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 sat on this review for almost an entire week half scared to write it because almost every person I know who's read this book has raved about it. TalI sat on this review for almost an entire week half scared to write it because almost every person I know who's read this book has raved about it. Talk about being on the outside of a popular opinion. True, due to all those five star rave reviews and Newbery buzz, I went into this with some pretty high expectations.
As I began reading Circus Mirandus, I mostly just felt underwhelmed. It is an intriguing concept, but nothing about the way it was presented gripped me. The writing is adequate but nothing to get super excited about. I was perplexed because I read so much MG fantasy and so much of it is executed far better than this. I was perplexed because there are so many really great 2015 books that this doesn't come close to touching in terms of excellence. Why the Newbery buzz?
For about 1/3 of the book I thought this was going to be a relatively enjoyable but mostly forgettable 3 star read.
Then I started to get annoyed.
I'm a character reader. When I read a book, I want to believe the characters are real. Real people. Making real decisions. That make sense in terms of who they are. If a character does something that makes sense for plot purposes, but doesn't fit who they've been presented as a person, then I start to get annoyed. If it happens over and over again with every character in the book, the book's lost me. Beasley had a very particular story she wanted to tell, and her characters are props. I think this can sometimes be an intentional commentary in a book, but it's not here. It's just poor character development. Micah is an empty vessel into which the reader can insert himself/herself. All the supporting characters are shallow stereotypes who only briefly break from their assigned niches when the plot requires moving forward. I also had a major issue with how the book divided characters into "good" and "bad". (Those weren't the terms used, but it's what it boiled down to.) And if you're already in the "bad" camp there is no hope for your redemption. I actually really enjoy when MG authors present darker themes and characters in their books. Are there people who are mean and cruel who do terrible things to people they should care about? Yes. Are there people who hold on to grudges and never change? Again, yes. But the way all of that was presented in this, the way it was tied to the plot and the magic, really rubbed me the wrong way. It all felt so forced. (Particularly given that I think we were meant to like Micah's grandfather and see him as a secondary hero, but nope nope nope. That guy was not awesome. Are people sometimes thought of as heroes or sympathetic who don't deserve it? Yes. But again, this book isn't commenting on that. We're really supposed to root for this guy. NO.)
By the end of the book I was infuriated. The flat characters and their forced actions which ended in the conclusion all of that comes to left me wanting to hurl the book into the pool I was sitting next to. (I refrained. It was a library book.) It made me really confused about the why of it all too. What is Beasley trying to say with her symbolism combined with this forced characterization? What it the thematic purpose here? It was all too frustrating for me. ...more
Shadows of Sherwood by Kekla Magoon is a fun new update to the Robin Hood legend in which the majority of the gang is made up of girls. And it's pretty great.
Robyn Loxley likes to tinker with old tech and the best place to find that requires her to sneak out of her house in the middle of the night. On the Night of Shadows, one such excursion saves her life when Governor Crown sends the military police out to assassinate and/or remove from their homes any Parliament member who would speak against his rule. Spouses and children are included in his directive. On this night Robyn returns home to find her parents gone and blood in the kitchen. Her father has tried to prepare Robyn for just such an eventuality. As she goes on the run, she has a few clues to help her and picks up some friends along the way. But learning to trust other people and navigate the terrifying new world they find themselves in does not come easily for a loner such as Robyn.
Robyn is independent and likes to do things her own way. She seems to have had few friends in her old life, mostly missing her parents and not really mentioning any one else. It takes her a while to trust the friends she begins to make, and she does several things that puts them at risk due to her own unthinking bravado. The conflicts that result from these situations helps to round out her character and adds to her journey. It also helps to develop the other characters as well. Robyn is a mixed child, she has a black father and a white mother. It is because of this that she is set up to be such a hero in the world, and I loved that aspect. The rest of the gang is also interesting. Laurel is an orphan and an expert thief. The mysterious Key is good at knowing what is going on and gathering intelligence. He is also good at strategy and has a mysterious past. Scarlet is a tough girl who is a top-notch hacker who uses her talents to undermine the Governor's regime. Tucker is a divinity student who gives them all sanctuary when they need it. Merryan is the niece of the Governor who moonlights as a volunteer in hospitals for the needy and begins to question her uncle's rule. The team is still new and has its issues, but I enjoyed watching them all get to know each other and figure out how they would operate.
The book is set in a futuristic world. The world building is the book's one great weakness. There's a lot of stuff about moon lore that weighs the book down at times particularly when it is not quite clear what its import is or how it will impact the action. The political issues are harsh and real enough without this aspect. Without the lore the book would be shorter but also tighter from a plotting perspective. The story wanders a little too much and seems unsure of its direction due to the number of threads being used to weave it.
Right now the villains are fairly predictable and two dimensional. Little is known of Crown. His chosen head for the military police, Marissa Mallet Sheriff of Sherwood District, is the face of the villainy in the story. She makes an excellent villain but there is not much else to her but that-at least no yet.
I love the diversity and girl power in this book. I'm looking forward to recommending it to the kids I know who love these types of stories....more
Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty is a thrilling tale of mystery and adventure set at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC in 1899. Having lived in Asheville and visited the house several times, there was no way I was going to pass up a chance to read this. (Also it's MG fantasy, always a bonus for me.)
Serafina lives in secret in the basement of the Vanderbilt's spacious vacation home. She has lived there most of her life. Her father worked on the house as it was being built and is the mechanic who runs the massive generator and keeps the electricity going. Serafina is the chief rat catcher, slipping through the halls of her massive home secretly and quietly. She is light on her feet, sees well in the dark, and is quick enough to catch the vermin and keep them out. Serafina knows she if different and strange. Her father insists she stay hidden. But all that changes when one night Serafina witnesses a horrible crime. A little girl, a guest in the house, is fleeing from a cloaked predator who seems to consume her whole in his cloak before Serafina eyes. She soon learns that the young Clara is not the first person to go missing. In a daring move, Serafina decides to investigate the matter herself and meets the young nephew of the Vanderbilts, Braeden. The two children investigate the matter together. They know Braeden is the next victim and Serafina is determined to keep him, the only friend she has ever had, safe. To do so, she must face the evil that is stalking them and confront the truths about herself and her mysterious past.
