Tag Archives: classism

All That Shines by Ellen Hagan

Review: All That Shines by Ellen Hagan

All That Shines by Ellen Hagan

All That Shines
Ellen Hagan
Bloomsbury
Published September 5, 2023

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About All That Shines

A contemplative novel in verse that questions what it means to lose everything you once treasured and rediscover yourself, falling in love along the way.

Chloe Brooks has only ever known what it’s like to have everything. Her parents’ wealth and place in society meant she had all she wanted, and friends everywhere she turned. Until it all crashes Her father is arrested in the middle of the night, under investigation for fraud.

Bankrupt and facing foreclosure, Chloe must forgo her lavish summer plans as she and her mom are forced to move into one of the rundown apartments they still own, just outside Lexington, Kentucky. Without her riches, Chloe loses her friends, her comfort, her confidence, and her sense of self, unsure of who she is and if she is even worth anything if she nothing to offer.

To Chloe’s surprise, she bonds with her neighbors, Clint, Skye, James, and Natalia, and they introduce her to the side of Kentucky she’s long ignored. Her new friends are the only ones who see her for who she truly is, but will they stay by her side once they discover her family’s true identity, or will Chloe lose them, too?

In her signature captivating verse, Ellen Hagan encapsulates the hesitant joy of reshaping your identity and rediscovering yourself.

My Review

This is the third novel in verse by Ellen Hagan that I’ve read, and I always enjoy the way she captures emotion with her writing. Both RECKLESS, GLORIOUS GIRL and ALL THAT SHINES are set in Kentucky and touch on state pride and love. It’s so rich and deep that it doesn’t surprise me at all that the author is from there herself.

I loved the relationships in the book between Chloe and the other kids at the Limestone Apartments. I loved the way they pulled her into their family and the way they reacted to information about Chloe’s past. Chloe’s relationship with her mom also really touched me. It was so sweet watching them both figure out how to connect to themselves, each other, and their possible new community in this new life they were living.

The only thing that I struggled with was how quickly Chloe believed her dad was guilty and how his guilt seemed a foregone conclusion. I wasn’t sure if that was because she knew things and had put pieces together. She seemed to describe herself as feeling close to him but also a little afraid of him, so I expected her to wrestle more with whether he was truly at fault.

I ended up assuming that that part of the story was summarized so that we could move on to the bigger, more central parts of the book: Chloe’s personal reformation.

All in all, I enjoyed this book. I think DON’T CALL ME A HURRICANE is probably still my favorite of the books I’ve read by Ellen Hagan, but I liked a lot of things about this book, too. Readers who enjoy novels in verse or stories about resilience and community should add this one to their reading lists.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
Chloe is from a white, wealthy family. Minor characters are BIPOC and LGBTQ+.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Strong profanity used very infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violent Content
Mentions of suicidal thoughts.

Drug Content
Chloe and her friends get drunk on champagne at her dad’s business celebration.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of ALL THAT SHINES in exchange for my honest review.

Review: I Feed Her to the Beast and the Beast Is Me by Jamison Shea

I Feed Her to the Beast and the Beast is Me
Jamison Shea
Henry Holt & Co.
Published August 29, 2023

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About I Feed Her to the Beast and the Beast is Me

There will be blood.

ACE OF SPADES meets HOUSE OF HOLLOW in this villain origin story.

Laure Mesny is a perfectionist with an axe to grind. Despite being constantly overlooked in the elite and cutthroat world of the Parisian ballet, she will do anything to prove that a Black girl can take center stage. To level the playing field, Laure ventures deep into the depths of the Catacombs and strikes a deal with a pulsating river of blood.

The primordial power Laure gains promises influence and adoration, everything she’s dreamed of and worked toward. With retribution on her mind, she surpasses her bitter and privileged peers, leaving broken bodies behind her on her climb to stardom.

But even as undeniable as she is, Laure is not the only monster around. And her vicious desires make her a perfect target for slaughter. As she descends into madness and the mystifying underworld beneath her, she is faced with the ultimate choice: continue to break herself for scraps of validation or succumb to the darkness that wants her exactly as she is—monstrous heart and all. That is, if the god-killer doesn’t catch her first.

From debut author Jamison Shea comes I FEED HER TO THE BEAST AND THE BEAST IS ME, a slow-burn horror that lifts a veil on the institutions that profit on exclusion and the toll of giving everything to a world that will never love you back.

My Review

First, I have to say this author either has some up-close experience in the dance world or definitely did their research. The descriptions of what dancing en pointe does to your toes… YUP. Brought back so many memories. Wowza. Not the horrific element I expected to find here, but pretty real stuff nonetheless! Ha.

