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1. First Impressions: Grayling's Song, Booked, Unplugged

 Title: Grayling's Song
Author: Karen Cushman
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: When her hedgewitch mother is attacked and turned into a tree, shy Grayling must venture out of her hometown for the first time and journey to find the person who's attacking all the magical folk in the land. Along the way she's joined by a crew of misfits who are all that's left.

First Impressions: This is a quieter book, for all there's a magical threat. Grayling grows into her own power and courage convincingly. The true identity of the villain, though, was a little bit of a bait and switch and I'm still not sure I like it.

Title: Booked
Author: Kwame Alexander
Published: 2016
Source: Local Library

Summary: Nick is having a rough time. His parents are splitting up, his best friend is on a different soccer team, his dad is trying to get him to read more (blech! yuck!) and he's kinda sorta maybe in like with  a girl.

First Impressions: This was pretty good! There were so many elements (soccer, parental relationships, luuuuurvvve, divorce) that it should have felt overstuffed but everything wove together very realistically.

Title: Unplugged
Author: Donna Freitas
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Living a virtual life in the App World, Skye longs for the day when she can disconnect and see her family, left behind in the real world. When the government announces that the borders between the App World and the real world have been closed permanently, she fears it might never happen - until a celebrity offers her the chance to sneak across the border. But the real world isn't quite what she expected, and neither is her family.

First Impressions: Yay no love triangle! In fact, there's very little romance, and female relationships are more important to the plot. On the other hand it really ran out of steam when she moved to the real world. This is the first in the series and I really wish it had been all one book because all the scenes in the real world felt like they were mostly treading water.

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2. First Impressions: Gasp, Unidentified Suburban Object, The Lost Twin

Title: Gasp
Author: Lisa McMann
Published: 2014
Source: Local Library

Summary: In the third book of the series, the visions have hopped to a whole new person. Unfortunately, Jules and Sawyer don't know who that person is, and they have to find out before tragedy crashes down on them again.

First Impressions: I'm glad the series ended here. The tie to the visions was getting way more tenuous and I thought the wrap-up worked.

Title: Unidentified Suburban Object
Author: Mike Jung
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: As the only Asian kid in her whole school, Chloe Cho barely even feels Korean. Even though both her parents came to the States from Korea as adults, they seem to want to forget it completely. When her teacher, Mrs. Lee (who is also Korean!) assigns a family history project, Chloe puts her foot down with her parents. She's going to learn about her background if it kills her! But she's not really prepared for the truth.

First Impressions: I was spoiled for the twist so I saw the setup but I have to say that her frustration with racist stereotypes and her yearning to connect with her heritage was very well done and the spectacular tailspin when she learned the truth was also realistic.

Title: The Lost Twin
Author: Sophie Cleverly
Published: 2016
Source: NetGalley


Summary: After her twin sister Scarlet dies at boarding school, Ivy is sent to take her place. Not just to attend the school, but to completely impersonate her own sister. But how did Scarlet die? What is the school's sinister secret? And can she make it through the school year without being exposed?

First Impressions: I feel like this was trying to be a really fun old-fashioned English boarding school mystery story, but the death of the sister and the impersonation scheme was a much more somber premise than the story could support. Just never gelled for me.

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3. Book Review: Break Me Like a Promise by Tiffany Schmidt

Title: Break Me Like a Promise
Author: Tiffany Schmidt
Published: 2016
Source: NetGalley

Summary: Maggie is the spoilt princess of an organ-transplant mafia family, but her life is not completely sunshine and roses. She's still struggling with her grief over her secret boyfriend's violent death, and her father is actually supporting an act of Congress that would implode their whole business model. When she accidentally opens a suspicious email and infects her computer (and by extension all the computers in the house) with nasty spyware, the only person who can help is Alejandro - and the only way he'll do it is if she pulls a few strings and gets him the kidney he so desperately needs. She agrees, never planning to keep her promise, but finds out she's not getting off the hook so easily.

First Impressions: I found Maggie supremely unlikeable in the first quarter of the book or so, but after that it improved. The ending felt very abrupt though, with some sequelitis.

