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Early Reviews: WATCH US RISE and GOODBYE, PERFECT

Early Reviews:  WATCH US RISE and GOODBYE, PERFECTWatch Us Rise by Renée Watson, Ellen Hagan
four-stars
Published by Bloomsbury YA on February 12, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Jasmine and Chelsea are sick of the way women are treated even at their progressive NYC high school, so they decide to start a Women's Rights Club. They post everything online—poems, essays, videos of Chelsea performing her poetry, and Jasmine's response to the racial macroaggressions she experiences—and soon they go viral. But with such positive support, the club is also targeted by online trolls. When things escalate, the principal shuts the club down. Jasmine and Chelsea will risk everything for their voices—and those of other young women—to be heard.

Review:

Watch Us Rise is a timely and powerful read that focuses on Chelsea and Jasmine, two teens who are tired of the way women are treated even at their own high school, a progressive school in New York City that has received awards to recognize its dedication to social justice.  Their frustration boils over and they decide to start a Women’s Rights club, which they name Write Like a Girl, and which centers around a blog they create where they share videos, poems, and essays they have written, and where they spotlight female authors, and pay special attention to those who are women of color.

What I really loved about this story is the determination Jasmine and Chelsea show as they use their club and blog to make sure all women’s voices are heard, to speak out against sexism, racism, and even against those impossibly perfect standards of beauty and fashion that contribute to low self-esteem in so many young women.  I also liked that the story itself included excerpts from the blog, including some incredible resistance poems as well as comments from readers of the blog.  As a blogger myself, I just found this element of Watch Us Rise easy to relate to and loved that all of their hard work was paying off.

Watch Us Rise also explores some of the obstacles that the girls run up against as their blog grows in popularity.  They have their fair share of trolls, both online and in their school, and their principal isn’t nearly as supportive as he should be. I’ll admit I was not completely sold on the idea that the principal of such a progressive school wouldn’t be supportive of a Women’s Rights club, but I still thought that showing how the girls approached any obstacles that got in their path was very effective.

With Watch Us Rise, Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan have written a thought-provoking story that is sure to resonate with and empower many young women.  4 STARS

 

 

Early Reviews:  WATCH US RISE and GOODBYE, PERFECTGoodbye, Perfect by Sara Barnard
Also by this author: A Quiet Kind of Thunder
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on January 29, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

When I was wild, you were steady . . . Now you are wild - what am I?

Eden McKinley knows she can’t count on much in this world, but she can depend on Bonnie, her solid, steady, straight-A best friend. So it’s a bit of a surprise when Bonnie runs away with the boyfriend Eden knows nothing about five days before the start of their GCSEs. Especially when the police arrive on her doorstep and Eden finds out that the boyfriend is actually their music teacher, Mr Cohn.

Sworn to secrecy and bound by loyalty, only Eden knows Bonnie’s location, and that’s the way it has to stay. There’s no way she’s betraying her best friend. Not even when she’s faced with police questioning, suspicious parents and her own growing doubts.

As the days pass and things begin to unravel, Eden is forced to question everything she thought she knew about the world, her best friend and herself.

Review:

In Goodbye, Perfect, Sara Barnard poignantly explores the intricacies of family, friendship, and what happens when one friend puts another in an impossible situation. When 15-year-old Bonnie and her music teacher suddenly decide to run away together, Bonnie tells no one, not even her best friend, Eden.  This leaves Eden behind to deal with the fallout, because no one believes Bonnie would run away without confiding in her best friend.  When Bonnie finally does fill Eden in via text message, she puts Eden in an even more impossible situation because she swears her to secrecy.

What I enjoyed most about Goodbye Perfect is that even though Bonnie and her teacher-boyfriend are the ones creating the drama with their very disturbing actions, the story actually focuses more on Eden and what is going through her head.  She is so conflicted between wanting to be loyal to her best friend and wanting her to come home safely so that everyone stops worrying.  I think Barnard does a beautiful job of realistically exploring all of the emotions that are running through Eden’s mind as she tries to maneuver through what feels like a mine field.

In addition to its focus on Eden and what she is going through rather than Bonnie, I was also a big fan of the support system that Barnard has created for Eden. Eden’s adoptive family was just wonderful, as was her super sweet longtime boyfriend, Connor. All of Eden’s scenes with Connor made me smile, as did a scene when Eden’s adoptive mom stuck up for her when Bonnie’s mom confronts her.  The book is filled with lots of great moments like this.

Goodbye, Perfect is the second novel I’ve read by Sara Barnard and I have to say that she is fast becoming a favorite author of mine.  Her writing is gorgeous and the stories she crafts always tug at my heartstrings because of the emotional journeys of characters like Eden. If you’re looking for a read that will resonate long after you’ve finished the last page, I highly recommend Goodbye, Perfect.  4.5 STARS

four-stars

About Renée Watson

Renée Watson is a New York Times bestselling author, educator, and activist. Her young adult novel, Piecing Me Together (Bloomsbury, 2017) received a Coretta Scott King Award and Newbery Honor. Her children’s picture books and novels for teens have received several awards and international recognition. She has given readings and lectures at many renown places including the United Nations, the Library of Congress, and the U.S. Embassy in Japan. The New York Times calls Renée’s writing, “charming and evocative.” Her poetry and fiction often centers around the lived experiences of black girls and women, and explores themes of home, identity, and the intersections of race, class, and gender.

Her books include young adult novels, Piecing Me Together and This Side of Home, which were both nominated for the Best Fiction for Young Adults by the American Library Association. Her picture book, Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills received several honors including an NAACP Image Award nomination in children’s literature. Her one woman show, Roses are Red Women are Blue, debuted at the Lincoln Center at a showcase for emerging artists.

One of Renée’s passions is using the arts to help youth cope with trauma and discuss social issues. Her picture book, A Place Where Hurricanes Happen is based on poetry workshops she facilitated with children in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Renée has worked as a writer in residence for over twenty years teaching creative writing and theater in public schools and community centers through out the nation. Her articles on teaching and arts education have been published in Rethinking Schools and Oregon English Journal. She is on the Council of Writers for the National Writing Project and is a team member of We Need Diverse Books. She currently teaches courses on writing for children for the Solstice MFA program at Pine Manor College.

Renée has also worked as a consultant within the non-profit sector, specifically around teaching for social justice and the role of art in social justice, providing professional development workshops and leadership trainings to artists, staff, executives, and board of directors. Some of her clients include Carnegie Hall, DreamYard, Lincoln Center, RAW Art Works, and Writers in the Schools-Portland.

In the summer of 2016 Renée launched I, Too, Arts Collective, a nonprofit committed to nurturing underrepresented voices in the creative arts. She launched the #LangstonsLegacy Campaign to raise funds to lease the Harlem brownstone where Langston Hughes lived and created during the last twenty years of his life. Her hope is to preserve the legacy of Langston Hughes and build on it by providing programming for emerging writers.

Renée grew up in Portland, Oregon and currently lives in New York City.

About Sara Barnard

Sara lives in Brighton and does all her best writing on trains. She loves books, book people and book things. She has been writing ever since she was too small to reach the “on” switch on the family Amstrad computer. She gets her love of words from her dad, who made sure she always had books to read and introduced her to the wonders of secondhand book shops at a young age.

Sara is trying to visit every country in Europe, and has managed to reach 13 with her best friend. She has also lived in Canada and worked in India.

Sara is inspired by what-ifs and people. She thinks sad books are good for the soul and happy books lift the heart. She hopes to write lots of books that do both. BEAUTIFUL BROKEN THINGS is her first book and a dream come true.

Email: info@sarabarnardofficial.com

For promotional enquiries, please contact: Rogers, Coleridge and White

Book Review: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Book Review:  Words in Deep Blue by Cath CrowleyWords in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
four-stars
Published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers on June 6th 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 273
Source: Library
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MY REVIEW:

I went into Words in Deep Blue not really knowing what to expect.  I had read that it was a book about books and the people who love them, and that was more than enough to pique my curiosity.  It was also my first time reading anything by Cath Crowley and I’m always game to try out a new author.

What I experienced, however, was so much more than just a book about books.  Words in Deep Blue is a beautifully written and moving novel that deftly explores themes of love and friendship, as well as those of loss and the grieving process.

The story centers on life-long best friends Rachel Sweetie and Henry Jones.  Over the years, Rachel grows to have more than just friendly feelings toward Henry and when she learns her family is moving away from the area, she decides to confess her feelings to Henry via a love note, which she leaves in Henry’s favorite book at his family’s bookshop.  She sends Henry a message letting him know about the letter and hopes that he’ll read it and come visit her before she moves away.  She waits as long as she can, but when Henry is a no-show, Rachel moves away and vows to cut all ties with him because she feels so hurt.

