The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Publisher: Walker Books
Publication Date: April 2017
Rating:  ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ .5
Goodreads

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life. 

I hate to say what almost every single review of this book has said, but I’d rather say it now than talk about it at length. This book is important. I’ve used it to describe books before and I’m kind of getting sick of it. It does it’s job, but at the same time, is that all this story is good for? Of course not. Stories are important, of course, but I don’t think people should feel like they have to read it because it’s important. It should be read to have a better understanding of what’s going on in the U.S. today, and why it needs be written about.

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source: goodreads

I loved The Hate U Give, for many reasons, but none of them were because this book is important.

I loved this book because it was different. I love looking for new stories to devour that aren’t the same old same old that we see cover the shelves at Waterstones. This was a story that I had only seen in the news; twisted and manipulated by the media to only show us one perspective. While this story is a work of fiction, it’s very real and and no doubt accurate. It was a change, and refreshing.

I loved this book because it was entertaining. I loved Starr’s family dynamic and the relationships she had with her parents, her siblings, her boyfriend, and her friends. The community she lives in that, while riddled with crime and neglected, still gave me a warm, familial feel that showed us that family stretched further than the walls of your house. Starr’s personality shone from the page, even when she was going through such devastating events. She wasn’t a ‘strong female character’, she was a real female character.

I loved this book because of the impact it will have. As a white woman who hasn’t even set foot in the U.S., I’ve seen my fair share of black stereotypes, and often it was odd for me to read depictions and passages and dialogue and not think it racist. I think, if this were written by anyone else, it would have been deemed questionable, but you cannot question the experiences of a black person about black culture. This was one depiction, but it was a true and experienced depiction (obviously not word for word, The Hate U Give isn’t an autobiography). But the thing is, I was thinking about it along the lines of ‘white people are going to read this and think all black people talk/act like this in this ‘ghetto way’ oh no’. But to be honest, this book isn’t really for them if they’re going to read it and come away with that rather than any of the other very explicit messages in this story. And plus, this story was written to inform yes, but mainly, to represent. There are so many young POC who love to read and yet all they get to read about are people they cannot relate to, about people who wouldn’t listen to them if they tried to share their story. So to have The Hate U Give depict one of the frank and honest and accurate depictions of being black in the U.S. today to black teens who are living this shit is by far a better thought to come away with than what white people may think about it.

You may be wondering why I’ve only given it 4.5 stars after raving about it for so long. I’ve literally just taken away half a star just because this wasn’t a book that I was glued to. I was easily taken out of the story because a lot of the dialogue I had to go back and read because I wasn’t sure if I’d ingested it correctly. I’ve had this with other books before that are either written with a dialect or even in phonetic speech (damn you Trainspotting!) and so that was a pain. But thankfully, it didn’t take away from the story and I was still able to enjoy despite being a slow reader!

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Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Release Date: March 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ .5
Goodreads

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

1509457980918Welcome to Weep. 

I honestly loved this so much.

About a librarian who devours stories of adventure, Lazlo Strange is the puppy protagonist you always want to read about. He’s a humble hero, with dreams far beyond his life inside the library, carrying the dreams of others on his back. Instead, Lazlo dreams of the lost city of Weep, shrouded in mystery where no one remembers it’s name or it’s face.

I have Laini Taylor’s other trilogy, The Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, in hardback, maybe in not so pristine condition, and they just do not read as well as Strange the Dreamer does. I had trouble with the writing, and I could never remember what I had just read, or picture what was happening. But here I got the whole thing; I could easily imagine myself dropped right into the centre of Weep and see before me white buildings and blue tiles, with blue people living above me in a citadel that shielded the sun.

So, maybe not so picturesque, but still magical.

This feels a lot like a fantasy mixed with fairy tales and historical fiction, which I’m getting a kick out of at the moment. The magic was beautiful and delicate and particular, and I loved how Sarai struggled to deal with a gruesome past that her parents’ left her with while trying to deal with the people who hate her and her friends for it. It was definitely reminiscent of how people pass the burden onto younger generations in order to find a place to put their prejudice.

Beautiful, dreamy and a whole lotta strange.

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A Closed & Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

Publisher: Hodder
Release Date: June 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

I am in love with this series.

IMG_20170803_190032_576It breaks boundaries. It tells the stories of humans through fictional species and humans occupying the same space (haha) as said fictional species. It breaks down the fundamentals of being human from the perspective of aliens, said fundamentals that people still don’t comprehend as being part of culture and our surroundings rather than ‘biology’ or ‘the right way’. One of the things it does in particular and so perfectly is the understanding of human gender and it’s sociological construction. There are hundreds, if not thousands of alien species in this fictional universe, and many that have genders and all are so different and varied from each other that it helps to understand how human gender and biological sex works, and how many of the aspects of them are just made up.

There’s a species that are all born female, until they become male in their old age. There’s a species with three sexes; male, female, and shon, whereby they routinely change their biological sex depending on the time of year.

And across these species, each also have their own societal constructs that may or may not determine a gender, if they even have them. For example, a shon’s only change is their body parts, but their likes, dislikes, and their appearance remain the same. And it begs a lot of questions about how we may treat fellow species when and if we see them in our life time. Would we greet them with kindness? With hostility? I’m always the pessimist, and I believe that because we can barely settle our differences here on Earth, I highly doubt we’d begin to understand the different concepts and societies of another alien race. We’re still such a primitive race that we cannot understand a different way of life on the other side of the Earth to us. Imagine a whole other race that could comprehend not only race, gender, sexuality, speech, emotion, reproduction, religion etc differently, but time, space, dimensions, light, sound etc differently?? We just have tiny human minds, is what I’m saying.

I would definitely read this series if you’re looking for a story that shows the possibility of humanity living peacefully with fellow species, with creative and imaginative off-Earth communities filled with every colour and creed of the universe as we know it.

 

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The Arsonist by Stephanie Oakes

Publisher: Dial/Penguin
Release Date: 22nd August 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

Molly Mavity is not a normal teenage girl. For one thing, her father is a convicted murderer, and his execution date is fast approaching. For another, Molly refuses to believe that her mother is dead, and she waits for the day when they’ll be reunited . . . despite all evidence that this will never happen.

Pepper Al-Yusef is not your average teenage boy. A Kuwaiti immigrant with epilepsy, serious girl problems, and the most useless seizure dog in existence, he has to write a series of essays over the summer . . . or fail out of school.

And Ava Dreyman—the brave and beautiful East German resistance fighter whose murder at seventeen led to the destruction of the Berlin Wall—is unlike anyone you’ve met before.

When Molly gets a package leading her to Pepper, they’re tasked with solving a decades-old mystery: find out who killed Ava, back in 1989. Using Ava’s diary for clues, Molly and Pepper realize there’s more to her life—and death—than meets the eye. Someone is lying to them. And someone out there is guiding them along, desperate for answers.

WELL WASN’T THIS MOTHER-FLIPPIN’ AMAZING

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This book. Oh my gosh. After I finished the final page, I closed the book slowly and just sat there staring out of my window. I cannot believe that there are books that I’ve been waiting for for months, sat on my TBR pile physically and on Goodreads, and The Arsonist hasn’t been on any of them. Not even that, but I didn’t know it existed until I saw it on a table at the Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC) and all I had to do was sign up to a newsletter and I would receive it for free.

I had the choice of any one of the books on the table, and yes, I may have chosen The Arsonist because of that pretty cover and because my friends’ also picked it up. But what was inside? WHY HADN’T I KNOWN ABOUT IT BEFORE?

