I actually read The Beautiful last year, soon after it first came out, but I didn’t end up reviewing it on here. Why? I’m not quite sure, to tell the truth. I readily acknowledge that I don’t do a full review for every book I read, but I usually take the time to at least acknowledge that I read a book and to give it a stars rating on my Goodreads account. My best guess is that I was on a tear with my reading, finished it really fast, and it just kinda slipped through the cracks. Trust me — it was definitely not anything to do with the quality of the story!
If you are a fan of vampire books but prefer Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles over Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, this is a series you are going to need to check out. La Cour des Lions, in late 19th century New Orleans, is such a sumptuous backdrop for this tale of murder, mystery, and romance. My only complaints are that (1) I can’t fully keep straight what happened in book one and what happened in book two (so I can’t really say much without getting “spoilery”), and (2) I can’t find any indication of when I should expect to get my hands on the third book in the series!!!!!!!!! Suffice it to say that this would be an excellent book to add to your Halloween and/or #TeenTober book lists.
Kiera Johnson is unique in many ways. Not only is she one of the very few Black students at her elite private high school, but she is also a female who excels in math and computer programming. There are a lot of reasons why she doesn’t feel like she belongs when she is at school, but she is grateful to have a place where she feels right at home — in the virtual world of SLAY. Nobody in her “real life” circle knows that Kiera has created/designed this game. Heck, they don’t even know that she plays! She is particularly concerned with how her boyfriend might react because he believes that video games are a tool that contributes to the “downfall of the Black man.” She isn’t quite sure how she could explain to him (and her other friends and family) quite what it means to have a place where she can simply be herself without worrying if she will seem “too Black” to some people or “not Black enough” to others. But that is exactly what SLAY provides for her and all of the other players from around the world.
When a teenager in Kansas City is killed over an altercation related to SLAY, though, Kiera finds herself torn. Should she reveal her identity and actively defend the game now that people are blaming SLAY for his death? Could she actually be sued for discrimination over the fact that the game is only intended for Black players, as conservative pundits seem to believe? Would it put a strain on her relationship with friends and family members? This story does an excellent job exploring racial dynamics in America, particularly the idea of racism and exclusion as it applies to Black people wanting safe spaces in which to explore and celebrate their collective history. One of the most important ideas that this book puts forth is that Black experiences are unique and varied, and that idea is summed up very well by one of my favorite quotes from this book:
I think I love SLAY so much because we’re a mutually empathetic collective. As we duel, as we chat, there’s an understanding that “your Black is not my Black” and “your weird is not my weird” and “your beautiful is not my beautiful,” and that’s okay.
Margot didn’t know really know anything about her mother’s past. All she knew was that she and her mother have seemingly always been on their own. Her mom never discussed the past, so Margot knew absolutely nothing about the family and/or town from which her mother came. Their day-to-day struggle to survive was all Margot truly knew. She and her mother lived in a rundown apartment and had hardly enough to keep on living, though her mom occasionally pawned some of her posessions to get extra money for food or bills. The weirdest thing was that her mom has a habit of pawning her things and then buying them back — like she just couldn’t bear to part with the physical reminders of her past, even though she refused to talk about it. So, one day Margot decided to go to the pawn shop alone. She knew it was against her mother’s rules, but she just had to see if there was anything that would give her any clues about the past. And that was when she found the Bible.
Inside the Bible, Margot found an inscription from her grandmother and a photograph. On the back of the photograph was a phone number, so she mustered up all the courage she had and called. After speaking to her grandmother, she decided she was going to make her way back to her mother’s hometown to finally meet and learn about her family… But, she had no idea the strange horrors that would await her. This story had one of the most bizarre twists I’ve ever discovered, and it will surely stick with me for a long time to come. If you enjoy mysteries, horror, and magical realism, you’ve gotta check this story out.
I can’t speak for all of y’all, but I know that this has been one heck of a stressful year for me. Anxiety + Pandemic + Civil Unrest = Woof….. And as much as I like to learn from things that I read, I also appreciate and even *need* a good “fluff” read now and again. I fully intended to read Let It Snow when it first came out, but I somehow kept putting off (for 12 years?!?) because there was always seemed to be something else more pressing, it wasn’t the right season, it wasn’t available when I was ready to read it, etc. Well, let’s just say I am glad the stars finally aligned and got me to a place where I got back to it. Not only was I seeing “Christmas in July” posts everywhere, but I also saw that this book was immediately available as an audiobook on OverDrive AND that it has apparently been adapted for Netflix. Though I have been having a heck of a time either finding the time or concentrating well enough to actually sit down and read for the last four months or so, I still have plenty of dishes and laundry to keep up with, so audiobooks work really well for me. And *this* audiobook? Well, my only complaint is that it was three short stories and, therefore, ended far too quickly!
