Book Review: Those Who Prey by Jennifer Moffett

Be careful of who you befriend….

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Release Date: November 10, 2020

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Price: $16.39 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

College life isn’t what Emily expected. She expected to spend freshman year strolling through the ivy-covered campus with new friends, finally feeling like she belonged. Instead, she walks the campus alone, still not having found her place or her people so far away from home. But then the Kingdom finds her.

The Kingdom, an exclusive on-campus group, offers everything Emily expected out of college and more: acceptance, friends, a potential boyfriend, and a chance to spend the summer on a mission trip to Italy. But the trip is not what she thought it would be. Emily and the others are stripped of their passports and money. They’re cut off from their families back home. The Kingdom’s practices become increasingly manipulative and dangerous…

And someone ends up dead.

Grade: B-

Review:

The first half of the novel had me really captivated and interested in wanting to know exactly how someone gets sucked into a cult without knowing it until it’s too late. Emily is lonely, and it isn’t until she meets members of the Kingdom, does she finally feels like she belongs. I know a lot of people mention the fact that the other half of the book takes place in Italy as being interesting, but honestly, the characters barely come into contact with any Italians and stay cooped up in an old villa the whole time, that they might as well have been anywhere in the world, the location didn’t really matter.

Now, for the cult leader, we only got to meet him once and we don’t know much about him at all. In fact, we don’t even know if he’s the one spinning the lies or if it’s his followers as we never see him again. Secondly, two people end up dead in this novel and we don’t ever get full closure about them as their deaths are classified as accidental (yet the circumstances are so fishy that the reader knows it was murder but we can only suspect who it is but never get a definite answer).

The last portion of the book was the least interesting to me. Without the cult and the cult members with her, Emily was a dull character.

I do appreciate the book for being a cautionary message to teenagers facing living alone for the very first time and trying to fit in and thus should be wary of the people they befriend. I remember seeing a lot of Christian based groups in college trying to recruit more members (and maybe some of these groups are cults) but I never got involved as I try to steer clear of people who seem unhinged when it comes to religion.

I do recommend the book and maybe you may enjoy it more than I did, but I was left with a bitter taste since none of my questions never got answered and I don’t know if that was due to the author trying to keep it a mystery or if was due to lazy writing. Either way, it didn’t bond well with me.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Atheneum Books for Young Readers for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review & Author Interview: The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

“First a memory: the hillside set ablaze….”

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Release Date: August 4, 2020

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Price: $15.05 (hardback)

Plot Summary:

Los Angeles, 1992

Ashley Bennett and her friends are living the charmed life. It’s the end of senior year and they’re spending more time at the beach than in the classroom. They can already feel the sunny days and endless possibilities of summer.

Everything changes one afternoon in April, when four LAPD officers are acquitted after beating a black man named Rodney King half to death. Suddenly, Ashley’s not just one of the girls. She’s one of the black kids.

As violent protests engulf LA and the city burns, Ashley tries to continue on as if life were normal. Even as her self-destructive sister gets dangerously involved in the riots. Even as the model black family façade her wealthy and prominent parents have built starts to crumble. Even as her best friends help spread a rumor that could completely derail the future of her classmate and fellow black kid, LaShawn Johnson.

With her world splintering around her, Ashley, along with the rest of LA, is left to question who is the us? And who is the them?

Grade: A-

Review:

The Black Kids is a timely read that spares no emotional punches. Ashley is a sassy, funny, rich girl who has always attended private school with her rich white friends. She doesn’t know exactly what reality less fortunate black people actually live through day in and day out. Sure, she sometimes has dealt with racism, if even subtle by her own friends, but she’s never had to live in dire circumstances like her own cousins. But when the Rodney King riots set the city of Los Angeles ablaze, Ashley can no longer ignore the flames of injustice. For the first time in her life, she has to confront her past, what it means to be a black girl, and figure out who her true friends are. I enjoyed this book because Ashley’s POV was no only blunt but hella funny. I like that Ashley’s character isn’t free of faults, she does some pretty questionable things within the course of the novel but ultimately she tries to make amends where she can and where it counts.

I don’t know if the author has intentions of writing a sequel, but I wouldn’t be against one. Especially if we were to get a book written in LaShawn’s POV (he’s a secondary character in the novel, a black kid who attends the rich kids’ private school because of his sports scholarship). Out of all the characters in the book, he was ultimately the star (much to Ashley’s dismay, since in the beginning of the novel she kinda resents the fact that he’s both smart and charismatic and is going to her dream college).

