Monthly Archives: July 2015

Book Discussion: Beneath a Marble Sky

Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors

Summary

When many people think of India, they think of the Taj Mahal. Most have vaguely heard of the story — how the magnificent white tomb was built by a grieving husband for his deceased wife. But how many have wondered beyond the building of the moment, and to the lives of those involved in the events that took place in 17th century India?

Beneath the Marble Sky is the fictionalized story of the life of Princess Jahanara, daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife, Arjumand Banu Begum. Jahanara lives the privileged life as the favorite daughter of the Emperor, watching her parents rule India and spending time with her brothers. But after her mother dies, and her father begins a downward spiral of grief, Jahanara is forced to grow up quickly. She must help her father rule, and deal with increasingly dangerous power battles with her brother, Auragzeb. Auragzeb, a religious fanatic who twists the words of the Quran to support his cause, is determined to seize the throne, even if it means overthrowing his peace-seeking older brother. Jahanara must decide how to balance her love and duty to her family with her own safety and happiness.

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

I really enjoyed the romance in this story because it was not all-consuming. Jahanara and her partner are both deeply devoted to their work, and realize the importance of duty as well as their own personal happiness. I’ll admit that it’s a little too picture-perfect, especially for that time period, but I really fell in love with both characters and enjoyed watching them together.

FRosieeminist Score: Good Effort 

Beneath the Marble Sky takes place in 17th century India, where the role of women (even the imperial royal princess) was fairly limited. Jahanara navigates tricky political and social constructs to be an effective ruler in a male-ruled society. This story surely takes some liberties with the historical context, and the freedoms Jahanara is allowed, but it was well worth it.

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Diversity Score: Good Effort 

One of the best parts of Beneath the Marble Sky are the references to Islam. Through Jahanara’s eyes, we see both the peace and beauty of the religion, as well as as how power-seeking individuals will use “religious” justification to convince people to follow them. Every time Aurangzeb tries to use the Quran to justify violence, Jahanara counters him with other verses. Too many books focus on Islam as the justification for evil, rather than recognize that every written word can be twisted for political gain.

wow icon Awesome Factor: Good Effort 

This has been one of my favorite historical fiction stories since high school. I’ve always been pulled in by the fast-moving plot, and the language is beautiful. I’m always (unfairly) a little wary of authors who write about an unfamiliar culture — e.g. a white man writing about a Muslim-Indian teenage princess. But John Shors writes respectfully and compassionately, and doesn’t try to generalize an entire society by one particular viewpoint.


Favorite Character

Jahanara. She is determined to help her father and brothers, even at the expense of her own happiness.

Favorite Line

“The Qur’an is a book of many faces. As much as Aurangzeb liked to quote its passages concerning revenge, misdeeds, and hellfire, it is also a text that speaks often of forgiveness, charity and goodwill. Unlike my brother, I always found these verses to be most profound. They comforted me tremendously.” 

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes, especially if you like historical fiction! 

Fun Author Fact

According to his Twitter, John Shors plans literary tours to the settings of his novels. I would love to visit the Taj Mahal with him, and understand what drew him to write particular parts of the novel.

Read This Next
Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran. If you enjoy well-told historical fiction, Michelle Moran’s books are always great reads. While Cleopatra’s Daughter is my favorite, I’ve also enjoyed The Second Empress, the story of Napolean’s reluctant second wife.

Post Author: Anisha

AnishaAnisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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Book Discussion: Boy in the Black Suit

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

Summary

Matthew is a high school student dealing with a lot – his mom recently died and his dad isn’t handling it well – and Matt is just looking The Boy in the Black Suitfor a way to handle all his emotions. When he’s offered a job at the local funeral home, he decides to take it and finds a strange sort of comfort in the grief and pain of others. Then, he meets a girl and things get even more complicated.

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

Matt gets a crush very early in the story and it slowly unfolds in the sweetest way possible. I really liked their relationship and the great dates they went on. I appreciated that Matt had his parents’ relationship and Mr. Ray to give him guidance, and the advice from his best friend, Chris, made me laugh. The relationship is central to the story, but also ancillary to the emotional roller coaster and growth that Matthew goes through.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

The women in this book affect Matthew a lot – he is reeling from his mother’s death and she was a force to reckon with – but they aren’t the main characters. There’s a strong score here because Matt respects the women in his life and treats them kindly – this could have gone very wrong since it’s high school age boys being depicted, but even Chris’s advice is more encouraging banter than crude awfulness. I appreciated that all the older men respected and loved their wives as well. The one tough part is a key experience from earlier in all the characters’ lives; unfortunately, it reflects a truth that, hopefully, will be less and less true as time goes on.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

This is another book that really depends on the reader for its diversity score. It takes place in New York City, in a predominantly black and low income community. To some readers this will have a score of “Not a Bit” because it reflects their community, family, and life exactly; to others it will score “A+ Success” because it tells a story through a character in a setting they may not have ever met or experienced. I’m giving it this score because I think it respectfully portrays the people involved while successfully capturing the life of the community and depicts life and people that aren’t very common in the printing/publishing world.

wow iconAwesome Factor: A+ Success

As someone that went to lots of funerals as a child and teen, I understand where Matt is coming from in his need to connect with others (but not claiming my experience as even closely similar). I also saw Reynolds speak at the NOVA Teen Book Festival and he talked a lot about how grief and humor aren’t mutually exclusive. I think he did a great job balancing the two here and loved Matthew’s journey through his grief. I loved the cookbook and the use of the kitchen and food to reflect his emotional process.


Favorite Character

Mr. Ray – He’s such a great role model for Matt, is a foundation for the entire community, and I love his care and concern for everyone, but especially Matt. I also really appreciated his backstory – I think it’s so important for there to be adult characters that have history. Sometimes teenagers (heck, EVERYONE) forgets that adults have their own difficulties, pains, and sorrows – and Mr. Ray is a great example of how our beginnings affects us through the rest of our lives.

Favorite Line

“Of course, I couldn’t tell him the truth. The truth that I was having a hard telling myself. I liked the funerals…I liked watching other people deal with the loss of someone, not because I enjoyed seeing them in pain, but because, somehow, it made me feel better knowing that my pain isn’t only mine. That my life isn’t the only one that’s missing something it will never have back.”

Oh Matt, I feel for you so much.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I definitely recommend this! I also reviewed Reynolds’s When I was the Greatest and I think I’m putting him on my “must read” list. He does a great job creating sweet, earnest characters with deep, heartfelt stories. Plus, I love the sense of place and community that he builds.

Fun Author Fact

Reynolds talks to himself on the way home from the train so he doesn’t forget new characters and plots. He was also “forced” to read because an aunt kept giving him books as gifts and he decided to finally give them a chance.

Read This Next

Obviously, check out our review of When I was the Greatest, but also try Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina.

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Chat: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon Spier has a secret: he’s gay. While he is coming to terms with his sexuality, he’d prefer to keep it on the down-low from his high school classmates. Unfortunately, he is cruelty outed on the school anonymous Tumbler site, and all of a sudden, everyone knows his secret. Suddenly, Simon as face friends he’s known his whole life, mean strangers at school, and his close-knit family. To make matters more complicated, Simon has an crush on a stranger he’s been flirting with online. Follow Simon as he navigates high school in Georgia, Drama Club, and his own real life Drama.

Note: This is, by far, one of the best books we’ve read this year. You’ll read our review below, but I cannot recommend this book enough. Go read it ! Now!

Simon

Favorite Character

Simon. He’s such a well written character – sweet and kind and naive. The entire time I was reading the book, i just wanted to give him a big hug. He’s officially on my dinner table list… along with dog, Justin Bieber.

Favorite Line

“It is definitely annoying that straight (and white, for that matter) is the default, and that the only people who have to think about their identity are the ones who don’t fit that mold. Straight people really should have to come out, and the more awkward it is, the better. Awkwardness should be a requirement.”

Fun Author Fact

According to her website, Becky Albertalli failed sex education in sixth grade. She is now a clinical psychologist. Simon vs the Homo Sapien Agenda is her first novel.

Read these next:

None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio. We reviewed this book last month (check out our post and podcast here). This is another story about gender and sexual identity from the perspective of an intersex girl. A really interesting and educational read!

