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Preview: Confessions of a Bibliovore

Confessions of a Bibliovore



The generally book-related ramblings of a recovering English major and children's librarian.



Updated: 2016-09-30T22:04:01.448-07:00

 



Book Review: George by Alex Gino

2016-09-24T12:25:14.842-07:00

(image) Title: George
Author: Alex Gino
Published: 2015
Source: Local Library

A note: While she's called George through most of the book, Melissa is the name she's chosen for herself, so that's what I'll use in this review. Please see: How to Talk About George at AlexGino.com

Summary: Melissa knows she's a girl, even if the whole world seems to think she's a boy named George instead. She's scared to tell anybody - her mother, her brother, even her best friend - the truth that she knows in her heart. But when the chance to play Charlotte in Charlotte's Web comes her way, she realizes that this may be a way to be who she is.

First Impressions: This was so quietly sweet, and yet so comprehensive in how the world was enforcing gender on her. I keep getting the sniffles over it. I also loved how unexpected some of the reactions were.

Later On: The thing that kept running through my head was how thoroughly this is a children's book. Melissa is in the fourth grade. The class play is Charlotte's Web. There's little to no discussion of sexuality or attraction - it's this vague, misty thing that feels as far away as the moon. There's a little discussion of genitalia: she hates taking a bath and having to see "what's between her legs", and she talks briefly and vaguely about transitional surgeries and medication with her best friend. But Melissa is primarily and appropriately concerned with a child's world - her family, her friends, school woes, why nobody seems to know who she really is.

Her gender is a source of constant stress - not confusion. I think it's important to clarify that. She knows her own gender, even though everything from the bathroom pass to the play's casting call conspires to shout at her, boy boy BOY BOY BOY. It's this constant screaming that makes her miserable. When she gets the chance to be her real self, in public, with her loving and accepting best friend at her side, I swear that I felt a weight lift off my shoulders.

I know that strictly because of the topic, this will be shelved in some YA sections. That's the wrong place for this book. This is a tender, beautiful, relatable book for children of all gender identities.

More: Waking Brain Cells
Interview with Alex Gino at School Library Journal



Book Review: The Taming of the Drew by Stephanie Kate Strohm

2016-09-21T12:09:00.143-07:00

(image) Title: The Taming of the Drew
Author: Stephanie Kate Strohm
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Headed out to play Kate in a summer stock theatre's production of The Taming of the Shrew, Cass runs afoul of her very own Petruchio . . . who of course turns out to be playing Petruchio in the show. Drew is a persnickety know-it-all who's just begging for a setdown - and Cass is more than up for the challenge.

First Impressions: A cute but slight retelling of Taming of the Shrew. The ending came way too fast and I didn't quite believe it.

Later On: The more I think about this book, the more I'm coming down on the "meh" side. While Drew was pretty obnoxious at times, some of the pranks Cass played could have been genuinely dangerous, such as the one that irritated his extreme allergies. (As someone with allergy-related asthma, I got really worried that he was going to wind up in the hospital.) If I were a guy who'd been having a really awful summer and found out that one girl was behind my inability to sleep because of phantom noises, my clothes all being dyed pink, and other annoyances, I wouldn't be kissing her at the end.

At least some of that emotion is probably my feelings about the source material, which with its themes of emotional and physical abuse, is one of the Shakespeare plays that make modern audiences very uncomfortable. There's some attempt to examine the complexities of putting on the play in a time of wildly different gender roles, but Strohm mostly abandons that in order to uncomplicatedly replicate the original with a gender reversal.

Still, the summer stock theater tropes (wacko director, varying stereotypes of actors) are pretty funny and Cass does have an encounter with fame that forces her to rethink who and what is worth being attracted to. If you can switch off your brain and your nitpick engine (not my strength, obviously), you could probably enjoy this novel.

More: Kirkus



First Impressions: Where You'll Find Me, March Book 1, The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl

2016-09-17T11:55:10.105-07:00

Title: Where You'll Find MeAuthor: Natasha FriendPublished: 2016Source: NetGalleySummary: After her mother's suicide attempt, Anna winds up living with her father and her brand-new stepmother. She's determined to hate it (among other things, her father left her mother to be with her stepmother) but she soon finds that things aren't uniformly awful in her father's house.First Impressions: Gaaaaaaaaah this was honest and tough. I liked the stepmother, Marnie, a whole lot more than I expected to.Title: March Book 1Author: John Lewis, Nate Powell, Andrew AydinPublished: 2013Source: Public LibrarySummary: The civil rights leader and congressman's early life and first forays into peaceful demonstration, presented in graphic novel format.First Impressions: Interesting to see the intra-movement divisions of the mid-century civil rights movement as well as the intensive training they went through in order to hold to their credo of non-violence.Title: The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon GirlAuthor: Melissa Keil, comic sections by Mike LawrencePublished: 2016Source: EdelweissSummary: A dot on the map in Australia is supposed to be the last holdout of humanity when the apocoalypse hits on New Year's Day, or so says a sketchy TV psychic. Alba watches with her friends as hippies and doomsday believers flood to their tiny town. At the same time, she tries not to brood about the end of high school and the beginning of her adult life, and the changes and separations that will inevitably go with it.First Impressions: Awww, this was sweet. It felt realistic especially set on the end-of-the-world backdrop because it did feel like her world was ending. [...]



Book Review: Two Summers by Aimee Friedman

2016-09-14T11:43:00.162-07:00

(image) Title: Two Summers
Author: Aimee Friedman
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: It all comes down to a phone call at the airport gate. In one universe, Summer answers it, and discovers that her unreliable father has putzed out once again, and she shouldn't board the plane to France to spend the summer with him. Unwilling to face the idea of another boring summer at home, she takes a photography class with her aunt, sees her relationship with her best friend undergo some strain, and reconnects with an old crush.

In another universe, she ignores the phone call and gets to France, looking forward to a summer of quaint villages, beautiful scenery, and her father's art. When she arrives, jet-lagged and miserable, she discovers that her father has flitted off to Berlin for several weeks. She's forced to stay with her father's business partner, Juliette, and her unfriendly daughter.

In both universes, she spends a summer of self-discovery, including truths both painful and beautiful.

First Impressions: Hmm. The interesting part was that she changed in the same ways whether she went to France or not.

Later On: I saw the twist regarding the business partner and her daughter's true identity a long way off, given what we knew of the father. I wasn't terribly surprised but I was pleased with the honest (and not entirely mature) reaction to it from almost all participants.

The French boyfriend was so amazingly charming and attractive and perfect that he bordered on smarmy, and I was waiting for him to do something scuzzy. When she dumped him without much of a second thought and went back home, I was relieved that she wouldn't be pining.

Overall, this book is a funny mix of Deep Thoughts, Life Changes, and fluff. Summer is changing drastically, coming out of her rather unpleasant mid-teen self into a person who actually has interests and compassion outside her very small world. But it's also a lot of wish fulfillment. It was a fun, quick read and might be just what you're looking for.

More: Kirkus



Book Review: The Star Touched Queen

2016-09-10T11:35:56.064-07:00

Title: The Star-Touched Queen
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Scorned and overlooked in her father's court because of her inauspicious horoscope at birth, Maya is set to be married off for political gain. Then Amar sweeps her away to his mysterious castle, full of magic and secrets and traps for the unwary. And Maya is very unwary.

First Impressions: Very atmospheric South Asian retelling of Cupid and Psyche.

Later On: I fell in love with the first part, which felt as if it had a lot of setup (a tense political situation, Maya's father, evil horoscopes, awful aunties, her mysterious mother, her relationship with a beloved sister) for things that ultimately never played out fully, or played out on the sidelines of the rest of the book.

After Amar married her and took her away, it all started to feel quite standard fantasy stuff, dressed up with a lot of magical and exotic-to-me surroundings but ultimately nothing I haven't seen before. If I had to grade the two sections separately, I would call the first part a 10 and the rest of it a 7 or an 8 . . . still pretty good but not quite keeping up.

On the strength of that first section, I'll be watching out for more of Chokshi's writing, in hopes that she can sustain it through the whole story next time.

More: Waking Brain Cells
Kirkus



Book Review: Down with the Shine by Kate Karyus Quinn

2016-09-07T20:54:20.852-07:00

(image) Title: Down With the Shine
Author: Kate Karyus Quinn
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Lennie's uncles are moonshiners. Scandalous, but in an everyday way. That's what she thinks anyway. But when she steals a case of the family product for a party, in hopes of purchasing a little popularity, she finds out differently. Turns out that the quaint toast her uncles repeat every time they sell to a customer isn't just a quaint toast after all. It's the ritual for granting wishes, a gift that's passed down through the family.

And because the wishes of drunken teenagers are about what you'd expect (for her to love me, to be taller, to be more athletic, to turn everything I touch into Cheetos) they come true in nightmarish fashion. Now it's up to her and the brother of her dead best friend to find some way to reverse these wishes before it gets any worse.

First Impressions: This was kind of a mess. An enjoyable mess, but a mess.

Later On: This book was positively overstuffed. Murdered best friend, serial killer father, magical moonshine uncles, wishes with horrifying consequences. Any one of these could have been their own book. Jumbled together like this, they were just a mishmash of plot points for Lennie to ping-pong between. It still could have worked if the different threads had woven together well, but as it was, they just sort of trundled along concurrently.

SPOILER The time-rewind ending was sort of a cop-out, but also a relief because things had fallen apart so spectacularly that it was the only chance for any kind of decent ending.SSPOILER 

Finally, I have to say something about Dylan, Lennie's murdered best friend who gets brought back to life by the wishes. I honestly couldn't figure out why they were such good friends. Dylan was so selfish and unpleasant when she returned from the grave that I didn't know why they hadn't left her there, and given that the tragedy of her gruesome murder underpinned so many of Lennie's other relationships with her peers, it weakened the book for me.

