A Brief Break

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As many of you know, I suffer from really bad migraines, or as I like to call them Malfoys. (If this doesn’t say how Harry Potter obsessed I am, I don’t know what will!) Anyway, I’ve been dealing with a particularly stubborn one for the last week, so I’m going to to take a brief hiatus over the next few days to see if I can beat it into submission. I apologize in advance if I miss anyone’s posts. I’ll do my best to catch up…Promise!

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Gardenia ~ By Kelsey Sutton – 3.5 Stars

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Thanks to NetGalley and Diversion Publishing for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: February 28th, 2017

260 Pages

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Ivy Erickson has one month, twenty-seven days, four hours, fifty-nine minutes, and two seconds to live.

Ever since she was a child, Ivy has been able to see countdown clocks over everyone’s heads indicating how long before they will die. She can’t do anything about anyone else’s, nor can she do anything about her own, which will hit the zero hour before she even graduates high school.

A life cut short is tragic, but Ivy does her best to make the most of it. She struggles emotionally with her deep feelings for on-again, off-again boyfriend Myers Patripski. She struggles financially, working outside of school to help her mom and her sister. And she struggles to cope with the murder of her best friend, another life she couldn’t save. Vanessa Donovan was killed in the woods, and everyone in town believes Ivy had something to do with it.

Then more girls start disappearing. Ivy tries to put her own life in order as she pieces together the truth of who ended Vanessa’s. To save lives and for her own sanity.

The clock is ticking. And Ivy’s only hope is to expose the truth before it runs out completely.

When I first saw Gardenia offered on NetGalley I hesitated about requesting it because it sounded so similar to Numbers, by Rachel Ward, and When, by Victoria Laurie, but my curiosity won out, and overall, I’m glad it did. While the idea of seeing the death dates of people isn’t entirely original, the author successfully puts her own spin on it. Ivy is a character you can’t help but become emotionally invested in. She’s an interesting mix of vulnerability and cynicism. Her love for her family, and her ex boyfriend Myers, is a big part of the story, as is the love she had for Vanessa and the guilt she feels over her death. With her own clock ticking down, her determination to find out not only what happened to her friend, but also to the other girls who are being killed, makes her even more likable. Even though her efforts are hampered by skeptical law enforcement and suspicious classmates, she doesn’t give up. This is a teen who know she has left than a month to live and instead of hiding away in the trailer she lives in with her mother and sister, she sets out on a course to not only make her own life matter, but to stop a serial killer from claiming any more victims, even though she knows she’s putting herself squarely in his path. There’s a feeling of sadness and anxiety that permeates the story since right from the beginning Ivy states she’s never been able to prevent a death from occurring. She sees her own impending death, with a sort of fatalistic resignation which leads her to make some understandable but unwise choices, but this just makes her even more relatable. The relationship between her and Myers is really sweet, even though at the beginning, they’re broken up. I also loved the family dynamics between Ivy, her older sister, and her mom. I’ve found that many times when I’m reading a YA novel, that family is thrust into the background but that’s not the case here. There are a few things that kept this from being a perfect read. The book is described as a thriller/mystery but these themes wound up taking a backseat at times to the more contemporary aspects is the storyline. And, the revelation of the killer’s identity was rather sudden and had me scratching my head a little. I also would have liked to see some sort of explanation about Ivy’s ability. But what makes this work is Ivy and her interactions with her family, boyfriend, and others. In the end, Gardenia is a pretty solid read, that adds something new to the “I can see death dates” trope. It’s a character driven story that I think will appeal to a wide YA audience. 

Why do we have to fight this stuff?

POWERFUL POST FROM 17-YEAR-OLD Alyssa!

Queerly Texan

The laws Obama put in place to protect transgender kids were abolished yesterday.

It makes me so sad that we have to fight for trans people to use the restroom the corresponds with their gender. These laws were made to protect trans students, and the White House sent a very clear message that they are okay with putting these students lives in danger, because they don’t support trans rights. This is beyond ridiculous.

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These are the same people who make fun of safe spaces, and this is exactly why we need safe spaces! Kids shouldn’t be forced to use the wrong bathroom at school or to go by the wrong pronouns. They shouldn’t be afraid to change in the locker room or scared they might get attacked by a classmate. Abolishing these laws tells bullies what they’re doing is acceptable. 41% of transgender people will attempt to commit suicide in their lifetime; bullying…

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You’re Welcome, Universe ~ By Whitney Gardner – 5.0 Stars

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Thanks to NetGalley and Knopf for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: March 7th, 2017

304 Pages

Synopsis: When Julia finds a slur about her best friend scrawled across the back of the Kingston School For the Deaf, she covers it up with a beautiful (albeit illegal) graffiti mural.

