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1. Book Review: To Catch a Cheat by Varian Johnson

Title: To Catch a Cheat
Author: Varian Johnson
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: After the shenanigans of The Great Greene Heist, Jackson is trying to keep his nose clean. Really! He is!  But he's framed for a cheating con, and the principal is all too eager to take the excuse to strike him down. Complicating matters are a fight with his best friend, and his attempts to kiss his sort-of girlfriend for the first time. (Yikes!) Still, Jackson's got to clear this up. What can a reformed con artist do, but con his way to the center of this mystery?

First Impressions: A fun romp, although I got lost more than a few times with all the characters. And I definitely spent some time wanting to knock Jackson and Charlie's heads together.

Later On: The things I liked (and the things I didn't) about the first one carried over into this book. I still loved the casual diversity (Jackson is black, Charlie and Gabi are Latinx, they have friends of other ethnicities as well) and the fine ear for the complexities of middle-school life. The con stuff got really, really involved, especially when the story juggled multiple characters of dubious intentions. Still, I think that this could become an entertaining MG series.

I was never entirely clear on why Charlie and Jackson were at odds, although I could see how it
played out. Charlie's been in Jackson's shadow a lot, and Jackson is just clever enough to be arrogant about it, and that arrogance would grate.

More: Kirkus
Book Nut

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2. Book Review: Shade Me by Jennifer Brown

Title: Shade Me
Author: Jennifer Brown
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: When the popular girl is murdered, Nikki feels strangely drawn toward the case, even getting entangled with the girl's sexy older brother.

First Impressions: Meh. I know she's supposed to be Tough and Independent but she was awfully cagey with the cop for no reason. And the book treated synaesthesia like a superpower or something. Just weird and unsatisfying.

Later On: Generally I really like Jennifer Brown's stories. She focuses tightly on characters and character development, and how relationships grow and change, especially under the pressure of horrible situations.

This shift to a more plot-heavy mystery didn't work at all for me, especially since the things that were so strong in her other stories suffered for Plot Reasons. We never meet the murdered girl, but somehow Nikki felt a connection, even though her assessment of the murdered girl before she was murdered was decidedly negative. There was a romantic subplot and I know I was supposed to feel a connection to it and to the romantic lead (whose name I can't even remember), but I really didn't.

I know it's fashionable, especially in noir stories, to mistrust the police, but I couldn't figure out any earthly reason for her not to bring the cop in on her suspicions, even partially. He wasn't actively undermining her, gaslighting her, or at any time seemed to be one of the bad guys. In fact, he kept coming around to say, "Look, can I help? I'm doing this; this is my actual job and I'm really trying to do it here. I have information, do you have information?" And she would say no because . . . suspense?! It was unsatisfying.

Finally, my issue with the use of Nikki's synesthesia. Brown did acknowledge it as something that has given Nikki learning difficulties, but it also functioned as a magical signpost to Things That Were Important to the mystery, and a connection to the murdered girl, who (minor spoiler) had synesthesia herself.   But my understanding, which because I'm not a neuroscientist is not exactly thorough, is that synesthesia works differently for different people. How could the dead girl possibly have known what would jump out at Nikki and what wouldn't? Just a little too convenient.

I'll read Brown's next book, but only if it's not a noir mystery.

More: Kirkus Reviews
Disability in Kidlit on repackaging disabilities as superpowers, which is not always a bad thing, but annoyed me in this book

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3. 1001 Nights Doubleheader

I've had a busy few weeks at work, so I wasn't able to get any posts polished enough to go live. To make up for it(ish), I'm giving you a doubleheader today, where I review two books that are similar in some way and discuss what I think of those similarities and their differences.

Title: The Wrath and Dawn
Author: Renee Ahdieh
Published: 2015
Source: Local Library

Summary: Khalid marries a young woman every evening and in the morning he kills her. Nobody can stop him because, well, he's the king.

After her best friend becomes his latest victim, Shahrzad decides that she's going to take him on, find out why all the murders are happening, and then kill him. It's a good plan, but it goes a little off track when she starts to fall in love with him.

First Impressions: The story was compelling but OH MY GOD. The prose. PURPLE.

Later On: I struggled with this book. I know a lot of people who've been swept away by it, but my brain kept inconveniently breaking in. Like, Khalid? Um, why are you doing all this killing? Shahrzad, honey, why aren't you pointing out that this is super-not-okay? I get that you're falling in lurve and all but kiddies, love is about communication. You know what you're not communicating? THAT HIM KILLING ALL HIS PREVIOUS WIVES WAS NOT OKAY. He victimized his country, he terrorized families, he gave no reason, and OH YES A WHOLE BUNCH OF GIRLS ARE DEAD. I was genuinely questioning why he hadn't been the hell overthrown by now. A lot of the girls he picked were from powerful families - why didn't some of them send in an assassin and STOP THIS NONSENSE?

