Monday, November 2, 2015

YA Review: Almost True

Almost True by Keren David

Published: This edition published March 13th, 2012 by Frances Lincoln Children's Books
Genre: YA Thriller
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 437 plus acknowledgements and such in my copy
Part of a series? Yes, it's book 2 of the "When I Was Joe" series, and there's one more that follows. Read my review of When I was Joe here.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Ruthless killers are still hunting Ty. The police move him and his mum to a quiet seaside town. But a horrific attack and a bullet meant for Ty prove that he's not safe yet.

On the road again, Ty's in hiding with complete strangers... who seem to know a lot about him. Meanwhile he's desperate to see his girlfriend Claire, and terrified that she may betray him.

Ty can't trust his own judgement and he's making danger decisions that could deliver him straight to the gangsters.

Review: I end up feeling about the same way about this one as I did with When I Was Joe. There was a lot I liked, but the way women and girls were treated in it really bothered me at times. And again, there were female characters I liked, but it really rubbed me the wrong way when others were treated so badly, with such contempt, even. I have such a hard time recommending it because of that, even though I think a lot of people would like it.

Plot Talk: This one opens with a lot more action, and I think that stays true throughout the book. Ty (previously known as Joe, but he identifies as Ty much more now, so I will refer to him as that now to respect his wishes about his chosen name) is in a lot more immediate danger than in the first book, and more stuff happens, basically. The plot in this one definitely kept my attention better.

Characters: Ty has grown a lot since the first book. He's still not even fifteen, so he still does make bad decisions, and in this book he is pretty obviously suffering from some PTSD, which is addressed explicitly in the book (and I really enjoyed seeing that!). In addition to the "life in danger" plot, he also ends up finding out more about his family and how things he thought were true actually weren't.

I liked the new characters introduced (especially Archie) for the most part. One of my biggest pet peeves, though, was how almost nobody in the book actually took it seriously that Ty's life was in danger. They legit nearly got him killed because they didn't want to believe he was in danger. It's bad enough when he didn't, because, hey, fifteen, but basically every adult in his life?? Frustrating!

I also liked learning about the characters we already knew, and finding out secrets and what things I had suspected were true being true.

PG-13 stuff: Violence, cursing, self-harm, eating disorders, some talk of sex although nothing on-screen besides some kissing, child abuse. I can't think of anything else right now because it's morning and I don't like mornings.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: Again, girl bashing. It's better in this one, and there are more female characters who are positive. FAR less slut-shaming, but I think the biggest one that really bothered me was the apparent need to bash girls who like Twilight, and imply that liking a popular book series made their entire personality change, and they only got better when they stopped liking it so much. It's just so... "you're not like other girls". Girls don't need to read that about themselves, and boys don't need to read that about girls.

Cover comments: Again, I like this cover. I like how it matches the first one. They look really cool next to each other. Different, but similar enough to match. It suits the book, again.

Conclusion: I would give these books a much higher rating if it weren't for the girl-bashing. I'm not comfortable, really, recommending them to a young audience because of that. We don't need more hatred of teenaged girls out in the world. And I think it bothers me more in a second book because you have more experience as a writer. So I end on a conflicted note, in that I really did enjoy this book, and I really want the third one, but I have a hard time thinking about putting them in the hands of a teenaged girl, especially. I think this one again can only get three roses from me, because of the misogyny.

Other notes:

- Seriously, not a single library in SASKATCHEWAN has the third book, Another Life, and it's narrated by Archie and I really want it. I really hate leaving a series unfinished like this. WHY, WORLD, WHY?

Peace and cookies,

Monday, October 26, 2015

Things I've Read Recently (22): Laina Rants Too Much Edition

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 it's a way for me to write a more free-form review, as well, if I'm not as good at sticking to the "mini" thing.

Rosie and Skate by Beth Ann Bauman

Published: August 11th, 2009 by Wendy Lamb Books
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 217
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): It's off-season at the Jersey shore. The boardwalk belongs to the locals—including Rosie and Skate, sisters who are a year apart in age but couldn't be more different. Rosie's fifteen, shy, and waiting for her life to begin. Skate, sixteen, is tougher and knows what she wants.

Rosie still believes in their widowed father, a likable drunk, who is spending a few months in jail for petty theft. Skate thinks he's hopeless. Rosie wants to experience her first love and is drawn to Nick, a boy in her support group. Skate and her boyfriend, Perry, are madly in love - inseparable. But this fall Perry goes off to college, leaving Skate behind.

Thoughts: I don't know, guys. I think this is one of those books I wanted to like more than I did. I didn't dislike it or anything, and there were parts of it that I liked a lot. I loved the boardwalk setting. It's so cool seeing the "off-season" setting especially, because I don't feel like I read that a lot. We have a lot of tourism where I live, and I do know the attitude of "town people versus lake people", for example, but this kind of tourism town is much different than what I experience. The setting is very vibrant and very real.

I liked the relationship between Skate and Rosie, but I would have loved more scenes with them together. The book is through alternating POVs between them, but they don't connect as often as I would have liked. I would have loved to have seen more of their relationship, because they don't have a ton of time together, just being sisters. Their stories didn't connect as often as I would have liked.

