Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older is everywhere. Best of lists. Award buzz. Blogs everywhere. It's one of those books everyone is reading and talking about. I had it on my TBR but decided I definitely needed to read it before the year was out just so I could weigh in on one of the most talked about books of 2015 if asked. It is deserving of every good thing said about it. Every. One.
Sierra was looking forward to a relaxing summer break. Her plans involved hanging out with her friends and painting. They did not involve being chased by zombie like creatures and threatened by a magical power connected to her family's heritage she has never heard of. When murals begin fading all over her Brooklyn neighborhood, Sierra is perplexed. When her grandfather, who had a stroke, begins to apologize and starts repeating strange phases and insisting Sierra get the help of a boy she barely knows to help her finish her mural, Sierra is concerned but mostly about her grandfather. Then at a party Sierra talks to Robbie as requested and quickly finds herself being pursued by the bodies of people who used to be friends with her grandfather but are now dead. As Robbie explains to Sierra the mysterious power of shadowshaping, placing the spirits of dead ancestors into art to give both spirits and art more power, Sierra discovers her family's deepest secrets. Now Sierra, Robbie, and their friends have to fight to put to right her grandfather's biggest mistake and defeat a murderer intent on taking all the power of the spirit world for himself.
Every single character in this book is wonderful, led by Sierra. Young, talented, passionate, confused, defiant, stubborn, and full of snark, Sierra is a fully realized and powerful heroine. She is very much a teenager often acting on impulse and trusting blindly, but she proves to be brave and quick thinking when it is most important. She also has an amazing supportive community to fall back on. Her best friend Bennie is smart and helpful when it comes to research and dating advice. Also hair braiding. These girls are tight and have each other's backs in amazing ways. Their group is rounded out by two other girls, Izzy and Tee, who are dating each other and are masters at the art of banter. The scenes with the four of them together are the best. Sierra's brother Juan is a typical older brother, teasing, competitive, and willing to put his entire life on hold to run to his sister's side when he knows she is in danger and needs him. Robbie is a fabulous complement to Sierra. Equally passionate about art, deeply concerned with maintaining the balance of shadowshaping, and a fabulous dancer, his support and pursuit of Sierra is everything. EVERYTHING. I love how all of these characters are such teenagers too. They decide to make out at inconvenient times. They bounce back and forth between being deeply serious about what they are doing and goofing off. They don't always use their best critical thinking skills. They kind of fly by the seat of their pants a lot. And it all just rings so true to life.
The core of this book is about relationships and community. Sierra's family relationships have a lot of cracks. Her mother and aunt have no desire to even discuss shadowshaping. Sierra's grandfather had some misogynistic ideas about how shadowshaping should work. Sierra's lack of knowledge of her family's past and powers made her more vulnerable than she should have been. Rebuilding trust and filling in the gaps of what she missed is an important part of her journey. And I love that not all of that is completely resolved. Families are messy. Sierra's friends are important to her and their interactions were some of my favorite parts of the book. I really liked how this wasn't entirely perfect either though. There are times when they don't believer her. Not all of them are capable of standing up with her and being brave. Again, I liked the realism in this.
Then there is the relationship between Sierra and Robbie which is just amazing in every way. I like how Older wrote Sierra's realizing her attraction to him and how it grew. Their relationship develops fast and under fraught circumstances but it is believable and organic. I love everything about them: the art, the dancing, the flirting.
The setting of the book is incredibly important too and just pops off the page. I really felt like I as there with noises, smells, and sights of Brooklyn. Through this part of the book, Older is able to highlight some themes of gentrification and its impact on neighborhoods too. It works really well because it is a part of the lives these kids are leading. They see it and the way they are processing it is incredibly interesting. Adding this to the themes of community and family really strengthened the book. And all of that is on top of its thrilling edge-of-your-seat plot. I could not put this book down, but at the same time never wanted it to end because I didn't want to say goodbye to these characters and their world....more
The cover of A Nearer Moon captured me the moment I saw it. That the book is written by Melanie Crowder whose release, Audacity, earlier this year completely captivated me guaranteed that I would want to read it. It is a brilliant work of fantasy with an amazing heart.
Luna lives in a village on stilts in a swamp. Luna has grown up on her grandmother's stories of the time when she was a child before the great trees fell creating the dam that turned their beautiful river into a swamp with foul water. Even one mouthful of the swamp's water brings on a wasting sickness with no cure. Three weeks to the day the unfortunate person swallows the water they die. When Luna's sister, who is the joy and spirit of her family, gets a mouthful of the water one day, Luna is determined to do anything to save her. Luna has never believed in magic or curses, but when the doctor in the floating city says she can do nothing to help an illness caused by magic, Luna becomes even more desperate and is willing to consider everything and offer anything for the life of her sister.
A Nearer Moon has so many aspects I adore in a good fantasy: faerie lore, strong determined characters, a community working to overcome harsh odds. At its heart and core, A Nearer Moon is a story about sisterhood. It's strength, bond, and love. Interwoven with the story of Luna and her sister is the story of twin water sprites, Perdita and Pergia. The sprites are part of the story of Luna's village too, the magical history she doesn't believe in. Sibling stories are a favorite of mine no matter what, but I particularly enjoy stories of sisters. In each case here, the sister are very different from each other, but they balance each other out. The thought of or reality of one losing the other is impossible to bear. It is a fantastical window onto a very real grief and sadness that so many experience. Luna's story in particular is a very real look at what grief can do to a family.
Luna is a brave and determined heroine. She is stubborn and unwilling to back down from a challenge. She is deeply frustrated by her mother's resignation to the situation. Many of her ideas and actions are reckless, but her motivation is so heartfelt. The sacrifices she is willing to make for Willow show a courage and devotion that is beautiful in every way. In contrast, Perdita's story is almost a cautionary tale in what can happen if you allow grief, anger, and rage to consume you. It shows how interconnected the world and everyone in it is.
I really enjoyed the way Crowder wove the two stories together and how the histories of the two sets of sisters are all tangled up together as is their hope for the future. The prose Crowder uses are perfect for the story she is telling. With few words she builds and creates a complex layered world with a fascinating history and interesting characters. The story is beautifully told and the language lyrical. The contents match the gorgeous cover. This is one of my favorite reads of the year.
I read an ARC made available by the publisher, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, via Edelweiss. A Nearer Moon goes on sale September 8th. ...more
R.J. Anderson is one of my favorite authors. Being a voracious reader, I have a lot of authors I really like, but she is included in a special group of authors whose books I would scoop up in my arms if I was escaping my house in a disaster. They are all excellent and stand up to multiple rereads. Anderson has written books about (awesome) faerys and amazing girls in a mind boggling sci-fi duology. Her latest book, A Pocket Full of Murder, is a MG magical murder mystery and it is a perfect book for me in every way possible.
Isaveth's family has fallen on hard times since her mother's recent death. Her father, a builder, lost a major job he was counting on and has fallen into despair. Her sister had to quit school to get a job in a sweatshop factory. Just when things begin to look better for the family and her father's commission is restored, a worse tragedy befalls them. When the man who had fired then rehired Isaveth's father is found dead by means of Common Magic, Isaveth's father is arrested. Isaveth knows her father is innocent, but she's not sure how to go about proving it. As she begins to investigate, she is joined by a street boy with an eye patch named Quiz who has eyes and ears all over the city and a knack for getting at information. Together they begin to try and discover the real murderer in a case that has too many suspects and disastrous consequences for both of them if they fail.
GAHHHHHH!!!!! I don't really know where I want to start with this. I have so much love for every part of this book, and my brain just keeps doing cartwheels and squealing LOVE LOVE LOVE. Trying to calm it down and act rationally is a challenge. I even waited a few days after finishing to give myself space so I could write this. But as soon as I started thinking about the book again, I got a rush of endorphins and lost control of my critical thinking skills. I will start with what I always love most, the characters, and hope my brain calms enough to cooperate.
Isaveth is smart, courageous, and stubborn. When her family is having hard times, she pulls down her mother's book of magic recipes and concocts spells to sell on the street to give them a little extra money. She has a passionate love for dramatic crystal set (radio) shows and writes fanfiction for it on any scrap of paper she can get her hands on. She is perfecting her craft. Her imagination is vast and she's bursting with twelve year old idealism mixed with the harsh realities of the life she is living. She is desperate to free her father, and her headlong rush into investigating the crime causes her to stumble into unfortunate situations at times and make rash judgements and mistakes. This includes not listening to Quiz on the occasions when he tells her to slow down and think something through.
Quiz is no stranger to dashing into dangerous situations without thinking them through first himself though. He is also a bit of an adrenaline junkie who rides down hills at breakneck speeds and is prone to getting into sticky situations in defense of those who need defending. He is adorably awkward around Isaveth at times. When he's interacting with her sisters you can see how badly he longs for a regular family and normalcy. Together Isaveth and Quiz make a fantastic team. He can go places and get information she can't, and vice-versa. He is there to give her rides when she needs them and generally back her up when she's in a tough spot. And when the tables are turned and he is in the tough spot, she does the same for him. I have all these FEELINGS for both of them, separate and together. Feelings I will never be able to properly put into words.
The mystery is a good old fashioned mystery where there are clues that seem to lead to everywhere or nowhere, lots of suspects, and a few good twists. (Some of which I saw coming due to reasons I imagine will not be the case for the majority of the readers of this book.*) The ways in which Isaveth and Quiz find their information makes sense for the world they live in, and they are reliant on those older than them for crucial things. Isaveth's older sister plays a major part in helping them collect information. The way the mystery all came together in the end was fascinating and the resolution complex and layered, but simple to understand for the intended audience.
The world Anderson created for this book is one where society is split between nobility and those who are not. The nobility has a very specific sort of magic they use to keep the world running smoothly. Common Magic is for those not so privileged and was a hard won ability for the regular people. The city of Tarreton where Isaveth and Quiz live is divided. The common people are tired of being abused, underpaid, and unable to make decisions. Rebellion is whispered of and unrest is high. These political issues are an integral part of the story and woven into the texture of the character's lives perfectly. Religion plays a part in this as well. Isaveth's family are Moshites (very similar to real world Jewish faith) and therefore looked on as outsiders, if not dangerous dissenters. It's part of the reason her father makes such a perfect frame for murder. Anderson presents the religious and political aspects as part of everyday life important in different ways to different people and this makes the world she has built all the more realistic as a result.
I highly recommend this book to all lovers of mystery and fantasy of any age. There is something here to enjoy for everyone. I can not wait until my pre-ordered copy arrives so I can read it again. And so my daughter can read it because this is exactly the sort of book she adores.
*I saw some of the twists coming because I am a fan of the source material that was Anderson's inspiration. A HUGE fan actually. If you are completely unaware of what that source material is or anything about it, you have lots of surprises in store. I'm including this note for those of you who know what inspired this and love it as much as I do. I just want you to know that Anderson did an awesome job with that. It's a nice little treat for those of us who know and love that particular literary detective. (And if you don't know what I'm talking about, but want to, ask in the comments and I'll tell you. Not spoilers. Just what the source material is.)
I read an ARC made available from the publisher, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, via Edelweiss. A Pocket Full of Murder is on sale September 8th....more
I have wanted to read Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood since buzz first started to go around about it when it came out in Australia. I waited and waited for it to be published in the US. When Wildlife was published last year I hoped it meant we would be getting this one too. (I was even more eager to read it after the amazingness of Wildlife.) It's been a long wait for this book, but it was well worth it.
Dan Cereill is not having the best year. His family has lost their fortune. His father has come out as gay and left his mom. He has to switch schools halfway through the year. He is living in the house of his dead great-aunt. The only thing getting him through his break is his neighbor Estelle who is beautiful and who he has so much in common with. His problem is that he hasn't actually met her. And how he knows they have so much in common is a secret that he never wants to think about let alone have any one discover. Especially Estelle. Once Dan starts school and reenters life, his path begins to cross with Estelle more an more until he feels like he is really getting to know her and he just may have a chance to accomplish the six impossible things that may set his life to right.
I adored Dan's voice. He is snarky and vulnerable at the same time, and his desperate loneliness is heartbreaking. Losing all of his money and most of his privilege is hard, but harder still is the break with his dad. Dan and his father were always pretty close. Dan does not have a problem with his dad being gay. He has a problem with him leaving him. All Dan wants is his family back, but he knows that isn't possible and it hurts. His mom is not the same either. Fueled by sadness and desperation, she has started a new business which she is sabotaging due to issues she has yet to resolve from her ended marriage. Best not to go into the business of making wedding cakes when one is going through a divorce. I really loved the relationship between Dan and his mom. I liked how he tried to care for her. She wasn't at her best as a mother, but it was clear that she loved Dan and wanted him to find happiness and get through their hard time. I found their interactions and struggle with their individual and shared sadness to be realistic.
All the other relationships in the book are also done incredibly well. I loved the friendship between Dan and his best friend, Fred. They are there for each other and have each other's backs. The growing relationship between Dan and Estelle was also done very well. It was obvious it was heading toward rough times because of course she was going to discover hi secret, but I felt this was handled well and I loved the resolution. Dan also has a developing friendship with Lou (one of the main characters of Wildlife) which is incredibly enjoyable as well. It is strange that the two books were published in a different order in the US. Since Wildlife takes place later and references a devastating incident in Lou's (and Dan's) life that takes place sometime between the two books, it made from some stressful reading. Because I didn't realize that incident took place between the novels until I was more than halfway through with this one, so I was reading this in fear of that. It made it a little difficult for me to fully throw myself into certain parts of the story.
I thoroughly enjoyed this, and would be happy to read anything Fiona Wood writes in the future. I hope she continues to get published in the US. Wood writes frank honest looks in the lives and thoughts of teens.
Content Warning: underage drinking
I read an ARC received from the publisher, Poppy, via Edelweiss. Six Impossible Things is on sale August 11th. ...more
I am loving this new series by Laura Florand. I adore everything about the Rosier family and every single on of its members have a piece of my heart aI am loving this new series by Laura Florand. I adore everything about the Rosier family and every single on of its members have a piece of my heart already. (None more so than Tante Colette.)
I have to admit I wasn't expecting to fall for Damien quite as hard as I did though. I was expecting him to be the one I felt the most distant from, but that couldn't have been further from the reality. I really liked Damien's ruthlessness and his ambition. He is good at making money, and he has truly good motivations and ethics while he does it. Jess is a good fit for him because she gives him a place to be soft and quiet, and he was in desperate need of that to balance himself. The conflict between the two of them is a realistic one though even if it's foundation is misunderstanding that just needed a long talk to sort out. How their relationship became so complicated makes sense and isn't forced drama. Their physical relationship is quite intense. Very steamy. I especially appreciated the final resolution to their final conflict in the end. Their whole arc is just lovely.
Some extra thoughts:
*I loved that Jess was a perfumer and I'm looking forward to seeing how she works in contrast to Tristan when he gets his book.
*I can't wait to meet Tristan's pencil skirt wearing succubi accountant. I'm assuming his thoughts of her in this mean she will be his heroine. And she sounds AWESOME.
*I am very very interested to see where Florand is going with Antoine's character (Colette's lawyer.) There's some interesting revelations coming from him I'm sure. ...more
I've been looking forward to Franny's story since I first read Summer Chaparral: Las Morenas 1, and High Country Spring did not disappoint. I loved hoI've been looking forward to Franny's story since I first read Summer Chaparral: Las Morenas 1, and High Country Spring did not disappoint. I loved how nuanced and complex both Franny and Felipe were and how they dealt with each other. Franny doesn't have the same plans for the future that her peers do. She doesn't want a husband or children. She just wants to be able to raise her horses and work on the ranch. She is willing to take on a husband to get her dreams once her mother puts her foot down and insists she learn the art of running a house. And she isn't necessarily opposed to marriage, especially if she can have one on her own terms. She is very firm about not wanting kids and I loved how that played out. Not all women want kids and that is okay. Her approaches to preventing that from happening were wonderful too and I love how she talked to her sisters about that. Felipe is really great too. I always have a desire to whack Turner's heroes upside the head and tell them to get over themselves. The reason they work for me so well is that I know eventually either the heroine or events will contrive to do exactly that. Felipe is not an exception to that. For some reason I found him slightly more frustrating than the others, but I still really liked him and I understood where he was coming from. I did like how much he supports Franny and even stands up to her mom which was SO NEEDED.
That being said, I have to say how much I love the Señora. She is just amazing. And I liked the further glimpses into her personality that we get in this book. (She is exactly the kind of mother I imagine Attolia from The Queen of Attolia will be someday and I rather like that thought exercise.) It also makes me really want a prequel book that tells her story. ...more
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely is a timely and necessary novel. It is the story of two boys, one white and one black, and the experience of and aftermath of police brutality.
All Rashad wanted was a bag of chips. What turned into a quick stop at the local bodega became the worst day of his life when an accidental collision with another patron results in Rashad being accused of shoplifting and dragged from the store by a white police officer. He wakes up in the hospital with broken ribs, a bruised face, and a host of emotions he now has to sort out and overcome.
Quinn was just trying to score beer to share with his friends and chill on a Friday night. Instead he comes up on his best friend's older brother, who has always been like his own brother and hero, beating up a black kid in handcuffs on the street. Quinn gets away as fast as he can, but escaping what he witnessed isn't that easy especially when he realizes the kid on the sidewalk is his classmate.
As Rashad's days in the hospital stretch out, the events occurring in the community escalate. People are taking sides. Protests are being organized. Rashad sits in his hospital room trying to come to terms with what happened to him and how it is affecting his family. Quinn goes to school every day trying to come to terms with what he saw and what it means about himself and the world in which he lives.
All American Boys covers a topic that is hotly debated every day in this country. It covers an incident similar to ones we've seen over and over again. The events unfold exactly as you would imagine from having seen those news stories and the resultant news and online commentary. Alternating between both boys' points of view the story covers every angle of the issue. Being in Rashad's head, the reader sees what it is like to be afraid for your life simply by being who you are. In Quinn's head the reader sees what it means to confront the ugliness that exists underneath in the world and people you love. Through both of them the reader sees the reality of profiling, the mistakes and prejudices of good cops, the reality of bad cops, the politics of media representation, and how the choices we make daily, no matter how small they seem, makes us into the people we are. I loved the relational impact the situation had on both boys too, how it affected every relationship in their lives for good or bad and helped them forge new relationships with people too.
The first half of the book was perfect in every way for me. The voices and characters were strong and so were the theme. As the book progressed, the message overtook a lot of the other literary elements, but it was still incredibly strong. After all the message is an important one, and one it is clear people need to have explained to them. I know this from being on Facebook.
