The Hate U Give: A Rapid Fire Review

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017)

If I had to pick a defining book of 2017 it would be this one. Thomas’ debut novel has received numerous stars (more than I even knew existed). It has also been selected a finalist for both the National Book Award and The William C. Morris YA Debut Award.

Thomas’s debut is one of several very timely and much needed books about social justice and specifically shining a light on the Black Lives Matter movement. It will also soon be a movie with Amandla Stenberg heading up a star-studded cast.

The book follows Starr Carter, a sixteen-year-old black girl who is navigating life at her prestigious school populated with mostly white, mostly wealthy classmates and life at home in the poor neighborhood where she and her family has always lived. Starr doesn’t feel quite at home anywhere–a feeling that is compounded when Starr is driving home with her childhood friend Khalil when a police officer pulls them over and shoots Khalil without cause.

As the only witness, Starr knows she should testify. But she also knows doing so will put her under intense scrutiny from the media. And it might not even lead to justice for Khalil when so many similar cases have ended in acquittals for the officers. Starr’s choice will have lasting ramifications for herself, her family, and her community as she has to choose where her allegiances lie and speak up for what she believes in.

Thomas’s novel is evocative and gripping. It captures this moment in society perfectly and it highlights all of the things that still need to change with an indictment of the cultural biases and racism that brought us to this point and also with a note of optimism for the future. Narrated by Starr this novel has a great voice and fantastic dialog. Although the plot starts right away the story does have a tendency to meander (I will maintain forever that this book could have been edited down by at least a hundred pages) as the novel explores Starr’s family and home life as well as her life at school where she is constantly reminding herself that she has to put forward a very specific face among her classmates.

Heavy but hopeful and necessary. A must-read.

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Beasts Made of Night: A Review

“Sin-beasts are shadows, beasts made of night. And an aki is like a ray of sunlight that comes down from the sky and shatters the sin, kills the shadows.”

Taj is the most talented sin-eater in the walled city of Kos where aki–sin-eaters–can vanquish a person’s sins for a price. Reviled by society and at the mercy of mages who control them, aki have a precarious existence within Kos society.

Taj is cocky and desperate to support his family. He knows it’s only a matter of time before he runs out of skin to cover in sin beasts he has killed–physical tattoos that manifest on his skin and transfer the guilt of the sin to the sin-eater–but Taj has no other options to support himself or survive.

When Taj is hired to eat a royal sin he is drawn into a web of intrigue and danger where the future of the entire city–and every sin-eater in Kos–is at stake in Beasts Made of Night (2017) by Tochi Onyebuchi.

Beasts Made of Night is Onyebuchi’s debut novel and inspired by Nigerian culture and folklore.

This book is wonderfully written and set in a fantastically evocative and well-realized world where sins can be summoned as physical beasts and danger is everywhere. Taj is a fast-talking character with a lot of charm, wit, and not enough caution.

Erratic pacing and a meandering plot make this a richly detailed but sometimes unsatisfying novel. While the city of Kos is detailed enough to be a character itself some of the internal logic for the magic in the novel–especially as it pertains to sin eating–is vague and poorly explained. Taj’s honest narration and winning personality, however, will quickly eclipse any gaps in the story’s world building.

Beasts Made of Night is a great story filled with action, memorable characters, and a fascinating world. While most of Taj’s story is resolved in this volume, fans will hope that this book is the start of a series.

Possible Pairings: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Frostblood by Elly Blake, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch,  The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2017*

Song of the Current: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You told me we’re all calling out to the world and magic is the world calling back.”

Caroline Oresteia’s family has guided wherries across the Riverlands for generations–all of them called by the river god. Caro knows that her home is on the river, but she has never heard the river god call her in the language of small things. Now seventeen, she’s starting to wonder if he ever will.

After her father is arrested for refusing to transport a mysterious crate, Caro volunteers to deliver the cargo for her father’s release. Being no stranger to the Riverlands, it’s an easy assignment save for the pirates who want the same cargo. But traveling with the mysterious cargo soon draws Caro into a dangerous web of political intrigue and secrets forcing her to choose between the life she always dreamed of and a much grander future–if she’s brave enough to claim it in Song of the Current (2017) by Sarah Tolcser.

Song of the Current is Tolcser’s debut novel and the start of a new series.

Caro’s first person narration is immediately enthralling. Her voice has a cadence and rhythm all its own that easily draws readers into her story. Caro is capable and self-sufficient from growing up on her father’s wherry but she soon learns that sometimes even the strongest people need to accept help now and then.

Tolcser expertly blends authentic nautical details with an original fantasy world where magic manifests and the gods still speak. Although Caro spends most of the novel aboard ship (or wherry) the world of Song of the Current looms large from the map in front of the book to the details that help bring the story to life from frogmen to the vocabulary of the wherrymen.

