Monday, April 10, 2017

Things I've Read Recently (45): Easter

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. Sometimes they're themed for holidays. I needed a bunch of these books for a thing, so I thought I'd shar with you guys.

If you're not an Easter person, check out whatever last week's post was! I'm scheduling this way in advanced so I have no idea yet what it is. I don't know how I got so many blog posts either. I'm a little frightened. Come, hide with me in the Easter candy.

Except not Peeps. Those are horrible. And I realize the irony of that considering:

This really bad joke I made like six years ago and has never stopped making me giggle. Seriously, though, I bought some candy cane Peeps on clearance (because, you know, it's January when I'm typing this) and they were absolutely disgusting. And it's not just the candy cane flavour, it's the whole texture and everything.

So gross.

Anyways, here's some Easter books!

Captain Awesome and the Easter Egg Bandit by Stan Kirby

Published: January 6th, 2015
Genre: Contemporary Middle Grade/Chapter book
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 117 in the paperback copy I have
Part of a series? I believe this is the 13th of the series.
Got via: The library
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): To celebrate Easter, Eugene and his classmates decorate some eggs at school. Eugene's is the most MI-TEE of all! But when he enters the classroom the next day-GASP!-they're gone! This is a case for Captain Awesome and the Sunnyview Superhero Squad. They sniff out the trail and round up the usual suspects, but the evil Easter egg bandit escapes them. Will Captain Awesome and his team of superheroes track down the villain before Easter is ruined?

Thoughts: I was ordering Easter books and saw this, and thought I'd order it for my Storytime graduate. There's lots of pictures, rather large font, and it's pretty easy, ages 5-9 suggested, but it's fun. There are some very gigglesnort inducing moments, and I think reluctant readers would enjoy it. I'm writing this in March 2015, and for a two month old book, it is pretty roughed up already, so either someone was a little bit careless, or some people have really enjoyed this one.

Not my favourite (and it's weird that a school would paint Easter eggs? What if you have Jewish students?) but it's fine for what it is.

Junie B., First Grader: Dumb Bunny by Barbara Park

Published: February 13th, 2007
Genre: Contemporary Middle Grade (Chapter book)
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 119 pages
Part of a series? Yes, there are 17 Junie B. Jones books, and then 18-28 are the "First Grader" ones, all under the "Junie B. Jones" series header. This is the 27th of the series.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): It's an Easter Egg-stravaganza! With over 50 million books in print, Barbara Park’s New York Times bestselling chapter book series, Junie B. Jones, is a classroom favorite and has been keeping kids laughing—and reading—for over 20 years! In the 27th Junie B. Jones book, Lucille is having an Easter Egg Hunt at her rich expensive mansion! And guess what? The winner gets a play date to swim in Lucille's heated indoor swimming pool! Only, here is the problem. How did Junie B. get stuck wearing a big dumb bunny suit? And how can she possibly find eggs when she keeps tripping over her huge big rabbit feet? Being a dumb bunny is definitely not as easy as it looks. Will Junie B. end up with egg on her face? Or will the day deliver some very uneggspected results?

Thoughts: I really love these books. I think they are absolutely hilarious, and parents will probably love them as much as kids. I got this for my Storytime graduate, who didn't bite at the Valentine's Day one, but is a bit older now and may enjoy Junie more. I seriously just really love these. They're ridiculously funny, and adorable, and I really enjoy them. I laugh a lot reading them.

Short review, but highly recommended. (And this is a RL 1.8, by the way, if you care about that kind of thing.) 2017 edit: Also, I'm not sure if this was true when I wrote this review and I can't even remember if I wrote this in 2015 or 2016 because this post does include multiple years of books, but when I was adding in the amazon link, I noticed that this has a slightly redesigned new cover! Check it out on amazon. I like it and I'm glad the books in general got a little spruced up, without completely getting rid of the original cover art.

