Monday, January 16, 2017

YA Review: The Swan Riders

The Swan Riders by Erin Bow

Published: September 20th, 2016 by Margaret K. Elderberry Books which is an imprint of Simon and Schuster.
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Binding: ARC
Page Count: 376 in my ARC, but the finished version most likely has closer to 384. Or at least that's what the info in the ARC says.
Part of a series? Yes, this is the second book in the Prisoners of Peace series. You can read my review of the first book here. Be warned, even the summary of this will contain spoilers for the first book, as will my review. I will try to avoid major spoilers for this book itself in the review. I do not think this will be a trilogy.
Got via: A lovely envelope filled with goodies from Simon and Schuster Canada.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Greta Stuart had always known her future: die young. She was her country's crown princess, and also its hostage, destined to be the first casualty in an inevitable war. But when the war came it broke all the rules, and Greta forged a different path.

She is no longer princess. No longer hostage. No longer human. Greta Stuart has become an AI.

If she can survive the transition, Greta will earn a place alongside Talis, the AI who rules the world. Talis is a big believer in peace through superior firepower. But some problems are too personal to obliterate from orbit, and for those there are the Swan Riders: a small band of humans who serve the AIs as part army, part cult.

Now two of the Swan Riders are escorting Talis and Greta across post-apocalyptic Saskatchewan. But Greta’s fate has stirred her nation into open rebellion, and the dry grassland may hide insurgents who want to rescue her – or see her killed. Including Elian, the boy she saved—the boy who wants to change the world, with a knife if necessary. Even the infinitely loyal Swan Riders may not be everything they seem.

Greta’s fate—and the fate of her world—are balanced on the edge of a knife.

Review: For the record, I didn't even read the back of the book before I started reading this. I was very, very careful to go in not knowing anything but that I was super excited after reading The Scorpion Rules.

Oh, you guys, I adored this. If this is the last book I read in 2016 (which I hope it won't be - I have plans for a couple more!), that would be a very, very high point to go out on. This works for me so well. I read half of it and then had to basically abandon it because Christmas exploded and when I picking it up at least week later, it felt like I had put it down ten minutes ago. I liked the first book a whole lot, but this one is really, really good. It hits so many of the things I greatly enjoy in books and I was so, so hooked.

Plot Talk: I don't think I can tell you anything that happens in the plot without completely spoiling things! I can say that the pacing is amazing. Like I said, I put it down for a long time because Christmas, and as soon as I picked up up, I read the second half in one sitting. It knows how to take time for the important moments that need to be a little slower without dragging or being boring.

Characters: I still loved Greta and also still can't type or write "Greta" without my fingers wanting to make it "Great". She is pretty great, though. I'm pretty sure that I am always going to love girls that are a little broken and the contrast in her voice in this book has an amazing contrast between moments where she's removed and cold and moments where her emotions almost overwhelm her. There are times when her emotions are stifled (by plot things I can't tell you) and that loss and emptiness are incredibly striking. I think that feeling will ring true for many people who have struggled with depression. This is a thing that works for me. Ask me about my feelings about New Moon and season six of Buffy some day.

I also like that while Greta is obviously very important to the plot, it's because of her actions that she's important, and other people are as well. She can't fix everything by herself.

We get a lot of new characters in this. There's a lot of change in general, in settings and characters and voice, and it works very well. Bow has a real gift for creating chemistry between characters. Not just sexual and romantic tension (although she is really good at that, too), but the characters she writes are interesting and you want to read about how they interact and come together and even how they irritate each other.

Also the sneaky little snarky and sarcastic bits about Elián are stil absolutely hilarious, but he has grown as a character. He's such a deviance from the norm of this archetype and I so appreciate what the author is doing with this character. He's not perfect, he doesn't make good decisions and there are consequences for this, the stereotypical things that this type of character does and gets away with don't work for him. My favourite line about him, and this is from the ARC so, like, [sic] or whatever, it might be different in the finished copy, is one where he's said to be, "demonstrating his knack for getting through a crisis, but not past it" and that was just... absolutely hilarious to me for some reason. It really does describe him, and shows that humour the author has about the character and the tropes associated with it, but never goes so far as to make the character a joke.

