Tradition by Brendan Kiely (CW: Sexual Assualt)

Summary:

Prestigious. Powerful. Privileged. This is Fullbrook Academy, an elite prep school where history looms in the leafy branches over its brick walkways. But some traditions upheld in its hallowed halls are profoundly dangerous.

Jules Devereux just wants to keep her head down, avoid distractions, and get into the right college, so she can leave Fullbrook and its old-boy social codes behind. She wants freedom, but ex-boyfriends and ex-best friends are determined to keep her in place.

Jamie Baxter feels like an imposter at Fullbrook, but the hockey scholarship that got him in has given him a chance to escape his past and fulfill the dreams of his parents and coaches, whose mantra rings in his ears: Don’t disappoint us.

When Jamie and Jules meet, they recognize in each other a similar instinct for survival, but at a school where girls in the student handbook are rated by their looks, athletes stack hockey pucks in dorm room windows like notches on a bedpost, and school-sponsored dances push first year girls out into the night with senior boys, the stakes for safe sex, real love, and true friendship couldn’t be higher.

As Jules and Jamie’s lives intertwine, and the pressures to play by the rules and remain silent about the school’s secrets intensify, they see Fullbrook for what it really is. That tradition, a word Fullbrook hides behind, can be ugly, even violent. Ultimately, Jules and Jamie are faced with the difficult question: can they stand together against classmates—and an institution—who believe they can do no wrong?

The Review:

This book, I sort of picked up on a whim. I knew of Brendan Keily as the co-author of All American Boys that we wrote with Jason Reynolds, and I even talked to him while getting his autograph at Bookcon, and he told me about this book.

The book is mainly told within three parts, a sort of before, during and after, and the book starts pretty much at an event and then goes to how the events lead to that incident. It has two POVs, James and Jules.

James is a transfer student, or a fifth year senior starting at the school and getting a fresh start after what happened at his old school. He has been recruited to play Hockey for them and quickly makes friends with the jock characters. I like that he was already unconformable with a lot of jock characters, who are all basically misogynist.

Jules, is someone who has attended the Fullbrook Academy and is on her senior year, who is basically counting the days until graduation so she could leave that school. She is practially an outsider, with a few friends.

I like that with the two POVs, you got see their own perspectives about each other. I also like how both Jules and James have start of with more of a friendship between each other. and seeing them bond over common interests.

I like the setting of the prestigious prep school, that fosters itself around tradition and order. As someone who has attended an all boys prep school, I can almost vouch for how those boys act, especially towards the young girls.

With the assault itself, it comes right at the middle of the book, and I like that it happened, towards the middle. It really gave me a chance to really recover with the character herself. It actually covers a lot of the beats that deals with sexual assault recovery, and wondering if it was her fault and also the backlash she received from former friends.

With the character of James, his arc revolves around trying to do the right thing with what happened with Jules and to stand up to his misogynist Hockey teammates. I also liked that he was able to be an effective ally without  verging into “not all men” territory.

In regards to the topic of sexual assault, I think more of the book could have dived deeper into the issue. But it did give us, a glimpse into what happens in regards to rape culture especially one that happened at a prestigious prep school, where the school is more likely to protect its reputation than protect the victim. It touches upon how harmful rape culture could be. I also felt that the ending was a bit rushed and could have been a bit more fleshed out.

In the end, I really enjoyed Tradition. It does a good job at tackling a subject such as rape culture, especially at a prep school, through the eyes of two great characters. I think it is a very important read, especially in regards to the #metoo movement

Grade: 4/5

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The Poppy War by: R.F. Kuang

Summary:

When Rin aced the Keju, the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies, it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard, the most elite military school in Nikan, was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

The Review:

This book took me by surprise, and after reading it, I just wanted to say wow.

This story is an Asian inspired fantasy novel, which almost mirrors the Nanking Massacre. It deals with Rin, who is an orphan girl who managed to become one of the top students who got tested for the Keju, a very hard test in order to get into the military academy. With her doing so well, people tended to underestimate her because of her background as an orphan and even accused her of cheating.

The book is split into three parts. The first part deals a lot with Rin at the military academy, learning a lot of the background of the Poppy War, and the details of what lead up to those events. The fact it was mostly told through Rin’s class lessons made it so that the world building didn’t feel like info dumping and told more organically. The first part also did a good job at setting up a lot of the supporting characters and their back stories which made them more fleshed out.

It also basically deals a lot with Rin’s training and her mentor Jiang, who I could almost describe was a more bad ass version of Li Shang, who really wants to get down to business. The training chapters really makes this book work as it really dives deep into Rin’s character and you really see what she went through.

Parts 2 and 3, is there the book gets turned up to 11, in which you see the actual 3rd Poppy War, and everything went dark so quickly. From there the story is very fast paced with a lot of things happening at once, but with its great writing it was very easy to follow what’s going on.  It also explored a lot of the mythology surrounding the events and giving the story its own lore and how some of the gods plays a role in it.

I also like the themes that the book presents  in terms of genocide, and drug use, especially with the use of opiates and how that translated into the story. It also deals with the horrors of war and it really doesn’t hold back and dealing with a lot of Rin’s internal struggle.

In the end, The Poppy War was a fantastic book from start to finish. Every page got me hooked and engrossed with its story. I am very looking forward to how this series goes.

Grade: 5/5

The Poet X by: Elizabeth Acevedo

Summary:

A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent. 

The Review:

This is a book I have heard nothing but good things about, and this is also the second book that I read that was in verse. Earlier this year I read The Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds that I also really loved.

The fact, that the book was written in verse, made the book a lot stronger and easy to read through, it only took me about a day to read it. It also had a sort of meta feel to it mainly because the main plot of the book is about Xiomara dealing a lot with her poetry.

Xiomara, is a girl living in Harlem, also dealing with her immigrant family, and her mother wants her to be the good Catholic girl, which mainly means no boys or dating. She is also often compared to twin brother, Xavier who is basically the genius of the family.

The book style really makes the story stronger, with every verse it was extremely powerful, and you really get a sense of Xiomara’s pain and struggle. The emotion Xiomara felt was real and raw.

The book also deals with Xiomara’s struggle to find her own voice. She mostly writes all of her emotions down in her notebook , and it wasn’t until her teacher encouraged her to join a slam poetry club at her school, and as the book goes on so does her poetry.

I also liked that the book didn’t hold back in regards to her relationship with her mother, and it really felt just as raw, as her poetry, with her mother clearly not understanding why it is important to her. While you don’t actually see her actual poems, the verses within the book just make it more exciting.

In the end, The Poet X was a fantastic read from start to finish. The fact that it was written in verse, you get a good sense of Xiomara’s emotions. While this was my second book that I read in verse, I loved every word on every page.

Grade: 5/5

When Dimple met Rishi by: Sandhya Menon

Summary:

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

The Review:

This was another book that was on my TBR, since last year, and from the sound of the premise, it seemed like a nice cute YA contemporary romance.

The book is told through two points of view, Dimple, a Stanford bound Indian girl who has enrolled in a summer program, and Rishi, someone is who MIT bound and also comes from an Indian background. It was told to Rishi that he is suppose to have an arranged marriage with Dimple through both of their families.

Their first “meeting” was a sort of meet cute fail, in which Rishi snuck up on Dimple, which leads to of course Dimple throwing an iced coffee in his face. But after that fateful meeting they do begin to get to know each other, through their summer program and is even teamed up for a project.

Both Dimple and Rishi, are also pretty fleshed out characters with their own dreams and goals. For Dimple, she is passionate about computers and wants to build an app, and for Rishi he has a passion for comic books and drawing. It was through their individual passions that they begin to fall in love with each other.

Dimple is also sort of not really into the family pressure of having an arranged marriage or even the pressure of finding a suitable husband. While it does seem like a cliche, I felt the story framed it a little better.

The book touched on a bit about their Indian heritages and also family pressure that both Dimple and Rishi face, and it really added to their character development, which made them more fleshed out.

Yes, the book is very much like a Rom Com, and it goes through the usual tropes of a Rom-Com, with two people who don’t really like each other begin to fall in love. I think that is where its weakness comes in. The relationship between both Dimple and Rishi is what I enjoyed most about the book, but then it had that sort of 2nd act break up, which I felt was kinda a dumb reason for.

In the end, I thought When Dimple met Rishi, was a nice cute story, which could almost make for a summer read. It had a nice romance, even though it did feel like a cliche both Dimple and Rishi was a couple you would love to root for.

Grade: 4/5

Thunderhead by: Neal Shusterman

Summary:

Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Literally. In the year since Winter Conclave, he has gone off-grid, and has been striking out against corrupt scythes—not only in MidMerica, but across the entire continent. He is a dark folk hero now—“Scythe Lucifer”—a vigilante taking down corrupt scythes in flames.

Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and risks being “deadish” so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?

The Review:

Scythe, was one of my favorite books of 2017, so of course I was very excited for Thunderhead, and it was even included in my Most Anticipated Read for 2018, and it did not disappoint at all.

The story takes place about a year after the Winter Conclave in which Citra, who is now Scythe Anastasia is going through her journey as a Scythe. What I love about this book is that it fleshes out the world of the Scythes and how long they have been around, and it also taps into a lot of the different morals that the Scythes has along with their politics. During her first year, she even tries to bend the rules of being a Scythe, such as giving a person she gleans about a month to get their affairs in order.

