Dark Waters by Katherine Arden

Book review by Meah

This book was nerve-wracking and thrilling to read – constantly keeping you on the edge of your seat as you read through the chapters.  It displays what people do and who they become when presented with these chilling, emotional, and terrifying situations. But even through these notions I really enjoyed how the author didn’t have a constant of who the directed “leader” was in the group. 

Whatever situation was presented to them at the time, the name “leader” fell upon whosever’s skills or past helped them in that moment. For example, because Brian has experience in the wilderness, he mainly took charge in these situations.  We see this as a recurring theme whenever the time is right: Brian having resourcefulness and thinking quick on his feet as a strength; Coco, being athletic, brave, and sympathetic; Ollie remaining authoritative, cool-headed, and focused; and our newest addition – Phil being cooperative and courageous. 

Another recurring theme I noticed is how Arden really helps the readers understand what’s going on as she references the other two previous books: Small Spaces and Dead Voices.  This was extremely helpful to me because Dark Waters is book three in this trilogy and I did not read the two that came before this. It really gave me an understanding and helped me comprehend what had happened previously.  This book is truly amazing and the writing is impeccable, although this book is just fiction (or is it?). If I didn’t know better I’d say it was real, with her incredible writing it makes this story really believable.  Overall, if you are looking for a thrilling novel that’ll send chills down your spine, Dark Waters by Katherine Arden is the book for you.

Far From Normal by Becky Wallace

Book review by Sydney

The book opens up with an intro to the main character, Maddie McPherson. Maddie is a normal girl from her hometown of Normal, Illinois. All she wants is to have a normal life but ends up in a mix of someone else’s life confusion. Life is full of hard decisions and when Maddie has to work with the one and only famous 19 year-old soccer star who everyone knows but her, Gabriel Fortunato, she ends up facing a massive decision. After crashing into the famous young soccer player a few times, she ends up having to work with him for her sports marketing internship, making better social media content about him. Maddie falls for the multi-talented, handsome, and loyal young man. Maddie can’t decide if she should follow her inside feelings, or just get the job done.

I didn’t really have a favourite character but the way the author described Maddie and Gabriel made me dislike one at first and like the other, because the characters were very difficult to understand in the story. When the story changed and they where more connected with each other, it made me fall in love with these two characters, even though they made some wrong decisions throughout time in the book. I felt like I had a deep connection the more I got to know the characters and could feel many of their emotions. Far From Normal kept me guessing what was going to happen next, every single page of the way to the end of the book.

The further I got into this story, the less I could put it down. One part of the book made my heart beat 10x faster than usual, it was such an amazing book, and had very descriptive words in it.

I recommend this story to all teens who love mystery, romance, a bit of heartbreak, and drama. The whole book overall was a 100/10. This book is not like any other random books you will find  on your shelf at home. The author wrote this book with such clear depth, that it takes you deep into the next level of the story. I wish this book could’ve ended with a cliffhanger because I love cliffhangers and I would have read the next one no matter the excuse or ending.

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Book review by Elizabeth

I’m simply thrilled. I can proudly say that this book is one of my favourites this year. This book is deceptively thick which is brilliant. A double space between every two lines forms the illusion of more pages read which is always appreciated. What’s even more brilliant is the actual story, though. 

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo is about the lives of two girls of the same age, living in different countries, but sharing the same father. Camino lives with her maternal aunt in the Dominican Republic while Yahaira lives in New York City with both her parents. Every summer the girls’ father leaves his family in New York to visit Camino, yet unfortunately on the summer of Camino’s seventeenth birthday, the plane she eagerly awaited her father to step off of crashed into the Atlantic ocean. This raises much trouble for Camino, as her father had paid for her expensive schooling and El Cero, a creep to stay away from her. Without him, her dream of going to university and becoming a doctor in the States really started to seem like only that – a dream. Meanwhile, in New York, Yahaira is struggling with losing a problematic father, someone she wanted to forgive, but didn’t know how to, and now didn’t have a chance. Things were especially tough with her mother, as they were equally heartbroken. Yet as fate would have it, losing their father was exactly what forced these long lost sisters together for the first time. 

This book almost reads like poetry, almost like a visual representation of thoughts and feelings without any actual pictures. I absolutely adore these two wildly different worlds the author articulates so vividly. I love the realism. It is awfully engaging, and did I already mention beautifully written? I could go on and on about this book as I often do, but I truly don’t think I could ever do it justice. I implore you, if you already happen to be reading this review, to go check the book out, it’ll be worth your while. This book is a diamond in a sea of coal, which only makes me wonder how many more are hiding on the library’s back shelf, outshined by the CliqueBaits and Prom Theories of this world. 

Rise Up from the Embers by Sara Raasch and Kristen Simmons

Book review by Meah

This book by Sara Raasch and Kristen Simmons focuses on the two main characters and strongest gladiators; Ash and Madoc, as we follow their journey from Set Fire to the Gods to Rise Up From the Embers.  With Madocs discovery and Ash’s newfound power, will they finally be able to defeat the relentless storm even at its high price to bring back blue skies? With Ash’s hard-headed personality and Madoc’s soft and understanding one, they make a perfect team in their quest to conquer evil for the greater good – even though it is not as easy as it seems. Not all gods want Anathrasa gone, and to fight a god, you have to become one. Read and find out if, against all odds and opponents, Ash and Madoc manage to checkmate the Mother Goddess.

This book keeps you on the edge of your seat with anticipation of the possibilities of what the next chapter could hold. It felt like with each flip of the page, there was a turn of events. The characters seemingly having a heart and a mind of their own and you get attached pretty quickly. This book is incredible, iced with surprise, and decorated with emotion. I’d definitely recommend this book if you’re into action, magic, or psychological fiction.  Personally, I really enjoyed the attention to detail in this book, from heartfelt moments to outstanding fight scenes. Everything was so intricately woven in there to create this masterpiece.

Also, if Avatar: The Last Airbender is your thing, this book would be right up your alley!

Zara Hossain is Here by Sabrina Khan

Book review by Elizabeth

I’ve realized that at this point I might be more drawn to books that are more based in realism, and this one is no exception. Whether I’m going to continue this trend or not is a mystery, though I’ve certainly preferred the likes of this book about the harsh reality for people of colour and immigrants, than the book that continued one boring scene for an entire twenty pages, and uses phrases such as “the male species”, which is all too good at making me gag (Prom Theory ,I’m looking at you). Even though this book may not be for the faint of heart, I doubt it’ll be a boring read for anyone. 

Zara Hossain is Here by Sabrina Khan is a novel about a seventeen-year-old Pakistani girl Zara Hossain living in Corpus Christi, Texas. She moved to the US when she was three with her parents via her father’s work visa, who sponsored them to get their green cards. There aren’t many Pakistani nor Muslim people where Zara and her family lived however they were fortunate enough to have a handful of very close friends. As I’ve suggested, not everyone was friendly at all to Zara, as she’s had to deal with racist remarks and subtle gestures far too many times for comfort from ignorant people and classmates who saw her as unequal. For now Zara had been able to push through it all though, even joining an activism club in her school to raise awareness for people less fortunate than her. After saving a girl from one of her private catholic school’s racist bullies, Zara finds herself the target of Isamiphobic graffiti on her school locker as well as her own house which ends up putting her family in grave danger of losing their right to stay in the country. 

Compared to some of my dramatically failed reads (still looking at you Prom Theory), I think this book is amazing. I love stories with real and believable characters and scenarios that are hard to pick apart, yet still wild enough to leave the reader in suspense. I’m glad I read this book. It wasn’t as great as Watch Over Me by Nina Lacour but definitely one of my top book picks this summer. I think I would recommend this book if fantasy leaves you unamused, like me, and even more so if you have found yourself reading something as mind numbing as Prom Theory by Ann Labar. You’ll really find yourself attached to the characters and as odd as it is, find comfort in this book. 

Watch Over Me by Nina Lacour

Book review by Elizabeth

I had lost all hope. Stepping solemnly into the library, book in hand, only 30 pages in. I sat down and opened it up again, telling myself I could do it, but I was destined to fail. Was this the end? Did all my love of reading leak out leaving a disinterested shell of my former self? There would be only one way to find out. I got myself together, and threw the book across the building, finally freeing myself of its weight. Feeling the power of liberty, I strode over to my usual section, and whipped out the first 2020 book I could find. I opened the hard cover with hope, my eyes flying through the description, taking in each word with wonder. This was it. Finally, after so long; an actual good book. 

Watch Over Me by Nina Lacour is a piece of literature I can only describe as phenomenal. Mila had just graduated high school, finally became an adult, and was finally free to live whatever life she so chooses. She had been one of few accepted to intern and live on a farm in which children were given a loving home and a family, something they were not born into. The interns working there helped take care of the kids, teach them, and hopefully also find love and peace. What didn’t help Mila forget and escape her own troubled past, as she desired, were the ghosts who haunted the farm. They wouldn’t cause trouble, but instead resurface the memories that brought fear and regret to Mila, not to mention her strong desire to fit in and feel like she belonged with the others who lived on the farm as a family. 

Whenever I would finish a good book, a truly good book, I would also slowly close its back cover and hug it closely. I would be happy I found out what happened at the end, but bummed because I couldn’t imagine what I could possibly read next that could top it. This book was a sign, a sign telling me it’s not my fault if I don’t enjoy reading sometimes, but that I just need to find the right thing to read, and boy did I! Not kidding when I read this glorious book, time would actually soar, and I’d find myself on the 60th page in what seemed like 15 minutes. I don’t care that it didn’t have a concrete storyline, or a dramatic climax, or anything else that comes to mind when you think of a book. I realize this sounds hyper-critical of me, considering my take-downs of previous books, but at this point compared to this absolute masterpiece those were just written wrong.

Now let me elaborate. This is a slow-paced book that deals with the main character’s past struggles as they slowly resurface, as well as her evident imposter syndrome regarding the other residents of the farm. Everyone living there keeps praising Mila and being so kind to her, saying she belongs, and is doing a good job, but she doesn’t believe it, partly because of her past, partly because she knows she hasn’t been with them for as long as they’ve had each other. Life on the farm is perfect, but Mila feels that she doesn’t deserve it. Even I expected some dark twist where the perfect life on the farm is some illusion but that’s not what this book is about, at all. It gets in touch with Mila’s conflicts and emotions and and takes the readers through this rollercoaster of feels that is almost impossible to find anywhere else. Mila’s situation is so incredibly relatable, her backstory is so incredibly indulging, and this book is so incredibly incredible I’m having a hard time effectively describing its incredibleness to you. That’s how good this book is. 

I’m recommending it to every living organism out there. I’m serious. If you’ve just finished it, go give it to your plant – it’ll sprout up in seconds. I realize it may not be for everyone, that everyone being the people who would actually want the farm to turn out to be some elaborate scheme, and if that sounds like you go enjoy your day but I hope you still give it a try. In fact, I recommend this book so much that I will be personally offended if I see it collecting dust on the library shelf ever again. It’s worth your time, so stop reading this review and go read this book instead!

Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

Book Review by Elizabeth

Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland is eyecatching, to say the least. Right off the bat it comes with warnings of sexual assault, PTSD, physical abuse, parental death, and racist violence. Oh and aliens, you know, the usual. 

The book starts off and introduces you to Sia Martinez, a young Mexican girl whose mother had been deported by ICE a few years ago. While struggling in Mexico, she had the ridiculous idea of clawing her way back to her family through the Sonoran Desert, and presumably died in the process. Sia hates the sheriff and his son Jeremy McGhee with a fiery passion for being responsible for her mother’s deportation. After her grandmother’s death, all Sia has now was her father and her best friend Rose. Sia was close with her dead grandmother though, feeling her around at times and remembering all the stories and lessons she had taught her. Just as Sia’s class was starting, a new astronomy project, a new boy arrives in her class who gets stuck as her partner. As he and Sia spend more time together, they begin to create closer and closer bonds, despite Rose’s warning about him that he might be connected to the McGhees. Sia eventually drifts apart from Rose entirely, which meant that she spent almost all her time with Noah (the new guy) and they start getting invested in shows like the X-Files and conspiracy theories. To their astonishment, they keep spotting a space-craft-like-floating-thing in the desert sky that one day crashes in front of them, revealing the one and only – Sia’s long lost mother. 

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this novel. I absolutely adored it at first. It was just my style of read: adversity, dark pasts, will-they-won’t-they couples, all sprinkled with the main characters’ culture. But then the entire extraterrestrial thing got involved and I think they went a little too far with that. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t shoot aliens down as soon as they come into play. I picked up this book, didn’t I? It’s just that their backstory is a little too convoluted. It’s hard to keep track of why they’re doing what they’re doing, and the climax feels like it’s there for the sake of a climax. I just got bored of this book after a while. Maybe if you are a little more used to, and enjoy the likes of aliens, you’ll find this book all the rage. At least I recommend the first half of this book wholeheartedly. It was one of the most indulging reads ever. 

Prepped by Bethany Mangle

Book Review by Elizabeth

Prepped by Bethany Mangle was finally something new on the shelf. Surrounded at every angle by the same boring “quirky love story” made this novel seem like a breath of fresh air. Little did I know of the, let’s just say experience that awaited me. 

The book opens on a survival training lesson, one of the many painful and dangerous drills Becca Aldaine has endured. She and her family lived in a part of their suburban Ohio neighbourhood that was filled with people paranoid of the inevitable apocalypse that could strike at any second now. Any second now. Any second…now. Well, the important part was that they were prepared, right? Even if that meant submitting children as early as thirteen into freezing duck ponds, tiny crawl spaces, and spending any disposable change for supplies for their two underground bunkers, able to function independently for three years. Point was, life sucked, and this was apparent to Becca more and more as she got older. Not to mention the arranged marriages all residents were forced to oblige by, and the compulsory children that came with it – just in case that the burden of repopulating the entire world came down to only them, you know? The usual stuff. 

Becca’s plan was simple though, to get good grades, get a full-ride to her first choice college to study physics, and leave the world of doomsday maniacs behind. Unfortunately her father, the man in charge of the training sessions in their community and the number one advocate for prepped survival, gets put into a coma by crashing into a drunk driver – the one factor he couldn’t control. This leaves Becca’s mother in charge, who was arguably even worse of a leader than her father on account of her spite from being forced into this lifestyle she never wanted in the first place. Becca’s little sister, Katie, was also gravely affected by her father’s incident, to the point where she started giving in to the doomsday way of life and losing her childlike spark. Now, Becca is torn between pursuing the dreams she’d been working to achieve for twelve years, or taking care of her sister so as to not leave her in her mother’s hands. Even if she got accepted and had a like-minded boyfriend willing to help, nothing would come easy. 

I personally felt as though this book was trying too hard to be The Hunger Games. From the cute little sister who is the most important person in the protagonist’s life, to Roy’s (Becca’s arranged boyfriend) overall demeanor resembling that of Peeta, and even the concept itself is playing into the dystopian society genre, but instead of the whole known world, it’s a small community. Speaking of the concept, it was pretty obvious to me it was the only real well-thought out part of this book. I really hate to say it, but this book lacked a lot of the creativity that could’ve made it such a better novel. The potential was immense, yet kind of wasted. Just for me to tell you the concept I alone had to read past half of the book to fully understand it, which is never a good sign. The book is full with unnecessary scenes of the characters going in and out of school, walking their dog or going to the mall to further the narrative to no end. It’s embarrassing that the actual story part of this story could fit in about 100 pages out of it’s 307. I would lose my train of thought so often, not because I didn’t try to pay attention, but because I simply don’t care about the bus ride to high school! This book captures your attention from the start with it’s thrilling training sessions, then loses you when the so-called narrative begins, only to regain it when another training session comes, and then again at the climax. For what it was worth, I enjoyed what little substance there was in this chip bag of mostly air, though I attribute this solely to my infamous reputation as a Hunger Games fangirl, a series this book is very poorly cosplaying as. If you’ve got time to kill, and I mean kill, go ahead and give it a read, it won’t hurt that much. However, if you prefer a brim-full chip bag as opposed to two thirds of air, I suggest you skip this one out. But who knows, maybe I’m just a bad reader.

Love is a Revolution by Renée Watson

Book Review by Elizabeth

Love is a Revolution by Renée Watson caught my eye instantly on the library shelf. I’ve always been drawn to books depicting teenage characters for I find them most relatable, and this one was no different. This novel pulls you into a realistic world, is generally slow-paced which makes it easy to follow, and gets you invested into the lives of the characters you could easily slip into the shoes of. 

We start in early July, a time of liberty and excitement for all the adventures to endure during the seemingly everlasting summer ahead. Nala finds the simple pleasures of trying on new hairstyles, listening to her favourite music, spending time with her friends and family, and hopefully finding love – all she needs to do to achieve the summer of her dreams. Unfortunately, all of her friends, as well as her cousin who she’s very close with, have taken part in their local volunteer group, Inspire Harlem, leaving Nala feeling like an outsider around them at times. Lucky for her, at the Inspire Harlem talent show, which she was reluctant to go to, Nala spots the most perfect guy she ever laid eyes on. Coincidentally, Tye Brown was also interested enough in her to engage with Nala after the show, which Nala unknowingly isn’t ready for. To hopefully make herself seem more attractive, intriguing, or at least “as woke”, Nala falls into a barrel of lies to glamorize herself for Tye – well half-truths at least. 

Along with keeping up her activist charade, Nala has been running into problems with Imani, who has been by her side since forever, but more of her sister and roommate since Nala ran away from her mom’s place. Somehow, Imani has been more distant, more sparse at family gatherings, and would seemingly rather spend time with her friends without Nala. Now, Nala doesn’t know whether she could get the guy, and even if she did if she could sustain her façade, because surely he couldn’t love her for who she really was, or whether she could figure out why her cousin-sister-friend needs to step away from her when all she wants to do is to bring the both of them closer. 

Aside from the dilemmas, I still would enjoy this book just as much. The author’s descriptions of Harlem and New York, the feeling of summer and new love are truly something else, binding you into the motion of their world only to have it unsatisfyingly disrupted by your annoying little brother barreling into your room. Nala makes a lot of lists throughout the book, making it even easier to understand everything that’s going on all at once. The pictures painted in your mind are very vivid and intriguing, a forever page-turner. I would definitely recommend this book to someone like me who isn’t into big adventures and wild fantasy. It’s very comforting, real, and enveloping, just how I like it. 

Clique Bait by Ann Valett

Book Review by Elizabeth

Clique Bait by Ann Valett is one interesting novel, indeed. I was quite excited to read this one since my high school drama content has run quite low, so I wanted to taste that convoluted, unrealistic, and overexaggerated world again. Fortunately, this book delivered me my reading guilty pleasure, as well as some internal screaming at the pages which I oh so love. 

Each chapter of this book opens with a short letter written from our main character, Chloe, to her best friend Monica. Chloe is a senior who day and night thinks of one thing only – how to take down the most popular clique in their school. She and Monica had previously divided up their private school’s students into levels, each representing a different step in the social hierarchy. Monica had always wanted to be at the top, to sit in the seat of Lola Davenport, their current queen bee. After she had gotten to Level One (the most elite clique), the regulars had taken her down, so much so that she was no longer at their school. This is why all through summer, Chloe had been planning her revenge on them, to bring justice to Monica that she knew she deserved. To put her plan into action, Chloe would need to infiltrate Level One, using blackmail to force her way in via William, the mayor’s son. Little did she know, William would instead offer to help her, proposing she pretend to be his girlfriend to ease her way in, as what needed to seem to them as a permanent fixture. 

Overall, this book was nice. I enjoyed this read as a way to kill time, while still feeling productive. This isn’t a masterpiece by any means. Frankly, I found it predictable but at the same time engaging, so props for that. I wish the author hadn’t resorted to such overused tropes, and wish the ending wasn’t as anti-climactic. For the average reader, I’d still totally recommend it as this book still does the job, but maybe not so much for someone who wants more nuance and twists in their reads. Still, I think this is a great guilty pleasure read and really hits the spot on a rainy day.