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review 2019-05-23 17:56
Outstanding LGBTQ novel encompassing immigration, grief, PTSD, and has a sci-fi twist; this debut is an easy 5-star
The Grief Keeper - Alexandra Villasante

I can already say that this will be on my list as one of my top and most impactful reads of the year (and it’s only May). I’ve not read too many books lately that can bring me to shed both happy and sad tears, as well as make me drop my jaw, and cause me to put the book down for moments so I could collect my thoughts. And although the title would suggest that ‘The Grief Keeper’ is filled with sadness, it also brings with it a bright message of love and hope.

 

The novel opens with seventeen-year old Marisol being interviewed in a federal border detention center, having just crossed into the U.S., after fleeing El Salvador with her younger sister Gabi, afraid for their lives after the death of their brother Pablo. She has dreamed for years for a life in the States, perfecting her English, and getting lost in the imaginary world of her favorite TV show ‘Cedar Hollow.’ When it looks like her asylum request will be denied, and a new and curious opportunity to have it granted arises, Marisol will do just about anything for her and her sister to make that happen. And that’s by becoming a ‘grief keeper.’

 

Debut author Alexandra Villasante has written an expertly crafted novel about the complexities of immigration, grief, sexual orientation, PTSD, depression, and, new love. There are even more nuanced topics woven in  such as attitudes towards immigrants (legal and otherwise) being hired to do menial jobs in this country, our political climate, and how the LGBTQ community suffers in other countries (ie which would cause a young girl like Marisol to flee her home).

This story gives so many deep, complex topics to talk and think about but at the core there is this beautiful story about Marisol and Rey (grieving her own brother) who are discovering their relationship with each other, including Marisol who would never have been allowed to explore this part of her back in the country she has fled. Persecution of LGBTQ youth and ‘conversion by rape’ is brought into the spotlight and from this story of family and migration, I was enlightened and educated.

 

This is a novel about connections as well as grief, and Villasante sheds light on PTSD, and gives new meaning to the idea of taking someone else’s pain away so they don’t have to suffer. There are serious moral and ethical questions to the procedure that’s used so that Marisol will absorb Rey’s grief and pain (this actually brings quite a futuristic aspect to a very realistic story, which I really liked) and shows the extent that Marisol will go to gain entry to the U.S., and it’s heartbreaking.

 

I read this book and I felt so many different emotions, and the very fact that it’s able to envelope immigration criticism, discussion on sexual identity, loss, classism, plus a loving sister relationship, AND a sci-fi twist, make it a VERY special book. I think it belongs on every school and YA library shelf everywhere and I hope many people will pick it up, even if it’s initially because of the insanely gorgeous cover (thanks to Kaethe Butcher and Kelley Brady), and that they end up holding it close to their hearts.

 

*Trigger warnings/mentions: sexual assault, suicidal ideation, violence, bombing, PTSD

 

RELEASE DATE: 6.11.19

 

 

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/book/show/34522727-the-grief-keeper
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review 2019-04-18 20:52
Vega puts a modern spin on the classic haunted house tale in teen horror novel 'The Haunted'
The Haunted - Danielle Vega

Hendricks is undoubtedly living in the house of many a person’s nightmares, and at least one little girl’s death, and as the new girl in town, she seems to be finding this out gradually through her friends at school. Steele House doesn't seem to be an ordinary house by any measure, and not only is it hiding a dark secret, so is Hendricks, one that sent her family packing from Philadelphia and to this tiny town of Drearford.

 

Once her family moves into Steele House, which is being renovated, she finds a new group of friends right away (to her surprise). Hendricks begins to craft a new social life out for herself, involving both the popular guy at school, but also the boy next door, who is also the brother of the little girl who died. She soon finds there are new and far more powerful ghosts than the ones in her past that she has to deal with.

 

This is a pretty basic horror novel, a classic haunting tale that author Danielle Vega has written for teens, and it's perfect for those who might be somewhat cautious about stepping into the genre.

The main character Hendricks embodies all those insecurities and anxieties felt when starting at a new high school and she has a lot of baggage from her past, the very reason the family has had to move. I appreciated these parts about the story, as well as the very real conflict she has with whether she should fall in with cliques at school, but because they couldn't be dealt with very deeply that conversely also frustrated me a bit. The parents also happen to be totally absent from Hendricks' world most of the time, which is pretty convenient (and actually pretty irresponsible).

 

As far as the very descriptive scenes that involve the haunted Steele House, these are vivid and full of horrible paranormal evil that will conjure up images that will stick with you. There's also a very deep-seated reason for the evil that resides in the house and it's actually very sad. I appreciate that Vega tied the narrative together at the end, even though it was quite an abrupt ending.

