Wednesday, September 21, 2016

I'm a Cybils Judge!

The 2016 Cybils Judges were announced today.


I am so happy to be back on MG Speculative Fiction this year. I'm a Round One Panelist which means all of my reading is about to become Middle Grade Science-Fiction and Fantasy.

I will be working with these lovely ladies:

Charlotte Taylor from Charlotte's Library

Sherry Early from Semicolon

Kristen Harvey from The Book Monsters

Brenda Tjaden from Log Cabin Library

What's next? Nominations for the Cybils open on October 1st. Start making your lists of books you want to nominate. Books need to have a US publishing date of October 16, 2015-October 15, 2016.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Shorter Musings

Some shorter musings on recent reads.

Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbit
Cloud and Wallfish is a story of friendship and adventure set in East Berlin in 1989. It is an interesting look into a time and place that we typically don't see much of in MG. Each chapter has a "case file" addition that give some explanations and historical background. I'm not entirely sold on this format, but these sections are not necessary to the story and kid readers will make up their own minds what they will do with that. I adored both Noah/Jonah and Claudia and the growth of their friendship. I was really annoyed by Noah's parents through the entire book. It lessened my enjoyment of the overall story quite a bit. I kind of hated them. It is a fun story though and definitely one I'll be adding to recommendation lists.

I received an ARC from the author.

The Extincts by Veronica Cossanteli
Kids who get part time jobs working at a farm for extinct animals have many adventures. How cute is that? This is one of those zany madcap short fantasy adventures perfect for kids transitioning from early chapter books to MG novels. It isn't my particular cup of tea, but it is perfect for its target audience and a definite must have for elementary libraries. Every kid who loves books about animals will gobble this up.

The Magic Mirror: Concerning a Lonely Princess, a Foundling Girl, a Scheming King, and a Pickpocket Squirrel by Susan Hill Long
This is a fairy tale story. It's not a retelling or reworking, it is a story with a fairy tale set-up that is wholly its own plot. With shades of the Canterbury Tales via a band of mismatched traveling companions with their own agendas and stories. It isn't anything special all told. There are far better fairy tale stories out there. What is nice about this one is it is a mostly humorous and heart warming story geared more for the upper middle grade range where we see less of those. Yet there are still kids who want them. It's also a good pick for strong younger readers. There is a lot of exposition especially at the end and at times it is easy to confuse some of the characters. Overall it's a good book to have on hand for recommending to kids who can't get enough of fairy tales.

Moo by Sharon Screech
The story here is fine. I guess. Incredibly predictable and cliché, but there's nothing terrible about it. The characters are fairly stock with little development. There is definitely emotional manipulation at the end to tug on your heartstrings and make the book feel important. Yawn. The worst thing about this book is its atrocious formatting. It is a "blank verse" poetry novel, which is often used as a blanket way of covering all sorts of linguistic sins. This could be the textbook example of a book that didn't need to be blank verse, had no reason to be blank verse, but being blank verse made it easier to fill the required number of pages. The strange (and truly frustrating ) part of this is that I use the term "blank verse" VERY loosely. There are paragraphs of narrative prose inserted into the book will-nilly for no other seeming reason than "why not?". There will be a whole chapter that's all narrative followed by a chapter of verse. Or verse, random paragraph, more verse. There is no rhyme or logic to it and it serves no purpose.

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk
Yes, it is yet another much hyped and lauded MG book of 2016 I don't like. It will be easy for many to dismiss me as simply having a contrary year, but really why the love for this book in the kidlit world? It is extremely well written. It is not a book for children though. I'm not saying this in a way that means "teacher book" like I would call Pax or that it's like a Pixar movie in book form like I would call Hokey Pokey. It is an adult literary fiction novel never mind the age of the protagonist. You know how the Flavia de Luce books by Alan Bradley could technically be sold as MG because of Flavia's age? Yeah. I think any one who has read those books is in agreement their placement in adult mystery fiction is right. Just because this book is about bullying and a young protagonist doesn't make it MG. It's non-linear in many places, it meanders in stream of consciousness thought, it wallows in the misery of human existence, and is hopeless hopeless hopeless. It is everything I hate about adult lit fic. It exemplifies all the reasons why I spend my time reading (actual) children's fiction and only read genre fiction when I read adult. I won't be recommending this to anyone, but if depressing adult fiction is your jam, you may want to try it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

TTT: Favorite Romance Novels


This week's TTT topic: Favorite Novels in X Genre

X=Romance (Adult)

I don't review adult novels on this blog though I do include links to my Goodreads reviews of them in my Quarterly Round-Up posts. I do read adult though and my go to genre for that does tend to be romance novels. I love the banter, potential, hope, and guaranteed happy ending in them. Many of them are feminist and have amazing character development too. When this week's topic came up, I decided it was a perfect time to highlight my favorites. Since I don't usually talk about these here, I will tell you a little bit about WHY they're my favorites too.


