DRC Review of I Am Here Now by Barbara Bottner

I received a DRC of I Am Here Now by Barbara Bottner from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

I Am Here Now is a novel-in-verse, taking place in 1960-1961. The main character Maisie lives with her parents, but her mom is terribly abusive. She finds friendship with the boy across the way whose father is terribly abusive. As Maisie enters high school, she becomes friend with a girl named Rachel whose mother is an artist. Maisie quickly finds refuge in spending time with Rachel and Rachel’s mother Kiki. However, that refuge always ends as soon as Maisie goes back home.

This book is brutal. The abuse that Maisie experiences is horrific, and her father and her grandmother often ignore how bad it gets at time. Throughout the book, Maisie attempts to find hope through art and through relationships, trying to find something that will love her back when no one else does.

After reading the author’s note, I found out that this is a semi-biographical work of fiction, and because of that, I find it especially hard to critique this as a novel, to separate the author’s own experiences from the work of fiction.

That said, I had two main issues with this book from the fiction standpoint:

-The book is set in 1960-1961. However, unlike some historical fiction works, there is not a great deal of historical world building. Had the book not explicitly told me the time period it was set in, I wouldn’t have known. After reading the author’s note, it makes sense why it was set in this time period: that was the time that the author was a teen. However, as a work of fiction, it was hard to remain in the 1960s throughout this.

-Lack of hope. Although Maisie finds refuge within art, for most of the book, hope is sorely lacking. As a memoir, lack of hope makes sense; after all, depending on how much of this is autobiographical, there likely realistically was not much hope. However, the book summary said the world Maisie catches a glimpse of is full of life, creativity, and love. However, Maisie frequently has issues with Rachel and Kiki as well as the two male relationships in this book. None of the love that she experiences in the book is actual love. From a memoir perspective, again, this makes sense. However, for being a YA fiction work, the lack of hope until the final 50 pages concerned me a great deal.

However, if you like novels-in-verse and can handle tough subject matter, I would still recommend checking this out. While brutal, it is a quicker read, and it will leave you thinking. If you come into it with the lens of “this is semi-autobiographical,” you will have a better experience as a reader.

I Am Here Now releases Tuesday, August 4.

Author Interview with Rob Rufus

Today, I have the honor of interviewing Rob Rufus, author of YA historical fiction novel The Vinyl Underground. 

First, here’s what the book is about:

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 eighteenth 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 it’s time for an epic act of rebellion.

And here’s a little bit about Rob:

Rob Rufus is an author, musician, and screenwriter. His literary debut, Die Young With Me, received an American Library Association Award and was named one of The Best Books of The Year by Hudson Booksellers. It is currently being developed for the screen. His musical projects, Blacklist Royals/The Bad Signs, have released numerous full-length albums and toured in over a dozen countries.

And here’s the interview!

1.) The Vinyl Underground is your fiction debut after publishing a memoir. Can you talk about your road to publishing?

It was honestly harder to publish a work of fiction than my memoir.  My former publisher didn’t think the protest movement of the 1960s was a “relevant” topic to young readers, which in and of itself is troubling given the current political/social climate.  I was very happy to find the book a home that understood and welcomed hard topics and conversations.

2.) The Vinyl Underground takes place in 1968, one of the most turbulent years of the 20th century. What type of historical research did you do for the book?

It was really important to me to get the details right.  I read a LOT of books, watched a lot of documentaries, read articles and watched news stories from the time to get a sense of how the narratives were discussed without the gift of hindsight.  I also talked to people who participated and lived through the events covered in the book.

3.) There were several years in which the Vietnam War took place. What drove the decision to set the book in 1968?

1968 was one of the most turbulent years in American history.  We almost got out of the war, but then doubled-down in full force.  Martin Luther King was assassinated, and the Democratic Convention sparked one of the most violent sociopolitical protests in American history.  I think I chose 1968 because the country was ready to blow, which felt very familiar.

