Book Review: Burning Midnight

Burning Midnight by Will McIntosh
Release Date: February 2nd 2016 
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Pages: 320 
Source: Publisher

Sully is a sphere dealer at a flea market. It doesn’t pay much—Alex Holliday’s stores have muscled out most of the independent sellers—but it helps him and his mom make the rent.

No one knows where the brilliant-colored spheres came from. One day they were just there, hidden all over the earth like huge gemstones. Burn a pair and they make you a little better: an inch taller, skilled at math, better-looking. The rarer the sphere, the greater the improvement—and the more expensive the sphere. Sully is a sphere dealer at a flea market. It doesn’t pay much—Alex Holliday’s stores have muscled out most of the independent sellers—but it helps him and his mom make the rent.

When Sully meets Hunter, a girl with a natural talent for finding spheres, the two start searching together. One day they find a Gold—a color no one has ever seen. And when Alex Holliday learns what they have, he will go to any lengths, will use all of his wealth and power, to take it from them. Sully is a sphere dealer at a flea market. It doesn’t pay much—Alex Holliday’s stores have muscled out most of the independent sellers—but it helps him and his mom make the rent.

There’s no question the Gold is priceless, but what does it actually do? None of them is aware of it yet, but the fate of the world rests on this little golden orb. Because all the world fights over the spheres, but no one knows where they come from, what their powers are, or why they’re here.

The start to this one is a bit slow. In fact, it took a good 20-25 pages until I fully understood what spheres were and why they were so important. Admittedly, this was slightly my fault since I didn’t re-read the description to refresh my memory before starting the book, but it also shouldn’t take so long to be introduced to the world. I almost wished that I had a little guide on  spheres, how they worked, and how many there were.

Once I grasped what was happening, I did enjoy the world. I thought it was an interesting concept, especially considering human nature. Who wouldn’t pay a couple hundred here and there for simple things like whiter teeth or ease of sleeping. People pay that now for different medications or gimmicks that aren’t always a sure bet. Of course, the super powerful spheres that increases intelligence or looks are rare and expensive.  Only those with lots of money could afford them. Maybe if you were a lucky hunter, you might who would find a pair to burn, but basically it was the rich get richer situation, which was fully realistic.

I will say the pacing was a bit off for me. There were times where the book moved along at a good speed, but then other times when it dragged. I loved the earlier hunting scenes with Hunter and Sully, but the scenes when they’re searching the water towers felt a bit too slow for me. I understand that McIntosh needed to show that it took a while, but I was quite bored. On the other hand, once they find the Gold, things seems to kick into super high speed. This is also where you have to start suspending belief. Almost nothing that happens after finding the Gold seems truly believable or possible. However, if you allow yourself to just roll with it, it’s a fun adventure.

The only part that I can’t quite get over is the ending. I don’t want to give anything away, but it felt extremely too easy. I could buy into what the spheres actually were, but how they solved it all seemed almost like a cop-out. It tied up way too nicely in a bow for my taste. I guess I wanted more than what I got.

I’m a little torn on how I feel about the love aspect. There is a nice build up between Hunter and Sully, but it also have the feel of insta-love. For most of the book, there a pretty big distrust between them, especially when a deal goes awry. However, they do actually spend a lot of time hunting together, so when you figure in that it’s probably been at least a couple of months it does sort of work. I think it was the out-of the blue declarations that didn’t work for me. Most of the book, Hunter keeps Sully at arm’s length and then suddenly she’s proclaiming how he’s the best thing ever in her life. It was a bit cheesy, but I know know of teens who will probably eat it up.

All that being said, this was a fast sci-fi read. I read it in one day, and while flawed, I couldn’t put it down. I would easily give these to my teens who are just starting in sci-fi or who are looking for an adventure book. It’s a bit on the big side for reluctant readers, but one I do think they’d enjoy.  It would also be a good pairing for 5th Wave, although there aren’t nearly as many mind games or heavy strategy in this one.

Final Verdict: A great new YA sci-fi book. While it does have some flaws, it’s a quick read filled with tons of adventure.

Book Review: Traveler

Traveler by Arwen Elys Dayton
Series: Seeker #2
Release Date: January 12th 2016 
Publisher:Random House Children’s Books
Pages: 400 
Source: Publisher

Quin Kincaid is a Seeker. Her legacy is an honor, an ancient role passed down for generations. But what she learned on her Oath night changed her world forever.

Quin pledged her life to deception. Her legacy as a Seeker is not noble but savage. Her father, a killer. Her uncle, a liar. Her mother, a casualty. And the boy she once loved is out for vengeance, with her family in his sights. Quin Kincaid is a Seeker. Her legacy is an honor, an ancient role passed down for generations. But what she learned on her Oath night changed her world forever.

Yet Quin is not alone. Shinobu, her oldest companion, might now be the only person she can trust. The only one who wants answers as desperately as she does. Quin Kincaid is a Seeker. Her legacy is an honor, an ancient role passed down for generations. But what she learned on her Oath night changed her world forever.

But the deeper they dig into the past, the darker things become. There are long-vanished Seeker families, shadowy alliances, and something else: a sinister plan begun generations ago, with the power to destroy them all.

The past is close. And it will destroy them all.

Often times, middle books in a trilogy (at least I’m assuming it’s a trilogy) can be lukewarm, that bridge between book one and three that gives just enough information to move the story along. Thankfully, that is not the case for Traveler. I love how much information we get from this story about Catherine (John’s mom) and the whole seeker history.  

The POV is multiple just like the first book; however, we get a couple of additional character perspectives with Catherine and Nott. While six characters seems overwhelming, the majority of the story is really told by Quinn and Catherine. I was a bit sad that Maud didn’t have as much of a presence in this book, especially since she is one of my favorites. I still don’t really connect to John or Shinobu very much, although Quinn is starting to grow on me. I did love John’s growth as well, even though he is not my favorite. Catherine was a great addition and I was glad that we got to see the story unravel through her eyes, especially since so much of what we know is thanks to her and her detective work.

The setting this time around felt a bit more jarring. I’m really not sure why it bothered me this time and not last time. Maybe because last time I had assumed it was a steampunk world, but I’m not longer sure that’s the case. It felt so more modern this time …  and yet not? I don’t know. I eventually just had to throw the whole setting thing out the window before it annoyed me to no end. I’ll go back to my initial recommendation of just rolling with it.  

The thing I liked the least was the romance between Quinn and Shinobu. Thankfully Dayton did not remind us constantly that they were distantly related; in fact, it may only be mentioned once. However, I just didn’t feel their relationship. I know they’ve known each other their entire lives, but it just felt super fast. While Shinobu has been in love with Quinn forever, she was set on John until just a few months ago. I guess, for the most part, I just didn’t feel the chemistry. Now, this could be that Seeker is a bit hazy in some details, but looking at my review of Seeker, I complained about it then as well. I suppose they’re just not the pairing for me. However, I do think it will be a big part of book three, especially considering how this one ended.

Speaking of how it ended, be ready for a cliff-hanger. Yes, most seeker history related things are answered, but my oh my, Dayton knows how to leave you hanging. I’ll be interested to see where book 3 goes, especially considering most things felt wrapped up in Traveler. I am sure there is a lot more to the story though, and I can’t wait to see it unravel.

Final Verdict: Great second book filled with much needed history and unraveled secrets. I’ll happily pick up book 3, especially considering the huge cliff-hanger.

This review is part of the Traveler Blog Tour. See below for other participants.

January 11 – Seeing Double in Neverland
January 11 – The Cover Contessa
January 12 –  Once Upon A Twilight
January 12 – Two Chicks on Books
January 13 – Take Me Away to a Great Read
January 13 – Lytherus
January 14Supernatural Snark
January 15Bookish Lifestyle
January 15The Eater of Books
January 16Adventures in YA Publishing
January 16Page Turners
January 17Winterhaven Books
January 17Black Dog Speaks
January 18A Dream Within A Dream
January 18Sci Fi Fan Letter
January 19Mundie Moms
January 19The Reading Nook Reviews

Book Review: How to Be Brave

How to Be Brave: A Novel by E. Katherine Kottaras
Release Date: November 3rd 2015 
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Pages: 272 
Source: Library

Reeling from her mother’s death, Georgia has a choice: become lost in her own pain, or enjoy life right now, while she still can. She decides to start really living for the first time and makes a list of fifteen ways to be brave – all the things she’s wanted to do but never had the courage to try. As she begins doing the things she’s always been afraid to do – including pursuing her secret crush, she discovers that life doesn’t always go according to plan. Sometimes friendships fall apart and love breaks your heart. But once in a while, the right person shows up just when you need them most – and you learn that you’re stronger and braver than you ever imagined.

I’m a bit mixed on how I feel about How to Be Brave. There are so many good things about this book, but at the same time there are some problematic things as well. The heart of the story is about Georgia and her dealing with the grief of her mother’s death. In a note that Georgia forces her to write, her mother tells her to do everything and to be brave while doing it. This sets Georgia to make a list with her best friend, Liss, of 15 things she’s always wanted to do/thinks she she should do.

The list itself is fine, but I questioned how the list made her tailspin out of control. Georgia is painted as a good girl who rarely, if ever gets into trouble. However, one day of cutting class and eating a bite of pot brownies sends her off the deep end. After that first time, she states she doesn’t cut too much “just once or twice a week”;getting high is the main event for these days as well. Last time I checked 2 times a week, even for a couple of weeks, is a lot. And the thing is she doesn’t stop on that day she’s called out by the teacher. As a goody-goody, it just seems so out of character that she would have a 180 that fast. Being brave or not, just seems like a really quick spiral and slightly unrealistic that no one at school would notice how many days are adding up and not mentioning something more about it. Her dad doesn’t even find out for another month and a half later when her art teacher calls and rats her out. (At least about the cutting class, the pot-use doesn’t come until much later)

The relationships (family, friends, & romantic) ring quite true. I love the ups and down of her and Liss’ friendship. Even their fight was highly realistic. Who wouldn’t get mad at a friend for screwing up like Georgia did, even if the bad pot was to blame. I love how honest Liss always is with her. She doesn’t sugarcoat anything, which makes her an often abrasive, but awesome character. And her relationship with her father. That whole having a parent be in your life, but not really seeing you and expecting you to be something that you’re not. I’m sure every teen can relate to that. It wasn’t even that he didn’t care/had a bad relationship, her dad was just too busy to see the truth. It was obvious that he loved her, he simply needed to be more proactive in her life, especially now that her mother is gone.

The idea of weight is where we get back into the problematic area. I want to start with Georgia first. She’s a size 16 and considered fat. I have no problem with that. As someone who fluctuates between a size 16 or 18, I do consider myself fat. However, it’s the descriptors that follow that size 16 that don’t work. First passage appears on 27

…I hoist my one-hundred-and-blah-de-blah self (the exact number is irrelevant and supersecret)…

This is where height is totally needed. If you’re say me, at  5’6, well,  I was a size 16 at 220. However, if Georgia is 5’3 or shorter than it’s plausible.  This is why height is so, so, so important. They paint a more accurate, although still not perfect, picture.

Then on page 242 we get this

..It’s called minus ten pounds…By all official medical charts, I should technically lose another 15 pounds.

There is no way that someone who only needs to lose 25 pound is a size 16. Using myself as the example again, when I’m a size 16 to be considered normal by medical standards I would need to lose another 70 pounds. I know this will vary from person to person, but the numbers just don’t add up! [edit: I should have said again this is where we need height/body shape instead of just dismissing it completely. It’s still important to press that a size 16 isn’t the same for everyone. We need more as a reader than just a few random numbers to make it believable/realistic.]

However, on the flip side, some of the things that Georgia has to go through are so relatable. Of course, she’s teased, which can happen at any size, but there’s a scene that took me straight back to my own childhood

I was twelve and I couldn’t find a pair of jeans in the Macy’s junior department that could fit me. I sat on the floor of the dressing room, sobbing. She had to take me to the adult section, where all I could find were this ugly, old-lady jeans that gave me high water.  pg 135

Oh man, I’ve been there. Although, for me it was that I was stuck in stretch pants (yes, I was a child of the late 80s/90s), but the rest rang true. When you’re a plus-size person shopping for clothes is so hard. A+ to Kottaras for capturing that so well. There are also plenty of passages where weight does not hold Georgia (or her mother) back from living life. And by the end, Georgia seems pretty solid in the skin she’s in.

While I’m on weight, I would be remiss not to talk about her mother. This is a spot where I wish there was more information on her mother. We know that she’s a size 24, but no height or weight mentioned. We know that she’s been sick with diabetes, kidney failure, and heart problems for a long time. Many people say that they took her mother’s weight as the cause of all the health factors plus her death. I’m a bit torn on this one myself. The implications are definitely there, especially when you take in the fact that her mother’s doctor told Georgia “don’t let this happen to you.” However, fatshaming by doctors is a very real thing. I’ve seen it happen to so many of my friends (and to an extent myself) that it’s not even funny. And of course, diabetes is tied often to weight, but it’s not the only cause. I think the one passage that give me a little pause is the following:

She could have done it. She could have controlled her sugar and eaten right and walked more, like she said she was going to, but she never did. Instead, she let herself gain weight and she didn’t control her sugar….pg 256

There are so many ways to read it. You can read it as the weight caused it all. Or you could read it as something bigger. Why wasn’t she controlling her sugar? And was it just sugar in food or was she not taking her medication to get her balance right? There’s such a lack of information surround her mom and her health. With all the stereotypes that being overweight means you’re unhealthy, it’s easy to see her mom and her death as something gross. My gut says there must have been so much more going on, but with the lack of information it’s truly hard to say what.

There is also a bit where someone tries to commit suicide. I wasn’t going to mention this part, but it keeps nagging at me. For me, it felt like a plot device. How it happened and how Georgia was involved allowed her to vent her frustrations about her mother not owning up to her problems/making Georgia and her father handle the final, crucial decision. It felt a bit out of place and nothing more than a way to tie up some loose ends. However, I will fully admit that I may be highly sensitive to this topic and that many readers won’t give it a second thought.

I know that I’ve pulled out quite a bit in the problematic area, but truth be told I did enjoy the story. I want to end with one of my favorite quotes, and one of the many things that readers take away from this book

But being brave isn’t about living every minute exhilarated. It’s about waking up and knowing that despite the worry and the sadness and the deep, dark fear, you’re going to go forth anyway. That you’re going to try anyway. That you have  choice, and you’re going to choose to live, today, bravely.

Final Verdict: A decent read, but not one without flaws. In fact, this will still be one I probably tell my teens to check out.

Book Review: If You Wrong Us

If You Wrong Us by Dawn Klehr
Release Date: October 8th 2015 
Publisher: Flux
Pages: 240 
Source: Library

Becca and Johnny become entangled after a car crash steals the lives of two people they love. Officially, the crash is an accident. But Becca and Johnny are convinced: someone did this.

As they plot revenge against the person responsible, a bond—intense, unyielding, and manic—takes hold of them. And in an unexpected turn of events, they fall for each other.

Or so they think.

In an upside-down world where decay is beautiful and love and hate become one, Becca and Johnny find themselves grappling with reality. Nothing is exactly what it seems, including what they’ve come to believe about the crash. Question is: will they learn the truth before it’s too late?

No. The question is: when they learn the truth, will they care?

This is one of those books that I wanted to like so much, and tried to, but ultimately just couldn’t. The story itself isn’t bad. It’s a weird and twisted revenge plot where nothing is quite as it seems. The whole Gone Girl for teens is pretty accurate. Becca herself is a highly unreliable narrator and by the end it’s quite obvious that she’s mentally ill.  The ending is a bit rushed and it kind of falls apart as well. There were some “suspension of disbelief” moments , but none of that truly bothered me. In fact, it’s a quick fast read that I could have easily sold to reluctant readers had it not been for some highly problematic lines/issues that start popping up.

These issues started showing up pretty fast. In fact, on only page four we get this

I shift around in my seat, trying to get comfortable. It’s impossible because I’m stuffed into this desk-and-chair combo – much like Rosie is, sitting next to me jammed into her two-sizes-too-small bedazzled jeans.

There are so many other analogies that could have used. Why, why, why does it have to be this one? All it really serves is demeaning a female classmate. Sure, it forms an image, but does it have to be at the expense of a girl? Girls already have so many people yelling at them about their body, this does not need to added to their list.

The commentary on women’s body doesn’t end there. Less that 20 pages later, we’re given these lines:

Becca has no idea how hot she is, and that only makes her more appealing. pg 19

“Here, take this,” I add, shoving a granola bar into the chest pocket of her button-down shirt. I like my women with a little meat on their bones.” pg 20

No, no, no. A woman who lacks self-confidence is not sexy, and we do not need to be teaching our girls this. It’s okay, even good, to have self-confidence and know you’re beautiful. Also, can we please stop the commentary on what women should look like. I know this line was in a larger reference to her losing weight because of their revenge plot, but we need to express those words and not comments like “needing more meat on their bones”.

Speaking of weight, there are a couple of problematic lines on that as well. The worse offender is:

My brain is like a fat guy at an all-you-can-eat rib joint. Things are going along just fine, I consume, take things in just as I’m supposed to. But then, without warning, I reach out and grab something – a word, a phrase, a number – and it slips out of my greasy hands. pg 30

Again, I get what she is going at, but does it have to be at the expense of someone else. Why can’t it simply be “someone at an all-you-can-eat rib joint”? Why does it have to be someone that’s fat? It’s a stereotype that fat people eat/consume more than anyone else. It’s false and highly insulting.

The other line that deals with weight/unflattering description is

Mom checked in with an overweight blonde who smelled like perspiration and rubbing alcohol. pg. 49

This one seems not so bad compared to the other, but it still really bothered me. She’s overweight so she sweats more? I tried to find an angle that maybe she’s just moving around a lot, but she’s a hospital check-in desk person. Most likely, she is only manning the desk and maybe doing other light office jobs. Nothing that should make her reek of sweat.

There are other things that bothered me, like calling a psychiatric ward the Nut Hut, but the final nail in the coffin for me was the following passage

Call me sick, but I liked Travis’s dark side and the cloud of mystery and danger than hung over him. Brit didn’t understand this because she always got the attention. For me, it was new and exciting the way he fussed over me. I liked his possessiveness. It made me feel precious or something. pg 76

This passage comes a short time after we find out it’s rumored that he beat up his ex-girlfriend. Perhaps that’s not the dark side Becca  is referring to, but it’s the connection that I made. However, even if it isn’t, a relationship where someone is possessive is never good. This is an emotionally abusive relationship and it should not be spun as something good. Yes, I know there’s a twist to this passage that we learn later, but it still doesn’t make this passage okay. Her sister does try to use this fact to force Becca to break up with him, but it’s spun in a way that Brit just doesn’t want to be linked to the “talk” not that she’s worried he may be abusing her as well.

I know these passages seem small in comparison to the whole book, but I do think it’s still worth highlighting problematic things. It’s by no means an attack on anything, but something I believe we should be talking about.

Final Verdict: A fast-paced read with some problematic passages. It’ll be one that teens can still find on the library selves, but not one I promote/handsell.

Book Review: Boy Most Likely To

The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick
Release Date: August 18th 2015 
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 416 
Source: NetGalley, Publisher

Tim Mason was The Boy Most Likely To:
– find the liquor cabinet blindfolded
– need a liver transplant
– drive his car into a house

Alice Garrett was The Girl Most Likely To:
– well, not date her little brother’s baggage-burdened best friend, for starters. Tim Mason was The Boy Most Likely To:
– find the liquor cabinet blindfolded
– need a liver transplant
– drive his car into a house

For Tim, it wouldn’t be smart to fall for Alice. For Alice, nothing could be scarier than falling for Tim. But Tim has never been known for making the smart choice, and Alice is starting to wonder if the “smart” choice is always the right one. When these two crash into each other, they crash hard.

Then the unexpected consequences of Tim’s wild days come back to shock him. He finds himself in a situation that isn’t all it appears to be, that he never could have predicted . . . but maybe should have.

And Alice is caught in the middle.

Told in Tim’s and Alice’s distinctive, disarming, entirely compelling voices, this return to the world of My Life Next Door is a story about failing first, trying again, and having to decide whether to risk it all once more

This book is like chocolate that slowly melts in your mouth; the kind you wish would never end. It’s no secret that I loved and adored My Life Next Door and was excited to walk back into that universe. And while I didn’t quite get what I expected, Fitzpatrick delivered a fantastic book and reminded me all over again why I love her writing and these characters.

Before I get much further, let me say that this book does kind of push the YA envelope. Not so much in that it’s inappropriate, because it’s truly not, but the tone and the way it’s written made it feel more like an upper YA pushing into the New Adult region. Tim falls in that definite grey area of life; not really a kid, but not quite an adult yet either. He should be attending his last year of high school, but instead finds himself kicked out of school (yet again), kicked out of his house, and then hit with another big surprise. I often had to remind myself that he was still under 18 due to situation, but there is still plenty that the “typical” teenager will be able to relate to. And while we get dual POV, this is without a doubt Tim’s story.

Tim, under all his bad boy, messed-up exterior, is truly a good guy. He’s been handed a crap sandwich in life and up until this point he hasn’t handled it so well. He lost his himself in drugs and alcohol and no one truly thinks he’ll amount to anything. After all, he is the boy likely to do something stupid. When the book starts, we find that Tim has been clean for several months already, but still has a lot of stuff to straighten out. His father has just given him an ultimatum to get his life back on track in the next 6 months or he’ll find himself cut off completely. Tim has lived so long without anyone thinking positively of him that it’s hard for him to see it either. His “Boy Most Likely To” list broke my heart and just made me want to hug him and tell him it wasn’t true.

Of course, that’s kind of what Alice does. While she is used to seeing him as her younger brother’s screwed up friend, she slowly gets to see another side. She takes the risk allowing him to be “more” and offers him the support he’s been missing in his life. Alice isn’t the one to fix him–only Tim can do that–but she starts to show him all his positives. While their romance is a bit hidden among the other storyline, it’s still an enjoyable one. They work well together and I do wish there had been more of them falling in love/going on dates. I do hope that Fitzpatrick writes another book in this universe because I would love to see them more relaxed and without the heavy burdens they had to handle.  And, of course, it would allow me to see all the Garrett’s again; a family I love and adore maybe a little too much!

Warning: If you don’t want to be spoiled please don’t read on.

[spoiler]The true love story is between Tim and Cal. Cal is the surprise of the book: he’s the kid that Tim has supposedly fathered. The whole situation around Cal is pretty weird and there should have been a lot more questions asked, but ultimately Cal was good for Tim. It allowed him to see that he could be reliable and be there when it counted. That while creating Cal may have been another blunder, the way he cares for him is not. I loved watching Tim realize that while he had a horrible father, he wouldn’t be one himself. He stepped up and did the responsible thing, even when others were questioning why or wanted him to walk away.

Another thing I really loved that Fitzpatrick showed is how a mother doesn’t automatically have to love her child. In fact, Hester was most likely suffering postpartum depression and had little to no connection to Cal. He was a pothole in her road and one she hoped to put behind her soon. She knew that she didn’t want to raise Cal and that adoption was the best option. The explanation of why she didn’t give him up right away still doesn’t work for me, but that’s okay and something I can forgive for the greater good. Too often society dictates how a mother should feel for her child and it’s important to remember the everyone is different. Even if she wasn’t experiencing postpartum depression, not forming that connection does not make her heartless. Maybe she just wasn’t meant to be a mother, and that’s okay, too. Either way, it was a bad situation at a bad time and one her grandfather should have let her out of much, much sooner as it was not healthy for her or the baby.

I won’t say how it all ended up, but I do wish that Fitzpatrick had gone a slightly different way. It would have made everything so much more powerful, in my opinion. Of course, maybe Tim wouldn’t have been able to do what needed to be done had it been written differently. Still, it seemed a little too easy in my book.
[/spoiler]

Final Verdict: Not quite the love story I was expecting, but a great read anyway. I highly recommend it, even if you haven’t read My Life Next Door.

Book Review: Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave

Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave by Jen White
Release Date: June 9th 2015 
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Pages: 320 
Source: NetGalley

Survival Strategy #50: If You Can, Be Brave.

After their mother’s recent death, twelve-year-old Liberty and her eight-year-old sister, Billie, are sent to live with their father, who they haven’t seen since they were very young. Things are great at first; the girls are so excited to get to know their father – a traveling photographer who rides around in an RV. But soon, the pressure becomes too much for him, and he abandons them at the Jiffy Company Gas Station.

Instead of moping around and being scared, Liberty takes matters into her own hands. On their journey to get home, they encounter a shady, bald-headed gas station attendant, a full-body tattooed trucker, free Continental breakfast, a kid obsessed with Star Wars, a woman who lives with rats, and a host of other situations S
When all seems lost, they get some help from an unlikely source, and end up learning that sometimes you have to get a little bit lost to be found.

When all seems lost, they get some help from an unlikely source, and end up learning that sometimes you have to get a little bit lost to be found.

There is nothing “almost” brave about Liberty. Without a doubt, she is one brave twelve year old. While internally she is freaking out about being abandoned at a gas station, she mainly keeps it together as she tries to get her and her sister back to the only home they’ve known. Her strategies, while dubious, keep both her and her sister alive and mostly out of harm’s way on their adventure.

As they make their way across the states, you can’t help but cheer them on. Every turn of the page, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the time they’d finally get caught. Maybe they’d finally reach their mother’s friend, Julie, back home. Liberty’s quick thinking gets her and Billie out of many sticky situations. Just as often, though, they find themselves in equally dire circumstances.  Not everything can go according to plan.

I love how the story used flashbacks to fill you in on the missing pieces. It was done in a way that wasn’t confusing and only enhanced the story. I’ll admit that my heart broke several times learning what had landed them in their current predicament. Both Liberty and Billie were so desperate for their father’s love, but he just wasn’t capable of giving it. His mental illness/obsession took over, and he could barely perceive that the girls were there most days. There are glimmers that make it obvious that he wants to be the father they deserve, but he falls short time and time again. I appreciate how White shows how mental illness can take over and entrap a person even as they fight it, and how everyday things quickly become all-consuming and overwhelming.. Mental illnesses are rarely easy for the person or loved ones to deal with, something that White shows with grace.

The only thing that made me hesitate a little was the girls’ fear of the authorities. I could understand avoiding the creepy gas station man, but I never fully understood why they were so scared of the police catching them. Liberty’s fear kept them running and lead to stealing, lying, and many other questionable acts. I got a sense that Liberty was scared they’d be separated, but there was nothing in their past that would cause that nagging fear. If they had been placed in foster care after their mother’s death it would have worked, but it seems like Julie took over care right away. The only other explanation is that her mom said she was responsible for Billie now, but I don’t think that should have driven her to avoid all adult help. Of course, it was a necessity for the plot, but I wish there had been more explanation/backstory to it. I doubt the intended audience will be bugged by this, but it was something that annoyed me a little as an adult.

Final Verdict: A nice, fast-paced middle grade story that has humor, adventure, and a lot of heart.

GN Review: Possessions: The Final Tantrum

Possessions: The Final Tantrum by Ray Fawkes
Series: Possessions #4
Release Date: February 4th 2015 
Publisher: Diamond Comic Distributors
Pages: 88 
Source: Publisher

Gurgazon the Unclean has escaped the feeble confines of the Llewellyn-Vane House. Now she towers over the city, reigning destruction over all! And with the help of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, there’s no stopping her from bringing on the end of the world! Except, of course, for all the ghouls, ghosts, vapors, poltergeists, and ectoplasmic entities within the city limits. Do they stand a chance against Gurgazon the Pit Demon? Can the Apocalypse be stopped when it’s only just begun? Find out in Possessions Book 4: The Final Tantrum!

Whew, okay, can I just say it took me way longer to come out of my GN slump than I imagined? I loved being on Great Graphic Novels for Young Adults the past two years, but it was tiring! After finishing my term in the end of January, I didn’t want to touch a GN. Not even ones I’ve been looking forward to forever. But I’m finally, FINALLY, back in the game and it’s a pleasure to jump back in it with Possessions vol 4: The Final Tantrum. If you haven’t heard of Possession before, you need to go and check out my earlier reviews. I absolutely loved the past volumes and volume 4 was no exception.

Gurgazon is finally free from the manor and she’s ready for her reign of terror to begin. I loved being back into this world. This one is not as funny as the past volumes, but it’s not meant to be. After all, if Gurgazon successfully creates her chaos, it’ll be the end of the world! I enjoyed the backstory on Gurgazon and seeing all the characters we’ve grown to love working together to stop the chaos and bring Gurgazon back to their side.While not the best volume of the four, it’s still a very solid read. I had thought this would be the last volume, but it looks like there is (at least) one more as this one ends in another cliff hanger.

The art is also remains solid. This one continues the one main color for the book; this time in tan. As with the past volumes, don’t go in looking for a lot of detail, especially in the background. The panels are sparse concentrating on the main action. It’s one of the more simplistic series that I read, but it works quite well for it.

Final Verdict: Another good addition to the series. If you enjoyed the previous installments, you won’t be disappointed with this one. My only hope is we won’t have to wait another 3 years for the next volume!

Book Review: All Lovely Things

All Lovely Things by Lea Redmond
Release Date: March 3rd 2015 
Publisher: Perigee Books
Pages: 208 
Source: Publisher

Think of this book as Pinterest for the inner soul. All Lovely Things asks readers to to consider who they are by way of the diverse items they surround themselves with. Through simple, illustrated prompts, readers are encouraged to create object-based portraits of themselves, or people they know, admire, or imagine. Whether it’s a favorite childhood toy, a piece of clothing worn on a first date, or a book that shaped who they are today, readers will create sketches, collage images, or record descriptions of the key objects in a life. They’ll also find several completed portraits throughout for inspiration. Drawing attention to objects not as mere possessions or shallow stuff, but as fascinating companions in the world that help us develop a unique sense of self, All Lovely Things is a celebration of the way we make objects and how objects make us.

This is one of those books I can’t do a typical review for. The actual text of the book is very sparse, only about 20 pages or so. Of course, the object of the book is for you to explore your own (and others) life via objects. Redmond walks the reader through a series of of examples to get your mind on the right track before starting the actual profiles. After that, you have over 100+ pages that are blank waiting for you to create your own profiles.

I didn’t do a full profile, but I did like thinking about things that were important to me and why. I don’t know that this profiles truly fit my style, at least in the way Redmond meant. However, I do like doing profiles on family/friends as a different style of a memory book. I would love to know what things were important to those I love and why. Also, it’s interesting to see what they would put in a profile for myself.

I also like how you could use this academically/in library with teens. I see more benefits for this in a classroom setting, but it could translate to libraries just as well. Redmond suggests doing a profile on someone famous/someone you don’t know by doing research/reading some bio information. I love how this could be a new way to do a report/presentation for school. It would definitely be a bit more interesting than the typical way. The idea of doing a profile for a fictional character is intriguing as well. I can see how this could be beneficial for writers/people trying to learn who their characters are and who don’t want to write it all out. Honestly, the more I think about the more ways I realize how many ways you could use these profiles. In talking with a co-worker, i thought of about 5 more different situations, which just goes to prove the possibilities are endless.

Final Verdict: An interesting journal that gets you thinking about objects in a new way. Looks of empty pages for those who enjoy scrapbooking/creating things on paper.

Book Review: Alex as Well

Alex As Well by Alyssa Brugman
Release Date: January 20th 2015 
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company (BYR)
Pages: 224 
Source: Library

Alex is ready for things to change, in a big way. Everyone seems to think she’s a boy, but for Alex the whole boy/girl thing isn’t as simple as either/or, and when she decides girl is closer to the truth, no one knows how to react, least of all her parents.

Undeterred, Alex begins to create a new identity for herself: ditching one school, enrolling in another, and throwing out most of her clothes. But the other Alex-the boy Alex-has a lot to say about that. Heartbreaking and droll in equal measures, Alex As Well is a brilliantly told story of exploring gender and sexuality, navigating friendships, and finding a place to belong. Alex is ready for things to change, in a big way. Everyone seems to think she’s a boy, but for Alex the whole boy/girl thing isn’t as simple as either/or, and when she decides girl is closer to the truth, no one knows how to react, least of all her parents.

The description of this book is a bit misleading. At first glance, I thought this book  dealt with a transgender character, but the truth is that Alex is intersex. She was born with ambiguous gentialia (small penis, no scrotum, & ovaries), but has been raised as a boy by her parents. Now that Alex is 14 years old, she realizes that she is a girl, not a boy. The book has a great premise and could have been phenomenal, but instead ended up being so problematic that I would be hard pressed to recommend it to anyone.

My biggest issue with this book is Alex’s parents, especially her mother, Heather. They take her declaration that she is a girl horribly; they call her a weirdo and pervert and act as if she is ruining their lives. Both of them act as if this is a surprising revelation and not something that could have happened all along. They chose to raise her as a boy with the help of testosterone medication. Heather herself even mentions that she had to keep logs and watch Alex to make sure they made the right decision. Everything points to them knowing this could happen, but by the way they act you’d never know it. Had Alex been transgendered and not intersex, their actions would have worked, but as written it didn’t make sense. (Note: please know that while it would have worked if Alex was transgendered, their responses/actions would have still been horrible!) Not to say that parents don’t act this way, it just felt odd how blindsided they were when it seemed most of Alex’s early life was about documenting their decision.

While Alex’s dad does seem to come around, Heather just won’t accept the change. I have never wanted to punch a character as much as I did Heather; via her forum/blog posts it becomes clear how horrible she really is.   Not only does she refuse to call Alex her, but she forces medication on her by sticking it in her food. She claims that Alex has always been a selfish, difficult child, even at the age of 3. She wallows in self-pity, but never once stops to look at things through Alex’s eyes. She tries to play herself off as loving, but that women is nothing but hate. Worse that that, I can’t stand how  her actions were tied to a “mental breakdown”. By the end of the book, she’s been admitted,  and it’s almost as if that explains why she can’t be loving and supportive of Alex. Of course, it could also be implied that Alex’s decision drove her to that point, which is equally as disturbing.

Alex, herself, is problematic as well. She splits herself into boy-Alex and girl-Alex and there is a lot of self-loathing at times. At one point, she even calls herself a transgendered freak. This is where I wish I knew so much more about the intersex community. Both the splitting of the personality and calling herself transgendered feels off, but I’m not sure if I’m correct or not in my thinking.Of course, even if the personality separation is a normal occurrence among people, I hate how many gender stereotypes were  used. Boy-Alex disrupts the class and makes lewd comments and gestures to other girls. On the other hand, Girl-Alex loves all things sparkly and can admit to be inept at using tools. It felt as if she was doing nothing more than putting all her traits into little boxes, much as her mother had been doing for years. I’m not even going to touch the dressing room scene at the start of the book, which really disturbed and creeped me out.

The last thing that really bothered me were all these little plot devices that made things too easy. Switching schools without parental consent? No problem! Join the school fashion show and become a sought after model making mad bank? Piece of cake! Find a lawyer who will act as a father figure and make things happen with a snap of the fingers? Done! I mean, I’m glad that Alex got out of her situation, but it all felt a little too easy. And what 14 year old is really ready to move out on their own? I suppose there may be a rare case out there, but Alex was not one of them. It just seemed so unrealistic. If  Brugman was going for a fairy tale ending, I would have rather seen Alex end up in a supporting foster home rather than going at it all alone.

Final Verdict: A book I wanted to fall in love with, but couldn’t. While the topic held such promise, it ended up being highly flawed and problematic.

Book Review: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
Release Date: Oct. 14th 2014 
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
Pages: 208 
Source: Library

Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

Oh man, I don’t think I can express enough how much I loved this book. I have to admit that I sadly judged this book by its cover. I’ve know about it for  months, but it wasn’t until several of my friends began expressing their love for it that I finally picked it up. And now I can see why. I’ve already been singing the praises to several of my teens.

Let’s talk about all the things this book got right. First thing I loved was Gabi’s voice. It felt so authentic, as if I really was reading the diary of the 17 year old girl. Gabi is brutally honest about everything. From her meth-addicted father, love and sex, the pressure of being a “good” daughter/sister, and being a fat girl. I love how nothing was held back, not even when she made mistakes. Life is rarely about being perfect and Gabi’s journey shows that in full force.

I also love how Quintero isn’t afraid of tackling the tough issues. Gabi is a fat girl, but it doesn’t define her. It is not her whole existence. Yes, she struggles with junk food cravings, losing weight, and liking how she looks. Her happiness is not tied to her weight. There is no crash dieting to make her a better person or get the boy. She gets the boy by being just who she is. And I love how Gabi grows to love her body as the book progress. My favorite quote ever comes from her convincing herself to go the beach with her classmates in a two piece. It’s a quote I think every girl (or person who struggles with being body positive) should have taped to their mirror.

You look spectacular. You look amazing, so stop your bitching or do something that makes you feel better.

Oh, and spoiler alert, no one cared that she was in a two piece. That is what being body positive is all about. You go out there and rock it no matter what size you are.

The other issues that Quintero handles that made me shout from the roof tops was boys will be boys. Gabi is constantly commenting on how her mother treats her brother differently. How she’s to  keep  her “eyes open, legs closed” but her brother is to remember the condom. She hates how it’s okay for him to have sex, but if she does she would be a “bad” girl. Starting on page 229, she lays out all the boys will be boys arguments and it’s glorious to say the least. All the little stereotypes surround rape and how the girl better watch it because boys will be boys. Seriously, if you do nothing else you should get this book and read that section. Being put so bluntly in a book just made me want to weep. I also love that Martin’s father basically tells him the boys will be boys is bullshit and that he had better treat Gabi (and all girls) with respect. I have never wanted to hug a minor character so much.

The last thing I’ll talk is Gabi’s growth and transformation. I loved watching her come into her own. All the struggles and hardships that are thrown out her just make her grow. The way she thought about and questioned things she had been told all her life. Like with sex and her body and what made a “good” girl. She came to accept that the ideologies her mom held didn’t have to be the ones she held. That sex or wearing pants or going away for college did not made her “bad;” it just made her her. That’s a lesson all teens should  learn.

Final Verdict: Just go and read it now. I promise you won’t regret it. The cover is a shame, but will make sense once you read it. The story, however, will have you hugging the book in no time flat. Hands down this has become one of my favorite books.