Top Ten Most Anticipated Late-2020 Releases

Hey everyone! So today’s my BIRTHDAY! *confetti shower*

Anyway, I always like getting excited over books that are coming out soon, so this seemed like a pretty good way to spend the day. So let’s see what we should get hyped over!

Top Ten Most Anticipated Late 2020 Releases

1. Majesty (American Royals, #2) by Katharine McGee — Sept. 1

Why yes, I would like to read more about an American royal family descended from the Washingtons and their first Queen ever, thank you for asking.

2. The Glass Queen (The Forest of Good and Evil, #2) by Gena Showalter — Sept. 29

It’s a clever mix of fairy tales and I just can’t turn that kind of thing down.

3. More Than Just a Pretty Face by Syed M. Masood — Aug. 4

I’m not sure what exactly the ethnicity is of the main characters, but I don’t care. It’s billed as being similar to other rom-coms that deal with family expectations and other serious topics and that’s my catnip.

4. Igniting Darkness (Courting Darkness, #2) by Robin LaFevers — Aug. 4

The His Fair Assassin series is one of my favorites and while I didn’t necessarily love the first book in this duology like I loved the original series, I’m certainly not turning down the chance to go back to this very fun historical-fantasy world.

5. Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon — July 28

It’s Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist played out during a senior prank/game by two overachievers. I’m in. Also, the Goodreads ratings so far are insanely high.

6. Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest — Aug. 25

Starlets, musicians, and a hunt for a famous grandma intent on avoiding the limelight. This sounds like a ridiculous rom-com and I am here for it.

7. Charming as a Verb by Ben Philippe — Sept. 8

This book is about a first-generation Haitian son in NYC who is killin’ it at school and his dog-walking business…until a girl at his school catches onto his less-than-honest scheme and blackmails him into improving her rep at school. Apparently the story turns YA stereotypes on its head and really gets into the characters mentally. Sounds fun.

8. All Our Worst Ideas by Vicky Skinner — Aug. 11

When high school doesn’t go the way you thought and you end up working at a record store, I suppose this is what you get. This looks super cute.

9. Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power — July 7

Margot has no family other than her mother. In her search to find relatives–a family–she finds a picture of her mother as a younger girl that leads her to a town. But her mom left for a reason… This looks to be billed as horror? I’m expecting good things.

10. Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco — Oct. 27

Honestly, this looks like a version of Supernatural with girls from the blurb. Two witch twin sisters are blending in with humans–until the day one of the twins is brutally murdered. The remaining sister partners with the Wicked–a prince from Hell–to solve the mystery. This is the author of the Stalking Jack the Ripper series, so I know she can write dark. I’m just hoping the mystery is better.

Top Ten Lake Reads!

Hey everyone! So this is supposed to be a total freebie week, so I decided I’d go with a topic I’m excited about at the moment. With the 4th of July coming up, I figure a lot of us are gearing up to spend some time at the lake, if we haven’t yet. (BUT STAY SAFE, Y’ALL.) What better way to enjoy lake time while staying safe but by reading in the sun?

So here are some books that I’ve read that I think would make great lake reads, either because they are set at lakes/oceans or because they take place over the summer. Actually, in the course of making this list, I found some Queens of Summer YA. I highly recommend many of their books.

Top Ten Lake Reads

1. The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen

Queen Status. Anything by Sarah Dessen would be a solid win, but this one is particularly perfect for this list because it does, in fact, take place at a lake.

2. Summer Days and Summer Nights anthology edited by Stephanie Perkins

I feel like an anthology about summer would be kind of perfect for a lake day. Read a story in 20 minutes, go do something else. Win-win!

3. Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

This YA version of You’ve Got Mail is light, fluffy, and fun–and it takes place on the Pacific coast! Easy rom-com reading, which I always think is fun for a day in the sun.

4. On the Fence by Kasie West

Queen status. Most of her stories are cute, fun love stories perfect for the lake, but I especially love this one because A) it’s set in the summer and B) Charlie spent her summer in much the same way I used to–playing sports with anyone who would join me. So if you’re looking for something a little less girly, this is a definite hit.

5. Things I Can’t Forget by Miranda Kenneally

This is part of the Hundred Oaks series, but you really don’t need to have read the others to understand this. This book takes place at summer camp! But it’s also a bit heavier in content than some of these others. So if you’re looking for something a little more emotional and thought-provoking, this might be it.

6. The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler

I cannot overstate how much I loved this book. I can’t. It moved me. A girl without a voice from the Caribbean, a seaside Oregon town, and some real emotional depth. It’s cute for sure, but it’s about so much more than that. Very much The Little Mermaid vibes from this story.

7. Open Road Summer by Emery Lord

Queen status. Lord writes a lot of great summer books with deeper meanings. This one, her debut novel, is one of my favorites of hers. We’re going on a road trip with a teenage country superstar!

8. Things We Know By Heart by Jessi Kirby

I know thus far, I have included mostly more light-hearted books to this list, but this is not one of them. This is deep. A girl’s boyfriend dies suddenly and she’s obsessed with knowing who received his heart and like, knowing a part of him still lives on. It’s a dark read at times, but hey, there are lots of scenes on the beach? (If this is too dark for you, I recommend Golden by this author. More of a road trip read.)

9. My Faire Lady by Laura Wettersten

Now we’re back to fun and silly. Just weirdly funny and random, we’re joining Rowena on this adventure as she gets a job painting faces at a Ren Faire. Like, what could go wrong?

10. Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson

Queen status. Matson is the younger version of Sarah Dessen, in the way she writes cute romances with depth. I haven’t truly found a bad one yet. This book is going to really nail home the importance of family and forgiveness, but it’s going to do it in a super cute way. Oh, and if I remember correctly, lots of Beatles references.

The Half-Life of Planets

The Half-Life of Planets by Emily Franklin

First Lines: I am not a slut. Evidence exists that is contrary to this statement, but this is what I’m thinking in the hospital bathroom.

Another day, another book where I go, “Great, that’s really the first line I have to talk about?” My knowledge of this book goes way back to 2010. Oh yeah. I saw this on a shelf at a Barnes & Noble, I think and it looked interesting. Years later, I found a copy at a used book sale for super cheap and picked it up, thinking worst case I could take it to school for my classroom library.

Liana wants to be an astrophysicist only slightly more than she wants to kiss boys this summer. When she’s not in the lab looking at stars, she wants to be at parties or fairs or the dock hanging out with people–namely guys. What she doesn’t count on is meeting Hank. Hank’s funny and smart and a lot awkward, but in a cute way. Hank is spending his summer working at a guitar shop in hopes of earning enough money to buy a Fender Jazzmaster. Oh, and Hank has Asperger’s Syndrome. Neither was prepared for how their lives would change.

I loved the idea of showing representation with a main character on the Autism Spectrum. And I certainly wasn’t going to turn down a book about music.

But the execution was…ok, like the whole book was melodramatic to an extreme. I couldn’t even keep my sarcasm out of the book description, if you noticed.

When we first are introduced to Liana, she’s just found a note in her locker that labels her as a “slut.” So that keeps coming up over and over and over and over in the book because she’s now decided to stop kissing boys for the whole summer to prove that she’s not one. (It’s never very clear how this is supposed to help.) Her family virtually never communicates about anything real anymore, which (while realistic in some families) just added to the overall melodrama and miscommunications.

As for Hank…ok, I’ve had many autistic students in my classes over the years on varying ends of the spectrum. While Hank is not on the highest functioning end of the spectrum, he’s definitely closer to that end than the middle. He doesn’t pick up well on social cues, but he generally knows how people are “supposed” to act in a certain moment–he just doesn’t understand why. That part–and his fixation on music–were more or less accurate.

What bothered me the most about Hank is the fact that he is constantly thinking to himself about his physical…reactions…to Liana. I cannot say I have ever been in a teenage boy’s head (nor would I ever want to be), but I showed some of these passages to my boyfriend, who also commented that this was weird. Hank is constantly staring at Liana’s…chest…or commenting on his…desires. Never to Liana. Like I said, he knows enough to know that would make Liana uncomfortable, but as a reader it was highly uncomfortable for me. It’s one of the more explicit YA books I’ve read in a long time.

I actually rather enjoyed the book at the beginning, but it was hard to keep that momentum going when everything felt like a sad soap opera. I mean, the big “plot twist” at the end had me rolling my eyes and thinking about putting the book down–except I only had about 20 pages left.

Such a weird book. I had higher hopes than this.

Ten Books on My Summer TBR

Hello everyone! I’m not going to lie to you, I’m writing this right now so I can get my mind off some crazy strong anxiety I have at the moment. (I did something stupid and I can’t undo it and I’m just freaking out about it, even though I’ve done everything to mitigate the fallout and I’ve been told I’ve taken all the correct steps, but it doesn’t help.) So hopefully talking about books will help because little else is.

Let’s go!

Ten Books on My Summer TBR

1. Stain by A.G. Howard

The first five books on this list are already books that I have on my shelf, ready and lined up to be read. This one I got from the library. It’s got a great Goodreads rating and I know I’ll be in the mood for fantasy soon, to escape this world for a while.

2. Right of Way by Lauren Barnholdt

This road trip book feels perfect for summer. They broke up, but now they’re stuck going on this road trip together and it’s going to be awkward but that doesn’t mean we can’t all enjoy it.

3. The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey

I think this summer is the tipping point: I either read this book and figure out what happens next in the The 5th Wave series or I just give it up. I don’t remember a lot of how the first book ended, though I do get flashes of it when I think back.

4. Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead

Back in the mid-2000s, Mead was easily my favorite author. I loved all her Vampire Academy and Bloodlines books. I even enjoyed some of her more adult offerings. But it’s been a long time since I’ve read something new by her and I’m just a little nervous about doing that. I bought this book super cheap a long time ago and I just need to read it.

5. Lord John and the Private Matter by Diana Gabaldon

The Outlander series is one of my favorites, but I’ve never read this spinoff series about, quite possibly, my favorite not-Jamie-or-Claire-or-Bri-or-Roger character. (That was a lot of caveats.) I just know it’s not going to have the same magic as the original series, but it can’t be horrible, right? Looking at their world through different eyes? Guess I’ll find out.

6. Breath Like Water by Anna Jarzab

This book just came out last month and it looks really good. A swimmer tries to keep her career afloat (haha), but needs the help of a new coach and the friendship of another competitive swimmer. Since we can’t watch this kind of thing in the Olympics this year, I suppose I’ll make do with something like this.

7. Bring Me Their Hearts by Sara Wolf

This fantasy novel is so up my alley it’s ridiculous. Zera is a Heartless, literally. Her heart is sitting in a jar in a witch’s house after Zera pledged to serve her after the witch saved her. Now the witch needs a Prince’s heart and sends Zera to retrieve one. Prince Lucien never feels challenged until Lady Zera shows up at court. I can already see the battle of wills (and wits) this must have. The ratings for this book are really good too.

8. We Walked the Sky by Lisa Fiedler

This book, about a circus acrobat in the 1960s and her granddaughter in the present, looks super interesting. Victoria is a runaway who joins the circus to find a more stable home, but the circus isn’t going to fix everything. Callie, her granddaughter, has grown up in the circus and loves the world she knows. So when her mom takes a new dream job at an animal sanctuary, Callie finds herself removed from the world she knows so well and into an even stranger world: high school. I think the juxtaposition of these two storylines will make this really interesting.

9. Long Way Home by Katie McGarry

This is the final book in the Thunder Road series and I’ve enjoyed the others so much that I’ve been trying to pace myself so I’d have more of these to read! I will probably need this engrossing, slightly dangerous and yet oh so cute romance at some point this summer. Maybe a lake read?

10. The Upside of Falling by Alex Light

I have to admit that, even though the Goodreads rating it telling me it’s probably not what I’m hoping it will be, it includes one of my favorite tropes and I just have to read it. Girl gets teased for not having boyfriend, boy gets teased for not having girlfriend, so they join forces to get their friends off their backs…and there may actually be something to this…

PS: for anyone wondering, this did moderately help with the anxiety. I do feel less stressed, though it hasn’t completely gone away. I’d consider that a win, even if only for a little while.

Mixed Emotions: The Last Few Weeks

Hey everyone. I’ve been slowly trying to put my thoughts together as, every day, new information keeps coming faster and more confusingly to the point where I’m not even sure where to start because I feel like this story isn’t linear.

I got the news today that one of my high school classmates just died a couple of days ago.

For simplicity (and privacy), I’m going to call him DD. DD was one of the nicest kids in my class, easily. He was genuinely sweet and would talk to anyone. The one time I remember him getting in trouble at school was in middle school where he wore a “cereal killer” t-shirt with a spoon printed underneath it. (This kid had a legitimate obsession with cereal and everyone knew it. Like, would eat it by the box. In a sitting or two.)

With the sudden flood of tributes on Facebook, I learned that a year and a half ago, he participated in an outdoor sleeping event to raise awareness for homelessness. Like, this doesn’t surprise me at all. This is exactly the kind of person DD was. He was heavily involved in his faith in a town where many proclaimed their faith but few actually did anything to make the world better. He did.

This year (OMG, I think it’s TODAY?!) marks the 10th anniversary of my graduation from high school. In that time, I don’t honestly remember losing any of my other classmates. Three died while we were in school (accident, suicide, cancer), so those are the ones I usually remember. This is hitting me kind of funny. I hadn’t seen DD since we graduated, so I hate to jump on a bandwagon and proclaim my sorrow when…that doesn’t feel like the right word. I’m definitely sorry that bright light has been taken from the world, but…I don’t know what I’m feeling. Confused and surprised mostly, with a twinge of sadness.

Mostly, I’m just starting to feel old.

All of this came on top of going more than 24 hours without electricity in my house as the remnants of Tropical Storm Cristobal passed through my town. You truly don’t know how much you take electricity for granted until you suddenly lack the ability to go to the bathroom without a flashlight.

Humor aside, I’ve basically spent the last two days (or the last three months, honestly), thinking about life and how much we take for granted. I took for granted that my classmates were all young and healthy and we’d all theoretically be around to go to the reunion after the COVID fears pass. I took for granted that DD would be around to change the world.

I took it for granted that a police officer would find his humanity before he killed someone by cutting off his air and blood flow for nearly nine minutes.

Look, I hate talking politics outside of a very small group of people consisting of my immediate family, my boyfriend, and my best friend. That’s it. It’s part of my introverted-people-pleasing-conflict-avoidance tendencies.

But this is just ridiculous.

This isn’t the first time I’ve found fault with the police. I’ve heard all the other stories over the years on the news. I’ve heard a Latina friend of mine complain about how she or her family have been treated by cops. So this isn’t the first time I’ve seen the problem or thought something should be done. I’ve watched the Patriot Act with Hasan Minaj segment about police unions. I’ve seen the John Oliver Last Week Tonight segment about police brutality. (Why yes, I do get most of my informed news from comedians. I find they tell it to you more truthfully and fully than actual news channels.)

My city protested along with all the others that last week of May. And I was happy for them. I even thought briefly about joining them. (COVID and social anxiety kept me at home though.) A few hours later, the protest turned violent. Tear gas, rubber bullets, looting. It all looked exactly the same as what I saw happening everywhere else–except I had never seen it in my city before, with people I knew. I watched as reporters suffered from the effects of the gas. I watched the police antagonize the crowd. I also watched a lot of protesters hurl bottles and debris at police, and protesters surround cars with people simply on their way home from work. Simply put, I tried to see both sides.

I’ve watched the videos from around the country. It’s been hard not to. It’s been very hard to ignore how some police are making things worse by beating, pushing, or trapping peaceful protesters.

It’s harder still to watch a single group constantly singled out for abuse. I can’t stand seeing how Black Americans–because they are Americans–are targeted so often and for so little reason.

(It’s also worth pointing out that many of the tactics police are using are against the Geneva Convention, which is mortifying and horrifying.)

When “Defund the Police” became a common refrain, I looked into it. In my moderate sized urban city (roughly 200,000 residents), what did we spend on police? I wanted to do my own research.

The results astounded me.

On publicly released documents that I easily found online with about 3 clicks, I spent about 45 minutes looking over documents. The city’s annual budget is in the ballpark of $110 million. $64 million went to police. That’s 58% of the annual city budget. It didn’t go to city improvements, it didn’t go to health or public works. No, the majority went to one branch of the city.

As I dug deeper, they actually do a more itemized list of their expenses. A huge amount went to wages, which I expected, but I also discovered that the city buys a new armored vehicle (worth over $200,000) every other year. You can’t tell me that the vehicles get ruined that quickly, so why do we need multiples of these in what is generally considered to be a safe city?

After finding this information, I’m fully on board reallocating some of these funds elsewhere. Let’s set up some kind of city department that responds to issues of mental health and social service needs–let’s shrink the size of the police department and focus instead on helping people. I don’t want to go so far as to say we should completely dismantle the police department in my city, but we need to seriously reconsider what “policing” looks like.

That was a lot of darkness, I know. I’ve been swirling in a pool of confusion and fear and anxiety for months. Just as one national emergency starts to end, another begins. 2020 is really shaping up to be a wild ride, I will give it that.

But I’m also hopeful. I think this time–finally–change is coming. I see attitudes shifting within my own community. I see it changing the national conversation, an acknowledgement of wrongdoing. I see the power of the people, the way the Founding Fathers intended it. (Seriously–not only do we have the right to protest, but the Declaration of Independence essentially says if the government’s not working, it’s the responsibility of the people to overthrow it–and this is a form of that.)

I’m not going to lie, I’m more than a little gleeful to see the statues being toppled. It’s about time Columbus and others were brought down.

Blackhearts (Blackhearts, #1)

Blackhearts (Blackhearts, #1) by Nicole Castroman

First Lines: After Anne’s father died, her mother often said that sorrow was the only sun that rose for them. Her mother had since followed him into the darkness of death, leaving Anne to face the dawn alone.

I love a good pirate story. I was into it as a kid, but the more I understand their oddly democratic society as an adult, the more interesting they are. So with this story supposed to be about Blackbeard, who was such a cool freak, I was in.

Blackbeard the pirate is known for the terror he caused, but at one point he was a young man trying to find his place in the world. Edward “Teach” Drummond has just returned from a year at sea to find that his life…well, it’s really not his anymore. His father, one of the richest merchants in Bristol, has arranged all the pieces and Edward must follow the plan–or else. Affianced to a girl he doesn’t love and desiring only to be back on the water (something his father won’t allow), Edward finds his world getting smaller and smaller. Anne, penniless and orphaned, is about add “homeless” to the list. Forced to take a job at Master Drummond’s house, Anne dreams of leaving England and sailing to the Caribbean where her mother was born. From the moment Anne and Edward meet, they see how trapped they both are. But can they escape their circumstances? Is it worth it?

I was really excited to read this. Except…nothing happens. I kept waiting the whole book for something to happen. I mean, there are plot things going on. We see the struggles of Anne and Edward, but the pace was just so slow it felt like nothing was ever going anywhere. What I really wanted to read was a pirate book and that is definitely NOT what I got.

This whole book is exposition for the real pirate story, which I assume is what the sequel will be. This is Anne and Edward both having crappy lives, feeling trapped by society, and wishing they were somewhere else before extra crappy things begin happening. I felt no suspense, no drive to the story. I wasn’t even really invested in the characters.

Let’s talk about a few things here. First of all, I felt historically speaking it took a lot of liberties (a fact the author acknowledges). We really don’t know anything about Blackbeard’s childhood/adolescence. But let’s allow that because of artistic license. Beyond that as our indicator, it didn’t really feel tied to any specific time period. It could have been anywhere from the 1500s to the 1800s (it’s really the early 1700s based on Teach’s life). Literally nothing distinguished the setting. Setting had a lot of struggles.

There are really only two “real” characters in this story: Edward and Anne. And I’m not just picking them because they’re the main characters. Every other character is a caricature of a person. The vast majority of minor characters are meant to be evil. For Anne, there are two maids who make her life miserable. For Edward, they’re two men who are supposed to care about him–and a vicious fiance. There are some “good” characters, but we see very little of them. It ended up seeming almost whiny from Edward and Anne’s perspectives, how everyone is out to get them. I guess the point is that they weren’t supposed to have any allies besides each other, but man did it make the story a downer.

I will give props to one aspect of the story, with a caveat. Anne is a mixed-race main character. Her father was white and her mother was a West Indian slave, their story a love story. While I appreciated that for that (and because historically, that obviously happened in England just like it happened in the US, if pretty rare in both places), it never went anywhere. Anne was very rarely distinguished because of that. Sure, there were references to how she wasn’t going to “be accepted” by society because her skin is “a shade darker”, but even that only came up in a few scenes. I was a little surprised by that, especially since pretty much everyone was xenophobic in England in the 17th and 18th centuries.

It just felt like, for a historical fiction, someone didn’t do much homework.