Mini Review Round-Up: April-May 2016

I haven’t had time to write full reviews of all the books I’ve read recently…actually, I haven’t had a lot of time to read in general! But here are some mini reviews for the last couple of books I read (and didn’t talk about on Mind the Gap).

The Archived – Victoria “V.E.” Schwab

As you may know, I’m obsessed with V.E. Schwab’s Shades of London trilogy (here are my reviews of ADSOM and AGOS), so now I just want to read ALL THE THINGS she’s ever written. I loved the premise of The Archived, and even liked the characters (any love interest who wears guyliner is fine by me), but it took a while to really get going and there were moments where I felt like I had missed something. There was also a plotline that seemed predictable to me, but I liked how it was handled, and I found myself tearing up during some of Mac’s remembered conversations with her beloved grandpa. Even though her writing in this book is still a million times better than mine on a good day, it’s interesting to see how an author’s command over words can change over the years/books. (Rating: 4 interrobangs)

Highly Inappropriate Tales for Young People – Douglas Coupland and Graham Roumieu

I decided to read this one because Douglas Coupland was going to be at my work and I figured I may as well give his writing a shot in case I ended up becoming his biggest fan. Spoiler alert: I did not become his biggest fan. I’ve always sort of suspected that I wouldn’t be into his style, but it was a quick read so I didn’t dwell on it for too long – just long enough to know that Sandra the babysitter was my favourite story. He’s one of those authors where I get the feeling I’m missing a deeper meaning (heavily veiled satire is not my jam at all). I did like the (occasionally gory) illustrations by Graham Roumieu – they have a Quentin Blakes-meets-Tim Burton vibe which is definitely something I’m into. (Rating: 3 interrobangs)

The Bartimaeus Trilogy: The Amulet of Samarkand – Jonathan Stroud

This was the first Jonathan Stroud book I read (13 years ago!! Literally half my life!!) and I remember being floored by how amazing it was. Thankfully, it lived up to my memories (this is the first time I’ve reread it in ages) and reminded me of why I became a Stroud fangirl in the first place (you may recall that I gush about his Lockwood & Co series all the time). Personally, I love how sarcastic Bartimaeus is, and Nathaniel’s cold detachement makes him an interesting – if not always likeable – protagonist. I’m just about done the second book now, so maybe I’ll do a full series review in a month or so. (Rating: 5 interrobangs)

The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness

This book has won eleven billion awards and is super hyped up in the YA book community, but I was so underwhelmed. It took over 100 pages for anything good to happen…and, in this case, “good” is relative. I didn’t love the style (phonetic spelling in books will always drive me bonkers until it’s being used to denote an accent…and even then it can get old quickly), I couldn’t connect with any of the characters, and, while I find a dog talking about poo as funny as the next person, after the seventh time Manchee said “Poo, Todd?” it stopped being entertaining. I know people love this book, but I was so disappointed, possibly because it’s dystopian (aka my least favourite genre). With a series name like “Chaos Walking”, I expected something so much more epic. (Rating: 2.5 interrobangs)

Advertisements

Arc Review: Mer-Charmer – Amy Bearce

Mer-Charmer – Amy Bearce

cover1000Fourteen-year-old Phoebe Quinn is surrounded by magic, but she can’t muster any of her own. Her sister is a fairy keeper. Her best friends are merfolk. And all she does is dishes and housework.

When Phoebe finds out a terrible sea creature is awakening that preys upon the peace-loving merfolk, she becomes determined to help them, even though it means going with Tristan and Mina to their home deep in the sea.

Beneath the waves, Phoebe learns she’s more like her sister than she realized. The merfolk are drawn to her, and she can sense the magic of the sea all around her. Magic is finally at her fingertips, but that’s precisely why the stirring dark power under the waters decides it wants her most of all.

Now she must not only help the peaceful merfolk escape this ancient enemy, she must master her out-of-control powers. If she fails, she will die and darkness will rise and enslave the merfolk once more. But embracing her full power could cost her the very people she loves the most.

Release Date: May 9th, 2016

Thank you to Curiosity Quills for providing a free copy in exchange for an honest review!

If this cover looks familiar to you, it’s because I helped host a cover reveal for it in March. Last year, I also read the first book in the World of Aluvia series, Fairy Keeper.

Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood, but I didn’t like this one as much as the first one. I still enjoyed it, it just took me longer than it should have to finish.

What I liked:

-the plot. It has a bit of a The Little Mermaid vibe except in reverse. Phoebe, who was rescued by merfolk at the end of Fairy Keeper, spends a lot of time hanging out near the water with her mer-friends, Tristan and Mina, while her sister Sierra and their friends (Micah, Corbin, and Nell) are off doing…something. I can’t actually remember what it is they do when they go off adventuring – saving other magical creatures, I think.

-Phoebe and Tristan’s relationship is adorable. They evolve from friends to “more”, but, since they’re still quite young, it’s all very sweet and innocent.

-sea monsters make great villains. They can be very creepy.

What I didn’t like:

-I felt like the story moved quite slow, and I found myself skimming a lot. There was nothing wrong with the writing, but I guess it just wasn’t appealing to me (which is not to say that it was bad, it just didn’t work for me at the time).

Overall, Amy Bearce’s novels fit in that delicate age between middle grade and young adult where the characters are almost in their teens (or are early teens) but are still pretty innocent. I’d recommend this series for kids who read slightly above their age range (11+).

Rating:

4 interrobangs

Who Broke the Teapot?! – Bill Slavin

Who Broke the Teapot?! – Bill Slavin

26109254Mom is very angry. Her very favorite teapot is broken, and no one is ‘fessing up.

Was it Dad, sitting in his underwear reading the paper?
Was it Cat, who was all tangled up in a ball of yarn?
Was it Baby perched in his highchair?
Or is there a surprising twist to this mystery that teaches Mom a little lesson in anger management?

Bill Slavin takes a sly poke at parents in their less-than-finer moments in this funny and energetic story.

Release date: April 26th, 2016

Thanks to Sylvia at Tundra for sending along the book (and some extra goodies!)!

Children’s books and tea are two of my favourite things, so of course I was excited to hear that there was a children’s book about tea coming out! Sure, it’s technically about a teapot, but that’s close enough for me.

Who Broke the Teapot?! is a delightful rhyming mystery: after a raucous morning, Mom comes down to the kitchen only to find that her favourite teapot has been shattered – and now one is willing to admit they were at fault. It would take a Sherlock Holmes type to figure out whodunit…

The story is fairly short, the rhymes sweet and simple. What makes the book stand out are the illustrations: bold and vibrant, Bill Slavin doesn’t hold back when it comes to colour and even texture. This page, for example, shows Kitty tangled in very real looking wool that makes you want to reach out and untangle her. I also love the cutout letters on the second half of the spread – it looks like a colourful ransom note!

20160504_092644-1

My only issue with the story was one spread where I wasn’t sure which sentence to read first. If I had been reading it to myself, I probably wouldn’t have noticed, but since I was dramatically reading it out loud (in a posh English accent, obviously), I stumbled over the order. After a second read-through, I worked it out and it all flows together nicely.

This will be a fun story to read out loud with children who will delight in shouting “WHO BROKE THE TEAPOT” with increasing volume on every other page (who am I kidding, I also enjoyed having an excuse to shout). Maybe not the best bedtime story, though, because all that yelling may rile them up…

Rating:

4 interrobangs

As a bonus, here’s a recreation of one of my favourite tea-related scenes in all of television history: Sherlock and Moriarty (Moriar-tea!!) in “The Reichenbach Fall“.

Honey, you should see me in a crown

Exit, Pursued by a Bear – E.K. Johnston

Exit, Pursued by a Bear – E.K. Johnston

26790913Veronica Mars meets William Shakespeare in E.K. Johnston’s latest brave and unforgettable heroine.

Hermione Winters is captain of her cheerleading team, and in tiny Palermo Heights, this doesn’t mean what you think it means. At PHHS, the cheerleaders don’t cheer for the sports teams; they are the sports team—the pride and joy of a tiny town. The team’s summer training camp is Hermione’s last and marks the beginning of the end of…she’s not sure what. She does know this season could make her a legend. But during a camp party, someone slips something in her drink. And it all goes black.

In every class, there’s a star cheerleader and pariah pregnant girl. They’re never supposed to be the same person. Hermione struggles to regain the control she’s always had and faces a wrenching decision about how to move on. The assault wasn’t the beginning of Hermione Winter’s story and she’s not going to let it be the end. She won’t be anyone’s cautionary tale.

It feels weird to say that a book about rape was good, but this book about rape was good. It’s a hard topic to deal with, and I can’t say I’ve read any other YA that talks about rape so openly, but I think it’s important that this book exists (plus that cover is gorgeous).

That being said, I had some issues with it.

I’ve read reviews that talked about how “easy” this book was, how Hermione’s support system was so perfect and, apart from some nasty rumours early on, she was never treated differently. And it did, for the most part, seem too “perfect” – everyone knew what to say and how to act, and Hermione herself was so well put together, it was hard to believe she was a teenager, nevermind a teenager who had been drugged and raped and – MINI SPOILER ALERT – had an abortion. Just one of those things should have been enough to push her over the edge, but she was remarkably calm, almost robotic, in the way she described her thoughts and feelings.

While Hermione herself mentions that she feels disconnected from the event because she can’t remember what happened, it’s hard, as a reader, to even begin to understand her when the narrative feels so disjointed, more like a checklist of events and moments that had to happen before the climactic scene at the end (which lasted all of two pages) than a real story. I know I liked E.K. Johnston’s writing style when I read A Thousand Nights, so maybe it was Hermione’s character that I couldn’t connect with? I did like her best friend, Polly, though, and I liked Polly’s sideplot, though it did feel like it came out of nowhere.

…if I were dead, they could just bury me…and move on. Broken is harder to deal with.

One thing I absolutely did not get was Hermione’s relationship with Leo. Leo proves himself to be a jealous dick who basically victim-blames Hermione because she dared to speak to other guys at their cheerleading camp, and she dumps him (and rightfully so!). But she never really seemed interested in him in the first place, so why were they together at all? What purpose did he play apart from being the jealous ex who turns around in the end? Literally anyone else could have taken the role of victim-blamer and it wouldn’t have made a difference to the overall story.

You’re okay with asking a girl who was wearing a pretty dress and had nice hair, who went to the dance with her cabin mates, who drank from the same punch bowl as everyone else – you’re okay with asking that girl what mistake she made, and you wouldn’t think to ask a boy how he would avoid raping someone?

 

E.K. Johnston does get props for setting it in Canada – northern Ontario, no less – with a brief mention of my hometown (Amy, another girl at the cheerleading camp, is from Mississauga), not to mention the fact that Polly decides to attend my alma mater (McMaster represent!). I never realized cheerleading was a big deal in Canada, to be honest, since I don’t think my high school even had a squad. And I also don’t get why Hermione needed to ace calculus to get into a Humanities/Social Science based program, but it’s also been a while since I had to apply to university, so maybe that’s a thing now?

I haven’t read The Winter’s Tale yet (I’ve always wanted to), but now I might have to, to see if I can catch all the Shakespeare references in this book.

Rating:

3 interrobangs

3,5 interrobangs

ARC Review: Brave New Girls Anthology

Brave New Girls

22590791This collection of sci-fi stories features brainy young heroines who use their smarts to save the day. Girls who fix robots and construct superhero suits, hack interstellar corporations and build virtual reality platforms. Who experiment with alien chemicals and tinker with time machines. Who defy expectations and tap into their know-how—in the depths of space, or the bounds of dystopia, or the not-too-distant future—to solve despicable crimes, talk to extraterrestrials, and take down powerful villains.

All revenues from sales of this anthology will be donated a scholarship fund through the Society of Women Engineers. Let’s show the world that girls, too, can be tomorrow’s inventors, programmers, scientists, and more.

STORIES BY:

Martin Berman-Gorvine, Paige Daniels, George Ebey, Mary Fan, Kimberly G. Giarratano, Valerie Hunter, Evangeline Jennings, Stephen Kozeniewski, Jason Kucharik, Kate Lansing, Tash McAdam, Kate Moretti, Ursula Osborne, Josh Pritchett, Aimie K. Runyan, Davien Thomas, Lisa Toohey, and Leandra Wallace

With a foreword by Lara Hogan, Senior Engineering Manager at Etsy and author of Designing for Performance

Featuring artwork by Hazel Butler, Ken Dawson, Adrian DeFuria, Evelinn Enoksen, Mary Fan, Christopher Godsoe, Kayla Keeton, Jason Kucharik, Jennifer L. Lopez, Tash McAdam, and Josh Pritchett.

Release Date: June 2nd, 2015

Thank you to the author, Kimberly Giarratano, for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review!

I have to admit I didn’t read the whole anthology (and it’s actually been a couple of months), but I just realized I never got around to reviewing it, so here I am!

I love that the stories inside are focused on girls who are technologically gifted. Whether they live on a different planet, or in an alternate reality where everything is machine-driven, these girls are no pushovers. They use their smarts and are never considered “outsiders” or “nerds” because they happen to know how to code.

I read Kimberly Giarratano’s contribution first, “Graveyard Shift”, and if you’ve read (and liked) any of Kim’s other books, you’ll definitely enjoy the story of hacker-parolee Philly and her cemetery full of holograms. There are also stories of time travel and mini space operas – basically, there’s something for everyone, even if you’re not normally a sci-fi fan. The girls in each story are, for the most part, fleshed out and, in addition to dealing with technological crises, often have to contend with the perils of adolescence.

My only problem with the anthology is the fact that, as someone who isn’t much of a sci-fi reader, there were some terms or concepts that confused me. Usually they were explained over the course of the story, but this occasionally meant that the story slowed down until we were given all the information we needed. Nonetheless, I’m always impressed with people who can write short stories (I generally prefer writing long-form), and these ladies – and gentlemen – did a fine job representing the different STEM aspects.

Read this if you’re feeling the lack of techie girls in YA, or pick it up for the young techie in your own life.

Rating:

4 interrobangs

Book Maps

I completely forgot to finish a Fiction Friday post for today, so here’s a map from the book I’m currently reading.

image

Does anyone recognize it?

I don’t often read books that include maps (high fantasy isn’t really my thing), but I’m always so impressed with them. I don’t have the patience to build whole worlds from scratch and I’d never be able to describe it sufficiently enough for someone to draw it (my art skills are laughable at best).

What are some of your favourite fictional maps?