Review: Shame the Stars

Shame the StarsTitle: Shame the Stars
Author: Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Publisher: Tu Books
Pages: 308
Genres: Historical, Romance
Review Copy: Based on Purchased Copy (though Edelweiss had also provided a digital ARC)
Availability: On shelves now

Publisher’s Summary: Eighteen-year-old Joaquín del Toro’s future looks bright. With his older brother in the priesthood, he’s set to inherit his family’s Texas ranch. He’s in love with Dulceña—and she’s in love with him. But it’s 1915, and trouble has been brewing along the US-Mexico border. On one side, the Mexican Revolution is taking hold; on the other, Texas Rangers fight Tejano insurgents, and ordinary citizens are caught in the middle.

As tensions grow, Joaquín is torn away from Dulceña, whose father’s critical reporting on the Rangers in the local newspaper has driven a wedge between their families. Joaquín’s own father insists that the Rangers are their friends, and refuses to take sides in the conflict. But when their family ranch becomes a target, Joaquín must decide how he will stand up for what’s right.

Shame the Stars is a rich reimagining of Romeo and Juliet set in Texas during the explosive years of Mexico’s revolution. Filled with period detail, captivating romance, and political intrigue, it brings Shakespeare’s classic to life in an entirely new way.

Review: Under the Mesquite and Summer of the Mariposas, McCall’s previous books, are fantastic works of storytelling. Her writing is lyrical whether she’s creating prose or poetry. Having read and loved her first two books, I was predisposed to enjoy this newest novel. In addition, as a former resident of Texas, the story immediately caught my attention. Though I lived there for sixteen years, my knowledge of Texas history was sketchy at best so this seemed like an excellent way to find out more about my former home. The story along with the thorough author’s note was eye-opening to say the least.

In Shame the Stars, McCall shares a part of history not often covered in our school history texts. The conflict might be mentioned, but it is highly unlikely that students would learn about the lynchings, executions and other atrocities. This novel is one way to learn some of that missing history. The story begins with Joaquín expressing his frustration at the way tejanos are treated and how their rights are being trampled by the Texas Rangers. Over time Joaquín witnesses more and more injustices by Rangers. They see no need to have a search warrant, they kill without trials and behave as if the law does not apply to them. For Joaquín it seems that danger is surrounding their community and he and his father have very different ideas about what to do about this.

One way Joaquín deals with his feelings is through writing poetry. Most of the story is told in typical narrative style, but every so often a poem, a newspaper clipping, letter or other snippet of text is included. I appreciated the addition of non-traditional texts. These felt like primary sources and made it seem like readers could see a piece of the past.

Beyond this unveiling of history, the story is also a romance. Joaquín has loved Dulceña for years and falls more deeply in love with her as time passes. She loves him too, but makes it clear that she doesn’t want the role of damsel in distress or quiet little lady to be tucked away at home. She’s an intelligent and brave young woman who has dreams of her own and she will not let her dreams be ignored just because she’s female. I appreciated her and the other strong women in this book. There are women leading and fighting for their families and communities in many ways.

The book is often compared to Romeo and Juliet not only because of the great love between the two young people, but also because their families are at odds. The families have been very close in the past, but both fathers have completely different ideas about how to best protect their family in dangerous times. The break between the families is a result of love and protection rather than a hatred for one another and that makes it all the more heartbreaking.

Recommendation: Get it now. This is an intriguing historical romance that will leave readers with much to ponder. Shame the Stars presents a beautiful love story set against a backdrop of deadly conflict.

Extra: Interview with the author from BookPage

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Review: The Way to Game the Walk of Shame

wayTitle: The Way to Game the Walk of Shame
Author: Jenn P. Nguyen
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 336
Review copy: Digital ARC via Netgalley
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Taylor Simmons is screwed.

Things were hard enough when her single-minded dedication to her studies earned her the reputation of being an Ice Queen, but after getting drunk at a party and waking up next to bad boy surfer Evan McKinley, the entire school seems intent on tearing Taylor down with mockery and gossip.

Desperate to salvage her reputation, Taylor persuades Evan to pretend they’re in a serious romantic relationship. After all, it’s better to be the girl who tames the wild surfer than just another notch on his surfboard.

Review: The summary was accurate. There is a playboy and a fake relationship. Most readers would have an understanding of what they are getting into with this one. I was looking for something light, humorous and good for a vacation. That was exactly the type of book Nguyen created.

