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Monday, June 29, 2015

YA Review: Miracle

Look, an actual review! Isn't summer amazing?

Miracle by Elizabeth Scott

Published: June 5th, 2012 by Simon Pulse
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 217
Part of a series? Nope, standalone
Got via: I accidentally stole it from the library. I'll bring it back, I promise! It just didn't get checked out somehow (the system hates me sometimes.)
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Megan is a miracle. At least, that’s what everyone says. Having survived a plane crash that killed everyone else on board, Megan knows she should be grateful just to be alive. But the truth is, she doesn’t feel like a miracle. In fact, she doesn’t feel anything at all. Then memories from the crash start coming back.

Scared and alone, Megan doesn’t know whom to turn to. Her entire community seems unable—or maybe unwilling—to see her as anything but Miracle Megan. Everyone except for Joe, the beautiful boy next door with a tragic past and secrets of his own. All Megan wants is for her life to get back to normal, but the harder she tries to live up to everyone’s expectations, the worse she feels. And this time, she may be falling too fast to be saved....

Review: Oh, man. I WoWed this one ages ago, and then saw this one at the library a while ago, and it called my name for a long time. The only other Elizabeth Scott book I've read is Love You Hate You Miss You. I can't say for certain because I haven't read others, but I think I managed to find two of her books that are, like, most similar. Like not in characters or specific plot, but in the premise of the "after the big event" type thing. I don't mind that at all - I like reading about the ramifications of these big events - but I find it amusing that I managed to do that.

Anyways, I really liked this one. It's one of those books that you feel in your chest as you read it. You know, that tightness you feel as you read about a character whose world is falling apart around them and you just ache for them. I've cried more over other things, but this was still so good. I'm really glad I finally grabbed it and chose it tonight.

Plot Talk: Basically, the book opens with Megan waking up in the hospital after the small plane she was in crashed. She doesn't remember the crash, and she's not handling the time afterwards well, but neither are her friends and family. The rest of the book follows her journey as she starts to remember the crash and kind of falls apart, and how she'll come back together.

Characters: Megan is one of those characters that I really enjoy, even if not everyone will. We don't know much about her before the crash, but afterwards she's a little broken. She's not very nice, and she does all the wrong things. She's not always likable, but I enjoy that. Give me all the unlikeable girls, all the girls who are prickly and a little mean, the girls who go quiet or numb or cold when they're sad. That's one of my favourite kinds of characters, and she's a really good one. I also appreciate her existence as a character dealing with a mental illness, specifically PTSD, and how the book deals with that. The representation there is very important.

There is also a bit of romance, and that would be the character Joe. Honestly, I think the summary over-sells the romance. While it's there, it's not as big of a plot as the summary would lead you to believe. Joe is not the one to "save" Megan, or the big catalyst to anything, really. He's just a supportive guy. He's there for her, and doesn't try to force her to be anything she's not. I did really like the romance, and I liked Joe. I'm kind of a sucker for that "bad boy with a heart of gold" thing, but, really, he's pretty tame for a "bad boy". Joe never does anything that hurts Megan, and there's really no conflict in their romance, which is very refreshing. The book is about her journey, and the romance is just... bonus.

The summary sets Joe up as very important to her healing, but not mentioned and yet much more important is Margaret. Margaret is a woman from Megan's church who served in the Vietnam war with her partner, Rose, who recently died. She's very important in noticing what's going on with Megan, recognizing it from her own youth after returning from Vietnam. She also gives Megan a safe place when she needs it, and is instrumental in her getting well. Their relationship is incredibly important, and the book would not be the same without it.

(Funny thing: The origin of the name Megan is the name Margaret.)

Her parents are... pretty lost themselves. They don't know how to deal with this. Scott makes the rest of the cast manage to feel sympathetic and also suffocating. You can't help but feel bad at how badly they're handling things, but you also understand Megan's urge to run away as soon as anyone starts talking to her because, frankly, most of these people are terrible at it.

One other thing I did think was cool was that many of the characters attend church, and Megan's family is religious. Her parents have differing views, some which are somewhat bigoted, and while that's not a great thing, it is realistic, unfortunately. Megan doesn't struggle a lot with her faith, but praying doesn't fix her, you know? It's just another part of her life, and I liked that representation as well.

