humor, short story, young adult

Book Review: Open Mics: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices edited by Mitali Perkins

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Title: Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices
Editor: Mitali Perkins
Publisher: Candlewick
Length: 144 Pages, Ebook
Genre: Short Stories, Young Adult, Humor
Rating: 5 Folded Pages

Blurb:
Using humor as the common denominator, a multicultural cast of YA authors steps up to the mic to share stories touching on race. Listen in as ten YA authors — some familiar, some new — use their own brand of humor to share their stories about growing up between cultures. Henry Choi Lee discovers that pretending to be a tai chi master or a sought-after wiz at math wins him friends for a while — until it comically backfires. A biracial girl is amused when her dad clears seats for his family on a crowded subway in under a minute flat, simply by sitting quietly in between two uptight white women. Edited by acclaimed author and speaker Mitali Perkins, this collection of fiction and nonfiction uses a mix of styles as diverse as their authors, from laugh-out-loud funny to wry, ironic, or poingnant, in prose, poetry, and comic form.

Review:
I found this book by chance when going through my libraries ebook collection. After reading it I immediately preordered a physical copy of it because I need it on my shelves to reread. The short stories and poems seamlessly show what it’s like to grow up having different cultures while being funny.

Personally, I preferred the short stories. They helped get the point across better and allowed for more detail. As a person who doesn’t necessarily care for poetry, though, I would take this with a grain of salt if I were you.

I read the entire collection in a matter of a few hours but each of the stories definitely had me thinking for the rest of the week. Open Riffs opens up so many new perspectives that are hard to see unless you are experiencing them yourself. I hope to see more diverse stories similar to these in Young Adult in both collections similar to Open Riffs and in full length novels.

I can’t say much without spoiling the stories, unfortunately, but I will say that the stories had me both laughing at some points and tearing up at others. It’s a book I hope will be included in school curriculum’s because I think it makes diversity easier to understand and can help build a better world view. I enjoyed this book immensely and strongly encourage anyone even slightly interested to pick it up and give it a try.

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dystopian, Horror, young adult, Zombie

Book Review: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

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Title: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Author: Carrie Ryan
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Length: 322 Pages, Ebook
Genre: Young Adult, Horror, Dystopian, Zombies
Rating: 3.5 Folded Pages

Blurb:
In Mary’s world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But, slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future—between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death?

Review:
So this is the first zombie book I’ve read and honestly I didn’t know it was about Zombies when I picked it up from the library. I just thought it was a weird fantasy/dystopian and it looked really interesting. I was definitely surprised and I can’t tell whether it was a good or bad surprise.

I appreciated Mary as a character. I both like and dislike her. It was interesting to watch her point of view but she’s definitely an unreliable narrator. I don’t often read books with an unreliable narrator but it was interesting and I finished the book the same day I started it.

My thoughts on this book are a little muddled. I have nothing to compare it since I don’t read the genre often. Some of the characters fell really flat and some were just plot devices. I feel like you don’t really get to understand any of the characters including Mary. You’re in her head but it feels really distanced.

The plot itself was interesting but also, there was no real climax. It felt fast paced but there wasn’t really a climax or a resolution. I think I’m going to read the sequel only to see where this story is going. I’m curious about how Ryan is going to continue the story and whether Mary will continue to be unreliable.

My review is all over the place but long story short. I think I liked it but I’m not 100% on that. I both liked and disliked Mary and I think the story/characters could have been fleshed out more.

science fiction, young adult

Book Review: The Giver by Lois Lowry

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Title: The Giver
Author: Lois Lowry
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Length: 240 Pages, Paperback
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Rating: 5 Folded Pages

Blurb:
The Giver, the 1994 Newbery Medal winner, has become one of the most influential novels of our time. The haunting story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memory does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his fragile community. Lois Lowry has written three companion novels to The Giver, including Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son.

Review:
It’s amazing how much of this book went way over my head the first time I read it. I think was about 15 at the time and I remember enjoying the book but not really getting why everyone praised it so much. This is my second time reading and wow this book packs a punch.

I think my favorite thing about The Giver is Lowry’s writing. It’s to the point but still descriptive enough to give you the whole picture. It’s the kind of writing I aspire to have. I never felt bogged down by meaningless details or unnecessary information that just muddies the story. I enjoy when things are straight to the point especially when it’s a story like The Giver. The message would not be the same if it was written in a more flowery way.

The character’s themselves are kind of 2D except for Jonas and maybe the Giver. Normally this would bother me but for the world it makes sense. They don’t have a reason or a need to be more than that.

I read this book in about 2 days. It was quick but it resonates with me as it does with the thousands of other people who have read it. My version of the book also has an introduction by Lowry that I found extremely interesting. I won’t give anything away but if you have a chance to read the introduction by her, you should.

