Monday, July 16, 2018

My Year in the Middle by Lila Quintero Weaver, 2018

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In a racially polarized classroom in 1970 Alabama, Lu's talent for running track makes her a new best friend — and tests her mettle as she navigates the school's social cliques.

"Miss Garrett's classroom is like every other at our school. White kids sit on one side and black kids on the other. I'm one of the few middle-rowers who split the difference."

Sixth-grader Lu Olivera just wants to keep her head down and get along with everyone in her class. Trouble is, Lu's old friends have been changing lately — acting boy crazy and making snide remarks about Lu's newfound talent for running track. Lu's secret hope for a new friend is fellow runner Belinda Gresham, but in 1970 Red Grove, Alabama, blacks and whites don't mix. As segregationist ex-governor George Wallace ramps up his campaign against the current governor, Albert Brewer, growing tensions in the state — and in the classroom — mean that Lu can't stay neutral about the racial divide at school. Will she find the gumption to stand up for what's right and to choose friends who do the same?
(288 pages)

I don't know what it is about this book, but it's taken me literally six months to work up the energy to review it. Even now, I'm only doing it because it's worked its way to the top of my review calendar.

Perhaps I've just read one too many books about desegregation in the South. It's an interesting topic, but there reaches a point where all these books about white girls learning to stand against racism for the sake of their one black friend become a little repetitive.

That's not to say that My Year in the Middle is derivative or bad, because it really isn't. Weaver adds a very interesting angle by making her protagonist an Argentinian immigrant, because it adds a layer of complexity to the story that similar books don't have. I also feel like Lu and Belinda's relationship is very realistic, since they share a passion for running (definitely a hobby I have no interest in sharing!). Plus, the politics of the upcoming election and the racist mud-slinging are interesting (and hard) to read. I can't believe that the author's note says she didn't make them up.

Also, can we just stop to acknowledge the fact that public schools in Red Grove, Alabama weren't desegregated until the 1969/1970 school year? That is ridiculously close to modern day. This book is set in 1970, but it feels like 1950 for all the racism Belinda has to face. Seriously, Alabama?!

Honestly, My Year in the Middle is a great book. Looking back now, I think my reluctance to review it largely stemmed from the fact that I hate thinking about how much racism there still was just a couple of decades ago. It's a good book, though, well-written and entertaining while also thought-provoking. I definitely recommend it!

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

Friday, July 13, 2018

[Finished] GIVEAWAY! (Ends July 15)

[Note: due to a glitch with Rafflecopter, I had to use to pick the winner. That winner is . . . drum roll please . . . 

Jillian Too!

I will contact her to mail out the prize. Thank you so much to everyone who entered!] 

It's finally happened: I've run out of shelf space. And also floor space. And top-of-my-desk space. Basically, I'm drowning in books and I have to give some of them up.

This is an inherently sad process (no bookworm enjoys losing some of their books!), but I've decided to cheer myself up by giving some of them to good homes with my lovely readers.

So now it's time for me to help fill up your shelves. Some of these are books that I loved; some of them I . . . well, didn't (you can find my reviews on this list). But I'm confident that there is at least one book here that each of you could love to pieces. That's why the winners of this giveaway will be allowed to choose their prize from the Goodreads bookshelf in the widget to the left of the screen (which you can also see here). Note that most of these books are ARCs, but a few are finished paperbacks. If you want to know the details about a specific book, just comment below or email me ( and I'll fill you in.

The number of winners is flexible: I will give away 1 book if there are up to 499 entries, 2 if there are 500-999 entries, 3 if there are 1,000-1,499 entries, etc., up to at least 10 books. You are not limited to winning just once, so share the news with all of your friends: the more they enter, the more books you might win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

If that doesn't work, here's a link to the giveaway.

Please note that this giveaway is only open to readers in the United States, due to the high cost of shipping abroad.

Dreaming Dangerous by Lauren DeStefano, 2018

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on Goodreads 
Brassmere Academy for the Extraordinary is a school for orphans with strange and wonderful gifts. Twelve-year-old Plum has lived there forever, and each night, she ventures into her dreams alongside her three best friends, Vien, Gwendle, and Artem, to fight monsters and journey on dangerous quests. But one night, Plum gets a mysterious warning that she and her friends are no longer safe. And the next morning, Artem is nowhere to be found.

As Plum, Vien, and Gwendle search for their friend—in both the dreaming and waking worlds—they start to uncover alarming secrets about Brassmere and its intentions. Will they be able to find Artem before it’s too late, or will they be next to disappear?

(208 pages)

This is the sort of book I would have absolutely loved when I was younger. I was a sucker for stories set at boarding schools or orphanages, and I loved main characters with special powers.

In fact, these aspects of Dreaming Dangerous reminds me quite a bit of Victoria Forester's The Girl Who Could Fly. It's basically a shorter, slightly younger alternative of the other book. Which is good, because The Girl Who Could Fly was (and still is) one of my all-time favorite books.

I love the ambiance of these books. The setting and workers at Brassmere are described in a deliciously spooky way, and the dreams Plum shares with her friends are fascinatingly weird (as is the fact that Plum doesn't even realize all the ways her control over her dreams are unique). I loved reading the dream sequences, especially.

Honestly, my main issue with Dreaming Dangerous was that it wasn't long enough: it didn't give us long enough at Brassmere to explore that oppressive ambiance, it didn't give us long enough with the kids to really get to know them or their friendship dynamics on a deeper level, and it didn't give us enough time with the drama and adventure later in the book. If it had been longer, it would have been even closer to perfect.

This is a reaction I actually share with my middle-school-aged brother, by the way: I lent the book to him when I was done with it, and when I asked what he thought he said he wished it had been longer and more detailed. The conversation about the book also morphed into a long debate about medical ethics, so I have DeStefano to thank for that as well as for the fun read! I always love when media forces us to think about deeper topics.

All in all, Dreaming Dangerous is a great little book that really just suffers from one main flaw: length. And that's only an issue for us–if you or your reader likes shorter reads, then Dreaming Dangerous could be absolutely perfect.

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

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Slave Prince by Jeyna Grace, 2018

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on Goodreads 
For fifteen years, Thom believed he was a prince of Alpenwhist. He had climbed the castle turrets to survey his kingdom, learned to duel with the sharpest blades, and stirred up palace intrigue in disguise. But one day his identity is suddenly shattered by the revelations of a blind woman: he learns that he isn’t a prince at all, but a wretched slave.

In a kingdom where ruthlessness is part of everyday life, Thom fears this new truth could be deadly. He takes flight, running from the life he knew and the one he despises, but the call to free his people beckons him home. Armed with a magic stone that instructs him through surreal visions, he must topple his once beloved brother who has since become a tyrannical king.

A fantastical retelling of the story of Moses, Thom’s adventure forces him to question if he can succeed in his quest without truly understanding who he is. He must unravel his past, present, and future before he can set his people free.

(280 pages)

I hate to say it, but The Slave Prince would have been better if it weren't a retelling of a Biblical tale.

Why? Because as soon as I realized that it was a pretty close adaptation of the original story, I knew exactly how it was going to end. It's hard to create suspense when you've told the reader the exact blueprint you're using.

That's not to say that The Slave Prince isn't a good book, though–far from it, actually! Grace takes the bare blueprint of the story (Moses's adoption into the royal family, banishment after killing an Egyptian, etc.) and paints a beautiful new world onto it.

I think my favorite part of the book is actually the introduction, which describes the story of how the Eklaysians were forced to flee their beautiful home country and seek refuge in Alpenwhist, then eventually become enslaved by their adopted countrymen. It's a sad tale, but told absolutely beautifully. The first few chapters, showing Thom's life before he fled Alpenwhist, are similarly wonderfully done: they quickly paint a picture of everyday life in the brutal city, as well as the royal family's rough dynamics and Thom's spotty relationship with his adoptive older brother.

