Friday, November 17, 2017

Incredibly Late October Reading Challenges Check In

This is incredibly late. I did actually read the book for November, but I mostly forgot to write about it and put this whole thing off way too much. But, to not completely ignore October, let's do this anyways.

This year I decided to do Diversity Bingo 2017, and the 2017 Diverse Reads Book Challenge. Each month, that challenge has a mini theme, and October's theme was Intersectionality. I decided to read:

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman

Published: October 1st, 2013 by Harry N. Abrams
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 236 plus recipe and a glossary.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): During the fall leading up to her bat mitzvah, Tara (Hindi for "star") Feinstein has a lot more than her Torah portion on her mind. Between Hebrew school and study sessions with the rabbi, there doesn’t seem to be enough time to hang out with her best friend Ben-o--who might also be her boyfriend--and her other best friend, Rebecca, who’s getting a little too cozy with that snotty Sheila Rosenberg. Not to mention working on her robotics project with the class clown Ryan Berger, or figuring out what to do with a priceless heirloom sari that she accidentally ruined.

Amid all this drama, Tara considers how to balance her Indian and Jewish identities and what it means to have a bat mitzvah while questioning her faith.

The part where I talk: I super pushed this one to the last minute and actually read it ON Halloween. I liked it. Will talk more about it in another, probably also super late, blog post.

And I didn't read any new bingo books because none of my holds came in so it's still this:


Hopefully I do better next month. Just wasn't a good reading month. I do think I need to adjust some of my holds (I think a book I want isn't going to come in in time), but I have hopes for a better looking November wrap-up post.

Thanks for reading anyways!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, November 6, 2017

Things I've Read Recently (60)

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.

Queer, There, and Everywhere by Sarah Prager

Published: May 23rd, 2017 by HarperCollins
Genre: YA Non-Fiction
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 256 plus acknowledgements. The entries about people stop at 215 and the rest is a glossary and biblography.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): World history has been made by countless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals—and you’ve never heard of many of them.

Queer author and activist Sarah Prager delves deep into the lives of 23 people who fought, created, and loved on their own terms. From high-profile figures like Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt to the trailblazing gender-ambiguous Queen of Sweden and a bisexual blues singer who didn’t make it into your history books, these astonishing true stories uncover a rich queer heritage that encompasses every culture, in every era.

By turns hilarious and inspiring, the beautifully illustrated Queer, There, and Everywhere is for anyone who wants the real story of the queer rights movement.

Thoughts: The thing about this is that it's pretty basic. And in some aspects that can be neat. The entries are short, engaging, and to the point, and that can be great for reader who isn't very familiar with non-fiction or naturally drawn to it, and I think it's really approachable for younger readers. It almost has the kind of tone where it could be a Buzzfeed article (or an article that Buzzfeed ripped off) or something.

But in other ways, it's just not that deep. Or, no, you know what this really reminds me of? A Cracked article. An interesting read, and you probably learned some neat new things, but you're definitely not getting the full story.

I also think this really lacks in asexuality and aromanticism peeps. I mean, let's be honest. A lot of these things aren't labels the people historically used, and there's no reason that can't be true of a-spec identities as well. But the only mentions of asexuality and aromanticism are in the introduction and the glossary. Asexuality is mentioned once in the introduction, and it's in the glossary. The entry in the glossary is okay, but aromanticism is only mentioned in that entry (as not being the same thing) and two of the people have something said along the lines of, "They might have identified as ace". Well, why didn't you say that in their chapters? Why does it only come up in these two places?

I mean, I honestly did like this. I thought it was cool that they had a good amount of queer POC, and I really liked the inclusion both of really historical people, like ancient Rome historical, and people who are still alive today, along with important people like Sylvia Rivera. Honestly I thought the Sylvia Rivera entry was super powerful. And the writing is fun, it really was.

But overall, it's really basic. It's real Western-world centered for sure, and it largely focused on the LGBT without really going into all the other identities out there. It's not a bad starting point, but it by no means represents everyone and that lack is disappointing.

Listen, Slowly by Thanhhà Lại

Published: February 17th, 2015 by HarperCollins
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 260 plus a bunch of extras
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): A California girl born and raised, Mai can't wait to spend her vacation at the beach. Instead, though, she has to travel to Vietnam with her grandmother, who is going back to find out what really happened to her husband during the Vietnam War. Mai's parents think this trip will be a great opportunity for their out-of-touch daughter to learn more about her culture.

But to Mai, those are their roots, not her own. Vietnam is hot, smelly, and the last place she wants to be. Besides barely speaking the language, she doesn't know the geography, the local customs, or even her distant relatives. To survive her trip, Mai must find a balance between her two completely different worlds.

Thoughts: I really liked this. I've read some really great middle grade books lately and this is definitely one of them. This and Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood would go really well together actually. (They can be friends.) I think it's a really relateable premise overall that a lot of kids would have a similar experience to.

Also I'm going to point out something that sounds a little silly - the font in this is kind of small. I'm bringing this up because honestly if the font was a little bigger which is pretty common in MG, this book could probably easily be 300 pages. There's almost more book here than I expected just from the page count alone, which was a neat surprise. I was also glad there wasn't a really big scary death in this. Like there is some talk of death, as it does deal with what happened to Mai's grandfather during the war, but it's something that happened when her father was a baby, so it's a little bit less about the immediate grief. Instead, it's more about closure, and how life moves on, you know?

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

Published: February 8th, 2016 by Flux
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 273 plus the acknowledgements and about the author
Part of a series? This is the first in the Abyss Surrounds Us series with the second book released April 2017.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.

There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.

Thoughts: Honestly this isn't my usual genre of choice. I don't mind a dystopian now and then, but this is way more intensely science fiction than I normally read. I struggled a very little bit to get into it at the very beginning, just as things were first being world-built and it was a tiny bit hard at the very beginning, but it only took a couple chapters for me to really start to enjoy it.

The voice is great, it's queer, it's future pirates. If you like science fiction, you will probably love this. If you're not big on science fiction, give this one a shot anyways. You might be surprised too! It's also pretty darn diverse overall, and I don't really have any major complaints.

One thing I really liked was that the romance plot has a lot of talk about how power imbalances can make things not okay in romance. I thought that was super cool.

Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody

Published: July 25th, 2017 by Harlequin Teen
Genre: YA Fantasy
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 377 plus acknowledgements
Part of a series? Nope
Got via: The library
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Sixteen-year-old Sorina has spent most of her life within the smoldering borders of the Gomorrah Festival. Yet even among the many unusual members of the traveling circus-city, Sorina stands apart as the only illusion-worker born in hundreds of years. This rare talent allows her to create illusions that others can see, feel and touch, with personalities all their own. Her creations are her family, and together they make up the cast of the Festival’s Freak Show.

