Monday, July 25, 2016

Adult Review: Madame Tussaud

Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran

Published: February 15th, 2011 by Crown Publishing Group which the acknowledgements says is a division of Random House.
Genre: Adult historical fiction.
Binding: A giant, really heavy hardcover.
Page Count: 448 when you include all the extras, 426 of strict story.
Part of a series? No, it is a standalone.
Got via: It was sent to me for review consideration by the author... in 2011. I'm sorry! I really do enjoy these books! I'm getting better; I really am. Soon we will get out of 2011!
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (a rather long one from goodreads): Marie Tussaud has learned the secrets of wax sculpting by working alongside her uncle in their celebrated wax museum, the Salon de Cire. From her popular model of the American Ambassador, Thomas Jefferson, to her tableau of the royal family at dinner, Marie’s museum provides Parisians with the very latest news on fashion, gossip, even politics. Her customers hail from every walk of life, and when word arrives that the royals themselves are coming to see their likenesses, Marie never dreams that the king’s sister will request her presence at Versailles as a royal tutor in wax sculpting. Yet when a letter with a gold seal is delivered to her home, Marie knows she cannot refuse—even if it means time away from her beloved Salon and her increasingly dear friend, Henri Charles.

As Marie becomes acquainted with her pupil, Princess √Člisabeth, she is taken to meet both Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI, who introduce her to the glamorous life at court. From lavish parties with more delicacies than she’s ever seen, to rooms filled with candles lit only once before being discarded, Marie steps into to a world entirely different from her home on the Boulevard du Temple, where people are selling their teeth in order to put food on the table.

Meanwhile, many resent the vast separation between rich and poor. In salons and caf√©s across Paris, people like Camille Desmoulins, Jean-Paul Marat, and Maximilien Robespierre are lashing out against the monarchy. Soon, there’s whispered talk of revolution…Will Marie be able to hold on to both the love of her life and her friendship with the royal family as France approaches civil war? And more importantly, will she be able to fulfill the demands of powerful revolutionaries who ask that she make the death masks of beheaded aristocrats, some of whom she knows?

Review: This was really good! Now, I know very little about history, so I can't really judge how accurate things are, but I came out of this feeling like I understood a little more about the historical events that happened in the book. I think that's a good sign in historical fiction, and I think that really helps people like me who aren't really experienced in the genre. I went in knowing almost nothing about Marie Tussaud besides, you know, she's got a thing with wax, and Moran did not confuse me, or make me feel like I wasn't capable of following the events of the book. She has a wonderful knack for bringing the characters to life, and her descriptions are amazing. Picturing how things look is so easy, and I'm not a hugely visual person.

I'm very impressed.

Plot Talk: French Revolution. Wax museum. Do I really need to say more?

But I will talk about the pacing, because it's kind of interesting. Three months or so pass over the course of about 200 pages. Then the other half of the book covers five years. It really works well, because you get time to understand the setting, and what the consequences really are. There's still a lot going on, but those things work to make you care about the characters, and care about what happens.

Characters: Speaking of, the characters are really good. They're obviously real historical figures, and their depictions show how much the author genuinely enjoys the history. There's real care put into them. Marie herself is a fascinating woman, and I very much enjoyed spending a book with her. She's smart, talented, and incredibly strong.

Moran has a real knack for writing wonderful characters. I especially appreciated the sympathetic portrayal of Marie Antoinette. It feels much more honest somehow.

PG-13 stuff: I mean, this is an adult novel that covers the French Revolution. There's bloody stuff and gory stuff and violence. There's definitely some disturbing things. People die, and it's not really shied away from. I didn't find it too much to handle, but sensitive readers may want to be careful. Not much for language besides, like, the occasional French stuff, and no graphic sex.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: Pet peeve - Marie mentions "knowing" sex would hurt at first, and there's a mention of doctors examining a corpse for proof of virginity and finding it. I know in the 18th century that was kind of the general idea, but like... definitely a pet peeve. Hymens just don't really work like that. I'm not going to rant. I'm just going to link a ScarletTeen article (and also this Smart Bitches Trashy Books article because it's funny).

Cover comments: I think this is an absolutely striking cover, and I really like it. I also really like one of the covers from another edition. (Click to enlarge.) The perfect cover, I think, would be a combination of the two. On the yellow cover, I really like the model. Not to say she isn't beautiful, but the expression on her face especially strikes me as fitting the character. While the right cover has something out of the book (the dress, the mask, the tri-colour flag thingie), I think the model is too young - Marie is twenty-eight to thirty-two or so - and too pretty. Marie describes herself as not pretty.

I did see a portrait of her, and I think she was interesting to look at, but not pretty in the delicate waif way. For me, the yellow cover's model demands your attention and your respect. And I think the red cover gears more historical romance - the love story isn't the main element of the book the way the logline on the cover seems to point towards it being. So, a combination of these two would probably be the perfect cover for me.

But they're both good! I'm just rambling too much because I'm overtired and need to go to bed.

Conclusion: This was a great way to spend a few hours! I'm really glad I finally got around to reading it, and I would gladly read more from Michelle Moran. This is a really fun way for me to expand my reading horizons some, and I definitely recommend it. Solid four out of five stars.



Other notes:

- I wish I had gotten this up last week for the French holiday that was like, in this!

- I kept picturing the Hamilton cast whenever, like, Lafayette came up. Kind of enjoyable, actually.

Don't forget to enter the contest!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, July 18, 2016

Friday Cuteness: Or, Fun Things in My Inbox (9) On a Monday!

This is a sporadic series on my blog of random fun things, usually book-related, that are emailed to me, and I think you guys would like to hear about. Got something you want to share? Hit my contact button and send it to me!

In celebration of my contest for The Fangirl Life, I thought I'd share the adorable quiz they sent me! Find out what kind of fangirl (or fanboy, or fanperson) you are! Since the contest is over next Friday, I'm going to switch it up and post this on Monday so you still have time to enter!

Here's my result!


(If you can't see the picture, I'm "The Creator"!)

Share your results in the comments, and be sure to enter the contest!



