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.(less)
I read Sarah Jamila Stevenson's The Latte Rebellion earlier this year and enjoyed it. When I discovered she had a new book coming out this year that took place in Wales and had a ghostly element to it, I couldn't wait to read it. The Truth Against the World delivered nicely on its promise.
Wyn is fascinated by the history and folklore of her great-grandmother's native Wales. She has grown up listening to the stories and hanging on every word. She even recently began trying to learn to speak Welsch. Gee Gee's dying of cancer and wishes to return to her homeland one more time and it Wyn and her parents are taking her. Wyn is deeply upset by Gee Gee's impending death. They are very close. This is what I really loved about this novel. I liked Wyn's relationship with Gee Gee, her relationship with her parents (even when strained), and father's relationship with his grandmother. This book is all about the ties of family and history, how those things affect our present and future. Stories that explore these things are favorites of mine and I think Wyn is an excellent character for exploring them with. Gareth Lewis, the boy who finds Wyn online after having a disturbing encounter with a ghost bearing her name, is also an excellent character for this. His great-grandfather lives in the same town Gee Gee is from. He and Wyn have an eery amount of things in common, including the strange things that are happening to them. I appreciated how genuine both of these characters read. They are both only 15 and their parents are heavily involved in all of their decisions and actions. The interactions between both teens and their parents are ones that occur in households the world over every day. They both sound young, because they are young, though intelligent.
This is a slower story. It unfolds piece by piece. Don't go into this expecting to get a thrilling tale of creepy hauntings with twists on every page. It is not that sort of book. The mystery that Wyn and Gareth are unraveling is not all that difficult to figure out as an outsider (and an adult), but I thoroughly enjoyed watching them make the discovery themselves at the same time discovering each other, the town of their heritage, and the past. If you enjoy the sort of book that does all of these things well, this is one you should definitely pick up.
I read an e-galley received from the publisher, Flux, via NetGalley. The Truth Against the World goes on sale June 8th. (less)
Jonathan Auxier has a way with words. That was evident with his debut novel, Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, and his latest offering, The Night Gardener, proves it beyond doubt. Atmospheric, mysterious, and chilling, it is a book whose words don't just beg to be read, they demand it.
This is a review of an ARC received by the publisher in exchange for a fair review.
Molly has a way with words and stories. She weaves her words together to create tales that are almost magical in their power to make others believe her and want to do as she says. Kip is talented with gardening. He loves the plants and tends them well. Together they are an intrepid team telling the type of story I love most, a sibling story. Within the house live another set of siblings, Alistair and Penny. Alistair is an unpleasant gluttonous bully. Penny is a little girl longing for someone to love her, play with her, and tell her stories. Kip and Penny, the younger siblings in each set, are easy to love and root for. As a reader, I felt a desperate need for neither of them to be injured in any way. Kip is hardworking and simply longs to be like other children despite his lame leg. Penny is exuberant and full of life and energy. Watching what the house and its secrets are doing to her is not pleasant. Molly and Alistair, the oldest two, are a bit harder to fully embrace. Alistair is meant to be unpleasant. He is there as a foil, mostly for Molly, who, while likeable, has plenty of flaws. The most serious of which is her inability to separate story telling and lying. She is also exceedingly stubborn and does not want to listen to anyone's counsel but her own. I think she will be relatable to child readers, as will Kip and Penny.
I also really liked how the adults are active and present participants in the story as well. The Windsor parents are even more caught up in the house and its secrets than the children are and are in need of help and rescue. Hazel, the old story teller, is also an important part of the story, and I like how she was there for information and guidance but didn't interfere with what the children were accomplishing.
On one level The Night Gardener is a creepy tale about a mysterious old house and the malevolent force at work inside it. The plotting and pacing are done just right to pull readers in and keep them in, caught up in the story, on the edge of their seats wondering what is going on. It is exactly the right level of creepy too. Kids who want a book to creep them out and will expect exactly that after looking at the cover, will not be disappointed. As the eerie mysteriousness of the plot unfolds it is Auxier's brilliant use of imagery and the cadence of the writing that holds one spellbound. This would make a superior read aloud, but it is also beautiful read silently. This is not just a creepy story for the sake of having a spine-tingling read though. (Although that's always good fun on its own.) It is a story of family, courage, greed, selfishness, forgiveness, despair, love, hope, and redemption. And justice. (I really liked that element.) And all of that is layered in with the characters and action so seamlessly. The characters live it and the reader sees and feels it. Most of all, it is a story about the power of story and words. Auxier uses each and every one of his carefully to bind the reader to him, just as Molly does with hers. I love this realization Molly comes to at one point: "I think I figured it out. Hester asked me what the difference between a story and a lie was. At the time, I told her a story helps folk. Helps 'em do what? she asked. Well, I think I know the answer. A story helps folks face the world, even when it frightens 'em. And the lie does the opposite. It helps you hide." That is this story in a quote.
I would caution care and knowledge of the reader when giving this to younger kids reading MG books. There is enough darkness and horror to frighten the sensitive, but I think it is exactly the right amount for the majority of MG readers. The amount they long for and need, balanced with a great deal of hope and triumph as well. It is basically everything I love and look for in a book.
I read an ARC received from the publisher, Amulet Books, at ALA Midwinter. The Night Gardener goes on sale May 20th.(less)
I really had fun reading Clark's former duology, The Assassin's Curse and The Pirate's Wish, so was excited when I discovered another book was coming...moreI really had fun reading Clark's former duology, The Assassin's Curse and The Pirate's Wish, so was excited when I discovered another book was coming out set in the same world. While still a fun and intriguing story, I didn't enjoy this one as much as the previous two. Hanna has an interesting past and eventually does some interesting things, but for a large portion of the novel she complains and flounces a lot. The story takes so long to go anywhere truly interesting. The majority of it is spent on the boat, and I don't love stories that take place on boats. Also, enough people I trust have called in to question Clark's research and knowledge of how boating works that I find myself distrustful now whenever her characters on a boat. This felt a bit repetitive too. The Mists need to be defeated by a girl on a boat with a boy who has a mysterious origin. AGAIN??? All of that combined to make it harder for me to get into. But I love the magic and world-building still.(less)
Knightley & Son by Rohan Gavin is a perfect read for budding mystery enthusiasts who may not be quite ready for Sherlock Holmes. I was drawn to this book not only because of the mystery, but also because of the father/son dynamic that the synopsis promised.
This is a review of an ARC received from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.
Darkus and Alan both bear a strong resemblance to iconic detective Sherlock Holmes. Darkus is socially awkward, but mature and super polite. Both he and his father have a strong observation skills, and Darkus is particularly good at deducing through rational thought. Alan is a bit off his game having been asleep for four years. This gives Darkus an advantage over his father making him the hero. Kids love it when this device is used in their books, and Gavin does a good job with it. At the same time Darkus and his father have a continuously developing relationship that is interesting in itself. Alan was an absent workaholic prior to falling into his long sleep, and he firmly believes that keeping his distance from his son is the best thing for him. In the years his father has been asleep, Darkus decided to become as much like him as possible in order to impress him when he woke up. Alan is impressed, but also chagrined, chastened, and a bit incredulous. Alan is not at all a likeable character. At one point he even says, "She was distracting, Doc. As female counterparts often are." This is an attitude that shines through his entire life, including his dealings with his ex-wife. Darkus fortunately doesn't seem swallow his father's anti-women in the business sentiments. The girl in question here is Darkus's stepsister, Tilly, who is a marvelous character. She needed to be in the book more, and will hopefully be featured more prominently as the series continues.
The mystery is a fun one featuring a mysterious book that is causing people to commit heinous crimes. Alan believes a sinister organization is behind it all. As the case continues, it becomes clear that something with a lot of muscle and little conscience is behind it all. It is one of those mysteries that is a race agains time. It is an engaging read. I know several of my students will be highly interested in it.
One thing I really liked was that the Britishisms were not Americanized. THANK YOU!
