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 book kept me on the edge of my seat mainly because I had no idea what was going on until the very end, but when I finished it, I felt let down. The idea behind Wilder Girls is so cool - a bunch of girls stuck Lord-of-the-Flies-style on an island plagued by the gruesome Tox. They're all living at a boarding school when girls suddenly start experiencing horrific, painful symptoms. Byatt grows a second spine. Hetty's eye seals shut. Someone sprouts gills. Reese gets a scaly hand. I mean, how twisted is that? The island is quarantined from the mainland, and the girls and two remaining adults set up a system for survival. The mainland sends food and supplies as they try to discover a cure. This is how I like my horror, grisly and terrifying.
I loved how all the elements of this meshed together into something cohesive - post-apocalyptic, survival, feminist, sapphic horror, environmental critique, and a smidge of romance and longing. If I'm ever cut off from society in a pandemic, I want the girls from this book with me as my survival squad. The whole book felt very girl power-ish but not in a corny way at all. I appreciated the unique name choices, unique but not outrageous like Moon Puzzle. Some of the names I've been seeing in YA fiction lately make me cringe. Who can take Moon Puzzle seriously? All of the main characters are assumed white.
One of Byatt's cyclic changes forces her into the infirmary, but she never returns. Hetty is determined to find her. Reese is quiet and brooding, and the sexual tension between Hetty and Reese is electrifying and gradual. The girls grapple with the physical challenges created by the Tox but also with one another and the elements outside their compound. The Tox has affected nature, and wild animals show signs of infection. My biggest issue with the book was the reveal of the nature of the Tox including the secrets surrounding it and the adults who are controlling information on the island. Answers are teased through the whole book and then dumped in your lap in a giant, messy pile with no fanfare. It's like the author decided to wrap things up by spilling all the secrets in one anticlimactic word vomit. I felt like I was holding my breath through the entire book, and then the big gulp of air I got to take at the end was stale and smelled like a paper mill at the same time. Harsh. If you've never smelled the emissions from a paper mill, consider yourself lucky. It's a putrid mix of sauerkraut and rotten eggs. I digress. My main point is that I was frustrated with the ending and the reveal, and it ultimately ruined the book for me.
The first place I want to go when the stay-at-home orders are lifted is Assateague. This beach holds a special place in my heart and invokes a nostalgia and memory that warms me to the core. My family grew up vacationing many summers in Chincoteague, Assateague's southern district located in Virginia. Both beach districts have wild horses roaming the area and are a big tourist draw. We bought a cozy, little place in West Ocean City a little over a year ago, and Assateague is always our favorite place to enjoy the ocean.
There are two different parks on Assateague Island, and each has different costs and different services.
Assateague Island National Seashore
The national park side is a little more basic in terms of facilities but also costs less if you're planning to visit for multiple days. They charge $25 per vehicle for a 7-day pass. They do not offer a daily rate. You can also purchase a yearly pass for $45. They have basic facilities at the beach including pit toilets and outdoor showers just for a quick rinse-off. You can bring pets on some parts of the beach, and we see lots of people taking advantage of this. They have camping facilities on this side as well, but we have never tried them out. We mainly use the national park beaches.
There are two main parking areas. North Ocean Beach is the first one you come to after paying to enter. South Ocean Beach has a tiny parking lot and fills up pretty early in the morning during the summer months. Beyond that is the Over Sand Vehicle Zone which requires a permit.
Assateague is best known for the wild horses that roam freely all over the island. It's rare that we drive to the beach and don't see them grazing by the sides of the road. They are often clumped in groups in the parking lots and will wander the beaches as well. I've seen them early in the morning before the sands get busy, but we've also seen them traipsing through throngs of beach goers in the middle of the day at the height of the summer season. There are signs everywhere cautioning people to keep a safe distance as they do bite and kick. They also will rummage through your belongings to find food. Coolers are allowed on the beach but they must be hard-sided containers that close tightly. The horses will try to bite through bags if they smell food. We've seen them sniff out a sandwich and banana from a closed beach bag and destroy it in seconds. The posted rules are for your safety and that of the horses as they can get sick from food and non-food items like plastic bags that aren't properly secured. The horses are lovely to watch and part of the charm of this beach sanctuary.
When I think of light, airy beach books, I think of Nicholas Sparks. Even though I'm not a huge fan, the books certainly do possess an air of reverence for the calming effect the ocean and those quaint coastal towns have on our psyche and souls.
Every Breath by Nicholas Sparks
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I don't know why I do this to myself. I read a lot of books with heavy, dark themes, and when I need something different and lighter, my first instinct is to look to Sparks. I rarely like his books, and yet I still read them for some unknown reason. I guess it's the predictability and the beach themes that suck me in. Set on a North Carolina beach, Hope Anderson laments her crappy boyfriend and longs for something different without knowing it yet. The part of the summary that caught my attention and is probably the reason why I decided to try Sparks again is the character, Tru Walls. Tru is a safari guide living in Zimbabwe who comes to Sunset Beach, North Carolina at the request of a man claiming to be his father. Tru's tumultuous childhood and back story is interesting but ultimately blends in with Hope's boring one and becomes a glob of gelatinous mush. The strangers meet, slowly reveal their lives to each other, and the love story bulldozes the rest of the book. The one part I really enjoyed is the Kindred Spirit mailbox. A random mailbox is posted up on a beach with a bench beside it. People write stories, letters, drawings, recipes, and whatever else is on their minds, leaving them signed or anonymous inside the box. It's a sweet idea and plays a big part in Hope and Tru's story.
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This is a young adult romance with a contemporary twist. There are tons of books out there with teenagers battling rare and complicated illness while falling in love with someone. This one is a little different so it's nice to see some plot changes within the genre.
Sick Kids in Love by Hannah Moskowitz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Based on the tons of glowing reviews for this book, mine is going to be highly unpopular. I like the simplicity of the title. I love how Isabel writes a column where she asks people questions but offers no advice. I like how the characters are two teens living with chronic illness. Isabel tries hard to repel her feelings for the gorgeous, funny, and completely loyal Sasha but ultimately grows to appreciate finding someone who can relate to the world of illness and chronic pain. I like the message that everyone's pain or problems are relevant no matter how big or small they may seem. They're important and life-altering for that person, and that's all that matters. I can see how high school kids would love this, but I just couldn't get into it. In fairness, I read a lot of YA and am fairly critical. It's not your typical YA romance fluff; there's substance to it. I just didn't really like Isabel, and she carries the story. She's terrible at letting people know her feelings, and it often makes her interact poorly with others. She gets upset when friends and family don't know how to respond to her battle with rheumatoid arthritis but doesn't try to explain what she needs or wants to anyone either. While it's certainly unfair she has to deal with this debilitating condition, it's also unfair that she has set expectations for how others should treat her but doesn't communicate those to the people that care about her. The romance is sweet and slow, a little weird, but lovely and realistic at the same time. I wanted to like this more.
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Travel All the Pages is inspired by my two loves - travel and reading, a combo I can't resist. Enjoy these little pairings.