I probably wasn't the best reader for this book in the first place. I loathe The Swiss Family Robinson. Loathe. It. But this looked so short I figured...moreI probably wasn't the best reader for this book in the first place. I loathe The Swiss Family Robinson. Loathe. It. But this looked so short I figured it might be a better, more fun update of the same concept. It's only short because it is the first in a series. (If I had known that, I wouldn't have read it.) That in itself is not enough to make me dislike a book as much I disliked this one. So what are my reasons? It begins like one of the WORST made for Disney Channel movies. The parents are ridiculously clueless. The kids, newly brought together by their parents' marriage, are self-absorbed and obnoxious. It even has the famous two boy and one girl formula that Disney uses for everything and each of them fit into some caricature-the smart snotty one, the super geeky quirky one, and the stoic brave level headed one. There is little to no character development done beyond that. The plot trips along in an absurd manner until halfway through the family is stranded on an island after the boat begins to sink in a storm and the Captain dies. The island is all kinds of mysterious, but we can't tell exactly what kinds yet. It is hinted in just a few short pages that there are possible ghosts, weird people-chasing-weather-phenomena, and animals the likes of which one would find residing with Dr. Moreau. Then the book ends. Just. Like. That. Like this is a TV pilot and they want you to be sure to tune in again next week to see what happens next. I know that works great for TV shows, when you only have to wait A WEEK. But nothing makes me angrier than when books do it, because the next book isn't coming out next week. It's an even dirtier trick to pull when you do it with a book. The parents, being the type of people they are, haven't clued in to the strangeness of the island yet. So what is the sensible thing for the kid who has experienced the strangest aspects to do? Lie about it, of course! Even when it means contradicting his step-sister and making her look like an idiot. Needless to say, despite the best efforts to get me to read the next book with that cliffhanger ending, it will not be happening.
I read an ARC received from the publisher at ALA Midwinter. (less)
Last week was the week for reading books I hadn't read yet by my favorite authors. Frances Hardinge is definitely one of my favorites. While I don't always love each individual book, I always appreciate them for the works of art they are. The Lost Conspiracy (Gullstruck Island-UK) is one of those books that swept me away on a tide of beautiful imagery and left me clinging to each page ready to know what happened next.
The Lost Conspiracy is a book that does so much right it is hard to no where to begin. The setting is beautifully treacherous, an island with jungles, volcanoes, dangerous aquatic animals, and cut off from any other part of the world. Harginge brings the island to life in vivid colors, sounds, and feelings. As Hathin and Arilou journey throughout, the reader goes with them and experiences it with them.
Hathin is an amazing heroine. Her entire existence is based on serving her sister. It is what her entire life has always been for. She is Arilou's quiet unobtrusive shadow. People barely even realize she is there most of the time, which works out well for her because it allows her to observe and then manipulate the situation to go where she needs it to go. This life has developed her mind into a strategic, sharp instrument for getting what her sister and her people need. These skills serve her well as her world is blown apart by a conspiracy, and it is up to her to save her sister, herself, and all the Lace people of the island. There is a strong cast of supporting characters that surround Hathin from beginning to end, changing and multiplying as the story goes on. Each of these are intriguing in their own right and fully realized (I don't think Hardinge knows how to write characters any other way), but this story is Hathin's story. She deserves all the credit and glory due her for every hardship and triumph.
The plot is complicated and twisty involving centuries of myth, misunderstanding, and miscommunication. Hardinge has created a razor sharp look at colonialism and its affects with this story. The Lace are one group of the island's indigenous people. It has been a couple hundred years since the settlers came and while they intermarried with many of the other tribes, the Lace remained separate. This is mostly due to an unfortunate incident that involved kidnapping and sacrificing settlers to the volcanoes. Through the history of the island and the current politics tearing it apart, Hardinge depicts perfectly how a clash of cultures, a misunderstanding of tradition, and the easy way prejudices can be used to ignite hate, fear, and violence can cause a ripple affect that is felt and used for generations. I like that while there is clearly a villain, there is also a lot of horror that occurs because ordinary people allow themselves to be manipulated, carried away by a mob mentality, or simply don't stand up and do what's right. I like the shades of gray in that, something else Hardinge is typically good at depicting.
Some favorite quotes that show Hardinge's command of language and her themes: There was a shout of laughter at the idea of the little Lace girl kidnapping the burly towner and taking him away to sacrifice. It was a joke, but centuries of distrust and fear lay behind it. Soon somebody would say something that was sharper and harder, but it would still be a joke. And then there would be remark like a punch in the gut but made as a joke. And then they would detain her if she tried to leave and body would stop them because it was all only a joke...
And so ended the conference of the invisible, in the cavern of blood and secrets, on the night of the mist.
"You see," Therrot added in what was probably meant to be a comforting tone, "revenge doesn't need to be face-to-face. Maybe you're not made for sticking a knife in someone...but would you feel the same way about planting a little fistful of leaves and roots?" Hathin tried to imagine herself using her sickle to dig root space for a sly, slow killer. The idea did feel different, but she was not at all sure it felt better.
My one complaint is that it is a little long. Hardinge's books often are yet usually I can't think what would be cut out. Here I did feel there was a lot of detail in the middl portion that could have been pared down or combined to make the pacing better. This is one small detractor for me in a book that is full of amazing elements. Hardinge is a fantastic storyteller and if you haven't read this or her other books, you definitely need to pick one up. (less)
The Thickety is an interesting fantasy world with a fast-paced and engaging plot. Kara is a strong sympathetic main character and the life she lives i...moreThe Thickety is an interesting fantasy world with a fast-paced and engaging plot. Kara is a strong sympathetic main character and the life she lives is not easy. I can't really love this book for reasons that are such a personal bias that I don't even feel it is important to share them, but I can see how it would appeal to a lot of young readers. (less)
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. (less)
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. (less)
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 John David Anderson's Sidekicked last year and throughly enjoyed it. I was on the committee that shortlisted it for the Cybil's. I liked the shades of gray in the story and the attempt to look at the good and evil combined in each person. The companion novel, Minion, has all of this and I liked it even more.
This is a review of an ARC received from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.
There are those moments in your life, you know, when the last screw is tightened and the green light flashes and you realize that your whole worldview is a loose thread dangling from the blanket you've wrapped so tight around you. And somebody's gotten ahold of that one thread and is starting to pull. And most of you wants to tug back. To stay warm. To stay safe. To keep things as they were.
And then part of you wants to watch it unravel. Just to see how far it will go.
You will find this on the first page of Minion. I knew I would love this book from the moment I read this because it just nails it perfectly. Who hasn't felt this way at least once in their life? And who amongst us didn't experience this or something very similar to it in our early teens. It perfectly sums up that whole time of your life. It makes this book, and its main character, Michael, relatable. The book is all about Michael. Minion doesn't have as much action sequences as Sidekicked did, though they are still there. This is more about Michael figuring out who he is and where he stands in the world. He has been involved in many criminal activities. His best friend is a henchman for a crime boss. His father supplies questionable inventions to the same crime boss. Michael assists both of them. But Michael has some very strong opinions on the world and how he wants to live his life in it, and when confronted with hard choices and obstacles, he proceeds with a determination and bravery that is commendable if not always perfectly right.
Like Sidekicked, Minion is not a typical super-hero tale. It is even less of one really. The super-hero and his sidekick make very few appearances in this. Anderson has highlighted an interesting concept in doing that. What makes a true hero? Who are the everyday heroes in life? The ones that try to do what is right even when it is hard? These questions are all explored and Anderson does it in an interesting and fun way.
