Dodger

Dodger is a fun story from Terry Pratchett about a street urchin in Dickens' London. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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A storm. Rain-lashed city streets. A flash of lightning. A scruffy lad sees a girl leap desperately from a horse-drawn carriage in a vain attempt to escape her captors. Can the lad stand by and let her be caught again? Of course not, because he’s…Dodger.

Seventeen-year-old Dodger may be a street urchin, but he gleans a living from London’s sewers, and he knows a jewel when he sees one. He’s not about to let anything happen to the unknown girl–not even if her fate impacts some of the most powerful people in England.

From Dodger’s encounter with the mad barber Sweeney Todd to his meetings with the great writer Charles Dickens and the calculating politician Benjamin Disraeli, history and fantasy intertwine in a breathtaking account of adventure and mystery. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

So I’ve never read a Terry Pratchett book (except for Good Omens, which he co-wrote with the amazing Neil Gaiman). I know, I know! How can this be? Well, fantasy isn’t usually my thing, and all I know about Terry Pratchett is his massive Discworld series. One day I’ll tackle that, but when I came across this standalone novel in audio form, I thought I’d give it a try.

But Dodger wasn’t anything like what I thought it would be. For one thing, there are no sci fi/fantasy elements in it at all! Dodger is a young man growing up on the dirty streets of Victorian London, but when he is caught standing up for a young woman, his life takes a sudden turn. He meets Charlie Dickens, Sweeney Todd, and Benjamin Disraeli, mixing actual historic figures with those from fiction.

Dodger is a great character, and his scrapes on (and below) the streets of London were fun to read about, and the audio version I listened to had a great narrator, but on the whole I found this book forgettable. Here’s hoping that the next Terry Pratchett book I pick up will wow me like I was expecting this one to do.

Of course, in keeping with my Write 31 Days series called Lovely Words, here are a few of my favorite quotes from Dodger. (Terry Pratchett has such a clever way with words.)

“Money makes people rich; it is a fallacy to think it makes them better, or even that it makes them worse. People are what they do, and what they leave behind.”

“There were two ways of looking at the world, but only one when you are starving.”

“The man gave Dodger a cursory glance that had quite a lot of curse in it.”

Rating: Good but Forgettable

This post is part of the Write 31 Days series Lovely Words. You can read the rest of the series here.

June YA Roundup

This June YA roundup contains a few forgettable books and one really stellar one. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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As I try to dig myself out from my stacks of books, I’m going to be doing a few roundups to give you some quick reviews on the books I’ve been reading lately (and a few books that I read months ago… oops). Today’s post is a YA roundup. Enjoy! (All summaries are via Goodreads.com)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

There’s no wonder that this book has become a modern YA classic. It has hilarious illustrations, a great writing style that captures the voice of a teenage boy, and it is sad and triumphant and angry and eye-opening. Junior faces prejudice both from the white school he attends and the people on the rez that he left behind. He watches many of his friends and family member succumb to alcohol, but no matter what happens, Junior keeps drawing. I know this book doesn’t cover all the varied experiences of Native Americans, so I’d love to read more books featuring Native American characters in the future.

There is a fair amount of swearing and sexual content in this book, so be forewarned.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Grounded

In Hemlock Hollow, life isn’t easy, but it is simple. Things in my community haven’t changed much in over three hundred years, since the time my Amish ancestors came to what is now the Green Republic. I milk my cow by hand, make fresh bread every morning, and hope to be courted by Jeremiah, a boy I’ve known since childhood.

When my father falls ill, the English doctor says a hospital outside the wall can heal him. Jeremiah convinces me to go on rumspringa, to experience the outside world as an Englisher in order to be closer to my father during his recovery. Others have gone before me. They claim it’s an adventure. But adventure turns to horror as an ordinary light switch thrusts me into a new world, and revelations about my personal history make me question everything I believe.

All my life I’ve worked to be simple. I can’t pretend anymore. Nothing about me is simple.

The idea of this book is great. Basically, the main character, raised Amish, suddenly finds herself in the outside (dystopian) world. While there, she discovers she has incredible powers that she can’t control. With little knowledge of the modern world or her own powers, she falls in with a boy who has a similar power and must decide who she can trust and how she can save her father.

