Monday, September 30, 2013

Shorter Musings: MG Realistic

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. When these start to pile up, I put them together in one post.

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

33 Minutes by Todd Hasak-Lowry
 Todd Hasak-Lowy gets middle school for sure. His descriptions of the school and Sam's response to it were hilarious and true. He also got the MG boy voice down perfect. Maybe a little too perfect for me to love the book. It is very stream of conscious with Sam changing subject and going into flashbacks with little to no warning then zooming back again. Reading it reminded me of listening to my daughter or one of my students with this type of personality tell a story. After a while you just have to say, "Please stop so I can give my brain a rest and you can breathe. Thanks." It's an entertaining story though and I think kids will enjoy it for sure. (I was amused by the wise and understanding art teacher. Why in books is it always the art teacher?)

Hound Dog True by Linda Urban 
This is a quick, sweet, warm-hearted read. Mattie's voice is so engrossing that even though this is a quiet book without a lot of action the reader stays engaged in the story, interesting in what is happening. This is a wonderful book for seeing what the inner workings of other people's minds might be like, the secrets they guard, and the struggles they have. Even when they seem inconsequential to us, they may mean a major obstacle to someone else. I also thoroughly enjoyed the characterization of all the adults in the novel. Definitely my favorite of Urban's books.

Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking by Erin Dionne
I usually enjoy Erin Dionne's books more than I did this one. I think my disappointment was magnified because I had my hopes rather high for this one and was mostly unimpressed. I can see kids loving it though. It has that sort of kid adventure movie feel to it. Kids versus the mobsters, and the kids actually have a chance of winning. The danger never materializes quite like it would in reality. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I could have liked Moxie herself, but I was rolling my eyes by the end of the first chapter. I'm so tired of main characters who are supposed to be unique and special because they like older music and buy vintage clothes. This is so overused that there is nothing unique or special about these characters. It feels like slapping a vintage t-shirt on a character and giving her a playlist her parents would have listened to are acceptable replacements for actual character development. I do like that she was a Math lover though. 

One Plus One Equals Blue by M.J. Auch
For the most part this is a fairly typical MG realistic fiction. Anyone who reads often from the genre will recognize all the plot elements and characters. There will be no surprises. That is not to say this isn't a lovely book and a good read. It's just not breaking any new ground nor is it written in a way that will make you take a second look. One new and interesting thing about it is that the two main characters have synesthesia, which is an interesting condition most people probably know nothing of.  

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Whatnot

I enjoyed The Peculiar by Stephen Bachmann when it came out last year (my review). MG Steampunk is such a rare thing and the world building in this one is so well done. I was eager to read the sequel, The Whatnot, and excited when I received an e-galley.

Pikey Thomas doesn’t know how or why he can see the changeling girl. But there she is. Not in the cold, muddy London neighborhood where Pikey lives. Instead, she’s walking through the trees and snow of the enchanted Old Country or, later, racing through an opulent hall. She’s pale and small, and she has branches growing out of her head. Her name
is Henrietta Kettle.
Pikey’s vision, it turns out, is worth something.
Worth something to Hettie’s brother—a brave adventurer named Bartholomew Kettle. Worth something to the nobleman who protects him. And Pikey is not above bartering—Pikey will do almost anything to escape his past; he’ll do almost anything for a life worth living.
The faeries—save for a mysterious sylph and a mischievous cobble faery or two— have been chased out of London. They’ve all gone north. The army is heading north, too. So Pikey and Bartholomew follow, collecting information, piecing together clues, searching for the doorway that will lead them to Hettie.

The world building is again the greatest strength of this novel. Bachmann has created two vivid and separate worlds. In The Peculiar we were concerned mostly with the alternate England. This story flashes between that world and the Old Country, the world of the faerie. In England war has begun between mortals and faerie. Peculiars and fae alike are being rounded up and put in prison. Very few places are safe. In the Old Country the King is working on a plan to take over England and use it for his own purposes. Bachmann built up the King quite a lot. He is whispered of by the faeries in England, who fear him. He is whispered about by the faeries in the Old Country, who fear him. While he is most definitely a to-be-feared-villain, he was a little too predictable to make me worry over him so much. Still, the creatures he controls are frightening. I also enjoy the picture Bachmann paints of the Sidhe. He makes them so perfectly ruthless, uncaring, unpredictable, and changeable.

