Monday, November 14, 2016

YA Review: Outward Blonde by Trish Cook

Outward Blonde by Trish Cook

Published: October 18th, 2016 by Adaptive Books
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: ARC
Page Count: 280 in my ARC, but the back of the ARC says 320 so I'd go with that.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The publisher sent me a copy for review consideration.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Sixteen-year-old Lizzie Finkelstein is a hard-partying socialite who lives a charmed life with her mother in Manhattan. After a public drunken sexual escapade results in both an arrest and an embarrassing viral video online, Lizzie’s parents stage a late night intervention. Lizzie finds herself whisked away to Utah to learn a lesson or two about taking responsibility at Camp Smiley, a wilderness survival program for troubled kids.

Camp Smiley is a far cry from Lizzie’s high society life in New York. Without her stable of luxury hair/makeup items, her teacup Pomeranian, contact with the outside world or access to social media, Lizzie must face the harsh conditions of the outdoors. Grouped with troubled campers in which she’s certain she has nothing in common (except Jack, who’s pretty hot), Lizzie must now learn to dig her own toilet in the woods and build a fire by rubbing two sticks together before the camp will ever let her go back to her former existence. She has a choice: get with the program, or get out of there.

Review: Let's get this out of the way - I didn't like this. The writing is fine. The writing is probably the best part of the book, as it's engaging and entertaining. If you can ignore the representation of the real life thing, and you enjoy kind of that chick flick feel type of book, you would probably like this fine. I could not do that. There will probably be spoilers in this review, and I apologize for that, but I feel they are necessary.

To explain something - Adaptive Books basically publishes books based on movies, to put it in a way that amuses me. More specifically and more accurately, they re-purpose abandoned movie scripts and screenplays into books. I think that's a really unique idea. Outward Blonde was based on a script that was going to be a Hilary Duff movie, and as someone who has seen a lot of Hilary Duff movies, I can totally see that. (Which might also be a way to figure out if you'd like this - I imagine if you're a fan of, say, Material Girls, you'd probably be into this.)

Part of me actually wonders if the movie didn't get made because of another movie released a few years ago. This is all me speculating, but Hilary Duff hasn't really played a teenager in a few years, which would be right about the time Brat Camp, a Mila Kunis movie, came out.

This I bring up to say - I think the camp aspects of this book are incredibly mishandled, and because of the origins of this story, I am not sure that's entirely the author's fault. If this is the story she was given to work with and she could only change so much, I think she did the best job possible. However, what it comes down to, is I think this book is based on something in real life that is at best ineffective and at worst deadly. And that is something I cannot get behind.

Plot Talk: Simple plot - rich girl gets really drunk, gets arrested, gets sent away to wilderness camp, deals. I think this is a messed up plot because of reasons I will get to in my "Cons" section, but the actual execution of it is fine. It doesn't drag or anything.

Characters: Lizzie is an incredibly privileged girl, and I had issues with her now and then. A lot of it improves, especially her self-esteem, but even at the end of the book moments when I had issues with her. The idea that women in Africa who make and sell their own fashion want or need a rich sixteen year old white girl to sell their things in the US is, uh... probably something that should have been edited out. She's pretty typical fare for this type of book, honestly. Okay, but not my favourite.

I did think it was neat that Lizzie has a chronic illness. She has IBS, and that's a really neat idea... that is not treated very well by the book. A therapist in the book says her IBS and acne are being triggered by stress (and not washing her face for three days in the woods clears up her acne... as everyone with acne knows, not washing your face does that). Meanwhile, she's been eating tons of beans and dried fruit at camp, which are foods that can cause IBS symptoms to flare up. You, uh. Don't think that might be connected to it?

I was pretty meh about the other characters. They fell flat for me. I'll say it was nice not everyone was white and straight, but I'm still pretty meh about them. One of the characters, Lizzie's love interest specifically, cyber-bullied another kid, who attempted suicide. We are supposed to be sympathetic to this character. I was not.

PG-13 stuff: There's underage drinking, sexual content, a lot of cursing, toilet humour, and a lot of it feels gratuitous, frankly. A lot of it feels like cheap movie comedy, if you know what I mean.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: Hooboy. So let's do this thing. My biggest problem with this book is it feels like someone say Holes and thought, "Hey, Camp Green Lake was actually a good idea!"

I think most of these wilderness programs are either useless because they're run by untrained, unqualified people, or straight-up dangerous for the same reason. The book mentions Outward Bound, and obviously the title is based on that. I did some research, and Outward Bound seems like a completely different beast than these types of programs the book is using. For one, people who do it actually consent to the experience. (Article about a death in an Outward Bound program found here, for fairness' sake.) I'm not going to go into my own feelings about that particular program, but people do consent.

Let me make this clear - Lizzie's parents hire people to come take her away in the middle of the night, and she is not allowed to leave the camp. This makes Camp Smiley the other kind of wilderness program, which I will be calling a brat camp through this review for clarity's sake.

Brat camps are dangerous. (Link one here.) They take advantage of scared parents, but they also take advantage of abusers. There are some that include conversion "therapy" used against queer teens. Kids are injured, are physically, emotionally, and sexually abused, die, and are left with emotional trauma they have to deal with for years. There is no evidence these brat camps work, although things haven't been researched well, but what evidence there is suggests they make things worse.

At one point in the book, Lizzie and her friends escape from camp and run away. They hitchhike, and they ride in the bed of a pick-up truck because there aren't enough seatbelts. I do not believe you could research enough to write this book, and not know about Bruce Staeger. After spending two years in a brat camp, he was killed there while riding in the bed of a pickup truck when it rolled, as the camp officials had ignored orders regarding seat belts.

Many of these articles I'm linking talk about food deprivation and even starvation. Once during the book, Lizzie is denied s'mores with the others. The articles about these camps talk about teenagers being called liars or fakers over things that injure or ultimately could kill them like dehydration, heat stroke, or seizures. Lizzie is called a liar when she runs away into the woods, a raccoon steals her baby blanket, and she tries to tell someone. Maybe these parallels are coincidences - I sure hope they are! - but they illustrate how lightly this subject is taken compared to the seriousness of its nature.

I think I've made my point that I think this is not well handled, so I'll just share my links so you can read up on this yourself. Here's one, here's two. For fairness sake, I'm going to include the experience of a parent who found one of these brat camps a positive for her child (although please do note the fact she's completely okay admitting she drugged her teenage daughter with sleeping pills... just saying), and another who had mixed feelings. Here is one and two articles from people who were sent to these programs. And, finally, here is a 1995 article from a magazine, because I want to point out this is not a new phenomenon, and neither are the deaths related to it. Please be warned there is very disturbing content at most if not all of these links, including fairly graphic descriptions of the deaths of teenagers. I think these are important articles to read, but be kind to yourself, please. The first link in this paragraph has the least graphic content, and is similar in tone to what I have written here.

Other things - this book uses a ton of references. At one point, Lizzie matches with James Franco on Tinder and tries to hook up with him. Besides the fact the book literally has him say he didn't know the girl he actually hit on was under eighteen, which is, um, not true (and frankly, a really gross stance to take considering Lizzie isn't even 17 yet), it's a very, very dating reference. There are tons of these. Some of them I honestly don't even think are believable, like Lizzie suggesting she would volunteer as tribute for any of the other kids at camp were this the Hunger Games. It's borderline trying too hard at times, including the overuse of AAVE in a book with no black characters.

Well, besides the ones in Africa who never appear who made the "weird pajama pants" Lizzie's dad gives her, who Lizzie, the seventeen year old white girl, think need her to market the fashion they make and already sell on their own. I know I already mentioned that, but it really bugged me.

There is also a scene where Lizzie tries to use her baby blanket to pick up a raccoon and carry it around. It was obviously meant to be funny. Mostly I cringed. That seemed so cheesy comedy movie, you know? I didn't believe anyone could actually think they could find a wild raccoon in the woods and make it their friend. That's just... no.

The book also tends to be somewhat fatphobic and weirdly slut-shamy and also virgin-shamey at the same time. It's weird. I wasn't a fan. And one more pet peeve - the book also tries to tell us, as I stated before, that stress is triggering Lizzie's acne. Apparently her first three days in the woods where she does not wash her face are not stressful. Because everyone with acne knows not washing your face helps your zits a lot, right??

Cover comments: It's very cute, and catches the mood of what they were trying to do. I also did enjoy all the "extra" things the book included like medical reports and lists and things like that. I like it when a book adds in that kind of thing.

Conclusion: I've been thinking about this book for like two days as I write this review (yeah, it took a long time) and I realized I wanted this to be more like Little Blog on the Prairie. I wanted cute and funny, and the book tries, but the subject matter is so serious I can't buy into the cute and funny. And you know, honestly, the Outward Bound approach might have even been better in this book, if it had involved Lizzie's entire family doing wilderness stuff to bond and work through their issues, and not her actually being kidnapped into something against her will.

I enjoyed Notes from the Blender, and by no means do I think Trish Cook is a bad writer. But I think this subject matter, with the deaths and abuse in it in real life, can't work as a comedic source. I think when you end the book with Lizzie improving from the program, you are essentially endorsing these programs. With everything out there I've read now, I just cannot believe that is safe to do. I wrote most of this review before the US election result was announced. The soon to be vice president of the US believes in conversion therapy. With the current state of things in the US, I think these programs will only become more dangerous than they already are, and because of that, I can't give this more than one rose.



Other notes:

- I'm going to start keeping track of when books have characters share mascara. YOU'RE GOING TO GET AN EYE INFECTION.

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, October 24, 2016

YA Review: Don't Ever Change

Don't Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom

Published: July 7th, 2015 by HarperTeen
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: ARC
Page Count: 359 in the ARC, but goodreads says 368 in the finished copy. I assume they are correct.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: I was sent it for review consideration, and yes I've had this one for a year now. At least it's not 2011.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Eva has always wanted to write a modern classic—one that actually appeals to her generation. The only problem is that she’s starting to realize she can’t “write what she knows” because she hasn’t really lived. So the summer before heading off to college, Eva is determined to live a life worth writing about.

But soon Eva’s story starts to go in unexpected directions, like growing apart from her best friends, working at a job she is completely unqualified for, and even falling for the last person she would have ever imagined. Like anyone, though, it will be up to Eva to figure out how she wants this particular chapter in her story to end.

Review: This is an odd one. I think I liked it, but I'm not entirely sure yet on all my thoughts yet. It's probably going to take me the rest of this review to figure them out. I can definitely say this is not a book for everyone. It's kinda weird, honestly. Mostly I enjoyed that weird, but it probably wouldn't be for everyone. It's going to depend on whether this is your flavour of weird. Eva is a writer, as it says in the summary, and a great deal of the book is her arc in learning to experience things and not just observe them, so a lot of the book has a very removed feeling. There's some fourth wall teasing in the talk about characters and readers.

I'm personally a fan of the summer after high school graduation YA, and I've also enjoyed gap year YA. I would actually like to see more of them, and ones that are absolutely, definitively aimed at teenagers. I mean, it's a confusing time for a lot of teens. So much of high school is built up as "the best time of your life", so what happens after? How do you decide what happens next? What if your plans change? How do you deal? I think when YA can get that balance and talk about that weird transition time, it can be really interesting, and really important, and I think teens will really connect to it.

Does Don't Ever Change do that? Mostly. I didn't personally always love it, but I think for the most part it's interesting, and I do think there are teens out there who really would love this.

Plot Talk: Simple plot. The summer before college, Eva is given some writing advice from her teacher and decides to try and follow it. She works at a summer camp with nine-year-old girls, dates a few people, and learns about herself. The plot works fine, and it doesn't drag or anything. No complaints about it.

Characters: Eva was originally described to me as unlikeable (something I really enjoy), and the funny thing to me is, the people around her come off as more unlikeable than her to me! It's kind of interesting, actually. She does have some snarky moments, but honestly a lot of the time I think they were justified. It's kind of interesting - Eva doesn't really come off as rude, or mean, or anything like that, but she's reserved, quiet, sometimes a little snarky, and keeps to herself a lot. You can see how other characters could think she's stuck up or uninterested in them. It's really an interesting thing, and very relateable.

Like I said, I did think some of the other characters can come off as a little jerky. They are teenagers, though, so I can't really say it's completely a bad thing. Like there are characters who judge Eva as uptight or stuck up for not liking parties, and one even says something about how she didn't even try and have fun. Like, not everyone likes parties or finds them fun? But then at one point, that characters apologies and says that they know parties aren't everyone's thing. It's a good balance, and I enjoyed it.

I also really loved the relationship Eva has with her sister. It's very sweet. And the campers she works with are really cool. I'm pretty fond of camps in books for someone who never went and hates the outdoors, but I tend to like the kid stuff way more than the kissing stuff, and I liked that there was a lot more focus on her campers than on her romantic life.

Now, something I'm actually a little conflicted about. I don't exactly think this is a fat-friendly book, but it did some things I want to talk about. One of Eva's campers is chubby, but besides one comment about her not being truly fat "yet", the book always calls her fat. Eva is not always nice in her comments about this kid. The line "happy as a fat little clam" comes up, and that's kind of - wow. I don't think the word fat is an insult, mind you, but Eva isn't commenting about anyone else's body but the fat kid's.

But... another character kind of calls her out on it. It's a little subtle, but there's a character who doesn't seem to approve, and Eva seems embarrassed in the moment. Later, at the end of the book, it's revealed that the girl's parents basically expect the camp to make their daughter lose weight because "health" and Eva defends her.

I'm going to talk about that a little more later, but I thought I'd mention that here.

PG-13 stuff: There's a fair amount of smooching in this book. Some mentions of drinking, but it's pretty mild. A little strong language I think, some talk of sex. The back of my ARC says 14 and up and that's probably about right.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: Like everyone is straight and the book is very white. There's some ableist language that is seriously unnecessary, and a weird line about some of the other counselors (who are like 17 or 18) from Eva's camp finding one of the CITs hot (who is 13). That was uncomfortable.

And there was a fat joke from Eva that I was really not fond of at all. Eva making a joke about her friends calling her fat when she's obviously thin, and since there's only one fat character in the book, and that character is not treated exactly positively, it rubbed me the wrong way. Now to wrap up what I was talking about in the character section - I don't think this is necessary a fat positive book. If you're a former fat kid, you might not want to read this one. I wish the author had been more hard-core in pointing out that everyone, including Eva, was treating Alexis horribly because she was fat.

I mean, it also would be nice if a book pointed out that dieting doesn't work, we don't know how to make fat kids thin (but we do help give them eating disorders), we don't even know how to make fat adults thin, or that what the camp and Alexis' parents were doing would be completely against anything that's actually healthy for her and goes against current AAP guidelines... but yanno. That'd probably be asking too much.

I'm not taking points off for this, because I think in the end it's okay enough, since the narrative does seem to say that Alexis' parents were completely in the wrong, but I do wish Bloom had done a little more.

Cover comments: This is a nifty cover, but I can imagine the hardcover getting a ton of fingerprints. It also looks awful on a white background, lol. In person, it stands out well. It also fits the tone of the book being kind of quirky and different.

Conclusion: Well, we've reached the end, and I think for the most part, I've decided I liked it. There are some things I didn't love, and somethings I would have wanted more from (seriously though not one queer person?), but I enjoyed reading it. I don't think it's going to be for everyone, but it's an interesting, weird book. I definitely think there are teens out there who are going to connect to it. I look forward to the author's future books, too. I think she has great potentional, and I want to see what she does next. I'm going to give this one three and a half roses.



That's all, folks!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, October 17, 2016

YA Review: Hourglass Series

Since I have all three books in this series, and we kind of need to get through some of the backlog of my review stack, it's probably easiest just to put them all in one post. This is just going to be one post, but I might have a couple more series posts in the future. Well, at least one, probably. We'll see what happens.

Reviews for the second and third book will probably have spoilers for the ones coming before them respectively, and the series summary will probably have spoilers for the last book or the entire series as I talk about my feelings for the entire thing.

This might be long.

This will probably be long.

Hourglass by Myra McEntire

Published: June 14th, 2011 by Egmont USA
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Binding: ARC
Page Count: 397 in the ARC, 390 in the finished version according to goodreads.
Part of a series? Yup, this is the first book in the Hourglass series.
Got via: Egmont sent it to me for review when they, you know, still existed. I'm sorry. We're getting closer to the present though!
Amazon / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): For seventeen-year-old Emerson Cole, life is about seeing what isn't there: swooning Southern Belles; soldiers long forgotten; a haunting jazz trio that vanishes in an instant. Plagued by phantoms since her parents' death, she just wants the apparitions to stop so she can be normal. She's tried everything, but the visions keep coming back.

So when her well-meaning brother brings in a consultant from a secretive organization called the Hourglass, Emerson's willing to try one last cure. But meeting Michael Weaver may not only change her future, it may also change her past.

Who is this dark, mysterious, sympathetic guy, barely older than Emerson herself, who seems to believe every crazy word she says? Why does an electric charge seem to run through the room whenever he's around? And why is he so insistent that he needs her help to prevent a death that never should've happened?

Review: This is another one I probably would have loved if I had actually read it in 2011. I still liked it, but there are certain things that bother me more now. We'll wait to get to those. Good stuff first. I adore the idea of this. I love the creepy ghost-type things, and as I was reading this, I realized how long it'd been since I read an amazing YA paranormal. I don't think Hourglass quite got me to amazing, but I liked it enough to keep reading, and to be excited about future books.

These characters have a lot of potential. I loved the dynamic between Emerson and her brother. A much older sibling relationship can be really interesting and different, and I really enjoyed seeing a relationship between an older teenager and her adult brother who had become her guardian when their parents died. He's supportive, but at times unsure of how to handle the promotion to parenthood, and I'm excited to see more of that dynamic. I do think Emerson could be somewhat flat, and I wanted to know more about her interests and her wants, but she's fine for a main character. Her voice can be really cute sometimes, and does have some little quirky bits that are nice.

And I did appreciate that there were a number of characters of colour - but at times that had some issues. Emerson's best friend Lily gets a lot of comparisons of her skin to food. And compared to a dog at one point. It's meant to be a good thing, that she's very loyal, but it's... uncomfortable. Every POC character is from somewhere outside of the US. They are all immigrants. All of them. That has some unfortunate implications.

There's also no fat people, or disabled people besides Emerson (and I will get to the issues of that element), or queer people. Why is everyone so straight? Every single person? Really?

For the most part, I like the romance in the book. It just isn't anything incredibly unique, honestly. It's kind of the same tropes you see a lot with the same problems you see a lot. Mostly with boundaries/controlling behaviour, although to be fair, both of them cross some. (Breaking into someone's apartment to snoop in their bedroom is weird and not okay even when you're a girl, Emerson. Not cute. I don't care if you had keys. That's weird.)

There is a bit of a love triangle, so if you're sick of them, this one might not be for you, but this is the kind I actually like better. Just because you met someone like a week ago and were attracted to them, doesn't necessarily mean that you're not going to be attracted to other people you meet. I like that more than books that tell me that the romance is huge and epic and soulmates and together forever - except wow, here's this new person! Kind of a rant there to say I didn't mind the love "triangle".

So what's left. PG-13 stuff - there's some language, some kind of scary bits, nothing I would say needs an especially mature reader to handle. Basic YA content. The cover is great. It's really cool, and I like how it kind of fools you so you're not exactly sure what's going on until you look twice. It reminds me weirdly of Alice Through the Looking Glass. (Book, not movie.) I like it! Thumbs-up.

Oh, boy, now it's time for my big complaint, isn't it? Okay, settle in, folks. This one is going to take a minute. There may be spoilers. I'm going to give some credit here to Alyssa at the Eater of Books, whose review of another book made me think of a lot of things I'm going to talk about here.

Part of the premise of this is that Emerson has been commited because of a combination of depression and seeing ghost-things. This happens often in books and movies, although a lot of the time the reveal is that the protagonist isn't "crazy", but is actually seeing ghosts/monsters/whatever. I won't say I haven't enjoyed books with that theme, because I have. But the problem is... this is a problem. This is ableist, and borderline dangerous. We owe teenagers better than to tell them that antidepressants and other psychiactric medications change you, that they make you dull, or a zombie (and yes, Hourglass uses the word zombie), or unable to feel things. You know what makes you not able to feel things? DEPRESSION.

Emerson says she has anxiety. Emerson says she has depression. But so much of the book takes the time to tell us she's "not crazy". It tells us that she went off her medications without telling anyone and that's treated as completely fine. Did you know going cold turkey from some antidepressants can make you incredibly sick or even kill you? The book intertwines Emerson's mental illness with her seeing ghost-things a lot, but she had a mental illness triggered after her parents died. It was exasperated by the ghost-things, yes, but not caused by them. There's a really big problem with this narrative. It creates stigma. It's irresponsible.

I don't like these narratives. I don't like the line about "crazy people" not getting to "claim self-control as a personality trait". I don't like the talk about "chemicals". I don't like that there seems to be a line drawn between Emerson who's "not crazy", and people who are. She was mentally ill. THAT'S OKAY. You can just... have a mentally ill character without needing to excuse it, or separate your character from the scary "crazies". I would not ever call this disability or mental illness representation. I winced every time something happened in this vein.

Now to wrap this up. Would I recommend this? I... don't know. I honestly think it's going to depend on how the other books are. If they continue to get better as I hope they will, I think I could recommend this very carefully for some people, with notes on the problematic aspect of the mental illness element. I love the atmosphere, and the characters are good. There are plot elements that I won't spoil that I think are really unique, and really fun to read. I still want to read the other books in the trilogy, and find out what happens next. And you guys know I kind of love the "secret school for kids with magic powers" idea.

So I'm going to give this one three out of five roses. The ableist elements bother me a lot, but there's enough good stuff to pull through.



Other notes:

- Why is Emerson's sense of smell so strong? I don't think you can smell cereal from across the room. That's odd.

- Emerson. It's not okay to tell other people that someone's pregnant before they've announced it. She literally tells people that someone is pregnant ten minutes after they peed on the stick. If the worst happens and that person has a miscarriage, do you think they want to tell that to all the people you told, Emerson? Boundaries!

Timepiece by Myra McEntire

Published: June 12th, 2012 by EgmontUSA
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 325 plus the acknowledgements.
Part of a series? It is obviously the second book in the Hourglass triology.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Kaleb Ballard was never supposed to be able to see ripples - cracks in time. Are his powers expanding, or is something very wrong? Before he can find out, Jonathan Landers, the man who tried to murder his father, reappears. Why is he back, and what, or whom, does he want?

In the wake of Landers' return, the Hourglass organization is given an ultimatum. Either they find Landers and the research he has stolen on the people who might carry the time gene, or time will be altered - with devastating results for the people Kaleb loves most.

Now Kaleb, Emerson, Michael, and the other Hourglass recruits have no choice but to use their unusual powers to find Landers. But where do they even start? And when? And even if they succeed, it may not be enough...

Review: Well, look at what surprised me! First of all, I was not expecting the POV change, since I didn't read the summaries to avoid spoilers. That works so well. First of all, Kaleb was one of my favourite characters in Hourglass. And I enjoyed Emerson's POV, but I thought the series was going to go that kind of cliche YA trilogy where the epic love of the first book is suddenly not so epic for the second book until you have to wrap things up in the third book. I'm not saying that can't work, but you know. We've all read it more than once, and I'm not terribly fond of it.

Timepiece says, "Nah, we're gonna go somewhere else," and I say, "Okay!"

A lot of things are just better in this, and I'm glad about that. Lily's character is much more fleshed out in this, along with her grandmother and her family history, and it's lovely to see that given time and care. It gets a little bit "pair the spares" (and it's a touch predictable that these two characters would have a romance), and the romance is pretty fast, but they're super cute and have a ton of chemistry so, whatever. I'm good with it because it's done well.

I also really, really enjoyed Kaleb as a narrating character. He has a lot of depth and a very sweet center hidden under a buttload of guilt and not so amazing decisions. He's always interesting, but it's wonderful when he grows and shows off his depth. He can definitely be a little obnoxious at the beginning of the book, but when you get past that, he gets a lot better. My favourite part that describes him perfectly is that he's big as a house, wearing leather, covered in tattoos and piercings... and he bakes cookies when he's depressed.