Later On: Somehow I missed that this book is based on "The Frog Prince" until partway through. I think if I'd known this going in, I would have been a lot more secure in the main character and where the story was going. Yes, Maggie has it very, very rough at the start. But she still makes a promise that she never intends to keep, seemingly because it's to someone who's gross to look at. And what can you say about a character who whines about her emotional pain not being respected by a boy who is terminally ill?

If you can get past the unpleasant start, Maggie improves a lot in the course of the book. She learns to be less self-centered and comes to see the bigger picture of her family's business and where it's headed after paid organ donation is legalized. She also learns to see the human impact of what they do as well as the economic one, and works through her grief and her feeling of being stuck in a realistic way.

I worried about the portrayal of Alex, who is Latino and definitely not of Maggie's social class. For awhile there it seemed like he was going to be the Inspirational Minority or the Inspirational Sick Person. In some ways he still was, unfortunately. We got a little exposition about his family but mainly he was a guest in Maggie's world, upending her notions of the world but ultimately remaining a static character himself.

This is the second book in a series, and some of the loose threads and rushed finish can be attributed to that.

More: my review of the first book in the series, Hold Me Like a Breath
Kirkus

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4. Book Review: Once Was a Time by Leila Sales

Title: Once Was a Time
Author: Leila Sales
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: In 1940's Britain, Charlotte struggles to keep a stiff upper lip in the face of wartime privations. At the same time, she doesn't have it so bad - she has her best friend, Kitty.

But when she, Kitty, and her father are kidnapped by Nazis in an effort to find out the secrets of time travel, the war comes home in a terrible way. Charlotte jumps through time to save her life, and finds herself alone in early 2000s America. Adrift and lost, she learns to adjust to her new life - but she never stops missing the time and the people she left behind.

First Impressions: Awwww, this was so sad and yet so perfect. Sniff.

Later On: Honestly I kept expecting a magic time jump back to the 40s, everything fixed. When it didn't happen by the end of the book, it made me reframe the whole story. Charlotte's memories of her family and of Kitty fade over the years, until she's become a person they wouldn't recognize (even not accounting for the clohtes and hairstyle).

But a hint that Kitty might be out there, looking for her, brings her old self back and reminds her who she really is. This is a story about the things that change and the things that don't, and one of the things that doesn't change is the kind of friendship that reminds you who you really are.

More: Charlotte's Library

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5. Book Review: The Last Boy and Girl in the World by Siobhan Vivian

Title: The Last Boy and Girl in the World
Author: Siobhan Vivian
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: With her hometown threatened by torrential rains and a failing dam, Keeley is determined to keep everybody's spirits up, to save her town, and to ride off into the sunset with her adorably perfect crush. And no matter how many people abandon her, she's going to have her happy ending.

First Impressions: Sniff! Everyone is so screwed up and flawed and messy. It felt so realistic.

Later On: Keeley's not an easy character to like at times, but she's so very real. She's the clown, the person who keeps everybody smiling. As things like her town, her school, her childhood friendships, and even her relationship with her parents are changing, she's having a difficult time realizing that a smile and a laugh are not the right expression in all circumstances. Her slow realization that sometimes you do need to be serious, you do need to accept change, and you do need to give in to the inevitability of loss (loss of home, loss of identity, loss of friendships) is wrenching,
because you see people all around her at different stages of the same journey.

The interesting thing about the love triangle was that the "other boy" wasn't wrong for her - he was wrong for her at that time. While these two class clowns could have made it in another setting, they were too much alike, trying to ignore the end of their world and laugh away the sadness.

When Keeley wants to get serious, he pulls away. That's not to say he's a bubblehead - he has his own life issues. But Vivian doesn't use these to excuse him or to bring about a happy ending for them. Keeley learns to recognize that the relationship is going nowhere and walk away on her own, without the romantic intervention of her other possibility.

I haven't read all of Vivian's books, but if they're all this thoughtful, and all her characters are this beautifully drawn, I have some catch-up to do.