Although I really liked the idea, I found the MC annoying and naive. (Honestly, I can’t even remember her name.) I won’t be looking into the rest of this series.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Alias Hook

“Every child knows how the story ends. The wicked pirate captain is flung overboard, caught in the jaws of the monster crocodile who drags him down to a watery grave. But it was not yet my time to die. It’s my fate to be trapped here forever, in a nightmare of childhood fancy, with that infernal, eternal boy.”

Meet Captain James Benjamin Hook, a witty, educated Restoration-era privateer cursed to play villain to a pack of malicious little boys in a pointless war that never ends. But everything changes when Stella Parrish, a forbidden grown woman, dreams her way to the Neverland in defiance of Pan’s rules. From the glamour of the Fairy Revels, to the secret ceremonies of the First Tribes, to the mysterious underwater temple beneath the Mermaid Lagoon, the magical forces of the Neverland open up for Stella as they never have for Hook. And in the pirate captain himself, she begins to see someone far more complex than the storybook villain.

With Stella’s knowledge of folk and fairy tales, she might be Hook’s last chance for redemption and release if they can break his curse before Pan and his warrior boys hunt her down and drag Hook back to their neverending game.

I have always hated Peter Pan and his eternal boyhood. So I was interested by this book, which presents Pan as the powerful dictator of Neverland and Hook as the selfish but exhausted appointed nemesis. Hook, cursed many years ago by a scorned lover, is basically there to satisfy the whims of selfish little boys. He works for years to discover a way out for himself and his men, but none is apparent–until one day Stella appears.

I enjoyed the twist on the old Peter Pan story, especially since it paints Pan as the villain (like I said, I’ve always hated him). Still, I wasn’t a big fan of the romance, and reading about Pan’s actions just made me mad.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

No and Me

Parisian teenager Lou has an IQ of 160, OCD tendencies, and a mother who has suffered from depression for years. But Lou is about to change her life—and that of her parents—all because of a school project about homeless teens. While doing research, Lou meets No, a teenage girl living on the streets. As their friendship grows, Lou bravely asks her parents if No can live with them, and is astonished when they agree. No’s presence forces Lou’s family to come to terms with a secret tragedy. But can this shaky, newfound family continue to live together when No’s own past comes back to haunt her?

I picked up this book without knowing anything about it, other than the fact that it was a book in translation (I read it for a book challenge). So I was pleasantly surprised by the story that I was given. Lou lives in Paris, and she surprises herself and her family when she asks them if the homeless girl she’s been interviewing can live with them. No has had a rough past (obviously), and it follows her and threatens the new beginning she’s been given.

Well written (and well translated), unusual characters, and a powerful story. I’m glad I picked this one up.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

ARCs: YA Fiction

These two new books from YA fiction are interesting, but my favorite was definitely "Freedom's Just Another Word." #spon | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received these books free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Summaries are via NetGalley.com.

I’ve not been reading as much YA fiction as I usually do, and both of these ARCs were pretty lackluster. (Hopefully I’ll have more luck with YA fiction again soon–until then, I have a stack of adult fiction to keep me busy!)

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

“Hawthorn wasn’t trying to insert herself into a missing person’s investigation. Or maybe she was. But that’s only because Lizzie Lovett’s disappearance is the one fascinating mystery their sleepy town has ever had. Bad things don’t happen to popular girls like Lizzie Lovett, and Hawthorn is convinced she’ll turn up at any moment—which means the time for speculation is now.

So Hawthorn comes up with her own theory for Lizzie’s disappearance. A theory way too absurd to take seriously…at first. The more Hawthorn talks, the more she believes. And what better way to collect evidence than to immerse herself in Lizzie’s life? Like getting a job at the diner where Lizzie worked and hanging out with Lizzie’s boyfriend. After all, it’s not as if he killed her—or did he?

Told with a unique voice that is both hilarious and heart-wrenching, Hawthorn’s quest for proof may uncover the greatest truth is within herself.”

