Audiobook Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

A word of warning right from the start: There will be some spoiler-ish discussion later on in this review — but I’ll put a big spoiler warning on top when we get there!

 


Dante can swim. Ari can’t. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. Dante is fair skinned. Ari’s features are much darker. It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself.

But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in their way, and only by believing in each other―and the power of their friendship―can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side.

My Thoughts:

I was completely engaged throughout my listening experience, and thought both Ari and Dante were charming as hell. The story is touching and emotional, with lots of humor as well. At the same time, I realized at the end that the story I thought I was listening to was not in fact the story I was getting. I’ll explain — bear with me!

Ari and Dante are both of Mexican descent, living with their parents in El Paso, Texas. The story is set in the late 80s, which is important to keep in mind in terms of situations within Ari’s family as well as societal norms and prejudices of the time. Both boys are only children — Dante in fact, Ari in terms of circumstance, as his siblings are significantly older and he’s the only one living at home. Both sets of parents are loving and supportive, but in Dante’s case, this is tempered by the walls of silence he experiences around the two forbidden subjects in his home: his father’s wartime experiences in Vietnam, and anything and everything to do with his incarcerated older brother.

Ari loves his parents and they love him, but he finds them unknowable, as their secrets create barriers. Ari is an angry young man with no  friends, but something in him connects to Dante from their very first meeting, in the summer when both boys are fifteen. Dante is friendly and outspoken and honest, and he likes to talk about everything. Something about his willingness to accept Ari for who he is forces Ari to see Dante as a friend. They’re soon inseparable, connected and honest and supportive in ways that Ari has never experienced.

Here’s where I’m getting into spoiler territory, so look away if you don’t want to know more!

As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Dante’s feelings for Ari go way beyond friendship. As the boys mature over the course of the book, Dante is pretty forthright about where he stands — he’s interested in kissing boys, not girls, and no, it’s not just a phase. Finally, he confesses his feelings to Ari, but Ari isn’t interested in boys — or Dante — in that way.

And that’s where things stand for most of the book, until close to the end, as Ari’s emotions and anger threaten to finally get the best of him. By the end of the book, the walls between Ari and his parents have started to come down, and his parents have started to open up to Ari about their family’s past and all the secrets between them. Finally, his parents confront Ari and tell him that they know that he’s in love with Dante. After tears and a huge emotional release, Ari acknowledges this too.

And I mostly felt… huh? I did not see that coming.

Earlier, I alluded to the fact that I thought I was reading a different book than the book it turned out to be. And here’s what I meant by that: The book is told through Ari’s first-person narration. We get to hear this thoughts on his life and his family, on his frustrations and anger, and on his friendship with Dante. And there’s just nothing that I heard that made me feel that what he felt for Dante went beyond friendship. He talks about Dante’s good looks, but not in a way to make me think there was physical attraction. He talks about the closeness he feels for Dante, but I didn’t have the impression that there was romantic love behind it.

So, I thought I was reading a book about how friendship — real, true, deep, strong friendship — could be possible between a straight boy and a gay boy. And I thought that was really cool. So different, so refreshing. What a great way to break down barriers!

And I have no problem with reading a book about a romance between two teen boys. Coming out stories, first love stories — done well, these can be so sweet and moving, and it’s so important to have these stories available in the YA market. But that’s just not what I thought this book was going to be!

Don’t get me wrong — I loved the book. The writing is marvelous, and I loved the characters. I thought it was so interesting to see how the boys’ Mexican heritage came into play in different ways, and to see how having a loving home isn’t the magical answer to all the problems in a young man’s life. Given the setting in the 80s, it’s also very clearly a different world than the one we live in. Being gay in the time period of the book is something to be hidden, something dangerous, and not an identity to be worn openly and proudly. My heart absolutely broke for Dante when he ended up in the hospital after being on the receiving end of a major beating simply because of being spotted kissing another boy.

End of Spoilers!

Still, I ended the book feeling a little let down. The ending is romantic and hopeful, but it just didn’t match my expectations for where the plot was going. I have to wonder whether part of this is due to listening to the audiobook rather than reading the print book.

