Book Review: Away Running

Away RunningTitle: Away Running
Author: David Wright & Luc Bouchard
Genres:  Contemporary
Pages: 297
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Review Copy: Copy from publisher
Availability: Available Now

Summary: Matt and Free discover the dark side of the City of Light.

Neither Matt nor Free ever imagined they would be playing American football in Paris, especially with a team from the poverty-stricken suburb called Villeneuve. Nothing in Matt’s privileged Montreal background has prepared him for the racial tension he encounters. And Free just wants to play football and forget what’s going on back home in Texas.

Review: Before I went to Paris I had a conversation with a writer friend about the Black ex-patriots who lived in Paris during the Harlem Renaissance because they felt that Black Americans were more accepted there than in the US. My friend asked, “so there is no racism in Paris?” Both my traveling buddy and I responded at the same time, “There is, but it’s different, especially towards Black Americans.” We went on to explain the racial tension that existed toward North Africans and other immigrants who live in Paris and how, for some reason, Black Americans were treated differently. So, when I received the email from David Wright about reviewing his book, I got excited because a) it was set in Paris and I was excited to relive through words a city I come to fall in love with, and b) the theme of the novel explored the very topic of my conversation with my friend.

I remember watching with horror and dismay at all the nights of riots that occurred in Paris after the three boys were electrocuted, which is the event Away Running is based on. Touched by the event, Wright and Bouchard chose to tell the story of the three boys and the rising tensions that led to the riots through the eyes of Freeman (Free) Behanzin and Mathieu (Matt) Dumas. Both young men are football stars in their hometowns on the brink of playing college ball. They also feel weighted down by family pressures and see their time in Paris as an opportunity to vacation while spending time doing something they loved. What they receive is an education that changes them greatly.

Instead of starting with the tragic event that causes the riots, Wright and Bouchard have us spend time getting to know the three boys in their friendship with Free and Matt. At the beginning, I wasn’t too fond of Matt because his privilege, even though he went to join the Villeneuve team specifically, was flat out annoying. His complete ignorance towards race and people of color experience life was expected because I knew that was part of his growth, however his inner thoughts towards Free really got on my nerves. He would judge/make fun of the way Free would talk in English and in French. He was making the same judgements towards Free that irritated him when other people would judge his Villeneuve friends. Though, Free did eventually call him on it, but I felt there was a missed opportunity for Matt to reflect on what Free said to him. I feel like some moments within Matt’s head as he grows to understand race and privilege through everything he experiences would have endeared me towards him more. Free also had to explore his own prejudice through the novel as he had preconceived notions about Arabs that bordered on Islamaphobia. His comes from his own personal experience with his father being deployed in Iraq, however, he does come to the realization that he is wrong and changes his views. It is through a touching moment with a friend’s father that really changes Freeman.

I like books that don’t insult the reader, books that don’t sugar coat the ugliness of life, and I’m glad that Wright and Bouchard chose to show the reality of life for North Africans living in Paris. When people think of Paris, they think of the beautiful City of Lights (and it is) but there are also dark parts to it that if you focus on just glittering city, you can miss what the true city is like. I remember taking note of some of the darker parts, the riots actually on my mind, so this novel brought all of those thoughts back. Wright and Bouchard did not hold back in showing the ugly racism that exists and how there are basically two sides to Paris. Both Matt and Free, because of their privilege (Free is there initially through a student exchange program and lives with a host family) live in the neighborhoods of Paris that we see in movies with the quaint architecture and beautiful streets. Villeneuve is the opposite of that, and the way the residents are treated is deplorable. Wright and Bouchard could have chosen to soften the blow, but they didn’t. The racist experiences Matt and Free witness (and experience), including the riots, are brutal and raw. The authors respect their readers, as they respect their characters, by giving us what life is really like in the City of Lights.

Recommendation: If you love football and or love Paris, this is a good book for you.

Share

Book Review: The Rose & The Dagger

The Rose and the DaggerTitle: The Rose & The Dagger
Author: Renee Ahdieh
Genres:  Fantasy
Pages: 420
Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Review Copy: It was a Teacher Appreciation Gift!
Availability: Available Now

Summary: I am surrounded on all sides by a desert. A guest, in a prison of sand and sun. My family is here. And I do not know whom I can trust.

In a land on the brink of war, Shahrzad has been torn from the love of her husband Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan. She once believed him a monster, but his secrets revealed a man tormented by guilt and a powerful curse—one that might keep them apart forever. Reunited with her family, who have taken refuge with enemies of Khalid, and Tariq, her childhood sweetheart, she should be happy. But Tariq now commands forces set on destroying Khalid’s empire. Shahrzad is almost a prisoner caught between loyalties to people she loves. But she refuses to be a pawn and devises a plan.

While her father, Jahandar, continues to play with magical forces he doesn’t yet understand, Shahrzad tries to uncover powers that may lie dormant within her. With the help of a tattered old carpet and a tempestuous but sage young man, Shahrzad will attempt to break the curse and reunite with her one true love.

Review: I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the sequel to Ahdieh’s amazing debut, The Wrath & the Dawn. I feel in love with that novel, inhaling her words, getting lost in the world building and the characters, specifically Shahrzad and Khalid. I loved their individual character arcs in the story and their arc as a couple. When I finished the first book, I was so ready to continue with Shahrzad’s & Khalid’s story that I had high expectations for The Rose & The Dagger. However, I feel a bit let down by it and I’m not entirely too sure why.

To me, the novel started out really slow. It begins just days after the ending of Wrath & the Dawn, with Shahrzad in the Badawi camp with Tariq and Rahim after fleeing the castle in Rey. Along the way, the trio picked up Shahrzad’s father who is in a coma-like state after using such intense magic. She meets Omar al-Sadiq, the Sheikh of the Badawi people and reunites with her Uncle Reza, who is both relieved to see her and upset at her survival at the same time.  I felt like the urgency of the situation was misplaced, focusing instead on Tariq & Shahrzad’s relationship instead of the tension that should come as Tariq prepares for war. Thankfully, this lack of tension doesn’t last long and the story really starts to move when Shahrzad figures out how to make the carpet fly and begins to put her plan into motion. However, some of the plan seems to be too easy, but I knew that it would fall apart at some point as I was only halfway through the book, and fall apart her plan did, but not in the way that one would expect, which I enjoyed. I like being surprised in a novel and there were some surprises in the sequel that I I liked and some that broke my heart.

Ahdieh introduces new characters in the sequel, such as Shahrzad’s sister Irsa, and we get to know characters that we were only briefly introduced to in the first novel. She expands on the magic that seemed to be only hinted at in Wrath & the Dawn. And I think this is where my “meh” feelings toward the novel stem from. Shahrzad learns a bit more about her magical abilities, but I feel Ahdieh could have spent more time exploring Shahrzad’s lessons with new magical character Artan, but the development of her magical talents appears off screen. I would have loved how the development of Shahrzad’s magic would have helped shaped who she is and added more depth to her character growth. Instead, there is no real payoff to the magical element in the story and after one point Shahrzad never mentions her magic again; it doesn’t even register as part of her identity.

At I think that is what is at the crux with my ambivalence to the novel.  I feel like the novel wrapped up to quickly and that plot points that seemed interesting really went no where. I feel like there was so much more to explore with the world that Ahdieh created and that this series really could have been a trilogy, or maybe even more (though I did learn there are 3 novellas, so there is that). I really wanted more out of this novel, and I was left wanting. Hopefully Ahdieh will return to Shahrzad’s world sometime in the future.

Recommendation: If you are dying to know what happens with Shahrzad and Khalid, then buy it now. If you are willing to wait a bit, then get it soon.

Share

Review: Rebel of the Sands

rebelsandsTitle: Rebel of the Sands
Author: Alwyn Hamilton
Genres:  Science Fiction/Fantasy
Pages: 314
Publisher: Penguin
Review Copy: My local library
Availability: Available Now

Summary: She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands.

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from.

Destined to wind up “wed or dead,” Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk. When she meets Jin, a mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner, in a shooting contest, she figures he’s the perfect escape route. But in all her years spent dreaming of leaving home, she never imagined she’d gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan’s army, with a fugitive who’s wanted for treason. And she’d never have predicted she’d fall in love with him…or that he’d help her unlock the powerful truth of who she really is. — Copy image and summary via Goodreads

Review: I’m going to admit that when I first read Hamilton’s debut novel, I was so involved with the story that I read it in a day. However, there was something about the novel that didn’t sit right with me and I couldn’t figure out what it was, so I decided to read the novel again. I figured that I read it too quickly and might have missed some parts of the story, hence why I was feeling a bit incomplete. I couldn’t figure out why I had this, “I loved it but…” feeling. I enjoyed the main character, Amani, and her male counterpart, Jin; I enjoyed the adventure the two went on and enjoyed the reveal of Amani’s gift. So, why was I hesitant about this novel?

Then it hit me. I don’t feel like this novel is all that original. Hamilton’s novel hits all the checkmarks of all the current trend in female driven hero’s journey novels (outsider girl – check, desires to live a different life – check, meets handsome rogue stranger – check, leaves in a hurry/goes on the run – check, falls in love, but doesn’t act on it – check, discovers secret power that rogue stranger knew about but she didn’t – check, joins a rebellion – check, survives first fight to live on for sequel – check). The “difference” here is that Amani’s world was inspired by Arabian mythology and culture and the way that Hamilton incorporated the mythology and culture is what bothered me.

One theme that rubbed me the wrong way was Hamilton’s portrayal of Amani’s society’s attitude towards women. In order for Amani to stand out, to be original, the oppression that Amani experienced from her society was a bit over the top. Throughout the story Amani states how Miraji men believe women are lacking in intellect and treat them as nothing but property. This is a real stereotype attributed to Arabian culture and I was bothered by the fact that Hamilton chose to include this stereotype in her novel as a reason for Amani to rebel. I would have like a more compelling reason for Amani’s desire to leave her home instead of relying on a harmful stereotype of a culture.

I believe that Hamilton was really trying to be original with the world of her novel, and I will say that she did an excellent job of world building to make Amani’s world believable. In the story, we learn of more of the outside world other than Miraji and Hamilton creates a unique and interesting mythology with the First Beings and the Destroyer of Worlds. The rules of magic that she created made sense to the story. Her characters are well written and she also passes the Bechdel Test where Amani develops a friendship with another girl and they have conversations that don’t revolve around men. To see her develop a healthy female friendship in a hero’s journey was actually very refreshing.

Recommendation: Overall, I am filled with mixed emotions for “Rebel of the Sands”. There was much that I enjoyed from the novel and some parts of it bothered me. I found that when the story ended, I wasn’t quite ready to leave Amani and Jin and am looking forward to seeing where their next journey takes them.

Share

Review: This is Where It Ends

This Is Where It EndsTitle: This is Where It Ends
Author: Marieke Nijkamp
Genres:  Contemporary, Realistic
Pages: 282
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Review Copy: My local library
Availability: Available Now

Summary:
10:00 a.m.
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama’s high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

 

10:02 a.m.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03
The auditorium doors won’t open.

10:05
Someone starts shooting.

Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

Review: Make no mistake, Marieke Nijkamp’s debut novel is a tough read. It is a read that, on my first reading, I sped through in one night because I wanted to know what was going to happen next. I was so caught up in the fight for survival for the characters that I couldn’t put the book down. My heart broke many times during that first read, and I even cried at the end (in fact, I cried at the end a second time). On my second read, while I knew what was coming, I still felt the horrors of the shooting in my gut. This is Where It Ends is the type of novel that will stay with you for a long time after; it’s one of those books where you allow the lives of the characters to linger with you for a few days before you move onto the next book.

This is Where It Ends is told through the eyes four characters who all, in some way, have a relationship with the shooter. Autumn is the shooter’s younger sister, Sylvia (Sylv) is Autumn’s girlfriend whom the shooter despises, Tomas is Sylv’s twin brother who has an antagonistic relationship with the shooter, and Claire is the shooter’s ex-girlfriend.  Autumn and Sylvia are in the school auditorium when Tyler, the shooter, begins his rampage. Tomas and Claire are outside in various locations of the school, hearing the gunshots, and both, in their own way, work to try to save the lives of their classmates and family. The story is a mix of present events and flashbacks as each of the characters reflect on their relationship with Tyler and wonder what they could have done to prevent his current actions, well except for Tomas. All he wants to do is protect his sister, and once he realizes who the shooter is, his focus is on getting people out safely and finding a way to end Tyler’s rampage.

The use of the four narratives worked well in creating realistic portrayal of such an horrific event and was an excellent device to create a full picture of Tyler. While he is clearly the antagonist of this story who betrays the love of his sister and former girlfriend, by seeing him through the eyes of people who knew and loved (and even hated) him, we get a picture of a troubled young man instead of a “mustache twirling” villain. We are also able to have moments of “levity” as we spend time with Claire and Tomas who are outside trying to help. Their terror and fear is different than Autumn’s and Sylvia’s in that Claire & Tomas are focusing their energy trying to help. This positive energy gives the reader a sense of purpose instead of being stuck in a state of terror if the reader were to be with Autumn and Sylv the entire time, because the way Nijkamp writes the auditorium scenes, it is truly terrifying. Tyler shoots without discrimination, without remorse, and characters like that leave a chill down a person’s back.

Marieke Nijkamp’s novel is timely as it allows us, those of us who have only experienced a shooting through the lens of the media, to feel the terror that shooting victims experience, the fear family members face as they wait to hear about the safety of their loved ones, and the betrayal that friends and family members of the shooter feel, for they are victims too. No one is safe in Nijkamp’s novel and the death toll is quite high, but I mourned each and every character’s death. I felt the pain Autumn, Sylv, Tomas and Claire felt and their fear. This is Where It Ends is a moving novel and a reflection of the turbulent times we are living in.

Recommendation: Get it now!

Share

Book Review: On the Edge of Gone

goneTitle: On the Edge of Gone
Author: Corinne Duyvis
Genres:  Speculative Fiction, Dystopian
Pages: 456
Publisher: Amulet Books
Review Copy: ARC from publisher
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: January 29, 2035. That’s the day the comet is scheduled to hit—the big one.

Denise and her mother and sister, Iris, have been assigned to a temporary shelter outside their hometown of Amsterdam to wait out the blast, but Iris is nowhere to be found, and at the rate Denise’s drug-addicted mother is going, they’ll never reach the shelter in time.

A last-minute meeting leads them to something better than a temporary shelter: a generation ship, scheduled to leave Earth behind to colonize new worlds after the comet hits. But everyone on the ship has been chosen because of their usefulness. Denise is autistic and fears that she’ll never be allowed to stay. Can she obtain a spot before the ship takes flight? What about her mother and sister?

When the future of the human race is at stake, whose lives matter most?

Review: I was talking to a co-worker about The Walking Dead and why he doesn’t watch it, and he remarked that he hates to read/see stories that has our worlds in ruins, that it hurts him, It was in that conversation I realized just why I was so sad about Corinne Duyvis’s new novel. It’s not that the novel was bad (because it wasn’t) or that it wasn’t a page turner (because it was) but what made me so sad was that it was the story of the destruction of our world, and having that knowledge made me really sad. In books like Hunger Games, where the dystopian future is man made, you root for the hero to overcome systematic oppression. In On the Edge of Gone, the disaster is a natural one and our hero, Denise, is just trying to survive in a brand new dangerous world, and that is what made me so sad. Which is, in a sense, a bit ironic because I’ve always wanted a book that dealt with the disaster in the moment, not years later, which I got, but it also broke me.

Let’s look at the first line shall we, “The first time my future vanished was July 19, 2034.”  Talk about a punch to the gut from the start; and the novel never lets up. It opens with Denise’s reaction to the announcement about the comet, and then fast-forwards to the day of, specifically 30 minutes before the comet is supposed to hit. Denise and her mother have not left the house yet, and it will take them about 45 minutes to get to the shelter. Logically, I knew that Iris would survive the blast, however, Duyvis writes Denise so well that I felt her panic, and frustration at her mother’s lack of urgency to get to safety. I wanted to scream at her mother as well. In fact, there were many times I was frustrated with a number of characters, but when your world is ending how rational is one really going to act? When it comes to matters of survival, won’t we often look out for our own?

And that is the main question that Denise faces throughout the book as she tries to get a spot on the generation ship for not just herself, but for her mother and her sister. She struggles with trying to help others survive, yet look out for her family as well. I love that Duyvis explores Denise’s guilt and turmoil over the desire to save her family versus her desire to help others because the inner conflict made the novel very true. Denise is a caring person, evident in her love of cats so much that she works at a animal shelter, but yet is learning how to deal with others in the worst scenario possible. Denise’s world, er everyone’s world, has been shattered and Denise must work a little harder, due to her autism, to adjust to life after the comet.  Denise is fully aware of how she can be perceived (which also hurt when Duyvis didn’t hold back on the micro aggressions Denise faced) yet she makes an active effort to adjust her behavior to be accepted on board the generation ship. Denise uses this opportunity to prove, not only to everyone else, but mainly to herself what she is truly capable of.  And in the end, well, I don’t want to give it away, but Denise does find that her future vanished as she knew it on July 19, 2034, but she got a new one by learning more about herself, and her ability to survive, than she ever thought possible.

Recommendation: Buy it now!

P.S. While we here at Rich in Color focus on characters of color, I’m glad that Duyvis wrote a character who, in addition to being bi-racial, is autistic. I’ve had, and currently have autistic students and love that there is a book where they can see themselves reflected in a novel, where they get to be the hero. Many people think there is only one type of way a person with autism interacts with the world (a micro aggression that Duyvis brings into the book) and those of us who work with students who have autism know that they are completely different and unique in how they perceive the world. Denise is a perfect example of the broadness of the autism spectrum and how a person with autism’s mind works.

Share

Book Review: The Love that Split the World

The Love that Split the WorldTitle: The Love that Split the World
Author: Emily Henry
Genres:  Magical Realism
Pages: 390
Publisher: Razorbill
Review Copy: I should start owning stock in Barnes & Noble
Availability: Available Now

Summary: Natalie Cleary must risk her future and leap blindly into a vast unknown for the chance to build a new world with the boy she loves.

Natalie’s last summer in her small Kentucky hometown is off to a magical start… until she starts seeing the “wrong things.” They’re just momentary glimpses at first—her front door is red instead of its usual green, there’s a pre-school where the garden store should be. But then her whole town disappears for hours, fading away into rolling hills and grazing buffalo, and Nat knows something isn’t right.

That’s when she gets a visit from the kind but mysterious apparition she calls “Grandmother,” who tells her: “You have three months to save him.” The next night, under the stadium lights of the high school football field, she meets a beautiful boy named Beau, and it’s as if time just stops and nothing exists. Nothing, except Natalie and Beau.

Review: Emily Henry’s debut novel is being marketed as a mix between Friday Night Lights and The Time Traveler’s Wife, and while I haven’t read Friday Night Lights, I did fall in love with The Time Traveler’s Wife so I figured I would most likely enjoy this novel. And I was right. I greatly enjoyed Henry’s novel and found myself lost in the story, trying to discover the mystery of who was Grandmother.

While this novel is being marketed as a romance, I feel like it was more a novel of discovering the self. The story opens with Natalie graduating high school and preparing to leave for Brown University in the fall. She is preparing for her goodbyes from family and friends, yet is also looking forward to beginning a new life. This time of change, for many who decide to go away for school, is a time where you reflect on your life, specifically your high school years, and try to anticipate what your college life will be like. Natalie is going through these emotions, but with an added pressure by her “Grandmother” to save him. Natalie doesn’t know who “he” is, but also learns that “Grandmother” the supernatural being who has been with her, sharing beautiful parables with her throughout her life will also be leaving her. And with that knowledge, Natalie sets out to discover who “Grandmother” really is and what role the old lady plays in her life. Natalie has to look inward, at her past, her childhood, and even look at her heritage, in order to find her answers. To me, this search for self was much more powerful and interesting than the romance. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the romance, but Natalie’s search for understanding herself, understanding her own mind and beginning to take ownership of her ability to manipulate time really connected with me.

Natalie was already on a path of claiming herself and her heritage, she is American Indian and adopted by a White couple, by deciding to forge her own path. Henry did an excellent job portraying the personal tensions that come from when a child is a different heritage from their parents, and she even mentions the complexities of American Indian adoption. I loved that Henry did not pretend that Natalie’s heritage didn’t effect her outlook on life, but that it colored how she viewed her world.  About a year prior to the start of the novel, Natalie has experienced an identity shift where she decides to be true to herself and to stop trying to fit in to a concept of who she should be. She has quit dance and has become more outspoken about many social issues. I think by having Natalie already think about her role in the world and already be on the journey of discovering the self, what she experiences, the growth she undergoes through the novel, helps the reader understand the choice she makes at the end.

One part about this novel I do want to mention is the parables that Grandmother shares with Natalie. Henry did a great job of presenting different types of parables from different American Indian nations and even includes a Biblical parable. Like any elder, the stories Grandmother shares with Natalie not only teach her about different cultures, but also provide lessons and insights into Natalie’s situation, helping her solve the mystery of who Grandmother is and how Natalie needs to save him. Well, not all the parables add to the mystery, sometimes a story is just a story that elders tell to their children, and that is what really endeared me to many of the tories. In her acknowledgements, Henry gave credit to the nation’s stories that she used and it was clear she did proper research.

Recommendation: Overall, I found Henry’s debut very enjoyable and got lost in the story. If you are a fan of time bending romance, this is the book for you.

Share