Jenny's Library

Archive for February 2014

cover image for Street MagicStreet Magic by Tamora Pierce

Briar Moss’s life is nothing like he’d thought it would be, back when he lived on the streets of Sotat.  Now a powerful mage in his own right, Briar is also far away from any home he’s ever known, traveling with Rosethorn in order to learn from others and observe plants in their native environment.  He’s also still only fourteen, making older mages difficult to deal with at times.  And younger ones too, as Briar finds out when he discovers a young girl with ambient magic and no training – and is tasked with remedying the latter.

I liked the characters and I found the plot to be interesting, but it was also little heavy handed with the Lessons at times – and I didn’t always agree with them.  Once again we have a country located in a hot, dry land, in which the government is brutal and strange.  By the end of the book Briar and Rosethorn want to do nothing more than leave and never come back.  As another reviewer wrote:

“The moral of the story apparently is that Islamic countries suck, and you should do everything within your power to escape them before you are trapped forever in this scorching, corrupt cesspit with no redeeming features.
So… kind of an interesting stance for a children’s book.”

Briar’s discussions with Evvy, his new pupil, about gangs, and the way gangs are portrayed in the book, are also a bit simplistic – even for a middle grade novel.  It’s not that the arguments were incorrect so much as that they were incomplete.  For a novel that had so much gang violence and government corruption, there was a distinct lack of demonstrating how they interact with each other.

I really liked Rosethorn, Briar, and Evvy – I just wish the plot had happened in a more balanced setting.

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cover image for Living With Jackie ChanLiving With Jackie Chan by Jo Knowles

When Josh arrives at his uncle’s apartment, where he’ll be spending his senior year of high school, all he wants to do is forget.  Forget the year before, the plans he’d made with friends, and the mistakes he’s made.  Josh may be determined to interact with other people as little as possible, but his Uncle Larry has other plans. Josh is soon roped into helping his uncle with the karate class he teaches at the local Y.  If Josh isn’t careful, he might just start making friends and getting tangled up in other people’s lives again.

I didn’t know until near to the end of the book that this was a companion story to a previous novel, Jumping Off Swings. (My fault, not anyone else’s.)  Living With Jackie Chan makes some sense without having read the first book, but I think it would have helped a lot to have read Jumping Off Swings first.  Largely because that meant, for me, the Big Mystery for much of the book was What Did Josh Do? I suspect that me spending most of the book thinking about the really dark things Josh might have done is not quite what the author had in mind.  Rather, the suspense works much better if it’s simply about if Josh is ever going to confide in others – and how much he will and what he’ll say.  That keeps the focus on coping with an imperfect family and what it means to be a good friend.

cover image for Bandette, Volume 1Bandette, Volume 1 by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover

Bandette is the world’s greatest thief by night, and a teen girl by day.  With the help of her friends, she runs circles around both the police and her fellow thieves.  But when an international organization of villains wants her dead, is it more than Bandette can handle?

This particular version includes both the first series and a collection of additional comics and stories from guests authors and artists.  The main story is entertaining enough, if a bit old school (and the dialogue is a bit precious at times).  The extras are more of a mixed bag, as such things often are.

cover image for My Little Pony: Pony Tales Volume 1My Little Pony: Pony Tales Volume 1 by Thomas Zahler, Ryan K. Lindsay, Katie Cook, Barbara Randall Kesel, Ted Anderson

see full review here

tl,dr: mediocre. except when it’s instead incredibly creepy and disturbing, and not in a good way.

cover image for My Little Pony: Pony Tales Volume 1My Little Pony: Pony Tales Volume 1 by Thomas Zahler, Ryan K. Lindsay, Katie Cook, Barbara Randall Kesel, Ted Anderson

The vast majority of the stories collected in this volume are simply underwhelming;  full of cliches, at times hard to follow, and surprisingly lacking in creativity for a fantasy series – even one based on a popular television show.  Sadly, this is hardly unusual. So all of this might be forgivable if it weren’t for the insulting stereotypes that several of the comics employ. Or the extent to which the book doesn’t seem to be clear on whether it’s main target audience consists of children or adults. 

