New from Sarah Dessen

So, so excited to finally announce my next book, ONCE AND FOR ALL! Coming June 2017. #number13

A photo posted by Sarah Dessen (@sdessen) on

 

Dessen fans rejoice! Sarah Dessen just announced via social media that her 13th book, Once and for All, will be published June 2017. The announcement was originally made on PublishersWeekly.com. In case you didn’t already read the Instagram post, “The novel…follows a just-graduated high schooler with a cynical view of romance and marriage. Burned by her first true love, she’s not ready to give her heart to anyone, when she meets a handsome young man”. And apparently it’s set in the world of wedding planning, but it’s not clear whether that’s our protagonist’s job, her parents, or maybe even the “handsome young man”. To me it sounds like our main character might be a little Remy-esque from This Lullaby and I’m all for it. So there you have it. We have to wait until next June but what’s another ten months, really?

DISCUSSION: Diversity in YA

Diversity in Books

This is a topic that I’m sure you guys have been hearing a lot about lately and I know you’ve all been wondering what I think about it…right? As a POC (person of color) myself, I do feel like I have a small sliver of authority on this subject. After all, I’m the kind of person who’s underrepresented, right? I came across a post myself just today and I left this long comment which made me think that I really just needed to write my own post. So here we are.

Just as an introduction, I’m half Chinese and a quarter Panamanian and I grew up near the Seattle area so there was a fair amount of diversity at my high school (mostly white, but a pretty large representation of Asian, some Hispanic, and some Black as well). I’ve always been a reader but it honestly never really bothered me that the books I was reading were all about white people. It’s just not something that I ever thought about. Growing up with parents and countless other family members who were part of interracial relationships made it so that race was seriously a non-issue for me growing up. Even now, despite the fact that I live in a very white area, I rarely feel uncomfortable or like I stand out because of my ethnicity. At the same time, I know that a lot of people have had a different experience than me. I know some people have acutely felt the lack of diverse characters in YA books–I’m just not one of those people.

Let me make sure to say that I do think we need more diversity in books. Absolutely. But I think we’re looking for that diversity to come from the wrong people. We complain about straight white authors who are only writing about straight white characters. Well…what else are we supposed to expect? For the most part, authors (and other creators–this can be expanded to television and movies) write about the things they know about. They write about what they have experience with. If they’re a heterosexual white person, then they’re most likely going to write about and focus on white people in heterosexual relationships. That’s just how it is. As a POC I would never write a book with 100% white characters because I don’t have experience living a 100% white life. I honestly don’t know what it was like to grow up in a white household. Anything that I would try to write would be inauthentic and probably stereotypical.

I think the worst thing that could happen is for authors to become so badgered by the “diversity police” that they start including diverse characters just to get people to shut up. There was a book I read not too long ago but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was…anyway, a character was included who had a diverse characteristic, but it literally had no affect on the character. The character might as well have not had that diverse characteristic. I don’t think it’s helpful to have characters who don’t embody the traits they’re supposed to possess. Just saying that a character is Asian doesn’t make the book more diverse if the Asian character acts like every other white character. I don’t just want to see diversity, I want to feel diversity. Despite my skin color, deep down I feel pretty white. I’ve never been to China or Panama. I don’t speak Cantonese or Spanish (to the disappointment of my grandmother). I don’t know how to cook authentic Chinese or Panamanian dishes. I live, basically, like a white person. That being said, my heritage and my culture still affects me. If everything else in my life remained the same, I would still be a different person if I had white parents. Those are the people I want to see represented in YA books. If white authors include characters who are diverse only on the surface, it’s not going to help diverse readers feel like they belong any more than a book full of not diverse people.

Then what is the solution? More diverse authors (and other creators). We need people out there who can tell our story because they’ve lived our story. It’s unfair for us to expect authors who aren’t part of “our group” to represent us. Instead, “our group” needs to step up to the plate instead of just complaining about how we’re underrepresented. We have stories to tell, but how are the white people supposed to know that? They’re too busy telling their own stories! I’m not a fan of everything that Jenny Han writes, but what I do love about To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is that she incorporates Laura Jean’s Korean heritage. I love hearing about the food they eat and the special things they do over the holidays. Even though Laura Jean is American, she’s also Korean and Han does a great job of highlighting that in Laura Jean’s story.

I’m not discouraging straight white authors from doing the research and including diverse characters in their books. If they want to do that, I think that’s great. What I am saying is that it’s not really their fault if they don’t include diverse characters. It doesn’t mean they’re racist or homophobic. It doesn’t mean they don’t think diversity’s important. I honestly believe they just don’t think about it when they’re sitting down to draft a new book. So instead of complaining about how authors need to include diverse characters that represent us (and not them) in their books, let’s do something about it ourselves. Instead of saying we need more diverse books, let’s let the publishing houses know that WE WANT MORE DIVERSE AUTHORS instead and support the ones that we already have.

Forced Marriage Creates Real Feelings | The Kiss of a Stranger by Sarah M Eden

The Kiss of a StrangerLord Cavratt (or Crispin to his friends and family) was only trying to escape a calculating young woman when he kissed Catherine Thorndale in the garden. Unfortunately, Catherine’s abusive uncle seizes this opportunity to get rid of his troublesome niece once and for all. He forces them to marry and now Crispin has to get used to the idea that he unexpectedly has a wife. In order to save both their reputations, Crispin and Catherine are forced to pretend that this marriage was a love match instead of a forced situation as they secretly work to obtain an annulment. Things become more complicated as they each begin to develop real feelings for each other. They just can never tell if the other is being genuine, or if they’re just playing it up for their public audience.

I got this book for my birthday a while back from my sister (thanks Cassie!). If you enjoy regency style romance, you should definitely look into this author. She’s written quite a few clean romances in several different settings. I love a good regency romance–there’s just something about that setting that makes every romance a little sweeter and more romantic and this book was no exception.

I’m just going to start off, though, by saying how much I hate that title. Seriously–endless teasing from my husband. Like…sure it matches the story and I know I shouldn’t feel ashamed about stuff that I like to read, but…still. Who wants to read a book titled The Kiss of a Stranger in public? Not me.

Okay, that put aside, this book is a classic situation where simple communication could clear a lot of things up. So while I still really enjoyed the book and the romance, I felt frustrated almost the entire time. I just wanted to be like, “Okay, you two get in a room and just TALK TO EACH OTHER.” Then there were some secondary characters that weren’t exactly helping the situation–at least they weren’t helping in a way that seemed helpful to me. On the other hand, if the characters had just sat down and talked with each other then we wouldn’t have the same tension and drama. So I see why it was necessary, but it was still frustrating as a reader.

I thought the author did a really good job with the characters. I liked both Catherine and Crispin a lot. Eden was able to give them depth and I felt like I could really understand their motivations. I especially thought she did a good job with Catherine who comes from an abusive home. I don’t personally know anyone who’s come from such an abusive home, but I feel like Catherine was treated as a real person instead of just a stereotype. The topic of abuse itself was treated with care and sensitivity. On another note, the secondary characters were also really fun. I especially enjoyed Crispin’s sister and brother-in-law. Their relationship and dynamic with the other characters brought more depth to the story and created some lighter scenes.

Overall, this book was fun and a really fast read for me–I would definitely read more from this author. The last critique I have is that some things didn’t really seem resolved in the end. Catherine’s uncle said a couple of things that I was just like, “Wait, aren’t we going to address what he just said?” There was also one particular character that I didn’t quite understand why he was in the story to begin with–perhaps he’s a character in another of Eden’s books? That’s kind of the only thing that makes sense to me as to why he would play such a large role. In the end, if you’re looking for easy, clean romances then I think you’ve found an author to explore.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: None
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Mild

Top Ten Tuesday: The Transformative Power of Summer

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week there is a new topic and this week’s topic is: Top Ten Books With X Setting (top ten books set near the beach, top ten book set in boarding school, top ten books set in England, etc)

In YA books, Summer is filled with endless possibilities. There will certainly be a romance and lots of days on the beach/at the pier/in the ice cream shop hanging out with old (or new) friends. Summer is a time when you can transform into something or somebody new. You might be getting ready for that last year of high school, or maybe even on your way to college. There’s one thing for certain though–anything can happen over the Summer.

