Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Book Review: A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis

This is a spoilerriffic review, you guys. So, if you don't like that, accept that I liked the book, because I did and I'm still thinking about it a little.

Author: Mindy McGinnis
Published: 2015
Source: Edelweiss
Summary: Sent to a madhouse (!) because she's pregnant (!!) by her father (!!!!!!!!!!), a girl escapes, begins to help a doctor solve crimes, and takes control of her own life.
First Impressions: This was very interesting but the ending troubled me somewhat.
Later On: Okay, you know from that premise that's it's not going to be sunshine and roses. (Slight spoiler; she miscarries, which is one of the events that prompts her to escape from the asylum and start working with the doctor.) But this was a dark book, folks. It deals with profiling a serial killer, and with her revenge on the father that put her in this situation. 
 And yet it was a well-deserved darkness. There's an anger boiling under her surface - anger for herself, anger for her sister, for her friends, for the raw deal they've all been handed by being born women in a society that values them somewhat less than pretty dolls.
I'm somewhat relieved that it didn't go the route I expected, of having her fall in love with the doctor. In his way, he was as awful as anybody in the asylum, although not as awful as her father. While he doesn't take sexual advantage, he does see her as an extension of himself, a tool like a stethoscope or a scalpel, and he's surprised when she expresses her own wishes and desires or does something unexpected.
The ending is morally shaky (her father takes the fall for the murders they've been investigating, because she killed the real perpetrator) but emotionally satisfying, which is more important in the context of this book.
More: Here's a quick interview with Mindy McGinnis that touches on the history of mental illness and the reviewer's (favorable!) opinion of the book.
A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy (she's way better at being not-spoilery than me)

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Book Review: These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Published: 2015
Source: NetGalley
Summary: Privileged, spoiled girl at the turn of the century finds her world turned upside down when her father is murdered and she seeks to solve it. Also journalism and feminism and a love story with a young journalist.
First Impressions: So conflicted about this book. Really, I am. On the one hand, the mystery was . . . not at all mysterious. On the other, the feminism was so real. (Also, the end. Seriously LOTR syndrome as far as ends go.)
Later On: I keep going back and forth between whether the MC was realistically naive or just groan-worthy dumb. One that kept coming up in discussions with other readers was how she missed that a house was a brothel and women were prostitutes, in spite of being familiar with the writings of Nelly Bly. Actually I thought this was very realistic because it's one thing to read about something like that, and completely another to identify it in the wild.
I also appreciated that she faced realistic consequences for her choices throughout the book, both from her family and the society she was raised in, and from the new friends she's made in the underbelly of New York City.
And yeah. So. Many. Endings. Every story thread and character had to be wrapped up with its own scene and imagined future.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Book Review: The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

Author: Laura Amy Schlitz
Published: 2015
Source: NetGalley
Summary: A 14-year-old farm girl runs away from home and pretends to be older so she can get a lucrative job with a Jewish family. As she works for and learns from them, she comes to know more about her own Catholic faith and herself.
First Impressions: In spite of the kerfuffle, I found this to be a very thoughtful examination of faith and how faiths intersect. Also I loved her voice.
Later On: I still feel strongly that this is a great book about faith, about growing up, and about learning how to think for yourself and understand how little you truly know of the world. A large part of its appeal for me, personally, was how resonant her Catholicism is throughout this story. She struggles to do better and be better as a way of reconnecting with the mother she barely remembers. Sometimes this can lead to utterly cringe-inducing moments, such as when she clumsily attempts to convert one of her employers' grandchildren, believing that he will go to hell if he remains Jewish. Of course, this is discovered by the grandmother, and the resultant scene is an examination of how offensive and presumptuous it is to impose your belief system on others.
However, I'm not Jewish, and I haven't had direct experience with having to put up with the kind of painful stereotypes (cheap, rich, heathenish) that she initially applies to the family she's living with.
If you want some really good, in-depth conversation on that, and its function within this novel, and how kids may interpret that, follow the links below.
More: Heavy Medal The discussion is mostly in the comments. Also raised is a salient point about some throwaway lines from Joan about what she calls "wild indians" and what we call now Native Americans or First Nations (always my favorite of the two terms in spite of my American-ness.)

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Book Review: Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales

Author: Leila Sales
Published: 2015
Source: Edelweiss
Summary: Arden is recklessly loyal. That's how she defines herself. But when her boyfriend ditches her on their anniversary, she takes an impulsive road trip to New York City with her best friend to meet her favorite blogger, and finds all her conceptions of everybody she's ever known getting severely shaken up.
First Impressions: Oof, this was good. Complex characters, no total villains, a girl getting to know herself. I puffy heart you Leila Sales.
Later On: For a book with so many completely smackable people, I liked this very much. Seriously - I wanted to slap every character at least once, and the main character more than once. Arden has a hell of a victim complex going on, but the flip side of her doglike loyalty was that she passively, silently resented those who didn't live up to her standards. I thought this would be the story of a girl shedding all the crappy people in her life, and instead found that it was the story of a girl learning to see the flaws in those she loves, including the mother who abandoned her, and still take them as a whole person.
More: Cuddlebuggery did not agree - or more accurately, she agreed, but she couldn't be having with the same things that actually made the story work for me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Book Review: Faceless by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Title: Faceless
Author: Alyssa B. Sheinmel
Published: 2015
Source: Review copy from publisher via Edelweiss
Summary: After she loses a good portion of her face to an electrical fire and has to get a face transplant, Maisie struggles to adjust to her new life and finds some things are irrevocably changed.
First Impressions: Ahhhh. This was very good and her emotions felt tremendously realistic. I did think the breakup with Chirag was not quite as cut and dried as she thought it was.
Later On: I still think there was something of an unreliable narrator going on, where Maisie saw her breakup with Chirag as a foregone conclusion from the moment of her accident, while I saw her pushing him away during the complex emotions of her initial adjustment period and them growing apart throughout her recovery. I really appreciated how people were unsure of how to react to her, even the people she was closest to, and she found herself making friends that she never would have connected with before her injury.
Ms. Yingling Reads

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Book Review: All the Rage by Courtney Summers

Title: All the Rage
Author: Courtney Summers
Source: Public Library
Published: 2015
Summary: When a popular, well-liked girl disappears, Romy Grey can't shake the feeling that there are things being hidden. But nobody will listen to her because she's the girl who accused the town golden boy of rape.
First Impressions: Oh god, is there a lot to chew on here. Agh. I may have to write about this.
Later on: While there is an outside plot, this is really the story of part of Romy's journey to better. She's not healed or fixed and she never will be, but the events of the book work to bring her to a place where she can start to see herself as someone who is worthy of her life, worthy of being listened to and respected, and worthy of love.
I find it interesting that while the boy who actually committed the crime that underpins the current-day plot was not the same boy who raped Romy, he was in the same group. But the real villains of this piece are the adults, in particular the sheriff who's clearly of the "if her skirt was too short she was asking for it" camp regarding rape. There's so much here that shows how many messages we get about girls, about sexuality, about worth, every day. This needs to go on the shelf right next to Speak for books about how girls are victimized by our society.
More: Stacked
A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Book Review: Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle

So here's my new format. The reviews won't be quite as in depth as they once were, but I think I'd gotten to the point where I felt such a pressure to say deep things that I wasn't saying anything at all. I have several months' worth of reading with half-written reviews, so hopefully I'll have enough to post twice a week for quite some time. Because they will be so brief, I'll also be linking other bloggers' reviews at the end if you want to get more info.

Let me know what you think!

Author: Katie Coyle
Source: ARC from KidlitCon
Published: 2014
Summary: The Rapture has happened (or has it?), and Vivian Apple is left alone in a rapidly disintegrating world except for her best friend and a mysterious boy named Peter. A quixotic cross-country road trip through a dangerous landscape of left-behinds and Believers may hold answers.
First Impressions: This had interesting things to say about the intersection of religion and business in modern America. I really do wish that Harp had gotten an arc other than being her best friend.
Later on: As someone who's always on the lookout for books that discuss faith, I was a little wary of this one's apparent "Religion Ebil!" stance. But Coyle kept my interest by making Vivian keep puzzling over her parents' conversion and what it did to them, and why it meant so much to them, as well as yearning for a similar experience but knowing she wouldn't get it from the Church of America. There was also a lovely, if heavy-handed moment, with a Catholic family near the end that establishes religion =/= ebil.
I still wish Harp had gotten an arc. She was mostly there to be a wild and crazy girl, and to support Vivian when she needed it. She didn't seem to grow or change throughout the book. I tried to read the second book and couldn't quite get into it.
Bookshelves of Doom