Review: American Panda

american-panda-9781481499101_hrAmerican Panda by Gloria Chao

Release Date: February 6, 2018

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Trigger Warnings: germophobia, death, emotional abuse/difficult family relationships, racism

My Rating: ★★★★

Goodreads Summary: At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents’ master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies. With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can’t bring herself to tell them the truth–that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese. But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

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My Review

I received this book as an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Prefacing this review by saying that I’m pretty sick as I’m writing this, so I’m trying to make this as coherent as possible, but it might not be, so apologies in advance. I knew going into this book that it was going to be really good, and it definitely didn’t disappoint me, but it also wasn’t quite what I expected it to be. I thought this book was going to be a dorky and funny contemporary that approached some difficult topics in a lighthearted way. This is not that book. It had its comedic moments, but in general this felt like a pretty heavy book. There also wasn’t as much of a focus on the romance as I was expecting.

Ultimately, this book is a character study. It examines the insanely complex and dynamic relationships between Mei and her family members, as well as the realities of Asian and immigrant culture in the United States today. All of these topics are things that I know very little about, and learning about Asian and Taiwanese/Chinese culture in particular was fascinating. I loved the portrait that this book painted of Mei’s family, especially the relationships between Mei and her mom, and Mei and her brother. I wish there had been a bit more exploration of Mei’s relationship with her father, but I loved how much character development that Chao managed to fit into so many of the book’s main characters.

Mei and Darren were also adorable, and I wish we’d gotten to see a bit more of their relationship over the course of the story. Their relationship was “adorkable” and super cute, but I appreciated that they had their own struggles in their relationship outside of their family and it definitely wasn’t perfect. It was also really interesting to see the development of the relationship between Mei and her roommate, Nicolette. College roommates can either go really well, or really badly, and Mei and Nicolette felt like a pretty accurate picture of that balance.

Mei also suffers from germophobia and anxiety, and while I don’t personally suffer from germophobia, I have people in my family who do, and this depiction felt very accurate (I’m not sure if it’s #ownvoices for this rep). I do, however, suffer from anxiety, and this also was a very relatable aspect of the story, particularly the focus on simultaneously wanting to make your family proud but constantly worrying that you will disappoint them.

Overall, while this book wasn’t as funny or light-hearted as I was expecting, it was a beautiful and fascinating character study that you should absolutely be counting down the days to. We need more books like this in the world.

-Sky

 

 

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Review: A Quiet Kind of Thunder

51zzvuqggbl-_sx328_bo1204203200_A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

Release Date: January 12, 2017

Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books

Trigger Warnings: anxiety, panic attacks, grief, ableism

My Rating: ★★★★

Goodreads Summary: Steffi doesn’t talk, but she has so much to say. Rhys can’t hear, but he can listen. Their love isn’t a lightning strike, it’s the rumbling roll of thunder. Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life – she’s been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He’s deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she’s assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn’t matter that Steffi doesn’t talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she’s falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it. From the bestselling author of Beautiful Broken Things comes a love story about the times when a whisper is as good as a shout.

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My Review

 I received this book as an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

This book was sickeningly sweet, and I loved every minute of it. While the plot wasn’t particularly eventful, the wonderful characters and their blossoming relationships (plus dogs!) made it a more than satisfying read.

To start off, reading from Stefi’s selectively mute perspective was fascinating. I knew very little about mutism before reading this book, and it was so nice to see this type of anxiety portrayed in the book. The depiction of Stefi’s anxiety felt very real and accurate, as were other’s treatments and stigmas surrounding her anxiety and mutism.

On top of that, we have deaf rep in the form of Rhys’s character. I can’t speak to how well this representation was handled, as I have very little experience with deafness and deaf culture, but I did appreciate that neither Stefi’s mutism and anxiety nor Rhys’s deafness were treated as novelties. They are both very real disabilities that people deal with, while nonetheless are still capable of living full and “normal” lives. I also appreciated that there was some acknowledgment of the ableism and stigmas associated with these disabilities.

I loved watching Stefi and Rhys getting to know one another, and how they each found their own way of communicating with each other and the world around them. This book also really want to learn more sign language (I’ve taught myself some (really basic) basics) using YouTube), but I don’t have anyone to use it with in real life, so I have trouble retaining it.