More: Kirkus



Book Review: Nightstruck by Jenna Black

2016-09-03T12:05:03.020-07:00

(image) Title: Nightstruck
Author: Jenna Black
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: When Becket follows a baby's cry into a dark alley, she unwittingly looses demons on Philadelphia. Things get grimmer and grimmer for her and for her city until finally her own best friend is within their grasp. Is it possible Becket is the only one who can end this?

First Impressions: Why do I keep requesting horror books. Whyyyyyy. And the ending was a pointless cliffhanger.

Later On: This started very promisingly, but Beckett spent most of the book in a puddle of helplessness, punctuated by moments of horrific gore. And the pointless cliffhanger ending just made me furious, since we arrived at the cliff because Becket was so busy dithering. Still, if you love blood-splashing horror, you might as well give this a try.

More: Kirkus



First Impressions: A Tangle of Gold, A Darker Shade of Magic, A Hundred Hours of Night

2016-08-31T12:02:01.262-07:00

Title: A Tangle of GoldAuthor: Jaclyn Moriarty Published: 2016Source: EdelweissSummary: People from the parallel worlds of Earth and Cello scramble to find Cello's royal family on Earth, but anarchists stand in their way - including, maybe, one of their own.First Impressions: For me, this would have been better off being the only book. I had a really hard time remembering what happened in the others but all the good stuff happened in this one.Title: A Darker Shade of MagicAuthor: V.E. SchwabPublished: 2015Source: Local LibrarySummary: Kell is one of only two Travelers left - magicians able to step between three different versions of London, with three different magics. When danger threatens his own version of London (Red), he finds himself working with con-woman Delilah Bard from Grey London to save all the worlds.First Impressions: I was disappointed that the villains were so obvious from the beginning. However, when she turned up, Lila was kickass. I'll be reading the rest of the series for more of her.Title: A Hundred Hours of NightAuthor: Anna Woltz, translated from the Dutch by Laura WatkinsonPublished: 2016Source: EdelweissSummary: When shy, anxious Emilia runs away, she does it in grand style, all the way from the Netherlands to New York City. In the shadow of Hurricane Sandy, she'll discover new friends and reserves of strength she never knew she had.First Impressions: This was pretty damn good! Snapshot of NYC during Hurricane Sandy as the backdrop of upheaval. Her OCD was handled a little too cavalierly though. I couldn't tell if she had a diagnosed condition or she was merely calling her many anxieties OCD. [...]



Book Review: Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

2016-08-27T11:51:04.053-07:00

Title: Burn Baby Burn
Author: Meg Medina
Published: 2016
Source: NetGalley

Summary: In the muggy summer of 1977, 17-year-old Nora struggles with family drama and her own choices about what to do with the rest of her life. Meanwhile, New York City is terrorized by the serial killer Son of Sam, overwhelming heat, and power outages.

First Impressions: I normally hate near-past stories but this one had a reason to happen where it did. Compelling.

Later On: One of the reasons I don't like near-past stories is because they seem like the author just wanted to write about their own teenage years without bothering to research the Youth of Today. This one is different because Medina draws on a specific time and place, and the events that go along with it, to underpin her story of a confusing, terrifying time of changes for her protagonist.

Nora is scared of becoming another of Son of Sam's victims, but she's equally frightened of her brother's violent outbursts. When the massive 1977 power outage hits New York, it affects her job and her relationships. She feels oppressed by the social mores of the day, but she also feels oppressed by her mother's specific translating needs and the pressure to be a good Latina daughter who ignores her brother's violence. The personal blends with the cultural blends with the social until everything is indistinguishable - they're all equal pressures that impact Nora's life.

I also really appreciated the way the author touched on social issues and movements of the day and didn't idealize them. She discusses feminism and the rush that Nora gets from it, but makes sure to mention that it's mostly white middle class feminism, that doesn't do much for working class Latinas and black women - a problem that still persists today.

More: Bookshelves of Doom for Kirkus



Book Review: The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

2016-08-24T11:44:13.222-07:00

Title: The Winner's KissAuthor: Marie RutkoskiPublished: 2016Source: ARC from a friendSummary: Kestrel has been banished to a frigid northern work camp. Drugged and beaten, she struggles to remain defiant, but finally succumbs. When she is rescued, it's going to be a long, long road back to who she used to be.Meanwhile, Arin is fighting for the future of his country, trying to oust the Valorian invaders and rebuild what was smashed to rubble. Reunited with Kestrel, he struggles with his emotions over previous events and the betrayal that wasn't.It's a harrowing journey for both Arin and Kestrel to freedom for the Herrani people, and to personal happiness.First Impressions: Arrrrgh so gooooooood.Later On: As you can probably tell from my first impressions, I'm not exactly unbiased about this series. I adored the first two books for their mix of the great fate of nations and the intimate fate of people, and how powerfully each can affect the other. The end of the second book left everything in rubble, so I was anxious to see how Rutkoski resurrected her characters.Refreshingly, Arin and Kestrel do not fall into each others' arms when he rescues her from the work camp. There's too much pain and betrayal between them for that, and Kestrel is far too broken to focus on anything but putting herself back together. Kestrel's memory returns in fits and starts, and some pieces remain patchy until the end (and, one suspects, will do forever). But she is still Kestrel, brilliant and crafty and occasionally ruthless, yet still impacted by her family ties and history.Arin, for his part, is struggling between the two sides of this woman and trying to simultaneously forgive himself for his anger and to forgive her the things that she's done, as well as trying to be the ruler that he seems to have been elected.This book, and the whole series, are deeply satisfying on both the grand-fate-of-nations and the intimate-fate-of-people fronts. More: My review of the first bookWaking Brain CellsBook NutCuddlebuggery [...]



