Thursday, June 6, 2019

Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins

This book follows a group of friends on the cusp of adolescence, as they explore new ideas, find new interests, and form first crushes. The plot structure is very loose and episodic; the content is rooted in nostalgia. There are occasional illustrations that don't do a whole lot for the story. Set in a small town in the 1970s, I found myself wondering what sort of appeal this book would have for young readers today. It won the Newbery Medal in 2006, inexplicably. This reads like a book for adults who grew up in the 1970s, and not a book for children at all. The writing is good, and the characters are interesting, if not always fully realized (I had trouble distinguishing some of the boys, particularly, and Debbie's best friend Patty has no personality to speak of), but there's so little action that I really had to push myself to stay engaged. I wouldn't recommend this for kids, but adults who were teenagers in the '70s might find it a nice walk down memory lane.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Best Babysitters Ever by Caroline Cala

Malia, Dot, and Bree need to make some money for an epic joint birthday party. When Malia is inspired by an old paperback in a library discard box, the three turn to babysitting, even though they've never actually done any babysitting, and are not really even sure they like kids. Things start out well enough, until Malia's evil older sister steals their idea and runs with it. Can the three original babysitters get their clients back, or will they lose the babysitting business and their friendship, as well?

This is a light, fun read. The adults in this book are the absolute worst, but I'm sure that won't bother the target audience. It was cute to see the Baby-Sitters' Club re-imagined for a new generation, including some shade cast at the original ("Is this seriously what people found fun in the '90s?"). An enjoyable, if inessential, read.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann

After a rough breakup, Alice isn't sure she ever wants to be in a relationship again -- until she meets Takumi, who breaks the mental scale she's used for years to measure cuteness. Alice is bi-romantic asexual, and unpacking that with any potential romantic partner is always a lot of work. Plus, Alice and Takumi are immediately such good friends that she doesn't want to ruin anything. Meanwhile, Alice is fighting with both her parents (who want her to go to law school, when she has no interest in that) and her best friends, who are getting married (to each other) and may be accidentally excluding Alice sometimes.

There are lots of things to like about this book, but it has a few issues as well. For the most part, I liked the characters, especially Alice (which is good, since the reader spends so much time in her head). She's super cute, and I really want to be her friend. Takumi is a little too perfect for me to believe in him, and Feenie (Alice's bestie) is just confusing to me. Lots of people are loving this book for the diverse representation, which is awesome. Though I can't personally judge how well it's done, the fact that it exists seems like a good thing. My main issue with the book was the plot, or lack thereof. If you require a book with a lot of action and progression, this one probably isn't for you. Alice does stuff, or more often, avoids stuff, so if people having problems communicating is a pet peeve for you, this book also probably isn't your thing (it's a pet peeve for me, but if I didn't read any books where communication issues were a key point, what would I read?). I also didn't feel that the ending wrapped things up particularly well, which is fairly true to life, but doesn't make for an entirely satisfying reading experience. If you like slice-of-life stories with diverse representation, give this a try.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Friday, May 31, 2019

My Almost Flawless Tokyo Dream Life by Rachel Cohn

Elle's life hasn't been going very well, ever since her mom got addicted to painkillers and subsequently sent to prison. Elle has been in a series of heinous foster homes ever since, until her sixteenth birthday, when she gets the news that her father, whom she has never met, wants her to come live with him in Tokyo. Suddenly, Elle is thrust into the glamorous life of a wealthy expat teen, attending the International Collegiate School, falling in with the popular crowd, and living in her father's penthouse apartment in the luxury hotel and office skyscraper that he owns. The downside? Her father works pretty much all the time, her Japanese grandmother is cold and unfriendly (and racist), and the popular crowd isn't welcoming to some of the other friends Elle has made. As Elle experiences all of the wonders of her new city, she can't help but wonder: how long will this dream life last?

I must admit, I didn't care for this one very much. Elle sure does whine a lot. Plus, there's a lot less plot and a lot more description of Elle doing touristy things, like going to a cat cafe and a robot restaurant. None of the characters have much depth, and none of Elle's actions appear to have consequences, so she never gets so much as a telling off, nor does she have that internal moment of realization that maybe she didn't do the right thing. There's no indication that her actions aren't a good strategy to get her way. On top of that, I thought that there were some problems with the writing.  The perspective is first person, but often in describing the sights of Tokyo, the author uses vocabulary that Elle probably wouldn't have. She doesn't always sound like a believable teenager to me.

Also . . . look, I'm sure there are some dreadful foster homes out there, and I realize that the narrator needed a terrible situation for Elle to be rescued from. But, having recently watched a colleague go through the arduous process of getting approved to provide foster care, I did wonder how much research the author did on the current state of foster care before writing this book. (She had Elle placed in not one, but three, terrible foster homes, and mentioned that Elle's friend Reggie had also experienced nothing but terrible foster homes, so it wasn't supposed to be an isolated case.)

I'd only recommend this book for Japanophile readers who are fascinated with the culture and want to read something like a Tokyo travel guide with a bit of a plot.  I know very little about the culture and nothing about the language, so I can't speak to the accuracy of those parts of the book. For a similar but better read, I'd recommend Seven Days of You by Cecelia Vinesse.

(Reviewed from an e-audiobook borrowed through my library system.)

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Nate Expectations by Tim Federle

Nate has loved everything about being on Broadway, but when his show closes, he must return to the Pittsburgh suburbs his family calls home. He dreads attending public high school, but is surprised to find that it’s not quite what he expected. His Broadway experience seems to have given him a certain amount of... could it be? ... popularity? As he attempts to stage an ambitious musical version of Great Expectations with the help of long-time bestie Libby, he starts to worry that his secret New York City boyfriend is pulling away from him.

A fun ending to Federle’s Nate series. Though Nate is a little older than he was in the first book, the tone and content are still appropriate for upper elementary and middle school readers. I thought the character development was lacking a bit, especially concerning a certain new relationship, where I just didn’t feel any emotional connection. Still, I’d recommend this to readers who enjoyed the first two books.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Archenemies by Marissa Meyer

Nova remains undercover with the Renegades, while Adrian has his own secret identity as the Sentinel. If either secret is discovered, it will mean disaster. But the two find themselves drawing closer, despite the secrets that they can't share. Meanwhile, the Renegades develop a new weapon, and Nova struggles to find something to help the Anarchists achieve their goals.

I don't know, I just feel like this book has a bad case of Middle Novel Syndrome. It has some action, but none of the big plot twists of the first book. I'm also not terribly invested in the love story. I listened to the audiobook, and had a big gap in the middle of listening, and I found I wasn't anxious to get back to the story. Most of what happened seemed to be setup for the final book, which I look forward to reading -- especially since none of the predictions I made in my review of the last book were fulfilled in this one, but I still think they will be in the next one!

(Reviewed from an e-audiobook borrowed through my library system.)

Monday, April 8, 2019

Juana & Lucas: Big Problemas by Juana Medina

For as long as she remembers, Juana's immediate family has consisted of herself, her Mami, and her dog Lucas. But, suddenly, things are changing. Mami is wearing her hair in a different, fussy way that Juana doesn't like, and Mami is also wearing perfume and lipstick more often. Mami also has a new friend, Luis, who likes photography and jazz and occasionally takes Juana and Mami to his country house for a weekend. (Actually, Juana finds that she also likes photography and jazz, and she really likes the country house where she and Lucas can have lots of messy outdoor fun.) But still, she's not sure about Luis. One of her cousins says that her Mami and Luis will probably get married. What will that mean for Juana and Lucas? Will she have to wear a fussy, itchy dress and be a flower girl? (Not if she doesn't want to, Mami promises.) Will Luis move into their apartment -- or are even bigger changes on the way?

This illustrated chapter book, like the first book in the series (Juana and Lucas), is a pleasant story, great for newly independent readers, especially those who know a little (or a lot of) Spanish, as Spanish words are sprinkled, untranslated, throughout the text (definitions are not provided, but most can be inferred from context). Recommended to readers who enjoyed the first book in the series.

(Reviewed from an advance copy, courtesy of the publisher, via the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.)

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Eventown by Corey Ann Haydu

If you could escape grief by giving up your memories, would you? Something terrible happened to Elodee’s family, and now her parents have decided to move to Eventown for a fresh start. Elodee and her twin sister Naomi are initially excited about the things they remember from a visit a few years ago: the amazing ice cream shop, the beautiful views at the end of a hike, the way the air always smelled like roses. But while Naomi is eager to embrace the perfection and blend in to life in Eventown, Elodee misses her creative, imperfect way of doing things. In Eventown, she can use the recipes she was given to cook perfect meals every time, but she’d rather try her own wild flavor combinations, even if they don’t always turn out the way she wants. And she would rather remember the things Eventown wants her to forget, even if the memories sometimes hurt.

I thought the premise here was interesting, but it felt to me like the author belabors the point. For a relatively short book, it dragged at times, and the narration rambled. I got sidetracked by details: a rose bush is described as blooming in March, in a place where Elodee mentions the need for down coats? (In Eventown the roses apparently always bloom, but this rose bush was blooming in their old town.) Elodee’s cooking skills are pretty advanced, but otherwise she and the other kids seem young for their age. Also, considering that one of the main messages of the book is about embracing discomfort and the messiness of life, I thought the ending was a little too neat. All in all, this didn’t entirely work for me, but it’s gotten great reviews and a lot of people love it. If you enjoy juvenile fiction with magical realism, and don’t mind concept trumping plot, you might like this better than I did.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee

Tash is at her sister’s graduation when Unhappy Families, the web series she wrote and directs, goes viral. Suddenly, instead of a few hundred people watching her modern adaptation of Anna Karenina, she has over forty thousand subscribers. Over the course of the summer, Tash will deal with drama onscreen and off, balancing filming schedules and the delicate egos of temperamental actors, family drama, friendship drama, and a tentative text and email relationship with another vlogger — except Tash is asexual, so she’s trying to figure out how that might work when they meet in person.

These characters are so great — realistically flawed and sometimes awful to each other, but you find yourself rooting for them all the same. I loved all of the parts about filming the web series, which rang true to me in terms of actors and techies interacting. I also loved Tash’s warm and (mostly) loving family, and the fact that a certain plot twist regarding them really came as a surprise to me. Plus, it’s set in Lexington, Kentucky, my favorite place, so I got an extra thrill when familiar spots were mentioned.

One small quibble: Ormsbee chose to make Tash’s dad Eastern Orthodox, so Tash mentions that a few times, but I never get the sense that the author knows much about Orthodoxy and how it differs from other branches of Christianity. For instance, Tash talks about hearing a certain Bible verse at an Easter service, but the readings for Pascha (Orthodox Easter) are set, and don’t include that verse. Later, she mentions attending services at “Christ Church Cathedral,” but that’s not a very likely name for an Orthodox cathedral, which would typically be named for a saint or a feast of the church. Lexington has a Greek Orthodox Church, Panagia Pantovasilissa (Holy Mary Queen of All) and an Antiochian Orthodox Church, St. Andrew. I can totally see why the author would want to use a fictional church name rather than a real one (she made up a fictional high school, though mentioned real establishments elsewhere in the book), but she could have chosen a name that fits existing naming conventions. But I’ve already written more about Orthodoxy in this review than the author did in the entire book, so like I said, it’s a very minor issue. All in all, an enjoyable book that I stayed up late to finish, and one I’d recommend if you enjoy realistic YA fiction.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Friday, April 5, 2019

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow

Morrigan thought it would be so simple once she was accepted into the Wundrous Society. She would have a place in the world, a purpose, and eight friends who would stick as close as family. She would learn how to use her astonishing abilities. Of course, nothing goes as expected...

This book was just as good as the previous one, with tantalizing hints of future wonders and complexities. I could hardly put it down, and I’m itching to pick up the next one (if only it were published)! For those hesitant to start an unfinished series, let me reassure you that there’s no cliffhanger here — this book’s plot wraps up satisfactorily, though of course there are plenty of hints about future adventures.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)