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.

Mansfield Park

Jane Austen

4 stars

I do not know why so many people seem to dislike Fanny Price. I actually really loved her, maybe because she reminded me a lot of myself. Like me, Fanny is shy, and is not really sure of her place at times. I like that even though she feels like she has a duty to her family for taking her in, she has a very strong moral compass and is not afraid to stand up for herself when she thinks that she would be doing wrong by not doing so. She is smart enough to see what is going on with regards to Mr. Crawford while it is actually happening, and therefore is the only one not dreadfully surprised when everything is revealed. I left this book for last because it is most definitely the longest Jane Austen novel, and took me much longer to read than most books. However, I felt like the length was necessary to fully bring out the nuances in all the characters as well as the plot. I feel like Mansfield Park, rather than being meant as a lighthearted novel, was actually more meant to be social commentary on the gothic system at the time, at how different classes were treated, particularly with the character of Mrs. Norris (Is it bad that every time I see that name I think of Filch’s cat?) who systematically degraded Fanny because of her birth, even though she was her own niece, and still was hardly ever called out on what she was doing. When I read this, I realize that even though many reviews I have read seem to regard Fanny as weak or feeble minded, I actually find her stronger for having to face this treatment of herself every day, and never once complaining. It may not be the kind of strength people are used to, but I think quiet strength is often the best kind.

Map to the Stars

Jen Malone

4.5 stars
This was so much fun! I was surprised to find this book on Kindle unlimited because most large publishers such as Harper Collins do not put their books up there. I love Jen Malone’s books, Wanderlost being one of my favorites, but I had not read this one because it was not available at my local library and I did not know it only came in ebook form. I loved Annie’s passion for architecture and Graham’s insecurities despite being a big star. This was not that long so it seemed a bit rushed at times, but that also added to the whirlwind aspect of it. Although the story might have been slightly unbelievable (I find it difficult to believe that Graham never had any other kids around who were his own age, and the first time he does, this happens), and Annie was the classic “different from all the other girls” main character I still found it an interesting read. I also appreciated how the books touched on its own unrealisticness and addressed how it would be very difficult for Annie and Graham, even if they did end up with a happy ending, as well as addressing how what Graham did was wrong even if it was empowering people. I also liked how Annie’s relationship with her father was portrayed as more complicated than what it was at first glance. Overall, I found this to be a short light read that is great for a little escape from reality.