What We Read Before Bed #2

Here’s what I read out loud to my five year old:

First, we finished up a graphic novel that we started while on vacation last week, Frozen: Breaking Boundaries. I found this book at Walmart before our trip. All the Frozen II merchandise came out just in time, so I picked up some new items to take along in our airplane bag. In Breaking Boundaries, Anna questions what her purpose is. Elsa makes all the important decisions for the kingdom, so what does Arendelle need a princess for? Anna meets a girl named Mari who is also questioning what her purpose is. Together, they try out different jobs in Arendelle, but they always seem to cause trouble. Luckily, because of Mari’s knowledge of animals and animal behavior, she’s able to fix many of the problems. Meanwhile, Elsa is trying to figure out why trees are being cut down in the forest. Olaf makes an appearance, of course, as does Kristoff and Sven. The artwork is just like the movies. We enjoyed the book and would read another one of these Disney graphic novels. 

Next, we started another chapter book. This time, an Amelia Bedelia book from a four-book collection my daughter received at her fifth birthday party from a great-aunt. Amelia Bedelia has been revamped for the next generation of readers (the newer stories are all written by the original author’s nephew). Instead of a maid in a blue dress and white apron who needs specific instructions to “undust” the furniture, she is a young kid. In Amelia Bedelia Means Business, the titular character sees a classmate’s shiny new bike and decides she needs a fancy new bike, too. Her parents tell her that if she can earn half of the money, they’ll pay for the other half. “Which half costs more?” she asks. Amelia Bedelia tries to earn money, but she obviously struggles with the turns of phrase people use. For instance, when a customer asks her to bring a piece of cake, “And step on it!” Amelia Bedelia doesn’t understand that the customer is in a hurry, and literally steps on the cake. These word plays are sometimes tricky to explain to a five year old, who – much like Amelia Bedelia – takes words at their literal meaning. However, my daughter sat and listened to the story (while also breaking in to tell me lots of other things she was thinking about!), and we made it through four chapters before stopping. While reading, I was also reminded of my mom, who has told me that Amelia Bedelia books are some of the hardest to read out loud because of the tongue-twistery name! I would have to agree. Amelia Bedelia always goes by her full, first and last name, so the book definitely gave my tongue a work out!

And here’s what I read on my own:

I’ve been reading Girls of Paper and Fire, a young adult fantasy series by author Natasha Ngan. Forwarded by James Patterson (and published by JIMMY Patterson Books), the series has gained quite a lot of hype and positive reviews. The author has a multicultural background, which influenced her storytelling, as did her own experience as a sexual abuse survivor. 

In this series, there are three castes of people: Paper, Steel, and Moon. Paper caste is at the bottom and they are lowly humans. Steel is in the middle, and they are humans with animal characteristics, like fur and tails. Moon caste is the highest and they are animal demons. The kingdom is ruled by the Demon Bull King. Each year, eight Paper girls are brought to him as concubines – which is supposed to be an honor to their families. Main character Lei is ripped from her country home and taken to the king as a gift because of her stunning eyes. She must go along with being a Paper Girl in order to keep her family safe. She is given beautiful clothes and lessons to make her civilized, but when the king calls for her, Lei can’t submit. When he tries to force himself on her, she runs away. She is punished for her disobedience, which only solidifies her distaste for the Paper Girls tradition. Along the way, she also falls in love – but that love could prove dangerous in more ways than one.

While some of the girls in the story view Paper Girls as an honorable job, it clearly isn’t. At best it’s sex slavery and at it’s worst, rape. It’s rather disturbing. To me, this is not a young adult book at all. On the Goodreads page, the author responds to a reader’s question about how vivid the sexual abuse is in the book, saying that she “tried to write it as delicately and respectfully as possible, so the scenes are…not graphic, but the characters do talk and think about what happened afterwards. [She] didn’t write it with the intention to distress or shock readers – it’s written with love and care.” However, when a 16 and 17 year old girl are expected to sleep with a man/bull/whatever he is, despite their fear and own desires, we’ve tipped into some heavy stuff. I haven’t read any of the reviews yet on Goodreads (I wait until after I finish a book so I don’t accidentally see spoilers) to see what other readers thought, but I’ll be quite shocked if other readers didn’t have an issue with the maturity level of the book. Will I keep reading it? Yes, because I want to see where the author takes this and find out what the lesson will be, but this is really more of an adult book with the fast pacing of a young adult novel.

