Monday, July 28, 2014

YA Review: The Green-Eyed Queen of Suicide City

Hey, trigger warnings on this one - for suicide especially, okay, guys? Be kind to yourself. Don't read things that aren't good for you.

Alright, let's get on to the review!

The Green-Eyed Queen of Suicide City by Kevin Marc Fournier

Published: April 24th, 2012 by Great Plains Teen Fiction
Genre: YA Paranormal
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 198
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The publisher sent it to me to review.
Amazon (Paperback) / Amazon (Ebook) / Book Depository / IndieBound / And since it's a smaller publisher, here's the link on their website.

Summary (from goodreads): Bethany, a beautiful and popular teen, hangs herself the night before Halloween. Her devoted sister Rose follows her into a frozen death, and into a city where trees bleed along the banks of a river of blood. Meanwhile, Addy is visiting from Montreal, determined that Natalie's mother will give birth to her baby while she is there.

Ghostly footprints and dangling corpses, a baby born in a snowstorm, a mysterious cemetery, one girl who never sleeps and another who craves blood, New Year's fireworks and an unexpected kiss - all tied to a legendary queen who lives in the hidden centre of Suicide City.

Review: Guys, I don't know. Maybe this just isn't my thing. Maybe it's completely me, but something about this just didn't do it for me. It wasn't really hard to get into or slow to read or anything like that. The voice was decently compelling, even with the switching between 1st and 3rd person which I generally think clashes a little. But... I guess it felt like the book was building and building and building - and then it ended. The ending felt so much more like a middle than anything and there was a lot left danging. It felt unfinished.

In general, the premise was strange. Again, it might be me. I don't know. Maybe it was just that I couldn't get into the Suicide City thing. I just... it was horrifying. Terrifying. And maybe it's a thing for me that the idea that people who hurt that badly would hurt for the rest of eternity, maybe it's just a thing I can't get into. I really don't know. I just... I can't say I enjoyed those chapters, and the ending was... it got bad and it didn't feel hopeful, even. Just kind of horrible.

Plot Talk: This is a hard book to do a plot thingie for. Basically, Natalie's chapters tell what happened to her in the weeks leading up to Rose's death, and Rose's chapters describe what happens after her death and in her search to find her sister in the Suicide City.

Characters: So, The Green-Eyed Queen was told through alternating POVs. The contemporary/"normal" chapters were told in the 1st person POV of Natalie. I liked Natalie a lot. Her chapters are set a few months in the past, largely, leading up to Rose's death. Most of her chapters were more reminiscing, telling things slowly, and for the most part they weren't much linked to Rose's besides a few little glimpses into her life. Apparently they were close for some time, but that wasn't explored much and they weren't close when Rose died.

Rose was, well, dead. She was kind of numb at first more than anything, but her chapters didn't feel removed like some 3rd person POVs can, which I admire. The book never really talked about why she killed herself or anything besides that once she was in the City, she was desperate to find her sister. While Natalie's story ends with some decent closure in her arc and growth in her character, although there were still some dangling threads. However, Rose's storyline felt very unfinished. It really felt like her story was only half done.

The other characters were solid, nothing amazing. Natalie's best friend Addy was pretty typical, the "wild" best friend, you know? Raised by a single mom, eccentric. Not that unique, ironically, for how the book tried to make her unique and special. And I actually really liked Natalie's mom. She was cool. On Rose's side, the characters weren't as well developed. There were a lot more characters and they would come and go fairly quickly and fairly frequently.

All in all, I kind of wanted everyone to have more time to shine and with the book being so short, it just doesn't happen.

PG-13 stuff: Mostly mild language. One or two f-bombs that really stood out for how little other language there was. On the trigger-y side of things, there's a lot of talk about suicide, obviously, some of it cavalier. There ends up being a lot of gore and (SPOILER) there's even cannibalism. Sometimes, honestly, it's gross and disturbing. Especially the last couple chapters.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: I think I've figured out what my biggest issue was with this book - it felt more like two books than one. One was basically a friend dealing with grief contemporary book, one was a pretty dark paranormal book. I don't know if that really worked for me. Because I really liked Natalie's story, but Rose's story was not super my thing and it just didn't match. And while Natalie's story wraps up decently, Rose's just kind of ends in, you know, unspeakable horror. There's basically no resolution for her at all.

There was also some slut-shaming and some comments about rape that were kind of gross. I wasn't fond of that. It got too close to jokey.

And this isn't exactly bad, but I thought it was weird - Natalie's step-dad is black... and it's not said until page 73. Out of 198. Almost all the other characters were described by page 2-3. It just kind of stood out in a jarring way.

Cover comments: It's fine, you know. It suits the story. I think it's really nice for a small-press, especially.

Conclusion: This is such a hard one for me. I thought the premise sounded so interesting, but the execution just didn't work for me. Some of the gore really grossed me out, I'm sorry to say. It felt so separated, so much like two different books, and neither of them really felt long enough. At the end of the book, I wanted more, not because I loved it so much, but because it felt so unfinished. This easily could have been 400 pages and it would have been so much more satisfying.

*sigh* I feel so wishy-washy! I have such a hard time rating this because I liked the Natalie chapters, but the Rose chapters didn't work for me. I guess I'll have to go with a 2.5 for this one.