Serafina is a bold and decisive heroine who doesn't always follow directions, but does what she believes to be right and good. The story focuses on the mystery of the cloak, who is wielding it, and what exactly it does, but through this we also get to see Serafina's inner struggles. She wants to fit in but knows she doesn't. She is desperate to understand who she is and where she comes from, but is also afraid of the answers she might find. I liked how the relationship between her and Braeden developed. Both children are loners and so their friendship is not as unrealistic as it otherwise might be for a barely servant and member of the family to have. Braeden's character is not as defined or nuanced as Serafina, but he has an interesting backstory and serves his purpose in the book well.
Beatty beautifully sets the scene for Serafina's tale. He does an excellent job of describing the house and the surrounding land and forest. How dark, forbidding, and dangerous the forest can be gives the story an eery feel. Added to this is the intense harrowing events that keep the reader flipping pages to see what happens next. The action is intense and there are scenes that involve blood and gore. The peril feels very real and the stakes for Serafina are high. It is an intense yet fun read, perfect for summer. There is a good balance between scary and humorous, but this is definitely a book for kids who are comfortable with creepy stories and aren't afraid of the dark.
As an adult reader, I found the end to be a little too perfect and a bit saccharine. This was particularly disappointing to me as I really enjoyed the book up until that point. There seemed to be a definite difference it quality of the writing as everything was tied into an extremely neat and tidy bow. Children readers will probably not have this issue as much, and I can see this becoming a favorite for many. It's definitely a must have for upper elementary classroom and school libraries.
I read an ARC provided by the publisher, Disney-Hyperion, via NetGalley. Serafina and the Black Cloak is on sale July 14th....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
Part of my not being into this book may be due to the reading slump I was in when I tempted to read it so there is a chance that I will come back andPart of my not being into this book may be due to the reading slump I was in when I tempted to read it so there is a chance that I will come back and give it another try. I was mostly annoyed by how heavy handed it seemed. It was working way too hard to push home how different the future is and how everything that matters to us in the present is waste and unimportant then. It was a bit much. ...more
Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson caught my attention with the title and held it with the synopsis. This sounded like a great fit for me and the perfect read for the mood I was in at the time. While I have a few quibbles, it is a fun read that brought me much enjoyment.
Verity Newton is newly arrived in New York City after being not so gently pushed out the door by her father. Her trip to the city was eventful as the train she was riding on was robbed by the infamous Masked Bandits. Then upon her arrival, she meets up with the equally troublesome Rebel Mechanics who are not so quietly rebelling against the against the Magisters who are the ruling class of British aristocracy in the American Colonies. The Rebel Mechanics are trying to prove that they can build even better machines that run on science and engineering. Verity procures a position as governess in the home of the a young Magister who has the guardianship of his nieces and nephew (the three children also happen to be the grandchildren of the Governor). Verity becomes friends with several members of the Mechanics and is drawn to their cause, writing articles for the illegal newspapers they circulate. At the same time, she is being drawn deeper into the world of her employerShe soon finds herself torn between what she knows of both worlds she is straddling. And she is keeping secrets that could destroy her own life as well as the causes of her closest friends.
Rebel Mechanics takes place in an alternate 1888 where the American Revolution never occurred due to the ruling class of British having magic when the lower class citizens did not. But now that science and invention have taken hold in those classes, there is a fighting chance for actual change. Many of the Magisters don't even really know how to use their own powers relying on the ingenuity and work of their ancestors to keep their world running. It is a fascinating and fun concept, and I enjoyed how well Swenson drew her world without over explaining it. The machines the Mechanics have invented are interesting. The Masked Bandits add a dash of exciting capers to the mix. The politics are interesting and colored in exactly the right shades of gray to show the complexities of revolution.
Verity is a heroine I enjoyed following and rooting for. She is incredibly intelligent but has led a very sheltered life in her parents' home. She has had no interactions with Magisters and only faintly heard about the revolutionary aspects of her country. There is a sense of wide-eyed innocence about her. She is incredibly trusting. There were times as a reader where I knew she was being taken advantage of, but she didn't even suspect. It worked because it made sense for her. Verity is savvy though and she figures things out quickly enough that I never lost my belief in her as a character.
Talking about the rest of the characters is now hard without spoilers. I will say these things: I loved the three children. (Even Flora in all her teenage elitist snobbery.) I ship the ship VERY MUCH. I had a hard time liking the people taking advantage of Verity because I thought the way they were deceiving her was particularly gross and underhanded.
This leads me to my main quibble with the book. I found myself really frustrated through the middle because even though I understood how Verity would not see how she was being manipulated, I still wanted to move past all that and get to the part where she realized and did something about it. Also it was interfering with my full enjoyment of my ship.
I am definitely in for the rest of this series though and am looking forward to the sequel.
I read an ARC made available by the publisher, Farrar Straus and Giroux (BYR), via Edelweiss. Rebel Mechanics goes on sale July 14th....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 Imaginary by A.F. Harrold is a delightful yet creepy tale for any reader with a big imagination and bigger heart.
Rudger is an imaginary friend, dreamed into existence and kept going by the imagination of Amanda, a little girl who can dream up anything and loves adventure. Amanda and Rudger are going about their happy lives playing together, exploring the world, and saving it from all sorts of nasty creatures when their struggle becomes all too real. Mr. Bunting shows up at the house. Mr. Bunting is an adult with an imaginary. But there's something creepy and not at all comfortable about this pair and they are stalking Amanda and Rudger. When a tragic accident brought on by Mr. Bunting attacking Rudger greatly injures Amanda, Rudger begins to fade. How can an imaginary live without someone to imagine him? Fortunately Rudger discovers a place where Imaginaries can live on, finding new children. He isn't interested in a new child though. He only wants Amanda so he embarks on a quest to reunite with her and defeat Bunting and his sadistic imaginary once and for all.
Rudger is the main character of this story, and the world of imaginaries he inhabits his brought to beautiful life both through the words of the author and the gorgeous illustrations by Emily Gavett. (This is a visually stunning book even in black and white. I look forward to seeing the full color illustrations when it is released.) Rudger is unsure of the world and has trouble thinking for himself without Amanda, but as the story progresses he finds his own two feet and his own voice more and more. Amanda, while physically absent for most of the book, is still a very real presence whose imagination and creativity hover over Rudger and the entire story. This is the ultimate child/imaginary pairing. The story is told in such a way that it will enthrall children who have had imaginary friends and those who have not. The other imaginaries in the story range from an old dog to a pink T-Rex.
