Thursday, August 21, 2014

Courting Magic

I have made not secret about how much I adore Stephanie Burgis's Regency fantasy Kat Incorrigible books. When I closed that last page of Stolen Magic, I was left feeling satisfied with the end of Kat's story in those books, but I couldn't help wanting more. When Stephanie started talking about a novella she was writing that would take place upon Kat's debut into society and her own romance, I was beyond thrilled. Courting Magic is everything I wanted it to be. It left me with a huge grin on my face that hasn't faded. It is, in fact, only growing larger as I type this and think about it all over again. 

In Kat Stephenson's Regency England, magic is even more shocking than a stolen kiss. But now that she's eighteen, it's time for wild and magical Kat to be introduced to high society by her older sisters, whether she likes it or not...and to finally have a romance of her own!
Of course, her true love is hopelessly ineligible. But when has Kat ever let Society's opinion stop her from making up her own mind? Once she realizes she's found her perfect match, she's not going to let anything or anyone stand in their way - even if she does have to solve a magical mystery, matchmake for an old friend, and break a few rules along the way!

Kat has aged well in the five years since the end of her adventures in Stolen Magic. She has learned to control her tongue and temper. She is still irrepressibly Kat though. Her family still treat her like the girl she was though, telling her what to do, talking over her at times, and not crediting her with the sense that time and experience have instilled in her. I enjoyed this element because this is so true to life. Our families know us so well, but they don't always see us the clearest because they are too close. Mr. Gregson on the other hand, seems to fully trust Kat. He has seen his years of training pay off time and time again. She is a full-fledged guardian and fighter against evil magic. It is rather impressive. Most of the characters from the previous novels make a reappearance here. I didn't realize how badly I needed to see how Lucy's life turned out, until there she was. Her role in this story is marvelous. Reading this is like attending a reunion where I just want to sit and watch these people I love interact with each other. It was incredibly well done.

The plot involves a magical mystery that must be solved. Kat and her entrance into Society set the perfect scene for an undercover operation that involves her taking on three others with guardian magic as her would-be suitors, all of them in the pursuit of justice. Shenanigans of the hilarious and romantic variety ensue. Kat helped all three of her siblings into true love and it was so rewarding to see her find her own. I don't want to spoil much about that, but the romantic element is well done. There is everything that makes a good romance: amusing banter, heated looks, some misunderstanding, and some pretty great kissing. The hero is everything Kat deserves in a partner and their whole dynamic in this story is just lovely.

If you have young MG age fans of the original trilogy in your life and you are wondering at letting them read this, have no fear. There is some kissing and giddy descriptions of attraction, but nothing more than kids this age generally get from movies and other books for their own age group. I let Bit read it (and she loved it too). 

Basically this book was all that I could have asked for. Happiness bubbled up inside me as I was reading it, like I was a bottle of soda being shaken up. It just made me effervescent when I was done, walking around grinning like a fool.

Stephanie self-published this and here is her post on all the places you can purchase it if you wish. (And you should most definitely wish to.) 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Greenglass House

Kate Milford is one of my favorite authors, and I don't think her books get the attention and love they so deserve. She writes unique stories with such care and attention to detail. Greenglass House is different from her previous two novels in setting and plot, but no less excellent in its execution, unique voice, and brilliant storytelling. 

It's wintertime at Greenglass House. The creaky smuggler's inn is always quiet during this season, and twelve-year-old Milo, the innkeepers' adopted son, plans to spend his holidays relaxing. But on the first icy night of vacation, out of nowhere, the guest bell rings. Then rings again. And again. Soon Milo's home is bursting with odd, secretive guests, each one bearing a strange story that is somehow connected to the rambling old house. As objects go missing and tempers flare, Milo and Meddy, the cook's daughter, must decipher clues and untangle the web of deepening mysteries to discover the truth about Greenglass House-and themselves.

Greenglass House has so many elements I love: an old house that needs exploring, guests trapped in an Inn with a mystery happening, intrepid children who embrace their imaginations and save the day. And it's Christmas. What more could you ask for? I can not stress enough how much this book seems just tailor made for me. Every single aspect of it is one that I love and Milford's writing is so clever here.  The book has a rather nostalgic feel to it, but not in an old tired way, rather the same way the Penderwick books feel nostalgic to adult readers but kids still love them. I think Greenglass House will have a similar effect on both groups of readers. Milford builds her mystery slowly. In the tradition of all the great mystery writers she introduces each player one at a time giving the reader a glimpse at who they are and setting them in their places on the chess board of her story. The house itself even feels like a character as Milo shows each guest to the room they will occupying as they are all snowed in the week before Christmas. Not everyone is who they claim to be, none of them are honest about why they are there, and one of them is actually dangerous. All are connected through the house in some way and it is the house that has brought them all together. When Milo finds a strange map and then it is taken from him, he and Meddy team up to try and uncover the mysteries which are numerous and are leading them to uncovering buried truths of the past. This requires exploring the house, questioning the guests, and in a stroke of brilliance on Milo's part, having them each tell a story to entertain the others at night as they are trapped by the snow. These stories help Milo and Meddie piece together the mystery and reveal fascinating details about everyone's past. I enjoyed how this showed the interconnectedness of everyone and forged a community amongst the guest that would never have come about without it. The stories in themselves are fun too.

Milo is the central character and,while all the characters are drawn well, he is the one that connects everyone and pulls everything together. He is a typical kid looking forward to a few days of peace to begin his winter vacation. The Inn doesn't normally have guests before Christmas. He even does all of his homework on the first afternoon so it will be out of the way. When the guests begin to arrive, he is less than pleased. While  he does what his parents require of him, it is with enough reluctance and temper that it strikes the perfect chord for a child his age. Milo is of Chinese descent and is adopted. This is another thing about his character that is really well done. He loves his parents, but he wonders about his birth parents too. He sometimes goes as fas as imagining he was still with his birth parents in a family that looks like him. At other times he even imagines what his life would be like if someone else had adopted him. He feels so conflicted and guilty about these fantasies. I really loved how Milford used this to make him relatable and also into something more than a cliche' of a character. Milo's struggles with adoption are real but not dramatic or a huge issue. In order to solve the mystery Milo and Meddy adopt role-playing characters and this too was a lot of fun. Milo is skeptical at first but soon embraces the idea that he can imagine himself to be whoever he wants with the skills necessary to do what must be done. He  is surprised to find he is actually able to take on his character so well. Meddy is more shy and withdrawn, always hiding from the other occupants and only talking to Milo. She is his silent shadow and her role is to observe and collect information, which she does very well. They are a great team and wonderful foils for each other as they work to uncover the mystery.

Milford has combined the best elements of mystery, history, folklore, and reality to weave a wonderful tale that is both thoughtful and adventurous. The action is not page-turning exciting, but the way Milford writes kept me hooked and wondering what would happen next. The language and imagery is so well done, and this book would make a great read aloud, particularly during the month leading up to Christmas. I plan on rereading it myself during that time. Greenglass House has shades of both Agatha Christie and Charles Dickens, but is wholly its own story and told in such a way that it will be enjoyed by kids and adults alike. 

I read an ARC received from the publisher, Clarion Books, at ALA Midwinter. Greenglass House is for sale on August 26. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Million Ways Home

Honestly what attracted me to A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget was the cover. That cover attraction proved to be really strong because I usually do not jump on books whose descriptions begin with: "A moving middle-grade story about love, loss, and the unlikely places we find home." Because that usually screams guidance-counselor-fiction-looking-for-grown-up-readers-who-will-force-it-on-kids to me. I try to avoid those. I'm so happy that I didn't avoid this one because it does not read like those books at all and I adored it.

Poppy's life has been turned upside down after her grandma (and guardian) had a stroke and ended up in the hospital. But Poppy is working on a plan to help Grandma Beth so their life together can go back to normal. But when she witnesses an armed robbery, "back to normal" slips even further out of her reach. To keep Poppy safe, the budget-strapped police devise an unusual "witness protection program," wherein Poppy will stay with Detective Brannigan's mother. Soon Poppy is feeling almost at home, even making sort-of friends with a girl named Lizzie and definitely friending Gunner, a beautiful dog with an uncertain fate. But it's still not home. So while she and Lizzie navigate a rocky friendship and plot to save Gunner's life, Poppy also tries to figure out a new plan to save Grandma Beth and their home, all while avoiding a dangerous robber who might be searching for her. But what if Grandma Beth can never come home and the robber is put behind bars? What will happen to Poppy then?