4.) Your book is filled with rich atmospheric details that makes the book come alive in that time period.  How do you handle historical world building?

I think mainly research, research, research.  It helped that I am very enamored with that time period.  My dad is a Vietnam Vet, but would never talk about his experiences.  So, all of my life I’ve immersed myself in the culture, music, and history of the war to get some sort of understanding of what his life was like.  When it came time to write the book, it was easy for me to close my eyes and see that world come alive.


I absolutely loved The Vinyl Underground, and you can read my review here.

(Disclaimer: I am an affiliate of Bookshop and earn a small amount if you click on that link to buy.)

Blog Tour for Music From Another World by Robin Talley: A Historical Perspective

After having previously read Pulp by Robin Talley (partly historical set in the 1950s), Ziggy, Stardust, & Me by James Brandon (queer historical set in 1973), Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden (published in 1982), Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian (queer historical set in 1989), I eagerly jumped at the chance to read Music From Another World which is set from June 1977 to November 1978. My review for the book can be found here. 

However, I didn’t stop at just reading this book. I was hungry to know more so I decided to read When We Rise by Cleve Jones and The Mayor of Castro Street by Randy Shilts, both of which are mentioned in the acknowledgment sections. I also watched the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk. When the opportunity arose for me to do a post for the blog tour, I decided to do something atypical and talk more about some of the important moments that are included in the book as well as more of what happens after the book ends.

Who was Harvey Milk?

Harvey Milk was born in New York, and he served in the military until he was honorably discharged. He ended up San Francisco while he was in the military where he first became familiar with the city’s emerging gay community in the 1950s. During this time, however, he was not publicly out because being gay was illegal. Public displays of affection and private intercourse could all be prosecuted. It was also illegal to be gay and to serve in the military. 

Milk ended up back in New York before leaving for Dallas. Eventually, he ended up back in New York before making the decision to move to San Francisco. Once in San Francisco, Milk became an asset to the Castro District, using his camera shop as a way to meet with neighbors and begin to organize his political campaigns. He first ran for the Board of Supervisors in 1973. It was not until the Board of Supervisors were reorganized into neighborhoods that Milk successfully won his bid for Supervisor in November 1977. 

While Milk only held the position of Supervisor for 11 months, during his tenure, he worked to create a city ordinance prohibiting discrimination in housing and employment in San Francisco. Milk was shot and killed by former Supervisor Dan White on November 27, 1978. 

Who was Dan White?

Dan White also served in the military, although he was discharged in 1971 because he was considerably younger than Milk. He briefly was a San Francisco police officer before quitting and joining the fire department instead. He ran for Supervisor of District 8 and won. 

Although Dan White murdered Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk, he and Milk actually worked well together for a time. However, after Milk changed his mind and voted to approve a juvenile offender facility in White’s District, White turned on him. White refused to speak to Milk for months, began spending less time at City Hall, and was noticeably different at board meetings. 

But the biggest change in attitude was towards gay rights. White originally stated that “the sooner we leave discrimination in any form behind, the better off we’ll all be” (Shilts, 1982, p. 198) However, after Milk changed his vote on the juvenile facility, White voted no on the gay rights ordinance, telling Dick Pabich, a campaign manager for Milk, that he voted against Milk’s ordinance because Milk voted against him on the juvenile center. 

White’s behavior became more erratic in the following months, and he ultimately resigned from the Board of Supervisors. Less than a week later, however, he wanted his position back. Mayor George Moscone considered this before ultimately deciding against reinstating Dan White as Supervisor. 

Who was Anita Bryant?

Some who read Music From Another World may say to themselves, “Anita Bryant sounds too much like a villain to be true.” However, she is one-hundred percent real (and still alive). 

During the 1970s, gay rights experienced a sudden progression. Across the nation, several cities were passing ordinances similar to the one passed in San Francisco, protecting LGBT people from discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, this came to screeching halt when Anita Bryant launched a very overt anti-gay campaign. Anita Bryant was a pop singer, a Miss Oklahoma winner, and a spokesperson for orange juice. But she’s most known for her work against gay rights. 

