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
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
I read Ask Again Later by Liz Czukas earlier this year and found it to be quite fun. However, I LOVE her new book Top Ten Clues You're Clueless. It's basically The Breakfast Club with Christmas thrown in. Because instead of serving Saturday detention, this group of unlikely teen companions are all working the same Christmas Eve grocery store shift.
Chloe is a list maker. She starts every day with a list and makes several more as she goes about her day. She has many running lists to which she continually adds. In addition to being a list maker she is a reader of mysteries, a red head, a girl with a massive crush on a co-worker, and a diabetic. On Christmas Eve she is required to work her regular job as a cashier at the grocery store. Many people are working including all of the young high school employees. All six of them. When there is a lot less money in the holiday donation box than is expected, all six of the teens are accused of working alone or together to steal the money and are held at work until the police can arrive to question them. In the interim they have to decide whether or not to trust each other and band together. In the process they begin to bond and get to know each other better than they ever thought possible.
This book is all about the characters. Zaina: the perfect, beautiful, Muslim, Lebanese immigrant who just wants the chance to figure out who she is outside of others expectations of her Sammi: the tough skater girl with an attitude and an interesting rapport with Gabe Gabe: basketball player, charmer, flirt, and golden rich boy who seems to understand Sammi better than she understands herself Micah: a sweet, nerdy, homeschool boy who loves science and is curious about the world and everyone in it Tyson: charming, fun, polite, and always willing to help out, he is just trying to save as much money as he can for college and is the object of Chloe's affections
Their story is narrated by Chloe and while she is ostensibly the focus, the reader comes to know all of them well as the narrative unfolds. The cast of characters here is diverse and yet there isn't a reliance on stereotypes or cliche's to mold them. Instead Czukas allows dialog and interactions to reveal each person's character and uses the other character's assumptions-assumptions most readers would have too-to challenge and bring out hidden details. All of these characters are so endearing. I loved every single one of them. I do think Chloe is the best vehicle through which to tell their collective story, but I find myself really wanting to have stories from all of the rest of them too, particularly Sammi and Zaina. I also enjoyed the wider observations of the world at large that came from seeing a grocery store through the eyes of the people who work there. Chloe's voice is genuine, a combination of cluelessness and wisdom that teens just starting to figure out the world often have.
The mystery isn't all that hard to figure out, but I completely bought how all of it came together. I could see the decisions that led to a bunch of mostly minors being held for hours at their job on Christmas Eve actually happening. I could also see why they all decided to cooperate and not give their parents the details of why they were staying late. The set-up is perfect in every way, and the conversations about life that came out of it were equally perfect.
There is a touch of romance, but it is not the focus of the book. It really is just the briefest of touches. And I love that this also turned out to be a Christmas story. It is one I will buy and enjoy every year now.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Harper Teen, via Edelweiss. Top Ten Clues Your Clueless is available for sale on December 9th....more
If I bought this book rather than checking it out from the library I would be MAD. I can not believe that the publisher has the audacity to charge a hIf I bought this book rather than checking it out from the library I would be MAD. I can not believe that the publisher has the audacity to charge a hardcover price for a book that is nothing more than a bloated prologue to Winter. This story could have been told in 1/4 the space and released as an e-novella or even just as an extra in the paperback for Cress. There isn't much here we don't already know, except for the details of Levana's relationship with her sister and her marriage to Winter's father. Again, this does not require 200 pages to make clear. I didn't need that much time in Levana's twisted head while she rehashed the same things over and over and over.
Things I did like: I like that Levanna was explained without attempting to excuse her. She is cruel. She did terrible things for which she is not at all sorry. She had terrible things done to her too. I also liked that we are able to see (view spoiler)[how gosh darn awful Cinder's mother was. Holy cow. (hide spoiler)]
This series started, if not strong, than well. I really thought it had the potential to just keep getting better. Instead I feel as though this and Cress have been too long and not edited well enough. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I read and throughly enjoyed Maid of Secrets by Jennifer McGowan a couple weeks ago and immediately checked out Maid of Deception, the second book in the series. I enjoyed this one even more.
Lady Beatrice Knowles has worked hard to reach her wedding day. She serves Elizabeth well even though she doesn't like the queen, and the queen doesn't like her. Beatrice has lived her life playing the games of the court, being a pawn of monarchs, and trying to keep her family's secrets from ruining them. She plotted to become betrothed to the perfect Lord of the realm only to have her wedding day ruined when the queen orders a postponement, and then orders Beatrice to play the flirt with a young Scottish Lord named Alasdair. Caught between the queen's politics and plotting, her family's troubles, her own plans, and her unwanted feelings for Alasdair, Beatrice increasingly feels caught in a game she can't win. And that she may be heading toward a disaster of her own making.
I enjoyed the way McGowan dealt with Beatrice's character in the first book. She is the beautiful, well established, popular, and snotty one. Yet she is never simply a stereotype and she really showed how nuanced she was by the end of Meg's story. And here in her own story she truly shines. I loved how she is so vulnerable and yet projects an image to the world that is unbreakable. She is always outwardly in control even when she is desperately trying to hold together all the strands of her life and keep them from unraveling. The queen, who sees most things, sees this. And she uses it to mess with Beatrice. I really liked the antagonism between Beatrice and Elizabeth. They have a history. Beatrice knows something about Elizabeth the queen wishes she didn't. Beatrice, being quite savvy, went to great lengths to protect herself from Elizabeth doing anything nefarious to silence her. Elizabeth can, and does, strive to make her as miserable as possible though. In the first book the way McGowan showed Elizabeth was historically accurate. She is wise. She is cunning. She is insightful. She is generous. She is dangerous. In this book Elizabeth is seen as all those things still, but also petty, vindictive, and spiteful. There is historical data that backs up both versions of Elizabeth. She was a complicated woman, made out of a combination of great intelligence, a horrific childhood, too little trust in her life, and a desire to maintain her own power. I find it fascinating that McGowan is using the maids' feelings and interactions with her to highlight different aspects of her personality. The Elizabeth Beatrice must contend with is quite different to the one Meg contends with, but she is the same Queen. And despite the way Elizabeth treats her, Beatrice is still fiercely loyal. And it isn't entirely due to fear or the machinations of a mind bent to the most convenient political ally, Beatrice is bravely serving her monarch in the best way she can. I find this truly admirable since she doesn't like her as a person.
The plot of this book isn't as sinister as the last Maid of Secrets. That was a murder mystery complete with all the danger that entails. This is quieter in many ways, full of the politics that go on behind closed doors, the careful dance between serving both your country and yourself, and the wider intrigue of the court in general. Again, I felt that there was a little too much detail and that the book should have been shorter. This aspect is better than in the first, but still needs some work. I also felt that the romance wasn't particularly exciting. I LOVE Alisdair (the same way I loved Rafe), but something is lacking in the development of the relationships to make me that invested. I'm okay with that though because all the other relationships are done so well.
My favorite aspect of the book is the relationship between Beatrice and her father. I just adore Lord Knowles for everything he is. He is a man greatly flawed, but he is also a wonderful person who tries hard to do what right he can given his position and weaknesses. Beatrice is quite dismissive of her father, but as the story unfolds and she begins to see his hand at work-and how it's always been at work-in her life, her perspective changes. Good father/daughter dynamics are not run of the mill inYA literature, so this is a rare treat.
