watch her “wake up” so to speak.  For that reason, I’d consider Virtually Yours equal parts rom-com, coming of age story.

My biggest issue with Virtually Yours is that I found the HEAVR match results to be unrealistic.  I mean, seriously, if you select ‘Worldwide’ in terms of who you’re willing to be matched with, what are the odds that out of all the people in the world using that service, two out of your top three matches end up being people you know? That just really annoyed me and had me considering not finishing the book, but I finally let it go and ended up enjoying the rest of the story.  I was also not a fan of the catfishing in the novel.  I understood why it was there but could have done without it.

If you’re looking for a quick and easy read that will leave you with a smile on your face, give Virtually Yours a try. You won’t regret it!  3.5 STARS

 

 

Mini Reviews:  VIRTUALLY YOURS & WILD AND CROOKEDWild and Crooked by Leah Thomas
Also by this author: When Light Left Us
four-stars
Published by Bloomsbury YA on June 4, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 448
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Critically-acclaimed author Leah Thomas blends a small-town setting with the secrets of a long-ago crime, in a compelling novel about breaking free from the past.

In Samsboro, Kentucky, Kalyn Spence's name is inseparable from the brutal murder her father committed when he was a teenager. Forced to return to town, Kalyn must attend school under a pseudonym . . . or face the lingering anger of Samsboro's citizens, who refuse to forget the crime.

Gus Peake has never had the luxury of redefining himself. A Samsboro native, he's either known as the "disabled kid" because of his cerebral palsy, or as the kid whose dad was murdered. Gus just wants to be known as himself.

When Gus meets Kalyn, her frankness is refreshing, and they form a deep friendship. Until their families' pasts emerge. And when the accepted version of the truth is questioned, Kalyn and Gus are caught in the center of a national uproar. Can they break free from a legacy of inherited lies and chart their own paths forward?.

Review:

Leah Thomas’ latest novel Wild and Crooked is a story about family, friendship, and not letting mistakes from the past dictate your present and future.  The story follows two small town teens, Gus Peake and Kalyn Spence.  Gus has lived in Samsboro, Kentucky all his life and is known either as that “disabled kid” because of his cerebral palsy or as that kid whose dad was murdered.  Kalyn Spence has just returned to Samsboro and is going to school under an assumed name because her father is the one in jail for murdering Gus’ dad and the Spence name is therefore infamous in Samsboro.  Gus and Kalyn run into each other one day and a fast friendship ensues.  The only problem is that Kalyn has no idea Gus’ dad is who her father is accused of murdering, and Gus has no idea that Kalyn is the daughter of his dad’s accused murderer.  When they each finally learn the truth, it’s a tough pill to swallow and one that will test the bonds of their newfound friendship.

I adored both Gus and Kalyn, Gus because he’s just such a sweetheart.  He just wants so badly to be defined by something other than his disability or by his family’s tragedy.  Gus is immediately drawn to Kalyn, not because she’s the pretty new girl at school, but instead because when they meet, she immediately treats him like she would any other kid at school.  For Gus, Kalyn is like a breath of fresh air because she sees the person behind the disability.  Kalyn is drawn to Gus for similar reasons. She has basically reinvented herself and is acting like the perfect little southern belle every day at school.  It’s draining after a while, and when Kalyn realizes Gus can basically see right through her act, he becomes a refuge for her where she can be herself.  I really loved watching their friendship grow over the course of the book and was really rooting for them to be able to withstand whatever life threw at them.

Even though Wild and Crooked is over 400 pages long, I devoured it in just over a day and I attribute that to Leah Thomas’ masterful way of weaving together a moving story of friendship with the gripping story of what really happened between Gus and Kalyn’s fathers all those years ago.  The anger and prejudice of the Samsboro town folk was palpable once they realized who Kalyn was, and even though she clearly had nothing to do with the murder, in their eyes, she’s guilty by association.  I thought Thomas did a brilliant job of realistically capturing their mob-like mentality.  Thomas also had me simultaneously cheering on this blossoming friendship and sitting on the edge of my seat waiting to find out the truth about the murder.

