Ramona Blue

Some books are just extremely timely.

Warning: emotional post ahead. That doesn’t happen on this blog a whole lot unless that emotion is the equivalent of “!!!!!!!!!”. You’ve been warned.

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Ramona Blue

  • Author: Julie Murphy
  • Publisher: Balzer + Bray
  • Year: 2017
  • Genre vibe: Southern contemporary, romance
  • At a glance: Ramona is six feet too tall for anything in the town of Eulogy, where she’s scraping to keep her whole family afloat and also work out her feelings when it comes to Grace, her not-quite-girlfriend, and Freddie, her longtime best friend and potential soulmate. But everything is a hell of a lot more complicated than that.

I am not the person that Ramona Blue was written for. In a sense, I know this is incorrect, because I’m of the belief that whatever you get out of a book you were meant to get, and that if you’re willing, any book can have been written for anyone. But insofar as things go, I don’t think I’m really the kind of person that was really “meant” to be this deeply touched by Ramona’s story. I picked Ramona up because I heard a lot about it, and hot damn that cover design. What I didn’t anticipate is the amount of things inside her story that I’d…well, relate to, I guess.

The thing I got the most from this book was the fact that Julie Murphy is a superb storyteller, and also an incredibly truthful one. Because some of the things in this book are things that I’ve not come across put into words before, and when I found them I hadn’t even realized I’d been looking for them. Ramona Blue is full of lines and pieces that make your heart stop for a second because…oh, right, that emotion. I know that. “I ignore the way my body sings with affection for him“. It’s beautiful, all the way through.

Ramona’s story is complicated and has a lot of facets. A lot of them are facets that reflect huge, important topics, like race and sexuality. Family and loyalty and breakups and love.

But a lot of them are smaller, too. A lot of them are things you may only see if they’re something you deal with, too, and things that may not even be intentional. There are so many pieces of Ramona’s story.

What stuck out to me the most was this: Ramona’s story is not about what you are and what you aren’t. Ramona’s story is about how every single piece of you is a part of who you are. It’s not about what you call yourself; it’s about how you call the shots.

It’s kind of like–

You know how “you are what you eat”? It’s kind of like if that was your life. Not that “you are what you consume”, but “you are what you choose to imbibe”, “you are what fuels you”, you are both what you enjoy and what you hate you are what you have a taste for and you are how your tastes change as you grow and as you experience. You are in a constant state of regeneration as a person. Because your story is as much your pattern of events as how you choose to handle them, and your story is also made up of a thousand different moving parts and changes. You’re not one thing. You don’t have to be.

Ramona Blue was an extremely timely book for me to read. I hadn’t expected to find such kinship in Ramona, or to…not feel like an impostor in her story. Reading Ramona and finding the amount of truth in her pages that I did was startling. I picked up my copy at one of my favorite bookstores in the world, and reading it was kind of like going home there, because I always learn something new about myself when I visit it.

Ramona taught me that I don’t have to be my own standard to be myself. She taught me that I don’t have to own my label if it’s not the right one. She also taught me that more than one label is perfectly okay, and she taught me that at the end of the day, you take all your labels off when you fall in love anyways. Even if what you’re falling in love with isn’t a person; even if maybe it’s books or it’s music or it’s whatever your thing is, do you go into it thinking about all of the things you tell yourself you are all the time?

Of course not.

Do the things that make you up lose their value when you shuck them off for a while?

Of course not. Difficult things are difficult. You carry the things you carry for a reason. They are armor or scars or color or sparkle and shine and they are parts of you. Because you are made up of so, so many parts, and all of them are valid.

Ramona Blue was just what I needed. I won’t let her go for a very, very long time. Because some books are…

  • infinity / 5 stars
  • weightlessness underwater, and magnetism, and lunch rush and the gritty gravel road that takes you home
  • Angela by The Lumineers
  • for people who maybe feel like a contradiction. and maybe they need a little courage, too.
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Our Dark Duet

Some books require a deep breath.

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  • Author: Victoria Schwab
  • Publisher: Greenwillow
  • Year: 2017
  • Genre vibe: Urban fantasy!
  • At a glance: Things are  bad, and a badder monster has come to Verity. August Flynn and Kate Harker are up against their worst enemies: themselves. Lots of things get broken.

What all is there to say about this book? Not a lot, I think. This Savage Song was one of the most exciting books of last year–Schwab is a legend, and Urban Fantasy is a much-neglected niche of the YA market. You bet I was stoked. When the conclusion to this lovely duology arrived in this world, I was in Kansas for a writing workshop, and I had the opportunity to travel to Barnes & Noble and retrieve the precious. That very same day, some friends and I happened to be cosplaying some characters from the Shades of Magic series, so what a coincidence! However we neglected to take pictures with the new arrival, so oops.

But I got the book home, got swept up in other lovelies (like A Good Idea), and then finally picked it up. A weekend flew by, and suddenly it was gone. I couldn’t believe how quickly all those pages flew by, and my heart hurt at the end (as one’s heart does at the end of a Schwab novel), and I wondered for a couple days after…what next? What now? How do I even feel about this? And I’ve come to a couple of conclusions.

  1. These books need to be re-read, slowly.

There’s a meatiness to these books that I feel like I missed as I sped on through, caught up in the story and the world and all the things going on and the monsters and the darkness and the light and the everything. There’s some absolutely stunning insight in these, I feel, and I feel it gets missed when one gets caught up.

Schwab is very good at humanity. It’s one of my favorite things to read about, and one of my favorite things about her work. The Monsters of Verity books are simply soaking with it, and it’s an aspect that I feel deserves digging for.

2. The best part of these books is the music.

Schwab’s writing is like lyrics in this book more than in any of her others that I’ve read. I keep a small notebook nearby whenever I’m reading to jot down quotes, and I just filled half of one with things from this book because they just struck a chord with me.

These books are, of course, about the music. “Sing a song and steal your soul“, yes? But there’s something raw and real and lovely about the actual verbiage of this book in particular that really drove it home with me, and that, I think, is my favorite part.

So overall, this book is…

  • 4.5/5 stars
  • For people who love monsters and who also love humans; for people who wonder about the difference between the two.
  • silent blood and gore and quiet music.
  • Honestly, I couldn’t think of a single song I listened to during this book to go along with it, because this book was the song.

A Good Idea

Some books are kind of like if you swallowed a piece of gum and thought about it sticking to your rib cage long enough you’ve convinced yourself that that’s what happened.

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A Good Idea

  • Author: Cristina Moracho
  • Publisher: Viking
  • Year: 2017
  • Genre vibe: Small town americana where weird sh*t goes down.
  • At a glance: Finley’s best friend Betty Flynn was murdered by her ex boyfriend, and nobody in the town of Williston wants to admit it. So when Finley returns home for the summer, she gets caught up in a whirlwind of sex, drugs, and violence in order to try and get Williston to solve the mystery of Betty’s disappearance, and force them to remember her in the process.

 

So this book is arguably one of the most morally gray/grittiest books I’ve yet read, and it was awesome. It’s no secret to readers of this blog that my favorite characters are often the most terrible people, and when it comes to A Good Idea, hardly anyone has a golden heart to save them from themselves. This book is kind of about corruption, and to what depths it can go inside a person. And that’s part of what made it so good.

A Good Idea is a small-town-weird-shit-oh-by-the-way-MURDER book, which is arguably one of my most favorite genres ever. I was drawn to it because I listened to Moracho’s Althea & Oliver as an audiobook last year, and I loved that book for its dark humor and gritty feel and raw characters, so when I saw Idea I was immediately excited, and I definitely was not let down. One of the best parts about both of those books is the atmosphere–it’s the late nineties, the main characters have issues, and things are pretty screwed up. It’s poignant and at times relatable and at other times kind of horrifying, and it works.

This book was a hell of a ride and I enjoyed it, partially because it’s been a while since I got to read a book with this kind of vibe, and partially because it didn’t end up being anything like I expected it to be. I devoured it in an edge-of-your-seat, I-actually-care-what-the-answers-to-these-questions-are kind of way, rather than in my usual, I’m-emotionally-invested way. Because with this book, I wasn’t terribly invested when it came to emotions. But I was engrossed, and enthralled, and a little bit scared, and that was more than enough to keep me going.

This book is not clean, or easy, or shiny in very many ways. It’s difficult, and messy, and dark, and I honestly loved that about it. The lack of apology stuck with me, and I appreciated it.

So overall, this book is…

  • 5/5 stars
  • for people who are not afraid of the dark, and maybe those who are a little curious about it too
  • wet dirt, wet sand, wet eyes, wet palms, wet hair, and fear that rattles your teeth
  • Bottom of the Deep Blue Sea by Missio

 

The Careful Undressing of Love

Some books are too easy to miss. Don’t let this be one of them.

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  • Author: Corey Ann Haydu
  • Publisher: Dutton
  • Year: 2017
  • Genre vibe: You know how some things are contemporary, but also like, they read like a cult horror novel? It’s like that.
  • At a glance: If a girl from Devonairre Street falls in love with a man,  he dies. This is the Curse. The Devonairre Street girls live in disgust for the curse, untouched by it as yet. But then a boy they all loved dies, and all of the girls’ lives are thrown out of focus.

The story of this book is kind of unremarkable: I impulse-bought something else a couple days before it came out, then I saw it and went back to exchange. I don’t even remember the original impulse-buy at this point; this book was too good. But what’s funny is I don’t have a lot to say about it.

This is a book about tragedy and grief and how love is both of those things all the time, and I don’t know how much there is to say about that in and of itself. But this book is also a book about Tragic Events. And it’s also a book about Those Girls. Any and all of these things are things that carry a specific taste and feeling–whole books have been written about them on their own. This book is about them all, and in that, it’s heady. A little cloying, a little too much at times. This is a book for people like me, who just really like crying over fictional people. This is a book for a lot of things.

Books like these are quite often my favorite because sometimes they fly under the radar; people aren’t sure how to define or talk about them or figure out even how they feel about them. That’s part of what makes them so good. Books like these are a tangible thing, and they’re hard to let go of while you’re reading them, and after you’re done they leave you with that nameless “holy-shit-what-even-do-I-love-so-much-about-this-book” type feeling. There’s a lot of things in these kinds of book that often just make you feel. And that, I think, is their biggest strength.

So overall, this book is…

  • 4/5 stars
  • for people who really like feelings (and probably April Tucholke)
  • tradition, and old neighborhoods, and knowing how to feel things you wish you didn’t
  • Cleopatra by The Lumineers

Strange the Dreamer

Some books are a reawakening. 

  • Author: Laini Taylor
  • Publisher: Little, Brown books
  • Year: 2017
  • Genre vibe: F A N T A S Y
  • At a glance: Lazlo Strange is an orphan and a librarian, dreaming of a city he only knows about because of the ravings of a dying monk and wondering at the touch of magic he once recieved when the city’s name was stolen from him as a child. Sarai is godspawn, living above this very city in secret with her sibllings, only hoping to never be found and killed like every other person she ever knew. In the end, Lazlo gets his dream. And also his nightmare. 

This is the year of “all of your favorite authors publishing new books”, and damn is it exciting. After Rin Chupeco’s The Bone Witch, Laini Taylor’s STRANGE THE DREAMER was my absolute most anticipated read for this year. I had the opportunity to hear her talk about the concept and some of the early ideas for the book a couple of years ago at a signing, and barely thought anything of it. “2017 is such a long ways away,” thought this disillusioned past version of me, “I don’t need to pay too much attention for a while” 

Well, past me, you should have paid more attention and anticipated harder, because this book now serves as a major contender for your favorite read of 2017, and holds a very very special place in your dark little heart. Go figure. 

So this book is a book about a guy who likes books and how reading fairy tales his whole life got him his dream: magic. At a glance this is the exact kind of book that the Linnea you all know and love would go “wow, no stereotypes for me!” and look for something darker. 

But here’s the thing: don’t let the sparkly cover and whimsical sounding concept fool you; this  book is really f-ing dark. And it’s amazing, heart wrenching, stomach-churning, and a whole lot of other -ing verbs. So what I’m here to talk about isnt’ necessarily the content or plot of the book so much as what it did for me, which is a bit out of color for this blog, but away we go. 

Immediately after finishing Strange the Dreamer I put a call out to my book-group asking if anyone would cry with me, and also got the chance to tell a friend of mine to read the book. In the process of recommending it, however, I felt myself clamming up. “I don’t want to talk about it“, I thought, even as I informed my friend how lovely the book was, and how emotional and impactful it was. “I don’t want to talk about it“. 

Because here’s the thing about this book: when the Big Bad Thing happened near the end and it all started to go downhill, and my heart started racing every now and then and I couldn’t read every single word because I was just so desperate to know what was going on…I realized why I love books. 

This was a trademark of this whole reading experience, if I’m honest. I don’t like books about people that have my labels (i.e. Fangirl), but Lazlo? He gets it, and not only does he get it, he embodies it. That this is the thing I literally get up in the morning for, that I live and breathe and suffer through other things to be able to do, Lazlo is a living monument to it. Laini Taylor’s writing, the atmosphere of it, the sheer difficulty of everything in this book is kind of just one long explanation of why I like books. 

Which sounds silly. But after I finished this and I was in the process of recommending it, I was struck by the realization that the extent to which I am always chasing that precise feeling–the finishing of a book that you just screamed at, and holding it close to treasure it for a bit longer–more than anything else. That’s why I write this stupid blog nobody reads, that’s why I write books of my own, that’s why I read and why I try to never be more than ten feet from a work of fiction. Because that feeling? That’s the single most important thing on this planet to me. 

So that’s why it was hard to recommend it. Because I know it will hit a lot of people hard, like it did me, because it’s an extremely emotional story and it’s got a lot of heady content and it’s meant to be a big deal. It’s meant to make you cry. Meant to make you feel injustice. It’s meant to make any book nerd the world over feel vindicated, in some way, shape or form. But in that it served as such a poignant reminder to me, it became difficult for me to recommend it to people that don’t chase that feeling, which, to be quite honest, feels a lot like complete and utter devastation. 

If I had my way, every book I read would make me scream about one thing or another. Everything would make my heart do that little wrung-out twist that hurts so badly. I would never stop finishing books that made me feel impacted

But a lot of people aren’t like that. And that’s good–beautiful, even, it’s in no way an invalid way to be a reader. The greater majority of people I know don’t read like that. They need to detox in between, let it sink in. This is good. It’s only that I chase this like a high, kind of, and that’s not an easily understood feeling–that I would just as soon read every “soul destroying” book on my shelf in quick succession as I would pick up something light and fluffy. 

So in short, this book is now extremely important to me both as a reader and as a person (which in my world are essentially the same thing), and it’s the kind of book that oughtnt be taken lightly, because wrapped up inside all its gorgeous Laini Taylor-ness and darkened whimsy and high-concept ideas are some things that are just the simplest form of true that could ever be. 

So this book is a lot of things. And it is:

  • 5/5 stars
  • for people who like clean-cut emotions, and being told why they’re feeling what they’re feeling. And magic and distress and dreams and most importantly: nightmares. Gods and monsters and how humans are both of these things, all the time. 
  • Stars. Smiles on the faces of loved ones. Tears, hot and unrelenting and neded–tears, cold and despondent and grey. 
  • Rolling Waves by The Naked and Famous.

