Category: Young Adult


This one was a bit difficult to get written. I enjoyed it a great deal, but didn’t have a ton to say about it. That said, this one’s thanks to the awesome folks at First Second. Here’s Hope Larson’s All Summer Long. Enjoy!

All Summer Long cover

Bina and Austin have been friends forever and with summer vacation starting she’s excited to get started on their yearly Summer Fun Index. At least, she’s excited until finding out he’s headed to soccer camp instead. There’s a waiting list and he’s super excited, but that leaves Bina alone for a month with nothing to do. She practices her guitar and watches way too much tv, but the summer doesn’t really get started until she finds herself hanging out with Austin’s older sister Charlie. When Austin comes home, he’s acting weird and distant and embarrassed. They’ve been friends forever, but are Bina and Austin growing apart or just growing up?

All Summer Long is an interesting slice of life, a school summer vacation from the middle of middle school. The time where things start changing super quickly and the people you’ve always known start growing into new versions of themselves. It’s a nifty coming of age story with a focus on music that makes me want to look up the bands mentioned.

All Summer Long is comparatively short, hitting the high notes of the summer rather than the entirety of it. Though, in a lot of ways that feels a lot like my memories of summer vacation. Bina’s friends are all away, her best friend isn’t texting her back, and her parents want her to do homework instead of watching tv. She’s in for a boring one until she starts hanging out with Charlie and listening to the Steep Street album Austin lent her before he left. She’s got family stuff happening, but happy family stuff, with her older brother and his husband adopting a baby. It’s coming of age stuff, and most of it’s cute. The parts that aren’t are the kind of arguments that come from growing pains, for all the characters involved.

I don’t have much more to say about this one. I enjoyed it a lot and, like a lot of First Second books, think it would be a great fit for a middle school library. Hope Larson did really good work here, this is something I’ve read multiple times leading up to reviewing it. I give All Summer Long a five out of five.

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Going up a little late, not terrible though. I admit, I spent most of the day in line at the book store and hunting down a novel I’ve been massively looking forward to. That’s for later though. This time I’ve got Leander Watts’ Meet Me in the Strange for you, courtesy of netGalley. Enjoy!

Meet Me in the Strange cover

Davi’s life is comfortable, if uneventful. Uneventful, at least until that Django Conn show and Anna Z. Uneventful, until the gorgeous girl and all her talk talk talking about the alien drift and other dimensions. Uneventful, until Anna Z.’s brother comes hunting for her and they make a run for it, following Django Conn and all the glister and glam that follows the man and his music.

There is a level of oddity I expect from a book titled Meet Me in the Strange. Even more so when it features a rock star/ possible otherworldly being as a major part of the story. Leander Watts presents something a bit beyond the expected level of odd, though enjoyable so.

This is a book that thrives on its setting and the interactions between Davi and Anna Z., or rather how taken with Anna Z. Davi is. She does most of the talking between the two of them, and it paints these fantastic jumbles of ideas and thoughts. Frankenstein’s monsters and souls from the way way out there, the evolution and change of humanity and a sort of mutation of the soul, it’s got this fantastic patter to it that dances along to an almost hypnotizing beat. She’s out there and disconnected, but then it works.

Then there’s the setting. There’s this whole retro-future deal where they’re talking about recent space visits and Davi’s buying music on records, but then instead of feeling set in the past it feels like the future as seen by the 80’s. The Angelus hotel is stately and elegant and a historic throwback that draws in all manner of fancy visitors. Anna Z. talks about classic horror movies and old stories in relation to Homo Lux and the alien drift. But then there’s this bright energy with the glam-boys and glister-girls and the teen speak used. It’s unfamiliar, but feels right from a words perspective. Like, I really enjoyed the slang as part of the world building because even when I didn’t get it, it felt right.

If I have an issue with the book though, it’s that the plot is really not present for most of the run of the book. The antagonist takes awhile to show up and we’re told how much of a threat he is and shown how scared of him Anna Z. is and then not a lot happens with him. When I said that the book thrives on its setting and character interactions, that’s almost all it has. This wasn’t a major problem for me because of how much I enjoyed everything else. But it is the weakest part of the book.

So, in a lot of ways Meet Me in the Strange makes me think of Ziggy Stardust era David Bowie, just with the way it feels. It’s spacey and odd and a ton of fun. It says, at times, quite a lot but also very little. The chapters are short and it feels a bit like eating chips, you just want to keep going. I actually really want to listen to some of the music from the book’s world, to catch the kind of wild brilliance that Davi and Anna Z. hear. It gets a four out of five from me. The weakness of the plot is the only thing keeping it from getting the full five.

This one was a ton of fun to read and then not so much to review, I kept trying to stretch it to my usual review length and feeling like I was being over repetitive. So this one is short, but I think I’m happier with it this way. This one’s from First Second books, here’s George O’Connor’s Olympians: Hermes: Tales of the Trickster. Enjoy!

Olympians Hermes cover

God of thieves and businessmen, travelers and shepherds, Hermes began his godly career the night of his birth by sneaking away from the cave his mother had sequestered them away in and stealing his half brother Apollo’s cattle. He features in many stories and has inspired many more. For now, let a wanderer entertain you with a few of them.

I have a tendency to assume that everyone had a middle school Greek mythology phase, where they were super into it and wanted to know all the things. George O’Connor’s Olympians: Hermes: Tales of the Trickster reminds me of that pretty seriously.

This isn’t a super in depth book of mythology, it isn’t trying to be, but it is a fantastic introduction and includes some of the better known Hermes myths with a couple that I don’t remember ever seeing before. That was pretty nifty. The lack of going super in depth is likely also because this is aimed at a younger audience. That’s worth noting mostly because reading this really made me wish that my schools’ libraries had had something like it back in the day.

The art here is awesome. It makes me think of super hero comics with how buff the male characters tend to be and how bright the colors are. The character art is expressive and fun, especially when Pan is being focused on. Similarly, the back ground art can be fantastic with sprawling hills and forests and night scenes that have fantastic light work. I almost want to track down the previous books just for the art.

Overall after reading Olympians: Hermes: Tales of the Trickster I find myself very much wanting to read the other nine in the series. I very much enjoyed this comic and would happily suggest it to readers who want to check into or back into Greek mythology. It’s definitely aimed at a younger audience than me, but then is still well written enough to be entertaining outside of that. I give it a five out of five and note again that, if the rest of the series is as good as this one, O’Connor’s Olympians series would fit well in a school library.

I’m running late posting this, but I’ve been really excited to dig into this and talk about it.

 

April Box 1So, the theme for April’s Unicorn Crate was Northern Myths. That means lots of Viking and Celtic based stuff. I’m going to go down through the layers of the box and talk about things as they were packed, so the actual book itself is going to be the last item I reach. Let’s dig in then.

May Box 2

First thing, I really like the cover art/ list of contents. It’s a nifty print with the art from the website thumbnail and about the size of a post card. The big thing I like with this is that it sources where the items are from, which means that if you enjoy them you’ll be able to find the shop that made them. I adore that completely and will be making use of it.

Moving clockwise from that, we hit the Thor’s Hammer key chain. This is the only thing that I’m not big on. A big part of this is that it’s Marvel’s Thor’s hammer rather than a Mjölnir of some stripe. Well, it is, but it feels aesthetically out of place with the rest of the box. It’s also really big for a key chain and, while not as heavy as one that I use, the size isn’t great for my bag. Plus, with everything else having been hand made or small company sourced, it feels like a bit of an odd inclusion.

The unicorn book plates are nice. The art is really pretty and they’re big enough to look good but not so big as to affect the look of the page it’s placed in too badly. Plus, it’s cool to see how they tied in the unicorn theme with the rest of the box.

I need to find some place to put the Celtic shield pin. The lines are crisp and well defined and the colors complement each other well. The combination of Celtic knots and runes is a little odd, but it isn’t distractingly so. I like it quite a bit.

On to one of my favorite things here. The Book Balm’s Mead of Valhalla lip balm, from Cedar Chest Press, is awesome. It feels fantastic and it does a really good job moisturizing. It also doesn’t need to be reapplied constantly and lasts through drinking stuff. There isn’t a ton of flavor to it, I think that could be because it’s a honey/vanilla/raspberry flavored balm and two of those don’t tend to be heavily flavored in my experience. The raspberry adds a fantastic scent to it, which was nice. This is something I’m definitely going to look for once I’ve used the stick included..