Heidi Heckelbeck and the Tie-Dyed Bunny by Wanda Coven

Published: January 21st, 2014 by Little Simon
Genre: Fantasy MG/Chapter book
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 119 plus an excerpt of the next book.
Part of a series? Yes, this is book ten of the Heidi Heckelbeck series with sixteen books in the series currently published and at least two more expected.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Heidi brings home the class bunny over Easter weekend—and finds herself in a magical, colorful mess!

Easter is just a few days away and Heidi Heckelbeck can’t wait! The holiday weekend is even more special because it’s Heidi’s turn to take home Maggie, the school’s bunny. But when Heidi takes Maggie out of her cage, trouble follows. Maggie escapes from Heidi’s arms and runs through all of the Easter egg dye! Will Heidi figure out how to un-tie-dye the colorful bunny before she has to take her back to school?

Thoughts: I haven't read any of the other books in this series, but I think that's kind of representative of how kids read sometimes. They see a cool book, they want to read it, not read nine other books first, you know? I think this works well in the aspect, functioning as both a book of a series and one that is understandable unto itself (although I'd have to read more to say definitively about the series aspect). The only part that is a little sudden in this book is that it's kind of "BAM magic!". I honestly wasn't really aware going in she was a witch until about 70 pages in when it came up.

On a whole, though, I liked it. The magic aspect works well, and is very sweet in how it's used, and I'd be interested in learning more about the world and setting. I loved that kind of thing as a kid, and I think there's a wide appeal. This one also has a lot of appeal to young animal lovers. I know there are some kids where if I say there's a bunny (or cat, or puppy, or horse) in a book, they're automatically interested!

This is aimed at around ages 5-7, and I think the frequent pictures and larger, simple text are perfect for that age range. There's a little bit of a "mean girl" thing I wasn't a huge fan of, but otherwise, this was good. There's also a good lesson about pet care and responsibility, and while those have obviously been done a lot, it's done well here and they're repeated so often for a reason. (Although I heard you're not supposed to bathe rabbits because it can kill them, so that part of the book gave me a pause.)

And as for the actual Easter element, it's mostly limited to dyeing Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies. It's background, mostly, if you're not so into that element, and you're just looking for rabbit books.

Ogres Don't Hunt Easter Eggs by Debbie Dadey Marcia Thornton Jones, illustrations by John Steven Gurney

Published: February 1st 2004 by Scholastic
Genre: MG Fantasy-ish if you've read one of these, you know what I mean.
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 61 pages of story, with 17 pages of activities, plus about the authors and book listings putting it at about 96 pages.
Part of a series? Yeah, there are a lot of these. I said the whole thing in this post and I'm not doing it again.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Indiebound / Abebooks

Summary (from goodreads): There are some weird grown-ups living in Bailey City. But could the man fixing up the park for the town Easter egg hunt really be an ogre? It's been raining ever since Brutus Bigg arrived in town. And even though he's supposed to fix up the park, he seems to be messing it up so on one will go there and bother him. Is Mr. Bigg an ogre trying to claim the park as his home? The Bailey School Kids are going to find out...but will they be able to stop him in time for the Spring Festival? This special edition is full of super spring puzzles and activities, too!

Thoughts: I adored these books as a kid. If you had left me alone in a room with all of these for a week, I probably could have lived off them alone. I've only read a couple more recently, but they seem to have held up well. This one at least doesn't use any pop culture or technology references that would date the book. The Easter element is also limited to an egg hunt the town does and how much the kids want to win.

One question I do have - why are these kids so paranoid? Slightly weird new gardener = ogre! Then they convince a hoard of kids to chase this guy with cats. Can you imagine being this guy? You're just doing your job trying to make the local park look nice, fighting terrible weather, and suddenly a herd of children show up and randomly chase you with cats. How do you even explain that to people?

But this was fun, and that kind of silliness can be nice for kids who aren't quite ready for more scary books, or just aren't a fan of scary things in general. I also liked the extras/activities they included. I always think those are tons of fun, and this is just fun overall. Good stuff.

Okay, so. Hope the big Bunny treats you and yours well, or Happy Passover or have an awesome Ramadan, or if you don't do anything at all, have a good weekend!

Peace and cookies,

Monday, April 3, 2017

YA Review: On the Edge of Gone

On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis

Published: March 8th, 2016 by Amulet Books
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 456 plus acknowledgements and an author's note
Part of a series? According to the author, no.
Got via: The Library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): January 29, 2035.

That’s the day the comet is scheduled to hit—the big one. Denise and her mother and sister, Iris, have been assigned to a temporary shelter near their hometown of Amsterdam to wait out the blast, but Iris is nowhere to be found, and at the rate Denise’s drug-addicted mother is going, they’ll never reach the shelter in time.

Then a last-minute encounter leads them to something better than a temporary shelter: a generation ship that’s scheduled to leave Earth behind and colonize new worlds after the comet hits. But each passenger must have a practical skill to contribute. Denise is autistic and fears that she’ll never be allowed to stay. Can she obtain a spot before the ship takes flight? What about her mother and sister?

When the future of the human race is at stake, whose lives matter most?

Review: My hand got so sore writing this. I had so much to say! I enjoyed this so much and I wanted to write a full review of it despite the lack of computer. Honestly I was half writing this just because I want to talk about how gorgeous the cover is, but also if I put this in a post with three other books, this one is so going to hog the whole spotlight. I liked this so much, guys. I just wanna make you all read it immediately.

Guys. I legit don't think I have anything to complain about. I read straight through Tangled and that is one of my favourite movies. That's saying a lot.

Plot Talk: This is one of those books where like the actual plot sounds like nothing when you - or at least when I try to explain it, but it's still, like, everything you would want in a book's plot. It's basically described in the summary. Denise needs to find her sister and save their family. Along the way she learns how to protect and advocate a little more for herself, and it's tight and exciting and I wish I could write plot this good. I can't even write plot descriptions this good.

Characters: If this is a sign of what other books by the author are like, Duyvis has a real talent for characters. Denise is so ridiculously relatable and I just wanted to give her all the cats she could ever want. She's wonderful. And she's black and autistic and that's awesome. The book is very frank about how those things intersect and when they make things harder for Denise, especially because of other people's bigotry. It's incredibly honest about these things, too. And I just can't help thinking of the kid who's going to see themselves in her and how happy I am for them. Her struggles are so heartfelt and I honestly can't even imagine how much it's going to mean to the kid who reads this and sees Denise stimming and having meltdowns and having limitations but still doing amazing, brave things. A great deal of the book talks about usefulness and which people would be saved in an apocalypse and how privilege would affect that, and I so, so love how the book handled that theme. Denise is valuable because she's Denise, not despite her autism. It's wonderful.

As are basically all the other characters. Seriously, so good at characters. I felt so conflicted about Denise and Iris' mother, and I think the balance Duyvis found was a very difficult one. Addiction is a disease, but it's not okay to hurt people, and it's important to protect yourself. It's a delicate line to walk, and I personally think the book did an excellent job portraying that dynamic while staying very respectful.

And the relationship between Denise and her sister is amazing. Spoilers ahead (but some of you are going to want to know this spoiler, and it's important), but I need to talk about this so much. The amount of nuance and how they both change and grow in their time apart is so amazing, and yet they still come back together and support each other. It's a beautiful relationship, and I loved how imperfect and sometimes hard it was. It worked so well, and dude. I've been wanting to write about sisters lately and this only made that worse. That's a mark of a good book.

Also, Iris is trans! (And bisexual! And doesn't die. I feel like this is an important spoiler because, yeah, context of the rest of the world and media out there.) And the book isn't about how hard it is for Denise to have a trans sister or anything. It's about the world ending and the people around for that. I can't find any reviews from trans reviewers talking about the representation (link me to any if you know of them and I'll add them to this post!), and keep in mind I'm cis, but I'll talk about why I think the rep is good. The book never, ever tells us Iris' deadname, almost like it's telling us it's not our business, and Denise is fiercely defensive of people treating her sister well. There's a flashback to when they were kids, before Iris transitioned, and it continues to use Iris' proper pronouns. Plus it's adorable, honestly. And kind of a middle finger to people who say you can't explain things like this to kids. I won't spoil that, but it's very sweet.

