Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau

Summary from Goodreads:
Now that high school is over, Ari is dying to move to the big city with his ultra-hip band―if he can just persuade his dad to let him quit his job at their struggling family bakery. Though he loved working there as a kid, Ari cannot fathom a life wasting away over rising dough and hot ovens. But while interviewing candidates for his replacement, Ari meets Hector, an easygoing guy who loves baking as much as Ari wants to escape it. As they become closer over batches of bread, love is ready to bloom . . . that is, if Ari doesn’t ruin everything.

Writer Kevin Panetta and artist Savanna Ganucheau concoct a delicious recipe of intricately illustrated baking scenes and blushing young love, in which the choices we make can have terrible consequences, but the people who love us can help us grow.
I received this book for review, and I have so, so, so many books I’m behind on, and I wasn’t anticipating reading this so quickly, but there was just something unbelievably cute about the cover. This book ended up budging about 10 other books in my TBR pile.
The art is just so adorable. It’s like the facial expressions and background shots of a remarkably good, old school manga series (but in various shades of blue instead of black and white). And the panels were so clear-cut, they were like the bold, clear panels from a young reader’s graphic novel (like Babymouse). The art definitely seemed Japanese inspired. And, it was simple and would definitely be easy to read for someone not used to graphic novel formatting.
I did not love the plot as much as I loved the artwork. And by plot, I guess I really mean,  the main character. Ari was just so whiny, angsty, and kind of a giant jerk. He’s like Harry Potter in book 5 mixed with Clay from Thirteen Reasons Why, mixed with most main characters from John Green novels, level angsty. And I never really understand why. At least Harry had chosen one stuff to go through and most of John Green’s characters were going through something that was explained. Ari’s actions never really seem justified. He liked to play music…and? There was no development to his angst.
Also, his friends are jerks too. Why is he friends with people who constantly ditch him, make fun of him, and make fun of strangers? Like, I don’t think there was one redeeming quality in any of his friends. I did love Hector. He was so kind, and charming. And I loved the kind of love story he inspired. I just felt like Hector deserved so much better…I would not have forgiven Ari for all the stuff he did wrong. Hector was beyond kind. So were Ari’s parents.
All in all, the art was amazing. Hector was amazing. All the baking scenes were amazing. The main character was terrible. I never liked him. I certainly never liked his friends. And I don’t think he deserves all the happiness at the end (with almost no consequences for any of his bad behaviors). I give this a 7/10.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

Summary from Goodreads:
Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.

On the Come Up is Angie Thomas’s homage to hip-hop, the art that sparked her passion for storytelling and continues to inspire her to this day. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; of the struggle to become who you are and not who everyone expects you to be; and of the desperate realities of poor and working-class black families.
I really enjoyed Thomas’ writing style again. There so much about hip hop culture that I know nothing about. And Angie Thomas does a remarkable job writing this both in an easy-flow type of style for people who are familiar with hip hop, and in a style that educates, without preaching to those not familiar. In other words, this book can work for hip hop lovers, novices, and possibly even hip hop haters.
This book was really good. It wasn’t quite as powerful to me, as The Hate You Give, but still unbelievably important. It tackled the topic of racism in a very different way from the first book. There was a lot less violence and suspense. And there was a lot more typical YA music tropes about making it big. However, I still found it remarkably compelling, interesting, and relevant for today’s times.
I did not love Bri as much as I loved Starr. And maybe that’s more my problem than the book’s or the author’s. I just kept comparing the two main characters. There were so many times when I wanted to shake some sense into Bri, when I wanted her to make other decisions than the ones she made. Though, I love how much she learned over the course of the novel.
I loved Bri’s family, particularly her mother. She was a character who deserved so much more than what she was given. And I loved her brother and grandparents too. Everyone was giving up so much of themselves to help someone else. Family is everything, in this book.
I also loved the hip hop element. I loved watching Bri’s brain work rhymes together. She had some amazing skills, and was so talented and creative. I would not be able to think on the spot like her, or stand up to crowds like her. I love the idea of a teen girl taking the hip hop scene by storm. And I definitely love all the moments she sticks up for herself and who she is. She just takes a little while in figuring that part out.
All in all, this book accomplishes what all YA books should accomplish. It makes you think. It has you questioning society and the way things have always been done. And it has you feeling so strongly about all of the injustices of the world. It’s also loaded with fantastic characters, great music, first love, and plenty of insight into what it means to grow up in a country that is so divided, and filled with so much hate.  It wasn’t as suspenseful or bluntly powerful as The Hate You Give, but it’s arguably even more important. I give it a 9/10.

Monday, February 18, 2019

A Good Week in Books (199)

I had another nice book week. I finished one highly anticipated contemporary and one unique graphic novel. I also received 4 new books for review (Thank you, Macmillan).
The new books:

Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks
Awake in the World by Jason Gurley
A Soldier and a Liar by Caitlin Lochner
Mist of Metals and Ash by Gwendolyn Clare

How was your week in books?

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares by Krystal Sutherland

Summary from Goodreads:
Ever since Esther Solar’s grandfather met Death, her entire family has been doomed to suffer one great fear in their lifetime—a fear that will eventually lead each and every one of them to their graves. Take Esther’s father, for instance: He’s an agoraphobe who hasn’t left the basement in six years. Then there’s her twin brother, Eugene, whose fear of the dark goes far beyond the things that go bump in the night. And her mother, Rosemary, is absolutely terrified of bad luck.