PG-13 stuff: The subject matter obviously is because of the nature of trauma like that, but there's not underage drinking or sex or anything, and I don't have a problem with those things, but it's nice to see a different take on the trauma reactions. Megan withdraws more than she acts out. There's some language, and it's used very well. When it's used, it makes an impact.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: Eh, I'm okay. I don't really have any complaints.

Cover comments: I think it's really pretty, and it stood out to me at the library and made the "MINE" voice go off in my head.

Conclusion: It is a really beautiful book. Scott's writing is lovely, and I would love to read more by her (especially Living Dead Girl - I'm really interested in that one). I really enjoyed the low-key aspect of the romance, and how a mentor-like relationship with an older woman is what helps Megan most, not the romance. I liked the representation of mental illness, and the nuanced and varied characters. I very much recommend this one. Four out of five roses.

Other notes:

This didn't fit anywhere else, but the note at the back mentions Elizabeth Scott dealt with PTSD following a very bad allergic reaction. Obviously that makes her writing of the process so much more emotionally truthful, but I also like how she portrays relationships with food in the book. There's a girl mentioned who is very thin, but whose mother pressures her to lose weight. She's mentioned to sneak/steal food, which makes me think of Ellyn Satter, and how pressuring children to eat less (i.e., diet) can cause them to sneak or steal food. (Edit: I originally said "more", but the opposite is often true - children pressured to eat more tend to eat less in response.)

Megan also gains weight as she's stopped aggressively playing soccer and also sometimes emotionally eats, but she talks about how she enjoys having gained some weight, that she enjoys how her body has gotten softer (and she's gotten bigger boobs). Her weight is later given, and she's still quite small, and thin, but regardless, I like books where weight gain is regarded as a positive thing. One of those insidious diet culture things of society is that gain is always treated as a bad thing, and loss is always a good thing, and books often reflect that. A book treating a weight gain as a positive thing gets bonus points in my book.

I'm not going to assume anyone's relationship with bodies or food, but in general, those things are more in line with my own personal philosophies about healthy relationships with food and bodies, and I really noticed those two moments as good things.

I think that's it!

Peace and cookies,

Friday, June 26, 2015

Friday Cuteness: Or, Fun Things in My Inbox (2)

The last one was really fun, so I thought I'd throw together another one.

I plan on rewarding myself for finishing the semester with some good books. (At least one of these will be in the bathtub with a bath bomb. And also there will be movies and a bunch of episodes of Welcome to Night Vale that I've been saving as a reward to myself.)
Photo credit: aftab. / Foter / CC BY-NC

So today's feature is a quiz: I spent way too long searching for a stock image for this post!! So go check out the quiz, because book quizzes are fun, and also to make me feel better about obsessing over stock images.

This was my result:

PS I Still Love You by Jenny Han

(Summary from goodreads): Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter.

She and Peter were just pretending. Except suddenly they weren’t. Now Lara Jean is more confused than ever.

When another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him return too. Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?

In this charming and heartfelt sequel to the New York Times bestseller To All the Boys I've Loved Before, we see first love through the eyes of the unforgettable Lara Jean. Love is never easy, but maybe that’s part of what makes it so amazing.

Amazon / Book Depository / IndieBound

So what are you reading this summer? What did you get as your quiz result?

Peace and cookies,

Monday, June 22, 2015

Things I've Read Recently (18)

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 edition are four random books I grabbed off my shelf because I need shelf space and it's kind of a casual goal of mine to read more books I own. You probably have no interest in any of these books, but it was fun to read things that were incredibly ridiculous while I was really stressed out, so here they are so I can drag you into my misery.

The Wrong Way Out by Linda Barr

Published: 1990 by Willowisp Press
Genre: Contemporary YA, or upper MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 142
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: I think I bought it at a yard sale or something.
The only place I can actually find selling this is ebay. If you want it, I'll sell it to you WAY cheaper than that! I stole the picture from there, though, because the one goodreads isn't big enough. Oh, Abebooks has two copies for like 10 dollars a pop. Seriously, if you desperately want this, tell me, and it's yours.

Summary (from goodreads): No matter how hard I try, I can't understand why my best friend is hurting herself. Ever since her parents split up and her father moved away, she's been acting weird. And the worst part is that she's been drinking. Kirsten

Why does everyone try to tell me what to do? First my mom, then my brother, and now Kirsten. I especially don't understand what's bugging Kirsten. She's becoming really bossy lately. And she's always lecturing me about drinking. What's the big deal? Jackie

Kirsten and Jackie have been best friends since third grade. They shared just about everything - until drinking came between them. Could Kirsten convince Jackie that she had a choice - and that drinking was definitely... The Wrong Way Out

Thoughts: This was so ridiculously cheesy. First of all, can we talk about how these girls are supposed to be 14? They look like they're 30 on the cover!

The writing is kind of awful. Nobody talks like that, and part of the narration is literally one of the girls reading from her Health textbook. It reads like the book equivalent of an afterschool special, and not a good one. It's just completely unrealistic, preachy, and again, so, so cheesy.

Yeah, so, this one won't be staying on my shelf. I'll probably donate it somewhere, if I can find somewhere that'll take it. Or hide it on the library sale shelf when no one's looking.

Nothing Hurts But My Heart by Linda Barr

Published: This edition was published December 31st, 1995 by Pages Publishing Group, with a previous edition in 1987.
Genre: Contemporary YA, or upper MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 109
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: A yard sale or something.
Amazon and then besides that, Abebooks is about the only thing worth linking.

Summary (from goodreads): Lisa Conklin is sure that this is a nightmare. An important gymnastics meet is only a few weeks away, and now there is something wrong with her back. The doctors are saying it's scoliosis and that Lisa might have to give up competing. But nothing hurts, Lisa tells herself.

Thoughts: Oddly enough, this one was actually better than the last one. The writing was still not amazing. It was third person, but it switched to first person "thoughts" too much, which was jarring. The language is pretty dated and I imagine the subject matter is, too. They've probably made a lot of advances in treatments in the 20-28 years since this was published.

Despite its flaws, I kind of still enjoyed this one. It was very quick, at least. Since it's so thin, I may just keep it. I have a soft spot for it because I've had it for so long, honestly.

Skip the next two if weight loss talk gives you the brain spikies.

Outta Sight by Mary Blakeslee

Published: January 1st, 1987 by Scholastic
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 212
Part of a series? I don't think so
Got via: Probably another yard sale. I've had it for ages, and really don't remember.
Amazon / Abebooks 

Summary (from goodreads): Hope's two most favourite pastimes in the whole world are eating and daydreaming. In her dreams she is rich, beautiful, famous and, best of all, popular - nothing like the overweight, dumpy teenager that stares back at her every day from the mirror.

Then comes the summer of 1944 and suddenly Hope finds her wishes coming true - some of them, anyway. With the help of her cousin, Hope learns how to become the beauty she's always wanted to be. And sure enough, the boys do come flocking. But where are all her friends disappearing to?

Thoughts: I really did not like this. The writing is okay, although it's fairly dated and at times uses language that would make most people fairly uncomfortable (slurs, etc.). But the subject matter is a whole different story.

First of all, this is set around the war, but Hope is barely aware of it. At most, it's an inconvenience to her, like that she can't get underwear with elastic. She's incredibly shallow, honestly, and it's not pleasant to read about.

More annoyingly to me is how focused on weight loss the book is. Hope is characterized as fat and eating constantly, emotionally eating, sneaking chocolate, binging when emotional, gorging at meal times, and basically as being addicted to sugar. Cutting out sugar and washing her hair more/using "liquid green soap" and calamine lotion on her acne makes her hair not greasy and her skin magically clear (because no teenaged girl ever has, you know, hormones causing that stuff) and she loses almost 65 pounds in less than two months. Because that sounds healthy.

Hope's starting weight? 175 pounds. She starts out with a 30 inch waist which is treated as this massive size. Guys, she's a size 12. Her cousin apparently has a 20 inch waist. You know what you find when you google a 20 inch waist? Corset training. But Hope is a size TWELVE. Here's an Old Navy size chart, here's an American Eagle size chart (and neither have clothes for a 20 inch waist, not even "0" sizes). She is literally average. She would wear a large T-shirt. Not extra-large or 2x or 3x, but a large. A size TWELVE.

