The Book Eaters: A Review

“We can only live by the light we’re given. And some of us are given no light at all. What else can we do but learn to see in the dark?”

The Book Eaters by Sunyi DeanDevon grows up surrounded living in a manor house on the Yorkshire Moors with her family; they are always focused on tradition, on appearances, on the Family above all.

Being part of her family comes with its own responsibilities. Boys will grow up to be patriarchs or leaders, they’ll train to become the Knights who carefully manage marriages between book eaters to prevent inbreeding. Girls are a rarer commodity among the book eaters, precious. With only six girls between the Families, every one is expected to do her duty producing two children from two different husbands to help propagate the species.

Raised as a princess, eating fairytales and cautionary tales like every female book eater, Devon knows her role from a young age as clearly as she knows she craves different stories to eat. It isn’t the life she wants but, for a book eater girl, it’s the only life there is.

Prepared to do her part until her childbearing years end with the early menopause endemic to their species, Devon plans to stay detached and bide her time until she’s free. But nothing goes according to plan once she holds her first child.

Book eaters have never been known for their creativity but when her son is born not as a book eater but as a much more dangerous–and much more expendable–mind eater, Devon is determined to do everything she can to imagine a new ending for both of them in The Book Eaters (2022) by Sunyi Dean.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Book Eaters is Dean’s debut novel. The audiobook, as narrated by Katie Erich, brings Devon’s Yorkshire tyke to life.

Devon’s Family is of Romanian descent, most characters are assumed white. Devon’s sexuality as a lesbian–and another character’s asexuality–becomes central to the plot as Devon questions her narrowly defined role within the constraints of book eater society.

With its focus on bodily autonomy and personal freedom, The Book Eaters is surprisingly prescient. Dean does not shy away from scenes of assault on the night of Devon’s first “wedding” nor from disconcerting depictions of what exactly happens when a mind eater feeds making for a timely but often unpleasant narrative.

In a society of creatures who are stronger and more dangerous than humans, Devon and other characters are forced into difficult choices for their survival. This focus leads to a fast paced story interspersed with ethical quandaries of who can qualify as a hero or a villain and, more relevantly, who is worth saving.

The Book Eaters is a grim adventure with abundantly original world building; a story about the lengths we’ll go to protect family–found and otherwise.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco, Half Bad by Sally Green, The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins, Only a Monster by Vanessa Len, This Savage Song by V. E. Schwab

*An advance copy of this title and an ALC of this title from Libro.fm was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

What I Like About You: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

What I Like About You by Marisa KanterHalle Levitt has been online friends with Nash for years. She was there at the beginning of his now-viral webcomic. He was one of the the first fans of One True Pastry–a YA book blog where Halle is known for her reviews and custom cupcakes baked and decorated to match her favorite book covers.

Even though they’ve never met in real life, they talk about almost everything. There’s one thing Nash doesn’t know: Halle’s real name.

Online Halle goes by Kels–a name to match her cool influencer persona where she’s funny, collected, and she never says or does the wrong thing. At first Halle used Kels to distinguish her own publishing in-roads as an aspiring publicist from her connection to her publishing royalty grandmother. Now it feels safer to be Kels because Kels always has it together while Halle knows she decidedly does not.

Being two people is confusing enough but when Halle and her brother move in with their grandfather the lines between Halle’s real life and her online life begin to blur once she realizes Nash is one of her new classmates.

Nash is even better in real life. But it’s still so much easier to keep her online identity a secret. The only problem is that as Halle and Nash grow closer she realizes that Nash’s affections are divided because even if he’s getting closer to Halle he’s still nursing a major crush … on Kels in What I Like About You (2020) by Marisa Kanter.

Find it on Bookshop.

What I Like About You is Kanter’s debut novel. Halle and her family are Jewish. Nash is Jewish and half Korean.

Halle’s narration is interspersed with ephemera between chapters including excerpts from social media posts, text threads between Halle and Nash or Halle and other friends, and emails. The tension between Halle’s double life is lent more urgency by the looming deadline of BookCon where Halle might appear as a panelist thus revealing her real identity not only to all of her fans and followers but also to Nash and the other online friends she has unaware of her double life.

Kanter’s prose is filled with snappy dialog and thoughtful explorations of family dynamics as Halle and her brother adjust to living with their grandfather and all three of them grieve the death of Halle’s grandmother the year before. The story is focused not just on the teen characters but the world of teen content creators–an influential niche in social media but one that isn’t always reflected authentically (or at all) in pop culture.

Although certain elements of the book might date the story–particularly the finale set at the no-longer-extant BookCon and social media that’s always changing–What I Like About You is a universal story; come for the mistaken identity love triangle, stay for the bookish shenanigans and feel-good humor.

Possible Pairings: Perfectly Parvin by Olivia Abtahi, Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Alex Approximately by Jenn Bennett, The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert, Happy Messy Scary Love by Leah Konen, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things by Maya Prasad, Last Chance Books by Kelsey Rodkey, By the Book by Amanda Sellet, Recommended For You by Laura Silverman, The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West, Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon

Vinyl Moon: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Vinyl Moon by Mahogany L. BrowneFive weeks ago Angel was dating Darius. Five weeks ago she still believed he loved her. Five weeks ago, after one terrible night, all of that changed.

Now Angel is across the country in Brooklyn. She’s getting used to living with her uncle Spence and exploring the Flatbush neighborhood that’s now home. She’s trying to figure out who she is when she doesn’t have Darius telling her everything she’s doing right–or wrong–and who she is when she doesn’t have her younger brother Amir or the triplets to take care of.

After that horrible night and the argument that changed everything, Angel know she needs to heal. She just isn’t sure if she deserves to yet.

As she makes new friends and discovers books and music that feel like they were made for her, Angel starts to realize her world could be bigger than her family, bigger than Darius. For the first time in years, Angel has space to be anything she wants to be–once she figures out who that is in Vinyl Moon (2022) by Mahogany L. Browne.

Find it on Bookshop.

Set over the course of a school year, Vinyl Moon is a deceptively short novel with quick vignette-like chapters narrated by Angel as she gets situated and begins to feel at home in Brooklyn. Free verse poems are interspersed with the prose highlighting different elements of the story and adding a lyrical quality to this unique reading experience. The audiobook is narrated by Bahni Turpin (quickly becoming one of my favorite voice actors) who does a fantastic job bringing Angel’s world–and her voice–to life.

Angel and most characters are Black. Angel’s classmates include characters across the LGBTQ+ spectrum with a variety of lived experiences including a single mother finishing high school, secret poets and DJs, and alternatives to college with potential love interest Sterling who is in the ROTC. The story is also deeply and authentically grounded in its New York City setting and specifically Brooklyn as Angel explores many neighborhood instituations that local readers will readily recognize.

The novel features flashbacks that slowly unpack exactly what happened to get Angel to Brooklyn and her complicated past with her family. As she gains distance from everything that happened with Darius, Angel begins to understand what happened and her agency in making sure it does not happen again. New friendships, her uncle, and support from teachers at her new school also help Angel view her fraught relationship with her mother in a new light and realize some relationships are worth saving.

My favorite part of Vinyl Moon is Angel’s journey to understand her own past while discovering a love for books, poetry, and music–Browne presents this plot thread with joy and passion as Angel’s world starts to expand. As Angel observes, “It’s not that I don’t like reading. I’ve just never had room to do anything for myself.”–a sentiment that applies to so many people making their way back to (or discovering) things they love.

Vinyl Moon is empowering, hopeful, and not to be missed. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhatena, Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Lawless Spaces by Corey Ann Haydu, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh, An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds, Push by Sapphire, Genesis Begins Again by Alicia Williams, In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner

Amelia Unabridged: A Review

Amelia Unabridged by Ashley SchumacherAmelia Griffin and her best friend Jenna met because of N. E. Endsley’s Ornan Chronicles. They’re the books that gave Amelia a refuge after her father left and her family fell apart. They’re the books that gave her Jenna and, through her, a second family.

Seeing N. E. Endsley at an author festival should be the perfect start to their last summer before college. Instead, it all goes horribly wrong when Jenna has a chance encounter with the author and Amelia doesn’t.

Before either of them can back away from their biggest fight ever, Jenna is killed in a car accident.

Without Jenna Amelia isn’t sure who she is, let alone what her future should look like.

When a rare edition of the Ornan Chronicles makes its way to Amelia, she’s certain the book is a last gift–maybe even a last message–from Jenna. Amelia tracks the book’s journey back to a charming bookstore in Michigan where she also finds the reclusive author himself.