Rachel stays gone for three years and only returns after a family tragedy – her brother Cal drowns – leaves her so deep in the throes of grief that she needs to get away from everything that reminds her of Cal, the ocean that took his life, and the fact that her own life has pretty much fallen apart since he died.  Consumed by grief, Rachel has failed Year 12 and now cannot see a clear future for herself.  Before her brother’s death, she and Cal shared a fascination with the ocean and all ocean life, so much so that Rachel had planned to pursue a career in the field of Oceanography.  But now she can’t even stomach the sight of the ocean, so she feels lost.

Henry, although going through nothing as tragic as the death of a sibling, is still having a pretty rough go of things himself.  Henry is pining after Amy, a girl he was dating during the entire time Rachel was away, but who has since broken up with him.  To make matters worse, Amy not only dumped Henry, but she also started dating a guy that Henry absolutely hates.  So Henry spends most of his time embarrassing himself by trying to get Amy back or seething because he hates her new boyfriend so much.  In addition to his girlfriend troubles, Henry is also dealing with the fact that his parents are splitting up and may also be selling their beloved second hand bookstore, Howling Books.  Everything he has ever known and loved could be about to change.

When Rachel comes back to town and ends up working at Howling Books, where Henry also works, will it be impossibly awkward or will Rachel and Henry embrace this second chance to rekindle their friendship and help each other work through their troubles?

 

LIKES

Relatable Themes.  As I’ve already mentioned, Words in Deep Blue explores the themes of friendship, love, loss, and the grieving process.  We’ve all experienced one or more of these in our lives and so I think this just makes Words in Deep Blue such an easy book to connect with.  That and Crowley does a wonderful job of exploring each of these themes in such a realistic way that you can’t help but see yourself in her characters and what they’re going through.

Realistic, Flawed Characters.  I loved both Henry and Rachel, not because they were the perfect characters, but for the exact opposite reason…because they both had their fair share of flaws and it made them so easy to relate to.  In the case of Rachel, it was easy to understand why she wanted to escape from her life for a while to work through her grief, but at the same time, it really started to frustrate me that she wouldn’t open up to any of her friends from her old town to let them know what had happened to Cal.  Everyone is constantly asking her how Cal’s doing and she just makes up lies, saying that he’s fine and living with his Dad.  How can you work through your grief when you’re carrying around this burden and adding to it by telling lies?

In much the same way, it’s easy to understand why Henry is upset about losing Amy.  They had been dating for years and had started to make serious plans for the future together, starting with a big trip around the world together.  Amy really pulls the rug out from under Henry, and he’s left there holding a non-refundable, non-transferrable airline ticket.  That said, however, it becomes increasingly frustrating the longer Henry pines over her because the more we see Amy in action, the more clear it becomes that she doesn’t love Henry, probably never did, and on top of that, is just a nasty person all the way around.  The fact that Henry started to see what we were seeing about Amy and continued to think about getting her back made me want to scream.  But at the same time, haven’t we all been there at some point?  So yeah, totally relatable.

Dual Narration.  I’m always a big fan of dual point of views and this book is no exception.  What I always like about dual narratives and especially liked about reading the alternating chapters from Rachel and Henry’s point of view was that peek behind the curtain, so to speak.  I get to see firsthand how they are actually feeling about something versus how they then choose to present themselves to others.  I loved it for both characters but really liked the added depth that it added to Rachel’s story.

The Setting.  I don’t know that I have ever loved the setting of a book more than Howling Books.  Seriously.  I want this shop to open up in my town. I’d be there everyday.  I loved the atmosphere, with the coffee shop next door with the quaint little garden between the two shops, and with its monthly book club. It was perfect in every way.  I loved the caring customer service that Henry and his family provided, especially with respect to the customer who is looking for a second hand copy of a book that he once owned and gave away and now desperately wants to get back because it belonged to his deceased wife.  Henry and his family located copy after copy of this book in hopes of locating the special one for their customer.  The amount of effort they put into trying to find that book was just so touching to see.

As if that wasn’t enough, the whole concept of the Letter Library moved me to tears.  As Henry’s dad says, it’s the heart and soul of their bookshop.  The Letter Library is a collection of books that cannot be purchased but that customers are allowed to peruse as they wish and even make notes in.  It embraces the idea that each reader brings their own experiences to a book and gives them the opportunity to leave behind their unique experience for the next reader to find.  The Letter Library also goes a step further in that some people actually leave letters, sometimes signed and sometimes anonymous, within the pages of the books.  That whole idea was just so romantic and charming.  Again, why is there not something like this in my town?

 

DISLIKES/ISSUES

I hate to even put anything in this section since it is such a lovely read, but I do have to confess that as much as I adored the concept of the Letter Library, it was hard for me to imagine some of the characters in the book actually using it, especially since they’re all carrying around smart phones and texting each other.  It was hard to reconcile the idea that the same kid who just sent someone a text would then sit down and handwrite a letter to that same exact person and put it in a book for them to read and reply to.  It didn’t really take away from my enjoyment of the book at all, but it was a niggling thought in the back of my mind every time a letter was left or retrieved.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Words in Deep Blue is one of those books that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone.  It’s filled with so many relatable themes and life lessons that I think any reader could easily connect to it.  And of course, I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves books and the power of the written word because the world of Howling Books is one you’ll want to immerse yourself in.

 

RATING:  4 STARS

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Love lives between the lines.

Years ago, Rachel had a crush on Henry Jones. The day before she moved away, she tucked a love letter into his favorite book in his family’s bookshop. She waited. But Henry never came.

Now Rachel has returned to the city—and to the bookshop—to work alongside the boy she’d rather not see, if at all possible, for the rest of her life. But Rachel needs the distraction, and the escape. Her brother drowned months ago, and she can’t feel anything anymore. She can’t see her future.

Henry’s future isn’t looking too promising, either. His girlfriend dumped him. The bookstore is slipping away. And his family is breaking apart.

As Henry and Rachel work side by side—surrounded by books, watching love stories unfold, exchanging letters between the pages—they find hope in each other. Because life may be uncontrollable, even unbearable sometimes. But it’s possible that words, and love, and second chances are enough.

 

four-stars

About Cath Crowley

Cath Crowley is an award-winning author of young adult fiction. Her novels include Words in Deep Blue, Graffiti Moon, Chasing Charlie Duskin (A Little Wanting Song) and the Gracie Faltrain trilogy and Rosie Staples’ Magical Misunderstanding. Awards include The Prime Minister’s Literary Award (2011), The Ethel Turner Prize for Young Adult Literature (2011), Winner of the Indie Book Awards (2017), YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults List (2013), Cooperative Children’s Book Centre (CCBC) Recommended Book.

Cath is also a freelance writer, editor and teacher.

ARC Review: The Library of Fates

ARC Review:  The Library of FatesThe Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana
three-half-stars
Published by Razorbill on July 18th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 354
Source: First to Read
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from First to Read in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW

 

Aditi Khorana’s The Library of Fates is a beautiful coming of age story that follows the journey of Princess Amrita of Shalingar as she sets out to save her kingdom from the grips of the power-hungry emperor Sikander who is looking to expand his Macedonian Empire by invading and conquering Shalingar.  Shalingar is a prized territory for Sikander because it is where the mystical Symballines are hidden.  The Symballines produce a rare and powerful substance called chamak that Sikander is dying to get his hands on.  Why?  Because when given to Oracles, chamak substantially increases their ability to predict the future.

When the novel opens, Amrita’s father and Sikander have worked out a tentative arrangement to appease Sikander and hopefully keep him from taking control of Shalingar.  Amrita is at the heart of this agreement because Sikander is determined to take her for his bride.  Amrita is not especially excited about this match because 1) who wants to marry a power hungry Emperor and 2) she is already in love with someone else, her childhood friend, Arjun. But she’s willing to make the sacrifice if it means her people are protected.

When Sikander arrives at Amrita’s palace, however, things do not go according to plan and Sikander’s men go on a rampage, killing or imprisoning anyone who gets in their way.  Amrita manages to escape from the palace, along with an Oracle named Thala that Sikander had been keeping as a prisoner but had offered up to Amrita as a wedding gift.  Together Amrita and Thala set off on a journey to find the Symballines and warn them that Sikander is coming for them.  At Thala’s suggestion, they also set out to find The Library of All Things, a library where according to legend, contains a book about every person.  Thala tells Amrita that if they can get to this Library, then they can locate their books and edit them to change their destinies.  Amrita can save her people, while Thala can go back and rewrite her history so that she was never imprisoned and taken away from her family as a young child.  While the journey starts out as a physical one, however, it becomes so much more.  It becomes a journey of self-discovery for Amrita as she begins to find clues that indicate she may not be who she thinks she is and that with her true identity, she possesses the power to change the course of history and save her people.

 

LIKES

 

Amrita.  I found Princess Amrita to be a very likeable character and one that was easy to sympathize with.  Her life up until this point has been very sheltered, so when she first escapes from the palace under siege, she really has no idea how to fend for herself.  In that sense we see tremendous growth from her throughout the course of the story.  She also didn’t really believe any of the stories about magic she had been told all her life.  In her mind, they were just that, stories.  So I enjoyed watching her make this journey and begin to understand and embrace the stories from her childhood and the magic they describe, and what they mean for her.  It’s a lot to take in, especially learning that you aren’t who you thought you were, but Amrita shows great maturity

My one disappointment with Amrita though was that I had hoped she’d be a bit feistier.  Reading the book’s synopsis and hearing that she spends most of the book on the run as a fugitive had me envisioning lots of kickass scenes where she keeps evading Sikander’s men, but her journey ended up being much more subdued than that. My fault for building it up in my own mind to be so epic, but it was a little disappointing.  She’s still a great character though and I especially enjoyed her growing friendship with Thala, especially considering how they are initially just thrown together by circumstance and forced to work together to get away from Sikander.

Varun.  I think Varun actually ended up being my favorite character in the story.  I can’t say much about him without giving away too many details about the overall storyline, but I will say he ends up being a very important character, way more important than he initially seems to be.  Amrita first meets Varun while she and Thala are on the first leg of their journey, a pilgrimage to a temple.  Varun pops up out of nowhere and self-appoints himself Amrita’s traveling companion as she hides among others who are making the pilgrimage to pay their respects to the goddess Maya.  Varun is a charming young man who keeps Amrita entertained with stories about Maya.  He seems pretty determined to educate her as much as possible and, in spite of herself, Amrita feels herself drawn to this boy.  Even though my brain was screaming “No insta-love!” and “What about your childhood love, Arjun?,” I could see why she felt an instant connection to Varun.  He’s immensely likeable and I loved his enthusiasm regarding the temple and the goddess and all of its history, especially once his connection to it all is made clear.

World Building and the Mythology.  Khorana does a beautiful job painting a vivid portrait of both Shalingar, the Macedonian Empire, and all points in between.  I also loved how she seamlessly wove in so many mythological elements to create a truly unique and incredible landscape for her characters to journey through.  I found the Symballines and their world fascinating, as well as that of the vetala spirits, and so much more.  It was like nothing I had ever read before so it made for such a magical reading experience.

Folklore.  One of my absolute favorite parts of The Library of Fates is the parable that prefaces the story.  It’s called the Parable of the Land of the Trees and it’s an enchanting story about self-sacrifice that features trees who used to be able to communicate with humans.  It caught my attention immediately and had me wanting to know how it related to the rest of the story.

 

DISLIKES

My main issue with The Library of Fates was that I felt like so much ground was covered in this one book that the author only scratched the surface on many areas that I would have loved to have read more about.  I would have loved to see more of the folklore and mythology since that was probably my favorite part of the book and I loved the way the author integrated it into the story so smoothly.  I also wanted more details in the various plots and subplots along the way because some of them could have used a little more detail to better elaborate what was happening and why.  And while I know the book was meant to focus on Amrita and her personal journey of self-discovery, I still wanted more exploration of Amrita and her relationships with all of the characters she interacts with.  As is, it was a lovely read but I was just left wanting so much more, either a longer book with all of these areas fleshed out more or maybe even a series.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

Even though I had a few issues with it, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The Library of Fates to anyone who enjoys a coming of age story and who wants to learn more about Indian folklore and mythology.  I haven’t read The Star Touched Queen or The Wrath and the Dawn yet, but after reading this story and seeing that this book is recommended for fans of those, I’m more interested than ever in reading those as well.

 

RATING:  3.5 STARS

 

Thanks to Penguin First to Read, the author, and the publisher for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  This in no way shapes my opinion of the book.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

 

A romantic coming-of-age fantasy tale steeped in Indian folklore, perfect for fans of The Star-Touched Queen and The Wrath and the Dawn

 

No one is entirely certain what brings the Emperor Sikander to Shalingar. Until now, the idyllic kingdom has been immune to his many violent conquests. To keep the visit friendly, Princess Amrita has offered herself as his bride, sacrificing everything—family, her childhood love, and her freedom—to save her people. But her offer isn’t enough.

The unthinkable happens, and Amrita finds herself a fugitive, utterly alone but for an oracle named Thala, who was kept by Sikander as a slave and managed to escape amid the chaos of a palace under siege. With nothing and no one else to turn to, Amrita and Thala are forced to rely on each other. But while Amrita feels responsible for her kingdom and sets out to warn her people, the newly free Thala has no such ties. She encourages Amrita to go on a quest to find the fabled Library of All Things, where it is possible for each of them to reverse their fates. To go back to before Sikander took everything from them.

Stripped of all that she loves, caught between her rosy past and an unknown future, will Amrita be able to restore what was lost, or does another life—and another love—await?

three-half-stars

About Aditi Khorana

Aditi Khorana spent part of her childhood in India, Denmark and New England. She has a BA in International Relations from Brown University and an MA in Global Media and Communications from the Annenberg School for Communication. She has worked as a journalist at ABC News, CNN, and PBS, and most recently as a marketing executive consulting for various Hollywood studios including Fox, Paramount and Sony.

Mirror in the Sky (Razorbill/Penguin, 2016) was her first novel. The upcoming Library of Fates (July 2017) is feminist historical fantasy, set in ancient India, and tells the story of a louche, misogynistic dictator overthrowing an idyllic kingdom, and the women who fight to wrench it back from his hands.

Aditi lives in Los Angeles and spends her free time reading, hiking, and exploring LA’s eclectic and wonderful architecture.

Book Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

Book Review:  The Upside of Unrequited by Becky AlbertalliThe Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
Also by this author: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
four-half-stars
on April 11th, 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

 

MY REVIEW

To be perfectly honest, I went into The Upside of Unrequited assuming that there was no way it could possibly be as great as Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.  I’m thrilled to report that I was dead wrong in my thinking and that Becky Albertalli has done it again.  The Upside of Unrequited is every bit as cute, funny, heartwarming, and relatable as Simon and destined to end up one of my favorite reads of 2017.

The Upside of Unrequited centers on 17-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso.  Molly is many things – she’s smart, has a hilarious sense of humor, is super crafty and obsessed with Pinterest, and she’s a twin.  In addition to being all this, Molly is also a hopeless romantic who is infamous within her circle of friends for having had 26 (and counting!) crushes in her life.  The catch with Molly and her crushes is that all of them are unrequited – Molly has never once put herself out there and tried to act on any of them.  She has a major fear of being rejected and somehow ending up the punchline of a joke because she’s overweight and is uncertain as to whether anyone would ever seriously be attracted to her.  In her mind, it’s safer to not even try to find out.  That’s the upside to those unrequited crushes — if you don’t put yourself out there, you can’t be rejected:

“There’s a reason I’ve had twenty-six crushes and no boyfriends. I don’t entirely understand how anyone gets a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend. It just seems like the most impossible odds. You have to have a crush on the exact right person at the exact right moment. And they have to like you back. A perfect alignment of feelings and circumstances. It’s almost unfathomable that it happens as often as it does.”

There’s also, however, as Molly has learned, a downside.  You’re left alone on the sidelines while all of your friends, and even your twin sister, are flirting and falling in love.  It feels like everyone is leaving you behind?  The big question of this book:  will Molly stay on the sidelines in the safe zone where she never has to worry about being rejected or will she take a chance in the hopes of finding that special someone who is more than just crush number 27?

 

LIKES

Molly.  I really loved Molly. In addition to being smart and funny, Molly also has anxiety issues and I found the inner monologue running through her head to be so relatable throughout the book.  I just loved the way Albertalli wrote Molly’s voice and could empathize with all of Molly’s insecurities.  If you’ve ever experienced anxiety or felt the fear of rejection, it’s easy to understand where Molly is coming from and why she’s so hesitant to put herself out there.  I also loved that even though Molly is somewhat overweight, she still has a great sense of style and a healthy self image. She isn’t trying to starve herself to make herself more appealing to anyone.  Molly is who she is and makes no apologies for it.  When a boy at a party tells her she’s “gorgeous for a big girl,” Molly’s very candid response is “F*** you.”

