Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Beckoning Shadow by Katharyn Blair

Unrated | 480 pages | Paranormal YA | Katherine Tegen Books | Release Date: 07/02/2019

The Beckoning Shadow feels like a unicorn of a book in the world of YA because it's paranormal and...get is standalone.

Vesper Montgomery was your average caramel frappuccino-drinking-carefree, high school cheerleader--until she discovers she is an Oddity-- a  human with superhuman powers that have to be kept hidden unless she wants to risk the wrath of the mysterious Wardens. Vesper has the rare ability to control and pull out people's fears. When she loses control of her powers she becomes a danger to her family and decides to run.

Then one night in San Francisco Vesper stumbles upon a crew of Oddities who are putting their powers to use in a series of underground cage matches for the chance to undo one moment from their lives. Vesper wants in. This former high school cheerleader ditches the pom-poms for a pair of boxing gloves and the cage match of her life.

I jumped at a chance to review this book because I've always wondered why the popularity of MMA fighting in New Adult has never leaked over to YA since most fighters start young.

To win the competition Vesper teams up with Sam, a young human MMA fighter who knows more about the world of Oddities that he should.  There was just the right amount of stakes and plot to keep this book going but then Blair introduces a murder mystery which was interesting but a lot of the reveals were like ..."Hey, remember that guy? He's really THAT GUY" it fell a little flat.

On one level I like that this book is genre-savvy, it sort of breaks the fourth wall to poke fun at the "let's start a rebellion" trope you see in most YA. The stakes aren't about changing the world order-- but about the characters having a chance to overcome their personal shortcomings. The different types of power are unique and I thought it was really creative how Vesper uses her power to pull out fears to fight.

On the other hand, I also think the world-building was revealed in such a strange way. Like we don't get a feel of how Oddieties fit into the normal (as they call it Baseline) world. Vesper mentions that everyone has heard the stories of Oddities, yet no humans ever talk about it. Its's like...what stories? It gets ironed out in a  pretty big exposition dump, but I think trying to construct the world distracted me until it was fully explained.

With that said I'm ready for paranormal YA to have a big comeback. Blair has solid pacing and writes vivid action scenes. This gave me some 2010's YA feels, I'm curious to see what this author does next.

I think the title of this book does it a serious disservice. It just sounds like every other YA Fantasy. I couldn't remember the title of this book for anything. The characters have a strong relationship with the poem Invictus... why couldn't that be the title?

Thursday, September 12, 2019

What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan

Rating: ★★★ | 12 Hours 2 Min | Crime/Suspense | Harper Audio | Release Date: 12/01/2015

I am one of those people who really got into true crime after listening to the Serial podcast. I like how true crime gives you a snapshot of people's lives and how chance encounters and small moments can change lives forever.

Because I dive so much into true crime I don't generally gravitate towards crime fiction however, I was in the mood for some plotty fiction with momentum and maybe some plot twists--- crime fiction seemed to fit the bill and  What She Knew was one of the top audiobooks on Scribd. It's ominous background and san-serif text instantly told me it was suspense/crime fiction.

Set in the small city of Bristol, England What She Knew flips POV between Rachel, a recently divorced single mother and Detective Inspector Clemo; their paths collide when Rachel's eight-year-old son is abducted in broad daylight. Rachel has an emotional outburst during a press conference that makes the public suspicious of her. As the case hits the national spotlight both Clemo and Rachel endure public outrage, dark family secrets and lies that threaten to crumble the investigation.

 Because of the first person POV it feels in the beginning like there is some unreliable narrator stuff happening or that there was going to be a major plot twist, but honestly most of this book felt like a procedural with the kind of bonkers out of left-field reveals you'd find in a 2010's episode of Law and Order SVU --that had nothing to really do with the main crime.

Audiobook narrators Penelope Rawlins and Dugald Bruce-Lockhart are a dynamic pair. They really work the silences in the text and give emotional moments room to breathe. They capture the hopelessness of the situation as everyone scrambles to find the missing child. Rawlins narration mimics Rachel's fragility as she endures harsh accusations and is publicly shamed for losing her own child. Bruce-Lockhart gets that tough authoritative tone as Inspector Clemo, but I really liked his no-nonsense lilting portrayal of the Scottish police chief.

I like reading books that take place in other countries and it was a nice change of pace to read a British book that didn't take place in London. I think my only real barrier to entry was trying to understand how their police system works.

