Review

This Train is Being Held by Ismée Willimas

Isa, a ballerina, and Alex, a baseball player, first meet while riding the New York subway. From the moment that they first lock eyes, there is an instant curiosity that passes between them. But all too soon, their ride together comes to an end. Over the course of the following months, Isa and Alex continue to run into each other on the subway. With their continual meetings, the two become friends, bonding over their dedication to athletics, but they both claim they are too busy to date. Unfortunately, this means their meetings are rare, so aspiring-poet Alex starts to leave poems for Isa to find. This brings them closer, so much so, that they decide to try to make a relationship work. However, their relationship becomes complicated when secrets are kept and explanations are not given.

 

This Train is Being Held by Ismée Willimas is a lyrical story about two passionate teenagers. Williams' descriptions are beautiful and create vivid and detailed images in the reader’s mind. Both Isa and Alex have Latin American heritage, and throughout the story, the reader is exposed to experiences that the characters go through because of stereotypes that are placed on them. However, they do not let this stop them from enjoying life. Isa and Alex have so much heart; they care deeply about their family and for each other. Their story of love and being willing to fight for it is moving, as well. In addition, Williams’ discussions of family expectations and making choices to pursue one’s passion—even when it is a different path that what is expected of you—resonates with the reader. This Train is Being Held by Ismée Willimas is a beautiful and powerful love story.

More Than Just A Pretty Face by Syed M Masood

Danyal has had a crush on Kaval for the longest time, but despite his good looks, Danyal is not the smartest person, and therefore, not the most appealing marriage prospect. The Renaissance Man, an annual competition held at Danyal’s school for selected bright students, is just around the corner. Unexpectedly, Danyal is chosen to be one of the representatives. Thinking that this is his chance to impress Kaval and her parents, Danyal knows that he has to win. To help him with his speech, he works with Bisma, one of the girls his parents had him meet, but strictly as friends. However, as they work together, Danyal realizes that he enjoys spending time with Bisma, and maybe his feelings toward Kaval have changed.


More Than Just a Pretty Face by Syed M. Masood is a wholesome, feel-good story. In the beginning, Danyal seems like your typical good-looking teenage boy (kind of full of himself), but as the book continues, he becomes more aware and interested in the world. Learning more about himself allows him to realize what is actually important to him. He becomes more compassionate, as well, which warmed my heart. Bisma is kind, evident in her choosing to help Danyal with his speech. And she is strong for putting on a brave face despite the criticism that she faces from her family. Complete with lovable characters, delicious food, and unexpected friendship, More Than Just a Pretty Face by Syed M. Masood is an enjoyable read.

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callendar

Felix Love, a passionate artist, is a transgender teen attending a summer art program to work on his college portfolio. But Felix is struggling to find inspiration. To make matters worse, one of his peers puts up a gallery of photos of him before he transitioned—outing him to the whole school. Following this spectacle, he receives hateful, transphobic messages that make Felix start to question his identity. While Felix has always wanted to be in love, these messages make him wonder if anyone could ever love him.  One day, his art teacher encourages him to try painting self portraits. Through his portraits, Felix is able to express himself as he sees himself, not as other people see him. In addition to the progress on his portfolio, Felix learns that he may be lovable after all, and perhaps, he just needed to know where to look.

 

I LOVE Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender, and I am so glad to have read Felix’s story. Through Felix, I was able to expand my perspective to have a greater understanding and appreciation for trans people. His story opened my eyes to the many identities a trans person may have, and his story made me aware that it is okay to question your identity until you have found the one that makes you feel like you. 

In addition, Felix is a character who you cannot help but love. He faces many trials, but he does not allow them to stop him from realizing his dreams. Furthermore, Felix is relatable. Throughout the book, he opens up and shares his honest feelings regarding love. His humility makes him seem real and genuine. Despite his insecurities, Felix truly is a strong, admirable character. Felix’s story is heartwarming.