When I read books for children, I expect them to present ideas in ways that make sense to children. For example, if a comic whose main audience is made up of eight year old girls includes a party in one of its stories, I expect it to focus on the kinds of things that 8 year olds usually associate with parties: cake, balloons, streamers, games.  What I don’t expect is for it to instead decide that the party will be depicted more like a college frat party.  Complete with card games instead of kid’s games, togas, lampshades on heads, a drunk Rainbow Dash, and Fluttershy looking nervous while being talked up by two male ponies.

 And yet, this is not fan art, but an actual excerpt from the comic:

inside pages from My Little Pony: Pony Tales Volume 1

It’s one thing to include jokes for adults on the sly. Or to make a work that’s enjoyable to a wide range of ages. Or to otherwise acknowledge that adults can be fans of works that are intended for kids.  It’s quite another for a comic that claims to be targeting children to completely forget who their audience is.

And it’s a completely different level of wrong for a tie-in comic for a show whose main audience consists of young girls to decide that adult men specifically need to be catered to instead of those young girls.  And for it to be done in such a way that allusions are made to young women being targeted for unwanted attention – or worse – by their male peers.

And yet this is indeed what happened – in a book marketed to children.

Children, mind you, that are too young to have the power to speak up and tell the writer or publisher if this bothers them. Children that are so young that articulating their opinions and feelings, especially about unfamiliar topics, is still quite difficult in a way that adults often forget or fail to understand.

This goes beyond merely annoying or insulting. It’s both disturbing and creepy.

IDW published this, if anyone wishes to make their feelings known to the people responsible.  I read this comic via Netgalley and so will be forwarding this review to them as requested.

cover image for Hocus Pocus Takes the TrainHocus Pocus Takes the Train by Sylvie Desrosiers and Remy Simard

When a magician and his dog stop to enjoy a treat before boarding their train, the magic rabbit in the magician’s hat peeks out and spies a friend.  While Rabbit is trying to talk to a baby’s stuffed bunny, the magician and his dog have already boarded the train! And so have the baby and mother!  Will Rabbit and the stuffed bunny get left behind, or will Rabbit save the day?

Clear and expressive illustrations make this graphic novel perfect for newer readers.  The humor should appeal to younger children, who will also find it easy to relate to Rabbit’s worries and adventures.  This clever but simple book has me eager to read more by these authors.

cover image for This is How I Find HerThis is How I find Her by Sara Polsky

Every day, when Sophie comes home from school, she immediately looks for her mother.  The days that Sophie finds her mother in her studio  – those are the good days.   Then there are the days that Sophie finds her just as she was when she left for school; the blinds still closed, the apartment dark and silent.  Until one day Sophie finds her mother in her bedroom, unconscious, an half empty bottle of pills beside her.

There was a lot that I liked about this book, particularly the way it explored the relationship between Sophie and her extended family (her mother’s sister, and her cousin, who she used to play with as a child, but hasn’t seen in years), how Sophie’s mother’s illness affected her, and how Sophie struggled to cope with her mother’s suicide attempt.  For some reason it never really clicked with me though, and I can’t really put my finger on why.

cover image for The Spy PrincessSpy Princess by Sherwood Smith

Twelve year old Lilah never gets to do anything or go anywhere.  Stuck in her father’s palace, friendless and frustrated, she sneaks out one night in borrowed clothes in search of adventure.  Instead, she finds a revolution against her own family brewing.  Even more surprising, Lilah begins to think the revolutionaries may be right.

I so wanted to like this book – I love Sherwood Smith’s novels!  But it just wasn’t very well done.   Or, at least, it wasn’t what I’ve come to expect from her.  It’s a rather long book considering how little happens, and at the same time, I felt like the presentation of what was going on was rather shallow.  I felt like she wasn’t trusting her middle graders readers like she should, and that was making everything more complicated and yet less nuanced than it needed to be. (I know, that sounds contradictory, but it’s the difference between running around without much important happening versus really examining the situation.)

cover image for MontmorencyMontmorency by Eleanor Updale

Montmorency is a thief. Not a particularly notable thief, but a competent one. Or at least, he was. Until an accident during a job not only landed him in jail, but also left him seriously injured.  His ailments caught the attention of a Doctor Farcett, who was eager to see if his new treatments could give Montmorency the mobility he once had.  When the doctor’s surgeries meet with the success, Montmorency is then dragged along to lectures for show and tell.  While his fellow inmates grow increasingly jealous of his supposed good fortune, Montmorency plots his escape.

