Friday, December 2, 2016

Books That Fight Hate

The world can be a scary place sometimes.

No matter how loud hate shrieks, love is louder. No matter how much evil there is in the world, there is ten times the amount of goodness behind that.

Since the American election, there has been a lot of fear and anxiety. As a Canadian, the whole situation has left me feeling heartbroken and helpless. I want to march along the streets and #resist, but I know this isn't my battle to fight. Supporting those who are hurting is my duty as a human, however, and something I will gladly do. On Twitter after the election, Justina Ireland, author of Promise of Shadows and Vengeance Bound, started a hashtag on Twitter called #BooksFightHate to promote diverse books written by marginalized authors.

People have since jumped on board to tweet out their favorite books that not only promote diversity, but that fight prejudice. I absolutely love the idea, and while there are a lot of lists out there promoting #BooksFightHate, I wanted to take it one step forward to include a short bio with each title to help people find the books they really connect with.

Most of the recs below are YA, MG, and some adult in the fantasy/sci-fi range. As publishing is constantly moving towards diversity, there will be more titles to add to this list. So if you see something I've missed, make sure to comment below and I'll add it. There has never been a more important time to support and spread the love for marginalized authors.

Books That Fight Hate 

1. Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz
Jasmine is an overachiever with her whole future ahead of her- until she discovers her family's visas expired years ago. Now not only are her college prospects in jeopardy, but her family could be deported if they're discovered. Featuring a Filipino MC and deals with immigrant struggles. 

2. The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie 
Junior, a budding cartoonist, decides to take his destiny into his own hands as he leaves the reservation to attend school in an all-white community. Featuring a Native American MC, this book highlights the harsh reality for a lot of Natives living on reservations in North America, from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum and racism. 

3. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz 
The story of friendship between Ari, who doesn't understand why he's so angry, and Dante, a quirky know-it-all. This is a coming of age story about friendship, family, and identity. Features a subtle, gay relationship between the two characters. 

4. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas 
Starr balances life between the poor neighborhood she grew up in and the fancy prep school she attends. But when she witnesses her unarmed friend shot by police, her entire world becomes upended. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. 

5. When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds 
Ali has never been interested in the violence and drugs in his neighborhood, but his best friend, Noodles, is a ticking time bomb. Features a black MC and dealing with life in a rough neighborhood. 

6. A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott
Genna lives in a drug-infested world of poverty, but she's planning an escape to a different life. Until the night she makes a wish and is transported back to Civil-era Brooklyn, where she has to fight through a time still rife with slavery. Features a black MC, and her boyfriend from Jamaica takes time to make Genna appreciate her black skin and curly hair, which is really lovely to see. 

7. Time Keeper by Tara Sim
Danny is a mechanic that fixes not only clocks, but time. After moving to a new town, he finds himself falling in love with his assigned apprentice-- who also happens to be the spirit of the tower's clock. Gay romance here. (I'm drooling over this one, not going to lie.) 

8. The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Helig 
Nix spends her days traveling everywhere on her father's ship-- if they have a map of it, real or imagined, they can go there. But the one map her father wants more than anything-- the one that will lead him to his love and Nix's mom-- could threaten to erase her existence. Plethora of diversity here, from Nix being half-Chinese, to loads of ethnic culture, as well as LGBT characters. 

9. Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed
When Naila breaks her family's rule by falling in love with a boy, they take her back to Pakistan to reacquaint her with her roots-- as well as to introduce her to the husband they have picked out for her. Featuring a Pakistani main character, this book focuses a lot on arranged and forced marriages and Pakistani culture. 

10. Tiger Moon by Antonia Michaelis
In this fantastical Indian fairy tale, Farhad, master of disguises, sets out on a journey with his talking tiger to rescue a princess from marrying a demon king. Rich with Indian culture and myths, this is a true treasure to read. 

11. Run by Kody Keplinger 
Bo is known for being a delinquent from a delinquent family. Agnes is legally blind and has never stepped farther than the end of her parents' leash. Together, they form an unbreakable friendship. So when Bo asks her to run, Agnes doesn't even question it. Featuring a blind MC and a bisexual MC (woo disability lit!) 

12. Gabi, A Girl In Pieces by Isabel Quintero 
Gabi's final year of high school will be epic, if she can survive her best friend coming out gay, her other best friend's pregnancy, rape, slut-shaming, and reconciling her "Mexicanness" with her "Whiteness." What can I say about this one? Mexican MC, LGBT, feminism, oh my!

13. Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho 
In an alternate history of Britain, the sorcerer royal, Zacharias, ventures to the border of Fairyland to find out why the magic reserves are drying up. On his way he encounters a school for Gentlewitches, where young women have the magic stomped out of them, and meets Prunella, a young woman with a wealth of magical ability. In this book, Zacharias is a freed-slave turned sorcerer and faces a lot of issues with oppression and institutionalized racism. 

14. Not Your Sidekick by CB Lee
For Jess, the best way to spite her superhero parents was to take the internship with the local super villain. As a perk, she gets to work alongside her crush, who may just be hiding secrets of her own. Featuring a MC who is half-Chinese, half-Vietnamese, and doesn't feel accepted with either. Also: BISEXUAL REP!!

15. The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera
Margot has spent years denying her culture and her family in order to fit in at her prep school. But after stealing her father's credit card, she's forced to work in her family's deli to work off the debt. Featuring a Latina MC. 

16. We Were Here by Matt de la Pena 
After it happened, Miguel was sent to juvi and then to a group home, which he was grateful for. It was better than living at home, where his mother couldn't even look at him. With a plan to head to Mexico, Miguel breaks out and runs for the border, hoping to start over. Featuring a Latino MC, and also deals with a lot of guilt, self-punishment, and hitting rock bottom. It's also nice to get a glimpse of the social services systems. 

17. When The Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore 
Sam and Miel are best friends and as odd as they come. Roses grow from Miel's wrists while Sam paints moons in the trees. A group of witches sets their sites on the roses growing from Miel's wrist, believing their scent can make anyone fall in love, and intend to use Sam's secrets to get them. Featuring: Latina and Italian-Pakistani MCs, also, TRANS REP! 

18. The Memory of Light by Francisco X Stork
After a suicide attempt lands her in the hospital, Vicky finds her strength through the other kids she meets in the psych ward. But when a crisis splits them up and Vicky must return back to the situation that made her suicidal, she has to find her own source of strength. This novel is all about mental health representation, and does an excellent job of shining a light down the dark hallway of depression. 

19. The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
Two rebels become friends during the overthrowing of a tyranny. But after the dust settles, they find themselves leaders of opposite factions with very different ideals of how the world should be run. Features a lot of Asian and Middle Eastern mythologies with a culture built on Ancient China. 

20. Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera 
After coming out to her mother, who she is sure will never talk to her again, Juliet leaves the Bronx to spend a summer in Portland interning under her favorite feminist author. Featuring a Puerto Rican lesbian MC, and lots of feminist goodness. 

21. God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
Bride's blue-black skin was the reason her light-skinned mother denied her any love, but it doesn't stop her from finding love, success, and confidence. This novel focuses a lot on racism, but also features a survivor of child sexual abuse and shows how it affects their life. 

22. Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okaparanta
Goodreads Amazon 
Inspired by Nigerian folktales and war, Ijeoma, a young Nigerian child, is sent away to escape the civil war where she meets a girl from another ethnic community. The pair quickly fall in love, but must hide their relationship if they hope to survive. Features a lesbian romance, feminism, African characters, as well as looks at religion and homosexuality.

23. The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Goodreads Amazon 
Natasha meets Daniel the day before her family was going to be deported to Jamaica. But one day is all it takes to find love. Features a Jamaican and Asian MC, as well as tackles issues of deportation and displacement.

24. Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley 
Goodreads Amazon 
In 1959, Sarah is one of the first black students to attend an all-white Jefferson High. Linda is the daughter of the town's most vocal opponents to school integration. Lesbian couples! Mixed race relationship! Plus heavy on racism and segregation.

25. Fat Kid Rules the World by KL Going 
Goodreads Amazon
Troy, an obese teenager, befriends Curt McCrae, local punk star and homeless drug addict. Together, their friendship ends up saving them both in ways they didn't know they needed. This book is definite on the fat acceptance.

26. Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older 

Goodreads Amazon
After a zombie crashes her friend's party, Sierra learns she's part of a community of shadowshapers-- those that connect with spirits through paintings, music, and storytelling. Featuring an Afro-Latina MC with Caribbean-based folklore. Also features a very diverse cast including LGBT characters.

27. Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli 
Goodreads Amazon 
When an email falls into the wrong hands, Simon finds himself as wingman to the class clown Martin, under threat that his secret will be exposed. Or worse, the pen name of the boy he's been flirting with over email could be compromised. Featuring a gay romance, black love interest.

28. Dumplin' by Julie Murphy 
Goodreads Amazon
Self-proclaimed fat girl Willow has always been comfortable with her size, until the day she starts a relationship with a handsome jock, and she begins to doubt herself. To regain her confidence, she enters the city's beauty pageant to prove she deserves to be up there as much as any other girl. Features a lot of fat positivity.

29. More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
Goodreads Amazon 
After his father's suicide, Aaron struggles to find happiness again with the help of his girlfriend and hard-working mom. But when a new guy enters the picture, who makes Aaron feel things he never thought possible, he considers following through with a memory-altering procedure to fix himself. Features suicide, depression, mental health, and deals with homophobia. 

30. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 
Goodreads Amazon 
Ifemelu and Obinze are teenagers living in Nigeria under a military dictatorship. While Ifemelu managed to immigrate to America, post 9/11 politics prevents Obinze from following. After years, they find themselves reunited in their homeland and their love, and come to face the toughest decisions of their lives. Featuring Nigerian MCs, written by a Nigerian author, and tackles a lot of race issues.

31. Santa Meurte by Cynthia Pelayo
Goodreads Amazon 
Life is quiet for Ariana until her father, a federal investigator from Mexico targeting criminal organizations, arrives on her doorstep. After he's involved in a car accident, Ariana begins seeing a veiled skeletal figure asking for her father. Featuring a Latina MC and plenty of Mexican folklore.

32. Lailah's Lunchbox by Reem Faruqi 
Goodreads Amazon 
The adorable story of Lailah, a 10-year-old Muslim who is very excited to join her family in her first Ramadan. She just needs to figure out how to explain it to her non-Muslim classmates. Such a cute story featuring a Muslim MC and discusses Islam and Ramadan. This is a picture book, but worth the read.

33. The Story of Maha by Sumayya Lee
Goodreads Amazon 
After her parents are killed during a political rally, Maha goes to live with her Indian grandparents. She learns how to wind around the strict boundaries of her Muslim community as she develops into a rebellious teenager. Book is set in a South African Indian Muslim community, and features an Indian MC.

34. Alif the Unseen by G Willow Wilson 
Goodreads Amazon 
In the Middle East, a young Arab-Indian hacker by the alias of Alif shields his clients from surveillance groups and tries to stay out of trouble. But when the woman he loves begins courting the head of the state's security, Alif's computer is compromised and he flees underground for his own, and his client's, safety. A POC MC and features Islam in a positive light, also showcasing some Islamic myths and folklore.

35. The Moor's Account by Laila Lalami
Goodreads Amazon 
An alternative history account of the Narvaez expedition which would leave only four survivors, one of which was Mustafa al-Zamori, a Moroccan slave and the first black explorer of America. POC MC and written by a Moroccan author.

36. The Unintentional Time Traveler by Everett Maroon
Goodreads Amazon 
Jack agrees to try an experimental clinical trial to cure his epilepsy, but instead finds himself in the body of a girl--Jacqueline-- from 1920s era. Disability rep, as well as tackles identity and how much our gender affects who we are.

37. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi 
Goodreads Amazon 
Effia and Esi, sisters born in separate villages, end up leading very different lives. While Effia is married to a slaver and lives in luxury, Esi works as a slave in the palace dungeon beneath her, before being shipped off as a slave to America. This novel follows the sisters' descendants 300 years and illustrates how slavery and colonialism shaped America and Ghana. The author was born in Ghana as well.

38. Does My Head Look Big in This by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Goodreads Amazon 
Everyone has a reaction when Amal decides to wear the hijab full-time. Dodging prejudice and fending questions from her friends and teachers, she still intends to attract the cutest boy at school. Islam rep! Also, love how it tackles stereotypes and misconceptions.
39. Girl Mans Up by M-e Girard 

Goodreads Amazon 
All Pen wants is to be the kind of girl she wants to be, but for some reason everyone thinks the way she looks and acts means she wants to be a boy. Portuguese MC, lesbian MC, and tackles a lot about gender identity. I can't wait to read this one!

40. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo 
Goodreads Amazon 
Amanda transferred schools to get a new life, but when she begins to fall for Grant, she fears how he'll react when he learns of her past... and that her name used to be Andrew. Trans rep!! Also, #ownvoices

41. Songs that Sound Like Blood by Jared Thomas 
Roxy heads to the big city for a new start and to study music. Singing for her dinner is soul crushing, but her newfound crush on Ana might make it worth it. Indigenous and Maori MCs, as well as a lesbian romance.

42. On The Edge of Gone by Corrine Duyvis 
Goodreads Amazon 
Denise, her mother, and her sister are supposed to head for a shelter to wait out an incoming comet blast. On the way they encounter a generation ship leaving to colonize new worlds, but all passengers must have a skill to contribute, and Denise fears her autism may hold them back. Very diverse cast with half-black autistic MC, lesbian, Muslim, bisexual trans, and Jewish characters, to name a few.

43. Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson 
Goodreads Amazon 
Conjoined twins Abby and Makeda were separated by surgery that left Abby with a limp and Makeda cut off from the magic her sister possesses. Makeda moves on to start a new life of her own, but she must reconcile with her sister after her father disappears in order to save him. Urban fantasy with Caribbean mythology written by a Caribbean author.

44. All We Have Left by Wendy Mills
Goodreads Amazon 
Jesse finds herself caught up in the wrong crowd after her brother passes away in the September 11 attacks, and one momentary hate-filled decision turns her life upside down. Alia is a proud Muslim who finds herself in the Two Towers when the plane hits. Trapped inside the burning building, Alia meets a boy who changes her life. An authentic Muslim character, and presents the hatred and prejudice that Muslims have faced since 9/11.
45. Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed 
Goodreads Amazon 
In the midst of a brewing rebellion, supernatural murders cause unrest through the Crescent Moon Kingdoms. Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, “the last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat,” his young assistant, and a woman with the power of the lion-shape set out to learn the truth behind the killings.  Set in the Middle East during the Islamic Golden Age.

46. George by Alex Gino  
Goodreads Amazon 
When people look at George, they see a boy, but she knows she's a girl. She just has to find a way to show everyone else that, too. Middle grade book featuring a trans MC! A must have!

47. Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova 
Goodreads Amazon 
Alex is a bruja, one of the most powerful witches in her generation, and hates it. While attempting a spell to rid herself of her powers, it backfires and her family vanishes, and she must travel to Los Lagos, an in-between land, to save them. Latinx culture and folklore, cast of POC characters, and an #ownvoices book featuring a writer born in Ecuador.

48. Radio Silence by Alice Oseman 
Goodreads Amazon 
Frances has always been a study machine with one goal-- elite university. But when she meets Aled, the shy boy behind her favourite podcast, he reveals a side to Frances that she thought she'd locked away. Bisexual and biracial MC!

49. Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
Goodreads Amazon 
Jende has come to America to provide a better life for his family, and can't believe his luck ending up as a chauffeur for the Lehman Brothers. But the cracks in the American dream begin to show when the company goes under. Featuring the Jonga family, who are West African, and features the immigrant struggle as they struggle to become citizens.

