Friday, November 21, 2014

Nightmares!

I was pretty excited to read Nightmares! mostly because of the authors. I adore Jason Segel (or maybe  I just adore Marshall-hard to say.) And I love Kirsten Miller's Kiki Strike books. A book written by the two of them together was too good a prospect to pass up. While fun, I didn't love it quite as much as I expected to.

All his life the mysterious purple mansion on the hill has fascinated Charlie Laird. But now that he's living in the mansion, he's not longer so excited about it. Another thing he's not excited about is his new stepmother, Charlotte. He's convinced she's a witch. What other explanation is there for the witch who haunts his dreams at night? After all the witch looks too much like Charlotte to be a coincidence. Charlie is doing everything he can to stay awake so the nightmares don't come. Then Charlie discovers his friends are also having strange recurring nightmares and the mysterious new principal features in a lot of them. When the witch from his nightmares takes his brother into the Netherworld (world of nightmares) through a portal in the mansion, Charlie follows and has to face and defeat his worst nightmare.

Charlie is having a rough time and he's taking it all out on the people around him driving those who love him away. He is angry and resentful. He is still highly sympathetic because it is clear he misses his mother, his old house, and doesn't know how to embrace the changes in his life if it means letting the past go. His relationship with his brother and father are suffering. He feels like his life is being consumed by darkness. Charlie's story is peppered with many doses of humor and at times their is a lighter treatment to the issues, but it is a hard journey. I did like how the darker themes were balanced with enough lighter elements to make it fun and have depth at the same time.

The concept of a world in which nightmares live is an interesting one. I enjoyed how the kids only had to face their fear-what the nightmare truly represented-and defeat it to be free. It wasn't necessarily easy, because first they had to figure out what the underlying fear was. And it showed how nightmares can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Though I feel Charlie's confrontation with his "worst nightmare" didn't ring true with the rest of Netherworld, but it was a scene that made me cry.

This is a book that will have a lot of appeal and is well done. I can see kids really loving it. And the cover is marvelous.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

TTT: Sequels I Can't Wait to Read


This week's TTT topic: Sequels I Can't Wait to Read


The as Yet Unnamed Book 5 of the The Queen's Thief Series-Nothing else tops my want for this!!!!!!

The Silent Bells, Book 4 in The Ashtown Burials Series by N.D. Wilson

The Next Lion Hunter Book by Elizabeth Wein

Jinx's Fire by Sage Blackwell

The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall

The As Yet Unnamed Sequel to Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

Perfect Couple by Jennifer Echols

Party Lines by Emma Barry

Shadowed Heart by Laura Florand

I will be waiting for some of these longer than others. What sequels are you looking forward to most?

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Ex Games

I am continuing to make my happy way through Jennifer Echols' backlist. This past week in keeping with our first wintry weather of the year, I read The Ex Games.

Hayden was excited when her family started over again in Colorado after a traumatic couple of years in Tennessee following her broken leg. She was even more excited when, on her first day in her new seventh grade, the cutest boy in school plopped down beside her and swept her into a month long dream romance. But it turned out Nick had made a bet with his friend Gavin about getting the new girl to date him. When Hayden finds out, she breaks up with Nick in a spectacular display that most of their classmates witnessed at the movie theater. Four years later, Hayden and Nick are juniors and their relationship has mostly consisted of snarking each other. Now that Hayden's best friends have hooked up with Nick's best friends, everyone in the school assumes they will get back together providing entertainment for the whole student body. Hayden even thinks it might happen. Then Nick demeans her winning a snow boarding competition and says she would never be competitive against a boy. The challenge is on now in a three event personal comp between Hayden Nick, but the competition extends to everyone in the school. Girls versus Boys for concert tickets. Everything is riding on Hayden beating Nick, including her own plans for her future. Can she conquer her fear of jumps and truly become a professional snow boarder? And will her and Nick ever be able to get it together and stop fighting long enough to make a relationship work?

What I really love about Echols's books is how realistically teen her characters are. They do behave in ways that would drive me bananas if these were adult books, but as teens their decisions, drama, and cluelessness make so much sense. Her characters remind me of teens I actually know. I particularly appreciate this about her male characters as often in YA books the boys are too ridiculous perfect. Echols's boys are not, and Nick is no exception. He does dumb teen boy things. He says dumb teen boy things. He has no clue how to make up with Hayden for being a dumb teen boy and so he stumbles around their relationship like a newly born blind kitten knocking things down all over the place. Hayden isn't much better about negotiating their rocky relationship. That's what's so much fun about this book, watching them learn and try to figure it out. And in the end they are both good people you want to see happy. They both have their insecurities they need to work on, but I couldn't help but want to see them fix things together.

The Ex Games is a fun romantic read to get in the winter spirit. It is no longer available in print, but can be purchased as an e-book.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Shorter Musings: MG Fantasy

Here are some shorter musings of recent MG Fantasy reads. These are all Cybils nominated books in my category of MG Speculative Fiction. 

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle by George Hagen
Based on Norse mythology and in a contemporary setting, Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle is an interesting story about a family who has a proclivity for bonding with ravens and the sinister links some of this has to the past. I found it to be an adequately entertaining book if a little long. One thing that kept annoying me was how often Gabriel blindly trusted random people with the full story of what was going on. And nothing came from that. He was so trusting and everyone he trusted turned out to be trustworthy. Even when he thought momentarily one or two would betray him, turns out they are, in fact, totally willing to be on his side. How nice and convenient for him. I think this would be a great book for people who love riddles. (Though they are basically all the same riddle with similar answers and structure.)

