Saturday, October 22, 2016

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.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

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.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

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

Saturday, October 08, 2016

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

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

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.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

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!