Monday, May 16, 2016

Things I've Read Recently (32): Special Edition

Things I've Read Recently is a series of posts I do that are usually 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. This time around, I had a couple books where I wanted to do more than my normal "Things" entry, but didn't feel up to completing a full review, so I thought I'd do something a little different.

These will probably be a fair bit longer than my normal "mini", but shorter than an average review, and without my usual segments. I also will only be including two books, so that the post isn't ridiculously long. Since these are both books that were sent to me for review consideration, I wanted them not to get too "lost" in a post with four books.

Make sense?

A Place for Delta by Melissa Walker, illustrated by Richard Walker

Published: June 1st, 2010 by Whale Tale Press
Genre: Contemporary something, and I'll go into that more in my review.
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 250 plus a lot of extra things like further reading, a glossary, and other stuff.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: I was sent it for review, back in 2010, and I am terrible.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Joseph can hardly believe what he has been asked to do. His Aunt Kate, a wildlife biologist, is waiting for him at a research station and needs his help taking care of an orphaned polar bear cub only a few months old. He will leave his friends and family and venture to the farthest northern town in the United States.

As the adventure unfolds, Joseph and his newfound Eskimo friend Ada find mysteries wherever they look. The bear cub, Delta, remains in danger. Who would want a polar bear dead? Joseph will have to look to the North Georgia woods to save Delta.

Review: Well, I really am terrible, because I wait 5 years to review this book, and then my review isn't exactly going to be good. I really liked the idea of this one. Baby polar bears make my heart Do Things, and I have a strange love of Alaska, and I think this would be a cool thing for kids to read about. But there was so much that just didn't work for me.

Let me start with something that I really didn't like. See that summary? There's another full paragraph about Joseph's parents that I cut off because it was so long. That's probably because after a three-page prologue, the book immediately drops us twenty years back in time and spends six chapters and forty pages telling us about Joseph's parents/Aunt Kate's childhood. You spend forty pages reading about them moving to Georgia and stomping around in the woods when you really just want to be reading about the baby polar bear.

There's also a ton of headhopping, and that's part of the reason I have trouble categorizing this. I believe it's meant to be a middle grade book, since Joseph is eleven, but at least half if not most of the book is told from someone else's POV, and it's usually an adult. I'm not, frankly, fond of adult POVs in MG most of the time. They can work sometimes, but in a book with this much adult POV, it really does not read like middle grade. I also question exactly who the audience is supposed to be. It almost seems like the author wanted to tell Kate's story more than Joseph's story.

There was also, frankly, a whole lot going on. We have a polar bear, and Georgia, and twenty years of family history, Joseph makes a friend, hired guns, FBI agents, global warming, oil companies - it's just too much. The plot ends up confusing, and, honestly, unrealistic. I was never sold on the idea that an eleven year old boy would be flown out to Alaska to care for a polar bear cub over adult scientists, and the ending is just very convenient to me. Overly convenient. They get everything they want with no sacrifices or real setbacks, and everything just falls into their laps.

While the cast of characters was fairly diverse (beyond one character who seemed kind of stereotypical - constantly saying "in my country"), there were so many of them that it got to be very Character Soupy. Like the plot, there were just too many characters and too much going on. The book isn't even three hundred pages long, and I can name at least fifteen "main" or large characters off the top of my head. It's just way too much going on, it really is.

Unfortunately, with all the problems I had with this, the writing was not strong enough to pull it off. It was very "telling" instead of showing, and it just did not draw me in a way that could have saved me in this. I also was not sold on the illustrations, honestly. The cover is actually a lot brighter on my screen that it is in real life. The cover and the illustrations are just very dark, and they're hard to make out at times. The details don't pop at all. There were also very few of them, maybe only five or six throughout the book, which seems strange to me.

I did learn something. The book uses the word "Eskimo" a lot, which in Canada is something we're taught is essentially a slur (see here and here), but apparently many Indigenous people in Alaska prefer it.

This is so negative! I thought Delta was adorable, and I enjoyed reading about her. But overall, this just didn't work for me. If you're very interested in Alaska, polar bears, or environmental science, this could very well be worth it for you, but I have to say, it is pretty expensive. It's at least fifteen dollars, depending on where you buy it from. And unfortunately, while those things are neat to me, they aren't things I'm passionate about, and they weren't enough to save this for me. I'm really bummed about this because I did really want to like this one! Unfortunately for me, it's only going to get two roses out of five.

Timeless Desire by Gwyn Cready

Published: July 18th, 2012 by Astor + Blue Editions
Genre: Fantasy romance (time travelling, basically)
Binding: ARC
Page Count: 368 plus an About the Author and acknowledgments.
Part of a series? It is a standalone according to her website, but she has several other time travel books that aren't connected.
Got via: It was sent to me for review consideration. In 2012. I know, and I am sorry. On the plus side, I must be close to catching up, right? RIGHT?
Amazon (that's the paperback, but the Kindle version is seriously a buck while I'm writing this) / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Two years after losing her husband, overworked librarian Panna Kennedy battles to distract herself from crushing Grief, even as she battles to deal with yet another library budget cut. During a routine search within the library’s lower levels, Panna opens an obscure, pad-locked door and finds herself transported to the magnificent, book-filled quarters of a handsome, eighteenth-century Englishman.

She soon recognizes the man as Colonel John Bridgewater, the historic English war hero whose larger-than-life statue loomed over her desk.However, the life of the dashing Bridgewater is not at all what she imagined. He’s under house arrest for betraying England, and now looks upon her a beautiful and unexpected half-dressed visitor as a possible spy.

Despite bad first impressions (on both sides), Bridgewater nonetheless warms to Panna, and pulls her into his escape while both their hearts pull the other headlong into their soul-stirring secrets.Very quickly Panna is thrown into a whirlwind of high-stakes intrigue that sweeps her from Hadrian’s Wall to a forbidding stone castle in Scotland. And somewhere in the outland, Panna must decide if her loyalties lie with her dead husband, or with the man whose life now depends on her.

Review: Well, this was fun. I used to read a ton of romance, and it's been a while since I read one. And I do really enjoy time travel/time slip books. I definitely enjoyed this one. I especially liked how Panna was a little older than some romance heroines at thirty-four. There's also a ton of plot besides just the romance, spies and war and stuff, and that's a lot of fun so nothing drags too much. And I really liked that although it takes place over only a few days, the romance does feel earned and honest because it takes most of the book to get there.

There were a few things I wasn't so fond of. First of all, the whorephobia is kind of bad in this. Seriously, just... can we not do that? Not cool. Second, honestly, when one sex scene mentions kneading bread, and descriptions of the hero's body includes apricots and a small eggplant... I just start to wonder if the author really wanted a snack writing this. Honestly, I lost it a little at the mention of a... certain part... the size of a small eggplant.

Also, side note, mild sexual assault trigger warning. Not from the hero, and Panna isn't traumatized by it, and doesn't bring it up again, but be careful with yourself if you need to.

All in all, though, I enjoyed this. It's not outstandingly different from other books in the genre in my experience, but by no means was it bad, so if you like time travel/time slip romances, you'd probably have fun with this. If you enjoy other books with Outlander in the series name about women who time travel and meet heroes named Jamie, you'd probably enjoy this one, too, if you're into romance. (There's actually very little similarity between them. It just amused me on those little places it did.) It was a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and I wish I'd read it sooner. I probably won't keep it, just because I don't tend to reread romance and I can always get it from the library if I do want to, and my mom has already read it, so I'll probably give it away or donate it so someone else can get the chance to enjoy it. And I do think they will. Three and a half roses.

Other notes:

- The fact that the cover model is wearing green shoes and a red dress does kind of bug me. Is it Christmas? She never wears red in the book, I'm pretty sure.

- I lost the notebook I did my "A Place for Delta" notes in, so I can't tell if I had anything else. Whoops.

So what did you guys think of this type of post? Two for the price of one, sort of?

Peace and cookies,

Monday, May 9, 2016

YA Review: She Loves You, She Love You Not...

She Loves You, She Loves You Not... by Julie Anne Peters

Published: June 1st, 2011 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 278
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: I bought it! I had a giftcard, and it was really cheap from Chapters and Indigo.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Seventeen-year-old Alyssa thought she knew who she was. She had her family and her best friends and, most important, she had Sarah. Sarah, her girlfriend, with whom she dreamed with about the day they could move far away and live out and proud and accepted for themselves, instead of having to hide their relationship.

Alyssa never thought she would have to make that move by herself, but disowned by her father and cut off from everyone she loves, she is forced to move hundreds of miles away to live with Carly, the biological mother she barely knows, in a town where everyone immediately dismisses her as "Carly's girl." As Alyssa struggles to forget her past and come to terms with her future, will she be able to build a new life for herself and believe in love again? Or will she be forced to relive the mistakes that have cost her everything and everyone she cared about?

Review: I've talked a bit before about how I enjoy the kind of "life after the big deal thing happens" books, and this is one of them. I like seeing people deal with consequences and life changes more, sometimes, than I like reading about the drama and the falling apart bits. That's a thing I enjoy. (Obviously, did you see how many blog posts I just found? And there are probably more! But it was getting to an embarrassingly long time ago and an embarrassing quality of blog post, so I stopped.) The small town setting also worked really well for me, and generally, I enjoyed this.

Let's jump into the other bits, because my face kind of hurts and I'm debating an ice pack. Wisdom teeth suck.

Plot Talk: It's pretty much what is says in the summary. Stuff happened, girl moves to a new down, girl deals with new town and old stuff. I don't think it's the most original plot on the world, I guess, but it works fine. Yeah, you've probably read something similar before, but whatever. It was cool with me.

Characters: Alyssa is quite honestly pretty unlikeable. And I liked that! She hates driving and is a terrible driver at that, isn't an altogether sympathetic character, makes a lot of really horrifically ill-advised decisions. She is definitely a complex, interesting character, and I don't think everyone will like her, honestly. I'm into that. I don't approve of everything she does, and there are things I'll probably mention, but she is definitely interesting to read about.

One thing I liked a lot was that her love interest was a WOC, because, yeah, that's always nifty. She's also Canadian, so excuse me a second while I wave a flag. Yay patriotism and all that. And I think her depiction as a person of colour is handled pretty well, but I am by no means an expert there. I did a bit of googling, and didn't get anything I could link to, so hopefully there wasn't any issues with that. I also thought that character, Finn, was a nifty character. She's kind of got a rebel without a cause thing going on, and that's a thing I can get behind.

I think on average, Peters writes very complex, and interesting characters. Not all of them are sympathetic, or even morally good characters, but they are interesting. I especially liked Alyssa's mother, who is much like Alyssa in being complicated and imperfect. With Carly, Alyssa's mother, it is really nice to see someone who is a sex-worker treated generally treated with respect, and not degraded or insulted by the narrative. However, while better than most, it has some issues. The language can be pretty whorephobic/sex-shaming*, which does make sense because of Alyssa's POV, but full-service sex work is treated as something much worse than Carly's dancing in a club.

I'm not explaining it well, I don't think, but the terminology used definitely has some issues. Carly doesn't even say "I don't do that kind of sex work" or something like that. She says "I'm not a wh*re." I realize it's YA, and there would be pushback, but I think objectively, that still has issues, and there could have been better ways to go.

PG-13 stuff: It's for older YA readers, probably. Underage drinking, some sex which I think is handled very well, just mature themes in general. Alyssa's father has a really bad reaction to finding out she's a lesbian, so if that would bother you, maybe pass on this one. I will say, though, and it's totally a spoiler so you can skip this part if you want, but I know some people appreciate knowing this, there is a happy ending when it comes to the romance. There's not any tragedy or anything.

Maybe the only other thing I'd mention is that there is generally a fair amount of age difference between Alyssa and the people she dates (both younger and older), so if that's a thing for you that you don't enjoy, maybe pass on this one if you don't think you'll enjoy it.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: Like I said, I think the depiction of Finn is good, but I won't say as it's entirely non-problematic in an "I'm an expert" way, just in an "I hope it was" way. And I think some elements of Carly's work are handled well, but others don't seem to be handled as well. The narrative changes up the tense and POV (going from first to second person), and while I liked that, I could see other people not being fond of it.

I also did not really like that Alyssa is a little too aggressive about trying to get her girlfriends/love interests to come out, which is pretty uncool. I mean, the worst case scenario of outing people without their consent is people die, so that's a problem. I could easily see people really not liking that, and I won't blame them in the least. That definitely was not my favourite part of her character. I also felt almost like she was very... I don't want to say defensive, but maybe a little... mean? I don't know. I'm kind of uncertain about how I felt about that whole business.

Cover comments: It's very pretty. It actually made me think the book was going to be a touch darker/more depressing than it actually was, though, but it's fine.

Conclusion: I always sound like I didn't like stuff at all! I definitely did enjoy this. I spent a Friday night reading it all in one sitting. I absolutely adored the whole small town/tourist trap in the off-season angle, and how much of a city mouse Alyssa was when confronted with nature. I liked seeing a character that hates driving. The ending is very, very sweet and hopeful. A lot of the narrative is about the fallout of Alyssa coming out to her father, so if you're over those stories, this might not be your thing, but I thought there was enough of everything else to balance it. Bear in mind, also, this book is already 5 years old, and a lot of things change in half a decade.

This was solid to me. It had some definite issues, but I don't regret reading it, and it probably even gets to keep its shelf space. I don't think it's going to work for everyone, but I can see some people connecting to it, and enjoying it a lot. It wasn't phenomenal for me, but neither was it horrible, and I genuinely enjoyed it. The writing just worked for me in most areas. I'm giving it three and a half roses.

Other notes:

- *I'm sincerely hoping I'm using the best language possible here, but if I'm not, leave a comment or shoot me an email or a DM on Twitter or a messenger pigeon, and I'll change it if it's needed.

