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16 May, 2018

Dread Nation

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Dread Nation Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
on April 3rd 2018
Pages: 455
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Balzer + Bray
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

Goodreads

When  the bodies of the dead come back and attack people, the fighting in the Civil War stops. What doesn’t stop is the racism that was inherent in the United States. Now, 20 years after the shamblers first appeared, black children are taken and trained for combat duty.

The system replicates the hierarchy of slavery.  “Better” girls are trained in elite schools to be bodyguards to wealthy white women. They guard them from shamblers and serve as chaperones as the white ladies socialize.  Other girls end up working in the fields clearing shamblers as they approach towns.  Those people don’t have a long life span.

For me the story got most interesting when Jane and some companions are sent west to a planned community run by a pastor and his son, the sheriff.  Everything is set up for the safety and protection of white families but it is all run on the forced labor of black people.  The white overseers are so terrified of their black charges that they deliberately undermine their ability to fight shamblers by not giving them adequate weapons thus weakening the defenses of the whole town.  They won’t listen to the advice and expertise of black women until it is literally life or death.

This book didn’t interest me as a zombie/horror story.  It was at its best when showing off the absurdities of racism.  From phrenology to tell who is white and who is black to medical experimentation on unwilling black people to unequal distribution of assets this book highlights many aspects of systemic racism by placing them in a fantasy setting where people should be more interested in working together for survival than upholding an arbitrary hierarchy.

08 May, 2018

Abby Spencer Goes To Bollywood

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Abby Spencer Goes To Bollywood Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj
on March 1st 2014
Pages: 256
Genres: Young Adult
Published by Albert Whitman Company
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: India, United States

What thirteen-year-old Abby wants most is to meet her father. She just never imagined he would be a huge film star--in Bollywood! Now she's traveling to Mumbai to get to know her famous father. Abby is overwhelmed by the culture clash, the pressures of being the daughter of India's most famous celebrity, and the burden of keeping her identity a secret. But as she learns to navigate her new surroundings, she just might discover where she really belongs.

Goodreads

This book was so cute!  I don’t read a lot of middle grade but I loved the sound of this one.

Abby’s mother found out she was pregnant after her college boyfriend moved back to India.  She was able to contact his family but he never returned her calls.  Now thirteen, Abby develops an allergy that starts her asking more questions than ever before about her father’s side of the family.

Her father changed his name and became a famous actor after he returned to India.  Attempts to contact him for his medical history are finally successful.  Now he wants to get to know her but it all needs to be carefully controlled because he is a huge star and he needs to control his image.

 

Abby’s a biracial child who has never had any contact with the Indian part of identity.  There is tension between her parents because of her father being absent for all of her life.  Her father is used to calling the shots in his life and her mother is not about to just go along with his ideas now that he’s back in the picture.  Abby’s also finding out that her wealthy father’s life in India is not typical for the country.

The book does a good job of making each of the characters multidimensional.  All of them have well developed concerns and personalities.  I really hoped that there was a sequel to see what came next in their lives because there is so much to explore but there isn’t a second book. That made me sad.  I didn’t want to leave these characters behind.

08 Mar, 2018

American Panda

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading American Panda American Panda by Gloria Chao
on February 6th 2018
Pages: 311
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Simon Pulse
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

An incisive, laugh-out-loud contemporary debut about a Taiwanese-American teen whose parents want her to be a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer despite her squeamishness with germs and crush on a Japanese classmate.
At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents' master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.
With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can't bring herself to tell them the truth--that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.
But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

Goodreads

This book is so good!  

Conflict between immigrant Asian parents and their American-born kids is a staple in a lot of books.  What I appreciated about this book is that it took a deeper look at the people involved to figure out their motivations.  Mei is trying to be the perfect daughter because she has seen real world consequences of disobedience.  Her brother was cut out of the family years earlier for dating a woman with some health issues that may impact her fertility.  His parents would not accept a potential daughter in law who might not produce grandchildren.  Mei is raised on stories of a local Taiwanese-American woman who was cast out of her family and the horrible things had (supposedly) happened to her.  From an outsider’s perspective it is easy to wonder “Why doesn’t she stand up for herself?”  This book does a great job of showing where she gets the idea that she has no other options.

The book features other characters who have been in these situations and examines the results of their decisions.  There is:

  • A woman who became a doctor because her family decided she would be
  • A female relative whose life is taken up by caring for her mother
  • Mei’s boyfriend, who is from a Japanese-American family that has been living in the United States for several generations
  • Mei’s mother 

Mei’s mother’s story was amazing.  At the beginning she is portrayed as an overbearing, neurotic mother who has Mei’s schedule memorized and panics if she doesn’t answer her phone when she knows she should be out of class.  Her phone messages are played for laughs.  As the story deepens though we start to see her conflicts.  She’s the daughter-in-law of a very traditional family in an arranged marriage where her role is very sharply defined.  As she sees Mei start to branch out, she opens up a little about her life and you develop a lot of compassion for a character who very easily could have descended into a caricature.  

It’s great.  I would recommend this one to everyone.  Go get it and read it and pass it on.

22 Feb, 2018

The Belles

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Belles The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
on February 6th 2018
Pages: 448
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Disney-Hyperion
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.
But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.
With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

Goodreads

I wanted to love this book so much more than I did.  I’ve been hearing about it for so long and have heard such glowing praise of it that when I finished it and felt a bit blah towards it, I was disappointed.

The Hype

This book has been super hyped because of the use of a black model in a gown on the cover.  It was celebrated as a great step forward for representation in books and it is.  But because of that I thought that race would play a bigger part in this book than it does.  Skin color in this world is decided on a whim.  There is no change in status/power/importance placed on the skin color that you have.  It is a fashion accessory.  It just seemed like it went from “Yay for Black Girls” on the cover and in the promotions to “But actually, this doesn’t have anything to do with you specifically” in the story.  If I didn’t know anything about how this book was promoted, it probably wouldn’t have felt strange to me.

Worldbuilding

The author does a great job in the opening of setting up the world.  It is imaginative and vivid.  After that though the world building just seems to stop.  This is a long novel at 448 pages.  In most fantasy books that size you’d know about countries around the area, the basis of the economy, how people of different classes live, what is their technology based on, etc.  The main character is very sheltered but that isn’t unusual in fantasy.  Usually they find out more about their surroundings that she does in this book though.  At least they show some interest in what is going on around them.  Camillia really doesn’t.