The plot works really well both as a sequel and to carry over into a third book and wrap up the series. I'm really excited to read the third (seriously, it's staring at me right now and I want it). I don't think the book is amazing at using all the character it has in groups at once, like with, say, the Naturals series that y'all know I love.,. It has more of a tendancy to divide the characters into two or three. But honestly I don't have any major complaints about this one. There's still a bit of ableism with Emerson's premise like I talked about, but because we're not in her POV, it doesn't really come up so much, and that helps a lot with me enjoying the book.

So, final verdict: Three and a half roses, and a short review because I desperately want to read the third book already.



Other notes:

- Seriously, this one does not have the scent fixation. Emerson, what's your deal with your sense of smell? That might be your other super power - the ability to smell a bowl of cereal from across the room.

Infinityglass by Myra McEntire

Published: August 6th, 2013 by EgmontUSA
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 293 plus the acknowledgements.
Part of a series? The third book in the Hourglass triology.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): From the moment the Hourglass group violated the rules of the space time continuum to rescue a murdered loved one, time has been in flux. People from other centuries slide into our time, intruding into our space, threatening our world.

Frantically seeking a way to turn back this tide, the Hourglass begins a search for the legendary Infinityglass, tracking it to the city of New Orleans, a place where the past rests easily with the present.

Quiet, reliable Dune, the group's favourite geek, is selected to travel to the Crescent City and somehow retrieve the renowned object.

But there's a problem.

Because the Infinityglass is not an object, it's a person.

A beautiful, headstrong dancer named Hallie, a girl so enticing Dune can't take his eyes off her.

And time is not on her side.

Review: This one is also pretty good! I did have a few issues, but it was mostly enjoyable. This one has duo POVs between Dune and Hallie, and Hallie's voice is so different from the previous books. I really enjoyed her voice most of the time, and the duo POVs are unique to this book in the series, and work pretty well. Dune and Hallie are super flirty, and the build-up and tension between them is probably my favourite part. The tension is great.

Overall, I do think that this is a good way to finish out the series. Everything is wrapped up nicely, and I didn't feel like anything was unfinished or left hanging. The setting of New Orleans was cool, if a touch underused. This is a very fast-paced book, and I enjoyed it for the most part.

But I did have a few issues. I'm not altogether fond of the way these books handle sexuality, specifically the sexuality of the teen girls. It doesn't get into major sex-shaming, but there are parts that get annoying. At one point Hallie's dad basically says "no guys and girls sleeping in the same room" which... he doesn't actually really know them? Like he assumes two guys and two girls means two hetereosexual couples. Who are teenagers. Maybe your guests were going to be fifty year old lesbians, didja think of that? He's essentially policing not only the sexuality of his own teenaged daughter, but of girls he's never met. And it's kind of icky, not gonna lie.

Other parts have some unfortunate implications.

First of all, Kaleb has taken out his nose and eyebrow piercings and only left his ear piercings because apparently happy, well-adjusted people don't have non-ear piercings. That's pretty much the only reason. Apparently they don't shave their heads either. The idea that people only do body modifications or alternative looks because they're having emotional pain is really, really annoying. I'm probably gonna have purple hair here pretty quick. It's not because I'm messed up emotionally, it's because it looks cool. Happy people can have eyebrow piercings.

Second, there is some fatphobia. At one point, Hallie stops needing to eat. She's a ballet dancer. The idea of a ballet dancer not having to eat is... not such a great idea. She also says something about dancing three times a week keeping her thin - that's annoying mostly because there are fat ballet dancers. Gonna go ahead and assume that people in a ballet troupe dance more than you, Hallie. Weight is not that simple. And Dune starts working out for "fear of turning fat". If it was just these two characters, it would be annoying, but I'd be like, "whateve". But there is NOT A SINGLE FAT CHARACTER in any of these books. Not one. So you're losing points for fatphobia. If you have NO fat characters, you don't get to have characters who are afraid of being fat without me critcizing it. What kind of message are you trying to send with that?

At one point, Dune says to another character that "you either have a maid, or you're OCD." OCD is not an adjective. This is more ableism, which this series definitely has a problem with.

Probably the last thing I'm going to talk about is some of the unfortunate implications with Dune. I enjoy his character, but there are things that I looked at twice and I'm not sure are so kosher (especially since I'm a white girl over here). His nickname is Dune because he raced over the sand dunes as a kid to get to the beach. Are you... are you entirely sure there's not more than one kid in American Samoa that does that? Most kids like the beach. I'm kind of assuming that extends to most Samoan kids. At the beginning of the book, Dune also cuts off his dreadlocks to look more professional (his words, not mine) and at one point, Hallie says she likes him better without them because she can run her hands through his hair. I'm not going to make a judgement call here, since these things are really complicated, but I'm gonna warn you about that so you can make the decision one way or the other of how you feel about that.

As a book, I enjoyed it, but I worry a lot that that's privilege talking. I do think this book had issues, but it was enjoyable. I think some of the problems might be things others don't want to read, though, so I'm warning you guys. My final thoughts on this book are - I liked it. Would I recommend it - carefully. With the things I've mentioned in mind, maybe. Overall, I'm probably only gonna give it three roses. I'm glad I finished the series, and I'm not angry at the book, as much as it might sound, but I don't think everyone would necessarily love it.



Other things:

- If you put bread in the toaster and start it toasting, and then you start cooking bacon, your toast is gonna be cold and rock solid by the time your bacon is done. So either you have psychic bacon powers, Hallie, or someone knew you weren't going to have any bacon that wasn't you, and had you start the toast for convenience.

Okay, my series summary:

If you like somewhat tropey YA paranormal romance, you're probably going to enjoy this. If you're sick of certain tropes, you might hate this, honestly. Time travel is not something I personally see a lot in YA, and I really enjoyed that premise. The author is pretty good at writing exciting romantic relationships, and the cast is not entirely white. How well that's done is not up for me to decide, so I'm not gonna try.

Many of the decisions this series took surprised me in good ways. Character choices, plot decisions, and even POV choices surprised me, which considerably toned down almost all of the predictability.

Something that was entirely predictable was the "pair the spare" tendancies. By the end of the third book, basically everyone was dating someone, and I don't think writing established couples is the author's strongest suit. Everyone gets very cutesy and overly perfect. And maybe that's my bias, but I found it a little annoying. Have a fight or something, people. And, of course, everyone is straight. Over a thousand pages total, multiple cities, and not one character is queer? At all? Not one?

Now, the ableism problem. The big problem is that the series at once tells me to take mental illness seriously by saying how bad it would be if Emerson was in a mental hospital, but also makes jokes about it by saying people with very clean apartments "are OCD". The book wants me to believe that I wouldn't want to read a book about a girl who was severely mentally ill and physically scarred, and tries to use that possibility as shock value. I don't think throwing a line into the third book about Emerson still has bad days dealing with depression fixes the mixed messages throughout the series, especially not the borderline-dangerous ones about medication.

I honestly think the author is very talented, and I would be interested in future books. I enjoyed this series, but I don't think the author was ready to tackle certain things in this book that she tried, and the inexperience does show at times in mixed messages and hopefully unintentional problematic themes. I think this series can be fun, but I know those issues could hurt people, so I can't recommend it wholeheartedly. I have a lot of mixed feelings, but I think I've laid them out as clearly as I can.

I hope you guys enjoyed this at least a little, and hopefully it was helpful and informative!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Blog Tour and MG Review: The Littlest Bigfoot


So while we're on the topic of hairy girls, did I ever tell you guys about the time I decided my eyebrows were too close together? Let's start out by saying I have very thick eyebrows. Some people absolutely enjoy that, but my personal preference is for them to be a little thinner. I pluck about half of them out, honestly, and they are still quite strong. I started plucking my eyebrows around eighth grade, which was around 2005. And let me tell you, trying to shape your eyebrows when you're going solely by what you see on TV... in 2005... does not work well. Might I point out Smallville?

Those are not eyebrows I'm ever going to have without possibly bleeding. But the worst was probably when I decided they were too close together, and plucked a TON of the hair at the front of both eyebrows. I probably made the gap between them a good half inch wider.

I looked very surprised for a very long time. #AwkwardMGMoment for reals.

And now, presented for the approval of the Midnight Society:

The Littlest Bigfoot by Jennifer Weiner

Published: Tuesday! Also known as September 13th, 2016th, from Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing, specifically the Aladdin division.
Genre: MG Fantasy
Binding: ARC
Page Count: 283 in my ARC, but the info inside says it'll be 304, and goodreads says 304 so the finished copy will probably have 304. I just like to tell you how many pages ARCs have because I think it's fun.
Part of a series? It says "1" on the spine, and the ending was somewhat open, so I hope for more! I really want more.
Got via: It was sent for me by Simon and Schuster Canada for this blog tour, and it had a really cool little sticker that I peeled off because it peeled off really easily, and that's so satisfying.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Alice Mayfair, twelve years old, slips through the world unseen and unnoticed. Ignored by her family and shipped off to her eighth boarding school, Alice would like a friend. And when she rescues Millie Maximus from drowning in a lake one day, she finds one.

But Millie is a Bigfoot, part of a clan who dwells deep in the woods. Most Bigfoots believe that people—No-Furs, as they call them—are dangerous, yet Millie is fascinated with the No-Fur world. She is convinced that humans will appreciate all the things about her that her Bigfoot tribe does not: her fearless nature, her lovely singing voice, and her desire to be a star.

Alice swears to protect Millie’s secret. But a league of Bigfoot hunters is on their trail, led by a lonely kid named Jeremy. And in order to survive, Alice and Millie have to put their trust in each other—and have faith in themselves—above all else.

Review: Guys, as a fat kid with few to no friends and, as discussed above, a fair amount of hair (thank you hormone disorder), I wish I had had this book growing up. I have like five pages of notes and basically no real complaints. I want to not-creepily give this to every ten and eleven and twelve year old girl I see, because this book? This book really gets it. This is cute, and funny, and deep, and wonderful, and I really, really loved it.

This post is already going to be so long, so let's start breaking this down, okay?

Plot Talk: Basically it's what it says in the summary, and that works really, really well. Tons of the book is about the two girls becoming friends, and I love that. There's so much care given to the friendship of these two, and how much they start to mean to each other. And while a lot of the book is about that, there's also the threat to the safety of Millie's home, and a tease at an underlying plot that makes me so excited at the idea that this will be a series. I want to know more about what happens immediately! You will see those books on here eventually if there are more.

Characters: The book rotates through third-person POV from Alice, Millie, and Jeremy, and it does it very well. Nobody hogs the spotlight, but it doesn't become repetitive by always having the same order in the rotation. I'll talk about each of them briefly, how's that?

I'll start with Alice. Alice is near and dear to my heart. She is a character tiny Laina would have related to so hard, and not-so-tiny Laina loves her just as much. She's tall and big, and constantly feels out of place because of her body. She's not very good at making friends, and she ends out being an outcast a lot. This girl. And my absolute favourite part is that the book never makes it out that she needs to change herself. Her body is good, and the book treats it as good, and strong, and not something she should be ashamed of. The only thing that's ever suggested being not a great thing is something she does, not something she is, and it's not even that it's exactly a bad thing about her, but rather a thing that she probably doesn't want to do, and an understandable thing because of everything that's happened to her. Oh, she's wonderful.

Millie is so precious. She's not as much a character I would have so intensely seen myself in as a kid, but she's great, too. She's brave, and wants to stand out so much, and I know there are kids out there who feel like they're too loud, or want too much that need Millie. And especially her struggle with being a Yare (Bigfoot), and maybe wanting to be different, but not being sure.

I even honestly liked Jeremy. I mean, the kid likes Steven Universe, so he gets bonus points, but I can definitely see kids relating to how he tries to deal with being average in a family of extraordinary people. The book is really great at showing us how he's misguided, not malevolent, and he apologizes when he realizes he's wrong. He also points out that someone was sexist at one point, and I'm super into middle grade boy characters boy characters going against sexism. That was a really nice touch.

Now, I bet you guys are expecting me to complain a bit that Alice is described as large, but sometimes doesn't really seem very fat on the cover/in a lot of the book. Well, she does describe herself as fat. And that doesn't happen a lot. Honestly, I'm not mad. The fact that she's mentioned to have gained weight, and the only person who might think that's a bad thing is her mother who is very critical and not meant to be a sympathetic character. How often do even chubby characters not only not lose weight, but gain weight, and it's okay? It's never treated as a bad thing that Alice might become larger as time goes on.

Yes, I would like more very fat characters in middle grade and young adult, but I still think this works well. Let's just try to be careful to recognize that Alice is probably more chubby, and generally tall and muscular, than a very fat character. I think she's a wonderful, chubby character. One who runs, and eats mostly vegetarian food, and doesn't lose weight! There's also room for characters who are larger than Alice, is all I'll really say.

One thing that really helps me not complain about that, is that there is actually another fat character in the book! Who is larger than Alice! You put more than one in, they don't all have to be the same size! What an idea, right? And that character, who is seen as a caring, talented adult, is probably at least three hundred or four hundred pounds, if you read between the lines in the narration and use some of the clues for context. She is very large, and she is a positive role model for Alice, and readers. That means so much.

When I debate this, I think about tiny Laina, and how I would have felt.

And I would have been so grateful for Alice.

Now, here's where I normally complain there are no non-straight/cisgender or disabled characters. Guess what though?

There are! A main character in Jeremy's narration uses a wheelchair. She talks about why, very frankly, and she's a little bitter about it, in a way that I think is realistic, but her entire character role is not to be "inspiring". There is a teacher who is non-binary, and uses the pronouns xe, hir, and hirs. There are other students who are stated to have two dads or two moms, and students who are MOGAI. These people don't get as much screen time as I'd like, but it's more inclusive than a lot of YA, even, I've read recently.

PG-13 stuff: The bullying could be hard on very young or sensitive readers. It's very realistic. Honestly, besides maybe the fear of like Bigfoot hunters coming after Millie and her family, I think that's about it.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: I've got like two. I want the non-straight/non-cisgender characters to have more screen time, along with Jo. I want them featured more. Also, non-white characters. There could very well characters who were POC, but they weren't described well enough to actually know. So, like. Work on that, and we'll be great. These awesome things in your book, show them to me more next time!

Cover comments: This is so cute. I have it twice in my post, so obviously I really like it. It almost perfectly depicts the girls (Alice's hair should be redder, but that's about it), and it's so beautiful. Look at the tiny Millie! It's absolutely right for the book, and I think it will do well.

I'm going to mention that there will be a map, and illustrations in the finished book. I'm not sure how different from what they are in the ARC, but what we have is really cute, so I think it'll be cool. No points taken or given for that, because it wouldn't be fair, but I just wanted to mention it.

Conclusion: This was so good. There are adult humour moments that I'm not sure if kids will get, but made me snicker so hard, but not so many that it's pandering. The characters are awesome. The book has a wonderful anti-bullying message. I loved that the teachers and people who run the school are basically hipsters, but they're well-meaning ones. I love the message that public school isn't right for everyone - there's at least... probably six different kinds of schooling mentioned in the book, and none are better or worse, but it's more about finding the right fit. The Learning Center is initially seen by Alice as a little silly, perhaps, at first, but it's a safe place for Alice and all the other characters, and they are not seen as worse off for being there. The references are current, but things that are probably going to stick around for a while, and not overwhelming! That balance is so hard to get right, and this book does.

I really, really loved this book. I highly recommend it, and you will likely be seeing sequels when they happen on this blog. Four and a half roses, with points only taken off for the things I mentioned in my cons section.



Other notes:

- None of the websites mentioned in the book have cool things if you try to go to them. One is a random business thing, and one doesn't seem to be anything. That's a bummer! It would have been really cool to have stuff at them, like bonus content or something.

- The book mentions morning sickness and cramps when talking about healing herbs. I thought that was cool!

- I really, really want to check out some of her adult books now.

Okay, now that I've rambled for actual ever, go check out the other stops on the tour!

September 12th - Lost in a Great Book
September 13th - Cindy's Love of Books
September 14th - Brooklyn Berry Designs
September 15th - Me obviously! You're already here!
September 16th - It's Just My Life (not posted yet, obviously, so just linking to the site!