When a book makes me this WTF, I generally stop reading. This one, I kept reading because I actually did want to find out his reasons. Shahrzad is smart and spunky and loving and loyal, and she's gonna Queen like nobody's damn business, so I was initially in it for her. And then, aside from the whole lots and lots of dead wives thing (which would seem to be a dealbreaker), Khalid was an appealing and warm-hearted guy who seems to be genuinely falling for Shahrzad. We do actually get a reason for all the wife-killing and it's not that Khalid is a serial killer who just can't help himself. But it fell flat for me. I never felt the actual threat of it.

And, yeah. The prose. It seemed like every line had to remind us that Khalid had flashing hazel eyes or that Shahrzad had the shiniest most beautimous hair in the palace, or something.

I know a lot of people loved it, but this one really wasn't for me.

More: Cuddlebuggery
Book Nut

Title: A Thousand Nights
Author: E.K. Johnston
Published: 2015
Source: NetGalley

Summary: In this retelling of 1001 nights, the main character sacrifices herself to save her sister and marries a king who's murdered all his previous wives.

First Impressions: This was what I wanted The Wrath and the Dawn to be. The focus on women and the work/powers/community/ties of women was beautiful.

Later On: I still get a warm glow when I think of this book - of how important the relationships between women are. Sisters, mothers, aunts, female friends. There's a lovely little bit where the protagonist, who goes unnamed throughout the book, contemplates how her father's first wife, who is also her aunt, always functioned as another mother to her; a relationship that's not often portrayed this way.

This carries through to the palace. She begins to find out the history of the king's murders through talking to his mother and the palace craftswomen, gradually and patiently assembling the pieces into a whole that will let her save the country. Primarily, this is a story of a woman, backed by women, quietly, determinedly putting things right for a country that has gone terribly wrong.

Is it a swoony romance? No. The king is a man possessed by a demon, and there's no falling in love with this demon. At the end of the book, there's a hint that the man within might have started to catch feelings, but the love story here is the protagonist's love for her family, her community, and her country.

More: By Singing Light
Charlotte's Library
 

 Scheherazade and Shahryār by Ferdinand Keller, 1880, taken from Wikipedia

So now for the compare and contrast portion of our show.

It's always interesting to see how two authors take the same base story and make such different things out of it. Where the first book focused tightly on the developing romance between the king and his queen (with touches of a love triangle and another couple's love story as subplots), the second focused on the larger implications of the king's destructive rampage and how it can be repaired. Maybe I'm Old and Fuddy, but that spoke to me more than the intimate romance. Anytime you get royal characters, I'm almost always more interested in the pressure of the fate of an entire nation resting on their choices and actions.

So my reviews, and the reviews linked here, are basically about how these books worked for generally white or white-presenting American ladies. There's a trickier question: how do they work as representations or interpretations of a piece of classic non-Western literature?

In the original story (Britannica.com), the king is killing women because his first wife cheated on him. Obviously, this doesn't play all that well as a trait of a romantic hero. While the books took different tacks, both wisely altered the king's motivation.

I tried hard to find writing about these books from Middle Eastern reviewers, but was unsuccessful. The 1001 Nights is basically the story that we know from Middle Eastern mythology. It is a framing device for retelling many other stories, but only Scheherezade and Aladdin (which was one of the stories told in the 1001 Nights) have entered Western canon to the point where we know the stories off the top of our heads.

From my extremely limited perspective, I would say that both novels used the Middle Eastern setting as an exotic locale or a fantasy land. This isn't that different from a lot of historical novels or historical fantasy. Did they respect the cultures? That's a trickier one because there's a few things at work here. I'm not of the culture. I'm not even very familiar with the culture. And the Middle East is a huge area, made up of many, many individual countries and subcultures, each with their own history. The effect of the Middle-Easternish fantasy land is to back away from that complexity while still retaining the otherness of the setting as a whole.

But some of the major Western stereotypes of the Middle East as a whole were avoided. Although polygamous marriage was an element in A Thousand Nights, in both books, women were largely respected by their male friends, husbands, fathers, and brothers. War and violence is something else Westerners associate with the Middle East, but in these stories, there was purpose to them.

Like I said, I'm not the person to really examine this. If you have background and opinions that are better informed than mine, please let me know so I can add some links.

FURTHER further reading

Islamophobia in YA

Renee Ahdieh, author of The Wrath and the Dawn, briefly discusses the process of worldbuilding a Middle-Eastern infleunced fantasy world

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4. Book Review: On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis

Title: On the Edge of Gone
Author: Corinne Duyvis
Published: 2016
Source: NetGalley

Summary: On the eve of the apocalypse, Denise and her mom scramble to get to a shelter that will protect them (maybe) from the comet heading their way. Somehow, they luck onto a spaceship that plans to head for the stars. But can they keep their place?

First Impressions: Ahh this was good. Denise felt so real.

Later On: Like Duyvis's first book, Otherbound, this should have felt overstuffed, if we subscribe to publishing's prevailing mindset about intersectionality. A black autistic main character? With a trans sister? And a mother suffering from mental illness and addiction? (Not to mention it all takes place in the Netherlands, with Dutch characters.) But it works, oh how it works, and the reason it works is because these are details about their characters, not the plot. This is diversity in character building done right.

The focus is on Denise's struggle to carve out a place for herself and her family on the generation ship. Sometimes the reason it's a struggle is because of familiar autism characteristics, such as difficulties with social cues, hyper-focus on specific things, and sensory overstimulation, and how all these are ramped up by stress. However, it's also a struggle because of the shipboard bureaucracy, her mother's issues, worry over her sister, and oh yes. The world is ending. Denise's autism neither causes nor stands apart from any of that.

And finally, at the end, Denise finds her own place. She's not given it, she's not wedged in. She does things that are a challenge for her, she succeeds because of her own talents, and she earns her spot.

More: Waking Brain Cells
Disability in Kidlit

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5. Book Review: See How They Run by Ally Carter

Title: See How They Run
Author: Ally Carter
Published: 2015
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Grace has finally discovered the truth about her mother's death, but it was a lot more complex than even she thought. Secret societies and centuries-old conspiracies swirl around her as more disasters, both international and personal, loom ahead.

First Impressions: This took forever to get up and running but after that it was a pretty fast read. Still, it suffered from middle-book-syndrome. Too much left over from the first book, too many loose threads for the benefit of the third book. Agh.

Later On: I stick by my initial impression. Having read the first book a long time ago, it was hard to dredge up the details, and there were a lot of loose threads left waving at the end, clearly for the benefit of the next book. I was surprised that she killed off one character - I thought for sure he was going to stick around and be the third in a love triangle.

More: Book Nut

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6. Book Review: The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

Title: The Lucy Variations
Author: Sara Zarr
Published: 2013
Source: Local Library

Summary: Lucy was a piano prodigy who dramatically and publicly quit music about six months ago, to the rage and disappointment of her mother and grandfather. When her little brother (also being groomed to musical greatness) gets a new piano teacher, Lucy finds herself yearning to go back to the instrument. But the thought of letting herself in for the pressure of performing and achieving is still horrifying, and how can she have one without the other?

First Impressions: I'm glad Zarr didn't go the route of a full-on affair with Lucy and Will, but just brushed up against it. The characters are nicely complex and flawed.

Later On: Sara Zarr is one of those auto-TBR authors for me. She presents characters that are realistic, bumping up against other characters that are realistic, and never goes the obvious route. Lucy's relationship with Will is more about friendship and music, sort of leaning in the direction of sexual/romantic, but never quite getting there. (Phew.) Also, it never quite gets there because (spoilerish) Lucy realizes that Will is not quite the person she thought he was.

Lucy's relationship with music is a bit more tricky and Zarr handles that with compassion and shades of grey as well. Lucy loves music itself. After months of not even playing a note, she misses it like you miss the love of your life. But for her, music is wrapped around with her relationship with her mother and her grandfather, and even her dead grandmother. Their reactions to her dramatic departure from the public eye were anger and disappointment and feelings of betrayal (here we put all this effort into your education and this is how you repay us??) Lucy of course would rather do anything than return to music because it would mean they were right that she would miss it and want it back.
(I think Liz Burns put it best when she said they basically all went, "FINE!" "FINE!" and went off into different rooms to sulk and glare at each other.)

I loved how Lucy finds a way through all the morass of family expectations to work out what she wants and is prepared to do.

More: A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy
Bookshelves of Doom includes this book and a brief review on a roundup of piano-prodigy stories, so if that element appeals to you, here's some more reading.

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7. Book Review: The Fallout by S.A. Bodeen

Title: The Fallout
Author: SA Bodeen
Published: 2013
Source: Local Library
Summary: After living for six years in an underground bunker, mistakenly believing that the world had ended aboveground (and that his twin perished in the apocalypse), Eli and his family are trying to readjust to the real world - which was not destroyed. But their father's deception isn't over yet.
First Impressions: A pretty reasonable teen suspense novel, if a little on the quiet side for the genre. I really liked that Eli is very much a caretaker of his younger brothers and sisters, and in some ways his older sister. This nurturing aspect isn't one you see in teen male characters enough.
Later On: I think you really have to have read Bodeen's prequel, The Compound, to understand a lot of the family undercurrents that are moving underneath this story, particularly the messy stew of guilt and resentment that festers between Eli and his twin brother as they try to readjust to having each other again.
I think this did wrap up a lot of the threads from the earlier book, especially the uneasy adjustment to actually living outside the bunker again. The subplot about their older sister's parentage felt a little tacked on until it folded into the main story about their father's deceptions and machinations.
More: I couldn't find a review to share from my blogroll, probably because this is three years old. If you reviewed this, let me know!