The Arsonist is a story told through three perspectives that flow so well together, Molly, the girl with no friends, with a broken family with a father on death row and a burning idea that a mother didn’t kill herself and is actually in hiding, Pepper, a boy failing school and figuring out whether he cares or not (plus he’s got a hilarious seizure pug called Bertrand), and Ava, a young girl living in East Berlin in the 1980s, imprisoned behind the wall and away from the rest of the world.

I loved every single perspective in a different way, and it would be cruel to pick favourites. I loved Molly for her inquisitive mind, her determination, Pepper for his comedy gems, his willingness to go along for the adventure, and of course Ava for her harrowing life in East Berlin and the journey she took in search for freedom, right up until her death (this isn’t a spoiler it says it on the blurb, kids). Everything was gripping, everything, I hated putting this book down because I felt like I was wasting time doing other things.

I actually, for a short period of time, thought Ava Dreyman was a real person in history and a quick Google search found me back at The Arsonist’s Goodreads page, whoops.

This book comes out 22nd August. Please, if you’re looking for a new release that has intrigue, drama, adventure, incredible friendships, history, and a useless but lovable doggo, then read The Arsonist. What a treat.

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Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Publisher: MIRA Ink (Harper Collins)
Release Date: 3rd October 2014
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

It’s 1959. The battle for civil rights is raging. And it’s Sarah Dunbar’s first day of school, as one of the first black students at the previously all-white Jefferson High. No one wants Sarah there. Not the Governor. Not the teachers. And certainly not the students – especially Linda Hairston, daughter of the town’s most ardent segregationist. Sarah and Linda have every reason to despise each other. But as a school project forces them to spend time together, the less their differences seem to matter. And Sarah and Linda start to feel something they’ve never felt before. Something they’re both determined ignore. Because it’s one thing to be frightened by the world around you – and another thing altogether when you’re terrified of what you feel inside.

This was a damn hard book to read, and only because of how raw and real it is. Robin Talley has let nothing slip beneath us, and while I’m not a historian or even a history student, I can see the research done to write something so strong with a powerful message.

But at the same time, I want to talk a bit about authors and representation. It’s important to have stories such as these ones; where the struggles of POC throughout history aim to inform, teach and hold nothing back. The thing is, a lot of these stories get put in the slush piles and a lot of the authors who write these kinds of stories are POC. Considering Robin Talley is a white woman who managed to publish this novel while #ownvoices POC authors get rejected to me is not so great on the publishers part. It’s how problematic, unrealistic, and downright un-researched novels get published. I have a great problem with white authors writing POC struggle; there’s a difference between writing diversely and downright getting your novel about black people published over an actual black author.

lwto1I’ve read and been apart of many conversations about the context of these situations and how POC authors should be able to accurately portray POC stories in publishing without white authors using status or straight up privilege to write that story ‘for them’ (ick). Thankfully, I don’t think that’s the case here, and from Robin Talley’s author notes, she has taken care in portraying these characters and their lives as accurately and as considerately as possible.

So while the novel was heartbreaking and shocking (but not surprising), I loved Sarah and her sister’s perseverance and strength throughout dealing with this nastiness. I’d hate to say that society has not progressed in any way but sometimes it certainly feels that way, hence why Black Lives Matter exists. Racism hasn’t disappeared; it’s shifted, it’s changed shape to become sneakier, casual, swept under the rug rather than segregated schools and buses. But Linda’s father’s newspaper reminded me of newspapers and journalists today and the ‘facts’ that Linda spouted are definitely still things that some believe.

Speaking of the LGBT part of this story; while I’m a massive fan of the inclusion of LGBT characters and stories about LGBT topics in general, I was rather disappointed with this one. It felt rushed and shoved in as an after thought. The horribleness that was happening overpowered any LGBT plot that was trying to happen, and it was obvious that it was only the beginnings of something that neither of them understood, especially with prejudice and religion shoved in between them. But a part of me felt that this story could’ve carried on successfully without a romance plot, especially one that wasn’t going to be explored properly throughout most of the book. But then again, it was an interesting aspect to see a dialogue be opened about this, especially in this setting.

I’ve given Lies We Tell Ourselves five stars because of how chilling and frightening it was, how real and raw, but how full of life Sarah still was. I had to keep reading to find that happy ending and to see these characters not be down-trodden by the horrible society they lived in, but I’ll leave it at that without spoiling.

Trigger warnings for this book: A boat load of racists insults, liberal use of the N-Word, racial assault and minor sexual assault.

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One Of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus

Publisher: Penguin
Release Date: May 30th 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

Pay close attention and you might solve this.

On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention. Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule. Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess. Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing. Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher. And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

32887579Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?

Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

I received an eARC from Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review.

I’m not really sure why I’m surprised that I enjoyed this.

Granted, I don’t read very many murder mysteries, especially ones that have a ‘Breakfast Club’ twist on them, but I genuinely thought this was a strong debut with great character development.

And that’s what it was really, a character study which held a lot of truth and realism about the stereotypes and pressures of being a student in high school. There are cliques and sub cultures you’re supposed to fit into, as well as expectations of you and who you’re supposed to be. But this story really hit home that you do not have to be what anyone says you’re supposed to be, and yet you can still succeed. Being yourself is more important than that.

While I thought the story was slow in the beginning, it really grew on me as we were introduced more to the characters. Four students watch a fifth die during detention, and one of them is lying about who did it. We continue on from the murder to see the consequences of being a suspect in a murder inquiry, and how they find out the killer, but also how the situation changes them and their lives forever. I especially found Cooper (the jock) and Addy (the princess) to have the most character development as well as the strongest voices, but Bronwyn (the brains) was clearly the lead character and yet her POVs were sometimes the weakest.

An exciting debut with an interesting twist, with great characters and an important message!

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The Four Star Crisis

I did not realise that the star rating system was something I used so much in my life.

I use it for books, films, restaurants, hotels, years (2016 got 0 stars obviously), nightclubs, makeup, I could go on. But recently I’ve been having trouble try to explain myself as to why I’ve given a book a certain number of stars.

Goodreads doesn’t exactly force you to use their star rating system, but enough people still complain about it, one of the biggest complaints being that there aren’t half star ratings. I get it; you’ve signed up to a website where you want better explain yourself as to why you loved/hated a book. You want to be a little more precise, and sometimes a star rating system doesn’t really do it justice.

And while I haven’t really had a problem using it before, I’ve noticed a trend in the books I’ve been rating.

I bloody love to use four stars.

A lot of people on their blogs have a set of guidelines as to what they mean when they give a book a certain amount of stars, but I’ve never done that. I didn’t want to be so rigid in my rating, but it now comes across as slightly confusing, especially to myself. The only star ratings that seem to explain enough are one star (fucking awful) and five stars (fucking incredible), and while I rarely use two stars because I might as well just knock it down to one and only use three if the book was average, I use four stars to the point where the books rated do not have the same opinion from me anymore.

Four stars, for me, has been the ‘could have been five stars, but wasn’t just quite there’, which is a good enough explanation. But recently, the lines have blurred. The books aren’t mediocre, but they’re probably not something I’d read again. Some are strong four stars and some are weak four stars, but does that mean I’m using four stars too liberally? Is a four star a watered down five star or a heavily concentrated three star?

Why must you torture me this way, four stars??

Am I being too nice? Too cruel? Looking at my Goodreads, there’s far too many four star books; some I read the sequels eagerly, and some I have given away almost instantly. I turned my back on those books.

Maybe it’s time for something different. Maybe the star rating system is not good enough to explain how I feel about a book. Not all the books I read can be four stars. Otherwise, what’s the point in rating them if they all have the same rating?

How do you go about rating books, if at all? What do you think about when deciding how many stars to give a book? What makes a book receive a half star, or even lose one? What’s your opinion on the dreaded four star dilemma?

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