Rhys and Stefi’s relationship was so freaking adorable I think my heart burst about eight times while I was reading it. Stefi was such a fangirl every time Rhys did ANYTHING and it was so cute. I really related to being a total sop when you’re crushing on someone, and this was the first time I’ve read a really cutesy romance rather than a super intense one. Though, I must admit it did have its intense moments.

I did at least appreciate how involved both Stefi and Rhys’s families were, and I liked that they weren’t perfect parents, even with the best of intentions. It was also nice to get a perspective on grief that was a bit older, rather than an especially recent loss. I feel like too often the grief depicted in books only reflects how grief has an immediate effect, rather than the reality of the years of grief that follow a tragedy. I liked seeing the ways that even years later the tragedy can still manifest itself in small ways in the lives of Stefi and her family.

My only complaint with this book is that there wasn’t as much conflict as I would have liked, and I felt like the ending was a little bit rushed. I wish the plot had developed a little bit more towards the end, so there could have been a more satisfying conclusion. All in all this was super sweet with a ton of diversity and honestly, that’s all I ever want in a contemporary.

-Sky

Review: Paintbrush

51wtjrkw71lPaintbrush by Hannah Bucchin

Release Date: July 11, 2017

Publisher: Blaze Publishing, LLC

Trigger Warnings: ableism, domestic abuse, cheating, mild violence

My Rating: ★★★★

Goodreads Summary: Mitchell Morrison and Josie Sedgwick have spent their whole lives at the Indian Paintbrush Community Village, a commune full of colorful characters tucked in the mountains of North Carolina, and they aren’t particularly close–at least, not anymore. Josie wishes she could spend all of her time at Paintbrush planting tomatoes, hiking the trails, or throwing giant communal birthday parties, while Mitchell can’t wait to escape the bizarre spiritual sharing and noisy community dinners. Luckily for both of them, high school graduation is just around the corner. But when Mitchell’s mother makes a scandalous announcement that rocks the close-knit Paintbrush community, and Josie’s younger sister starts to make some dangerously bad decisions, the two find themselves leaning on each other for support – and looking at each other in a whole new light. Their childhood friendship blossoms in to something more as they deal with their insane families, but as graduation approaches, so does life in the real world, forcing Josie and Mitchell to figure out what, exactly, their relationship is – and if it can survive their very different plans for the future.

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My Review

 I received this book as an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

This book was a super cute and fluffy contemporary, which is exactly the kind of book I need to read during finals week. I want to start off by quickly commenting on my mark of this books ableism. There is literally one sentence that I noticed in the book that I considered to be ableist, where the main character makes a joke about people who use rolly backpacks. So, it’s not a hugely prevalent idea or anything, just something I noticed.

Now – for my FEELINGS! I had so many while reading this book. If there’s one trope that I absolutely adore, it’s friends-to-romance. And oh, boy! This was a good one. This book definitely deals with some heavy stuff, like cheating and domestic abuse, but the main relationship between Mitchell and Josie was so sweet and supportive. I really liked that they were so open with each other. There wasn’t a whole lot of secret-keeping between them. They may have kept a lot of things private from their friends and family, but they were super trusting of each other and were both so comfortable sharing their feelings with each other, which was really refreshing to see.

Another refreshing thing in this book – there was NO SEX! It wasn’t ever even discussed as a possibility, a choice both characters were completely comfortable with, which was a nice change from the typical YA relationship. But, it made me able to identify with the relationship a lot more, as I’m not interested in sex when I enter into a relationship with someone (though of course I understand that many people are interested, and will have sex as teenagers).

I really liked that we got to see such an in-depth picture of both Josie and Mitchell’s families. Mitchell’s parents and Josie’s sister play huge roles in the book, and I loved seeing teen-parent relationships plus interesting sibling relationships. Josie’s mom was a really interesting character, and I wish we’d gotten to hear a little bit more of her story, but we got just enough that I could understand why she made the choices she did. On Mitchell’s side, I would have liked some more interactions with his father, as Mitchell spends most of the book avoiding both of his parents, and I’d have like some more closure in their relationships, rather than just with his mom.