What did you read today?

Faraway Lands, Vol. 2

Last year, I visited an assassin’s keep in a desert oasis, a utopian-like land called Antica, the creepy Fennbirn Island, and a colony on the moon. I was transported to these amazing places through the pages of the books I read. I made some pretty spectacular journeys this year, too. In 2019, I traveled:

  • To a towering 1,000 floor skyscraper in technologically-advanced NYC in The Towering Sky.    
  • All over Sarah J. Maas’s lands – from Morath to Anielle, to the Ferian Gap and Perranth, all the way to Terrasen – in Kingdom of Ash.
  • To Bri Jackson’s tough neighborhood in On the Come Up, experiencing what it’s like to get the power turned off.
  • In the cold woods of Beartown and Us Against You, where hockey reigns supreme.
  • Throughout the city as Mateo and Rufus make the most of their last day of life in They Both Die at the End.
  • To space and space stations in Space Boy, Sanity & Tallulah, and Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century.
  • To a ninja hideout in the woods, a tea house, and a palace full of secrets in Flame in the Mist.
  • To an East Coast boarding school in A Study in Charlotte.
  • Through an old library, a French chateau, and a witch house in A Discovery of Witches.
  • From a family home to a Muslim-American internment camp in the desert near Manzanar in Internment, kept under surveillance by drones and soldiers.
  • On the campaign trail in Pennsylvania with Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win.
  • On a Korean-Brazilian food truck in The Way You Make Me Feel.
  • To a Russian Orthodox summer camp in the graphic novel Be Prepared.
  • Through time to Elizabethan London, to the court of Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia Rudolf II in Prague, and the French countryside in Shadow of Night.
  • On a dangerous journey from an African village through the Sahara Desert, on an inflatable raft in the Mediterranean Sea, and a ship crowded with migrants on their way to a better life in Europe in the graphic novel, Illegal.
  • To dystopian versions of the United States in Broken Throne and Defy Me.
  • And even to South Bend, Indiana, in The Shortest Way Home, and Michelle Obama’s south side Chicago home in Becoming.

Each journey was a glimpse at another way of life. Where did you travel in books this year?

Rating + Review: A Study in Charlotte

When Victoria Aveyard’s War Storm book tour was in my area, I was lucky enough to attend, and Brittany Cavallaro was another author who shared a stage with Aveyard. I got to hear Cavallaro talk about her books and writing process and found her to be a really great speaker, but I hadn’t read any of her books prior to the event. I wanted to remedy that and gave A Study in Charlotte a read.

A Study in Charlotte uses Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock novels as the jumping off point, imagining that Holmes was a real man and had descendants who would carry on his name and detective abilities. Embarrassingly enough for an English teacher and an avid reader, I’ve only read one Sherlock Holmes novel: The Hound of the Baskervilles. I’ve also seen the early 2000s films starring Robert Downey Jr., and Jude Law. Even though I may not be a Sherlockian expert, the atmosphere and intellect of A Study in Charlotte felt spot on.

In this book, James Watson – a descendant of John Watson – finds himself at a boarding school in Connecticut near his estranged father. Charlotte Holmes – the great-great-great-granddaughter of Sherlock Holmes – also attends the boarding school. Even though Charlotte is a teenager, she’s just as neurotic as Sherlock. She’s also a great detective, as she’s been trained since she was a child. Not long after James comes to school, a classmate that both he and Charlotte despise winds up dead. All the evidence points to Charlotte and Jamie because the killer has recreated scenes from the original Sherlock stories. Holmes and Watson have to prove they’re innocent and find the true killer before anyone else gets hurt.

I was really impressed by this book. The writing was dark and formal, making it feel very different than the usual YA books I read. Charlotte even has Sherlock’s drug habit, which I thought was pretty risky for the author to include in YA. The writing style was refreshing – despite feeling old-fashioned – and such a good match to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work. Since the book was a mystery, it was also suspenseful and it was fun to make predictions as I read.

“We’re not on who, or why, Watson, we’re still working out how. You can’t theorize in advance of facts, or you’ll waste everyone’s time.”

Even though I assume the rest of the books in the series will be formulaic (like most mystery series are), I feel like it’s worth it to continue reading this series. Charlotte and Jamie are complex characters with a complex relationship. They understand each other and need one another’s friendship, but they are also just teenagers who have a lot of family pressure on them.