The audiobook is amazing, thanks to the insane talents of LIN-MANUEL FREAKIN’ MIRANDA as the narrator. He breathes life into the characters, giving personality to Ari, Dante, and their parents with drama and flair. I did have a hard time in spots keeping track of the dialogue, as there are lengthy exchanges full of quick back-and-forth comments and quips, and despite the different voices given to the characters, I occasionally got lost.

In terms of why I expected the story to go in a different direction (as described in my spoilery section above), I wonder if I’d been reading a printed edition of the book whether I would have absorbed more of the subtext and nuance of the language. The writing is really lovely, and being inside Ari’s head is a roller coaster of thoughts and emotions — but by listening to the audiobook, perhaps I didn’t focus and really spend enough time with the words that build the story. Does that make any sense?

In any case, I really and truly enjoyed this book and recommend it highly… despite feeling both puzzled and a little out of sorts about how it all works out. I’m full of admiration for the author, and will definitely be seeking out more of his books.

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The details:

Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author:  Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Narrated by: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication date: February 1, 2012
Length (print): 359 pages
Length (audio): 7 hours, 29 minutes
Genre: Young adult fiction
Source: Audible download

 

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Children’s Books: Two terrific girl power books by Chelsea Clinton

 

 

Sometimes being a girl isn’t easy. At some point, someone probably will tell you no, will tell you to be quiet and may even tell you your dreams are impossible. Don’t listen to them. These thirteen American women certainly did not take no for an answer.

They persisted.

If you’re looking for easy-to-follow kids’ books to empower and inspire, check out this pair of picture books written by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexander Boiger.

Each book offers a selection of profiles of women who persisted — women who were told “no” or faced major hurdles, whether legal or cultural or physical. Each of these women followed their dreams, and made their marks on history by achieving something that no one thought possible.

She Persisted tells the stories of thirteen American women, among them such luminaries as Harriet Tubman, Florence Griffith Joyner, Sonia Sotomayor, and Sally Ride. Each gets her own two-page spread, with images lovingly drawn to show each woman’s progress and achievements, and often, a childhood image to show where she started. A brief, easily digestible paragraph tells each woman’s story. What I especially loved is that for each, there’s a quote, so the young reader will get to hear each woman speak in her own words.

 

Wonderful selections include:

“I have never had to face anything that could overwhelm the native optimism and stubborn perseverance I was blessed with.” (Sonia Sotomayor)

“I have never written a word that did not come from my heart. I never shall.” (Nellie Bly)

“One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.” (Helen Keller)

 

It’s not always easy being a girl — anywhere in the world. It’s especially challenging in some places. There are countries where it’s hard for girls to go to school and where women need their husbands’ permission to get a passport or even to leave the house. And all over the world, girls are more likely to be told to be quiet, to sit down, to have smaller dreams.

 

Don’t listen to those voices. These thirteen women from across the world didn’t.

They persisted.

In She Persisted Around the World, Clinton chooses thirteen women from all over the globe, all of whom made a difference against the odds. Highlights include Malala Yousafzai, J. K. Rowling, and Marie Curie — but really, they’re all wonderful. The Around the World book follows the same format as the first book, and once again, I really loved the pages with the quotes.

“We are tired of having a ‘sphere’ doled out to us, and of being told that anything outside that sphere is ‘unwomanly’… We must be ourselves at all risks.” (Kate Sheppard)

“I don’t really know why I care so much. I just have something inside me that tells me that there is a problem, and I have got to do something about it.” (Wangari Maathai)

“The more I did, the more I could do, the more I wanted to do, the more I saw needed to be done.” (Leymah Gbowee)

I do have one complaint about these books, and it feels almost petty to bring it up… but I found it odd and kind of frustrating that no dates are provided for any of the stories. I’m not sure how young readers would know where these women fit into American and world history without providing some sort of timeline or dates as context.

