This was a fantastic ride, and a serious, heartfelt novel hiding behind the persona of a party narrative. New favorite!
Characters: ★★★★ 1/2
Overall enjoyment ★★★★★
Loveboat, Taipei was honestly a surprise for me. I'd heard mixed reviews and wasn't sure if it was for me, but I decided to go with my gut. I'm so glad I did. This was such shock—like a Taipei-based Gossip Girl, with better themes and refreshingly original cast. Loved it.
Ever Wong is 18 years old, and she's ready to spend the last summer before college dancing her heart out in secret under the nose of her disapproving parents. But then her parents give her a nasty surprise: there will be no Ohio summer, and definitely no dancing. Ever's going to China to learn Mandarin, surrounded by the Chinese-American elite students that her parents always wished Ever would be. No pressure.
Ever imagines that this summer will be filled with studying, unfair academic expectations, and more internal shaming than she ever received at home.
Ever's in for the shock of her life.
Chien Tan, the summer school, is known as "Loveboat" by the students who attend. It's more of a party-all-night, hook-up scene than a school. Thrust into a different version of Asian-American culture than she's ever experienced, Ever wonders if for the first time in her life, she can truly be herself.
Oh, and naturally there are some boys. (Wink, wink.)
I don't know, folks. Maybe I read this at the perfect time, but Loveboat, Taipei knocked me out of the water. I read it in one day. I couldn't stop. Ever's sense of self, her struggle for identity in her immigrant family vs her American ideology was expertly rendered—I felt for her and cheered her on at ever step.
This was so much FUN. I loved the positive representation of sex, the friend dynamics (with their ups and DOWNs, wow), the love triangle that was an actual triangle with equal effort placed in both love interests, growing pains, finding yourself, the sense of familial duty vs individualism in the Asian American experience, and the unique setting of the summer school program itself.
I loved the window into Taipei's culture and its elite summer program. In the author's note, the author discusses the fact that this program does exist (although this novel's version of it is exaggerated for obvious reasons). I can't speak to how Asian Americans would felt regarding this novel's representation, but appreciated the author's context.
Loveboat, Taipei also addressed a lot more serious themes than I was expecting. This was actually a sore spot for many of the negative reviews that I've seen, so I really want to share my thoughts: I thought these aspects were handled well given how they were introduced to the plot. Please see the spoiler below for more thoughts on the biggest aspect of that point. Another dark theme discussed in this novel related to a betrayal between two main characters—Wow, what a gut punch. BUT, again, I liked the author's handling of the subject. Instead of making it a trope'd, two-dimensional girl vs. girl hate issue, there was character growth. It's not a bad thing to have a trope, as long as it's handled well and brings something new to the game. For me, Loveboat, Taipei did that.
A spoiler, relevant to the topic above: There is a distant character—the long-distance girlfriend to one of the love interests—who is struggling with severe mental health issues. It is made very clear that the love interest is in a relationship with this character to keep her from harming herself. This is obviously a very toxic and unhealthy relationship for both parties. Given the fact that the girlfriend is barely in the book, I thought the author handled those sensitive topics well within the context of the story. It did not feel dismissive or seem to promote negative assumptions—but it did not take over the plot, because it wasn't the plot. To make this side character's mental health journey more prominent would have taken the story in a completely different direction, so I did not mind the way it was handled. It read as respectful to me, especially as the male love interest's intentions and actions were always on the right side of the line, and when this situation became known to the rest of the characters, everyone handled it within the realms of respect and understanding.
I am READY for the next book. Can't wait!
As much as I tried to love this...I didn't. This is a fantastic series, but Lair of Dreams is my least favorite so far.
Pacing: ★ 1/2
Character development: ★★★★★
Plot: ★★★ 1/2
This is the second book in The Diviners series, so a caution: I'm talking about this book, there might be spoilers for book one!
Following the events of The Diviners, our crew of supernaturally talented diviners are left in a world that is running with the concept of their existence, and the good guys and bad guys are paying attention. What now?
