Blog Tour Review: The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares

Summer for Sasha and Ray means the sprawling old house on Long Island. Since they were children, they’ve shared almost everything—reading the same books, running down the same sandy footpaths to the beach, eating peaches from the same market, laughing around the same sun-soaked dining table. Even sleeping in the same bed, on the very same worn cotton sheets. But they’ve never met.

Sasha’s dad was once married to Ray’s mom, and together they had three daughters: Emma, the perfectionist; Mattie, the beauty; and Quinn, the favorite. But the marriage crumbled and the bitterness lingered. Now there are two new families—and neither one will give up the beach house that holds the memories, happy and sad, of summers past.

The choices we make come back to haunt us; the effect on our destinies ripples out of our control…or does it? This summer, the lives of Sasha, Ray, and their siblings intersect in ways none of them ever dreamed, in a novel about family relationships, keeping secrets, and most of all, love.

Release Date: April 25, 2017

When I started The Whole Thing Together, I immediately fell for Sasha and Ray.  I loved the way they spoke about each other.  Almost reverent tones reflected the lovely thoughts they each held for the other.  Ray reminisced about the summer they built a Lego city together and talked about the safety he found in their shared bed. Sasha mused about his stubble in the sink and their shared copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.  I was hooked from the start on the beautiful things they thought about the other and the fact that while they didn’t know each other, they had feelings beyond fondness.

As we stepped into the lives of the rest of the family, however, I had less love.  I felt disinterested in Emma’s perfection, irritated by Quinn’s sage thoughtfulness and downright hated Mattie’s bratty behavior.  I pressed on through the drama and the hardship though.  It was worth it for the beauty and simplicity of Ray and Sasha and their sweetness.  I rolled my eyes at the arrogant Robert, the timid Jamie & Evie and the flighty Lila.  Adam and Jonathan were barely on my radar.  Overwhelmed by character names? I was too, at first.  I often wondered, why did she include all these other character’s stories, why not just focus on Ray and Sasha and their perspective.

However, as I read on I began to relate to Emma and it hit me, this family was a lot like my own.  My parents were divorced when I was young and growing up I often wondered if they would ever be able to be in the same room without a brawl breaking out.  I have five younger brothers and sisters in total and I don’t bother with explaining the halves of any siblings.  As Ann Brashares newest book came to its conclusion, the answer to my question became clear.  Brashares included the stories of each character and the perspective of each kid because that’s how a family works.  If something happens in a family that seems small to one person, it can ripple its way to another and they can get hit by wave.  I used to think about this a lot as a kid.  Worry about how my life choices could hurt my mom or drive away my dad.  Eventually, thankfully, I discovered that our lives can’t be lived that way.  Everything we do can affect those we love but that doesn’t mean we should make choices for everyone else. It is the opposite actually. Choose love, kindness and goodness and it will give you the strength to ride out the waves that can be created.  This book reminded me of the importance of family, the good, the bad and the ugly.

It is a beautiful picture of love in its purest form and its darkest (also known as hate).  Life is not as two dimensional as it can seem; sometimes we are an Emma- overachieving our hearts out, occasionally we are a Mattie- misbehaving for attention or to hide a truth unspoken and maybe a few of you are lucky enough to be a Quinn- wise and thoughtful.  I strive to be a Sasha- modest, brave and overcoming my anxieties with love and beautiful thoughts.

This is a great story for teens and adults and just to top it off, it’s set at the beach, bringing the concept of ripple to wave full circle.

4.5 bards

 

 

Special thanks to contributor Lesley for reading and reviewing this book for A Midsummer Night’s Read.

 

 

 

Author & Event Spotlight

The Event: Nemesis Book Launch

Where: Barnes and Noble at the Arboretum, Charlotte NC
When: Tuesday, March 21
Who: Brendan Reichs and Renée Ahdieh

This was by far one of the most original panel discussions I’ve ever attended for a book launch, and it might be one of my favorites!  Brendan came prepared with a list of random questions for him and Renée to start off the event.  Those in attendance were treated to a lively conversation where we learned that Brendan’s least favorite word is Pamphlet and Renée’s is one that rhymes with “oist,” although I think everyone dislikes that word (not just you, Brad!).  Both authors told about their Hogwarts houses, Brendan apparently tried to rig the quiz to get Gryffindor, but still ended up a Ravenclaw (Yaaaaas!) with an Eagle Owl patronus (#Same).  Renée is a proud Slytherin, who used to lie about being a Gryffindor, apparently a very Slytherin thing to do and the patronus of a rat, which she is fine with because Ratatouille.

My favorite part of this part was that after asking the audience to choose a number between 1 and 50, they took turns reading a small snippet from each other’s newest releases to the crowd. Someone hollered out 23, so I got this part on video for everyone! They then followed up with a brief summary of their inspiration for these books and what they are about. You can definitely tell these two are good friends and are hilarious together.