I also liked all of the nicknames that Molly gives to the boys she is potentially crushing on.  When Molly’s sister Cassie falls for a girl named Mina, Molly develops a crush on one of Mina’s friends and dubs him ‘Hipster Will.’  Then when she scores a job at a local shop, she meets Lord of the Rings fan, Reid, and dubs him ‘Middle Earth Reid.’  The story takes an especially interesting turn when Molly meets these boys because with each one, there appears to be the potential for more than becoming crush numbers 27 and 28. These two boys both seem genuinely interested in Molly.  Hipster Will would be great in the sense that she could continue to hang out with her sister, who seems to have ditched her to hang with Mina.  But could it be Middle Earth Reid that brings her out of her shell instead?  I have to admit to having a soft spot for Middle Earth Reid.  He’s got that “adorkable” vibe going on and I thought his obsession with Cadbury mini eggs was just too cute for words. It immediately made me think of Simon and his Oreo obsession.

Speaking of Simon?! I thought it was just so cool that Albertalli was able to work in a cameo appearance from Simon and some of the other characters from Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.  Best surprise appearance ever!

Sisterhood. One of my favorite parts of this book is the relationship between Molly and her twin sister, Cassie. Albertalli does a beautiful job of realistically depicting all of the nuances of the bond between siblings.  Molly and Cassie each know exactly what buttons to push if they are fighting and want to hurt each other, but they also always have each other’s back if anyone else tries to hurt them in any way.  I liked that one of the major themes running through the story was how sibling relationships change over time.  No matter how close you are as children, you’re going to grow up, move away, and probably start families of your own.  When Cassie meets Mina, her first serious girlfriend, and starts spending almost all of her time with her, it really makes Molly start to think about what it’s going to be like when she and Cassie grow up and start to draft apart.

Diversity.  There is so much diversity in this book.  Molly and Cassie have two mothers, one is white and the other is African American. Molly and her family, as well as Middle Earth Reid and his family, are all Jewish, while Mina’s family is Korean. The sexuality represented in the book is richly diverse as well. There were straight characters as well as gay characters, and Mina considers herself to be pansexual.  The diversity itself was fantastic, but what made it even better was how naturally it was all written in. It didn’t feel like Albertalli was just shoving as much diversity in as she possibly could, for diversity’s sake.  All of the characters and relationships felt realistic and authentic.

 

DISLIKES

I can’t think of a single thing that I disliked about this book aside from the fact that it’s over and I want more.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you’re looking for a book about relationships, being brave enough to take chances, and following your heart, I’d highly recommend The Upside of Unrequited.  It’s just a sweet and warm-hearted book filled with positive message about what it means to grow up and find love.

 

RATING:  4.5 STARS

four-half-stars

About Becky Albertalli

Becky Albertalli is a clinical psychologist who has had the privilege of conducting therapy with dozens of smart, weird, irresistible teenagers. She also served for seven years as co-leader of a support group for gender nonconforming children in Washington, DC. These days, she lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons, and writes very nerdy contemporary young adult fiction. Her debut novel, SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA, released from Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins on April 7th, 2015.

Book Review – Empress of a Thousand Skies

Book Review – Empress of a Thousand SkiesEmpress of a Thousand Skies (Empress of a Thousand Skies, #1) by Rhoda Belleza
three-half-stars
Series: Empress of a Thousand Skies #1
Published by Razorbill on February 7th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 314
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  Crown princess Rhiannon Ta’an wants vengeance.  The only surviving heir to an ancient Kalusian dynasty, Rhee has spent her life training to destroy the people who killed her family. Now, on the eve of her coronation, the time has finally come for Rhee to claim her throne – and her revenge.

Alyosha is a Wraetan who has risen above his war refugee origins to find fame as the dashing star of a DroneVision show. Despite his popularity, Aly struggles with anti-Wraetan prejudices and the pressure of being perfect in the public eye.

Their paths collide with one brutal act of violence: Rhee is attacked, barely escaping with her life. Aly is blamed for her presumed murder.  The princess and her accused killer are forced to go into hiding – even as a war between planets is waged in Rhee’s name. But soon, Rhee and Aly discover that the assassination attempt is just one part of a sinister plot. Bound together by an evil that only they can stop, the two fugitives must join forces to save the galaxy.  In this exhilarating debut for fans of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles and Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy, Rhoda Belleza crafts a powerful saga of vengeance, warfare, and the true meaning of legacy.

 

MY REVIEW

 

Rhoda Belleza’s Empress of a Thousand Skies is a novel I picked up because it’s advertised as being for fans of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles and Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy.  Since those are two series that I’m currently reading and really love, I thought this would be a fantastic read for me.  For the most part it was, too. I thought it was a very exciting adventure with a lot of twists and turns in the plot and two very compelling main characters. That said, I did have a few issues with it though — mainly that the synopsis is rather misleading. It states that main characters Alyosha (known as Aly) and Rhiannon (called Rhee) will “join forces to save the galaxy.” Sounds pretty exciting, right? And I’m waiting for it to happen with each passing chapter…and waiting…and waiting, and guess what? Rhee and Aly don’t even meet in the first book. You can tell that’s the direction the series is most likely moving in, but I was surprised and a little frustrated to reach the end and the two of them had never crossed paths yet.

LIKES

That gripe aside, I really enjoyed the overall story. It’s an exciting mix of science fiction and politics, deception and betrayal, and it also tackles some pretty big topics that are relevant to our own society such as racial prejudice and scapegoating, as well as privacy issues that can arise because we surround ourselves all the time with technology that can be hacked.

I also really liked both of the main characters and was sympathetic to both of their stories, which were presented in a dual point of view. Rhee’s entire family was killed in an explosion so she’s the last surviving member of the Kalusian dynasty. She thinks she knows who killed her family and has been training for years to seek her revenge against the killer. She plans to exact revenge on her 16th birthday when she will be crowned Empress. All doesn’t go according to plan though because an attempt is made on her life, and presumed dead and not knowing who she can trust anymore, Rhee goes into hiding until she can figure out who has betrayed her and how she can get the throne back and uphold her father’s legacy.

Aly’s story is equally compelling. He is a Wraetan and a war refugee who, like Rhee, has lost his entire family. He lost his when Wraeta was destroyed ten years ago by Kalu during the Great War. Aly manages to overcome the anti-refugee sentiment and rises in status to become a famous TV star. Even though he is a star, however, he still struggles with anti-Wraetan prejudices and is often belittled because of his dark skin color. When Aly finds evidence that Rhee may not be dead after all and attempts to broadcast this news, he suddenly finds himself the prime suspect in her murder. The real perpetrators knew he would make for the ideal scapegoat because of the racist attitudes toward his people. Aly’s journey then parallels Rhee’s as he too must go into hiding until he can figure out his next move and who he can trust.

 

DISLIKES

There was a lot of info dumping in the beginning as the author set out to describe all of the different planets and territories in this galaxy as well as the backstories of each of these characters. It’s to be expected since she’s creating an entire galaxy from scratch, and the world building itself is phenomenal, but it did tend to slow the pace down at the beginning.  Once she got that out of the way, however, the story really took off for me and I read the whole book in less than two days.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Empress of a Thousand Skies is a book I’d definitely recommend to sci fi fans and to anyone who enjoys political intrigue. It’s like House of Cards set in space, and I definitely want to read the second book when it comes out to see how Rhee and Aly finally do join forces to take down their common enemy and stop a war that threatens to tear apart their world.

 

RATING:  3.5 STARS

three-half-stars

About Rhoda Belleza

Rhoda Belleza was raised in Los Angeles, where she grew up writing XFiles fanfiction and stuffing her face with avocados. When she’s not writing, Rhoda obsesses over nail art tutorials, watches kung fu movies, and sews together crooked things that pass for clothes. She’s a children’s editor at a publishing house and writes from a sunny Brooklyn apartment stuffed far too many bikes and far too many shoes. Empress of a Thousand Skies is her debut novel.

ARC Review of Gilded Cage

ARC Review of Gilded CageGilded Cage (Dark Gifts, #1) by Vic James
three-stars
Series: Dark Gifts, #1
Published by Del Rey Books on February 14th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:

Not all are free. Not all are equal. Not all will be saved.

