Friday, June 26, 2020

REVIEW: If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

Title: If You Come Softly
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Genre: YA Contemporary
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Release Date: September 28, 1998
Acquired: Purchased for my collection
Goodreads: ADD

A lyrical story of star-crossed love perfect for readers of The Hate U Give, by National Ambassador for Children's Literature Jacqueline Woodson—now celebrating its twentieth anniversary, and including a new preface by the author

Jeremiah feels good inside his own skin. That is, when he's in his own Brooklyn neighborhood. But now he's going to be attending a fancy prep school in Manhattan, and black teenage boys don't exactly fit in there. So it's a surprise when he meets Ellie the first week of school. In one frozen moment their eyes lock, and after that they know they fit together—even though she's Jewish and he's black. Their worlds are so different, but to them that's not what matters. Too bad the rest of the world has to get in their way.

Without even meaning to, I read this book in one sitting on my library floor. So many of you who have read this narrative can understand exactly why I couldn't stop. The fact that I picked this up in June of 2020 is extremely important to note, simply because of the unfortunate relevance it's contents has more than 20 years later. I hate that I can draw parallels to our current state of the world, I HATE that that it's not even a current state, that it's BEEN a state for over 400 years. My heart is so heavy, but I am so happy I discovered this book.

Jeremiah (Miah) has just started at Percy, a private school that his famous producer father insisted that he attend. As one of the only few Black students in the body, he can't help but feel different and separate from his peers. When he (literally) bumps into Ellie, a white Jewish girl, in the hall one day, his entire world is changed; his outlook on life brightened. The two quickly fall in love, and the days become a blur; their time spent together never enough. They see the stares, and acknowledge the disapproval of an ignorant world, but that doesn't stop them, and it doesn't deter Ellie from wanting to introduce Miah to her parents. The universe however, seems to have other plans.

I am destroyed. Both by the extreme relevance of this narrative so many years later, and by the words that Woodson has now seared forever on my heart. This was a love story, yes, but it was also a story of acceptance, and questioning, and the constant battle between the two. It was about a girl, who's connection to a boy helped her see the world for what it was. And that boy, who had been taught that the world would always see him that way. Woodson didn't need to write anything longer than the 181 pages she wrote here, this book was powerful in it's message, and poignant in it's heartbreak. I can't wait to read the follow-up!

Read if you like:
The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
A Good Neighborhood by Anne Therese Fowler

Key themes: 
love, family, racial profiling, coming-of-age, acceptance, interracial relationship 


credit: goodreads author page

CLICK HERE to read more about Jacqueline on her website's Biography page. There's also an amazing Ted Talk!



Thursday, June 25, 2020

REVIEW: Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Title: Cinderella is Dead
Author: Kalynn Bayron
Genre: YA Fairytale Retelling/Continuation
Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
Release Date: July 7, 2020
Acquired: Earc approved via Netgalley
Goodreads: ADD

It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.

Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all–and in the process, they learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew...

This fresh take on a classic story will make readers question the tales they’ve been told, and root for girls to break down the constructs of the world around them.

Can we first just take one whole minute to admire the incredible cover art by Manzi Jackson? It is so incredibly stunning, and personally I would have read this book based on that cover alone! But the synopsis is pretty awesome too, and definitely the main reason why Cinderella is Dead deserves your attention.

It's been 200 years since Cinderella's death. It's also been 200 years of the town of Lille being run by a strict and dehumanizing patriarchal hand. 16-year-old Sophia Grimmins (I see what you did there Kalynn Bayron!), is getting ready to attend the annual ball held by the King, where the town's young women are matched with suitors in true "Happily Ever After" fashion, just like Cinderella. Except there's nothing happy about the ball for Sophia, who is in love with her best friend Erin, and is hell-bent on escaping a fate that seems set in stone. And while she's at it, why not take the whole thing down!?

