The Fountains of Silence

by Ruta Sepetys
First sentence: “They stand in line for blood.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: October 1, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some violence, and some talk of sexual assault and affairs. It will probably be in the Teen section (grades 9+) for more “mature” themes than the YA section usually holds.

The one thing that Sepetys does better than any other person writing historical fiction out there is finding the stories underneath the major events, and focusing in on what the decisions of dictators – in this case, General Francisco Franco of Spain — have done to ordinary people. (Well, she did write one book that didn’t head in that direction, but go with me here.) She looks at the lives of the peasants — in this case Ana and her siblings, who were children of people involved in the resistance during the Spanish Civil War — and how the strict rules and the fear effect their daily lives.

It’s 1957, and Ana has gotten a job at the Castellana Hilton, a posh hotel that has opened up in hopes that Americans will go to Madrid on vacation. One such American is Daniel, the son of a Dallas oil tycoon, who would much rather be a photojournalist than go into the oil business. They strike up a friendship (romance?) as David looks into the hidden worlds under then shine that is the Castellana Hilton.

There’s more going on than that in this book: Sepetys touches on the kidnapping of children — the government would take newborns away from parents, and tell them that their children had died soon after birth — and on the general fear that the Guardia Civil inspired in the population. It’s a lot for one book, but Sepetys handles it all without letting it overwhelm the more personal stories of the book.

Very highly recommended, like all of her books.

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That Inevitable Victorian Thing

by E. K. Johnston
First sentence: “Helena Marcus had not given much though to her marriage.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some mild swearing, including a couple of f-bombs. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+ section of the bookstore).

In the world of this book, the British Empire has taken over the world (mostly, except for the States, which has basically dissolved into ruin), and the way marriages are made are done by entering genetic codes into the computer. (At least, that’s the way I understood it.) There’s room for love matches, but mostly the society wants the best genetic diversity, so most people match through the genetic system. I was never really able to pinpoint time — the girls were still “debuting” into society, there were corsets and balls, but there was also an internet-like thing, airplanes, trains and cars. It was a weird mashup of historical and futuristic.

There are three characters — Helena, who’s basically promised to August, the son of some sort of shipping mangnate, and Margaret, who’s the crown princess, but she’s in disguise. It’s set in Canada, whichi is nice… but nothing really happens. I read about 2/3 of this, and got frustrated with the lack of things happening — I think she was going for an Austen-like feel, but it just wasn’t doing it for me — and then skipped to the end. I’m not sure I missed much.

I liked the idea of this, but the execution just fell short.

Steel Tide

by Natalie C. Parker
First sentence: “The stars felt close tonight.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Seafire
Release date: September 17, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher
Content: There is some mild swearing and a lot of violence. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Spoilers for Seafire, obviously.

When we last left our erstwhile captain, Caledonia, she had attacked the Bullet ship of the Fiveson Lir, and commanded her crew and ship to leave while she took on Lir personally. It didn’t go well, and she was left for dead.

She was rescued, thankfully, by a group made up of former Bullets, calling themselves the Blades. They live free on an island, not bothering anyone. Until someone gets wind that’s where Caledonia are, and they join her fight against the all-powerful Aric. Caledonia’s crew has been captured and so she and the Blades work together to get them out, and then prepare to take on Aric and overthrow his all-consuming control.

It’s not the best summary, but there’s a LOT going on in this book. It’s definitely a middle book: it doesn’t really build to much, though there is a great battle scene at the end, but is more laying ground for what is to come next in the final book. That’s not to say this isn’t a GREAT read: it totally is. Parker has succeeded in writing ship battle scenes that keep pages flying, while developing intriguing and complex relationships not only between the girls on Caledonia’s regular crew, but also among the Bullets. You actually feel it when people die (and they do die; she’s not a timid writer). And I adore Caledonia as a captain; she knows how to lead, and the fact that she doesn’t do things on a whim, but actually has a purpose for her madness is brilliant.

I can’t wait for the next one!

The Girl the Sea Gave Back

by Adrienne Young
First sentence: “‘Give me the child.'”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: September 3, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is a lot of violence, some of it gory. It will be in the YA section of the bookstore.

Tova, a member of the Kyrr tribe and covered in tattoos that brand her as a Truthtongue, has spent the last 13 years in exile with the Svell tribe. Their Tala (religious leader? I wasn’t entirely sure the role of the Tala) took her in, even though most of the people of the tribe are terrified of her and what she does. And for a people that believe strongly in Fate, Tova is terrifying: she throws the runes and reads them and They Come True.

The Svell tribe is at a crossroads: they are planning to attack of the tribe to to the north, the Nadhir, but the reasoning is kind of fuzzy. I think it’s because the Svell just wants to conquer the world. At any rate, they massacre a border town, kill the Nahdir leader, and then massacre another town on their way to invade the capital.

Tova, in all this, has been throwing runes that perhaps show the ultimate domination of the Svell, but she becomes uneasy allied with them. And, upon seeing Halvard, who becomes the Nadhir leader after the leader is killed, she decides to throw her fate in with them.

As you can tell, the plot of this one is a bit, well, hard to sum up and make interesting. I did like Tova as a character — she’s an exiled person (she’s supposed to be dead, but it’s never really explained why she’s not) trying to make a home with a people who never trusted her. The romance is a bit forced; I liked Halvard, but I never really got why they were attracted to each other. Thankfully, the romance is mostly only implied; the real conflict is Tova and her desire to get away from the Svell who are really committing an act of genocide. But I’m not sure that Young really delved into the conflict between Tova and the Svell leaders. Tova took the blame for the genocide — because she threw the runes — rather than the leaders, where it belonged. I guess I just wanted more out of this; it just felt hollow.

And the ending is… weird. I won’t go into it, but I felt like it came out of nowhere.

So, I wanted to really like this book. There are parts that are great. But, in the end, it wasn’t all that I was hoping it would be.

Hope and Other Punch Lines

by Julie Buxbaum
First sentence: “Tuesday, the least descriptive day of the week.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some talk of teenagers drinking and hooking up, but none actual. There are two f-bombs. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Abbi Hope Goldstein has a terrible claim to fame: On 9/11, a photographer snapped a picture of her, at age 1, being rescued by a worker from the Twin Towers, running away from the destruction. She was named “Baby Hope” by the media, and her picture splashed across the country as a sign of hope and reliance. Which meant, over her seventeen years of living, she’s had a lot of awkward encounters. Mostly, though, this summer — especially as she’s developed a worrisome cough that’s probably linked to the 9/11 attacks — she just wants to be a normal teenager.

Except there’s Noah: his dad died in 9/11 (they’re both from New Jersey), and Noah’s mom — though remarried now — has always been reluctant to talk about his dad. This summer, though, Noah wants to get answers from what he’s always suspected: his dad was in the background of the Baby Hope picture, and he wants to know what happened. And so when he runs into Abbi at a summer camp they’re both working at, he thinks it’s Fate and goads her into helping him contact all the people in the photo.

It sounds like a lot, and in some ways it’s a heavy book. It deals with loss and survivors guilt and grief — and not just the overarching 9/11 loss; there’s also loss of friendships, as Abbi has dealt with the dissolution of her friendship with her former best friend (nothing malicious; they just grew apart). But, in many ways, this is a typical teen romance. Noah is sweet and dorky and charming (and who doesn’t love a lovable guy in a teen romance) and his best friend, Jack, is the best. Abbi’s problems don’t seem too heavy; she is dealing with a lot but Buxbaum doesn’t ever let that control the narrative.

It was definitely a charming read, one with depth and heart.

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life

by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
First sentence: “Dark clouds were gathering in the sky, and there was a hint of rain in the morning air.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some drinking and swearing, including mulitple f-bombs. It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Sal is starting his senior year of high school, and he feels like his life isn’t making sense. He’s mom died when she was three, he never knew his biological father, and although he loves his adoptive father and his Mexican family, he still wonders about the family he never knew. His best friend, Samantha has a crap relationship with her mom, and his other friend, Fito’s, mom has drug problems. Sal’s life is pretty tame comparatively, but still. He’s trying to figure himself out.

Actually, the plot of this one is kind of incidental to the book. It’s mostly about relationships: between Sal and his father, Sal and his grandmother, and Sal and Sam. It’s about the dynamics between them all and what it means to be a part of a family. There is discussion of death and making life worthwhile, as Sal (and Sam and Fito) try to figure out how they fit into the world. Even though it wasn’t heavy on plot, it was beautifully written. Sáenz has a gift for language and I enjoy the way he wrote the characters. Sal’s dad, Vincente, is one of the best fathers I’ve read in a very long time. It was delightful spending time with these characters that I came to care about. (Yes, I cried when Mima died.)

Perhaps not the most exciting book I’ve read recently, but I did enjoy it.

Audio book: Three Sides of a Heart

Stories about Love Triangles
Edited by Natalie C. Parker
Read by Almarie Guerra, Bahni Turpin, James Fouhey, and Lulu Lam
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There are some stories with f-bombs, and some talk of sex and drinking. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

The idea behind this short story collection was “love triangles”, but as Natalie Parker mentions in her introduction, that was interpreted in many different ways. Many of the stories were standard two boys one girl or two girls one boy, but I think I liked the unusual ones best. I only skipped two: “Work in Progress” by E. K. Johnston and “The Historian, the Garrison, and the Cantankerous Cat Woman” by Lamar Giles. I don’t know if it was the story or the audio narration, but I found myself tuning out and so I just skipped them. As for the rest, my favorites were Parker’s story “Cass, An, and Dra” which not only played with Cassandra as as seer, but had a lesbian couple and a gender fluid person as the love triangle. I also really enjoyed Brandy Colbert’s “Hurdles” because the character is making a difficult choice between two good things and Colbert ends the story with the choice unmade. I also thought Brenna Yovanoff’s story, “Vega” was clever: it was between a girl, a boy, and the city of Las Vegas, which is an interesting look at a love triangle.

The collection was uneven, but to be honest, that’s the way I often feel about short story collections. I thought the idea behind the collection was an interesting one — definitely good for summer! — and I enjoyed where some of the authors went with it.