Young Adult/Middle Grade books I read in August 2018 – Reading Wrap up

This was kind of a weird reading month for me for young adult/middle grade. It turned out to be a pretty mixed bag, though I have at least one new favorite in this pile.

  • The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente 
    • Rating: 3.75/5
    • Thoughts: This my third foray into Valente’s work this year and I’ve got… mixed feelings about her writing in general. On one hand, I’ve found her ideas and prose to be absolutely top notch. She just has a enticing dream like way of telling stories and I can’t get enough of them. On the other, I’ve consistently found her overall character and story construction pretty lackluster. It’s why I think I enjoyed Six-Gun Snow White and felt pretty ambivalent about Radiance – Her work just hasn’t worked for me for long fiction because I’ve just found there’s not enough to keep me going. I can only be enchanted by flowery prose for so long before I’m a bit miffed.
    • Thankfully, this book falls in with Six-Gun Snow White. It was, for the most part, a delight.  I think the construction of the novel and characters was a lot easier to forgive due to this books length and target demographic. It’s just a super fun kids book that has some fun nonsensicality to the whole thing. It reminds me of the best parts of the Phantom Tollbooth and The Wizard of Oz
    • This book also has some really just. Absolutely great moments and twists, more so than the other two absurdist classic childrens novels mentioned above. There are also a couple parts near the end where it just really really got to me. Valente really just has an absolute gift with prose.
    • A great read for kids, and a pretty fun read for adults. Give it a try if you’re nostalgic for stuff like Alice in Wonderland, or if you want to give send some recommendations to the younger people in your life.

  • Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis
    • Rating: 3.5/5
    • Thoughts: Not gonna lie, this was a total cover buy for me. Picked this up in a Bookoutlet order earlier this year because I found the cover is super striking. The synopsis was kind of cool as well – the history of Black Women in the army during WWII is not a subject I’m super familiar with at all, and I’m a sucker for some good  historical YA. And this was pretty decent all things considered! I absolutely loved Mare – She was a joy to read about and root for in both the present and past selves. The general structure of this book, flipping between the two really worked for me as well.
    • The writing, however, left a lot to be desired. It was serviceable for the story, but it really didn’t pop in any ways. That in itself is a pretty small blemish on my part. I can forgive a lot of just passable writing if the story is good.
    • Unfortunately though, I ended up feeling a bit kind of disappointed with how the story filled out its bones. The other main character’s, Mare’s grandchildren, were only mildly interesting, a few story threads just didn’t resolve super well, and I just found myself wanting a lot more from the book. It could of easily fit in another 50-100 pages and I can’t say I would have been mad at all. The pickings were just pretty dang slim, which really stunk.
    • All in all, I can see a younger audience enjoying this a lot more than I did, but probably coming out with the same “it’s good, but not great” feeling I ended up with. I’d give this a look if it you’re really curious about historical WWII YA, but I wouldn’t recommend this to people who don’t care for the genre.
  • The Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran Wilde
    • Rating: 3/5
    • Thoughts: I read Wilde’s Updraft this year and was really pleasantly surprised by it. I’d had this sitting on my shelf as well and ended up picking up this novelette for a quick read before my vacation, And it was… okay? Wilde still excels with her prose – the writing in this is pretty damn good. But unfortunately the whole thing really suffered from being so short. It felt like Wilde was trying to crunch in an epic story on loss and possible redemption in less than a 100 pages which just did not work. I liked the bones of the story, but there was not nearly enough meat to chew on. Even if it did have clear beginnings and ends, it felt like a story that just needed WAY more in order to work.
    • I also felt a little weird about the two main characters. I think? Wilde was trying to say something about their relationship being romantic, but it was so minor that I ended up feeling like I had been delusional instead (which y’know, is fun when it’s between two female characters and you’re constantly on the lookout for representation.) I might be being sensitive about this one, but I know a lot of other readers are like me, so be warned.
    • It’s a pretty harmless quick read, but I wouldn’t seek it out. Maybe if you’ve got to pad out some page numbers or something.
  • Toothiana: Queen of the Tooth Fairy Armies by William Joyce
    • Rating: 3.75/5
    • Thoughts: This is SO much better than the second book in the series I can tell you that! While this book falls a little short of the heights of the first book, it’s a way more compelling read. Toothiana is about ten times as cool as Bunnymund and the illustrations of her are just on a whole nother level. I also think this book works a ton better in having a central message and theme as well as building up events and characters for the general series than the second book did.
    • Not much to say since it’s a third book. I really enjoy the Guardians series as a some light reads in between some of the heavier stuff I pick up. It’s cute and fun reading, and I can definitely imagine a lot of kids really loving everything about these. Sadly, this is the last of the guardian books I own – I think there’s only two more in the series and I’m hoping to pick them up soon!
    • Also I really need to rewatch the movie I still absolutely love the movie I’m dying on this hill.
  • The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore by Kim Fu
    • Rating: 3/5
    • Content Warning: Graphic depictions of death, eating disorders, emotional abuse. A lot of the time it’s not super explicit, but I still gotta say it’s a rough one folks.
    • Thoughts: A lot of the goodreads reviews for this book are super mixed. Picked it up anyways because well… I don’t care, and well… I see why a lot of people don’t like this book. I do have to say the writing in this book is divine. Fu works prose like a master – she’s really good at taking some of the most mundane things and packing them with a litany of emotions.
    • The contents of this book though…. It just doesn’t work super well. Honestly, the premise of the girls at this camp is lost pretty damn quickly and almost feels irrelevant about halfway through the book. I found myself wondering why the hell was it there in the first place – the camp incident really only informed maybe one and a half of the characters going forward in the story, and for the rest it felt like a meaningless narrative device.
    • I do think there were some stories worked. (Though I did feel like most of them slogged a bit by the end). It just didn’t work as a novel. I’d kinda wished Fu had just made this a short story collection that has characters that are tied together like an Unrestored Woman. Instead, the shaky narrative thread ended up being really distracting.
    • I don’t think this is a bad book. I think if you’re going to pick it up, pick it up more as a collection of stories with a little bit of dressing tying them together. Don’t… expect any fun mysteries like the premise kind of promises. It’s an interesting character study, but not really anything more than that.
  • Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
    • Rating: 4.5/5
    • Content Warning for: Discussions of Slavery, Racism (it’s heavy on the racist slurs folks. This is a Civil War Era novel with tons of black characters so just. expect there to be a lot.), Graphic depictions of violence, Murder, and Body Horror (it’s a zombie book so just per the norm).
    • Thoughts: YOOOOO this book was so good why the fuck has like no one in the big YA communities said anything about this book yet? This is some phenomenal alternate history stuff. Ireland’s got a really good grasp of playing with history and genre to make some just damn good stuff that’s both entertaining and hard hitting. Admittedly I’m about the perfect audience for this since I really enjoyed the Clockwork Century series, but I think Dread Nation takes the premise of Civil War Zombies and turns it to the eleventh degree in quality. One of my biggest issues with Clockwork Century is it feels wayyyy whiter than I really care for (it also does something in the fifth book that made me want to SCREAM it was so White Lady), which is DEFINITELY not the case in Dread Nation. And while clockwork Century is way more isolated in its experimentation, Dread Nation is a lot more ambitious in its scope and its message, which I think work a lot to its advantage.
    • Honestly one of the biggest things that Dread Nation has going for it is its main cast. I absolutely LOVE both Jane and Kate so much by the end of this book, and I absolutely loved learning about them, watching them grow and interact. ESPECIALLY KATE I absolutely love her and was willing to go to blows for the shit that she had to put up with. I do have to say, a lot of the other supporting cast is definitely not as compelling, but most are still interesting. Also you will straight up hate the villains, no fucking DOUBT. I’m saying this as a good thing – they’re not meant to be likeable in the SLIGHTEST, but also don’t come of cartoonish. (imagine hating really fucking racist white people tho. Wow amazing can’t imagine relating to that /s)
    • Biggest criticism I have is the pacing – I think the ending ended up feeling SUPER rushed which was a shame. The book had done a great job in the first 80 or so percent of being both thrilling and page turning and giving time for suspense and build up, but I felt like Ireland had like a page limit she wanted to keep to and needed to wrap stuff. There were a couple plot threads I was hoping would linger on to get resolved in the second book, which ended up being kind of haphazardly wrapped up at the end of this which I wasn’t super in love with. But I think all in all it’s not enough to take away from the just solid thought-provoking fun I had with this.
    • I 100% admit this kind of book absolutely caters to me, but if you are here for alternate history with some cool genre twists and some really interesting commentary and characters, absolutely pick this up. It’s a standout this year for sure.

That finishes up the YA wrap up – the adult books I read last month are even more eclectic than this bunch if you can believe it.  Look out for that coming out soon!

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