Honestly, I wasn't sold on some of the romance of the book. It felt like that romance and an alcoholic father and a sister relationship is just... kind of too much to cram into 200 pages, and one of the romances, in particular, just did not work for me. It kind of came out of nowhere, and I was sitting there going "can these girls not have one male friend who doesn't want in their pants?" And I love romance! But it was just... it was too much, I think.

Also, dude. The first time either of the sisters talk about their cousin Angie, they feel the need to mention she's "pretty, but a little chubby" (and that is a quote), and of course she decided to diet and attempt to lose weight. Why is chubby a "but" to being pretty? Why can't she be chubby AND pretty? Why can't you have one chubby or fat character in the book who's okay with their body? I expect better from you, modern YA! Body diversity! Lose the fat hate!

I don't regret reading this one, and someone recommended another book by the author, but I think maybe this was just not the book for me. Maybe I'm too sensitive. I did enjoy the attitude about sex in the book. In general, it was treated like something that was okay for the characters, and an individual decision for each person. *sigh* I hate writing reviews like this where I'm so wishy-washy!

Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb

Published: February 13th, 2007 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 232 plus an afterword and the acknowledgements
Part of a series? No.
Got via: Also the library.
Amazon / AbeBooks / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): "If she dies, I'll die," are the words 15-year-old Mia Perlman writes in her journal the night her mother is diagnosed with cancer. Twelve days later, Mia's mother is dead, and Mia, her older sister, and their father must find a way to live on in the face of sudden, unfathomable loss.

For Mia, this means getting through a funeral led by a rabbi who belongs in Las Vegas; dealing with a social worker who appears to have been educated at the local beauty academy; sharing "healthy heart" meals with her father, who seems to be seeing her for the first time; trying to relate to her sister, whose idea of fun is solving quadtratic equations; and developing a crush on Cancer Guy, who is actually kind of cute. But mostly it means carrying the image of her mother with her everywhere, because some kinds of love never die. Still, even in grief there is the chance for new beginnings.

Thoughts: This one is interesting. I was kind of expecting something a little different, but I liked it more than I thought I would. For a book about grief and the loss of a mother, this one isn't rip your heart out sad. It could be because I haven't lost a parent to death, while books where best friends die hit a little more close to home because of my history (see, A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend, Saving June, Love You Hate You Miss You), but I've read other books that have made me cry with this subject. I'm realizing as I'm typing this that it's a spoiler so feel free to skip the next paragraph if you haven't read the Young Wizards series, although frankly that book is ten years old, does it really count as a spoiler at this point. But when I re-read them recently, I found the arc of Nita losing her mother very poignant, and it choked me up several times.

So I think that this book didn't make me bawl my eyes out is actually something about this book - I didn't mind that at all, though. Obviously there are some sad moments, but there is also humour in it, even at the darker times. It's just not one of those books where the grief is stifling and makes you cry so hard you can't see the words, which I think works. I think it's a different view of the mourning process, and probably a lot of people will relate to that.

I really enjoyed how Mia's family grew closer to each other as the novel progresses, and how their family changes and adapts. The book is broken up in a way that's really unique. There are eight unnumbered "chapters", and the first chapter has little sections within that while the rest don't. I liked how Mia daydreamed all the time, and was a little silly, and a little lost.

Things I didn't like were definitely how her sister occasionally slutshamed, and the "heart-healthy" stuff kind of made me twitchy, although I think that's more me than anything. It was just a little much. (One character claims to be allergic to white flour, but not whole wheat. Yeesh.) I also, honestly, didn't think it needed to be set in 1991. The afterword says that the author lost her own mother in 1991, and I understand that, but modern YA set in the 90s is an odd thing to me. I'm almost twenty-three and I was born in 1992. I didn't even understand all the references in this book - is that really a thing that appeals to teen readers of today, or is it just us older readers/authors being in our own comfort zones? It didn't seem essential for it to be set in 1991 beyond that it was emotional for the author. That's strange to me.

This got long! All in all, this one surprised me. It was different, and I really enjoyed it. The characters were good, the writing was beautiful, and it's good to see Jewish characters. (Mia's mother was Jewish, but Mia's immediate family didn't really observe - her mother had a complicated relationship with faith that I thought was wonderfully explored.) There were also some very nice female relationships, and the romance was really sweet and cute, but didn't overwhelm the plot, or Mia's growth, or healing. Thumbs up, basically.

The Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Robin Palmer

Published: June 27th, 2013 by Speak
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 386 in my copy plus advertisments for other books and whatnot.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / AbeBooks / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Sixteen-year-old Annabelle Jacobs never asked to be famous, but as the daughter of Janie Jacobs, one of the biggest TV stars in the world, she is. Growing up is hard enough. Having to do it in public because your mother is a famous actress? Even harder. When your mom crashes and burns after her DUI mug shot is splashed across the internet? Definitely not fun. Then your mom falls for a guy so much younger than she that it would be more appropriate for you to be dating him? That’s just a train wreck waiting to happen.

Thoughts: Okay, before I say anything else - that guy, Billy, is 26. Annabelle only turns 16 halfway through the book. In what world, Goodreads, is it more appropriate for a 26 year old guy to date a BARELY sixteen year old than an over-forty woman? What world, Goodreads? This is why I don't trust you!

*exhales* Okay, I'm alright now. I'm good.

This one kind of surprised me. I had some issues with it, but for the most part, I enjoyed it. I'll knock my biggest issue out first, yeah? And that was that throughout the book, there's just this sneaky little thread of fat hate. Like, why does the only fat kid gotta be a loud, kind of gross eater? Why, when a character is hesitant to talk about his home life, is one of the things Annabelle thinks he could be ashamed of that his mother might be "obesely overweight"? Like, really, his mom's fat so he won't let you in the house??? Why are you so casual about eating disorders and use your emotional eating friend (who also apparently has an eating disorder that you just don't care about?) as a punchline???

Like I realize that this is a book about Hollywood, and Hollywood isn't exactly kind to fat bodies, but why do you do that to your fat readers? Fat readers already know that people hate them because of their bodies. Do the books they read need to reinforce that? Really?

The good in this - actually, putting it in this post helps because I was comparing it some to Rosie and Skate. There are romances in both, but in this one, the romance doesn't even begin until two hundred pages in. The other aspects of the book and Annabelle's life are allowed to grow organically without shoehorning a romance in. Annabelle being able to open up to any relationship is a sign of her healing, as she struggles to let people in at all, be it in a romantic sense or just in a friendship way. Her relationships with her friends, with her romantic interest, with her mother, with herself, all are given time to grow and bloom. (Although, dude, chill with the insta-love a little.)

I also liked that, despite that weird summary that is not on the back of the book, there is never any inappropriateness between Annabelle and Billy. There are boundaries and Billy wouldn't cross them. At one point, he calls her gorgeous while giving her guy advice (it's a very sweet scene), and then immediately checks to make sure that it didn't make her uncomfortable and reassure her that he didn't mean it in a way that was sexual or anything. They were linked because of her mother, but he also just likes her and treats her very well, and it's very refreshing to see a relationship like that not go a bad place, or have any ulterior motives.

Also, even comparing this one to Rosie and Skate, where I liked the Al-Anon/Alateen/whatever (I can't remember the exact name it was called in that and I returned the book) angle, I like it a lot better in this. Something about it is more... natural, I guess. Since the book is almost four hundred pages, everything just has more room.

Man, I liked most of this so much that the parts I didn't like really annoy me! Slightly more frivolously, I think all the pop culture references date the book, even though it's only 2 years old (who uses FourSquare anymore? What's Hipstamatic?), and that will continue to get worse as the book gets older. But the thing I disliked most is just the casual bigotry. Besides the fat jokes, and the eating disorder jokes, there's also a line where the book makes a joke that is essentially riffing on the idea that a boy could have a boyfriend and also be into girls. Bisexual people exist! This isn't a wild concept here!

Like, I understand that most people reading books like this aren't really going to see these things, but I think that's kind of a problem in society. We accept jokes that use people as the punchline far too often, and we don't speak up and say, "Hey, not okay." Then those people run into these jokes and it affirms to them that "Yes, the world hates me". When I start talking about these things, I always sound like a buzzkill, but I don't like being the butt of a joke just by existing, and that's what these sort of "jokes" are. They're, "Haha, bisexual people don't exist, boys don't have boyfriends if they're not gay" or "Haha, fat people exist and boys with fat moms should be so ashamed of them they shouldn't let their potential girlfriends into their houses".

We just shouldn't accept these things as harmless, or funny, because they become such a part of society that people grow up thinking the problem is them, not society, not the jokes. And part of that for me, is that despite how much I did like this of book, I have to spend most of my review talking about things I didn't like, and it loses major points with me because of these things. I don't expect books to be perfect, but I expect them to be better than this. I expect to be able to read books and not be told that if I have kids one day, they should be ashamed to bring dates home to meet me because I'm fat. I expect better.

Should I cut this off at three because it's so long?

Oh, you know what. I just wanna mention these two real quick, so we'll do this.

Never Fade by Alexandra Bracken

Published: January 1st, 2013 by Disney-Hyperion
Genre: YA Science Fiction/Dystopian
Binding: A giant, humongous hardcover
Page Count: 507 plus acknowledgments
Part of a series? Yes, it's book two of The Darkest Minds series.
Got via: The library
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

I have decided not to put summaries of these because they are series books, and I don't want to spoil if you haven't read the first one. If you want to see my thoughts on the first one, check that out here.

Also, how pretty is this cover? It's shiny silver in real life, but yes, very very pretty.

In the Afterlight by Alexandra Bracken

Published: October 28th, 2014th by Disney-Hyperion
Genre: YA Science Fiction/Dystopian.
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 535 plus acknowledgements.
Part of a series? Book 3 of the Darkest Minds series. There are also 2 novellas in the series which were released originally as ebooks, and there will be a bind-up of those two novellas plus a new third released in print in October 2015. That's exciting!
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Thoughts: I really enjoyed this series. I don't personally read a lot of ebooks, so I haven't read the novellas, but it'll be exciting when they're released as a bind-up!