After asking each other a few rounds of questions about their books, Brendan was equipped with a Polar Express Conductors hat full of random rapid fire questions for himself and Renée, and coincidentally, those of us in the front row. Some of these conductor questions included Magic Wand or Light Saber, Hogwarts Headmaster or Starfleet Captian, Ghost or Ghostbuster, Prehistoric Times or the year 3010, and on and on.  It was pretty fun and I think it allowed the audience to feel more engaged, although I’m a bit partial since I was able to do the participating.

Brendan and Renée then signed books for the crowd (and there was an impressive one!).  Check out more photos below sprinkled between my interview with the star of the evening, Brendan Reichs!

Midsummer Reads (MSNR): Thanks so much for sitting down with me, are you excited?

Brendan Reichs (BR): I’ve very excited, tonight is the first night I’ve ever done a book event for Nemesis, so it’s a big deal.

MSNR: Yes! And it’s in your hometown.

BR: It is, it’s fun to do it at home. It’s actually a little nerve wracking to do it at home just because you know a lot of people in the audience, so it’s not like having that distance you have with a normal crowd, but it’ll be great.

MSNR: Are a lot of people you know coming?

BR: Uh, they better.

MSNR: That’s how I would be; Uh, I’d better see you or someone’s going to get hurt.

BR: I’m taking names.

MSNR: So this book is super complex.

BR: It is.

MSNR: I was reading it and I was like, SO MANY THINGS HAPPENING. Could you describe it in one sentence to a reader?

BR: I actually try. That’s why it was so hard to actually sell the idea because trying to describe it was too crazy to get it into one sentence. Basically…

MSNR (interrupting because I’m rude): You can describe it in a run-on sentence

BR: I would describe Nemesis as Min is a girl at 16 years old and every two years on her birthday she is murdered by the same person except she doesnt die like a normal person, instead she wakes up about a half a mile away without a scratch on her every single time. So on her 16th birthday after she’s been murdered for the 5th time she’s finally had enough and decides she needs to figure this out.  No one is really paying attention to her because there’s this world wide calamity going on where there’s an asteroid heading towards the planet and no one knows when it’s going to hit. And there’s this bit national/international human existence story going on. So there’s very little attention being paid to the trials of a teenager in Idaho.

MSNR (Interrupting, again, because I’m the worst): Right, because no one pays attention to teenagers.

BR: Right, exactly. And there’s another character, and this book has been fun because it’s the first time I’ve written a male point of view in my career, so Noah is having the same things happen to him except that he’s a little bit less stable than Min.  He’s a – kind of one of those guys that on the outside he – he’s a rich kid and she’s a poor kid – he’s trying to keep everything together but really he is a mess. Because he’s been having the same thing happen to him but he doesn’t trust himself to know that it’s even real. So these two things are happening and they eventually decide and they start to investigate that everyone around them starts to be suddenly implicated and you can’t trust anyone. And they find out that they might be at the center of a vast government conspiracy that may implicate all life on Earth.

MSNR: That is a big run on sentence. I’m okay with it.

BR: Yes, it is.

MSNR: So when I was reading it, I found it to be kind of a commentary on human emotion and the way that human nature really plays into the certain aspects of the two characters, specifically, and how they react to this outside force that’s coming onto them.  Very much like Lord of the Flies, like, they are put in this situation, how are they going to react?

BR: That is an essential influence, and I think the publisher likes to use the tagline of “Orphan Black meets Lord of the Flies,” which is an interesting combination, but there’s no good parallel anyway. But that’s what you want and I appreciate that you say that, because you want the story to be about the characters. Ultimately there’s a lot of plot going on in this book and if you stick with it it will all unwind itself, but it winds up pretty heavily at the beginning where you’re not really supposed to know what the hell is going on for a large portion of the book, and then it’s really good that it’s supposed to be centered on the characters because ultimately that’s where every story either fails or survives is on how good the characters are, because the best plot in the world doesn’t survive if you don’t care what happens. So I spent a lot of time trying to put the characters together, I hate the term strong female protagonist because that implies that your female antagonist has to be masculine or different in a way, you know, I just like to think of her as a strong person, and it shouldn’t be noteworthy that she is female, and it was interesting to get to write a male character’s perspective, although I’ve not read the entire breadth of YA, but I’d never read a YA where the male lead was basically kind of a mess.

(Literally this whole time I’m nodding my head and agreeing, because Brendan has taken over the interview **in a good way**) 

BR (continued): So i thought that would be fun because that’s normally assigned to a female character, so you get to overcome their internal difficulties, which can be boring, but what if this is a 15 to 16 year old boy who is putting the good face out there but doesn’t really have an idea of what he is doing with his life. I mean what is happening to him and stuff. So that was the motivation for that. If you like the characters then that’s exactly what I’m about.

MSNR: I actually assigned them songs: Um, I put Min as being very much like Titanium by David Guetta and Sia.

BR: That’s very good.

MSNR: And then I put Noah as more of the Bleachers, I don’t know if you’ve heard of them, um, Jack Antonoff, and it’s called I Wanna Get Better. It’s about mental health and screaming at himself “I wanna get better,” I want to be better than this, and that’s kind of exactly how I see Noah.

