The Square Root of Summer

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by Harriet Reuter Hapgod

4.5/5 stars

Because I want the chance to cry when it hurts.

Gottie is still reeling from the loss of her grandfather, a man who filled a father-like role in her life. But it’s summer, and there’s no more school, or physics class, to take her mind off things. Even if her mind hasn’t really been on things lately. But when her brother is back for the summer, so is his bandmate Jason, who also happens to be Gottie’s secret ex-boyfriend. And then her childhood best friend Thomas is suddenly back in her life. This would be complicated enough without the fact she can’t even remember exactly what happened the last day she saw Thomas. They went to make a blood pact, and everything after is blank for Gottie. So, Gottie has enough going on without the accidental time travel and wormholes. Turns out there is an application for all that theoretical physics after all.

Friends, I stumbled upon another YA time-travel book of sorts! The YA gods must truly be shining on me at this point. And this one approaches the time-travel angle with science! It should be noted that I cannot actually verify the science, but the little I know about different dimensions and the way time works and alternate realities and whatnot, it holds up as much as it needs to.

What I loved most about this is that all the concept pieces that I adored (see: time travel) were there to further the story. Did I always understand all the wormholes, the time hopping? No. But Gottie was able to make sense of it in a way that allowed her to reclaim her life. She went from a victim of losing time, to actively fighting for it. And that’s pretty awesome. This was a story about a girl rejoining the world, of getting her life back together. This includes with her family, her best friend, boys, and most importantly, herself.

I think the nearest comparison title from this year would be The Love that Split the World, though it still had more time travel, because remember, that book was much more alternate dimensions. Nothing wrong. Just a different thing. And I liked the romance this go-around more. There was a history between Gottie and Thomas that added some weight. And even so, they spent time getting to know who this new person was. And Gottie was allowed to be confused and conflicted. After all, Jason and strung her along pretty spectacularly the last summer. She was allowed to feel the residue of that rejection and disappointment. Also, female friendships for the win! And these were shown as relationships that you have to fight for too, that take as much work as a romance.

This is a perfect YA romance for summer, or any time of year. This book made me swoon. And it made me tear up. It was honest and immediate. Bittersweet, lovely, and smart. Add this one to your summer reading list.

The Crown’s Game

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by Evelyn Skye

4.5/5 stars

Vika has been training her whole life to be the next Imperial Enchanter. She never expected that there would be another enchanter to compete for the title. But there is, and it turns out the fight for the title is a fight for the death. Nikolai wasn’t expecting this fight to the death either, even if he’s used to fighting for his place in the world. He isn’t sure how this will impact his friendship with Pasha, heir to the throne, who knows nothing about Nikolai’s magic. So now Vika and Nikolai must try to outdo each other with fantastical displays of magic, even as life keeps thrusting them into each other’s paths.

This novel provides a lush, magical world combined with compelling characters. Though, take the historical Russian setting with a little grain of salt. It is more atmospheric than historically accurate.

The stakes always felt real and grounded in this novel, and I loved that he magic had rules and costs. There were limits to the character’s powers, their displays of magic weakened them. Even though they were still able to pull off huge displays. Still, we knew these were supposed to be exception showcases of their power. It was also interesting to see how Skye developed different magic–powers and focuses–for both Vika and Nikolai, power directly related to their upbringing.

I loved Nikolai and Pasha, and especially their friendship! I had a real sense of both boys, their background and how it shaped them and their decisions. Vika’s development did pale a bit in comparison next to these two for me. I am also hoping to see more of Pasha’s sister as the series progresses. And the novel seems to set this eventuality up for us.

I would also have liked to see more development in the romances. The quick infatuation is something I am willing to buy into from this historical, restrained world. But it just seemed so much less defined than other aspects of the novel. It was very close to instal-love and I would like to see this all fleshed out more over the course of the series. Still, romance didn’t seem to be the focus of the novel either. And it was more fun to watch Vika and Nikolai struggle with their choices and the repercussions of the “game”

The Crown’s Game was like a wonderful blend of Leigh Bardugo and Night Circus while maintaining a unique and active voice!

BEA Day 1

I’ve been wanting to go to BEA for years. BEA is in Chicago this year. I live in Chicago. This was the year! 

I am attending BEA as a bookseller (’cause hey, I’m that too!). I know there was a blogger conference as well, but I opted to sleep in this morning after a six day stretch at work. I know, I’m the worst. 