Our world belongs to the Equals — aristocrats with magical gifts — and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.

A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.

Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?

A boy dreams of revolution.

Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.

And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.

He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?

My Review:

Vic James’ debut novel Gilded Cage is a novel that I’ve been looking forward to reading for months now.  The premise – that a form of slavery is alive and well in England and that the ruling class uses magic to keep this unfair, dehumanizing system in place – intrigued me from the moment I first read the book’s synopsis and so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.  Thanks so much to Netgalley, the publisher, and Vic James for providing me with an e-galley of Gilded Cage in exchange for my honest review.

So, what did I think of it?  Well, honestly, my thoughts about Gilded Cage are a bit all over the place.  There were definitely plenty of things I liked about the book, but that said, I also encountered a few problematic areas.

Let’s start with the good.

What I Liked:

Slavery vs. Rebellion:  I was intrigued by the class-based society where magic-wielding “Equals” ruled over a non-magical citizen body and where each member of the non-magical citizenry is required to submit to a decade-long period of servitude called ‘Slavedays.’  While serving a Slavedays term, an individual basically relinquishes all of his or her legal rights as a citizen and becomes a slave to the Equals until your ten years are up.  The concept of the Slavedays was quite fascinating because although the decade-long sentence of slave labor is mandatory, each citizen is able to choose when they serve their sentence. Some choose to serve fresh out of high school or college, while others choose to postpone it as long as they can. Families, if at all possible, are also allowed to serve their sentences together, and even if it’s not possible to keep all family members together, young children are required to be kept with a parent.

James’ readers get to see Slavedays up close and personal as we are introduced to some of the novel’s main characters, Luke and Abi Hadley, as they and their family members prepare to enter their Slavedays.  Older sister Abi has deferred her acceptance to medical school to go ahead and serve her sentence and, as part of her deal, has managed to secure her family a pretty decent gig serving out their Slavedays at Kyneston, a magnificent estate owned by one of the most prominent Equal families in England, the Jardines.  Compared to the alternative, a grungy, smog-filled industrial city called Millmoor, Kyneston sounds like a dream.  Things don’t go according to plan on the day they are supposed to depart for Kyneston, however, when what appears to be a clerical error separates Luke from the rest of the family and he is sent by himself to Millmoor.  We thus get to see both Millmoor and Kyneston as we follow both Luke and Abi on their very different journeys into Slavedays.

As expected, Millmoor is pretty much a nightmare filled with cruel supervisors, back-breaking labor, unhealthy food, and just an overall demoralizing atmosphere.  What I liked about seeing the inside of Millmoor though was that the reader is immediately presented with covert signs of rebellion.  I was so glad to see this because up until this point, I had been sitting here thinking “Why the heck are these citizens just voluntarily giving up ten years of their lives, selling off their homes and possessions, just because some uppity ruling class says that’s the way it is?”  It was great to see that some folks weren’t just lying down and taking it without offering any kind of resistance.  As Luke joins the resistance, we get to see more and more brazen acts of defiance and it’s pretty exciting to read and root for this band of underdogs that Luke has joined up with as they are clearly gearing up for a rebellion.

In contrast to the horrendous living and working conditions Luke and his fellow Millmoor inmates are  subjected to, Abi and her family are given fairly nice housing to live in at Kyneston, ample food to eat, and their workloads are quite manageable as well as respectable, especially considering they are serving the same kind of sentence Luke is.  Abi works as an administrative assistant to one of the Jardine brothers, her mother works as a nurse for an elderly family member, her father does maintenance work on vehicles on the property, and little sister Daisy is providing child care for Gavar Jardine’s daughter.  Apparently all Slaveday terms are not created equally.

Politics:  In addition to seeing that Slavedays is quite different depending on where you are assigned, we also get to see the flipside of things as we follow Abi and the rest of the family into the heart of Equal society and all of its political games.  I’m a bit of a political junkie anyway so I found the goings on within the Equals’ ruling body to be quite fascinating. There are apparently a lot of ambitious and ruthless people within the Equals. There are power plays to be Chancellor, a small but vocal faction who supports the abolition of Slavedays altogether, and all sorts of other exciting things at play as Parliament is in session.  If you’re into reading about politics and all of its behind-the-scenes machinations, there’s definitely a lot for you to enjoy in Gilded Cage.

Cloak and Dagger:  I also really liked how James kept me guessing as to what side many of the characters in Gilded Cage were even on.  It was never safe to assume any particular character was pro- or anti- slavery just based on their standing in society.  There were several jaw-dropping surprises throughout the novel as it became clear that the rebels weren’t necessarily who I thought they were.

What Didn’t Work for Me:

Too Many Points of View:  Where I’m somewhat conflicted about Gilded Cage has more to do with how the book is structured and the lack of explanation about certain key elements. First of all, there are so many points of view that without the book’s synopsis singling out three characters, I really had a hard time distinguishing who the main characters were supposed to be. You have the points of view of several members of each class –  Abi and Luke, who are regular citizens beginning their period of servitude, and then you have several points of view from those who are considered Equals, such as Silyen and Gavar Jardine, who are brothers in one of the most prominent Equal families. While it was definitely interesting to see the class dynamic and the rebellion from both sides, it just made for a confusing time trying to keep track of everyone and it also made it hard to really connect with any of the characters.

Why Are Characters Doing What They’re Doing?

Characters’ motivations also weren’t clear to me. Aside from the general wrongness is the idea of mandatory servitude, why is Luke so quick to jump on board with the rebellion? Even though we’re in his head seeing what he’s doing from his point of view, there is still no real explanation for why he starts participating. It’s basically just one minute he isn’t, the next he is.

There were similar instances with the Jardine brothers as well. Silyen is, by far, the most fascinating character in the book and all of his schemes are so intriguing. He almost appears to be playing both sides against the other, but it’s not entirely clear why he’s doing what he’s doing. Is he truly an abolitionist even though he’s an Equal? Is he trying to create chaos and disruption so as to stage a power play and overstep his older brother to become his family’s heir? I’m hoping all of this will be become clear in the next book because I definitely found Silyen to be the most interesting character in Gilded Cage.

Abi’s Inappropriate Flirtation:

So those who regularly follow my reviews know I’m not big on romances randomly being inserted into a storyline where it’s unnecessary.  To James’ credit, it does take a back seat to the rest of the action of the story but it’s still there so I have to comment – mainly because again, her motivations are unclear.  Abi works very closely with one of the Jardine sons and becomes attracted to him. First of all, it’s not appropriate since it would basically be a master-slave relationship. Second, she is supposed to be working diligently to try to get her brother out of Millmoor and back with them, so why is she sitting around letting herself get distracted by a cute boy?

I’m all about strong female characters so in this sense, Abi was kind of a letdown if she really is supposed to be one of the main characters. She does do something risky and heroic at the end of the novel though so I’m hopeful this means she will step up and be the strong character I want her to be as the series continues.

The Verdict:

All in all, I found Gilded Cage to be an entertaining if somewhat confusing read.  With a few of the kinks worked out regarding point of view and starting to explain why some of the characters are behaving as they are, it’s got the potential to be a great series.

Rating:  3 Stars

three-stars

About Vic James

Vic lives in London’s Notting Hill, but her life is more action-adventure than rom-com.

She studied History and English at Merton College, Oxford where Tolkien was once professor. Relocating to Rome, she completed her doctorate in the Vatican Secret Archives (they’re nothing like The Da Vinci Code), then spent five years living in Tokyo where she learned Japanese and worked as a journalist. She now writes full time.

Vic has scuba-dived on Easter Island, camped at Everest Base Camp, voyaged on one of the last mailboats to St Helena, hang-glided across Rio de Janeiro, and swum the Hellespont from Europe to Asia. But there’s little she loves more than lying in bed till midday with a good book and a supply of her favourite biscuits.

Book Review: Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

Book Review:  Girl in Pieces by Kathleen GlasgowGirl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow
five-stars
Published by Delacorte Press on August 30th 2016
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

 

Goodreads Synopsis: 

Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people lose in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The broken glass washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever.  Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you.

Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge.

My Review of Girl in Pieces:

Girl in Pieces is one of those books that I literally could not put down once I got started. Kathleen Glasgow shows us a raw and unflinching look inside the world of those who self-harm.  Girl in Pieces centers around Charlotte Davis (or Charlie as she is known).  Charlie has been through more in her short seventeen years than most of us go through our entire lives. Both her dad and her best friend have died, she has ended up homeless for a year, been exposed to drugs, alcohol, and witnessed sexual abuse while living in what was basically a sex house, and that merely scratches the surface of all that she has experienced.  Reaching the breaking point and attempting to end her life lands Charlie in a hospital where she finally gets much needed help and begins her road to recovery.  Most of the novel focuses on Charlie’s journey to recovery and all of its ups and downs.

