[Blackhearts] Nicole Castroman

Literally the first words of this book’s synopsis are “Blackbeard the pirate” but that is not what Blackhearts is about. I kept waiting for pirates to show up! For excitement to happen! For anything other than the flimsy romance that was the focus of this novel. Honestly, I’m quite disappointed. I thought that this was going to be a really exciting, quick read, but I couldn’t really find a point in the early part of the story that was interesting.

When I first started writing, one of my teachers told the class that oft-used phrase: Start in the middle of the action. I’m fairly positive this advice has been given to me every time I had any sort of creative writing class. I wish that Blackhearts had heeded that advice. While Castroman does a good job of setting the scene and giving both Anne and Teach their backgrounds, I thought that there was a bit too much telling instead of showing. I love getting pieces of the setting when it’s mixed in with the story. I love seeing the character of a protagonist when they’re up against adversity. I feel like Castroman should have focused more on showing that as the plot progressed instead of making the first half of the book heavy on the telling side.

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[The Hate U Give] Angie Thomas

I’ve seen it happen over and over again: a black person gets killed just for being black, and all hell breaks loose. I’ve Tweeted RIP hashtags, reblogged pictures on Tumblr, and signed every petition out there. I always said that if I saw it happen to somebody, I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down.
Now I am that person, and I’m too afraid to speak.

So many good things have been said about The Hate U Give that I don’t think I can add much more to it. I also am still processing my emotions regarding this book. It definitely–for me at least–requires a second read. I do think that if you didn’t get to this book in 2017, it should definitely be on your list for 2018.

Once upon a time there was a hazel-eyed boy with dimples. I called him Khalil. The world called him a thug.

The Hate U Give has characters that are fictional, but I couldn’t help feeling the very real elements of it. Starr is a sixteen year old girl who sees the fatal shooting of her childhood friend. As the days pass, the media begins to portray Khalil as a thug, a gangbanger, a drug dealer, merely because he was black. As his death becomes a headline, Starr has to figure out where she stands in it. As the only witness, she wrestles with what she should–or shouldn’t–say. Her struggle as she tries to decide what is best for herself, her family, and for Khalil is wonderfully done. Starr’s voice was both strong and fragile as she began to tell her story of what happened that night.

Brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared, Starr. It means you go on even though you’re scared. And you’re doing that.

This is an important book to read when we live in a world where unarmed men and women are shot merely for the color of their skin. Where police brutality and officers involved in shootings are not prosecuted. Where people have to protest for the right to live a life free of fear. The Hate U Give draws on these events and the Black Lives Matter movement. This novel could easily be a non-fiction piece. I think that’s what makes it such an intense read. Because as much as there’s moments of humor in it, Starr’s story and Khalil’s death are all two real.

The Hate U Give was a fast read. I thought that Thomas did a good job of blending reality with fiction. Of taking a situation that exists in the real world and injecting it with humor. A tragedy does not mean that you stop living. You keep living in spite of it.

I will definitely keep Angie Thomas on my authors to watch list. I recommend The Hate U Give for everyone, regardless of what you normally read. Pick it up here!

5 stars.

The Hate U Give was published in February 2017.

A Year in Review: Top Reads of 2017 and Plans for the Future

Hisashiburi. It’s what you say when it’s been a long time since you’ve seen someone. Or in my case, since I’ve posted here.


The end of 2017 was unbelievably busy. Let’s just say that I’m looking forward to what is going to come in 2018. 2017 saw a lot of changes. I was laid-off and had to find a new job in a short amount of time. I moved out of the house I’d lived in for four years. I wrote a book (!!) that I’m really excited about; I need to edit/rewrite most of it, but I’m so so happy that I got it all out of my head and onto the page.

But with everything that went on last year I found it really difficult to keep up with new releases. As a result, I’m going into 2018 with a lot of books that I’m really eager to read.


Unlike last year, where I read a little over 100 books, I failed this year with my goal of 115 (which I changed to 70 in a last ditch attempt to finish a reading goal). I really thought I could make 70, but I decided that it was more important to finish writing my novel instead. So it goes.

In any case, I’m going to try making a goal of 100 books again this year and write reviews for them. I’m hoping to finalize some reviews of books I read in December, so they may show up at some point here.


So without further ado, my top reads of 2017! They’re not in any particular order and some of them are part of a series, but these are books that I loved.


*・゜Now I Rise by Kiersten White. The second in The Conquerer’s Saga (And I Darken is the first), it follows Lada, one of my favorite female protagonists who’s so refreshingly strong; her brother, Radu; and Mehmed, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. White takes us on this journey through the Ottoman courts, Constantinople, and the wilds of Wallachia. While all three of them are connected, each takes a separate journey with different consequences and realizations that set up the third book to be bloody and heartbreaking. I love this series and highly recommend it to readers who like historical fiction with a twist. And I Darken started with the question: What if Vlad the Impaler was a girl? And the answer is one of the most bloody and unapologetic women to be read in the world of young adult books. The third is one of my most anticipated reads of 2018!


