[This Savage Song: Monsters of Verity I] Victoria Schwab

I’m going to be honest: I’m glad I read this author’s adult fiction works before I read her young adult fiction. It’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy This Savage Song, but it was considerably tamer than I expected, especially coming off of the Shades of Magic series. I expected to be more captivated by the characters and world than I ultimately was, which is okay. It just means that I enjoy V.E. Schwab’s grittier and darker worlds, despite this one also having those qualities.

This Savage Song is a story of a divided city and the heirs that live inside of it. The divided city is reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, but with a lot more monsters and no distracting qualities of romance. I LOVED that there was no romance in this novel. Too often the plot of dystopians get overtaken by the romantic ramblings of teenagers in love, but not so in this book. Kate and August were their own characters with their own agendas. When they were pushed together, they had to deal with the tension of technically being each others’ enemy on top of running for their lives. That made the book far more interesting than a romantic-dystopian novel.

It’s rare, I think, to read a dystopian novel that doesn’t have a romantic sub (or main) plot. That’s why This Savage Song was such a refreshing read. The plot didn’t focus on it, which allowed the world to be fleshed out more and the focus to be on everything happening instead of the two characters catching feelings. Their friendship grew tentatively and I loved seeing how their feelings about each other changed into an understanding that only they could create. There needs to be more great friendships in young adult literature that doesn’t become a relationship. I love reading those stories too, but there doesn’t always need to be a romance. I love that Schwab didn’t go the route that now seems the norm in young adult literature.

While I loved that, I didn’t find myself connecting to the characters as much as I expected. Kate wasn’t very relatable and I never really got why she wanted to return to the city, other than her desire to be near her father. He wasn’t someone that was there for her, so that being her main drive was odd to me. She presents herself as a badass, but really she has the hard exterior created to hide her softer feelings inside. I couldn’t really figure out what her goals were exactly, which made her feel very one dimensional. I’m hoping I’ll like her personality more in the next book, because she had grown on my slightly by the end of This Savage Song.

August  is my favorite. Unlike Kate, I definitely related to his feelings of being lost and not knowing himself. He was a far more sympathetic character; the monster who doesn’t want to be a monster. I love reading takes on characters like this. August’s character arc is what made the book so interesting for me to read. I wanted to see what would happen to him more than I cared about Kate or the problems within the city. I am looking forward to reading where he goes in the next novel.

The world in This Savage Song is very well-written, as I expected of a Schwab book. It did take me a few chapters to get into the book, but once I did I found myself reading during any spare downtime I had. Schwab as a way of easing you into the world that doesn’t feel like it’s too heavy. The world is built through small moments as the characters go about the day, teasing you just enough to make you curious and hopeful that it’ll be explained later down the line. I loved her take on violence breeding literal monsters and the explanation for them. It seems like it could be just a step away. Schwab has a real world-building talent that I am both inspired by and jealous of. I can trust that she’s going to have an amazing world created in whatever book I pick up next.

I will be continuing this duology, and I definitely recommend it for readers who have enjoyed V.E. / Victoria Schwab books before. If you enjoy dystopians but not the romance that’s often included, I think you’ll enjoy this book. There’s a reason that readers keep coming back to Schwab books. They’re full of great characters that you both like and loathe, set in a world that is carefully created and feels like it could be just around the corner even with it’s fantastical elements.

3.5 stars.

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[Tyler Johnson Was Here] Jay Coles

Tyler Johnson Was Here is the second book I’ve read this year that throws light on the experiences of members of the black community in the United States. It focuses on twins Marvin and Tyler Johnson, who are slowly drifting apart as they prepare for college. Marvin wants to be close to his brother again, but there are some things that Tyler isn’t telling him. In an attempt to keep an eye on his brother, he follows him to a party where there’s a shooting. When Tyler doesn’t come home, it’s up to Marvin to cover for his brother. As the hours pile up, Marvin finally reveals the thing that scares him the most: he doesn’t know where Tyler is. When his brother is found dead and a video showing his death surfaces, Tyler is suddenly a hashtag trending on the internet. In his search for justice, Marvin wants to show the world that Tyler was so much more.

