June 2020 Reading Recap

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June was my birthday! I wound up reading a whole bunch of ARCs, a few new favorites, and even interviewed K.A. Doore to celebrate the release of the Chronicles of Ghadid finale, The Unconquered City.

In addition the blog, you will now be able to find my reviews on The StoryGraph, in addition to Goodreads. My handle is JoReadsBooks

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May 2020 Reading Recap

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May featured the Nebulas and continued work on myself during this unemployed time.

No special posts this month, but definitely an interview with K.A. Doore coming your way in June.

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April 2020 Reading Recap

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Good-bye April, the shortest month this year. I have gone through a lot of sudden changes, but there are always more books to read. I even discovered two new favorites this month, which feels exciting.

This month, I also interviewed Aleksandra Ross to celebrate the release of her debut novel, Don’t Call the Wolf and I had outlined a plan to improve my craft. I will be saving the craft reads for their own post.

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ARC Review: THE LUCKY ONES by Liz Lawson (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Year Release: April 2020
Source: Netgalley ARC

Read an ARC acquired via NetGalley

Content and trigger warnings include: School shootings, PTSD, panic attack, depression, alcoholism, death of a relative, blood

May McGintee lost her twin brother eleven months prior to the events of this book in a school shooting perpetrated by a classmate. Zach is a classmate in the school she transfers too, who also happens to be the shooter’s lawyer. They meet at band practice one night and an unexpected friendship forms.

Though the shooting is important in the set-up, it is the depiction of the aftermath from two points of view which really make this book unique. This book does a beautiful job depicting PTSD with a protagonist who is decidedly not okay. May has been let down by all the adults in her life and lost her favorite teacher and her brother in a horrific event. She’s angry. She acts out. She has less than favorable things said to those around her. The way her processing of her loss really stood out to me.

Zach’s perspective had been handled so compassionately. One of the things that really worked for me as a whole in this book was the thread of children not being held to their parents mistakes. No one handles anything appropriately, and it is so achingly human. This disappointment felt by the children is almost a character in and of itself. Lawson beautiful and heart-wrenchingly navigates all the facets, from individual disappointments to May’s rightful rage at the system which did nothing to address her specific trauma.

My heart still aches after finishing, but I couldn’t put it down. It is a powerful read full of grief, rage, and, most importantly, hope and healing.

Review: PATRON SAINTS OF NOTHING by Randy Ribay (2019)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young adult contemporary
Year Release: 2019
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook

Jay Reguero seeks a fairly average final semester of high school before off to college. He receives news, however, that his cousin Jun had been murdered as part of Duterte’s war on drugs. From then, he goes on a trip to the Philippines to reconnect with his family and to find his own answers behind his cousin’s murder.

This novel covers so many facets of not only contemporary life in the Philippines under Duterte’s rule but also authentic captures the experience of being the American relative coming “home.” Ribay deftly navigates the nuances that come from the cultural differences, both from Jay’s perspective and his family’s. Like Jay, I had been born in my home country and moved to America with my family not long after. There are aspects to that distance which I had not seen in other stories. Nothing in this book is presented as black and white. Jay confronts his own privileges and discovers a culture he had not had much exposure to in his Americanized life. He learns of the contradictions within his own family.

The layers of tension in Patron Saints of Nothing thread through from start to finish. Ribay covers a variety of viewpoints throughout the narrative in a way that feels seamless. It isn’t all bleak, however. Some of the most powerful moments in the novel are the quieter moments among the family. One of my favorites was when Jay’s aunts (good to mention that there is f/f rep in this novel) invite friends and neighbors over for karaoke.

Definitely not an easy read, but this book made me cry, laugh, and dropped my jaw on more than one occasion.

ARC Review: ALL YOUR TWISTED SECRETS by Diana Urban (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Thriller
Year Release: March 2020
Source: Edelweiss ARC

Read an ARC acquired via Edelweiss

Six students—star athlete, queen bee, valedictorian, stoner, loner, and music geek—are invited to a scholarship dinner where they are presented with a bomb, a syringe, and a note saying that they choose one of them to die or they do.

This book delivers on all the tensions expected from a locked-room thriller. Urban expertly balances the stress in that room with the events of the year prior. Each revelations feeds into the next interaction. It is stressful from start to finish, but the teens feel so real, that the jokes amid the horror stick every landing. The author writes such relatable teen characters—and does a careful job not falling into the trope of cliques. I found myself both cringing and nodding along during the “before” segments because, wow.

There is not much I can say about the ending because when all the secrets come out, your jaw will be on the floor, and then you’ll have to read the book again with a new perspective.

ARC Review: WHEN WE WERE MAGIC by Sarah Gailey (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Year Release: March 2020
Source: Edelweiss ARC

Read an ARC acquired via Edelweiss

Sarah Gailey has such a knack for capturing the feeling of hopeless effort. In this young adult novel, Alexis accidentally kills a boy at prom and it is up to her and five magic friends to figure out what to do with the body. Strange things start happening around them, all while senior year winds down to a close and the feelings Alexis has for one of her friends stir stronger than ever.

I don’t think I’ve seen such accurate representation of the petulance, uncertainty, and stress that comes with being a teenager. Adding stresses like keeping your magic secret from those outside your circle and concealing that terrible thing you did definitely heightens the ante. What also really stood out to me was the fantastic balance between Alexis’s found family and true family. Because I read a lot of fantasy young adult, parents tend to be absent, either dead or evil. Here, Dad and Pop are so supportive and definitely are trying their best in terms of being parents.

This book is very light on the world-building, but that’s because it is so character-driven. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter where the magic came from or how it shifts as the coven tries to solve its big problem. The story is tightly woven in its emotional arcs that ultimately, the real magic was also the friends we had along the way.

We have been blessed in these last twelve months of works by Sarah Gailey. While I hope they get some rest, I cannot wait to see what they come up with next.

 

ARC Review: DAUGHTER FROM THE DARK by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: February 2020
Source: Edelweiss ARC

Read an ARC acquired via Edelweiss

Dyachenko books are a delightful antithesis to the Russian aesthetic prevalent in many fantasy novels which had come out in the last few years. They strike gold again with the utterly unrelatable, but delightfully strange Daughter from the Dark. Radio DJ Aspirin encounters a young girl holding a bear on a walk home from his club DJ side gig. A group of teens and their dogs harass her, until the bear she holds turns into a demon and gets rid of the problem. Aspirin takes her home and he suddenly becomes father figure to a child with no past who may also be a demon.

Aspirin is such an asshole from start to finish. There was something refreshing, as parenthood doesn’t necessarily turn someone into a good person. Being that he is in his mid-thirties, there is a stubbornness to his privileged douchebaggery that made the reader want to find out more what happens, but also low-key cheering on Alyona as she makes an utter mess of the life he had created for himself. Their dynamic is just so good. She confronts him about the ways he is entirely difficult. He is completely trapped in the ways he cannot just get rid of her and simply has to take it.

What I would have liked to see more of is the context behind Alyona and Mishutka. That part of the book goes largely unexplored, which I guess, makes sense, since the reader only see the entire story from very human Aspirin’s point of view. It made for an interesting read, but coming out of it, the number of unanswered questions has not shifted whatsoever.

An excellent addition to the canon of “asshole becomes an unwitting father to a child of destiny.”

Review: FOUL IS FAIR by Hannah Capin (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young adult contemporary
Year Release: 2020
Source: Audible audiobook

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings can be found on the author’s website

This book blew my mind. I had been seeing so much hype for this cathartic young adult retelling of Macbeth, I just had to jump in.

The hype was so real.

Elle goes out with her friends on her sweet sixteen. The night takes a horrible turn when untouchable, privileged white boys make her the target of their sick idea of “fun.” Instead of relying on any judicial system, Elle cuts off her hair, transforms into Jade, and takes justice into her own hands. She infiltrates St. Andrew’s Prep to get her bloody revenge on those golden boys.

Capin does not shy away from the horror of what had been done to Jade. The sharp prose only enhances the rage and venom seeping through the page. Jade’s scheming and voice are simply excellent, with the more stream-of-conscious narration working super well. In some places, the plot and descriptions become so over-the-top to the point of delightful. The murders are so intricately spaced out, keeping the tension tight from start to finish. I found myself cheering Jade on in her vengeance and in her manipulation of Mack in particular.

The fact that Capin included Jade’s parents who agreed to her transferring schools was, honestly, an unexpected touch. This novel leans deeply into its own dark revenge fantasy. No one tells Jade that her methods are questionable at best or tries to stop her, but that is part of the magic of this book.

Breath-taking, suspenseful, and delightfully violent, Foul is Fair is a perfect addition to books starring female rage like The Female of the Species and Sadie.

ARC Review: RED HOOD by Elana K. Arnold (2020)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2020
Source: Edelweiss ARC

Read an ARC acquired via Edelweiss
Trigger warnings: gore, murder, sexual assault (off-page, but heavily implied)

I devoured Damsel—Arnold’s other take on classic tales—last winter break. The way the story examined common tropes of princess narratives blew my mind, so naturally, I couldn’t wait for Arnold’s next work. Red Hood uses Little Red Riding Hood as a vehicle for a tale examining feminine power, menstruation, and how to survive in a world that protects awful men.

Though mostly downplayed, I really liked the fantasy elements in this. The villains in this book are men who have the inexplicable ability to turn into wolves. Bisou, our main character whose introspection and journey we follow through a second-person narrative, magically has the ability to sense when these men are afoot, and when wolves attack. I wish this element had been more explored from a world-building standpoint, but it very much fit what Arnold seemed to be doing with the narrative.

I especially admired how Bisou and her friends gain more agency as the story progresses, turning into a coven alongside Mémé, Bisou’s grandmother and parental figure.  The atmosphere here is also exquisite. Arnold works magic when it comes to melding contemporary and real-life fears with the terrors of the fantastic. The mysterious wolf attacks are horrifying, but so is the awfulness that is being a girl in high school.

A must-read for fans of more literary prose and loose but terrifying takes on classic fairy tales.