I found myself nodding along to a lot of the dance descriptions, like the ways the dancers do things, from breaking in a pair of shoes to techniques used on the dance floor. That’s a lot of stuff to get right, and the author really did that. It very much lines up with my own experience.

I thought Laure’s character was really compelling. I liked the moments she delivered commentary on the ballets the company chose to perform and how they were cast, as well as the expectations about how dancers were to look and act.

In some moments, I felt out of sync with the paranormal/supernatural parts of the plot. I felt like I was missing something. I’m not sure if I didn’t absorb a few critical details or what exactly happened there.

Still, so many parts of the book deeply fascinated me. I especially liked Keturah and Andor and the ways they impacted the story. I loved the complications Andor faced in his love life, too. It was so different and really emphasized the strangeness of the story.

On the whole, I am glad I read the book. I loved getting to be immersed in a ballet world– even one so toxic and tragic as this one.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
The main character is Black and queer.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used somewhat infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl.

Spiritual Content
Laure and her friends encounter a river of blood and an ancient god who offers them temporary gifts for a price.

Violent Content
Graphic descriptions of dance injuries and injuries resulting from sabotage. Situations of peril. Laure discovers the bodies of two people who appear to have been murdered. One scene includes graphic descriptions of torture. Another includes a battle between two god-powered characters. In a couple of scenes, a character drinks blood from another person.

Drug Content
Laure, seventeen, drinks alcohol with an older dancer.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of I FEED HER TO THE BEAST AND THE BEAST IS ME in exchange for my honest review.

Their Vicious Games by Joelle Wellington

Their Vicious Games
Joelle Wellington
Simon & Schuster
Published July 25, 2023

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About Their Vicious Games

A Black teen desperate to regain her Ivy League acceptance enters an elite competition only to discover the stakes aren’t just high, they’re deadly, in this searing thriller that’s Ace of Spades meets Squid Game with a sprinkling of The Bachelor .

You must work twice as hard to get half as much.

Adina Walker has known this the entire time she’s been on scholarship at the prestigious Edgewater Academy—a school for the rich (and mostly white) upper class of New England. It’s why she works so hard to be perfect and above reproach, no matter what she must force beneath the surface. Even one slip can cost you everything.

And it does. One fight, one moment of lost control, leaves Adina blacklisted from her top choice Ivy League college and any other. Her only chance to regain the future she’s sacrificed everything for is the Finish, a high-stakes contest sponsored by Edgewater’s founding family in which twelve young, ambitious women with exceptional promise are selected to compete in three mysterious the Ride, the Raid, and the Royale. The winner will be granted entry into the fold of the Remington family, whose wealth and power can open any door.

But when she arrives at the Finish, Adina quickly gets the feeling that something isn’t quite right with both the Remingtons and her competition, and soon it becomes clear that this larger-than-life prize can only come at an even greater cost. Because the Finish’s stakes aren’t just make or break…they’re life and death.

Adina knows the deck is stacked against her—it always has been—so maybe the only way to survive their vicious games is for her to change the rules.

My Review

This book reads something like an upper-class LORD OF THE FLIES. At first, the girls committed to the game called the Finish believe it’s a week of puzzles and games. At the end, a powerful, well-connected, wealthy family grants the winner’s wish. Once the game begins, they learn they’ll be expected to play hard, sabotage one another, and even kill the other competitors.

At first, they seem reluctant. But as the game progresses and the stakes ratchet higher, it seems that Adina, who is determined to survive without killing anyone, maybe the only one unwilling to shed blood.

The pacing is quick, with challenges and social games often happening in back-to-back scenes. At times, the characters seemed a bit caricature-like. However, that exaggerated style lent itself well to the kind of twisted, psychologically on-edge story told here.

I liked Adina’s character and her determination to stay true to herself despite the chaos and danger around her. I also liked the way the romantic elements were handled in the book. If things had wrapped up neatly, I think it would have been unbelievable or too easy.

On the whole, I think readers looking for a dark, twisty game with a commentary on classism will find a lot to like in this book. Readers who enjoyed THE MARVELOUS by Claire Kann or TO BEST THE BOYS by Mary Weber will also want to check out THEIR VICIOUS GAMES.

Content Notes for Their Vicious Games

Recommended for Ages 16 up.

Representation
Adina is Black. Her best friend is biracial. Another friend is Chinese and lives in Europe. Two minor characters (girls) are maybe in a secret relationship.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used pretty frequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. In one scene, a boy and girl sleep in the same bed.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violent Content
Several scenes show characters violently attacking one another. In one scene, a game of Simon Says turns torturous. The caller asks the players to slap each other and stab themselves with a fork.

Drug Content
Some characters (including Adina) drink alcohol. One character is rumored to drink too much and use recreational drugs. Adina finds a bag of weed on someone’s dresser.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of THEIR VICIOUS GAMES in exchange for my honest review.