Of course, Beatrice's fellow maids also play a major part in her story. I adore the friendship and camaraderie that has developed between these five and how they have each other's backs no matter what. I absolutely can not wait to get every one of their stories. I think that's likely, though as far as I know Sophia's book (coming out next year) is the only other one yet scheduled. I really hope Anna and Jane get books too because they are my favorites.
In the meantime, there is also a prequel Christmas e-book that looks like a lot of fun. ...more
I started reading Forbidden by Kimberly Griffiths Little a half hour before I was planning to go to bed thinking I could get several chapters read. After just one chapter, I had to stop because I knew if I kept reading there would be no be sleeping. It seemed like a book I wouldn't be able to put down. This was true. Not that I'm throughly in love with it, but it was hard to put down.
Jayden is a young girl in a desert tribe, betrothed to the son of her tribe's King. She is destined to be a princess, but is repulsed by her future husband, Horeb. On the day the tribe is to move for the last time of the year, Jayden's mother goes into labor dying in the process. Her family is left to bury her mother and try to catch up to the rest of the tribe. After the burial a young man named Kadesh approaches Jayden and begs assistance. Injured and alone, Kadesh is taken in by Jayden's father and assists in the journey across the desert. The journey is full of hardship and heartache for Jayden. She is forced to give up the things most precious to her in order to survive, and every day she loses her older sister a little more to the goddess worship Leila finds so fascinating. Upon reaching their tribe things do not improve. Horeb is as vicious and leering as ever and Jayden can't stand to be near him. Convinced of their love for each other, Jayden and Kadesh make promises of the future. Promises that are difficult to keep with treachery lurking around every corner.
Jayden is exactly the kind of heroine I love. She is fierce and independent. She has a great sense of family loyalty. Her strength and planning fit her historical context well, and she acts in ways that make sense for her life and time. Her character's emotions and growth are organic and make sense in terms of the story. The other characters are not fleshed out nearly as well, and that includes Kadesh. Given the time period he and Jayden are not given a lot of time alone together which makes their devotion to each other seem rather sudden and is not well developed. He is shown as honorable, good, and pure, but I never really got a sense of him as a person. Just a character sketch. The same can be said for all the other characters. Mostly people are just shown as how they are inferior to Jayden. Her sister and Dinah, her nemesis, are shown as spoiled brats. Leila was developed a bit beyond that, but not sufficiently. Horeb is a mean bully and going to make the worst sort of king, but I could never see him as anything more than a characterization of a bully. Even when he was at his most violent with Jayden, I didn't feel any real fear for her, which is usually a given in situations similar to that one.
The setting of the book is where Little truly excels. We don't have much Ancient Mesopotamian historical fiction, and Little paints a vivid picture of what nomadic desert life was like. It is also clear that she did her research and knows her geography of the time. The story takes place during the time of Hammurabi and is a fascinating look at warring cultures. Jayden's tribe are "children of Abraham", an allusion, I assume, to the descendants of Ishmael. (There is another reference to the nation of the twelve tribes of Jacob.) Their tribe travels the desert and eschews the cities, yet the cities are growing up everywhere and the hold an allure for the younger members of the tribe. The idol worship of Baal and Asherah are also tempting to the younger members. Several of the girls, including Jayden's sister, wish to be temple prostitutes. The temple sends recruiters out to convince these desert girls that this is a life to crave and envy. I'm really hoping this is touched on more as this trilogy continues because I can't believe that life as a temple prostitute is all that it's cracked up to be. I think that not showing the perils and disillusion of a life of sexual servitude in a book aimed at young girls would be negligent, but I'm hoping its going to come up. Here Little does do an excellent job of showing the lures used to pull girls into actually desiring such a life. Leisure, riches, and the promise of always being cared for are difficult things to turn your back on when you are a girl with nothing. I did like the way that Jayden is shown to be fascinated by the idol worship herself, but sticks to what she has been raised to believe. She truly wants to be a dedicated servant of God and to be a wife and mother. She wants to choose her husband and father of those children though. There are a lot of interesting themes about womanhood and choice explored and that was my favorite part of the novel.
I was rather annoyed to reach the end and realize this wasn't a stand alone novel. I thought it was. There was no series information on Goodread or Edelweiss (that I saw). When I reached the end, I suspected there would be more, and sure enough the author's website calls it a trilogy. Sigh. I will read the next one, but find myself irritated by the end here. Not every story NEEDS three books to tell it. I'm so over this.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Harper Collins, via Edelweiss. Forbidden is available for purchase on November 4....more
I probably would have skipped Maid of Secrets by Jennifer McGowan completely if it weren't for Shae singing its praises so loudly. And that would have been so sad because this is a fun and exciting beginning to what I hope is a five book sequence. (I know that it has a sequel and another book scheduled for 2015. But that will still leave my TWO FAVORITES without books. They better get books.)
Basically? Yay for smart girls who spy, study, actively train, and come together to run circles around the men trying to control them! I mean really. It has everything that you could possibly love if you are a character loving reader of adventurous political intrigue. This book focuses on Meg, who is an actress and has been for almost all of her life. The Queen insists that means Meg doesn't truly understand who she is and in many ways the Queen is correct. But Meg yearns to know and discover. She is proud of her talents and determined to win her freedom from the gilded prison she finds herself trapped in. This book as the first in the series also introduces Meg's four fellow Maids of Honor, Beatrice, Jane, Sophia, and Ann. All of the girls have issues. They all have different strengths and different weaknesses. They don't always get along or like each other. But what develops between them is a true bond of friendship and common purpose. I love how they come together to go over the heads of their superiors and outwit them.
I'm rather picky about my historical fiction and am happy with what McGowan does with the historical setting here. It is clear she did her research and knows her stuff. She manages to stay mostly true to historical accounts of real people while bringing their personalities to fascinating life. Of course, she has taken liberties here and there, but none that the history major in me who took a semester long class on Tudor/Stuart Britain was upset at. I particularly enjoyed her portrayal of Elizabeth for many reasons, most notably how manipulative yet vulnerable she is.
There is also a touch of romance, which was lovely but not at all the focus. There is just enough of it and it's level is pitch perfect for the sort of work Meg does and the kind of things she's involved in. I did feel that the fervor of the boy was a little extreme for the brief acquaintance but it was done so well that it worked for me. I also liked the realism of the resolution there.