Other than that, I think these are wonderful additions to the world of children’s literature. Both books are lovely, thanks to the clear, intelligent writing and the colorful, eye-catching, girl-positive illustrations. In some ways I loved the Around the World book more, simply because it introduced me to the names, faces, and stories of women whom I hadn’t heard of before. But really, I do recommend both, and hope that lots of parents and teachers will make these books available to the girls and boys they love, nurture, and inspire.

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Shelf Control #106: Madapple

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: Madapple
Author: Christine Meldrum
Published: 2008
Length: 410 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

THE SECRETS OF the past meet the shocks of the present.

Aslaug is an unusual young woman. Her mother has brought her up in near isolation, teaching her about plants and nature and language – but not about life. Especially not how she came to have her own life, and who her father might be.

When Aslaug’s mother dies unexpectedly, everything changes. For Aslaug is a suspect in her mother’s death. And the more her story unravels, the more questions unfold. About the nature of Aslaug’s birth. About what she should do next.

About whether divine miracles have truly happened. And whether, when all other explanations are impossible, they might still happen this very day.

Addictive, thought-provoking, and shocking, Madapple is a page-turning exploration of human nature and divine intervention – and of the darkest corners of the human soul.

How and when I got it:

I barely remember, but I believe I bought a copy online after reading a review, back after the book was first released.

Why I want to read it:

The reviews for this YA novel made it sound sinister and unusual, and while I don’t remember now exactly what caught my eye, there was definitely something there that attracted me as soon as I heard about it. I’m really going to try to bump this one up higher on my book stack this year!

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Book Review: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter


Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family.

But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s role.

Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed.

But it’s not long before Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. With the help of her best friend Lorena, and her first kiss, first love, first everything boyfriend Connor, Julia is determined to find out. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is a moving, disturbing, and vibrant story of a girl trying to find her own way while under the out-sized pressure of family expectations, poverty, and inner city life.

Julia is a gifted student whose dream is to become a writer. Thanks to the mentorship of a dedicated English teacher, she may have a shot at college — anywhere, so long as it’s away — and a full scholarship.

But Julia’s parents just don’t understand, and since Olga’s death, Julia is reminded over and over again that she’s not what her parents want her to be. She’s not content to be at home, and chafes under the harsh curfews and ceaseless surveillance of her life. Julia’s mother cleans houses of rich people and her father works a fatiguing job in a candy factory. Both undocumented, they crossed the border from Mexico before their daughters’ births, so while the girls are both US citizens, the threat of deportation hangs over the family every waking moment.

The descriptions of the family’s poverty are heartbreaking, and so is the despair Julia feels over the lack of freedom and trust she experiences on a daily basis. She yearns to break free, to pursue her education, to be something and someone different — but she faces constant punishments and groundings every time she steps out of line, and finally gets to a breaking point.

This book deals with the pain of family secrets — everyone in Julia’s family has something they’ve chosen not to share. As she learns more about her parents and her sister, Julia discovers that the bland or hard surfaces hide painful pasts and secrets that could be truly destructive if brought to life. Julia’s understanding of her own family deepens as she learns more, and she starts finally to understand where the harshness and rules and need for control really come from.

I thought the book was very well written, with a sense of immediacy conveyed through Julia’s narrative. We see the world through Julia’s eyes, and understand how the world affects her own sense of self. The way she’s viewed by outsiders because she’s poor and Mexican, the way the boys at home and at school look at her body rather than looking at her as a person, the way her parents see her as untrustworthy because she doesn’t fit the image of a “perfect” daughter the way Olga did — all of these drive Julia’s suffering and the damage to her self-image.

There’s a section of the book that’s set in Mexico, as Julia is sent to visit her relatives there, and while the descriptions of the village are colorful, this interlude felt like it meandered a bit to me. Still, if the point was to show that even in situations that seem cheerful and safe on the surface, there is still darkness underneath, then it’s effective as well.

Overall, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is a powerful read that really moved me, even while making me very uncomfortable in many parts too. It’s definitely not like anything else I’ve read, and Julia’s distinctive voice is a delight. Touching on subjects such as economic disadvantage, cultural insensitivity and prejudice, sexual health, and mental health, it’s an ambitious book packed with heavy topics, but manages to still keep rays of hope alive as Julia finds her way forward. I’m so happy that I made time to read this book, and definitely recommend it.

