5 stars · history · young adult

The War Outside by Monica Hesse : important historical fiction everyone needs to read

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The War Outside

author : monica hesse

pages : [hardcover] 336

favorite character : haruko

summary :

A novel of conviction, friendship, and betrayal.

It’s 1944, and World War II is raging across Europe and the Pacific. The war seemed far away from Margot in Iowa and Haruko in Colorado–until they were uprooted to dusty Texas, all because of the places their parents once called home: Germany and Japan.

Haruko and Margot meet at the high school in Crystal City, a “family internment camp” for those accused of colluding with the enemy. The teens discover that they are polar opposites in so many ways, except for one that seems to override all the others: the camp is changing them, day by day, and piece by piece. Haruko finds herself consumed by fear for her soldier brother and distrust of her father, who she knows is keeping something from her. And Margot is doing everything she can to keep her family whole as her mother’s health deteriorates and her rational, patriotic father becomes a man who distrusts America and fraternizes with Nazis.

With everything around them falling apart, Margot and Haruko find solace in their growing, secret friendship. But in a prison the government has deemed full of spies, can they trust anyone–even each other?

review :

I received a copy of this book from The Novl in exchange for my honest review.

Ya’ll, I love reading historical fiction, particularly if it’s set in the WWII era. I just think there are so many stories left to tell about that time period and, especially as time goes on, it’s particularly important to ensure everyone is educated on this history. After all, if we don’t learn from it, history is doomed to repeat itself, and the way the world is going today . . . Well, this book is particularly relevant.

The War Outside talks about an era of American history that is usually (purposefully) left untold. During WWII, civilian families from both Japan and Germany were taken to camps and left there throughout the duration of the war. They were regarded with suspicion, and some in the early stages of the war were given the option to go back to the countries they had emigrated from. In these cases, usually the children had been born in America and had little connection to Japan or Germany. The families who remained in America after the war after returned to find . . . nothing. That their homes had been seized or looted, that their belongings had been taken and sold off. If they hadn’t given anything to the neighbors for safekeeping–if those neighbors could be trusted–then these families were left stranded with only what they’d taken with them in the camps.

This book tells the story of two girls in one of the camps. One is German. One is Japanese. But, really, they’re both American. The book is told in a dual point of view so you can understand the full scope of what is happening. The racism. The hatred. The divisions that occur even between groups of people who are all being held in camps against their will. Through it all, Haruko and Margot form an unlikely friendship. As you come to understand why both have been brought there, and the difficult choices their families are made, you really come to care for these girls. But they’re good characters, in that they aren’t perfect. And their flaws make for some interesting pieces of the plot that will leave you wanting more.

The War Outside isn’t a very happy story, but it’s a good one, and it’s an important one. We need to see what it was like for these girls. We need to see where everything went wrong. The relationship between the two is hard and complex, and I think it will help readers to better understand, and empathize with, the situation. Everyone should read this book–everyone needs to know what happened, so it can never happen again.

5/5 stars

 

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5 stars · Fantasy · middle grade

Nightbooks by J.A. White: a magical middle-grade novel

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Nightbooks

author : j.a. white

pages : [hardcover] 304

favorite character : lenore

summary :

Alex has loved scary stories his whole life.

He never imagined he be trapped in one.

When Alex sneaks out in the middle of the night, he becomes imprisoned by the witch Natacha in her magical apartment. Another child in the apartment, Yasmin, assures Alex that she’s already tried every means of escape. Only Natacha holds the bonekeys that lead back to their world, and she’ll never part from them.

But Natacha likes stories. And Alex’s only chance for survival is to keep Natacha satisfied by reading her one of his own hair-raising tales each night. But Alex is running out of time—and original stories—and he’s desperate for a way out of this twisted place.

review :

All of us know the power of a story.

When Alex sneaks out at night to destroy his stories, instead he ends up trapped in a witch’s lair–er, apartment. To keep her from cursing him, or worse, he must tell her a different scary story each night.Nightbooks is like a combination of 1001 Nights and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Alex needs to please the witch with his horror stories long enough to escape, or he’ll be permanently trapped in the witch’s apartment.