Amelia knows the book is a clue, a message. But it’s only as she gets to know N. E. Endsley that Amelia begins to realize the book is just the beginning of what Jenna was trying to share with her in Amelia Unabridged (2021) by Ashley Schumacher.

Find it on Bookshop.

Amelia Unabridged is Schumacher’s debut novel. The story is written in Amelia’s first person narration with some flashbacks to key moments in her friendship with Jenna.

This book holds a special place for me after I had the chance to read an early copy in 2020 to potentially blurb it. Schumacher’s writing is top-notch as she delivers a story that is both wrenching and hopeful.

This ode to books and magic (and books about magic) offers a meditative exploration of grief and healing as Amelia and Nolan (N. E. Endsley) both work through their own tragedies and figure out how to move forward in a world that their losses have rendered unrecognizable.

Amelia Unabridged is a nuanced and poignant story about finding your place and your people when all of the things you’ve learned to take for granted are torn away. Whimsical without being twee, authentic without being brutal; Amelia is a heroine readers won’t soon forget.

Possible Pairings: The Heartbreak Bakery by A. R. Capetta, Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, We Are Inevitable by Gayle Forman, Everything All At Once by Katrina Leno, The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

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

Recommended For You: A Review

Recommended For You by Laura SilvermanShoshanna Greenberg is a fixer. When her moms start fighting enough that they both miss the annual family Latkepalooza on the last night of Hanukkah, Shoshanna wants to fix it before her family implodes.

With the tensions at home and her constant worries about money to fix her much loved car, it feels like her one refuge is Once Upon, the local bookstore where Shoshanna works. That changes with the arrival of new hire Jake Kaplan–an extremely cute boy who is extremely immune to Shoshanna’s charms and, what’s worse, doesn’t read.

Coworker tensions aside, Shoshanna is thrilled when her boss announces a chance for staff to earn a holiday bonus for selling the most books. The bonus is exactly what she needs to fix her car if nothing else.

The only thing standing in Shoshanna’s way is Jake and his out of the box selling strategies.

As the holiday season amps up, Shoshanna realizes that Jake might be more than a pretty-non-reading face even if he might also be her biggest competition for the holiday bonus in Recommended For You (2020) by Laura Silverman.

Find it on Bookshop.

Silverman puts in the work dismantling the white default in this inclusive story where every character’s skintone is described on the page. The inclusivity and positivity with which Shoshanna views her friends and coworkers (except maybe for Jake when they first meet!) comes through in every description and feels effortless. Once Upon’s owner Myra is woman of color and motorized wheelchair user, Shoshanna’s best friends are Black and Latinx, and Shoshanna’s “work husband” is Black and has a girlfriend with low vision.

Shoshanna is what I would call a strong personality. Her narration and her choices may not work for everyone but her heart is definitely in the right place and, as the story progresses, Shoshanna learns and grows a lot–something I always love to see in a book.

Although Recommended For You keeps things light, this story also offers frank conversations about what marriage problems can look like (something looming over Shoshanna and her moms and something that may not have an easy fix despite Shoshanna’s best efforts) and also thoughtfully explores income diversity. Shoshanna’s friend Cheyenne works at the mall for the experience while Shoshanna is there because it’s the only way she can afford gas money and other car expenses. Meanwhile Shoshanna’s other best friend Geraldine is saving up for a camera to start a beauty vlog while acknowledging she may never be able to compete in the patently expensive world of beauty influencers.

Recommended For You is as funny and exuberant as its heroine. While the winter setting makes this book an ideal choice this holiday season, Shoshanna’s winning personality, the retail shenanigans, and Shoshanna’s not-quite-instant chemistry with Jake make Recommended For You a perfect read any time of the year.

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira; Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett; Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant; Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley; Snow in Love by Melissa de la Cruz, Nic Stone, Aimee Friedman, Kasie West; 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston; We Are Inevitable by Gayle Forman; What I Like About You by Marisa Kanter; Tweet Cute by Emma Lord; Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno; My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins; Last Chance Books by Kelsey Rodkey; By the Book by Amanda Sellet; Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Kind of a Big Deal: A Review

Kind of a Big Deal by Shannon HaleJosie Pie was a big deal in high school. She was always the lead in school productions, her teachers always said she was destined for greatness. Which is why it made so much sense when Josie dropped out of high school to be a star.

