"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

28 September 2018

Girl Made of Stars

TW: discussions of rape and childhood sexual assault

Blake, Ashley Herring. Girl Made of Stars. HMH BYR, 2018.

Mara and Owen are twins, and Mara is also close friends with Hannah, Owen's girlfriend. So when Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara isn't sure what to do. She doesn't know whom to believe and isn't sure how to react, and it's bringing up memories she had tried to quash.

As a childhood assault survivor, I nearly didn't read this book, not because I didn't think it would be well-written or well handled, but because I wasn't sure if it would be triggering. Mara was assaulted at the end of eighth grade by one of her teachers, and she doesn't tell anyone about it, and then her brother is accused of rape and her family is all rallying around him and her school is rallying around him and no one is standing up for Hannah, and Mara ends up in a sort of tailspin. This is a good book, and a realistic book, in that Owen is never actually brought to trial or formally charged or given any sort of punishment for what he did, and in fact his family doesn't really acknowledge that he did anything wrong.

I am glad for this book's discussion of rape that occurs within a relationship and how difficult it can be for the survivor to be believed since they already had a sexual relationship with the rapist, how it becomes a "he said, she said" situation, etc. etc. I am glad for the Speak-esque plot for Mara, who finally finds the courage to tell others what happened to her. This is a good book, and a necessary book, and the story was handled with the delicateness appropriate for the topic. For survivors, the flashback scenes are in italics, so it would be easy enough to skip over them if you'd like. The assault scene is fairly descriptive and frightening as is appropriate for an eighth grader being assaulted by an adult man.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: descriptions of assault, discussion of rape, slut-shaming,
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Speak, All the Rage, Learning to Breathe

26 September 2018

The Confectioner's Guild

Luana, Claire. The Confectioner's Guild. Live Edge Publishing, 2018.

Wren is an orphan who has been working in a bakery since the baker discovered her using a leftover piping bag to decorate a snowbank. She prefers her job over a life in the streets, until one day when a guild member whisks her away from her bakery and informs her that her bakery skills are actually imbuing her treats with magic and that she must be trained. Immediately after learning this, the head of her guild dies and Wren is accused of his murder. Now she has one month to find the actual murderer and clear her name.

This description made this book sound like it was right up my alley. I love fantasy stories and mysteries, and having recently read Changeling, thought this would be a great read-alike. Unfortunately, I was sadly disappointed. This book reads like a story for children or tweens, but multiple uses of the word "ass," as well as sexual encounters, make this a book for teens. Further, the main character spends most of her time ogling one of her fellow bakers, so there are long descriptions of his hair, his abs, what he looks like without a shirt, how sad she is when he puts a shirt on, etc. etc. And he's not the only character she pines after. All of this is to say that this book is best categorized as a teen romance novel, which is perfectly fine, but it is not a tween book nor a fantasy nor really a mystery at all, and readers looking for those things will be disappointed. I would recommend this book to fans of romance novels but not to those who prefer fantasy or mystery without a romantic subplot.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: multiple uses of the word "ass," underage alcohol consumption (although as this is a fantasy, I don't know that it's illegal per se), off-page sex
Overall Rating: 2/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

24 September 2018


Harper, Molly. Changeling. INscribe Digital, 2018.

Cassandra Reed is a new student at Miss Castwells, a finishing school and magic school for young ladies of high society. Before she came to Miss Castwells, though, she was Sarah, a non-magical snipe who was fated to serve her benefactors for the rest of her life. Because she has magic, though, Sarah has become Cassandra and must learn quickly to act and speak as a person of high parentage. She soon finds, though, that things are much more complicated than they seem.

It is very rare for me to begin reading a book and then discover that I like it so much I want to slow down so I can savor the story. This is one of those books. Cassandra has to navigate the social game of teen girls, which is complicated enough, but is also hiding the secret of her true family. Also, she's trying to learn magic. And she's become a Translator, a rare person chosen by an ancient tome to be one who can translate the text so that the information can benefit society, so now she's even more in the public eye than ever. This story was filled with court intrigue, magic, villains, love letters, action scenes, a jealous older sister - it's got a little bit of everything a person could want in a story. I'm glad to see that it's only the first in the series, because I am excited to read the second one when it comes out. Recommended.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: minor fantasy violence (a zombie-like creature chases a character, etc.)
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley for the purpose of review.

21 September 2018

Pink Hair and Other Terrible Ideas

Pyros, Andrea. Pink Hair and Other Terrible Ideas. Capstone, 2019.

Josephine is the less popular of the twins, and she's already reeling from her parents' divorce and trying to navigate the halls of middle school when her mom tells her that she's been diagnosed with breast cancer. Josephine doesn't want to stand out at school, so she tries not to tell anyone, but then her brother, in a show of support, dyes his hair bright pink, and Josephine finds she cannot hide any longer.

This was a great idea for a book, but it ended super abruptly. There were lots of threads of the story that were picked up and then dropped. It reads more like a book for middle grade students (3rd-4th grade), but the main characters are twelve and have crushes and go to boy/girl parties, etc. etc, which makes it hard to place this book in the library.