Hook's Revenge by Heidi Schulz 
I can see why so many people like Hook's Revenge a lot, but it is not written in a style I find particularly enjoyable so reading it was more of a chore than not at times. I do say hurrah for an intrusive narrator who talks to the reader without making himself obnoxious. Well, no more obnoxious than intrusive narrator is automatically. In the beginning I found Jocelyn to be entirely unlikeable and only made sympathetic by how much more unlikeable and gross everyone else around her behaved. This doesn't ever work for me as a tool for characterization. However, by the end of the books some actual real character development had happened, and I liked Jocelyn very well indeed. Her adventures in Neverland are perfect, as is her quest. And I absolutely loved the characterization and treatment of Peter. 

The League of Seven by Alan Gratz
This is fun and I enjoyed the concept of the seven heroes coming together each with a different talent and focus. I can see kids really enjoying this. I've seen steampunk not work in several MG books but I think it works well here. For me personally this is one too many books I've read recently with Edison as the big bad villain turning him almost cartoonish. So many books have been doing this lately with, of course, Tesla on the good side. (Albeit as crazy as he ever was.) It is becoming a bit of an overused trend. I get that Edison was a terrible human being and he did many people wrong, but I think we've hit the threshold with him as evil sic-fi villain. Let's do something different now.


Seven Wild Sisters by Charles de Lint
Seven Wild Sister takes place many years after the end of The Cats of Tanglewood Forest. I liked this considerably more than it predecessor as it was more of a typical fairy tale and less meandering in its telling. I didn't love it though and think that may just come down to this author's style not being my thing. It was an interesting story and I did enjoy the fairy war and how that turned out. I also loved the sibling aspect, which is what kept me reading this all the way to the end.

Winterfrost by Michelle Houts
This is an adorable and fun read perfect for 3rd-4th graders around Christmas time. It would probably make a great 2nd grade read aloud too and would fit very well into a study of the way different cultures and countries celebrate the holiday season. I enjoyed the characters, and the adventure was a good one though the level of peril was quite low. I do find it hard to understand why any parents would leave a 12 year old home alone with a baby, but okay.



Thursday, November 13, 2014

Cress

I'm way behind. I know. I bought Cress by Marissa Meyer when it first came out and I was so excited, but I was also swamped with review books. Then something strange happened. I became less excited and more wary of reading it. It is so long. And it has been my experience that books don't typically need to be that long. So it kept getting put off. Finally I was in the perfect mood for it, I guess, because I didn't want to put it off anymore. Yes, it's too long in a way that required more editing. Yes, there are some issues. But it is also a whole lot of fun.

Cress has lived for seven years on a satellite hacking into Earth's computer systems for Mistress Sybil and Queen Levana. Her latest job is to track down the Rampion carrying Cinder, Thorne, Scarlet, and Wolf. She did this, and then immediately scrambled their signal and has since been protecting them from capture while lying to Sybil about her ability to find them. Cress has also been studying up on the occupants of the Rampion and has developed a moon size crush on Captain Carswell Thorne. When the fugitives contact her for help, they discover her situation and decide to rescue her. Except the rescue goes horribly wrong and now they are all separated and in different sorts of danger. Thorne and Cress crash land in the desert. Cinder and Wolf go to find Dr. Erland. Scarlet is taken captive. While all this goes on, the royal wedding between Emperor Kai and Queen Levana draws ever closer. A wedding that must be stopped if Levana is ever going to be ousted from power.

My favorite thing about these books is that Meyer has taken fairy tale heroines and made them into heroines who do science. A mechanical engineer, a pilot, a master hacker and programmer, these aren't the typical female protagonists in fairy tales, but we could definitely use more of them. And I kind of love how both Cinder and Scarlet have their respective men wrapped around their fingers and pining for them as we usually only see girls do for the hero. Cress has a different sort of story. She has been alone for so long and knows little about human interaction and socialization, particularly of the romantic sort. Her massive crush on Thorne, built entirely on her own assumptions from reading a few reports on his life, is understandable and so sad at the same time. Some of the conclusions she jumps to about his character as a result of what she reads of the "reasons" for his various misdeeds left me like:
As for Thorne himself...well. Let's just say that a lot of my love for him in Scarlet came from what I was hoping he would be. Kind of like Cress. Huh. WELL DONE, Ms. Meyer. The reality of Captain Thorne is a tad disappointing. Yes, he's dashing. Yes, he's snarky. Yes, he has that whole devil-may-care attitude. But I wanted him to develop more substance. I wanted him to be more. Cress is less upset about this than I am, but I rather liked where they end by the finish of the novel. I kind of hope she finds some other guys to date and lives a little first though. (Ummm....assuming they survive book four.) 

I did enjoy the further development of the other characters, though I feel this book was light on Scarlet and Wolf (but they're my favorites so that may just be me). I'm still rolling my eyes at Kai a little bit. Cinder is still awesome, and I enjoyed how this book showed her strain more than the others really have. And Dr. Erland is just the best. I also loved the intro we had to both Winter and Jacin.

I really love these characters. I wish they were developed a bit more. These books are so plot heavy, and that is what they have to be for the story they are telling, but I will say that all starts to get more unwieldily in Cress. There is so much going on, and it's happening in five different places. There is a lot of jumping around and it's not at all smooth. There is a bit too much time spent on conversations and descriptions that are unnecessary, while I feel like there's other things missing that should be there. And I had a hard time buying how easily Thorne was able to get around and do things given his particular injury from the crash landing. Really??? I feel that these books may be suffering from being rushed into print to keep the hype going and not getting the full editing they truly deserve. It makes me sad because I do love these characters and the concept, but feel like the whole thing could be so much more than it is.

I'm very much looking forward to how things turn out in book four, which we still have a year to wait for. (Starting to appreciate that I waited to read this.) In the meantime there will be a bridge novel about Levana coming out in January called Fairest. I will admit to concerns that the characters I love the most are the expendable ones.