A Season of Daring Greatly by Ellen Emerson White (2017)

Rating: 4 stars30255973.jpg

Short Summary: Jill Cafferty becomes the first female to be drafted to the MLB as a pitcher right out of high school. She deals with the trials and tribulations of becoming a new recruit with the added pressures of making history for her gender.

What I liked: I really enjoyed Jill as a main character. She was well spoken, she was a great advocator for women in general without assuming that she spoke for all women. Her fears were real, her strength was real, I was totally enamoured with her story and the humour that she displayed in the face of adversity.

The book was very baseball focussed. I’m not a huge baseball fan myself – so even if you don’t love the game, this book is still worth picking up, as it does open your eyes to a world that I didn’t know that much about. It made me wish very much that this story was true.

I also loved that there was absolutely no romance. This book was about baseball, and how the main character survived throughout her beginnings in the MLB. It was really nice to see the book so strongly focus on that element as it really didn’t need the romance to feel complete.

What I didn’t: As the book was drawing to a close, the ending felt very aloof. I would have appreciated a stronger story arch, with a clear conclusion rather than something that felt a little open ended.

Recommendation: Baseball fans, this is your book. The in-depth descriptions of life on the road, the baseball game, the way of life would appeal to any sports fan. Its books like this that give the world hope that women will one day be given the opportunity to try.

Posted in Literature | Leave a comment

Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg (2017)

Rating: 4 stars27230789.jpg

The story takes off AFTER Openly Straight, so if you’ve not yet picked that book up, you should before starting this one, and in fact, if you plan on reading it at all, quit reading this blog entry right now and pick up Openly Straight if you’re keen on getting your hands on a cute LGBT fiction.

Short Summary: It continues the story of Openly Straight from Ben’s perspective, lending some insight on the internal struggles we see in such a quiet and reserved character. I’m nervous about these kinds of books only because I found Another Day to be such a disappointment after the utterly brilliant Everyday by David Levithan.

The Porcupine of Truth is probably one of my top 10 books from 2015. I loved the humour, the characters, and it just felt like a different kind of story, despite the similarities to so many books I’ve read. Needless to say, I’ve been excited about checking out Honestly Ben for a while.

What I liked: I loved the highlighting of the concept that labels are not necessary. It’s too often that we see labels as required entities and it was really nice to see Ben really stick to his desire for a lack of label. Labels give some of us comfort, while others it provides a box we’re supposed to fit in that doesn’t feel quite right. This book nailed that feeling and I’m so happy to see more of this in literature.

The book is a breezy read that you’ll be amazed at how quickly you finish it. A great dismissal from reality for a little while.

What I didn’t: The ending was a little too abrupt for me. It seemed as though this could have gone in a multitude of different ways, but I wanted a little more closure as it finished.

Recommendation: If you enjoyed Openly Straight, I highly recommend continuing on with this book as it really does provide more depth to the original tale.

Posted in Four Star+ Books, humour, Literature, realistic fiction, romance, YA | Leave a comment

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Abertalli (2017)

Rating: 4.5 Stars30653853

Short Summary: When Molly’s twin Cassie gets a new girlfriend, the dynamic between them significantly changes while Molly comes to terms with her own body image and making sense of her own crushes.

What I liked: Abertalli did a phenomenal job creating an authentically diverse cast. It didn’t feel forced or planted, it felt 21st century.

The relationship between the sisters just felt authentic. Although I didn’t connect with either of them personally, this newness of a romance coming into the mix at the edge of 17 and it wreaking havoc on all other relationships is just so common. The resolution that these girls came to is exactly the message I’d want to send to YA readers everywhere. Things will change, permanently, and its not always bad.

What I didn’t: The story is predictable and pretty similar to what I’ve already read. I don’t love it like I love Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, but it still made me smile, I was still enthralled with the writing.

Recommendation: If you’re looking for a light realistic fiction, and you’re a fan of Abertalli’s writing or Holding Up the Universe – absolutely give it a go.

Posted in Four Star+ Books, humour, Literature, realistic fiction, romance, YA | Leave a comment

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (2017)

Rating: 4.7 Stars

Short Summary: Senior year of high school forces Sal to examine the many aspects of his life that he does not understand against a backdrop of many of life’s hardships.

I’ve been so excited for this book for some time. I loved “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” – we even put it on our school book club list this year – I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this.

What I liked: What hits me most about this piece is the brilliantly developed relationships between characters. Finally, a brilliantly written book where the two main characters – a straight male and a straight female are actually REALLY GOOD FRIENDS and that’s it. It was refreshing and beautiful to see the way that Sal and Sam just understood each other on all the right levels. The writing of their friendship as siblings was superbly executed and at no part of the book did I find myself wanting more out of their incredibly close friendship.

Sal’s aimlessness is just so common, it was elegantly displayed in the book in a way that so many could relate too. I also adored how this book did not focus overly on romantic entanglements. Its hard to find a YA book without them that is done well, or worth reading, but this was certainly done well.

What I didn’t: Even though my favourite part of the book was the excellent character relationships – I found the relationship between Sal and his father to be a little too “Leave it to Beaver” at times, too perfect and too absent of conflict. It was beautifully idealistic, and adorable at times, but there were a few occasions where believability became an issue for me.

Recommendation: If you’re looking for a strong realistic fiction that’s a bit of a break from the usual formulaic drama/boy meets girl/snowflake syndrome type of books, this is a brilliant piece to add to your roster.

Posted in Four Star+ Books, Literature, realistic fiction, YA | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Caraval by Stephanie Garber (2017)

Rating: 5 Stars.27883214.jpg

Well, let me just begin with this: Caraval will more than likely be one of my top five favourite books of 2017. I’ll probably go through about 100 more books this year and I still feel comfortable saying that so early on in 2017.

Short Summary: Scarlett is thrown into the show that is Caraval – a yearly magical performance piece, a game that turns into a lot more than she had expected when her sister is kidnapped.

Things I loved: There was a lot I loved about this piece. Firstly, the whimsical and magical writing style that pulled me in deep into the world of Caraval. The book plays with themes and images of night, colour, darkness, that are intricately woven throughout the piece creating a truly multisensory experience. It felt like this book gave me synesthesia.

“He tasted like midnight and wind, and shades of rich brown and light blue. Colors that made her feel safe and guarded.” 

The romance was beautiful. I haven’t had a romance that’s really made me feel feelings in a while, and it was really nice to get lost in the connection between the main characters. The tension was real, the conflict pushed the story forward, it was exactly what I’d wanted.

“Not quite sure how far she’d already fallen, she imagined loving him would feel like falling in love with darkness, frightening and consuming yet utterly beautiful when the stars came out.” 

“He mumbled words against her lips, too low for her to hear, but she imagined she got a strong impression of what he wanted to say, as he coaxed her lips apart, letting Scarlett taste the coolness of his tongue and the tips of his teeth as he grazed her lower lip. Every touch created colours she had never seen. Colours as soft as velvet and as sharp as sparks that turned into stars.”

Things I didn’t like: It’s hard to say. One of the greatest assets this book has is its ability to keep you guessing, keep you in the mystery of what it all means and how everything will fit together. Part of me wanted a few more hints throughout the book so there wasn’t such an info-dump so close to the end. But, it’s not unlike the way that Harry Potter all seems to come together in the end with information we didn’t know yet. Its more about personal preference.

One thing I hear a lot is its comparison to the Night Circus, which doesn’t surprise me. There is a lot that is similar, but this book sacrifices the descriptions for intrigue and character. While magic plays a central role, the main character wields no real magic of her own. The Night Circus is more of an extension of the reality we all know, understand and question, where Caraval is an entirely separate reality.

Recommendation: I would definitely throw this into my middle school library. I’d call it a mix between a character and setting driven book – so if that’s your thing, sink your teeth right into it, but be prepared for that book hangover.

Posted in Four Star+ Books, Literature, mystery, romance, YA | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley

Rating 2.8 Stars.22082082.jpg
Short Summary: Aki heads to Mexico on a church trip where she meets a girl and questions her own sexuality.

I’ve read a few of Talley’s book in the past, and Lies We Tell Ourselves blew my mind. That is definitely on my top five favourite gay YA ever. This is why every time her name pops up with a new book she’s high on my radar. I was skeptical about this book, because it didn’t seem like a new story or concept, but I did want to see what Talley made of it.

What I liked: The discussions of safe lesbian sex is not something I’ve seen in a teen fiction and is sorely missed. It does demonstrate the divide between how easy it is to find regular contraceptives, and yet, for teen lesbian girls, its really not addressed. I was happy to see some recognition here.

What I didn’t: The book was exactly what I was afraid it would be. There was absolutely nothing fresh about it whatsoever. I didn’t have any affection for any of the characters. They were all kind of just “there”. Every issue that was brought up (friendship fights, secrets, coming out, underaged drinking) felt forced and trope-y. It was so incredibly predictable I was really quite bored throughout the bulk of the book. Everything I thought would happen, pretty much happened. When I try to reflect on it and the “wow” factor, nothing comes to mind. It just feels like a bit of recycled lesbian fiction. Sure, its good to have these kinds of books out in the world, but its probably my least favourite Talley book. And my complete lack of affection for this book really isn’t about the author, I’ve really enjoyed her stuff in the past, but this piece is a real miss for me.

Recommendation: Its a mature read. That’s for sure. It deals with themes of safe sex and there are some lesbian sex scenes that I wouldn’t put in a middle school library. If you’re looking for a good teen lesbian fiction, I’d turn to Talley’s other pieces before I’d recommend this.

Posted in Literature, realistic fiction, romance, YA | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth (2017)

Rating: 3.4 stars30117284.jpg

Short Summary: In a society where everyone has a gift, Cyra’s gift of pain leads her on a path with Akos, a farm boy from a warring nation, to try and stop her tyrannical brother’s leadership.

I had to give this book a little time to marinade in my head before I was truly ready to review it. My overall impression: its okay. Sadly, I can’t help but compare it to Divergent.

What I loved about Divergent, was that once I started, I couldn’t stop. I flew through the whole book in an evening and couldn’t believe how easily I’d swept away into the world. I was looking forward to more of Roth’s writing doing the same thing. This one didn’t, but there were a few reasons for that.

First of all, the world that she created in this series was far more complicated, and it took me a lot longer to sink into it. It required more patience and focus to understand the intricacies of the society as it is just a world so vastly different from our own. This was not what I was expecting.

I did like the switching between the characters Cyra and Akos, but I had a bit of a problem with the inconsistency of point of view. Cyra’s chapters were written in first person, while Akos was written in third. I could not understand the reason for this.

What I did like was the darkness of the piece. It was ripe with conflict, and it really helped move the story forward, keep the stakes high, and kept me interested in what was going to happen next. That being said, the world building could have been much stronger. There were a few traditions and elements to this piece that I really just didn’t understand.

Cyra’s and Ako’s relationship felt a bit forced. Having enjoyed the romance between Tris and Four, I was expecting something more along these lines. I’ll just say, you’re not reading this book for the romance.

Recommendation: If you’re looking for a dark dystopian/otherworldly fiction, this might fit your bill, but don’t expect a quick read.

Posted in Horror, Literature, mystery, YA | Leave a comment