BR: Somewhere in the blogosphere (*waves* hey everyone!) there’s a, and I believe it’s for YA Highway, I’d have to look it up, but I did make two playlists. On the Min Playlist, the first song is a Halsey song, because when I listened to her album that just clicked to me, I was like, this is that kind of angry but not a pushover type vibe that I was getting. Like she was pissed off and isolated, but she’s also not asking for favors.

MSNR: Which I really like. Because sometimes girls are perceived as being, you know, weak and asking for help a lot. At least in the South, which is what I grew up with.

BR: And there’s some great YA being written right now with female lead characters, so this is in no way sort of any genre defining effort, just that in the beginning the came fully formed to me, and that she would be isolated and damaged by what had happened to her, but NEVER broken by it. Just that she’s a fighter and she stays that way even though it does have it’s affects. YOu know she acts like she has no friends..

MSNR: Awe, but I like Tack though. Even though he never knows when to shut up.

BR: No, he doesn’t And Tack is sort of my character, and every one of my books that I write, there’s basically one character that’s sort of me talking through the book, you know what I would say in each situation, because I’m kind of a smart ass that doesn’t know when to be quiet either, and that’s sort of Tack in this book.  He’s basically saying the things that I would be saying when I shouldn’t be, you know, running my mouth.

MSNR: Honestly there’s a little bit of all of us in Tack, probably, especially when we were teenagers and never knowing quite when to be quiet.

THIS IS THE SPOT WHERE WE TALK ABOUT SPOILERY THINGS. 

PROMISED BRENDAN IT WOULD BE OFF THE RECORD *SINGS* LALALALALALA

BR: This was the last piece that fell into place for the book. I’m a big planner and when you write books like this that are so plot oriented they have to make sense and you have to keep track of what’s happening.

Matchy-matchy!

MSNR: So let’s just refer to it as “The Twist,” so where you plotting the book and then “the twist,” fell in or you were influenced by outside research?

BR: Most of the time the best ideas that come to me when I’m writing come to me about 2/3rds of the way through the first draft. This is when I’ve been living with the idea for about two months, and I’ll wake up one day, and typically in the shower, it will come to me and will have connected overnight. And this was one of the last pieces to come in and it was really three book ideas that all really came together in this crazy boo, which is why it’s so overbaked in terms of that there’s so much in it and because I had all this stuff and I managed to slot it all in together.

MSNR: I know, but I like that it has so much in it because it keeps you on your toes. I literally had to put it down to go to sleep, and I was so concerned about trying to figure out what was happening!

BR: And this is the stuff that I like to read…

Renée Ahdieh (RA)  shows up being adorable: Totally crashing!

MSNR: Hi, how are you!

RA: Good, how are you?

MSNR: Good!

RA (to BR): What’s up, how are you feeling?

BR: Good, good.

MSNR: This is weird, but you smell really good. (I still think this is weird but I had to keep this in haha)

BR: She always smells good, it’s a signature.

RA (wanders away, being fabulous): *laughing at us* I do like that.

MSNR: So, I’m not going to lie. The guy in the black suit? I totally pictured him as Agent Smith from the Matrix the whole time, and maybe that’s because I grew up with the Matrix, but yeah.

BR: No, that’s fair. And for our generation it would be an Agent Smith type- I mean- for me he looks a little different. Although for me, and this is probably not something I should admit to an audience, but I find the way the character looks, and in the book I’m consistent in the way the character looks but in my head that’s never how the character looks.  it’s just a weird dissonance that no one’s ever called out before because no one knows what things look like in my head.

MSNR: In my head he looked like Agent Smith.

BR: Right, for me he’s more of a Guy Pierce, but yeah you know it’s like a flat hair, flat face individual. And I just finished drafting the second draft of the sequel…

MSNR: So we are going to learn more about the project?

BR: It gets darker and deeper and a lot of the Lord of the Flies aspects are really going to come to the fore, because one of the questions I was dealing with was, the main premise, which was that I wanted to fight the finality of death, and what if death was not final; but not in like a zombie way or a ghost way or a resurrection way, but legitimately if it just didn’t work. Like, you died but you didn’t.

MSNR: As long as Tack isn’t Piggy the whole time.

BR: Right. Well, there’s a lot of, and you know I read Lord of the Flies, and you realize only two people die in that.

MSNR: Yes, but you get it.

BR: But they played it and it’s so beautifully written and you get their dissent. And with my book, I’m hoping to get that same thing, but also that a lot of people die. Because you know with Min’s experience in this book, death has not been permanent and that is such a central question. How would you deal with that? How do you deal with the idea that something that you know should be the end of something isnt? And you can’t really control it?