As the story focuses on two places, it also focuses on two different characters. One is a character familiar from the previous book, Hettie, who is not in the Old Country. Hettie who is far more resourceful and cunning than was seen in the first book. I thoroughly enjoyed her and how she thought out her problems. She was expecting Bartholomew to come rescue her and her goal was to survive in the meantime. That is a high reaching goal for a changeling navigating the world ruled by the Sidhe and evil King bent on destruction. It was interesting seeing her mind work. In England the story focuses on a new character by the name of Pikey. Pikey has endured terrible things at the hands of the faeries and yet he isn't completely repulsed by them. He is a gutter rat and not the sharpest knife in the drawer at times, but he has is a strong sense of honor and a whole lot of courage. As in the first book it was hard for me to connect with the characters because of the shifting perspectives and the newness of Pikey in a plot so full of action. Bartholomew doesn't appear until halfway through the book and Jelliby is barely in it at all. Bartholomew is very much changed but the reader gets no real sense of how this change came about as it is not seen happening. This frustrated me as a reader, but that is because I'm a character reader.

Anyone who has read The Peculiar will want to read the continued adventures of this delightful alternate Victorian world, particularly if you are a reader who enjoys creative world building and fast paced twisting plots.

I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Greenwillow Books, made available on Edelweiss. The Whatnot is on sale now.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

TTT: Best Sequels

This week's TTT topic is Best Sequels Ever

THE ULTIMATE SEQUEL (none will ever surpass it):
Others that are really good:

 This is actually the fourth book in its series, but I like it better as the sequel to the first:

Monday, September 23, 2013

Where the Stars Still Shine

Trish Doller writes books that tackle tough subjects. This makes them not easy to read, but she writes the stories with such heart and passion it is worth it. Where the Stars Still Shine is one of the hardest books I've read in a long while.

Stolen as a child from her large and loving family, and on the run with her mom for more than ten years, Callie has only the barest idea of what normal life might be like. She's never had a home, never gone to school, and has gotten most of her meals from laundromat vending machines. Her dreams are haunted by memories she’d like to forget completely. But when Callie’s mom is finally arrested for kidnapping her, and Callie’s real dad whisks her back to what would have been her life, in a small town in Florida, Callie must find a way to leave the past behind. She must learn to be part of a family. And she must believe that love—even with someone who seems an improbable choice—is more than just a possibility.

Callie does not know what it is like to have a  normal life. Her life has been her mother, moving every few months, and learning to dodge the men in her mother's life (one molested her at the age of 8). She hasn't been to school since Kindergarten. She spends time in libraries reading. She has found boys willing to hook up with her, but has never had a relationship. Or a friend. From this life she is yanked and dropped into a world where she has a dad who loves her, a Greek family and community she is a part of, and a friend. She has no idea how to cope. Nothing in her life is ever permanent and she's determined this won't be either. It's heart breaking to read about. I did skip some sections of the book (the ones where she referenced her abuse-because I just can't read about that). Not that any of it was gratuitously nasty or intentionally provocative. I liked the way Doller handled this storyline. (I have simply heard too many real life accounts of this that I can't read about it any book.) The way Callie lives her life and the choices she makes largely come from her inability to trust people or cope with her past.

There is a boy in the book. A hot Greek boy that works on a boat. However, as wonderful of Alex is he can't rescue Callie completely from the horrors of her past and Doller didn't let him. He has issues of his own and isn't always a nice guy. Which makes him so real. One strength with both of Doller's novels so far has been how REAL she makes her characters. I appreciated how there were a lot of forces at work on Callie's life and it this is not a story about romance. This is a story about Callie and it all plays a part. Alex, her new-found family, her complicated feelings toward her mother, they all shape her. I also enjoyed the friendship that grew between Callie and Kat. Kat is also very real and with her share of faults. She can be insensitive and unthinking toward Callie, but she is also something Callie needed, an actual girlfriend. Doller has a knack, like Melina Marchetta, for taking characters who start in a very dark place and bringing them to a better place where they can find healing.Not a perfect place, because there is no such thing, but one withe hope for the future.

This book is not for the faint of heart, but those brave enough to read it will find a beautiful, real story.

I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Bloomsbury USA, via NetGalley. Where the Stars Still Shine is on sale September 24.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Banned Books Week 2013

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association.     
It is that time of year again when we all try to remember and shed light on the importance of freedom of information and choice. For more information on Banned Books Week go here.

Here are the most CHALLENGED (not necessarily banned) books of 2012:
  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey.
    Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie.
    Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
  3. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher.
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James.
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
  5. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson.
    Reasons: Homosexuality, unsuited for age group
  6. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini.
    Reasons: Homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green.
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
  8. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
    Reasons: Unsuited for age group, violence
  9. The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
  10. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
    Reasons: Sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence
I have read  5 of the 10 books: Captain Underpants (just one), The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Thirteen Reasons Why, The Kite Runner, Looking for Alaska. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Screaming Staircase

I'm going to admit it. I wasn't the biggest fan of the Bartimaeus books. I didn't actually finish the series. I hated it because I wanted to love them. So it was with a little trepidation that I requested a galley of the first book in Jonathan Stroud's newest series entitled Lockwood & Co. This time, I'm pleased to say, I wasn't at all disappointed and loved everything about The Screaming Staircase.

 A sinister Problem has occurred in London: all nature of ghosts, haunts, spirits, and specters are appearing throughout the city, and they aren't exactly friendly. Only young people have the psychic abilities required to see--and eradicate--these supernatural foes. Many different Psychic Detection Agencies have cropped up to handle the dangerous work, and they are in fierce competition for business.
In "The Screaming Staircase," the plucky and talented Lucy Carlyle teams up with Anthony Lockwood, the charismatic leader of Lockwood & Co, a small agency that runs independent of any adult supervision. After an assignment leads to both a grisly discovery and a disastrous end, Lucy, Anthony, and their sarcastic colleague, George, are forced to take part in the perilous investigation of Combe Carey Hall, one of the most haunted houses in England. Will Lockwood & Co. survive the Hall's legendary Screaming Staircase and Red Room to see another day?

The book is told from the perspective of Lucy, a brave bold girl whose particular talent lies in hearing and feeling ghosts. After a tragic incident at her former job she sets off to find a new one. Lucy is a wonderful vehicle for the story as she is the newest employee of Lockwood & Co. and she has a greater sense of what the supernatural forces they face are feeling because of her talent. She is often impatient and doesn't always think her actions through all the way. Lockwood is the brilliant young leader of the band. His wit and charm tend to pull people toward him, Lucy included. She joins his agency despite the lack of adult supervisors and buys into his belief that they can and will be the best there is. This doesn't mean she can't see his faults though. Lockwood is brilliant, snarky, a great strategist, and a massive risk taker. There is something a bit Sherlockian about him. I loved him beyond all measure. There is also a mystery surrounding him involving a locked room in his house and the truth behind his dead parents. Other characters hint at things that just make you want to know as much as possible. Seeing him through Lucy's eyes makes him even more enigmatic, causing the reader to be drawn in by the force of his personality as much as Lucy and George are. George is the third member of the team. He is the cautious one. He lives for research and organizing things. The three of them together have all the essential components of a brilliant team if they could just work together properly. The story of this book is about them doing just that as much as it is about the mystery and the ghosts. 