Other Notes:

- That's all, I just needed to say that.
- There's a moment where a farm they called a "PMU farm, a pregnant-mare's-urine farm. It's where they take the" [urine] "out of pregnant horses and sell it to make birth control pills." There's a farm around here that my aunt told me was that, so I googled it. Turns out? Most birth controls these days are synthetic hormones. The only hormones made from horse urine are actually used in hormone replacement therapy. For menopause. I don't know if it's the same type of thing used in other HRT. And there are only one or two I could find, which are being more and more replaced by synthetic hormones since those have been proven to not be great for people.

I know things sometimes.

Peace and cookies,

Monday, July 21, 2014

YA Review: Replica

Look a review!! Shhh, don't spook it ;)

Replica by Jenna Black

Published: July 16th 2013 by Tor
Genre: YA Science Fiction, specifically Dystopian
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 368
Part of a series? Book 1 of the Replica Trilogy. The second book came out in March and the third will be out in November.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / IndieBound

Summary (from goodreads): Sixteen-year-old Nadia Lake comes from a high-class Executive family in the Corporate States. Her marriage has been arranged with the most powerful family in her state, which means she lives a life of privilege but also of public scrutiny, followed everywhere by photographers, every detail of her private life tabloid fodder. But her future is assured, as long as she can maintain her flawless public image — no easy feat when your betrothed is a notorious playboy.

Nathan Hayes is the heir of Paxco — controller of the former state of New York, and creator of human replication technology, science that every state and every country in the world would kill to have. Though Nadia and Nate aren’t in love, they’ve grown up close, and they (and the world) are happy enough with their match.

Until Nate turns up dead, and as far as everyone knows, Nadia was the last person to see him alive.

When the new Nate wakes up in the replication tanks, he knows he must have died, but with a memory that only reaches to his last memory backup, he doesn’t know what killed him. Together, Nadia and Nate must discover what really happened without revealing the secrets that those who run their world would kill to protect.

Review: I've only read one of Jenna Black's adult books, so I was sort of going into this one not knowing anything besides reading the back at the library. I also read most of this while completely stoned on knock-off Sudafed because my sinuses were killing me. (You can imagine how tidy my book-notes are.) Possibly partly because of that, Replica was a bit hard for me to get into at first. I actually considered doing the 50-page test, but the fact that I was stoned out of my mind by that point and didn't feel like standing up because I got wobbly every time I did really helped matters immensely!

No, in all seriousness, it took me until about 100 pages in to really get invested in things. It didn't seem like things really kicked up until around then, too. When they did, I did end up really wanting to know what would happen, and especially who killed Nate. (Which by the way literally happens in the second chapter. Not a spoiler.) While I had some trouble getting into it, I was glad I did. By the ends of things, I was satisfied that I'd read it and with how it ended.

Plot Talk: So Replica takes place in a dystopian-type vaguely futuristic setting. I... kind of assumes it was the future, anyways. I suppose it could have been an alrternate history type deal, but the advanced technology, the part where the US has kind of fallen, and the whole cloning/human back-up thing made me assume future. It was pretty vague, though, and I think that the world-building suffered quite a bit.

That was not really about plot, was it? Okay, so. The plot itself is your average girl is engaged to boy. Boy is not into girls but it's a political arranged marriage. Boy gets killed and brought back to life. Girl gets threatened by a government agent employed by boy's father into spying on boy. Boy and girl go to extreme measures to find boy's killer and end up discovering all the dark secret-type things you'd expect in this kind of thing.

There. Plot! *jazz hands*

Characters: This is an alternating POV book, starting with Nadia's POV. Nadia is sixteen, arranged to be engaged since the age of four (because they couldn't be legally engaged until they were both eighteen because arranged marriage is totes cool when it involves barely legal teenagers), and... kind of boring. I'm sorry! I really wanted to like her, but I didn't feel like she actually had much personality and the plot definitely did not give her a lot of agency most of the time. There were a fair amount of instances where she could have been removed from the book and it wouldn't have changed things, and that really sucked.

As the book was told in third person, I think Nadia ended up feeling removed. You didn't really know that much about her besides that she really liked tea. She didn't get nearly enough characterization for my tastes. t was disappointing because her story was really interesting and the moments where you got to see a little more of her personality were great and made me want so much more.

Nate got a lot more characterization and character growth. He went from spoiled playboy to much more grounded and realistic through the book. His POV starts with him waking up as a clone (or Replica) so you never get to see the "Original" Nate's POV, only him from Nadia's POV, which raises fascinating questions regarding the whole "what makes a human" thing. That was a really cool idea and that element was handled well.

Nate being a MOGII* person was also handled extremely well. I think it's super important that sci-fi and fantasy be diverse and that everything doesn't have to be an "issue" book. Having only one kind of story told about people like you is not really great representation, and represention is so important. Nate being gay was obviously important to his character, but it wasn't that important to the plot. It ends up just being another part of his character.

Nate's boyfriend Kurt Bishop was very important to the plot, but also not because of their relationship or his orientation. He was a chritical character for reasons other than the romance between him and Nate. This is actually a book that does not focus heavily on romance, although their relationship is focused on more than any other in the book. In general, the romance is very minimal - the only kiss is actually a kiss on the head that ends up being very poignant - but their relationship is talked about and on-screen the most. Which is great.

The side characters were good, too. I'm not always a huge fan of "mean girl" characters because I think they can be very shallow and misogynistic, and there were a few of them, and Nadia's father didn't really seem to get a lot of screentime, but her mother had a few great, really unexpected moments. And the villain kind of completely shocked me.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: I really do hate that Nadia wasn't more characterized. That's something that actually makes me sad. The pacing and world-building could have been better stronger, as well.

PG-13 stuff: It's definitely an older YA, or for a more mature reader. There's some language, teenage drinking mentions of drug use, and sex. But there's also, more importantly to me, a lot of fridge horror in the cloning aspect, the realities of having a very rich popular controlling a large, very poor population where there's crime and violence and hopelessness. There's also a mention of Nadia's mother once having a miscarriage (not plot related, but some people have trouble reading that) and sex workers, including very young people, even children.

It's not necessarily bad to me to include things like this in media, but I think it's important to talk about it in reviews/discussions for people who might not be okay with reading it, so that's what I'm trying to do here.

Cover comments: I like it. It's very science-y. Sleek. It works very well for the book, I think.

Conclusion: This review is coming off a lot more negative than I expected! While the things I had problems with were almost enough to make me stop reading because I had trouble getting into it, I did end up enjoying it. I don't think the plot was too unique - it's vaguely Hungers Game-esque in the world-building - but the book did have a good amount of interesting, fairly unique element and, although the ending seemed a bit like sequel bait, it was satisfying to finish it. It's somewhat of a cliffhanger, but it was predictable enough to me that it would me a cliffhanger that it didn't bother me.

And I really did like that one of the characters was a MOGII* person because representation is super important and this kind is particularly refreshing. Diversity in YA and all that good stuff.

So while I had issues, I don't want you to think I hated it or anything. I really didn't! I liked the plot, I really liked a lot of the creepier elements, I liked most of the characters. I liked a lot of the book, I just had... issues connecting at times. I give Replica three and a half roses out of five for me personally, but I do recommend it and I think a lot of people would enjoy it.

*Marginalized Orientations, Gender Identities, and Intersex

Other notes:
- I have a note here that literally says "Thing about hair dye, cookies, etc, Laina" so apparently I was getting tired when I wrote this out.
- OH yeah, a character at one point shaves his head because "dye stinks". Dude, it's the FUTURE and body mod is huge, apparently. I have hair dye that smells like grapes. DON'T YOU GIVE ME THAT NOISE.

Peace and cookies,

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Influenster VoxBox: ImPress Nails

Or: Did I remember to take pictures of this?

I did not. Or at least, I took pictures of the BOX... hold on a second... okay, we're good to go.

And here, the card cleverly disguises where I ripped the box open because apparently I don't know how they work and I was trying to open the wrong side. Yeah. There's nothing special on the back of the card, just some pricing info and links for checking in and stuff.

Anyways, I got this from Influenster as you can probably tell. Full Disclosure, yada yada, all that good stuff.

These are the two designs I got:

For some reason, my camera has a hard time picking up this pink colour. I edited these a little in Picasca, but it's not coming off as true to life.

This one's better:

This is called Shout and it's a bubblegum, Barbie pink that fades down to clear/nail coloured at the bottom, with silver and black accents. You get a couple different designs per nail that they're supposed to go on. I ended up with mismatched nails - my thumbnails were different from each other, even - but it all kind of goes together so that's okay. The silver is glitter and has some texture, but nothing too terrible.

The other colour is impossible to photograph. It looks like a gunmetal grey in pictures and if you look right at it, but it's a duo-chrome colour. They look kind of grey looking at them head-on, but then if you shift them, they end up looking purple one way, or a greenish blue another way. Kind of... well, like a crow's feathers, actually. They also have some shimmer, but they're completely smooth.

This set is from the Disney Villains line so the packaging is kind of cool.

I'm kind of a sucker for this kind of thing XD But they are a little dark for summer, so I'll probably not wear them until fall or winter. I like bright colours during summer. I have used two sets of these now and I'm confident in saying they perform pretty much the same each time I've used them, though.

How these work is: First you try each nail on your fingers until you get all the ones you need and figure out which ones fit better. At some point, you spill them on your bed and mutter words and do it over again... or at least I do.

Included with the nails you get a little "prep pad" which is just a little wet alcohol wipe to clean and oil and dirt off your nails and help things stick together better. You swipe your nails and then you grab the little plastic tab on the nail and rip it off. That can kind of be hard sometimes and you mutter words about how you will not be defeated by a piece of plastic and viciously yank it off... or at least I do ;) Underneath the plastic is nail glue already applied to the nail and it's actually a good thing it's hard to get the plastic off because that means the glue is strong.

Then you just stick them onto your nails, pinky to thumb, and you're done. I do like to file the tops a bit because there's like a little tab on the top - you can kind of see it in the close up picture of the pink pair - and it bothers me. They give you a tiny little emery board, but I prefer a metal file. That can take a little while, but I usually do it before I stick the nail on so it's not terrible.

These lasted me just about a full week. On the 7th day, I had one nail that was starting to lift pretty badly and I'm kind of terrible and played with it like a loose tooth, so it ended up coming off and after that, I was tired of wearing them, and ripped them all off. Well over half of them still had lots of glue on them and could have used some soaking in nail polish remover/acetone. The bottle says "gently" peel off from sides or soak around edges with nail polish remover and I'd recommend go for the nail polish remover to dissolve the glue, but I'm impatient and kind of like the way it feels to rip them off.

I'm weird, though.

Ripping them off while the glue is still going strong can leave a little surface damage, but nothing major. My nails always feel very sharp at the edges for some reason, but a little filing fixes that up. And I get a week of growth without any breakage. Because of the length of these, sometimes I have to trim my nails to fit because these are a short length. I do think short fake nails are easier to deal with, though.

My nails for the last year or so have been very weak and easily broken. I've actually been taking calcium supplements because I Googled what weak nails can be a sign of and calcium deficiency is one of them and I realized that with the whole lactose intolerant thing, even if it did nothing for my nails, my bones would probably appreciate it. (Plus it has Vitamin D in it to help the absorption and I'm a very pale person who lives covered in sunblock and I have brain issues so Vitamin D is a good.) I've been taking them for... oh, maybe a month now. And I noticed after I took these off, my nails didn't IMMEDIATELY break. I even have a little length on my pinkies and ring fingers that just wasn't happening for quite a while there.

So, for me, it's probably the calcium thing that's helping, but getting a week of growth with no chance of breakage was nice, too. Like "resting" your nails, you know? Is that a weird way to think of it? XD I also had a nail break super low my left thumb, like badly enough that it bled. So I had to wait for that to heal enough to not be a scab before I put these on, but

Okay, I've been talking for a while, so here, have a creepy photo of my hand wearing these and holding the bottle with the extras in it to break things up:

(Seriously, these come off so pastel and they're really more bubblegum than anything.)

I should wrap this up now. Alright, so. I think these are a lot of fun. The application is really easy, probably easier than nail polish - especially if you have mobility problems. They're really basically just stickers. They would also be good for an event, like grad, or prom, because you could put them on the day before and not worry about them getting messed up. And I know people like them for travelling. The thickness of the nail makes scratching annoying because it doesn't make the itch go away and honestly? That's about the only complaint I have. They can feel a little weird first going on, but you adjust after a while. Other than that, I'm pretty much satisfied with these as a product.

Where I live, the only store I've seen them in prices them at 15 dollars. As much as I like these, I think that is too much. The selection is also very limited and they aren't really fancy or exciting colours or designs. But I live in the middle of nowhere. So if you can get these at a better price - the card I got in my VoxBox says they retail at 8.99 to 10.99 and that's a much better price - I'd say give them a shot. Maybe you're not going to wear them every week of your life, but they can be a fun treat and they're a pretty good value for a price under or around 10 dollars.

Okay! Normally I would post this on Friday, but I'm going away for a couple days and I don't know if I'll have time tomorrow and I need to link this review on Influenster XD So you get it today.

So what do you guys think? Have you tried anything like this? Would you?

Peace and cookies,

Monday, June 2, 2014

YA Review: How to Tend a Grave

Look, another review! I'm kinda proud of myself, heh.

Okay, this is a serious book, so let's get serious and pretend that Olivia Newton John's Physical didn't start playing in my head the second I said "let's get serious".

How to Tend a Grave by Jocelyn Shipley

Published: March 2012 by Great Plains Teen Fiction
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 178
Part of a series? No.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): When Liam’s mom is killed, he thinks life can’t get any worse. He’s wrong. He’s forced to live with a grandfather he’s never known, in a small town where kids called Youth and Crime lead the local gang. They’re posers, but they mean trouble, and their favourite hangout is the cemetery where Liam’s mom is buried. But the cemetery is also where Liam meets Harmony, a gorgeous but unusual girl who records the names of all the babies buried there long ago. Besides their grief, both Liam and Harmony have secrets.

The very different stories of these two fifteen-year-olds interweave brilliantly in this fast-paced, engaging and unforgettable novel about family, love and healing.

Review: Little bit of background - if you don't know (and you may not), Great Plains Publications is an indie Canadian publisher and they publish YA under the Great Plains Teen Fiction label. And now you know something new!

How to Tend a Grave is told through the alternating POVs of Liam and Harmony. Liam loses his mom at the beginning of the book and, through Harmony's diary entries, we learn that she has recently had a late-term miscarriage. The book deals largely with the process of them both grieving. I kind of have a lot of mixed feelings about it. I liked a lot of it, but I also had some issues with it. I thought that the Harmony parts, being that they were in first person, were much stronger than Liam's third person parts. His parts tended to be kind of rushed with not enough time to really get into his characterization or motivation. In fact, the whole book could have done with expanding a lot of scenes. This easily could have been a 300 page book and it would have been a lot better, I think.

Plot Talk: The plot had some very unique aspects. Liam's plot wasn't entirely unique - dead parent, move to new town, get into trouble - but his mother being a sex worker was something that I don't really see that often. And I really actually liked how the author presented that. His mom wasn't a drug addict or anything, and, while Liam hated that she was gone a lot at night and wasn't exactly comfortable with the idea of his mother having sex at all, it was treated respectfully and she wasn't really shamed for her choices for most of the book, besides when Liam latched onto it as part of his grieving process.

But the part that I thought was absolutely unique was Harmony's plot. Her POV comes in the form of journal entries. She's almost sixteen and she's dealing a recent late-term miscarriage. What's unique, I think, is that she has such mixed feelings about it. She's grieving, she's sad, she wants the baby back, but she's relieved, she's guilty, she's guilty about being relieved, she knows she probably didn't want to be a teen mom. It's a really interesting story that I actually would have loved a lot more of in the book.

Characters: The biggest characters are Liam and Harmony. Liam, again, is dealing with the recent loss of his mom. Unfortunately, I think because of the rushed pacing and maybe even the choice to use third person in writing his POV, he comes off kind of flat. You don't really know that much about him at the end of the book. His motivations in going along with the Youth 4 Crime gang is vague and doesn't make sense. His character could have been a lot deeper and more complex, and I'm disappointed it wasn't.

Harmony's character seemed a lot more developed, which is funny because she got fewer chapters. Maybe it was because she had interests and stuff, or because we learned more about her parents, I'm not sure. Maybe it was just because her POV was in first person. But you felt like you knew Harmony more, and her voice was much stronger than Liam's. And I hate to say it, but she was honestly just more interesting than Liam.

I also thought it was a very strong point that she talked pretty frankly about her miscarriage.  Her journal entries are addressed to her lost baby, suggested as a grief tool by a counsellor. I think it was unique that, while obviously it was sad and scary and everything, she didn't gloss over the medical side of the miscarriage, if that makes sense. She talked about how she bled without it sounding like a horror movie, about having medical procedures, about how she didn't want to see the baby. It's not unemotional, mind you. But it rings very true to life. It feels like how a fifteen year old girl might react in that situation, even her slightly-odd coping methods.

Harmony's parents were imperfect. They put a lot of pressure on her to keep the baby even though she wasn't sure she wanted to - and in fact was at one point very sure she didn't want to. Harmony even states that she felt her parents made the choice for her because they wanted another chance at having a kid, since they'd only been able to have her. They are also grieving throughout the book, and it takes most of it for their relationship to be better at all. I actually wish there had been more about them healing, maybe even a confrontation since Harmony had a lot of feelings hidden.

Liam's grandfather was pretty neat. I liked the way he and Liam bonded over his garden. I do again wish that they'd had more screentime, though. He's another one who suffered from the book being so short.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: The voice, especially in Liam's POV, is rough sometimes. There are a lot of scenes that really could have been expanded to deepen the characterization and it does end up feeling rushed because of that and some characters come off shallow.

Okay, this next part is going to be a little spoilery. Not terribly much, but a little. Skip it if you want, but it shouldn't ruin anything. Why is everything that's a con a spoiler? Alright. So it comes out at one point that there was a forty-five year old who had an affair with a seventeen year old. Who was his student, as he was her history teacher. And this character's father says this:
"If I'd known at the time... and I didn't. And he swears it was mutual. Which doesn't excuse him, but I didn't. And he swears it was mutal. Which doesn't excuse him, but he might not be completely to blame. You have to realize that (character) was seductive."
NO. This is victim blaming. I don't care what the age of consent was (and yes, in 1996, it was stupid in Canada and way too low as far as I'm concerned). When you are forty-five, you cannot have sex with your seventeen year old student and call it consensual. That student is a child who you are in a positition of authority over. I just... I had a lot of problems with that and I didn't blame the character who ended up being enraged and disgusted by it.

PG-13 stuff: The afore mentioned spoilery part. Harmony's miscarriage is discussed frankly, along with the conception (which she does not remember - trigger warning on that). Liam's mother is a sex worker and that's also discussed frankly. There is, weirdly, not a lot of language going on. There's some violence.

Cover comments: I really like the cover. The contrast of the pink of the roses against the mostly grey cover is lovely. It's also very presentative of both plots. The gravestone being Liam's plot, the mobile being more of Harmony's. It's beautifully designed and absolutely eye-catching.

Conclusion: I wanted to like this one so much more than I did! I love finding great Canadian Lit and I really thought it sounded amazing. Unfortunately, it really suffered from being so short and such quick pacing, and Liam's chapters were weak. Because I did like Harmony's chapters a lot, I'm going to give this a three out of five.

Other notes:

- This is set in the fictional town of Dunlane, Ontario. There are, however, ghost towns named Dunblane in both Ontario and Saskatchewan, apparently, and a Dunblane in Scotland. And sad things happened there.
- It's mentioned that Harmony's mom is part Asian, so Harmony is biracial. Diversity, yay.
- Worst gang name ever.

Alright, what do you guys think about this one?

Peace and cookies,

Monday, May 26, 2014

MG Review: Gangsta Granny

Told you I wasn't dead! I wrote this before the whole computer death thing, so I'm just going to leave it as is.


Still going semi-strong on this reviewing thing! I've been trying to get it so I'll have either a review or a "Things I've Read Recently" post every Monday. I mean, it's a work in progress, but I am working on it.

