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.

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In Some Other Life: A Review

Three years ago Kennedy Rhodes made a choice. She turned down admission to elite Windsor Academy to stay in public school near her crush.

Three years later it seems like Kennedy made the right choice. She and Austin are still dating, she has good grades, and she has completely revamped the school newspaper making it an award winning student paper (and chasing a record breaking fourth year win). Windsor Academy students have a much higher probability of getting into Columbia, but Kennedy knows that the student paper will set her over the top. It has to.

When she finds out that her boyfriend has been seeing her best friend in secret, Kennedy wishes she made a different choice. And, thanks to a knock on the head, Kennedy wakes up in that other life where she chose to attend Windsor Academy after all. But as Kennedy explores her shiny new life she starts to realize there might not be one right choice, especially when nothing is quite what she expects, in In Some Other Life (2017) by Jessica Brody.

Brody’s latest standalone novel offers a fun blend of contemporary and light fantasy as Kennedy tries to answer that ineffable question: “What if?”

Structured like an if/then equation (half of the books chapters are titled with “if” scenarios, the other half with “then” outcomes) this story explores both paths Kennedy could have taken complete with her delightfully precocious younger brother explaining the ins and outs of the parallel universe theory.

Kennedy’s first person narration can be grating thanks to the obvious chip on her shoulder thanks to her singular focus on all of her disadvantages and obstacles on the path to Columbia instead of her assets and successes. In Some Other Life uses an innovative structure to good effect and offers a well-rounded story that proves the tried and true adage about grass being greener. Recommended for readers who enjoy plot driven stories as well as alternate history or parallel universe tales in general.

Possible Pairings: In a World Just Right by Jen Brooks, The Infinity of You & Me by J. Q. Coyle, Two Summers by Aimee Friedman, Parallel by Lauren Miller, Just Like Fate by Cat Patrick and Suzanne Young, The Square Root of Summer by Harrier Reuter Hapgood, Now That You’re Here by Amy K. Nichols, Pivot Point by Kasie West

*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*

Compass South: A Graphic Novel Review

Compass South by Hope Larson, illustrated by Rebecca MockNew York City, 1860: When Alexander and Cleopatra’s father disappears, the twins are soon forced into service for the Black Hook Gang to try and survive. Facing jail time after a heist goes awry, Alex and Cleo inform on the gang in exchange for tickets out of the city.

The twins hatch a plan to head to San Francisco impersonating the long-lost sons of a millionaire. But like most cons, nothing goes quite right.

When they meet Silas and Edwin, another set of twins with the same con in mind, tempers flare and trouble forms leaving Alex and Edwin shanghaied on a ship heading to San Francisco.

While Alex and Edwin try to find their way on the ship, Cleo and Silas reluctantly join forces to reunite with their brothers in Compass South (2016) by Hope Larson, illustrated by Rebecca Mock.

Compass South is the start of a projected graphic novel series.

Cleo and Alex are orphans being raised by their uncle (known to them as their father) with only two mysterious treasures–a watch and a knife–as their family legacy. The larger mystery of the knife and the watch begins to unfold as Alex and Cleo’s madcap trip to San Francisco begins.

Silas and Edwin serve as a nice contrast to Alex and Cleo with different priorities and outlooks during the course of their journeys. Larson’s nappy dialogue (in easy to read speech bubbles) works well with Mock’s carefully detailed full-color illustrations.

This story, filled with a variety of moving parts, subplots, and characters, comes together nicely in a fun introduction to the indomitable Alex and Cleo. As might be expected in a story with two different sets of twins, sometimes it’s difficult to gauge who is being shown in frame however visual clues and dialogue help to quickly clear up any confusion.

Compass South is a fast-paced graphic novel filled with action and adventure. Sure to appeal to readers of all ages looking for an exciting piece of historical fiction, and of course to comics fans. Readers will be clamoring to see what comes next for all of the characters and eager for future installments.

Good Morning, City: A Picture Book Review

Good Morning, City by Pat Kiernan, Pascal Campion (illustrator)Most people in the city are fast asleep as the city starts to wake up. The baker, ferry boat captain, and even the TV anchorman all start their days early to open the bakery, help commuters get to work, and help other New Yorkers get ready to start their day in Good Morning, City (2016) by Pat Kiernan, illustrated by Pascal Campion.

Pat Kiernan is locally known in New York City as an anchor on NY1 news where he generally works the morning shift including the popular feature “In the Papers.” Having spent much of his career waking up in the early hours of the morning, Kiernan’s picture book debut explores the varied morning routines of New Yorkers across the big city.

Kiernan’s text hits that sweet spot that promises Good Morning, City will be a winner for one-on-one readings or when read aloud to larger audiences. Each page features a brief vignette of something that happens during the early morning as the city begins to wake up.

Campion’s illustrations are vibrant and perfectly capture the diffuse sunlight that will be familiar to early risers in any city. Large double page spreads evocatively depict skyscrapers and other buildings and situate the family found in the beginning and end of the story within the larger context of the city.

While Good Morning, City is an obvious nod to New York City, this picture book is a versatile read-a-loud about morning routines, different lifestyles (city vs. country for instance), and generally greeting the day. Good Morning, City is a beautifully illustrated story with approachable text that encourages readers to interact with the story as they, too, say good morning to the city in the story (and their own). Recommended.

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

A Week of Mondays: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Week of Mondays by Jessica BrodyEllison Sparks is having the worst Monday ever. She runs a red light and gets a ticket while driving herself and her best friend, Owen, to school. She forgets her umbrella and gets soaked in the rain. Right before it’s time to take her school picture which turns out terribly, of course. She gives the worst election speech for Junior Class Vice-President in the history of ever. She doesn’t make the cut at softball tryouts. Worst of all her dreamy, rockstar boyfriend Tristan dumps her. At the carnival. On what should have been their dream date.

Ellie knows if she just had a second chance she could get Monday right. But what happens when she gets seven chances?

As Ellie tries again and again (and so on) to get her Monday right she starts to realize that maybe the dream Monday she’s been chasing isn’t so perfect after all in A Week of Mondays (2016) by Jessica Brody.

A Week of Mondays is a fun standalone novel. Although there are some fantasy elements with the repeating day (reminiscent of the movie Groundhog Day), this novel is contemporary at its heart and will appeal to fans of that genre.

Brody makes good use of the repeating days to flesh out Ellie’s character and explore different aspects of her life over the course of this unusual week. Readers will also see the scope of the book’s plot expand as Ellie begins to delve into other parts of her day including why her parents are fighting every morning and what problems her younger sister is facing at school.

While some of Ellie’s decisions may seem obvious to readers from the start, this story is more about the journey than the destination. Ellie’s character development and growth over the course the novel more than makes up for any predictability to the plot. The payoff at the end of Ellie’s “week” also seamlessly brings every repeated Monday together for a satisfying conclusion to a truly enjoyable story.

A Week of Mondays is a sweet, optimistic novel with a breezy narrative and tons of humor. Highly recommended for readers looking for a new fun diversion.

Possible Pairings: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre, The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, So Much Closer by Susane Colasanti, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Shuffle, Repeat by Jen Klein, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, P. S. I Like You by Kasie West

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

I started reading A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody today and it was the best decision I could have made for my next book. Throughout the book Ellie uses playlists (often filled with songs from the 1960s) to pump herself up and otherwise improve her mood. I do that myself but I also try to surround myself with things I love (and fun books) which is why I decided to photograph my ARC by my desk. While my Monday wasn't quite as bad as Ellie's in the book, it wasn't my favorite. Having a fun book to read was a much needed diversion. The book starts with Ellie having the worst Monday ever: she takes a disastrous school picture, bombs a quiz, becomes a laughingstock during a speech in front of the whole school, bombs softball tryouts, and to top it all off her too-good-to-be-true boyfriend breaks up with her. Ellis knows if she just had a second chance she could get Monday right. But what happens when she gets seven chances? As Ellie tries again and again (and so on) to get her Monday right she starts to realize that maybe the dream Monday she's been chasing isn't so perfect after all. #booknerdigans #bookstagram #bookishfeatures #bookstagramfeatures #instabook #instareads #igreads #booknerd #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram

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The Winner’s Kiss: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*The Winner’s Kiss is the third book in Rutkoski’s Winner’s Trilogy which begins with The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime. As such this review contains major spoilers for books one and two!*

“She thought, fleetingly, that this must be what memory was for: to rebuild yourself when you lose the pieces.”

The Winner's Kiss by Marie RutkoskiArin and Kestrel should be on opposites sides in the war that is brewing between Valoria and its newly independent colony Herran. Yet, despite all appearances to the contrary they have been on the same side–that is, Kestrel has been on Arin’s side–from the outset.

Arin is certain that Kestrel is getting exactly what she deserves serving at the Emperor’s shoulder while she watches her father prepare to make war with Herran.

He’s wrong.

Instead, one impetuous decision has led Kestrel to the northern tundra as a prisoner. A traitor to her own country desperate to escape.

Arin and Kestrel have always been bound by their decisions–deliberate acts and willful lies that have pulled them away from each other again and again. With the threat of war growing every day, both Kestrel and Arin will have to redefine victory–and trust–if they hope to find their way back to each other or the people they’ve worked so hard to save in The Winner’s Kiss (2016) by Marie Rutkoski.

The Winner’s Kiss is the third book in Rutkoski’s Winner’s Trilogy which begins with The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime.

This novel starts off soon after the climactic conclusion of book two. Arin prepares for war in Herran while Kestrel is brought to a prison work camp in the Valorian Tundra, both haunted by the decisions that have led them to this point.

Rutkoski manages to strike the perfect balance between character-driven introspection and nail biting tension throughout the novel. Arin and Kestrel are broken, sometimes in small ways and sometimes larger, because of their ties to Herran and to each other. Their own attempts to heal and rebuild play out against the grand battle looming over who will control Herran moving forward.

This book is the exact right conclusion for this series and the one that the characters deserve. The Winner’s Kiss delivers everything readers of this trilogy have come to love and expect while expanding Arin and Kestrel’s world even further with still more insights into these two shrewd and talented characters. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, A Wizard of Earth Sea by Ursula K. LeGuin, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, And I Darken by Kiersten White