The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe

by Ally Condie
First sentence: “Call tells me he sees a star and that makes me laugh.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: March 26, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some violence. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

In this near-future, dystopian world, Poe is a member of the Outpost, a group of people who mine the river for gold and basically try to survive. (From what, we don’t know). They are up against the raiders, every time they take to the rivers, and when Poe is on her first voyage, the raiders kill her love, Call. So, she vows revenge. She creates an impenetrable armor for the ships as they dredge the rivers, collecting gold. And now, it’s her last voyage, the one on the biggest river, the one where she’s captain. The one where she will get revenge for Call’s death.

And then everything goes. wrong.

I wanted to love this one. I wanted it to be fierce girls taking on the patriarchy, overturning everything, breaking free from the bondage of male rule. But, what I got was one girl, grieving for a lost love, building a weapon out of revenge, and her personal journey to enlightenment. Not that it was a bad journey: I liked Poe, and I thought that (for the most part) her journey from one side of the conflict to the other was believable. Maybe a bit rushed, but understandable. Mostly I felt this book was an exploration of the anger stage of grief, and how a person gets through to acceptance and moving on. Which is fine and all, but not what I wanted out of the story. (For a much better girls taking on the patriarchy book, check out Anne Ursu’s The Lost Girl)

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Field Notes on Love

by Jennifer E. Smith
First sentence: “Mae wakes, as she does each morning, to the sound of a train.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s a romance, but there’s really nothing objectionable. Some mild swearing and a lot of kissing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Hugo is one of a sextuplet, and so he’e never really been alone. He’s never done anything extraordinary (unless you count being born) and he’s never really had an adventure. So, when his girlfriend Margaret breaks up with him, and begs off of their planned American cross-country train trip, Hugo is left aimless. That is, until he hatches a plan: find another Margaret Campbell and still make the trip.

Mae (aka Margaret Campbell) has applied to the USC film school, but when they reject her, she’s left aimless. That is, until she sees Hugo’s advertisement for someone named Margaret Campbell to go on this train trip with him. She jumps at the chance: why not go on a bit of an adventure before school starts? Maybe, then, she can find her direction again.

Since this is a romance, of course Hugo and Mae fall in love. Of course there is a falling out moment. Of course they (kind of) (mostly) end up together in the end. Of course it’s sweet and wonderful and all that.

Smith is excellent at writing charming, sweet, lovely romances, though. And this hit all the notes. Hugo and Mae were endearing and sweet, and I loved the cross-country train trip, which was something a little different. It’s completely unobtrusive and utterly delightful.

The Three Rules of Everyday Magic

by Amanda Rawson Hill
First sentence: “There’s something about that moment right before the first star appears in the sky.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s got a lot of more mature themes, but they’re handled at an age-appropriate level. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Kate has a lot (a LOT) going on in her life. Her dad left five months ago because his depression got too much and he needed to go away. He didn’t want Kate to contact him, and she doesn’t know where he is, so mostly she just ignores the guitar she used to love to play and writes him letters that she can’t send. Her grandmother has developed dementia that’s advancing, and is no longer able to live on her own, so she’s come to live with Kate and her mother. And (as if that wasn’t enough!), Kate’s best friend, Sofia, has decided that she’s much better friends with another girl, shutting Kate out.

It’s a lot. I know that it’s better to have a lot of conflict in one’s book, but really: depressed and missing dad AND best friend problems AND a grandmother with dementia (and that’s not even mentioning the burgeoning crush on home school friend) is a LOT to tackle in one book.

Hill manages it pretty well. It’s not perfect, though I did appreciate she didn’t tie everything up in a nice little bow at the end. It’s hopeful, but the problems aren’t solved, which is nice.

I liked this one, but didn’t love it.

Eternal Life

by Dara Horn
First sentence: “Either everything matters, or everything is an outrageous waste of time.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the adult fiction section of the booktstore.

Rachel has lived for centuries. Way way back, in Roman-occupied territory, she made a deal with God: save her son (the child of her and her love) and she will give over her death. Which means: she’s lived a long, long time. She’s been married many times, and reinvented herself many times. She’s had dozens and dozens of children. And yet, she’s never looked older than eighteen.

