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Monday, October 24, 2016

YA Review: Don't Ever Change

Don't Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom

Published: July 7th, 2015 by HarperTeen
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: ARC
Page Count: 359 in the ARC, but goodreads says 368 in the finished copy. I assume they are correct.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: I was sent it for review consideration, and yes I've had this one for a year now. At least it's not 2011.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Eva has always wanted to write a modern classic—one that actually appeals to her generation. The only problem is that she’s starting to realize she can’t “write what she knows” because she hasn’t really lived. So the summer before heading off to college, Eva is determined to live a life worth writing about.

But soon Eva’s story starts to go in unexpected directions, like growing apart from her best friends, working at a job she is completely unqualified for, and even falling for the last person she would have ever imagined. Like anyone, though, it will be up to Eva to figure out how she wants this particular chapter in her story to end.

Review: This is an odd one. I think I liked it, but I'm not entirely sure yet on all my thoughts yet. It's probably going to take me the rest of this review to figure them out. I can definitely say this is not a book for everyone. It's kinda weird, honestly. Mostly I enjoyed that weird, but it probably wouldn't be for everyone. It's going to depend on whether this is your flavour of weird. Eva is a writer, as it says in the summary, and a great deal of the book is her arc in learning to experience things and not just observe them, so a lot of the book has a very removed feeling. There's some fourth wall teasing in the talk about characters and readers.

I'm personally a fan of the summer after high school graduation YA, and I've also enjoyed gap year YA. I would actually like to see more of them, and ones that are absolutely, definitively aimed at teenagers. I mean, it's a confusing time for a lot of teens. So much of high school is built up as "the best time of your life", so what happens after? How do you decide what happens next? What if your plans change? How do you deal? I think when YA can get that balance and talk about that weird transition time, it can be really interesting, and really important, and I think teens will really connect to it.

Does Don't Ever Change do that? Mostly. I didn't personally always love it, but I think for the most part it's interesting, and I do think there are teens out there who really would love this.

Plot Talk: Simple plot. The summer before college, Eva is given some writing advice from her teacher and decides to try and follow it. She works at a summer camp with nine-year-old girls, dates a few people, and learns about herself. The plot works fine, and it doesn't drag or anything. No complaints about it.

Characters: Eva was originally described to me as unlikeable (something I really enjoy), and the funny thing to me is, the people around her come off as more unlikeable than her to me! It's kind of interesting, actually. She does have some snarky moments, but honestly a lot of the time I think they were justified. It's kind of interesting - Eva doesn't really come off as rude, or mean, or anything like that, but she's reserved, quiet, sometimes a little snarky, and keeps to herself a lot. You can see how other characters could think she's stuck up or uninterested in them. It's really an interesting thing, and very relateable.

Like I said, I did think some of the other characters can come off as a little jerky. They are teenagers, though, so I can't really say it's completely a bad thing. Like there are characters who judge Eva as uptight or stuck up for not liking parties, and one even says something about how she didn't even try and have fun. Like, not everyone likes parties or finds them fun? But then at one point, that characters apologies and says that they know parties aren't everyone's thing. It's a good balance, and I enjoyed it.

I also really loved the relationship Eva has with her sister. It's very sweet. And the campers she works with are really cool. I'm pretty fond of camps in books for someone who never went and hates the outdoors, but I tend to like the kid stuff way more than the kissing stuff, and I liked that there was a lot more focus on her campers than on her romantic life.

Now, something I'm actually a little conflicted about. I don't exactly think this is a fat-friendly book, but it did some things I want to talk about. One of Eva's campers is chubby, but besides one comment about her not being truly fat "yet", the book always calls her fat. Eva is not always nice in her comments about this kid. The line "happy as a fat little clam" comes up, and that's kind of - wow. I don't think the word fat is an insult, mind you, but Eva isn't commenting about anyone else's body but the fat kid's.

But... another character kind of calls her out on it. It's a little subtle, but there's a character who doesn't seem to approve, and Eva seems embarrassed in the moment. Later, at the end of the book, it's revealed that the girl's parents basically expect the camp to make their daughter lose weight because "health" and Eva defends her.

I'm going to talk about that a little more later, but I thought I'd mention that here.

PG-13 stuff: There's a fair amount of smooching in this book. Some mentions of drinking, but it's pretty mild. A little strong language I think, some talk of sex. The back of my ARC says 14 and up and that's probably about right.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: Like everyone is straight and the book is very white. There's some ableist language that is seriously unnecessary, and a weird line about some of the other counselors (who are like 17 or 18) from Eva's camp finding one of the CITs hot (who is 13). That was uncomfortable.