And again, prominent Jewish character is nifty, right? This one also has a prominent black disabled character and a brown queer girl among the new characters, and I loved them so much. There is such care taken with these characters, you know?

Let's not talk about the ending where I cried for about twenty minutes - or let's talk about that a little later, actually. It'll be more relevant in a later part of this review.

PG-13 stuff: Uh what does the back say... the back says ages 14/grade 9 and up, so that's context. Slightly older YA, 'cause of, like, you know the war and violence and stuff. Not actually a lot for language, which is interesting, and I'm sort of impressed by. Some of the violence in these books could be a little disturbing for younger or more sensitive readers, so use your discretion as necessary.

Also, I don't know where else to put this, but kudos for a YA book actually mentioning that people have nipples, especially considering the context (medical situation).

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: I do actually have one. There are characters who have seizures in the book because of things I won't say because spoilers, and whenever a seizure happens, people hold them down and there's a fair amount of talk about how much force/weight it takes to hold them. DON'T DO THAT. PLEASE. You can dislocate peoples' shoulders, cause nerve damage, be injured yourself, etc. This is actually something that has really started irritating me in medical shows especially, but every time I read it, it made me cringe. Maybe it's been edited in the finished copy - I can't get my hands on one at this time to see - but regardless, I thought I'd mention it because even if that's changed, it's good for people to know not to do that.

I did miss Xie a lot, though. I'm going to get into some spoiler territory in the next couple paragraphs, so feel free to skip this segment, but I think it's important to talk about. If you don't know or didn't read my review of the first book or whatever, Greta is queer and in love with a girl, and that is definitely not ignored in this book. I just... I understand why the book ended the way it did for a story reason... but I missed Xie, and I wish we could have seen them be happy together more, especially because I'm pretty sure this is only a duology. DEFINITELY SPOILER BUT I FEEL LIKE YOU GUYS WOULD WANT TO KNOW - but it's not like the book killed either of them. There's a line in the first book about no fairy tales having two princesses in them, and I wish there had been something to show that that isn't true just a little more.

About deaths... let me try to explain this. Actually, let me add another link to this review. A few days ago, Seanan McGuire talked about how characters and how she can't protect all of her characters but can still treat them with respect, and basically go read this real quick and come back. I think that's also an accurate way to describe this book. Queer characters may die, but everyone is at equal risk of death because, you know, war. All deaths are treated with respect, and I don't think it ever goes into "bury your gays" (or bisexuals) territory, or remotely close. The ending, though we've lost characters we cared about, is very, very hopeful. Greta has plans on making things better, and those plans feel good.

All that is to say, I missed Xie, but I'm not uncomfortable recommending this book because of any representation issues I noticed. And if I missed anything that should affect my recommendation, please let me know!

Cover comments: I adore this cover. This colour blue and the relative simplicity of it super works for me. It's almost deceptively simple, since you don't see the background at first, and that's really cool. Also, while I liked the Scorpion Rules' cover fine, the new paperback cover is gorgeous, and it fits with The Swan Riders way better. Those two would look so good next to each other. Really like the cover.

Conclusion: I'm really glad I read this. I enjoyed both books, and if I'm correct in assuming this is a duology, Swan Riders really wraps up the series well. There's no slump from the first book from the second. I love books that talk about consent, and this has several moments of that and it's handled very well. I love the setting being in Saskatchewan still, because that's my home. Also, two books essentially about princesses and other royalty, and there's legit no body shaming or fatphobia. Probably could have used a couple more prominant fat characters, but frankly at this point I take what I can get.

I feel like between the seizure thing and missing Xie, I'm probably going to knock off half a rose, but this is still a book I really, really enjoy, and I do recommend the series as a whole. For me, they feel really good to read and I'm glad I did. Four out of five roses.



Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, January 9, 2017

Things I've Read Recently (37): Books I Have Sequels to I Need to Review

Welcome to my first post of 2017!!

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. In this case, I've got sequels to review!

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

Published: September 22nd, 2015 by Margaret K. McElderry Books which is a division of Simon and Schuster.
Genre: YA Science Fiction leaning more Dystopian than anything else.
Binding: Hardcover.
Page Count: 374 and it's really heavy.
Part of a series? Yes, this is book one of the Prisoners of Peace series. There's at least one more, 'cause I have it over there on the table. I am not going to look up anything more because I really want to avoid spoilers. I'll update you in the next review.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Greta is a duchess and crown princess—and a hostage to peace. This is how the game is played: if you want to rule, you must give one of your children as a hostage. Go to war and your hostage dies.

Greta will be free if she can survive until her eighteenth birthday. Until then she lives in the Precepture school with the daughters and sons of the world’s leaders. Like them, she is taught to obey the machines that control their lives. Like them, she is prepared to die with dignity, if she must. But everything changes when a new hostage arrives. Elián is a boy who refuses to play by the rules, a boy who defies everything Greta has ever been taught. And he opens Greta’s eyes to the brutality of the system they live under—and to her own power.

As Greta and Elián watch their nations tip closer to war, Greta becomes a target in a new kind of game. A game that will end up killing them both—unless she can find a way to break all the rules.

Review: Okay, I have to say it - this book is set in my province. My province once, like, the world has tried to end, but it's still my province! And I'm glad it's a book I like for once considering my track record with not-amazing books set in Canada. I'm seriously stumbling for words trying to summarize my thoughts, but I really, really did enjoy this.

Bow has a gift for distinct, vibrant voices. There are two different narrators. Between a prologue that is one of the best done prologues I've read in a long time, and the book, those narrators are very, very different. The prologue's narrator is casual, very snappy, and callous, and I loved it immediately. Meanwhile, Greta's voice is completely different. She is regal, removed and elegant. Her voice is the kind of writing I will never, ever be able to accomplish because, well, you read my blog. I sound like this. Greta is a great narrator and a type of character I really enjoy. I love how much the writing shows how she's spent sixteen years being trained to react certain ways, and how strictly important the rules of ettiquette and behaviour properly suiting royalty are for her, and how drastic it is when those things change and her reactions and behaviour has to change.

Is this normally the part where I complain about the book being filled with only white straight people? Yeah, I don't have to do that! Because of the premise of the book, there are characters from many different places of many different races. I'm really, really white so obviously I am not the one you should be looking to for here regarding anything problematic, but I tried to be as critical as possible while reading, and I didn't really see anything that would raise red flags. One thing that I could see was that the main character could have been not white, but I could also see the really bad implications of a white author writing a character of colour being taken away from their family to a school-like environment.

I could be totally off-base, but I feel like things were handled well, and I hope I'm more right than wrong. I want books to be good and have good representation, not just that I can't see the bad.

So let's talk romance. I'll try to avoid spoilers, but I can't promise anything. There's a love triangle in this. I kinda loved it. Greta has two love interests, a male character and a female character. Have you guys ever read a book or watched a movie where the dude love interest is like super intense and full of angst and impulsive and the character isn't necessarily awful but you're so sick of that trope that you kind of hate him? This book uses that to surprise you. I make notes while I read and one of them said something like, "Can Greta hook up with (female love interest) instead?" AND THEN THEY WENT THAT WAY.

I loved it. Made me so happy :D

Also, the male love interest was Jewish, which I don't actually see a whole ton, and always enjoy.

All in all, this worked so well for me, and I can't wait to read the next one. I could be missing things, but I really hope I'm not. I liked this so much, guys.

On to the next!

A Pocket Full of Murder by R. J. Anderson

Published: September 8th, 2015 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers which is a Simon and Schuster imprint.
Genre: MG Fantasy
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 340 plus acknowledgements
Part of a series? Yes, this is book one of the Uncommon Magic series which has at least one more book because I have it sitting over there.
Got via: The library of course.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): In the spell-powered city of Tarreton, the wealthy have all the magic they desire while the working class can barely afford a simple spell to heat their homes. Twelve-year-old Isaveth is poor, but she’s also brave, loyal, and zealous in the pursuit of justice—which is lucky, because her father has just been wrongfully arrested for murder.