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8. Book Review: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

Title: The Scorpion Rules
Author: Erin Bow
Published: 2015
Source: NetGalley
Summary: Far in the future, most wars have been suppressed by a world-level AI, who holds children of world leaders hostage and kills them if their parents declare war on each other. Greta is one of these "prisoners of peace", resigned to her lot, resolved to face her possible fate with dignity. Into her calm, ordered existence comes Elian, neither resigned nor dignified, and shakes her world down to its foundations.
First Impressions: THIS DESTROYED ME ON AN EMOTIONAL LEVEL OH HELP
Later On: Now that I've calmed down.
This is an ugly book.
This is a beautiful book.
This is a book about people and AIs and countries and politics that are all ugly and beautiful and flawed and amazing. My favorite character was Tallis, the megalomaniac AI who holds all their lives in his digital hand, and somehow manages to convince you that his approach actually makes sense. Until you remember that he's a megalomaniac AI who's basically holding the entire world hostage. And then he's still actually one of my favorite characters.
My favorite thing about it was that Elian was not Greta's love interest. He becomes very special to her. He forces her to rethink the world and herself, but the love story is between her and fellow princess/prisoner Xie. That said, their love story never would have happened except for the way that Greta's worldview changes after Elian comes on the scene, so it's all interwoven in the most beautiful of ways.
I'll be honest. If you weren't able to handle the Hunger Games' level of brutality and harrowing personal choices, you will struggle with The Scorpion Rules. But this is a book that's worth the discomfort and the emotional destruction, for the questions it asks about duty, politics, personal freedom, and the individual's obligation to the world.
More: A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy
Charlotte's Library

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9. Book Review: Earth Girl by Janet Edwards

Title: Earth Girl
Author: Janet Edwards
Published: 2013
Source: Local Library
Summary: Born with a rare allergy to anywhere besides planet Earth, Jarra is shackled to the home soil, mocked and derided by the rest of humanity who are living among the stars. Tired of being called an ape and a throwback, she pretends to be a regular human when she enters college (an archaeological program that takes place in the ruins of New York City), but it's a deception that can't last forever.
First Impressions: Really interesting world and setup, but I felt distanced from the characters and stakeless.
Later On: For a girl with so many roadblocks supposedly in her way, Jarra sure seemed to sail right through all her difficulties, including her budding relationship with fellow student and non-"ape" Fian. She was also good at everything, although the author provided excellent logic for it due to her Earth upbringing.
The world-building was pretty nifty and intricate, even if the author did occasionally bring the whole story to a screeching halt to tell us about the war between Planet A and Planet B that did Thing C to the interplanetary relations.
I guess my reaction to this could be summed up with "the things that annoyed me and the things that the author gave us good reasons for were, in fact, the same damn things, WTF."
More: Charlotte's Library articulates some of my feelings on this, and also brings the perspective of an Actual Archaeologist.

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10. Book Review: Spinning Starlight by R.C. Lewis

Title: Spinning Starlight
Author: R.C. Lewis
Published: 2015
Source: Netgalley
Summary: A retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's The Wild Swans - iiiiiiin spaaaaaaaaaaace. Liddi is the youngest daughter of a famous family of inventors, one who has so far failed to make her mark. After her many brothers are kidnapped and imprisoned between dimensions Liddi escapes her home planet and flees to one that's been cut off from the rest of the system for eons. She's still cursed to silence by a chip in her throat that will kill her brothers if she speaks a word, and she somehow must find a way to free her brothers.
First Impressions: I liked the inclusion of Liddi's fame and her mental newscasts. The plot spent a lot of time floundering around on the new planet before she actually started doing things though.
Later On: This didn't stick with me very well, but I thought the whole idea of different planets and the brothers being caught in hyperspace wormholes as a stand-in for transformation into swans was a neat one. I always enjoy a fairy tale retelling, especially when things are tweaked to fit into the world they're set in.
More: I had a terrible time finding reviews of this amongst my favorite blogs. If you reviewed it, let me know!

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11. Book Review: Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics

Title: Daughters Unto Devils
Author: Amy Lukavics
Published: 2015
Source: NetGalley
Summary: Pregnant (what was with me and the pregnant girls this month?) and trying to hide it, Amanda Verner goes with her parents and her family to what they think will be a wonderful new homestead on the prairie. AHAHAHA. They are soooooo wrong.
First Impressions: This was horrific. And the ending was a complete downer. Pitfall of the genre.
Later On: Somehow I keep reading horror novels even when I know how much I hate the darkness of them. So take this review with that particular grain of salt. It's not the gore I mind so much (although this one was pretty extreme in this book, both directly and by way of horrifying images), but the creeping feeling that the dark is undefeatable and only rarely escapable. However, if that's what you like, this is the book for you.
Aside from that, this didn't hang together terribly well for me, and the explanations furnished about why various characters acted the way they did were too little, too late. And I would have liked a little history about why that patch of prairie was particularly haunted or cursed.
More: Bookshelves of Doom reviewed this for Kirkus and she liked it a whole lot more than I did.

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12. Book Review: A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis

This is a spoilerriffic review, you guys. So, if you don't like that, accept that I liked the book, because I did and I'm still thinking about it a little.