Some Favorite Quotes: I gotta admit, there was a part of me that, even though I felt abused, wanted to tell him to let it go. To just let me heal, let me leave the hospital, let me go to court, let me do whatever stupid community service they wanted me to do, and let me go back to normal. I mean, I had seen this happen so many times. Not personally, but on TV. People getting beaten, and sometimes killed, by the cops, and then there's all this fuss about it, only to build up to a big heartbreak when nothing happens. the cops get off. And everybody cries and waits for the next dead kid, to do it all over again. That's the way the story goes.
Maybe for this one practice we were all thinking only about the team: one unit, one thing, no parts, one whole, no problems, just one goal for one team, none of us thinking about race or racism, all of us color-blind and committed like evangelicals to the word "team", just like Coach wanted. Maybe. But I doubted it. That's what I wanted to think, but it wasn't what was in my mind or gut. Instead I k new there was a problem, and I was beginning to think I was part of it-whether I was in the damn video or not.
But here are the words that kept ricocheting around me all day: Nobody says the words anymore, but somehow the violence still remains. If I didn't want the violence to remain, I had to do a hell of a lot more than just say the r right things and not say the wrong things.
I also love the title All American Boys and everything it symbolizes and represents.
I highly recommend this to everyone. I already liked Jason Reynolds before reading this and I now want to read more by Brendan Kiely too....more
Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier was one of my favorite books of last year. I basically wanted the sequel from the moment I closed the book. When its publisher, Strange Chemistry, closed its doors, I knew a moment of panic that I would never see it. Fortunately Rachel Neumeier is self-publishing the sequels. (I reviewed the collection of short stories a few weeks ago.) Pure Magic, the second novel, is available now, and it is fantastic.
Following a tragic flash flood that took the life of his mother, Justin is wandering with no direction. One night after accepting the hospitality of a priest, he finds himself the target of a vicious werewolf attack. Two other werewolves intervene and save his life. These two are more civilized, but very insistent that Justin come with them to a place called Dimilioc claiming he is Pure and that this attack won't be the last. In fact they're completely confused as to how Justin has survived this long not knowing anything about the magic running through his veins. They are also surprised that he is a Pure male. This is new. Justin finds himself reluctantly accompanying them to the mysterious Dimilioc to meet their Master and discover the dangerous heritage in a violent world he only vaguely understood from the new before this. There he meets the other Black Dogs and Natividad, a Pure girl who can help him unlock his abilities and teach him how to wield his power. But Justin is not convinced he belongs in this world, and he wants some answer. He decides to go and see what his grandmother learns and Natividad leaves with him on a mission of her own. There are dangerous and violent changes occurring in the world of the Black Dogs though and that danger is going to stalk the two Pure and help from their Black Dog allies may be too far away-and too distracted by their own troubles-to help them.
Coming into the world Neumeier created from an outside perspective in this second novel is an interesting way of reintroducing all of the important players and elements and also adding to the layers of the world. Justin is so much more than a vehicle for the reader though. Confused, angry, desperate, and so sad, he is overwhelmed by all of the new information coming his way when he was already feeling alone and emotionally wrecked. His reactions to being thrown into this world and experiencing the violence of the Black Dogs up close for the first time are completely relatable and serve as an interesting contrast to Natividad and Miguel's easy acceptance of the life they were born into. As a new character in the story, he also brought out aspects of the other character's personalities and revealed new things about them. Justin's relationship with Keziah does not start off well. There are expectations about relationships between Black Dogs and the Pure. Even though Justin is the first Pure boy anyone at Dimilioc has encountered, matching up with Keziah is the first thing that pops into everyone's heads. She's not happy about it. He is even less so when he realizes what everyone is thinking. She terrifies him (understandably), and he terrifies her in a different but no less potent way. I really enjoyed watching the two of them warily feeling each other out. Justin actually learns Pure magic quickly because he is a math genius and I loved this dimension of his character.
Natividad has just as much page time in this novel as Justin does and is still very much a main character. Her 16th birthday is rapidly approaching, and she is still trying to figure out exactly where she stands in Ezekiel's mind. Is she merely a convenience being the only Pure girl around or does he really want her? Natividad uses her road trip with Justin to work through some of her confused feelings. I loved the way both of these relationships developed over the course of the book. Natividad and Justin make a really good team and they bond rather quickly. Granted they have little choice but to learn to work together quickly or die. However, they do work hard to understand and learn from each other. The development of Natividad's relationship with Ezekiel is more complex. Again, Ezekiel is my favorite part of this book. (There is an added dimension to the tension here that comes from having read his story in the short story collection. You can still appreciate everything that happens here without reading it, but it's so good and adds so much that I highly recommend you do.) He makes some decisions that won't entirely make sense if you don't fully understand his past. It was a nice change to see him not so entirely in control in this and more than a little vulnerable.
There is a lot going on in the plot of this book. The Blood Kin, who the Black Dogs thought they had completely eradicated, seem to be rising again. There is a rogue band of Black Dogs wreaking havoc. With Dimilioc's decreased numbers from the war, they are vulnerable on every side. Justin and Natividad putting themselves at danger by going on a road trip without protection spreads Dimilioc thin. And basically all Hell breaks loose in more than one place and threats are everywhere. It is an action-packed thrill ride from start to finish and I could not put the book down. I love all these characters and thoroughly engrossed in their lives and the story unfolding. There are a lot of unanswered questions still as there is another three books yet to come, but this one ends in a satisfying way. (Though I still can't wait for the next book.)
I read an ARC sent to me by Rachel Neumeier....more
I typically don't review books that are considered adult books on the blog. I think this is a first. I've always used the blog as resource for students and parents. But Uprooted by Naomi Novik has enough crossover YA appeal I'm making an exception. Also I just want to rave about how much I LOVE THIS BOOK.
Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.
This is how Agnieszka's story begins. She is one of the girls who will be lined up as a potential companion for the Dragon. She is not angry but not overly worried. Everyone knows what type of girl the Dragon chooses and she is not it. Her best friend Kasia is. Their entire lives Kasia and Agnieszka have prepared for the day when Kasia will leave and Agnieszka will be left behind. Except that's not what happens. In a startling turn of events-before Agnieszka can even begin to process it-she's the chosen one and in the Dragon's tower. He doesn't even give her time to say good-bye. Agnieszka stumbles through her first weeks alternating between fear, anger, and sadness. The Dragon, Sarkan, just seems overall fed up and exasperated with her. Soon Agnieszka realizes the strange magical interactions she is having with Sarkan are unique and something the other girls were not subjected to because she is a witch and she needs to be trained. Agnieszka isn't exactly amendable to the Dragon's training though and figure her own unique way of performing magic, one she can intertwine with his to make them both stronger. Before her training can get very far though, the dangerous Wood begins its first moves in a plan to bring down the entire kingdom. Agnieszka finds herself in the middle of a web of political intrigue and old dark magical debts to be paid.
This is everything I want in a fantasy novel written in such a way as to make it absolutely perfect.
CHARACTERS! CHARACTERS! CHARACTERS! Agnieszka is a wonderful heroine. Awkward and clueless in the beginning (as is anyone who is suddenly thrown into a life they never contemplated living), she soon discovers how to wield her new found power and figure out how to manage Sarkan at the same time. As the novel progresses she becomes more bold, assertive, and a force to be reckoned with. Her arc is truly wonderful and watching her grow is so much fun. She is clever from the beginning, and even though she is also naive, she learns so fast. And she does not suffer fools lightly.
Kasia is equally wonderful but in different ways. She has been trained to be brave. She has been trained to be the one who leaves not the one who is left behind and quickly has to adjust her entire way of thinking and deal with the fallout. Then her entire world is rocked even further, ripping her out of the life she was just adjusting to and sending her down a terrifying new road.
Sarkan is exactly the kind of hero I love. He comes across as a surly jerk, but it's because he is a lone nerdy wizard who has no idea how to socially interact with others. He's also a little vain and likes the comforts of life. He doesn't like change, and doesn't bend to it easily, but is able to when it is required.
Then there are all the minor characters, each of who stand out as important, three dimensional, real people. I cared about every single person in this book even the ones who were at odds with Agnieszka and co.
AMAZING RELATIONSHIPS! There are so many great relationships in this book, both major and minor. The friendship between Agnieszka and Kasia is beautiful. They see the worst each in other-not intentionally but it happens-and they emerge on the other side of it stronger. There is not much they won't do for each other. I love seeing amazing nuanced female friendships and this one is particularly well rendered.
I have lots of feels about the relationship between Agnieszka and Sarkan, which developed exactly as I hoped it would. I love how quickly they found equal footing with each other, and that Agnieszka was not dependent on him for much for long. Her magic is so different from his, and while he bristles at having to accept this new view that it's possible, he adjusts rather quickly to seeing her as an equal he can trust. Everything about how their connection unfolded was just perfect to me, and I loved its resolution as well. They are both powerful and important and together they make a great team.
I loved how much you could infer about all the other relationships in the book too. Parental, sibling, community, working, all of it is so well done. Form the small villages to the King's court in the capital you can see the threads of respect that bind people, and the discord that keeps some apart. It is woven subtly in to the text too without it having to be explained.
PLOT AND POLITICS AND INTRIGUE AND MAGIC The plot is a complex mix of magic and politics. My favorite kind of fantasy novel. There are fairy tale elements woven through it as well. It is a complicated and dark story with varying shades of gray. And not everyone gets the end they necessarily deserve which I always like to see because it is so true to life. I like how the book highlighted the complicated consequences of violence, war, and surfeit of ambition that can be easily manipulated to go astray. The way Novik pulled everything together in the end and made me believe the outcome was pure artistry.