It is one of those strange truths that an author can write one of your favorite books and also write a whole lot of books you don't love. The first few books in Julia Quinn's Bridgeton series were instrumental in helping me maintain sanity during my first few years of teaching. This is the one that remains a favorite even as I have not been enthusiastic about her newer books in quite a few years. I know this is not everyone's favorite and some were not happy with how Colin (everyone's favorite from the first three books) came across. But I LOVE him. I love that his insecurities and issues are so completely NORMAL. Quinn tends to go for the melodrama when she can, but this is pretty basic stuff. And then Penelope is the absolute best heroine in the world. Who could not love Penelope?

This was my first romance read after coming back from a years long break from the genre caused by genre fatigue. (I pretty much read nothing but romance in my non-school required reading free time from age 16 to 26 so I needed a six year break. Really. That's how long it was.) But then I picked this up on a whim after hearing a couple of people gush about it. I read it three times before I had to turn it back in. I recently reread it and was reminded of how wonderful it is. The friendships in the book are amazing and I love the super slow burn of the romance.


I read more contemporary romance novels now (my earlier years were pretty much exclusively historical) and Florand is a big reason why. I love both of her series but these are my favorites from each. I adore the fairy-tale feel of The Chocolate Kiss and Damien from A Wish Upon Jasmine is my favorite Florand hero. I love that he is ruthless (at business) and ambitious while being completely unapologetic about it. He is good at making money and loves doing it. He does it for his family though and they are a spectacular family.


No shock to regular readers: I LOVE POLITICS. Yes, real world politics too. Emma Barry's The Easy Part trilogy is so much my jam. All three books are wonderful (and favorites). I had a hard time deciding which one to include on the list, but went with Party Lines because of the banter and how much I adore Lydia (the heroine). I also kind of have a thing for secret affairs and super smart individuals in opposition to each other. Emma's characters are all incredibly smart and this leads to some of the best (and funniest) flirting scenes out there.

I discovered Gen's books through Emma (above-who is now a friend). Genevieve Turner's historical series about a Spanish family in California during the late 1800s is phenomenally well done. It has a very real sense of place, incredible historical details, rich characters, and fabulous plotting. Autumn Sage is my favorite book in the series because of Isabel. I have a thing for smart, prickly women who don't take crap. That's pretty much a common thread in all of these (though some writers do this better than others and Gen NAILED it here).

Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner joined forces to write what is my favorite romance novel of all time. Hands down. I don't care if it has only been out a few months. I've read it several times already. It holds up. You can read my entire review here. Eugene Parsons is my all time favorite type of hero and he embodies it more perfectly than any other hero I've read. Charlie is the ultimate foil for him. They are both so smart (and we see them actually doing their smart people jobs-so often not included). The banter between them is perfect as is their slow realization of what they really want from each other

 Julie James novels are kind of hit and miss with me. I think she's gotten repetitive and definitely has some writing ticks. There are parts of A Lot Like Love that get on my nerves (like how much time we see what the villain is doing/thinking about). My issues are all overrun by how much I love the banter between Nick and Jordan. They are A+++ flirters with that snarky edge I love so much in the best of flirtations. This is one I reread frequently sometimes just focusing on the scenes where they are smart mouthing off at each other.

I typically don't care for the small town America contemporary romance, but there is something about Virginia Kantra's Dare Island series that I can't resist. Maybe its the Outerbanks setting. Or how Kantra manages to convey small town without being quirky. A big part of it is definitely the entire Fletcher family. I love how much the books focus on their relationships with each other as well as the romances. Carolina Man is my favorite for a lot of reasons, but the main reason is Kate. At this point you can probably figure out what sort of character she is just by my saying that.

The Black Hawk is the newest addition to my favorites. I just read it a few weeks ago. I picked up the series due to the recommendation of several friends and started (for some reason) with the the third book. Turns out that was a good move for me as I wasn't personally found of book one or book two. What I did love about all three of those books was Adrian aka Hawker. Cockney pickpocket turned British spy at an early age. Amazing British agent through all the years of French upheaval following the Revolution. Best of Friends. King of Snark. He's pretty incredible. This story is made even better with Justine, who is all the things I love in a heroine. Their story spans years and a lot of heartache but it was utterly perfect for me.






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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Two Naomis

Two Naomis by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick first caught my eye due to its cover (well done Balzer and Bray). I'm so happy that I decided to read it and that this book now exists in the world.

Naomi Marie likes West African dance, board games, and being the best at whatever she attempts to do. She is an excellent big sister and adores her family. She feels lucky that she lives just blocks away from her dad and can visit him whenever she wants despite her parents' divorce.

Naomi Edith likes reading, anything creative, and spending her Saturdays with dad doing the things they love. She desperately misses her mom who has moved to California since her parents' divorce. Skype just isn't the same.

When Naomi M's mother and Naomi E's father begin dating more seriously, the girls are reluctantly thrown together. Both enrolled in a computer programming class at the Y, they don't see why they should have to spend so much time together because their parents like each other.

