Mini-Reviews: Coraline, Dead Voices, & Ghost

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 4, 2002
Source: Borrowed

The day after they moved in, Coraline went exploring….

In Coraline’s family’s new flat are twenty-one windows and fourteen doors. Thirteen of the doors open and close.

The fourteenth is locked, and on the other side is only a brick wall, until the day Coraline unlocks the door to find a passage to another flat in another house just like her own.

Only it’s different.

At first, things seem marvelous in the other flat. The food is better. The toy box is filled with wind-up angels that flutter around the bedroom, books whose pictures writhe and crawl and shimmer, little dinosaur skulls that chatter their teeth. But there’s another mother, and another father, and they want Coraline to stay with them and be their little girl. They want to change her and never let her go.

Other children are trapped there as well, lost souls behind the mirrors. Coraline is their only hope of rescue. She will have to fight with all her wits and all the tools she can find if she is to save the lost children, her ordinary life, and herself.

Critically acclaimed and award-winning author Neil Gaiman will delight readers with his first novel for all ages.

I was looking through Overdrive for a quick audiobook to listen to at work and came across Coraline. As a big fan of the movie, and having really enjoyed Gaiman’s narration of Norse Mythology, I figured I might as well give it a shot.

The book is very, very much like the movie. That’s a good thing. The movie is just the right amount of dark and creepy, and so is the book. The Other Mother, as I get older, is an even creepier character. I can totally understand Coraline’s feelings and motivation for going over to that other side, and despite already knowing how everything would end, it was still so creepy to hear about the subtle differences in the Other Mother’s house.

Coraline has just made me want to find more Gaiman books to love.

#wian20: a given/first name


Dead Voices by Katherine Arden
Series: Small Spaces #2
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 27, 2019
Source: Borrowed

Bestselling author Katherine Arden returns with another creepy, spine-tingling adventure in this follow-up to the critically acclaimed Small Spaces.

Having survived sinister scarecrows and the malevolent smiling man in Small Spaces, newly minted best friends Ollie, Coco, and Brian are ready to spend a relaxing winter break skiing together with their parents at Mount Hemlock Resort. But when a snowstorm sets in, causing the power to flicker out and the cold to creep closer and closer, the three are forced to settle for hot chocolate and board games by the fire.

Ollie, Coco, and Brian are determined to make the best of being snowed in, but odd things keep happening. Coco is convinced she has seen a ghost, and Ollie is having nightmares about frostbitten girls pleading for help. Then Mr. Voland, a mysterious ghost hunter, arrives in the midst of the storm to investigate the hauntings at Hemlock Lodge. Ollie, Coco, and Brian want to trust him, but Ollie’s watch, which once saved them from the smiling man, has a new cautionary message: BEWARE.

With Mr. Voland’s help, Ollie, Coco, and Brian reach out to the dead voices at Mount Hemlock. Maybe the ghosts need their help–or maybe not all ghosts can or should be trusted.

Dead Voices is a terrifying follow-up to Small Spaces with thrills and chills galore and the captive foreboding of a classic ghost story.

Let me tell you something — I love this series. Ollie, Coco, and Brian are back in a ski trip gone awry, this time facing some spooky ghosts instead of creepy scarecrows. The book was just the right amount of creepy for me, enough to keep me on my toes but not so much that I felt genuinely scared. (That said, I have no spooky tolerance and this is middle grade.)

I love how, in this series, Ollie, Coco, and Brian have to work together and trust each other to make it out of these crazy situations. In this book, the characters aren’t sure what’s real and what’s coming from the haunting, and that, to me, made this book a little spookier than its predecessor. They had to use their knowledge of each other (and their wits) to figure out the best thing to do with everything that was thrown at them.

I really never thought I’d enjoy a middle grade series so much, but I can’t wait for the next book.


