Friday, August 30, 2013


Fallout by Todd Strasser is an alternate history in which the Cuban Missile Crisis ends with an actual atomic bomb going off in the US. It chronicles the days a family and some of their neighbors spend in their fallout shelter following the blast. I was intrigued by the concept, but have mixed feelings about the result.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
In the summer of 1962, the possibility of nuclear war is all anyone talks about. But Scott’s dad is the only one in the neighborhood who actually prepares for the worst. As the neighbors scoff, he builds a bomb shelter to hold his family and stocks it with just enough supplies to keep the four of them alive for two critical weeks. In the middle of the night in late October, when the unthinkable happens, those same neighbors force their way into the shelter before Scott’s dad can shut the door. With not enough room, not enough food, and not enough air, life inside the shelter is filthy, physically draining, and emotionally fraught. But even worse is the question of what will -- and won’t -- remain when the door is opened again. Internationally best-selling author Todd Strasser has written his most impressive and personal novel to date, ruthlessly yet sensitively exploring the terrifying what-ifs of one of the most explosive moments in human history

The book alternates chapters back and forth between before and after. The odd chapters tell the story in the shelter, the evens the story of life in a 1960's neighborhood. 

The 1960's neighborhood story is an excellent work of historical fiction. One of the finest I've seen of the era. There are some scenes in which the neighborhood boys discuss sexuality in a way that may be disturbing to some young readers. Scott's best friend is always talking about wanting to see girls naked and he goes so far as to call Scott a "homo" at one point. Then tries to explain what that means. It is spot on accurate type of conversation for the time period, but I'm not sure it is entirely necessary for the purposes of the book. I would not use this with my students younger than 7th grade, and even then I would be careful. I don't know that students much older than that would find it engrossing though. 
The fallout shelter scenes have all the urgency and danger of dystopian fiction. Kids who like those type of books will be drawn to the story in this one. It is all about the struggle for survival as food runs short, water supplies are scarce, people are scared, and some are injured. I feel like this section sort of focused on the worst humanity has to offer rather than the best. The characters read more as caricatures than real people. Even the main character Scott always seemed distant. The book overall seemed more about the ideas and history than about the people, which is not the type of story I enjoy as much.

In the end this book wasn't the right fit for me as a reader, but I know there are many out there who will appreciate it. The writing is strong, the concept intriguing, and the plot engaging. 

Warning for Concerned Parents: There are some discussions of sexuality that may be disturbing for younger readers.

I read an e-galley provided to my the publisher, Candlewick, via NetGalley. Fallout will be available for purchase September 10. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dead Ends

I'm going to be honest. I was not expecting to like Dead Ends by Erin Jade Lange as much as I did. I read it in my quest to find more books to recommend to my high school students, and found myself completely caught up in the story and characters.

Dane Washington is one suspension away from expulsion. In a high school full of “haves,” being a “have not” makes Dane feel like life is hurtling toward one big dead end. Billy D. spends his high school days in Special Ed and he’s not exactly a “have” himself. The biggest thing Billy’s missing? His dad. Billy is sure the riddles his father left in an atlas are really clues to finding him again and through a bizarre turn of events, he talks Dane into joining him on the search.
A bully and a boy with Down syndrome makes for an unlikely friendship, but together, they work through the clues, leading to unmarked towns and secrets of the past. But they’re all dead ends. Until the final clue . . . and a secret Billy shouldn’t have been keeping. 

Bullying is the latest "issue" craze in books. I am already growing tired of it, but Lange did not make this a book about bullying. Dane beats up kids, but it is hard to paint him with the bully brush. He is far more complex than that simple word can even come close to conveying. He is not easy to like. He beats up people. He uses words that are not PC. His thoughts and attitude towards girls are not always appropriate or nice. Yet he does have standards. He won't just hit anyone. He loves and protects his mother. He is loyal, smart, and wants something better for himself. In other words he is as typically complicated as any average teenage boy. He's growing up in tough circumstances and has a lot of rough edges. With his sense of humor, sense of justice (distorted though it is), and dreams, I couldn't help but love him. Billy is also not completely likeable. AND I LOVE THAT. I love that Lange didn't try to make him the poor Special Ed kid who brings the bad kid around with all of his sweetness and light. Billy knows how to work his disability. He lies and manipulates. At the same time, he is vulnerable and in need of a friend. He too has a great sense of humor and hopes and dreams for the future.  The friendship that develops between the two is a real one, reluctant though Dane is to begin it. They each see the faults and strengths in the other. They both try to be protective and helpful in their own ways.

The plot is not fast paced or adventurous. This is a slower book. One that brings out the boys characters. It does have a puzzle, a mystery, and a road trip. This all revolves around missing fathers. Billy is desperate to find and see his dad again. He hasn't seen him since his mom took him and left. Dane has never known his father, and claims vehemently that he doesn't want to. Both boys are sort of lost, looking for answers and direction. There are so many times when they should have talked to their mothers and come up with excuses for why they shouldn't. Dane especially. Because Lange shows this process, it is believable. 

This is a great story that demonstrates the complexities of personality, friendship, and life.

Content: There are some make out scenes, Dane alludes to a few girls in a lewd manner, and strong language used. 

I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Bloomsbury USA, via NetGalley. Dead Ends is available for purchase on September 3.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

TTT: Secondary Characters

This week's TTT topic is Favorite Secondary Characters

I actually did a My Favorite Things Post on this a couple of years ago. Those names are still valid so I'm keeping them on the list (yay for copy and paste!), but there are certainly more I can add.

