A couple years ago This Side of Home was one of my favorite reads so when I found out we were getting a new Renée Watson book this year it automatically became one of my most anticipated reads. Piecing Me Together lived up to all my expectations and then some.
Jade lives in north Portland but goes to the fancy private school St. Francis on a scholarship. She knows this is her greatest opportunity to go to school and get out of Oregon. It can make her feel like she is living a dual life though. Her first two years there were successful academically, but she didn't make many friends. As her junior year begins, Jade is asked to join a mentor/mentee program for "at risk" girls called Woman to Woman. She's not really sure she needs it. She doesn't feel at risk, and she definitely doesn't feel like her mentor, Maxine, is going to be very helpful in teaching her about the real world. But as the year continues to go less the way Jade expected, the more she learns about the pieces of her life that make her everything she is.
Jade's voice is pitch perfect. As soon as I started reading, I was fully drawn into her world. Jade's favorite school subject is Spanish. She loves studying it and is looking forward to doing a stay abroad. Each chapter begins with a Spanish word and its translation. The chapters are short and each word and beat remains in form and step with Jade's character. Jade is also an artist who works in collage. She likes to make things people consider trash into things of beauty. Her most recent obsession is York, the slave of Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) who helped with the expedition. She is creating work that involves him and also black women who have suffered at the hands of official brutality. Her art and her love of Spanish are integral parts of who she is and both morph over the book as her character changes and grows. The mentorship program Jade is not super excited about is helpful to her, helping her find her voice and become more of an activist.
The novel is episodic, moving quickly through the school year. This works really well and lends itself well to the authenticity of the novel and Jade's character. When you think about it, life is episodic. Most of our days are routine, and there are pivotal points that stick out from the regularity of life.
The strength of the novel is in Jade herself and her journey, but also in all the relationships. This is a female centered story and it features incredible female relationships of all types. Jade finally makes a real friend at St. Francis her junior year. Sam is a new white girl who rides Jade's bus. Their relationship begins out of proximity and convenience but grows into one of true sharing. They have a lot of roadblocks because of their different ways of seeing the world, but the way they interact and work these is wonderful. Jade's best friend from her neighborhood is also a fabulous example of female friendship. Jade and Lee Lee are close like sisters. Their relationship is old and often doesn't need words or explanations. Despite going to different schools and spending long times apart, they have remained close and work hard at keeping their friendship going. I loved the way the three girls interacted with each other when they were together too. Lee Lee and Sam both recognize their individual importance in Jade's life and get along well together. I love books that feature strong female friendships, and Piecing Me Together excels at this. Jade's relationship with her mother is another important one. Jade's mother was a teen mom and she works long hours to pay rent and buy food. She doesn't see Jade as often as she wants but makes the most of the time they do share and has big dreams for her daughter. Her relationship with her mom is part of why Jade doesn't feel at risk. She knows she is loved, she gets good advice, and is given a chance to live her dreams. Her mother has mixed feelings about the program too. She knows it will help Jade get a scholarship to college, but she feels judged and is a bit resentful of Maxine at first. The relationship between Jade and Maxine is integral to the book and I loved what Watson did with this. Maxine is a recent college graduate so is not much older than Jade. Jade wonders exactly what Maxine could teach her and if maybe Maxine herself needs a mentor because her life seems kind of out of control. As Maxine and Jade grow closer, they actually teach each other a lot. The best part of this to me is that Jade's mom pulls Maxine into their world too and sort of becomes her mentor and it is a beautiful thing. All of these women are independent women with different strengths and weaknesses that balance each other out and combined they make Jade's life richer and are the center of the story.
The prose is truly excellent. There are whole sections of the books I would love to quote, but won't because I read an ARC. And if I quoted everything I loved loved, half the book would be here.
Who should read this book? I think everyone should. It is my favorite YA read of the year so far, and I'm going to be talking about it a lot.
I read an ARC obtained from the publisher, Bloomsbury Children's, at ALA Midwinter. Piecing Me Together goes on sale February 14th. ...more
Rebel Genius is the first book in a new series by Michael Dante DiMartino. I wanted to read this book as soon as I found about it as DiMartino was one of the co-creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender. I know enough kids still obsessed with that series that I knew being able to book talk this would be important. Even without this I would have been interested though because it sounded like a great story. I was surprised by how much I ended up loving it. (Though I don't know why I was surprised.)
Giacomo lives in the sewers only coming out at night to study a famous fresco and try to learn as much as he can from it to help his own art. One fateful night Giacomo is attacked and in a moment of panic sets off a strange occurrence he cannot explain. He is healed and suddenly in possession of his very own Genius. A genius is a bird type creature that is the living embodiment of an artist's creativity. At twelve Giacomo is supposed to be too old to suddenly have a Genius. They are supposed to arrive when an artist is very young. Now Giacomo must live in fear for his life. Geniuses are forbidden by the ruler of the land who has outlawed all but her own. If any Genius is found, it is captured. Separated from a Genius, an artist loses their mind and becomes a Lost Soul. Less than a day into having a Genius, Giacomo has no idea how he will keep it a secret when he is found by three other children with Geniuses who take him to villa where there is a hidden studio where they learn their art apprenticed to a famous master. Soon after arriving at the villa, it becomes obvious that Giacomo has an extraordinary ability. When word comes that an evil artist is searching for the Sacred Tools so that he can overthrow the kingdom, the four children set out to beat him to it.
There is A LOT going on in this book. A lot. The world DiMartino has created is rich and layered. Based on Renaissance Italy, it is full of opulence, treachery, ruthless tyrants, and dangerous politics. The foundation of all of this is the marriage of art, science, and mathematics. There are a couple of moment that can best be described as "describing a tesseract" moments. The magic well the Geniuses help their artists tap into involves Sacred Geometry. (I know right? GEOMETRY.) But it actually works really well. The moments where things are being explained only make the world building stronger and do not slow down the action of the story at all. It's a fast paced adventure that follows a fairly typical fantasy set up plot wise: orphan finds extraordinary power, gains companions he's wary of, goes on quest, faces treachery, discovers something about himself he never knew. The familiarity of the plot elements do not render them tired or worn out though. They are tired and true because they work so well and DiMartino adds his own twists and flair to the story. The writing is deceptively simple and pulls the reader right into the story.
Just as there is a lot going on, there are also a lot of characters. I was surprised by how attached I was to all of them by the end of the book. There is definitely more character depth that needs to be added to each, but DiMartino does a good job of giving us an introduction to each and providing action that highlights their flaws and strengths. Giacomo is a true hero who is empathetic and feels deeply for every being he comes in contact with. The other children in the book foil Giacomo in various ways. Some of them are developed better than others and their relationships with each other is something that I hope is explored in more depth in future books, but a good foundation for that is laid here. There are several villains to counter the party of heroes, but one thing I really appreciate about all the characters was how the line between the two was not always clear. It wasn't as black and white as that.
DiMartino is exploring some fascinating and relevant themes through the story, political and moral. I'm really looking forward to seeing where he is going with all of this.
The book has internal illustrations that are beautiful. It is fairly long with small print so might appeal more to the upper end of the MG spectrum (which is who it seems intended for). I see this straddling the MG/YA line and appealing to readers in both age brackets. It is a fantastic story to a new series. For fans of DiMartino's previous work on Avatar and anyone who loves complicated fantasy worlds, this is a sure hit....more
Last year's Ash & Bramble was one of my favorite books of the year. I was very much anticipating its follow-up Rose & Thorn so when author Sarah Prineas offered to send me an ARC, I said YES very quickly. I'm happy to say it is excellent and my favorite Sleeping Beauty reworking yet.
Rose has lived her entire life with her guardian Shoe in a valley protected by the Penwitch's power. When the protection is broken, Rose's circumstances change overnight and she must venture into the world on her own. The Forest brings her to the City where the Watchers carefully guard against the power of story. Instantly recognized as Cursed by Story, Rose is taken to the Citadel to have her curse removed.
Griff is the son of the Protector of the city and lives an austere life. The Watchers fight Story by living rational lives that leave no room for anything other than duty. As a Watcher and a Curse Eater, it is Griff's task to remove Rose's curse. When he can't do that due to its actually being three curses braided together, he is tasked with guarding her and using her to draw out the rebellious Breakers working in the City to fight Story's power through stories of their own.
Rose is determined to flee the city with the help of the Breakers and ends up dragging Griff reluctantly along. Forced to take refuge in a castle during a storm, Rose, Griff, and their companions find themselves caught in Story's web but are willing to fight its power with every weapon they have.
Rose & Thorn takes place several decades after the end of Ash & Bramble. It is very much its own story and I think it can stand well on its own from a plot standpoint. A lot of the world building is done in Ash & Bramble, but the world has changed a bit for this story too. Ash & Bramble is a perfect blend of fairy tale and dystopia. Rose & Thorn is likewise an interesting mix, though different in some aspects. In the City there is a perfect picture of what happens when you try to avoid one danger and up ending in a different one entirely. The lives of the City people are desolate and sad and lacking vibrancy. There is more than one way to enslave a person and though the City is mostly free of Story, they are now enslaved to Rationality. I loved this contrast and how both are dangerous. It's also interesting that the rational austerity of the Watchers actually make them, particularly Griff who longs for light and love, more vulnerable to Story.
Rose and Griff are main characters it is easy to like and feel sympathetic toward. Rose is beautiful. She is a fairly tale princess after all, but she is really oblivious to this. She has lived her entire life with an old man who loved her for being Rose so her first venture into the outer world is fraught with danger. It doesn't take long for her to discover that her looks are dangerous to her. Rose has a core of steel though and she works hard to forge her own path. She is a vivacious chatterbox who wants to see the good and possibility in everything. She is naive but not stupid, optimistic but not oblivious. Griff is the strong silent type. I usually don't really like this type of hero (mainly because it tends to get in the way of good banter which is what I like best in romantic pairings), but Griff really works for me. He is incredibly dedicated to duty and doing what he is ordered. At every turn in this story, he is confronted with something new that changes how he has to see himself and the world. His austere upbringing did not equip him for that. It certainly didn't equip him to deal with Rose, who is constantly bouncing up to him and breaking through his reserve. I really loved the two of them together. As in most tales of this nature, their relationship develops incredibly fast but they do know each other well. Rose being Rose is even able to fantastically banter with his silences. So that's fun. I loved how she was the one who took most of the initiative in their relationship too. They are very much opposites but not in a way that puts them in opposition. It's in a way that they work well together side by side and need each other to thrive. (Ahem. See title and cover imagery.)
Rose and Griff are joined by Griff's Watcher partner Quirk and a Breaker woman named Timothy. These two are equally as important as Rose and Griff and I loved them just as much. They have really good chemistry and fill in the banter when needed. Quirk and Timothy are both connected to the story in Ash & Bramble so they have more knowledge of what the group is fighting and how to do it, but even they are blind when it comes to much of what is going on under the surface. There knowledge also prejudices them in ways that are sometimes detrimental.
Many of themes from Ash & Bramble are revisited here though from a different angle and I appreciated that. I liked how Prineas flipped a lot of things around that I can't get into because of spoilers. Above everything though I enjoyed the look at what happily ever after looks like outside of Story. That it is full of heartache, joy, and the memories of a life well lived.