As with most boxes that are not meant to be open, the story really starts when Caro gets a good look at the cargo she is carrying and begins to understand the ramifications of delivering it as planned. What follows is a high stakes chase across the Riverlands as Caro and her allies try to stay one step ahead of their pursuers.

Song of the Current is a fascinating nautical fantasy sure to appeal to readers looking for a new story filled with pirates and adventure. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, Black Hearts by Nicole Castroman, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

All Rights Reserved: A Review

Speth Jime is about to turn fifteen. She is equipped with the requisite band and implants so the moment her birthday arrives she will be charged for every movement or word that falls under copyright. Every nod or scream will cost her 0.99/sec. Saying “sorry” is ten dollars and a legal admission of guilt.

Even with the most minimal words and gestures, Speth is never getting out of debt. Not with her family being sued for an illegal music download dating back five generations. All Speth can really hope for is to avoid being taken away by Debt Services the way her parents were to pollinate crops with a brush and eyedropper in Carolina until their debts are paid.

One thing that might help is Speth’s Last Day speech which she can use to win over sponsors who might offer product discounts or other lucrative perks that could lead to employment. Speth is ready to make that speech when she watches her friend Beecher jump off a bridge rather than work to pay off his family’s crippling debt.

She can’t imagine ignoring Beecher’s suicide to make a speech. But she also can’t imagine how to break her contract without also putting her family into even more debt. That is until Speth finds a loophole: she only has to recite her speech if she actually speaks. Instead Speth takes a vow of silence even avoiding copyrighted gestures.

What Speth doesn’t know is that when she stops speaking she’ll help start a revolution in All Rights Reserved (2017) by Gregory Scott Katsoulis.

All Rights Reserved is Katsoulis’s debut novel and the start of a new series.

Speth’s first person narration brings her world to terrifying life from the extremely litigious culture and the power of copyright (Speth’s haircut is in the public domain, but only if it stays messy enough to be different from a pixie cut) to the 3D printed housing units that didn’t print quite right in the poorer sections of town.

Because of Speth’s decision to stop speaking, a lot of the book takes place in her head as she keeps herself at a remove from family and strangers trying to understand why she refuses to speak. As Speth’s actions gain momentum she also finds herself at the center of an unlikely rebellion as others begin to support her and even follow her lead. This one decision sets Speth on a course to learn dangerous truths about the rot at the center of her world and maybe even figure out how to stop it.

All Rights Reserved is a fast-paced story with action on every page and incredibly intricate world building. A worthy read-a-like for fans of dystopian classics like Uglies and The Hunger Games.

I love the world building here. It’s very absurd and will appeal to fans of the hunger games and uglies. But it’s also almost entirely focused on debt (much like one segment of where futures end) and it just stressed me the hell out.

Possible Pairings: Landscape With Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson, Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Proxy by Alex London, Where Futures End by Parker Peeveyhouse, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Because You Love to Hate Me: 13 Tales of Villainy: A Review

Whether it’s secretly cheering them on or not-so-secretly waiting for them to meet a bad end, readers love villains. Because You Love to Hate Me: 13 Tales of Villainy capitalizes on that fascination while failing to explore the reasoning behind it in this unwieldy collection edited by Youtube sensation Ameriie.

Each author’s short story is inspired by a Booktuber-provided prompt ranging from vague like “A young Moriarty” for Susan Dennard’s “Shirley and Jim” which presents a modern (and female) Holmes meeting Moriarty for the first time at boarding school to bizarrely specific. Renée Ahdieh’s sci-fi story “The Blood of Imuriv” is inspired by the prompt “The grandson of an evil, matriarchal dictator who tried to rule over the universe wants to follow in her footsteps and accidentally loses his temper, killing his sibling in a game of chess.”

This wide range of prompts leads to stories of varying quality and makes this cross-genre collection less than cohesive. BookTuber contributions range from personality quizzes and literary criticism about the stories to personal essays related to the prompts.

Standout stories include Soman Chainani’s “Gwen and Art and Lance” (“A modern-day mash-up of the King Arthur legend and Persephone-Hades myth”) which is written entirely in texts and emails between the titular characters as Gwen tries to manipulate Art into taking her to prom amidst unwanted overtures from Lance and “Death Knell” by Victoria Schwab (“Hades wakes up after being unconscious at the bottom of a well in Ireland”) which offers a nuanced meditation on what it means to be Death–and what it means to try to run from it.

There are no redeeming qualities for most of the villains here and, for the most part, a lot of superficiality. One notable exception is Cindy Pon’s poignant story “Beautiful Venom” (prompt: “Medusa, go!”) which makes the Greek myth relevant to modern readers as they watch Mei Feng become Mei Du in Pon’s tragic retelling with a Chinese setting. Because You Love to Hate Me is a marketable if not entirely serviceable collection that will appeal to fans of the contributing authors.