But no matter how lifelike they may seem, her illusions are still just that—illusions, and not truly real. Or so she always believed…until one of them is murdered.

Desperate to protect her family, Sorina must track down the culprit and determine how they killed a person who doesn’t actually exist. Her search for answers leads her to the self-proclaimed gossip-worker Luca, and their investigation sends them through a haze of political turmoil and forbidden romance, and into the most sinister corners of the Festival. But as the killer continues murdering Sorina’s illusions one by one, she must unravel the horrifying truth before all of her loved ones disappear. I also predicted the villain like twenty pages in, honestly.

Thoughts: I think we've established this isn't my usual genre, but I have a lot of mixed feelings on this one. I think if you like fantasy, this could be something you'd like. It is an interesting world and premise, although sometimes I did have trouble kind of figuring out how the setting worked. The book can be somewhat gory at times, but the dark tone can be interesting to read. I also thought the illustrations were great.

But the biggest thing I need to talk about is the ace and aro rep. There will DEFINITELY be spoilers. Read somewhere else if you care. The love interest, Luca, is demiromantic and asexual, and I wish I liked that more. Because of the fantasy setting, the labels for him are only used on the author's website, and things are pretty... vague. Asexuality and aromanticism get somewhat confused or combined when Luca is talking about how he feels, and rolled entirely into "attraction". I appreciate the attraction mention, but it isn't consistent, and sex repulsion and lack of sexual attraction are definitely rolled together and I'm just sick of that. Sex repulsion and asexuality are not the same thing.

I also, and GIANT SPOILERS here, have a lot of trouble with the idea of him being one of the illusions she creates, especially because she created him to be a boyfriend/lover. One, I think that's kind of icky on the consent front in general. Two, because she created him to be that role, I think there's almost an implication that his sexuality and romantic identity is something that went wrong with him. I don't think the author meant that by any means, but that's still kind of how I walk away feeling. Also, honestly, I'm not sure we needed another inhuman, associated with death ace character. There's a LOT of ace characters associated with death (see thread here) and a lot of nonhuman comparisions. I also don't really like the idea of a demi-ace character being literally made up, since that whole thing where people are constantly telling us we made up our identities and they're not real.

Overall, I just was underwhelmed. And I was really excited too! On the surface, it's mostly okayish rep. I think the lack of labels in the book really don't help, and the implications are more easy than I'd like to see in it. I wouldn't personally recommend it for rep, but other people might. Maybe demiromantic people will enjoy it more. I'm greyaro, not demi (anymore) so I'm not entirely sure, but the representation felt very generalized and kind of middle of the road to me. Not like glaringly problematic, but not great either.

Okay, looking up reviews is helping a lot here. Here's one review where the reviewer couldn't even figure out what sexuality and romantic identity Luca is supposed to be. A bunch of people seem to read him as demisexual but tbh I don't think they know what demisexual is because Luca doesn't show sexual attraction to Sorena at all... or they were given wrong information. Like there's a solid 5 or 6 calling him demisexual. Here's one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, I could keep going. I'm going by the author's website here. Right in the FAQ, it says he's demiromo and asexual.

A ton of people don't seem to realize he's a-spec at all, which is why the lack of labels really bothered me. This review mentions people constantly finding his lack of interest in sex suspicious, and I agree, I really didn't like that. It could also be really triggering for that. This review reminds me of something I thought too - if bisexuality/not being heteroromantic and heterosexual are supposed to be very accepted in this world, why is asexuality treated so badly?

Also this book kind of sucks about fatness and fat rep. There are a handful of rude weight based/fat shaming comments from our heroes, and the only real fat character turns out to be a bad guy. The book really ends up correlating fatness and being a bad person.

There's a real lack of nonbinary characters, too. There was maybe one crossdressing character? For like a second? For having a decent amount of diversity regarding sexual and romantic orientation, everything was very binary and there's not even any explicit trans rep. I would also be VERY interested in reviews from POC reviewers, especially Asian identities, as I'm not the right person to say how that was handled. Also, about Sorena having no eyes, she can still see through her magic. Like she has no vision impairment from her lack of eyes. Going to leave this link here.

Honestly, this was overdue, and I almost gave up reading it. I didn't love the voice and honestly thought at times it was a bit overwritten, there was some disturbing stuff that I didn't enjoy a ton, I guessed the villain on *looks at notes* page 186 if not earlier. In general, I didn't like the a-spec rep or the fat rep (that was terrible to be honest) and the world and voice didn't save it for me. This was maybe okay at best for me. I wouldn't recommend it.

Well, it's a good thing this is the last book because that was long.

What have you guys been reading lately?

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, October 23, 2017

Things I've Read Recently (59)

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.

Want by Cindy Pon

Published: June 13th, 2017 by Simon Pulse
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 323 plus acknowledgements and an about the author.
Part of a series? No, standalone. Which is kinda neat, really.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits that protect them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother, who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.

Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is or destroying his own heart?

Thoughts: I saw someone say that if you liked Six of Crows, you should read this. I did not like Six of Crows that much, and I actually think this does some of the same things that I didn't like, so... that's probably still accurate, and also tells you if you think you'll agree with my opinion or think I'm ridiculous. There are things in this I think are done exceptionally well, things I thought just didn't work for me, and things I thought were problematic. Let's get into it.

We'll start with what just didn't work for me. Similar to Six of Crows, actually, is that a lot of this book is set-up. It's a lot of talking about what they're doing to do, and not actually a lot of doing. This just doesn't work for me as a reader. I don't easily connect to books that do that. I also struggled with the writing style - something about it, and I really don't even know what, just didn't work for me. That's going to be entirely subjective, obviously, and honestly isn't even really a fault of the book because I know other people like it. It's just not really my thing.

Things I thought were actually bad things - there are two queer characters in this. (Not a bad thing obviously.) We don't learn that they're queer until page 263 of 323, and they've apparently been together for two years and are both major characters. I just... that doesn't work for me. Also, they're the only queer characters, and there are a lot of characters. There aren't even like background queer characters. The future is queer, baby, why not show that?

I also noticed there was a distinct lack of fat characters. There's one character described as "plump" (...and then immediately shown eating) and it's solely a character who is one of the upperclass who have too much. If you think that only people who are rich are fat, you have a problem. And if you think that people who are food insecure and struggle to get enough to eat can't be fat, you have another problem. Food insecurity and poverty and oppression make people fatter. And, in our society, fatness makes you more likely to be poor and oppressed. (Vicious circle there, huh?) If you're writing a book that is largely about class and privilege... you should know this.

