Tuesday, December 6, 2016

TTT: Favorite New to Me Authors of 2016

This week's TTT topic: Favorite New To Me Authors I Read for the First Time in 2016

Patrick Samphire made his MG debut this year with Secrets of the Dragon Tomb. He also released a novella set in the same world titled The Dinosaur Hunters. I loved both of them and can not wait to read his 2017 release.

Michael Dante DiMartino is one of the original creators/writers of Avatar: the Last Airbender, which I've never watched. (I know.) Rebel Genius is his first novel and I could not put this book down. I'm really looking forward to seeing where he takes this series. Also I will watch ATLA now.

I can't remember who first recommended Joanna Bourne's books to me, but I have a lot of friends who love them. Now I love them too. Her series spans Revolutionary through Post-Napoleon France and its wars with England. British Intelligence agents and French women dedicated to their country in various ways. So. Good. To be honest, I like the first two books way less. I was really happy that I started with book 3 (The Forbidden Rose) because I might have given up if I had started with book 1. And that would be tragic because books 3-5 are magnificent and will be life-long comfort reads. I can't wait for book 6!!!

Lois McMaster Bujold's books have been on my TBR for YEARS. YEARS. I first heard of these books through the Queen's Thief fan community Sounds on LiveJournal. (See. I told you. YEARS.) Why did I wait so long? I think I had worked it up so much in my head, I was a little afraid. But I dove into the Vorkosigan series this year and I'm loving them. Fortunately for me the series is huge so I will be reading new to me Bujold books for years to come.

 Love & Gelato is the sort of contemporary YA book I'm always looking for to recommend. I know a lot of teen readers who enjoy this type of book and I thoroughly enjoy them too. I'm really looking forward to seeing what Jenna Evans Welch offers the world next

Both of these books were written by one author whose work I was already familiar and one author who was new to me. I really hope that Gita Varadarajan and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich write more books. I will read every one.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Characters 2016

It's time for one of my favorite posts of the year! I love characters. They are what keep me reading and make me fall in love with books. Here is a list of the characters I fell in love with for the first time in the past year. (If I read a book with characters I loved, but was introduced to through a series in a previous year, I don't include them in this list. It is for new new characters.) There is something truly special about characters who stick with you long after you've closed the pages of the book where they live.

Adrian Hawkhurst and Justine DeCrabillac from the Spymasters series by Joanna Bourne
I have a great fondness for a lot of the characters in this series: Doyle and Maggie are awesome too, as are Pax and Camille, but I haven't been as invested in a ship in a romance series like I was in Adrian/Justine......well, ever. Probably because most romance series don't have ships like this one, where it is featured in more than one book. Bourne made interesting choices regarding the chronology in the writing of this series. As such we see Adrian in every book, but at different points in his life. Justine is introduced in The Forbidden Rose (which is book 3 but the first one I read). Basically as soon as I finished The Forbidden Rose, I wanted to jump straight to The Black Hawk because I fell so hard for these two characters and their interaction. Adrian is 100% my kind of hero: snarky and brilliant with an arrogance that covers his vulnerability and has a heart of gold. Justine is more than a match for him intellectually and their banter is magnificent. I appreciate how very chill they are as a couple. Their circumstances as spies for warring countries are dramatic, but they are not. They are matter of fact about it all. That's not to say they don't have their fair amount of angst, but they are both such rational realists that the tone is not angsty or dramatic. I did end up reading the first two books in the series before reading The Black Hawk, but am not convinced that is necessary. (I don't like those two nearly as much as the rest of the series. They are full of more romance tropes I don't enjoy as much. If you are interested, I'd recommend beginning with The Forbidden Rose like I did. Definitely HIGHLY recommend and loved books 3-5.)

Nora and her Supporters (especially Pablo) from Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina 
I adore Nora and how much of a survivor she is. Reading her story is not easy or comfortable, but I rooted for her every page even as I wanted to jump in and help her, make her see the truths she needed to see sooner and assist her in getting out. Her journey to independence and safety is a beautiful one and I adored every single one of the people who helped her out in myriad ways to achieve it. I especially adored Pablo, who may be my favorite male love interest in a YA novel ever. He backs off when she tells him, but is ready to help her when she needs it most. He is steady and supportive.

Eugene Parsons and Charlie Easton from Earth Bound by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner
I wrote the longest review I've ever written for a romance on this book because I just loved it so much. I'm just going to copy parts of what I said about these two characters in that here because, after rereading it twice, I feel the same. I fell for Eugene Parsons in his very first scene in Star Dust. I wanted this next full novel in the series to be about him because from that very first scene I knew he had the potential to be exactly my favorite sort of hero. I have a weakness for intelligent men who come across as arrogant asses on first encounter-because they are actually partly an arrogant ass, but also because they are equally a socially awkward nerd. Parsons lived up to every expectation I had for him in this respect and then some. He may be is my favorite romance hero ever. Pair a hero like this with a heroine who matches (if not exceeds) his intelligence, doesn't take any of his crap, and teases him about his nonsense, and you have my exact favorite type of love story. Charlie is an amazing and perfect match for Parsons. She is super smart, incredibly competent at what she does, and her sly and sassy wit is more than a match for Parsons. He doesn't quite know what do with her most of the time and I looooove it.

Hermione, Polly, Mallory from Exit Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston 
These girls. I love when female friendships are showcased in YA. Johnston did this one so incredibly well. This now rivals the girls from Saving Francesca as my favorite depiction of friendships in YA. There are some terrible things that happen in this book that no girl should ever have to go through. The way Hermione deals with and processes what happened to her was something I could relate to so well. The way her friends surround her and hold her up as she does that is beautiful in every way. Polly is the sort of girl everyone wants on their team when bad stuff goes down. Fierce and unafraid to go to the mat, she is amazing in every way. Mallory's support is of a more quiet and low-key sort, but just as important. There is a scene where they and their fellow senior cheerleaders are together and talking about the colleges they will go to, looking ahead and planning for a future despite the hard times and trauma and it's making me cry just thinking about it now. The whole book is pretty much like that. 

Lucy, Max, Oliver and Liao from The Left-Handed Fate by Kate Milford
These four kids are doing their best to navigate a treacherous adult world and still maintain who they are. Caught up in a war and torn between personal loyalties, loyalty to country, honor, duty, and love, they have to make some tough choices. They are incredibly likeable as individuals even though they have evident flaws. Every single interaction any of them with any of the others brings out different sides of their personalities and makes them all the more real. I could read a hundred books showcasing the adventures of these four people and never grow tired. 

The Sullivan Family and "Cousin Freddy" from Secrets of the Dragon Tomb by Patrick Samphire
I have a great fondness for sibling stories, and this is a magnificent one full of adventure, a quest to save half the family, and a lot of self discovery. Edward, Putty, and Olivia have a wonderful dynamic. The story is mostly told from Edward's point of view so the reader gets to see him and his opinion of his sisters grow and change over the course of the book. Putty and Olivia are opposites but have a common strength and inner steel. Then there is Freddy who is every thing I adore in a hero in the most hilarious way. I read this book twice this year, once for myself and once aloud to my son. Both times I was struck by how real the characters are and how much humor and heart they all have. I can not wait for more stories featuring this family. 

The Hart Family (particularly Finley and Avery) from Some Kind of Happiness  by Claire Legrand
In a year where I read a lot of great characters particularly in MG, Finley Hart is my favorite. This is her story and she tells it beautifully. Sent to stay over the summer with grandparents she's never met, Finley is a fish out of water and doesn't understand the rules of her new home and family. Yet how she bonds with every member of that family and how they all reach out to help her in their own ways (ranging from deeply flawed to courageous) is a beautiful tale of connection and hope. Finley's cousin Avery is definitely my favorite secondary character. She is Finley's complement in every way and the way they interact and share things is wonderful.

Miles Vorkosigan from the Vorkisogan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold
I can't believe I waited so long to start this series. From everything everyone told me of Miles, I knew I would love him and I do. (My friend Chachic describes him as Gen in space and she's not wrong.) Miles is super intelligent, a brilliant strategist, a political mastermind, and kind of an unthinking jerk sometimes. And he is so much fun to read about. I love the supporting characters too and how varied their personalties are and how they either love or hate Miles. There's really not much in between there. It's wonderful. I can't wait to read more of the series!

Previous Favorite Character Lists:

Who are some of your favorite characters you've encountered this year?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Love & Gelato

I tend to not be able to resist books that feature teens on summer adventures in Europe (especially if they promise a bit of romance). I've been burned by a lot of these books, but Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch is one that didn't disappoint on any level and left me fully satisfied at the end.

Lina is spending the summer in Florence with the father she has never met. It was the dying wish of her mother who died of cancer a few months before Lina arrives. Determined to only be there for the summer and then return to the  US, Lina is not at all excited about forced bonding time with Howard and definitely doesn't want to settle in. She is here only for her mother. When an old friend of her dad's gives her the journal her mother kept during her time in Italy, Lina knows she has to read it no matter how sad it makes her feel. Armed with the journal and the help of her new friend Lorenzo, Lina sets out to follow her mother's footsteps from all those years ago and figure out a little about life, love, her parents, and herself along the way.

I was bound to like Lina. She is a smart introvert who likes to process things with no outside interference and is a bit tentative in her approach to life. Personal affinities aside, her character really does jump of the page. She is incredibly well-rounded. Sad and a little lost since her mother's death, she is keeping everyone at arm's length but you can see the warmth in how she interacts with her longtime best friend on the phone. Her relationship with Ren (short for Lorenzo) also showcases a different dimension of her personality. With every interaction Lina has, the reader sees a different facet of who she is. Ren is a local half Italian half America who befriends Lina and tries to help her meet people and fit in. He then joins her quest to recapture the events and investigate the mysteries in her mom's journal. Their relationship is adorable. They have an instant connection where they are able to talk openly with each other that leads them to become friends quickly. Underneath all that is a romantic tension as they circle each other in that sense too. They end up having some dramatic moments that are typical of teens unused to navigating the messy emotions involved in falling for another person and everything about their relationship is real and believable.

The romance is not the main focus of the novel however. The main focus is Lina's journey of discovery and how she relates to all the people around her (not just Ren). Her relationship with Howard, the surprise father who lives in Italy she never met before is a driving force in the novel as well. I can't say much about this, but Howard is a really really great man. In getting to know him and his story with her mother, Lina also connects with her mother in a different way than she did when her mother was alive. Despite the heavier themes inherent in that, the book manages to maintain a light, humorous feel all the way through. There are so many delightful scenes.

Welch paints all of Italy so well. I love Florence and really felt like I was back there when reading some of her descriptions. And man did I really want some authentic Italian Gelato. A lot of times when I read books set in Europe I feel like they are lacking authenticity or a true sense of place. That wasn't the case here. I liked how Welch interspersed Italian into it as well. She didn't just say someone was speaking Italian, she wrote the Italian. This helped with the authentic feel.

This was so much fun to read and think it is a must have for Teen librarians. It will appeal to the same crowd who enjoys Kasie West's books, but I think it may have a broader appeal than that too.

Monday, November 28, 2016


Fuzzy is the latest offering  from Tom Angleberger (author of the Origami Yoda series) and was cowritten by Paul Dellinger. It is a humorous school story that is full of intrigue,  humor, and robots.

Fifty years in the future schools are controlled by a strict Federal School Board. The students take tests every week to prove that they are "upgrading" well enough. In one school Max (Maxine) is having a rough time. Her test scores are falling even though she studies hard and knows the answers. The computer vice-principal known as Barbara is also constantly giving her discipline tags. But Max has something to be excited about because her school is about to get the first robot to be integrated with humans. The handlers of "Fuzzy" choose Max as the robot's guide and soon the robot and the girl are connecting. When Fuzzy figures out that Barbara has developed a mind of her own and is changing students' test scores. Fuzzy, Max, and their other friends have to try to save their school and each other.

Max and Fuzzy are a great friendship team. This delves into the idea of AI and what happens when a computer can think for itself and make crucial decisions without human input. It is a concept that has been explored in science fiction for decades (several such books get a mention in here), but is definitely trending in both MG and YA more in the last couple of years. Fuzzy, being an Angleberger novel, takes a humorous look at this. Max is a smart girl, but she doesn't always want to perform inside the box created for her by the school system, testing, and the tyrannical AI Barbara. The kids desperately want to be kids but are constantly being told to get back in line and worry about their tests. Max tries her best but doesn't always succeed. Barbara sees her as a wild card and fixates on her for this reason. Max is full of curiosity about her world and just wants to know more. She does a great job with Fuzzy-anticipating his problems, leading him around, and helping him acclimate. In return Fuzzy learns from her how to think like a human. He begins to make his own decisions and color outside the lines himself. He even begins to have a spectacularly spot-on middle school attitude problem complete with snark. They are a brilliant team.

There is a lot about Fuzzy that is reminiscent of a Disney Channel movie. The adults are all a little over top and stereotypical. Their antics are a lot beyond the realm of the realistic, and of course, the kids are the ones to save the day in the end. They see things the grown ups do not. There are mustache twirling yet incompetent type villains in a van trying to get to Fuzzy. It's the sort of story kids eat up like candy. Added to this is a lot of humor and a fast-paced story full of action that will keep kids reading.

Underneath all of this, the authors have a commentary about the state of eduction and focus on testing going on that is fascinating. I don't think this is something just adults in education or concerned parents will get. The kids are going to fully get this to. I've had so many kids talk to me about how worn out they are on all the testing they do. I think they will appreciate this. They will like seeing that there is someone else out there who gets that. The fact that the villainous face of the testing system is Dolores Umbridge in AI form will make this even more entertaining for them.

This is a must have for kids who like humorous school stories.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

YA Holiday Gift Guide

This is next week's Top Ten Tuesday topic, but it inspired me to do a bigger one. I haven't made one in a couple of years and so will feature books published in the past couple year. The categories are inspired by my favorites from this year. I've added a "tried and true" recommendation for each category that is a bit older. These are books I've recommended over and over with success.

I by no means intend to be reductive with the categories. No teen fits just one and the books could all straddle several as well. It is just meant to be a guide. Links are to my reviews. Feel free to comment, email, or tweet at me if you have questions about any particular book.

Take note of disclaimer at bottom for asterisked books.

You can find the MG list here.

Teen Gift Guide (for ages about 13 and up)

For Teens Who Like to Read About Friend Groups and Their Antics

Rebel Bully Geek Pariah by Erin Jade Lang (contemporary realistic; 2016)*
Top Ten Clues You're Clueless by Liz Czukas (contemporary realistic; 2014)

 The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry (historical; 2014)
When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds (contemporary realistic; 2014)*

This Side of Home by Renée Watson (contemporary realistic; 2015)

Tried and True Rec:

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta (realistic; 2006)*

For Teens Who Like Romance and the Notion of Happy Ever After (or at least happy for now)

Rose & Thorn by Sarah Prineas (fantasy; 2016)
Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood (contemporary realistic; 2015)*

Perfect Couple by Jennifer Echols (contemporary realistic; 2015; has two companion novels)*
The Last Best Kiss by Claire LaZebnik (contemporary realistic; 2014)

The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas (fantasy; 2013; first in trilogy)
On the Fence by Kasie West (contemporary realistic; 2014)

Forbidden by Kimberly Griffiths (historical; 2014)

The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope (historical; 1974)

For Teens Who Liked to Be Kicked in the Feels

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston* (contemporary realistic; 2016)
Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina* (historical; 2016)

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee (historical; 2016)
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (historical 2016)

The Story of Owen and Prairie Fire by E.K. Johnston (fantasy; 2014 and 2015)

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds (contemporary realistic; 2015)*

Tried and True Pick:

 Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein*

For Teens Who Enjoy Books That Strongly Feature Families

Peas and Carrots by Tanita S. Davis (contemporary realistic; 2016)
The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos (contemporary realistic; 2016)

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston (fantasy; 2015)
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older (fantasy; 2015)*

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby (fantasy; 2015)*

*These books contain one or more of the following: strong language, sexual content, or underage drinking/drug age. If you have specific questions about any title, I'm happy to answer them. This not to warn you away from them. They wouldn't be on this list if I didn't think they were excellent books worth reading, but as I work with some teens who shy away from these topics, I want to give fair warning.