I thought this book was all right. I found Hawthorn very irritating, especially at the beginning: She’s self-centered, whiny, and jealous, and while cynics might say, “That’s just how teenagers are,” I have to think that most teenagers reading the book would be put off by Hawthorn. The plot itself was nothing special. I was expecting something a little more thriller-y, and this definitely wasn’t. I did like Hawthorn’s family (though, of course, she loathed her mom’s quirkiness and hated her brother’s “interference” in her life). Maybe look elsewhere if you’re looking for either a mystery/thriller or a coming-of-age story.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Freedom’s Just Another Word

“The year Louisiana – Easy for short – meets Janis Joplin is the year everything changes. Easy is a car mechanic in her dad’s shop, but she can sing the blues like someone twice her age. So when she hears that Janis Joplin is passing through her small town of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Easy is there with her heart – and her voice – in hand. It’s 1970 and Janis Joplin is an electrifying blues-rock singer at the height of her fame – and of her addictions. Yet she recognizes Easy’s talent and asks her to meet her in Texas to sing. So Easy begins an unusual journey that will change everything.”

This book was pretty interesting, if a little sad. Easy is an African-American girl growing up in the 1970s, and her one dream is to become a blues singer. So when Easy meets Janis Joplin and gets invited to sing with her in Texas, Easy jumps at the chance–even though it means road-tripping with a couple of nuns to get there.

During the course of the story, the author discusses racism, being judgmental, and drug and alcohol abuse. There’s nothing too heavy, but it’s not a lighthearted book, either. The one thing I disliked about Freedom’s Just Another Word is that some parts felt disjointed, and certain plot threads were wrapped up too quickly. Still, this book is worth a look if you’re interested in getting a glimpse of early 1970s American culture.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Last Dragonslayer

A fun YA book about modern-day magic, dragons, and the teenage girl who finds herself running the business. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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In the good old days, magic was indispensable—it could both save a kingdom and clear a clogged drain. But now magic is fading: drain cleaner is cheaper than a spell, and magic carpets are used for pizza delivery. Fifteen-year-old foundling Jennifer Strange runs Kazam, an employment agency for magicians—but it’s hard to stay in business when magic is drying up. And then the visions start, predicting the death of the world’s last dragon at the hands of an unnamed Dragonslayer. If the visions are true, everything will change for Kazam—and for Jennifer. Because something is coming. Something known as . . . Big Magic. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book has been on my TBR list forever, and I finally picked up a couple of months ago. I wasn’t expecting much, but I found myself really getting into it. It’s a funny and sarcastic look at modern-day magic, in which magic has been outpaced by technology and is relegated to fixing clogged plumbing or bad electrical wiring. But when the last dragon in the world seems to be dying, teenage businesswoman Jennifer finds herself dragged into the controversy.

As I’ve said before, this book is sometimes touted as Harry Potter for young adults, but I don’t really see it that way. Sure, there’s the whole magic thing, but that’s about where the similarities end. This story isn’t sweeping or heart-wrenching the way Harry Potter is–but that’s not a bad thing. The Last Dragonslayer is hilarious and irreverent, and Jennifer is a fascinating character who has had to fend for herself from an early age. (I guess Harry did too, but he didn’t end up running a business because of it.) The magic itself, and the magical characters that inhabit this world, is different as well. So please, take this book on its own merits. It is truly fantastic, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

ARC Roundup: Mysteries

The latest mysteries and suspense novels for teens and adults--some great, some forgettable. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received free digital copies of these books from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All summaries are via NetGalley.com

My love of mysteries is no secret; N&B’s archives are full of cozies, thrillers, and whodunits. Thus, this collection of ARC mysteries and suspense novels. Some I recommend, but others are best left alone.

Love, Lies and Spies

Juliana Telford is not your average nineteenth-century young lady. She’s much more interested in researching ladybugs than marriage, fashionable dresses, or dances. So when her father sends her to London for a season, she’s determined not to form any attachments. Instead, she plans to secretly publish her research.

Spencer Northam is not the average young gentleman of leisure he appears. He is actually a spy for the War Office, and is more focused on acing his first mission than meeting eligible ladies. Fortunately, Juliana feels the same, and they agree to pretend to fall for each other. Spencer can finally focus, until he is tasked with observing Juliana’s traveling companions . . . and Juliana herself.

The idea of this novel is awesome. It’s touted as homage to Jane Austen and her spunky heroines, with a little bit of mystery thrown in as well. Unfortunately, the execution does not live up to the idea.