50. It Ain't So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas
Goodreads Amazon 
Zomorod is the new kid on the block, for the fourth time. With a new school, she plans to change her name to Cindy to fit in. But it's the mid-70s, and Iran is making headlines with protests, revolution, and hostage takings, and the anti-Iran sentiments are making it difficult to feel at home in her own country. Featuring an Iranian MC and examines prejudice through a middle grade lens.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Book Review: The Quest

Book Review: The Quest by Dani Hoots 

Goodreads Description: Eleven years ago, my life was ripped away from me. My father, my brother, my humanity. Everything. I was thrown into the Kamps, created to be a mindless machine. But I fought against it, not letting them take away my memories of the past. 

And I succeeded. 

It has been seven years since I was taken out of the Kamps and made into the Emperor's Shadow. Now I only take orders from him, and him alone, without questions. That is, until my brother, who I thought was dead, shows up and kidnaps me in order to help him find some long lost planet that our father used to tell stories about. 

According to the legend, and who finds the planet Sanshll can rewrite the past, and my brother wants to use it to destroy the Empire. My loyalty will always be to the Emperor. But what if this planet is real? The longer I stay with my brother, the more I begin to find that the Emperor has been keeping secrets from me. But I can't turn my back on him... 

Or can I?

My Review: I was given a copy of The Quest by the author, Dani Hoots, in exchange for an honest review. 

Eleven-years-ago, Arcadia lost everything when the empire killed her father and dragged her off to the Kamps to be tortured and used for experiments. While in a fight to the death, Arcadia managed to impress the visiting Emperor himself and won herself a place as his shadow- the Emperor’s secret assassin. But when her brother reappears after so many years, she no longer knows where her loyalty lies: to the brother who abandoned her to the Kamps, or the ruthless Emperor who saved her from them.

The Quest starts us off with Arcadia and her brother, Rik, high above a planet with their father, watching as it is overtaken by Empire soldiers. To ease their fears, their father tells them a bedtime story, which launches them into a tale of a mysterious planet and a lost daughter to two powerful illusionists who is the galaxy’s hope for peace. As cute as it is to get a glimpse of our characters’ lives before the calamity sets in, the opening prologue here gives far, far too much away. The use of a “chosen one” prophecy is really overdone, and something needs to be twisted for the troupe to have any sort of effect. As that wasn’t the case, the prologue only stood as an outline of what to expect by the end of the book. As the book had no other hints to a “chosen one” narrative, leaving out the prologue would have added to the surprise and revelation at the end, when we find out who Arcadia really is. Instead, it was a giant red arrow pointing to the main character exclaiming, “Look out, we’ve got a super special snowflake over here.” 

It was delightful to see a full story captured within a single book. The book ends on a cliffhanger and there is definitely more to the story, but the characters achieved in one book the goal they set out for themselves (finding the planet Sanshll), as opposed to outlining a goal that (in many fantasy/sci-fi books) takes a whole series to complete (E.g., Characters are out to get rid of the empire, but in Book 1 only find one component of a spell to destroy it). So it was a real breath of fresh air to find a book that finishes what it says it will. 

Now, the element that ultimately brought my rating down for this book was the main character. I had problems with nearly every characterization, (from motivations that made no sense, to cartoonish reactions to situations, to alliances that made no sense with that’s been established in the characters’ pasts), but ultimately it was Arcadia herself that made this book incredibly difficult to get through. Though she’s presented as a “strong, female character,” her personality can be reduced to two elements: the fact that she’s a murderous, cold-blooded, feel nothing monster who seems to take pleasure in carrying out this role, and the sexy bootylicious babe that everyone wants to bang. Throughout the book, Arcadia boasts about the people she’s killed and doesn’t have a lick of remorse. Even when her actions are brought to her attention, and characters try to lead her to feel remorse, Arcadia shrugs it all off and takes it as “who she is,” which is extremely off-putting. Throughout the entire book, Arcadia did maybe a handful of things that could be considered sympathetic, and even then the only reason she did these things was to “fool the crew” into believing she was trustworthy. Her motivation relied entirely on the fact that she got “orders” from her Emperor, which made her come off as a mindless puppet without a single likeable or sympathetic aspect to her character. It was an attempt to come off as a “hard, badass female” but what we’re left with is the cartoonish equivalent to a 16-year-old waving around a Swiss army knife. The author spent so much time trying to prove their MC was a badass that the character lacked any sort of humanity. 

And we come to the second big ticket element of our MC’s personality-- her attractiveness. Oh, don’t worry, Arcadia doesn’t waste time talking about how beautiful and sexy she is (she’s got to spend that time explaining how badass she is), but that’s why every other character with a dick has to make a move on her. Within the first chapter, she is objectified by 1) the Emperor, 2) the head general 3) some guy she has a sort of relationship with (who has to show up and see her canoodling with the other two for little to no reason). Every male (thankfully except her brother) makes a point to hit on her or make a move on her. (Meanwhile everyone else hates her guts. These very polarizing responses which got dull fast.) There’s nothing wrong with having a character who is sexual and is wanted by others, but this was another case of overkill. When you spend every chapter asserting your sexuality and dominance in your character, it loses its affect. Often saying something once is more powerful than repeating something ad nausea until the reader learns to tune it out. 

