Review: Liar and Spy, by Rebecca Stead

2 stars (It was okay). But.

Liar & Spy cover (link to Goodreads)

A long time ago, I shared an apartment with my best friend Marie. We were both in college. She told me that her dad hated being late, so much so, in fact, that he considered it an absolute deal breaker when he showed up to pick up a date and she wasn’t ready to go.

And you know what? That’s fair. When you’re choosing a marriage partner, you’re allowed to be as petty as you need to be. If you know you’d resent someone every time they made you late for something, you’d probably do better avoiding marrying them.

I tried to remember that story when I was dating to help me not take things personally. Who knew what random mannerism or habit of mine might make someone not call me back? It might not even be something bad; it was just a deal breaker for them.

I think about it again now that I’m querying. Yesterday I got a rejection on a full, and the email basically said, “We loved x, y, and z, but ultimately didn’t connect with the character as much as we would have liked.” The thing is, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the character. Different people connect differently with different characters, just like different people connect differently with different people. I’ll keep querying in the hopes that I find someone who does connect with my MC.

This hasn’t been much of a review yet. The truth is, I didn’t really connect with George, and I actively didn’t like Safer. Because of that, I didn’t really care what happened, and I didn’t feel joyful at the ending. But lots of people adored this book and found it immensely satisfying. I’m gonna say this is a me thing and tell you to try it for yourself, especially if you like quiet books with delicately executed themes.

It’s short and sweet and voicey. You very well may like it more than I did.

The City of Ember

4 stars (I really liked it)

The City of Ember cover (link to Goodreads)

Isn’t that cover gorgeous? A librarian recommended this one to my son, and it was a great recommendation. He ended up reading all four books in the series!

I read only this one, but I liked it a lot. It’s about a city built underground–but the power keeps going out. Something is wrong in Ember, and if someone doesn’t figure out what it is soon, the whole population (and possibly the whole human race) may die.

The two viewpoint characters are perfect middle grade characters. They’re young but brave, resourceful, empathetic, and full of heart. They have families they care about and hopes and dreams, and when they get swept up in the mystery, the plot clips right along. I predicted the end, but I imagine every reader will, and that’s part of the point. WE know what Ember’s secret is, but we’re dying to know how its citizens will figure it out and what they’ll do when they do.

The movie is not good. I don’t recommend it. I think my son liked this book better than the others in the series, FWIW.

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street

2 stars (It was okay)

After loving the first Penderwicks book, I was seriously let down by this one. My biggest problem was the cultural appropriation plotline: one of the sisters is a budding writer, and the other, a “tom boy,” is assigned to write a play as homework. They swap responsibilities, so the writer sister writes the play for the tom boy. The play is about a Native American young woman, except it’s a very “noble savages” take on a Native American story, and it made me very, very uncomfortable.

If it had been one little moment, it wouldn’t have been as big a deal. But the tom boy gets praised for writing the play, and then the school decides to put on the play with the tom boy in the lead role, and the lie gets way out of hand. The result was that a lot of pages were spent on the lines of the play and thinking about the play, and it’s just all very . . . last century. I think the 2000s can do better than this.

Plus, the silly romantic plotline with the dad didn’t work for me at all (though I did want him to end up with who he ended up with), and some of the things that I found the most charming (mainly Batty) in the first book were not there anymore. It’s still well written, and there were good, authentic character moments and funny moments, but overall I found this book a little too precious and cheesy and unbelievable to truly fall in love with.

Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians: The Scrivener’s Bones

4 stars (I really liked it).

Scrivener's Bones cover (link to Goodreads)

I am going to start with a series of confessions. I read the first Alcatraz book years ago and didn’t like it much. Sanderson’s sense of humor doesn’t really match with mine, so when he goes all zany, as he does, he loses me. I decided then not to read the rest of the series.

My 13 year old son has read the first three books and liked them, but the wait was so long before book 4 that he got too old for them and can’t remember now what happened in the first three and doesn’t care enough to reread them so he can finish the series.

A few months ago, I was able to read an advance copy of book 6 of this series. I remembered enough of book 1 to muddle through, but . . . it was a lot more interesting than I remembered. And suddenly I wanted to read the rest. So those are the confessions: I didn’t think I would like this, and I’ve read most of book 6 and you haven’t. So there.

Okay, so now on to the review. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. I was never bored, and the humor worked for me. I liked the characters and the twists. It’s short and sweet, so I finished it in a day or two. I’m definitely reading the next one.

Children of Blood and Bone

4 stars (I really liked it).

Children of Blood and Bone cover (link to Goodreads)

If you haven’t heard of this book, you haven’t been paying attention to book hype the last few years. As a west-African-based fantasy about systemic oppression, it is an important book, a book that is doing what few other books are. And for the most part, it does it well. The plot clips along at a good pace, the writing is strong, the conflict is compelling. I had issues with the romance, though I might come around to it in a sequel or two . . .

For me personally, it was a bit dark and violent. But lots of people like dark, and I’m not opposed to it in small doses (like, reading one book but not diving immediately into the sequel, for example). I’d probably recommend this to older YA readers and adults for this reason.

I listened to the audiobook, and Bahni Turpin is as amazing in this as she is in The Hate U Give. Her versatility is unbelievable.