ARC Review: Maudlin Towers: Curse of the Werewolf Boy by Chris Priestley

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Maudlin Towers: Curse of the Werewolf Boy

Author: Chris Priestley

Category: MG Mystery

Publisher/Date: Bloomsbury/5 October 2017

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36150286-maudlin-towers

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Curse-Werewolf-Boy-Maudlin-Towers/dp/1681199327/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/curse-of-the-werewolf-boy-chris-priestley/1127084657?ean=9781681199320

Mildew and Sponge don’t think much of Maudlin Towers, the blackened, gloom­laden, gargoyle-infested monstrosity that is their school. But when somebody steals the School Spoon and the teachers threaten to cancel the Christmas holidays until the culprit is found, our heroes must spring into action and solve the crime!

But what starts out as a classic bit of detectivating quickly becomes weirder than they could have imagined. Who is the ghost in the attic? What’s their history teacher doing with a time machine? And why do a crazy bunch of Vikings seem to think Mildew is a werewolf?

Hugely funny, deliciously creepy and action-packed by turns, this brand new series from Chris Priestley is perfect for 8+ readers who like their mysteries with a bit of bite. Fans of Lemony Snicket and Chris Riddell will love Curse of the Werewolf Boy.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

This book was cute and funny, and it has a lot going for it. It reads a lot like a satire of some magical boarding school books; so many on-the-nose names and silly traditions as well as adults with exaggerated characteristics fill the pages of this one. The all-important School Spoon goes missing, and as Mildew and Sponge try to figure out what happened to it they run into more questions than they do answers. This book has a lot of twists and turns, and it’s very amusing.

At the same time, I don’t feel like this book was the right book for me. Though this is usually the kind of book that I like, I didn’t feel particularly grabbed by this book; it didn’t read as anything particularly unique, and the pacing of it felt a bit too quick for my taste. I think the plot was a bit too all over the place and the writing could have been a little bit clearer. It wasn’t necessarily poorly-written or anything, but it wasn’t quite meshing with me.

Younger middle grade readers who love creepy yet funny mysteries would probably really love this book. Though it’s not one of my personal favorites, it still has a lot going for it and may be very entertaining for young readers.

Final rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Review: The Pants Project by Cat Clarke

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: The Pants Project

Author: Cat Clarke

Category: MG Contemporary (LGBTQIAP+)

Publisher/Date: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky/1 March 2017

Edition: Hardcover

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30095473-the-pants-project

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Pants-Project-Cat-Clarke/dp/1492638099/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-pants-project-cat-clarke/1123725848

Whoever wrote the uniform policy decided (whyyy?) that girls had to wear skirts, while boys were allowed to wear pants.

Sexist. Dumb. Unfair.

“Girls must wear a black, pleated, knee-length skirt.”

I bet I read those words a hundred times during summer vacation. The problem wasn’t the last word in that sentence. Skirt wasn’t really the issue, not for me. 
The issue was the first word. Girls.

Here’s the thing:
I may seem like a girl, but on the inside, I’m a boy.

This book has content warnings for transmisia, homomisia, sexism, and bullying.

I just loved this book! It’s a book that has a clear message that it wants you to understand, and it manages to get that message across in a way that’s straightforward without being too in-your-face about it. Liv has a very large personality that shines through on every page, and I loved seeing him be so sure of himself. With how pervasive the idea that eleven is “too young” for a kid to know their gender, it was fantastic to see this book directly addressing that.

The sexism in this book is intense — Liv isn’t out for the majority of the book, and the stereotypes that are projected onto genders is blood-boiling. It was a constant battle for Liv, and while the antagonists of the story were aggravating it was great seeing Liv get support from others as he tried to figure out how to get the policy changed. The friendship between Liv and Jacob in particular was wonderful to see.

The diversity in this book was really nice as well — in addition to a trans main character, we also have sapphic women parents and a disabled side character, both of which we don’t see enough of in children’s lit. I was really happy with the rep, personally, and would love to see more of this.

Overall, this is a wonderful book. I want to see more middle grade books like this one — it’s definitely a must-read.