This was a very odd book.  And I don’t mean that it was strange in thought-provoking ways, just that it was unusual and perplexing at times.  Although occasionally fascinating, I kept wondering just who it was meant for.  It’s written at middle grade level, and yet all of the characters are adults.  Including a very annoying and absurd woman who decides to pursue Montmorency at one point.  It wasn’t a bad book, but it wasn’t really a good one either, and I really don’t know who I would suggest it to. Also, I’d hesitate to give it most middle grade readers simply because of how cliched all the female characters are, especially in light of how unique the main character is.

cover image for Lock and KeyLock & Key by Sarah Dessen

Ruby’s mother has never been reliable, sometimes even disappearing for days, but the two of them have always muddled along somehow, and she always come back. Until now. Ruby figures if she can just keep it together and make it through high school without anyone finding out, then things will be alright. And for two months, she manages…well, mostly.  But when her neighbor contacts child services, Ruby is suddenly sent to live with the older sister she hasn’t seen in over a decade.

The relationship between Ruby and her older sister, Cora, is definitely the best part of Lock and Key.  It’s not simple, and it isn’t fixed easily or quickly or with simple heartfelt conversations.  Which is no surprise, as relationships are what Dessen is best at, and this is a very classic Dessen novel.  While it lacks the shop/restaurant/etc. with a quirky cast of characters, it still has lots of interesting people with serious but everyday problems.  It made me both laugh and cry, as any Dessen novel should.

cover image for SaltationSaltation by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Following the discovery of her aptitude for, and enjoyment of, flying Theo Waitley has made preparations to attend flight school rather than continuing on to a more scholarly pursuit, as is expected of students on the Safe World of Delgado.  Raised in a very different environment than most of her new classmates Theo, is behind in not just mathematics, but social skills as well. She’s also arriving mid year, making it impossible for her to try to blend in.  But Theo has always stood out.  The only question is, will Anlingdin Piloting Academy remember her for her skills, her lack of them, or for being a troublemaker?

I’m not sure if it’s Lee and Miller’s voice, or Theo’s analytical way of approaching life, (or me) but sometimes it feels as though events that ought to have emotional resonance lack the full punch.  That said, I am enjoying these books, and this one was particularly fun because it included getting to see Theo being competent and enjoying herself.

cover image for My Basmati Bat MitzvahMy Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman

Some days, Tara Feinstein feels like she has just too much to juggle.  As if regular school work wasn’t enough, now she’s been partnered with the class clown for her robotics project.  Her best friend, Ben-o, is starting to act strangely, and her other best friend, Rebecca, has been spending time with her least favorite person, Sheila Rosenberg. When she decides to go through with her bat mitzvah, Tara knows it will mean extra studying.  What she doesn’t expect is her parent’s reaction, or having to argue with Sheila about whether she is Indian or Jewish – can’t she both?

This was a lovely and engaging story, full of realistic problems and middle graders acting in believable ways.  Tara’s family is supportive, but also unique and imperfect, as all families are.  Nothing is solved easily or neatly, and not every problem is even solved completely – some things take time.  Yet the ending still presents readers with healthy options and a better understanding of others, and hopefully themselves.  It should also be noted that Freedman is definitely drawing on personal experience, she herself is Jewish and her husband’s heritage is Indian, making her family much like Tara’s.