And there was a fat joke from Eva that I was really not fond of at all. Eva making a joke about her friends calling her fat when she's obviously thin, and since there's only one fat character in the book, and that character is not treated exactly positively, it rubbed me the wrong way. Now to wrap up what I was talking about in the character section - I don't think this is necessary a fat positive book. If you're a former fat kid, you might not want to read this one. I wish the author had been more hard-core in pointing out that everyone, including Eva, was treating Alexis horribly because she was fat.

I mean, it also would be nice if a book pointed out that dieting doesn't work, we don't know how to make fat kids thin (but we do help give them eating disorders), we don't even know how to make fat adults thin, or that what the camp and Alexis' parents were doing would be completely against anything that's actually healthy for her and goes against current AAP guidelines... but yanno. That'd probably be asking too much.

I'm not taking points off for this, because I think in the end it's okay enough, since the narrative does seem to say that Alexis' parents were completely in the wrong, but I do wish Bloom had done a little more.

Cover comments: This is a nifty cover, but I can imagine the hardcover getting a ton of fingerprints. It also looks awful on a white background, lol. In person, it stands out well. It also fits the tone of the book being kind of quirky and different.

Conclusion: Well, we've reached the end, and I think for the most part, I've decided I liked it. There are some things I didn't love, and somethings I would have wanted more from (seriously though not one queer person?), but I enjoyed reading it. I don't think it's going to be for everyone, but it's an interesting, weird book. I definitely think there are teens out there who are going to connect to it. I look forward to the author's future books, too. I think she has great potentional, and I want to see what she does next. I'm going to give this one three and a half roses.

That's all, folks!

Peace and cookies,

Monday, October 17, 2016

YA Review: Hourglass Series

Since I have all three books in this series, and we kind of need to get through some of the backlog of my review stack, it's probably easiest just to put them all in one post. This is just going to be one post, but I might have a couple more series posts in the future. Well, at least one, probably. We'll see what happens.

Reviews for the second and third book will probably have spoilers for the ones coming before them respectively, and the series summary will probably have spoilers for the last book or the entire series as I talk about my feelings for the entire thing.

This might be long.

This will probably be long.

Hourglass by Myra McEntire

Published: June 14th, 2011 by Egmont USA
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Binding: ARC
Page Count: 397 in the ARC, 390 in the finished version according to goodreads.
Part of a series? Yup, this is the first book in the Hourglass series.
Got via: Egmont sent it to me for review when they, you know, still existed. I'm sorry. We're getting closer to the present though!
Amazon / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): For seventeen-year-old Emerson Cole, life is about seeing what isn't there: swooning Southern Belles; soldiers long forgotten; a haunting jazz trio that vanishes in an instant. Plagued by phantoms since her parents' death, she just wants the apparitions to stop so she can be normal. She's tried everything, but the visions keep coming back.

So when her well-meaning brother brings in a consultant from a secretive organization called the Hourglass, Emerson's willing to try one last cure. But meeting Michael Weaver may not only change her future, it may also change her past.

Who is this dark, mysterious, sympathetic guy, barely older than Emerson herself, who seems to believe every crazy word she says? Why does an electric charge seem to run through the room whenever he's around? And why is he so insistent that he needs her help to prevent a death that never should've happened?

Review: This is another one I probably would have loved if I had actually read it in 2011. I still liked it, but there are certain things that bother me more now. We'll wait to get to those. Good stuff first. I adore the idea of this. I love the creepy ghost-type things, and as I was reading this, I realized how long it'd been since I read an amazing YA paranormal. I don't think Hourglass quite got me to amazing, but I liked it enough to keep reading, and to be excited about future books.

These characters have a lot of potential. I loved the dynamic between Emerson and her brother. A much older sibling relationship can be really interesting and different, and I really enjoyed seeing a relationship between an older teenager and her adult brother who had become her guardian when their parents died. He's supportive, but at times unsure of how to handle the promotion to parenthood, and I'm excited to see more of that dynamic. I do think Emerson could be somewhat flat, and I wanted to know more about her interests and her wants, but she's fine for a main character. Her voice can be really cute sometimes, and does have some little quirky bits that are nice.

And I did appreciate that there were a number of characters of colour - but at times that had some issues. Emerson's best friend Lily gets a lot of comparisons of her skin to food. And compared to a dog at one point. It's meant to be a good thing, that she's very loyal, but it's... uncomfortable. Every POC character is from somewhere outside of the US. They are all immigrants. All of them. That has some unfortunate implications.

There's also no fat people, or disabled people besides Emerson (and I will get to the issues of that element), or queer people. Why is everyone so straight? Every single person? Really?

For the most part, I like the romance in the book. It just isn't anything incredibly unique, honestly. It's kind of the same tropes you see a lot with the same problems you see a lot. Mostly with boundaries/controlling behaviour, although to be fair, both of them cross some. (Breaking into someone's apartment to snoop in their bedroom is weird and not okay even when you're a girl, Emerson. Not cute. I don't care if you had keys. That's weird.)

There is a bit of a love triangle, so if you're sick of them, this one might not be for you, but this is the kind I actually like better. Just because you met someone like a week ago and were attracted to them, doesn't necessarily mean that you're not going to be attracted to other people you meet. I like that more than books that tell me that the romance is huge and epic and soulmates and together forever - except wow, here's this new person! Kind of a rant there to say I didn't mind the love "triangle".

So what's left. PG-13 stuff - there's some language, some kind of scary bits, nothing I would say needs an especially mature reader to handle. Basic YA content. The cover is great. It's really cool, and I like how it kind of fools you so you're not exactly sure what's going on until you look twice. It reminds me weirdly of Alice Through the Looking Glass. (Book, not movie.) I like it! Thumbs-up.

Oh, boy, now it's time for my big complaint, isn't it? Okay, settle in, folks. This one is going to take a minute. There may be spoilers. I'm going to give some credit here to Alyssa at the Eater of Books, whose review of another book made me think of a lot of things I'm going to talk about here.

Part of the premise of this is that Emerson has been commited because of a combination of depression and seeing ghost-things. This happens often in books and movies, although a lot of the time the reveal is that the protagonist isn't "crazy", but is actually seeing ghosts/monsters/whatever. I won't say I haven't enjoyed books with that theme, because I have. But the problem is... this is a problem. This is ableist, and borderline dangerous. We owe teenagers better than to tell them that antidepressants and other psychiactric medications change you, that they make you dull, or a zombie (and yes, Hourglass uses the word zombie), or unable to feel things. You know what makes you not able to feel things? DEPRESSION.

Emerson says she has anxiety. Emerson says she has depression. But so much of the book takes the time to tell us she's "not crazy". It tells us that she went off her medications without telling anyone and that's treated as completely fine. Did you know going cold turkey from some antidepressants can make you incredibly sick or even kill you? The book intertwines Emerson's mental illness with her seeing ghost-things a lot, but she had a mental illness triggered after her parents died. It was exasperated by the ghost-things, yes, but not caused by them. There's a really big problem with this narrative. It creates stigma. It's irresponsible.

I don't like these narratives. I don't like the line about "crazy people" not getting to "claim self-control as a personality trait". I don't like the talk about "chemicals". I don't like that there seems to be a line drawn between Emerson who's "not crazy", and people who are. She was mentally ill. THAT'S OKAY. You can just... have a mentally ill character without needing to excuse it, or separate your character from the scary "crazies". I would not ever call this disability or mental illness representation. I winced every time something happened in this vein.

Now to wrap this up. Would I recommend this? I... don't know. I honestly think it's going to depend on how the other books are. If they continue to get better as I hope they will, I think I could recommend this very carefully for some people, with notes on the problematic aspect of the mental illness element. I love the atmosphere, and the characters are good. There are plot elements that I won't spoil that I think are really unique, and really fun to read. I still want to read the other books in the trilogy, and find out what happens next. And you guys know I kind of love the "secret school for kids with magic powers" idea.

So I'm going to give this one three out of five roses. The ableist elements bother me a lot, but there's enough good stuff to pull through.

Other notes:

- Why is Emerson's sense of smell so strong? I don't think you can smell cereal from across the room. That's odd.

- Emerson. It's not okay to tell other people that someone's pregnant before they've announced it. She literally tells people that someone is pregnant ten minutes after they peed on the stick. If the worst happens and that person has a miscarriage, do you think they want to tell that to all the people you told, Emerson? Boundaries!

Timepiece by Myra McEntire

Published: June 12th, 2012 by EgmontUSA
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 325 plus the acknowledgements.
Part of a series? It is obviously the second book in the Hourglass triology.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Kaleb Ballard was never supposed to be able to see ripples - cracks in time. Are his powers expanding, or is something very wrong? Before he can find out, Jonathan Landers, the man who tried to murder his father, reappears. Why is he back, and what, or whom, does he want?

In the wake of Landers' return, the Hourglass organization is given an ultimatum. Either they find Landers and the research he has stolen on the people who might carry the time gene, or time will be altered - with devastating results for the people Kaleb loves most.

Now Kaleb, Emerson, Michael, and the other Hourglass recruits have no choice but to use their unusual powers to find Landers. But where do they even start? And when? And even if they succeed, it may not be enough...

Review: Well, look at what surprised me! First of all, I was not expecting the POV change, since I didn't read the summaries to avoid spoilers. That works so well. First of all, Kaleb was one of my favourite characters in Hourglass. And I enjoyed Emerson's POV, but I thought the series was going to go that kind of cliche YA trilogy where the epic love of the first book is suddenly not so epic for the second book until you have to wrap things up in the third book. I'm not saying that can't work, but you know. We've all read it more than once, and I'm not terribly fond of it.

Timepiece says, "Nah, we're gonna go somewhere else," and I say, "Okay!"

A lot of things are just better in this, and I'm glad about that. Lily's character is much more fleshed out in this, along with her grandmother and her family history, and it's lovely to see that given time and care. It gets a little bit "pair the spares" (and it's a touch predictable that these two characters would have a romance), and the romance is pretty fast, but they're super cute and have a ton of chemistry so, whatever. I'm good with it because it's done well.

I also really, really enjoyed Kaleb as a narrating character. He has a lot of depth and a very sweet center hidden under a buttload of guilt and not so amazing decisions. He's always interesting, but it's wonderful when he grows and shows off his depth. He can definitely be a little obnoxious at the beginning of the book, but when you get past that, he gets a lot better. My favourite part that describes him perfectly is that he's big as a house, wearing leather, covered in tattoos and piercings... and he bakes cookies when he's depressed.

The plot works really well both as a sequel and to carry over into a third book and wrap up the series. I'm really excited to read the third (seriously, it's staring at me right now and I want it). I don't think the book is amazing at using all the character it has in groups at once, like with, say, the Naturals series that y'all know I love.,. It has more of a tendancy to divide the characters into two or three. But honestly I don't have any major complaints about this one. There's still a bit of ableism with Emerson's premise like I talked about, but because we're not in her POV, it doesn't really come up so much, and that helps a lot with me enjoying the book.

So, final verdict: Three and a half roses, and a short review because I desperately want to read the third book already.

Other notes:

- Seriously, this one does not have the scent fixation. Emerson, what's your deal with your sense of smell? That might be your other super power - the ability to smell a bowl of cereal from across the room.

Infinityglass by Myra McEntire

Published: August 6th, 2013 by EgmontUSA
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 293 plus the acknowledgements.
Part of a series? The third book in the Hourglass triology.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): From the moment the Hourglass group violated the rules of the space time continuum to rescue a murdered loved one, time has been in flux. People from other centuries slide into our time, intruding into our space, threatening our world.

Frantically seeking a way to turn back this tide, the Hourglass begins a search for the legendary Infinityglass, tracking it to the city of New Orleans, a place where the past rests easily with the present.

Quiet, reliable Dune, the group's favourite geek, is selected to travel to the Crescent City and somehow retrieve the renowned object.

But there's a problem.

Because the Infinityglass is not an object, it's a person.

A beautiful, headstrong dancer named Hallie, a girl so enticing Dune can't take his eyes off her.

And time is not on her side.

Review: This one is also pretty good! I did have a few issues, but it was mostly enjoyable. This one has duo POVs between Dune and Hallie, and Hallie's voice is so different from the previous books. I really enjoyed her voice most of the time, and the duo POVs are unique to this book in the series, and work pretty well. Dune and Hallie are super flirty, and the build-up and tension between them is probably my favourite part. The tension is great.

Overall, I do think that this is a good way to finish out the series. Everything is wrapped up nicely, and I didn't feel like anything was unfinished or left hanging. The setting of New Orleans was cool, if a touch underused. This is a very fast-paced book, and I enjoyed it for the most part.

But I did have a few issues. I'm not altogether fond of the way these books handle sexuality, specifically the sexuality of the teen girls. It doesn't get into major sex-shaming, but there are parts that get annoying. At one point Hallie's dad basically says "no guys and girls sleeping in the same room" which... he doesn't actually really know them? Like he assumes two guys and two girls means two hetereosexual couples. Who are teenagers. Maybe your guests were going to be fifty year old lesbians, didja think of that? He's essentially policing not only the sexuality of his own teenaged daughter, but of girls he's never met. And it's kind of icky, not gonna lie.

Other parts have some unfortunate implications.

First of all, Kaleb has taken out his nose and eyebrow piercings and only left his ear piercings because apparently happy, well-adjusted people don't have non-ear piercings. That's pretty much the only reason. Apparently they don't shave their heads either. The idea that people only do body modifications or alternative looks because they're having emotional pain is really, really annoying. I'm probably gonna have purple hair here pretty quick. It's not because I'm messed up emotionally, it's because it looks cool. Happy people can have eyebrow piercings.

Second, there is some fatphobia. At one point, Hallie stops needing to eat. She's a ballet dancer. The idea of a ballet dancer not having to eat is... not such a great idea. She also says something about dancing three times a week keeping her thin - that's annoying mostly because there are fat ballet dancers. Gonna go ahead and assume that people in a ballet troupe dance more than you, Hallie. Weight is not that simple. And Dune starts working out for "fear of turning fat". If it was just these two characters, it would be annoying, but I'd be like, "whateve". But there is NOT A SINGLE FAT CHARACTER in any of these books. Not one. So you're losing points for fatphobia. If you have NO fat characters, you don't get to have characters who are afraid of being fat without me critcizing it. What kind of message are you trying to send with that?

At one point, Dune says to another character that "you either have a maid, or you're OCD." OCD is not an adjective. This is more ableism, which this series definitely has a problem with.

Probably the last thing I'm going to talk about is some of the unfortunate implications with Dune. I enjoy his character, but there are things that I looked at twice and I'm not sure are so kosher (especially since I'm a white girl over here). His nickname is Dune because he raced over the sand dunes as a kid to get to the beach. Are you... are you entirely sure there's not more than one kid in American Samoa that does that? Most kids like the beach. I'm kind of assuming that extends to most Samoan kids. At the beginning of the book, Dune also cuts off his dreadlocks to look more professional (his words, not mine) and at one point, Hallie says she likes him better without them because she can run her hands through his hair. I'm not going to make a judgement call here, since these things are really complicated, but I'm gonna warn you about that so you can make the decision one way or the other of how you feel about that.

As a book, I enjoyed it, but I worry a lot that that's privilege talking. I do think this book had issues, but it was enjoyable. I think some of the problems might be things others don't want to read, though, so I'm warning you guys. My final thoughts on this book are - I liked it. Would I recommend it - carefully. With the things I've mentioned in mind, maybe. Overall, I'm probably only gonna give it three roses. I'm glad I finished the series, and I'm not angry at the book, as much as it might sound, but I don't think everyone would necessarily love it.

Other things:

- If you put bread in the toaster and start it toasting, and then you start cooking bacon, your toast is gonna be cold and rock solid by the time your bacon is done. So either you have psychic bacon powers, Hallie, or someone knew you weren't going to have any bacon that wasn't you, and had you start the toast for convenience.

Okay, my series summary:

If you like somewhat tropey YA paranormal romance, you're probably going to enjoy this. If you're sick of certain tropes, you might hate this, honestly. Time travel is not something I personally see a lot in YA, and I really enjoyed that premise. The author is pretty good at writing exciting romantic relationships, and the cast is not entirely white. How well that's done is not up for me to decide, so I'm not gonna try.

Many of the decisions this series took surprised me in good ways. Character choices, plot decisions, and even POV choices surprised me, which considerably toned down almost all of the predictability.

Something that was entirely predictable was the "pair the spare" tendancies. By the end of the third book, basically everyone was dating someone, and I don't think writing established couples is the author's strongest suit. Everyone gets very cutesy and overly perfect. And maybe that's my bias, but I found it a little annoying. Have a fight or something, people. And, of course, everyone is straight. Over a thousand pages total, multiple cities, and not one character is queer? At all? Not one?

Now, the ableism problem. The big problem is that the series at once tells me to take mental illness seriously by saying how bad it would be if Emerson was in a mental hospital, but also makes jokes about it by saying people with very clean apartments "are OCD". The book wants me to believe that I wouldn't want to read a book about a girl who was severely mentally ill and physically scarred, and tries to use that possibility as shock value. I don't think throwing a line into the third book about Emerson still has bad days dealing with depression fixes the mixed messages throughout the series, especially not the borderline-dangerous ones about medication.

I honestly think the author is very talented, and I would be interested in future books. I enjoyed this series, but I don't think the author was ready to tackle certain things in this book that she tried, and the inexperience does show at times in mixed messages and hopefully unintentional problematic themes. I think this series can be fun, but I know those issues could hurt people, so I can't recommend it wholeheartedly. I have a lot of mixed feelings, but I think I've laid them out as clearly as I can.

I hope you guys enjoyed this at least a little, and hopefully it was helpful and informative!

Peace and cookies,