Monthly Archives: December 2015

Book Discussion: Every Last Word

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Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

Summary

From the outside, Samantha McAllister’s life seems perfect. She’s a popular junior with a  group of beautiful friends, a stellar swimmer, and a tight-knot family. But Samantha is hiding a secret: she has purely obsessional OCD. She spends her entire life trying to cope with her anxiousness and obsessive nature.

But one day, Sam meets Caroline, who introduces her to a world of poetry, secrets, and moody poet boys. And Sam starts to realize that she can be more than just a popular girl with a dark secret.

Every

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying

I couldn’t really buy into the romance of this book. First, Sam and her friends bullied AJ for most of middle school, and based on the descriptions, it was pretty traumatic. I can’t imagine why AJ was willing to be friends with Sam, let alone be open to some kind of love interest. Second, the author makes it pretty clear that Sam’s OCD means that she obsesses over boys that she likes. However, other than one short episode, her relationship with AJ seems pretty “normal”. It was hard for me to understand this – nothing about her relationship with AJ seemed different than that with other boys, so why wouldn’t her illness make her obsess over him? This romance left me more confused than anything else.

Feminist Score:  You’re Trying  Rosie

Sam and her friends, the “Crazy Eights” have a toxic friendship. Not only do they bully other kids, but they instantly turn on each other if one of them decides they have interests other than the group. And while there is some growth throughout the book, I don’t think the topics of bullying or backstabbing are really discussed enough for a full resolution.   And while the portrayal of female friendship between Caroline and Sam is pretty strong, the ending of the  book makes you question whether strong female friendships really do exist.

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Diversity Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

Sam, the heroine, has Purely-obsessional OCD. She seems like a “normal” pretty, athletic, popular girl, but her mental state is anything but. I liked the portrayal of a seemingly perfect character as something more complex, but she was the only diverse character in the book. All of Sam’s friends (new and old) are straight and white. A bit of diversity would have been appreciated!

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Awesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I really wanted to like this book. The plot and mental illness affecting the main character seemed interesting, but I just couldn’t get behind the book. There are a couple of reasons for that – 1. The Ending. I don’t want to spoil the book, but the ending unravels the entire plot in a way that left my unsatisfied. 2. The romance wasn’t believable to me and 3. The friendships seem toxic and without enough growth.  This book just didn’t appeal to me, but it may be good for other  readers! I’d love to hear from someone with Purely Obsessional OCD.


 

Favorite Character

Sam’s therapist, Sue. Sue is Sam’s support system, and the way she makes it through high school. I love that Sue works closely with Sam’s mom to maintain therapy throughout the weekdays, and how she always pushes Sam to find better friends.

Favorite Line

I love the description of the Poet’s Corner:

“I spin a slow 360 In place, taking it all in. All four walls are covered with scraps of paper in different colors and shapes and textures, all jutting out at various angles. Lined paper ripped from spiral-bound notebooks. Plain paper, three holed punched. Graph paper, torn at the edges. Pages that have yellowed with age, along with napkins and Post-its and brown paper lunch bags and even a few candy wrappers”.

 Fun Author Fact

According to her website, Tamera Ireland Stone had a cool career in public relations. She worked on some of the early Apple campaigns for iMac with Steve Jobs.

Read This Next

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. Madeline is allergic to everything, and she’s not allowed to go outside. But when a new family moves in down the street, Madeline is drawn to the outside world (not to mention, the cute boy next door). Check out our review here.

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha 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: Black Beauty

Black Beauty by Constance Burris

Summary

This is a collection of short stories and a novella featuring residents  26011960of a housing complex in Oklahoma. The characters’ stories interweave with each other and we learn a little more about a particular character, “Crazy” Jade, from each. Each of the short stories shows what happens when you will do anything to get what you want – and that there are consequences for using magical shortcuts. The novella introduces us to an alternate world and the difficulties of responsibility and not belonging.

 

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Romance Score: You’re Trying

Since there are multiple storylines, it’s hard to score all of them fairly, but the stronger couple is in the novella. They have to balance different cultural and social expectations and responsibilities with their affection for one another. The other couples don’t have as many feelings to deal with when trying out a relationship.

Rosie

Feminist Score: Good Effort

This score was a pretty difficult decision for me – again because of the multiple stories there are some where I want to say absolutely NO and then others where I was excited to see the women standing up for each other. One story in particular deals with the social pressure to look a certain way and another shows how calling one woman an insult can represent the wider world’s views about women in general. I’m giving a higher score because, even when showing things I wouldn’t want to give points for, those problematic items are called out. Plus, women are the ruling queens in the storyline woven through each piece, so there’s that.

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Diversity Score: Good Effort

The stories take place in an apartment complex with mostly black and Latino/Hispanic residents – in itself is not usually represented in mainstream books. Add on that several of the families are living at or below the poverty line and you get something that is rarely seen. I really liked the world Burris built here; it’s definitely filling a hole that exists in publishing.

However, there are a couple of issues. One is that the woman behind all the lessons is called “Crazy Jade” by almost everyone. This is problematic because “crazy” has a long history of being used against women, especially black women, and people with mental health issues. And, people also keep talking about her “voodoo” but nothing that I read seemed related to the actual religion so it was perpetuating stereotypes about voodoo. I will say that one character does try to call out his friend for calling it voodoo, so there is a suggestion that it’s not ok, but it’s never fully deconstructed. The stories also explore colorism, sexism, body image, and “good” vs “bad” hair in the black community. I can’t really speak to the portrayal of hair or colorism issues except but I know they’re important so I’m glad to see them here. Overall, I think the characters and setting are much needed.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort

I didn’t connect with some of the characters as much as I would have liked (probably because these are short stories), but I still really liked getting to know the world and the people in it. I was intrigued by the novella and want to know what happens after it. Jade is an engaging character and I would love to know more about her backstory. Overall, the community and stories had just the right amount of “WAIT – what just happened?” to keep me involved while also showing the daily struggles of dealing with life.


Favorite Character

Sean – at first I liked him the most because he seemed the most level-headed, but as more of his story came out, he became an even richer character and I felt for him and his dad.

Favorite Line

Andre’s conversation with his sisters after he visits Jade was on point. You’ll have to read it yourself, though.

Fun Author Fact

Constance Burris is an environmental engineer, which just goes to show that science and art can mix!

Is this worth a book hangover?

The answer is going to totally depend on your reading preferences. This is a collection of paranormal stories with a bit of fantasy added into the novella. If you like that kind of thing and want to meet some great characters, go for it!

Read These Next

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older for another paranormal story in the city featuring underrepresented characters or Lament or Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater for the fae in our world.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess received this book for free through NetGalley, but that didn’t affect her opinions!

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 – To All the Boys I Loved Before

To All the Boys I Loved Before by Jenny Han

Summary

Lara Jean has a fail-proof method of getting over her crushes. She15749186 writes them love letters, and then stuffs them in an old hat box her mother gave her. The boys never learn about her crush, and she gets over them.

But one day, she discovers that someone has mailed all her old love letters! Close to being socially ruined forever, Lara Jean comes up with an ingenious plan to save her dignity. But will it work?

A book of first loves, sister hood, and so much food, To All the Boys I Loved Before is a great YA teen romance.

 

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Favorite Character

This is so hard! I relate to all three of the Song sisters. As the bossy elder sister who thinks she knows everything in my own family, I relate to Margo well. I love Lara Jean’s bravery and spunk, and adore Kitty for her precocious nature. If I had to pick one, though, it would be Lara Jean. Her courage in the face of social destruction is admirable.

Favorite Line

“There is a specific kind of fight you can only have with your sister. It’s the kind where you say things you can’t take back. You say them because you can’t help but say them, because you’re so angry it’s coming up your throat and out our eyes; you’re so angry you can’t see straight. All you see is blood.”

This book is as much about sisterhood as it is about first loves. I love how this perfectly captures the sibling relationship.

Fun Author Fact

While I do have a Jenny Han fun fact (according to an interview with Ron Reads, she wrote never-to-be-sent love letters to her crushes too!), I actually love her take on diversity in literature.

When asked about the diverse casting in the  book, she said,  “I want my books to look like the real world, and the real world is populated by all kinds of people. I think diversity in young adult literature is very important because it reflects what the world really looks like, and that it’s a larger experience. It’s not just one narrow experience. I was thinking about that.”

YES

Is this worth a book hangover?

If  you’re into fun teenage romances (I am!), then it is. For those more inclined to science fiction or fantasy, they may enjoy this book, but it won’t be hangover materiel. But I read it in one go!

Read These Next

This is an older book , but check out Forever by Judy Bloom (our review here).  Forever is about Kath, a re regular high school girl with her first real boyfriend. As Kath and Michael start spending time together, Kath starts to think about taking their relationship to the next level. Will sex change their relationship forever? Written in the 70s, Forever was one of the first YA books to talk openly about teenage sex, and was criticized heavily in the media. Definitely worth the read!

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha 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: Red Queen

 Red Queen

Red Queen by  Victoria Aveyard

Summary

Power is a dangerous game.

The Reds know this lesson all too well. Mere mortals, the Reds are ruled over by the godly Silvers, who possess incredible powers like ultra-strength, telepathy, fire, and much more. The Reds live to serve the Silvers in their homes,  castles, and on the battlefield.

Mare Barrow is one of the Reds. A poor, talentless girl from a large family, Mare faces conscription into the army if she does not find employment soon. When an unlikely circumstance lands her a job in King Tiberias’s castle, Mare soon learns that the world may not be as Red-and-Silver as she’s been taught. Can Mare help start a revolution to help the Reds? Or will her growing affection for the king’s two sons change her mind?

Red

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying

I was slightly annoyed that Mare can’t seem to have any male friends who are not romantic interests. The budding romance between Mare and one of the princes towards the end of the novel was sweet, but I wish I had seen a bit more … romance? I understood the initial attraction between the two (kind of like Peeta and Katniss) but I didn’t feel pulled into their romantic relationship. However, this is the first book of a three part series, so perhaps we will see more in later books.

Feminist Score:  A+ SuccessRosie

Mare kicks ass. Not only does she first land in trouble because she tries to save her (male) best friend, but she repeatedly fights for what she believes is right. And she doesn’t just fall into her power – she has to learn how to control it. The secondary female characters (like the Queen and Princess)  are just as powerful and important to the story.

In Mare’s world, men and women are treated as virtual equals. Both genders are conscripted into the army, and the potential princesses need to show off their power to get their positions. Women aren’t demure flowers waiting to be protected by men; they are warriors.

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Diversity Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

Red Queen did a great job discussing economic discrepancies and class wars. The Silvers have all the power and privilege, and use the Reds to serve in their homes, build their technology, and fight their wars. There is very little economic mobility in this society, and the need for change is a theme that is highlighted throughout the book.

I do wish there had been some other form of diversity in the book. Other than an occasional secondary character with brown skin, all the characters were essentially white and straight. Hopefully we’ll see some people of color in future books.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort

Red Queen was a great adventure story with a admirable, likeable heroine. The world itself  – especially the power dynamics between the Reds and Silvers – is really interesting, and I enjoyed the power plays between the Red noble families as well. I can’t wait to see what comes next in Glass Sword, the second Red Queen book.

 


 

Favorite Character

Cal, the eldest son and heir to the Silver throne. He’s faced with the challenge of ruling a kingdom on the cusp of a revolution. Throughout the book, he’s faced with moral dilemmas and doesn’t always make the right choices.

Favorite Line

“…the last two days have been a ruin on my heart and soul. I think life has simply decided to open the floodgates, trying to drown me in a whirlwind of twists and turns.”

The metaphor of the floodgates really appealed to me. I think that often, especially when you’re a teenager, it feels like nothing happens and then EVERYTHING happens all at once.

 Fun Author Fact

Victoria Averyard has a BFA in screenwriting from the University of Southern California. I wonder if Red Queen will be a movie one day?

Read This Next

The Selection Series by Kiera Cass. In a reality-show style pageant, girls from various ranks in society compete to be the next princess and wife of Prince Maxon. Pretty awesome.

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha 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: Mark of the Noba

The Mark of the Noba by G.L. Tomas

Summary

Sterling Wayfairer is just trying to make it through the last year of high school. He’s dealing with his mother’s mental illness, nightmares, and best friends that are cooler than him. He seems to be making it until a mysterious girl collides with his life and he learns things about the weird mark on his arm, the nightmares that feel more real than dream-like, and his birthright. Once Tetra reveals everything, Sterling must accept the truth and his powers to save his friends, family, and world.

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heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

Once Tetra and Sterling meet, their relationship becomes hard to read. It’s not friendship, it’s not romance, but something deeper – but you don’t necessarily feel that depth. Tetra also falls into a relationship with Sterling’s friend, Kip, and that felt like it didn’t fit with her earlier characterization while still being pretty hot. And Sterling’s awkwardness around his crush is adorable!

RosieFeminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

Tetra is kick-ass and she doesn’t mess around. I loved that she was willing to wait years to accomplish her mission and did what she had to for survival. But, she didn’t have much space and I felt like her interest in Kip was more of convenience than owning her interest in sexy times. I also disliked the storyline for Sterling’s mother (without giving away too much).

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

A SFF book with a person of color as a main character!!! Very exciting! I thought there was a good mix of diversity – with mental illness, skin color, and economic class pretty well represented. Two issues, though: That the mental illness can just “go away” once things are adjusted and the odd use of “type 1/2/3” for skin color description. I think this was to help show this isn’t Earth as we know it, but I think it would have been stronger without that device. I also noticed when the foreign name was “too hard” and Sterling decided to shorten it; I think this could feel like a microaggression for readers that have this happen in their daily lives because people don’t care to take the time to learn.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

There’s a lot here that can become something amazing. The world needs a little more development to make it truly stand out and the characters are still learning about themselves, but I think the multiple worlds and the adventure can play out in other books to tell a great story.


Favorite Character

Kip – I loved his ballsy confidence even if he’s a little annoying. He’s a genuine friend and does what he can to draw Sterling out.

Fun Author Fact

This is actually written by a set of twins! Guinevere and Libertad run the Twinja Book review blog and they are awesome!

Is this worth a book hangover?

I think this will depend on your preference and what you like. It’s a fun adventure and you can get through it pretty quickly, but the story seems like it’ll really get going in future books.

Read These Next

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo has a diverse cast in a world with a hint of magic and a grand adventure or Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham for a mystery book with a brown-skinned, Muslim lead.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess received this book for free through NetGalley, but that didn’t affect her opinions!

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 – Out of Darkness

Out of Darkness by Ashely Hope Pérez

Summary

It’s 1937 and Naomi has recently moved with her half-brother and sister 25256386to a new town where her siblings father will care for them all. There she must try to navigate the racial divides of the oil town while navigating the difficult relationship between her and her stepfather. Then she meets Wash and things begin to improve. Set against the worst school tragedy in US history, the explosion is a larger framework for the individual crises and turmoil that Naomi and her family suffer.

Trigger warning: racially motivated violence, sexual violence, child abuse

out of darkness


Favorite Character

Beto – His old soul seems out of place in the real world and it feels like he’s connected to something deeper; he reminds everyone around him to cherish small details and his connection to something more will serve him as he deals with the aftermath of the book’s story.

Favorite Line

Guys, there are a ton of beautiful lines and the book is amazingly written, but don’t you know by now that I’m the worst at keeping track of them?

Fun Author Fact

Pérez is a teacher, though she also loves libraries, and has taught all school levels. She’s currently a professor of world literature and credits her students for encouraging her to write.

Is this worth a book hangover?