* * * * *

What Did I Love?

  • Charlie:  My love for this book centers directly around Charlie.  I was drawn to Charlie from the moment we meet her in the hospital, where she is so traumatized that she can’t even speak.  I felt an immediate connection with her and was just so heartbroken by the state she was in.  Once she began to speak and talk about what was going on in her mind and then especially when she is released from the hospital and subsequently handed a bus ticket to Arizona by her mom who basically washes her hands of Charlie, I just loved Charlie all the more and wanted her to succeed in her recovery efforts.  I mean how can you not feel sympathetic towards someone who is basically abandoned by their mom when they probably need them the most?

Charlie is an immensely likeable character that I think most everyone will relate to.  Either she’ll remind them of themselves or of someone they know.  Because she’s so familiar and so relatable, her journey is all the more real and all the more shocking because it makes you realize that anyone around you at any time could be going through a similarly rough time, fighting inner demons that you can only begin to imagine.

What I really liked about Charlie was her determination.  She gets off the bus in Arizona and immediately sets out to make her way in the world, taking things one step at a time, one day at a time.  Sometimes it takes everything in her to fight the fear of being alone so that she can function, but she does it. She secures a job at a coffee shop, finds herself a low budget room to rent, and slowly but surely begins to build a life for herself.  Now that’s not to say everything is sunshine and roses for Charlie just because she has a job and a place to life.  There are still plenty of ups and downs, especially once Charlie begins a relationship with a coworker named Riley, who has a drug problem and whose behavior is becoming increasingly erratic the longer Charlie knows him.  Because Riley is so caught up with his own issues, he’s not exactly the ideal support system for Charlie and her dependence on someone who cannot be relied on leads to some occasional dark moments for her.

But as I said, Charlie has a lot of determination to make it through the darkness.  She is not just a girl in pieces, as the title indicates, broken by all that has happened to her. She’s also a girl who is seeking to discover all of the pieces that make her who she is, both the good and the bad, so that she can fit them all together and better understand who she is so that she can make peace with it and move forward.  Charlie is an artist and ultimately it is through her drawings that she finally begins to find her sense of self and to feel more whole.

  • The Book’s Messages:  The book is filled with important messages that really resonated with me as I was following Charlie on her journey.  Like Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places, it’s a book that seeks to remove the stigma that is often associated with mental illness.  If you know someone who self-harms, I think this book will allow you to come away with an idea of what the person is going through — what is driving them to harm themselves — so that you can better understand what they’re up against.

Perhaps its most important messages are for those who self harm.  Girl in Pieces lets those who self-harm know they aren’t alone – that others are going through what they’re going through.  We see it first in the hospital where Charlie encounters many other girls like her and then throughout the book, Charlie meets a few other people she would never have guessed were self-harmers until she sees their scars and realizes that it’s not just her.  Girl in Pieces also conveys the message that there are also people out there who care and who want to try to help.  Even though Charlie’s mother is no help at all, Charlie has many friends, both old and new, who genuinely care about her and want to see her succeed.

Girl in Pieces also shows that the path to recovery is a long and sometimes never-ending journey and that it will have ups and downs.  When Charlie relocates to Arizona, finds herself a job and a place to live, for example, she still brings along the kit that she uses to cut herself with, just in case she needs it.

Even if you’re doing great one moment, something could happen that triggers a relapse.  The message of the book is to realize that setbacks are normal and that they are just that – setback.  They are not failures, and they do not define you and no matter how many setbacks you have, you should never lose hope of someday reaching a point where you no longer feel the need to engage in self-harming behavior or to keep that cutting kit with you – just in case.

  • The Writing.  Not only is this an important book, but it’s a beautifully crafted book as well.  The subject matter is dark, but the writing is gorgeous, almost poetic at times and as painful as Charlie’s journey is at times, the story is still so captivating that you won’t be able to put it down. I also think Glasgow does a wonderful job of handling such a sensitive subject matter with a great deal of respect, and I commend her for that.

* * * * *

Anything I Didn’t Like?

At first, I had Charlie’s relationship with Riley in the “Don’t Like” category.  Riley is a former musician who is very charming and charismatic, but whose life is in just as bad a place as Charlie’s is.  Because of that, their relationship is pretty toxic and I constantly wanted to scream at Charlie to just get away from him.  Ultimately, however, I came to terms with the fact that toxic relationships are quite likely to occur when someone is on the path to recovery.  Looking at it from that perspective, I think Charlie’s experiences with Riley therefore only further add to the authenticity of Glasgow’s story.  While Riley himself may initially be considered somewhat of a negative, he ultimately ends up being a very important part of Charlie’s journey and so I’m going to pull him out of the “Don’t Like” category and let’s just leave it at “It’s complicated.”

 * * * * *

Who Would I Recommend Girl in Pieces to? 

Honestly, I think Girl in Pieces is one of those books that everyone should read.  It’s raw, honest, brave, haunting, and without a doubt, one of the most powerful books I’ve read this year.  I would temper my recommendation just to say that I’m sure some of the topics covered would be considered triggers to those who self-harm, so they’d have to determine for themselves if the book is a good fit for them.

 * * * * *

Rating:  5 Stars

five-stars

About Kathleen Glasgow

Kathleen Glasgow is the author of the New York Times best-selling novel, Girl in Pieces.

She lives in Tucson, Arizona and is a researcher for The Writer’s Almanac. Girl in Pieces has been named to “best of lists by Goop, TeenVogue, BN Teen, Refinery29, EW.com, TeenReads, and more.

ARC Review – We Are Still Tornadoes

ARC Review – We Are Still TornadoesWe Are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun, Susan Mullen
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on November 1st 2016
Genres: Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Goodreads
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:

Growing up across the street from each other, Scott and Cath have been best friends their entire lives. Cath would help Scott with his English homework, he would make her mix tapes (it’s the 80’s after all), and any fight they had would be forgotten over TV and cookies. But now they’ve graduated high school and Cath is off to college while Scott is at home pursuing his musical dreams. During their first year apart, Scott and Cath’s letters help them understand heartache, annoying roommates, family drama and the pressure to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. And through it all, they realize that the only person they want to turn to is each other. But does that mean they should be more than friends? The only thing that’s clear is that change is an inescapable part of growing up. And the friends who help us navigate it share an unshakable bond. This funny yet deeply moving book–set to an awesome 80’s soundtrack–captures all the beautiful confusion and emotional intensity we find on the verge of adulthood…and first love.

 

 

My Review:

We Are Still Tornadoes follows a year in the life of Scott and Cath, lifelong best friends who are now separated because Cath has gone off to college, while Scott has chosen to remain at home, where he works at the family business while simultaneously trying to pursue his own passion, which is to be a singer/songwriter in a band. Set in the early 1980’s, the story is told through alternating letters that Scott and Cath are mailing each other throughout their time apart.

What I Liked:

I have to say I really loved this book. It was cute and entertaining, even laugh-out-loud funny at times, but it was also quite moving as well as Scott and Cath each experienced highs and lows throughout the year. We Are Still Tornadoes is also one of those books where once you get started, you really can’t put it down so it made for a quick read as well, which is often nice (especially when your “To-Bo-Read” stack of books is becoming mountainous!)

What appealed to me most about this book is the authentic quality of the friendship between Scott and Cath. I’m a big fan of books that portray beautiful friendships and Scott and Cath’s friendship perfectly fits the bill here. The authors skillfully capture all the little nuances that make up the special bond that best friends share – the constant poking fun at one another that only best friends can do, those long-running inside jokes that no one else could possibly understand, and also, most importantly, the steadfast devotion and loyalty. Even though they’re hundreds of mile apart, Scott is always there for Cath when she needs him and vice versa. Whether it’s a death in the family, parents getting divorce, a bad breakup, or anything in between, they have each others’ backs. Looking at Scott and Cath, I could easily see similarities between their relationship and my own relationships with my best friends.

The letter writing format was a lot of fun to read as well and really took me back to my own college days back in the dark ages before we had email, smart phones, and all of those other forms of instant communication. I could very easily relate to the reality of having to rely on snail mail and shared hall phones as the only way to keep in touch with friends and loved ones. Reading We Are Still Tornadoes brought back a lot of good memories from college for me and so the nostalgia factor was very high.

