New Release

This is the week that The Edge of the Abyss is released. Check out Jessica’s review of the first book in the series – The Abyss Surrounds Us.

The Edge of the Abyss (The Abyss Surrounds Us #2) by Emily Skrutskie
Flux

Three weeks have passed since Cassandra Leung pledged her allegiance to the ruthless pirate-queen Santa Elena and set free Bao, the sea monster Reckoner she’d been forced to train. The days as a pirate trainee are long and grueling, but it’s not the physical pain that Cas dreads most. It’s being forced to work with Swift, the pirate girl who broke her heart.

But Cas has even bigger problems when she discovers that Bao is not the only monster swimming free. Other Reckoners illegally sold to pirates have escaped their captors and are taking the NeoPacific by storm, attacking ships at random and ruining the ocean ecosystem. As a Reckoner trainer, Cas might be the only one who can stop them. But how can she take up arms against creatures she used to care for and protect?

Will Cas embrace the murky morals that life as a pirate brings or perish in the dark waters of the NeoPacific?

Review: The Bone Witch

Title: The Bone Witch
Author: Rin Chupeco
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 400 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Review Copy: eARC received via NetGalley
Availability: Available now

Summary: The beast raged; it punctured the air with its spite. But the girl was fiercer.

Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human.

Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong—stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.

Review: I enjoyed Rin Chupeco’s first book, The Girl from the Well, and jumped at the chance to follow her into the fantasy genre. And while there were some good things about The Bone Witch (the heroine, her brother, lush descriptions, the whole idea of asha, and this specific type of magic), there were a lot of things that either weren’t or just didn’t work for me.

The heroine, Tea, is an engaging narrator, and the glimpses of her in the future, having changed radically from the girl we get to know during her asha training, is intriguing. I wanted a lot more progression on this front, but that’s where the structure of the book undercut itself. Between every chapter was a very short scene of the future, between Tea and an unnamed Bard, and these scenes either constantly killed the momentum of the past or set us up for excitement that took far too long to materialize. If the interruptions had been less frequent (and had been a more coherent narrative, not mostly Tea preparing to raise or raising creature after creature after creature), this might have worked; as it was, it became an irritating distraction, especially once it became obvious that the past Tea and the future Tea weren’t going to be any closer to each other in this book, attitude/philosophy-wise, than they were at the start of it. Having the Bard narrate the future segments felt like a deliberate choice to keep information from the reader (like who Tea’s dead love is and what her plans are for all the monsters) rather than the best choice for telling the story. I felt frustrated, not teased, throughout.

The thing that disappointed me most was the portrayal of the country Drycht. It’s obviously supposed to be the stereotypical conservative Muslim country analogue, what with a kingdom mostly of sand, a king with an “iron grip,” its women veiled, and its stance on gender roles. I cannot think of a single character in the book (aside from the Drycht envoy who is scandalized that Tea is wearing bold colors and must be calmed by being allowed to go on a rant about the shamelessness of women—and he is supposed to be “a progressive man in comparison [to his fellow countrymen]”!) who has anything good to say about the country or the people, aside from occasional praise of its trade goods.

This negative narrative isn’t subtle, either. The nameless Bard was “born in Drycht but was banished when [he] came of age for [his] freethinking ways.” While Farhi, one of the maids, has a name, she never actually speaks on the page (so far as I can remember) and always behaves negatively/distantly toward Tea. One of the heroine’s mentors says flat out “This is Kion, miladies, not Drycht. We are at an age where men and women stand together on equal footing, unlike our barbarian brothers to the south.” To top it off, there are two referenced honor killings: a dance performance “about a woman from Drycht to be executed for dishonoring her family when she fled with a disreputable lover” and a separate incident, where it is revealed that the girl the Bard loved unrequitedly was killed by her father for running away with a bricklayer. (This moment isn’t about this unnamed girl or the not-the-Bard!boy she loved at all, it is explicitly about Tea and the Bard. Because we make the tragic murder of a girl in love all about us, apparently.)

This negative portrayal is never pushed back against in the text, so it doesn’t appear to be a misguided attempt at having a prejudiced narrator. It is simply gross, disappointing, and makes me wonder what other red flags I may have missed in the mashup of other cultures in this fantasy world. I am interested in hearing from other readers and reviewers on this subject.

Recommendation: Just skip it. While there are some good ideas here, the constant interruptions from a future stranger are terribly distracting and hinder, more than help, the main narrative, and the Islamophobic content under the guise of a fantasy culture is not redeemable.

Romeo & Juliet 2.0 – Reflecting our World

I was recently accepted into a summer workshop where I will be learning teaching strategies for teaching Shakespeare, so the Bard has been on my mind of late. As part of the application process I had to create a unit plan, so I re-worked my Shakespeare unit in which I have my students read Romeo & Juliet. Normally I have them also read a modern adaptation of the play, so I’m constantly on the look out for adaptations that feature characters of color. Because R&J is the perfect story to use to explore different cultures and race, there are truly a good number of well-written adaptations of the play. Some of them follow closely to the play’s story line and others take a departure, but all are novels that draw you in and make you root for the couple and the happy ending that Romeo & Juliet never got. I’ve read all of the following, but Ronit & Jamil, which was just released. Rest assured, it will be on my shelf soon.

Romeo and Juliet by Gareth Hinds

She’s a Capulet. He’s a Montague. But when Romeo and Juliet first meet, they don’t know they’re from rival families — and when they find out, they don’t care. Their love is honest and raw and all-consuming. But it’s also dangerous. How much will they have to sacrifice before they can be together? In a masterful adaptation faithful to Shakespeare’s original text, Gareth Hinds transports readers to the sun-washed streets and market squares of Shakespeare’s Verona, vividly bringing the classic play to life on the printed page.

 

 

Romiette & Julio by Sharon Draper

Like Shakespeare’s famous star-crossed lovers, Romiette Cappelle and Julio Montague face strong opposition to their budding romance. In their case, a dangerous gang’s disapproval of their interracial relationship puts the two in mortal peril.

 

 

 

 

 

 

LIke No Other by Una La Marche

Fate brought them together. Will life tear them apart? 

Devorah is a consummate good girl who has never challenged the ways of her strict Hasidic upbringing.

Jaxon is a fun-loving, book-smart nerd who has never been comfortable around girls (unless you count his four younger sisters).

They’ve spent their entire lives in Brooklyn, on opposite sides of the same street. Their paths never crossed . . . until one day, they did.

When a hurricane strikes the Northeast, the pair becomes stranded in an elevator together, where fate leaves them no choice but to make an otherwise risky connection.

Though their relation is strictly forbidden, Devorah and Jax arrange secret meetings and risk everything to be together. But how far can they go? Just how much are they willing to give up?

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez

“This is East Texas, and there’s lines. Lines you cross, lines you don’t cross. That clear?”

New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them.

“No Negroes, Mexicans, or dogs.”

They know the people who enforce them.

“They all decided they’d ride out in their sheets and pay Blue a visit.”

But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.

“More than grief, more than anger, there is a need. Someone to blame. Someone to make pay.”

Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.

 

The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi

Set in present-day Afghanistan, this is the story of two teenagers, one Pashtun and one Hazara, who must fight against their culture, their tradition, their families, and the Taliban to stay together. Told in three rotating perspectives—the two teens and another boy in the village who turns them in to the local Taliban—this novel depicts both the violent realities of living in Afghanistan, as well as the beauty of the land and the cultures there. And it shows that love can bloom in even the darkest of places.

This is an absolute must read not just for teens but for anyone who has lived during the time of America’s War in Afghanistan.

 

Ronit and Jamil by Pamela L. Laskin

Pamela L. Laskin’s beautiful and lyrical novel in verse delivers a fresh and captivating retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that transports the star-crossed lovers to the modern-day Israel-Palestine conflict.

Ronit, an Israeli girl, lives on one side of the fence. Jamil, a Palestinian boy, lives on the other side. Only miles apart but separated by generations of conflict—much more than just the concrete blockade between them. Their fathers, however, work in a distrusting but mutually beneficial business arrangement, a relationship that brings Ronit and Jamil together. And lightning strikes. The kind of lightning that transcends barrier fences, war, and hatred.

The teenage lovers fall desperately into the throes of forbidden love, one that would create an irreparable rift between their families if it were discovered. But a love this big can only be kept secret for so long. Ronit and Jamil must face the fateful choice to save their lives or their loves, as it may not be possible to save both.

 

New Releases

Happy early book birthday to The Takedown by Corrie Wang! The Takedown is coming out tomorrow, April 11th! Is it on your to-read list?

The Takedown by Corrie Wang
Kyla Cheng doesn’t expect you to like her. For the record, she doesn’t need you to. On track to be valedictorian, she’s president of her community club, a debate team champ, plus the yummy Mackenzie Rodriguez has firmly attached himself to her hip. She and her three high-powered best friends don’t just own their senior year at their exclusive Park Slope, Brooklyn high school, they practically define the hated species Popular. Kyla’s even managed to make it through high school completely unscathed.

Until someone takes issue with this arrangement.

A week before college applications are due, a video of Kyla “doing it” with her crush-worthy English teacher is uploaded to her school’s website. It instantly goes viral, but here’s the thing: it’s not Kyla in the video. With time running out, Kyla delves into a world of hackers, haters and creepy stalkers in an attempt to do the impossible-take something off the internet-all while dealing with the fallout from her own karmic footprint. Set in near-future Brooklyn, where privacy is a bygone luxury and every perfect profile masks damning secrets, The Takedown is a stylish, propulsive, and provocative whodunit, asking who would you rely on if your tech turned against you? [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Piecing Me Together

Title: Piecing Me Together
Author: Renée Watson
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 272
Genre: Contemporary
Review copy: Library
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Jade believes she must get out of her neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed. Her mother says she has to take every opportunity. She has. She accepted a scholarship to a mostly-white private school and even Saturday morning test prep opportunities. But some opportunities feel more demeaning than helpful. Like an invitation to join Women to Women, a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls. Except really, it’s for black girls. From “bad” neighborhoods.

But Jade doesn’t need support. And just because her mentor is black doesn’t mean she understands Jade. And maybe there are some things Jade could show these successful women about the real world and finding ways to make a real difference.

Friendships, race, privilege, identity—this compelling and thoughtful story explores the issues young women face.

Review: Jade creates stunning collages. She’s an artist turning bits and pieces of color, texture and shapes together. Art has often been one of the ways people explore what they think about the world and sometimes it’s a way to find healing. Jade creates these amazing collages and they are a way she processes what’s going on in her life. It seems like the people who love her make her whole and the world takes her apart. “Sometimes it feels like I leave home a whole person, sent off with kisses from Mom, who is hanging her every hope on my future. By the time I get home I feel like my soul has been shattered into a million pieces.”

This is an introspective book. Jade is a thinker and I loved seeing through her eyes. She puzzles things out and though sometimes she’s hesitant to advocate for herself, Jade has clear ideas about how things should be. She’s also willing to listen to other perspectives. I really appreciated the chapter titled agradecido/thankful. Her friend and uncle have a conversation about a teacher at the local high school who doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Her uncle E.J. explains that they’re celebrating our nation being stolen from indigenous people and how “Columbus didn’t discover nothing.” Jade realizes she’s never given this a thought. She thinks it through and comes to the conclusion, “I think the US has a lot to be thankful for and a lot to apologize for.”

The chapter titles are in Spanish and English. Jade is excited about learning Spanish and tutors some of her fellow classmates because she’s doing well. Jade’s hoping to go on an International trip where she could do some volunteer work. She doesn’t just want to take advantage of opportunities for herself, Jade also wants to be able to contribute to the world. She doesn’t want to always be seen as the at-risk, needy girl. She knows she has things to offer and wants those around her to realize this too.

Aside from the titles, the chapters are also unique because they are sometimes poetic.I found the language to be lyrical and often poetic even when not in poetry form. Some chapters are only a paragraph long and manage to say a lot. Occasionally there are actual poems.

Race is a topic of thought and conversation throughout the book. Jade has several relationships that lead to some intense situations revolving around race. Her mentor, which she has been assigned because she is perceived as needy, is new to the job and sees Jade with a deficit mentality that Jade rebels against. Her new best friend is White and is either deliberately ignoring racist comments and actions or is oblivious. Jade has to decide if these relationships are worth her efforts.

Recommendation: Buy it now. This is a beautiful book that delves into so many aspects of life and is a fantastic story about finding and using your voice.

5 Books I Want to Read This Spring

I think my little section of the world has finally made it through winter, and I’m looking forward to going out on my balcony and reading in the sunshine. Here are five books I’m looking forward to this spring–which of these are in your TBR pile?

North of Happy by Adi Alsaid
Harlequin Teen

Carlos Portillo has always led a privileged and sheltered life. A dual citizen of Mexico and the US, he lives in Mexico City with his wealthy family where he attends an elite international school. His friends and peers-fellow rich kids-have plans to attend college somewhere in the US or Europe and someday take over their parents’ businesses. Always a rule follower and a parent pleaser, Carlos is more than happy to tread the well-worn path in front of him. He has always loved food and cooking, but his parents see it as just a hobby.

When his older brother, Felix–who has dropped out of college to live a life of travel–is tragically killed, Carlos begins hearing his brother’s voice, giving him advice and pushing him to rebel against his father’s plan for him. Worrying about his mental health, but knowing the voice is right, Carlos runs away to the US and manages to secure a job with his favorite celebrity chef. As he works to improve his skills in the kitchen and pursue his dream, he begins to fall for his boss’s daughter–a fact that could end his career before it begins. Finally living for himself, Carlos must decide what’s most important to him and where his true path really lies.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

Desi Lee knows how carburetors work. She learned CPR at the age of five. As a high school senior, she has never missed a day of school and has never had a B in her entire life. She’s for sure going to Stanford. But—she’s never had a boyfriend. In fact, she’s a disaster in romance, a clumsy, stammering humiliation-magnet whose botched attempts at flirting have become legendary with her friends. So when the hottest human specimen to have ever lived walks into her life one day, Desi decides to tackle her flirting failures with the same zest she’s applied to everything else in her life. She finds her answer in the Korean dramas her father has been obsessively watching for years—where the hapless heroine always seems to end up in the arms of her true love by episode ten. It’s a simple formula, and Desi is a quick study. Armed with her “K Drama Rules for True Love,” Desi goes after the moody, elusive artist Luca Drakos—and boat rescues, love triangles, and fake car crashes ensue. But when the fun and games turn to true feels, Desi finds out that real love is about way more than just drama.

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
Simon Pulse

A laugh-out-loud, heartfelt YA romantic comedy, told in alternating perspectives, about two Indian-American teens whose parents have arranged for them to be married.

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist #1)by Renee Ahdieh
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor’s favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family’s standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she’s quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she’s ever known.

Bone Witch (Bone Witch #1) by Rin Chupeco
Sourcebooks Fire

When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.