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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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Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday Cuteness: Or, Fun Things in My Inbox (6)

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!

So have you guys heard about the Goosebumps movie? Check out the trailer!

I think this is a really awesome premise, probably the coolest way of making a respectful Goosebumps movie possible. The trailer made me laugh, and it's kind of cool seeing all the things I recognized. I'm excited - are you guys?

Peace and cookies,

Monday, August 17, 2015

YA Review: Pieces of Me

Pieces of Me by Amber Kizer

Published: February 11th, 2014 by Delacorte
Genre: Mostly contemporary YA, with a little bit of a paranormal theme
Binding: ARC
Page Count: Mine is 208 plus a bunch of extras, and goodreads says the finished copy is 304.
Part of a series? No, standalone.
Got via: It was sent to me to review, right around when it was about to come out, and yeah, I suck. At least I only suck worth a year instead of several years? I can't believe a year and change has passed already. At least I can blame school this time!
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): When high school oddball and introvert Jessica Chai is killed in a car accident, her parents decide that Jessica would have wanted her organs donated to those who so desperately need these gifts of life. But Jessica is angry about dying and being dismembered.

Taking the idea of cell memory to the next level, not only do the recipients get pieces of Jessica, but gets pieces of their memories and lives moving forward—she knows what they know and keeps tabs on their growth, recovery, and development. This begins her journey to learn her purpose as she begins to grasp that her ties to these teenagers goes beyond random weirdness. It's through their lives that Jessica learns about herself, as she watches the lives she literally touched continue to interlock.

Review: It is really, really hard to talk about books that emotionally wallop you. Especially in a way that's anyway coherant. If you want me to talk about my broken feels and sobs, then I can do that, but actually wording may take me a minute. As you can tell by the fact that I just used "word" as a verb.

I actually started this one, read about the first chapter, and put it down because I wasn't in the right place emotionally to read this one. I was fine, but I knew after reading that first chapter that I needed a little more sleep and a little less emotional rawness to finish the book. I will say this - the first two or three chapters are almost the heaviest of book. There's a lot that happens in those chapters that is particularly impactful. Most of the rest of the book explores the relationship between the five main characters and those around them, their growth and journeys.

Plot Talk: Jessica is ambushed at school by girls at her school who cut off her hair in the hall without her consent. They give her an invitation to a Halloween party as payoff, essentially, and on the way to the party, Jessica is killed in a car crash. Her organs are donated to several people, but we see four in particular. Samuel, who recieves Jessica's kidneys and pancreas, Vivian, who has cystic fibrosis and is given her heart and lungs, Lief, who gets a tissue and cartilege and stuff to repair a nearly destroyed knee, and Misty, who is the recipient of Jessica's liver.

Over the book, they connect with each other, and Jessica watches over all of them, moving from one to another, but unable to affect them. And that's kind of the deal - I don't want to spoil anything for you.

Characters: Jessica's initial chapters while she's alive are stifling. The haircut - which I really appreciate that it's treated like the assault that it is - is shocking, and uncomfortable. Her interactions with her mother, especially, are heavy, like they press down on you as you read them. Those chapters are almost exhausting. Funnily enough, after she dies, things get somewhat lighter. Jessica, while dealing with some of her own "hey, I'm dead" issues, is more of a passive observer to the others. The connection of her "pieces" in them allows her to understand what they're thinking and feeling, which makes her a very interesting narrator, without limiting what she should be able to know. Once you get used to that premise, it works well.

There were other donations made from Jessica's body, but we only follow the four I mentioned. All are linked to Jessica in some way, and I like finding out the different ways. Each is unique in their journey, what they need to learn and experience, and also their thoughts on their transplants. I really enjoyed seeing how they connected, almost like a spiderweb of connections.

Due to having five main characters, the cast is fairly large, but even the smaller side characters were good. They were vibrant, and well-rounded, despite many of them not having a ton of "screen"time. The writing is very strong when it comes to that aspect, to make so many characters be so unique in a book that is not that long, comparatively. The parents, especially, and their relationships with their children, each had different issues and nuances. It's very strong characterization and character writing.

PG-13 stuff: I like how on ARCs they sometimes put the recommended age on it. This one says 12 and up, and frankly I think that'd be fine. I didn't notice much for language, really, or drinking, or sex, or any of those things that people get worked up about. The subject matter of death is obviously emotionally heavy, so that's what you need to think about, but I think a mature reader of that age range would be fine.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: I didn't like the bashing of popular, conventionally pretty girls. You know, thin, blonde, popular, pretty, fashionable. Girls like that obviously do have more privilege than many other people, but living up to social expectations isn't easy, and there is often a tremendous amount of pressure on them. In this society, it's not easy to be a girl in any shape or form, and I really dislike when books do the "you're not like other girls" thing. Girls don't deserve this treatment, no matter how popular they are.

Cover comments: I like it. It's very pretty. I LOVE the lettering. The kind of broken, splotchiness of it is really cool. But, and maybe this is because I've been reading a lot of 80s/90s books which often have covers that are very representative of something that happens in the book, but it kind of bothers me that Jessica is shown barely mid-back length hair, when either she should have hair that's very, very long, down around her hips, or pixie-cut. But it is a very pretty cover, if a little bland, and not exactly original.

Conclusion: While I had really busy year, I'm kind of sad I put this off for so long. I am glad that I was able to give it the time it deserved, and to be in the right place emotionally to read it. The characters were wonderful, I liked the premise, and the ending made me all sniffly. I really enjoyed this one, and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. Highly recommend this one, and I give it four out of five roses.

Other notes:

- I watched Dead Like Me recently and some of this kind of reminded me of that. Probably just because I did just watch it. But if you're a fan of that, or If I Stay, or either of them, you might enjoy this.

That's about it, I think. Have you guys read this one? What did you think?

Peace and cookies,

Friday, August 7, 2015

Friday Cuteness: Or, Fun Things in My Inbox (5)

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!

Have you guys seen this?

I know they're saying it's a fanmade video, and not an official teaser for the upcoming Netflix adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events, but it's pretty incredible either way! I'm also just a teensy bit skeptical about that, just because of the nature of the series, but we'll see!

(There's, like, creepy crawlies and leeches and stuff in this, just fyi.)

What's your theory? Are you excited about the Netflix show?

Peace and cookies,

Monday, August 3, 2015

YA Review: Glamour

Glamour by Andrea Janes

Published: March 12th, 2014
Genre: Paranormal YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 209 plus a good handful of extras like an interview and other books
Part of a series? I do not believe so.
Got via: For review back in 2014, and yes, I am terrible. I'm trying to catch up! This is my second review book and I'm only like a week into vacation! *hides in shame as to-review pile threatens her*
Amazon / Book Depository / And here's the two website links, for the physical version and the ebook version.

Summary (from goodreads): Townie. That's what eighteen-year-old Christina Sundy is. All year round she lives in a one-stoplight town on Cape Cod, and when summer comes, she spends her days scooping ice cream for the rich tourists she hates. So when one of them takes a job in the ice cream shop alongside her, she's pissed. Why does a blonde and perky Harvard-bound rich girl like Reese Manning want to scoop ice cream anyway?

Something else weird is happening to Christina: tiny blue sparks seem to be shooting off her fingers. It isn't long before she realizes the truth about herself — she's actually a powerful hereditary witch. But her newfound powers are too intense for her to handle and, in a moment of rage, she accidentally zaps Reese into another dimension.

So that no one will notice that the rich girl has disappeared, Christina casts a disguising spell, or "glamour," and lives Reese's life while she tries to find a retrieval spell. But as the retrieval spell proves harder than anticipated, and as she goes about living Reese's life without anyone on the outside noticing the switch, Christina realizes that there's nothing to stop her from making the glamour permanent... except, of course, her fellow witches, a 16th century demon, and, just maybe, her own conscience.

Review: I have mixed feelings about this one. Overall, I enjoyed it, and I think it's an interesting little book, but there were things that bothered me, and things I thought could have been done better. I liked the witchcraft angle, because that's something I don't read very much of, and I enjoyed the strong, varied cast of women in the book. However, I think the whole thing probably could have used another round of editing, both to make the voice stronger and to catch a few of the typos/grammar errors I noticed. The bad doesn't cancel out the good, but this would not be a fair review if I did not mention the bad.

So let's keep going!

Plot Talk: The plot is basically what the summary says. Girl gets magic, girl accidentally zaps other girl into oblivion, girl has to take over her life to keep her parents from finding out, girl battles with the temptation to keep her "easier" life, etc. It's a solid plot. Not so minimal so as to be boring, but not so convoluted as to be too complicated for what is a relatively slim book.

Characters: Our main character is Christina, a stubborn, slightly sullen teen girl who works in an ice cream shop in the summer. One day she realizes she has a natural talent for witchcraft, when strange things start happening because of her. While I generally like "unlikeable" characters, she does start out somewhat whiny. Frankly, that's a little annoying. She has a very narrow world view, and it's only over the course of the book that her viewpoint broadens, and she begins to think a little more about others. One of the things Christina needs to learn in the book is actually to stop whining, so I did really enjoy her growth of as a character. Because of how she grows and learns throughout the book, I don't have that much of a problem with the whininess at the beginning... once I got past it.

One of my favourite parts of this was how many women there are. Most of the main characters are women, and the most important characters are. They are all different and strong and weak in different ways, and unique, and their different relationships are very important throughout the book. The book thrives on female relationships, and that was lovely.

PG-13 stuff: There's a fair amount of language, and some more mature subject matter, but nothing I'd freak out about.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: Again, another round of strong editing probably would have been good. While there were some typos/grammar errors, I also found the voice a little unpolished towards the beginning, almost with too much backstory and "telling". I also was not entirely fond of the POV switching. I felt like those were some of the weaker scenes, and they fit strangely with Christina's narration, which was the majority.

One thing I really didn't like was one of Christina's revenge pranks with her magic. She makes a girl she works with who's mean to her fat. She makes her "so fat she wasn't even wearing normal clothes". That's just... that's not funny. Being fat is not a punishment, and gaining weight is not something to be ridiculed. In a book that is so full of wonderful women, turning around and seeing your body used as a joke like that isn't exactly pleasant.

Cover comments: I really like the cover. I think it's really arty and pretty. I would actually like the cover art as a print, please, because it's gorgeous.

Conclusion: All in all, I did enjoy this one. I liked the witchcraft theme, I liked the cast of women, I liked a lot of the themes of the book. I also liked the voice once we got into the swing of things. There were moments that made me ugly-snort, and some very emotionally true moments. While I really didn't like the fat-shaming, and did have other issues, they weren't enough to completely throw me off the book. Keep the fat-shaming, because dude, not cool, but otherwise, I would recommend this. It loses points for the fat-shaming and editing issues, but Glamour gets three roses out of five from me.

Other notes:

- Apparently "real" witches don't like Wiccans? What'd Wiccans ever do to you?? :P Let people have their religion and chill.

- Seriously, this town doesn't have one place where plus sized clothes are sold? What'd fat people ever do to you??

Peace and cookies,