I wanted the two of us to be complicated together, to be difficult and engrossing and blindingly brilliant.

There is room for Charlotte and Jamie to grow personally and I appreciate the diligent work Cavallaro has put into crafting this novel.

Rating + Review: Flame in the Mist

“Let’s get down to business, to defeat *pause* the Huns.” If you were a kid in the ’90s, I’m 100% sure that you not only sang that line out loud, but that you’ve got the rest of the song stuck in your head now. You’re welcome! I didn’t do this to mess with your day, but rather to introduce book #13 of my Goodreads 2019 challenge, a twist on the story of Mulan: Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh.

I had been looking forward to reading this book because 1) who doesn’t love Mulan? and 2) I was ready for another snarky, magical romance à la The Wrath & the Dawn from Renée Ahdieh. Sadly, I’m not sure that it delivered on everything I wanted it to be.

Flame in the Mist introduces us to Mariko, a young woman who is on her way to the capitol to wed her betrothed: a prince whom she hasn’t even met. Her convoy enters a creepy forest wherein they are attacked. Mariko manages to escape, and even though she knows her amazing tracker of a brother will find her, she decides to take care of herself by pretending to be a boy so she can figure out why her convoy was attacked and who wants her dead. The obvious choice is the notorious Black Clan, but it’s so obvious that it doesn’t quite make sense – especially once she joins their ranks and gets to know the young men. Meanwhile, court intrigue seems to be at play, along with some magic. Will Mariko be able to keep her identity a secret and discover who is plotting against her family?

While the premise is interesting, and I don’t mind well-done re-tellings, I found the beginning of the book dull and slow moving. In fact, I switched to another book and read it before coming back to Flame in the Mist. Thankfully, the action and intrigue started to pick up around 60% of the way through the book.

Things I liked about Flame in the Mist:

  • Great moments related to Girl Power and Feminism
  • “She remembered Chiyo telling her that finding one’s match was like finding one’s other half. Mariko had never understood the notion. She was not a half. She was wholly her own.”
  • Disney’s Mulan moments like chopping off her hair and the lines, “Be as swift as the wind. As silent as the forest. As fierce as the fire. As unshakable as the mountain,” obviously reminded me of the lyrics to “Be A Man.”
  • A romance built on mutual respect
  • Things I was disappointed by:

    • The magic was confusing. I didn’t get what was happening. Like The Wrath & the Dawn, the magic had potential but was a missed opportunity. For me, Ahdieh hasn’t quite figured out how to write magic that makes sense for the reader yet.
    • I just couldn’t believe these guys who are so cunning and observant couldn’t figure out that Mariko was a girl. She keeps changing the pitch of her voice and she doesn’t know how to do anything useful. She’s not a cartoon character- she’s an actual person.
    • The beginning was so uneventful that I almost gave up on this book.

    While the book wasn’t all I wanted it to be, I still want to go ahead and read the second book, Smoke in the Sun. The ending is cliffhangery and I’m hopeful that the romance, descriptive imagery, and the message of girl power will make for a strong second book.

    A Very Large Amount of Love for A Very Large Expanse of Sea

    Last weekend, I had a two and a half hour drive and a car to myself. No kid! No kid music! I listened to an audio book, and it was lovely. I like to listen to books I’ve already read. I know, it doesn’t help me tackle my TBR list, but it works for me. That way, if I miss a little of the story as I’m driving, it won’t matter because I’ve already read it before. For this trip, I borrowed A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi from my library. I read the book on my kindle back in August, and even though I remember loving it, the audio book made me love it even more.    

    In fact, I loved A Very Large Expanse of Sea so much that I finished it in about 24 hours. I read 40% in one night, another 30% the next morning, and read the rest of the book during any spare moments I could find in the rest of the day. I didn’t want to put the book down. Here’s a quick summary:

    Shirin has moved a lot. But one thing that’s constant is the racism and ignorance she deals with on a daily basis, all because she is a hijab-wearing Muslim teenager and the setting of the book takes place shortly after 9/11. Seriously, one day she counts seventeen stupid things people say to her, ranging from calling her “Taliban” to asking if she keeps bombs in her hijab. She tries to ignore everyone so she doesn’t have to deal with the BS – but then a boy takes notice of her. His name is Ocean and the teens have instant chemistry. Ocean falls hard for Shirin, but she pushes him away because she knows people will be stupid about them dating. It turns out that she’s right. Ocean is the star basketball player at their school, so his coach, mom, and classmates pressure them to break up. Oh, and Shirin (who usually shies away from attention) also creates a breakdancing group with her older brother (this part is so random). Will Shirin ever feel like she doesn’t have to apologize for who she is? And will her relationship with Ocean ever get to the point where they don’t feel like they’re drowning in a very large expanse of sea?

