Monday, September 15, 2014

YA Review: Love You Hate You Miss You

Love You Hate You Miss You by Elizabeth Scott

Published: May 26th, 2009 by HarperTeen
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 276 pages
Part of a series? Nope
Got via: I bought it off Amazon for like 4 dollars - great deal
Amazon / Book Depository / IndieBound

Summary (from goodreads): It's been seventy-five days. Amy's sick of her parents suddenly taking an interest in her.

And she's really sick of people asking her about Julia. Julia's gone now, and she doesn't want to talk about it. They wouldn't get it, anyway. They wouldn't understand what it feels like to have your best friend ripped away from you.

They wouldn't understand what it feels like to know it's your fault.

Amy's shrink thinks it would help to start a diary. Instead, Amy starts writing letters to Julia.

But as she writes letter after letter, she begins to realize that the past wasn't as perfect as she thought it was—and the present deserves a chance too.

Review: Whooboy, this is a hard one. This is not an easy book to read. It is a very good book, but it's not an easy book. It's painful and emotional and really freaking good. I have so much trouble writing about these kinds of books because it's so hard to describe the whole emotional devastation thing.

So let's just jump into it!

Plot Talk: The summary is pretty good at describing it, really. Amy's fresh out of rehab and starts writing letters to her dead best friend. It's not an action-based plot, you know? And, no, it's not the most unique plot in the world. But I think as a character-based plot, it works well.

Characters: Speaking of characters... our main character is Amy. The book alternates between diary entries addressed at Julia and regular 1st person chapters. It makes it so it doesn't get too angry. Amy is still very broken and grieving through much of the book, but it works. Amy is not exactly likable. She's grieving and guilty and angry and sometimes she's mean. But gosh, she's a darn good character to read about. She's compelling and sympathetic (sometimes) and her voice is great.

Basically the second most important character is, obviously, Julia. She's obviously gone, but Amy is still mourning her death so strongly that she's still vivid to the point where it almost still seems like she's there. She's a tricky character since she's, you know, dead, and Amy won't hear anything bad about her. So Amy's process of grieving her, of realizing maybe she wasn't perfect, it works really well.

I did quite like the other characters, too. The thing is, the huge bad thing has already happened. So the book ends up being more about the healing and growth and the characters end up really shining. And I have to say, this is the only Elizabeth Scott book I've read so far, but I think she writes very strong characters.

Also, I really liked the romance. I loved that it was slow and gradual. They talked in a way that was wonderful and honestly, I loved the way sex was handled and talked about. Very well done, and very good romance overall.

PG-13 stuff: It's a mature book for sure. I think usually a book like this gets something like a 14+ rating when they put ages on them, but it really depends on the reader. There are definite "adult themes", language, sex is talked about a lot, there's underage drinking and drug use. Trigger warnings for non-consensual alcohol use (that's a mouthful, but basically one character turns down a guy at a party and he switched her drink with much stronger grain alcohol and she ends up in the hospital - that's actually a date rape method, by the way), suicidal thoughts, and, obviously, grief.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: I actually don't have any? The only thing I really have is that her parents take away her cell phone and then tell her she can call if she needs anything when she goes to the movies with friends. Were payphones really that common in 2009???

But that's more silly than anything. I don't have anything else I can think of.

Cover comments: I think it's really pretty. Is it super unique? Nah, but it's pretty and it works for the book. If I saw it, I'd pick it up and at the end of things, that's what a cover is supposed to do, isn't it?

Conclusion: I have to say, the more I think about it, the more I like these sort of "after the event" type stories. Addicts aren't my favourite people to read about, honestly, and the healing journey is much more interesting to me. You guys also know I like therapy in books and this one is one of the ones that show that it might not be easy, but it can definitely help - if you want it to help. This book in general just works especially well. It reminds me somewhat of Cracked Up To Be which I loved and maybe a little of Jumping Off Swings and 34 Pieces of You both of which I liked. If you like this kind of book, basically the ones that make you cry? (And yes, I did.) You'll like this one. I very much did. Four roses.



Other Notes:

- There's a character named Caro who Amy calls Corn Syrup because of, you know, Karo Corn Syrup. Which made me realize that I don't say Karo right because every single time I read her name, I read it as Cairo, like rhymes with Pyro, not Caro. My brain is weird sometimes.

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, September 8, 2014

YA Review: The Downside of Being Charlie

Actually, before you read this one, maybe hit the PG-13 section first and read the trigger warnings. Be kind to yourself, you know?

Also, if you argue with me about this by offering any kind of weight loss "advice" or diet talk - I will delete your comments without any hesitation. This isn't up for debate.

The Downside of Being Charlie by Jenny Torres Sanchez

Published: May 22nd, 2012 by Running Press Teens
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 266 pages
Part of a series? Nope
Got via: I was sent it to review
Amazon / Book Depository / IndieBound

Summary (from goodreads): Charlie is handed a crappy senior year. Despite losing thirty pounds over the summer, he still gets called “Chunks” Grisner. What’s worse, he has to share a locker with the biggest Lord of the Rings freak his school has ever seen. He also can’t figure out whether Charlotte VanderKleaton, the beautiful strawberry lip-glossed new girl, likes him the way he likes her. Oh, and then there’s his mom. She’s disappeared—again—and his dad won’t talk about it.

Somewhere between the madness, Charlie can at least find comfort in his one and only talent that just might get him out of this life-sucking place. But will he be able to hold his head above water in the meantime?

