Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson

Title: Monday’s Not Coming
Author: Tiffany D. Jackson
Series: N/A
Pages: 448
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: May 22nd 2018

      “Monday Charles is missing, and only Claudia seems to notice. Claudia and Monday have always been inseparable—more sisters than friends. So when Monday doesn’t turn up for the first day of school, Claudia’s worried. When she doesn’t show for the second day, or second week, Claudia knows that something is wrong. Monday wouldn’t just leave her to endure tests and bullies alone. Not after last year’s rumors and not with her grades on the line. Now Claudia needs her best—and only—friend more than ever. But Monday’s mother refuses to give Claudia a straight answer, and Monday’s sister April is even less help.
      As Claudia digs deeper into her friend’s disappearance, she discovers that no one seems to remember the last time they saw Monday. How can a teenage girl just vanish without anyone noticing that she’s gone?”

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      “Missing.
      I held my breath until it burned in my chest, the word frightening. Is she missing? Missing from my life, yeah, but is she, like missing for real? She couldn’t be, she has to be home. Right?”

Tiffany D. Jackson’s Monday’s Not Coming is an intricate mystery with characters who come to life and an unforgettable story. Claudia and Monday have been inseparable since they were in first grade. The summer between 7th and 8th grade promises to be agonizing, with Claudia spending the season with her grandma in Georgia and Monday stuck back in D.C. The two girls, however, hatch a plan to stay in touch through letters over the summer. But Claudia doesn’t hear from Monday all summer long. When she gets back home, Monday doesn’t visit. Claudia calls, but Monday’s phone number is disconnected. When the first day of school rolls around, Claudia is sure she’ll see her best friend, but Monday’s not there. Claudia knows something has to be wrong, but as the weeks pass with no Monday in sight, she grows increasingly concerned. Monday’s mother and older sister won’t give Claudia a straight answer and the other adults in her life don’t seem quite as concerned. Claudia will do anything to discover the truth, even if it means putting herself in danger.

Claudia and Monday’s relationship is easily recognizable. It’s the kind of friendship that is all-consuming, in which it feels like your best friend is the most important person in your world. It’s hard to untangle one person’s wants from the other, not just because you’re so in sync, but because having your best friend’s approval is imperative. A single fight can feel devastating one moment and your bond with one another unbreakable the next. Claudia and Monday live very different lives. Claudia has a stable home and loving parents. Monday has always been good at hiding the problems she has at home and perhaps Claudia has always been good at pretending everything was fine with her best friend. For Monday, Claudia and her family are like a refuge from everything that isn’t right at home. For Claudia, Monday is her refuge from everything that isn’t right at school. Both girls are bullied by their peers, on the receiving end of both homophobic and slut-shaming rumors. Claudia feels increasingly isolated at school without Monday and struggles to hide a learning disorder that was always easier to cover up when Monday was around to help her.

Claudia’s story is emotionally charged. It is honest and raw and hard to read at times. Like Claudia, you as a reader can’t help but feel her frustration. The callousness and indifference shown by the adults in her life is hard to swallow, but they are a reflection of how society handles stories like Monday’s. There are some ugly truths to be found in this book including child abuse. And there is a whole lot of culpability to go around. Jackson’s novel is a commentary on the treatment of missing black girls, how easily they are forgotten, sometimes not even acknowledged, and the untold pain their absence leaves behind. Monday’s Not Coming pulls no punches when it points a finger at the community, schools, social workers, and the police. All of whom bear some responsibility when it comes to countless missing children’s stories. Jackson also explores gentrification in her novel, how easy it is for people to take over whole neighborhoods without a second thought because they know these low-income communities do not have the means to fight back, especially financially.

Monday’s Not Coming alternates between different timelines, taking readers on a heartbreaking journey, and whose ending hits you like a freight train.

4/5

★★★★

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The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo

Title: The Way You Make Me Feel
Author: Maurene Goo
Series: N/A
Pages: 336
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux Books
Release Date: May 8th 2018

      “Clara Shin lives for pranks and disruption. When she takes one joke too far, her dad sentences her to a summer working on his food truck, the KoBra, alongside her uptight classmate Rose Carver. Not the carefree summer Clara had imagined. But maybe Rose isn’t so bad. Maybe the boy named Hamlet (yes, Hamlet) crushing on her is pretty cute. Maybe Clara actually feels invested in her dad’s business. What if taking this summer seriously means that Clara has to leave her old self behind?
      With Maurene Goo’s signature warmth and humor, The Way You Make Me Feel is a relatable story of falling in love and finding yourself in the places you’d never thought to look.”