I read an ARC sent to me by the author. Rose & Thorn goes on sale October 18....more
The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman is a book I could not wait to read. The cover, synopsis, and praise it received seemed to make it a perfect fit for me. And it was. I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon I spent reading this book. It has a magical bookshop. A MAGICAL BOOKSHOP.
Nick runs away from his abusive uncle and cousin after years living with them following his mother's death. He is not exactly prepared for his escape and finds himself cold, hungry, and in search of shelter during a snow storm. He happens upon the home and bookshop of the Evil Wizard Smallbone. When Nick lies to Smallbone about his ability to read, Smallbone agrees to feed him and take him on as an apprentice. Nick's first job is to clean the dirty bookshop. In doing so Nick begins to learn magic as the bookshop gives him the books he needs to help him on his way. And Nick will need all the magic he can find. The sentries that have guarded the village of Smallbone and protected them from the wizard's nemesis and his cohort of werecoyote bikers are failing. The villagers are terrified and even Smallbone seems at a loss as to how to save the town or himself.
Nick is pretty much everything I adore in a main character: snarky, independent, outwardly lazy, super smart and motivated about what he cares about. He's the total package. Smallbone is the perfect complement to him. These two have excellent banter and a relationship that is coated in surly sniping but deep down they come to care for each other in their own ways. The animals that live in the house with them also have their own distinct personalities as does the bookshop itself. There are several villagers from the town Smallbone created who add a lot to the story as well. The villain is actually rather terrifying and I honestly wondered how he was going to be defeated in the end a couple of times. When you add the very real world sort of danger of Nick's uncle and cousin, there was a lot of true evil (not the Smallbone kind) to overcome. It made for an engrossing read that was difficult to put down.
The world Sherman created for her story is fascinating. Both the bookshop and the village are brought to life by her imagery and the descriptions of the interactions of the people within them. I am impressed by how well she was able to render a sense of place and character together through these interactions, especially in the case of the bookshop where the animals far outnumbered the humans. The bookshop helped Nick and the books communicated with him in their own delightful ways. The villagers interactions with each other, Nick, and Smallbone paint a clear picture of what the place is like and Sherman's imagery made it a clear place in my mind.
This is one of those plots where the curiosity and stubbornness of children win the day. The reason these stories keep being published is because they work so incredibly well and leave children with a sense of empowerment. Nick's story will definitely leave kids feeling empowered. I appreciated how even though Nick was a loner he ended with a strong group of people he could count on when he needed them. I also like how Sherman brought themes of the importance of community and emotional ties.
The Evil Wizard Smallbone is a great addition to the collection of anyone who loves fantasy!...more
The Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhout has languished on my TBR for the longest time. A few weeks ago Sarah Prineas asked on Twitter if I had read it (I can't remember in relation to what). I almost responded, "No, but I plan to get to it someday." I stopped and thought, "Why wait though?" I then put it immediately on hold. I'm very happy I did because it is a wonderful adventure and I'm kicking myself for not having picked it up earlier.
Fisher wakes up covered in goo emerging from a birthing pod. He is aware he is newly born. He knows the world is dangerous. He realizes he is also in imminent danger and it is his duty to survive. Shortly after his emergence into the world, Fisher is found by a robot whose job it is to keep him alive. Fisher is part of the Ark-a place designed to preserve the human species so that they may survive following the devastation they wrought on the planet. The robot, who Fisher names Click, downloaded the Fisher profile into Fisher and activated his birth when the Ark was attacked from an unknown source. Fisher is the only survivor of the Ark's devastation. After exploring his world and discovering how much has evolved, Fisher learns there was more than one Ark and sets off to find if there are any other humans. He travels with Click and a wooly mammoth who acts like a giant dog. Fisher discovers that animals have changed in strange and unpredictable ways and that these organisms aren't the only things evolving. There is something far more sinister out there that is convinced it knows exactly what is right for Fisher-whether he agrees or not.
Whoa boy. This book has so much going for it. It is short, fast paced, full of adventure, and has a sly humor. We all know how I feel about survival stories and I LOVED this book. That should say something. Part of that is due to Fisher not completely being alone as he survives. For a robot, Click is a pretty fantastic foil. Their interactions and the eventual relationship that develops between them is wonderful. Fisher as a main character is wonderful. He is "born" as a tween and is naturally endowed with all of the snark, inquisitiveness combined with caution, and longing for a place to belong that is trademark of the age. Click for his part is quite the snarkbot himself. The banter between the two is excellent with Click acting as teacher, parent, mentor to the confused Fisher.
The world Fisher is exploring is new and different enough to make for fascinating reading too. Eekhout uses his words well. He uses them economically while still providing enough imagery to convey the world Fisher inhabits. He changes things just enough that they are familiar to the reader yet come with a new type of danger and edge. I really liked the way he made the safe not quite so safe anymore too.
The plot is fast paced and moves from one problem Fisher encounters to another as he journeys to find a human companion. In many ways this is the familiar hero-quest story except in the future with robots as companion instead of bards. It works incredibly well. The peril in the book is incredibly real. There is an insidious force at work trying to stop Fisher from accomplishing his goals and this culminates in a spectacular battle in the end.
I am so glad I finally read this because my son is now almost exactly the right age for it and this is exactly the sort of story he goes for. YAY! (And thank you for the prompting, Sarah.)...more
Miss Ellicott's for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood is one of my most anticipated 2017 releases. Blackwood's previous trilogy beginning with Jinx is one of my favorites so I wanted to read this new book as soon as I could. I was immediately pulled into the story here and delighted to find a book about sticking it to the patriarchy with magic and a dragon while fighting for what is right.
Chantel is an orphan who attends Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded. Girls who show proficiency in magic and have no other place in the world go there to learn to use their magic. They also have lessons in deportment and are taught to be "shamefast and biddable". Chantel has more trouble with that part. She is prodigiously talented in the area of magic, but when it comes to holding her tongue and deporting, she has to work extra hard. When Miss Ellicott and all the other enchantresses who do the magic (the buttoning) that holds up the city's walls and keeps it safe go missing, Chantel and her two best friends must find a way to help save their city. But first they have to figure out exactly what it is that needs saving and what is the best way to do that.
Chantel is special. She summons her familiar, a tiny green snake, to her at an incredibly early age. Yet she is not your typical "special" heroine. She is a prodigy of magic, but she has been immersed in it almost her entire life and she works hard. She has a practical no-nonsense approach to life that leads her to impatience with people and can cause her to be snappy. When her snake familiar crawls inside her head, it becomes harder for her to control this. She is also told by Miss Ellicott that she is "the chosen one". I loved how Blackwood used this trope and flipped it on its head in ways that both amuse and make a point about free will and choice. Chantel is joined by her best friend Anna. Together they make a perfect team because they balance each other well. Anna is better at being outwardly shamefast and biddable, but, like Chantel, she knows her own mind and uses it to the optimal advantage. She is better at corralling the younger girls at the school and often talks Chantel into finding her patience when she needs it. The girls have always been friends with Bowser, who works in the kitchens and is the only boy resident of the school. He too helps balance Chantel and is a needed part of the team as the elder males who run the city don't want to deal with girls. This team is eventually joined by Franklin, a Marauder boy from outside the city who brings street smarts, knowledge of the outside world, and a mean ability with a crossbow to help out. The four work well together and tend to stick to what they do best. The story mostly belongs to Chantel though, who set off an important series of events by allowing her snake into her head.
The plot is full of mystery and adventure. The kids live in a walled city. The wall has been there for hundreds of years, but now it is in risk of collapse. Marauders (those who live on the outside) with to break the hold the city has on trade. The ruling parties of the city are engaged in an internal power struggle. In classic MG fashion, the kids are the ones who have to save the day. They see things in different ways and are better able to reassess long held prejudices and beliefs. I don't want to say too much because the book is so much fun to experience, but I was truly impressed with the blend of magic, adventure, politics, and ethics. The main theme of the book is "think bigger". Chantel is told this several times, and it is only through this that she is able to figure out a course to take that will help the most people. The existence of the walled city, which was walled to keep out threats but also kept its inhabitants enslaved to their rulers who controlled their food supply, is a timely thematic element all on its own. I really liked how this was threaded through the book, particularly the quote: "a wall becomes a wall in the mind".
Also there is an absentminded dragon with a massive library.
Fans of adventure, fantasy, and girls using all the tools at their disposal to kick butt and take names should read this book.
I read an ARC received at ALA Midwinter from the publisher, Katherine Tegen Books. Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded is on sale March 21st....more
Two Naomis by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick first caught my eye due to its cover (well done Balzer and Bray). I'm so happy that I decided to read it and that this book now exists in the world.
Naomi Marie likes West African dance, board games, and being the best at whatever she attempts to do. She is an excellent big sister and adores her family. She feels lucky that she lives just blocks away from her dad and can visit him whenever she wants despite her parents' divorce.
Naomi Edith likes reading, anything creative, and spending her Saturdays with dad doing the things they love. She desperately misses her mom who has moved to California since her parents' divorce. Skype just isn't the same.
When Naomi M's mother and Naomi E's father begin dating more seriously, the girls are reluctantly thrown together. Both enrolled in a computer programming class at the Y, they don't see why they should have to spend so much time together because their parents like each other.
Two Naomis is one of those books that gets the MG voice so well. Both Naomis come across as incredibly genuine and real. They are very different girls and despite their same names it is not at all confusing. They are so different and their voices sound so much like their characters, that it is never difficult to tell them apart. Naomi M is a force of nature. She is outgoing and a little controlling. She likes to be in charge and often is due to her role as older sister. She cares deeply about her family and friends and puts a high value on loyalty and hard work. Naomi E is less sure of herself. She is more apathetic and takes the easier route in things when she can. She is really struggling with missing her mom and feeling left behind. Different as they are, they are both sympathetic relatable characters that realistically project the MG mindset. Both are a little self consumed and oblivious to things not directly involving them. The cast of secondary characters is well done too. Both Naomis best friends are wonderful. They too are very different from each other AND very different from both Naomis. They are supportive of their friends but also their voices of reason (or at least they try to be). Naomi M's little sister Brianna is all four year old. No filter, too much energy, and a full steam ahead outlook on the world. The parents are all well done too. They make mistakes and behave selfishly at some points, but they are active involved parents who are doing there best. I really like how they talk to the kids and work hard to make the best out of the situations they are in (some of which came from their own mistakes).
The plot of the book centers around the class the two Naomis take together and the project they are partners on, but the crux of the book is about relationships. I really appreciate that this is a book that shows the hard adjustments and compromises that come with one of your parents dating someone else seriously after a divorce. We have a lot of MG books that deal with the process of divorce, right after a divorce, or right after a remarriage, but I can't think of another one that deals with this aspect of the process. Both girls have to sort through a lot of complicated feelings while also learning to work together and compromise. It's just incredibly well done all the way around.
I highly recommend this for all lovers of MG realistic fiction. It is a fun, quick read with excellent characters and wonderful themes. It is definitely a book I'm adding to my list of favorite sibling stories.
I read an ARC made available by the publisher, Balzer and Bray, via Edelweiss. Two Naomis is on sale September 13th....more
This is an excellent addition to Grace Lin's lovely set of books that take place in Ancient China. Lin brought elements from Where the Mountain MeetsThis is an excellent addition to Grace Lin's lovely set of books that take place in Ancient China. Lin brought elements from Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky together in this story. What's truly brilliant is that you don't have to read those two books to enjoy and fully understand this one. They are a rich layer for those who have, but the book stands well on its own too. Pinmei and Yishan are my favorite heroes of this set. They complemented each other so well. As I've come to expect from Lin, the setting was rich and lovely, all the characters important, and the way the plot wove together was magical. ...more
This book was so very much my thing I can't claim in any way to be objective about it. It is from now on probably going to be my automatic romance comThis book was so very much my thing I can't claim in any way to be objective about it. It is from now on probably going to be my automatic romance comfort read go-to.
I fell for Eugene Parsons in his very first scene in Star Dust. I wanted this next full novel in the series to be about him because from that very first scene I knew he had the potential to be exactly my favorite sort of hero. I have a weakness for intelligent men who come across as arrogant asses on first encounter-because they are actually partly an arrogant ass, but also because they are equally a socially awkward nerd. Parsons lived up to every expectation I had for him in this respect and then some. He may be favorite romance hero ever. I'm going to have to give it a couple more reads to say that definitively, but I'm 98% sure of it already. He is a perfectionist who demands the best from the people working for him and is downright scary (and sometimes mean) when he doesn't get it. Parsons does not process or deal with emotions well. But he is also a man who refers to his mom as adorable, is sure to call his older brother on his birthday first thing in the morning, keeps salt water aquariums of beautifully colored fish he gets adorably dorky about, and does his best to work within a difficult system to include and boost the women who work for the space program.
Pair a hero like this with a heroine who matches (if not exceeds) his intelligence, doesn't take any of his crap, and teases him about his nonsense, and you have my exact favorite type of love story. Charlie is an amazing and perfect match for Parsons. She is super smart, incredibly competent at what she does, and her sly and sassy wit is more than a match for Parsons. He doesn't quite know what do with her most of the time and I looooove it. Charlie is in a position of being second in command when she should be first, but isn't because she is a woman. She went into a field her physics professor parents think is beneath her, and is often dealing with their disappointed expectations and her mother's projected issues about women in science and career sacrifice. Charlie also has a difficult time processing and dealing with her emotions and feelings, which leads to much of the conflict between her and Parsons.
Much of the attraction between Charlie and Parsons is intellectual. They are both incredibly turned on by the other's competence and drive. This leads to them having an incredibly steamy affair, but the main focus of the book is on their intellectual connection. As a result this book has a lot of magnificent banter, flirting at work in ways that no one else knows what they're doing, lots of heated looks, and some delightfully awkward moments. The majority of the book takes place in the labs and offices so there is a lot of technical discussions in it, which I loved. You can't tell me your characters are super smart and competent at what they do, and then not show them actually being that. We know Charlie and Parsons are these things because we see it. (YAY!) Personally I really loved all the politics and scientific details about the space program.
The last final conflict is one that could have been cleared up a lot faster if a rational conversation took place. Ironic considering this deals with two people who consider themselves uber rational. This ordinarily drives me bonkers, but it made sense for who Parsons and Charlie are. As I said, they are both terrible at dealing with their emotions. Parsons wants to ignore the problem and fix it with sex. Charlie is too angry at the sense of betrayal she feels and chooses to just walk away and pretend its unimportant. It made complete sense given her personal insecurities and position. It is frustrating in exactly the way it's supposed to be. My heart hurt for both of them. (I confess it hurt for Parsons a little more who was just so happy and excited and wanted to show her his stupid fish and then all hell broke loose.) The way this is resolved is perfect though. PERFECT. (Fish and everything. Seriously I never thought I'd be turned into a pile of mush over fictional fish. I have no patience for real fish.)
As you can probably tell by the length of this review (I never write romance reviews this long), this book is everything I wanted it to be. (And my expectations were super high.) ...more
Jason Reynolds is one of my favorite authors I discovered in 2015 after reading both his releases from last year. I didn't have time to get to his debut novel, When I Was the Greatest, last year but made it a top priority of this year. It confirmed and enlarged my love for his work.
Ali lives in Bed Stuy with his mom and little sister. His mom works two jobs, one as a social worker and one at a department store, to keep up with the ever rising rent on their apartment thanks to all the white people moving in near by. Ali knows his mom has high expectations of him. He is supposed to do well in school. He is supposed to earn money doing honest work for his boxing instructor, Mr. Malloy. He is supposed to look out for his sister. He is supposed to stay out of the trouble that can occur in their neighborhood. When Ali meets a new boy who moves in next door, he finally has a friend in the neighborhood. Ali's sister Jazz gives their new neighbor the nickname Noodles. Noodles as a brother who has Tourette's Syndrome. He is known as Needles because he constantly knits in an attempt to control his fits. Ali, Noodles, and Needles are team. They do everything together. Needles is often included begrudgingly by his brother, but the boys are a solid group. When the boys have an opportunity to go to a secret adult party in the neighborhood but only if Needles comes too, they jump at the chance. But at the party all three boys will be in over their heads in different ways, and have to confront harsh realities about themselves and their relationship.
Jason Reynolds is a master of voice and character. It is little wonder I love him then as that is my jam. His talent with both truly shine in this novel. From the first sentence Ali's voice complete captures the reader. I was spellbound from the start as if Ali were right next to me sharing his story. The structure has that sort of oral story flow to it too. Through Ali the neighborhood and all the people it come to life. There isn't a single person in this book who I didn't love, but by page 15 my heart was completely captured by the three main characters. Ali is smart, hardworking, compassionate, and loyal. He is desperate to stay out of trouble and terrified of disappointing his mother. He loves boxing but is afraid to face off in a fight. He is very much 15 with all the youthful exuberance and lack of common sense and maturity that accompanies that, but he is a good person. Noodles is desperate for approval but not always the right kind. He hates that he doesn't have enough money so he tries to hustle out of life what he can, and acts like a tough guy even though he is terrified on the inside. Needles is genuinely good. Devoted to his brother, excellent at freestyle rap, and a terrific dancer, her bears the brunt of his brother's anger on most days. Through much of the book he is the most unknown factor in the trio. This is not because he is a prop, but because this is Ali's story so much of what the reader knows of Needles comes from Ali and his biased view of what is happening and how he views those around him. What is revealed about all three boys in the last third of the novel is a result of circumstance but was always a part of who they were. Ali had trouble seeing everything.
The story is the climax of the book, but it only takes up a small portion of the pages. The majority of the book is spent leading up to it. This is not a book that revolves around the plot. It is all about relationships. It demonstrates the devotion and sacrifice good parents are willing to make for their kids. (And how "good parent" is not a text book term. Good parents come in various shades of gray.) It shows the impact selfish parents who choose themselves and their own pain over helping their kids have. There is a spectacular contrast shown here. It's a story of friendship and the limits that can have. And it's a great sibling story at its core. It shows how truly devoted siblings can be toward each other while also being resentful and squabbling. Ali and Jazz have an amazing relationship and I loved all their interactions. Noodles and Needles have a more fraught and difficult relationship but they are still brothers to their core and it is just beautiful from beginning to end.
Reynolds writing always pulls me in and in this book there were some parts where I was seriously tense. I stopped reading it for a couple of days because I knew nothing good was going to come of that party. I wanted to throw my arms around all three boys and yell, "Stay safe!!!!" Then the resolution of the events that arise from the incident at the party made for some tense moments too, but I loved how it all ended up. I appreciate Reynolds approach to writing real people in real situations that are hard but always filling them with hope too.
If you haven't given Jason Reynolds a try yet, you need to. He has a MG book coming out in May. After loving three YA novels from him, I'm looking forward to seeing what he does in a MG....more
I always enjoy Kate Messner's books. They make me laugh and cry. I always make it a priority when a new one comes out. I followed the controversy that accompanied the release of The Seventh Wish closely. I reference that, because as someone who read all of Kate's blog posts (and the comments on them) before reading the book, I found my reading affected by it. That in turn will affect this review. I'm going to attempt to do it in two parts. What you can expect if you go into the book with no knowledge of said controversy, and what you can expect if you do. Either way, you are getting another excellent heartfelt book from a talented thoughtful writer.
Charlie is a seventh grader with a passion for Irish dancing, great friends, and a plan to earn more money to buy the best solo dancing dress she possibly can. She often feels the least important in her family. Her older sister Abby has always gotten a lot of attention because of stomach issues. Then it was her senior year and now she's off at college. Between her parents worrying about college tuition and working more, Charlie can feel lost in the shuffle. But she knows she has a good life and her problems aren't all that great. When she catches a magical fish that offers a wish if she sets it free, Charlie makes two hasty wishes just for fun. She is flabbergasted when they actually come true. Soon she is returning regularly to the lake to catch her fish and get more wishes for her friends and family. Some of the wishes have funny results. Some are not so funny, and Charlie learns to be careful with her words. Then something happens with her sister that no amount of careful wishing can fix no matter how hard Charlie tries.
Charlie. One thing I always really appreciate about Messner's books is the authenticity in the voices of her middle school characters. Charlie is a girl with a lot of enthusiasm. She has good friends, and she is a good friend in return. She has moments of resentment and jealousy, but for the most part she loves life and all the people who are in her small beautiful world full of ice flowers, Irish dancing, zany science projects, and freezing cold fishing on the lake. Her parents are truly wonderful and active too. Even when Charlie is feeling resentful toward them for their priorities taking over her dancing, she knows she is loved and cared for. The way Messner introduces and deals with their family tragedy is incredibly well done. For savvy adults (who don't know anything about the book but what is on the jacket flap), what is coming may seem obvious. I think it will knock a good many kids over with shock, which I think is part of the importance in what Messner was doing here. Because it knocks Charlie over with shock. Those kind of things aren't supposed to happen in her world. Messner handled the fallout sensitively, and Charlie was able to mourn, grieve, feel anger, guilt, and shame and still be Charlie. She still wanted to dance her heart out. She still wanted a space with her friends that had nothing to do with the turmoil in her family. In the end, this is a book full of hope, humor, love, and life, but with the reality that life doesn't always go the way we plan.
If you are looking for a book with a lot of family, friendship, dancing, and just a touch of magic, The Seventh Wish is exactly the right book for you.
Okay, now if you want to know my thoughts on the spoilery part of this book that caused the controversy keep reading. If not, click away.
Nearly halfway through the book Charlie's parents get a phone call from Abby's college. She is in the infirmary after being brought there by her roommates. She has admitted to them that the reason she can not breath properly is because she has been doing Heroin. That is what has caused people some upset. This is a very frank look at drug addiction and how it impacts a family, but it is handled appropriately for the target age audience. (Middle Grade-which in publisher speak means as young as 8 or 4th grade) Yes, I mean I firmly believe this is exactly a perfect book for 4th-6th graders. Abby's addiction is not explored in grotesque detail. What the reader sees is the impact that addiction has on her life and the lives of the people she loves. As I said above, a lot of kids will be floored because just like Charlie they don't think Heroin addiction is something a salutatorian, math and science whiz, athletic college girl is going to have a problem with. For other kids, this book is going to show them they are not alone. That there are other families out there suffering the same way their family does. BOTH of these groups are incredibly important and will benefit from picking this up.