The discussion of music throughout the novel was entertaining as well. Scott loves music, knows almost everything there is to know about every popular singer of the time period, and loves to let Cath know how utterly clueless and in need of a musical education she is. Their discussion of music was hilarious at times, but more importantly, the songs chosen by the authors were so iconic – just thinking about them transported me right back to the 1980s. I swear I was singing Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean for days after I finished reading!

Anything I didn’t like?

My only real complaint about the story lies in the ending. I didn’t particularly care for the direction the story took in the closing pages and felt like the ending wrapped too quickly and therefore a bit awkwardly. I understood why the book had to end the way it did based on the direction the story took; it just wouldn’t haven have been my first choice for an ending. It may not bother others though so please don’t let that deter you from what is otherwise an awesome book.

Who Would I Recommend this to?

I would highly reccommend We Are Still Tornadoes to pretty much anyone from high school age on up. I think high school and college students would enjoy the friendship and the fact that Cath and Scott are so relateable, while readers like me who are older, would enjoy the story because of the nostalgic quality.

If you’re looking for a quick and entertaining read, I’d say give this book a shot.

 

Rating: 4 stars

 

 

four-stars

About Michael Kun

Michael Kun lives in Los Angeles, California, with his wife Amy and their daughter Paige. He practices law when he is not writing, or vice versa.

About Susan Mullen

Susan Stevens Mullen lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband, Kevin, and their two daughters, Hannah and Haley. She practices law in the Reston office of Cooley, LLP. Sue was born and raised in Chicago. Her family relocated to Northern Virginia when she was in the 7th grade. A graduate of Langley High School, Duke University, and the University of Virginia School of Law, Sue loves reading fiction and running with the family and their dog, Griffin the Boxer.

Book Review: Transcendent by Katelyn Detweiler

Book Review:  Transcendent by Katelyn DetweilerTranscendent by Katelyn Detweiler
three-half-stars
Published by Viking Books for Young Readers on October 4th 2016
Pages: 448
Source: Press Shop
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Press Shop in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis: 

A beautiful work of magical realism, a story about a girl in the real world who is called upon to be a hero.
 
When terrorists bomb Disney World, seventeen-year-old Iris Spero is as horrified as anyone else. Then a stranger shows up on her stoop in Brooklyn, revealing a secret about the mysterious circumstances surrounding Iris’s birth, and throwing her entire identity into question. Everything she thought she knew about her parents, and about herself, is a lie.

Suddenly, the press is confronting Iris with the wild notion that she might be “special.” More than just special: she could be the miracle the world now so desperately needs. Families all across the grieving nation are pinning their hopes on Iris like she is some kind of saint or savior. She’s no longer sure whom she can trust—except for Zane, a homeless boy who long ago abandoned any kind of hope. She knows she can’t possibly be the glorified person everyone wants her to be… but she also can’t go back to being safe and anonymous. When nobody knows her but they all want a piece of her, who is Iris Spero now? And how can she—one teenage girl—possibly heal a broken world?

 

My Review:

Katelyn Detweiler’s Transcendent is definitely one of the most unique books I’ve read this year.  I’ll admit that I almost changed my mind about reading the book once I saw that it was about terrorists bombing Disney World and killing tens of thousands of people, many of whom were children.  I just didn’t know if my heart could handle going there.  I’m glad I gave it a chance thought because Transcendent turned out to be an incredibly thought-provoking read that resonated with me on many levels – both as a parent and as someone who has occasionally questioned my own faith when horrific events happen in the world.

What really intrigued me was that the terrorist attack itself is not really the focus of the novel.  Instead, Transcendent focuses on the power of hope – what it takes to move people past grief and despair when tragedy strikes so they can begin the healing process and start to live again.  In the case of Transcendent, that sense of hope comes in the form of a young lady named Iris Spero.

Seventeen year old Iris is living in Brooklyn at the time of the attack and, like the rest of the world, is going through the motions of her day-to-day routine, but all the while trying to wrap her head around what has happened – what kind of monsters would choose a target like Disney World, where the bulk of the casualties would clearly be innocent children?

Then as if the world hasn’t been thrown into chaos enough by what has happened, a stranger named Kyle Bennett enters the picture and drops a bombshell on Iris.  Kyle and his family were at Disney World when the terrorists struck; one of his children died there and his remaining child was critically wounded.  Desperate to save his daughter, Kyle has latched onto an old story from his hometown about the “Virgin Mina”, a young woman who turned up pregnant even though she claimed to still be a virgin.  Though he didn’t believe the story at the time and gave Mina and the rest of her family a hard time because of it, Kyle has had a change of heart and has searched far and wide looking for Mina.  He shows up on Iris’ doorstep, proclaiming that Iris is the “Virgin Mina’s” miracle baby and that she has the power to heal his daughter.  Even though Iris’ family tells him he is mistaken, Kyle becomes more and more insistent that Iris is the miracle he needs, and when he doesn’t get what he wants, he outs Iris to the world and turns her world upside down as the media and every other person seeking a miracle begin coming at her from all sides.

What shocks Iris even more than Kyle Bennett and his seemingly ridiculous claim, however, is that Iris’ parents actually confirm Kyle’s story.  Iris’ mom is, in fact, the famed “Virgin Mina” and they’ve been in hiding for Iris’ entire life in an effort to protect her identity and allow her to live a normal life.  The bulk of the novel deals with the psychology of what Iris goes through as she tries to cope with, not only the issue of learning that her entire life up until this point has been a lie, but also the pressure of having so many people desperately clinging to the idea that she is some kind of miracle worker.

What I Liked about Transcendent:

Iris:  I loved Iris and was immediately drawn to her kindness and her compassion.  This is a girl who volunteers at the local soup kitchen to feed the homeless, plays her violin in the park for anyone who wants to listen – strangers, children, and yes, even homeless people.  This is a girl who can’t stand to hear people spew hatred toward the Disney attackers, not because she doesn’t believe that they should be punished, but rather because she doesn’t think more hate is the answer. Hate won’t heal what has happened to their world.  In some ways Iris almost seemed too good to be true, but regardless, she was very likeable and therefore I felt very sympathetic for her when Kyle spilled the beans about her.  I thought the author did an amazing job here of conveying all of the conflicting emotions Iris experienced as she tried to make sense of what has been dropped in her lap – the initial denial, followed by the feeling that her parents have betrayed her, and ultimately her confusion about who she even is anymore.

Even if you’re hesitant to buy into the whole ‘immaculate conception’ scenario itself, Iris’ reaction to it is easy to relate to since she herself starts out skeptical. I was especially sympathetic to her need to disappear for a few days so that she could have some private time to come to terms with what she has learned about herself and decide what she wants to do about it.  I mean, seriously, who can think when, through no fault of your own, the media and basically everyone in the world are suddenly standing there with their hands out wanting a piece of you and trying to make you into something you don’t think you are.  Talk about pressure!

It Poses Big Questions:  The power of Hope is a big theme in this novel, and a powerful one.  Is hoping that someone or something is a miracle enough to actually bring about a kind of miracle – or in the case of this story – enough to heal those who are suffering so that they can live again?  This is one of the questions that Iris ponders as she tries to decide what the right answer is – flee again as her parents did before she was born, or stand up and try to actually help people.  Although I was very skeptical about the virgin birth angle initially, and like Iris, was wondering what a DNA test would show, by the end of the novel, I started thinking about the bigger picture – just because something seems to be impossible based on accepted laws of science, is it really impossible?  Or can miracles actually happen? Should we be open-minded to that possibility?  I always enjoy a book that gives me something to think about afterwards and, with these kinds of big questions, Transcendent did just that.

Magic or Religion?  I really liked that although the idea of the virgin birth has obvious religious connotations, Detweiler seems to leave it open to interpretation as to whether this is a religious event or if something magical or supernatural has taken place.  It seems like readers are free to interpret it in whatever way makes it best align with their own beliefs.

Issues I had with Transcendent:

Iris’ Family:  Since I mentioned my skepticism earlier, let me go ahead and elaborate on that here.  What nagged at me for most of the book was that I found it a little hard to believe how easily Iris’ grandparents and aunts bought into the whole idea that Mina was a pregnant virgin.  I know my parents would have been like ‘Yeah, okay, whatever.  Who did you sleep with?  Tell us the truth.”   What I learned after receiving this book from Press Shop, however, is that Transcendent is actually the second book in this series.  The first book Immaculate, deals entirely with Mina’s story and how her family and her town reacted to the idea of a modern day virgin pregnancy.  Although I think Transcendent works fine as a stand-alone novel because enough detail about Mina’s story is given so that you’re not lost, I still would have liked to have read it first so that Mina’s family’s lack of reaction and suspicion wasn’t an issue for me while I was trying to read and appreciate Iris’ story.   I definitely enjoyed Transcendent enough that I do plan to go back and some point and read Immaculate.

