Monday, May 23, 2016

Devil & the Bluebird ~ Jennifer Mason Black (earc) review [@CosDrift @abramskids]

Devil and the Bluebird
Amulet Books
May 17, 2016
336 pages
add to Goodreads/buy from Book Depository/or Amazon

“Devil-at-the-crossro“Devil-at-the-crossroads” folklore finds its way to YA via this moody, magical tale

Blue Riley has wrestled with her own demons ever since the loss of her mother to cancer. But when she encounters a beautiful devil at her town crossroads, it’s her runaway sister’s soul she fights to save. The devil steals Blue’s voice—inherited from her musically gifted mother—in exchange for a single shot at finding Cass.

Armed with her mother’s guitar, a knapsack of cherished mementos, and a pair of magical boots, Blue journeys west in search of her sister. When the devil changes the terms of their deal, Blue must reevaluate her understanding of good and evil and open herself to finding family in unexpected places.

In Devil and the Bluebird, Jennifer Mason-Black delivers a heart-wrenching depiction of loss and” folklore finds its way to YA via this moody, magical tale

Meeting the devil at a crossroads to make a deal isn't a new idea, especially not when the person doing that meeting is a musician. Famously there's the story of Robert Johnson, the blues singer who sold his soul to the devil for his musical talent:

he was even part of Supernatural with his crossroads demon/devil"

Devil and the Bluebird doesn't ignore that legendary history, instead Blue Riley is aware of Robert Johnson, of the story around meeting the devil at a crossroads. Still, knowing all of that, she makes a deal. Not for her own talent, though she takes her mother's guitar with her everywhere, but instead trying to save her sister's soul.

Deals with the devil are never easy and now Blue's left to try to find her sister Cass, but without the use of her voice.

Even once we hear the stipulations on Blue's deal - what she has to do, what she can and cannot do - I anticipated a different sort of journey for her. The author came up with unexpected hardships for Blue to encounter but also assistance from unexpected sources. Despite the 'devil-at-the-crossroads' beginning to it all, it was easy at times to forget there was something magical about Blue and her story - until you're reminded in a fantastic way.

The characters Blue encounters are unique and compelling. Some of them wish well for her while others threaten danger but they each play a part in Blue's quest to find Cass and in her discoveries about herself, life and the world.

There were a few parts of the story that I still don't know that I really get. How certain things worked, why they did or why the character(s) trusted that they would, who someone was, etc  If I stop and think, try to figure them out, it makes me question things. I enjoyed the book enough, who Blue is and was, what happened, (okay, who Lola was, honestly, too) that I am happy not contemplating every little thing but just enjoying it.

This really is a good, magical, thoughtful tale full of emotion and some unexpected twists.

review copy received from publisher, via NetGalley

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Gena/Finn ~Hannah Moskowitz & Kat Helgeson (earc) review [@hannahmosk @katmankat @ChronicleBooks]

Chronicle Books
May 17, 2016
287 pages
add to Goodreads/buy from Book Depository/or Amazon

The story follows the unlikely friendship of two young women forged via fan fiction and message boards, and is told entirely in texts, chats, and blog posts.

Gena (short for Genevieve) and Finn (short for Stephanie) have little in common. Book-smart Gena is preparing to leave her posh boarding school for college; down-to-earth Finn is a twenty-something struggling to make ends meet in the big city. Gena’s romantic life is a series of reluctant one-night-stands; Finn is making a go of it with long-term boyfriend Charlie. But they share a passion for Up Below, a buddy cop TV show with a cult fan following. Gena is a darling of the fangirl scene, keeping a popular blog and writing fan fiction. Finn’s online life is a secret, even from Charlie. The pair spark an unlikely online friendship that deepens quickly (so quickly it scares them both), and as their individual “real” lives begin to fall apart, they increasingly seek shelter online, and with each other.
I have always liked epistolary novels - you know, the ones that are told entirely through letters written by and/or between characters - so it seems natural that I now really enjoy books told through emails, IMs, blog posts, texts, etc. Even better with Gena/Finn, though, is that it is a fandom-having novel.

I loved that this was a book with fandom, fangirls, fanfic and even a con in it but especially that it felt real.

Obviously that's because it was: from author Hannah Moskowitz's Goodreads review of the book, "Once upon a time I met my best friend through fandom, and we wrote a book about two girls who meet their best friend through fandom."  But it was a more enjoyable read that the little parts like fanfic summaries) were what fanfic summaries are, not what some author who isn't in any fandom imagines them to be or sees while researching.