Is this worth a book hangover?

YES. Absolutely. We could not recommend this book enough – it is a wonderful, well-told story that will make you laugh and cry. Beware, though: When you cry on a plane, people get really nervous. 

Post Author: Anisha

AnishaAnisha adores YA romance – and thinks that all love stories should start on the beach and end with the first kiss. Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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Book Discussion: Tiny Pretty Things

Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

Summary

Many little girls take ballet class, and dream of one dancing as a professional soloist. But there precious few positions in the professional dancing world, and even fewer leads. To become a soloist, you must be mentally and physically strong, and willing to do anything to be the best.

Join the cut-throat, elite American Ballet Conservatory, where every girl wants to be the next prima ballerina. Bette, who comes from an elite ballet family and grew up watching her sister star as the Sugar Plum Fairy, will stop at nothing to remain the favorite.  June is struggling on every front – trying to convince her mother to let her stay at school, maintaining her tiny weight while not alerting the school nutritionist, and learning about her family history. And Gigi is the new girl – new to the school, the state, and the level of competition. All three of them want to be on top, but only one girl can dance the soloist position.

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heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort 

Who knew that there was so much romance going on at a competitive ballet school? Surprisingly, Tiny Pretty Things explores a number of interesting romances, including a few ballerina-ballerhino couples. The power dynamics in the relationship were so complicated and interesting. I’m looking forward to seeing where future relationships take these characters. This isn’t exactly a romantic book (given the cut-throat, competitive nature of elite dance), but it definitely added to the story.

FRosieeminist Score: You’re Trying 

I really enjoyed this story, but some of the tactics really, really scared me. While I think these relationships are likely true to elite competitive activities, I would have liked to see one or two examples of great female friendship.

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Diversity Score: A+ Success 

Tiny Pretty Things excellently captured the struggles of being different in a world in which every ballerina is expected to look the same. Many of the characters struggle with their identity in a compelling manner. June struggles to fit in as a half-Korean half-white ballerina, Gigi battles wild assumptions about her race, and even Bette struggles to maintain her level of perfection. I easily related to all three of their struggles, and Tiny Pretty Things perfectly captured the identity confused associated with growing up.

wow icon Awesome Factor: Good Effort 

As a former dancer and current type-A person, I really enjoyed this book. Although there are some parts that were hard to read (especially around certain tactics used to get ahead), I couldn’t put it down. Even if you’re not a dancer, it’s worth the read – the characters alone will keep you thinking long after you finish the story.


Favorite Character

Bette. I love a good villain, especially one as smart, complex, and confused as Bette.

Favorite Line

“It’s finally here. The moment I’ve been waiting all my sixteen years for. The moment that will lift me out of mediocrity and onto the horizon, make me the next prime-time-worthy prima of the dance world, elevate me higher than I ever truly thought possible.

Make no mistake: I’ve fought long and hard for this moment, given blood, sweat, and tears, deprived myself at every turn. I’ve earned this.”

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes!  Between the interesting setting (the dance studio), the dynamic and complex characters, and the insane competition, this book can easily be finished in one sitting. It was well written and totally worth the read. 

Fun Author Fact

Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton co-authored the book in a fascinating way. In an interview with the School Library Journal, they explained their process: Dhonielle wrote Gigi, Sona wrote June, and they both wrote Bette.

Read This Next
I have yet to find another book that discusses dance so completely. Instead, I’ll recommend Under the Painted Sky by Stacey Lee. Check out our review here.

Post Author: Anisha

AnishaAnisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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Book Discussion: An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

SummaryAn Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes, #1)

Laia and Elias live on the two ends of the social spectrum – one as a slave, a member of a conquered people, the other as a  soldier-student training to join the elite legions of the tyrannical forces. Neither is free. And both want freedom. Their lives become intricately entwined as they  attempt to escape the chains around their lives and to fight against the Martial Empire.