- There's a character who uses a wheelchair who owns a cafe. He wears gloves when he cooks, because his hands touch the rims of his wheelchair. Okay, sure. But if you touch stuff with your gloves that's germ-y, your gloves are dirty now, and they need to be changed. Gloves don't just stay not-dirty. They never mention changing the gloves and THAT BOTHERED ME.

That's about it! Hope you enjoyed this review.

Peace and cookies,

Monday, April 18, 2016

Things I've Read Recently (31)

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 have a loose theme here, but nothing too strict. Mostly it's reading old books to try and see what I want to keep and what I want to get rid of. I have way, way too many books, and trying to weed through them is an on-going project of mine... for probably ever, but here's four!

Maudie and Me and the Dirty Book by Betty Miles

Published: Originally published in 1980, this edition was released in 1981 by Avon Camelot.
Genre: Contemprary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 144 plus a bunch of advertisements for other books.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: Garage sale, I think, because there are no library marks, but there are a couple names. It's pretty beat up, so somebody obvious read it a lot.
Amazon / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): To look at me, you'd probably think I was pretty ordinary - except for my feet, which are size 9½M. You wouldn't expect me to get into trouble at school, or wreck little children's minds with dirty books.

For Kate Harris, getting used to life in middle school means figuring out where to sit in the cafeteria, and avoiding kids like Maudie Schmidt. But then Kate and Maudie are thrown together in a school reading project, and a book that Kate reads to some first graders sparks an angry controversy. Kate finds herself in the middle as the whole town takes sides and demands for censorship grow. And in the midst of the uproar Kate discovers that Maudie is not only her stauncest ally, but a true friend.

Thoughts: Man, I thought I was going to be getting rid of this one with no sweat off my nose, and then it had to go and, like, teach me the whole message of its tagline up there, which reads, by the way, "You can't tell a friend by her looks or a book by its cover."

This is actually a really clever little book.

Okay, first things first, the girl on the... left? Is apparently supposed to be "a little bit fat". Yeah, neither of those girls is fat. But apparently Maudie is, and is somewhat isolated/unliked because of that. Having grown up as a fat kid, I fully believe that. Other kids in the book make fun of her once or twice for her weight. But I do like that as Kate becomes her friend, she realizes that, hey, that's kind of a jerk way to think. Maudie is also never stereotyped as eating huge amounts of food, or being gross, or any of the other things that happen that really stigmatize fatness in old books (or new books, let's be real). The only line that really irked me was when Kate says, "For no reason, it suddenly occurred to me that I'd stopped thinking of her as fat."

Because... she's your friend now? It's not bad to be fat, Kate. Here, we can fix this really easily! "For no reason, it suddenly occured to me that I'd stopped thinking it was bad she was fat." I wish it had gone that route, but otherwise... it's not bad in that aspect. Maudie's mother is said to be "tall and heavy" and is also described as beautiful, and Kate thinks Maudie will look like her when she's older. Maudie isn't stereotyped at all, really. It's a lot more fat positive than some modern books I've read.

Now, as for the actual plot - this is still really relevant. Book censorship is still a huge deal, and people still act like this when a book is challenged. The fact that this book actually has Kate talk frankly about sex, although not in graphic detail, and names genitalia by their proper names was probably a huge deal in the 80s, and honestly, I was a little surprised reading it in 2016. There's a scene where she talks about how cutesy names for genitalia makes it so kids think there's something to be ashamed of those body parts. It also asks what happens if parents don't want their kids to learn about sexual education, and talks about how they deserve to know that.

It's a surprisingly progressive book, and I'm actually sad how relevant it is considering it's thirty-five years old. I don't know if I would let a kid who I didn't get to keep because awkward questions, which is kind of hypocritical, but you can't fight every battle. I do think I'm going to keep it, though, because I like a lot of the discussions about censorship in this, and I don't have anything else like it. I am honestly surprised by how much I enjoyed this one, and I would be interested in checking out the author's other book if I ever came across them in a sale or something. She seems like she was kind of ahead of her time. (Like with this one!)

The Great Science Fair Disaster by Martyn Godfrey

Published: 1992 by Scholastic. It's the same vintage as me!
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 122, plus an about the author, and other books listed in the back.
Part of a series? I don't believe so.
Got via: It's a library reject.
Amazon / Abebooks

Summary (from goodreads): Marcie, the principal's daughter and a student in his seventh-grade science class, has witnessed her father's disastrous science projects before, so she shudders when she hears him announce the First Annual Fifth Street School Science Fair.

Thoughts: This is funny. It's a little overly clever at times, like a lot of the characters are a little too quick to come up with a smart reply, but it's not exactly high literature, so I'm fine with that, honestly. It's funny, it's cute, and sometimes it is quite smart. One part has favoritism discussed, and how Marcie struggles with the reverse as the principal's daughter. She talks about how she's expected to be better than other kids, how she's treated differently, and how she's punished for things that happen at school in a way other kids aren't.

There's even a discussion of sexism. Marcie gets complimented by a boy on her looks, and she comments that, especially because of his choice of words, she's not entirely sure if she finds it flattering, or insulting.

I have a favourite book by this author that I read a ton growing up (it may come up in a later post - we'll see), and I've probably read a couple others, including this one at some point, and I tend to enjoy them. There are no stereotypes or anything like that to worry about in this, and the only really adult thing is one use of "perverted". but even that is used in a pretty juvenile way, with a character calling their younger brother that over an underwear fascination.

It's funny and it's a little dated, but not terribly, so it can stick around. And I did enjoy it.

French Fries Up Your Nose by M.M. Ragz

Published: February 1994 by Minstrel Books.
Genre: MG Fantasy
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 134 plus an about the author, and listing of other books.
Part of a series? They aren't arranged in a series on Goodreads, but there is at least one other book featuring Iggy, and these books are also a spin-off of another series featuring characters who appear briefly in this one.
Got via: A secondhand sale of some sort.
Amazon / Abebook

Summary (from goodreads): With his bookbag full of stinkbombs and pepper candy and every practical joke known to mankind, Iggy Sands is every teacher's nightmare. He hates math, he hates school assemblies, and he especially hates that snooty Caitlen Cohane.

So why, all of a sudden, is Iggy running for student council president? And making speeches? And being nice to Caitlen? Drool and Ed, his best and only friends, warn him that it'll take more than a trunkful of magic to be a winner this time.

Thoughts: So there I am reading a book about a kind of jerky kid and his kind of jerky friends, and then sixty pages in, bam, there's a ghost! It's completely random, and it comes out of nowhere. That is the summary on the back of the book, and do you see any hint there's anything supernatural coming? So that was strange, and really, really random.

The basic plot is probably one you've seen before. Trouble-making kid decides to try and do something that's not trouble-making. Nobody thinks he'll be able to do it, he can, the underdog saves the day, you know. The ghost plot is random and doesn't really actually affect the main plot. Like the ghost doesn't do anything besides offer advice. It wasn't exactly bad, but it was so random, and I don't understand this at all.

Almost all of the characters are pretty unlikeable for a large amount of the book (at one point, Iggy makes a crack about how his baby-sitter is always trying to flirt with his father, and basically how hilarious it is because she's fat so haha, his handsome father would never, like, be into her or anything), and there is only basically one decent female character who isn't all backstabbing and mean. The writing in the second half of the book is pretty good, and I enjoyed it, but I don't think I'd read it again.

The fatphobia was irritating, the ghost thing was weird, and while it wasn't a bad read, it just wasn't anything terribly special. The characters are jerks for a lot of the book, and I didn't like them at first. It's not terrible, don't get me wrong, but I think I would rather have the shelf space for something I loved, something I'd read again, or something I would comfortably share with kids in my care. Hopefully if I pass it on, it'll find a home with someone who loves it.

Mystery of the Lunchbox Criminal by Alison Lohans

Published: December 1st, 1990 by Scholastic
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 89
Part of a series? I don't think so.
Got via: Library reject sale.
Amazon but yeah, the only listings are for like two hundred dollars, use the other link if you want it desperately. / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): One day at school J.J. finds a disgusting surprise in his lunchbox – but no lunch. Soon other kids’ lunches are being stolen too. J.J. and his friends set out to find the “criminal” and discover more than they’d bargained for.

Thoughts: This is... this is set in Regina! That's cool. It's near me, and I'm always amused when books are set in Saskatchewan because I'm a person and people are vain and self-centered.

And otherwise it was... weird. I can't tell exactly what age range this is supposed to be for. The language feels really young, and the font is huge, but there's some really weird darkness to it. Like this kid gets nailed in the head with a rock by a bully, and his mother is really, really blase about it. Like, his little sister is sick with a fever at the same time, but dude. The kid is like seven, you left him outside for at least half an hour with no way to get inside and no supervision, and you're ignoring the fact that he's been hit in the head with a rock???

That's not a great display of parenting, yo. Some kid hits mine in the head with a rock, I don't wait until that kid beats him up and gives him a fat lip and a bloody nose to intervene!

Meanwhile, there's other weirdly dark parts that seem really mature for the age range it's aimed at like a kid with an alcoholic parent, and a kid who is like maybe eight or nine that smokes. At the end, it's stated that "she said she'd try to quit smoking, too" and this is apparently good enough for the adults in the book? What??

I did not understand this book. I really didn't understand the adults in this book, and the characters can be kind of annoying sometimes. Everyone is kind of mean, and the plot is pretty predictable. I don't feel like kids would be that into this one, and I have others I like more for this age range, so this one is also probably going to be passed along to someone else.

Well, this is a pretty good rate. Two books I liked, two books I can clean out of my collection. So what have you guys been reading lately?

Peace and cookies,

Monday, April 4, 2016

Things I've Read Recently (30): Sequels!

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.

This go around, we have sequels! Since these will likely have spoilers to previous books, I thought I'd put a few in one post so you could skip them/skip the post if you wanted to avoid that. Plus, you know, themes! I like themes.

So this post will have Another Life by Keren David, Spirit and Dust by Rosemary Clement-Moore which is technically a companion and doesn't actually have any spoilers, but... themes, the second Lumberjanes bind-up, and Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs.

Another Life by Keren David

Published: September 2012 by Frances Lincoln Children's Books
Genre: YA Mystery/Thriller
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: Goodreads says 384. I didn't write it down, so we're going with that.
Part of a series? Yes, it's the third in the "When I Was Joe" series. See my reviews of When I Was Joe, and Almost True if you want to see what I thought of those. Beware spoilers.
Got via: The library and I will say more about that when I have more room.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Kicked out of yet another boarding school, Archie couldn't be happier to find himself back in London with old friends and an exciting social life. But he's worried about his cousin Ty, who is facing a sentence in a Young Offender Institution and doesn't seem to be coping. And he's finding that his old friends have moved on and it's a struggle to keep up with their new lives.

When he begins to learn surprising things about Ty, Archie goes on a mission to discover the truth about his cousin's past. But who is the real Ty?

Thoughts: Background first. Not a SINGLE LIBRARY in all of Saskatchewan had this book. Not ONE. And I so, so, so hated the idea of leaving the series unfinished. I considered buying this, but it's hard to get a hold of a copy and I couldn't really afford to pay that much for a book I probably wasn't gonna read more than once. So I messed around on the library website and ended up almost more by accident than anything ordering a copy of this through ILLO. It ended up coming from Edmonton. That is awesome.

This is a really good ending to the series. I felt ending on the second book left things too open-ended, and this ties up the threads, and gives everything a definite ending. I'm definitely glad I got it. I did have to return it really fast, though, because you only get so much time on an ILLO and I wasn't messing around with that.

This one changes up the POV, and alternates from mostly Archie chapter, Ty's cousin who was introduced in the last book, and only a few Ty chapters. Archie has a much lighter voice than Ty, who's going through a pretty dark spiral at this point in the series after everything that's happened to him, and I think it really helps to have that POV to change things up. It also is important to the plot.

I can't decide whether this one is better or worse on the girl representation. It's like... it's not as insulting at times as the other two could be, but also girls didn't really get as much screen-time as in the others. None of the girl characters are really fleshed out, or memorable. It's been a few days since I read this, and nothing is really coming to mind as exceptional.

The families in this are still incredibly messed up, and Ty and Archie and maybe their grandparents are probably the best of it. Ty's parents are disasters, Archie's parents are hardly there and his dad is a jerk. (I gotta say this, maybe a bit of a spoiler - Archie's dad clocks Ty at one point because he and Archie got in a fight. Like teenaged boys NEVER do that. The first thing Ty does, still on the ground, is ask if his uncle treats Archie like that. He's literally on the ground after being punched in the face by his uncle, and his first thought is to make sure his cousin is safe at home.)

*exhales* Okay, I'm okay. I liked the POV switch, since I did like Archie a lot in the last book, and it works really well in this one to balance Ty's chapters. I do wish there had been some sort of marker to indicate when the POV changed, though. And I feel like the ending was a little rushed action-wise, but it still wrapped up the story well enough. I also was annoyed by the fact that Ty never got any kind of therapy or treatment or anything. You can't fix PTSD by traveling and pep talks, and I think it would have been really good to show that.

All in all, satisfied with this one. It wraps up the series well, and I'm glad I got to read it. I probably wouldn't buy it since I have way too many books as it is, but I'm glad I got to finish the series. I don't love these books, but I'm satisfied with the experience, and this one is probably my favourite of the lot.

Spirit and Dust by Rosemary Clement-Moore

Published: May 14th, 2013 by Delacorte Books for Young eaders
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance with a good amount of Mystery/Thriller mixed in.
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 384 plus author's note and such
Part of a series? It's the companion to Texas Gothic, which you can read my review of here.
Got via: The library, what else is new?
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Daisy Goodnight can speak to the dead. It’s not the result of a head injury or some near-death experience. She was just born that way. And she’s really good at it. Good enough to help the police solve the occasional homicide.

But helping the local authorities clear cold cases is one thing. Being whisked out of chemistry class by the FBI and flown to the scene of a murder/kidnapping in Minnesota? That’s the real deal.

Before the promotion can go to Daisy’s head, she’s up to her neck in trouble. The spirits are talking, and they’re terrified. There’s a real living girl in danger. And when Daisy is kidnapped by a crime boss with no scruples about using magic—and Daisy—to get what he wants, it looks like hers is the next soul on the line.

Thoughts: I mentioned that I read Texas Gothic when I was under a lot of stress and feeling pretty meh about reading in general, and I basically started this in the same way! I started it right before Christmas, read about a chapter, and then got majorly distracted and didn't pick it back up until after Christmas. And, honestly, I think that was probably best because I loved this book and I wouldn't have wanted to read it halfheartedly.

Like I said, this is a companion book, not a strict sequel. You could read this or Texas Gothic first or second, and the only thing mentioned in this about TG is a little bit about Amy's love life, and only in the loosest of sense. Phin and Amy only make small appearances, and Amy's boyfriend isn't even mentioned by name. I think it's probably better to read TG first, but Spirit and Dust doesn't rely on it heavily, and they essentially stand alone from each other.

One of the thing that does connect them is obviously that Daisy is Amy's cousin, and with that, there is still the element of the Goodnight family, and how they are all connected, and the strength of their family. I will say this - the book could use more women of colour, disabled women, queer women, fat women, etc. Because of that, I'm not going to do the "it writes women well" because, hey, it's seriously missing some women, including ones like me. But the women it has, though not exactly diverse, are written very well. The Goodnight women are connected, and supportive, and the strength of a family of women like that is kind of wonderful.

Romance-wise, there's a bit of a tease of a love-triangle. I referred to one in my head as a "decoy love interest" because, wow was I not into that. It kept playing around with the underage thing, since Daisy was not quite eighteen with the guy calling her "Jailbait" and basically saying she was too young for him. Don't get me wrong, I agreed! I was honestly uncomfortable with the age gap, and that he was essentially in a position of power over her because of their respective jobs. I can't even figure OUT Texas's current laws about consent (tw: article discusses age of consent and statutory rape), honestly, but I'm pretty sure at the time the age of consent was 17 and that actually made the entire thing not actually true.

Regardless of whether it was correct, I actually didn't think it was funny, or cute, or romantic, not with the power imbalance especially. There's age gap romance, and then there's squicky, and if the author had taken us there, I feel it would have gone squicky fast. Plus it's essentially saying that a relationship is entirely about sex. Like, does the moment she turn 18 suddenly change her personality so you'll magically suit each other in a relationship? Or is just "okay" to have sex then and the rest doesn't matter? It's just... a lot of tropes I am not a fan of. Luckily, the author didn't go there! Instead we got a very nice little romance with only a few years between them, probably more like two or three years versus a possible minimum of five years, which I'm just not into in my YA.

What we got instead was a really good romance. Not entirely unproblematic, but just problematic enough in the right ways to be really fun to read about sometimes. Like, dude, he kidnaps her! But then they go on the run together! And it gets steamy! And it's kind of awesome. I was so much more into that than the other one, honestly, but it is done very well. It's got a pretty classic feel to it, a lot like Texas Gothic where the romance was very "I hate you I hate you more hey we're kissing now cool", and I really enjoyed that.

I also thought this one was funny, vibrant, the references weren't too dating, and I loved Daisy. I honestly think I liked this one even more than Texas Gothic, and I really enjoyed that one! The magic is awesome, the romance is good, the travelling and settings are really cool and so well described, the mystery was awesome, and the characters are really good. It just works very, very well. Highly recommend this one.

Oh, and I'm pretty sure there was an affectionate shout-out to the 1-800-Where-R-You books by Meg Cabot, which I loved as a kid, and are sort of superficially similar.

Lumberjanes Volume 2: Friendship to the Max by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Waters, Brook Allen, and Maarta Laiho

Published: October 13th, 2015 by BOOM! Box
Genre: YA Comics with like a paranormal twist
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 111 pages
Part of a series? Yes, this is the second bind-up of the Lumberjanes series, featuring issues #5-8
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are not your average campers and Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types is not your average summer camp. Between the river monsters, magic, and the art of friendship bracelets, this summer is only just beginning. Join the Lumberjanes as they take on raptors and a sibling rivalry that only myths are made of.

Thoughts: Guys, why don't these come out faster? I have to wait for April (Edit: I realize I'm scheduling this for April, but I wrote most of this in like January, so it was a long time to wait) for the next one and the library can be SO slow and I think I'm going to explode. I love reading them in this bind-up format, or I'd use up absolutely every one of my Hoopla check-outs each month reading them all. *sigh* Life is hard.

I love how packed these are with women. There's like literally maybe one male character who comes into play in this bind-up for like part of the last issue. I love how there are different bodies and skin tones in this, even in the extras who don't make a ton of appearances. I love how you see a character with leg hair, and it's not a joke. I love that one of this messages of the book is girls being capable and being treated as such. I love the way the setting of an all-girl camp really lets the female characters be themselves without some of that social pressure, and how realistically the girls shine. I love the format of the comic and the devices of their handbook that it uses to help tell the story. I love the little romance they're hinting at, and the spoiler I know that I won't tell because that'd be mean.

I also really, really enjoyed the absolutely brutal game of capture the flag the girls played, and how that is something you'd usually see as a "boy" thing, but the girls are never treated as doing "boy" things. These are girls things they do, even the rough, dirty, somewhat violent things. The girls are just so realistic, and it makes me so happy.

If you liked the 80s/90s "girl groups doing things" books, read this. If you like books about summer camp, read this. If you like Steven Universe, read this (that's just a hunch). The same could probably be said of Adventure Time, but I don't watch that, so who knows? If you know a girl around the age of 9 or 10, give her an issue of this. If you know a boy around the age of 9 or 10, give him one. If you know any child around the age of 9 or 10, give them one. Child into Greek mythology? Get them this. Magic stuff? This.  If you know a child of basically any age or interests, get them into this. There's no language you need to be worried about, and the most gore involved is a scraped knee.

Girls especially, though. Give all the girls you know a chance to find this. You'll be giving them something truly special. This kind of representation is so important for girls to see, and it's done so beautifully in this. I'm gonna go cry now because I'll be waiting for months for the new one!

Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

Published: September 22nd, 2015 by Quirk Books
Genre: YA Fantasy/Paranormal/a bit of Horror. It crosses genres.
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 458 plus the acknowledgements for the use of the photos.
Part of a series? Yes, this is the third and final book in the Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children trilogy. You can read my review of the first book here, and the second book here.
Got via: The library, amusingly.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): The adventure that began with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and continued in Hollow City comes to a thrilling conclusion with Library of Souls. As the story opens, sixteen-year-old Jacob discovers a powerful new ability, and soon he’s diving through history to rescue his peculiar companions from a heavily guarded fortress. Accompanying Jacob on his journey are Emma Bloom, a girl with fire at her fingertips, and Addison MacHenry, a dog with a nose for sniffing out lost children.