Ghost by Jason Reynolds
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 30, 2016
Source: Borrowed

Running. That’s all that Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But never for a track team. Nope, his game has always been ball. But when Ghost impulsively challenges an elite sprinter to a race — and wins — the Olympic medalist track coach sees he has something: crazy natural talent. Thing is, Ghost has something else: a lot of anger, and a past that he is trying to outrun. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed and meld with the team, or will his past finally catch up to him?

You know, this is my third Jason Reynolds book, and I have yet to connect with his writing. Objectively, I can recognize that a lot of young kids can probably see themselves in Ghost. He’s experienced things no kid should experience, he’s angry about it, and he wants to be a good kid but things just seem to happen around him. He’s a very well-written, well-rounded character.

I just feel like this was a lot to shove into a book that’s not even 200 pages. By the end, nothing felt very… resolved. I realize there are three more books in the series, but they’re focusing on other characters. I had planned to read the rest of the series, but I’m probably not going to enjoy it, so I’m just going to stop here.

As a series opener, there’s nothing wrong with this book. It just wasn’t for me.


Have you read any of these books? Have you read any good MG recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini-Reviews: The Bear and the Nightingale, Before the Devil Breaks You, and Let Me Hear a Rhyme

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 10, 2017
Source: Borrowed

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

I love Katherine Arden’s middle-grade books, but as much as it pains me to say it, I did not love her YA. I really have hardly anything to say about this one because I was just bored from the time I started it until I finally finished. I kept waiting for the story to pick up and for anything to spark my interest, but nothing did.

I only stuck with it until the end because of that love for Arden’s other books. Unfortunately, I won’t be continuing on with this series.


Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray
Series: The Diviners #3
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 3, 2017
Source: Borrowed

New York City.
1927.
Lights are bright.
Jazz is king.
Parties are wild.
And the dead are coming…


After battling a supernatural sleeping sickness that claimed two of their own, the Diviners have had enough lies. They’re more determined than ever to uncover the mystery behind their extraordinary powers, even as they face off against an all-new terror. Out on Ward’s Island, far from the city’s bustle, sits a mental hospital haunted by the lost souls of people long forgotten–ghosts who have unusual and dangerous ties to the man in the stovepipe hat, also known as the King of Crows.

With terrible accounts of murder and possession flooding in from all over and New York City on the verge of panic, the Diviners must band together and brave the sinister ghosts invading the asylum, a fight that will bring them face-to-face with the King of Crows. But as the explosive secrets of the past come to light, loyalties and friendships will be tested, love will hang in the balance, and the Diviners will question all that they’ve ever known. All the while, malevolent forces gather from every corner in a battle for the very soul of a nation–a fight that could claim the Diviners themselves.

I was a little nervous about reading Before the Devil Breaks You since it had been about four years since I’d read Lair of Dreams, but I didn’t need to worry. Libba Bray did a great job at casually reminding the reader of most of what had happened previously. I loved being back in this world. I love these characters and this setting so much.

Since this is the third book in a series, I’m going to be a little vague about what happens in this book. Overall, I was impressed. Bray is an excellent storyteller and she’s created an incredible series. I will say, though, that this book is 552 pages and, unlike the previous books in the series, it shows. There are definitely some parts that drag and some scenes that could have probably been cut, but I cannot wait until my hold on The King of Crows comes in so I can finally find out how this series ends.

Content warnings for:racism, anti-antisemitism, abusive relationship, attempted rape/sexual assault, poor treatment of characters with mental illness — however, all of these are handled well by the author

Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 21, 2019
Source: Borrowed

In this standalone novel, Tiffany D. Jackson tells the story of three Brooklyn teens who plot to turn their murdered friend into a major rap star by pretending he is still alive.

Biggie Smalls was right. Things done changed. But that doesn’t mean that Quadir and Jarrell are okay letting their best friend Steph’s tracks lie forgotten in his bedroom after he’s killed—not when his beats could turn any Bed-Stuy corner into a celebration, not after years of having each other’s backs.

Enlisting the help of Steph’s younger sister, Jasmine, Quadir and Jarrell come up with a plan to promote Steph’s music under a new rap name: The Architect. Soon, everyone in Brooklyn is dancing to Steph’s voice. But then his mixtape catches the attention of a hotheaded music rep and—with just hours on the clock—the trio must race to prove Steph’s talent from beyond the grave.

