Friday, August 14, 2015

Shades of London Series - by Maureen Johnson

My rating: 

Since I'm behind on writing reviews, I'm going to cheat a bit and review this series as a whole. I actually checked out the first book, The Name of the Star, without realizing it was part of a series. I had just heard that it was a young adult book about Jack the Ripper, and put it on my to-read list.

The Name of the Star was actually a lot different than I was expecting. Without really knowing anything about the book other than it featured Jack the Ripper I was thinking historical fiction. The modern day setting was a surprise, but a pleasant one. I really enjoyed Rory Deveaux as the main character because she comes across as a very normal teen and very believable as a realistic character. Even when she becomes involved the mystery surrounding the Ripper murders, she still worries about the boy she might like and trying to pass her classes. The supernatural aspect also made this book a lot of fun and was a twist on the copycat killer plot line that I haven't read before.

The second book, The Madness Underneath, picks up as Rory is recovering from the attack by the Jack the Ripper copycat. She's forced to see a therapist even though she can't actually tell them that she can see ghosts, or that it was actually a ghost that attacked her. Eventually though, the Shades (the group of ghost hunters Rory's friends belong to) are able to pull some strings and get her back to school in London. My only complaint about this book is that not much happened in terms of the plot. All the characters were still great, but once Rory got back to Wexford I was expecting more to happen.

Even though the second book wasn't as great as I expected, I feel like The Shadow Cabinet more than makes up for it. After the cliffhanger ending of the previous book, we jump straight into the action as Rory tries to figure out how to find the ghost of one of her friends. Nobody even knows if Rory's theory worked, and maybe the ghost they're all looking for doesn't exist. Rory's school nemesis, Charlotte, is still missing after being kidnapped by Jane and her cult of followers. It also seems like they might be covering up the mass murder of ten people over forty years earlier. This book is just one surprise after another and the ending is no exception. Unfortunately for me, I read the first book thinking it was a standalone, then moved onto the second thinking I was getting into a trilogy. Now I have to endure the long wait for a fourth book.

Even though these weren't the necessarily the best books I've ever read, I'm still going to give the series a 5 paw rating just because of how invested in them I became. All three books had me staying up all night just so I could get to the end without having to take a break and it's been awhile since I've stayed up all night to finish one book, much less three in a row.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Simon vs.the Homo Sapiens Agenda - by Becky Albertalli

My rating:   

Somehow I hadn't heard anything about Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda until all of my Goodreads friends starting reading it. Everyone had such great things to say that I finally decided to hop on the bandwagon.

The book starts when some of Simon's private emails fall into the hands of his classmate Martin. Simon has been emailing another boy at the school, known only as Blue, and neither of them are quite ready to come out as gay. Martin is hoping he has a chance with Simon's friend Abby, and so he blackmails Simon into introducing them. Simon agrees not only to keep his sexual identity private, but also to protect Blue's privacy.

Even after making a deal with Martin, Simon worries about his secret getting out. He realizes that he would rather come out to his friends and family on his own terms before they hear the news from someone else. Simon soon learns that coming out isn't one-time event either, but something he will have to keep repeating. I also love how Simon realizes that all the small changes in his life will effect how people see him, not just his sexual orientation. "But I'm tired of coming out. All I ever do is come out. I try not to change, but I keep changing, in all these tiny ways. I get a girlfriend. I have a beer. And every freaking time, I have to reintroduce myself to the universe all over again." 

With Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Albertalli takes a very relevant issue and comes up with a book that is a great balance of serious and fun. Simon is an adorably geeky boy without falling into the trap of that being his only personality trait as a character. He has a supportive family and friends, but the relationships aren't so idyllic that we never see them fight. This is an extremely enjoyable book and the writing is realistic and keeps you reading. Finally, the sentiment of this book can be summed up by Simon's wonderful quote: "White shouldn't be the default any more than straight should be the default. There shouldn't even be a default."

That is probably my favorite quote from the book and it also makes me think of this wonderful picture I found recently.
This photo & other great ones from

Also, a summer reading update for the program I'm taking part in from This is my ninth book for the summer and I am, very fittingly, using it for the book about coming out challenge.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Bad Feminist - by Roxane Gay

My rating: 

Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay, is another book that I had mixed feelings about. I find this much easier to accept with a book of essays, though, because I can look at each essay as it's own work. Some of them, I absolutely loved, some I didn't enjoy at all. I can say, that there weren't any essays I hated, and I enjoyed this book as a whole. I also think some of my disappointment in certain essays was amplified by how well I thought this book started off. The comparison to the parts I loved really made the aspects I didn't like so much stand out more.

Gay starts off with a wonderful introduction explaining her whole concept of a bad feminist. When women are held to such high standards by society in general, even trying to be a feminist seems like a burden. Some people view you as a crazy man-hater and others expect you to be the paragon of the feminist movement, or what Gay calls 'Capital-F Feminism'. Roxane Gay also admits that she was one of those women who looked down on feminists and didn't want to be labeled as such. Until she realized that being a bad feminist is a completely valid option and, as she puts it, better than being no feminist at all. As a bad feminist, Gay admits that she is imperfect and lives a life full of contradictions, but she is still a feminist. This is something I can really relate to, and I think anyone who is interested in gender equality can as well.

The first few essays after the introduction were very solid in my opinion. Gay writes in a very colloquial way that makes this book seem much more personal than a more academic look at feminism. She does a great job of dealing with tough topics like abortion, rape, or her experiences as a woman of color and then turns right around and makes you laugh with a story about competitive Scrabble tournaments. For me, Gay's weakness is in her essays that come off as an analysis of pop culture, either books, movies, TV shows, or anything else. In almost all of the essays of this type, the pacing seemed extremely awkward. I felt like the essay would trudge along with an overly detailed recap of the book / movie / other in question, then rush to some actual analysis at the very end before ending abruptly. I'll admit that my distaste for these essays might also be somewhat personal, as they remind me of some of my own poorly written essays. You know, the kind where you forget you had a paper to write until the night before and don't have time to do much research or reread the work you're critiquing to actually analyze it. Then you hastily write what little analysis you can think of, which is rushed and lacking in detail, and try to make up for it by filling in the rest of the page limit with an extremely repetitive retelling of the basic plot. Or maybe that's just me...

Overall though, Roxane Gay has put together a very enjoyable collection of essays. Bad Feminist is a book of essays, but is also an equal mix of memoir, humor, social commentary, and critical analysis. While I, personally, could do without the critical analysis, I loved everything else about this book. Bad Feminist is a great read for anyone who has any interest in feminism, especially if they don't want to be called a feminist.

This is also my eighth book for the summer reading challenge from and I will be using it for the challenge to read a book by an author of color.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Parrotfish - by Ellen Wittlinger

My rating: 

I had a hard time decided how to rate this book. On the one hand, I really like that Wittlinger chose to write about a FTM transgender teen who is proud of his identity and open about it. On the other hand, the writing was mediocre and some of the characters were pretty shallow. In the end I decided to settle for two paws.

Grady, formerly Angela, feels that coming out is the right decision. Overall he's glad he did, but he didn't expect how his friends and family would react. Especially his best friend Eve, who completely ignores him at school and when she does talk to him, keeps calling him Angela.

Life at school also becomes harder. Other students stare at Grady in the hallway, he doesn't have any friends since Eve stopped talking to him, and most of his teachers are not supportive at all. Grady starts to feel overwhelmed until he finds an unexpected ally in the P.E. coach Ms. Unger and a new friend, Sebastian. These two characters really made the book for me because they are supportive, but also actually have some personality.

Grady also realizes he has feelings for Kita, but I think this is one of the weaker plot lines. All we know about Kita is that she is half African American, half Japanese, and apparently awesome. Oh, and she has a boyfriend, but because they are fighting Sebastian encourages Grady to make a move. This was one of the few times I really didn't like Sebastian or Grady for going along with him. 

Even with some of the troubles Grady faces, this doesn't seem like a very realistic portrayal of what transgender teens have to face when they come out. But despite this, as well as some lackluster characters and some truly cheesy dialogue, Parrotfish was still an enjoyable book. Especially for a younger audience, this is a nice, light read that also happens to have a transgender teen as the protagonist.

I will be using Parrotfish for the young adult category in the reading challenge from and this is my seventh book of the summer.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Flight of Gemma Hardy - by Margot Livesey

My rating:

I stumbled onto The Flight of Gemma Hardy at the library where they were offering mystery books. These books were in brown paper bags with just a brief description to let you know a little about the genre. Even once I checked out this book, I didn't initially realize that it was a retelling of Jane Eyre, which I will admit I have never read.

The book begins with Gemma's childhood, not long after her uncle has died. Gemma was orphaned as a young child and it is her uncle who steps up to care for her. He brings Gemma from Iceland to live with family in Scotland where Gemma is quite content. After her uncle's death, however, Gemma is stuck with a resentful aunt and cousins who don't care for her. When she is offered a chance to take the entrance exams for the Claypoole boarding school, Gemma sees her chance to escape and her aunt is happy to see her go.

If Livesey painted a bleak picture of Gemma's life at home, it is nothing compared to what she finds at Claypoole. Although she is very independent and even stubborn, Gemma is also a bright a fairly studious girl. Instead of finding a place where she can shine as a star student, Gemma is relegated to the status of a working girl. She has to earn her tuition by providing the labor necessary to run a boarding school and her studies often suffer because of her workload. When the school closes down, Gemma is hopeful and happily accepts a job as an au pair on the Orkney Islands.