This is another hard book to review. I think that the book was successful in telling a story that shows what it means to be black in the United States (and elsewhere in the world, but this is specifically set in the U.S.) and how Marvin Johnson’s whole life––his whole survival––is based around the idea that he has to act a certain way in order to not be killed. This is something that I’ve never had to experience. I have a lot of privilege that allows me to move through life without thinking about daily survival. While I had other lessons on “how to behave,” I didn’t have the lessons that Marvin and Tyler were taught. Books like Tyler Johnson Was Here are part of my lesson in learning how my life is drastically different than others around me. Like The Hate U Give and Long Way DownTyler Johnson Was Here struck me in the heart and made me incredibly angry about the systemic racism that has permeated all aspects of the society of the United States.

It’s impossible to read this book without feeling emotional, and I went through a lot of anger and sadness as I read the story. While this is a fictional story, Coles did a good job of weaving fiction with reality. That’s what makes books like Tyler Johnson Was Here difficult to read.  You can’t just read it as a work of fiction. It can’t be thought of as only a work of fiction when the book illustrates the reality of black men and women being harmed and killed by the police. There’s a reality that is unavoidable when you read books like this, and I don’t recommend that you try avoiding it. It’s something that needs to be read. It’s something that needs to be understood by those who have never had to experience it. It’s so important, and I’m so glad that books like this are being talked about.

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[Lose Me.] M.C. Frank

When a book starts with Today is not the day I die, you know you’re in for a roller coaster of emotions. Lose Me. is a lovingly written story about the complications life throws at you, first loves, and moving forward with your dreams. Ari is a stuntwoman with her first job coming up: a movie loosely based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. She’ll be doing most of the stunts for the female lead, a prospect she’s equally nervous and excited about. She knows that she’ll be able to do her job, despite a problem she recently discovered; a problem she keeps pushing to the back of her mind.Frank quickly sets the tone of the novel, with tight and twisting streets and clear blue waters. Both the setting and the characters are richly described, making it difficult for the reader to not enjoy the book.  Ari is spunky and takes no slack from anyone, particularly Wes, the rude lead that believes he’s better than most everything on her island. I loved that her job was performing stunts. I’ve never read a character with a job quite like hers. These two characters are the primary focus of Lose Me., though there’s plenty of secondary characters that are just as vivid. I loved all of the characters in this novel. The characters that Frank created are very real. I had a clear picture of their personalities and desires, even their fears. I loved following their story.

The romance in this story closely mirrored the romance of Elizabeth and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. There were moments of beauty and moments of misunderstanding. I really enjoyed that they were filming a Pride and Prejudice movie and that their romance always paralleled it. I love when books are homages to other books that I enjoy, and Austen is an author that I love seeing referenced. I think that Frank did a wonderful job of connecting both modern day and classical novel.  Continue reading

[Sky in the Deep] Adrienne Young

It was what we’d been taught our entire lives––vegr yfir fjor––honor above life. 

Sky in the Deep is a Viking inspired story with battles, betrayal, and the realization that your enemy isn’t as different from you as you thought. I really loved this one! I read it in the bulk of one day and then immediately wished I hadn’t because it was over.

Sky in the Deep takes starting in the action very literally. We find ourselves in the middle of a battle with Eelyn and her fighting partner, Mýra, readying themselves to charge at members of the Riki clan. They’re members of the Aska clan, and once every five years, they meet on the battlefield to avenge those of their tribe who fell in the years before. For Eelyn, this is her brother. She fights to avenge his death five years before, pushing down her own guilt about being unable to give him proper rites after the battle. When she meets him on the battlefield and he saves her life, people think that she’s been touched by Sigr, their God. Eelyn isn’t so sure. When she discovers that it wasn’t a spirit sent by her God, Eelyn is thrust into the world of her enemy.

I thought that the beginning of the story was strong because it was right in the action, but it also meant that I felt a little blindsided as a reader. I didn’t know much about the world, just that they were fighting. Initially it did put me off a bit because of how frantic it felt. Young dials it back by having Eelyn captured, which helped immensely. There’s still the feeling of being in the action, but it’s bubbling underneath the surface instead of being right there. I loved that. Young used this time to show the different cultures that are in the book, and I was able to get a clearer picture of the world. I love world building, and this novel was full of everything I like seeing when authors build new worlds: different cultures and ways of life; different religions and celebrations; lush settings. It was great!

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[Shadowsong] S. Jae-Jones

What are monsters but mortals corrupted?*

Strange and queer, the lot of them. Elf-touched, they were called in the old days…The mad, the fearful, the faithful. Those who dwell with one foot in the Underground and another in the world above.*

*     *     *

We were grotesques in the world above, too different, too odd, too talented, too much. 

