Friday, January 27, 2017

The Secret Loves of Geek Girls - Hope Nicholson

Title: The Secret Loves of Geek Girls
Author: Hope Nicholson
Publisher: Dark Horse Books, 2016 (Paperback)
Length: 279 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult; Nonfiction, Graphic Novel
Started: January 23, 2017
Finished: January 26, 2017

From the back cover:

The Secret Loves of Geek Girls is a nonfiction anthology mixing prose, comics, and illustrated stories about the lives and loves of an amazing cast of female creators. Featuring work by Margaret Atwood (The Heart Goes Last), Mariko Tamaki (This One Summer), Trina Robbins (Wonder Woman), Marguerite Bennett (Marvel's A-Force), Marjorie Liu (Monstress), Carla Speed McNeil (Finder), Sam Maggs (The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy), Adrienne Kress (The Friday Society), and over fifty more creators. This expanded edition includes tales told from both sides of the tables: from the fans who love video games, comics, sic-fi, to those who work behind the scenes as creators and industry insiders.

God, I wish this had been around when I was in university. I've been saying that about a few books lately, but it's true. For an anthology about sex and relationships specifically from the point of view of geeky women, this would've saved me a lot of grief and headaches.

This is a really fantastic book that, upon doing some research into its origins, I apparently missed the Kickstarter, which I assure you I am now kicking myself for. But that's not too unfortunate, because now I have the expanded edition to read. The book is a mashup of personal anecdotal stories, comics, illustrations, and essays about relationships and identities relating to identifying as a geek girl.

There are a great many pieces in here that I enjoyed, including A Divorcee's Guide to the Apocalypse by Katie West, URL > IRL by Gita Jackson, Yes, No, Maybe and Regards to the Goblin King by Megan Kearney (her art is amazing and I'm now a new convert to her web comic as well), They Bury You in White by Laura Neubert, If There's Nothing Wrong, It Must Be Love by Diana McCallum (this one really hit home), and Heard it Through the Grapevine by Brandy Dawley.

I'm amazed at how many local women (this is a Canadian anthology with many contributors residing around Toronto) grew up with similar circumstances and feelings regarding being a geek and just how many dealt with other aspects I wouldn't have even begun to imagine (some contributions touch on issues like race and questioning sexual orientation and gender). Some stories had me pondering if this author was a long-lost sister or a younger/older version of myself because some experiences were almost identical to my own: the awkwardness of not having crushes or dating when it seems like everyone else is, the struggle to find people who really understand and accept you, and the minefield that is dating and breakups. I'm also more than a little pleased and validated at how many of the contributors referenced Labyrinth, Beauty and the Beast, Jane Eyre, Sailor Moon, fanfiction, and more anime than I can count that were all so important to me growing up.

This is the kind of book I wish a mysterious donor would buy in bulk and distribute to all adolescent geek girls just to save them the angst. It shines a light on thriving emotionally as a female within geek culture, and the sheer diversity reflected here in terms of race, culture, sexuality, and body types is really refreshing.

Thoughts on the cover:
I love that Noelle Stevenson did the cover art, it's a great added touch. The cover reflects the diversity found throughout the book's content, which is always nice to see.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

My Sister Rosa - Justine Larbalestier

Title: My Sister Rosa
Author: Justine Larbalestier
Publisher: Soho Press, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 309 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: January 19, 2017
Finished: January 20, 2017

From the inside cover:

What if the most terrifying person you know is your ten-year-old sister?

Seventeen-year-old Aussie Che Taylor loves his younger sister, Rosa. But he's also certain that she's a psychopath - clinically, threateningly, dangerously. Recently, Rosa has been making trouble, hurting things. Che is the only one who knows; he's the only one his sister trusts. Rosa is smart, talented, pretty, and very good at hiding what she is and the manipulation she's capable of.

Their parents, whose business takes the family from place to place, brush off the warning signs as Rosa's "acting out." Now that they have moved again - from Bangkok to New York City - their new hometown provides opportunities for Rosa to play her increasingly complex and disturbing games. Che's always been Rosa's rock, protecting her from the world. Now the world might need protection from her.

