Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February: Diverse Reading Challenge and #diversitybingo2017

I didn't read as many diverse books as I would have liked to in February, but I did move halfway across the country and there's not a lot of time to read in there.  I didn't read very much, period.  I have a bunch of titles lined up for March, though, so it should be better!

Want by Cindy Pon.  I have to figure out how to review this one--it is so, so, so, SO GOOD!  And look at that cover!  A Taiwanese boy on the cover of a SFF YA novel!  This is a tightly written thriller that everyone needs to read.  I'm serious.  Check back for a review (but not too soon--my backlog of stuff to write is ENORMOUS).

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia.  This is repping the neurodiverse front and it, too, is amazing.  I seriously want to read it again.  I even loved the I-have-a-secret-I-can't-tell-the-person-I-love romance--which I NEVER DO!  Who am I??? Am I having an existential crisis?

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham.  Er, I didn't like this one at all.  I thought it was really problematic and I'm working on a detailed review right now.  Stay tuned.

The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz. Holy dogs! Mixed-race monks! A practicing Jewish character! This book has everything and I loved it unconditionally.  And we have rep on the cover, which is aces.

And here's my updated #diversitybingo2017 sheet:

For more bloggers doing the Diverse Reading Challenge, check out Octavia, Angie, and Shelley's blog at Read.Sleep.Repeat!

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Inquisitor's Tale

The Librarian's Tale:

The Inquisitor's Tale is the Canterbury Tales-inspired middle grade novel that you never knew you always needed. I promise you that you will not be disappointed if you read this. If you are, I will do some sort of medieval penance.

Okay, so maybe not medieval penance. That stuff was off the hook scary. Hairshirts and scourges and an annual bath.

Anyway, I knew from meeting Adam Gidwitz at BEA 2016 that I could expect a farting dragon, which is most excellent, but I didn't realize how deeply and thoughtfully this book would discuss things like religious persecution, the nature of faith, and what makes a person truly a saint.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Prisoner of Ice and Snow

Prisoner of Ice and Snow is a perfectly fine middle grade novel that never quite rises above the level of "perfectly fine."  It reminded me a bit of Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy in that it had some very good ideas and settings, but the delivery was rushed and too many elements introduced.

Valor has to attempt to kill a member of the royal family in order to save her sister.  Ever since Sasha was arrested for the theft of a very important music box that had a part in a treaty with a neighboring country, Valor has been trying to figure out how to save her.

Okay, I know you just stopped on the "very important music box" part.  I know.  Me too.  It's really ... really ... unconvincing.  Why would a ruler agree to a treaty only if they got a music box--even if it is a FabergĂ©-esque music box with an egg on top?  Even if the other party wanted a token of good faith, a music box seems an odd choice.  Personally, I would go with a sword or something.  Something fancy yet useful.  Anyway, enough about the music box.  It's basically a MacGuffin.

Sasha was imprisoned in the ultra-scary, ultra-inescapable, ultra-gulagy Tyur'ma prison, where all the criminal children of the kingdom of Demidova are sent.  It's a big prison, and it's chockful of kiddos.  Which leads me to wonder what, exactly, are all these other kids in for?  Sassing their parents?  Eating an extra piece of bacon for breakfast?  Because Sasha, Evil and Dangerous Music Box Thief, has been placed with the Black Hands, which is the scariest and most violent area of the prison.  Oh noes! You really have to question the government of a country that has a special prison just for kids.

So in order to free her sister, Valor first has to get into prison.  And what better way to assure her incarceration than to attempt to assassinate Anatol, the Crown Prince of Demidova, during a festival?  Valor is an ace shot with a bow, so she's skilled enough to get close but never actually hurt the prince.  Per her plan, she's sentenced by Queen Ana, who recently banished Valor's family for their other daughter's alleged theft, and sent to the prison for children that is so well-fortified that an army couldn't break in.

Once in prison, Valor doesn't initially get along with the other kid prisoners, like her roommate, who is introduced as having an issue with being dirty and makes everyone wash their hands. Except that only comes up twice in the novel and is then forgotten. This is not character development.

Valor heads out with the chain gangs to pick gems out of rock and do the laundry and other slavish work.  Somehow, she's also able to steal things like a pickaxe and a piece of metal to use as a lockpick because Valor is Super Special.  The rest of the novel involves Valor and Sasha attempting to escape the prison via Secret Tunnels that no one knows about except for Valor's dad.  Along the way, they accumulate extra escapees despite being warned to trust no one, and one of their friends is definitely a traitor.

Isn't it a given when one character says "Trust no one!" and the main character does the exact opposite that someone is going to be a traitor?

Anyway, the actual escape is a rushed mess and leaves the book with at least 50 pages to go because it happens too early.  We then have a second crisis wherein Valor confronts the real music box thief (I mean, if you didn't figure out that Sasha was innocent, then... I can't help you) and histrionics are had but then reason prevails and Valor and Sasha are rewarded.  Happy ending!

In a middle grade book, I don't expect an intricate plot, but I do expect something that makes sense. The lack of characterization, particularly for the secondary characters, adds a lot of confusion.  At the end, when everyone was escaping, I kept asking myself, "Who are these people?  How are they all friends now?" The kids all have generic Russianesque names like Viktor or Katia or Nicolai (spelling from the book, not me) and have generic dialogue and fall into predefined roles, like the prickly person with a heart of gold, and the charming thief, and the cranky bossy girl.

Yes, there are good ideas in this story. I like that Valor is described as being tall and strong instead of the usual "I'm too skinny and delicate" aesthetic. I like the idea of Tyur'ma and its various punishments. The settings were rendered realistically, and the scene where Valor kills an entire wolf pack from the battlements of the prison is pretty cool.

Everyone who's read this so far seems to have loved it, and that's fine.  I did not, which is also fine. I would consider this a secondary purchase.

P.S. Who names their daughter Valor in a vaguely Tsarist Russia-inspired fantasy land?

Monday, February 13, 2017

I'm Moving!

Although I've been reading like a fiend, trying to finish as many ARCs and library books as humanly possible before they must be boxed up or returned, respectively, I've not found a lot of time for reviewing. I have five SIX drafts to work on and my brain just isn't there.  

Also, I'm still recovering from an ALL THE FEELS attack thanks to Elle Katharine White's brilliant Heartstone.  This means that I tend to speak in absolutes and in gifs.

I'll still be on Twitter @Pamelibrariland, or you can follow this blog for updates with Bloglovin' or email subscription using the boxes over there --------------->

Catch you on the other side of the country!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Mini-Review: The 5th Wave

Critics often say that it is better to do one thing and do it well than to do many things and do them with mediocrity.  But what about the people who do many things and do them all well?  People like Rick Yancey.

This is my third book/series by Yancey, and I'm really impressed by how he changes voice, vocabulary, and structure to suit the story he is telling.  This is not to say that I dislike formulaic books--they are rather like delicious, empty calories for my brain on days when I just need to unwind.  Yet as I began reading The 5th Wave, I had a bit of trouble reconciling this alien invasion survival story and its direct prose with the ornate and gruesome Monstrumologist books.  However, as the book progresses and the characters begin to open up to each other and to the reader, Yancey's deft touch with language and imagery comes to the fore and stuns you.  I never thought that a book about the end of humanity could be so beautiful.

I cannot say much about this book that has not already been said.  The 5th Wave is narrated by three distinct voices, which are, blessedly, actually distinct.  Cassie been on her own for a while--just her, Bear, and her AK-47.  Cassie tells us, via her journal, about the invasion.  Earth is now in the midst of the Fourth Wave, where aliens either control or have infiltrated other humans, invisibly.  No one can be trusted.  Nowhere is safe.  Cassie dubs these creatures Silencers.  

But Cassie can't stay hidden in the woods forever, even though she would like to.  She promised her little brother that she would come find him, and that promise cannot be broken.  She will bring Bear back to him and save what remains of her family.  So she ventures out, risking her life in the wintry, desolate wastes of Ohio.

There are Silencers in the woods, and one of them tracks Cassie.  But he can't bring himself to kill her.  Why can't he do it?  Why does he care so much about this human girl?  Instead of a headshot, he shoots Cassie in the leg and leaves before knowing if she dies or not.

Meanwhile, kids are being trained to fight back against the aliens.  This is no Independence Day-style hooah rally for the destiny of humanity.  No--this is pitiful and weak.  It's the last of the last-ditch effort to stop Them.

Yancey weaves his narrators together, in and out of the truth, in and out of life and death in a feat of literary legerdemain.  This is a meditation on love, humanity, and the true nature of survival.

Also, this book has reinforced my conviction that I would probably be one of the first to die in some sort of alien/zombie invasion, as I am an awful runner, have never fired a gun, and faint when I see gruesome wounds.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

What I'm Reading Wednesday

Because I'll be moving in about two weeks (yikes!), I am simultaneously packing and trying to cram tons of books and ARCs in before I have to pack everything for good.  Plus, we just got my December/January order of YA books in (arghghghghgh backups are not cool), so I snagged a bunch of newish YA fic to read.

But as for what I'm currently reading, here we go:

Girl In Pieces by Kathryn Glasgow.  My library's copy was checked out and not brought back, which, for teen books, is a sign that they hit home and are desperately needed (see also: Ellen Hopkins, Jason Reynolds, and Julie Anne Peters).  So far, the story is raw but true, and a welcome antidote to more saccharine treatments of self-harm that I've seen.

The Green Mill Murder by Kerry Greenwood.  I am utterly addicted to the audiobooks of the Phryne Fisher mysteries, so much so that I don't like driving without having one in the car!

Monstress, Vol. 1 by Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda, and Russ Wooton.  This is so visually stunning that I don't know where to look.  Intricate and fascinating,

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia.

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson.  I'm getting a very awesome time-hopping vibe from this one, and the first few chapters are the ultimate hook.  I feel obsessed already.

Blogger isn't playing well with graphics at ALL tonight so sorry for no pictures.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Artemis: Wild Goddess of the Hunt

Another stellar entry in George O'Connor's Olympians series.  This one isn't getting a ton of love on Goodreads, and I loved it, so I think that means I made the right decision.  GR reviews are beocming less and less useful.  I mean, if we start at the relatively low level of usefulness and trustworthiness that we had at the beginning, pre-Amazon takeover.

All bookish drama aside, I loved this book.  O'Connor has written an unapologetically feminist graphic novel treatment of Artemis when most other authors and stories about her tend to downplay how she fights for her right to choose and instead emphasize her cruelty.  Exception being made, of course, for Riordan's genius Artemis' Wild Hunt empowering girls to do their own thing.

Really, any book about gods is going to contain cruelty; however, I think that Artemis often gets typecast as a frigid lady-dog who loves punishing people precisely because of her choice regarding men and marriage.  The inference is that Artemis punishes mortals like Niobe and Actaeon because of some repressed sexual issues since she has decided not to marry.  I'd like to just point out that Hera, goddess of marriage, is one of the most vindictive people ever.  Plus, Actaeon was a creeper.  A level-one stalker-creeper and he deserved it.  Okay, maybe not the being-torn-to-death-by-his-own-dogs bit, but definitely the transformation bit.

O'Connor has really outdone himself with this one, presenting Artemis as a confident young woman who balances being a helper and a leader, a huntress and a protector.  She knows what she wants and she goes for it, and if that makes readers uncomfortable, then that's on them and their sexist ways.

Another amazing addition to an extraordinary series.  This should be in all libraries.

I received a review copy from First Second.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Upside of Unrequited

I don't generally go for sweet books.  For books that make you go "aww!" and think that life could actually be okay.  It may be in my DNA to be a pessimist, because I find optimism extraordinarily difficult to practice.  My mind constantly runs "what if" scenarios that involve the worst possible outcome.  I am, in short, a mess.

However, Becky Albertalli may have cured me of my immunity to sweet romance and my inability to finish a book with a smile on my face.  I cannot rightly describe The Upside of Unrequited as being fluffy, because it deals with real and serious topics like anxiety, depression, and jealousy.  But at the end, I wanted to stand up and cheer, because my heart was full of happiness.  This novel is funny and incisive and inclusive and just super romantic.

I've been thinking about this, and The Upside of Unrequited reminded me very much of a Jane Austen novel.  It's a comedy of errors that hits you right in the feels.  The romantic relationship in this one is more Elinor and Edward than Elizabeth and Darcy, but we can't all have brooding rich men as boyfriends.  We have misunderstandings, awful relatives, a heroine caught between the Dashing Guy and the Quiet Guy, and lots of family shenanigans.  It's wonderful.  I could do a whole breakdown of character matchups, but that would make this review ridiculously long, and I already think that the intensity of my admiration has clouded my ability to review properly.

Note/warning: Because I kept thinking about Albertalli's previous book, the smashing Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, I was hungry for Oreos.  As someone with Celiac, I have never had a legit, Oreo-brand Golden Oreo, ergo I am, by default, in Albertalli's camp in the Great Oreo Twitter Feud.  However, the craving for Oreos was so strong while I was reading this book that I drove 45 minutes to obtain two boxes of Trader Joe's gluten free Joe-Joes.  These are the closest to Oreos in my book.  Confession: I did get the peppermint kind.  They were limited edition!  They are also delicious!  Becky Albertalli not only has the ability to write amazing novels, but also to make me crave Oreos.  Brava.

"I don't entirely understand how anyone gets a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend. It just seems like the most impossible odds. You have to have a crush on the exact right person and the exact right moment. And they have to like you back. A perfect alignment of feelings and circumstances. It's almost unfathomable that it happens as often as it does."

Molly Peskin-Suso has had loads of crushes.  But not one date.  Not one boyfriend.  Her twin sister, Cassie, confidently goes after all of the girls she crushes on.  Cassie is confident and strong-willed, while Molly is "generically pretty," shy, and "nowhere close to willowy."  She assumes that people wouldn't want to go out with her because of her weight, so her crushes, although passionate, remain unrequited.  So when Cassie meets Mina at an under-18 club, and it's clear that they are going to be a couple, Cassie tries to arrange for Mina's friend Will to become Molly's boyfriend, and not just crush number 27.

And Will's cute, sure.  His hipster bangs are beyond hot, and he's sweet.  But how could he ever like Molly?  And what about her very interesting but also very confusing feelings for Reid, her coworker who's totally into D&D and awkwardly white sneakers?

The plot of The Upside of Unrequited is quite simple, and it works because of the spectacular characterization.  Molly's inner voice is spot-on, and sometimes I found myself wondering if maybe Molly and I were the same person in some sort of weird trans-textual brain twinning.  And even though Molly is kind of awkward and afraid of risks, she's also really bold in standing up for herself and her body and her right to be treated like any other human being.  She's extremely aware of all the crap that society spouts about fatness, and she's determined to be happy.  Even if it means screwing up, totally and completely.

I think this is the first teen book I've read that has two moms in an interracial relationship who each have a baby by the same donor.  Well, in Molly and Cassie's case, babies.  This means that Molly and Cassie are white and Xavier is mixed, and no one believes that they're actually related to their black cousins.  They're also Jewish!  It's a blended family in every sense of the word.

Molly really is the best thing about this book.  Whether it's ruminations on the total weirdness of bikini waxing or having feels or feeling jealous that your twin sister didn't even tell you she was in a relationship and you had to find out on Facebook ... she's pretty much my everything.

Although 2017 has been a really, really, really awful year so far, it's a great year for books.  I'm adding The Upside of Unrequited to my Best Books list, along with Allegedly, The Hate U Give, and What Girls Are Made Of.

I received an ARC of this title from Edelweiss.