Grant Beagan: The Finder’s Code

Jonathan Miller

1 star

This was my second goodreads giveaway win.
Here is the thing about this book. I understand that when a book is independently published the writing may not be quite as edited as one published through a more traditional route, but I have read many independently published books and not had a problem with the writing. This however, was a different story. Or should I say a… different story. Just like the last sentence, there were so many oddly placed ellipses and emphasized words that it really affected my reading experience. I feel a bit harsh saying that, and I’m not claiming that the writing process is easy, but I feel like it is not possible that I was the only one who was bothered by this. It was so unnatural and did not really seem to make sense for what the characters were trying to say.
Speaking of which, the characters really bothered me as well. I never really got a sense for who they were and the way they acted seemed very inconsistent. For example, at one point in the story, Alina agrees with a statement saying that there is no point studying Biology “When you can just be alive.” However, just a little later on, she is completely engrossed in what seems to be something resembling a Biology lecture. In similar ways, William Warrick was very formal at times and at others not at all. 
Grant’s character bothered me the most out of everyone’s, however. Not even because of the inconsistencies, but because of how genuinely rude and arrogant he was as a person. This would be alright if it was addressed, but anytime Grant said or did anything that seemed wrong, it was completely brushed aside, and in fact treated as if it was him growing up and becoming a “strong character.” Having convictions is all well and good, but there is a difference between confidence and arrogance. 
Grant leaves home and joins a secret society, completely ignoring the fact that his mother would be worried about him after he disappears for over 24 hours. When he does return home, he doesn’t honestly seem that remorseful, and the problem is, his mother isn’t even all that upset about it. Yes, she is halfheartedly feigns disappointment for about 5 minutes, but she soon is happy to go with her son to the park, mall, or wherever else, no questions asked. She also automatically believes Grant’s allegations about where he was the day before because a stranger told her to “mother to mother,” despite the fact that she had no intention of doing so just a few minutes earlier. And the part that bothered me the most was that when she refused, in no uncertain terms, her son’s request to live in Cent, but after Grant callously stated that he was doing what he wanted and she “needed to respect his decision,” his mother just cried and told him how proud she was of him. I don’t know how anyone could possibly justify the amount of disrespect it takes for a son to ignore his mother, who has raised him alone, and is telling you that you can’t move out (a fairly reasonable response at 16), that you don’t care. I am 16, so I feel justified to say this is just wrong. Even more than that, this wasn’t condemned, but rather celebrated, and I simply could not understand why.
While Grant’s relationship with his mother was awful, I was also appalled by the way that he acted towards William Warrick and the other authority figures. On his first day in a secret society at the center of the earth, he just wanders down a hallway despite repeatedly being told not to and isn’t reprimanded for it all? He isn’t even doing it secretly, but openly disobeying as he is being told not to wander off. That doesn’t make sense to me. 
That also leads into the implausibly of the whole thing. Is it really possible that in the over 100 years that William Warrick has lived he has never bothered to walk around and realize that one of the most important monuments in his society is just a replica, and the real one is kept in a building where he works all the time? And it isn’t exactly “safely hidden” there if anyone can just walk in is it? Also, the fact that the city is very literally inside the center of the earth is barely explained except to say that it is spinning fast, which hardly accounts for the lethal temperature and pressure differences. These are small things but they add up to a highly confusing narrative. 
There are other things here, but I do not want to keep nitpicking because I know that nothing is perfect. Despite the fact that I didn’t personally enjoy this book there seem to be a lot of people who did.
Thank you to the author for the free copy through goodreads giveaways.

Jo & Laurie

Margaret Stohl & Melissa De La Cruz

4.5 Stars, but I’m rounding up to combat all the one star reviews from people who did not even read the book.*

I thought this was so much fun! I was always interested in the parallels between Louisa May Alcott’s own life and Little Women, and this book combined the two in a way that I found very interesting. While both of the movie adaptations of Little Women that I have watched recently have had the concept of Jo being the author of the novel (The 150th anniversary adaptation as well as the Greta Gerwig adaptation), both of the movies still stayed true to the novel which I appreciated. However, I was surprised and interested to see that this book was much more of a hybrid between Louisa May Alcott’s life and the original book. 
The premise for this book is that it takes place in between Part one and Part two of Little Women (The latter of which was originally called Good Wives). While today they are published in one volume, these were originally published separately, and Louisa May Alcott received a lot of letters asking her to write about what happened next, and this book takes place in the time in between, treating the story as though Jo was actually the one who wrote Little Women. I thought this concept was very interesting, and allowed the authors to take more liberties with the story. 
Something about this book that made it unique was the fact that the original book still existed in the world of these characters. It is almost set up as though the first volume of the book was a way for Jo to rewrite her own life in a more idyllic way, giving herself an old wealthy aunt, and allowing Beth to survive the first round of scarlet fever. However, over the course of this story, during which she writes the second volume, she realizes that she cannot make everyone end uppitiest living happily ever after, and she has to confront the problems in her life both in real life as well as in her book. Many of these elements were drawn from Louisa May Alcott’s life as well.
I did also find the reactions of her sisters to what she had written about them very interesting, and at times they made me want to laugh. Meg, for example, is extremely upset that Jo wrote that she and John Brooke got married, when in reality they had never spoken to each other. However, by the end of the book, they end up married after all, in a way partially because of Jo’s book. Amy’s annoyance at the pickled limes also became something of a running joke through the book.
I thought that the way that the inevitable outcome (as stated very clearly in the titled) was handled very well, in that the book did not rush to the conclusion, and actually had similar problems to the original story, but enough differences that the ending made sense. When I originally read Little Women, I was disappointed that this was not the conclusion, though I understood it later on. Still, it was nice to see what that could have looked like, and I thought that it was well done.
*A Note: It is absolutely valid to read a book and give it one star if you disliked it. It is also valid to decide not to read a book if you dislike the concept of it, and it is fine to write a review to tell other people why you aren’t reading it. It is not acceptable, however, to rate a book one star without ever even opening it. This is unfair to the authors because it brings the rating down and this can really affect people’s likelihood of reading it. It says very clearly on the front cover that this a retelling. There are many different retellings of various stories. I’ve read retellings of fairy tales, Shakespeare and classic books like Peter Pan, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and now this one. There is nothing disrespectful about a retelling, and the authors are not saying this is what should have happened in the original. It’s just a “what if.” As I said earlier, this book is actually much more based on Louisa May Alcott’s own life rather than the actual book.

Going Rouge

Robin Benway

4 Stars

I’m honestly surprised that more people haven’t heard of this series, especially considering the success the author, Robin Benway, had with Far From the Tree, which I absolutely loved. I read this series one after another, which I almost never do, but they were so much fun and I needed something to change my mood after reading Gone With the Wind. I loved Maggie’s character and the fact that, after everything she has been through, the one thing that causes her the most trouble is going to a real school. 
This series reminded me of the Gallagher Girls series in many ways. Both involved a girl who is, or is training to be, a spy. Both girls also get in trouble because they want- to some extent- to be “normal”, at least for a little while, even though one of them has practically lived at school her entire life, and for the other, this is her first time going to school or making friends. 
Speaking of which, I loved the friendship between Roux “Like Kanga” and Maggie. I think that they both were really good for each other in that they both had a little bit of an issue relying on people besides themselves because they didn’t know how, and it was good that they were both able to do that together. I think that Roux in this book especially learned how to confront some of the problems in her life, and simultaneously let go of them, which I think was an important set of events.
I found Angelo and Maggie’s parents to be great characters as well, and I thought it made it so much more of an interesting story that Maggie’s parents in particular were having a hard time finding the balance between letting Maggie do her job, and being the parents of a teenager, and in many ways Angelo was like a third parent to her.
I was a little sad to see the collective go, but I’m sure Maggie, Angelo, and all the other characters will continue with their missions in other ways.

A Ceiling Made of Eggshells

Gail Carson Levine

3 Stars

I’ve always loved Gail Carson Levine’s stories, so was so excited to read her new book when I heard about it. A Ceiling Made of Eggshells follows a young girl Jewish named Paloma or “Loma”, who lives during the Spanish Inquisition. This is Gail Carson Levine’s second historical fiction book, the first being Dave at Night, both based on some aspect of her father’s history. 
I don’t know very much about the Spanish Inquisition, and I found it very interesting to learn about the events that transpired from this particular point of view. It was particularly interesting to see the relationships between people of different religions. Gail Carson Levine accurately shed light on the fact that anti-semitism existed long before World War II and the Holocaust. I didn’t know that all Jewish people were expelled from Spain, and I think that the play on the school rhyme in the first chapter helped give perspective of the time frame. 

Columbus sailed the ocean blue
in fourteen hundred and ninety two
and in the self-same year, it’s true,
Spain’s king and queen expelled the Jews

This book is in many ways on the younger end of the middle grade spectrum, with a main character that is only seven years old at the beginning of the book. However, she is older by the end, and some of the events that take place might be difficult for very young readers to understand. 
The reason I rated this three stars was that during almost the entire first half of the book, very little actually happens. The conflict of Loma feeling like her grandmother could have lived if she had not given her the amulet is resolved fairly early on, and after that point now much happens until Loma is older and realizes that Belo expects her to continue traveling with him for the rest of her life, even though that has never been what she has wanted. I felt like this gap made it difficult to be as fully engaged in the story, particularly because the character voice is a bit simple as Loma is very young.
Overall, I would say that this was not my favorite Gail Carson Levine book, but it did have some interesting elements about a less spoken-about time period.

Aru Shah and the End of Time

Roshani Chokshi

5 Stars!

I wish I had this book when I was in middle school. Granted, it wasn’t that long ago, but even so. I love how this book’s main characters are Indian girls like me, and not only that, but the story is centered around the Hindu religious stories and epics that I grew up with. 
Aru Shah is a twelve year old girl who finds out that she is a descendent of one of the Pandava brothers and that she has to save the world after nearly destroying it. Along the way she meets her “soul sister” Mini, and pigeon guardian Boo.
This book was so much fun, and really showed how even though these girls may be young and inexperienced, (and wear spider-man pajamas!) they still are able to do amazing things even if they make some mistakes along the way.
I loved the fact that Aru was characterized as a liar. Not because I think it is is a good thing, but because it makes her a character who seems more real than your average Mary Sue. Also, Aru doesn’t lie because she thinks it is right, but because she wants to fit in. While this doesn’t mean it is justified, it does allow her to learn from her mistakes when she realizes the consequences of what she has done. 
I almost liked Mini more than I liked Aru. I loved the fact that she was both Filipina and Indian, but still knew more about Sanskrit than me or Aru, who actually lived in the Museum of Indian Art and Culture, just because she learned it for fun. I thought her character was really well developed, with her belief that anything and everything could make you sick being a little ironic right now.
I also really liked how the characters were not as serious as they were initially portrayed as being, especially the gods of the seasons and the sentient palace. The fact that these ancient, powerful entities were just as insecure as regular people makes the reader realize that not everything can be solved by age and influence, as well as adding more humor to the story. On a similar vein is the idea that good people (or gods) can do bad things, and that bad people (or demons) can do good things, which appears many times.
The references to the outside world, such as the Night Bazaar in a Costco, or the demon hairdresser brought a smile to my face too, because this story didn’t insist on staying in one world or the other like so many other fantasy books do.
However, the truth is that was I loved the most about this book was what I said very easy on. How much I could see myself in these characters and this world. 
Both of these worlds needed this book. Now all that is left is for people to read it.

The Paper Girl of Paris

Jordyn Taylor

4 Stars

This was originally going to be 3 stars, but I loved the second half of the book so I averaged it out. I’ve always loved historical fiction novels with a past/present storyline such as Sarah’s Key, and The Paris Seamstress, which were both set in the same time period and location, but from very different perspectives than this one. While this isn’t the best historical fiction novel I’ve ever read, There were some parts of it which I really enjoyed, and I’ve never really learned that much about the French Resistance which seems less explored than other parts of WWII.

I generally enjoy dual perspectives, but I have to admit that I really cared much more about Adalyn’s chapters than Alice’s. One of the things that bothered me most about this book was that Alice’s voice seemed much younger than sixteen, which is how old the description said she was. One particular line stood out more than the rest:

“Now I feel guilty for all the times I complained to Gram about having too much homework-look what she was going through at my age!”

I’m sixteen, and this just seems like something someone much younger would say. Even if someone did not know exactly what happened in their family’s past, the fact that her grandmother never wanted to talk about should have told her something. That point aside, even if Alice was sixteen, that seems young to have her own say on what happens to an apartment her grandmother left to her. I don’t know the laws in France, but I feel like Alice would have to be older to be able to decide that. The fact that Paul was in college already didn’t feel right to me.
On a completely different note however, I did like how her perspective showed the ways that history can become lost or muddled over time if there are not people around who can say what really happened. I also did love how everything was eventually connected in the end. Alice’s fairy dynamics were also interesting to read, and I think that the mental health aspects were important and prevalent.

loved Adalyn. She seemed so much more like a genuine character to me and so much more relatable (despite her living in the past). Her situation seemed like one that many people at the time would be in, wanting to help, but not wanting to hurt their families. As a result, she gets involved in dangerous resistance work to save the country from the Nazis, knowing that she is risking everything to do so, including her own life and her relationship with her family. 
While her parents believe that the Nazis are wrong, they do not really do anything to resist and her mother even openly fraternizes with them on several occasions because she is in denial about the war. However, her sister Chloe, who is Alice’s grandmother, is a part of the zazous, a group which mocks the Nazis by how they dress and act as a form of resistance. It was so difficult to see the way that Adalyn’s residence work affected the relationship between the sisters, because she was not allowed to tell them anything, they assumed she got along with the Germans and spent time with them because she wanted to, not because she was spying. 
I found her strength and determination incredible, and her resolve to do what was necessary even if it cost her so much showed how people at this time really did all they could, and without people like them, there may not have been as many survivors.

However, the most impactful part of the book for me was the ending. Somehow I wasn’t expecting it even though I knew it was a possibility.

“Did you make it here okay?
The trains ran smoothly, Luc.
The trains ran smoothly.”

The Secret Princess

Melanie Cellier

4 stars!

This was a nice read! It definitely wasn’t my favorite of Melanie Cellier’s books so far, but I enjoyed the return to the original four kingdoms, as well as seeing some of the characters from previous books more grown up. 
There is one part of this this that confused me though, and while it isn’t exactly part of the story, I think it needs to be addressed. In the beginning of the book, there was a list of all the characters in the series and their children. For some reason all of the main characters from the previous books have exactly two children, which frankly, I find hard to believe. Many of the parents of these children came from big families, or were only children, and it doesn’t make sense to me that every single one of the would have exactly two children. I know this isn’t really a plot point but it bothered me nonetheless. 
In regards to the actual story I thought it was handled quite well. The goose girl is one of my favorite less talked-about fairy tales, and I was happy to see it retold here. This book actually seemed to stay much closer to the original source material than most of the author’s previous works which was interesting. I did guess most of what the characters’ “secrets” were, particularly Phillip, but again, that may be because I was familiar with the original story.
I was glad to see more of Giselle’s personality in this book after seeing a little of it in A Crown of Snow and Ice. I liked the fact that she while had flaws, such as wanting to prove herself so much that she put others in danger, she also realized that she could learn from her unexpected situation and use it to become a better leader and person.
Also, I loved Arvin the horse. Simply the best.
Overall, I think this was an interesting retelling of a fairy tale that deserves more recognition, and I can’t wait until next year so I can see what happens to the younger girls who are on their “own adventures.”

Princess Academy

Shannon Hale

5 Stars

I love this book. I have read this countless times over the years, enchanted by Miri’s beautiful mountain world. I love how no matter how many times I read this book, it takes me through a journey. Despite knowing what is going to happen, I am still swayed by Miri’s opinions of herself and the other characters, and watch them change as she learns more about other’s lives as well as her own purpose. While this is a middle grade novel, I never felt like things were being oversimplified or under explained. The hardships that the quarry workers face are very much dressed, but the community aspect of the village is also very much celebrated. The traditions and connections that the villagers shared in the end were a very important part of how the girls were able to achieve what they did in the end. 
I also really enjoyed the fantasy aspect of this novel, because it was not written in a way that made it feel as though it could not exist, but rather that quarry speech was just a part of the world that we do not know about. I would not classify this as a fantasy novel, it seems much more like a story of the real world with a dash of magic added in. 
I especially enjoyed the fact that Miri, who has always felt like an outsider in her own home, is not only one of the smartest girls at the university, but also the one who takes the initiative to help her home with her newfound knowledge, and actually teach others how to read. I also felt that it was refreshing that Stefan was not perfect. I feel like I relate to Miri in many ways, from her love of books and knowledge, to her desire to understand the world around her.
In the end, I think that this book is like a portal to the feeling of home. Read it once, and you will love it forever.

All Summer Long

Hope Larson

3 Stars

My first goodreads giveaway win!!!
I don’t really read graphic novels very much except for some Raina Telgemeier when I was younger, but I decided to enter the giveaway on a whim and ended up winning a copy. I thought that this book had a fairly average plot and I liked the fact that it showcased Bina’s interest in music. A lot of middle grade books have the theme of friends growing apart, but did liked how in the end this concluded with Bina and Austin coming to a kind of happy medium of being friends with one another, while also spending enough time apart to pursue their own interests and acknowledge their differences. I feel like the characterization was not very strong in this book, but that seems understandable because it isn’t very long, and most of the space is taken up by pictures, not words. Since art is a large part of the storytelling in graphic novels, I think that I should say I found the art in this book really interesting. The black, white, and orange color palette made for a simple design but still gave it more complexity than just a black and white format.
In the end, I think this was a fun, short read which could be read by almost any age.