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The details:

Title: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
Author: Erika L. Sánchez
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication date: October 17, 2017
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Young adult
Source: Purchased

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Book Review: 180 Seconds


Some people live their entire lives without changing their perspective. For Allison Dennis, all it takes is 180 seconds…

After a life spent bouncing from one foster home to the next, Allison is determined to keep others at arm’s length. Adopted at sixteen, she knows better than to believe in the permanence of anything. But as she begins her third year in college, she finds it increasingly difficult to disappear into the white noise pouring from her earbuds.

One unsuspecting afternoon, Allison is roped into a social experiment just off campus. Suddenly, she finds herself in front of a crowd, forced to interact with a complete stranger for 180 seconds. Neither she, nor Esben Baylor, the dreamy social media star seated opposite her, is prepared for the outcome.

When time is called, the intensity of the experience overwhelms Allison and Esben in a way that unnerves and electrifies them both. With a push from her oldest friend, Allison embarks on a journey to find out if what she and Esben shared is the real thing—and if she can finally trust in herself, in others, and in love.

In 180 Seconds, we experience Allison’s life through her first-person perspective. She has a wonderful adoptive father, Simon, and a best friend Steffi, but apart from these two, Allison travels through life alone. After her years as a foster child, she’s built sturdy walls around herself, and feels safest when those walls are intact. Even with Simon, Allison keeps a distance. He’s warm and loving and supportive, but after all she’s been through, Allison has a hard time trusting that it won’t just all go away suddenly. Better to never let someone close than to risk it and then get hurt.

Steffi, though, is Allison’s soul-sister. They met in a foster home, and over the years, even though separated by circumstances outside their control, they’ve never lost their bond. Steffi, never adopted, attends college on the West Coast while Allison is in Maine, but they keep in constant contact. Steffi is outgoing, bubbly, and mama-bear fierce when it comes to protecting Allison from anyone and everything that might hurt her.

When Allison meets Esben in that fateful 180-second experiment, she’s shattered by the experience. During those three minutes, her walls come crashing down and she and Esben connect in a way that’s immediately shocking and intimate. Of course, being the age of technology, those 180 seconds make her internet-famous, and Allison finds that her private bubble has been blown apart and the world wants in. And then too, she has to figure out Esben — did he feel it too? Is this connection real?

As Allison and Esben finally meet for real and begin to talk, Allison finds herself opening up for the first time in her life. As she comes out of her shell, she and Esben begin a gentle development of a relationship that’s unlike anything she’s ever experienced, and the positive energy she feels lets her take risks, shut off the white noise in her earbuds, and actually reach out and let the world in.

What I liked:

The characters are really wonderful. Allison is fragile and introverted to the point of unhealthiness — but it’s understandable based on what we learn about her childhood and the amount of rejection she experienced growing up. It’s hard to see her keep Simon at a distance. He’s an amazing person who just knew Allison was meant to be his daughter, and he provides her with a safe and nurturing home and so much unconditional love, asking nothing in return. I loved seeing their relationship deepen as Allison’s ability to trust and accept love expands over the course of the novel.

Steffi is a strong, kick-ass young woman, but even she has vulnerabilities that she tries to hide. Steffi’s secrets because central to the plot in the latter part of the book, and I won’t say anything to divulge them here, but just be warned that boxloads of Kleenex are imperative for this book.

Allison’s blossoming is believable and well-written. You can practically feel the glow spreading within her as bit by bit, her relationship with Esben allows her to open up to life and its possibilities and to start believing in herself.

Minor quibbles:

There’s nothing I actually didn’t like about 180 Seconds, but I do have just a couple of minor issues with the book.

My major issue is that Esben is really too perfect. He’s a lovely person, but there are times when it’s just too much. He’s always sensitive, always respectful, always exactly what Allison needs — plus he’s super hot and sexy and has a heart of gold. This is a guy who uses social media for good, so when he finds out that a little girl’s birthday party is going to be a bust, he takes to social media to make sure she has a birthday princess extravaganza. He’s just SO GOOD all the time, and it makes him seem not quite human at times.

