Wednesday, December 13, 2017

2017 Book Survey

Jamie at Perpetual Page Turner hosts this fun end of year reading survey every year. It's a fun way to look back on the past years reading and blogging highs and lows. I had more lows this year. This is the first year since my kids were babies I've read this few new-to-me books. 

New-to-Me Books Read: 105

Genre Read Most From: Contemporary Romance (Was NOT expecting that.)

MG Realistic: Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson
MG Speculative: Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood

YA Realistic: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
YA Speculative: Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner

Contemporary Romance: A Crown of Bitter Orange by Laura Florand
Historical Romance: Beauty Like the Night by Joanna Bourne

Friday, December 8, 2017

Characters Who Stole My Heart in 2017

It's time for one of my favorite posts of the year. Character is what drive me to read so much, and the new characters I fall in love with every year hold a special place in my heart. 2017 has not been the greatest of years. Mostly it just feels interminable. Looking back on my reading stats, memories are fuzzier than they are. I've thought several times, "Oh. That was this year. It feels like more time has passed." All that to say, the characters who made it on this year's list truly earned their places there.

Kamet from Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner

I am cheating my own rules a little here as I typically do not feature characters from series I've already started (especially if said character was introduced in a previous book). But if anyone deserves to have rules broken for them, it is in Megan Whalen Turner, and in Kamet she created such a wonderful character. He fascinated me from his introduction in The Queen of Attolia even with the little we saw of him. I always hoped he would make a comeback in a later book. I was so pleased that his story was everything I wanted it to be and more. I adore his snark, humor, his arrogance, the way he overthinks, and the way he grows into himself over the course of his journey.

Rosa Lee Carter from Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson

Midnight Without a Moon was my first read of 2017, and though that feels like ages ago, Rose's story has stuck with me while I've completely forgotten most other books I read in January. Rose is a fierce, lion-hearted, smart girl and her story is equal parts life affirming and heart breaking. It is also full of all the hope she has for the future. She is also a snark queen. I can not wait to read more about her when the sequel arrives next year.

Aventurine and Co. from The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

I adore characters who take charge of their lives even when they have lost something precious to them. That inner spirit that propels a person to keep going never fails to capture my imagination and sympathy. If the character is a dragon, how much better is that? Aventurine finds ways to make the best of some truly difficult situations with grit, determination, and a fierce determination to protect what she loves. She doesn't do this alone. Every character in this book is memorable, and, whether Aventurine's friend or family, profoundly helps shape who she is and the outcome of her story.

The Whole Carter Family Immediate and Extended (but especially Starr) from The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I can't remember another time such a large cast of characters sank themselves so deeply into my hearts and would not let go the way the way the people in this book did. From page one Thomas's prose had me loving Starr, and as a result, everyone she loved in turn. They all earned their places on their own merit eventually, but it was through Starr that they came to life. I love the family and community dynamics in this book. They are complicated, layered, and difficult. The people are flawed and wonderful and real. Starr definitely stands out as having the strongest voice of any character I've read all year. Starr is magnificent in every way.

What characters have captured your heart in a special way this year?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Shorter Musings (MG)

Here are some shorter musings on recent MG fantasy reads.

Dragon's Green by Scarlett Thomas
This is the first book in a new series. The world suffered from a global earthquake that took out the Internet and changed everything. There is also magic, a school for special children, secret societies, and a quest. The group of kids the story centers around is wonderful. They each have a talent and a special thing to do. It reads as a real life RGP. The writing is good though a trifle stilted in some places. You can tell the author thinks she knows how one is supposed to write for/talk to children, but is a little rusty on actual practice in this area. But overall, it is a fun engrossing read. It is definitely a great recommendation for fantasy obsessed MG readers.

Ghosts of Greenglass House  by Kate Milford
Fans of the first Greenglass House book will be happy to see most of their favorite characters return here. In a many ways the plot rehashes a lot of what was done in the first book. I found myself not quite as into it as I was expecting. There are a lot of extraneous details, and at times the plot feels confused and jumbled. Milford's descriptive prose is in evidence throughout the book and it does have a very grounded sense of place.

 Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls by Beth McMullen
This is a must have for any upper elementary classroom or library. The action centers on a girl who finds herself attending a boarding school that is not quite what it seems. She learns a lot of secrets about her mother and her past. There is a wonderful team of classmates who work together on a quest to figure out where Abigail's mother has gone and what she discovered before she disappeared. It requires a good deal of suspension of disbelief for adult readers, but should be a perfect recommendation for those kids who like watching K.C. Undercover or simply enjoy the idea of adults relying on kids to save the world.

Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh
This is a creepy ghost story. Really creepy in some places. It is a perfect book to have on hand for kids who enjoy the scary kind of ghost stories and want to read about kids battling ghosts. It is well written with excellent world building and fully rounded characters. It is a hard book to put down. (I was forced to put it down for a little while and couldn't wait to get back to it.) The pacing and the plotting keep the reader engrossed until the very end. Also it's a sibling story so it gets bonus awesome points of that.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora

The Epic Fail of  Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya is a book I found via the new arrival shelf at the library. (Yay libraries!) I am so happy I found it too. It is an excellent book about family and community centered around the Cuban restaurant Arturo's family owns.

Arturo has high hopes for the summer. He will be working in his family's restaurant earning money. His mom's goddaughter, Carmen, is visiting and suddenly he is feeling all kinds of things in his gut he is unused to. When a greasy developer tries to convince the city council that what Arturo's Miami neighborhood needs is a high rise, the restaurant his family owns and runs (but is in a building they lease) is threatened. Arturo is determined to save the day, win the girl, and make his Abuela, who pours her heart into the restaurant, community and its people, proud.

The kids in this book, with Arturo in the lead, are wonderful. I loved the entire cast of characters. Arturo is definitely going to be a favorite of mine for a while. His inner voice is perfect. Confused, frustrated, impatient, cocky, snarky, insecure-it runs the gamut of middle school emotions perfectly. His two best friends are foils for him in different ways and help the reader get to know Arturo quickly and well. The interactions between the three are amusing and realistic. Carmen is also wonderful. She and her father are staying in Miami for the summer following the death of Carmen's mother. She is still grieving, but is also a vibrant girl full of plans. She is reading poetry by Cuban revolutionary José Marti, which sparks an interest in the same in Arturo. Through this Arturo finds a connection to his Abuelo, who he discovers was a fan of Marti and even tried his hand at poetry himself.

Unlike a lot of MG novels, the adults are incredibly important in this book. The kids aren't fighting on their own. They aren't left to figure everything out and grieve and move on by themselves. There are times when Arturo takes matters into his own hands, but it isn't because the adults aren't present. And when those matters blow up in his face, he faces consequences and is loved by those adults. His entire family is wonderful and incredibly close. Several scenes take place during the family's Sunday dinners.

The plot of the book follows Arturo as he discovers what the land developer is up to and then tries to stop him. There is laughter, tears, anger, fights, and reconciliation. It is a story about friendship, first crushes, and community. At its core, it is a story about a boy who finds a connection between his present and his past. The main part of that centers on the relationship between Arturo and his Abuela, which is a beautiful story. I'm impressed by how well Cartaya was able to juggle all of this so well. He did an amazing job of balancing all these, while writing a book that is both fun and layered.

The setting of the book is crucial. The restaurant Arturo's family owns is the heart of their community. People come there to talk to Abuela as much as they come for the excellent food. Cartaya's descriptions of the restaurant bring it to vibrant life. I have to give him extra credit for describing how a restaurant kitchen works so well in a MG book. No idealization here. Another plus of this book is the untranslated Spanish it contains. The conversations between Arturo and his Abuela occur with her speaking Spanish and him responding in English. Through context, non-Spanish speakers (like me) can figure out what is being said. The inclusion of the Spanish is essential to making the book realistic and given the population of America's schools, we need more books that do this.

This book covers so many areas that MG age readers are looking for regularly in books, it is a must have for those who deal regularly with those kids.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Future Favorite Friday

This is the place where I highlight upcoming releases I'm excited for. I do it the second Friday of every month. Feel free to join in and write your own posts. Please link back to my blog and leave a comment if you do!

I enjoyed Roshani Chokshi's YA duology and was so excited to discover she has a MG fantasy coming out soon.

Twelve-year-old Aru Shah has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in at school. While her classmates are jetting off to family vacations in exotic locales, she'll be spending her autumn break at home, in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture, waiting for her mom to return from her latest archeological trip. Is it any wonder that Aru makes up stories about being royalty, traveling to Paris, and having a chauffeur?

One day, three schoolmates show up at Aru's doorstep to catch her in a lie. They don't believe her claim that the museum's Lamp of Bharata is cursed, and they dare Aru to prove it. Just a quick light, Aru thinks. Then she can get herself out of this mess and never ever fib again.

But lighting the lamp has dire consequences. She unwittingly frees the Sleeper, an ancient demon whose duty it is to awaken the God of Destruction. Her classmates and beloved mother are frozen in time, and it's up to Aru to save them.

The only way to stop the demon is to find the reincarnations of the five legendary Pandava brothers, protagonists of the Hindu epic poem, the Mahabharata, and journey through the Kingdom of Death. But how is one girl in Spider-Man pajamas supposed to do all that?
Intrigue. Politics. Fantasy. This month's YA choice seems to have all of them. And I can not wait to read it!!! And look at the beautiful cover.

Release Date: March 27, 2018 from Disney-Hyperion

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision. 

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

Release Date: February 6, 2018 from Disney-Hyperion

What upcoming releases are you looking forward to?