Henry DuBois the IV, the aspiring piano composer with dreams of the big stage, finds himself dreaming the same dream week after week. He's looking for his lost love, Louis, who he left in New Orleans. A dream walker, Henry thinks he can locate Louis in his dreams. But something else finds Henry instead.
Ling Chan is also a dream walker, but her dreams are more of a pay-to-play service. She helps locals in Chinatown transfer messages to dead loved ones through dreams, and she's happy with that. But one night she meets Henry, and their lives converge in unexpected ways.
And the dream world is paying attention.
Soon, Henry and Ling find themselves wrapped in a web of dreams covering up a deadly secret. Can they find out the truth before the dream consumes them?
Our original cast of characters from the first book--Evie, Sam, Mabel, Theta, Memphis, and Jericho—are all still present in this installment, but the main plot follows Ling and Henry. Considering the sheer number of POVs present, the author did a fantastic job of keeping all of their stories separate and yet connected. I loved seeing them intertwine and get closer and closer to being one cohesive unit.
So I initially gave this a 4 star rating, but after a few days have gone by, I realized that I was essentially giving it an entire star for the last 90 pages. Out of almost 600. Taking into account my feelings for almost all of this book, this was more of a 3.5 star read.
I still love these characters and this gorgeously rendered version of 1920s New York City, don't get me wrong. But I can't ignore that Lair of Dreams is the slowest paced book I've read in ages. The plot, which was a neat initial metaphor of the American Dream gone spooky bad, took forever to take off the ground. After the build-up of the first book, I was expecting this book to take off with our motley crew of characters fighting the good fight and learning more about the spooky force that is heavily foreshadowed. Nope.
Lair of Dreams is a quieter story, and it takes its sweet time. Too much time. All the time. I know it feels like I'm harping on how slow this thing was, but I sat through hours and hundreds of pages of filler. Hundreds. Of. Pages.
But, to get away from my clear dislike of the pacing, I will say that the things that make this series a standout for readers were still present: the stellar world building, leap-off-the-page characters, and incredible spooky element remained gripping. In particular, I like the threads of Sam's past that are coming to light. Can't wait to see where that goes...
Two siblings. Two brilliant talents. But only one Mozart.
Magical elements: ★★★
Pacing: ★★ 1/2
Emotional resonance: ★★★★
Everyone knows of Mozart. The brother, that is. How many of us know the history of Mozart's talented older sister, Nannerl?
The Kingdom of Back is a soft, fantastical portrait of the historical lives of Nannerl and Amadeus during their childhood in Austria. Following Nannerl, it imagines the childhood of a girl—one given amazing musical talents, and yet born during a time when women were not given agency over their creativity, their name, or their destiny.
Nannerl's childhood tours with her younger brother, "the" Mozart, are the main backbone of this story. But as this is a fantasy take, we're taken on a journey that deviates from the original: Welcome to the Kingdom of Back, where everything is backwards, blue, and desperately empty save for a mystical princeling.
This mystical princeling seems to know Nannerl's deepest wish: to be remembered. He promises her that he can make it happen. She just needs to accomplish some tasks first.
But as the game gets darker and her younger brother seems to flounder, Nannerl begins to wonder what the princeling deems a proper cost.
What would you do to be remembered?
What I liked:
I loved the concept. Focusing on music? Fantastic. Focusing on the female Mozart? Brilliant. I loved highlighting Nannerl, especially as we were giving voice to a woman who has been largely forgotten by history. The strength in this novel lies in its poignant and heartbreaking focus on what it meant to be a girl in that time period, and the terrible boundaries and lost hope that lay at the end of every story.
What I didn't like:
Without getting into spoiler territory, I felt the magical elements were weak. I was really excited to read about the faerie-goblin, music-vibe, fantastical other world, and found myself really disappointed at the lack of time we spent there. I also found the events that occurred in the Kingdom of Back were unsatisfying for me. I think in part because of these issues, I had a hard time with the novel's pacing. It took too long for us to reach interesting plot points, and not enough occurred chapter to chapter to keep me engaged. I kept fighting the urge to put this down.
However, despite what sounds like a lukewarm response, I do think this is a memorable historical fiction novel—with a dose of the fantastic—and is worth reading for anyone interested in the blurb. I hope others enjoy it more than I did!
This was lightning in a bottle, a gunshot in progress. Loved it with my entire soul.
Writing: wrap me in these sentences, I'll sleep in a bed of these words
The Vibe: ★★★★★
Tigers, Not Daughters comes out on March 24, 2020!
Tigers, Not Daughters hit me from the side with a punch that I wasn't expecting. Magical realism, grief, ghosts, the unshakable reality of sisters, and use of multiple narrators all collided to bring one unforgettable (and new favorite) read.
The Torres sisters were always a set of four. Ana, Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa. Their mother isn't there, and their father shouldn't be there, but life is life and that's how it goes.
Except it's not. Because Ana's dead.
Ana's death cracks the lines of this fragile family into 3 distinct shards. We have Jessica, who misses Ana so much that she consumes her, becomes her, shoving the angry versions of herself under layers of steely indifference. We have Iridian, who feels more comfortable with words than with people, as it's only ever people who hurt her over and over. We have Rosa, whose magical ways of understanding reality leave her with a different lens, but no less pain.
All three sisters have survived the impact of Ana leaving them in waves, but when a ghostly presence interrupts their fragile grief, the storm arrives again.
This was so, so good. I loved it. Mabry's realism was definitely magical, but it was also earthy and gritty in a way that was so exciting to read. These sisters were raw, they were real, and they had all kinds of aspects—the good, the bad, the ugly, and the bizarre in a way that only girls can be. The vibe of sisters was perfect.
I also loved the writing. This is a tale in the telling, and the snapshots of perspectives and the lyricism in the sentences flowed in such a way that this story was all-consuming. You lived the Torres sisters and you were them at the same time. This kind of writing is a gem to read in any situation, and I loved its deft handling of grief, darker themes, and resilience.
Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
5 theatrical stars
I would read this over and over. A gritty traveling circus, the angel v. the devil, romantic tension to CUT a KNIFE, tattoos, diverse orientations, and again for the people in the back romantic tension on POINT.
Romance elements: literally the best in YA, it is FRESH
Imagery: ★★★★★ *chef's kiss*
So I don't care what's on your TBR for this month. Make room for Ink in the Blood.
If you loved the Night Circus for its iconic imagery and archetypal romance figures that were players on a stage as well as flesh and blood love interests, you'll love this.
If you liked the gritty, broken shards of Kaz Brekker from Six of Crows, just wait until you meet the plague doctor, a man who never takes off his sharp-edged mask because he's already died once and he's too much for your eyes. He's the ringmaster of the troupe, the reminder that death is always waiting, and he'll tempt you to the devil if you'll let him.
But he's not the devil—its Celia, our protagonist, who dons the horns and lies and smoke to hide from herself and her Divine. She believes she can coat herself in enough lies to save herself from her fate. But can she run from the ink in her blood?
Ink in the Blood is all of the above, plus a one-of-a-kind religious system based on tattoos, the Divine, Diavala (the devil), and a matriarchal plot line that feels like the perfect amount of grit, soul, and lying diamonds.
I know the blurb mentions a lot of things, and some of them are what I've said and some of them just allude to things to come. Please don't be disillusioned by the first few chapters. I was, and I thought this was going to be a very different book. But, I promise, it's not. Get to the circus. It is perfection from there.
Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Book Group via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
The hype around this novel might be a bit much, yes, but Truly Devious is a really great example of how a YA mystery/thriller can be done well.
Villain(s)/Reveal(s): ★★★ 1/2
One thing that I completely, utterly agree on about this book is that it is unputdownable. What a great main character, and what a good plot. It's not the most ingenious plot in the world, but its boarding school setting, its split timeline with the 1930s, and its main character's drive to be a detective really propelled this story along. I loved the process of reading it, even as certain things kept it from perfection.
