Wednesday, August 31, 2016

First Impressions: A Tangle of Gold, A Darker Shade of Magic, A Hundred Hours of Night

Title: A Tangle of Gold
Author: Jaclyn Moriarty
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss
Summary: People from the parallel worlds of Earth and Cello scramble to find Cello's royal family on Earth, but anarchists stand in their way - including, maybe, one of their own.
First Impressions: For me, this would have been better off being the only book. I had a really hard time remembering what happened in the others but all the good stuff happened in this one.

Title: A Darker Shade of Magic
Author: V.E. Schwab
Published: 2015
Source: Local Library
Summary: Kell is one of only two Travelers left - magicians able to step between three different versions of London, with three different magics. When danger threatens his own version of London (Red), he finds himself working with con-woman Delilah Bard from Grey London to save all the worlds.
First Impressions: I was disappointed that the villains were so obvious from the beginning. However, when she turned up, Lila was kickass. I'll be reading the rest of the series for more of her.

Title: A Hundred Hours of Night
Author: Anna Woltz, translated from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss
Summary: When shy, anxious Emilia runs away, she does it in grand style, all the way from the Netherlands to New York City. In the shadow of Hurricane Sandy, she'll discover new friends and reserves of strength she never knew she had.
First Impressions: This was pretty damn good! Snapshot of NYC during Hurricane Sandy as the backdrop of upheaval. Her OCD was handled a little too cavalierly though. I couldn't tell if she had a diagnosed condition or she was merely calling her many anxieties OCD.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Book Review: Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

Title: Burn Baby Burn
Author: Meg Medina
Published: 2016
Source: NetGalley

Summary: 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

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Book Review: The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

Title: The Winner's Kiss
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Published: 2016
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
Book Nut

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Book Review: My Life with the Liars by Caela Carter

Title: My Life with the Liars
Author: Caela Carter
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

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.

More: Kirkus

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

First Impressions: Boxers/Saints, The Raven King, The Great American Whatever

 Title: Boxers / Saints
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Published: 2013
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
Published: 2016

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
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss
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.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Book Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Title: Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Published: 2016
Source: Local Library

Summary: 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: Unshelved
Spoilers, probably, but:  Military History Online's page on the sinking of the Wilhem Gustloff