Friday, November 29, 2013

Friday Favorites: Laura Florand

Friday Favorites is a weekly meme hosted at Tressa's Wishful Endings that spotlights a favorite author, book, series, publisher, cover, blog, etc. Basically whatever bookish thing that you love, recommend, and want to tell others about.

Today I'm going to take a detour from the ordinary and feature a favorite author of adult books. GASP! Yes, I read them too. Thanks to the vociferous praise of Chachic I discovered the novels of Laura Florand this year, and let me tell you they are well worth discovering. Sexy romance about hot Parisian men who MAKE DESSERT. Mostly out of chocolate. Yes. I devoured this entire series, and as each new book has come out I've read it immediately. Florand is now my favorite contemporary romance author. Actually scratch that. She is now my favorite romance author whatever the time period. (She is also an all around delightful person as I've discovered via Twitter.)

Her Books:

The Chocolate Thief
The Chocolate Kiss
The Chocolate Rose
The Chocolate Touch
The Chocolate Heart

Turning Up the Heat

And coming in January:The Chocolate Temptation 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Rose by Holly Webb is a book I may have missed out on entirely if it had not been nominated for the Cybils and that would have been tragic. This book has so many elements I love to find in a fantasy story and Webb brings them all together so well.

Rose isn't like the other orphans at St Bridget's Home for Abandoned Girls. Instead of dreaming of getting adopted by loving, wealthy parents, Rose wants to get a job and be independent. She doesn't need anyone but herself. She finds her escape working as a maid for Mr. Fountain, an alchemist. Unable to ignore the magic that flows throughout the grand residence, Rose realizes that just maybe; she might have a little bit of magic in her too. This new series featuring magicians, witches, talking cats, mist-monsters, and friendships will have young readers in a trance!

Rose is wonderful. I love how simple and practical she is. All she wants is to earn a decent living and be proud of the work she does to earn it. When she begins to show signs that she has the ability to do magic, she wants no part of it. She just wants to be a regular girl. She is a courageous and righteous though, and when children begin disappearing and she is required to use her magic to solve the mystery she jumps at the chance. Rose has an equally wonderful supporting cast backing her up, from the rest of the household servants to her master's snooty apprentice and spoiled brat daughter. She even has the help of a magical cat named Gus, who is one of the best talking animal characters ever. I am impressed by how well Webb drew all these characters. I felt like each had a distinct personality and I really knew them. It is not easy to do that in the space of a short book with such a full plot, but she did it.

The story is delightful in every way. Taking place in an alternate Victorian England, the book includes the orphan with special abilities, a magical mystery, and a truly awful villain. I enjoyed that Rose was not plucked from the orphanage because of her magic. I like that she was chosen because her "special" talent was hard work. Lucky for her she ended up in the household of the King's most trusted alchemist so she is able to learn about her powers more. The villain's goal is not a surprising one, but the methods employed to achieve it are not for the easily sickened or grossed out. I enjoyed the real sense of danger this added to the story. It kept it from being too sweet, and made the stakes higher. 

This is not a long book and the language is such that readers at the younger end of the MG audience will enjoy it, and it works well for older readers too. It certainly worked perfectly for this one. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Ink is Thicker Than Water

Earlier this year I bought The Reece Malcolm List (my thoughts) on the excellent recommendation of several people and was thoroughly enamored with Amy Spalding's writing style. I was excited to discover she would have a second book coming out this year, Ink is Thicker Than Water, and when it showed up on NetGalley I couldn't request it fast enough. I am happy to say that it is another truly wonderful read. It is just so lovely to find an author who can write stories that are real, entertaining, and full of heart all at the same time.