Taylor is set on getting into Columbia and studying law. She’s been working all through high school to keep her grades up and she is extremely studious. She’s also someone who is terrified of getting in trouble. Appearances are important so when she wakes up in Evan McKinley’s room, she is devastated. When her best friend Carly convinces her that capitalizing on the situation will be a better solution that trying to ignore it, Taylor comes up with the plan of the fake dating. Carly also informs Taylor that, “the innocent debutante always reforms the rake.”

Like romantic comedies at the movies, if the audience is willing to suspend their disbelief, this type of story is fun and entertaining. I was totally ready for entertainment when I read this so it worked for me. There were a few things that may bother other readers though. If your pet peeve is when people say someone is “so different from all the other girls,” readers beware. This is a comment made at least four times in various forms. Love triangles not your thing? There is a bit of that here too. If the trope of a fake relationship seems too unbelievable, then again, it’s probably not the best fit, but if you are looking for a little bit of silliness and a light romance, this is a great book for the day. It’s 336 pages, but they fly by, as Taylor and Evan learn more about each other and themselves. The romance is sweet and has plenty of banter. I do appreciate banter.

Recommendation: If you’re looking for a light romance, get it soon.

 

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Review: The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love

3P JKT Geeks_Guide.indd Title: The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love
Author: Sarvenaz Tash
Publisher: Simon & Schuster BFYR
Genres: Contemporary, Comedy, Romance
Pages: 252
Review copy: Purchased
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: John Hughes meets Comic Con in this hilarious, unabashedly romantic coming-of-age story about a teenager trying to get his best friend to fall in love with him.

Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy…

Archie and Veronica…

Althena and Noth…

. . . Graham and Roxy?

Graham met his best friend, Roxana, when he moved into her neighborhood eight years ago, and she asked him which Hogwarts house he’d be sorted into. Graham has been in love with her ever since.

But now they’re sixteen, still neighbors, still best friends. And Graham and Roxy share more than ever—moving on from their Harry Potter obsession to a serious love of comic books.

When Graham learns that the creator of their favorite comic, The Althena Chronicles, is making a rare appearance at this year’s New York Comic Con, he knows he must score tickets. And the event inspires Graham to come up with the perfect plan to tell Roxy how he really feels about her. He’s got three days to woo his best friend at the coolest, kookiest con full of superheroes and supervillains. But no one at a comic book convention is who they appear to be . . . even Roxy. And Graham is starting to realize fictional love stories are way less complicated than real-life ones.

Review: I truly appreciated the laughs and smiles Sarvenaz Tash provided me through this book. I’ve never been to a Comic Con, but have been to multiple Anime conventions with my youngest child. Panels, costume contests, Artist Alley, standing in lines and many other things reminded me of our experiences although we never ventured into speed dating. Clearly, other readers would appreciate the Comic Con setting more than this 40 something mom, but even if I missed some of the references, the book was a ton of fun. Graham and his friends are seriously geeky and they revel in it. This book is a complete celebration of geekiness.

The author did a great job with the setting. The characters are moving through a vivid place. I had to laugh when Graham walks toward a hot dog stand and “almost get my eyes gouged out by a selfie stick being flailed around by a guy running after an almost-seven-foot-tall Darth Vader, shouting ‘Lord Vader!'” There are many interactions with unique individuals and most of the interchanges are amusing. One in particular was hilarious and involves lines from The Princess Bride. No spoilers here, but rest assured, there are plenty of humorous references to comics, Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Princess Bride, The Lord of the Rings, Dr. Who, Zelda, Sherlock and the like.

With such an environment, Graham’s plan seems foolproof. Their friendship began with shared readings of Harry Potter and graduated to creating comics together. The NY Comic Con is packed with so many of their shared obsessions and memories. What could possibly go wrong? Of course, many funny and not so funny things happen to throw off Graham’s plans and deal him some crushing blows. Through it all, Graham has supportive friends both new and old. This set of geeky friends are diverse and distinctly themselves. They’re charming more often than not and make this a wonderful book for a light summer read.

Recommendation: Buy it now if you’re even the slightest bit geeky and want a fun book for summer relaxation.

Extra:

Sneak peek at 1st two chapters + Giveaway

Blog Tour + Giveaway

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Review: Serpentine

serpentineTitle: Serpentine
Author: Cindy Pon
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 300
Publisher: Month9Books
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: Serpentine is a sweeping fantasy set in the ancient Kingdom of Xia and inspired by the rich history of Chinese mythology.

Lush with details from Chinese folklore, Serpentine tells the coming of age story of Skybright, a young girl who worries about her growing otherness. As she turns sixteen, Skybright notices troubling changes. By day, she is a companion and handmaid to the youngest daughter of a very wealthy family. But nighttime brings with it a darkness that not even daybreak can quell.

