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Monday, May 30, 2016

Things I've Read Recently (33)

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.

There are probably over a thousand books in my house. That is a lot. Many of them are old, bought for very cheap when I was younger, and I need to be more critical about what I keep and what I get rid of. I especially want to be critical of things that could be harmful, or things that I could replace with much better books. Bad representation, after all, can be worse than no representation sometimes.

Does that make sense?

Hopefully it does, and with that in mind, let's get to the books.

Indian Summer by Barbara Girion

Published: First published in 1990, this edition was released August 1st, 1993 by Apple Paperbacks.
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 183 plus an about the author and what not.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: A yard sale, I think, because it has someone's name in it.
Amazon / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): To Joni McCord, summer means swimming in at the local pool or hanging out at the mall. To Sarah Birdsong, it means swimming in the pure waters of the lake, and having a Coke at the little reservation store. But this summer, the girls will be roommates, since Joni's father will be the doctor on Sarah's Iroquois reservation. And even before they've met, they know it won't be easy.

At first the girls try to be friends. But Joni is homesick, and Sarah is moody. Whenever they begin to have fun, Joni always manages to say or do something that sends Sarah into a rage. Joni is taunted by Sarah's friends, who tell her to return to her own world. Can Sarah and Joni find the courage to overcome their differences and make peace?

Thoughts: This one is trying very hard. Very, very hard. Considering this book and I are about the same age, I can see that at the time, it probably was okay. The author talks about her research in the acknowledgments and you can see how hard she's trying to get it right... but she's a white author trying to write from the perspective of a young Native girl.

It's kind of a dated idea, too, sort of City Mouse/Country Mouse. Probably in the early 90s, this was a good book, and probably a lot of little white kids learned a lot, and it works hard to debunk many stereotypes and hurtful things. It would just be better coming from an author who was actually Native American. The writing is okay, and I've read another book by the author that I enjoyed, but it's not so amazing that I want to hold onto it. Sometimes the POV changes could be confusing, without enough distinctness to each voice. Sometimes, also, the author would be so eager to make a point, they'd lose the POV altogether and just insert random information without it seeming to actually come from either character, and I'd just be like, "Who's saying that???"

Ultimately, I don't think it's harmful, but I think it's dated (Walkmans and tapes!), and I think I would prefer to give the shelf space to something else because while the author did a great deal of research into the culture, the experience she's writing about is still something she'll never know in the way they do, and because of that, it comes off as a little ham-fisted. Not the worst, but there is better these days.

Two mostly unrelated things: This cover. Joni is supposed to have dark brown hair that is only a little lighter than Sarah's. Thanks for reading the book, cover artist! And another is - this is a thing that bugs me in kids' voices. Why do parents seem to think they can dictate not just what their kids do, but how they feel about it? Like, Joni is allowed to feel upset that her summer plans got cancelled! Her father says at the beginning, "You sound as if you're being forced to go up there" and... well, yeah, she is. The adults in her life are telling her to a thing she doesn't want to do, how is that not being forced?

I'm not saying they're in the wrong for doing it, just that it's a pet peeve when adults act like kids having emotions they don't approve of is some great misbehaviour. And pet peeves make me ranty.

Moonkid and Prometheus by Paul Kropp

Published: June 1st 1997 by Fitzhenry and Whiteside
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 294 plus one completely blank page numbered 295.
Part of a series? Apparently there's a... sequel? No, this is a sequel, and there's a first book called Moonkid and Liberty.
Got via: Library sale.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): Ian (Moonkid) has always taken some pride in the fact that he doesn't fit in. But his attitude has finally landed him into trouble. Facing a transfer to a tough school where, as his sister Liberty put it, he'll be eaten alive, Moonkid has no choice but to accept the alternative. He must tutor a young student and straighten up--or else.

Little does he know that the young student is Prometheus, a hulking, tough-looking character with a heart of gold. Reading isn't Pro's strength, but he knows more about life then most people. His teacher, Ms. Noble, considers him "at risk" and is not very pleased with Ian's unorthodox methods, even though Pro's skills are improving. When she forbids Ian to tutor Pro any longer, the pair must find a way to survive the system--and the larger problems that could cloud their lives.

Thoughts: This is very 90s after-school special. It's really trope-y, and stereotypical. If you've read one story like this, you pretty much know what happens. I'm not gonna act like I'm the authority here, but it does not come off so well these days. Like, of course the black kid talks in heavy slang, lives in a bad area, and has things "fixed" by a white kid while also helping the white kid learn something. Those aspects of Prometheus obviously aren't bad unto themselves (because real people can be like that, and that's fine) but it's very, very white savior-esque when those things combine with the rest.

Apparently this is a sequel, which is not written anywhere on the book or inside, and man would have have been nice to know, because I'd be reading and they'd randomly mention "porno scandal", and if you're going to go there (which, you can, and no need to try and ban it, jeesh), I need a little more context than that! You gotta explain things like that, book.

It could also be really pretentious sometimes. Ian would go off on these tirades, and I'd be like "...okay, chill dude". The writing is very 90s at times, and I could see why teachers would be into it, but... yeah, it's not aged so well. The pop culture references are incredibly dated, and I'm not sure kids would get them today. I liked that it was Canadian, and there was one plot element that could have been very predictable and didn't go that way.

But there are better things that I would rather have in my collection. The idea at the time it was published was fine, and has very sweet moments, but we have better books today. There are better forms of representation, and this has become dated to the point of being almost casually racist, I think. This is one I will be removing from my collection.

Comeback by Marjorie Darke

Published: January 3rd, 1984 by Puffin Books. (The edition pictured has a slightly different cover than mine - mine lacks the "plus fiction" border.)
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 184
Part of a series? I don't think so, but I thought the last one was a standalone, too, so it shows how much I know.
Got via: Library withdrawal.
Amazon / Abebooks

Summary (from goodreads): "Gymnastics came first. If it meant training until she dropped and then getting up and training some more, she must do it. She must succeed.'

Abandoned as a baby, Gail Knight has lived in Council Homes all her life. Carving an identity for herself through her skill at gymnastics, she develops two burning ambitions: to win an Olympic gold medal and to discover who her parents were.

Thoughts: Hooboy. Here I was thinking I'd be writing a blog post where I was completely unqualified to talk about anything, and the book goes and throws a buttload of fatphobia at me! Thanks, book. I really appreciate that.

The basis of this is okay. Like, a girl in a group home discovering her past, discussing her identity, dealing with some racism from peers, none of those things are bad ideas. Some of them are even handled quite well, if somewhat dated in some attitudes. There is one line that I think today would be seen as much more problematic as it is, and I think part of that might just be regional differences. Honestly, though, most of them aren't terrible (although, considering this book is set in the UK, there's some random racism against Native Americans that is really weird and gross).

But there is so much fatphobia in this one. There's constant comments about how some seven weeks of not training for gymnastics have made Gail "fat as a pig", "fat as a boiled dumpling", a previously fat character's diet being described as having "thinned him so beautifully", non-thin characters constantly being described very rudely like a line about a character having a butt like a badly stuffed pillow. There's dieting described that is borderline disordered, very unhealthy for sure, and starving is literally glorified.

It's just terrible. It's fatphobic, it's loaded with triggering content, and honestly it's pretty disgusting reading about a healthy teen girl starving herself with the approval of the adults in her life. This one is not staying in my house, that is for sure, and I do not recommend it.

Cousins by Virginia Hamilton

Published: Originally published in 1990, my edition was released October 1991 by Apple Paperbacks. There have been many editions released since.
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 125 in this version.
Part of a series? There is indeed a sequel.
Got via: I think I bought it at a yard sale.
AmazonIndiebound / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): Being cousins doesn't mean you'll be friends....

Cammy loves her family -- except for her cousin Patty Ann. Though she knows she shouldn't feel this way, she can't help it. Patty Ann is too perfect to like, too perfect to be a friend.

Then one day something terrible happens, something that can't be changed. That's when Cammy learns the truth about Patty Ann, and about family love -- and forgiveness.

