Saturday, July 21, 2018

First Impressions: American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Title: American Street
Author: Ibi Zoboi
Published: 2017
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Fabiola and her mother are almost out of Haiti for good. But her mother is detained at the airport in New York, and Fabiola has to go on alone to a new life on Detroit's west side with her aunt and cousins. America is very different from Haiti, but Fabiola draws strength from her ancestral vodoun religion, and capably takes the lessons from her first home into her second.

First Impressions: Arrrrrgh I want to clutch this book to my heart. Fabiola is so strong and struggling, and I love that neither Haiti nor Detroit are glorified nor demonized.

More: Waking Brain Cells
Rich in Color

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Book Review: By Your Side by Kasie West

Title: By Your Side
Author: Kasie West
Published: 2017
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Autumn was looking forward to the holiday weekend, hanging out with her friends at a snowy cabin in the woods, and maybe getting to actual girlfriend status with Jeff. But then the library closes early for the weekend, locking her and Dax Miller in together. No phones, no heat, and nobody's coming to rescue them. Dax is taciturn and mysterious, with a bad reputation, and he clearly isn't any happier with the situation than she is. Will they survive until the library re-opens?

First Impressions: This was very sweet! Not sure why the library didn't have phones but okay. I want to read more about the depiction of anxiety disorder.

Later On: The whole trapped-in-a-library thing required a lot of suspension of disbelief on my part, if only because I know full well how many phones any library has, and there was no mention of a power outage that would have knocked them out. But once I leaped that hurdle, I was able to enjoy the forced proximity of the locked-in trope, as they both let their guards down and learn to enjoy each other. Their newfound closeness chills once they return to the real world, with the pressures and expectations of other people affecting their behavior again.

A little about the portrayal of mental illness in this book: Autumn has anxiety and struggles with that during their involuntary lock-in. She ends up confiding in Dax - the only person she's ever told - and he is sweetly supportive, but she still keeps it a secret from her other friends, until a dramatic moment later in the book. I haven't seen anxiety in books a lot, at least as a named and treatable mental illness. Often what you get is a character portrayed as an uptight control freak. Autumn approaches it as an illness, not a personal flaw, but she's still self-conscious about it, which felt real. And most of all, it was an aspect of her character but not the defining characteristic.

Overall, this was a light, sweet romance with some more serious elements that didn't overwhelm the tone.

More: Disability in Kidlit

Saturday, July 07, 2018

First Impressions: The Beast is an Animal by Peternelle Van Arsdale

Title: The Beast is an Animal
Author: Peternelle Van Arsdale
Published: 2017
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: At seven, Alys first encountered the soul eaters, demonic twin spirits who - well, does what it says on the can. That didn't end well for her parents or any of the adults in her village. Alys and all the other children end up unwanted refugees in a neighboring village that uses them for free labor on the wall built to protect against the soul eaters. But as she grows, Alys chafes under mistreatment and feels a call to the forest, the soul eaters, and the Beast who controls them.

First Impressions: This was horror (why do I keep trying to read horror? whyyy?) but it ended well, and it was pretty grabby and readable. However, it also slid right out of my mind after reading, and my vague memory of the plot was that it never completely coalesced by the end.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

First Impressions: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

Title: Alex, Approximately
Author: Jenn Bennett
Published: 2017
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Bailey Rydell has been crushing hard on Alex, a fellow film geek she met online. They were across the country from each other - until now. She moves to her dad's in California, in the same town where Alex lives. She's hoping to run into him by magical movie coincidence and begin their silver-screen-worthy romance. But so far, all she seems able to do is squabble with obnoxious co-worker Porter Roth. When is she going to get her happy ending?

First Impressions: Of course we all know the big twist in the end, so I appreciated that it didn't build that up overmuch. It was really refreshing that Bailey and Porter were in a relationship by midway through and it was about navigating that newness with each other.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

First Impressions: Maid of the King's Court by Lucy Worsley

Title: Maid of the King's Court
Author: Lucy Worsley
Published: 2017
Source: NetGalley

Summary: Eliza Camperdowne is a maid of honor at the court of King Henry VIII, as his marriage to Anne of Cleves is ending and the bold, flirtatious Katherine Howard catches his eye. It's a heady, intoxicating time for a young woman in the highest society in England. But as Eliza and Katherine learn, this is no fairy tale, and women in the King's orbit rarely come out on top.

First Impressions: This really suffered from Eliza being a bystander witness to history. Her own story felt like the B-plot. Mostly she was narrating the affair and then marriage of King Henry VIII and Katherine Howard, with not much change going on in her internally. Still, an interesting glimpse at a much-maligned young queen.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

First Impressions: Revenge of the Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen

Title: Revenge of the Evil Librarian
Author: Michelle Knudsen
Published: 2017
Source: NetGalley

Summary: Cynthia has survived the school year, which isn't as easy as it sounds, considering she had a run-in with a demon librarian who wanted to kidnap her best friend to the Underworld. (Oy. High school.) But she defeated him, and she's looking forward to a fun summer at theater camp with her hot boyfriend. Then she arrives at camp and finds demons there too, and not just metaphorical ones.

First Impressions: As snarky and fun as the first one, but with the same deeply (maybe too deeply?) buried dark notes. While it bounces cheerfully from mortal peril to mortal peril, the rockiness of her relationship with her boyfriend is glossed over, even when she's lying to his face. If you're looking for a breezy, snarky paranormal, read it but don't expect more.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Book Review: Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson

Title: Ashes
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: In the midst of the Revolutionary War, former slaves Isabel and Curzon are headed for Isabel's sister and freedom, in that order. When she finds Ruth, the adoring baby sister she remembers has been replaced by a cold, resentful stranger, one who doesn't want anything to do with her. And her tentative relationship with Curzon seems to be falling apart as well.

As the Revolutionary War draws to a close and the seeds of a new country begin to sprout, Isabel, Curzon, and Ruth all struggle to find their places in this place called the United States of America.

First Impressions: I really liked how this showed how alone she felt with neither the Patriots nor the Loyalists having her interests at heart. Also the story with Ruth was very sweet.

Later On: Isabel's story (and the American Revolutionary War) wrap up in the third book of this trilogy. Isabel is a fascinating main character. She is angry and prickly a lot of the time, with good reason, but it doesn't do anything to help her relationship with either Curzon or Ruth. Both have to be repaired carefully and slowly, but they get there in the end.

Anderson's story leaves Curzon, Ruth, and Isabel at the precipice of a new moment in history and in their lives.

More: Reads for Keeps
Ms Yingling Reads

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

First Impressions: Iron Cast by Destiny Soria

Title: Iron Cast
Author: Destiny Soria
Published: 2016
Source: NetGalley

Summary: In an alternate 1919 Boston, where club owners trade in illegal blood magic and enchantments, Ada Navarra and her best friend Corinne Wells live by their wits, running cons and weaving illusions for the entertainment of the elite under the protection of Johnny Dervish. But things start to go south, and Johnny can't save them anymore. That's okay. They've got each other, and that's more than enough.

First Impressions: I enjoy a good alternate history, and I love how the friendship between the two girls (one of whom is biracial) is the most important relationship in the book by far. But the ending suffered from Lord of the Rings syndrome, which made it drag as every last little thread and character had to be wrapped up.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

First Impressions: Sass & Serendipity by Jennifer Ziegler

Title: Sass and Serendipity
Author: Jennifer Ziegler
Published: 2012
Source: Local Library

Summary: Gabby is the sensible sister in the Rivera family, buckling down to her schoolwork and working conscientiously at her job. Daphne is the free spirit, throwing herself into her passions and crushes with abandon. Neither one understands her sister or her way of approaching the world. When multiple crises hit the Rivera family as a whole and both girls on a personal level, they'll each have to learn that a little of their sister's approach to life isn't necessarily a bad thing.

First Impressions: It was really, really hard to like either of these girls at times. Gabby could be nasty and judgemental, Daphne could be so utterly thoughtless that I wanted to reach into the book and shake her. But it also really captured the sister dynamic and evoked the novel that it was based on (Sense and Sensibility, in case you couldn't tell). I think the two love plots got a little shortchanged at the end though.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

First Impressions: Prisoner of Ice and Snow by Ruth Lauren Steven

Title: Prisoner of Ice and Snow
Author: Ruth Lauren Steven
Published: 2017
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Valor is the best shot in the whole kingdom. So when she fails to assassinate the crown prince, only she knows that she missed on purpose. She had to get caught, because that's the only way she's going to the horrific children's prison, Tyur'ma, which is already holding her twin sister. After all, just because nobody's ever escaped it before doesn't mean two sisters can't do it now.

First Impressions: Okay I liked the premise, and the escape plan, but the revelation of what was Actually Going On felt a little thin, and something about this horrific prison for kids (that everyone's just okay with) rubbed me the wrong way.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

It's Cybils Day!

Congratulations to the winners of the Cybils, released today!

I have such a long TBR list that I haven't read any of them, but I've heard amazing things about most of them, so there's that to look forward to.

Thank you to the intrepid judges and organizers who put in a mountain of work to make this happen, and don't get paid one red cent. It's amazing and I salute you.

Also there's some other holiday with chocolate and hearts happening today but that's clearly much less important.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

First Impressions: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Title: Rebel of the Sands
Author: Alwyn Hamilton
Published: 2017
Source: Local Library

Summary: Amani needs to get out of her tiny, dead-end town before she becomes her uncle-in-law's next wife. She thinks a shooting contest is her ticket out, but after a series of catastrophes, she ends up running away with a mysterious stranger named Jin. They set off across the desert, headed for the city, but get sidelined along the way and find themselves in the camp of the rebel prince, where revelations about both Jin and Amani await.

First Impressions: Hmmm. Well I really liked the middle east/wild west mashup of the setting, but the character development and love story were both unconvincing.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Book Review: Beast by Brie Spangler

Title: Beast
Author: Brie Spangler
Published: 2016
Source: Local Library

Summary: To put it bluntly, Dylan is a beast. He's too tall, too hairy, too ugly for anybody to love. When he breaks both his legs in a freak accident and his mother starts to get worried that he's suicidal, he finds himself in a teen therapy group. It's there that he meets Jamie - beautiful, intelligent, intoxicating Jamie. And wonder of wonders, she seems to find him just as dazzling as he finds her, even as monstrous as he is.

But Dylan wasn't paying attention on the first day of therapy, when Jamie came out as trans to the group. When he learns this fact, and she learns that he was never as open and accepting as she thought he was, will their fledgling relationship survive?

First Impressions: I enjoyed this a lot but I really felt like she took him back way too fast after their arguments, and I wanted him to examine his transphobic attitudes more deeply.

Later On: While I was reading this, I mostly loved it. Jamie felt realistic, as did Dylan, and I really liked that they got a happy ending together, which is not as common as it should be in books with trans characters.

But my discomfort about Dylan's attitude built as we got nearer to the end and he showed no signs of truly examining where he was coming from in his attitude toward trangender people and how disrespectful it was of Jamie. There are a lot of transphobic "dude in a skirt" type comments, and his mother displays the same attitudes.

Admittedly, a lot of people are unthinkingly transphobic, especially if they've never met a trans person and never been asked to consider the harm that these attitudes inflict. It's not great, but showing a character examining, regretting, and changing their
behavior, as well as making reparations for the harm they've caused, can be a powerful story.

My problem was that Dylan never examined or reframed his attitudes, they just quietly faded away into a happy ending. For all of Dylan's angst about how people saw only the surface of his less-than-cover-model looks, he never quite figured out that it is just as hurtful to reduce Jamie to the genitalia she was born with.

More: Kirkus
Stuff You Missed in History Class - this is one of Dylan's favorite podcasts and gets mentioned here and there in connection with his ambition to become a history professor. I was thrilled because this has been on my listening list for years. If only he'd taken a listen to some of the transgender-focused episodes of their sister podcast, Stuff Mom Never Told You.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

First Impressions: Fiendish by Brenna Yovanoff

Title: Fiendish
Author: Brenna Yovanoff
Published: 2015
Source: Local Library

Summary: Trapped underground by magic for ten years after the town turned on her family, Clementine finds herself set free when a boy named Fisher stumbles on her prison. Now she has to reconnect with the remaining family and friends she remembers, and more than that, she's going to find out what happened on that night ten years ago.

First Impressions: Wow, the atmosphere in this! I don't think it would stand up to a lot of close scrutiny plot-wise, but Clementine is very tough and really knows herself for a girl trapped underground for 10 years.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

First Impression: El Deafo by Cece Bell

Title: El Deafo
Author: Cece Bell
Published: 2014
Source: Local Library

Summary: Deaf* since a childhood bout with meningitis, Cece tries to navigate friendships, school, and her own identity, all of which are complicated by her large and cumbersome hearing aids.

First Impressions: This was a nice graphic memoir, much more slice of life than plot-based. Interesting to see the older technology (late 70s-early 80s), and I like the way she visualized her sonic experience of the world, with blank speech bubbles and fading words.

*This is the term the author uses in biographical materials.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

First Impression: The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati

Title: The Weight of Zero
Author: Karen Fortunati
Published: 2016
Source: Local Library

Summary: Cath knows in her heart that she won't survive another brush with Zero, which is what she calls the depressive episodes of her bipolar disorder. With that in mind, she creates a bucket list for herself, including having sex. But to accomplish that, she needs someone to have sex with. Enter Michael. She thinks he'll be perfect for the job - nice, sweet, forgettable. Certainly nobody she'll ever fall in love with or be sad to leave behind when she dies. Or maybe he is?

First Impressions: For something with such a dramatic topic, this was a very quiet book, but I liked the slow, realistic progression of her path back to life.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

First Impression: Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood

Title: Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood
Author: Varsha Bajaj
Published: 2015
Source: Local Library
Summary: Abby has never known her father. Although her white mom and grandparents are awesome and amazing, the other side of her heritage - the Indian side - has always been a blank slate. But when she finally finds out who he is, it's something right out of a Bollywood drama. Maybe because her father is right out of a Bollywood drama - namely, one of the biggest stars in Bollywood. Whisked off to Mumbai for the summer, she learns about her father and herself, and starts to fill in some of that blank slate.
First Impressions: This was incredibly sweet, and actually kind of low-conflict. Much more of a tween book.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

The Cybils Are Out!

One of the things I flaked on doing in 2017 was volunteering for the Cybils. Blogging can be a lonely business, but the Cybils are one of those community events that reminds me that there are others just like me out there, who love kids' and teen books and love to talk about them and think about them.

But I didn't start this post just to talk about how  wonderful the Cybils are - even though they are wonderful, and the people who did volunteer are total superheroes.

What I really wanted to share was that they released their finalist shortlists on January 1! These are the books that made it through the first round (and let me tell you, that's a lot of nominated books) and will go on to be read, discussed, pulled apart, put back together again, and finally one will be chosen for each category and announced on February 14.

Share these lists with parents, teachers, librarians, and of course (always) with young and not-so-young readers.

Monday, January 01, 2018

It's Me Again

2017 was a bad year.

I don't know anybody for whom it was a particularly good year, overall. Good things happened, but the consensus seems to be, "2017, boy it's been a shitty one, hasn't it?"

For me, the whole middle chunk of the year was sort of grey and dreary and everything felt like swimming uphill. I let a lot of things go that used to make me happy and now just felt like a pointless effort. One of those was blogging. I kept reading, slowly, and I did have thoughts about what I read, but every time I even considered sitting down and writing them out in a longer format than a couple of sentences, I went, ". . . I'll do it later."

It's later.

I don't know how well I'll do, picking this up again. I do actually have some posts that I managed to write out at some point, but never got around to putting up, because of all the effort involved. So I'll start with those, and see where I go.

Happy 2018, everybody, and let's hope it's a better one.