Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

It’s 1947, and India has just gained independence from British rule. 12-year-old Nisha’s family has lived in Mirpur Khas for as long as Nisha can remember, but now they must leave: Nisha’s father is Hindu, and Mirpur Khas falls within the part of India that is now the new Muslim country of Pakistan. The country’s leaders have partitioned India along religious lines, displacing millions. As refugees stream both ways across the new border, violence erupts. But Nisha’s deceased mother was Muslim, so she finds herself wondering where her place is in this new India.

This book is gripping and well-written. Both the political turmoil and Nisha’s inner struggles are given weight and dignity. I’m sure this is an unfamiliar part of world history to many American children, making this an important book as well as an interesting one. It’s sure to inspire additional research in many of its readers.

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

Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

Young centurion Marcus Flavius Aquila's father disappeared with the doomed Ninth Legion in northern Britain. When Marcus takes a post in Britain, he hopes to hear or discover something of the lost Ninth, but a wound taken in battle cuts his military career short. After he recovers, he embarks on a dangerous mission to discover what happened to the Ninth, and to retrieve their bronze Eagle, the symbol of Roman power and victory, which may be in the hands of the northern tribes.

This story of high adventure in the long past is one that I probably would have enjoyed as a child, but I never crossed paths with it at the time. The writing is lovely and the pacing is strong. It's a quick read (the audiobook I listened to was under five hours), full of goodness with nothing extraneous. For all that, I'd say I liked it but didn't love it. If historical fiction set in the days of the Roman Empire appeals to you, I'd say give this a try, no matter your age.

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

Friday, August 24, 2018

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Mia’s parents have struggled to find work in America ever since they got off the plane from China. When they find a job as motel managers, it seems like an amazing stroke of luck: they can live in the motel rent-free and make good money if they can bring in enough customers. Mia is excited (though also a little scared) to help watch the front desk while her parents clean the rooms. But when the motel owner proves to be stingy and racist, Mia tries to come up with a better solution for her family. She helps some friends along the way, but will her struggles to better her own situation pay off?

This delightful middle-grade book is based in part on the author’s own childhood experiences. She provides a helpful author’s note at the end which explains some of the challenges Chinese immigrants faced in the early 1990s, the setting for this book. Some of the fictional events come together too smoothly to be entirely believable, but I think that young readers will enjoy this story and empathize with Mia’s big feelings and even bigger plans.

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

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Meet Cute by Jennifer Armentrout et. al.

A collection of short stories, exactly as the title indicates: a baker's dozen of stories featuring couples meeting in various circumstances. Unfortunately, though I enjoyed many of these stories, I didn't love any of them. In a few cases, the stories felt incomplete, like reading just the beginning of a story, and I would have liked to hear more about them. In other cases, there was not enough room for character development, and the stories themselves evaporated from my memory before I even finished reading the book. Recommended only if you absolutely love short-form romance.

(Reviewed from an ebook borrowed through my library system.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Pride by Ibi Zoboi

Zuri Benitez loves her Brooklyn neighborhood. It's loud, it's poor, but it's comfortable in all the right ways. When an upper-class Black family moves in across the street, she's not as excited as her four sisters, despite the fact that the two teenage brothers are very fine, indeed. She doesn't like the way they look down their noses at her street, at her sisters -- particularly Darius, the younger brother, who strikes her as entirely arrogant. But as the two families are thrown together, she starts to see him in a new light...

This is billed as "A Pride and Prejudice Remix," and it does a great job of interpreting the original in a new context. Some of the humor of the original is lost, as is a little of the drama. On the other hand, it addresses plenty of timely issues regarding race, and it still has a satisfying romantic plot. It's a fast, enjoyable read, both for fans of the original, and for those encountering it for the first time. Recommended.

(Reviewed from an advance copy, courtesy of the publisher.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

Seventeen-year-old Rachel has never worn pants, gone to public school, or had more than five dollars to call her own. Her family attends an extreme fundamentalist church and subscribes to the Quiverfull movement, so Rachel and her nine siblings live a life of strictly enforced obedience to their father and their church. Rachel really wants to be good, but she longs to read and study. She gets a sinking feeling in her stomach when she thinks about courtship, marriage, and the possibility that she might be married and pregnant within a year. And when her mother sinks into depression after a miscarriage, Rachel is frustrated and exhausted at being required to shoulder the majority of the responsibility for running the household. When rumors circulate that Lauren Sullivan, black sheep of the congregation, has returned to their small town, Rachel's curiosity is piqued. Why did Lauren leave? How has she managed to survive on her own? Using the family's ancient computer (purchased solely to help with the running of the family business), Rachel surreptitiously discovers Lauren's blog, and before long, the two are communicating. But what will happen if her father finds out?