Thoughts: This was not only the best of the bunch, but genuinely a very good book. It feels a touch older than 1990, perhaps being set earlier than that (I wasn't quite sure - there are dryers and trucks, but not, like, computers or anything), which I think actually works better than the other 90s books where it's like Walkmans and mid-90s celebrities nobody knows anymore and look how trendy we are! It feels much more like historical fiction that way than simply dated.

This is a surprisingly deep book, with everything from a mentioned eating disorder, characters who struggle with alcohol, and a death of a child. And I think this would be a great thing for kids to read. Is it an easy read? No, subject matter wise, it is not. The writing I think is very kid-friendly, but the subject matter is heavy. I think, though, a great many children could connect very deeply to this.

I'm not equipped to comment on authenticity, but I will say that the dialogue in this compared to the dialogue in Moonkid and Prometheus felt more truthful. This is one of those times where I can kind of see in the other books where things are obviously not good, where they're using tropes and stereotypes that others have said are harmful, but my opinion of whether they're done well kind of doesn't matter.  From my limited perspective, I do think they were done beautifully, but it's not my experience, so I can't say "yes, it was" for sure. Does that make sense?

All together, though, I really enjoyed this one, and I feel comfortable keeping it around. I also think this would be a great classroom book.

So, we've got one book I absolutely disliked in this post, one I thought was cute and well researched but outdated, one after school special, and one that was genuinely very good. Three will be passed on, one kept. Interesting rate there!

I hope you guys liked this post, and I hope I didn't step on any toes. If you like these books for any reason, don't feel like I'm saying you shouldn't, just that I'm trying to make my collection better wherever possible, both in quality of books and representation within those books. I hope that makes sense!

Peace and cookies,

Monday, May 16, 2016

Things I've Read Recently (32): Special Edition

Things I've Read Recently is a series of posts I do that are usually 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 time around, I had a couple books where I wanted to do more than my normal "Things" entry, but didn't feel up to completing a full review, so I thought I'd do something a little different.

These will probably be a fair bit longer than my normal "mini", but shorter than an average review, and without my usual segments. I also will only be including two books, so that the post isn't ridiculously long. Since these are both books that were sent to me for review consideration, I wanted them not to get too "lost" in a post with four books.

Make sense?

A Place for Delta by Melissa Walker, illustrated by Richard Walker

Published: June 1st, 2010 by Whale Tale Press
Genre: Contemporary something, and I'll go into that more in my review.
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 250 plus a lot of extra things like further reading, a glossary, and other stuff.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: I was sent it for review, back in 2010, and I am terrible.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Joseph can hardly believe what he has been asked to do. His Aunt Kate, a wildlife biologist, is waiting for him at a research station and needs his help taking care of an orphaned polar bear cub only a few months old. He will leave his friends and family and venture to the farthest northern town in the United States.

As the adventure unfolds, Joseph and his newfound Eskimo friend Ada find mysteries wherever they look. The bear cub, Delta, remains in danger. Who would want a polar bear dead? Joseph will have to look to the North Georgia woods to save Delta.

Review: Well, I really am terrible, because I wait 5 years to review this book, and then my review isn't exactly going to be good. I really liked the idea of this one. Baby polar bears make my heart Do Things, and I have a strange love of Alaska, and I think this would be a cool thing for kids to read about. But there was so much that just didn't work for me.

Let me start with something that I really didn't like. See that summary? There's another full paragraph about Joseph's parents that I cut off because it was so long. That's probably because after a three-page prologue, the book immediately drops us twenty years back in time and spends six chapters and forty pages telling us about Joseph's parents/Aunt Kate's childhood. You spend forty pages reading about them moving to Georgia and stomping around in the woods when you really just want to be reading about the baby polar bear.

There's also a ton of headhopping, and that's part of the reason I have trouble categorizing this. I believe it's meant to be a middle grade book, since Joseph is eleven, but at least half if not most of the book is told from someone else's POV, and it's usually an adult. I'm not, frankly, fond of adult POVs in MG most of the time. They can work sometimes, but in a book with this much adult POV, it really does not read like middle grade. I also question exactly who the audience is supposed to be. It almost seems like the author wanted to tell Kate's story more than Joseph's story.