Review: This is kind of hard to write. Mostly because... I hated this book for a good hundred pages. I don't know if you know this, but for a long time, there was kind of a trend of "fat camp" or "fat kid" books where it was always FACT that the only reason that a kid was fat was because of course they ate massive amounts of junk food. Because only fat kids eat junk food. Then the fat kid would get sent away to fat camp where they'd eat meals like a half cup of cottage cheese and a lettuce leaf. Because that seems so healthy and not at all borderline-starvation and nutritionally deficent.

And, yes, you can argue that books exagerate and it was "comedy", but as a fat kid? I was literally terrified of being sent away to fat camp. So as an adult, I don't really find it that funny. Kids should not have to worry about that. Ever.

So when the book opened with Charlie having just come back from fat camp (it's called Camp Fit, but Charlie knew and we all know it was fat camp) and having lost thirty pounds, I honestly almost quit reading. Especially when the book proceeded to talk about Charlie eating huge amounts of food, because it was so exagerated, like three helpings of spaghetti followed by two of ice cream. Let's be real - almost no one eats like that. Well, I mean. I have a cousin who kinda does, but he grew literally a foot taller in a year and also was/is kind of a stoner, so he doesn't count. Plus he's not fat. The point is, fat people, on average, don't eat that different from thin people. (Citation.)

You have what seems like stereotypes about fat people stuffing themselves constantly, fat camp, Charlie calling other fat people rejects and freaks, and then the really fun part where he talks about how huge he was at 265 pounds and almost six feet and how shocked he was to be obese. (Let's not talk about how BMI means basically nothing besides how tall you are and how much you weigh. It was not invented to have anything to do with health. The guy who invented it wanted to use it to classify bodies as "normal" and "deviant". Citation. Citation 2. AND while we're at it, maybe the reason he was shocked to find out he was obese was because he had no idea what really looks like. This guy is just shy of obese. This guy is obese. So is this guy. And this guy almost is. And, surprise, THIS guy is obese.)

You really can't blame me for almost giving up, right?

And then things got a little better, by which I mean they got a lot worse for Charlie. He started gaining weight back ('cause that's what happens, almost all of the time, and those lost pounds bring friends, too - citation, citation, citation, citation, citation, citation) and finds out that, surprise, when your life is messed up, losing weight doesn't fit it. Your life is still messed up and now everyone expects the weight lost to have fixed it. Except now you have no way to cope and you have to fight your body which desperately does not want to be starved, for some reason.

And Charlie starts getting attention he doesn't know how to handle from people who used to ignore him. A lot of them aren't great people. And he doesn't know how to handle that because he's used to being invisible. Meanwhile, he's resentful of people who eat normally in front of him, especially his best friend Ahmed who's naturally skinny and eats large amounts of "junk" food without gaining weight. (Funny how that works. Isn't it.) And Charlie sometimes acts as if he's doing it on purpose, because of course it's completely inconsiderate of him to eat in front of Charlie, right? (No.)

Then stuff with his parents starts to go very badly and Charlie begins to deal with it with binging and purging. And that is realistic. Sad, obviously. But realistic. Things get worse with the parents, the eating disorder gets worse. He restricts, then binges and purges. Again, realistic. I don't have any links to the rates of eating disorders in people who used to just be dieters, but information about kids and eating disorders can be found here. Lots of good info there.

Okay, this part got really long... I should probably do the other parts.

Plot Talk: I think we got it from the rambling above, yeah?

Characters: I think you can tell from the previous few (*cough*) paragraphs that I didn't really like Charlie for a good third of the book. He was, quite honestly, kind of a jerk. He had tons of internalized fatphobia and he treated the girl he liked like such a MPDG. At one point, he even says she was supposed to "save" him. He got better as the book goes on, but it's a hard road to get there. And it takes a lot of growth.

His best friend Ahmed was cool. Way into the Rat Pack and that kind of thing. Kind of sexist/gross towards girls, though, but he gets called out on it at the end of the book. And he was a very good friend to Charlie.

Hooboy this review is long.

Okay, so. Charlotte was not my favourite character. But a lot of that is probably deliberate, I will admit, because Charlie only saw her one way with the whole MPDG thing, and it was super idolized and pretty much ignored her as a person. When she was actually allowed to have a personality with, you know, needs and emotions and thoughts, I liked her a whole lot better and she became a much stronger character.

I also really disliked his dad for a lot of the book. His dad was the one who sent Charlie to fat camp and was so food-shamey and fatphobic. He's super gross in treating Charlie like he was wrong for eating. (Newsflash, eating is not a moral act. It's not, like, cocaine or something, for crying out loud.) Literally at one point he said that Charlie needed an "intervention".

And even after Charlie lost weight (which by the way - can we talk about the fact that 30 pounds over one summer is not a healthy weight loss?? Even pro-diet/weight-loss sites like LiveStrong only recommend one to two pounds a week. I don't know about you, but I've never heard of a 30 week summer), his dad was removed, constantly gone, and it's hard for me to like someone who basically abandons his kid. He start to make progress at the end, though. And he was a good character, if he wasn't a likeable one, at least. And boy was he not likeable.

PG-13 stuff: There was a lot of language. A lot. Some underage drug use mentioned and probably some drinking, too. And the subject matter is mature, especially the descriptions of Charlie's eating disorder. They can be very graphic.

So trigger warnings for - suicide, sizeism, eating disorders, attempted non-consensual drug use, bullying, and some ableism. Oh, and emetophobia because, yeah. (If you don't know what that is, Wikipedia it.)

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: I think we got all my complaints already. Let's move on.

Cover comments: Okay, here's my thing. I actually like the cover. It's neat, lots of personality. But between the cover and the back summary, it comes off way more "quirky comedy" so to be reading along expecting that and be hit BAM in the face with the eating disorder and the rather graphic descriptions of that, it's startling for me and it could easily be very painful for someone to just stumble onto that. Especially, say, a kid who was dealing with that same kind of behaviour themselves. To just get that in your face with no warning isn't a fun experience.

