Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Death Cloud

I have been torn about reading Death Cloud by Andrew Lane for some time. On the one hand, it is about a  teenage Sherlock Holmes. On the other hand, the cover is highly mockable. I wouldn't be caught in public with this book sort of mockable. It makes it difficult to take the contents seriously. Then I saw a favorable review from a friend on Goodreads and decided to overcome my being content with chortling over the cover (the UK cover is so much better). I'm glad I did because this is an excellent example of YA historical fiction, a true honoring of the original character, and a fun mystery adventure story.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
It is the summer of 1868, and Sherlock Holmes is fourteen. On break from boarding school, he is staying with eccentric strangers—his uncle and aunt—in their vast house in Hampshire. When two local people die from symptoms that resemble the plague, Holmes begins to investigate what really killed them, helped by his new tutor, an American named Amyus Crowe. So begins Sherlock’s true education in detection, as he discovers the dastardly crimes of a brilliantly sinister villain of exquisitely malign intent.  

Sherlock Holmes is such an iconic character that I have to admire those who take him on and do it well. Andrew Lane has done it well. In this story you see the beginnings of the man who will be the great detective and the influences that formed him. I really really liked young Sherlock. He has a keen and intelligent mind but it is not fully trained. For that he has an excellent tutor who forces him to question, observe, think before judging. In his tutor's lessons fans of the original stories can see much of the tactics employed by Holmes, the detective. At the same time this young version of Sherlock is realistically young. He is insecure and unsure of himself. As someone who has read most of the original stories I enjoyed most of the hints of things to come. At the same time I can see a person who had never read those stories finding enjoyment in this developing character as well, even if they don't know to what it is all leading. This made me a little sad: Laudanum. Remembering the strange dreams that he'd had after he had been drugged, while he was being taken to France, Sherlock felt a twinge of-what? Melancholy, perhaps. Wistfulness. Surely not...longing? Whatever the feeling was, he pushed it away. He'd heard stories about people becoming dependent on the effects produced by laudanum, and he had no desire to go down that route. None at all. Poor Sherlock. I have to confess I did miss the presence of Watson. I don't know that I had realized how full of an impression he makes on the stories before, but not having him there made me notice. Sherlock does have two other friendly sidekicks, one of which is a lovely girl who Sherlock most definitely has more than friendly feelings towards. 

All in all this book is good fun whether your a fan of the iconic detective or just interested in mystery set in Victorian England. This is the beginning of the series. There are currently four books out in the UK (with lovely intriguing covers). The second book will be released in the US in April under the altered title, Rebel Fire (can we please get better covers here?).

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Dragon of Cripple Creek

The Dragon of Cripple Creek by Troy Howell is a book about a dragon guarding gold in an Old West mine and the girl who discovers him and his dragon gold. There is also an interesting sibling story thrown in.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
When Kat and her father and brother visit the Mollie Kathleen, an old gold mine now open for tours by the busload, Kat gets lost from the group and falls down a shaft, where she discovers an awe-inspiring world of fantasy come to life. She meets an ancient dragon—the last of his kind—and discovers a secret about the gold that litters the creature's den and why dragons throughout time have hoarded the sparkling treasure. The dragon helps Kat escape the endless caverns, but not before Kat greedily takes a piece of gold for herself. Feeling guilty, Kat decides to return it, but before she can do this she drops it in front of a group of visitors, and a media frenzy ensues. Soon the mining town is filled with gold seekers. In order to save the dragon and his gold, Kat and her brother must venture back into the mine to warn him. But will they get there in time? 

The novel has a lot going for it: adventure, siblings working together, a dragon. Most of it works very well too. Kat is a fun heroine, one who makes ridiculously bad decisions, but you can't help loving at the same time. Her brother is one of those characters I love, apparently lazy and a joker he is actually covering up a brilliant mind for trickery and subterfuge. I love the setting of the Old West tourist town too. Plus there's a dragon. All stories are improved when you add in a dragon. Especially one who knows so many big words. The book does suffer from being too long and getting lost in its own wordiness in the middle. Still it is a fun read for any one who likes a good dragon story or tall tale.

Friday, January 27, 2012


Warped by Maurissa Guibord takes a magically woven tapestry, the mythology of the Norn (Fates), and some time travel to tell a romantic story of destined love.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Tessa doesn't believe in magic. Or Fate. But there's something weird about the dusty unicorn tapestry she discovers in a box of old books. She finds the creature woven within it compelling and frightening. After the tapestry comes into her possession, Tessa experiences dreams of the past and scenes from a brutal hunt that she herself participated in. When she accidentally pulls a thread from the tapestry, Tessa releases a terrible centuries old secret. She also meets William de Chaucy, an irresistible 16th-century nobleman. His fate is as inextricably tied to the tapestry as Tessa's own. Together, they must correct the wrongs of the past. But then the Fates step in, making a tangled mess of Tessa's life. Now everyone she loves will be destroyed unless Tessa does their bidding and defeats a cruel and crafty ancient enemy.

This is a romantic fantasy more than anything else. There is confusion, angst, furtive glances, and several kissing scenes. (Including one where a bodice is undone-though not ripped.)  If you are a fan of romance, particularly the fated-and-impossible-to-fight type of love story this is one to add to your list. I am not so much a fan of that kind of romance, so this one didn't work for me on that level. I did enjoy Will's reactions to the modern world and Tessa's spirit and ability to problem solve. 

The story just required me to stretch my credulity a bit farther than it could go though. The entire modus operandi of the plot didn't make sense to me. You have this magical tapestry that is the key to your eternal life and existence and you box it and your journal chronicling all your dastardly deeds up in a crate and leave it in a house that's contents are to be auctioned while you fly off on your private jet? No way a mistake could be made there. Wouldn't it have been safer to just put the tapestry and book in a suitcase and take it with you? You have a private jet. It's not like you have to check baggage. Obviously without this inexplicable element Tessa would never have come across the tapestry and therefore there would be no story, but it bothered me the whole time I was reading. Other people might not be as bothered by this and therefore able to settle in and enjoy the story that is told.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Queen's Thief Week

My friend Chachic over at Chachic's Book Nook is hosting a week on her blog dedicated to the Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. If you go and peruse the My Favorite Things posts I have you will see these books come up quite a bit. It is my favorite series which contains my favorite book which contains my favorite character of all time. I have never written "reviews" for these books because I just don't know how. It is almost impossible to discuss all the whys and wherefores of loving something so much. Which is why Chachic is a genius for coming up with this awesome event where all of us who love these books can share little pieces of their brilliance and what they mean to us individually and this is my small contribution to that. Plot elements in the second book are hinted at here, there was no other way I could write it, but I managed to (mostly) avoid outright spoilers.
The picture used in the poster there for this event comes from the Japanese edition of The Queen of Attolia. I love this cover for oh so many reasons, but mostly because I think it captures the spirit of the book and its titular character the best of all the covers for this, my favorite book.

Much of the love for this series you will see poured out on its main character Gen, the sarcastic lazy vain arrogant brilliant hero we all fell for in the first book, The Thief. I fell for him just as hard as anyone and my love for him knows no bounds to be sure, but he is not my favorite character. Irene Attolia is. And let me say, for those familiar with the series and story, it was not something I had to grown into. It started from when she made her first appearance almost at the end of The Thief. The one and only scene she has in that book is fascinating. The way her presence hovers over the action in the rest of the book despite her physical absence only served to make me more curious about her. Then I read The Queen of Attolia and whoa. When I hit chapter three I literally cringed and not just because I was horrified on Gen's behalf. Even on a first read through I was concerned for her too. About what that action had cost her as a person. This is a credit to the immense talent of the author. Ms. Turner managed to create two characters who are in opposition to each other, yet both are sympathetic.

Why do I like this character so much?  I wrote about it more than a year ago in my favorite female character's post. Here is what I said: I LOVE her.  She is something rare, a female anti-hero. She is not evil.  She is not the antagonist.  She is a woman who has done some truly terrible things for some very good reasons.  And she has done some terrible things for less acceptable reasons.  Nothing about her character is comfortable.  Irene made some hard choices at a young age.  These choices were the best she could make for her people and the security of her throne but they were not good for her personally.  They isolated her and pushed her further and further behind a mask of power, ruthlessness and inaccessibility until that persona gradually started to become all she was.  Irene is brilliant.  She is a master strategist, a fantastic manager, has amazing patience, and a fierce control on her temper (mostly-one person tends to set it off).  She has a wry sense of humor.  She doesn’t enjoy her loneliness.  However, her inability to trust and rely on anyone slowly begins to erode her humanity away.  And she knows this and sees it happening.  This is the one area she is powerless to control though.  She can’t let down her guard while directing a war, managing her fractious barons, manipulating her enemies, and maintaining her country’s independence.  Someone else knows all that and recognizes that she, Irene the person, is worth saving from herself and offers her a lifeline.  The choice to take it is entirely in her hands but it costs her pride.  She makes the sacrifice of that pride with much reservation.  But this doesn’t change the essence of who Irene is.  She is still powerful, brilliant and ironic.  She can still freeze the blood in a man’s veins with a single glance.  She just has someone to help take the edges off her ruthlessness and allow her to be a woman as well as a queen.  ,

The part in bold is why I love the story in The Queen of Attolia so much. For me it is a book largely about the inexplicable nature of forgiveness and the power it has to release and transform. Some might (and do) question how forgiveness can be given to someone who has committed the wrong she has. I love that through her character we see how difficult it is to accept that forgiveness. It isn't simply about admitting you have done wrong. That's the first (and easiest) step. What comes next is so much harder, and Irene's struggles through the last third of Queen demonstrate this beautifully. 

While these are my favorite elements of the series there are so many other reasons why I keep coming for rereads. There is adventure, mystery, myth, complicated relationships of every type, intrigue, politics, war, some amazing fight scenes, and heart stopping moments (of  more than one variety). 

This is only one snap shot of what is a far more complex and engrossing tale which begins in the first book and continues to the fourth. (And will be continued further in the final two volumes of the series that are in the works.) For more of these snap shots check out the posts on Chachic's site: 
Post One:  How I Discovered the Series by Chachic of Chachic's Book Nook 
Post Two: The Thief and Secrets by Sherwood Smith (author of the wonderful Crown Duel and other books)
Post Three: On Sounis (meeting place for the seriously devoted fan) by Checkers (our fearless moderator)
Post Four: Gen as Hero by Melina Marchetta (another favorite author of several books including The Piper's Son)
Post Five: A Gen Acrostic by Holly of Book Harbinger
Post Six: Not Telling by Megan Whalen Turner (the amazing author herself)
Post Seven: Bibliovangelizing the Books by Angie of Angieville
Post Eight: The Queen's Thief, Sarah, and Book Pushing by Sarah Rees Brennan (author of The Demon's Lexicon trilogy and the wonderful lj sarahtales
Post Nine: Why I Adore The Queen's Thief Series by Ana of The Book Smugglers
Post Ten: How I Fell in Love with The Queen's Thief Series (and Why) by R.J. Anderson (another of my favorite authors-seriously this week is killing me-of The Faerie Rebels series and Ultraviolet)
Post Eleven: Looking Together in the Same Direction by Elizabeth Wein (an author whose books I need to read yesterday including The Sunbird)
Post Twelve: The Romance by Chachic of Chachic's Book Nook, the brilliant and awesome hostess of the festivities

Monday, January 23, 2012

And the Winners Are...

The winners of the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced this morning at the Midwinter Conference. Here they are in all their newly medaled glory. I'm a little sad because none of the books I wanted to win did. I am looking forward to reading the winners I haven't gotten to yet though.

The Geisel
Awarded to the author and illustrator of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers.
The Winner: Tales for Very Picky Eaters by Josh Schneider
The Honors: I Broke My Trunk by Mo Willems, I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen, See Me Run by Paul Meisel

The Printz Award
Awarded to the author of a work that exemplifies excellence in young adult literature.

The Winner: Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
The Honors: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, The Returning by Christine Hinwood (my review), Jasper Jones by Craig Silveym, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (my review)

The Caldecott
Awarded to the artist of the most distinguished picture book for children

The Winner: A Ball For Daisy by Chris Raschka
The Honors: Blackout by John Rocco, Grandpa Green by Lane Smith, Me Jane! by Patrick McDonald

The Newbery
Awarded to the author of the most distinguished work of American literature for children.

The Winner: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
The Honors: Inside Out and Back Again by Thannha Lai (my review), Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin

Congratulations to all!

Saturday, January 21, 2012


And what am I anticipating? Monday morning 7:45 AM Central time. This is when the ALA Youth Media Awards will be announced. I will be one of the people vying for those limited (10,000) virtual seats. Since I'm nice I will tell you that here is where you go to try for that. (Although anyone who really wants to watch it probably already knows that.) There is also a Twitter you can follow.

The awards are largely unpredictable because the committees change every year. Even if you have been following Calling Caldecott, Heavy Medal, and Someday My Printz Will Come you can still be taken by surprise on award day. So these are not predictions, just my thoughts, beginning with the award I'm most familiar with the criteria for (having actually participated at HM this year rather than just lurking) and the books that are contenders for it.

The Newbery
I will be a happy happy girl if any of the following books win or are given honors:
 My top spot vote in the HM mock went to Amelia Lost and I'm hoping it does win the day on Monday. If  The Cheshire Cheese Cat had been on the shortlist one of my votes would have gone to it.

Some other books I can see being candidates that I enjoyed (but not as much): the other books on the Heavy Medal shortlist, Inside Out and Back Again, Breadcrumbs, The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, and One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street.

The Printz
I haven't read nearly as many of the contenders for this one so this is all about me and the books I like basically. I really want to see one of these two win:

The Caldecott
I am completely unqualified to comment on this one at all really. It is given for the illustrations and art is not something I feel comfortable commenting on. Looking at the books discussed on Calling Caldecott this year though my personal favorite is:
I really like Grandpa Green and Heart and Soul as well though.

We shall know all on Monday. I will, as I did last year, post the results along with any short thoughts I may have. The problem is I teach on  Mondays, and while the early central start time will allow me to know all the winners before I leave I probably won't have time to do the post until later. So go to Heavy Medal. I'm sure they will have the results up faster.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars

And here is Most Anticipated Books of 2012 number two. I admit much of my anticipation for this one had to do with the experience of reading it alongside so many others. It was like a community event. Not that I don't enjoy John Green's work in and of itself, I just tend to want to like it more than I actually do. The Fault in Our Stars is no different. There is so much to love about the artistry in the writing itself and it is beautiful, witty, and heartbreaking, but there were elements of it that I just couldn't fully embrace, all of which had to do with me as the reader and not the book itself.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs... for now. Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault. Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

The book has everything one could wish for in a good book. Excellent characterization, tragedy mixed with acerbic humor, a well placed plot, and a story that is moving. Hazel and Augustus are, of course, mature beyond their years. They have had to face questions about life, death, and reality that most kids their age never think to contemplate. The book is really an examination of these questions: What is the meaning of life if there is one? What happens to us when we die? How does knowing we are going to die in the imminent future affect the decisions we make in the present? What is the purpose of living, even if it is for a shortened time? These are all excellent questions. Questions that should be asked and contemplated. I like these questions. I disagree with many of the answers Hazel and Augustus came up with but I loved that they sparked so much thought and could be the beginning of many interesting conversations. I really enjoyed the interactions between these two and their developing romance, which is the real thing: intellectual, emotional, and physical. Hazel is Green's first attempt to tell a story from the female perspective and he did an excellent job. Augustus Waters does take over the story though (or did for me). His sexy charismatic personality was hard not to fall for.

So yes, I enjoyed and appreciated the book. My problem? I actually guessed where the plot was going from my first reading of the synopsis back when it was revealed and had been hoping since then I was wrong. I wasn't, and that is not a fault in the book or the way it was written. That was just me wanting a different story than the one being told. To Green's credit he made me believe this is the only way the story could have gone despite my reservations, and yes I cried in all the requisite places, but I could never shake the sense that I was being manipulated into it, although not in the cheap sentimental way that so many cancer books are guilty of. I do wonder if my reaction to it would have been different if this book had come out before A Monster Calls. It may only be the comparison in my own  head between the two that made this one feel a little heavy handed toward the end.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Here it is, the first of my Most Anticipated Reads of 2012. Winterling by Sarah Prineas was well worth the anticipation. This is one of the books that just fit me and my mood perfectly.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
With her boundless curiosity and wild spirit, Fer has always felt that she doesn’t belong. Not when the forest is calling to her, when the rush of wind through branches feels more real than school or the quiet farms near her house. Then she saves an injured creature—he looks like a boy, but he’s really something else. He knows who Fer truly is, and invites her through the Way, a passage to a strange, dangerous land. Fer feels an instant attachment to this realm, where magic is real and oaths forge bonds stronger than iron. But a powerful huntress named the Mor rules here, and Fer can sense that the land is perilously out of balance. Fer must unlock the secrets about the parents she never knew and claim her true place before the worlds on both sides of the Way descend into endless winter. 

Yay for heroines who ask questions! Again. And again. And again. Until they finally get the answers they need. Also, yay for heroines who persist in what they know is right even when others say it is a lost cause. Fer had me smiling through the entire book, mostly because she is a bit different as a heroine. She is a thinker, compassionate, and true to her word. She meets what must be done head on and pours love and mercy on the people she meets. (I was also happy that not all of those she bestowed these traits on were very thankful for them. It gave the book a realistic quality that I appreciated.) At the same time she is scared of the unknown and not absolutely sure of herself. Rook was another favorite (the book focuses on him almost as much as it does on Fer) as I have a much acknowledged weakness for trickster characters with attitude. Especially when they are truly heroic and angry about it. That's always good reading.

There are many elements of the plot and world that will be familiar to most readers. The idea of a changeling, the Other world running not quite in  tandem with but crossing over ours, the concept of a Green Man (or Woman), an evil one who must be defeated to restore balance and what is proper. Prineas took all of these and really made them her own though. She has created a world that is beautiful and mysterious and conveys those things without being overly descriptive. She says much with few words, a trait I always appreciate in a writer. I actually had dreams about the story each night I was reading it and that doesn't happen to me often. Only when a writer has really been able to etch their world into my mind. 

Happily there will be a sequel coming out in 2013 titled Summerkin so there is more from this world to look forward too. (Most Anticipated of 2013 list already in the making.) 

Kate at Book Aunt posted a review for this where she talks about the Irish myths used in the story. Very interesting.

And tomorrow The Enchanted Inkpot will post an interview with Sarah Prineas about the book.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Literary Moms

When I did the post on my Favorite Sibling Stories months ago, it occurred to me that I should at some point tackle literary parents. The thought was rather daunting though as in Middle Grade and Young Adult novels, particularly the fantasy ones I mostly read, they are largely absent. My own wonderful Mom has a birthday coming up next week and as I was thinking about all that there is to celebrate about her and how great a mother she is, I was reminded of this again. For me personally moms in books don't impress me as much because they come nowhere close to being as great as the one I have. (It is the same for dads, I was well and truly blessed with both my parents, but I will tackle the dads in the next favorite things post.) There are some that do stand out and pop into my mind right away as I sat down to think about it.

Molly Weasley
She is in no way a perfect mother, but no mother is. (Being a mother drives this point home remarkably well.) This is part of why I like Molly so much. She is very real. Stressed, scattered, often short tempered, but she wants what is best for her children and shows clearly that she loves them. And she did a tremendously good job raising them. She had seven kids and in the end every single one of them chooses to stand up and do what is right even when in it means risking everything.

Mrs. Murry
Another mother who had to deal with massive amounts of stress while raising not exactly the easiest kids in the world. And she had to do it for some time without the help of her husband and the added burden of wondering what had happened to him. Even though she is not present for much of her children's stories, her impact is very much there. This year marks the 50th Anniversary of A Wrinkle in Time so it is a great time to reread it and rediscover how great a job she did raising such intrepid heroes.

The Dowager Duchess of Denver
Peter is all well and good as a literary crush. He is certainly one of mine.But can you imagine being the woman who had to raise him? Not to mention his obnoxious older brother and flighty sister. If she were real, the woman would deserve a medal. And she managed to keep her sense of humor about her at the same time. Her husband wasn't exactly helpful either. Yes, she was a Duchess so had nannies and the like to help her but it is clear from the books that she very much loves her children and was interested in their lives. Particularly Peter's as his is the focus of the books, but they show she loves and is interested in her other children as well. Some of my favorite parts of the Lord Peter series are the parts she is in and I absolutely adore all her journal entries included at the beginning of Gaudy Night.

And really that's all I've got. This is a sad short little list. Some others come to mind as good examples, but they never had much of an impact on me personally so I can't include them in a list of favorites. What about you, are there any you would add?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

My Unfair Godmother

I have been looking forward to reading Janette Rallison's My Unfair Godmother since I read her first novel about the neglectful fairy godmother Chrissy Everstar, My Fair Godmother (my review). The two novels only share her as a character and therefore can be read individually. In My Unfair Godmother Chrissy is back to wreak havoc in another teen's life by grossly misinterpreting her wishes.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Tansy Miller has always felt that her divorced father has never had enough time for her. But mistakenly getting caught on the wrong side of the law wasn't exactly how she wanted to get his attention. Enter Chrysanthemum "Chrissy" Everstar, Tansy's fairy in shining, er, high heels. Chrissy is only a fair godmother, of course, so Tansy's three wishes don't exactly go according to plan. And if bringing Robin Hood to the twenty-first century isn't bad enough for Tansy, being transported back to the Middle Ages to deal with Rumpelstiltskin certainly is. She'll need the help of her blended family, her wits, and especially the cute police chief 's son to stop the gold-spinning story from spinning wildly out of control.

In many ways this book is similar to its predecessor. Again you have a teen girl sent against her will into a fairy tale, a hot acquaintance of teenage girl ends up in the past for a longer period and is able to help her when she gets there, members of her family are also transported so defeating the magic becomes a team effort. I enjoyed the first novel and like Rallison's writing so the similarities didn't bother me. It was nice to be able to read something and know exactly what I was getting: a humorous yet thoughtful romantic story with fairy tale tropes and a happy ending. 

I admit that I was a little nervous about the fairy tale Rallison was tackling with this one. Rumpelstiltskin is such a disturbing tale that it is a difficult one to do a reimagining of and not veer into the creepy. It is just a creepy story. Rallison managed it though, baby and all, and how she did it was inventive. Tansy is sympathetic yet flawed as well and Hudson is a perfect fairy tale hero. I also enjoyed the story of Tansy's relationship with her father, stepmother, and stepbrother.

Overall I liked the first one a little better, mainly because I liked Tristan as a hero more than Hudson and I thought the first one was more amusing. This is a very nice one too for those looking for more of the same and I will certainly read it if Rallison ever writes a third installment.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Come Fall

Oberon, Titania, Puck. These were the reasons I was interested in reading Come Fall by A.C.E. Bauer. Take characters from A Midsummer Night's Dream and have them messing in the lives of middle schoolers? I'm so there. And I enjoyed the book as I expected, but not for the reasons I thought I would.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Lu Zimmer's best friend moved away last summer. Salman Page is the new kid in school. Blos Pease takes everything literally. Three kids who are on the fringe of the middle school social order find each other and warily begin to bond, but suddenly things start going wrong. Salman becomes the object of the school bully's torment, and Lu's pregnant mother has some unexpected complications. Is something conspiring against them? In fact, through no fault of their own, Salman and Lu have become pawns in a game of jealous one-upmanship between Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of Faery, with the mischievous Puck trying to keep the peace.

The story in Come Fall is told in third person limited, but the limited perspective switches from chapter to chapter between the three kids. Puck's chapters are in first person from his point of view. This is one of those books that does not necessarily deliver on the Faery meddling promise so much. If you took out the six  chapters Puck narrates this book becomes nothing more than a contemporary fiction novel about three middle school students who are outsiders. Even in the brief encounters with Faery we only get background information that explains why things are happening to the protagonists. The Faery world and the real world never actually meet. With the exception of some remarkable encounters with a crow the children never encounter anything that hints at the other worldly. If I had been in a different mood when I read it this might have annoyed me. However, I liked Bauer's writing and the characters of Salman and Lu enough that it didn't.  I do wonder how a child reader who was looking for a fantasy read would feel about the more subtle use of the magical elements here, especially as they would most likely be unfamiliar with the source material for the Faery characters.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Past Perfect

My parents moved to Virginia two weeks after I started college. They live a 20-30 minute, depending on traffic, drive from Colonial Williamsburg. I have been many times. While there I have never wanted to ask the actors if they are hot. I know they are hot. I'm hot and I don't have 20 pounds of clothes on. I have always wondered about the other lives of these people who spend their whole day pretending to be someone else in a different world. I was excited to see Leila Sales had written a story about  this in her contemporary YA novel Past Perfect, which I devoured in one afternoon and thoroughly loved. (Also, I love the cover even if it has nothing to do with the actual story.)

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

All Chelsea wants to do this summer is hang out with her best friend, hone her talents as an ice cream connoisseur, and finally get over Ezra, the boy who broke her heart. But when Chelsea shows up for her summer job at Essex Historical Colonial Village (yes, really), it turns out Ezra’s working there too. Which makes moving on and forgetting Ezra a lot more complicated…even when Chelsea starts falling for someone new. Maybe Chelsea should have known better than to think that a historical reenactment village could help her escape her past. But with Ezra all too present, and her new crush seeming all too off limits, all Chelsea knows is that she’s got a lot to figure out about love. Because those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it….

My college made us Elementary Ed majors have what they called a "Concentration" in another subject area. It was more hours than a minor but not enough to qualify as a second major (but almost-kind of annoying). Mine was in History. So I think I came at this novel from a perspective that most readers who just enjoy romantic contemporary YA probably do not. Reading this was a complete nerdfest for me. The characters in this book are my people. (Yes, I do know real life people who participate in Civil War reenactments.) Chelsea states at the beginning that teens who want to work at Essex are 1)history nerds or 2) drama  geeks. Having proudly been a member of both of those groups I really enjoyed all the characters. Especially Chelsea, who doesn't realize it in the beginning, but is a member of both groups herself. I very much like how in portraying some of the characters as those stereotypes, Sales also showed that individually they were all so much more than that. I thought the way the friendship between Chelsea and Fiona was portrayed was wonderful. They are two complicated girls who really care for each other and want to support each other. I also enjoyed the way Chelsea's break up recovery was dealt with. When you are 16, losing your first love is devastating, even if he is kind of a jerk. Usually you can't see that. I was impressed with how realistic, without being overly dramatic that situation was.

The overly dramatic element was there in the war the Colonial reenactors have with the Civil War reenactors and Chelsea's forbidden flirtation with one of the enemy camp. I liked the relationship, but felt that the most dramatic element of it was a little unnecessary. There was enough going on to create tension without adding that and I had a difficult time reconciling it with Chelsea's character. However, I was able to overlook this because of all the things I did like about the story.

Particularly the history stuff. My favorite scene in the book is from p246-251 where Chelsea and her father are having a bonding moment over a discussion of the perceptions we have of history. Loved. Every. Word.
 Also this quote (which occurs later): "My parents took me to Ren Faire one weekend when I was little, because they thought it would be a fun family outing. When we saw the stage of half-naked dancers, we immediately turned around and left. Not because my parents thought it was inappropriate for their child to see barely dressed women. Just because thy thought it was inappropriate for their child to see such offensive historical inaccuracies." This pretty much sums up why my kids are not allowed to watch Pocahontas.

Note on Content: There is mention of alcohol being available at a party Chelsea attends (though she does not partake). There are also some mild make out scenes.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street

One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street by Joanne Rocklin has one of the most complicated and difficult to remember titles of any book I've come across in a long time. It is title worth trying to remember though as it is a wonderful heartwarming story of friendship and community and the magic in everyday life.

The story follows the lives of the citizens on Orange Street over the course of a day and a half and centers on the vacant lot with the lone standing orange tree where the children play. The third person narrative switches perspective between three 9 year old girls, one 11 year old boy, an elderly woman who has lived on Orange Street her entire life, the mysterious man, and even the orange tree. Ali is dealing with how his sickness has changed her brother. Leandra is trying to reconcile herself to the arrival of a new sister. Bunny is overcome with fears and worry over her mother's business traveling. Robert is trying to deal with his parents divorce and impress Ali so that she will be more like she used to be. Ms. Snoops is forgetting more and more as each day goes by but is comforted watching the children play in the vacant lot near her home. All of these stories are linked through the relationships of the people involved and the events in one day and one morning on their street involving the mysterious man and an equally mysterious orange cone that appears in front of the vacant lot.

There are a lot of characters and events here and yet I never got them confused or mixed up. Each of the girls, who would have been the easiest confuse, has a distinct personality and different family dynamic. All of the events form each character's personality and are woven together into one beautiful narrative thread. Rocklin managed do to all of this in 200 pages. The story is full and rich and not at all bloated. In a time where so many MG novels are hitting the 350-400 page mark, I lift my hat to Rocklin for this. What I enjoyed most about the book was the emphasis on community in all its variations, family, friends, neighbors and how what we do affects the people we are in community with. There were times when this theme was a little loud and felt like it was being hammered at which is my one and only quibble with the book in general.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Scorpio Races

Confession time. I read several reviews that called The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater a supernatural YA version of Misty of Chincoteague. Confession One: I have never read Misty of Chincoteague. Bit has to read it for school next year and I have been putting off reading it because, Confession Two: I don't want to. Why? Confession Three: I don't like horse stories. Never have. This is because, Confession Four: I don't really care for horses. (And don't get why so many people do.) I was very eager to read The Scorpio Races though. Apparently all it takes for  me to be interested in a horse story is for the horses in question to be rapacious fey creatures who devour their riders when they fall off. What that says about me as a human being I'm not sure.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die. At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them. Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

I can see why so many people have fallen in love with this book. Stiefvater's prose is beautiful and atmospheric. I really enjoyed her descriptions of the capaill uisce. She made them true creatures. They were very much beasts and their instinctive nature is to kill. It is only through firm careful control that they can be tamed by man. The novel is also paced well, covering the month before the race and the events leading up to it. There are a couple scenes that were a bit repetitive, but for the most part the plot kept me wanting to read all the way to the end, if only to discover how Stiefvater was going to resolve all the conflicts.

I also enjoyed, for the most part, the unfolding relationship between Puck and Sean. It was exactly the sort of relationship I like to read about. It was a slow moving one between people who shared a connection, but are also pitted against each other in a contest with high stakes. They approach what is between them with a realistic amount of caution mixed with intrigue.

Yet, I found myself not really caring much. Sean is so strong and silent that even when the story is from his point of view I felt like I didn't know him at all. What made him tick and why he loved these creatures so much despite all he had lost to them. Puck I just didn't understand. She made some inexplicably reckless decisions. I had a hard time swallowing her original motivation for taking such risks, and then wondered what she was thinking after all she witnessed. I found the "villains" in the story to be simple type characters. One in particular. I didn't love the book as much as I could have because the characterization didn't work for me. Maybe it all goes back to me not understanding the horse/human connection thing.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Most Anticipated 2012 Reads AND a Challenge

It looks like another great year of reading is starting. There are several books coming out this year by authors I fell in love with in 2011 and I am excited for new installments in several series I enjoy. Here are some of the books I'm most looking forward to.

Winterling by Sarah Prinneas (January)
I love the cover. I love the premise. I read Prinneas's Magic Thief books this year and adored them so I am very  much excited to get my hands on this one. Here is a very enticing book trailer you can watch to raise the excitement level even more.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (January)
If you read the synopsis of this book you kind of have to wonder how anyone could say they were excited about reading it. (Although masses of people are.) It is most likely going to be gut wrenching and heart breaking. But it is John Green so it will also be humorous and probably awesome. (I confess the only other John Green I've read is Looking for Alaska so I can not be counted as one of his super loyal fans, but I so admire the way the man writes. I should really get on reading his other books this year too.)

Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley (February)
I have been wanting to read this book since it was released in Australia and the blogoshpere lit up with reviews on its awesomeness. It is finally releasing in the US this year and I am looking forward to experiencing it for myself. And while I loved the simplicity of the Australian cover, I very much like the new US cover as well.

Swift by R.J. Anderson (March-UK)
I adore Anderson's Faerie books and Swift is the most recent installment. This takes the story to a new location and follows a new character, Ivy, a faery born without wings who longs to fly like her fellows.

Peaceweaver by Rebecca Barnhouse (March)
This book is the one I am anticipating the most. I can not tell you how eager I am to get my hands on it. The Coming of the Dragon was one of my favorite reads of 2011. (I actually read it twice.) I have been waiting for this book since I reached the end of that one and realized that there was so much more to the silent Hild than there appeared to be. I dare you to read that book and not desperately long for her story just as much. Also, I love the beauty in the ideal of a Peaceweaver, and all the harsh complexities that are the reality of it. Plus that cover-oh oh oh.

Renegade Magic by Stephanie Burgis (April)
Already released in the UK under the title A Tangle of Magicks, this is the second installment of the Kat Stephenson books. I read the first one Kat Incorrigible when it came out. Twice actually, because I read it aloud to my daughter. I have a feeling I will be doing that with this one as well. Bit really likes Kat.

The Drowned Vault by N.D. Wilson (September)
This is the next installment of N.D. Wilson's Ashtown Burials. The first book, The Dragon's Tooth, was a 2011 favorite too. I am also excited to see what the cover for this is going to look like.

Crown of Embers by Rae Carson (October)
I really enjoyed Girl of Fire and Thorns and am interested to see where Carson is taking the story in this second volume. Again, another cover reveal I'm looking forward to.

We are also supposed to get the sequel to Shannon Hale's Princess Academy this year. There isn't an official date on that one yet though. (Or title.) I am thrilled she wrote a sequel as it wasn't something I was expecting, and it will be great to revisit those characters and see how they are getting on.

2012 will be the year I'm going to participate in my first challenge. Granted, I am starting out way easy. This is one that won't be so difficult for me. The Book Cellar is hosting a 2012 YA/MG Fantasy Reading Challenge. You can find out the information about it here. Even if you don't want to participate in the challenge Erica has compiled a great spreadsheet of all the YA/MG Fantasy book coming out in 2012. It is a wonderful resource if you like the genre.