Saturday, May 20, 2017

First Impressions: The Forgetting, This Savage Song, Goldenhand

Title: The Forgetting
Author: Sharon Cameron
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Every 7 years, a fog sweeps across Nadia's fortified town and erases everyone's memory. In order to pick their lives back up, the citizens of the town write everything down in books that they keep locked to their bodies. Anyone who goes missing during the Forgetting is presumed dead or lost.

Nadia has a secret. Unlike everyone else, she remembers what happened before the Forgetting. She remembers secrets, horrors, and even entire people that she was supposed to forget. She's kept her secret for years, but the Forgetting is coming again soon. Will she remember this time?

First Impressions: This was pretty enjoyable while I was in it, but when I closed it, I was like, "well that was a pretty cookie cutter dystopia."

Title: This Savage Song
Author: Victoria Schwab
Published: 2016
Source: Local Library

Summary: In a city of monsters, August is one of the worst. Others eat blood or flesh, but he consumes souls, especially souls marred with sin. He hates himself, but it's how he survives, being a threat looming over the heads of his father's enemies. Kate Harker is the daughter of one of those enemies, and it's his job to keep tabs on her in her prestigious private school. But she's much more than he was prepared for - and the secrets both their families have been keeping are also much more.

First Impressions: This is pretty dark stuff, and I liked that the romance was low-key or maybe not even there at all. This was about the monstrous identities of both protagonists.

Title:  Goldenhand
Author: Garth Nix
Published: 2017
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: When she finds old friend Nicholas Sayre possessed with dark magic, Lirael - once a shy Assistant Librarian, now the Abhorsen-in-waiting - must journey back to her childhood home to find a way to save him. At the same time, a young woman from a distant land flees from enemies, carrying a mysterious message to Lirael. Will their paths cross in time for either of them?

First Impressions: So this felt like a prelude or something - it cut off in the middle before anything really happened. I was really frustrated, especially because the two groups didn't even meet by the end.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Book Review: This is Where It Ends by Marieke Niejkamp

Book: This is Where It Ends
Author: Marieke Nijkamp
Published: 2016
Source: Local Library

Summary: On a chilly winter morning in Opportunity, Alabama, every student in the high school shuffles into the auditorium for yet another semester-opening assembly, complete with the same speech they've been hearing every year. It goes about like usual, until everyone gets up to leave, and finds every door locked. They're trapped.

And then the shooting begins.

First Impressions: This was so hard to read. I liked the multiplicity of views on the shooter from different viewpoints, and the mirroring of the sibling relationships.

Later On: Truthfully? I really didn't want to read this book, and I wouldn't have if I hadn't been judging it for the Cybils. Not because I thought it was going to be bad. I'd been hearing good things about it. But the topic was enough to make me go NOPE, so I went

I couldn't put it down, but at the same time, I didn't want to be reading it. Does that make sense? I hated what the characters were going through (and I guess that's an endorsement in its own way, that the characters were well-drawn enough around all the bloodshed that I cared about every one of the many, many kids we were introduced to), but at the same time, I wanted to be with them as they did.

My favorite part was the way it took a hard look at the shooter from various perspectives - as a brother, as a boyfriend, as a bully. The other thing I appreciated is that everyone in this book has their challenges and hardships, but still, Tyler is the only one who chose to pick up a gun. There were some glitches in logic, but I was able to overlook that. More seriously, there was a revelation toward the end that felt too late to really have the desired effect.

I don't regret reading it, but at the same time I can't really say that I'm glad I did. It was a harrowing experience, but if that's what you want from your reading, then go for it.

More: Kirkus

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Book Review: Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

Title: Vassa in the Night
Author: Sarah Porter
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: The nights in Brooklyn are growing longer lately, and night is the scariest time to go to BY's convenience store, surrounded by the heads of shoplifters on pikes. Vassa has no choice, though, when one of her stepsisters insists that she needs lightbulbs right now, that it can't wait until the distant morning.

Armed only with her tiny living doll, Erg, a gift from her long-dead mother, she ventures forth. Almost immediately, Vassa gets captured by BY's horrifying proprietor, Babs Yagg, and her hideous severed-hand henchmen. Babs says she will let her go, but only if she can survive three nights working at the front counter as cashier. Three very, very long nights.

First Impressions: This was really neat and creepy. It got more horror-ish as time went on but never quite tipped over into that genre, I think.

Later On: When it comes to horror, I'm a wimp. I don't watch scary movies and in general, I stay away from the most hard-core thngs-that-go-bump-in-the-night novels. But I like books with a little bit of an edge, just a flash of teeth.

As I was explaining to a co-worker while trying to get her to read this book (a noble cause, I think you'll agree), it's not so much horror as it is tremendously dark fantasy. There are dismemberments and those creepy little hands and heads on pikes, and not everything is magically fixed at the end. What keeps it from being the darkest of horror, in my mind, was that Vassa has a lot of resources of her own. There's Erg, for one, and then there's Vassa herself, who is smart and resourceful and has a gentler heart then maybe she would like to admit.

There's also a sense of a bigger magical world outside the one that Vassa inhabits within BY's. In flashbacks, we get some of her backstory and that of her parents filled in. For all its gory threats, it's one I would be happy to return to.

More: Cuddlebuggery
Waking Brain Cells
Interview with the Author at Barnes & Noble.com

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Book Review: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Title: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces
Author: Isabel Quintero
Published: 2014
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Gabi's senior year is shaping up to be a big one. From her best friend getting pregnant, her meth-addict father gumming up her life, her frustration with the constraints of trying to be her mother's ideal Latina daughter, and the travails of her first (and second) boyfriend, this will be a year to remember. Lucky thing she has her friends and her poetry to help her through.

First Impressions: AAAAAAAAAGH I loved this. Gabi is so incredibly real and complex.

Later On: This is one of those books that doesn't have a terribly tight plot. It's really just a year in Gabi's life, with all the accompanying ups and downs. But as I told co-workers, I kept reading because I really just wanted to hang out with this girl. She's funny, loyal, fierce, and loving, and she's continually learning more about herself and what she wants for her life and those she loves.

More: Latinos in Kidlit

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Book Review: Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge

Title: Bright Smoke, Cold Fire
Author: Rosamund Hodge
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: In a post-apocalyptic world where the undead have invaded everywhere except one walled city, Mahyani Romeo and Catresou Juliet have just committed suicide. But in a world where death isn't so much the end as a stop along the way, it's not that simple. Torn apart from each other, each believing the other is (permanently) dead, Romeo and Juliet find themselves in unlikely partnerships with two of the play's secondary characters.

Juliet bonds to the perpetually angry novice Mahyani Runajo (the play's Rosaline) as they seek to unravel the mysteries of the Sisters of Thorn, magical guardians of the city's defenses against the undead. For his part, Romeo finds himself working alongside Juliet's fiance, Catresou Paris, to uncover the nefarious dealings of illegal necromancers, who might very well be coming from inside his own family.

If either of them fail, the city could fall to the ravening hordes of the undead. So . . . yikes?

First Impressions: This was a really interesting tweak on Romeo and Juliet, and I'm very much hoping it won't end as tragically as the classic. But I don't know because CLIFFHANGER ugh.

Later On: I love retellings, because the best ones have an effect on your interpretation of the original. That said, this isn't quite a retelling of Romeo and Juliet.

Picking up as it does after the end of the play, this book is more concerned with exploring the alternate world that Hodge has set up, using Paris and Runajo's points of view, with occasional diversions into the tale of Romeo and Juliet's courtship through their eyes. So it's more like a spinoff set in an alternate universe.

This world is extremely complicated. It throngs with conflicting loyalties, complex family and community obligations, and of course, the feud between families that started it all. In this world, the feud is more about differing beliefs and practices around death and life. Wading through all this takes some patience. I felt that it was rewarded.

Even more of a reward is getting to spend time with the ferocious Runajo and Juliet. Both are warriors, fierce and strong-willed. They have both spent their whole lives focused on a singular purpose - to become the Catresou family executioner, on Juliet's part, and to become a nun and magical defender of the city in Runajo's - but now in the rocky position of having to rethink everything they once believed. Paris and Romeo were less compelling as characters, but they spent more time in the city itself, illuminating the inner workings of the complex world that Hodge has built.
 
And, fair warning: in this book at least, Romeo and Juliet get all the way to the end still believing the other to be dead. The second book has no release date or even title yet (curses!) but when it comes out, I'll be picking it up.

More: Kirkus

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Book Review: A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids by Shelley Tougas

Title: A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids
Author: Shelley Tougas
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Mary Margaret Miller's life is turning upside down, and even her beloved saints don't seem to be helping. Not only is her family moving away from their hometown, she has to live with her grandparents while her parents try to earn enough money so they can get settled somewhere else. She's been tapped to be junior bridesmaid to her cousin's wedding, but since her cousin is terribly shy and her grandmother is (to put it nicely) a total steamroller.

Then there's the cute boy next door, who is (gasp!) a Unitarian and keeps asking her challenging questions about being Catholic. Let's not even mention what she did to the local bully, back at home. Surely there's a saint for all of this . . . right?

First Impressions: This was adorable! And included a surprisingly thoughtful examination of maturing faith.

Later On: One of my very favorite themes in children's and YA is faith and religion, because it's so rare (other than "religion ebil" or "religion is old-fashioned and naive") and yet so important in the life of many kids and families.

Mary, who is from a Catholic family, is obsessed with the saints and all their weird specialties. As a lifelong Catholic myself, I have to say this wasn't so much a feature of the religion as I've experienced it, as it was one of those random obsessions that kids sometimes get. Certainly the saints are important to Catholics, but Mary uses them to try and organize and control her life, and part of the faith theme of the book is that it's not nearly that simple.

Of course, there's more at work here than Mary Margaret's deepening faith. For such a funny book, this covers surprisingly serious topics, including bullying, economic instability and its stresses on families, and inter-family conflict, whether it's about having a giant spectacular wedding or the differing practices of religion. You can certainly read it strictly for fun, but there is more there for kids to engage with if they choose.

More: Ms. Yingling Reads
Kirkus

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Book Review: My Unscripted Life by Lauren Morrill

Title: My Unscripted Life
Author: Lauren Morrill
Published: 2016
Source: NetGalley

Summary: Reeling after her rejection from her first-choice art school, Dee impulsively takes a job on a movie set to pass the summer. Once there (and once past the initial bumps and bruises) she discovers a surprising aptitude for set dressing. She also discovers an attraction to the leading man, Milo - not so surprising, because he's a teen heartthrob with legions of adoring fans. But the biggest surprise? He actually seems to be attracted to her back.

First Impressions: Awwww cuuuuute! I liked how she refocused her love of art. But the ending was very rushed.

Later On: Lauren Morrill writes what I think of as Disney movies on paper. They're fun, they're cute, they're not terribly realistic, but it's a good time. As long as you pick this book with that in mind, you should enjoy it.

More: Kirkus