Review: ‘The Odd 1s Out: How to Be Cool and Other Things I Definitely Learned from Growing Up’ by James Rallison

Hilarious stories and advice about the ups and downs of growing up, from a popularYouTube artist and storyteller.

Like any shy teen turned young adult, YouTube star James Rallison (“The Odd 1s Out”) is used to being on the outside looking in. He wasn’t partying in high school or winning football games like his older brother. Instead, he posted comics on the internet. Now, he’s ready to share his hard-earned advice from his 21 years of life in the funny, relatable voice his fans love.

In this illustrated collection, Rallison tells his own stories of growing up as the “odd one out”: in art class with his twin sister (she was more talented), in the middle school locker room, and up to one strange year of college (he dropped out). Each story is filled with the little lessons he picked up along the way, serious and otherwise, like:

* How to be cool (in seventh grade)
* Why it’s OK to be second-best at something, and
* How to survive your first, confidence-killing job interviews

Filled with fan-favorite comics and never-before-seen material, this tongue-in-cheek take on some of the weirdest, funniest parts of life is perfect for both avid followers and new converts.

Astute readers of my blog will have noticed that this isn’t my usual kind of read. I ordered the book for my son for Christmas, and since I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen of TheOdd1sOut YouTube channel, I decided to give it a read.

James is a cartoonist who does storytime animation — he has a relatively simplistic animation style that he uses to convey relatable and funny stories. I like it when my son watches that sort of YouTube content, because it generally involves less OBNOXIOUS SHOUTING than the Let’s Play type channels, and more, you know, stories.

This book is short (unsurprising given the target audience is middle grade children), and filled with cute pictures that perfectly capture the mood of the various anecdotes — the pictures are freshly drawn, not just stills from the original videos. And there were a couple of genuine LOL moments for me, both of them in stories that I hadn’t already heard.

But here’s the thing. I haven’t watched a huge amount of TheOdd1sOut, but the videos I have seen are the most popular ones … and those seem to be the ones that are included in this book. There were only two or three chapters in this book that I hadn’t already seen the videos of. If the ratio had been the other way around (mostly new content with a couple of chapters of already-used anecdotes), I suspect this book would’ve earned the full five stars from me. And I can see that some readers might be put off by that.

Still, if you’ve got a YouTube obsessed kid who you want to encourage to read more, or one who’s a fan of James’s, this book is definitely recommended. It’s clean, funny and kid-friendly.

UPDATE: My son loves that there are so many stories he’s already seen in video form. So maybe the publishers know more about kids than I do!

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Review: ‘The Demon’s Surrender’ by Sarah Rees Brennan

DemonsSurrender_cover

The Goblin Market has always been the center of Sin’s world. She’s a dancer and a performer, secure in her place. But now the Market is at war with the magicians, and Sin’s place is in danger. Exiled from the market she loves, Sin is thrown together with Nick and Alan — whom she’s always despised.

Alan has been marked by a magician and can be tortured as the magician pleases. As Sin watches Alan struggle to continue to protect the demon brother he loves, she begins to see him in a new light. When Alan is finally possessed as a punishment for Nick’s disobedience, Sin can only watch helplessly as the boy she has grown to love is destroyed. No one ever comes back from a possession — ever. But no one else has a demon for a brother. How far will Nick go to save Alan? And what will it cost them all?

It was a bit disappointed going into The Demon’s Covenant that Jamie wasn’t the POV character (or Alan; he’s the most unreliable character in the trilogy – but that would make him fun to follow!). Sin was too much of a side character for me, going in, and I didn’t understand why she was the focus.

I think the short answer is that she is the love interest for Alan, and the character who truly knows the Goblin Market, so through her we get to see more of it. I love Alan and his sneakiness and devotion to his brother (plus: charming book nerd), and Sin is a great match for him. I did love that part of the story.

And Sin is a great character in her own right. She is an astute and clever performer, a chameleon, used to doing what she needs to to get things done. She’s a dancer not afraid of using her sexuality to exploit the ignorant – but she knows what her lines are as far as that goes, and she doesn’t compromise on them.

The Goblin Market side of things, though … yeah, that didn’t work for me. The competition Merris insists on between Sin and Mae is super-problematic. Sin is the poor woman of colour who has grown up in, and been trained to run, the market. Mae is the rich white girl used to getting what she wants and who has been to maybe three or four markets. How is this even a competition? I mean, I liked Mae in the previous book, but she needs to get back in her box. How dare she think she’s entitled to what is basically Sin’s birthright? Ugh!