They’ll travel from modern-day London to the labyrinthine alleys of Devil’s Acre, the most wretched slum in all of Victorian England. It’s a place where the fate of peculiar children everywhere will be decided once and for all.

Thoughts: These books are just so cool. I love the blending of these weird, actually real photographs and the story. It's not an easy thing to do so it doesn't throw you out of the story. It could easily become very gimmicky very quickly, and it doesn't. At the same time, the story stands on its own, and doesn't solely rely on the pictures.

I will say that there is a plot that is almost metaphoric for sex work, and I think that it's a bit clunky. There's some language used in the dialogue, even, then that really reinforces that. Maybe more metaphoric for human trafficking, technically, but at times it still comes off as somewhat clunky. I think the plot itself worked fine, and could have been fine if the language had been refined just slightly.

Other than that, I really enjoyed this one. These books are all have very deep, complex writing, and I enjoy how it takes me a little longer to read these instead of just breezing through them. This is a great conclusion to the series, wrapping everything up in a very satisfying manner without it getting sappy, or in a way that had too many convenient coincidents. I was pleased in general. Good job. Also, a girl's gotta love a book with libraries in it, because a girl loves libraries.

So, a girl is curious about what you've been reading lately. Any sequels?

Peace and cookies,

Monday, March 28, 2016

MG Review: Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab

Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab by "Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith, illustrated by Scott Garrett

Published: November 5th, 2013 by Quirk Books
Genre: MG Mystery
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 237 plus About The Authors, and whatnot.
Part of a series? Yes, there are currently 5 books and I'm not going to dig around in the Goodreads page to see if there'll be more because I don't want to see spoilers.
Got via: This was sent to me by the publisher for review consideration.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Nick and Tesla are bright 11-year-old siblings with a knack for science, electronics, and getting into trouble. When their parents mysteriously vanish, they’re sent to live with their Uncle Newt, a brilliant inventor who engineers top-secret gadgets for a classified government agency. It’s not long before Nick and Tesla are embarking on adventures of their own—engineering all kinds of outrageous MacGyverish contraptions to save their skin: 9-volt burglar alarms, electromagnets, mobile tracking devices, and more. Readers are invited to join in the fun as each story contains instructions and blueprints for five different projects.

Review: Well, this was a whole lot of fun! The design of it is just nifty, with little details on the pages that make it look all science-y. This one actually has a similar set-up to Middleworld, with a cancelled family vacation, parents off on a work trip to somewhere far away, the kids sent to live with an uncle for the summer. However, this one honestly worked much better for me. And I'm particularly inclined drawn to either science or history. I'm an art/English girl. (Not like... art history or anything. I destroyed last night's Art Class category on Jeopardy! All about different techniques!)

This uses the science angle very well. The kids are passionate about it. It's something they obviously enjoy, not something they're forced into, and that is so much nicer to read about than complaints about hating something. They have fun, so we have fun reading about it. That basis makes the rest of the good things in the book even better. Shall we continue?

Plot Talk: Basically, Nick and Tesla get sent to live with their uncle for the summer, and they run into a mystery that no one really listens to them about that they decide they need to solve. The mystery solving is done very organically - at first it's just a matter of trying to get something they lost back, then they start snooping a little, and only when the adults they go to can't really do anything do they get a little more serious. It works really well both with the immediate mystery plot, and with the underlying one that isn't resolved within the book.

Characters: Some of the characters can be a touch stereotypical. The book isn't that long, so I'm hoping in future books, the characterization of those characters can be explored more and make them slightly less stereotypical, but it's not so badly done, I think, as to be harmful. It's just a touch lazy. I also would have liked more female characters. There's really only one girl, Tesla, that appears for more than a few pages. We need to show girls being involved in STEM fields in media.

That said, the characters have potential. Tesla is a very good character, and I like having twins as main characters, especially since the third person POV doesn't limit itself just to either of their POVs. It makes it very balanced. I would want a little more from future books, but for a first book, the characters are not bad. Their uncle especially is hilarious.

PG-13 stuff: There's nothing for language. A little bit of scary situations, but there's not really anything for violence or anything. There's a pretty wide audience that this could appeal to, and younger readers wouldn't find anything they wouldn't be ready yet.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: Like I said, some slightly stereotypical characters, and a lack of female ones. There is also a touch of casual ableism that I'm not too fond of. Other than that, I'm pretty much good.

Cover comments: It's a really cool cover. It's got a lot of life, the kids look like they're having a blast, and it does actually depict something that happened in the book.

The illustrations aren't exactly like the cover, but they are close. They're good pictures. They reflect what happens in the book, and the ones that make up the science experiments within the book are also clear, and easy to understand.

Conclusion: I know some kids who would really enjoy this, and it's a fun way to bridge the gap between either an interest in reading and not as much in science, or an interest in science and not as much in reading, or just fun to read if there's an interest in both. The way the experiments are scattered through the book as the kids do them make them very interactive, and is fairly unique. The mystery is really good, and I'm intrigued by the threads left to carry you into the next book. While not perfect, this was a very good first effort. I enjoyed it, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. Four out of five roses.

Other notes:

- Their names are adorable, and I enjoy punny character names.

- They include a Diet Coke and Mentos experiment. What's not to love here?

Peace and cookies,

Monday, March 21, 2016

Things I've Read Recently (29): Animals

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 have way too many books, and I need to read more books I own, and weed out ones I don't want anymore, and this post is part of my effort to do that. I own so many of these old books that I need to really look at why I'm holding onto. And I can't read things and not talk about them on my blog. So here goes!

Morgan's Zoo by James Howe

Published: Originally published in 1984, my copy is from 1986 by Avon Camelot
Genre: Contemporary MG... you know, the kind of contemporary where animals can talk to each other and are really smart, but can't talk to people. That's a thing.
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 179 plus some really amusing old advertisements for other books.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: A library sale. It's a withdrawn library copy.
Amazon / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): The Chelsea Park Zoo is a small zoo, and a slightly run down one at that. But to twins Andrew and Allison, it's their favorite place in the world. To the animals who live there, it's their home. And to the kindly, gentle zookeeper, Morgan, it's his life. So when the city announces the zoo will be shut down and the animals shipped to zoos all over the country, the twins-- and the animals-- spring into action to save Morgan's Zoo. But closing the zoo isn't the only danger afoot. The animals soon discover they have a chance to do more than save their home-- they have a chance to become heroes.

Thoughts: There's nothing wrong with this one. It was cute, and while it's dated, there was nothing offensive about it. Not even a fat joke, which is kind of amazing for books of that this time period. I just don't love it. I'm not the biggest animal person in the world, honestly, so I could totally see how kids would like reading about zoo animals and seeing things from their POV and everything, especially kids who love animals

I just think there are better James Howe books to take up my shelf space (I love Bunnicula), and although I certainly didn't mind this one, it's just not worth sticking around. It's a little dated, although not the worst of anything I've read, and very predictable. Goodreads says I've read this, but it must have been at least a decade ago. Maybe I remembered the ending, but honestly? I didn't remember anything else about the book, and I think it truly was just that predictable. Again, it's not bad, but I don't think I would ever reread this, and if I was looking for something for a kid, I think there are better things out there. I liked Taking Care of Terrific more, which had a similar theme (kids saving stuff, big stunts, parks). Perhaps a more modern alternative for kids looking for this sort of animal theme could be something like Saving Mr. Nibbles or other Elliot's Park books from Patrick Carman?

Not that I would say don't let kids read this or anything, but it might be a bit hard to find as it's older, and I don't know how much appeal it has to kids today. I'm going to pass this one along, and hope it finds a home where someone enjoys it a lot more than I would.

Also, my copy is the one to the right, and yellow books age so strangely. This is another one that has turned pink as it's gotten old. They really lose a lot of the yellow from both the frame surrounding it, and the cover illustration.

Misty and Me by Barbara Girion

Published: May 21st, 1979 by Scholastic
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 171
Part of a series? I don't believe so.
Got via: I'm thinking a yard sale, because there are no library marks, and it's in pretty good shape. Not sure, though, honestly.

Summary (from goodreads): Kim thinks her parents are crazy! If she's not too young to take care of her six year old brother, Willie the Whiner, how can she be too young to have a puppy?!

So Kim decides to take matters into her own hands. She'll get a puppy anyways! She finds Misty at the animal shelter - a mutt with the silkiest, softest coat and the brightest, biggest brown eyes ever. Then with her baby-sitting money she hires a kind old lady to take care of Misty till Kim can break the news to her parents. But Kim forgets about paying for dog food, shots, a collar and heaven knows what else. Soon, her life is one big financial disaster!

How can she keep paying the bills til Misty's ready to come home with her? And what if her parents find out? Kim can't imagine anything worse in the whole world than having to give up her Misty.

Thoughts: This is dated, but ultimately harmless. If you updated this with something other than disco dancing and updated the money situation, you could probably get it pretty modern pretty easily. The biggest things, I think, are the money and the attitude about the mother working. It's not disapproved of by pretty much anyone except Kim, and she's not meant to be in the right about that, but it is seen as something a little unusual. The author has several characters speak very positively about it, and I liked that, considering it was 1979 when this was published.

The other big thing is the money. For example, Kim's parents pay her 3 dollars a week for baby-sitting her brother, which equals about 10 dollars a week in 2015 US dollars. That's still a really good deal for them! Even when they up her to a dollar a day, or 5 dollars a week, that's less than 18 a week in 2015 US dollars. Younger readers may not realize how hard it would be for Kim and Willie to get the amount of money that they spend, but honestly? It's not that big of a deal to me. It's amusing, not harmful. It also made me laugh when Kim said she wouldn't pay everything off until the year 2002!

The last big thing dating this? Kim takes disco lessons in school, and the idea is that they'll learn the latest dances. It is described, and it is hilarious. Especially the guy teaching it, who is described exactly as you think he would be, including open satin shirt and toupee. I almost peed.

There's a good little story here about responsibility, kindness, growing up, money responsibility. It's obviously old and it is dated, but there's nothing offensive in it, no casual racism, no fat jokes, not even really any sexism besides, like, Kim's best friend Lisa becoming a little more interested in boys than Kim/before her, and Kim being dismissive of that. That happens so much in books, and I don't even think it's done in a way that's particularly bad. They are only eleven, and Lisa is gently reminded that boys should come after other things by a character who isn't Kim.

All in all, even though this is pretty dated, I think the voice is really good. It's funny, and a little sarcastic at times. There's a good message at the end, and a fairly deep ending, and I think that you could really just talk about the money thing very easily, and the rest of the book would hold up okay.

Except maybe the disco dancing.

But otherwise? I'm gonna keep this one. It's cute, I enjoyed reading it, and it's ultimately harmlessly sweet, if you know what I mean.

Cat Attack! by Tim Schoch

Published: December 1st, 1988 by Avon Camelot
Genre: MG Mystery
Binding: Binding
Page Count: 134 plus a few book advertisement pages
Part of a series? Apparently there's a book before it, but it works as a standalone, and I don't care enough to search out the first one.
Got via: It's a library reject.

Summary (from goodreads): What's a dog to do? Flash Fry, Private Eye, is my master and I really think he's the greatest, even if he is human. But as a detective, he'd be nowhere without his very cute and smart sidekick -- me. I'm Scratch, Private Nose.

This time Flash is up to his big green hat in a mystery involving baseball, picnic tables, and cats. Lots of cats. And if Flash can't find three special missing cats known as the Three Stooges, he and eight other kid are going to be in big, big trouble. Arooo! And it's up to me to save them. Double Arooo!

So come on inside. There's going to be lots of furry fun and more surprises than you can shake your tail at!

Thoughts: This has such a weird cover. It fits the story, but it's so weird. It's very dated, and the colours they chose are odd in contrast to each other. The book itself... it's old. It's not so terribly dated that it's offensive or anything, but that's probably because it's very bland. The detective/mystery plot is realistic (a kid finding another kid's lost cats, sure), but boring. The dog POV is kind of weird, like it's trying too hard, and doesn't really add anything.

Frankly, some of the subplot of the mystery is really irritating. Spoilers, but do you really care? Like, the kid who loses the cats, her mother blames her for letting them out. But then after they've been rescued, the dog goes by the next day, and they're outside! If you have outdoor cats, you don't get to yell at your kid and ban her from playing baseball for letting them out! The same mother says that cats don't just run away on their own. Yes, they do, they're cats! And then at the end of the book, the mother just gives the cats away. She's a terrible pet owner! If you don't want your cats to run away when they're outside, keep them inside. It's better for them anyways.

That part made me angry, there were weirdly dark moments for a book that was so light otherwise, and the rest of it was just bland. I've read better kids' mystery books, I've read better dog POVs, and I just can't see myself recommending this to a kid or rereading it. It's just not that fun, or deep, or anything. The only part I really liked was it showed a young boy character crying... not in the "I like to see kids cry" way, but the "boys get told they shouldn't cry" way... you know? Like it's important for boys to be able to cry in books. But even that didn't save it. I'm going to be passing this one along for the shelf space.

Socks by Beverly Cleary

Published: Originally published in 1973, this edition was released in 2001 with a reprint in 2015.
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 156 plus a bunch of blurbs for other books by the author.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: I think I bought it at an elementary school that was selling things to raise money.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Socks is a young tabby cat with four white paws, and he lives happily with a young married couple, Marilyn and Bill Bricker. The center of the Bricker household, Socks rules it affectionately but firmly.

Into this loving home, however, comes another pet. This creature has a small, wrinkled, furless face, and Mr. and Mrs. Bricker spend an inordinate amount of time trying to burp it. Its arrival fills Socks with jealousy and a terrible anxiety. How the rivalry between Socks and Charles William, the Bricker baby, turns into an alliance makes a domestic drama both touching and funny.

