GL Thomas: The Unforgettables

Back home in Chicago, Paul Hiroshima had it all.

Popularity, charming looks and a talent for the arts that made him admired by his peers. Moving to Portland, Maine the summer before his senior year was going to change all that. With his city life behind him, there was definitely no reason to make the best out of a bad situation—that is, until he meets the amazing Felicia Abelard.

Over a love of comic books and secret identities, Felicia becomes the sidekick to his hero; there’s just one problem: they weren’t supposed to fall in love.

As the season comes to an end, Paul and Felicia face in-depth challenges to preserve their summer formed bond. With the brink of the new school year at hand, this tale of best friends and first loves will make their year unforgettable.

I had really high hopes for this one–the ratings were out of this world and so were the comments. Everyone was talking about how diverse it was, both racially and for LGBTQIA+ representation. The story line sounded fantastic and geeky. A free link was posted one day and I snatched it right up!

I bet you can guess where this is going, right?

I’ll start first by saying that this book is incredibly well intentioned. That’s really the best way to explain it. The diversity here is very well intentioned–and there’s a lot of it, too. Unfortunately, much of it seems a bit drawn out of a hat and then placed on secondary characters who lack development to really shine in the diverse elements that the authors wanted to show.

I do want to make exception to this, though, with the two main characters. Both are people of color and are exceptionally developed, well written people. Lots of thought went into those two characters. Both mothers got quite a bit of attention, as did Paul’s dad and sister. However, outside of that, most of the secondary characters were mere shadows. They would flit in and out of the story–we’d get details here and there but nothing that would really build the person in significance.

That really bothered me in two instances:  Nala and Kevin. Nala is a transgender girl, best friend to Paul’s sister. We see her quite a bit, and we do get more information about her than most other secondary characters, but it still feels like she’s just thrown in there so the book can be more diverse. I would have loved to have more development surrounding her character, rather than have her shyness be the only thing that mattered–and to have Paul yelling at her be the most significant part she played in the story.

Kevin is almost nonexistant in the story, which made me terribly sad, as he is the very first person I made a note about in my journal. He is mentioned right away–he’s very young, but the authors make it seem that he might be starting to identify as nonbinary (they refer to him as “nonconforming” the few times he is mentioned). I’ve read very few contemporary books with nonbinary characters in them, so I was excited to see Kevin…and then he isn’t hardly mentioned.

There’s also a bisexual brother away at college–I couldn’t even tell you his name because he is so out of the way. It very much felt to me like the LGBTQIA+ people in this story were there because they had to be, not because they should be or were necessary to the story–if that makes sense. It felt very forced and uncomfortable. I think the intentions were good, but it just wasn’t done very well.

The story itself was cute–a fairly average YA Contemporary. I liked the superhero theme that was going on, and normally I probably would have rated this a 3 or 4 just for the racial diversity alone–especially for being in a predominantly white region. However, I was so distracted by the lack of LGBTQIA+ secondary character development that it was hard to stay focused on the rest.

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WWW Wednesday 6/21/2017

What are you currently reading?

Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine

For Study:  The Collected Works of Oscar Wilde

For Study:  The Norton Anthology of American Literature by Nina Baym

 

What did you just finish reading? (As always, click on the link below to see what I thought!)

Footsteps by The New York Times

Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice

Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee

 

What do you think you’ll read next? 

First Women by Kate Andersen Brower

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Lost Boy by Christina Henry

The New York Times: Footsteps

A curated collection of the New York Times’ travel column, “Footsteps,” exploring iconic authors’ relationships to landmarks and cities around the world

Before Nick Carraway was drawn into Daisy and Gatsby s sparkling, champagne-fueled world in The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald vacationed in the French Riviera, where a small green lighthouse winked at ships on the horizon. Before the nameless lovers began their illicit affair in The Lover, Marguerite Duras embarked upon her own scandalous relationship amidst the urban streets of Saigon. And before readers were terrified by a tentacled dragon-man called Cthulhu, H.P. Lovecraft was enthralled by the Industrial Trust tower– the 26-story skyscraper that makes up the skyline of Providence, Rhode Island.

Based on the popular New York Times travel column, Footsteps is an anthology of literary pilgrimages, exploring the geographic muses behind some of history’s greatest writers. From the “dangerous, dirty and seductive” streets of Naples, the setting for Elena Ferrante’s famous Neapolitan novels, to the “stone arches, creaky oaken doors, and riverside paths” of Oxford, the backdrop for Alice’s adventures in Wonderland, Footsteps takes a fresh approach to literary tourism, appealing to readers and travel enthusiasts alike.”