I think that's it! Thanks for stopping by!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, August 22, 2016

YA Review: Sophomore Year Is Greek to Me

Sophomore Year is Greek to Me by Meredith Zeitlin

Published: April 21st, 2015 by G. P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers which is a division of Penguin.
Genre: Contemporary YA.
Binding: ARC
Page Count: 328 in my ARC, plus the acknowledgements, and goodreads says there are 336 in the finished version.
Part of a series? As I said in my review for that book, this is the companion to Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters. About 50 pages in, Kelsey from the last book shows up, which is nifty. There are a couple spoilers for that book, but you could honestly read them as standalones. Nothing in this review will spoil that book.
Got via: It was sent to me for review consideration. Last year. Before it was out. I'm still terrible, and still sorry. But less terrible than I've been?

Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): High school sophomore Zona Lowell has lived in New York City her whole life, and plans to follow in the footsteps of her renowned-journalist father. But when he announces they’re moving to Athens for six months so he can work on an important new story, she's devastated— he must have an ulterior motive. See, when Zona's mother married an American, her huge Greek family cut off contact. But Zona never knew her mom, and now she’s supposed to uproot her entire life and meet possibly hostile relatives on their turf? Thanks... but no thanks.

Review: Holy cow, this was awesome. It was like little elves read my review of the other book before I even wrote it and fixed almost all the things I had problems with in that one in this one. You know, this one just worked way better for me. And I did like the first one, even with my issues! This is just... wow. I am so surprised and impressed by it. It's so funny I actually hurt my throat and my jaw laughing at one point, but there are parts that also legit had me tearing up and needing to take a minute because I was crying.

Plot Talk: Girl goes to Greece for six months. Girl makes friends, meets family, has some romance, big plot stuff that's kind of spoiler-y. It's straight-forward, but works well for the story, and doesn't try to do too much. I really liked the pacing of the book only taking place over about six months, as it's a bit quicker than a full year. You have lots of time for character growth and stuff to happen, but it doesn't feel slow, or like you're missing too much of the story because so much time has to pass between the beginning and the end of the book. It works well. No complaints.

Characters: Remember I talked about Kelsey and her friends being relatively privileged white girls? Well... Zona kind is too. She's a relatively well-off teenaged white girl. At one point she says that she and her father are considered "poor" at her school. Sweetie. Your father is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, and you live in an apartment in New York. That you can afford to keep while living in Greece. GREECE. You aren't poor. And you kind of have to work with that for a bit, because honestly it takes a minute to not be a little jealous about the girl who gets to live in Greece for half a year and keeps complaining about it.

But the growth works really, really well. Zona has her world view challenged, including her views about her family and herself, and she really has to think about how she's going to react to things. There are a lot of very interesting characters, and Zona's large Greek family is amazing, and lovely, and they really do shine. Zona's relationship with her father is super sweet, and I really adored how much time was spent on her relationship with family. Zona is also so, so funny, and I really liked the newspaper aspect. She's very passionate about it, but she's also experiencing some writer's block, and that is so relateable.

For the most part, the characters are pretty strong in this. Some fall down a little, but some are amazing. I would read like eight books just about Zona spending time in Greece with her family. The author is great at writing a large cast of characters without them blending together.

And (this is a bit of a spoiler so just skip to the next section if you don't want to see it) I really liked that the romance in the book is generally a bit casual. Zona has lots of crushes on boys, but family is more important to her, and it's shown that just because you like a boy doesn't mean you date them forever. It works so well, and I love that message. It's not treated as a bad thing that dating doesn't last forever, either, or even something to really be sad about. It just is. (End spoiler.)

PG-13 stuff: There's some underage drinking, and I like the way it's handled. The drinking age in Greece is 18, but the attitude is very different than in the US, and it is not strictly enforced at all. That attitude is reflected in the book, and Zona talks a lot about how since it's not as big of a deal, her Greek friends don't feel the need to do it as much. It's a really interesting concept to see a character be basically allowed to drink freely without consequences, and... decide that that's kind of boring, and they're okay sticking with moderation. The discussion of the forbidden fruit aspect is really mature and interesting, and I really liked it.

Zona does now and then think about safety type stuff - not accepting drinks from strangers, being nervous about hitchhiking even though everyone said it was safe - and there is a subplot about a character with an eating disorder. (Which I promise isn't a spoiler - it's very clear the direction it'll go the first time you meet the character.) I wouldn't say that there's anything that a mature young teen couldn't handle, and a lot of it is really great conversation starters, or things that they might be seeing in their friends.

For the record - I never want to say that those things are bad (cursing is not a moral failing), but if you're an adult reading my reviews for teens, your teens may not be ready for certain things and that's okay. Books should never be banned, or taken away from kids, but not all kids are ready for things at the same time, and we should be aware of them when we recommend books.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: I do think that there could have been more main characters who weren't white. A few side characters are POC, but the ones who are generally just show up for one scene and then disappear. Most of the characters are white. And it is Greece, but still, she goes to a school where the whole thing is that the students come from all over the world. There could be more than one vaguely not-white character who has more than one scene. The world is not that white.

Also, I like that the author seems to always have at least one queer character, and I appreciated the discussion Zona had with her Greek friends about the different cultures regarding that, but. But. At one point one of her Greek friends calls Matty "your gay friend" and Zona argues against that. The problem is, he has basically no personality besides being the gay best friend. Literally the book tells us nothing about him besides that he's gay and he has a crush on a guy. When Zona talks about missing her friends, she only talks about things he does for her, not who is is, or what he's like, or anything. It's disappointing especially because the other characters are really good.

Also, nobody is fat, and everybody is able-bodied. The discussion of the cultural attitudes regarding eating disorders and sexuality is good, but more representation would be nice besides characters who basically are very tokenized because they're the only ones in the book who represent those things.

Cover comments: I was so disappointed that this doesn't have Zona's ugly suitcase on the cover! In all seriousness, this is an adorable cover. It fits very well with the companion book so they look uniform overall, and it suits the book very well. It is perfect for reading when it's warm out, even though not all of the book is like, super fluffy or anything. (Seriously. I cried.) It feels like a perfect summer book.

Conclusion: This was so much fun to read, honestly. I loved the setting so much, and I feel like I learned a ton about Greece. The discussion, also, of some of the politics of modern day Greece is so smart and maturely handled. I thought the eating disorder subplot is also handed incredibly well, and the depth of many of the things in the book really surprised me. It's going to lose a rose for the cons I mentioned earlier, but overall, I liked this so much.

I feel like I'm always better at pointing out problems than I am at telling you the good things. The funny moments in this, guys, my neighbours were seriously about to start yelling at me because I was laughing so hard. There are a lot of (white, straight) girls in this, and they are all very different and unique. The setting is so amazing, and the description of that is so good. It's just so, so much fun to read.

Since we have two books and two years of high school, there better be two more! Junior and Senior, right? I look forward to those if they're going to happen, and I think the author has nowhere to go but up. I would read all four books if it went that long. This one gets a strong three and a half roses, and a strong recommendation as long as you take into mind the things I mentioned.



Other Notes:

- Did I mention I got two wisdom teeth taken out recently? That's a thing. Doing well, though.

I think that's it!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, August 15, 2016

YA Review: Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters

Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters by Meredith Zeitlin

Published: March 1st, 2012 by G. P. Putnam's Sons, with the edition I read released in 2013 by Speak.
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 282
Part of a series? There is a companion to this called Sophomore Year is Greek to Me, which I will be reviewing net week. That is not a direct sequel, but does take place the year after this one, and has a few spoilers for this book.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Kelsey Finkelstein is fourteen and frustrated. Every time she tries to live up to her awesome potential, her plans are foiled – by her impossible parents, her annoying little sister, and life in general. But with her first day of high school coming up, Kelsey is positive that things are going to change. Enlisting the help of her three best friends — sweet and quiet Em, theatrical Cass, and wild JoJo — Kelsey gets ready to rebrand herself and make the kind of mark she knows is her destiny.