Ellingham Academy is a famous private school known for its genius students. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, a fan of devious mysteries, games, and learning for the sake of learning. He make a boarding school with hidden rooms, twists, and turns. He never expected his school to be used for a murder. "Truly Devious," a pen name, kidnaps Ellingham's wife and daughter and leaves cryptic riddles in their wake. Forever unsolved, the case goes down in American history.
Stevie Bell, a private detective in training, decides to apply to the school to solve the cold case. Shocked to be chosen as one of the elite, she finds herself in the midst of school politics, rich kids with problems, and a lot of things to observe.
When someone is found dead on Ellingham's campus, Stevie realizes "Truly Devious" might not be done with their crimes...
I really appreciated this novel's readability. As someone who loves Agatha Christie, I enjoyed reading this modern version of Poirot with her nods to the master himself. It is a great gateway series for teens who would (hopefully) be encouraged to pick up more in the genre after reading this book.
Stevie as a character really sold it for me. She has anxiety—and it actually manifests. It's really nice to see panic attacks and the like represented in teen fiction, as I was once a teen that had panic attacks and, as I never saw them represented in TV or books, had zero idea what was "wrong" with me. It's nice to see that normalized and portrayed.
Overall, a nice solid start to the series. Not a particularly inspired ending, BUT as it's a series I hold out hope for a more epic reveal to come—Truly Devious isn't yet solved.
5 bloody stars
She's beauty, she's grace, she's going to put them all in their place—the grave.
Welcome to Hannah Capin's version of revenge. "For the girls who have had enough," indeed.
Writing style: ★★★★★
I had no idea what I was getting into with Foul is Fair, but I'm here now and it was amazing—twisted in the best way, dark in the best way, and so validating in its satirically dark version of female victim agency.
Elle goes to a party for St. Andrews Prep boys when she was 16. She's chosen as a target for their non-consensual idea of "fun." Imagine what a group of untouchable rich, white boys could do to a vulnerable girl with a drink of who knows what. Yes, that. Yes, in the way it is portrayed in so much media. Trigger warnings for those who cannot handle that subject matter.
They picked the wrong girl.
Elle now goes by Jade, and she's got a plan.
Those boys might be golden, but they're not invincible—all men can bleed. And it's their time to pay up.
Jade enrolls at St. Andrews Prep, and Foul is Fair truly begins.
I honestly cannot distill into words how glorious this novel was. First off, it was brilliantly written. Semi-stream of consciousness, semi-loose form narrative, Foul is Fair has the kind of writing that is hard to get into, but once you're in it you can't stop. It's a rolling train and the brakes are gone. Read this one on a weekend, folks, when you can devote some time to reading it in large chunks.
On top of the writing, we have a Tarantino-esque surrealist violent plot line. Jade's got a hit list, and a swat team of girlfriends who are here to take them down from the inside. Now, obviously, I am not a fan of killing people. That's not the point that Foul is Fair is making. It's not a glory piece on violence. That concept is merely a device the author uses to convey the visceral emotions on behalf of every girl who's been abused, every girl who's been the victim of male violence. In a world where women are still fighting for their right to their own bodies and their own safety, this novel is the best kind of social commentary. I was so, so happy that the author chose to be this unflinching.
What a great novel. This one is unforgettable for many factors, the least of which being that you will never read another novel like this it. New all-time favorite, and a new author to watch.
Thank you to Wednesday Books via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
This was so much better than I expected? Loved this, what a great starter to a series. 1920s, Manhattan speakeasies, ghosts, oh my!
Density: ★★ (needed less detail)
The Diviners has been on my radar since its release in 2013, but for multiple reasons I never picked it up.
I don't like historical fiction, I said.
I'm not a fan of the 1920s, I said.
Wow that's a big book, I said.