Not only are John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle all well known in the realm of YA fiction (and were all especially popular at the time when this book was first published), but their writing styles mesh incredibly well. Even better? Their stories overlap, which helped because I was so sad to think I had to leave Jubilee and Stuart behind when the first of the short stories ended. Some people will probably find these stories to be a little too treacly sweet, but there is plenty of humor and mischief thrown in for good measure. And whether you’re more interested in a story of a girl whose Christmas was ruined when her parents got arrested in an ornament/Christmas village riot, the guys who risked it all to bring a Twister game to the cheerleaders trapped at the Waffle House during a blizzard, or the Starbucks barista whose friendship depends on procuring a teacup piglet, I think there’s a little something fun in each of the stories.
Between the fact that it is #PrideMonth and the fact that the #BlackLivesMatter movement is shining a light on the racial disparities of the US criminal justice system, I almost felt like it was kismet that I listened to this audiobook this week. I had added this book to my TBR list so long ago that I honestly forgot what it was about and simply knew it was something about two teenagers who crossed paths on a bus one day. Yeah… It was way bigger than that!
Sasha (they/them/their) was a white teen who attended a small private school where their “genderqueer” identity was simply accepted and taken in stride. The fact that they preferred to wear skirts was not really a big deal to anyone in their family or their circle of friends. Richard (he/him/his) was a black teen who attended a large public school and, though he wanted to turn around his life and graduate from high school, still hung out with people who made poor choices (like stealing and fighting). On the day that Sasha and Richard crossed paths, while riding the 57 bus home from their respective schools, Richard made a stupid and impulsive decision. Egged on by friends, and not knowing how incredibly flammable Sasha’s skirt would actually be, Richard flicked a lighter and held it to Sasha’s skirt. He thought it would be funny to see the shock and confusion of that “guy in a skirt” waking up to see their skirt had caught fire. He assumed Sasha would wake up moments after he flicked the lighter, pat out the fire, and that would be that. In reality, though, Sasha’s skirt enveloped them in flames and caused severe burns to their legs, and Richard was left facing the possibility of life in prison if he was tried as an adult for this “hate crime.”
The story alternates between Sasha’s and Richard’s sides of the story and presents both factual information about the case and the emotional rollercoaster that they and their families experienced. Not only did this story provide information about this specific case, but it also provided a great deal of background information about the GLBTQ community and the US criminal justice system. The author presented a primer on GLBTQ terminology people may not necessarily know (along with a disclaimer that terminology often changes and that people should respect the terminology used by individuals when they describe themselves) and included an abbreviated timeline of issues affecting GLBTQ people, particularly those who are transgender or agender. I really appreciated how the author focused on the vast disparities between the sentences and future outcomes of white juvenile offenders and black juvenile offenders in America from the 1980s through today. Unless we recognize the inequality within our criminal justice system, we cannot work to change it.
Long story short, this book gives me hope. Hope that we can move forward to be more accepting of people whose identities do not match our own and that our criminal justic system *can* be fixed if people continue to insist on reform. The most remarkable thing about this story, in my opinion, is how Sasha and their parents not only forgave Richard for his incredibly stupid mistake but also fought for him to be tried as a juvenile. That right there says it all. By responding with forgiveness instead of hate, and working to understand one another better, we can make this world a better place.
Lady Hollis, like many other girls who grew up in and around the castle, was brought up with the goal of marrying well. Even if she didn’t win the favor of King Jameson, it was assumed that she would be matched with a high ranking lord of the court. And yet, it still seemed to come as a surprise when she discovered that the king intended to ask for her hand in marriage. Suddenly, she was not so sure that being a queen was really what she wanted for her life. With money and power, it was assumed that she would want for nothing. But could she handle raising children who might be used as political pawns? And wouldn’t she rather have a husband who valued her opinions instead of one who would encourage her to silently fall in line? Though her parents seemed to think her self-discovery had impossibly terrible timing, she felt it may have been just in the nick of time… Especially since she recently met another young man, Silas, to whom she could easily imagine being wed.
If you enjoyed The Selection, you should probably check this one out too. Though you may want to wait for the second book in the duology to come out [it’s expected to be out sometime in 2021] if you can’t handle perching on the edge of your seat for quite that long… The last bit of this book had quite the unexpected twist, and I am dying to know how it will all end!