When I finished this book I thought it was a little outlandish and that the portrayal of the media and police was over the top...then I listened to True Crime Obsessed talk about The Disappearance of Madeline McCann  which just had a lot of rampant and harmful speculation, so I wonder if Gilly McMillian was inspired by the case at all ?

Suspenseful and a little head scratchy this is a book that will keep you on your toes, but doesn't quite hit the landing.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

★★★+.5 | 12 hours 32 minutes | Adult SFF | Harper Audio | Audio Release Date: 11/10/2009
In this 1990 Sci-Fiction/Fantasy debut novelist Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett tell a satirical story about the end of the world. I went in knowing this book was about an angel and a demon teaming up to stop armageddon, but Good Omens also involves a book of prophecies, a witch hunter, the four horsemen of the apocalypse 11-year-old antichrist.

I have a vague memory of a teacher talking about this book when I was 9th grade but I'd kind of forgotten about it. I was reading a lot of Left Behind books at that time so I can't imagine what I would have thought about this tongue and cheek interpretation of the end days. The only reason I picked it up this year is so I could check out the Amazon Prime show. A show that I was Streisand Effected into knowing about. I had no idea this show was even a thing until the controversy.

I found this book to be imaginative and kind of weird and the humor felt very British. There are a lot of plots threaded into the story and I feel like some of it may have gone over my head. I’m sure this is a book like this holds up well to re-reading, In fact, I started the show and the show is essentially a scene by scene remake of the book and things kept clicking while I watched the show that I hadn’t noticed when reading.

 The audiobook narrator Martin Jarvis does such a good job bringing the material to life and his voice work is outstanding. I don't know if I'm just biased but his Crowley sounded eerily like David Tennant. His female voices left a lot to be desired but everything else he did was so excellent. That said, this book relies a lot on footnotes and parentheticals in a way that didn't always come through as cleanly in the audio version.

Like I said, the show appears to very much be a line by line adaptation (with some added bits here and there) so I don't think you'd be missing anything if you just dived right into the show. Either way, I'm glad I checked this out.

There are a lot of people in YA who pushback against the idea of YA in the 90s being historical. And guys, this book is set in 1990 and it read extremely historical. It's not just about the pop culture references. The way in which computers, young people and technology are talked about made it feel very much of a past time.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Ordinary Girls by Blair Thornburgh

Unrated | 368 pages | Contemporary YA | Harper Teen | Release Date: 06/04/2019
This book is made for every teenager who loves Jane Austen and the Brontë Sisters. Ordinary Girls is a send-up of Sense and Sensibility (you know....that Austen book our blog is named after and neither of us have read). It tells the story of the two totally opposite Blatchley sisters and their mother as they trt to save their old Victorian house.

Fifteen-year-old Plum Blatchtly is the most sensible of the group, she's a dreamy introvert who often finds herself taking charge in her unconventional family and develops a sweet romance with the roguish boy from down the street. As a character, you can tell she idolizes the women of Austen's time and her speech and cadence reflect that.

The Blatchley women are quirky, free-spirited and not above a humorous situation. From furniture-less dinner parties, broken water pipes and small fires they endure quite a year.

Ordinary Girls is a well-meaning and earnest YA novel made for fans of the Jane Austen aesthetic.

Check out the audiobook review at AudioFile Magazine

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Out of the Pocket By Bill Konigsberg

 Unrated |  Contemporary |  Dutton Juvenile | Release Date: 9/18/2008
Bill Konigsberg is my favorite type of YA author, the kind who has been writing for years but suddenly gets a big highly marketed title with tons of buzz (usually because of the big push in diversity) from the book influencer world.

Konigsberg's sixth book, The Music Of What Happens, is on a ton of most anticipated YA  list for 2019 and Out of The Pocket was his debut all the way back in 2008.

Bobby Framingham is the star quarterback of his Southern California high school football team. He is most at home with this team on the field and trying to find the best way to come out to his friends and family without losing the community he holds close. After being publically outed, Bobby is thrust in the national spotlight.  Now out of his comfort zone, he has to be the best quarterback he can be, hold his team together and support his father after he is given a life-changing diagnosis.

Out of The Pocket feels like a microcosm of teen life in the late 2000s, I was in high school during the time this book takes place and for me, this book was like a blast from the past. It's this strange time where we were using landlines and watching cable TV while at the same time using cell phones and Google. I could go on and on about the references to the pop culture like Avril Lavigne and Borat. But I think what this book really reminded me of was how 'casual homophobia' was just apart of our culture.