I can kinda understand it, because maybe your average kid who might need this book wouldn't pick it up if it had a more serious cover, but it still just doesn't seem like it fits to me. And then to have no indication of the eating disorder? It feels somewhat irresponsible and I hope no one was hurt by it.

Conclusion: This is ridiculously long and you're probably sick of me talking, so let's try and wrap this up.

Like I said, I very much disliked the first 100 pages or so. It's really hard to like a book that spends a lot of time insulting you. And Charlie does not only talk about his own body. He talks about other fat people being losers, freaks, pathetic, etc. And it's obviously what he's feeling about himself, but that doesn't excuse that he isn't saying those things about himself. He's saying them about other people. Which include me. Fun to read that!

And the book never has one character come out and say, "Hey, Charlie, you're not a pathetic loser because you're fat. It's okay to be fat. You don't need to lose weight." And I have to wonder, what does that say to fat teenagers? Sending you away to fat camp is okay, because you obviously need to lose weight when you're fat, but when it stops working despite you not changing or when an impractical, almost impossible diet becomes too much for you to bear, don't start purging or anything. But restricting's okay!

Obviously that last bit was a little sarcastic and I don't think the author meant to send that message, but I do worry that that would be what a fat kid reading this would absorb. It would not have taken that much for someone to say that being fat is okay. (It is.) Or that, hey, you can be healthy and fat! (You can. Citation. Citation. Citation.) It's almost taken for granted that, yeah, Charlie being fat is terrible.(It's not.)

I definitely think this kind of book is important. There aren't a lot of books, as far as I know, about boys with eating disorders, and the rates are rising. But I personally would not feel comfortable recommending it when I had to struggle through the first 100 pages because they were so full of body hate and it's never negated. Even when Charlie is kinda-dating Charlotte, who's thin and conventionally attractive, there's never even a moment of, "Yeah, she thinks you're hot, dude" or anything that says "hey, it's okay that you're fat" or even "HEY fat people are worthwhile human beings and maybe you shouldn't talk about them like they're scum".

One sentence could have changed how I felt about this book a lot. But there was never that sentence. I thought the second-half was much better written, but it utterly failed in this aspect. And because of that, I can't rate this higher than two roses. And I actually really hate that because boys with eating disorders, that fat people can have eating disorders and still be fat, those are important stories. But I just can't in good faith go higher than that.

I hope you guys can understand why.



Other Notes:

- I couldn't fit it in, but this is a good post about eating while fat. And if you'd like to do more reading, this is a good place to start.

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, September 1, 2014

Things I've Read Recently (12)

So if you're new around here, Things I've Read Recently is a series of blog posts I do that are basically mini-reviews for whatever reason. Right now you should be getting one on the first Monday of the month for at least three months. We'll see how I keep that up!

Heartbreak River by Tricia Mills

Published: April 16th, 2009 by Razorbill
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: ARC
Page Count: 248 in mine, 256 in the finished copy according to goodreads
Part of a series? Nope
Got via: I won it in a contest. I'm not that late with my reviews
Amazon / Book Depository / IndieBound

Summary (from goodreads): Alex thought she'd be spending the summer focused on her family's rafting business, burying the memories of her father's death last year, and leaving behind all the messes she made in its wake.

But when Sean returns to town, she is forced to reckon with her mixed-up crushy feelings for him - more powerful than ever before. It takes another tragedy to make Alex realize Sean has loved her, and forgiven her, all along.

Review: I hate to say it, but I wasn't wowed by this one. It was fine, but it just didn't do it for me. It was... fine. Just fine. It had some cute moments and it'd probably be a good beach read. But we just never seemed to click. I kept wanting more and it never really got there for me.

And then there were a few things that bothered me. There were a handful of cultural references that quite dated the book. It's only five years old. It shouldn't have felt as old as it did. There was some slutshaming and a couple of really gross moments of body shaming. One, calling a girl Sean might be dating a "fat ho". The girl, later in the book, is thin. So they're using that as an insult. "Fat" isn't an insult.

And then there was this lovely exchange:
I lifted my snacks. "I tend to eat when I'm upset. It's a wonder I'm not the size of Denmark by now."
"You're a long way from that."
"That's sweet of you to say, but you might want to reserve judgement until after I've scarfed all this."  
- pg. 68 of my ARC. I don't own a finished copy.
And apparently there is not one in EVERY SINGLE LIBRARY IN SASKATCHEWAN.
Anyone have one and could check that for me?

Why is it sweet for him to say she's not fat? What if he agreed, "Yeah, you're looking a little chubby lately"? Would that be an insult? In this book, apparently it is.

I know these aren't huge things to some people, but I find them thoughtless and flat-out rude. You will have fat readers. (Hi.) And now you've told them that looking like them is something insulting. It's probably not on purpose, but it is careless.

Besides really disliking that, I just didn't connect. So if you really wanna read it, go for it (although I just tried to find it on my library's website, thinking I could check an ebook version, maybe, and apparently it just doesn't exist. Not a single copy in all of Saskatchewan. What's up with that???), but honestly, I wouldn't reread it, and I might end up weeding it for the shelf space, honestly.

Oh, and trigger warning for suicide.

Scat by Carl Hiaasen

Published: 2009 by Random House
Genre: MG Contemporary, maybe a bit mystery
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 371 pages
Part of a series? No, but the four kid books he's written would make a great boxed set or combination present if you wanted to give someone a gift
Got via: I bought it locally, actually

Summary (from goodreads): Bunny Starch, the most feared biology teacher ever, is missing. She disappeared after a school field trip to Black Vine Swamp. And, to be honest, the kids in her class are relieved.