A friend, family member, teacher, enemy, however they may be connected to the main character there are some supporting characters that capture my attention (and love) just as much.  Some authors (Megan Whalen Turner) are crazy good at making the most minor characters seem fascinating with just a few sentences.  Sometimes, it just depends on who I connect with in a book.  I find myself wanting more of their story, to know what makes them tick.  In some cases I desperately want the author to get to work already, and deliver a novel about that character.  In some cases, I like being left with the devices of my own imagination.  Either way there some secondary characters that have completely captured my devotion.

Chaz Santangelo (Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta)
I just love him.  I'm going to admit it: I love him more than Jonah Griggs. I liked him a lot the first time, but the second time through I fell hard.  I think he is awesome and he intrigues me.  Marchetta could have made him a mere plot pusher, the one who reveals certain truths to Taylor, but she gave him a fully realized personality and some amazing lines.

Rob (Rebel (UK)/ Wayfarer (US) by R.J. Anderson)
Rob has many characteristics I like in male characters so it is not really surprising that I find him so fascinating.  There are several mysterious incidents in his past mentioned (one major very dark one in particular) that really make me want to know his entire story and how he came to where he now is.

Bunter (Strong Poison, et al. by Dorothy Sayers) 
I admit through most of the Lord Peter books I saw Bunter as just a very loyal servant and helper to the awesomeness that is Peter.  But then I read Strong Poison, where Peter makes allusions to Bunter's behavior off the job, and Bunter manages charm all sorts of information out of serving women. I suddenly wanted him to have more page time. And books of his own.

Arachne (The Drowned Vault by N.D. Wilson)
 This is the Arachne from mythology complete with spiders. As much as I hate the spiders, I love her and what Wilson has done with her character. I want her backstory (other than what we know from the myth) something fierce. Her relationship with Gilgamesh in this book intrigues me greatly. She seems way too good for him on any level, and yet there is definitely some history there I would like explored more.

Sophie (Jinx by Sage Blackwood)
The hints of history we get in Jinx of the drama that is Sophie and Simon can have no other effect than to make you want to know more about both of them, but for me I found her to be the particularly intriguing one. It is exciting that there will be more of her in the sequel, but I would really love an adult series of these books all about Sophie and Simon.

Inspector Wolf (The Inquisitor's Apprentice by Chris Moriarty)
And speaking of characters from MG books I would love to have an adult series about, Inspector Wolf is actually number one on that list. He works so well as the mysterious mentor of Sacha and Lily, but man what I wouldn't give to have his whole story and things from his point of view.

Red (The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson)
On the flip side, here is a child character in a YA novel I think is deserving of her own book. Or series. I love this girl and I think it would be fascinating to read about her life following the events in The Bitter Kingdom. 

Marianne Pinhoe (The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones)
Okay, I suppose technically Marianne is not a secondary character as her name appears in the title for this book. BUT, she is newly introduced in this, the last volume of the series, and definitely works as a foil for Cat, who is after all training to be the next Chrestomanci. Then there is the presence of Christopher, who just overshadows everyone else no matter what (and rightfully so). I want to know more about Marianne. I want to see her grow, learn alongside Cat, train with Christopher. In many ways, she served a similar function in this book to Cat that Millie does to Christopher, but relative to their own personalities. And man do I wish we could see that play out.  *sobs because this will never happen*

And then there are all the character from Megan Whalen Turner's books...
The Magus (what is his name), the MOW, Agape (who has to be developing a serious complex by now), Lady Heiro, Philologos (he is my favorite attendant), Ion (both of them), and I could go on and on...I told you MWT is good at this.

Of course the list wouldn't be complete without all the amazing Harry Potter characters either. Every single character in these books leaves an impression.

How about you? Who are some of the secondary characters to capture your heart and imagination?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Lost Kingdom

I didn't know much about The Lost Kingdom before starting it. I never read the synopsis. I knew Matthew Kirby wrote it, and as I quite liked Icefall (my review) that was all I needed. I wish I went into more books this way. Not having any idea what the story even is, I'm always pleasantly surprised with what I get. This one is a great read from start to finish.

In this extraordinary adventure story, Billy Bartram, his father, and a secret society of philosophers and scientists venture into the American wilderness in search of the lost people of the Welsh Prince Madoc, seeking aid in the coming war against the French. Traveling in a flying airship, the members of the expedition find their lives frequently endangered in the untamed American West by terrifying creatures, a party of French soldiers hot on their trail, and the constant threat of traitors and spies. Billy will face hazards greater than he can ever imagine as, together with his father, he gets caught up in the fight for the biggest prize of all: America.

Set just before the beginning of the French and Indian War, The Lost Kingdom is historical fantasy that combines real life historical figures, science fiction, and fantasy. Kirby deftly wove these three strands together. There was a moment at the end where I thought maybe a little too much was thrown in there, but this is a minor glitch and Kirby makes it work. Benjamin Franklin has a cameo in the story, as does a young George Washington commanding his fort on the frontier. I was impressed with Kirby's interpretation of Franklin especially. He did a fantastic job of maintaining the historical integrity of his characters and setting while building the fantasy elements into it. This is not an easy task. Oh so many authors fail at it. Interestingly, the main character and his father are both based on actual historical figures as well. The world was never explained or detailed too much. Kirby let his story build the world for him. It was easy to picture the ship, the places Billy was seeing, and the adventures encountered. 

What really shines in this story is the characters, particularly Billy and his father. As much as this is a tale of adventure and magic in the the wilds of unexplored America, it is more the tale of a relationship between a boy and his father. Through the narrative of a fast action adventure story, Kirby gives the reader an extraordinary view of humanity. The interactions between Billy and his father are at the center of this. Billy is a young man coming into his own. He is figuring out what it is he believes and wants out of life, and is disheartened to realize it isn't everything his father is. This is a story of that moment when a child sees his father for the man he is. What I truly appreciated about this is that John isn't a bad man. He is a human one. He does so much good, and yet he has some nasty issues and is a racist, refusing to believe any Indian could be a good person. Watching Billy struggle with seeing this in his father, and his father struggle with seeing himself through Billy's eyes is something I think any reader can identify with on some level. The other scientists on the expedition are not quite as fleshed out, but their personalities do all shine when needed and each has a distinctive characterization. Jane is my one complaint regarding characterization in the story. I'm not really sure why she was there. Was she included to attract girl readers? Because she really has no function in the story except to be ridiculously headstrong, wander off, and cause a skirmish at one point. Even as a potential crush for Billy she falls way short. Honestly, I would have preferred if she were left out and this was a book with no female characters in the main team. It would make sense for the time period and is better than including one and getting it wrong.   This is the one thing about the book that kept me from loving it with 100% of my heart.

It is a story full of action and suspense. There are spies and accusations of treason, a lost civilization to find, a bear-wolf chasing them, an enemy army to avoid, and each other to contend with. It's such a fun story and exactly the sort of adventure that kids (and me!) love to read.

I read an e-galley received from the publisher, Scholastic, via NetGalley. The Lost Kingdom is available for purchase August 27.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Favorite Quest/Journey Fantasies

A couple months ago when the TTT topic was Favorite Books Featuring Travel, I mentioned how I could do an entire list of just quest fantasies. I wanted the original post to be more travel diverse but said I would revisit this in a My Favorite Things post. And now I have done so.

Above World by Jenn Reece is a truly epic quest. From under the ocean, to the air, to the forests, the main characters are pretty much everywhere there is to be. Except the desert, but they tackle that in the sequel, Mirage. Add to that the sci-fi and tech elements along with tremendous world building and these are not to be missed.

The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander is the first quest book I remember reading. I was in 2nd or 3rd grade and completely captivated. (And made oh so angry by the movie.)

Doll Bones by Holly Black does a top notch job of combining a fantasy quest with the reality of an uncomfortable, mostly on foot, modern day road trip.

The Drowned Vault by N.D. Wilson is an action packed, adrenaline filled, quest story like no other. A quest is always made so much harder when you are questing after multiple things, have no home to return to, and are being hunted by multiple sources. Good times.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns Trilogy by Rae Carson has epic journeying in all three books. Every single one of them has a quest and each goal is different. Yet they all work together to form a spectacular whole and one of the best character and story arcs there is.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling is a must have on the list. As much as I like to poke fun at the never ending camping trip that is this book, it is still one of the best out there. I may be biased because of how much I love these characters and felt invested in their journey though the years. 

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis is my favorite Narnia book. It is such a textbook example of the hero/quest story. This is part of the reason that I use it in class if I use any of them.

Rebel by R.J. Anderson makes the list for having one of my favorite stories of mismatched traveling companions of all time. Plus I love the larger frame for this story and everything that Linden is fighting for. 

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner is an interesting twist on the traditional quest tale in oh so many ways. First of which is that the reader spends most of the book not knowing what is being sought or where it is being sought. You only know that the main character has to steal...something. It's halfway through until you know what. But I love the journey in this one so much and everything it reveals about all the characters. No other author has ever used this for characterization as well as Mrs. Turner has.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Year of Shadows

Claire Legrand is carving a name for herself in the genre of creepy MG literature. She is a pro at writing stories with appeal to children and a Gothic horror feel to them. Her latest novel, The Year of Shadows, is a perfect example of this. My split reader personalities had different responses to this book. All of them loved it, but with a qualification (a qualification you can completely ignore if you don't have a child in the intended age group).

Olivia Stellatella is having a rough year.
Her mother left, her neglectful father -- the maestro of a failing orchestra -- has moved her and her grandmother into his dark, broken-down concert hall to save money, and her only friend is Igor, an ornery stray cat.
Just when she thinks life couldn’t get any weirder, she meets four ghosts who haunt the hall. They need Olivia’s help -- if the hall is torn down, they’ll be stuck as ghosts forever, never able to move on.
Olivia has to do the impossible for her shadowy new friends: Save the concert hall. But helping the dead has powerful consequences for the living . . . and soon it’s not just the concert hall that needs saving.

Book Lover Me Reacts:
Olivia is the best, topped in this story only by the character of Igor (the cat). She is gloomy. She is lonely. She is angry. She is desperately trying to be nothing. If she is nothing then she doesn't matter to anyone and no one can matter to her. Unfortunately for her plans of eternal solitude there are others who are not going to allow her to continue down that road. The ghosts who need her help and Henry, the boy usher at the Hall, are going to crack through her shell. This is a good thing for Olivia even if she does fight it with all her might. I love how Legrand built her character and opened her up through the story. She grows in inner and outer strength. Henry is a wonderful contrast to her. He's the well behaved and studious one, the voice of caution. (And thank you Ms. Legrand for reversing the gender stereotypes so often used in MG fantasy there.) I also thoroughly enjoyed the ghosts and their stories.

