Book Review: The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst

Book: The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst

Published November 2015 by Clarion|384 Pages

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

Series: None

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Sophie loves the hidden shop below her parents’ bookstore, where dreams are secretly bought and sold. When the dream shop is robbed and her parents go missing, Sophie must unravel the truth to save them. Together with her best friend—a wisecracking and fanatically loyal monster named Monster—she must decide whom to trust with her family’s carefully guarded secrets. Who will help them, and who will betray them?

I liked it!  This book is a really cute middle grade book about a girl who has to find her parents after they go missing.

I loved her friend Monster, and I really liked how her parents bottled and sold dreams.  And how she didn’t really have friends because she felt different, but ended up making new friends by trying to find her parents.

I thought the Night Guards, who were supposed to be really scary, weren’t all that scary.  In general, I have a lot of questions.  Most importantly, why doesn’t Sophie dream, and why are non-dreamers so bad?  We did get an explanation for the second part of my question, in the sense that we find out what would happen if they got their hands on the bottled dreams.  But not why they can’t, and that’s what I’m curious about.  Also, why does Sophie have the ability to make dreams come to life?

It is a stand-alone, which was a little surprising, because it seems like the sort of book that would be the first book in a series.  But things are wrapped up really well, even though there is the possibility for more books.

3 stars.  I wanted to like it more, but I don’t think I’m the right audience for this book.  I liked how cute it is and I think a lot of other people will like it, but it’s not for me.

What I’ve Been Reading: Part One!

I’m back…sort of!  I know it’s been a while since I’ve done a blog post, and I’m trying to get back into reviewing and blogging again.  I’ve been reading, but not up to reviewing.  But I still wanted to talk about the books I’ve been reading, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about the books I haven’t talked about yet.  I’m a bit fuzzy on some of them, since it’s been a while…but that’s not going to stop me from talking about them!

Book #1: Ghost by Jason Reynolds

I borrowed the hardcover from the library.

Here’s what I thought:

  • It’s a middle grade contemporary about a kid who runs track, which I thought was cool.  I feel like track doesn’t come up a lot, as far as sports novels go.  Cross country, yes.  Track, not so much.
  • I don’t know that I remember enough to say anything else, but I remember thinking it was okay.  Then again, All-American Boys was such a great book that I had really high expectations.
  • I did like the parallels between running and what was going on in his life.  Especially with how running turned out to be a really good thing for him.
  • I don’t know that I’d read the rest of the books in the series- it looks like this is the first one of…I’m not sure how many.
  • It’s definitely a must read if you like stories about sports.  And also how to move on and deal with your past.
  • I think my rating would be 2 stars.  It’s okay, and not a lot stuck with me.

Book #2: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

I borrowed the hardcover from the library.

My thoughts:

  • I really liked this book!  It’s a YA contemporary about Amanda, who transferred schools.  I felt for Amanda, who tried so hard to fit in, and who had to deal with a lot- bullying and transphobia are the first things that come to mind.
  • I really like that it’s not a coming out story- both are important, but I really liked seeing Amanda move to a new town and transition to a new phase in her life.
  • I liked the friendships she had too- people can be horrible, but I’m glad Amanda found some amazing people.
  • I can’t remember anything about the romance, other than I liked it…but that’s about it!
  • I loved the author’s note at the end of the book.  Don’t skip over it, because it really does add to an already awesome book.
  • I feel like I’m not doing this book any justice.  At all.  Mostly because it’s been a while since I’ve read it, and I remember next to nothing.  But it’s such a great book and really important and I doubt I’d do it much justice regardless.  But waiting months to do some sort of half-hearted attempt isn’t helping.
  • Part of why it’s important is because of what the book is about, but it is worth mentioning that the author is also trans.
  • And I’m not sure if it’s true, but the cover model is trans as well.  For some reason, that feels really important as well.
  • I know I got really emotional and starting crying at one point.
  • My Rating: 4 stars.  Had I reviewed it right after finishing it, my rating probably would have been 5 stars.
    • But I may re-read it at some point so I can properly talk about it.
    • I still really liked it though.

Book #3: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

This is another hardcover from the library.

What I Thought:

  • I liked seeing how much Strayed changed during the hike.
  • She did seem ill-prepared for the hike, and I can see why some reviewers think she’s whiny and self-absorbed
    • and also why some people thought she made poor life decisions
    • There’s no judgement from me, though, because she did have a lot of things she had to work through, especially with the death of her mother
  • Hiking- especially since she was by herself for most of the hike- seemed to help her
    • there was a lot of opportunity for her to reflect on her life
    • she did randomly meet up with other people along the way, though
  • I think my favorite part was seeing her not give up, even when it would have been easy for her to do so
  • I can’t imagine doing such a big hike, especially with no hiking/backpacking experience whatsoever
  • It really felt like I was hiking with her, and it never felt boring or repetitive
    • I can’t imagine being alone with my thoughts for that long, but props to her for sticking with it
  • It’s a memoir of her experience hiking the Pacific Coast Trail, so if you’re looking for more information or history about the trail itself, this is not the book for you
  • I’ve heard of it before- because it was adapted into a movie, but I mostly picked it up because it was mentioned in one of the Gilmore Girls revival episodes
    • I’m glad I picked it up, though, because I really liked it
  • I think my rating would be 4 stars.  I didn’t love it, but it was an easy read, and there is something about the way she writes

Book #4: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad is a hardcover from the library.

And now, my thoughts:

  • This book deserves a lot more attention.  I feel like it didn’t get a lot of attention, despite the fact that it was an Oprah book club pick.  The publication date also got moved up because of it.  And I know it was recommended by Obama, so I had really high expectations.
    • It lived up to all of the hype…at least the hype that I heard.
    • It’s totally worth reading
  • I admit that I didn’t like it at first, and it took me a while to get into it.
    • I’m glad I stuck with it, though, because I really liked it
  • It is a hard read, because you see what it might have been like for slaves on the Underground Railroad
    • I’m not sure what to call them, but there are ads and wanted posters for runaway slaves, which really added to the journey Cora takes
  • The Underground Railroad is quite literal in this book but it was terrifying to see what it was like during that time period
    • so many people risked everything to be a part of it- whether they were a stop along the way, or the one trying to escape slavery
    • I know I said it already, but it really highlighted what it might have been like
  • It really is mind-blowing that people were willing to take a chance to have freedom than spend one more second as a slave
  • My rating: 4 stars.  It was hard to get into at first, but worth reading.

Top Ten Tuesday Holiday Gift Guide: Top Ten Books For The YA Lover

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the lovely folks over at The Broke And The Bookish.  Every week, bloggers share their own bookish top ten lists based on the topic of the week.  You can check out Ten Tuesdays here.

Blog Graphic- Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Books For The YA Lover

I generally don’t do gift guides, but I thought it might be fun to do a gift guide for people who love YA!  I definitely tried to do a range of genres and ages- everything from middle grade to older teens, and fantasy to historical fiction to contemporary.

  1. Where The Streets Had No Name by Randa Abdel-Fattah. In general, I would recommend her books but this one made my list because it gives an interesting voice to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It’s more on the middle grade/younger end of YA spectrum, but still worth reading for people of all ages.
  2. All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. I’m pretty sure I recommend this book a lot, but it deserves the countless mentions! It’s such an important read because I feel like this is a story we see on the news a lot- and we see what it from two very different sides. Recommended for ages 14/15 and up.
  3. Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older. This book is perfect for the YA lover in your life. There’s art and Caribbean myths and yet I felt like it was all very normal to see magic and art coming to life. Recommended for ages 14 and up..
  4. George by Alex Gino. This is another book that’s middle grade than YA, but it’s still on my list because I loved Melissa’s story and how wanting to be Charlotte in her school play was the thing that she wanted the most!
  5. A Court Of Thorns And Roses by Sarah J. Maas. I really love this series, and if you’re looking for a great book for the YA Fantasy reader, this is my current choice. It’s fairies and different courts and it’s full of awesome. (I’d say 15/16 and up, age-wise).
  6. Ash by Malinda Lo. This Cinderella re-telling is so under-rated, and it’s great for people who love fairy tale re-tellings. If you’re considering getting this one for a teen in your life, I’d say 15 and up (maybe 14, depends on the teen).
  7. And I Darken by Kiersten White. I love this take on Vlad Dracula. It’s dark, and definitely recommended for 16+ (maybe 15 and up, depending on the teen), but it’s also really good.
  8. Under A Painted Sky by Stacy Lee. This historical fiction novel was one of my favorites from last year, and it’s a Western! And set on the Oregon Trail. I love the friendships that we see in the book, and I definitely recommend it for everyone 14 and up.
  9. Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor. This is another recommendation that’s middle grade or on the lower end of YA. I love the magic in the book, and it’s set in Nigeria, which works really well with the myths and magic we see in the book.
  10. An Ember In The Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. This Roman Empire inspired fantasy is really good! It’s definitely on the dark side, but so worth it. Recommended for ages 15 and up.

Book Review: George by Alex Gino

George CoverBook: George by Alex Gino

Published August 2015 by Scholastic Press|195 pages

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

Series: None

Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary

Blog Graphic-What It's About

BE WHO YOU ARE.

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part…because she’s a boy.  

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

I’ve heard really good things about George, and I randomly picked it up from the library one day, figuring it was time to see what everyone was talking about.  If you haven’t read George yet, it’s definitely worth checking out!

What I liked most is that George is that it introduces transgender as an identity in a middle grade book- I don’t know of any other middle grade books, and I feel like we see transgender characters in YA, but not middle grade.

I found myself getting really angry at Melissa’s teacher (by the way, Melissa is the name George wants to go by, so I’ll be calling her Melissa), for not giving the role to Melissa, even though she auditioned for it, and she really wanted it. Her reasoning was that there were too many girls who wanted the part, and that’s why it couldn’t go to Melissa, but part of me thinks that part of why she didn’t want to give it to Melissa is because Melissa is a girl, even though the world sees her as a boy.  Maybe the teacher worried about what others would think, but it seemed like Melissa was the perfect person to play Charlotte.  When Melissa’s best friend let Melissa play Charlotte, everyone thought she was great in the role, and no one seemed to have a problem with it except for the teacher.  It made me sad to see that and yet, it wasn’t surprising.

I really felt for Melissa, who struggled to come out to both her mother and her best friend Kelly.  I loved Kelly, who was really accepting when Melissa came out to Kelly.  And even though Melissa’s mom had a different reaction (she seemed to think Melissa was gay, and not a transgender girl at first, before Melissa told her), she does seem to love Melissa a lot, even if she doesn’t seem to understand that Melissa is a girl.  I also felt for her because of the bullying that she has to deal with.  I can’t imagine dealing with everything that Melissa has to deal with.

I really liked how Melissa’s story is told- it’s simple, and right from the start, Melissa is a girl in a world who sees her as a boy.  She is not stuck in the wrong body, and she is not a boy wanting to be a girl.  She’s a girl in a world that does not see her a girl, which I think is an important distinction to make, because we see that Melissa is a girl right from the start, and that Melissa has known for a long time who she is.

George is one of those books everyone should read, no matter who they are.  It’s a book about accepting who you are, and it’s hopeful and heartwarming and lets the other Melissa’s in the world that they are not alone and that they have options.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

4 stars.  I really liked George, and it’s a book everyone should read.

Book Review: Bound by Donna Jo Napoli

Bound Napoli CoverBook: Bound by Donna Jo Napoli

Published November 2004 by Atheneum|184 pages

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

Series: None

Genre: YA Historical Fiction/Fairy Tale Re-Telling

Blog Graphic-What It's About

Young Xing Xing is bound.  Bound to her father’s second wife and daughter after Xing Xing’s father has passed away. Bound to a life of servitude as a young girl in ancient China, where the life of a woman is valued less than that of livestock. Bound to be alone and unmarried, with no parents to arrange for a suitable husband. Dubbed “Lazy One” by her stepmother, Xing Xing spends her days taking care of her half sister, Wei Ping, who cannot walk because of her foot bindings, the painful but compulsory tradition for girls who are fit to be married. Even so, Xing Xing is content, for now, to practice her gift for poetry and calligraphy, to tend to the mysterious but beautiful carp in her garden, and to dream of a life unbound by the laws of family and society.