It really lets you focus on the characters and their friendship, which are great. There was a lot more to both of them - form Genevieve or Gena's ('pronounced like Jenna,' [pg 55] by the way) past and all that she's dealing with as she graduates from boarding school and heads to college to Finn and her attempts at being finished with college, finding a job, living with her boyfriend.

Things became much more stressful and complicated for the two of them than I saw coming but it made for a great read and really showed the extent of their friendship - and its trials. I loved that things got hard, they got messy and confusing but it was real and true and properly hard and messy and confusing. It made for a better read than the lighter one I thought I was getting. (I alos really liked Charlie once we got to see, well hear/read, more from him.)

With what the characters are dealing with (including starting college, starting life after college, Finn's relationship with Charlie, etc) this is more of a New Adult than a Young Adult book but great for both audiences.

received for review, from publisher, vai NetGalley

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

100 Days of Cake ~ Shari Goldhagen (earc) review [@sharigoldhagen @simonteen]

100 Days of Cake
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
May 17, 2016
352 pages
add to Goodreads/buy from Book Depository/or Amazon

Get well soon isn’t going to cut it in this quirky and poignant debut novel about a girl, her depression, an aggressive amount of baked goods, and the struggle to simply stay afloat in an unpredictable, bittersweet life.

There are only three things that can get seventeen-year-old Molly Byrne out of bed these days: her job at FishTopia, the promise of endless episodes of Golden Girls, and some delicious lo mien. You see, for the past two years, Molly’s been struggling with something more than your usual teenage angst. Her shrink, Dr. Brooks isn’t helping much, and neither is her mom who is convinced that baking the perfect cake will cure Molly of her depression—as if cake can magically make her rejoin the swim team, get along with her promiscuous sister, or care about the SATs.

Um, no. Never going to happen.

But Molly plays along, stomaching her mother’s failed culinary experiments, because, whatever—as long as it makes someone happy, right? Besides, as far as Molly’s concerned, hanging out with Alex at the rundown exotic fish store makes life tolerable enough. Even if he does ask her out every…single…day. But—sarcastic drum roll, please—nothing can stay the same forever. When Molly finds out FishTopia is turning into a bleak country diner, her whole life seems to fall apart at once. Soon she has to figure out what—if anything—is worth fighting for.

100 Days of Cake is very much a serious and weighty but also humorous tale. Author Shari Goldhagen gives readers a realistic, honest look at not only Molly's depression - the ups, the downs, the good days, the bad - but also how it's impacting her family.

Molly likes going to work at FishTopia, likes spending her days with Alex, eating lo mein and watching Golden Girls with him (they almost never have customers). She may not know how he actually feels about her or what their relationships is, but it works. More than what hse has with her sister Veronica or her mother (the not-quite-baker) who's making a new cake every day.

I liked that we saw Molly's different emotions and different 'moods' She is depressed and we do see points where that is painfully obvious - to both us and her - but also moments where she seems truly happy. Working at FishTopia, her mother's 100 days of cakes, her super eco-conscious best friend, Elle, and Elle's 'rabid possum' of a younger brother could all be too much, but it's not.

Molly's phrasing helps keep the story lighter and humorous. It was unique, fun and different. Though, at times it felt . . . maybe forced or something trying to be young rather than something that was. Mostly, I really liked it.

There's all of that going on around Molly, there's therapy with Dr B, days at the fist store, Elle and her brother, Molly's damaged relationship with V, her dropping the activities she seemed to love but it all works. In that it doesn't quite work as Molly is depressed.

There is no unnecessary drama here. Sure Elle yells at people about recycling, Molly's mother is trying to fix things with making a new cake every day though she can't bake, her sister is gorgeous and popular and perfect, who knows what she is to Alex - or what she wants to be. Somehow, though, even later when things are wrong or misinterpreted or a combination, it's not drama. It's complciated and real and emotional and confusing.

I liked Molly's character and her journey but also really liked Veronica and their mother. They're more in the background but as tings are more fully understood, their behaviors make perfect sense.

100 Days of Cake is a great read that is sad and anxious but hopeful and sweet, it is perfectly honest and real.

received for review, from publisher, via NetGalley

Monday, May 16, 2016

Summer Days & Summer Nights ~ Stephanie Perkins, et al (earc) review [@naturallysteph @StMartinsPress]

Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories
St. Martin's Griffin
May 17, 2016
400 pages
add to Goodreads/buy from Book Depository/or Amazon

Maybe it's the long, lazy days, or maybe it's the heat making everyone a little bit crazy. Whatever the reason, summer is the perfect time for love to bloom. Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories, written by twelve bestselling young adult writers and edited by the international bestselling author Stephanie Perkins, will have you dreaming of sunset strolls by the lake. So set out your beach chair and grab your sunglasses. You have twelve reasons this summer to soak up the sun and fall in love.