*・゜The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. This was one of my first reviews in 2017 and I knew that it would be on my top reads list. Arden crafts a wonderful tale of wildness, beauty, and fantasy. The novel follows Vasya, a wild and willful girl who follows the old ways. She grows up, but not in the way that’s expected of her. When conflict arrives in the form of a new stepmother, Vasya has to learn how to protect her family–and the old ways–from a woman who is terrified of them and forbids the house from acknowledging them. I loved Vasya and I loved the conflicts that Arden set up in this novel. It’s a perfect blend of historical and fantasy. A lot of work went into this one to create a highly realistic world. And Arden published the second one in the trilogy, The Girl in the Tower, in 2017 too! Both the second and the third are on my list for this year.


*・゜The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell. This is another historical fiction and fantasy novel. It’s set in modern day New York, where magic is almost extinct. But there’s a chance to change this. By traveling back to 1902, Esta may be able to stop the Magician before they destroy the Mageus’ chance for a normal life. By stopping the Magician, Esta can save the future. I loved the world that Maxwell built. It was full of magic, secret societies, and characters. They were so vibrant and real and they propelled the story along to the finish. She’s working on the sequel now and I’m hoping it will come out soon!


*・゜A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab. The Shades of Magic series is one of my favorite fantasy series. This is the third and last in the series and it takes everything that the first two books set up and takes it so much further. I couldn’t stop reading this book that travels across the four Londons. The magic is running wild, no longer contained, and Kell and Lila must do anything they can to stop it. I loved Lila in this one. She became so much more powerful as a character and didn’t back down from anything. V.E. Schwab has such a talent building worlds that I love to read. It was also announced that there will be a new trilogy set in the same world, so mark me as ecstatic for that.


*・゜The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy. Magical realism and historical fiction. Those are two ways to describe this lovely book. Murphy did an amazing job of portraying how a town deals not only with a war that’s occurring far from their borders but also the more immediate problem of an upcoming Disappearance. What’s a Disappearance, you may wonder? What would you do if you couldn’t see your reflection? Or colors only came out grey? Or food tasted of nothing? For some reason, Sterling has this problem. Every year, on the anniversary of the first Disappearance, the town loses something else. The only one who’s ever been able to escape the Disappearances was Aila’s mother. I loved the mystery in this one. It was a slow build–admittedly I didn’t know if I would like it at first–but it turned into this amazing story that was done really well. I felt it was very immersive and I definitely was forming different theories of why the Disappearances happened to the town of Sterling. I loved the reveal, too! There’s a nice romance in this novel that doesn’t take over, so that made it even better for me.


*・゜Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner. If you want to cry, read this book. Or anything by Jeff Zentner, really. I got The Serpent King in an Owlcrate box and have loved this author ever since. He has a real talent for creating characters and stories that give you all of the feels. Goodbye Days is about a tragedy that breaks several family’s hearts. Goodbye Days comes from the idea of a goodbye day–one last day where you celebrate the life of the loved one you’ve lost. It is an amazing and heartfelt read. If you like contemporary young adult novels, Zentner is an author you should be reading.

And that’s it! I hope to read a lot more books with strong female protagonists this year. I’ll be finishing up some series that have been sitting on my to-read list for ages. I’m going to try reading as many advance reading copies as I can get my hands on! Here’s to happy reading in 2018!


While this blog is primarily focused on reading and writing reviews, I also am going to share a little bit of my writing process this year. I have plans to rewrite the book I just finished as well as write the second one. I want this year to be the year of my book(s). I want to look back on 2018 and feel like I’ve accomplished something I’m proud of. Those are my goals for the year and I believe I can achieve them. So happy 2018, everyone! Here’s hoping that it’s a creative year for many!

[Long Way Down] Jason Reynolds

No crying. No snitching. Revenge.

***

Another thing about the rules:

They weren’t meant to be broken
They were meant for the broken

to follow. 

These are the rules at the core of Long Way Down, a story about a boy looking to avenge the death of his brother. Written in prose, we follow Will as he takes the elevator down to the lobby the day after his brother was killed. With his mother’s sobs filling his ears, he sees no other alternative than to kill the person who killed Shawn. Or, at least, the person he thinks killed Shawn. He’s certain that he knows the guy. What follows is an exploration of a life and how the people around you shape how you live yours.