I also loved getting to read about the Indian Paintbrush Community Village for Sustainable Living. I’ve never read a book that takes place in a commune before, and I feel like I learned a lot about what life in one would be like. It was really interesting to see how everyone lives together in such a harmonious way, as a real community amongst themselves and nature. It also didn’t feel like a stereotypical depiction of a commune. Sure there were aspects of it that matched the image in my head of life in a commune, but a lot of people that lived there had completely “normal” (for lack of a better term) lives.

The only thing about this book that made me knock it down one star was the dual POV. I couldn’t always tell which perspective I was reading from, until either Mitchell or Josie referred to the other person. Towards the end I started to get the hang of the differences in their narratives, but they were so similar that the nuances were hard to catch sometimes.

Apart from that, this was a super cute and fast read. I flew through this book despite the struggle to get through finals in one piece, and it was exactly what I needed to decompress after the long week ended. I would definitely recommend this to fans of Stephanie Perkins and Kasie West – a perfect fluffy contemporary with some heavier stuff mixed in.

-Sky

Review: Kaleidoscope Song

29620980Kaleidoscope Song by Fox Benwell

Release Date: September 19, 2017

Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Trigger Warnings: homophobia/misia, corrective rape, sexual assault, murder, abuse/domestic abuse

My Rating: ★★★

Goodreads Summary: South Africa is loud. Listen. Do you hear the song and dance of it? The chorus of Khayelitsha life? Every voice is different, its pitch and tone and intonation as distinct as the words we choose and how we wrap our mouths around them. But everybody has a voice, and everybody sings… Fifteen year old Neo loves music, it punctuates her life and shapes the way she views the world. A life in radio is all she’s ever wanted. When Umzi Radio broadcasts live in a nearby bar Neo can’t resist. She sneaks out to see them, and she falls in love, with music, and the night, but also with a girl: Tale has a voice like coffee poured into a bright steel mug, and she commands the stage. It isn’t normal. Isn’t right. Neo knows that she’s supposed to go to school and get a real job and find a nice young boy to settle down with. It’s written everywhere – in childhood games, and playground questions, in the textbooks, in her parents’ faces. But Tale and music are underneath her skin, and try as she might, she can’t stop thinking about them.

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My Review

 I received this book as an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

It took me two months to figure out how I wanted to do this review, and I’m still not entirely happy with it. I’m still not entirely happy with my rating for this, either. But, alas, I must post a review. I will say that the trigger warnings are a little bit spoilery, and I’m going to go into a little more detail later on, so if you’d rather not know the details, be warned.

I absolutely adored the first 3/4 of this book. Seeing Neo discover herself and her love of music was both inspiring and empowering. I loved the description of the music that she listened to, and her experience of Tale’s concert. The writing in this book is phenomenal, and it drew me in from the very first page. I fell in love with this book from the very beginning, and it seemed to only get better and better as it went on. It was a powerful story of self-discovery and self-empowerment for women and artists everywhere.

Then, the last 1/4 of the book happened. I am, in all honesty, really tired of dead lesbians. I absolutely appreciate this book and the story it tells. The events in this book (such as corrective rape and homophobia/misia) are powerful realities for people all over the world, and it is important that their stories be told. That being said, they are not stories that I enjoy, and unfortunately that meant my rating dropped down from what might have been a four or five star book to a three. I don’t really have much more to say about this book, other than I hope a lot of people read it, because it’s important, but it is not a story that I can take in and “enjoy” like I enjoy other books.

-Sky

Review: The Princess Mutiny

34600133The Princess Mutiny by LJ Surrage

Release Date: March 13, 2017

Publisher: Kindle ebook

Trigger/Content Warnings: sexual assault (explicit-on-page + victim blaming), violence, death, transphobia (gender reveal scene)

My Rating:  ★★★1/2

Goodreads Summary: Anastasia Windell is not your average princess. Even as an heir to the Eagen Empire, she craves adventure, fun, and excitement that her life as a royal simply can’t give her. An arranged marriage to an unhinged Duke and a stubborn father is enough to send Anya over the edge, as she is forced to take her life into her own hands. By staging her escape in disguise, Anastasia makes a bid for freedom and sails to the West Indies, and unintentionally falls under the tutelage of notorious pirate lord Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. She doesn’t know what the Caribbean will hold for her, but she’s willing to bet that even piracy is better than life at the mercy of an abusive and powerful husband.

