A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

avleofIn A Very Large Expanse of Sea, Tahereh Mafi flexes her writing chops. Her newest, a blunt, politically-charged realistic fiction, is a complete departure from the dreamy fantasy work she’s written in the past. And, despite some rocky passages and awkward dialogue, Mafi succeeds in showing readers her versatility as a storyteller.

“I was stuck in another small town, trapped in another universe populated by the kind of people who’d only ever seen faces like mine on their evening news, and I hated it.”

A Very Large Expanse of Sea follows Shirin, a sarcastic, guarded teen who’s struggling to find  her place in small-town America after 9/11. Shirin is noticeable for a variety of reasons– her love of breakdancing, her lovingly handmade clothing, her haughty attitude, but, most of all because of her hijab. We meet Shirin as she is preparing for her newest high school in a line of many, putting up walls and dealing with xenophobia in both small and large instances. But, it turns out her newest school might not be exactly the same as her others, thanks to a surprising interest from golden-boy Ocean James, who takes a sweet, sincere interest in her.

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Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor

monIt’s always a gamble to pick a book up during school breaks. There’s no time for me to pleasure read at school, however I can’t always read fast enough to finish the book at home. But, I feel there’s nothing worse than a story left unfinished. So, when I picked up Muse of Nightmares for the train back to school, I was determined to read the nearly 500 page sequel to Strange the Dreamer in six hours. Obviously, that was not possible, so I was left to sneaking in five or ten pages whenever I had the chance. Perhaps it was this reading style, but more likely it was Taylor’s masterful, slow-build writing that made Muse of Nightmares on of the best fantasy novels I read this year.

Wishes don’t just come true. They’re only the target you paint around what you want. You still have to hit the bull’s-eye yourself.”

Taylor possesses an incredible gift of dropping breadcrumbs and seemingly unrelated connections throughout the duology, holding the reader by their hand and revealing the final piece of the storyline at just the right moment. While some of her clues were more clearly connected than others, I found the overall arc of the story a mystery until after I had turned the last page.

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November Wrap Up

What I’m Up To:

 I’m writing this wrap up on my way back to school, ready for the dreaded two and a half weeks between Thanksgiving break and winter break. It’s time to get some work done, but as soon as it’s over, I’ll be back in New York to celebrate Christmas with my family, where I can get some reading done.

avleof What I’m Reading Right Now:

 I’m almost finished with A Very Large Expanse of Sea, Tahereh Mafi’s realistic fiction debut (which was long-listed for the National Book Award). I was a huge fan of Mafi’s fantasy series when it came out a few years ago, but her newest is both a thematic and stylistic departure. Gone are the flowery sentences and angsty action-packed chapters, replaced by sharp wit and politically-charged narratives. A Very Large Expanse of Sea follows Shirin, a Muslim teenager grappling with her identity in a post 9/11 world.

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What I’m Thankful For: 8 Years of Book Reviews by Ava

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, which means I’m in Arkansas visiting my lovely relatives. This year, I have a lot to be thankful for, from my amazing, supportive family to the incredible education I am lucky enough to have access to thanks to a generous scholarship. But, one thing I wanted to highlight this season was how thankful I am for the wonderful book review community- everyone from my loyal readers to bookstore owners, librarians, publishers, publicists, authors, and many more.

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Since my first review for Warwick’s Bookstore in San Diego, book reviewing has been an integral part of my life, one that I can’t imagine my life without. As a young reader, I am grateful for the platform to share my ideas and opinions about literature. The empowerment that comes from expressing my thoughts has been integral to my growth into a young adult who is passionate about reading.

My first review followed little Lulu, a drama-queen wishing for a brontosaurus as a pet. It was three sentences long and emphasized the cute illustrations and laughable dialogue. Back then, I had my dad edit my reviews down to the sentence and only posted a review when I loved the book.

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Paperback Crush by Gabrielle Moss

pcAh, Scholastic book fairs. That glorious week in December when parents volunteered in a hastily constructed cardboard bookstore and kids ran wild with their five dollar gift certificates. To me, and countless other Gen-Zers, book fair week was the best week of the school year. There, I discovered my first favorite books: the Rainbow Magic series. Numbering nearly 150 volumes, the series followed besties Rachel and Kirsty as they rescued helpless fairies from evil Jack Frost.

After Rainbow Magic, I dabbled in Bailey School Kids and Magic Tree House before finding home in Cam Jansen mystery novels, which followed Cam, a quirky tween with a photographic memory and a penchant for mystery-solving. But, after Cam came the true mecca of mystery novels: my aunt’s collection of Nancy Drew novels. I was as in love as a seven year old could be (that is, until I discovered Harry Potter and Percy Jackson).