    This book is an adorable contemporary romance, but also offers up so much smart commentary about the microaggressions (and macroaggressions) POC encounter on a daily basis and Islamophobia. I love the mix of budding-romance, Shirin’s honesty, and Mafi’s intelligent insights. After listening to the book again in my car, I realized the book was even better than I had remembered (there was also more swearing than I remembered, so it was good my 5-year-old wasn’t in the car with me!). In case you still need to be convinced to read the book, here’s a chart!

    Pros:

    • A totally swoony read – especially around 47% of the way through during an awkward classroom moment and 48% when they discuss their feelings. 
    • It’s a diverse read with a main character who wears a hijab (Mafi lends credibility to this character, rather than making her seem like a publicity stunt).
    • This is a contemporary romance, but there are also important, heavy topics discussed like microaggressions and racism. Shirin has an awesome conversation with a “woke” teacher about her part in educating others.
    • I like that there’s an older brother and a cool group of guys that Shirin gets to hang out with. Often, it feels like girls in books only spend time with their boyfriends.
    • Shirin shows real character growth – even though she wasn’t always the one who needed to grow.

    Cons:

    • There’s way too much cell phone usage for 2001/2002! I was a teenager then and hardly any teens even had a cell phone, let alone had anyone to text.
    • Shirin is into music and fashion and crafting and breakdancing…did she really need to have a journal too? The journal part irked me because it was too predictable. Like, as soon as I read the word “journal” I knew what was going to happen. Mafi could have done something less cliché.
    • The title is ostentatious. I don’t think it fits this cute teen book at all. I think it may keep readers from picking up the book/buying it. 
    • Besides Shirin, there aren’t many other female characters, and what few female characters appear aren’t shown in a very positive way.
    • Shirin likes to swear. She uses the “f” word liberally. That may be a hindrance to using the book in school or for younger audiences. 

    Even though there are a few cons, I’m totally smitten with Mafi’s latest book. I hope Mafi will deliver another contemporary read full of witty banter, snark, and romance, and I hope readers fall in love with this book as much as I did. 

    What I Read

    I’m back for another year of National Blog Posting Month, and thank goodness I had been saving up little articles and bookish tidbits earlier in the year, because I feel underprepared for the month! To borrow a term from the other big November challenge, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I will be “pantsing” – flying by the seat of my pants – more than planning.  

    If you’re new to my blog, thanks for stopping by. You can check out my About Me page to learn more about me and link to some of my most-visited posts. I hope to follow along with other NaBloPoMo bloggers throughout the month. 

    The past year has brought a lot of great books my way, and I know based on my OverDrive holds list that I still have several more great books to read before 2019 comes to a close. Breaking it down, I read 27 Young Adult novels (mostly fantasy, with a little contemporary and sci-fi thrown in), 8 Adult fiction books, 2 nonfiction books, and 18 graphic novels. Graphic novels were my thing this year! Here is what I’ve read since last year’s NaBloPoMo:

    I hope to go more into depth on some of these books as the month goes on. I’m especially excited to talk about the amazing graphic novels in this list. Let’s keep in touch this November. 

    Happy NaBloPoMo 2019!

    Rating + Review: The Width of the World

    I was so excited to find the third book in the Vega Jane series available to read on the OverDrive app right after I finished the second book. How refreshing to get to continue on in a series! This rarely happens to me. Even though I quickly completed the third book in the Vega Jane series, I ended up waiting a full week before writing my review for The Width of the World because I couldn’t figure out what to say about it. Why? Well, because even though there were a lot of plot holes and moments of “why are you doing that?!” and “shouldn’t you be doing this instead?” and “how did the character assume that?” I still really, really enjoyed this book! 

    Goodreads Blurb:

    This is it. Vega Jane’s time. She’s been lied to her whole life, so she breaks away from Wormwood, the only home she’s ever known, in search of the truth. She battles horrors to fight her way across the Quag with her best friend, Delph, and her mysterious canine, Harry Two. Against all odds, they survive unimaginable dangers and make it through.