But when the principal tries to tell the students that Mrs. Starch has been called away on a "family emergency," Nick and Marta just don't buy it. No, they figure the class delinquent, Smoke, has something to do with her disappearance.

And he does! But not in the way they think. There's a lot more going on in Black Vine Swamp than any one player in this twisted tale can see. And Nick and Marta will have to reckon with an eccentric eco-avenger, a stuffed rat named Chelsea, a wannabe Texas oilman, a singing substitute teacher, and a ticked-off Florida panther before they really begin to see the big picture.

That's life in the swamp, kids.

Review: Let's get this out of the way - I've read Hoot, Flush, and now Scat (there's a sentence) and they all sort of follow the same basic formula. Big business does something for money, threatens animals, kids save the day. But it works, you know? It's funny, it tackles some big issues, they have weird, wonderful characters in a way that works amazingly well in MG and it's just good.

Scat even does something I don't usually like - it uses multiple adult POVs along with Nick's, who is the only kid POV. And it does it really well. I also loved the focus on Nick's dad being a recent amputee due to serving in Iraq. Lots of kids with military parents could probably use this.

I also really like the cover. It's bright and colourful, but simple. I think kids would love it.

Random notes I couldn't fit in:

- Mild ableism
- Do people know how hard rigging is? Like it's really dangerous. That's why you make 25 dollars an hour to do it. It always seems a little weird to me when people use oil drilling as a "get rich quick" scheme
- Also crude oil stinks so it's not the easiest thing to sneak!

True Confessions of a Heartless Girl by Martha Brooks

Published: 2002 by Groundwood Books
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 210 pages
Part of a series? Nope
Got via: It has a library stamp and the copyright date highlighted which means it had been more than 5 years since it was published when it was donated to the library. It was basically new though. But my library won't usually put in books that are over 5 years old, even if they are new

Summary (from goodreads): In the midst of a heaven-rattling summer storm a young stranger blows into a small prairie town. On the run after taking her latest boyfriend’s truck, with a pocketful of stolen money and a heart full of pain, seventeen-year-old Noreen Stall seems to invite trouble. And trouble comes soon enough as Noreen’s new mistakes trigger calamities that shake the lives of the residents of Pembina Lake: Lynda Bradley, a divorced mother and owner of a failing café who’s given up on life and love; Dolores Harper, the village elder who, in spite of her signature sweatshirt that says MEDDLING FOR JESUS, has lost her enthusiasm for helping others; and Del Armstrong, a middle-aged bachelor farmer who is still paying for the tragic events of his own seventeenth summer.

Set against the vast skies of a prairie landscape, with a rich cast of unforgettable characters and an unlikely heroine as endearing as she is tough, this affecting novel reminds readers that it’s never too late for forgiveness – and that sometimes the most unlikely messenger can deliver a small miracle.

Review: I'm kind of meh on this one. I mean, it was fine. But the problem was... it was just fine. I remember reading other books by Martha Brooks that I liked. But I just wasn't wowed. I liked how Canadian it was. There was a Co-op gas station in the town Noreen landed in! And there were a ton of POC which was awesome. Noreen's backstory was told in an interesting way.

But I think there was a little too much focus on adult POVs. I don't mind when they're well-done - and these were fine - but I think there could have been more Noreen POV, frankly. Oh, and warnings for child abuse, implied sexual assault, I guess is how I'll say it, and miscarriage.

All in all, fine book. Not one I'd reread, I think, and considering I only paid a quarter for it, I might just end up weeding this from my collection for the shelf space.

OH and this isn't the cover I have, but I couldn't find a picture online so we'll go with this one. It's close enough.

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Published: 2004 by Washington Square Press
Genre: Adult Contemporary
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 423
Part of a series? Standalone
Got via: Either a library sale or a yard sale, I can't remember which. I think I got it fairly recently, though.

Summary (from goodreads): Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate -- a life and a role that she has never challenged...until now.

Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister -- and so Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable, a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves.

Review: I knew going into this I was going to cry. And hooboy did I cry. Buckets. Very damp buckets. What I didn't expect was how much I'd like it. I knew it was going to be good, probably. I knew it had sold like six bajillion copies and the movie looked really good and friends had told me they loved Jodi Picoult, that she was one of their favourite authors. But I thought it would be, honestly, dry and kind of boring. *hides* *cough* Stephen King *cough*

Well, I was wrong. It's told in 1st person, which helps for me a lot. A lot of 3rd person novels feel a little removed to me, frankly, especially in adult books. And I can totally understand now why so many younger readers love this book. It almost reads a lot like a YA, doesn't it? Most especially Anna's chapters. The others don't, always, and it kind of illustrates how different Anna's motivations were from everyone else's and also how very young she is.

Anna is such a good thirteen year old, she really is, and I so loved her voice. I just... I wanted to wrap her in blankets and feed her soup.

I won't go into too much of Spoiler Land, but I will talk about the ending a bit. My initial thought was that I hated the ending. That it wasn't fair and it made me cry and it hurt and I didn't like it at all. Having had a little space, I still think it was fair. But there's a QandA with Jodi at the end of the book and she states that this isn't an easy book and there are no easier answers. And I think... I think that's right and I think I'm okay with that.

I'm definitely keeping this one. I'm also excited to read the other Jodi Picoult books I've bought. Love this one, seriously.

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, August 25, 2014

YA Review: The Break


The Break by Nelsa Roberto

Published: March 2012 by Great Plains Teen Fiction
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 204 in my copy
Part of a series? Nope
Got via: The publisher sent me this along with two other books to review
Amazon  / IndieBound / Publisher's website since this is a smaller publisher

Summary (from goodreads): Watching Nonna 24/7 wouldn’t be such a big deal. We could do lots of stuff together. I just had to keep her busy.

Abby Lambert’s plans to ski with friends over spring break are ruined when her surgeon mother and stepfather announce they have to leave the country on an emergency medical mission. Instead of partying with her friends, Abby must stay home and look after her increasingly confused grandmother. At the nursing home where Nonna likes to play bingo, Abby runs into her notoriously aloof classmate, Kyle, who volunteers there. Despite his arrogance and mysterious past she finds herself drawn to him. Maybe staying home for spring break won’t be so bad — except for Nonna’s weird behaviour, which seems to be escalating.

Abby manages things pretty well … until one terrifying and desperate night, where life as she knows it changes forever.

Review: I was surprised by this one. You guys know I'm kind of hard to please when it comes to contemporary books, but this one worked for me. A whole lot of it was very cute and in general it was solid. I liked that so much of the book focused on Abby's relationship with her grandmother, especially, but also some with her mother. The romance was cute, if not my favourite part of the book.

I do kinda wish it were longer. But mostly it works as a short, quick read, and I think it would be good for some reluctant readers who aren't going to go for super long books. Might be a good book report book, you know? (...kids still do book reports, right? Or reasonable facsimiles? That has to be the only reason I get so many hits on certain reviews, lol.)

Plot Talk: So, basically, Abby's mom and step-dad end up going to Ecuador for a Doctors Without Borders thing and Abby has to skip a ski trip with her friends to look at her grandmother. Meanwhile, said grandmother is getting more confused, more frequently - and Abby's alone to deal with it.

(Somebody give me a high five for that!)

Anyways, it's a simple plot, but fairly strong. With the length of the book, a simple plot is the best idea so things don't get rushed. It was pretty well-paced, but occasionally I did wish that certain chapters or scenes had been given more time or a slower pace. A few did unfortunately come off somewhat rushed.

Characters: Abby was sweet. She absolutely loved her grandmother and wanted the best for her, even if she didn't really know what the best thing really was. She was well-intentioned, but didn't always make the best decisions and things got out of hand sometimes for her. That's realistic, you know? On the romance side, Kyle was okay. He was kind of underdeveloped and it felt like other characters told Abby (and therefore us) more about him than anything else. Part of me wishes the book had been longer so he could get more "screentime" without cutting into anyone else's.

Now on the other side of things, you have Nonna, Abby's grandmother. Very Italian, very much a grandmother. The book is very much about her and Abby and it's kind of heartbreaking watching her deteriorate and how Abby tries to deny it because she's scared. I also like how Abby and her mother start to work on their relationship, too. That was mostly towards the end, but it gave the ending a really hopeful note and having it be tentative and kind of new worked very well so that it wasn't clunky or overdone.

PG-13 stuff: The book does have a death in it. Not really anything for language, but there is some underage drinking and drug use. There is also an attempted sexual assault so be careful on that front. Be kind to yourself.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: The length kind of comes back to me. If it had been maybe 50 pages longer, a lot of things could have shone more. I don't really think the length was bad, but it could have been better. Other than that, really, my only complaint is that sometimes the dialogue could be just a touch unrealistic. It was luckily rare, but still noticeable when it happened.

Cover comments: Eh. Out of the three books I got from Great Plains, this is my least favourite cover. I don't think it's terrible, but I'm not a huge fan of the floating head in the sky thing personally. It's really not bad, but I think it could be better.

Conclusion: The Break is a nice, quick read. There were some funny moments, some cute moments, some moments that made me sniffly. It did have a few little problems, but it was enjoyable and my favourite out of the three books I received to review, quite honestly. My over-all impression was that it was a solid book. And solid is good. A, heh, solid three and a half roses.



Other Notes:

- I couldn't fit it in, but there's a fair few "old people and teenagers can totally be friends" books. Some of them Skinnybones and the Wrinkle Queen, Being With Henry (I think, it's been a while since I read it), and, I'm assuming at least, since I just bought it and haven't read it yet, The Cardturner. Do you guys know any like that?

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, August 18, 2014

MG Review: The Wizard of Dark Street

The Wizard of Dark Street by Shawn Thomas Odyssey

Published: July 26th, 2011 by EgmontUSA
Genre: MG Fantasy
Binding: ARC
Page Count: 345 in my ARC, 348 in the finished book according to goodreads
Part of a series? Yes, there's a second book that came out in February of 2013.
Got via: From review for the publisher. Still that behind on reviews.
Amazon / Book Depository / IndieBound

Summary (from goodreads): Oona Crate was born to be the Wizard’s apprentice, but she has another destiny in mind. Despite possessing the rare gift of natural magic, Oona wants to be a detective.

Eager for a case to prove herself, she wants to show her uncle—the Wizard of Dark Street—that logic is as powerful as magic. But when someone attacks the Wizard, Oona must delve even deeper into the world of magic to discover who wanted her uncle dead.

Review: This was a really fun little book! It's an utterly charming little thing. This is something I would have adored as a kid. I mean, who doesn't love mysteries? And when I was a kid, my favourite game to play was solving mysteries. I was always convinced my future would involve a lot more mysterious figures, large hats and sunglasses as disguises, and spying... you know, the usual mystery solving things. That's not really what this is about (besides the mysterious figures and spying), but that was a fun tangent.

Anyways! I mean, the concept is just cool. A wizard's apprentice decides to give it all up and become a detective. Except not in any dangerous situations besides she promise her uncle, the Wizard and her guardian, that she wouldn't put herself in danger anymore after a nasty encounter with a thief and a guillotine. Of course, we can all figure out how well that goes ;)

Plot Talk: The entitled Wizard of Dark Street needs a new apprentice because of that whole thing where Oona decided to quit and become a detective. You remember that, I just talked about it. At the meeting of his future apprentices, somebody attempts to kill the Wizard and it's up to Oona to discover who did it - and if her uncle has even been killed, and if not, what happened to him?

(How was that for a plot thingie?)

Characters: Our main gal is 12-going-on-13 year old Oona. She's a Natural Magician, someone who can do magic without learning it (although it does need to be taught to be controlled), the current apprentice of the Wizard, and an aspiring detective. She's a little stubborn, brave, nosey, and just kind of wonderful. She's a great MG character and I think kids would love her.

The book largely focuses on Oona, which is nice. I like books about girls, you know? The other characters, though, are all interesting. You have a talking raven, a young witch, a very incompetant Head Inspector of the Police, all sorts of cool characters that work wonderfully and are certainly never boring.

PG-13 stuff: Pretty much nothing for language. The attempted murder thing could be somewhat disturbing to some readers, but I think the way it's handled is very well done. And you'd be surprised, some kids love murder mysteries. The kid I used to baby-sit once told me she specifically wanted a murder mystery and I completely blanked on age appropriate ones. Sometimes the little hooligans can be shockingly bloodthirsty.

The back of my ARC says 8-12 and I think that'd be fine. Depending on the kid, obviously, but generally fine.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: I don't really have anything except... fat people don't make the floor shake when they walk. And I get that it was a charicature or whatever, but kids don't need to read that. It's not funny and it's kind of mean, really. There was no need to make fun like that. Can you imagine how embarassed a fat kid could be reading that?

Cover comments: I like the cover. I love purple and the yellow really stands out against it. I love the little house and all the little details give it wonderful character. I worry some boys might feel self-conscious because of that whole peer pressure thing. It's a shame, really, and I don't believe in "girl" books or "boy" books, but peer pressure is a jerk, yanno?

Anyways, adorable cover. I would have loved it as a kid. I also think this cover is really adorable. It's the German cover. And there's also this cover, which I don't like as much, but is still cool.

Conclusion: The Wizard of Dark Street is smart, cute, and a lot of fun. I enjoyed it immensely and I think kids would love it. It's a great length, has great pacing, and I'd love to check out the sequel. Solid four out of five roses.



Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, August 11, 2014

YA Review: The Sweetest Thing

The Sweetest Thing by Christina Mandelski

Published: May 10th, 2011
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: ARC
Page Count: 334 in mine, 336 in the finished edition according to goodreads.
Part of a series? No, I don't think so.
Got via: Sent to me by the publisher for review, and yes, that's how far behind on reviews I am.
Amazon / Book Depository / IndieBound

Summary (from goodreads): In the world of Sheridan Wells, life is perfect when she’s decorating a cake. Unfortunately, everything else is a complete mess: her mom ran off years ago, her dad is more interested in his restaurant, and the idea of a boyfriend is laughable.

But Sheridan is convinced finding her mom will solve all her problems—only her dad’s about to get a cooking show in New York, which means her dream of a perfect family will be dashed.

Review: This was totally the sweetest thing!

Okay, that wasn't even funny, but I had to do it. Fittingly, it was a very sweet book. The back of my ARC recommends it for Sarah Desson fans and I've only read Along for the Ride, but I feel like that would be a good comparison. The Sweetest Thing maybe veers a little younger (ages 12 and up are recommended on the back as well), but that's nice. It works and it's refreshing in a way. I read it in basically one sitting and I think it'd be great for summer reading, outside, at the beach, or for summer reading tweens, even though it is set during the winter.

Plot Talk: The plot is simple, but not weak or boring. The summary pretty much covers it. Dad's getting a cooking show, Sheridan's not into it, which is a biggie because the pilot is about her Sweet 16th, boys happen. It is, at times, pretty predictable, I won't lie. (I never lie to you guys.) It follows the archetypes of this genre pretty solidly. There are no major twists or turns, and it never really surprised me. But it was solid and familiar in a rather nice way. It's like how you don't go into a rom-com movie expecting a radically different plot, but you still enjoy the good ones.

Does that make sense? Hope so!

Characters: Sheridan is almost sixteen and very, very naive. She actually reads somewhat younger than almost sixteen because she is so naive. And also at least a little spoiled and maybe a little immature. But, to be honest, she's probably a lot more realistic than a lot of teenagers in media. Shockingly, teenagers can be immature! Sheridan is also basically obsessed with cakes, because it was the only thing her mother kind of left her, or at least the memories of her mom teaching her to make and decorate them.

Obviously, she's a bit of a mess.

But over the course of the book, she learns to care about more than cake and grow as a person and all that good stuff.

I had a lot of moments of not liking her dad very much. Getting a TV show is a big deal for him, yes, but he didn't even consider Sheridan's feelings on the matter, especially since he was basically ready to force her into being a part of it. If she was going to be involved, he should have talked to her about what she wanted. Not everyone wants to be on TV! It was just plain inconsiderate. And then the possibility of a move. Not all schools are the same curriculum - a move in the middle of her sophomore year or the beginning of her junior year could mean major educational changes that could leave her struggling to catch up at a time where that could have major ramifications for her future.

Her dad also flat-out neglected and ignored her, and at times was really mean to her. He called her, at different points in the book, an ungrateful brat, a real piece of work. Like, dude, you're the adult in the situation. Act like it.

The guys she liked (there's a love triangle) were pretty average. You've read a story with characters like the, probably. I actually had a few times where I didn't like the one, Jack, but I'll go into that more later.