You do not have to read Sidekicked to read Minion. They are set in the same world but are two entirely separate stories with different characters. Both are good, but they are different. I do think most readers who enjoy fantasy and super-hero stories will be happy to read either one.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Walden Pond Press, via Edelweiss. Minion will be on sale June 24th.(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)
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)
I enjoyed the concept of this story, which is a lot like Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends but with a more solid thought through world buildin...moreI enjoyed the concept of this story, which is a lot like Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends but with a more solid thought through world building behind it. It is a retelling of "Sleeping Beauty" and "Bluebeard" combined, which in itself is genius. Who would think to combine those two??? And I really wanted to love it, but I had too hard of a time liking the main character, Mira. When EVERYONE you meet is telling you that a guy is dangerous stay away, he runs a shady casino, and is a little too suave, maybe you should pay attention. Her stubbornness regarding this, particularly once she knew what was going on was more than I could buy into. Another thing that bothered me was the Felix plot thread left dangling at the end. Where was he? What was he planning? I did like Blue's character a lot, and the dialogue and interactions between him and Mira. The other supporting characters were also enjoyable and I would be happy to read more of their stories set in the town. Particularly Freddie's story now that is hero act is over and Layla's story because I love "Beauty and the Beast" and I loved her.(less)
If Hokey Pokey and Far Far Away had a book baby, it would be The Riverman by Aaron Starmer. With one big exception, I actually liked the characters in...moreIf Hokey Pokey and Far Far Away had a book baby, it would be The Riverman by Aaron Starmer. With one big exception, I actually liked the characters in The Riverman, which means I was invested. In the end I was torn between my liking for the characters and appreciation of the prose and some issues I had with the plot and setting. Despite my reservations it is a dark haunting tale that is beautifully written. Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
(I received an ARC from publisher in exchange for a fair review)
Alistair and Fiona are kids on the brink. On the brink of leaving their childhoods behind. On the brink of discovering each other. On the brink of oncoming sadness and disaster. Fiona desperately needs someone to listen to her and she chooses Alistair. The more he listens to her the more Alistair needs her to be okay. The more he needs to be the one to make her okay. To be her hero. She is elusive. He reads things into her story and draws his own conclusions about what she is saying. And then acts on them. The predictable disasters ensue (and some not so predictable ones as well). I thought they were at the perfect age to tell a story such as this. There was an underlying tension in their relationship, but they conducted it while riding bikes, sitting near a rock, and talking on swings. It is a hard to reach balance in a book with such dark undertones, but Starmer finessed it well. Fiona is terrified of The Riverman in her fantasy world, who is stealing other kids and making them disappear. Her fear is so real and it leads Alistair to desperately want to figure out what reality she is substituting her fantasy for. Who is the Riverman really? This book is about both their journeys of discovery and loss. There were times when I felt Alistair's voice sounded too mature and world weary in contrast to how he acted and actually spoke. That was explained at the end though. Sort of. I think. (More on that confusion in a moment.)
The prose and imagery Starmer uses is excellent. The descriptions bring everything to life. And there are some gems of philosophy hidden as well, but not in a way that is pretentious or obnoxious. It's done in a way that will work for the intended audience I think. The mystery of Fiona's world and how it overlaps the real world kept me turning pages. I knew the identity of the Riverman almost from the beginning, but I don't think kids will. (And it didn't temper my enjoyment of watching Alistair get there.)
My enjoyment was not without some serious reservations though. One of those was the length of some of the scenes and how unimportant things were drawn out. An example of this was Halloween which took up three chapters and a whole lot of detail when only one small section of it really advanced the plot, or even spoke to character development. That whole sequence felt more like a nostalgic look back at the awesome fun of neighborhood Halloween. I was bored. I laughed when I hit this particular line not even halfway through the book because it was so descriptive of my own feelings reading the book: Stories taunted me. Even ones I didn't believe dared me to see them through to the end. The idea of Aquavania was absurd, but Fiona's fear seemed so real. I suspected that the end of her tale would reveal the true source of that fear, and I hated her for roping me in, but I hated myself even more for letting her drag me along. Because the tension-the not knowing-was unbearable. Why can't someone spoil the ending for me? I thought. Ironic. Probably unintentional.
The other element that bothered by was the time period. It is set in 1989 and I can't see any good reason why except that it conveniently go rid of all modern technology. Or possibly this was also part of the nostalgia of the author.
Most of all however, the end bothered me. I don't mind ambiguous or open endings. I don't need perfect closure. What I do need is for the end to make some kind of sense. To give me something. This book reminded me a lot of the TV show Lost. Great concept, excellent set-up, characters that were intriguing and made you want to see them make it, but then it went on a little too long until the original vision was lost and there was nothing to do but end it in a confusing and completely unfulfilling way. I've seen a lot of people say they thought it was brilliant and mind-blowing. To me it felt like a bit of a cop-out.
I would certainly recommend this to readers who like books that blur the line between fantasy and reality. And don't mind lack of closure. I would be careful about handing it to younger MG readers. This is one where you should know the content and the potential readers if they are younger than 12.
I read an ARC of The Riverman received from the publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, via NetGalley. (less)
The Swap by Megan Shull takes a classic trope and gives it a slightly new spin. Usually in a body-switching plot the point is to learn that your life is not as bad as you think it is and other people have it just as difficult. In The Swap it is more of a case of the individuals learning to unlock their potential and let go of their insecurities. It was a nice change, but unfortunately there are several drawbacks to how it played out.