This story was so unique and magical and absolutely lovely. It’s a middle-grade book and exactly the sort of story my middle school self would have loved. It was very creepy; there were moments that freaked out present-me as well. I think readers will appreciate having Alex as a main character, too, because so many readers are interested in the creation of stories, even if they aren’t writers themselves. Alex experiences many of the struggles typical writers do, and maybe that only occur to horror writers. Plus there’s the whole cursed-by-a-witch threat hanging over his head, which would be sure to give anyone writer’s block.

The setting and the way magic interacts with it is so cool and vivid that I could picture it all. Honestly, I could see them turning this into a neat children’s movie. The way that the setting itself feels like a character and influences the plot so much is done incredibly well.

The writing is fun, too, and I love that we actually get to read Alex’s stories as he tells them. It’s a testament to J. A. White’s skill that Alex’s stories have a completely different voice and feel to them than the rest of the plot. We know when we’re reading Alex the narrator, and we know when we’re reading Alex the writer.

I think that readers will absolutely adore Nightbooks. It’s a standalone and a very quick, magical, creepy read. It’s completely unique, and middle-grade readers will love getting something new on their shelves.

5/5 stars

 

5 stars · children's books · fairy tale · graphic novel

Rapunzel Comics Collection: BEST. COMICS. EVER!

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Disney Princess Comics Collection: Rapunzel

published by The Walt Disney Company

other Disney princess comics:

belle jasmine ariel 

favorite character : eugene fitzherbert

summary :

Take adventure to new lengths with Rapunzel, Pascal, and all of your favorite Disney Tangled characters. How does Rapunzel manage to dry seventy feet of hair? What happens when she has a staring contest with Pascal? Find out the answers to these hair-larious questions and more in this colorful comics collection sure to delight Disney fans of all ages.

review :

I think it would be nearly impossible for me to dislike a book featuring my favorite Disney movie.

This collection of comics featuring Rapunzel, Pascal, Max, and Eugene, takes place before, during, and after the events of the movie. A lot of the jokes are very punny, which of course I love because I have a very refined sense of humor. Many of them are tied into key moments of the film. Obviously you’ll enjoy this more if you’re familiar with Tangled, but I think even if you don’t remember all of the pieces of the plot you’d still like these cute comics.

One of my favorite things is getting to see how Rapunzel more practically deals with all of that hair, as well as what she does to use up all of that extra time she has while trapped in her tower.

And I have to mention Eugene–aka Flynn Rider. He’s my absolute favorite. His feature in the comics shows off his sense of humor while also poking fun at his enormous ego. It might be cheesy, but I also love how it shows how much he loves Rapunzel. What he’ll do to ensure that she’s happy, to make her smile–it’s just the kind of adorable happily ever after you look for in Disney things.

The artwork is adorable. As always, the style is perfect for something Disney is putting out, and it leaves me wanting more. Every princess needs her own comics collection. I can’t wait to see what they’ll come up with next!

How I feel about this book:

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clearly I’m Rapunzel and the book is Pascal

5/5 stars

 

3 stars · dystopia · young adult

Dry by Neal & Jarrod Shusterman: drink your water, kids

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Dry

authors : neal shusterman & jarrod shusterman

other books by neal shusterman :

unwind scythe challenger deep

pages : [hardcover] 390

memorable quote :

Sometimes you have to be the monster to survive.

summary :

When the California drought escalates to catastrophic proportions, one teen is forced to make life and death decisions for her family in this harrowing story of survival from New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman.

The drought—or the Tap-Out, as everyone calls it—has been going on for a while now. Everyone’s lives have become an endless list of don’ts: don’t water the lawn, don’t fill up your pool, don’t take long showers.

Until the taps run dry.

