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Monday, June 13, 2016

Things I've Read Recently (34)

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 don't want to do a full post about for whatever reason.

Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Published: July 15th, 2014 by Random House Canada
Genre: Adult Fantasy Graphic Novel
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 323 plus acknowledgements and stuff.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Katie’s got it pretty good. She’s a talented young chef, she runs a successful restaurant, and she has big plans to open an even better one. Then, all at once, progress on the new location bogs down, her charming ex-boyfriend pops up, her fling with another chef goes sour, and her best waitress gets badly hurt. And just like that, Katie’s life goes from pretty good to not so much. What she needs is a second chance. Everybody deserves one, after all—but they don’t come easy. Luckily for Katie, a mysterious girl appears in the middle of the night with simple instructions for a do-it-yourself do-over:

1. Write your mistake
2. Ingest one mushroom
3. Go to sleep
4. Wake anew

And just like that, all the bad stuff never happened, and Katie is given another chance to get things right. She’s also got a dresser drawer full of magical mushrooms—and an irresistible urge to make her life not just good, but perfect. Too bad it’s against the rules. But Katie doesn’t care about the rules—and she’s about to discover the unintended consequences of the best intentions.

Thoughts: I think this is the first adult graphic novel I've ever read. Otherwise, it's only been young adult and middle grade graphic novels. So, a new experience, but a really good one. This was a random grab from the library (where they had it categorized as YA, which it totally isn't). I'm trying to read a little more widely this year (got any non-fiction recommendations?), so this totally called my name, and I'm happy to say it paid off.

This is a really different art style than the graphic novels I've read before. It almost has an anime feel - it actually reminds me of Steven Universe a little at times. Probably because I love Steven Universe so much, ha, and Steven Universe does have a lot of anime inspiration. The art-style is goofy and silly and full of humour at times, but there are also times where it's creepy and beautiful, sometimes both at once!

There's also that joke from Scott Pilgrim about bread making you fat, which isn't actually that funny. Especially since pretty much all of the bodies in this are thin. There's not really any fat characters. At all. There is a pretty wide variety of skin tones, though, and that's neat.

All in all, I enjoyed this one a lot. I especially loved the cool mythology in the story. This kind of mythology is a kind I really enjoy in general, so that was kind of perfect for me. And the friendship between Hazel and Katie is awesome. This one is definitely recommended by me, and only makes me want to read more graphic novels like this. Also, this is a recent edit as I'm getting this ready to post it, but if you've played the video game Life is Strange, you might enjoy this! Or if you enjoyed this, maybe check out the video game because that game rocks.

Chick-napped! by Carolyn Keene with illustrations by Macky Pamintuan

Published: March 1st, 2008 by Aladdin
Genre: MG Mystery
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 85 plus instructions for an egg carton garden.
Part of a series? Among many Nancy Drew series, this Clue Crew series has 39 books with the most recent published in 2014.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Spring has sprung in River Heights! Nancy's class is hatching chickens to celebrate. Some of Nancy's classmates are excited, especially Tommy Maron. Tommy has even named all the eggs! But other classmates are less thrilled about the arrival of the little birds. Catherine Spangler is peeved because the chicks are due to arrive on HER birthday -- the nerve!

But when the chicks vanish from the classroom, everyone is upset. Who would steal helpless chick eggs? Nancy knows she has a real egg of a mystery to crack this time!

Thoughts: I got this one thinking it'd be Easter themed, but honestly it's just spring/chicken themed. No mention of Easter at all. The closest it gets is the whole eggs thing. Since I don't think this will fit anywhere else, I thought I'd toss it in here, and give it a quick write up.

This is a fun introduction to Nancy Drew. I loved Nancy Drew so much as a kid, and I think this keeps the spirit of that while being updated and aimed at a little younger audience. I think this is a fun introduction to the whole Nancy Drew concept. I haven't read one in years, but the characters feel right, and I think there are some references to classic Nancy Drew. (I could be wrong, but isn't Nancy loving tacos in other books?)

As an entity unto itself, it's a very sweet little book. There's the animal appeal of tiny baby chickens, lots of information and education about the hatching and lives of chicks. It's a very kid friendly mystery with no danger or scariness for sensitive readers, and there's lots of adult supervision without the adults being too involved. You know I love a good completely impractical for children mystery plot, but this kind is nice, too. It's much more realistic. I also always enjoy strong female friendships, and this has that aspect very strongly.

They also include instructions for how you can start seedlings in an egg carton, which was very cute. There are many itinerations of Nancy Drew, and I think this book at least works very well as an introduction to the character. I think I would have enjoyed it as a kid, and I recommend it.

The Islands of Chaldea by Diana Wynne Jones and Ursula Jones

Published: February 27th, 2014 by HarperCollins Childen's Books
Genre: YA Fantasy
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 274 of story, plus the afterword and advertising for other books.
Part of a series? I, ah, don't think so.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Aileen was supposed to grow up magical – just like the other women in her family. Unfortunately, she’s just found out that the magic seems to have skipped a generation… but that’s not her biggest problem right now.

In her world, there are four Islands of Chaldea. The largest and most magical island has been cut off from the other three for decades – and is slowly draining the magic from them.

But now a prophecy has come to light. Someone from Aileen’s island will gather a man from each of the three islands, bring down the magical barrier, and unite them with the fourth island again. And according to the king, that someone is Aileen’s Aunt – who insists on dragging Aileen along. AND the boy Aileen is sure she’ll marry (one day); AND the local boy with more brawn then brain. Someone seems to want to stop them too… someone with an interest in keeping the Islands apart. But still, with magic on their side, nothing can go wrong. Right?

Thoughts: I took the kids I baby-sat to the library, and they were perfectly capable of finding books without me so I took a wander to the YA section and got this. Because I am horribly, horribly tempted by books at all times. Such is life.

Now, in the past, I've only read Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, so I was not really going into this knowing much about her previous books, or really expecting anything in particular. But at the same time, I was a little disappointed. Frankly, the beginning of this is slow. I actually said to my mom that I knew that if I hit the halfway point, the rest would be good, but it was hard getting there. And I was totally, and completely right.

Most of the first half is basically just travelling, and not much else. They find a cat. They get on a boat. There's not much else to it. This book has 274 pages, and it's literally page 126 where things actually get exciting. And I will admit, I don't read a lot of this genre, and maybe it's just not my genre, but that just didn't work for me very much. When it picks up, it's good! But it was rough getting there. It took me three sittings and a week to read this, and that's a lot for me.

Also, dude, what's up with the casual fatphobia? Like one good character is fat, and he's always described in terms like "tubby" and "round", whereas all the corrupt or bad characters who are fat are specifically called "fat", and it's used in a negative fashion. Not cool. And I also think there's like one character who isn't white, and she only shows up for like three pages.

So I didn't explain before, but Diana Wynne Jones started this when she was very sick, and she sadly passed away before it was completed, so her sister finished it. I think that is a lovely thing, but I also wonder if she had finished the first half, but because she was ill during the writing, if it was kind of rough, and her sister was hesitant to heavily edit what was there. But that's speculation - all I know is I liked the second half, but not the first as much.

Now this is a spoiler so skip it if you'd like, but so we find out that Aileen is very magically powerful and she saves the day. I liked it, honestly, especially when she got angry because I do like it when girls get angry. Although it is rather sudden, with not a ton of foreshadowing before that. But also, wouldn't it have been cool if she didn't have sudden power? Like if she was actually not magical at all, and she saved everything anyways without magical powers?

Anyways, I think you get my drift here. The atmosphere and descriptions in this are amazing and beautiful, and I do really love the idea of magical women in general, but it didn't work for me as well as it could have. I liked the second half, but the whole book did not pay off for me, and that makes me sad. If you're really into fantasy like this, and you're okay with the whole long-journey thing, check it out, but if you're more of a newbie like me, maybe try one of her other books instead.

Sidenote, isn't it weird Diana Wynne Jones and Tim Wynne-Jones aren't related? I always thought they were as a kid. Also, did Tim Wynne-Jones work on a cartoon? Because I could have sworn he did, but now I can't find anything.

Ungifted by Gordon Korman

Published: August 21st, 2012 by Balzer + Bray, although my edition is from Scholastic Canada.
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 280
Part of a series? No, it seems to be a standalone.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): The word gifted has never been applied to a kid like Donovan Curtis. It's usually more like, "Don't try this at home". So when the troublemaker pulls a major prank at his middle school, he thinks he's finally gone too far. But thanks to a mix-up by one of the administrators, instead of getting in trouble, Donovan is sent to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction (ASD), a special program for gifted and talented students.

It wasn't exactly what Donovan had intended, but there couldn't be a more perfect hideout for someone like him. That is, if he can manage to fool people whose IQs are above genius level. And that becomes harder and harder as the students and teachers of ASD grow to realize that Donovan may not be good at math or science (or just about anything). But after an ongoing experiment with a live human (sister), an unforgettably dramatic middle-school dance, and the most astonishing come-from-behind robot victory ever, Donovan shows that his gifts might be exactly what the ASD students never knew they needed.

Thoughts: I was at the library, and could not resist that robot. And this cover does perfectly fit the book. It's funny, it's kind of goofy at times, but it's also quite sweet at others. I read so many Gordon Korman books as a kid, like every single one I could get my hands on, and I definitely would have loved this one as a kid. It uses eight different POVs, including four adult POVs, and that's something I think is hard to do, and it does it well, using each POV just perfectly. I also really like the subplot with his sister, and how it frankly discusses pregnancy.

I think a lot of kids would really like this, and it could appeal to a wide audience of kids.

The only thing is, I would wonder if the idea of this becomes somewhat problematic as describing these incredibly smart kids as completely lacking social skills, and possibly being somewhere on the Autism spectrum without making it explicit. I think it's somewhat realistic that these kids seemed to have been given no opportunity for socialization - it comes off as a skill they weren't taught mostly. I was a fairly smart kid, although obviously not at this level, and I had trouble socially. But I worry it's adding to a harmful trope that we need to be aware of. I think this is not a unique thing to this book, but maybe that's a problem. And there are definitely other examples I think are worse offenders, but I'm not sure I can 100% sign off on that either way. So I'm going to link to this post and this post, both of which I think explain much better than I do.

So I liked the book, and it was a lot of fun, but I do worry about that being harmful. I have such mixed feelings because it is a super fun book to read, but while not reading it, I start to think about that stuff. I'm gonna have to think about this one a little more, I think.

Okay, I think that's everything! What have you guys been reading lately?

Peace and cookies,

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