31 March 2015

Review: The Start of Me and You

The Start of Me and You
The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There's something about these teen romances that always get me. A good one can be tremendous, though, and The Start of Me and You is really one of my favorites that I've gotten to read as of late. A fun mix of outcasts, coping with loss, and typical high school drama, it just works on all levels and quickly became one of my favorite reads of all time.

The story is about Paige, who sees her first boyfriend drown and has spent the last year struggling to cope. Starting school in her junior year, she's vowing to do things differently and face her fears, and her friends are helping along with her new classmate who she meets through quiz bowl. Paige has plans, but things don't go the way she expected, as we'd think.

This book just has a ton of heart. Paige is believable, her friends and love interests great, the story itself has a lot of fun little nods and references without being too obscure. I pretty much tore through this one as quickly as I could because I really felt the need to know what was coming up and around. It doesn't rely on any real hokey conventions - there aren't any movie stars, nothing is going out of business - it just ends up being a really believable story with a solid message and a lot of fun along the way.

What is the most important thing with this book, though, is how it mixes the basic romance plots with a lot of realistic, little-discussed topics. The death of someone close who was way too young. The family member melting away in front of you when you need them the most. I related a lot to this book, and had more than my share of moments with it, both while reading it and long after.

Highly, highly recommended. I loved this book. I have become, and will continue to be, a crazy evangelist for how great and awesome and important this book is. Everyone - yes, everyone - should read this, it is absolutely and without a doubt some of the best YA has to offer in terms of the total package without using existing tropes or popular trends as a crutch. It may not have the emotional weight of The Fault in Our Stars or the literary value of Ship Breaker, but when we talk about books that teens need (or, well, all of us), this is what I think of.

Well done. Now go find yourself a copy.

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29 March 2015

Review: Half Bad

Half Bad
Half Bad by Sally Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Closer to a 4.5.

This is basically a story about witches. There are good witches and bad witches, and Nathan is literally caught in the middle, as he is the product of a white and black witch. The witching community views him as an abomination, he is constantly persecuted and has very little chance for escape unless he's somehow able to track his father down.

It's a weird book, both in structure and style and in the overall plotline, which is arguably trying to make a broader social point and kind of stumbles a bit. Even so, it's weird enough to require a bit of a investment and an effort to stick with it, but the payoffs are pretty great. It's hard not to sympathize with Nathan while also not exactly missing the points of everyone else involved. It's a cool, complicated book that, in many ways, is unlike anything else I've read, especially in the YA space.

How this will hold up over a multi-book series, I don't know. The book leaves things set up explicitly, so I do look forward to jumping in sooner rather than later, but this is a pretty interesting read on its own.

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27 March 2015

Review: Alex + Ada, Volume 1

Alex + Ada, Volume 1
Alex + Ada, Volume 1 by Jonathan Luna

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well, this just jumped way up on my "favorite comics list."

Alex is lonely, and the future world he lives in is full of androids. His grandmother, having gotten an android herself in her later years, decides to buy one for Alex. The android is about as creepy as you'd imagine, in part due to some reactionary laws following an earlier violent incident, and Alex isn't initially into it, until he learns about some of the workarounds.

Where this goes, I don't want to spoil. The real heart and soul of this is really what matters, and it toes the line between emotional and funny really well. In terms of basic, modern "robots and humans living together" tropes, however, I'm not sure I've read a better story about robot/human interliving overall, and it's one that lends itself well to the graphic novel format (which isn't always the case) as well.

I think the Lunas are quickly becoming some of my favorite comics writers. I rushed out and ordered the next volume (as well as a copy of this one for my own collection) almost immediately, and hope to get to it soon, it was that good.

Absolutely something anyone who loves comics should read. Really and truly great.

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21 March 2015

Review: The Lucy Variations

The Lucy Variations
The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once upon the time, I was somewhat serious about music. Went to college for it, the whole nine yards. I was never as serious as Lucy or Lucy's family in The Lucy Variations, but I did see a lot here that I recognized from others, and this story was both wonderful and heartbreaking because of that.

Lucy quit music months earlier due to how she felt her priorities were being governed following the death of her grandmother. Worse for her family, she quit right before she was going to take part in a major international competition in a rather spectacular fashion. With the aftermath of this and how it has impacted her family, as well as how it's changed things for her younger brother, the story is really about Lucy's growth and redemption as well as the complicated relationship many of us have with art.

It works because you don't have to be a musician to appreciate the struggle here, both in terms of identity and familial expectations. It definitely doesn't hurt that Lucy is likable and her issues entirely valid. The issues she deals with, some of the problems she runs into during the course of the book, I've seen it first-hand. It's real, and I can see this being just as valid for sports jocks as it would be for the more arts-oriented.

Read this. Read it whether you relate or not, give it to people in your life who are struggling with their issues of personal identity and such. It's a great read that I shouldn't have waited so long to pick up.

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14 March 2015

Review: The Eighth Day

The Eighth Day
The Eighth Day by Dianne K. Salerni

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Eighth Day involves an Arthurian legend, a secret magical 8th day, and the people who can cross between the seven day world we live in and the magical 8th day that exists in parallel. Your enjoyment of this book will likely mirror how much that intrigues you.

The book is exactly that - a kid wakes up one day and sees the world is basically stopped. Electronics don't work, no one exists, and everything is just quiet. The next day, everything is okay again. The rest of the story involves the conspiracy/world with this in mind, pretty high concept stuff for a middle grade book.

In its favor is the fact that the book bursts right out the gate with the plot, not wasting a ton of time. The problem with that is the way the story itself kind of stalls out as things progress. It doesn't necessarily help that this weird mashup of science fictional tropes and high fantasy doesn't always make a ton of sense, but that this is a pretty fast-paced read with some cool concepts and ideas definitely makes up for it.

Overall, not bad for a middle grade book, although some more sophistication and aging up of the material might have benefited things on a whole. Worth a look if you're into this sort of thing.

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13 March 2015

Review: Puppy Love

Puppy Love
Puppy Love by A. Destiny

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Okay, hear me out.

If we're just going off of quality of literature and story? This is a one. It's candy that's old and stale for just about everyone.

It's the "just about" that's the key here. This book isn't a serious read by any stretch of the imagination, it's a love triangle with cute puppies. That's it. But in that I do love me some teen romances, in that romance as an overall category continues to essentially keep publishing afloat, this is basically a gateway drug into that industry.

In that way? It works. It's a fast, quick, surface-level story designed to hit a few quick plot points and resolve a love triangle. That's basically it, and it is completely functional in that regard. It has nothing to offer anyone with knowledge of the genre because it's not for us, and I'm sure this book (along with anything else in the Flirt line) will hit those preteen girls looking to move up to something a little more substantive. They need these books, too.

So yeah. If you're old enough to be reading this post, stay far, far away from this book. But if there's a 12 year old girl in your life who has shown some interest in this genre, this might just be the place for them to start.

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