Monday, April 18, 2016

Things I've Read Recently (31)

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

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

Maudie and Me and the Dirty Book by Betty Miles

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

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

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

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

This is actually a really clever little book.

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

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

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

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

The Great Science Fair Disaster by Martyn Godfrey

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

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

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

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

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

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


French Fries Up Your Nose by M.M. Ragz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mystery of the Lunchbox Criminal by Alison Lohans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, April 4, 2016

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

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

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

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

Another Life by Keren David

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirit and Dust by Rosemary Clement-Moore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, March 28, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Other notes:

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

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

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, March 21, 2016

Things I've Read Recently (29): Animals

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

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

Morgan's Zoo by James Howe

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

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

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

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

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

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

Misty and Me by Barbara Girion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except maybe the disco dancing.

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

Cat Attack! by Tim Schoch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Socks by Beverly Cleary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, March 14, 2016

YA Review: The Naturals

The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Other notes:

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

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, March 7, 2016

Things I've Read Recently (28)

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 "recently" is used very loosely.

Lumberjanes Volume 1: Beware the Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen, and Maarta Laiho

Published: April 7th, 2015 by BOOM! Box
Genre: YA comics I guess? I'm not sure how to categorize comic books.
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 128 according to goodreads. I don't have this anymore, so we're going with that.
Part of a series? Yes, this is a bind-up of the first four issues of the Lumbejanes comic series.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): At Miss Qiunzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's camp for hard-core lady-types, things are not what they seem. Three-eyed foxes. Secret caves. Anagrams. Luckily, Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are five rad, butt-kicking best pals determined to have an awesome summer together... And they're not gonna let a magical quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way! The mystery keeps getting bigger, and it all begins here.

Thoughts: I read this back in August and I can't believe I never talked about it! My notes for it are right before a bunch of random non-review notes from around when we moved, so it must have been when I didn't have internet right after we moved.

Guys, I adored this so much. Like you guys know how much I loved Nimona, and that has a whole lot of emotional devastation and stuff I wrote about in my review, but this has my heart in a completely different way. The first amazing thing is how full of girls it is, girls who are all very different in personality and looks. They're so different, but they have such wonderful, close friendships, and there is nothing I love more than girl friendship.

This has almost entirely an female cast, but even the few male characters who make an appearance help fight against sexist stereotyping. Every character is allowed to have varied interests and personalities that aren't stereotyped simply by their gender.

The art style is awesome. It's beautiful, with a variety of body types and skin colours, but the illustrations also carry a lot of humour. There are very funny moments, some slightly more scary moments, some very heartfelt moments.

You guys remember when I talked about "girl gangs Doing Things" series of the 80s and 90s in this review and this review? This is like that but modernized and really, really awesome. It's girls doing awesome things awesomely together, like monster-hunting and mystery-solving, and I want to give it to any girl who remotely likes reading, or comics, or books about camping, or monsters, or girls, or... anything, really.

Room by Emma Donoghue

Published: September 13th, 2010 by Little, Brown and Company
Genre: Contemporary Adult
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 415 in my copy because it's a mass market paperback and smaller. Good for my hands, bad for my eyes.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it's where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it's not enough...not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son's bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

Thoughts: I have a lot of thoughts and no ideas on how to put them in order. Seriously, my notes for this one are just piddly. I got this from the library, and my mom read it as soon as she finished the book she was reading, and I read it in about three hours.

As you probably know or realized, Room is told from five year old Jack's POV. Unlike in Cleopatra's Daughter, I think it works very well. Jack sounds like a five year old boy. He's a very smart five year old boy in a very bad situation, but he's still believable as being a child. He never comes across as an adult in a child's body, but I also don't think his voice is annoying, or tedious. I was engrossed the entire time I was reading.

While Room tackles very heavy subjects like trauma and rape, it's done in a very respectful way. For the most part, the abuse is not described in a lot of detail. We don't need to hear about every little detail to understand the pain and the impact it has on the protagonists. I sincerely hope they keep it that way in the movie, too, because I think there is a lot of power in showing the impact of rape can have without showing it - I think that's a reason why so many people love Mad Max: Fury Road, right?