The Fangirl Life by Kathleen Smith

You'd probably know a "fangirl" when you see one, but the majority stay relatively closeted due to the stigma of being obsessed with fictional characters. However, these obsessions are sometimes the fangirl's solutions for managing stress, anxiety, and even low self-esteem. Fangirling is often branded as behavior young women should outgrow and replace with more adult concerns. Written by a proud fangirl, The Fangirl Life is a witty testament to the belief that honoring your imagination can be congruous with good mental health, and it's a guide to teach fangirls how to put their passion to use in their own lives.

(Summary from goodreads.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Have a great weekend!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Friday, July 15, 2016

CONTEST: The Fangirl Life by Kathleen Smith

So this is definitely a fun thing for a Friday! I'm really excited to get to bring you guys a giveaway!


The Fangirl Life by Kathleen Smith

You'd probably know a "fangirl" when you see one, but the majority stay relatively closeted due to the stigma of being obsessed with fictional characters. However, these obsessions are sometimes the fangirl's solutions for managing stress, anxiety, and even low self-esteem. Fangirling is often branded as behavior young women should outgrow and replace with more adult concerns. Written by a proud fangirl, The Fangirl Life is a witty testament to the belief that honoring your imagination can be congruous with good mental health, and it's a guide to teach fangirls how to put their passion to use in their own lives.

(Summary from goodreads.)

So, this one is going to be open to the US only because the publisher says so (which means I can't enter myself, haha!)! More details will be in the Rafflecopter.

Only one entry is mandatory (giving me your email address, so I can contact you if you win!), so feel free to do as few or as many of the extras as you like. Comments will not count as entries - enter only using the Rafflecopter. Please do not share personal information in comments because that makes me worry about you guys. I will email the winner only for their mailing address to get the book to them.

Contest will end in two weeks, so Friday the 22nd of July, and I will likely email the winner on the 23rd. I have to get my wisdom teeth out on the 28th, so please try to email me back as soon as possible if you win, or there may be delays while I'm recovering.

Edit: I can't math, so this is going to end the 29th. Will notify winner as soon as possible following wisdom teeth removal, but may be a delay!

So, go on and enter! I think this book sounds really awesome, as a fangirl myself.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, June 27, 2016

Things I've Read Recently (35): Summer-ish Books

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

This is another post inspired by my on-going project to weed books from my shelves. Y'all know I like my themes, so I thought I'd try to make a few look vaguely related, and this is what I got. Kind of outdoorsy, camping, summer-ish books. It sort of works, right? So let's do this thing.

Who Cares About Karen? by Alison Lohans/Alison Lohans Pirot depending on the edition (mine says Pirot, but it seems to be mostly just Lohans, since her newest books use that name.)

Published: My copy is from 1983 by Scholastic Canada
Genre: Contemporary YA, but fairly young. That's pretty typical for the time period, I think.
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 149
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: It's a library reject.
Amazon / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): After their car plunges down a steep cliff into Suicide Gulch, five students try to survive in the bleak British Columbia mountains until one of them can climb back up the cliff to get help. For shy Karen the days in the bush seem like years. Shelley, Karen's "big sister" friend, is badly injured and needs help herself. Stanley can't seem to knock off his clown act, even in an emergency. And Dave doesn't seem to notice that Karen's around. Then there's Ward, who looks as if he could be triggered into one of his black rages by anything at all.

Suddenly it's Karen who has to handle everybody else's problems...but who is there to care about her?

Thoughts: I read this once at a doctor's office when I was like nine or ten, and I have a very strong sense memory of that. Otherwise, literally the only thing I remembered was that Karen has night blindness (the name of which is nyctalopia, if you're going to google it like me). Meanwhile, I'm reading this while it's storming pretty hard here, and there's just been a big accident nearby. That's not creepy or anything.

Honestly, this was fun. It's that whole outdoors survival thing, you know, like Hatchet and whatnot. I think the only thing that really dates this is a little bit of dated language, although not a ton, and the fact that none of them have cellphones. (Although, if you were dumped into the middle of the woods in rural British Columbia, there probably wouldn't be great reception, would there?) It's not a modern voice by any means, but it's not enough that it's hard to read.

It's Canadian, and the author lives in Saskatchewan, and there's nothing I think was problematic. I had fun reading it, and I think I'm going to keep it. It is Canadian, after all. I'd also like to check out the author's 2011 book at some point, because it sounds cool.

The Accidental Camper by H. J. Lewis

Published: November 13th, 2003 by Vanwell Looking Back Press, which is apparently a Canadian publisher I had never heard of before.
Genre: Contemporary MG, or lower YA. The series is aimed at around the fourth grade according what I read online, and has an averaged third grade reading level, but it seems themed older.
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 109 plus a glossary and thanks from the author.
Part of a series? This is number 7 of an 8 book series.
Got via: I have no idea. There are no library marks, so it was probably from a yard sale.
Amazon / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): A four-day canoe trip, a cool counselor, and her best girlfriends. Life can't get much better than this for Mel Randall. Except for a few small details. Mel flights with her boyfriend; her two friends can't stand each other; and Diana doesn't know one end of a canoe paddle from the other. Oh yes, and an incident with one large wild animal out in the woods. It's going to take all of Mel's resources to survive this trip!

Thoughts: I was not as impressed with this one. I think this series is geared at "reluctant" readers, since the reading level is a little lower than the subject matter and characters are aimed at. And I can definitely see that working for some kids. This isn't a wilderness survival one. It's just the story of three girls who go canoeing and camping. It's a little bit like a Baby-Sitter's Club Super Special, only without the baby-sitting.

The writing is just... clunky. And the plot isn't exciting enough to carry it over. Plus, fourteen year olds all having boyfriends and one of those boyfriends being sixteen doesn't work so well with me. I'm getting so old. Don't get me wrong, it's not horrible, but it's just kind of... boring. I could see this working really well for a kid, so I think I'll pass it along and hope it ends up in a better home.

Sidenote - doesn't the girl on the cover look like Anne Hathaway?

