Monday, May 29, 2017

YA Review: Star-Crossed Series

Every now and then I like to do a review of a series when I have all of the books. It's fun - or at least it is for me.

Aries Rising by Bonnie Hearn Hill

Published: March 2nd, 2010 by Running Press Teens
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 278 plus some bonus stuff
Part of a series? Yes, this is the first of three in the Star-Crossed series.
Got via: The library.
AmazonIndiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Logan McRae is your average high school sophomore, trying her best juggle the chaos of friends, guys, school, and parents. So when she finds a magical book called Fearless Astrology, all she wants is to change her sucky life.

In order to get into the summer camp of her dreams, Logan needs the recommendation of her irritable English teacher Mr. Franklin. She also has her eye on Nathan, the hottest guy in class. And when the Gears, a group of unknown students, start causing trouble in school and out, she decides to identify them using her new found knowledge of astrology.

Her Goals: to impress Mr. Franklin, get a date with Nathan, and keep her column in the school newspaper.

Review: We're not off to a great start. I definitely did not love this. It's okay, but there were a lot of things that irked me to no end. The biggest thing to me is how very immature the book and its characters were. I would have bought the book more if the characters had been in the twelve to fourteen age range because they do act very, very young, and the voice is pretty young as well. At one point Logan and her friends use a dressform in costume to be a fake her and that is just - weird.

There's also a lot of mean girl/girl hate stuff that I wasn't a fan of. It seemed very unnecessary. And of course, there were very few characters who weren't white, one token less than able-bodied character who showed up for all of two seconds, no real fat characters, and absolutely nothing for character who weren't cis, allo, and straight. There was a point where I thought the book was going to surprise me by having a character turn out to be queer, but they went super predictable instead, and to be honest, I felt a little queerbaited. The book goes so far as to, when romance is brought up, call it "boy/girl stuff" as though those are the only options. I also thought the texting was incredibly unrealistic, even for 2010.

I want to say this was like a fun, fluffy read but it had a few too many frustrating moments. Let's hope the next books are better.

Taurus Eyes by Bonnie Hearn Hill

Published: May 4th, 2010 by Running Press Teens
Genre: Contemporary YA with some paranormal elements
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 265 plus some bonus material
Part of a series? This is the second Star-Crossed book. Obviously. It's not like I'm going to read them out of order :P
Got via: The library.
AmazonIndiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Logan McRae is spending her summer at the camp of her dream, thanks to her discovery of a special book called Fearless Astrology. Far away from home and her friends, she now finds herself faced with a new set of challenges.

In order to secure a coveted writing spot in the camp's anthology, Logan must impress her instructor, Henry Jaffa, a renowned journalist and one of Logan's heroes. She feels confident that she will shine with her brilliant astrological piece about Sun signs, but Jaffa throws a wrench in her carefully wrought plans when he switches everyone's topics.

Now Logan has to compete with camp cutie, Jeremy, who is much more interested in their shared topic about the ghost of an obscure dead singer. Logan has only the stars to guide her as she tries to win the respect of her idol, write a stellar essay, and capture the heart of her newfound crush.

Review: I'm still not a giant fan of this series. This one does feel slightly less shallow, but it still fell into a lot of the same traps as the first book. Logan's lack of motivation and independance really annoyed me this time around. So much of the plot isn't because of something she wants, but because of something the boy she likes wants. Also, book summary/back of the book? She's 90 minutes from home. People where I live go further than that to go grocery shopping. And she goes home for the weekend. And her friends come up to visit her. Honestly, I wish she had been further away because if she'd had to stand on her own two feet more.

The girl hate was super strong in this one, too. Literally on the second page it was obvious who Logan's rival was going to be. Two pages to designate a girl to hate, who Logan literally declared her "enemy". And half of the reason that Logan seemed to hate her was that she had boobs. So many of the comments about her are body shaming and gross.

On the plus side, while there are still no queer people, no disabled people, no fat people, there were a couple more POC in this one. Minor characters, but they were there.

Also the girl on this cover is in, like, all the things.

Gemini Night by Bonnie Hearn Hill

Published: October 12th, 2010 by Running Press Teens
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 229 plus bonus material
Part of a series? It's the final book in the trilogy.
Got via: It was sent to me for review consideration in November of 2010.*
Amazon / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Starting her junior year, Logan McRae is excited about her internship at "CRUSH" magazine. But she is not so excited about her new boyfriend Jeremy's travel abroad in Ireland. Logan's in over her head trying to balance school, love, and friends, while trying to solve an astrological mystery--the fate of a Gemini is "star-crossed."

Will Logan find out who is in danger before the "CRUSH" Halloween costume party? Can she prove to the publisher she deserves her own astrology column? And will her relationship with Jeremy survive the distance? Only time will tell as Logan continues to reach for the stars

Review: Oddly, I think I liked this one best. The setting of celebrities and a fashion magazine and all that stuff fits the more fluffy tone of the book way more than other things. Even with the drama/somewhat series mystery at the end, it seemed to fit better. It reminded me more of that book I read a while ago... Killer Cruise. I actually wish this had been more like that, and embraced the fluff a little more.

I honestly wish I had liked this more, because it had a lot of potentional. It's an interesting premise. But it frustrated me too much. There's just as much girl hate in this, and again, it's incredibly white, not queer, and basically not diverse at all.

Series wrap-up: The thing is, these are not overwhelmingly terrible books. They aren't. A few years ago, I probably would have thought they were really cute. But they are very much a product of their times, and I don't much like that time in books. The constant girl hate and slut shaming gets so old, the celebrity references kind of date it, and the complete lack of any form of diversity whatsoever besides a few token attempts is exhausting. They are so average that I was very frustrated, and the times when the books seemed unrealistic or not the best researched, only added to the frustration.

Last to address the astrology stuff - I know that some people believe very fiercely in astrology, and all the more power to them. But the way it's handled in the book did not really work for me. Logan reads two books about astrology and is suddenly an astrology expert, to the point of solving mysteries and it being considered that she would get an astrology column in a magazine. Every single person fits their astrological stuff so well that Logan can guess peoples' Star signs upon meeting them and she's always right. It is incredibly improbable.

Astrology in the book is almost borderline treated like magical - unless people are freaking out and treating it like Logan has started doing drugs. I think in real life people would treat it more like a strange hobby, not in the extreme ways they do in the book. I find it very odd. And there was a little too much of it. I started skimming heavily towards the end.

I think there is definitely an audience for this book. I just do not think I am that audience. How young the voice seemed compared to the actual age of the characters didn't work to me, and it did a lot of things I didn't love. I could break it down and give ratings to each of the books, and one might squeak out a little higher, but on average? I think two roses sums things up well enough.



*Yup. That is in fact six and half years ago. Avoid depression if you can, kids, I don't recommend it. Despite the fact that it's been a ridiculously long time, I still want to review things I agreed to, even if it's just a matter of personal pride. I gave away a couple that were sent to be unsolicited that I had no interest in, and I've dnf'ed a couple I just couldn't get into, but darn it I want to at least try so I feel better.

Other notes:

- Making toast makes you a foodie now? Is it supposed to be a joke when her dad says Logan inherited his "foodie genes" when she puts peanut butter on toast?

- Fun fact, since they live in California and the age of consent is eighteen, if any of them have sex, a bunch of these relationships are technically illegal. I did not have enough suspension of belief from enjoying these to ignore that I knew that.

- The first book accidentally implied a student/teacher relationship twice and I got so grossed out.

- There were some typoes, and I'm not sure if it's because I wasn't enjoying the books very much that I noticed them more, or if there were just more? One particularly bad example from the second book.


- Seriously, these covers confuse me so much. WHO are these girls? I literally have no idea. It's like random stock photos.

- Okay, I know 2010 was a while ago, but it was not impossible to find a record player then, was it?? In California. Near San Francisco. I THINK EVEN IN 2010 YOU COULD HAVE FOUND A HIPSTER WITH A RECORD PLAYER. Also they never actually played it so.

I think that's everything. I'm sorry this wasn't more positive!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, May 22, 2017

Things I've Read Recently (48)

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.

Two Girls Staring At the Ceiling by Lucy Frank

Published: August 5th, 2014 by Schwartz and Wade which I think is a division of Random House
Genre: YA Contemporary/Poetry
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 257 plus acknowledgements
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library
Amazon / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): This novel-in-verse—at once literary and emotionally gripping—follows the unfolding friendship between two very different teenage girls who share a hospital room and an illness.

Chess, the narrator, is sick, but with what exactly, she isn’t sure. And to make matters worse, she must share a hospital room with Shannon, her polar opposite. Where Chess is polite, Shannon is rude. Where Chess tolerates pain silently, Shannon screams bloody murder. Where Chess seems to be getting slowly better, Shannon seems to be getting worse. How these teenagers become friends, helping each other come to terms with their illness, makes for a dramatic and deeply moving read.

Thoughts: I quite enjoyed this! I don't read a lot of poetry or books in verse, but every time I do, I always think I should read more. This has a very unique format, too, where a line down the centre of the page represents the hospital curtain. It sounds super confusing to explain but it works very well when you actually get to reading it. And it works so well for the conversations.

And I had absolutely no problem connecting to the characters, which is a real strength considering novels in verse are shorter and quicker to read than novels not in verse, and over half the book is dialogue, probably.

I can't speak for how accurate the chronic illness depiction is, but it felt heartfelt and while I was looking around, I found the author's website and it turns out this is in fact an ownvoices book, so that's a good sign. And I kinda liked that the book didn't turn into Crohn's 101. Chess doesn't have all the answers about her illness, and she's just trying to deal with learning about her diagnosis. I mean, we obviously need books about the living with it part, too, but I think this format of verse where it's so immediate and in the moment works very well for a character who's just being diagnosed.

All in all, this was a solid read. I really enjoyed the format and think it would definitely appeal to selective readers since it's so unique.

I wish I had remembered to take a picture of the jacket, though. The back cover basically mirrors the front, depicting both Chess and Shannon with the title going down the spine between them, like the hospital curtain. It's so clever and well designed.

(And yes, the picture is wider than all the others on this post - my normal dimensions made it look funny since it's a wide picture, and I didn't want to squish it.)

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Published: It was first published in 2010, but this edition is from Scholastic in 2012
Genre: Historical MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 216 plus acknowledgements
Part of a series? Yes, there are three of these with the most recent coming out in 2015.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Eleven-year-old Delphine has it together. Even though her mother, Cecile, abandoned her and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, seven years ago. Even though her father and Big Ma will send them from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to stay with Cecile for the summer. And even though Delphine will have to take care of her sisters, as usual, and learn the truth about the missing pieces of the past.

When the girls arrive in Oakland in the summer of 1968, Cecile wants nothing to do with them. She makes them eat Chinese takeout dinners, forbids them to enter her kitchen, and never explains the strange visitors with Afros and black berets who knock on her door. Rather than spend time with them, Cecile sends Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern to a summer camp sponsored by a revolutionary group, the Black Panthers, where the girls get a radical new education.

Thoughts: There are four award medal things on this cover. There's almost more awards than cover! It well deserved them all and more. I'm so glad I read this one. I have a note saying that this would also be a great classroom book and I really do think that's true. The book is set in a part of history that I know I as a white kid didn't learn about in school, aimed at a young audience in a way that is honest and stark while still being approachable for it's young readers.

It's not very often that the acknowledgements play into a review, but I want to quote them. Rita Williams-Garcia says:
"I wanted to write this story for those children who witnessed and were part of necessary changes. Yes. There were children."
I think that is as true today as in 1968, if not even more so. Kids like that deserve books like this. They deserve books that show how incredible they are, and how important they are to the history they're making. They deserve books that don't sugarcoat things.

It's not a very common book that can manage the blance of the type of historical events that happen in the book while also allowing its young characters to have silly and joyful moments. It shows that even though they are doing such important things, they are still allowed to be children and sometimes just play and have fun with their friends. And I don't think I've ever read a Scholastic middle grade book where illegal abortion is mentioned, albiet not by name, but the implication is definitely there and it's not really that subtle. The book is ballsy.

It's also very, very sweet when it needs to be. I know I would have loved this as a kid. Delphine reminds me a bit of Dicey Tillerman, and I loved those books as a kid. She's got the weight of the world on her shoulders, and her voice is wonderful. I really, really want to read the sequels and will likely be ordering them soon. Such a good, important book.

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.

Thoughts: So, normally when I review books I don't read other reviews. That's just how I do things. But in this case, I feel that would be irresponsible. Also, I don't actually think my review matters that much. I want to give my platform and my support to this book, and that's why I'm choosing to do a review of sorts at all, but there are a lot of people out there whose voices matter more. So what we're going to do here is I'm going to link to a bunch of ownvoices reviews (giant thanks to this blog post for giving me a starting point) and we're all going to read them together, okay?

Review by Emma at Pop Culture Catchall. Review by Casey Plett at Plenitude Magazine (shout out to a fellow Voigt fan!). Review at Queer Lit on My Mind. Review by Shenwei at Reading (As)(I)an (Am)erican. Review by Alaina Kailyn (I like your name) and Heather Miller Cover at On Wednesdays. Twitter thread from Shelly because I'm still angry... and now I'm getting into weird corners of the internet searching now. Feel free to send me links - I'd love to add more!

So, having linked to those, and since I'm cis, I'm probably not gonna talk about the trans rep. I know I have in the past, but I prefer only to do it when I can't find ownvoices reviews, and mostly just because I don't want people to read books on my recommendation and get hurt because of me. So let's talk about the other stuff I enjoyed, okay? Because this is such a sweet book, and I really did like it a lot. It's a very well-balanced book, I feel, in how there are very serious parts, but there's also a lot of adorable, dorky sweet moments and a lot of really funny humour.

Amanda is so sweet. I just wanted to give her giant squishy hugs and make her safe and happy. I loved what a giant nerd she was. She's an incredibly sweet character and I just really, really enjoyed this story. It's beautiful, and I hope it paves the way for the dozens of other books with amazing, nuanced, diverse trans rep that deserve to follow it.

This review is terrible, sorry. I just really liked this book.

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.

Thoughts: For the most part, this is a cute story with an interesting format. It had a couple of issues I'll address, but it's mostly sweet and funny. I'll admit it took me a couple chapters to remember that email existed and Amy was getting replies we didn't get to read from Callie in a short time, not sending things through the mail. This was despite the time and date stamps. This is entirely my own fault for forgetting what century it was.

There's a lot of humour, and the setting is very vibrant. Amy is most definitely a New Yorker, and it plays an important role in the book. Amy spends a lot of time learning about New York history, specifically related to the school assignment the plot revolves around, and that is incredibly interesting. I also liked the kind of subplot/message about going out of your comfort zone and making new friends. And I really enjoyed reading about Amy's Judiasm, and how she compared her experience to other peoples'.

There were like two things I didn't like though. One was smaller, but like the obsession of her mother with dieting and eating low-carb and how she forced that on her family, and also replied to her daughter expressing body confidence issues basically with, "Excercise." I'll admit I'm a little more sensitive to these things than most, but it left a bad taste in my mouth. There's not really any fat characters who aren't, like, old ladies, either.

I also think this book is unrealistically white amongst the main characters (it's New York, come on) and not queer friendly at all. Amy describes some of her brother's friends as "gender benders" and it's not used in a kind way. Her brother is also constantly described as a "bum" for dropping out of college - the entire book is very unfriendly to the idea that college isn't for everyone - and there's a really weird crossdressing running "joke". At one point Amy's parents go to see her brother's play, and due to someone getting sick, her brother plays a female character, including costuming. Her parents yell at him, an adult actor, in public, for doing this. The narrative basically says it's okay, though, because her brother's not actually a crossdresser. This is repeated a lot. There are jokes about drag. A lot.

It's not funny honestly. And since this is a young YA, this is aimed at a younger audience. Amy is in eighth grade. That's a very impressionable age. It is seven years old already, but I found that very distasteful in an otherwise sweet book. I'm left with mixed feelings in the end.

And I think that's everything. That is four, right? *counts* Yeah, we're good.

So what have you guys been reading lately? It's a long weekend in Canada, so I've hopefully just bought a bunch of books at garage sales.

Happy Victoria Day!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, May 15, 2017

Adult Review: Promises to Keep

I know, this doesn't fit here at all, does it? :P An actual review AND an adult book? AND the book is somewhat new?

Promises to Keep by Genevieve Graham

Published: April 4th, 2017 by Simon and Schuster
Genre: Adult historical fiction
Binding: ARC
Page Count: 313 plus acknowledgements in my ARC but the finished copy should have 336 pages.
Part of a series? I don't think so.
Got via: It was sent to me for review consideration.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Young, beautiful Amélie Belliveau lives with her family among the Acadians of Grande Pré, Nova Scotia, content with her life on their idyllic farm. Along with their friends, the neighbouring Mi’kmaq, the community believes they can remain on neutral political ground despite the rising tides of war. But peace can be fragile, and sometimes faith is not enough. When the Acadians refuse to pledge allegiance to the British in their war against the French, the army invades Grande Pré, claims the land, and rips the people from their homes. Amélie’s entire family, alongside the other Acadians, is exiled to ports unknown aboard dilapidated ships.

Fortunately, Amélie has made a powerful ally. Having survived his own harrowing experience at the hands of the English, Corporal Connor MacDonnell is a reluctant participant in the British plan to expel the Acadians from their homeland. His sympathy for Amélie gradually evolves into a profound love, and he resolves to help her and her family in any way he can—even if it means treason. As the last warmth of summer fades, more ships arrive to ferry the Acadians away, and Connor is forced to make a decision that will alter the future forever.

Review: A combination of a genre I don't read often plus some narrative choices I found very strange made this not my favourite. It seemed like an interesting story, and I didn't know much about the setting even as someone who's Canadian, but I had trouble connecting to the book and I just didn't enjoy it very much.

Plot Talk: I thought the plot dragged a bit, to be honest. It was slow to start and it didn't do a whole lot to draw me in. I also felt like it jumped around a little too much, and skipped over things that I thought would have been really interesting to actually see. I don't know - it just wasn't my favourite.

Characters: The book alternates POVs from Amélie to Connor... to two other people who get one or two chapters each. I liked Amélie and Connor well enough, but their romance happened so fast and they had almost no time to actually have that romance. There was a point where it switched POV (again) and my note about it just saying how I have no attachment to these new characters and don't understand why I should care.

And the POV switching was one of my big problems. Sometimes it highly unnecessary and it's page time that could be spent doing better things than listening to one dude complain about how angry he is, and it does that thing I hate, where it shows a scene, and then twenty pages later recaps that scene, completely ruining the tension. How are we supposed to be shocked by a revelation that we already knew?

PG-13 stuff: It's actually pretty light on sex and swearing and such. TW for mentions of rape/threats of sexual assult (it's more hinted at than anything actually happens). It's also fairly frank about how hard the starvation and stuff is for them, but surrpisingly light on violence and the death is a little glossed over. I don't think this would actually get an R rating if it were a movie.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: I think I got everything in the rest of the review. Didn't like the POV switches, didn't love some of the time hopping, couldn't connect to the characters/plot as well as I would have liked. I also thought it was really freaking weird that Amélie's chapters were in first person, and everyone else's were in third person. I don't get that.

This has several prominent Aboriginal characters, and I'm not entirely sure how the representation is in terms of quality. There were some moments I felt uncomfortable, and I looked for reviews, but I couldn't find anything. I'm not saying anything for absolutely certain, but I have concerns. Send me reviews of you know of them, please!

Cover comments: The cover sold me here. I think it's really pretty.

Conclusion: Other people might like this better than me. I'm picky, this isn't a genre I'm passionate about, and it ran into some of my pet peeves. I'm going to give it to my mom and see if she likes it. This isn't my favourite, but I thought it was an interesting setting, and I did like Amélie. Right now I'm sitting at about a three out of five roses.



Other notes:

- Some of the deaths were weirdly glossed over. It's like


"Two weeks later everyone was dead!"

That's about all I've got for now.

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, May 8, 2017

Things I've Read Recently (47)

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.

Ms. Marvel, Volume 6: Civil War II by G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Adrian Alphonia, and Mirka Andolfo

Published: December 14th, 2016 by Marvel
Genre: YA Comics
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: Goodreads says 136
Part of a series? Yeah, this contains issues #7-12 and I still don't understand why the numbers started over and that's why I read bind-ups. I never claimed to be an expert.
Got via: The library as usual.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): While CIVIL WAR II brews, the next generation of Avengers has bigger things to worry about - like a tri-state academic competition! As rival schools clash, Ms. Marvel's teammates Spider-Man and Nova are now her enemies! But when Kamala gets called to the real battle's front line, she faces a fight she can't embiggen her way out of. She's about to learn a valuable lesson: Never meet your idols! As war intensifies, tragedy strikes too close to home - and Ms. Marvel must choose between her heroes and her family. When friends become foes, Ms. Marvel struggles to put her life and Jersey City back together. Kamala will be forced to grow up fast and find her true place in the world. But will she be an international sensation...or a menace?

Thoughts: Sometimes I have to seriously do research to write these things. Because honestly I read Kamala and I read Lumberjanes, and I know next to nothing besides what I read. So apparently Civil War II is important and also not so well-liked. (Kudos to Alice here for making me aware of this!) Frankly, I know nothing about the main event and also frankly, it doesn't really matter for this volume. When Last Days happened, I felt like I wanted to know more about how this effected the universe. With this, I want to know more about what happens to Kamala next.

Honestly, naming this volume "Civil War II" feels more like publicity than anything, with everything that happens in this. I think nearly everything that happens because of the event, could or would have happened with out. It's just background, really. So if you're wary of the event, don't worry about it here and definitely don't skip these ones because, well. You'd miss a lot.

A great deal of this volume spends more time with Kamala's family, and their history, and how and why they immigrated. More of her family is introduced, too, and I love how they show how strong the women of her family are, and how that has shaped Kamala to be who she is. The support of her family is so incredibly imporant to Kamala, and she couldn't do what she does without them, and I love when they show that.

Also, there's a queer character now! I won't spoil if the person is new or old, or who it is, but if you've been waiting for that (I saw it on tumblr and was desperately waiting) this is when that happens. And it's lovely.

Big, important things happen in this, but they feel organic, not just triggered by the Civil War II event. These feel like things that have been naturally building, things that make sense to the characters, and don't feel shoehorned in for an event. My advice if you're nervous would be ignore the title and take these just as issues 7 to 12, and don't worry about anything else in the Marvel universe unless you wanna go there. This, at least, isn't about anything else. This is about Kamala. And it's well-worth reading. Focus on her, and let everyone else figure out their issues.

Also I kind of want to check out that Champions thing now? Especially because I have to wait until AUGUST for Volume 7. (And it's only January for me! Who knows when I'll post this.)

Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol

Published: June 7th, 2011 by First Second, but my edition is from Square Fish which is an imprint of MacMillan, and that was in like 2014.
Genre: YA Comic
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 221 plus a Q&A
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Of all the things Anya expected to find at the bottom of an old well, a new friend was not one of them. Especially not a new friend who’s been dead for a century.

Falling down a well is bad enough, but Anya's normal life might actually be worse. She's embarrassed by her family, self-conscious about her body, and she's pretty much given up on fitting in at school. A new friend—even a ghost—is just what she needs.

Or so she thinks.

Thoughts: This was okay. I liked the art style, but I never felt like I fully connected with the story or Anya. Anya being an immigrant and Russian and everything is a neat dynamic, but she's not a real likeable character, and I don't need characters to be likeable, but I prefer them not to be... so unpleasant that I can't relate to them and Anya sure had unpleasant moments.

There's a decent chunk of fatphobia that is both internalized by Anya at herself, and aimed at other people. She was fat as a kid, but isn't as a teen, and has body issues. That isn't a bad thing, obviously, but her comments about other people are gross. And the only person who really says that it's okay to be fat is Anya's mother, and it comes off like she's very old-fashioned and not actually... right.

And I... I'm going to take a picture (page 48) but basically there's a page where Anya looks at herself in a bathroom mirror and imagines herself fat and it made me really uncomfortable. It is incredibly rare to see bodies that look like mine in graphic novels or comic books and the only time I do when the main character is basically saying how awful it would be for herself to look like me? Vera's mother, who the drawing is obviously modelled after since the clothing is the same, is the only kind of fat, kind of more chubby character (and she actually looks smaller than Anya's imagining of herself) in the whole book.



It feels bad to read. Maybe I'm more sensitive than other people, but it made me anxious and unhappy. The mystery is good, and I liked the story, but I didn't connect enough, and that part hurt. Maybe three roses top? And I don't feel comfortable recommending it honestly. You'll have to make your own decisions on this one.

Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Published: April 5th, 2016 by Tor
Genre: Adult fantasy
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 169 plus a really funny about the author.
Part of a series? Yeah, there's a prequel coming in June, and a sequel planned for 2018. I will be needing them all.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Guests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere... else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced... they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

Thoughts: This is the first book I've ever read with a canon asexual character, and I'm never going to be over that. I have literally never in my life read a book with a main character with my sexuality. I want you to really think about that, because it will be relevant to this review as I go on, and I want you to have that context.

Let's talk some other stuff first, though. The idea of what happens after portal fantasies (like Chronicles of Narnia and Alice in Wonderland as mentioned in the summary) is something I super enjoyed. If you ever want to hear me rant, ask me about Susan Pensevie sometime because I definitely have feelings about that. This book understands those feelings. And then it gave me a whole bunch of new feelings that I don't know what to do with. I feel like that should be a button or something, "Seanan McGuire gave me feelings." I have a feeling it would be popular.

The setting of this kind of boarding school is amazing. I would read so many books set in this universe. I found even just the day to day normal bits of the school fascinating, and I almost wish the book had been a bit longer so it could be explored more.

(My computer died in the middle of me writing the review and I'm finishing it like three weeks later after writing half of it in a notebook so if it feels disjointed there's your reason. (I may reference this in reviews - don't worry about it. Everything's pretty much cool now, and my timelines are probably super confusing in reviews, lol.)

I seriously adored the voice in this. The book really combines a classic tone in the narration, including a self-aware passage about narration, with a great social commentary including very astute comments about dieting and male privilege, and it's refreshing like whoa, especially for a relatively small book.

Now let's talk some ace stuff. I talked to a friend about this (thank you, Luci) because I am not the Grand High Ace. They mentioned criticisms they'd heard that the ace rep might be too generalized and the aro rep (or lack thereof) might be problematic. On the first - Nancy always talks about her asexuality only as it relates to her. She speaks often in "I" statements. Nancy is also not aromantic, and mentions that, which I appreciate as a lot of people might not even know whatthat is, and it's not not the same sexuality. Nancy's experience with romantic attraction seems to be that she wants to kiss and hold hands with people, and that want is directed at specific people. (Listen to the grey aro person try to explain romantic attraction.)

A potentional problem is that this could be seen as equating romantic attraction and therefore romantic orientation solely with physical acts. An aromantic person who likes kissing is still aromantic. I personally don't think the book does this. I think, though, people who don't know much about ace and aro people could assume this, though.