Also, the two girls get on quite well even early on in the story. That it never occurred to either of them to work together, pool their differing talents and share the role, baffles me.

Anyway, I’d still recommend this series – especially the first book, which is wonderful, clever, and focuses on familial love in a way we rarely see in urban fantasy.

 

 


Mini-review: ‘Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body’ by Simon Petrie

Tanja Morgenstein, daughter of a wealthy industrialist and a geochemist, is dead from exposure to Titan’s lethal, chilled atmosphere, and Guerline Scarfe must determine why.

This novella blends hard-SF extrapolation with elements of contemporary crime fiction, to envisage a future human society in a hostile environment, in which a young woman’s worst enemies may be those around her.

‘Matters Arising’ won the 2018 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Novella or Novelette, and was shortlisted in the analogous category in both the Aurealis and Ditmar Awards.

A mini review for a miniature book. 🙂

Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body is a great short read for those who like their sci-fi hard and their investigators dogged. I could relate to the fact that Guerline is a single mum and that she just wants to do her job — you go, girl! She’s awesome, and I want to read more about her.

There’s no romance in this novella (if that affects your decision to pick it up one way or the other). I can take romance or leave it, so it worked for me. I mostly guessed the whodunnit angle and the why of it, but the journey was worth it anyway.

I’ll definitely pick up more books by Petrie.

 


Review: ‘The Demon’s Covenant’ by Sarah Rees Brennan

Mae Crawford’s always thought of herself as in control, but in the last few weeks her life has changed. Her younger brother, Jamie, suddenly has magical powers, and she’s even more unsettled when she realizes that Gerald, the new leader of the Obsidian Circle, is trying to persuade Jamie to join the magicians. Even worse… Jamie hasn’t told Mae a thing about any of it. Mae turns to brothers Nick and Alan to help her rescue Jamie, but they are in danger from Gerald themselves because he wants to steal Nick’s powers. Will Mae be able to find a way to save everyone she cares about from the power-hungry magician’s carefully laid trap?

For those that missed it, I reviewed the first book in this trilogy here. It’s taken me a while to get to the second book because I wanted one in the same edition, with the matching cover, and it was super-hard to find. I ended up having to go online and get it second-hand. (Yes, I am that person.)

Anyway. To the review!

The Demon’s Covenant was an enjoyable follow-up to the first book in the series. Unlike the first, which is from Nick’s point of view, the second is from Mae’s. She’s clearly got a big-time crush on Nick, but she tries to ignore it for what are, frankly, very good reasons: he is still just as dangerous and unstable as he was in the first book. The only emotions he really, truly understands are rage and possessiveness. (This is all for good story reasons that I won’t go into because you really need to read The Demon’s Lexicon.)

In the same way that seeing Nick’s thoughts from the inside in the first book made him more sympathetic, seeing him through Mae’s eyes has a similar effect. Brennan is, frankly, a master — I’ve mentioned many times how much I hate the alpha male love interest who is violent and possessive to a girl for her own good. And I do hate that trope.

But here … well, it sort of works.

A lot of the plot is devoted to who is kissing/loves whom — Mae dates Seb despite her interest in Nick and Alan’s interest in her, for example — but the book still stayed true to its urban fantasy roots rather than crossing the line into paranormal romance. I couldn’t really see Mae’s attraction to Seb at first, especially given his history of bullying her brother, but it becomes pretty quickly apparent that she’s dating him for the same reason Buffy dates Riley in Buffy: the Vampire Slayer: he’s the normal guy in her abnormal world. (And look how that worked out…)

Still, the story is filled with secrets, lies and betrayals, not just with kissing, and I’m always there for that. My favourite character, far and away, is the sweet and hilarious Jamie, Mae’s brother. I’m sad that the third book isn’t from his point of view, honestly.

Also, the end made me cry. Not many books can actually do that.

Check out this series. Seriously.


Review: ‘Lifel1k3’ by Jay Kristoff

On a floating junkyard beneath a radiation sky, a deadly secret lies buried in the scrap.

Eve isn’t looking for secrets—she’s too busy looking over her shoulder. The robot gladiator she’s just spent six months building has been reduced to a smoking wreck, and the only thing keeping her Grandpa from the grave was the fistful of credits she just lost to the bookies. To top it off, she’s discovered she can destroy electronics with the power of her mind, and the puritanical Brotherhood are building a coffin her size. If she’s ever had a worse day, Eve can’t remember it.