And so, in this most recent iteration of her life, her granddaughter is a scientist who is trying to solve the “problem” of death, and her lover (who also fore-swore death) has shown back up, manipulating her children’s lives, and Rachel has realized (not for the first time) that what makes life bearable is knowing that it ends.

The book was… okay. As far as musings about eternal life and what it means goes, it’s not bad. And I did finish it, so it wasn’t horrible. It just wasn’t great. It was interesting, but not compelling, and the ending was just there. Maybe I expected something more exciting (it’s about what it means to not die, after all), but really, it wasn’t all that.

Resistance

by Jennifer A. Nielsen
First sentence: “Two minutes.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a lot of violence, and talk of death. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Chaya is a teenager in the Krakow ghetto during World War II, and after her younger sister and brother disappeared (presumably put on a train to the death camps), Chaya decided that she wasn’t going to sit idly by and let the Nazis destroy her world. So, she joined the resistance as a courier. She could pass as a Polish (non-Jewish) girl, so she took to smuggling supplies into the ghetto and people out.

But her path didn’t end there: when things on a raid go wrong, Chaya and her friend Esther find themselves on the road to Warsaw, dodging Nazis and Nazi sympathizers until they get to Warsaw and are able to join the Jewish resistance for the Warsaw Ghetto uprising (which was a real thing).

This is really good historical fiction, if you’re not already tired of World War II stories. I got the distinct impression that Nielsen was trying to use this as a lesson for the climate in the US today — there were multiple references to people who just sit idly by and watch the horrors of the world being on the wrong side of the fence — but honestly? I’m tired. I know Holocaust stories are important. And I believe that everyone should learn about them, so we don’t repeat history. I’m just, personally, quite done with them. I liked Chaya well enough, I respected her journey, I got that Nielsen was telling me that I needed to be more pro-active in resisting hate and evil in this world.

But all that said, I didn’t quite like the book. I think it’s me, though, and not the book.

State of the TBR Pile: March 2019

It’s out of control again. Well, it was never really in control, but it was at least manageable. And now? Now, as I look ahead to a full week of working where I’m literally brain dead and exhausted at the end of the day, I wonder if I’ll ever read another book again. (I may be a bit down this morning. Daylight savings time always wipes me out.) Then again, I’ve got a plane flight to KidlitCon coming up here in a week and a half, so maybe I can catch up.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Fields Notes on Love by Jennifer A. Smith
Squint by Chad Morris and Shelly Brown
Grump by Liesl Shurtliff
The Three Rules of Everyday Magic by Amanda Rawson Hill
The Hummingbird Dagger by Cindy Anstey
The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton
Internment by Samira Ahmed
Izzy & Tristan by Shannon Dunlap
The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe by Ally Condie

What’s on your TBR pile that you’re looking forward to?

Ben Braver and the Incredible Exploding Kid

by Marcus Emerson
First Sentence: “Sixty miles per hour.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series (it’s probably better if you read this first): The Super Life of Ben Braver
Content: There’s fart and poop jokes (of course). There’s also lots of illustrations and white space with short chapters. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

This is a second in a series, and for many reasons (well, time mostly) I didn’t read the first. From what I can tell: Ben Braver is a perfectly normal kid who got sent to this boarding school for kids with superpowers. And he saved them from an evil supervillain. Except no one at the school knows that Ben doesn’t have powers (well, except for the Headmaster — who’s about as reliable as Dumbledore — and his best friends). It’s the new year, and there’s a new menace — sort of — and Ben’s doing his level best to hide his lack of powers while he gets more and more popular.

Actually, this one is more about the ability of fame to go to one’s head. Ben gets SUPER obnoxious while he gets more and more attention, but (of course) everything comes crashing down around him. And when the real threat presents itself, he does what he can to save the other students, but in the end, it’s an outside person (whose appearance was explained away in a sentence) who solves the problem. (Yeah, I have a problem with easy solutions like that.)

I really wanted to like this one more than I did. I think I was hoping for something fun and funny, and while there were some amusing points (humor is REALLY hard to do), it kind of all just fell flat for me. (There was one one-page comic that made me laugh, but that was it.) It’s probably great for the Diary of a Wimpy Kid crowd (I didn’t like those much either) and for those reluctant readers who want a lot of illustrations in their stories. But it really wasn’t my thing.