I. WANT. TO. SHOUT. FROM. MOUNTAINS about how this book pierced my heart. I was transported from the very first page; Bayron crafted a fairytale world that felt so intricately real and so purposefully disheartening. It wasn't just another angsty teen trope where the character is melodramatically angry about her life and her future, this narrative delved into the very real, and very prevalent issue of male dominance. My heart hung heavy the entire time, but was picked up by moments of genuine and heartfelt emotion; each character was written with such care and detail. And OMG THAT SAPPHIC REP, it made my whole being sing, I swear. Sophia is easily one of my new favorite characters, and I cannot WAIT to read whatever Bayron puts out next!

Read if you like:

The Grace Year by Kim Ligget
Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan
The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum

Key themes: 
patriarchal rule, friendship, romance, queer love, family, oppression of women, magic  



Kalynn Bayron is an author and classically trained vocalist. She grew up in Anchorage, Alaska. When she’s not writing you can find her listening to Ella Fitzgerald on loop, attending the theater, watching scary movies, and spending time with her kids. She currently lives in San Antonio, Texas with her family.



Tuesday, June 23, 2020

BLOG TOUR: Falling in Love Montage by Ciara Smyth

The Falling in Love Montage
Author: Ciara Smyth
Genre: YA LGBT+ Contemporary/Romance
Publisher: Harper Teen
Release Date: June 9, 2020
Acquired: Earc sent via Netgalley
Goodreads: ADD

Saoirse doesn’t believe in love at first sight or happy endings. If they were real, her mother would still be able to remember her name and not in a care home with early onset dementia. A condition that Saoirse may one day turn out to have inherited. So she’s not looking for a relationship. She doesn’t see the point in igniting any romantic sparks if she’s bound to burn out.

But after a chance encounter at an end-of-term house party, Saoirse is about to break her own rules. For a girl with one blue freckle, an irresistible sense of mischief, and a passion for rom-coms.

Unbothered by Saoirse’s no-relationships rulebook, Ruby proposes a loophole: They don’t need true love to have one summer of fun, complete with every cliché, rom-com montage-worthy date they can dream up—and a binding agreement to end their romance come fall. It would be the perfect plan, if they weren’t forgetting one thing about the Falling in Love Montage: when it’s over, the characters actually fall in love… for real.
 best friend, forever.

Happy Pride! Not just for the month of June, but every single day, every moment, until the very end of time! I am so happy to be featuring Ciara Smyth's debut YA LGBTQIA young adult contemporary romance The Falling in Love Montage for my tour stop today, but I also wanted to feature some other recent, and older, titles that feature queer characters/narratives.

Here are [10] other great YA titles to check out! (Clicking on the cover will bring you to the book's Goodreads page):

credit: goodreads author page 

Ciara Smyth is a social work student by day,writer by night and cat enthusiast 24/7.

Her first YA novel-about memory, rom-coms and girls who like girls-will be published in Summer 2020 by Andersen Press in the UK and Harper Collins in the US.

She previously worked as a teacher and mental health trainer. She enjoys jigging (verb: to complete a jigsaw) and claims to enjoy yoga in order to cultivate a zen persona that is shattered approximately ten minutes after you meet her.

She is from the south of Ireland but has lived in Belfast for so long that her parents make fun of her Northern accent.


Thursday, May 28, 2020

REVIEW: My Favorite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren

Title: My Favorite Half-Night Stand
Author: Christina Lauren
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
Release Date: Dec 4, 2018 
Acquired: Purchased for collection
Goodreads: ADD

Millie Morris has always been one of the guys. A UC Santa Barbara professor, she’s a female-serial-killer expert who’s quick with a deflection joke and terrible at getting personal. And she, just like her four best guy friends and fellow professors, is perma-single.

So when a routine university function turns into a black tie gala, Mille and her circle make a pact that they’ll join an online dating service to find plus-ones for the event. There’s only one hitch: after making the pact, Millie and one of the guys, Reid Campbell, secretly spend the sexiest half-night of their lives together, but mutually decide the friendship would be better off strictly platonic.

But online dating isn’t for the faint of heart. While the guys are inundated with quality matches and potential dates, Millie’s first profile attempt garners nothing but dick pics and creepers. Enter “Catherine”—Millie’s fictional profile persona, in whose make-believe shoes she can be more vulnerable than she’s ever been in person. Soon “Catherine” and Reid strike up a digital pen-pal-ship...but Millie can’t resist temptation in real life, either. Soon, Millie will have to face her worst fear—intimacy—or risk losing her best friend, forever.

