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Monday, April 18, 2016

Things I've Read Recently (31)

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

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

Maudie and Me and the Dirty Book by Betty Miles

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

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

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

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

This is actually a really clever little book.

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

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

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

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

The Great Science Fair Disaster by Martyn Godfrey

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

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

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

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

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

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

French Fries Up Your Nose by M.M. Ragz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mystery of the Lunchbox Criminal by Alison Lohans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and cookies,

Monday, April 4, 2016

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

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

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

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

Another Life by Keren David

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirit and Dust by Rosemary Clement-Moore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and cookies,