This is so hard to talk about, but I really appreciated the handling of those things in Room. It's emotionally honest without being voyeuristic. I also appreciated the faith aspect. I'm not a religious person at all, but I think that would resonate with many people, especially in the way it's done. It comes off like Ma wasn't deeply religious before Room, but turns to it more as one of the few ways she had of keeping herself alive and dealing with the situation. It's a very honest faith representation, in my opinion, without becoming preachy.

All in all, this was a great book, and I really want to see how the movie adapts it.

Entangled by Amy Rose Capetta

Published: October 1st, 2013 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 330 plus acknowledgements and an excerpt of the next book.
Part of a series? There's a sequel, and I believe it will only be a duo, or duet as the author's website says.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Seventeen-year-old Cade is a fierce survivor, solo in the universe with her cherry-red guitar. Or so she thought. Her world shakes apart when a hologram named Mr. Niven tells her she was created in a lab in the year 3112, then entangled at a subatomic level with a boy named Xan.

Cade’s quest to locate Xan joins her with an array of outlaws—her first friends—on a galaxy-spanning adventure. And once Cade discovers the wild joy of real connection, there’s no turning back.

Thoughts: Let's get this out of the way - the beginning of this is hard to get into. I don't think I've ever said this before, but this felt like too much show and not enough tell, if that makes sense. Like the beginning is very world-building heavy, and it gets clunky at times. It almost becomes more about the aesthetic of the world, and of Cade even, and not so much about telling the story. It takes about thirty or forty pages to really get into the story, and not just showing things that are strange and weird.

It could honestly be because I don't read a lot of sci-fi (and personally I don't think I would classify this as dystopian?) and others may do better with that, but I wasn't invested in the story or Cade in the beginning. She had a really cool vibe, but I didn't have any reason to care about her. And that is something that the book struggles with some. Cade is cool, but for a long time, I don't know what she wants, or why she cares.

There's actually a part in the book that says that Cade has stopped wanting things - and one of the example given is that she doesn't masturbate after having tried it a few times. Could you imagine a book with a 17 year old male protagonist saying that? Because honestly? I can't. I think that is sexist, and I hate when female sexuality is treated like that. It may be a throwaway line, but I think it contributes to stigmatization of female masturbation. Cade touching herself is literally compared to things that she believes will destroy her (escape fantasies, etc), and it's just like... seriously? Why is it that male masturbation is treated as something normal, and basically a bodily function, and female masturbation is treated as strange? I mean, seriously, you're living in a bunker underground on a foam mattress. Have an orgasm now and then to let some steam off if you want.

There are things in here I like a lot, don't take my ranting the wrong way. There's a bisexual character in the main cast! Who specifically says she likes both boys and girls in text! (Although, hey, other genders exist, and also aliens exist in this book, so we could mention nonbinary or agender people.) Cade doesn't dismiss the idea that she herself could be into women. Cade spends a lot of time talking about graceful or beautiful women are in the book, or staring at them and blushing, and I was kind of hoping it'd go that way, actually, but her openness there is a lot better than an "ew gross" reaction.

Other things I had issues with in the book resolved themselves in the narrative, which pleases me to no end. Certain concerns I had either were reflected in Cade's growth, or things went in a different direction to avoid those concerns. When I got into the book, I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the found family aspect, and the world-building paid off. It is true science fiction in my opinion, full of strange settings and space and aliens. There's minimal romance, which I know many people enjoy, but a surprising romance that I won't spoil. Just know that it goes in a direction you maybe wouldn't expect at first.

I haven't seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but I wonder if there aren't elements of this and Cade that would appeal to fans of Rey. Other than that annoying masturbation thing, I think this is a girl-friendly science-fiction book. Cade acknowledges that she is vulnerable as a teen girl on her own, but violence against women is minimal and isn't sexual in nature. Women in the book hold powerful positions, and are treated with respect. I like that in a book.

I like that it's apparently only going to be two books, and I have a good amount of hope that some of the things that bothered me in this book, like Cade's lack of want, will be resolved and done better in the second book, and I look forward to it and future novels from the author. It's a strong debut and there's only room to grow for her. I will likely be ordering the sequel as soon as my bed coughs up my library card.

Through the Dark by Alexandra Bracken

Published: October 6th, 2015 by Disney Hyperion
Genre: YA Science Fiction/Dystopian
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: A whopping 400 pages that I spent too long holding and may have blown my wrist out a little.
Part of a series? Yes, this is a binding of three novellas in the Darkest Minds series, basically being 1.5, 2.5, and 3.5 in the series. The first two were originally released as ebooks only with the third only available in this bind-up. See my thoughts on those books here and here.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Don't miss this breathtaking collection of stories set in the world of the New York Times best-selling Darkest Minds trilogy. Featuring ebook original novellas In Time and Sparks Rise, and a gripping, brand-new novella, Through the Dark is a must-have for fans of the Darkest Minds. This collection contains three novellas: In Time, Sparks Rise, and Beyond the Night, as well as a sneak peek at the first novel in Alexandra Bracken's new series, Passenger.

Thoughts: Crummy summary, but, you know, spoilers galore in the full thing. The summary from the dust jacket even spoils the second one in the third one's summary. I'll try to avoid as much as I can, but maybe skip this one if you want to avoid them altogether.

I don't usually read novellas like this, mostly because they're usually released as ebooks, and that's a pain in the butt and also kind of a silly thing to spend money on when you don't have an ereader, let's be real. The fact that these were released as a print bind-up already makes them awesome in my book. Ha, in my book. I punned by accident. The characters chosen as the POV characters are really interesting choices, and considering there are four different POVs between the three novels, none of them get confusing or mixed up with one another.

These also have lots of things in them where you're like "I know that thing!" from reading the trilogy, like little shout-outs, characters you recognize, or answers to things you were curious about. Especially with the last novella taking place after the ending of the third book, you get to find out a little more about what's going on with the characters we got so attached to and the world itself. With the on-going plot arc in the second and third novella, it doesn't become too wink-wink nudge-nudge, "aren't-we-clever", you know?

So, yeah, I really enjoyed this. This is a fun series. Lots of drama, a really cool premise, and I have a really good time reading them. It also wraps the series up really well, and in general, I'm just good with this. Other than it's really heavy and I hurt my bum wrist holding it up in one hand, but that's my own darn fault.

What have you guys been reading recently?

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, February 29, 2016

YA Review: A Boy Like Me

Yeah, look at me go with this reviewing thing! Oh, yeah. It's a leap day miracle!

A Boy Like Me by Jennie Wood

Published: September 4th, 2015 by 215 Ink
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 264 plus some resources which is a really nice touch, acknowledgements, and an about the author.
Part of a series? No, it's a standalone.
Got via: It was sent to me for review consideration. And it was only, um, a year ago. Which is not horrible considering my track record.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound / Author's website

Summary (from goodreads): Peyton Honeycutt meets Tara Parks in the eighth grade bathroom shortly after he gets his first period. It is the best and worst day of his life. Determined to impress Tara, Peyton sets out to win her love by mastering the drums and basketball. He takes on Tara’s small-minded mother, the bully at school, and the prejudices within his conservative hometown. In the end, Peyton must accept and stand up for who he is or lose the woman he loves.

Review: First things first, just for the record, I'm on the asexual spectrum, but I am cisgender, so I won't talk about this like I know anything about the experience of being trans, or saying that this is inauthentic or even if I believe it is authentic, since I'm not the person who gets to say that. And if at any point you think I'm totally messing up, feel free to comment (Anonymous is always on), or email me, or DM me on Twitter, or... you get the point.

For once, I think I actually know what rating I'm going to give this book before I get to the end of the review, and that pretty much is my summary here. I liked it a lot, but there were also a lot of storytelling choices that just did not work for me, and while my over-all reading experience was positive, those things were frustrating because they did throw me out of the story, and make me notice the writing more, and that lowers my over all rating. We'll get into that as we go on!

Plot Talk: The book stretches from eight grade to the end of high school, and that's actually something that threw me off. I thought it was going to be set solely in middle school, and instead, a lot of time passes very quickly. In the few two chapters, a full year passes. This causes a lot of things to be glossed over that could be really interesting. Then at the same time, Peyton would be say something, and his friends would be like, "You didn't tell us that," and meanwhile I'd be like, "You didn't tell ME that either! When did that happen?"

The plot is basically described in the summary, although it's not my favourite summary. It's basically a coming of age, discovering yourself story, which is fine. But there are times when it felt like it focused on things that were mostly set-up, and ignored things that could have been really big conflicts. How much time passes in the book also makes it feel rushed, especially at the beginning when several years pass within the first few chapters.

