Book review: Baby teeth

BABY TEETH, BY ZOJE STAGE

I received a complimentary copy of this book from St. Martin’s Press through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

I finished this book at the end of October, but then the worst period of my life  happened, and there was no place for books or reviews. Such a big break offers  an interesting perspective on several books that were read, but never reviewed.

“Baby teeth” obviously made a big impact on me, since it’s still fresh in my  mind. And my memory is BAD, like catastrophically bad, especially when it  comes to books, for some reason. I have a theory that my brain knows how much  I love books, so it wants to make reading extra special for me. Like, do you have a  favorite book, especially one with some twists and turns; and you wish you could  read this book again and be surprised by it like the first time? I actually CAN do  that!

Yet it appears there are some books that are too good to be forgotten.

“Baby teeth” contains not one, but two alternating POVs that paint a  devastating picture of a terrible mother-daughter relationship. I mean, most of us  have mommy and daddy issues, but this is some next-level shirt!

Hanna is the seemingly sweet, smart, precocious daughter of Alex from  Sweden and his wife Suzette. Hanna loves Alex so much that she wants to marry  him one day (she’s seven, so marrying her dad is… sweet? Nope, still creepy AF).  Too bad that stupid Mommy is in the way.

Meanwhile, Suzette was raised by an absentee mother whose neglect  bordered on abuse. Which makes Suzette all the more eager to be the perfect  mother and to raise a perfect daughter. She gives up her career to raise her  daughter, she’s pouring all her love and energy into Hanna – and Hanna can’t  even talk.

Obviously, as things unfold, we see that the relationship is fraught by more  problems from both sides, and it wouldn’t be out of place to use the phrase, Well  that escalated quickly.

I was debating whether to write a spoiler-free review – but even discussing the  book’s many achievements can be considered a spoiler. So let me just say that I  loved “Baby teeth” and this is one of those rare occasions where I would love to  get a sequel! The writing of debut author Zoje Stage is engaging and intriguing.  She’s dealing with a very sensitive subject and she doesn’t shy away from  exploring it, but she’s also not making it too over-the-top. This is the story that  seems completely realistic.

Five real stars for Baby Teeth!

AND NOW FOR THE SPOILERS!

From the beginning of Hanna’s narrative I was getting strong Omen vibes,  which was both positive and disappointing. Positive because I’m a sick weirdo  who loves me some creepy, murderous children. And disappointing because it’s  been done before and there aren’t too many ways to go with this character arc.

Or so I thought! It turns out that a masterful author like Zoje Stage can bring  the Omen type story down to earth, making it completely believable. What? You  don’t know what your kid is thinking, and don’t pretend like you do! In fact,  that’s one of the most hypnotizing and scary notions of the novel – you never  know what your kid is thinking, so how can you be sure that he’s not plotting  your violent death? Yeah, marinate on that thought for a while and you won’t be  able to sleep without locking your bedroom door.

Suzette’s horror is amplified by Hanna’s stubborn refusal to speak, and when  someone finds a way to communicate with Hanna, Suzette really wishes that she  could remain oblivious to what was happening in her daughter’s mind.

Speaking of which, my only issue with the novel was the choice of Hanna’s  imaginary (or was she?) confidant, the French Witch. I was so not on board with  this narrative choice, and that is what was giving me the Omen vibes, but the way  that this particular thread unraveled was, once again, quite believable.

And I loved that the parents followed through with taking Hanna to little kids’  loony bin, cause I was afraid that poor clueless daddy would rather ship off  mommy than part with his precious squirrelly girl. But no, common sense  prevailed, and that also set this book apart from the others of a similar nature.  Too often do the kids go unpunished for the terrible things they do, because  grown-ups feel the need to believe in a child’s innocence above all.

Which is why I want the sequel! Preferably when Hanna tricks the loony bin  into thinking that she’s been cured and goes on a revenge spree against mommy  and possibly daddy – I wonder how strong her love would remain after daddy  sent her away…

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Book review: Mia&Co, vol.1

by Vanyda and Nicolas Hitori De

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Europe Comics through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Mia&Co is the first in (hopefully) a series of graphic novels about the life of Mia and her best friends. She’s just an ordinary teenage girl who gets along better with boys than with girls. The friend group loves hanging out together, playing video games and listening to music. This story doesn’t have any wild adventures, or magic, or vampires – and that is what’s so appealing about it. “Mia&Co” is a slice of life, a look at how us, regular folk, live our lives. And who would have thought that our lives could look so charming?

Mia is the only girl in her friend group, which instantly made me relate to her – I used to get along better with boys than with girls when I was younger. In fact, this whole friend group feels so relateable, the whole book made me nostalgic for my teenage years. I also used to play video games and listen to music with my friends; go to concerts; explore the city; try to venture outside the friend group, but always ended up going back.
The author does such a great job of making the characters feel real with just a few words, and of course the illustrations help tremendously. The color palette is very cozy, it makes the reading experience so relaxing.
Mia&Co is like a very chill episode of a teenage TV show, without any major drama, just some kids hanging out, enjoying life and each other’s company.
I really hope there will be more books in this series!

Death March Escape, by Jack J. Hersch

The full title reads – Death March Escape: The remarkable story of a man who twice escaped the Nazi Holocaust.
I would say “remarkable” is an understatement in this context. There have only been a handful of recorded cases of prisoners escaping from concentration camps during WWII and not all of those who managed to escape, ever made it to freedom. Many were hunted down, found and killed; many perished on their own, without food and shelter.
Which is why the story of David Hersch, a man who escaped a death march – got captured but somehow not killed – then escaped again – was taken in by kind and courageous people – and lived to tell his tale… is unbelievable!
And yet that is the story we are fortunate to read in this amazing book. I was going to say “wonderful”, but I’m always hesitant to use such words when talking about horrific events. Yet Jack Hersch, David’s son, wrote a truly wonderful book, in the way that it tells the full story without skipping details or minimizing the horror, yet it’s almost a light read. In other words, you can read this book and still sleep well at night, compared to reading some other books on the subject that leave you with nightmares for days and nights to come.
I loved the way that the book was framed as both the story of David’s life and time in the camps, but also as Jack reconnecting with his father. In fact, the idea of writing the book came to Jack after he happened upon a photograph of his father on the memorial website for the Mauthausen concentration camp. A photograph that Jack had never seen before, of a man who used to be his father before the horrors of WWII. This discovery prompted Jack on a quest to find out as much as he could about David Hersch, and in a way to find out more about himself.
I highly recommend this book to a variety of people! If you’re interested in WWII – this book is for you. If you’re interested in the Holocaust but are afraid of the more harrowing stories – this book is for you. If you’re interested in stories about the strength of the human spirit – this book is for you. If you’re interested in stories of survival against unimaginable odds – this book is for you.
Finally, if you’ve ever wondered if your family has any secrets or fascinating tales to tell – this book is definitely for you, as it will spark curiosity in you to find out more about your own family.

223 Orchard Street, by Renee Ryan

Please note that my rambling reviews almost always CONTAIN SPOILERS!

I was in the mood for historical fiction, and this was alphabetically the first choice of NetGalley books, so that was that. I was excited about the time period and the set-up of two Irish sisters trying to make it in America, one arriving a year after the other. The narrative is third-person but the events are relayed from both sisters’ perspectives which is the optimal balance between detachment and getting to see the world through the character’s eyes.

So all was well for the first couple of pages. Katie gets a summons from the immigration department to collect her sister from Ellis Island, but when she gets there it turns out that little sister Shannon has been detained due to a mysterious illness and might get deported. Katie can only wait and see what the verdict will be.On the way back Katie encounters a familiar figure – Doctor “my friends call me Ty” Brentwood who instantly recognizes her. Despite seeing dozens of patients every day, Ty somehow remembers this lovely girl with Cupid bow lips and big eyes and is drawn to her because she reminds him of a mysterious mistake he made in the past……

And that’s when I realized that this is a romance novel, and I got the urge to barf.

At least it’s not too sappy. After the initial Harlequin descriptions and lots of INTENSE MOMENTS between two strangers, the relationship between Katie and Doctor Ty comes back to reality… well, it gets closer to it anyway. 


Writing style: Flows naturally, is easy to follow. Dialogue stumbles a bit, but finds its rhythm eventually.


Immigration issue: paints a vivid picture of immigrant life and struggle. I had no idea how awful the process of entering the country was. I thought the hardest part was surviving the journey on crowded ships, but I was wrong. It’s much worse to get denied entry on a medical issue that’s not even explained to you.


Ty’s “dark” past: this whole thing with Ty being so dark and dangerous and destroying all the good and beautiful things in his path is so bogus. So he had one surgery that went terribly wrong – so what? It’s not something to be taken lightly, for sure, but it’s not like he botched it on purpose. It’s not like he was drunk or high during the surgery. It’s not like he straight-up murdered that woman and her newborn baby. So what’s the damn problem?! I understand that he’s feeling guilty as hell, and like no amount of lives saved can bring those two back. I get that. But it was a mistake – doesn’t he realize that as a doctor?! It was a complicated procedure that he’d never done before. Plus it was the turn of the twentieth century, people! Medical science was not so advanced back then. Even now people are still dying on operating tables or they never come out of anesthesia. It’s tragic but it happens, and it’s hardly ever the doctor’s fault (unless he’s drunk or high, as I’ve already said). 


Which brings me to why the inevitable romance between Katie and Ty is so annoying. The author is trying to turn Ty into a villain to artificially create an obstacle that they will have to overcome. Like there can’t be anything else that’s keeping them apart? Something that feels organic and not forced? Even having his wealthy family being opposed to him romancing a poor Irish girl would be better. Sure, it would be a cliche, but at least that’s something that actually happened and still happens to people. Pretending that a good doctor suddenly turned into Doctor Doom because of one fatal surgery is bullshit.


And this is where the rambling really gets going…


Overall it feels like this book lacks plot. I’m at the half-mark right now and nothing much has happened. The pages are instead filled with “inner monologue” that all reads the same – as a description of generic feelings of the three main characters. It’s a straightforward description and therefore lacks the ability to get you attached to the characters. You can’t even tell which one of them is “feeling” what, unless you pay close attention. Shouldn’t the characters have their own distinct voices and characteristics?


A little over the halfway mark and I’m reeeeealy bored. Nothing much is happening, the characters keep going round in circles… Katie and Ty are drawn to each other but keep talking themselves out of it because OBSTACLES (that don’t actually matter). Shannon is pregnant and alone, but keeps telling herself that her beloved Liam is on the next boat over to America! (which honestly is NOT happening). And that’s it, basically. Why am I reading this again?!


OH FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, Liam actually came to America!?! WHY??? At least give me something that doesn’t suck about this book. But no… I guess this inspirational romance gotta inspire and there’s nothing inspirational or romantic about the guy who knocked you up out of wedlock and turned out to be an actual creep. Ugh…


So in conclusion, I tried to see this romance that betrayed me by being a romance, from the point of view of someone who actually likes romance novels. And you know what? It still doesn’t work! The insta-attraction between Katie and Ty is forced, their initial avoidance of each other is forced, their inevitable attraction to each other is forced. It was outright laughable when Ty became SO jealous of that girl’s brother who came to tell him that Shannon was bleeding to death. Ty was all, So he’s making moves on my Katie – I challenge thee to a duel! Bitch, please. Shannon’s romance with Liam is even worse because it’s mostly talked about and Liam is clearly set up to be the villain and when he actually turns up at the eleventh hour you’re just annoyed.
2 ANNOYED STARS for this one.