The setting is perfectly eerie and described so well. As a reader you feel as though you are in the dilapidated Hall. You can smell the dust and feel the cold. The story told here about the ghosts who can't move on until they find their anchors as so many layers. It is nothing short of genius how Legrand wove all these strands together into a whole. Olivia is helping them to find their anchors so they can "move on" and this shows so clearly, with no need of explanation, how desperately she needs an anchor herself. The ghosts are wonderful, and the shades who are trying to pull them into Limbo exactly the right sort of creepy. Limbo itself is a perfectly dreadful place and, again, Legrand's talented descriptive powers make you feel as though you are there. I was slightly disappointed about how Olivia began to think of the shades at the close of the book. I felt like this didn't gel at all with the picture of them we had until that point. I would have preferred if she had not tried to make them sympathetic, though I can see why she felt she had to.

This is a splendid book, one that kept me engrossed from beginning to end. I had dreams inspired by this book and there are few books with the power to do that to me.

Teacher Me Reacts:
If you have this book in your classroom library or school library it will pretty much book talk itself. Look at the cover. Hold it up and say the word "ghosts" and watch it fly it off the shelves even faster. Even better, it is well written, but with a style that will keep reluctant readers engaged to the end. And there are wonderful illustrations. I would caution you to know your students before recommending it though. Know their family situations and their emotional maturity level. Because...

Mother Me Reacts:
I can't let my daughter read this book. She would end up a weeping puddle in my bed every night for goodness knows how long as a result. Not because of the ghosts, or even the shades, but because this book explores some pretty grim themes of death and depression I know she can't handle yet. I have a child who is particularly sensitive to both those subjects, and this book would do her in. I encourage any parent who has such a child, particularly one who fears losing you (in any way) to read this first or with your child. 

Content Note: Religious families who have very specific views of what life after death is like may have issues with the ideas presented in this book. 

I read a galley received from the publisher, Simon & Schuster, via Edelweiss. The Year of Shadows is available for purchase on August 27.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How to Catch a Bogle

Historical fantasy is always a lot of fun, and Catherine Jinks certainly brings the fun (along with the slightly creepy) in her new novel How to Catch a Bogle. This will appeal to kids who genuinely like historical fiction as well as fantasy. It will have to be a reader who doesn't minds sticking with a story that doesn't seem like it's going anywhere though.

If ever a chill entered her soul, or the hope suddenly drained from her heart, she knew a bogle was to blame. Birdie McAdam, a ten-year-old orphan, is tougher than she looks. She's proud of her job as apprentice to Alfred the Bogler, a man who catches monsters for a living. Birdie lures the bogles out of their lairs with her sweet songs, and Alfred kills them before they kill her. On the mean streets of Victorian England, hunting bogles is actually less dangerous work than mudlarking for scraps along the vile river Thames. (See glossary!) Or so it seems—until the orphans of London start to disappear...

Birdie is a fierce, determined, brave heroine. She sings beautifully, which is what attracted the attention of Alfred the Bogler. He made her his apprentice because everyone knows there is nothing that a bogle likes more than fresh yummy kids to snack on. Birdie takes great pride in her work and does it well. For his part Alfred is a good master. (Minus the part where he regularly puts her life in danger.) The book has a cast of other colorful Victorian characters from the woman who runs the local den of thieves to a higher class lady interested in faerie lore.

The plot is interesting. Who doesn't want to read about a brave, intrepid team catching demons and how they do it? The first two thirds of the book is a bit repetitive. They catch a bogle and the process is detailed. They do it again. Again it's detailed. They do it again. More detail. get my point. It isn't until about 180 pages before the end that the story takes off in the direction of finding what happened to the missing boys. Then we get a good old fashioned villain. I loved the last 100 pages. The getting there was a bit rough I will admit. Add to that there is a lot of Victorian London slang and dialect, and this book is going to appeal to a very specific group of kids. Those kids are out there though in every classroom and school, and when they find this they will clutch it to their chests with joy. It has all the elements to make it a favorite with the right reader. In fact, I have students who I'm already planning on nudging in this direction. 

I received an e-galley from the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, via Edelweiss. How to Catch a Bogle is available for purchase on September 3.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Bitter Kingdom

This trilogy. My love for it is endless. I really enjoyed The Girl of Fire and Thorns (my thoughts) and absolutely fell in love while reading The Crown of Embers (my thoughts). I have been dying to get my hands on The Bitter Kingdom from the moment I finished reading The Crown of Embers and am grateful to Greenwillow for allowing me to read an advance copy. This ladies and gentleman, is how you end a trilogy. I had all the feels while reading it, and a good book hangover after.

Spoilers for the first two books are impossible to avoid. Go read those before you read this review.

Elisa is a fugitive in her own country. Her enemies have stolen the man she loves in order to lure her to the gate of darkness. As she and her daring companions take one last quest into unknown enemy territory to save Hector, Elisa will face hardships she's never imagined. And she will discover secrets about herself and her world that could change the course of history. She must rise up as champion-a champion to those who have hated her most.

There is so much I want to say, but will restrain myself so as not to include spoilers. There is still a lot I can say anyway.

Elisa's growth and development over the course of her story is so well done. In this volume she truly comes into her confidence as queen and woman. I love what Carson did with the Godstone storyline too. This is not about Elisa being a chosen one, it's about her being human. I continued to appreciate the depiction of Elisa's faith, her doubts, and questioning. It's like reading my own thoughts on such matters at times. I think a lot of the reason Elisa's character speaks to me so much is that I can see a lot of myself in her so I sympathize with her and understand her. 