I’m not sure I’ve ever reviewed a travel book on ILR before. It’s not my style of book at all. However, I was immediately drawn in by the description of faraway places visited by some of the best known authors. Walking in their footsteps is on my bucket list. I’ve recently discovered just how much I long to travel, and since my next big trip isn’t for another year…at least I can read about it, right?

Most of the essays were every bit as romantic as one would hope. Clearly these were written by bibliophiles like myself–readers and dreamers who love to sit in a cafe with a glass of wine in one hand a book in the other, thinking about the author who wrote that novel and the life they led. The mystery has been taken out of it some what nowadays, since we can “meet” our authors on social media. (Not that I am complaining, I will totally watch every single one of your Instastories, don’t you worry about that.) But wouldn’t it be cool to drink tea with Jane Austen?

I didn’t read every single one of the essays, and there were a few I skimmed–mostly because while I recognized and liked most of the authors chosen, there were some I either didn’t recognize or care about. But I might read the one about James Baldwin anytime I read Giovanni’s Room, and the one about Byron and Shelley, while cringey, certainly shed a lot of light on that whole…um…situation.

I’m not sure I’d pick up a book like this if it were on any other subject matter. Just people randomly strolling thru Paris for no particular reason besides travel? Not a collection I’m interested. But add in the author quest and I’m totally down. I know a few friends I will be recommending this to. Should you be one of them?

Blogging for Books and Crown Publishing provided this book for an unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

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The Vampire Chronicles: The Queen of the Damned

Make sure to see what I thought about The Vampire Chronicles:  Interview with a Vampire, and The Vampire Lestat.

In 1976, a uniquely seductive world of vampires was unveiled in the now-classic Interview with the Vampire . . . in 1985, a wild and voluptous voice spoke to us, telling the story of The Vampire Lestat.  In The Queen of the Damned, Anne Rice continues her extraordinary “Vampire Chronicles” in a feat of mesmeric storytelling, a chillingly hypnotic entertainment in which the oldest and most powerful forces of the night are unleashed on an unsuspecting world.

Three brilliantly colored narrative threads intertwine as the story unfolds:

– The rock star known as Vampire Lestat, worshipped by millions of spellbound fans, prepares for a concert in San Francisco.  Among the audience–pilgrims in a blind swoon of adoration–are hundreds of vampires, creatures who see Lestat as a “greedy fiend risking the secret prosperity of all his kind just to be loved and seen by mortals,” fiends themselves who hate Lestat’s power and who are determined to destroy him . . .

– The sleep of certain men and women–vampires and mortals scattered around the world–is haunted by a vivid, mysterious dream: of twins with fiery red hair and piercing green eyes who suffer an unspeakable tragedy.  It is a dream that slowly, tauntingly reveals its meaning to the dreamers as they make their way toward each other–some to be destroyed on the journey, some to face an even more terrifying fate at journey’s end . . .

– Akasha–Queen of the Damned, mother of all vampires, rises after a 6,000 year sleep and puts into motion a heinous plan to “save” mankind from itself and make “all myths of the world real” by elevating herself and her chosen son/lover to the level of the gods: “I am the fulfillment and I shall from this moment be the cause” . . .

These narrative threads wind sinuously across a vast, richly detailed tapestry of the violent, sensual world of vampirism, taking us back 6,000 years to its beginnings.  As the stories of the “first brood” of blood drinkers are revealed, we are swept across the ages, from Egypt to South America to the Himalayas to all the shrouded corners of the globe where vampires have left their mark. Vampires are created–mortals succumbing to the sensation of “being emptied, of being devoured, of being nothing.” Vampires are destroyed.  Dark rituals are performed–the rituals of ancient creatures prowling the modern world.  And, finally, we are brought to a moment in the twentieth century when, in an astonishing climax, the fate of the living dead–and perhaps of the living, all the living–will be decided.

When I decided to set out on this Series…urm…Series. I wondered what would happen if I decided not to finish one. I did not anticipate getting to that point in my first go round. I loved the first two books in The Vampire ChroniclesInterview was fantastic, and Lestat blew that one away!

Maybe because the first two were so brilliant, the third book just couldn’t keep up the pace. I had pretty high expectations. From the title, I expected it to be either about Akasha–written in the same first person narrative style, with age and period-appropriate voice, that Rice had used for Louis and Lestat.

However, she flipped writing styles completely. Lestat gives an introduction, and forewarns us that he is handing over the book to all the other vampires. Right away, my inner reader went “OH NO.” This book is SO disjointed compared to the first two. It must also be leading to the concert at the end of The Vampire Lestat–running sort of parallel. Unfortunately, it’s just so hard to follow. There’s barely any direction, and aside from the weird dreams about “red-headed twins” and out of context mentions of Lestat, there are hardly any connections between the narrators.