Wishy Washy Heroine

Events happen to the characters in this book.  They do not direct the action.  I think this is the key to my dissatisfaction with this book. 

Every time she is asked to make a decision, she puts it off for days. Eventually she makes a decision but it is usually irrelevant by then because events have moved on.  When deciding between what is right/hard and what is easy/cruel, she always chooses easy/cruel if forced to make a choice in the moment.  She seems like she is supposed to be a nice person – she remembers servants’ names! – but she is so very weak.  Only after witnessing and participating in abuse after abuse does she start to think that something might be wrong.  I would be much more interested in reading a story about the one of her fellow Belles who threw a fit about what she was being made to do almost from the beginning.  

Series vs Stand alone book

It is fine to have a book designed to be part of a series but I hate it when there is no resolution at the end of a book.  Even just wrapping up some side storylines is more satisfying than a totally open-ended book.  In a way this feels like the story is just starting and the pages run out.  That’s fine if you can move right on to the next book but it is annoying here.  At the end I kept thinking of questions that weren’t answered and thinking, “Maybe that’s in the next book” instead of enjoying what was in this one.  

Overall

I think the idea was good.  There are some very creative details in the world building like teacup elephants and mail being delivered by small balloons.  It may turn out to be the beginning of a good series.  But it doesn’t stand alone well as a single book.  

18 Jan, 2018

Son of a Trickster

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Son of a Trickster Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson
on February 7th 2017
Pages: 336
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Knopf Canada
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: British Columbia

Everyone knows a guy like Jared: the burnout kid in high school who sells weed cookies and has a scary mom who's often wasted and wielding some kind of weapon. Jared does smoke and drink too much, and he does make the best cookies in town, and his mom is a mess, but he's also a kid who has an immense capacity for compassion and an impulse to watch over people more than twice his age, and he can't rely on anyone for consistent love and support, except for his flatulent pit bull, Baby Killer (he calls her Baby)--and now she's dead.
Jared can't count on his mom to stay sober and stick around to take care of him. He can't rely on his dad to pay the bills and support his new wife and step-daughter. Jared is only sixteen but feels like he is the one who must stabilize his family's life, even look out for his elderly neighbours. But he struggles to keep everything afloat...and sometimes he blacks out. And he puzzles over why his maternal grandmother has never liked him, why she says he's the son of a trickster, that he isn't human. Mind you, ravens speak to him--even when he's not stoned.
You think you know Jared, but you don't.

Goodreads

This is not the book that I expected from the blurb.  I expected urban fantasy with Jared finding out he’s supernatural in the beginning of the book and then he has adventures.  That doesn’t happen.  Instead this is a hard look at the life of a First Nations teenager who lives with his unreliable and violent drug dealer mother and her boyfriend.  This book takes you up close and personal into a life of poverty and crime.  There is almost no magic happening for the first 2/3 of the book.  

It even has two of my automatic DNF plots.  His dog dies of heartworm at the beginning of the book (with a very odd veterinary clinic scene that isn’t anything that would happen for real).  There is also a scene of his mother killing a dog with her truck on purpose.  Animal abuse is a DNF.

I also absolutely hate stories of teenagers who do nothing but drink and take drugs.  I hate it in real life and I hate wasting my time on that type of plot in books.

So, knowing all that, why did I finish this book and think it was great?

The writing pulled me in and kept me engaged with the story.  Jared looks like he has nothing going for him.  His mother is an addict and dealer.  He is doing some low-level dealing.  But he is trying to keep his mother’s bills paid while also trying to keep his father and his new wife’s rent up to date.  He even helps his elderly neighbors with their chores.  None of the adult relatives in Jared’s life are responsible so he feels that he needs to be.  The only person he feels like he may be able to rely on is his paternal grandmother but his mother has forbidden him to talk to her.  He does anyway and he really wants to go live with her in order to finish school but he feels that it would be a betrayal of his mother, even when she is continuously betraying him.  By the end you want to protect him from yet another person who lets him down.

As Jared starts to see manifestations of his traditional beliefs appearing before him, he decides that he has been doing too many drugs and decides to get clean.  I love that that was his response to an invisible bear in the living room and cavemen in his bedroom.  But the magic is real and has always been there even if it is just starting to get through to him.

The author did a good job depicting the charm vs the dangerous irresponsibility of a drug-involved parent.  Jared’s mom obviously loves him and dotes on him but she also exposes him to men who hurt him and she will disappear without warning.  She relies on him to get her through bad trips and lavishes presents on him when she is manic.  She’s horrible but draws you into her self-absorbed world. 

Jared’s friends feel real.  They are a mix of popular and unpopular kids.  Native and non-Native also.  Each is well fleshed out and are unique characters.  

Of course this book really started to pick up for me when the magic became more apparent.  And then it was over.  I feel like there wasn’t a resolution.  This is part one of a series so I know that there will be more to the story but I would have liked to see more of an ending than this.  

 

03 Jan, 2018

That Inevitable Victorian Thing

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading That Inevitable Victorian Thing That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston
on October 3rd 2017
Pages: 330
Genres: Alternative History, Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: Ontario, Canada

Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendant of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history two centuries earlier. The imperial practice of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage like her mother before her, but before she does her duty, she'll have one summer incognito in a far corner of empire. In Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire's greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir apparent to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an unusual bond and maybe a one in a million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process —just like the first Queen Victoria.

Goodreads

This is a YA alternative history book that imagines that the British Empire is still alive and well.  The decision that made the difference was that Queen Victoria named her eldest daughter heir and then married off all her other children to people in the Empire instead of other European royal families.  Now, the Empire is predominately made up of mixed race people.  Canada has a high percentage of people originally from Hong Kong.  The Church of England consists mostly of a DNA database that chooses the best DNA match for people.

The Crown Princess Victoria-Margaret wants one summer away.  She decides to make her debut in Canada while passing herself off as a cousin to one of the leading families there.  She makes other friends though who aren’t in on her secret and this leads to romantic entanglements that aren’t what she expected.

I thought the world building was interesting in this book.  It was intriguing to think about what might have happened if the British had treated their subjects as people worthy of respect.  If you pick too much at the assumptions made in the book though it might all fall apart.  My recommendation is just to enjoy it and go along for the ride. 

