Dear Martin: A Review

Justyce McAllister is a scholarship student at the top of his class at his prestigious boarding school and heading to an Ivy League college next year. He’s miles away from the rough neighborhood where he grew up and has big plans for his future.

None of those accomplishments or plans matter when a police officer puts Justyce in handcuffs. Shaken by the severity of the encounter–and how much worse it could have been–Justyce isn’t sure where he belongs. Not with the other boys from his neighborhood many of whom are now in gangs and scorn Justyce for moving away. Not with his mostly white classmates who seem intent on making Jus feel small.

Justyce hopes to find some answers in the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who advocated non-violence in the pursuit of civil rights. But as Jus tries to follow his teachings and writes to Dr. King to try and make sense of his life, Justyce starts to wonder if those teachings have any place in the modern world where boys like Justyce are still dying in Dear Martin (2017) by Nic Stone.

Find it on Bookshop.

Dear Martin is Stone’s powerful debut novel and a finalist for the 2018 William C. Morris YA Debut Award. This standalone contemporary is deceptively short with a page count that belies the weighty questions Justyce and his story raise.

Written in Justyce’s first-person narration along with his letters to Dr. King, this novel read partly like a diary with a conversational tone as Jus makes sense of the painful circumstances of his being handcuffed while trying to help his ex-girlfriend, grapples with casual racism with his classmates, and negotiates his complicated feelings for his debate partner SJ–a white girl Jus knows his mother would never want him to date.

Dear Martin is a compelling and timely story. Stone’s fast-paced prose and careful plotting make this novel an engrossing page-turner. An excellent choice for readers looking for a contemporary novel they can sink their teeth into. Ideal for anyone who has ever wanted to make their corner of the world a little better. Recommended.

 

Possible Pairings: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds, How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon, You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Who Killed Christopher Goodman? by Allan Wolf, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

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

Criminal: A Review

Criminal by Terra Elan McVoyNikki knows her life isn’t a dream come true. Even the thought of seeing her mother makes Nikki’s skin crawl. Her step-father is in jail. Nikki is a high school drop out.

But she has her friend Bird and her job at the hair salon.

More importantly, Nikki has Dee. Everyone tells her that Dee is no good but Nikki doesn’t believe that. Not really. How can Dee be anything but perfect when he looks so good and makes Nikki feel like this? He even has her initial tattooed on his chest.

When Dee does the unthinkable, Nikki is drawn into a crime that will shatter everything Nikki had taken for granted in her less-than-perfect life. After spending so much time wrapped up in Dee’s world, Nikki isn’t sure what it will take to stand on her own in Criminal (2013) by Terra Elan McVoy.

Criminal is a finalist for the 2014 Edgar Awards for Young Adult Mystery.

In a departure from her lighter fare, McVoy presents a gritty, evocative story of life in the wake of a shocking crime. The novel bends notions of right and wrong while also artfully exploring the idea of complicity as Nikki comes to terms with her own role in Dee’s crime.

Nikki is a flawed, often naive, heroine who has tried to make the best of the blessed little life has given her. She turns a blind eye to Dee’s many faults. She makes mistakes. She is impulsive and quite foolish.

Despite these shortcomings, Nikki’s growth throughout the novel is impressive. While she does not always make the smartest decisions, Nikki is a survivor. Although Criminal is touted as a mystery the main story here is really one about a girl trying to find her way. Even with all of the obstacles she has to face, readers will close this book with a sense that Nikki will make it through.

Possible Pairings: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Blank Confession by Pete Hautman, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller

The Infinite Moment of Us: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren MyracleIn the summer after high school, Wren Gray thinks she is finally ready to go after what she wants. Even if what she wants is the exact opposite of what she has been working towards for her entire life. Even if what she wants is the exact opposite of what her parents want for Wren.

Charlie Parker, on the other hand, wants exactly one thing and one thing only: Wren Gray. Unfortunately the odds of her noticing him, let alone being actually interested in him, are pretty low.

Then high school ends and somehow, some way, Wren and Charlie meet. And both of them are interested. Unfortunately, it takes more than mutual interest–or even love–to create a lasting relationship. As Wren and Charlie finally get to know each other, neither of them are sure what the future will hold for them in The Infinite Moment of Us (2013) by Lauren Myracle.

Lauren Myracle is a wildly popular author. Her books are daring and edgy and completely unflinching when it comes to some difficult topics. That is part of why Myracle is also a perennial favorite for book banners who challenge her books.

I haven’t read a lot of Myracle books but she is absolutely wonderful at all of her events and, really, I wanted to love this book because  I respect Myracle immensely for making hard choices and for never shying away from hard subjects in her books.  I was so excited going into it.
The Infinite Moment of Us is a charming, sexy story of first love and all of the challenges and thrills it entails. It’s a story about walking into the unknown that is life after high school. It’s a story about a boy with a troubled past and a girl with everything going for her.
Then everything falls apart.
Let me start by saying that The Infinite Moment of Us is an honest, thoughtful meditation on first love and growing up. All of  the pieces are handled well in Myracle’s skilled hands and the story has a lot of appeal. I am most certain that this book is going to rock a lot of worlds and many people are going to love it. Much as I wanted to be, I am not one of those people.
Wren is one of the most frustrating heroines I have recently encountered. She is proactive. She has agency. She knows what she wants. In theory she is everything you want in a heroine. Unfortunately in reality she is just irritating. Wren comes from a privileged family. She is making a daring, bold decision to defy her parents in order to do what she wants. While that is admirable and incredibly hard, with Wren it also came from such a place of privilege that it was impossible to ignore.

Myracle hints that Wren’s parents are suffocating but readers don’t see enough for it to really be convincing (this is a recurring problem because the novel is short–336 pages hardcover). Similarly, everything Wren does seems to be meant to suggest that she is strong and proactive and responsible. Unfortunately in most cases it instead comes across that Wren is a rich girl who wants the world to reshape itself to better suit her needs–particularly when it comes to her boyfriend Charlie.

I suppose it makes sense but a central conceit of The Infinite Moment of Us became the idea that one character had to give up something to be with the other. There was no middle ground. No compromise. It became a question of all or nothing. It was deeply troubling–maybe in part because Wren and Charlie are so relatively young–that there was this expectation of either of them having to give something up to be together.

Wren and Charlie together also alternated rather rapidly from being adorable together to being, well, strange. I still haven’t been able to pinpoint why but as the story progressed I became vaguely uncomfortable with almost everything Wren and Charlie said to each other from him calling her baby to their talking about feeling like a “man” and a “woman” because of being with the other. It all started to feel unsettling the more I read.

To add to an already significant assortment of issues, Myracle made some very strange choices with the book’s antagonist. I cannot say more because of spoilers but suffice it to say that the last eighth of the novel takes a very bizarre and completely unexpected turn.

I’ve heard this book described as a modern version of Forever. And it reminded me very much of some other novels I have read. Unfortunately The Infinite Moment Of Us was not quite as well done as those other novels. This book had all of the potential to be wonderful, and I’m sure with the right reader it will be. Sadly, I was left at the end with a sense that for me as a reader the entire story was largely pointless.

Possible Pairings: Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson, Forever by Judy Blume, Foul is Fair by Hannah Capin, When It Happens by Susane Colasanti, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, Just One Day by Gayle Forman; Anna K.: A Love Story by Jenny Lee, The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta, Some Things That Stay by Sarah Willis

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*

Anna and the French Kiss: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Anna Oliphant expected to spend her senior year in Atlanta with her friends. Her mom and her little brother are in Atlanta. Her car is in Atlanta. Her job and the coworker she’s been crushing on for months are in Atlanta.

But thanks to her father’s delusions of grandeur Anna is no longer in Atlanta.

Instead her wannabe-sophisticated-noveau-riche dad has exiled Anna to boarding school. In Paris.

And yes, it’s the City of Lights and of course that’s exciting. Except for being in a completely foreign city, not speaking French, and having no friends.

Anna still can’t speak French but soon she finds some friends and Paris starts to reveal its secrets–including the funny, charming, gorgeous Etienne St. Clair. Etienne is the perfect friend as Anna adjusts to Paris life. He’s probably the perfect guy period. Except for having a serious girlfriend and being completely off limits.

As Paris begins to feel more like home, Anna and Etienne have a lot of near-misses and close calls that bring their friendship to the verge of being something more. Even while Etienne is very much still taken. But anything seems possible in the City of Lights. Maybe Anna and Etienne really are meant to be, maybe Anna will even learn some French in Anna and the French Kiss (2010) by Stephanie Perkins.

Find it on Bookshop.

Anna and the French Kiss is Perkins’ first novel.*

First things first, it has to be said: This book has a silly title. Go ahead, get the giggles out of the way.

Despite its deceptively saccharine title, Anna and the French Kiss is a book of quality. Anna is a first rate narrator with her own unique slant on Paris and boarding school. She is likable, funny and ultimately just plain old authentic. While not every has a father who is a quasi-Nicholas-Sparks writer to send them to a Parisian boarding school, everyone will find something essentially real and true about Anna and her numerous adventures (and, yes, misadventures) in Paris.

Etienne is a fine foil for Anna throughout the novel with his charm and humor. Though some of the other peripheral characters are less developed, the tension and chemistry between Anna and Etienne more than makes up for it. In addition to being a love story, Perkins packs in a variety of other themes and topics including the interesting idea that the place (or person) someone calls home can change over time.

At 372 pages (hardcover) the only real problem with this book is that the last quarter of the novel drags with nail-bitingly frustrating suspense as readers wait for Anna and Etienne to finally realize they are meant to be together. (They both have perfect hair so obviously they are meant to be together.**)

With beautiful descriptions of Parisian sights and landscapes, crackling romantic tension, and tons of humor, Anna and the French Read offers a refreshing combination of depth and effervescence all in one delightful story.

*Perkins recently published her second novel, Lola and the Boy Next Door, which is a companion to this book. A final companion book, Isla and the Happily Ever After is due out in 2012–I’m really, really excited about that one for reasons that cannot be revealed in this review because they are spoilers.

**I say that with complete seriousness. It was one of my favorite motifs in the book. No joke.

Possible Pairings: North of Beautiful by Justina Chen, So Much Closer by Susane Colasanti, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, King of the Screwups by K. L. Going, Royals by Rachel Hawkins, Girl at Sea by Maureen Johnson, This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills, Snowfall by K. M. Peyton, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, Starry Nights by Daisy Whitney

The Demon Trapper’s Daughter: A(n Excited!) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Demon Trapper's Daughter by Jana OliverIt’s 2018 and the city of Atlanta is going to Hell. The economy is in shambles, the city is practically bankrupt, and Lucifer’s demons are everywhere. Angels wander the streets but they keep a low profile and tend to stay in the background.

Demons have no such scruples. Whether it’s a Biblio, a Magpie, or one of the Geofiends there is no forgetting that things are bad and on their way to worse.

Especially for seventeen-year-old Riley Blackthorne. An apprentice demon trapper learning the ropes from her father, Riley already sticks out as the only girl apprentice in the local demon trapper’s guild. When she botches a routine trapping, that’s bad. When her father is killed and Riley is left on her own, that’s a whole lot worse.

Riley is alone in a hostile city. There are some in the guild eager to see her fail. There are some, like really cute fellow apprentice Simon Adler, who want to help. Denver Beck, her father’s trapping partner and a near constant annoyance to Riley, wants nothing more than to run her life. At least, sometimes he does. Sometimes he just wants to be nice to her. It’s confusing.

Either way, Riley doesn’t want help. She wants to get by on her own and prove herself.

In a city where the demons know your name and the old rules are changing, working alone might get Riley killed. Or worse in The Demon Trapper’s Daughter* (2011) by Jana Oliver.

There is a lot to love about The Demon Trapper’s Daughter. Jana Oliver takes the old conventions about demons and demon hunting and  turns them upside down in this dynamic start to what promises to be a thrilling series. Oliver’s world building is phenomenal. Riley and the other characters, particularly Beck, jump off  the page in an evocative story where readers will smell the brimstone and feel the swipe of every demonic claw.

The story is written in the third person and alternates between Riley and Beck’s viewpoints. The one weak point in the writing are the italicized thoughts interspersed throughout the narrative which are a bit jarring–particularly Beck’s since his are written in the vernacular to convey his Georgia accent. Riley can be a frustrating protagonist especially with her low opinion of (the obviously awesome) Denver Beck. But Beck is just as stubborn. By the end of the story the two balance out even though they might not see it that way.

There are a lot of urban fantasies out there. There are a lot of books about demons. There are a lot of books about a young woman trying to prove herself. This book is all three. Gritty, funny, and exciting The Demon Trapper’s Daughter is a charmer with equal parts action and heart. Highly recommended.

*This book is also called The Demon Trappers: Forsaken–that’s the title for the UK edition. Thanks to the author, Jana G. Oliver, for commenting on the review I posted on Amazon to confirm this information! (I prefer The Demon Trapper’s Daughter as it points more to the crux of the story. Either way, this is the first book in The Demon Trappers series.)

Possible Pairings: The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry, Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulton, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

Exclusive Bonus Content: Did you catch by now that I have a ridiculous literary crush on Denver Beck? Seriously, he’s awesome. I can’t even tell you how awesome he is because it gets too far into plot details but I expect him to play a BIG role in the rest of the series (and hopefully not die tragically because that would make me sad). In all seriousness (no really) Denver Beck joins Tom Imura, Alan Ryves and Tucker Avery in the very exclusive Literary Guys I Wish Were Real Club.

Also, if I had a club for Book Covers I Love this one would definitely be in it. I think it not only captures the essence of the book but also the essence of Riley as a character in a weird way. I read this book as an arc so, tragically, I do not have information on the who designed this delightful cover.