My other complaint is that for the first half or so of the book, it feels pretty episodic, without much dramatic tension or building plot. In each chapter, Allison has some new situation to confront or an event to participate in with Esben, and they deal with it, and she learns something, and it’s all good. None of it is boring or pointless, but it starts feeling like just one nice interlude after another.

Wrapping it all up:

I started 180 Seconds as an audiobook, but when I got within about 2 hours of the end, I had to switch to print so I could move faster and get through the rest of the story. Plus, I’ll be honest — this is another one of those audiobooks that probably should not be listened to in public. I got to a certain part and was taken completely by surprise and began seriously ugly crying… while I was driving my car. Not good!

I’m really not going to go further into the plot or explain my ugly crying jag or anything that happens in the last third. It’s heartbreaking and yet also quite heartwarming… in other words, it gives your heart a work-out!

180 Seconds is a lovely book filled with sympathetic, enjoyable characters and complex relationships. Highly recommended.

Also by this author: Flat-Out Love

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The details:

Title: 180 Seconds
Author: Jessica Park
Publisher: Skyscape
Publication date: April 25, 2017
Length: 300 pages
Genre: Young adult
Source: Purchased

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Book Review: Far From the Tree

A contemporary novel about three adopted siblings who find each other at just the right moment.

Being the middle child has its ups and downs.

But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including—

Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs.

And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.

Far From the Tree is a beautiful, moving look at families — what makes a family, and what keeps a family together.

Grace, Maya, and Joaquin are three lonely teens, each going through their own brand of suffering.

For Grace, it’s the pain of an unexpected pregnancy, followed by giving up her beautiful baby for adoption. Grace has loving and supportive parents, but giving up her daughter makes her wonder for the first time what might have driven her own biological mother to give her up.

Maya is the older of her family’s two daughters — but she’s adopted, and her sister Lauren is biological. Her parents’ marriage is on the brink of disaster, and Maya and Lauren have become the keepers of their mother’s secret, hiding the evidence from their father of just how bad their mother’s drinking has gotten.

Joaquin is the oldest of the three, but his life has not been nearly as smooth as Maya’s and Grace’s. The two girls were adopted at birth by loving parents, but Joaquin was never adopted, instead spending his life in the foster system, always ready to pack his belongings into a trash bag and move on to a new placement at a moment’s notice. And even those he’s been with Mark and Linda for two years now — two kind and affectionate people who want to give Joaquin a permanent home — he fears hurting those around him, and doesn’t want to let anyone get close in case he hurts them or ruins their lives.

After Grace gives up her baby, she tells her parents that she’d like to find her bio mom, and they let her know that although they don’t know where to find her, Grace does in fact have two biological siblings living not too far away. Grace, Maya, and Joaquin find that they have a bond almost instantly, and despite their vastly different lives and circumstances, they quickly grow to trust and love one another, and to find in the others a sense of belonging that they never knew they needed.

Well, I could really just cut this review short at this point and simply say: I loved this book. The chapters alternate POV narrators between the three siblings, so we get a clear look at each one’s inner thoughts, fears, and hopes. There are scars left from their early lives and the lingering question mark — were they abandoned? Did their biological mother love them? Would she want anything to do with them if they ever managed to find her?

I won’t give away the ending, but suffice it to say that it’s satisfying without being predictable or too neat or too perfect. Over the course of the novel, I came to care so deeply about Grace, Maya, and Joaquin. Maybe it’s the mom in me, but I just wanted to scoop them all up, give them hugs, and tell them that they’re loved, and that they’ll be okay. They all have people in their lives who love and support them, but they still face hurdles around trust and belonging and feeling truly wanted and secure. Through their bonding as brother and sisters, they start to open up and feel connected, and it was so special to see how they find ways to support each other, accept each other, and offer unconditional love.

Far From the Tree is just a lovely read, and I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys well-defined characters and engrossing family situations. Maybe I take something from this book as an adult that’s different than what a teen would get from it, and I’m actually trying to push my teen-aged son to read it (despite the fact that he — gasp — does not believe in reading for fun).

