A Year of Themed Reviews – June: Pride Month: How to Repair a Mechanical Heart by JC Lillis

How to Repair a Mechanical HeartHow to Repair a Mechanical Heart by J.C. Lillis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A cute YA romance that reads like fanfic. Brandon has finally worked up the courage to come out to his very religious family. They do not take it well. They are hoping a summer road trip with his childhood friend Rebecca will remind him where his priorities are supposed to lie. But Bec isn’t the only one coming. Brandon is also travelling across the states with his friend and co-vlogger host Abel, hitting a series of cons for their favourite tv show Castaway Planet. Abel is determined to set Brandon up with some nice young man to help him get over the broken heart he doesn’t really have. Brandon is trying to decide if he wants to be an android, rather than deal with his guilt and complicated emotions. An excellent light summer read, especially if you’re going on a road trip.

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Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder

Sophie's WorldSophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A history of philosophy melded with a young adult novel that aims for quirky but just winds up being creepy and dull. Sophie’s World starts out with its fourteen year old protagonist receiving letters from a middle-aged man, a stranger to both her and her mother. Anyone who has read Lolita has their shoulders up around their ears already. While Alberto Knox’s intentions are pure – he only wishes to give Sophie a correspondence course in the history of philosophy – it took me at least 100 pages before I stopped waiting for the other shoe to drop and Knox to kidnap her. The rest of the book bounces between Sophie’s lessons with Alberto, in which we follow along, and someone named Hilde Møller Knag. Hilde’s personal belongings regularly turn up in Sophie’s mailbox. Or bedroom. The two girls have nothing in common. Sophie has to figure out who Hilde is and why Sophie is receiving mail addressed to Hilde before their birthdays, because Alberto is convinced something will happen when both girls are fifteen. The story gets more and more bizarre and eventually devolves into a mishmash of fairy tale characters gallivanting about. I resent the precious hours I wasted on it. All I have to show for all that time is a vague understanding of the history of philosophy.

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Dingo by Charles de Lint

Dingo (Newford)Dingo by Charles de Lint
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This quick little fantasy story about shapeshifters, dingoes, and spirits is another delightful foray into the world of Charles de Lint. There’s magic, teen romance, bones and baobabs. Small-town high schooler Miguel meets Newford’s newest arrival, Lainey, when her family moves into town that summer from Australia and he immediately falls head over heels in love with her. Lainey isn’t exactly what she seems however. Her ancestors made a bargain that could cost her her life and her family has been on the run ever since. Lainey wants to stop running. Miguel will do anything to help her, but neither of them know exactly what will be necessary to secure her freedom, they’re going up against powerful spirits from the beginning of time, and their only other ally is the school bully. Is he turning over a new leaf by helping them? Or is he hoping to get the power of the dingo spirit for himself?

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The Blue Girl by Charles de Lint

The Blue Girl (Newford, #15) The Blue Girl (Newford, #15) by Charles de Lint
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve actually been avoiding Charles de Lint books for several years now; since skimming The Onion Girl in a Chapters one day to see what the author was like and almost immediately coming across a sexual assault I found very distressing. However a dear friend pressed The Blue Girl into my hands and assured me it was one of her all time favourite books and now that I’ve finished it I regret the years spent not reading de Lint’s works. Which are many. So let me introduce you to my first de Lint experience, The Blue Girl.

While you wouldn’t think a tattooed teen punk with gang ties would have much in common with a geeky, shy girl whose mother doesn’t even let her wear pants, the friendship Imogene and Maxine forge is grounded in things much stronger than fashion. The two ostracized girls are each others’ havens from the bullies that have plagued their high school years. Things are going reasonably smoothly until Imogene notices Adrian. Monster crush, you ask? No. Adrian is a ghost. He’s been haunting the school since his death, hanging out with a pack of fairies, and Imogene intrigues him; when they get to talking one day he tells her his story and tries to introduce her to the fairies. But she can’t perceive them. That bothers Adrian, but it’s when the fairies offer to “help” Imogene see them that things really go wrong. Their machinations bring Imogene to the attention of the some truly malicious creatures, and neither Imogene, nor Maxine, nor Adrian have any idea how to keep Imogene safe. It’s not just her life in danger. It’s her soul.

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The Day the Sky Fell: The Yellow Hoods, Book #5 by Adam Dreece

The Day the Sky Fell (The Yellow Hoods, #5)The Day the Sky Fell by Adam Dreece
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is it. The last of the series. Do Tee and her brave friends triumph against the Lady in Red, the Piemans, the Fare, and all the other foes arrayed against them? Can a group of teenagers best experts in intrigue?
Of course I’m not going to tell you. Read the book and find out. The Day the Sky Fell had the fastest plot of the whole pentalogy, I really couldn’t put it down. I still wanted a flowchart for all the character relationships, but at least there weren’t any new ones added. Again, some violence and bloodshed, but little else. Dreece has even revealed one of the characters is gay, in the sort of offhand scene that makes me dream of one day having a society where homosexuality isn’t a big deal. It just is. I’m happy to see that Dreece agrees with me, and put his beliefs where his mouth is. Or rather, where his writing utensil is.
Despite Dreece closing The Yellow Hoods with this book, not all the loose ends are tied up. A few of the antagonists could certainly stage a comeback some years down the road, and Dreece mentions possibly starting a second series around a more mature Tee and her friends. I wouldn’t say no to that. It’s been a good run.

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Beauties of the Beast: The Yellow Hoods Book #4 by Adam Dreece

Beauties of the Beast (The Yellow Hoods, #4)Beauties of the Beast by Adam Dreece
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maybe you thought there weren’t going to be new characters in the penultimate book. Maybe you thought you could stop updating your cast flow chart. Finally laminate it and put it up on the wall to use as a reference. Well put that frame back in the box. Dreece put in more people. Never fear, the delightful Tee, Elly, and Richy are still with us. As are many of the old favourites from previous installments. Plus all the backstabbing, plotting, and double-dealing we’ve come to expect from Dreece’s writing. But wait, there’s more! Airship battles! More explosions! Rocket packs! Here I thought shock sticks and mechanical horses were enough excitement. Dreece disagreed, and we all benefit. Something he didn’t add more of was bloodshed. The level of violence has been pretty consistent since it was upped in the second book, and there isn’t much else to warn for. This is a really decent series, and I’m looking forwards to seeing how everything gets tied together in The Day the Sky Fell. Stay tuned!

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All the King’s-Men: The Yellow Hoods Book #3 by Adam Dreece

All the King's-Men (The Yellow Hoods, #3)All the King’s-Men by Adam Dreece
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just when you thought you knew all the characters. Dreece keeps stuffing them in, with more betrayals and flashbacks than you could shake a shock-stick at. If your memory is anything like mine, it isn’t the gripping plot alone that keeps you from putting these books down. It’s the fear that when you pick it up the next day you won’t remember who is on what side anymore. Tee, Elly, Richy, and Nikolas Klaus haven’t left us, nor have the Cochon brothers from Along Came a Wolf, but the leaders of the Tub and the Fare join the Pieman family in seeing just how many people can fit into a 340 page steampunk romp. (Answer: about 30). I wonder if Dreece reads much Russian literature? Tolstoy would be proud.

It seems that Dreece uses All the King’s-Men to start tying the history of Eorth with its present political climate, as he brings the series to its climax. Tee and the Yellow Hoods are joined on their flight through the wilderness by new friends and questionable leaders as they flee the agents of the Fare and other rogue factions bent on toppling the government and taking over the world. Again, some bloodshed, gunshots, and deaths. Suggestions of child abuse and mentions of kidnapping, but written from the perspective of the (safe) survivor which takes out much of the sting. An even mix of female and male characters. With an even mix of strong and weak traits. Take a spy novel, add teenagers, set it in the medieval era and then hose everything down with a good spray of steampunk and you’d have yourself The Yellow Hoods series. It’s good stuff.

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Breadcrumb Trail: The Yellow Hoods Book #2 by Adam Dreece

Breadcrumb Trail (The Yellow Hoods, #2)Breadcrumb Trail by Adam Dreece
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is where things start to really pick up. Tee, Elly, and Richy are joined by a steadily increasing number of characters as Dreece weaves several parallel plot lines; chapters on missing children in the previously peaceful town of Mineau tag team with secret societies plotting to steal steam engine plans in a universe where inventing has been outlawed. If you had a tough time putting down Along Came a Wolf, clear your calendar when you start Breadcrumb Trail. You can put it down if you really have to, but there aren’t exactly breathers built into the plot. It’ll be a struggle. This was also the book with the strongest fairy tale influences, thanks to the plot line with the disturbing “Ginger Lady.” The fairy tale influences in the first book seemed to revolve around names and titles rather than having those old stories come to life, or be rewritten in a novel way. Compared to the first book, this one has more violence. Actual bloodshed, gun shots, deaths. No racism or sexism. Child abuse and kidnapping are present in this installment, however. Only hinted at, but they are there. Having finished the series, I can say they are mentioned again later in the series, but only in passing in two other books. Dreece writes a good story without resorting to sensationalism, and his non-stop plots make for a quick read.

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Along Came a Wolf: The Yellow Hoods, Book #1 by Adam Dreece

Along Came a Wolf (The Yellow Hoods, #1)Along Came a Wolf by Adam Dreece
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With Along Came a Wolf Dreece launches a steampunk-fairy tale young adult fantasy series with ample excitement, danger, and plot twists to keep you engaged until the last page of book five. We follow the spunky Tee, Elly, and Richy as a visit from a mysterious messenger to Tee’s grandfather plunges the four of them into a world of intrigue and danger. The action barely pauses until the last page. The characters are pretty well fleshed out and a good balance of gumption and terror. There isn’t a single thing for me to offer a content warning about. Very little violence, no sexism, no racism, nothing. Only the editing could have been better. There are some sentences that could have been more polished, and a few times where Dreece used the same word in two adjacent lines, which is kind of a pet peeve of mine. However, I will say that I started book two Breadcrumb Trail immediately upon finishing Along Came a Wolf and the editing has much improved, so if it bothers you push through it and the rest of this page-turner of a series will be your reward.

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The Sea of Monsters: Percy Jackson and the Olympians #2 by Rick Riordan

The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #2)The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sea of Monsters is one of those book/movie duos where they only have the slightest resemblance to each other. The basic plot carried through, but the specific events diverged so greatly you might as well have been watching another movie all together. As per usual, the book is better. Riordan makes different people his heroes, instead of it being only Percy all the time. He recreates the Odyssey more closely than the movie has. Percy and Annabeth’s quest is a young adult, modern version of the Odyssey. Which is interesting and cool! I love the magic of reading a new story for the first time and seeing woven through it motifs from famous tales. You don’t get that same rush watching the movie. Those motifs are left out.

Beyond the usual fisticuffs, sword fights, and chariot races, with mild violence, there’s not much to warn for in this book. It’s a quick, easy read that zips along from demon dodgeball to chariot race to sea battle, without asking too much of you to come along.

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