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Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee – A stunning, emotional journey across the Oregon Trail

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Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

I have just been on the most incredible adventure. And now I am not too sure of what to do with myself.

Under a Painted Sky combines elements I am not usually familiar with (nor fond of) – Westerns and historical fiction – with themes I love to read about – sisterhood, friendship, loss, and the unexpected things we find. The result? An unforgettable, and poignant story about the bravery and determination of two young girls as they journey across the Oregon Trail. Lee captures the dusty road of the Oregon Trail with unparalleled finesse and detail with a moving story about pursuing the precious few things left in the face of overwhelming loss.

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11

Kindred by Octavia Butler – A powerful historical/sci-fi; absolutely exceptional in every way

kindred

Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.

Kindred is a truly outstanding book. Not only is it the first science-fiction written by a black author – making it an incredible piece of black American literature – but it is an amazing book by its own merits. And there are many.

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11

Flying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh – A treasure for the youth of now and for generations to come

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Whether it is basketball dreams, family fiascos, first crushes, or new neighborhoods, this bold anthology—written by the best children’s authors—celebrates the uniqueness and universality in all of us.

In a partnership with We Need Diverse Books, industry giants Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Walter Dean Myers, Tim Tingle, and Jacqueline Woodson join newcomer Kelly J. Baptist in a story collection that is as humorous as it is heartfelt. This impressive group of authors has earned among them every major award in children’s publishing and popularity as New York Times bestsellers.

From these distinguished authors come ten distinct and vibrant stories.

I loved Flying Lessons and Other Stories. This book was the perfect book to start off 2017 – it filled me with so much joy, reminded me of the ups and downs of youth, and filled me with so much hope — hope, because kids with marginalized identities may read this book and find themselves in the stories’ characters. And I cannot emphasize how important this is – and consequently how this makes Flying Lessons and Other Stories so important and successful.

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27

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adam

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Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.

Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”) and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox–the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod’s girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a masterpiece – or, at least, I think it is.

For this book, I’m going to do something a little different. For this book, I’m going to set aside the ‘serious’ tone that I adopt for my reviews. This book is widely read and there are many reviews of this book – most more eloquent than I could ever hope to be! – instead of a conventional review, I’m going to lay out three reasons why you should read this science-fiction classic.

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36

The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury

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When Aladdin discovers Zahra’s jinni lamp, Zahra is thrust back into a world she hasn’t seen in hundreds of years—a world where magic is forbidden and Zahra’s very existence is illegal. She must disguise herself to stay alive, using ancient shape-shifting magic, until her new master has selected his three wishes.

But when the King of the Jinn offers Zahra a chance to be free of her lamp forever, she seizes the opportunity—only to discover she is falling in love with Aladdin. When saving herself means betraying him, Zahra must decide once and for all: is winning her freedom worth losing her heart?

I remember finishing this book in the wee hours of the morning, and I rolled over in my bed and I just… happy sighed. 

The Forbidden Wish made my heart swell; swell from its romance, its enchanting world, and the feeling of absolute wonder that this book evoked. It is a gorgeous retelling of Aladdin, but with a twist: the genie/jinni is a girl. Although the story is based on another, The Forbidden Wish manages to be an entirely different and unique story that is captivating from start to finish.

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18

The Rose Society by Marie Lu

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Adelina Amouteru’s heart has suffered at the hands of both family and friends, turning her down the bitter path of revenge. Now known and feared as the White Wolf, she flees Kenettra with her sister to find other Young Elites in the hopes of building her own army of allies. Her goal: to strike down the Inquisition Axis, the white-cloaked soldiers who nearly killed her.

But Adelina is no heroine. Her powers, fed only by fear and hate, have started to grow beyond her control. She does not trust her newfound Elite friends. Teren Santoro, leader of the Inquisition, wants her dead. And her former friends, Raffaele and the Dagger Society, want to stop her thirst for vengeance. Adelina struggles to cling to the good within her. But how can someone be good when her very existence depends on darkness?

Wow, wow, wow.

The Rose Society is deliciously wild, exciting, and a monster of a book. It is not a book that suffers from middle-book syndrome; it is fast-paced with meaningful action, it introduces incredible new characters, and the story grows thicker and darker. The Young Elites was good, but The Rose Society was, without a spot of doubt in my body, better in every way.

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13

The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

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I received a copy from the publisher, Bloomsbury Publishing, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

War has begun. Arin is in the thick of it with untrustworthy new allies and the empire as his enemy. Though he has convinced himself that he no longer loves Kestrel, Arin hasn’t forgotten her, or how she became exactly the kind of person he has always despised. She cared more for the empire than she did for the lives of innocent people—and certainly more than she did for him.

At least, that’s what he thinks.

In the frozen north, Kestrel is a prisoner in a brutal work camp. As she searches desperately for a way to escape, she wishes Arin could know what she sacrificed for him. She wishes she could make the empire pay for what they’ve done to her.

But no one gets what they want just by wishing.

As the war intensifies, both Kestrel and Arin discover that the world is changing. The East is pitted against the West, and they are caught in between. With so much to lose, can anybody really win?

I have always had nothing but the utmost affection for The Winner’s trilogy, even before the release of The Winner’s Kiss. I was apprehensive before reading it though; series finales and I just don’t go well together. But it’s with great pleasure that I can assure current and future readers of this series that The Winner’s Kiss is a fantastic end to a fantastic series.

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