Sunday, August 19, 2018

Review: Louisiana's Way Home

Louisiana's Way Home Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have to say I was a little disappointed in this book. I was looking forward to the trio of Louisiana, Beverly, and Raymie having another adventure and getting to know them better and watching their friendship deepen and grow. Instead it's all about Louisiana having her own adventure and finding out some surprising information about her family history after her Granny takes her and sneaks out of town in the middle of the night.

The story is told in Lousiana's voice, in the form of a letter documenting the events of her unwilling flight from Florida and the events that followed. Louisiana is very precocious and adorable with the way she talks to people and relays her story, but the story seemed too short and rushed, and too much in Louisiana's head. I think it needed more involvement and development of some of the other characters, and I think we needed to get to know the Allen family a little before before Lousiana's decision.

It's okay, and I would recommend it to readers who enjoyed the first book, but I think it could've been better. I'm curious if there will be a third book about Beverly...

[I received this as a digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Review: Merci Suárez Changes Gears

Merci Suárez Changes Gears Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. I've read Meg Medina's Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, but I had not read any of her work for younger readers before.

In this story we see Merci, a young girl who is adjusting to changes in her life (starting middle school, ageing grandparents, older brother about to leave for college) and finding she is starting to resent all the obligations that her extended family dumps on her, and sacrifices they expect of her, without ever including her in the conversation or decision making. Plus, her beloved grandfather who she has always had a special relationship with, begins to act strangely, leaving Merci with very mixed feelings when he asks her not to tell anyone about his "incidents".

This story deals with all the typical tween-angst of navigating friendships, frenemies, changing social structures in middle school, trying to become more independent, dealing with parental and familial expectations, all with the added nuances of the cultural expectations. There is the added conflict of having a relative with Alzheimer's, at first not understanding the odd behavior, angry outbursts, and forgetfulness, and then feeling angry and betrayed after finding out the family knew of the illness for some time and kept it from her.

I thought the story was well-written and well-paced, with great characters. I loved Merci's whole extended family, but I greatly emphathized with her resentment of the unfair expectations put on her. I think this is a great story for all young readers, but those who have similar close, extended family units would appreciate seeing that type of family represented.

[I received this as a digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

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Saturday, August 11, 2018

Review: The Dollar Kids

The Dollar Kids The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Richard Jacobson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While I had a little bit of trouble connecting with the story and characters at the very beginning, I was quickly caught up in Lowen's struggle to overcome the guilt he felt in the death of the boy who lived across the hall, and the Grover family's struggle to start over in a small town where apparently not everyone welcomed them.

There is a lot going on in this book with it's ensemble case of characters, but I think it is generally all pulled together pretty well. I thought the idea of a family buying a "dollar house" (a foreclosed, rundown house sold for only a $1, with the stipulation the purchaser perform repairs and improvements within a year) very interesting, and though the mixed reactions from the locals were spot on: some would be welcoming, some would assume they were poor, and many would regard them with suspicion as "outsiders".

Although Lowen's father remained a bit of a stranger due to his staying in the city for much of the book, I thought the characters of the rest of the family were fairly well-developed, particularly Lowen and his mother. I could relate to his mother's dream of her own business, and to feeling like an outsider in a small-town. The story touched on so many things. Initially it seemed to be all about Lowen's guilt (which I liked seeing that he used his art to work through), but it was also very much about friendship, with Lowen finally understanding there are different types of friendship and realizing he and Abe were friends, and gradually building a friendship with Dylan. It was also about starting over, working hard, overcoming obstacles, and how a dying town finally came together and reinvented itself.

I really enjoyed this and will definitely recommend it!

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Monday, August 6, 2018

Review: The Storm Runner

The Storm Runner The Storm Runner by J.C. Cervantes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3-1/2 stars. This is the second book published under Rick Riordan's new Disney imprint "Rick Riordan Presents". In Rordan's own words, the purpose of this new imprint is:

"....to publish great books by middle grade authors from underrepresented cultures and backgrounds, to let them tell their own stories inspired by the mythology and folklore of their own heritage."

I do love the idea of an established author helping to promote new authors, especially those from underrepresented groups, and I respect Riordan for going that route rather than using unknown authors as ghostwriters and publishing them under his own name, a practice that has always seemed rather predatory to me.

However, I am not sure I really heard the author's voice in this story. I felt like it was too similar to Riordan's style and just seemed really cookie-cutter to me. It was not bad, and I can't really point out any specific flaws, other than the character development just wasn't quite there for me and it just wasn't as engaging. I usually hate to put a book down until I'm finished, but that wasn't the case with this one. I also found I was more interested in some of the supporting characters, like Ms. Cab and Jazz, than the main character. However, I have read so many middle-grade books based on mythology in the last few years I think I am just really burned out on the genre.

In this story, Zane Obispo is the only child of a single mother who feels self-conscious because one leg is shorter than the other, resulting in his walking with a limp. His seemingly normal life is interrupted by some very unusual events and a new shape-shifting friend. He soon discovers that he is the son of a Mayan creation god, and must destroy Ah Puch, the god of death, whom Zane had released from where the gods had imprisoned him.

I am still curious to see other titles from this new imprint, and I would suggest them for young readers looking for something similar to Riordan's Percy Jackson and other series.

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Monday, July 30, 2018

Review: Children of Blood and Bone

Children of Blood and Bone Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have very mixed feelings about this book. Because of all the hype and the long wait to get a copy from my library, I had very high expectations, and I just didn't feel like it lived up to the hype. I know there's a lot of exitement about it because of having an author who is a POC, particularly in the fantasy genre.

I'll start with the good. The story did grab my interest right away, and held it most of the time. I love the cover art. I really liked the character of Amari, the princess who rebels against her father and brother to do what is right. I loved the growth in her character, from a frightened princess who made an impusive decision after seeing her father murder her maid and best friend, but not really having a clue what she was doing, to a strong fighter who had the courage of her convictions and is determined to claim the throne in order to lead her country into peace.

I would not say anything was really BAD about it, but some things were annoying. It was very preditable in many ways, especially the romance between the princess Amari and Tzain, the main character's brother, and the ill-fated romance between Zelie and crown prince Inan. Readers can see the sad end of that before it ever gets started, due to Inan's desire for his father's approval overriding any hint of decency and good character he has. In my opinion, the book would have been so much better if that romantic subplot had been left out entirely.

Zelie's character was at times very sympathetic, likeable, and admirable, but at others very annoying because of her poor choices and not learning from past mistakes, which end up costing many, many lives. I'd really like to see the characters of her brother and the princess play a bigger role. The other thing I found annoying was the juxtaposition of a setting that felt like a very anicent time and culture, and the sometimes very modern speech and phrases. Some of the dialog just didn't seem to fit the culture and time. Also, I found the adding of "aire" to the end of real animal names as a naming device for all the fantastical animals annoying, too.

And finally I wondered about the facets of Yoruba legends, mythology, and language being used in high fantasy. I would rather see folklore that is an authentic and accurate representation of an actual culture's mythology and language, or fantasy that is truly all fantantiscal and fictional, rather than a mixing of the two, and another reviewer who self-identifies as Yoruban indicated this usage and representation was problematic to them, as well.

I don't want to disuade anyone from reading this book, but since it has been hyped SO much, I felt more compelled to point out some of the potential flaws. This book is the first of a trilogy, so that's good news to the many who loved it, though I doubt I will read the rest, but will look at summaries and skim them as I am curious about what happens next.

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