Mini-Review: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

A bored young boy finds a way to travel to a mysterious land which teaches him the importance of words and numbers and most everything else in life.

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Rating:  ★★★★★ – loved it

Pros:  puns, word play, beautiful descriptive language, hilarious, clever
Cons:  literally none

This book is absolutely timeless (despite Tock the Watchdog) and everyone regardless of age should read it at least once.

It’s punny and clever, and trusts the reader’s intelligence. It’s even fun to read aloud, so if you have kids read it with them.

Seriously. Just read this book. You’ll be glad you did.

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Review: Undiscovered Gyrl by Allison Burnett

A compulsively-promiscuous, troubled teen blogs about her interpersonal relationships throughout the year off between high school and university.

*** Trigger Warnings:  Child Sex Abuse, Rape, Domestic Abuse ***

Rating:  ★☆☆☆☆ – did not like it
Genre:  young adult fiction, ya contemporary
Pros:  none
Cons:  racism, annoying main character

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If you enjoy reading books about characters who are racist, ignorant, self-centered, and downright annoying, then you will love this book. If you prefer to actually like the characters you read about, don’t even bother with this one.

For those who have seen the film, whether you liked it or not, this is one of those rare times where the book is worse than its film adaptation. When making the film they cut out about 90% of Katie’s racism and internalized misogyny, which greatly improved her personality. The character in the film tends to come across more naive and damaged than anything else, but this is not the case in the novel.

Even the very brief mystery at the end wasn’t interesting enough to save this book, in my opinion.

Another thing that explains some of the problems I had with this book about a young girl and her issues: it was written by a man and it shows.

Honestly, there are so many other, better books out there about teen girls with issues, read those, don’t waste your time on this one.

 

Mini Review: Life and Death by Stephenie Meyer

31706920So Meyer set out to make a gender-swap Twilight to disprove the allegations of sexism, but all she managed to do was emphasis the sexism and add some new different sexism. So that was… unenjoyable.

This book was actually really boring, so on that front the original is better; although, I still haven’t managed to put my finger on what it is that makes it so much more boring. It was actually hard to read though; I couldn’t keep my attention on it.

I will say, the ending is much better. Maybe just because it, you know, ends. Instead of dragging on for three more cringe-inducing novels. But I remember thinking all of that crap was so unnecessary when I read the original saga, so it’s nice to see the fat trimmed and the story summed up in a more efficient manner. Besides, Vampire!Bella was the only vaguely tolerable Bella. Vampire!Beau is still pretty boring, but at least it was done instead of three-and-a-half novels of “will they or won’t they” to read.

All in all, a pretty superfluous addition to an already not-good series, but not quite as bad as it could have been.

Mini-Review: The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale (Full Cast Audio version)

This was at least my 5th time reading The Goose Girl, so we all know I love it, but I wanted to say something specifically about the Full Cast Audio version which I listened to this most recent time:

The experience of a full-cast audiobook was new to me, and I did enjoy it for the most part. However, I have to say that it was difficult some of the time because it seemed like they didn’t bother to check how to pronounce words. I don’t just mean the fantasy names which we all so often don’t know how to pronounce without a guide, but normal words were sometimes mispronounced. And the inflections of the readers were often stilted and didn’t communicate the meaning well. Those two things more than even the sometimes silly sounding voices used for the villains, were what pulled me out of the story and made it less enjoyable. If I had never read the book before and only listened to the Full Cast Audio version of the audiobook, I’m not sure I would have liked the book at all.

All told, I recommend trying a full-cast audiobook for sure, just not this one, and I recommend the novel of The Goose Girl to everyone, but especially fans of Fairytale Retellings and YA Fantasy.

Mini-Review: Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer

A rewriting of Twilight, this time from the point of view of Bella’s romantic interest, vampire Edward Cullen.

Rating:  ★☆☆☆☆ – did not like it
Genre:  young adult fiction, young adult fantasy, paranormal fantasy, romance
Pros:  it was only a partial novel
Cons:  Edward

*** Note:  This is only a partial novel, as Meyer decided to shelve the project for various reasons. ***

While rereading Twilight I became fascinated by trying to figure out what Edward was thinking as he struggled to figure out what Bella was thinking. It was an excellent way to escape thinking about how bad that book was. Unfortunately that led to me reading this partial book and learning that actually what Edward was thinking in any given situation was how he was better than every single other person, but also damned for eternity, and also humans are stupid.

I hate to sound harsh, but I am so very glad this novel will never be completed and published, because Edward is a fucking douche. I mean I shouldn’t have been shocked, I knew he was a controlling dick in Bella’s POV (not that she noticed), but I didn’t realise the full extent of his garbaggio until now.

Mini-Review: The Third Eye by Lois Duncan

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Rating: ★★★☆☆ – liked it

Another solid 3-star novel from Lois Duncan. As is often the case in Duncan’s novels, there are some parts that are done perfectly and others that feel a little rushed, but in the end it’s a quick, easy read of decent quality.

Content Warning:  Animal Death & Child Death – There are some mentions of a dead girl (not vivid) and the protag has a nightmare about some missing infants being dead (not vivid). The cop shoots a dog that tries to attack him. You don’t see the dog die, but you see it’s body after and it is described in detail (~2 sentences).