I read an ARC received from the publisher, Bloomsbury USA Children's, at ALA Midwinter. Knightley & Son is available for purchase now. (less)
When I read Juniper Berry a couple of years ago, I was excited about what future stories M.P. Kozlowsky would give us. The Dyerville Tales is just as unique and engrossing as Juniper Berry was while being incredibly different.
I read ARC received from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.
Vince uses stories to keep the hope inside of him alive. Hope for the future. His. I love this so much. It made me want to scoop him up out of the book and adopt him. Readers in the target audience will have a different reaction of course. They will be able to identify with him. Because this is how so many of us cope with the day to day of our lives, tragic or not. Vince has a lot of tragic to cope with and yet he still believes in good and that there is hope in the future. Even when he tells himself he is being silly and tries to turn cynical, he can't. And I just love that. I love that his life his harsh and he says that, but refuses to believe that's all it can be. He is a hero I was willing to go along with. Vince's story is told alongside that of his grandfather's (also named Vince). The grandfather died recently and Vince is left with a book of tales about his life as a young man. As Vince travels to his grandfather's funeral, he reads the stories. They are fantastic and unbelievable, but Vince is convinced they hold truth. They also hold interesting parallels to Vince's own life.
Once Vince decides to leave the orphanage against the head's wishes to attend the funeral and he starts reading the book, the story moves quickly. It was a little slow before that, but I think many children will be caught at the beginning with the tale of how Vince's parents died. The tale is not a pretty one. I liked this about the book actually. Just as in Juniper Berry, Kozlowsky deals with the grim darkness of reality, but does in a way children can appreciate and respond to. There were some things about the plot that didn't entirely make sense to me and many mysteries left unexplained. But such is life. I enjoyed the parts with Vince far more than the fantastical tales of his grandfather though. I'm interested to see how others respond to this.
This is a great story and I'm eager to share it with the kids I know. It is one I can see appealing to many of them.
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Walden Pond Press, via Edelweiss. The Dyerville Tales goes on sale April 22nd. (less)
I was pretty excited to read Talker 25 by Joshua McCune because, well, DRAGONS. Despite futuristic-the-world-sucks novels not at all being my thing, I couldn't wait for this one. Again I say, DRAGONS. I will read anything with a dragon in it. Unfortunately this book is heavy on the life-sucks and light on the dragons. (Except when they are being tortured in horrific graphic detail.)
I read an ARC received in exchange for a fair review.
The writing in Talker 25 is almost hypnotic. I was certainly drawn into the story and it was riveting reading. When I was reading it, I was completely engaged. Dragons came to earth 15 years ago, no one knows how or why (including the dragons). Some people got killed. The government went into high security mode, locked down the population, and went on a dragon killing rampage. They are still attempting to annihilate the remaining dragons. There are groups of insurgents trying to protect the remaining dragons. The military is engaging in controlling dragons and injuring civilians in order to blame the insurgents. They've even created a war camp where they hold teens capable of telepathically communicating with the dragons to help control them. The plot is fast paced and, while purely derivative of other stories, explores some interesting themes about modern entertainment, loyalty, government power, and ethics in war. The problem is the execution of all this is incredibly muddled and this is largely due to the characters.
I'm sure that there are a lot of reviews out there that will declare Melissa as unlikeable. And she is. She is supposed to be. She is an angry, confused, lonely teen as the story opens. There's little there to like. But she is so very human and I appreciated that about her. Her character almost made me really like this, but there was too much I couldn't overlook. One of those things is that none of the character's motivations every made any sense to me, and that included Melissa's even though the story is told in first person from her point of view. This a plot heavy story, and with so much action and characters, the character development is bound to suffer. I think it is a major flaw though when the reader can't figure out why anyone is doing anything they are doing. Melissa's original hatred of the dragons was understandable. Her sudden desire to rescue a random insurgent boy (hot, of course) in the midst of a military hospital is less so. She throws some line about the dragons not being what they thought out during this scene, which I read four times to figure out where the heck that came from. I still don't know. If you ask me, she still had reason to be wary of the dragons. They aren't evil incarnate, like the government is making them out to be, but they aren't fluffy bunnies either. They are often hungry and they like to eat humans. And at this point she had no real reason to fear the military both of her parents worked for. She spends a very brief time at some dragon caves communing with a couple dragons and not liking them much still. Once she is captured by the military and sent to the camp, she suddenly becomes the dragons biggest champion. Part of this is a deep-seated desire to not be broken, which I can appreciate. And it turns out the government is evil incarnate. They are killing innocent people, torturing dragons, and being all around horrifically cruel and villainous. And for the life of my I can't figure out WHY. I know power corrupts and all that, but the villainy here is almost cartoonish and a bit excessive. In books like Fahrenheit 451 and 1984, I understood the government's motivations. One of my major complaints about modern books of this sort, is this. I can't figure out why the governments even want to be doing what they are doing, and this book suffers greatly from that flaw.
Another issue I have is how gruesomely detailed the violence and torture scenes are. You can write scenes of great impact that leave the reader chilled and horrified without going into gruesome detail. (I offer as evidence chapter three of The Queen of Attolia and all of Code Name Verity.) In fact, I am often MORE impacted by descriptions that leave more to the imagination. I have a very good imagination. And when violence is this descriptive I simply start to shut down.
Reading Talker 25 was rather like experiencing a video game to me. And I didn't particularly enjoy the experience. I'm sure there will be readers out there who will and won't have the same issues I do, but I can't really recommend this without serious reservations.
Content Note: graphic violence, strong language, sexual references, may be a trigger for those who have suffered sexual assault or abuse
I read an ARC received from the publisher, Greenwillow Books, via Edelweiss. Talker 25 is on sale April 22. (less)
The Islands of Chaldea is the last novel from Diana Wynne Jones. Almost finished when she died and completed by her sister, it is sad to think that it the last time we will get a peek into her vast and varied imagination. However, I am MUCH HAPPIER with this as her final book than I was with Earwig and the Witch being her final. While not as wonderful as my favorite DWJ books, it is still very good. And a not as a good as the best DWJ is still far superior to almost everything else.
This is a review of an ARC received from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.
Aileen is the next in a long line of Wise Women. She is supposed to have magic and power, but she messes up her Initiation and is left wondering if she is bound to be a disappointment. This is hard for her living in the shadow of her Aunt Beck, who is highly powerful and a strong, decisive, no-nonsense personality. Aileen is smart and resourceful. She pays attention. And even though she feels inferior at times, she uses these situations as an opportunity to learn. When Beck is taken out of commission and unable to lead their expedition, Aileen rises to the occasion and truly comes into her own. She must think quickly and have much courage, and is a truly great heroine. The cast of supporting characters is as diverse and quirky as one would expect from a Jones novel. On the quest with Aileen and her aunt are a prince, a boy exiled from his land, a priest, a parrot, and a strangely magical ugly cat. I loved every single one of them, their interactions, and the dynamic of the group. Aileen and Ogo (exiled boy) are my favorites, while the others provided a good deal of comedy relief. Relief sometimes needed as the group encounters more than one Queen who wishes them ill will, a ship captain who doesn't seem to care whether they survive the voyage or not, cultural differences that almost see them arrested more than once, and finally the confrontation with a villain willing to destroy the world to gain power over it. Good good stuff.
The Islands of Chaldea are varied and the inhabitants of each have different cultures and norms, but they are all connected. You can see the influences of Scotland, Ireland, and England in them but they are their own places as well. The world-building is excellent as always and comes with no explanation. They are an experience and the reader does experience them thoroughly as the intrepid group of heroes makes their way through them in an attempt to reach the one blocked island that has been separated from the rest by a barrier. It is a fascinating tale and one that moves quickly. I did thing some things at the end were a bit rushed and could have used more explanation. (How things resolved in Prince Ivar's situation for one. That was a bit abrupt.) For the most part though I was delighted with the story from beginning to end. It is Aileen's story above all and I love how everything worked out for her.
Fans of DWJ are not going to be able to resist this one, nor should they try. I was nervous going in, but that was soon replaced with joy and delight as I sank into the engaging and fun story.
I read an e-galley made available via the publisher, Greenwillow Books, on Edelweiss. The Islands of Chaldea is available for purchase on April 22. (less)
When I first saw the cover and description for The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham, I knew it was a book I had to read. It is a great MG Fantasy that combines folklore, ruffians, and adventure to tell a fun a story.
I read an ARC provided by publisher in exchange for a fair review.
In many ways The Luck Uglies is a familiar story. It is typical of its genre in theme, setting, and characters. I enjoyed this aspect of it. I knew what I was getting and what to expect, and while what it does is nothing terribly new, it is done incredibly well. And most readers in the target audience will not have read as many fantasies of this type. They will thoroughly enjoy discovering this type of book through The Luck Uglies.
Rye is an adventurous girl who does not always make the best decisions. She is a child though and the often ridiculous things she does make perfect sense in her young mind. I could see a lot of my daughter in her while I was reading, and this will be a book I think she would love. Rye has two best friends, one boy one girl (of course) and a wonderful mother and little sister. This is a family story as much as it is anything else, and those are always great reads. Combining a good family story with action, adventure, and some monsters to terrorize a village always makes for a fun read.
The Bog Noblins are an eery monster, fierce and scary. They eat animals and people, viciously tearing them apart in the process. Durham does not shy away from the gory horror of this and there are some cringe worthy scenes that most kids are going to love. The Bog Noblins aren't the only evil lurking in Village Drowning. In fact, they aren't event the worst of the evil. There is also the dastardly Lord of the village, who is not hesitant to sacrifice his people to save his own life. Durham explores some interesting themes through this.
The Luck Uglies is the first in a trilogy, but I didn't know that when I read it. It is a complete and full story in and of itself and can be read as a stand alone.
This is an excellent and fun book, one that I will be delighted to hand to my students who I'm sure will love it.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Harper Children's, via Edelweiss. The Luck Uglies will be available for purchase on April 9. (less)
Happy sigh. It is always nice when a trilogy I love ends on a high note, and Horizon, the final book Jenn Reese's Above World trilogy, does just that.
This is a review of an ARC received in exchange for a fair review.
My favorite thing about these books have been the characters. Aluna, Hoku, Calli, and Dash won my hearts thoroughly in Above World and Vachir, Nathif, and Tayan found their own places in it during Mirage. I went into this book with a whole lot of love for these characters and an equal amount of fear for their safety and well-being. I was also concerned about their relationships with each other based on the synopsis, as that is the main reason I love them all so much. They are who they are because of the way the care for, stand with, and help each other despite their differences. There are some sad moments in the book. They are all separated, Dash and Vachir going one way, Calli returning to Sky Feather Landing, and Aluna and Hoku returning to Shifting Tides, as they are all driven by a need to save their own people. What I really liked though was how they worked through that and understood what the others had to do and why. It was cause for minor conflict and there were some misunderstandings, as is always the case when people are tired, stressed, and scared, but through it all the foundation of their friendship and loyalty to each other stayed strong. From the beginning I've loved the theme of family and choice of community that is woven through these stories. This final installment stays true to that while also demonstrating how complicated and hard the world is to live in and how nothing is ever simple, particularly the choices we have to make in a crisis. It also manages to introduce even more characters who have earned places in my heart too.
All four of the main characters experience some harrowing things over the course of their final journeys. It is all very definitely there, but not too detailed and in your face, a perfect balance for the intended audience. The book starts with them all together and then as they start to split up follows them each in the places they are going. It's a lot of action, but it was not at all difficult to keep track of. I particularly enjoyed watching Aluna, Hoku, and Calli return to their homes. They've all seen and experienced so much of the outside world and it changed them. Watching them all face the changes in themselves with their new views of their homes is fascinating, and one I think will appeal to the older MG reader who is questioning their own place in the world and seeing their families and communities through a different lens than they did as a child. I really liked the way the story ended too, but won't go into too many details of why to avoid spoilers.
This trilogy is also a favorite of my daughter, who is nine, and several of my students so I know how well this works with the MG demographic. I think they are going to eat up this book as fast and happily as they did the others.
I received an e-galley from the publisher, Candlewick Press, via NetGalley. Horizon will be available on April 8th. (less)
A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge was one of the books I had to read for the YAMG Book Challenge. It was the only book potentially destined to come my way in the brackets that I had not previously read. Why? Because it has not been published in the US yet. And this is a TRAGEDY.
This is the story of Neverfell, a wide-eyed, sheltered, compassionate, cheerful, inquisitive girl who longs to explore and see the world outside the front door she has been locked behind as long as she can remember. Characters like this usually drive me insane. There is so much goodness in her. An unbelievable amount of goodness. I normally can't stand this, but Neverfell caught me and held me and made me love her. And even though I knew she was heading for a host of awful discoveries that were going to change and disillusion her, I found I didn't want them to change her. She is naive and far too trusting. There were moments when I wanted to jump in the book and knock her upside the head, but her naiveté is so genuine and believable. She has no reason for cynicism or distrust. She was never taught the possible cruelties of the world, and her world is cruel indeed. Where she is, no one can show the emotions they feel in their facial expressions. Except for Neverfell. People pay to learn how to make expressions and tailor them for the appropriateness of a moment, so they are never genuine. Except for Neverfell. She is the perfect tool and in constant danger as a result. She utterly refuses to see this and stumbles through life with a warm generosity that ordinarily makes me want to walk away from a character and never look back. In this case I wanted to shelter her and help her, meaning I was very much able to relate to one of the other characters in the story she comes across. One more cynical and not quite trustworthy. There is more to Neverfell though. Part of her curiosity is a result of her scientific mind. She is an amazingly talented mechanic. She is also fiercely determined and, it turns out, capable of being sneaky and ruthless herself which made me like her even more. (I know. I obviously have issues.) Everyone thinks she's mad, but really her mind just works differently. So much is made about her appearance, but it is really the way she thinks and feels that throw the people around her off. She is different. Other. And that means she is to be feared or used. Both at the same time occasionally.
Which brings me to the themes in the book. Through Neverfell and the people she comes in contact with, those who want to use her, those who want to protect her, and those who end up working with her, Hardinge paints a picture of a society we all can recognize because we live in it. Despite the world of Carverna being distinctly different from our own, it is exactly like our own. The twisted political maneuverings, the exploitation and intentional subjugation of those that can be forced to work, the falseness of society, and the power of belief in a system is brought out in every word on every page. But it is not at all forced. It is rendered through the contrast of Neverfell and the world around her, thorough her desire to do good and her ability to spark the same in others, through the details in the world building. It is all brilliantly woven together.
Then there is the writing, which is as top-notch as it gets. Beautiful imagery, evocative descriptions, and soul searing emotion are all on display. The world of Caverna is one I could feel, see, taste, and smell. The twistiness of the writing mirrors the twistiness of the world, leaving the reader slightly confused and light-headed in places, exactly as I imagine life in Caverna would be. I felt at times like I was being smothered under the weight of it all just as Neverfell was. I wanted her to get out from underneath that mountain and feel the sun and wind and rain. Hear birds sing. I expect good writing when I sit down with a Frances Hardinge novel, but feel she outdid my fairly high expectations with this one. Some examples: No, despite her best efforts she was a skinny, long-boned tangle of fidget and frisk, with feet that would not stay still, and elbows made to knock things off shelves.
There were many who called the Court a jungle, and with good reason. It had a jungle's lush and glittering beauty. The people who dwelt in it, in their turn, were not unlike jungle creatures...There are many dangers in the jungle, but perhaps the greatest is forgetting that one is not the only hunter, and that one is probably not the largest.
He felt a shock, as if her faith was a golden axe and had struck right through his dusty husk of a heart. The heart did not bleed, however, and in the next moment its dry fibres were closing and knitting back together again.
