Bite-Sized Reviews of My Life in the Fish Tank; Girl, Serpent, Thorn; Flamer; and Graceling

September 8, 2020 Reviews 11

 

I’ve got four reviews for you today: two YA fantasies, a MG contemporary, and a YA historical graphic novel. I hope these bite-sized reviews will be enough to feed your fiction addiction!


Bite-Sized Reviews of My Life in the Fish Tank; Girl, Serpent, Thorn; Flamer; and GracelingMy Life in the Fish Tank by Barbara Dee
Published by Aladdin on September 15, 2020
Genres: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Pages: 320
Source: The Publisher
Cover Artist: Jenna Stempel-Lobell
My content rating: MG (Themes of mental illness)
My rating:
5 Stars

From acclaimed author of Maybe He Just Likes You and Halfway Normal comes a powerful and moving story of learning how to grow, change, and survive.

When twelve-year-old Zinnia Manning’s older brother Gabriel is diagnosed with a mental illness, the family’s world is turned upside down. Mom and Dad want Zinny, her sixteen-year-old sister, Scarlett, and her eight-year-old brother, Aiden, to keep Gabriel’s condition “private”—and to Zinny that sounds the same as “secret.” Which means she can’t talk about it to her two best friends, who don’t understand why Zinny keeps pushing them away, turning everything into a joke.

It also means she can’t talk about it during Lunch Club, a group run by the school guidance counselor. How did Zinny get stuck in this weird club, anyway? She certainly doesn’t have anything in common with these kids—and even if she did, she’d never betray her family’s secret.

The only good thing about school is science class, where cool teacher Ms. Molina has them doing experiments on crayfish. And when Zinny has the chance to attend a dream marine biology camp for the summer, she doesn’t know what to do. How can Zinny move forward when Gabriel—and, really, her whole family—still needs her help?

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A compelling story about grief and mental health, My Life in the Fish Tank examines how secrecy and shame can be the root of pain. When Zinnia’s brother is in an accident, her whole life changes, not because he’s hurt but because it reveals an issue her family had been unknowingly dealing with for a very long time—her brother is bipolar. Now, Zin’s parents have asked her to keep her brother’s mental health issues private, while her friends seem to be expecting her to unload her grief on them—it all leads to Zin feeling like she’s under the microscope and like she can’t win, no matter how she responds to the circumstances.

This book deals with mental illness in such a realistic way, portraying all the fears and the heartbreak and the guilt and confusion that can go along with it. The book explores Zin’s feelings in the present, but it also flashes back to incidents in the past—red flags that Zin now feels like she should have seen. She’s grieving, but it’s a peculiar kind of grief—one she almost doesn’t feel that she has a right to. I was captivated by her story and empathized with her conflicting feelings. This book gives kids a view into the realities of mental illness and teaches them that there is no shame involved, only a chance for healing. I highly recommend it for readers of all ages!

NOTE: Next week, I’ll be posting a Book Blast for this title with a giveaway, so be watching for that and enter for your chance to win!

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review purposes. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***


Bite-Sized Reviews of My Life in the Fish Tank; Girl, Serpent, Thorn; Flamer; and GracelingGirl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust
Published by Macmillan Young Listeners on July 7, 2020
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Retellings
Narrator: Nikki Massoud
Length: 10 hours and 6 minutes
Source: NetGalley
My content rating: YA (Nothing more than kissing; Some violence)
My rating:
4.5 Stars

A captivating and utterly original fairy tale about a girl cursed to be poisonous to the touch, and who discovers what power might lie in such a curse...

There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it's not just a story.

As the day of her twin brother's wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she's willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.

Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming...human or demon. Princess or monster.

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Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a retelling of a different sort—I loved the amalgam of myths and fairy tales combined in this story. Soraya has spent her life in hiding so that no one will learn that she’s been cursed—poison runs through her veins and anyone who touches her will die, a secret the royal family can’t let anyone know for fear that the people will rebel. Soraya has accepted her fate—mostly—but she still can’t help but give into moments of resentment because she feels overlooked. When she finds out there might be a way to remove her curse, she has to decide if she’s willing to sacrifice her family to do it. There is definitely a romantic element to the story (even a bit of a triangle of sorts), but the real journey is Soraya’s toward self-acceptance and the unraveling of her life’s story, which she learns isn’t exactly as she was told. Both romances could feel a bit like instalove (especially the first), but I felt like this was understandable in Soraya’s case because she had never even experienced touch, much less romance. There were quite a few twists and turns in this story, some I saw coming but others I definitely did not. Overall, this was a fantastic listening experience!

NARRATION: Nikki Masoud is a fantastic narrator—the story is told with just the right touch of drama and flair, and I loved that many of the characters had authentic-sounding (to my ear, at least) accents.

***Disclosure: I received this audiobook from the publisher via NetGalley for review purposes. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.*** 


Bite-Sized Reviews of My Life in the Fish Tank; Girl, Serpent, Thorn; Flamer; and GracelingFlamer by Mike Curato
Published by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) on September 1, 2020
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, LGBTQ+
Pages: 368
Source: The Publisher
My content rating: YA (Bullying; Sexual Situations; Suicide)
My rating:
4 Stars

Award-winning author and artist Mike Curato draws on his own experiences in Flamer, his debut graphic novel, telling a difficult story with humor, compassion, and love.

I know I’m not gay. Gay boys like other boys. I hate boys. They’re mean, and scary, and they’re always destroying something or saying something dumb or both.

I hate that word. Gay. It makes me feel . . . unsafe.

It's the summer between middle school and high school, and Aiden Navarro is away at camp. Everyone's going through changes—but for Aiden, the stakes feel higher. As he navigates friendships, deals with bullies, and spends time with Elias (a boy he can't stop thinking about), he finds himself on a path of self-discovery and acceptance.

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This graphic novel will make your heart bleed for the young MC. I’m not going to lie, it’s kind of a tough read. Set in the 90s, this book contains some pretty horrible bullying, homophobia, and off-color jokes. I do hope that queer kids today aren’t enduring quite this much pain (though I’m sure there are many circumstances where they are—my own daughter hasn’t had to deal with this sort of hate in her own life that I know of, thank God). The story chronicles a 14-year-old’s journey to understanding his sexuality. He doesn’t believe he could be gay—after all, he’s a good Catholic boy, and he sees most guys as being mean-spirited and crude. Still, he finds himself having a harder and harder time explaining away the dreams and fantasies that plague his thoughts, and he finally either has to find acceptance with himself or give in to despair. His journey is both painful and beautiful.

The illustrations worked so well for this book, and I especially loved how the fiery oranges, yellows and reds are occasionally incorporated amongst the bold black and white panels. The effect underscores the book’s themes perfectly. I definitely recommend this for fans of graphic novels.

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review purposes. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.*** 


Bite-Sized Reviews of My Life in the Fish Tank; Girl, Serpent, Thorn; Flamer; and GracelingGraceling by Kristin Cashore
Series: Graceling Realm #1
Published by Full Cast Audio on June 1, 2009
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Narrator: David Baker, Chelsea Mixon, Zachary Exton, Various
Length: 12 hours and 31 minutes
Source: Library, Gift
My content rating: YA (Some violence)
My rating:
5 Stars

Set in a world where some people are born with a Grace—a unique, sometimes uncanny, gift—this is the story of Katsa, whose Grace, demonstrated at an uncomfortably early age, is for killing. This makes her a perfect tool for her uncle, King Randa But Katsa chafes at the way she is being used—and even more at the injustices she sees around her.

Then she meets Prince Po, who has a Grace to match hers… perhaps.

Featuring FCA favorite Chelsea Mixon as Katsa, and sensational newcomer Zachary Exton as Prince Po, the most fascinating and praised fantasy debut of 2008 now springs to life in a sensational full cast recording.

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This book has often been held up as one of the staples of early YA fantasy, so it’s been on my Must-Read list for a very long time. I’m very glad that I finally picked it up, with a little encouragement from my daughter, who wanted to read it too. Katsa has been both feared and despised for her unnatural ability to kill her whole life. In a world where Gracelings are shunned because of their heightened abilities, even when those abilities are something as simple as being really good at baking bread, being a born killer is especially dangerous. Katsa has spent her life honing her Grace and keeping it under control. When she meets a fellow Graceling with the ability to fight, she’s thrilled to finally make a connection with someone who can almost be her equal. Of course, things get complicated, but I won’t say how, just in case I’m not the last person on earth to read this book. I loved this story as much as I was hoping to—I can absolutely see why it’s held up as an ideal example of YA fantasy. It’s got something bordering on magic (Graces), political intrigue, alliances and deceptions, a swoonworthy romance, and a strong female lead who breaks down societal barriers.

Oh, and apparently I jumped into this series at just the right time because a fourth book is coming out in 2021—I’ll be eager to see where it leads us!

NARRATION: One of my absolute favorite aspects of this book was the listening experience. This is the first time I’ve listened to a full-cast audiobook, and I will definitely be seeking more! At first, I was a bit thrown by having a male narrator with a female MC, but I came to realize that it made Katsa’s dialogue and thoughts stand out more. I thought all of the performances were wonderful, and I can’t wait to listen to more audiobooks done this way!!


That’s it for now! Have you read any of these? What did you think?

11 Responses to “Bite-Sized Reviews of My Life in the Fish Tank; Girl, Serpent, Thorn; Flamer; and Graceling”

  1. Sam@wlabb

    I loved Graceling when I read it. I am pretty sure I will be going in for the new book. I think I have listened to 2 or 3 full cast books, but they didn’t just have full casts, they had sound effects and everything. It was a whole experience.

  2. Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight

    Oh wow I have not read any of these but I obviously need to! My Life in the Fishtank is definitely one I want to read with Lena, I am always looking for books about mental health for her! I do want to read Girl Serpent Thorn too, and apparently now I need Graceling as well! Great reviews, so glad you enjoyed these!

    Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight recently posted: Sometimes I Watch Shows (Part 6)
  3. ShootingStarsMag

    I have not read any of these, but I do have an e-copy of Flamer that I need to read ASAP. It definitely sounds like something I would like. Definitely sounds like a tough one though.

    -Lauren

  4. Wendy @ Falconer's Library

    Aaaaaah, these all sound so good! After Maybe He Just Likes You, I think Barbara Dee is an auto-read. Girl Serpent Thorn sounds intriguing, Flamer is something I’m sure I need to get for school, and I love Graceling (and can’t believe it’s already a classic–makes me feel old!).

  5. Nicole @ BookWyrm Knits

    These sound great! I own a copy of Girl, Serpent, Thorn, but haven’t read it yet. Thanks for the note about the kissing-only content! It’s not something that bothers me, per se, but I do like to know where my expectations should be before diving in to a book.

    Nicole @ BookWyrm Knits recently posted: Autopilot Rainbow Socks

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