Final rating: 5 of 5 stars

ARC Review: The Cat Encyclopedia for Kids by Joanne Mattern

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: The Cat Encyclopedia for Kids

Author: Joanne Mattern

Category: MG Nonfiction

Publisher/Date: Capstone/1 March 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36001605-the-cat-encyclopedia-for-kids

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Kids-Capstone-Young-Readers/dp/1623709377/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-cat-encyclopedia-for-kids-joanne-mattern/1126798544?ean=9781623709372

For Ages: 9-12

Do you have cat-titude? Learn the history, behaviors, physical traits, and special characteristics of cat breeds including Siamese, Persian, American Shorthair, Abyssinian, Maine Coon, and many more. Filled with fun facts and charming photographs, this guidebook gives cat lovers and owners an in-depth look at some furry feline friends. Charming photographs, fun facts, and hands-on pet care tips make this is the ultimate cat-alogue!

I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

I was the kind of kid who would read cat encyclopedias from cover-to-cover multiple times because of my love of cats, so the fact that this book caught my eye is not at all surprising. Unfortunately, this book didn’t live up to my expectations for a number of reasons, and I didn’t finish it with the best impression.

I largely didn’t like the book because of ethical reasons. This book described a handful of cat breeds in detail, and then after each one told the reader that the best place to get these particular cats was through breeders and pet stores, and it had an “elitist” air around it when it came to mentioning animal shelters. This book had a large bend towards cat show culture, and while there’s nothing wrong with describing breeds of cats based on show requirements, it was rather uncomfortable reading someone tell a targeted 9 to 12-year-old audience that they should be buying cats instead of adopting them because purebred cats are superior and are “less likely to have health problems” when the likelihood of a 9 to 12-year-old actually being able to show their pet cats in a show is extremely low. With the overpopulation of shelters as it is, we shouldn’t be teaching kids that shelter animals are inferior to purebred ones when that flat-out isn’t true.

Additionally, the book had an incorrect definition of de-clawing, stating that it “either remove[s] part of the claw or keep[s] a cat from retracting the claw” when the actual act of declawing removes part of the cat’s fingers. While the book says that organizations “disapprove” of de-clawing it doesn’t actually take a firm stance against it, and the misleading definition of de-clawing can lead people into believing that de-clawing isn’t as harmful as it is. Note that this is the text from the ARC and not the final copy and this is something that I hope gets fixed in the final text, but it’s a large concern of mine.

The pictures are really beautiful and did make me smile — the book is FILLED with large, colorful pictures of adorable cats, and they by themselves are delightful.

The pictures in this book are worth looking at for cat lovers, but the writing wasn’t very engaging and left me concerned about the motivations behind writing the text. It’s not the worst book I’ve ever read, but I would advise approaching it with caution.

Final rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Resolutions/Goals!

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This week’s topic is bookish resolutions and goals! I did a similar thing back in December with my post 8 Bookish Goals for 2018!, so I’m going to take a slightly different angle on this and talk about what kinds of books I want to read this year instead.

10.) DayZero Goal: Finish 7 more books from the Modern Library 100 Best Novels list

I’ve talked before about DayZero, and half of this list is going to be made up of the reading goals I set up for myself on that list. I had a goal to read 10 books from the Modern Library 100 Best Novels list, and I’ve read 3 so far. I have my TBR listed on the DayZero goal page!

9.) DayZero Goal: Read every Stephen King novel

Another DayZero goal, and one that I’ve talked about pretty extensively. For a more in-depth discussion of this goal, see this post: State of the King Address: My Stephen King Reading Quest

8.) DayZero Goal: Read 4 books suggested by friends

This goal was originally for 5 books, and I read one that my partner suggested last year. My problem earlier? I didn’t have friends who liked to read! Friends who don’t read don’t make book suggestions, so I was a bit stuck.

I DO have friends who read now, though — and that includes you! Want to help me with this goal? Suggest a book for me to read in the comments!

7.) DayZero Goal: Read a Sherlock Holmes novel

I have A Study In Scarlet on my shelf waiting for me. I just need to stop getting overwhelmed by other books and read it.

6.) DayZero Goal: Read Paradise Lost

I read about a quarter of Paradise Lost for one of my Intro To The English Major classes. We weren’t required to read the whole thing, which was good because I moved the weekend before finals week and lost my textbook in this mess:

An old photo of stacks of books lining the walls of a bedroom 3/4 of the way around and veering into the center of the room. Stacks are about 2 to 2 1/2 feet high.

A stack of YA fiction in the corner of a small bedroom. There are about six stacks of books ranging from 1 to 2 1/2 feet high.