I must say, I was a little overwhelmed today. I had a ball don’t get me wrong! But I didn’t bring a buddy. I stood around awkwardly keeping a wall up for an hour before the exhibition hall opened. Something I am well qualified for, but still. So if you’re at BEA too let me know! I’d love to chat books in person! I have at least a couple of people I know also attending the conference, and yet, even with similar reading tastes we did not cross paths. 

Still, once I got in the conference itself I got in a little more of a groove. I’ve already refined tomorrow’s plan with everything I learned today–like when certain galleys drop. I know many industry people/people who have been to BEA before are saying it’s very pared down because it’s costing publishers more to get stuff here, but there is still so much going on! 


Above is a sneak peak at some of the goodies I walked away with today. I know the right stack is super dark. But a good mix of middle grade, YA, and adult. I can’t wait to talk about all of these books with you guys! But first I guess I need to read them. 

Also Shannon Hale complimented me on my lipstick. And even if she was just being a gem of a human being that is good at small talk, it really boosted my confidence. Thanks Shannon! 

The Rose & The Dagger

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by Renee Ahdieh

4/5 stars

It was because they were two parts of a whole. He did not belong to her. And she did not belong to him. It was never about belonging to someone. It was about belonging together.

Last year The Wrath & the Dawn blew me away. It took my heart in its hand and squeezed. For the Rose & the Dagger we pick up with a separated Shazi and Khalid. Shazi is back amidst her people, those who wish to bring down her husband. Khalid is trying to hold things together back at the palace, even as his relationships with the few he could call friend are strained.

This novel did feel a little distant from the first. The first novel is very well contained in terms of its plotting. This one felt a little more all over the place. There was a lot going on here, and it basically all had to be established within this novel, other than Khalid’s curse, which wasn’t even as big in this one as I was anticipating.

I did love that this novel focused on the political plotting as well as Khalid trying to escape his curse. We had a lot going on, and we focused on that rather than drama within our relationships. We never questioned Shazi and Khalid. They respect each other and they trust each other and it was just awesome. After all, there is enough drama around them in watching the other characters in the novel come to terms with their relationship. But even this is handled well. Of course Tariq, Shazi’s childhood sweetheart has trouble acceping this relationship. But this conflict, which I wouldn’t even really qualify as a love triangle, is how it should be done. It is all rooted in real circumstances and emotion. The supernatural element of this novel could be a little hard for me to keep track of at times, but it did keep me engaged.

I was also excited to see Shazi’s sister get the opportunity to shine here too. Ahdieh reminds us that strength comes in many different flavors. The characters were just as strong this go-round as the first. They were personalities that put their money where their mouth was. It was great getting to spend more time with them, even if this go-round was a little more scattered than the first.

Glass Sword

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by Victoria Aveyard

2/5 stars

No one is born evil, just like no one is born alone. They become that way, through choice and circumstance.

I promise I don’t hate things other people love. It’s just a lot of big titles this year have been bummers for me. To be fair, I came into this one with open eyes. Red Queen, despite how excited I was for it, did not blow me away. It felt formulaic

The plotting in this often had me going, “wait, what? Why?” Most of the novel focuses on the gathering of other red’s with silver abilities, an idea introduced at the end of the last book. But they were basically devices. The pacing was rough. The climax of this novel was mindboggeling. It was rushed. It was super, duper convenient deus ex machine style. I was a little bit angry with it actually. Oh so we’ve vaguely trained in the woods for a hundred pages and then that? Also, it was often unclear what exactly we were building toward. We were outside the world established in the first novel, and we needed to be introduced to this wider world. I was hoping it would be more fleshed out and less vague dystopia, but I felt way more connected to the first novel.

There is no cost to power in this novel. Let’s just give a bunch of people superpowers that compliment each other and send them on a raid. It was like a less developed Six of Crows. On top of that the characters just feel so stock. Mare is exhausting. Maven is basically nonexistent as an antagonist for the entire novel except as the thing Mare is fighting in her head, though that feels forced too. Mare just feels forced all the way around. And there is nothing to make me sympathetic to her, certainly not the awful plotting. And poor Cal isn’t given any damn character development this go-round.

Still, Aveyard writes well, though some turns of phrase feel overdone. Example?

If I am a sword, I am a sword made of glass, and I feel myself beginning to shatter.

Are these turns of phrase supposed to make me more sympathetic to Mare? Maybe we should develop some or this internal conflict through some more purposeful action. Aveyard is action oriented after all, and the novel moves fast enough that it is often easy to forget the plotting issues. It sometimes feels Aveyard really wants to be writing for the screen, not the page. Many parts feel like montages. While I sped through this book, much of it felt frustrating as hell, especially upon further reflection.

When We Collided

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by Emery Lord

3/5 stars

But each broker person is different, and there is no right way for everyone. Just a lot of wrong ways.

Last year I absolutely fell in love with Lord’s novel The Start of Me and You, a book that managed to make me feel those butterflies of first love. In When We Collided,Vivi has moved to a small beach town with her artist mother for the summer. Jonah has been taking on more responsibility at home since his father’s sudden death and is looking for a summer escape. They find each other, while attempting to find themselves.

This was a love story, but not. Rather, it was about Vivi and Jonah, two teens going through the roughest patches of their adolescent lives and both on the brink of adulthood and adult decisions, even if they’ve been faced with situations that have forced them to grow up faster anyway. It is about them finding each other amidst this chaos, and being a shoulder to lean on for a little while. It is about the people that come into our lives at the right moment, whether they stay forever or not.

I appreciate that this book was honest about where these characters were and would be in their lives. It didn’t feel the need to force anything. Life is what it was for Vivi and Jonah at the end of the novel.

As usual Lord’s language is gorgeous. She has a great style, and each character who speaks in this dual POV has a distinct voice. Characters run the show here. I did have trouble at times with Vivi. She was a brilliantly well drawn character, but for me it was obvious from the beginning that she wasn’t just quirky (not that Lord was attempting to hide this at all). I saw a girl who desperately needs help, exactly what she was. But she always kept everyone in her life at least a little bit at arms distance, so it was often hard for me to connect with her. I just wanted to get her help. This is 100% not how all readers will react to her. Many, many will adore her. And yet Lord balanced this out with the super grounded and family oriented Jonah, whose entire family I really cared for.

I was anxious for a lot of the novel because I was just waiting for everything to come to a head. These were character’s whose lives were balanced on the edge of a pin, making this a well-crafted novel. It just also had a weird balance of romance and trying to deal with the big issues. The romance never felt super developed, maybe more because these were characters clinging to each other for the escape they represented, as much as each other. And while I appreciated that the weightier parts of this book were handled as every day life, there could also have been more development here without sacrificing any of the stylist choices.

Most of my reaction tot his book is incredibly personal. This is a well-craft novel with vibrant characters. Lord is excellent at what she does. You should still read this, and I should pick up Open Road Summer, because why haven’t I read it yet??

Burn Baby Burn

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by Meg Medina

4/5 stars

Maybe the things that scare us seem more powerful than they truly are when we keep them secret

Nora Lopez is coming of age in New York City in the summer of 1977. It’s a summer of boiling weather and not much in the way of relief. It’s the summer before Nora leaves to start a new life. And now there’s a serial killer, Son of Sam, on the loose and petrifying the citizens of NYC. If those were the least of her worries. The rent is overdue, and while her mother does her best, her absentee father often forgets them for his new life with a new family. She’s got teacher’s on her case to turn in college applications. She has an increasingly violent brother. Does she even have time for the cute new boy at work? And when the blackout off ’77 happens, everything comes to a head.

This was one of my most anticipated YA books of 2016, and it did not let me down. It was a unique historical fiction that brought attention to many things that often get the back burner in fiction. The blackout and the serial killer were the draw here for me. But not why I stayed, which is best, as these two things are setting. they ensure the frenzy of the external matches the frenzy of Nora’s internal.

This book addresses the idea that abuse can come in different forms–that children can abuse parents, and their siblings. I have never seen this addressed in fiction. My mother, who is a teacher, has told me stories of similar circumstances, stories that break both of our hearts. And Nora’s brother often terrified me. It was good to see this issue addressed, but also to show Nora as a complete person outside of these circumstances, a young woman who must make an ultimate decision about what is best for her family. She’s pretty dang strong and awesome that Nora (also, she’s the best in wood shop).

The characters in here were great. The activist who lived downstairs from the Lopez family, because oh right, there were about a billion political movements happening at this time too. But this character is grounded in wanting to help, whether it be protecting Nora’s family’s tenant rights (even if Nora’s mother doesn’t want the trouble) or marching for the women’s movement. I also loved Nora’s boss at the bodega. Medina really gets the idea of community in this novel. And seeing that community, it’s easier to understand why Nora’s mother may hide so many of their family’s problems out of a sense of shame.

Feel free to read this one while blasting your best disco playlist.