I may never have known Audacity by Melanie Crowder existed if it weren't for Book Riot's post on feminist YA books of 2015. Thank you, Kelly Jensen, for writing that article. I haven't seen this mentioned anywhere else, and that is a shame. This is a brilliant and moving book. And I may need to officially revise my stance on verse novels.
Audacity is the story of Clara Lemlich. It begins when she is a teenager living in her shtetl in Russia. After a series of harsh pogroms agains the Jews, Clara and her family immigrate to America. The book chronicles their stay in a poor house in London, the steerage passage to the US, and their entrance through Ellis. Then it changes pace as Clara gets a job in a sweat shop and begins her fight for unions and justice in the garment industry. Told in beautiful first person perspective verse, Audacity is the story of a girl who had a fire burning inside her too bright for anyone to put out, and how she used it to warm and change the world.
Clara Lemlich was a real person, but this book is historical fiction as it takes some liberties with the story here and there. Nothing is changed to take from the historical authenticity of the novel, there are just some thoughts and interactions Clara is involved in that would not be documented. There is a fascinating interview with her daughter and several of her grandchildren at the end that is also worth reading.
Clara was born into a family where the men studied the Torah and the women did the work. She was not allowed to go to school, not allowed to speak Russian, not allowed to learn to read or write. She defied her parents and secretly learned to do all of these things. She was constantly told good girls are obedient. Good girls do what they're told. But Clara made her own rules and fought for the herself and the girl she sat beside in the sweatshops day by day. Despite being beaten, jailed, and harassed, she never gave up. Audacity wonderfully captures her struggle and spirit.
Some excerpts that show the beauty and scope of the story: How can I ever be more than just someone's daughter wife mother if I cannot study if I cannot learn if I am not permitted to have even one book?
The mother of the exiles holds her torch aloft greeting us in the water The clouds break apart and for a moment pure clean rays of sunshine reach through the heavens to dance across my cheeks
One by one the foreman pats the workers down roving over curves and creases searching for scraps of fabric or thread or dignity that might find their way out of the shop
I know he thinks to break this thing in me that insists I think for myself
Just think Pauline says, if thousands of tiny lights can outshine the moon, is there anything thousands of us cannot do?
Audacity is full ideas: feminism, idealism, the power of knowledge, fighting for what is right, and never giving up no matter how hard it gets. Clara's story is inspiring in thousands of different ways, and this should be included on shelves everywhere.
The book is considered YA, but strong MG readers can handle it as well. I can't wait to share it with my own daughter....more
I was introduced to Laura Ruby through my Twitter feed courtesy of Anne Ursu. She is an expert ranter about the things she is passionate about, and as we are passionate about many of the same things, I jumped at the chance to pick up an ARC of her new book, Bone Gap. I already knew she had a way with words and I couldn't wait to see how that manifested itself in a fiction narrative. It turns out Ruby is even more amazing when writing fiction.
This book is one that needs to be read. It begs to be read. Nothing I say in this review is going to do this book justice. It's one of those books you simply have to experience. Just read the book.
Bone Gap is a tiny midwestern town full of fences, cows, chickens, corn, and gaps. Gaps a person could disappear into never to be heard from again. Bone Gap is a place most people can't wait to get out of. This is true for the O'Sulivan boys as much as anyone. Older brother Sean had dreams of going to medical school, but put them on hold to stick around for his kid brother after their mom leaves them for an orthodontist who doesn't like kids. Younger brother Finn is in the summer between his junior and senior year of high school and working hard to get ready for his college applications. They will be his ticket out. But the brothers are currently both reeling from the disappearance of Roza, a beautiful girl who mysteriously entered their lives, and then just as mysteriously left them. Sean has resigned himself, figuring she chose to go of her own accord just like so many others had, including his mom. Finn knows better. He saw the mysterious man who came and took Roza away. Unfortunately he can't remember enough to help find her. As the summer continues, Sean's anger and resentment toward Finn grow. Finn, haunted by nightmares of Roza's disappearance, takes to going out at night and meeting up with Petey, the girl he's always had a crush on. As their relationship grows and the time since Roza's disappearance lengthens, Finn begins to feel better. But soon discoveries are made that make it impossible for everyone to ignore some harsh truths about themselves and life in Bone Gap.
Bone Gap is told in third person and follows the perspectives of several characters, mostly focusing on Finn and Roza. The reader also gets several glimpses into the mind of Petey and Sean. I loved the switching perspectives and how they give such a complete picture of what is going on. At the same time though, the way Ruby pieced these perspectives together gives the book a thrilling, edge of your seat, sense of urgency and mystery. Bone Gap is a puzzle where each piece is handed out one at a time, ending in a beautiful picture of family, community, love, friendship, and hope for the future. But some of the pieces are dark. Very dark. And that is part of the beauty of the finished picture. Ruby pulled it all together so well. And she has some great things to say through both Roza's story and Petey's story about the expectations society has for women and how that can trap a person. There is so much richness and depth to the whole book.
Bone Gap itself comes to life and is just as important to the story as any character. I have said before I have issues with small town books that are full of quirky characters. Ruby managed to stay balanced on the fine line between necessary oddness and too much quirk with Bone Gap. Bone Gap is a weird place for many reasons beyond being a small town. Reasons that become more evident as the story unfolds. The residents themselves are fairly typical people with their own little quirks and foibles, but there is never an overwhelming sense of it being too strange to be real. The people in the town and their stories are real and are brought to wonderful life.
As amazing as the plot, themes, and setting are, the characters are what truly won my heart. I'm a character reader and Ruby does characters well. There is a richness and depth to all the characters that make them feel so real. I haven't been this thoroughly immersed in the lives of the people in a book for quite some time. Finn and Petey in particular have my heart. They are both so odd and awkward. She is prickly and angry much of the time. He is confused and muddled. Together they manage to find peace and happiness, but even then things aren't easy. It's just so real. And I love how their relationship developed from the giddiness of first experiences to dealing with the harsh realities of fitting together two individuals with insecurities and problems. Sean and Roza have a similar dynamic with their own set of issues, and I like how the two relationships contrasted each other. Roza's story, for all its steeped in the magical, is all too real and harsh. They all have so much to offer as people, and so much to overcome to be able to do that. They are people I want to know, and this book makes me feel like I do know them. Like I'm part of their story.
This is my favorite read of 2015 so far and I've really liked all the books I've read this year so that's saying something. it is one of those books that I'm going to be telling everyone about and harassing them to read.
I read an ARC received from the publisher, Balzer & Bray, at ALA Midwinter. Bone Gap goes on sale March 3....more
I read Ask Again Later by Liz Czukas earlier this year and found it to be quite fun. However, I LOVE her new book Top Ten Clues You're Clueless. It's basically The Breakfast Club with Christmas thrown in. Because instead of serving Saturday detention, this group of unlikely teen companions are all working the same Christmas Eve grocery store shift.
Chloe is a list maker. She starts every day with a list and makes several more as she goes about her day. She has many running lists to which she continually adds. In addition to being a list maker she is a reader of mysteries, a red head, a girl with a massive crush on a co-worker, and a diabetic. On Christmas Eve she is required to work her regular job as a cashier at the grocery store. Many people are working including all of the young high school employees. All six of them. When there is a lot less money in the holiday donation box than is expected, all six of the teens are accused of working alone or together to steal the money and are held at work until the police can arrive to question them. In the interim they have to decide whether or not to trust each other and band together. In the process they begin to bond and get to know each other better than they ever thought possible.
This book is all about the characters. Zaina: the perfect, beautiful, Muslim, Lebanese immigrant who just wants the chance to figure out who she is outside of others expectations of her Sammi: the tough skater girl with an attitude and an interesting rapport with Gabe Gabe: basketball player, charmer, flirt, and golden rich boy who seems to understand Sammi better than she understands herself Micah: a sweet, nerdy, homeschool boy who loves science and is curious about the world and everyone in it Tyson: charming, fun, polite, and always willing to help out, he is just trying to save as much money as he can for college and is the object of Chloe's affections
Their story is narrated by Chloe and while she is ostensibly the focus, the reader comes to know all of them well as the narrative unfolds. The cast of characters here is diverse and yet there isn't a reliance on stereotypes or cliche's to mold them. Instead Czukas allows dialog and interactions to reveal each person's character and uses the other character's assumptions-assumptions most readers would have too-to challenge and bring out hidden details. All of these characters are so endearing. I loved every single one of them. I do think Chloe is the best vehicle through which to tell their collective story, but I find myself really wanting to have stories from all of the rest of them too, particularly Sammi and Zaina. I also enjoyed the wider observations of the world at large that came from seeing a grocery store through the eyes of the people who work there. Chloe's voice is genuine, a combination of cluelessness and wisdom that teens just starting to figure out the world often have.
The mystery isn't all that hard to figure out, but I completely bought how all of it came together. I could see the decisions that led to a bunch of mostly minors being held for hours at their job on Christmas Eve actually happening. I could also see why they all decided to cooperate and not give their parents the details of why they were staying late. The set-up is perfect in every way, and the conversations about life that came out of it were equally perfect.
There is a touch of romance, but it is not the focus of the book. It really is just the briefest of touches. And I love that this also turned out to be a Christmas story. It is one I will buy and enjoy every year now.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Harper Teen, via Edelweiss. Top Ten Clues Your Clueless is available for sale on December 9th....more
The cover for The Jupiter Pirates: Hunt for the Hydra by Jason Fry pretty much sells itself. Hold this up to a bunch of upper elementary kids and watch their eyes light up with anticipation. To seal the deal all you need to say are three magic words: Pirates. In. Space. Now try not to get knocked over. This book is all kinds of fun, but also has some more serious elements tossed in that make it so much more than it first appears.
The Hashoone family are privateers licensed by their home government on Jupiter to take Earth merchant ships as prizes. They mostly live aboard their ship, the Shadow Comet. Twelve year old Tycho Hashoone is a member of the bridge crew along with his twin sister, Yana, and his older brother, Carlo. Their mother is the Captain and their father is the First Mate. Their grandfather, the former Captain, does a lot of curmudgeonly grumbling about how things aren't like the good old days of pirating while his daughter tells him to be quiet. When the Shadow Comet captures a ship that has a mysterious and suspect diplomat from Earth on it, they take the ship home and allow the court to decide if its fair game or not. Soon they realize that one ship is only one layer of a conspiracy by Earth that involves an old enemy and a dangerous mission to find out what is happening to Jupiter ships and their crews that are disappearing.
