Tag Archives: California

Into the Bright Unknown: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*Into the Bright Unknown is the final book in Carson’s Gold Seer trilogy. This review contains spoilers for books one and two. If you’re new to the series start with book one Walk On Earth a Stranger*

“It’s knowing someone so deeply that facing the unknown together isn’t dark and dangerous, but instead beautiful and bright.”

cover art for Into the Bright Unknown by Rae CarsonLeah Westfall came to California to make her fortune with her witchy gift to sense gold. Along the way Lee has been chased by her parents’ murderer–her own uncle–and found an unlikely new family in her wagon train heading west.

The California Territory has yielded riches and helped Lee and her friends grow their settlement into the fledgling town of Glory. But a town doesn’t become a town just by existing. It needs a charter. Something that Lee has been promised with no sign of delivery.

Lee has made a life for herself in Glory but preparations for her wedding with her fiancé (and best friend) Jefferson will have to wait as Lee and her friends work to keep what’s rightfully theirs. Billionaires are circling the Glory settlers looking for their own peace of the wealth and Lee is coming up against someone who might have a power like her own–something she never imagined could be possible.

It will take Lee and all of her friends, both new and old, to make sure they come out on top this time in Into the Bright Unknown (2017) by Rae Carson.

Into the Bright Unknown is the final book in Carson’s Gold Seer trilogy. This review contains spoilers for books one and two. If you’re new to the series start with book one Walk On Earth a Stranger.

This installment picks up shortly after the events of Like a River Glorious. Lee is still haunted by memories of her abduction by her uncle and, worse, by the atrocities he committed against the American Indians and Chinese immigrants that he held captive to work his mine. As Lee and her friends once again encounter adversity and obstacles Lee has to relearn the hard lessons that she can’t save everyone and that she may not know best.

Although this novel is filled with more fantasy elements than the first two in the series, Carson continues to deliver solid historical fiction. Her descriptions of San Francisco bring the bustling boom town to life at a time when settlers were literally expanding the coastline by building on top of ships abandoned in port by crews eager to join the gold rush. Carson also continues to be careful to keep our heroine Lee at the center of the story without framing her as a white savior. Lee’s privileges and biases are constantly checked by her wiser and often more world weary counterparts helping her to become a better ally and a stronger character.

Forced to buy their freedom in the form of a town charter Into the Bright Unknown quickly shifts to a bit of a heist novel as Lee tries with the help of her friends to get the best of a California billionaire with his eyes on the town of Glory and the US presidency.

Into the Bright Unknown is an excellent conclusion to one of my favorite trilogies. While Lee and Jefferson’s future is uncertain, their devotion to each other is plain and ensures that whatever comes next, they’ll face it together. If you’re looking for a new western or historical fantasy to love this series is for you.

Possible Pairings: Retribution Rails by Erin Bowman, A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede

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The 57 Bus: A Non-Fiction Review

cover art for The 57 Bus by Dashka SlaterTeens Sasha and Richard have nothing in common except for eight minutes spent on the 57 bus in Oakland, California each weekday. Sasha, a white agender teen, attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen living in a bad neighborhood, attended a large public one that never quite figured out how to help him thrive.

One afternoon a thoughtless joke leaves Sasha badly burned and Richard charged with two hate crimes. Journalist Slater expands her original reporting on this story, which first appeared in The New York Times, to explore both Sasha and Richard’s backgrounds and the events that changed both their lives forever in The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives (2017) by Dashka Slater.

The 57 Bus is a finalist for YALSA’s 2018 Nonfiction Award.

Slater’s substantial original reporting is expanded here to give readers background on every aspect of this story from what Sasha and Richard’s schools looked like, to a smart and thoughtful rundown of gender pronouns and the sexuality spectrum as Sasha works out how they want to define themselves.

There is no question that Richard committed a crime but Slater also looks at the circumstances that worked against Richard from before his arrest right up to the moment his sentence became a mandatory hate crime.

While the core of the story is solid, much of this book lacks cohesion. The style is all over the place as Slater experiments with form and delivery in her efforts to show more angles of the events both before and after Richard’s arrest. The timeline also shifts abruptly as Slater takes a holistic view the events on the bus and those surrounding it.

The 57 Bus is engaging nonfiction at its best. Short chapters, fast-paced events, and straightforward writing make for easily readable chapters and a surprisingly quick read. Sure to appeal particularly to fans of hard news and true crime.

Starfish: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Starfish by Akemi Dawn BowmanAll of Kiko Himura’s hopes are pinned on getting accepted to Prism–her dream art school. At Prism Kiko knows that it won’t matter that she’s half-Japanese and knows barely anything about her own culture. She won’t need to regret her failed relationships with her brothers. She’ll be able to get away from her mother who is alternately suffocating and neglectful. Best of all, Kiko knows that at Prism she’ll finally be understood the way she always used to be by her childhood best friend, Jamie.

After Prism rejects her, Kiko is forced to consider other options–especially when her abusive uncle moves into the house and makes life even more unbearable. When Kiko and Jamie meet up at a party, Kiko jumps at the improbable chance to tour art schools with him on the west coast. Along the way Kiko will learn how to be brave and and let herself be heard while understand that sometimes second choices can lead to second chances in Starfish (2017) by Akemi Dawn Bowman.

Starfish is Bowman’s debut novel and a finalist for YALSA’s 2018 Morris Award.

This is a quiet and deliberate novel. Kiko knows better than most that words have weight thanks to what happened when she spoke out about her uncle’s abuse and also from the methodical way Kiko’s mother uses them to break her down. Kiko’s visions of vivid sketches and lavish paintings are interspersed throughout Starfish helping Kiko give voice to her emotions when she doesn’t feel strong enough to share them herself.

While Kiko’s strained relationship with her mother and her uncle’s abuse are key factors in Starfish, the main story here is Kiko’s growth and resilience as she begins to realize she has more options than she ever imagined.

Starfish is both heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful as Kiko comes into her own and discovers her own strength. Evocative settings and an obvious love for art are imbued in this story along with a subtle romance. Kiko is an empowering heroine readers will immediately want to cheer on. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Far From the Tree by Robin Benway, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, When We Collided by Emery Lord, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Break Me Like a Promise by Tiffany Schmidt, As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

One of Us is Lying: A Review

Here’s what we know:

Bronwyn always follows the rules. She’s heading to Yale next year and she would never risk that or disappointing her immigrant father.

Cooper is an all-star baseball player. His pitching abilities are sure to lead the Bayview team to victory and pave Cooper’s way to the majors–just like his father wants. But Cooper wants other things that he’s afraid to talk about out loud.

Addy is homecoming princess and not much else. She isn’t ambitious or independent but she isn’t sure why she has to be when she already has the perfect life with her boyfriend.

Nate really belongs in detention. He’s always doing something wrong and has been for years. What do you expect from a guy who’s already on probation for drug dealing.

Simon is the outcast of Bayview but he’s also one of the most powerful students there thanks to the gossip app he created that dishes all of Bayview High’s worst secrets.

All of them were caught using cell phones during school hours. All of them claim they were framed. On Monday afternoon the five of them walk into detention at Bayview High. Only four of them walk out alive. Every one else has a motive for killing Simon. But no one has any proof. Yet. As the investigation heats up Bronwyn, Nate, Addy, and Cooper all have to decide how far they’ll go to keep their secrets in One of Us is Lying (2017) by Karen M. McManus.

One of Us is Lying is McManus’ debut novel. This standalone thriller was partially inspired by the 1980s movie The Breakfast Club. The novel is written in alternating first person chapters between Bronwyn, Nate, Addy, and Cooper as they try to make sense of what happened to Simon.

Despite the numerous narrators each character manages to sound distinct and stand out in their own sections. Anyone who is familiar with teen movies or YA novels will recognize some of the plot points (such as staight-laced Bronwyn pursuing a relationship with the resident bad boy) but they manage to feel fresh and interesting within this story. McManus keeps a tight rein on the plot as the story’s twists which are revealed at a satisfying pace throughout the novel. Unlikely friendships, surprising romances, and quite a few surprises make One of Us is Lying a winning mystery for even the most jaded fans of the genre.

While I was a big fan of most of this novel, there are two things I need to talk about. Avert your eyes if you want to avoid spoilers.

