Courtney’s Book Chat: The Astonishing Color of After

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan

First Line: My mother is a bird.

Summary: Coping with her mother’s suicide, Leigh is shocked when she learns her mother has transformed into a red bird. She and her dad set off to visit her grandparents for the first time in Taiwan and find the bird. There, Leigh unravels her family history and tries to reconcile having kissed her long-time best friend Axel the day her mother died.

My Thoughts: I love this book. Emily X. R. Pan crafts lyrical prose while also retaining a decidedly distinct teen voice for her protagonist, Leigh. This book gives a nuanced portrayal over grief, family dynamics, and mental health, all while encompassing it within Taiwanese cultural norms. It resonates deeply with rich emotion and themes, which are enhanced by the deftly incorporated fantasy elements. Leigh’s character and feelings are also elegantly rendered through the use of color and art pigment. Though the amount of flashbacks surprised me and almost felt like they could have been better balanced out at times rather than clustered together, these flashbacks added depth to each character and relationship. It is the relationships that pulse at the heart of the book, both deeply-felt yet authentic with its natural dialogue. This works both for the brewing romance between Leigh and long-time best friend Axel and the relationships within Leigh’s family.

Captivating with many layers, The Astonishing Color of After is a beautiful book about family and grief through the realistic lense of a sixteen-year-old girl. It resonates with poignance and hope.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Cousins

The Cousins by Karen McManus

First line: I’m late for dinner again, but this time it’s not my fault.

Summary: On a resort island lives the Story family. They have lived there for generations. But one day the Story children are disinherited by their mother. The only clue is a note that reads…You know what you did. For over twenty years the four siblings had no contact with their mother or even returned to the island.

Then one day a letter arrives for the next generation of Storys. It is inviting them to the island for a job at the family owned resort and to get to know their grandmother. Everyone is shocked by this change of events but each grandchild is willing to see if they can get a chance to earn back their grandmother’s approval.

My Thoughts: Once again McManus writes a fun and twisty mystery. There are mysterious people, family secrets and ominous warnings. Everything you could want from a good story. Each of the characters if very different. We even get a peak into what happened on the island before the Story kids were disinherited.

I liked the characters. I loved the drama. I was constantly trying to think of what the big reveal would be. And I have to say that it was not what I thought it would be. Maybe my thoughts were a little too wild but sometimes authors do those things. This book, especially near the end, gave me all the Rebecca vibes. Hopefully that doesn’t give too much away! I like that YA authors are writing books for teens that are just as good as the ones for adults.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Megan Miranda and Sara Shepard.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Swamp Thing

Swamp Thing: Twin Branches by Maggie Stiefvater and Morgan Beem

First line: Plants have long been underestimated.

Summary: Walker and Alec Holland are twin brothers who are nothing alike but are still inseparable. Walker loves to be the center of attention while Alec is more quiet and reserved. Their last summer before college is spent in a rural town with their cousins. While Walker makes friends and parties, Alec spends his time working on a science experiment that starts to affect the swamp outside of town.

My Thoughts: This is a DC Comics reimagining of the origin story of Swamp Thing. Author Maggie Stiefvater works with illustrator, Morgan Beem to create a new beginning for one of their classic villains. I liked how they included science and information about plants into the story. It does a little teaching while also entertaining. I wasn’t completely sold on the art work but near the end as the swamp and its creatures started to appear I came to like it more. I am not familiar with the character Swamp Thing but I did enjoy this. It is a fast story from one of my favorite YA authors.

I got to watch an interview with the author, illustrator and moderator (Laini Taylor – another fantastic YA author) via Watermarks Books. It was great to listen to them talk about their work and how they developed the book. If you would like to see their conversation it can be found on Watermark’s Facebook page.

FYI: This is a graphic novel.

Rachel’s Recommendations: This Is Where It Ends

This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

First Line: The starter gun shatters the silence, releasing the runners from their blocks.

Summary: At 10:05 am gunshots ring out. Within a span of 54 minutes four students must come face to face with the possibility of death; their hopes and dreams could be over in a single second. Anything can happen. Anyone can live and anyone can die. Who would do this? Why would they do this? And who will survive the next 54 minutes?

My Thoughts: I have mixed reviews about this books. While it does offer some intense scenery, I felt like the author didn’t really dive deep into the psychology as to why this student felt the need to commit such a violent act. Yes, there was some reasoning explained, but I felt like as a whole there could’ve been more offered to the character of Tyler, the shooter.

There were certain parts of the book that kept me reading due the intense nature of a school shooter and the desire to know why, but there were other parts where I became frustrated with the characters who were trying to survive the dangerous situation that they were forced upon. School shootings are such a deep and tragic event that you have to bring the right amount emotion writing about it in a fiction setting.

I wish that the author would’ve dedicated a little more time with the character development as well. I lacked a certain amount of emotion with the characters and didn’t really feel as bonded to them. I would give this book a 3 out of 5.

Trigger Warnings: mass shootings, violence, death, sexual assault, and some language

What’s Ashley Reading?: Scythe

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

First line: We must, by law, keep a record of the innocents we kill.

Summary: Society has finally learned to conquer death. The world is no longer starving, dying from disease or dying in general. However, one small problem remains. Overpopulation. The solution is the Scythedom. Scythes are people who are chosen and trained to take human lives in order to keep the population of Earth to a manageable level.

When Citra and Rowan are chosen by Honorable Scythe Faraday as his apprentices they are less than thrilled. Life as a scythe is one of isolation and loneliness not to mention death. As their training commences they learn that there is more to the Scythedom than they originally knew including some darker secrets at its core.

My Thoughts: I absolutely loved and devoured this book! It was recommended to me by one of the booksellers at Watermark Books. I finally bought myself a copy because I could not wait for the library one to come back in. I am so happy that I did. It was fast, fun and crazy. So many different twists and turns. I loved the characters. The world is fascinating. Shusterman did a great job of creating a real Utopia but also bringing in some very dark themes as well. As soon as I finished it I immediately downloaded the digital copy from Sunflower eLibrary. If you need something to suck you in from the very beginning then this is that book!

FYI: Lots of death and violence but I don’t think it is over the top. It would be hard to avoid this topic in a book all about bringers of death.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Shadows Between Us

The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

First line: They’ve never found the body of the first and only boy who broke my heart.

Summary: Alessandra is the youngest daughter of an earl. She has spent her life sequestered from the world until her sister marries but she has a plan to gain ultimate power for herself. First she is going to get the attention of the Shadow King. Second she will make him fall in love with her and marry her. And finally she is going to kill the king and take over his kingdom.

My Thoughts: Ever since reading Tricia Levenseller’s first book, Daughter of the Pirate King, I have been hooked. It was a fast read and lots of fun! Each book since has been the same. I highly anticipate each new release. When I saw that Netgalley had an ARC of The Shadows Between Us I requested it immediately.

This is my favorite book of her so far. This is being called a Slytherin romance and that 100% describes it. I loved each of the main characters. They were both not good people but they are unashamed of it too. They know it and do not apologize for their faults. From the very first page the story takes off. Alessandra is wickedly charming and cunning. Kallias is dark, moody and brutal. But there are characters with lighter sides that add a little fluff which is refreshing too.

I loved the whole premise of the Shadow King. The magic and the way it works is brilliant. This author has a wonderful imagination and can bring her worlds to life. I could easily picture Kallias and his shadows. The details of the outfits were stunning. I wish I could read this again for the first time. I am so sad I have to wait another year for a new book by Levenseller.

FYI: This is a standalone young adult novel.