The Lost Girl of Astor Street Clue Hunt, Clue #: 2

I know what you’re here for: your next clue. Because you’re a detective, right? And detectives look for answers.

Well, I have some for you. But! Patience is a virtue. So read on.

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  • Author: Stephanie Morrill
  • Publisher: Blink YA Books
  • Year: 2017
  • Genre vibe: Jazz age society mystery!
  • At a glance: Piper’s best friend has gone missing. Mysteries just don’t get solved fast enough, so Piper takes matters into her own hands, looking for answers in a lot of the wrong places.

So the One Year Adventure Novel program is a thing that I did, and their Summer Workshops are a thing that I have attended. This is where I met Stephanie and heard her speak–and then I met Piper.

This is a book that just feels very nice to hold onto. You know the sort. Just the right heft and weight and amount of pages. And to top it all off: she matches my outfit.

lostgirlFast forward a few months of somehow managing to ignore the ARC I was so lucky to acquire, and here we are nearing the launch date, and I’m given the honor to join in and help send Piper out into the world. Enter Linnea, stage right, furiously reading. But this was by no means a difficult task.

This book is amazing. Jazz age YA fic is kind of my gig, and there’s not a lot of it out there, and even less of it that’s a mystery. So this book was like an answer to my little bookish prayer.

This will come as a surprise only to newcomers: It’s super hard for me to fall in love with Strong Willed Female Characters. This is generally perceived as a shortcoming of mine. And, true to form: Detective Cassano is my favorite thing about this book…HOWEVER.

Piper Sail is a glorious creature. Sometimes, characters with her type of situation and even her temperament make me want to pull some hair out along the way, but I can’t remember a moment I was annoyed with her. I enjoyed her position as a narrator, I believed her decisions and emotions, didn’t ever hate her for looking for answers, and I didn’t feel cheated out of a poignant story moment because she was being “~driven~”, and that ends up not being her only character trait, as well, which is a bonus.

That being said: Detective Cassano. If miss Piper is a standout lady detective, Cassano is her perfect match in a multidimensional, easily-fallen-for supporting role. The twisting roles he plays in getting Piper her answers thicken the plot quite nicely–and just make him all the more fantastic.

It’s difficult to review the plot of a mystery without screwing it up for everybody, so let’s just skip to the end, shall we? Stephanie was amazing and allowed me to have her fill in my wrap-up points for this post, so before you get your clues, have some authorly insight!

The Graces

Some books are treacherous. Very treacherous indeed.

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  • Author: Laure Eve
  • Publisher: Amulet Books
  • Year: 2016
  • Genre vibe: Small town witches, basically.
  • At a glance: Everyone is in love with the Graces. River is, too, but in a different way than most of the rest of the school. River knows they’re witches; and she’ll give anything to join them. Guess who makes a lot of bad decisions? Everyone. Literally everyone in this book.

Alright. Feast your eyes on that gorgeous American cover. Then go look up the rest of them. Admire this stupidly beautiful book. Go find a bookstore and give it a good, long petting. It deserves it. Go on.

Finished?

Good. Now you can read it. Just be careful when you do.

Know me well and you’ll know that this is the kind of book that I just can’t resist. I live for these kinds of books, though they’re few and far between. They sound a bit like this: enchanting, a little intoxicating, vaguely confusing or unsettling, and very very witchy. Two of my favorite “genres” are rich kids and sunshine and there’s some weird magicky shit going on in this small American town. Combine the two and I’ll give you my heart.

In the vein of April Tucholke, Laure Eve spins something unsettling and a little bit whimsical with the greater part of THE GRACES. The Grace family themselves are as untouchable and delectable-looking as anything could be, and River’s quest and determination to be close to them is just all consuming and strange as their presence.

One of the most impressive parts of this book is Eve’s insightful musings on the difference between being involved with people, and being an outsider. The phenomenon of being the moon-person orbiting the established planets of any given social circle or setup is one that’s hard to get across, and Eve accomplishes it with a kind of raw brilliance that speaks to the little part of me that knows very well what it’s like to look in from outside.

And add to that River’s sheer determination to surpass merely being known and become a true piece of what she sees from the outside so clearly, and what you then have is a situation that’s pretty much impossible to leave unfinished. Because the most dangerous part about this book?

You can’t simply put it down.

There are times in life when you have to take a break from reading (shocking, I know, I’m sorry). And this is a book that seeps out of reading time and into other-time. “How are things going?” you’ll wonder, as you’re driving to work. “What’s going to come of all this?” and you’re not satisfied until you’re reading again.

Dangerous, isn’t it?

So, overall, this book is…

  • 4/5 stars
  • for people who like magic, emotional dissonance, and untouchable people
  • wet sand between fingers, not toes. looking at the water and wondering if there are sharks underneath.
  • Setting Fires (feat. XYLØ) by The Chainsmokers

Be Good Be Real Be Crazy

Some books are exceptions to even the strictest of rules.

  • Author: Chelsey Philpot
  • Publisher: HarperTeen
  • Year: 2016
  • Genre vibe: Road trip + complicated romance
  • At a glance: Mia is Homer’s Anywhere Girl, and now she’s leaving. He offers to drive her to her new home, and his genius little brother gets included in the deal. Mishaps ensue and lots of quality moments are had.

Okay, here’s the deal: It’s gonna be super hard to talk about this book and not sound dry, and it’s gonna be super hard to give you a full-on review because of it. Here’s why.

Chelsey Philpot is a voice for the ages. The way she writes is like poetry. It’s the kind of wordsmith skill that you can’t even be inspired by; you’re too busy drowning in it. It’s storytelling bliss.

So, in light of knowing how lovely she is, none of this will suffice to talk truly about this book until you read it, because Chelsey’s are the only words that are right.

I participated in a self-imposed #5Books7Days challenge again this year, and though I weighed in just under 5 actual books, I’m pretty pleased with myself. BE GOOD BE REAL BE CRAZY was the first full book I finished. The journey of this book was a short one.

Begin: The week before Christmas, browsing my local B&N and realizing, “Holy shit, that’s Chelsey Philpot!

Middle: Christmas giftcard purchase #1.

End: #5Books7Days day 2, and the book has been thusly devoured.

This book is an exception to quite a few of my strictest book rules. There are certain things that are automatic turn offs to specific people–every reader has one or two, or a few. Some are more prominent than others, based upon just about anything. Mine usually just so happen to be teenaged pregnancy, and the end of the world. 

Things this book has? Teenaged pregnancy, and the end of the world. Come chapter five, I was asking myself, “are you going to be able to finish this? Will you end up hating it? Will it do something you just can’t excuse?” and I asked myself whether I wanted to quit while I was ahead or not. 

I kept reading. And I’m so, so glad that I did.  Because this book damn well blew me away, and while it may not have changed my mind about some of my least favorite tropes, it definitely proved to me that some books truly are exceptions. 

BE GOOD BE REAL BE CRAZY is a sprawling sort of novel that is also quite contained in its set of goals. A focused set of issues for each character is expanded upon, rather than a lot of issues being thrown at just a couple of people in a short amount of time. 

Because in the end, this book is really about just that: the people inside of it. Homer, Mia, Einstein, and the entirety of the supporting cast are all given full marks for fullness of character and all-around awesomeness. 

This book as kind of a whirlwind. I loved reading it and I love having it on my shelf, and that, I think, is the highest mark I can give a book, really. This is something you want in your brain. Philpot’s words are some ou want to carry around with you all the time. Guarantee it. 

So this book is: 

  • 5/5 stars
  • The smell of gasoline in the heat, the knowledge that you’re going somewhere, even if you’re not sure where it is, and it’s simple kinds of joys. Like a good book. 
  • For people that want a roadtrip and some deep thoughts and a beautiful, beautiful set of words. 
  • Name by the Goo Goo Dolls