Solo

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Solo

by Kwame AlexanderMary Rand Hess

Solo, a YA novel in poetic verse, tells the story of seventeen-year-old Blade Morrison, whose life is bombarded with scathing tabloids and a father struggling with just about every addiction under the sun—including a desperate desire to make a comeback. Haunted by memories of his mother and his family’s ruin, Blade’s only hope is in the forbidden love of his girlfriend. But when he discovers a deeply protected family secret, Blade sets out on a journey across the globe that will change everything he thought to be true.

This lovely, emotional story follows Blade Morrison, son of a famous rocker, as he leaves high school and is preparing for college. But everything he knows gets turned on it’s head all at once. He finds out he’s adopted after a fight with his sister over their father’s embarrassing antics, he finds out the girl he loves has been cheating on him after he gets her named inked in his skin. He goes on a journey to understand all of this by chasing after his birth mother who is in Ghana. In this journey he learns to forgive his father, learns that he can still love, and that the music he thought dead in him still is very much still alive.

This book is surprisingly unique with it’s story. It tells the story in prose and lyrics, leaving the experience even more beautiful and even more gripping. Blade is unhappy in his life of having lost his mother, having grown up with drug addict of a father, and he wishes simply to be normal. You can feel the pain of the character yourself, of someone who is on the cusp of change, one he thinks he understands only to learn he was completely wrong. It was simply a joy to read and get a better idea of the emotions Blade experiences. The lyrical feel is perfect with how this story is tied in to music so intensely. I don’t think the story would have been such an impactful read without it.

The plot was interesting and a new take in finding one’s self, in my opinion. It’s full of so many twists and turns that you don’t see half of them coming. You go into the story thinking you know what this story is about only for everything to get flipped on it’s head. And it did this well, never just letting one of those plots come up without just forgetting about them. It does leave some questions unanswered, but to me, it felt like it was part of life. Sometimes, you don’t get the answers you want, but it doesn’t mean its not important. Sometimes no answer is answer enough to get an idea of the possibilities. We see the pieces of Blade’s life that leads to this change, we don’t see the aftermath, but that’s okay. This story is about him finding who he really is, even if he doesn’t fully understand who that is fully. We don’t know what happens after Ghana. We leave the story in a heart breaking moment, but one that you know will change more than one character in this story due to the cruel reality of this world.

Do I recommend this? Yes. I think it’s such a brilliant read with such an unique way of telling it. It’s a quick read, one I did a lot quicker than I thought I would. In part, it’s because it’s such an addicting style and the emotions in it make you desperately want to know what happens next. I do warn ahead of time of some triggers: drug use, abusive relationships, implied rape, and death.

Rating: 4 stars 

 

The Tiger’s Watch

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The Tiger’s Watch 

by Julia Ember

Sixteen-year-old Tashi has spent their life training as a inhabitor, a soldier who spies and kills using a bonded animal. When the capital falls after a brutal siege, Tashi flees to a remote monastery to hide. But the invading army turns the monastery into a hospital, and Tashi catches the eye of Xian, the regiment’s fearless young commander.
Tashi spies on Xian’s every move. In front of his men, Xian seems dangerous, even sadistic, but Tashi discovers a more vulnerable side of the enemy commander—a side that draws them to Xian.
When their spying unveils that everything they’ve been taught is a lie, Tashi faces an impossible choice: save their country or the boy they’re growing to love. Though Tashi grapples with their decision, their volatile bonded tiger doesn’t question her allegiances. Katala slaughters Xian’s soldiers, leading the enemy to hunt her. But an inhabitor’s bond to their animal is for life—if Katala dies, so will Tashi.

We follow Tashi, a young inhabitor as they flee from a sudden outbreak of war, leaving their country in ruins. But Tashi and their friend Pharo must hide so that they aren’t caught and found out what they are by the invading army, inhabitor’s possessing a magic that the other country desperately wants. So they hide in among monks as one of the commanders takes a post at that monastery, taking Tashi as a servant. Tashi risks themselves as a very reluctant spy in hopes of finding information that might find out information they can use against them.

Not my best little summary, I admit, but this book is all levels of complicated that I didn’t really stand a chance to describe it without giving away too much or leaving out important elements. I will say of the books I’ve read by Julia Ember, this has to be my favourite one so far. This book has roots in Asian culture and reminds me strangely of Avatar the Last Airbender. Though there’s no bending of elements, the magic in this book and the idea of those who posses it giving up their lives to keep a balance in the world reminds me hands down of Avatar. Fans of the show would probably enjoy this book.

