Waiting on Wednesday

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

Release Date: June 6, 2017

Caroline Oresteia is destined for the river. For generations, her family has been called by the river god, who has guided their wherries on countless voyages throughout the Riverlands. At seventeen, Caro has spent years listening to the water, ready to meet her fate. But the river god hasn’t spoken her name yet—and if he hasn’t by now, there’s a chance he never will.

Caro decides to take her future into her own hands when her father is arrested for refusing to transport a mysterious crate. By agreeing to deliver it in exchange for his release, Caro finds herself caught in a web of politics and lies, with dangerous pirates after the cargo—an arrogant courier with a secret—and without the river god to help her. With so much at stake, Caro must choose between the life she always wanted and the one she never could have imagined for herself.

NOLA Review: Between Two Skies by Joanne O’Sullivan



Bayou Perdu, a tiny fishing town way, way down in Louisiana, is home to sixteen-year-old Evangeline Riley. She has her best friends, Kendra and Danielle; her wise, beloved Mamere; and back-to-back titles in the under-sixteen fishing rodeo. But, dearest to her heart, she has the peace that only comes when she takes her skiff out to where there is nothing but sky and air and water and wings. It’s a small life, but it is Evangeline’s. And then the storm comes, and everything changes. Amid the chaos and pain and destruction comes Tru — a fellow refugee, a budding bluesman, a balm for Evangeline’s aching heart. Told in a strong, steady voice, with a keen sense of place and a vivid cast of characters, here is a novel that asks compelling questions about class and politics, exile and belonging, and the pain of being cast out of your home. But above all, this remarkable debut tells a gently woven love story, difficult to put down, impossible to forget.

This week is focused on the City of New Orleans. A caveat of this novel specifically is that it’s actually set in a smaller parish outside of New Orleans, but it deals with some characters from NOLA and the implications of evacuation pre and post-Katrina.  I figured that counts towards it!

Between Two Skies is beautifully simplistic and heart wrenching at the same time. Don’t mistake simplistic for poorly written, it is just easy to read considering the subject matter. The narrative follows the Riley family as they navigate the times before Katrina – where they struggled to stay afloat financially, to post-Katrina where they struggle with their lives after the devastation and with the idea of returning home.

Home is such an important aspect of this novel.  While some narratives really emphasize that home is where the heart is in a family or romantic sense, Evangeline feels this on such a basic and physical level of being connected to the land and the water of the Mississippi and the Gulf. She’s a champion fisher, although I really don’t know what kind of competitions there are for fishing other than maybe the size of the catch? I’ve only fished like twice in my life though, so that’s probably why I have very little knowledge of this. But anyway, being a fisherwoman would help explain why she felt so connected to the water and the land around her town.

O’Sullivan touches on the depression and anxiety that came from the relocation of the Riley’s to Atlanta, and how adjusting to a completely new school without any roots, any of their major belongings, or their friends. This is mostly shown through Evangeline’s sister, Mandy, so it really is just touched on.  I do think this should have been more of a focus, but I understand that it wasn’t the main point of this story.

I do think the love story was a bit distracting from the family narrative that I found to be the best part of the book, and the death of the family matriarch should have been more important and a focus on the transition to the new generation.

Other than those drawbacks, I really enjoyed reading this book! I read it in one sitting, and I suggest everyone pick up a copy!

4 Bards.

Between Two Skies


New From: $5.47 USD In Stock

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: Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

Mary B. Addison killed a baby.

Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a church-going black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say.

Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home.

There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary?

Release Date: January 24, 2017

I think one of the best things about the movement in young adult literature to include diverse authors and own voice narratives is that stories like Tiffany D. Jackson’s will become popular. This novel has all the things that make a good crime novel wonderful, it has a likable yet maybe untrustworthy narrator, a vicious and questionable crime, interesting family dynamics, insight into the criminal justice system when it comes to teenagers, and the dynamics of a group home.

Now, I realize that this is still a fictional narrative but there are a lot of similarities between this Mary’s story and that of the real life child murderer, Mary Bell.  Jackson doesn’t really delve into that in this novel, but she does have a secondary refer to Mary as Mary Bell in one interaction, so I thought it would be interesting to point out the similarities between the character and her real counterpart.

Mary Bell was around 10 years of age when she murdered two toddlers, she had a known strange relationship with her mother (who attempted to kill her a few times), it was an extremely sensationalized case, with her only receiving a minimum sentence since she was a child with diminished responsibility (much like our character).  Another part that is taken directly from reality is the last name of the victim, Richardson. Now, the average Young Adult reader probably wouldn’t be aware of these similarities, but I just happened to read a true crime book a few years ago that brought this up.

I applaud Jackson for bringing a story like this to the forefront, because as awful as it is to kill a child in a narrative, it is something that happens.

Jackson did such a great job of keeping the reader in the dark about certain aspects of the crime and of Mary’s life prior to the death of the child.  I think that the questions about Mary and her Mother really provide more mystery than the death itself.  It’s an interesting commentary on emotional abuse and the desperate relationship between these two characters, plus is raises the question of just how far you’d go for family.

In addition, Jackson was amazing at including linguistic representation of accents.  I find it lacking when an author sometimes just mentions that a character has a type of regional accent without showing this to the reader in dialogue. Bravo for including this, I loved it and it really put me IN those characters’ voices.

I’m giving this novel 4 Bards.  There is a very upsetting scene with an animal in this and violence between characters that doesn’t involve the murder of the child, so please be aware of this when purchasing it for your teen.

Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

Release Date: January 31, 2017

Holy Hell in a hand-basket.

Stephanie Garber has created a world that I don’t want to leave, and characters I want to follow throughout their life stories.

I started this book on 9PM on a Sunday night, after I’d been sick for a week and sleeping as much as possible to get over it.  Once I started, I couldn’t put it down.  I found myself saying, “One more chapter,” okay, “Now, one more chapter,” over and over again until it was 1AM and I closed the book with a sigh. This doesn’t include the extra 30 minutes I sat there considering the ending and the complications that came along with it. I think in reality I maybe got 5 hours of sleep this night, but what is important is that I LOVED this book.

This world was created in such an organic way that nothing in the plot seemed like it was out of place or sudden.  Not only was Caraval such a richly developed story but the description of the characters and the locales within the novel were exquisite. I wish I could have seen the canopy bed in Scarlett’s room, had a sip of that crisp cider that enhances vision, or even run my hands over the gowns in the store where she sells two days of her life.

While I was totally proved wrong about who I assumed Julian was from the beginning (*shakes fist* tricky Garber, tricky!) he was a great example of a male character who comes off as such a…how to I put it…douchebag that really turns out to be a character with so many more layers than initially shown.  In fact, he was the saving grace for Scarlett (and the narrative) in many spots.

Probably an unpopular opinion: Dante? *fans self* A body covered in tattoos and a beautiful face to boot? *swoons*

Now, as someone who has had a struggle with her relationship with her sister (we are doing so much better as we’ve aged, by the way *Love you, Ginger!*), I think that for me what really made this story so impactful was the demonstration of absolute love and devotion between the two siblings.  Obviously it seems very one sided at the beginning as it is third person limited point of view, but the reader discovers it is a very equal love and something that both sisters suffered for.

All I can think of as I remember my mind blowing and wonderful late night read is that this is a story that I will come back to and re-read many times. Plus, who wouldn’t want to lose themselves in a fantasy world with Scarlett, Julian, and Tella?

**Trigger warning for parental physical abuse**

Pre-order a copy of Caraval now, I promise you won’t regret it.

4.5 Bards

 

 

 

 

Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

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Release Date: January 10, 2017

Marinda has kissed dozens of boys. They all die afterward. It s a miserable life, but being a visha kanya a poison maiden is what she was created to do. Marinda serves the Raja by dispatching his enemies with only her lips as a weapon.

Until now, the men she was ordered to kiss have been strangers, enemies of the kingdom. Then she receives orders to kiss Deven, a boy she knows too well to be convinced he needs to die. She begins to question who she s really working for. And that is a thread that, once pulled, will unravel more than she can afford to lose.

 

 

Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

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Release Date: January 17, 2017

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.

Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

 

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

BLOOD ROSE REBELLION R3 V5.indd

Release Date: March 28, 2017

Sixteen-year-old Anna Arden is barred from society by a defect of blood. Though her family is part of the Luminate, powerful users of magic, she is Barren, unable to perform the simplest spells. Anna would do anything to belong. But her fate takes another course when, after inadvertently breaking her sister’s debutante spell—an important chance for a highborn young woman to show her prowess with magic—Anna finds herself exiled to her family’s once powerful but now crumbling native Hungary.

Her life might well be over.

In Hungary, Anna discovers that nothing is quite as it seems. Not the people around her, from her aloof cousin Noémi to the fierce and handsome gypsy Gábor. Not the society she’s known all her life, for discontent with the Luminate is sweeping the land. And not her lack of magic. Isolated from the only world she cares about, Anna still can’t seem to stop herself from breaking spells.

As rebellion spreads across the region, Anna’s unique ability becomes the catalyst everyone is seeking. In the company of nobles, revolutionaries, and gypsies, Anna must choose: deny her unique power and cling to the life she’s always wanted, or embrace her ability and change that world forever.

 

Book Review: Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig

25036310Flynn’s girlfriend has disappeared. How can he uncover her secrets without revealing his own?

Flynn’s girlfriend, January, is missing. The cops are asking questions he can’t answer, and her friends are telling stories that don’t add up. All eyes are on Flynn—as January’s boyfriend, he must know something.

But Flynn has a secret of his own. And as he struggles to uncover the truth about January’s disappearance, he must also face the truth about himself. 

