Book Reviews Books

“Any Place But Here” is the calmest YA novel I have read in a while

“I arrived in northern Virginia on January 1, the metaphor of the fresh start laid out in front of me as bright and wide as the river itself.”

This is the first line of Any Place But Here, by Sarah Van Name. What did that sentence make you feel? If you are anything like me, you may have felt that this YA book is unlike any other you have read. You may have also felt a sense of peace. Any Place But Here is a beautiful reflection of a teenage mind. I would liken my experience reading this book to sitting on the beach, close to the water. The waves crash at your feet, strong and decisive in their movement, but leave you feeling peaceful.

Any Place But Here is about June, a teenage girl who has been “asked to leave” her old school after she was caught drinking with her best friend Jess at a school dance. Jess is a force of nature. She is passionate and rebellious, always signing herself and June up for an adventure. June is completely swept up in Jess’s personality and in her own attraction towards her best friend. She is devastated when her parents send her to live with her grandmother and attend a new school in Virginia.

June’s grandmother lives in a quieter place where June can reflect on the nature of her feelings towards Jess. The book follows June’s journey as she adapts to a new place and finds out some truths about herself. She needs to be able to figure out who she is and what she wants from life, all without her best friend at her side.

I’ve read many books where the reader is privy to the protagonist’s inner thoughts. Very few managed to make me relate to them as much as this one did. What made it so impactful is that June’s circumstances and personality aren’t very similar to mine, but her story was still so relatable. As a young adult, your world starts expanding both outwardly and inwardly. You become aware of the world, but also of yourself. Your thoughts get jumbled. What makes June relatable is that her thoughts were laid out exactly as they were, clear in their complexity. In fact, all the characters are clear in that way.

We have all known people like Jess, June, and her other friends. The characters are well fleshed out and nuanced, with legitimate concerns that 16-year-olds have. One of the problems I have had with some YA books in the past is that teenagers are often portrayed as one-dimensional characters. To be honest, I thought that might be the case here too before I started reading the book. However, it is quickly clear that June has many sides to her personality – things that she learns about herself at the same time as the reader.

A lot of this book happens, as you may have surmised, in June’s mind. The important incidents in the book are seldom events but thoughts and realizations brought about by events. June meets her two new friends, Kitty and Claire when they are grouped together for a science project. As a reader, I barely remembered that the science project even happened. What stayed in my head was June’s consequent inner thoughts that cemented their friendship in her mind.

She also meets Sam, her photography classmate, and Claire’s cousin. The spark June feels with Sam is very cute and, like most other things in her new life, gentle. Sam, Kitty, and Claire are gentle in a way that Jess and her friends are not. The contrast between these two groups leads to June’s inner turmoil about what kind of person she really is.

A major theme throughout the novel is June’s questioning of her own sexuality, brought about by her realization of her feelings for Jess. June goes back-and-forth in her thinking many times and second-guesses herself frequently. All of this is faithfully portrayed in the book. Her journey through inner conflict to self-acceptance is the thread that ties the book together, along with the underlying sense of hope. The latter is helped by the beautiful imagery, firmly established in the first line of the book and returned to throughout the story.

Any Place But Here was right up my alley in every way. A quiet and peaceful book, but constantly engaging and deep. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to lose themselves in a book and come up feeling refreshed with a smile on their face.

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Book Reviews Books

I had a love-hate relationship with “The Summer of Broken Rules” by K.L. Walther

The Summer of Broken Rules is a unique story about grief, love, games, and finding yourself. Set in Martha’s Vineyard in the USA, the book explores how a family comes together through shared experiences and through games, to be a great support system during times of loss. I was hooked right from the premise of some fun action and suspense within the genre of realistic YA fiction.

The book follows Meredith, an 18-year-old girl who has just lost her sister in a freak accident. She and her family are going to Martha’s Vineyard (an island off the coast of Massachusetts, USA) for a week for Meredith’s cousin Sarah’s wedding. Meredith’s grandparents live there and the whole extended family visits every summer. At the wedding, Sarah and her fiancé announce that the family will be playing a game of Assassin to honor Meredith’s late sister, Claire, who was the undisputed queen of the game. The gameplay goes like this: every player has a target – someone they have to “kill” (i.e. shoot with a water-gun). If a player is eliminated, their target becomes their killer’s next target. The winner of the game is the last player standing.

The beginning of the book is strong. The characters are introduced well and clearly defined. Meredith’s extended family and Sarah’s fiancé’s family, plus their friends and wedding guests, make up a truly huge cast of characters. Everyone’s personalities and roles were clearly defined from the start so it does not get confusing. The setting is described beautifully as well. You can almost feel the spray from the sea and the summer goodness of the island on which the wedding is happening.

But despite this, I felt that the book slowly lost momentum as the chapters went by. The suspense I expected was present in the beginning, but as the book went on I started wondering why the game was so important at all. The book explains that Meredith is invested in the game because she wants to win it for her sister, which I understood in the first few chapters. Yet I felt that this explanation did not hold up towards the end, as Meredith made new relationships with other characters. The importance of the game kept varying.

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Sometimes the “kills” were described comically, with over-dramatic betrayals and action movie-like moves, which I really liked. However, at other times Meredith seems genuinely scared and distressed by the game, leading me to wonder whether she actually found it fun or not.

I felt like the romance was a bit forced. Meredith meets someone from the groom’s party, Wit, at the wedding, and she almost immediately falls in love with him. This in itself would have been okay – I don’t mind a good “love at first sight” story. But I was disappointed that Meredith gave so much importance to what Wit thought of her. It seemed as though Wit kept telling Meredith what she was thinking and who she was as a person.

