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Monday, August 25, 2014

YA Review: The Break

The Break by Nelsa Roberto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Somebody give me a high five for that!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Notes:

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

Peace and cookies,

Monday, August 18, 2014

MG Review: The Wizard of Dark Street

The Wizard of Dark Street by Shawn Thomas Odyssey

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

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

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

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

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

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

(How was that for a plot thingie?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and cookies,

Monday, August 11, 2014

YA Review: The Sweetest Thing

The Sweetest Thing by Christina Mandelski

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

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

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

Review: This was totally the sweetest thing!

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

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

Does that make sense? Hope so!

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

Obviously, she's a bit of a mess.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was something I really didn't like.

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

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

Other notes:

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

Peace and cookies,

Monday, August 4, 2014

Things I've Read Recently (11)

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

First up:

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up:

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

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

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

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

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

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

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

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

Through the Looking Glass

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

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

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

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

Empress of the World by Sara Ryan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I also have to mention this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and cookies,