Everything about this world is not fun and games though. There are some seriously creepy elements. Bunting is a very nasty sort of villain, and some of the things that happen could truly frighten some children. This is one of those books I recommend knowing your audience for before recommending. The cover may imply that it is for the younger end of the MG spectrum, but sensitive young children may not handle some of the elements well. For kids who like creepy and don't mind uncertainty and possible death in stories, this is a great pick.
I read an ARC from the publisher, Bloomsbury Kids, via the mail. The Imaginary is on sale March 3rd....more
I've heard a lot of good things about Nova Ren Suma's books. When the opportunity to read an ARC of her latest, The Walls Around Us, came up, I decided it was the perfect time to try her writing. I can see why so many have sung her praises, but sadly this book didn't work for me personally. There are several good aspects to it, but as a whole it was just not a Brandy book.
Violet is a star ballerina headed to Julliard and ready to leave behind her past. Part of the past she's escaping is the horrible memory of her best friend Ori and what happened in the tunnel of trees behind their ballet theater. The incident that sent Ori to prison and handed Violet all of her dreams. Amber was serving a sentence in the youth detention facility Ori was sent to. Amber was found guilty of murdering her step-father. Amber knows she has no future beyond the life she lives in the facility. Both girls tell their stories and, through them, Ori's story is told. Combined, the three girls share one story of friendship and hate, murder and revenge, ambition and power.
The combination of ballet and prison is an intensely interesting one. As you read both Violet and Amber's accounts there are a startling number of similarities between the two cultures. Hierarchies, those who bully, those who try and keep their heads down, the push and drive to become the most powerful. It is a fascinating study. I would love to hear from people involved in both worlds how accurate the representations here are, but from a purely literary standpoint, the comparison is incredibly well done. Violet and Amber play similar roles in the worlds they inhabit, the main difference being that Amber is more of a planner and better at execution when she wants something done. They both tell lies, not just to the people around them, but to themselves as well. Through them both, the reader sees plainly the power your mind has to manipulate your memories and make you believe what you want. This is a thing everyone does, just not on as grand a scale as Violet and Amber do it. Of the two girls, Amber was the person whose point of view I preferred. Violet was so self absorbed and unrepentant that I hated being in her head. I do think it is important that we were given that opportunity though. It's an important part of the story, and the dual narration lends the novel its sense of mystery and intrigue. I was saddened by how little we truly knew of Ori. Both girls have her on a pedestal-to them she is utterly perfect. Violet wants to knock her off that pedestal. Amber wants to worship her on it. I never got a sense of who she truly was a person, which was a real problem for me given the end.
The ending is my biggest issue with the book, and it's frustrating that I can't fully explain why without spoilers. I'll just say that the resolution didn't work for me at all. I didn't understand the mechanics of it. What on earth???? The supernatural aspects of the novel were really well done up until that resolution, and then I was just left feeling incredibly let down because it didn't make sense. I also feel like it counteracted a lot of the rest of the novel thematically.
I'm thinking I will read at least one of Suma's other novels to give her a fair chance, but this particular one left me confused, frustrated, and sad (sad because I feel like beautiful writing and well done characterization was wasted on an end that was ridiculous.)
I read an ARC received from the publisher, Algonquin Young Readers, via Edelweiss. The Walls Around US is available on March 24....more
I was introduced to Laura Ruby through my Twitter feed courtesy of Anne Ursu. She is an expert ranter about the things she is passionate about, and as we are passionate about many of the same things, I jumped at the chance to pick up an ARC of her new book, Bone Gap. I already knew she had a way with words and I couldn't wait to see how that manifested itself in a fiction narrative. It turns out Ruby is even more amazing when writing fiction.
This book is one that needs to be read. It begs to be read. Nothing I say in this review is going to do this book justice. It's one of those books you simply have to experience. Just read the book.
Bone Gap is a tiny midwestern town full of fences, cows, chickens, corn, and gaps. Gaps a person could disappear into never to be heard from again. Bone Gap is a place most people can't wait to get out of. This is true for the O'Sulivan boys as much as anyone. Older brother Sean had dreams of going to medical school, but put them on hold to stick around for his kid brother after their mom leaves them for an orthodontist who doesn't like kids. Younger brother Finn is in the summer between his junior and senior year of high school and working hard to get ready for his college applications. They will be his ticket out. But the brothers are currently both reeling from the disappearance of Roza, a beautiful girl who mysteriously entered their lives, and then just as mysteriously left them. Sean has resigned himself, figuring she chose to go of her own accord just like so many others had, including his mom. Finn knows better. He saw the mysterious man who came and took Roza away. Unfortunately he can't remember enough to help find her. As the summer continues, Sean's anger and resentment toward Finn grow. Finn, haunted by nightmares of Roza's disappearance, takes to going out at night and meeting up with Petey, the girl he's always had a crush on. As their relationship grows and the time since Roza's disappearance lengthens, Finn begins to feel better. But soon discoveries are made that make it impossible for everyone to ignore some harsh truths about themselves and life in Bone Gap.
Bone Gap is told in third person and follows the perspectives of several characters, mostly focusing on Finn and Roza. The reader also gets several glimpses into the mind of Petey and Sean. I loved the switching perspectives and how they give such a complete picture of what is going on. At the same time though, the way Ruby pieced these perspectives together gives the book a thrilling, edge of your seat, sense of urgency and mystery. Bone Gap is a puzzle where each piece is handed out one at a time, ending in a beautiful picture of family, community, love, friendship, and hope for the future. But some of the pieces are dark. Very dark. And that is part of the beauty of the finished picture. Ruby pulled it all together so well. And she has some great things to say through both Roza's story and Petey's story about the expectations society has for women and how that can trap a person. There is so much richness and depth to the whole book.
Bone Gap itself comes to life and is just as important to the story as any character. I have said before I have issues with small town books that are full of quirky characters. Ruby managed to stay balanced on the fine line between necessary oddness and too much quirk with Bone Gap. Bone Gap is a weird place for many reasons beyond being a small town. Reasons that become more evident as the story unfolds. The residents themselves are fairly typical people with their own little quirks and foibles, but there is never an overwhelming sense of it being too strange to be real. The people in the town and their stories are real and are brought to wonderful life.
