FrighteninglyGoodRead · Middle Grade · YA

The Last of the Frighteningly Good Reads

Happy Halloween!

My favorite of all holidays is today! Dressing up (Edna Mode, thank you very much) and festive candy eating is the only thing that will distract me from the end of Frighteningly Good Reads 2018. I have had a wonderful month reading spooky, scary and suspenseful stories and I hope you all have found one or two that have tickled your terror needs.

I do have two more I finished just yesterday that I would like to highlight. The first is a middle grade book Small Spaces and the second is The Bone Witch. Both were excellent reads and were a perfect way to wrap up FGR!

smallspacesSmall Spaces is a middle grade story by Katherine Arden. In it, a girl names Olivia (Ollie) meets a distraught woman tearfully attempting to toss a book into the water. Like any good and dedicated reader she bravely saves the book. When her class goes on a field trip to a local farm she is surprised to see the woman from the edge of the water there – and she is the farm’s owner! Soon terrifying things begin to happen. Is it the book? Or the woman?

Small Spaces may be for middle grade readers but I thoroughly enjoyed every page. Ollie was a complicated character and watching her befriend two classmates, Coco and Brian, while running for her life was great scary fun. The author kept the tension going long enough for it to be delightfully spooky and never boring or repetitive, a difficult feat! I loved it.

The Bone Witch by Rain Chupeco is the first in a YA trilogy. In this story, Tea (pronounced Tee-ah) accidentally raises her brother from the dead. After doing so she is labelled a bone witch and is carried off to meet the King and be placed in school that will train her to become an Asha – more specifically – a Dark Asha. Since Tea and only one other Dark Asha exist, it is their sole responsibility to raise and order back to the dead eternal creatures of the enemy.

This book, as is true with many YA series, is set in a complicated world. The first third of the book is full of wonderful other-world explanations and adventures and while the middle third of the book lags, it more than makes up for it in the ending. Now, as is also true of most YA series, I feel the strong need to read the next two books. I foresee a complicated romance for young Tea as well as an adventure fraught with peril!

And so completes Frightening Good Reads 2018! Next Month is Non-Fiction November and I am thrilled to be participating. You can look forward to seeing a number of new non-fiction books here.


Tell me, please!

What do you prefer, spooky or non-fiction?

Fantasy · fiction · FrighteninglyGoodRead · YA

FGR #8: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

I am going to confess something. I didn’t want to read this book. I believe that I purchased it two years ago and started it only to quit three chapters in and shelf the book. If not for a combination of Frighteningly Good Reads and my 2018 Resolutions I probably would never have forced myself to read what turned out to be a phenomenal story.

scythe
A figure in a hooded red cape holds a scythe looking like a futuristic grim reaper.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman takes place in a world without hunger, disease, general misery or even death. Unfortunately, without natural death the world’s population must be controlled. Scythes are the only ones with the ability to take a life and Citra and Rowan have just been selected as apprentice Scythes. Now, only one can rise to the rank of a full Scythe. Citra and Rowan must master the “art” of death. As they do so they learn that living in a perfect world comes with a price.

Initially, I didn’t really find any of the main characters appealing. Which is why I put the book away for so long. However, as the story unfolded I began to comprehend the apathy to which these people must be acclimated in a world where there is no reason to worry, no purpose in hard work and the ability to die only to be whisked off to a revival center and brought back to life. If there is no threat of old age then do you lose the thirst and hunger of youth? Certainly when Citra and Rowan are faced with a permanent cessation of their lives their personalities change dramatically into characters that I grew to love and genuinely cared about.

And there in lies the magic of this story. At first glance I believed this was another annoying futuristic tale and the cautionary story of a world without death. Instead, I became slowly aware along with the characters of the importance of death in giving life value and purpose. As I watched Citra and Rowan struggle with that realization and the lengths they would go to in order to continue to live, even if that meant taking lives, I found myself completed immersed in the story. And now, as so frequently happens, a book I thought I would enjoy has become a series I cannot wait to continue!


Tell me, please!

Have you ever started a series determined to hate it only to be won over?

YA

The Absolutely True Diary of Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

absolutely trueThis book was absolutely nothing like what I expected. Perhaps because the cover reminded me of The Indian in the Cupboard I erroneously assumed the story was a middle grade title. Or the inclusion of cartoons lead me to believe this would be a more mature Captain Underpants. Either way, I started the book ready to enjoy a fish out of water tale sprinkled with hilarity. Instead, I found myself reading a raw and undeniably wrenching story of the experiences of a boy growing up on a Reservation.

Junior is a budding cartoonist who is living (or is waiting to die, depending on your point of view) on the Spokane reservation. Sensing that his life would be better if he got off the reservation, he starts attending a neighboring all white school. This experience gives Junior a new perspective that allows him to reflect on his life in a way that would have been impossible if he had stayed on the reservation. Slowly he sees how staying on the reservation will alter his life. But, if he leaves the reservation, who is he out in the world at large?

The author, Sherman Alexie, himself grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. This essential fact dramatically altered the lens through which I read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Without knowing that the author was Native American and had based his writings on his own first hand experience I fear I would have chalked this story up to researched cliches. Instead, it felt like a powerful indictment of the reservation system and highlights the devastating effect alcohol has had on the Native American population.

This book is described as “heartbreaking, funny and beautifully written.” All of those things are true. But this book does more that entertain. It shows, elegantly, that Native Americans on reservations are not unlike other marginalized populations around the world. The more we see a similarity in someone different than ourselves, the more we can work together for change. This book felt vital and important. I only regret that I had it sitting there, waiting, for so long.


Tell me, please!

Have you ever misjudged a book by its cover only to be pleasantly surprised?


Fantasy · series · YA

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

thepiratekingEveryone knows that women aboard pirate ships are unlucky. When I first saw Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller I assumed, erroneously, that the daughter from the title would be another left-behind maiden yearning to travel the sea with her father. I could not have been more wrong.

Seventeen year old Alosa has been raised by her father aboard his ship. She is deadly, demanding, strong, and smart. She has her own ship, a crew of mostly women to which she is deeply dedicated. But, when ordered by the Pirate King to locate a piece of a legendary map she doesn’t balk in getting herself captured aboard a rival’s ship. The only thing between Alosa and successfully completing her mission is Riden, the clever and attractive first mate aboard the infiltrated vessel.

It took me a few chapters to be truly drawn into this story. The capture is exhilarating but then there is a fairly boring cycle of being fake captured, escaping, and being re-captured that quickly grew stale. Still, like most series books, the action increased dramatically in the second half of the story and the culminating chapters left me excited for the next book.

Most of all, Alosa is a wonderful character. Strong, both physically and mentally, she has been raised by her father to be a weapon. As a Princess and a Pirate she must follow his command but she longs for equal independence. Further complicating her life is the legacy gifted to her by her mother. The real question is whether Riden will be her equal in this journey or just another complication? My hopes are pinned on him letting her continue to kick ass. All I know is that I cannot wait to see more of Alosa’s story.


Tell me, please!

What makes a strong female character real to you?


YA

Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills

Reading Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills made me immensely happy. So many YA books, especially those set in high school, are stuck in the doldrums. Foolish Hearts lends vulnerability and nuances to the characters that could have been manipulated in a negative and depressing manner. Instead, each characters concerns and tribulations became platforms for growth. All teenagers are being pushed through the eye of the self-discovery storm. For most of us, we reflect back later on high school and (using the empathy and sympathy we didn’t possess at the time) see people through another lens. Foolish Hearts allows the characters to do this in the moment and I loved them for it.

foolish_heartsFoolish Hearts is told from the perspective of Claudia. She is a senior in a private all-girls school and her only friend is her childhood bestie Zoe who attends the local public school. Since she has a best friend locked in, Claudia has spent the last three years of high school unengaged from her peers. But, when she accidentally eavesdrops on the epic breakup of Paige and Iris, the penultimate couple at her school, she finds herself in hot water with the difficult Iris. After Claudia and Iris are thrown together for a class production Claudia is forced to engage with people and issues and expands her horizons.

While there is a boy in the story and a romantic sub-plot, I wouldn’t consider this book a romance story. Instead, it is a reflection on life. I love this book because the author does an excellent job of reminding the readers that everyone’s life is different under the surface they project or the image you percieve. Everyone has something that you don’t but that means you have something others are lacking. I find this is a poignant reminder for everyone but most pressingly important for children and teens. I appreciated that this book made this point in a positive way and through the shy but insightful Claudia.


Tell me, please!

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts?


YA

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

The first book I read by Becky Albertalli was The Upside of Unrequited Love. It was included in an OwlCrate and I didn’t want to read it. I was coming out of a YA funk so I put it on my bookshelf and left it there for about six months. One night insomnia struck and I cracked it open and consumed it whole. I love that book and, for me, this is the guidepost by which all Albertalli’s shall be measured. Sadly, I lent it to a friend who appears to be keeping it.

simonWhen Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda was published I purchased it and shelved it because I was keeping it for a special time. When I read that she had new books I knew it was safe to use up my lone Albertalli and so Simon went with me to Canada. And, happily, Albertalli has done it for me again.

For most of us, the teenage years are filled with turmoil because we are swimming in hormone-infused water (made from concentrate). It is the deep end of drama. There are venti sized vendettas and crushes as wide as the Grand Canyon. For Simon, his family is extra and his friends are steady so his life is as stable as it can be for a high schooler. Except he has a crush on a boy that he has been e-mailing. And now there is blackmail afoot.

If this book had been published five to ten years ago it would be the disclosure of Simon’s crush that would push the narrative of this book. But, and thank the good Lord for this, it is 2018 and things are finally different. So, while Simon is not sure how to disclose his sexual identity it is Blue, the pen name for the boy he has been writing, that is the impetus for change that Simon resists.

I do not typically enjoy books set in high school. Those were not my favorite years and they remain that way for so many young people. In many books high school characters seem self centered because this is the age where you are beginning to really form your own identity. But a great author takes you through the moment of self-discovery that is so poignant in high school with characters who are sandwiched between self discovery and social pressure. Watching Simon navigate those decisions reminded me that no one really knows what they are doing, especially in high school but watching people develop, change and challenge themselves is a privilege.


Tell me, please!

Does the film hold up to the book?

Are there settings you avoid because they remind you of painful moments in life?


fiction · YA

Trollhunters by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus

Trollhunters is written by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus. Most people have heard of Guillermo del Toro either for Pan’s Labyrinth or the more recent Academy Award willing film, The Shape of Water. Less have heard of his co-author Daniel Kraus who, along with del Toro co-authored The Shape of Water. But, before The Shape of Water they wrote Trollhunters. Together, their blend of everyday life overlapped with the unusual and monsterous always capture my attention.

trollhunterTrollhunters begins during The Milk Carton Epidemic of 1969. Almost 200 children have gone missing without a trace all summer and brothers Jack and Jim Sturgess know they are supposed to be in before dark. But on September 21, 1969 it was Jack’s thirteenth birthday and they lost track of time. In a single moment, Jack was gone. Jim tried to find him but all he found was a monster.

45 years later Jim is all grown up with a son his own – James Sturgess Jr. Jim is fifteen, in love with Claire and desperately trying not to fail math. He has spent his life coming home before dark to a house with ten locks and security redundancies that would shame an embassy. But one night, in the safety of his own home, Jim is pulled under his bed by two massive furred paws.

Trollhunters is a fast paced novel that straddles the position somewhere between middle grade and YA. If you have seen Pan’s Labyrinth or The Shape of Water then you are familiar with del Toro and Kraus’ unique perspective on some darker themes. If not, I can safely tell you that there are numerous ways to describe the intestines and innards of trolls and the authors used them all.

In fact, the language in this book is flowery and has an almost tangible quality. Even when describing revolting scenes the word selection is elevated in a way that paints a vivid picture of the grotesque. These revolting creatures are described in such intimate details that you are left with a clear, albeit oozing, picture.

The only hiccup in this whole book for me was one of the main character’s name. ARRRGH!!! is a troll that is aiding humans. I’m not sure about your reading style but when things are in all caps I tend to shout them out in my head. So, I was lulled along by the gorgeous language superimposed on clashing action and then I kept shouting “ARRRGH!!!” like a small child. Perhaps this was a purposeful interruption by the authors but it broke the pace of the story for me in an awkward manner.

Still, this is a tiny issue with a completely enjoyable book. I was surprised to find Jim’s best friend Tub and his crush Claire to be well formed and delightful characters in their own way. I am always excited by the best-friend character. The trolls that come to human’s aid are more unique than expected in a genre that occasionally feels full.

trollhuntershowThere is also a Netflix show based on the book which I watched binge-style for the whole first season. There are some differences – aren’t there always? – but overall I enjoyed the show and the book for completely different reasons and recommend them for a fun early-high school and onward reader.

 

 

 

 


Tell me, please!

Have you read this book or others by these authors? What are your thoughts?


YA

When Dimple Met Rishi and From Twinkle with Love by Sandy Menon

These two books are in the same genre of lovely YA summer reads as the Love books by Jenna Evans Welch. Both When Dimple Met Rishi and From Twinkle with Love are written by a new author, Sandha Menon, who weaves her own Indian culture and traditions through these delightful young adult stories. I read When Dimple met Rishi in the Spring to fulfill a 2018 reading challenge and I have been looking forward since then to reading From Twinkle with Love. I was elated to find it nestled inside my June OwlCrate.

When Dimple Met Rishi is an arranged marriage meet cute. Dimple and Rishi have both grown up in traditional Indian homes with the idea of arranged marriage as the norm. Rishi is a hopeless romantic ready to marry the woman his parents choose for him because he wants to believe in something larger than himself and his own desires. Dimple cannot get away from her parents quickly enough and their antiquated notions of “the perfect Indian husband.” When both Dimple and Rishi meet at the same summer program – through some machinations of their parents – Rishi is elated to finally begin his grown up life with Dimple. Dimple is furious to find this guy interrupting the program of her dreams. But, when opposites attract and clash both Dimple and Rishi will learn and grow with each other.

From Twinkle with Love is the story of Twinkle Mehra, a high school student, aspiring filmmaker and shy-girl. Recently, Twinkle’s best friend has found a new group of popular girls leaving Twinkle alone. All she has to keep her company is her unrequited long term crush on Neil Roy. But, when she is asked by Neil’s twin bother Sahil to film a movie for the school’s festival she sees this as a dual opportunity – get closer to Neil and flex her filming skills. While filming, Twinkle’s life becomes astronomically more complicated. Anonymous love notes, feelings for Sahil, fights with her best friends – all of these things are too much for the former wallflower.

On the surface Sandhya Menon’s stories feature strong young women and romance. But bolstering the simplistic sweetness of these stories are elements of culture, family struggles, life as a young adult and the struggle to live your dream. Ms. Menon expertly introduces Indian language and culture through the story without pandering or over simplifying the elements. I appreciated that the Indian family in Dimple’s story was vastly different than Twinkle’s even though they had many of the same root beliefs. These are not boilerplate Indian people or two dimensional characters but fully fleshed out and real individuals with stories of their own. Even arranged marriage is presented in a positive way and as an option for Dimple.

I will admit, I was initially thrown by the main character’s names – Dimple and Twinkle. In fact, there were parts of both books where I didn’t like Dimple and Twinkle at all. But, as a woman, I am quite confident that there were moments in my young adulthood where no one liked me. In the end, Ms. Menon has created characters that felt real to me and lifelike characters occasionally do things that are unlikeable because they are growing and changing. I think my largest problem with both books was the romance.

Which brings me to my argument: these books aren’t really romances. Instead, I argue that these are stories of two people falling a little more in love with themselves, their future, their families and their culture. Assuredly, there was some kissing but I wouldn’t recommend this book if you are looking for heart thumping romance alone. Still, in the end, it was these non-romantic elements that resonated with me and made me fall in love with these books.


Tell me, please!

Have you read these books? What were your thoughts?


Fantasy · YA

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

“We are all children of blood and bone.”

bloodandboneTomi Adeyemi’s debut novel Children of Blood and Bone came into my hands riding a tidal wave of hype. It has been fraught with comparisons bent on convincing readers that this book is similar to something else they enjoyed. Truthfully, you will see some themes that are familiar to other books in the fantasy realm. But, as a whole, this book is uniquely its own and as I closed the back cover the word that sprang to mind was “necessary.”

So many book lovers speak of Harry Potter with reverence. Some readers love the series because they were able to step outside of their lives and revel in the idea of magic. Others found kindred spirits in the fantastic set of characters. For me, Harry Potter, was and always will be essential because it created a whole generation of readers and launched an entire genre of books.

To be clear, Children of Blood and Bone may contain magic and a fascinatingly unique culture and history but it is absolutely not Harry Potter. It is very well written with just a small slump in the middle. It has characters that you will love, characters that will question your initial allegiance and ones you will abhor. There are struggles against tyranny, the rising to the promise of one’s fate, and personal sacrifice. But where Harry Potter inspired hope and allowed escapism, this book ignites questions and spurns investigation. We want to travel to Hogwarts to experience the magic. I want to go to Orisha to fight.

That is because Children of Blood and Bone is predicated on the notion that a whole class of people is less simply because of abilities obtained at birth. The King sees them as a threat and therefore they must be suppressed. At the onset of the story the suppression is in full swing. The older generation of magi has been killed en mass and the children are referred to as “maggots” and taxed heavily until they or their families end up in the stocks.

Many reviews have remarked on the representation in this book. Representation is essential. And this book is fantastic in that regard. However, I believe that to say this book is good or important solely because of representation is an overly simplistic viewpoint. Rather, this is an essential book on what happens when one group seeks to dominate another. How do you live your life when you are afraid everyday? And what happens when you have an opportunity to overcome that fear and fight back?

The Children of Blood and Bone is a well written multi-viewpoint fantasy story. I have characters that I have already let into my heart. And after the heart-stopping ending I can hardly wait to read more. But more than anything else, I cannot wait to talk about this book and the issues it confronts.


Tell me, please!

What are your thoughts? What issues do you see in representation in books?


Romantic · YA

Love & Gelato and Love & Luck by Jenna Evans Welch

 

Recently I read a review of Love & Luck by Jenna Evans Welch on Beauty and the Bean Boots. The book sounded too adorable to pass up so I requested it from my lovely library along with Welch’s first book Love & Gelato and quickly consumed them both. These sweet YA books are perfect for summer light reading!

Love & Gelato features Lina who finds herself in Florence following her mother’s dying wish that she get to know her father. All she wants to do is go back home to her best friend Addie and the world she used to know. After all, why should she want to get to know someone who has been absent for the past 16 years? But then she is given the journal her Mom kept during her year in Italy which opens with the words “I made the wrong choice.” What choice did Lina’s mother make?

Love & Luck is Addie’s story and we join her for her domineering aunt’s wedding in Ireland.  After the wedding Addie is supposed to join Lina in Italy but finds herself on a strange road trip with her brother Ian and his surprising friend Rowan. Guiding them through Emerald Isle is a book Addie found written as a Irish guidebook for the brokenhearted. But why is Addie brokenhearted? And how will she ever mend her relationship with her brother Ian?

I adored Lina. She is strong and kind and is clearly working through the unfathomable loss of her Mother. The Addie we meet in Gelato through Lina is very different from the Addie we see at the beginning of Luck. Something has happened to Addie.  Something she is hiding from everyone in her life that has caused the rift between herself and Ian. Both Lina and Addie are at that fragile stage of growing up when they must face the serious curveball life can throw your way.

In both books the author vividly takes the reader on a physical journey through Italy and Ireland while simultaneously having us accompany Lina and Addie on an emotional journey. I appreciated that there was a book in both stories that helped to guide and inspire both girls. And, any romantic intrigues were secondary to the main story of personal growth.

Between the two I would have said I preferred Gelato until I got to the last quarter of Love when we finally find out what happened to Addie and why Ian is being so closed off and judgmental towards her. In the end both books are uplifting, fun adventures and sweet YA stories that are just perfect for delightful summer reading.


Tell me, please!

Have you read these books? Or, do you have different kinds of books you read in the Summer?