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Title: Burn Baby BurnAuthor:
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
Title: The Winner's Kiss
Author: Marie Rutkoski
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
Title: My Life with the Liars
Author: Caela Carter
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.
Title: Boxers / Saints
Author: Gene Luen Yang
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
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
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.
Title: Salt to the SeaAuthor
: Ruta SepetysPublished:
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: UnshelvedKirkus
Spoilers, probably, but: Military History Online's page on the sinking of the Wilhem Gustloff
Author: Rainbow Rowell
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
Title: The Last Best KissAuthor:
Try as she might, Anna's never been able to forget dorky, sweet Finn, her freshman-year boyfriend that she drove away by not admitting they were dating. Their senior year, he comes back to town, no longer dorky, and no longer at all interested in her. First Impressions:
Awwww. I loved this. Quick read with strong emotional core. And of course it's an Austen retelling so you know I'm all over that.Title: Catching JordanAuthor:
As the only girl and the quarterback, Jordan Woods is in a unique position on her football team. She wants to focus on getting an amazing college scholarship, not on romance - but romance seems determined to find her.First Impressions:
Did not entirely love this one. Not sure why. Maybe it's because neither romance seemed especially fleshed out? The dismissive and scornful way she treated other girls got under my skin, even though it was addressed.Title: Six of CrowsAuthor:
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
Title: The Abyss Surrounds Us
Author: Emily Skrutskie
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
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.
Title: Allie, First at Last
Author: Angela Cervantes
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
Latinos in Kidlit
Waking Brain Cells
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
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
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
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.
Title: The Steep and Thorny Way
Author: Cat Winters
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
The Memory of LightAuthor:
Francisco X StorkPublished:
After a suicide attempt, Victoria lands in a mental hospital. As she reluctantly returns to life, and then starts to pursue it with more energy, she finds herself drawn to other teenage patients, all the with their own problems, and starts to accept that she's not weak, a failure, or oversensitive - she has a disease.First Impressions:
Lovely and quiet examination of recovery and mental illness. I would like to read some perspective on this book's attitude toward medication.Later On
: Somebody I follow on twitter will often post that depression is a liar, and the biggest lie it can tell you is that you're not depressed. The biggest lie that Victoria has to fight is that she has no right to be depressed. She spends a large part of the early book telling herself that she has a good life, a nice house, wealthy parents, and just because her mother died several years before, that's no reason to be depressed. But depression, as with all mental illness, needs no reason. It just is. Coming to that realization marks a turning point for Victoria, as does acknowledging that the pressures of her life pre-suicide attempt were exacerbating her illness.
As I mentioned above, the way medication is and isn't portrayed as part of treatment surprised me somewhat. (Full disclosure - while I know people who have been in treatment for depression, I've never had first-hand experience, so that's the limit of my knowledge.) Victoria doesn't go on medication as part of her treatment, which took me a little aback. Dr. Desai, her therapist, focuses more on analysis and identifying the spiraling negative thoughts that drag Vicky down. I know that medication isn't right for everyone, and therapy and analysis are as important as medication even for those who are on it.
However, I think that there's such a powerful public perception that "pills fix depression" that I would have liked to hear a little more discussion within the book or in an author's note as to why this wasn't part of Vicky's treatment, especially when medication is shown to help others within the story. But that's my personal question.More
: Waking Brain Cells
This review at Latin@s in Kidlit
goes more in-depth, and also links to a great article on how mental illness is viewed in the Latino culture.
Over at Disability in Kidlit
, Kelly Jensen (the Twitter person I mentioned above) writes movingly about her experience of depression, starting as a teen.
Title: Tell the Wind and Fire
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Summary: In this paranormal retelling of A Tale of Two Cities, New York City is divided between the Dark and the Light magic wielders. The Dark side is shackled and boundaried, and the Light rules.
Lucie is that rarest of rare, a Dark-sider who escaped to the Light. She's famous for it, in fact, the half-Light, half-Dark girl who escaped the Dark and now lives in the Light side of town, dating Ethan, the shining son of the mayor. But as she fights to hold onto her sheltered life on the light and Ethan, the boy she loves, she's drawn to his Dark doppelganger, Carwyn.
First Impressions: I liked Carwyn much more than Ethan. I loved how snarky and mean Lucie became with him. The end made me cry.
Later On: I always like retellings of classics, mostly because it's very fun to see how the themes and characters gets filtered through a modern lens. This is one of my first experiences with reading the retelling without having actually read the original. As such, the ending knocked me for a loop. Can you call it a spoiler when just about everyone knows that Sydney Carton died in the original? But because I wasn't paying attention to the details and callbacks, I was surprised and disappointed when it went there.
When I say I liked how snarky and mean Lucie got with him, this isn't because I like mean girls. More, it was because the self that Lucie was when she was with Carwyn felt more honest. With Ethan, and by extension, with all of the Light side, I had the sense that Lucie was putting on a big show of how very, very Light side she was. With Carwyn, she didn't have to pretend that the Dark side of herself didn't exist. I didn't have a whole lot of faith that Lucie would be able to hold on to this honesty of self without Carwyn around to remind her. Maybe she will, though.
Overall, this was a wonderful book, full of meditations on the nature of fame and public perception and how meaningless labels can be, but the ending works less well for me the farther I get from the actual experience of reading it.
More: Why Did I Do That Thing I Did in Tell the Wind and Fire? by Sarah Rees Brennan (spoilers for other of her books, so read carefully)
Title: Burning Midnight
Author: Will McIntosh
Summary: In a world where strange, inexplicable spheres grant people enhanced skills and abilities, and the sale of a really rare sphere can set you up for life, fifteen-year-old Sully works as a sphere hunter to keep himself and his mother alive. He scrapes by on common to middling finds, but dreams of another find like the one that was stolen from him by the villainous businessman Alex Holliday. When he meets Hunter, another sphere hunter in even more desperate straits, she enlists him in an audacious scheme to find the rarest sphere of all - before Holliday can.
First Impressions: Well, that was a fun quest/chase caper took a completely weird turn in the last 15% of the book.
Later On: Truly, I enjoyed this right up until the last chunk of the book. It's an enjoyable little-guy(s)-against-the-corrupt-businessman caper, complete with quixotic quests across national borders and feats of derring-do like diving into old water towers and climbing statues.
Then I got whiplash when the true nature of the spheres was revealed. (highlight to read SPOILER - they're like bait, and the fisherman are aliens headed down to earth to eat everybody in horrific ways.) In some ways it could have been a fun twist, but it was such a departure from where the story was headed up to that point that I was genuinely bewildered and felt like I'd wandered into a different book.
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
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.
Title: Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue
Author: Tom Angleberger
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
Title: Velvet Undercover
Author: Teri Brown
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
Author: Terry Pratchett
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.
More: Book Nut
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.
Title: The Girl from Everywhere
Author: Heidi Heilig
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
Author: Marissa Meyer
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
Title: See How They Run
Author: Ally Carter
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
Title: On the Edge of GoneAuthor:
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 CellsDisability in Kidlit
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
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.
Title: A Thousand Nights
Author: E.K. Johnston
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
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
Title: Shade Me
Author: Jennifer Brown
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
Title: To Catch a Cheat
Author: Varian Johnson
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.
Title: The Dark Days Club
Author: Allison Goodman
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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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
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.