Tashi as a main character is really interesting. Their genderfluid (which made this my first full novel I’ve read with someone genderfluid and I seriously freaked out). They are brave in their own way, but sensitive, which makes some characters look down on them. That doesn’t change the fact their strong. They just aren’t the normal pig headed, rush into danger type of protagonist. They’re one of the few that put themselves and the ones they love first, not just the greater good. They’re forced to make a hard choice, but one that will help some but possibly hurt more. And it’s something they grapple with in a thoughtful manner. If I was in their position, I honestly don’t know what I would have done. It’s also diverse and gives us an interesting cast of characters next to Tashi. Every character is complicated and has a story that is just as gripping and leaves you desperately wanting to know more.

The plot of this book is beautiful. There wasn’t a slow moment in the whole book. You know someone is wrapped up in a story that the sun sets and they don’t notice their reading in the dark until someone points it out to them. Which happened to me with the last half of the book. I was just completely wrapped up in this story. I honestly can’t wait for the second book and need to know what happens. I’ve read good books this year, but not one that wraps me up so completely as this book had without me feeling bored at least in one or two parts of it.

The writing itself was well done. I saw everything clearly in my mind and it was simply beautifully done. The only thing I had a small problem with was the fact a queer character died to advance the plot and the character of Tashi. I don’t know if it can be considered a ‘bury your gays’ situation because its complicated from the start because as soon as we start the book we know this character will die. All of the inhabitors know they will die young. It’s part of the balance I mentioned before.

The world building in this book is well done. The conflict itself is part of what reminds me of Avatar along with the use of magic. I honestly love how much thought went into each place and each of their cultures. It’s been a while since I read a fantasy novel that gives us a world so completely thought out like this. And that just adds to awesome quality of this book.

Do I recommend this? H*ck yes. Go get this book as soon as you can. If you love magic and the feeling that Avatar gave you, pick this up, enjoy it, and come gush with me because I need to gush about this book with you.

Rating: 5 stars

The Upside of Adorable

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The Upside of Unrequited

by Becky Albertalli

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

 

I admit, I got accepted for this eARC ages ago. But with other hot releases I was also approved for this, this book got put on the back burner. And part of why was because I was sort of scared to read it. I had heard both good and bad about Becky’s first book. The comment about gay girls having it easier was a turn off. But Becky, the champ she is, came out and apologized for that comment and explained it wasn’t how she personally felt. For me, I was willing to give Becky’s books a chance and I kept seeing this one getting praises. So I jumped in with Unrequited. And I’m SO happy I finally did. Because I’m not kidding when I say this book is one of the sweetest stories I’ve read this year. I’m not a big romance person, but this book hit all the right notes for me.

The story follows Molly Peskin-Suso through her experiences of trying to find love and her twin sister’s determination for Molly to finally get her first kiss. Molly is chubby and full of anxiety. Basically, I related to her instantly because I’m pretty sure more than once when I was her age I had the same thoughts. Heck, I probably still do. Molly fears she’s not what boys look for, that no one would find someone big attractive. She meets Reid and slowly develops a crush on him while her sister is trying to set her up with Will, a friend of her sister’s girlfriend. Oh, did I mention most of the characters in this book are gay? Because let me tell you, as someone desperate for more gay characters in books, I loved this, even if Molly herself may not be.

This book was just magic to me. It was sweet and soft and it was just what I needed to remind that some romances are amazing. I loved reading a character like Molly who reminds me of myself a lot. She’s a sweet character who just wants love, which was me when I was younger. She’s nervous of what people will think of her and her anxiety doesn’t help. The anxiety in this book was done so well. I always fear that it’ll be made romantic like mental illness sadly has been in a lot of YA book, but this wasn’t the case. Unless you yourself don’t have anxiety, you might not know that Molly’s thoughts are caused by it. But as someone who suffers from it pretty badly, I saw it clear as day. I’m so happy it wasn’t the main focus of the book, but was done realistically.

Another aspect I loved was the relationship between Molly and Cassie as twins. I love sisters. And to me, having grown up with a sister the same age as me, I can say that the sense of a distance growing happens. This book expressed this experience well and beautifully. Sadly, sisters grow apart. They fight. But it doesn’t change that they’re sisters. They want each other to be happy and I found how Cassie was determined to set Molly up with someone as something familiar.

The writing was really good and though the story itself was simple, I loved it. For once I didn’t mind a love triangle that was sort of there. It didn’t feel like others. It was teenagers trying to find themselves and that’s okay. Sometimes it’s too heavy handed, but this wasn’t like that. I loved the sweet moments with Molly and Reid and how soft they were. Sometimes I need relationships with soft characters that are sweet and nerdy and just lovely. I loved the wedding of Molly’s moms and just the diversity of this book. It was done well. It felt like you could easily meet this family out in the world. To me, this book was just everything I needed for this moment. It was hard to put down and made me happy, left me sad, left me aching for the characters.

I highly recommend it. It might not be for everyone. I know some people didn’t like it or understand it. But it’s okay to admit this book wasn’t targeted for you as an audience. But if you want a story with really great characters that are gay, that come from a mixed raced family, a character with anxiety and characters that want love.