These actually have to go back to the library in like... two hours, so I'm not gonna go into a ton of detail here. Suffice to say, I enjoyed this series, although I probably shouldn't have ordered it in hardcover because wow, heavy, and I'm glad I read them.

Thanks for reading if you made it through all that ranting!

Peace and cookies,

Friday, October 23, 2015

Friday Cuteness: Or, Fun Things in My Inbox (7)

This is a new 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!

I have this one on order from the library for my Halloween Storytime! I just love Otter.

You can find out more about Otter at I Am Otter, and I highly recommend the Otter Gallery because it's super cool. Find Otter Loves Halloween at Goodreads and the following retailers (plus your local library and bookstores and the like):

Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

I can't wait for Halloween either!

Peace and cookies,

Monday, October 19, 2015

YA Review: When I Was Joe

No one probably cares what I think by now. I have had this book for seriously five years. I'm trying here, guys. I'm terrible, but I'm trying. I made a shelf on goodreads organizing my blog books, so that's cool, right? Plus, I hit my yearly reading goal and bumped it up another five books!

But let's talk about the book and not me!

When I Was Joe by Keren David

Published: Originally published August 31st, 2010 by Frances Lincoln Children's Books.
Genre: YA Thriller
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 364 plus an except and acknowledgements
Part of a series? Yes, there are two more books "Almost True" and "Another Life".
Got via: Someone sent it to me for review. I can't remember who to save my life because it's been so long, and I, as we have previously discussed, am terrible.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from the back of the book because the goodreads ones were too spoiler-y for me): It's one thing watching someone get killed. It's quite another talking about it. But Ty does talk about it. He names some ruthless people and a petrol-bomb attack forces him and his mum into hiding under police protection.

Shy loser Ty gets a new name, a new look, and a cool new image. Life as Joe is good. But the gangsters will stop at nothing to silence him. And then he meets a girl with a dangerous secret of her own.

Review: This was different than what I expected, but I quite enjoyed it. I don't read a ton of British YA, which this is. It is different than US or even Canadian YA. It is, indeed, very British. From my limited perspective, it feels very authentic to the setting. There were references and slang that I honestly did not understand because, hey, I don't live in London! Most Londoners probably don't know what bunnyhugs, toques, or double-doubles* are. Part of the charm of reading books from somewhere you don't live, right?

For me, this one was a solid read, and I think a lot of people would enjoy it as well. The witness protection angle is interesting unto itself, but I had never read, or even watched, about the British variety of witness protection. I wasn't very familiar with the British police system at all, really. Reading about something you have no experience with can be a mixed bag, but in this case, it was done well to not be confusing.

Plot Talk: I think it's pretty well explained in the summary. Ty sees someone gets killed, tells the police, and he and his mother are put into witness protection. He becomes Joe, becomes really cool and fancy and stuff, and the past catches up to him at one point. A lot of the plot is about how Joe (and that is how I will refer to him for simplicity's sake, since for most of the book he prefers that name) changes as a person, both just through natural life growth, and through his experiences being Joe.

The plot also deals with the crime aspect, obviously, but it's not quite as much as you'd think. The witness protection program is part of Joe's daily life, thoughts, and emotions, but the actual threats and stuff are fairly spaced out. I don't think it's detrimental to the plot, but sometimes I wanted more action!

Characters: I think I had some trouble connecting to the characters at time. Possibly it was because of the British thing - I know I've felt more removed from other British books. I have also never been a fourteen year old boy, so that's obviously not going to be so much a character that I relate to as much to others! I thought Joe was very authentic, though, as a fourteen year old boy, and it was really interesting that he was at times a slightly unreliable narrator, although I won't say more to avoid spoilers!

A nice touch was that the minor characters were fairly diverse. The characters especially who make up the setting, like the store (a newsagent?) that Joe and his mother live over is owned by a man named Mr. Patel speaks Urdu, which from googling makes me think he's from India or possible Pakistan. They have a Turkish kabob shop near their flat, there's a woman at a tattoo parlor near them who speaks Portuguese (Joe is very interested in languages), and Joe's best friend before they leave is mixed race. Along with that, Joe mentions several other people of colour, and several characters are disabled or have a mental illness in the book.

I don't think any of the portrayals were perfect or anything, but I think it's a lot more realistic for London to have a wide and varied population of people. While there were some things that probably could have been handled better, I recognize the attempt to diversify the cast.

Meanwhile, one thing I didn't really like was the limited number of female characters, and how most of them were negative characters. I don't think all female characters need to be amazing or anything, but several of the most prominent female characters are just... not well portrayed. Joe's mother Nicki is physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive, and neglectful of Joe's needs. Other female characters are portrayed in a way that's reflective of very negative stereotypes. My one note just says, "Not real girl friendly".