Bryant launched the Save Our Children group after Dade County passed their ordinance to protect gay rights. Save Our Children collected 65,000 signatures to repeal the ordinance, and when put to a vote, the voters repealed the gay rights law on June 7, 1977. 

But she wasn’t satisfied with one county. Across the nation, other towns and counties faced similar repeals–some worked in Save Our Children’s favor by repealing gay rights while some voters shut down the repeals or new initatives. 

 

What happened historically after the novel ended?

On November 27, 1978, Dan White sneaked into City Hall through a basement (now the ground floor) window, knowing that he could bypass the newly installed metal detectors if he did so. He went first to Mayor George Moscone’s office where he shot Moscone multiple times and killed him. He then went across City Hall, found Harvey Milk, and shot and killed him. White fled from City Hall, met his wife inside of St. Mary’s Cathedral and confessed what he had done. They went together to the Northern Station of the San Francisco Police, where White had once worked. White was treated exceptionally well by his former colleagues as he confessed to the crime. Ultimately, White’s lawyer managed to stack the jury full of sympathetic white conservatives, and they found him guilty on only the charge of voluntary manslaughter. White served only five years for the murders of Moscone and Milk. 

After Milk was assassinated, a spontaneous candle light march drew up to 40,000 people who marched from the Castro District to City Hall. Friends of Harvey Milk had to fight to allow Milk to lie in state next to Mayor Moscone in the rotunda, and officials eventually agreed. 

In 1979, after White was found guilty of only voluntary manslaughter, pandemonium erupted in the Castro District. They marched to City Hall, but they were no longer peaceful protestors as what had happened many times in the past. Instead, a riot ensued. Several police cars were burned, and protestors broke doors and windows at City Hall. 

While it was too late for justice for Milk and Moscone, their murders and the subsequent trial changed the California judicial system, making it extremely more difficult to claim diminished capacity as White had done in order to get away with murder. 

What if I Want to Learn More?

You should check out: 

When We Rise by Cleve Jones

The Mayor of Castro Street by Randy Shilts

The Times of Harvey Milk (1984 documentary)

Meet San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9iYasWREzE

25th Anniversary of Moscone-Milk killings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_K0moovYM8

Harvey Milk interview 1978: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVlxq7wqgeU

Links to Music from Another World

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ARC Review of When You Get the Chance by Tom Ryan and Robin Stevenson

Disclaimer: I received an eARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cousins Mark and Talia used to spend summers together at the family cottage, but when a fight happened between their parents, those happy summer days ended, and they no longer talked with each other. When their grandpa dies, Mark and Talia are reunited for the funeral.

Although Mark is sad about his grandfather, he’s more interested in trying to go to Pride in Toronto while they are there for the funeral. He’s grown up in Halifax, and while they have a Pride event there, it’s nothing compared to what happens in Toronto.

And while Talia is sad about his grandfather, she’s more interested in trying to meet up with Erin, her partner, who recently left Victoria and moved to school early—which just happens to be in Toronto.

But their parents have other plans. Instead of either of them staying in Toronto, the families decide to go to the family cabin to begin to decide what to do with it because Mark and Talia’s grandmother’s health is also declining.

But when their grandmother’s health calls their parents away, they decide to unleash a plot to get them both what they want: Mark to Pride and Talia to Erin in Toronto. Can you say roadtrip time?

When You Get the Chance is a beautiful look at family secrets, dealing with the past, and the messiness of teen life. These are not perfect characters; they are not written to be that way! Their personalities are very nuanced, and it was honestly refreshing to see how messy they were at times. They are incredibly realistic and act like some people I know in real life. This very realistic messiness was dealt with in such a careful way by Tom Ryan and Robin Stevenson, and I loved how much the characters grew throughout the novel.