Book Review: My Life with the Liars by Caela Carter

2016-08-20T11:35:21.146-07:00

(image) Title: My Life with the Liars
Author: Caela Carter
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss


Summary: Zylynn has been taken by the liars, away from the loving compound where she grew up knowing that she was going to heaven and sure of all the rules. If she wants to go back home, she'll have to prove she deserves it by escaping.

But the liars are crafty. They let her have as much food as she wants, they buy her clothes that are full of color, they even make her feel as if she really is part of their family. What if their lies aren't lies? And if they aren't liars, who is?

First Impressions: This was really good! I loved how disoriented and out of place she felt, trying to make sense of her new life through the lens of her old one.

Later On: Cults are a popular topic in YA because it's so often paired with religious fundamentalism and gender-based injustices, which are pretty handy straw dolls to fire arrows of authorly rage at. Because this is more aimed at middle grade, that's not quite as front and center, but you can still see it around the edges. This book is so powerful precisely because it doesn't spend much time lovingly lingering on how unfair it all is.

The focus is on Zylynn's gradual realization that the life she knew wasn't as perfect as she was always told it was. In her flashbacks, you can tell that she was a rule-follower, terrified of the consequences. In her new life, she's still trying to follow the rules of her old one, but she's gradually starting to question the value of those rules as she learns to accept the love and generosity that her newfound family offers her.

More: Kirkus



First Impressions: Boxers/Saints, The Raven King, The Great American Whatever

2016-08-17T14:05:03.567-07:00

 Title: Boxers / SaintsAuthor: Gene Luen YangPublished: 2013Source: Local LibrarySummary: In 1898, it is a time of unrest in China. As Western missionaries invade, bringing discord with them, Little Bao decides it's time to fight back and retake his country from the foreign devils.Meanwhile, Vibiana (once Four-Girl) finds a haven and an identity in Christianity. But she becomes torn between loyalty to her country and loyalty to her new community.Little Bao and Vibiana's fates will collide in a bloody and tragic fashion in this intimate look at the Boxer Rebellion. First Impressions: Aughhh. This was so hard to read. What's fascinating is how neither side is entirely right or wrong in this. And it's very bloody. Sniff.Title: The Raven KingAuthor: Maggie StiefvaterPublished: 2016Source: Local LibrarySummary: If Blue Sargent kisses her true love, he will die. She knows it, Gansey knows it, and all their friends know it. As threads from Arthurian legend tangle together in West Virginia, this prophecy will come to pass - but how and why?First Impressions: Obviously this can't be read before the others. It went surprisingly slowly for the last book of the series but the resolution was satisfying.Title: The Great American WhateverAuthor: Tim Federle Published: 2016Source: EdelweissSummary: After his sister's senseless and tragic death, Quinn retreated into a six-month depression. As summer begins, secrets start to emerge that may shatter his apathy, or may destroy what ties he has left.First Impressions: Waaaaaaaaaaaah. I am destroyed by this. Not perfect by any means but very real. However, I really struggled with some of the fat-shaming language used about his mother, even though her personality was portrayed in a positive light. [...]



Book Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

2016-08-13T13:30:34.896-07:00

Title: Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Published: 2016
Source: Local Library

Summary: As Germany is losing WWII, four fates converge on the road to one of the greatest maritime disasters you've never heard of.

First Impressions: Wow, this was harrowing. Alfred's sections especially made me want brain bleach.

Later On: We hear so much about World War II, but it's often about the American homefront or the Holocaust. Sometimes you get the British homefront. If you get a perspective on Germany or Eastern Europe, it's usually a Nazi or someone struggling to deal with a Nazi in their family or close friendships.

This shines a light into the everyday life of the citizens of Nazi Germany and the occupied areas. Each character has secrets that unfold gradually and converge with others in unexpected ways, showing the many and varied effects of war on the average person - from Emilia, pregnant and alone, to Florian the unwilling hero, to Joana, just trying to survive, to Alfred, a supremely deluded and unlikeable person.

The disaster looms, more so because the reader is probably going to have little to no idea how it actually happened. Some might even be taken completely by surprise (although the human mistakes that led to it are well-documented in the story).

It's not a happy ending for everyone, (did we expect anything else from this time period and this author?) but it's a slice of history that's valuable to hear.

