I read Ask Again Later by Liz Czukas earlier this year and found it to be quite fun. However, I LOVE her new book Top Ten Clues You're Clueless. It's basically The Breakfast Club with Christmas thrown in. Because instead of serving Saturday detention, this group of unlikely teen companions are all working the same Christmas Eve grocery store shift.
Chloe is a list maker. She starts every day with a list and makes several more as she goes about her day. She has many running lists to which she continually adds. In addition to being a list maker she is a reader of mysteries, a red head, a girl with a massive crush on a co-worker, and a diabetic. On Christmas Eve she is required to work her regular job as a cashier at the grocery store. Many people are working including all of the young high school employees. All six of them. When there is a lot less money in the holiday donation box than is expected, all six of the teens are accused of working alone or together to steal the money and are held at work until the police can arrive to question them. In the interim they have to decide whether or not to trust each other and band together. In the process they begin to bond and get to know each other better than they ever thought possible.
This book is all about the characters. Zaina: the perfect, beautiful, Muslim, Lebanese immigrant who just wants the chance to figure out who she is outside of others expectations of her Sammi: the tough skater girl with an attitude and an interesting rapport with Gabe Gabe: basketball player, charmer, flirt, and golden rich boy who seems to understand Sammi better than she understands herself Micah: a sweet, nerdy, homeschool boy who loves science and is curious about the world and everyone in it Tyson: charming, fun, polite, and always willing to help out, he is just trying to save as much money as he can for college and is the object of Chloe's affections
Their story is narrated by Chloe and while she is ostensibly the focus, the reader comes to know all of them well as the narrative unfolds. The cast of characters here is diverse and yet there isn't a reliance on stereotypes or cliche's to mold them. Instead Czukas allows dialog and interactions to reveal each person's character and uses the other character's assumptions-assumptions most readers would have too-to challenge and bring out hidden details. All of these characters are so endearing. I loved every single one of them. I do think Chloe is the best vehicle through which to tell their collective story, but I find myself really wanting to have stories from all of the rest of them too, particularly Sammi and Zaina. I also enjoyed the wider observations of the world at large that came from seeing a grocery store through the eyes of the people who work there. Chloe's voice is genuine, a combination of cluelessness and wisdom that teens just starting to figure out the world often have.
The mystery isn't all that hard to figure out, but I completely bought how all of it came together. I could see the decisions that led to a bunch of mostly minors being held for hours at their job on Christmas Eve actually happening. I could also see why they all decided to cooperate and not give their parents the details of why they were staying late. The set-up is perfect in every way, and the conversations about life that came out of it were equally perfect.
There is a touch of romance, but it is not the focus of the book. It really is just the briefest of touches. And I love that this also turned out to be a Christmas story. It is one I will buy and enjoy every year now.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Harper Teen, via Edelweiss. Top Ten Clues Your Clueless is available for sale on December 9th....more
The cover for The Jupiter Pirates: Hunt for the Hydra by Jason Fry pretty much sells itself. Hold this up to a bunch of upper elementary kids and watch their eyes light up with anticipation. To seal the deal all you need to say are three magic words: Pirates. In. Space. Now try not to get knocked over. This book is all kinds of fun, but also has some more serious elements tossed in that make it so much more than it first appears.
The Hashoone family are privateers licensed by their home government on Jupiter to take Earth merchant ships as prizes. They mostly live aboard their ship, the Shadow Comet. Twelve year old Tycho Hashoone is a member of the bridge crew along with his twin sister, Yana, and his older brother, Carlo. Their mother is the Captain and their father is the First Mate. Their grandfather, the former Captain, does a lot of curmudgeonly grumbling about how things aren't like the good old days of pirating while his daughter tells him to be quiet. When the Shadow Comet captures a ship that has a mysterious and suspect diplomat from Earth on it, they take the ship home and allow the court to decide if its fair game or not. Soon they realize that one ship is only one layer of a conspiracy by Earth that involves an old enemy and a dangerous mission to find out what is happening to Jupiter ships and their crews that are disappearing.
There is a lot of adventure and mystery in Hunt for the Hydra. The book has all the elements one could possibly want in a book about pirates in space. There are space battles, close calls, intrigue, shadowy figures doing shady things, and ships to capture. In all of this there are underlying themes of diplomacy, the politics of war, slavery, and humanity. There is also the interesting question of how different is a pirate and a privateer? Where does one draw the line? The Hashoone's grandfather is not quite as ethical and honorable as his daughter. Where does that leave him? On the side of the good guys? Are there any good guys? It is a lot of thought to pack into a 200 page book of adventure, but Fry does it well. We are left wondering a lot about this futuristic world in which there were space colonies of earth all over the galaxy, some kind of rebellion that gave them the right to rule themselves, and now a war between some of the former colonies and Earth.
What is the most interesting part of the book for me is the dynamic between the three siblings. Tycho is definitely set up as the hero of the book. The book follows his perspective and thoughts. He is not the best at anything. His brother is the better pilot, and he is quite full of himself as a result. His sister has her own special talents, and has an attitude to go with it that includes challenging her mother, the Captain, far too often. The interesting thing about them is only one of them will be able to take her place. They are in active competition for the role of Captain of their family's ship, and they know it. This does an interesting thing to the sibling dynamic, which is always fraught and full of competitiveness to begin with. These kids aren't just competing in their own minds, their parents have set up a computer log to track and rank everything they do on the ship from simulations to actual battles. Talk about pressure. They have no ideas what the logs say, and their parents don't tell them. This family has some serious issues as a result of this, but they also clearly love and care for one another. They have each other's backs and work together (the kids have a hard time with that from time to time thanks to the competition, but make improvements as the book continues). It's a really fascinating character study.
And again, I'm impressed with Fry's ability to do all of this and the heart pounding action in 200 pages. Bit pretty much snatched this out of my hand the second I was finished with it. I wasn't kidding about the appeal to kid factor at play here. If you have a young lover of adventure stories in your life, this is a book to add to your home, school, classroom, etc....more
I have said before I don't love verse novels. Do you know what I love even less? Basketball. Not a fan. Not even a little bit. With those two things working against it, I really didn't want to read The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. But it's getting a lot of award buzz so I finally (rather petulantly) picked up a copy. Ahem. This book is AMAZING. I loved it. This is why we should always stretch ourselves to read even those things that we don't think are "our type" of books.
Josh Bell is my name. But Filthy McNasty is my claim to fame Folks call me that 'cause my game's acclaimed, so downright dirty, it'll put you to shame. My hair is long, my height's tall. See, I'm the next Kevin Durant, LeBron, and Chris Paul.
Josh's voice. It is so perfect. The book isn't entirely blank verse, as you can see from the above. It is a combination of several different styles and types, but what they all have in common is Josh's voice. His voice which is so real, vulnerable, confused, cocky, angry, resentful, giddy, and everything that is perfect 13 year old boy. Josh is a star basketball player, twin to another star basketball player, son of a former basketball Olympian and a middle school assistant principal, and an eighth grader. Through each poem that tells of the few months of Josh's 8th grade basketball season, the reader is given a clear picture of Josh and every detail of his life, thoughts, and feelings. Few words are used but reams of information and emotion are conveyed. I could read and read it over and over and always find new things to be in awed of. I wanted to read it again promptly upon finishing and I haven't experienced that urge in quite some time. It's blowing my mind that I experienced it over a verse novel about basketball.
The book is about basketball. There's a lot of basketball in it. It is also a story about brothers, change, and the power of family. But don't let anybody tell you it's not a sports book. It is. And you know what? Even if you're not a sports fan, it doesn't matter. Excellence is excellence, and this book is excellent. The basketball is essential and provides a great deal of the metaphor in the book, but it is also really, like all MG books, a story about growing up, facing change, and how one's relationships alter and are affected by growing up (particularly when members of the opposite sex are involved). Josh's twin, JB, has a girlfriend for the first time. He's less interested in basketball and doing things with Josh. Josh is angry. Their father is clearly suffering from heart problems but refuses to go to the doctor. Josh is worried. All of this is set against the backdrop of the basketball season. It's a short read, but a powerful one.
The prose is excellent in terms of imagery and evoking thoughts and feelings. For example: The gym is a loud crowded circus. My stomach is a roller coaster. My head, a carousel.. The air, heavy with the smell of sweat, popcorn, and the sweet perfume of mother's watching sons.
I could quote so much, but then there would be no reason for you to go and find a copy of your own to read which you must do. Now. ...more
I really enjoyed Barry's first book, Special Interests, but I LOVED this one. There are so many books out there where the quiet, often overlooked girlI really enjoyed Barry's first book, Special Interests, but I LOVED this one. There are so many books out there where the quiet, often overlooked girl finally gets the hot guy she's always secretly (or not so secretly) wanted. You don't often see that gender reversed. I like that here it is. Liam is such a great hero in so many ways. I have to admit I have a fondness for ridiculously optimistic despite all evidence to the contrary journalists. I'm actually married to one. (There aren't that many of them in existence.) Liam is that and one of those heroes that has a quiet strength and assuredness that is calming. At the same time he can be super sexy. I also really liked Alyse and her struggle to figure out who she really was and what she really wanted out of her life in D.C. Together they are not the easiest of partnerships, but they work. The roadblocks that they encounter on their way to a happy ending are ones that make complete sense for the type of people they are and the places they are in. Liam has every right to be cautious of what Alyse will do to his heart, and she has every right to feel like she needs space and time to figure out what she wants. Fitting those two together is not easy.
The political storyline in this one is realistic again and fairly simple, but it does have some fun espionage moments and mystery. The writing is stronger than the first one overall I think. There were some places where I absolutely adored the way Barry phrased things. I also liked the humor.
I'm the first to recognize as much as I love these books, they aren't for everyone. But if you are in the market for smart, realistic, politically savvy romance, you need to read these books NOW. ...more
I adore the Rose series. Seriously adore. They are just wonderfully fun, full of magic, and Rose is such a great character. The newest (US) installment, Rose and the Magician's Mask, lives up to the previous two and adds to them in interesting ways.
This installment picks up where the last installment left off. Rose and her friends are trying to track down the evil mastermind behind the plot in Rose and the Lost Princess. When a series of events leads them to believe he has absconded to Venice with a priceless and dangerous national treasure, there is only one solution. Road trip! Mr. Fountain must track down the artifact and the criminal. He takes Rose, Freddie, and Bella with him. Then Bill decides to stowaway too. Basically, all of my favorite characters in this series teamed up to go on a journey for a famous artifact and defeat the evil bad guy trying to take over the world via magic. It is a high fantasy quest novel wrapped up in the delightful alternate historical fantasy it has always been. It was the most perfect combination. There were even some hints given to Rose's mysterious past and how she is most likely higher born than she believes herself to be. So perfect. The beginning does start off a bit slow as a lot of the previous books are rehashed in typical kid series fashion, but once I got past that, I could not put this book down.
Rose continues to grow in her magic, as do both Freddie and Bella. They are all three growing as individuals too. Rose is showing a desire to be more bold and to figure out more of who she is an what she really wants in life. She is no longer content to hide in the shadows. Freddie is learning to broaden his horizons and give people more of a chance. Bella is learning to respect and listen to others. Bill was a wonderful addition to the magical team, even though he is not capable of magic himself. His common sense and fierce loyalty make him the perfect foil for the other three as they adventure. He has skills the others do not, and they come in handy more than once. Gus is, of course, still the best part of these books with the exception of Rose herself. He shows himself to be capable of far more than the others had previously seen and leaves them astounded in many places. There is an addition to the team in this book too. Miss Fell is a powerful magic worker, knows a lot about the world, and clearly suspects something of Rose's past. She is also one of those brilliant adults who allows the kids to go on their way being heroes with some assistance but also the knowledge that sometimes they must put themselves in danger and risk much to be those heroes.
This series just keeps getting better and better with each new volume. I am sad to see there is only one more book to go, Rose and the Silver Ghost, which will be released in March of 2015 in the US. It is currently available in the UK.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, via NetGalley. Rose and the Magician's Mask will be available for purchase September 2. ...more
I waited too long to read this book. Seriously. When it came out back in March, I was intrigued. Many people I trust said read this. It's good. Why did I wait so long? The Story of Owen by E.K. Johnston is a perfect blend of myth, reality, sly humor, and exhilarating action-adventure.
As the title implies, this is the story of Owen, a teenage dragon-slayer-in-training who helps guard the small town of Trondheim from dragons while trying to pass Algebra. Yet this isn't just the story of Owen. In fact, it isn't even mostly the story of Owen. It is really the story of Siobhan, the gifted musician who Owen encounters on his first day at his new school when they are both late for English. Like it was fated. Except not that kind of fated. Siobhan's talent makes her the perfect partner for Owen. Even though the tradition has long since died, every good dragon-slayer needs a good bard and Owen and Siobhan are about to resurrect the art. Siobhan is the one telling this story, in a voice that is both straightforward and trickily slides away from the telling the whole truth at the same time. The Siobhan telling the story is telling it from somewhere in the future. The writing is well done and has a dry wry wit that is subversive and oh so well balanced. I like both Siobhan and Owen, but I really like their partnership and how we see it unfold and grow. Their loyalty towards each grows in a natural way as the book progresses as does the strength of their companionship. And I love that is all their relationship is. I hope it stays that way in the future volumes. I love romance and am hopeful that there will be some eventually, but not between the two of them. One other thing I appreciated about both of them is that they are not super-heroes. They are kids who are talented yes, but who work at what they are good at to make themselves even better. And they work hard. I also really liked the supporting cast of characters, particularly Owen's aunts, Lottie and Hannah. I do feel that Siobhan is lacking in emotional depth enough that she kept me too removed from the story. I think that is probably due to the device of her being a bard and telling the story from the future, carrying we only know what baggage, wounds, and heartache. But it felt as though she didn't feel strongly enough about anything or anyone. Even the descriptions of her music have a vaguely detached air (which makes a bit more sense at the end), but the effect of all that was I wanted to know everyone and feel this story more deeply than I did. That is my one and only complaint though.
The world-builiding here is excellent. It is our world set in modern times with all our modern gadgets and technology. The difference? Dragons. Dragons have been a scourge on humanity in this alternate world for all of history but with the beginning of the age of modern industrialization they became an even bigger scourge. Dragons, you see, crave carbon fuels. It's like candy for them and they instinctively seek out anywhere they can find it. Cities with factories, roads with cars, water with boats, if you are anywhere these things are chances are you will be attacked by a dragon. The political ramifications of this are so well done, and Johnston raises so many provocative questions about our own world and how things are managed through them. Siobhan, Owen, his family, and some of their friends are trying to change the way the world works, but change does not come easy or free. I enjoyed how the world-building was so detailed throwing in so much history, not only maintaining my interest as a reader, but heightening it. It is also through the world-building that the major themes are developed. One thing that is highlighted is how easy media and history are to manipulate and I appreciated that aspect particularly. Siobhan is not just there to be a cheerleader for Owen, she is in charge of shaping perception not just about him, but dragon-slayers in general, and advancing the political and social causes their group deem important. It's fascinating stuff.
The writing brings this world to vivid life. What I felt it was lacking in character emotion, it more than made up for in terms of top rate plotting. The humor in the book is dry and tongue-in-cheek, something else I truly appreciated.
I highly recommend this for all fans of fantasy, particularly if you enjoy a good Nordic tale retold. It has all the feel of Beowulf, while being set in the present time. Truly excellent. ...more
Here I am, continuing my way through Jennifer Echols's backlist. I remember Chachic and Maureen raving about Such a Rush when it first came out, but mHere I am, continuing my way through Jennifer Echols's backlist. I remember Chachic and Maureen raving about Such a Rush when it first came out, but my library didn't have it so it wasn't a high priority for me. Big mistake. Boy is this book good.
Here is what I love so much about Echols's writing: her characters are messed-up real people. The have faults and flaws aplenty, and those will sometimes outweigh their finer traits. They are just so real. Leah and Grayson exemplify this perfectly. Leah is the product of a teenage pregnancy and her mom has never come around to the idea of being the responsible adult. Leah decided she did not want to be her mother and made goals for herself. She is desperate and vulnerable in so many ways. She is one mistake away from losing everything she wants for her future. She wants out of the trailer park. She wants into college. She wants to fly. People who are desperate and vulnerable often don't make the best decisions when they feel threatened. This is certainly true for Leah. She has lines she will not cross, but they are not the same lines people who live comfortable lines would have. It is easy to judge and look down on her as a character, but that would come from a high place of privilege that doesn't realize how true poverty and drive to escape it can warp one's decision making processes. Grayson is there to take full advantage of this, but in true Echols's fashion there is more to him. I should never like a manipulative boy as much as I do Grayson, but it's because there really is so much more to him. He is blackmailing Leah. Holding her future over her head to get her to do what he wants. He doesn't ask her to do anything awful though and he pays her well for her flying skills. Asking her to date his brother is an idiotic move, one he holds on to way longer and with far more tenacity than he should. But this is where I think Echols really succeeded with his character. For all his maneuvering and taking over a business, running it and learning how to take taxes out of paychecks, he is still just an 18 year old boy. One who is heartbroken, confused, and desperate to arrange what's left in his life in a way that makes him feel his heart is safe and secure. Does he pick the dumbest plan on the planet to accomplish this? Oh yeah. But again I say, 18 year old boy. It is incredibly realistic.
