Book Review: Dark Sons by Nikki Grimes

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Title: Dark Sons
Author: Nikki Grimes
Publisher: Blink
Paperback: 208 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

A guy whose father ripped his heart out too.

You and me, Ishmael, we’re brothers, two dark sons.

Destroyed, lost, and isolated, the perspectives of two teenage boys—modern-day Sam, and biblical Ishmael—unite over millennia to illustrate the power of forgiveness.

 

 

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I’ll be honest and say I did not know what I was getting myself into when I picked up Dark Sons.  I knew I had read things by Nikki Grimes before (and am embarrassed to say I could not remember what those things were) and that it looked like kind of an interesting.  I was pleasantly surprised both by the format and content of the book.

One thing to know (and again something I should have but didn’t know before I read the book) is that it is a collection of poems that tell the story of two sons dealing with a changing relationship with their father.  The first is Ishmael and his relationship with his father Abraham (from Old Testament fame) and the second is a more modern distancing about a teenager named Sam.  Through the course of the book the similarities and differences of these two interpretations are brought to the forefront through alternating sections of poetic cycles.

As someone who grew up in a fairly religious household (and as a result when I stopped being particularly interested in faith for religious reasons and more for academic ones), I really enjoyed the Ishmael side of the book.  He has always been a fascinating character to me and the role he plays is one that I feel like is ripe for a lot of different interpretations.  I felt like this interpretation of what his emotions and feelings must have been were incredibly well done and were interesting when compared to the Christian response in terms of how Sam was able to deal with his father’s new family in the modern part of the book.  It set up an interesting parallel of having God take care of these people while still not making a great life for them or seeming to always have their best interest at heart.

I thought the portrayal of Sam was also incredibly well done.  It felt incredibly real and is one of the few reasons I would potentially recommend this book to a student.  The way that the character processes emotions and was able to separate his feelings for his father and his new wife from those for his step-brother was quite interesting and something I feel like most people have had to do even if not with this particular situation.

I do not think I would ever assign this book primarily because I think that religion is a bit too explicitly central.  That said, I have several students that I am already thinking of who could relate and benefit immensely from this.  I also think that there are students like me who might see the comparison of Ishmael as almost a “patron saint” of someone abandoned by their father to be compelling even without the religious overtones it produces.  Overall, it was a good, quick read and the format was something different that I found quite refreshing (although, this should not be super surprising coming from me since my favorite format for books are short story cycles).

Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

absolutely-true-diaryTitle: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Author: Sherman Alexie
Illustrator: Ellen Forney
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Hardcover: 230 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

This is one book that I feel like I missed out on reading during my high school years, and I’ve always been sad about it; I’ve even owned a copy for at least 3 years, and I still wasn’t able to read it until recently, so finishing this was somewhat of a personal accomplishment for me. Not because it’s such a hard book or anything, but because this is a recent classic that I’ve been wanting to read for so long. It feels especially close to me, because while I am very much not related to any Native Americans, my grandfather lived in Spokane, WA for almost all his life, and he even lived on the Spokane reservation with his girlfriend for a large part of his later life, so it’s interesting to get a sense of the place my grandfather called home.

First, I have to say that this book is lovely. It’s about a boy named Junior who lives on the Indian reservation in Spokane, and he decides to go to the “white” high school to try to build a future for himself. I was able to read through it quickly because it’s a pretty easy read and it is so, so entertaining and hits on some very real, true-life events that were inspired by Alexie’s own life. It’s wonderful that this book is out there for teens to read when they’re feeling like an outsider, because the main character is pretty much the ultimate outsider in a lot of ways and reading about his feelings about that and how he deals with it is somehow comforting.

What makes this Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian a success is the fact that it covers everything. It’s funny and yet incredibly heartbreaking, reflecting real life in a way that most stories don’t even come close to, which I think is a reflection of its large autobiographical influence. It comes across as honest and genuine, which is something that is lacking in fiction sometimes, and which YA fiction especially needs. The illustrations are an added bonus and give further insight into Junior’s character and his overall mood at the time he’s “writing” his diary entries. They’re incorporated well and I loved reading Forney’s explanations for why each illustration was done the way it was.

There’s a reason why this is such a classic, and I don’t know what I can say that others haven’t, except that I personally liked this a lot and think it belongs on the must-read lists of everyone, because it is such a powerful, wonderful story.

Book Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The maze Runner by James Dashner.jpgTitle: The Maze Runner
Author: James Dashner
Series: The Maze Runner, Book 1
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Hardcover: 384 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

If you ain’t scared, you ain’t human.

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone.

Nice to meet ya, shank. Welcome to the Glade.

Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive.

Everything is going to change.

Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.

Remember. Survive. Run.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

This book started interesting me, of course, when the movie came out. I usually staunchly refuse to see any book-based movies before I read the book, but my parents broke me down when they marketed going to the movies as a “family event,” so I didn’t get to reading it beforehand, which meant it got pushed way down my to-read list. When the Pokemon Go challenge came up and had a hyped-up book category, I decided to finally get this off my to-read list and see how the book compared to its film version.

My first reaction is that it’s different in surprising ways. I won’t ruin it for people who have yet to read it, but the problem the way they solve the maze in the novel is a bit more complex and the ending is just the littlest bit different. The characters also had a bit of a different flavor to them, but I think that’s true for anything when your imagination is supplying interpretations rather than an actor. The one character whose introduction and personality is remarkably different is Teresa, which I thought pretty interesting. In the movie, she’s fierce to the point of being rabid when she’s introduced — in the movie, she’s calm and very rarely loses her temper. I’m not sure what this says about cinema portrayal of females or the people who adapted the book for the film, but it’s an interesting difference.

Regardless of the changes, I feel the same way about this book as I do about the movie: It’s fine. I don’t hate it, I don’t love it, and the plot is mostly interesting, though I hope future books provide a lot more growth and development from the characters. The way things were set up in this first book, it was mostly about discovering who they were themselves, so they remained mostly stagnant throughout. Without having read the sequels, it’s not something I can firmly recommend, but I am looking forward to reading the sequels — hopefully they deliver.

Book Review: Oxblood by Annalisa Grant

oxblood by annalisa grant.jpg
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Title: Oxblood
Author: Annalisa Grant
Series: Victoria Asher, Book 1
Publisher: Open Road Media Teen & Tween
Paperback: 300 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

How far would you go to save the only family you have left? Victoria “Vic” Asher is finally finding some balance in her life. Though she’s still reeling from her parents’ death in a plane crash, she’s content with waiting tables at the Clock; window shopping with her best friend, Tiffany; and hanging out with her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Chad. But when she receives a mysterious package in the mail from her brother, Gil–a law student doing research in Italy–she knows immediately that he’s in danger. Vic isn’t about to risk losing her only brother, so she sets off for Italy to find him. But when she runs into Ian, the gorgeous leader of Interpol’s secret Rogue division, who’s also searching for Gil, she quickly realizes that her brother is in much deeper trouble than she ever could have imagined. Vic will stop at nothing to locate Gil, but doing so could cost her her life–and her heart.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I love YA thrillers and strong female characters, so when I saw this on NetGalley, I knew I had to take a look and see what it was about.

Let’s go through the bad stuff first. There were a few things that bothered me about this story. The first is that a lot of the conflicts were made overly simplistic by the fact that they were resolved so quickly. The second is that most of the action and exposition takes place through dialogue. This is a huge pet peeve of mine — if you wanted to write what people say — write a screenplay. If you want to write through description and exposition, write a novel. Overall, it’s a not a huge deal, but it really does bother me when the whole novel basically takes place through conversations.

With that said, I enjoyed the story overall. I think it had a good amount of suspense and a few twists that I didn’t see coming, which was fun. Victoria is such a cool character, with her ability to adapt to situations, and I like that her skill in observation came in handy in her search for her brother. I hope that she grows more as the series continues and is able to get past the aren’t-I-such-a-sad-baby thing, because while she certainly has it tough, she also certainly loves lamenting over the fact that her life is tough. This one wasn’t a must-read for me, but I definitely can see people loving it for its constant stream of surprises.

Fun, quick read if you’re interested in a YA thriller. It certainly delivers on intrigue!

Book Review: Elite by Mercedes Lackey

Elite by Mercedes Lackey.jpg
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Title: Elite
Author: Mercedes Lackey
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Series: Hunter, Book 2
Hardcover: 368 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Joy wants nothing more than to live and Hunt in Apex City without a target on her back. But a dangerous new mission assigned by her uncle, the city’s Prefect, may make that impossible.

In addition to her new duties as one of the Elite, Joy is covertly running patrols in the abandoned tunnels and storm sewers under Apex Central. With her large pack of magical hounds, she can fight the monsters breaking through the barriers with the strength of three hunters. Her new assignment takes a dark turn when she finds a body in the sewers: a Psimon with no apparent injury or cause of death.

Reporting the incident makes Joy the uncomfortable object of PsiCorp’s scrutiny—the organization appears more interested in keeping her quiet than investigating. With her old enemy Ace still active in Hunts and the appearance of a Folk Mage who seems to have a particular interest in her, Joy realizes that the Apex conspiracy she uncovered before her Elite trials is anything but gone.

