Jenny's Library

Posts Tagged ‘romance

cover image for Karen MemoryKaren Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Karen Memery, like most citizens in Rapid City, is just trying to do what she can to get by, and maybe even save a little something for a better future.  But Fate has other plans for her.  Like falling in love, helping a US Marshal catch his man, and preventing a villain’s treasonous plot.

There ever so are many things to love about Karen Memory.  Its steampunk Wild West setting, Karen’s  practical and distinctive personality, and of course the developing relationship between Karen and Priya.  Most especially the way Karen falls so quickly and so hard, yet doesn’t let herself push Priya (who is suffering from trauma and worry for her sister) for more than she might want or be capable of.

I think what I like best about it though is the way that its fictionalized historical setting, rather than being used once again as an excuse to focus on the usual suspects or to write characters and situations that reinforce modern bigotry, becomes instead a way to highlight the truth that we – that all of us – have always been here all along.  Karen’s occupation as “seamstress” (and the tongue in cheek way that she talks about providing sexual services) works in tandem with this argument by demonstrating that respectable society’s views of those so often only written into the margins of history books has little to do with their lives, capabilities, and impact.

Karen Memory was originally conceived as a young adult novel (Karen herself is in her late teens), and it makes me incredibly sad and frustrated that the market is such that it instead was published under an adult imprint.  I believe it still works as a young adult novel – especially for older teens – and so I strongly encourage my fellow YA librarians to make sure your adult section has it handy for recommendations.  Need a book that has adventure, romance, mystery, friendship, lgbtqia content, characters from several different racial and ethnic backgrounds, steampunk contraptions, shootouts, and deals spectacularly well with sexual assault and consent?  Here is your book.

I just want to add two more content notes about Karen Memory, for my fellow librarians in particular:

First, that there were a few bits about Tomoatooah, the US Marshal’s posseman, that made me wish I could find a review of the book from someone more familiar with Comanche culture and Native American stereotypes in American literature.  He is very much a fully realized character, and is not portrayed in an intentionally negative light.  But some aspects of how he was written had me wishing I had a more knowledgable opinion to consult.

Secondly, I want to clarify that while much of the story takes place in a brothel, there is no actual depiction of sexual acts. Sex, sexual services, and sexual assault are all discussed – when it affects the characters and plot.  All of which I consider appropriate for teens.  But despite the setting, Karen Memory has no soft-core, male-gaze, porn-like descriptions of female characters or sexual acts, unlike a great many other adult SSF novels that are themselves recommended to teens all the time.

cover image for Court of FivesCourt of Fives by Kate Elliot

Jes and her three sisters couldn’t be more different, and they fight and squabble as siblings do. Yet when it comes down to it, they’ve got each others backs.  Which is fortunate, as she needs their help to do what she loves best: training for the Fives, a sport that requires quick thinking, agility, stamina, and strength.  But when Jes’ father returns from war, her plans to finally compete – something he would never approve of – are thrown in disarray.  Soon the rest of her life is as well, and Jes will need to use all of the skills that make her a great athlete to keep her family safe.

full disclosure, before I get into WHY THIS BOOK IS SO AWESOME AND YOU SHOULD READ IT:acknowledgements page from Court of Fives

(yeah, I really just put that there bc: OMG)

I adore Kate Elliot’s books, and Court of Fives is no exception.  I’ve been eager to see how/what she does with YA, and now that I have I’m so very glad she did.  I love the way that Elliot handles Jes as an athlete, and her relationships with her sisters.  And I especially love that she made Jes’ social standing so complex, that it’s not as simple as her family being rich and her father having status, nor simply that Jes and her sisters are biracial in an extremely racist society.

And I really, really, really, would love to go into more detail about WHY this book is so awesome, but it’s not coming out for another half a year, and I may want to pitch a longer/actual review.  SO YOU WILL ALL JUST HAVE TO WAIT.

Sorry! I know you all hate me now. I promise I will rave about this book in much more detail this summer, closer to when it comes out.

cover image for The Agency: A Spy in the HouseThe Agency: A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee

Twelve year old Mary Quinn was supposed to hang for her crime.  Instead she was given a chance to start a new life as a pupil at Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls.   Now, five years later, seventeen year old Mary Quinn knows that she should be grateful for everything she has been given – and she is – yet the idea of spending her life as a tutor at the school or as a maid in someone else’s house fills Mary with dread rather than hope.  She’s not afraid of work, but she can’t help wishing that there were other options out there for an young lady with education but no family or fortune.  Then, for the second time in her life, she’s given a once in a lifetime opportunity – this time, to be trained as a spy.  But can Mary keep not only the Agency’s secrets safe, but also the Agency from learning the truth about her own heritage?

This book has so many awesome moments. It also, unfortunately, has a bit too much boyfriend and not enough roller derby for my tastes.*  Still, it’s a lovely book that manages to be delightfully surprising in many ways.  It also does a wonderful job of handling Mary’s secret, which happens to be that [she’s biracial, passing for white. Also, that her mother sometimes earned her way as a sex worker.]   Mary’s status, situation, and relationships make this book a refreshing contrast to the more typical young adult novels set in Victorian London, which tend to be about young ladies of a certain social class, and treat the few non-white characters in them as oddities and visitors rather than Londoners.

*the phrase is from lj user buymeaclue.  I’d link, but the journal is now friendslocked. :p

cover image for Nikki and DejaNikki and Deja by Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freeman

“Nikki and Deja are best friends.”  Neighbors and classmates, they spend as much time as they can together.  But when a new girl, Antonia, arrives and starts a club – one that only some people can join – Nikki and Deja’s friendship begins to look like it might not last, after all.

I feel guilty calling this merely a good chapter book, rather than using glowing superlatives to describe it.  The truth is that most chapter books are so awful that this novel is absolutely wonderful and amazingly written by comparison.  The characters have personality, with out feeling cartoonish, and their dilemmas are both realistic and age appropriate.  English does a wonderful job of including the right kind of details, ones that give the story life without being overwhelming to new readers.  The prose fails to be as memorable as the story, and I’d like better for new readers, but this is a chapter book after all – vocabulary limits make that incredibly difficult. It’s hardly a masterpiece, but it’s solid and I highly recommend it.

I am, however, slightly disappointed in the quality of the book design. With apologies to Freeman (whose interior illustrations are perfect) the cover just doesn’t work for me and I can’t see that it would be terribly appealing to kids either.  All of which I wanted to point out not because I dislike it that much but because covers sell books.  So I see passable but not brilliant covers as another weak link in the chain when it comes to promoting “diverse” authors and books, and I wanted to note that here for future conversations.

cover image for Eleanor and ParkEleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Moving back home means that Eleanor gets to see her siblings, that she can be there to take care of them.  It also means watching what she does and says around her stepfather, and starting a new high school.  Park doesn’t mean to take pity on the new – and very weird – girl on the bus, the last thing he needs is to commit social suicide.  Yet he does so anyway.  But he isn’t going to talk to her.  Until he notices her glancing over at his comics as he reads them on the bus, and Park starts to make sure that she’s done with the page before he turns it.  Soon, Park is making her mixed tapes and Eleanor is thinking that maybe some people can be trusted after all.

I devoured this book in one night, it was that good.  Rowell has crafted a lovely story, full of stolen moments and the kinds of secrets that need to be told.  It’s refreshing to see miscommunication in a romantic relationship that actually makes sense, and to see it being worked out rather than resolved by the plot.  It should be noted that there have been complaints about Park, whose mother is from Vietnam, and how he and his family are described and portrayed.  Rowell does an excellent job handling the Eleanor’s home life, however, and how she is affected by both poverty and abuse.

cover image for We Were LiarsWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Candence spends every summer with her family on a private island off the coast of Masachusetts. And every summer she and her cousins run wild, unhampered by schoolwork or schedules or even neighbors.  Every summer except the last one, which Cady spent in Europe with her father, hating ever minute of it, desperate for emails and texts from her cousins, which never came. When Cady arrives at the island this summer, she and her cousins pick up where they left off, as if nothing had ever happened. Only Cady knows that something did happen, something their last summer together that caused the headaches she’s had ever since.  The problem is that Cady has no idea what it was; she’s been having trouble remembering things since that night as well.

I absolutely hated reading this book.

It’s not a terrible book, but my frustrations with it only increased with each page, making it not at all enjoyable to read.  Much of the suspense rests on the reveal of the twist at the end, which I’d figured out early on.  I think the book is supposed to work even if you know truth (much like Code Name Verity actually does) – that knowing the truth changes the experience rather than detracting from it .  But for me, it didn’t succeed in doing this.  Add to that the fact that it’s a book about privilege* which makes a really big mistake in terms of privilege, and I’m afraid to admit that the warmest response I can muster to this book is “meh.”

Which makes me sad because I usually love Lockhart’s books.

cover image for The Fox InheritanceThe Fox Inheritance by Mary E. Pearson

[The basic plot for this book is a spoiler for the entire first novel, so I’m putting it behind the cut.]

Read the rest of this entry »

cover image for Once A WitchOnce a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough

Tamsin Greene is determined to find her own path in life, one far from the family that seems to pity her.  It’s not easy living in the shadow of a perfect older sister.  It’s even harder when you’re also the odd one out in a very close knit extended family, the only one who can’t do magic.  But when a stranger walks into her grandmother’s bookstore one night while Tamsin is working, she finds herself inexplicably pretending to be her perfect sister.  And promising to help the stranger with the kind of task only someone with Talent could manage.

I really enjoyed this book – up until about the last third of it, when it felt like all of the revelations were just a bit too recycled.  Especially for a young adult fantasy novel published post-Twilight.  The writing was not spectacular, but it was engaging enough.  I’ll likely give the sequel a try, but my expectations won’t be very high.  Perhaps it will surprise me?

cover image for Does My Head Look Big in This?Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Amal Mohamed Nasrullah Abdel-Hakim is sixteen and about to start her third term as an eleventh grader at the exclusive and expensive McClean’s Prepatory Academy when she realizes that she’s ready to wear the hijab full time.  But is she ready for the assumptions people will make about her – about her parents and her abilities and her dreams – if she starts wearing the hijab to school? To the mall? To job interviews?  And yet what will it say about her, and her faith, and her country if she lets fear and prejudice keep her from making her own choices.

Despite the rather slow moving plot and lack of action, I found myself liking this book quite a bit.  It’s not just that it offers a very compassionate and balanced view, and presents readers with a perspective that is sadly in short supply in YA.  Abdel-Fattah writes in a very compelling and engaging voice and I look forward to reading more books by her.

cover image for How Beautiful the OrdinaryHow Beautiful the Ordinary edited by Michael Cart

Boys who love boys.  Girls who love girls. New loves and old loves.  Teenagers forced to hide their true selves.  How Beautiful the Ordinary collects twelve stories from twelve authors who know what it’s like for their normal selves to treated as different, as outside the norm.

I expect a mixture of quality and taste when it comes to the content of anthologies, but that doesn’t excuse the disrespect for others that I found in a handful of the stories in this particular collection:

William Sleator’s Fingernail has it’s Thai protagonist and narrator telling readers that ” [English] is the most important language in the world” and pointing out that were it not for his abusive, European ex boyfriend, he never would have met his current, loving boyfriend from the West.  It’s not that it’s inconceivable for a young man like this to exist, and to have these kinds of thoughts, but that it’s not really appropriate or responsible for an white American to be putting these words into the mouth of a Thai character he created.

Jennifer Finney Boylan’s The Missing Person is in many ways a beautiful and heartbreaking tale of a girl who everyone else sees and treats as a boy.  Unfortunately, it also uses the misfortune that befalls a Taiwanese exchange student as a metaphor for the main character’s own struggles, rather than as an experience belonging to the exchange student herself, and as a source of common ground.

The stories are not all disappointing, however.  Jacqueline Woodson’s Trev is elegant and full of sorrow, determination, and hope.  Margo Lanagan’s A Dark Red Love Knot is twisted and cruel and beautiful.  Emma Donoghue’s Dear Lang, a testament to the meaning of family, left me in tears.  And lastly, Gregory Maguire’s The Silk Road Runs Through Tupperneck, N.H. contemplates paths not taken and shows us the costs of hiding in closets.

cover image for Lucy the GiantLucy the Giant by Sherri L. Smith

Fifteen year old Lucy Oswego has always towered over her classmates.  Not that she needs to in order for people to remember her, Sitka is the kind of small town where everyone knows everyone else – and their business.  Which is how all the bar owners know to call her when her dad gets so drunk he can’t even stumble home on his own.  So it’s no surprise that Lucy wonders what it would be like to blend in, to fit in – to be someone other than Lucy the Giant.  And when a crabbing boat crew mistakes her for an adult, and invites her to sign on, Lucy finds her chance to do just that.

Have I mentioned how much I love Smith’s books? Lucy the Giant is no exception.  Smith has a gift for finding the extraordinary in the everyday, and for centering the kinds of characters that tend to exist on the fringes of most mainstream narratives.  Lucy the Giant is a deceptively simple story; more complicated and subtle than it appears at first, and one that packs a punch despite it’s short length.

cover image for PinnedPinned by Sharon Flake

Autumn’s learning disability means she struggles in school; Adonis is at the top of the class. Autumn is the star of the wresting team, feared by boys as well as girls; Adonis needs a wheelchair to get around.  Autumn is always surrounded by friends; Adonis is reserved and keeps to himself.  So what happens when Autumn decides that Adonis is the boy for her, but Adonis refuses to say more than the rare hello?

Told in alternating points of view, Pinned explores what it means to respect and care for others, and to understand and empathize with them and their circumstances.  Flake does an excellent job with the two characters different voices.  Autumn’s chapters are particularly well done; Flake manages to stay true to the kind of vocabulary and syntax Autumn would use without making her seem like a stereotype or less intelligent than she is.

cover image for Slimed!Slimed! An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age by Matthew Klickstein

Slimed! consists of an exhausting number of interviews with a variety of people who worked for Nickelodeon from it’s inception through the 1990’s, from child actors to adult ones, producers, animators, writers, and everyone in between.