A Face Like Glass has a lot of political intrigue and complexity to it as well. It demands a lot of its readers, whether adults or children. And I love that. Books intended for a child audience who don't talk down to them or underestimate them are the best books there are. It never shies away from the harder more difficult truths it is trying to convey, but simply puts them in a package a child can see, understand, and accept. And running through all of the darkness and hard truths is brightness of hope. This book is everything that I love and it will have a place on my bookshelf forever. (less)
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
When I read A Corner of White last year, I was instantly transported and enchanted by the co...moreOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
When I read A Corner of White last year, I was instantly transported and enchanted by the concept and characters. I know not everyone felt the same. That book is divisive. I don't think reading The Cracks in the Kingdom will change the minds of those who didn't like it. For those who did like the first book, the second is even better, building on the story in the first and expanding it.
This review is based on an ARC received from the publisher.
This is a hard review to write because I don't want to say too much. As the first, this is sort of an experience you have to have yourself. There are some things I want to highlight though.
The world that Moriarty created and introduced in the first book is just as vivid and real in this one. Cello is such a concrete place for me, and continues to be even more concrete than our real world which Madeleine lives in. Cello is where the more interesting parts of the story take place too. The politics of that world are snarled and growing more snarled by the day. As I love a good political intrigue book, this made me a happy reader. The Youth Alliance Elliot finds himself a part of to help find the princess's family has some volatile dynamics. I really liked how very much the members acted their age though. They are amazingly gifted, and yet they are all under 16 and you can clearly see that in their interactions and the things they get up to.
Madeleine is working diligently in the world, trying to find the missing royals. Again, the interactions between Madeleine and Elliot are crucial to the flow and movement of the story. They are exchanging notes more quickly until they are real time conversations. They are also attempting to widen the crack and break through to figure out how to return the royals. In the process they are discovering each other slowly and it is a beautiful thing to see unfold. I couldn't help but be reminded of how relationships that begin online unfold as I was reading it. The way they make assumptions about each other's looks and habits, building whole people out of the spaces between words on paper. And slowly they are drawing closer to that moment when they may have to confront the reality of each other. So fascinating and emotionally riveting. They experience and share so much together and they've never even met.
Just as the world of Cello seems more concrete, so does Elliot as a character. Not that I think Madeleine is flat or insubstantial. Quite the contrary, but I do feel like she is shrouded in a lot more mystery. We get a clearer picture of Jack and Belle and their pasts, but not Madeleine's. I'm beginning to wonder about that, but feel the obvious conclusion is so obvious it must not be the right one. So now I'm trying to come up with alternate conclusions, and this is one of the things I love most about these books. They exercise my mind and keep me thinking about them. They pretty much take over. I have dreams about aspects of them. That is a wonderful sort of book to read. Elliot shows more and more what a true hero he is. He has so many flaws, but is so laudable at the same time. He is young too, and that was easier to overlook in the first book I think. His youth and everything he still has to figure out about the world is a little more obvious in this one.
There are couple plot points in this that took me by complete surprise and that hasn't happened to me in quite some time. Another reason I am so enamored. I absolutely can not wait for the third book. Sitting on pins and needles waiting for it.
I read ARC won from the publisher, Arthur Levine, in a Goodreads giveaway. The Cracks in the Kingdom is available on March 25. (less)
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson is a magical adventure tale that uses several t...moreOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson is a magical adventure tale that uses several tried and true tropes and expands on them in new ways to create a fun new tale.
Piper is a girl with no family, who lives in a scrap town. Her life is supported by her extraordinary gift with machines and the "treasure" she mines from the meteorite showers. Treasure that includes watches, books, and music boxes that come from other worlds. Piper is a tough survivor. She has a couple friends, but in the scrap towns it is pretty much everyone for herself. When faced with choosing whether or not to help an inured and frightened girl fleeing the man who terrifies her, Piper does not choose to help solely because she is a good person. She is hoping to get something from it. But as she and Anna run from Anna's past and the secrets it holds, Piper comes to truly care for what happens to her. Theirs is a great friendship story, where there strengths and weaknesses work well together. Anna is a strange and different girl. I thought her big secret was rather easy to figure out, but young readers are going to be shocked to their toes. The third character in the trio (it is a MG fantasy so there has to be a three part lead) is a boy in charge of guarding the train the girls stowaway on by the name of Gee. Gee is quick-witted and fiercely protective. Once he decides the girls are part of his train and within his circle of protection, there is nothing that will keep keep him for helping them. There is a flirtation that develops between Piper and Gee that is sweet and perfect for a MG book. While there is mystery and magic in each of the three main characters' stories, they are pretty much the standard trio of characters you find in a fantasy novel of this type. They don't really go beyond the basics of character development.
The world is contained to two different kingdoms completely cut off from the rest of the planet/place/dimension they inhabit. These kingdoms are, of course, on the brink of war. Anna is important to one of the kingdoms. She wears the titular mark of the Dragonfly, which means she is under the protection of the king. Into this world debris that has been thrown away from other world comes in meter showers. (Including a copy of The Wizard of Oz.) The world is a fascinating concept in itself. The threat of coming war, the factories where people are losing their lives due to pollution, and the hard life of the scrap towns comes together to make a bleak place full of danger. This allows for our heroes to have more adventures. From the dangerous meteor showers, to stowing away on a train, to escaping slavers, to running from Anna's pursuer, to escaping dangerous sky raiders, there are plenty of adventures to go around. This is certainly a book for readers who like action packed plots. It does all make the book a bit longer than it needed to be and some of the scenes seemed superfluous, not adding much to the character development or the main plot.
This is a book I see appealing to the target audience well, particularly lovers of adventure and fantasy.
I read a ARC received at ALA Midwinter from the publisher, Delacorte Book for Young Readers. The Mark of the Dragonfly is available for purchase on March 25.(less)
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
When I read Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky, I went in expecting not to like it due to...moreOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
When I read Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky, I went in expecting not to like it due to my overwhelming dislike for quirky southern books, particularly ones that take place in the state I've lived the most years of my life. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it and it overcame almost all my qualms. It was with no hesitation at all that I picked up a copy of the follow up, The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, at ALA Midwinter. It has all the charm of the first book and does it all even better.
The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing has so many aspects I look for in a good story: mystery, an old house to explore, old secrets, family history, friendship, and strong characters. Mo's voice, already the greatest strength of Three Times Lucky, is even stronger and more assured in this book, as though Turngage grew completely comfortable with her character and let her take completely over as she was writing. I appreciate how true to their age Mo, Dale, and all their classmates are. I recognize the kids I know in them. I further appreciate the friendship between Mo and Dale and how solid it is. As they are dealing with the fall out of the events in the last book, particularly Dale's father being in jail, this is brought out fully. Mo and her big mouth make all sorts of mistakes, but Dale forgives her (eventually). Mo is learning too, which is always a wonderful aspect of characterization to see. She actually realizes when she has gone too far sometimes, and even manages to hold herself back at points. The kids relationships with the adults in the community are highlighted well too. They are working on a history project where they have to interview an older member of the community and this brings in history, but also demonstrates the importance of these generational relationships and knowing your own story. I like how Mo firmly feels a part of this community and family created around her. She still writes to her upstream mother, and she still has moments she wonders about where she comes from, but mostly she is living where she is. Harm is a new student and character introduced in this book. I throughly enjoyed the addition he made to the Mo/Dale dynamic, how he changed it. It was an interesting look at how jumping to conclusions about a person is an injustice, and how friendships can grow and change to incorporate new people and relationship dynamics.
The mystery aspect of this story fascinated more in than in the last too. As a kid, I loved stories that explored the past of a certain place and how it connected with current characters lives. I still love those stories as an adult, and this one is executed well. It focuses mostly on the kids and their immediate problems, and the mystery itself focuses on children. The ghost is the same age as the characters making it infinitely interesting to readers. As an adult reader, I would not have minded if the ghosts in the title had been completely metaphorical, but I know my students would not agree. If they are promised a ghost, they want a ghost. And Turnage delivers a wonderful ghost, complete with chilling disembodied laughter, freezing spells, flickering lights, slamming doors, and visions of scenes past. Yet the story isn't creepy so even sensitive readers can enjoy it. It is full of humor and the charm that is Mo herself. The imagery is perfect. Descriptions are short and snappy yet full of wonderful similes that readers will understand, be able to picture perfectly, and find amusing. The writing is jus top notch.
I can't wait to book talk it. I have so many pages marked with passages that I love and that will be sure to capture interest.