But all of this is about to change as the time for the village’s annual festival draws near, and Stepmother, who has spent nearly all of the family’s money, grows desperate to find a husband for Wei Ping. Xing Xing soon realizes that this greed and desperation may threaten not only her memories of the past, but also her dreams for the future.

In this searing story, Donna Jo Napoli, acclaimed author of “Beast and Breath,” delves into the roots of the Cinderella myth and unearths a tale as powerful as it is familiar.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

I really like fairy tale re-tellings, and I was really intrigued by a Chinese re-telling of Cinderella.  Especially because I loved Cinder.  I liked it, but not as much as I liked Cinder.  However, if you want something a little more historical, and a little less dystopic, this is definitely a good book to check out.

It seems like it’s a pretty straightforward re-telling of Cinderella, and I like that it’s pretty similar to one of the Chinese variations on the Cinderella story.  I do wish the author had deviated from the original story a little more, just because I would have liked to see her do something different with her re-telling of Cinderella.  It’s very clear that it’s a Cinderella re-telling, which I liked, but…I still wanted something slightly different, because if I wanted something that mirrored the original pretty closely, I’d go read the original.

Because of the setting, it’s a slightly different take on the Cinderella story we’re familiar with, partly because of Disney and partly because of the different Roger’s & Hammerstein versions out there (of which the Whitney Houston one is my favorite, but probably because it’s the only one I’ve seen, not counting the Disney version).  It seems like there are more variations on the Cinderella story across different time periods and continents that any other fairy tale out there, and this episode of The History Chicks does a great job at going over all of the different variations.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

3 stars.  It’s a pretty straightforward re-telling of one of the many variations of the Cinderella story, and I love the setting.  I like that it re-tells a version most Americans probably aren’t familiar with, but at the same time, I wanted some sort of twist on the story we all know.

Book Review: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wonder CoverBook: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Published February 2012 by Knopf|320 pages

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

Series: Wonder #1

Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary

Blog Graphic-What It's About

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?

R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

Wonder is one of those books I’ve heard a lot about, and knew that people really loved, but never got around to reading until now.  I liked Wonder, but not as much as I thought I would.

I really liked the family dynamic, and I really felt for his sister Via.  We don’t get a lot of her, but we see how the attention Auggie gets affects her, and I really liked seeing that.  I’m not sure if I could have handled an entire book from her perspective, but I did like the small bit that we do get in the book.

I also liked how real the characters felt.  How they acted- what with The Plague thing, and the stares and stuff, I can see that happening in real life.  How one of the moms acted was horrible- she photoshopped Auggie out of the class photo, and acted like he didn’t belong in school, just because of how he looks.  And it was really hard to read, because, theoretically, she should know better.  But clearly not, and it makes me wonder if her son acted the way he did because he learned it from her.  In the end, the other kids ended up being pretty okay, except for the one.

There is something I have mixed feelings about, though, and that’s Auggie himself.  I liked that he sees himself as a normal kid, and that he’s not special or extraordinary, just because of how he looks, even though people around him probably think he’s special because of how much he accomplished, and all of the surgeries he’s had to endure.  On the one hand, I liked that the book mentioned the fact that he was born with a cleft palate, which led to a lot of other health issues for Auggie, but didn’t focus too much on it.  But at the same time, I wanted a little more about it, because the book hardly goes into it.

Another issue I had was the fact that the characters seemed a lot older than 10.  The way they talked and acted…it didn’t mesh well with the fact that it’s middle grade.  It was really disorienting, and if 10 year-olds are, in real life, dating the way some of them seem to be dating in this book, I’m a little worried.

The book was also super-positive, which I get, considering the target audience, but it made the book feel too perfect, like nothing gets to Auggie (even though it must), and that everything will work out just fine, no matter what.  It felt too simple, for something that could have had even a little more complexity to it.  It’s not for me to say that Auggie is too well-adjusted, because I’ve never experienced what Auggie has, and I have no idea what it’s like to be in his position.  But it was also something that was a little off-putting, just because I wanted something that seemed a little more realistic.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

3 stars.  I get why people loved this book so much, and I do like the message of not judging people because of how they look, and that you should be kind to people.  But it was too simple, and too perfect, and I wanted something a little more complex and something that was a little less perfect.