I think it’s pretty obvious that I really enjoyed The Giver. It has all my favorite things about books aside from romance. It was funny sometimes and extremely sad others. It had interesting characters. It wasn’t trying to be poetic with the writing. Basically, I need more books like The Giver in my life.

Fantasy, romance, young adult

Book Review: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

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Title: Truthwitch
Author: Susan Dennard
Publisher: Tor Teen
Length: 426 Pages, Ebook
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance
Rating: 3.5 Folded Pages

Warning: Might be slightly spolier-y. I can’t tell, but better safe than sorry.

Blurb:
On a continent ruled by three empires, everyone is born with a “witchery,” a magical skill that sets them apart from others. Now, as the Twenty Year Truce in a centuries long war is about to end, the balance of power-and the failing health of all magic-will fall on the shoulders of a mythical pair called the Cahr Awen.

The biggest thing on Safi and Iseult’s minds is saving money for their planned future in the Hundred Isles. Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the emotional Threads binding the world. Safi, on the other hand, is a Truthwitch-she always knows when a person is telling a lie. A powerful magic like that is something people would kill to have on their side-or to keep off their enemy’s side-and so Safi cannot even admit what she truly is.

With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and a ship’s captain) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must rise above their doubts and fight to learn who they are and what they are made of, if they are going to stay alive and preserve the balance of their world.

Review:
I’m not sure if it was just me or not but I found this book a little hard to get into. Once I got past the first 100 pages or so I couldn’t put it down but it didn’t hook me like I thought it would from all the reviews I’d read up to this point.

Let me start by saying that even though the story jumped into the action from page one, the beginning was boring. I had no reason to be invested in the characters or care about why they were in that predicament so I didn’t really want to read it. I also had a hard time differentiating between Safi and Iseult for the first 100 pages or so. I think this is a world and book that could have used a bit of build up instead of jumping straight to action.

I do appreciate the connection Iseult and Safi have. It’s refreshing and fun for the main story line to revolve around a female friendship and have romance be the side thing instead of the other way around. That being said, I had expected more of this because of the hype. The majority of the book Iseult and Safi spend apart. I hope the next book can showcase them as friends more and have them actually be together so I can get more of their dynamic.

I also think that the romance involved is very insta-love. Even more so, it feels, because it’s such a side thing. There’s not love confessions and I appreciate that. But there unavoidable attraction to each other is weird.

I’m looking forward to seeing how Dennard builds out this world and how the story continues. So far the Truthwitch series is a definite improvement over Something Strange and Deadly which I DNF’d before 50 pages. I can definitely see an improvement in her writing.

Fantasy, romance, young adult

Book Review: Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor

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Title: Dreams of Gods and Monsters
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Length: 624 Pages, Hardback
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance
Rating: 2.5 Folded Pages

Review of Book 1 and Book 2.
Warning: Possible spoilers for books 1 and 2 of this trilogy.

Blurb:
What power can bruise the sky?

Two worlds are poised on the brink of a vicious war. By way of a staggering deception, Karou has taken control of the chimaera’s rebellion and is intent on steering its course away from dead-end vengeance. The future rests on her.

When the brutal angel emperor brings his army to the human world, Karou and Akiva are finally reunited–not in love, but in tentative alliance against their common enemy. It is a twisted version of their long-ago dream, and they begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves.

But with even bigger threats on the horizon, are Karou and Akiva strong enough to stand among the gods and monsters?

Review:
I have to be real here. I was super disappointed by this book. I was SO bored while reading, especially during the first 300 pages or so. I’m pretty sure I skimmed at least 50% of it, if not more. According to my status updates on Goodreads, I didn’t start to get interested in it until about page 464. For a 600 pages novel, that’s pretty bad.

For me, I think the novel had too much exposition. Taylor could have cut out a lot of Akiva’s and Karou’s point of view and still got the point across. She didn’t need pages and pages dedicated to how they were pining for each other. It was so annoying.

I usually hate when new characters are added in the last novel of the series but for this, I found myself enjoying the new characters POV more than the main protagonists. Of course, I have to say Zuzana’s POV was still my favorite and she’s still my favorite character. But you didn’t get much of her or Mik.

The action packed scenes were really good and I was thoroughly invested in those which saved this book from being a 1 folded page review. Honestly, I think the only reason I didn’t DNF this book is because it was the last in this series and I wanted to finish the series since I had already invested so much time in it.

I hate how disappointed I was by this novel because I LOVED the first book and the second book I thought was good. It wasn’t great but I still enjoyed it. This one, however, was so hard for me to read. I found my mind wandering a lot because it wasn’t engaging.

