Monday, August 14, 2017

Summer on Earth by Peter Thompson, 2017

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The night that eleven-year-old Grady Johnson looked out his window and wished upon a shooting star, his life changed forever. Grady, his Ma, and younger sister Luanne are having a hard summer. Dad has died and the family isn't the same. Though Ma is trying her best, Grady knows they don't have enough money to get by. The shooting star he saw was a space craft plunging to Earth, and landing at the back of their farm. Extraterrestrial engineer Ralwil Turth has one goal, to fix his power drive and go back home. But things don't go as planned. Stuck in human form, he gets to know Grady and his family as he works on their farm. He starts to learn about what it means to be human, and the exotic charms of this planet like the taste of potatoes, and how amazing bugs are. As Ralwil grows to care for Grady and his family, he comes up with a plan to help them, sure it will solve all their problems. But when trouble comes, the family's survival and Ralwil's very life are on the line. Can Grady find the courage to help his family and save his friend?
(296 pages)

When Peter Thompson reached out to me to review his new MG novel, Summer on Earth, I leaped at the chance to read it. I'm a huge sucker for sci-fi stories, and MG books, so Summer on Earth looked like a really good combination for me.

And it was. I really loved the combination of futuristic alien tech, realistic small-town ambiance, and meaningful relationship growth between the characters. I was fascinated by Ralwil's exploration of earth, I loved watching him experience everything we take for granted for the first time. His enthusiasm for corn, for example, and his analysis of human family dynamics were both thought-provoking and funny. I especially loved when he observed Grady's widowed mother in control of the children and the farm and decided that earth must feature matriarchal societies. I wish!

If I had to pick one book that Summer on Earth most reminded me of, I would say Alexander Key's The Forgotten Door. There's a little bit of the same underlying story, the idea of an alien from a futuristic world becoming stuck on earth and learning about human ways as he attempts to find a way back home. I wouldn't be surprised, actually, if Thompson got some of his inspiration for Summer on Earth from reading The Forgotten Door as a kid. And as someone who absolutely loved the earlier book but hated how short it was, I have to say that I totally love getting that vibe from Summer on Earth.

Honestly, there's not much else to say. I suppose my one "complaint" is that Summer on Earth doesn't dive quite as deep into some of the issues it brings up as it might have done, but I also recognize and appreciate that it's written for a middle school audience and thus isn't meant to go as far as I would sometimes prefer. I really liked Summer on Earth, but I think I'm also a little older than its target audience. When I handed it off to a younger boy a little closer to the middle-grade target he loved it even more than I did.

Basically, if you're looking for an interesting and engaging sci-fi book aimed at middle schoolers but still interesting for any age group, then Summer on Earth fits the bill. If you do decide to read it, comment below to let us know what you think!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, August 11, 2017

College 101: A Girl's Guide to Freshman Year, Revised Edition by Julie Zeilinger, 2017

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College 101: A Girl's Guide to Freshman Year is a comprehensive and authentic guide for girls to everything related to the college process. Unlike other college guides, College 101 is written from the honest, humorous, and relatable first-person perspective of a young woman who recently experienced the process, while also offering the advice of experts and unique experiences of other college-aged women. This guide shows girls what to really expect from the college planning process as well as their first year of college, including pro tips and common pitfalls to avoid. From test-taking tips, to finding the right college for you, to how to make the most of your freshman year, this book answers all young women's questions, including those they didn't even know they had! Presented in a dynamic and varied format, College 101 imparts seriously valuable information and secrets about the process in an extemporaneous and entertaining way.
(207 pages)

I figured that, as a high school graduate getting ready to head off to college next year, I was the perfect person to read and review College 101. I may not be able to judge the quality of her advice against personal experience, but I can describe how this member, at least, of its target audience responds to the book.

Unfortunately, I have to report that I really didn't like it that much. Some of Zeilinger's advice is helpful, especially her comprehensive to-bring checklist and her detailed descriptions of financial tips and advice/resources for anyone who suspects they may have been assaulted. But, and I couldn't find a way to say this that wasn't really awful, Zeilinger is just way too feminist-focused to write a college guidebook.

And for the record, I say that as a feminist.