    And into a new world that’s even worse. Not because deadly beasts roam the cobblestones, but because the people are enslaved but don’t even know it. It’s up to Vega, Delph, Harry Two and their new comrade, Petra, to take up the fight against a foe that’s unrivaled in savagery and cunning. Not only is Vega’s life and the lives of her friends on the line, but whether she triumphs or fails will determine whether a whole world survives. 

    Beloved author David Baldacci delivers a shockwave of destruction and shattering revelations in The Width of the World, book three in his instant #1 global bestselling Vega Jane series.

    At first, I was not sure that I would like this book. When Vega, Delph, Petra, and Harry Two escape the Quag, I was momentarily reminded of the crushing let-down from the Divergent series when Tris escaped from her city and into the unknown. It was underwhelming. I thought, “Nooo! Don’t take all of this epic adventure and turn it into a lame experiment and dystopia!” Luckily, that’s not quite what happened here, so I was relieved. 

    Another reason why I was initially cautious about this book was because in the second Vega Jane book, I felt that some of the plot points seemed too reminiscent of other literary sources. This third book felt that way, too. Certain scenes reminded me of events from Harry Potter, Star Wars, A Discovery of Witches, and even Beauty and the Beast. However, I still enjoyed this book so much. I read it quickly and was invested in Vega’s journey. 

    The conflict in this book was very interesting, or as Vega puts it, “It really was quite brilliant. But more diabolically evil than brilliant.” The Maladons are manipulative and evil, all right, just not as blatantly as we had been expecting. I agree with Vega when she says, “I had to admit it was all very well planned. And yet the Maladons had had centuries to perfect what they were doing: unobtrusively enslaving an entire people while at the same time destroying all those who could rise up against them.” These Maladons are bad dudes, and Vega is so pure-of-heart compared to them. 

    I cannot wait to find out what happens in the fourth installment of the Vega Jane series. This series has kept me on my toes the entire time, and I know Baldacci is saving some great twists for the final book.

    This book almost deserves a 5 star rating, but I was annoyed at how Vega would get tunnel-vision and just focus on one thing – totally forgetting about lots of other things she should be thinking about. I don’t want to let any spoilers slip, but, what about her family? Learning more about the resistance? Warning other people about what’s going on? None of that seemed to be addressed, but I find it all rather important and obvious. I’m curious if other readers noticed this, too.

     

    Rating + Review: The Keeper

    Like the first book in the Vega Jane series, The Finisher, I received this book as a gift from my Aunt Shannon. I don’t think I would have picked the series out for myself because the author, David Baldacci, typically writes adult thrillers that I associate with things that dads would like to read! Like authors Michael Connelly and Lee Child, David Baldacci just isn’t on my radar. I’m glad I decided to start this series, though, and I can’t wait to find out how Vega Jane’s adventure will end.  

    Goodreads Blurb:

    Master storyteller David Baldacci is back with THE KEEPER, the follow up to his instant #1 global bestselling and award-winning fantasy debut, THE FINISHER.

    Vega Jane was always told no one could leave the town of Wormwood. She was told there was nothing outside but the Quag, a wilderness filled with danger and death. And she believed it – until the night she stumbled across a secret that proved that everything she knew was a lie.

    Now just one thing stands between Vega Jane and freedom – the Quag. In order to leave Wormwood and discover the truth about her world, Vega and her best friend Delph must find a way to make it across a terrifying land of bloodthirsty creatures and sinister magic. But the Quag is worse than Vega Jane’s darkest imagining. It’s a living, breathing prison designed to keep enemies out and the villagers of Wormwood in. 

    The Quag will throw everything at Vega Jane. It will try to break her. It will try to kill her. And survival might come at a price not even Vega Jane is willing to pay. 

    Master storyteller David Baldacci unleashes a hurricane of action and adrenaline that takes readers to the breaking point.

    *Review contains minor, vague spoilers

    Might be best enjoyed by readers who have already read the book!*

    I had some real worries going into this book – mainly that the book would be incredibly limited and repetitive. Would it just be about staying alive in the Quag? Moments of calm and then constant battles for their lives? And just Vega, Delph, and Harry Two (a dog) for characters? How would this carry a whole book? Thankfully, Baldacci has crafted quite the adventure and quite the heroes, and I think I enjoyed this book more than the first one.

