Wednesday, July 20, 2016

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, July 09, 2016

Book Review: The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

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

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

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

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

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

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

More: Waking Brain Cells

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Book Review: The Memory of Light by Francisco X Stork

Title: The Memory of Light
Author: Francisco X Stork
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: 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.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Book Review: Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan

Title: Tell the Wind and Fire
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Published: 2016
Source: Netgalley

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)
Kirkus

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Book Review: Burning Midnight by Will McIntosh

Title: Burning Midnight
Author: Will McIntosh
Published: 2016
Source: NetGalley

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.

More: Kirkus

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Origami Yoda Doubleheader

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
Published: 2013
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.

More: Kirkus

Title: Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue
Author: Tom Angleberger
Published: 2014
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