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. 

Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus

Book Review by Giles

Bent Heavens, by Daniel Kraus, isn’t the type of book that I normally read. However, I was intrigued by the book’s description on the library’s webpage: “Two years after the disappearance of her father, seventeen-year-old Liv and her friend capture an alien in the Iowa countryside, and instead of turning him over to the authorities, they choose a different path.” Sounds otherworldly and maybe science fiction, right? Wrong. The publisher’s description is misleading. This book turned out to be more of a horror story than sci-fi. This book made me feel all kinds of things: curiosity, anticipation, disgust, revulsion, pity, dislike, and anger.

This book has lots of flashbacks that reveal the story. Liv’s father, a high school teacher, first went missing for several days. When he returned, he claimed he’d been abducted by aliens. He started acting strangely because he was convinced that the aliens were coming back for him. He set up traps, in the woods around his house, to catch the aliens before they got him a second time. 

Then Liv’s father went missing again. This time it was for good. That was over two years ago. Liv and her childhood friend, Doug, were maintaining and checking her father’s traps, every Sunday, ever since he disappeared. At this point, I should have clued in that this was going to be a horror story. Liv’s father’s traps had terrible horror movie names, like “the neck breaker” and “the amputator”. 

Just when Liv is ready to give up checking the traps and destroy them, an alien gets caught in one. Liv realizes that her father was telling the truth and remembers how no one believed him. Liv and Doug don’t turn the alien over to the authorities. This is when things start to get ugly.

There’s a lot more happening in this book than just the capture of an alien. Liv is dealing with the emotional trauma of the disappearance of her father and the probability that he’s dead. Liv’s in her senior year and she’s having trouble at school. She feels great frustration and pressure.

The teacher, who replaced her father, is putting on the same play that her father was directing at the time of his second disappearance. This is really upsetting to Liv and she acts out. She gets punished by not being allowed to compete in running meets. This puts her at odds with her close group of friends. She also becomes romantically involved with a new student, Bruno. 

This book starts out as a story about family and grief. Liv is grieving for her father. After Doug and Liv catch the alien, the book becomes a story about torture, suffering, and heartbreak. The alien isn’t treated very nicely in this book. There are things that happen to the alien that really disturbed me. Then the author throws in a conspiracy and the book becomes something of a detective story. Liv must figure out what is really going on. Her father’s disappearance, old family friends, the alien, and things that happened in the past lead Liv to terrible discoveries. 

Daniel Kraus did an excellent job building tension in this story. Just when you think that you know what is going to happen, he throws in another twist. However, I didn’t like reading the graphic depictions of torture in this book. The climax of the story was an absolute shocker. For me, it was too much, too contrived, too over the top. In conclusion, although this book was a page turner, its progression into darkness and violence was unsettling. It was not the story I was expecting. It wasn’t scary, it was disturbing.

It Came from the Sky by Chelsea Sedoti

Book Review by Giles

It Came From the Sky by Chelsea Sedoti, sounded like a fun book to read and I wasn’t disappointed. The publisher’s description intrigued me: “Gideon and Ishmael Hofstadt, ages sixteen and seventeen, accidentally start a hoax that aliens have landed, turning their town of Lansburg, Pennsylvania, into a circus. Told through narrative, police interviews, text messages, blog posts, and more.” 

I was curious to find out how the story could be told like this. I thought it would be difficult to do but the author did a fantastic job developing the characters and their relationships with one another. The story flows seamlessly. Each text, blog post, interview, and report give readers important information from the viewpoints of different characters. The different media used results in the chapters being short and easy to read.

The story begins with Ishmael messing up one of Gideon’s science experiments. The blast from the experiment is the catalyst for the hoax. Ishmael suggests extraterrestrial activity as an explanation for the crater left by the blast. Gideon goes along with it and the brothers go to great lengths to keep the hoax going so that they aren’t caught. Gideon is reluctant to keep it going but then he decides that the hoax can be a sociological experiment where he can record his research findings in a case study. Ishmael sees the hoax as the greatest prank of all time.

More lies lead to the hoax becoming increasingly wilder and more complex. Soon the hoax is out of control. People are seeing UFOs, having close encounters of the third kind, and even claiming that they were abducted by aliens. There are plenty of hilarious moments in the story, thanks to the hoax. 

Suddenly, the story shifts gears. Some nefarious things are going on in the small town and it’s up to Gideon to figure out what is happening. I wasn’t expecting a villain in this story. This subplot concerns sensitive material about grooming and pedophilia. I was a little surprised by this turn of events in the book. It seemed to come out of nowhere. 

One of the themes of this story is family and friendship. As there weren’t too many characters, it wasn’t hard to keep track of all the relationships. The characters were well-developed. The author added lots of details to show their personalities, motivations, and desires. It was nice to read a story about a family that wasn’t dysfunctional. Gideon’s family and their interactions were believable. The family’s interesting, unconventional, and quirky.

Gideon’s not a stereotypical science nerd that you might see on tv or in the movies. He’s an introverted, gay teenager who struggles with his relationships with his family, friends, and his on-again off-again boyfriend, Owen. He worries about his grades and his future. I think that Gideon experienced a lot of personal growth through the events of the story.

There was never a dull moment in this book. It was chaotic, hilarious, reckless, heartwarming, nerve-racking, adventurous, and upsetting all rolled into one. This book was a page turner for me, but it wasn’t due to a build-up of tension. It was a page turner because I was invested in finding out what was going to happen next to Gideon. He’s a very likable character. I recommend this book. It’s a fun, fast read. I enjoyed it.

The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett

Book Review by Nathan

This book is great. It somehow takes political fiction and makes it genuinely interesting to read. The Winter Duke was a great read. It really pulled me into the world, made me feel like a part of the ongoings of Kylma Above’s duchy, and all of the plots and schemes of the nobility. The book tells the story of Ekata, a possible heir to the duchy, who wants nothing to do with being a duchess. After her whole family succumbs to a strange sickness, she finds herself becoming a reluctant duchess, and must quickly learn how to do her job on her feet, resulting in a lot of funny moments and mishaps. 

It had plenty of humour, and the characters were relatable on multiple levels. As the book went on, the various mysteries slowly became a little clearer, but never too quickly, which meant that I almost never wanted to put the book down. Despite the fact that most of the action is political, it doesn’t feel overly complicated, or hard to track. The overall feeling of this book was one of lighthearted jokes and tense action all at the same time. This book really does do political fiction justice, and even though I had never read anything from Claire Eliza Bartlett, if she manages to make all her books this good, I think I’m going to have to read more of her work.

I would definitely recommend this book. It has a great plot, good characters, and a world that feels as real as our own. If you’ve been looking for something funny to read or just some good political fiction (surely this isn’t the only good piece, right?) then maybe you should give this book a try.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

Book Review by Allie

Melissa Bashardoust has beautifully combined Perisan Mythology with beloved fairy tales. This wonderful blend of past and present has created a compelling storyline, reminiscent of fairy tales such as Sleeping Beauty and Rapunsel. It was a fun read that left me wondering what’s going to happen next at every turn. 

Girl, Serpent, Thorn follows the life of a young princess named Soraya. Soraya, though, is no ordinary princess for she was cursed from birth to be poisonous to anyone who touches her bare skin. The wedding of her twin brother is swiftly approaching and after the royal procession returns to the palace Soraya lives in, she notices a young man who looks at and sees her for who she is beneath the poison. Soraya feels that, despite the attention of that man, she has found her place among the shadows hidden away from everyone for she is dangerous. Her worldview is then turned on its head when she makes a grave mistake. This mistake as terrible as it is makes Soraya begin to question whether she is the monster or the princess in this story.

I absolutely adored reading the progression of Soraya’s story and the way her character changed and grew due to adversity and events in the novel. I felt that Soraya was an adequate protagonist as her choices and mistakes were relatable. Also, as a fan of Grimm’s fairy tales, this was an amazingly different take on some of the old stories and it was fun to pick out pieces that corresponded with each respective fairy tale. 

Overall, I absolutely loved this novel and I would recommend this to anyone who is a fan of modern, romantic, fantastical novels that make you laugh, cry, and smile at the same.

The Electric Heir by Victoria Lee

Book Review by Nathan

This book is the second in a series, the first being The Fever King. Even though I had never read anything of Victoria Lee’s, I certainly enjoyed it, even if it was a little more graphic than I normally would read. Nonetheless, it was a great book, and I definitely enjoyed reading it. It described Noam Alvaro’s quest to not only keep his dear friend Dara Shirazi alive but also their plots to kill a certain Calix Lehrer, the chancellor of Carolina. Over time, the revolution grows, and dangers mount.

This series (Don’t sweat it, it’s only 2 books) was amazing, I would definitely recommend this book, and also by extension the whole series, but with a serious warning, the series tackles several issues, namely abuse, and makes no effort to sugarcoat said abuse. Because of the extensive abuse throughout the series, and also the graphic scenes, I would hesitate to recommend the series to younger audiences. Warning aside, as a single book in and of itself, it’s still great, the character progression is great and feels really authentic, and while the world itself is dark, there are frequent moments of comedy scattered throughout. This book will have you switching back and forth between laughing out loud and wondering what’s about to happen next, and it’s honestly a great feel for a dystopian novel. I love it.

This book was a great read, with a few great messages, and characters that all have unique, believable flaws. This is one of those books that once you pick it up you’re not likely to put it back down for a while, overall a great read, and a great series!