Thoughts: I love Beverly Cleary, guys. I really, really do. But this one just did not live up to my expectations. It is very cute, and her writing is lovely throughout it, but there are parts I really dislike. First of all, if you've ever seen Lady and the Tramp, this is basically that but with a cat instead. Okay, not exactly, but there are a lot of similarities. And many of the things I greatly dislike from that movie are the same thing that irritate me in this.

I believe that when you get an animal, you make a commitment to care for and love that animal, and that doesn't change because you have a baby. Animals need love and attention, and if you neglect your pet and then get angry that that pet acts out, you are a bad pet owner. These people basically ignored their cats for months besides to feed it, and then they get upset when it acts out. This book could almost be a metaphor for an older child getting a new sibling, but that is a terrible message to send when they literally neglect their cat. Socks practically ends up with depression before the baby gets old enough to give him attention.

Second, a big part of the book is that, while the parents are ignoring the cat and never playing with him, and the only attention they give him is when they give him leftover baby formula (And can you tell this book is dated? That stuff is expensive, man), Socks gains weight. When someone ELSE notices - not them, they don't pay that much attention to him - they put the cat on a diet. The mother also mentions that she's going to diet as well as her pants don't zip up anymore. As in her pre-pregnancy pants. When the baby is only a few months old. Because how dare a woman's body change after pregnancy.

Way too much of the book is spent talking about dieting, or with poor Socks talking about how hungry he is. There's comments about how everyone in the Bricker household must be "fit", and talk about "overweight" people (and cats) having problems with their hearts. Fat people can be fit, and fat people can be perfectly healthy. What message are we sending to fat kids reading this when the book insults the cat so much for being fat?

I'm actually kind of glad I didn't read this as a kid. I read enough terrible books with fat hate and dieting in them. The cat care in this one is outdated, and so is the baby care. The diet stuff is hugely annoying, and a lot of the characters are really mean. While I will probably be ordering other Cleary books for the kid I give books to (likely the Ralph books), this will not be one of them, and I think I will be passing this one on. The beginning and the ending are really cute, but all the dieting and fatshaming kind of ruins it for me. Disappointing for sure. I wanted to love this one!

So now that I'm done ranting... what have you guys been reading lately?

Peace and cookies,

Monday, March 14, 2016

YA Review: The Naturals

The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Published: November 5th, 2013 by Disney-Hyperion
Genre: YA Thriller
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 308 plus acknowledgements, an excerpt, and weirdly no about the author.
Part of a series? Yes, there are three of them out, and the fourth is in the works. I believe the cover was just revealed recently, actually.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Seventeen-year-old Cassie is a natural at reading people. Piecing together the tiniest details, she can tell you who you are and what you want. But it’s not a skill that she’s ever taken seriously. That is, until the FBI come knocking: they’ve begun a classified program that uses exceptional teenagers to crack infamous cold cases, and they need Cassie.

What Cassie doesn’t realize is that there’s more at risk than a few unsolved homicides—especially when she’s sent to live with a group of teens whose gifts are as unusual as her own. Sarcastic, privileged Michael has a knack for reading emotions, which he uses to get inside Cassie’s head—and under her skin. Brooding Dean shares Cassie’s gift for profiling, but keeps her at arm’s length.

Soon, it becomes clear that no one in the Naturals program is what they seem. And when a new killer strikes, danger looms closer than Cassie could ever have imagined. Caught in a lethal game of cat and mouse with a killer, the Naturals are going to have to use all of their gifts just to survive.

Review: Holy cow was this fun. Which, ah, considering the subject matter, is kind of a terrible thing to say, but I really enjoyed this. I got sick and forgot to renew my library books, and wracked up a few overdue fees and can't order anything... but on Tuesday when I pay them down, I believe I shall order the sequels to this because man, I want them now. (Hey, Hyperion? Can we be friends? Can I have Naturals 4?)

I'm actually annoyed that the front of the book compares it to Criminal Minds because it's not as clever when I do it. But it is a really good comparison. This is like a really good episode of Criminal Minds, or like a really good arc in a season. The beginning is creepy, it's exciting, and if you look at my goodreads of me reading this, I literally was completely fooled by who the killer was twice in three pages.

I do have a few of my own comparisons, though. The set-up of a special program for gifted teens? While this is less on the ESP side of gifted (although I honestly think it rides a fine line with the whole "natural" thing, since I'm not sure people can do that), it reminds me a bit of the Dark Visions trilogy, and there's even a romance element that's similar. The groups of kids in both books even both have five kids! The main characters of both are redheads! Now, remember the Fearless book series? There was a short-lived spin-off series called Fearless FBI that I was bummed only lasted for a few books because I really enjoyed it. This is like those two series mashed up and modernized and made awesome.

Plot Talk: Pretty much what it says in the summary. There are some really, really interesting plot twists and elements that are really good, and I don't want to spoil them so I won't mention them. I'm still sick, and this is a library book, so let's call that good enough.

Characters: These characters are really interesting. Especially Cassie and the other Naturals, it's really hard to get a read on them because of what they can do. Cassie struggles to truly understand the others, which challenges her in a way she's not used to, and seeing that through her eyes is so interesting. She's a character who's used to reading people at a glance, and that too is fascination.

While we only get a small glimpse of them, Cassie's large Italian family is also vibrant, and lively. Even the love triangle is done well, and doesn't make me annoyed at all, which is harder to do these days since we've been so saturated in them.

PG-13 stuff: Well, yeah, people get like murdered and stuff. Surprisingly, though, almost no language besides misogynist slurs used by the killer. There's a fair amount of violence and gore, so sensitive readers may want to be careful, but it's not so heavily done that it becomes excessively disturbing. Basically, think Criminal Minds episode. Nothing you wouldn't see on TV, probably.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: There's a joke about "overweight truckers" that was annoying considering there are actually no fat characters in the book. If you don't use us in your book, don't make jokes about us in your book, people.

The other thing is that there is an Asian character with coloured streaks in her hair, and there's not really any reason given about that other than it makes her sound cool to us. I'm a white chick, so here I am going to link to someone who is not about why this can be problematic, and I think this is indeed a case for that, unfortunately. The character honestly does fit the description in this post, and I think that's something that should be looked at more closely.

Cover comments: This is a really cool cover. The book also has the second and third printed in the back, and they translate incredibly well to black and white. This is one of those "I see it, I want it, it's mine" library books, and it's just cool. There's also a good amount of crossover appeal - as much as I hate the idea of "boy books", this isn't a cover that would get anyone made fun of at school, shall we say. I love the starkness, too.

Conclusion: I want more of these. This is a book that knows how to appeal to Lainas. The characters are really interesting. The FBI stuff is fascinating. I would honestly read like three books about their training, even the fairly mundane stuff. It's so interesting. And the ending shocked me, honestly. This probably would have gotten four and a half roses from me, but it loses a half rose for the things mentioned before.

Other notes:

- I want pancakes so badly because of this book. Seriously, I need them immediately. Instead, I made a cheesecake. To be fair, cheesecake is wonderful. But it's not pancakes!

Peace and cookies,