Trigger warning: sexual violence/assault, talk of rape, assault, abuse, torture

heartRomance Score: A+ Success

There are some very steamy moments in this book and none of them felt forced. I appreciated that the love interest(s) were organic and didn’t feel like a triangle just to have a triangle. I really liked that both Laia and Elias got stories and the relationships and situations that built up the romantic tension felt natural. There are moments/threats of sexual violence, but I took points off elsewhere because I didn’t think they affected the romantic relationships in particular.

RosieFeminism Score: Good Effort

There are SO MANY awesome ladies in this book and they all make different choices and lead different lives, but are equally fantastic. Laia, Helene, Laia’s grandmother, Cook…so many. Laia is a slave and she definitely starts out meek, but she finds her strength. She doubts herself and she’s terrified a lot of the time, but she still does what she has to. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of sexual assault or threats of assault/rape, plus targeting women/girls in the school, so I can’t give it a full score. It does seem to fit the world-building, but it’s still unfortunate to read a book with such strong leading ladies and then have them dealing with gender-based threats throughout the book. (Then again, people may see this as a positive since it means the book reflects the experiences of current day lady-readers.)

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

The book is told by alternating perspective – we get both Elias and Laia’s stories and viewpoints and you feel the difference. Additionally, there’s a ruling class and slaves, a girl that has to fight against rampant, violent sexism among her classmates, and slaves that fight ALL kinds of violence. Additionally, the students are basically child-soldiers so that’s another awful, social-ill that we get included. So, that equals a pretty full spectrum for the book diversity; we also get bonus diversity from the author – she’s of Pakistani descent and was born in London. We’ll see how the world develops in the second book and how the new locations add to the diversity.

wow iconAwesome Factor: A+ Success

Overall, I really liked this story and thought it did a great job introducing the characters and world. I’m excited to see what comes next for Laia and Elias and SO GLAD that Tahir was signed for a sequel.


Favorite Character

Helene – she’s a badass trained killer who keeps her optimism and is judged a little unfairly by her best friend. She doesn’t let the school beat out all of her emotions and she tries to trust, hope, and love to the best of her ability while being committed to the values and goals that she’s been raised to follow.

Favorite Line

Guys, I’m sorry. I’ve been failing in this department and I’m giving the metro excuse again. I have been trying to take pictures of the best lines so I have them on hand once I return the books to the library, but it’s been tough and I’m forgetful. But, the writing in this book is fast-paced and action packed. It moves right along with the story and felt like it fit the tone perfectly. And, there are some great little quips in there, too.

Fun Author Fact

Sabaa Tahir is a BIG fan of music and she posts playlists on her blog! Also, she’s been offered a second book contract for the sequel and it has been optioned for a possible movie!

Is this worth a book hangover?

For sure – it’s fun, fast, and fantastic (really, there’s magic!). I thought the characters were engaging and the story had enough excitement to keep me turning pages to finish in one sitting. Plus, I’m on the edge of my seat waiting to find out what happens next!

Read These Next

Court of Fives by Kate Elliot for another world divided by class with characters fighting to break barriers or The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh for a kick ass heroine trying to understand why the king’s brides must die.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Chat: Written in the Stars

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

Summary

Naila is dealing with life in the US under the watchful eye of her Pakistani-immigrant parents. It’s not an easy life and, when Written in the StarsNaila  breaks their rules, her parents react to the extreme. Naila’s parents pack the family up and they return to Pakistan to reconnect the family with their roots and to visit relatives. But, the trip takes a serious turn when Naila finally realizes that her parents have an ulterior motive for the trip – they’re finding Naila a husband and they won’t take no for an answer. When she resists, Naila’s life is taken out of her own hands. She ends up a wife, cut off from friends and the life she knew, and her only escape is the slim chance that her secret Florida boyfriend can find her.

Trigger warning: family/domestic violence, sexual assault, forced marriage

*This book is about a girl in a very difficult, awful situation and thus the top two scores are lower than it would seem the Awesome Factor warrants. Naila does what she can to fight, but there’s only so much she can do to succeed.

Favorite Character

It’s hard to really LOVE any of these characters because of either limited time with them or, you know, they’re being awful. But, Naila’s cousin, Selma, is a sweet, supportive character, even if she keeps secrets she shouldn’t. Saif is also sweet, but a little flat since we don’t actually see much of him.