PG-13 stuff: There's a fair amount that younger or sensitive readers may struggle with. There's the obvious violence with the legal stuff, but there's also self-harm which could be triggering for many readers, physical abuse from Nicki (it only happens once or twice, but Nicki throws things at Joe and at least once slaps him), alcohol abuse. Joe also dates a girl at one point, and they get fairly physical together. He also thinks about her body in ways that are probably realistic, but are not exactly respectful (there's some slut-shaming).

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: Apparently I had some issues that had to come out! Definitely was not a huge fan of the way a lot of women were portrayed in the book. Joe mentions at point that he grew up around a lot of women and therefore claimed to be more feminist, but at the same time he had slutshaming moments, or moments where he really judged girls based on their clothing choices. There wasn't enough to balance it for me, and that kind of attitude does make me more hesitant to recommend the book.

Also, random, but Joe put on this "tough" accent when he was being intimidated or whatever, and it was spelled out phonically, basically, and it looked ridiculous. Sorry! It was just too much for me, too cheesy.

I will add here that there are a fair amount of references that could be confusing for non-Brit readers, but also could possibly date the book, like talking about celebrities like James Blunt. Some people might like that.

Cover comments: I quite like this cover! It's sort of dark and mysterious, and it definitely suits the book. There is another cover that is cool, but I don't think it fits the book as well. I also just like blue.

Conclusion: Despite the fact that I got a bit ranty, I did enjoy this one for the reasons I mentioned. I don't gender books ("boy books"), but this might be one for people who are looking for books for a male reader. YA thrillers are not something I read a ton, but I do really enjoy (I want more!). I have checked out the second one from my library, and I would love to get my hands on the third. So, this is a solid book, and if you're interested in any of the elements from this (there's also a sports angle!), then I'd say to check it out. Just be warned of the things I mentioned about the women in the book, because that definitely could turn some readers off. This one is going to get three roses from me.

Other notes:

- Thanks, Buzzfeed, for the help with the Canadian slang when I blanked on examples for my clever little paragraph.

Peace and cookies,

Monday, October 12, 2015

Things I've Read Recently (21)

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.

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

Published: December 18th, 2012 by Disney Hyperion
Genre: Dystopian YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 488 plus excerpts and such
Part of a series? Yes, there are like 2 more full books, and a couple of ebook novella things.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something alarming enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that gets her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that’s killed most of America’s children, but she and the others have emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they cannot control.

Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones.

When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. Now she’s on the run, desperate to find the one safe haven left for kids like her—East River. She joins a group of kids who escaped their own camp. Liam, their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can’t risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents.

When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. But there are other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at a life worth living.

Thoughts: I got this a few others at the library as options for my final project in my English class (got 30/30 on that project, and a 96% final grade in the class, FYI) and since I've written so much about it for school, frankly, the idea of writing a review for it exhausts me. I enjoyed it a lot, but there's only so much you can write about one book.

My basic thoughts are that the writing and voice are very inviting, and the premise was something I enjoyed a lot. It was kind of skimpy on women, but I really like all of Ruby's band of friends. Two out of three were boys and boys are icky, obviously, but they were decent boys. The writing could be somewhat predictable, but I enjoyed it, and I will be seeking out the second and third books as soon as I remember to grab my library card. There are some sexual violence undertones that could be triggering to some, so be wary of that if you need to, but otherwise I enjoyed this one.

Small Damages by Beth Kephart

Published: July 19th, 2012 by Philomel
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 288 + acknowledgments
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: Again, the library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): It’s senior year, and while Kenzie should be looking forward to prom and starting college in the fall, she is mourning the loss of her father. She finds solace in the one person she trusts, her boyfriend, and she soon finds herself pregnant. Kenzie’s boyfriend and mother do not understand her determination to keep the baby. She is sent to southern Spain for the summer, where she will live out her pregnancy as a cook’s assistant on a bull ranch, and her baby will be adopted by a Spanish couple.

Alone and resentful in a foreign country, Kenzie is at first sullen and difficult. She begins to open her eyes and her heart to the beauty that is all around her and inside of her.

Thoughts: I got this as a possibility for the English project, too, but I'm glad I didn't choose it because I just don't know how I feel about this. The writing is gorgeous, I will say that. The descriptions of Spain honestly do feel so vibrant and real that I kind of want a really big glass of water and I start feeling like I've got prairie mouth (the feel of dust on your mouth on a hot, dry day, FYI).

But there's something about this that just never really did it for me. I even did a reviewer's sin and went and read Goodreads reviews after finishing the book, but before writing the review, and I still can't place my finger on just what doesn't work for me. (Although I did learn this is apparently set in 1995. What? Why is this book set 20 years ago and how did I not notice?) While the writing was beautiful, it was also really slow, and I don't feel like I really connected to the characters. I also didn't really understand the ending and it felt really abrupt. Also, the whole book was kind of weird on the adoption issue, and I think people who were adopted or adopted children or placed a child for adoption would have a hard time reading it.

I hate reviews like this. It's just so meh! I liked the writing, but I also thought it could be very slow at times. I liked some of the relationships (women bonding always), but the anti-abortion/anti-adoption slant of things annoyed me (everyone who suggests abortion is bad or wrong in some way, adopting out a child leaves the birth parent permanently damaged, adopted parents are not "real" parents - these things aren't said explicitly, obviously, but they are implied through the actions of Kenzie and those around her, and there's nothing to counter them). I just... *sigh* I don't know. Check this one out if you like really lyrical books, maybe, but it just isn't for me.

Did I talk about this next book? I don't think I did, and I might as well, because I did read it.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Published: September 2005, I believe, by an Australian publisher, and Knopf books in the US. I don't know what edition I had.
Genre: Historical YA with some fantasy elements.
Binding: Paperback and Kindle.
Page Count: 550, I think.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: I borrowed a copy from the library, and also bought a Kindle copy.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.

By her brother's graveside, Liesel's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger's Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up, and closed down.

Thoughts: We used this in my English class as our teacher-directed novel study, which is why I got both a physical copy and a Kindle copy. It made life easier. It's been like two months now since I read this so I'm not going to go into too much detail because I wasn't planning on doing anything review-like for it. Plus, you guys have probably read this one. It's kind of famous, and for a reason! This is one of those books that emotionally destroys you. I think I described it to my English teacher as a book hangover, because wow.

I cried so hard, guys. This was so good. No words, just recommends.

Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore

Published: July 7th by Corgi Children's, but the edition I bought is from Delacorte Press.
Genre: Paranormal YA
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 404 plus the acknowledgements.
Part of a series? Not strictly - there's a companion book from Amy's cousin's POV, but you can apparently read them in basically any order.
Got via: I bought it from somewhere. Chapters and Indigo, maybe, when I had that giftcard.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Amy Goodnight knows that the world isn't as simple as it seems—she grew up surrounded by household spells and benevolent ghosts. But she also understands that "normal" doesn't mix with magic, and she's worked hard to build a wall between the two worlds. Not only to protect any hope of ever having a normal life.

Ranch-sitting for her aunt in Texas should be exactly that. Good old ordinary, uneventful hard work. Only, Amy and her sister, Phin, aren't alone. There's someone in the house with them—and it's not the living, breathing, amazingly hot cowboy from the ranch next door.

It's a ghost, and it's more powerful than the Goodnights and all their protective spells combined. It wants something from Amy, and none of her carefully built defenses can hold it back.

This is the summer when the wall between Amy's worlds is going to come crashing down.

Thoughts: This is a lovely book. I'm just going to put it out there that it took me quite a bit longer than it usually would to read this, and I really don't think that's the fault of the book at all. I've been in a little bit of a reading slump because I've been under a lot of stress. Every time I picked this up, I enjoyed it, but finding the motivation to pick it up was hard because of my mood. That is not the fault of the book, though, okay?

The book is really fun. There's a lot of humour, a "I hate you I hate you oh hey now we're kissing" romance which I'm a sucker for, and the ghost angle was really cool. I also really appreciated the Goodnight family in general, but especially because of how strong family bonds are, and how strong the presence of women is in the book. There's also a little bit of mystery, too, which is cool.

I really liked this, in the end, and I'm very interested in the companion book. It's a really good book when you don't want something that will, like, kill you emotionally. It's not shallow or anything, but you're not gonna be crying at the end, which you need sometimes! While my fickle reading mood betrayed me a little, it was a good book to have going during that, because I was never bored by it, and whenever I did pick it up, I immediately enjoyed what I read. It's a good summer book - and it is one of those not-too-common summer-before-college books that I think tend to bleed into NA now, but still doesn't seem NA to me. Does that make sense?

Hey, and that's four! So that's the post!

Peace and cookies,

Monday, September 28, 2015

YA Review: This One Summer

Well, it's not really summer anymore! How about we squeeze one last summer book in, though, because I need a September post and I've been too busy moving and stuff to do anything more fall-like. Plus, I really liked this book, and this review has been sitting in my drafts for weeks.

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, with illustrations by Jillian Tamaki

Published: Goodreads says the first edition was January 1st, 2014, but I can't find that edition on Goodreads. My edition is from Groundwood Books and was published May 1st, 2014.
Genre: Contemporary YA Graphic Novel
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 319
Part of a series? No, I don't believe so.
Got via: I borrowed it from the library, and it is very overdue and needs to go back tomorrow. Hence the writing of the review at 2:30 in the morning.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Rose and her parents have been going to Awago Beach since she was a little girl. It's her summer getaway, her refuge. Her friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had, completing her summer family.

But this summer is different.

Rose's mom and dad won't stop fighting, and Rose and Windy have gotten tangled up in a tragedy-in-the-making in the small town of Awago Beach. It's a summer of secrets and heartache, and it's a good thing Rose and Windy have each other.

Review: I don't read a lot of graphic novels, but as soon as I saw this, I knew I had to try it. The first thing I noticed was how the two girls have quite different body types. Rose is tall and thin, whereas Windy is short and a little chubby. The book is pretty good about having a variety of body types. There aren't really any people that are visibly fat, but several are pudgy, and even some of the thin characters have realistic stomach rolls when they bend, or back fat. That alone wins some of my favour, honestly.