MSNR: I think the last question I have for you, because I don’t want to keep you too long, is that why you decided to do it on their birthdays, and you know not on…

BR: That is a question that will be revealed, and there’s a lot of little detail strings that are still out there and that’s because you don’t really know at the end of Nemesis, what is next. This book leads you to a point, but it doesn’t take you past that.  And a careful reader would ask themselves, “wait, why was this happening,” but I haven’t gotten to that yet.  That’s a great answer. You know if I didn’t answer it, “Oh, it’s in book 2!” And then I’m like, will you write that down and send it to me? Just in case I made a mistake.

MSNR: When can we expect book two?

BR: Uh, it should be a year. I mean I’m putting in the drafts now so I expect roughly the same time next year.  You know, we don’t have much say. I really like Spring releases, which you never know, but I assume it would be next spring.

MSNR: Well, thank you so much for talking with me!

BR: No, thank you so much.

MSNR: It was so good to meet you in person!

BR: Good to meet you too, and I’ll see you..

MSNR: Yep, you’ll see me in a few minutes!

 

A huge and special thanks to Brendan Reichs, Penguin Teen, and Renée Ahdieh for the event on March 21.

Nemesis is available NOW! Go pick up a copy.

 

 

Book Review: Nemesis by Brendan Reichs

It’s been happening since Min was eight. Every two years, on her birthday, a strange man finds her and murders her in cold blood. But hours later, she wakes up in a clearing just outside her tiny Idaho hometown—alone, unhurt, and with all evidence of the horrifying crime erased.

Across the valley, Noah just wants to be like everyone else. But he’s not. Nightmares of murder and death plague him, though he does his best to hide the signs. But when the world around him begins to spiral toward panic and destruction, Noah discovers that people have been lying to him his whole life. Everything changes in an eye blink.

For the planet has a bigger problem. The Anvil, an enormous asteroid threatening all life on Earth, leaves little room for two troubled teens. Yet on her sixteenth birthday, as she cowers in her bedroom, hoping not to die for the fifth time, Min has had enough. She vows to discover what is happening in Fire Lake and uncovers a lifetime of lies: a vast conspiracy involving the sixty-four students of her sophomore class, one that may be even more sinister than the murders.

Release Date: March 21, 2017

Holy hell, I don’t even know where to start.

There is SO MUCH HAPPENING in this book.  Let’s see, if you came here looking for a book about a serial killer, you found it.  If you came here looking for a post-apocalyptic book, you found it.  If you were looking for a government conspiracy novel, you found it. I went into this book woefully unprepared for the story I got, but in a good way.  I love it when a book takes me by surprise and keeps me on my toes.  Honestly, I could have read this book in one sitting if it wasn’t for the pesky thing called work that gets in my way most days.

The novel is separated into parts, but the most interesting part isn’t necessarily the rotating narration between Min and Noah, but the different structure that their narration takes individually. Both are being treated by a psychiatrist for their condition (not even sure if that is an appropriate way to describe being murdered on your birthday, but I’ll go with it for now), but Min’s story is filled with italicized flashbacks to her traumatic experiences, while Noah’s includes a transcript from his sessions with their psychologist.  Personally, I really liked the addition of the transcripts because it gave a really eye catching change to the novel.  But the whole structure was well done.

I can understand why this book was compared to Lord of the Flies, but only in the sense that it really showcases the different ways humans can act during times of distress.  Although I will say that Tack was by far the best secondary character in this book and I can tell you exactly why: one of my best guy friends in high school was totally the same.  Always mouthing off when it wasn’t necessary, but in a witty and sardonic way that begged attention.  He was a very good comedic relief in a lot of ways for this book, as it’s pretty heavy and his humor is welcome levity.
Freaking never-see-it-coming twist at the end, Batman!

Seriously.

You will not see this coming. I’m still coming to terms with it.  I think readers will be pleasantly surprised that they were duped the whole time, I certainly was, especially if they read a lot of books, this twist was never something I’d considered or seen before.

I don’t even know how to talk about it without giving any of it away, so I’m just going to say I had the chance to ask Reichs about it during our interview (which is below), but it was off the record because SPOILERS.

There are still a lot of questions to be answered and waiting the next year for the sequel will be almost unbearable because I NEED TO KNOW.

Overall, I’m giving Brendan Reich 4 Bards! Look for my coverage of his Launch event with Renée Ahdieh and our interview, coming up in a few minutes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blog Tour: A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi


The Author: 

Roshani Chokshi is a fabulous human.  (Okay I added that part of this bio)

Roshani Chokshi is the New York Times bestselling author of THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Shimmer, and Book Smugglers. Her short story, “The Star Maiden,” was longlisted for the British Fantasy Science Award.

The Book: 

Gauri, the princess of Bharata, has been taken as a prisoner of war by her kingdom’s enemies. Faced with a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. Hope unexpectedly comes in the form of Vikram, the cunning prince of a neighboring land and her sworn enemy kingdom. Unsatisfied with becoming a mere puppet king, Vikram offers Gauri a chance to win back her kingdom in exchange for her battle prowess. Together, they’ll have to set aside their differences and team up to win the Tournament of Wishes – a competition held in a mythical city where the Lord of Wealth promises a wish to the victor.

Reaching the tournament is just the beginning. Once they arrive, danger takes on new shapes: poisonous courtesans and mischievous story birds, a feast of fears and twisted fairy revels. Every which way they turn new trials will test their wit and strength. But what Gauri and Vikram will soon discover is that there’s nothing more dangerous than what they most desire.

Release Date: March 28, 2017 

As much as I loved the lush and floral narrative descriptions in The Star-Touched Queen, I’d have to say that I find A Crown of Wishes to be my favorite of the two.  Not only has Chokshi one-upped herself, but she has created two snarky characters that leaped off the page and into my heart. Seriously, the banter in this book is spot on.  I’ve always wanted to be around people who could give me a verbal sparring match much like Vikram and Gauri have.  Plus, who doesn’t love a slow burn romance where the two characters start off with a rocky relationship and end up having feelings for one another? Seriously, that is one of my favorite book tropes and it will never cease to make me happy.

I’d love to pick Chokshi’s brain about all the glorious settings and where she got the idea for the Tournament of Wishes, well, if I’m being honest, the whole story here.  It’s delightfully complex and it unfolds in such an organic way that it keeps the reader on their toes.  Chokshi also does an excellent job of tying Guari’s story to her sister Maya’s without it being too heavy handed.  We are reminded of Maya frequently and how Guari’s sense of self-preservation and determination comes from her relationship with her “lost” sister.  Guari is a fierce female bad ass.  In a culture where women resided in harams and were regarded largely as property or things to be bartered, it is so awesome that Guari has carved her own lot in life and has grown to be a warrior who loves her country fiercely, she grows so much as a character throughout the novel that I’d have to say she’s my absolute favorite aspect of this story.

Be prepared to have a new book boyfriend, everyone, because Vikram is dreamy, witty, a bit of a hopeless romantic, and loves his kingdom as much as Guari loves Bharata. He has a tragic past but has persevered to become a strong person in his own right. Also, his father has a soft spot for injured and damaged animals, which I think is adorable and such a wonderful detail.

I could continue to gush, but let me leave you with some of my favorite quotes:

“A story could break its bones, grow wings, soar out of reach and dive out of sight in the time it took just to draw breath.  It meant we were’t walking a cut path. We carved it into existence with every step.”

“Fear was a key that fit every person’s hollow spaces – those things that kept us cold at night and that place where we retreated when no one was looking – and all it could do was unlock what was already there.”

“You could carry a story inside you and hold it up to the light when you needed it the most. You could peer through it, like a fram, and see how it changed your view when you looked out onto the world.”

4.5 Bards to Roshani Chokshi’s sophomore novel, A Crown of Wishes.

Book Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

 

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, Khalil’s death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Starr’s best friend at school suggests he may have had it coming. When it becomes clear the police have little interest in investigating the incident, protesters take to the streets and Starr’s neighborhood becomes a war zone. What everyone wants to know is: What really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could destroy her community. It could also endanger her life.

Whenever I start hearing some buzz about a new YA novel I tend to be intrigued but skeptical. In the case of The Hate U Give this was emphasized by the fact that every review I saw trickle in seemed to open with “Believe the hype!” But I started listening to the audio version because the book’s premise seemed timely and I was hoping beyond hope that the book could live up to the talk surrounding it. So…

Believe the hype.

I could not stop listening to this book. I ended up listening to all 11 hours and 40 minutes in roughly 5 days and am already planning to buy copies as gifts and lender copies. It’s that incredible.

While the main plot of the book is the shooting of Khalil, this book manages to be about so much more than police shootings and the protests which many of us are now accustomed to seeing and reading about. It’s hard to think of a way to describe this book other than as a celebration of blackness wrapped up in the all too familiar narrative of a police shooting. It balances depictions of the black community, exposing the realities of life in a low-income neighborhood but embracing the negative and the positive, thereby avoiding stereotypes and creating a narrative which embraces multiple levels of experience. The book also acknowledges and emphasizes a number of black leaders in addition to Martin Luther King Jr. such as Malcolm X and Huey Newton. By including other major figures, the author again shows the diversity of the black community and their actions rather than labeling them as one collective united behind Dr. King.

The main character, Starr, is also used to highlight the disparity between communities. At her predominantly white school, it’s expected that she’ll date the only other black student in her grade. She’s a talented basketball player and has a clear group of friends, but she also has rules. She considers herself an entirely different person at school and to prevent herself from being seen as “ghetto” or as the “Angry Black Woman” doesn’t use slang or create confrontations. The character’s inner conflict as her worlds begin to collide is palpable as she has to make decisions about whether her fellow students are truly her friends or if they are even the “good” people they claim to be. This also plays out in her neighborhood as more people begin to question her motives when she doesn’t speak openly, despite being the only witness. YA is often about finding your identity and Starr’s journey takes her along that familiar path but in the midst of extensive external and internal conflict.