The thing is, men and women really aren't that different. When I picked up College 101, I barely processed (and definitely care) that it was addressed solely to girls. But it's a really big deal to Zeilinger, and she's constantly talking about how we women "owe it to our grandmothers" to do well in school because they fought for our right to attend it, and how any bad thing that happens to us–ever!–is definitely the result of sexism. I don't know about you, but my first thought when another woman is rude to me is not "oh, it's not her fault, she's just responding to the sexist pressures placed on women that force them to push others down to get ahead." I think "that woman is responsible for her own actions, and she is choosing to be a jerk to me." Also, Zeilinger talks a lot about how terrible and sexist it is that a lot of women feel pressured to do it all–to look good, get good grades, and balance school and a social life. Yeah, sure, it can suck sometimes. But does she think guys don't face those same pressures? Hello?

She also goes into way too much detail about sex, and sexual freedom and sexual experimentation for my taste. I'm all for letting people make their own choices, but my choices do not involve sexual activity and so I really don't enjoy reading so much about it.

Basically, I gained a little bit of new information from College 101 but I didn't agree with a lot of the author's attitudes and outlooks so my enjoyment of the book was marred by that. It could be better for other readers, I don't know, but I for one will keep an eye out for another college guidebook–maybe one that's not addressed just to girls this time.


Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Captivating Lady Charlotte by Carolyn Miller, 2017

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Lady Charlotte Featherington is destined for great things on the marriage market. After all, as the beautiful daughter of a marquess, she should have her pick of the eligible nobility hen she debuts. She, however, has love at the top of her list of marriageable attributes. And her romantic heart falls hard for one particularly dashing, attentive suitor. Sadly for Charlotte, her noble father intends her betrothed to be someone far more dull.

William Hartwell may be a duke, but he knows he was Charlotte's father's pick, not the young lady's own choice. And the captivating Lady Charlotte does not strike him as a woman who will be wooed by his wealth or title. While she has captured his heart, he has no idea how to win hers in return--and the betrayal and scandal his first wife put him through makes it difficult for him to believe that love can ever be trusted. His only hope is that Charlotte's sense of responsibility will win out over her romantic notions.

Can a widowed duke and a romantically inclined lady negotiate a future and discover love beyond duty? Will they be able to find healing and hope from the legacy of grace? Poignant and charming, this is another beautifully written, clean and wholesome Regency romance from Carolyn Miller.

(310 pages)

First, a word of warning: The Captivating Lady Charlotte is the second book in the Regency Brides: A Legacy of Grace series so there may be some accidental spoilers for its prequel, The Elusive Miss Ellison (my review). There's a fairly strong connection between the two, since Charlotte is the younger cousin of Lavinia Ellison from the first book. Lavinia and her–ahem–personal life actually wind up taking a pretty big role in the story, but I'll try to steer around the biggest spoilers.

I went back to read my review of Miss Ellison after reading Lady Charlotte, and I was reminded of the strengths and weaknesses of the former. It's funny, because I think this second book is directly opposite its prequel–better where Miss Ellison was weak, and weak in areas it was strong. What do I mean? Well, the religion in Miss Ellison was so cheesy and pushy (perhaps because Lavinia's father was a pastor) that I found it almost hard to read; discussions of faith and religious duty in Lady Charlotte, on the other hand, are sparse and focused mainly on a duty to help those who fall through society's cracks (as well as a few mentions among fellow believers of the importance of prayer during hard times). On the other hand, I actually really loved the romance in Miss Ellison–it was entertaining and realistic, if unrealistically enabled by the plot at times, and everything was just really sweet. In Charlotte's case, however, I never really get the vibe that she and William had enough of a connection or a shared passion for anything that would tie them together. William basically decides he needs a new wife and that Charlotte is pretty enough (and, you know, probably has enough substance) to take on the role. She never shows any interest in him until very late in the book, and I honestly feel like she just managed to convince herself that she was in love with the older man so she could comfortably resign herself to the situation dictated by her parents and society.

I know. That's not exactly the most romantic storyline, is it? The whole premise of the book (basically, "Charlotte is eighteen now so she must be married off to the highest bidder!") becomes more sexist the longer I think about it. I don't entirely hold that against Miller, since I'm pretty sure that's just how things were back then and she does try to create realistic loving relationships amidst the arranged marriages, but it still just rubs me the wrong way. As an eighteen-year-old young woman myself, I can't really stomach the way Charlotte's entire life revolves around getting married, loving her future husband, and bearing an heir and a spare for his family. Ick.

I really did enjoy reading The Captivating Lady Charlotte, even if it sounds like I didn't. While I didn't love the main characters quite so much this time, and the plot was a little more murky/rambling than that of Miss Ellison, I actually enjoyed it just as much. I look forward to also enjoying the third book in the series, The Dishonorable Miss DeLancey, when it comes out in a few months.


Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book in order to participate in a Kregel blog tour.