This is a gripping read, alarming in its veracity -- though Rachel is fictional, her situation is real enough. Mathieu appears to have done a good bit of research, though she has not experienced life within that culture firsthand. I appreciated the way she showed Lauren and Rachel as people who embrace two different worldviews, but can still be close friends who work to understand each other. Also, the fact that Christianity and religion in general is not demonized because of the cult-like sect Rachel's family follows is a positive for me. There's a scene in the book where Rachel attends a mainline Protestant worship service and contrasts it with what she's always known, and I appreciated the nuanced treatment that the author gives religion.

My few small quibbles with the book involve the practicalities of life for Rachel in the later part of the book. I felt that some things came too simply or easily for her, both in terms of those practical details, and in the emotional realm. But altogether, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in realistic YA stories that examine various expressions of religion.

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

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Language of Spells by Garret Weyr

Grisha is a dragon; the youngest of the last dragons, actually. And, due to the machinations of an evil magician, he's spent most of his life as an enchanted teapot. When the enchantment is broken, he learns that all of the world's remaining dragons have followed a mysterious summoning sound to Vienna. After some time in Vienna, he meets Maggie, a lonely human girl. Together, they discover that something terrible has happened to many of the dragons, and together they embark on a quest to rescue them.

This is a lovely, gentle book with a bittersweet ending. The pace is leisurely, but it doesn't drag. I thought the actual quest part went a little too easily, but the best parts of the book are Grisha and Maggie's friendship, and the way the world's magic system works. If you enjoy thoughtful juvenile fantasy, give this one a try.

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

Sunday, August 19, 2018

My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sahrma

Winnie Mehta's boyfriend Raj cheated on her, sort of. When she told him she wanted to "take a break," she didn't mean she wanted to break up -- so why does she come back from summer film camp to discover that he's dating Jenny Dickens? The relationship drama is complicated by a prophecy that Winnie's parents got from an astrologer when she was a baby. Raj meets all of the criteria to be Winnie's soul mate, and while Winnie isn't sure she believes in the prophecy, she's also not sure she doesn't. And her friend Dev is paying her a lot of attention now that she's no longer with Raj... Meanwhile, it's her senior year, and she's focused on a couple of big extracurricular projects that could make the difference between getting into the NYU Film Studies program, or attending community college at home (as *gasp* a theatre major. Horrors!)

I had a really hard time relating to the main character, or believing in either of her love interests. Many of her concerns seemed overwrought: there are a lot of other options between NYU and community college, but Winnie didn't appear to be willing to consider any of them -- and she was convinced that running the school's film festival would make her a shoo-in for the program, whereas I feel that the college admissions process is not that cut and dried. On the other hand, I appreciated the depiction of her loving, supportive parents, and her descriptions of Bollywood films made me want to watch a couple.

Bottom line: if you enjoy YA books with romantic comedy plotlines and characters with diverse backgrounds, you might enjoy this -- just be prepared for a dose of teenage angst!

Also, for the record, there is nothing wrong with being a theatre major. ;-)

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

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Rose Legacy by Jessica Day George

Orphaned Anthea has been shuffled from one relative to another ever since her parents' death, but now she is being sent to an uncle who lives in the wild lands beyond the Wall. At his farm, she will discover that many of the things she's been taught all her life are untrue -- particularly regarding horses, which she had heard were disease-carriers and extinct. Neither of these things are true -- so why is that what children south of the Wall are taught?

This is an enjoyable book, with plenty of horse-related adventure for those who can't get enough of that sort of thing. The pace is quick -- almost too quick, I thought, because sometimes events are just mentioned, rather than being fully described. This is one rare occasion where I feel that a book would have benefited from being just a tad bit longer. On the other hand, its brevity will probably work well of child readers who are anxious to get on with the story. The ending leaves plenty of room for a sequel, so I expect there will be more books set in this world -- though I'm not sure I will seek them out. On the other hand, readers who love horses and fantasy should certainly take a look at this book.

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

Friday, August 17, 2018

Puddin' by Julie Murphy

Millie and Callie don't have much in common: Millie's an optimistic fat girl with dreams of a career in broadcast journalism, Callie is co-assistant captain of the school dance team, and kind of a mean girl. When a prank that Callie is participating in goes too far, the two are thrown together in ways that neither could ever expect.

I enjoyed this, maybe a little less than I enjoyed Dumplin', but it's a feel-good story about friendship and becoming who you're meant to be. I thought Millie was a bit of a Mary Sue, way too emotionally mature and self-aware to be entirely believable, but she did make a few mistakes and seem a little more human in the later parts of the book. Callie's personal transformation was dramatic, but felt earned. I listened to the audiobook, which was adequate but not fantastic. The narrator voicing Callie didn't do a good job of differentiating between Millie and Callie's voices, so in places lacking dialogue tags, it could be tricky understanding who was speaking. The narrator voicing Millie often pronounced Callie as Kelly ("Who's Kelly?" I kept thinking), and I thought her voice sounded too mature for a teenager most of the time. But those are minor nitpicks; if you prefer reading via audio, don't let my opinions discourage you from doing so with this book.

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