Monday, January 23, 2017

MG Review: A Little Taste of Poison

A Little Taste of Poison by R. J. Anderson

Published: September 27th, 2016 by Antheneum Books for Young Readers which is a Simon imprint.
Genre: MG Fantasy/Mystery
Binding: ARC
Page Count: The ARC has 359 plus the acknowledgement, and everything says the finished version has 368, so around that (probably slight formatting changes).
Part of a series? This is the second book in the Uncommon Magic series, and I think the last in the series? I'm not 100% sure, but it seems that way. See my review of the first book here.
Got via: Simon and Schuster Canada sent it to me for review consideration. Only... six months ago. Gosh I'm terrible at this reviewing thing. I don't know why anyone likes me.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): The city of Tarreton is powered by magic, from simple tablets that light lamps to advanced Sagery that can murder a man from afar. Isaveth has a talent for spell-making, but as a girl from a poor neighborhood she never dreamed she could study at the most exclusive magical school in the city. So when she’s offered a chance to attend, she eagerly accepts.

The school is wonderful, but old and new enemies confront Isaveth at every turn, and she begins to suspect her scholarship might be more a trap than a gift. Even her secret meetings with Esmond, her best friend and partner in crime-solving, prove risky—especially once he hatches a plan to sneak her into the biggest society event of the season. It’s their last chance to catch the corrupt politician who once framed her father for murder. How can Isaveth refuse?

Review: This was pretty much just what I wanted it be. It's really cute, a great mystery, and the setting continues to work great for the story. It's nice to read a book that's just good and that's what this was. I love the idea of combining magic with good old fashioned mysteries. I think kids would love this. Eleven year old me seriously would have devoured this and wanted like eight more books. I still wish there would be like eight more books, because I genuinely enjoyed this one.

Plot Talk: This one continues one of the larger plot threads from the last book and many of the smaller ones. The continuity is wonderful, honestly. I won't go into too much details because I don't want to end up spoiler territory, but this one wraps up everything from the first book without being too neat and tidy. Everything is exciting and fresh, and this is my least favourite part of the review process so let's move on.

Characters: A new thing happens in this book! We get to switch POVs from strictly Isaveth's to Esmond's POV as well, and that allows us to see things that Isaveth isn't present for. I like that despite that, the book kept only to Isaveth or Esmond, not anyone else. It pretty much would have been impossible to have Esmond's POV in the last book, or it would have ruined one of the surprises at the end, and the tension of that surprise. But it's nice that there wasn't random headhopping, and just our two main characters. The POV choices worked for me.

I still adore the relationships in this, especially the relationship between Isaveth and her sisters. There is a good amount of female characters in this, including several new ones, and the book does take some time to give us a new female friendship for Isaveth, and I love that that was included, because it's so important. And while you get a touch of romance in this one, it's handled well, and it's not so over the top that I think it's too much. While a tiny bit predictable, romance being built on trust, friendship, and mutual respect is always a good thing to show.

PG-13 stuff: Dude straight up gets shot in this and dies, and it's not really "off-screen". Plus the usual mystery stuff like kidnapping and the poisoning mentioned in the title. Sensitive readers may be upset by that, but it's not graphic.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: I wish some of the people had been described a little better at certain times. Specifically, I think sometimes it's hard to tell if some characters are meant to be characters of colour or not. I choose to error on the "absolutely they are" side, but I don't think it's quite clear enough in context especially considering the inherant subconscious bias that we white people have while reading (and the autho is white as well).

I think that kind of ties into one of the bigger things I feel conflicted about, and that's if Isaveth being Moshite, which is clearly meant to be Jewish, but isn't actually called Jewish, is problematic or okay. Because, like, there are elements in this that are reminscent of Harry Potter in the magic school and such, and who wouldn't want to read Harry Potter if Harry was a Jewish girl??? Since I'm totally not the one who should be deciding this stuff, I'm looking for reviews from Jewish reviewers, and I'm just not finding anything, so shouting out to you guys - what do you think of this one? Does ths make you uncomfortable, or are you cool with it?

As such, I'm raising that element specifically as a concern, but neither taking points off my review of it nor giving points for it.

Oh, and there wasn't any fatphobia in this one. Very few fat characters as far as I can remember that were around for any significant time, if any, though.

Cover comments: This cover is very cute, and props for it actually showing a scene that happens in the book, and I really enjoy the colour scheme, but it is slightly inaccurate. One character is wearing something they wouldn't be wearing in the book, which is fine. That makes sense, to make the character more recognizable (although it would have annoyed the crud out of me as a kid). But the other thing is... Isaveth is described as "olive skinned" in the middle of a harsh probably based on Canada winter by Esmond's narration. That aspect is, ah. Not happening so much on the cover, or the cover of the last book.

They're gorgeous covers, don't get me wrong. I'm just looking a little sideways at that particular aspect.

Conclusion: While I have some concerns that I'm missing glaring microaggressions or maybe worse, I really enjoyed this. I know eleven year old me would have loved it, and it is a really fun read. The mystery is great, the magic setting is really fun, and there's a whole lot I enjoyed about it. I also think that this series has incredibly realistic depictions of poverty, and there are no easy fixes for that in it. I appreciate that. Some things I mentioned could definitely do with being a little more explicit, but overall, I find these very enjoyable. Strong three and a half roses, and I'll probably round it up on goodreads to four comfortably when I get around to posting this review over there.



Other notes:

- Is the city meant to be Toronto? Because that'd be cool.

- The epilogue of this is amazing. Seriously, I can't say anything because spoilers but wow.

- This title puts two songs in my head. "A Little Taste" by Skyler Stonestreet and "Familiar Taste of Poison" by Halestorm. They get mashed up together in my head and make this, I guess.

Peace and cookies,
Laina

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