More: Unshelved
Kirkus
Spoilers, probably, but:  Military History Online's page on the sinking of the Wilhem Gustloff



Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

2016-07-30T13:07:00.145-07:00

Title: FangirlAuthor: Rainbow RowellPublished: 2013Source: Local LibrarySummary: Cath is bewildered and intimidated by her first year of college. She's not rooming with her twin sister, as she'd assumed she would. Her classes are harder than she thought, a guy in her writing class seems to be using her ideas for his own project, her terrifying roommate keeps bringing her (possibly?) boyfriend around, who is equally terrifying because he actually seems interested in Cath.The only touchstone is her ongoing epic fanfic, which she's hurrying to finish before the final book in the series comes out. In the world of Simon Snow, a world that's nurtured her and her sister since their mother left, she's in control. But it's the only place where she is.First Impressions: Yikes did this cut close to the bone.Later On: Rainbow Rowell has a reputation for RIP UR HEART OUT!! emotional stories, and since this is the first one I've read, I can see where she gets it. Cath is a raw nerve, and her emotions, not only around Levi but around everything are constantly close to the surface. I said it cut close to the bone because this was basically my college experience (except for the sweet boy who adored me, unfortunately). I think a lot of kids get in over their head and intimidated, and feel more isolated because they think that the nonstop party portrayed in TV and movies is what everyone else is experiencing. By contrast, this felt entirely real. I have to mention how much I appreciated the respect that fandom got in this book. As a longtime fic writer in various fandoms (including, full disclosure, Harry Potter), I was prepared to see it mocked and belittled as an activity for children, or at least for people who couldn't handle the world. I also loved the way Cath's relationship to her own fic writing changed and grew as she did.I wish that we'd gotten more acknowledgement from other characters of how profoundly Cath was freaking in, as much as Wren was freaking out. While writing and posting fic was a nurturing and supportive activity for her, she often used it to retreat from the world and escape her own fears as much as Wren was using drinking and partying to do the same.Something in the back of my mind was the backlash against Rowell for her stereotyped portrayal of Asian characters in her previous novel, Eleanor & Park. This was a pretty white book (two fairly minor characters were Latino), so we didn't get any bad portrayals of POC, but we didn't get any fleshed-out good ones either. Do with that what you will.More: Book Nut [...]



First Impressions: The Last Best Kiss, Catching Jordan, Six of Crows

2016-07-27T11:42:03.356-07:00

Title: The Last Best KissAuthor: Claire LaZebnikPublished: 2014Source: Local LibrarySummary: Try as she might, Anna's never been able to forget dorky, sweet Finn, her freshman-year boyfriend that she drove away by not admitting they were dating. Their senior year, he comes back to town, no longer dorky, and no longer at all interested in her. First Impressions: Awwww. I loved this. Quick read with strong emotional core. And of course it's an Austen retelling so you know I'm all over that.Title: Catching JordanAuthor: Miranda KenneallyPublished: 2011Source: Local LibrarySummary: As the only girl and the quarterback, Jordan Woods is in a unique position on her football team. She wants to focus on getting an amazing college scholarship, not on romance - but romance seems determined to find her.First Impressions: Did not entirely love this one. Not sure why. Maybe it's because neither romance seemed especially fleshed out? The dismissive and scornful way she treated other girls got under my skin, even though it was addressed.Title: Six of CrowsAuthor: Leigh BardugoPublished: 2015Source: Local LibrarySummary: A gang of con men and criminals get the biggest job of their career, but will their pasts, both with each other and with the people they're scamming, scotch the whole deal? First Impressions: This was very unevenly paced, although I enjoyed the characters. But it seemed like we would have action and then this long flashback about each character. I didn't really get into it until the end.More: Book Nut [...]



First Impressions: The Abyss Surrounds Us, Of Better Blood, Allie First at Last

2016-07-20T11:56:00.189-07:00

Title: The Abyss Surrounds UsAuthor: Emily SkrutskiePublished: 2016Source: NetGalleySummary: In a future where the seas have risen, Cassandra has been training to control Reckoners, genetically engineered sea monsters that keep the pirates at bay for merchant vessels crossing the ocean. But when she's captured by pirates on her very first voyage and forced to train up their own stolen Reckoner pup (all the while reluctantly falling for a pirate girl), she despairs of ever getting home or of regaining the self-respect she's lost by giving in to the pirates.First Impressions: Strong complex love story (with absolutely no lesbian despair) and an interesting premise. I liked the training sequences, but the end sort of fell flat for me. A little sequelitis I think. More: Rich in ColorTitle: Of Better BloodAuthor: Susan MogerPublished: 2016Source: EdelweissSummary: After polio leaves her disabled in the 1920s, Rowan is abandoned by her upper-class family and reduced to performing as a cautionary tale for a eugenics group. In spite of this, she still believes in the eugenic principles that her father taught her, until she sees first-hand the cruelties and prejudices of the movement. First Impressions: Explores the horror of the eugenics movement, which is something you never hear about in school. Although Rowan is sixteen, this would work content-wise for older tweens. Also: wow, did I get a lesbian vibe off Dorchy and Rowan, enough that I was surprised when a male character arrived to be a convenient love-ish interest for Rowan. Unfortunately, most of the victims we're shown are white, when eugenics often targeted people of color, which I feel was a missed opportunity for this book. More: KirkusTitle: Allie, First at LastAuthor: Angela CervantesPublished: 2016Source: EdelweissSummary: Allie Velasco has spent her whole life overshadowed by her overachieving family. When is she ever going to get the chance to bring home a gold trophy? The Trailblazer contest might be her opportunity, but is she going to ruin all her friendships in the process?First Impressions: This was very sweet, and very readable, and I liked that Sara actually had some reasonable gripes with Allie and vice versa. Also Victor was adorbs. And yay for Latino characters that aren't going through some kind of immigration or assimilation conflict!More: Ms Yingling ReadsBook NutLatinos in KidlitWaking Brain Cells [...]



First Impressions: Doll Bones, Promise of Shadows, and The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic

2016-07-13T12:16:03.651-07:00

I have a backlog of books that I want to say something about, but I'm not sure I have all that much to say about, beyond the initial notes that I made for myself. It doesn't help that I read some of them months ago, and I'm starting to forget the nuances. Ouch.So in order to clear up the backlog and catch up a little, I'm going to be doing First Impressions posts every now and then.   Title: Doll BonesAuthor: Holly BlackPublished: 2013Source: Local LibrarySummary: Haunted by the feeling that their childhood is slipping away, three friends go seeking the story behind the doll that has featured in their make-believe stories for years.First Impressions: Creeeeeeeeeeepy, but also balanced with a quintessentially tween story of everybody growing up at different paces.Title: Promise of ShadowsAuthor: Justina IrelandPublished: 2014Source: review copy from publisherSummary: Zephyr Mourning isn't a great harpy, but when her sister dies, she does her job of wreaking vengeance on the man responsible. But because it was Hermes, she's not rewarded but sent to the Underworld as punishment. When she escapes, she finds out that she might be more powerful and dangerous than even she expected.First Impressions: Took some time to get into. I realized most of the way through that this girl - flawed, prickly, murderous, and grappling with dark powers - would have been the villain in any other book. That was actually pretty cool. The love story was a little lackluster. I didn't feel the pull toward the love interest and I didn't know why Zephyr did, either.Title: The Problem with Being Slightly HeroicAuthor: Uma KrishnaswamiPublished: 2013Source: Local LibrarySummary: Bollywood superstar Dolly Singh is premiering her new movie at the Smithsonian, and superfan Dinni couldn't be more excited. But as the premier draws closer, everything seems to be falling apart, including Dinni's relationship with her best friend Maddie. In Bollywood epics, all problems are solved with a song and a dance, but will that work in real life?First Impressions: As frothy and fun and Bollywoodish as the first book. [...]



Book Review: The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

2016-07-09T12:05:19.487-07:00

(image) Title: The Steep and Thorny Way
Author: Cat Winters
Published: 2016
Source: NetGalley

Summary: Biracial sixteen-year-old Hanalee seeks the truth about her murdered father and the dark secrets beneath the idyllic surface of Elston, where she feels ostracized and alienated as the only non-white person.

First Impressions: I love that this is about racism and the Klan yet not in the South. Also touches on eugenics, gay rights, etc.

Later: Retold Hamlet? Yes please. Racism and the Klan in Oregon, in the 20s, with a gay secondary character and a biracial girl struggling with her identity? Double yes please.

Sadly, this didn't quite live up to the promise. Some of the Hamlet parallels got pretty tortured, and it was unfortunate that there were basically no other characters of color besides Hanalee and her dead father. But there were some great moments, too, like the twist where the villain was not at all who you thought they were.

My copy was an e-ARC, and since I have a rather clunky old e-reader, the plentiful period photographs scattered throughout only served to freeze up my device. If you're into that, however, they looked pretty neat.

More: Waking Brain Cells




Book Review: The Memory of Light by Francisco X Stork

2016-07-06T11:41:02.185-07:00

Title: The Memory of LightAuthor: Francisco X StorkPublished: 2016 Source: EdelweissSummary: After a suicide attempt, Victoria lands in a mental hospital. As she reluctantly returns to life, and then starts to pursue it with more energy, she finds herself drawn to other teenage patients, all the with their own problems, and starts to accept that she's not weak, a failure, or oversensitive - she has a disease.First Impressions: Lovely and quiet examination of recovery and mental illness. I would like to read some perspective on this book's attitude toward medication.Later On: Somebody I follow on twitter will often post that depression is a liar, and the biggest lie it can tell you is that you're not depressed. The biggest lie that Victoria has to fight is that she has no right to be depressed. She spends a large part of the early book telling herself that she has a good life, a nice house, wealthy parents, and just because her mother died several years before, that's no reason to be depressed. But depression, as with all mental illness, needs no reason. It just is. Coming to that realization marks a turning point for Victoria, as does acknowledging that the pressures of her life pre-suicide attempt were exacerbating her illness.As I mentioned above, the way medication is and isn't portrayed as part of treatment surprised me somewhat. (Full disclosure - while I know people who have been in treatment for depression, I've never had first-hand experience, so that's the limit of my knowledge.) Victoria doesn't go on medication as part of her treatment, which took me a little aback. Dr. Desai, her therapist, focuses more on analysis and identifying the spiraling negative thoughts that drag Vicky down. I know that medication isn't right for everyone, and therapy and analysis are as important as medication even for those who are on it. However, I think that there's such a powerful public perception that "pills fix depression" that I would have liked to hear a little more discussion within the book or in an author's note as to why this wasn't part of Vicky's treatment, especially when medication is shown to help others within the story. But that's my personal question.More: Waking Brain CellsThis review at Latin@s in Kidlit goes more in-depth, and also links to a great article on how mental illness is viewed in the Latino culture.  Over at Disability in Kidlit, Kelly Jensen (the Twitter person I mentioned above) writes movingly about her experience of depression, starting as a teen. [...]



Book Review: Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan

2016-06-29T12:10:01.199-07:00

Title: Tell the Wind and FireAuthor: Sarah Rees BrennanPublished: 2016Source: NetgalleySummary: In this paranormal retelling of A Tale of Two Cities, New York City is divided between the Dark and the Light magic wielders. The Dark side is shackled and boundaried, and the Light rules.Lucie is that rarest of rare, a Dark-sider who escaped to the Light. She's famous for it, in fact, the half-Light, half-Dark girl who escaped the Dark and now lives in the Light side of town, dating Ethan, the shining son of the mayor. But as she fights to hold onto her sheltered life on the light and Ethan, the boy she loves, she's drawn to his Dark doppelganger, Carwyn.First Impressions: I liked Carwyn much more than Ethan. I loved how snarky and mean Lucie became with him. The end made me cry.Later On: I always like retellings of classics, mostly because it's very fun to see how the themes and characters gets filtered through a modern lens. This is one of my first experiences with reading the retelling without having actually read the original. As such, the ending knocked me for a loop. Can you call it a spoiler when just about everyone knows that Sydney Carton died in the original? But because I wasn't paying attention to the details and callbacks, I was surprised and disappointed when it went there.When I say I liked how snarky and mean Lucie got with him, this isn't because I like mean girls. More, it was because the self that Lucie was when she was with Carwyn felt more honest. With Ethan, and by extension, with all of the Light side, I had the sense that Lucie was putting on a big show of how very, very Light side she was. With Carwyn, she didn't have to pretend that the Dark side of herself didn't exist. I didn't have a whole lot of faith that Lucie would be able to hold on to this honesty of self without Carwyn around to remind her. Maybe she will, though.Overall, this was a wonderful book, full of meditations on the nature of fame and public perception and how meaningless labels can be, but the ending works less well for me the farther I get from the actual experience of reading it.More: Why Did I Do That Thing I Did in Tell the Wind and Fire? by Sarah Rees Brennan (spoilers for other of her books, so read carefully)Kirkus [...]



Book Review: Burning Midnight by Will McIntosh

2016-06-25T11:52:59.449-07:00

(image) Title: Burning Midnight
Author: Will McIntosh
Published: 2016
Source: NetGalley

Summary: In a world where strange, inexplicable spheres grant people enhanced skills and abilities, and the sale of a really rare sphere can set you up for life, fifteen-year-old Sully works as a sphere hunter to keep himself and his mother alive. He scrapes by on common to middling finds, but dreams of another find like the one that was stolen from him by the villainous businessman Alex Holliday. When he meets Hunter, another sphere hunter in even more desperate straits, she enlists him in an audacious scheme to find the rarest sphere of all - before Holliday can.

First Impressions: Well, that was a fun quest/chase caper took a completely weird turn in the last 15% of the book.

Later On: Truly, I enjoyed this right up until the last chunk of the book. It's an enjoyable little-guy(s)-against-the-corrupt-businessman caper, complete with quixotic quests across national borders and feats of derring-do like diving into old water towers and climbing statues.

Then I got whiplash when the true nature of the spheres was revealed. (highlight to read SPOILER - they're like bait, and the fisherman are aliens headed down to earth to eat everybody in horrific ways.) In some ways it could have been a fun twist, but it was such a departure from where the story was headed up to that point that I was genuinely bewildered and felt like I'd wandered into a different book.

More: Kirkus



Origami Yoda Doubleheader

2016-06-22T11:48:04.365-07:00

Since I read these two books close enough to each other that they were both still hanging out in my blogging document, and because the first ended on something of a cliffhanger, I figured I might as well do a doubleheader.Title: The Surprise Attack of Jabba the PuppettAuthor: Tom AnglebergerPublished: 2013Source: Local LibrarySummary: The origami kids find themselves facing a great evil - the looming specter of standardized testing, and the cramming sessions that go along with them, which have taken the place of all their favorite elective classes. Can their rebellion defeat the Evil Empire?First Impressions: Entertaining anti-test story. I also loved how many different kinds of kids wound up working together, and how the principal wasn't the ultimate evil. But - uhoh! Cliffhanger.Later On: This remains a realistic and entertaining middle-school series. The multitude of characters started to lose me, especially when introducing new ones that weren't around or weren't important in the first few books, but the central characters (Dwight, Harvey, and Kellan) are all there and all distinct. This is also taking on a more series-oriented arc with the rebellion against mandated testing. This isn't the one to start with (all those characters!) but for fans of the rest of the series, it's a worthy entry.More: KirkusTitle: Princess Labelmaker to the RescueAuthor: Tom AnglebergerPublished: 2014Source: Local LibrarySummary: Picking up where the previous book left off, the McQuarrie Middle School gang's attempts to defeat the deadly dull test-prep program, FunTime, seem doomed to failure. But Princess Labelmaker's got a secret plan - to turn the records of the Rebellion over to Principal Rabbski, in a last desperate hope to get her on their side against the evil test company that's sucking the life out of their school.First Impressions: Most of these tend to be episodic, but this one was very much so. Still enjoyable, but I can't quite tell whether it's the end or not.Later On: I really started to lost track of who was who in this book, especially since they each seemed to get one or two mini-stories in this, relating how the Origami Rebellion has changed them and helped them see the world differently. Kids who have been devoted readers probably won't encounter that problem, though.Apparently there's one more book in the series, Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus, which will follow the kids on the Washington, DC trip that they fought to get back during this book.More: Ms. Yingling Reads [...]