I read an ARC received from the publisher, Kathy Dawson Books, at ALA Midwinter. The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing will be in stores on February 4th.(less)
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
"Beauty and the Beast" is my favorite fairy tale and it derives from my favorite myth, the m...moreOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
"Beauty and the Beast" is my favorite fairy tale and it derives from my favorite myth, the myth of Eros and Psyche. I am drawn irresistibly to any story that plays off either of them in any way. It is why Till We Have Faces is my favorite C.S. Lewis novel (one of the reasons anyway). It is one of the (many) reasons The Queen of Attolia is my favorite book of all time. Yet I have never fallen in love with a full length novel that was a retelling of the fairy tale and not just using elements of it. Until now. Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge is perfect for me as a reader in every way imaginable.
Nyx is a girl with a heart full of venom and rage. No one in her world is spared from the bitterness she carries around. Her father made a deal with the Lord of demons, and she was the daughter chosen as the sacrifice. Who wouldn't be bitter? She has been trained for years for one purpose and one purpose only: destroy the evil ruler of her kingdom. She is not expected to survive the experience. She walks into her situation determined, but hating it all the same. Nyx is manipulative and not above hurting others to get what she needs, or simply for the satisfaction of seeing them hurt. There is nothing about her that is "likable'. I adore her. She is complex, driven, intelligent, and in desperate need of someone to love her for what she is, poison and all. Enter Ignifex. Generally, I don't go for the Lord of demon types in books, so I was worried about this aspect. I do go for characters like Ignifiex though. He is sarcastic, flip, outwardly lazy, highly intelligent, and a pessimist to the core. He is also full of bitterness and disappointment with the world, and is not at all what Nyx originally believes him to be. And while he warns her that there are many dangers that could destroy her in the house, he never once presents himself as one of them. The interactions between these two are some of the best scenes of banter. And I love excellent bantering between two intelligent people whom I find myself invested in. I couldn't wait to get to the pages where they were together so that I could have more. I appreciated how, despite Ignifex's power, they were very much equally and well matched. Each gave as good as he/she got and both wielded power in their relationship.
The plot of Cruel Beauty follows the plot of the fairy tale, but is infused with so much more at the same time. And it is all my favorite things. There is Greek mythology woven through all of it, but the myth of Pandora is used the most and quite effectively. There is also, much to my everlasting delight as it is another favorite of mine, elements of "Tam Lin". I was in love with the book already for its rich prose, vivid imagery, layered characters, and excellent dialogue, but when the Kindly Ones were first brought in and I realized Hodge had included faerie lore elements too, my love soared to the heavens and knew no bounds. And how she brought it all to a conclusion was most satisfying. Woven through all of this are themes of pride, forgiveness, sacrifice, and the war in every one of us between light and dark. As I was reading I was reminded in so many good ways of the themes in Till We Have Faces, and was not at all surprised to read in the Afterward that Hodge is also a fan of that book and that it had a great impact on her.
Anything I say here can only touch the surface of how I felt while reading this book. It was a story I experienced in every and I can't convey all of that experience here. Sadly. I can see how for some people it won't work, but for me it is perfect.
I read an e-galley received by the publisher, Balzer and Bray, via Edelweiss. Cruel Beauty is available on January 28th. (less)
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
The Forbidden Stone by Tony Abbott is the first in a new fantasy adventure series called Th...moreOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
The Forbidden Stone by Tony Abbott is the first in a new fantasy adventure series called The Copernicus Legacy. Perfect for lovers of quests, spy stories, and secret societies it is a wild crazy ride around the world.
Wade loves math and astronomy. His dream is to follow in his father's footsteps and make them his career. His step brother, Darrel, loves music and food and dreams of being a rock star. Wade's cousin Lily loves her the Internet and using her phone to document everything. Lily's friend Becca loves books and studying anything she can get her hands on. She's definitely a genius as she can speak several languages and is on her second reading of Moby Dick at the age of 12. The four work really well as a team. Wade and Becca are the puzzle solvers, the ones with the background knowledge to unlock the secrets to the code they've been given. Darrel and Lily handle most of the more practical parts of the mission. Their characters really don't go deeper than the surface. The relationships likewise. Becca and Wade clearly have crushes on each other. Lily and Darrel have one of those relationships that could clearly go there one day. Wade and Darrel are best friends as well as step-brothers. The interactions between the characters are fairly limited to the quest and solving the riddles. There is a lot of talking at each other about stuff, but little real dialogue. It works for the type of story this is, but left me frustrated as I wanted to know the characters better in order to care what happened to them. Wade's father is also a key player, and this is where my credulity couldn't stretch far enough to buy into the idea. While I thoroughly enjoyed having a fantasy novel where a parental figure was not only present but involved, I couldn't help but wonder why he didn't have those kids on a plane back home. Kid readers won't have a problem with this. They love stories where kids get to be heroes. As a parent, I couldn't stop wondering what he was thinking or of what Becca's (who he has really no legal right to be doing anything with) parents would think of it.
The concept of the novel is a good one. There are several riddles to solve, a race across the globe, and some very real danger. People are killed and the villains will stop at nothing to get what they want. What they want is not made entirely clear until about two thirds of the way through the book. The reader discovers what is going on as the heroes do. Despite all of the chases and danger there were large parts of the novel that are simply exchanges of chunks of information. Information about Copernicus, his work, the Guardians, the cities they are in. All of it is informative and in dialogue, but can be lengthy at times. It took me longer than it should have to read what is really a short book.
This is a great book to give to kids who love books like Kate Messner's Capture the Flag series and N.D. Wilson's Ashtown Burials. In my opinion this book is not the same caliber as either of these but it does fall into a reading range somewhere between those two levels.
I read an e-galley made available via Edelweiss by the publisher, Katherine Tegen Books. The Forbidden Stone is available for purchase now. (less)
Any time I find a fantasy that does something new and different I am excited. When the new and different is also done well and...moreOriginally posted here.
Any time I find a fantasy that does something new and different I am excited. When the new and different is also done well and is an engrossing read, it is even better. I found such a book with The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson. I am the first to say that this won't be a read everyone will enjoy, but I sure did.
Chalk drawings: who would have thought they could be used in such a way? In The Rithmatist Sanderson has created a world in which chalk drawings can be brought to life and used for nefarious purposes. Like eating a person until all that is left is a mangled messy corpse. A concept like that could have turned quickly into the ridiculous, but Sanderson's writing keeps that from happening. This book is a page turner filled with mystery, intrigue, and a quest to find a killer whose weapon is CHALK. (I'm still not over the creativity of that.) There is a definite creepy element to the chalklings, but the true horror in this book comes from the feelings of fear and panic the people trapped by them experience. Sanderson brings his characters to vivid life and describes what they are going through in a way that the reader feels s they do.
I adored Joel. He is focused, brave, intelligent, and a complete nerd. He loves Rithmatics and dedicates all of his free time to studying theories and defense moves. He is not a Rithmatist himself, but longs to be one. Unfortunately he was not chosen so must watch the Rithmatists from a distance and help in any way he can. Fortunately, a Rithmatic professor at his school takes an interest in him and brings him on as a research assistant in the case he is investigating. During this time Joel befriends Melody, a Rhithmatist who needs remedial attention. Her chalkings have amazing abilities, but her defense circles are weak. Together these two make a fantastic team. They are brilliant foils for each other and their friendship developed in exactly the perfect way. Melody is a bit odd and her favorite chalklings to draw are unicorns. I loved that about her.
The chalk drawing involves a lot of math and theory and Sanderson goes into a lot of detail about this, which is why this may not be the best book to hand just any reader. But for readers who enjoy puzzles and strategy games, it is a perfect fit. I was riveted from beginning to end and can not wait to read the next book in the series. (less)
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
"Beauty and the Beast" is my favorite fairy tale so I have a serious love/hate relationship...moreOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
"Beauty and the Beast" is my favorite fairy tale so I have a serious love/hate relationship with retelling of it. To be honest, I've never found a retelling of it to love, so more accurately a like/hate relationship. I almost returned Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay to the library unread, but Christina happened to be reading it at the time and was saying good things about it on Twitter. I decided to actually read it and I'm so glad I did. Jay did a fantastic job.