Mixed-Up Summer by Bianca Bradbury

Published: 1979 by Scholastic
Genre: At the time, contemporary YA, but I think today we would categorize it differently, actually.
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 221
Part of a series? Thank God, no.
Got via: A yard sale for a quarter, apparently.
Amazon / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): Gay and Tom are engaged, but Gay's not sure she's ready for marriage... or if she really wants to spend the rest of her life with Tom.

She feels so confused. Should she go to college? Can she marry Tom and still have her own life?

If only someone could tell her what to do. But Gay learns one thing from her mixed-up summer: some answers must come from within herself.

Thoughts: I really hated this. *whine* Okay, let's get the elephant out of the room. Gay was actually a somewhat popular name. It dropped out of use in the mid-20th century. Since the character in this book is 19 in the late 1970s, her name is probably slightly dated, but not out of the realm of possibility. It's awkward, and you're probably giggling. TV Tropes has a trope page about it.

But honestly that has very little to do with how I felt about this book, which was... oh, man, but this was not enjoyable. Most of that, probably, is because of how dated it is. It is so dated, people. First of all, she works as a "nurse's aide" in a nursing home that is apparently in a hospital (?), and she has literally no training or education besides graduating high school. At one point, they need a nurse to tell them that they shouldn't lift an elderly woman who has fallen because she might have a broken hip. Gay thinks she has "a nurse's observant eye" because of doing this for a year. The whole thing is just kind of terrifying to read.

Then there's the romance, which is kind of horrible. Tom is a jerk! He's belittling to her when she knows things he doesn't. He calls sick people, disabled people, people who have lost their jobs, all of them he calls losers. That includes implying it about Gay's father because he makes less than her mother. He hits things when he's angry, assumes he'll drive her car when they go places, and doesn't talk about his emotions or any problems they may have. Ever. Meanwhile, Gay thinks that when they get married and start having sex, they won't fight anymore, and she'll be able to change the things about him that annoy her.

I was legit rooting for them to break up. By the end of the book, though, she's decided to marry him, and those questions about college and her life other than him? They never get answered! Also, despite the title, this has nothing to do with summer. Gay goes swimming once. Otherwise, it might as well be set at Christmas for all it really matters.

Okay, I can't talk about this anymore. This is not sticking around on my shelves anymore, that's for sure. If you want to see more about me reading this book, though, I storified my tweets from the experience, and you can check them out here. Because there is so much more there.

There's A Cow in My Swimming Pool by Martyn Godfrey and Frank O'Keeffe

Published: 1991 by Scholastic Canada
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 134 plus an about the authors page.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: I have had this since I was a kid, so I probably got it either as a gift or from a secondhand store.
Amazon / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): Nicole knows she shouldn't really be having this part. Her mom and her new stepdad already said no, before this left for their honeymoon.

But everyone's having such a good time, including Nicole. Brent, the new guy in town, is so easy to talk to, and he really likes her. So Nicole ignores her misgivings - until things start getting out of hand...

Thoughts: Do you know how many times I read this book as a kid? Neither do I. That's how many times I read it. It's ridiculous. This is one of very few book I brought with me when I moved from Ontario to Saskatchewan. And I'm happy to say it has held up pretty well. Considering this book is older than me, I'd honestly say that the only things that really date it are a lack of cellphones, using a "blaster" to play tapes, and maybe one mention of an old Madonna song.

There's a little bit of casual ableist language, but it's not so bad that I wouldn't be comfortable recommending it. And in general, it's very realistic. Nicole's mother and step-dad aren't perfect. They make mistakes, and decisions that aren't amazing, like Nicole's mother saying something is okay, and then her step-father saying it isn't and she can't do it literally a few hours after they've been married. Nicole struggles with her feelings about the marriage, and acts very realistically. I like how Nicole and Robyn have only been friends for a few months, and they're not life-long best friends. I like how they're about twelve, and they talk about sex a little, when they're talking about wedding nights, and cows and bulls and baby cows being born. It's very age-appropriate, and true to life.

It's sweet, it's got really funny moments sometimes, and I love how Canadian it is. I can totally see why I read this so often as a kid, and I'm glad it's still good. It gets to stay where it belongs on my shelf.

So, there's that. Got rid of two, kept two. Not bad rates!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, June 20, 2016

YA Review: The Dark Divine Trilogy Part 2

So here's part two of that post! If you missed part one, check it out here.

The Lost Letters of Brother Gabriel by Bree Despain

Published: November 10th, 2011 by Egmont USA
Genre: Paranormal YA like the other books
Binding: Ebook
Page Count: 18ish
Part of a series? Yes, it's 2.5 in the Dark Divine series.
Got via: The library.

Summary (from goodreads): Brother Gabriel, Daniel’s mentor and an ancient Urbat, plays an important role in The Lost Saint as well as the upcoming conclusion to the Dark Divine trilogy, The Savage Grace. We were first introduced to Gabriel in The Dark Divine when Grace recieves a book of ancient letters that Gabriel (a young monk at the time) wrote to his sister during the Crusades, detailing his search to know more about the Urbat. The book of letters ends just before Gabriel falls to the Urbat curse, leaving us to wonder what happened to him in the following years to turn him into the man he is today.

Most of Gabriel’s letters were written during the thirteenth century, and later translated and compiled by an Orthodox priest in the eighteenth century. For whatever reason, some of Gabriel’s letters were lost after translation and did not make it into that original book. But good news! A few of these “lost letters,” detailing Gabriel’s fall to the Urbat curse and his quest to seek revenge on the man responsible for his demise, have recently been “discovered” by the indomitable crew at Egmont USA, and are compiled here for your reading pleasure.

Review: First of all, I refuse to call this a novella because it's barely twenty pages long. It's pretty much a short story. That just kind of bugs me. Now, because Egmont closed its door, you can't really buy this anywhere, so finding it is probably going to be a bit difficult. I got lucky in that my library's ebook system had it, so I could just download it. Funnily enough, though, I looked it up one day, and the next someone else had checked it out. So apparently someone else in Saskatchewan is reading the same series!