As the body count rises, she has no choice but to seek answers. Joy dives into the mysterious bowels of the city, uncovering secrets with far-reaching consequences for PsiCorp… and all of Apex City.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I don’t know if I’ve been meta-analyzing books for too long, but I found myself willfully resisting the urge to do so with this book.  What I mean is that when I started reading it (more or less directly after finishing the first book in the series, Hunter), I found myself spending a lot of time trying to decide if I liked the way Lackey was trying to give enough background information for people jumping in cold vs. hampering the plot developing.  From there ,I found myself trying to decide if the pacing of the overarching story was well done.  While I have answers to both of these things now (if you are curious, I think she kept it about as short as she could and I actually loved the pacing since it didn’t seemed rushed, respectively) I found I had a lot more fun reading this book when I just took it for the story it is without trying to over think it.  And I have to say the result was one of the more immersive experiences I’ve had with a book in a while.

I get scared with sequels, particularly of YA, when I like the first book in a series.  A lot of times, authors seem to use the first story to build a great world in the opener and then just hit the turbo button to too-fast-developing-not-super-thought-out plot in book two.  This book absolutely did not do that.  At one point I found myself thinking that this book can feel at times feel like it is just an extension of adventures from part one, which some may see as a negative but I really enjoyed.  This is not to say that the larger plot does not advance.  There are a lot of pretty important developments and the conflicts between the different government programs that are theoretically all supposed to be working together is particularly interesting, however, this information is spread out throughout the book with fun “hunts” and social activity thrown in so it feels like a much more natural progression of story than other books I have read.

The conceit that was hinted at in the previous book that all of the Othersiders are represented in some way in human folklore or mythology is expanded upon in this book in an incredibly interesting way which opens up for even more questions about the worlds relationship with the Otherside.  I also found the consistency of magic in this universe to be very satisfying.  There is something almost scientific about the way magic usage is explained in this world and it leads to new discoveries in magic to be satisfying as a reader rather than random and like a crutch of some type to advance the plot.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised that I liked this book even more than the first one.  All the things I said in my previous review remain true, especially that the characters seem to act the way people really would which is something I love particularly in YA.  Now I just hope that the series does not suffer from my other largest concern which is not knowing how to end which retroactively makes me not enjoy the previous books as much, but for now I can confidently say that I cannot recommend this series enough if you are at all interested in YA fantasy!

Book Review: Hunter by Mercedes Lackey

HunterTitle: Hunter
Author: Mercedes Lackey
Series: Hunter, Book 1
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Hardcover: 374 pages
Source: County of Los Angeles Public Library Overdrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

They came after the Diseray. Some were terrors ripped from our collective imaginations, remnants of every mythology across the world. And some were like nothing anyone had ever dreamed up, even in their worst nightmares.

Monsters.

Long ago, the barriers between our world and the Otherworld were ripped open, and it’s taken centuries to bring back civilization in the wake of the catastrophe. Now, the luckiest Cits live in enclosed communities, behind walls that keep them safe from the hideous creatures fighting to break through. Others are not so lucky.

To Joyeaux Charmand, who has been a Hunter in her tight-knit mountain community since she was a child, every Cit without magic deserves her protection from dangerous Othersiders. Then she is called to Apex City, where the best Hunters are kept to protect the most important people.

Joy soon realizes that the city’s powerful leaders care more about luring Cits into a false sense of security than protecting them. More and more monsters are getting through the barriers, and the close calls are becoming too frequent to ignore. Yet the Cits have no sense of how much danger they’re in—to them, Joy and her corps of fellow Hunters are just action stars they watch on TV.

When an act of sabotage against Joy takes an unbearable toll, she uncovers a terrifying conspiracy in the city. There is something much worse than the usual monsters infiltrating Apex. And it may be too late to stop them…

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

First of all, I cannot emphasize enough that I think this book is worth sticking through the first quarter or hundred pages.  I only feel the need to bring this up, because I was surprised by the amount of one-star ratings I saw for this book and realized the reason for them was overwhelmingly that people gave up on it about 20-25% in.  I’ll be honest, I don’t blame those people who did.  The first part of the book really seems like it is setting up to be another run-of-the-mill dystopian YA book like Hunger Games or Divergent.  However, while it does not go into a completely different direction I think that the latter part of the book is incredibly well done and more than makes up for the stale beginning.