One character I actually wanted to see more of was Sheridan's friend Lori. I love female friendships in YA and there wasn't enough time spent on theirs for my tastes.

I actually really liked the cast of characters for the most part, though. There was a little too much of the "mean girl" thing with the character Haley, but I'm not fond of that in general. It tends to be very shallow writing, and this book was not an exception. Most of the other small characters were colourful and fun and interesting. For sure, The Sweetest Thing tended to shine in the character department.

PG-13 stuff: Some mild language. Nothing terrible. My ARC, like I said earlier, says 12 and up and I personally would be perfectly fine with that.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: Okay, here's the thing. It's a little spoilery so maybe skip to the "Cover Comments" section" if you don't want to know.

At one point, Jack, Sheridan's other best friend, basically gets angry at her for liking another guy and dating him. He likes her, but has never said anything and somehow it's her fault for not noticing. This is the girl who thinks about basically nothing but cake, remember. And maybe the guy she was dating would turn out to be a jerk or break her heart - but it was her heart to be broken, not Jack's. And I understand being concerned for your friend when they might be dating someone who might not be the best for them, but he basically berated her for liking a guy he didn't approve of and it wasn't very nice at all.

And both Jack and Ethan use the "you're not like other girls" line on Sheridan, Ethan especially as a compliment, but the thing is - that's not a compliment. Girls are wonderful, varied, and amazing, and you should never be ashamed of being like other girls. And guys should never put down other girls as a way to compliment you.

That was something I really didn't like.

Cover comments: It's super cute. It's very colourful and bright and I think many of the readers who would love this would be drawn to the cover. Some readers might be a little embarrassed though. But I guess that's one reason why e-readers are awesome, right? Anyways, I like it.

Conclusion: The Sweetest Thing never really managed to surprise me, but it was a fun, emotionally compelling read. I may or may not have teared up a little at the end, even, but I'll never tell. (Totally did.) I loved the family story much more than the romance, honestly, but all in all, it was a sweet book. I think it'd be a great summer/beach read. Three and a half roses.



Other notes:

- Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention this, but - Sheridan apparently has a flip phone? I mean, I know this is a late review, but I don't think 2011 was THAT long ago!
- ALSO. This book is set in a town in St. Mary's but I think it was supposed to be fictional. There is however a St. Mary's river in Michigan and it would make sense for it to be set in Michigan because Mackinac is supposed to be only 5 hours away and eventually Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario is mentioned as... I think around the same distance. And Chicago is mentioned as being within driving distance, but being a long drive. So Michigan makes sense, but I can't remember if they ever said it exactly.
- BUT the neat thing about that is - I used to live in Sault Ste. Marie!!! Isn't that the coolest thing???
- Okay, that's it.

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, August 4, 2014

Things I've Read Recently (11)

So if you're new around here or if I haven't done one of these in a while, Things I've Read Recently is a series of blog posts I do that are basically mini-reviews for whatever reason. Sometimes they're a little eclectic. Case in point.

First up:

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

Published: May 6th, 2008 by Little Brown
Genre: Adult Science Fiction (Ooh la la)
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 620
Part of a series? Okay, it's rumoured that there'll be 2 more books, but really, don't hold your breath. It's probably never going to happen.
Got via: Garage sale. I think it was a dollar or something.
Amazon / Book Depository / IndieBound

Summary (from goodreads): Melanie Stryder refuses to fade away. The earth has been invaded by a species that take over the minds of human hosts while leaving their bodies intact. Wanderer, the invading "soul" who has been given Melanie's body, didn't expect to find its former tenant refusing to relinquish possession of her mind.

As Melanie fills Wanderer's thoughts with visions of Jared, a human who still lives in hiding, Wanderer begins to yearn for a man she's never met. Reluctant allies, Wanderer and Melanie set off to search for the man they both love.

Review: I know the very valid issues with Twilight, don't get me wrong - but I still enjoy both the books and the movies. And I'm glad I finally got around to reading The Host. Do I think it's the most well-written book ever? No. But it's enjoyable and I do think the writing is super-engrossing. It's very much a book you don't want to put down. I also think it's a lot different from Twilight. It seems further away from her personal beliefs, honestly. (Premarital sex exists! Gasp!) The romances are preferable for me personally, Wanderer and Melanie are vastly different, and there's also a neat discussion about what makes one their gender. Unfortunately, it does come back to "female = bears young" which is obviously not true and very erasing of people who can get pregnant who aren't female (also - how do you explain seahorses then?), but it does raise a good point in that people shouldn't have to defend their gender.

Sometimes the writing is a little rough. Sometimes the romance is problematic (although not nearly as bad as Twilight, really). The book is much more character based than plot based, but I don't really think that's a bad thing. I'm not here to say it's a perfect book.

But it's a very enjoyable book. The voice drew me in and I basically read the whole thing in one sitting. Which considering it's 600 pages long, says something. Quite honestly, I think Stephenie Meyer puts very unique spins on things that have, obviously been done before. Vampires, the concept of the aliens in this book is actually really similar to the ones in Animorphs when you think about it. And it'd be a shame if we never got to see the things should could come up with as she becomes an older, more experienced writer.

I enjoyed this a lot. I would recommend it for sure.

Oh, and I like the cover. It fit the book and I like that they didn't shoe-horn it into the "Twilight" look.

(Also I have a note here that just says "Kevin *snickers*" and I wonder if anyone will get that but me. Probably not.)