This book has so many fun elements to attract and keep readers: adventure, mystery, intrigue, romance, and smart girls who have each other's backs. I can't wait to read the sequel, Maid of Deception. ...more
For whatever reason I had a harder time getting into this one than I have Echols' other novels. I still enjoyed it, but felt myself more distanced froFor whatever reason I had a harder time getting into this one than I have Echols' other novels. I still enjoyed it, but felt myself more distanced from the characters than I usually do in her novels. I wasn't completely convinced of either of their motivations for their behaviors which was a big part of the problem for me I think. I'm still looking forward to reading the rest of Echols' backlist though as I have pretty much LOVED everything else by her I've read. ...more
This was fun and cute. It seemed more an interesting writing exercise than a fully fleshed out novel though. I could have done without narration fromThis was fun and cute. It seemed more an interesting writing exercise than a fully fleshed out novel though. I could have done without narration from a bench and a squirrel. Also, I feel as though I was kept too distant from the main characters since their entire story was told by other people. But it was fun and I would recommend it to my teens with no problem. ...more
Last year I read The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston and fell in love. I fell in love with the characters, the town of Trondheim, the world Johnston created, and the voice that told the story-Siobhan. I immediately began looking forward to the sequel, Prairie Fire. Now that I've read it, I'm sort of wrecked but only the best of ways.
Prairie Fire is very much a sequel in the strictest sense of the word. It is the second half of Owen and Siobhan's story. While you could probably read it first, the emotional pay off will be far greater if you don't. If you haven't read The Story of Owen, go and do that. I don't know what's been holding you back anyway.
Spoilers for The Story of Owen ahead. You've been warned.
Siobhan, Owen, and Sadie have graduated from high school and are beginning their service to the Oil Watch. Siobhan has mostly recovered from her encounter with the dragon that left her hands burned, but she will always have limited mobility. She is learning to cope. She has found a different instrument. She still feels a strong sense of purpose. Siobhan is Owen's bard, and she does not take that commitment likely. Hailed by much of the populous as heroes, Siobhan and Owen are not looked on quite as favorably by their government. They find themselves stationed in Alberta on the edge of the Canadian prairie-an assignment that's kind of a slap in the face given Owen's talent and proven ability. But their support team is top-notch and they've bonded. They find the other two novice teams, one American and one Japanese, easy to work with. All three teams forge new ties and friendships, bonds needed living in the realm of the most dangerous dragon species alive with an instructor who is a frowned upon rule-breaker and a general who scorns all the things Owen and Siobhan stand for.
"When Lieutenant Porter said 'it's our busy season', what he'd meant was 'Shit there are dragons everywhere. Duck.'"
This quote sums the book up nicely. There are a lot more dragons, dragon slayings, and close encounters with dragons in this book than the first. There was quite a lot of set-up in the first book. It was a time to get to know both Owen and Siobhan, time to get to know the world, and to fully understand what it was the Thorskgards were fighting for. True, there were plenty of dragons to be found too, but in this second half they're everywhere. Also in this book the reader is introduced to the mother of all dragons-nearly unbeatable and scary as everything. The pace is much faster than the first book. It feels like a head long rush to the explosive and shattering end.
Siobhan's recovery is rather skipped over. Her emotional recovery happens much faster than seems reasonable until you remember how young she is. And young people often can bounce back and find new routes quicker than adults. She still has her music. It's just different. I think too that her being a rather even tempered individual from the start helps the believability of this. The story becomes Siobhan's more than ever as she and Owen are separated for quite some time. The government is trying to keep Siobhan's influence over public opinion to a minimum. They want the people to forget Owen's a hero. Owen's presence is still felt even in his absence though, and Siobhan still works on ways to get what he is capable of out there. These two have an amazing relationship, a friendship that is truer and stronger than average. I love how much they give to each other and complement each other. Siobhan gave Owen a voice. Owen gave Siobhan a story. And it is absolutely beautiful.
There are a number of new characters introduced in this story and I loved them all-Courtney the engineer and Porter the lieutenant especially. The other two dragon slayers add so much to the story as well and I love the interactions between them. (Nick, the American from NYC, was a particular favorite and I wished we had just a bit more from him.) The characters in the first book are all back though we see far less of them now that Siobhan and Owen are away from home. Sadie is present for much of the first half, but is assigned to the UK while Siobhan and Owen remain in Canada. I enjoyed her when she was there though. She is a perfect balance to both Siobhan and Owen.
Thematically this book is even more brilliant than its predecessor. The slayers and their teams are all so young. All serving their countries and the world in a noble pursuit. But bureaucracy and politics being what they are, they can't always do it effectively. They are dedicated, bold, and brilliant. What they do has a high cost though and Johnston shows that beautifully.
Basically this book left me sort of wrecked, but in a brilliant way.
I read an ARC provided by the publisher, Carlolrhoda Books, at ALA Midwinter. Prairie Fire goes on sale on March 1st....more
I waited too long to read this book. Seriously. When it came out back in March, I was intrigued. Many people I trust said read this. It's good. Why did I wait so long? The Story of Owen by E.K. Johnston is a perfect blend of myth, reality, sly humor, and exhilarating action-adventure.
As the title implies, this is the story of Owen, a teenage dragon-slayer-in-training who helps guard the small town of Trondheim from dragons while trying to pass Algebra. Yet this isn't just the story of Owen. In fact, it isn't even mostly the story of Owen. It is really the story of Siobhan, the gifted musician who Owen encounters on his first day at his new school when they are both late for English. Like it was fated. Except not that kind of fated. Siobhan's talent makes her the perfect partner for Owen. Even though the tradition has long since died, every good dragon-slayer needs a good bard and Owen and Siobhan are about to resurrect the art. Siobhan is the one telling this story, in a voice that is both straightforward and trickily slides away from the telling the whole truth at the same time. The Siobhan telling the story is telling it from somewhere in the future. The writing is well done and has a dry wry wit that is subversive and oh so well balanced. I like both Siobhan and Owen, but I really like their partnership and how we see it unfold and grow. Their loyalty towards each grows in a natural way as the book progresses as does the strength of their companionship. And I love that is all their relationship is. I hope it stays that way in the future volumes. I love romance and am hopeful that there will be some eventually, but not between the two of them. One other thing I appreciated about both of them is that they are not super-heroes. They are kids who are talented yes, but who work at what they are good at to make themselves even better. And they work hard. I also really liked the supporting cast of characters, particularly Owen's aunts, Lottie and Hannah. I do feel that Siobhan is lacking in emotional depth enough that she kept me too removed from the story. I think that is probably due to the device of her being a bard and telling the story from the future, carrying we only know what baggage, wounds, and heartache. But it felt as though she didn't feel strongly enough about anything or anyone. Even the descriptions of her music have a vaguely detached air (which makes a bit more sense at the end), but the effect of all that was I wanted to know everyone and feel this story more deeply than I did. That is my one and only complaint though.
The world-builiding here is excellent. It is our world set in modern times with all our modern gadgets and technology. The difference? Dragons. Dragons have been a scourge on humanity in this alternate world for all of history but with the beginning of the age of modern industrialization they became an even bigger scourge. Dragons, you see, crave carbon fuels. It's like candy for them and they instinctively seek out anywhere they can find it. Cities with factories, roads with cars, water with boats, if you are anywhere these things are chances are you will be attacked by a dragon. The political ramifications of this are so well done, and Johnston raises so many provocative questions about our own world and how things are managed through them. Siobhan, Owen, his family, and some of their friends are trying to change the way the world works, but change does not come easy or free. I enjoyed how the world-building was so detailed throwing in so much history, not only maintaining my interest as a reader, but heightening it. It is also through the world-building that the major themes are developed. One thing that is highlighted is how easy media and history are to manipulate and I appreciated that aspect particularly. Siobhan is not just there to be a cheerleader for Owen, she is in charge of shaping perception not just about him, but dragon-slayers in general, and advancing the political and social causes their group deem important. It's fascinating stuff.
The writing brings this world to vivid life. What I felt it was lacking in character emotion, it more than made up for in terms of top rate plotting. The humor in the book is dry and tongue-in-cheek, something else I truly appreciated.
I highly recommend this for all fans of fantasy, particularly if you enjoy a good Nordic tale retold. It has all the feel of Beowulf, while being set in the present time. Truly excellent. ...more
I read Something Real by Heather Demetrios last year and was completely taken by surprise when I LOVED it. I was eagerly anticipating her 2015 release, I'll Meet You There, even though I knew, given its subject matter, it would probably leave me wrecked. Well it did in the way only really great books can.
Skylar is counting down days until she can get out of the nowhere town she has lived in all her life. She and her best friend, Chris, had a pact. They focused on school and kept away from the drunken parties and hook-ups their classmates were having, and it worked. They are both off to college with scholarships. There is only one more summer left for Skylar to make it through, working at the Paradise hotel. But when her mom loses her job and falls off the wagon, Sky sees her chance for escape slipping away. It doesn't help that there is someone else tempting her with the what ifs of staying. Josh Mitchell was their high school's popular playboy. Now back from a tour in Afghanistan, missing a leg, and fundamentally changed from the boy he used to be, Josh is trying to figure out exactly what it is he's supposed to do next. Why of all people did he make it back? What is he going to do with the chance he's been given? And how can he figure that out when everything is so messed up? As the summer progresses Josh and Sky are drawn closer and closer together, but it may be too hard to work through all the wrong in their lives to find something right.
I'll Meet You There is told in alternating voices. It is mostly in Sky's first person perspective, but there are also chapters that are entries from Josh's journal-the words he writes to his dead best friend, killed by the same IED that took his leg. Both Sky and Josh have a lot of seriously rough stuff to sort through in their lives. Sky is dealing with the very harsh realities of poverty as her mother no longer has a job and then kicks her out of the house. Fortunately Sky has people around her to help her who love her, but seeing the true and real effects of poverty portrayed in YA is not the norm. It's frustrating as a reader to Sky flirting seriously with the idea of throwing her chance for a future away to take care of her mother. This frustration is mirrored in her two best friends, Chris and Dylan, who insist her mother is an adult who can make her own choices and mistakes. Even with this frustration, it is all too easy to see why Sky might wish to stay. It is hard to walk away from everything you've ever known even if you are walking toward something better. I think her feelings, insecurities, and struggles are ones many readers can recognize and empathize with though they may not have experienced the same circumstances.
Josh's character is equally well done and nuanced. He is the epitome of a boy/man: still so young, but he's seen more than most people twice his age. Demetrios did an excellent job of showing all the facets of his being a Marine. He is suffering from PTSD, has to learn how to be the new him in the town he grew up in, and despite his trauma, he still has a fierce loyalty to the military. Being a Marine is the very heart of who he is. He does some really terrible things to both himself and Sky. He uses descriptive language that is often highly offensive (not because of the number of "curse words", but some other more derogatory type words he uses). At the same time, his heart is just so good and he wants to do what is right. You can see that. My heart just broke for him as he tried to figure out what to do and how to be. He truly feels like he is a disaster waiting to happen to Sky, and yet she helps him so he can't really stay away from her. He doesn't want to. This is a story about two broken people finding each other. In the process they break each other a little more, but they also help put each other back together. What I really liked about this is that they also both work to put themselves back together. Their relationship is not codependent.
I also very much enjoyed the supporting characters in the book. Josh's brother, Blake, is an idiot at times, but really loves his brother and tries very hard to be helpful in his own idiotic ways. Chris is a great foil for Sky. In many ways they are very much alike, but they are different enough in the ways that matter, that he balances her well. Marge, the owner of the hotel where Sky and Josh work, is a motherly type who helps and cares for both of them. Sky's other best friend, Dylan, is my favorite supporting character though. Her first appearance in the book, drunk and making reference to hooking up, leaves a first impression that is not all that flattering. She's a teen mom. She parties. She enjoys sex. Sky and Chris spend a good deal of time feeling bad for her stuck life. But man, this girl is more than she first appears, and even Sky doesn't fully appreciate all the depths her friend has until it's almost time for her to leave. I really liked how Demetrios showed that while Dylan's life was hard, it wasn't hopeless.
There are probably going to be some who are upset by the way some of the boys, particularly Josh, refer to some of the girls and each other. The words they use. The connotations behind them. It is an incredibly realistic portrayal though, and there are other characters who do call them out on this. I really appreciated how it was a fellow Marine who first opened Josh's eyes to how much more there was than the world he knew with his buddies in his hometown too.
I'll Meet You There is a beautiful and heartbreaking story that is also one of hope and new beginnings.
Content Heads-Up: strong language, underage drinking, sex
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Henry Holt and Co., via NetGalley. I'll Meet You There is available now....more
Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang is a book I added to my TBR because a couple of people on Twitter were saying how amazing it was. Then I discovered it's published by Greenwillow so excitement rose. I got it from Edelweiss without even reading the synopsis. Imagine my surprise when I started reading and was not expecting a book that was quite so intense, dark, and sad. It's probably a good thing I didn't know because I probably would have put off reading it. Despite bringing all my parental nightmares to vivid life, this is a book that says and reveals important things about the teen experience. It's a book I think many parents are going to freak out about, but they should all read.
Liz Emerson is her school's most popular girl. Everyone knows her, most people hate her. The latter is well deserved. Liz is not a nice person. No one in this book aside from Liam, the boy who sees something else in Liz and is the one to find her car, is. Liz is the ultimate mean girl. She deliberately goes about trying to destroy other people. It is her way to prop herself up against the world and keep herself separate. But she is killing herself with this long before she attempts suicide through car crash. Each act, each destroyed life, every choice she makes that is about image rather than self, works to destroy her. In addition to Liz this is the story of her two best friends, Kennie and Julia, girls both swept up in the force of Liz's personality. They are just as unlikeable and broken as she is. Despite being the quintessential mean girls, all three of them are very real and human in their fears, doubts, struggles, and horrors. Through vivid imagery and prose, Zang brings to life their high school experience and the harsh reality that is being a teen. My heart broke for all three of them.
I usually don't like books that skip around in the way this one does, but here the format works perfectly. It moves from the timeline of Liz's accident and what occurs after to flashbacks of the months leading up to the accident (but not in order!) to some snippets from Liz's childhood. There is very linear movement. However, it was absolutely perfect in how it fully depicted all of the characters and still got the point of the story, which is a powerful one, across. The prose is vivid and emotive. Zang really makes you feel what her characters do causing a physical ache in places.
Yes, this is an excellent book, but it was not without its aspects that bothered me. I really grew to hate how often Liz's full name was used. Liz Emerson feels...Liz Emerson does....Liz Emerson wants... Enough already! The entire premise of the narration grated on me too. I didn't really see it as necessary and it was actually rather silly. This book has so much good going for it that it did not need to depend on a corny gimmick like that narration trick. The best parts of the story, in my opinion, were the ones where the narrator got lost and it felt like it was just third person. Then that annoying first person would pop up again and UGHHHH. This is a typical problem for me when this narration is used in any book. I'm not a fan of The Book Thief either, and my inability to buy the conceit of the narrative is a big reason why. It was less intrusive here, but still got in the way of my fully falling into the story. The final aspect that bothered me is the end. It does end on a rather hopeful note. One I found completely unbelievable. I know I always say I love a good depression to hope story. There are authors that do it extraordinarily well: Melina Marchetta, Trish Doller, Meg Medina. What makes those authors so good is how they show the characters climbing out of the darkness. It is an arc I can see. That wasn't as evident here.
Despite the things that didn't work for me, I do recommend this book, particularly for fans of contemporary YA who enjoy heartrendingly real stories.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Greenwillow Books, via Edelweiss. Falling Into Place is for sale on September 9th. ...more
Here I am, continuing my way through Jennifer Echols's backlist. I remember Chachic and Maureen raving about Such a Rush when it first came out, but mHere I am, continuing my way through Jennifer Echols's backlist. I remember Chachic and Maureen raving about Such a Rush when it first came out, but my library didn't have it so it wasn't a high priority for me. Big mistake. Boy is this book good.
Here is what I love so much about Echols's writing: her characters are messed-up real people. The have faults and flaws aplenty, and those will sometimes outweigh their finer traits. They are just so real. Leah and Grayson exemplify this perfectly. Leah is the product of a teenage pregnancy and her mom has never come around to the idea of being the responsible adult. Leah decided she did not want to be her mother and made goals for herself. She is desperate and vulnerable in so many ways. She is one mistake away from losing everything she wants for her future. She wants out of the trailer park. She wants into college. She wants to fly. People who are desperate and vulnerable often don't make the best decisions when they feel threatened. This is certainly true for Leah. She has lines she will not cross, but they are not the same lines people who live comfortable lines would have. It is easy to judge and look down on her as a character, but that would come from a high place of privilege that doesn't realize how true poverty and drive to escape it can warp one's decision making processes. Grayson is there to take full advantage of this, but in true Echols's fashion there is more to him. I should never like a manipulative boy as much as I do Grayson, but it's because there really is so much more to him. He is blackmailing Leah. Holding her future over her head to get her to do what he wants. He doesn't ask her to do anything awful though and he pays her well for her flying skills. Asking her to date his brother is an idiotic move, one he holds on to way longer and with far more tenacity than he should. But this is where I think Echols really succeeded with his character. For all his maneuvering and taking over a business, running it and learning how to take taxes out of paychecks, he is still just an 18 year old boy. One who is heartbroken, confused, and desperate to arrange what's left in his life in a way that makes him feel his heart is safe and secure. Does he pick the dumbest plan on the planet to accomplish this? Oh yeah. But again I say, 18 year old boy. It is incredibly realistic.
The romance in this book made me nervous when I first heard about it, and played a part in my not wanting to rush it to the top of my TBR. I was afraid this was going to turn more melodramatic than necessary. And while there was some melodrama involved, it didn't manifest itself in quite the way I thought it would. Also all of the melodrama fit the story, made sense to who the characters were, and never seemed too much for me. All of the chemistry and heat in the book come from Leah and Grayson. Alec and Leah's relationship is practically a non-starter from the start for several reasons, the main one being neither one is trying that hard. Leah isn't at all okay with faking an interest in Alec, particularly when she likes Grayson, and Alec has is own reasons. In addition to the romance in the book, there is also much focus on Leah's relationship with her only friend, Molly. Leah has a completely undeserved reputation that causes most girls to hate her guts. Molly is different, but their relationship is a fraught one.
Echols tackles some weighty themes in this book too. Leah's poverty is a very real thing, as is the neglect she suffers under mother's lack of care. She has raised herself, but there is a limit to what she can do. She becomes highly upset at some of the prying and poking Alec and Grayson do into her life and why she does some of the things she does. Privilege has a hard time seeing how hard true poverty can really be. Through Leah's interactions with people at school there is also some treatment of slut-shaming and how hard society can be on girls. Leah is a beautiful and sexy girl. Men and boys are drawn to her and tend to want to help her. She is much hated for this, but she honestly is oblivious to her affect on the male sex. Despite her reputation, Leah's only ever had sex with one person. Like I said she has lines she doesn't want to cross to mess-up her plans. Plans that do not involve teenage pregnancy. Another thing I like about Echols's books is that they are very sex positive. Of her three books I've read, the female mc's have been a virgin, a highly picky non-virgin, and a girl who is neither a virgin or picky. All of them are view sex as a positive thing though, something they want to experience and enjoy. Their standards are different, what they are looking for is different. In Leah's case she doesn't want to get pregnant and her focus on other things. I really like the way Echols weaves this into her stories and shows so many different and realistic ways teenage girls live their lives and make their choices.
Still loving exploring this author's work and can't wait to read more.
Content Warning: mentions of underage smoking and drinking, some sexual content ...more
I read Jennifer Echols's Biggest Flirts earlier this year and fell in love. It was my first Echols book and I immediately decided I needed more. I knew Major Crush, while out of print, had recently been rereleased on e-book and so I bought it right away. Unfortunately, I just got around to reading it last week. I know two things: I need to read all of Echols's back list and I love books about marching bands.
Virginia cherishes her role with the band and the time she spends with it. She is a great drummer, a dedicated drum major, and good friend to those she feels close to. She has a definite sense of who she is and what she wants to do. She is the first female drum major in the school's history and she wants to do well. Her problem is that Drew is a big something she wants, but feels she will never have because he hates her. Drew is the responsible one. He takes a lot of pride in it. But he also works really hard to break free and do the opposite of what people are telling him to when he has the chance. Drew is a legacy drum major-his dad and all his brothers had the position. Virginia intrigues him because of her sense of self and her free spirit. The two are opposites enough that sparks fly and it is wonderful. I love hate to love stories full of tension and this is a wonderful one. It is one of Echols's earlier works, and I could see a big difference in the writing between this and Biggest Flirts, but it is still incredibly good.
At first I was a little put off by the band director, but I feel like his character grew. Also, I can see a young 22 year old new teacher making the exact errors he does in dealing with the students. His suggestion that Virginia buy a short skirt and boots for her uniform was inappropriate, but he's not the first male teacher to do something so sexist, she's not the first teenage girl to shrug and go along with it, and I feel they both reached a reasonable understanding of things by the end.
Major Crush is a fantastic romance and a great band story. I really liked all the supporting characters as well. Both Drew and Virginia's friends are a lot of fun. I appreciate how the mistakes each character makes are very typical of teenagers and play into the reality of the story well. There are some dramatic moments, but they are moments anyone can see actually happening. The book is full of humor too which is always a plus.
I'm really looking forward to digging into the rest of Jennifer Echols's backlist. I already have Such a Rush checked out from the library and can't wait to get to it. ...more
I really wanted to love Exquisite Captive. I would like to read a book about a jinni that I can fall completely into. Since I read and absolutely adored Heather Demetrios's Something Real earlier this year, I thought this might be the one. Alas, no such luck.