When her plight can no longer be denied, Skybright learns that despite a dark destiny, she must struggle to retain her sense of self – even as she falls in love for the first time.

Review: It is a pleasure to relax into a world that I trust an author to handle, and I’m happy to report that my trust was rewarded with Cindy Pon’s Serpentine. One of my favorite things about fantasy is well-crafted worlds, and Pon paints the Kingdom of Xia vividly, from clothing to hairstyles to cultural norms and expectations. And of course, the mythology, with its demons and undead creatures and immortals and secrets. I can’t go too deeply into the my appreciation for the world-building without having to resort to spoilers, so I’ll simply say I wish more authors took as much care with making a world that felt lived-in. The little details can be just as important in setting a scene as the broader ones, and Pon did a fantastic job.

Skybright is a wonderful protagonist who faces challenges both mundane and supernatural. Her struggles to figure out what was going on with herself and the supernatural world were equally compelling. I was particularly drawn to her friendship/sisterhood with Zhen Ni and how their bond was tested in a host of different ways throughout the story. Skybright and Zhen Ni’s relationship was easily my favorite in the book, especially in the second half, when things got rather complicated.

I have a few minor complaints about the romance between Skybright and Kai Sen (mostly at how quickly it moved at the beginning), but it was mostly satisfying. I appreciated that Pon did not let their romance overshadow the bond between Skybright and Zhen Ni. Kai Sen was an interesting character, though I think a significant portion of that interest for me was in the potential for deadly conflict between him and Skybright. Once that was largely settled, my interest in Kai Sen waned.

Stone was a character that I didn’t appreciate much at the outset, but he grew more intriguing as the story turned toward the greater supernatural conflict. I’m curious to see more of him even though I don’t particularly like him—his character has the potential to deepen the scope of the story in the next book.

Recommendation: Get it soon! The fantasy world of Serpentine is well crafted. Cindy Pon has populated the world with interesting characters and a high-stakes plot that steadily ramps up to a solid climax. While there are a few points that didn’t work for me as much as I wanted them to, this was a satisfying read.

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Review: Outrun the Moon

moonTitle: Outrun the Moon
Author: Stacey Lee
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Genre: Historical
Review copy: ARC from publisher
Availability: May 24, 2016

Summary: San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty in Chinatown, and an education at St. Clare’s School for Girls is her best hope. Although St. Clare’s is off-limits to all but the wealthiest white girls, Mercy gains admittance through a mix of cunning and a little bribery, only to discover that getting in was the easiest part. Not to be undone by a bunch of spoiled heiresses, Mercy stands strong—until disaster strikes.

On April 18, an historic earthquake rocks San Francisco, destroying Mercy’s home and school. With martial law in effect, she is forced to wait with her classmates for their families in a temporary park encampment. Mercy can’t sit by while they wait for the Army to bring help. Fires might rage, and the city may be in shambles, yet Mercy still has the ‘bossy’ cheeks that mark her as someone who gets things done. But what can one teenaged girl do to heal so many suffering in her broken city?

Review: Mercy Wong always has a plan. Once she knows what she wants, she figures out the steps she’ll need to take to get there and she’s off like a shot. Mercy doesn’t seem to know the word impossible. She’s strong willed and has “bossy cheeks” like her mother. Some people say this about her as a put-down, but Mercy takes it as a compliment. Her mother says those bossy cheeks mean Mercy can “…row your own boat, even when there is no wind to help you.”

Mercy has ambitions and the know-how. She has thoroughly studied The Book for Business-Minded Women by a woman named Mrs. Lowry who has achieved hero status in Mercy’s eyes. Mercy’s prepared to work hard and make sacrifices to achieve her goal, but her ambitions are not only for herself. She wants to succeed so her father won’t have to work sixteen hour days and her little brother, who has health issues, won’t have to follow in his father’s difficult footsteps. Her dreams are big, but her family’s comfort and health is what inspires her and keeps her moving forward.

Mercy has a long way to go make her dreams come true though. She realizes that the key to becoming wealthy is opportunity. Having been born into poverty in Chinatown, Mercy has a short supply in the area of opportunities. “And if opportunity didn’t come knocking, then Mrs. Lowry says you must build your own door.” Mercy sets about building those doors which involves much scheming, plotting and more than a few adventures. I loved the adventures. There are even hot-air balloon rides. Along the way, Mercy makes connections with people from many different backgrounds. I loved meeting the unique characters and didn’t want to say good-bye. I’m hoping there will be a companion novel or even a sequel so we can meet them again.

Another aspect I truly enjoyed about this novel was the sayings. Throughout the book, Mercy quotes Mrs. Lowry, her mother, her father and many other people she respects. She also has some wise statements of her own. It makes the book very quotable. Here are a few sayings I especially appreciated:

“It amazes me that even when the world is going to hell in a handcart, there’s still beauty in the fringes.”

“Our success is determined not by external forces, but how we react to them.”

“As Ma likes to say, you cannot control the wind, but you can control your sails.”

“Your circumstances don’t determine where you can go, only your starting point.”

In addition to the many young women in the story, there is a love interest. Mercy has loved Tom for quite some time, but there are complications and he is moving far away. I appreciated that there’s a romance in the story, but it’s not the main focus of the novel. Mercy has many different things going on in her life and he is important, but is just one of her concerns.

I also found the history interesting. Because I went to school in California, I had a basic understanding that many Chinese people came to California in the 1800s and understood that there was racism, but either didn’t know or didn’t remember the many restrictions placed upon the immigrants and their children even when they were born in the U.S. One of those restrictions was the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act which severely limited Chinese immigration and made it virtually impossible for men to bring over their wives and children. Mercy experiences racism over and over again. At one point she notes that “people will never stop seeing my color first, before me.”

Recommendation: Get this one as soon as you can especially if historical fiction is your thing. Stacey Lee is a wonderful storyteller. She does a fabulous job bringing the setting to life and she creates memorable characters that are sure to steal hearts. Oh, and you might need a tissue once in a while.

Extra: Pre-order special

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Review: In Real Life

lifeTitle: In Real Life
Author: Jessica Love
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 240
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Review Copy: Received an e-ARC from the publisher via Netgalley
Availability: Available now

Summary: Hannah Cho and Nick Cooper have been best friends since 8th grade. They talk for hours on the phone, regularly shower each other with presents, and know everything there is to know about one another.

There’s just one problem: Hannah and Nick have never actually met.

Hannah has spent her entire life doing what she’s supposed to, but when her senior year spring break plans get ruined by a rule-breaker, she decides to break a rule or two herself. She impulsively decides to road trip to Vegas, her older sister and BFF in tow, to surprise Nick and finally declare her more-than-friend feelings for him.

Hannah’s romantic gesture backfires when she gets to Vegas and meets Nick’s girlfriend, whom he failed to mention. And it turns out his relationship status isn’t the only thing he’s been lying to her about. Hannah knows the real Nick can’t be that different from the online Nick she knows and loves, but now she only has one night in Sin City to figure out what her feelings for Nick really are, all while discovering how life can change when you break the rules every now and then.

Review: I requested this ARC because I thought it could be a fun story—some of my closest friends are people I met online, and some of those friendships have since transferred from online only to “real life.” I was certain that throwing romance into the mix with a heavy dose of Las Vegas would make things even more exciting. Instead, the first chapter opened on a sour note it never quite recovered from when Hannah, the Korean-American narrator, spent a great deal of time complaining about how Aditi Singh (presumably another girl of color) “stole” a student government trip that should have “belonged” to Hannah even though it is implied the trip is merit-based and Aditi’s application was the better one.

Unfortunately, Hannah continues to pit herself against basically every girl in the story, from her sister, Grace, to her best friend, Lo, to Nick’s girlfriend, Frankie. It gets particularly bad when Frankie is in the picture as Hannah can’t seem to comment on Frankie’s appearance without snarking about the size of Frankie’s breasts or being horribly jealous whenever Frankie comes in contact with her boyfriend. Hannah’s possessiveness over Nick—who isn’t her boyfriend and whose affections she shot down prior to the start of the story—becomes frustrating in short order when it is constantly accompanied by petty commentary about Frankie and isn’t alleviated by the rare moments when Hannah admits there are good points about Frankie.

There are also a few moments re: race that gave me pause, such as Hannah’s description of herself: “[breaking rules] goes against my Good Korean Girl DNA. Rules are made to be followed—at least that’s what my parents, who aren’t Tiger Parents or anything but are still pretty serious, drilled into me starting the second I learned to crawl.” I was also unimpressed with how close Lo came to several negative Latinx stereotypes. It felt like the author had tried to write racially diverse characters but didn’t understand how particular character traits/plot points could become harmful stereotypes when applied to characters of color.

The plot itself is a frustrating cycle of will-Hannah-confess-or-not, with her constantly convincing herself to say something and then either getting interrupted or running away from the opportunity. While there are some fun moments between her and Nick, they are undercut by the constant wheel-spinning, and Nick’s not-quite-ambiguity about pursuing something with Hannah despite having a girlfriend already made it difficult to root for the couple.

Recommendation: Just skip it. While there are a few good moments, In Real Life is overall an unsatisfying and frustrating read.

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