Book Review: Heartless, Conviction, and Court Of Fives

heartless-cover-marissa-meyerBook #1: Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Published November 2016 by Feiwel & Friends|464 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Re-telling

What It’s About: Long before she was the terror of Wonderland, she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love. Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.

Then Cath meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the king and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship. Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

In her first stand-alone teen novel, the New York Times-bestselling author dazzles us with a prequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

What I Thought: I really liked Heartless!  The Lunar Chronicles is one of my favorite series, and when I found out Meyer was coming out with another book, I knew I had to read it!  At first, I wasn’t sure about it, and initially, it was just okay.  But the more I read, the more I fell in love with the book, and the more I liked Catherine.

She’s an interesting character, and at first, she really is the sweetest person who loves baking.  It was hard to see her becoming the Queen Of Hearts that we all know in Alice In Wonderland, but the change she made into the character we all know was really believable.  It was a pretty fast change, but it worked for her character, and it was easy the events that led to her change were so easy to believe and made perfect sense for her.

By the time I was finished, I was ready for more set in this world, and that was when I realized that it was a stand-alone.  Which is fine, since it is Meyer’s take on Alice In Wonderland and the Queen Of Hearts.  But I am curious to see what Alice In Wonderland would be like if it were done by Meyer, because she did something pretty cool with Cinder.

My Rating: 4 stars.  It took me a little bit to get into Heartless, but by the end, I really wanted more set in this world!

conviction-coverBook #2: Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert

Published May 2015 by Disney Hyperion|352 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

What It’s About: Ten years ago, God gave Braden a sign, a promise that his family wouldn’t fall apart the way he feared.

But Braden got it wrong: his older brother, Trey, has been estranged from the family for almost as long, and his father, the only parent Braden has ever known, has been accused of murder. The arrest of Braden’s father, a well-known Christian radio host, has sparked national media attention. His fate lies in his son’s hands; Braden is the key witness in the upcoming trial.

Braden has always measured himself through baseball. He is the star pitcher in his small town of Ornette, and his ninety-four-mile-per-hour pitch already has minor league scouts buzzing in his junior year. Now the rules of the sport that has always been Braden’s saving grace are blurred in ways he never realized, and the prospect of playing against Alex Reyes, the nephew of the police officer his father is accused of killing, is haunting his every pitch.

Braden faces an impossible choice, one that will define him for the rest of his life, in this brutally honest debut novel about family, faith, and the ultimate test of conviction.

What I Thought: I really wanted to like Conviction, and it seemed like it would be a great book, but it ended up being really frustrating to read. There were so many different angles, and I felt like none of them really got the attention they deserved. There’s Braden, and the complicated family stuff- his mom left him, and the same happened with his half-brother’s mom. There’s a dad, who seems abusive, and pushed baseball on his kids because his dream of being a professional baseball died when he got injured. And all of the stuff with a brother, who’s gay, and was kicked out and basically almost killed by their dad. On top of that, Braden’s dad is accused of killing a cop, and people may or may not have lied about what happened that night.

I felt like a lot of things weren’t clear, like with what happened on the night that the cop died, and things were hinted at, but for the most part, nothing was clearly mentioned or explained. That was when it matched up with what was previously mentioned in the book, and there was definitely at least one time, where things didn’t match up at all.

Not only that, but you have different time lines- there’s Braden’s memories of his dad, there what happened the night the cop died, and what was going on in the present, and it made things less coherent and really jumbled. It didn’t feel very focused, and I felt like I was reading all of these different pieces that didn’t really come together. The flashbacks were also poorly done in my opinion, and randomly thrown in with no transitions before and after.

My Rating: 2 stars. I didn’t dislike it enough to give it 1 star, but it was really confusing and all over the place. I can see why people like it, but it wasn’t for me.

court-of-fives-coverBook #3: Court Of Fives by Kate Elliott

Published August 2015 by Little, Brown Books For Young Readers|448 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: Court Of Fives #1

Genre: YA Fantasy

What It’s About: On the Fives court, everyone is equal.

And everyone is dangerous.

Jessamy’s life is a balance between acting like an upper-class Patron and dreaming of the freedom of the Commoners. But away from her family, she can be whomever she wants when she sneaks out to train for the Fives, an intricate, multilevel athletic competition that offers a chance for glory to the kingdom’s best competitors.

Then Jes meets Kalliarkos, and an improbable friendship between the two Fives competitors—one of mixed race and the other a Patron boy—causes heads to turn. When Kal’s powerful, scheming uncle tears Jes’s family apart, she’ll have to test her new friend’s loyalty and risk the vengeance of a royal clan to save her mother and sisters from certain death.

