Performers: Frances Cha, Sue Jean Kim, Ruthie Ann Miles, & Jeena Yi
Length: 8 hr, 10 min
Publishing Date/Publisher: April 21, 2020 by Random House Audio
Review: This fascinating glimpse into Korean beauty culture immediately had me searching the internet for more information. It seems unbelievable that it would be commonplace for women, and men, to go to such drastic lengths to achieve beauty, but sadly it seems that it is true. I know very little about K-pop aside from it’s growing popularity among American youth, and it is frightening to see the dark side of this industry and how it influences the rest of Korean society.
Looking back on the length of this audiobook, it is stunning that the author was able to offer glimpses of so many different issues in such a short space of time. She tackles prostitution, high suicide rates, unemployment, and poverty – just to name a few. It is amazing that somehow all these topics seemed to circle back to beauty and the commodification of it. The characters seem to have this idea throughout the book that beautiful people get ahead in life, when in reality, beautiful people are just as susceptible, if not more so, to abuse.
In general, I thought the author did a really good job fleshing out the main characters with backstory, however, in retrospect, highlighting the lives of four characters was a bit ambitious. All the characters lives intersect in some way, but the character of Wonna seems largely disconnected from the rest. I can only assume she was included to show how the cultural expectations placed on women affect the average working class wife. All of the other characters are younger, unmarried, and childless. They have little to no interaction with Wonna at all until the very end. I did enjoy her story, but her vignettes didn’t seem to really fit smoothly with the rest of the character narratives. Even so, I liked how the author used these windows into the the past to illuminate current issues.
Publishing Date/Publisher: March 2, 2021 by Make Me a World
Review: I could have never predicted the direction of this story based on the cover or the synopsis. There were many aspects of the story that were beautiful – the title, the emphasis on friendship, and the mother/daughter relationship – but where it started to get a little sloggy for me was when the elements of magical realism were incorporated. There was a turning point about halfway through where the author lost me and never really roped me back. I kept being reminded of A Christmas Carol after this point, and the conclusion was about what I would expect knowing how that story ended.
The style of poetry that this author uses has recently been trendy in the YA sphere. I understand that the spacing, use of symbols, and lowercase letters are all creative choices. I assume they have a purpose, but I don’t know enough about poetry to figure out what that purpose is. Sometimes I found it distracting because I would spend a lot of time trying to glean why these choices were made. Hopefully I will find somebody who can explain it to me, because Google cannot.
Publishing Date/Publisher: May 7, 2019 by MacMillan Audio
Review: I didn’t dislike this book, but for some reason I could not fully connect with it. I finished it a couple of months ago and for some reason I have been dragging my feet in reviewing it. Perhaps it is because I have had a hard time pinpointing just what it is that didn’t jive for me. To be honest my memory has already started to erase the finer details of the story. There was nothing particularly memorable that stands out to me about the storyline, but I do remember feeling a sense of anxiety regarding many of the choices that the characters made. I found the villain to be flat, and his motives unclear. One storyline was dropped completely, which I thought was odd until I read the synopsis for the second book in the series and realized this plot point is the basis of a concurrent storyline. I liked the concept of the Rome influenced setting and the Maarin as a seafaring people who act as the go between for the East and West. I don’t regret taking the time to finish this book, but I probably won’t continue with the series.
Review: This was a very fun, coming-of-age novel. I really enjoyed the author’s writing style. She finds humor in the mundane, and she paints a vivid picture of family and culture. I liked most aspects of the book, but the way the central romance unfolded annoyed me tremendously. It was a very believable premise leading up to the declaration of feelings, but the fall out that would of resulted feels a bit underplayed. Perhaps I have strong feelings about this because I personally don’t care for romance arcs where the relationship with the close friend is thrown to the wayside in favor of a romantic one.
Although it predates the Netflix series Never Have I Ever by a few years, I think that people who enjoyed that show would enjoy this book tremendously. It explores a lot of similar themes such as building a cross-cultural Indian/American identity, marriage, love, sexuality, family, and friendship.
I did not like the casting for this audiobook. The performer had a melodic voice, but she sounded way too old to be believably portraying a teen girl. Also, I am always a little leery of the accuracy of accents when a person is not from that culture.
Publishing Date/Publisher: June 2, 2020 by HarperAudio
Review: DidRebel of the Sands have a love child with The Selection and Children of Blood and Bone??! If so, I’m pretty sure it’s this book. But in all seriousness, this book contains bits and pieces of a number of YA books I have read, including another book I just reviewed: Witches Steeped in Gold. It wasn’t entirely original, but I really loved the way magic was incorporated into the story. I was far less enthused about the romance. It just felt…weak. I don’t really have any other way to describe it. The chemistry between Karina and Malik was extremely lackluster. In fact, for some reason I just found Malik’s character to be lackluster in general. We know he is faced with an impossible choice – kill the princess or let his sister die – but he kind of just accepts it lying down (though I do like what the author did at the end with his character). Karina, on the other hand, also has a difficult choice, but shows so much more strength of character, despite her reluctance to accept her future role as queen. Maybe the author will change my mind about this in the sequel, because the relationship between the two will undoubtedly play a key role in the trajectory of the story. I hope so because I like the world she has created and wish to see more of it.
Publishing Date/Publisher: April 20, 2021 by HarperTeen
Review: I have been dragging my feet when it comes to writing this review, not because I didn’t like the book, but because it has so many similarities to two other books I have recently read. This is a very strong readalike for Children of Blood and Bone and A Song of Wraiths and Ruin. It has been hard for me to draw any clear distinctions between my feelings about the three, though I can say that I enjoyed them all. I can’t help but note that white hair on magic users seems to be a very popular trend in YA fantasy fiction that is inspired by African and/or Caribbean folklore. I thought this striking imagery was very distinct to the Legacy of Orisha trilogy, but it seems to have made it’s way into other series as well. One repeating trend I have also noticed (that I actually quite like) is the finely drawn line between hero(ine) and villian(ess). A line that is often crossed by both the former and the latter in such a way that these distinctions become meaningless. Life is messy, and I like when I can relate to both the protagonist and the antagonist in equal measure. It tickles me even further when these roles reverse at some point in the story. I think this series has quite a lot of potential, and it is very possible I might love the second book…we will just have to wait and see.
P.S. If I had to rate the cover of this book it would be 5/5 stars.
Publishing Date/Publisher: October 13, 2020 by Random House Graphic
Review: It is rare for me to read a graphic novel, and even more rare for me to review one. In this case, however, I felt a review was entirely necessary because I was so impressed by the creator’s work. Nguyen managed to convey both time and place entirely through the use of color and wardrobe – a feat that allowed him to seamlessly weave together the present, the past, and the fantastical into one cohesive story. Just…wow.
Another thing I rarely do is save quotes from books, but I couldn’t help but screenshot the line, “They’re only stories. They’ll change when they need to.” I don’t know why, but this little epiphany completely blew my mind and changed the way I now look at retellings and adaptions of classic stories. I also think it sums up this graphic novel fairly well. At it’s core, it’s about a family who communicates through stories when they cannot find the words to express something important to one another. I have always believed in the power of stories, and the execution of this message is just played out so beautifully in this format.
Publishing Date/Publisher: September 22, 2020 by Dreamscape Media, LLC
Review: I personally did not find this book to be a thrilling read, however, I will most certainly be recommending it to young readers. Aside from a few curse words scattered here and there, it is actually a pretty “clean” book. It read more like middle grade fiction, despite the fact our amateur sleuth is an older teenager. Because the main protagonist, Elatsoe, is asexual, there is no romantic angle whatsoever. The setting is interesting and would likely appeal to young readers – kind of a re-imagined United States where the paranormal is considered normal. All things considered, I think I probably would have enjoyed this book a lot more if I had read it as a pre-teen.
Title: Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything
Author: Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
Page Count: 432
Publishing Date/Publisher: August 20, 2020 by Simon Pulse
Review: I went into this book without reading the synopsis, so to say that I was blindsided by the science fiction angle would be an understatement. This book has very strong undertones of magical realism for the first half of the book and them BAM!…it hits you with aliens. Admittedly, the concept was clever…aliens abducting illegal aliens. It takes a strong stance on immigration issues, and is a clear reprimand for how immigrants are treated by the United States government.
Although I found this to be an enjoyable read, I feel that the author tackled too many issues with her story line. I can appreciate a good genre crossover – combining magical realism and science fiction was creative – however, the plot became very convoluted for the last half of the book. I think I would have enjoyed the story more if the author had tightened up the plot a bit. In addition to the magical realism elements, extraterrestrials, and social commentary, there is also a romance that plays out between the main character, Sia, and the hot new guy at her school. Through the lens of this relationship the author explores trauma, first love, racism, family dynamics, and abuse. Combined with all the other elements of this story, it’s just a lot. Perhaps if these additional elements had been more subtle, it would have worked, but I felt that taking on so much detracted from the flow of the story.
It is very unclear to me whether this book is meant to be part of a series or a standalone. The author leaves the readers with a cliffhanger, but I cannot find any references to a sequel.
Publishing Date/Publisher: September 1, 2020 by Swoon Reads
Review: This was a unique coming-of-age novel with a very diverse cast of characters. My favorite elements of the book were the rich descriptions of Dia de Muertos traditions and the relationship between Julian and Yadriel. The romance that developed between Julian and Yadriel felt very organic, and served as a great mechanism for character development. I also loved the paranormal spin to the story, with Julian being a ghost, and thought that overall it was very creative.
My biggest qualm about the book was the very cliché villain reveal at the end. I had hoped my predictions were wrong and that the author would surprise me, but unfortunately this was not the case. The ending also wrapped up a little too nicely in my opinion, especially given how dark a lot of the content was following the climax of the story.