As a former fifth grade public school teacher who watched her students go through D.A.R.E., I especially liked how Messner incorporated Charlie's feelings on that into this. Charlie reflects on how the people doing drugs in the videos and books in D.A.R.E. looked sketchy and hung out in sketchy places. You would know to avoid them if you saw them on the street. How do you know the dangers lurking in a pill someone just like you at school offers you to help you stay awake to study for exams? Because that's the start of Abby's addiction. Taking Adderal. Which, you know, is not unheard of for kids to be offered on a middle school (or possibly elementary) bus or school yard. It's commonly prescribed medicine after all. Medicine given to children who go to school. I think this is so important. Abby's dangerous friend is a sorority girl. It highlights how very real and very close substance abuse is to everyone.
The impact of this is exactly real enough to be felt without overwhelming the hope and magic of Charlie's full story. Abby is a huge part of Charlie's life and this has a major impact on her, but I can not stress enough how well Messner balanced harsh realities with the magic of Charlie's exuberant personality and rendered the whole thing important and serious in exactly the sort of way 9-12 year olds are developmentally ready to take it in.
It is a book I would not hesitate to put in my classroom library if I were still teaching. It would make a really great read aloud too. It will certainly be one I give regularly in recommendations....more
It's always exciting when the very first book you read in the New Year is an instant favorite magnificent work you will be pushing at everyone you see for the foreseeable future. Midnight Without a Moon, the debut novel by Linda Williams Jackson, is such a book for me. Prepare to hear about this book for months to come.
It is summer of 1955 in Mississippi and Rosa Lee Carter lives with her grandparents, brother, and cousin on a wealthy white man's cotton plantation. Her best friend is the preacher's son. Her life's goal is to finish school and find a way out of Mississippi. As the summer heat rises, Rose spends her time working in the cotton fields and quietly trying to learn all she can about the NAACP. But her grandmother insists they are group who are just going to cause trouble for good people. When a neighbor is shot after registering to vote and tensions continue to rise across the state and Rose's small community, she must decide what she believes, how much she is willing to risk to stand up for that, and whether it is better to stand and fight or find a way out.
Rose's voice and character are absolute perfection. It works well for the time period while also being accessible and relatable for today's readers. Her life revolves around her closest relationships and is not entirely her own. She is a smart girl who desperately wants to finish school and become more, but her grandparents decide whether or not she goes to school. She works hard in the cotton fields and helping her grandmother while her older cousin gets to lounge around a good amount of the time. Relationship and family dynamics are the core of this book. Rose's mother had her and her brother young and out of wedlock. She married someone later and left her children with her parents. This is also the case for Rose's cousin. It makes for fraught family dynamics and the relationships are complicated by what her grandparents believe and the new ideas of beating down Jim Crow that are filtering in from so many of their relatives moving north and returning for visits. I can not even begin to explain in a short review how intricately Jackson pulls all of these together, layers them, and shows their complex importance simply by breathing life into the characters and making them real. I loved and felt so much for Rose, found her relationship with Hallelujah (her best friend) endearing, and adored her grandfather. Her grandmother filled me with rage, while at the same time that I found myself reluctantly understanding and empathizing with her. The complexities of all these people and their relationships make the story rich. It's a true picture of family and community that is not always comfortable, but shows the ties that bind us even when we don't necessarily like a person.
This story of Rose's self realization and her family's facing new challenges and questions is set against the summer of Mississippi in 1955 and the murder of Emmet Till and the trial of his murderers. This is kept in the distance though, and his is not the first murder discussed in the book. The book opens with the shooting of a man Rose knows because he registers to vote. The historical context of the book is important and the way the story is told even more so. This is a story about a black family living in a black community. It in no way shies away from or sugar coats what life was like in this time or place. In many aspects Rose's family life looks the same way it would have a hundred years before under slavery. Jackson does not attempt to make the reader comfortable with it in any way. The language she uses and the way people talk may make many squirm, but it makes the book that much richer and authentic. I think it is important to note that this book coming out this year, as the Voting Rights Act is being gutted, is a much needed reminder of exactly what things were like, why we need to keep fighting, and for a significant portion of the population the 1950s were Hell on earth and not a time we want to revisit.
The sentence level writing in the book is excellent as well. Jackson has a true way with words. She can write beautiful poetic imagery and also say much with one simple sentence. Few authors are able to find a balance between the two and wield them well together. Jackson can. The book is also infused with a sly, tongue-in-cheek humor that I love. This comes from Rose herself, who is quite a smart mouth in her own head even if she doesn't let it out much, and from others as well. There are some truly great pithy one liners.
This is pretty much a perfect book in every way: character, theme, setting, plot. It's being marketed as MG and I think it is a must have for every middle school library and classroom. I believe it will also have crossover YA appeal and that both the 2018 Newbery and Printz committees better be discussing it.
I read an ARC provided by the publisher, HMH Books for Young Readers, via Edelweiss. Midnight Without a Moon is on sale now, and you should buy it immediately....more
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older is everywhere. Best of lists. Award buzz. Blogs everywhere. It's one of those books everyone is reading and talking about. I had it on my TBR but decided I definitely needed to read it before the year was out just so I could weigh in on one of the most talked about books of 2015 if asked. It is deserving of every good thing said about it. Every. One.
Sierra was looking forward to a relaxing summer break. Her plans involved hanging out with her friends and painting. They did not involve being chased by zombie like creatures and threatened by a magical power connected to her family's heritage she has never heard of. When murals begin fading all over her Brooklyn neighborhood, Sierra is perplexed. When her grandfather, who had a stroke, begins to apologize and starts repeating strange phases and insisting Sierra get the help of a boy she barely knows to help her finish her mural, Sierra is concerned but mostly about her grandfather. Then at a party Sierra talks to Robbie as requested and quickly finds herself being pursued by the bodies of people who used to be friends with her grandfather but are now dead. As Robbie explains to Sierra the mysterious power of shadowshaping, placing the spirits of dead ancestors into art to give both spirits and art more power, Sierra discovers her family's deepest secrets. Now Sierra, Robbie, and their friends have to fight to put to right her grandfather's biggest mistake and defeat a murderer intent on taking all the power of the spirit world for himself.
Every single character in this book is wonderful, led by Sierra. Young, talented, passionate, confused, defiant, stubborn, and full of snark, Sierra is a fully realized and powerful heroine. She is very much a teenager often acting on impulse and trusting blindly, but she proves to be brave and quick thinking when it is most important. She also has an amazing supportive community to fall back on. Her best friend Bennie is smart and helpful when it comes to research and dating advice. Also hair braiding. These girls are tight and have each other's backs in amazing ways. Their group is rounded out by two other girls, Izzy and Tee, who are dating each other and are masters at the art of banter. The scenes with the four of them together are the best. Sierra's brother Juan is a typical older brother, teasing, competitive, and willing to put his entire life on hold to run to his sister's side when he knows she is in danger and needs him. Robbie is a fabulous complement to Sierra. Equally passionate about art, deeply concerned with maintaining the balance of shadowshaping, and a fabulous dancer, his support and pursuit of Sierra is everything. EVERYTHING. I love how all of these characters are such teenagers too. They decide to make out at inconvenient times. They bounce back and forth between being deeply serious about what they are doing and goofing off. They don't always use their best critical thinking skills. They kind of fly by the seat of their pants a lot. And it all just rings so true to life.
The core of this book is about relationships and community. Sierra's family relationships have a lot of cracks. Her mother and aunt have no desire to even discuss shadowshaping. Sierra's grandfather had some misogynistic ideas about how shadowshaping should work. Sierra's lack of knowledge of her family's past and powers made her more vulnerable than she should have been. Rebuilding trust and filling in the gaps of what she missed is an important part of her journey. And I love that not all of that is completely resolved. Families are messy. Sierra's friends are important to her and their interactions were some of my favorite parts of the book. I really liked how this wasn't entirely perfect either though. There are times when they don't believer her. Not all of them are capable of standing up with her and being brave. Again, I liked the realism in this.
Then there is the relationship between Sierra and Robbie which is just amazing in every way. I like how Older wrote Sierra's realizing her attraction to him and how it grew. Their relationship develops fast and under fraught circumstances but it is believable and organic. I love everything about them: the art, the dancing, the flirting.
The setting of the book is incredibly important too and just pops off the page. I really felt like I as there with noises, smells, and sights of Brooklyn. Through this part of the book, Older is able to highlight some themes of gentrification and its impact on neighborhoods too. It works really well because it is a part of the lives these kids are leading. They see it and the way they are processing it is incredibly interesting. Adding this to the themes of community and family really strengthened the book. And all of that is on top of its thrilling edge-of-your-seat plot. I could not put this book down, but at the same time never wanted it to end because I didn't want to say goodbye to these characters and their world....more
R.J. Anderson is an auto-buy author for me (and also a friend), but her Uncommon Magic books may be absolute favorite. A Little Taste of Poison is the follow-up to last year's A Pocket Full of Murder. It is the perfect follow-up and surpassed all the expectations I had.
Isaveth has an amazing opportunity to attend Tarreton College on a scholarship and be trained in Sage Magic. This is not something any commoner, never mind a Moshite, has ever done. Isaveth grasps the opportunity though she know it will be difficult. Yet it would also give Isaveth a chance to see Esmond again. They have not seen each other since freeing her father from the false murder charges against him. Both Isaveth and Esmond are eager to have the true mastermind of the crime brought to justice, but he is always two steps ahead of them.
It's always hard to write reviews to sequels without any spoilers of the first book. I attempt it as much as possible but can never avoid it altogether. If you haven't read A Pocket Full of Murder, read that first and then come back here.
Isaveth and Esmond are such an incredible team and magnificent characters. Both of them are developed more in this story. In A Pocket Full of Murder Esmond was in Isaveth's world for the most part, and this time that is switched around. We also see Esmond's family more. This switch works incredibly well and, taken with the first book, it rounds both of their characters out incredibly well. As a result of the revelations of book one, Isaveth and Esmond also have to renegotiate how they react to and deal with each other. They still can not spend time together openly which makes things challenging. Isaveth feels awkward as the Esmond she sees in public is so very different from the boy she came to know and care for in his disguise as Quiz. Another change in this book is that we see Esmond's family interactions and theses are fascinating and insightful as well as a minefield of intrigue and smart people trying to outsmart each other. It's brilliant.
There are several familiar secondary characters who return and it feels like seeing old friends. I particularly enjoyed seeing Isaveth's sisters again. Several new characters are introduced as well. Isaveth has new enemies waiting for her when she arrives at school, but she makes new friends too including Eulalie, the vivacious daughter of an important law enforcement official. Isaveth and Esmond had to do so much alone in the first book, it is wonderful to see them have more people they can rely on. It enriches both of their characters so much. Seeing what this brings out in Esmond, who is not used to being able to rely on anyone else, is great. I can't tell you who my favorite secondary character is because of spoilers but know you're in for a treat!
The mystery in this book is even better than the first one. (And that's saying a lot.) The book is impossible to put down and fast paced. There are so many twists and turns and surprises, each one of them more delightful than the last. And it continues that way to the very last page. I was squealing with delight and happiness at the end of the story and then nearly fell off the couch after reading the Epilogue.
Read the book. Read both the books. You'll thank me....more
When I read MG, it is often a balancing act. I read MG as a teacher who wants to have great books to put in the hands of kids that will excite them about the world around them and what they can learn about it from books. I read MG as a mom with kids who I want to inspire and (at some times) protect. I read MG as myself just because it's some of the best literature out there and I love it. Sometimes the these three different roles of mine are in disagreement. More often than not they are in agreement. I usually am aware of all three roles whenever I am reading though. Rare is the book that comes along and makes me forget all of that and just live it. Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand was one of those rare books.