Who Would I Recommend Transcendent to?

I would recommend Transcendent to anyone who enjoys reading uplifting books that make you think.  I also think you have to have an open mind to the possibility of miracles, in particular, of a modern day virgin birth.  If you’re not even remotely open to that idea, I think you would find the story so far-fetched that you wouldn’t enjoy it.

I read somewhere that the target audience for Transcendent is ages 14 and up and I agree with that assessment. I think the themes presented and the questions raised are on a level that high school students can appreciate.

 

Rating:  3.5 stars

 

Thanks so much to Viking Books for Young Readers, Katelyn Detweiller, and to Press Shop for allowing me the opportunity to preview Transcendent.

three-half-stars

About Katelyn Detweiler

Katelyn Detweiler was born and raised in a small town in eastern Pennsylvania, living in a centuries-old farmhouse surrounded by fields and woods. She spent the vast majority of childhood with her nose in a book or creating make-believe worlds with friends, daydreaming about how she could turn those interests into an actual paying career. After graduating from Penn State University with a B.A. in English Literature, emphasis in Creative Writing and Women’s Studies, she packed her bags and made the move to New York City, determined to break into the world of publishing. She worked for two years in the marketing department of Macmillan Children’s Group before moving in 2010 to the agency side of the business at Jill Grinberg Literary, where she is currently a literary agent representing books for all ages and across all genres.

Katelyn lives, works, and writes in Brooklyn, playing with words all day, every day, her dream come true. When she’s not reading or writing, Katelyn enjoys yoga, fancy cocktails, and road trips. She frequently treks back to her hometown in Pennsylvania, a lovely green escape from life in the city, and her favorite place to write.

ARC Review – Gae Polisner’s The Memory of Things

ARC Review – Gae Polisner’s The Memory of ThingsThe Memory of Things by Gae Polisner
four-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on September 6th 2016
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Goodreads
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:

The powerful story of two teenagers finding friendship, comfort, and first love in the days following 9/11 as their fractured city tries to put itself back together.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, sixteen-year-old Kyle Donohue watches the first twin tower come down from the window of Stuyvesant High School. Moments later, terrified and fleeing home to safety across the Brooklyn Bridge, he stumbles across a girl perched in the shadows. She is covered in ash and wearing a pair of costume wings. With his mother and sister in California and unable to reach his father, a New York City detective likely on his way to the disaster, Kyle makes the split-second decision to bring the girl home. What follows is their story, told in alternating points of view, as Kyle tries to unravel the mystery of the girl so he can return her to her family. But what if the girl has forgotten everything, even her own name? And what if the more Kyle gets to know her, the less he wants her to go home? The Memory of Things tells a stunning story of friendship and first love and of carrying on with our day-to-day living in the midst of world-changing tragedy and unforgettable pain—it tells a story of hope.

My Review: 

Gae Polisner’s The Memory of Things is an incredible book that revolves around the horrific events of September 11th. I have to admit I was a little nervous going into the book since this is such a sensitive topic, but was ultimately very pleased with Polisner’s respectful handling of it.  Although it was sometimes painful to read because it brings back so many terrifying memories that we all felt that day and for so long afterwards, The Memory of Things is also a moving and ultimately uplifting story that shows the strength of Americans, and especially that of New Yorkers, to rise up and keep going in the face of something that could have brought us to our knees as a country.

One aspect I loved most about The Memory of Things is the way Polisner presents the story using a dual narrative perspective. Her writing is beautiful, lyrical in fact, and I like that she puts us inside the minds of these two teenagers, Kyle and the girl he finds on the Brooklyn Bridge as he is evacuating out of lower Manhattan.  When Kyle discovers the girl crouched on the bridge, she doesn’t know who she is and appears to be suffering from either shock or amnesia.  The way Polisner distinguishes between Kyle’s point of view and the girl’s is unique as well.  Kyle’s perspective is presented in pretty straightforward prose, but as we switch to the girl’s perspective, we are suddenly presented with a more poetic style – fragmented memories, broken thoughts and powerful, sometimes disturbing, images all swirled together.  We alternate between the two perspectives throughout the novel and as then the girl starts to remember more and more details about who she is, Polisner adjusts her writing style to reflect that shift – the girl’s thoughts become more coherent and cohesive, the broken images and memories start to come together, and the language shifts to a more prose-like state, although still quite poetic.

Another quality I loved about this book is that even though it is technically a book about 9/11, the tragedy itself is not the primary focus.  The Memory of Things is really more of a coming of age story and it’s also a story about strength, hope, resiliency, friendship, and about finding out who you are when times are tough or uncertain.  Kyle is confronted by the real possibility that he may have lost his entire family and has to figure out what he’s going to do if that turns out to be the case. In particular, he has a handicapped uncle living with him who needs to be cared for and so he really has to step up and be the man of the house while he waits to find out if his family is okay.  In many ways, Kyle learns that he is much stronger than he ever would have given himself credit for prior to 9/11. Kyle’s uncle is partially paralyzed from a recent accident and can do very little for himself. Showing  maturity beyond his years, Kyle takes over the responsibility of getting his uncle out of bed and to the bathroom and assists him in there as needed, then helps to get him dressed and fed and otherwise cared for.

In addition to taking over the primary caregiver role at home, Kyle also befriends the young lady he brought into his home in the aftermath of the terrorist attack.  She can remember nothing about herself aside from bits and pieces of broken memories – ballet movements, swimming in the ocean, brief flashes of her parents, all of these interspersed with horrid images that she witnessed the morning of 9/11.  Kyle doesn’t want to just send her back out on the streets but also hates the idea of just dumping her at a hospital or at a police station in hopes that someone claims her.  So he makes the decision to allow her to stay with him. In some ways I think he does it as much for himself as he does for her. Trying to help her remember who she is gives him something to focus on and helps him stay fairly grounded, considering all that is going on just outside their door.  In the short time they are together, Kyle and the girl grow quite close – close enough that Kyle considers the possibility that he’s falling in love with her.  I think it’s more the need to make some kind of a human connection – something life affirming in the face of all of the lives that were lost that day, but whatever it was for them, the bond between them was quite touching and I think it served to help them get through those first few terrifying days after the tragedy as they waited and hoped to be reunited with their loved ones.

The Memory of Things is truly one of the most beautiful and moving stories I’ve read so far this year and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone. Since it’s a young adult novel, I would also especially recommend it to those who are not old enough to have witnessed the events of 9/11 themselves.

Rating:  4.5 stars

 

 

 

four-half-stars

About Gae Polisner

Gae in her own words:

I write both women’s and young adult fiction.  When I’m not writing, I’m swimming, hanging with my kids, or cooking and cleaning. Okay, fine, I’m probably not cleaning.

I have written since I was little, mostly poems and short stories through college. Then, I went to law school and, for over a decade, replaced all that creative writing with legal briefs. But after my sons were born, I decided to return to my first love.

In 1995, I set out to write a book, not knowing if I actually could. I have completed at least five full manuscripts since then.

I like to think my novels are accessible, lyrical (somewhat literary) fiction – and, my young adult stories, an homage to the character-driven fiction I loved so much as a child and teen (anything by E.L. Konigsburg, Paul Zindel, Madeleine L’Engle, or Judy Blume…). The Pull of Gravity has a special “secret” nod to the first novel I couldn’t put down – Don’t Take Teddy, by Babbis Friis-Baastad. To this day, I remember the feeling of frantically turning pages to find out if the brothers would be okay. If any of you ever read that book, please send me an email, and we can be instant BFF’s.

My first piece of women’s fiction, The Jetty, was a Top Semifinalist in the 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. My second piece, Swim Back to Me, will be revised one day soon and hopefully see the light of day. In the meantime, my next YA novel is coming soon from Algonquin, and I have several more teen novels in the works. So, please check back here often for updates.

I live and write on Long Island with my two amazing boys, my handsome, smart husband who sings, and two very “enthusiastic” cockatiels, Taha and Bobo. When I’m not writing, I’m still a practicing family law attorney/mediator, and when I’m not doing that, I’m swimming in my pool or, better yet, the open water off of Long Island.