There are several things that I really liked about the way this book handled itself after the initial set up.  The first was that I enjoyed the relationships between characters.  Most importantly, I liked the way the main character (Joy) was developed.  There was a lot of internal monologue by Joy, as often happens in these kinds of books, but also actually interacted with several other characters including her Otherworld hounds which greatly improved the monotony that occasionally occurs.  The friendships she developed were well written and nothing seemed overdramatic and were still quite compelling.  Most importantly to me, she was in no way spurred on purely through romantic interest of any kind.  This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine when it comes to strong female characters.  I think that she was a nice balance between still being the young girl she is and being incredibly strong and mature when the time called for it (as expected of a heroine).  The book is not devoid of romantic interest, which I think could also ring somewhat false or hollow, but it is very much a subplot that informs feelings and decisions but in no way could be considered a major part of the novel.

The other thing I thought was handled quite well that worried me at first were the Christians (referred to as Christers in the book).  I hate to admit I went from laughing about the fact that they were angry that this cataclysmic event was not the apocalypse to beginning to cringe about how they were being talked about for the most part (again in the first hundred pages or so).  Again though, I think that this was beautifully handled in the subsequent sections of the novel when Joy befriends a Christer hunter nicknamed “White Knight” and we get to see her much more nuanced and interesting relationship with them as a whole.

Also, the hounds are really cool and I want some.

Overall, I don’t think this book will blow your socks off and if you can’t deal with a slow start it is not for you, but if you can get past that and like this sort of novel I think you will be well rewarded with the rest of it.

Book Review: Seven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse

sevendaysofyouTitle: Seven Days of You
Author: Cecilia Vinesse
Publisher: Little, Brown
Hardcover: 336 pages
Source: BEA 2016
Anticipated Publishing Date: 7 March 2017
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Sophia has seven days left in Tokyo before she moves back to the States. Seven days to say good-bye to the electric city, her wild best friend, and the boy she’s harbored a semi-secret crush on for years. Seven perfect days…until Jamie Foster-Collins moves back to Japan and ruins everything.

Jamie and Sophia have a history of heartbreak, and the last thing Sophia wants is for him to steal her leaving thunder with his stupid arriving thunder. Yet as the week counts down, the relationships she thought were stable begin to explode around her. And Jamie is the one who helps her pick up the pieces. Sophia is forced to admit she may have misjudged Jamie, but can their seven short days of Tokyo adventures end in anything but good-bye?

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher from BEA 2016. All opinions are my own.*

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

First, I have to say, that I was a little wary going into this, as I’m not a huge fan of young adult romances that are only romances — I think they either become vapid or too melodramatic, and I was hoping that wouldn’t be the case with this one. Luckily, it very much wasn’t, and I give Vinesse all the credit in the world for writing an incredibly grounded, realistic portrayal of a relationship that might happen at that stage of someone’s life.

The balance between Sophia dealing with her departure from Tokyo and also exploring her new relationship is beautiful. It’s nice to see that both of these situations are fully dealt with within the book — Sophia’s anger at leaving, confusion, and fear for what is to come next, and then her happiness for finding this new connection with Jamie, and the fear of what’s to come if she falls too far in. I think, in a way, most relationships start out with that fear, even without the imminent threat of what would very much be a long-distance relationship, so I think that feeling is incredibly relatable. Where is this going? Can we be feeling this so quickly? What if I really love this person, but it doesn’t work out? Even within the span of seven days, Jamie and Sophia don’t seem to fall for each other too quickly, although it helps that they knew each other before that week.

Mostly, though, this book is about self-discovery and self-awareness. In departing from the country she’s lived in most of her life, Sophia is able to take a closer look at her relationships and how she’s being treated by her friends and family. It’s a lovely coming-of-age sort of thing where she realizes that some people she’s been fighting hard to have relationships with are really not being good people to her, so she has to re-evaluate what’s really important spending effort on. Again, while Sophia’s situation is at an extreme, I think we can all relate to being put in a situation where we need to re-think what’s going on in our lives, so reading about Sophia’s journey of self-discovery is satisfying and rewarding in that we can self-reflect and compare her decisions to ones that we are currently making, or once made.

I very much appreciated this book for what it was — a second chance for two people to reconnect and forgive each other for past miscommunications and to explore their feelings for each other. The tension is kept strong through the short timeline of the seven days that Sophia has left in Tokyo, and it makes it a fast read, because everything is so condensed and there’s no time for anything to be drawn out. At the same time, nothing is rushed because of that, and I give Vinesse a lot of credit for not feeling the need to rush Sophia and Jamie’s relationships. It’s taken at a reasonable, moderate pace, and ends on a hopeful note, which I very much enjoyed. I can’t recommend this book enough for being everything you want in a young adult romance and containing none of the common cringe-worthy or exasperating tropes. Pick it up when you get a chance.