The Vinyl Underground

Dig it.

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.

The Vinyl Underground, Rob Rufus
March 3rd, 2020

This story is one of four parts, or sides rather. The Vinyl Underground is broken into four sides like a traditional double LP. Side A introduces the four teens and the foundation of their club The Vinyl Underground, Side B is the club’s plan to get Ronnie out of the draft and the execution of it, Side C is the awful hate crime against one of them, and Side D is the completely outrageous, wholesomely awesome, fantastically incredible, and wonderfully badass act of rock-n-roll rebellion. Reading this book to completion was like discovering a concept album that changes the way you hear music.

Now, sure, I have been guilty of shoving favorite records at friends, or monopolizing the AUX cord to blast albums I insist everyone needs to listen to, and I like to think my playlists are utter perfection. That being said, reading this book to completion is one of those experiences that make you want to reread it. The use of repetition throughout the book of certain phrases reminds me a lot of concept albums that tell complex stories. Likewise, every chapter and section of this book has some of the most rockstar lines I’ve ever read in a book. Sure, do people really talk like that? No, but the effect created by Ronnie, Milo, Ramrod, and Hana having constant zingers of lines at each other, or even better when targeted at the world, makes them seem like the coolest kids you could ever hangout with.

I have to be honest, Side A and Side B do a real disservice to the build of the story. I think it is because the back novel makes it sounds like the “horrific act of racial-charged violence” sound like it’s the catalyst for the novel. Or that when Hana is first assaulted by the racist bullies, that it is the considered horrific. I’m in no way saying that when the racist bullies assault Hana that it isn’t “that bad” or, God forbid, okay. That being said, as a reader, because of how stories normally flow, it does fall right about at where a normal story’s catalyst happens; the call to action if you will. Because of the placement, it makes the novel feel almost like two books combined.

The Vinyl Underground is organized like a double LP. Meaning, an album that comes on two different records. Side A and Side B feel like one book. Side C and Side D feel like another. But it’s all one book. The story of these four’s senior year is unmistakably one unforgettable story. I especially believe that this novel would be excellent to use in a senior classroom when teaching about the Vietnam War. Since this book is set in 1968, it does an excellent job of capturing that time period and what it was like to be a young person then.

Unfortunately, too many of the issues being discussed and the incredibly hateful beliefs held by the antagonists of this story are still real today. The Vinyl Underground shows that these issues can be overcome and fought against. Young people deserve to know that their voices matter and the possible acts they can take to rebel against a government they do not approve of. Sure, being young can feel like you have no power and I am not necessarily saying “the completely outrageous, wholesomely awesome, fantastically incredible, and wonderfully badass act of rock-n-roll rebellion” is something that every kid should do. But, I do want it to be clear that acts of civil disobedience or protests can absolutely be effective when done by young people and young adults. This book shows more than just what life was like for teenagers in 1968; it shows how young people can change the world.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Testimony From Your Perfect Girl

Annie Tripp has everything she needs–Italian sweaters, vintage chandelier earrings, and elite ice skating lessons–but all that changes when her father is accused of scamming hundreds of people out of their investments. Annie knows her dad wasn’t at fault, but she and her brother are exiled to their estranged aunt and uncle’s house in a run-down part of Breckenridge–until the trial blows over.

Life with her new family isn’t quite up to Annie’s usual standard of living, but surprisingly, pretending to be someone else offers a freedom she’s never known. As Annie starts to make real friends for the first time, she realizes she has more in common with her aunt and uncle than she ever wanted to know. As the family’s lies begin to crumble and truths demand consequences, Annie must decide which secrets need to see the light of day . . . and which are worth keeping.

Testimony From Your Perfect Girl , Kaui Hart Hemmings
May 14, 2019

Maggie’s Thoughts

Listen, it’s no secret that neither of us like contemporary. We’ve talked about it ad nauseum on the podcast and on most reviews (it’s why we invited our friend Davis onto the project, he’s our contemporary boi!). And when Jessi told me we had some ARCs for a contemporary book coming up, I rolled my eyes and sighed. I wasn’t exactly enthused about it at all.