I reread several parts of the book as soon as I finished because I didn't want to leave it behind. This is going to be a go to comfort reread for me. I can see that already. (I actually knew it about 50 pages in.) I'm so glad I went ahead and bought it when the library copy was taking to long for me to wait for. ...more
The story of Scheherazade is one that is tricky to do as a retelling. There's so much potential for the problematic. E.K. Johnston is one of the few authors I would name as one who could tackle this and do it well if I were asked. And in A Thousand Nights she did just that.
Lo-Melkhiin has wed-and killed-300 different girls. The first few caused unease but went generally unremarked by the nobles. When the numbers started to pile up, a law was passed. One girl from each village in turn and then he could start over again. One girl has the courage to make herself the target of his eye in order to spare the life of her sister. After she survives the first night and then another she begins to realize she has a power her predecessors did not have fed by her sister's prayers and rites that have made her into a small god. The demon who inhabits the body of the once great king is intrigued by this new wife. When he realizes the power she has, he becomes greedy to share it and use it for his own bent purposes. Unfortunately for him, he never bothered to understand the power of the small gods or the strength of the women who who tend them.
A Thousand Nights is as beautifully written as I've come to expect from a book written by E.K. Johnston. The prose pulled me right into the rich desert world and oppressive palace where Lo-Melkhiin makes his home. The richness of the world is in the details Johnston includes and her beautiful imagery which calls to all of the senses. Not every aspect of the world is explained. She leaves a lot to conjecture, but it works well for the story she is telling. In another type of book this might irritate me, but here I preferred it to the alternative.
Discussing the characters is a little difficult as none of them save the possessed king have a name that is mentioned. This is another thing that might be irritating in another type of story but works incredibly well here. The heroine is in no way lacking despite only being referred to by the various titles she holds to those who love her. Her act of sacrifice for her sister makes her courageous and laudable, but she is also clever and industrious. She is being fed power by the rites her sister and the women in her village are performing, but she is the one whose keen mind and willing hands figure out how to manipulate it and negotiate the dangerous life she lives in the palace. The heroine's sister, though we get to see less of her, is also possessed of industrious heart and keen mind. It is through them working together though they are miles apart that great things are accomplished and I truly truly loved this aspect of the novel. It demonstrated the power and strength and contributions that women make by doing whatever it is they excel at. It also showed how easy it is for those things to be overlooked and for their power to go unappreciated and underestimated.
The aspect of this retelling I enjoyed the most was that there is no attempt to turn this into a story about romantic love. It is, first and foremost, a story about sisterly love, but there are all other sorts of relationships celebrated as well. And it is a story about women: their friendships, their alliances, their arts, and their bonds with each other.
I read an ARC provided by a friend who had finished with it. A Thousand Nights goes on sale October 6th....more
I may never have known Audacity by Melanie Crowder existed if it weren't for Book Riot's post on feminist YA books of 2015. Thank you, Kelly Jensen, for writing that article. I haven't seen this mentioned anywhere else, and that is a shame. This is a brilliant and moving book. And I may need to officially revise my stance on verse novels.
Audacity is the story of Clara Lemlich. It begins when she is a teenager living in her shtetl in Russia. After a series of harsh pogroms agains the Jews, Clara and her family immigrate to America. The book chronicles their stay in a poor house in London, the steerage passage to the US, and their entrance through Ellis. Then it changes pace as Clara gets a job in a sweat shop and begins her fight for unions and justice in the garment industry. Told in beautiful first person perspective verse, Audacity is the story of a girl who had a fire burning inside her too bright for anyone to put out, and how she used it to warm and change the world.
Clara Lemlich was a real person, but this book is historical fiction as it takes some liberties with the story here and there. Nothing is changed to take from the historical authenticity of the novel, there are just some thoughts and interactions Clara is involved in that would not be documented. There is a fascinating interview with her daughter and several of her grandchildren at the end that is also worth reading.
Clara was born into a family where the men studied the Torah and the women did the work. She was not allowed to go to school, not allowed to speak Russian, not allowed to learn to read or write. She defied her parents and secretly learned to do all of these things. She was constantly told good girls are obedient. Good girls do what they're told. But Clara made her own rules and fought for the herself and the girl she sat beside in the sweatshops day by day. Despite being beaten, jailed, and harassed, she never gave up. Audacity wonderfully captures her struggle and spirit.
Some excerpts that show the beauty and scope of the story: How can I ever be more than just someone's daughter wife mother if I cannot study if I cannot learn if I am not permitted to have even one book?
The mother of the exiles holds her torch aloft greeting us in the water The clouds break apart and for a moment pure clean rays of sunshine reach through the heavens to dance across my cheeks
One by one the foreman pats the workers down roving over curves and creases searching for scraps of fabric or thread or dignity that might find their way out of the shop
I know he thinks to break this thing in me that insists I think for myself
Just think Pauline says, if thousands of tiny lights can outshine the moon, is there anything thousands of us cannot do?
Audacity is full ideas: feminism, idealism, the power of knowledge, fighting for what is right, and never giving up no matter how hard it gets. Clara's story is inspiring in thousands of different ways, and this should be included on shelves everywhere.
The book is considered YA, but strong MG readers can handle it as well. I can't wait to share it with my own daughter....more
Secrets of the Dragon Tomb by Patrick Samphire is a Napoleonic war spy adventure on Mars that includes pterodactyls and dragon corpses. As nonsensical as that may sound, it all works together perfectly and is so much fun. I added this book to my TBR originally because I'm a big fan of the author's wife, Stephanie Burgis, and I also consider her a friend. But my love for this book was won all on its own merits. This is just so much my aesthetic. With every page I had something new to grin and get excited about. This was the best possible book for me to begin my 2016 reading year.
Edward could have been having a better time on his holiday from school. He could have been enjoying himself at an aristocratic friend's estate. But he came home because his family needs him. There is no way they would make it through the year alive if he wasn't around to keep an eye on things. When the son of his father's best friend (an honorary cousin) crashes into Edward and takes up residence, Edward's summer goes from bad to worse. Everyone knows Cousin Freddie is an idiot, but his arrival kicks off a string of events that leads to the kidnapping of Edward's parents and eldest sister. The evil Sir Titus needs Edward's father to find a lost dragon tomb. Once the tomb is found, Sir Titus has no reason to keep his hostages alive. Knowing they have limited time and few options, Edward, his sisters, and Freddie take off in pursuit to rescue their family and put an end to Sir Titus's evil treasonous plans.
Edward is such an endearing hero. He sees himself as the practical one in his whacky family of absent-minded geniuses and frivolous socialites. He is a boy who dreams of adventure and becoming a spy. He longs to be appreciated for his talents and acknowledged for the important role he plays in keeping the family functioning. He is very much a 12 year old and he learns so much about himself and his family over the course of his adventures. Edward's younger sister Putty has inherited their father's technological genius, is completely uninterested in wearing dresses or being proper, and is the perfect foil for Edward. She is courageous and quick thinking and Edward needs her just as much she needs him. Edward's older sister Olivia is outwardly proper and studious, but has masses of hidden depths her siblings hadn't even seen before they started a perilous journey with her. Any one who follows this blog regularly knows sibling stories are one of my favorite things in the world, and this one is done exactly right. Then there is Freddie. I won't say a whole lot about him for reasons, and even this one little thing is a tad spoilery: I could sum up my feelings for him with a never ending string of heart eye emojis.
Secrets of the Dragon Tomb is a steampunk alternate history. In the world Samphire created, pathways were discovered between earth and mars that allow ships to travel between the two planets in a few weeks time. When this wondrous discovery is made, what do the nations of earth do? Colonize it. Of course. Because if Imperialistic forces had the power to do that we all know they would. There is a heavy British Empire presence and also a large Chinese section of Mars. It is 1816 and the British Empire is attempting to hold back Napoleon on Earth. Napoleon is busy attempting to launch his ships to Mars. The world is an intensely interesting and layered place. The politics and historical aspects push the plot, but don't overtake the adventure aspects and the characters, who are the heart of the story. However, there is a lot to notice in how the ancient Martians are treated, how the colonialists interact with them, and the attitude many seem to have toward the past and the excavating of the dragon tombs. There are many interesting parallels between the British fascination with Egypt at the time and the fascination with the Marian emperors and their dragon tombs.
The plot of the book is sure to please any reader who loves adventure and spy stories. The villains are willing to go to any length necessary to secure their ends, even if it means hurting children. The peril is very real and there are also the fantastic creatures that inhabit Mars that the heroes have to contend with. There are a lot of elements coming together to make the story, but Samphire threads them all together perfectly. The steampunk elements, Martian world, politics of war, spies, and archeology all come together to make a brilliant fully satisfying read. I could not put this book down.
In so many ways this book seems tailor made for my loves, that it is hard for me to fathom how a person might not like it. It's one of those books I will be trying to get everyone to read and I absolutely can not wait for the next one. (This has a satisfying end, but I know there is going to be a next one. YAY!)
I read an ARC received from the author. Secrets of the Dragon Tomb is on sale January 12. ...more
I was introduced to Laura Ruby through my Twitter feed courtesy of Anne Ursu. She is an expert ranter about the things she is passionate about, and as we are passionate about many of the same things, I jumped at the chance to pick up an ARC of her new book, Bone Gap. I already knew she had a way with words and I couldn't wait to see how that manifested itself in a fiction narrative. It turns out Ruby is even more amazing when writing fiction.
This book is one that needs to be read. It begs to be read. Nothing I say in this review is going to do this book justice. It's one of those books you simply have to experience. Just read the book.