Still in High School

Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson
What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick
Open Road Summer by Emery Lord
Getting Over Garrett Delaney by Abby McDonald
The Last Forever by Deb Caletti
Kissing in America by Margo Rabb

Leaving for College

This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen
Panic by Lauren Oliver
Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally
You Were Here by Cori McCarthy

P.S. Really several Sarah Dessen and Morgan Matson books could have made the list, but I decided to stick with on per author.

P.P.S. Sorry if I miscategorized a book, I don’t quite remember where all of our MCs were heading.

 

August Reading Update

ARCs
Thieving Weasels by Billy Taylor – Read, review coming
Poppy by Mary Hooper – Read and reviewed
The Graces by Laura Eve – Read and reviewed
The Hawkweed Prophecy by Irena Brignull

Other
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell (Book Club) – Currently Reading
The Kiss of a Stranger by Sarah M Eden – Read, review coming
The Walled City by Ryan Graudin – Read and reviewed
One of the Guys by Lisa Aldin – Read, review coming
Julia Vanishes by Catherine Egan – Read, review coming
99 Days by Katie Cotugno – Currently Reading

So far this month I have finished 7 books. Much better than where I was last month at this point. It helps that I have a couple weeks off of school before fall (and my last) semester starts.

Teenage Girl Obsesses Over Siblings Who May or May Not Be Witches | The Graces by Laura Eve [ARC]

The GracesRiver is new to town and is trying to find her place at her new high school. She watches the Grace siblings from afar and plots how she might be able to become a part of their crowd. They never keep the same friends for long, but River is determined to show them that she is the one they’ve been waiting for. When Summer Grace finally notices her, River knows that she will do whatever it takes to keep the Graces from dropping her like they’ve dropped so many of their peers. She wants the Graces to teach her about magic and how to be a witch. In particular, she wants Fenrin Grace to notice her and (ideally) to fall in love with her. As River gets deeper in with the Graces, she starts to learn some of the family secrets. As it turns out, the Graces lives aren’t as charmed as everyone seems to think they are.

This book was strange for so many reasons. First of all, let me just say that I quite liked the writing. I thought it was beautiful and gripping and I was drawn into the story from the very first chapter. The setting descriptions were also incredible. Even though we didn’t get that much of a description of the town, I still feel like I can picture it. Then, when we get to the Graces’ house and the rooms are described…seriously. AMAZING. The writing also did a good job of creating this kind of creepy/unsettling atmosphere. There’s obviously something wrong. Something weird happened to River and her mom before they came to town, but we only get bits and pieces of what it was as the book progresses. The writing was kind of the book’s one redeeming quality that kept it from being a 2/5 for me.

First of all, some of these characters definitely sound familiar (*cough* Twilight *cough*). But seriously! River’s so obsessed with this unnaturally beautiful, confident, and alluring group of siblings and the parents are just as beautiful and the kids never really interact with any of their peers and they’re so mysterious and BLAH BLAH BLAH. PLEASE. Spare me. I honestly would LOVE to read a book where the main character just completely sees through all of that BS. And don’t even get me started on River drooling over Fenrin. But okay, I’ll get into it. There comes a point where River is worried that Summer will think River only wanted to become friends with her to get close to Fenrin which she protests is not the case. But actually…that’s exactly what happened! I mean, it’s true that River wanted to be noticed by any of the Graces–she just wanted to be part of their group. But the whole time her main focus is completely on Fenrin. And he doesn’t even sound that great! Aside from being a Grace and being extremely good-looking (allegedly) what does this guy have going for him? I’m sure he has other qualities, but the reader is not told about any of them. Every time River sees him she’s just drooling over his good looks. That, my friends, is not what I want to read about.

River as a main character is not very likable, though I’m not sure that she’s supposed to be. The Graces were fine if not very three-dimensional. I couldn’t help but try to imagine the Graces as real teenagers in a real high school and, I’m sorry, I’m just not buying it. Maybe in Europe, but in the United States, NOBODY IS LIKE THAT. Then there’s River’s mom who is another unbelievable character. Talk about taking the absent parent bit to the max.

Plotwise…there wasn’t really a plot. Like there kind of was…but not REALLY. Mainly we’re just watching River try to make herself indispensable to the Graces the whole book. Then there are a couple of twists near the end, but I honestly saw them both coming. I wanted so badly for the book to take an UNEXPECTED turn, but I was to be disappointed. Then the book just kind of ends? But then there’s going to be a sequel…I’ll be honest, I was not expecting a sequel. I have no idea what could possibly happen in the next book and I’m not entirely sure that I care.

Overall, I think this author has a lot of potential. I would definitely read another book by her as long as there were different characters and a better plot, etc. Some people may end up really liking this book, but I just don’t fall into that camp.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: Heavy
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Heavy
Sexual Content: Moderate

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Mini-Reviews: In Which I Review Some Average Books

The month of July was a struggle for me reading-wise. I was just so busy with schoolwork and such that I really didn’t have long stretches of time to dedicate to reading. That being said, I was also reading a string of average books that didn’t particularly make me want to read faster. Here are some of those books that I was reading.

The Walled CityThe Walled City by Ryan Graudin
This one had been on my list for a while and my husband had already read it and loved it. This book took me longer than expected to read and I think that’s because I didn’t really feel particularly connected to the characters. I loved the setting and the way that the streets and the Walled City itself is described, but the characters were a little lacking for me. I didn’t feel like they had all that much depth. I could sympathize with the characters, but towards the end of the book when the plot was most suspenseful I didn’t feel myself agonizing over whether or not the characters would make it (as I did during Winter by Marissa Meyers). One thing I did really like about this book is that it features Asian characters. In the end, I liked this book and I might even read it again someday, but it was no Wolf by Wolf.

Overall: 4
Language: Moderate
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Moderate


The Lie TreeThe Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge [ARC]
Throughout this book I felt vaguely uncomfortable. The main character’s dad seriously creeped me out and a lot of the other characters were either creepy, unlikable, or both. The main character was fine, but I found it hard to sympathize with her because of how willfully blind she is to all of her father’s faults. She’s so committed to him when he’s obviously not a good guy. I did like her relationship with her little brother, Howard, though. I could not handle her mom and Uncle Miles was just another creepy character. It wasn’t exactly clear to me, at first, how the plant was supposed to work. This made some parts of the book just really confusing to me. I did like seeing the planning and plotting that went into each lie, though–that part of the plot was enjoyable. I also can’t say that I saw the ending coming.

Overall: 3
Language: Mild
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Mild


Loser/QueenLoser/Queen by Jodi Lynn Anderson
Overall, I thought this book had a pretty interesting premise even if it’s not altogether believable. There are so many questions that could be asked…like how does someone know everyone’s secrets? How can someone text you from a number that doesn’t work? Why isn’t the main character creeped out that someone seems to be spying on her all the time? Our main character is somewhat unbelievably naive about things which made the book less enjoyable for me to read. I couldn’t help but wonder how I would react in this situation and I think that I would have refused to do anything that could have been remotely harmful–I’m not really sure why she thought it was a good idea to go through with some of these things. I don’t want to have any spoilers, but if she hadn’t done anything questionable then some stuff wouldn’t have happened later… In the end, the book was okay, kind of sweet, but overall just okay.

Overall: 3
Language: None
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Mild


9781619634961Poppy by Mary Hooper [ARC]
I felt like this book was a really good portrait of what it would have been like to live through WWI. A lot of the time WWII gets all of the attention, so I did appreciate reading a book set during WWI. I also liked that our main character seems to be intelligent and wants to help the war effort. However, she didn’t have much depth. The book is very much about the things that are going on and less about who the characters are–I guess I was just expecting it to be a little different. I also didn’t really thing there was much of a plot which kind of made the book drag a little bit. So yeah…this one was just another okay book. I thought it ended in a really weird place too–super sudden. I understand that there’s going to be another book, but still… It was just like *BAM* the book’s over.

Overall: 3
Language: None
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Mild


Note: ARCS were received free from NetGalley in exchange for honest reviews.