Finley Hart is spending the summer with father's family who she has never before met. Her parents are having problems and feel a couple of months to figure out their next step will be a good thing. Finley finds herself surrounded by cousins she has never met, aunts who say cryptic things, and grandparents who she feels distant from. Finley has always found comfort and solace in her writing. She has notebooks full of stories of the Everwood, but then she discovers the Everwood right there behind her grandparents' house. In the woods she discovers an abandoned house with a secret, a group of pirate boys she is not allowed to talk to, and freedom and joy with her cousins who she lets into her world. But something isn't right. Not in the Everwood. Not in Hart House. Not with Finley. To save the Everwood, Finley has to save herself, but she will need all the help she can get from the people who love her.
Some Kind of Happiness is an intense read. Legrand's prose pulls the reader in from the very first page and doesn't let go. I did not want to put this book down. There were times I had to out of necessity but I found my thoughts consumed by Finley and her world while I was away from it. This is a book where the character relationships are far more important than the plot (though the plot is important and fabulous too). Books like this are my favorite especially when the relationships develop organically. The book begins with Finley feeling abandoned and alone. She is scared and confused. Her world has become very small and it is almost claustrophobic. With each new human connection Finley makes both she and her world start to open up. The relationships with each of the family members is incredibly well done. Finley's adventures with her cousins closest in age to her are wonderful. Finley's growing closeness to her grandfather and the truly heartbreaking roadblocks that spring up in that is beautiful. Finley's relationship with Jack Bailey, a neighbor boy the Hart grandchildren are not allowed to associate with, is about as perfect a friend/crush relationship in a MG as I've seen. But my favorite is Finley's relationship with her teenage cousin Avery. Avery and Finley are incredibly similar and I adored what they did for each other. Finley's growing relationship with her grandmother is complicated and fraught. The strength of all of them is how realistically messy they all are. A major theme in this book is family love and bonds. The way those supersede a lot of awful aspects of people's personalities and pasts.
The story of the book is Finley's journey mirrored by the story of the orphan queen of the Everwood in Finley's stories. There is a mystery and secrets. Legrand hands the pieces of the main puzzle to the reader one piece at a time until the story culminates in a huge reveal. The reveal itself is not powerful in its shock value, but its emotional payoff. The way it makes all the complicated messy relationships and the darkness in Finley's mind come together in a beautiful hard cathartic moment. But nothing is ever as easy as that and there is fallout and problems still to be faced. The story of the dark secret in the mystery mirrors the Finley's personal secret-the depression and anxiety she is fighting but can not control. The way Legrand built these two threads parallel to each other and then wove them together is noting short of genius.
Some Kind of Happiness is not a book that is going to hold universal appeal for all readers, though it does have a little something for everyone. It does add something to MG we don't have-an amazing in depth heartfelt look at childhood depression. I hesitate to say that because I'm afraid people will immediately think that dealing with depression equates with depressing. That couldn't be further from the case. There is hope, joy, humor and every human emotion imaginable in this book. It is LIFE and it is beautiful.
I read an ARC made available by the publisher, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, via Edelweiss. Some Kind of Happiness is on sale May 17th....more
Kate Milford is an auto-buy author for me. I love all of her books. The Left-Handed Fate, which I was lucky enough to read an ARC of, is no exception. It has been a long time since I was so thoroughly enraptured with a book and in that mode where I never want to stop reading or leave this world and its characters.
Max Ault is attempting to complete his late father's mission to put together the pieces of an ancient puzzle that lead to the building of a magnificent machine-a machine that will have the power to end all wars.
Lucy Bluecrowne is a privateer determined to help Max complete his mission and continue her family's legacy of honor and commitment.
Oliver Dexter wants to live up to the legacy of his famous ship captain father and not embarrass himself as a midshipman turned captain of a prize vessel.
Liao Bluecrowne just wants everyone to stop fighting and let him make fireworks in peace.
Together these four headstrong determined characters have to dodge the most undiplomatic of French diplomats, outrun mysterious pursuers dressed in all black whose ship seems to appear out of nowhere, navigate the mysterious unexplainable port of Nagspeake, and deal with betrayals, plots, and politics. Most importantly they have to learn to trust each other and work together before they all lose everything they are working hardest to hold on to.
As always with Milford's work, the characters shine brightest in The Left-Handed Fate. I can not even begin to tell you how much I love these people. My brain is a jumble of incoherent ramblings and heart eye emojis. Lucy is brave, smart, strategical, and a masterful leader. Max is determined, loyal, intelligent, and capable of backing down when necessary. And can the boy ever think outside the box. Oliver is vulnerable yet stalwart, honorable, and smart enough to know when he is in over his head and ask for help. Liao is wise beyond his years, energetic, and artistic. The way Milford weaves their relationships to bring out their characteristics is nothing short of phenomenal writer's craft. Through it we see the people they are in how they behave with each other. And different interactions and groupings bring out different characteristics and shades of who they are. It. Is. Brilliant. Oliver is a foil for both Lucy and Max. He has certain qualities in common with Lucy and others with Max. This shows how much Lucy and Max really have in common despite seeming to be complete opposites. In addition to that, Oliver is very much his own character. Liao is so completely self-possessed and runs circles around the older characters and it is vastly entertaining. I loved all of Liao's scenes. The developing relationships and how each is carefully circling around the others for a variety of different reasons makes for fascinating reading too. I adored each of these characters individually and every permutation of them together. I loved how they needed each other to be their best possible selves too. (My favorite is Lucy/Max though because I'm a hopeless romantic and I shipped that hard from the first chapter, which, if you read this blog often enough, will tell you everything you need to know about Lucy and Max.)
The plot is fast paced. There is really no peace at all to be had while reading this book. The end of each chapter just left me wanting to know more, desperate to see what happens next. I've made no secret of how little I tend to enjoy books that take place on boats. I had no trouble with this here. There was exactly enough about ships for me to be firmly set in the world without making me want to go set fire to an entire fleet out of sheer frustration if I got one more detail about how ships work. This is a fine balance no other author writing about boats has managed for me. Milford does a fabulous job of showing life on ship and also the bringing to life the town of Nagspeake, which is changeable and hard to pin down. I was fully immersed in the world she created from beginning to end.
The story takes place during the War of 1812 shortly after America's declaration of war. The Left-Handed Fate is a British privateer vessel. Oliver is a midshipman in the US Navy. Max is doing what he is doing to help Britain stop the advance of Napoleon. I appreciated how well Milford added historical details including how complicated the politics of all this were at the time. Max has a line about how inconsequential the American war is in comparison to Britain's problem with Napoleon. (True.) She also manages to include how awful and unfair impressment and the British seizing of America's ships was. (Also true.) She does this deftly, not turning her plot into a history lesson. It is simply part of the world and who these characters are. These issues color how the characters see each other, how they choose their words, and what actions they take. At the fear of repeating myself too much, it is BRILLIANT.
I am labeling this as Middle Grade because that's how it is being marketed, but truly it is one of those books that defies age category. (Okay, that's also a trademark of Kate Milford's books. She is in the same category in my head with Diana Wynne Jones, Elizabeth Marie Pope, and Megan Whalen Turner that way.) Child. Teen. Adult. Who cares? Enjoy a good adventure with politics and characters who will feel like family? Then this book is for you.
I read an ARC made available by the publisher, Henry Holt and Co., via Edelweiss. The Left-Handed Fate is on sale August 23rd....more
Meg Medina's name on a book is a guarantee that I will be reading that book sooner rather than later. I've been highly anticipating the release of Burn Baby Burn from the moment I heard about it and was so excited to get to read an advanced copy. I have been pondering how to articulate why this book is so special and particularly brilliant and not just gush. Hopefully I will attain more of the latter here.
The spring and summer of New York City 1977 was a hard time to be a girl graduating from high school eager to experience life. The city was on the edge of disaster: racial tensions were high, there were a series of arsons, a blackout that resulted in looting, and a serial killer calling himself Son of Sam who shot young women and their dates. Nora Lopez is a senior in high school and her life at home is no safer than she feels on the streets of New York. Her brother is becoming increasingly violent and angry. Her mother just makes excuses for him. Nora takes joy where she can. She loves dancing, hanging out with her best friend, and there is a cute boy at work who is into her as much as she is in. But how can she enjoy her present and plan for the future when danger is around every corner: both from unknown shadows and her very own family.
They went to the movies and found out that the city isn't huge at all. In fact, it can shrink down to the size of a gun barrel, just like that.
Burn Baby Burn was not the easiest book to read. Medina's subtle genius in this book is how suffocated she makes the reader feel. Nora's life is oppressed. She lives every day in fear. The prose perfectly captures the tone and feel of NY during the time period. Nora lives near where many of the shooting took place. She is a young woman who enjoys hanging out with a boy. Like most of the victims, she has long dark hair. The atmosphere of a city under siege is palpable on every single page. This is reflected by Nora's home life which is also closing in on her. Through a masterful use of imagery, simple language, and direct storytelling, Medina put me in Nora's place and I felt every moment of her terror, uncertainty, and the feeling that her life was caving in on her. This is not a creepy book in the sense that it is a thriller. It is creepy simply by being so REAL. It is also a book with hope that demonstrates the power of community and the importance of owning your life.
Every rule I know is gone, and we're in chaos. There are no rules for how a family should work. No rules for how far loyalty should reach...No limits on how people ruin one another's lives or how we blame one another for our pain.
Nora's personal journey is intrinsically linked to the events going on in the wider community. This is true of any individual journey, yet not all authors are able to pull this off as flawlessly as Medina does here. Nora's home life is a microcosm of the chaos playing out in the city, but it is also a part of that chaos. Nora behaves through much of this book as typical abuse victims do. She makes a lot of excuses, yearns for escape, lies to cover up what is going on, feels an immense shame, and pushes away those closest to her in order to hide. For someone so young Nora has a lot on her shoulders. Her mother expects her to fix so many of their problems and is often verbally abusive. Nora's brother, Hector, is violent and she knows he's on the brink of ruining his own life and possibly bringing hers down with it. Yet she keeps covering up for him and hiding him from consequences. Some of that is motivated by selfishness. She doesn't want to be the sister of a criminal, addict, and bully. She doesn't want the world to see how messed up her life is. As the events in the city reach a climax, so do the events in Nora's own life and how she takes control of her life and what she wants from it makes for a wonderful heart rending journey. I like how Medina didn't try to fix everything and tie it all up neatly. There are deep wounds in Nora and her relationships that will take time to heal and some that never will, but Nora had found courage and strength and realized that you can build a family outside of the one you were born into. She learned it's okay to ask for help.
Is it crazy to be disappointed by a monster? He's nothing like what we imagined...I wonder if everything we fear is the same way as unmasking Son of Sam. Maybe the things that scare us seem more powerful than they truly are when we keep them secret.
Relationships and the power of community play important roles in this book as well. It's easy to look at New York of 1977 and think that it was populated by a different sort of people than populate the city now. It's so different after all. But that's not true. Nora has an amazing amount of support. One of the difficult parts of reading her story is knowing this and wishing she would realize it sooner. Her best friend Kathleen loves Nora and Kathleen's parents are wonderful welcoming people. Nora's boss, Sal, adores her and attempts to help her any way he can. His colorful encouragement, gentle rebukes, and care for her safety give Nora a sense of home every day. Then there is Pablo, the new boy at work who Nora falls for. His calm reassuring presence and his unwillingness to give up on her make him one of my favorite YA love interests of all time. I also like how he backed off when she told him to, but never stopped caring from a distance. And I really appreciate that he isn't the one who saves her. He gives her support. He shows her that he is steady. He doesn't flinch from the ugliness of her life. There are enough people in Nora's life who do this on some level that when she finds the courage to save herself, she has a group of people ready to have her back. It's a beautiful demonstration of the importance of community and dangers of isolation.
I would recommend this to anyone. It's one of those books that I'm going to be pushing at everyone who reads and you will probably be tired of hearing about it by the time the year is over.
I read an ARC provided by the publisher, Candlewick Press, via NetGalley. Burn Baby Burn is on sale March 8. ...more
The Painter household has been waiting for a new Mike Jung book since we first read Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities when it first came out. Unidentified Suburban Object did not disappoint.
Chloe Cho is the only Asian girl in her school. When people aren't confusing her with being Chinese or Japanese (she's Korean), they are busy thinking she is first chair violin and the smartest kid in school simply because she's Asian. She is interested in her Korean identity, but her parents refuse to discuss their history or culture with her. When she starts 7th grade and has a new Korean teacher, she couldn't be more excited. Ms. Lee assigns her students a project that means Chloe HAS to learn about her family history. Finally Chloe will get some answers, but they are not anywhere close to the answers she was looking for.
This is the second MG book I've read this year that has a heroine with sharp edges who isn't "nice" all the time. If this is the start of a new trend, I'm 100% on board! Chloe is magnificent. She is smart, talented, and ambitious. She works hard, but she has a lot of natural talents as well. This has made her more than a little sure of herself. She has always been on top and she expects to stay there. Chloe is snarky in the perfect way middle schoolers are. Her longing to know who she is and how she fits into the world strike exactly the right note. That is a universal story that all middle schoolers understand, but her story is also a specific one that children of immigrants will especially connect with. Chloe's best friend Shelly is a good foil for her: more shy, more sensitive, just as smart but not as showy. They make a good team.
For the most part, this is a basic MG novel about identity and friendship that takes place at school. But it has a pretty spectacular twist. One that is going to have its target audience gasping. Again they will be able to identify. Jung excels at taking the feelings all tweens have and focusing them perfectly in a very particular direction. The friendship aspect is well done too. In her anger, confusion, and temper, Chloe does not treat Shelly the way she should. Watching her grow in this area is significant to both the plot and her character development. I appreciated how there are very realistic consequences for all of Chloe's actions too. Unlike many MG novels, the adults are present and realistic. Chloe's parents love and support her. They are sometimes a little clueless to her emotions and what she needs to deal with the things she's learned, but as a parent of a tween myself, I could relate. The teachers are well done as well. Some of them are excellent, some of them are clearly picking up a paycheck, but they behave and respond as actual teachers do.
I loved this book and would recommend it to everyone. I know my daughter will love it too, and I can't wait for our official copy to arrive.
I read an ARC provided by the publisher, Arthur A. Levine Books, via Edelweiss. Unidentified Suburban Object is available April 26th. ...more
The cover of A Nearer Moon captured me the moment I saw it. That the book is written by Melanie Crowder whose release, Audacity, earlier this year completely captivated me guaranteed that I would want to read it. It is a brilliant work of fantasy with an amazing heart.
Luna lives in a village on stilts in a swamp. Luna has grown up on her grandmother's stories of the time when she was a child before the great trees fell creating the dam that turned their beautiful river into a swamp with foul water. Even one mouthful of the swamp's water brings on a wasting sickness with no cure. Three weeks to the day the unfortunate person swallows the water they die. When Luna's sister, who is the joy and spirit of her family, gets a mouthful of the water one day, Luna is determined to do anything to save her. Luna has never believed in magic or curses, but when the doctor in the floating city says she can do nothing to help an illness caused by magic, Luna becomes even more desperate and is willing to consider everything and offer anything for the life of her sister.
A Nearer Moon has so many aspects I adore in a good fantasy: faerie lore, strong determined characters, a community working to overcome harsh odds. At its heart and core, A Nearer Moon is a story about sisterhood. It's strength, bond, and love. Interwoven with the story of Luna and her sister is the story of twin water sprites, Perdita and Pergia. The sprites are part of the story of Luna's village too, the magical history she doesn't believe in. Sibling stories are a favorite of mine no matter what, but I particularly enjoy stories of sisters. In each case here, the sister are very different from each other, but they balance each other out. The thought of or reality of one losing the other is impossible to bear. It is a fantastical window onto a very real grief and sadness that so many experience. Luna's story in particular is a very real look at what grief can do to a family.
Luna is a brave and determined heroine. She is stubborn and unwilling to back down from a challenge. She is deeply frustrated by her mother's resignation to the situation. Many of her ideas and actions are reckless, but her motivation is so heartfelt. The sacrifices she is willing to make for Willow show a courage and devotion that is beautiful in every way. In contrast, Perdita's story is almost a cautionary tale in what can happen if you allow grief, anger, and rage to consume you. It shows how interconnected the world and everyone in it is.
I really enjoyed the way Crowder wove the two stories together and how the histories of the two sets of sisters are all tangled up together as is their hope for the future. The prose Crowder uses are perfect for the story she is telling. With few words she builds and creates a complex layered world with a fascinating history and interesting characters. The story is beautifully told and the language lyrical. The contents match the gorgeous cover. This is one of my favorite reads of the year.
I read an ARC made available by the publisher, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, via Edelweiss. A Nearer Moon goes on sale September 8th. ...more
R.J. Anderson is one of my favorite authors. Being a voracious reader, I have a lot of authors I really like, but she is included in a special group of authors whose books I would scoop up in my arms if I was escaping my house in a disaster. They are all excellent and stand up to multiple rereads. Anderson has written books about (awesome) faerys and amazing girls in a mind boggling sci-fi duology. Her latest book, A Pocket Full of Murder, is a MG magical murder mystery and it is a perfect book for me in every way possible.
Isaveth's family has fallen on hard times since her mother's recent death. Her father, a builder, lost a major job he was counting on and has fallen into despair. Her sister had to quit school to get a job in a sweatshop factory. Just when things begin to look better for the family and her father's commission is restored, a worse tragedy befalls them. When the man who had fired then rehired Isaveth's father is found dead by means of Common Magic, Isaveth's father is arrested. Isaveth knows her father is innocent, but she's not sure how to go about proving it. As she begins to investigate, she is joined by a street boy with an eye patch named Quiz who has eyes and ears all over the city and a knack for getting at information. Together they begin to try and discover the real murderer in a case that has too many suspects and disastrous consequences for both of them if they fail.
GAHHHHHH!!!!! I don't really know where I want to start with this. I have so much love for every part of this book, and my brain just keeps doing cartwheels and squealing LOVE LOVE LOVE. Trying to calm it down and act rationally is a challenge. I even waited a few days after finishing to give myself space so I could write this. But as soon as I started thinking about the book again, I got a rush of endorphins and lost control of my critical thinking skills. I will start with what I always love most, the characters, and hope my brain calms enough to cooperate.
Isaveth is smart, courageous, and stubborn. When her family is having hard times, she pulls down her mother's book of magic recipes and concocts spells to sell on the street to give them a little extra money. She has a passionate love for dramatic crystal set (radio) shows and writes fanfiction for it on any scrap of paper she can get her hands on. She is perfecting her craft. Her imagination is vast and she's bursting with twelve year old idealism mixed with the harsh realities of the life she is living. She is desperate to free her father, and her headlong rush into investigating the crime causes her to stumble into unfortunate situations at times and make rash judgements and mistakes. This includes not listening to Quiz on the occasions when he tells her to slow down and think something through.
Quiz is no stranger to dashing into dangerous situations without thinking them through first himself though. He is also a bit of an adrenaline junkie who rides down hills at breakneck speeds and is prone to getting into sticky situations in defense of those who need defending. He is adorably awkward around Isaveth at times. When he's interacting with her sisters you can see how badly he longs for a regular family and normalcy. Together Isaveth and Quiz make a fantastic team. He can go places and get information she can't, and vice-versa. He is there to give her rides when she needs them and generally back her up when she's in a tough spot. And when the tables are turned and he is in the tough spot, she does the same for him. I have all these FEELINGS for both of them, separate and together. Feelings I will never be able to properly put into words.
The mystery is a good old fashioned mystery where there are clues that seem to lead to everywhere or nowhere, lots of suspects, and a few good twists. (Some of which I saw coming due to reasons I imagine will not be the case for the majority of the readers of this book.*) The ways in which Isaveth and Quiz find their information makes sense for the world they live in, and they are reliant on those older than them for crucial things. Isaveth's older sister plays a major part in helping them collect information. The way the mystery all came together in the end was fascinating and the resolution complex and layered, but simple to understand for the intended audience.
The world Anderson created for this book is one where society is split between nobility and those who are not. The nobility has a very specific sort of magic they use to keep the world running smoothly. Common Magic is for those not so privileged and was a hard won ability for the regular people. The city of Tarreton where Isaveth and Quiz live is divided. The common people are tired of being abused, underpaid, and unable to make decisions. Rebellion is whispered of and unrest is high. These political issues are an integral part of the story and woven into the texture of the character's lives perfectly. Religion plays a part in this as well. Isaveth's family are Moshites (very similar to real world Jewish faith) and therefore looked on as outsiders, if not dangerous dissenters. It's part of the reason her father makes such a perfect frame for murder. Anderson presents the religious and political aspects as part of everyday life important in different ways to different people and this makes the world she has built all the more realistic as a result.
I highly recommend this book to all lovers of mystery and fantasy of any age. There is something here to enjoy for everyone. I can not wait until my pre-ordered copy arrives so I can read it again. And so my daughter can read it because this is exactly the sort of book she adores.
*I saw some of the twists coming because I am a fan of the source material that was Anderson's inspiration. A HUGE fan actually. If you are completely unaware of what that source material is or anything about it, you have lots of surprises in store. I'm including this note for those of you who know what inspired this and love it as much as I do. I just want you to know that Anderson did an awesome job with that. It's a nice little treat for those of us who know and love that particular literary detective. (And if you don't know what I'm talking about, but want to, ask in the comments and I'll tell you. Not spoilers. Just what the source material is.)
I read an ARC made available from the publisher, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, via Edelweiss. A Pocket Full of Murder is on sale September 8th....more
I have wanted to read Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood since buzz first started to go around about it when it came out in Australia. I waited and waited for it to be published in the US. When Wildlife was published last year I hoped it meant we would be getting this one too. (I was even more eager to read it after the amazingness of Wildlife.) It's been a long wait for this book, but it was well worth it.
Dan Cereill is not having the best year. His family has lost their fortune. His father has come out as gay and left his mom. He has to switch schools halfway through the year. He is living in the house of his dead great-aunt. The only thing getting him through his break is his neighbor Estelle who is beautiful and who he has so much in common with. His problem is that he hasn't actually met her. And how he knows they have so much in common is a secret that he never wants to think about let alone have any one discover. Especially Estelle. Once Dan starts school and reenters life, his path begins to cross with Estelle more an more until he feels like he is really getting to know her and he just may have a chance to accomplish the six impossible things that may set his life to right.