S. Jae-Jones is a brilliant writer.

I will admit that I didn’t love the entirety of Wintersong––I loved the first half but thought the second was a little slow––but I always thought that S.Jae-Jones’ writing was beautiful and spectacular. Her writing shone in Shadowsong. The images she creates with her words are utterly beautiful, forming Liesl’s world for the reader in a very poetic way. It’s perfect for the setting of fairy-tales and goblins and music. S.Jae-Jones is someone who can create a world with her words that I just want to immerse myself in. Couple that with the fact that Shadowsong is a fantasy novel with a historical setting and I’m hooked.

Although Shadowsong is fiction, S. Jae-Jones gives her readers an author’s note at the beginning warning that not everything inside of this novel is so easily read as a fiction. Shadowsong deals with the very real subjects of self-harm, addiction, reckless behaviors, and thoughts of suicide. The author is open with her own diagnosis of bipolar disorder and how she gave it to Liesl. There were moments that were difficult to read because of how Liesl was struggling. I could relate to certain thoughts she had regarding creation of art and fear of failure and doubt. I thought it was wonderful that S. Jae-Jones was completely open about this at the beginning of her novel.

I waited for some mood or inspiration to strike me, for the desire to play to overtake me, but there was nothing. Solitude around me and silence within me. I had not dreamed once since we came to the city. The voice inside me––my voice––was gone. No ideas. No drive. No passion. My nights were quiet. Blank. The dullness was seeping into my days.*

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[Tash Hearts Tolstoy] Kathryn Ormsbee

Tash hearts Tolstoy. Like, a lot. So much so that she’s created a web series about Anna Karenina called Unhappy Families with her friend Jack. They’ve been filming for awhile and have a few loyal followers, but nothing too big. They’re both happy that they’re getting the experience for future projects and for college–which is looming on the horizon. Toying with the idea of fame is fun, of course, but they know that it will never happen…until it does.  When they’re thrust into the internet limelight, Tash and her friends are suddenly dealing with followers in the tens of thousands. No longer an obscure web series, dealing with their sudden fame is both exhilarating and terrifying. Being famous isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and Tash and Jack need to find a way to deal with both the good and the bad if they’re going to make it through.

Tash Hearts Tolstoy was a cute contemporary read. I loved that it was about producing a web series and what happens when your dreams are realized. Ormsbee did a good job about giving filming details without allowing the book to be bogged down with too many; it allows us to be in the world of web series but not be bored by it. I wish that Unhappy Families existed outside the book! It sounded really interesting. While the focus is on how the web series becomes famous, the book is about so much more.  At its core is a coming of age story. I liked that Tash’s “coming of age” wasn’t about one specific thing. They’re all struggling to find their place in the world and learning how to navigate the messy reality of friendships and family where lines sometimes cross.

Because the book focuses on Tash and Unhappy Families, there’s a lot of focus on her friendship with Jack and her brother, Paul. These are two people who have been in Tash’s life for a long time and who know her in a certain way. I appreciated how Ormsbee explored their friendship and the expectations they’d placed on one another. Friendships change as you get older and as you’re moving to a different part of your life,  and I liked how that was shown against this backdrop of blossoming and distracting fame.

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[When Dimple Met Rishi] Sandhya Menon

I love this cover! It makes me happy.

When Dimple Met Rishi is a novel about a girl meeting a boy. Or a boy meeting a girl, depending on whose perspective you’re currently reading. The novel is split between the perspectives of Dimple and Rishi, two people who couldn’t be more different. It’s a perfect formula for a young adult romance novel. Dimple is an aspiring web developer whose dream is to code apps that will change peoples’ lives; Rishi is hoping to meet his betrothed before heading off to college across the country. Their parents set up a meeting at Insomnia Con–a convention where the number one prize is having your app funded and put out there. For Dimple, it’s a dream come true; for Rishi, it’s a way to meet his future wife, to see if the match is meant to be. There’s only one problem: Dimple has no idea.

The premise of this book is really adorable. I liked that Dimple and Rishi switched the typical young adult roles. Don’t get me wrong, I love contemporary romances (or romance in fantasy or…), but it was really cool to see that Dimple was focused on her future instead of finding a boyfriend/husband. She wants to have a career before she gets married–and she doesn’t even know if marriage is in her future. Menon wove the pressures of what her parents wanted v. what Dimple wanted through the pages of this novel in a way that had Dimple challenging her preconceived notions about relationships.

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