Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A Nearer Moon

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. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Favorite YA Realistic Fiction Heroines

This is a continuation of the series of amazing heroine posts I've been doing throughout this year originally inspired by this post. These wonderful girls in YA Realistic fiction are in addition to Maddie Brodatt who made the original list of 10.

Clara Lemlich from Audacity by Melanie Crowder: I know Clara Lemlich is an actual historical person but this is a somewhat fictionalized look at her life though as based on fact as it could be as a novel. She was an amazing person and this book tells her story beautifully

Princess Goewin from A Coalition of Lions by Elizabeth Wein: Goewin is brilliantly strategic and gets stuff done working hard to protect the interests of her country and people during harsh times.

Taylor Markham (and Raffy) from Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta: Taylor is hard on the outside, but a hot gooey mess on the inside. Going with her on her journey to figure out her past and how it will connect with her future is heart wrenching but so worth it. And Raffy is the perfect foil and best friend that Taylor needs.

Theo from Pointe by Brandy Colbert: Theo has so much strength, but it's being tested under the harshest of conditions and she is learning how much she is capable of. And also when she needs to reach out for help. I love her story so much

Francesca Spinelli (and Justine, Tara, and Siobhan too) from Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta: *whispers* I actually like Francesca more than Taylor. Francesca is snarky, resentful, and stubborn. She is vulnerable and scared as her foundation for life is rocked by her mother's depression. The story of this one year of her life and all its ups and downs is one of the best I've read and is (strangely enough) a go to comfort read for me. Her three best friends balance her out in all the right ways, and the friendship the four of them have is my absolute favorite in all of YA realistic fiction. (Yes, it even beats Maddie/Julie for me though only barely.)

Rose and every single female character in Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein: Rose begins her story young exuberant innocent and full of ideals. She is broken in many ways by her captivity in Ravensbrück. Watching her put the pieces of herself slowly together again is almost as hard as reading the events that broke her apart in the first place. But so worth it. And every woman in this book has an important voice and story that needs to be heard.

Maya from This Side of Home by Renee Watson: Maya is proud, stubborn, smart, and angry at a lot of the changes happening in her neighborhood and the fallout she sees from that. Watching her navigate the changing landscape of her world and arrive at new conclusions about it and herself while staying true to who she is, is time well spent.

Sibylla and Louisa from Wildlife by Fiona Wood: Sibylla and Louisa are two very different girls facing two very different types of heartache. The way their stories intertwine and the unexpected things they learn from each other is truly wonderful.

Piddy Sanchez from Yaque Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina: Piddy's story is truly heartbreaking and all too real, but she is a character you want to wrap up and love and protect.

Here are the other posts in this series:
MG Speculative Fiction 
MG Realistic Fiction
YA Speculative Fiction

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

TTT: Books on my MG Lit Syllabus

This week's TTT topic: Books That Would Be On Your Syllabus If You Taught X  101
X=MG Literature

This is a mix of classic and new, award winning and popular (many are both) that I think would lead to excellent discussions and comparisons which is why I chose them.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Pocket Full of Murder

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.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Cybils 2015

The call for judges at The Cybils has gone out! If you love reading and discussing books for children and teens, this may be just the place for you.

Why apply?

You meet some truly wonderful people.
Truly. Interacting with fellow book lovers on Twitter, Tumblr, and through blog comments is the best thing about blogging. Being a Cybils judge exposes you to people you may not have encountered before and blogs that weren't on your radar. You get to have lovely and passionate discussions about books with these people while getting to know them. Even when I have not agreed with my fellow panelists on certain books or elements of a book, I have always enjoyed the discussion and how gracious everyone is.

You get to read a lot of books.
Book bloggers love books. If we didn't, we wouldn't do what we do. I've read books because they were nominated for the Cybils that I might never have read otherwise. And some of those books have become all time favorites. This is especially true if you are a Round One judge.

There's a category for every interest.
Picture books. Novels. Fiction. Non-Fiction. Poetry. Graphic Novels. There is a category for whatever your kidlit passion happens to be. There's even a Book App category.

If all of this sounds like something you would enjoy, and you are able to make a commitment to the work involved, head on over and apply. I've been an Elem/MG Spec Fic Round One judge the past two years, and I highly recommend the experience.

It's the 10th Birthday of the Cybils too! They have a gorgeous updated graphic too.