Ellie and Jack are both talented kids with some insecurities and fears holding them back. Ellie has recently been dumped by her best friend, who is behaving in the nastiest way possible. As a result, Ellie wants to withdraw from her life. No more soccer. No more sleepovers. Nothing. Coming close on the heels of her father leaving her and her mother, this is a particularly difficult time for Ellie. Jack is referred to by several of the girls in his school as The Prince (he has no idea). He is cute, athletic, and an all around decent guy. His main problem is his father, who is super strict, withholds praise, and has withdrawn emotionally since the death of his mother. Switching bodies leaves Jack and Ellie with a chance to help change the other's life, and learn a little themselves at the same time. Ellie's mom and Jack's brothers are great supporting characters and the way each kid reacts to their "new family" is sweet and endearing.
For the most part this book is cute and fun. I especially enjoyed how it did NOT take the romantic turn the synopsis made me think it would. This was a pleasant surprise. I almost didn't read it due to that "and their feelings for each other grow" line, so I'm happy that their feelings were different than I had assumed they would be.
I do have some fairly strong issues with the book though. The idea of a gender switch is fun, and there is so much the author could have explored thematically there, but all that potential is wasted on over-blown gender stereotypes. The guys in this book are GUYS, who practically speak a different language as far as Ellie is concerned. She doesn't understand 75% of what they say. Really???? The portrayal of the girls isn't much better. They play a mean game of soccer (Yay for athletic equality!), but the way they talk to each other is....not like anything I've ever heard. Almost like they are all tween TV show character rejects. Because they are too over the top even for those characters. I work with middle school and high school students and have NEVER heard groups of kids talk to each other the way both the girls and boys here do. Even when I'm simply just listening to them and not taking with them. It was corny as all get out. Then there was the portrayal of the bullies. The obnoxious boy Jack has to contend with is given a nice backstory and some nuance. There is good closure there. The mean girl Ellie has to deal with-her former best friend-is just a typical mean girl caricature. As are her minions. The end is ridiculously perfect. Not only is it wrapped up with a bow, but the bow has curlicues and glitter thrown on for good measure There is just so much wasted potential with the themes that it ruined my enjoyment of the book overall.
As a teacher I would not give this to a student any younger than 6th grade. It is definitely a MG book, but it is for upper middle grade. There is a lot of talk of periods and a mention of a morning erection. I think both these things would make the book potentially horrifying for many younger MG readers. It is one where I definitely recommend knowing your younger students/patrons/children in your life before you hand it to them. Know what they are comfortable with and are mature enough to handle.
I wanted to love this book, but sadly the minuses outweighed the pluses for me. (less)
This is an action-adventure tale that is both historical fiction and fantasy. Taking place during the Cultural Revolution in China, it tells the story...moreThis is an action-adventure tale that is both historical fiction and fantasy. Taking place during the Cultural Revolution in China, it tells the story of the unearthing of the Terra-Cotta soldiers protecting the tomb of Emperor Qin. Co-author Ying Chang Compestine grew up in China during this time and brings her real life experiences to life in the tale of Ming. I really appreciated this part of the story. The fantasy element comes in when the first soldier found, Shi, comes to life and tells young Ming stories of the Qin's rule, the raids of the Mongols, and the building of the Great Wall. All of this is also fascinating. There is an interesting comparison here between QIn's rule and the rule of Mao. Through Shi the authors were also able to include all the folklore and superstition involving the tomb of Qin. While Shi coming to life and telling his story doesn't bother me, I do have issues with the liberties taken in the unearthing of the tomb itself. The story elevates the fictional character of Ming as a hero who gets the credit. This is a great book to educate about a time period few Americans know anything about and does it in a fun and active way. The language is a little stilted and awkward in places with some info-dumps, but is still an engaging read. This would work well paired with The Great Wall Of Lucy Wu (which I prefer).(less)
I get why this is getting so much buzz. It is exactly the sort of book adults like for kids to read. I was...moreOriginally DNFed. Tried again and finished.
I get why this is getting so much buzz. It is exactly the sort of book adults like for kids to read. I was swept away by the excellent prose and the nod to Anderson's tale, but have some pretty major issues with how the end wrapped up. The book is sad, sad, sad, and then in a rush of 20 pages there is a happily ever after that left me feeling flat. That much awful wrapped up that perfectly and fast left me feeling cheated. There was no real closure. (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)
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
Jinx was one of my favorite reads of 2013. I fell in love with the characters and the world...moreOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
Jinx was one of my favorite reads of 2013. I fell in love with the characters and the world they inhabited. It is always a bit scary when you go back to characters and a world you love so much in a sequel. Exciting too though. And lovers of Jinx, Simon, and the Urwald have nothing to fear from Jinx's Magic. Sage Blackwood outdid herself in this one.
