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Book Club Pick

How it all blew up by Arvin Ahmadi

Book Club Pick: February 2021

Title: How it all blew up

Authors: Arvin Ahmadi

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: United States of America

Publisher: Viking, imprint of Penguin Random House

First Published: 2020

Pages: 266

Publisher Description:

Eighteen-year-old Amir Azadi always knew coming out to his Muslim family would be messy – he just didn’t think it would end up in an airport interrogation room. But when faced with a failed relationship, bullies, and blackmail, running away to Rome is his only option. Right?
Soon, late nights with new friends and dates in the Sistine Chapel start to feel like a second nature…until his old life comes knocking on his door. Now Amir has to to tell the truth to a US Customs officer, or risk losing his hard-won freedom.
At turns uplifting and devasting, How It All Blew Up is Arvin Ahmadi’s post powerful novel yet, a celebration of how life’s most painful moments can live alongside the riotous, life-changing joys of discovering who you are.

Review:

18-year-old Iranian American Amir Azadi is photographed kissing Jackson, a football player that he has secretly been dating. After being blackmailed Amir skips his high school graduation and flees to Rome to avoid being outed as gay to his conservative Muslim parents.

In Rome Amir meets Jahan, a proudly openly gay Iranian-Dominican man, who introduces Amir to gay culture and community.

I did feel that the depiction of Italian culture was a little stereotypical. I would have liked to have seen more exploration of Amir’s Iranian-American culture.

The novel moves between a retrospective look at the events that lead up to his decision to flee to Rome and his time in Rome, and an airport interrogation room, where his family is being detained after an argument on the plane home.

The novel is written with Amir’s first person narration as Amir tells his coming out story to U.S. Customs officials. It is also interspersed with transcripts of each member of his family being interrogated by U.S. Customs officials. This is interesting as it provides three other perspectives, his sister and parents.

Links:

Arvin Ahmadi Official Website

Arvin Ahmadi on Twitter

Arvin Ahmadi on Instagram

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

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Book Club Pick

Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

Book Club Pick: January 2021

Title: Patron Saints of Nothing

Authors: Randy Ribay

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: United States of America

Publisher: Kokila, imprint of Penguin Random House

First Published: 2019

Pages: 366

Publisher Description:

Jay Reguero plans to spend the summer playing video games before heading to university. But then he discovers that his Filipino cousin Jun was murdered as part of President Duterte’s war on drugs. No one in the family wants to talk about what happened, so Jay travels to the Philippines to find out the real story. As he uncovers more about Jun, he is forced to face some uncomfortable truths about his cousin’s death – and the part he played in it.

Review:

17-year-old Filipino-American Jay Reguero is a high school senior living in suburban Michigan, who is looking forward to a summer of playing video games before he heads off to university.

His plans are turned on their head when Jay’s parents tell him that his Filipino cousin Jun is dead. Jay and Jun had only meet a few times when Jay’s family returned to the Philippines to visit. The two cousins were pen pals when they were younger. Although in recent years this had stopped after Jay got distracted by life and stopped writing.

Jun was murdered as part of President Duterte’s war on drugs. Jun’s father Manning, who is also a Police Chief, won’t even hold a funeral for his son. The family do not want to talk about what happened. Jay does not believe that Jun was a drug user and this was the reason he was killed, so he returns to his homeland to uncover the truth.

The story is told from Jay’s first person perspective but Jun’s letters to Jay are also interspersed throughout the story giving it another layer. The novel is also positive in its LGBTQ representation featuring several characters that are queer.

While Jun’s story is fictional it is based on true events. In an author note Ribay writes that at the time of writing ‘the Philippine National Police reports that approximately 4,300 Filipinos have died as a result of the campaign since Roderigo Duterte was elected president in 2016. However, the Human Rights watch estimates that more than 12,000 people have been killed, and other data suggests that the number might be over 20,000. It is likely that we will never know the exact number.’

This coming-of-age novel is also an exploration of dual identities – being American and being Filipino.

Links:

Randy Ribay Official Website

Randy Ribay on Twitter

Randy Ribay on Instagram

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

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Book Club Pick

My true love gave to me: Twelve winter romances

Book Club Pick: December 2020

Title: My true love gave to me: Twelve winter romances

Authors: Holly Black, Ally Carter, Matt de la Peña, Gayle Forman, Jenny Han, David Levithan, Kelly Link, Myra McEntire, Rainbow Rowell, Stephanie Perkins (also Editor), Laini Taylor, and Kiersten White.

Series: Stand alone collection of short stories. Although followed by Summer Days and Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories (Edited by Stephanie Perkins, 2016)

Country: United States of America

Publisher: St Martin’s Griffin | Macmillan

First Published: 2014

Pages: 355

Publisher Description:

Long, cold nights are for falling in love…

There’s nothing more romantic than mistletoe kisses, twinkling lights and wrapping up warm in the snow. Whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, winter solstice or Kwanzaa, this collection of twelve gorgeous short stories will make you swoon with all the magic of the holidays. So curl up by the fireplace and get cosy. You have twelve reasons to stay indoors and fall in love.

Review:

Each of the twelve short stories is a romance that takes place over the winter holiday season covering holidays, such as Hanukkah, Christmas, Winter Solstice, and the New Year.

Unlike Let it Snow (Maureen Johnson, John Green, & Lauren Myracle) each story stands alone and is not connected. The advantage of this is that readers can dip in and out of what stories interest them / start with their favourite authors.

Majority of the stories are contemporary but there are a few that are fantasy / magical realism.

The collection is diverse with characters from various racial, socioeconomic, sexual orientation, and religious backgrounds. For example a gay Jewish boy who dresses up as Santa for his boyfriend’s little sister, and young Latino man apartment-sitting in Brooklyn, New York.

The twelve short stories are:

  • ‘Midnights’ by Rainbow Rowell
  • ‘The Lady and the Fox’ by Kelly Link
  • ‘Angels in the Snow’ by Matt de la Peña
  • ‘Polaris Is Where You’ll Find Me’ by Jenny Han
  • ‘It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown’ by Stephanie Perkins
  • ‘Your Temporary Santa’ by David Levithan
  • ‘Krampuslauf’ by Holly Black
  • ‘What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth?’ by Gayle Forman
  • ‘Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus’ by Myra McEntire
  • ‘Welcome to Christmas, CA’ by Kiersten White
  • ‘Star of Bethlehem’ by Ally Carter 
  • ‘The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer’ by Laini Taylor

If you are interested in another Christmas romance check out my December 2019 book pick Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, which was released as a Netflix series last month.

Other Christmas themed reviews book reviews – Born Scared by Kevin Brooks, What Light by Jay Asher and Let it Snow by Maureen Johnson, John Green & Lauren Myracle

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Book Club Pick

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Book Club Pick: November 2020

Title: Punching the Air

Author: Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: United States of America

Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books

First Published: 2020

Pages: 386

Publisher Description:

Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in his diverse art school, because of a biased system he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated. Then, one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighbourhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white.

The story that I think
will be my life
starts today

Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it?

Review:

Amal Shahid is a Black Muslim teenager who has been accused of assaulting a white boy following a fight between a group of black teenagers and white teenagers.

The novel is written in first person verse. It is as if we are reading Amal’s words from his notebook. Amal is a talented artist and poet and was attending a prestigious fine arts school. This was his opportunity to not be another statistic – sadly at sixteen-years-old he found himself incarcerated at a juvenile detention centre.

Idi Zoboi collaborated with prison reform activist Dr. Yusef Salaam, a member of the Exonerated 5 (dubbed the “Central Park 5” by media), a group of young men wrongly convicted of raping and beating a white woman in New York City’s Central Park. The case that was highlighted in Ava Duvernay’s 2019 Netflix series When They See Us.

Punching the Air is a profound, challenging look at the flawed criminal justice system that many young Black Americans sadly face.

Click here to read my review of American Street (2017) by Ibi Zobi

Links:

Ibi Zoboi Official Website

Ibi Zoboi on Facebook

Ibi Zoboi on Twitter

Ibi Zoboi on Instagram

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

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Book Club Pick

Love, Creekwood by Becky Albertalli

Book Club Pick: October 2020


Title: Love, Creekwood

Author: Becky Albertalli

Series: Novella in the Simonverse

Country: United States of America

Publisher: Penguin Books

First Published: 2020

Pages: 111

Publisher Description:

It’s been more than a year since Simon and Blue turned their anonymous online flirtation into an IRL relationship, and just a few months since Abby and Leah’s unforgettable night at senior prom.

Now the Creekwood crew are first years at different colleges, navigating friendship and romance the way their story began – by email.

Review:

Love, Creekwood is a novella that serves as an epilogue to Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (2015), The Upside of Unrequited (2017), and Leah on the Offbeat (2018).

It follows Simon, Bram, Leah and Abby during their freshmen year of college.

The novella is epistolary and is told entirely in emails back and forth between the Creekwood gang, which also includes emails from Nick, Garrett and Taylor, but the focus is on the relationships of the core four.

Leah and Abby are college dorm roommates, but Simon and Bram are in a long distance relationship with Simon in Philadelphia and Bram in New York City.

The novella is only 111 pages, so it is a quick read. It is definitely one for fans of the Simonverse series, as it reveals key plot points from the earlier novels, such as the identity of Blue. While it was sweet and nostalgic revisiting these characters I felt that the story was lacking substance.

Albertalli is donating royalty profits from the book to American LGBTQ+ organisation The Trevor Project.

Love, Creekwood was released during Pride Month June 2020 alongside the Hulu series Love, Victor, which is a 10 episode spin-off series of the film adaptation Love, Simon.

Click here to read my review of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Click here to read by review of Leah on the Offbeat

Click here to read my review of the film Love, Simon

Links:

Becky Albertalli Official Website

Becky Albertalli on Facebook

Becky Albertalli on Twitter

Becky Albertalli on Instagram

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

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Book Club Pick

When we were lost by Kevin Wignall

Book Club Pick: September 2020

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Title: When We Were Lost

Author: Kevin Wignall

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: United States of America

Publisher: Jimmy Patterson Books / Little, Brown and Company

First Published: 2019

Pages: 306

Publisher Description:

A plane crash.
A savage jungle.
Hope hope of rescue.
How long would you survive?

A gripping white-knuckle thriller set in the unknown depths of the Amazon jungle, When We Were Lost explores the razor-thin line between life and death, and what it really means to be alive.

Review:

A group of high school students are on their way to Costa Rica for a two-week school sponsored environmental field trip, when their plane crashes in a remote dense jungle. The plane is torn in half – nineteen students in the tail-end of the plane survive.

Together the group must now survive in a hostile jungle environment, that includes animals, reptiles, insects, the heat, lack of food – and each other.

The novel is written in third person, but the narrative focuses on the point-of-view of seventeen-year-old Tom Colloway. Tom has been orphaned since he was nine and feels like an outsider.

Many reviewers have drawn parallels to Lord of the Flies and Lost. Although other than a plane crash and the characters being young there isn’t a huge number of parallels really.

It is an action packed adventure with enough gripping twists and turns to keep the reader hooked but unfortunately the story lacks any strong character development, and the ending feels a little rushed and flat.

Links:

Kevin Wignall Official Website

Kevin Wignall on Instagram

 

I borrowed this book from my public library.

Categories
Book Club Pick

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

Book Club Pick: August 2020

blackflamingo

Title: The Black Flamingo

Author: Dean Atta

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: Great Britain

Publisher: Hodder Children’s Book

First Published: 2019

Pages: 360

Publisher Description:

This is Michael’s story.

Join him as he discovers the world, with tiny eyelashes. Travel from school to college, where he discovers his flock and comes to terms with his identity as a mixed-race gay teen. At university, take a seat in the audience and watch him find his wings as a drag artist, The Black Flamingo.

A bold story about discovering that only YOU get the privilege of choosing who you are. There is power in embracing your uniqueness. What’s your story?

Review:

Michael is a young biracial British man of Greek Cypriot and Jamaican descent. He feels like he is caught between many identities: black and white, masculine and feminine, straight and gay. He feels that he is not “Greek enough”, not “Black enough” or “queer enough.”

The novel begins with Michael aged six and we follow him on his journey from childhood through to university.

When Michael goes to university he joins the Drag Society and creates his drag persona The Black Flamingo. In finding his voice Michael becomes more confident and accepting in who he is.

The novel is told in verse, which makes it an easy ready. It also features beautiful black and white illustrations by Anshika Khullar.

Links:

Dean Atta on Twitter

Dean Atta on Instagram

Dean Atta on Facebook

Dean Atta on YouTube

 

I borrowed this book from my public library.

Categories
Book Club Pick

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Book Club Pick: July 2020

A-Monster-Calls

Title: A Monster Calls

Author: Patrick Ness. From an original idea by Siobhan Dowd

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: Great Britain

Publisher: Walker Books

First Published: 2011

Pages: 237

Publisher Description:

Conor has the same dream every night, ever since his mother first fell ill, ever since she started the treatments that don’t quite seem to be working. But tonight is different. Tonight, when he wakes, there’s a visitor at his window. It’s ancient, elemental, a force of nature. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

Review:

Last month the Old Vic made their 2018 production A Monster Calls available for a week on their YouTube channel. After watching it I borrowed the book from my library.

A-Monster-Calls-still-2-967x620
Matthew Tennyson as Conor in A Monster Calls, The Old Vic. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Siobhan Dowd initially conceived the idea of a young boy coming to terms with his mother’s illness while diagnosed with breast cancer. It would have been Dowd’s fifth book but she passed away 21 August 2007 before writing the story. Her publisher Walker Books approached Patrick Ness to write the novel.

A Monster Calls follows thirteen-year-old Conor O’Malley, who is struggling to cope with the diagnosis of his mother’s cancer.

Conor is also facing other challenges. He is being bullied at school, has a distant father living in the United States with a new family, and a strained relationship with his Grandmother who has come to help look after Conor’s mum.

He has been having nightmares. At seven minutes past midnight Conor awakes to a voice calling him from outside his bedroom window. There is a monster that has taken form from the branches and leaves as a yew tree.

The monster tells Conor that he will tell him three stories, and then Conor must tell his story.

A Monster Calls is a poignant exploration of terminal illness, grief and truth.

The novel was also adapted into a 2016 film with Ness also writing the screenplay. The film was directed by J. A. Bayona (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) and starred Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, Lewis MacDougall, and Liam Neeson.

A-Moster-Calls-DVD-Cover

Links:

Patrick Ness Official Website

Patrick Ness on Instagram

The Siobhan Dowd Trust

 

I borrowed this book from my public library.

Categories
Book Club Pick

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

Book Club Pick: June 2020

Artemis-Fowl-Cover

Title: Artemis Fowl

Author: Eoin Colfer

Series: Book #1

Country: Ireland

Publisher: Viking Press

First Published: 2001

Pages: 288

Publisher Description:

Twelve-year-old criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl has discovered a world below ground of armed and dangerous–and extremely high-tech–fairies. He kidnaps one of them, Holly Short, and holds her for ransom in an effort to restore his family’s fortune. But he may have underestimated the fairies’ powers. Is he about to trigger a cross-species war?

Review:

Artemis Fowl: The Movie will drop on the Disney+ streaming service on June 12th, so now is the perfect time to take a look at the first book in the eight book fantasy series.

The story follows the adventures of Artemis Fowl, a 12-year-old old criminal mastermind, who kidnaps Holly Short, an elf and captain of LEPRecon (Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance force) for a ransom of fairy gold.

Although Artemis is the protagonist of the novel, he is no hero – he is an antihero. He is not a villain in the traditional sense, but is far from being good – it is difficult to justify his actions at times.

The novel has a third-person narrative, and switches from following the human characters to following the magical creatures.

Artemis Fowl is often shelved in the children’s fiction, although it is probably more suitable as middle grade novel due to its action and violence.

 

 

Links:

Eoin Colfer Official Website

Eoin Colfer on Twitter

Eoin Colfer on Instagram

Eoin Colfer on Facebook

Eoin Colfer on YouTube

 

I borrowed this audio book from my public library.

Categories
Book Club Pick

The Cemetery Boys by Heather Brewer

Book Club Pick: May 2020

The-Cemetery-Boys

Title: The Cemetery Boys

Author: Heather Brewer (Z Brewer)

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: United States of America

Publisher: HarperTeen

First Published: 2015

Pages: 288 pages

Publisher Description:

When Stephen’s dad says they’re moving. Stephen knows it’s pointless to argue. They’re broke from paying Mom’s hospital bills, and now the only option left is to live with Stephen’s grandmother in Spencer, a backward small town that’s like something out of The Twilight Zone. Stephen’s summer starts looking up when he befriends punk girl Cara and her charismatic twin brother, Devon. Only, as the summer presses on and harmless nights hanging out in the cemetery take a darker turn, Stephen starts to suspect that Devon is less a friend than a leader. And he might be leading them to a very sinister end…

Review:

Welcome-Spencer

Seventeen-year-old Stephen and his father move from Denver, Colorado to his father’s small hometown of Spencer, Michigan (population 814) to live with his grandmother. Stephen’s mother had been committed to a mental health facility in Denver and his father was struggling to pay their bills hence their move to Spencer.

Shortly after arriving in town Stephen meets mysterious twins Cara and Devon.

As you can expect Stephen is instantly attracted to Cara the punk girl who ‘definitely didn’t look like a farmer’s daughter.’

Stephen is also drawn to Cara’s charismatic but creepy twin brother Devon, who befriends him and invites him to hang out a cemetery at night, which Devon and his friends call the Playground.

Stephen later learns of an urban legend that all the bad things that have happened in Spencer’s history can be attributed to these dark winged creatures. Very Stephen King-esque! Do Devon and his friends really believe this legend?

Cemetery-Boys-Cover-2
Another version of The Cemetery Boys

I do have to warn that the novel’s depiction of mental illness tends to play into  problematic stereotypes, so some readers may take issue with this.

Brewer does a good job of writing Stephen’s first-person-narrative. Some reviewers have not appreciated his sarcastic, sullen, selfish voice – but I found it refreshing and real, maybe reflecting my own former inner teen self.

The novel has a nostalgic, small-town American horror movie vibe to it. Don’t expect major character development, there is the twist at the end that experienced mystery readers will probably pick.

Links:

Z Brewer Official Website

Z Brewer on Twitter

Z Brewer on Instagram

Z Brewer on YouTube

 

I borrowed this book from my public library.