The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

I’ve grown as a reader since the time I read Roshani Chokshi’s The Star-Touched Queen. This bittersweet realization came to me while reading her latest, The Gilded Wolves. Fantasy novels have always been a favorite of mine because of the vivid worlds they allow me to dive into, which is why I loved Chokshi’s debut. Unfortunately, three years later, her fifth novel falls flat.

“History is a myth shaped by the tongues of conquerors.” 

I am not a fan of overly-poetic prose, especially when it’s hiding simple meanings. It leads me to skim and takes me out of the story because the writing feels juvenile. For instance, the sentence above basically expresses the common saying “history was written by the winners,” but wraps it in overly loquacious phrasing (see- I can write with SAT words, too!), which makes it feel like the writer is trying to prove their skills. I wish they would display their story-telling abilities in ways other than whipping out a thesaurus, because everyone can do that. Writers I love tend to show their skill instead of telling us all about it. As a thirteen year old, I appreciated the vocabulary practice. As a sixteen year old, not so much.

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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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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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September Wrap Up

What I’m Up To

I’m back at boarding school, working my way through sophomore year. I love school and the chance to be back with all my friends, but I miss being able to pick up a book and read whenever I wanted.

wwtawwtar.jpgWhat’s On My Bedside Table

Right now, I’m reading What we Talk About When We Talk About Rape by Sohaila Abdulali. Thanks to Mary Beard’s Women & Power which I read in July, I’ve been getting more into nonfiction recently. Abdulali’s account of her gang rape in India went viral in 2013. Now, she’s channelled many of the ideas she mentioned in her op-ed into her memoir/essay/research/manifesto about rape, which will be released later this month. As a young woman, I find Abdulali’s story is both unflinchingly terrifying and galvanizing.

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Unclaimed Baggage by Jen Doll

ubIn Unclaimed Baggage, Jen Doll’s Young Adult debut, readers discover two different stories. One is narrated by a purple suitcase sent to a store for unclaimed baggage. The other is a harrowing account of childhood sexual assault. Instead of choosing to be a fluffy beach read about a first job or a compelling narration of small town sexual assault, Unclaimed Baggage tries to be both, and in doing that, fails both narratives.

Doll is a fantastic journalist. I admire her book reviews for the New York Times and Slate (among many other publications), so I wanted so badly to love Unclaimed Baggage. But, I just couldn’t.

Unclaimed Baggage oozes potential. Every few chapters, there will be a fantastic sentence or two that renews the reader’s excitement and faith in the story. For a few pages, you’ll want to read on. But, ultimately these sentences were too few and too far apart to save the novel.

The silliness of a purple suitcase narrating part of the story only diminishes the importance of the narrative about sexual assault, but the story of sexual assault feels out of place in a novel where narrators include purple suitcases. Furthermore, the touch of whimsy brought by enigmatic aunts, sentient suitcases, and secret clubhouses seems misplaced and too childish for many Young Adult readers.

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I’m From Nowhere by Suzanne Myers

About two weeks ago, there was a hashtag going around the YA community, #quietYA. It talked about amazing Young Adult books that perhaps didn’t make quite as big a splash as say Divergent or The 5th Wave. I’m From Nowhere epitomizes this hashtag.

Don’t mistake the smallness of this release for a not-as-good book, because you would be completely wrong. Suzanne Myers’ talent lies in her extraordinary sense of place. The majority of I’m From Nowhere takes place at an elite New England boarding school, Hardwick Hall and you can practically feel the ornate brick buildings and musty horse stables. Myers is also quite talented at crafted a unique voice for her main character, Wren Verlaine. Many authors try to craft a voice for their character that makes it seem like the character is your best friend, laughing along as they tell their story. Few authors succeed, but Myers is one of the few that do.

Wren is an utterly average teen, living in Ventura, California, along with her journalist mother. She’s comfortable, happy, living in an in-between phase that isn’t so bad. Live is predictable, ordinary, until her mother get a new job. In Greenland. For six months. And with that, Wren is shipped off to the preppy Hardwick Hall, where she’ll complete her sophomore year of high school. World upturned, Wren struggles to stay aloft amidst guitars, secrets, horses, and boys. But Wren Verlaine is a trooper. She’ll make it through.

Myers masterfully weaves a story, that, to quote its protagonist herself, “is about the year I found out I was not who I thought I was, and also how I learned to be okay with being myself.” I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re all talking about Myers in a week or two. Sometimes it’s the quietest stories that need to be told the most.

My interview with the amazing Heidi Heilig, author of The Girl From Everywhere

I knew this interview was going to go great as soon as Heidi Heilig suggested we meet at Doughnut Plant, a local Brooklyn eatery that boasts the best doughnuts in NYC. Now, I feel the need to stress, I did not suggest this meeting place. I repeat, I did not suggest this place. But! Heidi Heilig, who has great taste in doughnuts and a fantastic YA debut coming out this February, did. So thank you, Heidi. Now, lets get onto the interview.

What was it like growing up in Hawaii?

I spent high school hiking and going to the beach. Just like in the city [New York City] there are so many free things to do!

Tell me about the transition from paradise to the city that never sleeps…

I moved right before senior year to go to a performing arts school in Rockefeller Center and left behind so many friends. New York felt so much more cold and gritty. I fell in love with the city through walking. I would explore New York for hours on my feet, just walking.

You studied musical theatre and wrote for the stage… what motivated you to write Young Adult?