Further, the motivations (Arcadia as well as everyone else’s) made no sense. All the decisions that are made in the beginning of the book to push things into action (the Emperor telling her to go with her brother, Rik waiting so long to find his sister, and why he bothered since her use doesn’t become apparent until later), felt so forced. Nothing flowed organically. Even Arcadia becoming the Emperor’s shadow made no sense. The empire kills her father, drags her from home and puts her in a place of torture, and then when the Emperor makes an appearance, she attempts to assassinate him. The Emperor (I guess?) is turned on by chicks throwing knives and hires her, even though she still attempts to kill him. And then, for some reason, Arcadia’s whole motivation flips and she becomes exceedingly loyal to the person who completely destroyed her whole life. There’s no explanation given for this besides “he saved her from the Kamps,” which, being that he was the reason she was there in the first place, didn’t make for a believable transformation. 

As far as the writing goes, I was fairly disappointed. The author spends far more time telling than showing, which makes description thin. Instead of showing us the world and letting the story reveal itself, the author holds the reader by the hand and tells them everything. A little telling is fine, but as the writer spent the whole time telling us the backstory, telling us how characters felt, telling us what other characters thought at times, it really took away from the experience. I wanted to know what the ship looked like. I wanted to wonder what other characters really thought of Arcadia. Instead of letting the reader draw their own conclusions, the book drags you to the conclusions it wants you to draw. 

In the last quarter of the book, Arcadia’s motivation completely changes, and with it, so does her character. She claims near the end (when it’s clear she’s not following orders anymore, nor is she incredibly sympathetic to the PAE and their struggles), she decides her reason for finding the lost planet was to rid herself of nightly dreams. It was at this point that Arcadia finally resembled something human. She wasn’t a mindless drone! She actually had her own thoughts! And though it didn’t make her sympathetic or likeable by any means, it at least gave me something as a reader to hold onto and use to relate to her. As well, during this final quarter we actually see some inner conflict, some turmoil. When Arcadia is injured, she has a moment of humanity and admits she doesn’t know who to side with. I felt like if we had more of that -- the inner conflict, the uncertainty, the utter humanity-- and less time talking about her kills or getting her into bed, this book would have had a much greater impact. 

TL;DR: All in all 1/5 stars. An unlikable character dressed as a strong female lead in a story that delivers what it promises. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Book Review: Something in Between

Book Review: Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz

Goodreads Description: Jasmine de los Santos has always done what’s expected of her. Pretty and popular, she’s studied hard, made her Filipino immigrant parents proud and is ready to reap the rewards in the form of a full college scholarship.

And then everything shatters. A national scholar award invitation compels her parents to reveal the truth: their visas expired years ago. Her entire family is illegal. That means no scholarships, maybe no college at all and the very real threat of deportation.

For the first time, Jasmine rebels, trying all those teen things she never had time for in the past. Even as she’s trying to make sense of her new world, it’s turned upside down by Royce Blakely, the charming son of a high-ranking congressman. Jasmine no longer has any idea where—or if—she fits into the American Dream. All she knows is that she’s not giving up. Because when the rules you lived by no longer apply, the only thing to do is make up your own.

My Review: I was sent a copy of Something in Between by MB Communications in exchange for an honest review. 

Something in Between is the incredibly delightful story of Jasmine and her family on their journey to become American citizens. For most of her life, Jasmine de los Santos believed she was an American citizen. But when she receives a prestigious scholarship straight from the federal government, her parents are forced to admit that no one in their family has green cards, and so she cannot accept the scholarship. Worse yet, she may not even be able to go to college at all, since they cannot apply for financial aid. Not to mention that if they are discovered, the entire family could be deported at any time. 

First of all, I absolutely adored this story. After reading so many books with dark themes and tones, this was a breath of fresh air. Jasmine de los Santos is such a great character. She is so positive and driven, sometimes to the point of being competitive, and filled with so much love for her family. If I ever met her in real life, I know I'd probably roll my eyes at the way she gets so worked up about things or is so over-focused on school and the need to succeed. But those parts of her personality added to her character and made her perfect for the story. It was refreshing to see such a go-getter character like Jasmine in young adult. I can't remember the last time I found a character with such an unbreakable drive. Of course, Jasmine wasn't the only character that delighted me. From Royce, to Jasmine's parents, to her friends Kayla and Lo, all were wonderfully balanced. I especially found myself impressed with Jasmine's parents. In contemporary, it's very common for writers to skim over the parents' personality and thus make them background robots. As this novel is very family-focused, it was essential to have the rest of her family as vivid as Jasmine herself, which the author pulled off perfectly. 

Overall, this novel is very much a romance. From the first few chapters we get a glimpse of Royce Blakely, the handsome congressman's son who keeps popping up in Jasmine's life. Jasmine, however, has always been very focused on school, and has never kissed a boy much less had a boyfriend. Still, when she begins shyly texting Royce and they strike up an awkward friendship, she can't deny how attracted she is to him. I really loved Royce, and felt he was nicely developed. A lot of time romance can gloss over the love interest, so it was nice to see him be as human as Jasmine was. As well, the relationship is not all kissing and holding hands. I loved all the ups and downs that these two have together-- from breaking up and getting back together, to fighting about family issues, and so on. It felt so real because the romance wasn't just the fairy tale lead up to how these two got together. The book showed how their relationship evolved and grew, which was really awesome to see. The only issue I took with the book--- and it's another thing I find common in romance-- is that the guy will do back flips, pull down the moon, run a mile and then go further, all to impress the girl. And the girl, often, does little to nothing in return. No huge romantic gestures or efforts made. Royce states in the book that Jasmine gives him the courage to be himself and follow his dreams, but it would have been nice to see Jasmine put a bit more effort into the relationship to make it seem more balanced. 