As for Esther, she’s managed to escape the curse…so far. She doesn’t yet have a great fear because she avoids pretty much everything. Elevators, small spaces, crowds—anything that might trigger a phobia is off-limits and is meticulously recorded in her semi-definitive list of worst nightmares.

Esther thinks she has it all figured out, until she’s reunited with an old elementary school classmate—and first crush—Jonah Smallwood. The encounter leaves her stranded at a bus stop and swindled out of her phone, all her cash, a Fruit Roll-Up she’d been saving, and her list—not to mention her dignity. But the theft is also the beginning of an unexpected friendship between the two, one that sends the pair on a journey of self-discovery as they try to break the curse that’s consumed Esther’s family. Together they face their greatest fears, one debilitating phobia at a time, only to discover the one fear they hadn’t counted on: love.
I kept hoping to love this book. It has so many elements of things that I always tend to enjoy: magical realism, family curses, twins, mental illness, quirky/bantering love interests, and believable use of modern day technology (something a lot of YA is surprisingly lacking). Oh, and the cover is so cute too!
However, I never quite felt like I got this book. And there were several indecisive moments for me, when I almost ended up giving up entirely. I wish I could say this was a book I’m glad I did not give up on…but, it’s just kind of meh for me.
Overall, I guess, it was just trying to be too many things. It started off super quirky with funny family members all experiencing their own variations of the family curse that was meant to leave everyone suffering to the fate of their worst fear (which will eventually kill them). I loved the concept of Esther’s list of fears. And I loved how Jonah encouraged Ester to be brave and face her fears. I loved that they filmed it all. I even loved the results (that I won’t spoil) of him filming it all.
But, about half way through the book, it all takes an incredibly dark turn. The characters aren’t just flawed and quirky; they are seriously awful. The mom has a gambling addiction and is never there. The father is an agoraphobic who won’t leave the basement. And Esther is kind of mad at her mom for not leaving him. Then there’s her twin who is deathly afraid of the dark, inside and out (and monumentally depressed). Jonah comes from an abusive home life. And all of a sudden, all the happiness is just gone from the world. It was hard to read. Reading about Ester facing her small fears each weekend became less fun and more depressing, and the further I read, the less likely a happy ending seemed possible.
This book was so depressing. It went from cutesy to upsetting in like 2 seconds. And it was hard to wrap my brain around the shift. And then, when I finally kind of got used to the depression, the possible magical realism returns…I kind of wanted the book to stick with a theme and not go back and forth between what it was attempting to accomplish. I almost put it down for good, multiple times. Though, I guess I’m glad I did make it to the end for some kind of resolution, however brief.
I was hoping for something cuter/happier. When I accepted it’s dark, depressing storyline, the author tried to bring back the cute, but it just did not work any more. I couldn’t un-learn the bad. I loved the concept, but I was not a fan of the execution. The flawed characters were interesting too. I didn’t hate this book. I just didn’t love it, and I really wanted to. I give it a 7/10.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Cast no Shadow by Nick Tapalansky and Anissa Espinosa

Summary from Goodreads:
Greg has lived in Lancaster his whole life. The town's always had its quirks, and being born without a shadow means he's counted among them. When Greg discovers an old mansion in the woods just outside of town, he didn't expect to meet a smart, beautiful, funny, and...very dead teenaged girl named Eleanor.

Yeah. He's in love with a ghost.

And before he knows what's happening, Greg finds himself at the wrong end of a history lesson when the town's past, and his own, threaten to pull the two of them apart permanently!

From acclaimed comics writer Nick Tapalansky and phenomenal newcomer artist Anissa Espinosa, Cast No Shadow is a teen romance with humor and heart.
What pulled me into reading this book was the super adorable illustration on the back of it. There’s a picture of a teen boy kissing a girl (who looks like Disney Alice from Alice in Wonderland), with lots of little spirit creatures floating in the background (who look like they came from My Neighbor Totoro). The illustrations appealed to me. And I can’t lie; the illustrations remained cute through the book, though at times a bit juvenile.
I guess that adjective of “juvenile” can be easily applied to the whole thing. The book was marketed as a teen romance, and it definitely reads more like a children’s/middle grade book with a tiny little side element of romance. It’s more about the main character not having a shadow, and learning to live with his father’s new girlfriend. These things were interesting, but I was promised a romance…so I was a little disappointed.
Eventually readers learn that Greg does have a shadow. It just lives separately from him, and follows no moral code. It kind of does whatever it wants, or whatever Greg wants (but knows better than to do). I found this whole concept to be interesting and unique. But, the story never delves too deeply into Greg’s subconscious, and instead focuses on the standard young boy frustrations (jealousy, friendship fights, and family squabbles). I was kind of hoping the whole shadow thing would go a little bit deeper or tat Greg would be more interesting, with more interesting problems.
This was not a deep book. It was rather fluffy and juvenile. I’m not sure if this would have bothered me as much, if this was how it were marketed. All in all, the illustrations were great, but the story was a lacking depth and good characters. I give this a 7/10.

Monday, February 11, 2019

A Good Week in Books (198)

I’ve had an okay book week. I finished an okay contemporary book, and a decent graphic novel. I’m half way through another contemporary book. I received four new books for review (Thank you, Macmillan).
The new pretties:

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau
Death Prefers Blondes by Caleb Roehrig
Ransacker by Emily Laybourne
How was your week in books?