There is a lot of adventure and mystery in Hunt for the Hydra. The book has all the elements one could possibly want in a book about pirates in space. There are space battles, close calls, intrigue, shadowy figures doing shady things, and ships to capture. In all of this there are underlying themes of diplomacy, the politics of war, slavery, and humanity. There is also the interesting question of how different is a pirate and a privateer? Where does one draw the line? The Hashoone's grandfather is not quite as ethical and honorable as his daughter. Where does that leave him? On the side of the good guys? Are there any good guys? It is a lot of thought to pack into a 200 page book of adventure, but Fry does it well. We are left wondering a lot about this futuristic world in which there were space colonies of earth all over the galaxy, some kind of rebellion that gave them the right to rule themselves, and now a war between some of the former colonies and Earth.
What is the most interesting part of the book for me is the dynamic between the three siblings. Tycho is definitely set up as the hero of the book. The book follows his perspective and thoughts. He is not the best at anything. His brother is the better pilot, and he is quite full of himself as a result. His sister has her own special talents, and has an attitude to go with it that includes challenging her mother, the Captain, far too often. The interesting thing about them is only one of them will be able to take her place. They are in active competition for the role of Captain of their family's ship, and they know it. This does an interesting thing to the sibling dynamic, which is always fraught and full of competitiveness to begin with. These kids aren't just competing in their own minds, their parents have set up a computer log to track and rank everything they do on the ship from simulations to actual battles. Talk about pressure. They have no ideas what the logs say, and their parents don't tell them. This family has some serious issues as a result of this, but they also clearly love and care for one another. They have each other's backs and work together (the kids have a hard time with that from time to time thanks to the competition, but make improvements as the book continues). It's a really fascinating character study.
And again, I'm impressed with Fry's ability to do all of this and the heart pounding action in 200 pages. Bit pretty much snatched this out of my hand the second I was finished with it. I wasn't kidding about the appeal to kid factor at play here. If you have a young lover of adventure stories in your life, this is a book to add to your home, school, classroom, etc....more
I have said before I don't love verse novels. Do you know what I love even less? Basketball. Not a fan. Not even a little bit. With those two things working against it, I really didn't want to read The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. But it's getting a lot of award buzz so I finally (rather petulantly) picked up a copy. Ahem. This book is AMAZING. I loved it. This is why we should always stretch ourselves to read even those things that we don't think are "our type" of books.
Josh Bell is my name. But Filthy McNasty is my claim to fame Folks call me that 'cause my game's acclaimed, so downright dirty, it'll put you to shame. My hair is long, my height's tall. See, I'm the next Kevin Durant, LeBron, and Chris Paul.
Josh's voice. It is so perfect. The book isn't entirely blank verse, as you can see from the above. It is a combination of several different styles and types, but what they all have in common is Josh's voice. His voice which is so real, vulnerable, confused, cocky, angry, resentful, giddy, and everything that is perfect 13 year old boy. Josh is a star basketball player, twin to another star basketball player, son of a former basketball Olympian and a middle school assistant principal, and an eighth grader. Through each poem that tells of the few months of Josh's 8th grade basketball season, the reader is given a clear picture of Josh and every detail of his life, thoughts, and feelings. Few words are used but reams of information and emotion are conveyed. I could read and read it over and over and always find new things to be in awed of. I wanted to read it again promptly upon finishing and I haven't experienced that urge in quite some time. It's blowing my mind that I experienced it over a verse novel about basketball.
The book is about basketball. There's a lot of basketball in it. It is also a story about brothers, change, and the power of family. But don't let anybody tell you it's not a sports book. It is. And you know what? Even if you're not a sports fan, it doesn't matter. Excellence is excellence, and this book is excellent. The basketball is essential and provides a great deal of the metaphor in the book, but it is also really, like all MG books, a story about growing up, facing change, and how one's relationships alter and are affected by growing up (particularly when members of the opposite sex are involved). Josh's twin, JB, has a girlfriend for the first time. He's less interested in basketball and doing things with Josh. Josh is angry. Their father is clearly suffering from heart problems but refuses to go to the doctor. Josh is worried. All of this is set against the backdrop of the basketball season. It's a short read, but a powerful one.
The prose is excellent in terms of imagery and evoking thoughts and feelings. For example: The gym is a loud crowded circus. My stomach is a roller coaster. My head, a carousel.. The air, heavy with the smell of sweat, popcorn, and the sweet perfume of mother's watching sons.
I could quote so much, but then there would be no reason for you to go and find a copy of your own to read which you must do. Now. ...more
I really enjoyed Barry's first book, Special Interests, but I LOVED this one. There are so many books out there where the quiet, often overlooked girlI really enjoyed Barry's first book, Special Interests, but I LOVED this one. There are so many books out there where the quiet, often overlooked girl finally gets the hot guy she's always secretly (or not so secretly) wanted. You don't often see that gender reversed. I like that here it is. Liam is such a great hero in so many ways. I have to admit I have a fondness for ridiculously optimistic despite all evidence to the contrary journalists. I'm actually married to one. (There aren't that many of them in existence.) Liam is that and one of those heroes that has a quiet strength and assuredness that is calming. At the same time he can be super sexy. I also really liked Alyse and her struggle to figure out who she really was and what she really wanted out of her life in D.C. Together they are not the easiest of partnerships, but they work. The roadblocks that they encounter on their way to a happy ending are ones that make complete sense for the type of people they are and the places they are in. Liam has every right to be cautious of what Alyse will do to his heart, and she has every right to feel like she needs space and time to figure out what she wants. Fitting those two together is not easy.
The political storyline in this one is realistic again and fairly simple, but it does have some fun espionage moments and mystery. The writing is stronger than the first one overall I think. There were some places where I absolutely adored the way Barry phrased things. I also liked the humor.
I'm the first to recognize as much as I love these books, they aren't for everyone. But if you are in the market for smart, realistic, politically savvy romance, you need to read these books NOW. ...more
Rose's story picks up almost immediately where it left off in Rose and the Magician's Mask. She and the family have returned to London from Venice. Miss Fell has joined the family and taken on both Rose and Bella as pupils, not only to grow and focus their magic but to train them how to be proper ladies. As the lessons continue, she seems to be testing Rose in particular. Bella suspects why and shares her theory with Rose. The girls embark on a dangerous and somewhat misguided plan to uncover the truth of Rose's past, her seeming connection to Miss Fell, and the reasons for the years Rose spent in an orphanage. With the help of a ghost they find in a mirror belonging to Miss Fell, the children and Gus the cat are lead into a world of underground crime lords and exploitation of magic.
Rose and the Silver Ghost is a wonderful conclusion to the journey Rose began in the first novel. She has grown in her magic and come to see that she must choose a life. She can not remain both servant and magician. Her desperate need for a place, to feel like she has a home, is one that readers of all backgrounds and lifestyles can relate to. She just wants to know who she is and understand where she came from so she will know where she is going. Through the course of the novel, all the secrets of Rose's mysterious past are revealed. Some of the revelations are surprising, some less so, but they all combine to make her story richer. I also appreciate how well Webb developed all of the other characters too. Bella, Freddy, and Bill have all grown over the series too. They are wonderful friends to Rose. Gus is still my favorite though. Because you just can't beat a snarky grumpy talking cat with a heart of gold.
Fans of the Rose series will enjoy seeing how everything comes together in this book. I think that it is the final one in the series. It ends in such a way that the story is complete. I wouldn't mind having more though.
I read an e-galley received from the publisher, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, via NetGalley. Rose and the Silver Ghost is currently available in the UK and goes on sale in the US on March 3....more
I adore the Rose series. Seriously adore. They are just wonderfully fun, full of magic, and Rose is such a great character. The newest (US) installment, Rose and the Magician's Mask, lives up to the previous two and adds to them in interesting ways.
This installment picks up where the last installment left off. Rose and her friends are trying to track down the evil mastermind behind the plot in Rose and the Lost Princess. When a series of events leads them to believe he has absconded to Venice with a priceless and dangerous national treasure, there is only one solution. Road trip! Mr. Fountain must track down the artifact and the criminal. He takes Rose, Freddie, and Bella with him. Then Bill decides to stowaway too. Basically, all of my favorite characters in this series teamed up to go on a journey for a famous artifact and defeat the evil bad guy trying to take over the world via magic. It is a high fantasy quest novel wrapped up in the delightful alternate historical fantasy it has always been. It was the most perfect combination. There were even some hints given to Rose's mysterious past and how she is most likely higher born than she believes herself to be. So perfect. The beginning does start off a bit slow as a lot of the previous books are rehashed in typical kid series fashion, but once I got past that, I could not put this book down.
Rose continues to grow in her magic, as do both Freddie and Bella. They are all three growing as individuals too. Rose is showing a desire to be more bold and to figure out more of who she is an what she really wants in life. She is no longer content to hide in the shadows. Freddie is learning to broaden his horizons and give people more of a chance. Bella is learning to respect and listen to others. Bill was a wonderful addition to the magical team, even though he is not capable of magic himself. His common sense and fierce loyalty make him the perfect foil for the other three as they adventure. He has skills the others do not, and they come in handy more than once. Gus is, of course, still the best part of these books with the exception of Rose herself. He shows himself to be capable of far more than the others had previously seen and leaves them astounded in many places. There is an addition to the team in this book too. Miss Fell is a powerful magic worker, knows a lot about the world, and clearly suspects something of Rose's past. She is also one of those brilliant adults who allows the kids to go on their way being heroes with some assistance but also the knowledge that sometimes they must put themselves in danger and risk much to be those heroes.
This series just keeps getting better and better with each new volume. I am sad to see there is only one more book to go, Rose and the Silver Ghost, which will be released in March of 2015 in the US. It is currently available in the UK.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, via NetGalley. Rose and the Magician's Mask will be available for purchase September 2. ...more
Last year I read The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston and fell in love. I fell in love with the characters, the town of Trondheim, the world Johnston created, and the voice that told the story-Siobhan. I immediately began looking forward to the sequel, Prairie Fire. Now that I've read it, I'm sort of wrecked but only the best of ways.
Prairie Fire is very much a sequel in the strictest sense of the word. It is the second half of Owen and Siobhan's story. While you could probably read it first, the emotional pay off will be far greater if you don't. If you haven't read The Story of Owen, go and do that. I don't know what's been holding you back anyway.
Spoilers for The Story of Owen ahead. You've been warned.