Gemma arrives at the distant Blackbird with her hope intact and soon finds herself feeling like she has found somewhere she belongs. Even after all her hardships, though, this is really just the beginning of Gemma's journey. As she matures and finds herself drawn to the wealthy master of Blackbird Hall, Hugh Sinclair, Gemma's life will lead her down an entirely unexpected path.  Livesey tells a compelling story of a girl, and a later a woman, who bravely deals with the twists and turns she encounters in life. I found Gemma's character especially intriguing because, even when it seems like her life can't get any worse, some spark of her stubborn personality shines through. Even though I have never read Jane Eyre, I very much enjoyed Livesey's novel and highly recommend it.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy will be my sixth book for the summer reading program at I'm also going to cheat, just a little, and count this for the classic challenge. I admittedly don't read many classics and as a retelling of Jane Eyre, I think this book should count just in case I don't read anything else that would fit the challenge.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you....A NEW CAT!

I made this blog primarily as a place to share reviews of the many books I read. As you may have guessed from the title of this blog, though, I also love cats and really animals in general. I have a wonderful cat, Felix, who has been a member of the family for almost 14 years now! Recently, I took care of a friend's cat for several days and ever since that cat left, Felix has been pretty upset. I should also note that Felix is huge. Really huge. He's not fat, and the vet agrees that he looks really healthy at about 18 pounds. Jersey, our visiting feline friend, was also a pretty large cat.

Felix & Jersey

Felix, king of the house

Sir Davos
I finally gave in to Felix's rather stinky attempts to let me know he wasn't happy and decided I should find a permanent buddy for him. Before going to the shelter I decided I wanted to find a cat close to Felix's age and size. I also needed a cat that would not only get along with Felix, but also with my dog Davos. Felix is a pretty relaxed cat, but definitely needs to be the king, and Davos is surprisingly energetic for an 8 year old dog.

At the shelter I came up with a list of eight large cats between the ages of 10 and 15 that seemed like promising new family members. After talking to the shelter staff and learning more, we narrowed this list down to four that I would visit. And in the end I came home with this handsome guy who is 14 years old and just about as large as Felix.

Before I got to meet him at the shelter, I was warned that I might not be able to spend too much time with him because of some behavior issues. Little Boy, as he was being called at the shelter, had notes in his file about hissing, biting, scratching, and just being a generally grumpy cat. The woman helping me still suggested taking a look, because he had been at the shelter longer than most other animals and she thought that might be the real cause of his problems.

Little Boy was the second cat I met and during our short visit he spent most of his time rubbing all over me and purring with a few breaks to grab some food. When I decided he was the cat for me, I had to have a mandatory meeting with a behavior specialist and was again warned about his grouchy attitude. Little Boy did great in the car and is now in the spare room in my apartment to let him adjust to his new home. He's seen the other pets and didn't seem too bothered, so I expect that he'll fit into our family very nicely. There haven't been any signs of behavior issues, and he still spends all his time with me purring and begging for attention. 

Little Boy also got a new name and is now called Oskar. This poor cat had been left at the shelter at 14 years old and was stuck there for several months because nobody wanted to give him a chance. Now Oskar has a forever home with some other furry buddies and is one of the most loving cats I have ever met!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Shadow Scale - by Rachel Hartman

My rating:

Shadow Scale is the sequel to Seraphina and I gather that quite a few people didn't enjoy waiting so long for the sequel. Fortunately I didn't discover Seraphina until the second book had already been release, but I still had trouble waiting a few weeks on the library hold list!

Shadow Scale picks up a few months after the events of the first book and we jump right into the conflict arising from the dragon civil war. In Seraphina's home country of Goredd it looks like the humans will soon be involved in the war as well. Along with Queen Glisselda and Prince Lucian Kiggs, Seraphina makes a plan to gather all the ityasaari (half-dragons) that she can. The hope is that together the ityasaari can use the mind powers they are all gifted with in defense of Goredd.

The first half or so of this novel mainly follows Seraphina and Abdo as they travel throughout different countries search for their fellow half-dragons. Shadow Scale is definitely more plot driven than the first book, but this section does become somewhat tedious and predictable. Abdo is able to help lead Seraphina to the ityasaari they are looking for, but they also end up having to face Jannoula. This half-dragon has the ability to invade the minds of other ityasaari and continuously thwarts Seraphina's attempts to gain the loyalty of the others.

In the second half of the book, we see more of the dragons and their actions in the war. Seraphina also begins the search for her uncle Orma who fled Goredd in the previous book, but is interrupted by more of Jannoula's plots. While Jannoula is a formiddable opponent, Seraphina seems to take a lot of time thinking about how helpless she feels and not actually trying to do anything about it. Seraphina seems a little too helpless in this book and I also didn't like that the tension between her and Kiggs isn't a present as it was in first novel.

Overall, though, I still enjoyed this book very much. Even with a much larger cast of characters, namely all of the ityasaari, Hartman still makes you feel like you know them just as well as Seraphina. I also LOVE the diversity in this book! I've read a lot of YA novels that are specifically marketed at LGBTQ populations, but seeing these themes in a fantasy book was even more exciting. While it isn't marketed to these audiences, Shadow Scale (and Seraphina to a lesser extent) manages to include gay, lesbian, and transgender characters in a completely natural way. I'm just disappointed that Seraphina's story won't be continued in a third book.

Shadow Scale will be my fifth book for the summer reading program from and I am using it for the fantasy book challenge.