More: Not Acting My Age

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6. First Impressions: Save Me a Seat, Just Like Me, Handbook for Dragon Slayers

Title: Save Me a Seat
Author: Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Ravi is looking forward to his first week in an American school after moving from India. But his accent gets mocked, his habits are too formal, and he even gets sent to the resource room! And the other Indian kid in the class, who he expected to be his best friend, does some very peculiar things sometimes. Almost like he's not Ravi's friend at all.

Meanwhile, Joe, the class "dumb kid," watches Ravi try to fit in and make friends with the class bully. While he doesn't want to reach out and make himself even more of a target to Dylan, he can't help connecting with another outcast.

By the end of the week, both boys will have an unexpected new friend.

First Impressions: This was very good! It was so painful to see Ravi thinking the bully was his friend though.

Title: Just Like Me
Author: Nancy J Cavanaugh
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Julia is not looking forward to a week at church camp with Becca and Avery. They were all adopted from the same orphanage in China, but she's never felt close to them, and she's definitely never felt as in tune with her Chinese side as they are. But being put in the same cabin together with three bossy and unlikeable girls, and trying to work together to win the camp competition, will bring them all together.

First Impressions: This felt exactly like it had been written by an adoptive parent. It hit a lot of adoption tropes and summer camp tropes but I never really felt like any of them landed. I did like that it took place at a church camp, with bible verses and theology as an integral part but never overwhelming or evangelizing to the reader.

Title: Handbook for Dragon Slayers
Author: Merrie Haskell
Published: 2013
Source: Local Library

Summary: Princess Matilda wants to spend her life in a cloister, copying the beautiful books that she loves, away from people afraid of her deformed foot. But the threat of a scheming cousin and a forced marriage propels her out of her home and into a life of adventure, where she discovers that even a shy girl can save the day.

First Impressions: I like how this book handled her disability - no miracle cure. There did seem to be a lot of story threads by the end. One could have been dropped no problem.

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7. Have You Nominated for the Cybils?

Nominations for the Cybils opened yesterday, so get crackin'! You can nominate for any and all categories, but check what's been nominated already because a book can only be nominated once. So have a few backups ready.

I'll be participating in Round 2 of YA this year. I'm so excited!

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8. Book Review: George by Alex Gino

Title: George
Author: Alex Gino
Published: 2015
Source: Local Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More: Kirkus

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

Title: Where You'll Find Me
Author: Natasha Friend
Published: 2016
Source: NetGalley
Summary: After her mother's suicide attempt, Anna winds up living with her father and her brand-new stepmother. She's determined to hate it (among other things, her father left her mother to be with her stepmother) but she soon finds that things aren't uniformly awful in her father's house.
First Impressions: Gaaaaaaaaah this was honest and tough. I liked the stepmother, Marnie, a whole lot more than I expected to.

Title: March Book 1
Author: John Lewis, Nate Powell, Andrew Aydin
Published: 2013
Source: Public Library
Summary: The civil rights leader and congressman's early life and first forays into peaceful demonstration, presented in graphic novel format.
First Impressions: Interesting to see the intra-movement divisions of the mid-century civil rights movement as well as the intensive training they went through in order to hold to their credo of non-violence.

Title: The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl
Author: Melissa Keil, comic sections by Mike Lawrence
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss
Summary: A dot on the map in Australia is supposed to be the last holdout of humanity when the apocoalypse hits on New Year's Day, or so says a sketchy TV psychic. Alba watches with her friends as hippies and doomsday believers flood to their tiny town. At the same time, she tries not to brood about the end of high school and the beginning of her adult life, and the changes and separations that will inevitably go with it.
First Impressions: Awww, this was sweet. It felt realistic especially set on the end-of-the-world backdrop because it did feel like her world was ending.

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11. Book Review: Two Summers by Aimee Friedman

Title: Two Summers
Author: Aimee Friedman
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More: Kirkus

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12. Book Review: The Star Touched Queen

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

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

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

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

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

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

More: Waking Brain Cells
Kirkus

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13. Book Review: Down with the Shine by Kate Karyus Quinn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More: Kirkus

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14. Book Review: Nightstruck by Jenna Black

Title: Nightstruck
Author: Jenna Black
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

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

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

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

More: Kirkus

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

Title: A Tangle of Gold
Author: Jaclyn Moriarty
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss
Summary: People from the parallel worlds of Earth and Cello scramble to find Cello's royal family on Earth, but anarchists stand in their way - including, maybe, one of their own.
First Impressions: For me, this would have been better off being the only book. I had a really hard time remembering what happened in the others but all the good stuff happened in this one.