If you’re looking for a compelling story about friendship and overcoming the past, I highly recommend Wild and Crooked. 4 STARS

three-half-stars

About Leah Thomas

Leah Thomas once wrote from a house in the woods, and now an apartment more or less by the sea (well, less). Her debut novel BECAUSE YOU’LL NEVER MEET ME was a 2016 Morris Award finalist, and its sequel, NOWHERE NEAR YOU, is out now from Bloomsbury. Her third YA science fiction novel, WHEN LIGHT LEFT US, hits shelves in early 2018.

A graduate of Clarion 2010, her short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Black Static, Ideomancer, and Three-Lobed Burning Eye, among others. She’s mostly a dork and always feels uncomfortable about author bios. If she’s not writing, she’s likely teaching or cosplaying. Follow her on instagram (@fellowhermit), or on tumblr (cuttoothom).

About Sarvenaz Tash

Sarvenaz Tash is the author of The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love (an Amazon Best Book of the Year, YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant YA Readers), Virtually Yours, Three Day Summer and The Mapmaker and the Ghost. She was born in Tehran, Iran and grew up on Long Island, NY. She received her BFA in Film and Television from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, which means she got to spend most of college running around and making movies (it was a lot of fun). She has dabbled in all sorts of writing including screenwriting, Emmy-award winning copywriting, and professional tweeting for the likes of Bravo and MTV. Sarvenaz currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with her family.

Review: BRIGHT BURNING STARS by A.K. Small

Review:  BRIGHT BURNING STARS by A.K. SmallBright Burning Stars by A.K. Small
four-stars
Published by Algonquin Young Readers on May 21, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 
 
 
 

Today is my stop on the Algonquin Young Readers blog tour for A.K. Small’s debut novel, Bright Burning Stars.  I’m thrilled to be able to share my thoughts on this fantastic read with all of you.  Thanks so much to Brittani from Algonquin for inviting me to take part in the tour.

 

BRIGHT BURNING STARS Review

A.K. Small’s Bright Burning Stars is a powerful debut that exposes the dark underbelly of competition at an elite ballet school in Paris.  The story follows Marine Duval and Kate Sanders, who have been best friends ever since they first started training at the school.  As the girls get older, the training gets more and more intense and the stakes get higher.  What every student wants is “the prize” – a spot in a prestigious ballet company.  The problem?  Only one male and one female student are chosen each year to win the prize and the competition is truly fierce, with students resorting to desperate measures to give themselves an edge over their fellow competitors.  Can Marine and Kate’s friendship survive in such a cutthroat environment?

This was such an addictive read for me, in part because of the nature of the competition itself and because of the toll it took on each of the student dancers.  There was just so much tension and suspense! I couldn’t stop turning the pages because I wanted to know who was going to win, of course, but also what the students were willing to do in order to win.  The very nature of the competition pits students against one another, forcing them into isolation from one another rather than encouraging them to bond.  As if that weren’t enough, there is also the regular ranking of students based on performance, which leads the students to define their self-worth strictly in terms of what their ranking happens to be at that moment and their sense of worth goes up or down as the rankings change.

I think the author does an incredible job of vividly and realistically portraying just how unhealthy such an environment is and what a strain it can put on even the strongest of friendships.  This is an environment primed for mental health struggles, drug abuse and eating disorders in the strive for a perfect dancer’s body, endless cattiness and jealousy, and even suicidal thoughts.  I found the challenges that both Marine and Kate faced to be riveting, and between the physical and emotional strain they were both under, I truly worried from page to page if both of them, and their friendship, could withstand the immense pressure they were under.

I also loved the way the author starkly contrasts the exquisite beauty of the dance itself with all of that ugliness that takes place behind the scenes.  I thought it made for a very powerful read.

Bright Burning Stars is a moving read about the drive for perfection, unrealistic expectation, and the need to sometimes reevaluate what’s most important in life.  I’d recommend it to anyone who is interested in a dark story that will leave you with plenty to think about long after you’ve finished reading.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Best friends Marine Duval and Kate Sanders have trained at the Paris Opera Ballet School since childhood, where they’ve formed an inseparable bond forged by respective family tragedies and a fierce love for dance. When the body of a student is found in the dorms just before the start of their final year, Marine and Kate begin to ask themselves what they would do to win the ultimate prize: to be the one girl selected to join the Opera’s prestigious corps de ballet. Would they die? Cheat? Seduce the most talented boy in the school, dubbed the Demigod, hoping his magic would make them shine, too? Neither girl is sure.