For Kellie Brooks, family has always been a tough word to define. Combine her hippie mom and tattooist stepdad, her adopted overachieving sister, her younger half brother, and her tough-love dad, and average Kellie’s the one stuck in the middle, overlooked and impermanent. When Kellie’s sister finally meets her birth mother and her best friend starts hanging with a cooler crowd, the feeling only grows stronger.
But then she reconnects with Oliver, the sweet and sensitive college guy she had a near hookup with last year. Oliver is intense and attractive, and she’s sure he’s totally out of her league. But as she discovers that maybe intensity isn’t always a good thing, it’s yet another relationship she feels is spiraling out of her control.
It’ll take a new role on the school newspaper and a new job at her mom’s tattoo shop for Kellie to realize that defining herself both outside and within her family is what can finally allow her to feel permanent, just like a tattoo.

This is Kellie's story, but it is also the story of her whole family and that is probably  my favorite thing about Spalding's books so far. They show a greater whole, and I love the way she treats family. Kellie has a lot going on in her life. Many of the relationships that have sustained her and fulfilled her are changing in scary ways and she doesn't know how to cope with it. She often compares herself unfavorably to the people around her and I appreciate how that was done. Kellie's voice is real in a way few authors can get right, vulnerable and confident in turns just as any girl really is. Kellie's relationship and interactions with her family are by far the best thing about this novel for me, and really the heart of what it is about. Spalding portrays the messy chaos and vulnerability that come with loving and living with people we sometimes don't like or agree with. An outsider would say Kellie has a "good" family and she does. Yet all families are messy because there is no other way for a group of individuals so closely tied through history, squabbles, disasters, and triumph to be. Our family sees us at our worst, and that is demonstrated in a very authentic way through Kellie's story. Kellie's relationships with every member of her family and how they affect her and she affects them are integral in the telling of this story. The relationship with her sister was fascinating for me as a reader, and sometimes horribly uncomfortable. I suddenly felt like I was seeing my relationship with my own sister through her perspective. Some of Kellie and Sara's conversations could have come from us when we were in high school (me being Sara) and I sort of felt the need to call and apologize.

Then there was Kellie's romance with Oliver, which I love is not the focal point of the story but still an important part. In many ways he is Kellie's coping mechanism through all of this, and yet I still can't help but root for them.They have a great dynamic and I like that he has plenty of issues of his own, but is also learning to deal with them. I also appreciate the frank and realistic way Spalding dealt with their choices regarding their sexual relationship. Yay for girls having agency, boys respecting that, and couples talking. What I really like about this is that it took them time to get to the point where all three of those were in complete working order. They are still young and learning , but I love how they were trying to do it all right. 

This is a book that is not heavy on plot. It is about character and relationships most of all. I love books like this, especially when they do it with realism but also humor and hope.

I have to add that I adored to the core of my being the character of Adelaide, Kellie's new friend. Her email address is a reference to Guys and Dolls, which makes her awesome in and of itself, but she gives great advice too even if she is a little strange and intense. 

Amy Spalding has earned a place as an auto-buy author for me now. I will gladly trust her and read anything she has to offer in the future. 

I received an e-galley form the publisher, Entangled Teen, via NetGalley. Ink is Thicker Than Water is available for purchase on December 3. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Shorter Musings: MG 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. When these start to pile up, I put them together in one post.

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

A Box of Gargoyles by Anne Nesbet
After a rather awkward beginning where there was a strange pretend conversation between Maya and her former self that rehashed the first book longer than was necessary, A Box of Gargoyles took off in a fun and adventurous direction. Readers who enjoyed the first book will want to read this latest installment as Maya has to finish off Henri once and for all. I was disappointed that there wasn't as much interaction between characters. I love Valko and wished for more of him through the entire book. It also felt like there was a little too much going on at times. It is still a fun read and I will certainly be looking for any more that may be coming out. Or anything else Nesbet may write.

Such a fun book. I really enjoyed both Haley and Dodger as characters. It feels like the book has an awful lot of set up, but rushed ending. Still. It's about chasing aliens and kids saving the world. And that's always a good time.