    Vega Jane, Delph, and Harry Two continue their trek through the Quag in the second book, The Keeper. The book starts right where the first book in the series left off: at the bottom of a cliff. From the first page to the last, there are trials and creatures to defeat at every turn. Vega is a bit like Odysseus, being tested on a long, dangerous journey where forces outside of her control are trying to thwart her plan to see what’s beyond the Quag. Vega starts to feel like she’s been left behind in Wormwood, like she wasn’t worth saving, but then she comes to discover that she has the power to wield magic. Along with Vega’s magic, the incredible tools she collected in the first book (Destin, the Adder stone, and the elemental), plus Delph’s strength and uncanny sense of direction, and Harry Two’s selfless bravery, our heroes attempt to make their way through five circles of the Quag – a literal maze to keep anyone from getting in or out. The circles are designed to break your spirit and no one is supposed to actually succeed in escaping the circles.

    While, thanks to a book provided by Quentin, Vega and Delph know that there will be many horrendous creatures that will stop at nothing to kill them, one of the most surprising things Vega and Delph come across is other people: a cruel, self-proclaimed king, the Keeper who (fittingly) wants to hold them captive, and some survivors living in the Quag who may or may not be trustworthy. The people are some of the trickiest challenges to navigate, but it was a relief that the entire book wasn’t just one terrifying creature after another.

    At times, the book felt a bit juvenile because the writing was so…well, I’m not actually sure why I think this, but I do! Perhaps because it was such a fast-paced, action-packed book? Or because Vega actually thinks like a teenager? Also, some of the plot points felt borrowed from other sources. For instance, the five circles felt too contrived, and Vega’s magical incantations are sure to remind readers of other famous wizards (personally, I could have done without the wand-wielding magic – I liked how tough and fearless and smart Vega was without it). Luckily, the book is still incredibly fresh and unexpected. 

    Even though Vega Jane learns some answers to questions she had about Wormwood and its past, there are still plenty of unanswered questions to uncover in the next book. I read this book several days faster than The Finisher because it was so dangerous, suspenseful, and surprising. I’m definitely looking forward to the next book in the series.

    Rating + Review: They Both Die at the End

    The Finisher (9)

    Do you read the acknowledgments section in the back of the book? I do. For one, I’m usually not ready to part with a book once I’m done with it, so I read (most of) the extra content at the end, and two, I love seeing how so many of the authors I read all seem to be friends with each other. I imagine them having artsy get-togethers and interesting email conversations.  Well, while reading Becky Albertalli’s books (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Leah on the Offbeat, The Upside of Unrequited), I kept coming across Adam Silvera’s name in the acknowledgments and in interviews with Albertalli. Since I hadn’t read any of Silvera’s books, I decided to give this one a try. Maybe I’ll be adding the book Albertalli and Silvera wrote together, What if it’s Us, to my TBR list, too.   

    Goodreads Blurb:

    On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure and to live a lifetime in a single day.

    my thoughts

    If you knew today was your last day, how would you choose to spend it?

    That’s the premise for Adam Silvera’s novel, They Both Die at the End. Teens Mateo and Rufus both get the Death-Cast call on the same day, warning them that sometime within the next twenty-four hours, they will die. They won’t know how or when. They won’t be able to stop it. Mateo is a loner whose father is in a coma in the hospital, so Rufus needs someone to help him truly live on his final day. He uses the Last Friend app to find Rufus. Rufus has a group of people who care about him, but thanks to some bad choices he made earlier, he has to stay away from them or risk getting picked up by the cops. Together, Mateo and Rufus live and learn and love as the hours pass them by. They both become the best versions of themselves as the Death-Cast call looms over them.

    The title and Death-Cast calls at the beginning of the book means that the reader is on edge through the entire story. There is an ache in your chest because as you get to know more and more about the characters, you also know that time is running out for these teens. Will they be the exceptions? Will they somehow be able to make enough changes or take care of each other so well that neither of them dies? The suspense keeps the book moving along.

    That being said, I didn’t looove this book. It’s more like a 3.5 or 3.75 and I’m generously rounding up to 4. It has suspense and characters I cared about, but the characters didn’t really seem like a love-match to me. It felt more like a relationship of convenience. If you knew you were going to die, wouldn’t you want to be loved? Mateo and Rufus don’t really have the luxury of being picky! Would they have chosen each other under different circumstances? I’m not sure.

    The relationships that I found more believable were their friendships. Mateo’s friend Lidia is a teen mom who already lost her boyfriend. It seems unfair that she’s losing another branch of her support system. Rufus’s friends Malcolm, Tagoe, and Aimee, have already helped Rufus cope with the loss of his family and it’s clear they love each other. They offer the best support that they can. I like books with great friendships, so I think I would have liked this book more if there was more time spent on friendship rather than on a forced romance.

    In all, They Both Die at the End is a solid YA contemporary/sci-fi-ish read. While it’s never explained how Death-Cast knows it will be your final day, the concept is interesting and I could suspend disbelief enough to jump into the story. The book also made me wonder what I would do if I knew it was my last day. This was my first Silvera novel, but I think I would be open to another one.

    my thoughts (5)

    Rating + Review: On the Come Up

    Angie Thomas’s debut novel, The Hate U Give, sure was a writer’s dream. It was a hit with readers, garnering 275,000 Goodreads ratings (with an amazing 4.55 star average), and was even turned into a movie starring Amandla Stenberg. Like a lot of other people, I was looking forward to another novel by Thomas. With a voice that’s genuine and timely, her young adult fiction is finding traction with readers who are interested in reading diverse voices.

    Goodreads Blurb:

    Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.

    On the Come Up is Angie Thomas’s homage to hip-hop, the art that sparked her passion for storytelling and continues to inspire her to this day. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; of the struggle to become who you are and not who everyone expects you to be; and of the desperate realities of poor and working-class black families.

    On the Come Up is a standalone novel from the author of The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas. This book stars Bri Jackson, a high school junior who wants to become a rapper so she can help her family out financially. She lives with her mom and older brother, Trey, but they barely make ends meet. Sometimes they go without power or visit food drives to get groceries. Bri attends a nice school outside of her neighborhood, but feels targeted there by the security guards and teachers because she’s black. Bri plays on the idea of what everyone assumes about her and raps about what she’d really like to do to the security guards at her school. The song gains Bri some quick fame, and the reader goes along with Bri through the ups and downs of navigating life as a young black girl when your dreams can be dangerous.

    Overall, I wanted to like this book more than I actually did (THUG is like a 4.25 stars and OTCU is a 3.8 stars, rounded up!). I struggled to get into this story at first. There was a lot of slang and vocabulary that I wasn’t familiar with and had to stop and think about. For instance, “I throw my snapback on, pulling the front down enough so it can cover my edges” or “She’s beside her Cutlass, getting it in. Milly Rocking, Disciple Walking, all of that, like she’s a one-woman Soul Train line.” It took me out of the story a bit, even though this language is also what helped make it authentic. And unlike THUG, I didn’t find the characters quite as endearing. They didn’t feel quite as fleshed out for me as Starr and her family did. Even the descriptions of people and places didn’t feel as well-done in this book, but perhaps I’m remembering THUG incorrectly. Bri makes rash decisions and doesn’t consider the consequences until later. She makes a lot of careless choices, so it was hard to be sympathetic towards her at times. Despite this, I was definitely rooting for Bri and her family. I wanted them to beat the odds and make it – while also recognizing that many of their difficulties weren’t their fault but rather systematic racism.

    On the Come Up is still an enjoyable read, even with a few criticisms. For instance, it was really cool to see Bri come up with her rhymes. She would hear a word or phrase and be reminded of other concepts or rhyming words and turn it into lyrics, or bars. I liked seeing this word play. I also really liked Bri’s mom, Jay, and a conversation she has with the school superintendent. Jay is a strong, smart woman. Even with flaws and a past, she brings a lot of wisdom to Bri’s life. If only Bri would listen! Guess that’s what happens when you’re a teenager, though.

    While there is plenty to unpack with this book – racial profiling, inequality across housing and education, gang violence, hip hop culture, guns for white people vs. guns for POC, police brutality – the package is so neat and tidy that you don’t realize that’s what you’re reading about. Angie Thomas has definitely hit on something special and relevant with her first two books. She’s carving out a niche in contemporary YA using diverse perspectives that everyone can enjoy and learn from.

    Recommended for:

    • Readers who enjoyed The Hate U Give (or moviegoers who enjoyed the same title)
    • High school English teachers looking for diverse perspectives to expose their students to
    • Readers who prefer to read fiction, but still want to learn about race in America
    • People who like hip hop music, spoken word poetry, and rap battles