Now, as the pressure—and danger—of keeping their secret grows, Quadir, Jarrell, and Jasmine are forced to confront the truth about what happened to Steph. Only each has something to hide. And with everything riding on Steph’s fame, together they need to decide what they stand for before they lose everything they’ve worked so hard to hold on to—including each other.

I’ve had a few of Tiffany D. Jackson’s books on my TBR for a while now, but Let Me Hear a Rhyme is the first one I’ve actually read. I had kind of high expectations based on the reviews I’ve read of her books, but this one ended up just being okay for me.

I thought that the premise was great. A group of kids trying to get their deceased friend a record deal? Coming up with reason after reason after reason for why he couldn’t come to these meetings himself? Trying to remix his songs and searching for other demos he’d made? Honestly incredible. Where this book fell flat for me was in how many things it tried to do in 384 pages. Because it’s not just the music, it’s also a murder mystery and a romance. It was too much, and I felt like each plot suffered because of it. Also, the characters sucked their teeth on just about every other page, and it was really grating by the end.

I’m still excited to read more from Jackson.


Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini-Reviews: Southern Lady Code, How I Resist, & Humans

Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 16, 2019
Source: Borrowed

The bestselling author of American Housewife is back with a fiercely funny collection of essays on marriage and manners, thank-you notes and three-ways, ghosts, gunshots, gynecology, and the Calgon-scented, onion-dipped, monogrammed art of living as a Southern Lady.

Helen Ellis has a mantra: “If you don’t have something nice to say, say something not-so-nice in a nice way.” Say “weathered” instead of “she looks like a cake left out in the rain.” Say “early-developed” instead of “brace face and B cups.” And for the love of Coke Salad, always say “Sorry you saw something that offended you” instead of “Get that stick out of your butt, Miss Prissy Pants.” In these twenty-three raucous essays Ellis transforms herself into a dominatrix Donna Reed to save her marriage, inadvertently steals a $795 Burberry trench coat, witnesses a man fake his own death at a party, avoids a neck lift, and finds a black-tie gown that gives her the confidence of a drag queen. While she may have left her home in Alabama, married a New Yorker, forgotten how to drive, and abandoned the puffy headbands of her youth, Helen Ellis is clinging to her Southern accent like mayonnaise to white bread, and offering readers a hilarious, completely singular view on womanhood for both sides of the Mason-Dixon.

I moved to Tennessee a few months ago, so I figured I should learn how to be a proper Southern Lady. What better than this collection of essays to teach me?

First of all, this book was hilarious. Second of all, it made me question every person that’s ever been nice to me since I moved down here. And third of all, it made me want to read more from Ellis.

Ellis is really legitimately funny, and she’s had such great experiences to write about. I feel like she’s the kind of person that it would be really fun to sit down for a meal with.


How I Resist by Maureen Johnson
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 15, 2018
Source: Borrowed

n all-star collection of essays about activism and hope, edited by bestselling YA author Maureen Johnson.

Now, more than ever, young people are motivated to make a difference in a world they’re bound to inherit. They’re ready to stand up and be heard – but with much to shout about, where they do they begin? What can I do? How can I help?

How I Resist is the response, and a way to start the conversation. To show readers that they are not helpless, and that anyone can be the change. A collection of essays, songs, illustrations, and interviews about activism and hope, How I Resist features an all-star group of contributors, including John Paul Brammer, Libba Bray, Lauren Duca, Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson and his husband Justin Mikita, Alex Gino, Hebh Jamal, Malinda Lo, Dylan Marron, Hamilton star Javier Muñoz, Rosie O’Donnell, Junauda Petrus, Jodi Picoult, Jason Reynolds, Karuna Riazi, Maya Rupert, Dana Schwartz, Dan Sinker, Ali Stroker, Jonny Sun (aka @jonnysun), Sabaa Tahir, Shaina Taub, Daniel Watts, Jennifer Weiner, Jacqueline Woodson, and more, all edited and compiled by New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson.