My one major complaint concerns the fact that it was made clear that neither side of Tara’s family talks about which of her elders she looks like. It had Tara herself, in fact, talking about her own looks as if she looked like no one else in her family.  And it attributed this to her mixed heritage, and talked about Tara feeling like she belonged to no one because of it.  While I don’t doubt that children like Tara often feel that way, and that there are families who do react this way to biracial children, in my experience the latter is extremely rare.  (I could be wrong! but that has been my experience.) The book, however, framed it as typical.  While this was a small part of the book, my reaction was anything but small, and not favorable or impersonal, and I fear I’m not the only reader who might react this way.

cover image for UntoldUntold by Sarah Rees Brennan

Kami Glass no longer has to keep what she knows about her town, Sorry-in-the-Vale, a secret.  Now practically everyone in town is aware that magic is the town’s legacy, and of the power that the Lynburn family once held over everyone else.  But the person Kami most wants to talk to is no longer speaking to her. Which poses a danger to more than just her heart, for Kami is going to need all the help she can get to stop Rob Lynburn from turning Sorry-in-the-Vale back into the Lynbrun’s own private kingdom.

This books starts with killer scarecrows and kisses in the dark and mistaken identities – and just keeps going from there.  SO MUCH WACKY DRAMA. (in a good way.)  I appreciate that Brennan didn’t undo everything that happened at the end of the last book, and that Kami and Jared (and others) instead have to live with and deal with the choices they made and the things they said.  Best of all, Brennan is really great at the overwhelming angst and other emotions that is typical of young adult novels, but without resorting to the kind of situations where everything would be solved if people would just talk.  And when people aren’t talking, it makes sense.

When does the next book come out again?

cover image for The Adoration of Jenna FoxThe Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

A seventeen year old girl wakes up without any memories of who she is.  All she knows is what she’s been told. Her name (Jenna Fox), where she is (in her parent’s house), and why she doesn’t remember anything (accident, then coma).  Her parents give her videos to watch, images of a past she doesn’t remember, in the hopes that they will help heal her.  Instead they simply prompt more questions, questions that no one seems willing to answer.

I think what I love most about this book is that it’s the kind of story that’s best told with a teenaged protagonist.  Not that I’m against young adult genre novels where the teens take on more adult roles, however unlikely that may be.  But I really do love when authors come up with scenarios that not only make more sense with teens as the center of the story, but that demonstrate how certain questions are best asked in that context.  It’s an easy read, but thought provoking nonetheless.

cover image for Mister Max: The Book of Lost ThingsMister Max – The Book of Lost Things by Cynthia Voigt

Max knew he wasn’t late to the pier, but the ship that was supposed to take him and his family to India was no where to be seen.  And neither were his parents.  Now Max’s grandmother is insisting he move in with her until his parents return, but all Max wants are answers and some independence.  Suddenly presented with a pile of problems and mysteries, Max decides that his only option to be the person who finds the solutions.

I kept feeling like I ought to like this book, but instead it left me feeling like I was merely trudging through in order to be done with it.  I suspect it will hold more appeal for it’s middle grade target audience, but not nearly as much as it could have.

cover image for The Infinite Moment of UsThe Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle

I am going to skip the synopsis this time around because I CAN’T with this book.  It’s  a badly needed update of Judy Blume’s Forever (at least, that was my impression, and I’m clearly not the only one) and while I’d recommend it over that any day, and I’m so very glad both books exist, I was still frowning through most of this novel.

To be fair, this is in part because, in trying to show that it’s normal and ok and healthy for teens to have sex – as long as they are responsible – one ends up presenting that specific relationship as a model for how to Do Things Right, rather than exploring these characters in particular.  And this book really could have done better when it came to exploring the characters.

It’s the caveat (the “as long as they’re responsible” part) that’s the kicker.  Everyone should be responsible, not just teens, and putting that condition on teens’, and only teens’, right to take pleasure in their own bodies is bound to imply that only certain people have the right, and those certain people are usually going to be the ones that adhere to the status quo.  This may not have been was Myracle was going for, but it is the impression I got, particularly because of the way Wrenn and Charlie’s relationship was compared to Charlie and Starrla’s.  I suspect Myracle was simply trying to acknowledge that not all sex is healthy, but it came across as more: not all sex is healthy for teens.

And on that score, this book does have much to recommend it: teens having sex, girls in particular finding pleasure in sex, and all without either of the two main characters being punished for it!  Still, I am rolling my eyes so hard the way the book ends and absolutely everything involving Starrla – the sexually promiscuous and not very nice girl who acts as a foil to Wren’s innocence.