This is not the first of Ruta Sepetys’ books that I’ve read, and it certainly won’t be the last. She’s a master of storytelling and highlighting under-represented events and periods in history in a way that’s relatable for young people. Her latest is another young adult historical fiction that sheds light on the Nicolae Ceausescu dictatorship and communist rule of Romania in the late 1980s. Romanian citizens lived in terror due a vast and intricate spy network composed of ordinary citizens set up to spy on one another for government favors including food, medicine, and electricity. Families and neighbors, teachers and students, coworkers and friends are all starving, paranoid, and constantly looking over their shoulders worried about who will turn them in for voicing even the slightest bit of discontent over Ceausecscu’s rule by isolation, deprivation, and fear. Homes are bugged. Food rations are extreme. Everything is illegal from Coke and Twinkies to western magazines and typewriters. People trade in Kents (cigarettes). This is the world that teenager, Cristian Florescu, is being raised in. He dreams of being a writer, keeps a secret notebook, and instead of dreaming about his future, he watches his grandfather slowly dying and his parents suffering in silence. Cristian finds himself at the mercy of the secret police, Securitate, as they force him to become an informer, using him to spy and report back for medicine for her grandfather. His efforts at subversion reach a tipping point when the Romanian revolution takes hold, and Cristian can no longer be part of the silence. His rage and frustration are loud, and he takes brave risks to become part of the solution to expose the country’s suffering to the world. Sepetys sears this story into your heart. Cristian’s longing, fear, and passion jump off the page and make him come alive. The country’s suffering is heartbreaking. This is a fascinating, somber, and hopeful historical piece that you can only come away from in awe.
A billionaire’s mansion. A cryptic will. Four alluring grandsons. A family inheritance denied. Secret passages. Is it all just a game left by a twisted, rich old man or is there something deeper to the mystery of why Avery Grambs was left a fortune from a man she’s never even met or heard of? Jennifer Lynn Barnes knows how to keep a reader glued to the pages. This is a breezy, fun delight. Barnes jumpstarts this young adult mystery trilogy with puzzles and twists right from the first few pages. Avery just wants to get out of high school and move on with her life. Billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies and bequeaths his estate and entire fortune to her. To claim her inheritance, she must move into the sprawling Hawthorne House and stay there for a year. The house is filled with intrigue including the entire disinherited Hawthorne family, and most of them are not too thrilled with the interloper. Who is Avery and why did Tobias leave her everything, cutting the family out entirely? Together with the four handsome Hawthorne grandsons, Avery sets out to discover the truth about the mansion and the old man’s penchant for riddle and games. There’s a lot of lusty tension brewing in between a love triangle of sorts which just adds to the suspense of turning each page. I’m a huge puzzle nerd, so I love the juxtaposition of romance with a clue-based contemporary mystery. Inheritance Games is just plain fun.
Jesse Thistle’s account of drug addiction is scalding and downright painful. I winced repeatedly throughout his story; his voice is so raw and uncomfortable that my skin was crawling. How can someone be on the brink of destruction for so long and come out on the other side? Jesse was abandoned by his parents and lived with his brothers in foster care for a short time before finally ending up with grandparents. Jesse’s cycle of alcohol and drug addiction leaves him homeless and struggling on the streets of Canada. The memoir focuses on the trauma and shock of his downward spiral. It’s unsettling but a vivid portrayal of poverty and addiction. I wish more time was given to the story of his recovery. Jesse’s redemption and the awakening of his Metis heritage is a brief wrap-up at the very end of the memoir and doesn’t bring the reader to a full circle understanding of who he becomes in the end. This memoir is searing but I wanted a little more understanding of how he was able to turn things around by becoming a scholar, fully enveloped in the richness of his Indigenous culture. Prepare yourself to squirm; this one is cringy and downright guttural at best, but a worthy read nonetheless – a glimpse into the abyss.
I expected to fly through this and then gush over it with my other book friends but instead, I slogged through for weeks and found myself avoiding it entirely. It starts with an engrossing love story between Ifemelu and Obinze as young Nigerians. Ifemelu heads to America with the plan for Obinze to join her, and things don’t happen as they intend. Ifemelu is faced with what it’s like to be Black in America and begins writing a blog. Her reflections on race, culture, identity, and immigration are thought-provoking and eye-opening. She writes about what it’s like to be Black in Nigeria versus in America. When Adichie leads with her characters, the book is amazing. When she strays and takes on commentary, it gets choppy, long, and burdensome. Her heavy introspection forces the plot away from the characters and loses the beautiful story-telling that captured my interest early in the book. I longed for Ifemelu and Obinze to tell more of their story but by the end, the momentum crashed and burned. It ended up feeling like a set of disconnected short stories with a thin thread of commonality that never created anything whole.
This duology is a Romeo and Juliet retelling set in Shanghai in the 1920s. Two major gangs run the city and are constantly embroiled in a longstanding blood feud. Juliette Cai, recently returned from America, is the heir to the Scarlet Gang while her childhood friend and once-flame, Roma Montagov, is heir to the Russian White Flowers gang. A sickness creeps into Shanghai, one that causes people to claw their own throats out, and as gang members on both sides fall to this new rival, both Juliet and Roma struggle to find answers. Is it contagion or a monster lurking beneath the darkness of the Huangpu River? Roma and Juliette have to put aside their differences and work together to save their city. The sexual tension between these two is fire. They feign hatred for one other with intensity but then can’t tear away from each other’s eyes; a single brush of a fingertip sends them reeling back to a time when they cared for each other deeply, and family feuds didn’t matter. The push-pull of attraction is satiating. I love how Chloe Gong immerses this story of love and yearning amidst themes of colonization, identity, and culture. Juliette is Chinese and returns only to find that she feels like an outsider in her own home country as foreigners have taken over the city. Roma is torn between loyalty to his family and the violent path they’ve carved out versus loyalty for people he loves regardless of gang ties. The setting is lush with bright lights and seedy, dark alleys, filth and fringe, holstered guns and flapper dresses, gritty streets and golden decadence, and you can’t help but feel part of the city. I didn’t love the ending; it was a hodge-podge of too many things, and it felt a little rushed but still a gorgeous young adult blend of sweeping classic elements and intricate modern drama.
I want to snuggle this book; it’s so warm and fuzzy. This is definitely going on my favorites pile for many reasons. I finished it and couldn’t stop smiling. Linus Baker is a rule follower, and he lives an ordinary, lonely life with a cat. He’s employed as a children’s case worker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, and he takes his job very seriously. Linus is charged with inspecting orphanages and making sure the children are “safe” and well-cared for. Due to his extreme sense of duty and strict adherence to rules, Linus is sent on a special, highly classified assignment to Marsyas Island where he meets a peculiar group of magical children that test his limits, his patience, and everything in between. Each child has a fascinating magical ability that humans fear, and Linus begins to wonder if the government wants the children protected or hidden. Mysterious and magnetic, Arthur Parnassus is the caretaker, and in his steadfast dedication to the children of Marsyas, he also helps usher Linus into a new understanding of what it really means to protect them when rule-following doesn’t always shape up to be fair. The message in this book is so universally comforting and seamlessly blended that although it’s set in a fantasy world, it feels like it’s real and completely applicable now. The humor is injected into this book in just the right places, and I chuckled, giggled, and laughed out loud all the way through. I don’t think I could dare pick a favorite child of Marsyas, but Lucy is especially darling as the Antichrist. Don’t be fooled by this sweet review; this book is not a breezy beach read. It’s brimming with tough conversations about hate, prejudice, and the bystander effect. In our world where differences are feared and hatred abounds, T.J. Klune finds a way to leave readers with a little hope. Look for the light in folks and focus on that shimmer; there are joyful parts to our differences, and you can’t help but grin when you see them shining on these pages.
This was way more dry than I was expecting, and although thorough, it just didn’t captivate my attention. I kept drifting off as I was reading and couldn’t' stay focused. Edward Ball tells the history of his family descendant, Constant Lecorgne, who is a white carpenter in New Orleans. Enraged by the emancipation of enslaved African Americans and entitled to the core, Lecorgne terrorizes black people as a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Ball tells intimate details of Lecornge’s life and what drove him to take up the mantle of racism. The details are excruciatingly precise, and it just wasn’t for me. The author also draws on a lot of conjecture and uses the phrase “I imagine” a lot. He makes guesses about what Lecorgne may or may not have done. I found this element distracting and off-putting. I did find the history interesting, especially how he interviewed some descendants of Lecorgne’s victims. Ball also explains that according to demographic estimates, the odds of a white person having a KKK member in his or her genealogy is around 50 percent, and his family story is actually not that uncommon.
Travel gives me life. I get so excited about the idea of planning a trip that it dominates my thoughts until I have my itinerary planned out. I’m a meticulous researcher, but this book is forcing me to rethink my strategies and fussy planning style. Scott Keyes has a wealth of knowledge about the history of the airline industry and has tons of experience booking airfare. Over the years, he’s developed a different approach that helps him fly cheaper thus traveling more overall. While he goes over lots of tips and hints, the main gist of the book is to explain that the way most people hunt for airfare is all wrong. We choose a location, watch airfare prices, and guess when we think tickets will cost the least. Keyes recommends basing your airfare purchases off where the cheapest deals are – a simple concept but one we often overlook. The more flexible you are about location and dates, the more chances you have of finding a cheap deal. Your first step is to find a variety of cheap flights, pick a cheap flight destination, and then pick one of the cheap flight dates. This doesn’t mean sacrificing nonstop flights or only being able to fly at odd times or dates. Part of his book is promoting his website, but I didn’t find that to be a problem. You can definitely do the leg work yourself using Google Flights, but it’s time-consuming and tedious. I tried out his free membership which gives you a limited airline selection and limited number of deals per day. His team does the tedious work and sends you emails listing deals from Google Flights. I eventually paid for the yearly membership and soon found a deal to the Canary Islands that saved us almost $400 per person. I never even considered this location until this deal came through my inbox. At this point, the yearly membership has already saved us a ton of money for just one vacation. I will warn you, the beginning of the book is a bit laborious. Keyes spends a lot of time talking about the benefits of vacations, and I found that section to be unnecessarily long. Stick with it, and he gets to the good stuff soon enough. I like the idea of being more spontaneous in where we travel; I can still do my psycho travel planning once we have our tickets booked. The idea of planning details AFTER booking a destination is just as fulfilling in the long run. This book is a shiny gem for travel enthusiasts.
Adapted from a popular video series, “Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man,” Emmanuel Acho, former NFL player and sports analyst, lays out an accessible explanation of systemic racism for younger readers. The format of the book and casual conversational quality make it more approachable and easy to understand. He covers a wide range of topics that lend insight into what it’s like to be Black in America including relevant terminology, historical context, cultural appropriation, use of the N-word, voter suppression, etc. Although I don’t feel like his book is covering anything radically new in the realm of antiracism, the style feels fresh, and his call to action is perfect for younger audiences.
This is the Cadillac of books for cult-obsessed readers. What makes this particular fresh-take so interesting is that Amanda Montell hones in on the linguistic similarities between groups that many people agree upon as cults and those groups that display “cultish” behavior but may not be thought of as actual cults in our society. She starts by examining some groups that are commonly labeled cults including Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple, Heaven’s Gate, and Scientology. She examines the commonalities that exist including leaders who function as “linguistic chameleons,” customizing word choice and style to influence whoever is in front of them. Most of these groups find ways to get followers to shed their old selves, submitting to this new collective. Heaven’s Gate followers were given new names with the suffix –ody to make them feel special and part of something unique. Scientology leaders co-opted terms from science and psychology to provide a sense of legitimacy to their claims. They also use an abundance of abbreviations for common words, creating a private language available only to followers. Montell then switches gears and begins examining other organizations that share similarly “cultish” language patterns. I’m fascinated by the section on multi-level-marketing companies (MLMs) because they’re so prominent in today’s social media world. This includes Amway, Mary Kay, LulaRoe, Arbonne, and so on. MLMs thrive on toxic positivity by continuing to peddle the dogma that hard work, blood, sweat, and tears will drive you to success while the MLM pyramid scheme parallels usually only benefit those on top. Just like cults, MLMs seek out people who are optimistic and hopeful and will continue gutting it out even when their savings account is dwindling away or their credit card bills are piling up. The forever-optimists will abide by the mantra, “if you’re not meeting goals, it’s because you need to work harder” and then attend that mega-convention where you’re expected to pay for your own flights, hotel, food, and merchandise. Even corporations like Amazon have shared cultish language. Montell wraps up by looking at the cultish behavior of fitness groups. From Peloton to Crossfit, there are leaders embroiled in controversy and characteristics that place these groups into the “cultish” category. The fitness coaches take on a worshipped god-like status where ritual brings followers into a shared community. People get hooked on the feeling of community. Sometimes the coaches at top levels are not even fitness experts, but are instead more successful in the down-line pyramid structure – scooping up new recruits who then also get new recruits under them and so on. And don’t worry, I see the amusing irony that I’m a cult fanatic reading about the language of fanatic cultish groups. Come, read this book - join us...
Travel All the Pages is inspired by my two loves - travel and reading, a combo I can't resist. Enjoy these little pairings.