Five Books to Get You into the “Game of Thrones” Spirit

Game of Thrones is back for its final season! I am so excited (and terrified) to see what’s in store for my favorite characters this season, but I know that once the show is over, I’ll be in serious withdrawal. To mitigate this feeling, here are some fantasy series that bring all of the magic, intrigue, and romance that Game of Thrones is known for to your very own hands. Hopefully, you can find a new favorite to binge between episodes or after the finale.

I am proud to say An Ember in the Ashes is one of the first fantasy series after Percy Jackson and Harry Potter that I truly fell in love with. Tahir’s world-building is truly incredible (and has only gotten better three books in) and her diverse ensemble of female characters is admirable. If you loved the family relationships in Game of Thrones, particularly female relationships, I promise you’ll devour Tahir’s debut fantasy series.

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Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

I’ve been meaning to read Fruit of the Drunken Tree since before it came out. It sounded like everything I would want in a novel: class struggles, complicated female narratives, captivating writing. But, I just never got around to it. Until, one fateful day halfway into spring break. I had binged all The Bachelor I could bear, and finally decided I needed to read something before my brain turned to mush. Luckily, Contreras’ debut, which was conveniently available at my local bookstore, does not disappoint.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree follows two girls whose paths briefly cross: Nine year old Chula, who spends her days daydreaming and terrorizing family and neighbors alike from her Bogotá townhouse, and thirteen year old Petrona, her nanny plucked from eternal poverty in the slums on the outskirts of the city. They meet at the height of coke-kingpin Pablo Escobar’s reign over Colombia. While the two girls are coming into their identities as women, they are also grappling with where those identities fit into their distinct socio-economic classes. But, although their identities are in constant conflict, the two girls seem to develop a strange kinship.

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May Wrap Up

What Happened in May?

May went by in a blink of an eye! Whether it was the stress of school and final exams, or the anticipation of my trip to Morocco, this month flew by for me. In terms of books, there were a lot of sequels coming out, but not many debuts or stand alones. Hopefully we’ll begin to see more new authors, because it sometimes feels tiring to see the same ten names every month.

Debut Author I Loved

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Karen McManus’s debut mystery was pitched as Pretty Little Liars meets the Breakfast Club, a description which it certainly lives up to. Sometimes trashy, always page-turning, this debut is perfect for a long flight or rainy day.

What I’m Reading

Right now, I’m reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Next up is A Million Junes, Emily Henry’s much anticipated second novel.

What I Blogged About

Review: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Blog: 5 Great Books About School

Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Review: Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han

What I’m Excited for in June

June 4: Oblong Books in Rhinebeck hosts Laini Taylor and Victoria Schwab

June 6: Once and For All by Sarah Dessen comes out. Dessen’s novels are perfect beach reads, light, funny, and always sweet.

June 6: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley is released. Another romance, Crowley’s debut takes place in a bookstore. What’s better than that?

Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han

I remember first reading To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han in seventh grade and immediately finding a connection with the protagonist, Lara Jean. My mom had just died and I was searching for someone not to tell me it was going to be okay or that they were so sorry, but someone to show me they can be successful and flourishing without a mother by their side. Lara Jean was exactly that. Her mom had died when she was nine (she was sixteen at the beginning of the novel) and Lara Jean was still thriving.

“I have a feeling that when I’m Stormy’s age, these everyday moments will be what I remember: Peter’s head bent, biting into a chocolate chip cookie; the sun coming through the cafeteria window, bouncing off his brown hair; him looking at me.”

Two books and a few years later, I am still finding solace and relatability in Lara Jean. She is now eighteen and about to go off to college. The center of her story has shifted to her relationship with her boyfriend and her changing family dynamic (her father is getting married). I loved the way Han portrayed Lara’s feelings about her step-mother-to-be. After my mom died, I moved in with my dad and his girlfriend, similar to how Lara Jean’s dad’s fiance moves in with her family. The relationship between Lara Jean and her father’s girlfriend is at some times complicated, but always realistic. Even still, the best relationship was between Lara Jean and her mother. Lara Jean struggles with advice her mother gave her, “never go to college with a boyfriend.” This advice, which goes against what Lara would like to do, leads to a struggle between honoring a beloved mother’s memory and moving on successfully. This is something I struggle with, too. How Han manages to capture exactly what I felt during this challenge, I am unsure. Whatever she does, it is truly moving.

And I haven’t even talked about the relationship between Lara Jean and her boyfriend, Peter. He is not just a plot device used to further character development, but a three dimensional person who is not restricted to what would be most convenient to write about. Throughout the novel, it felt like Lara Jean was an older sister or cousin, laughing and telling you about her many successes and failures.