As an author, I think she has great instincts for what works well to both scare and satisfy, understanding that real life is a bit messy and not perfect. It's kind of why the ending left me with a punch to the gut.

I read a lot of horror fiction and love a great scare, so I love finding creepy books that suck me in; this is a quick YA 'haunted house' read, perfect for a spooky weekend.

 

*I also would have fallen victim to Steele house myself thanks to the cat at the beginning that draws little Meredith into the basement (even though everyone should know the first rule in horror is ‘don’t go into the basement’). But…kitty!!!!

Source: www.goodreads.com/book/show/40818627-the-haunted
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review 2019-01-21 17:35
The thrilling sequel to ‘Reign of The Fallen’ takes us back to a very different Karthia; this time foreign invaders, political unrest, and Odessa’s relationship take center-stage
Song of The Dead - Sarah Glenn Marsh

This is the thrilling sequel to ‘REIGN OF THE FALLEN’, a novel that introduces us to Odessa, a necromancer in Karthia, where she has the special magical ability of raising the Dead. She is able to cross into the spirit world called the Deadlands, and she also is a fierce fighter; when monsters called Shades start kidnapping Dead nobility, Princess Valoria has Odessa and her fellow necromancers investigate (including Evander, someone who she loves deeply).

Odessa and her friends do all they can but  it’s not enough to save someone she loves; a Shade rips apart and kills Evander, and Odessa turns to ‘potions’ to cope with her loss.

 

Without revealing ALL details of the book (because you need to be reading THAT NOW before you read ‘Song of The Dead’!), by the end of the novel we have Odessa leaving Karthia aboard The Paradise to pursue Evander’s dream of seeing unknown. So where will the sequel lead us?

 

SONG OF THE DEAD

 

With Karthia behind them, Odessa and Meredy are aboard Kasmira’s ship The Paradise, ready to discover new lands and bring word back to Queen Valoria about the new world. They discover a friendly land, Sarral, where people keep dragons, and the Dead only come out at night, and before they get a chance to get settled, news of unrest back in Karthia has them back on their ship sailing for home, their long trip cut short.

Instead of the threats of the past, open borders  means the threat of foreign invaders, on top of political unrest, and Valoria is hoping that one of her mages can create a new weapon good enough to fight it all now that the Dead can’t help them win this battle.

 

While ‘Reign of the Fallen’ was filled with monstrous death and loss on account of the bloodthirsty Shades, giving the book a very dark tone, ‘Song of the Dead’ begins with a feeling of hope despite all that the Karthians have gone through. 

The beginning ocean voyage initially made me feel as though Odessa and the crew were going to be gone long from the difficulties of their homeland, and I was worried that things had got too easy for them (!), but the adventure of this book, while quite a departure from ROTF, quickly takes off. The book actually goes through several different ‘phases’, with the ocean voyage, the time in Sarral, the return back to Karthia, and because of the vivid world-building, you will be easily carried through them, experiencing all the different chapters and introducing new characters along the way.  

 

There is a lot of internal drama due to the political unrest in this book (the Karthians start to rise up against the changes that Valoria wants to make) as well as thanks to the new emotional ups and downs experienced by Odessa. The outside foreign threat and new civil crisis are a great juxtaposition, and I actually it think could be seen as a bit of a gamble when the first book was almost entirely  about the Dead and then they barely appear in the plot of the second. I personally think the gamble works.

 

But the biggest twist of all comes late in the novel, and while Odessa is not having to fight Shades or something as gruesome, she finds herself fighting something harder and puts her life on the line to save everyone. I think this twist is especially clever, particularly with how it ties in with the first novel and how Odessa’s magic works. 

 

At the heart of this exciting novel is the relationship between Odessa and Meredy, despite both of them reeling from the loss of Evander. Author Marsh, who champions LGBT romance, devotes plenty of page time to the complicated ‘keep us guessing’ relationship between the two girls. Marsh also includes a number of other characters with relationships on the LGBT spectrum, and the representation feels positive and realistic and actually as though it’s quote/unquote ‘normal’ (whatever that is!). This is a breath of fresh air, because it just feels like it ‘fits’ and there isn’t a lot of posturing or trying too hard. Marsh just gets it.

 

I am fortunate, nay, blessed, to be immortalized in this book as Baroness Katerina (along with my cat), and then to be acknowledged at the end. I will be forever grateful to Sarah for this. I am also so very sad that my trip to the magical Karthia and the Deadlands is now over, but I enjoyed it enormously. I can’t wait for another bookish adventure at the hands of Sarah Glenn Marsh, and I hope many YA fantasy readers enjoy these two books as much as I have.