I love how Jay manipulated the main elements of the fairy tale and included them into this story. The roses in particular, are a delightful twist on the old tale. But the most interesting twist for me was her reversal of the roles. The monstrous boy is the one held captive, left as a hostage by his father to accomplish a mission, the one who leaves and almost doesn't make it back in time to save the girl he loves. The princess is the one who forces the captivity and is none to pleasant about it at first. She is the one cursed, bound to the roses and their evil. The reversal of roles highlights the underlying theme of both story and novel, we all have the potential for both in us. Isra is a desperate girl, determined to help her cursed people, stubborn, yearning for freedom. I sympathized with her need to see and know. And her need to feel as though she had been truly useful in her life. Gem is also desperate, to help his starving people, to break the curse on the land outside the domed cities, to see life flourish again. He is manipulative and deceitful but also brave, daring and loving. The romance between them develops over time and working together in the garden. The reader does not see this take place, and this is the one part that was rather frustrating to me. However, when they are together it is plain that there relationship grew and changed and that they truly care for one another.
The world building here is fascinating with a bit of sic-fi thrown in for good measure. This is in a future where humans have populated another planet and centuries have passed. The mythology and customs that grew up out of the fear of the people and changing of the land was well done and makes perfect sense in the world Jay created. There is plenty of political intrigue thrown into the story as well. That's always going to make me happy. There are villains, separate from the evil behind the roses, but they are more nuanced than most fairy tale villains. There are shades of gray in everyone. What the villains do is wrong, but they believe they are working for the best. All of it, characters, plot, theme, tie together wonderfully to make a thoroughly enjoyable read. (less)
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
Sometimes it is so hard being a blogger, because books like Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow come a...moreOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
Sometimes it is so hard being a blogger, because books like Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow come along. A book that is so beautifully written, heart wrenching, and immediately beloved that I know whatever words I come up with to tell you about it will be woefully inadequate.
The writing in Sorrow's Knot is wordcraft at its most eloquent. Otter's story is a complicated one that ties the mythology of her people with their present dangers. Otter hears the stories, some of which are forbidden, from her best friend who is training as a storyteller. She also finds herself living a story. A story in which she, a binder, plays an integral part just as another binder did so many years ago. Bow uses all of these elements in the structure of her story. Every word and sentence has the cadence and rhythm of a story being told. In Otter's world the storytellers use drums and rattles as they spin their tales, and I swear you can even hear that in the way Bow strung her words together. Then there is the binding aspect. Every piece, every segment, every word is tied together the same way Otter ties her wards, creating magic but also binding the reader. As I read there were places where I could feel those bonds tightening on me as they were on Otter.
And let's talk about Otter, who is now holding the number one spot for best heroine in a book I've read this year. She is facing difficult odds, rejected by her mother, adrift, not knowing what she wants to do. The only this she ever wanted to be was taken from and at first she does nothing to move out of her drifting state. Bow established early and well that Otter has courage, power, and will though and all of those things come to serve her well as she is faced with ever increasing hardships. She has to make so many difficult choices and they don't always turn out for good. In fact they often turn out quite horribly. I love how she learns, grows, and faces what comes next even when she has just pulled through horror that could break most people. (And indeed does.) Otter is as successful as she is though because she has an amazing support team in her best friends, Kestrel and Cricket. I loved both of them just as much as Otter. Each has their own strengths and faults and the three of them fit together so well as a team. Later in the book an equally wonderful character, Orca, also joins Otter in her journeys and struggles. All four of these characters forever hold places in my heart.
The world here is reminiscent of pre-colonized North America, but is not based on any particular culture. That is all Bow's brilliant creation. The world feels so real that you can almost believe it to be true though. Bow's prose brings the forests, the caldera, the frozen river, every place her characters go to vivid and colorful life. Her descriptive talents also manage to create one of the most horrific monsters I have read of in some time. The White Hands are not fully evil, which makes their hunger and anger all the more terrifying. Through Otter's story so much is said of tradition-both its importance and the importance of challenging it, how knowledge and understanding of the past can illuminate your present and direct your future, and the importance and magic in the words of the story. A favorite quote: "A storyteller can spin a web that will hold the dead listening until they dry up like stranded eels. A storyteller can change men's minds. Tell their futures. Compel their help. Create their love. With a little work and time, Kestrel, this storyteller could drive you quite mad."
Sorrow's Knot has a definite place in my top 10 list for the year. It is actually one of the top three books I've read this year. I can not recommend it highly enough.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Arthur Levine Books, via NetGalley. Sorrow's Knot is available for purchase now. (less)
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
I love anything N.D. Wilson writes, but his Ashtown Burials Series has become one of my all...moreOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
I love anything N.D. Wilson writes, but his Ashtown Burials Series has become one of my all time favorite series and that status was cemented when I read an e-galley of its latest installment, Empire of Bones.
This is a series and you need to read the first two installments before reading this one. They are The Dragon's Tooth (my thoughts) and The Drowned Vault (my thoughts). If you haven't read those, go now. Don't waste any more time.
Like its predecessors, Empire of Bones gets off to an action packed start and just keeps going. There are moments of calm but they are briefer than ever as the heroes are racing toward an unavoidable confrontation with two sets of opponents. This book is mostly about that confrontation and the immediate events leading up to it. Through this the characters that have made the series so outstanding continue to be nuanced and wonderful. The amount of growth in Cyrus over the three books so far is impressive. In this book Antigone also has some growing to do as she confronts her fears and her changing relationship with her little brother. Antigone is seeing the difference in him and there is some reconciling reality with expectation that she needs to do. There is a conversation between Antigone and Diana about Cyrus that only a guy's sister and a girl most definitely not his sister can have about him. It's one of my favorite scenes because it so deftly developed all three of their characters so much more in just a couple of pages. That is the way to do character development.
As for the other characters, they are ALL back again in this volume. Characters from the first book not in the second even make a return (this includes the giant turtle Leon). Nolan continues to be one of my favorites, as does Arachne (but she was not around as much as she was in the last book). A few new characters were introduced into the mix yet again as well. It all reached a point about halfway through the book where I wondered if it had grown too big and maybe the whole creation was going to topple like a house of cards. Not that it was wobbly, I just couldn't possibly see how it would all come together. Wilson managed it though and with great finesse. There is a major battle, lives are lost, and people are seriously hurt. This was all done realistically without being overly graphic and violent.
One thing I really appreciate about this series in contrast to others of its ilk is how present and accounted for the adults are. They are true mentors, trying their hardest to teach the kids and protect them, while acknowledging they are in danger no matter what. The relationship between Cyrus and Rupus is particularly interesting.
The aspect of the book that impressed me the most though was Wilson's deft use of biblical symbolism and how he wove it into the story. I really like how he handled that, and how he took a rather different tack than other authors who have dealt with similar themes.
As usual, I marked so many pages with amazing quotes, but I think I will limit myself to just one:
In every herd, many stampede, while only a few turn to face the lions. Cowards live for the sake of the living, but for heroes, life is a weapon, a thing to be spent, a gift to be given to the weak and the lost and the weary, even to the foolish and cowardly.
Every word this character speaks for the next two pages is wonderfully poignant and true. Then Cyrus's response is FUNNY and it struck exactly the right balance and released so much tension. That is the craft of writing at its finest.
The Ashtown Burials are among those books that straddle the upper MG/lower YA ends of the market, but they are for anyone-whatever age -who loves adventure, mystery, mythology, and darn good writing.
I read an e-galley made available from the publisher, Random House Books for Young Readers, via NetGalley. Empire of Bones will be released October 22.
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
I have said it before: I don't love animal stories. I was pretty excited about The True Blue...moreOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
I have said it before: I don't love animal stories. I was pretty excited about The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt despite that, and not only because I heard wonderful things about it from others. No. It was because of the raccoons on the cover. See, I've always had a thing for raccoons. They were my favorite animal growing up. They began my love with rascally thieves really. And this book features a pair of adorable rascally (rascally adorable?) raccoon brothers.
