Saturday, July 19, 2014

Book Review: While We Run by Karen Healey

Book: While We Run
Author: Karen Healey
Published: 2014
Source: ARC from a friend

In 2127, Tegan Oglietti is a symbol of hope for the world. The first girl ever to wake from cryonic suspension, she tours internationally, along with her boyfriend, Djiboutian music sensation Abdi Taalib. They're fundraising for the Ark Project, a spaceship that will take cryonically frozen humanity to the stars.

Except that it's all a lie.

Captured by the government shortly after the events of When We Wake, Tegan and Abdi are held prisoner, subject to brutal physical and psychological torture if they don't do and say exactly what they're told. The Ark Project is a lie. It's stocked with the rich of the world, but it's also stocked with the poorest of refugees, and it's not hard to figure out what the power structure will be on the new planet. That's if anybody besides Tegan can ever be revived successfully in the first place.

When help comes from an unexpected and possibly untrustworthy source, Abdi, Tegan, and the rest of their friends have to go on the run while trying to figure out how to tell the world what they know, without bringing about the end of it.

Healey tells this story from Abdi's point of view, which was the right choice for this twisty, turny, suspenseful story. Abdi is a political thinker. He manipulates people almost automatically, and sometimes it's a struggle for him to be totally honest even with the people he cares most about. This is all tangled up with his own PTSD from captivity (his captor was an especially sociopathic one) and his perspective as a "thirdie" or third-world, outsider in the "firstie" world of Australia. This last forces the reader to think uncomfortably about our own world and how we view the others in it. He's especially conflicted about Tegan. He loves her, but sometimes he hates her too, from their experiences in captivity. It takes a long time for them to start working together again.

I have to mention the diversity in this book, too. Healey just does that right. It's plentifully stocked with characters from many races, backgrounds, and faiths (there's a running thread about Abdi's atheism contrasted with his family's Muslim religion), as well as two lesbian characters, one of whom is also transgender. And they're just that - characters. They don't exist to be diverse, they exist because that's the way our world looks and they are people with flaws and gifts as well as labels.

I feel as if I should have re-read When We Wake, because I know I didn't catch all the subtleties, but as it is, I was held captive by Abdi and Tegan's story. They're trying to do the right thing, but everyone seems to have a different perspective on what the right thing is. It's not black and white in any sense of the word, but dappled in shades of grey, and that's the most interesting pattern if you ask me.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Book Review: Temple Grandin by Sy Montgomery

Book: Temple Grandin: how the girl who loved cows embraced autism and changed the world
Author: Sy Montgomery
Published: 2012
Source: Local Library

Temple Grandin was different from every other kid she knew. She could zero in on the tiniest details, but missed the subtleties of body language. Things that didn't faze them caused her intense distress, but she could work all night and day on her out-of-the-box inventions. Her mom and friends knew that she would grow up to be something special - but what?

If you were to ask the average person on the street to give the first name that they associated with autism, odds are most of them would come up with "Temple Grandin." (Unfortunately, some of them might come up with "Jenny McCarthy" but that's a fight for another day.) Grandin is arguably the face of autism for many Americans, and it's because she's made a success out of what most would consider a disability.

As I read the chapters on her childhood, I was struck by how often young Temple came close to being institutionalized or marginalized, and how often a supportive adult or accepting friend was there to let Temple be who she was. Part of this was being autistic in the 50's and 60's when many people still thought it was something that could or should be fixed. Part of that is still around today, which makes me think about the valuable role of people who work with kids.

Though the author spends a lot of time on matter-of-fact explanations of the experience of having autism, that's not all the book is about. Alongside the biographical chapters, the author intersperses chapters on the engineering and animal science that made her famous. Some of the details of the animal slaughtering and the inhumane conditions that Grandin battles might be pretty strong for sensitive kids. Still, for its science, its biographical information, and its message that true success lies in embracing your own abilities, no matter how atypical, this is an invaluable book for any library.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Book Review: The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman

Book: The Fire Horse Girl
Author: Kay Honeyman
Published: 2013
Source: Local Library

Jade Moon is the unluckiest zodiac combination for a Chinese girl: a Fire Horse. Stubborn, argumentative, hot-tempered, a Fire Horse girl is a curse on her family because she can never conform to the ideals of Chinese womanhood. And nobody in Jade Moon's household or village will ever let her forget it.

When a handsome young man named Sterling Promise offers her and her father the chance to go to America, Jade Moon thinks it's a new chance at a life she never could have lived in China. But a long sea voyage ends in detainment at Angel Island. The promise of freedom seems further away than ever. To get to America, to find a place that will allow her to truly be herself, Jade Moon is going to have to embrace all the things that make her a Fire Horse girl.

So, we've all heard about Ellis Island, which was often no picnic for the European immigrants who funneled through there. Angel Island was a lot worse - Jade Moon is held for long, dull, dehumanizing weeks before she finds her way to San Francisco. The picture of Chinatown, too, isn't pretty. Jade Moon finds herself in the midst of the tong underworld, working as a bullyboy (literally; she disguises herself as a boy) for a Chinese crime boss.

While I liked the different immigration story, and (oh, let's be honest) the love story, what I loved best about this book was Jade Moon herself. She's definitely a Fire Horse girl, and often immature and impulsive along with all her other flaws. It's only when she learns to channel her fiery nature that she's able to control it, and find places and people who will not only accept her, but value her too.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Reading Roundup: June 2014

By the Numbers
Teen: 13
Tween: 7
Children: 0

Review Copies: 4
Purchased: 1
Library: 12

Teen: TIE
While We Run by Karen Healey
The link leads to my 48-HBC entry, which kinda says what needs to be said. Until the full review goes up, anyway.
To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han
When all her old love letters go out to the boys who were never supposed to see them, Lara Jean deals with the consequences. Equally as interesting, at least to me, was the subplot about her trying to step into her older sister's mother-figure shoes and keep the family together.
Tween: Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel by Diana Lopez
It's never a good time for your mom to get cancer, but when you're just hitting the tween years might be the absolute worst.
Children: none this month

Because I Want To Awards
Sex is Not Love, TYVM: The Biggest Flirts by Jennifer Echols
In another book, Tia Cruz would have been labeled as "the slut" and probably brought to see the error of her ways or something. In this one, she's just a girl who likes to fool around but runs away from love at speed. By the end, she still likes to fool around, but she's going to try out that love thing. And guys, I adored that.
Not Really About Bullying: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina
I've seen this everywhere as a "bullying" book. While that's an accurate representation of one of the major plot threads, I found it to be a background to the story of a girl and her mother learning to see each other clearly.
Simultaneous Hug and Smack: Nothing Special by Geoff Herbach
Oh, Felton Reinstein. If it weren't for those other two books, yours would have been the standout. I spent most of the book wanting to either smack you or hug you, and often both.
Awwwwww: A Song for Bijou by Josh Farrar
I mean, seriously. It's hard not to just awwwwwwwwww your way through this book.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Book Review: Revenge of the Flower Girls by Jennifer Ziegler

Book: Revenge of the Flower Girls
Author: Jennifer Ziegler
Published: 2014
Source: review copy from publisher via

Triplets Dawn, Delaney, and Darby are shocked to learn that their adored big sister, Lily, is getting married to her dull, allergy-ridden, armadillo-looking boyfriend, Burton. Disaster! Calamity! Unthinkable! They just know that it will be the biggest mistake of Lily's life.

Burton is booooring. His favorite president is Franklin Pierce. He got them sparkly buzzing toy cats meant for six-year-olds. He looks like an armadillo. Worst of all, he doesn't make Lily happy, they just know he doesn't. Not like her old boyfriend, Alex, did.

Somehow they've got to stop this wedding. By hook, by crook, by schemes and plots and plans, inopportune sprinklers and pirated USB sticks and faked phone calls, these redoutable triplets are going to stop this wedding. And when all else fails, they'll bring in the big guns: Alex himself.

Ever had a day where you just needed a book that made you smile? Yeah, so do I, and this book filled that bill,. It's nonstop fun. Not only the crazy schemes they get up to (one involves Darby being held out the window by her ankles, and taking the inevitable tumble), but the narration made me laugh out loud. I also really enjoyed that the girls are obsessed with politics and the US presidents, just as a facet of their characters.

Plotwise, it doesn't hold up particularly well, but this is such a romp of a book, I was mostly able to switch off my nitpicks. If there's one complaint I have, it's that it was awfully hard to tell the difference between Darby, Dawn, and Delaney. Yes, they each had their little quirks (one is the ball of energy, one is super-shy, one is the yakker) but the first-person narration and the focus of the story being on someone other than the narrators made them all blend together. It didn't really detract from the story that much. The effect was mostly of one girl who managed to be everywhere and do everything.

I'll be watching for more of these triplets, and more of Jennifer Ziegler.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Book Review: Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel by Diana Lopez

Book: Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel
Author: Diana Lopez
Published: 2013
Source: Local Library

Erica is a regular girl dealing with regular problems like annoying siblings, struggling with school, and wondering whether any boy, ever, will notice her. Then her mom drops a bomb on the family: she has breast cancer.

Suddenly, Erica has a whole host of new problems on top of her old ones. She has to step up and take on more responsibility for her younger brother and sister. She's scrambling to fulfill a promesa made to La Virgen - five hundred names on her sponsor list for Race for the Cure. Her friends are all acting different around her and don't seem to understand any of her worries. With all this weight on her shoulders and all the confusing emotions piling up inside of her, even the best mood ring could get confused.

I have to say, this book hit me where I live. Like Erica, I had a mom who got breast cancer. (She's fine now.) I also grew up Latina, with Spanish and English in my ears and Tex-Mex cooking in my home. And of course, no matter what your ethnicity, everybody can relate to the agonizing experience of being a middle-schooler.

Erica is a Latina girl, but not one who emigrated from another country or suffers from prejudice or poverty. Like millions of American girls, her background is simply there, in family traditions like the promesas, the bits of Spanish floating around her house and neighborhood, and even dishes like migas (eggs scrambled with fried tortillas and salsa, nom nom nom!) It's refreshing after many books that are about being Not White.