Her supposed best friend snitches, the principal expels her, and her two mothers set Julia up with a one-way ticket to a “mainstream” school in the suburbs, where she’s treated like an outcast as the only deaf student. The last thing she has left is her art, and not even Banksy himself could convince her to give that up. 

Out in the ‘burbs, Julia paints anywhere she can, eager to claim some turf of her own. But Julia soon learns that she might not be the only vandal in town. Someone is adding to her tags, making them better, showing off–and showing Julia up in the process. She expected her art might get painted over by cops. But she never imagined getting dragged into a full-blown graffiti war.

Told with wit and grit by debut author Whitney Gardner, who also provides gorgeous interior illustrations of Julia’s graffiti tags, You’re Welcome, Universe introduces audiences to a one-of-a-kind protagonist who is unabashedly herself no matter what life throws in her way.

After reading You’re Welcome, Universe the first word that popped into my head was “Wow!” I started this at 9 p.m. last night and couldn’t put it down until I reached the last page around midnight. The story is told from the first person POV of Julia who is deaf, Indian, and has two moms. So yes, this book is extremely diverse. I know we’re still in the early part of 2017, but I already know Julia is going on my top ten list of favorite fictional characters for this year. She’s confident in who she is and isn’t afraid to stand up for herself. She’s sarcastically funny and downright blunt at times, which I absolutely loved. Because she was hurt badly by her former best friend, she has some serious trust issues which makes her eventual friendship with a girl who she nicknames “YP” even more touching. Both girls have been the victims of betrayal so their relationship is rocky and slowly develops throughout the course of the story. While the deaf culture is thoroughly explored in this book, it’s not the only theme. There’s also: bullying, body image, racism, eating disorders, and “slut shaming”. These are all blended into the story in a very realistic way, and I was impressed that the author managed to balance all of these successfully in a just over 300 page book. But what’s really at the heart of this book is Julia’s graffiti, and how it helps her cope with the stresses in her life. As the premise states, the Julia’s graffiti tags are very much a part of her story. The black and white illustrations literally leap off the page and fit in perfectly with the narrative. In my opinion Whitney Gardner is a refreshing and vibrant new voice in YA fiction. You’re Welcome, Universe is an incredible debut and one that I can’t recommend highly enough for teens and adults. It’s touching and full of humor, and Julia isn’t a character you’ll forget anytime soon!

Lifeblood (Everlife #2) ~ By Gena Showalter – 4.5 Stars

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Thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin Teen for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: February 28th, 2016

443 Pages

Synopsis: My Firstlife is over, but my Everlife is only now beginning. 

With her last living breath, Tenley “Ten” Lockwood made her choice and picked her realm in the Everlife. Now, as the war between Troika and Myriad rages, she must face the consequences.

Because Ten possesses a rare supernatural ability to absorb and share light, the Powers That Be have the highest expectations for her future–and the enemy wants her neutralized. Fighting to save her Secondlife, she must learn about her realm from the ground up while launching her first mission: convincing a select group of humans to join her side before they die. No pressure, right?

But Ten’s competition is Killian, the boy she can’t forget–the one who gave up everything for her happiness. He has only one shot at redemption: beating Ten at a game she’s never even played. As their throw-downs heat up, so do their undeniable feelings, and soon, Ten will have to make another choice. Love…or victory.

Before jumping into Lifeblood, you definitely need to read Firstlife, because otherwise you’ll find yourself completely lost in this rather complicated world. To sum it up briefly, in this alternate world, humans have a Firstlife but they need to make a contract with either Troika or Myriad to spend their second lives in, or their spirits will wind up in the extremely dangerous Many Ends, which is something like Purgatory. Troika is all about love and light, while Myriad is about power and might. Both realms are continually at war with one another. So, this sequel picks up exactly where the first book left off, Ten, has just been betrayed and killed, but before dying, she declared her allegiance to Troika. Unfortunately, she’s in love with Killian, who’s from Myriad, so there’s definitely a Romeo and Juliet theme here. Ten really finds her feet in this story and fully embraces her inner warrior princess. What I love about her is even though this is a fantasy novel, Ten, and for that matter, the rest of the characters come across as very real and relatable. While she has many positive characteristics such as strength, loyalty, and compassion, she can also be naive, stubborn and impulsive, which in this case can lead to people getting killed. Showalter does a phenomenal job at character development and Ten learns from her mistakes, thereby becoming a better friend and leader. The supporting characters come with their own backstories which makes them equally interesting. The romance between Killian and Ten is wonderful and considering everything that’s stacked against them, there’s virtually no relationship drama as far as love triangles, blow-ups, etc. However, this does lead me to the one criticism I had. Ten spends a lot of the story mooning over Killian, and not only did it get a little repetitious and annoying after awhile, but it was also at odds with everything else that was happening. I understood that she’s madly in love with him and worried about him, but I didn’t need to be told this constantly throughout the story. But honestly, this is just a minor complaint. These are two people who trust each other implicitly, and will do whatever it takes to be together. The world building continually amazes, with layer after layer being added, so as a reader you’re constantly being introduced to new things. How the author does this without taking anything away from her characters is testament to her talented storytelling. There’s plenty of action which keeps the momentum up and I finished this in two sittings. The Everlife series is shaping up to be a standout series that will appeal to teens and adults alike, especially if you’re looking for something totally unique. I can’t wait for the third book which is due out next year!

 

 

 

 

 

Something To Think About ~ #NotTheEnemy

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Whether you live in the United States or not, you may have heard that this past Thursday Mr. Donald J. Trump gave what he called a “news conference.” It actually was a rather scary and demented 75 minute long performance in which he bragged about winning the election…AGAIN… and boasted how his administration is running like a “finely-tuned machine.” He then berated a reporter for a small Jewish magazine who had the nerve to respectfully ask him if there were any plans by his administration to help quell the rise of anti-semitism in the country, and then suggested that April Ryan, a long-time White House press reporter, set up a meeting between him and the Congressional Black Caucus, presumably because she’s African American. But he saved most of his vitriol for the press and their “fake news”, even at one point admitting that while it’s true there are leaks flooding out of the White House concerning his and his administration’s cozy relationship with Russia, the news covering these leaks is fake. Just try to wrap your brain around that one! And if that isn’t enough, Friday Mr. Trump tweeted that the media is “the enemy of the American People”. As soon as I read it chills went down my spine. This is straight out of the “Dictators For Dummies” handbook! I have to admit that sometimes the press does drive me crazy. For instance, I partially blame them and their non-stop media coverage, for Mr. Trump becoming president. But honestly? Where would we be without a free press? Well, Senator John McCain, a conservative from Mr. Trump’s own Republican Party sums it up very well in his interview with Chuck Todd on Meet the Press which will air tomorrow morning. “I hate the press,” McCain sarcastically tells Todd. “I hate you especially. But the fact is we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital. If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.” So yes, the press can be aggravating at times, but they do far more good than they’re given credit for. Whether it’s the Boston Globe who exposed the Catholic Church’s enabling and covering up for pedophile priests, or the Associated Press investigation, that over the course of 18 months, located men held in cages and tracked ships and trucks, all to expose the slavery practices in Southeast Asia’s fishing industry, or the many journalists who put their lives in danger covering hot spots all over the world. I was shocked to learn that there’s a memorial at Washington’s Newseum, upon which there are 2,291 names of journalists from around the world who have lost their lives while doing their job. And every year, more names are added. So no, Mr. Trump. The press is NOT the enemy of the American people. To illustrate how important it is that we have a free press, JK Rowing tweeted this quote from President Theodore Roosevelt’s Sedition, A Free Press, and Personal Rule (1918):

The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but it is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.

 These are indeed wise words that should never be forgotten.

~

Oh! And here’s three examples of true fake news:

Kellyanne Conway’s repeated claims there was a massacre in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Sean Spicer’s repeated claims of a terror attack in Atlanta, perpetrated by someone overseas.

And just a few hours ago at his Florida rally, Mr. Trump referred to a nonexistent attack in Sweden last night to justify his ban on Muslims.

Words To Remember ~ Black History Month

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Of all the forms of slavery there is none that is so harmful and degrading as that form of slavery which tempts one human being to hate another by reason of his race or color. One man cannot hold another man down in the ditch without remaining down in the ditch with him.

~ Booker T. Washington ~

The Bone Witch (The Bone Witch #1) ~ By Rin Chupeco – 2.0 Stars

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Thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Release Date: March 7th, 2016

400 Pages

Synopsis: When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with and older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training. 

In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha–one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles…and make a powerful choice.

Memoirs of a Geisha meets The Name of the Wind in this brilliant new fantasy series by Rin Chupeca!