Don’t get me wrong, their love story is pretty cute, but I would have liked it better if Meredith had more autonomy over her perception of herself. A redeeming factor here is that Meredith eventually does make her own decisions and does not let her life revolve around what Wit or her family say. But I still felt like the love story was given undue importance. I was not convinced that the strength of their relationship was enough to make it so significant in Meredith’s life.

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I found myself almost rushing through the final chapters, not because I was impatient to find out who won the game (honestly, I lost interest halfway through), but because I just wanted the book to end. The epilogue seemed unnecessary too. The only purpose it served was to reiterate what was already established in the previous chapters, and the new information could have been added seamlessly in the last chapter.

Would I read this book again? Probably not. But would I recommend it to people? Maybe. It was not terrible, certainly not the worst YA book I’ve ever read. Despite everything, I would give it a solid 3 out of 5, the good points being for the setting, the first few chapters, and the amazing descriptions of the food they eat. (Donuts and pies, anyone?)

Overall, personally, I felt that the book was a bit of a disappointment, but not to the extent that I regret reading it.

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Book Reviews Books Pop Culture

How The Nature of Witches pulled at my heartstrings in the best way

When I first started reading The Nature of Witches I made sure to avoid any summaries or blurbs. I wanted to fall in eyes wide open, and fall in love with its magical world. I have to admit, Rachel Griffin did not disappoint. If you are looking for a modern tale of witches and climate change, that makes you laugh out loud and cry along with the protagonist, then this is the right book for you.

Clara Densmore is an Everwitch. She is the first Everwitch in over a hundred years to be born. While most witches have their powers tied to one specific season, Everwitches change along with them, maintaining their powers throughout the year. In other words, Clara does not have to wait for the sun to shine on her during her season. But changing along with the seasons has an effect on Clara and her depth of feeling as well. When a new professor with his apprentice, Sang, moves to her Eastern magic school, Clara will have to face her deepest fears and her magic in a desperate attempt to fight against unnatural weather phenomena.

The Nature of Witches deals with climate change in a way that is very straightforward. The Shaders, or people born without magic, know that there is a balance with the earth that they should respect. However, even with the Witches all around the world cautioning against challenging the limits of what nature can do, Shaders keep on building. Everything has a limit. And in this world, as well as in ours, that limit has been reached. Very similar to what happens on our planet, strange heatwaves appear in the middle of winter in The Nature of Witches. Sudden spring tornadoes occur in the fall.

To say that this reminded me of the abnormal heatwave in late October last year is not a stretch. Even after a year of restrictions on traveling and movement of people, pollution levels remain high. The balance that is understood by witches in The Nature of Witches finds its broken echoes in the reality checks our planet keeps giving us. How many of us wish we could have a magical solution to climate change and melting polar caps. And certainly, this is one of the main themes in Griffin’s book, and the heartbreaking description of how nature is just out of balance rings true beyond the written pages.

The Nature of Witches tugs at your heartstrings in another, more personal way as well. Clara, as an Everwitch, is very powerful. But as Spider-Man would say, “with great powers come great responsibilities.” This is certainly true for the young protagonist of the book. Clara’s personal story is about facing herself and her deepest fears, learning from the past to look towards her future.

Clara changes with her seasons. Her powers shift something in her, and as she accesses a new type of seasonal magic, her feelings too, follow her change. As the novel begins in summer, we see Clara describe it as the season where she feels the most, in the most passionate way. She knows what is coming with the beginning of the fall season, and even as she wants to cling to the summer version of herself, time does not excuse her. Time waits for no one, and so Clara has to go on.

This coming-of-age part of the novel I think speaks directly to all of us who are afraid of change. And yet, life teaches us that change is inescapable. You cannot delay the passage of seasons, and what change they bring with them. Growing up, moving out of your parents’ house, going to college in another town. All of these experiences and more make you into a different version of yourself. When I first moved abroad for work, I thought I too wouldn’t change as much. Maybe I would learn to save some money or try new life hacks. Instead, as the warmth of summer transformed into the chill of autumn first, and the poignant stabbing of winter second, I knew I was wrong. Change is scary at times, but it is something we should all learn to embrace.

The author’s website describes the book as “about heartbreaking power, the terror of our collapsing atmosphere, and the ways we unknowingly change our fate.” I loved The Nature of Witches because it pulls and tugs at your heartstrings in just the right way.

The worrying about climate change and the future mixes well with Clara’s personal story, into a perfect cocktail of heartbreak and self-realization. A magical insight into the idea of change, and what it brings us, in the good and in the bad. That’s The Nature of Witches in a nutshell. And to anyone who has been struggling with changing, or seeing themselves as different from yesterday’s you, I cannot recommend this book more.

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Movie Reviews Movies Pop Culture

Artemis Fowl is a train wreck of a movie fit for 2020

It’s only fitting that, in a year that started as chaotic evil and has only proceeded to double down in efforts to be the epitome as such, the entertainment industry follows suit. Artemis Fowl, now streaming on Disney+ after numerous delayed releases, definitely fills that role.

As a kid, I absolutely loved Eoin Colfer’s original series about the prodigious young criminal mastermind, his bodyguard (aptly named Butler), and their complicated relationship with the many inhabitants of the Fairy world. In the books, Colfer paints Artemis as the ultimate anti-hero – brilliant, egotistic, and perversely loyal to his family name alone. As the series progresses over 8 books, Artemis slowly begins to evolve and learn the importance of compassion, remorse, and love. But even in his improved state, Artemis remains a deeply flawed criminal mastermind.

The hour and a half-long movie needlessly uncomplicates Artemis and reflects none of this nuance. Gone are the subtle lessons encouraging kids to reach within themselves in times of adversity, or the thought-provoking discussions of good and evil. Instead of drawing you in with his incomparable wit and ability to always be two steps ahead, Artemis is shown as a bland, somewhat naive boy whose daddy issues make him reliant on Butler and a whole lot of luck.


If the lack of nuance was irritating, the lack of coherent plot was even more so. Artemis Fowl inexplicably veers from the first book and attempt to cobble together a story from several of the later novels, while also throwing in additional characters for seemingly no real reason. The movie is similarly wholly a train wreck when it comes to editing, with numerous storylines introduced and rapidly tossed aside with little explanation or fleshing out.

I was willing to be flexible – sometimes it’s just not logistically possible for a movie adaptation to the plot of its basis. That’s why it’s called an adaptation. But edits to a plotline are generally supposed to make the movie more digestible or coherent in a shorter amount of time (see: The Lord of the Rings, which did the opposite of suck!). Here, director Kenneth Branagh and team did…whatever the literal opposite of that is called. After watching the movie with three friends, neither of the two who did not read the books were able to articulate the storyline, while the two of us who had were left wondering if we had somehow managed to remember the entire thing wrong.

[Image Description: A young white boy with shaggy brunette hair cautiously creeps through the library towards something offscreen while holding a magic gun-like weapon]. Via Disney.
[Image Description: Artemis Fowl, a young boy with shaggy brunette hair cautiously creeps through the library towards something offscreen while holding a magic gun-like weapon]. Via Disney.

I’m a firm believer that even a badly written movie can be partially redeemed by good acting. Unfortunately, Artemis Fowl doesn’t even have that going for it. Despite appearances by names like Judi Dench and Colin Farrell, the cast also falls largely flat. For titular actor Fredia Shaw, it’s marginally excusable since he’s basically making his acting debut and is still a child. But honestly, what’s Josh Gad’s excuse? I didn’t ask for a grungy, verbose version of Hagrid with half the character development! Even the overblown CGI – courtesy of the whopping $125 million budget – couldn’t distract us from how wooden and forced the acting in this movie is. (What did that budget go towards, by the way? Emotional reparations for the cast? Definitely not towards making the movie actually watchable, that’s for sure).

You might be wondering: Why is this woman so worked up about a kids movie? It’s not a big deal! Bad movies happen. And it’s true – bad movies do happen. But especially in a time where we’re coming to terms with the fact that kids understand and internalize more from a younger age than we give them credit for, a sanitized, poorly written, and abysmally acted Artemis Fowl is the last thing they need to watch in quarantine. Artemis Fowl was bold and resonated because Eoin Colfer didn’t talk down to us as children – he recognized that we needed an accessible way to learn that good and evil are not always going to be clearcut, and that right and wrong will translate to real-life situations that look more alike than different more frequently than we’re prepared for.

Disney, on the other hand, hasn’t learned that there’s no reason to underestimate the emotional complexity of kids, and has successfully alienated any potential adult fans of what they appear to be trying to make another storied franchise. It’s a damn shame, it’s a disappointment, and it’s downright treasonous to the Fowl name. Excuse me while I go say a prayer that time travel is actually real so I can un-waste the last hour and a half of my life and use it on something that’s less painful and more entertaining.

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Giveaways Books Pop Culture

Have you heard of “All the Stars and Teeth”, Adalyn Grace’s debut novel about fearless girls?

All the Stars and Teeth, Adalyn Grace’s highly anticipated debut young adult novel, is an adventure story involving magic, mermaids, and roguish pirates helping a renegade princess as she tries to prove herself worthy of ruling her kingdom by saving it. I was already hooked when I heard the premise. 

Plus, it’s been anticipated as a big hit ever since it was announced, and with good reason — the book is an adrenaline rush of a read, the story of a girl who wants things so strongly and is willing to fight to get them, no matter the cost. I’m sure all Throne of Glass fans will love All the Stars and Teeth.

We at The Tempest had the chance to interview author Adalyn Grace. She told us the book is entirely inspired by the main character of Amora, who Grace admitted is one that can be considered “unlikable” by some. 

“She wants and she wants things loudly,” she said. “I wanted to make her be somebody who could be whoever she wanted.” 

At the beginning of the writing process, that was really all Grace knew — nothing about the magic system, or the world she lived in. “I knew there was a girl and I knew the type of girl she was — morally gray, she wants things.” 

Let’s hear more about the writer: Grace is a novelist with a background in live theater and TV writing, and just like many of us, she began her writing journey online.

“I started by roleplaying on Neopets, it was my favorite website,” she shared. “I discovered they have boards and people were writing… I was just bored so I thought to explore it. I was on the Neopets boards, I found a small group of friends and we were writing about wolves and vampires, just weird things… it was so fun.”

As she explored the concept of writing more, Grace discovered that it could be a way to infuse the world around her with a kind of magic.

“I’ve always wanted magic in the world,” she said, “and I’ve always been so upset that I haven’t been able to get it. I always try to find it, I’m actively searching for it, but I think that writing for me is just another one of those — let me get into this magical landscape, let me fill the world with a little bit more magic.” 

In All the Stars and Teeth, Amora’s country is made up of seven islands, each with its own brand of magic. Grace said that coming up with those systems involved a lot of sitting down and thinking through what she liked in other shows and invented worlds, and reimagining them for her purposes.

Grace said the process of writing this book was mostly good, as she enjoyed writing “the friendship and banter and [exploring] the magical parts. There was nothing about this book that wasn’t super fun,” she added.

So many moments in the book are incredibly tense — Amora is being hunted down while she sails her country in an effort to stop disaster and prove herself worthy of being a ruler.

There are close calls with royal guards, battle scenes that had me clenching my teeth in stress, and a vicious mermaid who honestly holds my whole heart. She’s angry and hurt but willing to help Amora and the rest of her ragtag, motley crew regardless, and she’s an incredible character to read about.

Amora goes on a literal journey in the book, all the steps of which Grace had to figure out once she already had an image of her main character.

Since this is Grace’s debut novel, it’s also her first time getting feedback from readers reacting to her work. She said that interacting with readers both in person and on online platforms like Instagram has been one of the highlights of her publication journey so far. 

“The readers are just so awesome,” she said. “Our whole job is to give our work to people to be judged. It’s one big judge-fest, so it’s nice when somebody likes your work and lets you know.”

As for other books Grace would suggest people read, she highlighted Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibanez Davis, another debut novel which came out in early January, saying “the magic in that was so interesting.” In addition, she recommended Fable by Adrienne Young, which is meant to come out in September 2020 and which Grace said was “beautiful, [Young’s] work is gritty and stunning as usual.” 

Grace also gave some advice for aspiring authors, saying, “Just keep going.”

She shared that before selling All the Stars and Teeth, she received more than 100 rejections from literary agents for a different novel, one that had even been selected for a very hard-to-get-into mentorship program, called Pitch Wars.

If she had given up after those 100 rejections, there would be no All the Stars and Teeth, so her story truly is a testament to the adage she shared.

We’re giving away one copy of All the Stars and Teeth (signed by author Adalyn Grace!) on our Instagram, hurry up and participate! If you absolutely can’t wait to hold the book in your hands, you can buy your copy here for $12.79.

Books Pop Culture

How romance novels helped me soothe anxiety and build empathy

“Hope is a discipline,” says activist, writer, and educator Mariame Kaba.

For me, reading romance novels is an important part of that discipline, because romance is an engine of hope. Romance novels consistently reinforce something true but easily forgotten: at all points in history, regardless of how bleak the circumstances, people have always found love, and it has helped them get through.

Romance novels can also be soothing. For someone who struggles with anxiety (it me), the knowledge that a romance novel guarantees a happy ending can make it easier to encounter the darkness it might contain. Some romance novels are purely fluffy, escapist fantasies, perfect for readers at their most fragile or frivolous. If you’re in the mood to hone your hope discipline, however, romance can also help.

One of the spurious criticisms of romance is that it gives readers unreasonable expectations, which says more about the critics than it does about readers. In truth it’s laudable that romance portrays characters finding love exactly as they are. Perhaps that’s a radical expectation, given our culture telling us the way to happiness is through constant and often punishing self-improvement, but unreasonable it is not. For narratives of fundamental, foundational loveability, YA romance is rich ground.

If I could send books back in time to my teenage self, I’d send Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ and Emery Lord’s The Start of Me and You, which have rich, complicated heroines who don’t contort their bodies, their minds, their experiences into an acceptable form. Both books also give equal weight to friendship and romance; truly the stories young people deserve!

Self-love is a step in many romance journeys, and a realistic impediment for some people. Learning to love after trauma is unfortunately also realistic, and hope within this arena is nothing short of vital. What a Wallflower Wants, a historical romance by Maya Rodale (It’s the third in the Wallflower series, but it stands alone) features Prudence, who struggles with trauma from a past sexual assault. A trademark of romance novels is the dark moment when the main characters face betrayal, violation of trust, or some other breach in their relationship that makes it seem irreparable. Prudence opening herself to love, first after her initial trauma and again when her dark moment with the hero reorients to the light, is a triumphant testament to the heart’s resilience.

Kennedy Ryan’s Long Shot is another unforgettable, deeply empathetic romance that gives a sensitive portrayal of a woman escaping her abusive husband. The book elucidates how an abusive partner can hinder a victim’s professional life in pursuit of total control, and when the heroine Iris gets not just a loving partner, but everything she wants in the end, the satisfaction is immense.

Long Shot is a counterexample to another misconception that romance novels encourage women to seek romantic love to the exclusion of all other goals. After a friend of mine expressed disappointment in a recent read, I encouraged her to pick up A Princess in Theory, the first Reluctant Royals book by Alyssa Cole. I guessed that my friend, who has a doctorate in a STEM subject, might find solace in a book that recognizes and reflects on the difficulties women often face pursuing STEM careers. Naledi, the heroine, gets the guy and saves the day using her science smarts. How did my friend like it? Going by the photos she sent me of lines that resonated with her, and the way she tore through the rest of the series, I’d say it was a hit.

Romance novels like A Princess in Theory demonstrate how love can strengthen us to fight external obstacles. Love from A to Z, a YA romance by S.K. Ali, is a book where the characters face Islamophobia and other incredible hardships but prevail thanks to love, faith, and righteous anger. Likewise, American Dreamer by Adriana Herrera, the first in her Dreamers series, features two heroes who face, in turn, the racism and anti-immigrant sentiments directed at Afro-Latinx populations, and the homophobia that is intrinsic to evangelical Christianity in the United States. If these sound heavy, they can be, but there’s plenty of levity and optimistic endings despite struggles and setbacks. Plus the tantalizing descriptions of food truck fare in American Dreamer gave me intense cravings for plantains.

Media reflects the culture at the time of its creation. To engage with romance is to engage with whatever issues culture is grappling with. I wouldn’t say that romance is the best place to find understanding of the world’s problems, considering not all stories are considered worthy by gatekeepers, and not all stories are authentically told by authors who deeply understand them. Nonetheless, whether romance illuminates a path through one’s personal struggles or shines an empathetic spotlight on others’, its position as the literature of hope makes it essential reading.

So go forth, read romance, practice hope, and be a better person!

Books Pop Culture

If you’re a book lover, you need to join Bookstagram

I’ve long known that people in the book community are amazing, but talking to a group of bookstagram pros showed me just how amazing they really are.

Bookstagram — for “book Instagram” — is a community of book lovers who come together on Instagram to showcase their love of the written word and storytelling through books. It’s a fascinating world, one I briefly tried to join (#selfieswithbooks was my “thing”), but ultimately I don’t have the artistic flourish to really be good at it.

There are those who are just amazing, though. I follow one person, @ursula_uriarte, who has almost 80k followers, a streamlined aesthetic, and an ability to take artistic photos of books that just blows my mind.

Bookstagrammers, as they’re called, are fun to follow if you’re into reading because not only is it thrilling to see your favorite books showcased on someone’s feed, but sometimes you get recommendations for the best books. 

Amanda Gray Williams, whose bookstagram handle is @inagrayarea, said she started her bookstagram a few years back when “I didn’t have a lot of IRL friends who were big readers, and I thought it would be a great place to share my recommendations and just get to talk about books.

“The biggest draw now is that there is a built-in community, and it feels like a really safe space,” Williams added.

Karissa Riffel, of @karissariffel.books, said she loves the community; in fact, the great community completely changed her experience on bookstagram from when she first joined.

“I started out wanting to reach people who would be future readers of my books,” Riffel said, “but I found such a positive and vibrant community that, instead of a means to an end, my Bookstagram has become an end in and of itself.”

The sentiment about bookstagram’s community was echoed by Bree Buonomo of @livinginabookishfantasy, who said she made a friend she speaks with almost daily who lives in Puerto Rico, whom she never would have met without this medium.

Buonomo also noted there are some fun perks that come with being a bookstagrammer, “like receiving advanced reader copies (ARCs) of upcoming novels, getting requests to beta read, and receiving products to review, which I’ve loved doing each time the opportunity has been given!”

Bookstagram is fun to follow because it’s just cool to be surrounded by fellow book nerds, people who grew up and didn’t grow out of wanting to lose themselves into fictional worlds and don’t find it weird to love spending hours staring at an immobile piece of paper. 

One thing that’s always struck me about the platform is just everyone’s artistry on display. I’m a big believer that there are myriad ways to be artistic and each one is as valid as the next. Being artistic in a bookstagram way requires having an eye for what colors and patterns and props look good with a book, as well as taking time to make sure the picture comes out right.

That was always my downfall on bookstagram: I’m too impatient! I would snap a few photos and then get bored and just call it a day. This is why I don’t consider myself a bookstagrammer; I’m more of a dabbler.

Bookstagram is great for authors as well, as having photos of their books shared increases visibility about their work. 

Williams mentioned she loves to shout out books she’s adored, saying, “I have so many people message me about books they read because of my recommendations, and I can’t think of anything better!”

Ultimately bookstagram is about community and about celebrating books, something I, as an avid reader and aspiring author, think we can never have enough of in the world.

Gift Guides Books Pop Culture

8 necessary books for anyone going through a big life change

‘Change’ is a loaded word for many of us. My own relationship with change has always been to long for it in advance of it happening, to fight it when it does, and to embrace it only right before the cycle begins all over again.

But one thing that always makes change a little more bearable is the knowledge that, whatever the type of change you’re going through, someone somewhere has probably written a book about it.

So what better time than spring – the Official Season of Fresh Starts – to bring you a list of the very best books about change? From internal growth – coming-of-age, changing relationship dynamics, and renewed mindsets – to external shifts, like socio-political upheaval, new homes and entering uncharted territory, these books cover all the bases. They remind us that change is essential to growth, and that perspective is everything.

1. Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

A copy of 'Born Confused' lies on a purple rug. The cover features a woman's eyes with a question mark at the centre of her forehead.
[Image description: A copy of ‘Born Confused’ lies on a purple rug. The cover features a woman’s eyes with a question mark at the center of her forehead.] Via Iman Saleem.
Dimple Rohitbhai Lala is on many cusps – between cultural tradition and her own volition, school, and college, a Dimple-approved old boy and a parent-approved new one. While that fuzzy area between leaving school and starting college seems a very specific kind of change, there are a number of lessons Dimple learns that are pretty universal. Namely that friendships must grow as people do, that to change your values is not to accept defeat, and that the chaos of change does not necessarily end in calm, collected resolution – often it just settles into slightly more manageable chaos.

2. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières

Louis de Bernières's novel 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin', featuring a blue cover with various symbols from the book on it, lies on a grey blanket alongside another one of the author's books and a pair of glasses.
[Image description: Louis de Bernières’s novel ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’, featuring a blue cover with various symbols from the book on it, lies on a grey blanket alongside another one of the author’s books and a pair of glasses.] Via A Model Recommends.
Set in 1941 on the Greek island of Cephalonia during the Greco-Italian war, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is concerned with many different types of changes. With a multi-character narrative that goes back and forth across time and place, the horrors of war being contrasted with everyday life in Cephalonia serves as a gripping background to a number of personal and interpersonal dramas. Italian Antonio Corelli is infatuated with Pelagia, Pelagia is engaged to Mandras, Carlo is struggling with his homosexuality and the death of his beloved. This epic novel is about how war can change how and whom we love, and how these loves can create and reshape our histories. 

3. Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

The spine of the novel 'Brooklyn' stands out among a pile of books, the rest of which are piled with their spines facing the opposite direction.
[Image description: The spine of the novel ‘Brooklyn’ stands out among a pile of books, the rest of which are piled with their spines facing the opposite direction.] Via Iman Saleem.
Brooklyn captures the piercing pain of homesickness and feeling very small in a big world with stark honesty. Eilis Lacey emigrates from Ireland to New York in the 1950s, alone and not knowing what awaits her. As soon as Eilis conquers her fear of the unknown and settles into her new life, however, she gets pulled right back into her old one. Brooklyn is about choices and serves as a reminder that while the past may be out of your hands, the future is yours to build.

4. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

A person wearing a white sweater holds up the Italian copy of 'Bridget Jones's Diary' against a wall covered in different shades of dusky pink.
[Image description: A person wearing a white sweater holds up the Italian copy of ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ against a wall covered in different shades of dusky pink.] Via The Eat Culture.
We can’t ever talk about fresh starts without mentioning Bridget Jones, queen of drastic self-improvement tactics and overambitious New Year’s resolutions. Bridget, 30-something, works in publishing, lives in London, would like to stop smoking and dating losers, is so relatable because her life, much like anyone’s, rarely ever goes according to plan. Witnessing Bridget deal with every curveball – sometimes gracefully, sometimes not – feels like being seen, flaws and all.

5. The Baghdad Clock by Shahad Al Rawi

A hand holds up a copy of 'The Baghdad Clock' against a white curtain as patches of sunlight hit the book. The cover is shades of blue and features a young girl leaping over a puddle.
[Image description: A hand holds up a copy of ‘The Baghdad Clock’ against a white curtain as patches of sunlight hit the book. The cover is shades of blue and features a young girl leaping over a puddle.] Via Iman Saleem.
In 1991 in Baghdad, a young girl and her best friend meet for the first time in an air raid shelter during the first Gulf War. From then on, they share everything with each other – dreams, disappointments, fears, and firsts. In the background of the girls’ lives are a close-knit community and a city whose nooks and crannies they know like the backs of their hands, both slowly disappearing as a result of the war. Through a child’s perspective and using elements of magical realism, Al Rawi explores her protagonist’s internal turbulence at a time in which uncertainty is a way of life and stability a myth. 

6. Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares

The fourth book in the 'Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants' series lies on a pair of blue jeans. The cover is a pair of blue jeans against a yellow backdrop.
[Image description: The fourth book in the ‘Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants’ series lies on a pair of blue jeans. The cover is a pair of blue jeans against a yellow backdrop.] Via Iman Saleem.
This book will have more of an impact if you’ve read the 3 preceding books in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, but it still does great all by itself. Carmen, Tibby, Lena, and Bridget are off on their final summer apart before they go away to college and begin spending the rest of their years apart as well. Being apart from your friends is difficult because it means coming to terms with what that distance may or may not change. The sisterhood teaches us to have faith in the friendships we hold closest to our hearts and to trust that they can endure the scariest thing of all: the unknown.

7. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

The cover for Sandra Cisneros's 'The House on Mango Street', which depicts a red building on a turquoise background.
[Image description: The cover for Sandra Cisneros’s ‘The House on Mango Street’, which depicts a red building on a turquoise background.] Via Bagina.
Cisneros’s graphic novel is told in a series of vignettes through the voice of Esperanza Cordera, a young girl growing up in Chicago’s Hispanic quarter. Readers learn all about Esperanza’s community and culture through the eyes of a child, which are much clearer than those of adults. Central to Mango Street is an overwhelming sense of community and loyalty, and Esperanza’s experiences of growing up, finding her purpose, awakening her sense of independence and agency, are all intrinsically tied to the eponymous Mango Street and all its inhabitants. 

8. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

A copy of 'Persepolis' - featuring a red cover with a young girl wearing a dark headscarf and looking unhappy - lies on a wooden surface by a vase of flowers.
[Image description: A copy of ‘Persepolis’ – featuring a red cover with a young girl wearing a dark headscarf and looking unhappy – lies on a wooden surface by a vase of flowers.] Via Persistiny.
Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel blends personal and public histories into one, each one shaping and sustaining the other. In her striking, candid illustrations Satrapi remembers her childhood in Iran, her move to Europe and eventual return back to Iran. Born to politically active Marxist parents and growing up during the Iranian Revolution, Satrapi’s own life is intertwined with an extremely volatile phase of her country’s history. Satrapi endures many drastic changes – geographical, political, personal – yet remains intrinsically unchanged.

Change can be intimidating, daunting, and downright scary. Let these books help you on your way to not only dealing with change but conquering it as well.

Check these books – and more – on our brand new The Tempest bookshop supporting local bookstores!

Race Books Pop Culture Inequality

YA author canceled her debut novel, ‘Blood Heir,’ after accusations of racism

Over the past few weeks, what started as quiet exchanges and carefully censored commentary on inclusive fiction within the young adult community exploded into controversy.

The heart of the furor? Blood Heir, a Russian-inspired fantasy from debut author Amelie Wen Zhao slated to release later this year, was pulled after fellow YA authors raised concerns that the book was racially insensitive in its handling of slavery and the death of a black character.

Many have lamented the situation as a loss to Zhao, despite her publisher acknowledging that they will be publishing the books bought from her in her original deal and her agent stands behind her, meanwhile, the two women of color authors who originally offered critique have been brigaded and sent death threats.

Blood Heir is not the first book to be the subject of such debate and upheaval.

From Laura Moriarty’s take on potential Muslim internment camps in American Heart to Jack Gantos’ A Suicide Bomber Sits In A Library, the concept of what makes inclusive fiction worth reading has included a great deal of criticism for books that do not make the cut.

The fact that Zhao’s removal has caused such upset seems to touch on this ignorant rule that all-inclusive fiction should be accepted for its existence and effort.

In many of the articles that denounce Zhao’s critics as part of a jealous, vicious mob of “PC culture,” they’ve seemed to have seized on Zhao being a fresh-faced immigrant who had no idea of the cultural implications of making a Black character enslaved and doomed to die first for the sake of a white protagonist.

By pointing out that Zhao is a woman of color, her defenders suggest that less scrutiny should be placed on her efforts of representation. After all, how can a woman of color be racist against other people of color? And how can an immigrant be held to account for America’s history of racism and bigotry?

This is one argument that is often raised in regards to the critique of inclusive fiction. It cannot be denied that American exceptionalism does not apply to all writers’ backgrounds and personal missions in writing their narratives.

However, anti-blackness and colorism are global issues that are apparent in both Asian and Asian-American communities. So to give Zhao a free pass because of her ethnicity is reckless and dismissive of the societal triggers these portrayals of past trauma causes.

Many point to Zhao’s cancellation, a rarity in an industry where books are more often given the chance to be rewritten, as a double standard that would not have occurred if she were a white author. While this may be true that still does not excuse the pain that she acknowledges she caused these marginalized groups.

Speaking from personal experience as being one of the bloggers who braved the Islamophobic premise of American Heart, inclusive fiction done wrong is not an easy thing to swallow. It is never easy to read narratives in which your existence is stereotyped, demonized, and belittled.

The fact that such narratives are defended and marginalized voices are instructed to “read before critiquing” proves that there is nothing revolutionary, important or educational about them. It is a perpetuation of what inclusive fiction sets out to deconstruct.

Representation isn’t valuable if it means diminishing the others.

Like it or not, inclusive fiction does not merely mean plopping in a marginalized character or two and calling it a day. Writing about people who have historically been denied respectful representation can never be taken so lightly.

It requires thought and research, and understanding in some cases about who gets to tell a story and whether or not that person is you. There is no divorcing real-life histories, divisions and suffering from fictional narratives.

In the case of American Heart, the premise of a potential internment camp wasn’t actually the issue so much as the author’s decision to deny her Muslim character any real presence and place all focus on a white protagonist.

Meanwhile, author Samira Ahmed’s upcoming Internment, on the same topic, has been welcomed. The difference is not merely the fact that Ahmad is a Muslim-American author, but rather the care and research that she has repeatedly referenced in the process of writing the title.

Even if an author decides to write about marginalized communities outside of their own, they have the option of sensitivity readers. These are paid readers —some are often authors— who are solicited by the publisher to scour a manuscript for insensitivity and problematic materials. This route would have been useful for writers like Zhao, who despite having an immigrant background and experiences with oppression, are not accustomed to the lived traumas of others.

So if nothing else, Blood Heir has certainly demonstrated that the We Need Diverse Books movement does not stop at that simple, stirring statement. Rather than denouncing this situation as censorship, this an opportunity to discuss what is really needed to move forward with the inclusive fiction movement.

Books Pop Culture

An open letter to the writer that changed my childhood as well as my adult life

Dear Sarah Dessen,

I was 13 when I first read Someone Like You. I was not a book lover, a bookworm or into literature – none of that. But one day, a family friend of mine dropped off this book for me and I decided to give it a try.

Before that, reading was something I did when my mother told me to. I’d read Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, and more just because that’s what I was told. There wasn’t this inherent desire in me to read.

So when I say that reading that one book was when I changed, I know it is the cliche of cliches, but that was when I fell in love with books. Cliches exist for a reason, and this was mine. Reading Someone Like You was eye-opening. The characters, the mood, the connections, all of that – I craved and kept craving.

The book spoke a lot about grief; it dealt with the aftermath of loss and how grief works differently for everyone. I had lost my grandfather a few months prior and I couldn’t confront my grief, so I let myself go in the book. All the lines pertaining to the inherent grief Scarlett’s character held within her resonated with me. 

More than that, there was the friendship between Scarlett and Halley. It wasn’t a romanticized friendship, it wasn’t glamorised, it was real and raw and had all the ups and downs that I was facing with my own friends at the time. Towards the end of the book. there’s a line that talks about how everyone needs that one person in their life, and that relatability factor just struck me. It was a literature that I needed to so desperately connect with. Being 13 in Karachi, you don’t get a lot of exposure.

Someone Like You gave me real connection, real immersion with a culture that wasn’t my own. It was something I had never really felt. But reading that book made it come to life for me. Soaking in Halley and Scarlett, I realized that there was so much more out there for me to learn. I read and then re-read it; allowing myself to just live in someone else’s shoes because I so badly wanted to pretend my reality was not real. So I went to search for another one of her books. But none were available in Karachi.

That summer, I was travelling and I came across another book by Sarah Dessen. That was all I really wanted. I wanted to shop and the usual, but there was this need, this desire to read more that was so new. And that unfamiliarity made me feel good. That exhilaration is still what I feel when I walk into a bookstore. No one in my family was fond of reading or ever really gave it a second glance past Peter and Sally. 

I was so immersed in her novels that I craved to make the characters my own. That was when I started writing. I wrote fantastical stories of the characters meeting one another, making up a reality that was so completely far away from my own. And then I began my own project. It was never supposed to be a novel, but somewhere along the line, I found my own characters.

Sarah Dessen, I read and re-read Someone Like You, questioning my ability to write every second. Praying to anything out there to make my words flow as easily as yours. Wishing that I would finish this book, and get that same feeling I did after reading both those books. Years passed and I kept on writing. I read all of your novels. There is only one international bookstore here and every time I went there, and I would always ask them the same question,

“Any new Sarah Dessen books?”

It became a need to end my night with a world that seemed so far from my own yet one I identified with so well. I would ask friends and family who went on holiday to bring back your books for me. 

I finally finished my book when I was 17. And when the first printed copy lay in my hands, I skipped to the ending, asking myself if I got that feeling – that feeling I got every time I finished one of your books. I still haven’t been able to answer that question myself. It’s hard to judge your writing from a creative distance. The point is, if Someone Like You hadn’t found me all those years ago, I may not have published my book, I may not have ever even written it. I may not have realized that writing is the one thing that feels closest to home.

I think I read somewhere in your books that every story is worth telling, and I thought maybe you’d like to hear this one.

Books Pop Culture

I’m a plain old adult who still reads young adult novels and I don’t feel bad about it

In a world and time where it feels everything is constantly changing, it is nice to know that the place I feel most at peace continues to be in any space surrounded by books. When I am anxious or overwhelmed, I have the routine that lets me breathe again, even if it’s just briefly. I head over to my local library or bookstore, head straight to the young adult fiction section, and judge books by their covers and titles in order to find an escapist gem. However, recently something has changed. Seemingly all of a sudden I have reached my mid-twenties and change has come to find me here too, where I least expected.

David Bowie sings "Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes."
Via [Image description: A man, David Bowie, sings “Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.”]
I have read young adult novels since before I was a young adult. It started with fantasy. I was always drawn to fractured fairy tales as a child and, as I hit middle school, this evolved into reading books on the same topics but with heroines slightly older than me. I remember realizing I had read everything that interested me in the my neighborhood library’s children’s section and first venturing over the the teen fiction section. It felt like a thrilling transgression (clearly, I was a very tame child). And there I would stay and explore for so many years, eventually dipping into books about young women in high school who had to save their families, go to war, work at their aunt’s beauty salons, and, often, get the guy.

There is a misconception that young adult novels are all poorly written soapy nonsense and that people who read them are intellectually lax, and there are a few issues I take with this sentiment. Firstly, some books are definitely poorly written soapy nonsense and sometimes that is what I like to read because it is fun and there is nothing actually wrong with that. Secondly, a good book is a good book. Some young adult novels are bad just as plenty of fully fledged adult novels are bad, and some are likewise incredibly beautiful. Genre does not equal quality. 

Third, and perhaps most significant, is the fact that young adult novels often feature some sort of transformation. Young adult novels and coming-of-age novels are not necessarily synonymous, but many of the YA novels I have read happen to be both. Growing into a person of increased consciousness, or becoming self-actualized, are themes that I hope I am always interested in. Humans’ capacity for growth is one of the most interesting parts of us, and it just so happens that, because many YA novels take place during the time of people’s lives where they are growing into lightly older adults, they feature plenty of growth.

A lovely red flower grows out of a pot and then retreats into itself.
Via [Image description: A red flower grows out of a pot and then retreats back into itself.]
I used to witness this growth as instructive. As someone who has always had a difficult time with self-actualization, being able to read about and feel like a part of someone else discovering themselves felt like getting the opportunity to feel less alone, and like there might be hope that I too could get there, to a point of growth and acceptance.

Now, however, I find myself in my mid-twenties never having experienced the great loves or quests of these stories that would change me for the better. I graduated high school, and eventually college, without discovering my passion or the love of my life. I read about teens having these experiences and wonder “what’s wrong with me?” Why am I not living my life more dynamically, or taking more risks? Why am I stagnant when these characters grow in front of me?

The answer, of course, draws another question: Why am I comparing my life to those of primarily white fictional teenagers? Or anyone, for that matter?

I still read young adult novels. I still like reading books that I find fun and still enjoy finding characters I connect with. I am still interested in this time of life where so much can change, and I, admittedly, still find safety in the familiarity of some of these stories and tropes. Change has happened whether I like it or not, though, and hopefully for the better. There is more diversity in the stories YA authors are writing and this is truly a blessing. I tried seeking out any YA novels I could featuring South Asian American protagonists and with each passing year, more of these characters are borne and that is exciting. I hope to keep bearing witness to the stories, now, of brown and black women growing and changing.

I have also started drifting into the “fiction” section of my local library as I once did the “teen fiction” section, and making a new home there. It is a slow shift, but I have found friends in these shelves as well. And some of them are growing and changing, too, just as I continue to.

The Tempest Radio Episodes The Expose Show Audio + Visual

THE EXPOSÉ | Episode 38 | “13 Reasons Why (Not to Watch the Show)”

This week, two Tempest fellows, Katie Kaestner and Kayria Taghdi, join Laila to discuss the problematic Netflix original series, 13 Reasons Why. The show is a teen soap opera chronicling the suicide of high school student Hannah Baker and the thirteen tapes she left behind.

Does the show start any useful conversations about mental health, depression or sexual assault? Or does it hide behind the shock value of the graphic depictions of suicide and rape? Is there anything redeeming about a show that glorifies the death of a teenage girl? How do teen-run fan accounts on Instagram give us an insight in to what “kids these days” are responding?

Sara Bareilles – Chasing the Sun
Jess Penner – Bring Me the Sunshine

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