But when Eve discovers the ruins of an android boy named Ezekiel in the scrap pile she calls home, her entire world comes crashing down. With her best friend Lemon Fresh and her robotic conscience, Cricket, in tow, she and Ezekiel will trek across deserts of irradiated glass, infiltrate towering megacities and scour the graveyard of humanity’s greatest folly to save the ones Eve loves, and learn the dark secrets of her past.

Even if those secrets were better off staying buried.

I can describe this book in a few words: high-octane, post-apocalyptic young adult inspired by Mad Max: Fury Road and Anastasia. (They don’t mention the latter on the cover, though — I’m guessing it wasn’t gritty enough.)

Things I loved

Eve and Lemon Fresh. These two were the most awesome best friend combo I’ve read in a while: supportive and sassy, with no hint of rivalry — but at the same time each character is her own person, with her own secrets and clear personality. I loved Lemon’s brash ego (and squishy interior) and Eve’s decisiveness and self-doubt. I would read about them alllll day.

Cricket and Kaiser. The blurb calls Cricket Eve’s robotic conscience and that’s true to an extent, but he’s been programmed with a personality that is well-suited to Eve’s and a habit of flipping the bird at people in a way that reminded me of BB-8 giving the thumb’s up. Kaiser is a regular dog … if that dog was mostly robot, given uber-bloodhound powers and programmed to kill. He is the very best good boy of all the good boys.

The plot. I guessed some of what was going on, but that final chapter blew me away. (Trigger warning for a cliffhanger ending. OMG. Is the sequel out yet?)

The lingo. I struggled with the slang in the first couple of chapters, but once I got used to it, I loved the different words in this book: fizzy (awesome) and true cert (legit) and all the rest of them. Kristoff is great at this kind of detailed world-building, and Lifel1k3 is no exception.

One thing I was a little “ehh” on

Ezekiel. He’s the love interest and he’s just kind of … plastic. (And I don’t mean because he’s a robot — his defining trait seems to be love for the mysterious Ana, and that’s about it.) But he can definitely kick ass and is loyal and pretty, so that redeeemed him somewhat. I’m hoping he’ll really come into his own in the second book.

Still, definitely give this one a go, for Lemon Fresh if nothing else! I love my Lemon. ❤


Review: ‘Among Others’ by Jo Walton

Winner of the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Novel. Winner of the 2011 Nebula Award for Best Novel. Startling, unusual, and yet irresistably readable, Among Others is at once the compelling story of a young woman struggling to escape a troubled childhood, a brilliant diary of first encounters with the great novels of modern fantasy and SF, and a spellbinding tale of escape from ancient enchantment.

‘It doesn’t matter. I have books, new books, and I can bear anything as long as there are books.’

Fifteen-year-old Morwenna lives in Wales with her twin sister and a mother who spins dark magic for ill. One day, Mori and her mother fight a powerful, magical battle that kills her sister and leaves Mori crippled. Devastated, Mori flees to her long-lost father in England. Adrift, outcast at boarding school, Mori retreats into the worlds she knows best: her magic and her books. She works a spell to meet kindred souls and continues to devour every fantasy and science fiction novel she can lay her hands on. But danger lurks… She knows her mother is looking for her and that when she finds her, there will be no escape.

I should note at the outset that I listened to this on audiobook; the main character is Welsh, and I have no doubt that having someone else pronounce all the Welsh place names etc made things a little easier for me. The accent was utterly delightful — and I had even more respect for the voice actor, Katherine Kellgren, when she slowly transformed Mori’s accent from pure Welsh to something with a hint of posh English (Received Pronunciation?) the longer Mori spent in an English boarding school. I can barely do my own accent, let alone manage a feat like that!

Set in 1979 and 1980 and told in diary form, this book straddles a few genres: young adult, certainly; historical fantasy; magical realism; possibly urban fantasy if you stretch the definition of urban (which I like to do!).

The main character is disabled and suffers chronic pain. She walks with a cane after she got injured in the same magical attack that killed her sister — an attack orchestrated by her mother. Mori likens her story to the Frodo’s after he returns home to the shire: the big battle is done; the losses have happened; the scars have healed, at least superficially; and now she has to learn how to live with what is left.

This story is, as much as anything, about coping and moving forward after loss.

The magic in this book is mostly very understated and almost always plausably deniable. Because I’m an old roleplaying geek, what it reminded me of most is the way magic works in the World of Darkness roleplaying game Mage: the Ascension — specifically coincidental magic, which doesn’t violate the “consensus” (or non-mages’ common understanding of how the world works).

But in some ways, magic in this book is also more powerful than consensus magic, because it can rewrite the past to ensure that a present event comes to pass in a way that the magic user wants it to. Mori spends a lot of time wondering about the ethics of using magic — more time than she does actually doing it. Because she has seen the effect on the world that a power-hungry magic user can have on others, she usually decides not to do anything at all.

As well as the supernatural side of things, Among Others also touches on other issues, such as puberty, sex and LGBT couples. (One of her relatives lives with another woman; Mori is refreshingly matter-of-fact about it, the same way she is about her cane use and chronic pain.)

The other delightful thing about this book is that Mori spends just as much time enthusing about books as she does talking about magic and faeries and her new crush. She’s a science-fiction and fantasy fan, and is buying books at a time when a lot of big names in those genres are producing their most famous works. Sometimes her review of a book might be “I liked it, though it’s a bit weird”, and other times she goes deep into the text and compares it to books by other writers in a way that would do an English teacher proud.

Unfortunately for me, my speculative fiction reading growing up was almost exclusively fantasy, so there are only maybe three or four writers that she mentions that I have actually read myself. I think if you’re a sci-fi fan, Among Others will be a much richer read for you.

But, despite that, this was still a five-star read for me. Thanks to my friend Barbara for recommending it!


Review: ‘Something’, ‘Nothing’ and ‘Everything’ (the ‘All the Things’ trilogy) by K. A. Last

Blurb for Something:

Katie has loved Levi, the boy next door, for as long as she can remember. He used to be her best friend, but now her heart breaks a little more every time he pretends she doesn’t exist.

He’s the popular, wealthy school captain, while she’s the poor scholarship kid. They’ve barely spoken in two years, so Katie doesn’t understand why Levi has started climbing through her bedroom window. Or why he’s telling her secrets he’s hiding from everyone else.

When the mean girls include Katie in their malicious game of truth or dare, she has a chance to get answers. To find out the real reason Levi is talking to her again. Will everything be as perfect as Katie imagined, or will the truth destroy her?

I’ve read this trilogy of novellas over the last month, and decided to post a combined review because I read them back-to-back, and because the story really is a novel in three parts, with cliff-hanger endings for the first two books. (Now, you know how I feel about that, but since I didn’t have to wait very long at all, I was all good … and now all three are out, you don’t have to wait at all!)

This trilogy is one of those stories that reminded me of how awful it is to be an introverted teenager at the bottom of the social pecking order, and I really felt for Katie on those grounds. Katie is an art nerd, the smartest kid in the class, and — worst of all, socially — attending wealthy private school on a scholarship. Her parents don’t come across as truly poor, but they are maybe lower middle class and Katie’s in a school full of rich brats.

That’s not to say Katie doesn’t have any friends at all, because she does; her bestie, Karen, is wonderful: tough, a straight talker, and willing to leap in front of a bullet (or a bully) to protect her friends. Katie’s other friends, Jessica and Stacey, spend less time on screen (and for the longest time I actually thought they were secretly dating … alas, no). Still, they are a solid posse.

On the face of it, Levi is my least favourite kind of love interest: hot but with a troubled past, secrets, and a tendancy to be rude to the leading lady. But his rudeness mostly runs to ignoring Katie, rather than being outright cruel or monstering the main character (I’m looking at you, Daemon from Obsidian), and you can see he doesn’t really mean it. It’s more that he made a bad decision when he was younger — that Katie wasn’t cool enough for him — and now isn’t quite sure how to walk it back even though he clearly wants to. And it turns out he’s actually kind of a sweetie. So I forgave him.

As well as struggling with whether to trust Levi again, Katie is also wrestling with study and that most teenage of issues: what to do after she finishes school. Her parents want her not to “waste” her scholarship and expect her to study law or medicine, but Katie is less than keen. This was one issue that I thought deserved a bit more airtime in the third book — her mother does something that I considered a truly low act (no details, because spoilers), and Katie was far more forgiving than I thought she should be.

But maybe that’s because I’m a mean old lady. 😉

There are some other minor characters that I had mixed feelings towards, all of them Levi’s friends. Veronica grew on me, but I never really got onboard with his two male friends. (See above comment about me being a mean old lady. I don’t forgive as readily as Katie does.) On the other hand, Katie’s brother is amazing.

If you want to read a story about a teen girl learning to trust and finding her feet in the world, one that is an easy read and comes in digestable chunks, then this is the story for you.

Note that I received a copy of Something in exchange for an honest review (though I bought the other two books myself).