 

‘Song of The Dead’ is available from Penguin Teen on January 22nd, 2019!

You can buy it right HERE!

 

*Warning: you will want a pink dragon after reading this book.

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/book/show/40125269-song-of-the-dead
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review 2018-03-15 17:43
No dragons despite cover.
Tess of the Road - Rachel Hartman

I got this book off of Netgalley as an eARC.

I have mixed feelings about this book.
It has a strong female protagonist as does Seraphina, however it has the whole rape backstory, which sucks.
So the whole premise is that Tess needs to get away from her mother as she's pretty much abusive and hates Tess for being raped and getting pregnant as the religion of her mom is St. Vitt which is an analog of Christianity.
Tess then gets the opportunity to run away from home and meets up with Pathka, her childhood quigtl friend.
We then find out that quigtl can change their sex so Pathka is now male instead of the female quigtl that Tess knew. This is important as quigtl have the gender neutral pronoun 'ko' which never gets used when talking about Pathka. This really bothered me because there is a correct pronoun and it's not being used.
There's also a homeless man that Tess is horribly cruel to, just so she can have a moment of redemption getting help for him.
After she meets Pathka then the whole book is about her going after ko goal of Anathuthia. After thus it's pretty much set in arcs of what happens. She gets to a place then thing happens, gets to another place and another thing happens. That may or may not be your thing, but to me it felt like it was padding.
Overall it felt as if there was a hatred of women as it was women that seemed to be the ones hurting Tess, even inadvertently, to where she'd run to the arms of a man to seek consoling. This is kind of painful to see for a book that wants strong women. They just don't seem to support each other as much as I'd like to see.

Overall it's not a bad book, but I really wish it wouldn't have done a lot of things it did.

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review 2017-09-03 00:00
Penguin Teen Game-Changers
Penguin Teen Game-Changers - Marie Lu,Kristin Cashore,Stephanie Perkins,Peter Bognanni,Julie C. Dao These little excerpt books are great, and totally can be 'game-changers'. This features five highly-anticipated Fall 2017 Release YA books, and I read this, thanks to NetGalley. I would say it was a game-changer for me, as I changed my mind about some books I'd set my sights on from reading this...

- WARCROSS (this may be the most anticipated book of them all, and of the Fall!) - to be honest, I wasn't totally engaged by the character, and I'm not usually into dystopian/gamer books, BUT there was something about the idea of the hunt, AND just having a hint of 'Back of The Future' for me (I still want to believe there will be hoverboards one day), that made me want to read more. Truth be told, I have preordered this and will be going to Marie Lu's signing next week.

- JANE, UNLIMITED - this has one of those pretty good book setups, where there's a dead relative (I did like that the Aunt was a deep sea photographer!), so there's suddenly a new environment for the protagonist to explore and for the story to be set. But right away I didn't feel hooked by the characters. I think I would have to read more, but from the amount I read, it wasn't really enough.

- THERE'S SOMEONE INSIDE YOUR HOUSE - the title is the sort to grab me immediately so you had me there. As for the short excerpt I got to read here, I've worked on too many horror movies to be that gullible...I thought the opening story hook of the egg timer was a little on the obvious side but there you go. I was also then very disappointed in the teens' reaction to a schoolmate's murder; I'm getting a bit tired of this being the clichéd response for teens today. Maybe I need to read more and find out if the teens' reactions change and to find out about the other murders. Plus I DO like that cover, I have to admit.

- THINGS I'M SEEING WITHOUT YOU - the cover of this is absolutely beautiful, I have to say. Stunning. And the title made me think immediately of what I'd say to myself soon after someone close to me had died. I didn't realize when I first saw the title that the book directly is about how the main character Tess reacts to a boy's suicide. I can tell right away that this is probably an emotion-laden read, and is a book that you should probably carefully choose just the right time to hold in your hands and absorb.

- FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS - this excerpt took me the most by surprise, as this book was the lowest on my radar. I loved the setting, the mythology, the language, the interesting characters: right away I was drawn in. I grew up in Hong Kong and particularly love the idea of the setting being in East Asia, which seems to make a change for me. This was a surprise addition to my TBR list after reading the sampler and the one I wanted to continue on with most.

Overall, great sampler! I'll probably end up reading them all at some point but 'Warcross', 'Forest of a Thousand Lanterns', and 'Things I'm Seeing Without You' became definites.
**I was disappointed that two of these books have school dropouts; it seems to be too much of a trend with YA novels.
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