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1. Origami Yoda Doubleheader

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 Puppett
Author: Tom Angleberger
Published: 2013
Source: Local Library

Summary: 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: Kirkus

Title: Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue
Author: Tom Angleberger
Published: 2014
Source: Local Library

Summary: 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

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2. Book Review: Velvet Undercover by Teri Brown

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

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3. Book Review: The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett

Author: Terry Pratchett
Published: 2015
Source: Local Library

Summary: 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

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4. The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

Title: The Girl from Everywhere
Author: Heidi Heilig
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: 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

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5. Book Review: Winter by Marissa Meyer

Title: Winter
Author: Marissa Meyer
Published: 2015
Source: Local Library

Summary: The war for Luna is on. Cinder and all her friends are running an underground rebellion, while Kai works on the political scale to quietly undermine Luna. It's a dangerous game they play, with consequences for both worlds. Meanwhile, the broken and mad princess of Luna, Winter, may end up being the wild card of this war after all.

First Impressions: For as many moving parts as this book had, I think Meyer did a pretty good job of pulling it all together, and giving all characters relationships with each other, not just their love interest.

Later On: You definitely could not read this book first of the series. There are too many threads that have to get tied up from other books. But it's a giant fat book that I could not put down. It dragged me through all the ups and downs, through the tangled and interweaving storylines, to the triumphant and still slightly somber end.

Meyer also does something nice in that almost every character on the good guys' side has at least one scene with every other character where they're working together and depending on each other. The story is not broken out into one couple does this, another couple does this. You get the sense that this whole set of eight people (plus Iko) all really like and support each other and they can work together, even with their differences. For a series that's structured as four romances, it's a way of showing that people still have important platonic relationships outside their love story that I really appreciated in a series aimed at teens.

I do wish we'd gotten more of Winter earlier in the series. While she had some great character moments, she veered into the poor manic mystic territory a lot, and I mean that both in the manic pixie dream girl sense and in the mental illness sense. The lunar people loved her so much that she impacted the course of the war, but mostly because of how beautiful she was, not for anything she ever really did. I was not entirely satisfied with her characterization, which is a shame in the book that was named for her.

More: Smart Bitches Trashy Books
Forever Young Adult

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6. Book Review: Yes, We Are Latinos! / ¡Si, Somos Latinos! by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy, illustrated by David Diaz

Note: I'll be using the term Latinx (pronounced Latin-ex) in this review. There are a number of different ways of speaking about Latinx as a whole, from the traditional Latinos (which is grammatically correct but implies they are all male), to Latino/a, to Latin@, which are both clunky-to-impossible to say aloud and also reinforce gender binaries. But I've been seeing Latinx more and more lately and I like the way that the x represents a wide variety of possibilities in an incredibly diverse group.

Title: Yes! We Are Latinos! / ¡Si! Somos Latinos!
Author: Alma Flor Ada, F. Isabel Campoy
Illustrator: David Diaz
Published: 2013

Source: Local Library

Summary: A collection of poems for children from the perspective of many different Latinx children, accompanied by lovely cut-paper scenes.

First Impressions: A set of glimpses into many different ways of being Latinx.

Later On: While I'm not a particularly poetic person, I picked this up because I love Alma Flor Ada. My favorite part is the sheer variety of the experiences related. There are kids whose families have been here forever, and kids who've just arrived. There are Afro-Latinx kids, and Filipino, and Japanese-Latinx. They live in different parts of the country, they have different family structures. Their roots travel all over Latin America and even Spain, not just Mexico. If you're Latinx, you stand a good chance of seeing at least part of your own experience represented, and if you're not - settle down and learn how incredibly diverse our American lives are.

More: Kirkus

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7. Book Review: The Dark Days Club by Allison Goodman

Title: The Dark Days Club
Author: Allison Goodman
Published: 2016
Source: Local Library

Summary: Lady Helen is looking forward to her coming out, and nervous about being snubbed as the daughter of a scandalous traitor to the crown. But to her shock, on the day of her presentation the Queen of England quietly implies that her mother was no traitor, but a hero. Soon, she's wrestling with the supernatural and her own unanticipated abilities, as well as being torn between an eminently suitable ducal beau and the brooding, scandalous lord who's teaching her what she really is.

First Impressions: This took me forevvvver to read (being sick didn't help). Weird to see the traditional regency romance beats in a YA.

Later On: Maybe again this can be imputed to being sick, but this book didn't really stick with me.
This was a weird mix of a Regency romance, with all the traditional elements (making your debut, societal expectations, balls and dances and flirting, and naturally a love triangle), with a more YA tone of a young woman discovering things about herself, her place in the world, and her family history. A lot of it felt like setup for an extended series, including the dark hints about a Big Bad that Lady Helen's own extraordinary abilities are clearly intended to oppose.

I've really loved the author's other books, so I'll try the next in the series and see if my experience changes.

More: Waking Brain Cells

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8. 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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9. 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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10. 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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11. 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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12. 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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13. 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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14. 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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15. 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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16. 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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17. 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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18. 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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19. 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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20. 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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21. 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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22. 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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23. 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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24. 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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25. 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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