Favorite Line

Life is full of sadness. It’s part of being a woman. Our lives are lived for the sake of others. Our happiness is never factored in.” I don’t agree with this in actual life, but totally understand how Naila would come to this conclusion after everything she’s been through.

Fun Author Fact

Aisha has contracted for another book, due out in 2017! And, she’s the VP of Strategy for the We Need Diverse Books nonprofit, too!

Is this worth a book hangover?

This is a seriously tough book – I read it in one sitting, but it was hard and I had red, swollen eyes by the end. I think it’s an important book and I think the characters and story are compelling, but I think reading it in shorter pieces would have broken the intensity a bit.

Read These Next

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh captures a marriage entered into willingly but with an equally difficult story behind it or Beneath My Mother’s Feet by Amjed Qamar for another Pakistan story about facing difficult decisions about life, family, and responsibility.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Discussion: Dorothy Must Die

“She wore a long, formfitting, beaded gown that flared out at the bottom and was corseted so severely that I wondered how she could breathe. Her breasts weren’t the only thing Dorothy was trying to show off: the fishtail was slit up the side, revealing her most important assets.

Her shoes, of course. “

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

Summary

Amy Gunn hates her life. She lives in rural Kansas with a less-than-present mother and a school full of bullies who refer to her as “Salvation Army trash”. She’s dying to get out of Kansas, and get out of her life. One day, a sudden tornado transports her to the land of Oz. Amy is familiar with all the stories, and is excited to meet Glinda and Dorothy. But she soon learns that the Oz she knows is not the real Oz. A tyrannical Dorothy has taken over Oz, enslaving the flying monkeys and terrorizing the munchkins. She is unstoppable, and sucking all of the magic out of Oz. But can another girl from Kansas stop the reign of Dorothy?

This incredible retelling of The Wizard of Oz makes us rethink the good versus evil dynamic, how power corrupts, and what happens after “happily ever after”.

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying 

Dorothy Must Die is primarily a story about fighting a tyrant and finding yourself. While there is a bit of romance between Amy and one of the main male characters, it is not central to the story. I actually love this about the book. Between learning to use magic and trying to understand the dynamics of good and evil in Oz, Amy is pretty damn busy. Maybe she’ll have time for romance once her mission is done.

FRosieeminist Score: A+ Success  

Amy is a kick-ass heroine. I love her strength and passion, and the sense of justice she has. Amy faces a number of really scary situations, including a lot of violent battles and the threat of torture by the Wizard of Oz hero. She fights bravely and alone, and there’s a lot to admire in this woman.

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Diversity Score: You’re Trying

This book isn’t particularly diverse. Most of the characters are white, and though we don’t know much about any of their sexuality, Amy is straight. However, I liked that Amy was from a poor broken home. As discussed in the I Was Here review, diversity in economic circumstance is an important component of diverse books.

wow icon Awesome Factor: Good Effort 

From the time my first grade teacher read Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad PigI’ve always loved books that retell stories from a new point of view. This retelling was particularly well-written, and I love how Dorothy and the world of Oz were portrayed as so dark and violent. This book surprised me in the best way. I can’t wait to read the second installment, The Wicked Will Rise


Favorite Character

By far, Amy Gunn. Amy is a smart, quick learner with a temper not unlike mine. She’s a heroine you can relate to, and totally get behind.

Favorite Line

“A chill shot down my spine as I remembered that things were never easy around here. good and evil were always changing places with each other.”

One element of this book that I loved was how none of the sides were purely good or evil. All parties use torture and manipulation to get their way, and Amy learns early on to trust no one.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely, especially if you like fantasy and fairy tales. 

Fun Author Fact

Danielle Paige has written several books retelling the Wizard of Oz, including three novellas from Dorothy’s point of view.

Read This Next
Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad PigA seriously under-rated childhood favorite of mine.

… but if you’d like to read something young adult, I’d try the Wicked Years Series by Gregory Maguire. The inspiration for the Wicked play, this series tells the story of Oz from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Post Author: Anisha

AnishaAnisha adores YA romance – and thinks that all love stories should start on the beach and end with the first kiss. Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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