More Happy Than Not

Aaron Soto is sixteen years old and lives in the Bronx in a one bedroom apartment with this mother and older brother. He is on the cusp of adulthood and is about to reach a major life milestone: he is about to have sex with his girlfriend…right before Genevieve tells Aaron that she is going away to a three week painting retreat.

What is Aaron supposed to do without the love of his life?

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When he meets Thomas, his summer changes. He finds in the other boy a best friend, who is interested in the same things Aaron is but lacks direction in his life. Aaron spends the better part of the summer helping Thomas figure out where is life is going; as the pair become closer, Aaron begins to realize that he is developing feelings for Thomas. He still loves Gen, but he also loves Thomas.

When things take a change for the worse, Aaron considers going to Leteo, a medical company that promises a pain free procedure to represent unwanted memories. Aaron wants to forget his summer with Thomas to help forget his feelings and live a normal life. But is that really for the best for Aaron? For everyone?

More Happy Than Not tackles some major life issues. It not only addresses the subject of homosexuality and how difficult it can be for young teens to come out, it also delves into what happens when one tries to suppress their memories and emotions. There are things about yourself you cannot simply forget or hide away, and More Happy Than Not does the difficult but successful task of addressing these issues.

I was apprehensive beginning Adam Silvera’s debut novel, but I quickly came to enjoy the story. (Normally I am not a fan of contemporary, but I’ve been attempting to read them more in an effort to have some reader’s advisory in mind when I become a librarian.) Silvera’s language is simple, much like how teens communicate which makes the story relatable. It is a wonderful story that everyone is encouraged to read to better understand the struggle teens go through in their young lives.

My rating: 4/5

 

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The Unbound

It has been almost four weeks since Meckenzie Bishop defeated Owen Chris Clarke by creating a void door. While she continues on as a Keeper for the Archive and prepares for a new year at a new school, Meckenzie can’t shake the constant nightmares where Owen attempts to kill her. She isn’t sleeping, but she can’t let that keep her from her duties.

As she starts a new school year as a junior at Hyde School, Meckenzie knows it is going to be difficult to make friends while separating her life as a Keeper. With Wesley Ayers help, Meckenzie starts to have some semblance of normalcy.

Until people she meets keeps disappearing.

One by one, people Meckenzie encounter start to vanish without trace. There’s no sign of where they’ve gone or who has taken them or why, but they only have one thing in common – each of them met Meckenzie right before their disappearance. Before the local police can link her to the disappearances, Meckenzie must try to solve the disappearances herself. It becomes more difficult when Agatha, a Librarian who has the ability to alter memories, becomes suspicious of Meckenzie and becomes set on searching through her memories.

How is Meckenize going to solve the disappearances, keep her nose clean in high school, return lost Histories on her list, avoid Agatha, and get some much needed sleep before losing her sanity – and herself?

The Unbound is the sequel to Victoria Schwab’s The Archive and continues the story of the library of the dead. It is just as creepy as its predecessor but with some slice of life moments. It took me a little longer to really get into the story, but that’s because I didn’t read The Unbound right after finishing the first story.

I highly recommend this set of books for anyone who likes creepy stories, paranormal themes, and/or urban fantasy. My only complaint is that there are lots of stories to tell about the Archive and yet this is the last one. Victoria Schwab has stated that she has an interest in continuing the story, but the publishers think otherwise. I wish she could continue it because I still want to know more about the world.

My rating: 4/5

Ruin and Rising

Os Alta has fallen to the Darkling. Nikolai and his parents are on the run. Alina, Mal, and what remains of the Second Army are in hiding with the Apparat. It seems that the Darkling has won and Ravka is in danger.

But perhaps there is still a little hope.

Ever since Alina used merzost to create and control the Darkling’s creatures, she hasn’t been the same. Her hair is white, her powers over sunlight are weak, and her desire to find the firebird – the third of Morozova’s amplifiers – is stronger than ever. But the Apparat keeps her a virtual prisoner, cloistering her away underground in the White Cathedral as the Darkling controls more and more of the surface. If Alina and her allies are to defeat him, they first need to get above ground and then somehow find Nikolai – if he is even alive.

Is finding the third amplifier even the answer? Even as Alina’s desire and want for the firebird increases, she is asked the question of whether or not it is even worth it. Is the sacrifice of countless lives – possibility even her own – worth finding the firebird and freeing Ravka? Alliances and patience will be tested, but will everyone survive to see Ravka free?

Ruin and Rising is the third and final installment of the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo. By now it is probably no surprise how big of a fan I am of Leigh’s works. Shadow and Bone was a fine but rocky start (forgivable since it is a debut novel); Seige and Storm brought us Nikolai and amped up the action. Ruin and Rising does not disappoint. It is just as intriguing and action packed as its immediate predecessor, although I did find the ending a bit anticlimatic (most of the action is in the middle of the novel). Not everyone comes away whole, which is how I think novels with conflict should be. But it is a nice end to this story.

I’m sad to be leaving the Grisha world, although I am certain Leigh will have stories for us in the future. But I look forward to her new adventures and characters and can’t wait to see what she has in store next.

My rating: 4.5/5

The Language of Thorns

If you are familiar with Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy and/or the Six of Crows duology, then you are familiar with the Grisha and their many legends. For the first time, Leigh compiles six myths that come from the Grisha universe. Each tale has their own life lessons to convey, and each is just as rich in details as one expects from a Bardugo story and each with an unexpected villain.


The Zemeni tale, Ayama and the Thorn Wood, tells the tale of a brave but unremarkable young girl who has the unfortunate task of going after the king’s second, beastly son. No one expects Ayama to return, but she does so three times after telling the prince a tale. But the truth about his exile determines who the real monster of the story is.

As one would expect from the country of the majority of Grisha, Ravka has three tales of mythos. The Too-Clever Fox tells us what happens when we trust the wrong person and that even the most kindly of animals can have teeth. The Witch of Duva is reminiscent of Hansel and Gretel, only the witch isn’t the evil one. Little Knife shows us that a woman’s beauty can cloud the judgement of any man, and that nature will always know what is best.

From Kerch, we have The Soldier Prince, a retelling of the famed Nutcracker – only this time we have our tale from the point of view of the toy soldier.

And finally from Fjerdan, we see how the sea witch really became the scourge of the seas in When Water Sang Fire.

The Language of Thorns is one of my favorite of Leigh’s writings so far. The stories are exquisite; as you read them, you can see where the inspiration comes from. But Leigh twists the stories to suit her world. Like typical Hans Christian Anderson style stories, these aren’t the happy ending fairy tales we’ve come to associate with Disney. These are dark stories with lessons to teach. In addition, each story is richly illustrated by Sara Kipin; each illustration starts small but slowly creates a larger border image around the story pages before finally becoming a delightedly beautiful two page spread.

These stories each had my heart beating in that scared for what comes next kind of way. I normally don’t like that feeling, but I trust Leigh to write stories that surprise me (in a good way). My favorite of the stories are The Witch of Duva and When Water Sang Fire. Watch for the cameo appearance in When Water Sang Fire; can you guess who? 😉

My rating: 5/5

Wonder Woman Warbringer

Young Diana, Princess of Themyscira, wants nothing more than the glory that the rest of her Amazon sisters enjoy. As the only child ever born on the island, Diana has trained with her sisters but has never had any of their experiences. She longs to prove herself a true Amazon to her, to her sisters, and especially to her mother, Queen Hippolyta.

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One day while attempting to win a race and prove her worth, Diana witnesses an explosion just past the Themyscira border. Diana is torn between winning the race or saving any potential survivors. She can’t leave innocents to their death, so Diana quickly dives into the waters and saves the only person left, Alia Keralis. But the moment Alia sets foot on Themyscira, things go wrong; the younger Amazons, including Diana’s friend Maeve, become mysteriously ill as the weather shifts and earthquakes appear. Alia also becomes mysteriously sick, although Diana is immune to whatever is happening.

Desperate to help her sisters and save Alia, Diana visits the Oracle who tells her Alia is a Warbringers, a descendant of Helen of Troy and the one who will entice mortal men to battle. In an effort to find a way to free Alia from the curse that has haunted generations of girls, Diana and Alia will travel from Themyscira, to New York, and finally to Greece to find a pay to purge Alia from her curse. During their journey, they will develop a friendship that could save the world – or end it.

Wonder Woman Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo is the first in the DC Icons line of stories written by prominent YA authors and focusing on iconic DC characters. Wonder Woman has become one of my favorite heroes at the same time Leigh Bardugo has become one of my favorite authors. Together, they are a perfect combination. I absolutely loved the characters Leigh created for this story, as well as her portrayal of Diana before she becomes Wonder Woman.

I don’t know if I will read the other volumes in the DC Icons series, but I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed the first in the series. (It helps that I was able to get a first edition copy through LitJoy Crate that came with an illustrated poster by the awesome Afua Richardson.)

My rating: 5/5

 

Just Mercy

Society in the late 1980s to early 2000s was a period of social unrest (some would argue that it still is). Civil rights continued to be an issue even after Jim Crow laws were abolished. A large majority of incarcerated prisons were black men and women who were accused of minor offenses, many of them non-lethal, and some were entirely innocent of the crime they were accused of. There was also a substantial portion of the prison population that were juveniles tried as adults and sentenced to life in adult prisons, or even the death penalty.

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Just Mercy is Bryan Stevenson’s semi-autobiographical account of his early years as a lawyer, first working as part of Southern Prisoners Defense Committee (SPDC) until he formed his own advocacy group known as the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) to help death row prisoners. Stevenson vividly recounts his myriad of cases throughout the book, but largely focuses on the case of Walter McMillian, an Alabama man accused of a murder he didn’t commit. The evidence against McMillian was overwhelming false or incoherent, and yet the police and justice system convicted him of murder. Stevenson works for many years to free McMillian while simultaneously working on other death row cases, many of which involve juveniles or the mental incapacitated.

This book gives the reader good insight into how the legal system continuously fails the people who put their faith in it. It reveals the bias that many law enforcement officers – from police to lawyers to judges – have against certain groups of individuals and how these biases often lead to unfair treatment of those accused of a crime.

I both read and listened to the audio book at the same time, finding that the audio book kept me focused on the non-fiction novel (which is typically not my preferred genre of reading). This book has been described to me as one that will make me cry, followed by anger, with some happy moments in between; this seems to be the most accurate description. I highly recommend this book to everyone, especially those who may not fully understand why certain groups of people mistrust the police and the law. Stevenson avoids using legal jargon whenever possible and sticks mostly to language the reader should recognize and understand. But the most important thing about this book is that it shows humanity in a different light, and that hope is what keeps many going even when there seems to be nothing left.

My rating: 4.5/5

Of Fire and Stars

Princess Dennaleia of Havemont has always known her future. Betrothed to Prince Thandilimon of Mynaria, Denna has spent her whole life being groomed to be future queen. But she also has spent her life hiding her magic; in Mynaria where magic users are not particularly welcome, Denna’s ability to control fire may compromise her future marriage.


She also didn’t count on meeting Princess Amaranthine, Thandilimon’s older sister. Mare, as she is known, is headstrong, stubborn, and doesn’t want to be a princess. She values the little freedoms she has, and initial isn’t too fond of Denna and she scholarly diplomatic ways. But when a civil war between Havemont, Mynaria, and their shared border with the magic sympathetic Zumorda threatens them all, Mare will need Denna’s scholar trained mind to help her navigate the complex government. In turn, Denna needs Mare’s familiarity with the town and its people to gather information on the uprising Recusants and what their intentions may be.What neither Denna nor Mare bargained on was the growing friendship between them…or is it more than that?

As a story, I found Of Fire and Stars not quite on the same level as other fantasy novels I have read recently. Other reviewers have commented on its subpar world building, which I do agree; at just shy of 400 pages, I feel another 200 could help build the world and the relationships between magic and non-magic users better. Considering this is a debut novel and I often find debuts to be lukewarm in world building, it isn’t a bad start.

However, I don’t think the intention of the story was to focus on the world but rather on the relationship between the two female leads. In that sense, Of Fire and Stars does quite well, starting with initial friction between the girls and slowly changing over time. I would have liked another 100 pages to really build that relationship as there was a point halfway through where I felt it progressed too much too quickly.

As an LGBTQ story, I feel it does a nice job of introducing the relationship between Denna and Mare. I cannot really say how accurate this relationship is, but for someone who isn’t of that sexuality per se I think it works well. I believe this would be a good novel to recommend to young readers as they begin to navigate their teen life and its trials.

My rating: 3.5/5