You Should See Me In A Crown by Leah Johnson

Star student and clarinetist Liz Lighty cannot wait to attend college in the fall as she will be attending her dream school—the same school her mother attended. Liz is looking forward to following her mother’s footsteps, but she is most excited about the select music ensemble she auditioned for. However, when she receives the news she did not make it, Liz is heartbroken—especially because she will not receive the scholarship she needed to attend the school. Liz is losing hope when she remembers that the prom queen and king both receive a full scholarship to the school of their choice. Never having considered participating in prom before, Liz is suddenly determined to make the prom court, and most importantly, win prom queen. But to complicate matters, Liz finds that she may be falling in love with one of the other prom queen contestants.


You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson is an inspirational story that reminds us to believe in our true selves. Liz is such a likable character, and I found myself immediately cheering for her. I love how she completely applies herself to her passions, and I especially love how she cares deeply about the people closest to her; she is willing to drop everything she is doing to give them the support they need. The elements of family, friendship, romance, and self-love that are included in the story made my heart feel full. And I especially enjoyed watching the relationships between Amanda, Jordan, and Robbie grow as the story progressed. You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson is an uplifting story that will make you smile.

 

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Justyce, one of a few black teens who attends a private school is Georgia, has encountered racism on a daily basis. One day, Justyce is walking when he notices his ex-girlfriend is trying to drive home while intoxicated. Doing the right thing, Justyce decides to drive her home. Before he can, a police officer stops him and puts him into handcuffs thinking Justyce was robbing this girl. In a few hours, the situation has been cleared up, but Justyce can still feel the handcuffs around his wrists. As Justyce reflects on the evening, he begins writing letters to Martin Luther King asking him what he would do in Justyce’s situation. As Justyce continues to experience racism at school, he researches more about King’s methods and works to apply them to his own life.


Dear Martin by Nic Stone is moving. Her story discusses white privilege and the misguided impressions white people have towards the country’s equality through conversations in Justyce’s societal evolution class. Many of the discussions the class has are the same conversations that are being talked about nationally. She seamlessly debunks these misconceptions through classroom debates. Stone also addresses police brutality and the often biased trials that determine the officer’s guilt when one of Martin’s friends is shot by an off-duty police officer. Stone succeeds in acknowledging the problems we are facing right now and provides perspective for us who are looking to understand both what and how we need to change as people and as a nation. Dear Martin by Nic Stone is a powerful story that captures the racism of our country and educates us about national issues. It is a must-read.

An interview With Author Grady Hendrix

Bookseller Harry is back with a review of Grady Hendrix’s new release The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires. “We’re a book club. What are we supposed to do? Read him to death?” A group of tired and unappreciated moms get together to read true crime, drink wine, and form meaningful friendships when a vampire moves to town. We've all been there, right? I honestly can't tell you how much I loved this book. This book kept me up many a sleepless night as I finished just one more chapter, got actually frustrated at antagonists, and cheered for the protagonists. I feel like Grady gets better and better with each new book, and I never wanted this story to end. I was able to ask him a few questions about The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires. Check it out!

Harry J: Best Friend's Exorcism and Southern Book Club's Guide both have a strong theme of overcoming monsters with the power of female bonds. Is there a specific reason for this? 

Grady Hendrix: Unhappy endings always feel like you stopped telling the story too early, because life goes on and I always want to know what happens next. Unhappy endings just feel cheap and unrealistic to me. Cynicism is a sad and pointless way to look at the world. 

HJ: How much is the protagonist in The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires based off of your actual mother? 

GH: Every character I write is based on a real person, whether it’s someone I know or someone I see on the subway, but by the time they make it to the page, they’re virtually unrecognizable. Patricia has some things in common with my mom — they’re both former nurses, they both belong to book clubs, they’re both parents — but Patricia is a lot more naive than my mom. On the other hand, she’s also a lot more likely to try to kill a vampire than my mom.

HJ: You seem to favor strong female protagonists fighting against paranormal odds in your books. What inspired this? 

GH: I have no idea why I seem incapable of writing male characters. It’s clearly something I need to address with my therapist! Guys just don’t interest me as much.

HJ: What gave you the idea for The Southern Book Club's Guide? 

GH: I’ve always wanted to write a book about adult friendship and I’ve known the women in my mom’s book club since I was a kid. The longer I knew them the more interesting they became, but when I initially suggested this book to my editor they really pushed back against it, telling me that no one was interested in reading about a bunch of middle-aged housewives. That sealed the deal: I was going to write this book no matter what.

HJ: If Southern Book Club’s Guide became a movie or tv series, what would be your ideal casting? (Mine would be Winona Ryder for Patricia and Chris Sarandon for James Harris.)

GH: I like the Winona Ryder idea, but I have a hard time with these kinds of questions because I feel like I’ll jinx things. But if Patrick Wilson was younger, he’d be a great James Harris, and I’d love to see Octavia Spencer as Mrs. Greene. 

HJ: You've already covered a number of horrifying things; vampires, demons, Ikea. What's the next monster that you'd like to (forgive the pun) sink your teeth into?

GH: I actually already have a monster and their book is slated for publication in June 2021. So I’m not saying anything until closer to that date. But I will say that the one monster I really want to write and can’t find a way into: werewolves. I love werewolves but I just can’t seem to find that extra piece that makes them work for me. But maybe I’m just not inspired enough? I’m going to keep wandering around the moors at night and waiting to be bitten.

The Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood

Claire L is a reading machine - or there are just an amazing amount of good books coming out this summer. Check out her review below!

Lou has always longed for something more than her life in Penlyn, but she has never known exactly what she was searching for. That is until she becomes entranced with the Cardew House. Every so often, people in elegant attire drive over to the Cardew House for that night’s festivities. Curious as to what the parties are like, Lou sneaks over to the house one evening. Unexpectedly, she ends up making the acquaintance of Robert Cardew who seems to have an air of mystery and intrigue about him. The following day, Lou receives an invitation from his sister Caitlin, inviting her to their next gathering. Suddenly, Lou is thrown into the glamorous lives of the Cardews. As she spends more and more time at the house, she begins to learn more about this opulent world, and in turn, herself.

Complete with glamor, parties, and secrets, as well as a spark of romance, A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood is exciting and compelling to read. Set during 1929 in England, flapper dresses and suits describe the sophisticated appeal of the Cardews’ events. One of my favorite aspects of the book is that the story is told from the perspective of Lou, an outsider to the glitzy world. Her thoughts and observations invite the reader to join in the lavish summer schedule of the Cardews. In addition to Lou, there is a cast of interesting characters that are simultaneously fun and mysterious. The result is of new friendships and romances that guide Lou through an exciting lifestyle so different from her own. A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood is an enjoyable read reminiscent of my favorite elements of The Great Gatsby. 

The Betrothed by Kiera Cass

Claire L is hyped for the new Kiera Cass novel - check out her review below.

Ever since catching the attention of King Jameson, Hollis has been waiting for his attention to shift to another girl. To her surprise, the King finally seems to have settled on who will be his queen, Hollis. At first, Hollis is pleased that the King has chosen her. Unlike the girls before her, she has the privilege to join him on outings, wear specially chosen jewels, and even move into the Queen’s apartments. But as her world becomes more glamorous, Hollis realizes that being Queen is not all it is made out to be, especially when she makes the acquaintance of someone who can promise her a life where she can be her whole self.

The Betrothed by Kiera Cass is a fresh take on stories centered around the Crown. Set in the 1500s, the glamour of gowns, jewels, and courting are the backdrop to this intriguing book. More than a story about the elegance of royalty, The Betrothed questions and challenges the role a Queen plays in her marriage. I appreciated the feminist undertones that are especially present in thoughtful Hollis, who dares to change her fate. Furthermore, the unexpected friendships that develop add to the overall appeal of the story and allow the reader to see the opulence of royalty in a new light. Kiera Cass’ return with The Betrothed is triumphant with her care in writing perceptive characters and glamorous settings.

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

Claire L has caught the Shadowhunter bug and is diving in with The Infernal Devices Series! Check our her review of book #1 in the series below.

When Tessa Gray travels to London to visit her brother, she discovers that he is missing. Suddenly, Tessa is thrown into a world she never knew existed: a world of danger. In this world, Shadowhunters, descendents of the Angel Raziel, battle demons to save the human race. Guiding Tessa through this confusing new world are Shadowhunters Will and Jem. Together, they race to find her brother and unravel the secrets that have entrapped him. As she learns about her new environment, Tessa learns more about herself.

Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Angel, the first book in The Infernal Devices trilogy, the prequel to The Mortal Instruments series, is set in the late 1800s in London. The fantastical and historical elements of the story work to create a lush world in which the reader is quickly immersed. Although this is not Clare’s first book about the Shadowhunters, her consistent and detailed world-building allows new readers to be able to begin with this new trilogy and still understand the intricacies of the Shadowhunter world. Furthermore, Clare’s technique of incorporating serene moments in between intense fighting helps balance the story. She also begins to develop possible romances that further engage the reader. Cassandra Clare’s expertly crafted Clockwork Angel integrates rich story lines and compelling characters, making it hard for the reader to leave this magical world.

A Home for Goddesses and Dogs by Leslie Connor

Here's more from Marly B - 

After Lydia’s terminally ill mother dies, she is uprooted from her home and moves in with her Aunt Brat in a tiny farming town in Connecticut. As she adjusts, a beautiful yellow dog finds its way into the home of Lydia’s new family. The dog whines all night when crated, pees on rugs, has found a way to slip out of his collar, and proves to be a general nuisance. Lydia expects the dog to figure out how to behave eventually, but he’s not showing any signs of improving. The key to training him could be knowing his past, but with only the phone number of his old owner, Lydia will have to do a bit more digging to find out where the dog that stole her heart came from.

After reading Leslie Connor’s previous book, The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle, I had fairly high expectations for A Home for Goddesses and Dogs. Conner absolutely destroyed them and wrote an amazing book centered around grief and growing up. It felt like a breath of fresh air with its amazing characters and beautiful plot. 

One of the first things I notice about A Home for Goddesses and Dogs is that the cast is almost entirely female. The second thing I noticed is all of the female characters are incredibly fleshed out and diverse. I don’t think I could name a middle-grade book that comes close to having better written females. The characters' interactions with each other are hilarious and realistic and just lovely in general. The relationships throughout were very tender and heartwarming which was helped by the brilliant character designs and developments. Also, the fact that there was no mean-girl troupe was appreciated greatly. We need tons more books with healthy female relationships and this book covers that very very well, both with Lydia’s parental figures and her friendships with the other girls at her school.

A Home for Goddesses and Dogs handles grief in a pretty unique way. Since Lydia’s mother was terminally ill, Lydia already had time to come to terms with her death for the most part, so it mostly handles adjusting after a loved one dies. It shows Lydia missing her mom, but it also shows her learning to form relationships with the new adults in her life. It deals with grief in a way that feels very real, showing it as an adjustment in life rather than an end to it. 

I give Leslie Conner so much respect for writing realistic preteen/teen conversations. Authors have a tendency to either make preteens sound like preschoolers or tiny fifty-year-olds, but Conner definitely avoided that. Not only does she write teens well, she writes thirteen-year-olds well. The discussions Lydia has with her friends feel like things my friends and I would have talked about when we were thirteen. She totally captures that weird between middle and highschool stage perfectly and brilliantly.  

A Home for Goddesses and Dogs is a book everyone should consider reading. It’s heartwarming and hilarious and just amazing in general. Despite its subject matter, it’s really a pretty happy read. I give A Home for Goddesses and Dogs a 4.75/5. Go read it!

Pages