I adored Dan's voice. He is snarky and vulnerable at the same time, and his desperate loneliness is heartbreaking. Losing all of his money and most of his privilege is hard, but harder still is the break with his dad. Dan and his father were always pretty close. Dan does not have a problem with his dad being gay. He has a problem with him leaving him. All Dan wants is his family back, but he knows that isn't possible and it hurts. His mom is not the same either. Fueled by sadness and desperation, she has started a new business which she is sabotaging due to issues she has yet to resolve from her ended marriage. Best not to go into the business of making wedding cakes when one is going through a divorce. I really loved the relationship between Dan and his mom. I liked how he tried to care for her. She wasn't at her best as a mother, but it was clear that she loved Dan and wanted him to find happiness and get through their hard time. I found their interactions and struggle with their individual and shared sadness to be realistic.
All the other relationships in the book are also done incredibly well. I loved the friendship between Dan and his best friend, Fred. They are there for each other and have each other's backs. The growing relationship between Dan and Estelle was also done very well. It was obvious it was heading toward rough times because of course she was going to discover hi secret, but I felt this was handled well and I loved the resolution. Dan also has a developing friendship with Lou (one of the main characters of Wildlife) which is incredibly enjoyable as well. It is strange that the two books were published in a different order in the US. Since Wildlife takes place later and references a devastating incident in Lou's (and Dan's) life that takes place sometime between the two books, it made from some stressful reading. Because I didn't realize that incident took place between the novels until I was more than halfway through with this one, so I was reading this in fear of that. It made it a little difficult for me to fully throw myself into certain parts of the story.
I thoroughly enjoyed this, and would be happy to read anything Fiona Wood writes in the future. I hope she continues to get published in the US. Wood writes frank honest looks in the lives and thoughts of teens.
Content Warning: underage drinking
I read an ARC received from the publisher, Poppy, via Edelweiss. Six Impossible Things is on sale August 11th. ...more
I am loving this new series by Laura Florand. I adore everything about the Rosier family and every single on of its members have a piece of my heart aI am loving this new series by Laura Florand. I adore everything about the Rosier family and every single on of its members have a piece of my heart already. (None more so than Tante Colette.)
I have to admit I wasn't expecting to fall for Damien quite as hard as I did though. I was expecting him to be the one I felt the most distant from, but that couldn't have been further from the reality. I really liked Damien's ruthlessness and his ambition. He is good at making money, and he has truly good motivations and ethics while he does it. Jess is a good fit for him because she gives him a place to be soft and quiet, and he was in desperate need of that to balance himself. The conflict between the two of them is a realistic one though even if it's foundation is misunderstanding that just needed a long talk to sort out. How their relationship became so complicated makes sense and isn't forced drama. Their physical relationship is quite intense. Very steamy. I especially appreciated the final resolution to their final conflict in the end. Their whole arc is just lovely.
Some extra thoughts:
*I loved that Jess was a perfumer and I'm looking forward to seeing how she works in contrast to Tristan when he gets his book.
*I can't wait to meet Tristan's pencil skirt wearing succubi accountant. I'm assuming his thoughts of her in this mean she will be his heroine. And she sounds AWESOME.
*I am very very interested to see where Florand is going with Antoine's character (Colette's lawyer.) There's some interesting revelations coming from him I'm sure. ...more
This was awesome. I'm not going to write a full review for the blog as it is the last in the trilogy, and so much of what it is great about it dependsThis was awesome. I'm not going to write a full review for the blog as it is the last in the trilogy, and so much of what it is great about it depends on an understanding of A Corner of White and The Cracks in the Kingdom. Now is a good time to read the whole thing all at once since. It is well worth it. For already fans of the books I will say that I was quite satisfied with the conclusion and felt like it was perfect for the story Moriarty has been building all along. Not everything is perfectly wrapped up, but she does it in a way that is satisfying and still leaves room for the imagination to take over. (No ponderous details Epilogue! No Epilogue at all! YAY) It also contained a delightful moment where I was able to pump my arm in victory and yell, "I KNEW IT!" (Except I didn't really because Moriarty never made obvious and gave me enough cause to doubt myself that I was never completely sure.) There were plenty of twists and turns. My favorite part of the book though is that the plot involves a true split between Madeleine and Elliot for the first time. They both go through dark hard times but don't have the strength of each other's voices in the night to depend on. But I love how Moriarty uses that in the end. That power that's always existed between the two of them. How their voices in the dark mattered to them and both their worlds. Basically the book was everything I wanted it to be and some things I didn't even know I wanted but loved anyway. ...more
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely is a timely and necessary novel. It is the story of two boys, one white and one black, and the experience of and aftermath of police brutality.
All Rashad wanted was a bag of chips. What turned into a quick stop at the local bodega became the worst day of his life when an accidental collision with another patron results in Rashad being accused of shoplifting and dragged from the store by a white police officer. He wakes up in the hospital with broken ribs, a bruised face, and a host of emotions he now has to sort out and overcome.
Quinn was just trying to score beer to share with his friends and chill on a Friday night. Instead he comes up on his best friend's older brother, who has always been like his own brother and hero, beating up a black kid in handcuffs on the street. Quinn gets away as fast as he can, but escaping what he witnessed isn't that easy especially when he realizes the kid on the sidewalk is his classmate.
As Rashad's days in the hospital stretch out, the events occurring in the community escalate. People are taking sides. Protests are being organized. Rashad sits in his hospital room trying to come to terms with what happened to him and how it is affecting his family. Quinn goes to school every day trying to come to terms with what he saw and what it means about himself and the world in which he lives.
All American Boys covers a topic that is hotly debated every day in this country. It covers an incident similar to ones we've seen over and over again. The events unfold exactly as you would imagine from having seen those news stories and the resultant news and online commentary. Alternating between both boys' points of view the story covers every angle of the issue. Being in Rashad's head, the reader sees what it is like to be afraid for your life simply by being who you are. In Quinn's head the reader sees what it means to confront the ugliness that exists underneath in the world and people you love. Through both of them the reader sees the reality of profiling, the mistakes and prejudices of good cops, the reality of bad cops, the politics of media representation, and how the choices we make daily, no matter how small they seem, makes us into the people we are. I loved the relational impact the situation had on both boys too, how it affected every relationship in their lives for good or bad and helped them forge new relationships with people too.
The first half of the book was perfect in every way for me. The voices and characters were strong and so were the theme. As the book progressed, the message overtook a lot of the other literary elements, but it was still incredibly strong. After all the message is an important one, and one it is clear people need to have explained to them. I know this from being on Facebook.
Some Favorite Quotes: I gotta admit, there was a part of me that, even though I felt abused, wanted to tell him to let it go. To just let me heal, let me leave the hospital, let me go to court, let me do whatever stupid community service they wanted me to do, and let me go back to normal. I mean, I had seen this happen so many times. Not personally, but on TV. People getting beaten, and sometimes killed, by the cops, and then there's all this fuss about it, only to build up to a big heartbreak when nothing happens. the cops get off. And everybody cries and waits for the next dead kid, to do it all over again. That's the way the story goes.
Maybe for this one practice we were all thinking only about the team: one unit, one thing, no parts, one whole, no problems, just one goal for one team, none of us thinking about race or racism, all of us color-blind and committed like evangelicals to the word "team", just like Coach wanted. Maybe. But I doubted it. That's what I wanted to think, but it wasn't what was in my mind or gut. Instead I k new there was a problem, and I was beginning to think I was part of it-whether I was in the damn video or not.
But here are the words that kept ricocheting around me all day: Nobody says the words anymore, but somehow the violence still remains. If I didn't want the violence to remain, I had to do a hell of a lot more than just say the r right things and not say the wrong things.
I also love the title All American Boys and everything it symbolizes and represents.
I highly recommend this to everyone. I already liked Jason Reynolds before reading this and I now want to read more by Brendan Kiely too....more
Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier was one of my favorite books of last year. I basically wanted the sequel from the moment I closed the book. When its publisher, Strange Chemistry, closed its doors, I knew a moment of panic that I would never see it. Fortunately Rachel Neumeier is self-publishing the sequels. (I reviewed the collection of short stories a few weeks ago.) Pure Magic, the second novel, is available now, and it is fantastic.
Following a tragic flash flood that took the life of his mother, Justin is wandering with no direction. One night after accepting the hospitality of a priest, he finds himself the target of a vicious werewolf attack. Two other werewolves intervene and save his life. These two are more civilized, but very insistent that Justin come with them to a place called Dimilioc claiming he is Pure and that this attack won't be the last. In fact they're completely confused as to how Justin has survived this long not knowing anything about the magic running through his veins. They are also surprised that he is a Pure male. This is new. Justin finds himself reluctantly accompanying them to the mysterious Dimilioc to meet their Master and discover the dangerous heritage in a violent world he only vaguely understood from the new before this. There he meets the other Black Dogs and Natividad, a Pure girl who can help him unlock his abilities and teach him how to wield his power. But Justin is not convinced he belongs in this world, and he wants some answer. He decides to go and see what his grandmother learns and Natividad leaves with him on a mission of her own. There are dangerous and violent changes occurring in the world of the Black Dogs though and that danger is going to stalk the two Pure and help from their Black Dog allies may be too far away-and too distracted by their own troubles-to help them.
Coming into the world Neumeier created from an outside perspective in this second novel is an interesting way of reintroducing all of the important players and elements and also adding to the layers of the world. Justin is so much more than a vehicle for the reader though. Confused, angry, desperate, and so sad, he is overwhelmed by all of the new information coming his way when he was already feeling alone and emotionally wrecked. His reactions to being thrown into this world and experiencing the violence of the Black Dogs up close for the first time are completely relatable and serve as an interesting contrast to Natividad and Miguel's easy acceptance of the life they were born into. As a new character in the story, he also brought out aspects of the other character's personalities and revealed new things about them. Justin's relationship with Keziah does not start off well. There are expectations about relationships between Black Dogs and the Pure. Even though Justin is the first Pure boy anyone at Dimilioc has encountered, matching up with Keziah is the first thing that pops into everyone's heads. She's not happy about it. He is even less so when he realizes what everyone is thinking. She terrifies him (understandably), and he terrifies her in a different but no less potent way. I really enjoyed watching the two of them warily feeling each other out. Justin actually learns Pure magic quickly because he is a math genius and I loved this dimension of his character.
Natividad has just as much page time in this novel as Justin does and is still very much a main character. Her 16th birthday is rapidly approaching, and she is still trying to figure out exactly where she stands in Ezekiel's mind. Is she merely a convenience being the only Pure girl around or does he really want her? Natividad uses her road trip with Justin to work through some of her confused feelings. I loved the way both of these relationships developed over the course of the book. Natividad and Justin make a really good team and they bond rather quickly. Granted they have little choice but to learn to work together quickly or die. However, they do work hard to understand and learn from each other. The development of Natividad's relationship with Ezekiel is more complex. Again, Ezekiel is my favorite part of this book. (There is an added dimension to the tension here that comes from having read his story in the short story collection. You can still appreciate everything that happens here without reading it, but it's so good and adds so much that I highly recommend you do.) He makes some decisions that won't entirely make sense if you don't fully understand his past. It was a nice change to see him not so entirely in control in this and more than a little vulnerable.