Bingo and J'miah were just as wonderful as I had hoped. Appelt gave them endearing personalities and maintained their raccoon nature perfectly at the same time. I loved how they were so different and yet the bond of their brotherhood was strong enough to keep them together through all of their adventures. In addition to the raccoons, I thoroughly enjoyed the character of Sweetums the cat. I wish there had been more of Sweetums. He didn't get nearly enough page time. The humans in the story were not as likeable for me. I can't believe I am saying this, but I would have preferred this story without them. (What is wrong with me? I may need to lay down.)
The swamp setting was well done. I could feel the humidity, the annoying mosquitoes, and hear the sounds of the night. I felt like I was there.
The style of the writing is brilliant in many ways. It flows well and Appelt used a variety of sentence structures to give the story a perfect rhythm. This will make an outstanding read aloud. One troubling aspect for me was the narrator talking to me. I understand why that was done given this has the feel of a spoken folk tale. But still. Nothing is going to through me out of a story faster than that. I was also annoyed by the use of the term "we". I could never quite figure out if the narrator was referring to me in that we or if they were using it in the royal sense.
This is a fun tale and great to give to the young animal lovers in your life. (Or to read aloud to them, because really truly it will make a spectacular read aloud.)(less)
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
Kids who bond with animals and get extra strength from them, that is most kids' dream come t...moreOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
Kids who bond with animals and get extra strength from them, that is most kids' dream come true. This new series, beginning with Wild Born, by Brandon Mull is a guaranteed kid crowd-pleaser. It is a fun book and one that I'm sure will be a hot commodity. Especially as there is a role playing game involved somehow as well. (Not quite sure how that is going to work. I read an e-galley.)
Wild Born is adventurous. The lands in Erdas bear a striking resemblance to the continents of our world. But everyone seems to speak the same language. That's not explained, but certainly makes the action easier. The four children are from four different lands (think North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa greatly simplified and in some historicalish time period of uncertain derivation). Each finds himself bonded with a less powerful reincarnated version of one of the heroic great animals of a battle long past. They discover the Devourer, who once tried to destroy everything is returning. The Four gave their lives to stop him, and now they have returned to bond with kids to help do it again. Honestly, I had a hard time wrapping my mind around the world building here. I'm sure you can tell I found holes and much to question. It made it hard to take a lot of it seriously. It is a fun concept that kids are going to love. Just hard for grown up me to buy.
The characters are rather interesting. The four kids have different personalities. I found Rollan to be the one I liked the most. He's a snarky orphan who is not opposed to going about things the less than above board route. I also like how he questions everything. All four kids do seem to derive from typical stereotypes though that, I will admit, felt like a way to dodge spending time actually developing their characters. I'm still uncertain how I feel about the use of these overall. There is so much going on in this book that the characterization is not a priority. And there are a lot of characters. Wild Born is definitely mostly set-up for the rest of the series.
Teachers, librarians, and parents take note, these books will be a thing.
As for me, I enjoyed the exposure since I'm sure my students (and my own kid) are going to be all over this, but don't think I will be reading the rest of the series.
I read an e-galley made avialable by the publisher, Scholastic, via NetGalley. Wild Born is available for purchase September 10. (less)
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
Claire Legrand is carving a name for herself in the genre of creepy MG literature. She is a...moreOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
Claire Legrand is carving a name for herself in the genre of creepy MG literature. She is a pro at writing stories with appeal to children and a Gothic horror feel to them. Her latest novel, The Year of Shadows, is a perfect example of this. My split reader personalities had different responses to this book. All of them loved it, but with a qualification (a qualification you can completely ignore if you don't have a child in the intended age group).
Book Lover Me Reacts:
Olivia is the best, topped in this story only by the character of Igor (the cat). She is gloomy. She is lonely. She is angry. She is desperately trying to be nothing. If she is nothing then she doesn't matter to anyone and no one can matter to her. Unfortunately for her plans of eternal solitude there are others who are not going to allow her to continue down that road. The ghosts who need her help and Henry, the boy usher at the Hall, are going to crack through her shell. This is a good thing for Olivia even if she does fight it with all her might. I love how Legrand built her character and opened her up through the story. She grows in inner and outer strength. Henry is a wonderful contrast to her. He's the well behaved and studious one, the voice of caution. (And thank you Ms. Legrand for reversing the gender stereotypes so often used in MG fantasy there.) I also thoroughly enjoyed the ghosts and their stories.
The setting is perfectly eerie and described so well. As a reader you feel as though you are in the dilapidated Hall. You can smell the dust and feel the cold. The story told here about the ghosts who can't move on until they find their anchors as so many layers. It is nothing short of genius how Legrand wove all these strands together into a whole. Olivia is helping them to find their anchors so they can "move on" and this shows so clearly, with no need of explanation, how desperately she needs an anchor herself. The ghosts are wonderful, and the shades who are trying to pull them into Limbo exactly the right sort of creepy. Limbo itself is a perfectly dreadful place and, again, Legrand's talented descriptive powers make you feel as though you are there. I was slightly disappointed about how Olivia began to think of the shades at the close of the book. I felt like this didn't gel at all with the picture of them we had until that point. I would have preferred if she had not tried to make them sympathetic, though I can see why she felt she had to.
This is a splendid book, one that kept me engrossed from beginning to end. I had dreams inspired by this book and there are few books with the power to do that to me.
eacher Me Reacts:
If you have this book in your classroom library or school library it will pretty much book talk itself. Look at the cover. Hold it up and say the word "ghosts" and watch it fly it off the shelves even faster. Even better, it is well written, but with a style that will keep reluctant readers engaged to the end. And there are wonderful illustrations. I would caution you to know your students before recommending it though. Know their family situations and their emotional maturity level. Because...
Mother Me Reacts:
I can't let my daughter read this book. She would end up a weeping puddle in my bed every night for goodness knows how long as a result. Not because of the ghosts, or even the shades, but because this book explores some pretty grim themes of death and depression I know she can't handle yet. I have a child who is particularly sensitive to both those subjects, and this book would do her in. I encourage any parent who has such a child, particularly one who fears losing you (in any way) to read this first or with your child.
Content Note: Religious families who have very specific views of what life after death is like may have issues with the ideas presented in this book.
I read a galley received from the publisher, Simon & Schuster, via Edelweiss. The Year of Shadows is available for purchase on August 27. (less)
Originally reviewed here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
Historical fantasy is always a lot of fun, and Catherine Jinks certainly brings the fun (...moreOriginally reviewed here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
Historical fantasy is always a lot of fun, and Catherine Jinks certainly brings the fun (along with the slightly creepy) in her new novel How to Catch a Bogle. This will appeal to kids who genuinely like historical fiction as well as fantasy. It will have to be a reader who doesn't minds sticking with a story that doesn't seem like it's going anywhere though.
Birdie is a fierce, determined, brave heroine. She sings beautifully, which is what attracted the attention of Alfred the Bogler. He made her his apprentice because everyone knows there is nothing that a bogle likes more than fresh yummy kids to snack on. Birdie takes great pride in her work and does it well. For his part Alfred is a good master. (Minus the part where he regularly puts her life in danger.) The book has a cast of other colorful Victorian characters from the woman who runs the local den of thieves to a higher class lady interested in faerie lore.
The plot is interesting. Who doesn't want to read about a brave, intrepid team catching demons and how they do it? The first two thirds of the book is a bit repetitive. They catch a bogle and the process is detailed. They do it again. Again it's detailed. They do it again. More detail. And....you get my point. It isn't until about 180 pages before the end that the story takes off in the direction of finding what happened to the missing boys. Then we get a good old fashioned villain. I loved the last 100 pages. The getting there was a bit rough I will admit. Add to that there is a lot of Victorian London slang and dialect, and this book is going to appeal to a very specific group of kids. Those kids are out there though in every classroom and school, and when they find this they will clutch it to their chests with joy. It has all the elements to make it a favorite with the right reader. In fact, I have students who I'm already planning on nudging in this direction.