I read Testimony From Your Perfect Girl on my off time during work, or when it was slow. And then something strange happened.

I didn’t want to put Hemming’s book down.

Which is an absolute phenomenon when it comes to me & contemporary books.

Sure, it was hard to get into Testimony From Your Perfect Girl. And I audibly groaned and complained about the very first paragraph of the book–which describes, in detail, what the main character was wearing. I found Annie to be annoying and hard to relate to, and I was frustrated with the lack of information about the inciting incident. And then I realized that that’s exactly what Annie was going through.

I got pulled in by Hemmings’s easy flowing writing, and I started to relate to Annie a little bit more as she got herself a job, stumbled through some romance, found out more about herself and as she slowly started to redefine who she was, I started to get to like her. I liked being in the quiet little story–despite how often Jessi and I exclaim how much we want dragons and robots and exploding suns. It was a good little emotional book to ease me back into enjoying to read.

That’s not to say there weren’t some things that could have been better; I absolutely wanted some more tense moments. But the times we got that tension, it felt like real life tension. Robot dragons may be in your face tension, but trying to work through emotional trauma and redefining family borders is tense enough.

There were some laugh out loud moments–and I praise this book 100% for it’s fierce feminist sex-positive message. I loved watching the relationships build between Annie and her aunt and uncle. Some of the times when Annie and Aunt Nicole were hanging out felt so pure, it watered my crops and cleared my acne.

Jessica’s Thoughts

As I’ve practically tattooed on forehead, I’m not a fan of contemporary. And Testimony From Your Perfect Girl was distinctly lacking in killer AI programs falling in love and murdering whole ships of people for one single girl. But I decided to give it a chance.

Annie Trip introduces herself to us in luxury. She puts on designer sweaters like the rest of us put on those ratty old jeans from high school. And she stays in that naive, rich girl trope for a long time.

I agree with part of Maggie’s review, that this lack of information was incredibly frustrating, but obviously necessary. But I’d like to add that she only goes out of her way to ask or learn about the trial once and even after she gets some finite details about the extent of the damage her father has done, she doesn’t seem to register it.

In fact, Annie doesn’t seem to register much. And at first, I saw this as a pretty fair representation of the depressive spiral, giving her cause to act out just to see if a change in behavior would help. I was even proud of her for standing up to a guy who used her obviously weakened state for a good time on New Year’s Eve, when she shouted about what she’d done for him in the woods. And I was glad to see that of all the lessons Annie did take to heart that the lesson that sex is not affection one seemed to actually stick.

But it took a lot to really drive home just how many lives her father’s fraud screwed over. It’s not enough to hear it from old friends, but new friends also need to tack on that they are working more because their families have lost so much.

As the story progresses we find out that all the adults in Annie’s life have lied to her about one thing or another. This really clouded the story and diluted Annie’s chances at confronting her parents about the damage that had been done to so many people’s lives, including her own.

There were some funny moments and definitely a great lesson the autonomy of sex, but the plot overall felt watered down and slow. While I don’t think the plot should have been dumbed down to only focus on her father’s trial, I do wish more of the problems in Testimony From Your Perfect Girl had focused on the trial and its consequences for Annie.

Maggie’s Rating
★★★★☆
Jessica’s Rating
★★☆☆☆

Dividing Eden ★★★★☆

diving-eden.jpgBEHOLD! FOR I HAVE FINALLY FINISHED THIS BOOK! And it was amazing.

Twins Carys and Andreus were never destined to rule Eden. With their older brother next in line to inherit the throne, the future of the kingdom was secure.

But appearances—and rivals—can be deceiving. When Eden’s king and crown prince are killed by assassins, Eden desperately needs a monarch, but the line of succession is no longer clear. With a ruling council scheming to gain power, Carys and Andreus are faced with only one option—to take part in a Trial of Succession that will determine which one of them is worthy of ruling the kingdom.

As sister and brother, Carys and Andreus have always kept each other safe—from their secrets, from the court, and from the monsters lurking in the mountains beyond the kingdom’s wall. But the Trial of Succession will test the bonds of trust and family.

With their country and their hearts divided, Carys and Andreus will discover exactly what each will do to win the crown. How long before suspicion takes hold and the thirst for power leads to the ultimate betrayal?

Dividing Eden ★★★★☆

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BEHOLD! FOR I HAVE FINALLY FINISHED THIS BOOK! And it was amazing.

Twins Carys and Andreus were never destined to rule Eden. With their older brother next in line to inherit the throne, the future of the kingdom was secure.

But appearances—and rivals—can be deceiving. When Eden’s king and crown prince are killed by assassins, Eden desperately needs a monarch, but the line of succession is no longer clear. With a ruling council scheming to gain power, Carys and Andreus are faced with only one option—to take part in a Trial of Succession that will determine which one of them is worthy of ruling the kingdom.

As sister and brother, Carys and Andreus have always kept each other safe—from their secrets, from the court, and from the monsters lurking in the mountains beyond the kingdom’s wall. But the Trial of Succession will test the bonds of trust and family.

With their country and their hearts divided, Carys and Andreus will discover exactly what each will do to win the crown. How long before suspicion takes hold and the thirst for power leads to the ultimate betrayal?

Dividing Eden ★★★★☆

diving edenTwins Carys and Andreus were never destined to rule Eden. With their older brother next in line to inherit the throne, the future of the kingdom was secure.

But appearances—and rivals—can be deceiving. When Eden’s king and crown prince are killed by assassins, Eden desperately needs a monarch, but the line of succession is no longer clear. With a ruling council scheming to gain power, Carys and Andreus are faced with only one option—to take part in a Trial of Succession that will determine which one of them is worthy of ruling the kingdom.

As sister and brother, Carys and Andreus have always kept each other safe—from their secrets, from the court, and from the monsters lurking in the mountains beyond the kingdom’s wall. But the Trial of Succession will test the bonds of trust and family.

With their country and their hearts divided, Carys and Andreus will discover exactly what each will do to win the crown. How long before suspicion takes hold and the thirst for power leads to the ultimate betrayal?

BEHOLD! FOR I HAVE FINALLY FINISHED THIS BOOK! And it was amazing.

I’m working my way back into love with the fantasy genre and between Diving EdenA Court of Thorns and Roses, and Red Queen my interest has certainly been piqued.

While I loved damn near all of Dividing Eden, it lost a few points with its prophecy: one twin is cursed (pronounced “evil”) and will spread the curse across the kingdom. The “one light-one dark” trope was definitely something that pushed me away from fantasy in the first place. After the king and the eldest prince die, Carys and Andreus are forced to compete in the Trial of Succession to prove who would be a better ruler.

I know it’s prevalent in YA but I really enjoy when there are trials like these. They often show a lot of culture. Think about the hunger games for a second-someone plans it all, someone approves of it being aired, million watch it, and twenty four people are volunteered to compete in it. You can see that people are monsters. Or, consider the choosing ceremony in Divergent, the motto is faction before blood, but people are still shocked and outraged when children choose a different faction than the one they grew up in.

Just something to consider.

As characters, Carys and Andreus were fleshed out wonderfully. They were engaging and despite the constant comparison between them, they remained two separate identities. They are fiercely loyal to one another, as twins often are, so I was rattled when it seemed so easy to wedge them apart

The head hopping was also difficult to adjust to. We are swapped between both of the twins but the swap often happens in the same scene. It was a bit jarring at first but I got used to it after a few chapters.

Overall, Dividing Eden is well written and a great start to a new series. I have many questions about the world and the characters that will keep me reading into book #2 and the plot was so engaging I know of at least five other bloggers that I’m going to force this book on.