The romance in this book made me nervous when I first heard about it, and played a part in my not wanting to rush it to the top of my TBR. I was afraid this was going to turn more melodramatic than necessary. And while there was some melodrama involved, it didn't manifest itself in quite the way I thought it would. Also all of the melodrama fit the story, made sense to who the characters were, and never seemed too much for me. All of the chemistry and heat in the book come from Leah and Grayson. Alec and Leah's relationship is practically a non-starter from the start for several reasons, the main one being neither one is trying that hard. Leah isn't at all okay with faking an interest in Alec, particularly when she likes Grayson, and Alec has is own reasons. In addition to the romance in the book, there is also much focus on Leah's relationship with her only friend, Molly. Leah has a completely undeserved reputation that causes most girls to hate her guts. Molly is different, but their relationship is a fraught one.
Echols tackles some weighty themes in this book too. Leah's poverty is a very real thing, as is the neglect she suffers under mother's lack of care. She has raised herself, but there is a limit to what she can do. She becomes highly upset at some of the prying and poking Alec and Grayson do into her life and why she does some of the things she does. Privilege has a hard time seeing how hard true poverty can really be. Through Leah's interactions with people at school there is also some treatment of slut-shaming and how hard society can be on girls. Leah is a beautiful and sexy girl. Men and boys are drawn to her and tend to want to help her. She is much hated for this, but she honestly is oblivious to her affect on the male sex. Despite her reputation, Leah's only ever had sex with one person. Like I said she has lines she doesn't want to cross to mess-up her plans. Plans that do not involve teenage pregnancy. Another thing I like about Echols's books is that they are very sex positive. Of her three books I've read, the female mc's have been a virgin, a highly picky non-virgin, and a girl who is neither a virgin or picky. All of them are view sex as a positive thing though, something they want to experience and enjoy. Their standards are different, what they are looking for is different. In Leah's case she doesn't want to get pregnant and her focus on other things. I really like the way Echols weaves this into her stories and shows so many different and realistic ways teenage girls live their lives and make their choices.
Still loving exploring this author's work and can't wait to read more.
Content Warning: mentions of underage smoking and drinking, some sexual content ...more
I read Jennifer Echols's Biggest Flirts earlier this year and fell in love. It was my first Echols book and I immediately decided I needed more. I knew Major Crush, while out of print, had recently been rereleased on e-book and so I bought it right away. Unfortunately, I just got around to reading it last week. I know two things: I need to read all of Echols's back list and I love books about marching bands.
Virginia cherishes her role with the band and the time she spends with it. She is a great drummer, a dedicated drum major, and good friend to those she feels close to. She has a definite sense of who she is and what she wants to do. She is the first female drum major in the school's history and she wants to do well. Her problem is that Drew is a big something she wants, but feels she will never have because he hates her. Drew is the responsible one. He takes a lot of pride in it. But he also works really hard to break free and do the opposite of what people are telling him to when he has the chance. Drew is a legacy drum major-his dad and all his brothers had the position. Virginia intrigues him because of her sense of self and her free spirit. The two are opposites enough that sparks fly and it is wonderful. I love hate to love stories full of tension and this is a wonderful one. It is one of Echols's earlier works, and I could see a big difference in the writing between this and Biggest Flirts, but it is still incredibly good.
At first I was a little put off by the band director, but I feel like his character grew. Also, I can see a young 22 year old new teacher making the exact errors he does in dealing with the students. His suggestion that Virginia buy a short skirt and boots for her uniform was inappropriate, but he's not the first male teacher to do something so sexist, she's not the first teenage girl to shrug and go along with it, and I feel they both reached a reasonable understanding of things by the end.
Major Crush is a fantastic romance and a great band story. I really liked all the supporting characters as well. Both Drew and Virginia's friends are a lot of fun. I appreciate how the mistakes each character makes are very typical of teenagers and play into the reality of the story well. There are some dramatic moments, but they are moments anyone can see actually happening. The book is full of humor too which is always a plus.
I'm really looking forward to digging into the rest of Jennifer Echols's backlist. I already have Such a Rush checked out from the library and can't wait to get to it. ...more
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. ...more
After reading The Floating Islands a couple of years ago, I immediately put The City in the Lake on my TBR. There it sat despite the fact that I adored The Floating Islands, House of Shadows, and just really like Rachel Neumeier as a person too. After reading and loving Black Dog earlier this year I decided I needed to read this sooner rather than later and the Shelf-Sweeper challenge gave me the perfect opportunity for that. And I loved it so much.
I would really love to know what it is like to live inside Rachel's head, because all of her books are distinctly different, wildly inventive, and not what I think I'm getting when I start reading. You would think by now I would stop being surprised by that, but I continue to be amazed at her creativity and how her writing style alters to fit each world she has created. In The City in the Lake we get a quest story set in a fantasy world. If you think you know what that looks like and you've seen it before, you are wrong. You haven't seen this one. I loved the world here and how vast it is, yet contained in a rather small setting for the story. It is impressive how Neumeier is able to convey that vastness with few words. (Those who read this blog regularly know that is a trait my favorite authors all tend to share.) I loved the idea of the two cities, one in the lake and one on it, that reflect each other. The Forest in all its mysterious darkness is brought to full intimidating life and Timou's small village is rendered in just the right way. Reading this book, I actually felt like I was in all of these places and experiencing them in the same way as the characters.
The book's action centers around the royal family and Timou, a Mage's daughter, who never knew her mother. When the prince and then the King go missing, the King's older bastard son is left in charge and Timou's father has disappeared into the city to try and help. Timou follows when he doesn't return and discovers twisted secrets and a whole lot of family drama. There are a lot of characters involved and they are all well developed despite the shortness of the novel. I loved how Timou is a character of quiet strength. She has incredibly powerful magic and yet is not at all tempted by power. She is patient, stubborn, and hardworking. Her feelings are always kept under tight control, a trick she learned from her father, but one that has her confused when she begins to have feelings for Jonah, one of the men in her village. Jonah also has a quiet strength. He is not a sword wielding, run-into-danger type of hero, but his heroism and what he chooses to do with it are even more impressive as a result. I also really loved both of the princes, who are very different in all the ways brothers are. Neill, the bastard, is a fascinating character. He is the one who caught my imagination the most due to the choices he makes-and the ones he didn't but could have. Cassiel, the heir to the throne, is young and has many traits you would expect from being the younger, favored son, but he also has a core of steel and courage that is impressive. His charm and humor only make this more appealing (even if I was choosing between them, I would choose to like his brother more.) In dress, attitude, and actions, the villain is one of the creepiest I've read in some time. The symbolism Neumeier uses to introduce the concept of the villain into the story does an excellent job of adding to this terrifying calmness of evil the villain presents.
The City in the Lake is exactly the sort of fantasy I love and now I'm kicking myself for not having read it sooner. The world, characters, and story all combine to make an enthralling read and Neumeier's evocative prose put me right in the story. Woven in to the magic and intense political drama is also a great tale of siblings. All of my favorite things in a fantasy plus stuff I never knew to ask for. READ IT NOW. ...more
I have made not secret about how much I adore Stephanie Burgis's Regency fantasy Kat Incorrigible books. When I closed that last page of Stolen Magic, I was left feeling satisfied with the end of Kat's story in those books, but I couldn't help wanting more. When Stephanie started talking about a novella she was writing that would take place upon Kat's debut into society and her own romance, I was beyond thrilled. Courting Magic is everything I wanted it to be. It left me with a huge grin on my face that hasn't faded. It is, in fact, only growing larger as I type this and think about it all over again.
