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September and October Reads 2017

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Well, I did a September Reads Part One, but then the rest of the month went by and I only read a single book. So that was a bit of a fail. So I’ve merged it in with my early October reads, and let’s get into it…

I am so conflicted over Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson, but I still want you to read it so we can discuss it together and that’s got to be a good sign for the book. This novel is about Mary Addison, a black girl who at 9 years old was convicted of killing a white baby–allegedly–while her mom was supposed to be babysitting. The novel takes place when Mary is 16 years old, out of baby jail and in a group home. Now she’s pregnant with her own baby and it’s time to set the record straight…

The thing I loved the most about Allegedly was the narration. I listened to about 2/3 of the book on audiobook, and that narrator was excellent, but what I really mean is the voice that Jackson uses to tell the story. It feels authentic and straightforward, and makes for a really powerful story. Jackson tackles a lot of important issues and while it is part mystery, which kept me turning the pages, Allegedly also deals with what life is like for young offenders. The thing that ended up partly ruining the book for me was the ending–it just feels like a cheap twist and for me let the whole story down. But I’d love to know what you think, so read it and we can discuss!

I picked up Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore because I had heard such good things about her Graceling fantasy trilogy. Jane, Unlimited is the story of Jane, an orphan whose guardian aunt, Mangolia, was a wildlife photographer who recently died. Before she died, she made Jane promise to go to Tu Reviens, a glamorous island mansion, if she was ever invited. Depressed and having dropped out of school, when Jane receives an invitation to Tu Reviens she agrees to go. There, she has to make a choice. Jane has 5 options, and each choice will change course of her life forever.

Jane, Unlimited is basically like a choose your own adventure if you don’t have any choices and just have to read all 5 endings, so it didn’t surprise me to read in the author’s note that it was originally written as choose your own adventure novel. The issue with the way she did it, is that there’s very little connection between each ending, and it feels like an awful lot of randomness thrown in. Plus, as the novel progresses, the story gets stranger and stranger, and it ended up feeling like, oh, let’s throw in space pirates and dinosaurs and talking dogs etc. It was just a little much. Most of the characters don’t have a lot of depth, and the ones that I started to get to know at the beginning of the novel mostly disappear by the end. Jane’s voice felt honest and real, her umbrella making hobby is fun, and I can see the appeal of Cashore’s writing, but this novel was an unfortunate introduction to it. I’d still like to pick up Graceling eventually, but not sure when I’ll be convinced to do it now.

One of the more unusual books I’ve read this year is definitely Before Now by Norah Olson, which is a Memento-style young adult novel about a Romeo and Juliet romance told in reverse. The issue is that stakes don’t seem really high and instead of the main characters, Atty and Cole, just seem overly dramatic. I think part of that has to do with them being teenagers, which might be realistic, but part of it has to do with the fact that the book is so short (just over 200 pages) so there’s not a lot of development or depth to the plot.

Besides the reverse storytelling, which I loved in premise but meant that the book tended to get less interesting as it went on, the other unique aspect of Before Now is the electronic dance music (EDM) component, since I am not familiar with that scene and I have never seen it represented in a young adult novel before. There are also some nice descriptions by Olson, but my connection to the story and to Atty and Cole was lacking because they didn’t have a chance to develop a real relationship in so few pages. While Before Now didn’t blow me away, it was fun to try out the reverse story-telling and I’d love to read more books like that in the future. Let me know if you have a recommendation!

Immediately after saying I’d like to read another book told in reverse, I realized that the next novel I’d picked up, Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart, also made use of this unusual storytelling device. Genuine Fraud begins with current events, before skipping further back in time with each chapter, before ending in present time as well. However, the chapters are long enough that I didn’t find it too jarring or confusing to follow, although it did take a moment at the beginning of each chapter to re-orient myself. This novel is the story of Jule, who is on the run, and her best friend the rich and beautiful Imogen.

The writing style of the book really surprised me, because while Lockhart’s We Were Liars (reviewed here) was poetic, Genuine Fraud is written in a straightforward manner. Even though this book is more about the why than the how, it still builds up tension and even once I thought the story was basically over there’s still an interesting twist or two to go. It’s really more of a psychological thriller at times, and a lot of the emphasis is on Jule, who is a great main character. I did think that the police were exceptionally dumb in this book. Also, apparently this book is very similar to another famous novel it takes inspiration from, but since I have not read that one I was able to enjoy this on its own. Overall, I really enjoyed Genuine Fraud and if you’re look for a quick, dark read, I definitely recommend it.

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a short essay which is exactly what the title describes, a letter to a friend of Adichie’s, who recently had a daughter and wanted to know how to raise her a feminist. This is a quick read, but it is worthwhile. While some of this advice may be familiar, I appreciate having it all compiled in one place, and also, shared through Adichie’s own voice and writing. Pretty much every line was quotable, and I liked how accessible she makes this book. She actually criticizes the use of jargon in one of her suggestions, which seems less directly relevant to parenting, but shows through in her own writing. Most of the advice in Dear Ijeawele can be applied regardless of if you are a parent or not, and it offers many good reminders on how to treat people/yourself in general. I also really enjoyed the mentions of Nigerian culture and how it can be viewed through a feminist lens–I did wish for a little more of that in the book, but I’m definitely planning to read more by Adichie in the future.

Warcross by Marie Lu is my first book by the young adult author, but it won’t be my last. It’s the story of Emika Chen, a bounty hunter turned professional Warcross player. Warcross is a virtual reality game, and its creator, Hideo, offers her a job undercover in the championship. It’s an interesting take on the ‘rags to riches’ story. The world building is a lot of fun, and it’s a very visual book so while the descriptions of the games could be a little confusing at times, it definitely makes me hope that this will be a movie at some point.

Warcross is a very fast-paced and intense book, and Emika is such a tough, but emotional, main character. It’s definitely one of the most engaging, fun books I’ve read this year. I also really loved the futuristic Japanese setting. The only thing I didn’t really love was the romance element, since it was pretty expected, but there were some great other plot twists to make up for it. I also wish that there was more character development for Emika’s team-mates, but since she was pretty busy on her own independent quest, it was really only Emika and Hideo who had more depth to them. That said, the ending of Warcross was great and gave a really good opportunity to explore some great questions in the next book, which I’ll definitely pick up when it is released in 2018.

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Honestly I was in a bit of a reading slump but I really enjoyed the last three books I read–Genuine Fraud, Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, and Warcross–so I think I’m finally out of it. I’ve also got some great new releases lined up to read in October, so hopefully I’ll be back with more rave reviews at the end of the month.

What have you read lately?

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