At the end of the book the main characters are hatching a plot.  It doesn’t seem very well thought out to me so I will be interested to see what happens in upcoming books. 

 

28 Oct, 2017

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Dear Martin by Nic Stone Dear Martin by Nic Stone
on October 17th 2017
Pages: 224
Narrator: Dion Graham
Length: 4:32
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Listening Library
Format: Audiobook
Source: Playster
Setting: Georgia

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can't escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.
Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Goodreads

I managed to avoid finding out exactly what this book was about before listening to it.  I didn’t even read the full blurb.  (I deleted the part I didn’t read in the synopsis above.)  Not knowing what was going to happen let the emotional impact of the book hit me full force. 

This is an amazing and necessary book.  If any of you are thinking, “I read The Hate U Give, I don’t need to read this one,” get that out of your brain.  While the subject matter is similar, these books are very, very different.  Dear Martin depicts an attempt by an African-American teenager to move past an emotionally traumatizing incident with a police officer.  He finds that that is harder than he expects though as his eyes are opened to what is going on around him. 

I appreciated the way he struggles with different approaches to living in a racist society through his interactions with several adult African-American men in his life.  Each discusses his struggles and his way of surviving, allowing Justyce to try to choose the best options for him. 

The narration in this book was very well done by Dion Graham.  It is a short audiobook at just four and a half hours.  This is one that I will relisten to with my husband in the future. 

I don’t want to say much more about the book.  If you don’t already know the whole plot, I’d recommend just starting this story without finding out much more.  This is a hard-hitting book that will move you.  It is a must read for everyone.

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
14 Jul, 2017

Series Review – The Agency by Y.S. Lee

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Series Review – The Agency by Y.S. Lee A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee
on March 9th 2010
Pages: 335
Series: The Agency #1
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Candlewick
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Setting: England

Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners — and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency, and at seventeen, Mary is about to put her training to the test. Assuming the guise of a lady’s companion, she must infiltrate a rich merchant’s home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the household is full of dangerous deceptions, and there is no one to trust — or is there?

Goodreads

Mary Quinn is given a last minute reprieve from the gallows and is sent to a school for girls.  She is savvy enough to know that this is very strange.  She doesn’t know what is behind it until years later when she finishes her education and is offered a place in a detective agency run by the headmistresses of the school.

Mary has secrets of her own.  She is an orphan and knows that her father was Chinese.  In 1850s London Chinese people are not admitted to polite society.  She explains away her dark coloring by saying that she is Black Irish.  That settles things for most English people but Chinese people she meets recognize the truth about her.

The Agency places its agents undercover as maids or ladies’ companions because women are considered not smart enough to be spies.  They can infiltrate places that men would never be able to get.

On Mary’s first assignment she runs into James Easton in a closet while snooping.  He is snooping about the family she is assigned to also but for different reasons.  They are forced to work together.  Mary and James have great chemistry in this series.  It is a slow romance that has many reasonable obstacles.


Series Review – The Agency by Y.S. Lee The Body At The Tower by Y.S. Lee
on October 26th 2010
Pages: 342
Series: The Agency #2
Published by Candlewick
Setting: England

Now nearly a full-fledged member of the Agency, the all-female detective unit operating out of Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls, Mary Quinn is back for another action-packed adventure. Disguised as a poor apprentice builder and a boy, she must brave the grimy underbelly of Victorian London - as well as childhood fear, hunger, and constant want - to unmask the identity of a murderer. Assigned to monitor a building site on the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament, Mary earns the confidence of the work crew, inching ever nearer her suspect. But if an irresistible desire to help the city's needy doesn't distract her and jeopardize her cover, unexpectedly meeting up with an old friend - or flame - just might.

Goodreads

The Agency has always placed female operatives but one of the founders wants to expand.  She agrees to let Mary go undercover as a boy in order to get a large contract.  They are hired to figure out part of the reason why a man was murdered at the construction site of the Houses of Parliament.  Mary knows nothing about construction but is trying to fit in with her new crew when an engineer comes to do a review of the building practices.  It is a physically and emotionally battered and beaten down James Easton.

I think that this may be my favorite book of the series.  I don’t usually say that about second books.  They are usually a let down.  In this one the author has already established the characters so well that you care about them and their adventures.  You get a better idea of the dangerous world of the extremely poor in London.  For me this book was more about life in the city and the class and gender and racial barriers that both characters are bending than the mystery.


Series Review – The Agency by Y.S. Lee The Traitor in the Tunnel by Y.S. Lee
on February 28th 2012
Series: The Agency #3
Published by Candlewick

Get steeped in suspense, romance, and high Victorian intrigue as Mary goes undercover at Buckingham Palace - and learns a startling secret at the Tower of London.

Goodreads

Mary is on assignment undercover in Buckingham Palace to investigate some thefts.  This gives the author the chance to examine the lives of maids in Victorian times.  They worked all the time.  They were not supposed to be seen by members of the royal family so they had to freeze or hide if any of the nobility came into a room.  They are also vulnerable to any male member of the nobility who take a fancy to them.

While investigating the thefts, Mary stumbles on a scandal involving the Prince of Wales.  One of his highborn friends was killed in an opium den by a Chinese man who has the same name as her supposedly dead father.  She decides to investigate this and has to face the truth of her Chinese heritage that she has managed to avoid for most of her life.

Right when she is starting to make progress, she is recalled because the Agency finds out that the engineering firm owned by James Easton will be doing some top secret work under the palace.  They don’t want her to get involved with him again because he has complicated her other cases.  Should she stay or should she go?


Series Review – The Agency by Y.S. Lee Rivals in the City (The Agency, #4) by Y.S. Lee
on June 5th 2014
Pages: 352
Published by Walker

The series comes full circle as the one of the criminals from book one is dying in prison. Mary is hired to watch for the one that escaped making a last minute visit. She knows they will have a score to settle with her and James.

Goodreads

This was a great last book.  It ties up a lot of loose ends by going back to the villains of book one and seeing how everyone has changed in the intervening years.  It is hard to talk about this book much without spoilers for the series.

I binged this series over the course of a week.  I absolutely loved it.  On top of complex mysteries there were discussions of the intersections of race and class and gender at the time.  Add a very fun and banter-filled romance on top of that and this is a great series even if mysteries aren’t usually your favorite.