All of my favorite $4.99 paperbacks were riding the wave of immensely popular mega-hits like Baby-Sitters Club, Sweet Valley High, and Goosebumps, which hit peak popularity ten years before I was born. These “Young Adult” novels of the 80’s and 90’s (think: post Judy Blume, pre J. K. Rowling) are the subject of Bustle Features Editor Gabrielle Moss’ newest book, Paperback Crush.

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Why Voting this Midterm is Important

Today is the United States’ midterm elections. On this day, hundreds of candidates running for everything from county sheriff to congressman will be elected by us, citizens of the United States. Historically however midterm elections have much lower voter turnout than presidential elections. According to Nonprofit Vote, only 37% of eligible voters voted in the 2014 midterm election, the lowest amount since World War II. Especially with recent attacks against American citizens, such as Trump’s threat to change an amendment that grants citizenship to every person born in the United States, it is important to vote now more than ever! No matter who you’re voting for or what you believe in, it is important to cast your ballot for people who represent your beliefs. Here’s three reasons you should vote tomorrow. 

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Antonio Delgado, a Democrat running for congress in my district, NY-19!

1. This election is historic for its diversity of candidates.

According to the New York Times, 411 candidates running for United States Senate or Congress are women, people of color, or LGBT+ –that’s more than any election ever before! This diverse group demonstrates an opportunities for a multitude of new voices, opinions, and ideas to be heard in our government. Find a voice that resonates with you and cast your vote!

2. It’s your civic duty

Millions of people across the world do not have the privilege of letting their voice be heard in their government. We American citizens are lucky. We must use our privilege to vote people into power who stand up for real American values like democracy and freedom of speech, not misogyny and racism.

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October Wrap Up

What I’m Up To

Two months of school down! When I’m not studying, I’ve been writing for my school newspaper’s op-ed section or coxing for our crew team. I also was able to see my family for a weekend. No matter how good our school cafeteria food is, it was great to have home cooking for a couple nights. Just two more weeks until Thanksgiving break…wt

What’s On My Bedside Table

Right now, I’m reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith. I really enjoyed Swing Time, which I read in July, so picking up Smith’s debut was a no brainer. I’m only about 100 pages in, but I love Smith’s vivid story-telling and complex, quirky characters. Although school work is picking up, I’ve still found a few seconds between class every day to read a view pages. Slow and steady wins the race, right?

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The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

wcI was not expecting to read The Water Cure. Long-listed for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, it came out in the UK this past May, and is slated for release in the United States in January. I picked it up on a whim while between books and unexpectedly became transfixed.

The Water Cure, Welsh novelist Sophie Mackintosh’s debut, follows three sisters: Oldest Grace, middle Lia, and youngest Sky. The three live on an island with Mother and King. There, they are taught many things, but one above all: men are evil, toxic, deadly.

“If we were to spit at them, they would spit back harder. We expected that – we were prepared for it even. What we didn’t expect was their growing outrage that we even dared to have moisture in our mouths. Then outrage that we had mouths at all.”

Readers are introduced to the sisters right as something goes wrong: King is dead. Soon after, men arrive. The carefully crafted order the family has cultivated is destroyed. As we are drawn further into the story through flashbacks and dream-like prose, a web of manipulation and disturbing rituals is revealed.

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The Fates Divide by Veronica Roth

tfdFor a while, I thought I wasn’t going to finish The Fates Divide. I was wading through pages and pages of exposition so every chapter was a struggle to finish. But, suddenly, in the middle of the novel, a secret was revealed.

From there onwards, The Fates Divide sped forward at a breakneck pace, at least until what was supposed to be the climax. But, instead of an epic battle or moving sacrifice, the climax dull and too-easily resolved, mostly because the stakes didn’t feel high. Coming off the heels of Allegiant, I was expecting an enormous plot twist, a tragic choice, or at least a character death. Instead, everyone happily survived. I turned the last page wondering, is this it? 

I am not a fan of sci-fi, but I still loved Carve the Markthe first in Roth’s duology. Before that, I loved Divergent, liked Insurgent, could barely finish Allegiant. To me, the pattern seems clear. What start off as and ambitious, creative series eventually fizzles into lifeless stories in the second or third novel.

“Suffer the fate, for all else is delusion.”

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Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

3dcBack in 2016, I read the first chapter of Three Dark Crowns and fell in love. The excerpt promised a story of three sisters, each with a claim to the throne of Fennbirn island. On their sixteenth birthday, the sisters would begin a battle to the death, only ended when one queen, the true queen, remained.

I was expecting action, intrigue, maybe a little romance. I wanted Game of Thrones. What I got was Anna and the French Kiss.

“I want revenge.” She whispers, and her fingers trail bloody streaks down Natalia’s arms. “And then I want my crown.”

Three Dark Crowns is not a prequel. It is the first book in a duology-turned-quartet. But, for eighty percent of the book, the only thing that happened was uninteresting romances and an introductions into the world of Fennbirn. Nowhere in the book do the sisters try to kill each other. In fact, they don’t even meet until the last quarter of the book!

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