I absolutely loved this read, and it’s one that I definitely recommend!

Preorder here: 

IndieBound

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DRC Review of The Fell of Dark by Caleb Roehrig

Disclaimer: I received a digital review copy from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Auggie lives in Fulton Heights, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. It’s a decaying suburb, and unfortunately, it’s known to be a hub for vampires. Yes, vampires. An average of three people die each year in Fulton Heights of vampire attacks, and public places in town are equipped with emergency kits to handle vampire attacks.

So why should Auggie care about Algebra when he lives in a vampire town? Why does he have to get tutored in Algebra so he can hopefully actually pass it this time around when there are bigger issues to worry about?

And then Auggie finds out from Jude, a vampire, that the world as he knows it is coming to an end—and he may be the only one to stop that from happening.

The Fell of Dark is Roehrig’s fifth novel, but it is fourth original novel. (He has an intellectual property work titled A Werewolf in Riverdale which releases April 7) . While Roehrig became known for his twisty whodunit thrillers, Last Seen Leaving and White Rabbit, he has also expanded his range of thrillers to include Death Prefers Blondes and now The Fell of Dark which might best be called a paranormal thriller.

Roehrig has carefully crafted a world where vampires are known to walk among us and carefully crafted two cults of vampires: the League of Dark Star and the Syndicates. The amount of careful world building Roehrig did was outstanding, but it never once feels like an info dump on the reader. As Auggie comes to know elements of the vampire world that he didn’t know prior, the reader learns along with him in ways that fully immerse the reader into the story.

As Roehrig is also known for, The Fell of Dark includes a multitude of queer characters including queer vampires. And within this, Roehrig also manages to sneak in a bit of mid-twentieth century queer history.

Roehrig’s The Fell of Dark is a novel that you can really sink your teeth into and rejoice in delight, and it’s an absolute must read.

The Fell of Dark releases July 14.

Preorder here: 

IndieBound

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ARC Review of Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang

Disclaimer: I received an eARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Dragon Hoops is a true story about Bishop O’Dowd High School’s 2014-2015 basketball season. Yang was a teacher at Bishop O’Dowd High School, and upon being stuck about what story to tell next, he turned to the famed basketball team. While the basketball team had made state several times, the state title remained elusive. While Yang didn’t quite know what the outcome would be for that season, he decided that this story needed to be told.

Yang tells of current coach Lou Richie, Coach Mike Phelps (retired), and the teens on the team that season. He effortlessly weaves together basketball history along with the history of basketball at Bishop O’Dowd High School.

Essentially, Yang manages to tell a story through a graphic novel that can be fairly compared to Friday Night Lights.

This will appeal to all readers, especially those who love basketball.

Dragon Hoops releases March 17, 2020.

ARC Review of Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

Disclaimer: I received an eARC through Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Pepper’s family is behind Big League Burger which has quickly launched into popularity across the U.S. and is spreading internationally.

Jack’s family runs Girl Cheesing, a small deli with only one location.

While both go to the same school, their worlds unexpectedly collide when Big League Burger launches new grilled cheese sandwiches, one of which is clearly a blatant rip off of the Girl Cheesing Grandma’s grilled cheese special. Not one to take it sitting down, Jack uses the deli’s Twitter account and fires off a tweet reply which unexpectedly goes viral. And quickly, Pepper’s mom instructs her to fire back because while Big League Burger has a social media manager, Pepper really is the brains behind it.

And so the feud begins.

But there’s another problem. Pepper and Jack may be crushing on each other without actually knowing the other is behind it on an anonymous app that Jack built while simultaneously engaging in a Twitter war that neither knows they’re behind.

Tweet Cute was a refreshingly fun read. While dealing with some hard-hitting topics (struggling family business, tense family dynamics), this read remains a fun read throughout.

This is told in alternating perspectives, and I thoroughly enjoyed both perspectives.

Tweet Cute releases January 21.

ARC Review of I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick

Disclaimer: I received an eARC through the author/publisher’s early reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.

We begin an interview room in a police station where Anna Cicconi confesses to the murder of Zoe Spanos. How we got to that point is the question.

Freshly graduated from high school, Anna gets a job as a nanny for a family who live in the Hamptons. She needs a clean break from her former reality in which she would get blackout drunk or high on various drugs, and what better way than to be put in a position where she is responsible for another human life besides her own.

As she arrives to the small village of Herron Mills, she receives many strange looks, and she eventually finds out that she bears a striking resemblance to Zoe Spanos who disappeared between New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

For a reason that she cannot explain, she feels like she knows Zoe even though her friends convince her that Anna and Zoe have never met. But Anna knows things about Zoe that aren’t public information, and how else can she know these things?

Anna decides to investigate Zoe’s disappearance, getting close to Zoe’s (former?) boyfriend. And in the end (or in this case the beginning of the book), she decides that she knows Zoe so well because she killed Zoe.

But not everyone is buying it. After all, how can you kill someone that you never even met?

Told in “then” and “now” segments, I Killed Zoe Spanos is a twisting psychological thriller that will elevate your heart rate and leave you second-guessing everything down to the last page.

In I Killed Zoe Spanos, Kit Frick is able to carefully weave together her best book yet.

I Killed Zoe Spanos releases on June 2, 2020.

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ARC Review of Scammed by Kristen Simmons

Disclaimer: I received an eARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Further disclaimer: This review will continue some spoilers for the first book (The Deceivers) but no spoilers for Scammed.

Brynn Hilder had her life turned upside down when she was taken into Vale Hall, a boarding school for con artists. For the first time in her life, her skills that she learned in Devon Park, a poor neighborhood, had great value. She made friends that became almost like family, and she became really close with Caleb, a fellow student.

But things become a bit complicated in Scammed as Grayson, a person she used previously to find out who killed the sister of the Vale Hall director, has found safe harbor at Vale Hall until the director can gather enough dirt to put Grayson’s father, a U.S. Senator.

As Brynn goes undercover to find out about the disappearance of an intern who worked for Grayson’s father, she finds her found-family thrown into turmoil and finds that things are not as they seem.

Scammed is a thrilling sequel to The Deceivers. It’s an amazing read, and I absolutely loved it. The whole series is one that is a fantastic read. The end of book 2 sets up for an amazing concept for book 3.

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ARC Review of The Vinyl Underground by Rob Rufus

Disclaimer: I received an eARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

New Year’s Eve 1967. Ronnie’s brother is dead, killed in the Vietnam War. Ronnie’s dad is eager for Ronnie to register to serve as soon as he turns 18, even though Ronnie wants to do anything but follow in his brother’s footsteps.

He rereads his brother Bruce’s letters, tucked away in his brother’s record collection. Before Bruce got sent to Vietnam, they had plans to start a radio show together. Now, Ronnie doesn’t know what to do, but he finds comfort in music.

As 1968 starts, that tumultuous historical year, Ronnie is filled with dread. But then he meets Hana, a half-Japanese girl, and his life begins to change. Hana vehemently opposes the war in Vietnam, so much so that her parents temporarily moved her to Florida to get her away from the active violent protesting that she had been doing. With Hana, Bruce’s best friend Ramrod who’s been avoiding the draft by purposely failing at high school, and Ronnie’s best friend Milo, they form a Vinyl Underground club whose purpose at first is just listening to music.

But when they unleash a plot to make sure that Ronnie is disqualified for the draft, their plans may begin to go too far. And when Hana is a victim of a hate crime that police don’t care about, they decide to fight back with everything that they have.

The Vinyl Underground is a solid historical YA that solidly world builds for the time period, and the characters come to life. It’s easy to believe that this all really happened among the historical backdrop of 1968.

The Vinyl Underground releases on March 3, 2020.