Pick up this book for timely issues and 90’s nostalgia, you won’t be disappointed.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

Photo by: Elizabeth T. Nguyen

Short Q&A With Author:

I read that you started writing the novel The Black Kids five years ago. How does it feel that the subject matter of the book is now more timely than ever?

So it’s funny, I actually originally started thinking of the idea for The Black Kids as a thesis film when I was in grad school back in 2010, and ultimately decided against it. When I took a break from screenwriting in 2016, I decided to return to my first love of writing fiction and the short story version of The Black Kids just poured out of me. It felt more imperative than ever given the rise of Black Lives Matter and the fact that smartphones had made it such that we were seeing the effects of unequal policing first hand, literally in our hands and on our televisions. I had no idea that it would feel as timely as it does 2020, which is frustrating, but I also take comfort in the fact that now more than before, non-Black people seem to be trying to seek out and understand Black voices, and to actually be not just passive allies, but advocates for change in meaningful ways.

Female friendships are sometimes difficult. Ashley and Kimberly were childhood friends, but many times we outgrow out childhood friends. Do you think women are more likely to feel an obligated sense of loyalty towards a childhood friend despite not having anything in common with them anyone as they grow older?

I do think women are more likely to push to maintain friendships because women are more likely to have actively nurtured those friendships for years and years. Plus female friendships are so powerful when you’re younger, there’s an almost romantic fervor to them that’s only intensified by the fact that you’re experiencing all these major life changes together in such a relatively short time. When you write “best friends forever” in gel pens in a yearbook, or across each other’s arms in marker, you mean it, and many of us actively work to maintain that promise even when those friendships are toxic, or no longer serve us.

Music played a major role in the novel (or at least Ashley was always listening to songs in many scenes). Were you listening to any artist in particular when working on The Black Kids?

Almost all of the songs that made it into the book were songs that I was listening to as I was writing to transport myself back to the era. Also, randomly, I was listening to a lot of Frank Ocean, especially the songs “Super Rich Kids” and “Sweet Life” which I think are really evocative of the first few chapters before the riots begin. I was also listening to a lot of SZA and Lorde to get myself in the headspace of what it feels like to be a teenager/young woman. A lot of Hole and N.W.A. to capture Jo’s defiance in my head. Also, randomly a lot of Bowie, and Seu Jorge’s Bowie covers. In my head, they actually speak to Ashley’s feelings of not quite fitting in or feeling unmoored in some ways throughout the book. Each character definitely has their own soundscape.

Your novel sheds a light on racism, what lesson do you hope your young readers will take away from reading this novel?

I really view this novel first and foremost as a coming-of age-novel. It’s about Ashley making huge mistakes and learning from them how to be a good daughter, friend, sister, and person. I purposefully wrote her to be super flawed because I think that’s important for young readers and adults alike, especially, when it comes to issues around race. It’s ok if we don’t have all the answers immediately, if we do or say the wrong things, so long as we learn and grow from those mistakes and resolve to move through the world being better, more thoughtful, and more empathetic.

What books do you recommend to your readers if they’re wanting to support Black authors?

First and foremost, I would say that Black authors are authors, period. There are Black authors doing great work across genres, some of which engage with questions of race, some of which don’t. So to those of my readers who are non-Black, diversifying your reading really means just stepping outside your comfort zone within your particular genres of interest to make space for other voices. Don’t dismiss something as written by an author of color as something you won’t relate to. Most of us aren’t women in 19th century Britain in love with a brute with his mad wife in the attic. And yet, people don’t use that to dismiss Jane Eyre. Also, to paraphrase what my friend Nic said in an article – don’t only read books about Black people being oppressed, but also read about our joy.

All that said, Queenie by Candice Carty Williams is really great if you’re looking for something literary, but really funny. It also packs an unexpected emotional punch and delves into mental health issues. Luster has gotten a lot of deserved attention for putting a fresh spin on the struggling millennial in New York story. I really love Zone One by Colson Whitehead, and The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle. Zone One is a literary zombie apocalypse book and The Devil in Silver is slow burn literary horror that takes place in an insane asylum. Both are nerve-wracking. Lot by Bryan Washington is a beautiful collection of short stories by a queer young Black man from Texas. We Love You Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenridge, is a not easily characterized, but it’s a coming of age story involving a family and a chimp in an institution in Massachusetts, and explores scientific experimenting in the recent past as it relates to historical scientific experimenting on Black bodies. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson is an amazing non-fiction work about the Great Migration. The middle grade book The Only Black Girls in Town, I think actually shares a lot in common with my novel. And YA right now is an absolute treasure trove of Black voices across sexual orientation, religious and gender identities.

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Book Review: These Vengeful Hearts by Katherine Laurin

vengeful

A thrilling novel about a secret society and the dangers that lie in wait for anyone brave enough to join.

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Release Date: September 8, 2020

Publisher: Inkyard Press

Price: $16.99 (hardback)

Plot Summary:

Whenever something scandalous happens at Heller High, the Red Court is the name on everyone’s lips. Its members deal out social ruin and favors in equal measure, their true identities known only by their leader: the Queen of Hearts.

Ember Williams has seen firsthand the damage the Red Court can do. Now, she’s determined to hold the organization accountable by taking it down from the inside. But will the cost of revenge be more than she’s willing to sacrifice?

Grade: B-

Review:

When I read the premise of this book, I thought I was going to get a dark, twisty novel about a secret society. Instead, what I got was a secret society that functioned more along the lines of the Burn Book in Mean Girls. This novel never got as dark as I hoped it would, and without many characters revealed to be in the elusive Red Court, it was pretty obvious who the Queen of Hearts really was all along. The book was fast paced but overall it wasn’t the kind of thrilling ride I was hoping for.

The moments that I did enjoy were when Ember struggled between doing the right thing and loving the feeling of power she got over accomplishing her assignments.

The romance in the novel between Ember and Chase wasn’t that interesting either. The whole time we’re told that they’re rivals and hate each other, although we’re never shown this rivalry at all. In fact, Chase seems very courteous with Ember from the very beginning so perhaps the rivalry was more on Ember’s side than a shared one.

Ultimately, Ember never suffers any consequences for all the pain she causes and terrible decisions, which made pages of agonizing and teen angst worthless if everything was going to get wrapped up so nicely. And if you’ve seen Mean Girls, then you can easily guess how this book will end. In the end, it seems like all of Ember’s sweat and tears put into trying to dismantle the Red Court didn’t pay off. I recommend this book if you’re into the movie Mean Girls (but without the amazing quotes) or if you simply like the premise of a dark YA but in the end, isn’t really dark at all, but very PG vanilla.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Inkyard Press for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Nick and June Were Here By Shalanda Stanley

nickjune

How far can they get on love alone?

Girl in Pieces meets All the Bright Places in this heartbreaking story of two teens who are determined to stay together in a world tearing them apart.

Release Date: February 19, 2019

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Price: $17.99

Publisher: Knopf Books For Young Readers

Plot Summary:

Nick and June were best friends for years until their relationship suddenly turned into something more. Now, June is coping with a new diagnosis of schizophrenia, a secret she asked Nick to keep for too long. Between managing her symptoms and her parents, June is just trying to keep it together. Nick is a reluctant car thief, supporting his aunt with the money and focusing on his art whenever he can. But when June’s condition sends her to the hospital and Nick’s latest crime threatens to land him in prison, the two decide to run away. When the world is trying to tear them apart, can Nick and June find a way to stay together?

This emotional lyrical novel will tug at your heartstrings and make you think twice about what you would give up for love, even if it’s a piece of yourself.

Grade: A

Review:

I really felt bad for these star-crossed lovers. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, Nick and June’s relationship was an enduring one, as they were best friends since fifth grade, and sometime in high school, the two decide to become a couple. I always felt like whenever Nick and June were together, the best of them came through, it was when they were apart that the worst of them came out.

The two characters had a strong and passionate bond, and when you’re a teenager you truly believe that true love is forever. But Nick and June have so many things going against them, from Nick’s car thievery occupation to June’s recent schizophrenia, it’s almost a bad idea for these two to even be together. However, the two truly believe that love can be all for them, although at times June acknowledges that forever doesn’t have to mean forever in a physical sense, but that her love for Nick will live forever in her heart.

Despite the odds, the reader can’t help but cheer for these two. You truly want their love to endure and hope that nothing will break them up. The fact that these two characters are likable and relatable makes you wish that somehow, in the end, they can have their happy ending.

This is definitely a journey you won’t want to miss and one that will surely pull on your heartstrings.

Author-Photo-Shalanda-Stanley

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*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Knopf Books for Young Readers for the digital ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review!

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