Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Sunny and Lu

Last year saw Jason Reynolds conclude his excellent series about the newbies on the Defenders track team. The final two books Sunny and Lu came out relatively close together. I read them both this week and decided to put them in one review. In my opinion these two were not as strong as the first two in the series, but I do feel like the end overall was well done.

Sunny runs for his mom. His mom who can't run because she died when he was born. It's more accurate to say he runs for his father who is constantly reminding him of this. Sunny doesn't want to run though. He loves being a part of the Defenders. He just doesn't want to run the mile anymore. So one day he doesn't. He just stops. Refuses to move on and finish. His father won't talk to him, but coach understands. Sunny really wants to dance but there is no position for a dancer on a track team. Instead Sunny starts throwing the discus, which is kind of like dancing in a way. But he still needs to face his father's disappointment and the hole in their lives his mother left behind.

Sunny is a likable character. His voice wasn't as strong to me as the others. His story is told as though the book is his journal, and he is talking to it. There is a stream of conscious to this as a result that. Added to that is Sunny's almost hyper personality that bounces fast from one thing to another quickly. It made the narrative a little tougher to follow because it was jerking and twisting  so much. It sets it apart as unique from the others, but it was harder for me to focus on and want to follow. I think this will in no way be a problem for the intended audience, and what is challenging for some readers, will be exactly what some will come to love about this book. One thing that is great about this series overall is how different each character is and how very much they own their stories. It is also nice to have a book where the protagonist is a homeschooler who isn't off-the-walls weird or with a crazy family.

Lu is co-captain of the Defenders-a position that is quite an honor for a newbie. Lu knows he is good and destined for great things. His very existence is a miracle after all. His mother wasn't supposed to able to have kids and yet here he is. Sure he gets teased some for being albino. But he also has swagger and not a little bit of ego. Then Lu finds out he's going to be an older brother making him not quite so much a miracle anymore. As he's coming to terms with the kind of big brother he wants to be, he learns some troubling things about his father's fast that also has him questioning who he is and what sort of person he is and the sort of person he wants to become. j

Lu's story brings the whole series full circle. There's a reason he was chosen to be a co-captain and that is obvious as the book progresses. All of the others are present far more in Lu's books than they are in each others. This isn't simply convenient so Reynolds could bring the series to a close. It's because Lu is one of those personalities that reaches out and grabs others. He pays attention to their lives and pulls them into his. There are a lot of hard truths Lu has to face in this book. He does this mostly with grace and charm even though his struggle is also clearly evident.

The backstory of Coach that began in Ghost is brought full circle in this volume as well. The end is kind of corny overall, but it is the type of corny that works. That's a fine line to tread, but Reynolds finds the balance.

I do think the series strongest book is Patina but that could simply be because she's my favorite character. It's definitely one of those series where all the books benefit from the others and they are must have for any middle grade reader's shelves.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Future Favorites Friday

I take the 2nd Friday of every month to highlight some upcoming releases I am looking forward to that I hope are Future Favorites. Feel free to do your own post, just please link back to my blog and tell me about your post in the comments.

Raina Telgemeier is long time favorite, especially when it comes to her realistic stories that she pulls from her real life. This new one is sure to be good.

Raina wakes up one night with a terrible upset stomach. Her mom has one, too, so it's probably just a bug. Raina eventually returns to school, where she's dealing with the usual highs and lows: friends, not-friends, and classmates who think the school year is just one long gross-out session. It soon becomes clear that Raina's tummy trouble isn't going away... and it coincides with her worries about food, school, and changing friendships. What's going on?

Raina Telgemeier once again brings us a thoughtful, charming, and funny true story about growing up and gathering the courage to face -- and conquer -- her fears.

If Sarah Prineas writes it, I'm going to read it. I've loved every single book she's written. The fact that there are dragons in this one is a bonus.

Release: September 10, 2019 from Scholastic

Rafi Bywater is unlike anyone else. The people in his village don’t trust him because he spends too much time in an abandoned dragon lair. When a stranger, Mister Flitch, accuses Rafi of being “dragon-touched,” Rafi sets off to discover the truth about dragons—and about himself.

On his journey, Rafi befriends a brilliant scientist, Maud, who has secrets of her own. Together they search for dragons while escaping from a dangerous dragon hunter, engaging in a steam-engine car chase, and figuring out what Mister Flitch really wants with Rafi. And, oh yes, they do find the dragons.

Release: March 26, 2019 by Harper Collins

Lucy Parker's London Celebrities Series is one of my all time favorite romance series. The next one is going to have an Austen element and be Freddy's book so I'm extra excited about it.

In which experienced West End actress Freddy Carlton, who's been on the stage since childhood,takes on an Austen-inspired play, scandal at a country estate, an enthusiastic search for a passion outside of acting...and the (some people might say icy*) heart of London's most feared theatre critic.

*if those people were being nice

Release: April 2019 by Carina Press

Monday, January 7, 2019


I am rather picky about reinterpretations of Austen. Pride by Ibi Zoboi more than lived up to my standards.

It's a truth universally acknowledged that when rich people move into the hood, where it's a little bit broken and a little bit forgotten, the first thing they want to do is clean it up. But it's not just the junky stuff they'll get rid of. People can be thrown away too, like last night's trash left out on sidewalks or pushed to the edge of wherever broken things go. What those rich people don't always know is that broken and forgotten neighborhoods were first built out of love.

The Benitez sisters are well known in their Bushwick neighborhood. Their mother's ongoing social personality means there home is never short on food or visitors. Their father works hard to support them, but everyone knows he still has an eye on his girls, what they're doing, and who they're hanging out with. Zuri loves this neighborhood and its people. She knows every crevice and individual's place in it, which is why she is a little worked up when someone buys the broken down house across the street and renovates it. It is fancy now and yet another sign her neighborhood is changing fast. As a result, Zuri's heart is not into welcoming the new family who moves in with their two teenage sons Darius and Ainsley. Zuri's older sister Janae, newly returned from her first year at college, is not so hard-hearted and almost instantly begins to fall for the charmingly sweet Ainsley. Almost as instantly sparks begin flying between Zuri and Darius. Zuri finds Darius to be stuck-up and just know he thinks he's too good for their Brooklyn neighborhood. After Ainsley abruptly breaks off his relationship with Janae at a fancy party the Darcys host, Zuri is convinced everything she knew about the Darcys is correct. As their neighborhood and Zuri's life continues to change in ways that are a mix of scary, sad, exciting, and full off potential, she learns maybe she doesn't know everything she thought she did about herself or the people around her.

My first impression of a Pride and Prejudice retelling is always based on how well and fast I connect with the heroine. Here it was instantaneous. I have a very different life from Zuri, but I get who she is on a deep level. Her connection with literature, her judgmental lens, her desire for solitude, and her fierce love for those closest to her were all things that pulled me into her world within the first few pages. I also loved her voice. Zuri's personality and view of her world quickly bring all of it to life and paint it with brilliant colors. For the most part, everyone in the novel has the personality and function as their counterpart in the source. They are adapted perfectly for the setting and become very much their own people. Darius is an excellent foil for Zuri. Their banter is wonderful and the way he comes out of his shell and is definitely as imperfect as he needs to be. The growth of their relationship over the course of the book is organic and makes sense. Often in YA interpretations of Austen this is a part that can feel forced, but it was natural and fun to watch unfold here.

The entire neighborhood and the Benitez's Afro-Latino roots are vividly brought to life. Pride is a short book in comparison to both the original and many current contemporary YAs, yet it has a firmly established sense of place. The people make the community and the community thrives on the page as a result. The theme of gentrification and its impact on community is explored without ever becoming didactic or heavy-handed. I appreciated the way things resolved too. Another important theme of the book is the inevitability of change and how that is harder to contemplate and adapt to for some individuals. The way these two are woven together and are brought out through the many different personalities is extremely well done. 

Pride is a book anyone can enjoy whether a fan of Pride and Prejudice or not. It wholly stands on its own as a wonderful, romantic story about life, community, family, growth, and love. 

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Girl with the Dragon Heart

The Girl with the Dragon Heart by Stephanie Burgis is her brilliant follow-up to The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. While this book could be read independently, I think it would be better read following the first book. If you haven't read it yet, you have two exciting and excellent books to look forward to! I, of course, may be biased as these books contain all my favorite things.

But there's one other truth I know for sure: if you have the courage to tell your own story, you can remake the world.

If there is one thing Silke knows she is good at, it is spinning tales. She can make an exciting story out of pretty much anything, and if she happens to stretch or alter the truth to make it just a tad more interesting, what is the harm really? Silke is trying her hardest to bring customers into The Chocolate Heart after all, a chocolate establishment that deserves everyone's patronage. Silke works there as a waitress too as well as helping her brother in his market stall. Silke wants most to protect all of the people she cares for most. She is not losing anyone else. When her tales and antics capture the attention of the savvy Princess Katrin, Silke finds herself offered the adventure and position of a lifetime. However, spying on the newly arrived Fairy court who want to bargain with the royal family is not a simple task, especially when Silke's own priorities for spying on the fairies may interfere with the job the princess have given her. If there is one thing Silke is certain of, it is that you can not trust the Fairies. 

Silke as a character was fascinating in The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. In her own story, she becomes even more so. Silke is one of those people who goes full throttle toward what they want. Once she is convinced she is in the right, there is no stopping her. This makes her relationships with others difficult at times as the people she is closest too wish she would slow down and listen more. Her prickly personality (put in place as protection) makes it hard for people to get to know her, but once she considers you part of her inner circle, her loyalty is ride or die fierce. She grew a lot over the course of her story as she came to see the importance of listening to others, understanding all of the pertinent details of a situation before jumping in, and not rushing head long into a situation with no plan. Her intelligent mind and ability to tell stories are what save her and the people she loves most in the end. It was fun revisiting so many characters from the first novel too. It was interesting to see Aventurine from Silke's perspective. (That is an aspect of these novels that is really well done: how the girls see themselves vs how each sees the other and the uniqueness of their voices.) Both of the princesses have a large part in Silke's story. I find myself fascinated by both of them and would love to read stories about them as well. 

Burgis expands the world she created in The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. It feels like an actual, real place with history and depth. The story of the Fairies and how they operate is based on old fairy lore but is adapted to fit the story Burgis is telling. I found the way she combined the history of the Fairies and the Dragons to be unique and interesting. The Fairies are manipulative, cold, and ruthless, and their mannerisms fit perfectly in the world Burgis has created for her other creatures and characters. 

The Girl with the Dragon Heart explores the theme of independence and community, the tension between the two, and how both are necessary for a complete life. I also loved the exploration of the importance of found/chosen family, but also loving and living with the family you are born into. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Most Anticipated Releases of 2019

Anyone who knows me knows what is first on my list of anticipated reads this year as this is the year we get the conclusion of The Queen's Thief Series (only the best series in the history of the world.)

Here it and some of the other books I'm looking forward are!