…so now I want to read the whole thing! I know where my book is now. I can totally do this.

5.) Read the backlist YA I own already

I own a LOT of books that I haven’t read. My YA collection isn’t as big as some other parts of my collection, so getting through the ones I haven’t read yet shouldn’t actually take as long as other kinds of books will. I bought them for a reason — I want to read them!

4.) Check out more adult fiction from the library

I tend to stick pretty close to YA when checking books out from the library, but I want to branch out some more and read more adult fiction, too! I like adult fiction, but I don’t really know where to go when I enter that section of the library, so more often than not, I just don’t.

3.) Read more new middle grade books

Most of the middle grade I’ve read are books from when *I* was part of the target age group… I would like to change that and read some newer things!

2.) Read fewer books that don’t interest me

Sometimes I find myself picking up books because they look like ones I SHOULD read rather than ones that actually intrigue me. I don’t want to do that anymore. I need to read more fun stuff.

1.) Read a new-to-me series

I am not a big series person. I am impatient, get irritated when a series sags in the middle, and always seem to end up in ones that start out great but end up being pretty awful. So, I want to find a new series out there (preferably one that’s completed) that I’ll like! I want to give series another try.

What are some of your bookish goals? Do you have any book suggestions for me? Let me know in the comments!

How Reading More Diversely Broke My Reading Slump

I loved reading as a kid. New books were the most exciting thing in the world for me — during Scholastic Book Fair seasons, my mom would buy up all of the books that I said I wanted, and then she’d keep them hidden in a cupboard and give them to me every so often throughout the year. Barnes and Noble’s summer reading program was exciting because I could get a brand new book at the end of it, and all I had to do was read! I spent countless hours volunteering in a small library when I got a little older, and During those childhood and early teen years I couldn’t get enough of books.

Something changed during my late teens.

During my early teens I didn’t know I was going to end up being a bi, demisexual, non-binary, neurodivergent, disabled* person. That was a scary thing to start figuring out as a teen because I lived in a rural, conservative community with conservative parents and no real support in that regard. All of a sudden, I found myself wanting books that represented my newfound queerness especially, and yet I learned that getting my hands on them was exceedingly difficult. I got tired of all of the white allocishet abled characters and their white allocishet abled romances because the only thing that I had in common with them was that I was white.

I still had my books and I still collected new (mostly used) ones, but from the ages of about 17-21, I almost entirely stopped reading. I didn’t make a lot of time for it, it didn’t feel fun to me anymore, and yet I still liked the idea of it. The idea of reading good books sat so well with me that I wanted to spend the rest of my life in libraries. I felt at home surrounded by books, but I couldn’t get myself to read them.

In early 2017, I made a concentrated effort to read more diversely, and my world expanded. I found bi characters who understood me so well that I couldn’t stop grinning. Trans characters who knew how I felt so much that I cried. Characters with OCD who understood what was going on in my brain so well that I had to sit back and just let that fact sink in.

I didn’t just find characters like me; I found characters that weren’t. Even though I could no longer relate to those white allocishet abled characters from my early teens, it’s still a fact that I know far more about that culture than I do other cultures I don’t share. I read more books by Black authors. Latinx authors. Jewish authors. Muslim authors. I fell in love with these characters, and while these books didn’t make me an expert by any means, they did help me grow as a person. They got me outside of myself and into the shoes of others, and I grew more empathetic than I’ve ever been in my life.

Diverse books made me feel excited about reading again. I feel alive when holding one in my hands, and I feel so much more deeply when I read than I’ve ever felt before. Despite being a full-time graduate student with three jobs and hardly any time to breathe, I’ve managed to read 91 books so far this year, and I am well on my way to finishing 100 before December ends. Without diverse books, I don’t think I would have even managed half of that this year. Not every book I read WAS diverse (I’m still on a quest to finish every Stephen King book, I did a Harry Potter re-read, and I read quite a few Lurlene McDaniel books for the Hey Lurlene! podcast this year), almost all of my favorites were by diverse authors about diverse characters, and the excitement I felt while reading those stories kept me wanting more. I’ve pre-ordered and bought more new books this year than I ever have in my life, and all but one of those books was diverse. I found my happy place while reading again. I found that spark.

Part of me wonders whether I would have had such a long reading slump at all if I’d had access to diverse books earlier in my life. I can’t say for sure, but the genuine happiness I feel while reading these books now is something that I probably could have used as a teen. If I were to give my teen self a gift, I’d give them a letter saying “yeah hi YOU’RE NOT CIS OR STRAIGHT FIGURE IT OUT ALREADY” and a box of my favorite diverse reads from this year. I’d like to think that I would have turned out just a little bit happier.

Books I’d include in the box to myself (in the order in which I read them this year, and linked to either my review or the book’s Goodreads page):

These books brought joy back to reading for me. I wish teen me could have had them.

 

*I still have trouble claiming the term “disabled” for myself, but I’m figuring that one out.

**If you’ve read my review then you’ll know that I didn’t think TATWD was THAT great for a YA novel, but the OCD rep in this book hit me so hard that I wouldn’t hesitate to give it to my past self. It would have done wonders for me.

Review: George by Alex Gino

Image of book cover from GoodReads
Image of book cover from GoodReads

Title: George

Author: Alex Gino

Category: MG Contemporary (LGBTQIAP+)

Publisher/Date: Scholastic/15 August 2015

Edition: Hardcover

Pages: 195

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/24612624-george?

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0545812542/ref=x_gr_w_glide_bb?ie=UTF8&tag=x_gr_w_glide_bb-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0545812542&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/george-alex-gino/1121103289?ean=9780545812542&st=AFF&2sid=Goodreads,%20Inc_2227948_NA&sourceId=AFFGoodreads,%20IncM000004

BE WHO YOU ARE. When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part. . . because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte – but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

This is one of those books that I wish I had had growing up. That feeling of knowing what you’re interested in but not being able to share those interests because you’re afraid of what everyone else will say about them is difficult; it’s far more difficult when gender expectations are what’s keeping you from sharing them. Coming out can be absolutely terrifying, and George managed to capture that beautifully while also telling a charming tale about friendship and family.

I want to talk about my other two favorite characters in this book first, though — Kelly and Scott. At such a young age, having some sort of support system can make a HUGE difference for a trans kid, and I fell in love with these two characters because they almost immediately decided to help George be who she wants to be however they can. It can be difficult for cisgender people to understand what it is to be trans, especially if they’re young and haven’t had any exposure to openly trans people in their childhood, but once Kelly started to realize what George meant when she said she felt like a girl, she decided to do her research so that she could understand her friend better! The exchange between these two ten-year-olds when George confirmed she was trans made my heart melt. Even before that, when George said she wanted to try out for the part of Charlotte in the play instead of the part of Wilbur, Kelly hardly questioned it before deciding to help her out. I really admired Kelly’s enthusiasm within the friendship and how she encouraged George to be comfortable in who she is. The friendship dynamic between these two was just perfect, and I smiled at every George and Kelly scene there was.

I have a similar appreciation for Scott. Having supportive family members can be even more important than having supportive friends, and with her mom’s initial negative reaction to her coming out, George’s older brother, Scott, managed to make that home life just a little more bearable. Scott isn’t perfect. He doesn’t really understand what it is to be trans, and one of the first things that comes into his head is wondering if George wants to have genital reconstructive surgery, which kind of misses the point a little bit. The thing is, though, even though he doesn’t fully understand, he’s still accepting and willing to learn. Through this, Scott manages to make George’s home environment more comfortable for her to live in, and that can be crucial when other family members aren’t supportive. When you come out as trans, it can take people a little bit to get used to, and after knowing George all her life, Scott’s got a certain image in his head of what his little sibling is like. Knowing that there’s an open willingness to change that image of George in his head is wonderful, and seeing how George felt more comfortable after her brother had talked to her was really sweet.

Finally, I want to talk about George herself. I loved seeing her blossom from a questioning person to a more confident trans girl. Being yourself can be so hard when teachers and parents disapprove of your interests, and George managed to get across those feelings of inadequacy and rejection beautifully. She started out as someone who was afraid of showing who she is, and she grew into someone who is able to put herself out there without worrying too much about what other people think. Perhaps most importantly, I think George can bring young trans readers hope — she can tell them that a rejection isn’t the end of the world and that they can find their place. Life isn’t always that easy, but it’s wonderful to see trans people in literature who are genuinely happy and more fulfilled by the end of the book.

I think children, teens, and adults alike would all benefit from reading this book. It’s pretty short and quick, and it packs a lot of heart into the pages. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this.

Final rating: 5 of 5 stars