Siobhan, Owen, and Sadie have graduated from high school and are beginning their service to the Oil Watch. Siobhan has mostly recovered from her encounter with the dragon that left her hands burned, but she will always have limited mobility. She is learning to cope. She has found a different instrument. She still feels a strong sense of purpose. Siobhan is Owen's bard, and she does not take that commitment likely. Hailed by much of the populous as heroes, Siobhan and Owen are not looked on quite as favorably by their government. They find themselves stationed in Alberta on the edge of the Canadian prairie-an assignment that's kind of a slap in the face given Owen's talent and proven ability. But their support team is top-notch and they've bonded. They find the other two novice teams, one American and one Japanese, easy to work with. All three teams forge new ties and friendships, bonds needed living in the realm of the most dangerous dragon species alive with an instructor who is a frowned upon rule-breaker and a general who scorns all the things Owen and Siobhan stand for.
"When Lieutenant Porter said 'it's our busy season', what he'd meant was 'Shit there are dragons everywhere. Duck.'"
This quote sums the book up nicely. There are a lot more dragons, dragon slayings, and close encounters with dragons in this book than the first. There was quite a lot of set-up in the first book. It was a time to get to know both Owen and Siobhan, time to get to know the world, and to fully understand what it was the Thorskgards were fighting for. True, there were plenty of dragons to be found too, but in this second half they're everywhere. Also in this book the reader is introduced to the mother of all dragons-nearly unbeatable and scary as everything. The pace is much faster than the first book. It feels like a head long rush to the explosive and shattering end.
Siobhan's recovery is rather skipped over. Her emotional recovery happens much faster than seems reasonable until you remember how young she is. And young people often can bounce back and find new routes quicker than adults. She still has her music. It's just different. I think too that her being a rather even tempered individual from the start helps the believability of this. The story becomes Siobhan's more than ever as she and Owen are separated for quite some time. The government is trying to keep Siobhan's influence over public opinion to a minimum. They want the people to forget Owen's a hero. Owen's presence is still felt even in his absence though, and Siobhan still works on ways to get what he is capable of out there. These two have an amazing relationship, a friendship that is truer and stronger than average. I love how much they give to each other and complement each other. Siobhan gave Owen a voice. Owen gave Siobhan a story. And it is absolutely beautiful.
There are a number of new characters introduced in this story and I loved them all-Courtney the engineer and Porter the lieutenant especially. The other two dragon slayers add so much to the story as well and I love the interactions between them. (Nick, the American from NYC, was a particular favorite and I wished we had just a bit more from him.) The characters in the first book are all back though we see far less of them now that Siobhan and Owen are away from home. Sadie is present for much of the first half, but is assigned to the UK while Siobhan and Owen remain in Canada. I enjoyed her when she was there though. She is a perfect balance to both Siobhan and Owen.
Thematically this book is even more brilliant than its predecessor. The slayers and their teams are all so young. All serving their countries and the world in a noble pursuit. But bureaucracy and politics being what they are, they can't always do it effectively. They are dedicated, bold, and brilliant. What they do has a high cost though and Johnston shows that beautifully.
Basically this book left me sort of wrecked, but in a brilliant way.
I read an ARC provided by the publisher, Carlolrhoda Books, at ALA Midwinter. Prairie Fire goes on sale on March 1st....more
I waited too long to read this book. Seriously. When it came out back in March, I was intrigued. Many people I trust said read this. It's good. Why did I wait so long? The Story of Owen by E.K. Johnston is a perfect blend of myth, reality, sly humor, and exhilarating action-adventure.
As the title implies, this is the story of Owen, a teenage dragon-slayer-in-training who helps guard the small town of Trondheim from dragons while trying to pass Algebra. Yet this isn't just the story of Owen. In fact, it isn't even mostly the story of Owen. It is really the story of Siobhan, the gifted musician who Owen encounters on his first day at his new school when they are both late for English. Like it was fated. Except not that kind of fated. Siobhan's talent makes her the perfect partner for Owen. Even though the tradition has long since died, every good dragon-slayer needs a good bard and Owen and Siobhan are about to resurrect the art. Siobhan is the one telling this story, in a voice that is both straightforward and trickily slides away from the telling the whole truth at the same time. The Siobhan telling the story is telling it from somewhere in the future. The writing is well done and has a dry wry wit that is subversive and oh so well balanced. I like both Siobhan and Owen, but I really like their partnership and how we see it unfold and grow. Their loyalty towards each grows in a natural way as the book progresses as does the strength of their companionship. And I love that is all their relationship is. I hope it stays that way in the future volumes. I love romance and am hopeful that there will be some eventually, but not between the two of them. One other thing I appreciated about both of them is that they are not super-heroes. They are kids who are talented yes, but who work at what they are good at to make themselves even better. And they work hard. I also really liked the supporting cast of characters, particularly Owen's aunts, Lottie and Hannah. I do feel that Siobhan is lacking in emotional depth enough that she kept me too removed from the story. I think that is probably due to the device of her being a bard and telling the story from the future, carrying we only know what baggage, wounds, and heartache. But it felt as though she didn't feel strongly enough about anything or anyone. Even the descriptions of her music have a vaguely detached air (which makes a bit more sense at the end), but the effect of all that was I wanted to know everyone and feel this story more deeply than I did. That is my one and only complaint though.
The world-builiding here is excellent. It is our world set in modern times with all our modern gadgets and technology. The difference? Dragons. Dragons have been a scourge on humanity in this alternate world for all of history but with the beginning of the age of modern industrialization they became an even bigger scourge. Dragons, you see, crave carbon fuels. It's like candy for them and they instinctively seek out anywhere they can find it. Cities with factories, roads with cars, water with boats, if you are anywhere these things are chances are you will be attacked by a dragon. The political ramifications of this are so well done, and Johnston raises so many provocative questions about our own world and how things are managed through them. Siobhan, Owen, his family, and some of their friends are trying to change the way the world works, but change does not come easy or free. I enjoyed how the world-building was so detailed throwing in so much history, not only maintaining my interest as a reader, but heightening it. It is also through the world-building that the major themes are developed. One thing that is highlighted is how easy media and history are to manipulate and I appreciated that aspect particularly. Siobhan is not just there to be a cheerleader for Owen, she is in charge of shaping perception not just about him, but dragon-slayers in general, and advancing the political and social causes their group deem important. It's fascinating stuff.
The writing brings this world to vivid life. What I felt it was lacking in character emotion, it more than made up for in terms of top rate plotting. The humor in the book is dry and tongue-in-cheek, something else I truly appreciated.
I highly recommend this for all fans of fantasy, particularly if you enjoy a good Nordic tale retold. It has all the feel of Beowulf, while being set in the present time. Truly excellent. ...more
I love "Beauty and the Beast" in all its variations and have a difficult time passing up retellings of it. When I discovered Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen, I was elated that it was not only a retelling of my favorite fairy tale, but also gender swapped. A girl beast. Family secrets. Magical forest. Creepy castle. Check all my favorite things off right there, and Hellisen does some interesting things with her story.
First: Two thumbs way up for the cover designer on this one. It is beautiful.
Sarah has spent her entire life moving. Her mother seems to be running away from cold. Her father seems desperate to keep her mother happy. Until one night when her mother stops running with them and runs away from them. There's nothing her father can do to stop it. In the days that follow Sarah notices her father turning in more and more, becoming a little wild around the edges. Then he takes her to live with the grandparents she never knew she had and Sarah discovers secrets and lies twisted through her family's history. They are cursed. Cursed to turn into beasts when they fall in love, unless the person they love loves them back. But the curse, born of jealousy and hateful revenge is more twisted than any fairy tale Sarah has ever read. It doubles back on itself and entraps everyone into a hideous future they can't break free from making her realize stories may not always have a happily ever after.
Sarah is so determined. She is determined to help, to fight, to break the curse, to never fall in love, to remain true to herself, to save every member of her family. She tries so hard. She fails at so much of it. Yet she keeps getting back up and trying again and again. Her determination wavers occasionally but it never dies. It drives her. She is the ultimate heroine as a result. Sarah is active in her own story. Many parts of her life are beyond her control, set into motion long before she was born and propelled by forces out of her control. Despite that, she makes her own choices and works within the parameters of the curse to enforce her own will. I loved that so much. I think that it is important to have books where we see a bit of failure but not for lack of trying, and then also get to see how the characters deal with that failure. How they try to make the best of the situation given them. Sarah's relationship with almost every other character in the book is tragic in some way, but she fights for all of them as much as she fights for herself, and it is a beautiful thing to see. I also really enjoyed what Hellisen did with the character who inflicted the curse in the first place. She is a horrible person, but Hellisen gave her depth too. I think the way the situation between her and Sarah resolved was absolutely perfect. I think the conclusion for every person touched by the curse was done exactly right.
Beastkeeper does what the best retellings do and thoroughly twists the tale and adds new dimensions. What Hellisen did with the original story is intriguing and profound. The fear of loving someone beastly, knowing that you are the only thing keeping them from being a hideous shadow of themselves-that's a terrible burden to carry. What might it possibly do to a person? I was throughly impressed with the how intricate Hellisen made the curse, and how completely and utterly it trapped every single person connected to it in the most terrible of ways. I love that she was unafraid to go to the darker places the story required and that it isn't all sunshine, daisies, and happily ever after in the end. There is tragedy. There is uncertainty. But there's also hope.
I loved everything about Beastkeeper and highly recommend it.
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Henry Holt and Co., via NetGalley. Beastkeeper is available for purchase on February 3....more
I read Something Real by Heather Demetrios last year and was completely taken by surprise when I LOVED it. I was eagerly anticipating her 2015 release, I'll Meet You There, even though I knew, given its subject matter, it would probably leave me wrecked. Well it did in the way only really great books can.
Skylar is counting down days until she can get out of the nowhere town she has lived in all her life. She and her best friend, Chris, had a pact. They focused on school and kept away from the drunken parties and hook-ups their classmates were having, and it worked. They are both off to college with scholarships. There is only one more summer left for Skylar to make it through, working at the Paradise hotel. But when her mom loses her job and falls off the wagon, Sky sees her chance for escape slipping away. It doesn't help that there is someone else tempting her with the what ifs of staying. Josh Mitchell was their high school's popular playboy. Now back from a tour in Afghanistan, missing a leg, and fundamentally changed from the boy he used to be, Josh is trying to figure out exactly what it is he's supposed to do next. Why of all people did he make it back? What is he going to do with the chance he's been given? And how can he figure that out when everything is so messed up? As the summer progresses Josh and Sky are drawn closer and closer together, but it may be too hard to work through all the wrong in their lives to find something right.
I'll Meet You There is told in alternating voices. It is mostly in Sky's first person perspective, but there are also chapters that are entries from Josh's journal-the words he writes to his dead best friend, killed by the same IED that took his leg. Both Sky and Josh have a lot of seriously rough stuff to sort through in their lives. Sky is dealing with the very harsh realities of poverty as her mother no longer has a job and then kicks her out of the house. Fortunately Sky has people around her to help her who love her, but seeing the true and real effects of poverty portrayed in YA is not the norm. It's frustrating as a reader to Sky flirting seriously with the idea of throwing her chance for a future away to take care of her mother. This frustration is mirrored in her two best friends, Chris and Dylan, who insist her mother is an adult who can make her own choices and mistakes. Even with this frustration, it is all too easy to see why Sky might wish to stay. It is hard to walk away from everything you've ever known even if you are walking toward something better. I think her feelings, insecurities, and struggles are ones many readers can recognize and empathize with though they may not have experienced the same circumstances.
Josh's character is equally well done and nuanced. He is the epitome of a boy/man: still so young, but he's seen more than most people twice his age. Demetrios did an excellent job of showing all the facets of his being a Marine. He is suffering from PTSD, has to learn how to be the new him in the town he grew up in, and despite his trauma, he still has a fierce loyalty to the military. Being a Marine is the very heart of who he is. He does some really terrible things to both himself and Sky. He uses descriptive language that is often highly offensive (not because of the number of "curse words", but some other more derogatory type words he uses). At the same time, his heart is just so good and he wants to do what is right. You can see that. My heart just broke for him as he tried to figure out what to do and how to be. He truly feels like he is a disaster waiting to happen to Sky, and yet she helps him so he can't really stay away from her. He doesn't want to. This is a story about two broken people finding each other. In the process they break each other a little more, but they also help put each other back together. What I really liked about this is that they also both work to put themselves back together. Their relationship is not codependent.
I also very much enjoyed the supporting characters in the book. Josh's brother, Blake, is an idiot at times, but really loves his brother and tries very hard to be helpful in his own idiotic ways. Chris is a great foil for Sky. In many ways they are very much alike, but they are different enough in the ways that matter, that he balances her well. Marge, the owner of the hotel where Sky and Josh work, is a motherly type who helps and cares for both of them. Sky's other best friend, Dylan, is my favorite supporting character though. Her first appearance in the book, drunk and making reference to hooking up, leaves a first impression that is not all that flattering. She's a teen mom. She parties. She enjoys sex. Sky and Chris spend a good deal of time feeling bad for her stuck life. But man, this girl is more than she first appears, and even Sky doesn't fully appreciate all the depths her friend has until it's almost time for her to leave. I really liked how Demetrios showed that while Dylan's life was hard, it wasn't hopeless.
There are probably going to be some who are upset by the way some of the boys, particularly Josh, refer to some of the girls and each other. The words they use. The connotations behind them. It is an incredibly realistic portrayal though, and there are other characters who do call them out on this. I really appreciated how it was a fellow Marine who first opened Josh's eyes to how much more there was than the world he knew with his buddies in his hometown too.
I'll Meet You There is a beautiful and heartbreaking story that is also one of hope and new beginnings.
Content Heads-Up: strong language, underage drinking, sex
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Henry Holt and Co., via NetGalley. I'll Meet You There is available now....more
Here I am, continuing my way through Jennifer Echols's backlist. I remember Chachic and Maureen raving about Such a Rush when it first came out, but mHere I am, continuing my way through Jennifer Echols's backlist. I remember Chachic and Maureen raving about Such a Rush when it first came out, but my library didn't have it so it wasn't a high priority for me. Big mistake. Boy is this book good.
Here is what I love so much about Echols's writing: her characters are messed-up real people. The have faults and flaws aplenty, and those will sometimes outweigh their finer traits. They are just so real. Leah and Grayson exemplify this perfectly. Leah is the product of a teenage pregnancy and her mom has never come around to the idea of being the responsible adult. Leah decided she did not want to be her mother and made goals for herself. She is desperate and vulnerable in so many ways. She is one mistake away from losing everything she wants for her future. She wants out of the trailer park. She wants into college. She wants to fly. People who are desperate and vulnerable often don't make the best decisions when they feel threatened. This is certainly true for Leah. She has lines she will not cross, but they are not the same lines people who live comfortable lines would have. It is easy to judge and look down on her as a character, but that would come from a high place of privilege that doesn't realize how true poverty and drive to escape it can warp one's decision making processes. Grayson is there to take full advantage of this, but in true Echols's fashion there is more to him. I should never like a manipulative boy as much as I do Grayson, but it's because there really is so much more to him. He is blackmailing Leah. Holding her future over her head to get her to do what he wants. He doesn't ask her to do anything awful though and he pays her well for her flying skills. Asking her to date his brother is an idiotic move, one he holds on to way longer and with far more tenacity than he should. But this is where I think Echols really succeeded with his character. For all his maneuvering and taking over a business, running it and learning how to take taxes out of paychecks, he is still just an 18 year old boy. One who is heartbroken, confused, and desperate to arrange what's left in his life in a way that makes him feel his heart is safe and secure. Does he pick the dumbest plan on the planet to accomplish this? Oh yeah. But again I say, 18 year old boy. It is incredibly realistic.
The romance in this book made me nervous when I first heard about it, and played a part in my not wanting to rush it to the top of my TBR. I was afraid this was going to turn more melodramatic than necessary. And while there was some melodrama involved, it didn't manifest itself in quite the way I thought it would. Also all of the melodrama fit the story, made sense to who the characters were, and never seemed too much for me. All of the chemistry and heat in the book come from Leah and Grayson. Alec and Leah's relationship is practically a non-starter from the start for several reasons, the main one being neither one is trying that hard. Leah isn't at all okay with faking an interest in Alec, particularly when she likes Grayson, and Alec has is own reasons. In addition to the romance in the book, there is also much focus on Leah's relationship with her only friend, Molly. Leah has a completely undeserved reputation that causes most girls to hate her guts. Molly is different, but their relationship is a fraught one.
Echols tackles some weighty themes in this book too. Leah's poverty is a very real thing, as is the neglect she suffers under mother's lack of care. She has raised herself, but there is a limit to what she can do. She becomes highly upset at some of the prying and poking Alec and Grayson do into her life and why she does some of the things she does. Privilege has a hard time seeing how hard true poverty can really be. Through Leah's interactions with people at school there is also some treatment of slut-shaming and how hard society can be on girls. Leah is a beautiful and sexy girl. Men and boys are drawn to her and tend to want to help her. She is much hated for this, but she honestly is oblivious to her affect on the male sex. Despite her reputation, Leah's only ever had sex with one person. Like I said she has lines she doesn't want to cross to mess-up her plans. Plans that do not involve teenage pregnancy. Another thing I like about Echols's books is that they are very sex positive. Of her three books I've read, the female mc's have been a virgin, a highly picky non-virgin, and a girl who is neither a virgin or picky. All of them are view sex as a positive thing though, something they want to experience and enjoy. Their standards are different, what they are looking for is different. In Leah's case she doesn't want to get pregnant and her focus on other things. I really like the way Echols weaves this into her stories and shows so many different and realistic ways teenage girls live their lives and make their choices.
Still loving exploring this author's work and can't wait to read more.
Content Warning: mentions of underage smoking and drinking, some sexual content ...more
I read Jennifer Echols's Biggest Flirts earlier this year and fell in love. It was my first Echols book and I immediately decided I needed more. I knew Major Crush, while out of print, had recently been rereleased on e-book and so I bought it right away. Unfortunately, I just got around to reading it last week. I know two things: I need to read all of Echols's back list and I love books about marching bands.
Virginia cherishes her role with the band and the time she spends with it. She is a great drummer, a dedicated drum major, and good friend to those she feels close to. She has a definite sense of who she is and what she wants to do. She is the first female drum major in the school's history and she wants to do well. Her problem is that Drew is a big something she wants, but feels she will never have because he hates her. Drew is the responsible one. He takes a lot of pride in it. But he also works really hard to break free and do the opposite of what people are telling him to when he has the chance. Drew is a legacy drum major-his dad and all his brothers had the position. Virginia intrigues him because of her sense of self and her free spirit. The two are opposites enough that sparks fly and it is wonderful. I love hate to love stories full of tension and this is a wonderful one. It is one of Echols's earlier works, and I could see a big difference in the writing between this and Biggest Flirts, but it is still incredibly good.
At first I was a little put off by the band director, but I feel like his character grew. Also, I can see a young 22 year old new teacher making the exact errors he does in dealing with the students. His suggestion that Virginia buy a short skirt and boots for her uniform was inappropriate, but he's not the first male teacher to do something so sexist, she's not the first teenage girl to shrug and go along with it, and I feel they both reached a reasonable understanding of things by the end.
Major Crush is a fantastic romance and a great band story. I really liked all the supporting characters as well. Both Drew and Virginia's friends are a lot of fun. I appreciate how the mistakes each character makes are very typical of teenagers and play into the reality of the story well. There are some dramatic moments, but they are moments anyone can see actually happening. The book is full of humor too which is always a plus.
I'm really looking forward to digging into the rest of Jennifer Echols's backlist. I already have Such a Rush checked out from the library and can't wait to get to it. ...more
The Penderwicks is not just one of my favorite ongoing series; it is one of my favorite series of all time. I'm always astounded by the depth of emotion and diverse, realistic relationship dynamics Birdsall is able to capture with these characters. The Penderwicks in Spring surpassed my expectations even though they were astronomically high already. It is now my favorite, having edged out The Penderwicks on Gardam Street.
Minor spoilers for first three book are in this review. If you haven't read this series, get started:
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street
The Penderwicks at Point Mouette
Spring is coming to Gardam Street and Batty and Ben Penderwick couldn't be more excited. The season is bringing with it anticipation and new opportunities. Nick Geiger, the Penderwicks' neighbor, is returning home on leave from the Army after being at war. Both Skye and Batty have approaching birthdays bringing Jeffrey and Rosalind to Gardam Street twice within several weeks. And Batty has a newly discovered talent she can't wait to share with her family at her party. In order to prepare for extra music lessons, Batty has begun a dog walking business. Ben's just happy to have his hero back on the street, a male he can bond with when he's surrounded by sisters. But then everything starts to fall apart. The car dies. Jeffrey and Skye are locked in a battle over the status of their relationship. Rosalind brings home a boy from college who none of the younger Penderwicks (or their parents) like. When Batty begins to hope her birthday will be less stressful than Skye's, she overhears a revelation that leaves her devastated and alone. Ben knows something is wrong, but doesn't know what or how he can help. As Batty's eleventh birthday approaches, she falls more and more silent and her family becomes greatly concerned. Batty needs to find the courage to turn to them for help, but given what she now knows, how can she?