As amazing as the plot, themes, and setting are, the characters are what truly won my heart. I'm a character reader and Ruby does characters well. There is a richness and depth to all the characters that make them feel so real. I haven't been this thoroughly immersed in the lives of the people in a book for quite some time. Finn and Petey in particular have my heart. They are both so odd and awkward. She is prickly and angry much of the time. He is confused and muddled. Together they manage to find peace and happiness, but even then things aren't easy. It's just so real. And I love how their relationship developed from the giddiness of first experiences to dealing with the harsh realities of fitting together two individuals with insecurities and problems. Sean and Roza have a similar dynamic with their own set of issues, and I like how the two relationships contrasted each other. Roza's story, for all its steeped in the magical, is all too real and harsh. They all have so much to offer as people, and so much to overcome to be able to do that. They are people I want to know, and this book makes me feel like I do know them. Like I'm part of their story.
This is my favorite read of 2015 so far and I've really liked all the books I've read this year so that's saying something. it is one of those books that I'm going to be telling everyone about and harassing them to read.
I read an ARC received from the publisher, Balzer & Bray, at ALA Midwinter. Bone Gap goes on sale March 3....more
I read this back in February, but forgot to review it, rectifying that now.
Okay. This book is getting a lot of buzz and love, but again I feel out ofI read this back in February, but forgot to review it, rectifying that now.
Okay. This book is getting a lot of buzz and love, but again I feel out of step with everyone. I really liked aspects of it, but the entire conceit of the novel didn't work for me. There are three historical storylines bound together by a magical harmonica that is the key to releasing three princesses from a curse. The three historical plots are incredibly well done on their own until they all reach their cliffhanger ends, and then I just found myself frustrated each time. Ryan brings it all together in a flash forward at the end, but it feels forced and has a lot of info-dumps so had a rather clumsy feel to it.
Then there's the magical harmonica/cursed princess frame for the story which did not work for me AT ALL. I would have preferred it if the stories had just been tied together by a non-magical harmonica without this frame. The frame really ruined the book for me and seemed pointless. The fantasy element sucked all the magic out of the story for me. Ironic. ...more
Well written and creepy enough that it may keep sensitive kids up at night (my own 10yo would not find this at all scary), The Swallow is mostly a sloWell written and creepy enough that it may keep sensitive kids up at night (my own 10yo would not find this at all scary), The Swallow is mostly a slow moving story about two girls with very different lives who are connected by some coincidences. The narrative switches back and forth between the two girls' first person narrations. It is a good thing each girl's part is labeled, because if they weren't, I would not have been able to tell them apart. Their voices were far too similar. As it was, there were a couple times I had to flip the page back to remember which narrator I was reading (and their parts are VERY short-this probably speaks to my level of engagement). Unless they were talking about a specific thing pertaining to just them, they were indistinguishable. My other issue with this book is that I figured out the twist almost immediately and as a result, I noticed the gymnastics the narrative was attempting to cover it up. Writing a sneaky first person narrative is HARD. Having that narrative stand up to an analysis by someone who knows the twist is harder. This is the same problem I had with another book from this year that did the same thing (a super popular over-hyped YA book). ...more
Christmas stories. I love them. I can't get enough of them. I spend most of mid-November through December desperately trying to do fit in as many new ones as I can find and doing rereads of old favorites. (This has been a particular challenge the past couple of years as I've also been a first round Cybils panelist.) Needless to say when I found out My True Love Gave to Me was going to be a thing, I was excited.
This is an anthology of short stories written by YA authors. As a whole, I would say it is definitely worth reading and that you can read it leisurely as each story is its own little gift. It is as diverse as the authors who contributed to it, and that is its greatest strength as a book. There are, of course, some stories I like more than others. I'm going to just say a couple things about each story. I've put asterisks on my favorites.
*"Midnights" by Rainbow Rowell: This is a compilation of the midnights celebrated on New Year by a group of friends over four years and the romance that comes grows between the two main characters. Sweet and short, it is all about a friendship to love relationship and is probably my second favorite thing Rowell's written next to Attachments.
"The Lady and the Fox" by Kelly Link: This is a Christmas Tam Lin retelling. It's not the most original Tam Lin story I've ever read, but it was such a delightful surprise to find it in a place I was not expecting to. I love Tam Lin stories.
*"Angels in the Snow" by Matt De La Pena: This is a wonderful story that highlights some troubling truths while managing to be fun and romantic at the same time. Too few books deal with the fact that people don't have enough to eat and are truly starving. I also l loved how this highlighted the transition that college is and how difficult it is to completey step out of the world you were born into and enter into something wholly different.
"Polaris is Where You'll Find Me" by Jenny Han: Not one of my favorite stories. It is an Elf type story about a girl who is adopted by Santa and lives at the North Pole. Except there is no Will Ferrel, and this isn't funny. Kind of creepy in some aspects actually.
*"It's a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown" by Stephanie Perkins: This book takes place in Asheville, NC. I used to live there and it was fun to actually get every single reference in this story to things I knew. Beyond that it's just a really good story about two young people ready to move on in life, but unsure how to get what they want. They know where they want to go, just not how to get there. Then they end up finding each other. And it's pretty awesome.
"Your Temporary Santa" by David Levithan: This story is nothing that I'm looking for in a Christmas story. While the end is sweet, it's actually kind of depressing. I know some people find Christmas depressing and they should have stories too. Just not my thing.
"Krampuslauf" by Holly Black: This story is a little strange, but I liked that it dipped into a mythology that few people really know anything about. That was fun.
*"What the hell have you done, Sophie Roth?" by Gayle Forman: Freshman year of college. So hard. Especially if you are a fish completely out of water. This is a story of two such fish finding each other and finding the spirit of the holidays they both needed. Lovely.
*"Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus" by Myra McEntire: This is my FAVORITE. I have never read a book by McEntire but I think I need to change that. I could write an entire review on this one story. The character growth in a few short pages is remarkable as is McEntire's ability to convey much with few words.
"Welcome to Christmas, CA" by Keirsten White: This is cute, if completely predictable. I found myself wishing it would move a little faster.
"Star of Bethlehem" by Ally Carter: This is another fun yet predictable one that was good, but that I wouldn't ever feel the need to reread.
"The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer" by Laini Taylor: Beautifully written as is everything Taylor writes, but also not at all my thing. Taylor and I seem to have that problem meshing. I love her writing but not what she writes about. Sigh.
I definitely recommend this if you are in the market for a fun compilation of Christmas tales. There is bound to be something that satisfies everyone here.