There was also, frankly, a whole lot going on. We have a polar bear, and Georgia, and twenty years of family history, Joseph makes a friend, hired guns, FBI agents, global warming, oil companies - it's just too much. The plot ends up confusing, and, honestly, unrealistic. I was never sold on the idea that an eleven year old boy would be flown out to Alaska to care for a polar bear cub over adult scientists, and the ending is just very convenient to me. Overly convenient. They get everything they want with no sacrifices or real setbacks, and everything just falls into their laps.

While the cast of characters was fairly diverse (beyond one character who seemed kind of stereotypical - constantly saying "in my country"), there were so many of them that it got to be very Character Soupy. Like the plot, there were just too many characters and too much going on. The book isn't even three hundred pages long, and I can name at least fifteen "main" or large characters off the top of my head. It's just way too much going on, it really is.

Unfortunately, with all the problems I had with this, the writing was not strong enough to pull it off. It was very "telling" instead of showing, and it just did not draw me in a way that could have saved me in this. I also was not sold on the illustrations, honestly. The cover is actually a lot brighter on my screen that it is in real life. The cover and the illustrations are just very dark, and they're hard to make out at times. The details don't pop at all. There were also very few of them, maybe only five or six throughout the book, which seems strange to me.

I did learn something. The book uses the word "Eskimo" a lot, which in Canada is something we're taught is essentially a slur (see here and here), but apparently many Indigenous people in Alaska prefer it.

This is so negative! I thought Delta was adorable, and I enjoyed reading about her. But overall, this just didn't work for me. If you're very interested in Alaska, polar bears, or environmental science, this could very well be worth it for you, but I have to say, it is pretty expensive. It's at least fifteen dollars, depending on where you buy it from. And unfortunately, while those things are neat to me, they aren't things I'm passionate about, and they weren't enough to save this for me. I'm really bummed about this because I did really want to like this one! Unfortunately for me, it's only going to get two roses out of five.

Timeless Desire by Gwyn Cready

Published: July 18th, 2012 by Astor + Blue Editions
Genre: Fantasy romance (time travelling, basically)
Binding: ARC
Page Count: 368 plus an About the Author and acknowledgments.
Part of a series? It is a standalone according to her website, but she has several other time travel books that aren't connected.
Got via: It was sent to me for review consideration. In 2012. I know, and I am sorry. On the plus side, I must be close to catching up, right? RIGHT?
Amazon (that's the paperback, but the Kindle version is seriously a buck while I'm writing this) / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Two years after losing her husband, overworked librarian Panna Kennedy battles to distract herself from crushing Grief, even as she battles to deal with yet another library budget cut. During a routine search within the library’s lower levels, Panna opens an obscure, pad-locked door and finds herself transported to the magnificent, book-filled quarters of a handsome, eighteenth-century Englishman.

She soon recognizes the man as Colonel John Bridgewater, the historic English war hero whose larger-than-life statue loomed over her desk.However, the life of the dashing Bridgewater is not at all what she imagined. He’s under house arrest for betraying England, and now looks upon her a beautiful and unexpected half-dressed visitor as a possible spy.

Despite bad first impressions (on both sides), Bridgewater nonetheless warms to Panna, and pulls her into his escape while both their hearts pull the other headlong into their soul-stirring secrets.Very quickly Panna is thrown into a whirlwind of high-stakes intrigue that sweeps her from Hadrian’s Wall to a forbidding stone castle in Scotland. And somewhere in the outland, Panna must decide if her loyalties lie with her dead husband, or with the man whose life now depends on her.

Review: Well, this was fun. I used to read a ton of romance, and it's been a while since I read one. And I do really enjoy time travel/time slip books. I definitely enjoyed this one. I especially liked how Panna was a little older than some romance heroines at thirty-four. There's also a ton of plot besides just the romance, spies and war and stuff, and that's a lot of fun so nothing drags too much. And I really liked that although it takes place over only a few days, the romance does feel earned and honest because it takes most of the book to get there.

There were a few things I wasn't so fond of. First of all, the whorephobia is kind of bad in this. Seriously, just... can we not do that? Not cool. Second, honestly, when one sex scene mentions kneading bread, and descriptions of the hero's body includes apricots and a small eggplant... I just start to wonder if the author really wanted a snack writing this. Honestly, I lost it a little at the mention of a... certain part... the size of a small eggplant.

Also, side note, mild sexual assault trigger warning. Not from the hero, and Panna isn't traumatized by it, and doesn't bring it up again, but be careful with yourself if you need to.

All in all, though, I enjoyed this. It's not outstandingly different from other books in the genre in my experience, but by no means was it bad, so if you like time travel/time slip romances, you'd probably have fun with this. If you enjoy other books with Outlander in the series name about women who time travel and meet heroes named Jamie, you'd probably enjoy this one, too, if you're into romance. (There's actually very little similarity between them. It just amused me on those little places it did.) It was a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and I wish I'd read it sooner. I probably won't keep it, just because I don't tend to reread romance and I can always get it from the library if I do want to, and my mom has already read it, so I'll probably give it away or donate it so someone else can get the chance to enjoy it. And I do think they will. Three and a half roses.

Other notes:

- The fact that the cover model is wearing green shoes and a red dress does kind of bug me. Is it Christmas? She never wears red in the book, I'm pretty sure.

- I lost the notebook I did my "A Place for Delta" notes in, so I can't tell if I had anything else. Whoops.

So what did you guys think of this type of post? Two for the price of one, sort of?

Peace and cookies,

Monday, May 9, 2016

YA Review: She Loves You, She Love You Not...

She Loves You, She Loves You Not... by Julie Anne Peters

Published: June 1st, 2011 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 278
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: I bought it! I had a giftcard, and it was really cheap from Chapters and Indigo.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Seventeen-year-old Alyssa thought she knew who she was. She had her family and her best friends and, most important, she had Sarah. Sarah, her girlfriend, with whom she dreamed with about the day they could move far away and live out and proud and accepted for themselves, instead of having to hide their relationship.

Alyssa never thought she would have to make that move by herself, but disowned by her father and cut off from everyone she loves, she is forced to move hundreds of miles away to live with Carly, the biological mother she barely knows, in a town where everyone immediately dismisses her as "Carly's girl." As Alyssa struggles to forget her past and come to terms with her future, will she be able to build a new life for herself and believe in love again? Or will she be forced to relive the mistakes that have cost her everything and everyone she cared about?

Review: I've talked a bit before about how I enjoy the kind of "life after the big deal thing happens" books, and this is one of them. I like seeing people deal with consequences and life changes more, sometimes, than I like reading about the drama and the falling apart bits. That's a thing I enjoy. (Obviously, did you see how many blog posts I just found? And there are probably more! But it was getting to an embarrassingly long time ago and an embarrassing quality of blog post, so I stopped.) The small town setting also worked really well for me, and generally, I enjoyed this.

Let's jump into the other bits, because my face kind of hurts and I'm debating an ice pack. Wisdom teeth suck.

Plot Talk: It's pretty much what is says in the summary. Stuff happened, girl moves to a new down, girl deals with new town and old stuff. I don't think it's the most original plot on the world, I guess, but it works fine. Yeah, you've probably read something similar before, but whatever. It was cool with me.

Characters: Alyssa is quite honestly pretty unlikeable. And I liked that! She hates driving and is a terrible driver at that, isn't an altogether sympathetic character, makes a lot of really horrifically ill-advised decisions. She is definitely a complex, interesting character, and I don't think everyone will like her, honestly. I'm into that. I don't approve of everything she does, and there are things I'll probably mention, but she is definitely interesting to read about.

One thing I liked a lot was that her love interest was a WOC, because, yeah, that's always nifty. She's also Canadian, so excuse me a second while I wave a flag. Yay patriotism and all that. And I think her depiction as a person of colour is handled pretty well, but I am by no means an expert there. I did a bit of googling, and didn't get anything I could link to, so hopefully there wasn't any issues with that. I also thought that character, Finn, was a nifty character. She's kind of got a rebel without a cause thing going on, and that's a thing I can get behind.