Two Naomis is one of those books that gets the MG voice so well. Both Naomis come across as incredibly genuine and real. They are very different girls and despite their same names it is not at all confusing. They are so different and their voices sound so much like their characters, that it is never difficult to tell them apart. Naomi M is a force of nature. She is outgoing and a little controlling. She likes to be in charge and often is due to her role as older sister. She cares deeply about her family and friends and puts a high value on loyalty and hard work. Naomi E is less sure of herself. She is more apathetic and takes the easier route in things when she can. She is really struggling with missing her mom and feeling left behind. Different as they are, they are both sympathetic relatable characters that realistically project the MG mindset. Both are a little self consumed and oblivious to things not directly involving them. The cast of secondary characters is well done too. Both Naomis best friends are wonderful. They too are very different from each other AND very different from both Naomis. They are supportive of their friends but also their voices of reason (or at least they try to be). Naomi M's little sister Brianna is all four year old. No filter, too much energy, and a full steam ahead outlook on the world. The parents are all well done too. They make mistakes and behave selfishly at some points, but they are active involved parents who are doing there best. I really like how they talk to the kids and work hard to make the best out of the situations they are in (some of which came from their own mistakes).

The plot of the book centers around the class the two Naomis take together and the project they are partners on, but the crux of the book is about relationships. I really appreciate that this is a book that shows the hard adjustments and compromises that come with one of your parents dating someone else seriously after a divorce. We have a lot of MG books that deal with the process of divorce, right after a divorce, or right after a remarriage, but I can't think of another one that deals with this aspect of the process. Both girls have to sort through a lot of complicated feelings while also learning to work together and compromise. It's just incredibly well done all the way around.

I highly recommend this for all lovers of MG realistic fiction. It is a fun, quick read with excellent characters and wonderful themes. It is definitely a book I'm adding to my list of favorite sibling stories.

I read an ARC made available by the publisher, Balzer and Bray,  via Edelweiss. Two Naomis is on sale September 13th.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Shadow Magic

I heard a little bit about Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan last year, but not much buzz since it came out. I'm curious as to why that is because, while not perfect, it is a book that kids will eat up like candy. Blurbed by Rick Riordan, Jonathan Stroud, Sarah Rees Brennan, and Cinda Williams Chima, it had some fairly lofty expectations to live up to and it for the most part it meets them.

Thorn leaves home to find his father, who was condemned as an outlaw for something Thorn did. He is captured by slavers and bought by Tyburn. Tyburn is the executioner for the House of Shadow. Thorn finds himself in the country of Gehenna residing at Castle Gloom itself. He is a peasant who befriends nobility, becomes a hero, and shares an odd bond with a bat.

Lily Shadow is the new ruler of Gehenna following the death of her parents and brother. In one day she went from being a 13 year old girl who loved to run and play to the person on whom the weight of the kingdom rests. She is reluctantly fulfilling a betrothal contract that ended a centuries long war with the kingdom of Lumina. When it is clear an assassin is stalking Lily, she must count on help from Thorn to solve the mystery of her family's deaths and stand with her as she comes into her full powers.

Certainly there is a lot in Shadow Magic that is derivative of other works of fantasy. There is a lowly hero and an exalted girl in danger. There is a rugged mysterious man with a sword on a temperamental horse. There is an unlikely trio of friends who emerge to fight the danger. There are also zombie armies, ghost puppies, and an enormous ancient bat named Hades. So it has its own stuff going for it too. Most importantly it is one of those books that sells itself, that you can hand to any kid looking for something to read when they've run out of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. The chapters are short and the action is fast paced. It makes the book hard to put down.

As regular readers of this blog know, I'm a character reader and I do think the characters are the book's greatest weakness. There are a lot of them. This in addition to the action means Khan had to rely on types a lot for what he was doing. Tyburn the executioner is never more than dark and mysterious. The villain is fairly one note. Gabriel, Lily's betrothed, is loathsome and whiny. He gets a little bit more than this as a character but not much. Even Lily and Thorn aren't as well developed as they could be, but I did really enjoy reading about them as heroes. Lily is haughty and prideful, but also compassionate and desperate for friends she can trust. Thorn is all attitude, but underneath it he is sympathetic and, as much as he'd mock it, honorable and brave. A young prince named K'leefe rounds out their trio. He is a hostage of Gabriel's father, a prince from yet another kingdom. His character is rather flat overall and mostly shows off the strengths of Lily and Thorn. However, he gets his own moments to shine too.

The world Khan created for the book is incredibly interesting and the way he presents it shows a lot of thought went in to it. He is one of those authors that is good at conveying the depths of his world building without feeling the need to explain it all. The kingdoms have a history that is fascinating and I find myself wanting to know more about all of them.

Also there is a giant bat named Hades with as much attitude as Thorn, which probably explains why Thorn is the only one who can ride him.

This book is just fun. It is a must have for all collections that cater to 5th-8th graders for sure. The book stands on its own but does have a sequel coming out next year entitled Dream Magic