Now this is not something like the Darkest Minds novellas where they're an additional story that expands upon the universe in the series. This adds to the backstory some. And it's interesting, yes. It's very stylized as letters, and that's cool, although I'm not entirely sure the whole "Old English" thing carries through consistently and that probably would bug some people.

It's a cool bonus. Is it essential? No. If you can find it legally like from a library, check it out if you're into this series. But don't worry about it if you can't.

Although I will say, this is my favourite cover of the series. I love the ombre fade of the cloth from dark to light, and honestly, I like that there isn't a model. I mean, are you going to have a naked monk rolling around in fabric on your cover?

...actually can we have that? No, I'm kidding. Mostly.

The Savage Grace by Bree Despain

Published: March 13th, 2012 by Egmont USA
Genre: YA paranormal romance
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 488 plus acknowledgements
Part of a series? It's the third and final book in this series.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Wrestling with the werewolf curse pulsing deep inside of her, Grace Divine was finally able to find her brother, but it nearly cost her everything.

With her boyfriend, Daniel, stuck in wolf form and Sirhan's death approaching, time is running out for Grace to stop Caleb Kalbi and his gang of demons. If she fails, her family and hometown will perish. Everything rests on Grace's shoulders.

The final installment in The Dark Divine trilogy brings Daniel and Grace's love story to a breathtaking conclusion.

Review: Now, following my favourite cover in this series, this is probably my favourite book in the series. This one is the longest book in the series, with the most time between books between this one and the second book, and it shows. Even though it's longer, it's much, much faster paced. For probably at least half the book, a lot of the book is about Grace's parents while also forcing her to be much more independant and not rely on others to make decisions for her. The new characters acquired at the end of the last book are awesome, very funny and very interesting, and many of the existing characters really shine. It also has a pretty epic battle ending that is extremely satisfying to read.

Out of the three (I'm not counting the short story), I read this one in the most unbroken amount of time. Grace is most proactive in this one, and there's a little less focus on the romance. At times, the romance can still get a bit overdramatic, though, I will say. Especially when Grace gets jealous so easy. It's supposed to be this love to end all loves, but she gets jealous of pretty much every girl who looks at Daniel. Mildly, sure, but it's still there. But a little less focus on that sure helps, I have to say.

Now, were there things that bothered me? Yes. Let me start with this one - Grace's magical werewolf powers. Healing people? Awesome. Healing her mother's mental illness? Healing her mother's OCD tendancies and catatonic state with her magic werewolf powers? No. That's not okay. That's cheap. That's taking an easy shortcut to everything literally being magically fixed instead of treating it with the reverance and respect it deserves. That is ableist, and frankly that's the place where I stopped reading for like three days straight because I was so irritated. It's straight up offensive, as far as I'm concerned.

Also, it would have been nice if Grace's mom had been given a concrete condition instead of vague catatonia and "OCD-like tendancies" and "her own designer brand of bipolar disorder". It just feels cheap, like it's using the stereotypes of these disorders but not actually going so far as to actually put those things on the character.

And why would you when you can fix them with magic werewolf powers instead of therapy and medication? That would be harder than instantly fixing things. Also, because of the strong link between the mythology and religion, you almost get to the point where the narrative is saying "religion OR treatment". Obviously I'm not religious myself, but I don't think faith can't be a part of healthcare, be it physical or mental. But if you're saying you have to choose between the two, that's problematic.

Some of the wolf stuff is still kind of cheesy, and some of the earlier action scenes can be, too. Honestly, all the religion talk is just not my thing, and I think it gets preachy at times. The references are still super dated. Grace's voice also changes some. I like the changes, for the most part, but it's a bit jarring when the second book took place ten months after the first, and this one takes place ten minutes after the second, and she sounds different than she did "ten minutes" ago. Everyone is still straight, glaringly straight at times (there's a fair amount of pair the spares - the world is not this painfully hetereosexual, and no, not all girls swoon over boy chests), and mostly everyone besides a few small side characters are still white and thin and pretty. And obviously disability representation pretty much sucks.

This one is somewhat less predictable, though. This is gonna be a spoiler, so skip it if you wanna, but it's not huge. At one point, Grace's 13 year old sister takes about five minutes to guess everything that's going on in the last two books. And frankly, that about sums up my entire predictability complaint. Because yeah. Predictable. It gets better in this one, but let me just say the thing that I realized the other day that you probably have guessed if you've read this far - the first book and entire trilogy's title is a spoiler. Their last name is Divine. Just think about that a moment. Connect the dots there.

Yeah.

Also, there's a touch of weird gross sexism now and then. Like, I just don't find guys getting violent at other guys over jealousy about their girlfriends funny, or romantic, or sexy. It's just scary and possibly abusive. And I'm not cool with that.

Probably my last complaint would be - wolves still don't work this way. They just don't. I don't want to go into it again. I'm too tired to go there again. My soul is exhausted, guys, and my mom wants this book, so I'm about done. Oh, except this cover - what is going on on this cover? Like are this girl's legs like five feet long? I seriously can't figure out how to make this cover work. Where are her hips? Also, it doesn't match the others as well. The model's skin isn't black and white, and there are no toenails to give us neat nailpolish colours. Half of me wants to be sarcastic and be like, "Hey, she rolled over finally!" But that'd be too mean, and I wouldn't really mean it. I'm just too snarky for my own good.

So to sum up, I liked this one much better than the second book, but the ableism really threw me off. That's not cool, book. Therefore this one gets higher marks than the last one, but lower than it could have had it avoided all that nonsense. But all in all, it was generally exciting, mostly dramatic without being overdramatic, and actually enjoyable. There were enough things I liked better than things I disliked that I'm okay with giving this one a solid three and a half.



Other notes:

- You... cut bananas with the peel on, Grace? For cereal for your little brother? You specifically say you're cutting through the thick peel. What are you doing here? I don't understand.
- There's random places where "He" is not capitilized when referring to God and that kind of bugged me.
- There are only a few occurances of cursing in these books, and it just doesn't seem realistic when there are, like, supernatural street gangs and creepy demon things and really old scary bad guys. Some of these people should curse.