Just keep repeating that to yourself for a while. Apparently she diets herself down to 110 pounds in a couple months, which is in no way concerning or dangerous, obviously. But apparently she's so much healthier, and the boys all fall over her and everyone loves her, yada yada, it's The Fantasy of Being Thin in book form. And, of course, we only see the happy honeymoon period, and not the part where the weight comes back.

I do not recommend this, and it will not be returning to my shelf.

Warning: Baby-Sitting May Be Hazardous to Your Health by Cynthia Blair

Published: January 23rd, 1993 by Fawett
Genre: YA/Upper MG Mystery
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 118
Part of a series? Yes, this is like 3 out of 5 of this "A Bubble Gum Gang Mystery" series.
Got via: It's a weeded library book, so a library sale.
Amazon / Abebooks

Summary (from goodreads): As far as Samantha is concerned, there are all kinds of mysteres. Can she handle baby-sitting as an after-school job? And why does the most popular girl in school actually want to be her friend? But the scariest mystery of all is also the most dangerous: someone is selling secrets at her dad's computer firm - and his business is in trouble. It's definitely a case for Samantha and her two other Bubble Gum Gang pals, but the price of finding the spy may be way too high...

Thoughts: Apologies for the awful picture. The biggest thing that annoyed me in this one is that one of the characters, Carla, is apparently fat and is dieting throughout the book to lose five pounds so her parents will throw her a frozen yogurt party. She's twelve. No one needs to be dieting at twelve. She's probably about to go through puberty! And seriously, look at the girl on the cover (the one with dark hair). She's tiny. Old YA books were awful to fat, or even chubby characters.

That was annoying, but luckily it didn't dominate the story, so I didn't have a stroke from the stress. Otherwise, I liked it alright. It's pretty dated (twelve year olds carrying purses!) and the plot is not nearly as dramatic as the summary, but I like mysteries, I like the "Girl gangs doing stuff" genre, and the baby-sitting angle is always pleasing to me, so in general, this one will probably keep its shelf space. I just wish it hadn't had the dieting subplot!

Well, that was... fun? For lack of a better word. On the plus side, I have a little bit more shelf space now! And I feel less ranty. I'm sitting here staring at several library books now, so hopefully next week we'll have some books that are actually, you know, good.

Thanks for reading anyways!

Peace and cookies,

Monday, June 8, 2015

YA Review: Bones

Bones by John Wilson

Published: April 1st, 2014 by Orca Currents/Orca Book Publishers
Genre: YA Mystery
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 117
Part of a series? Yes, this is a sequel to the first book, Stolen.
Got via: The library
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Sam and Annabel are visiting Drumheller, Alberta, where the farmland Sam's mother lives on is host to a dinosaur dig. Annabel, an avid learner, is thrilled to have access to paleontologists and spends as much time as she can near the dig, much to Sam's dismay. But when they learn the dig has uncovered scientifically important bones, even Sam's interest is piqued. In fact, the whole town is talking about the dig. When Sam and Annabel learn that Humphrey Battleford, a famous collector of stolen goods, is in the area, they are on high alert to keep the ancient bones safe.

Review: I did a dinosaur Storytime at work and there was this book I wanted called Drumheller Dinosaur Dance. When I searched for it on the library site, this one came up, too, and I was both intrigued and already logged in, so I decided to order it, and I'm glad I did. I was really busy when I read this because it was a month before my semester ends (Edit: Now the end of semester is less than two weeks ago, ahh!), and I had tons of work to do *pause for panic* (Edit: Still panicking!), but the power went out for a whole 10 seconds, and killed my internet for several hours. Since I do my school online, I completely ran out of homework that I could access! So, reading. And that was a really rambly intro that had very little to do with the book.

Anyway. I liked this one a lot. It is the second book of the series, and I have not read the first, but I think it stands fine on its own as well. It quickly catches you up on the events that happened in the last book without rehashing them completely. I wouldn't mind reading the first at all, but it's not necessary to enjoy this one.

I also really enjoyed that it was very Canadian.

Plot Talk: This is set in Drumheller, Albert, and if you don't know anything about Drumheller, that's where the dinosaurs are! Obviously not all the dinosaurs, but a lot have been found in the area, and they have a museum with a very large fossil collection, and statues and stuff, which is super cool. I have a note to add stuff when I have internet, so here's a link to the World's Largest T-Rex which you can climb, and here's some pictures of statues.

Sam and Annabel are visiting Sam's mom who lives on a farm where a dinosaur skeleton has just been found. Fossils are totally valuable and they end up on the lookout when their arch nemesis shows up - the famous "collector" of stolen goods mentioned in the summary.

That's a touch tongue-in-cheek, I'll admit, but the plot is pretty much described in the summary. The book is only 117 pages. However, I don't really have a problem with the length or the plot. I think for a book this length, a straightforward, more simple plot is better. Too much going on can become rushed or convoluted, and Bones avoids that.

Characters: Again, in a book this length, the character also can't be as deep or as fleshed out as they'd be in a longer book, but they're fine. Having a relatively small cast of characters does help with that. They aren't my absolutely all-time dear to my heart characters, but they were solid, and I don't have anything to complain about in that respect.

Both Sam and Annabel were good characters. Annabel is a genius and proud of that, and I adored that. You gotta love a girl who loves learning. She's also funny, possessing a good sense of humour. Sam is a cool dude, too. He almost seems to deal with anxiety - he mentions being one to worry a lot, and how that affects his life, and that's an awesome character trait. I like the idea of mental illness representation, although it would obviously be better if it were explicit.

Sam and Annabel are dating, but it's not a super huge part of the book for readers who aren't so much fans of the whole romance deal. Their relationship is something I really did like, though. It seems somewhat new. As I've not read the first, I don't know how long they've been together, but I'm pretty sure it's only a few month. Sam has some insecure moments, and gets a little jealous of another dude, but they *gasp* talk about it and they quickly get past that with no feelings hurt or needless drama.

Plus this is super cute:
"Your girlfriend is smart," Dr. Bob says with a smile. I blush violently, but I'm happy. Annabel is my girlfriend, and that makes me very lucky.
PG-13 stuff: Nothing to really speak of. No language, not really any violence. This would be good for younger readers, I think.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: A minor typo or two that I noticed a bit more because of the shortness, but only one or two - not nearly enough to make it look sloppy, but I'm an honest girl, so I'm mentioning it. Characterization could be slightly better, but that's just what's gong to happen when you have a short book, and I don't think the length is a bad thing. Not every book needs to be 300 pages.

Um, that's about it besides two little nitpicks - it never says how old they are! My guess is 14-15 because Sam can't drive and it's not mentioned as out of the ordinary. Related to that is - I don't know if I quite believe kids that age know who Deep Purple are!

Mostly those last two are just me being silly - they don't really affect the reading experience, but I have a blog because I like talking about books, right?

Cover comments: Well, it caught my attention on the library website! I think it's quite cool. Not overly busy, but eye-catching. I think kids would like it, and also that it would look good as a neat little paperback. I've read Orca paperbacks before, and they are basically pocket sized, provided you don't have those horrible tiny/fake pockets.

Conclusion: Ultimately, I enjoyed this one. It was a nice, quick read, but not rushed or under developed. I think it would be great for younger readers as I mentioned before, but also for reluctant readers as it's short, but solid. Short books always have drawbacks just as a format, but they have their pros as well. If you're a quick reader like me, you can bang them out fairly quickly (unlike this review which took like three episodes of House Hunters to write, and like two episodes of this random house flipping show to type up and format), but reluctant readers are often drawn to them because they're shorter.

Basically, Bones and I are cool. We can totally be bros. I love mysteries in MG/YA, I love the archeology angle and totally have since I was a kid, and this is a very good, solid book. Solid 3.5 roses out of five, and a strong recommendation.

Please excuse any typos or weird sentences. I'm typing this up and posting this very late Sunday night because I have a little time, and I've been doing math all day, so my brain is a little fried. I wanted to get this up to go up on Monday, though.

Thanks for reading!

Peace and cookies,