I really do like Taylor’s writing style, but I think she needs to cut down on the exposition and maybe stop repeating the same idea over and over, IE how much Akiva and Karou want to be together but can’t.

science fiction, scifi, short story, young adult

Book Review: Stars Above by Marissa Meyer

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Title: Stars Above
Author: Marissa Meyer
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Length: 400 Pages, Hardback
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Short Stories
Rating: 3.5 Folded Pages

Blurb:
The enchantment continues. . . .
The universe of the Lunar Chronicles holds stories – and secrets – that are wondrous, vicious, and romantic. How did Cinder first arrive in New Beijing? How did the brooding soldier Wolf transform from young man to killer? When did Princess Winter and the palace guard Jacin realize their destinies?
With nine stories – five of which have never before been published – and an exclusive never-before-seen excerpt from Marissa Meyer’s novel, Heartless, about the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, Stars Above is essential for fans of the bestselling and beloved Lunar Chronicles.

Review:
As with Fairest I found these short stories to be nice but unnecessary. I could have done with or without them. Of the 9 short stories I only really enjoyed three of them. The rest were kind of boring and I was pretty bored reading them.

Honestly, the only short stories I thought to be worth while to the series was “The Mechanic” the scene where Kai met Cinder but from Kai’s point of view and “Something Old, Something New” the only story about after the series.

I also enjoyed “The Little Android” which was a short story retelling of The Little Mermaid but I liked it as it’s own separate short story not necessarily as something connected to The Lunar Chronicles as a whole.

I would have given this a 2.5 if not for “Something Old, Something New.” This last short story had me smiling like a fool one minute and tearing up the next.

I will say that reading these short stories made me really miss the series. I almost stopped reading these short stories and picked up Cinder to reread.

I like that Marissa Meyer has been fleshing out the series but I wish the stories were more relevant or added more to the world. These almost felt like fanfiction for the series, not official stories from the author.

science fiction, scifi, young adult

Novella Review: Fairest by Marissa Meyer

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Title: Fairest
Author: Marissa Meyer
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Length: 272 Pages, Hardback
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Novella
Rating: 3 Folded Pages

Blurb:
Mirror, mirror, on the wall.
Who is the Fairest of them all?

Pure evil has a name, hides behind a mask of deceit, and uses her “glamour” to gain power. But who is Queen Levana? Long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress in The Lunar Chronicles, Levana lived a very different story―a story that has never been told . . . until now.

Review:
I’m sad that I didn’t enjoy this more. Maybe it’s because I read it after I read Winter or maybe it’s because it followed Illuminae. Either way, this novella was kind of eh for me. It wasn’t great but it wasn’t awful.

I definitely enjoyed being able to see why Levana was the way she was. However, I don’t think it evoked the feelings in me that Meyer intended. I didn’t feel sorry for Levana. In fact, this made me dislike Levana even more.

Warning: Spoilers are ahead.

This novella clearly shows that Levana was not mentally stable. All of her problems were non-existent or self created. I think her mental instability might stem from Channary using the lunar gift on Levana when she was young alongside the trauma she faced as a child. Either way, I didn’t really feel for Levana the way I wanted to. I wanted to understand her and feel bad for her but I just couldn’t.

Spoilers over

Overall, this novella was nice for fleshing out Levana and adding to the world building of the Lunar chronicles but I could have lived without it.

Horror, romance, science fiction, young adult

Book Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

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Title: Illuminae
Author: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Length: 608 Pages, Hardback
Genre: Science Fiction, Romance, Young Adult, Horror (kinda)
Rating: 5 Folded Pages

Blurb:
This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.
The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than a speck at the edge of the universe. Now with enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to evacuate with a hostile warship in hot pursuit.
But their problems are just getting started. A plague has broken out and is mutating with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a web of data to find the truth, it’s clear the only person who can help her is the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.
Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, maps, files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

Review:
I’m like 95% sure this book almost pushed me into a book slump and not in the bad way. This book was so good it had me contemplating what I would do with life while I wait for the sequel. I was a little unsure going into this book. I’d heard great things but typically I don’t do well with weird formats. I was extremely surprised by just how much I loved the unusual way of storytelling in this.

Even though the book was not told through normal conventions, the characters were SO well developed. Kady was sassy and fun even when facing big issues. Her character shined even when she was nervous or scared. Ezra was confident and it was obvious with how quickly he took to being a pilot.

I won’t go further into characters to avoid spoilers, but I generally loved how each character was built and shown. With how the story was told, it would have been very easy to tell and not show but Kaufman and Kristoff managed to do more showing with their unconventional point of views than a lot of the novels I’ve read.

I do have to give a warning for some pretty hardcore gore. The novel isn’t technically labeled as Horror but for me it definitely reads like it. I haven’t read any horror but parts of it felt like I was watching a horror movie so I wanted to add that warning to any who might be squeamish.

The plot was super interesting. Again, I won’t be detailed about it to avoid spoilers but I felt like plot twists just kept coming at me and almost none of them were expected. On a side note, homosexual relationships were thrown in very nonchalantly and treated as normal. I appreciated this. As always, it would have been nice to have LGBTQ+ stuff at the forefront. I’m still glad that this kind of thing was included and that they didn’t make a big deal of it.

This book was such a breath of fresh air. I’ve been struggling to find books to read since finishing this because it was so good. It also took me much too long to write this review. I don’t think words could justify just how much I loved this book. If I can convince you to read one book, it’d be this one. It’s the best book I’ve read in a very long time.

Fantasy, young adult

Book Review: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

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Title: Howl’s Moving Castle
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Length: 336 pages, Mass Market Paperback
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Rating: 4.5 Folded Pages

Blurb:
In the land of Ingary, such things as spells, invisible cloaks, and seven-league boots were everyday things. The Witch of the Waste was another matter.

After fifty years of quiet, it was rumored that the Witch was about to terrorize the country again. So when a moving black castle, blowing dark smoke from its four thin turrets, appeared on the horizon, everyone thought it was the Witch. The castle, however, belonged to Wizard Howl, who, it was said, liked to suck the souls of young girls.

The Hatter sisters–Sophie, Lettie, and Martha–and all the other girls were warned not to venture into the streets alone. But that was only the beginning.

In this giant jigsaw puzzle of a fantasy, people and things are never quite what they seem. Destinies are intertwined, identities exchanged, lovers confused. The Witch has placed a spell on Howl. Does the clue to breaking it lie in a famous poem? And what will happen to Sophie Hatter when she enters Howl’s castle?

Review:
I’m sure everyone is sick of hearing me say this, but yet again this was a reread. I loved the Studio Ghibli film of the same title though it’s very obvious once you read the book that the movie is VERY loosely based on it. My friend made me read it when she saw how much I loved the movie and she wasn’t wrong. Although the two are very different both are amazing.

The basic characters are all the same, Sophie, Howl, Calcifer, Witch of the Waste, Michael and so on. But with the book the plot and conclusion is a little bit different. Also, you get so much more from all the characters. I feel like the movie didn’t have the proper time to flesh out the characters like the book does considering there are so many.

Sophie is so stubborn and annoying but in the most perfect way. You can really see the effect the witch’s spell has on her in the book. The movie, I don’t think, does that justice. Sophie’s emotions are so raw and real and her change in character brought on by the spell is amazing to read.

Howl, Calcifer, and Michael all have their own unique personalities as well that are so fleshed out and yummy. I might be just a tad biased though because this book holds a special place in my heart. I think this is the third or fourth time I’ve reread it in about 8 years.

The plot itself is a little confusing and a little frustrating but I think it was like that in the movie as well. Honestly, you get a lot more explanation in the book and it helps clear up the confusion I had with the movie before I read the book.

I do think the Jones waits a little too long to reveal everything. The ending is a whirlwind of action and resolutions and it can almost give you a headache there’s so much information dumped on you.

Still aside from that tiny flaw, I thoroughly enjoyed my reread and I look forward to the next time I reread because I’m sure I will many more times in the years to come.

Fantasy, romance, young adult

Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

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Title: An Ember in the Ashes
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Publisher: Razorbill
Length: 464 Pages, Hardback
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance
Rating: 4 Folded Pages

Blurb:
Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

Review:
I’m not sure if something’s wrong with me or not but I think this book may have been overhyped. I definitely didn’t love it as much as others seem to. That’s not to say I didn’t like it but I’m not sure it deserves all of the glorifying it’s received since it came out.

I like Laia. She seems very real. She’s destined to save the world or something but she still has doubts about herself and her skills. I like that. I’ve had enough of the heroines who just decide they no longer have fear and suddenly have skills. It’s a breath of fresh air.

I also like Elias. He just wants to escape the hell he’s been forced into. He’s not really out to save the world or anything. He’s sweet but doesn’t know where he stands and I like that about him.

Honestly I love all the characters. From Cook to Izzi, to Keenan and even the Commandment because she’s evil but that kind of person exists in the real world and we even get to see bits of other sides of her.

Tahir does an amazing job with her characters honestly. I really enjoyed them all. Her writing is also beautiful.

So why don’t I love this?

I found it incredibly boring at some parts. I’m not exactly sure why either. The book was mostly action packed and yet there were certain parts where I was like oh my god is anything different going to happen.

As I write this, I’m realizing it might have to do with lengthy exposition. As much as I like Laia and Elias, I think Tahir may have spent too much time writing out their inner monologues that say the same things about the character over and over in different words. It was boring. There’s a reason one of the biggest pieces of writing advice is “show, don’t tell” and I think Tahir did a little too much telling sometimes.

Aside from this, I absolutely loved the book. I’m looking forward to the sequel. I’m also hoping it will be better. This was Tahir’s debut novel after all so I’m hoping she grows from book to book.