About Y.S. Lee

Y S Lee was born in Singapore, raised in Vancouver and Toronto, and lived for a spell in England. As she completed her PhD in Victorian literature and culture, she began to research a story about a girl detective in 1850s London. The result was her debut novel, The Agency: A Spy in the House. This won the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s inaugural John Spray Mystery Award in 2011.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Europe
  • POC authors
14 Jun, 2017

How Dare the Sun Rise

/ posted in: Reading How Dare the Sun Rise How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child by Sandra Uwiringiyimana, Abigail Pesta
on May 16th 2017
Pages: 304
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs, Young Adult
Published by Katherine Tegen Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, U.S.

This profoundly moving memoir is the remarkable and inspiring true story of Sandra Uwiringyimana, a girl from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who tells the tale of how she survived a massacre, immigrated to America, and overcame her trauma through art and activism.

Goodreads

Sandra and her family are part of the Banyamulenge tribe.  Originally the tribe lived in Rwanda but migrated to the Congo.  They are not considered citizens of any nation and they are persecuted in the Congo.

War was a constant backdrop in her life.  Her family often had to flee because of an outbreak of fighting wherever they were living.  It got worse when her oldest brother was kidnapped along with 200 other boys and taken to be used as a child solider.  Her father dedicated himself to rescuing her brother.

Sandra was 10 when fighting forced them to flee the Congo and cross the border into Burundi.

Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 9.20.08 AM

They were in a refugee camp in Gatumba on August 13, 2004 when armed men singing Christian praise songs came into the camp and started killing people.  Tents were set on fire to force people into the open where they were shot.  Most of the people in her tent including her aunt and cousins were killed.  Her mother was holding her six year old sister when she was shot repeatedly at point blank range.  Sandra had a gun held to her head but her captor let her go.

In the morning she found out that her mother had survived because she was tossed into a pile of corpses and managed to crawl away before they were burned.  Her little sister was dead.  Her brother was severely injured.

The family eventually moved to Rwanda and then was resettled in the United States.  They thought their lives would be fine then.  They didn’t realize the problems of being a refugee in the United States.  They had lived a comfortable life in the Congo.  Now they were living in poverty.  People asked her what it was like to learn to wear shoes assuming she had never done that in Africa.  Although she was fluent in three languages, people ridiculed her poor English.  The family survived numerous setbacks in America.  Sandra emerged as a spokesman for her tribe.  She educated groups at the UN about the massacre and the hardships of being a refugee.

Then when she was in college, it all came crashing down on her.  The feelings she and her family had supressed for so long were too much.  She describes her problems with survivor’s guilt, depression, and PTSD.  How do you get help for this when you are ashamed to speak of it especially to your family?  Her mother had endured so much and seemed fine.  Sandra was ashamed for not being as strong as her mother.   Opening up a dialogue with her family about what happened was the hardest part of her mental health journey.

This book is written very simply.  It is very matter of fact without a lot of embellishment.  It is geared towards YA readers.

I hadn’t heard of the Banyamulenge or the Gatumba massacre.  The man who claimed responsibility for it has since run for President of Burundi.  No charges have ever been brought against anyone for the murder of 166 people.

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Africa
  • POC authors
24 May, 2017

Noteworthy – Acapella with a Twist

/ posted in: Reading Noteworthy – Acapella with a Twist Noteworthy by Riley Redgate
on May 2nd 2017
Pages: 400
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Amulet Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Jordan Sun is embarking on her junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts, hopeful that this will be her time: the year she finally gets cast in the school musical. But when her low Alto 2 voice gets her shut out for the third straight year—threatening her future at Kensington-Blaine and jeopardizing her college applications—she’s forced to consider nontraditional options.
In Jordan’s case, really nontraditional. A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshipped…revered…all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.

Goodreads

Reading this book was so stressful for me.  I’m not a fan of books that depend on misunderstanding or lies as a plot device.  I’m always wondering when the other shoe is going to drop.  That isn’t the fault of this book.  It is one of the few books that I felt did a good job with this type of story line.

There is a lot going on in this novel.  Jordan is a Chinese-American girl from a poor family in San Francisco.  Her father is disabled and her mother is having a hard time keeping a job while caring for him.  Jordan has a scholarship to this boarding school on the East coast but it doesn’t cover all her expenses.  This is a hardship for her family.  It also sets her apart from the other students who tend to be wealthy.

This story takes place at a high school.  I had a hard time remembering that since it is a boarding school.  It seems more like a college story until they discuss not being able to drive.

Jordan starts to live a double life – a girl during the day and Julian, the newest male member of the Sharps at night.  This leads to a lot of thoughts on gender and sexuality. She gets a lot of advice on how to pass for male from websites for transgender people.  She is uncomfortable with this.  Is she using other people’s real lives for her own selfish gain? Later, members of the Sharps decide that she must be a gay man.  She lets them think that instead of having them find out the truth.  Again she has to think about what it means to appropriating another group’s identity.

I wasn’t a fan of the romance aspect of this book.  It didn’t feel like it needed to be there.  It seemed like since she had spent a lot of time with a group of guys than obviously she had to fall for one of them.  I would have liked this more if it hadn’t happened.

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
12 May, 2017

Outrun the Moon

/ posted in: Reading Outrun the Moon Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
on May 24th 2016
Pages: 391
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover
Source: Owned
Setting: California

San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty in Chinatown, and an education at St. Clare’s School for Girls is her best hope. Although St. Clare’s is off-limits to all but the wealthiest white girls, Mercy gains admittance through a mix of cunning and a little bribery, only to discover that getting in was the easiest part. Not to be undone by a bunch of spoiled heiresses, Mercy stands strong—until disaster strikes.
On April 18, a historic earthquake rocks San Francisco, destroying Mercy’s home and school. With martial law in effect, she is forced to wait with her classmates for their families in a temporary park encampment. Though fires might rage, and the city may be in shambles, Mercy can’t sit by while they wait for the army to bring help—she still has the “bossy” cheeks that mark her as someone who gets things done. But what can one teenage girl do to heal so many suffering in her broken city?

Goodreads


I started reading this book without really knowing what it was about.  I may be one of the few people who enjoyed the story of Mercy’s time at school more than I liked the story after the earthquake.