The last thing in this layer is the Shield-Maiden of Rohan candle from Half Oak Candles. I’d been looking forward to this since I ordered the box and before I knew anything about the scent or where it was from. I have a hard time placing quite what the scent of this candle is. It mostly just smells clean, there might be an undercurrent of something floral, but it is subtle. It burns really well and melts evenly, which is great. I do wish that the candle was a bit bigger, the two ounce size leaves me wanting to stash it back for later rather than use it. That said, I’m definitely going to be checking out Half Oak Candles etsy shop. If this is a fair example of their quality, then their other stuff is going to be awesome too.

May Box 3

Layer two includes the item that hands down excited me most to see was in the box. I’ve been meaning to get a copy of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology since before it was released. It being a bonus book for this box was a fantastic surprise.

The art print is really cool featuring Yggdrasil, the world tree, and the nine realms. The color works really well and it sort of strikes a balance between just being a nifty print and kind of reminding me of a map. The runic styling on the writing on it can make it difficult to read the names of the realms. This isn’t a downside, they can be read, it just takes a little effort. As a nifty side thing, it includes a version of Jörmungandr, the world serpent, approaching Midgard.

May Box 4

The last layer held the book of the month itself, Jessica Leake’s Beyond a Darkened Shore, the signed book plate, and a note from the author. All of this came in a Unicorn Crate drawstring bag. The bird drawn on the bookplate is a fantastic detail, especially with the bird on the dust jacket. I appreciate the note from the author, it’s a really cool inclusion and Unicorn Crate including something like that is just super awesome.

Overall, I like what’s included here. It feels worth the admission price and, as mentioned before, I’m really glad that they included where the various items came from on the list. It’s also introduced me to a new author and a book I would not have heard of otherwise. My only real issue with the Unicorn Crate itself is the shipping. The cost isn’t terrible by any means, but the method of shipping they used was a fusion between FedEx and USPS that took close to a week to arrive and that I couldn’t track for the last couple of days before it arrived because FedEx didn’t have the USPS tracking number. I’m pretty distinctly not a fan of that. That said, I would order another one of these. It feels worth it and I just enjoy getting things like this in the mail.

Up Date

Hey all, I’ve been a bit sick the last couple of days, so I haven’t gotten around to posting this like I’d meant to.

Second Star Books has their website up and running and May’s box is available to subscribe to now. You can find it here.

Since this is their first month in business quantities are limited. Enjoy!

This one’s late. It’s late and I’m not particularly happy with it. Largely that comes from this being non-fiction and that not really being my cup of tea reviews wise. I broke my own rule and remembered why I had it. This one’s from the nice folks at First Second, here’s Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World. Enjoy!

Brazen cover

While I mostly enjoyed it, I am probably not the target audience for Penelope Bagieu’s Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World. That’s not a complaint. Brazen is a cool jumping off point for looking more into the women mentioned in it but, given that it is split into twenty-seven sections, there’s not a lot of deep going into any given story. It’s also a bit of a mixed bag on the women included. Several I understood completely, a few I didn’t quite get.

In large part, Brazen feels like it could be a really good source for a middle school history class to pull from. There’s enough information to catch interest in the women featured and enough to get started. I would have liked to have seen a bibliography or an index at the end. I feel like having the sources included could have made this even better in regards to finding out more.

The writing is simple and straight forward which works well with the short sections. The art has a nifty sketchy quality while also having a fair degree of detail. The overall effect is quite functional and makes for an enjoyable read.

That’s ultimately a big chunk of what decided it for me. I enjoyed reading Brazen and I know that a younger me would have enjoyed it more. Not citing her sources somewhere in the book does lose some points for me. So, I’m giving Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World a four out of five.

I mentioned this back during the house keeping post this week, but I wanted to go a little more in on it and on Second Star Books itself. Reiterating things a little to start, just in case anyone missed it.

Second Star Books Header

Second Star Books is opening shop come April and I figure it would be pretty cool to tell you all a little more about them. Each box contains a hard cover book from a debut YA author, that’s the focus of the box. Then there will also be a second book that is themed similarly to the first and an 8 oz. candle crafted to go with both books. Each box will also contain other related goodies.

I’m really excited by the idea of being introduced to a new author each month, especially given my tendency to lock into a set of authors and not really try anyone new. More than that, I dig that Second Star Books is going to donate a book for every box sold to kids in need. They will be working with both established literary charities and underprivileged schools. That’s something I definitely plan on throwing in behind Second Star for.