In any event, I’m very happy to have read Far From the Tree. Once I started, I just really couldn’t stop. Great writing, great story — check it out!

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The details:

Title: Far From the Tree
Author: Robin Benway
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication date: October 3, 2017
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Young adult
Source: Library

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Book Review: Geekerella

When geek girl Elle Wittimer sees a cosplay contest sponsored by the producers of Starfield, she has to enter. First prize is an invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. Elle’s been scraping together tips from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck behind her stepmother’s back, and winning this contest could be her ticket out once and for all—not to mention a fangirl’s dream come true.

Teen actor Darien Freeman is less than thrilled about this year’s ExcelsiCon. He used to live for conventions, but now they’re nothing but jaw-aching photo sessions and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Federation Prince Carmindor is all he’s ever wanted, but the diehard Starfield fandom has already dismissed him as just another heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, closet nerd Darien feels more and more like a fake—until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise.

Oh my, this geeky Cinderella story is oodles and oodles of fun!

Elle is Cinderella — the unloved girl forced to wait hand and foot on her self-centered stepmother and awful twin stepsisters. Elle is still devastated by her father’s death, and seeks solace in the Starfield fandom, which she shared with her father and which helps her find meaning in life. She sees the cosplay contest as a possible path to freedom, with a prize that could help her fulfill her dream of escaping from her terrible life in Charleston and moving to LA to pursue a screenwriting career.

Elle is pretty disgusted by the casting of Darien in the lead role of Prince Carmindor. He’s a pretty-boy soap actor — how can he possibly do justice to such a noble, iconic character? She voices her opinion, loud and clear, on her Starfield-devoted blog… and suddenly, her followers and page views are through the roof.

Meanwhile, Elle and Darien meet-cute through an accidental text, and begin a texting relationship which escalates from silliness to true friendship and soul-baring, all the while not knowing each others’ true identity.

This book is charming and funny in all the right ways, and yet manages to be deeper and more serious than the title and cute cover art might suggest. Both Elle and Darien have serious issues to confront about self-image and being valued for who they are and finding a place to fit in. Elle’s situation is much more dire, of course, as she lives with people who don’t love her and make her life hell. But Darien’s life isn’t perfect either, as his sudden fame results in betrayal by his one close friend, being considered a poser in the fandom (even though he’s been a devoted fanboy for years), and having no privacy while having to constantly put on a public face in keeping with his star status.

The relationship between Elle and Darien is sweet and funny, but equally wonderful is Elle’s growing friendship with her coworker Sage, and her belated discovery that one of her stepsisters isn’t the awful person she thought she was.

Geekerella has all sorts of wonderful shout-outs to the world of cons and fandoms:

As the green room door disappears behind us, I give it one last forlorn glance when a guy with thick brown hair and an even browner coat catches my eye.

“Gail!” I skid to a stop. “I think I see Nathan F–”

Gail yanks me toward herlike a yo-yo. “You can get him to sign your first-edition Firefly comic later.”

The author allows the characters to voice what draws people to their fantasy worlds and makes them so important:

Of course it’s not real. I know it’s not real. It’s just as fake as the Styrofoam props they use and the cardboard sets and the tinny laser sounds and the ice cream machines they try to disguise as “data cores” — I know it’s all fake. But those characters — Carmindor, Princess Amara, Euci, and even the Nox King — they were my friends when everyone in the real world passed around rumors behind my back, called me weird, shoved me into lockers, and baited me into thinking I was beautiful only to push me away just before we kissed. They never abandoned me. They were loyal, honorable, caring, and smart.

And while I don’t usually mention author acknowledgments in reviews, I do love this passage from the author’s acknowledgements in Geekerella:

So I want to thank you. You, the reader. You, who cosplays and writes fanfiction and draws fanart and runs a forum and collects Funko-Pops and must have hardcovers for all of your favorite book series and frames for your autographed posters. You, who boldly goes.