If you haven't read Jinx yet, go and do that NOW. Then come back and read this.
In book one Jinx went from being a child to an adolescent. His independent streak is growing, he rolls his eyes a lot at the adults in his life, and he is questioning many things. He is still a boy who is confused by many things in life and needs help. He wants to know the people who care for him are still around. He is exactly everything a thirteen year old boy should be. I enjoyed watching his character grow more and how he interacted with the people around him. The first part of the story involves Jinx getting Reven out of the Urwald as he promised he would. Reven continues to be conniving, manipulative, and obnoxious and I loved when Jinx finally had enough. Elfwyn plays a role in this story as well. I really enjoy what is happening with her character and am eager to see where it will lead.
I continue to adore Simon oh so much, particularly in his relationship with Jinx. Jinx looks up to him so much, but is also annoyed with him. He wants Simon to allow him to do what he needs. Simon has other ideas about what is needed. The push and pull between these two is so utterly genuine that any one who has ever grown up and had to deal with the changing dynamic with their parents will get it completely. Simon is often telling Jinx in various ways to "drop his attitude". Jinx's attitude's not going anywhere. And every conversation between these two is funny and yet filled with emotion too. Sophie also returns in this book and is still lovely and wonderful. I hope we see even more of her in the next book.
Two new characters are introduced as well. Jinx meets both Wendell and Satya in Samara. They are his friends when he desperately needs them even though he doesn't completely trust Satya. Wendell is my favorite of the secondary character in the book now. I enjoyed his outlook on life, his loyalty, and his courage.
The story continues from where the first book left off. The Bonemaster breaks free of his bonds, Reven and his "kingdom" are a threat to the Urwald, and the trees keep telling Jinx things he doesn't understand. Also some troublesome elves make a mysterious appearance that does not bode well for our hero. Half of the story takes place in the Urwald where Jinx is contending with the demands on the Listener, Simon, and the Bonemaster breaking through his wards. The other half takes place in Samara where Jinx is contending with learning as much as he can while also navigating the political intrigue and secretive workings of the Temple. The Urwald and Samara are very different and both are described so well. The imagery Blackwood uses and how well thought out the world-building is makes me feel like I'm actually there. I could not put the book down. Every page had some piece of information, some wonderful piece of dialogue, or some adventure to keep reading on until I was finished far too fast. It was one of those experiences where I turned the last page, sighed because there was no more to read, and then hugged the book.
To say that I'm excited for the third book would be an understatement. Of immense proportions.
I read an ARC won in a giveaway from the author. I also received an e-galley from the publisher, Harper Children's, on Edelweiss. Jinx's Magic comes out on January 7.(less)
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
I have never read a multi-author series before and was wondering what it would be like so to...moreOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
I have never read a multi-author series before and was wondering what it would be like so took the opportunity to request the second book in the Spirit Animals series, Huntedby Maggie Stiefvater, when it came up on NetGalley. I read Wild Born by Brandon Mull earlier this year. I feel like Hunted is a better book and enjoyed it more.
This is not a book you want to jump into without having read the first. The world building and characters are dependent on information given in Wild Born. This means the same reliance on cultural stereotypes that bothered me a bit in the first book remains, but the characters are developed a bit more in this volume. All four kids are trying to move as best they can into the roles they have been thrust into. They also need to learn to work together which constitutes the greater challenge. Abeke feels like the others don't trust her, and in many ways they don't, particularly Meilin. Rollan tries not to rely on anyone and therefore keeps everyone at a distance. Conor is besieged by doubts of his ability to what is asked of him and his worthiness for his role. Meilin is impatient and ready to move on, constantly worried about the danger her homeland is in. A new character is introduced named Finn, an older Greencoat who can not fight. He is their guide on the treacherous journey to gain another of the Great Beast's Talismans. I really enjoyed his addition to the story and hope we see more of him in the coming books.
Hunted has a different feel from Wild Born. The book concentrates more on Conor and his relationship with the people he has left behind. While it has a similar quest, to find a talisman, the quest goes and ends very differently. In this second installment more meat is put onto the bones of the basic story and the experience is richer as a result. I did find myself frustrated by the end. I feel like it invalidated all that led up to it, making none of it worth it. I think this is similar to how the characters will feel and watching them go forward and try to work together from this point will be interesting. I'm definitely read to read book three when it comes out in March. It will be called Blood Ties and is written by Garth Nix and Sean Williams.
I read an e-galley received from the publisher, Scholastic, via NetGalley. Hunted will be available January 7. (less)
I may have found this book more charming and less annoying if it had not immediately followed my reading The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing. Sometimes readi...moreI may have found this book more charming and less annoying if it had not immediately followed my reading The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing. Sometimes reading order makes a difference, but I don't think it would have changed my mind too much. I have very little tolerance for the small southern town full of quirky novel, and this small fictional southern town happens to be near the southern city I live in. The plot is slow and not very much happens. It involves a lot of individual old stories coming together as one and this is not executed as well as it could have been. The book is saved from being completely disastrous by Felicity's character who is sympathetic and works hard to become who she wants to be. I will have no problem recommending this book to my students, but I didn't enjoy it much and I could think of a whole list of books I would rather give them first. It will appeal to kids who like words and language and don't mind slower plots. (less)
I am not a fan of The Series of Unfortunate Events so this was not the right book for me from the start. I just don't like the style of them. I know I...moreI am not a fan of The Series of Unfortunate Events so this was not the right book for me from the start. I just don't like the style of them. I know I'm in the minority here and I can't even tell you WHAT it is about it that bothers me so much. I just know it does. (less)
Parched is a story that takes place in a futuristic world where water is scarce and there is a drought. It is a unique and different sort of take on t...moreParched is a story that takes place in a futuristic world where water is scarce and there is a drought. It is a unique and different sort of take on the futuristic storyline focusing on just two main characters and their struggle to survive in one tiny corner of the world. It is short and an intriguing read. The overall tone of the novel made me feel like it was one of those writing exercises where the author was trying to be clever. (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)
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)
The Neptune Project is an adventurous tale with a lot of action. There are countless underwater battles with soldiers, with sharks, with a sea dwellin...moreThe Neptune Project is an adventurous tale with a lot of action. There are countless underwater battles with soldiers, with sharks, with a sea dwelling gang, and even a giant squid. This tells the story of a group of genetically altered kids who have to make their way to a colony that has been designed to find a way to make a better life for humans trying to survive a world suffering from famine, plague, and overheating. They are accompanied by a pod of dolphins who the main character, Nere, grew up with. Even with all the action, the pacing seemed off to me. A lot of time was spent on scenes that could have been shorter, and the end was super rushed. I think this is the first in a series, but even then the end was too rushed and left too many plot threads (DAI!!!) dangling without enough closure. I also found myself distracted by minor details about how the movement worked under water (and how they were capable of laying down on anything). This certainly has enough adventure and action to appeal to kids who like plots with those things in abundance. Readers who prefer more thorough character development may find themselves frustrated.(less)
This has a fun concept, but I couldn't help but feel it was only half of a book. True a sasquatch escapes and is found so it does have something of a...moreThis has a fun concept, but I couldn't help but feel it was only half of a book. True a sasquatch escapes and is found so it does have something of a plot arc, but it was mostly just set up for what I'm assuming is going to be a series of books about the kids working as apprentices for the Imaginary Vet. I didn't feel like I got to know either of the characters well and was left wanting more in the end. (less)
If this book had not been nominated for a Cybils award, I probably never would have read it. It wouldn't have been on my radar. That would have been s...moreIf this book had not been nominated for a Cybils award, I probably never would have read it. It wouldn't have been on my radar. That would have been so sad, because it is an excellent book in every way. Tingle tells the tale of one young Choctow boy on The Trail of Tears and how he died. Despite the subject matter it is a hopeful story. I liked how so much historical fact and detail was included as well as details about the Choctow people. The story is fast paced with quite a lot of adventure. The harsh realities of the Trail of Tears are not glossed over, but they are not gruesomely described either. I'm so happy to have discovered this before my daughter studies this time period in history. This will certainly be a book I have her read.(less)
I don't think non-lovers of political intrigue books will enjoy this one, and lovers of the genre are going to know there's better stuff out there. It...moreI don't think non-lovers of political intrigue books will enjoy this one, and lovers of the genre are going to know there's better stuff out there. It wasn't bad, just a bit predictable. I had a hard time connecting with the characters but that may because I had not read the previous two books. (less)