This was my first read by this infamous contemporary romance duo-shocked gasps abound! I know, I've been slacking. I want to assure myself, and all of you, that I WAS enjoying it right up until things got too perfect and my belief grew tired of being suspended (I'd say this was around the 3/4 mark). There was no doubting the writing prowess of these two authors, because I can also assure you that the dialogue in here slots in comfortably and justifiably beside some of my all-time favourite dialogue writers (Rainbow Rowell, Marian Keyes). It was witty, wholesome and full of 'aww'-worthy moments, but you can only take so much cute until your eyes want to roll all the way to the back of your head.

Millie Morris, in an unofficial homage to Penny from Big Bang, is the only woman in a friend group of five. Ed, Alex, Chris and Reid round out these best friends, who all work together in different departments at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). Millie adores her friends, but adores Reid just a little bit more than the rest. In a physical admission of this secret, the two hook up for a steamy, you guessed it, 'Half-Night Stand, at the beginning of the book, and things get understandably messy from there. In true rom-com form, it's made even messier when the friend group decides to dabble in online dating to find a plus-one for an upcoming black-tie gala at the University. Millie, uncomfortable with baring her soul to the masses to snag a match, creates an alter-ego profile where she can feel free to let her guard down. She (surprise, surprise) ends up matching with Reid, but doesn't let on that it's her, because..why would she !? It's a rom-com people, keep up! How long is she willing to keep up the charade? And if she does, is possibly losing her best friend in the world worth the risk?

This book left me...wanting. It delivered hilarious dialogue and some of my favourite side-characters in a contemporary romance (I'm looking at you, Ed!), but the main characters were one-dimensional enough for me to stop caring about what happened with them. Due to a troubled past, Millie was reserved, and closed-off, but she was also quick-witted, and extremely goofy. It was a confusing contrast that elicited more annoyance than sympathy. You're also trying to tell me, that two people who have been friends for 15 YEARS, can't recognize an (albeit) slightly head turned to the left profile picture and their way of typing/text speaking?! No, no sir. I am NOT here for your lies and deceit. I came here for a good time, not a take-me-for-a-fool time.

I will definitely be continuing on his Christina Lauren journey though, I am now determined to find a winner in their catalogue.

Read if you like:

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
Meet Cute by Helena Hunting
The Flat Share by Beth O'Leary

Key themes: 
friendship, romance, family, love, friends to lovers



CLICK HERE to read more about the author duo on their website. 



Sunday, May 17, 2020

BLOG TOUR: Kingdom Above the Cloud by Maggie Platt (SPOTLIGHT)

Title: Kingdom Above the Cloud
Author: Maggie Platt
Genre: Young Adult - Christian Fantasy
Publisher: Ambassador International
Release Date: April 17, 2020
Goodreads: ADD

What if the nine Fruit of the Spirit and the Seven Deadly Sins were locked in a battle for control?

Abandoned as infants, Tovi and her twin brother were raised by an eclectic tribe of warm, kind people in a treehouse village in the va lley. After her brother’s sudden disappearance Tovi questions her life and her faith in an invisible King. Ignoring her best friend Silas’ advice, she decides to search for her brother in the kingdom on top of the mountain.

Above the cloud, the Council of Masters receives their orders. Tovi and her brother are the objectives. King Damien has a plan and Tovi is the key. The Council of Masters want her, but will she remain unscathed?

Amidst the glamour of the kingdom above the cloud Tovi is torn between her own dark desires and unanswered questions. It starts with a snake and a crown. When the ring is complete, will her life be over?

Maggie Platt is a writer, traveler, cancer survivor, and dreamer. Her greatest joys are being Auntie M to her amazing nieces and nephew and sitting with students and friends over cups of coffee and deep conversations. She works at her alma mater, Anderson University in Indiana, and she lives in a cozy little cottage nearby where students come to sit on her couch just to laugh, cry, and talk about life.