Note on Content: Some references to alcohol use; Some strong language...more
I read the first Wingfeather Saga book when it came out. It was okay, but not great enough to make me want to continue the series. I only read this beI read the first Wingfeather Saga book when it came out. It was okay, but not great enough to make me want to continue the series. I only read this because it was nominated for the Cybils. I have to say going into this one not having read the middle two was rather confusing. There are a lot of characters and place names to keep track of. It is epic fantasy so that is to be expected, but the fourth book in a series is probably not where you want to start. And this book is looooong. Too long. I won't lie: I skipped huge chunks of the middle. Like not just skimming but whole chapters. Honestly I wasn't any more confused doing that than I was reading every chapter. A lot of the text is superfluous. I know there is this general consensus among epic fantasy writers that if their book isn't long, they must be doing it wrong. But you know what? I'm going to say that even Tolkien could have used some better editing (gasp! horror!), and just because you think it is crucial to the world doesn't necessarily mean it is. More people need to go to the Megan Whalen Turner school of saying lots with fewer words.
My biggest problem with this book though is the problem I had with the first book. Who is this for? The absurdity of the villains and the lack of any true urgency makes me think it is intended for a younger MG audience, but there's no way that audience could access this text. A few of them could, but the majority wouldn't be able to. Is this intended to be a read aloud for that group? I just don't know.
That all being said, there is a good redemptive story arc for the characters, which is why this is getting two stars rather than just one. But honestly, there are books that do even that far better without the verbiage. Like these....more
Last year Bit read and fell in love with Dark Lord: The Early Years by Jamie Thomson. She highly recommended it, but I kept putting it off as new bookLast year Bit read and fell in love with Dark Lord: The Early Years by Jamie Thomson. She highly recommended it, but I kept putting it off as new books came in to read. When the sequel, Dark Lord: School's Out, was nominated for the Cybils I decided it was the perfect time to try the series. I'm happy to say that it is amusing and you can start with the second book and still know what is going on.
Dirk Lloyd is a Dark Lord trapped in the body of a middle school boy, his evilness diminished, and exiled from his home. When his attempt to return to the Darklands goes wrong and his friend Sooz ends up there instead, Dirk must work extra hard with the help of his foster brother Christopher to bring her back. Many obstacles stand in his path including being stalked by minions of the White Wizard who want to destroy him for good. In the meantime, Sooz wins the loyalty of Dirk's minions thanks to his ring which she now possesses. The minions assumes they are engaged. Soon she also wins their devotion as she makes changes that improve life for all in the Darklands. But the Hasdraban the White is not so easily defeated, and soon takes Sooz captive. Now Dirk must risk everything to rescue Sooz and reclaim his land. But will returning to the Darklands turn Dirk back into a true monster?
This book is super fun. It is brimming with kid appeal. It's not exactly my type of humor, but it does what it sets out to do well. The characters are what particularly appealed to me. It is an interesting look at stereotypes and the assumptions we make about people due to our preconceived notions. There is also the interesting question of people working to meet that preconceived notion or forging their own path. Sooz likes Goth and the idea of vampires, but is in no danger of succumbing to the nonsense that vampires are good in reality. Dirk is more complex. In many ways his living in human boy form has changed him. He has had to rely on others. He has had to help others in return. This has caused him to forge bonds of loyalty and friendship even though the is loathe to admit it. Watching him fight between these feelings and the person he always was in the Darklands, is fascinating. I am interested in seeing where Thomson takes these ideas in further books.
The book is a quick read and moves forward quickly. For the most part this works, but the end is a bit abrupt and feels like its missing a key scene. Mostly I liked the quick pacing though.
For kids who like fantasy and fun humorous books, this is a perfect pick....more
The Time of the Fireflies is an engrossing read. I was quite pulled into the story and fascinated by the secrets Larissa was uncovering about her famiThe Time of the Fireflies is an engrossing read. I was quite pulled into the story and fascinated by the secrets Larissa was uncovering about her family. I love stories that have old family history elements. I thought the mystery here was played out well, and the doll was certainly creepy enough to keep kids awake at night. Larissa as a character was sympathetic, but far from perfect. The hardships of her family were a nice balance to the more fantastical elements. I wanted to like this book more than I did because it did really draw me in. Little is a talented storyteller, but too many of the magical elements didn't make sense to me. ...more
Pathfinder is a fun book and works well as the beginning of a new series. There are a lot of adventures, great magic, and brave characters. I do feelPathfinder is a fun book and works well as the beginning of a new series. There are a lot of adventures, great magic, and brave characters. I do feel like I may have enjoyed this slightly more if I had read Sage's Septimus Heap series. I felt like there were a lot of inside jokes and information I was missing and always felt removed from the story as a result. While Tod's story and character were vastly interesting to me, enough time was spent on the characters from the other series that I didn't really feel as engaged as I might have. ...more
Over a quarter of a way through this book it still hadn't gotten to the point. (By point I mean the girls still didn't know about the shape shifting.Over a quarter of a way through this book it still hadn't gotten to the point. (By point I mean the girls still didn't know about the shape shifting. If it's in the synopsis, it should show up and get the plot ball rolling earlier than that.) In addition I just wasn't caring enough about any of the characters. I'm very sad about this because I usually really like Jessica Day George's books and I was looking forward to this one. ...more
This is a fun end to what has been a nice fluffy YA fantasy series. This one contained a little more angst than I was in the mood for, but it does fitThis is a fun end to what has been a nice fluffy YA fantasy series. This one contained a little more angst than I was in the mood for, but it does fit well with Dusty and Eli's story and personalities. ...more
UGHHHHHH! I could just leave it at that, but boy do I have issues with this book. Lots and lots of issues.
As I started reading, I was intrigued. PutUGHHHHHH! I could just leave it at that, but boy do I have issues with this book. Lots and lots of issues.
As I started reading, I was intrigued. Put off a little bit by the multiple elements clearly taken from Harry Potter, but intrigued. That quickly turned to snorting, eye-rolling annoyance as it turned out to not just have HP elements but seem to be a straight up HP what if....? fanfic. And one that wasn't very well written at that.
Before I get to the spoiler specifics of things I didn't like, I will begin with the more general things: *The world-building isn't doing it for me. In creating a magical school, Black and Clare fell far short of their inspiring mark. I was bored by most of the details and the classes made little sense because no context was given for them. As I was reading, I couldn't help but wonder how it took two people to write this and it wasn't any better.
*The pacing is out of control. Jamming an entire year into a three hundred pages and having it flow takes major authorial skill. This book is not evidence of that skill.
*For huge chunks it's just plain boring.
*The characterization is completely flat. Words are used to describe the characters, they do things, but they never became more than words on a page to me.