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My Review

I received a free ebook copy of this book from LJ Surrage in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

I want to preface this review by acknowledging my adding a trigger warning for this book having some transphobic aspects. In the past few months, I have learned a lot about why the “disguise oneself as another gender” trope in books can be harmful or damaging to transgender narratives, and I want to address those parts in this book. I’m going to link to this thread written by Ana Mardoll, for some background about this issue. I discussed these particular scenes with xer, so I could feel comfortable addressing the specifics of the scenes in this book. Our main character, Anastasia, disguises herself as a man in order to escape her abusive husband and become a sailor. There are two main “reveal” points, and the first one was done well. It was mutually consensual divulgence of private information on both sides. However, the second “reveal” does involve a character walking in on Anya while she is undressed, thus “discovering” her gender, and I did want to warn any transgender or enby readers of this particular scene.

Another aspect that I want to point out is Anya’s use of makeup to disguise herself as a man. This aspect of the plot was more confusing than anything, as the way Anya describes her use of makeup doesn’t seem to change her features to be more traditionally “masculine” (for example she “outlines” her eyes – so eyeliner?). This use of makeup also makes some assumptions of what all “men” look like, and what features are masculine versus feminine.

Beyond these problems, for which I have adjusted my rating accordingly, I did really enjoy this book. The plot move pretty quickly throughout, though it was a bit slow at the beginning. The battle scenes and the plotting all felt very real and kept me motivated to continue reading. Once the plot got going after the first third or so, I never wanted to put this book down. I also liked that the “villain” wasn’t necessarily one-dimensional. It involved more than just one person and went beyond the political aspects of the story. I also really liked the characters. I loved Ben and Read particularly, and I wish we’d gotten to see a bit more of them. Anya’s family members, as well as Stanley and George, felt a little bit one-dimensional, and I wish they had been fleshed out just a bit more.

One complaint I have about this book is the writing. This book is set in the early 1700s, but the narrating and dialogue felt like it was coming from the last decade. It definitely helped to speed up the read a bit, as one can often become bogged down in the Old English that was likely spoke at this time, but I just felt that there were a few too many colloquialisms like “the cat’s pajamas” and “friends with benefits” that kind of jolted me out of the story. I ended up at times feeling like I was reading a steampunk or urban fantasy, rather than historical fiction, because the writing felt so modern.

I also felt like this book tried to do just a little bit too much, particularly in the first third or half. I would really like to see this book split off into a duology, with the first book focusing on the 2+ years that Anya spends learning to become a pirate, and getting to know Teach, Ben, and Read. Even though the plot moved well, I actually wanted it to slow down a bit and focus some more on the details. With time jumps every few chapters that could be weeks, months, or even years long, I found it hard to keep track of where I was in the story. It also made it difficult for me to get attached to any of the characters, as it kind of glossed over all of the parts of Anya’s story where she grew to love the people that took her in, and skipped ahead to them all being inseparable, leaving me wanting more reasons to love these characters. The characters were interesting, and I liked them, but I wish I had gotten to know them as well as Anya did over the course of her story.

This book was a fun, quick read, and although it had a few problematic aspects, I did enjoy the characters and the high-stakes plot. I would love to see this developed into a series (probably a duology?) or even a movie or tv series.

-Sky

Review: Starfish

feda6ff582bd90c13e597298e4e5b4c2-ya-books-starfishStarfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Release Date: September 26, 2017

Publisher: Simon Pulse

[UPDATED] I’m changing themes to Trigger/Content warnings, as I’d like to start adding them to my reviews: attempted suicide, parental abuse, emotional abuse, sexual assault/abuse, anxiety

My Rating: ★★★★

Goodreads Summary: Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin. But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

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My Review

EDIT: (forgot to mention this when I first posted) I received this book as an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

I’m going to start off by saying while I really, really appreciated this book, it was not an easy read. There were a few times where I had to put it down and do something else for a little bit before I could come back to it. Even though it was difficult, I think this fact made this book feel even more real. If I wasn’t invested in the characters, I wouldn’t have had a hard time reading it.