Characters: Peyton is kind of clueless at a times, but in a sweet way, most of the time. He's really bad with girls. Seriously, the poor guy is a mess when it comes to dating, which obviously you can't blame him for with everything he's got going on. Sometimes, though, though, his motivations and characterizations didn't seem quite as fleshed out as they could have been. I did really love the music angle. There's so much stuff about music in here, and it's great to see the moments where Peyton gets to shine. And this is a bit of a spoiler so skip it if I want, but I also really enjoyed that Peyton got a GED, because that happens very rarely in YA, in my experience. Showing alternative paths of life education-wise is a really nice touch.

I wasn't so in love with Tara. She got kind of MPDG at times. Sometimes I just didn't believe that she would be acting in ways she was acting. It seemed more fantasy-girl than real girl. And it's not like girls can't do things that are sexual, or whatever, but maybe it was because we didn't get POV from her, it just wasn't the most believable thing. A ton of the plot is just based on the romance, too, which at times can get a little frustrating.

Meanwhile, both their mothers were terrible, but Peyton had a few great members of his family, and I really liked that he had a positive therapy experience. You guys know how I feel about therapy in books. The other characters also felt very authentically small-town, bigots and all. Which sounds terrible, but I live in a small town, and that's a reality.

PG-13 stuff: There's a fair amount of language, including several slurs (although not the one you'd expect considering the subject matter), violence including Peyton being attacked for being trans, a sex scene, and a brief time when Peyton becomes somewhat suicidal, and that is talked about a fair bit. There is also an abortion that is handled incredibly well. Which is not to say these things aren't handled well, or that they're bad to have, just so you know about those things going in.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: The rushing is probably the biggest thing. Especially at the beginning of the book when you're supposed to be establishing stuff still, that is just frustrating.

There are two specific instances where I know things from reading and listening to people who know much more than me. At one point, Peyton's therapist defines transgender as meaning "you feel your gender identity is the opposite of the in which you were born", and I feel like that erases people who don't fall into the gender binary. There are many more than just two genders, and opposite is very binary language.

And I will say this with confidence - Peyton binds with elastic bandages, which is apparently what the book the therapist gave him recommended.
DON'T DO THAT.
It can seriously injure you, like deform your ribs and stuff. That is a really bad idea, and a book published in 2014 should know better. I was really disappointed to read that.

Cover comments: I like the cover. It's slightly cut-off here, but it's a good cover. I like that you never see Peyton's face, so it leaves a lot to the imagination, and I love the stars and how beautiful they are. I love galaxy stuff.*

Conclusion: Like I said, I liked this one. The story was really good, especially once it settled down and stopped skipping around. The rushing and the skipping was what I had the most problem with. I also thought the heavy pop culture mentions could get a little dated, but at the same time, many of them worked in context. (Although while mentioning Davis Bowie is actually clever, it kind of changes now that he's died.) Peyton is a very easy character to like, and he had a pretty unique story arc.

I'm going to put this out there, though - I wonder about how different this is from other books in the same vein. I think he has an interesting story just in the fact that he takes a different education/career path, and a lot of the book is about the romance. There's not really a huge moment of Peyton "coming out", more like a slow gradual process. Again, I'm not sure about this one, so I'm putting these out here as questions, not statements. These are things that I'm curious about how other people feel.

So my rating here of three roses is not based on that aspect, but on the rushing that happens at times, and somewhat on Tara's characterization. This almost feels like something that is an earlier draft of something that could have been amazing with more editing. As it is, it is good. Not amazing, but good, and I enjoyed it.



Other notes:

- Although it keeps making me think, like "universe in his head", and then I just read another book where music was a big thing, and some of that music was like church music, so my head keeps going to that "He's got the whole world in His hands", and guys, how do I know that song? I've never been to church or Sunday school or whatever in my life.

- The font in this is like identical to a book I had as a kid called Parents From Space, which I loved so much. There's probably a metaphor in there somewhere.

- I forgot to mention this, but the formatting in this had a few wonky moments, like places where the indenting would be messed up, or the last sentences in a paragraph was justified, so there'd be weird gaps in the line.

Peace and cookies,
Laina