But then Kate gets closer to the Demigod, even as Marine has begun to capture his heart. And as selection day draws near, the competition—for the prize, for the Demigod—becomes fiercer, and Marine and Kate realize they have everything to lose, including each other.

four-stars

About A.K. Small

A.K. SMALL was born in Paris. At five years old, she began studying classical dance with the legendary Max Bozzoni, then later with Daniel Franck and Monique Arabian at the famous Académie Chaptal. At thirteen, she moved to the United States where she danced with the Pacific Northwest Ballet for one summer in Seattle and with the Richmond Ballet Student Company for several years. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary and has an MFA in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she’s not writing, she spends time with her husband, her puppy, and her three daughters, and practices yoga. Bright Burning Stars is her first novel.

Review: NO PLACE LIKE HERE by Christina June

Review:  NO PLACE LIKE HERE by Christina JuneNo Place Like Here by Christina June
four-stars
Published by Blink on May 21, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

NO PLACE LIKE HERE Review

 

Christina June’s No Place Like Here is an engaging YA contemporary story about Ashlyn Zanotti, a young woman who lives in the shadow of an overbearing father who criticizes everything she does and tries to control every aspect of her life.  When the story opens, Ashlyn has just returned home from boarding school for the summer and is immediately hit with a bombshell – her father has been found guilty of tax evasion and is going to prison, and her mother, who suffers from depression, has checked herself into a treatment facility.  True to form, however, before being carted off to prison, Ashlyn’s father has dictated how Ashlyn will spend her entire summer.  Instead of spending it poolside with her friends, Ashlyn is being shipped off to live with family she hasn’t seen in over a decade and will work at a remote wilderness retreat. Ashlyn is furious and frustrated, but as always, feels she has no say in the matter and passively accepts her father’s orders.

My favorite part of No Place Like Here is how much Ashlyn grows throughout the story.  I think Ashlyn’s situation is one that will resonate with many readers – low self-esteem, overbearing parents, not feeling like you have any control over your life, etc. I just felt so bad for Ashlyn at the beginning because she seems almost beaten down by her father’s constant berating. She’s quiet and reserved, not really wanting to draw any attention to herself.  I really loved the transformation that she undergoes once she is able to get out from under her father’s shadow.  She makes friends, gains self-confidence, and finds her voice, even taking on leadership roles at the retreat.  For the first time, she actually feels proud of herself and the work she’s doing.

I felt like a proud parent watching Ashlyn discover her own potential. While working at the retreat, for example, an inquiry from one of the guests inspires her to organize offsite tours for guests who would like to explore the surrounding area while staying at the retreat.  She really takes ownership of the idea too, doing all the research and coordinating with local businesses to bring the project to life.  In addition to that, she also stands up to the incredibly unqualified woman who has been hired to manage the retreat.  When she realizes the woman is consistently being negligible in ways that could endanger guests, Ashlyn starts gathering evidence to take to the owners to help get the situation under control before someone gets hurt.  Ashlyn’s growth and her determination to stand up for what’s right had me really cheering her on and hoping that when she and her father finally meet again, she will stand up to him as well.

I also really loved the way the author handled Ashlyn’s mom and her depression.  It was done in a very positive way to show there’s absolutely no shame in seeking help when you’re struggling.  I think that’s such an important message, so I was glad it was presented in such a way.  I especially liked the conversations between Ashlyn and her mom where her mom discusses effective strategies she’s being taught to better help her cope once she has returned home.

The one thing about No Place Like Here that had me scratching my head was that I went into it thinking it was a Hansel and Gretel retelling based on something I had read about the book.  I kept trying to bend the story in my mind to make it work as a retelling and just didn’t see it.  After I finished, I saw a comment from the author where she describes No Place Like Here as loosely inspired by Hansel and Gretel and that’s a more apt description. I wish I had seen her comment prior to reading the book. It would have saved me some head scratching, haha.

Even with my misinformed belief that this was a retelling of Hansel and Gretel, I still really enjoyed No Place Like Here overall.  It’s a wonderful coming of age story, and with its wilderness retreat and summertime setting, it’s also the perfect beach read.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Ashlyn Zanotti has big plans for the summer. She’s just spent a year at boarding school and can’t wait to get home. But when Ashlyn’s father is arrested for tax evasion and her mother enters a rehab facility for “exhaustion,” a.k.a. depression, her life is turned upside down.

The cherry on top? Ashlyn’s father sends her to work with a cousin she doesn’t even know at a rustic team-building retreat center in the middle of nowhere. A self-proclaimed “indoor girl,” not even Ash’s habit of leaving breadcrumb quotes—inspirational sayings she scribbles everywhere—can help her cope.

With a dangerously careless camp manager doling out grunt work, an overbearing father trying to control her even from prison, and more than a little boy drama to struggle with, the summer is full of challenges. And Ashlyn must make the toughest decision of her life: keep quiet and follow her dad’s marching orders, or find the courage to finally stand up to her father to have any hope of finding her way back home.

four-stars

About Christina June

Christina June writes young adult contemporary fiction when she’s not writing college recommendation letters during her day job as a school counselor. She loves the little moments in life that help someone discover who they’re meant to become – whether it’s her students or her characters.

Christina is a voracious reader, loves to travel, and hopes to one day be bicoastal – the east coast of the US and the east coast of Scotland. She lives in Virginia with her husband and daughter.

Christina is the author of IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE, EVERYWHERE YOU WANT TO BE, and NO PLACE LIKE HERE.

Mini Reviews: RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE and THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIE

Mini Reviews: RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE and THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIERed, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
four-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on May 14, 2019
Genres: Romance
Pages: 432
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A big-hearted romantic comedy in which First Son Alex falls in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends...

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?

Review:

Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue is honestly the romance book I didn’t know I needed in my life until I started reading it.  I was looking for a light, fluffy, and fun read when I requested this one and it was exactly what I was hoping for.   When I started reading, I realized Red, White & Royal Blue pretty much has all my favorite things all rolled into one story. There’s a generous helping of enemies to friends to lovers, fake relationships, and sassy but supportive friends and family, with a side of politics and royals thrown in for good measure.  It was truly the perfect recipe for a book that I devoured in just over a day.

I absolutely loved the premise of having Alex Claremont-Diaz, the First Son of the United States, fall in love with Prince Henry of Wales.  It just immediately opened the door for so many entertaining possibilities, from the romance itself, to the media frenzy it was sure to generate, and to the potential political fallout it could create on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.  The premise was made even better by the fact that both Alex and Henry were just the two most precious young men on the planet.  Alex is hilarious, while Henry is soft, but put them together and their banter is full of wit and snark, and just flat out adorable.  I felt like I was either smiling or laughing out loud every time the two of them would text or call each other.  The sexual tension between them is also off the charts, even when they’re trying to hate on each other.

There’s also a more serious side to the story as Alex is still figuring out his sexual identity to a degree and as he and Henry worry about what they’re coming out as gay would mean for their families from a political standpoint.  A subplot of the story has Alex’s mother as the first female President of the United States (Can I live in this alternate reality please?!) and she’s up for reelection this year, while Henry is next in line to take the throne and rule his country.  I liked having these very relevant social and political issues meshed in with the light, fluffy fun.

Lastly, I want to give a shout out to Alex’s sister, June, and his best friend, Nora.  These smart, savvy, hilarious ladies at times really stole the show with all the ways they helped try to facilitate the relationship between Alex and Henry.  They were everything I’d want in a sibling and best friend, and if the author wanted to write more books featuring them, I’d totally read them.  (Hint, hint.)

If you’re looking for a fun and flirty read with a side of political drama, be sure to check out Red, White & Royal Blue.  4.5 STARS

 

 

Mini Reviews: RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE and THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIEThere's Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon
Also by this author: When Dimple Met Rishi
four-half-stars
Series: Dimple & Rishi #2
Published by Simon Pulse on May 14, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Romance
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

The irresistible companion novel to the New York Times bestseller When Dimple Met Rishi, which follows Rishi’s brother, Ashish, and a confident fat athlete named Sweetie as they both discover what love means to them.

Ashish Patel didn’t know love could be so…sucky. After being dumped by his ex-girlfriend, his mojo goes AWOL. Even worse, his parents are annoyingly, smugly confident they could find him a better match. So, in a moment of weakness, Ash challenges them to set him up.

The Patels insist that Ashish date an Indian-American girl—under contract. Per subclause 1(a), he’ll be taking his date on “fun” excursions like visiting the Hindu temple and his eccentric Gita Auntie. Kill him now. How is this ever going to work?

Sweetie Nair is many things: a formidable track athlete who can outrun most people in California, a loyal friend, a shower-singing champion. Oh, and she’s also fat. To Sweetie’s traditional parents, this last detail is the kiss of death.

Sweetie loves her parents, but she’s so tired of being told she’s lacking because she’s fat. She decides it’s time to kick off the Sassy Sweetie Project, where she’ll show the world (and herself) what she’s really made of.

Ashish and Sweetie both have something to prove. But with each date they realize there’s an unexpected magic growing between them. Can they find their true selves without losing each other?

Review:

There’s Something About Sweetie is the third book I’ve read from Sandhya Menon, and as with its predecessors, When Dimple Met Rishi and From Twinkle, With Love, it left me with a big grin on my face.

I’m a huge fan of the way Menon draws her female characters and Sweetie Nair is no exception. Sweetie is strong, bold, and full of life, and she’s also a talented singer and athlete who’s ready to take on the world.  There’s one obstacle, however, standing in her way…her mother.  Sweetie is overweight, and while her weight doesn’t bother her or her friends, it bothers Sweetie’s mother.  Her mother’s obsession with her weight becomes so emotionally draining for Sweetie, she decides it’s time to implement the Sassy Sweetie Project, where Sweetie is determined to live life to the fullest and do whatever makes her happy.  Sweetie really does love and respect her mother and doesn’t want to hurt her, but ultimately, it’s her life and she has to fight for it.  I really admired her determination to stick up for herself.

Menon does an equally wonderful job with the love interest for Sweetie in this book.  Those familiar with When Dimple Met Rishi will recognize Ashish Patel as Rishi’s younger brother. Ashish is a kind-hearted, soft boy who is in an especially vulnerable spot when the story opens.  His long-time girlfriend has cheated on and dumped him, and he’s so down on himself that he can barely function.  In fact, he’s so off his game and desperate, that he resorts to recruiting his parents’ help in finding him someone to date, and it’s his parents who bring Sweetie into his life.  I love the journey that Sweetie and Ashish begin together. They each have something to prove and I loved how supportive they were to each other and I spent many pages hoping Sweetie would be able to get her mother to back off so she and Ashish could have a chance at a happy ending.

There’s Something About Sweetie is a wonderful read for anyone who enjoys charming romance novels filled with lovable characters, supportive friend groups, and sometimes awkward family dynamics.  This is also a wonderfully diverse read in that both main characters are Indian American and several of their dates actually focus on learning more about their culture and embracing it.  I’d also recommend There’s Something About Sweetie to anyone looking for a book that has a strong focus on self-love and body positivity.  4.5 STARS

four-half-stars

About Casey McQuiston

Casey McQuiston grew up in the swamps of Southern Louisiana, where she cultivated an abiding love for honey butter biscuits and stories with big, beating hearts. She studied journalism and worked in magazine publishing for years before returning to her first love: joyous, offbeat romantic comedies and escapist fiction. She now lives in the mountains of Fort Collins, Colorado, with a collection of caftans and her poodle mix, Pepper.

About Sandhya Menon

Sandhya Menon is the New York Times bestselling author of When Dimple Met Rishi, From Twinkle, With Love, and There’s Something About Sweetie. A full-time dog servant and part-time writer, she makes her home in the foggy mountains of Colorado.

Review: LOVE FROM A TO Z by S.K. Ali

Review:  LOVE FROM A TO Z by S.K. AliLove from A to Z by S.K. Ali
Also by this author: Saints and Misfits
five-stars
Published by Salaam Reads on April 30, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 
 

 

 

 

LOVE FROM A TO Z Review

 

S.K. Ali’s Love From A to Z is an incredibly moving story that just had so many emotions running through my head the entire time I was reading.  Sometimes it made me sad, sometimes it made me angry and frustrated, but at times, it also made me smile.  I love that Ali’s storytelling is so powerful and authentic that it can evoke so many emotions.  Love From A to Z was such a great read for me because the story just has so many layers, each one equally meaningful and compelling.  It features a blossoming friendship between the main characters, Adam and Zayneb, but then it also tackles weighty topics such as Islamophobia. Finally, it features a character who is trying to cope with the life changing diagnosis of multiple sclerosis he has just received.

I became attached to Adam and Zayneb right away.  They’re both such great kids, but they each have the weight of the world on their shoulders.  Adam has just been diagnosed with MS, the disease that took his mother’s life.  Adam remembers how crushed his father was when she died, so now he’s afraid to tell his father that he now has the same disease.  I loved that he wanted to protect his father so badly, but my heart just broke for Adam thinking about him trying to keep such a huge thing secret.

Zayneb tugged at my heartstrings too.  As the only Muslim student in her class, she is a target of blatant Islamophobia, especially from the supposed authority figures in the school.  I hated that it kept happening, but I was in constant admiration of Zayneb because she refused to just sit there and take it. Instead, she is fierce and brave, standing up for herself and speaking out against the hatred that keeps getting thrown in her face.  The situation at school is especially frustrating though because every time she stands up for herself, she somehow ends up being the one to get in trouble, while the bigot gets off scot free.  When Zayneb actually gets suspended from school for sticking up for herself, her parents send her to stay with her aunt in Qatar for a while to cool off and to try to come up with ways to fight Islamophobia without doing things that could negatively impact her own future.

Adam and Zayneb meet on the plane to Qatar, and the chemistry was instant. I was immediately rooting for them to become friends (and hopefully more than friends) because I loved both characters so much and they just seemed like they would be perfect for each other.  I was also rooting for them to deepen their connection because they each just needed someone in their corner so badly.

Aside from these two characters and their moving journeys, I was also a huge fan of the way the story was formatted.  Inspired by famous art entitled Marvels and Oddities, both Adam and Zayneb keep journals where they record marvels and oddities they encounter in their lives every day.  The story unfolds through these journal entries, which just makes Adam and Zayneb’s journeys all the more intimate and personal as they each battle the demons they’re facing.

S.K. Ali’s Love From A to Z is a book that I’d love to recommend to everyone.  It’s a beautiful story about family, friendship, love, and support, as well as a hard-hitting story that strikes a powerful blow against Islamophobia.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.

An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.

But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.

When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break.

Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.

Then her path crosses with Adam’s.

Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister.

Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.

Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.

Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…

Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

five-stars

About S.K. Ali

S. K. Ali is the author of Saints and Misfits. She lives in Toronto with her family, which includes a very vocal cat named Yeti. Her second novel, LOVE FROM A TO Z, a story about finding love in the time of Islamophobia, will be published on April 30, 2019 by Simon & Schuster. She also has a picture book co-authored with Team USA Olympic Medalist, Ibtihaj Muhammad, THE PROUDEST BLUE releasing on October 22, 2019, published by Little, Brown. Find her on twitter at https://twitter.com/SajidahWrites, on instagram at https://www.instagram.com/skalibooks/ and on her website at https://skalibooks.com/.

Review: DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE by Joan He

Review:  DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE by Joan HeDescendant of the Crane by Joan He
four-stars
on April 9, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE Review

 

I was initially drawn to Joan He’s debut novel Descendant of the Crane because I heard it described as a Chinese-inspired Game of Thrones.  The promise of a Game of Thrones-style, action-packed epic fantasy set in a Chinese-inspired world just sounded way too good to pass up.  When I dove into the novel, however, I realized that it had a lot more layers to it than I was expecting.  Descendant of the Crane is equal parts epic fantasy, coming of age story, and murder mystery all rolled into one very compelling story.