Batty is officially my favorite Penderwick. Before it was always Rosalind followed closely by Skye. Batty and Jane were both likeable, but not as interesting to me. One thing that has always impressed me about Birdsall's writing is how well she grows the kids from book to book, but the first three all took place within a year of each other. The Penderwicks in Spring jumps ahead five years form Point Mouette. Each of the original characters maintain the basics of the personalities we have come to love, but they are older now. Batty is still painfully shy. Introverted and far more reserved than her older sisters, she is always trying to escape from the groups of teenagers constantly in her house. She escapes into the world of her music and by helping with Ben and the newest Penderwick, Lydia. Her heart is huge. She is incredibly sensitive. She's a happy little girl though who loves life and everything in it. And then she doesn't anymore. I'm floored by how well Birdsall wrote this. This is one of the threads of the Penderwick story that needed to be dealt with. The relationship between Skye and Batty has always been fraught. Seeing it from Batty's point of view is heartbreaking, particularly after she overhears Skye reveal a devastating opinion that opens up a pit of grief and heartbreak in Batty she didn't ever realize she was caring around. I cried so much for this little girl while reading, but it was a cathartic and good sort of crying-just as Batty's crisis is a good cathartic devastation for the entire Penderwick family. This was tricky because Skye is a great favorite of many readers. Birdsall could have left her looking like quite the selfish and cold-hearted sister. But life and family is never as black and white as that, and the way Birdsall finessed and resolved the situation is nothing short of beautiful. I love when I can feel so in tune with characters in a book that their struggles and triumphs become real to me and feel so much for them. All the Penderwicks are important and present for this story, but Batty is the star and she truly shines.
Skye and Jane are now at the end of high school. Their sisterly bond is as strong as ever and they still foil each other in the same wonderful ways they did when they were younger. Jane has a constant group of friends over, many of them boys so she can observe and write about them in her stories. Skye is focusing on graduation and going to college. She has her friends from soccer. Jeffrey's relationship with the family is still strong, but he and Skye are having trouble and it spills into his relationships with everyone else. (This is particularly devastating for Batty.) Rosalind is in college, but still manages to be the responsible, loving, focused, older sister. Despite her infatuation with a pompous windbag of an upperclassman that distracts her for a bit, she is still willing to listen to and help her siblings.
There is a great deal of fun and humor injected into the book via the two youngest Penderwicks. Ben, now seven, finds himself often exasperated by all the girls in his life. His bond with Batty is strong though and they complement each other in a similar way to Skye and Jane. They are a strong team. Lydia is the newest addition to the family. Two years old and as adorable as can be, she adds a wonderful new voice to the family dynamic.
It is interesting to me that my two favorite books in the series are the ones that take place at the house on Gardam Street, and not during the summer vacations. I think a large part of this is due to the presence of the Geiger brothers. (Tommy, also away at college and no longer Rosy's boyfriend, isn't in it that much, but is mentioned often.) Nick is amazing though. His older brother concern and care for Batty and Ben is incredibly touching. He is one of my favorite parts of this book. And I really like how Birdsall shows the importance of community and neighbors through their relationship. Martin and Iantha are amazing parents, but even the most amazing of parents miss thing, particularly when they have six kids.
Basically this is as good as it gets when it comes to MG fiction. I flagged so many pages with excellent quotes. I love the characters, the relationships, the way Birdasall was able to balance humor and grief, and the way she made this so emotive without resorting to cliches or manipulating of emotions.
This is the penultimate book in the Penderwick series. There will be one more. The wait for it will be hard, but man Birdsall tells such wonderful stories. I love that her publisher gives her the time she needs to get them perfect.
I read an ARC received by the publisher, Random House Children's, at ALA Midwinter. The Penderwicks in Spring is available March 24. ...more
Last week was the week for reading books I hadn't read yet by my favorite authors. Frances Hardinge is definitely one of my favorites. While I don't always love each individual book, I always appreciate them for the works of art they are. The Lost Conspiracy (Gullstruck Island-UK) is one of those books that swept me away on a tide of beautiful imagery and left me clinging to each page ready to know what happened next.
The Lost Conspiracy is a book that does so much right it is hard to no where to begin. The setting is beautifully treacherous, an island with jungles, volcanoes, dangerous aquatic animals, and cut off from any other part of the world. Harginge brings the island to life in vivid colors, sounds, and feelings. As Hathin and Arilou journey throughout, the reader goes with them and experiences it with them.
Hathin is an amazing heroine. Her entire existence is based on serving her sister. It is what her entire life has always been for. She is Arilou's quiet unobtrusive shadow. People barely even realize she is there most of the time, which works out well for her because it allows her to observe and then manipulate the situation to go where she needs it to go. This life has developed her mind into a strategic, sharp instrument for getting what her sister and her people need. These skills serve her well as her world is blown apart by a conspiracy, and it is up to her to save her sister, herself, and all the Lace people of the island. There is a strong cast of supporting characters that surround Hathin from beginning to end, changing and multiplying as the story goes on. Each of these are intriguing in their own right and fully realized (I don't think Hardinge knows how to write characters any other way), but this story is Hathin's story. She deserves all the credit and glory due her for every hardship and triumph.
The plot is complicated and twisty involving centuries of myth, misunderstanding, and miscommunication. Hardinge has created a razor sharp look at colonialism and its affects with this story. The Lace are one group of the island's indigenous people. It has been a couple hundred years since the settlers came and while they intermarried with many of the other tribes, the Lace remained separate. This is mostly due to an unfortunate incident that involved kidnapping and sacrificing settlers to the volcanoes. Through the history of the island and the current politics tearing it apart, Hardinge depicts perfectly how a clash of cultures, a misunderstanding of tradition, and the easy way prejudices can be used to ignite hate, fear, and violence can cause a ripple affect that is felt and used for generations. I like that while there is clearly a villain, there is also a lot of horror that occurs because ordinary people allow themselves to be manipulated, carried away by a mob mentality, or simply don't stand up and do what's right. I like the shades of gray in that, something else Hardinge is typically good at depicting.
Some favorite quotes that show Hardinge's command of language and her themes: There was a shout of laughter at the idea of the little Lace girl kidnapping the burly towner and taking him away to sacrifice. It was a joke, but centuries of distrust and fear lay behind it. Soon somebody would say something that was sharper and harder, but it would still be a joke. And then there would be remark like a punch in the gut but made as a joke. And then they would detain her if she tried to leave and body would stop them because it was all only a joke...
And so ended the conference of the invisible, in the cavern of blood and secrets, on the night of the mist.
"You see," Therrot added in what was probably meant to be a comforting tone, "revenge doesn't need to be face-to-face. Maybe you're not made for sticking a knife in someone...but would you feel the same way about planting a little fistful of leaves and roots?" Hathin tried to imagine herself using her sickle to dig root space for a sly, slow killer. The idea did feel different, but she was not at all sure it felt better.
My one complaint is that it is a little long. Hardinge's books often are yet usually I can't think what would be cut out. Here I did feel there was a lot of detail in the middl portion that could have been pared down or combined to make the pacing better. This is one small detractor for me in a book that is full of amazing elements. Hardinge is a fantastic storyteller and if you haven't read this or her other books, you definitely need to pick one up. ...more
I have been a big fan of Jinx and company from the very first book, which felt like such a perfect Brandy book. The conclusion of Sage Blackwood's trilogy, Jinx's Fire, finished the story beautifully and is definitely my favorite of the three.
Spoilers for first two books abound. Read those first:
The Urwald is in danger from more than one direction and has no hope of defending itself if there is not unity amongst the people. Jinx, Sophie, Elfwyn, Wendell, and a dedicated group of others are working to make this happen as quickly as they can. Time is running out. At the same time, they are still dealing with the threat of the Bonemaster from within, and the Urwald's magic is fading. Where is it going? Can it be restored? And where has the Bonemaster put Simon? Jinx is the only one who can find the answers to these questions, and harnass the Urwald's power to save them all, but only if he is willing.
Jinx has some serious attitude in this book, and I loved every single snarly word of it. He has fully grown into his snarky grumpy self. It was particularly funny for the first part of the book, because you could tell he greatly missed having Simon to take it out on. Poor Jinx surrounded by all these people far more sensitive. And Elfwyn who is not interested in encouraging him in it anymore than necessary. It made for highly amusing interactions and scenarios despite the danger Jinx often finds himself in and the fraught political situation. Blackwood fully comes into a complete and sensible balance between humor and darkness in this final book. Both elements were always in the trilogy, but in this one they both feel equally organic and necessary. I love what an imperfect hero Jinx is. He is temperamental and a little too sure of himself at times. At others he is afraid to fully jump in and use the power he has to make things right. The struggle he has with that latter is a real one and is fully convincing. While I found myself empathizing with Elfwyn's impatience with Jinx, his hesitation to use the full force of his powers is completely understandable. I feel like this story was a brilliant finish to Jinx's character arc. From the young boy left in the woods at the beginning of book one to the often surly teenager he is in this book, his story has been fully realized. I really appreciate the combination of maturity and naivety Jinx has in this story. He has a lot of responsibility, but he is still very young. His confusion and embarrassment over all romantic relationships is adorable and hilarious.
Elfwyn is another character who fully came into her own during this book. I grew quite worried about her during book two and missed her presence greatly. This book more than made up for that as she is right there with Jinx through the majority of his adventures. And she makes her opinions known and heard. I love how she takes no nonsense from him and challenges him while simultaneously showing him support and friendship. It is just all kinds of wonderful. The way he tries so hard to be considerate of her curse, listens to her suggestions even when he doesn't want to hear them, and allows her to participate fully despite his worry for her at times is equally wonderful. I want to go back and read every scene between the two of them over again.
As with the previous books, Jinx's Fire has distinct parts. The beginning is the unification and strengthening of protection for the Urwald. The middle focuses on locating Simon and the Bonemaster. The last part is the epic battle to save the Urwald from its numerous invaders. These parts all flow together well, overlap in many ways, and weave together to tell the story of people fighting to protect their home and families. I felt all of these resolved in ways that made sense for the world and characters. I especially appreciated the shades of gray in some of the decisions that had to be made and the outcomes.
As the end of a much loved trilogy, Jinx's Fire delivered for me on every level. The end left a goofy grin on my face. If you haven't read any of this trilogy yet, now is the perfect time. If you have, you definitely do not want to miss this conclusion.
I read an ARC received via Edelweiss from the publisher, Harper Children's. Jinx's Fire goes on sale March 24th....more
Thanhha Lai's Inside Out & Back Again took the kidlit world by storm a couple years ago, garnering both the National Book Award and a Newbery Honor. Anticipation for her second book, coming out this month, is high. In my opinion, Listen, Slowly is even better than Lai's first book.
Mai has plans for her summer. Plans that involve hanging out at the beach with her best friend, Montana, and Him-the boy she's had a crush on since he talked about a love poem in English class. Her plans most definitely do not involve accompanying her grandmother on a trip to Vietnam to discover information about her long missing grandfather. But try telling that to her do-gooder parents. Her father will be spending his summer in Vietnam doctoring needy children and can't be there to help Bà. Her mother is trying an important case and can't go to Vietnam at all. As the youngest cousin with no pressing academic plans, Mai is selected to go and make sure Bà is okay and has all she needs. Mai's goal is to get this excursion over with and fly home as soon as possible. As the days in Vietnam pass she is assaulted by mosquitos, heat, a rash of pimples, an attack of diarrhea from swallowing pond water, and not completely understanding the people around her all the time. But she also makes a new friend, learns more about her Bà and Ông, the war that tore her family apart, and the country whose rich history, culture and language runs through her California girl veins.
The rich setting and distinctive voice were my favorite aspects of Inside Out & Back Again. Lai's talent for both shine even brighter in Listen, Slowly. Mai's voice is perfect middle schooler. She is sassy, sarcastic, pouty, self-centered, sneaky, and argumentative. She is also kind, brave, loyal, and a little scared of the future and her place in it. She is a bit wrapped up in her own privilege too. Her parents want her to learn to give and be appreciative. She rolls her eyes a lot. I loved her to pieces. Upon reaching Vietnam, she learns a lot about family, friendship, and loyalty, but doesn't morph into a different person. She's still a snarky, sneaky, slightly awkward middle schooler. In Vietnam she makes a friend, one of her many cousins, named Út. Út loves frogs and being the bane of her mother's existence. The girls don't hit it off, but through many shared adventures and schemes become close friends.
The story is quiet and full of lush descriptions of Vietnam. Even though the plot is not full of heart-stopping actions and events, it is rich with the smaller events of life. Lai mostly manages to maintain a quick pace with these smaller events, and there is so much humor in the book. I laughed out loud several times.
The setting is incredibly well done. It is quite easy to feel completely immersed in the country of Vietnam. Lai's descriptive prose with told through the snarky tone of Mai's voice convey a beautiful country. The reader sees the large clogged cities with their noise and pollution and the slower life of the smaller villages. Lai manages to keep a light tone when discussing politics and the realities of a developing country, but still conveyes the scope and breadth of the issues. Her ability to bring things to a level middle graders can understand and appreciate is impressive. Part of what makes it so good, is that she doesn't condescend to her readers. The book is full of Vietnamese, some of it translated, some not. Context works well enough so the reader knows what is going on, and it just adds richness and authenticity to the setting. One of my favorites scenes is when Mai's translator is trying to teach her about how all the different accent marks and pronunciations change the meaning of the word Ba and Mai's comparing the noises to sheep: a frightened sheep, a serious sheep, a surprised sheep, a sheep falling over, and "I get to say 'whatever' while sounding like a constipated sheep." It's funny and conveys the complexities of the language perfectly.
Going with Mai and her grandmother on their journeys of discovery and closure is a privilege every reader will enjoy. I laughed and cried with them, and felt like I was a part of their family when I finished.
I read an ARC provided by the publisher, Harper Children's, at ALA Midwinter. Listen, Slowly goes on sale February 17....more
After reading The Floating Islands a couple of years ago, I immediately put The City in the Lake on my TBR. There it sat despite the fact that I adored The Floating Islands, House of Shadows, and just really like Rachel Neumeier as a person too. After reading and loving Black Dog earlier this year I decided I needed to read this sooner rather than later and the Shelf-Sweeper challenge gave me the perfect opportunity for that. And I loved it so much.
I would really love to know what it is like to live inside Rachel's head, because all of her books are distinctly different, wildly inventive, and not what I think I'm getting when I start reading. You would think by now I would stop being surprised by that, but I continue to be amazed at her creativity and how her writing style alters to fit each world she has created. In The City in the Lake we get a quest story set in a fantasy world. If you think you know what that looks like and you've seen it before, you are wrong. You haven't seen this one. I loved the world here and how vast it is, yet contained in a rather small setting for the story. It is impressive how Neumeier is able to convey that vastness with few words. (Those who read this blog regularly know that is a trait my favorite authors all tend to share.) I loved the idea of the two cities, one in the lake and one on it, that reflect each other. The Forest in all its mysterious darkness is brought to full intimidating life and Timou's small village is rendered in just the right way. Reading this book, I actually felt like I was in all of these places and experiencing them in the same way as the characters.
The book's action centers around the royal family and Timou, a Mage's daughter, who never knew her mother. When the prince and then the King go missing, the King's older bastard son is left in charge and Timou's father has disappeared into the city to try and help. Timou follows when he doesn't return and discovers twisted secrets and a whole lot of family drama. There are a lot of characters involved and they are all well developed despite the shortness of the novel. I loved how Timou is a character of quiet strength. She has incredibly powerful magic and yet is not at all tempted by power. She is patient, stubborn, and hardworking. Her feelings are always kept under tight control, a trick she learned from her father, but one that has her confused when she begins to have feelings for Jonah, one of the men in her village. Jonah also has a quiet strength. He is not a sword wielding, run-into-danger type of hero, but his heroism and what he chooses to do with it are even more impressive as a result. I also really loved both of the princes, who are very different in all the ways brothers are. Neill, the bastard, is a fascinating character. He is the one who caught my imagination the most due to the choices he makes-and the ones he didn't but could have. Cassiel, the heir to the throne, is young and has many traits you would expect from being the younger, favored son, but he also has a core of steel and courage that is impressive. His charm and humor only make this more appealing (even if I was choosing between them, I would choose to like his brother more.) In dress, attitude, and actions, the villain is one of the creepiest I've read in some time. The symbolism Neumeier uses to introduce the concept of the villain into the story does an excellent job of adding to this terrifying calmness of evil the villain presents.
The City in the Lake is exactly the sort of fantasy I love and now I'm kicking myself for not having read it sooner. The world, characters, and story all combine to make an enthralling read and Neumeier's evocative prose put me right in the story. Woven in to the magic and intense political drama is also a great tale of siblings. All of my favorite things in a fantasy plus stuff I never knew to ask for. READ IT NOW. ...more
I have made not secret about how much I adore Stephanie Burgis's Regency fantasy Kat Incorrigible books. When I closed that last page of Stolen Magic, I was left feeling satisfied with the end of Kat's story in those books, but I couldn't help wanting more. When Stephanie started talking about a novella she was writing that would take place upon Kat's debut into society and her own romance, I was beyond thrilled. Courting Magic is everything I wanted it to be. It left me with a huge grin on my face that hasn't faded. It is, in fact, only growing larger as I type this and think about it all over again.
Kat has aged well in the five years since the end of her adventures in Stolen Magic. She has learned to control her tongue and temper. She is still irrepressibly Kat though. Her family still treat her like the girl she was though, telling her what to do, talking over her at times, and not crediting her with the sense that time and experience have instilled in her. I enjoyed this element because this is so true to life. Our families know us so well, but they don't always see us the clearest because they are too close. Mr. Gregson on the other hand, seems to fully trust Kat. He has seen his years of training pay off time and time again. She is a full-fledged guardian and fighter against evil magic. It is rather impressive. Most of the characters from the previous novels make a reappearance here. I didn't realize how badly I needed to see how Lucy's life turned out, until there she was. Her role in this story is marvelous. Reading this is like attending a reunion where I just want to sit and watch these people I love interact with each other. It was incredibly well done.
The plot involves a magical mystery that must be solved. Kat and her entrance into Society set the perfect scene for an undercover operation that involves her taking on three others with guardian magic as her would-be suitors, all of them in the pursuit of justice. Shenanigans of the hilarious and romantic variety ensue. Kat helped all three of her siblings into true love and it was so rewarding to see her find her own. I don't want to spoil much about that, but the romantic element is well done. There is everything that makes a good romance: amusing banter, heated looks, some misunderstanding, and some pretty great kissing. The hero is everything Kat deserves in a partner and their whole dynamic in this story is just lovely.
If you have young MG age fans of the original trilogy in your life and you are wondering at letting them read this, have no fear. There is some kissing and giddy descriptions of attraction, but nothing more than kids this age generally get from movies and other books for their own age group. I let Bit read it (and she loved it too).
Basically this book was all that I could have asked for. Happiness bubbled up inside me as I was reading it, like I was a bottle of soda being shaken up. It just made me effervescent when I was done, walking around grinning like a fool.
Stephanie self-published this and here is her post on all the places you can purchase it if you wish. (And you should most definitely wish to.) ...more
I am still making my way through Diana Wynne Jones's backlist. I probably wouldn't have read The Homeward Bounders for a long time to come as it's currently out of print in the the US (except as an e-book) if it weren't for a conversation on Twitter I had with Sage Blackwood in which she said she heard some consider it to be a metaphor for life as a military kid. My interest level rose exponentially and she was kind enough to send me an old used library copy to read. (Much thanks for that.)
This book, like all of Jones's books, has had many covers. I'm using the latest UK cover because I really like these covers for her books.
The Homeward Bounders unfolds slowly. For the first part of the novel Jamie is all alone simply telling his story about how he came to be a Homeward Bounder and the way the worlds work. As he tells his tale little things about Them (the players) are revealed, and what is revealed is rather chilling. They have no regard for lives. They are ruthless in pursuit of the game they are playing. The game they are playing is us and our lives. And the lives of countless other beings in countless other worlds. We are all pieces on a giant board game helped along by computers and players (the identity of who is a brilliant reveal). Who hasn't wondered about that at some point in their life? This is the sheer genius of Diana Wynne Jones, taking the things everyone ponders and expanding on them and turning them into a brilliant story. Jamie is thrust out of his world after discovering the game. A "discard", he is forced to wander the worlds in search of home. He is alone for a great deal of his search and that loneliness comes off the page and affects the reader. Finally Jamie is able to find some companions. Helen is special in her world, but has been exiled because she also discovered too much. Joris is a demon hunter apprentice, a slave with so much devotion he was dragged into life as a Homeard Bounder by a demon he refused to let go. These three are misfits and they form a strong if somewhat squabble team. A team that doubles when they are able to convince some actual non-Bounders of what is going on. But of course, this can't last forever. They are not going to allow them to remain together without a fight. I really enjoyed Jamie as a character all alone, a wander traveling the worlds. And I loved his interactions with the family he cobbles together from the people he meets. Helen and Adam are particularly fun to watch him with.
The Homeward Bounders is tragic, far more so than a lot of Jones's books are. It is a sort of tragic that is full of purpose though. The trials are not for nothing and the people suffering them learn to adjust, though it leaves scars and yearnings they will never shake. Yes, I can see why some people have likened it to life as a military brat. There were some sentences that made me cry because, yes, they do describe the feelings you have, the feeling that home is a place out there somewhere if you could only just find it, but deep down you know you never will because you missed that chance. That your life is out of your control. That you form attachments only to have them ripped away from you so why bother forming them at all anymore. There is something utterly profound in the conclusion of the book that relates as well. The lack of choice the Bounders have about how long they stay in one place (but they do know approximately how long it will be) and their lack of choice in where they end up next speaks to it as well. Whether Jones did this intentionally or not, I can't help but wish I had this book growing up.
The Homeward Bounders is not a book everyone is going to like, but it is perfect for me. I think it is one of Jones's best actually. It doesn't have the charm and quirk of Chrestomanci, Howl, or Derkholm, but it still has a sly and ironic humor that keeps it from being too tragic. And in the end it really is a beautiful story that is brilliantly crafted....more
I received a copy of A Matter of Souls by Denise Lewis Patrick at ALA Midwinter, a signed copy after I met the author. I'm going to confess that I shelved it and forgot about it after returning until I unpacked it this past week after moving. I was reminded of the #weneeddiversebook campaign and decided the weekend of the 48 Hour Book Challenge was the perfect time to read it. I feel so bad for having neglected it for this long, but I feel even worse that I didn't see much buzz about it to remind me. WHY are more people not talking about this book????
A Matter of Souls is a collection of short stories. This is a format we don't see enough of in YA and these stories are so well written. Patrick has a way with words, pulling the reader into the story in just a few and holding them with the characters she has created. Each setting unique and yet not as they all center around the same basic theme and struggle. Each character is unique and their struggle, while familiar in general is unique to that person. Patrick gives each story equal glory. There is sadness in these pages. Heaps and heaps of it. There is death and darkness and the worst humanity as to offer. There is also life and hope and the struggle for more and better. There are glimpses of the better humanity sometimes attempts to strive for as well.
I really appreciate how the title and the final story ties the whole together. Every story anywhere is really a matter of souls and Patrick does an excellent job of illustrating that and the interconnectedness of all. The book makes an excellent resource for anyone teaching US History or creative writing, but needs to be talked of more simply because it is an amazingly good and powerful book. Read it. ...more
I am not a huge poetry fan, but once in a while a poetry book comes along that I can not pass up the chance to read. Poisoned Apples: Poems for You My Pretty by Christine Heppermann was just such a book.
The Woods The action's always there. Where are the fairy tales about gym class or the doctor's office or the back of the bus where bad things also happen?
And so begins a beautiful collection of poems that combine fairy tale and real life to illustrate the struggles of teen girls everywhere. Eating disorders, boys who see and treat you as an object, seeing and treating yourself as an object, the never-ending quest for impossible perfection to live up to an artifiical standard of beauty-it's all blended and folded together against a backdrop of familiar characters and scenarios. The poems, which are mostly in blank verse, are hauntingly beautiful. They are more than that too though. They challenge preconceived notions, force thought, and are, in the end, empowering. It is a feminist book. It is a powerful book. It is a human book. It fills me with a zeal to buy copies for all the teen girls I know. And all the adult women. All the boys too for that matter.
In addition to the poems the final copy of the book will be full of art. I read an e-galley, so it is not all there or as clear as possible, but what I saw I very much liked. I pre-ordered this book months ago based on its concept alone. Having read it already, I do not regret that decision in the slightest. I can not wait for my copy to come so I can read it again and see the art in all its beauty with the poems.
I love fairy tales. Actual real fairy tales for all the darkness, horror, and awful truth they contain. I love them because the lines between fairy tales and reality are hard to find when you start thinking about what the stories are really about. Hepperman mentions her similar thoughts on this in the Afterward. This shows clear in every poem,which is based on a tale with a known character, but so tragically real at the same time. It combines all the aspects of fairy tale riffs I adore.
I highly recommend to everyone.
Content Warning: sexual references, strong language, alcohol and drug use
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Greenwillow Books, via Edelweiss. Poisoned Apples is available for purchase on September 23rd....more
I have a thing for best friend turned lovers stories and this one is so good. I also really enjoyed that it was about an older couple also dealing witI have a thing for best friend turned lovers stories and this one is so good. I also really enjoyed that it was about an older couple also dealing with things like their children getting married and moving on with their lives. I'm nowhere near that phase of life yet, but I can imagine it isn't going to be easy. I enjoyed how Mack and Anne balanced and smoothed each other out. I have always liked the character of Mack in the other chocolate books. He's such a great dad and it was fun to get to see more of his personality than just the father role. It was also fun to see all the other couples playing and having fun together at the wedding. And Sylvain! The Chocolate Thief is my least favorite of all Florand's books and I didn't fall for him as a hero as much as the other chocolatier, BUT I have fallen for him more and more in each novel he has shown up in. Man does he know how to snark at and discombobulate the other heroes in the best way. Loved what he did with Mack and the chocolate. :) ...more
Last year's Biggest Flirts was the book that introduced me to Jennifer Echols. I've read a lot of her books this year and have come to the conclusion that she doesn't get nearly enough credit for how good she is. I've been continuously struck book after book by her characters' diverse voices and their genuine teen experiences that are as diverse as they are. Perfect Couple, the first of two 2015 releases by Echols and the second book in her Superlatives series, is actually my favorite yet.
Harper is her yearbook's photographer. With dreams of going to art school and maybe being a photojournalist someday, she is focused on her future but has always given careful attention to her artistic side as well. She designs and makes her own clothes to fit a retro style she came up with all on her own. Her boyfriend is the kind of guy who fits her image. He is also artsy, enjoys indie films, and talks about social consciousness a lot. There is no great chemistry or romance between them, but she's different from her two best friends when it comes to relationships. Unlike Tia, she's never been interested in sex for the sake of good sex. It's never mattered. And unlike Kay, she hasn't had a long term serious relationship to capture her heart and attention. Harper is content in the invisible artistic bubble she's created for herself until the senior class votes her Perfect Couple That Never Was with gorgeous star football quarterback Brody. She thinks the senior class has lost its collective mind. But as the days pass and she gets more fed up with the superior attitude of her boyfriend, Harper begins to wonder if she's missing out on something, not just with Brody, but by allowing herself to be only one thing in the artistic niche she's created for herself. What would happen if she switched some things up a bit and made some different choices? It doesn't hurt that Brody is paying her attention and making her realize exactly what she's been missing out on when it comes to intense make-out sessions.
Harper is my favorite of Echols's heroines, which is a major reason this book is my favorite. I do find her more relatable than I have found some of the others, but more than that I just really like her vulnerability and curiosity. Senior year is a tough time for some, and Harper is one who begins to wonder about who she is and whether or not that is who she wants to be. As Harper begins to question why she has made some of the choices she's made, she makes some conscious decisions to change some stuff about herself. She does start dressing a little more like her peers and wearing contacts. Some of this is because she wants Brody's attention, but it's also combined with her frustration with herself and where her life currently is. I liked the complexity of this. One could argue Harper is changing herself for a boy and she should know better, but it's far more nuanced than that. Also real as teenage girls have been known to dress a certain way to attract the attention of a boy. Adult women do it too. What I really like is that Harper maintains a firm hold on the basics of who she is even as she questions some of her decisions in life. She makes some mistakes over the course of the story, but they are understandable ones and she works hard to correct them as quickly as she can.
As Harper is my favorite Echols heroine, Brody is definitely my favorite hero to date. He is an interesting mix of confidence and vulnerability. He's an amazing friend as is evidenced by his never wavering support of his best friend Noah who has recently come out as gay. Even though this book is first person from Harper's point of view, some of my favorite moments were watching Brody's interactions with Noah, Sawyer, and Will. I think one of Echols's real strengths is being able to write boys who make great romantic heroes but are still genuine teens and behave as such. I also loved how Brody's attraction to Harper transcends her "look". He thought she was hot whichever way she dressed. It wasn't her change of attire that caught his attention. It was the superlative announcement and her noted interest. Together they are great. I enjoyed their friendship, banter, and they way they worked through the hurdles in their way to a good relationship.
Another aspect of Perfect Couple I thoroughly enjoyed was the seeing more of the friendship between Tia, Harper, and Kay. This was part of Biggest Flirts too, but I feel like their connection and the reason for it was more fleshed out and fluid in this book than in the first. I love how strongly these three have each others' backs despite how very different they all are. It is so nice to see girls in YA romance have strong friendships.
The little glimpses of Tia and Will are a nice little addition for those who have read Biggest Flirts, but you don't need to read that book to love this one. The building of the drama between Kay and Sawyer in this book was well done too. There is just enough there to set up the tension for Most Likely to Succeed (coming out in September), but not so much that it ever overshadows Harper and Brody. I have to say I can not wait to read that one though and I really wish the series would continue after their story. I really like this group of friends.
Content Heads-Up: references to underage alcohol use, some strong language, discussion of sex, some steamy make out scenes
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Simon Pulse, via Edelweiss. Perfect Couple goes on sale January 13th....more
The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson is one of those books that had a lot of excitement and promotion leading up to its release. Those books always make me wary. While I really wanted to read it, I worried about it not living up to my expectations. Well, that was a groundless worry. I LOVED this book and my only regret is I'm not teaching in the fall and won't have a roomful of MG kids to book-talk it to.
This is a realistic fiction book that has absolutely no grounding in reality, which is not at all a bad thing, because readers love those books. I was going to say kid readers but decided that was condescending and untrue. I love those sort of books too (and not just ones written for kids) as do a number of other adults. The romance and mystery genres make the money they do because people love this type of book so much. I don't think the MG category has nearly enough of them that are as well written as this one is.