——START SPOILERS——

Every character in the book has a big secret. We eventually learn that Cooper’s secret isn’t steroid use as everyone suspects. Instead, Cooper is gay. And he is outed during the course of the investigation. Cooper being outed by reporters during the investigation is rightly treated as egregious behavior but it also felt tiresome and a little sad to still have it be a plot device. Maybe it’s realistic but I wish we were beyond that point already.

Then there’s the big reveal about Simon’s killer. It turns out that Simon was depressed from constantly trying and failing to be one of the popular kids. Refusing to discuss other courses of action Simon kills himself and use his suicide to frame a classmate for his death.

While the suicide-as-murder-frame-up is a familiar trope in mystery novels, it’s a troubling one in a young adult novel. It’s problematic to still have mental illness be treated as a plot device and especially to not have it be addressed in any way beyond being part of Simon’s brilliant plan.f

——END SPOILERS——

Possible Pairings: The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart, Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

Lucky in Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Maddie doesn’t believe in luck. She believes in working hard and being realistic. She’d love to dream big like her Stanford-bound best friend but dreams like that have no place in Maddie’s reality.

When her eighteenth birthday turns into a total bust, Maddie decides to indulge in a little self-pity and a lot of whimsy when she buys a lottery ticket. Much to her dismay, the ticket wins big.

Before her win Maddie’s family is struggling with debt and barely managing with her overworked mother and unemployed father constantly fighting about money while Maddie’s older brother has taken time off from college to pay some of the loans he has already accrued. Maddie’s lottery money and her natural caregiver tendencies should solve all of their problems but, as Maddie learns, money can’t fix everything–especially people who may not want to be fixed.

Maddie also learns the hard way that money has the potential to change everyone she’s ever met as acquaintances and even strangers start asking for loans, friends question her behavior, and rumors start flying about her in the tabloids. Maddie’s one refuge is the zoo where her coworker Seth Nguyen seems to have no idea that Maddie is now a multi-millionaire.

Seth is charming, funny, and perfect the way he is now–when he doesn’t know Maddie’s secret. As they grow closer Maddie knows she has to tell Seth the truth. Soon. The only problem is that being honest with him might also mean losing Seth before he and Maddie have a chance to get closer in Lucky in Love (2017) by Kasie West.

West’s latest standalone contemporary novel is narrated by Maddie as she navigates her sudden change of circumstance along with all of the other uncharted moments that come with being a senior in high school. Her love of animals and work at the local zoo add a fun dimension to Maddie’s character and the plot.

Thanks to the lottery, Maddie learns to put herself first and also accept things she can’t control or change. In the midst of the lottery chaos Maddie also develops a sweet relationship with Seth–her Vietnamese-American coworker at the zoo. He gives her some much-needed perspective with his focus on film making and going with the flow even in the face of disheartening micro-aggressions and more overt discrimination. He remains easygoing and fun even when it feels like Maddie’s life is in chaos. Seth is a sweet and mellow counterpoint to hyper-focused overachiever Maddie.

Lucky in Love strikes the perfect balance between reality and wish fulfillment with a charming story sure to leave readers smiling. Lucky in Love is a winning ticket for any readers looking for a frothy and ultimately cheerful story about growing up and chasing your dreams–with or without a lottery win to back you up. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes

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

I Believe in a Thing Called Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Unexpected things happen,” I said into the microphone. “But it’s how we react to them, how we learn and evolve from these things that shapes us into who we are.”

Desi Lee is known for a lot of things. Like being Student Government President and getting straight As and being solidly on track with her plan to go to Stanford. That’s not even counting her knowledge of engines thanks to her car mechanic dad or her large and varied list of extracurriculars (Arbor Day Society anyone?).

There’s one other thing Desi is known for, at least with her best friends Fiona Mendoza and Wes Mansour. Desi has never had a boyfriend. In fact, thanks to her spectacularly disastrous attempts at flirting (Flailures. Get it?) she’s never even come close.

When Luka Drakos (AKA the hottest guy she has seen in her entire life) breezes into Desi’s high school she knows she’s a goner. But she’s also motivated. And, thanks to the Korean Dramas her father loves, Desi has a plan.