In this imaginative escape into an enthralling new world, World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott’s first young adult novel weaves an epic story of a girl struggling to do what she loves in a society suffocated by rules of class and privilege.

What I Thought: I picked up Court Of Fives based solely on the recommendation of Gail Carriger, and it was a fun, interesting read. I do feel like there are a lot of similar books out there, plot-wise but I really liked this one because it felt different enough to hold my attention. I really liked the competition, and how things aren’t what they seem.

It’s interesting that the history they know seems to be slightly different than what actually happened (which isn’t surprising at all), and I was really intrigued by the original story, and the parallels to Jessamy’s family, particularly with her parents. I did like that her dad stuck by her mom, even though it would have advanced his career a lot more. He still seemed really ambitious, and it didn’t seem to matter in the end, since they lost their main protector. But it did seem to matter to him, at least for a little while.

I kind of wish the competition was explained a little more, because even now, I’m not quite sure how to explain it, or even what it is. Something about it reminded me of the actual Hunger Games, but far less deadly. And something that relies a lot more on actual practice and logic and strategy. I’m definitely looking forward to reading the rest of the series, and how things work out for Jessamy and her family.

My Rating: 4 stars. This was intriguing and interesting and a really good read.

 

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Book Review Round-Up: Boxers, One Night For Love And City Of Night

I have quite a few books I want to talk about, so I figured I share some quick thoughts on some of them!

boxers-coverBook #1: Boxers by Gene Luen Yang

Published September 2013 by First Second|325 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the paperback from the library

Series: Boxers And Saints #1

Genre: Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction

What It’s About: China, 1898. Bands of foreign missionaries and soldiers roam the countryside, bullying and robbing Chinese peasants.

Little Bao has had enough. Harnessing the powers of ancient Chinese gods, he recruits an army of Boxers–commoners trained in kung fu–who fight to free China from “foreign devils.”

Against all odds, this grass-roots rebellion is violently successful. But nothing is simple. Little Bao is fighting for the glory of China, but at what cost? So many are dying, including thousands of “secondary devils”–Chinese citizens who have converted to Christianity.

What I Thought: I liked it, but not as much as I liked Saints.  I think reading Boxers before Saints will help you understand what’s going on in Saints, because it goes into greater detail about what the Boxer Rebellion actually was. I really like the idea of history being told in the form of a graphic novel.  It’s been a while since I’ve read it (over a month), and now I’m finding that I’m having a hard time talking about the book and what I thought about it.  It’s definitely worth reading, though, and it does make me want to learn more about it. Whether I actually do so remains to be seen, but maybe one day…

It is a good introduction to the subject, though, and I think if you’re new to graphic novels (like I am), Boxers (and Saints) is a really good place to start.  I also liked seeing the other side of the story, and that there are many sides to one event.

My Rating: 3 stars.  Mostly because it’s a good introduction to the Boxer Rebellion and the format makes it different. But it also gets 3 stars because I don’t remember enough to give it a higher rating.

one-night-for-love-coverBook #2: One Night For Love by Mary Balogh

Published January 2012 (originally published 1999) by Dell|384 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: Bedwyn Saga #0.5

Genre: Adult Romance, Adult Historical Romance

What It’s About: One reckless man…One passionate woman.

Enter the world of Mary Balogh—the glittering ballrooms and vast country estates of Regency-era England, where romance, with all its mystery, magic, and surprises, comes vibrantly alive.

It was a perfect morning in May…

Neville Wyatt, Earl of Kilbourne, awaited his bride at the altar—when a ragged beggar woman raced down the aisle instead. The cream of the ton saw him stare, shocked, then declare that this was his wife! One night of passion was all he remembered as he beheld Lily, the woman he’d wed, loved, and lost on the battlefield in Portugal. Now he said he’d honor his commitment to her—regardless of the gulf that lay between them.

Then Lily spoke her mind…

She said she wanted only to start a new life—wanted only a husband who truly loved her. She had to leave him to learn how to meet his world on her terms. So Lily agreed to earn her keep as his aunt’s companion and study the genteel arts. Soon she was the toast of the ton, every inch a countess fit for the earl, who vowed to prove to his remarkable wife that what he felt for her was far more than desire, that what he wanted from her was much more than…One Night for Love.