It's incredibly not my lane to talk about the intersection of fatness and being Asian, but I am going to link here to an article. And after reading that, I will say perhaps introducing your only fat(ish) character (who's there for like two pages) and then saying no one in that scene besides the (poor) main character would know what it's like to go hungry... raised some red flags. I'd worry about recommending it and accidentally hurting someone, honestly.

So, there were some things I had concerns about, but overall I'm mostly just kind of meh on this one, and it's mostly a matter of these just not being so much things I enjoy, the voice and the way the plot comes about and takes a while to get going. I thought the setting was really cool, the entirely POC cast is awesome, the plot is theoretically great but it kinda takes forever to get there, and it's not like I can't see how anyone would like this or anything. If you think you'll like this, you probably will, and I would still recommend it, but it's just one of those things where it's not really my thing.

The One Hundred Nights of Hero

Published: September 1st, 2016 by Jonathan Cape
Genre: Fantasy Adult Graphic Novel
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: Goodreads say 224 and the pages aren't numbered so, that.
Part of a series? This can be read either as a standalone or as a follow-up to the author's previous book, The Encyclopedia of Early Earth.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): From the author who brought you The Encyclopedia of Early Earth comes another Epic Tale of Derring-Do. Prepare to be dazzled once more by the overwhelming power of stories and see Love prevail in the face of Terrible Adversity! You will read of betrayal, loyalty, madness, bad husbands, lovers both faithful and unfaithful, wise old crones, moons who come out of the sky, musical instruments that won't stay quiet, friends and brothers and fathers and mothers and above all, many, many sisters.

Thoughts: This was a recommendation of a friend (thanks Bree!!) and I'm really glad I randomly asked for book recommendations that day on Twitter. I didn't know much going into this, but it's a really interesting book. The art is really cool, and there's a sense of humour I really enjoy while still taking seriously the things that need to be serious.... seriously. It's weird and neat and queer and the moon is bisexual(!) and I don't really know what else to say besides I really liked it and I recommend it.

Side note, I will say until this got here I didn't realize how big it is. It's like the size of a textbook. Seriously, it was like a challenge to read this because I threw my back out and it's really really heavy.

The Traitor's Tunnel by C. M. Spivey

Published: June 2017
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Binding: E-book
Page count: I don't know how many pages this would be, but it's a novella so it's only 10 chapters.
Part of a series? It's a prequel to From Under the Mountain, which is the first book in the Trident Chronicles series.
Got via: I bought it.
Amazon

Summary (from goodreads): Witch-blooded robber Bridget has made a reputation for herself in the capital city, but she's not interested in the attention of the Thieves' Guild--and she's not bothered by the rumors of urchin kidnappings, either. With winter coming, she's looking out for herself and no one else.

Until she picks the wrong pocket, and recognizes her estranged brother Teddy.

Young craftsman Theodor arrives in the capital ready to take the final step toward his dream career as Lord Engineer of Arido. His apprenticeship with a renowned city engineer comes with new rules and challenges, but it's worth it for the exposure to the Imperial Council.

While spying on her brother, Bridget overhears a secret meeting that reveals a cruel plot. After more than a decade apart, Theodor and Bridget must reunite to stop a traitor whose plan threatens not only their city, but the whole empire.

Thoughts: Fantasy isn't my thing at all and especially not adult fantasy. This is very, very much not my cup of tea. But it is still a really well made cup of tea and now I'm dropping this metaphor before it gets away from me. It's not my thing, but it's a really cool world, the writing is great with two super distinct voices between its two POVs, and it's really neat to see such queer fantasy. Also, it was like two dollars, so not really a big deal if you don't like it. It was also a good length for me to read on a computer as it was satisfying to finish, but didn't drag out too long. I also hadn't read the other already published book and it was just fine figuring things out and not hard to follow around or anything. Definitely recommend this one.

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Published: May 30th, 2017 by Simon Pulse
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 380 pages
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

Thoughts: This is mostly really cute. It does have a fair amount of somewhat standard light/romantic contemporary YA tropes and some of those tropes are things I'm not real fond of. Like, while I love that Dimple is a girl interested in the STEM fields, I think most of the book doesn't really focus on that, focusing instead more on romance. Dimple has a habit of punching Rishi in the ribs and I really don't like that in books.

The book also lacks in fat rep (how likely are the odds that two girls who randomly met through a school program and decided to become roommates would be not only the same clothing size but the same shoe size? Seriously not a fan of that trope) and it had one major transphobic remark and an arophobic moment. There were just definitely microaggressions going on. And I personally was not that drawn into the voice, just because third person POV doesn't usually do it for me, and it was a little more removed. I didn't connect as much as I would have liked.

But overall this is cute. If you like contemporary, you'll probably like this. It's pretty typical for this kind of summer romance book, with some extra depth added from the wonderful rep of Dimple and Rishi. Other people have talked about that much better than I could, so I won't try, lol. Overall, it's cute and I know a ton of people love it and will love it, but some things just didn't work for me.

I seem to hate everything that other people love, though, so take me with a grain of salt. I'd still recommend it, just my personal tastes didn't make me love it.

This was a really mixed bag of reviews, huh? Thanks for reading anyways!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, October 16, 2017

YA Review: Personal Demons Series

I do series reviews now and then, and I enjoy them. It's also a really good way to go through certain books in my review pile. If you want to see more of those, you can click this link now that I've updated all of them so they have that label on them. (Past!Me, you're not helping here.)

Personal Demons by Lisa Desrochers

Published: September 14th, 2010 by Tor Teen
Genre: Paranormal YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 365 plus acknowledgments,
Part of a series? This is the first of the Personal Demons trilogy.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Frannie Cavanaugh is a good Catholic girl with a wicked streak. She's spent years keeping everyone at a distance--even her closest friends--and it seems her senior year will be more of the same...until Luc Cain enrolls in her class. No one knows where he came from, but Frannie can't seem to stay away from him. What she doesn't know is that Luc works in Acquisitions--for Hell--and she possesses a unique skill set that has the king of Hell tingling with anticipation. All Luc has to do is get her to sin, and he's as tempting as they come. Frannie doesn't stand a chance.

Unfortunately for Luc, Heaven has other plans, and the angel, Gabe, is going to do whatever it takes to make sure that Luc doesn't get what he came for. And it isn't long before they find themselves fighting for more than just her soul.

But if Luc fails, there will be Hell to pay...for all of them.

Review: This was something. It was a book! It was definitely a book. I wouldn't deny that it's a book. I read almost four hundred pages of it, so it was definitely a book. I just, you know, wouldn't say it was a very good book. Because honestly it was not very good. Now, to be fair, I think this is actually quite like the Dark Divine series where if I had read this in 2010 or 2011, I probably would have liked this a lot more. I liked Hush Hush at one point and I'm sure if I reread that today, I'd realize how wrong I was... sidenote, if you like Hush Hush you'd probably like this.

The problem is, I'm old and jaded now, and I have way less patience for things these days. The plot to this is next to non-existent, there's a buttload of not well done Instalove, the characters are just kind of boring and flat, it is really, really dated at times, it can be super cheesy, and the writing is not that good to carry all that.

There's one more thing I think I'm going to talk about in  the series review, but for now, that's about my thoughts. The book has no queer characters, maybe one character of colour but it's super hard to tell because the book doesn't really say, and like... just no diversity at all, to be honest. There's one formerly fat character and I'm just glad it doesn't come up much because I honestly found when it was talked about, it was terrible. Just all full of grossness. I'm going to keep reading because I have all three of these, but this one really didn't do much for me besides kind of annoy me.

I will say that I think it's different that it switches POVs between Luc and Frannie, and I liked Luc's voice a whole lot more than Frannie's, but I think that's actually somewhat overused. Three or four POV switches in each chapter is a little much. Two out of five roses, because it was at least kind of fun.



Original Sin by Lisa Desrochers

Published: July 5th, 2011 by Tor Teen
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 398 plus acknowledgements.
Part of a series? It's the second book in the trilogy.
Got via: Tor sent it to me for review consideration like eight years ago - to be fair, I didn't request it or anything. It just showed up one day. So I don't feel as bad that it's so late.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Luc Cain was born and raised in Hell, but he isn’t feeling as demonic as usual lately—thanks to Frannie Cavanaugh and the unique power she never realized she had. But you can’t desert Hell without consequences, and suddenly Frannie and Luc find themselves targeted by the same demons who used to be Luc’s allies.

Left with few options, Frannie and Luc accept the protection of Heaven and one of its most powerful angels, Gabe. Unfortunately, Luc isn’t the only one affected by Frannie, and it isn’t long before Gabe realizes that being around her is too…tempting. Rather than risk losing his wings, he leaves Frannie and Luc under the protection of her recently-acquired guardian angel.

Which would be fine, but Gabe is barely out the door before an assortment of demons appears—and they’re not leaving without dragging Luc back to Hell with them. Hell won’t give up and Heaven won’t give in. Frannie’s guardian exercises all the power he has to keep them away, but the demons are willing to hurt anyone close to Frannie in order to get what they want. It will take everything she has and then some to stay out of Hell’s grasp.

Review: Well, I'll give the book this - the writing in this is slightly better. There's less constant talk about how people smell and not nearly as much trying to be "cool" and "hip". However, I found most of the characters in this really flat if not straight up boring and unlikeable (and not intentionally unlikeable) and there were plot elements that I found straight up disgusting.

Let's go into that first, because it's my biggest problem. In this book, Luc is raped, and Frannie gets angry, says he cheated on her, and breaks up with him over it.

Yeah, no that's it. The book says things like "he was tricked into sex", but he's basically magically roofied. The character made him think she was Frannie with magic, and he barely remembers it afterwards. He didn't cheat, he was assaulted. He literally loses his humanity briefly because he was raped, and Frannie, even after she's had the same character put the magical roofie whammy on her, only says she "kinda" doesn't blame him and still says he cheated on her. That is probably the worst thing I've ever read in a book. His assult is entirely about Frannie and how bad she feels because he was raped.

What.

Now maybe the book doesn't want to address this because it'd have to address how often it says that Frannie uses her "Sway" on her sexual/romantic partners. This, I remind you, is a magic power she has that makes it so she can influence people to do what she wants. She wants someone to leave the room, she thinks it really hard, they want to leave the room. She wants to have sex with someone, and she wants them to want her, and they do. And they literally say it's her "Sway" working on them, partly.

Book, do you understand consent? Do you understand that coersion during sex is bad? And that "but I can only make them do things they would want to do anyways" is not consent?

Sex in general in this book is really weird. There's a lot more sexual content but it feels super gratuitous and most of it, besides how perfect and special Frannie and Luc boning is going to be their "first time" (which is talked up a lot), is related to demons or evil in some way. Almost every single person we see or hear about having sex is either an actual demon or literally going to Hell. Because, you know, lust is a sin unless you're lusting after your boyfriend or the actual angel you have the hots for, or something. Also, Frannie has graduated high school and is going to be moving across the country soon, and her family is still weirdly invested in policing her sexuality. I just... the way sex is handled in this definitely projects a "sex is dirty and you should feel bad about it unless it's super special magical looooooove sex", you know?

Also this still has no queer people unless you count the literal succubus. Don't worry, though, because Frannie takes the time after the succubus almost assaults her to affirm that she's still StraightTM! I was really worried she might be queer! Also for some reason, it's not her fault she almost had sex with the succubus but it is Luc's.

The book has no fat rep and continues to be vaguely fatphobic whenever it can (apparently wearing a D-cup means you can't be fat - sorry, "heavy" - I'll tell my bra that when I take it off), and still lacks in diversity constantly. The music references still are super dated to the point of cheesiness, the lack of cell phones is really starting to show, there's random STD shaming, random body shaming, girl hate, girls who act like fourteen year olds instead of high school graduates, the plot still takes six years to actually plot and it's super weak when it does, the whole "psychic" thing is ignored for 330 pages and barely is used when it does come up, and the writing just can't carry it.

Sometimes Luc's voice is okay, but Matt and Frannie both annoy the crud out of me, and I think the rape plotline being called cheating is completely disgusting and ruined the book for me. Half a rose for Luc's voice now and then, and honestly I barely want to give it that.



Last Rite by Lisa Derochers

Published: May 8th, 2012 by Tor Teen
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 365 pages plus acknowledgements
Part of a series? This is the third and final book. No novellas or short stories that I know of, either.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): In this final installment of the thrilling, edgy Personal Demons series, the battle between Heaven and Hell has become critical, and Frannie Cavanaugh is right at the center of it.

With the help of the powerful angel Gabe and demon-turned-mortal Luc, Frannie has been able to stay one step ahead of the forces of Hell. But when the demons killed Frannie's best friend and destroyed her brother, they raised the stakes. If Frannie wants to keep her family and friends safe, she knows she has no choice but to go on the run.

Their best defense is the power Frannie has been struggling to master, but her attempts to hone her skill go horribly awry. If Frannie doesn't learn fast, the consequences could be devastating--even apocalyptic.

What happens when you can't outrun Hell...or trust the ones you love?

Review: Well, this one starts with Frannie "kinda" realizing Luc might not actually be at fault for his own rape but still wondering if he might have wanted it.

Good start.

The thing about this one is that for the third book in the series, it's incredibly boring. Most of the book is angst and talking, angst and talking, angst and talking. The plot is very, very weak and it takes forever to actually show up. And, frankly, I thought the whole set-up of how the plot was resolved was pretty cheesy.

There were some plotholes/consistency errors from the last two books and some sloppy editing. I have like four notes of that, so that wasn't great in here. The divesrity is still absolutely terrible.

Honestly I don't have that much more to say. I just did not like this book at all. I was only offended by some parts of it, at least, but I was bored and annoyed by the rest. One rose out of five.



Series overview: I honestly was hoping to like this. I still do like this genre and I always want to enjoy the books I read, but this just did not work for me. The mythos honestly was depicted pretty goofily at times and it seems like this takes all the worst tropes of paranormal YA of 2009-2011 and combines them all. There were, now and then, a few things that I thought were a little unique, but they were just buried under so much awful that it's not worth it.

I wouldn't recommend these, sadly, unless you're like... my mom. I'm giving them to her before I return the library books because I think she'll enjoy them, but she's not a very critical reader, lol. I will give kudos for the covers for actually looking like the characters, but I also can't take them seriously because they're so melodramatic. And I honestly can't tell what's supposed to be going on with them, like what scene they're supposed to be.

That's about it, I think.

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, October 9, 2017

Things I've Read Recently (58): Pizza 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.

Yup, you read that right. Pizza. Because, hey it's Thanksgiving in Canada, so let's talk about pizza themed books. Let's do this thing.

Killer Pizza by Greg Taylor

Published: May 26th, 2009 by Feiwel and Friends
Genre: Middle Grade Horror
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 341 plus acknowledgements and a recipe and stuff.
Part of a series? Yeah, there's three of these!
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Toby McGill dreams of becoming a world-famous chef, but up until now, his only experience has been watching the Food Network. When Toby lands a summer job at Killer Pizza, where pies like The Monstrosity and The Frankensausage are on the menu, things seem perfect. His coworkers, Annabel and Strobe, are cool, and Toby loves being part of a team. But none of them are prepared for what’s really going on at Killer Pizza: It’s a front for a monster-hunting organization!

Learning to cook pizzas is one thing, but killing hideously terrifying monsters? That’s a whole other story. Still, if Toby quits Killer Pizza, will monsters take over his town?

Thoughts: Well, this was pretty fun. It's set during the summer and I kind of love reading summer books during the summer because I am a dork like that. I think the trick with this is to not take it at all seriously. It reminds me a whole lot of Goosebumps - a little scary, a lot silly, a little absurd, even. In fact, I could see this being great for kids who love Goosebumps but need something a little more challening. There's like one curse in the whole book and while some of the ideas could be a little scary, I think most kids over 10 or so could handle it just fine.

At one point, part of the town is actually called "Shadyside", which if you don't know, is the name of the town in Fear Street, further confirming my idea that you shouldn't take this too seriously. I mean. Shadyside!

One of the main characters is POC, but I think her rep might be a touch problematic at times, although she is a pretty awesome character. Nothing really stands out as super problematic, though, at least to me. Overall, this is just kind of silly and goofy and a fun read if you're in the mood for it. It's kind of obviously meant for a bit of a younger audience, and I think they must like it, because the copy I have from the library is pretty beat up even in a hardcover. It's obviously been read a lot. It also could be a pretty fun Halloween book. Not sure if I'd seek out sequels (maybe if I want to do another themed post!) but it was fun.

I will admit, though, I kind of went into it expecting the monster to be a killer slice of pizza... but um. That's more my fault than anything.

Pizza, Love, and Other Stuff That Made Me Famous by Kathryn Williams

Published: August 21st, 2012 by Henry Holt and Co
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 234 plus an interview with the author and other extras.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Can a spot on a teen reality show really lead to a scholarship at an elite cooking school AND a summer romance?

Sixteen-year-old Sophie Nicolaides was practically raised in the kitchen of her family’s Italian-Greek restaurant, Taverna Ristorante. When her best friend, Alex, tries to convince her to audition for a new reality show, Teen Test Kitchen, Sophie is reluctant. But the prize includes a full scholarship to one of America's finest culinary schools and a summer in Napa, California, not to mention fame.

Once on-set, Sophie immediately finds herself in the thick of the drama—including a secret burn book, cutthroat celebrity judges, and a very cute French chef. Sophie must figure out a way to survive all the heat and still stay true to herself. A terrific YA offering--fresh, fun, and sprinkled with romance.

Thoughts: The premise of this is great, and I think it has a decent writing style that's funny and cute, but there are so many microaggressions. Besides one major running thread that I thought was terrible, everything is just a little moment here, a little comment there. A joke about a friend being gay that wasn't funny, things being on the edge of being stereotypes, just that slight suspicion that things aren't quite kosher.

The biggest problem I had, though, is there's an ongoing thread of fatphobia throughout the book. Positive first - the book actually has a fat character, and they do manage to avoid negative connatations in having a fat character that was really passionate about food, because they're all passionate about food in the book. And I actually did think he was a charming character, and I'm down for fat queer characters having romance. But so much of the story with that character is just glaringly written by a thin person, from his first description being "well-fed" (YOU'RE IN A COOKING CONTEST, YOU'RE ALL WELL FED), to some rude comments about his body, to his final appearance after he's lost weight. I tweeted pictures of the pages as I read, and I was not pleased.

It's just very obviously a fat character written by a thin author, and it doesn't work for me.

The thing is, I actually did think this was kind of cute and funny, and I loved the idea of the recipes. (Although why is there no pizza recipe? And pizza doesn't even make her famous. Pork chops get her through, and she makes lobster ravioli as her last recipe. There's even a big gap between recipes in the books. Why not a pizza recipe?) But the microaggressions just killed me, and the fat rep did not work in my opinion. And honestly she was so close. Stan's dialogue and everything was good, and I really did like him sometimes, but then Sophie would make a comment that was gross, or the narrative would go a gross way, and it's like he could be fat, but not too fat positive before the book would remind you that being fat was bad!

Kudos for more than one queer character, and a good premise, but I wouldn't recommend this one.

Pizza is the Best Breakfast (And Other Lessons I've Learned) by Allison Gutknecht

Published: March 3rd, 2015 by Aladdin
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 140 plus a fairly long excerpt of another book in the series.
Part of a series? Yeah, there are a few of these.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Mandy Berr is super excited that her favorite cousin in the whole world, Paige, is coming to visit. After all, Mandy is usually stuck at home with the twins and annoying little brother, Timmy, so the chance for some fun girl time is definitely worthy of many “wahoos!”

But when Paige arrives, she is not the fun cousin that Mandy remembers. To start, Paige wants to call her “Manda,” with no “y.” She no longer likes Rainbow Sparkle, their favorite TV show. She doesn’t want to bounce on the bed or play dress-up. And, in the ultimate betrayal, Paige actually likes hanging out with the twins and Timmy. Mandy does not like these changes one bit.

To try and help bring the girls together, their grandma suggests the girls make some recipes out of a special cookbook—if they can work together, she will take them to a carnival at the end of the week. But having two bosses in the kitchen isn’t working out, and it looks like Mandy's visit with Paige is about to go up in smoke. Can the two cousins clear the air and whip up a fancy meal for the family?

Thoughts: This was cute. The voice reminds me a bit of Junie B. Jones or even Ramona. It's not the most unique plot ever and I almost wish there had been a little more focus on the cooking since they do most of the recipes in one night, but it's fine. It's a good chapter book and I think kids would like it. Not much more to it than that, to be honest. I think kids would like it, and it was fun.

Pizza on Saturday by Rachel Anderson

Published: February 12th, 2004 by Hodder Children's Books
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 128
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): Until her father's death, Charlotte thought that the worst things that could happen were accidents like swallowing a paperclip and losing a pen.

While members of her family mourn the loss, no one seems to be able to help her understand what she's meant to feel. Then a new girl comes to school.

Thoughts: Well, this had absolutely nothing to do with pizza. Seriously, it's mentioned once that they usually eat pizza on Saturdays and then it pretty much never comes up again. They should have called it the Memory Box or something. Why are all the pizza books not actually about pizza?

I think I liked the idea of this more than the actual book. It's very short and frankly it's really underdeveloped. So much of the book reads like the main character is looking back on the situation instead of experiencing it, and that makes it feel really removed and not as emotional as it should be. Because of that looking back tone, the voice also doesn't read very authentically - it reads like how an adult kind of thinks a child should sound. This could have been very poignant, but it just comes off as very shallow.

The writing's just not up to parr on this one. I liked the setting, and the characters seemed cool, but they were given so little time to shine or have any development that I can't really say I even liked them. I'd pass on this one, honestly.

Well, kind of a mixed bag here! But there you go.

Happy Thankgiving if you celebrate, and happy Monday if you don't. I'm probably in a food coma right now.

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, October 2, 2017

MG Review: Little Bigfoot, Big City

Little Bigfoot, Big City by Jennifer Weiner

Published: October 31st, 2017 by Aladdin which is a division of Simon and Schuster
Genre: MG Fantasy
Binding: ARC
Page Count: My ARC has 317 but goodreads says it'll have 336 so go with that.
Part of a series? This is the second book in the Littlest Bigfoot series. You can read my review of that here. I actually went looking for information this time instead of just wondering, and according to the author's website, it will be a trilogy. This review will likely have some spoilers for the first book.
Got via: It was sent to me by the publisher for review consideration.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Twelve-year-old Alice Mayfair has a secret. She’s not human. But who—or what—is she? While Alice goes in search of her past, her best friend Millie Maximus, a tiny Bigfoot with a big voice, prepares for her future. Together they plan to sneak off to New York City, where Millie hopes to audition for The Next Stage, the TV show she’s sure will rocket her to stardom and free her from the suffocating expectations of her tribe.

Meanwhile Jeremy Bigelow’s Bigfoot research has put him on the radar of a shadowy government organization led by a mysterious man named Trip Carruthers. The Bigfoots have something, a chemical so powerful and dangerous that the government will do anything to obtain it. And Jeremy is tasked with securing it once and for all.

In an unexpected twist of fate, Jeremy, Alice, and Millie find themselves facing off at a crossroads. But in order to determine where they’re going, they have to first figure out where they come from—and draw the line between what is good, what is evil, and what it means to be a hero.

Review: While I didn't love this one as much as I loved the first book, I still really enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to reading the conclusion of the series when it comes out. This series has such a cool premise, and this is a great continuation of that. It dives a lot more into the underlying subplot that was hinted at in the background, with the shadowy government organization stuff. (And isn't that one of the most fun phrases in certain media? Welcome to Night Vale uses a line like that now and then, and it has such atmosphere to it.) Which leads us pretty well into...

Plot Talk: Like I said, this continues the plot from the first book and delves a lot more into it. It answers a lot of the questions raised in the first, and raises a few more of its own. I kept reading like fifty pages at a time, realizing I should take more notes, and then not actually doing it because it was pulling me in too much. There's a bit more focus on the plot in this one, with the kids doing a lot of detective work and Alice especially trying to learn about herself and her history, and it's really exciting. I think kids would have a lot of fun with this.

Characters: One thing I enjoyed about this is our main characters don't always make the best choices, or act in the best ways, but they don't seem out of character. Particularly, both Alice and Millie make some unkind choices towards each other, but they don't get into territory where they're truly nasty or meaning to hurt each other. They're both just young girls not sure what they're doing, with both of them kind of new at being friends, and they make mistakes, but they acknowledge those mistakes and talk about them, and eventually apologize. It's a very healthy representation of friendship.

I continue to love Alice. Young!Laina would have adored her. She just speaks to me so much, and I know there's a little girl out there who thinks her body is too big or hairy or ugly and I hope she gets to read a book like this where the main character has not lost an ounce of weight, but she has become confident in herself and has learned to appreciate herself. I think the point of the book is more about the plot in this one than the message of acceptance, and I did miss that some, but I'm also kind of okay with a chubby character getting to have adventures and stories not revolving around her weight.

Millie is still precious, and I adored the time taken to have her connect with her mother and go into her mother's backstory a little more. I honestly did still even like Jeremy. He's dealing with the consequences of his actions in the first book, and I'm actually looking forward to seeing him grow and learn a little bit more confidence.

PG-13 stuff: Some of the action could get a little scary for younger or more sensitive readers. Alice almost gets kidnapped, and Millie spends a fair bit of time overwhelmed by New York and upset and readers who deal with sensory overload might find that upsetting, but they also might identify with her, so, your mileage may vary and all that.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: I think maybe Jeremy's friend Jo having surgery to help her walk again and talking about anything being worth it to walk could border on problematic. I don't think it becomes a miracle cure or anything, as it's mentioned that she would have to have several surgeries and it'd be a long journey, but I'm going to link to this post by Disability in Kidlit and say that it raised red flags for me, at least as something I should bring up. There's also a brief discussion of person-first language that I'd like to see someone who uses a wheelchair talk about.

There's also a lot less focus on Alice's school, and two of the characters I really liked in the first book don't show up at all. I really missed them, especially the nonbinary teacher Terry. And beyond a mention of the school accepting students who are queer, there's not much for that kind of representation. I was disappointed by that.

And last, I think perhaps it lacks in rep of POC characters. Spoilers but important to mention - one of the only POC characters, the only black character as far as I know (and one of the main fat adult characters) might be one of the bad guys. It's not entirely clear due to the nature of the character/plot, so I'm hoping it turns out well, but that troubled me.

Cover comments: I would hang a poster of this. It is absolutely gorgeous, with all the soft pinky-purple and the lights, and look at Alice and Millie! I actually think Alice looks more accurate this time. She looks a little more chubby and larger overall, especially her legs. I also think it goes really well with the first cover.

Conclusion: This does a lot of things I like, despite having a few problems, and it's a lot of fun. Really glad I got to read it and I'm excited to read the next one. There aren't ever enough main characters who aren't thin, especially when the book is actually positive about those character and doesn't say they should be ashamed of how they look. Having a basis of that plus a fun adventure and a cool world is great. Overall, I'm giving this four roses out of five.



Other notes:

- Kind of random, but I really enjoy seeing kids use cellphones in positive ways in media. Lucia and I watched a movie recently where they used cell phones as flashlights and taking photos to store clues (it was a mystery) and this book has some of that. I think that works so much better than ignoring that they exist completely.

And that's it! Peace and cookies,
Laina

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Reading Challenges Check-In: September

This year I decided to do Diversity Bingo 2017, and the 2017 Diverse Reads Book Challenge. Each month, that challenge has a mini theme, and September's theme was Ownvoices. I decided to read:

Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung

Published: Originally published November 2014 as Laurinda by Black Inc. Books, this edition was released September 6th, 2016 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 338 plus the acknowledgements.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Lucy is a bit of a pushover, but she’s ambitious and smart, and she has just received the opportunity of a lifetime: a scholarship to a prestigious school, and a ticket out of her broken-down suburb. Though she’s worried she will stick out like badly cut bangs among the razor-straight students, she is soon welcomed into the Cabinet, the supremely popular trio who wield influence over classmates and teachers alike.

Linh is blunt, strong-willed, and fearless—everything Lucy once loved about herself. She is also Lucy’s last solid link to her life before private school, but she is growing tired of being eclipsed by the glamour of the Cabinet.

As Lucy floats further away from the world she once knew, her connection to Linh—and to her old life—threatens to snap. Sharp and honest, Alice Pung’s novel examines what it means to grow into the person you want to be without leaving yourself behind.

The part where I talk: Eh. I was not super into this one.

Aaaand that's all I have this month. None of my other holds came in this month!

So my bingo card is still the same.


And that's about it for this month. I read other stuff, just nothing for my challenges. Cross your fingers my holds get going soon! And Happy October! Who else is ready for Halloween?

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, September 25, 2017

Things I've Read Recently (57)

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. I should probably write more reviews, but life is busy. What can ya do?

How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake

Published: May 2nd, 2017 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 324 plus acknowledgements
Part of a series? Not that I know of.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): All seventeen year-old Grace Glasser wants is her own life. A normal life in which she sleeps in the same bed for longer than three months and doesn't have to scrounge for spare change to make sure the electric bill is paid. Emotionally trapped by her unreliable mother, Maggie, and the tiny cape on which she lives, she focuses on her best friend, her upcoming audition for a top music school in New York, and surviving Maggie’s latest boyfriend—who happens to be Grace’s own ex-boyfriend’s father.

Her attempts to lay low until she graduates are disrupted when she meets Eva, a girl with her own share of ghosts she’s trying to outrun. Grief-stricken and lonely, Eva pulls Grace into midnight adventures and feelings Grace never planned on. When Eva tells Grace she likes girls, both of their worlds open up. But, united by loss, Eva also shares a connection with Maggie. As Grace's mother spirals downward, both girls must figure out how to love and how to move on.

Thoughts: I quite liked this. It's a really good summer read since there's such amazing descriptions of the beach, but read it no matter what time of the year it is. Grace is my favourite kind of prickly main character. The romance is adorable, and I really, really enjoy seeing characters talk about being queer and using the word positively in YA, and labels being used. I could be completely off base, but I think Grace being bi is handled very well.

The book also does a ton of things that I really thought were great, like asking permission before kisses, and that whole thing where Grace masturbates and it's completely normal. The relationships are great, characters are very strong, the book freaking made me cry, and I sat down to read like one chapter last night and finished the whole thing. I don't really have much to say about this besides it was really good, you should read it, and I look forward to future books from the author.

Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali

Published: June 13th, 2017 by Salaam Reads which is a fairly new imprint of Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers that focuses on Muslim books.
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 325 plus the acknowledgements
Part of a series? Nope
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): How much can you tell about a person just by looking at them?

Janna Yusuf knows a lot of people can’t figure out what to make of her…an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager who is a Flannery O’Connor obsessed book nerd, aspiring photographer, and sometime graphic novelist is not exactly easy to put into a box.

And Janna suddenly finds herself caring what people think. Or at least what a certain boy named Jeremy thinks. Not that she would ever date him—Muslim girls don’t date. Or they shouldn’t date. Or won’t? Janna is still working all this out.

While her heart might be leading her in one direction, her mind is spinning in others. She is trying to decide what kind of person she wants to be, and what it means to be a saint, a misfit, or a monster. Except she knows a monster…one who happens to be parading around as a saint…Will she be the one to call him out on it? What will people in her tightknit Muslim community think of her then?

Thoughts: This starts out a little disjointed and bounces around a little, but I kind of think that's what it was trying to do, so once I got past the first couple chapters, I was fine with it. I actually didn't know what this was about like at all when I went into it. I just knew I wanted to read it. Honestly I wasn't entirely sure even what genre it was - I was half-expecting like werewolves or something. So this turned out heavier than I expected, but that's not the book's fault, and I think it's very responsibly handled for the most part.

I'm kind of jumping all over but I guess I'll just say it so kinda spoiler warning, but - straight up giant trigger warning for attempted rape. That's basically the main plot of the book, Janna dealing with the aftermath of that and deciding what to do next. It's a very nuanced depiction for the most part. The only thing I had some problems with is how the idea of not reporting is treated, like it's a sign of weakness. It almost borders on victim-blaming honestly. There's not a lot of discussion of how hard reporting is, or why someone might not.

And something that made me wince...

If you can't read this, first of all, sorry it's a bit blurry, but second, this is basically a part of the book where a character says "it's normal to like people". Okay yeah. It's also normal not to feel romantic or sexual attraction, and not to get crushes. Luci actually talked about this on twitter, and I really agree. This is casual aphobia, and I'm not a fan of that.

Related, there's like no queer people in this book, not a ton of disability rep, and the fat rep is INCREDIBLY lacking. I'm not sure there was even one fat character besides a cat.

I honestly really hate having to point this stuff out because I mostly liked this. It made me cry, and I think it's a super important book. It has super poignant and also super adorable moments. The characters are awesome, and I loved how Janna starts to realize that people aren't just one thing, like with the character Sarah - that people have many layers and depth. I read this basically all in one sitting and it's super hard to put down. I would still recommend this, absolutely, but I do have criticisms so... here they are.

Over all, a really good book that does some super interesting and important things, but a few flaws. I still recommend it! I just... can we not? Do these things? Cool.

Tree Girl by Ben Mikaelsen

Published: April 13th, 2004 by Rayo
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 225 plus the acknowledgements.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): They call Gabriela Tree Girl. Gabi climbs trees to be within reach of the eagles and watch the sun rise into an empty sky. She is at home among the outstretched branches of the Guatemalan forests.

Then one day from the safety of a tree, Gabi witnesses the sights and sounds of an unspeakable massacre. She vows to be Tree Girl no more and joins the hordes of refugees struggling to reach the Mexican border. She has lost her whole family; her entire village has been wiped out. Yet she clings to the hope that she will be reunited with her youngest sister, Alicia. Over dangerous miles and months of hunger and thirst, Gabriela's search for Alicia and for a safe haven becomes a search for self. Having turned her back on her own identity, can she hope to claim a new life?

Thoughts: Only a dude would start a middle grade book by having its MC sexually assaulted and chased up on a tree, and then having her mother, knowing this happened, ignore the whole thing and ask if she finished her homework. And have this be treated as a positive thing.

I have no words.

No, that's not true. I have a lot of words. First of all, on a technical level, the writing isn't great. The dialogue is really stilted and strange and doesn't flow well, and there are multiple times when a line is repeated almost word for word and it's very obviously not on purpose. It's just super repetitive. The author also lacks the ability to make you understand what the main character is really feeling. The narration tells us... sometimes... but she comes across as not being affected by what happens to her.

And a lot happens to her! People constantly get murdered, often right in front of her. Her teacher and six classmates are murdered in front of her. Her entire family besides for one sister is murdered. She literally witnesses a massacre (also, sidenote, this is an MG book where the main character watches multiple women get raped, beaten, and murdered - that's a little dark, guys) and basically never really reacts.

The acknowledgements say that this is the true story of a woman who still works the resistance movement in Mexico. I get how she wouldn't feel safe coming forward and using her real name, and maybe - hopefully - she would approve of this, but I feel like it's stripped of its emotional depth. Maybe this would have been better as a young adult or even adult book, but even then, I really don't feel like this is a white dude's story to tell. It doesn't read as an authentic young woman's voice, and the one conversation about there always being a war Gabi will fight because she's female comes from a man and feels very... mansplaining.

This just... it's not very good. It didn't work for me at all. The only thing that's good is the idea, because it's based on someone's actual life, and she sounds awesome. I wish I had read something from her instead.

A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith

Published: October 26th, 2016 by Roaring Brook Press
Genre: YA Fantasy/Horror
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 258 plus acknowledgements and such.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: Library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): No one knows what to do with Reiko. She is full of hatred. All she can think about is how to best hurt herself and the people closest to her. After a failed suicide attempt, Reiko’s parents send her from their Seattle home to spend the summer with family in Japan to learn to control her emotions.

But while visiting Kuramagi, a historic village preserved to reflect the nineteenth-century Edo period, Reiko finds herself slipping back in time into the life of Miyu, a young woman even more bent on revenge than Reiko herself. Reiko loves being Miyu, until she discovers the secret of Kuramagi village, and must face down Miyu’s demons as well as her own.

Thoughts: Well, this was not my favourite thing. I'll talk about what I think it does well first - the main character is bisexual, as I think is another character in the book, and there are other queer characters, too. I think the rep on that front is decent, but could roll into some not so great territory too. I'm not bi, so I defer to others here. This review, for instance, raises some red flags. I saw others that liked it, though.

I also think that the time slip idea is honestly cool. (And to point out, this is, in my opinion, a time slip book versus a time travel book. I have feelings about that. I may do a blog post at some point.) There's also another plot element that reminds me of a book I actually really liked as a kid but I don't wanna spoil, and I thought it was cool, and a bit of a surprise when we got there. I honestly do think that the creepy elements in this are pretty good. The world-building could have been better, but it isn't bad.

But there were things that I really don't think worked well at all. I think the attitude on mental illness is bordering on dangerous. Reiko has a lot of thoughts of suicide and fairly obviously has some problems. She's on a lot of medications. She says her antidepressants make her hollow and empty. At one point she decides to flush them all away and suffers no problems from this. I've mentioned before that I hate this because it can be incredibly dangerous and even deadly. The resolution of that is also... bad. Magically healing mental illness, anyone?

And there was so much fatphobia. Don't get me wrong - I get that Reiko is supposed to be unlikeable. I do. But the author's choices in how that was depicted rubbed me incredibly wrong. The only maybe-kinda-chubby character is constantly depicted as eating even when no one else is, called gluttonous and has it stated that needs to be "punished", and fatshamed so much both by other characters and by the narrative. There's nothing to counteract that. Honestly, it's enforced by the narrative stating that Reiko has lost a fair amount of weight and thinking she should be proud of that. The opposite side of the fat shaming coin is thin praising. Weight loss is not inherantly a good thing.

I also think that it's... somewhat obvious that this is not an ownvoices book when it comes to the Japanese rep. I think the author did a lot of research and it shows... but unfortunately it shows a little too much. It comes off a bit info-dumpy, and clunky, and just like it's not written by someone who's super familiar with the material. I'm working on a bit of a time crunch right now, but I'll try and find some ownvoices reviews before I schedule this. Editing Laina: I found three on goodreads, here, here, and here.

I wanted to like this, and I almost did, but I had so many problems with it and I would not recommend it. Wish I could have said better things!

(TWs for suicide, self-harm, violence, fatphobia, and ableism on this one.)

Sorry this didn't end on a better note, but that's where I am. Thanks for reading anyways!

Peace and cookies,
Laina