All she needs to do is follow her “K Drama Rules for True Love” to convince artsy Luka that they’re perfect for each other. Desi’s path to true love is filled with disasters (both manufactured and otherwise) and the kind of charming mayhem that might be impossible to resist in I Believe in a Thing Called Love (2017) by Maurene Goo.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love is Goo’s sophomore novel.

Desi narrates this standalone contemporary in her singular voice. Inspired by actual K Dramas (featured in a list at the end of the novel) Desi’s story takes on the structure of her “K Drama Rules for True Love” with each chapter following one step as she tries to use them to win Luka over.

Desi dreams of becoming a doctor. She is athletic, driven, and she doesn’t have an artsy bone in her body–something that becomes all too clear as she tries to bond with Luka over his art. Luka, meanwhile, is a sensational artist without much interest in school or sports. While the pairing seems unlikely at first, these two complement each other well throughout I Believe in a Thing Called Love while effortlessly flipping some traditional gender roles seen in romantic comedies.

Desi’s story is an unapologetic love story–just like the K Dramas she comes to love. But this isn’t just a story about a girl pursuing the boy of her dreams. It’s also the story of a girl trying to do the absolute best she can for a father she adores and the story of that father adjusting to life in a new country–especially after his wife’s sudden death. It’s a story about dreaming and also realizing that sometimes dreams change. And that’s okay.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love is filled with madcap adventures, romance, and an abiding admiration and respect for all of the forms love can take. Don’t miss this striking story. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Lucky in Love by Kasie West, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

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

When Dimple Met Rishi: A Review

cover art for When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya MenonWhat happens if you meet the exact right person for you at the exactly wrong time?

Dimple Shah wants to go to Stanford, focus on coding, and start her career. She would like to go to Insomnia Con this summer before she starts college to participate in the coding competition and possibly meet her idol Jenny Lindt.

Dimple isn’t interested in clothes, contacts, or makeup. She definitely doesn’t want a relationship or an “Ideal Indian Husband”–not right now and possibly not ever. When her parents agree to pay for Dimple to attend Insomnia Con, it feels like maybe they’re both finally understanding who Dimple is and embracing her dreams and ambitions.

Then again, maybe not.

Rishi Patel knows that it’s up to him to follow tradition and respect his parents’ wishes. It’s possible that Rishi isn’t passionate about engineering or MIT but he knows he should stick to the responsible and safe choice.

Rishi is a romantic but he also wants a solid partnership in the future. He trusts his parents when they try to set up an arranged marriage with the daughter of family friends. It should be simple. Rishi can even meet her at Insomnia Con and woo her. It will be perfect.

Or will it?

Dimple and Rishi figure each other out pretty quickly. They have nothing in common. They want different things. But they also make each other laugh and might be able to help each other be their best selves–if they can just give each other a chance–in When Dimple Met Rishi (2017) by Sandhya Menon.

When Dimple Met Rishi is Menon’s debut novel.

Menon’s writing is filled with evocative descriptions of San Francisco over the course of the three weeks Dimple and Rishi spend there for Insomnia Con. Dimple and Rishi’s relationship plays out against this backdrop of coding and competition along with a few side plots involving Dimple’s roommate Cecelia and Rishi’s younger brother Ashish.

When Dimple Met Rishi is a sweet romantic comedy with a lighthearted premise but it doesn’t stop there. Dimple and Rishi are both first generation Indian-Americans (their parents immigrated from India) and they are dealing with it in different ways. Dimple rails against traditions and values that seem determined to relegate women to successful marriages and not much else; she wants to make her own way in the world and she isn’t sure it matters if that goes against her parents’ expectations. Rishi revels in being part of such an old and amazing culture; he places so much value on traditions that he’s willing to sacrifice his own dreams because of them.

Although Dimple and Rishi are both eighteen they read young and feel like authentic teens facing big changes as summer ends and college approaches. Slow pacing toward the middle and some contrivances near the end of the book do little to diminish this enjoyable story. When Dimple Met Rishi is a thoughtful, clever read. A satisfying story about two teens who manage to find a lot to appreciate (including themselves) once they find each other. Highly recommended and guaranteed to leave readers smiling.

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Say You’ll Remember Me by Katie McGarry, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Lucky in Love by Kasie West, Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff