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review 2018-12-05 01:13
Heavy material in a light package
Sunny Side Up - Matthew Holm,Jennifer L. Holm

Sunny is looking forward to her awesome summer vacation going to the beach with her best friend...and then she gets sent off to stay with her grandfather at his retirement community in Florida. What Sunny views as a punishment is actually her family trying to shield her from her brother's trip to rehab. Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm looks at substance abuse from the viewpoint of a younger sibling which is rather refreshing and ultimately important when a child is trying to find books that relate to themselves. (I don't know anyone with a picture perfect childhood so it's a good idea if children's literature reflects that.) The references to substance abuse are rather oblique for the majority of the book so it's not heavy handed in the slightest. For the most part, we see Sunny acting pretty snotty as she comes to terms with the fact her summer is not going to be anything like she had planned but intermixed with that is a healthy dose of fear, anxiety, and shame. Remember she has no idea what has caused her family to send her away but she think she must have done something terribly wrong. (Also, her grandfather is the mack daddy of the retirement community and it's hilarious.) She does manage to make a friend of commensurate age though and the two of them develop a mutual interest in superheroes and comics. 

 

It's hard to say where the author lands in terms of keeping family secrets (they experienced something similar to Sunny in reality) but what the reader does see is Sunny learning about the difficulty of maintaining secret identities as she gets into reading comics. By the end, she is told what has happened with her brother and the reader (if they hadn't already figured it out) sees all the puzzle pieces fall into place. Because the reader is seeing everything through the eyes of Sunny the reading experience is quite different from some of the realistic fiction on this topic that I've read before. I think from that standpoint this is quite a unique and important book especially for children who have experienced this and are feeling quite alone and isolated. In fact, at the end they tacked on a bit about talking to someone if you know a family member is struggling with substance abuse. If you're creating a booklist for your students and you're looking for material that touches on substance abuse and/or family dynamics you could do a lot worse than picking Sunny Side Up. 8/10

 

The illustrations reminded me of Sunday newspaper comic strips. [Source: Scholastic]

 

What's Up Next: 5 Worlds Book 1: The Sand Warrior by Alexis & Mark Siegel and illustrations by Boya Sun & Matt Rockefeller

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-12-01 21:17
Playing in the Dark (Glasgow Lads #4)
Playing in the Dark - Avery Cockburn

When this series started, I hated Evan with a passion for hurting Fergus the way he did, skipping off to Belgium to be with some other lover. Only in Play Dead, we learned that things were not as they seemed, and I got instantly way more interested in learning more about him. And about Ben too, I guess. *whispers* I actually forgot who Ben was! shhh!

 

Evan's trying to get his life back together after a horrifying ordeal and when he met Ben in Playing With Fire, he was pretty much resigned to living a lonely life as the bad guy on the team. But he and Ben connected instantly apparently, and they pick up on that attraction here and move incredibly quickly considering the sort of life Evan lives and the secrets he needs to keep and lies he needs to make. (I should do a reread one of these days because I was having trouble keeping a lot of these couples straight ... but not straight-straight. You know what I mean.) 

 

I admit, I started getting a little worried by the halfway point about where this story might go. I don't know why, since Ms. Cockburn has always avoiding cliche pitfalls before, but there's always a first time right? Not here, I'm glad to say. This story was more about two characters learning how to be more fully themselves and realizing that in order to do that they actually had to let go of some of their previous preconceptions of who they were. That didn't stop me wanting to smack them more than a few times when they were making stupid mistakes, and there were a few chapters with a few too many sex scenes too close together at the beginning, but that evened out and we really got to see how they work as a couple and not just in the sack.

 

I did like learning about Ben's Bahá-í faith, which I never knew about before. It did feel a tad on the preachy side a couple of times though. I really would've liked to see some more of Ben's mom and Evan's family. Evan's job with MI-5 was also interesting and well-paced, with a layered quasi-mystery to drive the plot. Evan was a little reckless at times, and this teetered just over the line into unprofessional professional a couple of times, but I could understand why Evan made the decisions he made.

Though it doesn't make much sense why he couldn't tell Ben he'd been in Belfast but he could tell Fergus. I guess because Ben was getting a whole lot more details than Fergus  was.

(spoiler show)

 

I was happy where this book left them though and they're both clearly where they need and want to be by the end of it. I hope we get more of them in later books and novellas.

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review 2018-11-20 14:37
Domestic noir, dark humour, and a fantastic new voice
My Sister, the Serial Killer - Oyinkan Braithwaite

Thanks to NetGalley and to Atlantic Books (Doubleday) for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

The title of this book hooked me. The fact that it was set in Lagos, Nigeria, made it more attractive. I could not resist the cover. And then I started reading and got hit by this first paragraph:

“Ayoola summons me with these words —Korede, I killed him. I had hoped I would never hear those words again.”

Told in the first person by Korede, the book narrates her story and that of her “complex” relationship with her younger sister, Ayoola, beautiful, graceful, a successful designer, beloved of social media, irresistible to men, the favourite of everybody… She’s almost perfect. But, there is a big but, which you will have guessed from the title. She is a serial killer.

This is a short and very funny book, although it requires a certain kind of sense of humour on the part of the reader. You need to be able to appreciate sarcasm and dark humour (very dark) to find it funny, but if you do, this is a fresh voice and a different take on what has become an extremely popular genre recently, domestic noir. I kept thinking about the many novels I had read where I had commented on the setting of the book and how well the author had captured it. There are no lengthy descriptions in this novel, but it manages to capture the beat and the rhythm of Lagos (a place where I’ve never been, I must admit) and makes us appreciate what life must be like for the protagonists. Because, although Ayoola is a murderer, life goes on, and Korede has to keep working as a nurse, she is still in love (or so she thinks) with one of the doctors at the hospital, their mother still suffers from her headaches, Ayoola wants to carry on posting on Snapchat, the patient in coma Korede confides in needs to be looked after, the police need to be seen to be doing something, and there are more men keen on spending time with beautiful Ayoola…

I found Korede understandable, although I doubt that we are meant to empathise with her full-heartedly. At some points, she seems to be a victim, trapped in a situation she has no control over. At others, we realise that we only have her own opinion of her sister’s behaviour, and she has enabled the murderous activities of her sibling, in a strange symbiotic relationship where neither one of them can imagine life without the other. We learn of their traumatic past, and we can’t help but wonder what would we do faced with such a situation? If your sister was a psychopath (not a real psychiatric diagnosis, but I’m sure she’d score quite high in the psychopathy scale if her sister’s description is accurate) who kept getting into trouble, always blaming it on others, would you believe her and support her? Would you help her hide her crimes? Is blood stronger than everything else?

I loved the setting, the wonderful little scenes (like when Tade, the attractive doctor, sings and the whole city stops to listen, or when the police take away Korede’s car to submit it to forensic testing and then make her pay to return it to her, all dirty and in disarray), the voice of the narrator and her approach to things (very matter-of-fact, fully acknowledging her weaknesses, her less-than-endearing personality, sometimes lacking in insight  but also caring and reflective at times), and the ending as well. I also enjoyed the writing style. Short chapters, peppered with Yoruba terms, vivid and engaging, it flows well and it makes it feel even briefer than it is.

If you enjoy books with a strong sense of morality and providing deep lessons, this novel is not for you. Good and bad are not black and white in this novel, and there is an undercurrent of flippancy about the subject that might appeal to fans of Dexter more than to those who love conventional thrillers or mysteries. But if you want to discover a fresh new voice, love black humour, and are looking for an unusual setting, give it a go. I challenge you to check a sample and see…

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review 2018-11-08 08:42
Paper birds by: sparklingice
Paper birds - sparklingice

A beautifully written fanfic from new author sparklingice, full of feels and angst. Sam and Dean grow up in the care system believing they are brothers, suffering through abuse until finding a permanent home.

Source: archiveofourown.org/works/14954312
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review 2018-11-06 02:54
Rites of Winter (Inheritance #6)
Rites of Winter - Amelia Faulkner

This is the first book in a new "season" and it shows. (I didn't steal that line from Elena! She just got to her review first.) ;)

 

It was nice to pick up more or less where the previous book ended, and to see Laurence and Quentin start to work on some of their issues. Quentin especially is messed up from the events of the previous book, but Laurence has his own hangups he needs to work out too. I really would've liked to see more emphasis made on their emotional and psychological trauma, but that was mostly skimmed over in favor of focusing on their sex life. Which is also important because of what Quentin was forced to remember in the last book, and I don't want to discount that. I'm happy none of that caused a backslide. 

 

But look, I don't like D/s at all and this is getting very close to bordering on that and has been steadily going in that direction for awhile. I also have no idea what's supposed to be so sexy about mesh shirts. To me, they look like an overenthusiastic cat attacked someone's wardrobe. So none of this was working for me, and for it being such an important part of their relationship development it left me cold. Add onto that Laurence wondering when the hell he became so submissive and the theory I've been working with since the end of the second book, and this all gets unfortunately cringe-worthy. I could be totally off with my theory, but there is no way for me to know that at this point. All that combined means their sex scenes are the equivalent of dumping me into the Arctic Ocean.

 

The plot itself is well done and paced, and it was good to see more of Otherworld and see the various ways that fantasy and magic blend together in this world. I did think there was a little too much focus on the action at times, when it would've been nicer to see the emotional tolls some more. I'm not really sure what to make of Basil or Jon at this point, since they're not given much dimension. They're interesting though and I'm looking forward to seeing what they bring to the mix in the future.

 

There were a few missing words in this one, and one chapter's formatting was just wonky - but readable. I also don't remember Laurence being so excessive with the "baby" endearments in past books. I'm not one to quibble over that word like others are, but even I wanted to cast it into the fires of Mt. Doom after the third or fourth chapter.

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