What I Thought: This is another one I don’t remember a lot about.  I vaguely remember liking it, but not being super-into the romance.  I do remember not being surprised by the fact that she wasn’t really dead, and that he never told anyone about it.  Other than that, nothing stands out.

My Rating: 2 stars- mostly because I remember nothing, and I don’t remember enough to dislike it, but I also don’t remember enough to actually like it.

city-of-night-coverBook #3: City Of Night by John Rechy

Published January 1994 (originally published 1963) by Grove Press|400 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the paperback from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Fiction

What It’s About: When John Rechy’s explosive first novel, City of Night, was first published in 1963, it became a national bestseller and ushered in a new era of gay fiction. Bold and inventive in his account of the urban underworld of male prostitution, Rechy is equally unflinching in his portrayal of one hustling “Youngman” and his restless search for self-knowledge. As the narrator careens from El Paso to Times Square, from Pershing Square to the French Quarter, we get an unforgettable look at a neon-lit life on the edge. Said James Baldwin of the author, “Rechy is the most arresting young writer I’ve read in a very long time. His tone rings absolutely true, is absolutely his own; and he has the kind of discipline which allows him a rare and beautiful reckless.”

What I Thought: This was a really hard book to get through, and I really struggled with it.  I can see why it was such an important book when it was published, considering what the book is about.  But I had a hard time with it, and it felt really dry.  I know it’s loosely autobiographical, and it really read that way.  It’s not a bad thing, but it just didn’t work for me.

It is a glimpse into what life was like during that time, but it seemed to drag on.  It also seemed really repetitive, and I’m sort of doubting why I took the time to finish the book.  It just seemed like an endless cycle of the same behavior for the main character, but I suppose it goes with the lifestyle that the character is living.

My Rating: 2 stars.  It’s definitely not the book for me, and it was a struggle for me to get through but I can see why it gets a lot of praise.

Book Review: Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit COverBook: Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Published August 1997 (originally published 1985) by Grove Press|176 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the paperback from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Fiction

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

Winner of the Whitbread Prize for best first fiction, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is a coming-out novel from Winterson, the acclaimed author of The Passion and Sexing the Cherry. The narrator, Jeanette, cuts her teeth on the knowledge that she is one of God’s elect, but as this budding evangelical comes of age, and comes to terms with her preference for her own sex, the peculiar balance of her God-fearing household crumbles.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit is definitely not the book for me.  It was a hard book to relate to, and I feel like there’s a lot that went over my head.

I definitely hard a hard time relating to Jeanette, and even though we see her over the span of several years, it was really easy to forget that it takes place over several years.  I really struggled with it, and the fairy tales and Bible stories didn’t work for me.  Those felt a little bit preachy to me, and some of the more Biblical stuff went over my head.  Maybe being more familiar with that would have helped.

Even though the book was short, it was really hard to keep going- it didn’t catch my interest at all, as much as I wanted it to.  The writing style was interesting, but not my cup of tea.  I did feel like the title went well with what the book is about, though.  Just like oranges aren’t the only fruit, there isn’t one way to live.

I can see why people really like it, even though I thought it was okay.  Something about Oranges seemed really old to me, but that might be due to the book originally being published in 1985, and it seems so far removed from anything I’ve ever known.  I think that might be part of why I had a hard time with it, because, for me, it did not age well, and seemed a little bit dated.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

2 stars.  I can sort of see why people like it, but it wasn’t my cup of tea.

Book Review: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Carry On CoverBook: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Published October 2015 by St. Martin’s Press|522 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Fantasy

Blog Graphic-What It's About

Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen.

That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.

Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he starts something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around, wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here — it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

Carry On – The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow is a ghost story, a love story and a mystery. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story – but far, far more monsters.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

When I heard that Rowell was writing Carry On, I was so excited, because I LOVED Fangirl so, so much, and I was really curious about what a Simon Snow book would look like if we actually got one.

BUT.

Simon Snow lost the magic that it had in Fangirl.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the impact that Simon Snow had on Cath in Fangirl, and as a Harry Potter fan for life, I related a lot to the fictional phenomenon that is Simon Snow.  It’s just…I think the magic was in the little snippets we got in Fangirl and FOR ME, it didn’t work as a full, fleshed-out novel.

I definitely appreciate Carry On as an ode to the chosen-one novel that clearly has inspired Rowell, and I appreciate it as a fictional parallel to the awesomeness that is Harry Potter, but it also relied too much on the nostalgia of Harry Potter.  But as it’s own story?  Not so much.

Let’s do random bullet points, because this is probably going to be all over the place.

  • I wanted more plot!  I mean, I know Simon is trying to defeat the Insidious Humdrum and all, but everything felt random and all over the place, and it was just weird.
  • The bits with Lucy were weird and out-of-place until the end of the book when it actually made sense.  At that point, it was too late for me to care about the random chapters narrated by Lucy.
  • The multiple narrators didn’t work for me at all.  I thought they were absolutely horrible!  Of course, there’s Lucy, who didn’t make any sense until the end of the book.  Of course, there’s Simon and Penelope, who I didn’t care about at all, Bas, who was actually the most interesting character in the book, and Agatha, who…why was she there?  It seemed pointless to me to have her in there, because she didn’t add anything to the book except be part of a trio.  It seemed like an unbalanced trio to me.
  • Anyway, with the multiple narrators: it randomly switched and it was always jarring, especially when we were going back and forth between Baz and Simon every couple of sentences.  It was quite dizzying and not in a good way.
  • I was really disappointed in the Mage.  He became an evil villain sort of guy, and I wanted someone more like Dumbledore.  I guess that’s because Rowell was doing a fictional parallel to Harry Potter but still.
  • I wanted something more fun, and I felt like Carry On took itself a little too seriously.
  • I know it’s Rowell’s take on Simon Snow, and that it’s NOT Cath’s fanfic or the 8th and final book in the Simon Snow series, but I really felt like we were just thrown into this world with not enough backstory.  It has been a while since I’ve read Fangirl, but Simon’s world seemed more confusing than it should have been.  Maybe I’m not as well-versed in Chosen One stories as I thought I was, or maybe Rowell tried to explain things without actually explaining things or both or other things I’m too lazy to think of at the moment.
  • It felt like we were just supposed to know this world and how the magic works and that seemed a little unneccessary.  I needed more world-building for some of the more original elements of the book, and Rowell did not deliver on that.
  • Have I mentioned that there’s no plot?  Because there really isn’t.  I kept waiting for something to happen, and it didn’t.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

2 stars.  I wanted to love it, but instead, I am so ambivalent, I don’t care enough to actually hate or dislike it, even though I didn’t like it at all.  I just didn’t care as much as I thought I would.  I can see why people like it, but it’s not for me.

Book Review: Radiant Days by Elizabeth Hand

Radiant Days CoverBook: Radiant Days by Elizabeth Hand

Published April 2012 by Viking Juvenile|272 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA

Blog Graphic-What It's About

It is 1978. Merle is in her first year at the Corcoran School of Art, catapulted from her impoverished Appalachian upbringing into a sophisticated, dissipated art scene.

It is also 1870. The teenage poet Arthur Rimbaud is on the verge of breaking through to the images and voice that will make his name.

The meshed power of words and art thins the boundaries between the present and the past—and allows these two troubled, brilliant artists to enter each other’s worlds.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

When I first saw the summary after randomly browsing the YA section at the library, I was oddly reminded of that one movie (I think it’s Keanu Reeves and someone else) where they’re both staying at that one house but in different years and they’re somehow able to write letters to each other.  Which, mind you, I actually haven’t seen, but that’s what I was reminded of, just based on the trailer…and honestly, this book was so, so confusing.

Arthur’s timeline seemed a lot more confusing than Merle’s- although I will say that there were points where Merle’s timeline was sort of confusing, mostly where Arthur was concerned.  It didn’t help that Hand randomly switched perspectives and time periods, and it was hard to be fully into a book where things just randomly jump around.  The Orpheus myth at the end of the book didn’t make sense, since it was randomly thrown in, and I didn’t get why it was even mentioned, since it wasn’t important, or even mentioned, up to that point.

Even though Merle ends up being inspired by Arthur’s poetry, and he somehow manages to see her work in a gallery, there doesn’t seem to be a big connection between them.  I really thought there would be more between them, and when they do travel in time, they don’t particularly care about talking to each other.

It’s also a little bit new-age-y, which probably wouldn’t have bothered me in most cases, but it seemed a little weird and over-done in this book.  And honestly, the artist aspect didn’t have much impact for me, and it seemed to take a backseat to the aimlessness this book seemed to have.

I’m also not sure why this was shelved in the YA section, because even though Arthur and Merle are teens in this book, something about this book seemed like it was meant for an older audience, not YA audience.  In general, the overall feel I get from this book is old, and it really does feel like it was written long before 2012…that seems too recent of a publication date, at least for me.

