Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Things I've Read Recently (43): Memoirs!

Simon and Schuster sent me some books recently, and two of them are memoirs. Since memoirs don't remotely fit my usual reviewing style, and I don't actually know what I'm doing with them, I thought I would just shove them into a post together and see what happened.

Where I Live Now by Sharon Butala

Published: April 4th, 2017 by Simon and Schuster
Genre: Adult Memoir
Binding: ARC (and I'm actually putting the review up when it's still advanced!)
Page Count: 167 plus the acknowledgments and bibliography in the ARC, but it says there'll be 208 in the finished copy.
Part of a series? The author has several memoirs, so if you count her life as a series... but not really.
Got via: As I said, it was sent to me for review consideration.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): When Sharon Butala’s husband, Peter, died unexpectedly, she found herself with no place to call home. Torn by grief and loss, she fled the ranchlands of southwest Saskatchewan and moved to the city, leaving almost everything behind. A lifetime of possessions was reduced to a few boxes of books, clothes, and keepsakes. But a lifetime of experience went with her, and a limitless well of memory—of personal failures, of a marriage that everybody said would not last but did, of the unbreakable bonds of family.

Reinventing herself in an urban landscape was painful, and facing her new life as a widow tested her very being. Yet out of this hard-won new existence comes an astonishingly frank, compassionate and moving memoir that offers not only solace and hope but inspiration to those who endure profound loss.

Review: I don't read a lot of memoir or non-fiction in general besides research when I write books, and that's mostly mythology stuff, but I found this interesting. I live in Saskatchewan myself, and one of the places mentioned in the book is actually where I was born. Most of where she talks about is southwest Saskatchewan and I don't live exactly there, but it's a small province and I found it very interesting to read both about Butala's person history and what she had learned and shared about Saskatchewan's history. Like did you know in 1991 a nearly complete T-Rex skeleton was found in Saskatchewan? We named him Scotty. I've seen his head! A few years ago he was touring, and our musuem had him and I got to see him. (T-Rex heads are gigantic, by the way.)

I think my only complaint is just that the book can be a little disjointed. There's not really a strong narrative. I feel almost like it's a book meant to be read more as a chapter here and a chapter there than all in one sitting.

I'm also obviously not really the target audience for this either. I enjoyed it, but it's obviously aimed at different people than me, and that's not the fault of the book, so no points off for that. I actually think I might send a copy to my aunt - my uncle's not dead or anything, knock on wood, but it's probably a similar history to his family, and I think she'd enjoy readingit. Maybe her mother-in-law, too. The photos that Butala shared are also really neat.

So, a little disjointed in the narrative, but enjoyable still and I enjoyed it. It's a fairly quick read, but the Saskatchewan history is very interesting and I think the grief aspect would be very relateable to many. Glad I read this. Three out of four roses.



Gizelle's Bucket List by Lauren Fern Watt

Published: March 7th, 2017 by Simon and Schuster
Genre: Adult Memoir
Binding: ARC
Page Count: 239 plus the acknowledgements and about the author in the ARC, but it says 240 in the finished.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: It was also sent to me.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Lauren Watt took her 160-pound English Mastiff to college—so of course after graduation, Gizelle followed Lauren to her first, tiny apartment in New York. Because Gizelle wasn’t just a dog; she was a roommate, sister, confidante, dining companion, and everything in between.

Together, Gizelle and Lauren went through boyfriends, first jobs, a mother’s struggle with addiction, and the ups and downs of becoming an adult in the big city. But when Gizelle got sick and Lauren realized her best friend might not be such a constant after all, she designed an epic bucket list to make the absolute most of the time they had left.

Review: Like I said, two memoirs and they don't fit my full review style and I'm out of my depth a little, so we're going this. This is really enjoyable. I mean, I started crying like a baby at the end, but I kind of expected that when I started reading a book about a dog's bucket list. I saw Marley and Me. I know how these things end.

There's a lot of depth to this one and Lauren has a great voice. Apparently their story went viral and I can totally see why. Her voice is fun and relateable, and her memoir has a strong narrative carrying you through it. I thought it a strength that about half the book was about Lauren and Gizelle's life together so we could connect with them and really care about them, before getting to the actual bucket list and the sad parts.

I wasn't a real big fan of the running joke of one of Lauren's family's dogs being nicknamed "Fatty" because seriously thin people, you shouldn't. It's not funny from you. But otherwise I really enjoyed this, especially the time spent in New York and how vivid those descriptions were. And the pictures at the beginning of each chapter were a great addition, very cute and heart-warming.

I'm not actually a dog person - I don't really like them. But I still enjoyed this, and I think dog lovers would like it a lot. I have a friend, actually, I may give a copy of this to. I think she'd like it. Four out of five roses - points off for the fatphobia.



It's weird how both these kind of deal with grief, isn't it?? You okay, Simon? ;)

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, March 20, 2017

YA Review: Under a Painted Sky

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

Published: March 17th, 2015 by G. P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Genre: Historical YA
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 370 plus an acknowledgement
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier.

But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

Review: Oh, man this was fun. Don't get me wrong - there are some very serious things that happen in the book, but if I was going to pick one word to describe it, it would be adventure. I don't read a whole lot of historical fiction, but I really enjoyed this. The voice is wonderful. Sammy's voice is immediately compelling, and the relationships between the characters only make it more so. I don't even know how to tell you guys how much I enjoyed this. It was just so, so good.