I love a good mystery and if you add in some creepy but not too terrifying supernatural elements I'm even more on board. Stroud builds his story piece by piece. The famed Screaming Staircase of the title is not even mentioned until well into the book. The story opens while Lucy and Lockwood are on another job. The reader learns all of the elements of the work involved in dealing with "the Problem". Since children are the ones best as sensing the spirits, the most dangerous work falls to them in this world. The job Lucy and Lockwood are working goes horribly wrong on several levels. There is then a flashback to how they came to work together and then a return to the fallout of the messed up job. All of this ties together brilliantly. There is so much action that despite the length of these sections the story doesn't drag or feel too heavy. A lot of this is due to the characterization. I will gladly read about Lucy, Lockwood, and George doing pretty much anything together now. I adore all three of them. A story that shows them working through their team work difficulties, fighting for their lives, solving a mystery decades old, and facing a night in the most sinister haunted house in existence is mesmerizing. I could not put this book down and read it one afternoon. I immediately wanted more. I hope we will be getting book two sooner rather than later.

I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Disney Hyperion, via NetGalley. The Screaming Staircase is available for purchase now.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

WoW: Nomad

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

Exiled from her underground home by Betony, the jealous queen of the piskeys, Ivy sets out to make a new life for herself in the world above – a quest that leads her to mystery, adventure, and a hoard of spriggan treasure. But a deadly poison still lingers in the Delve, and Ivy cannot bear to see her people dying under Betony’s rule.
With the help of some old friends she sets out to warn the piskeys of their danger, urging them to rise up and free themselves before it is too late. Yet Betony will not give up her kingdom without a fight... and when her evil threatens the friends and family Ivy holds most dear, it will take all Ivy’s courage, daring and determination to save them.

R.J. Anderson is one of my favorite authors. She is an auto-buy for me. If she writes it, I want it. And that includes any additions to her faery books which are not available in the US (where I live). I love these books so much  I'm willing to pay whatever shipping it takes to get them here from the UK. This one is no different. I can not wait to find out what is next for Ivy. And everyone else Martin. 

 Nomad will be on sale in the UK on January 2. 

What about you? What are you anticipating this week?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

2013 Cybils

I am very excited to announce that I am a first round Cybils panelist this year. I will be serving on the First Round MG Speculative Fiction panel.

Looking forward to working with my fellow panelists:
Melissa from Book Nut
Kristen from The Book Monsters
Allie from In Bed with Books
Cecelia from Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia
Stephanie from Views from the Tesseract
And last, but most important, our fearless leader Charlotte from Charlotte's Library

Nominations are open on October 1. So nominate some great MG Speculative Fiction and see how many books you can make me read in the next three months. I dare you.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Burning Sky

The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas is all kinds of fun. I thoroughly enjoyed myself while I was reading it. I received an e-galley from the publisher and I'm glad I did otherwise it may have sat on my TBR for longer than necessary. It is not without its faults, but I felt the ride was totally worth it.

Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she's being told. The one prophesied for years to be the savior of The Realm. It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the greatest mage tyrant the world has ever known. A suicide task for anyone let alone a sixteen-year-old girl with no training, facing a prophecy that foretells a fiery clash to the death.
Prince Titus of Elberon has sworn to protect Iolanthe at all costs but he's also a powerful mage committed to obliterating the Bane to revenge the death of his family—even if he must sacrifice both Iolanthe and himself to achieve his goal.

This is a high fantasy with an shadowy evil overlord who works through his minions. There are countries under siege. There is magic. There are prophecies.

It is a portal fantasy. People from The Realm can come into our world-and when they do it is into the 1880's. (So I guess we can call it historical fantasy too.)

It is a gamer fantasy. Yes. You read that right. There is gaming in this book. Titus has a volume of stories and myths passed down through his family. He can enter it, recreate scenes, defeat monsters, rescue princesses. He uses the book to train himself in magic and warfare, and later on brings Iolanthe into it to train her.

