The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

f043712f-4655-4c8a-b60f-fca1e4c6ca9fAngie Thomas’s debut novel about the Black Lives Matter movement rocketed to the top of the NYT Bestseller list when it came out recently. And while I have some quibbles with it, I can certainly see why.

Starr Carter lives in the majority-black poor neighborhood of Garden Heights, in an unnamed city, but she attends a wealthy prep school outside it. Her worlds collide when a childhood friend is wrongfully shot by police as she watches. She will have to face down her trauma, a grand jury, a media quick to vilify her friend, and King, a gang leader who’s trying to claim the victim as one of his own.

Meanwhile, the effects of Starr’s political awakening and traumatic experiences ripple through her life, affecting her relationships with her prep school friends Hailey and Maya, and her white boyfriend, Chris.

Some positives about this book:

-The characterization of Starr’s family, particularly her larger-than-life father, an ex-convict who’s left the gangs behind but finds himself making more compromises than he’d like with King, until the moment King goes too far. Starr’s father is also politically committed and keeps living in Garden Heights, where he owns a small business, because he believes that moving would be selling out his people. Above all, he loves his kids. Over the course of the book, he changes in many respects, but not that one. He’s an example of well-done character development of an adult character in YA fiction. This is one YA where the parents aren’t absent.

-I also loved the plotline involving Starr’s half-brother, whose mom is dating King. Starr’s brother wants to protect his mother from her abusive and murderous boyfriend, but as Starr points out, it’s she who should be protecting him.

-The relationship between Starr and Chris was a great example of a supportive interracial relationship. They had awkward moments, but Chris ultimately is willing to put himself in uncomfortable situations for Starr and Starr is willing to let him into her life. It’s hard-won but beautiful.

-Starr’s relationship with Khalil, the victim of the police shooting, struck a chord with me because despite her love towards him, circumstances have pushed them apart by the time the shooting happens. It’s more complicated than “her best friend got shot” and yet the intensity of feeling is still there.

The negatives:
-Okay, this is a minor thing, but Maya (not me, but Starr’s Taiwanese friend) basically exists to be a Good Minority Friend to Starr and validate her feeling that Hailey is a Bad White Friend. Neither of them is super-developed, but Hailey felt real–Maya is very thinly characterized. As she’s one of the few characters who’s neither white nor black, it felt like a missed opportunity.

-Sometimes the author seems worried the reader won’t get it without her explicitly summarizing what’s going on emotionally and politically in the book. The “telling” outweighed the “showing” at times.

-The plot was a bit episodic, though it comes together really well at the climax, the night the grand jury decision is handed down.

Overall, the excellent characterization and relationships, as well as an exciting climax, outweighed some problems with didacticism and pacing. Plus, the book has an important message, and I’m not going to pretend that didn’t affect my view of it.

The Pearl Thief – Elizabeth Wein

This is going to be a weird review because a comprehensive review of The Pearl Thief would involve cultural/subject matter expertise which I don’t have. Specifically, many characters in this book, though not the protagonist Julie, are Scottish Travellers, and the prejudices they face form a large aspect of the plot. So I’m putting it upfront that I’m not going to review the representation of that culture in this book, because I don’t have sufficient knowledge. I will say that Scottish Traveller author Jess Smith is thanked in the acknowledgements for reviewing the manuscript for Traveller cultural elements.

I’d also like to thank Hyperion for sending me an ARC.


Unlike Code Name Verity, The Pearl Thief is not presented as a found manuscript, so it is very much franker about sexuality, for example, than Code Name Verity. Julie has two crushes over the course of the book, one on the contractor who is turning her grandfather’s estate into a school, Frank Dunbar, and a more serious one on Ellen McEwen, a proud and prickly Traveller girl with an interest in archaeology and geology. Ellen and Julie never “get together” in the sense of explicitly forming a relationship, but they do clandestinely kiss once under the guise of showing how a man kisses a woman. Julie is clear that her “passion for Ellen” is equivalent to and even deeper than her passion for Frank.