What I Liked:
*Nalia's character. She is strong, smart, and proactive. She does not accept situations as they are easily and fights for what matters to her. She is involved in a conflict between what she feels and what everyone else tells her she should be. During her early life, it was her mother and the other jinni of her kind telling her. Now it is her master, and, to a lesser extent, Raif once he arrives on the scene.
*The relationship between Nalia and Malek, her master. This was incredibly well done. Demetrios did an excellent job of showing the psychology of such a relationship. Malek is a despicable person, but he has some good qualities as well and knows how to turn on the charm. Nalia spent two years in open rebellion against him and one in reluctant subjugation. He is now trying to change the nature of their relationship and the way Nalia, starved of any kind and loving interaction for far to long, reacts to this is completely realistic. I love how she knows and acknowledges his horridness while also feeling confused by the way she longs for the solace he offers. There is never a moment when she forgets who they both are and why there can not be a balanced relationship between them though.
*The politics of the jinni world and the intrigue of the Dark Caravan were fascinating.
What I Didn't Like: *The world building felt superficial, as though the author threw in every thing that could possibly say JINNI! into the book, but it didn't truly feel authentic. And there was a disconnect to how the Jinni on earth were behaving for me.
*The multiple descriptions of skin tone with foods. Almond. Cinnamon. People are not food. Stop. This.
*The specialness of Nalia. I like her so much as a character, but does she really have to be THE ONE AND ONLY of her kind left, completely different from all others?
*The convenient plot device that made any actual development of a relationship between Nalia and Raif unnecessary. Or apparently unnecessary. I could have used some development. I LIKE watching romantic relationships develop. If you're going to put a romance in a book, I want to see it develop. What's the point otherwise?
*The writing is a bit too descriptive and detailed in places. The kind of too descriptive that found me getting bored.
Will I read the sequel? Maybe. I wasn't super excited about the end. I'm not sure I like where this is headed. This first book didn't leave me invested enough to go through a lot of drama and angst with these particular characters.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Balzer & Bray, via Edelweiss. Exquisite Captive has a release date of October 7. ...more
After reading The Floating Islands a couple of years ago, I immediately put The City in the Lake on my TBR. There it sat despite the fact that I adored The Floating Islands, House of Shadows, and just really like Rachel Neumeier as a person too. After reading and loving Black Dog earlier this year I decided I needed to read this sooner rather than later and the Shelf-Sweeper challenge gave me the perfect opportunity for that. And I loved it so much.
I would really love to know what it is like to live inside Rachel's head, because all of her books are distinctly different, wildly inventive, and not what I think I'm getting when I start reading. You would think by now I would stop being surprised by that, but I continue to be amazed at her creativity and how her writing style alters to fit each world she has created. In The City in the Lake we get a quest story set in a fantasy world. If you think you know what that looks like and you've seen it before, you are wrong. You haven't seen this one. I loved the world here and how vast it is, yet contained in a rather small setting for the story. It is impressive how Neumeier is able to convey that vastness with few words. (Those who read this blog regularly know that is a trait my favorite authors all tend to share.) I loved the idea of the two cities, one in the lake and one on it, that reflect each other. The Forest in all its mysterious darkness is brought to full intimidating life and Timou's small village is rendered in just the right way. Reading this book, I actually felt like I was in all of these places and experiencing them in the same way as the characters.
The book's action centers around the royal family and Timou, a Mage's daughter, who never knew her mother. When the prince and then the King go missing, the King's older bastard son is left in charge and Timou's father has disappeared into the city to try and help. Timou follows when he doesn't return and discovers twisted secrets and a whole lot of family drama. There are a lot of characters involved and they are all well developed despite the shortness of the novel. I loved how Timou is a character of quiet strength. She has incredibly powerful magic and yet is not at all tempted by power. She is patient, stubborn, and hardworking. Her feelings are always kept under tight control, a trick she learned from her father, but one that has her confused when she begins to have feelings for Jonah, one of the men in her village. Jonah also has a quiet strength. He is not a sword wielding, run-into-danger type of hero, but his heroism and what he chooses to do with it are even more impressive as a result. I also really loved both of the princes, who are very different in all the ways brothers are. Neill, the bastard, is a fascinating character. He is the one who caught my imagination the most due to the choices he makes-and the ones he didn't but could have. Cassiel, the heir to the throne, is young and has many traits you would expect from being the younger, favored son, but he also has a core of steel and courage that is impressive. His charm and humor only make this more appealing (even if I was choosing between them, I would choose to like his brother more.) In dress, attitude, and actions, the villain is one of the creepiest I've read in some time. The symbolism Neumeier uses to introduce the concept of the villain into the story does an excellent job of adding to this terrifying calmness of evil the villain presents.
The City in the Lake is exactly the sort of fantasy I love and now I'm kicking myself for not having read it sooner. The world, characters, and story all combine to make an enthralling read and Neumeier's evocative prose put me right in the story. Woven in to the magic and intense political drama is also a great tale of siblings. All of my favorite things in a fantasy plus stuff I never knew to ask for. READ IT NOW. ...more
Tear You Apart is incredibly angsty. This is understandable as the story centers around Snow White (Viv) and her destined for doom love of he3.5 stars
Tear You Apart is incredibly angsty. This is understandable as the story centers around Snow White (Viv) and her destined for doom love of her huntsman (Henley). Cross is really good about highlighting the darker elements of the original fairy tales she is dealing with, and using those elements as a critique of the stories themselves and culture in general. I enjoyed Viv's struggles with who she was and what she wanted. I also felt the portrayal of her depression and fears surrounding her fate were so well done. Just as Cross intertwined two fairy tales in the first Beau Rivage story, Kill Me Softly, Tear You Apart is not just a retelling of Snow White but also The Twelve Dancing Princesses. I liked this one better than the first book. Viv's struggles seemed so real and I love the courage and strength she finds. I will definitely read more of these if they are written.
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Egmont, via NetGalley....more
What attracted me to This Side of Home by Renee Watson was the cover. The story hooked my interest. The characters made me fall in love.
Maya has lived her entire life in the same neighborhood in Portland hanging out with the same group of friends: her twin sister Nikki, their best friend Essence, and Ronnie, Malachi, and Devin-three boys her father mentors. They have plans for the future that involve each other: prom, college, life. But things in their neighborhood are changing. People are moving in and starting new businesses. Property values are going up as a result. In addition to change, this is also causing trouble. Essence has to move out of her house when the owner decides he can make more money selling it than renting it. The racial demographics of the school, which has been mostly African American, is shifting. This presents new challenges and choices for Maya and her friends. It brings new people into their lives at the same time. Maya has to figure out how-and if-she wants to adjust her world to fit these new opportunities and relationships as the friendships she's held close for so many years are also starting to change.