Author: Mindy McGinnis
Published: 2015
Source: Edelweiss
Summary: Sent to a madhouse (!) because she's pregnant (!!) by her father (!!!!!!!!!!), a girl escapes, begins to help a doctor solve crimes, and takes control of her own life.
First Impressions: This was very interesting but the ending troubled me somewhat.
Later On: Okay, you know from that premise that's it's not going to be sunshine and roses. (Slight spoiler; she miscarries, which is one of the events that prompts her to escape from the asylum and start working with the doctor.) But this was a dark book, folks. It deals with profiling a serial killer, and with her revenge on the father that put her in this situation. 
 And yet it was a well-deserved darkness. There's an anger boiling under her surface - anger for herself, anger for her sister, for her friends, for the raw deal they've all been handed by being born women in a society that values them somewhat less than pretty dolls.
I'm somewhat relieved that it didn't go the route I expected, of having her fall in love with the doctor. In his way, he was as awful as anybody in the asylum, although not as awful as her father. While he doesn't take sexual advantage, he does see her as an extension of himself, a tool like a stethoscope or a scalpel, and he's surprised when she expresses her own wishes and desires or does something unexpected.
The ending is morally shaky (her father takes the fall for the murders they've been investigating, because she killed the real perpetrator) but emotionally satisfying, which is more important in the context of this book.
More: Here's a quick interview with Mindy McGinnis that touches on the history of mental illness and the reviewer's (favorable!) opinion of the book.
A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy (she's way better at being not-spoilery than me)

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13. Book Review: These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Published: 2015
Source: NetGalley
Summary: Privileged, spoiled girl at the turn of the century finds her world turned upside down when her father is murdered and she seeks to solve it. Also journalism and feminism and a love story with a young journalist.
First Impressions: So conflicted about this book. Really, I am. On the one hand, the mystery was . . . not at all mysterious. On the other, the feminism was so real. (Also, the end. Seriously LOTR syndrome as far as ends go.)
Later On: I keep going back and forth between whether the MC was realistically naive or just groan-worthy dumb. One that kept coming up in discussions with other readers was how she missed that a house was a brothel and women were prostitutes, in spite of being familiar with the writings of Nelly Bly. Actually I thought this was very realistic because it's one thing to read about something like that, and completely another to identify it in the wild.
I also appreciated that she faced realistic consequences for her choices throughout the book, both from her family and the society she was raised in, and from the new friends she's made in the underbelly of New York City.
And yeah. So. Many. Endings. Every story thread and character had to be wrapped up with its own scene and imagined future.

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14. Book Review: The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

Author: Laura Amy Schlitz
Published: 2015
Source: NetGalley
Summary: A 14-year-old farm girl runs away from home and pretends to be older so she can get a lucrative job with a Jewish family. As she works for and learns from them, she comes to know more about her own Catholic faith and herself.
First Impressions: In spite of the kerfuffle, I found this to be a very thoughtful examination of faith and how faiths intersect. Also I loved her voice.
Later On: I still feel strongly that this is a great book about faith, about growing up, and about learning how to think for yourself and understand how little you truly know of the world. A large part of its appeal for me, personally, was how resonant her Catholicism is throughout this story. She struggles to do better and be better as a way of reconnecting with the mother she barely remembers. Sometimes this can lead to utterly cringe-inducing moments, such as when she clumsily attempts to convert one of her employers' grandchildren, believing that he will go to hell if he remains Jewish. Of course, this is discovered by the grandmother, and the resultant scene is an examination of how offensive and presumptuous it is to impose your belief system on others.
However, I'm not Jewish, and I haven't had direct experience with having to put up with the kind of painful stereotypes (cheap, rich, heathenish) that she initially applies to the family she's living with.
If you want some really good, in-depth conversation on that, and its function within this novel, and how kids may interpret that, follow the links below.
More: Heavy Medal The discussion is mostly in the comments. Also raised is a salient point about some throwaway lines from Joan about what she calls "wild indians" and what we call now Native Americans or First Nations (always my favorite of the two terms in spite of my American-ness.)

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15. Book Review: Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales

Author: Leila Sales
Published: 2015
Source: Edelweiss
Summary: Arden is recklessly loyal. That's how she defines herself. But when her boyfriend ditches her on their anniversary, she takes an impulsive road trip to New York City with her best friend to meet her favorite blogger, and finds all her conceptions of everybody she's ever known getting severely shaken up.
First Impressions: Oof, this was good. Complex characters, no total villains, a girl getting to know herself. I puffy heart you Leila Sales.
Later On: For a book with so many completely smackable people, I liked this very much. Seriously - I wanted to slap every character at least once, and the main character more than once. Arden has a hell of a victim complex going on, but the flip side of her doglike loyalty was that she passively, silently resented those who didn't live up to her standards. I thought this would be the story of a girl shedding all the crappy people in her life, and instead found that it was the story of a girl learning to see the flaws in those she loves, including the mother who abandoned her, and still take them as a whole person.
More: Cuddlebuggery did not agree - or more accurately, she agreed, but she couldn't be having with the same things that actually made the story work for me.

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16. Book Review: Faceless by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Title: Faceless
Author: Alyssa B. Sheinmel
Published: 2015
Source: Review copy from publisher via Edelweiss
Summary: After she loses a good portion of her face to an electrical fire and has to get a face transplant, Maisie struggles to adjust to her new life and finds some things are irrevocably changed.
First Impressions: Ahhhh. This was very good and her emotions felt tremendously realistic. I did think the breakup with Chirag was not quite as cut and dried as she thought it was.
Later On: I still think there was something of an unreliable narrator going on, where Maisie saw her breakup with Chirag as a foregone conclusion from the moment of her accident, while I saw her pushing him away during the complex emotions of her initial adjustment period and them growing apart throughout her recovery. I really appreciated how people were unsure of how to react to her, even the people she was closest to, and she found herself making friends that she never would have connected with before her injury.
Ms. Yingling Reads

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17. Book Review: All the Rage by Courtney Summers

Author: Courtney Summers
Source: Public Library
Published: 2015
Summary: When a popular, well-liked girl disappears, Romy Grey can't shake the feeling that there are things being hidden. But nobody will listen to her because she's the girl who accused the town golden boy of rape.
First Impressions: Oh god, is there a lot to chew on here. Agh. I may have to write about this.
Later on: While there is an outside plot, this is really the story of part of Romy's journey to better. She's not healed or fixed and she never will be, but the events of the book work to bring her to a place where she can start to see herself as someone who is worthy of her life, worthy of being listened to and respected, and worthy of love.
I find it interesting that while the boy who actually committed the crime that underpins the current-day plot was not the same boy who raped Romy, he was in the same group. But the real villains of this piece are the adults, in particular the sheriff who's clearly of the "if her skirt was too short she was asking for it" camp regarding rape. There's so much here that shows how many messages we get about girls, about sexuality, about worth, every day. This needs to go on the shelf right next to Speak for books about how girls are victimized by our society.
More: Stacked
A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy

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18. Book Review: Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle

So here's my new format. The reviews won't be quite as in depth as they once were, but I think I'd gotten to the point where I felt such a pressure to say deep things that I wasn't saying anything at all. I have several months' worth of reading with half-written reviews, so hopefully I'll have enough to post twice a week for quite some time. Because they will be so brief, I'll also be linking other bloggers' reviews at the end if you want to get more info.

Let me know what you think!


Author: Katie Coyle
Source: ARC from KidlitCon
Published: 2014
Summary: The Rapture has happened (or has it?), and Vivian Apple is left alone in a rapidly disintegrating world except for her best friend and a mysterious boy named Peter. A quixotic cross-country road trip through a dangerous landscape of left-behinds and Believers may hold answers.
First Impressions: This had interesting things to say about the intersection of religion and business in modern America. I really do wish that Harp had gotten an arc other than being her best friend.
Later on: As someone who's always on the lookout for books that discuss faith, I was a little wary of this one's apparent "Religion Ebil!" stance. But Coyle kept my interest by making Vivian keep puzzling over her parents' conversion and what it did to them, and why it meant so much to them, as well as yearning for a similar experience but knowing she wouldn't get it from the Church of America. There was also a lovely, if heavy-handed moment, with a Catholic family near the end that establishes religion =/= ebil.
I still wish Harp had gotten an arc. She was mostly there to be a wild and crazy girl, and to support Vivian when she needed it. She didn't seem to grow or change throughout the book. I tried to read the second book and couldn't quite get into it.
Bookshelves of Doom

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19. Book Review: The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

Book: The Fourteenth Goldfish
Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Published: 2014
Source: review copy from publisher, picked up at ALA last year

When Ellie's grandfather comes to live with her and her mom, it's worse than most people's grandfathers suddenly moving in. An old man would be bad enough. But Ellies grandfather is a scientist who's learned how to dial back the aging process, so now he's in the body of a thirteen-year-old boy, with all the stinky socks and boundless appetite that go with it.

That stuff is no fun, and neither is listening to her mom and grandfather fight all the time. But he also recruits Ellie to help him get back his experiments from his old lab, and in the process shares his love of science and the scientific process with her. For the first time, Ellie feels like she has a passion of her own.

But she soon learns science is a double-edged sword. Are there things you shouldn't do, even if you can?

Some years ago, I got a piece of writing advice about "gimmes." You get one "gimme" per story. It's the one thing that the audience has to accept for the story to work. It can be as outlandish as you (like a lone scientist secretly and successfully reversing the aging process on himself). But you only get the one, and everything else that builds on that "gimme" has to be real and logical. This is an example of how well that works. Holm uses the idea of reversed aging to explore complicated family dynamics and moving on with life even after things have changed on you - like the death of a spouse, a divorce, or even a one-time best friend who's moved on to other things.

I especially loved that she didn't just go the "rah-rah-science!!" route. A major theme of the book is the negative consequences of scientific discovery, such as Marie Curie's death from radiation poisoning or the aftereffects of Oppenheimer's atom bomb.  At the same time, Holm balances that with the wonder of discovering the world and its possibilities - a more nuanced rah-rah-science theme than most.