Is this a lot going on in one book? Yes. Might it have been slightly overambitious? Possibly. Not all of the world building works perfectly. I have some questions but am withholding full judgement until the other books come out. (Yes, it's a trilogy.) Mostly this book reminded me of how much I love this sort of story, and how I haven't been reading enough of them lately. Despite my questions I did like the world building and thought Thomas did a fantastic job creating Eton in 1888 for the historical parts in our world. The plot is fast paced with lots going on. Titus and Iolanthe are hiding in plain sight, lying constantly, having to work through their issues with each other (I will get there in a moment), and defeat evil. And also write critical essays and do Latin translations. So. They are quite busy. And I loved reading every moment of it, from the magical monster fighting elements, to the intricate political intrigue around Titus, even the life at Eton. All of it appealed to me greatly and I did not want to put this book down. 

Now, as most of you know, I'm a character reader. This is where the book fell short for me. Don't get me wrong, I really like both Titus and Iolanthe. I just felt that their characters were not as fleshed out as they might have been. Yet strangely for me I wasn't as bothered by this as I usually am. I liked them. Titus is a tormented hero. But he is also funny, brilliant, and BELIEVABLY tormented.  He is not always likeable, but is sympathetic. Iolanthe is a bit of a "special one".  But she has to work for it. Hard. I did raise my eyebrows at how easily she slipped into the pretend role Titus created for her, but that can be explained by his magic so I went with it. At first I was taken aback by  the romantic element. Not that they have romantic feelings for one another, but the way it played out felt like a romance novel in places. (It came as absolutely no surprise to me when I discovered the author is also a romance novelist. And I like romance novels. Thomas's have been added to my TBR. I was just thrown off a bit by the presence of romance tropes in my high fantasy.) But I do like them and I like them together so am not all that fussed. I like where their relationship was at the end of this book and can't wait to see it develop in the next books.

In the end The Burning Sky leaves the reader with a lot of unanswered questions. It doesn't have a cliffhanger ending (yay!), but there is still much unresolved and so much more to know. I'm really looking forward to the sequel. 

If you are looking for a fun roller coaster ride of a high fantasy read, this is definitely one I would recommend. 

I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Balzar +Bray, via Edelweiss. The Burning Sky is available for purchase September 17.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Distance Between Us

The Distance Between Us by Kasie West was the perfect book for me to pick up on a Saturday afternoon following a harsh and stressful week.

Seventeen-year-old Caymen Meyers studies the rich like her own personal science experiment, and after years of observation she’s pretty sure they’re only good for one thing—spending money on useless stuff, like the porcelain dolls in her mother’s shop.
So when Xander Spence walks into the store to pick up a doll for his grandmother, it only takes one glance for Caymen to figure out he’s oozing rich. Despite his charming ways and that he’s one of the first people who actually gets her, she’s smart enough to know his interest won’t last. Because if there’s one thing she’s learned from her mother’s warnings, it’s that the rich have a short attention span. But Xander keeps coming around, despite her best efforts to scare him off. And much to her dismay, she's beginning to enjoy his company.
She knows her mom can’t find out—she wouldn’t approve. She’d much rather Caymen hang out with the local rocker who hasn’t been raised by money. But just when Xander’s attention and loyalty are about to convince Caymen that being rich isn’t a character flaw, she finds out that money is a much bigger part of their relationship than she’d ever realized. And that Xander’s not the only one she should’ve been worried about.

I could really identify with Caymen. She is a sarcastic, smart, socially awkward high school senior. She is trying not to worry about her future by ignoring the terror she feels in her present situation with her mom's store not doing so well. She sort of gets swept up in Xander's charm (as any girl would) and finds herself falling for him despite her fears that she shouldn't. Xander is a bit too perfect of a romantic hero. He does most things exactly right, but he is saved from being too unrealistic by his typical teenage guy failure to communicate important information, leaving Caymen feeling confused. 

What I liked the most about the book is that, while it is a romance, Caymen and Xander's relationship evolves slowly. This is not insta-love. This short book covers weeks of time as Caymen and Xander get to know each other as friends. Yes, they are attracted to each other and that is abundantly obvious, but this is no headlong rush into forever true love. The entire romantic element is dealt with realistically, but with enough sweetness and fun that it makes a lovely romantic read. AND THE DIALOGUE! I mentioned that Caymen was sarcastic. She's so sarcastic she is sometimes hard to read, and I love how she sometimes had Xander so confused. He gave as good as he got most of the time though and their banter is marvelous.