In the kingdom of Yan, magic has been outlawed for centuries.  Seeking to use it for any purpose is a crime punishable by death.  Joan He grabbed my attention immediately by starting Descendant of the Crane on a most unexpected note, with the protagonist, Princess Hesina of Yan, knowingly committing an act of treason by seeking the counsel of a soothsayer, or fortune teller.  Hesina is willing to risk getting caught, however, because she desperately needs information that only a soothsayer can provide.  Her father, the King, has recently passed away, and Hesina is convinced that foul play was involved.  Hesina knows that while the soothsayer cannot see the past and provide her with the killer’s name, the soothsayer does have the power to see into the future and can thus point her on the path to bring her father’s killer to justice.

I admired Hesina right away, for her determination and bravery, and for her devotion to her father.  What I liked most about Hesina though is how much growth she undergoes throughout the story.  She determines that sitting on the throne will provide her the best opportunity to bring her father’s killer to justice, so she convinces her mother to let her go ahead and ascend to the throne to rule as Queen of Yan.  Descendant of the Crane is a coming of age story in the sense that Hesina really has to grow into the role of Queen and learns many tough lessons along the way.  When she first takes on the role, her main goal is just to avenge her father’s murder, but the longer she rules, however, the more she realizes her kingdom is unstable and fueled by its hatred of the soothsayers and their magic.  She becomes determined that it’s time to wipe out this hatred so that the soothsayers can just live in peace.  Undoing centuries’ worth of hatred is a tall order though, and Hesina quickly learns it’s not easy being Queen and that her decisions and actions sometimes have unintended consequences.

In addition to Hesina’s journey to figure out what kind of ruler she wants to be, Descendant of the Crane is also filled with plenty of political intrigue to keep the plot moving along.  Hesina quickly realizes that there are many potential suspects as to who killer her father.  Many within the palace have much to gain from the King’s death that Hesina is convinced it’s an inside job.  It makes her really examine each of those around her, looking for potential motives and whether or not they would have had easy access to the King.  And once there are actual suspects, there’s even some courtroom drama to mix things up a bit.  It reminded me of an epic fantasy version of Law and Order, which I thought was quite unique and very entertaining, especially since Hesina’s legal representative, in another unexpected twist, was a sexy ex-criminal named Akira.

While the pacing for the novel wasn’t the fastest, it still worked well for this story.  It’s kind of a slow burn to find out what really happened to the King, but there are so many twists and turns along the way that it really effectively keeps the suspense building. There were a couple of jaw dropping twists, in particular, near the end that have left me anxiously awaiting the next book in the series.

I think my favorite part of the story is the way the author has crafted her characters.  There are lots of complicated characters and relationships, and who’s good and who’s bad, isn’t always obvious.  Morally gray characters abound, which always makes for a great read for me.  There’s also some interesting sibling dynamics within Hesina’s own family that I very much enjoyed reading about.

Overall, I was very impressed with Joan He’s debut.  Equal parts epic fantasy, murder mystery, and coming of age story, Descendant of the Crane has a little something for everyone.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, dreaming of an unremarkable life. But when her beloved father is found dead, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of a surprisingly unstable kingdom. What’s more, Hesina believes that her father was murdered—and that the killer is someone close to her.

Hesina’s court is packed full of dissemblers and deceivers eager to use the king’s death for political gain, each as plausibly guilty as the next. Her advisers would like her to blame the neighboring kingdom of Kendi’a, whose ruler has been mustering for war. Determined to find her father’s actual killer, Hesina does something desperate: she enlists the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death, since magic was outlawed centuries ago.

Using the information provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of Yan at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?

four-stars

Blog Tour Review: IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TRUE by Susan Kaplan Carlton

Blog Tour Review:  IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TRUE by Susan Kaplan CarltonIn the Neighborhood of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton
four-stars
Published by Algonquin Young Readers on April 9, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

Thanks so much to Algonquin Young Readers for inviting me to take part in their blog tour to promote Susan Kaplan Carlton’s new book, In the Neighborhood of True.  This was a wonderful read for me, so I’m thrilled to share my thoughts on it with my fellow readers.  Thanks to Netgalley for providing an ARC for me to read and review.

 

 

IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TRUE Review

 

Don’t let that lovely pastel pink cover fool you into thinking Susan Kaplan Carlton’s In the Neighborhood of True is a light and fluffy read.  It is easily one of the most powerful books I’ve read so far this year.