I feel like most of these vampires have nothing to do with Lestat, and that the thought of him is just thrust in randomly. They will be having conversations or streams of consciousness and suddenly “la de da blah blah VAMPIRE LESTAT blah blah la de da.” Every single time I was so confused about where he came from. Lestat swears in his introduction that he DID NOT write these narratives, that this is how they were given to him but it sure seems like either his vanity is shining through with abundance, or I am missing something completely.

Either way, I hit page 150 and just could not make one more. I could not stand the idea of 433 pages of this disjointed nonsense. Have you read The Queen of the DamnedCare to shed some light on this confusing book?

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Barbara Dee: Star-Crossed

Mattie is chosen to play Romeo opposite her crush in the eighth grade production of Shakespeare’s most beloved play in this Romeo and Juliet inspired novel from the author of Truth or Dare.

Mattie, a star student and passionate reader, is delighted when her English teacher announces the eighth grade will be staging Romeo and Juliet. And she is even more excited when, after a series of events, she finds herself playing Romeo, opposite Gemma Braithwaite’s Juliet. Gemma, the new girl at school, is brilliant, pretty, outgoing—and, if all that wasn’t enough: British.

As the cast prepares for opening night, Mattie finds herself growing increasingly attracted to Gemma and confused, since, just days before, she had found herself crushing on a boy named Elijah. Is it possible to have a crush on both boys AND girls? If that wasn’t enough to deal with, things backstage at the production are starting to rival any Shakespearean drama! In this sweet and funny look at the complicated nature of middle school romance, Mattie learns how to be the lead player in her own life.

Back in March, I read a post from Barbara Dee that broke my heart. Dee had been asked to give an author presentation at a school. However, right before she was to speak, she was pulled aside and told that while the school was thrilled to have her speak on inclusivity…could she please keep it more general and NOT TALK ABOUT HER OWN BOOK?

Excuse me?

Of course I put Star-Crossed on my TBR immediately. Because obviously if a school is censoring the author…it’s probably something I want to read.

And it absolutely freaking is. Star-Crossed might be the best middle-grade fiction I have ever read…maybe the best Shakespeare retelling too! It follows Mattie, an eighth grade bookworm as she traverses the awkwardness of school play rehearsals–Romeo and Juliet, of course. Throughout the book, she slowly comes to realize she has a crush on fair Juliet.

Besides the cute story itself, there are two key factors that made me love this book. First, Mattie starts off with a crush on a boy, and then slowly falls into crush with Gemma. Later, her friend asks her if she might ever like boys again and she tells her it’s possible. Bisexual representation in a Middle Grade story! Yes! And Dee allows her MC to explore her feelings about it…which leads us to point #2.

Coming out is a process, and one that is mostly supported. We don’t see her come out to everyone–the story ends before that happens. But one friend helps her begin to come to terms with what is going on, and another person also helps her talk through it. Neither pressure her or ridicule her…it’s all very loving. I think this is something that is important to show in MG especially, so that kids can know that it doesn’t always have to be hard. It will be, sometimes, but there are supportive people out there.

I just loved this. I hope that not all schools are as closed minded as the one that shut Barbara Dee down, and that they put this book on their shelves. My library in Peoria had the book, and I’m so glad that they did. Books like this one should be available to kids who need to find themselves in the pages.

Retelling w/ MC LGBTQIA+

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WWW Wednesday 6/14/2017

 

What are you currently reading?

The Crown by Kiera Cass

For Study:  The Collected Works of Oscar Wilde

For Study:  The Norton Anthology of American Literature by Nina Baym

 

What did you just finish reading? (As always, click on the link below to see what I thought!)

Unburied Fables by Creative Aces Publishing

The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

 

What do you think you’ll read next? 

Ink and Bone Series by Rachel Caine (I have the 3rd ARC in July)

First Women by Kate Andersen Brower

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Creative Aces Publishing: Unburied Fables

This collection enlisted talent around the world. From students to seasoned professionals, these writers came together to raise awareness and reinvent classic stories. While they showcase a wide variety of origins, styles, and endings, all the tales in this
anthology have one classic element in common: a happily ever after.

Fifty percent of this collection’s proceeds will be donated to the Trevor Project, a non-profit focused on suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, asexual and other queer youth.

I kicked off Pride Month with one of the most accepting collections of stories I’ve ever read. This was the very first book I read for June (actually I read it on May 31, but I’m totally counting it for Pride), and oh man was it ever fitting.

These are the fairy tales we should have all grown up with–where we a prince might climb a tower to save the princess, but then she is given the choice to go with him…or the daring woman who swoops in to maybe save them both. And maybe that prince just stays and hangs out with all those books that princess left because HECK YES I WANT TO STAY IN THE TOWER BY MYSELF! HEAVEN!