In How I Resist, readers will find hope and support through voices that are at turns personal, funny, irreverent, and instructive. Not just for a young adult audience, this incredibly impactful collection will appeal to readers of all ages who are feeling adrift and looking for guidance.

How I Resist is the kind of book people will be discussing for years to come and a staple on bookshelves for generations.

As with most anthologies, How I Resist varies a lot in both content and quality. Some of the contributions were great — I particularly loved Libba Bray’s — but others were… not. I appreciate the point of this book and I think a lot of the contributions will do a great job of encouraging teens to stand up for what they believe in. There are just some less-great essays to get through along the way.

With that said, though, I am far past the target demographic of this book, so it’s entirely possible that any problems I had might not be problems that actual teens have.


Humans by Tom Phillips
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: July 26, 2018
Source: Borrowed

An exhilarating journey through the most creative and catastrophic f*ck ups in human history, from our very first ancestor falling out of that tree, to the most spectacular fails of the present day.

In the seventy thousand years that modern human beings have walked this earth, we’ve come a long way. Art, science, culture, trade – on the evolutionary food chain, we’re real winners. But, frankly, it’s not exactly been plain sailing, and sometimes – just occasionally – we’ve managed to really, truly, quite unbelievably f*ck things up.

From Chairman Mao’s Four Pests Campaign, to the American Dustbowl; from the Austrian army attacking itself one drunken night, to the world’s leading superpower electing a reality TV mogul as President… it’s pretty safe to say that, as a species, we haven’t exactly grown wiser with age.

So, next time you think you’ve really f*cked up, this book will remind you: it could be so much worse.

At the beginning of 2020, I was scrolling through Goodreads and came across a list of nonfiction books that looked really interesting. Of course, I have no idea where that list has gone, but it added a bunch of books to my TBR. The one I decided to go for first was Humans, which describes itself as “a brief history of how we fucked it all up.”

Unlike a lot of brief histories, this one actually is brief. There’s no more than a few pages on each topic, and it’s just enough information that you’d be able to pull out some fun facts during trivia night, but not so much that you’ll get bored. These really are interesting bits of information, all about people screwing everything up and living (or not) to tell the tale.

This is a really well-written, funny history book. The only reason I didn’t rate it higher is that reading it all in a couple sittings kind of burned me out. (Ideally I would not have done this, but I had to worry about library due dates.) That’s on me, not on the book, but I think it would be better enjoyed a few pages at a time. It’s probably a better coffee table book than anything else.


Have you read any of these books? Have you read any good nonfiction recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini-Reviews: Dear Sweet Pea, Small Spaces, and The Lightning Thief

Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 1, 2019
Source: Borrowed

The first middle grade novel from Julie Murphy, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Dumplin’ (now a popular Netflix film), is a funny, heartwarming story perfect for fans of Rebecca Stead, Ali Benjamin, and Holly Goldberg Sloan.

Patricia “Sweet Pea” DiMarco wasn’t sure what to expect when her parents announced they were getting a divorce. She never could have imagined that they would have the “brilliant” idea of living in nearly identical houses on the same street. In the one house between them lives their eccentric neighbor Miss Flora Mae, the famed local advice columnist behind “Miss Flora Mae I?”

Dividing her time between two homes is not easy. And it doesn’t help that at school, Sweet Pea is now sitting right next to her ex–best friend, Kiera, a daily reminder of the friendship that once was. Things might be unbearable if Sweet Pea didn’t have Oscar—her new best friend—and her fifteen-pound cat, Cheese.

Then one day Flora leaves for a trip and asks Sweet Pea to forward her the letters for the column. And Sweet Pea happens to recognize the handwriting on one of the envelopes.

What she decides to do with that letter sets off a chain of events that will forever change the lives of Sweet Pea DiMarco, her family, and many of the readers of “Miss Flora Mae I?”

This was my first book by Julie Murphy, and I really enjoyed it! I only picked it up because of a reading challenge but I ended up really enjoying it. I’d been a little skeptical of her books because of all the hype, but I’m definitely planning on trying out her YA novels now.

Sweet Pea was a really charming character and I liked all of the casual diversity — I think that’s so important in books, and books for younger kids in particular. It tackles some big topics like divorce and homophobia, but it does it in a really natural way. I did feel that some things were resolved a little too easily, but then again, this is middle grade and less than 300 pages, so all in all, it was pretty great.

#ps19: a book with a title that contains “salty,” “sweet,” “bitter,” or “spicy”


Small Spaces by Katherine Arden
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 25, 2018
Source: Borrowed

New York Times bestselling adult author of The Bear and the Nightingale makes her middle grade debut with a creepy, spellbinding ghost story destined to become a classic

After suffering a tragic loss, eleven-year-old Ollie only finds solace in books. So when she happens upon a crazed woman at the river threatening to throw a book into the water, Ollie doesn’t think–she just acts, stealing the book and running away. As she begins to read the slender volume, Ollie discovers a chilling story about a girl named Beth, the two brothers who both loved her, and a peculiar deal made with “the smiling man,” a sinister specter who grants your most tightly held wish, but only for the ultimate price. 

Ollie is captivated by the tale until her school trip the next day to Smoke Hollow, a local farm with a haunting history all its own. There she stumbles upon the graves of the very people she’s been reading about. Could it be the story about the smiling man is true? Ollie doesn’t have too long to think about the answer to that. On the way home, the school bus breaks down, sending their teacher back to the farm for help. But the strange bus driver has some advice for the kids left behind in his care: “Best get moving. At nightfall they’ll come for the rest of you.” Nightfall is, indeed, fast descending when Ollie’s previously broken digital wristwatch, a keepsake reminder of better times, begins a startling countdown and delivers a terrifying message: RUN. 

Only Ollie and two of her classmates heed the bus driver’s warning. As the trio head out into the woods–bordered by a field of scarecrows that seem to be watching them–the bus driver has just one final piece of advice for Ollie and her friends: “Avoid large places. Keep to small.” 

And with that, a deliciously creepy and hair-raising adventure begins.

I hadn’t actually planned to read Small Spaces when I did, but it was available at the library, I had finished my other audiobooks, and I remembered Kristen recommending it, so I decided to go for it. It was really good! This is the kind of creepy, spooky story that would be perfect for Halloween.

Just like with Julie Murphy, this was my first book by Katherine Arden. Since I’m pretty picky about MG books, I’m taking it as a really good sign that I liked this! I’m excited to eventually read her YA series.


The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: March 1, 2006
Source: Borrowed

Percy Jackson is a good kid, but he can’t seem to focus on his schoolwork or control his temper. And lately, being away at boarding school is only getting worse – Percy could have sworn his pre-algebra teacher turned into a monster and tried to kill him. When Percy’s mom finds out, she knows it’s time that he knew the truth about where he came from, and that he go to the one place he’ll be safe. She sends Percy to Camp Half Blood, a summer camp for demigods (on Long Island), where he learns that the father he never knew is Poseidon, God of the Sea. Soon a mystery unfolds and together with his friends—one a satyr and the other the demigod daughter of Athena – Percy sets out on a quest across the United States to reach the gates of the Underworld (located in a recording studio in Hollywood) and prevent a catastrophic war between the gods.

Over the years, so many people have told me to read the Percy Jackson books. Multiple children have told me that this is their favorite series, and I can understand why. This book is a lot of fun. It has a quest, it has betrayal, it has mythology. I can see how Percy would be easy to relate to.

The problem was that I just didn’t care.

I’m not really sure if this was a problem with me not typically loving middle grade stories or if it was more that the hype killed this book for me, but I don’t really feel like continuing on with it. I will, however, try out The Lost Hero.

#ps19: a book with at least 1,000,000 ratings on Goodreads


Have you read any of these books? Have you read any good MG recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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