Kat has aged well in the five years since the end of her adventures in Stolen Magic. She has learned to control her tongue and temper. She is still irrepressibly Kat though. Her family still treat her like the girl she was though, telling her what to do, talking over her at times, and not crediting her with the sense that time and experience have instilled in her. I enjoyed this element because this is so true to life. Our families know us so well, but they don't always see us the clearest because they are too close. Mr. Gregson on the other hand, seems to fully trust Kat. He has seen his years of training pay off time and time again. She is a full-fledged guardian and fighter against evil magic. It is rather impressive. Most of the characters from the previous novels make a reappearance here. I didn't realize how badly I needed to see how Lucy's life turned out, until there she was. Her role in this story is marvelous. Reading this is like attending a reunion where I just want to sit and watch these people I love interact with each other. It was incredibly well done.
The plot involves a magical mystery that must be solved. Kat and her entrance into Society set the perfect scene for an undercover operation that involves her taking on three others with guardian magic as her would-be suitors, all of them in the pursuit of justice. Shenanigans of the hilarious and romantic variety ensue. Kat helped all three of her siblings into true love and it was so rewarding to see her find her own. I don't want to spoil much about that, but the romantic element is well done. There is everything that makes a good romance: amusing banter, heated looks, some misunderstanding, and some pretty great kissing. The hero is everything Kat deserves in a partner and their whole dynamic in this story is just lovely.
If you have young MG age fans of the original trilogy in your life and you are wondering at letting them read this, have no fear. There is some kissing and giddy descriptions of attraction, but nothing more than kids this age generally get from movies and other books for their own age group. I let Bit read it (and she loved it too).
Basically this book was all that I could have asked for. Happiness bubbled up inside me as I was reading it, like I was a bottle of soda being shaken up. It just made me effervescent when I was done, walking around grinning like a fool.
Stephanie self-published this and here is her post on all the places you can purchase it if you wish. (And you should most definitely wish to.) ...more
I am still making my way through Diana Wynne Jones's backlist. I probably wouldn't have read The Homeward Bounders for a long time to come as it's currently out of print in the the US (except as an e-book) if it weren't for a conversation on Twitter I had with Sage Blackwood in which she said she heard some consider it to be a metaphor for life as a military kid. My interest level rose exponentially and she was kind enough to send me an old used library copy to read. (Much thanks for that.)
This book, like all of Jones's books, has had many covers. I'm using the latest UK cover because I really like these covers for her books.
The Homeward Bounders unfolds slowly. For the first part of the novel Jamie is all alone simply telling his story about how he came to be a Homeward Bounder and the way the worlds work. As he tells his tale little things about Them (the players) are revealed, and what is revealed is rather chilling. They have no regard for lives. They are ruthless in pursuit of the game they are playing. The game they are playing is us and our lives. And the lives of countless other beings in countless other worlds. We are all pieces on a giant board game helped along by computers and players (the identity of who is a brilliant reveal). Who hasn't wondered about that at some point in their life? This is the sheer genius of Diana Wynne Jones, taking the things everyone ponders and expanding on them and turning them into a brilliant story. Jamie is thrust out of his world after discovering the game. A "discard", he is forced to wander the worlds in search of home. He is alone for a great deal of his search and that loneliness comes off the page and affects the reader. Finally Jamie is able to find some companions. Helen is special in her world, but has been exiled because she also discovered too much. Joris is a demon hunter apprentice, a slave with so much devotion he was dragged into life as a Homeard Bounder by a demon he refused to let go. These three are misfits and they form a strong if somewhat squabble team. A team that doubles when they are able to convince some actual non-Bounders of what is going on. But of course, this can't last forever. They are not going to allow them to remain together without a fight. I really enjoyed Jamie as a character all alone, a wander traveling the worlds. And I loved his interactions with the family he cobbles together from the people he meets. Helen and Adam are particularly fun to watch him with.
The Homeward Bounders is tragic, far more so than a lot of Jones's books are. It is a sort of tragic that is full of purpose though. The trials are not for nothing and the people suffering them learn to adjust, though it leaves scars and yearnings they will never shake. Yes, I can see why some people have likened it to life as a military brat. There were some sentences that made me cry because, yes, they do describe the feelings you have, the feeling that home is a place out there somewhere if you could only just find it, but deep down you know you never will because you missed that chance. That your life is out of your control. That you form attachments only to have them ripped away from you so why bother forming them at all anymore. There is something utterly profound in the conclusion of the book that relates as well. The lack of choice the Bounders have about how long they stay in one place (but they do know approximately how long it will be) and their lack of choice in where they end up next speaks to it as well. Whether Jones did this intentionally or not, I can't help but wish I had this book growing up.
The Homeward Bounders is not a book everyone is going to like, but it is perfect for me. I think it is one of Jones's best actually. It doesn't have the charm and quirk of Chrestomanci, Howl, or Derkholm, but it still has a sly and ironic humor that keeps it from being too tragic. And in the end it really is a beautiful story that is brilliantly crafted....more
I received a copy of A Matter of Souls by Denise Lewis Patrick at ALA Midwinter, a signed copy after I met the author. I'm going to confess that I shelved it and forgot about it after returning until I unpacked it this past week after moving. I was reminded of the #weneeddiversebook campaign and decided the weekend of the 48 Hour Book Challenge was the perfect time to read it. I feel so bad for having neglected it for this long, but I feel even worse that I didn't see much buzz about it to remind me. WHY are more people not talking about this book????
A Matter of Souls is a collection of short stories. This is a format we don't see enough of in YA and these stories are so well written. Patrick has a way with words, pulling the reader into the story in just a few and holding them with the characters she has created. Each setting unique and yet not as they all center around the same basic theme and struggle. Each character is unique and their struggle, while familiar in general is unique to that person. Patrick gives each story equal glory. There is sadness in these pages. Heaps and heaps of it. There is death and darkness and the worst humanity as to offer. There is also life and hope and the struggle for more and better. There are glimpses of the better humanity sometimes attempts to strive for as well.
I really appreciate how the title and the final story ties the whole together. Every story anywhere is really a matter of souls and Patrick does an excellent job of illustrating that and the interconnectedness of all. The book makes an excellent resource for anyone teaching US History or creative writing, but needs to be talked of more simply because it is an amazingly good and powerful book. Read it. ...more
I am not a huge poetry fan, but once in a while a poetry book comes along that I can not pass up the chance to read. Poisoned Apples: Poems for You My Pretty by Christine Heppermann was just such a book.
The Woods The action's always there. Where are the fairy tales about gym class or the doctor's office or the back of the bus where bad things also happen?
And so begins a beautiful collection of poems that combine fairy tale and real life to illustrate the struggles of teen girls everywhere. Eating disorders, boys who see and treat you as an object, seeing and treating yourself as an object, the never-ending quest for impossible perfection to live up to an artifiical standard of beauty-it's all blended and folded together against a backdrop of familiar characters and scenarios. The poems, which are mostly in blank verse, are hauntingly beautiful. They are more than that too though. They challenge preconceived notions, force thought, and are, in the end, empowering. It is a feminist book. It is a powerful book. It is a human book. It fills me with a zeal to buy copies for all the teen girls I know. And all the adult women. All the boys too for that matter.
In addition to the poems the final copy of the book will be full of art. I read an e-galley, so it is not all there or as clear as possible, but what I saw I very much liked. I pre-ordered this book months ago based on its concept alone. Having read it already, I do not regret that decision in the slightest. I can not wait for my copy to come so I can read it again and see the art in all its beauty with the poems.
I love fairy tales. Actual real fairy tales for all the darkness, horror, and awful truth they contain. I love them because the lines between fairy tales and reality are hard to find when you start thinking about what the stories are really about. Hepperman mentions her similar thoughts on this in the Afterward. This shows clear in every poem,which is based on a tale with a known character, but so tragically real at the same time. It combines all the aspects of fairy tale riffs I adore.
I highly recommend to everyone.
Content Warning: sexual references, strong language, alcohol and drug use
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Greenwillow Books, via Edelweiss. Poisoned Apples is available for purchase on September 23rd....more
I have a thing for best friend turned lovers stories and this one is so good. I also really enjoyed that it was about an older couple also dealing witI have a thing for best friend turned lovers stories and this one is so good. I also really enjoyed that it was about an older couple also dealing with things like their children getting married and moving on with their lives. I'm nowhere near that phase of life yet, but I can imagine it isn't going to be easy. I enjoyed how Mack and Anne balanced and smoothed each other out. I have always liked the character of Mack in the other chocolate books. He's such a great dad and it was fun to get to see more of his personality than just the father role. It was also fun to see all the other couples playing and having fun together at the wedding. And Sylvain! The Chocolate Thief is my least favorite of all Florand's books and I didn't fall for him as a hero as much as the other chocolatier, BUT I have fallen for him more and more in each novel he has shown up in. Man does he know how to snark at and discombobulate the other heroes in the best way. Loved what he did with Mack and the chocolate. :) ...more
The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson is one of those books that had a lot of excitement and promotion leading up to its release. Those books always make me wary. While I really wanted to read it, I worried about it not living up to my expectations. Well, that was a groundless worry. I LOVED this book and my only regret is I'm not teaching in the fall and won't have a roomful of MG kids to book-talk it to.
This is a realistic fiction book that has absolutely no grounding in reality, which is not at all a bad thing, because readers love those books. I was going to say kid readers but decided that was condescending and untrue. I love those sort of books too (and not just ones written for kids) as do a number of other adults. The romance and mystery genres make the money they do because people love this type of book so much. I don't think the MG category has nearly enough of them that are as well written as this one is.
The concept is basically Ocean's Eleven for kids and it is all kinds of fun. There is a corrupt principal and cocky popular kid to take down and the school's clubs to save. It will take a crack team of super-smart friends to save the school's election from being stolen from the students. Does this middle school actually exist anywhere? One that has this many actively participated in funded extracurriculars and a student government with actual power? No. No it doesn't, not in the realm of public schools anyway. HOWEVER, it is the middle school every kid fantasizes about going to. One where there will be a place for them somewhere and they will be able to practice agency over their own lives. And what kid doesn't love a story where the kids get to outsmart the principal? Johnson clearly gets his audience.
The cast is diverse, which is obvious from the cover, but I don't just mean that it is racially diverse. These kids all have distinct interests and personalities. Leading them all is Jackson Greene, president of the Botany club, basketball super-star, and Earl Grey tea drinker. His grandfather was an excellent con-man, and armed with his wits and his grandfather's rules for staging a con, Jackson has perpetrated some schemes that the entire school population still talks about despite his new course on the straight and narrow. After his last job resulted in losing one of his best friend's, the girl he also happened to have a crush on, he is staying out of it. But Gaby is the one who will lose if he doesn't intervene, and for her he is willing to take on a new job. Even if she doesn't want him to. Gaby is a brilliant leader and amazing basketball player. I really liked how she balanced out Jackson and how she handled the many tricky situations she found herself in from confronting jerks to being honest with a boy about her feelings, to telling her friends what she thinks. Gaby never betrays or backs down from who she is. Each member of the team Jackson assembles to run the heist are equally distinct and rounded. Charlie is Gaby's brother, Jackson's best friend, and the editor of the school paper. Bradley is the eager, excited, office helper who is the inside man. Hash is a tech geek, Star Trek fan, and highly nervous around girls. Megan, the pretty cheerleader, is also a tech genius who is a passionate gamer and also speaks fluent Klingon. I appreciated what the author did with all these characters. While Hash is fairly stereotypical for a tech geek he still has a distinct personality and is foiled by Megan, who is not a stereotypical tech geek or cheerleader. The subtle message that comes across is that each person is not one thing, but total of all things that make them who they are. Each character highlights this in their own way but never in a manner that makes it THE MESSAGE.
Interspersed through the book are also some clever commentaries on society. Some of these kids will get and some will go over their heads, but the way Johnson wove them in to the narrative was smart. From how easy it is to corrupt an election process, to the school secretary who can't tell students in any non-white race apart, to the power brokering of the kids with money in the school, Johnson has brought out some interesting issues. The truly miraculous thing? He does all this character development, plotting, and theme building in 226 engaging pages. How? He has pretty much mastered the art of showing and not telling.
The Great Greene Heist is a perfect read for anyone who loves con stories, school stories, friendship stories, or just stories in general. ...more
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. ...more
I was worried about whether or not the series would be as good moving outside of the Fletcher family, but I shouldn't have been. This is an excellentI was worried about whether or not the series would be as good moving outside of the Fletcher family, but I shouldn't have been. This is an excellent book. I really liked both Jack and Lauren, the issues they brought to their relationship, and how they worked through those. Kantra does a great job of showing how real people work out real problems. Again, the community of Dare Island plays a huge part in the novel and the Fletchers are still very prevalent. (Fletcher wedding in this one!) I especially enjoyed seeing the camaraderie developing between Jack and Luke and the one other officer at the police station. I'm looking forward to seeing where else this series is going.
My YA loving heart both rejoices and yearns at the glimpses of Josh and Thalia we get in this book again. Thalia is the one featured more in this one and oh my. I want these two to have their own book (or books as I'm practical enough to see they may be not destined for each other, but again, my YA loving heart wants that too). I'm good with it being set later on, just gah! this episodic glimpse every book is KILLING ME. ...more
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
Despite loving all of Melina Marchetta's realistic fiction, I had never gone back and pickedOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
Despite loving all of Melina Marchetta's realistic fiction, I had never gone back and picked up her debut novel, Looking for Alibrandi. I thought it was high time I did.
Looking for Alibrandi is not as smooth and finessed as Marchetta's later works, but it is still an excellent book. Josephine is typical of Marchetta's main characters: self-absorbed at times, flawed, sometimes whiny, and yet also loving, loyal, and hard-working. She is real and human. The secondary characters are also wonderful, particularly Josephine's family. My favorite parts of the novel were the evolving relationships between Josephine and her father and grandmother. This is a generational story, and in this you see the beginnings of Marchetta's brilliance in addressing this that comes into even greater brilliance in The Piper's Son. In the conversations with her grandmother in particular, an interesting glimpse is given into immigrant life in 20th century Australia and the Italian community in Sydney. It was fascinating. The secondary characters are not as well drawn as they are in Marchetta's later works, but they are still very real and Josephine certainly carries her own story beautifully.
The plot itself is not connected to any one event. It is the story of Josephine's last year of high school and covers her changing dynamics with family and friends, her crushes, her ambitions, and her mistakes. All told in her first person voice it, the book reads almost like a diary and this format works perfectly for the episodic nature of the plot.
One thing I always appreciate about Marchetta's novels is the frankness and honesty with which she addresses teenage sexual situations, and that is particularly strong in this novel. I like the way that she shows several different perspectives and situations and how different people will make different decisions depending on what they believe about themselves, the person their with, and the world in general. I loved Josephine's assurance and confidence when she told Jacob she wasn't ready for sex. It is actually one of my favorite conversations I've read in a novel in a long time. And I love the way she and her friends discuss their various experiences towards the end. There is a lot of profound stuff there.
I can't believe I waited so long to to read this, and am so glad I finally did. If you enjoy her other books, particularly Saving Francesca and The Piper's Son, this is one you will want to red too.
And yes, I have tagged it as historical fiction as hard as it was. If a book takes place 20 years ago, it is historical fiction. ...more
For fans of the Magic Thief series by Sarah Prineas, the latest installment, The Magic Thief: Home, is a much anticipated and highly welcome addition. It also has the potential to draw in new fans as a new chapter in Conn's life and the city of Wellmet begins. Whether readers are old fans or newly experiencing the magic for the first time, every reader of this book is in for a fantastically twisty tale of magic, mayhem, discovery, and intrigue.
Conn is a bit out of sorts since finishing with the magics of Wellmet, returning home, and having his magicalicus swallowed by a small dragon he calls Pip. Who is he? Where does he belong? What is he meant to do now? The magics in Wellmet are similarly out of sorts, competing for the power of the town. Conn is the best one to deal with the magics as he understands them best, but when he is in such turmoil himself, embroiled in another spree of crime, mystery, and intrigue he has to solve, it is difficult to stay focused. I loved the way the magics reflect and contrast Conn's own character. He is wild, not meant to be locked down, and hates being manipulated, but at the same time wants a purpose and stability. He thrives on danger. Of course, everyone who loves Conn just wants to protect him. Ro and Nevery feel the best way to do this is to make him the ducal magister but Conn is having none of that. Conn's stubbornness is familiar to older reader's of the series, as is his friends' exasperation with him. It has a different feel in this book though and is not just he same old story as the original trilogy. They've all grown a lot and are facing a new reality. Conn is starting to realize he needs help from time to time and relying on others is okay. The others are starting to realize trying to manage Conn is a lost cause, and one by one they fall to trusting him to do what must be done and do it well.
One of the great strengths of this series is how it highlights character and relationships so well, but does it simply through showing them in the context of a fast moving, exciting, and twisty plot. It is so subtle and yet you can not read these without coming away feeling connected to all these characters and seeing their strong connections to each other. I love the friendship between Conn and Ro, and how it is just a friendship. (Please, please, let that continue to be the case. And there are hints that it will continue to be the case, thank goodness. I like the direction of those hints a lot.) I love it when books can show a good male/female friendship that is nothing more than that. (Yes, they do exist!)
The story finds Conn yet again trying to prove he is not the gutter-boy thief he once was, but it is interesting that there are actually very few people who assume he is. There are some, as there will probably always be, but for the most part, he is trusted by those around him. The story is from his point of view, yet it is clear that he is still reacting to how people used to see him automatically rather than how they are reacting to him now. Conn's talents and spotted past are essential to unwinding the knot of magic and criminal acts being visited on Wellmet. This leads to some dangerous situations and a couple moments of peril that had me visibly trying to restrain myself from reacting since I was reading the book in public. All my emotions were fully engaged and that made for some fraught moments for my poor heart.
Fans of this series definitely do not want to miss this latest installment. It very nicely lends itself to new readers too. The necessary events from the previous books are included in clever ways that new readers will know what is going on, and old readers won't be bored reading a lot of information they already know. (It's also a nice refresher for those who may have forgotten.) At the same time, this is a new phase in Conn's life and the story reflects that. It isn't a continuation of the old story so much as the beginning of the next part of Conn's story. I do think new readers of the series will find themselves unable to resist going back and reading the first three.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Harper Children's, via Edelweiss. The Magic Thief: Home will be available September 16....more
From the moment I discovered what Something Real by Heather Demetrios was about, I wanted to read it. I am not a fan of reality TV shows that follow families around and document their lives, partly because I just feel like the worst sort of voyeur, but mainly because I feel it is an exploitation of the children involved who have no real choice or agency in what is going on. A book that explores this sounded fascinating. I was also a little hesitant because the synopsis made me think it could go places that I was uncomfortable with. The book did make me uncomfortable, but for all the right reasons and it is truly an excellent novel.
Bonnie Baker is finally recovering from the reality TV circus that was her life for so long. She is in school for the first time and is now going by Chloe (as that is her preferred name, it is what I will call her from here on out). She and her brother Benny are moving on with their lives. They have friends. They have a life. Benny even has a boyfriend, and Chloe has a boy in her life that could be ready to move from crush to relationship. Their lives are thrown in to turmoil when their mom and stepdad decide to reboot the family show that caused so much turmoil in the first place. And no one will let them out of it. This is particularly hard for Chloe, who was a big part of the reason the show was canceled in the first place after she swallowed her parents' medicine cabinet full of pills and had to have her stomach pumped at the age of 13.
Chloe is a bit of a mess as you can imagine. She suffers from what anyone can see is PTSD. Anytime a camera goes anywhere near her she freaks out. Building up enough courage to take her senior picture was an ordeal. Then she goes home to find the cameras have invaded her life again: The telltale signs of my childhood are everywhere: vans with satellite dishes on top, the Mercedes with the familiar BRN4REEL license plate, and the ropes of thick black cables that crawl around the house like prehistoric predators, squeezing everyone inside until they suffocate. That is Chloe's voice, full of pain, truth, and harsh cynicism. She can also be funny, snarky, and playful and it all combines to make her so real. Her journey through this book from terrified victim to a girl who grasps her own future and has agency over her own life is a truly remarkable one. It is filled with a lot of drama and bumps in the road, but watching her grow and learn from each one makes this a fantastic read. It is a book that I actually had to put down and walk around a bit while reading due to the amount of rage I was feeling toward her mother, who is the most selfish narcissistic leech on the planet. She is a terrible human being all round. The relationship between them is also portrayed realistically. Beth is Chloe's mom. Chloe feels loyalty and even love toward her despite everything. Chloe is manipulated, her privacy is invaded, and she is never listened to, but she still feels this fierce need to protect Beth and her siblings. It is a perfect picture of what a warped and dysfunctional child/parent relationship is like.
The book has a large cast of characters from the TV people, family, and school. The individual younger siblings are not focused on much, which is okay because Chloe spends little time with them really. The three oldest, who are all the same age due to a surrogate carrying two of them, are the main focus of the sibling dynamics and I loved this part of the story. Chloe and Benny have always been extremely close and the rebooting of the TV show brings them closer than ever. They both have reasons for hating it. Benny worries about Chloe falling back into depression. Chloe worries about Benny drinking too much like their father. Benny is also concerned about his relationship with his boyfriend, Matt, which they have been keeping secret. The bond and solidarity between these two is something special. They have each other's backs and work together to preserve their sanity and lives. Benny's twin sister Lexie has a more complicated relationship with them. She actually liked the show, but is dealing with her own issues from it even if she doesn't seem to realize. The three of them grow closer and become more of a team as the book progresses and I loved tracking their relationship. Great sibling stories are one of my favorite types of stories and this is certainly one of those.
It is also a great story of friendship. The way Chloe's friends react to the news that she is Bonnie Baker is very realistic, but the way they circle around her and work hard to show her how much they care is extraordinary. They are helpful. The give good advice. They push Chloe to see things in new ways. And they are incredibly supportive of both her and Benny.
Then there is the romance, which was my greatest concern going in. I really didn't want this to be a broken girl finds boy who fixes everything story. And it is not. Hallelujah. Patrick is pretty amazing and mature for a teenage boy, but boys like hime do exist in the world. He knows what he wants out of life and one of those things is Chloe. He is not afraid to pursue her even when she is trying to push him away for his own good. But he is not a magic presence that fixes Chloe's life. He gives her a lot of support and help. He is someone she can talk to and go to for comfort. In the end though, it is CHLOE who works to save herself. She makes the choices. Patrick is there to have her back and help her in those and I LOVED this about their relationship. It definitely had its moments of drama, but what relationship between 17 year olds doesn't come with that? It is the way they dealt with it all that made their relationship a positive aspect of the book.
Basically this book was everything I wanted it to be and more. It is working with the same themes and ideas Don't Call Me Baby and You Look Different in Real Life do, but this book does all of it so much better.
Content Warning: language, underage drinking and smoking, discussions of sex...more
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 worldOriginally 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....more
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....more
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 toOriginally 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....more
I was a huge fan of The Screaming Staircase when it came out last year and couldn't wait to get my hands on the sequel, The Whispering Skull. Stroud bI was a huge fan of The Screaming Staircase when it came out last year and couldn't wait to get my hands on the sequel, The Whispering Skull. Stroud brings his talent for eerie creepiness, mystery, and snarky humor to this latest edition and it is so much fun.
In the six months since the first novel ended, Lockwood, George, and Lucy have made good on the reputation they established in the first book. They have been busy banishing ghouls and continuing to build their business. The plot of The Whispering Skull begins with a bet with their rival team at the Fittes Agency and springboards them into an even more intense and circuitous mystery than their last. There is a mysterious artifact that has disappeared into the London underworld that kills those who look at it, and it seems to have a startlingly hypnotic effect on George. The criminals who want the artifact are also killing for it, and the mysterious skull in the jar has finally decided to start talking to Lucy once again, its interest awakened by the mystery it knows too many details of. The mystery here was rather easy for me to solve, as with the first, but also like the first that was okay with me because it is all about the journey the characters take to get at the answer. The setting of this book is expanded as the team goes out across the city of London. There is quite a lot of adventure, danger, fighting, and narrow escapes as Anthony, Lucy, and George strive to solve the mystery before the evil object takes another life and it's one of their own.
I enjoyed the way the characters grew and expanded in this book. After his performance in the first book, I was particularly happy to see Anthony falter a couple of times in this one. He made some mistakes and his thinking was wrong and off the mark on a couple of occasions. I was worried after the first book Stroud may turn him into one of those characters never allowed to fail, but he fills him in a little more in this book. Secrets Lockwood wants to bury come to light in this book too which I think is probably the set-up for the next book. It's fascinating and how it's revealed shows a lot about the growth of his character and his changing relationship with Lucy and George. George was given more of a role in this book too, a chance to be more than just a stock character to foil Lockwood and Lucy. Lucy's talent is growing and becoming something more and she has many mixed feelings about this. Her character, despite being the narrator, was the one I felt grew and filled out the least. I'm hoping that will change with the next book.