Now, almost a year later, Josie is starting to wonder if she made the right choice. Turns out hitting it big on Broadway isn’t as easy as hitting it big in high school. After a series of failed auditions Josie is starting to wonder if she was ever star material. It certainly doesn’t feel that way while she words as a nanny.

Josie keeps in touch with her best friend, her boyfriend, and her mom. But there’s only so much you can talk about without admitting massive failure (and mounting credit card debt).

When Josie and her charge find a cozy bookstore, Josie receives a pair of special glasses that transport her into her current read. Literally. In the books she can save the day in a post-apocalyptic world, fall in love in a rom-com, and more.

Living out these fantasies is the best thing that’s happened to Josie in a while. But the longer she stays inside the stories, the harder it is to remember why she should come back to her own life in Kind of a Big Deal (2020) by Shannon Hale.

Find it on Bookshop.

Hale’s latest YA novel is a genre mashup. Framed by Josie’s contemporary coming of age story, Hale also plays with conventions in dystopian sci-fi, romantic comedies, and historical fiction (genres Hale has by and large tackled previously in her extensive backlist).

Kind of a Big Deal takes on a lot using these genre adventures to help Josie get a handle on her own life. Unfortunately, the stories within this story are often more compelling than Josie’s real life leaving Josie and her friends feeling one dimensional throughout. Stilted dialog and a premise that pushes the limits of plausibility (particularly with eighteen-year-old Josie being solely in charge of a seven-year-old girl while her mother works out of the country) further undermine this otherwise novel premise.

Kind of a Big Deal is a unique take on losing yourself in a good book. The story reads young and might have worked better for a middle grade audience or radically rewritten with older characters for an adult novel. Recommended for readers looking for plot driven genre studies.

Possible Pairings: Admission by Julie Buxbaum, Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

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

Who’s ready for a Readathon?

Big news everybody! Nicole and I are hosting a read-a-thon on December 29.

Nicole’s been wanting to do one for a while and when she asked if I’d be up for co-hosting, the only possible answer was “Absolutely!”

This is a great way to catch up on your 2019 reading goals, knock out the last books you want to definitely read this decade, or start reading all the books you got this holiday season.

The read-a-thon will run from December 28 into the 29 and Nicole and I will be sharing updates on twitter (@book_bandit / @miss_print) and instagram (@thebookbandit / @missprint_) for the duration.

If you’re joining in, be sure to let us know and use the hashtag #EmmaAndNicolesEpicReadathon to share your own reading plans, tips, and more.

Nicole made a graphic to share with some prompts to help plan your reading:

I am already stockpiling graphic novels and some other things to get ready. Who’s excited?

Everything I Learned From Reading YA Fantasy for One Month

Everything I learned from Reading YA Fantasy for One Month with a stack of booksHere, in no particular order, is everything I learned from reading YA fantasy novels for the better part of one month:

  1. Ten years ago something big happened. A life-changing event or a war. Ten years later after stewing on this and nothing else for a decade, it’s time to act.
  2. If a character is an orphan they are probably also a monarch in hiding/disguise or a lesser god. Possibly both.
  3. Do not get distracted by the luxuries found in the castle or manor house. Don’t do it.
  4. The heroine will probably be involved with brothers who are the love interest and the villain.
  5. The love interest and the villain might be the same person.
  6. Magic is never free.
  7. Favors are never free.
  8. In fact, nothing is ever free. Everything is really expensive in fantasy worlds and debts are dangerous. You have been warned.
  9. There may be dancing or at least a party where someone gets to wear a fancy gown.
  10. The main character will inherit something. It will not be what they expect.
  11. There will be a quirky animal sidekick or a plucky best friend. Not both.
  12. There will be pining.
  13. If anyone loses something of great sentimental value they are not getting it back. Unless it’s the key to unlocking their powers and/or their mysterious origins. Then they’re definitely getting it back.
  14. Two characters will kiss. That may or may not be a good thing.
  15. Even if it feels like the absolute worst thing has happened, at least 80% of the cast will be back for book two.

Let’s Talk About the 2018 Printz Award

So how about those Youth Media Awards? (I previously talked about my library’s mock printz for this year and shared some predictions in this older post.)

Every year the American Library Association’s (ALA) division called YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) (among others) has committees of dedicated librarians choosing the best of the best books in various categories for things called the Youth Media Awards. In YA literature, the biggest award is the Printz for outstanding overall books. Other awards include the Morris which is for best debut.

Speculation on what will and will not make the Printz cut is a hot topic in library circles and heavily debated since the official criteria leaves a lot up to interpretation. I spend a lot of time trying to guess contenders both for myself and for my job where I chair a committee that chooses shortlist titles for a systemwide Mock Printz.

This year I came up with this short list. The first six titles were on my library’s Mock Printz shortlist and the final four were ones that I hoped would win something.

  1. Landscape With Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson
  2. The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed
  3. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
  4. The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater
  5. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  6. Spinning by Tillie Walden
  7. Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore
  8. I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo
  9. Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman
  10. American Street by Ibi Zoboi

So how did my predictions stack up? Pretty well. While I still with I Believe in a Thing Called Love, Jane Unlimited, and American Street had gotten more attention I’m happy to say my committee’s shortlist was pretty on point. I’m not going to detail all of the awards here (you can find the full roster of winners and honors in ALA’s press release) I will say my committee covered about 80% of the winning titles between booktalks and our Mock Printz program.

Here are the wins for the books I mentioned here:

  1. Landscape With Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson
  2. The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed
  3. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (Printz honor, Newbery honor, Coretta Scott King honor)
  4. The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater (Stonewall winner, Nonfiction award finalist)
  5. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Printz honor, Coretta Scott King honor, Morris Award winner)
  6. Spinning by Tillie Walden
  7. Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore (Best Fiction for Young Adults booklist selection)
  8. I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo
  9. Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman (Printz honor, nonfiction award winner)
  10. American Street by Ibi Zoboi (Best Fiction for Young Adults booklist selection)

Have you read any of these or are they on your radar? Do you follow the youth media awards every year?

 

Let’s Talk About the Printz Award, my library’s Mock Printz, and how you can join in

Every year the American Library Association’s (ALA) division called YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) has committees of dedicated librarians choosing the best of the best books in various categories for things called the Youth Media Awards. In YA literature, the biggest award is the Printz for outstanding overall books. Other awards include the Morris which is for best debut.

Speculation on what will and will not make the Printz cut is a hot topic in library circles and heavily debated since the official criteria leaves a lot up to interpretation. I spend a lot of time trying to guess contenders both for myself and for my job where I chair a committee that chooses shortlist titles for a systemwide Mock Printz.

This year, I thought it would be fun to get blog readers involved and try to do a Miss Print Mock Printz.

As a starting point here is the shortlist my committee came up with:

  • Landscape With Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson
  • The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed
  • Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
  • The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • Spinning by Tillie Walden

Because of time constraints (we do the Mock Printz as a live two hour discussion) we only cover five or six books at most. This list is determined based on titles the committee enjoyed, books getting buzz and critical acclaim (starred reviews from publishers and the like), and general appeal. We also try to cover a variety of genres which is something the real Printz doesn’t have to do. Now, a few of my favorites of the year did not make the cut with our shortlist so to the above contenders I would add:

  • Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore
  • I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo
  • Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman
  • American Street by Ibi Zoboi

There could be other books I’ve read that are just as likely as contenders which I’m forgetting. There could be titles I’ve never read or even heard of that will get attention from the committee. It’s hard to say and they read much more widely than I would.

That said, I feel good about this list and comfortable predicting that at least some of them will be Printz contenders.

This year I’m feeling pretty on point with my pre-awards reading. I have read 4 of the 5 Morris finalists (still need to get to Devils Within from the titles there) and 2 of the 5 nonfiction award finalists (The 57 Bus and Vincent and Theo). These are the only two awards that give a shortlist before the award announcements at ALA’s midwinter conference. Knowing and having read so many of the titles in play this year I’m very excited to see how the awards shake out this year.

I’m going to post an update for this post after my library system has their Mock Printz with our winners and then I’ll do another follow up after the actual awards are announced.

Until then:

Have you read of the Youth Media Awards? Do you follow them? What books would you predict for the Printz award?

If you want to try to read some of the shortlist (including my four extra picks) you still have plenty of time to track them down at your library and I’d love to hear thoughts as you read them!

  1. Landscape With Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson
  2. The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed
  3. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
  4. The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater
  5. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  6. Spinning by Tillie Walden
  7. Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore
  8. I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo
  9. Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman
  10. American Street by Ibi Zoboi