It’s beautifully written and the characters are amazing, but it’s not a happy story. I think this book is valuable, especially if you’ve lead a life privileged enough to not experience racial or sexual violence. If you have personal experience with racial, ethnic, or sexual  violence, I would hesitate to recommend this and would give a full disclaimer that this will only underline what you already know.

Read These Next

This Side of Home by Renee Watson for a contemporary look at similar issues with a more positive ending or Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley for another look at the end of segregation with another boundary-crossing love story.

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: Carry On

carry on cover

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Summary

Everyone knows that Simon Snow is the chosen one. A handsome orphan who only realized he wasn’t Normal when he started “going off” – randomly producing magic – at age 11; Simon is the strongest wizard in history. And everyone knows that Baz, Simon’s handsome and rich roommate from a wealthy old-magic family, is his sworn enemy.  One is the Chosen One, and the other – the Chosen One’s Sworn Nemesis.

But Baz has a deep secret: He has been in love with Simon forever. And as they enter their 8th and final year at Watford School of Magicks, the usual danger and antics ensue… but in a moment of deep grief, there is a kiss, and suddenly, everything changes.

Note: Carry On has a really interesting back story. In Fangirl, also by Rainbow Rowell, the main character, Cath, writes fan fiction for a book series very similar to Harry Potter. Cath essentially writes Harry Potter with a twist – a story in which Harry and Draco get together. And now, Ms. Rowell has written this story.

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heartRomance Score: A+ Success

The romantic tension in this story was incredible. Baz pines over Simon in such an intense, sweet, perfect way – and Simon’s connection to Baz is undeniable. I literally could not put this book down (despite my husband’s plea to go to bed). And when the tension finally broke, and “the event” happened, it was totally worth it.  So perfect.

Feminist Score: Good Effort Rosie

Penny, Simon’s best friend, is a rock-star. She’s book smart and loyal (much like her Harry Potter series counterpart). I only wish she had played a larger role in the climax of the story, but in all fairness, the book was focused on Simon and Baz.

Similarly, I was just as impressed with the secondary characters as well. Penny’s mom runs her family (and much of the country) while raising a whole bundle of witches and wizards. Baz’s aunt, Fiona, is hilarious, whip-smart, and cares for her nephew. And who can resist a world in which women ask men to marry them?
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Diversity Score: Good Effort

The two main characters in Carry On are young gay wizards. The third main character is a British witch with Indian heritage. I really appreciated that Simon pointed out that Penny was really British, because calling her Indian would imply that she wasn’t from Britain. As someone who often struggles with how to answer “but where are you really from?”, I appreciated this level of nuance. I do wish there were a few more characters of color, but overall, very well represented.

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Awesome Factor: Between Good Effort & A+ Success

Given its beginnings (essentially, Harry Potter fan fiction), I was a little leery of Carry On.  However, the story doesn’t really focus on the wizarding aspects of the world. Instead, it focuses on the intense aspects of young romance. It may be the best young love romance I’ve read in a long time.


Favorite Character

Baz. His backstory is so sad, and his hatred / love of Simon is so sweet. I’m rooting for him from the beginning, and I love when he finally gets what he wants.

Favorite Line

“How can you be like this” I whisper. “How can you even trust me, after everything?”

“I’m not sure I do trust you, ” he whispers back. He reaches out with his other hand and touches my stomach. I feel it drop to the floor. (My stomach, that is.) “But…” He shrugs.

Fun Author Fact

Rainbow Rowell is active with Nanowrimo. The first draft of Fangirl was partially written during this month-long writing collaborative. She gave a “pep talk” for Namowrimo participants here.

Read This Next

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. From our review: 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 cruelly outed on the school’s anonymous Tumblr site, and all of a sudden, everyone knows his secret. Suddenly, Simon must 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.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes, absolutely. My only caveat is that this is not a fantasy story. While this book takes place in a wizarding world, it primarily focuses on young love and relationships. So go into it knowing that you’re getting into a romance book, and you’ll love it.

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha 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.

Leave a comment

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