At first glance, Henry and Flora would not seem extraordinary to most people. Love and Death, nevertheless, saw great potential within them. For centuries, Love and Death had been playing a game. Each would pick a human player, and then they would roll the dice to determine the end date of the game. There were limitations to how much, and in which ways, they could interfere — but they certainly acted to influence the situation so that they might win the bet. Regardless of how much love there seemed to be between the people, Death always prevailed. Though previous games have included such famed, star-crossed pairs as Anthony and Cleopatra or Paris and Helen of Troy, Love seems to think that Henry and Flora will finally beat the odds.
There were a few things about this story that made it particularly compelling. First, that Love and Death were beings who seemed to be almost fighting an attraction between themselves. They often took human form, and it struck me that this author chose to have Love as a man and Death as a woman. Since men tend to be associated more with aggression and women tend to be associated more with nurturing, it was very interesting to see this dynamic reversed. It was also rather amazing to see how well the author managed to weave together themes of socioeconomic discrepencies, race relations, gender norms, and GLBTQ struggles as they related to Americans in the 1930s. If you enjoy historical fiction with a touch of magical realism and a healthy heaping of romance, look no further.
Oh. Em. Gee! Not only did this thriller of a murder mystery have me on the edge of my seat the whole time I was reading it — but it even left me there at the end. My biggest complaint about this book, in fact, is that I don’t think there will be a sequel that explicitly tells me what happened next. While I am learning to live with books like this, I thought it was worth mentioning in my review in case it would be a deal-breaker for anyone else. But, yeah. This book was intense! There were so many twists and turns that it kept me guessing, and second-guessing myself, for nearly the entire time.
So, what happened that we readers DO know? Well, we know that Mackenzie found two of her friends dead, in a pool of their own blood, on what was supposed to be a fun weekend getaway to Josh’s cabin. And though she wasn’t Josh’s biggest fan, and knew that some of the others in her small group of friends were less than enthusiastic about spending a whole weekend with him, Mackenzie couldn’t imagine that any of them could have murdered Josh. Let alone his girlfriend, Courtney. Was she just collateral damage? Because everyone seemed to love *her*… The strangest thing is that everyone seemed to sleep through such a violent murder. Surely Josh and Courtney must have screamed, right? So how did no one realize what had happened until the next morning?
Although this book was only published about a month ago, it has already received a Listening Library Earphone Award for the full cast audio recording. And I am going to assume that there are all sort of awards that just haven’t been given yet, because Sepetys has received over 40 awards for her other books, like Between Shades of Gray and Salt to the Sea. Set in Madrid in 1957, this books tells the true story of Spain under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. After the Spanish Civil War, many Spainiards were living in both poverty and fear, especially those whose family members had been outed as Republicans, aka Reds. The American tourists either turned a blind eye or simply didn’t even notice the disparity between their lavish lifestyle, full of parties and shopping sprees, and the abject poverty and subsistence living of the locals.
Daniel Matheson traveled to Spain with his parents; his father, who was a Texas oil tycoon hoping to make a deal with Franco, and his mother, who had grown up in Spain and wanted to visit her home country. Daniel, a photographer and aspiring photojournalist, hoped he might use this opportunity to get some photos that could help with a contest entry. Though his mother supported his love of photography, his father refused to pay for journalism school and insisted that he go to business school instead. If he won this contest, though, he could win enough money to attend j school without his father’s help. Little did Daniel know the opportunities he would find…
Once again, Sepetys has taken a time and place in history that oft goes neglected in US history classes and written a novel that will stick with readers far better than any simple lesson. Interspersed with vintage media reports, oral history commentary, photos, and more, this book is sure to both educate and entertain.
Being a teenager in the 90s provided me with more openness about sexual orientation than previous generations had been afforded. Still, questioning one’s sexuality, and especially gender identity, was somewhat taboo. When I was questioning, I could have really used a book like this to show me that I was not alone. Eventually, I came to realize that I identify as bisexual, though I am a partner in a heteronormative marriage and, to outsiders, I can easily “pass” for straight. I try to remain vigilant in both my advocacy for all people in the GLBTQ+ community and to specifically counteract bi invisibility, and I am extremely grateful to authors like Nic Stone who use their platform to do the same while also embracing and guiding the next generation.
There are three “books” in this story, each narrated by one of the three main characters — Courtney “Coop” Cooper, Rae Evelyn Chin, and Jupiter “Jupe” Charity-Sanchez. “Jupe-n-Coop” have been best friends for nearly forever and are so close people might assume they were deeply in love if not for the fact that Jupiter has always been an out and proud lesbian. But, is she?!? Both Jupiter and Rae find that there are *so* many shades of gray in the middle and that labels can sometimes be restrictive. While trying to negotiate friendships and romantic feelings can often be confusing, this little triangulation was particularly fraught. I absolutely loved this story and thought it was the perfect book to review on #ComingOutDay. Hope y’all enjoy it too.