This book is split into two sections by the earthquake.  Before, Mercy is dealing with discrimination because of her sex, race, and class.  She is a Chinese girl who has finished the limited amount of schooling available to her.  She wants to be able to go to high school.  She has a plan to win a scholarship to an elite private school.  But once there she is disappointed to find it more interested in turning out proper young ladies than in the ladies increasing their knowledge.  She is also put directly into a world of wealth that she has never known before. 

The author does a great job of working in history lessons about treatment of Chinese people in California at the time.  She discusses the exclusion laws that prevented people from coming from China.  She talks about discriminatory housing laws that kept the Chinese population penned into a small area of the city. 

I was really into this book when the earthquake occurs.  Most of the girls at the school are boarding there from out of town so when the school is destroyed they have nowhere to go.  They end up living in a tent city set up in a park.  From here the book is a story of looting and cooking huge meals to try to feed everyone living in the park.  There was limited disaster aid at the time.  What help was available was out fighting the fires caused by the earthquake so survivors were mostly on their own. 

The author notes that group cooking situations like the one in the book were set up in the aftermath of the earthquake.  I’m glad she added that because I wouldn’t have believed it otherwise.  It seemed a little too feel-good for everything that was going on before.  I understand that the point was the discrimination can’t survive if everyone needs to work together when they have lost everything.  But it seemed a little too easy in the book.  No one seemed to really be grappling with the issues of loss and grief.  Maybe they were supposed to be numb and just focusing on survival. 

I’d recommend this book for a great look into life in 1906 San Francisco. 

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
21 Mar, 2017

Symptoms of Being Human

/ posted in: General Symptoms of Being Human Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
on February 2nd 2016
Pages: 352
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Balzer + Bray
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Setting: California

The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?
Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. The thing is…Riley isn’t exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in uber-conservative Orange County, the pressure—media and otherwise—is building up in Riley’s so-called “normal” life.
On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog to vent those pent-up feelings and tell the truth of what it’s REALLY like to be a gender fluid teenager. But just as Riley’s starting to settle in at school—even developing feelings for a mysterious outcast—the blog goes viral, and an unnamed commenter discovers Riley’s real identity, threatening exposure. Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created—a lifeline, new friends, a cause to believe in—or stand up, come out, and risk everything.

Goodreads

Riley is a congressman’s child in a conservative part of California.  The congressman is pushing for educational reform so Riley is taken out of private school and put in a public one for the first time.  First day jitters are worse because Riley is gender fluid and is unsure of how to present on the first day of school.  Within minutes of arriving at school, Riley overhears people guessing, “Is that a boy or a girl?” and one person decides to use “It” instead of any pronoun.

As part of Riley’s therapy after a suicide attempt, the psychologist recommends starting a blog.  The second post goes viral.  (Yeah, right.)  Riley becomes an online star and eventually is outed publicly.  It is a huge problem because Riley’s parents didn’t know.

An interesting aspect of the book is that the gender that Riley was assigned at birth is never stated.  The author never uses any pronouns to refer to Riley.  I’m extra impressed by this because it was hard to write this review without pronouns, let alone a whole book.  (Some reviews I’ve read have taken issue with this because pronouns are a difficult part of life for some people.)

This is a very character driven novel.  Riley and friends are the focus more than the plot.  Bec is a new friend at school.  She’s a social outcast and she’s in a band.  She befriends Riley and becomes a potential love interest.  Solo is a former outcast turned athlete who befriends Riley.  This causes tension with his friends on the football team.

There is a lot of violence and abuse hurled at Riley in the book.  Several characters have either committed suicide or have attempted.

Symptoms of Being Human does a great job of introducing gender fluidity to an audience who may not be familiar with the term.  The author is not gender fluid but obviously did a lot of research into the subject.  I’ve only seen one review by a person who identified as being gender fluid on Goodreads and that was a positive review for the book.  The feel of this book reminds me a lot of None of the Above.  The intent of the book is to educate on the subject.  Large information dumps don’t bother me at all but some people get annoyed by it.

I think this book is a good one for people to read especially if they aren’t familiar with gender fluidity.  Riley has a unique voice and perspective on the world.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
08 Mar, 2017

The Unintentional Time Traveler

/ posted in: General The Unintentional Time Traveler The Unintentional Time Traveler by Everett Maroon
on February 24th 2014
Pages: 248
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Booktrope Editions
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Kentucky

Fifteen-year-old Jack Bishop has mad skills with cars and engines, but knows he’ll never get a driver’s license because of his epilepsy. Agreeing to participate in an experimental clinical trial to find new treatments for his disease, he finds himself in a completely different body—that of a girl his age, Jacqueline, who defies the expectations of her era.

Goodreads

Jack starts to travel back in time during his seizures.  It takes a few times before he realizes what is going on.  Each time he is in the past for a longer period.  He gets dropped into a body of a girl in the 1920s named Jacqueline.  It is very Quantum Leap.

The town Jacqueline lives in is being terrorized by a local minister.  Jack is being dropped into different points in time to try to save the town.  But everything he does changes the timeline.

I enjoyed this book but it frustrated me.  It left me with several questions.  Years will pass while Jack is in the past but he is not in a coma.  He is going on with his life in the present day.  How?  Does anyone notice that he is not quite himself?  The same things happen with Jacqueline in the past.  Who is in their bodies when Jack/Jacqueline isn’t?  Is Jacqueline in Jack?  Are they just switching places?  Hopefully this will be addressed in future installments of the story.  This is book one of a series.

The author is transgender.  Had I not known that going into the book, I might have missed the exploration of gender and sexuality that happens in the story.  When Jack first finds himself in a female body he is very uncomfortable.  Over time he no longer has an issue with it.  Jacqueline is not considered to be a conventionally feminine woman of her time but she is still a more feminine person than Jack is in the future. Jacqueline has a relationship with a man named Lucas that starts when Jack is in her body.  When he jumps back into his own body he misses Lucas and worries about him.  That relationship fuels his desire to learn to master time travel to get back and help Jacqueline.  The author never comes out and says what gender or sexual orientation anyone is considered.  They just are who they are and love who they love.  It is so matter of fact that that is the reason why I might have missed the complexity if I wasn’t specifically looking at the gender dynamics.

This is a fun time travel mystery.  Read it if you like historical fiction with some suspense.

 

About Everett Maroon

Everett Maroon is a memoirist, pop culture commentator, and speculative fiction writer. He has a B.A. in English from Syracuse University and went through an English literature master’s program there. He is a member of the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association; Bumbling into Body Hair was a finalist in their 2010 literary contest for memoir. Everett writes about writing and living in the Northwest at trans/plant/portation.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
03 Mar, 2017

The Hate U Give

/ posted in: Reading The Hate U Give The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
on February 28, 2017
Genres: Young Adult
Format: eBook
Source: Owned

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, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. 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 upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Goodreads

This was one of the most anticipated books of the year.  I preordered it and started reading as soon as it downloaded.  It is worth all the hype.

I think a large part of the effectiveness of this novel is the complexity of the characters.  No one is a stock character with only one relevant character attribute or motivation.  This allows a lot of discussion among the characters on a huge range of topics.

Starr – She is 16 and lives in a neighborhood that she thinks of as the ghetto but she doesn’t want anyone else to call it that.  She witness her best friend Natasha get killed in a drive by shooting when they were 10.  After that her mother sent her to a private school in a safer neighborhood.  She feels like she is living a double life at home and at school.  She’s not sure she fits into either place.  She has a white boyfriend that she’s too afraid to tell her father about.

Khalil – He grew up with Starr but they don’t talk much any more.  His mother is a drug addict.  After he is killed, he is described as a drug dealer and a gang member but the truth is harder to come by.

Maverick – He’s Starr’s father.  He was a gang member but is out of it now.  He was in jail for three years when Starr was young.  He owns a grocery store in the neighborhood.  He is adamant that they are not going to move to a safer neighborhood because they need to help remake the one they live in.  He’s drilled Black Panther quotes into his children to teach them to survive.

Uncle Carlos – He is a policeman who grew up in the neighborhood.  He helped raise Maverick’s kids when he was in jail and there is still some tension between them.

Add in Starr’s mom and her brothers and the rest of the extended family in addition to the friends from the neighborhood and her school and this is a rich cast of characters with multiple points of view.


Khalil is driving Starr home from a party when they are pulled over.  He is pulled out of the car and then shot while standing beside the car.  The police and the officer’s family describe it as a shooting of a thug who was going for a gun.  Starr knows there was no gun.  Khalil looked into the car to ask if she was ok.  Now she’s dealing with the grief and trauma of witnessing his murder.

At first no one knows that she was the witness.  She wasn’t named because she is a minor.  She is unable to talk about it to her friends at school even though it is a major news story.  There is even a walkout supposedly in protest of his killing but mostly was just as an excuse to get out of class.  As she sees people around her react to the story of Khalil’s death she is forced to face racism in her friends that she had been ignoring before.

Should she break her silence and talk about what happened?  She talks to the grand jury but should she go public?  What will the repercussions be for her family and her neighborhood?  Talking publicly will bring up issues like gang violence that no one talks about for fear of retaliation.

This is a vibrant and layered story about life in a poor community in an inner city.  It shows an intact African-American family with open love and affection between the parents.  That’s rare to find in books.  I’ll leave all the analysis of black representation to others but I thought it was amazing.

I would love to hand this book to any white person who has ever thought All Lives Matter was an appropriate response to Black Lives Matter or who thought that a police killing was justified because the person was probably up to no good.  I doubt they would read it but this book needs to be out in the world being read by everyone.

The title comes from Tupac.  This clip was referenced in the book.  He explains what THUG LIFE means to him.

 

About Angie Thomas

“Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She can also still rap if needed. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Meyers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, was acquired by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in a 13-house auction and will be published in spring 2017. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 with George Tillman attached to direct and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg set to star.”   from Goodreads

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • POC authors
20 Feb, 2017

Sworn to Raise

/ posted in: Reading Sworn to Raise Sworn to Raise by Terah Edun
on April 8th 2013
Pages: 275
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
Published by All Night Reads
Format: eBook
Source: Owned

Seventeen-year-old Ciardis Vane grew up in a small village on the edge of the realm. Beautiful, destitute, and desperate she is looking to get out anyway she can. She has worked her whole live as a laundress with no hope of escaping her fate anytime soon.

But then her life changes when a strange woman appears with the key to Ciardis' escape. With an offer to take her to the capital and a life she'd never dreamed of, it's hard to resist. There's only one catch.

She wants Ciardis to become a companion: she'll be required to wear expensive dresses, learn to conduct suitable magic, educate herself oncourt proclivities, and - in the end - chain herself to the highestbidder. A Patron for life.

Goodreads

This is a book that I loved until I didn’t.

The beginning of the story drew me in quickly.  I loved the writing and the story of a girl who is discovered in the laundry and trained to be a courtesan.

She is the last of a family of powerful mages.  She has the ability to amplify the magic of anyone else.  This is very attractive in a companion.  Companions are chosen for life.  The Patron may go through multiple marriages but companions stay by their side as business partners and sometimes as romantic partners.  Ciardis peaks the interest of both men and women interested in her powers.

Then, about halfway through the story, it started to lag.  It started slipping into too many tropes for my liking.  The Prince is in disguise!  Ciardis doesn’t realize how powerful she is!  There are evil people advising the King!  Any of these could be worked into a good story but this book didn’t seem to go deep enough.  It was like it was hitting the highlights of what should be in a fantasy book.

I did like the fact that there was no romance in this book.  That is a nice change of pace.  I have a feeling that it will change in future books but it was nice for now.

I am still intrigued enough in the overall story to give the next book a try.  The reviews on Goodreads suggest that it is better than the first one.  So far there are nine books in this series.  I can’t imagine where this could be going that requires that many but I’m willing to be surprised.

About Terah Edun

Terah’s work has taken her from communities in Morocco to refugee centers in South Sudan. She is both an international development worker and a New York Times bestselling author of young adult novels. Hailing from Atlanta, GA and currently living in Washington, D.C. her favorite place to be is in front of the computer communicating the stories of underprivileged individuals around the world – both fictional and representative.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • POC authors
15 Feb, 2017

3 by Hannah Moskowitz

/ posted in: Reading 3 by Hannah Moskowitz 3 by Hannah Moskowitz
on October 31st 2016
Pages: 261
Genres: Young Adult
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Florida

Taylor Cipriano had everything figured out, back when she lived with her single mother in Miami. Now, she's moved upstate for her junior year to live with her mom's boyfriend and her soon-to-be-stepsister and is trying to figure out who she is out of the shadow of her best friend. When she meets Theo—quirky, cute, sensitive Theo—he seems like a great match...except he has a girlfriend. Josey, icy and oh-so-intimidating.
But Theo and Josey aren't like anyone Taylor's met before; Josey grew up in a polyamorous family, and the two of them have a history of letting a third person in to their relationship. It's nothing Taylor's ever considered before...but she really likes Theo.
Her feelings for Josey, though?
That's where it really gets complicated.

Goodreads

I have a few things that I consider to be true about my reading life.

  1. YA books generally annoy me.
  2. I especially don’t like YA contemporary books.
  3. I hate, hate, hate love triangles.

I hate to have to rethink long held beliefs about myself.  I’m going to have to though.  I’ve been enjoying some YA contemporary books lately.

I loved this book.  I loved it even though this is an actual love triangle.  Maybe I don’t hate it because no one is choosing who to love and is just agreeing to love everyone.  It isn’t a competition.

Taylor is a junior when she moves to a new town.  She meets Theo and Josey.  She is warned that they are weird but she likes Theo a lot.  When they explain to her that they are polyamorous, she doesn’t know what that means.  In their relationship that means that they are open to other partners.

Other people misunderstand the intent behind the relationship.  They feel that it is unfair for Theo to have two girls that he is using.  They think that it means that Taylor is open to sleeping with any one.  Taylor is nervous that her involvement will feed into stereotypes of Latinas being The Other Women.

What I found most interesting about this book is that I believed it.  I wasn’t mocking the author’s attempts to make it seem like this was a real relationship that wasn’t exploiting anyone because it felt real.  I could see how this relationship could work.  It worked better than a lot of two person relationships I’ve read about in books.  There were no major misunderstandings that could be resolved just by talking to each other.  There was no game playing to make someone else jealous or insecure.  It felt age appropriate.

My only complaint about this book was Josey’s obsession with vet school that didn’t make any sense at all.  I ranted about that all in this post.

 

About Hannah Moskowitz

Hannah Moskowitz wrote her first story, about a kitten named Lilly on the run from cat hunters, for a contest when she was seven years old. She was disqualified for violence. Her first book, BREAK, was on the ALA’s 2010 list of Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, and her book GONE, GONE, GONE won a Stonewall Honor in 2013. She lives in Maryland.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • LBGTQ authors/characters
10 Feb, 2017

The Littlest Bigfoot

/ posted in: Reading The Littlest Bigfoot The Littlest Bigfoot by Jennifer Weiner
on September 13th 2016
Pages: 304
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Published by Aladdin
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Setting: New York

Alice Mayfair, twelve years old, slips through the world unseen and unnoticed. Ignored by her family and shipped off to her eighth boarding school, Alice would like a friend. And when she rescues Millie Maximus from drowning in a lake one day, she finds one.
But Millie is a Bigfoot, part of a clan who dwells deep in the woods. Most Bigfoots believe that people—NoFurs, as they call them—are dangerous, yet Millie is fascinated with the No-Fur world. She is convinced that humans will appreciate all the things about her that her Bigfoot tribe does not: her fearless nature, her lovely singing voice, and her desire to be a star.
Alice swears to protect Millie’s secret. But a league of Bigfoot hunters is on their trail, led by a lonely kid named Jeremy. And in order to survive, Alice and Millie have to put their trust in each other—and have faith in themselves—above all else.

Goodreads

I picked up this book at BEA last year because I like Jennifer Weiner’s adult fiction.  I don’t read a lot of middle grade so I would have missed this one otherwise.

Alice is the neglected child of wealthy New Yorkers who don’t know what to do with her. She doesn’t fit into their vision of what a child of theirs should be.  She’s messy and clumsy and too big.  For some reason she never fits into the schools she’s attended.  Now she is being shipped off to boarding school in upstate New York.  The school is populated by other misfits who Alice keeps her distance from.  She knows they will eventually reject her too.

Millie is a Yare.  They are known as Bigfoot to No-Furs.  They are quiet and meek.  Millie is not.  She wants to meet a No-Fur so much.  Eventually Millie and Alice meet which brings the Yare tribe into danger from the local humans.

After I read this I thought that my stepdaughter would enjoy it.  She refused to even look at it so we read it out loud during a road trip.  She got mad and put her ear buds in so she didn’t have to hear a stupid story.  We did notice her listening every so often though.

Alice believes that she is fat and ugly and that her hair is a disaster.  She judges herself and everyone around her very harshly.  These judgements are presented as facts in the book.  She mocks people in her mind over any difference.  She learns to bully people to gain acceptance.

Eventually this all backfires on her and she is an outcast again.  She learns to accept people for their differences by the end of the book. But I can see people being uncomfortable with the mocking and harsh judging of other characters and viewpoints before this point.

Not all of the issues are resolved at the end so I hope this means that we will be reading more of Alice and Millie.

24 Jan, 2017

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

/ posted in: Reading Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
on February 21st 2012
Pages: 359
Genres: Young Adult
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Setting: Texas

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

Goodreads

Aristotle and Dante is a book that I have been hearing about for a long time but just finally listened to. This is a coming of age story of two Mexican-American boys set in El Paso Texas in the 1980s.

Ari is a loner with many questions about his family. He has a much older brother who went to jail when Ari was four. He doesn’t know why and his family refuses to talk about it. Ari’s father is a Vietnam veteran struggling with PTSD who is having difficulty communicating with his family.

Dante is the extroverted only child of expressive and loving parents. He loves poetry. He offers to teach Ari to swim when they meet at a public pool. Over the summer they become friends and then very gradually start to realize that they may be falling in love.

This is the story of Ari and Dante’s lives through one summer, the school year, and the next summer. There are everyday milestones like getting a driver’s license and having your first job in addition to larger issues.

  • How do you stand up to your parents so they start to see you as an adult?
  • How do you deal with unrequited love?
  • How do you most effectively face homophobia, including violence?
  • How do you learn to let yourself learn to feel and act on your emotions?
  • How do you deal with being too American for your Mexican relatives and too Mexican for other Americans?

Lin-Manuel Miranda reads the audiobook and does a very good job.  (There is a nice moment when Ari complains about learning about Alexander Hamilton that gets a bit meta when you hear Lin-Manuel Miranda read it.) This book is a bit slow on audio for my tastes.  In fact I set it aside for a few months after about the first hour.  I’m glad I came back to it because the story picked up but this is one that might be better in print form if you like a lot of action in your audiobooks.