The concept is basically Ocean's Eleven for kids and it is all kinds of fun. There is a corrupt principal and cocky popular kid to take down and the school's clubs to save. It will take a crack team of super-smart friends to save the school's election from being stolen from the students. Does this middle school actually exist anywhere? One that has this many actively participated in funded extracurriculars and a student government with actual power? No. No it doesn't, not in the realm of public schools anyway. HOWEVER, it is the middle school every kid fantasizes about going to. One where there will be a place for them somewhere and they will be able to practice agency over their own lives. And what kid doesn't love a story where the kids get to outsmart the principal? Johnson clearly gets his audience.
The cast is diverse, which is obvious from the cover, but I don't just mean that it is racially diverse. These kids all have distinct interests and personalities. Leading them all is Jackson Greene, president of the Botany club, basketball super-star, and Earl Grey tea drinker. His grandfather was an excellent con-man, and armed with his wits and his grandfather's rules for staging a con, Jackson has perpetrated some schemes that the entire school population still talks about despite his new course on the straight and narrow. After his last job resulted in losing one of his best friend's, the girl he also happened to have a crush on, he is staying out of it. But Gaby is the one who will lose if he doesn't intervene, and for her he is willing to take on a new job. Even if she doesn't want him to. Gaby is a brilliant leader and amazing basketball player. I really liked how she balanced out Jackson and how she handled the many tricky situations she found herself in from confronting jerks to being honest with a boy about her feelings, to telling her friends what she thinks. Gaby never betrays or backs down from who she is. Each member of the team Jackson assembles to run the heist are equally distinct and rounded. Charlie is Gaby's brother, Jackson's best friend, and the editor of the school paper. Bradley is the eager, excited, office helper who is the inside man. Hash is a tech geek, Star Trek fan, and highly nervous around girls. Megan, the pretty cheerleader, is also a tech genius who is a passionate gamer and also speaks fluent Klingon. I appreciated what the author did with all these characters. While Hash is fairly stereotypical for a tech geek he still has a distinct personality and is foiled by Megan, who is not a stereotypical tech geek or cheerleader. The subtle message that comes across is that each person is not one thing, but total of all things that make them who they are. Each character highlights this in their own way but never in a manner that makes it THE MESSAGE.
Interspersed through the book are also some clever commentaries on society. Some of these kids will get and some will go over their heads, but the way Johnson wove them in to the narrative was smart. From how easy it is to corrupt an election process, to the school secretary who can't tell students in any non-white race apart, to the power brokering of the kids with money in the school, Johnson has brought out some interesting issues. The truly miraculous thing? He does all this character development, plotting, and theme building in 226 engaging pages. How? He has pretty much mastered the art of showing and not telling.
The Great Greene Heist is a perfect read for anyone who loves con stories, school stories, friendship stories, or just stories in general. ...more
A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge was one of the books I had to read for the YAMG Book Challenge. It was the only book potentially destined to come my way in the brackets that I had not previously read. Why? Because it has not been published in the US yet. And this is a TRAGEDY.
This is the story of Neverfell, a wide-eyed, sheltered, compassionate, cheerful, inquisitive girl who longs to explore and see the world outside the front door she has been locked behind as long as she can remember. Characters like this usually drive me insane. There is so much goodness in her. An unbelievable amount of goodness. I normally can't stand this, but Neverfell caught me and held me and made me love her. And even though I knew she was heading for a host of awful discoveries that were going to change and disillusion her, I found I didn't want them to change her. She is naive and far too trusting. There were moments when I wanted to jump in the book and knock her upside the head, but her naiveté is so genuine and believable. She has no reason for cynicism or distrust. She was never taught the possible cruelties of the world, and her world is cruel indeed. Where she is, no one can show the emotions they feel in their facial expressions. Except for Neverfell. People pay to learn how to make expressions and tailor them for the appropriateness of a moment, so they are never genuine. Except for Neverfell. She is the perfect tool and in constant danger as a result. She utterly refuses to see this and stumbles through life with a warm generosity that ordinarily makes me want to walk away from a character and never look back. In this case I wanted to shelter her and help her, meaning I was very much able to relate to one of the other characters in the story she comes across. One more cynical and not quite trustworthy. There is more to Neverfell though. Part of her curiosity is a result of her scientific mind. She is an amazingly talented mechanic. She is also fiercely determined and, it turns out, capable of being sneaky and ruthless herself which made me like her even more. (I know. I obviously have issues.) Everyone thinks she's mad, but really her mind just works differently. So much is made about her appearance, but it is really the way she thinks and feels that throw the people around her off. She is different. Other. And that means she is to be feared or used. Both at the same time occasionally.
Which brings me to the themes in the book. Through Neverfell and the people she comes in contact with, those who want to use her, those who want to protect her, and those who end up working with her, Hardinge paints a picture of a society we all can recognize because we live in it. Despite the world of Carverna being distinctly different from our own, it is exactly like our own. The twisted political maneuverings, the exploitation and intentional subjugation of those that can be forced to work, the falseness of society, and the power of belief in a system is brought out in every word on every page. But it is not at all forced. It is rendered through the contrast of Neverfell and the world around her, thorough her desire to do good and her ability to spark the same in others, through the details in the world building. It is all brilliantly woven together.
Then there is the writing, which is as top-notch as it gets. Beautiful imagery, evocative descriptions, and soul searing emotion are all on display. The world of Caverna is one I could feel, see, taste, and smell. The twistiness of the writing mirrors the twistiness of the world, leaving the reader slightly confused and light-headed in places, exactly as I imagine life in Caverna would be. I felt at times like I was being smothered under the weight of it all just as Neverfell was. I wanted her to get out from underneath that mountain and feel the sun and wind and rain. Hear birds sing. I expect good writing when I sit down with a Frances Hardinge novel, but feel she outdid my fairly high expectations with this one. Some examples: No, despite her best efforts she was a skinny, long-boned tangle of fidget and frisk, with feet that would not stay still, and elbows made to knock things off shelves.
There were many who called the Court a jungle, and with good reason. It had a jungle's lush and glittering beauty. The people who dwelt in it, in their turn, were not unlike jungle creatures...There are many dangers in the jungle, but perhaps the greatest is forgetting that one is not the only hunter, and that one is probably not the largest.
He felt a shock, as if her faith was a golden axe and had struck right through his dusty husk of a heart. The heart did not bleed, however, and in the next moment its dry fibres were closing and knitting back together again.
A Face Like Glass has a lot of political intrigue and complexity to it as well. It demands a lot of its readers, whether adults or children. And I love that. Books intended for a child audience who don't talk down to them or underestimate them are the best books there are. It never shies away from the harder more difficult truths it is trying to convey, but simply puts them in a package a child can see, understand, and accept. And running through all of the darkness and hard truths is brightness of hope. This book is everything that I love and it will have a place on my bookshelf forever. ...more
Once Upon a Rose is so much fun. I love Matt as a hero. He is a big grumpy cuddly bear, and Layla with her sense of humor and free spirit is the perfeOnce Upon a Rose is so much fun. I love Matt as a hero. He is a big grumpy cuddly bear, and Layla with her sense of humor and free spirit is the perfect match for him. I enjoyed how they both have insecurities and struggles that are realistic even though they are both have very unique jobs that place them on the outer circles of celebrity and power.
My favorite part of the book though is the interactions between all the Rosier cousins. Flooring excels at writing great banter and scenes between her male characters. I enjoyed it in this book even more than in the Chocolate books because I got such a sense of the long history and camaraderie between these men.
Also, this book is FUNNY. I laughed out loud a lot. This series looks to be just as entertaining as the Chocolate one and I can not wait for the rest of the cousins to get their stories. I'm not sure yet which one I'm most excited about. ...more
I was worried about whether or not the series would be as good moving outside of the Fletcher family, but I shouldn't have been. This is an excellentI was worried about whether or not the series would be as good moving outside of the Fletcher family, but I shouldn't have been. This is an excellent book. I really liked both Jack and Lauren, the issues they brought to their relationship, and how they worked through those. Kantra does a great job of showing how real people work out real problems. Again, the community of Dare Island plays a huge part in the novel and the Fletchers are still very prevalent. (Fletcher wedding in this one!) I especially enjoyed seeing the camaraderie developing between Jack and Luke and the one other officer at the police station. I'm looking forward to seeing where else this series is going.
My YA loving heart both rejoices and yearns at the glimpses of Josh and Thalia we get in this book again. Thalia is the one featured more in this one and oh my. I want these two to have their own book (or books as I'm practical enough to see they may be not destined for each other, but again, my YA loving heart wants that too). I'm good with it being set later on, just gah! this episodic glimpse every book is KILLING ME. ...more
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
Despite loving all of Melina Marchetta's realistic fiction, I had never gone back and pickedOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
Despite loving all of Melina Marchetta's realistic fiction, I had never gone back and picked up her debut novel, Looking for Alibrandi. I thought it was high time I did.
Looking for Alibrandi is not as smooth and finessed as Marchetta's later works, but it is still an excellent book. Josephine is typical of Marchetta's main characters: self-absorbed at times, flawed, sometimes whiny, and yet also loving, loyal, and hard-working. She is real and human. The secondary characters are also wonderful, particularly Josephine's family. My favorite parts of the novel were the evolving relationships between Josephine and her father and grandmother. This is a generational story, and in this you see the beginnings of Marchetta's brilliance in addressing this that comes into even greater brilliance in The Piper's Son. In the conversations with her grandmother in particular, an interesting glimpse is given into immigrant life in 20th century Australia and the Italian community in Sydney. It was fascinating. The secondary characters are not as well drawn as they are in Marchetta's later works, but they are still very real and Josephine certainly carries her own story beautifully.
The plot itself is not connected to any one event. It is the story of Josephine's last year of high school and covers her changing dynamics with family and friends, her crushes, her ambitions, and her mistakes. All told in her first person voice it, the book reads almost like a diary and this format works perfectly for the episodic nature of the plot.
One thing I always appreciate about Marchetta's novels is the frankness and honesty with which she addresses teenage sexual situations, and that is particularly strong in this novel. I like the way that she shows several different perspectives and situations and how different people will make different decisions depending on what they believe about themselves, the person their with, and the world in general. I loved Josephine's assurance and confidence when she told Jacob she wasn't ready for sex. It is actually one of my favorite conversations I've read in a novel in a long time. And I love the way she and her friends discuss their various experiences towards the end. There is a lot of profound stuff there.
I can't believe I waited so long to to read this, and am so glad I finally did. If you enjoy her other books, particularly Saving Francesca and The Piper's Son, this is one you will want to red too.
And yes, I have tagged it as historical fiction as hard as it was. If a book takes place 20 years ago, it is historical fiction. ...more