Monday, March 12, 2018

Review: Dear Martin

Dear Martin Dear Martin by Nic Stone
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. Overall a good story, but something was off in the writing to me. I didn't feel like the character development was quite there, and it just felt like it should have all been written in first person, rather than just the journal letters. It seems almost like it HAD originally all been written in first-person, and then re-edited so that all the I's and me's were simply replaced with "Justyce", rather than re-writing to be truly from a 3rd-person perspective, in an unnecessary effort to make more distinction between the story and Justyce's journal entries. I expected a little more from a Morris finalist.

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Saturday, March 10, 2018

Review: The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 out of 5 stars. From the summary, I was expecting a story full of frivolity, partying, and raunchy hijinks (which is exactly what the main character was expecting from his Grand Tour as well), but it is so much more! It is most definitely a fun- and action-filled adventure, but there are also moments that are sincere and touching, and it deals with the serious issues of racism, abuse, disability, and learning to be comfortable in your own skin.

The story starts off with the hard-partying Monty and his best friend (and love interest) Percy setting off on what Monty expected to be a year of continental debauchery as he drank and slept his way across Europe with plenty of beautiful lasses and lads. However, his hopes are dashed as not only does his father hire a stern chaperone to accompany them and keep them in line, but his younger sister Felicity is going to be tagging along for part of the trip. But, a night of bad behavior and impulsive actions by Monty soon sends the trio on a wild and dangerous adventure they could never have imagined, including being pursued by highwaymen, discovering secrets and intrigue, being kidnapped by pirates, and robbing a sinking tomb. Along the way, Monty must deal with his feelings for Percy, and the pain and self-loathing caused by his father's rejection and abuse.

This was such a fun read, and historical romance has always been my guilty pleasure. This reminded me very much of the many historical romances I have indulged in over the years, just with two male protaganists. Along with the fun and romance, there are some clear messages woven in the story that were maybe just the tiniest bit heavy-handed at times, but overall the issues of disability, racism, sexuality, gender equality, and learning not to let others define you were integrated into the story fairly well. The author also adds some additional historical information and context in the endnotes that I appreciated. I would recommend this to anyone looking for a fun read with adventure and romance.

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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Review: Strange the Dreamer

Strange the Dreamer Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was good, but it was really long! I was a little disappointed it is part of a series, because I would have liked to have a real ending after reading that much, and I likely won't have time to read the rest of the series. But for many who love getting into a series, that will be good news. Just know not to expect a true ending.

After it was named a Printz honor book and I discovered the main character was a librarian, I had to read it. Fantasy isn't my normal thing, but I know kids and teens love it, so I do try to read some. The writing is very lyrical and very descriptive, lots of metaphors and similies, but it really draws the reader into the sense of mysticism and "otherworldliness" that sets the scene for this whole story.

The main characters are very well-developed, and since much of the story takes place in their heads and in their dreams, the reader really feels that they get to know and care about them. I would recommend this for anyone, young adults and up, who enjoy fantasy and mysticism and escaping into other worlds. Fans of mythology and fairy tales would like this is well as it has much of the same feel. I would not recommend this to someone looking for a quick read! However, it would be great for spring break or summer reading, when one can really devote the time to becomming lost in a book.

Laini Taylor is also the author of the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy.

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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Review: The First Rule of Punk

The First Rule of Punk The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. PĂ©rez
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a Pura Bel Pre honor book, and one of only two true middle grade books to receive any honors out of all of this year's YMA's, and it was just the thing I needed to read after reading so of the other YA winners and honorees that were good, but so heavy and serious! Not that this story is fluff or frivolous by any means, but it is definitely lighter, energetic, fun, and positive, and I loved it!

Twelve-year old Maria Luisa, who prefers to be called Malu, is about to leave Florida, the only home she's known, to move to Chicago with her mother for two years, and she is not happy about it at all. In addition to having to leave behind her friends and father (her parents amicably divorced when she was very little) and having to adapt to a new neighborhood and being the "new kid", Malu struggles with her identity and mixed heritage. She looks like her Mexican mother, but her personality is much more like her father, enjoying expressing themselves through punk music and style (Malu also expresses herself by making 'zines, several of which are contained in the book and add to it). Malu feels like she is a disappointment to her mother, who always seems to be trying to make her "a good little senorita".

But, Malu soon makes a few good friends and finds a place where she feels comfortable, and gets the support and acceptance from her friend Joe's mother that she doesn't think she can get from her own. The four friends form a band, and plan to play a punk version of a tradtional Mexican song at the school's talent show, only to find out the principal has banned them from participating for being too different. Faced with the disappointing news, will Malu and her friends give up, or stand up against discrimination?

This is a great story with wonderful characters that are well-developed, and moves along at a good pace. It has elements of typical tween angst that anyone can relate to, like friction with parents, frustration with school dress codes, dealing with "mean girls", and having to start over and make new friends, and a little civil disobedience. But it also deals with the specific issue of cultural heritage, and what that means, particularly to the increasing number of children of mixed heritage. I like that the story shows you don't have to choose one over the other, and you don't have to suppress your own thoughts, feelings, dreams, and sense of expression in order to appreciate and respect your cultural heritage. You just have to be you.

I think most kids could find something to relate to in the story, but it could be especially relateable and helpful for those who are also going through big transitions and having to start over, and those who also feel their parents may have unfair expectations of them based on cultural tradition or those of mixed heritage who feel caught in the middle.

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Saturday, February 17, 2018

Review: The Stars Beneath Our Feet

The Stars Beneath Our Feet The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. This story had a fairly strong finish, but was a little hard to get into at first, and the author's over-use of a particular phrase was very distracting and annoying.

Twelve-year old Wallace, or "Lolly" as most people call him, lives in the projects in Harlem with his mom. They are both grieving over the recent loss of Lolly's older brother, Jermaine, who was killed as a result of gang violence. Lolly is having a particularly hard time because not only is he grieving, he is also dealing with anger over whatever caused the two of them to stop speaking the week of Jermain's death, and feeling guilty because of it.

Lolly is obsessed with Lego's, meticulously following the directions to make them exactly like the photos on the box. But once he suddenly decides to break all his models down and build something entirely new, of his own design, he is finally able to start working through his feelings of grief and anger, and make an unexpected connection. But after two neighborhood thugs start hassling him and his freinds, will he be able to resist the temptations that Jermaine could not?

I had a little trouble getting into this book at first, but once I did really enjoyed following Lolly on his journey of discovery. I loved the characters, especially Lolly, his mom, her girlfriend Yvonne, and Lolly's friend Vega, and I really liked seeing the friendship that gradually developed between Lolly and Rosamund through building, and how they each were highly skilled, but in such different ways, and the way they integrated their work together at the end.

I like that this books portrays the difficulties of living in the projects, the realities of gangs, violence, and how difficult it is to resist, but also shows positive examples of those who are able to make better choices to give hope and direction to others. I did find some of the little side-stories to be unnecessary and a little distracting, and while I like the way his mom and her girlfriend were portrayed, some of the other minor gay characters were too stereotypical, almost caricatures.

Now, to what absolutely irritated the crap out of me about this book.... For some reason, the author *constantly* refers to characters "sucking their teeth", over and over and over. It's as bad as Ana constantly biting her lip in Fifty Shades of Grey. It was so distracting and annoying that I almost gave up on reading the book. I don't know how on earth the editor did not catch and correct this!

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