Now for the spoiler full rage: (view spoiler)[ *A student makes an accusation of abuse against a Master that gets that Master fired. Turns out that accusation is false. I don't know why that had to even be in there. Why that particular evil deed? In a world where we want children to come forward about stuff like that but they don't because they think no one will believe them because they think this very thing happens....I just can't.
*The big reveal about who/what Call is about sent me through the ceiling. I would have preferred they had done the predictable thing and made him the Makar/hero boy (though I was pretty excited that turned out to be Aaron), had him just be the loyal counterpoint (or whatever) for Aaron, OR had him be Chaos-ridden. Those things I could handle, but the whole Enemy of Death's soul entered the baby Call so he wouldn't die and YOU ARE THE ENEMY. UGH!!!! No. Just no. I don't even care if this turns out not to be true, and they fix it later, they've lost me. For good. Like the whole evil person who's afraid of death's soul ending up in a baby next to the body of his mother thing has never been done before? Um because that is a little too much like Harry Potter to be accidental. But WAIT! Let's explore it from the angle that said baby then really IS the evil one completely and totally. Or is told that he is. Blergh.
*I don't understand why, if Alistair really believed his son was not his son, but contained the soul of The Enemy (really with that name? and I thought He Must Not Be Named was a ridiculous nickname) then why didn't he bind Call's magic long ago?
It's been a long time since I've wanted to send a book sailing across the room in a rage.
Needless to say I won't be reading book two.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I can see why so many people like Hook's Revenge a lot, but it is not written in a style I find particularly enjoyable so reading it was more of a choI can see why so many people like Hook's Revenge a lot, but it is not written in a style I find particularly enjoyable so reading it was more of a chore than not at times. I do say hurrah for an intrusive narrator who talks to the reader without making himself obnoxious. Well, no more obnoxious than intrusive narrator is automatically. In the beginning I found Jocelyn to be entirely unlikeable and only made sympathetic by how much more unlikeable and gross everyone else around her behaved. This doesn't ever work for me as a tool for characterization. However, by the end of the books some actual real character development had happened, and I liked Jocelyn very well indeed. Her adventures in Neverland are perfect, as is her quest. And I absolutely loved the characterization and treatment of Peter. ...more
Super hero books are always a lot of fun, and Almost Super by Marion Jensen is no exception.
Every Leap Year any Bailey that has turned 12 since the last Leap Year gets their super power. Because the Baileys are a family of Supers. This time its Rafter and his brother Benny's turn. On the much anticipated day, disaster strikes. Instead of getting amazing powers to help their family of supers fight crime, Rafter and Benny get silly ridiculous powers. Benny can change is belly button from an innie to an outie. Rafter can strike a match on polyester. This is bad, and the boys are worried because they go to school with Juanita Johnson. The Johnsons are a family of super villains and Juanita was supposed to get her power too. But she didn't get an amazing power either. The Baileys suspect the Johnsons are up to no good as usual, and the Johnsons suspect the Baileys are up to no good. After Juanita confronts Rafter and Benny at school, it is clear that there is much confusion. Because the Johnsons think they're the heroes and the Baileys are the villains. When all the supers lose their powers, it is up to Rafter, Benny, and Juanita to figure out what has gone wrong and save the day.
I have said it before, but it's always worth repeating. Kids love stories where the kids run circles around the grown ups when it comes to being the heroes. Almost Super is a book that captures that well. In the process it makes all the adults seem a bit too ridiculous, but for the tone of this book it works just fine. I enjoyed all three of the kids, but Rafter and Juanita steal the show in this one. They both have a fierce sense of what is right and a desire to do good. Rafter can not wait to take on the mantle of hero. Juanita is more reluctant, but has her reasons. She definitely comes through when her friends and family need her though. I thought Benny's character acted a little younger than his age, but that could be his immaturity next to Rafter. He seemed more like an 8 year old than a 12 year old though.
The mystery in this was a fun one, and watching the kids figure out what the grown ups have been missing for decades is entertaining. There are also exciting gadgets, hidden lairs, and everything that makes a good super hero tale. This is on the younger side of MG, perfect for 3rd-5th graders who love super hero stories but aren't quite ready for Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities or Sidekicked yet....more
This is an adorable and fun read perfect for 3rd-4th graders around Christmas time. It would probably make a great 2nd grade read aloud too and wouldThis is an adorable and fun read perfect for 3rd-4th graders around Christmas time. It would probably make a great 2nd grade read aloud too and would fit very well into a study of the way different cultures and countries celebrate the holiday season. I enjoyed the characters, and the adventure was a good one though the level of peril was quite low. I do find it hard to understand why any parents would leave a 12 year old home alone with a baby, but okay. ...more
The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel is a fun adventurous story that is historical fantasy of a time we don't see often.
Will's father was a train brakeman and worker on the transcontinental railroad in Canada. Will pores over his father's letters seeping up all the adventures he's had, including an encounter with a Sasquatch. When Will is finally reunited with his father the day the railroad is finished, an accident causes a tremendous reversal in their fortunes and Will's father eventually runs the rail company taking the new and innovative train, The Boundless, for its maiden run across Canada. But there are those who feel they were cheated in the building of the railway, and they want their due. These villains are willing to risk anything including the lives of the passengers and any worker who stands in their way to get it. Will ends up witnessing a murder and with one of the two keys that access the car which holds the great treasures The Boundless carries. Hiding out among a traveling circus on the train, Will must make hard decisions about who to trust, how far he's willing to go to protect the treasure, and come to terms with where his future is headed. Does he become the company drone his father wants him to be or does he make his own path?
I enjoyed how Will is not the stereotypical fantasy hero. He is a talented artist and decent human being, but for the most part he is an ordinary boy who always feels like he's watching life happening around him. He sees the stories, he's never a part of them. He longs for more. After the reversal in his family's fortunes, he went from being a starving urchin to an educated and polished young man. He longs to go to art school, but his father wants him to begin as a clerk with the railway. Will reluctantly knows that he will cave to his father's wishes. Once the action really gets underway, it isn't so much Will's intrinsic bravery as his survival instinct that keeps him going. He also has a keen sense of right versus wrong though, and he desperately wants to do what is right and be stand-up sort of man. As a foil to Will, we have Maren, a tightrope walker with the circus. Maren is a determined girls with plans and sees nothing wrong with bending certain rules and laws to make those plans happen. She does defy gravity on a regular basis after all. Her courage, gumption, and survival skills inspire Will while his loyalty, conviction, and trust move her. They make a great team. Mr. Dorian, the circus master, is the most fascinating character in the book to me. Also not above bending rules, he isn't even likeable most of the time, yet he hides Will, provides for his workers well, and commands their loyalty. He is not without honor even when he goes about attempting things not quite honorable. I really liked the duality of his character, which is in all ways a lighter variation of another great literary character bearing the same name.