Juliana is supposed to be intelligent, unconventional, and impertinent, but mostly I found her bland and forgettable. Her and Spencer’s romance takes up most of the plot, rather than the mystery that you would expect from a “spy” novel. If the concept of this novel intrigues you, sit tight–one of the books below executes it in a much more interesting way.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Murder of Mary Russell

Mary Russell is used to dark secrets—her own, and those of her famous partner and husband, Sherlock Holmes. Trust is a thing slowly given, but over the course of a decade together, the two have forged an indissoluble bond. And what of the other person to whom Mary Russell has opened her heart: the couple’s longtime housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson? Russell’s faith and affection are suddenly shattered when a man arrives on the doorstep claiming to be Mrs. Hudson’s son.

What Samuel Hudson tells Russell cannot possibly be true, yet she believes him—as surely as she believes the threat of the gun in his hand. In a devastating instant, everything changes. And when the scene is discovered—a pool of blood on the floor, the smell of gunpowder in the air—the most shocking revelation of all is that the grim clues point directly to Clara Hudson. Or rather to Clarissa, the woman she was before Baker Street.

This book is the latest in Ms. King’s series of Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell mysteries, and as I read it, I was startled to realize that I actually read the first book of the series (The Beekeeper’s Apprentice) several years ago. Although I definitely don’t recommend that you pick up this book without having read the rest of the series first–there’s very little talk about Sherlock and Mary themselves, as the book mostly focuses on Mrs. Hudson’s backstory–it was still an enjoyable read.

The most frustrating part, to me, was the fact that so much of the book took place in flashbacks–most of the first half, in fact. Especially if you haven’t read the rest of the series first (see my note above), the book focuses very little on our two main characters, instead exploring the dark secrets of the housekeeper’s past. Once you get into the second half of the book, things move quickly, but the first half is a bit of a slog.

Verdict? If you’ve read and enjoyed the rest of the series, I see no reason why you would be disappointed with the latest installment. If you haven’t, start with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and then decide if you want to continue.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

These Vicious Masks

Evelyn has no interest in marriage and even the dashing Mr. Kent can’t make her want to live up to society’s expectations. She’d much rather assist her beloved sister Rose in achieving her radical dream of becoming a doctor. But everything changes the night she meets Sebastian Braddock – not only is the reclusive gentleman both vexing and annoyingly attractive, he’s also quite possibly mad, and his interest in Rose is galling. So when Evelyn wakes up to discover that Rose has disappeared, she immediately suspects Sebastian.

But then she discovers that Sebastian’s strange tales of special powers are actually true, and that Rose’s kidnappers have worse in mind for her than simply ruining her reputation. Surrounded by secrets, lies, and unprecedented danger, Evelyn has no choice but to trust Sebastian, yet she can’t help but worry that Sebastian’s secrets are the most dangerous of all…

I’ve been hearing good things about this book for months, and after reading it, I can see why. This is what Love, Lies and Spies (see above) should have been but wasn’t. Evelyn is, in fact, impertinent and unconventional, and she pulls this off without being irritating or bland. And the romantic subplot never takes over the story–something I greatly appreciate in a YA novel.

The science (or magic) of the special powers some of the characters have is never quite clear, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s a fun story with interesting characters and a unique way of spicing up the Jane Austen era. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Sidney Chambers and the Dangers of Temptation

It’s the summer of love in late 1960s England. Basil D’Oliveira has just been dropped from the English cricket team before for a test series in apartheid South Africa; the war in Biafra dominates the news; and the Apollo 11 astronauts are preparing to land on the moon. In the midst of all this change, Sidney Chambers, now Archdeacon of Ely Cathedral, is still up to his amateur sleuthing investigations.

A bewitching divorcee enlists Sidney’s help in convincing her son to leave a hippie commune; at a soiree on Grantchester Meadows during May Week celebrations, a student is divested of a family heirloom; Amanda’s marriage runs into trouble; Sidney and Hildegard holiday behind the Iron Curtain; Mrs Maguire’s husband returns from the dead and an arson attack in Cambridge leads Sidney to uncover a cruel case of blackmail involving his former curate.

I requested this one on a whim after seeing that it has been made into a BBC series (I can’t resist the BBC!). Unfortunately, this is the fifth installment in the series, so I was a bit confused as to who each character was and how they knew Sidney, the archdeacon and amateur sleuth.

I was also disappointed that each chapter was a short story in itself. There was no overarching mystery to tie them all together, so most of them came off a little flat. Maybe prior installments were one long mystery, and they probably gave a better introduction to each character, but just based on this one book, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Rating: Meh

ARC Roundup: YA Novels

Today's ARC roundup is all about the latest YA and middle grades novels. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received the following books from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All summaries are via Goodreads.com.

This post, the latest in my series of ARC roundups, is focused on some of the YA and middle grades novels I’ve read lately. (There are more to come in a future post–be on the lookout!) Hopefully you’ll find a book in this list to enjoy.

The Girl from Everywhere

Sixteen-year-old Nix Song is a time-traveller. She, her father and their crew of time refugees travel the world aboard The Temptation, a glorious pirate ship stuffed with treasures both typical and mythical. Old maps allow Nix and her father to navigate not just to distant lands, but distant times – although a map will only take you somewhere once. And Nix’s father is only interested in one time, and one place: Honolulu 1868. A time before Nix was born, and her mother was alive. Something that puts Nix’s existence rather dangerously in question . . . Nix has grown used to her father’s obsession, but only because she’s convinced it can’t work. But then a map falls into her father’s lap that changes everything.

I’ve been seeing this book everywhere lately, and I must say, the cover is gorgeous. I haven’t read any other bloggers’ reviews of The Girl from Everywhere because I wanted to form my own unbiased opinion, so here it is: This is a fascinating YA novel. Although they are probably out there, I’ve never read a book with this kind of time travel via boats and maps, and I thought it was really interesting.

Nix is constantly battling with her father over his life’s obsession to find his way back to her mother. Nix knows that if they ever find the perfect map to take them back to that year, she might very well cease to exist, a fact which seems to escape her single-minded father. But when the crew of the Temptation end up in Hawaii just a few years after their intended date, Nix starts to learn more about her mother, her father, her crewmates, and herself–and she might even learn how to Navigate using maps, as her father does.

I loved the various places that Nix and the crew traveled, from 21st-century New York to 1800s Hawaii to lands only found in mythology. Nix’s best friend Kashmir, for example, is from the world of Arabian Nights, and the crew sometimes spends time searching for magical items (like a bottomless bag) to make their lives easier. But I also enjoyed Nix’s complicated relationship with her father and her growing romance with Kashmir. All the characters and settings were well drawn, and I’m definitely interested in seeing what other adventures the crew of the Temptation go on.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Amanda Lester and the Pink Sugar Conspiracy

Amanda Lester wouldn’t be caught dead going into the family business. Her ancestor, Sherlock Holmes’s colleague Inspector G. Lestrade, is a twit. Nevertheless her parents refuse to see his flaws, and she’s going to a secret English detective school for the descendants of famous detectives whether she likes it or not.

When Amanda arrives at the dreaded school, she considers running away–until she and her new friends discover blood and weird pink substances in odd places. At first they’re not sure whether these seeming clues mean anything, but when Amanda’s father disappears and the cook is found dead with her head in a bag of sugar, they’re certain that crimes are taking place. Now Amanda must embrace her destiny and uncover the truth.

The book opens with Amanda and her dreams of becoming a filmmaker. These dreams, however, are interrupted when her parents tell her the family is moving to England so Amanda can attend a prestigious (but secret) school for detectives. Amanda pouts her way through the first few days of school, trudging her way through classes about how to create a good disguise, the psychology of criminals, and how to create a detective “mystique.” But Amanda starts seeing weird things around the school, and she’s not sure if they are part of a school project or if they have something to do with the sudden disappearance of Amanda’s father.

This book definitely leans more toward middle grades level than YA. The mystery is silly, and Amanda creates a lot of problems for herself by being super stubborn and not open to criticism. Your pre-teen may enjoy it, but it’s definitely forgettable.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Bad Luck

At Earth Ranch, things can get a little magical (some might say strange). Intrepid readers will discover a runaway boy, fishy cruise ship, strange cave paintings, dragon-like footprints, and other mysteries that Clay and his friends need to solve. Danger, adventure, mischief, mystery, llamas, and a delightfully irreverent and hilarious narrator make bestselling author Pseudonymous Bosch’s anticipated new novel irresistible.

This book is the second in the Bad Magic series, and I have not read the first book. Still, I wasn’t too lost to enjoy the book. If you’ve read any of Pseudonymous Bosch’s other books, you’ll already have a good idea of what to expect from this one–silliness, magic, over the top villains, and precocious kids. (I think this series is tangentially related to the author’s previous series, but I haven’t read enough of that series to know for sure.)

This is not a bad choice if your kid loves crazy, silly, over the top stories with a bit of magic thrown in. I’m interested to see where this series goes next.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Ready Player One

Ready Player One is an exciting novel filled with video gaming, 80s references, and a race to find the ultimate Easter egg. | Review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Normally, Ready Player One isn’t the kind of book that would catch my eye. A dystopian world built around a video game? No thank you. But I’d heard enough good reviews about this book that when I saw it on my roommate’s shelf, I picked it up. And I’m so glad I did.

In the near dystopian future, 17-year-old Wade has found that life inside OASIS, a virtual reality world that has taken over video gaming, is much better than his real, outside life. So when the creator of OASIS dies and offers his massive fortune to the first person who can find all the Easter eggs and solve the puzzles he has hidden in the world, Wade is one of the most committed egg hunters (or gunters, as they become called). Interest fades until Wade finally stumbles upon the first key–then the race is on between him, his friends, and an evil corporation who will do whatever it takes to win the prize.

This book is jam-packed with references to 80s pop culture, from video games to movies to music and beyond. But even if you’re not super familiar with the 80s (I’m not), you can still enjoy this book. The creative and incredible worlds that are created within OASIS are fantastic, and the challenges that the gunters attempt to solve are pretty cool, too. Wade is also a fun character. He doesn’t always make the wisest choices–what teenager does?–but he does the best that he can, along with the help of his in-world friends.

To summarize, if you’re at all interested in a fun and exciting romp through a virtual world, filled with pop culture references and creative puzzles, you’ll enjoy this book. Even if you know nothing about video games.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

ARC Roundup: February Edition

The good, the bad, and the ugly of this month's ARCs. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received the following ARCs from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All summaries via NetGalley.com.

I’m still working through the huge amount of ARCs and review copies I got from NetGalley at the beginning of the year. I’m like a kid in a candy store with requesting books–everything looks so good! So which ones satisfied my sweet tooth, and which ones just gave me a stomachache? Read on to find out.

Radical Self-Love

Have you ever dreamed of a life full of laughter, love, and sequins … but felt totally clueless about how to make it happen? You’re not alone. Best-selling author and speaker Gala Darling spent years in soul-sucking jobs, battling depression, an eating disorder, and a preference for chaos and disaster—simply because she didn’t know how to create the life she dreamed about.

In Radical Self-Love, you’ll discover exactly what makes you so magnificent, and you’ll gain a litany of tools and techniques to help you manifest a life bursting with magic, miracles, bliss, and adventure! Featuring fun homework exercises and cool illustrations, this book will take you from learning to fall madly in love with yourself, to loving others, to making your world a more magical place through style, self-expression, and manifestation.

So, I admit, I’m not sure why I expected something different from this book than what I got. I wanted a book filled with inspiration, if not actual practical advice, something that would make me look at life differently. But really, this book was way too “woo-woo” for me. I dropped it after the first two chapters.

Rating: DNF

The Art of Being Normal

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.

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.

I requested this book because I’m doing my best to diversify my reading even more this year, and I don’t think I’ve read even one fiction book about transgender teens before this one. The book was interesting, but it didn’t go very in depth into the issues it presented, as I had hoped. I wanted it to be thought-provoking, but it was pretty forgettable.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Restaurant Critic’s Wife

Lila Soto has a master’s degree that’s gathering dust, a work-obsessed husband, two kids, and lots of questions about how exactly she ended up here.

In their new city of Philadelphia, Lila’s husband, Sam, takes his job as a restaurant critic a little too seriously. To protect his professional credibility, he’s determined to remain anonymous. Soon his preoccupation with anonymity takes over their lives as he tries to limit the family’s contact with anyone who might have ties to the foodie world. Meanwhile, Lila craves adult conversation and some relief from the constraints of her homemaker role. With her patience wearing thin, she begins to question everything: her decision to get pregnant again, her break from her career, her marriage—even if leaving her ex-boyfriend was the right thing to do. As Sam becomes more and more fixated on keeping his identity secret, Lila begins to wonder if her own identity has completely disappeared—and what it will take to get it back.

Lila is a former businesswoman and mother of two, and she is going crazy taking care of her kids full time. Her husband, Sam, is in love with his job as a restaurant critic, and to protect his identity, he has requested that his wife quit her high-profile job and not make any friends in their new town. This book absolutely drove me insane. I totally identified with Lila’s desire to have an outlet for meaningful work and adult friends in addition to raising her children–it’s the same impulse that makes me cringe whenever a well-meaning acquaintance implies that of course I will quit my job and become a full-time stay at home mom when I have kids. Being a full-time, at-home parent is a tough job, and it’s not for everyone. Lila is one of those people who can’t handle it, and her husband is forcing her into that role for the sake of his own career.

Now, I will say that the author does a masterful job of making Sam a well-rounded character. He does things for Lila and the kids that are truly sweet, and the reader never gets the sense that he is putting Lila in this position because he doesn’t care about her or her needs. Still, this book stressed me out, and I wanted more of a resolution than it offered.

Rating: Meh

The Urban Boys #UBTour

The Urban Boys: a book about friendship, responsibility, and mysterious new superpowers. #spon | A book review from NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: This post is sponsored by Masquerade Tours in exchange for an honest review.

The Urban Boys: Discovery of the Five Senses is an action-adventure story about five teen boys who are mysteriously exposed to a foreign energy source that gives them extremely heightened senses. Sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell become hypersensitive gifts that forever change the world. The story chronicles their effortless interrelations and later exposes the testing of their deep bonds. It introduces the reader to an array of supporting characters who alter the boys’ lives forever. The Urban Boys offers young and mature readers central themes of loyalty, responsibility, honesty, fear, and triumph, which become artfully integrated with cinematic-level action and high drama. The story twists, turns, and grinds through elements of paranormal and action-adventure in a diverse, exciting, edge-of-your-seat narrative!

This book isn’t my usual fare, but the description sounded pretty cool, so I thought I’d give it a try. As it turns out, there were some things I really enjoyed and some things I didn’t, so I’m going to present this review as a list of pros and cons.

Pros:

  • The dialogue is very good. I really enjoyed listening to the teenagers talk to each other. Smith did a great job of capturing the voice of a teenager throughout the book. I just wish there was even more dialogue!
  • The plot is an interesting one. Sure, we’ve all seen the “teenager gets superpowers” trope before, but this feels fresh and new. First of all, we have a group of friends who all get superpowers, rather than a lone teenager, and second, some of the superpowers are just bizarre. It was interesting (and sometimes hilarious) to see what supertaste or superfeeling would be like as a superpower.
  • I kind of wanted the book to be about Mason, the little brother of one of the teenage boys. In fact, almost all of the supporting characters are given their own backstory and personality, which I really appreciated.

 

Cons:

  • The writing style is contrived. There is just no way around this. It was my biggest obstacle to reading an otherwise interesting plot with fun characters. Though the dialogue is pretty spot-on in terms of the way teenagers actually speak, the rest of the writing doesn’t sound like something a teenager would ever say or think. Unfortunately, it just sounds like it’s trying too hard to be fancy.
  • I really wish there had been some female characters. The very few that were involved in the story hardly got any lines or actions, and I think the story would have benefited from their presence.

 

So there you have it! The pros and cons for The Urban Boys. Check it out if you’re interested in teens with superpowers and how their friendships might change as a result of their newfound powers.

The Age of Miracles

The Age of Miracles is a fantastic YA book. Seriously, just read it. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, 11-year-old Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life–the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

The Age of Miracles is one of those books that I didn’t expect to enjoy nearly as much as I did. When I was overseas, my husband and I took a train from Budapest to Vienna for a day trip. The journey takes about three hours each way–just long enough to spend some quality time with a book. The Age of Miracles is the book I chose for this journey, and I enjoyed it so much that I could hardly wait to get back on the train at the end of the day and finish it.

Even if you’re not normally into apocalyptic novels, I think you’ll enjoy this one. It’s a coming of age story as much as it is a story about the end of the world, and it’s crazy how quickly the longer days and nights become a matter of fact. It’s a fascinating concept, and Julia is a lot of fun to follow into this strange new world. There’s not much more I can say about The Age of Miracles, other than read it! It’s definitely worth your time.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

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