Never give up on your dreams and never let anyone tell you that what you love is inconsequential or useless or a waste of time. Because if you love it? If that OTP or children’s card game or abridged series or YA book or animated series makes you happy?

That is never a waste of time. Because in the end we’re all just a bunch of weirdos standing in front of other weirdos, asking for their username.

Geekerella has a sweet teen love story as its central storyline, but it’s also a love letter to fandoms and geeky delights. And as a fangirl with Funko-Pops and hardcovers of my favorite book series and all sorts of random geeky toys and t-shirts, I could absolutely relate… even though my teen years are way in the rearview mirror by now

Definitely recommended for anyone who loves to dream of fantasy kingdoms and schools for magic and impossible universes. I just hope that the author will treat us to an expanded view into her made-up Starfield world, because I’d definitely like to know more!

A reading note: I read a finished copy of the book from the library, and not an ARC — and since it was a finished copy, I do need to say that the book could have used another copyediting pass. There are typos (like “use” instead of “us”) and missed words scattered here and there throughout the book, and they’re jarring. No one likes to be interrupted in their fictional pursuits by having to stop and figure out what a sentence is supposed to mean!

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The details:

Title: Geekerella
Author: Ashley Poston
Publisher: Quirk Books
Publication date: April 4, 2017
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Young adult
Source: Library

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Book Review: Odd & True

Trudchen grew up hearing Odette’s stories of their monster-slaying mother and a magician’s curse. But now that Tru’s older, she’s starting to wonder if her older sister’s tales were just comforting lies, especially because there’s nothing fantastic about her own life—permanently disabled and in constant pain from childhood polio.

In 1909, after a two-year absence, Od reappears with a suitcase supposedly full of weapons and a promise to rescue Tru from the monsters on their way to attack her. But it’s Od who seems haunted by something. And when the sisters’ search for their mother leads them to a face-off with the Leeds Devil, a nightmarish beast that’s wreaking havoc in the Mid-Atlantic states, Tru discovers the peculiar possibility that she and her sister—despite their dark pasts and ordinary appearances—might, indeed, have magic after all.

I became oddly (*snort* ODDly!) enchanted by this story of two sisters, although it was less the magical storytelling that captured me, but rather the relationship between Od and Tru and the secrets that lay between them.

I went into Odd & True with somewhat false expectations, based on early synopses and the cover picture. I definitely expected something about monster hunters! Instead, Odd & True is more complicated and nuanced than I would have thought, and ultimately conveys some lovely sentiments about family and belonging.

Od and Tru, when we first meet them, live in a plain Oregon home with their straight-laced, strict Aunt Viktoria and her husband William. Od is five years older than Tru, and has been Tru’s protector since both their parents left them years earlier. Tru suffers terrible pain in her leg as a result of polio as a toddler, and to distract her from her suffering, Od tells Tru stories of their past. She tells her the story of the day of her birth, when she was born in a castle and her uncle the magician came to visit, stories about their mother setting out to battle monsters in the deep, dark woods, and stories of their artist father traveling the world to seek his fortune.

Tru believes it all, and grows up with no doubt that monsters exist in the world, and must be warded off by charms and amulets and spells, as well as by the special monster-hunting weapons in the family’s special traveling case.

In alternating chapters, we get the sisters’ views of their world… and once we start hearing from Odette, it becomes increasingly clear that the magical tales she spins for Tru are just a sugar-coated version of the darker truths of their childhood and their parents’ lives.

As the story progressed, I became more and more engrossed in Odette’s part of the story, and perhaps as a consequence, I found it harder to buy into Tru’s view of life and her fantastical belief in myths and legends. Still, I really appreciated the sisters’ devotion to one another, and the various threads do come together nicely by the end.

I had a hard time getting truly caught up in the story at first, but gradually it grabbed me, and I ended up liking it very much. I really admire the way the author weaves together the two viewpoints to create a picture of a family that’s mired it its own myths.

I’ve decided I’d rather be foolish than ordinary. I’d rather risk chasing monsters that might not exist, searching for [deleted spoiler] I’m not meant to find, than to believe we’re nothing more than mundane creatures, steeped in ordinary lives… Please trust me when I insist that it is too soon for you to turn your back on spellbinding wonders.

Odd & True is the story of two young women who refuse to let their lives be dictated by what they “should” be and do. It’s about taking risks and being brave, facing danger even when you feel weak, and not letting anyone put you into a box. It’s quite a lovely read, and I think fans of Cat Winters, as well as those new to her wonderful books, will enjoy Odd & True very much.

Interested in this author? Check out these additional reviews:
The Uninvited
The Cure for Dreaming
In the Shadow of Blackbirds
The Steep & Thorny Way

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The details:

Title: Odd & True
Author: Cat Winters
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication date: September 12, 2017
Length: 358 pages
Genre: Young adult
Source: Purchased

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Shelf Control #78: The Lucy Variations

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! Fore more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

Title: The Lucy Variations
Author: Sara Zarr
Published: 2013
Length: 309 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. The right people knew her name, her performances were booked months in advance, and her future seemed certain.

That was all before she turned fourteen.

Now, at sixteen, it’s over. A death, and a betrayal, led her to walk away. That leaves her talented ten-year-old brother, Gus, to shoulder the full weight of the Beck-Moreau family expectations. Then Gus gets a new piano teacher who is young, kind, and interested in helping Lucy rekindle her love of piano — on her own terms. But when you’re used to performing for sold-out audiences and world-famous critics, can you ever learn to play just for yourself?

The Lucy Variations is a story of one girl’s struggle to reclaim her love of music and herself. It’s about finding joy again, even when things don’t go according to plan. Because life isn’t a performance, and everyone deserves the chance to make a few mistakes along the way.

How I got it:

I picked up a used copy online.

When I got it:

After reading Roomies, which made me want to read more by Sara Zarr.

Why I want to read it:

Having a pianist at the center of a YA novel reminds me a little of The Sea of Tranquility (review), which was such a powerful read — plus, having read two Sara Zarr books by now, I have a lot of confidence in her ability to tell a story that feels real and puts unusual young women in the spotlight.

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Book Review: The Smell of Other People’s Houses

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Alaska: Growing up here isn’t like growing up anywhere else.

Ruth has a secret that she can’t hide forever. Dora wonders if she can ever truly escape where she comes from, even when good luck suddenly comes her way. Alyce is trying to reconcile her desire to dance with the life she’s always known on her family’s fishing boat. Hank and his brothers decide it’s safer to run away than to stay home—until one of them ends up in terrible danger.

Four very different lives are about to become entangled. This is a book about people who try to save each other—and how sometimes, when they least expect it, they succeed.

This is a beautiful piece of writing, showcasing the lives of a handful of young people as they navigate their way through their triumphs and sorrows in 1970s Alaska. The novel is told through interlocking stories, giving us windows into the various characters’ lives, while offering constantly shifting perspectives on other characters as we see how they see one another. Some of the characters are best friends; others just know each other in a friend-of-a-friend or even more remote sort of way.

Along the way, they deal with missing or abusive parents, misunderstandings, birth families and found families, and the quiet support that can come from the most unexpected of sources.

The backdrop of life in Alaska lends the stories a unique flavor. What’s most important is the human relationships, but the scenes of life in a poor neighborhood in Fairbanks or on a fishing boat or along a remote highway give the plot developments a grounding in real life that’s gritty and evocative.

The language in this book is really lovely, and I thought the way the characters’ stories weave together was remarkably well done, with many surprises along the way.

The Smell of Other People’s Houses is a relatively thin book, but it’s got plenty to enjoy and savor. If you enjoy great, emotionally powerful writing, check it out. I believe this book has been marketed as young adult, but there’s no reason that adult readers wouldn’t love it.

Reading tip: I made the mistake of reading this book during a very busy, hectic week, so I was only able to read it in bits and pieces, and I think I lost a bit of the flow along the way. If you can, I’d suggest setting aside a cozy couple of hours and reading this one straight through.

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The details:

Title: The Smell of Other People’s Houses
Author: Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Publication date: February 23, 2016
Length: 240 pages
Genre: Young adult fiction
Source: Purchased

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