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a review in the July 1, 2017 issue of School Library Journal*

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow: A (Halloween-y) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Morrigan Crow is cursed and doomed to die on her eleventh birthday on Eventide night. She is blamed for every bit of bad luck and misfortune that plagues the residents of the town of Jackalfax in the Wintersea Republic.

When Eventide arrives early ushering a new Age across the realm, Morrigan is faced with the prospect of her premature death until a strange man named Jupiter North arrives. Together the two escape the Hunt of Smoke and Shadow and arrive in the Free State city of Nevermoor. Miraculously alive and possibly no longer cursed, Morrigan can make a fresh start.

With Jupiter’s help she has the chance to compete in a series of trials for a place in Nevermoor’s most revered group: The Wundrous Society. If she makes it she’ll also earn her place in Nevermoor and finally have a home and family who cares about her.

Despite Jupiter’s assurances, Morrigan dreads the final Show Trial where the remaining competitors will have to demonstrate their astounding talents–something Morrigan is quite certain she doesn’t possess. Morrigan will have to step boldly and learn to trust her new friends if she hopes to pass the trials and join the Wundrous Society in Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow (2017) by Jessica Townsend.

Nevermoor is Townsend’s debut novel and the start of a middle grade trilogy. The story revolves around Morrigan’s struggle to find her place and discover her own worth. All while she completes magical tasks and investigates the strange world of Nevermoor.

This dynamic novel is filled with intricate and carefully detailed world building that brings the renowned figure of Jupiter North and the rest of Nevermoor vibrantly to life. Set over the course of Morrigan’s year of trials this entertaining and fast-paced story is filled with wondrous things like the Hotel Deucalion where Morrigan’s room changes to suit her mood, the Wundrous Society grounds which turns the weather up a notch, and even a giant talking “Magnificat” named Fenestra.

Nevermoor is filled with adventure, magic, and wonder. Readers, like Morrigan herself, will feel at home in these evocative pages where magic and confidence go hand in hand. Highly recommended.

Want to know more? Check out my interview with Jessica about her debut over at SLJ.com

Possible Pairings: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee, The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon Foxheart by Claire Legrand, Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi, A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a starred review in the July 2017 issue of School Library Journal*

The Traitor’s Kiss: A Review

Sage Fowler is all too aware that she isn’t a lady. She wants it that way. Orphaned at a young age, Sage has spent years dreaming of the day when she’ll be able to leave her uncle’s stifling household.

Her hopes are thwarted when her uncle sends Sage to a matchmaker to evaluate her marriage prospects (and hopefully make a match)–a practice that is become popular throughout the kingdom. Sage has no intention of having an arranged marriage or possibly any marriage. Both prospects are easily avoided thanks to Sage’s sharp tongue and nasty disposition.

Instead Sage finds herself in the unlikely position of matchmaker’s apprentice. When she and her mentor fall in with a group of soldiers, Sage also finds herself in the surprising role of spy. The course of true love, and espionage, never does run smooth as Sage is about to find out in The Traitor’s Kiss (2017) by Erin Beaty.

The Traitor’s Kiss is Beaty’s debut novel and the start of a new series.

This book begins with an interesting premise that is soon mired in all-too familiar world building. Although Sage lives in an imaginary world it’s impossible to ignore the nods to English and (white) European cultures. This tired backdrop is compounded with dark skinned enemies and a “dusky” love interest who comes close to being described as exotic.

Unfortunately Sage herself does little to distract from this problematic world. Readers will either love or hate Sage, something that will likely determine how you feel about the rest of the novel. Sage is meant to be an independent and resourceful young woman. Which she could be if she weren’t busy being brash, thoughtless, and purposefully unkind.

After her parents died, Sage was taken in by her uncle. Early pages frame this arrangement as a nightmare for Sage where she is demeaned, belittled, and abused. Except we learn almost immediately that is not the case. Her uncle has done nothing but care for and tend to her best interests. So what is the meaning behind Sage’s simmering hatred for him and the rest of her family? No one knows. Sage continuously reminds herself and readers of her lack of agency but she also persists in making thoughtless decisions that speak to her inherent privilege in being able to do whatever she wants other peoples’ wishes be damned.

Almost every character falls victim to shorthand characterizations distilling them into a vague stereotype and not much else. Sage’s prickly personality and sharp observations serve her well in a plot that is murky at best as it moves vaguely through time leading Sage from apprentice matchmaker to would-be spy.

The Traitor’s Kiss is a disappointing fantasy that promises romance and adventure but fails to deliver on both marks.

Possible Pairings: All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry, The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes, Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*