Bone Gap is a tiny midwestern town full of fences, cows, chickens, corn, and gaps. Gaps a person could disappear into never to be heard from again. Bone Gap is a place most people can't wait to get out of. This is true for the O'Sulivan boys as much as anyone. Older brother Sean had dreams of going to medical school, but put them on hold to stick around for his kid brother after their mom leaves them for an orthodontist who doesn't like kids. Younger brother Finn is in the summer between his junior and senior year of high school and working hard to get ready for his college applications. They will be his ticket out. But the brothers are currently both reeling from the disappearance of Roza, a beautiful girl who mysteriously entered their lives, and then just as mysteriously left them. Sean has resigned himself, figuring she chose to go of her own accord just like so many others had, including his mom. Finn knows better. He saw the mysterious man who came and took Roza away. Unfortunately he can't remember enough to help find her. As the summer continues, Sean's anger and resentment toward Finn grow. Finn, haunted by nightmares of Roza's disappearance, takes to going out at night and meeting up with Petey, the girl he's always had a crush on. As their relationship grows and the time since Roza's disappearance lengthens, Finn begins to feel better. But soon discoveries are made that make it impossible for everyone to ignore some harsh truths about themselves and life in Bone Gap.
Bone Gap is told in third person and follows the perspectives of several characters, mostly focusing on Finn and Roza. The reader also gets several glimpses into the mind of Petey and Sean. I loved the switching perspectives and how they give such a complete picture of what is going on. At the same time though, the way Ruby pieced these perspectives together gives the book a thrilling, edge of your seat, sense of urgency and mystery. Bone Gap is a puzzle where each piece is handed out one at a time, ending in a beautiful picture of family, community, love, friendship, and hope for the future. But some of the pieces are dark. Very dark. And that is part of the beauty of the finished picture. Ruby pulled it all together so well. And she has some great things to say through both Roza's story and Petey's story about the expectations society has for women and how that can trap a person. There is so much richness and depth to the whole book.
Bone Gap itself comes to life and is just as important to the story as any character. I have said before I have issues with small town books that are full of quirky characters. Ruby managed to stay balanced on the fine line between necessary oddness and too much quirk with Bone Gap. Bone Gap is a weird place for many reasons beyond being a small town. Reasons that become more evident as the story unfolds. The residents themselves are fairly typical people with their own little quirks and foibles, but there is never an overwhelming sense of it being too strange to be real. The people in the town and their stories are real and are brought to wonderful life.
As amazing as the plot, themes, and setting are, the characters are what truly won my heart. I'm a character reader and Ruby does characters well. There is a richness and depth to all the characters that make them feel so real. I haven't been this thoroughly immersed in the lives of the people in a book for quite some time. Finn and Petey in particular have my heart. They are both so odd and awkward. She is prickly and angry much of the time. He is confused and muddled. Together they manage to find peace and happiness, but even then things aren't easy. It's just so real. And I love how their relationship developed from the giddiness of first experiences to dealing with the harsh realities of fitting together two individuals with insecurities and problems. Sean and Roza have a similar dynamic with their own set of issues, and I like how the two relationships contrasted each other. Roza's story, for all its steeped in the magical, is all too real and harsh. They all have so much to offer as people, and so much to overcome to be able to do that. They are people I want to know, and this book makes me feel like I do know them. Like I'm part of their story.
This is my favorite read of 2015 so far and I've really liked all the books I've read this year so that's saying something. it is one of those books that I'm going to be telling everyone about and harassing them to read.
I read an ARC received from the publisher, Balzer & Bray, at ALA Midwinter. Bone Gap goes on sale March 3....more
I've made no secret that I'm a huge fan of Rebecca Stead, and I firmly believe that her books get better and better with each release. Goodbye Stranger has only confirmed that belief.
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Bridge is an accident survivor who's wondering why she's still alive.
Emily has new curves and an almost-boyfriend who wants a certain kind of picture.
Tabitha sees through everybody's games--or so she tells the world. The three girls are best friends with one rule: No fighting. Can it get them through seventh grade?
This year everything is different for Sherm Russo as he gets to know Bridge Barsamian. What does it mean to fall for a girl--as a friend?
On Valentine's Day, an unnamed high school girl struggles with a betrayal. How long can she hide in plain sight?
First and foremost this is a book about friendship and community. Bridge, Emily, and Tab have an excellent friendship. Each of them have different interests, passions, and personalities, but they are also a cohesive well-functioning team who made an agreement long ago to never fight. You can imagine what 7th grade does to this pact. But the girls really do have a strong relationship, and the story of how they weather the ups and downs of the scandals, changes, betrayals, and tumultuous twists of the year makes for an emotional and engrossing read. The developing relationship between Bridge and Sherm is wonderful as well. They have a great rapport and they both need each other's friendship exactly as it is exactly in the place they're both in. I love how both of them are strong enough to hold on to it through all the peer pressure surrounding them to be a couple too. They are both independent and self-reliant and this helps. It's an interesting contrast to the relationship between Emily and her sort-of-boyfriend Patrick. Those two are both more vulnerable and far too open to the manipulative powers of the middle school collective brain. The friendship between the three girls and the developing friendship between Bridge and Sherm also contrasts the unnamed teen's struggle with her relationships in high school as she looks back on her own tumultuous year.
The story is told in a mixture of third person telling the story of the 7th graders, letters Sherm is writing to his grandfather, and the teen's story told in second person. Second person is usually a point of view that will have me throwing a book down and running as far away from it as I can possibly get. And I'm not going to lie and say that Stead's writing was such that she made me forget my deep and abiding hatred for the second person. I was still thrown out of the story and frustrated by the use of "you" in action and thoughts I was not having myself. (Seriously, second person is so frustrating. So. Frustrating. I'm not in the book. Artificial means of putting me there only succeed in doing the opposite.) BUT. It didn't make me hate the book like it usually does, and I can even see the literary argument for having those sections told from this perspective. I do think this is the book's one weakness though. However, they are short and fit into the rest of the narrative well enough. And the rest of the story is so strong from a characterization and thematic stand point that it makes up for it.
The books themes are incredibly strong too. It is a wonderful look at feminism, body shaming, the disparity in how boys and girls are treated by adults and by each other, and the unfairness inherent in all of that. It's also about friendship, community, family, and what one's purpose on earth is. I can not wait to read this book with my own daughter. The parents in this book make plenty of mistakes but love their kids and incredibly realistic. I like the way Stead was able to touch upon such timely themes and subject matter without being at all didactic about it. Goodbye Stranger is a story of realistic kids navigating school and life and each other. They make mistakes. They stand up for each other. They are figuring out life. Reading about their struggles and triumphs will be something many young readers will relate to and enjoy.
I read an ARC received via the publisher, Wendy Lamb Books, at ALA Midwinter. Goodbye Stranger is on sale August 4th. ...more
I read Ask Again Later by Liz Czukas earlier this year and found it to be quite fun. However, I LOVE her new book Top Ten Clues You're Clueless. It's basically The Breakfast Club with Christmas thrown in. Because instead of serving Saturday detention, this group of unlikely teen companions are all working the same Christmas Eve grocery store shift.
Chloe is a list maker. She starts every day with a list and makes several more as she goes about her day. She has many running lists to which she continually adds. In addition to being a list maker she is a reader of mysteries, a red head, a girl with a massive crush on a co-worker, and a diabetic. On Christmas Eve she is required to work her regular job as a cashier at the grocery store. Many people are working including all of the young high school employees. All six of them. When there is a lot less money in the holiday donation box than is expected, all six of the teens are accused of working alone or together to steal the money and are held at work until the police can arrive to question them. In the interim they have to decide whether or not to trust each other and band together. In the process they begin to bond and get to know each other better than they ever thought possible.
This book is all about the characters. Zaina: the perfect, beautiful, Muslim, Lebanese immigrant who just wants the chance to figure out who she is outside of others expectations of her Sammi: the tough skater girl with an attitude and an interesting rapport with Gabe Gabe: basketball player, charmer, flirt, and golden rich boy who seems to understand Sammi better than she understands herself Micah: a sweet, nerdy, homeschool boy who loves science and is curious about the world and everyone in it Tyson: charming, fun, polite, and always willing to help out, he is just trying to save as much money as he can for college and is the object of Chloe's affections
Their story is narrated by Chloe and while she is ostensibly the focus, the reader comes to know all of them well as the narrative unfolds. The cast of characters here is diverse and yet there isn't a reliance on stereotypes or cliche's to mold them. Instead Czukas allows dialog and interactions to reveal each person's character and uses the other character's assumptions-assumptions most readers would have too-to challenge and bring out hidden details. All of these characters are so endearing. I loved every single one of them. I do think Chloe is the best vehicle through which to tell their collective story, but I find myself really wanting to have stories from all of the rest of them too, particularly Sammi and Zaina. I also enjoyed the wider observations of the world at large that came from seeing a grocery store through the eyes of the people who work there. Chloe's voice is genuine, a combination of cluelessness and wisdom that teens just starting to figure out the world often have.
The mystery isn't all that hard to figure out, but I completely bought how all of it came together. I could see the decisions that led to a bunch of mostly minors being held for hours at their job on Christmas Eve actually happening. I could also see why they all decided to cooperate and not give their parents the details of why they were staying late. The set-up is perfect in every way, and the conversations about life that came out of it were equally perfect.
There is a touch of romance, but it is not the focus of the book. It really is just the briefest of touches. And I love that this also turned out to be a Christmas story. It is one I will buy and enjoy every year now.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Harper Teen, via Edelweiss. Top Ten Clues Your Clueless is available for sale on December 9th....more
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 love Frances Hardinge. She is one one of those writers for children that doesn't talk down to her audience and is unafraid to confront harsh truths and darknesses in her plots and characters. She is an auto-buy author for me and I anticipate her books so much. It is unfortunate that in the US we often have to wait even longer for them. (And even then may never get them. Seriously, how has A Face Like Glass not been published here yet???? It is amazing.) Hardinge's newest US release is Cuckoo Song, a book that came out in the UK last year to rave reviews from everyone I know who read it. I'm happy to add my voice to the chorus singing its praises.
Triss wakes up after a dunking in the river on holiday. Her mind is muddled and memories hazy. She is missing all the hours leading up to her accident in the river. Her sister Penny is resentful toward and angry at her, but that is not a new development. The level of Penny's rancor and distrust is new however. Wrapped in the love of her mother and father, Triss takes comfort in knowing they are there for her and support her. But this is not a typical illness. Triss is overcome with an insatiable hunger. Then her doll moves its head and begins to rage at her. Fearing she is going insane, Triss attempts every means possible to bury her growing fear and horror at what is happening to her. When she can not deny the obvious any more, Triss begins to investigate what may be wrong and discovers her family's darkest secrets and the villain who is bent on destroying them all. Triss and Pen will have to put aside their differences and face untold dangers together if they want to undo the terrible horrors moving to destroy everything they know.
It's really hard to discuss Cuckoo Song in any detail without spoilers. Basically all I really want to say is READ THIS AS SOON AS YOU CAN. Like all of Hardinge's books, Cuckoo Song has layered, three dimensional characters brought to full life. There is so much to explore and experience with these characters. Triss, Pen, their parents, Violet (the sisters' closest ally), and even the multitude of people who work against them are all fully rendered characters with stories and personalities. The journey Triss goes on through the course of this book is a fascinating one that brings out a multitude of themes and complexities that I have to be frustratingly vague about due to spoilers. But that's okay, because this is really a book that you need to experience from start to finish.
And experience is the perfect word for the act of reading this book. From the first page, Hardinge draws her reader in. She slowly builds the horror and creepiness of the story she is telling. Page after page the book is impossible to put down and walk away from. I may have growled at some people who tried to get my attention while reading. (Sorry, family.) It is a tangled web that will have you twisted up and yet still pushing on for more.
I can not recommend this book enough. (And every other Hardinge book. If you haven't experienced her yet, you are missing out. Cuckoo's Song is an excellent starting point. ...more
Last year's Cruel Beauty was one of my favorite reads of 2014. I had rather high expectations for Crimson Bound as a result, and they were well and truly met.
Rachelle was her aunt's apprentice, learning the trade of a woodwife and how to protect her village from the forestborn. Rachelle is obedient but also restless and annoyed with her aunt's lack of determination to fight the Devourer she knows is rising again. Overconfident and thinking she can control the situation, Rachelle strays from the past and begins conversing with a forestborn. This leads to her downfall and her becoming a bloodbound-a murderer with blood on her hands bound to become a forestborn herself. Before that fate can befall her, Rachelle is determined to take as many forestborn down as she can and joins the King's elite guard of bloodbound soldiers. She immerses herself in fighting as many forces of the forest as she can, but she knows time is running out. The world is growing dark. The Devourer is returning. When she is put in charge of one of the king's illegitimate sons and discovers there is a chance to recover a fabled sword that can defeat the Devourer forever, she knows this is the final chance there is to free the world of the Devourer forever and atone as much as she can for the sins of her past.
Rosamund Hodge has a way of just sweeping me into her story and world that is rare. This was definitely a read I experienced every emotion and element of. My children found themselves quite neglected. The world-building here is fantastic. It's not quite as complicated as the world of Cruel Beauty, but it's no less intricate. There's a magical forest overlapping the known world made of myth and shadows and ruled by cruel, heartless beings who hunt humans for sport and delight in tricking and coercing them into their dark world. It brings to mind the best and darkest stories of the Fae. The world of the humans is very like that of France in its royal heyday with vain, selfish royalty hidden away from the harsh realities of the world, bastards fighting for the throne, a bishop warning against coming judgement, and revolt on the horizon. There is intrigue, treason, betrayal, and horror waiting around every twisted corridor of the palace and gardens.
Rachelle is a focused and determined heroine. She is overcome by guilt for the sins of her past, but determined to help as many people as she can before she is forever damned. She desperately wants to be removed from everyone and everything, but she just doesn't have it in her. As much as she wants to be cynical and heartless, she desperately clings to what human companionship she has and any sense of belonging and love she can find. And this is completely her story. It's the story of a girl desperate for redemption even though she believes herself to be far beyond its reach. The far reaching consequences of the deeds she has committed separate her from everything she ever knew and loved, but she is resourceful, clever, and strong-willed. All these traits serve her well as she goes on her quest to rid the world of evil. She is a well rounded heroine as well, making plenty of mistakes from trusting the wrong people to not fully trying to understand the workings of the court around her and how important it is.
Despite being a bloodbound with an unhealthy dose of self-hate, Rachelle is not without people she feels close to. Amelie is a girl whose life Rachelle once saved. The girl made her a friend and is quite an amazing one. I really enjoyed this aspect of the story and how their friendship was so solid despite how little they could truly share with each other because of Rachelle's position. Justine is another female friend, a fellow bloodbound, but one who works for the Bishop. Justine is determined to help an save Rachelle because she sees more in her. Both of these friendships reflect different aspects of Rachelle's personality and play important parts in her journey. In addition to these three girls, the books has several other very powerful women who do not shrink from doing what they need to do even when it is incredibly difficult and requires a hardened strength.
Then there are the two main male characters in the story. Erec is the captain of the King's bloodbound, one of his illegitimate sons, and the person who trains Rachelle in fighting and gives her the will to keep living. Armand is another of the King's bastards, sainted for not becoming a bloodbound when marked, and the person Rachelle is assigned to guard. Rachelle and Erec are friends but she doesn't completely trust him. They have fundamental philosophical differences that don't allow for them to be close despite Rachelle's attraction to him. Rachelle doesn't like or trust Armand at first, but gradually learns to appreciate and understand him. I have a feeling some may not want to read this due to fear of the dreaded love triangle. There is nothing to worry about there. Love triangle is not what this is. There's a fair amount of lust, confusion, treachery, and conflict in a tangled web of lies and double-crossings, but little of it has anything to do with love. There is a romantic love element that develops with one, which is my one major quibble with the book. Unfortunately it rather largely impacted my full enjoyment of the story. I didn't complete buy the romantic love aspect of this. There was too little organic development of it for me to completely believe it, which is unfortunate given that it is rather important to how the plot works out. I do like how that wrapped up though and how much confusion surrounded it for both characters.
What I really loved about this book were the themes of redemption, mercy, and justice Hodge worked into the story. Rachelle's story is mostly about that. It's hope overcoming despair, light overcoming darkness, emptiness being filled. It completely captured me.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Balzer & Bray, via Edelweiss. Crimson Bound is on sale May 5th....more
I have established that I love fairy tales and fairy tale retellings. You know what else I love? Books written by Sarah Prineas. Both her MG series are great favorites of mine. When she happened to mention on Twitter long ago that she was working on a YA, I followed closely eager to read whatever the result was. Ash & Bramble is a fabulous work of genius.
(I consider Sarah a friend as well as an author I love, and she sent me the ARC I'm reviewing here.)
Pin lives in the Godmother's fortress sewing clothes with the other seamstresses tasked with producing the beautiful one of a kind ballgowns the Godmother uses for her mysterious purposes. Pin has no memories of her life prior to the day she begins her work as a slave to the Godmother's will. Everything that came before is a blank nothing. While she has no memories, she is still a person with a will and a fierce defiance to live her own life. She gets a chance to plan an escape when she is used as a foot model for the shoemaker tasked with creating a glass slipper. Shoe has learned his lesson. He knows the cost of disobedience to the Godmother. Yet he still finds himself drawn to the daring seamstress and her plans for escape. But escape is not easy. The Godmother is impossible to outrun. Pin finds herself caught up in a whole new type of prison bound by the power of story and the drive for happily ever after. The more she fights, the more she feels trapped in a life that she doesn't want that leads to a prince, a clock at midnight, and a missing shoe. Her only possible means of escape lie in the devotion of a boy willing to risk himself to break her story and her own determination to decide her own destiny.
Ash & Bramble isn't so much a retelling as a complete shaking up and flipping around of the old fairy tales. And I was not exaggerating when I used the word genius, because much of this novel is dystopian in nature. And what world is better set up to be an actual dystopian hellscape than the world of fairy tales? (Really. Think about it.) While I will never get enough of fairy tales, my patience for dystopia is long gone, but the presentation of it here completely worked for me. I can not stress enough how well the two ideas work together and how brilliantly Prineas wove them into one. It's a commentary and celebration of both while also being an engrossing, moving, and satisfying tale in its own right. I really appreciated the way Prineas used the tropes of both types of stories to twist her own dark tale and highlight the themes.