Of course a lot of Citra’s beliefs doesn’t sit well with the Order. I like that Citra got a lot of great development in this book, and I like that she begins to question her life as a Scythe.

Rowan, is basically a fugitive mainly because during the past year he has been killing other Scythes under the name Scythe Lucifer, and has been basically been a legend among the people. He also had some good development as well.

There are some new characters, there is Greyson, who I did learn to like. But one of y favorite new characters is Scythe Rand. She is someone who is very sneaky, and she works for someone in the shadows, who I am not going to spoil, but if you read Scythe, I could kinda see who she was working for. There as a lot of complexities to her

I also like that the book was extremely well paced, and there was not a single dull moment in the book, and it made it such a great page turner. Even some of the world building chapters gave us clues about the history of the Scythes and why they are important. Also that ending, it makes me want to read the next book immediately, but then come to the realization that it hasn’t been released yet.

In the end, Thunderhead was an amazing sequel. It managed to give characters development and flesh out the world even more. New characters were given time to shine, while furthering developing the returning character. Also its cliffhanger was amazing,

Grade: 5/5

Hunted by: Megan Spooner

Summary:

Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood. Though she grew up with the city’s highest aristocrats, far from her father’s old lodge, she knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering them. 

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas…or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman. But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance. 

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange Beast back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast?

The Review:

This was another book I had on my TBR for quite a long time, mainly ever since I saw the cover at a bookstore and also the fact that it is a Beauty and the Beast retelling, which if it is a fairy tale retelling it will be on my TBR.

As a retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast, it did follow a few of the same beats of the original story. Yeva, is the Belle stand in, and instead of being a bookworm, she likes to hunt. She also like Belle, always rejects the social norms such as marrying a wealthy gentleman. She also has sisters who I felt were a bit thinly developed and weren’t as fleshed out like I wanted them to be.

The story begins to pick up once her father goes missing, and Yeva, is going to try to find him in the forest, and that is where she meets the Beast. I like how in the book, at the beginning of each chapter, features a lot of the Beasts inner thoughts, and it made him more of a character in the book.

The relationship between Beast and Yeva was a bit different from the original. This time he is training to hunt , and as the story goes on, you find out the Beast is cursed, but the curse is very different and with the added twist to the curse adds a lot to the story.

One of my main problems is how this story, really feels like Stockholm Syndrome. While yes, the original did have aspects of Stockholm syndrome, Hunted had a lot of elements of that. and I really didn’t care about their relationship, and it reminded me of the worst parts of Tamlim, from ACOTAR, and I would have preferred if Yeva, was just alone at the end of the book.

In the end, Hunted was a good read. I didn’t love as much as I thought it was. While it does follow a lot of aspects of the original, but the added twists makes the story stronger. Making Yeva a hunter made her a better character, but I did feel like the aspects of Yeva and the Beasts relationship was on of the weaker aspects.

Grade: 3.6/5

Eliza and Her Monsters by: Francesca Zappia

Summary:

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try.

Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.

But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart

The Review:

This was a sort of recommendation via Amazon, after making some book purchases and it sort of stood out to me, mainly because of the premise and how it reminded me a lot of Fangirl.  Also if you have been following my blog for a while, you should know that I rarely read contemporary.

The main premise of the book deals with Eliza, who writes a webcomic called Monstrous Sea under the screen name LadyConstellation. She is also very popular online with her webcomic. In her normal world however, she is basically seen as weird and keeps to herself most of the time. Her two friends, Mark and Emmy are basically her online friends and they mostly talk about a show called Dog Days, that they obsess over.

Even though Eliza never meet either Emmy or Mark, you still give a sense of their friendship through their IMs and chats. Especially in this day in age in which your online friends can actually be your real friends and could still from a good relationship with one another.

She also meets Wallace, who is a fanfiction writer of her Monstrous Sea webcomic and doesn’t know that she is the author. I really enjoyed following their relationship. It did start off as bonding over mutual interests, but I think their was a lot of development between them to get me invested. I also liked that Wallace was a fleshed out character rather than just you typical YA love interest.

There is a lot of comparisons one could make with Fangirl, especially how it deals with the online communities and fandom in general. But I like that it deals with the mental health aspect a lot more than Fangirl did. Eliza, throughout the book finds out that she has anxiety after she kind of fainted in school.

I also loved seeing excerpts of The Monstrous Sea, which gives us a little more background of what Eliza created. I also really loved the artwork that the author included. It makes me want to read The Monstrous Sea.

In the end, I really enjoyed Eliza and Her Monsters. It was a nice read that dealt a lot with Fandom and online communities. I really enjoyed the relationship between Eliza and Wallace, and also the relationship between Eliza and her online friends.

Grade: 4.5/5