Maya's voice is so perfect. Yes, that's the word I'm going to use. Perfect. Her narrative skips a lot. There are some giant leaps in time, and yet the story has a natural flow and rhythm. (It is divided seasonally so this makes sense, but Watson executes it particularly well.) Maya is faced with so many challenges and things she doesn't like during her senior year. The new principal is one of those educators who, I think, means well but just has his head up his arse. (I've worked with many such people.) There are new people on the student council who are trying to change the culture of the school. There are the new businesses and so many white faces they've brought with them. Her sister is hanging out with the new girl who moved into their old best friend's house. And then there's the good looking boy who also lives in that house. Tony is not who a girl like Maya ought to be with-so she thinks. But he makes her heart flutter when her boyfriend Devin doesn't. Maya's struggle is one that most seniors have. Things are changing-too many things too fast sometimes. In many ways her figuring out how to reconcile conflicting desires and objectives in her life is a common one. What is uncommon is that its set against a backdrop of gentrification and racial tension that many readers may not ever experience or even realize happens. I loved experiencing her journey from the beginning of the story to the end. She makes adjustments to fit changing world into her worldview, but she changes things around her too. It's a wonderful story. It's full of hope without being cheesy. I also liked how the supporting characters are all given nuance. There is no relying on stereotypes. There are a lot of characters in the book, but it's easy to tell them all apart. And I just love so many of them besides Maya. (Tony, Nikki, Charles, Essence, Mrs. Armstrong, Star) Even Cynthie, who is set up as Maya's rival of sorts, has more to her. The reader can see it there even if Maya can't.
The fantastic characters in This Side of Home give the world a story that is full of tension and hard truths about urban living, gentrification, and the resources allotted to public schools. It's a look at how a variety of people live and how a variety of people think-all filtered through the lens of one 17 year old girl. That filter helps to bring the injustices and gray areas of it all a sharper relief. Maya isn't right about everything from the start, but the way she sees the world helps to bring many important issues into the light. This is a great book to spark thoughts on what defines a person. Is it race? Is it culture? Is it where you're from? Who you date? Where you go to school? Your address? How do we take all those things others use to judge us and make it a part of our own identity? Or not. I enjoyed the way Watson presented these questions through the story, how they were debated, and how many characters arrive at differing conclusions.
This Side of Home is a book that will be added to my shelves and recommend to any who will listen to me talk about.
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Bloomsbury Children's USA, via NetGalley. This Side of Home goes on sale February 3rd....more
The Kiss of Deception by Mary Pearson is a book I looked forward to with much anticipation. I will always read a political intrigue fantasy story, even if many times they leave me dissatisfied. As I began to read, I thought this might be one of those. I almost DNFed it. In the end I'm glad I didn't because once stuff started happening, it got really good.
I loved the opening chapters of the book. I was entranced by the cadence of the words, the world-building, and Lia herself. I thought the build-up to Lia's flight and the carefully given glimpses into her life to explain it were truly well done. Then the narrator introduces the prince and the assassin in two chapters each form their point of view. And then a great deal doesn't happen but romantic angst for about 150 pages. This is where the author almost lost me. There isn't so much political intrigue as romantic intrigue. It is possible to do this well, but it felt a little forced here, like the author was trying so hard to be coy, she lost what could have been a lot of great character and plot development as a result. It didn't help that Lia mentions that there is a lot banter exchanged between her and Rafe (and she enjoys this), but we as readers are not privy to this banter. Hello! I love good banter. I crave good banter. If you are going to spend so much time developing a romance, DEVELOP IT. Don't just tell me about it. I feel like this middle part could be much shorter and it would do the book a world of good. Eventually something happens that moves the plot forward and things get amazing from then on.
The latter third of the book is where Lia's character begins to turn into a person I will follow and cheer from now until the end of the trilogy. She comes across as spoiled (or at least she did to me at first). Not because she wants fine things and is unwilling to work, but because she abandoned her family and her people at a time they truly needed her. Running away from your father the king may seem brave but when it risks a war that will costs innocent lives, you are the one that is in the wrong. Lia's naiveté about the world and the way it works starts to melt away as she is forced to confront some harsh realities. The Lia that is present at the end of the book is very different from the one at the beginning and I like her so much better, but it was interesting to watch her get there. That change happening as it did was what was needed to make her the hero she will need to be for what is coming next.
Speaking of....this book has what could be called a cliffhanger ending except it really kind of just ends. It's not like we got to the climax and were left hanging. There is no climax. This feels like all rising action, which, I suppose, one could argue is fine in the first part of a trilogy. I personally just like each of my installments in a series or trilogy to have its own distinct plot arc. The writing is engaging though, and now I'm hooked. There is no way I'm going to let this trilogy go unfinished. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens in book two.
One other concern I had going in was that there was going to be a love triangle, and while what manifested here vaguely resembles one, I feel like Pearson dealt with that well. I can only hope that continues because I will be unhappy if Lia actually waffles at all between these two. I don't want to spoil anyone so I will just say this about the boys: one of them is amazing, one of them is so not. (Like getting drunk and assaulting her so not.)
Overall this one is enjoyable, though I think the pacing could have been much better. The end really saved it for me and I'm glad I kept reading.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Henry Holt, via NetGalley. The Kiss of Deception goes on sale July 8. ...more
There was a hate to love romance that was rather nice and the plot was certainly action filled. The writing when it focused on Johanna and Rafi kept mThere was a hate to love romance that was rather nice and the plot was certainly action filled. The writing when it focused on Johanna and Rafi kept me riveted. For the first 100 plus pages I was very annoyed with the constant shifts to what the Keepers and the others were doing. It was frustrating. I feel like that could have been cut down and summarized and the book would have been better paced and shorter. My biggest complaint with this lies in the world-building. It never felt organic or like a fully realized place. ...more
When I discovered what Don't Call Me Baby by Gwendolyn Heasley was about, I immediately wanted to read it because I like books that explore online dynamics and family dynamics. A book with both seemed a perfect fit for me and this one does both fairly well.
I have never understood the world of mommy-blogs. To be perfectly honest, they creep me out. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who don't get why people blog about books either, but at least I don't have to talk about MY KIDS on the book blog. (I know I do occasionally but only briefly and I always ask permission first.) I was perfectly prepared going in to completely side with Imogene and not her mom. No surprises there, that is what happened. Meg is absorbed with her blog (the entries she writes are super obnoxious). It has taken over her life. She has lost sight of who her daughter is and what she wants. Every little thing they do revolves around the blog in some way. Imogene does not respond in the most mature manner to her mother's blogging. She is young and her voice definitely reflects that. At her school the 9th graders are still in junior high and not at the high school yet. She has had a fairly sheltered life which causes her to sound even younger. Her best friend Sage is the daughter of a blogger too. Her mom runs a vegan/organic eating blog. Sage rebels by gorging herself on junk food from the mall food court on a regular basis and eating sugar from any source she can get it. Together the girls launch their own blog to counteract their moms. Imogen grows a lot over the course of the book and discovers things about herself, her mom, and the complications of life. While Meg is an example of how not to deal with a teenage daughter, she really does love Imogen and they don't have a terrible relationship. The way their situation was resolved is believable and makes sense. My favorite character is Imogene's grandmother (Meg's mom) who lives with them. I really enjoyed the inter-generational interactions and conversations from this.
The book is an interesting inspection of online versus offline life, the motives people may have for sharing what they do online, and the benefits of unplugging it all for a little bit. There is also an interesting look at who is really more obsessed with social media, teens or their parents. All of this is good stuff even if it is not as well executed in places as it might have been. Mostly though it is a book about family and relationships. What I enjoyed the most were watching the interactions between the three generations of women in this family and how they loved each other despite their differences. It is certainly worth a read if these are things that interest you and I am now interested in picking up Heasley's other novels....more
I have made not secret about how much I adore Stephanie Burgis's Regency fantasy Kat Incorrigible books. When I closed that last page of Stolen Magic, I was left feeling satisfied with the end of Kat's story in those books, but I couldn't help wanting more. When Stephanie started talking about a novella she was writing that would take place upon Kat's debut into society and her own romance, I was beyond thrilled. Courting Magic is everything I wanted it to be. It left me with a huge grin on my face that hasn't faded. It is, in fact, only growing larger as I type this and think about it all over again.
Kat has aged well in the five years since the end of her adventures in Stolen Magic. She has learned to control her tongue and temper. She is still irrepressibly Kat though. Her family still treat her like the girl she was though, telling her what to do, talking over her at times, and not crediting her with the sense that time and experience have instilled in her. I enjoyed this element because this is so true to life. Our families know us so well, but they don't always see us the clearest because they are too close. Mr. Gregson on the other hand, seems to fully trust Kat. He has seen his years of training pay off time and time again. She is a full-fledged guardian and fighter against evil magic. It is rather impressive. Most of the characters from the previous novels make a reappearance here. I didn't realize how badly I needed to see how Lucy's life turned out, until there she was. Her role in this story is marvelous. Reading this is like attending a reunion where I just want to sit and watch these people I love interact with each other. It was incredibly well done.
The plot involves a magical mystery that must be solved. Kat and her entrance into Society set the perfect scene for an undercover operation that involves her taking on three others with guardian magic as her would-be suitors, all of them in the pursuit of justice. Shenanigans of the hilarious and romantic variety ensue. Kat helped all three of her siblings into true love and it was so rewarding to see her find her own. I don't want to spoil much about that, but the romantic element is well done. There is everything that makes a good romance: amusing banter, heated looks, some misunderstanding, and some pretty great kissing. The hero is everything Kat deserves in a partner and their whole dynamic in this story is just lovely.
If you have young MG age fans of the original trilogy in your life and you are wondering at letting them read this, have no fear. There is some kissing and giddy descriptions of attraction, but nothing more than kids this age generally get from movies and other books for their own age group. I let Bit read it (and she loved it too).
Basically this book was all that I could have asked for. Happiness bubbled up inside me as I was reading it, like I was a bottle of soda being shaken up. It just made me effervescent when I was done, walking around grinning like a fool.
Stephanie self-published this and here is her post on all the places you can purchase it if you wish. (And you should most definitely wish to.) ...more
I am still making my way through Diana Wynne Jones's backlist. I probably wouldn't have read The Homeward Bounders for a long time to come as it's currently out of print in the the US (except as an e-book) if it weren't for a conversation on Twitter I had with Sage Blackwood in which she said she heard some consider it to be a metaphor for life as a military kid. My interest level rose exponentially and she was kind enough to send me an old used library copy to read. (Much thanks for that.)
This book, like all of Jones's books, has had many covers. I'm using the latest UK cover because I really like these covers for her books.
The Homeward Bounders unfolds slowly. For the first part of the novel Jamie is all alone simply telling his story about how he came to be a Homeward Bounder and the way the worlds work. As he tells his tale little things about Them (the players) are revealed, and what is revealed is rather chilling. They have no regard for lives. They are ruthless in pursuit of the game they are playing. The game they are playing is us and our lives. And the lives of countless other beings in countless other worlds. We are all pieces on a giant board game helped along by computers and players (the identity of who is a brilliant reveal). Who hasn't wondered about that at some point in their life? This is the sheer genius of Diana Wynne Jones, taking the things everyone ponders and expanding on them and turning them into a brilliant story. Jamie is thrust out of his world after discovering the game. A "discard", he is forced to wander the worlds in search of home. He is alone for a great deal of his search and that loneliness comes off the page and affects the reader. Finally Jamie is able to find some companions. Helen is special in her world, but has been exiled because she also discovered too much. Joris is a demon hunter apprentice, a slave with so much devotion he was dragged into life as a Homeard Bounder by a demon he refused to let go. These three are misfits and they form a strong if somewhat squabble team. A team that doubles when they are able to convince some actual non-Bounders of what is going on. But of course, this can't last forever. They are not going to allow them to remain together without a fight. I really enjoyed Jamie as a character all alone, a wander traveling the worlds. And I loved his interactions with the family he cobbles together from the people he meets. Helen and Adam are particularly fun to watch him with.
The Homeward Bounders is tragic, far more so than a lot of Jones's books are. It is a sort of tragic that is full of purpose though. The trials are not for nothing and the people suffering them learn to adjust, though it leaves scars and yearnings they will never shake. Yes, I can see why some people have likened it to life as a military brat. There were some sentences that made me cry because, yes, they do describe the feelings you have, the feeling that home is a place out there somewhere if you could only just find it, but deep down you know you never will because you missed that chance. That your life is out of your control. That you form attachments only to have them ripped away from you so why bother forming them at all anymore. There is something utterly profound in the conclusion of the book that relates as well. The lack of choice the Bounders have about how long they stay in one place (but they do know approximately how long it will be) and their lack of choice in where they end up next speaks to it as well. Whether Jones did this intentionally or not, I can't help but wish I had this book growing up.
The Homeward Bounders is not a book everyone is going to like, but it is perfect for me. I think it is one of Jones's best actually. It doesn't have the charm and quirk of Chrestomanci, Howl, or Derkholm, but it still has a sly and ironic humor that keeps it from being too tragic. And in the end it really is a beautiful story that is brilliantly crafted....more
I received a copy of A Matter of Souls by Denise Lewis Patrick at ALA Midwinter, a signed copy after I met the author. I'm going to confess that I shelved it and forgot about it after returning until I unpacked it this past week after moving. I was reminded of the #weneeddiversebook campaign and decided the weekend of the 48 Hour Book Challenge was the perfect time to read it. I feel so bad for having neglected it for this long, but I feel even worse that I didn't see much buzz about it to remind me. WHY are more people not talking about this book????
A Matter of Souls is a collection of short stories. This is a format we don't see enough of in YA and these stories are so well written. Patrick has a way with words, pulling the reader into the story in just a few and holding them with the characters she has created. Each setting unique and yet not as they all center around the same basic theme and struggle. Each character is unique and their struggle, while familiar in general is unique to that person. Patrick gives each story equal glory. There is sadness in these pages. Heaps and heaps of it. There is death and darkness and the worst humanity as to offer. There is also life and hope and the struggle for more and better. There are glimpses of the better humanity sometimes attempts to strive for as well.
I really appreciate how the title and the final story ties the whole together. Every story anywhere is really a matter of souls and Patrick does an excellent job of illustrating that and the interconnectedness of all. The book makes an excellent resource for anyone teaching US History or creative writing, but needs to be talked of more simply because it is an amazingly good and powerful book. Read it. ...more