My only quibble with the book is that there was a whole lot that happened and suddenly came together in the end that tilted a little too far on the wish fulfillment scale. 

The Distance Between Us is a perfect lighthearted read for anyone who is looking for a romantic and witty way to relax. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Shorter Musings: YA Realistic Fiction

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. When these start to pile up, I put them together in one post.

Here are some Realistic YA books I have read recently with my thoughts.

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross
Belle Epoque is excellent historical fiction about an era of history we don't get much (any other?) YA historical fiction about, Paris at the turn of the 20th century. Ross does a brilliant job of bringing the time and city to life. She uses just enough French to make it feel authentic without overwhelming the reader who knows nothing about French. (me) The emerging middle class and the beginnings of feminism are both highlighted and played out well. I did feel like the characters were little more than words on the page. I was rather hoping for a better story of friendship between two girls, but I found it difficult to care too much for either Maude or Isabelle. That could be because I knew that Maude was going to see everything come apart before too long. I do like the way Ross set up so well the reasons why someone would be tempted into Maude's line of work. The ending was just a bit too perfect for my personal tastes as well with everyone getting what they want but the "bad" people. It is a fun story though and one that does justice to the time it is set in.

Epic Fail by Claire LaZebnik
This is a contemporary high school reworking of Pride and Prejudice. I enjoyed it, but not nearly as much as I did the author's reworking of Mansfield Park, The Trouble with Flirting (my thoughts). The characterization here was a little weak. I had to rely too much on projecting what I knew of Elizabeth and Darcy from the original onto these characters to make them rounded out. It is a fun romantic tale that I think most people would enjoy as a fluffy read, but that is all it is. I was sort of disappointed because there was more to The Trouble with Flirting than that and I was hoping that would be the case here as well. 

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
I will be perfectly honest: I skipped and skimmed through a good deal of the middle of this. There was a lot of detail about Elise learning to DJ and I just didn't care. The problem was I didn't care about Elise, I think. There is nothing wrong with the writing here, and I'm sure the book will speak to many people. It didn't work for me though. I do think Elise's voice is genuine. But between her pretentious, judgmental attitude about other people's music, the obnoxious boy, and the manic pixie dream friends who help Elise find her passion, there were too many things standing in the way of my liking this even a little. I read an e-galley received from the publisher, Macmillan, via NetGalley. This is available for purchase on September 17.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

TTT: Books I Want to See as Movies

This week's TTT topic is Books I Would Love To See As A Movie/TV Show (set in a perfect which movies don't butcher the books we love.)

 That caveat is important, because in reality many all of these books I don't want Hollywood anywhere near, the first one especially.

The Queen's Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner
The Above World Trilogy by Jenn Reece
 The Girl of Fire and Thorns Trilogy by Rae Carson
 The Ashtown Burials Series by N.D. Wilson
 The Oxford Time Travel Series by Connie Willis
 A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Ultraviolet and Quicksilver by R.J. Anderson
 The Tiffany Aching Books by Terry Pratchett
 The Kiki Strike Trilogy by Kirsten Miller
 The Magic Thief Series by Sarah Prineas

If nothing else this list is confirmation, if anyone needed any, that I am firmly a Sci-Fi/Fantasy lover. Honestly though,  it wasn't until I finished and looked back over the list that I realized I had not chosen any realistic fiction.

What about you?  Any books you would like to see on the screen?

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Real Boy

I actually never read a synopsis for The Real Boy by Anne Ursu. I knew she wrote it and I liked Breadcrumbs (my thoughts) and that was all I needed. When I saw it was available on Edelweiss I immediately requested it and was thrilled to be approved. I had expectations in my head based on the title. And the book was something else entirely. Something wonderful

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
On an island at the edge of an immense sea there is a city, a forest, and a boy. The city is called Asteri, a perfect city that was saved by the magic woven into its walls from a devastating plague that swept through the world over a hundred years before. The forest is called the Barrow, a vast wood of ancient trees that encircles the city and feeds the earth with magic. And the boy is called Oscar, a shop boy for the most powerful magician in the Barrow. Oscar spends his days in a small room in the dark cellar of his master's shop grinding herbs and dreaming of the wizards who once lived on the island generations ago. Oscar's world is small, but he likes it that way. The real world is vast, strange, and unpredictable. And Oscar does not quite fit in.
But it's been a long time since anyone who could call himself a wizard walked the world, and now that world is changing. Children in the city are falling ill and something sinister lurks in the forest. Oscar has been content to stay in his small room in the cellar, comforted in the knowledge that the magic that flows from the trees will keep his island safe. Now, even magic may not be enough to save it...

Oscar is a wonderful protagonist, endearing and lovable. He made the mother in  me want to give him a home. (But not hugs and kisses because he wouldn't like that.) Something is different about Oscar, something is not all normal, something's a little off. I don't want to say too much more about that so as not to give spoilers, but I loved what Ursu did with his character. Nicely subversive that is. Callie, who befriends Oscar, is just as enjoyable a character. They make a great team in everything they have to do together.

I realize I'm being incredibly vague. Probably frustratingly so. I will continue to be about the plot as well. It is filled with action, and there is a huge mystery to solve. It is like a roller coaster ride in the dark that switches tracks and drops you down and backwards a few times. I went into it not having a clue what path the track was taking and it was fun that way. Not going to ruin anyone else's experience. Rest assured that Ursu has a firm grip on all the elements of her story and she wields her words perfectly.

So my point? The book is amazing. Read it. Book talk it. Kids will love it. 

I had read an e-galley made available to me by the publisher, Walden Pond Press, via Edelweiss. The Real Boy is available for purchase September 24, 2013.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Wake Up Missing

Looking for an adrenaline pumping edge of your seat read? Wake Up Missing by Kate Messner is just the book.

Meet Quentin, a middle school football star from Chicago...
Sarah, an Upstate New York girls’ hockey team stand-out...
Ben, a horse lover from the Pacific Northwest...
And Cat, an artistic bird watcher from California.
The four have nothing in common except for the head injuries that land them in an elite brain-science center in the Florida Everglades. It’s known as the best in the world, but as days pass, the kids begin to suspect that they are subjects in an experiment that goes far beyond treating concussions….and threatens their very identities. They’ll have to overcome their injuries – and their differences – to escape, or risk losing themselves forever.

Wake Up Missing is a mind bending twisty ride full of adventure and intrigue. Messner sets the tone perfectly from the beginning. There is a sense that nothing is quite right or as it seems. The reader is kept off balance from chapter one, which fits with Cat's difficulty in keeping hers. The clues are revealed slowly, and just when you think you know what's going on there is a shift. The twisty plot comes with boat chases through swamps, conspiracies, fears of who to trust, quick risky escapes, and some rather seedy bad guys of more than one variety. Messner maintains a real sense of danger for the kids, while keeping it from being too terrifying at the same time. I also appreciate Messner's willingness to show the messy outcomes inevitable in such a plot.

The kids are typical 12 year olds. Some of the things they choose to do (searching offices, sneaking around, taking a kayak out on the swamp in an attempt to escape) are not the best plans, but perfectly in tune with a middle school mentality. They all have different personalities and issues, but have to work together. Cat is telling the story, but all of them are key members of the team. It was interesting to see how each of them reacted to what they discover, and how they chose to deal with it.

Wake Up Missing had my heart pounding in many places and I was frantically flipping pages to see what was going to happen next. My kids were forced to wait for their dinner. I can see this having the same spell binding effect on the kids who read it. Messner is one of my daughter's favorite authors and I know she's going to be thrilled by this one. (She has to wait for the actual copy to come as I wouldn't let her run off with my Nook.)

I read an e-galley received from the publisher, Bloomsbury Walker, made available via NetGalley. Wake Up Missing is available for purchase September 10.