I think on average, Peters writes very complex, and interesting characters. Not all of them are sympathetic, or even morally good characters, but they are interesting. I especially liked Alyssa's mother, who is much like Alyssa in being complicated and imperfect. With Carly, Alyssa's mother, it is really nice to see someone who is a sex-worker treated generally treated with respect, and not degraded or insulted by the narrative. However, while better than most, it has some issues. The language can be pretty whorephobic/sex-shaming*, which does make sense because of Alyssa's POV, but full-service sex work is treated as something much worse than Carly's dancing in a club.

I'm not explaining it well, I don't think, but the terminology used definitely has some issues. Carly doesn't even say "I don't do that kind of sex work" or something like that. She says "I'm not a wh*re." I realize it's YA, and there would be pushback, but I think objectively, that still has issues, and there could have been better ways to go.

PG-13 stuff: It's for older YA readers, probably. Underage drinking, some sex which I think is handled very well, just mature themes in general. Alyssa's father has a really bad reaction to finding out she's a lesbian, so if that would bother you, maybe pass on this one. I will say, though, and it's totally a spoiler so you can skip this part if you want, but I know some people appreciate knowing this, there is a happy ending when it comes to the romance. There's not any tragedy or anything.

Maybe the only other thing I'd mention is that there is generally a fair amount of age difference between Alyssa and the people she dates (both younger and older), so if that's a thing for you that you don't enjoy, maybe pass on this one if you don't think you'll enjoy it.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: Like I said, I think the depiction of Finn is good, but I won't say as it's entirely non-problematic in an "I'm an expert" way, just in an "I hope it was" way. And I think some elements of Carly's work are handled well, but others don't seem to be handled as well. The narrative changes up the tense and POV (going from first to second person), and while I liked that, I could see other people not being fond of it.

I also did not really like that Alyssa is a little too aggressive about trying to get her girlfriends/love interests to come out, which is pretty uncool. I mean, the worst case scenario of outing people without their consent is people die, so that's a problem. I could easily see people really not liking that, and I won't blame them in the least. That definitely was not my favourite part of her character. I also felt almost like she was very... I don't want to say defensive, but maybe a little... mean? I don't know. I'm kind of uncertain about how I felt about that whole business.

Cover comments: It's very pretty. It actually made me think the book was going to be a touch darker/more depressing than it actually was, though, but it's fine.

Conclusion: I always sound like I didn't like stuff at all! I definitely did enjoy this. I spent a Friday night reading it all in one sitting. I absolutely adored the whole small town/tourist trap in the off-season angle, and how much of a city mouse Alyssa was when confronted with nature. I liked seeing a character that hates driving. The ending is very, very sweet and hopeful. A lot of the narrative is about the fallout of Alyssa coming out to her father, so if you're over those stories, this might not be your thing, but I thought there was enough of everything else to balance it. Bear in mind, also, this book is already 5 years old, and a lot of things change in half a decade.

This was solid to me. It had some definite issues, but I don't regret reading it, and it probably even gets to keep its shelf space. I don't think it's going to work for everyone, but I can see some people connecting to it, and enjoying it a lot. It wasn't phenomenal for me, but neither was it horrible, and I genuinely enjoyed it. The writing just worked for me in most areas. I'm giving it three and a half roses.

Other notes:

- *I'm sincerely hoping I'm using the best language possible here, but if I'm not, leave a comment or shoot me an email or a DM on Twitter or a messenger pigeon, and I'll change it if it's needed.

- There's a character who uses a wheelchair who owns a cafe. He wears gloves when he cooks, because his hands touch the rims of his wheelchair. Okay, sure. But if you touch stuff with your gloves that's germ-y, your gloves are dirty now, and they need to be changed. Gloves don't just stay not-dirty. They never mention changing the gloves and THAT BOTHERED ME.

That's about it! Hope you enjoyed this review.

Peace and cookies,