Rating: 4 stars 

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

Nonfiction Roundup #1

One of the hardest things for me to review is nonfiction. You can’t critique these stories if they happen to real people. You can only be the witness from these words and share them. Don’t get me wrong, I love nonfiction. I read it at night because fiction won’t help me sleep. Night is when I need a voice whispering their life to me, their story. Night is when my brain craves science and history the most. So I go through my nonfiction reads fast, but I find it hard to review on their own. This roundup is to help share these stories and get my viewpoint the best I can express it.

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How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child

by Sandra Uwiringiyimana

This profoundly moving memoir is the remarkable and inspiring true story of Sandra Uwiringyimana, a girl from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who tells the tale of how she survived a massacre, immigrated to America, and overcame her trauma through art and activism.

This book is a look inside the life of a survivor of a genocide that most of us don’t even know happened. In her short life, Sandra has seen too much of the evils of this world than anyone should. She saw her little sister die, she had a gun pointed at her head, she survived, she was sexually assaulted, but lived with the guilt of it all.  It’s a chilling story that keeps you hooked and heart broken that things like this continue to happen and yet we have no idea about it.

This book is in no way a light read. It’s heartbreaking and leaves you shaken. The fact Sandra and her family could survive such horrors and come out in one piece is not only amazing, but it makes you see your own life differently.

The writing in this book is hauntingly vibrant. I cried with Sandra more than once, when emotion found her much as my own finds me. It was a really well done book that makes me want to share with everyone who dares question the need to bring refugees to safety.

The work Sandra has done and continues to do gives me hope for our future. It makes me want to stand up the best I can in the ways I can to help with this fight. Because no one should face what Sandra and her people faced.

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Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8: A Young Man’s Voice from the Silence of Autism

by Naoki Higashida

Now he shares his thoughts and experiences as a twenty-four-year-old man living each day with severe autism. In short, powerful chapters, he explores school memories, family relationships, the exhilaration of travel, and the difficulties of speech. He also allows readers to experience profound moments we take for granted, like the thought-steps necessary for him to register that it’s raining outside. Acutely aware of how strange his behavior can appear to others, he aims throughout to foster a better understanding of autism and to encourage society to see people with disabilities as people, not as problems.

I’m a fan of the first book in this series. I think that it’s important to have books like this from the people with autism and other disabilities because they know better than anyone, even their caregivers and parents. So I jumped on this book when I saw that it was available for review and was coming to the U.S.

But first thing first, I wasn’t a fan of the introduction. To me, it was the thing that I think is the opposite of this book – by someone who deals with autism in the family, but doesn’t have. It would have been fine if it was about a quarter of the size smaller. David Mitchell took too much time to try and make this book his instead of Naoki’s in my opinion. His ‘introduction’ was longer than most of the chapters in this book. I know that this book is important to family and caregivers to better understand their kids. But I think that this sort of crossed the line of not being informative but simply too long and drawn out.

It’s important to remember that this book isn’t just one book, but pieces of Naoki’s other work that has been released in Japan put into one book. Personally, I think you can feel that. It all follows a similar theme but doesn’t always match with the stories around it.

Sadly, I believe like the first one, my ADHD brain had a hard time grasping everything being said in the chapters, my brain would glaze over after a few hours when I got too tired. But I do believe that Naoki’s writing was well done and elegant. I think his writing is also important to better understand him, but also anyone with any sort of disability. I do recommend it, though I do have to warn that it does repeat itself a bit, understandably. I think that was my downfall when reading it at night. Also know there is a story of fiction thrown in there without properly being labelled as such. I spent most of that story confused until I realized at the end that it wasn’t something from his life like the other stories.

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Now You Know Canada: 150 Years of Fascinating Facts

by Doug Lennox

Just in time for Canada’s 150th birthday comes this collection of the best in Canadian questions and answers, covering history, famous Canadians, sports, word origins, geography, and everything in between. 

This was my first wishlist item approved on netgalley so I made sure to drop everything to read this book. I admit, I was interested because my hope is in a few years to move to Canada to be closer to my best friend. But I’m also a fan of random facts and history, so my hope was to learn as much as I could from this book.

I ate the history section of this book. Sadly, most of this book is actually sports and I lost interest after the baseball section of this book, skipping until the Olympics section. I was very disappointed in how much was sports, the hockey section was expected and stretched the longest, but it was still more than the whole countries history. Up to this point, I was in love with this book and in love with the fact I got to discuss these things with my friend. But having skipped most of the sports, I finished the book in one day feeling disappointed. There really isn’t much else to say about this one other than it was good and would have been better if it had paid a bit more attention to the history and people and not just the sports, making it more of a book everyone would have found enjoyable.

Do I recommend this one? Meh. I do the history part if you want to better understand the history from someone who knows nothing about it. I just suggest not buying it if your only going to read the history like I did. If you enjoy sports and reading it, then go for this book.

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