The Poet X

by Elizabeth Acevedo
First sentence: “The summer is made for stoop-sitting and since it’s the last week before school starts, Harlem is opening its eyes to September.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some mild swearing, a tasteful almost-sex scene, and some talk of smoking weed. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Xiomara is many things: a daughter, a poet, a twin. But she feels like she doesn’t quite fit. It doesn’t help that her parents — both from the Dominican Republic — don’t really get along, or that her mother is super religious. Or that her twin, Xavier, is super smart, and goes to a magnet school, while Xiomara is stuck going to the not-really-great neighborhood one. And on top of everything, as she starts her sophomore year, her mother is insisting that she go to classes so that she can be confirmed (I think that’s how it is in Catholic churches?). But Xiomara has questions about God, and religion, and the way her parents treat her.

On the one hand, I can see where Xiomara’s mother is coming from. She wants her daughter to have all the things she didn’t have. She wants her daughter to follow in her footsteps, and to have the faith she did. What she doesn’t take into consideration — and this is the conflict at the heart of this elegant novel in verse — is that Xiomara’s feelings and desires might be different than her own. It’s often the conflict at the heart of young adult books: parents who believe they know better and don’t stop to listen to the desires of their kids. I loved getting to know Xiomara through her poetry, to understand her feelings and the tensions she perceived in her family. And I’m glad that, in the end, there was a resolution that didn’t involve someone dying. That Xiomara realized her parents loved her, even if they didn’t always show it in a way she could understand it.

Acevedo’s writing is gorgeous and her storytelling exquisite. This is definitely worth the hype.

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Courting Darkness

by Robin LaFevers
First sentence: “I was born in the upstairs room of an ancient roadside tavern, a group of common whores acting as midwives.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Others in the series: Grave Mercy, Dark Triumph, Mortal Heart
Content: There is violence (of course) and frank talk about sex, and some tasteful on-screen sex. It’s in the Teen Section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

  1. My kick-ass nuns of death are back! Can I tell you how happy this makes me?
  2. Don’t you LOVE the cover re-do? SO much better than the original ones (check them out for the original trilogy, too.)
  3. You don’t have to read the original trilogy (or at least that’s what LaFevers said in some material that came with the ARC), but I think it would have been helpful if I had gone back and refreshed my memory about, at the very least, Sybella and her story (that’s Dark Triumph). I missed a bit because of it.
  4. This one is mostly Sybella’s story, as she follows Britanny’s duchess to France as she marries the king. But it’s also Genevieve’s story, a girl who was sent to the convent of Saint Mortain as a child, and then sent to France to be an undercover spy. She was forgotten, however, and sent to an outlying area by the French regent. (Who is, by all accounts, an awful, manipulative person.)
  5. It took me a while to get into this one (it would have been better had I refreshed my memory by reading the others first), but once I did, I fell into the court intrigue, the sheer awesomeness of the women in the convent, and just the way LaFevers tells a story.

And now, to wait for the second in this duology.

Audiobook: Finding Yvonne

by Brandy Colbert
Read by Maya Barton
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, pot smoking by an adult, some teenage drinking and off-screen sex. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Yvonne is a senior at an LA prep school, and has been putting her heart and soul into her violin playing ever since her mother left when Yvonne was seven. Now, though, she’s at loose ends: her violin teacher dropped her because she wasn’t “good” enough, and she feels like she has lost her passion for playing. But, without playing, who is she?

On top of that, Yvonne hardly sees her father, a successful chef. And she’s wanting to take the next step with Warren, who’s hesitant because of their age difference and because he works for her father. And so, when Yvonne meets a street musician, she explores a relationship there, mostly to see if it can help her figure things out.

I liked this one, but mostly because I think the narrator was really good. She kept me engaged in the story, and helped propel the narrative — which is super complicated, but then again, so are many senior kids’ lives — forward. I liked that Yvonne was a musician and a cook, and that she was looking for connection anywhere. It’s not the best book I’ve read, but it wasn’t terrible either.

Monthly Round-Up: January 2019

Okay, I hate January with a passion, but it kind of went fast. At least, fast-ish. Then again, I wasn’t deluged with frigid weather, and I watched the government shutdown from the sidelines. It definitely could have been worse.

I read a ton of good books this month, but this one surprised me with how much I enjoyed it:

It really was a delightful listen. As for the rest:

Middle Grade:

We’re Not From Here
Lety Out Loud

YA:

On the Come Up
The Moon Within
Unearthed
The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

Graphic Novel:

The Witch Boy
The Hidden Witch

New Kid

Adult:

The Girls at 17 Swann Street

Non-fiction:

Sissy
Shout

What were some of your favorites this month?

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

by Mackenzi Lee
First sentence: “I have just taken an overly large bite of iced bun when Callum slices his finger off.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
Content: There was some mild swearing and some frank depictions of 18th century medicine. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, because that’s where Gentleman’s Guide is.

First off: you don’t have to read Gentleman’s Guide before reading this one, though it will probably help with some small references, and with knowing who the characters are.

It’s been a while since Felicity has come back from her “tour” with her brother and his now-boyfriend, Percy. She decided that instead of going back to her parents, she would rather try her hand at getting into a medical school in Edinburgh. However, that didn’t go well. At all. For all the reasons you can guess: she’s a woman, women are inferior, why don’t you go play with the midwives, honey? So when this man she has befriended, the Callum of the opening sentence, proposes, Felicity panics and heads back to London. Where, through a series of chance encounters (and some standing up for herself), she ends up on a trip to Stuttgart in the company of a less-than-trustworthy woman, to attend the wedding of her former best friend.

Of course, adventures ensue. Felicity and the other women — Sim, who turns out to be a pirate princess, and Johanna, the daughter of a naturalist — have to fight (both literally and figuratively) for their right to be heard, to be understood, to be listened to. And, along they way they learn a bit about themselves.

I adored this one (as much as Gentleman’s Guide, which means it wasn’t all the narrator with that one). I loved that Lee got in many different kinds of women, and several different feminist points (you can, in fact, loves clothes AND science!). I loved that Felicity was asexual, and was okay with that. She thought maybe she worked differently from other people, but that was okay with her. I loved that the girls all ended up as friends (even though Sim has a bit of a crush on Felicity), and that there wasn’t a romance in the plot. I loved that Lee gave us some feisty and fierce historical girls, who were willing to blaze paths and be unapologetic about making the world a better place.

A very excellent read.

The Girls at 17 Swann Street

by Yara Zgheib
First sentence: “I call it the Van Gogh bedroom.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is frank discussion of eating disorders and some mild swearing. If the girls were younger, it’d be a Teen book, but because they’re in their 20s, it lands in Adult Fiction. It’d be appropriate for teenagers, though.

Anna has moved to St. Louis from Paris because her husband, Matthias, got a job here. She was a ballerina, but injured herself and has been off dancing for a while. And when she moved to the states, she couldn’t find a dancing job. One thing led to another, and it soon turned out that the only thing that Anna really could control was her eating. And control it she did, right down to 88 pounds.

Which is why she ended up at 17 Swann Street, a treatment house for those with eating disorders, primarily anorexia and bulimia.

The book follows Anna through six weeks of treatment, while we find out how she ended up at 17 Swann Street through flashbacks. We get to know some of the other patients, but only through Anna’s eyes, as well as Anna’s personal struggles with body image and food.

I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. Partially was visual: there was just too many italics. I know it’s a little thing, but I got tired of reading in italics and felt that they were unnecessary. But, beyond that, I felt that this was kind of clinical, and I was kept at an arm’s distance from really feeling like I was involved in it. Maybe it was me (I have my issues with food, but not a full-blown eating disorder), but I just didn’t connect with Anna or her story. I felt it was all a bit too… pat, for lack of another word.

It’s not a bad book — I finished it, after all — but it’s not the best I’ve read either.

Audio book: My Life as a Goddess

by Guy Branum
Read by the author.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen to it at Libro.fm
Content: There was a bunch of swearing, including many f-bombs, and frank talk about sex. It’s in the humor section of the bookstore.

I have, in fact, mentioned my weakness for celebrity memoirs, especially if I can listen to it on audio. They just hit my happy button. And I’ve just found out that I enjoy them, even if I don’t know who the celebrity is! (As in this case.) I found out about thins one through Pop Culture Happy Hour when it was recommended by my favorite crank, Glen Wheldon. (Who actually has a reference in this book…) Anyway. This is basically Guy’s story about how he went from the boring farm town in the Sacramento Valley (I really enjoyed his diversions about agriculture!) to being a stand-up comic and a comedy writer. It was quite hilarious, but also introspective and touching. I think one of the things I like best about these kind of books is hearing someone else’s story, learning how they got to where they are today. Branum didn’t have an easy life; he was often ostracized as a child (not to mention his sister, who was really only alluded to) and his parents — especially his father — cut him off when he came out. He made a wrong turn going to law school, and I liked knowing that other people make wrong turns and turn out okay. I also thought his rant about the cultural biases against clubs (I may never listen to Shape of You by Ed Sheeran the same way again. Or Bohemian Rhapsody).

I loved every moment listening to Guy tell his story (the best bits where when he cracked himself up). A delightful book.