I wasn't sure why the idea of the principal complaining about Josephine's brother's pink hair was placed in the story when it wasn't fleshed out more later on. The whole football team could have gotten their hair dyed, or Josephine's friends could have done it, or many people from the school or something. It seemed like a major plot point, but then it disappeared, along with most of the details of the mom's cancer and treatments, recovery, etc. The dad wasn't very well rounded, either; readers are told that he is fairly irresponsible and childish, but that's all we get.

I think this book would have benefited with more length to tie up the loose ends of the story or with editing to take away the unnecessary subplots (the dad being a giant child, the boy/girl party not actually involving any risque activity, the outlawing pink hair at the school thing, etc. etc.). I like the idea of this book, but it failed on the execution.

Recommended for: middle grade and tweens
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

19 September 2018

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

Gemeinhart, Dan. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise. Henry Holt, 2019.

Coyote and her father, Rodeo, are traveling the country in a school bus that has been redesigned inside to be a motor home. They don't talk about their past and they don't intend to return to their hometown. But when Coyote discovers that something precious to her is in danger of being destroyed, she schemes to get herself, the bus, and her father back home in time to save it. Along the way they pick up some passengers, including a young violinist, a teen runaway, and a blue-eyed goat.

This book was immensely readable and entertaining as well as heartwarming. Coyote's love of reading is apparent throughout the story, so readers will walk away with a decent list of books to read next. The story does read a bit like a fairy tale or an after school special in that everything wraps up neatly at the end, but this is not a negative factor for middle grade or tween literature at all. 

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: None
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: This Would Make a Great Story Someday,  The Someday Birds, Ashes to Asheville

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

17 September 2018

The Priory of the Orange Tree

Shannon, Samantha. The Priory of the Orange Tree. Bloomsbury, 2019.

There are four storylines in this book which intertwine:
  • Tane: a Seiikinese orphan drafted into the Houses of Learning as a child to train for the High Sea Guard in the East.
  • Doctor Niclays Roos: an anatomist and alchemist whose current residence is in the East after being banished by Queen Sabran of Inys in the West.
  • Ead Duryan: a sorceress of the Orange Tree posing as an Ordinary Chamberer in the Upper Household of Queen Sabran of Inys.
  • Loth Beck: Heir apparent to the wealthy northern province of the Leas in Inys. He is a close friend to Queen Sabran.
Obviously there is a large cast of characters and some new vocabulary to master, but this is typical of most epic fantasy stories, so those who enjoy that type of story should not be surprised. Similar to the grandfather's description of The Princess Bride at the start of the movie with the same name, this book includes adventure, sword fights, miracles, true love, ... and dragons.

This is quite a long story, but that doesn't lessen its impact at all. I enjoyed the fact that I could read so much of this book and still know I had many more pages to go. The story makes full use of its length to build the world and develop the characters as well as move the plot along. I am glad for the diversity of characters, which is a welcome change after so many whitewashed fantasy stories. Those who enjoy epic fantasies will be able to savor this one for a long time. I echo what many others have said about reading carefully for the first 100 pages or so and referring often to the character list and glossary; you'll thank me later.

Recommended for: adults who enjoy epic fantasy
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars
Read-Alikes: Eragon, Lord of the Rings, Seveneves (even though it's science fiction)

I received a complimentary ARC of this book through the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

14 September 2018

Words We Don't Say

Reilly, K.J. Words We Don't Say. Disney-Hyperion, 2018

Joel doesn't talk anymore. He drafts text messages that he never sends, but just spends his time keeping his head down and not getting involved with anything. During his mandatory soup kitchen volunteer time, he gets to know some of his classmates as well as some of the guests at the soup kitchen and then learns about how the world is bigger than his problems.

I think there is a reader somewhere for this book, but I am not that person. The book starts off in the middle of a shift at the soup kitchen, and it takes a very long time to figure out what's going on. Joel may not talk much to other people, but he rambles a lot in his head, and the majority of this book focuses on his internal monologue. As such, it takes a long time to get to know the other characters. It's also not a compelling, page-turning read. I would give this book to strong readers who enjoy books that are more character study than plot.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: occasional language
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

12 September 2018

The Extraordinary Colors of Auden Dare

Bethell, Zillah. The Extraordinary Colors of Auden Dare. Feiwel Friends, 2018.

Auden Dare can't see color, but that's the least of his worries. His world is in the midst of the Water Wars, and his father is away fighting against the enemy over the small amount of water left on the planet. Auden and his mom move into his late uncle's home, and Auden uncovers a mystery there. He's certain this mystery will lead to his uncle's experiments to help Auden see color, but perhaps there are bigger things at stake.

This book started very, very slowly, without much of the explanatory world-building that happens in a story set in a world so different from our own. Auden's voice wavers between sounding like a child and sounding like an adult reminiscing about childhood, so it was hard to discern whether he sounds right for his age. The end of the book certainly picks up its pace and becomes very readable and interesting; it's just disappointing that the first third of the book is such a slog, because many readers will abandon a book if it isn't interesting early enough. The whole issue with Auden being colorblind has led some to say this is a great read alike for The Giver, but it isn't remotely the same kind of story, so I don't think that's an accurate suggestion. I would give this book to kids who enjoyed The War that Saved My Life or possibly the HiLo graphic novels, but I would likely read the first third of the book aloud together until it gets to the interesting parts so that the child would be compelled to finish the story.

Recommended for: tweens, middle grade
Red Flags: some intense action scenes
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

10 September 2018

Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens

Nijkamp, Marieke. Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018

This is a collection of #ownvoices stories featuring teens with various disabilities. The stories are intersectional as well, featuring queer teens, teens of color, etc. etc. The stories span a wide variety of genres, lengths, and styles. Highly recommended addition to most public and high school libraries.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read Alikes: All Out: The No Longer Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages; A Thousand Beginnings and Endings

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

07 September 2018

Love, Penelope

Rocklin, Joanne. Love, Penelope. Amulet Books, 2018.

Penelope loves her moms, writing in her journal, spending time with her friends, and the Golden State Warriors. When she finds out one of her moms is pregnant, she starts keeping a journal so she can tell her new sibling everything about life in her house. When a school project prompts Penelope to tell a bit of a lie to her teacher, the only person she feels safe sharing that secret with is her new sibling.

This is a fairly tame, nearly slice-of-life story, as it follows most of a school year and nearly all of the baby's developmental milestones. Penelope's choice to call the baby "you" throughout her letters is a bit unwieldy but nonetheless appropriate for a fifth grader. She and her friends face some bullying and poor decision making by the adults around them, but overall the book is cute and sweet and harmless. I will admit that I cried during the June 26, 2015 entry, but they were tears of joy (like they were on June 26, 2015).

This is a good book to give to kids who enjoy sports. If you, like me, skip over the Quidditch scenes in Harry Potter, then this book will be problematic because there are lots of descriptions of basketball games and basketball players, etc.

Recommended for: middle grade and tweens
Red Flags: one adult character smokes - the cigarette smell plays a small role in several scenes in the story; the smoking character is also homophobic and racist, and although he doesn't use any words that I wouldn't use in front of children, he encourages one character not to spend time with her friends because of his racism and homophobia
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Drum Roll, Please; Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World; My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer

05 September 2018

Alan Cole is Not a Coward

Bell, Eric. Alan Cole is Not a Coward. Katherine Tegen Books, 2017.

Alan's older brother Nathan torments him constantly, so when Nathan comes up with another CvC (Cole versus Cole), Alan has to agree to go along. Each brother has a list of seven tasks and one week in which to complete them. If Alan doesn't agree to do this, Nathan will tell the whole school that Alan has a crush ... on a boy.

To be honest I really, really didn't like this book at the beginning. The brother is just SO cruel, and forcing a middle schooler to compete in this brother vs brother thing or face being outed is just over the top. To make matters worse, Alan and Nathan's father is extremely unkind to his children. He calls Alan "goldfish" because he's forgettable and unimportant and Nathan "pig" because he's messy. He rules over their house with an iron fist, and regardless of what we find out at the end, this makes for a rough beginning of the story.

The middle of the book shows Alan trying to finish his tasks, eventually learning a few things and developing a backbone, and finally we get the *big reveal* where we find out everything that caused this family to be such a mess (which I won't discuss here because spoilers). So there's a reason the father is a cruel heartless dictator and a reason Nathan is following in his footsteps. It does have a happy-adjacent ending, but wow the beginning of this book is rough. I think this is one I would recommend as a "read together" book instead of an independent reading book.

Recommended for: tweens and their grown-ups
Red Flags: bullying, emotional abuse
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt; Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle

03 September 2018

The Incredible Magic of Being

Erskine, Kathryn. The Incredible Magic of Being. Scholastic Press, 2017.

Julian and his family have moved to a remote lake town in order to recover from some stressors in their lives. Julian's mom used to be a doctor, but one of her infant patients died on her watch, so she's taking a break from that to homeschool Julian (who has health issues which remain unidentified until nearly the end of the book) and to work on their new Bed and Breakfast. But their grumpy next door neighbor's lawyer spoils everything when he says that their addition blocks the neighbor's view of the lake and must be taken down. Julian takes it upon himself to befriend the neighbor and convince him to let them keep the addition.

This is an unusual story for a few reasons. First, Julian is described as different or fragile - his mom certainly treats him that way - but it isn't until very near the end of the book that we find out what makes him that way, and even then it is glossed over. Second, this book walks the tightrope between realism and magical realism, mostly tied up with Julian's "uni-sense," with which he thinks he can sense the universe. Other than that, there are parents who argue, an older sister with a teenage-sized attitude, and a grumpy neighbor that Julian is sure will be his friend.

Recommended for: middle grade (Julian is 9-10 in this story, so most kids older than that will not be interested)
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars