Tag Archive | YA

Book Review–The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Lee

Buy The Epic Crush of Genie Lo here

5/5*

Pub Aug 2017

 

I’m very late to the party on this book, and I wish I’d read it before now. I *need* a sequel, STAT.

TLDR–LOVED this book. Full on considering re-reading it right away loved it. Couldn’t go to sleep until I finished it so I didn’t get much sleep and now have a book hangover loved it. Put down writing my book to finish this one loved it. Like, really, really, really loved it.

Genie Lo is a Chinese American teen in the Bay Area of California (near San Francisco) whose biggest concern is getting into an Ivy League college…until Quentin shows up to tell her he’s the Monkey King and she’s his staff, reincarnated as a human. She thinks he’s out of his mind, and rightfully tells him to go away. Until a demon shows up, and all of this Monkey and Staff thing starts to sound a little more plausible.

The story uses Chinese mythology to fuel the magic, and it’s nice to see a break from Western mythos. To be fair, though, for me Chinese mythology is the next most familiar thing after Western because of living in Singapore for seven years and participating in Chinese culture.

Genie is a great, relateable character. She really just wants to live her life, be a good friend to her bff Yunie, and get into a good college. She’s frustrated by her Chosen One-ness, especially when it starts to interfere with her schooling, her friends, and her family. For adult readers, it will feel familiar to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, down to the snappy dialogue.

Maybe he thought I’d stay quiet in front of my mother for the sake of decorum. That a boy’s good name was more important than a girl’s safety. If so, he was dead effin’ wrong.

and

“My true name,” he said, “…is SUN WUKONG.”

A cold wind passed through the open window, rustling my loose papers like tumbleweed.

“I have no idea who that is,” I said.

Quentin was still trying to cement his “look at me being serious” face. It took him a few seconds to realize I wasn’t flipping out over whoever he was.

“The Sun Wukong,” he said scooping the air with his fingers. “Sun Wukong the Monkey King.”

“I said, I don’t know who that is.”

His jaw dropped. Thankfully his teeth were still normal-size.

“You’re Chinese and you don’t know me?” he sputtered. “That’s like an American child not knowing who Batman is!”

“You’re Chinese Batman?”

“No! I’m stronger than Batman, and more important, like–like. Tian na, how do you not know who I am?”

I didn’t know why he expected me to recognize him. He couldn’t have been a big-time actor or singer from overseas. I never followed mainland pop culture, but a lot of other people at school did; word would have gotten around if we had a celebrity in our midst.

Plus that was a weird stage name. Monkey King? Was that what passed for sexy among the kids these days?

Quentin, for his part, is a great foil. He imparts knowledge, but not in a boring exposition-y way. But he’s also fallible, and a bit of a douche at times. I like that he’s not perfect, that he sometimes (maybe more than sometimes) complicates Genie’s life like crazy.

There are two gods hanging around as secondary characters. One is Guanyin, who achieved enlightenment, but turned her back on it to help humanity. The other is Erlang Shen, the nephew of the king of the gods, The Jade Emperor. They are often..helpful, but not in the ways that Genie hopes. For one, neither is going to directly interfere to help catch the ~100 or so demons running around the Bay Area.

The non-celestial-being secondary characters are well fleshed out–we understand, more or less, why her parents broke up and what sort of relationship they have now, what Genie’s BFF’s hopes and dreams are and how their friendship works.

The pacing is solid, the setting is well described (I do live in the Bay Area, so take that one with a grain of salt), and I think the book has broad appeal. The prose sparkles.

Seriously. Go read it. You won’t regret it.

Book recommendation

I’ll be posting a review of this soon, but I’m just popping in to say that if you like fantasy or YA, you really need to be reading The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee. The magic system is grounded in Chinese mythology, but because Genie is more or less ignorant of it, we learn what’s important as she learns. Genie’s voice is hilarious–I’ve already sent quotes I highlighted to two different friends and I’m only a third of the way through the book.

“That doesn’t matter,” I hissed. “You are not entitled to my thoughts, emotions, or any other part of my life unless I say so. What you get from me is jack and squat, regardless of whether or not you understand. Ming bai le ma, dickhead?”

and later

“From what I could gather from you friend, however, the two of you are only doing this to gain access to a magical kingdom called Harvard.”

“Pfft. Yale would also suffice.”

 

Strong female protagonist who’s a badass for the win!

Best Books I Read in 2018

According to Goodreads, I’ve read one hundred fifty books this year.

Having read so many books, which were the best ones? The ones that stuck with me, that I want to grab you and tell you to read this book now. Here are ten, in no particular order.

Buy Hamilton’s Battalion here

This is an anthology of three novellas perfect for the Hamilton fan in your family. All the stories touch upon Alexander Hamilton, but they are not about him. Rather he serves to act as the connecting thread through three very different stories.

My favorite is Promised Land by Courtney Milan. It’s the story of Rachel, a woman serving in the continental army as a man and Nathan, who she tackles, thinking him a British spy. Reasonable, given his sympathies when they last spoke. Awkward, given that her husband thought she’d died of yellow fever. Rachel and Nathan are both great characters, and they have issues to work through (even putting aside the failed her own death thing) that make the story compelling.

Buy A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole here

A Princess in Theory is the first book in the Reluctant Royals series by Alyssa Cole. I couldn’t put this book down. Ledi and Thabiso’s story is part modern fairy-tale (a prince in disguise) part secret identity exposed (prince? Or fuckboy?) and a hell of a lot of fun. I love that the heroine is a scientist and completely dismissive of Prince Thabiso, who has never been treated that way before. When an unknown disease hits Thesolo, Thabiso convinces Ledi to go there with him and help find a cure. Oh, and they’ll need to pretend their childhood engagement is back on. (I love the fake relationship trope)

Book 2 in the series was great, and I’ve pre-ordered book 3 (April 2019) and the novella that will act as book 2.5 (Jan 2019).

Buy Rosemary and Rue here

So I’m actually going to use this space to encourage you to read the entire October Daye series–I devoured the first twelve books in only a few weeks. I will say that books 1 and 2 are good but a little shaky, but once they take off in book 3 they only get better and better. October Daye is a half-human half-fae in this urban fantasy series.

It opens with her on a case as a private detective–but instead of recovering the missing people, she is turned into a fish for fourteen years. That loss of time informs the rest of the series because her partner moved on, and her daughter wants nothing to do with her. She turns her back on the world of Fae until she’s dragged back into that life by a binding spell. The secondary characters are compelling, Toby is a flawed but awesome heroine who anchors the series. I love Seanan McGuire’s books almost without exception and I’m already dying for book thirteen.

Buy Puddin here

If you’ve read or seen Dumplin’ (and you SHOULD), you’ll want to read the sequel, Puddin’. If you haven’t, Puddin’ works as a solo book, but Dumplin’ is so good, I encourage you to read both. Puddin’ is the story of Millie Michalchuck, who has gone to fat camp every year, but is determined to go to a journalism camp this year instead. Callie Reyes is in line to be the next dance captain until she leads an act of vandalism, and Millie identifies her. Callie has to work with Millie at her uncle’s gym as her punishment. An unlikely friendship forms…until Callie finds out that Millie is the one who turned her in. Millie has to battle her mother and the world’s expectations of fat girls to follow her dreams. Julie Murphy is great.

Buy Me Talk Pretty One Day here

This is actually a recommendation for the audiobook rather than the physical book. While reading the essays can give you a giggle, it’s hearing David Sedaris’s voice with all of its inflections as he reads his work that will make you die of laughter. I recommend all of his books, and just finished Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls on audiobook about a month ago.

Buy Heretics Anonymous here

When an atheist is enrolled at a Catholic school, how will he ever make friends or fit in? How will he survive any day without his eyes rolling out of his head? This is a great YA novel about faith, falling in love, and growing up. Definitely worth a re-read.

Buy Big Fat Bitch here

I gave a rave review to Big Fat Bitch here, but my fast review is that this slow burn romance is a great take on Beauty and the Beast. I love that the “beast” in this book is the woman. But it’s so much more than a romance. If you like deeply complex narratives, love stories, and books making you cry, pick this one up.

Buy Media Darling here

I reviewed Media Darling here, but my fast pitch is that this f/f romance between a movie star and a media writer is possibly my favorite romance of the past year, period. Both Emerson and Haley are well written, three-dimensional characters. They make mistakes, make love, and while it’s hard fought, they get their happy ending.

Buy The Autumn Bride here

I got this book from The Ripped Bodice (indie romance bookstore–buy from them!) as a “blind date with a book.” I haven’t read much Regency era romance, but it was my blind date, so I decided to give it a chance. Abigail and her three closest friends are practically starving. So Abby does something she’d never imagined–she goes over some rooftops and breaks into a house, desperate to find something to buy–or eat. Instead she finds Lady Beatrice, an old woman being abused by her servants. Abigail and her friends save Lady Beatrice from her servants and are promptly adopted as her “nieces”–the Chance sisters.

When her real nephew, Max, returns from abroad, he’s certain that the girls are gold diggers at best. Sparks fly between him and Abigail, and the rest is history. Each of the four books (Autumn Bride, Winter Bride, Spring Bride, and Summer books) works as a stand alone, but they’re better read back to back as a series.

Buy Nate Expectations here

Nate Expectations is actually the third book in Tim Federles’ series about Nate, a small town boy who becomes a Broadway Actor. In this book, Nate’s show closes down and he has to go back to small town life. When he’s assigned a project on the book Great Expectations, he decides to put on a musical. The book centers around this. There’s great secondary characters and Nate continues on his journey to figuring out who he really is.

You don’t need to read the first two books in the series, but if this book appeals to you, read them first.

 

What was/were your favorite book/s of 2018

 

 

 

Review– Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry

Buy Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry

4/5*

Published August 2018

 

Michael’s family just moved for his dad’s work. Again. After his dad promised that the last move was going to be the final move. Worse, atheist Michael is being sent to Catholic School, with its stupid uniforms and religion and rules. He’s sure he’s not going to make any friends and will be trapped in his own perception of hell (assuming he believed in hell, which he doesn’t) for the next two years until he graduates. Then, in Theology class, a girl starts arguing with the nun over saints. Here, Michael realizes, is someone he can be friends with. He chases the girl down after class and Lucy invites Michael to sit with her friends.

Eventually he is asked to join their secret club, Heretics Anonymous. Lucy is actually Catholic, and believes in it, except for the part where women can’t hold any real power. She’d want to be a priest, but it will never happen, and she’s upset over it. Avi is Jewish and gay. Eden is the youngest in a very Catholic family, but is a practicing Celtic Reconstructionist Polytheist. Max is a Unitarian who loves cloaks and hates the dress code.

At first all H.A. does is sit around and discuss what’s wrong with the school. Then Michael suggests that they start doing things. Things like subverting the dress code by leaving pairs of neon shoelaces around the school. Or when they print a paper to counter the overly censored school paper.

But is H.A. making the school better? Or worse?

But one day Michael takes it all too far.

I thought that the book was really well written. The story was engaging with really good pacing. I didn’t realize how long I’d read for, and I immediately wanted to go back to reading it. I wish there was already a sequel! (On the other hand, no sequel because it’s perfect as it is.) It was highlighted in Buzzfeed’s YA books to read this summer and it’s easy to see why.

The evolution of Michael’s relationships, including his romance with Lucy were engaging and, again, well paced. Avi is distrustful of him at first, and doesn’t want Lucy to invite Michael to join H.A. Lucy falls for him, but slowly. Michael is closer to some members than others, and he never hangs out with Eden alone, for example, but she’s a friend in his circle. So it’s more realistic than if they were all the bestest buddies ever.

I don’t think the reader will find any shocking reveals, but even if they’re predictable, they’re well done.

I really liked that the characters were quite diverse. There are Latinas, Asians, and Black students, and it’s nice to see that their race is not a defining characteristic a la The Baby-Sitters Club where Jessi was Black and did ballet and that was all of her character development. Avi being gay is also not a defining characteristic but when it’s used, it’s used well.

Henry does a good job of presenting what’s wrong with that sort of school environment, including the abstinence assembly and the teacher’s morality clauses and how they’re enforced. But through Michael’s eyes, we also see a softening toward the church and things that are good within it. Both believers and non-believers can enjoy the book.

I thought that the “villain” of the story–Theresa, a soldier of Christ with no ability to see beyond that into the gray areas–is something of a cardboard cutout. I sort of get why she cares so much, but she’s still a flimsy villain. I wish she were a little more developed and three dimensional. Some of the secondary characters, like almost all of the teachers are also less defined than they could be.

Overall, a great book if you like realistic fiction and YA.

Book Review-Autoboyography by Christina Lauren

autoboyography

Buy Autoboyography by Christina Lauren

5/5*

Published September 2017

Tanner is a bisexual teenage boy. This was not a big deal in Palo Alto, California, where he used to live. But in Mormon Provo, Utah, it is his family’s secret. He’s made it to his final semester of senior year, and is looking to the future when he can leave Utah for a more liberal and accepting environment. Then he signs up for The Seminar–a challenge to write a book in a year–and everything changes. The Seminar’s TA is Sebastian Brother, a freshman at BYU, and the most famous graduate of The Seminar whose book has been sold and is being published very soon from the start of the book.

Sebastian is everything Tanner should stay away from–handsome, straight (right?), and Mormon. But when Fujita, The Seminar’s teacher assigns Sebastian to help Tanner, something begins to bloom between them. Something deep, and forbidden.

I loved this book. The language and descriptions are so beautiful that they just transport you to the world of the book.

As he faces the class from the front now, his eyes flash when they meet mine–for a tine flicker of a second, and then again, like a prism catching light, because he does a double take. That fraction of a heartbeat is long enough for him to register my immediate infatuation. Holy shit, how quickly he recognizes it. This must happen to him all the time–an adoring gaze from across the room–but to me, being so instantly infatuated is entirely foreign. Inside my chest, my lungs are wild animals, clawing at the cage.

Tanner is a very likeable character. Your hearts bleeds with him, and breaks for him, and rejoices with his because you become so emotionally invested in the book. He is still three dimensional with faults and blindspots, though. Sebastian is an equally engaging and complex character–to the point where I would buy the same book written from his point of view and I always scorn those as cheap cash grabs (coughGREYcough). He is the Bishop’s son, expected to leave for his mission right after his book tour, with the expectation that he’ll return in two years to finish up at BYU and get married to a woman and start having kids.

That Tanner’s mom is a former Mormon only adds depth to the story. She left after her parents kicked her sister out of the house for being gay. So when her son falls for a Mormon boy, her own wounds re-open and she is scared for him.

The author clearly researched Mormonism. I used to be close with a Mormon family, and even investigated joining the church and this feels very honest.

I feel like this is one of a growing trend of YA books that is creating queer love stories in a mainstream environment. Romance publishing isn’t that progressive unless you go to the smaller houses. Adult fiction in general doesn’t have a lot of queer representation. So congrats to YA for moving that ball forward. And this isn’t just a YA book–I think the adult market would emotionally engage with the book. (The person who recommended the book as well as I are both around 40, for example.)

I honestly struggle to find a fault or area of improvement for this book, so it’s getting a rare 5* review from me.

 

 

 

Review–Must Love Black by Kelly McClymer

Click here to buy Must Love Black

Rating 4/5*

Published January 2011

Philippa’s father just remarried, years after her mother died in a tragic car wreck. So she’s relieved to have a summer job to escape to. She’s to nanny ten year old twin girls at a mansion (turned spa) on the cliffs of Bar Harbor, Maine. The ad specified must love black, but that’s no problem for Philippa, who lives in black.

The mansion (spa) is not quite what it seems. Philippa is confined to the “domain” of the twins, with a rigorous schedule that includes mandatory “fun” time. However, fun must never bring them into contact with the guests. They almost never see the twins’ father, and when they do, it’s almost never without his business partner, Lady Buena Verde who seems intent on keeping the dad away from his daughter. More, did Philippa really see a ghost? Are the mysterious goings on a ghost or just Philippa’s overactive imagination, spurred on by the gothic novel her mother wrote?

McClymer uses snippets from Manor of Dark Dreams, the book by Philippa’s mother at the start of each chapter to help set the tone and act as meta commentary. It’s a device used to good advantage, and the snippets are tantalizing enough to want to read it (or you can read Jane Eyre, which Manor of Dark Dreams is clearly modeled after).

The characters are mostly well done. The twins are generally treated as a singular unit until the introduction of the pet goat, Misty Gale. I wish we could’ve seen more differentiation between the two. Mr. Pertweath evolves over the course of the book. Philippa’s character arc is more about bringing the girls and their father together than making her more interested in or sympathetic toward her father or interested in giving her stepmother a chance–but I think that’s pretty true to form for a sixteen year old.

The supernatural elements of the book are much more subtle than I had expected, given the flap copy, but are present. But if you are looking for a full blown ghost story, this isn’t it–the supernatural is more of a secondary or tertiary storyline.

It’s a fun, easy read for YA readers.

Book Review: Feed by Mira Grant

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 8.03.53 PMFeed by Mira Grant

Rating 4/5 stars

I have a weakness for dystopian YA fiction,and have since I read Pretties by Scott Westerfeld.  I have a new fondness for zombies thanks to The Walking Dead.  Dystopian YA Fiction WITH Zombies?  YES PLEASE!

Our story opens where countless stories have ended in the last twenty-six years: with an idiot–in this case, my brother Shaun–deciding it would be a good idea to go out and poke a zombie with a stick to see what happens.  As if we didn’t already know what happens when you mess with a zombie: The zombie turns around and bites you, and you become the thing you poked.  This isn’t a surprise.  It hasn’t been a surprise for more than twenty years, and if you want to be technical, it wasn’t a surprise then.

When the infected first appeared–heralded by screams that the dead were rising and judgment day was at hand–they behaved just like the horror movies had been telling us for decades that they would behave.  The only surprise was that this time it was really happening.

There was no warning before the outbreaks began.  One day, things were normal; the next, people who were supposedly dead were getting up and attacking anything that came into range.  This was upsetting for everyone involved, except for the infected, who were past being upset about that sort of thing.  The initial shock was followed by running and screaming, which eventually devolved into more infection and attacking , that being the way of things.  So what do we have now, in this enlightened age twenty-six years after the Rising?  We have idiots prodding zombies with sticks, which brings us full circle to my brother and why he probably won’t live a long and fulfilling life.

This has to be one of the better openings to a book I’ve run into recently.  I knew I probably wasn’t going to put my phone down until I was done with the book, if it lived up to those first few paragraphs.  It did, and I cheerfully spent the next week or so devouring all 3 “Newsflesh” novels and the 3 Newsflesh Novellas.

George (Georgia) Mason is our main narrator.  She’s a newsie (non fiction news and op/ed piece blogger).  Along with her brother Shaun Mason, an Irwin (named after the croc hunter Steve Irwin)-a blogger who takes risks for blog hits and ratings, and their friend Buffy (Fiction and all things Tech), they run the website After the End Times.  Buffy is actually Georgette (all derivations on George became the most popular names post zombies, in honor of George Romero, whose zombie movies were suddenly like instruction manuals) but in her own words “I’m cute, blonde, and living in a world of zombies.  What do you think I should call myself?”  She’s a Joss Whedon fangirl, and sighs that no one seems to get it.  (Side note, one of the Newsflesh novellas takes place at Comicon 2014 and features a booth of browncoats–referencing the fans of Whedon’s Firefly–Grant is obviously a fellow Whedonite.)

The zombie apocalypse began in 2014 (yay, something to look forward to this year!).  Two viruses (the cure for the common cold and the cure for cancer) combine and infect the world with what becomes known as Kellis-Amberlee. No one gets cancer, no one gets a cold, but everyone turns into a zombie after death.  While the trope of “we were trying to cure cancer and made monsters” is an old one, Newsflesh does it well.  I like the competing viruses setup, and over time we learn more and more about them and how we got from cures to zombies.  Grant is a student of virology and her knowledge shows in the material…and her spin on the trope comes off as plausible.

Zombies, however, aren’t the only danger in a post-Rising world.  The US (where the book is set) has reacted with what feels like a very realistic set of  “safety measures.”

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 9.29.42 PMsource

Some of the ways the US has given itself over to fear include…..

  • Lots of places have blood tests at the entryway.  All blood tests are rigged to send an automatic signal to the CDC if they come up positive, so that you can be rounded up/shot before you finish amplifying and go on a little terror spree.
  • Public schools require 3 blood tests per day.
  • The government has declared certain towns and the state of Alaska lost.  They are impossible to secure, so you don’t go there (or need permits to go there and understand you’re not likely to make it out alive).
  • There is a law-The Biological Mass Pet Ownership Restrictions–currently under debate to outlaw animals over 40 pounds (the minimum before you can be turned into a zombie–so horses, cows, moose, etc can become zombies, but the average housecat or chicken can’t).
  • Lots of houses have voice prints.  The Mason’s also requires that you read a non sequitor sentence on a pad to prove you still have higher cognitive function.  If you fail, the house’s system will incinerate you.
  • Clothes are washed in industrial grade bleach.  People are also hosed off with bleach.  George is contrary in that rather than accept the inevitable blonde hair due to the bleach, she keeps dyeing it brown.
  • The country is divided into biohazard zones.  Rules are different in each of thezones.
  • Apple has branched out into blood tests, and makes the most expensive/high end ones–because of course they have.

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 8.57.05 PMGeorge Cosplay suggestions by Shaylabauwf

George and Shaun are the adopted children of the Masons–originally a Berkley professor and his wife–who lost their child in the early days of the outbreak.  They were some of the earliest blog star to come out of the Rising.  Everything they’ve done since then, including adopting George and Shaun has been done with an eye toward ratings.

Numbers slipping?  Go for a field trip to a zoo.  That’ll get you right back to the top.

After the End Times is chosen to join with the Ryman Presidential Campaign as bloggers.  They’ll be trailblazing as bloggers haven’t ever been invited to be part of the process before..  Although bloggers have become the more reliable media post-rising, official things like campaigns have used the traditional print and video mediums.  Ryman (who comes off in the spirit of all young presidential hopefuls–the JFK/Obama/Clintons) has decided to invite them along as sponsored media.

Since the blogs and website are such an important part of the book, we see Grant talking about  things like blog comments, traffic, editing in a way that feels authentic to the characters and part of the narrative, rather than expository blather.  This is a refreshing change from authors who info dump in the most boring way possible.

Peter Ryman comes off as smooth.

Shaun settled with his back to the wall, affording him the best view of the room.  He may seem like an idiot, but in some ways, he’s the most careful of us all.  You can’t be an Irwin and not learn somet things about keeping your exits open.  If the zombies ever mob en masse again, he’ll be ready.  And filming.

Buffy took the seat nearest the light, where the cameras studded through her jewelry would get the best pickup shots.  her portables work on the principles defined during the big pre-Rising wireless boom; they transmit data to the server on a constant basis, allowing her to come back and later and edit at her leisure.  I once tried to figure out how many transmitter she actually had on her ,but wound up giving up and wandering to do something more productive like answering Shaun’s fan mail.

……

–His tone easy and assured “I’m not going to beat around the bush.  I read your public reports, you op-ed pieces, everything before I agreed to your application.  I know you’re smart and won’t forgive bullshit.  That doesn’t,” he held up a finger, “mean I’m going to be one hundred percent straight with you, because there are some things no reporter ever gets to be privy to.  Mostly having to do with my home life and my family, but still, there are no-go zones.”

The first major campaign covered is an event in a civic center, where Georgia notes that the press outnumber the public two to one because the public doesn’t really like things like political rallies with a bunch of strangers anymore.  Or being anywhere with a large group of people.  We see some of the various segments of the population like the woman who asks him about the Rapture–the zombie outbreak has inspired some to religious fanaticism.  Another asks about the death penalty (especially given that that death penalty is a little different post zombies).  Another brings up public health-because again, this is a different level of priority post-zombies.  And so forth.

However, we see exactly why the public is scared of this sort of event when a zombie outbreak happens post meeting.  None of the alarm systems function correctly, and George is almost taken out among others.  It’s the first in a series of sketchy events that eventually mean our intrepid reporters have a conspiracy to report upon….

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 9.43.55 PMMira Grant’s author picture, which is one of the better I’ve seen.

If you like your books smart, skeptical of the government, and full of zombies, you’ll enjoy Feed and the rest of the Newflesh books….