Gangsta Granny by David Walliams

Published: 2011 by HarperCollins Children's Books
Genre: MG Contemporary
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 299
Part of a series? No.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Ben is bored beyond belief after he is made to stay at his grandma's house. All she wants to do is to play Scrabble, and eat cabbage soup. But there are two things Ben doesn't know about his grandma: she was once an international jewel thief and she has been plotting to steal the crown jewels. Now she needs Ben's help.

Review: I'm doing a Soup Storytime at work so I was looking up "soup" books on my library website and this came up in my search results. The cover looked neat and it sounded good, and I was logged into the website, so I ordered it. You might notice that tends to be a theme with me. I didn't really know what to expect because I'd never heard of this before. You might notice I'm a wee bit out of the loop because of that whole thing with the year long accidental hiatus. But I also don't know a ton about British Kids' Lit in general.

This is really funny. It's completely and utterly ridiculous and implausible in that way that childrens' books are sometimes wonderful for. Ben's parents are obsessed with this dancing show, Strictly Stars Dancing (kind of like a Dancing With the Stars expy) and apparently own "an unrivalled collection of Strictly memorabilia". Ben and his grandmother plan a heist to steal the Crown Jewels from the Queen who shows up wearing fuzzy corgi slippers. I have this as contemporary, but it's almost not just because it's so silly, and I really enjoyed that.

The back says nine and up and I definitely think some nine year olds would snap this up, but I also think it might be a little above some nine year olds' reading level. It probably isn't the best book for a reluctant reader because the writing does feel like it reads a little higher, but it would be a good book to challenge a kid who is having a hard time finding books that are harder, but still fun.

The only thing I think might get a little confusing is that sometimes it is a very British book. It's easier, I think, for Canadians sometimes (like, America, why don't you have Mars Bars???) but like, one page a "lime green thong" was mentioned and I'm pretty sure they meant a flip-flop, but that's the kind of thing that could be a little confusing for kids who don't know British slang. It's like how for half my life I couldn't figure out how you read under the sheets with a torch and why one of the first things I did upon getting internet access was look up what a knickerbocker glory was, thank you Harry Potter. Kind of fun, really, for some kids, although some might find it somewhat frustrating. Really depends on the kid.

Plot Talk: Oh, gosh, I don't even know how to describe this. Ben spends Friday nights with his grandmother while his parents have date night. He thinks it's super boring because she smells like cabbage, cooks cabbage into everything including cake, and her TV doesn't work so all they do is play Scrabble. Then he finds a tin of jewelry and his grandmother tells him that in her youth she was an international jewel thief. Together, they cook up a plan to steal the Crown Jewels. Plus hijinks!

...I think that'll work. This is hard to describe because it's just so wild and silly and illogical, but it works in the book to really make you want to keep reading to find out just what happens.

Characters: Ben was a very relatable character. He's a slow reader who isn't super interested in school. At least, not until he's given something to really make him want to learn, which in this case is... stealing the Crown Jewels. While this is kind of silly, it's actually a good example of how some kids learn better and can really enjoy learning when you relate it their interests or make it interesting for them. It's also super sweet how him and his grandmother bond over a shared interest... again, even if that interest is stealing the Crown Jewels. I also really liked that he was interested in plumbing. It's not something you usally read in childrens' books.

His parents were very cartoonish at first and one dimensional. I think that does follow along with the way the writing style is, where it's somewhat similar to Roald Dahl and that kind of style. Think about Matilda's parents, say, or the aunts in James and the Giant Peach. Ben's parents seem to be only into their ballroom dancing and even sometimes neglectful of their son. But they do seem to grow and reveal more of themselves to Ben as the book goes on, along with paying more attention to him, and that works very well. He also gets closer to his parents eventually along with getting closer to his grandmother.

As for his grandmother... well, the idea of your grandmother being an international jewel thief is pretty awesome. So the concept of that alone is really neat. Granny seemed like a pretty British grandmother as far as I can tell, but again, it worked well. I think a lot of kids could understand not really knowing their grandparents and maybe even not liking staying with them sometimes.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: There's some toilet humour that kids would probably love because they're gross and weird, but parents might not. I didn't notice any language and there's not really anything for violence. There were a couple of fat jokes/rude comments made about Ben's dad, like him being "too fat for the police" because apparently fat people can't run. I'm not into fat jokes and that was something I didn't like at all.

There's a twist to the ending. And I actually wonder if it wouldn't be hard on some kids. I will put it in the next section so as it's very spoilery, skip straight to cover comments if you don't want to see it. I also don't really think the book needed it and think it might have been better without it, honestly.

PG-13 stuff: Again, some toilet humour. And the spoilery part skip this part if you want I'll talk a bit more but seriously skip this is you don't wanna know the twisty part of the end can I stop typing have you stopped reading? Okay. So, at the end of the book, we find out that the grandmother is sick and she does actually die. And while I don't think death needs to be completely avoided in childrens' literature - and actually I think it's important and a good tool to maybe help kids deal with death - this book? Didn't really need it. It comes basically out of nowhere unless you pay very close to attention to one clue. And many kids probably wouldn't catch it, and it's only in the last thirty pages that it's dealt with and it can come off kind of rushed, but also very shocking. And it didn't really work for me because of that.