There is a lot going on in the plot of this book. The Blood Kin, who the Black Dogs thought they had completely eradicated, seem to be rising again. There is a rogue band of Black Dogs wreaking havoc. With Dimilioc's decreased numbers from the war, they are vulnerable on every side. Justin and Natividad putting themselves at danger by going on a road trip without protection spreads Dimilioc thin. And basically all Hell breaks loose in more than one place and threats are everywhere. It is an action-packed thrill ride from start to finish and I could not put the book down. I love all these characters and thoroughly engrossed in their lives and the story unfolding. There are a lot of unanswered questions still as there is another three books yet to come, but this one ends in a satisfying way. (Though I still can't wait for the next book.)
I read an ARC sent to me by Rachel Neumeier....more
If you look back to posts from earlier this year, Exit Pursued By a Bear is on the one of 2016 releases I was most anticipating. I pre-ordered it because it is E.K. Johnston. I pre-ordered it from my local bookstore so I could pick it up on its release day. Why is it a whole month later that the review is finally up? Because for a long time all I could do was look at it and long to read it. I knew that it was a story about a girl who was raped, and that's one of a few subjects I almost never pick up books about. I couldn't not read this book though. It's a reworking of Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale. I read enough of Johnston's press surrounding the release to also know that is is about friendship and choice and life. I have come to expect excellent and thoughtfulness from Johnston's writing, and she delivered with both of those again.
Hermione Winters attends her last cheer camp excited about the year to come. She is a captain. She is flyer. Her team is solid and this year has so much potential, not just for her cheer team, but for life. But at the end of camp party, her year takes a horrific turn. She wakes up in the hospital the next morning to discover she was drugged, raped, and left in the lake. She has to navigate the last year of high school with labels she never thought to wear. She has to make decisions she never anticipated. Some things in her life remain constant. Her parents love her. Her team has her back. And most important, she is Polly Olivier's best friend.
I read this book in one sitting, stopping only once to make my son a sandwich. (It was dinner time. I get it.) The whole time I was in a state of near tears. I'm the same way while typing this. I just felt so much for Hermione. Johnston is a top-notch storyteller. She has proven that in her three previous books. What amazes me is how deft she is at altering her style and cadence to adapt to her story and setting. In this she tells a very straight forward story in the first person about a girl. And that's what this. It's no't a book about rape. It's not a book about abortion. It's not even a book about cheerleading. Most especially, it is not a cautionary tale. It is the story of one girl who suffers a terrible violation and her personal journey afterward.
Hermione's reaction to her rape is not dramatic. She is not forever traumatized. She needs therapy, and it helps her out, but she isn't a basket case. This is important because this is the way a lot of women would deal with what happened to her. She wants things as normal as possible. She continues to cheer. She applies to college. She wants to hang out with her friends. Some of that is harder to get back than others. Hermione does have the occasional panic attack and has to learn to deal with the triggers she will now always have, but I really appreciated this look at a person who reacts with thoughts rather than emotions. Not that one way is better than the other, but because this is how I would respond to something like this. It's the way my daughter would too, and that thought is why I spent the majority of this book on the verge of tears and wanting to hug Hermione's mom as well as Hermione.
The book is packed with amazing secondary characters too, but none quite so amazing as Polly Olivier, Hermione's best friend. She is fierce. She is loyal. She is understanding. She takes no crap from anyone. When Hermione is too consumed by what's going on to realize Polly has fallen for a girl they met at camp, she manages to understand, forgive, and also prod Hermione into the world a little more all at once. Their friendship is one of those friendships girls dream of having with someone at some point in their lives. No time more than high school. How Johnston handled their growth and the typical senior year pulling apart and saying good bye on top of everything else was truly beautiful. Hermione also has Mallory, who is not as bold and brash as Polly, but is as amazing in her own quiet way. The rest of the cheerleading team (save for the boy Hermione was dating at the time of the rape) are really supportive too. As is every adult in the book. They are all amazing. Parents. Therapist. Police. Coach. All of them. And it is exactly what is supposed to happen when something like this happens to a girl. Johnston has said this is the most fantasy she'll write despite it's contemporary realistic genre placement. I can see why she would say that, it is a lot of how life should be but far too often isn't. Except there is a boy who thinks his desires are more important than a girl's consent, will, or life and that is all too real.
As much as I don't like to read books that have rape, I think they are incredibly important and there is no such thing as having too many of them. Rape victims all respond in different ways to what happen to them. So whether you are reading Speak, All the Rage, Exit Pursued by a Bear, or any of the other books that have been written or will be on the subject, they all have something to offer. And I hope people keep writing them until they're not needed anymore. As a mom, this is one I definitely want both my daughter and my son to read....more
I typically don't review books that are considered adult books on the blog. I think this is a first. I've always used the blog as resource for students and parents. But Uprooted by Naomi Novik has enough crossover YA appeal I'm making an exception. Also I just want to rave about how much I LOVE THIS BOOK.
Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.
This is how Agnieszka's story begins. She is one of the girls who will be lined up as a potential companion for the Dragon. She is not angry but not overly worried. Everyone knows what type of girl the Dragon chooses and she is not it. Her best friend Kasia is. Their entire lives Kasia and Agnieszka have prepared for the day when Kasia will leave and Agnieszka will be left behind. Except that's not what happens. In a startling turn of events-before Agnieszka can even begin to process it-she's the chosen one and in the Dragon's tower. He doesn't even give her time to say good-bye. Agnieszka stumbles through her first weeks alternating between fear, anger, and sadness. The Dragon, Sarkan, just seems overall fed up and exasperated with her. Soon Agnieszka realizes the strange magical interactions she is having with Sarkan are unique and something the other girls were not subjected to because she is a witch and she needs to be trained. Agnieszka isn't exactly amendable to the Dragon's training though and figure her own unique way of performing magic, one she can intertwine with his to make them both stronger. Before her training can get very far though, the dangerous Wood begins its first moves in a plan to bring down the entire kingdom. Agnieszka finds herself in the middle of a web of political intrigue and old dark magical debts to be paid.
This is everything I want in a fantasy novel written in such a way as to make it absolutely perfect.
CHARACTERS! CHARACTERS! CHARACTERS! Agnieszka is a wonderful heroine. Awkward and clueless in the beginning (as is anyone who is suddenly thrown into a life they never contemplated living), she soon discovers how to wield her new found power and figure out how to manage Sarkan at the same time. As the novel progresses she becomes more bold, assertive, and a force to be reckoned with. Her arc is truly wonderful and watching her grow is so much fun. She is clever from the beginning, and even though she is also naive, she learns so fast. And she does not suffer fools lightly.
Kasia is equally wonderful but in different ways. She has been trained to be brave. She has been trained to be the one who leaves not the one who is left behind and quickly has to adjust her entire way of thinking and deal with the fallout. Then her entire world is rocked even further, ripping her out of the life she was just adjusting to and sending her down a terrifying new road.
Sarkan is exactly the kind of hero I love. He comes across as a surly jerk, but it's because he is a lone nerdy wizard who has no idea how to socially interact with others. He's also a little vain and likes the comforts of life. He doesn't like change, and doesn't bend to it easily, but is able to when it is required.
Then there are all the minor characters, each of who stand out as important, three dimensional, real people. I cared about every single person in this book even the ones who were at odds with Agnieszka and co.
AMAZING RELATIONSHIPS! There are so many great relationships in this book, both major and minor. The friendship between Agnieszka and Kasia is beautiful. They see the worst each in other-not intentionally but it happens-and they emerge on the other side of it stronger. There is not much they won't do for each other. I love seeing amazing nuanced female friendships and this one is particularly well rendered.
I have lots of feels about the relationship between Agnieszka and Sarkan, which developed exactly as I hoped it would. I love how quickly they found equal footing with each other, and that Agnieszka was not dependent on him for much for long. Her magic is so different from his, and while he bristles at having to accept this new view that it's possible, he adjusts rather quickly to seeing her as an equal he can trust. Everything about how their connection unfolded was just perfect to me, and I loved its resolution as well. They are both powerful and important and together they make a great team.
I loved how much you could infer about all the other relationships in the book too. Parental, sibling, community, working, all of it is so well done. Form the small villages to the King's court in the capital you can see the threads of respect that bind people, and the discord that keeps some apart. It is woven subtly in to the text too without it having to be explained.
PLOT AND POLITICS AND INTRIGUE AND MAGIC The plot is a complex mix of magic and politics. My favorite kind of fantasy novel. There are fairy tale elements woven through it as well. It is a complicated and dark story with varying shades of gray. And not everyone gets the end they necessarily deserve which I always like to see because it is so true to life. I like how the book highlighted the complicated consequences of violence, war, and surfeit of ambition that can be easily manipulated to go astray. The way Novik pulled everything together in the end and made me believe the outcome was pure artistry.
I reread several parts of the book as soon as I finished because I didn't want to leave it behind. This is going to be a go to comfort reread for me. I can see that already. (I actually knew it about 50 pages in.) I'm so glad I went ahead and bought it when the library copy was taking to long for me to wait for. ...more
The story of Scheherazade is one that is tricky to do as a retelling. There's so much potential for the problematic. E.K. Johnston is one of the few authors I would name as one who could tackle this and do it well if I were asked. And in A Thousand Nights she did just that.
Lo-Melkhiin has wed-and killed-300 different girls. The first few caused unease but went generally unremarked by the nobles. When the numbers started to pile up, a law was passed. One girl from each village in turn and then he could start over again. One girl has the courage to make herself the target of his eye in order to spare the life of her sister. After she survives the first night and then another she begins to realize she has a power her predecessors did not have fed by her sister's prayers and rites that have made her into a small god. The demon who inhabits the body of the once great king is intrigued by this new wife. When he realizes the power she has, he becomes greedy to share it and use it for his own bent purposes. Unfortunately for him, he never bothered to understand the power of the small gods or the strength of the women who who tend them.
A Thousand Nights is as beautifully written as I've come to expect from a book written by E.K. Johnston. The prose pulled me right into the rich desert world and oppressive palace where Lo-Melkhiin makes his home. The richness of the world is in the details Johnston includes and her beautiful imagery which calls to all of the senses. Not every aspect of the world is explained. She leaves a lot to conjecture, but it works well for the story she is telling. In another type of book this might irritate me, but here I preferred it to the alternative.
Discussing the characters is a little difficult as none of them save the possessed king have a name that is mentioned. This is another thing that might be irritating in another type of story but works incredibly well here. The heroine is in no way lacking despite only being referred to by the various titles she holds to those who love her. Her act of sacrifice for her sister makes her courageous and laudable, but she is also clever and industrious. She is being fed power by the rites her sister and the women in her village are performing, but she is the one whose keen mind and willing hands figure out how to manipulate it and negotiate the dangerous life she lives in the palace. The heroine's sister, though we get to see less of her, is also possessed of industrious heart and keen mind. It is through them working together though they are miles apart that great things are accomplished and I truly truly loved this aspect of the novel. It demonstrated the power and strength and contributions that women make by doing whatever it is they excel at. It also showed how easy it is for those things to be overlooked and for their power to go unappreciated and underestimated.
The aspect of this retelling I enjoyed the most was that there is no attempt to turn this into a story about romantic love. It is, first and foremost, a story about sisterly love, but there are all other sorts of relationships celebrated as well. And it is a story about women: their friendships, their alliances, their arts, and their bonds with each other.
I read an ARC provided by a friend who had finished with it. A Thousand Nights goes on sale October 6th....more
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