The book is an alternate history in which Sasquatch and creepy swamp witches exist and attack humans. There is also the sort of technology that can make a miles long train stay together as it travels across a continent. The combination of this alternate history and the historical setting make for an adventurous and fun read. It was hard for me to put down and I couldn't wait to see how it all ended. Also, it appears to be a standalone and we don't get enough of those anymore....more
I love Frances Hardinge. She is one one of those writers for children that doesn't talk down to her audience and is unafraid to confront harsh truths and darknesses in her plots and characters. She is an auto-buy author for me and I anticipate her books so much. It is unfortunate that in the US we often have to wait even longer for them. (And even then may never get them. Seriously, how has A Face Like Glass not been published here yet???? It is amazing.) Hardinge's newest US release is Cuckoo Song, a book that came out in the UK last year to rave reviews from everyone I know who read it. I'm happy to add my voice to the chorus singing its praises.
Triss wakes up after a dunking in the river on holiday. Her mind is muddled and memories hazy. She is missing all the hours leading up to her accident in the river. Her sister Penny is resentful toward and angry at her, but that is not a new development. The level of Penny's rancor and distrust is new however. Wrapped in the love of her mother and father, Triss takes comfort in knowing they are there for her and support her. But this is not a typical illness. Triss is overcome with an insatiable hunger. Then her doll moves its head and begins to rage at her. Fearing she is going insane, Triss attempts every means possible to bury her growing fear and horror at what is happening to her. When she can not deny the obvious any more, Triss begins to investigate what may be wrong and discovers her family's darkest secrets and the villain who is bent on destroying them all. Triss and Pen will have to put aside their differences and face untold dangers together if they want to undo the terrible horrors moving to destroy everything they know.
It's really hard to discuss Cuckoo Song in any detail without spoilers. Basically all I really want to say is READ THIS AS SOON AS YOU CAN. Like all of Hardinge's books, Cuckoo Song has layered, three dimensional characters brought to full life. There is so much to explore and experience with these characters. Triss, Pen, their parents, Violet (the sisters' closest ally), and even the multitude of people who work against them are all fully rendered characters with stories and personalities. The journey Triss goes on through the course of this book is a fascinating one that brings out a multitude of themes and complexities that I have to be frustratingly vague about due to spoilers. But that's okay, because this is really a book that you need to experience from start to finish.
And experience is the perfect word for the act of reading this book. From the first page, Hardinge draws her reader in. She slowly builds the horror and creepiness of the story she is telling. Page after page the book is impossible to put down and walk away from. I may have growled at some people who tried to get my attention while reading. (Sorry, family.) It is a tangled web that will have you twisted up and yet still pushing on for more.
I can not recommend this book enough. (And every other Hardinge book. If you haven't experienced her yet, you are missing out. Cuckoo's Song is an excellent starting point. ...more
Last year's Cruel Beauty was one of my favorite reads of 2014. I had rather high expectations for Crimson Bound as a result, and they were well and truly met.
Rachelle was her aunt's apprentice, learning the trade of a woodwife and how to protect her village from the forestborn. Rachelle is obedient but also restless and annoyed with her aunt's lack of determination to fight the Devourer she knows is rising again. Overconfident and thinking she can control the situation, Rachelle strays from the past and begins conversing with a forestborn. This leads to her downfall and her becoming a bloodbound-a murderer with blood on her hands bound to become a forestborn herself. Before that fate can befall her, Rachelle is determined to take as many forestborn down as she can and joins the King's elite guard of bloodbound soldiers. She immerses herself in fighting as many forces of the forest as she can, but she knows time is running out. The world is growing dark. The Devourer is returning. When she is put in charge of one of the king's illegitimate sons and discovers there is a chance to recover a fabled sword that can defeat the Devourer forever, she knows this is the final chance there is to free the world of the Devourer forever and atone as much as she can for the sins of her past.
Rosamund Hodge has a way of just sweeping me into her story and world that is rare. This was definitely a read I experienced every emotion and element of. My children found themselves quite neglected. The world-building here is fantastic. It's not quite as complicated as the world of Cruel Beauty, but it's no less intricate. There's a magical forest overlapping the known world made of myth and shadows and ruled by cruel, heartless beings who hunt humans for sport and delight in tricking and coercing them into their dark world. It brings to mind the best and darkest stories of the Fae. The world of the humans is very like that of France in its royal heyday with vain, selfish royalty hidden away from the harsh realities of the world, bastards fighting for the throne, a bishop warning against coming judgement, and revolt on the horizon. There is intrigue, treason, betrayal, and horror waiting around every twisted corridor of the palace and gardens.
Rachelle is a focused and determined heroine. She is overcome by guilt for the sins of her past, but determined to help as many people as she can before she is forever damned. She desperately wants to be removed from everyone and everything, but she just doesn't have it in her. As much as she wants to be cynical and heartless, she desperately clings to what human companionship she has and any sense of belonging and love she can find. And this is completely her story. It's the story of a girl desperate for redemption even though she believes herself to be far beyond its reach. The far reaching consequences of the deeds she has committed separate her from everything she ever knew and loved, but she is resourceful, clever, and strong-willed. All these traits serve her well as she goes on her quest to rid the world of evil. She is a well rounded heroine as well, making plenty of mistakes from trusting the wrong people to not fully trying to understand the workings of the court around her and how important it is.
Despite being a bloodbound with an unhealthy dose of self-hate, Rachelle is not without people she feels close to. Amelie is a girl whose life Rachelle once saved. The girl made her a friend and is quite an amazing one. I really enjoyed this aspect of the story and how their friendship was so solid despite how little they could truly share with each other because of Rachelle's position. Justine is another female friend, a fellow bloodbound, but one who works for the Bishop. Justine is determined to help an save Rachelle because she sees more in her. Both of these friendships reflect different aspects of Rachelle's personality and play important parts in her journey. In addition to these three girls, the books has several other very powerful women who do not shrink from doing what they need to do even when it is incredibly difficult and requires a hardened strength.
Then there are the two main male characters in the story. Erec is the captain of the King's bloodbound, one of his illegitimate sons, and the person who trains Rachelle in fighting and gives her the will to keep living. Armand is another of the King's bastards, sainted for not becoming a bloodbound when marked, and the person Rachelle is assigned to guard. Rachelle and Erec are friends but she doesn't completely trust him. They have fundamental philosophical differences that don't allow for them to be close despite Rachelle's attraction to him. Rachelle doesn't like or trust Armand at first, but gradually learns to appreciate and understand him. I have a feeling some may not want to read this due to fear of the dreaded love triangle. There is nothing to worry about there. Love triangle is not what this is. There's a fair amount of lust, confusion, treachery, and conflict in a tangled web of lies and double-crossings, but little of it has anything to do with love. There is a romantic love element that develops with one, which is my one major quibble with the book. Unfortunately it rather largely impacted my full enjoyment of the story. I didn't complete buy the romantic love aspect of this. There was too little organic development of it for me to completely believe it, which is unfortunate given that it is rather important to how the plot works out. I do like how that wrapped up though and how much confusion surrounded it for both characters.
What I really loved about this book were the themes of redemption, mercy, and justice Hodge worked into the story. Rachelle's story is mostly about that. It's hope overcoming despair, light overcoming darkness, emptiness being filled. It completely captured me.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Balzer & Bray, via Edelweiss. Crimson Bound is on sale May 5th....more
I have established that I love fairy tales and fairy tale retellings. You know what else I love? Books written by Sarah Prineas. Both her MG series are great favorites of mine. When she happened to mention on Twitter long ago that she was working on a YA, I followed closely eager to read whatever the result was. Ash & Bramble is a fabulous work of genius.
(I consider Sarah a friend as well as an author I love, and she sent me the ARC I'm reviewing here.)
Pin lives in the Godmother's fortress sewing clothes with the other seamstresses tasked with producing the beautiful one of a kind ballgowns the Godmother uses for her mysterious purposes. Pin has no memories of her life prior to the day she begins her work as a slave to the Godmother's will. Everything that came before is a blank nothing. While she has no memories, she is still a person with a will and a fierce defiance to live her own life. She gets a chance to plan an escape when she is used as a foot model for the shoemaker tasked with creating a glass slipper. Shoe has learned his lesson. He knows the cost of disobedience to the Godmother. Yet he still finds himself drawn to the daring seamstress and her plans for escape. But escape is not easy. The Godmother is impossible to outrun. Pin finds herself caught up in a whole new type of prison bound by the power of story and the drive for happily ever after. The more she fights, the more she feels trapped in a life that she doesn't want that leads to a prince, a clock at midnight, and a missing shoe. Her only possible means of escape lie in the devotion of a boy willing to risk himself to break her story and her own determination to decide her own destiny.
Ash & Bramble isn't so much a retelling as a complete shaking up and flipping around of the old fairy tales. And I was not exaggerating when I used the word genius, because much of this novel is dystopian in nature. And what world is better set up to be an actual dystopian hellscape than the world of fairy tales? (Really. Think about it.) While I will never get enough of fairy tales, my patience for dystopia is long gone, but the presentation of it here completely worked for me. I can not stress enough how well the two ideas work together and how brilliantly Prineas wove them into one. It's a commentary and celebration of both while also being an engrossing, moving, and satisfying tale in its own right. I really appreciated the way Prineas used the tropes of both types of stories to twist her own dark tale and highlight the themes.
Pin/Pen (she goes by both names) is a girl who wants to determine her own future, a goal she fiercely holds on to even when she has no sense of her past or even her own self. Her complete loss of memory and history make it difficult to connect with her as a reader at times, but it serves to make her sympathetic. The panic she feels over this is easily experienced by the reader who enters her world as clueless and searching for the familiar as she is. Pin's lack of memory does not leave her an empty vessel for the reader to use as a placeholder. She is very much her own person, which is part of what makes it difficult to get into her head. She is an enigma to both herself and the reader through much of the book. She has a lot of amazing qualities, but a lot of faults as well. Her headstrong stubbornness results in both positive and negative actions and motivations. Even in the end I felt like I was just getting to fully understand who she was, which works well because she is only just figuring that out, and there is still so much she doesn't know. While frustrating at times, it's perfect for the story being told. And I found myself loving her even when I wanted to yell at her about some of the choices she was making. I can see why she does what she does, and a lot of what she does is truly amazing. She has to be a leader and make hard choices that have mixed consequences. She makes mistakes and is not as careful with other people's feelings as she ought to be. She is also a true hero and steadfast friend. She is unlikeable at times (who isn't) and that only serves to make her more real.
The story here belongs just as much to Shoe as it does to Pin. He isn't as forceful as Pin. He isn't as flashily confident as the prince. He has a quiet strength and stubbornness that is just as important though, and it is his determination to see Pin free to make her own decisions that allows her do to the work of freeing herself. But she does the same thing for him too, giving him the courage to embrace freedom in the first place. At times he is hesitant and giving to a fault. They complement each other well. Their relationship develops under incredibly fraught circumstances. I liked the realism in that. Dangerous and stressful events tend to magnify and accelerate the development of feelings and relationships. There are a lot of complications thrown into it too including Pen's role in Story and her relationship with the prince. I know that so many people are going to instantly think "love triangle" and not want anything to do with this. That would be a mistake. Love triangle does not always necessarily equal terrible development. They can be done well, and in this case it is a trope that is fundamentally important to the ideas of choice and happily ever after Prineas is exploring and questioning through her story. The prince, Cor, is a loyal, brave, and dedicated person. He is also smart and able to question the reality of the world around him. He is often a little to oblivious to his privilege and inclined to demand his own way, but he has a good heart. I really loved the interactions between all three of them together too. They are working as adults in their world and in leading a rebellion, but they are also very much teenagers in dealing with their feelings.
The book's numerous secondary characters are all wonderfully rendered as well including the Godmother. I'm going to say little else about that to avoid spoilers, but I loved what Prineas did with her and the fairy tale concept of the Witch. The plot gives a nod to host of tales beyond the obvious reworking of Cinderella and catching them all was part of the fun of reading it.
My favorite part of Ash & Bramble was how it explored the power of ideas, words, and Story. I always love it when books do that and do it well which this one does. I loved the dark twists that took and the ambiguousness of what was right and wrong in some of those cases. It is complicated and a lot of it left open to interpretation with unanswered questions. Yet it also has hope and looks to the future.
Ash & Bramble is everything I want in a fairy tale retelling and in books in general.
I read an ARC received from the author. Ash &Bramble is available for purchase on September 15th....more