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review 2017-06-08 05:04
The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress
The Friday Society - Adrienne Kress

The Friday Society is set in London in the year 1900 and stars three different girls: Cora, Michiko, and Nellie.

Cora used to sell flowers on the streets but now has a comfortable and endlessly interesting life as Lord White’s lab assistant. Unfortunately, it looks like Lord White might be planning on replacing her.

Michiko ran away from home when she was 11 and spent a few years as a retired geisha’s servant before running away yet again and becoming a samurai trainee. Frustrated at her teacher’s unwillingness to give her her own sword, she agreed to go to London with a man named Callum and work as his assistant. Callum was nice enough, at first, but it soon became clear that he was using Michiko’s skills to trick rich Londoners into paying him enormous fees for his self-defense courses.

Nellie used to work at a burlesque house and is now a magician’s assistant. She’s strong, flexible, and never forgets anything. She’s also incredibly beautiful and hates the attention this attracts, even as she is aware that her looks help draw a crowd and add to the Great Raheem’s act.

The three girls’ paths cross when they meet at a ball and discover a severed head. They gradually realize that this murdered man may be connected to other recent deaths, so they decide to team up and find the killer.

I picked this up a while back on the basis of its cover and vague memories of reading a couple positive reviews of it. I was expecting it to be fluffy and action-packed fun. Unfortunately, it turned out to be utterly terrible.

First, the good. Let’s see… It was a really quick read, despite its many problems. The cute young police officer that Nellie fell for was really nice. Michiko had the potential to be one of the most interesting girls in the book. The action scenes near the end were okay. And there was parkour!

Okay, that’s all I’ve got. Now for the bad.

I generally interpret steampunk books to be alternate history. If a book says it’s set in London in 1900, I want it to feel at least vaguely like it’s actually set in that time and place. However, history was one of my worst subjects in school, and I’ve read and enjoyed a lot of historical romances that are really only historical-ish. My standards for historical details aren’t very high, and yet this book had me checking the Oxford English Dictionary by page 18, when Cora used the word “skeevy.” On page 17, Cora had been thinking about how a particular opium den “freaked her out.” Had this book been set in the 1960s or 1970s, this would have been more appropriate, but the language didn’t work at all for something supposedly set in 1900. I had the sneaking suspicion that the author’s “research” for this book was limited to a handful of Wikipedia pages and some Buffy the Vampire Slayer binge-watching for dialogue inspiration.

Then there was the enormous and useless mess that was the investigation. Crime scene preservation was nonexistent. It was not uncommon for the girls to cart bodies away from crime scenes. They took one dead girl home to her family before reporting her murder to the police. Later on, they went to the extra effort of carrying a dead boy to the police rather than going with the much easier option of contacting the police and having them come to the scene of the crime. The only explanation I could come up with for this was that readers were supposed to believe the police would have just ignored the murder and let the body rot in the streets.

The girls did so little actual investigating that, when they finally met up with the villain, the person had to do a stereotypical villain monologue just so they’d know the whole story. They’d have missed out on almost everything important, otherwise. The one crime that I solved ages before them (seriously, the villain practically confessed to one of the girls), they didn’t manage to figure out until the solution had been spelled out for them and then basically underlined.

I wanted the girls to be more awesome than they turned out to be. They were all hugely dependent on their masters, and only one out of those three masters was worth squat (although I was taken aback at how casually he killed a man - okay, so the guy had been poisoned and was dying, but he just snapped that man’s neck like it was nothing). Two out of three of the girls had love interests who turned their brains to mush. All Cora’s love interest had going for him was that he was handsome, and their kissing scene came out of nowhere. Nellie supposedly hated the way guys reacted to her beauty, and yet she instantly fell for the young cop, apparently because he was the first young man to ever notice her looks and yet not grope her.

Kress didn’t make as good use of the girls’ skills as she could have. Cora had one invention of her own that came into play near the end of the book. Nellie’s flexibility and burglary skills turned out to be useful, but her memory was a throwaway detail at the beginning that never came up again. In fact, since Cora remembered something near the end of the book better than Nellie did, I have a feeling the author forgot that Nellie was supposed to have more abilities under her belt than being able to pick locks and break in and out of buildings. Michiko only had one skill, swordsmanship, although she was learning a bit of parkour on the side. She was at least a good fighter, and more focused than the other two girls.

Although I probably liked her the best out of the three, I have to talk about Michiko. The girl was a giant stereotype. From the age of 11 to 14, she lived with a retired geisha who taught her how to play the shamisen and perform a few geisha dances. She said she’d been with Callum for about a year, and all the girls were about 16 or 17 years old, so I’m guessing that her samurai training lasted from about age 14 to 15 or 16. I’m a little surprised that Kress didn’t somehow cram a bit of ninja training in there.

At any rate, the geisha training was brushed aside like it had never happened, even though Michiko had technically spent more years on that than on her samurai training. Despite having started her samurai training pretty late (a little googling seems to indicate that most started their training between the ages of 5 and 7), she supposedly became so good that the only possible reason she wasn’t given her own sword was because she was a girl. I...find that a little difficult to believe, although I’ll grant that she was probably much better than Callum could ever hope to be.

Even though she managed to learn all these things between the age of 11 and maybe 17, she somehow had barely learned any English after a year with Callum. For much of the book her vocabulary consisted of maybe a dozen words, including “apologies” and “death.” This unfortunately meant that she was excluded from most of Cora and Nellie’s conversations. This particularly bugged me during a sudden drunken sleepover that happened right after the first body was discovered (well, sort of the first). The sleepover was stupid to begin with, but I had to grit my teeth every time the text made a point of telling readers that the girls were trying to include Michiko in their activities but, well, they just couldn’t because she couldn’t understand anything. Later on, Cora mentally described Michiko as “all silence and mystery” (162), conveniently forgetting that Michiko didn’t have the language skills necessary to talk about herself.

I mentioned earlier that the author’s research was probably limited to a few Wikipedia pages. Most of those Wikipedia pages probably dealt with Japanese honorifics and samurai, judging by a few very odd little sections in the book. I can’t really judge the accuracy of the samurai stuff, although the repeated mention of samurai masks seemed a bit odd to me. Honorifics came up during one awkwardly long moment, when an elderly samurai in London lectured Michiko on her privately rebellious habit of calling Callum “Callum-kun” rather than “Callum-san.”

I seem to be in the minority - lots of people thought this book was at least decent. Personally, I can’t imagine recommending this to anyone. It wasn’t interesting enough to make up for its many faults.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-05-30 08:37
ARC Review – Elpída, by C. Kennedy
Elpida - C. Kennedy

Elpída. Hope.

Because without hope, we are all lost.

Because without hope, we have nothing.

 

The final installment of this trilogy leaves me shattered and sad, and full of anger towards the men who perpetrate this kind of abuse on children. But most of all, it leaves me with hope, exhilarated and happy, which, in this context, is nothing short of magic on the author’s part.

 

To take this extremely important and difficult subject matter, and lovingly show it without condescension or sensationalism, and give so many young people hope? Magic, indeed.

 

There is such powerful truth in this series. There is such compassionate giving of hope. It is horrid and beautiful at the same time, and it has a way of sending a spiraling sense of meaning out to young people who are hurting, telling them there is a future, there is a life, there is a way. Telling them that there are good people out there, who will love them.

 

Hope. Truly the most powerful of all human feelings.

 

We started with beauty in book one. And horror. And friendship. And love.

Omorphi. Beauty.

We continued with courage in book two. Lots and lots of courage. And love.

Thárros. Courage.

We finish with hope in this third book, as we run, and hide, and make mistakes, and fix them again. And love.

Elpída. Hope.

 

Thimi is a young boy who lived through the same horrors as Christy in Greece, and Christy finally gets to see his old friend again as he arrives in the US as a scared little waif of a boy. Thimi slowly opens up through the story, and as he starts to understand the sunshine that can exist in a normal life we get to see more about what happens inside a child after abuse.

 

When you read a YA book, not often does it also work as a manual of how to do things to help a former victim of abuse. It is not often that, in soft tones and sweet turns of phrase, you will understand and learn how to act around people who have been through the unthinkable. Who have been through the unspeakable.

 

This is a little bit like a beautifully crafted Technical Manual of Care and Maintenance for those who work with our collective youth, especially if they work with children or young adults who have had a hard time.

 

And the end result? The telling of a great, great love story — with true friendship shining through, the kind of love that inspires both happy endings and good laughs.

 

There are other new fascinating characters entering the scene, too, and especially Zero is someone I would love to see more of in a future book... I can truly say that I hope this trilogy gets a fourth and fifth instalment, because there are still things I’d like to know, (and history is full of excellent trilogies in five parts). (Just sayin’).

 

Beauty and Courage and Hope.

Because Elpida means hope.

And, as we said in the beginning, without hope, we are all lost.

 

***

 

I was given a free copy of this book from the publisher, Harmony Ink Press.

A positive review wasn’t promised in return. I also beta-read an early version of the manuscript.

 

Source: annalund2011.booklikes.com/post/1567067/arc-review-elpida-by-c-kennedy
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review 2017-05-02 20:40
A Corner of the Universe by Ann M. Martin | #AutismAwareness
A Corner of the Universe - Ann M. Martin

Hattie Owen enjoys peaceful Millerton summertimes with "houses nodding in the heavy air," being in charge of Miss Hagerty's breakfast tray at her parents' boardinghouse, and drinking lemonade on the porch after supper. Yet this year, it's different -- Hattie's uncle Adam is coming home. Returning from a Chicago school that's just closed and whose existence is kept quiet by adult family members, Adam is a 21-year-old man with a child's mind, having a knack for talking quickly, a savant-like ability for remembering weekdays, and a passion for I Love Lucy. Hattie and Adam wind up spending precious time together -- including a visit to the recently arrived carnival with Hattie's new friend, Leila -- which makes her feel soulfully connected to her uncle, especially when he declares that she's "one of the people who can lift the corners of our universe." But when Hattie takes Adam on the ferris wheel one night, it sets off dramatic events that lead Hattie's family to strengthen its bonds and changes her life's outlook forever.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Young Hattie Owen has enjoyed the peaceful pace of life in her small Midwestern town of Millerton these past 11 years, helping her parents run the local boardinghouse. That pivotal summer in the 1960s, on the cusp of her 12th birthday, brings a new reality, one that will shake Hattie to her very core. That is the summer she is introduced to Adam.

 

Hattie grew up knowing her mother, Dorothy, to only have one brother, Hattie's Uncle Hayden. But quite suddenly one day, it is revealed that in fact she has another uncle, Adam, whose existence has been kept secret from her all these years. Adam, Dorothy's youngest sibling, has been away in Chicago, living at a special school for those with mental illnesses or disabilities. Though he was never given a certain diagnosis, it is believed Adam suffers from either schizophrenia or autism. Now that school is permanently closing, so Adam is sent home to stay with his parents until new living arrangements can be made.

 

Though initially startled by the news of Adam's existence, Hattie is undeniably curious about him. Before long, she finds they are actually something of kindred spirits, both knowing deep loneliness and a sense of not quite belonging in this world. It is also during this most important summer that a circus comes to Millerton, the biggest event to happen to the place in years! This circus brings Hattie a new friend, Leila, the niece of the circus owner and daughter of Pretzel Woman (a contortionist, I'm guessing). Leila's introduction into the story also fits in with the theme of not fitting into societal norms. In one conversation, Hattie asks Leila if it bothers her that people pay to stare at her mother who performs in a sideshow. Hattie's telling response, "It's better than them staring and not paying."

 

While Adam displays many traits commonly attributed to autism -- repetitive behaviors, fascination with / memorization of entire TV show episodes, emotional meltdowns over seemingly minor instances -- Hattie does lay out her confusion regarding his diagnosis (or lack of) and what it means in regards to the rest of her family:

 

I don't know exactly what is wrong with Adam, but maybe it is one of those diseases that runs in families. Maybe that is why Nana and Papa seemed ashamed of him. And maybe... is that why Mom and Dad never told me about Adam? To keep the knowledge of his illness from me? Do they maybe even think that I'm a little like Adam? Is that why Mom wants me to be like other kids -- so she can prove to herself that I won't turn out like Adam one day? I twist around and look at my family. I can't stop the questions from coming, And I can't ask a single one of them.

 

Though not overly complex in plot (but stayed tuned for the Ferris Wheel incident and all that follows up to the end!), A Corner of the Universe will definitely give young readers a small taste of the stigma that surrounded mental disorders during this era. Author Ann Martin does offer some impressive character studies within this story that will surely stir up healthy discussion. Most notably, there's Hattie's grandmother, one of the wealthiest women in Millerton. "Nana" had grand dreams of having that enviable family with the perfect husband and gorgeous & talented children. As life would have it, her youngest son required being placed in a group home and her daughter Nana pinned such hopes on, well... she "married beneath her", deciding to shack up with a "lowly" artist! Additionally, now her granddaughter has proven to be a bit of a social pariah, preferring to keep to her library books and inside her own mind. 

 

But it's not just Hattie's grandmother who causes her to wonder. When Hattie asks about why she is an only child, her mother responds with a pat answer of, "Well, you were just so perfect we didn't want to push our luck." After meeting Adam and observing how Dorothy acts around him, Hattie suspects she was kept an only child because her parents might have feared possibly having a child like Adam. 

 

Hattie doesn't see what the big deal is with Adam's condition. Though Adam is in his early 20s, his parents treat him almost like a toddler. Hattie witnesses his heartbreak when people stare, taunt him and call him things like "Freak Show". But she actually envies the way he views life. He is unabashedly happy in the small moments, endlessly entertained by the minutiae of one's day. Adam's love of soft & pretty things, not to mention is fascination with the lovely bank teller, Angel, boarding at the Owen home, brought to mind Lenny from John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, who similarly had a childlike innocent love of the small things in life. But there is also a serious side to Adam that comes out when moments become especially trying for him, a side that shows he is all too aware of what is going on around him and how people see him. 

 

"No one knows," says Adam, "what it is like."

"No, I {Hattie} reply, although I think I might know more than most people.

"You are not an alien, Hattie. I am the only true alien."

But Adam is wrong. I am an alien too. 

 

This novel might strike some as a departure for Ann M. Martin, who is perhaps most well known for her Babysitter's Club series, but Martin also penned Rain Reign, which featured a young girl with Asperger's Syndrome who has a love of homonyms. Those curious about Martin's inspiration for A Corner of the Universe will find the Scholastic's After Words™️ section most helpful. It features an interview with Martin in which she explains that the idea for this particular novel was loosely inspired by events from her own life, namely an uncle she never met but was later told about who was deemed mentally ill. This section of supplemental material also includes historical overview blurbs of cultural topics Hattie references within her story. Also included is a neat reprint of a few pages from a 1960s era Junior Scholastic magazine!

 

above: "Baseball is a man's world! But girls are an important part of it. Why? Because almost every baseball is sewed by the nimble fingers of a girl. It has been that way since Civil War days, when baseball first became popular..."

 

 

 

For those curious about Adam's trick of being able to recall the day of week of any date in history, there is a page -- "The Amazing Day Finder" -- that teaches readers the math behind this trick so that they too can impress their friends! 

 

While there is some grit and sadness to the storyline, A Corner of the Universe does also show a love for small town life -- the way everyone knows you, the coziness of community coming together, small business owner pride, etc. While living in a small community can have its downside, readers who have experienced the good and have been distanced from it for a time will likely feel a little nostalgia for Hattie's particular little corner of the universe. 

 

A note to parents: this novel does describe a suicide near the end of the story. If you're particular about what images or information your child is exposed to during the younger years, maybe give this one a pre-read through. Though this book does include some sensitive material in that sense, A Corner of the Universe plays an important role in taking the first step towards educating youth on the importance of advocating acceptance and kindness to those who may be struggling with mental disorders / challenges. 

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review 2017-04-08 03:07
The Giver - Lois Lowry,Ron Rifkin

I’ve read this book several times, but each time it still hooks me in. I love that it explores the concept of a society so different than ours. Everything in the community changes when Jonas becomes the receiver of memories; he has the ability to feel, see, and know things that no one else knows about. In order to help the community, Jonas plans to escape so that the truth will be revealed to everyone. His bravery and selflessness is admirable throughout the book.

 

 

In the classroom, this book is perfect for discussing themes and having older students compose opinion pieces.

 

 

  • Lexile Measure: 760L
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review 2017-04-08 01:19
Cabinets full of curiosities always seem to come with a blood sacrifice
The Unfinished World: And Other Stories - Amber Sparks

About a year ago, I stumbled into a cute little bookstore which specialized in mystery, sci-fi, and fantasy of both the new and used variety. I felt it was my solemn duty to have a close look and about an hour later I left with a few (or three) choice items. One of these I already reviewed and today's was actually a signed copy titled The Unfinished World: And Other Stories by Amber Sparks. As the title suggests, this is a collection of short stories that have an eerie, fantastical vibe to them. Some of them are downright disturbing (the taxidermy one in particular stands out) while others are merely just off the beaten path into strangeness. If you like dark, eerie fiction that crosses into the borders of the unknown then this book would be right up your street. If you're looking to delve into short story collections but you're not sure where to start this also might be a good fit for you. As for me, I enjoyed a few of them but overall this wasn't my favorite of the short story collections I've read. (That honor either goes to Through the Woods or The Opposite of Loneliness.) 5/10

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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