The decision to group the intervewees’ responses by topic, rather than by person, show, or chronologically was a good one.  It allows readers to get a balanced view of the range of opinions and memories are on various topics, from the the key design and marketing decisions that made the Nickelodeon we came to know and love, to more controversial topics such as the firing of the creator of the Ren and Stimpy Show and questions about about race and representation.

Unfortunately though, we also aren’t given an introduction as to who everyone is, which made following the interview responses fairly confusing at times.  I couldn’t have read this book without the help of google.  There is an index at the back of the book, but (and perhaps this is just my ereader) it’s not always as easy to flip pages on an ereader as it is with hardcopies, and it’s not evident that this index exists unless you read through the table of contents.

If you grew up watching You Can’t Do That on Television and The Adventures of Pete and Pete, as I did, it’s well worth a read, although perhaps not worth paying hardcover prices to do so.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

I’m not going to try to give a synopsis the way I usually do, because OMG this book.  Also, the synopsis might make it sound like it may be worth reading, and it’s NOT.  Except to mock it, which is part of how I was bribed into reading it.

There is nothing about this book that makes sense or follows any kind of logic.  It makes me want to laugh and cry and scream all at the same time.

two cover images for Throne of Glass

First, Celaena, the main character, is supposed to be a very skilled assassin, but we pretty much never see her being competent.  She’ll win and defeat her enemies at times (a very few times), but when you read what she does to do it, you’ll wonder how in the world she managed to survive.  Most importantly, she’s still a prisoner during most of the book, and spends very little time plotting her escape. And the time she does spend plotting and planning and preparing, she doesn’t spend well or intelligently.

Secondly, the castle is made of glass. (Some of it anyway.) In a kingdom that has outlawed magic, so sorcery can’t be the reason it hasn’t fallen down. And how do the doors work?  And what about temperature control? The whole idea makes my head hurt.

Third, Celaena likes dresses – A LOT. Which is not something I’m against! I’m not even put out that the character’s appreciation of fashion lacks depth. I’m annoyed by how the book’s presentation of fashion is so incredibly shallow, considering how much time is spent on it.  There’s no world building here, in terms of fashion or textiles, and what they indicate in terms of class, status, and the like.

Fourth, Celaena recovers way too quickly from essentially being tortured via working as a slave in the salt mines.  And I don’t just mean in terms of her body recovering too fast, I mean the fact that this experience only ever seems to affect her physically, mentally, or emotionally when it’s convenient for the plot.  There is no nuance to her experiences, and no understanding of how this kind of harm actually affects people, no recognition of the suffering of real people in similar situations.  It’s all very cartoonish, in a way that minimizes what this kind of injustice and deprivation actually does to people.

Lastly, there is way too much slut-shaming in this book. It’s bad enough that were told rather than shown that Celaena is a skilled assassin.  It’s bad enough that her love of “girly” things is presented so shallowly, rather than with depth.  And it’s particularly bad that she’s given a tortured past that’s dealt with very disrespectfully.  But on top of all that we get Celaena judging other women for doing the same things she does, and the narrative supporting her in this assessment.

I won’t say you shouldn’t read this book, but I do suggest that it be read in small doses, and with lots of alcohol and access to social media for mocking.

cover image for Razor's EdgeRazor’s Edge by Martha Wells

When a deal to obtain supplies for a new Rebel base goes awry, Leia and Han – and crew – find themselves attempting to rescue a merchant ship from pirates.  While the rebels fight and scheme for their lives, Leia also attempts to convince one particular band of pirates, refugees from Alderaan, to give up their mercenary ways and join the Alliance instead.

Can Wells write more Star Wars novels? please? pretty please?

I’m not going to pretend that this is a Hugo worthy novel, but it was fun. And managed to have a bit of depth in addition to being tons of fun.  Best of all, Wells’ take on the characters must be very close to my own, because everything about them – Leia and Han in particular – was just spot on.

I’ve tried a few Star Wars novels before, and bounced off all but Zahn’s.  But this is one of the rare titles that I’ve gotten through Netgalley that I’ve not only finished but immediately put on my list of books to buy.

cover image for Kami and the YaksKami and the Yaks written by Andrea Stenn Stryer and illustrated by Bert Dodson

Early one morning, Kami watches as his father and older brother prepare for the day. The climbers are coming soon, and Norgay and father have been hired act as their guides.  But the family’s yaks are nowhere to be found.  Can Kami find the yaks and save the day before it’s too late?

The story was nice and the illustrations were gorgeous, but unfortunately I was extremely distracted by the badly designed layout on some of the pages, which left a significant amount of the text hard to read.