The writing in this book is smooth and even, and with no swearing or any mature content (Jasmine and Royce don't make it past heavy kissing), I could see this very much appealing to younger audiences of young adult. Aside from the looming threat of deportation, there isn't a whole lot of tension. A lot of action takes place between every page but unless you're engaged in the characters and their day to day life, it can start to drag. That said, there is a lot of meat to the story, so those that fall in love with the characters will be delighted at all the adventures they get to enjoy. 

The heart of this story comes down to Jasmine's story of immigration. It is an incredibly empathetic story and really allows readers who may be so far removed from situations like this to understand what's it's like to be an immigrant in America. I really believe this book will do a lot of good in helping young people build empathy for those in this kind of situation. Not only was the glimpse into Filipino culture delightful and enlightening, but the points the book raises on what it means to be American are especially pertinent in this day and age. I'd strongly encourage librarians to sneak this book into the hands of those looking for romance, as they will get all that and so much more. 

The only issue that I had with the book comes down to how it all ends up resolved. No spoilers, but I found that the solution felt a little too simple, and like it was an option right from the beginning. There was a lot of work the characters put into achieving that end, but the way it was actually achieved-- with a single phone call-- made all that effort feel pointless. It made it feel like the book could have been half its size, if that was all it took to resolve the conflict. 

TL;DR: 3/5 stars. A culturally delightful story that builds empathy for immigrant struggles. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Book Review: This Savage Song

Book Review: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab 

Goodreads Description: There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.

My Review: This review will contain some spoilers regarding the end of the book. There will be a warning before you reach the spoilers. 

I'm sure that Victoria Schwab doesn't actually write. I'm sure that she sits in front of her computer and waves her hand, and with a magic only she can master, summons words and twines them into a visual tapestry. Her words literally have a possessive power, and once I crack a cover I can't stop until I've reached the last page, no matter what kind of torture Schwab has in store. 

This Savage Song begins with a spark. In a desperate attempt to be moved home with her father, Kate burns down a chapel at her religious boarding school and succeeds in getting expelled. She returns to V-City, where her father runs the northern half by offering protection from monsters for those who can pay. On the south side of the city, August lives in a compound with his Sunai siblings and his human parents, who are struggling to keep the southern city free of monsters. When Kate attends a new school in the city, August enrolls to get close to her in the hopes of using her for leverage in case the truce between the two sides of V-City should fall. 

As always, the writing is pure genius. Schwab writes in a way that is incredibly descriptive without being overbearing. You can taste the air in V-City and hear the music trilling from August's violin. I mean it when I say her words possess readers, as as soon as I begin I no longer feel as though I'm reading. I'm simply there. Along with the gorgeous writing, the part of this book that truly sings are the characters. No surprise, as Schwab has always had a knack for creating vivid and emotionally 3D characters. It's one things to have your characters emotionally reactive to what's going on around them. It's another when your character has a backstory that haunts them. But Schwab does an excellent job of not only doing both of those, but of taking that backstory and making it an emotional motivator for the characters. Everything that happened to Kate and August in their past is what's currently motivating them, and all those emotions come to a head within the book. It's what make the book so emotionally powerful. 

As well, This Savage Song breaks away from the norm of YA in two distinctive ways: there is no romance within the book, and one main character, Kate, is an unflinching asshole in many ways. She burns down a school, threatens her classmates, brutally murders monsters, and yet it's all portrayed with a delicate balance. You can see that a part of her is a much softer, kinder person, but the world she lives in has shaped her to be so rough. I love it when authors actually step out of the 'hero' box and actually examine other parts of our humanity. For that reason alone, this book was very endearing to me. 

Despite the irresistible nature of the writing and the excellent tension and pacing, I found the beginning of this book a little slow in that not a lot of action happens. It is a lot of back and forth high school drama, and while it is necessary and didn't harm the book in any way, I could see some readers being put off by that initial slump. Also, the reason for August to go to school felt a little weak. Just to "get close to her" so she could be "leverage" if things went wrong? It felt a little thin. If there was a bit more explanation of how they planned to use her as leverage this way, then it would have felt a lot stronger. By verse 3, the plot picks up and it's a raging adventure straight to the end. I enjoyed the beginning, but by the second half of the book I couldn't put it down. 

** Spoilers start here. Stop if you don't wish to know.** 

I don't normally include spoilers, no matter how I feel on a book, because I like to let readers draw their own conclusions without spoiling anything. But as my major issue with this book lies in its climax, I will have to break one of my cardinal rules. 

Near the end of the book, Kate's soul goes "red" by killing a man who was attacking her. Later, when confronting her father, she has the chance to kill him when August stops her, tells her to leave, and that he'll do the job himself. The whole thing felt really off to me. I wish Kate had lost her soul through killing her father. She spends the entire book trying to convince us she's a monster, and then when the hammer falls, it's this act that would make her unforgivable. So she gets away with doing all these horrible things, while August, who has spent the entire book trying to be a good person and get away from his perceived destiny of being a monster, has to do the dirty work. 

It wasn't intentional, but it left me with a strong feeling of "Bad people get away with whatever they want, while people born to crappy circumstances have no hope of escaping their destiny." It drew an uncomfortable morality line about who is okay to kill and who isn't based only on their race. Kate kills multiple monsters without a second blink, but the second she accidentally kills a human (which you can justify as self-defense) suddenly she's irredeemable? Killing her father would damage her beyond repair but killing the other man was sorta okay? There was an inequality there that didn’t feel right. I understand that these monsters are supposedly “born from violence,” but when you have a character like August, who is a monster, it feels more like, “You can be as awfully violent and horrible to this boy as you want, because on a technicality he’s not like us.” This is probably all just my interpretation, but I just couldn't shake the bad taste in my mouth after I turned the last page.  

TL;DR: 4/5 stars. A brilliant book with amazing characters and an immersive world. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Cover Reveal: Come On Up To The House

Hello all! I'm very pleased to bring you a shiny new cover from Dane Cobain for his upcoming book, Come On Up To The House. Dane has been on the blog before when I reviewed one of his previous novels, so I'm excited to see what's coming up in the works next for him.

Without further ado, I present...

Doesn't life seem nasty, brutish and short?

This horror novella and accompanying screenplay tells the story of Darran Jersey, a troubled teenager who moves into a house that's inhabited by the malevolent spirit of his predecessor.

As time goes by and the family begins to settle, Darran begins to take on more and more of the qualities of James, the dead teenager who committed a bloody suicide.

As tragedy after tragedy threatens to destroy the family, Darran's mother Alice decides to leave the house behind and start afresh, but is it too late? 

Find out when you Come On Up to the House...

Check out the Book Trailer:

Dane Cobain (High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, UK) is an independent poet, musician and storyteller with a passion for language and learning. When he's not in front of a screen writing stories and poetry, he can be found working on his book review blog or developing his website. Check him out at

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Book Review: Descriptions of Heaven

Book Review: Descriptions of Heaven by Randal Eldon Greene 

Goodreads Description: A linguist, a lake monster, and the looming shadow of death—news of an unknown creature in the New Bedford Lake coincides with news that Natalia’s cancer has returned.

On the shores of the lake in a strange house with many secret doors, Robert and his family must face the fact that Natalia is dying, and there is no hope this time. But they continue on; their son plays by the lakeside, Natalia paints, Robert writes, and all the while the air is thick with dust from a worldwide drought that threatens to come down and coat their little corner of green.

A lament for what is already lost and what is yet to be lost, Descriptions of Heaven leaves only one question to be asked: What’s next?

My Review: I was given an advanced reader's copy of Descriptions of Heaven by the author in exchange for an honest review. 

Descriptions of Heaven is a beautifully written novella featuring Robert and Natalia, a young couple living with their son in their lake house. As Natalia's cancer returns and her death seems inevitable, Robert struggles to explain her death to his young son, Jesse, while simultaneously coping with the loss of his lover. 

First and foremost, this novella has gorgeous prose. The author has an obvious love of language and it shows through vivid descriptions and a wide use of vocabulary. I can see some readers being put off because it can come across as "purple prose" at times. There were a few moments where I wished the author took a single step back, as it felt a tad overkill. Despite that, the superfluous prose was not boring or took away from the story. Rather, the story itself was about the love of language, as Robert is a writer and a linguist, so the quiet introspection about life spaced throughout feels fitting. Aside from feeling it was a tad much at times, I loved the author's prose and his style in general. Greene makes poetry of his prose and commands the page. For that reason alone, it was a joy to read. 

The story itself is very wistful and speculative. The main character spends a lot of time pondering life and death, as can be expected, and makes lots of observations about the world. The story's strength definitely lies in its quieter moments, and there are plenty of them. Unfortunately, the story lacks a bit of the side of action. Even in scenes where there is more action, such as when Natalia discovers an intruder in the home, the action is glossed over and minimized to focus instead on the characters reflecting and discussing the scene afterwards. I felt that these are missed opportunities. If the author had put a bit more focus on the action and tension in those scenes, fully embracing what is happening, then the quieter scenes to follow would have had more punch as well. 

Descriptions of Heaven is a soft, beautiful narrative that left me wistful and lingering on the last lines. It didn't feel incomplete as a story, but I was still left rereading the last few paragraphs, as if I was searching for something. The best way to describe the feeling this novella left me with would be the emptiness and incompleteness when a loved one is lost. Though I wasn't heart broken by Natalia's death, I found myself searching for the meaning in her death just as Robert did. But there isn't much meaning in death, especially untimely death, which I believe Greene captured perfectly. 

TL;DR: 3/5 stars. A lovely novella exploring life and death through the love of language. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Blocked By VOYA Magazine

When I was younger, my mom taught me that when someone was bothering you, it was important to make it clear that you'd like that behaviour to stop. If it didn't, then it was best to disengage and interact with that person as little as possible. Starting fights doesn't often solve anything.

I've followed that ideal for most of my life. So when the initial mess with VOYA came up, I, like others, made my displeasure clear, offered criticism, and then watched as they stubbornly refused to change or take responsibility for wrongdoings. VOYA Magazine stooped so low as to block and gaslight those offering criticism, respond to industry professionals with sarcasm and rudeness, as well as respond to attempts to help them with insults.