Book Review: Velvet Undercover by Teri Brown

2016-06-18T11:31:05.017-07:00

(image) Title: Velvet Undercover
Author: Teri Brown
Published: 2015
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: After her father disappears, Samantha Donaldson is conscripted to spywork in Germany during WWI.

First Impressions: This felt very WWII to me, perhaps because I've read so many more WWII spy stories in the last few years, so any detail that screamed WWI tripped me up a lot. Not particularly memorable honestly.

Later On: Yep. I still don't remember it very well. Everything sort of fades into a wartime mush in my head.

More: Both Bookshelves of Doom and Ms. Yingling liked it rather more.
Bookshelves of Doom for Kirkus
Ms. Yingling Reads



Book Review: The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett

2016-06-15T11:52:03.705-07:00

Title: The Shepherd's CrownAuthor: Terry PratchettPublished: 2015Source: Local LibrarySummary: The fairy nation is set on invading our world, and the witches who would normally stand in their way have just lost their not-a-leader. It's up to her presumptive heir, Tiffany Aching, to defend the Discworld from them just as she's struggling to cement her place among the witches and among the community. First Impressions: Sniff. Last Terry Pratchett ever. I think it was a good one to go out on, especially with Granny Weatherwax, but others were better.Later On: Tiffany is still working out how to be a witch of the chalk, how to belong someplace and bear responsibility toward a whole community. While she's battled the queen of the fairies and the hive mind and all sorts of other monsters, she's absorbing the lesson that has been built over the series that people are the most complicated of all.The death of Granny Weatherwax seems oddly prescient. Where Pratchett has faked us out before, this time he went for it, and the way that Tiffany feels rudderless and lost after the loss of her second major matriarch figure (the first being her own grandmother before the start of the series) serves to bookend this series and emphasize that you never quite get there to that magical place where you just always know what you're doing at all times, but you can get a little further along.My love for the Tiffany Aching series comes from the realism of her growth over the series. Where she started as a young girl (albeit a ferocious, clear-sighted, and competent one), this Tiffany is wobbling on the edge of adulthood, and it's as good a place as any to leave her.As has been stated in many places, this book is essentially unfinished. Oh, it has a beginning, a middle, and an end, but it doesn't quite have all the flourishes that make up about 75% of the enjoyment of a Terry Pratchett book. He died during the editing process, so this unfinished feeling is completely valid. Still, it feels like a Pratchett book (an early one, maybe, before he really developed his powers) and I enjoyed it as such. More: Book Nut [...]



The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

2016-06-11T11:40:31.872-07:00

Title: The Girl from EverywhereAuthor: Heidi HeiligPublished: 2016Source: EdelweissSummary: Nix Song grew up on the high seas, traveling from place to place and time to time with her time-traveler father. But it's been a lonely childhood and a frustrating teenagerhood, especially when her father is obsessed with finding a map that can take him back to Hawaii in the 1840s, when Nix was born, and her mother died. When they land in Hawaii, but several years too late, they get caught up in a plot to thwart American colonialists' plan to co-opt the island nation for American interests. At the same time, Nix meets a mysterious old woman who was present at her birth, and a handsome young American who wants to show Nix Hawaii First Impressions: While I really liked the premise, this dragged for me pretty hard, and the love triangle felt both unneeded and unresolved.Later On: I really wanted to like this. I did! Time travel via historical maps? A biracial (white and Chinese) girl who grew up all over time, and who has a prickly relationship with her father and a mystery surrounding her long-dead mother? The Hawaiian setting??? (And not just tourist Hawaii; this is Hawaii the way the people who live there see it, complete with all its ugly colonial history.) An audacious con plot? A roguish and charming love interest/BFF? Sign me up!All these elements, unfortunately, didn't combine into anything very compelling. The third point of the love triangle was about as interesting as oatmeal, and nothing was really resolved there even though pages and pages were spent on trying to build a relationship between them. I can point to individual things that were done well, particularly the twisty turny it'll-get-you-coming-and-going nature of time travel and the secrets of her mother, but this book just never gelled for me. Which is really too bad.More: Charlotte's Library [...]