Suddenly, Alyssa’s quiet suburban street spirals into a warzone of desperation; neighbors and families turned against each other on the hunt for water. And when her parents don’t return and her life—and the life of her brother—is threatened, Alyssa has to make impossible choices if she’s going to survive.

review :

I received an ARC of this book at BookCon in 2018. This in no way influenced my review or opinion.

Dry shows a reality that doesn’t seem so impossible. After terrible droughts and spreading wildfires, the entire water supply to Southern California is shut off without warning. The story is told in multiple points of view, all of them teenagers experiencing this crisis. The plot mostly follows a series of dangerous misadventures that occur because everyone is dumb and keeps forgetting that they need all of this water to survive.

This story is incredibly realistic, because I don’t think any of us are prepared to deal with a sudden crisis that might occur on this sort of scale. It’s scary, with all of the fires that have occurred in California just recently. And it kind of emphasizes how idiotic humanity can be–in saving themselves, in caring for one another, and in looking after the environment.

The problem is, most of the force behind the plot occurs through dramatic misunderstandings or really stupid mistakes. Most of the time when there was a shift in the plot, it was a combination of the two. Which made their quest for water sort of . . . boring. Obviously the overall motivation for the characters is survival, but they’re cookie-cutter stereotypes beyond that. I really didn’t care for most of them, which means I didn’t care if they lived or died. Hypothetically it’s fine if there are a few characters you could do without . . . but in a survival story where you’re supposed to be rooting for the main characters, on the edge of your seat, I felt next to nothing.

The characters aren’t exactly good people. They’re all flawed and as such, pretty realistic, which can be appreciated. But it’s very odd that, even with multiple first person points of view, I feel like I never got to know any of them. Like their personalities were trapped somewhere beyond a gigantic wall (which probably also had all of the water on the other side of it as well).

I did really enjoy the first bit of the book, as well as the last hundred or so pages. Perhaps if there had been more intrigue with the characters, instead of a rather repetitive middle portion, it would have better kept my interest. It took me months to get through this book.

One of my favorite parts, though, was the little snapshots that occur sometimes between different points of view. This lets readers see what’s happening with the outside world, or in other parts of California, or with other minor characters who’ve been referenced in the text. I loved that it gave a better picture of the crisis and more context for the dangers that were out there. Also, they showed what was happening at Disneyland in this end-of-the-world type situation, and I was very excited because I just love Disney so much.

Still, if you’re looking for a survival story, this one is pretty run of the mill. There aren’t any characters here for you to fall in love with. The concept is pretty unique, and interesting, and realistic, but the plot is nothing groundbreaking. I’d say pick up a different one of Shusterman’s books and leave this one on the shelf.

How I felt while reading this book:

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How I felt after reading this book:

tenor

3/5 stars

 

 

1 star · adult · Fantasy

The Magicians by Lev Grossman: this book was gross, man

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The Magicians

author : lev grossman

pages : [paperback] 402

summary :

A thrilling and original coming-of-age novel about a young man practicing magic in the real world

Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A senior in high school, he’s still secretly preoccupied with a series of fantasy novels he read as a child, set in a magical land called Fillory. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the craft of modern sorcery.

He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. Something is missing, though. Magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he dreamed it would. After graduation he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. But the land of Quentin’s fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he could have imagined. His childhood dream becomes a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart.

At once psychologically piercing and magnificently absorbing, The Magicians boldly moves into uncharted literary territory, imagining magic as practiced by real people, with their capricious desires and volatile emotions. Lev Grossman creates an utterly original world in which good and evil aren’t black and white, love and sex aren’t simple or innocent, and power comes at a terrible price.

review :

I really wanted to like The Magicians because there need to be more books written with characters in this age range. Late teens-early twenties is like a second coming-of-age that’s remained untapped because people don’t know whether to lump it in with YA or adult, and New Adult kind of went nonexistent apart from self-pubbed romance. So The Magicians is something of a rarity, with its cast of characters spending the majority of the book in their early twenties.

And I hate them so much.

