Noteworthy

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Noteworthy

by Riley Redgate

Jordan Sun is embarking on her junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts, hopeful that this will be her time: the year she finally gets cast in the school musical. But when her low Alto 2 voice gets her shut out for the third straight year—threatening her future at Kensington-Blaine and jeopardizing her college applications—she’s forced to consider nontraditional options.
In Jordan’s case, really nontraditional. A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshipped…revered…all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.

This book was the perfect read to go from Asian Heritage month to Pride month. The main character is first generation American and find out within this journey of this book that she’s bisexual.

I was in chorus for a good chunk of my early life. Like Jordan, I had a deep voice for a woman. I often sang tenor or alto 2. Like Jordan, it wasn’t a fan of my high school music teacher that kept trying to make me sing higher until my rang was somewhere in the middle but not as great. As you can imagine, that didn’t sit overly well with me when I had worked hard for my range. My love music sort of dried up by that time. So almost right away I related with Jordan’s situation. I admit this book did catch my interest a little, but due to my lack of interest in music drying up, it was only when I heard great reviews from others that I finally put in for this ARC and was approved rather quickly, to my joy.

I found the book really interesting. I think it did a good job with keeping the audience on their toes so that the first half of the book didn’t get boring despite the lack of action to the main plot. However, I did find most of the last part of the book predictable. I knew what relationship Jordan would end up with, how her identity would end up being revealed the way it was. If anything, I don’t believe in a real situation it would have taken so long. I’m really surprised that the teachers didn’t look into the kids trying out for the Sharps before they were let into the group to make sure they’re students at the school. For me, it was the smaller things within the story that was more unpredictable than the main plot lines. I found the rivalry between them and the Minuets was very unpredictable and could have been ugly if Jordan hinted about what she knew about their leader. I would have loved if she used the fact she was a girl that was beat up to throw said leader, but that was just my own opinion. It could have gotten ugly with her threatening to reveal that she knew that the leader was gay, but I think that the book did good by not doing this, which is harmful for any gay person, much more than being beat up. I know a lot of authors would have, I’m just happy that this author learned from her first book how to better write gay characters in a less harmful way. I would have loved for some sort of plot twist though that wasn’t so obvious to see coming.

The writing itself was pretty amazing. I found it really well done and almost lyrical in it’s own right. I didn’t find much to really critique because I was too busy highlighting some of the more beautiful phrases, the end of the book even more so than the rest. I loved the diverse cast of characters, how music could be found in the writing, and the friendship between the characters. The friendship in this book was probably my favourite part. I think it would have been even better without a relationship happening and just kept a good friendship mostly because it would have made this book stand out more than others. I’m still craving a book that chooses friendships over relationships, but alas this only gave me a little of it but added a relationship that I’m only so-so about. I’m also a bit so-so with her figuring out her sexuality but it not really mean anything. She could have not and nothing would have really changed the story. If anything, she could have bonded with the other gay character, but she doesn’t do that. It’s not a coming out story, or really anything with her being bi other than a small mention of it. I think it could have been used to help patch her relationship with her friend because she never lied about not being gay when she’s bi. Instead, she sort of just buries it too. To me, it just doesn’t make sense other than trying to put diversity into a story but not think anymore about it. It might be the only thing in the writing I don’t like, just because it feels sort of half done.

Do I recommend it? I do. I think that if you like music or don’t, there’s things about it that are good and great, some things that are a bit off, but it could have easily been fixed for the final version. This is just a reminder that this is an ARC. If they did fix it and you’ve read it, let me know and I’ll add a note about that. But all in all, I did enjoy this read. It was a really fun contemporary read.

Rating: 4 stars

Love and Rebelling

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Rebel Seoul

by Axie Oh

After a great war, the East Pacific is in ruins. In brutal Neo Seoul, where status comes from success in combat, ex-gang member Lee Jaewon is a talented pilot rising in the ranks of the academy. Abandoned as a kid in the slums of Old Seoul by his rebel father, Jaewon desires only to escape his past and prove himself a loyal soldier of the Neo State.

This book is often described as being based off Pacific Rim, which caught my interest. And let me say, it doesn’t disappoint. This book doesn’t read like a book. Part of me was surprised I wasn’t watching a movie or an anime. It takes place in a not so distant future where Korea has once again been divided into two parts, Neo State of Korea and Unified State of Korea. Jaewon is a student in a military school in Neo Seoul from Old Seoul on a scholarship. He is taking his placement test for where he’ll be placed for his mandatory military service. He’s placed in charge of Tera, a super solider part of a new study to help make the next weapon to win the war.

Trust me, this book doesn’t disappoint. There’s never a dull moment in this book. And I know, I say this with nearly every book I read, but this one has to be one of my favourite books I’ve read so far this year. It shows us what the future of what war could possibly be like and what future technology could entail. We watch as despite the future being bright, we see that Old Seoul is lacking in technology, made up of the poor, orphans, and gangs. It’s run by gangs and to survive at eight, Jaewon was forced into one. Old Seoul civilians are forced to leave Neo Seoul by midnight or face arrest. If these cracks weren’t bad enough, we learn how the leader of Neo Seoul is abusive to his son, you see that the system is cruel within the horrible man that runs it.

This book has things in it I’ve been craving in a book for ages and it does it well. We have strong female characters that support each other, soft boys that support each other that happen to be in a  gang, robots, the main character not being the ‘chosen one’ but connected to them. We have male friendships that are important and loving, boys who aren’t afraid to be seen soft and love their friends. We see girls unafraid of being close and weak despite being the strongest of the characters and most cunning.

 There were parts of the plot I was sure wouldn’t be resolved, but this book did come through with it. Some of it I was able to guess but other parts I was left just as surprised as they planned it to be. I wish it hadn’t ended in such a drop off. I could have used so much more, to see the aftermath a little more. It would have been nice to know for sure what happened next and what the future for Korea would be and the other Neo States around the world. But my guess is that the author wanted us to want more and wonder what would come next.

The writing was good. I felt like it was engaging and was vivid in its description of things. I could see the God Machines, I could imagine every character. The story goes fast and carries, it keeps things interesting and you aren’t left bored, even in the more domestic scenes. The only issue is that time passes fast and you aren’t sure how. Sometimes it feels like it was only a few hours or a day when weeks had gone by. I wish that was a little clearer, but that’s really it.

I highly recommend it. I’m still gushing over this story and making a pinterest aesthetic board for it. I need more of this book and to talk about it with more people. So read it, so we can both talk about it together.

Rating: 5 stars

Ahisma

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Ahimsa

by Supriya Kelkar

Lee & Low’s Tu Books has bought world rights for Supriya Kelkar’s Ahimsa, a middle grade historical novel about a privileged 10-year-old girl in 1942 India whose mother joins Gandhi’s freedom movement, and who takes up her mother’s work for freedom when her mother is jailed.

2017 is the year for Middle Grade books. This book is about Anjali, a ten year old growing up and seeing the world around her for what it truly is when her mother joins Gandhi’s freedom fighters. Her mother helps Anjali see the world more clearly while the two of them learn to see past their privilege and come into the world that they’ve been blind to due to it.

This book is important today because we’re yet again facing the idea one group of people see’s their lives as more important than others, in this case the British over the Indians, and the higher castes over the lower caste of Dalits (I won’t use the slur for them here, just google if you don’t know who they are). If this sounds familiar, we’re currently living through this idea still with the fact we still need to protest for the rights of people of color. Because sadly, when we don’t know our history, it simply repeats itself again and again. In this case, freedom fighters aren’t truly fighters, but protesters that use nonviolence in hopes to free India of the British control and bring rights to all castes, much like today with Black Lives Matter protests. It’s also important due to the fact this book also deals with the Muslims in India at the time that later created the country Pakistan. We see the tensions of them and the Hindi’s heating up, the two sides rioting and fighting and watch as Anjali has to come to terms with it herself when her and her best friend are on the two sides of the religious divide. Again, this is similar to today in much of the world where Muslim’s see backlash for their religion.

The writing in this book was really well done. It went at a good pace and not once felt boring or too slow. I found myself completely hooked on this book and stayed up into the early hours reading this because it was simply addicting and too hard to put down. I found that it read simply as a book, not just for middle grade readers, but for all, but made it very clear for those middle grade readers and without too much violence and other frightening things while staying true to the history.

I highly recommend this book for everyone. I know that I personally didn’t learn much about Indian history in school and what I do know I had learned myself from reading and documentaries I had seen. This book does a good job in sharing with us an important time in India’s history and makes it easier for all readers to understand while keeping all readers also hooked on the plot and story. However, I do warn that there is violence in this book. Sadly, history like this tends to be and to tell this story without it wouldn’t tell the full story despite the fact it also teaches us about “Ahimsa”. Violence isn’t always the answer, even if that’s the easiest option.

Rating: 5 stars

Wants of the Future

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Want

by Cindy Pon

Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits, protecting them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

Want takes place in a near future where only the poor can’t afford clean air. Zhou and his friends decide to change this by targeting the maker of suits that gives the rich fresh air to make them wake up to the issues with pollution and enviroment that the rich stopped caring about ages ago. This means getting into the rich crowd in order to find a way in.

This book is probably one of my favourites of this year so far. It’s really well written and is the first dystopian/near future book I’ve been able to read after spending a whole semester reading them for a a class. I wasn’t even sure if I was able to going to be able to simply because these books can be so exhausting. But this book hooked me in the first chapter. Because it’s different from most of these books I’ve read and it’s more than those typical books. This book is also a heist book. It’s a small change that can have the biggest impact, not about leading rebellions. Zhou is honestly the hero that I personally needed to get me back reading these books after reading so many Katniss’s, just repackaged.

I found it all in all exciting. I wasn’t bored during the times Zhou was ‘Jason’. When one thing fell, another thing picked up and you’re too distracted to realize part of the plot was done and had moved to the next. The last 10% of this book I couldn’t put down that I went to bed reading it and woke up and continued to read because I needed to know what happened after falling asleep reading it.

Not only does this book speak of environmental issues, which isn’t an issue that is heavily relied on for these books, but it deals also with the growing divide of the rich and poor populations, to how big the divide becomes, and the treatment of these people in epidemics.

There’s few things I disliked about this book. But one was honestly this: Victor. I wasn’t a fan. I know that he might look like a heart throb to many girls, but to me, he reminded me of someone who couldn’t grasp the idea of someone was gay and pinned after them, making both that girl and her girlfriend feel awkward. I had a few guys that did that to me in high school and who became hostile toward me because of it. So he simply left a bitter taste in my mouth.

I found the writing really well done other than a few editing errors such as us learning Daiyu’s name before she even gave it to Zhou and before he knew it. But I’m sure that it was cleared up in future edits. Other than that, the writing was flawless in my opinion. It was vibrant in being able to get you to see everything clearly due to description, which is huge in a book where most the tech is new or different than other futuristic stories. I honestly could see everything almost as if I was living it while reading, which made me super excited. I love details in books.

Now as for plot, there were only two things that were sort of left hanging to me. So skip this part if you don’t want spoilers: What happened to Daiyu’s friend and his family after they got sick? It might have been hinted that he died and it was covered up, but Daiyu had said that he was still getting treatment. So it’s not completely clear as to what happened. Next: Zhou’s mother’s family. They were brought up and recognized by Zhou for a reason, making it seem like they would become bigger parts of the story but they don’t come back up again. Luckily, Cindy has just recently announced that she’s currently travelling for research for the sequel to this. I’m hoping that this will give us more answers on these subjects.

I highly recommend this book. It’s fresh and exciting in a world that feels like all ideas have been hashed out already. The characters are well written and has honestly left me missing them. I even slowed down my progress of reading this book so I could continue to have them for a day longer. But my curiosity won out in the end.

Rating: 4.5 stars or 5 stars on goodreads

You Made It a Secret

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It’s Not Like It’s a Secret

by Misa Sugiura

Sixteen-year-old Sana Kiyohara has too many secrets. Some are small, like how it bothers her when her friends don’t invite her to parties. Some are big, like that fact that her father may be having an affair. And then there’s the one that she can barely even admit to herself—the one about how she might have a crush on her best friend.

This book is about Sana, her Japanese parents, and the big piles of lies that they have. Sana’s father takes a job in California, up rooting his family to move there. But Sana finds proof that the job wasn’t really the reason there. Her parents aren’t telling her something and she in turn starts her own collection of secrets – she’s gay. She is stealing things from her father as proof of said secret. But she starts keeping her being gay from everyone else, not counting the girl she’s dating.

Basically, this story starts out strong. It’s an adorable contemporary that I needed with gay girls. And it’s that. We follow Sana as she figures out her sexuality and falling for Jamie, a girl she fell for the moment she saw her. They flirt for half the book, finally kissing half way through. But it’s from there things that things get uncomfortable. Sana’s friends are supportive, but she still hides her relationship and flirts with Caleb, a ‘friend’. Up to this point, you see racism through Sana’s mother, who basically doesn’t trust anyone different from herself and says horrible things. Sana is luckily the voice of reason for the first part of the book, which is key when you have racist material in stories without the book being racist itself. Which is important, because this admits that minorities can be phobic too, which is very much true. This issue arises when Sana stops being the voice of reason and says some horrible things about Mexican Americans, in front of her Mexican American girlfriend, yet Jamie isn’t as upset about it as she truly deserved to be. Sana knows she saying horrible things, but she still does it. From there, things become messy. Jamie kisses her ex so Sana in turns kisses a guy and doesn’t tell him she’s gay. Basically, the second half of this book is a mess.

Like all books with romances, the idea is that they get together, break up, get back together in time for the end of the book. This was no different. But it was a mess and just felt like chaos. It was sweet what Sana did to get Jamie back, everything becomes clear, but it just fell flat for me.

As for the writing, I think it was done well for the most part. It felt like the mind of a teenager, which lets be honest is a mess just like the books ended up being. Teens say stupid things. They do stupid things. Which basically is the second half of this book. I enjoyed the first half more than anything and wish this book could have broken that familiar pattern, which is getting stiff and boring.

My recommendation on this one? Skip it until I can confirm if the racist material has been taken from the finished product, ad this was an ARC version.

Rating: 2 stars