I didn’t really care for Merle, who gets this scholarship (I think), only to drop out of school.  It seems like such a waste, especially for someone who wanted to get away from her family and the rural area she grew up in.  We do get to know more about her than Arthur- possibly because he was a published poet in real life.  Merle’s timeline seemed much more fleshed out than Arthur’s, and I kind of wanted a little bit more of Arthur.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

2 stars.  I think I liked the idea of the story more than the story itself.  Overall, Radiant Days was just okay.

ARC Book Review: The Art Of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

The Art Of Being Normal CoverBook Review: The Art Of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

Expected Publication is May 31, 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux|Expected Number Of Pages: 352

Where I Got It: I got a digital-ARC from netgalley, in exchange for a fair and honest review

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

Blog Graphic-What It's About

David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth: David wants to be a girl.

On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal: to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in his class is definitely not part of that plan. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long, and soon everyone knows that Leo used to be a girl.

As David prepares to come out to his family and transition into life as a girl and Leo wrestles with figuring out how to deal with people who try to define him through his history, they find in each other the friendship and support they need to navigate life as transgender teens as well as the courage to decide for themselves what normal really means.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

I really liked The Art Of Being Normal!  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it’s a book I’d recommend to anyone!

I haven’t read many books featuring a trasngender character, but I liked seeing David struggle with telling his family that he’s transgender.  You see how he’s bullied because of this time, when he was little, and said he wanted to be a girl.  You see how people assume he’s gay (or suspect he his) because he’s interested in boys, when, in reality, it’s because David is really Kate.

David’s story is a really interesting parallel to Leo’s story.  As with David, you see bullying and how people treat him because Leo is also transgender, and what happened to Leo was heartbreaking.  It makes me so sad that people treated Leo the way they did, and that Leo had to transfer schools for his own safety.  You have David, who wants to transition, and Leo, who is in the process of transitioning, and I like how their stories come together.  I did like the dual narration, since you see how both teens are struggling, and what their lives are like.

Even though it worked fairly well, it was also hard to form strong attachments to both Leo and David.  I do love the connection they have with each other, though, and I’m glad they have each other for support.  Something about it the dual narration didn’t quite work for me, and I think it’s because we don’t focus completely on one character.  Like, David kind of gets pushed off to the side because of Leo’s search for his father, and it seems sort of random and I’m not sure it completely fits with the rest of the story.

It also starts a little slow, and you’re not really sure where it’s headed at first, but as you get into the story, you get a better idea of where things are headed.  Still, there were times where it seemed like it might be a little darker than you’d expect, and it didn’t really get there.  Yes, you see some of the prejudice that transgender people face, but it didn’t have a big emotional impact, and I guess I just wanted something more.  It did seem unevenly paced, and a little all over the place, and looking back, I think I wanted something a little more evenly paced.

More than anything, The Art Of Being Normal is about class and poverty and making friends and communicating with family.  It’s about growing up and dealing with family.  David doesn’t feel like he’s normal, and you see how hard it is for David to communicate that.  He was a character I think we can all relate, because we all feel like we’re not normal, and we’re all dealing with our thing.

Williamson captures what it’s like to be a teenager really well, and it was really easy to relate to some of the things the characters were dealing with.

I did want to see more of David’s friends, who are there, but not in an important way.  I wish we see them more than the random appearances they make.  Going in, I knew Leo was transgender, but it’s a while before it comes up in the book that Leo’s transgender, and it was frustrating to see the hints that Leo had a secret, but it not being revealed. I get that Leo’s not open because of what happened to him at his old school, but the hints got to me, and I just wanted to know what happened.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

3 stars.  I liked it, and I think it’s a book everyone should read, but for me, I wanted a little more than what we got in the book.

Book Review: Luna by Julie Anne Peters

Luna CoverBook: Luna by Julie Anne Peters

Published September 2008 by Little, Brown Books For Young Readers|248 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

Blog Graphic-What It's About

Regan’s brother Liam can’t stand the person he is during the day. Like the moon from whom Liam has chosen his female namesake, his true self, Luna, only reveals herself at night. In the secrecy of his basement bedroom Liam transforms himself into the beautiful girl he longs to be, with help from his sister’s clothes and makeup. Now, everything is about to change-Luna is preparing to emerge from her cocoon. But are Liam’s family and friends ready to welcome Luna into their lives? Compelling and provocative, this is an unforgettable novel about a transgender teen’s struggle for self-identity and acceptance.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

I’ve heard some really good things about Luna, and figured I’d read it.  I have mixed feelings about it, though, and it’s mostly because of the characters and (to me) the reliance on stereotypes and lack of nuance.

It was really frustrating to read Luna’s story through Regan’s eyes.  Regan came across as really selfish and whiny, and I felt like she was the stereotypical “it’s so hard and it’s such a burden to have a sibling who’s different, woe is me because I have to keep their secret, and if people find out that my brother is transgender, I’ll never have my own identity because I’ll only be seen as the sister of someone who is transgender” sibling.

Instead of feeling for her, and how hard it has to be to be your sister’s confidante and secret keeper, I instead spent most of the book feeling like she needed to get over herself.  Considering how close they were supposed to be, all I can tell you about Luna is that she is very stereotypical female. That’s not a bad thing, but we get no insight into Luna as a person and how much Luna is struggling to be accepted for who she is.  Luna is going through a lot, and Regan’s selfishness and need to be a martyr really took away from Luna’s story.

I felt very much removed and distanced from what was going on, and even the flashbacks we get are more about Regan than they are about Luna.

I also thought that Luna needed a lot more development, and she wasn’t very nuanced to me.  I did mention that Luna was a little too stereotypical- very into make-up and clothes and shopping, but not all females are. I’m not sure if the lack of nuance is because of the filter in which we see Luna, or if there’s just a lack of character development.  Maybe both.  Either way, this book is not about Luna and her transition, it’s about how Luna is ruining Regan’s life and how much better Regan’s life would be if Luna were “normal.”

Looking back at what I just wrote, it’s definitely clear to me that my feelings aren’t as mixed as I thought.  I wanted to read more about Luna, not Luna’s spoiled brat of a sister, and I wish we saw more of Luna.  Both Luna and Regan narrating could have been interesting, but given how stereotypical the characters were, I don’t know if Luna narrating even a few chapters would have made a difference.  Luna felt more like an object than an actual person, which was really disappointing because Luna’s story seemed much more interesting than Regan’s.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

1 star.  Regan was too frustrating and hard to care about, and her selfishness really took away from Lu0a’s story.

Book Review: If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

If You Could Be Mine CoverBook: If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

Published July 2013 by Algonquin Books|165 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

Blog Graphic-What It's About

In this stunning debut, a young Iranian American writer pulls back the curtain on one of the most hidden corners of a much-talked-about culture.

Seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. They’ve shared stolen kisses and romantic promises. But Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love—Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned, even executed if their relationship came to light.

So they carry on in secret—until Nasrin’s parents announce that they’ve arranged for her marriage. Nasrin tries to persuade Sahar that they can go on as they have been, only now with new comforts provided by the decent, well-to-do doctor Nasrin will marry. But Sahar dreams of loving Nasrin exclusively—and openly.

Then Sahar discovers what seems like the perfect solution. In Iran, homosexuality may be a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as nature’s mistake, and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. As a man, Sahar could be the one to marry Nasrin. Sahar will never be able to love the one she wants, in the body she wants to be loved in, without risking her life. Is saving her love worth sacrificing her true self?

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

I liked If You Could Be Mine!  What I liked the most was that it shows- really well- what it’s like to be gay in a country like Iran.  While you get a sense of what Iran is like, I also felt like we didn’t get the full picture of what it’s like to live in Iran.  Not that you can get the full picture with such a short book, but there was a lot of potential there.  Still, it did make me pause for a little bit and think about what what it’s like to be a young woman in a different country, and what it’s like to be a young woman who’s also lesbian, in a country where it’s illegal.  It’s not something I generally think about, much less for someone in a different country, and this book is one story of someone’s experience.

I will say, though, that I don’t really understand why Sahar is so in love with Nasrin.  Nasrin seemed pretty self-absorbed and selfish, and Sahar was so much more willing to do whatever it took to make it work.  It seemed like they were on two completely different pages, and it really seemed like Nasrin took Sahar for granted.  The facade surrounding Nasrin does crumble a little bit, and I understand why she acted the way she did, but I felt like Sahar deserved better.  I feel for both of them, being in a situation where they can’t act on what they want, but it was a lot harder for me to feel for Nasrin, particularly because we don’t see her side of the story.  I also felt no chemistry between the two girls, and I wish we had more chemistry, because I felt like I was being told why Sahar was willing to go to such great lengths, but not actually seeing it for myself.

And even though I felt for Sahar much more than Nasrin, I still don’t know how I feel about Sahar.  I want her to be happy, but I don’t know if she’ll be able to be fully happy in Iran.  I didn’t really get a sense of who Sahar was, other than someone who was more devoted to someone than she really should have been.  Something about Sahar was a little bit…hollow, and I wished she actually talked to Nasrin about what she wanted to do, instead of just doing things and hoping it would work out in time.