Funny, sweet, and swift-moving, this will appeal to a lot of middle-schoolers.

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20. Book Review: 5 to 1 by Holly Bodger

Book: 5 to 1
Author: Holly Bodger
Published: 2015
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

After decades of gender selection, the ratio of boys to girls has become 5 to 1, and the tiny country of Koyangar has instituted elaborate tests for girls to pick their mates. The winners will get marriage, money, and a life of trying to breed more daughters. The losers will get menial jobs or worse, sent to the wall that separates Koyangar from the rest of the Indian subcontinent, an almost certain death sentence.

Sudasa is the granddaughter of a highly-placed woman in the government, and knows that she is expected to select a particular contestant. But she keeps getting distracted by Contestant 5, who helps out the other contestants and shows compassion for the injured that are ignored by every other boy. What she doesn't know is that Contestant 5 has come to the Tests without any intent of winning a wife. Instead, he plans to escape, because anything is better than Koyangar.

Initially, Contestant 5 disdains Sudasa as spoiled and corrupt, and Sudasa can't fathom why he would risk the wall rather than try for a life of comfort and plenty as her husband. But as they get to know each other in stolen moments, they come to understand that they both want the same thing: freedom.

I have to be honest: I've been completely over the whole novels in verse thing for awhile, so while Sudasa's free-versified thoughts and feelings were interesting, I was always relieved when I got back to the prose of Contestant 5's sections. That being said, seeing Sudasa slowly realize that there was a life for her outside of Koyangar, and her grandmother's control was a fascinating character arc. I just wished it had been more fleshed out. Free verse tends to be extremely spare, without a lot of detail. This is obviously a personal preference, so your mileage may vary.

With its themes of gender inequity (girls are still treated like property, their rarity adding to their value like precious gems, locked away in a safe most of the time) and political corruption (always, always political corruption) this book fits into the usual run of current dystopian fiction. The non-Western setting and culture makes it stand out, but at only 246 pages (and about half of those in free verse), it feels like we skimmed over the setting and honestly, everything outside of the Tests themselves.

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21. Reading Roundup: August 2015

By the Numbers
Teen: 9
Tween: 1
Children: 3

Sources
Review Copies: 5
Library: 8

Standouts
Teen: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Although there's not so much a plot as a set of loosely connected events, this story broke a major reading drought for me, sucking me right in to Ari's world and his blossoming understanding of love, family, identity, and sexuality.
Tween: The Adventures of Beanboy by Lisa Harkrader
Okay, fine, so there's not much competition for this slot this month. But I did adore this story of a kid in a struggling family, learning to see the world differently. I also loved his sorta? kinda? friendship with Sam, who was all prickles and combat-boot ferocity.
Children: Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh
Brown v. Board of Education gets most of the attention when you talk about school integration, but not many know there was another, earlier landmark case in California, when the Mendez family fought for their children to go to the better equipped and funded white school. Tonatiuh's narration and illustrations guide you through this story without sugar-coating the struggle, before or after the decision.

Because I Want To Awards
He Picked the Wrong Victim: Ruthless by Carolyn Lee Adams
When a serial killer kidnaps Ruth, he doesn't know he's met his match. The resident mean girl at her family's stables, Ruth comes by her nickname of "Ruthless" honestly, and it's her cold determination and dispassionate survival skills that will not only keep her alive, but enable her to come out on top.
Didn't Go the Way I Thought It Would: Silver in the Blood by Jessica Day George
Two cousins discover magical family abilities and obligations. To my delight, it was shy and obedient Lou who immediately rose to the occasion, and willful, wild Dacia who needed some time to come to grips with the situation - a reversal from what I expected.

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22. Reading Roundup: September 2015

By the Numbers
Teen: 12
Tween: 2
Children: 3

Sources
Review Copies: 9
Library: 8

Standouts
Teen: Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
Nobody believes Finn when he says that his friend Roza was kidnapped by a man he can't describe, but he knows he's right. With shades of the Persephone myth and two (count 'em) strong love stories, this book sucked me right in.
Tween: Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
Nobody writes complex middle-school inner life quite like Stead. This is a beautiful examination of friendships, how people change, and how difficult it is to maintain relationships or to know when to let it go.
Children: Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk
Gandhi's grandson doesn't feel like he can live up to his grandfather's peaceful example, until he learns that even the Mahatma still feels anger. Beautiful, thoughtful, gorgeously illustrated - ooo I loved this.

Because I Want To Awards
I Need a Hug Now Please: A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz
In the waning days of a devastating war, the last three fairies left in Ferrum struggle to put themselves and each other back together. This book is extremely dark, but its very darkness makes it tremendously hopeful - because if you can survive losing everything, you can survive anything.
Fascinating Meditation on Storytelling: Ash and Bramble by Sarah Prineas
Caught up in the sinister machine of fairy tales, a seamstress (or is she?) and a shoemaker (not a prince) try to find a way to break free. It got away from itself occasionally, but I loved how it contemplated the danger of a single story told repeatedly.