Cover comments: Obviously, the cover caught my attention well enough! It seems like a pretty traditional cover to me. It sort of reminds me of Cressida Cowell's covers a little. I don't think it's amazing, but it's nice and it works well.

Conclusion: All in all, I enjoyed Gangsta Granny. For the most part, it's a very light, silly read. The illustrations by Tony Ross (whose picture books I know, actually) are fun, although there aren't that many of them. They're a nice addition and add a little extra character to the book. I liked the voice, including the occasional break of the fourth wall, and it was just fun in general. I'm not sure I would quite compare this to Roald Dahl, but I do think that they would probably appeal to similar audiences.

However, I think that the part of the ending that I mentioned in my PG-13 stuff section really detracts from the book overall because it's very shocking and doesn't intergrate into the book as well. I didn't realize how much it bothered me until I was writing this and trying to decide whether to put it in the PG-13 section or the Complaints section, but it didn't sit well with me and I wasn't a fan of that. So because it was such a big surprise and it didn't work so badly, I have to knock off a half rose, so instead of four, this one has to get a three and a half rose rating.

Other notes:

- Ben's favourite candy was Rolos and I actually had to stop and think about if the US has Rolos. And then I had to ask people because I didn't know. Turns out, yes. But y'all don't really have Mars Bars, you don't have Aeros and you don't have Wunderbars. Weirdness!

Okay, I think that's everything. Have you read this? What'd you think?

Peace and cookies,

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Hey I'm not dead!

My computer broke at the end of February and it took until the end of March to get it fixed. Kinda still working on getting caught up because, wow. That's a long time to not have any internet access.

I actually have a few posts pretty much ready to go so sometime this next week things should be back kicking again around here.

Not dead!

Peace and cookies,

Monday, March 3, 2014

Things I've Read Recently (10)

So if you're new around here or you forgot who I am completely because I suck at blogging, Things I've Read Recently is a series of blog posts I do that are basically mini-reviews because I forgot to review it until it'd been way too long since I read it, or I don't want to do a full review, or it needed to go back to the library, or what have you.

Vanished in the Night by Eileen Carr

Published: 2011 by Pocket Books
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 337
Part of a series? Nope.
Amazon / Book Depository / IndieBound

Summary (from goodreads): Veronica Osborne has had enough problems with the police, thanks to her volatile father. So when tall, strapping Sergeant Zach McKnight shows up at her door, she’s prepared for anything—except the news that her beloved missing brother, Max, has been dead for nearly twenty years... ever since he ran away.

Appalled when the police suspect her father of Max’s murder, Veronica begins her own investigation. But as her surprising role in her brother’s disappearance surfaces, so do more bodies. The ghosts of Max’s past are working hard to hide the truth, while another, more sinister force will do anything to expose it. How far will a killer go to get revenge? And can Zach stop him before he targets the woman Zach’s coming to love?

Thoughts: I wasn't really a huge fond of this one, honestly. There were some weird moments like why is the main guy saying the main character looks like a teenager, how is that not creepy?? And there were some moments where he was really misogynistic. There was a sexual abuse plot not even hinted at in the summary that could be very triggering, fyi, and that kind of came out of nowhere? Sometimes the writing was clunky, it was slightly dated (characters using VRCs without it being explained why???) and it just... it didn't work for me. I didn't hate it, but I wouldn't reread it and it took me longer than I would have liked to finish. Not recommending this one.

The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me by Roald Dahl

Published: Some time in 1985 by Puffin/Penguin
Genre: Children's Fantasy, maybe Middle Grade?
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 79
Part of a series? No
Amazon / Book Depository / IndieBound

Summary (from goodreads): Who needs a ladder when you’ve got a giraffe with an extended neck?

The Ladderless Window-Cleaning Company certainly doesn't. They don’t need a pail, either, because they have a pelican with a bucket-sized beak. With a monkey to do the washing and Billy as their manager, this business is destined for success. Now they have their big break—a chance to clean all 677 windows of the Hampshire House, owned by the richest man in all of England! That’s exciting enough, but along the way there are surprises and adventures beyond their wildest window-washing dreams.

Thoughts: I've read this before, but at some point I got it in my head that it was a picture book so I actually ordered it as an extra book for a Storytime. It's not a picture book, it's a chapter book. (Although is there a version with colour pages or something?)

Anyways, Roald Dahl is a classic author for a reason. This is a lot of fun. Nice quick read as an adult, would be a lot of fun for kids. Some of the stuff in there (the Duke says the d-word at one point) might need to be explained as it being an old book, but all in all, these have aged very well, obviously. It's not really my favourite Dahl, but it's solid. I like how there's a mention of Wonka candy, like a little inside joke for kids. Also, apparently there's an audiobook version narrated by Hugh Laurie. This would be at least a three and a half, probably a solid four for me.

Grimm Fairy Tales Omnibus

Published: 2013 by Zenescope
Genre: It's a bind-up of comic books
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: Like 1350 in my copy
Part of a series? Yup.
Amazon / Book Depository / IndieBound

Summary (from goodreads): Follow Professor Sela Mathers as she uses fairy tales and fables to teach life lessons to those who find themselves on the cusp of making immoral choices. While some will heed her warnings, others will choose to ignore these valuable lessons and ultimately face the horrifying consequences of their actions.

