Monday, December 11, 2017

MG Review: Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee

This is a very unplanned review, but I have a ton of notes, so, let's give it a shot.

Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee

Published: March 14th, 2017 by Aladdin
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 277 plus some extras.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Mattie, a star student and passionate reader, is delighted when her English teacher announces the eighth grade will be staging Romeo and Juliet. And she is even more excited when, after a series of events, she finds herself playing Romeo, opposite Gemma Braithwaite’s Juliet. Gemma, the new girl at school, is brilliant, pretty, outgoing—and, if all that wasn’t enough: British.

As the cast prepares for opening night, Mattie finds herself growing increasingly attracted to Gemma and confused, since, just days before, she had found herself crushing on a boy named Elijah. Is it possible to have a crush on both boys AND girls? If that wasn’t enough to deal with, things backstage at the production are starting to rival any Shakespearean drama! In this sweet and funny look at the complicated nature of middle school romance, Mattie learns how to be the lead player in her own life.

Review: I really, really liked this. It's super duper adorable, and I spent most of it just thinking about how sweet and cute it was. I think a ton of people are gonna love this. I haven't read a theatre themed book in ages, and I forgot how fun they are. If you're into theatre, you're gonna like this. And the Shakespeare references and jokes and all that are really fun, and if you're a Shakespeare fan, you're gonna like this. If you like MG, you're probably gonna like this. If you read this, you're probably just gonna like it.

One of my favourite things about this is that the characters are in eighth grade, so they're not super young where you're kind of wishing they wouldn't be so obsessed with romance, but I think the voice is approachable for younger audiences, too. Honestly, I think kids in third or fourth grade could read this on their own just fine, and younger kids could have this read to them by a parent or other grown-up, and they'd all enjoy it. Younger kids might not know Romeo and Juliet very well, but the book does very well at explaining it early on in a really natural way as it's explained to the characters.

Plot Talk: The summary's got this one. Play, crush, drama, etc. It is a nice simple plot - there's not extra drama with her family or anything, which I honestly find refreshing. It's really nice that it's just a normal story about a play and Mattie having a crush, and doesn't have to be super dramatic or dark or anything. And honestly I feel like that's awesome. It really, really works well.

Characters: Mattie is the more adorable baby queer ever. She's experiencing her first crush on a girl and trying to figure out what that means and what she wants to do next. Mattie is awesome, and really a wonderfully awkward preteen. She reads like such an average kid her age. I love that she crochets to de-stress. That is adorable. And I really liked that she's kind of the middle child, with an older sister and two younger brothers, and has different relationship dynamics with both.

Speaking of, the older characters and adults in this are great, especially Mattie's sister, who is wonderfully supportive, and her teacher. Her teacher especially I really appreciated. He's a really good role model, but very firm about keeping appropriate boundaries between him and his students, and after a recent book I read where things got weird, I was so down for that.

PG-13 stuff: This would be just fine for younger kids and older ones. No cursing or anything. There is some discussion about things like gay being used as an insult, and Mattie reacting to that, and that could be a little upsetting for kids to read, but I think the narrative counteracts it well with characters calling it out.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: The only thing I really have a complaint about is that the word bisexual is never used. Now, I don't think Mattie, at twelve, needs to have completely figured out her identity. But I do wish that the word had been used so that kids who are encountering this idea for the first time know what it's called. And since at times the word gay is used, I wish bisexual had been as well. It is a little heavily white, and I would have liked more fat characters and disabled characters, a little more diversity along those lines, and I think it would have been amazing if Mattie had had an older queer person to look up to.

That's really about it. Spoiler, but I think some people might not love that the girls aren't "officially" a couple... but they're twelve. It's pretty standard for romance in middle grade, I think. Because, again, they're twelve. Don't put so much pressure on children, guys.

Cover comments: How adorable is this cover? It's just perfect. I love that both girls are on it, and it's not hiding them, and I think it's so perfect for its genre. It's totally adorable.

Conclusion: I really liked this. Ah, I should find some ownvoices reviews. Okay, here's one, aaaand it's been like two weeks since I wrote this and I don't want to look for more, lol. Leave me links, and I'll add them.

I also think before I go I'm going to mention a couple of interesting links I think you should read. First, the author talking about how some of this is based on her personal experiences as a teen, and wanting to write the book for her daughter. Next, I'm going to link kind of a random post, an article by Norma Fox Mazer published in 1997. The reason I'm doing this is because it's almost exactly the same situation that happened with the author and Star-Crossed. Twenty years later. I think that's worth reading even if you don't want to read the book. (Also, funnily enough, I've reviewed one of the books mentioned in the Norma Fox Mazer article. It holds up pretty well.)

Overall, I think this is a really sweet book. I don't think it's perfect, but it's really good and fun. I hope this is the start of many more books in the same vein that get better and better with each book. Four out of five roses.



Other notes:

I don't know where my review notebook that I took the notes for this is. So, that's it!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Friday, December 8, 2017

Reading Challenges Check-In: November

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

Nothing!

I had ordered a book from the library, and I started reading it and I... didn't like it. I got a couple chapters into it, and the voice wasn't working for me at all. I went and read some goodreads reviews and nothing about them really made me want to read it. Since it was pretty late already, it was too late to order anything else, and I was tired and didn't really care that much. Oh well!

I did read a Bingo book, though.

Little and Lion by Brandy Colbert

Published: August 8th, 2017
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 327 plus acknowlegements
Part of a series? Not so far as I know
Got via: The library
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn't sure if she'll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new...the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel's disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself--or worse.

The part where I talk: Review to come on this, obviously, but I really liked it.

And my bingo card:


Six books to go, so I'm hopeful about finishing well!

Although the lateness of this post isn't a great sign...

How's your progress on your 2017 goals going?

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, December 4, 2017

Things I've Read Recently (62): Christmas

If you're new around here, Things I've Read Recently is a series of posts I do that are basically mini-reviews of books that I either forgot to review, didn't have enough to say for a full review, or just didn't want to do a full post about for whatever reason. I'm totally starting this post in January 2016! And finishing it in June 2017!

I actually started this because I read the first book before giving it to a kid, and it felt odd putting it in a book with other non-Christmas books. If you're not a Christmas person, you can just skip this post. Life is weird,though. I didn't have time to read any Christmas books last December, and I can't see next December being any less hectic, so. Let's see how scheduling a blog post for six months in the future goes!

When Santa Fell to Earth by Cornelia Funke

Published: Originally published in 1994 in German, it was translated into English in 2006.
Genre: MG Fantasy
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 167
Part of a series? Nope, standalone
Got via: The Library.
AmazonIndiebound

Summary (from goodreads): What would happen if Santa fell to Earth? Christmas through the eyes of Cornelia Funke: quirky, funny, ultimately heartwarming, and packaged in a collectible format. A new holiday classic!

Scared by a storm, Twinklestar, the least reliable reindeer, bolts--causing Santa and his sleigh to crash-land. And though Santa has dropped into a friendly neighborhood, he's not safe: Jeremiah Goblynch, the ruthless new leader of the Council of Yuleland, is determind to put an end to children's wishes and turn the holiday season into his own personal moneymaking scheme. As the last REAL St. Nick around, only Santa stands between Goblynch and his grinchlike plan. With the help and hope of kids Charlotte and Ben, Santa must face Goblynch and his Nutcracker goons to save Christmas!

Thoughts: I'm kind of sitting here puzzled by this one. On one hand, I really enjoyed how original it was, and the concept was definitely something I had never seen before. On the other, there are just thing that did not work for me.

The idea of there being multiple Santas out there is an idea I think is pretty awesome. The specific mythos, I have never come across before. Having a young Santa here is also something that you don't see constantly, and it works very well. There's something wonderful about a young Santa who is enthusiastic, jolly, and just a little inexperienced and uncertain. The illustrations are beautiful and really help the story feel just that more magical.

However, not all of it works for me like that. Sometimes it drags a little, but somehow the ending felt rushed. I also think this is a hard one to recommend - it's a bit short for a lot of older kids, but younger or more sensitive readers may not be ready for this kind of different Santa story, and some of the imagery might be too violent. There was also some casual racism in describing Niklas' caravan using the g-slur. The book was written in 1994, but with a 2006 translation, that isn't cool.

In the end, I still liked this one, and thought it was an interesting Christmas story, it won't become a Christmas classic for me, and I will only recommend it with warnings to preread before giving this to a child. I don't think it's very memorable and it is not my favourite of Cornelia Funke's books.

Kringle by Tony Abbott

Published: October 1st, 2005 by Scholastic Press
Genre: MG Fantasy
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 317 plus acknowledgements.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Deep in the land of ghosts and frost, back in the days of long ago, when elves and goblins still roamed the earth, there was a boy named Kringle. He lived a quest, solitary existence... until his twelfth winter, when goblins attacked his home and cast the boy out into the wilderness.

Now Kringle finds himself adrift in a strange and frightening world. But fate soon intervenes. Through encounters with elves, pirates, the ancient magic of time, and the dark threat of goblins massing for an epic battle, Kringle begins to realize that he has a destiny to fill - and that even a lone boy can wield the power to change the world forever.

Thoughts: I think my favourite part of this was the cool pictures, and the gold edging on the pages. I don't know. This was just kind of weird. I mean, this really has very little to actually do with Christmas besides the main character being named Kringle. It doesn't even really mention it until like the last 80 pages or something, and most of the time it's just called "Long Night". The book certainly didn't put me in the Christmas spirit. (I realize part of that might be because it's June, but I'm also really wanting to watch Krampus again so... probably it was the book.)

Also, as someone who celebrates Christmas but isn't religious... this book leans heavily on Christianity. There is a whole lot of Jesus talk, the main character gets converted to Christianity along with all the elves, and I got so sick of the words "the child" because they would not stop talking about it. And the back of the book didn't mention how religious this would get.

This was just... kinda dark and strange, and really not my thing. And Kringle is way too perfect. I actually laughed when the book said, literally, that he was the chosen one. He never is selfish or makes mistake or anything. He's just always perfect. This was just very meh for me, and I can't see myself recommending it. The illustrations were, though, neat.

A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig

Published: November 12th, 2015 by Canongate
Genre: Fantasy MG
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 266 plus the acknowledgements
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): You are about to read the true story of Father Christmas.

It is a story that proves that nothing is impossible.
If you are one of those people who believe that some things are impossible, you should put this book down right away. It is most certainly not for you.

Because this book is FULL of impossible things.

Are you still reading?

Good.

Then let us begin . . .

A Boy Called Christmas is a tale of adventure, snow, kidnapping, elves, more snow, and an eleven-year-old boy called Nikolas, who isn't afraid to believe in magic.

Thoughts: Okay, this was more like what I was hoping Kringle to be. The idea behind them both is basically the same thing, but this is way less dark and felt much more... Christmas-y, for lack of a better word. Also, there's no religion talk in this at all. It's all about elves and magic and all that stuff.

There are a couple of darker moments (like a troll's head exploding and another character who dies) and some toilet humour which isn't my favourite, but to each their own with humour. It's a very British sort of humour, I think, as are the illustrations. I looked at them before I started reading and went, "I bet this is a British illustrator." And I was right! They just have a slightly different tone, or something. But they're really cool, a little darker and less cute than you'd expect, and that's interesting.

I really liked that Nikolas wasn't the most perfect kid ever. He struggled and gave up at times, and I really liked him. The voice is really lively, it's fun to read, and I enjoyed this one a lot. This one is probably my favourite of the lot so far.

On to the next!

Young Scrooge: A Very Scary Christmas Story by R. L. Stine

Published: September 13th, 2016 by Feiwel and Friends
Genre: MG Fantasy
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 185 plus a "people who worked on this book" page.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Rick Scroogeman hates Christmas. He can't stand the carols and the pageants. He can't stand the lights and the mistletoe. But what he hates the most is having to watch the old movie A Christmas Carol every year at school. Since his name is Scroogeman, all of his classmates start calling him Scrooge. And he hates being called Scrooge.

But everything starts to change when three ghosts visit him. At first, he thinks it's a dream. But then he realizes that it might be a nightmare. A nightmare that could become real.

Thoughts: This is basically a Goosebumps Christmas book. Read any Goosebumps books lately? I have. This is pretty much that. The writing is basically the same, it has the same cliffhangers on every single chapter, the same kind of ending, the same level of "this is not really scary". And I would not go so far as to say this is a good book.

But it's a whole lot of fun. It's a fun riff on a Christmas Carol and I think selective readers might be drawn towards it the way they are to Goosebumps books. Also, I could see this being a lot of fun to read actually at Christmas, especially if you're feeling a little sick of everything being cheerful and nice and a little too jolly.

Like I said, not amazing, but it was pretty much exactly what I expected it to be - Christmas Goosebumps. Not the best thing I've ever read, but it was indeed fun.

And I think that's it! How do you guys feel about this post?

Peace and sugar cookies,
Laina

Monday, November 20, 2017

Things I've Read Recently (61)

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.

Welcome to Bordertown edited by Holly Black

Published: May 24th, 2011 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Genre: YA Fantasy Anthology
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 516 plus acknowledgements and about the authors.
Part of a series? This is apparently number 5 in the Bordertown series. I'm just gonna link the Wikipedia page because I am not an expert here.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Bordertown: a city on the border between our human world and the elfin realm. Runaway teens come from both sides of the border to find adventure, to find themselves. Elves play in rock bands and race down the street on spell-powered motorbikes. Human kids recreate themselves in the squats and clubs and artists' studios of Soho. Terri Windling's original Bordertown series was the forerunner of today's urban fantasy, introducing authors that included Charles de Lint, Will Shetterly, Emma Bull, and Ellen Kushner.

In this volume of all-new work (including a 15-page graphic story), the original writers are now joined by the generation that grew up dreaming of Bordertown, including acclaimed authors Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, Cory Doctorow, Neil Gaiman, Catherynne M. Valente, and many more. They all meet here on the streets of Bordertown in more than twenty new interconnected songs, poems, and stories.

Thoughts: This was actually a really random read for me. I was searching for another book on my library's website and this popped up, and looked interesting, so I went, "Okay," and ordered it. And I'm glad I did! It was certainly interesting. I haven't read an anthology in a really long time and I'd kind of like to read more.

As someone who didn't know very much about the premise or setting of the whole Bordertown world, the book did a fairly good job explaining it both in the foreword by the authors, and within the world and the various stories. I liked how queer a lot of the stories were and overall this is a kind of mythology is really in my wheelhouse. I didn't love all of the stories, and some of them did things that bugged me, but that's an anthology for you, and for the most part I enjoyed it.

Something different and interesting for sure.

Shallow Graves by Kali Wallace

Published: January 26th, 2016 by Katherine Tegan Books. The paperback came Septeber 5th, 2017.
Genre: YA Paranormal
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 358 plus acknowledgements and such.
Part of a series? I WISH.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Breezy remembers leaving the party: the warm, wet grass under her feet, her cheek still stinging from a slap to her face. But when she wakes up, scared and pulling dirt from her mouth, a year has passed and she can’t explain how.

Nor can she explain the man lying at her grave, dead from her touch, or why her heartbeat comes and goes. She doesn’t remember who killed her or why. All she knows is that she’s somehow conscious—and not only that, she’s able to sense who around her is hiding a murderous past.

Haunted by happy memories from her life, Breezy sets out to find answers in the gritty, threatening world to which she now belongs—where killers hide in plain sight, and a sinister cult is hunting for strange creatures like her. What she discovers is at once empowering, redemptive, and dangerous.

Review: Holy balls this was good. This might be one of my favourite books this year. This was so good. I would reread this. I want this for my birthday because I really want to own this. The opening is incredibly engaging and the voice immediately sucked me in. This is the kind of book I want the books I write to be like. This is like somebody thought, "What would a book Laina would love be?" and then did this.

It's just so good, guys. Breezy is awesome. I just love queer monster girls so much. I had this whole thing on Twitter that was more profound, but it's something I enjoy so much. I liked that there wasn't really a romance

This would be an amazing read for Halloween. This post is probably going to go up long past Halloween, but you know. If you're making a blog post or something. And it's good no matter what time of year it is.

Damage Per Second by G. Willow Wilson

Published: August 1st, 2017 by Marvel Comics
Genre: YA Comic
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: Goodreads says 136
Part of a series? This is volume 7 of Ms. Marvel, and has issues 13 to 18 in it. Volume 8 doesn't come out until December (it's September) and I'm totally pouting about that already. Waiting is harrrrd.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Civil War II is behind her, and a brand new chapter for Kamala Khan is about to begin! But it's lonely out there for a super hero when her loved ones no longer have her back. It's time for Kamala to find out exactly who she is when she is on her own. Plus: it's election time! Kamala gets out the vote!

Thoughts: I honestly think this is one of the most emotionally complex comic series I've ever read. And granted I don't read that many, but I think that's true anyways. Kamala's going through some hard stuff in this, and she feels incredibly lonely, and yet she still reaches out to help people without hesitation.

This is kind of a quiet arc, and it does feel a bit like it's setting up for other things, but after everything that happened, it's not bad to have some downtime and some time for everyone to rest and heal. I don't think any series, especially with comics or television, can be all action all the time, or it seriously ruins the emotional impact of those things. This is a needed balance, and I think the series handles it very well.

Okay, I want the next one now. I don't wanna be patient anymore XD

Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung

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

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

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

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

Thoughts: I liked the idea of this more than I liked the book. There's a fairly major twist in the book  and the whole premise of that really didn't work for me at all. I got it, but I didn't like it. Beyond that, I did not like the voice of this. It's not even that it's annoying, because that'd be more interesting. No, it's just dull. The whole book is dull, with very little actually happening, and the voice is not strong or unique or interesting enough to carry that nothing happening.

Everyone is straight and thin because of course. Jokes about being queer are not the same thing as having actual queer characters. One thing that I found really confusing was I wasn't exactly sure what time period this was supposed to be taking place in. Only one of her rich classmates is ever mentioned to have a cellphone and I think it's a smartphone, but apparently her school doesn't use computers for homework at all? It's confusing.

Honestly the biggest thing for me is that very little actually happens in the book that feels emotionally impactful. It feels like the book wanted to be important and dramatic, but it wasn't willing to take enough risks to do this. Random, but also, the comparisions to Mean Girls, Gilmore Girls, Fresh of the Boat, and Lord of the Flies are all VERY strange. The book honestly isn't really funny or a comedy at all, so those comparisons are really weird.

Just... I was really meh on this one. Probably other people would like it better, but meh. Didn't work for me. Most of the time I was just bored.

Trigger warnings for abuse, ableism, slutshaming, cissexism, racism, fatshaming.

Okay, I guess that's four!

So that's what I've been reading lately. What have you guys been reading?

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Friday, November 17, 2017

Incredibly Late October Reading Challenges Check In

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

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

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thanks for reading anyways!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, November 6, 2017

Things I've Read Recently (60)

If you're new around here, Things I've Read Recently is a series of posts I do that are basically mini-reviews of books that I either forgot to review, didn't have enough to say for a full review, or just didn't want to do a full post about for whatever reason.

Queer, There, and Everywhere by Sarah Prager

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen, Slowly by Thanhhà Lại

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

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

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

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

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

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What have you guys been reading lately?

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, October 23, 2017

Things I've Read Recently (59)

If you're new around here, Things I've Read Recently is a series of posts I do that are basically mini-reviews of books that I either forgot to review, didn't have enough to say for a full review, or just didn't want to do a full post about for whatever reason.

Want by Cindy Pon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The One Hundred Nights of Hero

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

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

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

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

The Traitor's Tunnel by C. M. Spivey

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and cookies,
Laina