This is a lot deeper than you'd expect looking at the cover, I think. The subject matter is quite serious a lot of the time, but it strikes me as incredibly truthful. The girls talk like real girls, about their bodies and crushes and how they're starting to understand the world, and the things they experience are real things. I just *sigh* I really liked this.

Plot Talk: I don't really know how to describe the plot of graphic novels. The summary describes it pretty well without spoiling things, and also it's almost 3am so. The plot and me are cool. It works well with the format. I need to go to bed soon.

Characters: I really liked the characters. It's amazing how much characterization can be portrayed through the graphic novel format. There are little things that tell you so much about a character, like Rose's new horror movie fixation, and how the girls like to try and scare themselves silly. I loved the friendship between the girls, how they have to kind of get to know each other again since it's been a year since the last time they've seen each other.

I think Rose is about eleven, and Windy is a year and a half younger. Both girls are still unsure what their bodies will look like once they grow breasts (and they talk about it, ha), so I'd doubt Rose was more than twelve or thirteen at the absolute most. I don't think it says exactly, but I think Windy's about ten. It's a very hard age for girls, I think, and Rose especially is having a difficult summer, She pushes some limits, and at times her experience is somewhat uncomfortable, but she's real.

Windy's mother seems to be somewhat of the hippy type. Windy went to a summer dance camp called Gaia's Circle, and her mom is a vegan. But one thing that I loved was that she pointed out a lot of sexism, between stuff in the horror movies they watched, to things that Rose said, and it's clear that any kind of slut-shaming or sexism makes her pretty uncomfortable. I really adore that in books, and it's not something you see as often as I'd hope!

PG-13 stuff: There's a lot of stuff. There's a lot of language. The girls talk very frankly about a lot of things, from their bodies to oral sex. The girls are sort of on the edge of an older group of kids, with Rose especially observing and being curious about the older kids, and a lot of the older subject matter is inspired by that group, but some of it is a little more organic, especially Rose's family issues. There's a fair amount of talk about pregnancy, slut-shaming, cheating, and one thing that I didn't see coming and thought was incredibly brave to show like that, but everything in general is handled well.

This is the kind of book that people don't want to admit that kids need. I think a lot of people would recommend this for older teens, but honestly, younger kids could hande this, and would likely connect to that idea of being on the fringe of the adult world, and not quite being sure if you're ready for that, or if you understand it.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: More fat bodies, and more characters who weren't white would be good, but I enjoyed this one a lot, and I really didn't have a ton of complaints.

Cover comments: I really like it. I like the addition of an orange colour to Rose's bathing suit, and I really do like that Windy has a bit of a rounder tummy, and wears a two-piece. No tummy shame! The orange is only in the cover, by the way. The rest of the book, I'm pretty sure is done in blue tones. My lighting is not great at night in this room, and frankly I'm getting tired and it's getting hard to tell, but I'm pretty sure it's all blue tones.

Conclusion: This one is worth the overdue fees. I think it's a great summer book, and if I had had the chance, I would have loved to have read it outside. I was surprised by the depth of the book, and the subjects tackled, but they were wonderfully done, and I loved the anti-sexism conversations. More of that in books for girls of this age! (Which is not to say boys and other people wouldn't enjoy this one, but I spend a lot of time thinking about how I'd feel about giving books to girls, and what messages they'd send, and one that sends feminist messages is refreshing.) The book also didn't go any of the directions I was scared it would. I loved that it was set in Ontario, and it felt Canadian to me. It's quarter after three so I need to wrap this up, so let's just say I very much recommend this one. Four and a half out of five.

Other notes:

I got a September post up!

Peace and cookies,

Monday, August 31, 2015

Things I've Read Recently (20): School

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 they're themed! Since school is either starting or has just started for a lot of us, I thought I'd do a school post! No particular theme, or selection criteria beyond that.

Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus by Barbara Park

Published: July 1st, 1992
Genre: Contemporary Middle Grade/Chapter Book
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 69
Part of a series? Yes, there are 17 of Junie in Kindergarten, and like 10 of her in first grade.
Got via: the library
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Meet the World’s Funniest Kindergartner—Junie B. Jones! Remember when it was scary to go to school? In the first Junie B. Jones book, it’s Junie B.’s first day and she doesn’t know anything. She’s so scared of the school bus and the meanies on it that when it’s time to go home, she doesn’t.

Thoughts: Oh, I love these books. I was thinking this could be good for my graduated one, but also her sister, who will be riding the school bus in the fall, and who I had several other school books coming as well. This is very exaggerated, obviously, but kids do worry like this. It's exaggerated to how kids would think - very worse case scenario, you know?

While the things Junie worries about can be very much what kids worry about, but the humour is also super hilarious for adults. I really love these, like, so much. They're just awesome. Highly recommend. After I typed this up, I did give it to the mom of my Storytime kid who's going to kindergarten, and we talked a little about it, and she asked specifically about the adult humour, and said that she likes that in books, so that's a really cool thing to hear from a parent.