The portrayal of anxiety in this book is the most accurate I’ve ever read. I can’t even begin to explain how relatable the anxiety in this book was for me, since I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. It meant a lot to me to see myself reflected so strongly in a character, and to hear her story told beautifully and accurately. I also appreciated that this book didn’t follow the trope of “love cures all” (mental illness). Our main character is going to struggle with these things for the rest of her life, and falling in love won’t cure that.

This was also the first time I’ve really seen truly awful, but realistic emotional abuse depicted on the page. I’m lucky enough to have parents who love me more than anything, and they are in NO way like Kiko’s mother, but I can see parallels with how Kiko’s mother treats her and how a lot of parents believe they can treat their children. I can relate to the feeling of never being good enough for your parents, and being constantly anxious that you’re going to let someone down. Seeing the relationship between Kiko and her mother was fascinating, though also incredibly frustrating and painful. My only complaint is that both Kiko’s parents seemed a little bit flat, and I wish their characters had been developed a bit more.

I also wish Kiko’s relationships with her brothers could have been explored more. We did get a bit towards the end, but I wish there had been more of a close relationship between the siblings. It would have made some things in the plot even more interesting to examine and explore, particularly with Kiko being the middle child.

By far my favorite aspect of this book was the depiction of Kiko’s art. I want all of these pieces made and hung in my room immediately. I loved watching Kiko’s art develop along with her character, and the descriptions of her art at the end of each chapter made the emotional impact so much stronger. This combined with the lovely writing style broke my heart so many times, and I wish I could have seen the art physically on the page, rather than just in words.

Another aspect that I loved about this story was the discussion of race, and how racism can be internalized and institutionalized. Racism isn’t always one race against another, you can have racist ideas about your own race, depending on how you are raised to view your culture. It was so intriguing to watch Kiko discover her own culture for the first time, and really view it in a positive way.

Apart from all this, I absolutely adored Jamie and Kiko’s chosen family. All of the characters that Kiko meets along her journey are so supportive and loving, and it made me really happy to see her come into her own, away from all the horrors of her biological family’s life.

-Sky

Review: There’s Someone Inside Your House

15797848There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins

Release Date: September 26, 2017

Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers

Themes: ya, horror, bullying, romance

My Rating: ★★★★

Goodreads Summary: One-by-one, the students of Osborne High are dying in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasing and grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and the hunt intensifies for the killer, the dark secrets among them must finally be confronted. International bestselling author Stephanie Perkins returns with a fresh take on the classic teen slasher story that’s fun, quick-witted, and completely impossible to put down.

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My Review

I received this book as an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

I’m going to start off by saying that I NEVER read horror books. Ever. I can handle horror films occasionally, but I don’t really enjoy them, and I think I’ve only read one other horror book in my entire life. This is a Stephanie Perkins book, so how could I not pick it up? How could I resist?

This book certainly did not disappoint. It was TERRIFYING. Fair warning for this that there is a ton of guts and gore. This book is not for the squeamish. The horror aspects of this book were well-exectuted – though I can’t really compare it to other books of the genre – it was surprising, suspenseful, and creepy. I wasn’t expecting the things that happened to happen, and I liked that we got to read from different perspectives, so the murders didn’t come as second-hand information.

On top of the super creepy plot, we also got the classic Stephanie Perkins romance. I forgot how well Stephanie Perkins writes cute and fluffy romances. I loved Ollie and Makani so much, and the character development between these two was actually amazing. I was expecting there to be a huge focus on the murder mystery, but we got a lot of character development and romance, too.

There was also a good amount of attention spent on Makani’s friends. While there wasn’t as much character development as there was for Makani and Ollie, there was still more than I expected. I also loved how supportive all the characters were. Even though they have their ups and downs, they definitely love each other, and getting to see them interact and joke around was a joy.

Overall, this book was surprisingly enjoyable, since I’m not really into horror. I liked the scary bits more than I was expecting to, but I appreciated that the romance offered a break from the creepy blood and guts sections. Stephanie Perkins is definitely still one of my favorite authors, and this book is no exception.

-Sky