Normally, I'd follow my mother's advice and walk away, but I can't this time. Not when a magazine that claims to be the "Voice of Youth Advocates" turns around and spits on not only their audience, but those they claim to "advocate" for.

If you haven't heard of the madness, it all began when VOYA Magazine published a review of Kody Keplinger's RUN (which they've since deleted), in which they claim the book should be for mature junior and high school readers due to a bisexual main character and swearing. The main issue, of course, being the implication that the mere existence of a bisexual character warrants a "warning." The real problem is best outlined by the author herself:

Nowhere in the review does it mention the straight sex. What makes the book mature was the mere fact that Bo expressed that she liked girls as well as boys. 

Tristina Wright (@TristinaWright) sent an email to VOYA after reading the review, and the following response from VOYA staff sent the internet into a frenzy.

The whole exchange makes me cringe hard. Of course, people make mistakes, right? Nothing a simple apology wouldn't fix. But the event only spiraled from there. 

Emails and tweets piled up from various writers, bloggers, publicists, publishers, agents, editors, basically everyone and their grandmother, expressing that this was not okay. The biphobic comment was awful, but VOYA's blatant disrespect towards one of their readers was inexcusable. Naturally, people wanted an apology. Instead of giving one, VOYA Magazine decided it was better to just block people and try to sweep the matter under the rug. 

An email response from VOYA. Deflect, deflect, deflect. 
The rage flames grew higher, and rightly so. Among other offenses, VOYA misgendered someone and continued to do so after being told to stop. 

They responded to valid concerns and criticisms, and offers of help with sarcasm and rudeness. 

Lied about apologizing to Tristina for insulting her and her child. 

They claimed that genderqueer is simply "twitter lingo." 

Naturally, this PR catastrophe bothered a lot of people in the community and there was a lot of blowback. After all, this kind of ignorance and bigotry is not accepted and cannot be allowed to run unchecked. So, VOYA released first a half-assed, victim-blaming apology: 

"The LGBTQ Community has taken offense" is the polite way of saying "The LGBTQ Community is forcing us to say this but frankly we've done nothing wrong." Surprisingly, this didn't go over well with the community (it's like they think we're stupid or something), and so VOYA released a longer, more eloquent, victim blaming apology: 

You'll notice VOYA now blames the community for not stepping forward sooner. The biphobic comment was noticed, by many, including the author herself and her publisher. But for them to speak out on the issue would have been seen as a major taboo (as the golden rule for authors involves never responding to a review). The fact that all this came out during BiWeek had less to do with us "searching to destroy our enemies in a public forum" (as VOYA has accused), and more to do with the fact that people were actively seeking out reviews about books with bisexual characters. An advocate looking to celebrate BiWeek came across the problematic review, and it was the magazine's horrible behaviour that blew the backlash to epic proportions. 

After all, this could have all been avoided if VOYA Magazine had acted like a professional, thanked Tristina for her feedback in the original email, and then edited the problematic line. Instead, they've proven that they don't care and they won't change. For all their apologies, they just don't care what the LGBTQ community has to say. 

As of Sunday night, days after all this hit the fan at high velocity, VOYA is still attempting to cover themselves with lies while censoring and blocking those raising issues. Hannah Moskowitz, a prominent member of the YA and LGBTQ communities, just this morning was blocked from VOYA's Facebook page with all her comments deleted. For all their apologies, they continue to dig themselves deeper and deeper into a hole. 

Like my mother always taught me, I'll be walking away from VOYA and making sure I never associate with them. But that's not enough. It's not enough for one major reason. 

VOYA Magazine is the Voice of the Youth Advocate. They claim to advocate for youth, all youth, and yet they've shown the exact opposite. They've shown to all those who look to them for advice, such as librarians, educators, bloggers, reviewers, etc., that bisexuals are something to be warned against. That bisexuals are the other, that though they are allowed to exist, they are "mature content." 

How many queer teen lives has VOYA affected in their screenings of f/f YA novels? How many innocent books were marked as "too mature" simply because there was a mention of LGBTQ? In comparison, why was Kody Keplinger's first book, The DUFF, not rated mature by VOYA despite the rampant (straight) sex all throughout the novel? 

VOYA cannot be allowed to be "an advocate for youth" if their advocating is selective. Bisexual, lesbian, and genderqueer youth deserve to be advocated for just as much as straight youth. I work in child welfare, and I've seen first hand all kinds of "youth advocates." I've seen those who would throw themselves on a grenade if it would give one vulnerable youth a better life, and I've seen "advocates" who would gladly throw children on grenades if it helped them get a better salary. 

VOYA Magazine is the latter. They are an advocate that only wants to exploit youth, young adult fiction, and what it may see as an "easy cash cow." 

Teens don't need fake advocates. They need people who care. Not people who brush off the realities of issues facing a large portion of their audience, of those they "advocate for." 

After all, would you want your youth advocate posting things like this in a public Facebook account? 

Lisa is the co-owner and review editor at VOYA. Definitely seems like she cares about youth and their rights. 

I refuse to stand by and allow VOYA to continue like this. I won't be able to sit comfortably wondering how many more queer youth are hurt by their unchecked abusive behaviour. 

I'm here to ask you, all of you, to make them accountable for this. It's time to boycott VOYA. I ask not only that you sign the petition to boycott, but to actually stand by it as well. 

Queer youth need to know that they have those that stand with them. That they don't need a content warning. That they don't need to be silent.