Okay, I suppose at this time I should do a summary of my thoughts on the series as a whole, shouldn't I? So to do that, for the most part, I liked these. Am I going to read them again? Probably not, because man that second book was kind of hard to get through. That was definitely a sophomore slump. Do I regret reading them? Also no. Am I going to keep the two I own? I'm not sure. They might go in the maybe pile.

I do think they tend to be quite dated. The third one is probably the least dated, trope-wise, but the other two use 2009/2010 YA lit tropes heavily, so if you're over those, you're not going to be into these. I don't think they're so amazingly written that they're going to win you over. The writing is good, and best in the third book, but it's not life-changing. I definitely would have liked them when I was younger more.

So I suppose you just have to ask what you're going into these for. If you're going into them more for supernatural fluff than anything, you'll probably have a good time, and the third book will probably be better than you expect. My mom has read the first two in like a day straight and if I don't give her the third one by the time she gets home from work

I hope this was helpful, or at least enjoyable, and I do thoroughly apologize for it being so late with them. I'd feel really bad if I just never posted it at all, though, so better late than never, right? I have to be catching up on my review pile soon, right? Right?!?

Alright, I think that's everything! Thanks for reading.

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, June 13, 2016

Things I've Read Recently (34)

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

Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Published: July 15th, 2014 by Random House Canada
Genre: Adult Fantasy Graphic Novel
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 323 plus acknowledgements and stuff.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Katie’s got it pretty good. She’s a talented young chef, she runs a successful restaurant, and she has big plans to open an even better one. Then, all at once, progress on the new location bogs down, her charming ex-boyfriend pops up, her fling with another chef goes sour, and her best waitress gets badly hurt. And just like that, Katie’s life goes from pretty good to not so much. What she needs is a second chance. Everybody deserves one, after all—but they don’t come easy. Luckily for Katie, a mysterious girl appears in the middle of the night with simple instructions for a do-it-yourself do-over:

1. Write your mistake
2. Ingest one mushroom
3. Go to sleep
4. Wake anew

And just like that, all the bad stuff never happened, and Katie is given another chance to get things right. She’s also got a dresser drawer full of magical mushrooms—and an irresistible urge to make her life not just good, but perfect. Too bad it’s against the rules. But Katie doesn’t care about the rules—and she’s about to discover the unintended consequences of the best intentions.

Thoughts: I think this is the first adult graphic novel I've ever read. Otherwise, it's only been young adult and middle grade graphic novels. So, a new experience, but a really good one. This was a random grab from the library (where they had it categorized as YA, which it totally isn't). I'm trying to read a little more widely this year (got any non-fiction recommendations?), so this totally called my name, and I'm happy to say it paid off.

This is a really different art style than the graphic novels I've read before. It almost has an anime feel - it actually reminds me of Steven Universe a little at times. Probably because I love Steven Universe so much, ha, and Steven Universe does have a lot of anime inspiration. The art-style is goofy and silly and full of humour at times, but there are also times where it's creepy and beautiful, sometimes both at once!

There's also that joke from Scott Pilgrim about bread making you fat, which isn't actually that funny. Especially since pretty much all of the bodies in this are thin. There's not really any fat characters. At all. There is a pretty wide variety of skin tones, though, and that's neat.

All in all, I enjoyed this one a lot. I especially loved the cool mythology in the story. This kind of mythology is a kind I really enjoy in general, so that was kind of perfect for me. And the friendship between Hazel and Katie is awesome. This one is definitely recommended by me, and only makes me want to read more graphic novels like this. Also, this is a recent edit as I'm getting this ready to post it, but if you've played the video game Life is Strange, you might enjoy this! Or if you enjoyed this, maybe check out the video game because that game rocks.

Chick-napped! by Carolyn Keene with illustrations by Macky Pamintuan

Published: March 1st, 2008 by Aladdin
Genre: MG Mystery
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 85 plus instructions for an egg carton garden.
Part of a series? Among many Nancy Drew series, this Clue Crew series has 39 books with the most recent published in 2014.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Spring has sprung in River Heights! Nancy's class is hatching chickens to celebrate. Some of Nancy's classmates are excited, especially Tommy Maron. Tommy has even named all the eggs! But other classmates are less thrilled about the arrival of the little birds. Catherine Spangler is peeved because the chicks are due to arrive on HER birthday -- the nerve!

But when the chicks vanish from the classroom, everyone is upset. Who would steal helpless chick eggs? Nancy knows she has a real egg of a mystery to crack this time!

Thoughts: I got this one thinking it'd be Easter themed, but honestly it's just spring/chicken themed. No mention of Easter at all. The closest it gets is the whole eggs thing. Since I don't think this will fit anywhere else, I thought I'd toss it in here, and give it a quick write up.

This is a fun introduction to Nancy Drew. I loved Nancy Drew so much as a kid, and I think this keeps the spirit of that while being updated and aimed at a little younger audience. I think this is a fun introduction to the whole Nancy Drew concept. I haven't read one in years, but the characters feel right, and I think there are some references to classic Nancy Drew. (I could be wrong, but isn't Nancy loving tacos in other books?)

As an entity unto itself, it's a very sweet little book. There's the animal appeal of tiny baby chickens, lots of information and education about the hatching and lives of chicks. It's a very kid friendly mystery with no danger or scariness for sensitive readers, and there's lots of adult supervision without the adults being too involved. You know I love a good completely impractical for children mystery plot, but this kind is nice, too. It's much more realistic. I also always enjoy strong female friendships, and this has that aspect very strongly.

They also include instructions for how you can start seedlings in an egg carton, which was very cute. There are many itinerations of Nancy Drew, and I think this book at least works very well as an introduction to the character. I think I would have enjoyed it as a kid, and I recommend it.

The Islands of Chaldea by Diana Wynne Jones and Ursula Jones

Published: February 27th, 2014 by HarperCollins Childen's Books
Genre: YA Fantasy
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 274 of story, plus the afterword and advertising for other books.
Part of a series? I, ah, don't think so.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Aileen was supposed to grow up magical – just like the other women in her family. Unfortunately, she’s just found out that the magic seems to have skipped a generation… but that’s not her biggest problem right now.

In her world, there are four Islands of Chaldea. The largest and most magical island has been cut off from the other three for decades – and is slowly draining the magic from them.

But now a prophecy has come to light. Someone from Aileen’s island will gather a man from each of the three islands, bring down the magical barrier, and unite them with the fourth island again. And according to the king, that someone is Aileen’s Aunt – who insists on dragging Aileen along. AND the boy Aileen is sure she’ll marry (one day); AND the local boy with more brawn then brain. Someone seems to want to stop them too… someone with an interest in keeping the Islands apart. But still, with magic on their side, nothing can go wrong. Right?

Thoughts: I took the kids I baby-sat to the library, and they were perfectly capable of finding books without me so I took a wander to the YA section and got this. Because I am horribly, horribly tempted by books at all times. Such is life.

Now, in the past, I've only read Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, so I was not really going into this knowing much about her previous books, or really expecting anything in particular. But at the same time, I was a little disappointed. Frankly, the beginning of this is slow. I actually said to my mom that I knew that if I hit the halfway point, the rest would be good, but it was hard getting there. And I was totally, and completely right.

Most of the first half is basically just travelling, and not much else. They find a cat. They get on a boat. There's not much else to it. This book has 274 pages, and it's literally page 126 where things actually get exciting. And I will admit, I don't read a lot of this genre, and maybe it's just not my genre, but that just didn't work for me very much. When it picks up, it's good! But it was rough getting there. It took me three sittings and a week to read this, and that's a lot for me.

Also, dude, what's up with the casual fatphobia? Like one good character is fat, and he's always described in terms like "tubby" and "round", whereas all the corrupt or bad characters who are fat are specifically called "fat", and it's used in a negative fashion. Not cool. And I also think there's like one character who isn't white, and she only shows up for like three pages.

So I didn't explain before, but Diana Wynne Jones started this when she was very sick, and she sadly passed away before it was completed, so her sister finished it. I think that is a lovely thing, but I also wonder if she had finished the first half, but because she was ill during the writing, if it was kind of rough, and her sister was hesitant to heavily edit what was there. But that's speculation - all I know is I liked the second half, but not the first as much.

Now this is a spoiler so skip it if you'd like, but so we find out that Aileen is very magically powerful and she saves the day. I liked it, honestly, especially when she got angry because I do like it when girls get angry. Although it is rather sudden, with not a ton of foreshadowing before that. But also, wouldn't it have been cool if she didn't have sudden power? Like if she was actually not magical at all, and she saved everything anyways without magical powers?

Anyways, I think you get my drift here. The atmosphere and descriptions in this are amazing and beautiful, and I do really love the idea of magical women in general, but it didn't work for me as well as it could have. I liked the second half, but the whole book did not pay off for me, and that makes me sad. If you're really into fantasy like this, and you're okay with the whole long-journey thing, check it out, but if you're more of a newbie like me, maybe try one of her other books instead.

Sidenote, isn't it weird Diana Wynne Jones and Tim Wynne-Jones aren't related? I always thought they were as a kid. Also, did Tim Wynne-Jones work on a cartoon? Because I could have sworn he did, but now I can't find anything.

Ungifted by Gordon Korman

Published: August 21st, 2012 by Balzer + Bray, although my edition is from Scholastic Canada.
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 280
Part of a series? No, it seems to be a standalone.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): The word gifted has never been applied to a kid like Donovan Curtis. It's usually more like, "Don't try this at home". So when the troublemaker pulls a major prank at his middle school, he thinks he's finally gone too far. But thanks to a mix-up by one of the administrators, instead of getting in trouble, Donovan is sent to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction (ASD), a special program for gifted and talented students.

It wasn't exactly what Donovan had intended, but there couldn't be a more perfect hideout for someone like him. That is, if he can manage to fool people whose IQs are above genius level. And that becomes harder and harder as the students and teachers of ASD grow to realize that Donovan may not be good at math or science (or just about anything). But after an ongoing experiment with a live human (sister), an unforgettably dramatic middle-school dance, and the most astonishing come-from-behind robot victory ever, Donovan shows that his gifts might be exactly what the ASD students never knew they needed.

Thoughts: I was at the library, and could not resist that robot. And this cover does perfectly fit the book. It's funny, it's kind of goofy at times, but it's also quite sweet at others. I read so many Gordon Korman books as a kid, like every single one I could get my hands on, and I definitely would have loved this one as a kid. It uses eight different POVs, including four adult POVs, and that's something I think is hard to do, and it does it well, using each POV just perfectly. I also really like the subplot with his sister, and how it frankly discusses pregnancy.

I think a lot of kids would really like this, and it could appeal to a wide audience of kids.

The only thing is, I would wonder if the idea of this becomes somewhat problematic as describing these incredibly smart kids as completely lacking social skills, and possibly being somewhere on the Autism spectrum without making it explicit. I think it's somewhat realistic that these kids seemed to have been given no opportunity for socialization - it comes off as a skill they weren't taught mostly. I was a fairly smart kid, although obviously not at this level, and I had trouble socially. But I worry it's adding to a harmful trope that we need to be aware of. I think this is not a unique thing to this book, but maybe that's a problem. And there are definitely other examples I think are worse offenders, but I'm not sure I can 100% sign off on that either way. So I'm going to link to this post and this post, both of which I think explain much better than I do.

So I liked the book, and it was a lot of fun, but I do worry about that being harmful. I have such mixed feelings because it is a super fun book to read, but while not reading it, I start to think about that stuff. I'm gonna have to think about this one a little more, I think.

Okay, I think that's everything! What have you guys been reading lately?

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, June 6, 2016

YA Review: The Dark Divine Trilogy Part 1

I have had these books a really, really long time. Like. A really long time.

Like the imprint that published these shut down, long. I still want to talk about them, since I talk about everything I read on here, and, you know, support older books too, and all that. But since they are a bit older, and I do have all of them, I thought I would put them all in one or two posts for convenience instead of like four, and also because I don't want to write a regular review in my usual way. Mostly I just want to do something a little different.