Pin/Pen (she goes by both names) is a girl who wants to determine her own future, a goal she fiercely holds on to even when she has no sense of her past or even her own self. Her complete loss of memory and history make it difficult to connect with her as a reader at times, but it serves to make her sympathetic. The panic she feels over this is easily experienced by the reader who enters her world as clueless and searching for the familiar as she is. Pin's lack of memory does not leave her an empty vessel for the reader to use as a placeholder. She is very much her own person, which is part of what makes it difficult to get into her head. She is an enigma to both herself and the reader through much of the book. She has a lot of amazing qualities, but a lot of faults as well. Her headstrong stubbornness results in both positive and negative actions and motivations. Even in the end I felt like I was just getting to fully understand who she was, which works well because she is only just figuring that out, and there is still so much she doesn't know. While frustrating at times, it's perfect for the story being told. And I found myself loving her even when I wanted to yell at her about some of the choices she was making. I can see why she does what she does, and a lot of what she does is truly amazing. She has to be a leader and make hard choices that have mixed consequences. She makes mistakes and is not as careful with other people's feelings as she ought to be. She is also a true hero and steadfast friend. She is unlikeable at times (who isn't) and that only serves to make her more real.
The story here belongs just as much to Shoe as it does to Pin. He isn't as forceful as Pin. He isn't as flashily confident as the prince. He has a quiet strength and stubbornness that is just as important though, and it is his determination to see Pin free to make her own decisions that allows her do to the work of freeing herself. But she does the same thing for him too, giving him the courage to embrace freedom in the first place. At times he is hesitant and giving to a fault. They complement each other well. Their relationship develops under incredibly fraught circumstances. I liked the realism in that. Dangerous and stressful events tend to magnify and accelerate the development of feelings and relationships. There are a lot of complications thrown into it too including Pen's role in Story and her relationship with the prince. I know that so many people are going to instantly think "love triangle" and not want anything to do with this. That would be a mistake. Love triangle does not always necessarily equal terrible development. They can be done well, and in this case it is a trope that is fundamentally important to the ideas of choice and happily ever after Prineas is exploring and questioning through her story. The prince, Cor, is a loyal, brave, and dedicated person. He is also smart and able to question the reality of the world around him. He is often a little to oblivious to his privilege and inclined to demand his own way, but he has a good heart. I really loved the interactions between all three of them together too. They are working as adults in their world and in leading a rebellion, but they are also very much teenagers in dealing with their feelings.
The book's numerous secondary characters are all wonderfully rendered as well including the Godmother. I'm going to say little else about that to avoid spoilers, but I loved what Prineas did with her and the fairy tale concept of the Witch. The plot gives a nod to host of tales beyond the obvious reworking of Cinderella and catching them all was part of the fun of reading it.
My favorite part of Ash & Bramble was how it explored the power of ideas, words, and Story. I always love it when books do that and do it well which this one does. I loved the dark twists that took and the ambiguousness of what was right and wrong in some of those cases. It is complicated and a lot of it left open to interpretation with unanswered questions. Yet it also has hope and looks to the future.
Ash & Bramble is everything I want in a fairy tale retelling and in books in general.
I read an ARC received from the author. Ash &Bramble is available for purchase on September 15th....more
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
Rose's story picks up almost immediately where it left off in Rose and the Magician's Mask. She and the family have returned to London from Venice. Miss Fell has joined the family and taken on both Rose and Bella as pupils, not only to grow and focus their magic but to train them how to be proper ladies. As the lessons continue, she seems to be testing Rose in particular. Bella suspects why and shares her theory with Rose. The girls embark on a dangerous and somewhat misguided plan to uncover the truth of Rose's past, her seeming connection to Miss Fell, and the reasons for the years Rose spent in an orphanage. With the help of a ghost they find in a mirror belonging to Miss Fell, the children and Gus the cat are lead into a world of underground crime lords and exploitation of magic.
Rose and the Silver Ghost is a wonderful conclusion to the journey Rose began in the first novel. She has grown in her magic and come to see that she must choose a life. She can not remain both servant and magician. Her desperate need for a place, to feel like she has a home, is one that readers of all backgrounds and lifestyles can relate to. She just wants to know who she is and understand where she came from so she will know where she is going. Through the course of the novel, all the secrets of Rose's mysterious past are revealed. Some of the revelations are surprising, some less so, but they all combine to make her story richer. I also appreciate how well Webb developed all of the other characters too. Bella, Freddy, and Bill have all grown over the series too. They are wonderful friends to Rose. Gus is still my favorite though. Because you just can't beat a snarky grumpy talking cat with a heart of gold.
Fans of the Rose series will enjoy seeing how everything comes together in this book. I think that it is the final one in the series. It ends in such a way that the story is complete. I wouldn't mind having more though.
I read an e-galley received from the publisher, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, via NetGalley. Rose and the Silver Ghost is currently available in the UK and goes on sale in the US on March 3....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
Last year I read The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston and fell in love. I fell in love with the characters, the town of Trondheim, the world Johnston created, and the voice that told the story-Siobhan. I immediately began looking forward to the sequel, Prairie Fire. Now that I've read it, I'm sort of wrecked but only the best of ways.
Prairie Fire is very much a sequel in the strictest sense of the word. It is the second half of Owen and Siobhan's story. While you could probably read it first, the emotional pay off will be far greater if you don't. If you haven't read The Story of Owen, go and do that. I don't know what's been holding you back anyway.
Spoilers for The Story of Owen ahead. You've been warned.
Siobhan, Owen, and Sadie have graduated from high school and are beginning their service to the Oil Watch. Siobhan has mostly recovered from her encounter with the dragon that left her hands burned, but she will always have limited mobility. She is learning to cope. She has found a different instrument. She still feels a strong sense of purpose. Siobhan is Owen's bard, and she does not take that commitment likely. Hailed by much of the populous as heroes, Siobhan and Owen are not looked on quite as favorably by their government. They find themselves stationed in Alberta on the edge of the Canadian prairie-an assignment that's kind of a slap in the face given Owen's talent and proven ability. But their support team is top-notch and they've bonded. They find the other two novice teams, one American and one Japanese, easy to work with. All three teams forge new ties and friendships, bonds needed living in the realm of the most dangerous dragon species alive with an instructor who is a frowned upon rule-breaker and a general who scorns all the things Owen and Siobhan stand for.
"When Lieutenant Porter said 'it's our busy season', what he'd meant was 'Shit there are dragons everywhere. Duck.'"
This quote sums the book up nicely. There are a lot more dragons, dragon slayings, and close encounters with dragons in this book than the first. There was quite a lot of set-up in the first book. It was a time to get to know both Owen and Siobhan, time to get to know the world, and to fully understand what it was the Thorskgards were fighting for. True, there were plenty of dragons to be found too, but in this second half they're everywhere. Also in this book the reader is introduced to the mother of all dragons-nearly unbeatable and scary as everything. The pace is much faster than the first book. It feels like a head long rush to the explosive and shattering end.
Siobhan's recovery is rather skipped over. Her emotional recovery happens much faster than seems reasonable until you remember how young she is. And young people often can bounce back and find new routes quicker than adults. She still has her music. It's just different. I think too that her being a rather even tempered individual from the start helps the believability of this. The story becomes Siobhan's more than ever as she and Owen are separated for quite some time. The government is trying to keep Siobhan's influence over public opinion to a minimum. They want the people to forget Owen's a hero. Owen's presence is still felt even in his absence though, and Siobhan still works on ways to get what he is capable of out there. These two have an amazing relationship, a friendship that is truer and stronger than average. I love how much they give to each other and complement each other. Siobhan gave Owen a voice. Owen gave Siobhan a story. And it is absolutely beautiful.
There are a number of new characters introduced in this story and I loved them all-Courtney the engineer and Porter the lieutenant especially. The other two dragon slayers add so much to the story as well and I love the interactions between them. (Nick, the American from NYC, was a particular favorite and I wished we had just a bit more from him.) The characters in the first book are all back though we see far less of them now that Siobhan and Owen are away from home. Sadie is present for much of the first half, but is assigned to the UK while Siobhan and Owen remain in Canada. I enjoyed her when she was there though. She is a perfect balance to both Siobhan and Owen.
Thematically this book is even more brilliant than its predecessor. The slayers and their teams are all so young. All serving their countries and the world in a noble pursuit. But bureaucracy and politics being what they are, they can't always do it effectively. They are dedicated, bold, and brilliant. What they do has a high cost though and Johnston shows that beautifully.
Basically this book left me sort of wrecked, but in a brilliant way.
I read an ARC provided by the publisher, Carlolrhoda Books, at ALA Midwinter. Prairie Fire goes on sale on March 1st....more
I waited too long to read this book. Seriously. When it came out back in March, I was intrigued. Many people I trust said read this. It's good. Why did I wait so long? The Story of Owen by E.K. Johnston is a perfect blend of myth, reality, sly humor, and exhilarating action-adventure.
As the title implies, this is the story of Owen, a teenage dragon-slayer-in-training who helps guard the small town of Trondheim from dragons while trying to pass Algebra. Yet this isn't just the story of Owen. In fact, it isn't even mostly the story of Owen. It is really the story of Siobhan, the gifted musician who Owen encounters on his first day at his new school when they are both late for English. Like it was fated. Except not that kind of fated. Siobhan's talent makes her the perfect partner for Owen. Even though the tradition has long since died, every good dragon-slayer needs a good bard and Owen and Siobhan are about to resurrect the art. Siobhan is the one telling this story, in a voice that is both straightforward and trickily slides away from the telling the whole truth at the same time. The Siobhan telling the story is telling it from somewhere in the future. The writing is well done and has a dry wry wit that is subversive and oh so well balanced. I like both Siobhan and Owen, but I really like their partnership and how we see it unfold and grow. Their loyalty towards each grows in a natural way as the book progresses as does the strength of their companionship. And I love that is all their relationship is. I hope it stays that way in the future volumes. I love romance and am hopeful that there will be some eventually, but not between the two of them. One other thing I appreciated about both of them is that they are not super-heroes. They are kids who are talented yes, but who work at what they are good at to make themselves even better. And they work hard. I also really liked the supporting cast of characters, particularly Owen's aunts, Lottie and Hannah. I do feel that Siobhan is lacking in emotional depth enough that she kept me too removed from the story. I think that is probably due to the device of her being a bard and telling the story from the future, carrying we only know what baggage, wounds, and heartache. But it felt as though she didn't feel strongly enough about anything or anyone. Even the descriptions of her music have a vaguely detached air (which makes a bit more sense at the end), but the effect of all that was I wanted to know everyone and feel this story more deeply than I did. That is my one and only complaint though.