The addition of chapters from Hector's point of view are a definite bonus. I enjoyed being inside his head. I appreciate how it isn't easy for him to reconcile his feelings for the woman he loves and the queen he serves. In so many ways they are equal partners, but it can't be escaped that she is his Queen. The tension and conflict he feels over this is something any man would struggle with I think. I also love the juxtaposition of Hector the man and Hector the commander. Just as Elisa is not easily separated from her role as Queen, Hector is not easily separated from his role as commander. And yet the two sides of both of them come out in different ways and it was interesting watching both of them juggle and balance their roles and their relationships to each other.

Elisa and Hector are now one of my favorite literary couples, but this story is so much bigger than their romance. I often get annoyed at how a romantic element in a plot is dragged through too much drama and tension, not allowing the resolution of feelings until the end. Carson does not subject her plot to this. This isn't about them falling in love. They have a country to rescue, people to save, magic to confront, and they happen to be in love while they are doing all of this.  

The council between the three queens, Elisa, Alodia, and Cosme, had just the right amount of tension. These are three intelligent rulers with complicated relationships with each other. Seeing the three of them interact and come to terms with what they must do for their countries is a highlight of the book for me.

The world building in this trilogy has always fascinated me because just when you think you understand it, that it can be explained, you discover something new. I like that Carson doesn't ever fully explain it. I like that there are questions unanswered and  unknown mysteries. That is what makes a world real after all.She did reveal a detail this time around that totally changed the way I thought of about it. It is a game-changer, and again not ever fully explained. I LOVE THAT. It would be less real if it was, because how much of our own world can be conveniently and concisely explained?

Other thoughts:
I like Storm so much more than I ever thought I would. 

Red was a wonderful addition to the cast of characters.

I could have done without the Deathstalkers. Yeah, I had nightmares. (Why do my favorite authors persist in putting many legged creatures who swarm into their books?)

This trilogy is one I will be returning to in the future for sure. In fact, as soon as my purchased copy arrives I'm doing a reread. 

I read an e-gally provided by Greenwillow via Edelweiss. The Bitter Kingdom is a available for purchase on August 27th.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Time Fetch

Time Fetch  by Amy Herrick is an entertaining read for those who enjoy tales of world's colliding, mayhem ensuing, and children having to band together to save the day. I love stories of this ilk and was delighted to receive an e-galley. It has some strong points, but unfortunately the weak points of the book began to overwhelm them for me.

Edward picks up what he thinks is a rock. He doesn’t know it is a sleeping Time Fetch—and touching it will release its foragers too soon and alter the entire fabric of time and space. Soon the bell rings to end class just as it has begun. Buses race down streets, too far behind schedule to stop for passengers. Buildings and sidewalks begin to disappear as the whole fabric of the universe starts to unravel. To try to stop the foragers, Edward must depend on the help of his classmates Feenix, Danton, and Brigit—whether he likes it or not. They all have touched the Fetch, and it has drawn them together in a strange and thrilling adventure. The boundaries between worlds and dimensions are blurred, and places and creatures on the other side are much like the ones they’ve always known—but slightly twisted, a little darker, and much more dangerous.

Time Fetch is a story of the fine wall between our world and the "other" world, and what happen when that line is blurred. It is an interesting look at pagan mythos with a dash of modern science. The latter is a bit didactic and that was one of the things I found to be annoying. The plot is an adventurous one full of action and mystery. There are some holes in the story that were never completely filled up. So many questions about the world building and mechanisms of the forces at work are left unanswered. This is probably an issue the intended audience won't have. 

There are four main characters and they all contribute different strengths to the plot. They are fairly typical for this type of MG book and not terribly dimensional, though they play their needed parts well. They are middle school students through and through, experimenting with growing up but also clinging to the last vestiges of their childhoods. I think that most middle school readers will be able to find one of them to relate too. 

While not the strongest MG novel of this type, Time Fetch is certainly an entertaining read. It is not one I could love myself, but would be great to have on hand for those kids who voraciously devour this type of fantasy. 

I received an e-galley from the publisher, Algonquin Press, via NetGalley. Time Fetch will be available for purchase now.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


I so wanted to like Golden  by Jessi Kirby. I read many glowing reviews and was enchanted by the concept. It is an engrossing book and I couldn't put it down, but it also made me extremely angry.

Seventeen-year-old Parker Frost has never taken the road less traveled. Valedictorian and quintessential good girl, she’s about to graduate high school without ever having kissed her crush or broken the rules. So when fate drops a clue in her lap—one that might be the key to unraveling a town mystery—she decides to take a chance.
Julianna Farnetti and Shane Cruz are remembered as the golden couple of Summit Lakes High—perfect in every way, meant to be together forever. But Julianna’s journal tells a different story—one of doubts about Shane and a forbidden romance with an older, artistic guy. These are the secrets that were swept away with her the night that Shane’s jeep plunged into an icy river, leaving behind a grieving town and no bodies to bury.
Reading Julianna’s journal gives Parker the courage to start to really live—and it also gives her reasons to question what really happened the night of the accident. Armed with clues from the past, Parker enlists the help of her best friend, Kat, and Trevor, her longtime crush, to track down some leads. The mystery ends up taking Parker places that she never could have imagined. And she soon finds that taking the road less traveled makes all the difference.

I could relate to Parker from the start. I was quite a bit like her in high school. Okay. I was almost exactly like her in high school. (Although I had the benefit of an awesome mother. Parker's mother is  far from awesome.) I understood her need to break out of that good girl shell a bit. I had the same desire as graduation loomed before me. Kirby conveyed those feelings realistically and it was easy to get wrapped up in Parker's story, her words, and her thoughts. Her best friend, Kat, and her crush, Trevor, contribute standard but fun elements to the story. 

I probably could have loved this book if not for the story within a story. This is about Julianna, the golden girl who died too young. There are so many elements of this story that made me so angry and I can't really explain this because of spoilers. I could have overlooked this more, but Kirby tied Julianna's story up too tightly with Parker's story. I really felt like Parker could have should have taken a different lesson away from all that. This just left a bad taste in my mouth over the whole experience.

I seem to be alone in my feelings about this, but if any one else wants to discuss I'm declaring the comments a spoiler-friendly zone!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

TTT: Favorite Regency Novels

This week's TTT topic is Favorite Books with X Setting. In my case X=Regency England.

 All Jane Austen really, but these two are my favorites.

Harsher than Austen, but still oh so good.

 Magical fantasy fun times in Regency England.

Julia Qunn is an auto-buy author for me. All of her books are set in Regency England and I adore them all, but this is my favorite.
And as a bonus, here is the WORST Regency set novel I've read:

What is notably missing from this list?
GEORGETTE HEYER Why? I've always wanted to read her books, but am a little scared. I've heard so many great things and I don't want to hate them. Also there are so many and I don't know where to begin. If anyone would like to help me with this I would love to hear your suggestions.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Ablility

I am a lover of boarding school stories and stories with mystery and intrigue so was excited to discover The Ability by M.M. Vaughan. It has all the elements of a great spy story.

No one has any confidence in twelve-year-old Christopher Lane. His teachers discount him as a liar and a thief, and his mom doesn’t have the energy to deal with him. But a mysterious visit from the Ministry of Education indicates that Chris might have some potential after all: He is invited to attend the prestigious Myers Holt Academy.
When Christopher begins at his new school, he is astounded at what he can do. It seems that age twelve is a special time for the human brain, which is capable of remarkable feats—as also evidenced by Chris’s peers Ernest and Mortimer Genver, who, at the direction of their vengeful and manipulative mother, are testing the boundaries of the human mind.
But all this experimentation has consequences, and Chris soon finds himself forced to face them—or his new life will be over before it can begin.

 I like what Vaughan did with the idea of "the special kid needed for important work and gets trained for it" concept. It's been done so many times. What I like about it here is that all kids have the potential for the special abilities Chris and his friends are being trained for, yet some can access it better than others. I also enjoyed how the Ability has nothing to do with magic, it's all about brain power. The fact that they only have the Ability from age 12-13 and then lose it is an interesting twist.

Chris is a great main character. He is slightly more extra special than the other kids, but he also has weaknesses. I enjoyed his relationship with his fellow students and how their personalities came out in different ways. It was nice that they all had good and bad elements to their characters and she didn't turn anyone of them into the "bad" kid to create tension. There was plenty of tension in the story without setting the six chosen students against each other. (Any more than six middle school age kids with very different personalities naturally would.)

Kids who like adventure, mystery, and stories of spies will enjoy this one. I appreciated how there are real consequences for the things they do in this book. The Ability is dangerous, wielding it difficult, and when things go wrong there are real consequences. Too often in MG books of this sort there are no real consequences to be faced because the bad guys are some kind of fantastical evil and healing can be obtained by magical means. Neither of these things is true here. It adds some realism to the story, while it also makes it slightly more mature than some books of it's ilk. I really like how this year has seen a growing number of these sort of books, perfect for the 10-13 age group.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand is one of those books that I added to my TBR, but felt no urgency to read. Then one day I saw it on display at the library and thought: now's as good a time as any. But soon I was swamped with other things to read and I may have returned it unread if Shelver hadn't read it and started talking about how wonderful it is. So I kept it around, renewed it twice, and finally found the time to read it two days before it was due back. Yes. It is one of those reads that had me wanting to smack myself for not reading it sooner.

Victoria hates nonsense. There is no need for it when your life is perfect. The only smudge on her pristine life is her best friend Lawrence. He is a disaster—lazy and dreamy, shirt always untucked, obsessed with his silly piano. Victoria often wonders why she ever bothered being his friend. (Lawrence does too.)
But then Lawrence goes missing. And he’s not the only one. Victoria soon discovers that The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is not what it appears to be. Kids go in but come out…different. Or they don’t come out at all.
If anyone can sort this out, it’s Victoria—even if it means getting a little messy.

Victoria is not a likeable little girl. She was probably even less likeable to me due to the cringe-worthy way she had of reminding me of the more unpleasant aspects of my personality. Still, I love a character you can't help but like despite their unlikeableness, and Victoria is certainly one of those. She is an ambitious type-A perfectionist, who wants to conform the world and people around her to her standards. She is also a questioner though, and this is what makes her a hero. She will not settle for easy answers. She must know the truth at all costs. Lawrence, on the other hand, is one of those boys who is brilliant in a lazy way. (And we all know how much I love those.) He is exactly the sort of boy Victoria needs in her life. One who will disrupt her order, and make her see that it's okay to laugh too loudly and not always be perfect. Which is why her life is devastated when he disappears. Their dynamic is a special one, familiar to be sure, but special. I enjoy how Legrand made it complicated the way boy/girl friendships are when your 12. It was wonderful how they needed both of their strengths to win the day too.

The plot and setting of the book dazzled me the most though, and it isn't every day that I say that. This book is creepy. The wrongness of the town, the home, and Mrs. Cavendish seeps into every word and page leaving the reader feel an impending sense of doom the further in you get. The children make some seriously disturbing discoveries about what goes down in that house too. And then there are the bugs. Shudder. Yet it manages to maintain a humorous balance that keeps it from being too outright horrifying. As I was reading I couldn't help but think of the kids I know who would love it and imagine their reactions. It is going to be a hit with my students I'm sure. In many ways it reminds me of Roald Dahl minus a lot of the issues I find problematic with his books. I also think it's better written. 

Anyone who enjoys being entertained with creepy (and slightly gross) horror that's not too over the top who love this book. I sure did.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Tiffany Aching Series

Aaaaannnnnd now I know why everyone who loved Pratchett before Dodger came out was less than impressed by that book. It's like a completely different person wrote these books. I waited so long to read any Discworld books because I had a strong suspicion I would be hooked. Yet I felt like I could no longer go on as a lover of fantasy, particularly British fantasy, without reading at least the four Tiffany Aching books: The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, and I Shall Wear Midnight. The Summer Series Challenge was the perfect kick in the pants I needed to get this done.

I'm going to do something a little different and not give my thoughts on each book, but instead talk about what I loved of the series as a whole.

Tiffany: I think you should be proud of not being worse than just deeply introverted and socially maladjusted. This was said by an enemy of Tiffany, an enemy trying to convince her to give up. Yet the words are not untrue. Sometimes the truth has more power, and this does describe Tiffany well. She is a girl who would be described as awkward, often invisible in plain sight, one who thinks and watches, and only speaks when necessary. Man can I relate to her and how her mind works, which helped to suck me into the story from the beginning.  Watching her grow up and come into her own, accepting who she was and owning it over the course of the four novels was a delight.

The Nac Mac Feegle: The Nac Mac Feegle are the most dangerous of the fairy races, particularly when drunk. They love drinking, fighting, and stealing, and will in fact steal anything that is not nailed down. If it is nailed down, they wills teal the nails as well. I'm probably not supposed to think they're adorable. They would hate that. I can't help it. Everything about their cursing, drinking, fighting, stealing ways makes me want to pat them on their little heads. When they are at their most fiercely aggressive I want to scoop them up and hug them. I'm sure they would appreciate this about as much as my son does when I do it to him. They are an integral part of Tiffany's story in addition to being comic relief and adorable. Who she is is very much tied in with the Nac Mac Feegle. Rob Anybody, the leader, is a ferocious protector of Tiffany and is a major player in shaping who she becomes as the series progresses.

Roland: Admittedly-and it took some admitting-he was a lot less of a twit than he had been. On the other hand, there had been such a lot of twit to begin with. Roland is rescued by Tiffany in book one, but because he is older and trained to fight everyone assumes it happened the other way around. Tiffany allows them to believe this. Roland allows them to believe this, but much to his credit he is not entirely comfortable with it. Which is surprising because when we first meet him Roland really is a twit. But he grows through the books, even if he sometimes still does twitty things. I also liked the realistic development of the relationship between Tiffany and him. I like how Pratchett played with the reader's expectations here.

The Older Witches (particularly Granny Weatherwax): These are true mentors. They don't teach. They don't instruct. They watch and let the younger witches learn. Granny Weatherwax is like that teacher you always wanted to impress, but who didn't impress easily, and when she was impressed it was hard to tell. I like how she's more than a little ruthless too. She is unwilling to bend rules, even for Tiffany, who she likes very much. She gives advice and lets Tiffany do her own thing, but is not gong to bend the rules of the universe to save her or get her out of trouble. She lets her live with the consequences and does not treat her like a special snowflake (even if she literally is one at one point). How refreshing. 

Preston: For reasons.

The Writing: These books are clever and oh so humorous. They are not laugh out loud funny (okay-maybe occasionally). It is more the sort of humor that has you smirking as  you read. It is subtle and tongue-in-cheek. I love this sort of understated humor. The stories of magic, fights with monsters, love, reconciliation, friendship, and family told within the pages of the four books are fun and fast paced yet also filled with heart and soul. I flagged so many pages when I was reading. So many fun quotes, so much wisdom, so much humor, so much great figurative language. I am in awe.

So now I want to read more Discworld books. Discworld people tell me, where should I go next? Do I just start from the beginning with #1 or is there a better route to take? 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

WoW: Jinx's Magic

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Jinx knows he can do magic. But he doesn't know why he's being stalked by a werewolf with a notebook, why the trees are starting to take back the only safe paths through the Urwald, or why the elves think Jinx and the evil Bonemaster are somehow connected.
Jinx's perilous search for answers takes him to the desert land of Samara, where, according to the wizard Simon, he just might find the ancient magic he needs to defeat the Bonemaster and unite the Urwald. But Jinx finds himself in a centuries-old conspiracy that places the Urwald in even greater danger.
In this second installment of the Jinx trilogy, Sage Blackwood's daring hero is called upon to save the Urwald. The more he learns, however, the clearer it becomes that this quest will require more than the magic of a solitary wizard's apprentice, and soon he'll have to call upon all of the Urwald-witches, werewolves, wizards, and trees-for help.

I read Jinx back in March (my review) and absolutely fell in love with Jinx, the Urwald, Simon, and Sophie. I also fell in love with Sage Blackwood's writing. I had no idea whether or not there would be sequel, but I hoped. Oh how I hoped. Imagine my surprised delight when I found that not only would there be a sequel but we would be getting it as early as January 2014! Can. Not. Wait.