Let's just go with it. Assume that there will be spoilers for the first book in the reviews for the following ones, because that is impossible not to do, like even from just posting the summaries.

The Dark Divine by Bree Despain

Published: December 1st, 2009 by Egmont USA
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 372 plus acknowledgements, and an excerpt that fooled me into thinking there was more when I was outside.
Part of a series? Yes, there are three books and an ebook short story in this series as you'll see.
Got via: I was sent it to review. Probably in 2010. I suck.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Grace Divine, daughter of the local pastor, always knew something terrible happened the night Daniel Kalbi disappeared--the night she found her brother Jude collapsed on the porch, covered in his own blood--but she has no idea what a truly monstrous secret that night held.

The memories her family has tried to bury resurface when Daniel returns, three years later, and enrolls in Grace and Jude's high school. Despite promising Jude she'll stay away, Grace cannot deny her attraction to Daniel's shocking artistic abilities, his way of getting her to look at the world from new angles, and the strange, hungry glint in his eyes.

The closer Grace gets to Daniel, the more she jeopardizes her life, as her actions stir resentment in Jude and drive him to embrace the ancient evil Daniel unleashed that horrific night. Grace must discover the truth behind the boy's dark secret...and the cure that can save the ones she loves. But she may have to lay down the ultimate sacrifice to do it--her soul.

Review: I was supposed to read this in 2010. I probably would have liked it a whole lot more if I had read it in 2010. Don't get me wrong - it isn't bad. But a lot of things have changed since 2009, both with YA in general and with, you know, me. It has become a touch dated. Not necessarily in pop culture references or technology - there aren't recent ones, and Grace's use of technology is limited pretty strictly by her religious parents (although, seriously, dial-up?) - but just in certain tropes, themes, and trends that were very popular in YA around 2009 and 2010.

Okay, I'm just gonna say it - this is one of those books from the "Twilight era", and if you didn't like that trend, you aren't gonna like this. I have four different notes in my notebook that are just, "Yeah, I read Twilight, too," which, is overly snarky. That's why I don't post my unedited review notes. I'm not saying copying or anything, just similarities.

So there's a big reveal that you can see coming from page 42, and it takes until page 195 for the book to get to the revealing, and yes, it is a bit frustrating. If you don't want to know the reveal, just stop reading here because this is way too exhausting to hide. Here's the biggie thing - there are werewolves in this book. And at one point, it's mentioned that werewolves wouldn't exist if there weren't monsters. Some of those monsters are named, and it includes demons and vampires. And... yeah, I read Twilight, too :P

There are just a lot of tropes from books of that era at times. Especially first books of trilogies. It ends up being pretty predictable. If you guess something, you're probably right. I predicted pretty much every "twist", and I'm not good at guessing stuff. I have a feeling that will carry through the series to some extant, especially the tropes.

And I know one thing that will likely continue will be the annoying wolf tropes. Like, if it was just the werewolves, sure, whatever, go with your mythos even if it is annoying. But the characters actually talk about real wolves and a documentary about them, and alpha wolves and omega wolves. Wolves don't work that way, guys. It's annoying, and it's another dated trope based on wolves in captivity, an unnatural environment, not wolves in the wild. It kind of ruins it when you know the "alpha" wolf in the wild is just the dad, and then you start picturing werewolves telling Dad Jokes.

Okay, last of my complaining, and then we move on to the good stuff. Things can be very dramatic in this, and sometimes it comes off a little over the top. I don't always get a good suspension of disbelief going, and some of the super dramatic moments can come off a little cheesy. Grace refers to Daniel as "like her brother" or "a brother" in a lot of situations and that's really weird for a guy you want to make out with. Once, okay, but like four times just creeps me out. Here's a random one - where are people finding these magical 2009 payphones? Were they really that common then? A character says once he's going to walk to the nearest payphone - are you walking to 1998?

There are like no POC, everyone's straight as far as we're told, and everyone's thin and pretty. Grace makes a crack once about if she eats too many doughnuts, she won't be able to fit into a dress - not a specific dress, just any dress. They make dresses for fat people, thanks. I own one, even. It's annoying, not a deal breaker, but a little extra annoying when there are literally no fat people. And I think that is the last of it.

Let's talk some good stuff. It's really trope-filled, and full of those trends you expect. I know, I just complained about that. But it's fun, too. It's like watching Christmas specials. If you go into it for the tropes, it's fun. You've got the mysterious bad boy with a heart of gold, you've got a decoy love interest (not quite a love triangle), there's the paranormal aspect. I mean, a romance between a "bad boy" and an actual pastor's daughter? That's a thing people enjoy - literally as I was reading this, my mom was watching the Footloose remake.

I also really enjoyed the small town setting. It's a different sort of town than mine, and I thought it was a great setting. It wouldn't have been the same book set in a city. Grace especially is a small town girl. She's extremely sheltered. She can be a tiny bit mean to her best friend, and I suspect there's a moment where she carelessly misgenders someone without realizing. Either that, or the narrative might. It's not completely clear, so I'm not knocking total points off, but it's confusing and makes me uncomfortable. I really enjoyed that Grace was an artist, but felt it didn't come up enough unless she was in an actual art class.

I think maybe two more things? Her family is interesting. As I said, she's a pastor's daughter, and it's a really interesting dynamic. Pretty much every character in the book, and both the mythos and the general feel of the book, is pretty religious, so if that's not your thing, maybe skip this one, but I do think it's handled well, if a little unrealistically. (Someone in this town has to be an atheist. Someone. Not everyone is religious.) Not all of her family is entirely fleshed out. Her younger siblings suffer from that a lot. But I really look forward to learning more about her parents especially. Her parents are super interesting. There's this suffocating quality about it, this hidden dark side that isn't entirely uncovered, and I'm excited to find out more. Her parents can be very controlling, from not allowing Grace to have internet access unless her mother can check her browser history to not allowing her to wear clothing without sleeves. It's really, really interesting to read about that sort of dynamic in this sort of book. I just want more.