Now, to go past kindergarten:

The Report Card by Andrew Clements

Published: First on April 1st, 2004 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, but my copy was printed in September 2004 by Scholastic.
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 173
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: I think I bought it from a Scholastic book order when I was a kid and still in school.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Nora Rose Rowley is a genius, but don't tell anyone. She's managed to make it to the fifth grade without anyone figuring out that she's not just an ordinary kid, and she wants to keep it that way.

But then Nora gets fed up with the importance everyone attaches to test scores and grades, and she purposely brings home a terrible report card just to prove a point. Suddenly the attention she's successfully avoided all her life is focused on her, and her secret is out. And that's when things start to get really complicated....

Thoughts: I'm pretty sure I read this when I first bought it, but I didn't remember much about it. I imagine I liked it as a kid. I would have enjoyed the genius angle, and Nora has a really good voice. She's really funny at times, and I like her approach of things. I also really liked the relationship with the school librarian that Nora had.

I don't have much to say about this - it was really cute, it was funny, I liked Nora's voice a lot. This one gets to keep its spot on my shelf, because I would enjoy rereading it, and I definitely think kids would like it. I definitely recommend this one. Especially these days when testing is such a huge part of education, and with how many kids are dealing with the pressures of that. They'd probably relate a whole lot to Nora.

The 6th Grade Nickname Game by Gordon Korman

Published: First published 1998 by Hyperion, but this edition was released in 1999 by Scholastic.
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 144 plus the about the author and stuff.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: It was a library weed.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Almost everyone in Old Orchard Pubic School (OOPS) has had the dubious honor of receiving a nickname from best friends Jeff and Wiley. They've dubbed their own underachieving class the Dim Bulbs, their pop-eyed principal is better known as Deer in the Headlights, and their enormous football-coach-turned-teacher is now Mr. Huge.

It's only when a spunky red-haired environmentalist named Cassandra enters their lives that the boys begin to doubt themselves. No name seems to say it all. On top of that, some of the nicknames are backfiring, and their new teacher is in danger of losing his job. Will the nicknamers be able to get it together before it's too late?

Thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. For a book that's over 15 years old, it has aged very well. I think Gordon Korman has really timeless writing, and he was one of my favourite writers as a kid. Also, kind of my role model. I totally wanted to be the second Canadian kid to publish a book at the age of 12. Obviously that didn't happen (I'm about 10 years past that being a possibility), and there probably have been more, but that was my childhood dream.

This one, I particularly liked. It was really funny, and the characters were incredibly vibrant. I loved how much of the plot was about reading (remember DEAR, anyone? We totally had that at my school, and I loved it - and I like the name a lot more than SSR, or whatever), and I thought it was interesting that this one had another plot about a large standardized test, although the approach is much different in this book than the last.

This next bit is totally a spoiler so skip to the next paragraph if you want, but I think it's important to talk about because of the cultural effect it has. So here goes. The only thing I didn't really like was that the boys fought over a girl a lot, Cassandra, and nobody ever really asks her opinion on the whole thing. At the end, she isn't interested in either of them, and asks out another guy, and they state this is something they need to "forgive" her for. She's also pretty, you know, Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and I'm not fond of sending that kind of message to young girls reading this book. If I gave this to a kid, I would try and connect with them afterwards talking about how it wasn't okay for Wiley and Jeff to assume that Cassandra would automatically be interested in one of them, or that she owed them anything. I really would have liked someone (maybe Wiley's older sister Lisa) to wring their ears a bit over that.

Other than that, I'm pretty much cool with this one. It gets to keep its spot on my shelf.

Sixth Grade Secrets by Louis Sachar

Published: Originally published in 1987, this edition was published probably around 1994 by Scholastic.
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 201 plus About the Author
Part of a series? Nope
Got via: Probably a yard sale.
Amazon /  Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): When Laura Sibbie starts a secret club at school, makes the other members them give her something totally embarrassing as "insurance," to make sure they don't tell anyone else about the club. She promises to keep the insurance secret, unless someone blabs. Gabriel, who never tells on anybody, would be a perfect member of Pig City. He wants to join, too. But when Laura asks him, something goes terribly wrong. Now there are two secret clubs in Mr. Doyle's class, and guess who's the head of the new one-Gabriel! Each club is determined to topple the other, and nobody's secrets are safe.

Thoughts: Another 6th grade book! I seriously don't remember 6th grade being this important. In this one, 6th grade is treated as a very important year grade-wise. I believe they are in a K-6 school, though, and perhaps it's because I went to a K-8 school. Also, the cap she's wearing is described on the first page as a red cap with a blue brim and silver letters. That is not a red cap with a blue brim and silver letters! Normally cover issues like that don't bug me that much, but it was on the first page.

Other than that, I liked this one. The humour is great, and there's also a good lesson about honestly and lying by omission in the book, but it's not too heavy-handed. There's great characterization, and I think this would really appeal to the age group. It has aged well (actually, my copy is in very good shape), especially because there are no pop culture type references, and I think kids would still enjoy it a lot to this day. This gets to stay on my shelf, and I recommend it.

So are you guys ready for school?

Peace and cookies,

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