I have a few gripes about the logic of some of the characters' decisions (mainly with Thom and his royal brother Dedric, both of whom seem to make decisions based more on the plot's demands than on logic or character traits/history). I also kind of hated Thom by the end of the book, because he let the magic do such horrible things to Alpenwhist. I know he does it for a good cause, and that it's meant to be okay because he behaves a lot like Moses did in real life, but the difference is that Moses was following the commands of God, the Creator of the universe, who had the authority to do such things to his creations. Thom, on the other hand, is just blindly obeying an old magic stone that called to him in a cave. Maybe he has a right to be so terrible to the people of Alpenwhist since they've been so brutal to the Eklaysians, but that's something that should be wrestled with even more than it is in the story.

All in all, The Slave Prince was a very magical and innovative retelling of the story of Moses. I would have enjoyed it even more if Grace had jumped off the rails and made up her own story after Thom left Alpenwhist, but as a retelling of Moses The Slave Prince manages to see the story through to the end, doing so in a way that underscores just how disturbing the plagues would have been. If you're looking for a regular entertainment read, this wouldn't be the first on my list. However, as a retelling of Moses, I would definitely recommend The Slave Prince.

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

Friday, July 6, 2018

Listen to Your Heart by Kasie West, 2018

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 on Goodreads 
Talking to other people isn't Kate Bailey's favorite activity. She'd much rather be out on the lake, soaking up the solitude and sunshine. So when her best friend, Alana, convinces Kate to join their high school's podcast, Kate is not expecting to be chosen as the host. Now she'll have to answer calls and give advice on the air? Impossible.

But to Kate's surprise, she turns out to be pretty good at the hosting gig. Then the podcast gets in a call from an anonymous guy, asking for advice about his unnamed crush. Kate is pretty sure that the caller is gorgeous Diego Martinez, and even surer that the girl in question is Alana. Kate is excited for her friend ... until Kate herself starts to develop feelings for Diego. Suddenly, Kate finds that while doling out wisdom to others may be easy, asking for help is tougher than it looks, and following your own advice is even harder.

Kasie West's adorable story of secrets, love, and friendship is sure to win over hearts everywhere.

(336 pages)

Kasie West's flavor of chick lit is my favorite out there. I discovered her last summer, when I blew through Lucky in Love, The Distance Between Us, and P.S. I Like You. All three of those books are fun, fluffy reads with realistic-ish characters who find themselves in deliciously dramatic, and at least mildly plausible, romantic scenarios.

Listen to Your Heart continues this pattern, but I have to say that it's probably my least favorite of the four West books I've read so far. I couldn't really connect with Kate as a character, since her two big focal points are loving the lake and hating the guy in her class whose family competes with hers for business based around the lake. I have very little interest in the former, and I was a little surprised at the vehemence of her feelings toward the latter, especially since her parents were really pretty cordial about the whole thing.

I was also frustrated because there were really two different guys who could have turned out to be her "true love," not just one obvious "best match." That guessing game takes away some of the sweetness of the interaction of the final match, especially because I was actually hoping she'd end up with the other guy.

If I'm really laying out all the negatives, I also thought the drama was a little more forced and ridiculous than it was in the other books. The main characters all seem like smart, reasonable people, but then whenever something has to do with the romance storylines they start acting like idiots.

But don't get me wrong, I really did enjoy reading Listen to Your Heart! The details about being a podcast host were really interesting, and I would have loved even more about that part of the story. Plus, I have this book for getting me hooked on podcasts. I'd never really tried them before, but after reading this I tried a couple and got really hooked on "Stuff You Missed in History Class" and "Stuff You Should Know." I listen to a podcast almost every night now!

All in all, this is a fun, entertaining read that isn't quite as good as the other West books I've read but which still stands on its own as a good read. I recommend it if it seems like the sort of book you're in the mood for this summer.

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