And that's not really a problem with the book, I don't think. It could have been a little more explicit, but Nancy is a teenager and shouldn't have to be the One True Holy Ace, really. Personally, I think allo people need to be a whole lot more careful not to assume that reading one book about one asexual character makes them an expert on asexuality. Nancy's experience is valid and important, and shouldn't take away from anyone else's. The author, indeed, is an ownvoices author, being demisexual but not aromantic, and may well be drawing from her own experience. (Or not, and that's cool, too.) Basically we just need many, many more ace and aro characters, so a variety of experiences are shown.

*looks at notes scribbled on pink cardstock* *which I have now lost since making that joke* *this review is a mess* Oh! There's a trans character in this, and can I just say he is very, very swoonworthy. I think his rep is good, but I'm cis, so grain of salt there. And here's a review from someone else for you! (And more from other reviewers here, which updates a lot more than I do.) And since that doesn't go into detail on possibly triggering things, I will so, like, you know what to expect because I like doing these things for you guys. The character does face some transphobia from other characters, but the narration never, ever misgenders him, and the book's context  and other character always 100% states that this is wrong and not acceptable.

I know from Word of God, also, that there are additional queer characters, but it's not explicit, at least not yet. Curse of the short book.

All in all, I really enjoyed this, and I still feel all the ways about the ending. I also think this borderline works as a YA crossover. There's some horror and a little gore, but I've... honestly read more gory YA. (Never going to be over the eyeball eating book. Sorry.) I'd say a lot of teens would be fine with this and certain teens may just need it. I appreciate and acknowledge the criticisms, but I think most of them (not like the race rep or anything - the ace stuff I talked about)) are more a problem with parts of the audience than with the book, and I'm comfortable recommending it.

Dear lord that was long and this post isn't over yet.

Girl, Stolen by April Henry

Published: My edition was released March 13th, 2012 from Square Fish which is a Macmillan imprint, but it was originally published September 28th, 2010.
Genre: YA Thriller
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 213 plus an interview with the author with a bunch of questions and an excerpt and probably some other stuff I can't check because I returned it to the library already.
Part of a series? There is going to be a sequel released May
Got via: Obviously the library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Sixteen year-old Cheyenne Wilder is sleeping in the back of a car while her step-mom fills her prescription at the pharmacy. Before Cheyenne realizes what's happening, their car is being stolen--with her inside! Griffin hadn't meant to kidnap Cheyenne, all he needed to do was steal a car for the others.

But once Griffin's dad finds out that Cheyenne's father is the president of a powerful corporation, everything changes—now there's a reason to keep her. What Griffin doesn't know is that Cheyenne is not only sick with pneumonia, she is blind. How will Cheyenne survive this nightmare, and if she does, at what price?

Review: This wasn't awful, but I didn't really love it either. It's definitely pretty exciting most of the time, but I wasn't really overwhelmed. It's a decent thriller, maybe a little like the book equivalent of a Lifetime movie. You probably won't be bored, but it's maybe not very high quality.

Like, I have to say, I don't think this is so okay.


Transcription/quote (minus a little stuff that isn't relevant):
"It's Cheyenne," she said softly. "Cheyenne Wilder."
 "Why did your parents name you Cheyenne?" Griffin asked as they drove past two horses - one brown and one black - and running free. His eyes followed them for a moment. "Isn't that an Indian tribe?"
"I'm one-thirty-second Indian. Not enough to really matter."
 High cheekbones, dark hair, dark eyes - he could see it.
I'm incredibly white, so I tried to find reviews from Native reviewers, but I came up pretty empty. I am going to link to Debbie Reese's blog just because I want to link to something, if not something specific. It never comes up again, but it's... uncomfortable, at the very least.

I also think you can definitely tell that it's not an ownvoices book. It's very well researched, and I give kudos for the author for that, but you can still tell that the author isn't writing from experience. I have to wonder, then, if this would ring true to someone who is blind or visually impaired. I obviously can't answer that either, but I do raise it as a question. I also think that it's an interesting idea to have a kidnapper and victim bond, the book maybe goes a little too far. There is no way to make it okay to suggest they'd continue a relationship or be friends, which the ending suggests could be a possibility. Yes, Griffin is abused by his father - he still kidnapped her and almost got her raped and killed. It's not okay to minimalize it.

Overall, it was kind of fun reading it in a guilty pleasure way. It doesn't have a ton of depth, and has some issues. I don't have much to say about it, but I wouldn't be comfortable recommending it. Also, I'm not a giant fan of the cover either, but that's just because I don't like orange. Editing Laina: I wrote this review before I saw that there was going to be a sequel, and I'm kind of uncomfortable with continuing this story personally and probably won't be picking up the sequel.

Okay, I think that's it. This turned out very, very long!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, May 1, 2017

YA Review: Far From You

I'm writing this when I'm really sick and gross. Be gentle on me, okay?

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.