The romance is okay. The book is definitely focused pretty heavily on the romance, and it works okay for the most part. There are moments where it's a bit overdramatic, and I didn't fully believe in how intense it was supposed to be. But, generally, not bad. It works for what it is.

There is an attempted rape in this, so be aware of that, but it's fairly short, and not incredibly graphic. If I remember correctly (the book is in the other room, and I don't want to get up), it doesn't go past kissing, and it's not brought up too often afterwards or in future books.

Oh, I should talk about the cover - it is very pretty, and I still really like the whole nail polish thing they did as swag where it matches, but wow, those legs are thin. Can we have some thunder thighs on a cover now and then? Blessed by Thor himself? Whilst - this joke is going a slightly inappropriate place. But still, why is every cover model so extremely skinny?

Now, to wrap this one up, this was fun. It's kind of like right now how I'm watching a horror movie I know probably won't be amazing, but I'm pretty sure will be fun to watch. Go into it with the right attitude if you're going to read it. I'm going to give it... three roses. Good, but had issues.



The Lost Saint by Bree Despain

Published: December 28th, 2010 by Egmont USA
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Binding: ARC because I have it and I wasn't waiting for the library to ship me a finished copy.
Page Count: 404 in my ARC, and Goodreads says about the same.
Part of a series? Obviously this is the sequel.
Got via: It was sent to me for review.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): A family destroyed. A love threatened. An enemy returns.

Grace Divine made the ultimate sacrifice to cure Daniel Kalbi. She was infected with the werewolf curse while trying to save him, and lost her beloved brother in the process.

Desperate to find Jude, Grace befriends Talbot, a newcomer to town. But as the two grow closer, Grace's relationship with Daniel is put in danger - in more ways than one.

Unaware of the dark path she is walking, Grace begins to give into the wolf inside of her - not realizing that an enemy has returned and a deadly trap is about to be sprung.

Review: Well, this was... interesting. Most of the things I said in the last book are true for this... and that does include some Twilight-like tropes. (A group of mostly werewolf dudes standing around shirtless with tattoos on their shoulders? Yeah, I've seen New Moon, too, guys.) I guessed the ending and the under-lying plot on page twelve. Twelve. It is very predictable, and that got really frustrating in a sequel. I missed one element, but otherwise, I got it all in one sentence. And the tropes are pretty much as dated as in the first. They're 2010 tropes. They have gotten kind of old. They're, at least, sequel tropes, but they are very overused 2010 tropes.

One in particular is, honestly, the love triangle. I think I'm just kind of over them. Especially when it's so obvious how it's being set up. Nothing is subtle. Okay, I'm going to spoil a thing just to point this out, but it's so obvious. Okay, the guy's name as you can see in the summary is Nathan Talbot. Who goes by Talbot. TALBOT. TALBOT. Surprise, he's a werewolf. That just hurt, okay? And Grace never makes the connection. Meanwhile, she's making references to the old Star Wars pre-The Force Awakens, and the original Karate Kid only six months post-remake and the remake seriously wouldn't have been aimed at teens her age anyways, and then she complains that nobody watches movies when they don't get her references. Watch a movie yourself, Grace! (And seriously, make a reference that wasn't from the 80s.)

Sometimes it gets so overdramatic that it becomes cheesy. There were a few moments I snorted in places I definitely shouldn't have, especially when people explain the mythos and werewolf stuff. It can just be... over the top. And Grace seriously has no self-preservation instincts. Besides that Talbot thing, she literally at one points gets into a white van with tinted windows. That is a murder van, and you should know it. There's "sheltered", and then there's "you're a werewolf with people who want you dead and you just got in a murder van".

There were also some things that were just kind of... icky. Grace's very white mom dresses up in a kimono for Halloween - that's kind of disrespectful. There's also a heavy "white things are good, black things are evil" vibe. At more than one point, Grace actually physically hurts Daniel with her supernatural powers, and it's made out to be a bad thing because of how it might be affecting her and her control of "the wolf". Um, Grace has supernatural strength, and her romantic partner is human. It's like she's let off the hook for the possibility of domestic/partner abuse because she's a girl. That's not cool.

And that's really not the only casual thread of sexism normalized in this. The religious aspect in this is a lot heavier at times, and it becomes really preachy at moments. And alongside with that did come some sex-shaming. Daniel has had sex, Grace hasn't, and at one point he literally says, "You're not like those other girls", and that he wants things to be "right" with them. Because their relationship wouldn't be "right" if they had pre-marital sex? I mean, if abstinence is the right choice for her and them, sure, whatever, do your thing. But do we have to push pro-abstinence in YA and especially do we have to shame girls who have had sex like that? I'm not okay with that.

Now, some things I did like - Grace's family dynamic was still interesting, but I wish there had been even more. It touches on it, but not as much as I would have liked. Her family gets shoved aside for most of the book in favour of romance drama, or werewolf drama. She isn't as mean to her best female friend as in the last one, and her friend demands more respect. Like literally, she stands up to Grace and mentions how Grace thinks down on her sometimes. I really enjoy books where girls are monsters, so points to that.

Um. I'm trying to think of more things I liked, but as I'm writing this review, I'm realizing I've kind of got nothing. I really wanted to like this, but I... don't think I did much. It was super frustrating a lot of the time. It's a good concept, but the ridiculously predictable plot just ruined it for me. I spent more of the book yelling for Grace to figure things out than I did actually reading.

I like the cover still for the prettiness factor, but I'm looking at it and trying to figure out how this model's spine works. Where even is her back? So, yeah, it's pretty, but it's not outstanding.

With the first one, I did like it. It had problems, but it was fun to read. This one... honestly, it wasn't fun anymore. It was just so frustrating so much of the time, and the rest didn't make up for it. I want to be able to say it was fun at least, but this one just wasn't. Honestly, I'm going to have to give this two out of five. Hopefully, the next book is better, but I just... it was so frustrating. Two roses.



So, look for part two of this probably next week, maybe week after, depending on how things go and what other posts I have already scheduled.

Hope you guys enjoy this!

Peace and cookies,
Laina