Title: A Darker Shade of Magic
Author: V.E. Schwab
Published: 2015
Source: Local Library
Summary: Kell is one of only two Travelers left - magicians able to step between three different versions of London, with three different magics. When danger threatens his own version of London (Red), he finds himself working with con-woman Delilah Bard from Grey London to save all the worlds.
First Impressions: I was disappointed that the villains were so obvious from the beginning. However, when she turned up, Lila was kickass. I'll be reading the rest of the series for more of her.

Title: A Hundred Hours of Night
Author: Anna Woltz, translated from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss
Summary: When shy, anxious Emilia runs away, she does it in grand style, all the way from the Netherlands to New York City. In the shadow of Hurricane Sandy, she'll discover new friends and reserves of strength she never knew she had.
First Impressions: This was pretty damn good! Snapshot of NYC during Hurricane Sandy as the backdrop of upheaval. Her OCD was handled a little too cavalierly though. I couldn't tell if she had a diagnosed condition or she was merely calling her many anxieties OCD.

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16. Book Review: Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

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

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

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

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

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

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

More: Bookshelves of Doom for Kirkus

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17. Book Review: The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

Title: The Winner's Kiss
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Published: 2016
Source: ARC from a friend

Summary: Kestrel has been banished to a frigid northern work camp. Drugged and beaten, she struggles to remain defiant, but finally succumbs. When she is rescued, it's going to be a long, long road back to who she used to be.

Meanwhile, Arin is fighting for the future of his country, trying to oust the Valorian invaders and rebuild what was smashed to rubble. Reunited with Kestrel, he struggles with his emotions over previous events and the betrayal that wasn't.

It's a harrowing journey for both Arin and Kestrel to freedom for the Herrani people, and to personal happiness.

First Impressions: Arrrrgh so gooooooood.

Later On: As you can probably tell from my first impressions, I'm not exactly unbiased about this series. I adored the first two books for their mix of the great fate of nations and the intimate fate of people, and how powerfully each can affect the other. The end of the second book left everything in rubble, so I was anxious to see how Rutkoski resurrected her characters.

Refreshingly, Arin and Kestrel do not fall into each others' arms when he rescues her from the work camp. There's too much pain and betrayal between them for that, and Kestrel is far too broken to focus on anything but putting herself back together.
Kestrel's memory returns in fits and starts, and some pieces remain patchy until the end (and, one suspects, will do forever). But she is still Kestrel, brilliant and crafty and occasionally ruthless, yet still impacted by her family ties and history.

Arin, for his part, is struggling between the two sides of this woman and trying to simultaneously forgive himself for his anger and to forgive her the things that she's done, as well as trying to be the ruler that he seems to have been elected.

This book, and the whole series, are deeply satisfying on both the grand-fate-of-nations and the intimate-fate-of-people fronts.

More: My review of the first book
Waking Brain Cells
Book Nut
Cuddlebuggery

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18. Book Review: My Life with the Liars by Caela Carter

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


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

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

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

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

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

More: Kirkus

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19. Book Review: The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

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

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

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

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

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

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

More: Waking Brain Cells

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

I have a backlog of books that I want to say something about, but I'm not sure I have all that much to say about, beyond the initial notes that I made for myself. It doesn't help that I read some of them months ago, and I'm starting to forget the nuances. Ouch.

So in order to clear up the backlog and catch up a little, I'm going to be doing First Impressions posts every now and then.
  
Title: Doll Bones
Author: Holly Black
Published: 2013
Source: Local Library
Summary: Haunted by the feeling that their childhood is slipping away, three friends go seeking the story behind the doll that has featured in their make-believe stories for years.
First Impressions: Creeeeeeeeeeepy, but also balanced with a quintessentially tween story of everybody growing up at different paces.