There are so many other amazing things I could talk about: the role of Tupac in the book (he inspired the title), the depictions of a strong family, navigating friendships, nuances of gang life, drug dealers, and drug users. The Hate U Give manages to encompass an incredible number of stories and characters but at no point does this sprawling world feel anything but Real.

That being said, there are a couple of things that I thought could have been improved.

We don’t, as a reader, have a lot of time with Khalil in the present. His death happens early in the book and most of the time we encounter him in the memories of the characters. While the pain and memories are well rendered, if Khalil had been alive for a few more chapters, I think the reader could have formed a better emotional connection to him. I also think that’s sort of the point: we shouldn’t have to have an emotional connection to someone to believe their death is unjustified and horrific.

I’m also not a big fan of Chris, Starr’s boyfriend. He’s not a full blown manic pixie dream boy, which is refreshing, but I found him slightly annoying. Again, that’s fine, I’m not Starr, I don’t have to date him. However, as a character, he plays a major role in the text as a stand in for members of the white community who are willing to learn and become allies, because of this he serves as a direct foil for Hailey (the text’s token white feminist).

Like many other YA books that make a major splash (such as The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian), this book will probably be critiqued for its use of profanity and depictions of sexual encounters (although, for the record, the only sex which occurs in the book is between the adult characters). But Starr’s encounters with Chris and questions about whether she’s ready to have sex also bring a valid voice into the world of YA. She doesn’t romanticize these encounters but, because of her own family’s history with teen pregnancy, is rational and hesitant to embark into situations she may regret. She’s strong and doesn’t allow herself to bow to expectations. And her voice, profanity and all, remains believable.

It’s rare to read a book where even the points which I think fall a bit short also serve such clear narrative purpose.

I haven’t been purposefully vague about any elements of the plot, but the strength of this book is in its reflections of reality, so… the ending won’t surprise you. However, one of the most powerful moments comes in the closing. I played it over and over again:

“Once upon a time there was a hazel-eyed boy with dimples. I called him Khalil. The world called him a thug. He lived, but not nearly long enough, and for the rest of my life I’ll remember how he died. Fairy tale? No. But I’m not giving up on a better ending. It would be easy to quit if it was just about me, Khalil, that night, and that cop. It’s about way more than that though. It’s about Seven, Sekani, Kenya, DeVante. It’s also about Oscar. Aiyana. Trayvon. Rekia. Michael. Eric. Tamir. John. Ezell. Sandra. Freddie. Alton. Philando. It’s even about that little boy in 1955 who nobody recognized at first. Emmett. The messed up part? There are so many more.”

It’s a call to action and remembrance, solidifying the work as, in its own way, a piece of protest and a call for reform.

I cannot recommend this book enough: Five Bards

 

 

Thanks so much to Midsummer contributor Valerie for submitting this review.

 

 

Book Review & Giveway: The Valiant by Lesley Livingston

Princess. Captive. Gladiator.

Fallon is the daughter of a proud Celtic king, the sister of the legendary warrior Sorcha, and the sworn enemy of Julius Caesar.

When Fallon was a child, Caesar’s armies invaded her homeland, and her beloved sister was killed in battle.

Now, on the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Fallon is eager to follow in her sister’s footsteps and earn her place in the fearsome Cantii war band. She never gets the chance.

Fallon is captured and sold to an elite training school for female gladiators—owned by none other than Julius Caesar. In a cruel twist of fate, the man who destroyed Fallon’s family might be her only hope of survival.

Now Fallon must overcome vicious rivalries and deadly fights—in and out of the arena. And perhaps the most dangerous threat of all: her forbidden yet irresistible feelings for Cai, a young Roman soldier.

I swear, I went from reading about two contemporary bad ass women in Done Dirt Cheap to reading about bad ass women in at the height of the Roman Empire. Can we just keep these powerful female narratives flowing?  All of them have a reader in me!

In all honesty, I’ve never seen Gladiator.  I’ve never really paid a whole lot of attention this time period in history, so most of my knowledge of Julius Caesar comes from Shakespeare’s tragedy.  So to say that I had no idea of the wealth of information that can be expanded upon in this time is pretty much an understatement, but I learned so much just talking to Lesley and hearing how passionate she is on the subject.  If I didn’t have so many books to already read, I’d probably pick up a few on Ancient Rome.  Although, I feel like there’s probably a Wikipedia spiral on this topic in my future.

Anyway, let’s start with a bit about where Lesley got the inspiration to write about this topic (see the lovely video):

This book gave me life.

Everything about it spoke to me. I have a rough relationship with my sister, Fallon has a rough relationship with her sister.  Fallon is a bit reckless and is constantly wanting to prove herself, I have those same qualities.  I think there is a lot about this book that teenagers will take from this.  That there are always bad ass women in history that have been marginalized or forgotten due to the nature of HIStorical recording, and that women can chart their own paths. I sincerely wish this has been out when I was scheduling the books for my Feminist Book club this year, because I think it can bring a lot of great discussion about the status of women then and how this narrative can showcase the women’s movement today through its story.