Review: Gallows Hill by Lois Duncan

What started as a harmless fortune-telling gimmick leads to new-in-town Sarah being labeled a witch by her religious, conservative schoolmates. And now she’s dreaming of the Salem Witch Trials. Something sinister is brewing in Pine Crest!

Rating:  ★★★☆☆ – liked it
Genre:  young adult fiction, ya horror, ya thriller, ya paranormal mystery
Pros:  fairly realistic characters, interesting premise, easy read
Cons:  slightly rushed in some parts

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I think this book is best described as “thriller-lite”. It would be a decent starter book for people wanting to try out the Thriller or Paranormal Mystery genres with something that won’t be too scary or confusing.

Some of the paranormal explanations felt a bit rushed and info dump-y; aside from that it wasn’t a bad story. I wouldn’t say it’s Duncan’s best novel, but it’s a decent easy read.

As fantastical as some of this book was, the part that stood out to me was the realistic portrayal of the insular, religious small town full of conservative bigots. At first glance, these characters might seem over-the-top, but I could almost mistake some of them for actual people I knew from my childhood.

I didn’t enjoy the use of the g*psy slur or the negative stereotypes about Romani people that were voiced by one of the characters. It’s actually a part of characterization not some preachy narration, so it wasn’t too bad, but if that is a thing which upsets you, skip this one.

Goodreads | Book Depository | Author’s Website

Mini-Review: Live Through This by Mindi Scott

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Rating:  ★★★★☆ – really liked it

Trigger Warning:  Sexual Abuse

I won’t call this an easy read by any means, but it was so good I read through it all in one sitting, unable to put it down. I really like the way Mindi Scott chose to represent the story. Coley doesn’t act how most people might expect someone in her situation to act, but that’s why it’s so important that this book is out there: because there is no “way to act” in this situation and people in Coley’s place are still victims. The subject matter is sensitive, but I definitely recommend this book to everyone, whether they are YA fans or not.

I will say, don’t go into this expecting an uplifting narrative about a girl getting help and healing from her abuse, because this book isn’t about that part of Coley’s story. Spoiler: [start] In fact, Scott ends the book right as Coley is about to tell her mom what’s been happening, so we have no idea what happens after that. [end]

Goodreads | Book Depository | Author’s Website

 

Review: Jackaroo by Cynthia Voigt

Note:  This book has also been published under the name The Tale of Gwyn.

Everyone grows up with tales of Jackaroo, who rides on behalf of the people in times of greatest need, but everyone knows they’re just stories… As the innkeeper’s daughter, Gwyn is certain of her place in the world, but being stranded during a blizzard leads to a startling discovery and Gwyn begins to see the Kingdom in a new way. When Jackaroo rides out of legends to aid the people, he will change Gwyn’s life forever.

Rating:  ★★★★★ – it was amazing
Genre:  young adult fiction, young adult fantasy, non-magical fantasy
Pros:  well written, good character development, beautiful descriptive language
Cons:  needs POC

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Jackaroo is the first in the loosely-connected Tales of the Kingdom series. Because they are “loosely-connected” all of the Kingdom novels can be read as stand-alone books, though I’m not sure why you’d want to skip any of them. I like that this is the first book in the series though, because it’s a little lighter than the next three and therefore an easier read and the perfect introduction to the world of the Kingdom.

This book is simultaneously a fantasy adventure about a Robin Hood-esque highwayman who shows up in times of need to serve the people, and a coming-of-age story about a young girl discovering her place in the world.

As with a lot of Cynthia Voigt’s characters I really love the way Gwyn thinks about things. She’s a somewhat steady girl, hard-working and strong. In the beginning she has a tendency to be a bit scornful of those around her, but she grows into a more understanding and insightful person as the story goes on, which is just one example of the satisfying character development to be found in Jackaroo.

Voigt’s world-building is subtle and immersive in a way one rarely finds in a fantasy novel. She lays out the Kingdom at the perfect pace, so that one never has too much information to keep track of, and always enough to understand what is going on in the story. Between that and her excellent use of descriptive language, the reader is swept up into the story and world with ease.

My only complaint about these books is the lack of POC. The closest it comes is having one character mentioned with “olive skin”, which is…disappointing. It’s not super surprising that a white author doesn’t think to put people of color in their story, especially in 1985 when this story was first published, but I can still wish it was different. It’s really the only thing I can think of that would improve this beautiful story.

I recommend this book, and it’s sequels, to literally everyone — but most especially to people who like fantasy, ya fiction, and coming-of-age novels, or anyone who is trying to read more backlist books.

Goodreads | Book Depository | Author’s Website

Mini-Review: Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

Rating:  ★★☆☆☆ – it was okay
Genre:  autobiography, celebrity autobiography, memoir, celebrity memoir
Pros:  conversational, unpretentious, sometimes funny
Cons:  sometimes boring, sometimes aimless

30253864It could have been a more enjoyable read, but somewhere around the halfway mark it just got rambling and aimless and…. I hate to say boring, but I was bored. I found myself almost skipping chunks and having to force myself back to read it completely. I’m someone who loves an autobiography, so I’ve got no problem reading little details about people’s lives and thoughts, but this just stopped holding my attention. I think if there had been a little more guiding or coaxing from the publisher to make sure there was interesting material throughout (or perhaps a shorter book), it would have been 3 stars.