What makes this slightly better than the first book is the sly humor that is woven in it to it. I think it is so much more amusing and that the comic is there as relief against the drama in a much better way here.
Anyone who enjoyed the first book is sure to enjoy this one as well. I'm pretty invested in all theses characters now and am in this series until the end for sure.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Disney Hyperion, via NetGalley. The Whispering Skull has a release date of September 16th. ...more
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
I love that when I pick up a Rachel Neumeier novel I am always surprised at what I end up geOriginally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
I love that when I pick up a Rachel Neumeier novel I am always surprised at what I end up getting. (In a very good way.) She is such a diverse writer and covers so many different types of fantasy and characters. I went into Black Dog the slightest bit wary because I don't ordinarily enjoy paranormal fantasy, but I trusted her enough to know it would probably be something I ended up liking in the end. I didn't like it, I LOVED it.
(This is a review of an ARC received in exchange for a fair review.)
When I did my TTT wish list a few weeks ago I said I would love to see more sibling stories in YA, and that is what Black Dog is first and foremost. The whole story centers around the bond between Alejandro, Natividad, and Miguel, a black dog, a Pure girl, and a human boy, and their love and loyalty to each other. After the death of their parents, they flee to the only place they imagine they will be safe. While dealing with their grief and tragedy, they must learn to navigate the politics and personalities of the powerful black dog family who has taken them in and begin to trust people outside of each other for the first time. The story is told in third person and follows all three of them, with a stronger focus on Natividad and Alejandro. And through all three of them the reader also gets a thorough introduction to Dimilioc's Master and Executioner, Grayson and Ezekiel. I love all these characters so much, but I particularly enjoyed the book when it followed Alejandro. It was fascinating to look through his eyes as he shifted between a human body and that of a black dog. There is a wonderful exploration of the duality in human nature between light and dark. This is also there in Natividad and Miguel, but in more subtle ways. Natividad is a stubborn and independent soul. She is mourning her parents, working hard to keep peace in her new home at a time of war, and knows that as a Pure girl her job is not to be protected but to protect. The men her life all want to protect her, but she does what she knows needs to be done. This often puts her in danger, but I never felt she was being unthinking or stubborn for the sake of proving her independence. She did what needed doing. I had a great respect for her as a character. Miguel is the strategist and critical thinker. He is also incredibly persuasive when he wants to be. The three siblings make a terrific team. Ezekiel, who was chosen for his role of executioner at the age of 13, is a complicated character. Through all three Toland siblings different sides and nuances of his character are shown. I found that I wanted more about him still though. He is thoroughly fascinating. My one complaint is that I wanted more of him and less Grayson (who is interesting but not as interesting).
The world of Black Dog is an intensely interesting one. It takes place in contemporary times and picks up following a war between vampires and the Black Dogs. The vampires lost and are gone, but the black dogs did not fare much better. Black dogs, as much as they may sound like it, are not werewolves. Neumeier did new and interesting things with the old stories here and I enjoyed the combination of legend, magic, and politics. A outside threat to Dimilioc involves a renegade black dog who is after the Tolands, most particularly Natividad, for the power she wields. Neumeier did not shy away form the consequences of vicious creatures at war with each other. This book has a pretty high body count and is quite gruesome in some respects. I loved the realism of this. I can't stand it when situations like this are made unrealistically safe for the protagonists and the people they love. Or when innocent bystanders remain unaffected. This is a story that shows all of that, and then tackles the emotional consequences as well. Nativdad, as a Pure girl, is expected on her 16th birthday to choose one of the Dimilioc dogs as her mate. Ezekiel makes it quite clear he is going to destroy anyone other than him that she picks. The two of them share some intense moments, but there is no strong romantic element to the story, something I also appreciated. (I'm choosing to assume here that Natividad's relationship with Grayson is NOT heading in that direction because that squicks me out.) The book takes place over only a week's time, and they are fighting a war. Natividad is confused, and Ezekiel is determined, but mostly they are just trying to stay alive.
Black Dog has so many elements I look for in my favorite books: strong characterization, deep and layered relationships, rich setting and world-building, and an intense plot that doesn't shy away from the darker elements it explores. It is going on my favorites shelf and will be one I revisit again. And I'm really hoping there will be a sequel sooner rather than later. (I've heard there is going to be one, though this works perfectly as a stand alone.)
I read an e-galley received via the publisher, Strange Chemistry, on NetGalley. Black Dog is available on February 4th. ...more
I read Countdown by Deborah Wiles when it came out and loved it. I loved the documentary style format (with some reservations) and the story. I highly anticipated the release of the companion novel, Revolution. It was well worth waiting for and is a powerful and moving story.
Revolution chronicles the events that took place in Mississippi 40 years ago when the "invaders" came, groups of students from all over the country for Freedom Summer. Their goal was to help register black voters and teach in Freedom schools. Many of them were arrested and, three ended up missing their burned car found making national news. In this crucial and tense time in Greenwood, lives a girl named Sunny who longs for adventure and is having difficulties adjusting to the new realities of her family life. Her mother left when she was a baby and her father recently married a divorced woman with two children of her own. Sunny is tired of being told what to do and how to do it. Her life is in enough turmoil as it is when the "invaders' come to town and start stirring things up even more. Sunny is petulant and spoiled through much of the novel. (I seriously thought her parents deserved sainthood for their patience with her.) It isn't hard to understand and feel for her hurt and pain over her mother, figuring out where she fits in her new family, and watching how her new family navigates the treacherous times occurring in her town. What is nice to see is how much she grows and how realistic that growth is. Sunny never before questioned the way of life in Mississippi before this summer, but the coming of these outsiders and a chance encounter with a black boy named Ray begin to change the way she thinks.
Ray is an amazing baseball player with a desire to have what the white kids have, a chance to spend his summer playing, swimming, and seeing movies in a safe nice environment. He sees the way his parents and neighbors work and still can't make ends meet. He saw how his sister died of appendix rupture because the white doctor refused to treat her. Ray is angry and fed up. When his family takes in Jo Ellen (Franny's sister from Countdown and one of the Freedom Summer workers) and he begins to spend more time with SNCC workers, he decides to become more involved in the movement. He does things that are brave and pays some significant consequences.
Together Sunny and Ray's stories (along with a couple chapters from Sunny's step-brother Gillete's point of view) paint a vivd and wrenching picture of what that summer in Mississippi was like for all the parties involved. The supporting cast that surrounds both of them are really well done too, particularly Sunny's parents and grandmothers. Through this lens you get a real feel for all sides and thoughts of the situation during the time. From the white adults too afraid to break the status quo but knew the status quo was wrong to the ones who were brave enough to the ones who thought the status quo was just fine to the ones willing to commit violence to make sure it stayed the way it was, every angle is fully explored.
As in Countdown Wiles uses a documentary style format placing in significant and strategic places pictures, quotes, song lyrics, and primary source documents from the time. It is clear that much thought went in to what would be included, how, and where it would be placed and most of it enriches and makes the story better. And here is the one quibble I have with this and it is similar to the same one I had with Countdown though for different reasons. The essays (reports?). I honestly don't think they add anything significant to what is being done here and just end up making what is already a very long novel even longer. I think most kids would skip them entirely and that they might even throw many readers out of the story completely, which would be tragic because the rest of it is so amazingly well done. The way Wiles writes her characters, setting, and plot combined with the power of the pictures, quotes, and documents tells the story wonderfully.
Some favorite quotes: Believe me there are only so many times you can sing "I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart" before you have no more joy at all, anywhere. None. Zero. It's already as hot as blue blazes in the sixth-grade Sunday School room, and all I can feel is the hot-hot-hot-hot down to my toes. I cannot believe I'm sitting here. I didn't have any joy to begin with.
He did the right thing. When you come clean, when you tell the truth, you lift a great weight off your shoulders. It's not that you don't ever do anything you shouldn't do ever again, of course not. You're human , an sometimes the vagaries of life are just too delicious to ignore. Sometimes you are impetuous. Sometimes you are impulsive. And sometimes that's okay. Sometimes it's not. It's just that, when you know you're caught and you've done something you shouldn't have done, you own up to it. ...more
Claire LaZebnik is the most amazing at Jane Austen retellings. There is not anyone else who can do them quite like she can. She adapts these stories into a modern teen setting so well. Yes, she makes some changes in doing that, but they are necessary changes and I personally adore what she does with them. The Last Best Kiss is her latest, a retelling of Persuasion, and it is excellent. What makes it so excellent is not only the decent update of Jane Austen it is, but as always LaZebnik has again created a story that is appealing and relatable to teen readers who may have never read Austen or even know this is a retelling.
I read an ARC received from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.
Of all Austen's novels, Persuasion probably lends itself best to being reworked into a high school setting. When in our lives are we ever more persuadable than when we are young teens? True some people never grow out of that, but most of us hit our low point there. Anna does. She is in 9th grade and wants nothing more than to be accepted by her friends. Her family life is terrible and school is the only place she is not alone. Finn fills her life with joy and fun. She adores him, but is too afraid to stand up for him and what she feels for him. Finn has good reason to be angry at her. (Better than his original counterpart did if you ask me.) She did embarrass and hurt him for no better reason than being afraid of what others might think of her. When he moves back during senior year, however, he is much cuter and less nerdy. The nerd is still there, but he lets that part of him out far less. I love that when it does escape it is usually in relation to Anna and something she has done to set it off. And she loves that part of him and wants to see it more. Their story is adorable for what it is even without knowledge of the original. I really liked Anna and how she tried to make amends, knows she did something truly wrong, and attempts to move on. She is still fixated on Finn, but it is not in an unhealthy or overly emotional way. As for Finn...well. He is exactly the sort of boy I always liked in high school. (The sort of boy I married even.) Let's just say I liked him lots. The supporting cast of characters are all truly well done too. The group of friends Anna and Finn have are fantastic. They are all very different but they have a great rapport and the banter between them all is wonderful. Lily (who is the Louisa counterpart) can be obnoxious, but the reasons for that become clear and she isn't that way simply because she is Anna's competition for Finn.
The plot follows along the same basic lines as Persuasion. I do like that we saw some of Anna and Finn's freshman year relationship and the person he was before she embarrassed him. The whole "accident" scene makes far more sense in this context as well. While I liked seeing the connections from this plot to the original, it is one that can be enjoyed for itself without knowledge of the original novel. It is a story relatable to teens in so many ways: societal pressure, fears of the future, stress about college, and the family and friendship issues that plague everyone. In addition it is just a delightful romance. I had so much fun reading it. I seriously hope LaZebnik continues these.
Content Note: There is some discussion of sex, some underage drinking, and illegal drug use.
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Harper Teen, via Edelweiss. The Last Best Kiss is on sale April 22. ...more
Merrie Haskell is one of those authors that always surprises me. I have gone into each of her three books expecting one thing, and getting something entirely different. Is The Castle Behind Thorns a retelling of "Sleeping Beauty"? Yes. But it is a throughly unique and different take on the story. And I adored it.
This is a review of an ARC received from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.
This is a quiet tale, one that unfolds slowly. Sand spends a large part of the opening completely alone, isolated from the world in the castle trying to figure out a way to survive. He is inventive, clever, and hard working. He is also lonely and talks to himself. These chapters didn't seem to move at all slowly to me though. The language is so beautiful and Haskell is building the mystery even as she allows the reader to get to know Sand and what he is about before she brings in the other central character, the magically awakened princess. Perotte awakens remembering she was dead. Not asleep. Dead. She pulls herself into the light of day and Sand's path, and the two of them, after a rocky start, begin to piece the castle and her story together. Perotte comes off as a spoiled and indulged brat at first, but her behavior quickly changes as she realizes how unfair she is being. As the weeks pass her and Sand develop a deep friendship and connection. But there are parts of Perotte's past she wants to keep locked away and not remember. Unfortunately she needs to confront them if they are ever going to defeat the magic of the thorns and get out of the castle.
The story here is wonderful. I love political intrigue and there is quite a bit of that, but most of all it is a tale of friendship, perseverance, and the power of forgiveness. What I loved about the forgiveness aspect is that it is not about the power to affect the forgiven, but the forgiver, that release that comes from letting your anger and bitterness go so that it no longer consumes you. The way Haskell wove this into a thoroughly original retelling of a fairy tale makes this my favorite "Sleeping Beauty" retelling of all time.
I received an e-galley from the publisher, Katherine Tegen Books, via Edelweiss. Castle Behind Thorns goes on sale May 27th. ...more
Lindsey Leavitt is an auto-buy author for me. If she writes it, I will read it. No one does quite what she does in the realm of contemporary fiction, writing realistic stories that deal with hard issues but manage to maintain a lighter tone and feel. The Chapel Wars tackles some harder topics than her previous work, but is still a light quick read and is full of the little snatches of wisdom I have come to appreciate in her books. She is eminently quotable.
This review is of an ARC received from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.
Holly is a fascinating main character. She is a math whiz and worked hard to get into a special magnet school where she could concentrate on business management even in high school. Her friends are all guys with the exception of her best friend Sam's girlfriend, who Holly mostly just tolerates. Her family life is not optimal. Her parents are recently divorced leaving her brother in a constant state of angry rebellion and Holly confused. But Holly finds feelings messy. She pushes them down and doesn't face them or release them. They are not neat and controlled like math equations. When her grandfather dies, she inherits an almost bankrupt business, and meets an attractive boy who happens to be from the enemy chapel across the parking lot, Holly finds her tightly controlled existence spiraling out of her control. I liked how this affected her. She makes some choices and responds in some ways that are not healthy and won't make a lot of sense to people who thrive on emotion, but her responses are highly realistic. Dax is even more flawed than Holly. I don't think Leavitt has ever written a hero as deeply flawed as Dax. He has experienced a lot of tragedy in the past year. Tragedy he is responsible for. He is working out a lot of his issues over this still, and on more than one occasion chooses to drown them in alcohol. He isn't drinking enough to have a problem yet, but it's obvious he's on his way if he doesn't change something up. There are many aspects to Holly and Dax's interactions that would indicate she should be wary, yet there are equally as many aspects that point to Dax being exactly what Holly needs. Again, I enjoyed the realism in this. Holly is wary, but she also sees the good in him and is willing to give him a chance. This is by far the most complicated relationship dynamic Leavitt has written and I think it works well for the story she is telling. I enjoyed how their relationship developed over time, but there was a definite irresistible attraction between the two of them. I particularly love how Holly assessed their situation on their second date: We glowed at each other. Beamed. Radiated. I did not know that like could be like this. Like love, just not fully realized. I did not love this boy, because to love someone is to know them. But every moment I was with him made me happy, and every moment I wasn't with him, a small piece of me wondered where he was and what he was doing, like there was a satellite in our hearts.
As in all Leavitt's books, family dynamics play a large role in the story. Holly was incredibly close to her grandfather and is devastated by his death. She then has to jump into running his business, much to the irritation of her father and her grandfather's assistant. And she is fighting a losing battle. They owe more money than they have and could possibly earn in the three months Holly has to turn things around. Grieving someone under such circumstances is not the best of scenarios. Holly must also contend with her family's fractured dynamics. Again Leavitt excels at writing a great sibling story here between Holly and her younger brother James. James is angry and not hiding it. His behavior is moving rapidly toward delinquent in order to get attention. He is also fiercely loyal and protective of his sister and a piano prodigy. I adored every interaction between James and Holly and the interactions between James and Dax. Holly's best friend, Sam, and his girlfriend, Camille, are also important characters. Camille and Holly grow closer as the story unfolds, Camille helping Holly and becoming a confidant. At the same time, Camille and Sam have their own problems.
There are a lot of characters and much is happening to all of them, and yet Leavitt managed to make them all feel so real. Everything that occurs, makes perfect sense and the story never feels weighed down or too much. My one quibble with the story is that Dax's drinking wasn't taken quite seriously enough, like it was excusable because he is a nice guy even when drunk. However, Holly's reactions are believable and her siblings and friends do caution her so I can't see this as a major problem.
I think this is Leavitt's most ambitious novel yet in terms of character development and realistic hard situations. While I didn't enjoy it quite as much as Going Vintage, it is very close. Anyone who loves Leavitt's other books should definitely check this one out. And if you haven't experienced her unique brand of contemporary fiction, this is a wonderful novel to start with.
I read an ARC provided by the publisher, Bloomsbury Children US, at ALA Midwinter. The Chapel Wars is available for purchase May 6. ...more