When I first started Long Way Down I wasn’t sure if I’d like the prose. Prose has an ability to really speak to you as a reader, but it also has the potential of simplifying a situation. That was not the case with this novel. I thought that Reynolds did a superb job of using the form to introduce the traged(ies) and the characters and their mindsets. I don’t think I could have been given a clearer picture. The words were so full of emotion–not only for this fictional situation, but for the very really lives that live in a world like this. I found myself equally looking forward to how the next visitor in the elevator fit in and dreading the new facet to the tragedy.

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[Girls Made of Snow and Glass] Melissa Bashardoust

There are worse things in the world to be than delicate. If you’re delicate, it means no one has tried to break you.*

Girls Made of Snow and Glass is a unique retelling of the tale of Snow White, with a princess and a queen who struggle to find their place in the kingdom. Though based on Snow WhiteGirls Made of Snow and Glass doesn’t fall into the fantasy tropes of evil queen v. young princess, age v. beauty, or wondering who the princess is going to marry. In fact, I feel that there’s very little about Snow White that remains in this debut novel, other than the queen and the princess element.  It truly feels like its own story.

“It was only the dead mothers who were perfect–the living ones were messy and unpredictable and selfish.*”

The main conflict of the novel does set up Mina–the Queen from the South–and Lynet–the princess who is soon to come of age–against each other, but not in the way that I expected. Girls Made of Snow and Glass puts their relationship at centerstage and explores how it has flourished and changed over the years. For Lynet, Mina has been the only mother she has known. Her own died when she was too young to remember, so when Mina enters her life–first as a friend and then as a mother–it fills a hole in her life. For Mina, Lynet has always been the one who will take over her position one day–so she tries to keep her heart from loving the girl.

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[Shimmer and Burn] Mary Taranta

Even the damned get a choice, or at least the illusion of one. I’m proof enough of that.*

Shimmer and Burn‘s beautiful cover caught my eye when I was requesting ARCs a few months ago, and I’ve only just finished it now.  A debut novel from Mary Taranta, Shimmer and Burn takes readers across Avinea as Faris travels with a tyrannical princess, one who will not hesitate to hurt Faris or threaten the sister Faris left behind. If Faris wants to survive and save her sister, she must listen to the whims of a princess who doesn’t think about consequences. They may be traveling companions but they both have their own end goals.

I really enjoy books that put characters who are essentially opposites together. It instantly sets up tension between them and the reader, which allows for events to unfold differently than if everyone was working together. Faris and Bryn are like that. Faris’ mother died when she was young and she was left to raise her younger sister Cadence in the slums of Brindaigel. The only time she feels powerful is when she’s fighting in the fighting pits. Bryn is the opposite, with everything that she could ever want–but she still wants more. When Bryn decides that she wants to be more than the princess of Brindaigel, Faris realizes that she has an opportunity to save her sister.

Naturally, it’s not as simple as that. Faris’ naivety and moments of clarity were a little frustrating at times, but despite that I really enjoyed her character. I liked that she fought–literally–for things in her life and that she wasn’t a weak person. She wasn’t normally involved in political machinations, but when she found herself in the middle of one she proved that she could handle it. I enjoyed reading how–despite the fact that she didn’t have a political background–she even found ways to gain supporters even as Bryn was controlling her with the spell that connected them. Faris isn’t a strong character. Nor is she a weak character. She had moments of both, mostly centered around her sister, and I thought it was really well done. I enjoyed reading how she was so conflicted with the situations she found herself in. She really had to pull herself out of darkness at times, which made her more unique than the standard heroine who just struggles.

I killed a man to save my sister, trading virtue for vice, compassion for selfishness. There’s no going back from that kind of imbalance, and unless I harden myself into iron, the sacrifice will be for nothing.*

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[First We Were IV] Alexandra Sirowy

The Order, its power, it’s a high. I feel it. But it’s also like this shadow I keep seeing out of the corner of my eye. I turn my head and it’s gone. It’s there. Dark. Waiting.*

It’s senior year, and Izzie, Harry, Graham, and Viv are the center of their universe. Self-made outcasts, they love each other fiercely and defiantly, ignoring the insults of their classmates. As the year begins, fear that their friendship will disintegrate after they go their separate ways begins to burn through Izzie. On a whim, she suggests that they start a secret society to stay together–no matter what. When the other three agree, they draft a secret society modeled after the ones they determine to be great. The Order of IV becomes their way to get back at their classmates and their small town, righting what they perceive to be injustices and doing it anonymously. There’s a certain power to invisibility, and they relish in how they can control it. When their rebellions are noticed by other classmates, the four of them realize that their power extends even further than they thought. Power is all-consuming. And it can get away from you.

Never lie.
Never tell.
Love each other.

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