Review: History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Trigger Warning: Death of an adolescent

First book club book review of 2020!

January’s genre is Young Adult and we voted to read History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera. The story follows a 17-year-old young man, Griffin, as he recounts falling in love and breaking up with his longtime best friend Theo in the past, and grieving the sudden tragic loss of him in the present. Each chapter is broken up between History and Today until leaving us in the present at the end. It’s a story that captures many hallmark moments of growth including first love, coming of age, coming out, first experience with loss and heartbreak, and how you pick up the pieces after your world is shattered.

This book was a bit of a somber start to our book club for the year but it was very good. The author does an excellent job of depicting obsessive compulsive order in its beginning stages as Griffin begins to recognize signs of his compulsions and the anxiety that arises if he does hear or see things in evens or stays on the left of people. Throughout their relationship, Theo finds ways to make Griffin’s symptoms “quirks” which is a reaction many people have when their loved ones show signs of mental illness to normalize it or make it ok. What I appreciate is that the author shows the danger of doing this, including delaying treatment and a fear of being “boring” or “less special” if the symptoms are managed.

The author also does a good job of dropping little bits of foreshadowing in the history parts which are resonant and poignant for the reader who knows what is coming. I felt myself cringing away from reading the inevitable heartbreak, and reading on because I wanted to see how it would play out. There were also more twists than I anticipated. I expected it to be a pretty straightforward tale of loss and grief but the author captures the unpredictable ways people can respond to grief and love and other overwhelming emotions. There was one character I expected to hate, they were kind of set up as The Other Person, and I found myself siding with the protagonist because I’d read how he fell in love and how the loss of his first love was impacting him. But the character turned out to be just as flawed, just as much in pain, and just as sympathetic as the protagonist.

I wasn’t sure where the novel would leave me emotionally. Part of that was due to the tone shifting throughout as you go from the rose tinted past to the bleak, mournful present. It would have been easy and maybe even cathartic for the author to give the reader an epilogue or have things move at a pace where the pain has healed and the protagonist is doing ok without a shadow of a doubt. He also could have really embraced the pain of the loss and left the novel in a very depressing way. In the end I felt a little bit frustrated by the uncertain tone, torn between whether he was happy and it would be ok or if he would always be haunted by this loss and the choices made by him and Theo. But that is where he is at, and we all want our grief to be washed away by a montage of healing and growing, but that’s not how life works. And maybe the best praise I can give this book is that it did feel real. I almost forgot they were fictional because they sound and act in ways that are very human.

Review: Goldie Vance Vol #1 by Hope Larson

Trucking right along with the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge I read Goldie Vance Vol #1 for the “Read a mystery where a woman isn’t the victim” category.

Goldie Vance is a biracial teenager in the 1960s who works and lives at a hotel with her father. Her on paper job is valet but she works as hard as she can freelancing to support the on-site detective, Walter, in solving various crimes. She is helped by her friend, a receptionist and aspiring astronaut, and other acquaintances around the hotel.

Goldie reminded me of a blend of Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown, which is high praise. She takes risks and makes understandable mistakes but also works hard to take responsibility for them and come back out on top. I also appreciated that while she is biracial at a time in history when we are more comfortable depicting the racial tension in our society, her race is never disparaged or treated with disgust. Nor are the many other characters of color in the series which I also appreciated. Too often representation is “handled” by throwing in one non-white person and calling it a victory. In this graphic novel, Goldie is surrounded by people of color and it is incredibly refreshing. I want to be very clear that this is not some gold star moment where the author deserves a cookie for making this choice. This is just an author who is finally giving readers a more accurate look at the racial makeup of society which has always been more colorful than works set in the past, even the near past, tend to depict.

I really enjoyed reading Goldie Vance and am excited to read more of the volumes which are already out. If you enjoy intrepid girl sleuths and unusual settings, like hotels in Florida in the 60s, please give this a read! Volume 1 is currently available to read with Kindle Unlimited. If you don’t have Kindle Unlimited you can buy this graphic novel wherever graphic novels are sold.

Review: Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer

First review of 2020!

I read Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer to complete the first task in the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, a nonfiction YA book. I have been interested in the Salem Witch Trials since I was a kid and I thoroughly enjoyed Schanzer’s presentation of the case.

The material is constructed thoroughly but written in prose that conjured up images of sitting around a campfire listening to scary stories. The book was also peppered with evocative illustrations that captured the terror and solemnity of the Salem Witch Trials, a choice that could have been hokey but actually worked to great effect.

I can see this book being a real asset in classrooms or for other morbid little children who are fascinated with tales of witchcraft and lies. It’s a good primer for them as they get older and read The Crucible and are made aware of the real terrors of the event, like mob mentality.

Also, the book is well cited which is just a little note I like to throw in because I love a well researched and cited piece of nonfiction. Both for plagiarism reasons and because it gives the reader plenty of options going forward if they want to continue reading about the topic.

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2020

Hey y’all,

If you have been with me since the start of this blog, you may remember that I took on the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge of 2019. You may have also noticed that I read about two books on that list and then it fell by the wayside. This has been my pattern with this challenge but I’m going to try yet again next year because even if I just read one book from these lists I am expanding my reading experience more than if I didn’t try.

You may have also noticed that I created a full syllabus for the Reading Embrace and ended up reading maybe a handful on there. But I am still going to do it again! Because I love making lists and that list still came in handy!

With all of that being said, here are the categories and my (tentative and open to editing) selections for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2020

  1. Read a YA nonfiction book: Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer
  2. Read a retelling of a classic of the canon, fairytale, or myth by an author of color: The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco
  3. Read a mystery where the victim(s) is not a woman: Goldie Vance by Hope Larson
  4. Read a graphic memoir: Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel
  5. Read a book about a natural disaster: Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
  6. Read a play by an author of color and/or queer author: How I Learned To Drive by Paula Vogel
  7. Read a historical fiction novel not set in WWII: Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin
  8. Read an audiobook of poetry: Ronit & Jamil by Pamela L. Laskin
  9. Read the LAST book in a series: That Kind of Guy by Talia Hibbert
  10. Read a book that takes place in a rural setting: The Lost Man by Jane Harper
  11. Read a debut novel by a queer author: Texts From Jane Eyre by Daniel Mallory Ortberg
  12. Read a memoir by someone from a religious tradition (or lack of religious tradition) that is not your own: Casting Lots by Susan Silverman
  13. Read a food book about a cuisine you’ve never tried before: Israeli Soul by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook
  14. Read a romance starring a single parent: The Governess Game by Tessa Dare
  15. Read a book about climate change: As the World Burns by Derrick Jensen & Stephanie McMillan
  16. Read a doorstopper (over 500 pages) published after 1950, written by a woman: The Lake House by Kate Morton
  17. Read a sci-fi/fantasy novella (under 120 pages): Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
  18. Read a picture book with a human main character from a marginalized community: The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson
  19. Read a book by or about a refugee: The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nyugen
  20. Read a middle grade book that doesn’t take place in the U.S. or the UK: Adventures with Waffles by Maria Parr, Trans. Guy Puzey
  21. Read a book with a main character or protagonist with a disability (fiction or non): The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie by Jennifer Ashley
  22. Read a horror book published by an indie press: Tomorrow’s Journal by Dominick Cancella (Cemetary Dance Publications)
  23. Read an edition of a literary magazine (digital or physical): Ploughshares
  24. Read a book in any genre by a Native, First Nations, or Indigenous author: New Poets of Native Nations edited by Heid E. Erdrich

Review: Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean

Trigger Warning: Discussion of child abuse, body image and weight talk that could be triggering for people who have a history of eating disorders

Guys this book blew my tits off it was so good. I am not even sure where to begin.

A basic premise: Hattie is a 29 year old spinster (because Victorian England) who has decided she will take charge of her future by getting control of her father’s company over her good for nothing brother and the first step towards that is ensuring she cannot marry. She goes to a brothel for ladies to be Ruined.

(Side Note: This book made me look at Ruination in a new light. I reject the sexist concept of a woman’s worth being tied to her virginity but also if a man I was attracted to told me he would gladly Ruin me I would perhaps die.)

Her plans are interrupted by finding a Tom Hardy type hero (aka Beast aka Whit aka Saviour aka bae) tied up in her carriage. Guys, if anyone is trying to get me a belated Christmas present, consider this wishlisted. It turns out he was tied up by her brother because her brother has been stealing from him and there’s a whole hullabaloo about revenge and fairness and reputation and Bareknuckle Bastards and yadda yadda yadda but what I care about is the tension between Hattie and Beast.

These characters are presented as clear equals from the jump. Hattie’s sexual inexperience is never used to infantilize her or give him the upper hand. They’re both smart, stubborn, and determined. They both have similar values and the conflict between them was understandable and I never felt like one of them was clearly right and the other wrong. The tension between them was so excellently written that it takes literally 70% of the book to pass before they have full, penetrative sex and I did not feel cheated or annoyed because the whole process getting there was still incredibly hot.

I didn’t yadda yadda past the plot because I was bored by it, I was actually able to read the whole thing on my trip home for Christmas. I just yadda’d because the heat between the characters hit me like a ton of bricks. I also all caps messaged a friend of mine to yell at her for not warning me that there is a scene where the hero asks the heroine to tie him to the mast of a ship and have her way with him.

Please read this book.

Review: Quest of Honor by Ellie St. Clair

I’ve been on a quest for a real good pirate romance for a long time so I was excited to have the Reading Embrace finally push me to do pursue one. I ended up reading Quest of Honor by Ellie St. Clair and while it isn’t my dream pirate romance, I really enjoyed it.

Eleanor Adams is the daughter of a pirate who is more Robin Hood than Redbeard. Captain Adams is being doggedly pursued by Naval Captain Thomas Harrington who has become the laughingstock of the navy for his inability to bring in this one pirate and dreams that perhaps if he catches this one he can find a new path for himself. Eleanor goes to do recon on the man pursuing her father and ends up in his bed, having been mistaken for a sex worker and caught up in her own desire for the handsome Captain. When the truth comes out and roles shift, will these two find a way to be together despite being on opposite sides of the law?

Yes. Yes they will. Because this is romance and that’s what we can count on damnit.

This was a brief read because I am running out of time but it was still well paced and I enjoyed it a lot. The romance felt a bit rushed but I understand that St. Clair only had so much space to work in and things had to keep moving at a pretty brisk pace to ensure the HEA happened. I don’t feel especially compelled to keep reading the series, not because of anything lacking in the book, but because there are just so many books I want to read that if I don’t feel strongly about continuing a series I just don’t have time to bother. It has definitely rekindled my need to find my One True Pirate Romance. Or maybe write my OTPR?

Who can say.

What I can say is you should pick up this novella if you enjoy lady pirates and boat sex.

Review: The Beauty Bride by Claire Delacroix

Trigger Warning: Attempted sexual assault

I read The Beauty Bride to check the Medieval romance box in the Reading Embrace. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. It started pretty strong, I like the banter between siblings, but I’m still just kinda…. hmm.

The general synopsis, thanks to Amazon, is:
“Lady Madeline’s heart is not for sale…especially not to a notorious outlaw like Rhys FitzHenry. Yet Madeline’s hand has been sold, to none other than this battle-weary warrior with a price on his head. A more dutiful maiden might cede to the Laird’s command and meekly accept her fate, but Madeline has never been obedient. She decides to run away, though she never dreams that Rhys will pursue her. She does not expect this taciturn man to woo her with fanciful stories, much less that each of his enthralling tales will reveal a scar upon his shielded soul. She never imagines that a man like Rhys could imperil her own heart while revealing so little of his own feelings. When Rhys’s past threatens his future, Madeline takes a leap of faith. She dares to believe him innocent
— and risks her own life to pursue a passion more priceless than the rarest gem.”

So a couple of things came up for me while reading this book. First, everyone gets real chill with Alexander auctioning off his sister real quick. By the end of it everyone is like ‘aw shucks Alex you tried a thing’ and I was still very much Team What The Hell Dude Don’t Auction Your Sister. Similarly, the hero tells the heroine, after they get married and have sex, that if she can’t produce a male heir he’ll just hire a prostitute and do it that way just like his dad did. This is also never rescinded and we’re just kinda meant to go ‘aw shucks Rhys you heir happy sonofagun’ and be fine with that. Also, I’m all for his mother not being presented in a terrible light because sex work is valid work, but they did turn his stepmom (his dad’s wife) into a literal villain and I feel like her anger (if not her actions) are incredibly valid. So that was complicated for me.

The pacing was rough. The hero kept telling stories to Madeline that enthralled her but bored the everloving fuck out of me. It was a little history happy and the fairy character felt thoroughly unnecessary and gimmicky. Wow as I write this I guess I really didn’t like it that much, huh. I think the problem is that I wanted to like it so much and like I said it started pretty strong but it sure did sink pretty quickly. I don’t feel compelled to read the rest of the series even though some of the premises sound interesting because fool me once, shame on you fool me twice, still shame on you, write better books.

That might be unfair. The book wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t for me.