Favorite tertiary character in The Valiant is by far Cleopatra.  That’s right, THE Cleopatra.  Now, she’s not in the book a whole lot, but she has one of my absolute favorite lines in the novel, one that, if I’m going to another women’s march, I might put on a sign: “A woman ought to be able to chart her own course in life.” YAS QUEEN. *bows to the queen* Also, according to Livingston, the timeline of The Valiant puts Cleopatra in her early twenties as a young mother since she and Caesar were “very close friends,” which means the narrative takes place around two years prior to the assassination of Caesar and the Ides of March (which, coincidentally, was yesterday).  Apparently this is something to remember because when I asked her about this in regards to the sequel, The Defiant, Livingston promptly started to mumble nonsense instead of answering (Seriously, I love this woman).

Livingston manages to explore the complexities of familial relationships and friendships, but the different aspects of first love and how moving on from heartbreak is hard but necessary. This entire novel is fast paced and is filled with action after action.  You will not be bored and you will fall in love with this book.

5 Bards.

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Book Review: Done Dirt Cheap by Sarah Nicole Lemon

Tourmaline Harris’s life hit pause at fifteen, when her mom went to prison because of Tourmaline’s unintentionally damning testimony. But at eighteen, her home life is stable, and she has a strong relationship with her father, the president of a local biker club known as the Wardens.

Virginia Campbell’s life hit fast-forward at fifteen, when her mom “sold” her into the services of a local lawyer: a man for whom the law is merely a suggestion. When Hazard sets his sights on dismantling the Wardens, he sends in Virginia, who has every intention of selling out the club—and Tourmaline.

But the two girls are stronger than the circumstances that brought them together, and their resilience defines the friendship at the heart of this powerful debut novel.

This book is a television show waiting to happen.  I swear, the writing was so lyrical, but cinematic at the same time that I vividly imagined the entire story as I read.  Now, I know that sounds kind of like the definition of reading in general, being able to picture the story.  But this was something beyond picturing it, Done Dirt Cheap was to the point of me already having cast actors and actresses and it was playing out on the page, dancing around the words.

As a woman who was born and raised in the South, it was such a wonderful and brilliant story of two girls overcoming their circumstances and not only owning them, but bending them to their will.  By no means are Tourmaline and Virginia weak willed, they are by far two of the most fully realized characters I’ve read in a long time.  I find myself torn to try and decide which character I identify with more on a personality level.  I think every reader will find a little of themselves in both T and V, and this is such a compliment to Lemon and her narrative capabilities.

I think that their friendship is almost like those slow burn romances that come on in in books where the characters almost hate one another at first, only to realize they have more in common than they thought. That’s how I view Virginia and Tourmaline, two souls who reluctantly came together but ended up becoming friends against all odds. I love a book that celebrates female friendship in that way, and readers, this has it.

Speaking of slow burn romances, I’m here to tell you that *spoiler alert* Virginia and Jason equate to Deadpool’s Vanessa and Wade.  To not give any MORE spoilers from Done Dirt Cheap, here’s an exchange from Deadpool that can pretty much sum up this pairing (in a good way):

Wade: Well, your crazy matches my crazy, big time. And, uh, we’re like two jigsaw pieces, you know, and we have curvy edges.

Vanessa: But you fit them together and you see the picture on top.

Along more obvious romance lines, I loved the way Lemon kept readers on their toes concerning Cash and Tourmaline and how she made the reader feel the turmoil that Tourmaline did while trying to figure out her feelings and what exactly she was going to do in such an interesting situation.

Overall, I found this book to be really easy to read in that it kept my focus and it is one I wish I could have read in one sitting.  I blame the real world for getting in the way of my reading time, but nonetheless my reading experience was amazing.

 

4.5 Bards for Done Dirt Cheap!

Book Review: Frostblood by Elly Blake

Seventeen-year-old Ruby is a fireblood who must hide her powers of heat and flame from the cruel frostblood ruling class that wants to destroy all that are left of her kind. So when her mother is killed for protecting her and rebel frostbloods demand her help to kill their rampaging king, she agrees. But Ruby’s powers are unpredictable, and she’s not sure she’s willing to let the rebels and an infuriating (yet irresistible) young man called Arcus use her as their weapon.

All she wants is revenge, but before they can take action, Ruby is captured and forced to take part in the king’s tournaments that pit fireblood prisoners against frostblood champions. Now she has only one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who has taken everything from her and from the icy young man she has come to love.

Oh, Frostblood.

This book kind of felt like coming home.

If coming home involves a typical love story between the woman with a secretly powerful ability and a quick wit and sarcastic nature who is forced to spend time with a caustic and aloof man who also has a powerful ability and a secret past. But think about it, for those of us who have been reading young adult for years will recognize this trope and the stereotypical nature of it.  Of course there is a girl who has a power like no other, and of course there is a guy who is her polar opposite (in the case of Frostblood, literally), but they have an undeniable connection.  I will say, I do love a good love story where the love interests start off hating one another and growing to love one another.  That slow burn gets me every time.

Ruby/Taylor

So, all of the above did not mean that this book was bad.  Yes, it followed a lot of clichés and the story at its bare bones is not wholly original, BUT I thoroughly enjoyed reading this.  I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump and have been distracting myself with television, but sitting down and starting this…I read it all in one sitting.  It was fast-paced, which left little to be desired in the way of true character development, but the action was decent!  The world building needed a bit more expansion, in my opinion, mostly because there was just information on superstition and their religion, rather than anything serious.

I think the thing that did stick out to me was the amount of familial relationships that were explored in this novel.  Not just with Ruby and her mother, but with Arcus and Brother Thistle, the monks as a whole, Arcus and his brother, even the very secondary character of the small girl and her family of refugees traveling the countryside; that was my favorite part of this narrative.

The basics of the narrative kind of reflects a bit of a Marxist dichotomy between the bourgeois (the Frostbloods) and the proletariat (the Firebloods), except with even more murder and prejudice.

Overall, I found Frostblood to be a pretty average read. I didn’t absolutely adore it but I liked it just fine.  It’s definitely a story I think I’d actually keep up with, though.

3 Bards.

 

 

Vlog Review: Be My Galentine

 

 

 

Book Review: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace.

The only antidote to all this venom is his friendship with fellow outcasts Travis and Lydia. But as they are starting their senior year, Dill feels the coils of his future tightening around him. Dill’s only escapes are his music and his secret feelings for Lydia, neither of which he is brave enough to share. Graduation feels more like an ending to Dill than a beginning. But even before then, he must cope with another ending- one that will rock his life to the core.

Well, if you’ve followed Midsummer at any point on Instagram or Twitter, you’ll realize that Lyv and I are fans of Jeff Zentner. I mean, who wouldn’t be?

To celebrate Zentner’s win of the William C. Morris award for 2017, I decided it was time to revisit The Serpent King and finally do a review.

Let me preface this review/fangirling with the fact that I grew up in the South. I dated a member of a pentecostal church. I grew up with one of my best friends coming from a more prominent family than mine. I was the nerd who lost herself in books constantly. I also worked a part time job while going to school full-time.  So there are a lot of things that I have in common with these characters and there are things I understand from my personal experiences. I think this is why I enjoy reading this novel as much as I do. Yes, there are very fundamental differences, but it takes me back to growing up in a school with just a couple hundred kids in my class.  Not going to lie, Lydia’s thoughts on Nascar are almost identical to mine.  Although I can’t hate on them too much anymore, because they employee one of my best friends.

So, if you haven’t had a chance to read this or even if you aren’t a giant fan of contemporary, I implore you to give Zentner’s AWARD WINNING, wait, did you catch that? AWARD WINNING NOVEL.

Now, on to my fangirl weird head canon theory:

Upon revisiting Dill, Travis, and Lydia I was distinctly reminded of one of my favorite television shows from high school, The OC. Now, other than the obvious differences between the super rich Orange County area of California versus the lower income small town in Tennessee, I’ve kind of fan cast the characters as the main three:

For all intents and purposes Dill is Ryan Atwood.  Why? Well, look at it from a factual standpoint.  Both characters’ fathers are in prison for an undetermined amount of time.  Their mothers work jobs to try and get by and are both high school dropouts. Not only are both Dill and Ryan struggling for money, but they both are musical. Don’t forget that Ryan was in musicals, and Dill is a musician.  Both are ashamed of their backgrounds and are vilified in their communities because of said background. Let’s see, both harbor feelings for a woman that they feel is out of their league, and neither of them think they are worthy of college.

Travis = Seth Cohen.  My first major reason for equating them to one another is because they were both my favorites. But look at it this way, Travis was the only person his age that was a fan of the fictional book series that he constantly talked about, and Seth was the founding and only member of the comic book club at his school.  He was considered the weird nerd for the way he dressed, much like Travis. In addition, his only friends for most of the first season were Ryan (Dill) and Marissa (Lydia). Also, like Travis, a beautiful girl that they didn’t expect to come into their lives and change it, did.

 

I’ll fully admit that my Lydia = Marissa Cooper comparison is much more of a stretch, but here we go: Marissa was considered to be one of the richest of the rich because of her father, just like Lydia was one of the wealthiest members of Forrestville.  Marissa was also a fashionista who set trends and was always wearing some awesome outfits, Lydia is a fashion icon on her website and to the blogging world.  Marissa eventually stopped caring what everyone thought of her after a tragic event in her life, subverting her whole persona, and Lydia also stops caring what her readership thinks of her after a tragic event as well. In addition, Marissa and Lydia both just wanted to escape the cage of their cities so they could be who they truly were. 

And that is my OC-Serpent King fan comparison. Sure, it isn’t a fool-proof comparison, but during this read I just couldn’t get these comparisons out of my head!
4 Bards to The Serpent King!
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