Isaveth is determined to prove her innocence. Quiz, the eccentric eyepatch-wearing street boy who befriends her, swears he can’t resist a good mystery. Together they set out to solve the magical murder of one of Tarreton’s most influential citizens and save Isaveth’s beloved Papa from execution.

But each clue is more perplexing than the next. Was the victim truly killed by Common Magic—the kind of crude, cheap spell that only an unschooled magician would use—or was his death merely arranged to appear that way? And is Quiz truly helping her out of friendship, or does he have hidden motives of his own? Isaveth must figure out who she can trust if she’s to have any hope of proving her Papa’s innocence in time. . .

Thoughts: This is gonna be such a boring review because I don't have giant thoughts on this book. This is good. Really cute and fun. I liked it. That's about it.

Okay I'm not really going to do that. This was a very cute middle grade fantasy book with some surprising depth. The main character and her family are Moshite, which is pretty obviously meant to be Jewish, much as Duesday is pretty obviously meant to be Tuesday. That's kind of a thing in thia book, where everything is slightly different in spelling and naming (along with the magic and everything.) As such, I don't know if people would call this Jewish representation since it's not called that. It is a religion and stated as such in the book. The book handles a lot of discrimination and bigotry because of the main characters' religion, and it isn't easily solved or solved at all.

Jewish followers, I'm throwing this one out to you. If you've read this (or if you haven't), what did you think?

All in all, there's a lot I liked in this. I really liked the focus on Isaveth's family, and her relationship with her sisters. It's really, really sweet, and I liked how her two younger sisters weren't just lumped into "annoying little siblings" role. There's an exciting plot, the setting is a lot of fun (it reminded me of The Wizard of Dark Street), and I liked the character. While there was a tiny bit of fatphobia that I did not like in one chapter, eleven year old me probably wouldn't have even noticed, and I know eleven year old me would have really enjoyed this.

Final verdict: Good. I look forward to the next one.

Okay, just two books today! More reviews to come!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goodbye 2016

Please let 2017 be better, because this year was awful.

So, what did I talk about last year?

I did in fact blog more in 2016 than 2015! When this post goes live, I will have blogged at least once in every month. December kind of got away from me. There was supposed to be a post go up, but I messed up something in it and had to wait for a couple holds to come in.

On books read - I have read 79 books, and have a comic book bind-up I want to tackle before 2017 hits us, so I'm really hoping to hit 80. That's up from 62 in 2015, and I'm really happy about that! And I still think the Goodreads year in books is a super cool thing to see. I am still hoping to add one more to it, but it's fun to look at!

Oh, hey, do you guys wanna see my pie chart? I made one last year and it was really interesting, so I thought I'd do it again.
In 2015, my stats were: YA 46.77%, MG 45.16%, Graphic Novels/Comics 4.84%, Adult Novels 1.61%, and Plays 1.61%. So I have definitely read more adult novels and graphic novels this year!

Should we talk about goals and stuff? I have a few things.

With reading, I want to up my Goodreads goal. I'm thinking going up to either 60 or 70 with an informal goal of "more than 2016". Maybe 65? No need to worry about it yet. And it'd be nice if I read a little non-fiction next year because there isn't even a wedge for that. I have also decided it would be fun to do #DiversityBingo2017 and the 2017 Diverse Books Reading Challenge/#DiverseReads2017. I like the idea of combining those two, and I definitely need to make more of an effort to branch out in my reading.

With blogging, I would really like to post a review or a "Things I've Read Recently" post every week. I would like to do more not-review posts, but I really struggled with ideas. Maybe I'll do monthly check-ins on my challenges/bingo if I can. We'll see.

And I can't really think of anything else! Hopefully you guys have a nice night and next year treats you better than this year.

See you guys in 2017!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

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