Thoughts: Okay, let's get one thing out of the way first - I know next to nothing about comic books. I read the occasional Archie comic and I like Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes. There are a couple webcomics I read, but no actual comic books. I didn't even realize this was a comic. It had a weird picture on my library website that was really small and not the cover and I couldn't figure out what it was so I ordered it because I was logged in already.

You know, as you do.

There's a lot of instances in here where female anatomy is just impossible. Like spines and breasts and bodies just don't work the way they're shown and it kind of really sucks. The ratio of women working on these is sad, a fair amount of the early stories especially seem to have a focus on punishing women for their sexuality and choices, a historian would cry over the clothing in the fairy tales, there's ableism, racism, racial slurs, some of the most impractical fight wear ever, a lot of whitewashing, a thin Ursula (and don't tell me that's only a Disney thing because there is a very sexualized Snow White costume that is obviously taken from the Disney movie), and a lot of the female faces end up almost identical.

I liked that there were a lot of female characters and a lot of them were very interesting and different. Between issues, you'd have different writers and illustrators, and some had more strength than others. Brusha especially was a more repetitive, sometimes really sloppy writer. I like the idea of twisted fairy tales and this was a good way to get into having a conversation with my friend who actually likes comics about things I need to try because, hey, actually, comic books are kind of fun, but this probably wasn't for me and I don't think I'll be looking into future issues.

(Oh, and apologies for the cover being slightly off. The Goodreads one was slightly different and I like this one better.)

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Published: July 23rd, 2012 by HarperCollins
Genre: YA Fantasy
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 292
Part of a series? No.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Fifteen-year-old Tiger Lily doesn't believe in love stories or happy endings. Then she meets the alluring teenage Peter Pan in the forbidden woods of Neverland and immediately falls under his spell.

Peter is unlike anyone she's ever known. Impetuous and brave, he both scares and enthralls her. As the leader of the Lost Boys, the most fearsome of Neverland's inhabitants, Peter is an unthinkable match for Tiger Lily. Soon, she is risking everything—her family, her future—to be with him. When she is faced with marriage to a terrible man in her own tribe, she must choose between the life she's always known and running away to an uncertain future with Peter.

With enemies threatening to tear them apart, the lovers seem doomed. But it's the arrival of Wendy Darling, an English girl who's everything Tiger Lily is not, that leads Tiger Lily to discover that the most dangerous enemies can live inside even the most loyal and loving heart.

Thoughts: I like Tinker Bell. Like, in general. But quite frankly, I've never really loved Peter Pan. I'm actually a pretty big Disney fan, but it's never been one of my favourites. I don't seek it out to watch it and I'm just honestly not the biggest fan. I did real the book once, I think, but it was a long time ago, so when I say Peter Pan, I am pretty much just talking about the Disney movie portrayal. And obviously there is a huge problem in that that movie is massively racist. And it's not okay to say "that was just the time" or make excuses, especially not since Tinker Bell is such a popular character.

So it is really hard for me to separate that, honestly. The Sky Eater people in this are set up as a race of people native to Never Land. There's a shaman character. They're called tribes. They're obviously based on Aboriginal people. But which tribes? There are lots and they're not all the same thing. I am by no means an expert on this stuff, but I really have to question how comfortable I should be with this and whether or not this is something problematic that could hurt people.

(Also, as a trigger warning, there is a nondescript rape scene.)

That being said, it was an interesting book. I liked the focus on a character I didn't know about, Tiger Lily, and I loved that it was narrated by Tinker Bell. I think the idea of a narrating character who doesn't speak is fascinating and something that I'd like to see more. It was interesting to see the Peter Pan story from the Neverland side of things, not just from the Wendy side of things. And, honestly, I liked that Tink actually seemed to care about Tiger Lily more than she cared about Peter. It was said quite often that Tink was in love with Peter and fairies could only love one person, but she really seemed to love and care about Tiger Lily so much more. I liked how there were a lot of female characters, including Tiger Lily having a female friend who she very much cared about.

There was also a character who was possibly genderfluid. I'm cisgender and I don't feel completely comfortable judging the portrayal of that character, but it's something I personally don't see that often and it is important.

I did enjoy reading this. The characters are well-written and it's very interesting to see the deeper motivations and goals and such of characters from classic stories like this. I loved the mermaids because I have this total thing for murderous mermaids. But I also think that it's not good to ignore this kind of thing and we need to talk about them sometimes. So while I enjoyed the book, I am also conflicted over it.

Oh, also. The cover is really pretty. (Although this is making me realize I had a very different idea of what tiger lilies look like. Apparently I was thinking of the wrong flower. Long story.) But... the girl is kind of really skinny? And something about her arm, which wraps around to the back cover, looks not quite right to me. And I personally would like to see more girls who aren't white and skinny on covers. And considering Tiger Lily is a POC, I question the decision of the cover model to be a thin, white headless girl even though the cover is very pretty. (And I love the font.) It is eye-catching, for sure, but is it unique?

Alright, that's about everything, I think. Have you read any of these? What'd you think?

Peace and cookies,