Really cool, right? This is where I tell you about the giveaway part. The folks behind Second Star Books are also super excited about the monthly box starting up and they want to share that with bookish types all over. Running until the box goes live on the first of April they have a giveaway, one lucky human will win a lifetime subscription to Second Star Books. That’s right, not a month free or an x month subscription free, but a lifetime subscription. If that sounds as awesome to you all as it does to me, I’ve got the link for you here.

Good luck!

This one was a bit difficult for me to write for a lot of the same reasons that most of the other books aimed at a younger audience are difficult for me to review. It’s not a bad story by any means and I feel like a younger me could have benefited greatly from reading something like this. Thanks to the folks at First Second this is The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang. Enjoy!The Prince and the Dressmaker cover

Lady Crystallia is the belle of the ball, the woman every girl wants to be. She’s beautiful and charming and everyone loves her. Lady Crystallia is a secret. Prince Sebastian should be trying to find a betrothed, it’s what his parents want. It’s what he should want. Mostly he just wants his secret to stay hidden so he can keep being Lady Crystallia and going out at night. Frances knows Sebastian’s secret, she makes all of Lady Crystallia’s dresses after all. She’s Sebastian’s secret weapon and Lady Crystallia’s biggest fan, but can she bear to stay secret when all of Paris loves her work and she can’t say anything about it?

Jen Wang’s The Princess and the Dressmaker is a very attractive book. The art is nicely expressive and the costuming is beautiful. It’s very much a coming of age story, a finding yourself story, and I’m not entirely sure what to do with it.

Frances is, I think, the protagonist I identify with more. She has a dream she wants to follow, but her terrible job stifles it until she takes a risk and gets a lucky break. She gets to be the person seamstress for Sebastian the Crown Prince of Belgium. More than that she’s his secret weapon in living his truest life as Lady Crystallia, making his dresses and being allowed to create what she considers beautiful. But she can’t do anything with this creativity beyond making Sebastian’s dresses; she’s a secret keeping a secret. All she can do is watch as her fashions become popular without anyone knowing that they are hers. That leaves me perhaps more frustrated with Sebastian’s side of things than his character deserves.

This is, after all, a coming of age story and Sebastian is at most a teenager under a ton of stress from his parents and with a ton of fears about how people, especially his parents, would react. I feel like the story did a good job showing how badly the stress bothers Sebastian and how equally badly he handles it, but only occasionally. Mostly we see Lady Crystallia being the bell of the ball and Prince Sebastian being tired and disinterested in finding a betrothed. I feel like more could have been done with showing him trying to live up to being the kind of prince his parents want him to be. More could have also been done with Lady Crystallia as Sebastian’s sort of comfort zone, the person he becomes when he needs to be confident and comfortable. This is kind of a short book though, so there isn’t a ton of room for that.

Ultimately I am not the audience for The Prince and the Dressmaker, I think I am a little old for it and I’ve mostly found my footing. Coming of age stories are good and can be really enjoyable but this one wasn’t for me. The art was really nice and I would definitely read more of Jen Wang’s work in the future, so I’m giving this one a four out of five.

 

One Was Lost

So, this turned out better than I’d hoped. This was one I’d picked up because it sounded interesting and a co-worker had mentioned enjoying it. I figured, “thriller, cool” and ran with it. So this is One Was Lost by Natalie D. Richards. Enjoy!

One Was Lost cover

Sera’s school requires its students to complete a Senior Life Experience Mission before they graduate. A big field trip that takes them some place new and away from their comfort zones. No problem, it’s a camping trip in the rain. Until it isn’t. Sera finds herself trapped with three other students and their very drugged teacher, a killer stalking the woods after them, and mysterious words lovingly written on their arms. The words are clues, maybe, maybe keys to their escape or a judgment. They’ll have to figure out what it all means if they want to survive.

Natalie D. Richards’ One Was Lost is a solid thriller in many ways. In many ways it also falls into standard teen novel pitfalls that damage the flow of the story. This leaves the book in a strange place writing wise, which is interesting for me. It has fantastic bones and a lot of ideas that I would love to see more of, but then tends to side track away from those ideas where it counts.

The biggest pull for a thriller is the characters. Who are they? How does the situation affect them and how they view each other? So, character is important. There is a fair amount of good character work here. Unfortunately that character work gets overshadowed by the romance fairly often. I got really tired of Sera’s whole circular deal with how attracted she is to Lucas and how she doesn’t want to become her mother. It took up a lot of page space compared to Emily and Jude, the other half of the group being hunted.

