Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Intermission

It's Christmas, so I'm gonna take the day off! If you're not into Christmas, feel free to skip this post. No worries. If you're celebrating something else, have a great holiday, and if you're not celebrating at all, happy monday! Have pizza in your underwear or something. And if you are one of the people who work on this day, thank you very much. I appreciate you, and you make the world go round.

Christmas stock image!


And this adorable image is by Biljana Jovanovic, and I found it on pixabay.

And how about some Christmas music? This is Christmas Time by DJ Quads



It's really cool how many people make amazing images and music that we can use without getting sued. Thank you, creative people of the world.

Stay safe, be kind to people around you, maybe check out the post I did a couple weeks ago about Christmas books, and have a wonderful day.

Peace and gingersnaps,
Laina

Friday, December 22, 2017

2017 Diverse Reads Book Challenge Finale

I thought instead of doing one massive post with my monthly challenge books and my bingo books, I'd split them up and that way I could talk about both challenges individually.

So I'll link to the original post first, and then get into things in more detail.

January 

The theme was "stories based on/ inspired by diverse folktales/culture/mythology" and I read Shadowshaper for that.

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Published: June 30th, 2015 by Arthur A. Levine Books
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
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 "No importa" over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy 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.

The part where I talk: I really liked this, and I reviewed it here. I haven't ordered the sequel yet, and I really should.

February

The theme was a POC/ Biracial/ Multiracial Main Character/Lead and I chose One Crazy Summer.

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
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 loved this book, reviewed it here, and read the whole series! I also reviewed the sequel in this post, and the third book will be reviewed in a post that will go up after this post goes up. Read a lot of books this year. Gonna take a while for all the posts to go up. But I can give you the link, I think.

March 

The theme was disability and I chose Far From You.

Far From You by Tess Sharpe

Published: It was published in spring 2014, but my edition was released August 11, 2015 by Disney Hyperion.
Genre: YA Mystery
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

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

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

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

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

The part where I talk: I think I actually should have actually made this my MC with Chronic Pain bingo square just for my own nitpicking(/other reasons I'll go into in my bingo post post), but I loved the book and reviewed it here.

April

The theme this month was mental health. I chose This Is Not a Test.

This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

Published: June 19th, 2012 by St. Martin's Press
Genre: YA Horror
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): It's the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won't stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn't sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she's failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up.

As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she's forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live. But as the days crawl by, the motivations for survival change in startling ways and soon the group's fate is determined less and less by what's happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life—and death—inside. When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?

The part where I talk: I liked most of this, and then I hated the ending. Talked about that here.

I didn't mention this in the post, but it took me about six years to figure out what the cover model was doing. I thought the model was standing facing to the left side of the cover and I could not figure out how they were doing that with their neck. I still have no clue what they're actually doing or why, but I'm not a model.

May

May's theme was religious diversity, and I chose Gena/Finn.

Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson

Published: May 17th, 2016 by Chronicle Books
Genre: Contemporary YA
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Gena (short for Genevieve) and Finn (short for Stephanie) have little in common. Book-smart Gena is preparing to leave her posh boarding school for college; down-to-earth Finn is a twenty-something struggling to make ends meet in the big city. Gena’s romantic life is a series of reluctant one-night-stands; Finn is making a go of it with long-term boyfriend Charlie.

But they share a passion for Up Below, a buddy cop TV show with a cult fan following. Gena is a darling of the fangirl scene, keeping a popular blog and writing fan fiction. Finn’s online life is a secret, even from Charlie. The pair spark an unlikely online friendship that deepens quickly (so quickly it scares them both), and as their individual “real” lives begin to fall apart, they increasingly seek shelter online, and with each other.

The part where I talk: This was such an interesting book. Reviewed it here. I really want to read more of Hannah's books, and not just because I like her, lol.

June

This month's theme was sexuality and gender identity and the book I read in June was Under Threat.

Under Threat by Robin Stevenson

Published: January 1st, 2016 by Orca Book Publishers
Genre: Contemporary YA
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Franny is close to her parents, adores her horse and is head over heels in love with her girlfriend, Leah. But Franny's parents are abortion providers at the local hospital, and an anonymous stranger is prepared to do whatever it takes to stop them. A stranger who phones at all hours. Who knows where they live. Who knows Franny's name.

When Leah's older brother, Jake, refers to her parents as baby killers, Franny starts to wonder if perhaps the threats aren't coming from a stranger at all. If she tells the police about her suspicions, she could lose her girlfriend. But if she doesn't--and if she's right--she could lose her parents.

The part where I talk: I really liked this! I talked about it here, but I thought this was awesome.

July

July's theme was also sexuality and gender identity, and for this month, I read Tash Hearts Tolstoy.

Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee

Published: June 6th, 2017 by Simon and Schuster
Genre: Contemporary YA
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): After a shout-out from one of the Internet’s superstar vloggers, Natasha “Tash” Zelenka finds herself and her obscure, amateur web series, Unhappy Families, thrust into the limelight: She’s gone viral.

Her show is a modern adaptation of Anna Karenina—written by Tash’s literary love Count Lev Nikolayevich “Leo” Tolstoy. Tash is a fan of the forty thousand new subscribers, their gushing tweets, and flashy Tumblr GIFs. Not so much the pressure to deliver the best web series ever.

And when Unhappy Families is nominated for a Golden Tuba award, Tash’s cyber-flirtation with Thom Causer, a fellow award nominee, suddenly has the potential to become something IRL—if she can figure out how to tell said crush that she’s romantic asexual.

Tash wants to enjoy her newfound fame, but will she lose her friends in her rise to the top? What would Tolstoy do?

The part where I talk: I had lots of feelings about this, and reviewed it here.

August

This month's theme was non-Western setting, and I read Listen, Slowly.

Listen, Slowly by Thanhhà Lại

Published: February 17th, 2015 by HarperCollins
Genre: Contemporary MG
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.

The part where I talk: This was amazing. I really, really liked it, and talked about it here. I think I also bought a book by the author recently but I'm not one hundred percent sure. I have

September

September's theme was quite simply own voices, and I read Lucy and Linh.

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
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.

The part where I talk: I did not like this very much.

October

This month's theme was intersectionality, and I read My Basmati Bat Mitzvah.

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 liked this. The post talking about this one will be at this link a couple weeks after this post goes up.

November

This month's themee was diverse retelling and I did not read a book for that theme this month because it just did not happen. Life!

December

This month's theme was 2017 Releases and I chose the Takedown.

The Takedown by Corrie Wang

Published: April 11th, 2017 by Freeform
Genre: All the goodreads shelves of this are like Mystery and Contemporary but this is set in the future. It's like Science Fiction meets Thriller.
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 369 plus an author's note and acknowledgements and such.
Part of a series? Standalone
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Kyla Cheng doesn’t expect you to like her. For the record, she doesn’t need you to. On track to be valedictorian, she’s president of her community club and a debate team champ, plus the yummy Mackenzie Rodriguez has firmly attached himself to her hip. She and her three high-powered best friends don’t just own their senior year at their exclusive Park Slope, Brooklyn high school, they practically define the hated species Popular. Kyla’s even managed to make it through high school completely unscathed.

Until someone takes issue with this arrangement.

A week before college applications are due, a video of Kyla “doing it” with her crush-worthy English teacher is uploaded to her school’s website. It instantly goes viral, but here’s the thing: it’s not Kyla in the video. With time running out, Kyla delves into a world of hackers, haters and creepy stalkers in an attempt to do the impossible—take something off the internet—all while dealing with the fallout from her own karmic footprint.

The part where I talk: I do not have a post to link to for this book because I have not written it yet. I will try and remember to come back and edit it in, but I haven't read the other books yet so I'm not promising anything.

Okay, I think I'm actually going to end this post here, and then talk about both the challenges in general in my end-of-year post.

See you then!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, December 18, 2017

Things I've Read Recently (63): Sequels... Again

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.

Crooked Kingdom, Among the Sticks and Bones, Double Down, PS Be Eleven. Add links to previous books later.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Published: September 20th, 2016 by Henry Holt and Company
Genre: YA Fantasy
Binding: Giant freaking hardcover
Page Count: 536 pages plus a character list and acknowledgements.
Part of a series? This is the sequel to Six of Crows and the second in the sequel duology to the Grisha trilogy. See my thoughts on Six of Crows here.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn't think they'd survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they're right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope.

As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz's cunning and test the team's fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city's dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.

Thoughts: Sorry, guys, I didn't really like this one. And there's not a catch here of "but I loved it" just... I didn't really like it that much. These books are very meh for me. This one, for instance, took me almost two weeks to read it. I put it down, and I didn't really have any motivation to pick it back up. The characters can be interesting, sometimes, and the banter can be fun now and then, but they get lost in how dull I find the writing most of the time. It just doesn't draw me in, and I find it hard to get through.

I also think the book is bloated. When there are four flashbacks in four chapters, that's just too much. Honestly I would have liked it a lot more if it were a couple hundred pages shorter. I like long books, but this feels unnecessarily long and so often it becomes very repetitive. I felt like I was climbing a mountain to finish this thing.

One of the things that annoys me, though, is that the rep is good in some areas. I think the chronic pain representation is handled pretty dark well, and the PTSD rep isn't bad either. The queer rep is okay - there's only three queer characters that we know of, and all of them are dudes, but the queer couple is really cute. They were one of my favourite parts of the book. There's like no fat rep in my opinion. I do not consider "plump" characters to be fat rep (and fyi the weight loss in that character could be triggering). And there is not ace rep don't believe what you might have heard. There were also some things that made me uncomfortable, so I'm going to link to this review for more detail on that.

All in all, these just are not for me. I know a lot of other people like them, but I'm really not one of them.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

Published: June 13th, 2017 by Tor
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count:
Part of a series? This is the second in the Wayward Children series. It's technically a prequel to Every Heart a Doorway, which you can see my review of here.
Got via: The library
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

This is the story of what happened first…

Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.

Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you've got.

They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.

They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

Thoughts: Am I cheating including this in a sequel post? I can't think of a fourth book otherwise XD

Anyways, I really liked this. It's nice having another queer MC, especially one whose love interest is a fat girl. Never enough positive fat girls in books. There are some serious truths spoken in this. I apparently zoned after reading this and also took like no notes so this isn't the best review, but I enjoy this series and I'm looking forward to the third one, and hopefully more.

Double Down by Gwenda Bond

Published: May 1st, 2016 by Switch Press
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 382 plus the about the author
Part of a series? This is book two in the Lois Lane series. See my thoughts on Fallout here.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Lois Lane has settled in to her new school. She has friends, for maybe the first time in her life. She has a job that challenges her. And her friendship is growing with SmallvilleGuy, her online maybe-more-than-a-friend.

But when her friend Maddy’s twin collapses in a part of town she never should’ve been in, Lois finds herself embroiled in a dangerous mystery that brings her closer to the dirty underbelly of Metropolis.

Thoughts: It's still a few weeks until Supergirl comes back, and this is a great way to get my fix of superhero stuff. (I also have a Ms. Marvel that's about four down on my reading stack. Soon, my pretty, soon.) Honestly, I have the third book in this series waiting for me and I'd much rather be reading it than writing this!

However, I do want to get my thoughts down on this. I continue to be impressed at how Bond manages to make the comic book universe feel true to what it is without coming across as silly or cheesy. The atmosphere in this book is so tense and honestly scary at times, in a good way. The fear that the characters feel truly comes across, and it's a great mystery. The book jumps straight into the action, and because we already know these characters from the last book, it can do that without the action being meaningless. We already care about them, so it's exciting and fun.

I also loved how family relationships, especially between sisters, was so important to this book. And I'm super excited about some of the mysteries that haven't been revealed yet. I still think it's super lacking in queer rep, and it's not the most diverse overall honestly, but I really enjoy this series and I'm going to go read the third book now.

P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia

Published: May 21st, 2013 by Amistad
Genre: Historical MG
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 272 plus acknowledgements and an author's note.
Part of a series? This is book two in the Gaither Sisters series. See my review of book one here.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): After spending the summer in Oakland with their mother and the Black Panthers, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern arrive home with a newfound streak of independence, and the sisters aren't the only ones who have changed. Now Pa has a girlfriend. Uncle Darnell returns from Vietnam a different man. But Big Ma still expects Delphine to keep her sisters in line. That's much harder now that Vonetta and Fern refuse to be bossed around.

Besides her sisters, Delphine's got plenty of other things to worry about-like starting sixth grade, being the tallest girl in her class, and dreading the upcoming school dance (her first). The one person she confides in is her mother, Cecile. Through letters, Delphine pours her heart out and receives some constant advice: to be eleven while she can.

Thoughts: I really liked One Crazy Summer, and I liked this almost as much. To some extant I think it might almost be trying to do a little too much, and things might not get quite as much depth as they could have, but overall it's a good, solid book.

I still really enjoy the pop culture references. They give good context to the time period, and many would still be familiar to a young audience reading this today. Mixed into things that might be new to many (including adult audiences) that are more political, like the first black black congresswoman Shirley Chisholm being elected.

Overall, a solid book, and I continue to love Delphine. I didn't like it more than One Crazy Summer, but it's a solid entry in the series and I look forward to the next one.

That's it for now I think! And our year's almost done I think if I'm calculating this right in September.

What have you guys been reading?

Peace and cookies,
Laina

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.

Editing Laina: The paperback edition has been updated to include the word bisexual! That's awesome.

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