Next up:

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Other Stories by Lewis Carroll

Published: This edition is by Barnes and Noble in 2010
Genre: Children's Fantasy or Classic Children's Lit, I think?
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 1165 pages
Got via: It was a gift.
Goodreads link to my edition.
Amazon (This is like three dollars, great deal!) / Book Depository / IndieBound / Oh, here's the Barnes and Noble link to my edition because it's all pretty and stuff

This has like, all of Lewis Carroll's published writings, I guess? I flipped through some of the others, but I was just in the mood to reread the Alice stories so I mostly read those. So I'm going to approach these are two books, basically.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Published: Originally in 1865
Page count: 120 pages in my edition
Part of a series? There's a sequel, obviously.

Summary: ...okay it's hard to find a simple summary. But we all know this one, right? Alice chases the white rabbit and falls down the hole. She ends up in Wonderland, goes through a bunch of weird things, eats some stuff that makes her grow and shrink, and eventually ends up playing croquet with the Queen of Hearts who's always all "OFF WITH THEIR HEADS". I mean. The book is almost 150 years old. I think that's a good enough summary, right?

Review: As I said, this is a reread for me. I've read it several times since I was a kid. I like this edition just fine - all the extra stuff is really neat, and the end papers are beautiful - but I really do love the ones that have full-cover illustrations. The one I read first ever was a set of classics my school owned and it had gorgeous pictures in addition to the original black and white ones. It's mostly a nostalgia thing, though, honestly.

Anyways! I'm not really reviewing this so much as just mentioning I read it. I made some notes because it's habit, though, but not that many. Mostly that it's weird how most of the adaptations skip the Pig and Pepper chapter and leave out the Duchess completely, isn't it? And they leave out the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon, and also change the garden scene and how it happens.

Through the Looking Glass

Published: Originally published in 1871
Page count: It's about 125 in my copy
Part of a series? Sequel to Wonderland

Summary: Okay, this one is less commonly known, I think. Basically the set-up is that Alice, on a boring day, ends up slipping through the mirror into a mirror world. She ends up playing a giant game of chess with the chess pieces she'd been playing with earlier in the real world.

Review: Both the other 2 editions I've read have had this along with Wonderland since they're both so short. They only about 250 pages total. But I've always loved this one, even more than Wonderland. When I was a kid, I had this thing about mirrors (thank you, Rugrats and my own imagination) and chess (thank you, Harry Potter - not that I could play at all) and this just appealed to me more because of those things.

Now. Isn't it weird that Jabberwocky, the Garden of Live Flowers, the Bread-and-Butter-Fly, Humpty Dumpty, the Walrus and the Carpenter, unbirthdays, and, of course, Tweedledee and Tweedledum all say "Alice in Wonderland" when they come from this one?

Empress of the World by Sara Ryan

Published: August 27th, 2001 by Speak
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 215
Part of a series: Yes, there's a sequel - or more like a companian since it's told from Battle's POV.
Amazon / Book Depository / IndieBound

Summary (from goodreads and then edited to match the back of the book): Nicola Lancaster is spending her summer at the Siegel Institute - a hothouse of smart, articulate, intense teenagers living like college students for eight weeks. Nic's had theatre friends and ochestra friends, but never just friend friends. And she's certainly never had a relationship.

But on the very first day, she falls in with Katrina the Manic Computer Chick, Isaac the Nice-Guy-Despite-Himself, Kevin the Inarticulate Composer... and Battle.

Battle Hall Davies is a beautiful blond dancer from North Carolina. She's everything Nic isn't. Soon the two are friends - and then, startlingly, more than friends. What do you do when you think you're attracted to guys, and then you meet a girl who steals your heart?

Review: I actually reviewed the second book, The Rules for Hearts, here because I'm a dork like that and didn't realize it was a sequel. Don't read it because I was terrible at reviewing back then! But I would like to reread it now that I've read Empress of the World and see how they work as a pair. It's confusing to read books backwards, but I didn't even realize this existed when I read the other.

So obviously that affected my reading experience a little. Mostly because I kept trying to remember what happens in the next book XD Anyways, I liked this one. It's cute, only ever so slightly angsty, and everyone lives at the end. Basically, it's just your average cute summer romance book with just a little self-discovery thrown in.

And the fashion descriptions are hilarious. It's weird to think 2001 was over a decade ago. And 2001 was a lot closer to the 90s than the 2010s. Although one thing that did bother me a little was that all the three girls were apparently basically the same size and could trade clothes. We couldn't get a little body diversity?

I also have to mention this:

(It's a little blurry, sorry, the lighting was bad and my camera batteries are dying so I was rushing. The part you need to know is "It really expressed the things that young lesbians growing up have to face.")

And at first when I saw this, I was all, "yay, sounds good".

Then I read the book and it turned into "did we read the same book?"

Because the thing is - Nicola is not a lesbian. She states that she has likes boys before and probably will again, and as such, prefers bisexual if a label must be used. She says multiple times that she doesn't like being called a lesbian, because she isn't.

Battle likes girls, but she never states in this book what she prefers to be called, and she dates boys, too, after dating girls. While Battle might eventually identify as a lesbian (I can't remember if she does in the second book, but she doesn't in this), assuming she does, along with calling Nicola one, is bi-erasure and that hurts people. Absolutely I don't blame the author, but I think at some point in the publishing process, maybe somebody should have said "Maybe that's not the best wording we could go with", you know?

But all in all, this is mostly just a sweet book and it's special in that it's not special. We have pretty much all read a similar type of book - but this one has two girls in love instead of a girl and a boy. Representation! Very much important. Recommend this one!

(Fun fact - the cover of this is a Lookalike of the Comeback Season. Which I also own. I'm considering putting them next to each other just to amuse myself. There are others similiar, too, but I don't own any of those!)

Okay, I think that's everything. We'll count that as four since there are two Alice books.

Peace and cookies,
Laina