Things start out great - her arch-nemesis has moved across the country, giving Kelsey the perfect opportunity to stand out on the soccer team and finally catch the eye of her long-time crush. But soon enough, an evil junior’s thirst for revenge, a mysterious photographer, and a series of other catastrophes make it clear that just because Kelsey has a plan for greatness… it doesn’t mean the rest of the world is in on it.

Review: This was absolutely hilarious. The running gag about the school newspaper publishing horrible pictures of Kelsey is probably one of the funniest things I've read in a long time. There is a lot of humour, and it was a really good decision to read this while I'm still a little fuzzy from being sick. (Getting better. It probably doesn't matter by the time you read this, since I'm probably going to post stuff out of order.) For the most part, this is light and sweet and funny, and I enjoyed it a whole lot. Definitely pros and cons, but we'll get into that in the later bits of this review.

Plot Talk: Basically the plot is Kelsey Finkelstein's freshman year at high school playing soccer and growing up and fighting with friends and stuff. There isn't really a huge event that everything builds up to, but I quite enjoyed that. It's just a year in a girl's life as she gets used to being in high school.

Characters: Kelsey is really funny, but she can be really annoying at times. She is very, very fourteen, and it is a very honest fourteen. Fourteen is a terrible age, let's be real. Kelsey is an incredibly dramatic girl at times who takes everything very seriously a lot of the time. Her parents are terrible, the hot guy she likes is basically a god, bad pictures of her are a disaster. Part of the book's arc is her growing, but there are definitely moments where my notes just say, "Poor baby. Your life is so hard." And that's about things like not being allowed to use her mother's credit card freely, or text in class.

Kelsey's friends, and Kelsey herself are mostly upper-class, slightly-spoiled, probably white girls. (Nobody is really well-described - I honestly have no idea what anyone looked like.) Kelsey is Jewish which is awesome, and absolutely lovely to see in YA. But she is also very privileged, and so are her friends. They can be a little mean and judgemental, and that is somewhat addressed. Realistic because they are very privileged fourteen year old girls. But I did like seeing their friendship, and the struggles they go through as they grow and spend their first year in high school.

Another thing I appreciated was that I don't have to say everyone is straight. There were non-straight characters, and mostly they weren't stereotyped or anything. (The music teacher and drama teacher being queer and dating is kind of cliche, though, but it's treated mostly as a rumour/not especially interesting, so, you know, not a huge deal.)

The characters are strong in this. Some of them can be surprising, even, and go against who you would expect them to be. Like the super hot, basically perfect, blonde, soccer star is... actually really sweet. There's a whole book/cover Aesop.

PG-13 stuff: Probably a little more than you'd expect considering the character's ages, but they do live in New York. For the most part, I think it's realistic and well-handled. Not all consequences are life-ending, but there are consequences for most things. Like, getting careless with alchohol gives you a headache, and maybe some injuries you have to deal with. I am not a fan of underage drinking because of the issues it can cause in adulthood, but in the book, it's mostly handled well.

Kelsey thinks about sex a lot, and I really like the way it's handled. It's realistic for someone her age to be curious about it. All in all, this would probably be fine for kids Kelsey's age, around thirteen or fourteen.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: The mean girl thing and girl hate bothers me. There's a bit of slutshaming here and there, and that is really uncomfortable. It would also be nice if they'd mentioned that, you know, gay and straight are not the only options. There's also some really uncomfortable moments that are... kind of racist. Kelsey and her friends dress up as the Village People for Halloween and there's more than a few lines about her friend being an "Indian Princess", wearing makeup and a headdress, and that is not cool. If it weren't for that, this would probably be full-rose rating higher.

Nobody in this book is fat, as far as I can tell, and there are some cracks that I don't really like. What's wrong with weighing three hundred pounds, Kelsey?

Last, it's predictable. Not as badly as other books I've read recently, but it's a lot like other books in this genre. Certain tropes are exactly what you expect them to be. It's not the worst thing ever, but it's there. It's more fun than anything, I think, to have those familiar tropes, but if that's a thing than bothers you, now you know.

Cover comments: It is so cute. It's perfectly suited to the book. The colours are gorgeous, and the little clouds and rain drops are just perfectly adorable.

Conclusion: This is really cute, and hilarious. It's a lot of fun to read, but the cons I mentioned did bother me both while I was reading, and afterwards. I would hesitate to recommend this to certain kids (First Nations/NA kids do not need that stereotype thrown in their face), even though it is really fun. It's really fun if you know that those things are going to make you cringe, not hurt you. If those things would hurt you, don't worry about passing. So. Mixed review, mixed recommendation. I really enjoyed this because it was cute and funny, but that comes from a place of privilege in some aspects, so take that into consideration.

This is going to lose a rose for the racism (and it is only that Halloween scene), and the girl hate, so this is coming out at three roses. I am, however, very much looking forward to starting the other book by the author that I have.



Other notes:

- There may have been a guy named Ned who gets called Nedward and I can't tell if it was a joke or serious.

- What phones are they flipping shut in 2012? Like Blackberries or something?

- There's a moment with a strong anti-rape culture message, and I kind of appreciated that.

- Favourite character: Valentina.

I think that's it!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, August 1, 2016

Things I've Read Recently (36): Random Canadian Books!

If you're new around here, Things I've Read Recently is a series of posts I do that are basically mini-reviews of books that I either forgot to review, didn't have enough to say for a full review, or just didn't want to do a full post about for whatever reason.

Dare by Marilyn Halvorson

Published: Originally published in 1988, this edition was released in 1990 from General Paperbacks which I think is an imprint of Gemini Books, but don't test me. There's a more recent printing that I'll be linking to, released in 2014.
Genre: Realistic YA.
Binding: Paperback.
Page Count: 191
Part of a series? Nope, but a whole lot of her books are kind of cowboy/Western Canada themed.
Got via: It's a library reject.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): Dare, almost 16, is big, tough, street-wise kid, always in trouble at school and around the town of Crossing, Alberta. His 12-year-old brother, Ty, is just the opposite: quiet, studious, at the head of his class.

When their grandmother dies, the two are faced with the prospect of going to a foster home - until Laura McConnell, a part-time teacher, invites them to her ranch.

If it weren't for Ty, Dare would be long gone... a desire that intensifies into white-hot rage as he clashes with Laura and faces the pain of his past.

Thoughts: This is set in Alberta and that was kind of neat. I'm not from Alberta or have ever been there, but I enjoy reading about different places in Canada. There's something that's fun about reading about places in your country, especially when a lot of books are US-centred. You've probably noticed that I have a soft-spot for even not very good Canadian books because they are Canadian. Now, the book itself is... fine. It's not the most amazing thing in the world, but it was fine.

It is a touch dated in the details like an AC/DC concert in Calgary being the cool thing for teenagers to do, but it is also kind of dated in its tropes. It kind of reads like something a teacher would make you read in like grade eight to make you learn something. This would make a good, like, Lifetime inspirational movie. Like the appeal of an emotional story of two brothers, one of whom isn't making the best choices, going to live with a pretty awesome woman who pushes them to be their best ad how they all learn to love each other is definitely there.

The writing is good, and in researching the author a bit, I think I've actually read another of her newer books. I think she only has upwards to go when it comes to the quality of the writing. I can honestly say I enjoyed this one. The questions I have to ask myself are, would I read this again, and am I going to keep it? Those answers are linked in - no, I would probably not read it again, and because of that, I'll probably be passing it along. My copy is also in pretty rough condition, so it's not like I'm oohing and awwing over the prettiness. Fly free, little bird.

Props to this cover, though, for actually depicting a scene in the book. I like when that happens. I do not personally think I would re-purchase this, but if this appeals to you, you can buy a new edition released in 2014. Cover to the right. Nice new cover.

A Bird in the House by Margaret Laurence

Published: This edition was originally published in 1987 by Bantom Seal. This collection was first published in 1970, and versions of some of the stories were published in various magazines as early as 1963. There have been many editions of this released, with the most recent being 2010.
Genre: Adult fiction.
Binding: Paperback.
Page Count: 179 plus an excerpt of another book, an about the author, a list of other books in this series, and a listing of other books from the publisher.
Part of a series? This is the fourth book of five in the Manawaka sequence, but as far as I can tell, they are only loosely connected by all being set in the fictional same town. I read this as a standalone.
Got via: Library reject.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): In eight interconnected, finely wrought stories, Margaret Laurence recreates the world of Vanessa MacLeod – a world of scrub-oak, willow, and chokecherry bushes; of family love and conflict; and of a girl’s growing awareness of and passage into womanhood. The stories blend into one masterly and moving whole: poignant, compassionate, and profound in emotional impact.

Thoughts: This was a hidden gem! There are probably a lot of people who are chuckling at me realizing this, though. But I hadn't ever heard of this besides seeing it on my shelves. The format of this is really interesting, as the timeline jumps around at times, and everything is being told by adult Vanessa about her childhood self and family.

(Hence why this is an adult novel about a young character, not a YA novel, which I initially thought it would be because of the cover.)

Things don't have happy endings all the time, and not everything is resolved. Sometimes characters just die, or leave, or other things that happen in life. It's very slice-of-life in a way, but also everything makes Vanessa who she is. The fact that it's set in the thirties and the Great Depression, and Vanessa is an aspiring writer, and the peeks you get of her older self are all really, really cool. The family is complicated, frustrating, and fascinating. They are by far not perfect, and an overreaching theme is about how Vanessa has relationships with those imperfect people.

I liked this one so much more than I ever thought I would. If you ever find this one, guys, check it out. I will definitely be keeping this one. I would probably even buy a used copy of one of the new editions in slightly better shape if I ever ran across one (they seem to be fairly pricy to buy new). Mine looks fairly old. Although I have to say, I do like the cover, even for its datedness. I really like that the model isn't like fashion model thin. She's got a bit of a tummy, and it's cool to see that.

Side note: I read this on Canada Day weekend watching Pirate's Passage. Very Canadian weekend, apparently. It also amuses me that they'll occasionally mention something like Jergens hand lotion, or other brands that you still see today. Considering the setting of the thirties, it's cool.

Out of the Dark by Welwyn Wilton Katz

Published: Originally published in 1995 by Groundwood Books, there was a reprint in 2001. Mine is probably the 1995 one because there's a library stamp from 1996.
Genre: Contemporary MG.
Binding: Paperback.
Page Count: 179 plus the author's note.
Part of a series? No.
Got via: Library reject.
Amazon / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): Faced with the tragic loss of his mother, Ben Elliot is forced into a move he hates. He has had to give up his home and friends in the city to move with his father and younger brother to the tiny village of Ship Cove on Newfoundland's isolated northern peninsula.

The only thing that makes the place bearable is its nearness to the Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows, where he finds comfort in the ancient myths and sagas his mother loved. He also revives his childhood game of imagining he is Tor, a young Viking shipbuilder. But when the Tor game becomes increasingly real and harder to control, Ben discovers that the lines between past and present, fantasy and reality, are beginning to blur - with dangerous consequences.

Thoughts: I'm a little conflicted about this. The writing is really quite good. The Newfoundland setting isn't something I run into a lot in books, and it's vibrant and wonderful. Basically, the only thing that I really didn't like was the Viking stuff. Like actually in the story, it was well worked into the setting and the character's interest, but the random italics got really distracting. Honestly, if they had formatted the Tor stuff (the character Ben pretended to be, not the publisher, ha) differently, it probably would have worked better. There was also some Norse mythology told in italics, most of which Ben's mother had told him at some point. But the thing is, Norse names plus italics make word soup, honestly. I would have preferred hearing it from Ben, not just having the mythology told to me out of the narrative.

Honestly, it's not even that those parts were badly written or anything. But you'd be reading these really interesting scenes about Ben and his family and even just Ben talking about the history of Newfoundland and then bam, suddenly Vikings. Like (and I'm making this up as an example) it'd be Ben and his dad getting in a boat, switch, Tor making a boat for the Vikings or something, switch, Ben picks up the oars. I get the idea behind it, that he's escaping reality and stuff, but it really interrupts the flow of the novel at times. When it's integrated into the story, and thread into what's actually happening to Ben, it's really cool. When it's just thrown onto the page, it's a bit clunky.

And honestly, I spent a lot of time really worried about this kid. He's kind of hallucinating or dissociating or something, and this is obviously because of the loss of his mother. Someone should probably talk to the kid about that! Like, that's a little too glossed over.

However, though, I still liked this one. Again, the writing is good, the setting was awesome, and it's interesting. I just wish the bits that weren't Ben's story had been blended in a bit better. I think that kids who are interested in Norse mythology would really like this, and I would definitely be interested in checking out other books from the author. I even have one on my to-read pile that I'm excited about reading, since the writing will probably continue to improve. Even with this being a bit older, I think most of it still works well. Kids may ask why they don't have computers or internet, but honestly I wouldn't be surprised if rural Newfoundland lacks in a bit of technology - like my aunt in Northern Saskatchewan can only get one internet provider on her farm - and a mention of video rentals raising questions about a lack of DVDs, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. You could have a good conversation from that.

I complained a lot, but I don't think this was a bad book at all. It was a good book, and I can definitely see kids enjoying this. The only thing is, I don't think the cover is the best choice. It reminds me of The Other Elizabeth, which is a book I read about eight hundred times as a kid and I should do a blog post on some day (and can't find a cover picture of online - I'll take one and put it next to this post). But this only has two stamps from people checking it out. Maybe it had an index card that was stamped instead, but the stamps are from 1996 and 2001, so that's a bit of a gap. And the book looks brand new - I thought it was from the mid-2000s, not the 90s. I don't think this cover makes kids look at it and want to read it.

Which is a shame! If you come across this, I'd say go ahead and check it out if you're into kid books. It's worth giving a chance.

Castle Tourmandyne by Monica Hughes

Published: First published by HarperCollins Canada in 1995, my edition was released in 1996.
Genre: I'm gonna call this middle grade fantasy. I don't think it's YA. I think if it was published today, it'd be put out as middle grade.
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 157 plus a handful of pages of other books the author wrote.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: I think honestly this is the copy I had as a kid. I ended up with two copies at one point, and kept the one in better shape, but one I had since I was nine or ten.
Amazon / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): Marg is thrilled that her cousin Peggy is coming to stay for the summer. But Peggy - prickly, sarcastic, and downright mean - has no time for her "baby' cousin"... until Marg receives a beautiful Victorian dollhouse for her birthday. Strangely drawn to Castle Tourmandyne, Peggy insists on assembling the dollhouse in spite of its printed warning: "Be careful to make this house with love".

Soon Peggy is haunted by terrifying dreams in which she is trapped in the dollhouse, a place without love or protection from evil. Marg alone can save her. But first, Marg must enter Castle Tourmandyne herself - and confront the spirit within.

Thoughts: I was so nervous to re-read this. This was one of my favourite books as a kid, along with another of the author's books. (My Name is Paula Popowich - I should talk about that some day, too.) Reading this was super nostalgic for me, since I read it so many times as a kid. It's one of very few books I brought with me when we moved from Ontario to Saskatchewan. And I'm glad to say it has held up pretty well. There's a few dates aspects - video tapes, green and pink plastic roller blades - but I don't think it affects it badly, and the writing has held up well.

The idea of a haunted dollhouse is just delightfully creepy. (And seriously, check out this list when you're done reading this post. Look at all the creepy doll books.) The scare factor is definitely kid-appropriate. While I still think it's creepy and appreciate that, it's not going to give me nightmares or anything. It's kind of like Goosebumps or Fear Street. Scary for kids, but in an appropriate way.

One thing I noticed as an adult was that occasioanlly Marg's dialogue sounded much older than a twelve year old. I don't think twelve year olds in 1995 said "shan't". I woner if part of that was that the author wasn't published until fairly late in life, and also that she was British. I could see a British kid saying "shan't". But honestly, I know from reading this as a kid that it didn't bother me. I loved this as a kid.

I like the relationship between Marg and Peggy, how they fight, and how complex they are. Peggy is kind of a jerk! And yet she is also presented as a sympathetic character, and her growth and emotions are so important to the story. The message is good, I adore two girls fighting evil together through love, and it's just creepy enough. It's a little old, but I still enjoyed re-reading it, and it will be staying on my shelf.

So, two are staying, one is a maybe, one will be passed along.

Don't forget to enter the contest! Ends on Friday!

Peace and cookies,
Laina