Review: I have about half an hour to write this before I need to take some cold medication and I probably won't be in any shape to be review writing. Also the coughing is making my head hurt. So let's go - we could summarize this as I did in a tweet by saying, "Tess Sharpe made me cry." This is very much a book about grief and mourning and it's portrayed with rough edges and hard parts, and it worked so well for me.

There are so many things in this that I enjoyed. Sophie is like my absolute favourite kind of character and this just pushed so many of my buttons. I feel completely awful right now so let's get into the nitty-gitty of everything else here.

Plot Talk: This book uses a non-standard timeline alternating chapters taking place in the past, which aren't necessarily in chronological order, and scenes in the present day, which are. The book gets total kudos that this never becomes confusing or irritating. You guys know I have kind of a fondness for these "after the big thing happens" books, but you also know that unnecessary flashbacks can seriously annoy me. These are never unnecessary. I also thought the decision to make the flashbacks a different font was super clever. My sick, tired brain appreciated the differentiating.

Characters: Oh, man, Sophie is my favourite though. Besides the fact that a bisexual main character with chronic pain and PTSD, all of which are labelled on page, is just freaking awesome, her character is blunt and not charming or soft a lot of the time, and I really, really love her. I can't really give you context without spoiling, but my favourite line of hers that describes her perfectly is just, "I wasn't subtle." I don't share any identities with Sophie so I can't speak for her representation, but I can speak for how much I enjoyed spending a book with her, and that was greatly (editing Laina - greatly? Cold medicine kicked in for that sentence). I will say I appreciated the labelling, though, personally.

The other characters felt familiar in that way that authentic small town characters do. There are definitely bigots, and unsupportive, gossipy, not very nice people, and this applies to several levels of the book. But I loved the inclusion of people who are supportive, people trying to be better, and the themes about forgiveness and how people are imperfect and hard but you can work to get to better places with them.

I'm totally rambling, but the characters are great in this. It's also a really, really interesting mystery, kind of Life is Strange minus the time travel stuff (I love that game), and I kind of guessed the answer but not entirely, and I super enjoyed the depth and complexity of the characters.

PG-13 stuff: It's an older YA and the subject matter reflects that. There's language, underage drinking and drug addiction, sex, violence, etc. It's all handled well with a lot of respect and doesn't become done simply for shock value. I can't think of any obvious triggers, but that could be the cold medicine making me fuzzy, so... maybe don't trust me on this one.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: I wish some people had been described as fat? And it's really, really white and besides the main characters there's only one other queer character named once. I understand small towns (boy, do I understand small towns), but I still feel like it could have done a little better. The fat characters especially - I don't think there are any. I choose to headcanon Aunt Macy (who I love) as fat, but I don't think that's canon.

It's such a good book and does so much well that it sucks to see the things that it leaves out.

Two things I'm going to kind of point out. Sophie has chronic pain, and she gets addicted to oxycodone. The book does not talk about how this is untrue for everyone, or how reliance on painkillers to function is not necessarily the same. This can definitely be harmful. Tess Sharpe has talked about this on Twitter (her account is private - apologies if you can't see the thread, but she basically says she wishes she had unpacked this belief) and I personally appreciate that, but these tweets do not exist in the book. So you'll have to make your own decision on this one on whether you'll be okay with it.

Slight spoilers here but I wouldn't, like, not do them, so. Skip if you need to. You will also, I think, have to make your own decision on whether Mina falls into the Dead Lesbian trope. (Tess has also talked about this on Twitter.) Mina is dead at the beginning of the book and she's a lesbian, but she's not dead because she's a lesbian. My personal opinion here is that I want queer girls to be able to have stories about grief and mourning too, although those should not be the only stories they get, and it's not like it's a surprise that she's dead or anything, so I personally did not find it upsetting in the way that I've found other media that do use the trope. This is one you'll have to decide for yourself, and I'm not gonna sit here and yell at you if it's too much for you, too close or too painful.

I bring both these things up in this format because I don't have the experience to speak from on either of them, really, but I would feel uncomfortable recommending it without mentioning them.

Cover comments: I really like it. Looks a little better on my computer than in person, but I have a library copy so that's probably because of the contact paper on the book dulling it a bit. I like that it's relevant to something actually in the book.

Conclusion: Basically I don't think this is going to be a book for everyone, and I can totally understand people avoiding it because of things that would be painful for them, but if you like the sound of it, I don't think you'll be disappointed. I loved the voice, and I'm really interested in reading future books. I like the things she does with books. Knock off a star for no fat people/the very few other issues I had, but this is still a four rose book for me.



Note from editing Laina: I'm much better now. Sinus infections suck, though. Do not recommend.

Peace and cookies,
Laina