Title: Promise of Shadows
Author: Justina Ireland
Published: 2014
Source: review copy from publisher
Summary: Zephyr Mourning isn't a great harpy, but when her sister dies, she does her job of wreaking vengeance on the man responsible. But because it was Hermes, she's not rewarded but sent to the Underworld as punishment. When she escapes, she finds out that she might be more powerful and dangerous than even she expected.
First Impressions: Took some time to get into. I realized most of the way through that this girl - flawed, prickly, murderous, and grappling with dark powers - would have been the villain in any other book. That was actually pretty cool. The love story was a little lackluster. I didn't feel the pull toward the love interest and I didn't know why Zephyr did, either.

Title: The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic
Author: Uma Krishnaswami
Published: 2013
Source: Local Library
Summary: Bollywood superstar Dolly Singh is premiering her new movie at the Smithsonian, and superfan Dinni couldn't be more excited. But as the premier draws closer, everything seems to be falling apart, including Dinni's relationship with her best friend Maddie. In Bollywood epics, all problems are solved with a song and a dance, but will that work in real life?
First Impressions: As frothy and fun and Bollywoodish as the first book.


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

Title: The Abyss Surrounds Us
Author: Emily Skrutskie
Published: 2016
Source: NetGalley
Summary: In a future where the seas have risen, Cassandra has been training to control Reckoners, genetically engineered sea monsters that keep the pirates at bay for merchant vessels crossing the ocean. But when she's captured by pirates on her very first voyage and forced to train up their own stolen Reckoner pup (all the while reluctantly falling for a pirate girl), she despairs of ever getting home or of regaining the self-respect she's lost by giving in to the pirates.
First Impressions: Strong complex love story (with absolutely no lesbian despair) and an interesting premise. I liked the training sequences, but the end sort of fell flat for me. A little sequelitis I think.
More: Rich in Color

Title: Of Better Blood
Author: Susan Moger
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss
Summary: After polio leaves her disabled in the 1920s, Rowan is abandoned by her upper-class family and reduced to performing as a cautionary tale for a eugenics group. In spite of this, she still believes in the eugenic principles that her father taught her, until she sees first-hand the cruelties and prejudices of the movement.
First Impressions: Explores the horror of the eugenics movement, which is something you never hear about in school. Although Rowan is sixteen, this would work content-wise for older tweens. Also: wow, did I get a lesbian vibe off Dorchy and Rowan, enough that I was surprised when a male character arrived to be a convenient love-ish interest for Rowan. Unfortunately, most of the victims we're shown are white, when eugenics often targeted people of color, which I feel was a missed opportunity for this book.
More: Kirkus


Title: Allie, First at Last
Author: Angela Cervantes
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss
Summary: Allie Velasco has spent her whole life overshadowed by her overachieving family. When is she ever going to get the chance to bring home a gold trophy? The Trailblazer contest might be her opportunity, but is she going to ruin all her friendships in the process?
First Impressions: This was very sweet, and very readable, and I liked that Sara actually had some reasonable gripes with Allie and vice versa. Also Victor was adorbs. And yay for Latino characters that aren't going through some kind of immigration or assimilation conflict!
More: Ms Yingling Reads
Book Nut
Latinos in Kidlit
Waking Brain Cells

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

Title: The Last Best Kiss
Author: Claire LaZebnik
Published: 2014
Source: Local Library
Summary: Try as she might, Anna's never been able to forget dorky, sweet Finn, her freshman-year boyfriend that she drove away by not admitting they were dating. Their senior year, he comes back to town, no longer dorky, and no longer at all interested in her.
First Impressions: Awwww. I loved this. Quick read with strong emotional core. And of course it's an Austen retelling so you know I'm all over that.

Title: Catching Jordan
Author: Miranda Kenneally
Published: 2011
Source: Local Library

Summary: As the only girl and the quarterback, Jordan Woods is in a unique position on her football team. She wants to focus on getting an amazing college scholarship, not on romance - but romance seems determined to find her.
First Impressions: Did not entirely love this one. Not sure why. Maybe it's because neither romance seemed especially fleshed out? The dismissive and scornful way she treated other girls got under my skin, even though it was addressed.

Title: Six of Crows
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Published: 2015
Source: Local Library
Summary: A gang of con men and criminals get the biggest job of their career, but will their pasts, both with each other and with the people they're scamming, scotch the whole deal?
First Impressions: This was very unevenly paced, although I enjoyed the characters. But it seemed like we would have action and then this long flashback about each character. I didn't really get into it until the end.
More: Book Nut

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23. Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Title: Fangirl
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Published: 2013
Source: Local Library

Summary: Cath is bewildered and intimidated by her first year of college. She's not rooming with her twin sister, as she'd assumed she would. Her classes are harder than she thought, a guy in her writing class seems to be using her ideas for his own project, her terrifying roommate keeps bringing her (possibly?) boyfriend around, who is equally terrifying because he actually seems interested in Cath.

The only touchstone is her ongoing epic fanfic, which she's hurrying to finish before the final book in the series comes out. In the world of Simon Snow, a world that's nurtured her and her sister since their mother left, she's in control. But it's the only place where she is.

First Impressions: Yikes did this cut close to the bone.

Later On: Rainbow Rowell has a reputation for RIP UR HEART OUT!! emotional stories, and since this is the first one I've read, I can see where she gets it. Cath is a raw nerve, and her emotions, not only around Levi but around everything are constantly close to the surface. I said it cut close to the bone because this was basically my college experience (except for the sweet boy who adored me, unfortunately). I think a lot of kids get in over their head and intimidated, and feel more isolated because they think that the nonstop party portrayed in TV and movies is what everyone else is experiencing. By contrast, this felt entirely real.

I have to mention how much I appreciated the respect that fandom got in this book. As a longtime fic writer in various fandoms (including, full disclosure, Harry Potter), I was prepared to see it mocked and belittled as an activity for children, or at least for people who couldn't handle the world. I also loved the way Cath's relationship to her own fic writing changed and grew as she did.

I wish that we'd gotten more acknowledgement from other characters of how profoundly Cath was freaking in, as much as Wren was freaking out. While writing and posting fic was a nurturing and supportive activity for her, she often used it to retreat from the world and escape her own fears as much as Wren was using drinking and partying to do the same.

Something in the back of my mind was the backlash against Rowell for her stereotyped portrayal of Asian characters in her previous novel, Eleanor & Park. This was a pretty white book (two fairly minor characters were Latino), so we didn't get any bad portrayals of POC, but we didn't get any fleshed-out good ones either. Do with that what you will.

More: Book Nut

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24. Book Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Title: Boxers / Saints
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Published: 2013
Source: Local Library
Summary: In 1898, it is a time of unrest in China. As Western missionaries invade, bringing discord with them, Little Bao decides it's time to fight back and retake his country from the foreign devils.
Meanwhile, Vibiana (once Four-Girl) finds a haven and an identity in Christianity. But she becomes torn between loyalty to her country and loyalty to her new community.
Little Bao and Vibiana's fates will collide in a bloody and tragic fashion in this intimate look at the Boxer Rebellion.
 First Impressions: Aughhh. This was so hard to read. What's fascinating is how neither side is entirely right or wrong in this. And it's very bloody. Sniff.

Title: The Raven King
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Published: 2016

Source: Local Library
Summary: If Blue Sargent kisses her true love, he will die. She knows it, Gansey knows it, and all their friends know it. As threads from Arthurian legend tangle together in West Virginia, this prophecy will come to pass - but how and why?
First Impressions: Obviously this can't be read before the others. It went surprisingly slowly for the last book of the series but the resolution was satisfying.

Title: The Great American Whatever
Author: Tim Federle
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss
Summary: After his sister's senseless and tragic death, Quinn retreated into a six-month depression. As summer begins, secrets start to emerge that may shatter his apathy, or may destroy what ties he has left.
First Impressions: Waaaaaaaaaaaah. I am destroyed by this. Not perfect by any means but very real. However, I really struggled with some of the fat-shaming language used about his mother, even though her personality was portrayed in a positive light.

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