February 17, 2020

A.S. King: "Still Life with Tornado"

Title: Still Life with Tornado  [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: A.S. King [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary with a Twist
Year: 2016
Age: 14+
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Original, bold premise. Honest, profound exploration of pain and trauma (albeit initially blocked/disregarded by the characters). Validation of teens' feelings and issues.
Cons: The main character's dry, sometimes self-deprecating quips may not sit well with everyone.
WARNING! Domestic abuse. An inappropriate relationship (barely on page).
Will appeal to: Those who want to look at all-too-real teen problems through a surreal, but exactly because of this, sharper-than-average lens.

Blurb: Sixteen-year-old Sarah can't draw. This is a problem, because as long as she can remember, she has "done the art." She thinks she's having an existential crisis. And she might be right; she does keep running into past and future versions of herself as she wanders the urban ruins of Philadelphia. Or maybe she's finally waking up to the tornado that is her family, the tornado that six years ago sent her once-beloved older brother flying across the country for a reason she can't quite recall. After decades of staying together "for the kids" and building a family on a foundation of lies and domestic violence, Sarah's parents have reached the end. Now Sarah must come to grips with years spent sleepwalking in the ruins of their toxic marriage. As Sarah herself often observes, nothing about her pain is remotely original - and yet it still hurts. (Amazon)

Review: If you're familiar with A.S. King's books, you know what you're getting into 😉. If not, but the blurb didn't scare you all the same, you're probably well-equipped to enjoy this one, especially since it's definitely more accessible than I Crawl Through It - if you can suspend disbelief.

ALL THE DIFFERENCE

Honest confession: I usually don't fare well with straight-up contemporaries, even when they don't involve romance. I need a unique premise, or better, a unique angle, when I read a story that deals with everyday's problems, or coming-of-age, or family, or all the things you can find in a contemporary book beside romance. That's why I love A.S. King's YA novels - she's able to keep me engrossed in what, without her peculiar brand of magical realism/surrealism, would be "average" stories about "average" issues (of course they're not average, but common enough that you feel like you don't need one more specimen sometimes). She's able to add a fourth dimension to teen (and sometimes adult) pain, and to filter it through a lens that, instead of making it look blurry, actually sharpens every little detail and ensures that it matters. How many books about self-questioning teens with a toxic family and an equally toxic school environment are there? And yet, Sarah - despite coming in a few different versions from different times, or because of that - is unique. Maybe even more than in her other books (though I have only read three of them so far, but still), King makes sure that she is...and that she matters. That, even when Sarah reflects on her problem at school that started it all, and tries to see it in perspective on the backdrop of her family's implosion, the same problem matters. The author makes an excellent point about teens (and especially teen girls) being dismissed as "whiny" when something eats at them that adults deem as not important enough - or at all. That's why we need a King in our life - and all her Sarahs. [...]

February 10, 2020

Rob Rufus: "The Vinyl Underground" (ARC Review)

Title: The Vinyl Underground [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Rob Rufus [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary, Historical
Year: 2020
Age: 14+
Stars: 3.5/5
Pros: Vivid portrait of an era. Teen protagonists who feel real. Focus on friendship and coming of age (though there's some romance involved). Music fuels the story.
Cons: Messy parent-child dynamics and conveniently clueless adults.  Some inconsiderate choices.
WARNING! Verbal and physical abuse (racially charged, for the most part). Unchallenged drug use. Underage drinking.
Will appeal to: Those who appreciate a story walking the line between teen adventure and social/historical commentary.

Blurb: During the tumultuous year of 1968, four teens are drawn together: Ronnie Bingham, who is grieving his brother's death in Vietnam; Milo, Ronnie's bookish best friend; Ramrod, a star athlete who is secretly avoiding the draft; and Hana, the new girl, a half-Japanese badass rock-n-roller whose presence doesn't sit well with their segregated high school. The four outcasts find sanctuary in The Vinyl Underground, a record club where they spin music, joke, debate, and escape the stifling norms of their small southern town. But Ronnie's 18th birthday is looming. Together, they hatch a plan to keep Ronnie from being drafted. But when a horrific act of racial-charged violence rocks the gang to their core, they decide its time for an epic act of rebellion. (Amazon)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I requested this title on Netgalley. Thanks to North Star Editions/Flux for providing a temporary ecopy. This didn't influence my review in any way. Also, please note that this is an uncorrected proof - I was able to spot some (genuine) typos that are most likely not to find their way into the final version 🙂.
Fun fact: to match the book, all the headers for this review are US song titles from the '60s.

THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN'

1968 was a pivotal year in most of the Western countries, but there's no doubt that the US - with the Vietnam war draft, the still very much current segregation and Martin Luther King's assassination - were one of the hottest spots at the time. And probably more than anywhere else, music - rock music - embodied the spirit of protest of the young generation, or at least their restlessness. Now, I'm in no position to know firsthand, but it seems to me that TVU captures the feeling perfectly - that of a nation losing its (mostly fake, apparent at best) innocence, and being forced to come of age. Against the backdrop of the draft scare and of his uncertainty about the future, Ronnie - along with his friends - finally sees the bigger picture, and realises that not taking a stand against injustice is just as bad as being part of it. Music itself, for him and the whole Vinyl Underground, become less of a hiding place or a cure for heartbreak, and more of a rebellion flag and a way to make a statement. But it also plays a key role in the story...a role that, of course, I'm not going to spoil 😉. [...]

February 04, 2020

Tell Me Something Tuesday: Do You Take Advantage of Free Chapter Previews?

Tell Me Something Tuesday is a weekly discussion post on Rainy Day Ramblings, where the blog's owner Heidi discusses a wide range of topics from books to blogging. Weigh in and join the conversation by adding your thoughts in the comments. If you want to do your own post, grab the question and answer it on your blog.
Here is what is on deck this week:

DO YOU TAKE ADVANTAGE OF FREE CHAPTER PREVIEWS?

Short answer: