27 March 2016

Every Exquisite Thing; Matthew Quick

Every Exquisite ThingEvery Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We've all read That Book, the one that is recommended by someone who knows us well enough to say, "This book will change your life" and, well, it has. The Bubblegum Reaper is That Book for many, including Nanette and Alex, who actually meet because they've befriended the author (and are then set up on a date). Their voices and interactions are, for the most part, very "real teen" and thus sweet and painful and funny all at the same time. The denials Booker, the author, gives over their interpretations of the who and how of the book reminded me somewhat of Roth's comments about The Human Stain and the Anatole Broyard interpretation - and reminded me that sometimes, getting the answers from the horse's mouth isn't always the the answer we need, or predict.

So, why not five stars? Maybe I'm being overly picky, but doesn't anyone notice or care about Nanette's involvement with her teacher (before it's too late)? and then doesn't anyone notice or care about her and Booker? There are a few choices she makes that felt false to me, particularly when she's actively being "Nanette". But other than that, great book that will be a joy sharing with students.

ARC provided by publisher.

Everland; Wendy Spinale

EverlandEverland by Wendy Spinale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wonderful semi-steampunk version of the Peter Pan story, set in a damaged London and giving new backstory to all the familiar characters. This isn't quite a dystopia (although there's a deadly virus that's been released) or steampunk (although there are similar elements) but a variation on those genres, done in a way that might bring new readers to both.

As for the story, there's a lot of creativity here. How Wendy and Pan meet, what makes [Tinker]Belle fly, who Hook is and all the usual elements are slightly twisted into something new but recognizable (readers will say, "Oh, I know the original of this" while they enjoy this version). My biggest quibble is that this seems to be the start of a series when a one-off would be just fine.

ARC provided by publisher.

Tell the Wind and Fire; Sarah Rees Brennan

Tell the Wind and FireTell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Very weak world building: was there a Light/Dark overlay? Were they separated by borough? So confused. DNF.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Museum of Heartbreak; Meg Leder

The Museum of HeartbreakThe Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A little too much like Snickett's Why We Broke Up to get higher than a 3, and it only got that because some of the story was fun (those dinosaurs!). But overall, too little character development from what were really generic characters to start with, in situations that were obvious. If you've never read YA romance, you might be surprised by the ending but for the rest of us...

ARC provided by publisher.

19 March 2016

The Art of Being Normal; Lisa Williamson

The Art of Being NormalThe Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the better written books about trans teens, with just the right mix of acceptance and problems (books that focus on one or the other bother me, because life isn't like that!). Some things seemed a little too perfectly placed, but then, this is fiction and authors can make those choices. Example? Alicia's last remarks to Leo. And at times I wasn't sure who the audience was, trans teens themselves or non-trans (but perhaps not totally cis) who are wondering about the issue. If it's the former, I think it may do a disservice but if the latter it may help them read a relatively non-sensational book. My biggest problem was with the addition of Leo's father, because weren't there enough issues/questions/drama without this? Maybe the author needed a device to give David a chance to be herself?

ARC provided by publisher.

The Hour of the Bees; Lindsay Eagar

Hour of the BeesHour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What elevated this relatively obvious story about a girl coming to embrace her roots (moving from Carol to Carolina, for example) and develop healthy relationships with her half-sister and grandfather was the myth/story entwined in the everyday plot. At times it's a variation of Everlasting Tuck and at others it's a morality play, but it's always a wonderful insertion.

ARC provided by publisher.

Once Upon a Dream; Liz Braswell

Once Upon a Dream (A Twisted Tale, #2)Once Upon a Dream by Liz Braswell
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF because it was so clearly a Disney version (for anyone who is unclear, the origin is much older than Uncle Walt, by several centuries; his people simply named the fairies and renamed the princess) and not a great reimagining of the Briar Rose/Sleeping Beauty story. I wanted more humor, more darkness, more something.

ARC provided by publisher.

Silence is Goldfish; Annabel Pitcher

Silence is GoldfishSilence is Goldfish by Annabel Pitcher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Clearly there's something "different" about Tess, perhaps she's on the ASD spectrum or perhaps there's something else going on, but whatever it is, she's relatively friendless and socially awkward. Her parents don't help - and her discovery that she's the product of a sperm donation sends her into a tailspin. I did feel sorry for Tess and her lack of ability to get any help for what's bothering her, and I was angry at the adults around her for behaving so poorly. But those feelings were lukewarm, perhaps because (to me) the writing felt a little passive. Plus, perhaps in England the Dewey Decimal system is different, or perhaps because this is an ARC it was a placeholder, but there is no "1.0" in DDC.

ARC provided by publisher.

The New Guy; Amy Spalding

The New Guy (and Other Senior Year Distractions)The New Guy by Amy Spalding
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Prefectly servicable romance between an organized, driven HS senior and the new guy in school (who just happens to be a former boyband member). Great for Sarah Dessen and Stephanie Perkins fans.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Lie Tree; Frances Hardinge

The Lie TreeThe Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted to like this so much, but there's something that feels "off" to me here: I never quite warmed to Faith or felt sorry for her plight, the island isn't as well described as it would have been, and with the exception of the Tree itself, it all felt a bit phoned in, as though the book were washed in sepia tones. All too often things were conveniently found or explained rather than being organically part of the plot. Of course, I'm probably alone in this so...

ARC provided by publisher.`

Gorilla Tactics; Sheila Grau

Gorilla Tactics (Dr. Critchlore's School for Minions #2)Gorilla Tactics by Sheila Grau
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Minions! I want 'em, whether they're the obsequious Glory minions (see Buffy, Season Five if you don't know what I mean) or the cute Despicable Me ones. Minions!

Anyway, this series is about minions and their training to work with Evil Overlords. Unlike many of these books, there aren't as many sly-adult jokes included (I always wonder if the middle grade readers get any of them) but they do take a different view of things like "Beauty and the Beast", a tragedy. I can see this being a hit in middle schools everywhere.

ARC provided by publisher.

17 March 2016

Defender; Graham McNamee

DefenderDefender by Graham McNamee
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As serious as the topics covered here, the image of "Tiny" (all 6'6" of her) and her much shorter boyfriend, Stick, just made me smile. The family secrets, the mystery of the dead girl and life in The Zoo are all much more sobering. It was less of a mystery who dunnit, but the why/how was a bit of a surprise. Tiny's voice was wonderful and really raised this from a 2.5 to a solid 3.

ARC provided by publisher.

16 March 2016

Girl Last Seen; Heather Anastasiu

Girl Last SeenGirl Last Seen by Heather Anastasiu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A little confusing: I got what was going on with Kady, her incredibly nasty self-centeredness, but Lauren's vocal issues (could she talk? only croak? it was unclear from chapter to chapter) and Jude seemed conflicted about his motivations. Also, please, please please stop with the multiple POVs. It feels like a sloppy writing trend and needs to stop! As for the ending, wow. I didn't see that coming and ultimately, that's what saved the book from two stars.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Last Monster; Ginger Garrett

The Last MonsterThe Last Monster by Ginger Garrett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Loved the monsters and Sofia's reaction to them (aside - did I miss someone mentioning that her name means "wisdom"?), but not quite sure about the two sides battling part. It could easily have been cut.

ARC provided by publisher.

Cici Reno #MiddleSchoolMatchMaker; Kristina Springer

Cici Reno #MiddleSchoolMatchMaker (Yoga Girls, #1)Cici Reno #MiddleSchoolMatchMaker by Kristina Springer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not sure that middle grade readers will get the Cyrano reference (although for adults, the title is a bit heavy-handed), but once again we have a story about being yourself both online and off. If I were Drew, I'd perhaps not have been as forgiving about what happens with "Aggie" online vs in real life. And maybe it's my profession, but there are rules regarding online accounts here in the US and Cici isn't yet 13... it just feels a little irresponsible to promote using Twitter when their TOS ways 18 and the US has "under 13" rules.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Secret of Deadwillow Carse; Brian Farrey

The Secret of Dreadwillow CarseThe Secret of Dreadwillow Carse by Brian Farrey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Anyone else get a The Giver vibe from this? A country where everyone is happy? Beyond that, the elements of plucky girl(s) and quest generally work. But for me, as a whole, there was something missing.

ARC provided by publisher.

Unidentified Suburban Object; Mike Jung

Unidentified Suburban ObjectUnidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great take on what it means to be an alien. The confusion and frustration that Chloe has when people
confuse her Korean heritage with Chinese or Japanese is so well stated; even better is her questioning why she (and her bff) like K-Pop and other Korean things. I'd love to see a similar book for an older audience!

ARC provided by publisher.