Damn, this was one freaky, unsettling book...and it was awesome! I had a feeling it would be a good read nonetheless, based on my impressions of the author's previous book, Liar; but this was even more impressive than I had anticipated.

Seventeen-year-old Che and his ten-year-old sister Rosa are the products of very laid-back parents that insist on their children calling them by their first names as opposed to "Mum" and "Dad." Named after revolutionaries, Che and his sister are carted around from country to country every few months to a year, when Che would much rather be home in his native Australia. For his parents' latest business venture, they are taken to New York City, and Che has a few goals for his time in the city: keep Rosa under control, start sparing in boxing class, get a girlfriend, and go home to Sydney. The first proves to be the most difficult, mostly because Rosa is a certifiable psychopath. She lacks empathy, is reckless, doesn't care what anybody thinks, and is highly manipulative. Recently she's begun to manipulate people into hurting animals, and even though Che makes her promise not to hurt or kill anyone or anything, he knows Rosa lies.

This book was truly creepy once you got into it. Once you really see what Rosa's capable of, she becomes like all those creepy horror movie kids where you jump out of your skin a little once they pop up (and it's always suddenly, the little buggers), so the author does a good job of creating a tense atmosphere. I love how the book actually delves into brain science, and how the brains of psychopaths/sociopaths are actually different on brain scans than those of neurotypical people. The people that Che encounters in New York City are quite diverse and a real treat, especially Sojourner and Leilani (Sojourner's view of Christianity was a refreshing one, and Leilani is just freaking awesome).

A must-read, purely for the subject matter, which I've rarely seen done in YA, and to be done this well is a credit to the author's amazing writing skills.

Thoughts on the cover:
Love how the cover echoes the butterfly reference from early on in the book, plus the whole package just looks creepy and already sets you on edge.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Wonder Women - Sam Maggs

Title: Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History
Author: Sam Maggs
Publisher: Quirk Books, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 240 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult; Nonfiction
Started: January 12, 2017
Finished: January 13, 2017

From the inside cover:

You may think you know women's history pretty well. But have you heard of...

Alice Ball, the chemist who developed an effective treatment for leprosy - only to have the credit taken by a man?

Mary Sherman Morgan, the rocket scientist whose liquid fuel compounds blasted the first U.S. satellite into orbit?

Huang Daopo, the inventor whose weaving technology revolutionized textile production in China - centuries before the cotton gin?

Smart women have always been able to achieve amazing things, even when the odds were stacked against them. In Wonder Women, author Sam Maggs tells the stories of the brilliant, brainy, and totally rad women in history who broke barriers as scientists, engineers, mathematicians, adventurers, and inventors. Plus, interviews with real-life women in STEM careers, an extensive bibliography, and a guide to women-centric science and technology organizations - all to show the many ways the geeky girls of today can help to build the future.

Another well-received Christmas gift, and an appropriate second book for this author after her first, The Fangirls' Guide to the Galaxy, (which I also enjoyed immensely).

This book features in-depth profiles of twenty-five women throughout history that contributed in a significant way to various fields: Science, Medicine, Espionage, Innovation, and Adventure. The author actually writes about more than twenty-five total since an additional handful of women are mentioned in brief snippets at the end of each chapter. One thing I have to really give the author credit for is that she's chosen a really nice variety of historical women, from the cultural backgrounds (there's several East Asian women featured, and it's balanced against the North American and European choices), to the sexual orientations and gender non-conforming women as well (her sarcastic "gals being pals" references had me cracking up while reading). Another thing that's striking is realizing how ignorant I actually am about important contributions made by women throughout history (as someone who considers herself a history buff), and I realize that media and schooling systems were and still are partly to blame, hence why I really try to include a more gender-balanced portrayal in my lessons with my own students. I appreciate the interviews with modern-day women in STEM fields, and the STEM website list and detailed bibliography at the end are really lovely additions that make this a book I really wish had existed for me when I was in high school 15-18 years ago. As the author says, representation matters, and girls can't be what they can't see, or in this case, don't have the opportunity to even learn existed.

A must-read, not only for the wealth of historical information being presented here, but for the humorous writing style and lovely illustrations.

Thoughts on the cover:
Nicely laid out, and the orange and cream colour scheme is strangely appealing as well.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea - Ben Clanton

Title: Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea
Author: Ben Clanton
Publisher: Tundra Books, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 64 pages
Genre: Children's Graphic Novel
Started: January 12, 2017
Finished: January 12, 2017

From the publisher's website:

Narwhal is a happy-go-lucky narwhal. Jelly is a no-nonsense jellyfish. The two might not have a lot in common, but they do love waffles, parties, and adventures. Join Narwhal and Jelly as they discover the whole wide ocean together.

A wonderfully silly early graphic novel series featuring three stories. In the first, Jelly learns that Narwhal is a really good friend. Then Narwhal and Jelly form their own pod of awesomeness with their ocean friends. And finally, Narwhal and Jelly read the best book ever - even though it doesn't have any words...or pictures!

Ben Clanton showcases the joys of friendship, the benefits of working together, and the power of imagination in the delightful Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea.

So. Stinkin'. Cute. That's pretty much my final thought on this little comic.

This is perfect for young readers: it has very simple, large text, and the characters are adorable and endearing in the way that most children's characters are. The author even includes some real facts about narwhals and jellyfish amidst the fun little romp of a story. This concept won't appeal to most kids once they hit the age of around 11-12, but for the younger set (or adults looking for something utterly charming), this is a great title to pick up, it's hard to resist the utter cuteness.

A perfect first graphic novel for primary classrooms.

Thoughts on the cover:
This is pretty much indicative of the entire book, cute and silly.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Headstrong - Rachel Swaby

Title: Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science - and the World
Author: Rachel Swaby
Publisher: Broadway Books, 2015 (Paperback)
Length: 263 pages
Genre: Adult; Nonfiction
Started: January 6, 2017
Finished: January 11, 2017

From the back cover:

In 2013, the New York Times published an obituary for Yvonne Brill. It began: "She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job, and took eight years off from work to raise three children." It wasn't until the second paragraph that readers discovered why the New York Times had devoted several hundred words to her life: Brill was a brilliant rocket scientist who invented a propulsion system to keep communications satellites in orbit, and she had recently been awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Among the questions the obituary - and subsequent outcry - prompted were, who are the role models for today's female scientists, and where can we find the stories that cast them in their true light?

Headstrong delivers a powerful, global, and engaging response. Covering Nobel Prize winners and major innovators, as well as lesser known but hugely significant scientists who influence our every day. Rachel Swaby's vibrant profiles span centuries of courageous thinkers and illustrate how each one's ideas developed, from their first moment of scientific engagement through the research and discovery for which they're best known. This fascinating tour reveals these fifty-two women at their best - while encouraging and inspiring a new generation of girls to put on their lab coats.

This was one of my Christmas presents that I finally got around to reading. This is a great nonfiction title that classrooms should have, especially for those trying to encourage girls to pursue a future in the STEM fields.

The author had a few main principles in mind when writing this book. She wanted to explore women whose life's work has already been completed, so she didn't include any important female scientists that are still living. She also doesn't include Marie Curie, because she's the first one to come to mind when anyone thinks of women in science (she does highlight her daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie, though). The author categorizes the women according to their scientific disciplines: Medicine, Biology and the Environment, Genetics and Development, Physics, Earth and Stars, Math and Technology, and Invention. She includes a good variety of female scientists from different nationalities, though a little heavy on the Americans at times. I'm seriously glad a book like this exists, because though I recognized the names of a few of the women included here, the majority were ones I had never heard of. This is a great little history lesson not just on science, but on gender issues throughout the modern era.

A great read for anyone with an interest in science or gender, and also makes a great reference book for girls wanting to enter STEM fields.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the little bubbles that alternate between random colours and the head shots of some of the women included in the book (she identifies each one on the back of the front cover).

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Orphan's Tale - Pam Jenoff

Title: The Orphan's Tale
Author: Pam Jenoff
Publisher: Mira Books, February 21, 2017 (Hardcover) (Review copy is an ARC from the publisher)
Length: 342 pages
Genre: Adult; Historical Fiction
Started: January 5, 2017
Finished: January 5, 2017

From the inside cover:

The Nightingale meets Water for Elephants in this powerful novel of friendship and survival, set in a traveling circus during World War II.

Sixteen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier and being forced to give up her baby. She lives above a small rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep. When Noa discovers boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants bound for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the child that was taken from her. And in a moment that will change the course of her life, she steals one of the babies and flees into the snowy night.

Noa finds refuge with a German circus, but she must learn the flying trapeze act so she can blend in undetected, spurning the resentment of the lead aerialist, Astrid. At first rivals, Noa and Astrid soon forge a powerful bond. But as the facade that protects them proves increasingly tenuous, Noa and Astrid must decide whether their friendship is enough to save one another - or if the secrets that burn between them will destroy everything.

'Tis the season for 2017 ARCs! I actually received this one right before Christmas and with winter break almost over I decided it was a good time to get lost in a great piece of historical fiction.

After the occupation of her native Holland, Noa is impregnated by a Nazi soldier and disowned by her parents. Hoping that her Aryan colouring will help her child to be adopted by a German family, her baby is taken from her after birth, and Noa immediately regrets the decision. Months later, she encounters a railway car full of Jewish babies, and longing for the son she was forced to surrender, she rescues a baby when the soldiers aren't looking. She is rescued from the cold by members of a travelling circus who agree to take her and the baby in if she is willing to be their new aerialist. Astrid, who is a Jew in hiding at the circus after being abandoned by her SS husband, is ordered to train Noa with a six-week deadline. Astrid initially looks at Noa in disdain due to her age and inexperience, but grows to view the younger woman as a sister after seeing her determination on the trapeze and discovers that baby Theo isn't Noa's brother as she claims. Noa bonds with Astrid, seeing the older woman love and care for her and Theo in a way her own mother could not. As the circus prepares to go on the road into France, Noa and Astrid view this as an opportunity to escape Germany and find sanctuary, but France in 1944 is still under Nazi control, and as SS soldiers visit the circus and things unravel around them, the two women struggle to keep the other (and baby Theo) alive.

I read the first 200 pages in one sitting, this book grabbed my attention and didn't let go. Noa is portrayed very sympathetically, as is Astrid. I particularly enjoyed how the author explored how both women struggle to trust men after being betrayed and disappointed by their prior love interests (the solider for Noa, and Astrid's husband Erich), I think many readers will be able to relate to that. The novel is well-written and the author manages the alternating narration between Noa and Astrid incredibly well, each voice is clearly distinct and there's no confusion about who is speaking when you move from chapter to chapter. The backdrop of the Holocaust will attract many readers just for that, and the author includes an historical note at the end of the novel (as well as a reader's guide, I love when publishers/authors include those). Even I (as someone who claims to be pretty well-versed in that time period) learned something about the true history that inspired the novel, but I feel there are so many facets of WWII history that you can always uncover something new that you had no clue existed.

Read this when it comes out in February, then loan it to all your friends so you can spread the love of this wonderful novel (this is going to be a book club favourite, I can tell). It's well-written, with relatable, sympathetic, and admirable female characters that will stay with you long after you finish the book. This is my first novel by this author and the experience makes me want to look up all her other historical fiction novels (all similarly set in WWII).

Thoughts on the cover:
I like how the image focuses on the train since they feature prominently in the novel. The winter setting is foreboding, but calm; it sets the mood nicely.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Original Ginny Moon - Benjamin Ludwig

Title: The Original Ginny Moon
Author: Benjamin Ludwig
Publisher: Park Row Books, May 2, 2017 (Hardcover) (Review copy is an ARC from the publisher)
Length: 360 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: December 30, 2016
Finished: December 31, 2016


Meet Ginny Moon. She's mostly your average teenager - she plays flute in the school band, has weekly basketball practice, and reads Robert Frost poems for English class. But Ginny is autistic. And so what's important to her might seem a bit...different: starting every day with exactly nine grapes for breakfast, Michael Jackson,  taking care of her baby doll, ad crafting a Big Secret Plan of Escape.

Ginny has been in foster care for years, and for the first time in her life, she has found her "forever home" - a place where she'll be safe and protected, with a family who will love and nurture her. Though this is exactly the kind of home that all foster kids are hoping for, Ginny has other plans. She'll steal and lie and reach across her past to exploit the good intentions of those who love her - anything it takes to get back what's missing in her life. She'll even try to get herself kidnapped.

Told in an extraordinary and wholly original voice, The Original Ginny Moon is at once quirky, charming, bighearted, poignant, and yet also heartbreaking and a bit dark. It's a story of a journey, about being an outsider trying to find a place to belong, and about making sense of a world that doesn't seem to add up.

Whoo boy, this baby will surely be one of the big hits of 2017, the hype surrounding this is certainly well-deserved. I read the first 300 pages nearly in one sitting, it captured my attention right from the beginning, and Ginny is the reason.

Ginny is fourteen and autistic. She was recently adopted by Brian and Maura Moon, her "Forever Parents" and lives in the Blue House. She goes to school and plays Special Olympics basketball, loves Michael Jackson, and must have exactly nine grapes at breakfast. Because she was nine years old when she was removed from her birth mother's care due to physical abuse and neglect, which led to a string of foster homes that she ran away from before being adopted by her Forever Parents. Maura is expecting a baby soon, so Ginny is given an electronic baby doll to practice caring for her Forever Sister, but when Ginny stuffs the electronic baby in a suitcase to stop it from crying, her Forever Parents resume Ginny's sessions with Patrice, the attachment therapist. What follows is an amazing look into the mind of an autistic child dealing with the trauma of the loss of a parent and trying to figure out exactly where she belongs and what her role is after the upheaval she's experienced.

As someone who actually has experience in the foster and adoption system, one thing I'll say is that the author has captured the experiences of a child from this system so well in Ginny. Plus there's the added effect of her autism on those experiences, so it's like a double whammy of not only the trauma but Ginny trying to express herself properly and not always being able to. He includes little details that really signify that he not only knows this world but inhabits it: Ginny will hoard food not only for herself but for her Baby Doll, because she's not accustomed to having a dependable person around to actually provide it. She's obsessed with her Baby Doll because she was in a caregiver role at a very early age. She's not always comfortable around men due to Gloria's choice of abusive male figures.

One thing that doesn't fit in this whole scenario is that in my province, Ginny's adoption wouldn't have even been allowed to proceed due to Maura's pregnancy. We have an 18-month time period rule between adoptions or birth of children, so since Maura was already pregnant when the adoption was in the works, Brian and Maura wouldn't have been able to adopt Ginny until Baby Wendy turned 18 months old. We have this rule for issues of attachment, which would've prevented the problems in the book from escalating the way they did. But I appreciate that the author included that really low period in this book, because it shows that adoption isn't sunshine and rainbows, especially for kids from traumatic backgrounds with attachment issues....add in special needs and you've hit adoption bingo right there.

Moving away from the adoption aspect of the novel, the book flows really well and doesn't lag or have any slow periods that detract from the story in my opinion. Ginny is an amazingly well-developed character, and her voice as the narrator gives us a unique look inside her mind, which just makes me want to alternatively hug her and shake some sense into her (knowing quite well that shaking wouldn't work on an autistic child, but I think you get my meaning). You can't help but root for her, she's portrayed so sympathetically that even when she does negative things you know the reasoning behind it, you just want to be the poor kid's cheerleader.

Buy this book when it releases in May, borrow it from the library, pass it on to friends, this one will be talked about widely and for good reason. As a teacher who has had the privilege of teaching autistic children and someone with experience in the foster/adoption system, this book really hits home and should be a must-read for anyone working with children in either system.

Thoughts on the cover:
It employs Ginny's favourite colour, which I think she would approve of. I like the little detail of her backpack at the bottom and Ginny's silhouette poking out of the O in the title.