Poppy makes so many decisions that are not well thought out or anywhere close to being good. She is impulsive and headstrong, a dangerous combination. And more than one time over the course of the novel danger is exactly what it lands her in. Poppy is also a girl with a huge heart and a desire to keep a place for herself in the world. Her life is spiraling out of control and she wants to regain balance. Fortunately for her the impulsive decisions and danger bring a police detective, his mother, a lonely girl, and a dog in need of love into her life. She changes them and they change her and it is a lovely story to read, one about relationships, cause and effect, and discovery. The characters and their relationships are at the core of this novel. Poppy and her grandmother are close and her grandmother works hard to do what is best for her. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the relationships develop between Poppy and Trey and Marti. Trey is the detective in charge of Poppy and Marti is his mother. The relationship between Trey and Marti is a wonderful one as well. Relationships between an adult and their parent are often not seen much in MG fiction unless central to a generational story involving the child so it was refreshing to see. It is not focused on, but it is there and it is a great thing. One thing I really appreciated about this book is all the adults behaved the way you would expect adults to behave. They were adults. That is something that shouldn't be quite so rare in MG fiction, but is. 

There is a whole lot of dramatic action in this plot, some of it violent and full of terror. It causes the book to get off to a crazy start and sucks you in until the very end. I had a very hard time putting it down. It is a book about relationships, home, and family, but there is also a murder investigation going on and a suspect on the loose with the protagonist right in the middle of all that. It makes for an engrossing read. I felt that the drama was not overblown though, it was exactly realistic enough and kept the danger at a distance that is close enough to see as real, but not frighten a child reader. I will also add that this book had its sad moments. I'm not a crier when I read, but this book had me tearing up. I did think the plot and end were predictable (then again I'm an adult reader with years of experience), but the emotions behind the end were strong and conveyed in a perfect non-sappy way. 

A Million Ways Home is a great choice for those who enjoy realistic fiction, thrillers, animal stories, or just darn good books.

I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Scholastic Press, via NetGalley.  Million Ways Home goes on sale August 26th. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Favorite Historical Fiction Novels

Historical Fiction is a topic I've never covered on My Favorite Things before. That's because I don't read as much historical fiction as fantasy or contemporary. If I'm reading historical, I'm usually reading non-fiction, but there are a few authors of historical fiction I will absolutely read no matter what.

Anything by Elizabeth Wein (And not just Code Name Verity or Rose Under Fire, read her Ancient Ethiopian books too!)

Anything by Gary Schmidt (And may I say, it has been too long since we've had a new Gary Schmidt.)

Anything by Rosemary Sutcliff:

 Mara Daughter of the Nile:

And because these are great historical fiction with a splash of fantasy:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Coming Soon: Cybils Season

Fall. It is a time of crisp golden leaves, sweaters, cold-but-not-too-cold air, and, most important, the Cybils begin. What are the Cybils you may ask? Only the most wonderful and fun book award given in all genres and age categories for children's literature.

I've followed the Cybils for several years now. I began by just watching it all unfold, following closely as nominations came in, then the shortlists, and finally the winners. I loved it then. I stuck my toes in the water of actually participating by nominating books. I loved it even more as I watched the process unfold and eagerly waited to see if my nominations made it to the next round. Last year was my first year as Round One panelist. I can not tell you how much fun I had. It was like Christmas and my birthday all rolled into one. Reading the books, meeting and getting to know some bloggers I didn't already, and discussing our love of books and children's literature together. It was a great experience.

Well if this sounds like fun you are interested in having, the call for judges is coming soon. From August 18-September 5 you can visit the Cybils site where you will be directed toward the form to fill out if you want to volunteer. It is a lot of work and a time commitment, but is well worth it in my opinion. Here is the FAQ page if you are curious or want more information.

Now excuse me while I go try and figure out what posts I will submit with my application. I will only change my mind 100 times between now and Monday.