The world-builiding here is excellent. It is our world set in modern times with all our modern gadgets and technology. The difference? Dragons. Dragons have been a scourge on humanity in this alternate world for all of history but with the beginning of the age of modern industrialization they became an even bigger scourge. Dragons, you see, crave carbon fuels. It's like candy for them and they instinctively seek out anywhere they can find it. Cities with factories, roads with cars, water with boats, if you are anywhere these things are chances are you will be attacked by a dragon. The political ramifications of this are so well done, and Johnston raises so many provocative questions about our own world and how things are managed through them. Siobhan, Owen, his family, and some of their friends are trying to change the way the world works, but change does not come easy or free. I enjoyed how the world-building was so detailed throwing in so much history, not only maintaining my interest as a reader, but heightening it. It is also through the world-building that the major themes are developed. One thing that is highlighted is how easy media and history are to manipulate and I appreciated that aspect particularly. Siobhan is not just there to be a cheerleader for Owen, she is in charge of shaping perception not just about him, but dragon-slayers in general, and advancing the political and social causes their group deem important. It's fascinating stuff.
The writing brings this world to vivid life. What I felt it was lacking in character emotion, it more than made up for in terms of top rate plotting. The humor in the book is dry and tongue-in-cheek, something else I truly appreciated.
I highly recommend this for all fans of fantasy, particularly if you enjoy a good Nordic tale retold. It has all the feel of Beowulf, while being set in the present time. Truly excellent. ...more
I love "Beauty and the Beast" in all its variations and have a difficult time passing up retellings of it. When I discovered Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen, I was elated that it was not only a retelling of my favorite fairy tale, but also gender swapped. A girl beast. Family secrets. Magical forest. Creepy castle. Check all my favorite things off right there, and Hellisen does some interesting things with her story.
First: Two thumbs way up for the cover designer on this one. It is beautiful.
Sarah has spent her entire life moving. Her mother seems to be running away from cold. Her father seems desperate to keep her mother happy. Until one night when her mother stops running with them and runs away from them. There's nothing her father can do to stop it. In the days that follow Sarah notices her father turning in more and more, becoming a little wild around the edges. Then he takes her to live with the grandparents she never knew she had and Sarah discovers secrets and lies twisted through her family's history. They are cursed. Cursed to turn into beasts when they fall in love, unless the person they love loves them back. But the curse, born of jealousy and hateful revenge is more twisted than any fairy tale Sarah has ever read. It doubles back on itself and entraps everyone into a hideous future they can't break free from making her realize stories may not always have a happily ever after.
Sarah is so determined. She is determined to help, to fight, to break the curse, to never fall in love, to remain true to herself, to save every member of her family. She tries so hard. She fails at so much of it. Yet she keeps getting back up and trying again and again. Her determination wavers occasionally but it never dies. It drives her. She is the ultimate heroine as a result. Sarah is active in her own story. Many parts of her life are beyond her control, set into motion long before she was born and propelled by forces out of her control. Despite that, she makes her own choices and works within the parameters of the curse to enforce her own will. I loved that so much. I think that it is important to have books where we see a bit of failure but not for lack of trying, and then also get to see how the characters deal with that failure. How they try to make the best of the situation given them. Sarah's relationship with almost every other character in the book is tragic in some way, but she fights for all of them as much as she fights for herself, and it is a beautiful thing to see. I also really enjoyed what Hellisen did with the character who inflicted the curse in the first place. She is a horrible person, but Hellisen gave her depth too. I think the way the situation between her and Sarah resolved was absolutely perfect. I think the conclusion for every person touched by the curse was done exactly right.
Beastkeeper does what the best retellings do and thoroughly twists the tale and adds new dimensions. What Hellisen did with the original story is intriguing and profound. The fear of loving someone beastly, knowing that you are the only thing keeping them from being a hideous shadow of themselves-that's a terrible burden to carry. What might it possibly do to a person? I was throughly impressed with the how intricate Hellisen made the curse, and how completely and utterly it trapped every single person connected to it in the most terrible of ways. I love that she was unafraid to go to the darker places the story required and that it isn't all sunshine, daisies, and happily ever after in the end. There is tragedy. There is uncertainty. But there's also hope.
I loved everything about Beastkeeper and highly recommend it.
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Henry Holt and Co., via NetGalley. Beastkeeper is available for purchase on February 3....more
I read Something Real by Heather Demetrios last year and was completely taken by surprise when I LOVED it. I was eagerly anticipating her 2015 release, I'll Meet You There, even though I knew, given its subject matter, it would probably leave me wrecked. Well it did in the way only really great books can.
Skylar is counting down days until she can get out of the nowhere town she has lived in all her life. She and her best friend, Chris, had a pact. They focused on school and kept away from the drunken parties and hook-ups their classmates were having, and it worked. They are both off to college with scholarships. There is only one more summer left for Skylar to make it through, working at the Paradise hotel. But when her mom loses her job and falls off the wagon, Sky sees her chance for escape slipping away. It doesn't help that there is someone else tempting her with the what ifs of staying. Josh Mitchell was their high school's popular playboy. Now back from a tour in Afghanistan, missing a leg, and fundamentally changed from the boy he used to be, Josh is trying to figure out exactly what it is he's supposed to do next. Why of all people did he make it back? What is he going to do with the chance he's been given? And how can he figure that out when everything is so messed up? As the summer progresses Josh and Sky are drawn closer and closer together, but it may be too hard to work through all the wrong in their lives to find something right.
I'll Meet You There is told in alternating voices. It is mostly in Sky's first person perspective, but there are also chapters that are entries from Josh's journal-the words he writes to his dead best friend, killed by the same IED that took his leg. Both Sky and Josh have a lot of seriously rough stuff to sort through in their lives. Sky is dealing with the very harsh realities of poverty as her mother no longer has a job and then kicks her out of the house. Fortunately Sky has people around her to help her who love her, but seeing the true and real effects of poverty portrayed in YA is not the norm. It's frustrating as a reader to Sky flirting seriously with the idea of throwing her chance for a future away to take care of her mother. This frustration is mirrored in her two best friends, Chris and Dylan, who insist her mother is an adult who can make her own choices and mistakes. Even with this frustration, it is all too easy to see why Sky might wish to stay. It is hard to walk away from everything you've ever known even if you are walking toward something better. I think her feelings, insecurities, and struggles are ones many readers can recognize and empathize with though they may not have experienced the same circumstances.
Josh's character is equally well done and nuanced. He is the epitome of a boy/man: still so young, but he's seen more than most people twice his age. Demetrios did an excellent job of showing all the facets of his being a Marine. He is suffering from PTSD, has to learn how to be the new him in the town he grew up in, and despite his trauma, he still has a fierce loyalty to the military. Being a Marine is the very heart of who he is. He does some really terrible things to both himself and Sky. He uses descriptive language that is often highly offensive (not because of the number of "curse words", but some other more derogatory type words he uses). At the same time, his heart is just so good and he wants to do what is right. You can see that. My heart just broke for him as he tried to figure out what to do and how to be. He truly feels like he is a disaster waiting to happen to Sky, and yet she helps him so he can't really stay away from her. He doesn't want to. This is a story about two broken people finding each other. In the process they break each other a little more, but they also help put each other back together. What I really liked about this is that they also both work to put themselves back together. Their relationship is not codependent.
I also very much enjoyed the supporting characters in the book. Josh's brother, Blake, is an idiot at times, but really loves his brother and tries very hard to be helpful in his own idiotic ways. Chris is a great foil for Sky. In many ways they are very much alike, but they are different enough in the ways that matter, that he balances her well. Marge, the owner of the hotel where Sky and Josh work, is a motherly type who helps and cares for both of them. Sky's other best friend, Dylan, is my favorite supporting character though. Her first appearance in the book, drunk and making reference to hooking up, leaves a first impression that is not all that flattering. She's a teen mom. She parties. She enjoys sex. Sky and Chris spend a good deal of time feeling bad for her stuck life. But man, this girl is more than she first appears, and even Sky doesn't fully appreciate all the depths her friend has until it's almost time for her to leave. I really liked how Demetrios showed that while Dylan's life was hard, it wasn't hopeless.
There are probably going to be some who are upset by the way some of the boys, particularly Josh, refer to some of the girls and each other. The words they use. The connotations behind them. It is an incredibly realistic portrayal though, and there are other characters who do call them out on this. I really appreciated how it was a fellow Marine who first opened Josh's eyes to how much more there was than the world he knew with his buddies in his hometown too.
I'll Meet You There is a beautiful and heartbreaking story that is also one of hope and new beginnings.
Content Heads-Up: strong language, underage drinking, sex
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Henry Holt and Co., via NetGalley. I'll Meet You There is available now....more
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