Category Archives: book review

Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton

stronger faster and more beautifulI don’t tend to like short stories because I often feel that they leave too much of the story untold.  I never seem to feel like I get to know enough about the characters.  If it is a short story that builds upon on a story I’ve already read, though, I can usually handle it.  So, I was hesitant to read this collection of short stories.  I was nervous.  Like, really nervous.  But then I saw some of the blurbs that talked about how timely and amazing this book was, and I decided to go for it.  Worst case scenario?  I would give myself permission not to finish the book.  As it turns out, I never even considered quitting.  The first story was so compelling that I just knew I had to keep reading… And then I realized that the short stories were interconnected!  Though the stories often took readers along different trajectories and switched up the characters and setting, there were plenty of references back to characters and events that had happened in previous chapters.  I didn’t feel, at all, like I was missing out on the “what happened next” kind of stuff.  Even more than that, I really appreciated how well Dayton extrapolated from current medical research to come up with a somewhat plausible, albeit dystopian, future of genetic modification.

Happy Reading!

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Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry

heretics anonymousMichael and his dad hadn’t been on good terms for a while, but then his dad made things much worse.  Not only did his dad up and move the whole family — AGAIN! — when he had promised that Michael could finish high school in the same place… but he actually enrolled Michael in a Catholic prep school.  Aside from the frustration of having to wear a stuffy uniform [including a tie!] every day, there was also that not-so-insignificant fact that Michael was an atheist.  He entered the school prepared to be friendless, since he assumed the other students would all be believers and he wouldn’t have much in common with them.  Then, a girl named Lucy caught his attention when she challenged their teacher about whether “well-behaved women” make history.  She argued that the female saints were NOT well-behaved and that they, in fact, often rebelled against the rules.  Definitely a good sign that she might be willing to befriend a misfit!  Despite putting his foot in his mouth during their initial encounter, Michael managed to gain her trust enough that she invited him to a special “study group” session with a couple of her friends.  Except, it wasn’t really a study group.  It was a group that called themselves Heretic Anonymous.  And though they didn’t strive for anarchy or to destroy their school, they definitely felt that it was important to challenge some of the things about their school — like the dress code and the blatant lies that passed as a sex ed assembly.

I think that the thing I appreciated most about this book was that it didn’t make fun of anyone, believer or not.  There were characters from a variety of religions and belief systems, and the author was careful to show respect to all perspectives.  Though pointing out that some people might twist religious teachings to suit their own purposes, the actual beliefs (or lack thereof) were held sacred.  And pairing that respect of differing beliefs with a display of how people who believe differently might work together toward common goals?  Priceless!  Oh…  And if you enjoyed reading this story from the perspective of an outsider who is curious yet respectful about people’s religious beliefs, you might want to check out a non-fiction book I read nearly a decade ago — The Unlikely Disciple.

Happy Reading!

The Color of Lies by CJ Lyons

color of liesElla isn’t psychic, but she has always had the ability to read people very well.  Many of the members in her family have a condition called synesthesia, which essentially scrambles up the senses.  Her grandmother sees sounds, her uncle can taste words, and Ella can see people’s emotions as somewhat of a colorful aura.  Then she meets a guy named Alec, who seems to know her from an earlier time — because he calls her Nora instead of Ella, and she hasn’t gone by the nickname Nora since she was a small child.  To make matters even stranger, Ella can usually tell if people are lying to her, based on her synesthesia, but she can’t seem to “read” Alec at all.  And when he starts to tell her that everything she knows about her past is really a lie, Ella has no idea whether she should trust him and to whom she might turn for the truth.

Happy Reading!

After the Fire by Will Hill

after the fireMoonbeam had a hard time adjusting to life on the outside. Ever since she was a small child, she lived inside the fence of Holy Church of the Lord’s Legion and was brainwashed to believe that everyone outside the fence was an agent of The Serpent. Even after she was freed from living in the cult’s compound, though, she could still hear the cult’s leader [Father John] speaking to her, in her mind, any time she felt uncertain about what she should say or do. Though she wanted to believe that the psychologists truly wanted to help her and her “brothers and sisters,” she had a very hard time convincing herself to let go of her long-held suspicions and to trust anyone outside of the cult. To make matters worse, Moonbeam found it particularly difficult to trust anyone in a position of authority since she believed that she held at least some of the blame for the fire.

I really appreciated the way the story alternated between “before the fire” and “after the fire” so that readers could become slowly acclimated to Moonbeam’s story rather than being overwhelmed with everything at once. Especially since that was the way the cult gained people’s trust and took away their freedoms — gradually. The most incredible thing about reading this story was knowing that it was inspired by the true story of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, TX. Readers who found this book interesting and want to read more YA fiction about teens growing up in religious cults should check out The Chosen One and Sister Wife.

Happy Reading!

Miles Morales by Jason Reynolds

Miles MoralesMy family is definitely geeky by most people’s standards. Anytime there is a new “comic book movie” in the theaters, you can practically guarantee we will be there opening weekend — if not opening night. We have been anxiously awaiting the release of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and I was really excited to see that there is a Miles Morales novel for teens who might not yet be familiar with his character. I was even more thrilled to see that Jason Reynolds was the author who took on this project. My husband asked me why I thought it was so important to have a notable YA author write a book about Spider-Man, since Spider-Man is a pretty popular character in his own right. And it was kind of hard for me to explain at first; I couldn’t quite put my finger on it… But then I realized what it was. Some teens think that comic books are only for the truly geeky people of the world and might have otherwise not even paid attention to this story.  Since Jason Reynolds is more known for his contemporary, urban YA fiction, though, I thought he might help attract some readers who wouldn’t ordinarily give this story a chance. And once those readers give this story a chance, they might find that they have more common ground with geeks than they previously realized.  I’m not sure many non-geeks realize quite how strong the social justice storylines of comic books are, but there are a lot of examples of superheroes standing up for equality.  This Superman comic is one of my favorite examples:

superman-all-american

With funny, relatable characters, Jason Reynolds does a fantastic job syncing Spider-Man into contemporary Urban ya fiction. I liked how Miles Morales was not even close to perfect — with his “wrong side of the tracks” family that has a history of trouble with the law, his trouble controlling his own temper, and even his awkwardness with girls — because it can help teens to see that they, too, can make a difference. You don’t have to be a superhero to stand up for yourself and to help people.  And that is especially evident in the fact that Miles’ best friend, Ganke, often needs to give Miles a pep talk when he is feeling particularly defeated! I think that fans of Spider-Man/Miles Morales will be pleased with how this story turned out, and I can only hope that the Miles Morales comics will gain a little more traction with the help of this novel and the upcoming movie.
Happy Reading!

The Tomb: A Novel by S. A. Bodeen

the tombKiva and Seth believed that they were growing up in ancient Alexandria, but it was pretty clear to me that something was off.  It just didn’t seem very authentic, and I didn’t think it was because Bodeen had been sloppy with her research.  As it turned out, I was right.  The details were “off” because the people who set up the virtual reality program for Alexandria had been a little lazy and didn’t bother making all of the details completely authentic.  As it turned out, Kiva and Seth were actually growing up on board a spaceship and their brains were experiencing life via virtual reality so that they could still learn while their bodies were sustained in torpor chambers.  I don’t really feel like I am giving away any spoilers, though, since this was all revealed fairly early on as Kiva was taken out of torpor and sent along with Seth on board a search vessel, called The Tomb, to try and get a part for their failing ship.

Fans of Across the Universe, Defy the Stars, These Broken Stars, and The 100 should definitely check this one out.  The main “problem” I had with this book, though, is that it has quite a cliff-hanger ending and seems to be the beginning of a series — but Goodreads doesn’t name it as part of a series!  I am hoping that’s just because it’s so new.

Happy Reading!

Refugee by Alan Gratz

refugeeWhat would you do if your home country was no longer safe?  If you were persecuted for your religion, if a lack of food in your country was causing violent riots, or if your neighborhood was being bombed?  If you had to take only what you could carry and try to escape to a place you had never even visited before?  If you had to risk death for the possibility of a better life?  The scenarios faced by our narrators varied because they grew up in vastly different times and places — Josef in Nazi Germany (1930s) , Isabel in Communist Cuba (1990s), and Mahmoud in modern-day Syria (2015) — but all three of these children became refugees when their families felt that escaping their homeland was the only tenable solution.

I think that books like this are extremely important, since they often provide a better perspective than news stories.  News stories about refugees tend to focus on the current situation, such as which countries might take them in, but not so much about how the situation escalated to the point that they sought refuge in the first place.  One of the moments that really struck me in this story was when Mahmoud’s family was talking about relocating to Germany.  Someone commented that it would be cold there and his father responded by singing, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”  The inclusion of a song from such a popular/recent movie as Frozen will surely help readers to recognize that refugees are not only people from some time “before.”  By humanizing these narrators and showing how they were normal kids up until they had to run for their lives.  I can only hope that this story will help to cultivate better empathy for the plight of refugees and the realization that “there but for the grace of God, go I.”

Happy Reading!