I wanted to see so much more of Emily and Jude. To find out more about what made them Damaged and Deceptive respectively, and see how they started working better with our lead pair. I feel like that and the killer threat should have been the core of the story. Here are these kids, they’ve each been labeled by the killer in the woods, why? What’s the game here? How is the killer making this work, leading them through the woods and sneaking around so much? More build on any or all of those would have been great and done a lot for the plot.

Because the plot is sort of scattered, the killer seems to both have a specific timeline for their plot and is totally willing to just let the kids do whatever. It almost feels a bit like a Joker plot, everything the kids do plays into the killer’s plans somehow, but there shouldn’t have been a way for everything to work without the killer getting caught. This leads to a point where the red herring makes a lot more sense throughout the book than the actual killer. And that feels like a missed mark in the writing, where I feel like removing the red herring and letting the killer be this dangerous unknown could have been fantastic, especially if we had gotten more about some of the scary stories told on one of the earlier nights. Have more work put into the foreshadowing for the big reveal.

That’s where I land with a lot of One Was Lost, more work would have made the book so much better. It has good bones, solid ideas, and the potential for good characters. Then there are also points where it seems determined not to live up to any of its potential, the romance is an example of this. It’s frustrating like that. I did like the book and I would read more of Richards’ stuff in the future, but I would probably see what other people said first. I’m giving One Was Lost a three out of five.

I am so late posting this. So late. Like, I was planning on having this up Wednesday and then work was so much more tiring than usual in the lead up to the store renovation.  This one is courtesy of the author, Michael Okon, this is Monsterland. Enjoy!

Monsterland cover

With zombies, werewolves, and vampires Monsterland promises to be the scariest place on Earth. It might also be the perfect place for Wyatt Baldwin and his friends to finally solve their debate about which is the best monster. Even better, they’ll get a chance to see it all on opening night, with full VIP invites after Wyatt shared a burger with the owner of the park, Vincent Konrad. A park full of monsters, what could possibly go wrong?

Monsterland by Michael Okon reads very much like a first book. There are a lot of good ideas and the frame work is solid but then there are bits that move too quickly. It has some interesting characters and others that don’t quite make it. So, some things work some don’t. That’s every book, and I should clarify, so let’s clarify.

The story for Monsterland is kind of ambitious. We’re started with the werewolves and shown that they didn’t join Monsterland on their own, then we get introduced to our protagonist and the world. It stars a pattern in the story, there’s a monster chapter and then a protagonist chapter. That works really well for me to a point. There’s a weird jump from the monsters as sort of victims of the part and planning to escape to the monsters as monster antagonists. That happens without a lot of build up and feels pretty disjointed. Something similar happens with Wyatt and his friends, they go from super excited about going to the park to thinking it was a bad idea and questioning if it was actually a good thing. Similarly again, we get Vincent jumping from being presented as a force for good to throwing out massive bad guy signals. I would have liked much more build up on all of these things. A slow burn and build and then reveal it. As it stands, while the end isn’t a twist or anything, it also isn’t super satisfying and could have benefited from just a touch more work.

The characters similarly could have benefited from more work. As it stands, they’re more or less sketches of characters rather than being fully realized. Wyatt is interested in zombies and Jade, the cute girl from school, he’s super about Victor Konrad’s plan to save the world with this theme park. His friend Melvin is super into werewolves and messes up his turns of phrase. The other friend is always addressed by his full name and is super smart, he’s afraid of the girl who’s into him. Then there’s background characters, I would have liked a fair deal more with them. It feels like Mr. Okom had a few ideas of what he wanted to work with characters wise, but wasn’t a hundred percent on how he wanted to implement them in the story proper.

I’ve said a fair amount about this needing a touch more work. Thing is, the book is average as it stands, but it has a lot of solid ideas. I liked the one friend’s love interest, Keisha, she had some really interesting moments and I would have really liked to see her do more. Vincent as the villain could have been really good if he was a little more subtle, he just gets a little too cartoony at the end for my taste. The monsters revolting could be built up a little more, show the vampires trying to get in contact with the werewolves. It would have been a fair number of little things, but it could have taken the book from average to good.

That’s pretty well where I’m left with Monsterland, it isn’t bad and it was enjoyable, but it is fairly average. I would read Michael Okon’s next book, and think he’s going to keep improving as a writer. That said, I’m giving Monsterland a three out of five.