Plot Talk: The summary really... sums... it up. Sammy and Andy run away dressed up as boys and try to survive and meet some dudes who they join up with. Western stuff happens. I hate doing plot stuff. The plot speed and tension is great, it never gets boring, not repetitive, it's awesome. Let's move on.

Characters: Sammy is so sweet, and you feel so sympathetic for her after all these bad things happen, and you feel so glad when good things happen to her. As the blurb says, she's Chinese American and in 1849, that obviously isn't exactly easy, and the book is very, very honest about that. At the same time, though, her connection to her culture, things her father has taught her and memories of him and their time together, are so important to her. They're cherished, really, and it's seriously beautiful, and I can see people connecting to it so much. It's so honest and heartfelt.

Meanwhile the relationship between Andy and Sammy is probably my favourite thing ever. They're supportive and incredibly close, and frankly I misunderstood a little reading about the book when I was picking it out and thought it was going to take them a queer place? It didn't happen, and that's my misunderstanding not anything the book did (no queerbaiting or anything), but the relationship between them is so close and beautiful that it totally could have gone there. Their friendship is amazing, and I would read like eight books about them, no joke.

There's some romance, too, and it's very sweet, but the book is more about Andy and Sammy's relationship. It's nice, though, because you want them both to be happy after everything they go through, and their romantic relationships are obviously things they're happy to have.

I also thought the supporting and side characters were great, too. There are obviously bigoted and dangerous people, but I love that their friends are honestly good people, and never purposely put them in danger and, while sometimes clueless, are never malicious. And I think it's nice that despite the time period, there are people too who are genuinely good people. There's a lot of depth and complexity to the characters, and characters have multitudes. Very serious things happen in the book, and these things aren't taken lightly, but because of things like this, it never feels bogged down by the bad things, or like the characters are suffering gratuitous abuse for absolutely no reason.

Oh and I'm pretty sure the author included a queer character? Like it's subtle and the character is only there for a moment, but it's also 1849. And one of the characters close to Sammy basically tells her at one point, while thinking she's a gay dude, that it's totally okay with him, so. It's kind of a nice touch from the author.

PG-13 stuff: Trigger warnings for attempted rape, death, suicide mention, slavery, racism, violence including racism motivated violence. I don't think these things ever become too graphic, as I said above, and I'm just coming off a book I thought was overly graphic and spent too much time making its characters unnecessarily suffer, but it is authentic to the time period in this. I can see parts of the book being upsetting, as they're meant to be, but I wouldn't think the book is going to leave you with a hangover because everything was awful. Bad things happen, but so do good things, and characters are allowed to be happy.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: I don't really think I have anything. I seriously can't think of anything.

Cover comments: It's so beautiful, guys. I love that gradient from blue to purple to pink (which, yes, I know that from nail polish tutorials, what of it?) and the silhouettes are beautiful. I always like that art style of black silhouettes against sunsets. The kid I baby-sit actually likes making that kind of art, and it's always so striking. It stood out at the library when I was picking up my holds! And it depicts something important to the book. Great cover, seriously.

Conclusion: This is heartfelt, has funny moments but knows when to be serious, takes its subject matter to hard places without overwhelming the reader, and has a beautiful, amazing friendship between its two main characters. The ending made me happy cry a little, and I enjoyed it so much. Honestly this just worked so well for me. When a book can make you feel dusty and grimy because the descriptions are so vivid, something about that is just cool. Four and a half out of five roses.



Other notes:

- The book mentions periods. THE BOOK, STARRING TEENAGED GIRLS, MENTIONS PERIODS. It's amazing how rarely this happens.

- There's this little bookending thing the author does that I won't spoil but it's so sweet and it made me smile so much because it's just one of those adorable things. Very sweet.

I think that's it!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

MG Review: Wintercraft Series

I've done this series review thing a couple times now and I enjoy it even if no one else does, and since I've already actually reviewed the first book in this series before, I thought it would be more interesting to do it this way. This might actually be posted on a day that's not a Monday because I have a bunch of scheduled posts and I think we might have to do more than just Monday posts. Let's try it for now!

Wintercraft by Jenna Burtenshaw (also called Shadowcry in the US)

Published: May 13th, 2010 by Headline Publishing
Genre: Fantasy MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 278
Part of a series? I mean obviously.
Got via: They sent it to me sometime after I reviewed the ARC. Kind of showed up out of the blue.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Ten years ago Kate Winters' parents were taken by the High Council's wardens to help with the country's war effort.

Now the wardens are back...and prisoners, including Kate's uncle Artemis, are taken south on the terrifying Night Train. Kate and her friend Edgar are hunted by a far more dangerous enemy. Silas Dane - the High Council's most feared man - recognises Kate as one of the Skilled; a rare group of people able to see through the veil between the living and the dead. His spirit was damaged by the High Council's experiments into the veil, and he's convinced that Kate can undo the damage and allow him to find peace.

The knowledge Kate needs lies within Wintercraft - a book thought to be hidden deep beneath the graveyard city of Fume. But the Night of Souls, when the veil between life and death is at its thinnest, is just days away and the High Council have their own sinister plans for Kate and Wintercraft.

Review: I didn't have a computer to look up my old review of this, but I think I liked it. I don't want to read my old review until I've finished typing this up because I'm weird like that. Rereading it, I did enjoy it. I just didn't love it. I'm not sure if it's more kind of a genre thing where I'm learning I'm not really a big reader of this type of fantasy, or if it's more the book, but that's where I am.

The beginning especially has a lot of background and it's a fairly heavy info dump. Since this isn't my absolute favourite genre to begin with, that doesn't help me out so much with not getting a little lost. It may pretty typical for the genre, but it doesn't work for me. I mean, Kate wakes up in the first chapter and describes herself in a mirror. That's a little stereotypical. And speaking of typical, I think the dynamic between Edgar and Kate is very, very typical for this genre, and I don't think it really does anything special with their friendship. I wish Kate had had more female friends... or any female friends... or more good feale characters in general.

To be honest, I remembered almost nothing about reading this the first time, and I don't think this is an overly memorable book. At the end of the day, it's good and I have no glaring problems to point out besides some ableist language that doesn't seem necessary, but it never wowed me.

If you're a big fantasy fan, or know a kid who is (although sensitive readers may want to know there's a lot of on-screen death), I'd say this is fine, but not outstanding.

On to the next!

Blackwatch by Jenna Burtenshaw

Published: It was originally published April 1st, 2011 by Headline Publishing, this edition was released June 26th 2012 by Greenwillow Books.
Genre: MG Fiction
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 310 pages
Part of a series? Duh.
Got via: The library which is why this cover is different from the other two. I know. It bugs me, too. We just have to deal with it.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): "Deliver Kate Winters and be spared.”

Kate is the one person gifted enough to work the magic held in the ancient book of Wintercraft. And everyone wants her, either to lock her up or to use her as the ultimate weapon. Her rare power is being able to walk freely through the veil between life and death, and she cannot control it.

Hunted by the Blackwatch -- the elite assassins of the enemy -- and by her own people, Kate flees deep into tunnels beneath the graveyard city. And she is still inextricably linked to the murderer and traitor Silas Dane, who has crossed the ocean and walked straight into the enemy's hands.

As the Blackwatch closes in, Kate and Silas will face terrors that only they can keep from destroying Albion. And time is running out.

Review: I'm going to be honest (as always) - I read this over a week ago and I just didn't feel like writing the review of it. This one is more engrossing than the first, but it still never screamed "Read Me!" There's thankfully less world-building via info dumping, but it does play a fair amount of catch-up at the beginning and I'm kind of meh about that. It's not done badly, but it doesn't draw me into the beginning of the book.

I think my biggest complaint, though, is that not a whole lot actually happens. Kate gets chased by bad guys a lot and... mostly that's it. There are obviously a few important plot elements, but it feels like a lot of filler.

It's pretty much just fine. I didn't dislike it, but it didn't do much for me. And these days, I want books to wow me!

Legacy by Jenna Burtenshaw (Also called Winterveil in the US)

Published: May 10th, 2012 by Headway
Genre: MG Fantasy
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 280 pages
Part of a series? I guess I should say it is just a trilogy.
Got via: It was also sent to me for review consideration. No, not the second book. Yes, that's two copies of the first book, one of the third, none of the second. Yeah, I found that pretty amusing, too.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): The veil which marks the division between life and death is falling. Lost souls are seeping through to roam Albion's graveyard city of Fume. Kate Winters' recent memory is lost.

Relieved to be heading home to Albion, Kate can't shake the feeling that Dalliah Grey, the woman she's supposed to be working for, is not to be trusted. Disgraced warrior Silas Dane plans to rescue Kate and save Albion from the advancing armies seeking to profit from the confusion. But the veil will not be easy to repair and Silas knows sacrifices have to be made. Kate must return to the dark secrets detailed by her ancestors in the ancient book of Wintercraft and learn from their mistakes to save herself.

Review: Again, this one was just kind of fine. It opens with a random new POV who immediately dies. And I'm really not a fan of that. It feels like it's just a way to brag about how awesome your characters are. Otherwise, there's not much new from the first two books. It wraps up the series well, but it doesn't do too much forme. I don't even really have that much to say. It kinda feels like I'm just finished and I want to move on now and I hate saying something like that, but it's unfortunately true.

Really, I just... don't have anything else to say about this book.

Series wrap-up: Wintercraft is a decent middle grade fantasy series. I enjoyed it, and I'm glad I finished the series. However, it feels fairly standard for the genre, and because the genre is not my favourite to start with, I don't think I would reread it. While enjoyable, it doesn't stand out as particularly special or really very memorable. I think others could definitely enjoy it more, so I think I'll pass this one along. I have too many books, like way too many, and I don't need to keep books I don't love or want to reread, so I'm probably going to pass these alongs to someone else.

Other notes:

- I saw someone ask recently if adult POV could work in modern middle grade and YA books. I said I thought it could, but only in MG and not YA. The Wintercraft series is probably at least 40% or more adult POV and it works fine. However, there is some headhopping that does not work.

- If you ever see characters named Laina in books, they might actually be named after me. I certainly volunteer my name enough! There's one in the second and third books and I'm not actually sure if it is or not? Probably not, but there are a few out there that are!

- If you must read my old review of this, here's a link. Bear in mind it's six years old. I was eighteen. Whoa.

Okay, I think that's it for now. Hope you enjoyed this!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, March 13, 2017

Things I've Read Recently (42)

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. Or apparently I just want to get all my bad feelings about books out at once.

Jars of Glass by Brad Barkley and Heather Hepler

Published: October 4th, 2008 by Dutton Juvenile
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 246
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Indiebound / AbeBooks because I think this might be out of print? Kindle version is available, though.

Summary (from goodreads): Teenage sisters Chloe and Shana recall fondly the days when their mother wove stories about kingdoms under the sea. Now that Mom is away, Chloe does not allow herself to believe in fairy tales. She is too busy caring for her adopted brother, Micah, because Dad has become withdrawn. Shana copes by escaping every night under the cover of Goth garb. The day the family visits Mom for the first time is the day Chloe learns why Shana will never allow their mother to return. It is up to the sisters to pull together and form a new definition of family.

Thoughts: This was mostly an okay little book. Honestly I've got a cold and haven't been able to talk for five days because I've lost my voice so badly. My brain is a little fuzzy. I've been watching a lot of dorky movies and Come Dine With Me, and mostly sleeping for eighteen hours a day. (I've got antibiotics now, so I should be feeling better in a couple days.) Words are just really hard right now. But overall, while I enjoyed this, I don't think I could recommend it because of the ableism.

Things I liked: The relationship between Shana and Chloe, the humour at times, the writing almost all the time.

What I didn't like: There is definite ableism. Spoilers ahead. The fact that their mother is sick is treated with very little sympathy, almost like she did something wrong by being mentally ill. Honestly, the idea that because their mother has schizophrenia and did a very bad thing, that they get to decide that she never gets to come home is kind of scary. Doesn't matter if she gets treatment, doesn't matter if therapists say it's okay, the two teenage girls know better that she should never be allowed to leave the hospital again. I think there's some messed up reinforcing of bad stereotypes - people with schizophrenia are more likely to be victims of violence than to be violent - and, really, if you have a family member with schizophrenia or you yourself have a mental illness, you are probably going to be really freaked out by this book.

Can you imagine getting sick enough that you did something you would never do if you were well, and then never, ever being allowed to work past that? That's horrible.

Beyond that, these girls have essentially become the caretakers of both their younger brother and their father. One is basically parenting the brother, and the other is basically running their father's business with the janitor. That can't last forever. These girls are fourteen and fifteen. They're gonna get ulcers before they're eighteen. A fourteen year old should not be expected to replace her mother, and that's essentially what's happening with Chloe. She's having to mother their little brother, since their mother is gone and their father has checked out and is avoiding everything to do with life, basically.

Meanwhile, the little brother probably needs so much therapy - as do all of them - but, nah, therapy's only for "lunatics". Little dude can't even look at their mother without screaming. He needs to talk to someone. I liked the story of two sisters bonding and coming together to overcome hard times, but the way the book ends? It leaves so many questions open as far as I'm concerned, but the happy ending can't last if you think about it for a few moments. These girls are being put in adult roles before they're even finished high school, and there is no way that is substainable.

So I liked this while I was reading it because the voice is good, but I would not recommend this one. Like, if I think about a kid whose mother is schizophrenic, would I give them this book? No, I highly doubt I would. I wouldn't want them to basically be told that they can never have a relationship with their mother again, and that there's essentially no hope for her to be well. And what about teens with schizophrenia? This would probably scare them so much! I think if you're going to tackle a subject like this, you need to really think about whether you'll be adding to existing stigma, and I think this doesn't work against stigma at all. It reinforces it. And frankly, that can be dangerous.

So even though I did like the writing and the relationship between the sisters, and I enjoyed reading this, I can't recommend it in good conscience. Perhaps other books by the authors are better.

The Thing About the Truth by Lauren Barnholdt

Published: July 10th, 2012 by Simon Pulse
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 285 plus excerpts and stuff I don't care about.
Part of a series? Dear God I hope not.
Got via: The library, thank goodness.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Kelsey’s not going to let one mistake ruin her life. Sure, she got kicked out of prep school and all her old friends are shutting her out. But Kelsey’s focused on her future, and she’s determined to get back on track at Concordia High.

Isaac’s been kicked out of more schools than he can count. Since his father’s a state senator, Isaac’s life is under constant scrutitny—but Concordia High’s his last stop before boarding school, so Isaac’s hoping to fly under the radar and try to stay put for a change.

When Kelsey and Isaac meet, it’s anything but love at first sight. She thinks he’s an entitled brat, and he thinks she’s a stuck-up snob. So it surprises them both when they start to fall for each other. Kelsey’s happy for the first time in months, and Isaac’s never felt this way about anyone before. But nothing’s ever completely perfect. Everyone has secrets, and Isaac and Kelsey are no exceptions. These two may have fallen hard, but there’s one thing that can ruin it all: the truth.

Thoughts: I'm going to ruin this book. If you have issues with that, just skip to the next one. There will be spoilers.

Because honestly I hated this book. The only reason I kept reading it was because it cost me overdue fees and by that point I was angry at it. The entire premise of the "giant lie"was that Kelsey lied about being a virgin. That's it. Previously in the book, we'd gotten the amazing line of "a kiss is like a promise" which, no. A kiss is a kiss. It is not a promise of anything. Nice rape culture, though. Thinking about having sex with someone is not an obligation to tell them how many partners you'd had in the past. Everything about sex in this book is so messed up.

I just - I don't even understand the big disaster that is the whole thing the book is revolving around. Isaac punched her ex at the school thing they organized, and... stuff? I don't know. It's not explained well. It isn't wrapped up. Everything is left open and unexplained and it would be more frustrating if I cared. I still don't know what a Face It Down Day is. Two schools got together in the gym of one and... talked? I don't get it. And you want me to buy a senator's son got possibly-expelled from public school for punching someone?

There's more I don't even care enough to go into. Nothing that makes the plot make sense, but more complaints.

And I really, really didn't care about anyone in the book. I didn't like any of the characters in this book. They're all terrible people, and I don't know why I should like them. The two main leads spend half the time being really mean to each other, and not in like the banter "I hate you, I hate you more, whoops now we're making out" way, but in a, they were supposed to be together already, and they were just being cruel to each other, way. How am I supposed to root for people who, when they have relationship problems, become petty and cruel to each other? They've only been together a month! If this is how they act after a month, what's a year going to be like for them?

This entire book is pretty much based on stereotypes. Sexist stereotypes seem to be a big one, where boys think only of boobs and cars and all girls are "crazy" and bad drivers. There's literally one character who isn't white and she's a sexist, racist stereotype. Having one Latina character be your only non-white character, and that character's entire personality is boobs, "slut", and "crazy"? That is so not okay. Feminism is treated as joke, like a trend that's more funny that serious. There is so much girl hate and slut shaming. Oh, and the jokes about how sexy for the dudes it would be if two of the girl characters made out.

Also, frankly. If one of your characters gets so drunk that they can barely remember the night before, and someone kisses them and they don't feel like they're capable of stopping that person, I don't care if that character is male. That does not read like cheating to me. It reads like sexual assult. And I don't find the idea of a guy being scary when he's angry sexy, Kelsey. You should probably talk to someone that you do, because that's not a good sign. And joking about it being a red flag doesn't make it better. I'm actually worried for you.

I'm sorry, I try to be well-rounded in my reviews and point out the good and the bad, but I'm just sitting here angry that I wasted money on overdue fees for this. There is so much stuff left hanging, like every single subplot, and I just... hated this book constantly while reading it. It's unpleasant to read about these characters. There's maybe one character in this book who isn't awful.

A Plague of Unicorns by Jane Yolen

Published: December 23rd, 2014 by Zonderkidz
Genre: MG Fantasy
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 186 pages
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Young James, the duke's son, asks too many questions. At least that's what everyone at Callendar Castle thinks after all but the last of James’ tutors quits and his uncle ships him off to be educated at Cranford Abbey. Unfortunately, the once-beautiful abbey has problems of its own, including cracked walls, a leaking roof, and shattered windows. Not to mention the pesky herd of unicorns that continue to enter the abby's orchards and claim them as their own.

The only hope to save the abbey is money raised by Abbot Aelian's golden apple cider. But that means getting rid of the orchard's unwelcome visitors. And, as everyone knows, unicorns have very sharp horns. Monks do not.

James has an idea that could help defeat these hungry beasts, but first he must find someone to listen to him. For once, he might be the only one asking the right questions. And the only one who knows the perfect hero for the job.

Thoughts: This is a fairly new book, but it feels old-fashioned. And that's not necessarily entirely bad. I think this is ultimately a middle of the road MG fantasy book. It doesn't do much new, but it's enjoyable and sweet. I think having a boy main character in a book about unicorns is a little different, and James is a sweet character. Jane Yolen's writing is always enjoyable, and the sneaky humour she uses is great for adult readers, and this is no exception. All in all, this one is decent. I don't think it's exceptional, but I enjoyed it. More girls would have been nice, along with, you know, not white and not straight people, but not a bad book.

Also, hey, side thought - do you guys remember a few years ago when Zombies vs. Unicorns was a thing? Like not the actual book itself, but the concept as a whole?

I think zombies won.

Confetti Girl by Diana López

Published: June 1st, 2009 by Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 194 plus a glossary.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: I bought it from amazon.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Apolonia "Lina" Flores is a sock enthusiast, a volleyball player, a science lover, and a girl who's just looking for answers. Even though her house is crammed full of books (her dad's a bibliophile), she's having trouble figuring out some very big questions, like why her dad seems to care about books more than her, why her best friend's divorced mom is obsessed with making cascarones (hollowed eggshells filled with colorful confetti), and, most of all, why her mom died last year. Like colors in cascarones, Lina's life is a rainbow of people, interests, and unexpected changes.

Thoughts: For the first forty-seven pages, I was enjoying this book quite a bit. And then on page forty-eight, the book dropped the r-word out of nowhere.

From Lina, our protagonist. And it's never addressed by any of the characters or the narrative. It's seriously just apparently no big deal. Honestly the book seems to act like it's a bigger deal that the kid she calls that called her a whooping crane. Book, this is not okay. This was published in 2009, so there's no excuse that it was the 70s or anything. This book is middle grade, probably aimed at nine to twelve year olds. I'm not okay with a book for that age range having the protagonist drop ableist slurs and it never being addressed!

I had really high hopes for this, and I'm just disappointed. I loved how diverse this is. The parts where the book is exploring Lina's family and talking about their traditions and everything are probably the strongest parts of the book. But the voice is somewhat lacking to me, sounding not entirely authentic for a twelve year old girl, and the characters are a little underdeveloped. Honestly, it sometimes felt like the characters had two traits and that was the extant of their personalities. The conflicts also tend to be resolved too easily, and it takes away the tension.

I'm super bummed about this, honestly. Love the concept and certain elements of it, but I wish the book was a little better executed. That wouldn't stop me from recommending it to others, but the ableist slur does, unfortunately. That makes me not comfortable recommending it, and I'm honestly not even sure I'm okay keeping it. If I reread it, I think I would be wincing waiting for page forty-eight to show up, and I don't think I could do it. Sadly, I think I'm going to have to pass this one along.

I will say props to the cover designer because the legs on the cover are actually brown to represent Lina, and it is adorable. I honestly adore this cover, and it is perfect.

Well, this is an incredibly negative post! Here's some pictures of trees because it was a free stock image download and it's pretty.


That's actually pretty close to what it looks like right now. Winter is terrible, but this picture is nice.

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Things I've Read Recently (41)

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. Let's do one of some random old books because why not? I find these posts entertaining to do, and they help me get rid of books.

And this isn't on a Monday even! I'm trying something new.

The Rescue of the Red-Blooded Librarian by Judith Hollands

Published: November 1st, 1989 by Minstrel Books.
Genre: MG Mystery
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 71 pages plus an About the Author and list of other books.
Part of a series? There's like five or six of these things in the Ketchup Sisters series.
Got via: Library reject.
Amazon / Abebooks

Summary (from goodreads): Ten-year-olds Monica and Dee Ellen team up as detectives and before long are pledging their friendship in ketchup (rather than blood). When a famous necklace is stolen from the local museum, they have their first case--an investigation of hilarious proportions.

Thoughts: Well, this is a bad start. This one doesn't really fit with the others, really, but I didn't really feel like going through my bookshelves to find something that fit better. This is, you know, fine for its time and what it is. It's become a little dated. Special shout out to the blue eyeshadow and "Dip 'n Set" styling gel.

There's nothing wrong with it, but it's aimed at a very young audience and very basic. I don't think it's something the kids I baby-sit would want to read, so I'm just going to pass it on.

Loretta P. Sweeny, Where Are You? by Patricia Reilly Giff

Published: In 1983 by Dell Yearling, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing.
Genre: MG Mystery
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 127
Part of a series? Yeah, there's at least one book before this.
Got via: Library withdrawal.
Amazon / Abebooks

Summary (from goodreads): Junior sleuth Abby Jones can't believe her good luck when she stumbles onto a hot clue that could lead to the perfect crime. Together with her pal Potsie, she begins a search for someone named Cindy, who's in danger of falling victim to the mysterious Loretta P. Sweeny on the Fourth of July.

Though the tricky trail finds them under the boardwalk, tripping over a mummy, and hiding in a deserted theatre - there's still no trace of Cindy. Will Loretta P. Sweeny beat Abby to a bang-up ending?

Thoughts: This was pretty cute. I love middle grade mystery books and the beach setting during the summer is neat. I really want it to be summer already. There's some dated language that has become offensive, but only in one instance. I got rid of like four other Giff books when I was weeding my collectio so I think I'll keep this one for now. I have a soft spot for mysteries, this one was fun to read, and I really liked that the mystery was actually something a kid could solve.

I probably wouldn't give it to a kid I didn't get to keep and explain why some things aren't okay to say anymore, but it was a cute read, mostly. (It was also really hard to find a picture of this cover.)

And Then There Were Five by Elizabeth Enright

Published: It was first published in 1944, but this edition is from Dell Yearling in 1987. The most recent reprinting seems to be in 2008, and a kindle version was released at the same time.
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 241
Part of a series? Yeah, this is the third out of four books.
Got via: Library reject.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Come meet the four Melendy kids - Mona, Rush, Randy and Oliver! With Father in Washington and Cuffy, their housekeeper, away visiting a sick cousin, almost anythin might happen to the Melendy kids left behind at the Four-Story Mistake.

In the Melendy family, adventures are inevitable: Mr. Titus and the catfish; Rush's composition of Opus 3; Mona's first rhubarb pie; Randy's arrowhead; and the auction! But best of all is the friendship with Mark Herron, which begins with a scrap-drive and comes to a grand climax on Oliver's birthday.

Thoughts: Well, my teeth hurt now from reading this. Okay, no, that's kind of mean. This is very sweet. Excessively, almost painfully, sweet, even. Everything is extremely happy, even with a war going on. The kids are very, very brave and do their part collecting scrap metal and every one of them has a special talent or interest and their house is oh so perfect and I kind of want the Addams family to move in next to them and torture them. Just a little.

They're too perfect. Frankly the book borders on saccharine. This is the kind of book I could see being the thing people remember reading as a kid that made them hate reading childrens' literature. It's just too perfect. They never make mistakes! Ever! Besides the youngest falling down a well, nothing bad ever happens in the book, and there's not even any consequences of that. They don't even get yelled at. Everything they do goes perfectly to plan, and nothing ever goes wrong.

It's not especially interesting and it's casually racist, sexist, fatphobic and very, very dated. Like it's not even the lack of technology or carriages thing dating it. It's the attitudes, the writing, the lack of anything happening. It was dated in 1987, basically. It's hilarious to see the contrast between the cover and the original 1944 illustrations because they're totally different. If you've got a nostalgia thing for this one going on, I won't judge (much) but for me it came off as a dull book about very privileged, impossibly perfect children. This one does not get to keep its spot on my shelf, and I would not recommend purchasing the reprint or the kindle version.

A Fabulous Creature by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Published: Originally published in 1981, this edition was released in 1988 by Dell Yearling. A kindle version was released in 2014! And it's only 5 bucks. That's not bad.
Genre: Contemporary YA.
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 240
Part of a series? No, standalone.
Got via: Library withdrawal.
Amazon / Abebooks if you need a physical copy

Summary (from goodreads): James Fielding is ready to dive into his plan for the summer - the Don Juan Project, guaranteed to transform him into a successful ladies' man. But his parents have decided to spend the summer at an isolated resort in the Sierra Nevadas, and James is pretty sure he won't even catch a glimpse of a girl.

But to his surprise, he meets two girls: the pretty and ruthless Diane Jarrett, and Griffin Donahue, a free spirit more at home in the forest than the real world. The summer holds even more wonder when James discovers a magnificent stag in a hidden valley. But will sharing this fabulous secret destroy something he has come to cherish?

Thoughts: What a surprise! Although perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised. The Velvet Room was one of my favourite books as a kid, and I enjoyed several other of Snyder's books as a kid. (I also thought she had the coolest name as a kid, and still do.) This has aged quite well, too. The lack of texting and internet and such does date it slightly, along with the occasional reference to celebrities of the time, but it's never in a distracting way. Honestly, I've read modern YA set in the 80s or 90s that does more reference dropping and frankly that's not a trend I'm a big fan of. (Don't get me ranting on that.)

There is some casual racism from one character, but it's actually only like one occurance and that character isn't meant to be wholy sympathetic - I think you're meant to feel uncomfortable, not like how it was just accepted in, say, that last book up there. There's also one use of the R-word that startled me, but it isn't really used as a slur, and at the time the book was written, it's used in the way the word was used before it became a slur. Today I'd think it was highly innappropriate, as it was in a recently published MG I read where it was used as an insult. In this context, it's more like when you watch the Great British Bake Off and they use it talking about yeast. Startling, but not meant offensively. Would I prefer it edited out? Yeah. But not enough to turn me off the book.

And I think since the book is aimed at an older audience, you could use it as a way to talk about what's acceptable changing, and have a very interesting conversation.

James is also a really interesting chracter and fifteen year old white boys usually aren't so much, lol. It's actually endearing how bad he is with girls. He never comes across as creepy or leering, just inexperienced and a little gobsmacked by pretty girls. The book talks about his sexuality and even his sex drive some in a very frank way without getting gross or over the top about it. I've read books where I thought even teen boys would be uncomfortable about the portrayal, and this avoids that. James gets to be a character with depth who has many interesting and facets and sexual feelings, not just a walking erection.

And for a relatively quiet book plot-wise, it really is interesting. The language and prose are wonderful and I think a lot of the attitudes are surprisingly modern, like the conversation about hunting. It's pretty darn white (although really, in the context of a rich people resort thing, that does kind of make sense - see country clubs) and pretty much straight. However, there is a mention of gay people actually existing and while not the best context (James thinking another guy must either be gay or a girl's brother because he's not looking at her while she's sweaty), for 1981 it's at least something. Between that and how the book talks about sex, I'm kind of impressed. A little bit of envelope pushing never hurts, and there were definitely nudges here.

Honestly I'm okay recommending this one. Keep in mind the 1981 context, yeah, but it's a very interesting read and I think it could stand well among modern books. And you could have such interesting conversations with, like, students about how things have changed or stayed the same in the 35 years since it was first published. I'm keeping this one for sure, and I'm glad it got a reprint.

So that was interesting! One book I'm definitely keeping, two I'm getting rid of, and one maybe. I also looked up Zilpha Keatley Snyder and she was pretty epic. She had something like 44 books published in her life, including ones coming out when she was in her 80s. You rocked, Ms. Snyder. We miss you.

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, March 6, 2017

YA Review: Shadowshaper

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Published: June 30th, 2015 by Arthur A. Levine Books
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 297 plus acknowledgements
Part of a series? This is book one of what looks to be a trilogy, and there's a novella. The kindle copy of that is only $1.50 and... ooh, I might get that. It sounds good.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra's near-comatose abuelo begins to say "Lo siento" over and over. And when the graffiti murals in her neighbourhood start to weep.... Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on.

Sierra soon discovers a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. Her grandfather once shared the order's secrets with an anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, who turned the Caribbean magic to his own foul ends. Now Wick wants to become the ultimate Shadowshaper by killing all the others, one by one. With the help of her friends and the hot graffiti artist Robbie, Sierra must dodge Wick's supernatural creations, harness her own Shadowshaping abilities, and save her family's past, present, and future.

Review: Yeah, this was pretty good. It's very solid, and I'm really looking forward reading more of the series. This is going to be such a boring review, ha, because I really don't have any major complaints. I pretty much just enjoyed this. The fantasy elements and the mythology are really interesting and unique, and generally, it was a good book. Not too much more to it than that, but I'll give it my best shot.

Plot Talk: This is actually where one of my only complaints go, and it's small. At times, the plot could be ever so slightly repetitive, and a tiny bit slow. Sierra spends a chunk of the book not knowing what's going on and demanding answers from Robbie. Unfortunately, the book does repeat basically the same conversation between them a couple times and it just isn't my favourite part. I really enjoyed the parts where Sierra was doing research and being proactive, and basically if one of those conversations had been replaced with more of that, I wouldn't be complaining. Not a huge deal. Otherwise the summary pretty much... summarizes, and I'm not in the mood to do it for a library book :P

Characters: The cast of characters is pretty awesome. Sierra is great, and I love how complicated and messy and beautiful she is. She's got a lot of confidence, but struggles with self-doubt enough that she never becomes annoying. We get to see her vulnerabilities without tearing her down. She's wonderfully powerful, and her power is linked to other women in a way that feels really, really good to read. And, of course, she's Puerto Rican, and that's wonderful.

The rep in general is pretty great in this. I could be off a little, but I think the only significant character who's white is actually the antagonist. There are significant queer characters, which always makes me happy. The only things I think it lacks a little in is fat representation, and disability representation. The book does so well otherwise that those things stand out as missing. Not dealbreaker, but, hey, two more books coming out. Something to keep in mind. ;)

The romance in this is also really cute (and my headcanon that Sierra is demisexual/romantic is totally happening now), and I love how important her relationships with her family and friends are to the plot. It's nice to see a book where the main character doesn't hide the new things in her life from everyone in her life except the boy, and how supportive they are, even when it's something that's really hard to believe.

PG-13 stuff: A little violence, a little kissing, nothing that really stands out to me. Younger readers who are starting to read YA would probably be just fine with this, as long as they could handle the creepy dead body things.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: Eh, I think I covered everything. More fat charactes would be nice, and a couple scenes were a little repetitive. I'm not one hundred percent sure the voice always rings true to the character. And, to be fair, this could be because it was in third person and I always seem to struggle a little more connecting with third person. Last, I sometimes felt perhaps the prose could be a little smoother, maybe relying on a little too much telling about character traits and pasts instead of showing characterization.

This is more the kind of thing I generally think will improve as an author's career goes on, and not something I think is fundamentally wrong with the author's writing. I think this is going to be similar to Entangled, where I liked the first book's writing but thought it would improve in the second, and I was right with that one.

Cover comments: This is an amazing cover. Sierra is incredibly beautiful, and I love how the cover incorporates the mural style of art that's so important to the book, and to Sierra. It's so awesome. Big kudos on it.

Conclusion: Good book. It was really fun reading about Brooklyn and where Sierra lives, which I don't think I personally read about all that often. I really, really love the moments where Sierra goes to a college campus to do research and her little moments of wonder about all the things you can study and learn about. It's such a sweet moment. The romance is very sweet, but isn't what the entire book revolves around. And while I'm really, really not qualified to rate these things, but there are parts that talk about internalized colourism, and gentrification, and a great deal of things I think people will definitely relate to, and I just want to kind of point those out in case they appeal to you. All in all, it's a solid book and it gets a solid four roses.



Other notes:

- Oh, I couldn't fit this, but I've seen it mentioned that it's good when books don't italicize words of languages that aren't English because it's not as othering. This book keeps the font the same for both languages. I think it's neat, personally, in an aesthetic way. I should find a link for this, though... how about this and this? Hey Shadowshaper is mentioned in that second one! Cool. So, yeah, this probably goes better here anyways since I mostly just want to mention how that happens, not make a judgment calls.

- I had such a Canadian moment trying to figure out what "icey" meant. I even asked on Twitter, and it was so funny seeing what the different guesses from different places were. For the record, context clues make me pretty sure it was a freezie(/freezerpop/otterpop/not a Popsicle). Regional variations in names for things is so fun.

I think that's it!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Reading Challenges Check In: February

This month was a mess! My computer broke for good this time and I had to buy a new one, and that took like three weeks so I was gone most of February, and I read a ton so I have like eight posts to write, and man! Busy month!

But things are okay now, and I have book updates!

The 2017 Diverse Reads Book Challenge mini-challenge theme for February was a POC, biracial, or multiracial main character or lead. I chose:

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.

The part where I talk: I really enjoyed this one. It goes some really awesome places, and it was so good. Review to come eventually. Not entirely sure when because scheduling is confusing!

And now for my bingo books.

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.

The part where I talk: It's an ace book!!!! I'm going to ramble about this one at length probably pretty quick here. Basic thoughts here are that I really enjoyed it, too, and it was so nice to read a book with an ace main character. I've never done that before.

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.

The part where I talk: Again, review to come of this, but it was good, too! And it was really interesting reading a novel in verse, something I don't do very often.

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? Nope.
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?

The part where I talk: This one, I didn't love. It had some issues, and I'll get into it in an upcoming blog post, but I don't recommend it.

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? Nope.
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?

Thoughts: I really, really liked this one. It was so good, and I will be posting a review of it soon. Seriously, this is one of my favourites of the year so far.

Oh, and my bingo card!


I need to get my butt into gear and read more, obviously! And I need to order more books. But not a bad month, all disasters considering. How'd you guys do this month?

Peace and cookies,
Laina