I’m a character-driven reader. Even if the plot for whatever reason feels unbearable, I could push through something if I liked the main characters enough. The Magicians sort of morphed into the exact opposite, where I literally wanted to knock some sense into every character but found the overall concept/story/setting very interesting. If you want some basic comps, the story is a little bit like Hogwarts, a little bit like Narnia, if both settings were dingier and flipped on their heads.

Quentin drops his old life, immediately distances himself from and looks down on his old friends as well as his family, and begins attending a magical school. It’s very small and elite. The magic system in this book is very different and I liked that; it sort of takes the ‘wow’ factor out of magic and turns it into complicated hand signs and mathematical formulas. So it isn’t the sort of magic system a lot of people would imagine themselves into, because it’s a hell of a lot of work.

Quentin’s school is different from Hogwarts because it’s “gritty”. I don’t think there’s any better way to describe it. Certain things and tests seem to happen only to distance this book from the “lighter” magical school fantasies that are out there. I’m not really intrigued by the idea of “darker” things just for the purpose of . . . I don’t know, trying to be shocking?

But all of that could, I guess, be forgiven, because at least it’s something different and new. Then enters Quentin’s toxic masculinity.

He’s never very likable even in the beginning of the book. But it’s like his character arc is designed to only expand his ego and as his confidence grows, so too does his propensity toward being an asshole, and then entirely problematic. I can’t go into the details without being spoiler-y (but if you’d like to know, ask me, because I don’t recommend you read this book, anyway). He’s literally the kind of guy that every woman hates and, also, fears, because it’s very likely that once he gets angry he’ll turn abusive, or murderous. There’s literally a line where he thinks about murdering the girl he’s supposed to be in love with.

And, you know, if all of this was portrayed in a negative way–if Quentin is a horrible person and we’re supposed to see him as such, I think that would be fine. Not all characters need to be actually good people. But we’re meant to like him. We’re supposed to root for him. Even if he’s horrible, and selfish, and cruel, even if he makes stupid mistakes and decisions and blames everyone but himself for the consequences.

The ending is just . . . it’s so ridiculous that it made me want to laugh. It’s idiotic. And it literally erases any remaining chance that Quentin will actually experience some character growth and become a decent person.

And there are two more of these books.

I don’t recommend picking this up. I can’t even say if watching the TV show would be any better.

1/5 stars

 

3 stars · books to movies · young adult

Books to movies review: Dumplin’ (except I didn’t read the book)

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Well, for the sake of full disclosure, I read about 50 pages of Dumplin’. Then the ereader app I was using logged me out and I lost my password so I hadn’t found myself another way to read the rest of the book before I got to watching the newest Netflix film . . .

DUMPLIN‘.

I was very excited.

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If you haven’t heard, Dumplin‘ is about a plus-sized girl who enters a beauty pageant (run by her mother) to prove that girls of all sizes should be included in what is culturally considered beautiful. There’s also so much Dolly Parton music and I just love Dolly Parton so much so this is wonderful okay.

The movie has great, important themes, about body confidence and plus-sized representation, about loving yourself and about recognizing that every type of person is deserving of love.

I want to talk about the few sour notes first. (None of which involve Dolly Parton’s music, which is pitch perfect and will never be criticized on this blog.)

Willowdean, “Will”, “Dumplin'”, our main character, really dislikes herself. Almost all of her character revolves not just around her appearance but her own perception of her appearance. She sometimes makes the wrong assumptions about what others think about her, which leads to her doing some not very kind things. For which there are no repercussions.

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My question was, if everyone else in the film is made to consider their past actions and change their view, and if Willowdean has some soul-searching to do as well, there should have been at least more of an apology from her. Because it seems like through her character arc she comes to improve herself, but not necessarily apologize for the mistakes she’s made along the way.

There were a few clunky pieces of the script, that I think comes from adapting something from a novel. Not having read the book, there were times when characters would appear or lines of dialogue would come up, and I’d think to myself that it sounds like that should be something significant. Something I should care about. Except they haven’t taken the time in the context of the movie to develop it properly so I have no idea where these things are coming from.