My theatre partner did music and I did the writing- I was not musically talented. When he went on tour in the Midwest, I had nothing to do. I had always loved YA and Fantasy, things like Game of Thrones. So, I just decided to give it a try myself.

You travel a lot. Do your travels inspire your characters or do you travel to research your characters?

I walk and explore to recharge. Those explorations really inspire my characters.

How do you choose a destination when you travel?

I have such a scattered brain… I’ll become obsessed with things and I just have to know more. I wanted to go to Morocco after I saw a lamp in a thrift store!

What drew your interest to the father daughter relationship, which is such an integral part of your book?

I didn’t think I would be able to have a kid and really wanted a relationship with kids. The parents in my book were really more like me, struggling with things such as addiction and bipolar disorder. I really wanted the father in particular to have a redemption arc.

Time travel is a big part of The Girl from Everywhere. Why did you focus on it?

I regret so many things. I think its good to regret, it means you tried. When I lived in Hawaii, I fell in love with a classmate, who is now my husband. I was so creepy! I bought a disposable camera one day and ran up to him, asking for his picture! I still have it. When I moved to New York, I really regretted never telling him how I felt and had this morbid fantasy that years into the future we would go to the same retirement home and fall in love there. Luckily, we met at a friend’s wedding a couple years later and reconnected then.

A lot of authors have playlists for the books they write… do you have one?

For The Girl from Everywhere, I listened to a lot of sea chanties, which are really wail-y and dark. I also listened to Marianas Trench’s Ever After.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on the first new book in a three book series for Harper Collins.

Okay.. time for the lightning round! Say whatever comes to your mind first! It doesn’t have to be right.

Where do you want to travel to next?

China!

Do you have any pet?

A boy hognose snake! 

I have to ask… what’s your favorite doughnut?

Tres Leches.

What’s your takeout order?

Shrimp veggies with egg rolls.

Do you prefer the big city or a small town?

Big city!

What are you watching on Netflix?

I don’t watch TV when I’m writing, but I want to start Veronica Mars.

What book is on your beside table?

Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate.

Thank you so much for the interview, Heidi! Heidi Heilig’s debut, The Girl from Everywhere comes out this February. Follow her on Tumblr and Twitter: @heidiheilig and Twitter

Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom

As promised, I read and will now review Eric Lindstrom’s Not If I See You First, the book I got in my Uppercase subscription box this month (read about that here: http://bookreviewsbyava.tumblr.com/post/135470520009/uppercase-subscription-box-unboxing ).

My first thought upon beginning Lindstrom’s YA debut was how obnoxious the main character, Parker Grant, is. She’s very insensitive, and doesn’t pay attention to those around her until it best suits her interest. She’s rude, bitter, and uses her blindness as an excuse for things she shouldn’t. These traits of course, while dislikable, do not make the book itself dislikable. Not If I See You First is a very character driven novel. It’s all about Parker, this insufferable, blind teenager who recently lost her father, and is struggling to cope with her past and present. It’s a heartwarming story, however, I never felt Not If I See You First ever got cheesy. It is the epitome of the Realistic Fiction genre, completely plausible in every way, but maintaining its individuality with an unique character and very complete and well done development arc. I really enjoyed Not If I See You First.

All though it might be too late to give this book as a Christmas gift, Not If I See You First is the perfect book to start the new year with. It’s fresh, unique, and empowering.

Hold Still by Nina LaCour

Hold Still by Nina LaCour is one rollercoaster ride of a book. I knew LaCour was talented- she certainly proves that in her newest novel, Everything Leads to You but her 2009 debut absolutely blew me away with its extraordinary writing and lifelike characters.

High schooler Caitlin’s world has been shaken up and shattered by her best friend Ingrid’s suicide. Caitlin is lost, in her thoughts, her life, and her relationships. Now that Ingrid is gone, she has no one to really talk to. And Ingrid told Caitlin everything. How could Caitlin let this happen? When a new school year starts, Caitlin discovers a journal Ingrid left behind. Caitlin has a chance to find out what drove her friend to her death. But, then again, Caitlin might be looking for reasons where there are no reasons. Why does someone take their life?

Through new and old friends and abandoned theatres and photographs and tree houses Caitlin begins to discover herself, and who that will be with Ingrid. Hold Still is a must read for anyone looking for a moody musing on suicide and those left drowning in its wake.

The Trouble With Friends

Gift giving can be hard at times… Here’s how to survive (and make everyone happy).

HERE’S WHAT TO GET….

The friend who reads everything…

The Walled City by Ryan Graudin (my review here)

The Friend who doesn’t like reading…

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

The Friend who’s still talking about The Fault in Our Stars (sorry John Green) …

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella (my review here)

The friend who “doesn’t read Young Adult”…

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (my review here)

The Friend who loves classics…

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh (my review here)

The Friend who’s way to excited about Christmas…

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

The Friend who thinks YA is just about girls…

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (my review here)

That Obscure Cousin you know nothing about but have to give a gift every year…

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (my review here)

The Friend who’s stuck on the East Coast  and just wants some California sunshine…

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

The Friend that just wants to see the movie, not read the book…

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (my review here)

The Friend who can’t be bothered with fiction…

Symphony for the City of the Dead by M. T. Anderson (my review here)

And finally, if you’re wondering what to get me (are you reading this, Dad?) YallWest begins on May 30th (here’s where you can purchase my ticket: link)!