Ok, that might have been a spoiler for one of the stories. Oops. But you catch on pretty quick to the theme once you get going. All of them are pretty delightful. These are worlds where the bad guys are those who hate and try to stomp on people for who they are. Wouldn’t that be nice if that were true in real life, too?

And even though this is a book written by some super Creative Aces–don’t think there isn’t love. There is all kinds of romantic acceptance in this book–just not the sexy stuff we see so much of these days. Every story is full of whimsy and happiness, but also the morals that are the intended purpose of fairy tales, after all. You’ll recognize a lot of them, and maybe find a few new ones along the way. I think my favorite was the one about Matchstick Girl. Come back and let me know your fave, after you read these.

Go buy the book, it supports a fantastic cause!

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The Vampire Chronicles: The Vampire Lestat

Make sure to see what I thought about The Vampire Chronicles:  Interview with a Vampire.

Once an aristocrat in the heady days of pre-revolutionary France, now Lestat is a rockstar in the demonic, shimmering 1980s. He rushes through the centuries in search of others like him, seeking answers to the mystery of his terrifying existence. His story, the second volume in Anne Rice’s best-selling Vampire Chronicles, is mesmerizing, passionate, and thrilling.

After rereading InterviewI was really looking forward to moving on with the series. Anne Rice has such a mesmerizing writing style and and I couldn’t wait to peel back the curtain on the Lestat.

I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, The Vampire Lestat was even better than I imagined. This book is a unique sort of “time travel” story. We get to see across different centuries, without a time machine. Vampires are an ancient people, and that makes their stories so layered. Sometimes when we think of “period fiction” we forget that there are SO MANY PERIODS–and Anne Rice does such a fantastic job of separating them–not only crossing time borders, but continental ones as well.

At first I thought Lestat as a rock god was sort of weird. Why are we starting with an 80s hair band? But then, as we dove down into his days in the Paris theatre, it started to unwind and make a little more sense. I’m not saying I don’t still find that part of the book a little disjointed…but I can understand why Rice made that choice.

Rice’s vampirism is sexy–she took the metaphor she started in Interview all the way to actual sexual attraction and fulfillment in Lestat. And it was pretty freaking hot. I do not understand why incest is necessary–Rice’s fascination with perversion is probably the only thing I do not like about her books. I know becoming a vampire changes your relationship…but that is still is a no for me.

Lestats tone is incredibly poetic–much more than Interview–probably owing to the difference in the vampires’ eras. Also, Lestat was originally French, Louis American. That they are so different shows Rice’s skill as a writer. I can’t wait to move on to Queen of the Damned to find out the unique perspective that one will bring!

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Laurie Halse Anderson: The Impossible Knife of Memory

For the past five years, Hayley Kincain and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own.

Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.

I want to title this review:  The Impossible Mediocrity of Mental Illness YA. For as complex and nuanced as mental illness is–you’d think that we would get more than just textbook representation in our stories. Unfortunately, time and time again, it’s all I see. So rarely do I find a novel about mental illness that truly shows what it is like to be in the thick of it–instead the depiction is flat and gray.

PTSD is such an important subject, and finding good help for our soldiers is a crucial, difficult task. That is one thing about this book that I did agree with:  how Halse Anderson wrote Andy’s character refusing help or medication. His characterization wasn’t incorrect, I think I just had a hard time with Hayley’s narration of it.

Something else stuck out to me–Finn and Hayley were going through such a similar situation:  they both had family members who were addicts. But instead of talking about it or having that bring them closer together, all they did was fight and scream at each other. Their whole relationship was a weird dynamic, but that really seemed off kilter. Also, it wasn’t lost on me that Gracie continuously suspected Topher for cheating on her as a projection from her dad…though I think everyone else in the story missed that detail. Those sort of plot holes bug me.

But mostly, it’s Hayley that bothers me. Her attitude is horrible, and she’s an unreliable narrator of the worst kind. And maybe that’s the problem. I don’t mind unreliable narrators if there are ways to fill in the holes, but I felt like that knife just cut through the plot until I had an impossible amount of memory to fill.

Trigger warning:  PTSD, Panic Attacks, Knives, Blood, Suicide Ideation/Thoughts/Planning, Drowning, drugs, alcoholism

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WWW Wednesday 6/7/2017

 

What are you currently reading?

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

For Study:  The Collected Works of Oscar Wilde

For Study:  The Norton Anthology of American Literature by Nina Baym

 

What did you just finish reading? (As always, click on the link below to see what I thought!)

Crazy is My Superpower by AJ Mendez Brooks

Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

 

What do you think you’ll read next? 

The Selection Series by Kiera Cass (Full series review coming in July!)

Ink and Bone Series by Rachel Caine (I have the 3rd ARC in July)

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier