Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson

I lived for that Mack cameo! Sadly, Olivia & Toni didn’t steal my heart away like Liz & Mack did…

“Loving someone is being big enough to admit when you mess up, and then doing everything in your power not to do it again.”

Rise to the Sun is a summery sapphic romance that reads a lot like a love letter to music. Once again Leah Johnson has written a YA novel that succeeds in combining escapism with relevant and important issues (grief, trauma, non-consensual image sharing). Rise to the Sun spans the arc of three days—Friday, Saturday, and Sunday—and takes place at Farmland Music and Arts Festival.
Our two narrators and main characters are Olivia and Toni. Toni, still reeling from her father’s death, is seventeen and about to go to college, not so much because she wants to but she feels pressured by her mother. Her passion is music, something she shared with her roadie father. Olivia is about to enter her final year of high school and, quite understandably given her situation, she’s not keen to return. The fate of her ex, a jock with a promising future ahead of him, rests in her hand. But will telling the truth solve anything? Her mother and sister disapprove of her, and many of her romances have ended on a ‘you’re too much for me’ note. Both girls are going to the festival to take their minds off their worries and anxieties. Tagging along with them are their respective BFFs.
The two girls meet by chance and decide to compete together in a music competition….and sparks inevitably fly.

Having genuinely loved Johnson’s debut novel, I was prepared to have my heart stolen away once again…but things didn’t quite pan out that way. While I liked Johnson’s light yet engaging prose and the themes that she touches upon during the course of the novel, there were a few things that didn’t work for me. Olivia and Toni’s voices are too similar and I kept mixing up their chapters. Their personalities are supposedly meant to be quite different, with Oliva as this extroverted and zingy kind of person, and Toni being more of an ‘Ice Queen/conceal don’t feel’ type of gal…so why did they sound like the same person?
The story’s 3 days setting made it so that their romance seemed of the insta variety.
And, the thing that ultimately made me not enjoy this novel all that much, Olivia is a terrible friend. She promises her BFF that this weekend is all about them and that she won’t pull off her usual ‘ditching you friend for the person I currently have the hots for’ move but she does! She doesn’t even try to keep her promise and be there for her friend. She simply convinces herself that Toni’s BFF and her BFF make a great match so pushes them together so that she can then spend time with Toni. She keeps justifying herself by saying that this time is different and that what she feels for this girl she’s known for a second is REAL and no one should stand in the way of TRUE LOVE. She then pulls an incredibly crappy stunt towards the end after the typical 70% romcom misunderstanding and convinces herself that it’s okay, and when she’s called out she whines that her BFF is being ‘harsh’ (of course she’s going to snap at you! what were you expecting after making a move that makes it clear you don’t give a shit about her?).
And I also didn’t care for Toni going on and on about ‘my Truth’, it made her sounds like someone who is into Goop or whatever.

Anyway, just because I wasn’t particularly enamoured by this does not mean you should skip on it and if you are in a mood for a queer YA romance, well, you should consider giving this a shot.

my rating: ★★★☆☆

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The Travelers by Regina Porter

The cast of characters and locations at the start of Regina Porter’s The Travelers is a tiny bit daunting as they promise to cover a far wider scope than your usual family saga. The Travelers explores the lives of characters who are either related, sometimes distantly, or connected in less obvious ways. Porter’s switches between perspectives and modes of writing, always maintaining authority over her prose and subjects. The Traveler provides its readers with a captivating look into Americans lives, chronicling the discrimination black Americans were subjected during the Jim Crow era, the experiences of black soldiers and female operators in the Vietnam war, the civil rights protests in the 1960s, and America under Obama. Porter combines the nation’s history with the personal history of her characters, who we see at different times in their lives. Sometimes we read directly of their experiences, at times they are related through the eyes of their parents, their children, or their lovers. Rather than presenting us with a neat and linear version of her characters’ lives, Porter gives us glimpses into specific moments of their lives. At times what she recounts has clearly shaped a character’s life (such as with an early scene featuring two white policemen), at times she provides details that may seem insignificant, but these still contribute to the larger picture.
Porter provides insights into racial inequality, discrimination, domestic abuse, parental neglect, PTSD, and many other subjects. Although she never succumbs to a saccharine tone, she’s always empathetic, even in her portrayal of characters who are not extremely ‘likeable’ in a conventional way. Sprinkles of humour balance out the more somber scenes, and her dialogues crackle with energy and realism. The settings too were rendered in vivid detail, regardless of when or where a chapter was taking place.
Porter’s sprawling narrative achieves many things. While it certainly is not ‘plot’ oriented, I was definitely invested in her characters. Within moments of her introducing use to a new character I found myself drawn to them and I cared to read more of them. Part of me wishes that the novel could have been even longer, so that it could provide us with even more perspectives. I appreciated how Porter brings seemingly periphery characters into the foreground, giving a voice to those who would usually be sidelined.
Her sharp commentary (on race, class, gender) and observations (on love, freedom, dignity) were a pleasure to read. I loved the way in which in spite of the many tragedies and injustices she chronicles in her narrative moments that emphasise human connection or show compassion appear time and again.
An intelligent and ambitious novel, one that at times brought to mind authors such as Ann Patchett (in particular, Commonwealth) and one I would definitely recommend to my fellow readers.

my rating: ★★★★☆

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Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

“Like I said already, I hunt monsters. And I got a sword that sings.”

Ring Shout is an action-driven historical novella that combines horror with the kind of anime that have magical swords & monsters-posing-as-humans in them. The story takes place in Georgia during the 1920s and follows a group of black women who hunt monsters who take the form of KKK members. This is neat concept and I would definitely encourage other readers to pick this one up (I particularly recommend the audiobook version as I found Channie Waites’ narration to be spot on). The story did strike me as a rather rushed and somewhat formulaic. Maybe I shouldn’t have read this so soon after finishing another novella by P. Djèlí Clark but Ring Shout shares much in common with his other work. If we leave the setting aside we have a young woman who is the ‘chosen one’ or happens to be the ‘only one’ who can save the world. The stakes, dare I say, are too high for such a short format. If this had been a full-length novel, I wouldn’t have minded as much. Here the side characters have rather one-dimensional personalities (we have the joker, the handsome love interest, the more level-headed in the team, the German who is Marx aficionado, three aunties reminiscent of the Moirai). Still, at least they had personalities. The main character, on the other hand, is very much defined by her ‘chosen one’ role. Nevertheless I obviously rooted for her as she slays KKK monsters.
While it wasn’t a particularly thought-provoking novella (the whole discussion on good & evil was somewhat condensed) it makes for a quick and relatively gripping read starring badass black & queer girls/women. There is gore, some pretty-epic fight sequences, a few moments of respite, and a lot of banter. The author present his readers with some real creepy visuals (the mouths, enough said) and some subversive ideas. Overall, if you are new to his work this is definitely worth checking out (it will make for a solid Halloween read).

MY RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

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The Echo Killing: Book Review

The Echo Killing
by Christi Daugherty
★★✰✰✰ 2.5 stars

This novel gives a great and detailed description of the routine and logistics of the protagonist’s job as a crime reporter. The various side characters, although somewhat conventional to this type of novel, were well rendered and entertaining. So, why did I end up disliking this book? 1) Harper McClain 2) the needlessly stupid drawn-out plot 3) the romantic subplot

1) Harper McClain
Her drive to solve this ‘murder’ and connect it to her mother’s case is somechanical. As a character she just reacts, lacking any individuality. When she ‘reacts’ she usually jumps to conclusions. She thinks she is smart (at one point she says “we’re smart too’…you sure aren’t) and under some sense of ‘entitlement’ she thinks that she can repeatedly break the law and fork-up other’s people careers. The thing is, she doesn’t even feel bad about doing this, she is quick to whine out a sorry like some sort of child but really she is concerned about herself: “she had to let this go. At least for now. Not to save her job. To save her soul”.
The thing is, I could have handled such a self-centred main character if her behaviour hadn’t been excused by the narrative. She has no qualms breaking the law, lying to people, threatening the police’s investigation, lying to her superiors and her colleagues.
Her own ‘investigation’ is so childish. There is this detective she doesn’t like so of-course she becomes obsessed by the idea that he had something to do with this recent murder.
Harper was basically brought up by Lieutenant Smith and knows a lot of the people working at the police station…and yet that doesn’t stop her from ‘tricking’ the people who actually looked after her. If anything she thinks she is above the police because her mother was murdered. Okay…
At the end I just hated how everything she has does is made to seem ‘not that bad’ and ‘for the greater good’. N-O! She just followed whatever hackneyed idea came to her and she gets mad when people react badly to being asked if they had anything to do with this murder. Geez, I don’t know Harper, maybe some people don’t want to be accused of murder?

If Harper was ‘as smart as’ she claims she would have shown a photo of the man she suspected to that one witness. She isn’t afraid of the law, why not just confirm her suspicions rather than base herself on a vague-ish description of the possible murderer. She has already googled this guy, why not just show this person a photo of him? But no. Harper thinks that she can ask for the cctv cameras footage and is ‘surprised’ when she is told she can’t, then she tries to think if the receptionist’s ‘big’ means ‘tall’ or ‘stocky’.
This case could have been solved right then and there but no, better prolong this painful experience.
The killer was a bit predictable. I was hoping for a more original ‘twist’ but alas…

3) Romance
This romance belongs to another type of of novel. It was eye-roll-worthy and cringe-worthy. It had added nothing to the story, if anything it wasted pages and pages on the weakest characters of this book. Here are a few examples of why this ‘romance’ was…a no for me: “’To hell with them,’ he said. Sweeping her into his arms”, “he looked dangerously good.”, “this felt dangerous. And she liked danger.”
This secret romance (she is a reporter, he is an undercover cop) seemed at odds with the rest of the narrative. He was handsome…and that’s it. I can’t even remember his name, that’s how boring he was. And of course, he repeatedly saves Harper. Cause he is just so dashing.

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