2008 was just ten years ago but back then Don't Ask Don't Tell and DOMA was still in effect, gay marriage was not nationally legalized and MTV had to run PSAs telling people not to use gay as a slur.

I really wonder what Gen Z would think of millennials after reading this?  I mean I remember being in high school and hearing people say everything was "gay" and a teacher making a joke about how kids ran around calling each other "homos".

I think if teen me would have picked this up I would have likened it to Chris Crutcher's novels. Crutcher wrote sports fiction which tackled race, violence, and class. This book enthralled me even though I know absolutely nothing about sports. Konigsberg has a slightly lighter touch
but if you enjoy this Chris Crutcher may be a great read-a-like. I can't guarantee his books age well but I think they are worth a try.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

You'd Be Mine by Erin Hahn

Rating: Unrated | 304 pages | Contemporary/Romance | Macmillian | Release Date: 4/2/2019
I've seen this book recommended as Nashville meets A Star Is Born which I don't think is fair because this book was so much better than A Star is Born. Like, this book was what I wanted A Star Is Born to be. I will say music is my pop culture blind spot. I'm not a music person but I'm fascinated by media about music.

Annie Mathers' is a bright, talented and humble country girl raised by two country music icons whose lives came to a tragic end six years ago. Now she's is ready to head out on her own and tour with the bad boy of country music; Clay Coolidge. Clay and Annie become a sensation on tour with enough chemistry and talent to sell out stadiums.

What the world doesn't know is that Clay Coolidge's swaggering party frat boy persona is just an act that Jefferson Daniels wears to cover the pain of losing his brother and grandfather. The more Jefferson embraces "Clay" the more he sinks into depression and alcoholism and when Annie and her band join his tour for the summer, they pull him out of his siloed world and remind him what it is to be young, talented and free. 

The characters in this book all have a lot of fun together, they form a bond only performers (and theater kids) can understand. Clay and Annie's bands both have fiddlers who have an instant spark and passionate summer romance.

I liked that Annie is presented as Christian and it's not used as shorthand for virtue or to foil to Clay's sinner image. Religion is a genuine part of her life and something she leans on to deal with her past.

But here is why I ultimately think the romance in this book works:

There is a grovel. 

A grovel is something romance novel readers used to describe the moment when the (typically) hero in the romance has to come back and make a change to win back the heroine. Clay is a teen alcoholic and his illness takes him to some dark places that he has to pull himself out of to earn his HEA with Annie.

Because a majority of the characters are 18-20 this read a lot like a New Adult romance. Hahn has a great ability to build and break relationships, cultivate drama and in a way I associate with New Adult. I wonder if Hahn ever considered this route? I see that she is also a former Twilight fanfiction writer, many of whom have found great success in the NA genre.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

I Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina Forest

Rating: ★★★★ | 320 pages | Contemporary | Roaring Brook Press | Release Date: 6/4/2019

When 17-year-old Chloe Pierce gets the opportunity to audition for her dream ballet school she’ll have to break her overly cautious mother’s rules for the first time to audition. Her carefully planned day trip is quickly derailed into an unexpected weeklong road trip, when her troublemaking neighbor Eli Greene--and his dog Geezer--tag along for the ride.

I read this book while on vacation and it was the perfect YA vacation read. Forest has crafted a solid debut about discovery, friendship and confidence-building in a fun rom-com package. In our 19 to 2019 I said this looked like the kind of book teen me would have enjoyed and it totally was!

What I like most about this book is that it features an all-Black and brown cast but there are no “on page” moments of racial trauma or microaggressions. There are a couple moments in the book where I thought it was going to go there but I found myself relieved when it didn’t. I see microaggressions pop up a lot in YA stories that are not about racial trauma. At times it feels like they are included as a “teachable” moment for white readers. I think those narratives are important but sometimes I feel like teens of color need a break. Now, there is a brief moment where Chloe notices her body is developing differently than the other white ballerinas in the book, but it felt more observational than aggressive.

This book is also perfect for a younger YA audience who may want to read a romance that has kissing but no mentions of sex.

I Wanna Be Where You Are is the perfect coming of age YA summer read about how sometimes the journey is just as important as the destination. Can’t wait to see what Forest does next!


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