In the end, not much has stuck with me, and I think it could have been better (and longer!) but overall, I still think there’s enough there to recommend it because it is a perspective that doesn’t seem very common in YA- you’ll see LGBT characters, or people of color, but I haven’t come across many books (if any) where you see that intersection.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

3 stars.  I liked If You Could Be Mine, but I didn’t care for Nasrin, and the relationship that she had with Sahar seemed really one-sided.

Book Review: Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin

Beyond Magenta CoverBook: Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, written and photographed by Susan Kuklin

Published February 2014 by Candlewick Press|182 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Non-Fiction/LGBT

Blog Graphic-What It's About

A groundbreaking work of LGBT literature takes an honest look at the life, love, and struggles of transgender teens.

Author and photographer Susan Kuklin met and interviewed six transgender or gender-neutral young adults and used her considerable skills to represent them thoughtfully and respectfully before, during, and after their personal acknowledgment of gender preference. Portraits, family photographs, and candid images grace the pages, augmenting the emotional and physical journey each youth has taken. Each honest discussion and disclosure, whether joyful or heartbreaking, is completely different from the other because of family dynamics, living situations, gender, and the transition these teens make in recognition of their true selves.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

Beyond Magenta is a really interesting book but it’s also a hard book to talk about.

I like that she talks a diverse group of teens, but most of them (5 out of the 6 interviewed) are from New York, and all 6 teens (particularly the 5 from NY) seem to have access to a lot of services and support.  The 5 from New York are in a section called Spectrum, while the last story is in a section Lifeline.  And even the teen featured in that narrative seemed to have a good support system and quite a few resources available to him.

Kuklin does mention at the end of the book that she was in touch with a medical center in New York City, which does explain why it’s heavily focused on NY teens.  She also talks about wanting the book to spread its wings and have another part of the country represented.  Unfortunately, it makes the one non-NY story feel like an afterthought that’s there just for representation of a different part of the country.

While there are a wide range of experiences, I felt like it lacked stories from teens who don’t have the access to services/resources these kids do.  The teens we see in Beyond Magenta do have varying degrees of familial support, and I felt for all of the teens, especially the teens who have parents who don’t seem to bother trying to understand their children, and denied/dismissed their experience and what they were saying.

Each teen has a very unique story, and it was heartbreaking at times to see what they were going through.  There are times where you see gender stereotypes, particularly in the first couple of stories, which I think is something that will frustrate a lot of people (especially if reviews are any indication) but I just took it as their experience and I really felt like Kuklin really tried to keep their story as they told it to her.  I will say that it felt very much like they were telling me a story, and that aspect of the writing would make this a particularly good book for an audio format.

Overall, though, there was something about the organization and format that seemed a little weird.  I respect that Kuklin interviewed and photographed the teens, and worked with them to tell their story, but 5 NY stories in one section (Spectrum) and the lone non-NY story in a section called Lifeline made no sense to me.  I don’t understand why you’d need two different sections, and it just really made the one story in Lifeline feel like an afterthought.

 

There isn’t any particular order to the stories- not that they need to be in any particular order, but something about the book felt a little disorganized.  And while it is a quick read, I’m not completely happy with the format.  It felt like a random assortment of stories with nothing to connect them together- other than all 6 stories being about a transgender teen.

There were random comments from Kuklin, which felt out of place and disrupted the flow of the story.  They should have been left in some cases, and in other places, an introduction to the story would have been helpful, and a place where some of her comments could have been better served.

There is an author’s note at the end of the book, which I think would have been more insightful/better placed at the beginning of the book so that you had a much better idea of how the project changed for Kuklin.  There are also resources at the end of the book, and Kuklin also included a list of books (non-fiction and fiction) and movies.  I was disappointed that there only a couple of books in the fiction list, both of which were published over 10 years ago, just because something a little more recent (and more than 2 books) would have been nice.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

I’m not sure what to rate Beyond Magenta.  I think the organization of the book could have been better, and while there is a wide range of experiences in the book, I also think the representation of other parts of the country could have been better, and less like an afterthought.  I still like reading about their experiences, and it would be a great book to have in any classroom or library.

As for an actual rating, I’m going to give Beyond Magenta 3 stars.

