Mini Book Reviews: August

I spent most of August grading. Grading, grading, grading. Every time someone asked me what I was doing, the answer was grading. Grading! Then, once grading was done, I spent most of my time on prep for the fall semester. So here we are at the end of August, and I have books to review and no time to review them all in depth. Mini reviews it is!


How to Avoid Making Art by Julia Cameron – This one is actually a reread. Cameron explores all the reasons and ways we avoid being creative, accompanied by illustrations/comics. The first time I read it, it shamed me a little bit. This time around, it inspired me. So if you’re someone who sometimes has a hard time committing to doing the things you love, it’s a cute little book to check out.

Graphic Novels: 6/10; Off the Shelf: 8

Athena the Brain (Goddess Girls #1) by Joan Holub – This is a super cute, fast read that does mythological retellings from the goddesses’ points of view. The setting is a middle school, so some of the retellings are super tame. At the same time, they’re pretty loyal to the mythology. Athena still sends olives to the Greeks, she still turns Medusa into a snake-haired woman, her dad is still Zeus, she still sprang out of his forehead, etc. I love the way the Odysseus story is handled: the kids are taking a class and are responsible for moving their particular heroes through the quest. I consider this book more elementary level than middle grade as it is way shorter and less complex than, say, Percy Jackson. Still: super cute.

Support Your Local Library: 29/30


How Not to Spend Your Senior Year by Cameron Dokey – I liked the plotting of this book a lot. Several unexpected twists and turns that I did not see coming. I mean, yes, the romantic stuff was all predictable (so predictable), but the way the plot moved forward was not. My only problem is that the characters are kind of flat and have no real depth, which means I was less engaged in what they did. Everything is very on the surface here, and if the character development were amped up more, the book would have been stellar. As it stands, this book was strictly bathroom reading material. I think it’d make a cool movie, though.

Off the Shelf: 9; YA Reading Challenge: 26

Excalibur: The Legend of King Arthur by Tony Lee, illustrated by Sam Hart – The King Arthur story in graphic novel form. I found this to be really boring. I mean, Lee and Hart managed to cram just about everything in the book, but I didn’t feel the characters were that well developed. I liked the art for the most part, except I hate the way the faces are drawn. All of this amazing detail on the page, and no real detail for the faces. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t connect to the story.

Support Your Local Library: 30/30; Graphic Novels: 7/10

Book Review: Where She Went

You know how sometimes you read a book, and it’s kind of perfect, but you don’t know it until you finish it, when you close it and think, “Wow, that was kind of perfect”?

Yeah, that’s how I felt about Where She Went by Gayle Forman.

Did If I Stay really need a sequel? No. But I’m very, very glad this book exists.

Support Your Local Library: 28/30; YA Reading Challenge: 25/20

Book Review: Level Up

To provide that boy with the life he has, I’ve had to eat much bitterness. He must learn to do the same.

In Level Up by Gene Luen Yang (illustrated by Thien Pham), Dennis Ouyang has to decide whether he wants to pursue medical school (his dead father’s wish) or continue pissing his life away playing video games.

I’m being kind of facetious, but that’s the basic gist.

The story has some really great elements, especially Dennis’s motivations for the different changes he makes in his life. The cast of characters around him (his gaming buddy, med school cohort, parents, angels of father’s dreams) are fantastic. Some great mini-conflicts also arise, especially with all of the various people in his life.

The only thing I wasn’t really a fan of is the artwork. I mean, it’s fine, but it’s more washed watercolor than the vibrant kinds of colors I like.

You can see a preview of the novel and its artwork here.

Support Your Local Library: 27/30; YA Lit: 24/20; POC Reading Challenge: 16/15; Graphic Novels: 5/10

Book Review: Revolution

There is only one thing I fear now–love.

For I have seen it and I have felt it and I know that it is love, not death, that undoes us.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly manages to be two novels in one. It’s the story of Andi, a girl consumed by grief. It’s also the story of Alexandrine, a girl from the French Revolution whose journal Andi finds and reads.

What I Liked

– I love a good story within a story, and Donnelly definitely pulls it off here. Alex and Andi are both fully realized characters with clear plot trajectories and character growth. Both stories are well-handled, and, although the parallels are not always obvious, Andi’s fascination with Alex makes perfect sense.

– Fantastic characters. Not just Andi and Alex, but the supporting players, too. Andi’s parents and friends, the different people Alex encounters. Love Vijay–I wish we got even more time with him.


– Virgil. Virgil is amazing fantastic and everything a love interest should be.

– Andi is a musician, and I love the way music is used in the story. I’m not that keen on Virgil’s mad rhymes, but they serve a purpose and are well used, so I’ll accept them. Just like I’ll accept the focus on how music connects us and is a universal language in this novel (and real life!).

– Alex is an actress (“player”) and she uses her art in the same way. Love.

– This is a book about grief and trauma and how both transcend time and class.

– I also super love the importance of connection, and, more specifically, how reading fosters a connection and can help us feel less alone.

– I found Andi a little whiny, rich girl in the beginning, and I think that Donnelly manages to make her more relatable as time goes on. Stories about depression are always hard to read anyway, and this book would have been a lot harder to bear if I just found Andi annoying, so I’m glad that issue is solved right away.

Think you only kings have power? Stand on a stage and hold the hearts of men in your hands. Make them laugh with a gesture, cry with a word. Make them love you. And you will know what power is.

What I Didn’t Like

– Purgatory. I just really could not get with this part of the book. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it just did not work for me.

– I also felt the book could be a little shorter. But, again, that’s probably because I didn’t like the purgatory section.

– The book starts a little slow (see above comment re: whiny, rich girl) but once it got going, I was completely interested and invested.

– Okay, please excuse me as I vent a little about my own issues. I love the trope of the vacation romance in general. Well, at least I did until I realized that, you know, it’s a repeating trope that has no basis in my reality. It is so not real life, and I feel like Andi finding a hot guy in Paris that wants to deal with her and all her brokenness is just one of those things that continue to make me feel inadequate because I haven’t had a vacation romance. Why can’t I meet a Virgil is what I’m saying. DEAR TEEN LIT, STOP IT. IT’S NOT FAIR.

In conclusion: Very engrossing story with with great characters and a great plot, though it is a little sad.

YA Reading Challenge: 23/20; Support Your Local Library: 26/30

Nostalgia: If This Is Love, I’ll Take Spaghetti

I’ve always considered myself a very level-headed sort of person. While my friends struggle through adolescence alternating between moods of rapture and despair, I sail along on a fairly even keel, never–or almost never–going overboard about anything.

So starts “I’ll Never Stop Loving You, Tommy Toledo,” the second of nine stories in Ellen Conford’s If This Is Love, I’ll Take Spaghetti AKA The Best Short Story Collection EVER.

Okay, maybe not. But this book was one of the ones I sought out as I made my through the Friends of the Library book sale. I had to have it. What’s so great about it is that as soon as I opened the book and started reading, the details of all the stories came back to me immediately. It’s just so great. SO GREAT.

The stories, in order, are:

“If This Is Love, I’ll Take Spaghetti” — Jamie wants to lose twenty pounds, but what she really wants is for Jeff to notice her. And he does! But before she loses weight. So does that mean she doesn’t need to diet anymore?

“I’ll Never Stop Loving You, Tommy Toledo” — Level-headed Katie does not entertain celebrity crushes, until she falls hard for Tommy Toledo. She becomes obsessed. OBSESSED. So obsessed she drags her best friend to a concert and then on a stalking mission at his hotel. Is Tommy everything she hoped?

“What Do I Do Now?” — A terrifically shy girl writes to an advice columnist about how to get the boy of her dreams who is possibly equally shy to notice her. All of the advice she gets manages to backfire, so she engages in a back and forth with the columnist, which allows the reader to see how it’s all playing out.

“Take My Mom–Please!” — Bonnie befriends Tamara Cherp (yes, Cherp) on the first day of school, and gets to meet Tamara’s eccentric mother who Bonnie thinks is just fantastically amazing and wants her own mother to emulate.

“I Hate You, Wallace B. Pokras” – Barbara sees her boyfriend at the movies with another girl. Everything she thinks (mostly about how she hates him, and he is a lying liar who lies) is outlined in this story.

“The Girl Who Had Everything” – Diane is the girl who has everything. Her best friend is the narrator who tells us what happens when Diane’s boyfriend maybe kind of loses interest in her. Such an outside looking in story.

“Loathe at First Sight” – Alan tries to hit on Anne with disastrous results.

“Your Three Minutes Are Up” – In the world before call waiting, Libby constantly hogs the phone, so much so that her parents put egg timers by all the phones and limit her calls to three minutes each. Oh, and she can only have three calls per day. AND her friends’ parents follow suit.

“Double Date” – Two best friends get separated when one moves to a different school district, but they both manage to fall for a boy whose name is a variation on Richard.

The last story is the weakest, but the focus on friendship makes me happy. I love, love the Tommy Toledo one because it’s so over the top and ridiculous. I just…homegirl does some dedicated stalking. I can’t even imagine her in the internet age. She’d be that girl posting pictures on twitter after finding out where dude lives and then wondering why everybody calls her crazy/inappropriate. I love the message in If This Is Love with its emphasis on doing things for yourself and not so people will like you. And my absolute favorite is “The Girl Who Had Everything.” Probably because it speaks to my inner sidekick.

The point is that I loved rereading this whole collection. IT SPEAKS TO ME. Ellen Conford, you are great.

Now, if only I could get my hands on Seven Days to a Brand New Me

YA of the ’80s and ’90s: 4; YA Reading Challenge: 22/20; Off the Shelf: 7/5