I enjoyed this book actually even more than Code Name Verity, though I missed the character of Maddie (we see in this book how Julie got the nickname “Queenie”). I thought it was more plausible than Code Name Verity and I liked getting inside Julie’s head a bit more and seeing more of her brother Jamie. However, as is usual with Wein’s books, the very ending is fluffed a bit and spells out the epiphanies too much. And while I enjoyed the exploration of class in the book (Julie is an aristocrat, and coming to terms with the privileges that entails), it struck me as a gap in that theme that the only working-class characters were either Travellers or two prejudiced and unsympathetic servants.

As to the mystery element, I figured out who the villain was immediately upon his introduction, but I didn’t predict some of the twists. I also loved a scene which I will put under a cut for mild spoilers.
Continue reading

The Sleeping Prince – Melinda Salisbury

26625494This sequel to The Sin-Eater’s Daughter features a new narrator in close, single-POV first, so it actually feels like book one of a series, until the new characters meet up with the old ones about two thirds of the way through. This neatly avoids a lot of middle-book-of-the-trilogy problems, or at least postpones them to the last third of the book.

Where The Sin-Eater’s Daughter took place in the gilded cage of a royal palace, The Sleeping Prince starts in a tiny, impoverished border town in the neighboring democratic country. Errin is just trying to get by and take care of her cursed and dangerous mother after her father died and her brother (Lief from book one) disappeared. When war approaches with the titular Sleeping Prince, a figure from the distant past returning to wreak havoc, Errin’s village is evacuated and soldiers arrive. Errin soon learns about the dark side of her country as refugees are abused and the border closed.

Desperate for a mysterious potion that keeps her mother’s curse at bay, Errin blackmails her only friend–and when she relents, he seemingly betrays her. Alone, Errin sets out on a cross-country journey that sees her meet up with Twylla, the previous book’s heroine, and find out about her brother’s true fate.

517qzv8wvzl-_sy344_bo1204203200_One thing I really liked about this book is that Errin is ordinary, heroic, and specific all at once. She’s a skilled apothecary, this interest rounding out her character and providing her a way to make a living, but she can’t create the potion that cures her mother. She survives a cross-country flight on horseback, but it’s clear to everyone she meets that she’s barely holding it together and that she’d do better to ask others for help. She’s also prone to attacks of anxiety, though somewhat too conveniently, she never freezes up when it would be inconvenient for the plot. When she does things like blackmail her friend, it’s clear she’s acting out of desperation, and she does relent. It feels like a real case of a good person brought to doing bad things, rather than an attempt to make the protagonist edgy.

I also love the darkness of Salisbury’s world. The villainous queen of book one is missing here, but there’s the chilling, sadistic Sleeping Prince instead. The epilogue, in particular, is nightmare-dark before it offers the reader some hope for the next book.

It was also great to see a realistic democratic country in a fantasy world, with all the same injustices we see in real democracies, but still better than monarchy.
On the negative side, the Sin-Eater’s backstory as revealed in this book is too exculpatory–it makes her a bit boring compared to her earlier ambiguity. Also, a lot of information is crowded into the final third of the book, which I felt was not, until the very end, as strong as the first two thirds.

I can’t wait to see how it all ends in The Scarecrow Queen, due out next year.




UK Cover for Elizabeth Wein’s The Pearl Thief

screen-shot-2016-11-12-at-1-14-26-pmElizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity prequel, The Pearl Thief, has a UK cover! And you can get this edition from The Book Depository with free shipping. It’s a paperback, cheaper than the US edition, but comes out two days later.

I love the elegant Thirties style of the cover, particularly Julie’s hairpiece! Can’t wait to see what the US cover looks like. In the meantime, here’s the UK description:

From the internationally acclaimed bestselling author of Code Name Verity comes a stunning new story of pearls, love and murder – a mystery with all the suspense of an Agatha Christie and the intrigue of Downton Abbey.