ARC Book Review: When We Were

When We Were CoverBook: When We Were by Alexandra Diaz

Expected Publication is September 29, 2015 by The Studio|Expected Number Of Pages: 247 pages

Where I Got It: I received a digital advanced copy from netgalley.com, which hasn’t influenced my review in any way. Promise!

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

Blog Graphic-What It's About

Previously published as OF ALL THE STUPID THINGS, this coming of age novel is a 2011 ALA Rainbow List Book and a 2011 New Mexico Book Award Finalist.

No one messes with Whitney Blaire or her friends, which is why she can’t help but let it slip that someone spotted Tara’s boyfriend making out with one of the guy cheerleaders.

Even after spending hours training for her marathon, down-to-earth Tara can’t outrun the rumors about the boyfriend she thought was perfect.

Pinkie, the rock and “Big Sister” of their inseparable group, just wants things to stay exactly the way they are…

…but that’s not possible when new-girl Riley arrives in school and changes everything.

Suddenly Tara starts to feel things she’s never felt before—for anyone—while Whitney Blaire tries to convince her that this new girl is Trouble. Meanwhile, Pinkie’s world begins to crumble as she begins to suspect that the friends she depends on are not the girls she thought she knew. Can friendship survive when all the rules are broken?

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

When We Were seemed really interesting, and yet, I found myself thinking that it was just okay.  I really did want to like it more than I did.

I think the biggest reason why When We Were was just okay was that I felt like it wasn’t as developed as it could have been.

Like Tara, Pinkie and Whitney Blaire.  I get the girls are best friends, but they’re all so different that it was a little hard to see why they were such close friends.  They were all pretty stereotypical- Tara’s the athlete, Pinkie is the academic/glue of the group who has no mother, and Whitney Blaire is the mean girl who acts that way because her parents are never there.  There is mention that they have a history together, but unfortunately, we don’t see that history, and I think having a little bit of history would have made their friendship a little more realistic and believable.

I feel like each girl was somewhat superficial, and I wonder if it’s because we see each chapters from all three girls. We don’t really get enough time with each one for them to fully develop.  Which brings me to Riley.  I think, of all the characters, Riley is probably the most interesting.  She had a little bit more to her than the other characters did, and I wish we saw more of her.  I didn’t get Whitney Blaire’s instant dislike of her, which was for no apparent reason. Later on, I could understand her dislike of Riley, because Whitney Blaire has some abandonment issues, and feels threatened by how close Riley and Tara become.  Initially, though?  There’s no reason for it.

As much as I liked Riley and wanted to see more of her, I also felt like her relationship with Tara was sort of random and out of nowhere.  I think, because only a third of the book is from Tara’s perspective, we don’t see Tara really explore her feelings for Riley- all of a sudden, they’re making out.  The reactions from Whitney Blaire and Pinkie (especially Pinkie) were weird and frustrating.

I really need to back-track for a second- there are rumours that Tara’s boyfriend Brent was seen making out with one of the guy cheerleaders, which leads to Tara breaking up with him, and Brent denying it.  This is then ignored for most of the book, until we learn that it wasn’t actually true. Really, for the lack of attention it received, and the way it was dropped, she could have broken up with up with him for any reason.  I think I was just expecting it to be more of a thing.

Back to Whitney Blaire and Pinkie.  I get Whitney Blaire thinks Tara is believing Riley over her, but saying that Riley and Tara are dating simply because Tara believes Riley over Whitney Blaire was weird, confusing and out of nowhere.  It made no sense to me.  I felt that way with Pinkie, a little, but with Pinkie, it was more frustrating than anything else.  Pinkie is convinced that Tara can’t be interested in girls because she dated Brent and because she’s too pretty.  In particular, when Pinkie says that she has no problem with gay people but doesn’t want them near her…I was horrified by that, especially from someone who seems caring.  Honestly, it sounds more like a Whitney Blaire comment than a Pinkie comment, at least from what we see in the book, and it’s just so cruel and hard to believe that she would say it, because until that point, she’s the last person I’d expect it from.  But their reaction to it was overall believable, in the sense that I can actually see people reacting that way.

Her mom was pretty awesome, though, in how she reacted.  Yes, the mom was surprised, but she was so accepting of Tara.  Even though it seems like it would be an adjustment for her, Tara’s happiness is so important to her, and I loved that.

Even though there are a lot of things I didn’t like or thought were weird (with one or two things I did like), When We Were did keep me intrigued, and I really wanted to see what would happen with the characters.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

2 stars.  When We Were isn’t my cup of tea, but something about it did keep me interested enough to see what would happen.