Set in the 1950’s in Atlanta, Georgia, In the Neighborhood of True is meant to be a work of  historical fiction that explores the racism and anti-Semitism that was rampant during that time period.  While the story itself is inspired by the Atlanta Temple bombing that took place in 1958, what makes the book such a hard hitting read, however, is that it’s not just historical fiction.  It really smacked me right in the face as I was reading this book that the hate and prejudice main character Ruth Robb was witnessing in the 50’s is still alive and well today, as people now have to contend with Islamophobia and homophobia in addition to the anti-Semitism and racism that we still haven’t managed to eradicate.

I always root for an underdog and it became apparent as soon as I started reading that Ruth Robb was my underdog.  Forced to relocate to Atlanta from Manhattan after her father passes away, Ruth, with her dark eyes and wild dark curls, sticks out like a sore thumb when she first enters the land of sweet tea, magnolia balls, and debutantes and meets the blonde, perfectly-coiffed “Pastel Posse” she will be attending school with.  She very quickly realizes that she has a hard choice to make:  either embrace her Jewish background and become a social outcast or try to pass as a Christian so that she can participate in the balls and other pre-debutante events and hang with the popular crowd at school.  Ruth is torn because she feels like she’s selling out her heritage, but there’s a part of her that wants to take the path of least resistance and do what she needs to do to just fit in.

Ruth’s inner conflict is the force that drives the plot of In the Neighborhood of True and I think the author does a fantastic job of making Ruth’s struggle feel authentic and relatable.  Don’t we all want to just fit in at times and not have everything be a struggle?  In Ruth’s case though, fitting in with the ‘It’ crowd at school means hiding who she is and what she believes, and it leads to her living a double life and hoping that neither side realizes the truth, a double life that is ultimately unsustainable long-term.

Even though the story is mostly about Ruth and the difficult journey she has to make in order to find and embrace her true self, In the Neighborhood of True is so much more than just a coming of age story.  It takes a hard look at anti-Semitism and at racism, shining a spotlight on the violent, horrific hate crimes committed by the Ku Klux Klan. These acts were gut wrenching to read about and made me all the more sad that it’s still happening today. For this reason, Ruth wasn’t the only underdog I was rooting for as I was reading.  There was an active Jewish resistance movement present in the book and I was cheering them on all the way, especially since they were working tirelessly to fight anti-Semitism and racism.  As a character in the book states, “When hatred shows its face, you need to make a little ruckus.”

In the Neighborhood of True is an important and timely read, but it’s also a beautifully written story.  The author perfectly captures the nostalgic atmosphere of the South in the 1950’s – the music, the dances, the fashion and hair, the Co-Colas, and more, while at the same time, exposing that dark underbelly.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, novels with an element of social justice, or even just a good coming of age story.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A powerful story of love, identity, and the price of fitting in or speaking out.

After her father’s death, Ruth Robb and her family transplant themselves in the summer of 1958 from New York City to Atlanta—the land of debutantes, sweet tea, and the Ku Klux Klan. In her new hometown, Ruth quickly figures out she can be Jewish or she can be popular, but she can’t be both. Eager to fit in with the blond girls in the “pastel posse,” Ruth decides to hide her religion. Before she knows it, she is falling for the handsome and charming Davis and sipping Cokes with him and his friends at the all-white, all-Christian Club.

Does it matter that Ruth’s mother makes her attend services at the local synagogue every week? Not as long as nobody outside her family knows the truth. At temple Ruth meets Max, who is serious and intense about the fight for social justice, and now she is caught between two worlds, two religions, and two boys. But when a violent hate crime brings the different parts of Ruth’s life into sharp conflict, she will have to choose between all she’s come to love about her new life and standing up for what she believes.

four-stars

About Susan Kaplan Carlton

SUSAN KAPLAN CARLTON currently teaches writing at Boston University. She is the author of the YA novels Love & Haight and Lobsterland. Her writing has also appeared in Self, Elle, Mademoiselle, and Seventeen. She lived for a time with her family in Atlanta, where her daughters learned the finer points of etiquette from a little pink book and the power of social justice from their synagogue.