How gorgeous is that cover? Naturally that’s what intitially captured my attention, but I also enjoyed Rin Chupeco’s The Girl From the Well and The Suffering, so when I heard all the buzz about The Bone Witch, I knew I had to try it. I was really expecting to become completely enthralled but instead was for the most part bored, which made this a difficult book to finish. I actually did like the beginning which tells the reader how young Tea, pronounced “Tay-uh”, becomes a Bone Witch. Unfortunately though, this interesting storyline is quickly overtaken by overly descriptive world building which slows the pace down to a crawl. For any of you who have been following me for awhile, you know that I think world building is a very important part of any novel, especially fantasy. But when you have interesting characters whose story fades into the background because there’s so much detail being given in regards to the setting, it can make for a tedious read. For example every outfit that Tea wears receives at least a paragraph of description, yet once she’s a teenager, all you’re really told is that she’s being instructed how to dance, sing and wear clothes, be a servant, and every once in a while use black magic to battle monsters. Somewhere buried in all this there’s a romance. I think there is anyway, because while I don’t remember it, suddenly she winds up running off with this guy. To be honest there’s some things I may have missed because by the time I was halfway through the book, I found myself starting to skim some of the pages in a desperate attempt to reach the end. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am that The Bone Witch wound up not being for me, because I really liked the characters of Tea and Fox in the opening chapters. I’m basically giving it 2 stars because of the cover, and the beginning, as well as its diversity. This is definitely going to be either a trilogy or series, so if my library winds up carrying it I may take a peek at the second book. As always, if you’re intrigued by the premise, please don’t base your decision of whether you want to read this solely on my opinion. There’s quite a few reviews already up on Goodreads and some of them are quite positive. 

The Roanoke Girls ~ By Amy Engel – 3.5 Stars

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Thanks to NetGalley and Crown for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: March 7th, 2017

276 Pages

Synopsis: After her mother’s suicide, fifteen-year-old Lane Roanoke came to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin, Allegra, on their vast estate in rural Kansas. Lane knew little of her mother’s mysterious family, but she quickly embraced life as one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But when she discovered the dark truth at the heart of the family, she ran fast and far away. 

Eleven years later, Lane is adrift in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls to tell her that Allegra has gone missing. Did she run too? Or something worse? Unable to resist his pleas, Lane returns to help search, and to ease her guilt at having left Allegra behind. Her homecoming may mean a second chance with the boyfriend whose heart she broke that long ago summer. But it also means facing the devastating secret that made her flee, one she may not be strong enough to run from again.

As it weaves between Lane’s first Roanoke summer and her return, The Roanoke Girls shocks and tantalizes, twisting its way through revelation after mesmerizing revelation, exploring the secrets families keep and the fierce and terrible love that both binds them together and rips them apart.

Roanoke Girls is a dark and disturbing read which has left me feeling very conflicted. I usually try not to include spoilers in my reviews, but I’m going to reveal one here because if you decide to pick this up, I think you should be forewarned. The Roanoke family has been hiding a shameful secret for decades: the sexual abuse of several female members and this  is the background that the main mystery is set against. It’s obvious who the perpetrator is early on in the book but the author writes about it in a subtle way, focusing more on why no one ever asked for outside help, and how this all relates to Allegra’s disappearance. For the most part I disliked all of the characters, yet at the same time I couldn’t seem to tear myself away from the story. It enraged me that several characters, including Lane, had the chance to sound the alarm about what was happening, yet chose not to. I appreciated Lane’s determination to find Allegra, but questioned why her caring about her cousin only came eleven years after she fled the family homestead. Lane also comes across as being completely self-involved and uncaring about anyone except for herself. She frequently and deliberately lashes out at people who actually do care for her, which also makes it difficult to sympathize with her. The history of the abuse is revealed layer, by layer, and this in a horrible sort of way, is the best part of the book. The chapters alternate between the present day, with Lane’s desperate investigation of her cousin’s disappearance, and what happened eleven years ago during the one summer Lane spent with Allegra and her grandparents. Further fleshing out the story are occasional brief passages from other Roanoke girls, which makes everything even more personal and heartbreaking. Despite my issues with the characters, I was mesmerized from the very first page. Amy Engel is an incredible storyteller who knows exactly how to create a story that will resonate with readers. The Roanoke Girls is a disquieting look at what on the surface looks like a wealthy, successful all American family, yet underneath that veneer is a seething mass of abuse and deception. I don’t think this book will be for everyone, but if you do decide to try it, its not one that you’ll soon forget.