Sixteen-year-old Julie Beaufort-Stuart is returning to her family’s ancestral home in Perthshire for one last summer. It is not an idyllic return to childhood. Her grandfather’s death has forced the sale of the house and estate and this will be a summer of goodbyes. Not least to the McEwen family – Highland travellers who have been part of the landscape for as long as anyone can remember – loved by the family, loathed by the authorities. Tensions are already high when a respected London archivist goes missing, presumed murdered. Suspicion quickly falls on the McEwens but Julie knows not one of them would do such a thing and is determined to prove everyone wrong. And then she notices the family’s treasure trove of pearls is missing.

This beautiful and evocative novel is the story of the irrepressible and unforgettable Julie, set in the year before the Second World War and the events of Code Name Verity. It is also a powerful portrayal of a community under pressure and one girl’s determination for justice.

Code Name Verity prequel- description of The Pearl Thief

So you may have heard that Elizabeth Wein is writing a prequel to Code Name Verity. Below is the description I found on her publisher’s website:

Before Verity . . . there was Julie.

When fifteen-year-old Julia Beaufort-Stuart wakes up in the hospital with a head injury and no memory of the events that landed her there, she knows the lazy summer break she’d imagined won’t be exactly like she anticipated. And once she returns to her grandfather’s estate, a bit banged up but alive, she begins to realize that her injury might not have been an accident. One of her family’s employees is missing, and he disappeared on the very same day she landed in the hospital.

Desperate to figure out what happened, she befriends Euan McEwen, the Scots Traveller boy who found her when she was injured, and his standoffish sister Ellen. As Julie grows closer to this family from the opposite side of the banks, she finds herself exploring thrilling new experiences that have nothing to do with a missing-person investigation.

Her memory of that day returns to her in pieces, and when a body turns up, her new friends are caught in crosshairs of long-held prejudices. Julie must get to the bottom of the mystery in order to keep them from being framed for the crime.

In the prequel to Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity, this thrilling coming-of-age story returns to a beloved character just before she learned to fly.

The Swan Riders – Erin Bow

You may have noticed that I loved The Scorpion Rules. I loved this one too. It doesn’t come out till September, so you will have to wait to get your hands on it, or you could enter the Twitter contest run by the author to get an ARC.

My number one, somewhat idiosyncratic concern with the sequel was that Elián not be made a bad guy, though he often does things that run counter to how Greta does things and the flap copy hinted at violence on his part. Anyway, he remains a wonderful character and very brave, so I was happy. He and Talis even come to a sort of understanding, which is great.

This is very much Talis’s book, maybe even more so than the narrator Greta’s. Talis is the one who learns and grows, on whose choices the climax turns. Greta’s still great, dignified and selfless and clever, but she’s mainly dealing with the consequences of her choice to become AI in the previous book, rather than making new choices. Her big moments are more epiphanies than actions. Talis, on the other hand, is thrust into a brand-new, identity-altering situation, and learns a great deal as a result about what it means to be human, to be AI, and to love, until finally he has to make a choice.26409580

One thing that I think had improved from the previous book was the handling of race– where in the previous book many nonwhite secondary characters didn’t feel right, in this book, they’re more individual.

Some things I loved:
– Greta’s attempts to hang onto her memories and feelings as an AI, even though they risk destroying her. Talis can help her by taking away the memories’ emotional content, against her will if necessary, but as this goes on, Greta becomes less and less the person she was. “I have lost none of the data,” she repeatedly says, revealing how much she has truly lost.
– Sucking chest wound. Nope, not saying anything more about that.
– The scene where they pretend to torture Elián (and for real dislocate his shoulder). It was the right combination of funny, tense, and revealing of both character and plot.
– The complex motivations of the titular Swan Riders

I was a bit ambivalent about the very end, which I will do my best to discuss with minimal spoilers. Greta divests herself of unjust power, which is very, very important, but I’m not sure she has a plan for what comes next. And while it is morally incumbent on her to get rid of that power regardless, I would be happier if she made a plan for how to do so with the least bad consequences.

A side note: Greta is queer, but her girlfriend is off-stage (though a major motivating force) during this book. So don’t go in expecting more Greta/Xie. I think readers of the previous book will enjoy this one (I couldn’t put it down), but it’s important that they have the right expectations.



Games Wizards Play – Diane Duane

I think I’m growing out of this series. I couldn’t get into A Wizard of Mars, and while I finished this one, I didn’t like it the way I liked Deep Wizardry, High Wizardry, A Wizard Alone, or Wizards at War.

One problem I had with this volume is that the non-American characters, particularly Mehrnaz and Penn’s grandfather, came off as The Iranian Muslim character or The Chinese Character rather than as individuals. Not always, but sometimes. This wasn’t a problem with the Americans, whatever their race.

I had a funny moment thinking about the portrayal of India, where Mehrnaz lives. I’ve never been to Mumbai, or walked around alone, or been obviously non-Indian in India. So though I’ve frequently been to India and never experienced the kind of leering experienced by one of the American characters, I can’t really say it’s wrong. Just that it’s totally different from my own experience and felt stereotypical. But it could well be what some people experience.


The writing felt off– too many unnecessary physical details and explanations of how things worked, not enough emotion, except in long blocks that stood out from the rest of the story.

As for the plot, the climax is very sudden and didn’t have a lot of emotional resonance for me, though I was happy to see a several-books-long mystery resolved. I was glad we saw the Lone Power, the main antagonist of the series, unlike in the previous book. He’s a lot of fun to read about, a fallen creature who is capable of both redemption and betrayal. My favorite part of the book was his appearance.

I might buy the next book, as it promises to be darker than this one, but I’ll probably skim it first to see whether or not it’s something I’d enjoy. Anyway– far from my favorite of the series (High Wizardry is amazing, though).

The Mirror King – Jodi Meadows

22909838Mild spoilers (on the level of character arcs) will follow.

I wasn’t terribly impressed with The Orphan Queen when I read it– it was full of implausible set-ups and obvious reveals– but I did like the debate on the ethics of violence. Wil, the protagonist, finds herself on the opposite side from her former mentor, Patrick, as he embraces a violent path to free their homeland and she, the rightful queen, decides she cannot follow.

I had a lot of sympathy for Patrick despite his ruthlessness. I hoped he would get a complex character arc in the sequel, and that was a large part of why I picked it up. The other big draw was the beautiful cover.

Patrick remains a complicated character, but his trajectory is simple and resolutely negative. I like ruthless characters with a few lines they won’t cross, like Patrick has, but in the end he goes too far even for me, maiming someone he perceives as having betrayed him. I wish we got to know him better, though.

I had issues with the way Wil, and the book, treat his militia. Having effectively freed their country from occupation without outside help, they are treated by Wil with suspicion rather than respect. Yes, they’re loyal to Patrick and not her, and their continued violence after victory is deeply misguided, but she barely tries to win them over (she converts one of them, but doesn’t really make an effort to appeal to the group as a whole). They’re treated by the book as basically equivalent to the followers of the former overlord, Prince Colin, a totally selfish man without redeeming qualities, whose followers are fighting to continue the occupation of another country. Both groups are problems for Wil and threats to peace– their differences are simplistically blurred. No one sympathetic agrees with Patrick’s side of the debate– Patrick himself is barely so.

What did I like? Ironically, in light of what I’ve said, I liked that Wil sees her job as stopping wars rather than making sure the right side wins. The argument about violence may not be portrayed as complexly as I had hoped, but it makes Wil an appealing character and shows a mature attitude towards war and rulership.

There were scenes where impending doom mixed with surprising action to horrify me– especially Tobiah’s wedding scene (I won’t spoil what happens). That was a brilliant scene. I wasn’t too fond of Wil having to take responsibility for what happened in that scene, as it seemed too much like her character was being developed by having her accept guilt for something that didn’t actually forfeit the reader’s sympathy and in which she had no ill intent.

I liked the humor. I also liked the exploration of free will in relation to magic, and the question of what makes a being human. I liked the scene where Wil declares herself queen.

And I couldn’t put the book down, despite my problems with it. I had to know how it all turned out.




The Walls Around Us – Nova Ren Suma

This post is going to be VERY SPOILERY.

I had an unusual reaction, compared to other readers, to the narrators of this book. Yeah, Violet, the driven ballerina who sends her best friend Orianna to jail for a double murder she committed, is unsympathetic as hell. But Amber, the gentler girl in juvie for killing her abusive stepdad? Is an even worse person than Violet. Amber murders literally everyone she knows rather than face a future of uncertainty. It’s Amber, not Violet, who is responsible for Orianna’s death.

And is Orianna as innocent as she seems? She gathered the poison Amber uses to kill the entire juvenile hall, although she may not have been aware of what Amber was planning. She’s much more implicated in Violet’s eventual death, which allows her Orianna to rejoin the world of the living. She doesn’t participate in her murder, but she lures her to the spot and digs the grave before Violet’s even there. That, to me, speaks to an (understandable) premeditation.

Justice may be done in some ways by Violet’s death and Orianna’s return, but Orianna too is tarnished by what happened to her because of Violet and by what she herself finally does about it. And as for Amber, though she may be a more conventionally sympathetic narrator than Violet, that just shows how messed up our ideas of sympathy are, how easily we are manipulated.

Anyway, a fine horror novel/ghost story.

About a Girl – Sarah McCarry

The final book in the Metamorphoses trilogy follows Tally, Aurora’s daughter, abandoned by her and raised by the narrator from All Our Pretty Songs and the narrator’s friends.

Spoilers for the series ending:

Aspiring astronomer Tally runs off to the West Coast to find out who her father is, and instead finds out her mother’s dark fate. She’s also running away from the awkward situation of having slept with her best friend Shane, and finds a very different romantic relationship with a girl called Maddy, who may just be an immortal Medea.

There were several things I didn’t like about this book. First and foremost, the consequences of Maddy being Medea felt tame. This is the woman who murdered her own children to get back at someone whom she had loved and been betrayed by– there wasn’t sufficient horror, sufficient danger; sufficient tension. Yeah, Medea has mellowed into Maddy and is trying to forget her past– but that past doesn’t catch up with her enough. There isn’t enough consequence to such a momentous revelation.

Secondly, because Tally spends a lot of the book not able to remember her goals due to magical interference, the book got kind of frustrating as I waited for her to remember to ask the questions I wanted answers to. The forgetfulness also made Tally a bit of a passive character, pushed around by forces beyond her control.

There were also little things– I didn’t believe that a girl who was mixed like me (in Tally’s case actually 3/4ths white) would think of “white people” as an outside group to be thought of disparagingly. But that’s just my personal experience, and I know some people will disagree. Also I lost a bit of sympathy for Tally, of all silly things, because she disdains Harry Potter but calls Aurora’s friend and her guardian “Aunt Beast” after A Wrinkle in Time. Now there’s nothing wrong with A Wrinkle in Time, but in my opinion, it gets too much attention compared to L’Engle’s other and better books. I’m a The Young Unicorns girl myself.

On the good side, there were absolutely consequences to the events of the previous books, and redemption alongside them. Maia and Cass regain their friendship (and more? we don’t know) and live together, though Maia is forever changed by her long period of drug abuse. The narrator of All Our Pretty Songs and her ex-boyfriend also get, thanks to Tally, a second chance, but Aurora remains trapped in the underworld– largely because she sacrificed any chance of escape to get Tally out.

We also get some resolution for the character of Minos, the judge of the dead– Mr. M in this book. I won’t spoil this, but he remains a tragic figure.

I’m glad I read this book to find out what happened, but it’s not my favorite of the series.