What about you? What are you anticipating this week?

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Problem WIth Being Slightly Heroic

I enjoyed The Grand Plan to Fix Everything (my thoughts) by Uma Krishnaswami for the way it presented the mixing of cultures and the inevitable struggle a person living in two different ones experiences. I was delighted to learn there would be a sequel and even more delighted when I was able to read an e-galley of The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic from the publisher.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Dini is back from India—with Bollywood star Dolly in tow! But life in the States isn’t all rose petal milk shakes…Dini and Maddie, very best friends, are back in the same country at the same time! Better still, Dolly Singh, the starriest star in all of Bollywood, is in America too. Dini’s only just returned from India, and already life is shaping up to be as delicious as a rose petal milk shake. Perfect. Then why can’t she untie the knot in her stomach? Because so much can go wrong when a big star like Dolly is in town. All Dini has to do is make sure Dolly has everything she needs, from a rose petal milk shake to her lost passport to…a parade? And an elephant?
Uh-oh… It’s time to think. What Would Dolly Do? If Dini can’t figure it out, Dolly might take matters into her own hands—and that will surely lead to the biggest mess of all!

The first book saw Dini struggling to fit into her new world and missing her best friend, Maddie. This sequel finds her back in the US on a visit. Initially she is struggling to reconcile who she now is with this old world and fitting her and Maddie nicely together again. I would have enjoyed it if the story had focused on this a bit more. Dolly has come to town too though and, as with everything Dolly does, she overshadows the other characters. Dini, Maddie, and pretty much everyone else are there to run circles around the circus show that is the movie premiere and Dolly. 

I was disappointed in how much of the book focused on one crazy plot twist after another without giving us much insight into the characters or their motivations. It is an entertaining read though and I think readers who enjoyed the first book will want to read this one. Like the first book, it reads very much like a Bollywood movie. 

I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, via Edelweiss. The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic is available for purchase August 13.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Shorter Musings: YA Fantasy

Sometimes I read a book, and I even enjoy it, but I don't have much to say about it. I jot down a few thoughts and then I move on. Some of those are starting to pile up so I thought I would put them all together in one post.

Here are some MG Fantasy books I have read recently with my thoughts.

I downright hated the end of two of these books and they filled me with quite a bit of rage.

The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson
Honestly if I were rating purely on liking the book this would be a 1 star for me. But I also take into consideration author craft and Johnson wrote the heck out of this book. It is well plotted and paced. Fans of The Name of the Star will find the same thriller-mystery goodness we got in that book. (Which I really enjoyed.) BUT. The end. I know there were people who found it devastating, but could go with it. I am not one of them. I suspected what she was going to do, but was still bitterly disappointed when she did it. I have some major issues with the choices made and the direction the story is going in. So I'm done. I won't be reading book three. Not everyone will have this same issue.

The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd
I've read The Island of Doctor Moreau, and I was pretty excited to read a reworking of it. I wanted a tale that was chilling and horror filled, like the original. One that subtly asked questions about life and science. There is plenty of the former and a little of the latter. But. My problems with the book started with not liking any of the characters. Not because they are wholly unlikable but because I felt their motivations were being twisted for the plot in ways that were contradictory. Also they were just pretty unlikable. I was okay though because I did like the descriptions of the island, and the suspense and horror elements were good. Though most of my urgency while reading was due to my desire to have the characters realize what was up faster than they were. And then there was all the long monologuing. But it was entertaining enough. Until the last page. I couldn't deal with how this book ended for reasons that are spoilers, but it nearly sent it soaring across the room. Probably would have if it hadn't been on my Nook.

 Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff
For a book where serial killings are a major part of the plot this was kind of boring. Yovanaff is one of those writers really good at conveying mood and doing atmosphere and setting, but those are elements I don't care so much about personally. The plot was slow and most of the book has a bleak and empty feel to it. The characters were hard for me to access and get to know. I think the writing is decent and those who like this sort of book will eat it up. It just wasn't for me. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

North of Nowhere

I love mysteries, particularly ones that appear to add in a touch of the fantastic, so I was excited to read North of Nowhere by Liz Kessler, which I received an e-galley for. I'm so glad I was able to read it as I know this will be a hit with my 4th-6th graders. It will be so much fun to book talk.

The sleepy seaside village of Porthaven hides a mystery ...Mia's grandad has vanished and nobody knows why. When Mia and her mum go to support her grandma, Mia makes friends with local girl, Dee. But why does Dee seem so out of reach? Why does she claim to be facing violent storms when Mia sees only sunny skies? And can Mia solve the mystery and find her grandad before time and tide forever wash away his future? A night of storms. A lifetime of secrets. A week to find the truth.

I was able to figure out all that was going on in this story early on, almost right away. I knew who all the people were, where they were, and what was going to happen. While this stole some of my enjoyment, I don't think that will happen with a child reader. This came from my wide variety of experience with this sort of book. Child readers will most likely be taken by surprise by all the twists and turns and revelations. 

Mia is a girl that will have a wide appeal to child readers as well. Kessler made her sound like a 12 year old. The book is written more like how a 12 year old would write a story than what a 12 year old girl's thoughts would look like. It is simple, not layered thinking, and there are lots of exclamation points! Again, not particularly my cup of tea, but kids will like it. 

Definitely pick this one for kids in your life who love mysteries mixed with fantasy. I will be suggesting it to Bit, it's a book that will be just her thing. 

I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Candlewick, via NetGalley. North of Nowhere is available for purchase on August 6.