Iris also isn't a unicorn, by not being the only queer character. Another trans character shows up, albeit only briefly (and honestly that's still more than many books) plus a solid handful of other queer characters. There's a ton of non-white characters, Jewish and Muslin characters, fat (!) characters who are positive and prominent and don't just show up once and go away, other disabled characters mentioned. And the book talks a lot about how those characters would be treated differently, and it's so... honestly. It's super inclusive and doesn't gloss over harsh realities, but also avoids being exploitative of its characters' pain. This makes me want to do 100 times better as a writer myself.

PG-13 stuff: It's the end of the world (as we know it) so there's obviously some disturbing things. Not really violence, exactly, but death and disturbing images. Think post-disaster of your choice. I could also see Denise's meltdowns maybe being overwhelming to some readers as they feel, to me at least, very true to life. That's a personal choice, but I like to tell you guys these things so you can be ready and make your own choices.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: I legit have nothing. I have no complaints. Me. What even? I guess an ace character would have been nice, but I don't expect that ever, so.

Cover comments: I adore this cover so much. First of all, this shade of blue is one of my favourites. It's so soothing. But all the detail is incredible. The little ships, the sky, the destroyed building. It's actually not 100% accurate to the book, I think, just like plot-wise, but it's beautiful and I love it.

Conclusion: Have I rambled enough or what? It's taken me like two hours because I'm doing this longhand (editing Laina: And like an hour to type - this is so long) and I even had to find another notebook because I ran out of pages in the other one. I'm extremely interested in reading more of the author's books, and I seriously want to share this back at everyone until they read it. If you liked Across the Universe or, heck, Wall-E (minus the blatant fatphobic - seriously, it's awful in that movie), try this. I loved it and I think you will too. It's a very interesting promise, fairly unique, too, compared to similar stories, incredibly inclusive, has an amazing main character, amazing supporting and side characters, and a really good message. I know it's only February, or maybe April when you're reading this, but so far this is one of my favourite books of the year. Highly recommend. Four and a half roses.

Other notes:

- I feel like Denise would appreciate that I wrote this review in a notebook with a cat on it. Technically two, because I bought the same one twice.

- The food stuff in this is so relatable oh my God. I have never read something I understood more and one of my favourite things is that Denise never "got over" it, even if it was the end of the world and food was scarce. It's not that easy. I get that so much.

I think that's - finally! - it. Thanks for sticking around.

Peace and cookies,

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Reading Challenges Check In: March

Okay, check in time! I had to go to the doctor today and I wasn't sure if I was going to be reading anything else so this is posting on the first. Not that it even matters!

So the March mini-challenge theme was disability and I chose:

Far From You by Tess Sharpe

Published: It was published in spring 2014, but my edition was released August 11, 2015 by Disney Hyperion.
Genre: YA Mystery
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 341 plus acknowledgements
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Sophie Winters nearly died. Twice.

The first time, she's fourteen, and escapes a near-fatal car accident with scars, a bum leg, and an addiction to Oxy that'll take years to kick.

The second time, she's seventeen, and it's no accident. Sophie and her best friend Mina are confronted by a masked man in the woods. Sophie survives, but Mina is not so lucky. When the cops deem Mina's murder a drug deal gone wrong, casting partial blame on Sophie, no one will believe the truth: Sophie has been clean for months, and it was Mina who led her into the woods that night for a meeting shrouded in mystery.

After a forced stint in rehab, Sophie returns home to a chilly new reality. Mina's brother won't speak to her, her parents fear she'll relapse, old friends have become enemies, and Sophie has to learn how to live without her other half. To make matters worse, no one is looking in the right places and Sophie must search for Mina's murderer on her own. But with every step, Sophie comes closer to revealing all: about herself, about Mina and about the secret they shared.

The part where I talk: I kind of loved this. I'm probably gonna write a whole review of it because I want to talk about it like a lot. Thumbs up, though, for sure.

And then the books I read for bingo were:

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Published: May 3rd, 2016 by Flatiron Books
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 273 plus two author's notes and acknowledgements.
Part of a series? Standalone.
Got via: The library. I really should read some books I bought just so I can type something different here once in a while.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school in Lambertville, Tennessee. Like any other girl, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret. There’s a reason why she transferred schools for her senior year, and why she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

And then she meets Grant Everett. Grant is unlike anyone she’s ever met—open, honest, kind—and Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself…including her past. But she’s terrified that once she tells Grant the truth, he won't be able to see past it.

Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that she used to be Andrew.

The part where I talk: I really liked this, too. I enjoyed it a ton. Will talk more about it at a later date.

The Life and Opinions of Amy Finawitz

Published: August 3rd, 2010 by Roaring Brook Press
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: I don't want to get up and check right now.
Part of a series? Nope, standalone
Got via: The library of course.
Amazon / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Amy Finawitz’s best friend Callie has moved away to the heartland, leaving Amy to cope with eighth grade all alone. So now, while Callie is going for hayrides with boys named Bucky, Amy is stuck eating Chinese food at a table for one, hanging out with geeky girls who knit, and crushing on hottie, John Leibler, all by herself. But then Amy finds a friend in Miss Sophia, the little old lady who lives down the hall. Miss Sophia introduces Amy to a Hasidic boy named Beryl. Beryl is no John Leibler, but perhaps he understands Amy and her problems better than she realizes?

Told in wry emails and brilliant little one-act plays, this laughout-loud debut novel offers quirky characters, a whimsical tour around New York City, and an appealing story about what it means to be a good friend.

The part where I talk: I mostly liked this. A lot of it is really great, but there were some parts I didn't love. I'll talk about it in a future post, too. Love the cover, though.

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

Published: November 11th, 2010 by Dial Books
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 338 plus an author's note and acknowledgements.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): The Challenge: Piper has one month to get the rock band Dumb a paying gig.

The Deal: If she does it, Piper will become the band's manager and get her share of the profits.

The Catch: How can Piper possibly manage one egomaniacal pretty boy, one talentless piece of eye candy, one crush, one silent rocker, and one angry girl? And how can she do it when she's deaf?

Piper can't hear Dumb's music, but with growing self-confidence, a budding romance, and a new understanding of the decision her family made to buy a cochlear implant for her deaf baby sister, she discovers her own inner rock star and what it truly means to be a flavor of Dumb.

The part where I talk: Mixed feelings on this one. Blog post to come.

My Year of Epic Rock by Andrea Pyros

Published: September 2nd, 2014 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 195 plus a smoothie recipe, an author's note and acknowledgements.
Part of a series? I wish! I'd like to read more.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): If Life Was Like a Song

Nina Simmons’ song would be “You Can’t Always Eat What You Want.” (Peanut allergies, ugh). But that’s okay, because as her best friend Brianna always said, “We’re All in This Together.”

Until the first day of the seventh grade, when Brianna dumps her to be BFFs with the popular new girl. Left all alone, Nina is forced to socialize with “her own kind”–banished to the peanut-free table with the other allergy outcasts. As a joke, she tells her new pals they should form a rock band called EpiPens. (Get it?) Apparently, allergy sufferers don’t understand sarcasm, because the next thing Nina knows she’s the lead drummer.

Now Nina has to decide: adopt a picture-perfect pop personality to fit in with Bri and her new BFF or embrace her inner rocker and the spotlight. Well..

Call Me a Rock Star, Maybe.

The part where I talk: This was a lot of fun. I'll talk more about it in a future blog post but I really enjoyed it.

And here's my bingo card!

That's ten! Only twenty-six more to go. Am I actually on target to hit this buy the end of the year? Actually, no, don't answer that. I don't want to know. Although... I have three out from the library that I'm going to work on reading this weekend and like... a whole bunch ordered, like seventeen or something. Not all of them are out yet, though. So I think I'm okay.

What did you guys read this month?

Peace and cookies,