I received an e-galley from the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, via Edelweiss. How to Catch a Bogle is available for purchase on September 3. (less)
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas is all kinds of fun. I...more4.5 stars because it is SO MUCH FUN!
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas is all kinds of fun. I thoroughly enjoyed myself while I was reading it. I received an e-galley from the publisher and I'm glad I did otherwise it may have sat on my TBR for longer than necessary. It is not without its faults, but I felt the ride was totally worth it.
This is a high fantasy with an shadowy evil overlord who works through his minions. There are countries under siege. There is magic. There are prophecies.
It is a portal fantasy. People from The Realm can come into our world-and when they do it is into the 1880's. (So I guess we can call it historical fantasy too.)
It is a gamer fantasy. Yes. You read that right. There is gaming in this book. Titus has a volume of stories and myths passed down through his family. He can enter it, recreate scenes, defeat monsters, rescue princesses. He uses the book to train himself in magic and warfare, and later on brings Iolanthe into it to train her.
Is this a lot going on in one book? Yes. Might it have been slightly overambitious? Possibly. Not all of the world building works perfectly. I have some questions but am withholding full judgement until the other books come out. (Yes, it's a trilogy.) Mostly this book reminded me of how much I love this sort of story, and how I haven't been reading enough of them lately. Despite my questions I did like the world building and thought Thomas did a fantastic job creating Eton in 1888 for the historical parts in our world. The plot is fast paced with lots going on. Titus and Iolanthe are hiding in plain sight, lying constantly, having to work through their issues with each other (I will get there in a moment), and defeat evil. And also write critical essays and do Latin translations. So. They are quite busy. And I loved reading every moment of it, from the magical monster fighting elements, to the intricate political intrigue around Titus, even the life at Eton. All of it appealed to me greatly and I did not want to put this book down.
Now, as most of you know, I'm a character reader. This is where the book fell short for me. Don't get me wrong, I really like both Titus and Iolanthe. I just felt that their characters were not as fleshed out as they might have been. Yet strangely for me I wasn't as bothered by this as I usually am. I liked them. Titus is a tormented hero. But he is also funny, brilliant, and BELIEVABLY tormented. He is not always likeable, but is sympathetic. Iolanthe is a bit of a "special one". But she has to work for it. Hard. I did raise my eyebrows at how easily she slipped into the pretend role Titus created for her, but that can be explained by his magic so I went with it. At first I was taken aback by the romantic element. Not that they have romantic feelings for one another, but the way it played out felt like a romance novel in places. (It came as absolutely no surprise to me when I discovered the author is also a romance novelist. And I like romance novels. Thomas's have been added to my TBR. I was just thrown off a bit by the presence of romance tropes in my high fantasy.) But I do like them and I like them together so am not all that fussed. I like where their relationship was at the end of this book and can't wait to see it develop in the next books.
In the end The Burning Sky leaves the reader with a lot of unanswered questions. It doesn't have a cliffhanger ending (yay!), but there is still much unresolved and so much more to know. I'm really looking forward to the sequel.
If you are looking for a fun roller coaster ride of a high fantasy read, this is definitely one I would recommend.
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Balzar +Bray, via Edelweiss. The Burning Sky is available for purchase September 17.(less)
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
I love mysteries, particularly ones that appear to add in a touch of the fantastic, so I was...moreOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
I love mysteries, particularly ones that appear to add in a touch of the fantastic, so I was excited to read North of Nowhere by Liz Kessler, which I received an e-galley for.
Mia is a girl that will have a wide appeal to child readers as well. Kessler made her sound like a 12 year old. The book is written more like how a 12 year old would write a story than what a 12 year old girl's thoughts would look like. It is simple, not layered thinking, and there are lots of exclamation points! Again, not particularly my cup of tea, but kids will like it.
Definitely pick this one for kids in your life who love mysteries mixed with fantasy. I will be suggesting it to Bit, it's a book that will be just her thing.
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Candlewick, via NetGalley. North of Nowhere is available for purchase on August 6.(less)
The Inquisitor's Apprentice (my thoughts) was one of my favorite reads of 2011. And I feel like I've been waiting for it's sequel, The Watcher in the Shadows, forever. I pre-ordered it, not so patiently waited for it to arrive, and immediately bumped it to the top of my reading pile when it finally came. All that waiting was so worth it.
Sacha is far more proactive and outgoing in this volume, though often unclear which direction to take and be proactive in. His struggle is a very real one that has me very concerned for him overall. He is striving so hard to hold onto his integrity in a world where everyone is for sale. He wants to be a good Inquisitor, a good Jew, a good brother, an a good son. But these things are far too often in conflict with each other. Sacha doesn't want to compromise on any of it, and it doesn't make it any easier when he constantly finds himself tempted by deals with gangsters and threats of millionaires. Lily, Sacha's fellow apprentice, was a little more frustrating. I felt that she remained fairly stagnate and changed little from the first book. This could be excused by her privileged background which does not require her to face the adversity necessary to change. However there was one major event toward the end of the book that should have had some sort of impact and then wasn't really dealt with. I hope it will be addressed more in the next volume.
The adult characters continue to fascinate me the most, though that may be because I'm an adult. The reader finds out a little bit more about Max's background and his relationship with Shen, but not nearly enough. The mystery building up around Max is one of the most fascinating aspects of this story. He is far from perfect, but how far is not yet clear. Sacha desperately wants him to be a hero. He is the ideal Sacha wants to live up to, but he doesn't entirely trust him either. Their interactions are fascinating character studies of both of them.
The alternate universe NY setting continues to be one of the best parts of the story. The history is so accurate and yet so fantastical at the same time. It is a brilliant balance Moriarty has established. The story and mystery here are more intense than the first. The stakes feel higher and I love the inclusion of so much more of the Jewish element.
Last I knew there are supposed to be five books total and I can not wait for the release of the next one.
I had so much fun reading The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clark when it came out last year. The story continues in the sequel, The Pirate's Wish, and to add to the fun of pirates and assassins there is also a Manticore. I mean come on, how can you not want to read a book with an assassin, a pirate, and a Manticore? I know I sure wanted to and was excited when I was able to read it early after being approved on NetGalley.
Warning: Spoilers for The Assassin's Curse ahead. Read it before read this.
The Pirate's Wish is so much fun to read. It is a roller coaster ride full of adventure and action. It opens shortly after the previous book left off with Ananna and Naji stranded and looking for a way to break the curse. They have to complete three seemingly impossible tasks in order to do this, which seem even more impossible as they are stuck on an island. The unresolved and undiscussed attraction between them is not helping matters, particularly as Ananna is convinced this is one-sided and that Naji cares nothing for her. The story has a little bit of everything. There is pirate ships, sea battles, islands of magical creatures, and royal courts. The reader's interest is grabbed and kept from start to finish. I was concerned, and had been since it was mentioned in the first book, about how the portion of the curse where Naji had to create life from violence was going to happen. I LOVED what Clark did there.
I was reminded of how much I appreciate Ananna's character. So many books of this ilk try to make the main character more educated and better spoken through some unlikely twist than they otherwise would be. I love that Ananna is unashamedly who she is, a girl who grew up on a pirate ship and acts and talks like it. Naji continued to be difficult to connect with, again because the story is all from Ananna's perspective. I knew she was reading him wrong and at times I was frustrated and wanted them to just discuss it already and stop running from it. Still. I like the way their story and relationship resolved in the end.
It was nice to get more of Marjani's story in this volume and I loved the addition of Jeric's character. I would like to know more about him now.
For any who enjoyed the first novel, this book is a must read. There were times when I felt it didn't all fit together perfectly, like when my son is doing a puzzle and he puts the right pieces together correctly but they aren't pushed in properly. It's a little uneven, yet so much fun and a great time.
Warning for Concerned Parents: This might not be the best pick for readers on the younger side of the YA spectrum who may not have the emotional maturity for this. There are instances of sex and swearing. (They are on a pirate ship.)
I read a galley of this title made available via the publisher, Angry Robot. The Pirate's Wish is available to purchase June 4 and to pre-order now. (less)