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23. Reading Roundup: October 2015

By the Numbers
Teen: 12
Tween: 1
Children: 2

Sources
Review Copies: 7
Library: 8

Standouts
Teen: P.S. I Still Love You  by Jenny Han
What I loved most was the acknowledgement that love is messy, confusing, painful, risky, and you can have feelings for more than one person at a time. Just so good.
Tween: Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko
Well, honestly, it was my only tween read this month. There were good things about this book - the mystery of the plague, the main character's slow-building friendships with Noah and Gemma and her growing understanding of her aunt - but I don't know, I've liked others of hers better. Still, as a historical mystery, I think it did the job.
Children: Creature Features by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
Oooo, Steve Jenkins and Robin Page! I love their art, I love the science involved, and these are some wacky-looking animals. This one was just neat.

Because I Want To Awards
Wish I Could Have Loved It: Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman
Blood and secrets, a road trip through the 19th century Arizona desert, not to mention a pretty decent love story? This should have been my standout of the month, hands down. But the preternaturally wise and mystical Apache girl guide? Just . . . no.
Oh Thank GOD There's a Second Book: Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin
This breakneck story across an alternate 1956 Europe ended on a cliffhanger that had me clawing at my face. Luckily there will be a second book. Unluckily it's not out until next fall. Curses.
Took Me the Longest to Read: Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray
And not just because it's like 54789 pages. I kept getting distracted from this one, but every time I came back, I was able to jump back into the haunted 1920s New York City.

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24. Reading Roundup: November 2015

By the Numbers
Teen: 5
Tween: 1
Children: 3

Sources
Review Copies: 4
Library: 5

Standouts
Teen: All the Rage by Courtney Summers
I don't think you need me to tell you about this book. Really I don't. All I have to say is, it really is that good, that raw, that angry, that important.
Tween: None
Children: Funny Bones: Posada and his Day of the Dead calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh
Living in the Southwest, I'm very familiar with the Dia de los Muertos calaveras, but I never knew all this about their originator. It also works as a fascinating glimpse into turn-of-the-century Mexican history, and an introduction to the idea of art as social protest. That's a lot of work for a book with 40 pages including illustrations.

Because I Want To Awards

Most ups and downs: Faceless by Alyssa B Sheinmel
How do you live life after a face transplant transforms you into a different person? Sheinmel's look at the tumultuous first year post-accident for her heroine is honest about her highs, her lows, and how things change even as she clings to her life pre-accident.
EEEE Sequel!: Sound by Alexandra Duncan
Last year's Salvage was one of my very favorite books of the year, and this companion (okay, not sequel) follows a minor character from that book through her own journey. Starting out as a lowly assistant on a research spaceship and content to be so, Miyole's world and heart open up when she meets Cassia, rescued from pirates and desperate to find her brother.

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25. Reading Roundup: December 2015

By the Numbers
Teen: 7
Tween: 2
Children: 2

Sources
Library: 3
Review Copies: 6

Standouts
Teen: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow
Dense with politics and sacrifice and an AI who would be pure snarky delight if he wasn't the freaking ubervillain, this is all shades of gray and DAMN I loved it.
Tween: The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz Look, I know there was a kerfuffle about this book. Owning my position as a Catholic woman with slightly more but not that much more knowledge of Judaism than the main character, I found it a thoughtful, nuanced depiction of an ignorant girl growing in compassion, faith, and understanding of the world.
Children: Queen Victoria's Bathing Machine by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
This was a delight. I loved the royal children swarming the house and Victoria and Albert's clear devotion. Such a different view of a queen usually depicted as dour and stuffy.

And now: some blather.

I started doing the roundups some years ago when my set of books read often topped thirty and sometimes forty in a month. It was a way to highlight books that I hadn't necessarily gotten the chance to talk about any other way.

But for a variety of reasons, I'm not reading nearly as many books anymore as I used to. I also haven't posted many reviews, I think because I feel like I have to consider each one in words and words and words,and it's just intimidating. Not to mention, just as other things have taken over my reading energy, other things have also taken over my writing energy. So this is my last monthly roundup.

Instead, I'm going to try something more akin to what Ms. Yingling does - a brief review, encapsulating her experience in a few sentences. I've also found that my thoughts sometimes change the farther I get away from the immediate experience of the book. Sometimes this is because I'm following the online discussion on the book, sometimes it's just that I'm able to step back and consider the bigger picture. I make notes for myself immediately upon finishing the book, on LibraryThing, so I'll incorporate those, and then go back later to say if my opinions have changed or my thoughts have expanded.

In the past year, I've also doven headfirst into Tumblr (part of the reason a lot of that reading and writing energy got mopped up). I'll still have this blog, but I'll be cross-posting to confessions-of-a-bibliovore.tumblr.com and hopefully getting a little more involved with the book community on there as well as the more traditional kidlitosphere.

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