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Overall though, it’s a very fun movie, and I think that I’ll end up watching it again. The tone of it is a fun, bright comedy, the sort you always want to put on in the summer after a long day out in the sun. Some of the jokes made me laugh out loud. Millie is possibly the best character I’ve seen in a while. I love her so much and she’s so strong and nice and no one is ever allowed to hurt her.

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It’s also a beautiful movie visually. I love the costume choices and the lighting used throughout just helps to emphasize the cheery, teen romcom-y atmosphere. I have no idea what the budget was for this movie, but it seems to be proof that you don’t need big sets to make scenes that really land.

Also, I just have to say that I love watching movies that discuss mother/daughter relationships. The whole typical embarrassing mom, as they try to come to understand each other. Sure, not everyone’s mom is Jennifer Aniston (I was very surprised to see her cast in this movie and very pleased with how she played her role). Dumplin’ does what many teen movies don’t: it makes parents into actual characters, not just cardboard stereotypes that never seem to care where their children are at all hours of the night. Willowdean and her mother have their differences. At times, Will is so incredibly mean to her mother, and her mother doesn’t seem to understand anything Will is going through. But I loved that their relationship had such an emphasis in the plot.

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Overall, I say give this a watch. It’s not long nor is it complicated. It’s fun, funny, and leaves you with a good feeling and Dolly Parton’s music ringing in your head. Actually, I think I’m going to have to go and check out that soundtrack . . .

3.5/5 stars

 

 

 

 

2 stars · middle grade · paranormal

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab: a little bland paranormal

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City of Ghosts

author : victoria schwab

pages : [hardcover] 272

memorable quote :

Embrace your strange, dear daughter. Where’s the fun in being normal?

favorite character : cass

summary :

Cassidy Blake’s parents are The Inspectres, a (somewhat inept) ghost-hunting team. But Cass herself can REALLY see ghosts. In fact, her best friend, Jacob, just happens to be one.

When The Inspectres head to ultra-haunted Edinburgh, Scotland, for their new TV show, Cass—and Jacob—come along. In Scotland, Cass is surrounded by ghosts, not all of them friendly. Then she meets Lara, a girl who can also see the dead. But Lara tells Cassidy that as an In-betweener, their job is to send ghosts permanently beyond the Veil. Cass isn’t sure about her new mission, but she does know the sinister Red Raven haunting the city doesn’t belong in her world. Cassidy’s powers will draw her into an epic fight that stretches through the worlds of the living and the dead, in order to save herself.

review :

I listened to the audiobook version and while I’ve slowly been determining that audiobooks may not be for me, my review will focus on the content of the book. Not the delivery. However much I may want to rant about it.

City of Ghosts is a paranormal story, if you couldn’t guess from the name, with a pretty unique premise and setup. Cass moves with her family to Scotland, where they’re filming a paranormal TV show. Although her parents are obsessed with the supernatural and she’s told them about the ghost that follows her, for whatever reason they decided not to believe her (?????! why). Jacob gives her cryptic warnings and is obsessed with comic books. He’s her best friend, and he’s dead.

But it was hard to connect with Jacob, in the narrative. I didn’t really find myself wondering about his past or how he’d died. All of the ghosts in this story seem to have that aspect in common. They’re pale stereotypes of what they might have once been, with little by way of personality. They aren’t particularly funny, not very ominous. They only exist. Which is not great, for a paranormal book.

However, Cass is a fantastic main character, which makes me think this series could be something great. Middlegrade readers will absolutely love her. With her dry sense of humor and her impeccable loyalty, her anxieties and her adventurous spirit, she’s the perfect lead.

Which is why I’m left thinking something that I don’t know I’ve ever considered with another book: maybe the sequel will be better. Maybe, with a new paranormal portion of the plot, new obstacles for Cass to face, the pieces of this series will come together even brighter.

2/5 stars