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“I felt at home here, not only because I’m Korean American, but because it was a blend of old and new L.A. I related to this future version of America that wasn’t tidy but layered, improvised, and complicated.”

Maurene Goo’s The Way You Make Me Feel is the perfect lighthearted and fun summer read you should be reaching for in the coming months. Clara Shin has cultivated a reputation for trouble and high jinks. Not one to take anything too seriously, Clara loves making a game out of anything. Pissing off Rose Carver, all-around know-it-all and overachiever, is just the icing on the cake. When Clara’s plan to have a little fun at prom ends with her and Rose wrestling over a tiara, resulting in accidental fire, Clara’s dad concocts an plan for the two of them to work on his food truck over the summer to avoid suspension. It’s the worst punishment Clara could ever imagine. But with each passing day, Clara begins to realize there’s more to Rose than the pristine facade she shows everyone. And as Clara begins to take a more serious interest in her dad’s business, Clara begins to realize there may be more to her than her own frivolous facade.

Clara is the kind of character who might rub some readers the wrong way, but I loved her nonetheless. This is a novel for those of us who will never be mistaken for being the nice one. For those more comfortable making snarky comments than accepting compliments. Clara has no problem letting people know what she thinks. She terrible when it comes to taking responsibility for her actions. Clara thrives off of attention and is the kind of teen that thinks caring too much would make her uncool. She’s stubborn and difficult and sometimes obnoxious. There were moments where I though Clara was being a real brat, but I was less interested in this and more invested in her growth over the course of the summer. I loved seeing a female friendship blossom and grow. Though Clara and Rose could not be more different, they eventually manage to find common ground. They find something in each other that they never had in another female friend. Their rivalry has always brought the worst out in each other, but their friendship ends up allowing each girl to mature and embrace a different side of herself.

I loved Clara’s budding romance with Hamlet, who is very different from Clara, but whose geekiness she finds nonetheless endearing. Hamlet was thoughtful and sincere; unlike Clara, he was all in from the beginning and his warm personality made it hard for her to resist for long. While I enjoyed both these relationships, the highlight of the novel is Clara’s relationship with her father. Their rapport is sweet and genuine. Clara is used to her dad being easy-going with her, so when he buckles down after her prank, it throws the harmony between the two out of sync. They eventually find their footing again with one another. Clara begins to understand how important a step her dad’s food truck is in his dream to eventual run a restaurant. Clara comes to appreciate just how much he cares about her and to recognize the small sacrifices he’s made to make her happy.

The Way You Make Me Feel a fun, quick read that is undeniable adorable and may have you unexpectedly tearing up at its warmhearted ending.

4/5

★★★★

ARC Reviews: Sweet Black Waves by Kristina Pérez

Title: Sweet Black Waves
Author: Kristina Pérez
Series: Sweet Black Waves, #1
Pages: 448
Publisher: Imprint
Release Date: June 5th 2018
**I received a free eARC of this novel through NetGalley which does not influence my review**

      “Two proud kingdoms stand on opposite shores, with only a bloody history between them.
      As best friend and lady-in-waiting to the princess, Branwen is guided by two principles: devotion to her homeland and hatred for the raiders who killed her parents. When she unknowingly saves the life of her enemy, he awakens her ancient healing magic and opens her heart. Branwen begins to dream of peace, but the princess she serves is not so easily convinced. Fighting for what’s right, even as her powers grow beyond her control, will set Branwen against both her best friend and the only man she’s ever loved.
      Inspired by the star-crossed tale of Tristan and Eseult, this is the story of the legend’s true heroine: Branwen. For fans of Graceling and The Mists of Avalon, this is the first book of a lush fantasy trilogy about warring countries, family secrets, and forbidden romance.”

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Kristina Pérez’s Sweet Black Waves promised to combine a whirlwind romance and breathtaking magic in her novel inspired by Tristan and Eseult. Unfortunately, the romance was barely tolerable and the magical elements did not come into play until the latter part of the novel, but by this time, I had already lost interest in the characters. As a lady’s maid to the princess of Iveriu, Branwen knows all about duty to the crown and her kingdom. She’s grown up hating Kernyv, a rival kingdom, whose people are responsible for the death of Branwen’s parents. When Branwen saves the life of a mysterious stranger, she has no idea that her one act of kindness will change the course of her life and her kingdom’s.

There are a lot of elements of the novel that should have worked for me, but ultimately didn’t. At the heart of Sweet Black Waves is Branwen’s relationship with her cousin Essy, the princess of Iveriu. Though Branwen’s role is to serve Essy, they have grown up as close as sisters. These two characters could not be more different and while I wanted to appreciate each for their strengths and weakness, there were aspects to both of these characters that I could not stand. Essy has never fully embraced all the responsibilities that come with being the next queen on Iveriu. She is at times frivolous and selfish. I never felt that she fully appreciated Branwen and when it came to Branwen, it felt like she would let Essy get away with everything. For most of the novel, this relationship comes across as very one-sided where Branwen would give and give and Essy would take without a second thought. I really wanted to see these two build one another up and help one another grow because it’s these kind of female relationships that I like seeing.

My least favorite aspect of the novel was the romance. If you hate insta-love, stay far away from this novel. Branwen jumps from hating the mysterious man she rescues because he’s from Kernyv to wondering if he will notice her in a pretty dress after a single encounter. Still, I might have been able to get past this if we as readers had gotten the chance to see these two get to know one another. There is, however, a time jump of “weeks” that prevents this. I really wish I could have gotten to know both characters through these off-the-page interactions and I’m sure I would have been more invested in their relationship as well. Later when the novel hinges on Branwen’s feelings for a Kernyvmen and how she struggles to reconcile this with her duty to her kingdom, it was hard for me to empathize with her sense of longing and anxiousness.

It took far too long for magic to make a concrete appearance in the novel. There is a really interesting religious element to this world that is present throughout. Branwen talks of the Old Ones and the Otherworld; the queen herself has a tie to this other realm that influences how the kingdom interacts with outsiders. I found this really interesting and wished the novel had delved in deeper and sooner. By the time Branwen discovers that she may have abilities that far exceed the healing skills her aunt has taught her, I had already lost interest in the novel. In the end, not even the twist could elicit any kind of emotional response from me, save vague amusement.

1/5

Mini Reviews: The Fifth Season + The Poet X

MiniThis week’s set of mini-reviews are two of the most impressive reads I’ve picked up this year. N.K. Jemisin astounds me with her world-building and Elizabeth Acevedo punched me in the gut with her poetry. If you have not picked up either of these authors, you must do so immediately. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: The Fifth Season
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Series: The Broken Earth, #1
Pages: 468
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: August 4th 2015 

      “THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS. AGAIN.
      Three terrible things happen in a single day.
      Essun, masquerading as an ordinary schoolteacher in a quiet small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Mighty Sanze, the empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years, collapses as its greatest city is destroyed by a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heartland of the world’s sole continent, a great red rift has been been torn which spews ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.
      But this is the Stillness, a land long familiar with struggle, and where orogenes — those who wield the power of the earth as a weapon — are feared far more than the long cold night. Essun has remembered herself, and she will have her daughter back.
      She does not care if the world falls apart around her. Essun will break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.”

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“You aren’t just inflicting death on your fellow villagers, of course. A bird perched on a nearby fence falls over frozen, too. The grass crisps, the ground grows hard, and the air hisses and howls as moisture and density is snatched from its substance…but no one has ever mourned earthworms.”

N.K. Jemisin’s first novel, The Fifth Season, in The Broken Earth series is an example of masterful and innovative storytelling that spellbinds readers from start to finish. This is the first time that I’ve read a book where a substantial portion of the novel is written in second person. While I wasn’t sure this would work, especially considering the other two perspectives included in the novel are told in third person, I quickly fell in step with this point of view. Jemisin has a way of weaving all three perspectives into one cohestive story that had me wanting to turn back to the beginning and experience the whole thing over again. Jemisin’s world is complex and I’m in awe of how much information she is able to provide the reader in this first book without it feeling overwhelming. Essun is the first character we are introduced to and we’re immediately put in her shoes as a mother who has just discovered her child has been killed. The young Damaya offers a more naive perspective and through her chapters, her and readers’ disillusionment about the world is shattered. Syenite puts readers right in the middle of a powerful, but troubling institution and it is here where readers learn the full scope of terror for people living in this world. I loved how there are different types of people and beings (for lack of a better term) in this world that all have distinct functions and whose relationships with one another help shape this world. The Fifth Season launches readers into a world that is both fascinating and frightening with characters that are impossible to forget. Special shout out to Annemieke @ A Dance With Books for the great buddy read.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: The Poet X
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Series: N/A
Pages: 357
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: March 6th 2018

      “A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.
      Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.
      But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.
      So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.
       Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.”

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“Late into the night I write and
the pages of my notebook swell
from all the words I’ve pressed onto them.
It almost feels like
the more I bruise the page
the quicker something inside me heals.”

Elizabeth Acevedo stuns with her debut novel The Poet X. Xiomara is easily one of the most relatable protagonists I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. For fifteen-year old Xiomara, having strangers and most especially men, draw conclusions about her based on her body is nothing new. She’s developed a thick skin because she knows the only one who will fight for her is herself. Hardly one to express herself openly, Xiomara is just beginning to find her voice in the poetry she writes. Her relationship with her parents is complicated. There is unspoken resentment and anger. Xiomara is trying to discover who she is and what she believes while also trying to please her devout mother. Her father is physically present, but emotionally distant. Her twin, Xavier, whom she’s always been closed to, is slowly pulling away, dealing with his own battles. Acedvedo’s writing is honest and poignant. With each page turned, I grew more and more invested in Xiomara’s story. Her journey to find her voice in a world that wishes to suppress it is both beautiful and devastating. Acevedo’s novel in verse put me through a range of emotions from happiness to heartbreak and in the end left me feeling deeply moved.

Rating: 5/5

★★★★★

To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

Title: To Kill a Kingdom
Author: Alexandra Christo
Series: N/A
Pages: 342
Publisher: Feiwel Friends
Release Date: March 6th 2018

      “Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most—a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever.
      The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavory hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good—But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy?”

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“I fall to the floor and claw the sand so deeply that my fingers stab a rock and it cleaves my nail clean off. I am breathless, heaving in great gasps of water and then choking it back up moments later. I think I might be drowning, and I laugh at the thought.”

Alexandra Christo’s debut To Kill a Kingdom delights with its sharp dialogue and ever-expanding world. Admired throughout the ocean kingdom of Keto and feared throughout the human kingdoms above, Lira has made a reputation for herself as the most ferocious siren, stealing the hearts of human princes and striking fear into their subjects. The only one not impressed is Lira’s mother, the Sea Queen herself. When Lira’s disobedience goes too far, the Sea Queen punishes Lira by making her human and ordering her to take the heart of the prince who has spent years trying to hunt down the infamous Princes’ Bane, Lira herself. Prince Elian is more pirate than prince. Seeking adventure over power, Elian captains his own ship in search of the deadly creatures known as sirens in hopes of safeguarding the human world. When Lira meets Elian face-to-face, she discovers they have more in common than she ever thought possible.

The novel introduces sirens as unfeeling and driven by their need for power. No one personifies this more than the Sea Queen. Her interactions with Lira show just how callous she can be. Lira has been raised to hunt humans, to live up to the expectations of her mother, and to one day take over as Sea Queen. The novel is slow in revealing what is underneath the surface with Lira, but I actually ended up appreciating this. Seeing Lira as both a ferocious hunter and a marooned siren desperate to change the fate of her people gave me a more complete picture of who she is and an appreciation of every facet. I really liked that author doesn’t allow Lira to be both deadly as a siren and a human, but the character must learn to lean on different strengths. I don’t think Lira’s greatest fear is being human, but rather being powerless. Though it takes her time to fully understand her mother’s abuse of power, it is Lira’s lack of strength as a human that helps her see how she’s been manipulated and coerced into becoming something she is not.

Elian is an easier character to understand, but I don’t believe this makes him any less complex. He is heir to a rich kingdom and has want of nothing, but is far too anxious and adventurous for such a calling. As captain of the Saad, Elian has been granted freedom from the confines of princehood and proven that the respect his crew shows has been earned and is not just a result of his title. Smart and sometimes underhanded when necessary, Elian and his crew have made a name for themselves as siren hunters. In order to rid the world of the Sea Queen’s army of deadly sirens, Elian puts all his hope in a mythical weapon said to make its wielder just as powerful as the Sea Witch. His journey brings him in contact with the mysterious Lira. Reason says he cannot trust her, but she may be the key to finding the weapon he so desperately needs.

One of the highlights of the novel is this journey Elian and his crew make. Readers are introduced to various kingdoms with their own personalities. It’s here that Christo’s writing shines brightest. Her descriptions are vivid and beautiful and made me as a reader want to explore this world more. That being said, we see Lira’s kingdom the least which left me a little disappointed. I would be remiss not mention the chemistry between the two leads. Their biting remarks to one other were entertaining and fun, and the rapport between the two was probably my favorite part about the novel.

4/5

★★★★

ARC Review: Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson

Title: Undead Girl Gang
Author: Lily Anderson
Series: N/A
Pages: 272
Publisher: Razorbill
Release Date: May 8th 2018
*I received a free copy of this book through Penguin’s First to Read program which does not influence my review*

      “Mila Flores and her best friend Riley have always been inseparable. There’s not much excitement in their small town of Cross Creek, so Mila and Riley make their own fun, devoting most of their time to Riley’s favorite activity: amateur witchcraft.
      So when Riley and two Fairmont Academy mean girls die under suspicious circumstances, Mila refuses to believe everyone’s explanation that her BFF was involved in a suicide pact. Instead, armed with a tube of lip gloss and an ancient grimoire, Mila does the unthinkable to uncover the truth: she brings the girls back to life.
      Unfortunately, Riley, June, and Dayton have no recollection of their murders, but they do have unfinished business to attend to. Now, with only seven days until the spell wears off and the girls return to their graves, Mila must wrangle the distracted group of undead teens and work fast to discover their murderer…before the killer strikes again.”

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In Undead Girl Gang, Lily Anderson takes four very different female characters and has them challenge one another, coalescing in an unlikely and bittersweet friendship. Mila Flores is used to being the outsider. She’s one of only two practicing Wiccan witches at her school and one of the few POC students in the very small and very white town of Cross Creek. Things couldn’t possibly get anymore isolating, that is until her best friend’s body is found in a creek. Everyone but Mila is convinced Riley died by suicide. Wracked by grief, Mila does the only thing that makes sense to her, she casts a spell to bring her dead best friend back. The spell doesn’t exactly go as planned and Mila suddenly finds herself the caregiver of not one, but three dead girls. When Mila discovers their deaths may all be linked, the four girls set off on a mission to solve their murders while also hiding their resurrection from the rest of town. Easier said than done.

One of my favorite aspects of this novel is how Anderson handles her female character. Mila, Riley, June, and Dayton are deeply flawed characters. Mila has never been the most friendly and she likes it that way. It’s a way to protect herself, but she doesn’t bother to make an effort even with people who could be her friend. Riley is in many ways selfish and needs to know she is more capable than her friend Mila. This becomes apparent when she comes back to life only to discover that Mila managed to work magic when she never could. June and Dayton can only be described as mean girls. They never missed on opportunity to make Mila and Riley feel like outsiders. Though Dayton is more clueless in her cruelty, this doesn’t excuse her. June’s sense of entitlement is without parallel, her wrath like no other. Despite these shortcomings, Anderson still manages to make these characters sympathetic. They are more than their ugly aspects and by the end of the novel, I felt the need to gather them all in my arms and protect them.

Solving these girls’ murders is easier said than done. Riley, June, and Dayton may have risen from their graves, but they aren’t exactly all intact. For one, if they are too far away from Mila, their rotting corpses become impossible to hide. For another, their memories are all a bit fuzzy. None of them remember what led to their deaths. I found myself guessing pretty early on who I believed was responsible and I’m actually happy to say that I was wrong. The reveal ended up being surprising and really impactful to me as a reader.

Undead Girl Gang is just as much a comedy as it is a mystery. Anderson once again shines with her wry humor, her characters feel real even when they’re dead, and the unabashed openness of her protagonist makes you root for Mila from beginning to end.

4/5

★★★★