Bookworm’s paradise

I found out about NetGalley exactly a year ago.
Before then all the books that I read came from my own personal collection, or a vast, vast library that I was working at. Let’s just say, I never ran out of books to read, but rather my book piles kept growing and growing. Yet I always wanted more.
It’s in my nature. Maybe it’s the post-Soviet upbringing, where I hardly had anything, books included, and it was never enough. In fact, I could never get enough books. In those dark days of no Internet, cable or even DVDs, books were all I had.
I am a genetic bookworm – both my parents were huge book nerds. But while my mother mostly borrowed books, as she had no place to store them, my father filled his whole apartment with books to the point where he had to, literally, sleep on top of piles of books. Needless to say, with that pedigree I learned how to read at age 3 and was always ravenous for books.
I will not ramble on about this now, it’s a story for another post – or seven. Now is the moment to praise NetGalley.
So it was January 2017 and I was lamenting the fact that I barely got any new books during the holidays and I, like, ran out of reading material. Which is so not true, but you can never tell a bookworm that. I was browsing through Goodreads, looking at my friends’ reviews and getting more and more agitated because I kept running into the same disclaimer – I got a free copy of this book through NetGalley.
What was this NetGalley, I wondered, and how can I get some free books from it? God knows I’ve earned the right to get free books over a lifetime of obsessive devotion to literature! A quick Google search revealed that NetGalley was a treasure trove of brand new and upcoming releases that could be yours free of charge, if only you’d be so kind as to leave a review on your Goodreads, blog and other social media platforms (also don’t forget Amazon).
Oh em gee, thought I! All these free books in exchange for something that I already do – writing reviews?! Sign me up and give me all the books, please and thank you! It turned out that NetGalley and all the publishers were incredibly generous and really enthusiastic about literature, to the point where most of the books that I requested I would receive. I never even hoped for that much! Pretty soon my Kindle was bursting from countless electronic pages, and my mind was bursting from all the stories that I could help share with the world.
And then my mother got really sick and all my reading and especially reviewing whittled down to nothing…
2018 was officially the worst year of my life. The most challenging, devastating year. One where everything about me was put to the test, including my natural-born love of literature. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t lose myself in a book. Partly because I couldn’t sit still for longer than five minutes at a time, so consumed was I by taking care of my mother and trying to hold on to a job. And partly because reading requires more work than watching movies or shows, especially when you want to write a good review when you’re finished.
Long story short, I closed out the year of devastation and despair without my mother, and with a gaping hole where my heart used to be. And now, at the start of 2019, I realize that I need to fill that hole with something. Could it be my old soulmate Literature? After all, we’ve had some amazing times together over the years. Literature was my constant companion, even when all else failed me. Hopefully it will pull me out of this deep, dark hole now, since nothing and no one else can.
And the reason why I started and concluded this post with praise for NetGalley is that one of my New Year’s resolutions is to get my reading and reviewing back on track. I feel terrible about getting those wonderful free books and then letting publishers down by not reviewing them on time.
Well, if any publishers or NetGalley team is reading this, please know – I will get better, I will keep reading, I will improve my reading and reviewing habits, and I will make you proud! Okay, that last one was kind of cheesy, but when it comes to books I am a cheesy, over-the-top, unapologetic book lover and I will prove that with my actions in 2019!
And now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll get back to my Kindle – stories await!

Diary of a wimpy kid: the meltdown, by Jeff Kinney

Somehow Wimpy Kid became one of my favorite characters, and certainly a constant in my reading life. Every year I wait for the beginning of November to get my hands on the new volume of Greg Heffley’s misfortunes. And I’m not the only one. My library used to purchase up to 10 copies of each Wimpy Kid book, none of which would come back to the shelves for another six months or so. Every kid, and their mother, had to read Wimpy Kid. At this point, there is no need to prove the merits of this series. You either love it, or you don’t know about it. Still, since I’ve come up with this new reviewing template, I will follow it for a more coherent review.
WRITING STYLE: Wimpy Kid books are consistently well written and illustrated. Greg Heffley has his own established voice and it never seizes to amuse and entertain. The illustrations are simple, but detailed and have an endearing quality. I love the ratio of illustrations to text, making it a kind of wordier graphic novel.
NARRATION: “Meltdown” takes us through a climate-changing winter. January is blessed (or cursed) with sunshine and warmth, which makes Greg very nervous that the ice caps will melt and the frozen dinosaurs and other creatures will be free to roam the Earth. Once the weather gets properly cold, we get more of how and where Greg lives. I am terrible at remembering books, but I feel like this is the first time we’ve had such an in-depth glance at Greg’s neighborhood. Other stories were set mostly at school, or on a road trip or vacation. “Meltdown” does a great job of inviting us into the world of Greg Heffley, exploring his life on the Upper Surrey Street, which is complicated by the existence of the Lower Surrey Street. There is a feudal war going on between those who live on the Upper and Lower streets, and that’s a fun war to witness. Especially when the novel culminates in an epic Snowball Fight with various fractions, alliances and snow forts. The author mostly keeps track of everything that’s going on, but I sometimes found it hard to follow the action.
SETTING: As I’ve already mentioned, “Meltdown” gives us a whole new setting, or rather expands on the previously introduced setting, of Greg’s neighborhood. The illustrations are very helpful in establishing all the locations, houses and the people who live there. I would love to see more stories taking place in this setting.
CHARACTERS: We get introduced to a whole bunch of new characters – the various occupants of the Upper and Lower Surrey Street. Some were mere faces in the overall picture, while others played a substantial role in the Epic Snow Battle. My favorite new character was the guy who opened his own snowball store – you go, small business owner! I also enjoyed the role of the parents in this novel – nonchalant bystanders who don’t get the whole Upper/Lower Street Feud and who low-key don’t care that their kids spend days and sometimes nights outside in the freezing cold. A nice break from the overbearing parents that I so often encounter.
PERSONAL LIKES: EVERYTHING! Alright, almost everything. This is one of my favorite series of all time, and this is one of the best books in it, so I will be flailing over it, if you don’t mind. I just loved the world building! The previous book felt like such a letdown, with that silly vacation that they took. And this one brought it back home, literally. Now I feel like I know Greg so much better, know exactly where he lives and what goes on in his neighborhood. It’s really exciting for me. I especially loved the part where he would sneak into his grandma’s house to get warm and watch TV – that is such a Greg thing to do.
PERSONAL COMPLAINTS: My own concern was the school bus situation. We don’t have school buses here in Moscow, so I only know the situation from American movies, shows and books. And I always thought that the bus would either take you straight to your house, or at least close to your house. But Greg has to walk all the way to school if his parents can’t take him – that is messed up! Although, later in the story I learned that the bus actually could take Greg closer to his house. He either wouldn’t take it, cause he’d be late for it, or something else happened – I wasn’t exactly clear. But this is such a minor thing, and maybe it’s even explained, but I was dealing with indigestion while reading this book, so I may have blanked on some details.
IN CONCLUSION: This is one of the best books in the series of Wimpy Kid! The series had been kind of a letdown for the past several years – I didn’t really like the previous one, I don’t even remember reading the one before that… But “Meltdown” brings the series back to its glory days! I loved exploring more of Greg’s world – heck, I didn’t even know there was more world to explore! I hope that Jeff Kinney keeps this up for the next installments, which better be in the works. I can’t imagine my Novembers without the new Wimpy Kid.
YOU MIGHT LIKE IT IF: you’re in the mood for a quick, fun, illustrated read; you like your middle-grade characters wimpy, but snarky; you are not ashamed of loving a series for middle schoolers.
SUPER-OBJECTIVE CRITIC-LEVEL RATING: Five Wimpy Stars! Keep up the good work, Jeff Kinney!

To the land of budding book lovers

My dear friend Neha, who encouraged me to start a WordPress blog, wrote a lovely piece about our Book House blog. Thank you, Neha!

Literary Lemonades

A few weeks back, I received a Whatsapp text. My Muscovite friend Katya, of whom I talk all the time in my Prochnost updates, was up to something awesome again. She had switched jobs recently and the ‘Kniga Worm‘ that she is (no literally!), she decided to get the kids in her new school get excited about books by, get this, blogging about books!

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