In whatever format you decide this is a great book for everyone to read.

About Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Benjamin Alire Sáenz (born 16 August 1954) is an award-winning American poet, novelist and writer of children’s books.

He was born at Old Picacho, New Mexico, the fourth of seven children, and was raised on a small farm near Mesilla, New Mexico. He graduated from Las Cruces High School in 1972. That fall, he entered St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, Colorado where he received a B.A. degree in Humanities and Philosophy in 1977. He studied Theology at the University of Louvain in Leuven, Belgium from 1977 to 1981. He was a priest for a few years in El Paso, Texas before leaving the order.

In 1985, he returned to school, and studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Texas at El Paso where he earned an M.A. degree in Creative Writing. He then spent a year at the University of Iowa as a PhD student in American Literature.

He continues to teach in the Creative Writing Department at the University of Texas at El Paso.

from his website

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Backlist Books
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
  • POC authors
09 Jan, 2017

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf

/ posted in: Reading The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf (The Tribe #1) by Ambelin Kwaymullina
on July 2012
Pages: 395
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
Published by Walker Books Australia
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Australia
Goodreads

“There will come a day when a thousand Illegals descend on your detention centres. Boomers will breach the walls. Skychangers will send lightning to strike you all down from above, and Rumblers will open the earth to swallow you up from below. . . . And when that day comes, Justin Connor, think of me.”
Ashala Wolf has been captured by Chief Administrator Neville Rose. A man who is intent on destroying Ashala’s Tribe — the runaway Illegals hiding in the Firstwood. Injured and vulnerable and with her Sleepwalker ability blocked, Ashala is forced to succumb to the machine that will pull secrets from her mind.
And right beside her is Justin Connor, her betrayer, watching her every move.
Will the Tribe survive the interrogation of Ashala Wolf?


I hadn’t heard of this book until it was selected for the Diverse SciFi and Fantasy book club on Twitter.  The author is an Indigenous Australian woman.

Several hundred years ago the Reckoning happened.  It isn’t explained exactly what occurred.  Now there are humans with special abilities.  They are killed or imprisoned when their abilities start to manifest in order to maintain the status quo of the new world.  Several of these kids have escaped into the wilderness and are living together.  They live close to a compound specially built to jail captured Illegals.

The humans haven’t decided this just because of fear of the Illegals.  They decided in response to the Reckoning that they will live in harmony with nature.  They will keep their technology simple so as not to cause another ecological disaster.  I like that the conflict between the types of Humans isn’t just based in fear.  I’d like to see the authorities’ thoughts about how keeping illegals subdued helps lessen human impact on the environment explored more.  I hear that these are explored more in the next book.

When Ashala is betrayed and captured, she is terrified that she will lead authorities to the rest of her Tribe.  They are probably protected because they have made a deal with a species of large lizards who live in the wilds between the detention center and the Tribe.  The Tribe can live in the forest if they promise not to eat any meat.  Vegetarians for the win!  But if the authorities can get past the Saurs the kids don’t have great defenses.

Something feels off about her capture and interrogation.  Ashala isn’t sure what it is.  She’s going to have to figure it out quickly because it is distracting her and distraction may make her betray her people.  She’s also grieving because of some tough decisions that she had to make for the safety of the Tribe.

I can’t talk much more about the plot without spoilers. Ashala needs to trust herself and her own mind in order to survive her interrogation and possibly find a way to escape.

The abilities of Ashala’s tribe are based in Aboriginal folklore.  I haven’t read a book before that uses that as a basis for a magical/supernatural system.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • POC authors
04 Jan, 2017

Wandering Star by Romina Russell

/ posted in: Reading Wandering Star by Romina Russell Wandering Star (Zodiac, #2) by Romina Russell
on December 8th 2015
Pages: 303
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Razorbill
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: Outer Space
Goodreads

“Orphaned, disgraced, and stripped of her title, Rho is ready to live life quietly, as an aid worker in the Cancrian refugee camp on House Capricorn.
But news has spread that the Marad–an unbalanced terrorist group determined to overturn harmony in the Galaxy–could strike any House at any moment.
Then, unwelcome nightmare that he is, Ochus appears to Rho, bearing a cryptic message that leaves her with no choice but to fight.
Now Rho must embark on a high-stakes journey through an all-new set of Houses, where she discovers that there’s much more to her Galaxy–and to herself–than she could have ever imagined.”


I decided to make my first two books I read in 2017 be the sequels to the first two books I read in 2016.  That makes me sound really organized but mostly it was me knowing what those two books were because that was where I stopped scrolling every time I was using my Goodreads list to count up last year’s reading stats.  Every time I’d think, “I never did read the next books in those series….”  So I requested them from the library and they showed up at the right time and now I look like a good planner.

Wandering Star is the sequel to Zodiac, a YA science fiction novel. I particularly fell in love with the world building of this series.

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Each world is based on an astrological sign. The inhabitants of that world all embody the characteristics of that sign. The main character is Cancerian. Her home world is based around the water. Their houses are built of sand and shells. Their personal computing devices are called Waves. Their society is built around strong familial bonds.

Romina Russell has built a detailed world and population for each of the 12 signs of the Zodiac. It is fun to travel around and see the different home worlds for each type of person, especially since in this book we visited the home for Sagittarius. I loved the fact that there are meandering paths if you want to go for a walk and think but otherwise everything is designed to get you to your destination in the shortest possible distance. You can even get shot out of a cannon to your destination. That made me laugh. My husband likes to take the longest possible way to get anywhere and it irritates me to no end. I thought that was because I was a normal person but I guess that just my sign.

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I’m less thrilled about the love triangle in this book. It is described as Rho, the Cancerian, not being able to let go of a love she once had. Ok, I appreciate it trying to be tied to her personality but really it is just annoying.

This is a fun series for when you want some quick light sci-fi with a diverse cast of characters and worlds.

About Romina Russell

Romina Russell (aka Romina Garber) is a Los Angeles based author who originally hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina. As a teen, Romina landed her first writing gig—College She Wrote, a weekly Sunday column for the Miami Herald that was later picked up for national syndication—and she hasn’t stopped writing since. When she’s not working on ZODIAC, Romina can be found producing movie trailers, taking photographs, or daydreaming about buying a new drum set. She is a graduate of Harvard College and a Virgo to the core.

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