Novels like Han’s remind me about why I love Young Adult. Sure, there are great novels about girls defying the system or liberating their authoritarian societies- but there are also stories like Lara Jean’s. These stories reach out to girls who may be struggling and give them a genuine perspective they can connect to and learn from. Lara Jean’s last chapter closes with everything it began with- the awkwardly sincere and perpetually hopeful writing of a teenager girl trying to figure her future out. I can’t wait to share her story with my little sister when she gets older.

PS: Check out my review of the second novel in Lara Jean’s story, PS I Still Love You.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Remember 2012, when books like Divergent and The Hunger Games were popular? Dystopian novels had a moment, then faded into contemporary hits like The Fault in Our Stars. Until a recent resurgence in the popularity of dystopian classics, I hadn’t really thought of dystopians that much. Race, religion, space colonization, pollution, classism, nuclear weaponry, disease, shrinking privacy and growing surveillance- every issue under the sun seemed to already have a book written about it. Yet still, National Book Award winner Neal Shusterman, has written a dystopian truly unlike any other.

In the not so distant future, humankind has reached the apex of technological improvement and created the Thunderhead (meant to be like iCloud), the most powerful super computer in existence. It had eradicated disease, hunger, pollution, any true sense of class- but most importantly the Thunderhead has found a way to end mortality. No one can die naturally (and if they do decide to hurl themselves off a building for instance, they can be “revived”). This has turned  humanity into, as one character remarks, archaic cartoons like Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner. However, due to population growth, some humans must be “gleaned.” This is the job of scythes, of which the two protagonists are training to become.

“The greatest achievement of the human race was not conquering death. It was ending government.”

What is so remarkable about Scythe is that there is truly no problems with the society. The government is not corrupt because there is no government, crime rates are microscopic because there is no motivator if everyone is equal, and the Thunderhead is not some robo terrorist that is hell bent on destroying all life. While some find this lack of visceral conflict boring, I enjoyed this aspect of Scythe. Instead of fighting for a “better” society, the characters spend the majority of their time pondering the ethics of killing- not whether it should be done, but how exactly it is done most humanely and if it is truly killing if the “victim” is willing to die. Of course, there is some conflict- but not the bloody, violent kind that dystopian novels tend to favor.

“Innocence is doomed to die a senseless death at our own hands, a casualty of the mistakes we can never undo. So we lay to rest the wide-eyed wonder we once thrived upon, replacing it with the scars of which we never speak, too knotted for any amount of technology to repair.”

I love books that force me to consider my own ideals, which is why Scythe is now one of my favorites. Seasoned author Neal Shusterman does not disappoint, so I urge you to head to your favorite indie bookstore today and pick up a copy of his latest.

5 Great Books About School

I only have three weeks left of school- then I’m off to Morocco for a month. Throughout my middle school experience I have found many books about the horrors,  terrors, and gruesome three years of middle school. Some of these books are fantastic- some are far from it. Here are five books I feel like exemplify my school experience (so far). Onto the next chapter!

Popular by Maya Van Wagenen

Written by teenager Maya Van Wagenen, Popular follows Maya as she navigates 8th grade while following Betty Cornell’s Guide to Teen Age Popularity. Awkwardly funny, Popular explores generational differences and what makes a modern teenager. Check out my full review here.

Falling into Place by Amy Zhang

Also written by a teenager (it’s no coincidence the best books about teenagers are also written by them), Falling into Place follows a teenage queen bee who decides to end her life. If you liked Before I Fall, you’ll love this. Check out my full review here.

The Graces by Laure Eve

The Graces is by no means a realistic depiction of high school. Often, it borders on fantasy. However, the underlying messages of wealth, class, and idolization of the rich are issues teenagers work through every day. Check out my full review here.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

With an unflinching, candid voice Starr Carter describes race relations and being one of two African American kids in her tony, white prep school. Starr’s inner commentary is funny yet insightful- I often found myself stopping my reading to think about what she said. Check out my full review here.

Hold Still by Nina LaCour

Nina LaCour’s debut about a girl reeling after her best friend’s suicide is a savvier, smarter, and better written alternative to the popular 13 Reasons Why. Check out my full review here.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

I absolutely adore Nina LaCour. She writes candidly about relationships- friendships, romance, family, in a way few other authors do. Through a mixture of inside jokes, intelligent observations, and awkwardly realistic interactions, LaCour builds characters so real they practically step off the page.

We Are Okay follows grief stricken Marin staying at her virtually empty college over winter break. Before her matriculation that fall, Marin’s grandfather (and only living relative) killed himself, causing her to flee her hometown of San Francisco for freezing New York. As all the best authors do, LaCour draws on her own experiences- in her acknowledgments, she remembers her own recently deceased grandfather. Over Marin’s winter break, she begins to untangle the relationships she left behind in San Francisco and why exactly her beloved grandfather’s death was so painful.