Team Midsummer had the amazing chance to interview Caleb Roehrig and we love him. Check out our interview here.

I read this book in a matter of hours.  The only reason I put it down for a few minutes was to run from one airport terminal to the other so I could make sure to catch my flight home.  Even then, I held the book in my hands, unwilling to let it go or lose my place for too long.

When Caleb said he set out to write a thriller, I’d say he succeeded in spades.

First things first, let’s talk about characterization.

Flynn, oh, Flynn, my sweet snowflake.  He is so well rounded as a character, he has his flaws, he has his snarky sarcasm that made me laugh out loud (to the chagrin of my neighbor on the flight), last-seen-leaving-aestheticand he has a struggle of accepting himself for who he is.  He is brash, he is ridiculously self confident in that he will find clues and information that the cops can’t find about his missing girlfriend, and I assume he must have an extremely trustworthy face, because a lot of people he doesn’t really know open right up to him.  Although, I think my main concern here is that those people’s parents didn’t teach them to not talk to strangers.  But again, I could always talk to a wall, so I’m not the best judge!

January is somehow able to be likable despite all of her flaws and her incessant lying.  For instance, even waaaaaaaaaay before the events in Last Seen Leaving, she was consistently portraying her boyfriend, and so-called best friend, Flynn is a very negative light to those around her.  Not only to some of the kids at her new private school, but also to her coworker, who she also pitted against Flynn to make him jealous.  She’s definitely a master manipulator, and I credit Roehrig for still creating a character that I was rooting for, even though I kind of hated her too.  She reminded me of one of those girls in high school who definitely thought she was better than anyone and everyone, therefore isolating herself from everyone.

The mystery/thriller aspect.

This story kept me on my toes the entire time. While I do have my reservations about girls just giving up a lot of random information about January to a guy they’d never really met before, I loved that Flynn had this whole Nancy Drew thing going on (Side note: Nancy Drew was way better than The Hardy Boys).  He’s definitely a bolder person than I’d ever be.  I’d be persuaded to let the cops handle it and then wallow in my own misery, but not Flynn.  Which I love.  I found it so amazing that he was kind of bad at investigating, and the killer was definitely not someone who I immediately suspected, so I credit Roehrig for laying plenty of false leads throughout the narrative that were pretty convincing.

Romance.

I just fangirl flail about Kaz and Flynn. Just, go read this.

4.5 Bards!

four.fivebards

 

 

 

 

Keep up with the rest of our LGBT Month Celebration!

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Book Review: Drag Teen by Jeffery Self

Seventeen-year-old JT Barnett lives a humdrum existence in Clearwater, FL, working in the family gas station, drifting through school, and dreaming of fabulous days to come. His one attempt at drag led to public humiliation in a school talent show, so he is reluctant when Seth, his wildly attractive, overachieving boyfriend, encourages him to enter the Miss Drag Teen pageant in New York City.

The prize of a four-year college scholarship ultimately convinces JT, and after lying to their parents, he, his best friend Heather, and Seth embark on a spring break road trip that leads to fights, honest reckonings, and encounters with a cast of remarkable personalities. With the exception of spiteful Tash, the diverse group of pageant contestants offer JT acceptance and a tantalizing glimpse into a brighter world.

I am a massive fan of drag queens and drag in general, in the past year alone I’ve been to three drag shows, one drag brunch, and have binge watched RuPaul’s Drag Race countless times.
So when I got wind of this book, and Jeffery Self, being at the Texas Teen Book Festival, I knew I would absolutely love the story.  I was not disappointed at all.  The narrative is mostly focused on JT’s struggle with accepting himself as who he is, back rolls and all (eyes Alyssa Edwards), and coming to realize that if you start to live in the moment then things can really start to happen for you.

Yes, this is a very positive LGBTQ book, and I love that.  But I also love that other than a few mentions of name-calling, that this was a personal journey of self love and discovery than it was someone trying to grapple with their sexuality—not that it’s a bad thing to have that narrative—I just was pleased to be reading one that was more focused on the individual.  In addition, as someone who has struggled with anxiety and crippling self esteem issues, I related so much to JT and his journey.

JT is in a happy relationship with his boyfriend of almost 4 years, and has been out and proud for a while.  It’s really just his self doubt that holds him back, well, that an the lack of money.

Shenanigans happen and JT finally gets to leave his bubble of Clearwater, FL and goes to the Big Apple to compete in a teen drag pageant. I don’t know about you, but I have helped a friend dress in drag for an amateur drag show and it was so much fun, so it brought back some happy memories.

Clearly there are some characters that were blatantly based off of some of the queens from RuPaul’s drag race, and I totally loved it.  I’m talking about the Pip/Adore Delano hybrid (PARTY), and the bitchy Tash that reminds me of Coco Montrese.

I loved this book.  The writing is punchy, upbeat, and the pacing is excellent.  Do yourself a favor and get into Drag Teen.  You won’t regret it!

5 Bards.

fivebards

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