Now it's 2020, the 20s are upon us again, and I freaking loved this massive book.
The Diviners follows the perspectives of a cast of characters in Manhattan, New York City, in the 1920s. But unlike the 20s that you and I know, this era has more magic, more spook, and more pizazz. Essentially, something paranormal and evil is afoot, and our cast of characters is slowly twined together into a group of paranormally-tinged individuals labeled "diviners."
Meet Evie, exiled to her Uncle Will's odd museum of the occult because she read the history off of one too many objects in Ohio—Evie' brash lack of consequence has landed her in a mess, and New York isn't exactly the reform she was expecting to get. She's an incredibly unlikable character—you just want to strangle her—but her role as our eyes and ears grew on me after a while.
Meet Memphis, who once could heal the sick with the touch of his hands. Now, his healing gift has disappeared, but he still finds himself on the edges of the paranormal with his job as the runner for one of Harlem's lynchpin underground tycoons. He's running from his past, running from his future, but something about the dream he keeps having keeps him up at night.
Meet Theta and Harry, who live as platonic friends in a fancy apartment building, both of them grasping at the limelight of the stage. They've got secrets they don't want to share, and some weird abilities that they refuse to acknowledge. When Evie and Memphis bump into their bubble, things will never be the same.
Meet Mabel, the one who's never quite out of her parents' shadow. Socialist parents make great avenues for change, but not exactly the best, well, parents. Mabel's friend Evie is a hurricane that is going to blow Mabel's life to bits whether she likes it or not.
Meet Jericho, the boy hiding behind a bland face and boring smile. His story might be the most otherworldly of them all...
I really, really enjoyed this. But, come on—did it need to be this long? This book is a whopping 578 pages and it feels like it. I loved the plot, I loved the concept, and I loved the characters (except for Evie, tbh), but they're chained down to way too much description, scene set-up, and waiting around for things to happen. Here's to hoping the pacing—and editing—improves in the later books.
So this had some killer punches...including one VERY memorable one at the end. But that doesn’t quite make up for the dead weight.
Pacing: ★★ 1/2
One of Us is Next is the sequel to McManus' explosive debut novel, One of Us is Lying. While technically you could read this one by itself, the amount of references to the first book are numerous enough that I would encourage readers to pick up the first one, well, first.
I was EXTREMELY excited for this sequel. I loved, loved, LOVED One of Us is Lying, and I enjoyed her follow-up mystery/thriller, Two Can Keep a Secret.
But I didn't love this one.
We follow a new cast of characters at Bayview High School, including Maeve (Bronwyn's younger sister, who hacked the gossip site in the first novel), Knox (Maeve's best friend and ex-boyfriend), and Phoebe (a popular-ish twin with an interesting family life).
Maeve, Knox, and Phoebe find themselves at the heart of a twisted game of Truth or Dare when a new faceless gossip monger begins a texting alert with the student body.
Let's play a game - truth or dare?
With Simon's death fresh on their minds, the students of Bayview High are intrigued—but not intimidated—by the new faceless dealer. But then Phoebe doesn't respond to her Truth or Dare request, and the dealer reveals a secret that's way too cutting to be fun...
Uh oh, here we go again.
How well do you know your classmates?
One of Us is Next didn't hit the mark for me, most likely because it was a lesser aftershock of the debut. Too many references, too many reflections, and then the "game" of gossip—in this case, Truth or Dare—was executed with less suspense, less intensity, and less intrigue than One of Us is Lying. I feel bad comparing the two so intensely, but the book itself does so with its continual references to the events of the previous book. If this novel had reflected less, my memory of it might have been softer and I would probably have rated this higher. But if you're going to throw the comparisons in my face, I'm going to...compare them. And this one just doesn't hold up.
Also, the pacing was really tough. For the first half, I found myself slogging through it, waiting for the author's characteristic intrigue and intensity to kick in. It took a longgg time. I LOVED the final reveal, but the last 70 pages doesn't make up for the fact that the first half was mind-numbing.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.