“She leans over our table and turns the sign in the window so that it says CLOSED on the outside. But on our side, perfectly positioned between Mabel’s place and mine, it says OPEN. If this were a short story, it would mean something.”

While I loved the themes of We Are Okay, I felt the writing was sometimes clunky or clichéd. I have noticed an uptick of more metaphorical writing in Young Adult and I am not a fan. This may be more of a personal preference, but I believe it is more admirable to be concise yet detailed- not meandering and flowery.

We Are Okay tackles isolation- which is, in Marin’s case, both literally and figuratively. LaCour also writes about honesty and what is left unsaid in relationships and how these omissions may shape false perceptions. LaCour continues to stun while writing about seemingly normal lives. I look forward to her next book.

April Wrap Up

What Happened in April?

April was a huge month for book news! Tahereh Mafi, author of Furthermore, announced she will be continuing her Shatter Me series with a fourth book coming out next March. Also, Hulu released their adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale and it is fantastic. Gilead is brought to life with great cinematography and fantastic actors.

Debut Author I Loved

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While Angie Thomas’ debut came out in February, I have been disappointed with most of the debuts coming out this Spring so I have decided to write about a relatively new author. I did not choose to highlight Thomas in February, however I absolutely adored her novel The Hate U Give, which I read this past month.

What I Blogged About

Review: City of Saints and Thieves by Angie Thomas

Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Review: Dreamology by Lucy Keating

What I’m Excited for in May

May 2: Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han hits shelves. Read my review of Jenny Han’s PS I Still Love You here.

May 16: A Million Junes by Emily Henry is released. Henry blew everyone away with her debut, The Love That Split the World, so I’m very excited to read her next novel.

May 16: Flame in the Mist by Reneé Ahdieh comes out. Check out my review of her previous novels here and here.

May 30: One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus comes out.

Dreamology by Lucy Keating

If you’ve been looking for the perfect beach read- relax. You’ve found it. It is Lucy Keating’s debut novel, Dreamology. Light, funny, and whimsical, Keating’s novel is perfect for lounging poolside and just the right length (336 pages) to read in-flight.

Dreamology follows Alice, a New York transplant living in Boston with her dad. Since she can remember, Alice has had dreams about a boy who calls himself Max. When she starts school at the prestigious Bennett Academy (Keating attended Phillips Academy… possibly an inspiration?), Alice runs into a boy who’s identical to Max. But that can’t be possible. After all, Max is a figment of Alice’s imagination. But when she starts seeing other impossible things- like pugs sipping coffee in cafés or the ground rippling below her feet, she begins to think something is up. Can Alice figure out what’s happening to her mind before it’s too late?

“Our dreams are the one thing we share that nobody else can touch. Now we’re going to lose them, and I am terrified.”

While Dreamology occasionally borders on childish, it still provides a fantastical escape from reality. Keating combines pop culture references and whimsical new technology to create a world entirely her own.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I was pretty reluctant to read The Hate U Give. Angie Thomas’s debut (named after Tupac’s Thug Life tattoo) has gained a lot of press for being a novel about police brutality towards African American teens. But the special part about The Hate U Give isn’t the premise- it’s that it was written for teens. Yet, I was not drawn towards this novel. To me, it seemed like Thomas didn’t know how to connect with a teen audience when talking about systemic racism, so she turned what should have been a collection of essays into a novel. But, after some pushing from friends, I put my assumptions aside and picked up The Hate U Give. I couldn’t be happier I did.

While The Hate U Give does have a few rough, lecture-y moments, overall Thomas’ novel is a compelling, well written, and a well needed political commentary. I laughed out loud, cried, and bit my lip with the protagonist, Starr, while she was dealing with issues from the changing dynamic between her and her (white) boyfriend to the aftermath of her unarmed friend, Khalil, being shot by a cop. While educating me, The Hate U Give simultaneously forced me to confront my own privilege and acknowledge how situations Starr was put in would would go differently for me solely because of my lighter skin tone. Whatever the situation, Starr dishes out realness while she struggles with problems that are ordinary and extraordinary.

“Funny how it works with white kids though. It’s dope to be black until it’s hard to be black”

The Hate U Give should be required reading in every high school. Many classics like 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale have recently sprung to the front of reading lists. The Hate U Give deserves to be among them. While Thomas’s novel is not about dystopic, totalitarian societies, it is still an impressive new piece of political commentary. The Hate U Give teaches teens about the racism many of their peers face, while also urging them to confront their own privilege. Right now, we must to listen to stories like Starr and Khalil’s.