Featuring stories by Leigh Bardugo, Francesca Lia Block, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Brandy Colbert, Tim Federle, Lev Grossman, Nina LaCour, Stephanie Perkins, Veronica Roth, Jon Skovron, and Jennifer E. Smith.

The contents of Summer Days & Summer Nights:

  • "Head, Scales, Tongue, Tail" by Leigh Bardugo (starts at 1%)
  • "The End of Love" by Nina LaCour (at 8%)
  • "Last Stand at the Cinegor" by Libba Bray (at 15%)
  • "Sick Pleasures" by Francesca Lia Block (at 25%)
  • "In Ninety Minutes, Turn North" by Stephanie Perkins (at 29%)
  • "Souvenirs" by Tim Federle (at 38%)
  • "Inertia" by Veronica Roth  (at 46%)
  • "Love is the Last Resort" by Jon Skovron (at 54%)
  • "Good Luck and Farewell" by Brandy Colbert (at 65%)
  • "Brand New Attractions" by Cassandra Clare (at 73%)
  • "A Thousand Ways This Could All Go Wrong"  by Jennifer E Smith (at 81%)
  • "A Map of Tiny Perfect Things" by Lev Grossman (at 90%)

This is the second season themed anthology edited by Stephanie Perkins, with the first being 2014's My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories (review). While I had previously read about the same percentage of the authors (ie all but a few) in this collection as the last, I had a larger number of books by My True Love Gave to Me's authors so this one felt a bit ore unknown.

One of the things I really love about anthologies, though, is the chance to read something new by authors I love but also (maybe even more so) to discover new authors. Summer Days & Summer Nights was fun because I got to do a sort of amalgamation of the two and see how I liked some authors I had only read one other thing by.

What I enjoyed most about this collection of a whole was its diversity. The tales ranged from sweet and realistic to horror-slash-comedy to near future, even the possibly autobiographical. The characters themselves and their relationships were more diverse than I anticipated: from ethnicity, sexual orientation, looks, past, whether they had money or didn't, were troublemakers or the 'good' one, they were unique and different. There were stories that dealt with mental health, with autism, with divorce, with death, and, you know, with demons.

As a whole, I really enjoyed this collection of short stories. Here are my ratings for them individually:

  • "Head, Scales, Tongue, Tail" by Leigh Bardugo 4/5 

  • "The End of Love" by Nina LaCour 4.5/5

  • "Last Stand at the Cinegor" by Libba Bray 4/5

  • "Sick Pleasures" by Francesca Lia Block 3.5/5

  • "In Ninety Minutes, Turn North" by Stephanie Perkins 4.5/5

  • "Souvenirs" by Tim Federle 3.5/5

  • "Inertia" by Veronica Roth 4/5

  • "Love is the Last Resort" by Jon Skovron 4/5

  • "Good Luck and Farewell" by Brandy Colbert 5/5

  • "Brand New Attractions" by Cassandra Clare 2.5/5

  • "A Thousand Ways This Could All Go Wrong"  by Jennifer E Smith 4.5/5

  • "A Map of Tiny Perfect Things" by Lev Grossman 4.5/5

  • The stories by Nina LaCour, Stephanie Perkins, Brandy Colbert, Jennifer E Smith and Lev Grossman were my favorite of the collection. It was a nice surprise that Stephanie Perkins contribution featured characters from her My True Love Gave to Me story. You do not have to have read that story to read this one, they are separate. But reading "It's a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown" can only be a good thing. (And you'll appreciate more what the furniture rearranging/Tetris entailed.)

    Brandy Colbert's story, "Good Luck and Farewell" was my favorite of them all and the only one I really, really wanted to continue and/or to be a full length story. I loved the characters we were introduced to, their backgrounds, the interaction we saw and what began. I really wanted more (though it is absolutely a satisfying, concluded short story).

    Cassandra Clare's tale, "Brand New Attraction," does get the lowest rating from me. I thought the world she imagined was great fun and unique. However, there was not enough characterization and (perhaps as a result) I never felt the 'romance' past. The characters said things but I didn't see or feel it.

    received, for review, from publisher via NetGalley
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