For a book with a cancer theme, this was surprisingly light and sweet. Even though her mom is in treatment, Erica is still a preteen with all the usual preteen problems. Though her mom's fate is left somewhat up in the air (she's still doing radiation as the book ends), you have the feeling everything is going to be okay.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

48HBC: Finish Line!

Well, I'm done! I'm not as exhausted as I have been in past years, although I could feel myself losing a little steam toward the end of today, particularly as I blogged.

Reading, including audiobook: 19 hrs, 45 min
Blogging: 4 hrs, 7 min
Networking: 1 hr, 9 min

Total: 25 hrs

With 9 books finished, that's at least 90 dollars for my chosen charity. I'll wait until Monday night to total up the comments.

I'm happy with the books I chose. I tried to pick books that weren't explicitly About Diversity, and succeeded with about half of them.The other half had plots dependent on the non-white/non-straight/non-neurotypicalness of their characters, and while I think those are valuable too, it was nice having a book like Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel or While We Run, where the diverse elements are a background note for the characters and not the source of the plot.

How did you do? Share!

48HBC Audiobook: Team Human by Sarah Rees Brennan and Justine Larbalestier

Time: 5:55:29
Source: Local Library

Mel and Cathy have always been best friends, inseparable. Mel and Cathy, Cathy and Mel, that's just the way it is. Practical and down-to-earth Mel considers it her bounden duty to get and keep the dreamier Cathy out of trouble. So when Cathy goes and falls in love with a vampire, well, it's just business as usual. Even when Cathy decides to become a vampire herself, in order to be with Francis forever, Mel believes that she can rescue Cathy from her own folly. But something Mel fails to consider is that this trouble might be impossible to get Cathy out of, and even if it is, Cathy might not want or need her help.

I picked this as my audiobook because I remembered that Mel is Asian-American. But it's an interesting pick in another way, and that's how Mel finds her own prejudices about a group of people sometimes confirmed, sometimes confounded. She finds Francis thoroughly obnoxious (and frankly so did I) but Kit, the human raised in a vampire shade, challenges her beliefs. So does Camille, his vampire mom who also happens to be a cop and extremely, disconcertingly mom-like.

I can see the seeds of Kami, the intrepid/reckless teen detective from Brennan's Unbroken, in Mel. But Mel is sometimes harder to like, especially when she is explicitly not listening to Cathy. Yes, Mel hates the idea of Cathy becoming a vampire. Yes, it's dangerous, but Mel has to learn that supporting friends and respecting their choices is not the same thing as agreeing with them. Mel is invested in the idea of being Cathy's guardian - it's a central tenet of her identity. She's not sure who she'd be if she lost that, and so she's fighting.

This started life as a send-up of Twilight, and you can really see that in the bones of the story. But at its heart, it's really about lifelong friends pulling away, making different choices from each other, and also about how incredibly uncomfortable it can be to face down your own flaws and prejudices.

48HBC Book 9: Red Thread Sisters by Carol Antoinette Peacock

Time: 1:03
Source: Local Library

Last book!

Capsule review: "For everything she's been through, Wen has a quiet toughness that can work against her - as when she rejects her new family's overtures - or for her - as when she takes on the impossible task of getting one young teenager out of thousands adopted by somebody."

 I don't have time to read another one, so I'll just listen to my audiobook and run my time out.

48HBC Book 8: A Certain October by Angela Johnson

Time: 0:42:03
Source: Local Library

Well that book flew by. I had a hard time writing about it, though. Can't quite get a grip on the main character or the plot.

Capsule review: ". . . the jumbled tangle of emotion and uncertainty is awfully close to living inside Scotty's head. It's a quick and often confusing read. I'd give it only to people who are fans of Johnson's other work."

Torn now between picking up a longer book that I might not finish before two hours are up, or a short one and filling in the time with my audiobook and knitting. Hmmm.

48HBC Book 7: A Song for Bijou by Josh Farrar

Time: 1:32
Source: Local Library

Awwwwwwwww. This book is like a puff pastry, sweet and delicious and just what I needed after my last book.

Capsule review: "This is a sweet, funny book with an incredibly sense of place. I want to visit Alex and Bijou's Brooklyn with all its color and variety and energy. It's not all sunny good fun, though. There are some ugly prejudices lurking under the surface. But Farrar keeps those light, brushing the edges of the story without making them the central conflict, and keeping his book light and sweet. Highly recommended for middle-school readers."

Might take some networking and knittting-with-audiobook time before I'm off to peruse the shelves for my next pick.

48HBC Book 6: While We Run by Karen Healey

Time: 2:12
Source: ARC from a friend

I won't say that I couldn't put this book down, but it came close.

Capsule Review: "I feel as if I should have re-read When We Wake, because I know I didn't catch all the subtleties, but as it is, I was held captive by Abdi and Tegan's story. They're trying to do the right thing, but everyone seems to have a different perspective on what the right thing is. It's not black and white in any sense of the word, but dappled in shades of grey, and that's the most interesting pattern if you ask me."

Lunch and a little break for the eyes before I dive into the next one. I've read several long books, so I think I'll pick up a few short ones now.