Sidekicked by John David Anderson
Sidekicked is a fun adventurous tale of super heroes, side kicks, middle school, and figuring out the difference between right and wrong-and how very many shades of gray there are in between. I was entertained by Drew and his "power". I enjoyed all the different side kicks and their relationship with each other. In this world there are people born with super powers (think Incredibles) and they fight super villains. Drew and his friends are part of a training program for those with powers and are assigned as sidekicks to supers. Anderson explores the darker side of super hero work in this story. It is highly entertaining and thought provoking, two things that are a great combination.

A Question of Magic by E.D. Baker
Fans of Baker's other works will enjoy A Question of Magic. This is an interesting twist on the old Baba Yaga stories and Serafina is laudable heroine, hard working, kind hearted, and dedicated. She is, in fact, a little to perfect to come across as real (as us her heroic true love), but the delight in this story is traveling around with her and meeting all the people she interacts with. I enjoyed that the romance here was one already established before the book started. It is a fairy tale story that does not have two people falling in love, but two people all ready in love trying to figure out how to stay together.(less)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Boxers and Saints

The Boxer Rebellion is arguably the most profound example of the disaster than can arise from cultural cross-purpose and Imperialism. Atrocities were committed by every nation involved and innocent lives were lost from every nationality in China at the time. Though none were affected more than the Chinese themselves, both Boxers and Christians. In his new duology of graphic novels, Boxers and Saints, Gene Luen Yang explores the ideas, beliefs, and actions of both these groups, giving the reader an up close and personal experience with the some of the most important events of the conflict.

Boxers & Saints is a groundbreaking graphic novel in two volumes. This innovative format presents two parallel tales about young people caught up on opposite sides of a violent rift. Saints tells Vibiana's story, and the companion volume, Boxers, tells the story of Little Bao, a young man who joins the Boxer Rebellion.
Boxers: China,1898. Bands of foreign missionaries and soldiers roam the countryside, bullying and robbing Chinese peasants.
Little Bao has had enough. Harnessing the powers of ancient Chinese gods, he recruits an army of Boxers - commoners trained in kung fu who fight to free China from "foreign devils."
Against all odds, this grass-roots rebellion is violently successful. But nothing is simple. Little Bao is fighting for the glory of China, but at what cost? So many are dying, including thousands of "secondary devils" - Chinese citizens who have converted to Christianity.
Saints: China, 1898. An unwanted fourth daughter, Four-Girl isn't even given a proper name by her family. She finds friendship—and a name, Vibiana—in the most unlikely of places: Christianity. But China is a dangerous place for Christians. The Boxer Rebellion is murdering Westerners and Chinese Christians alike. Torn between her nation and her Christian friends, Vibiana will have to decide where her true loyalties lie . . . and whether she is willing to die for her faith.

Yang has told a difficult story and he never once shied away from its complexity or its horrors. This is a bloody gruesome tale and the pictures depict that, but that is not what leaves an impression. No, it is the characters Yang is telling his story through who do that. Their doubts, fears, actions, and inaction all come together to make the reader experience what is happening. I appreciated the balance he gave the story too. He made all the characters real and true people with strengths and faults. The Chinese Boxers had a firm and true belief that what they were doing was for the good of China. Watching Bao squelch some of his misgivings about some actions as he convinced himself all of it was for a greater good, shows the struggle the people had. They wanted their country back, they were not happy with foreign influence, and they felt they were answering to a higher calling. On the flip side, Yang gave the Chinese Christians and the foreign missionaries the same treatment. Though Vibiana's story is shorter than Bao's it still depicts a clear picture of what was happening with this group. In each story you see people using the beliefs of their brethren to further their own selfish ends. In each story you see people motivated to make a change and a difference for the better. I appreciated how Yang presented the foreign missionaries as true people as well, with faults yes, but he didn't make them the problem. The soldiers in the expeditionary forces aren't treated as kindly, but historical evidence tells us they shouldn't be. (Some of the missionaries shouldn't be either, but I do appreciate how they weren't all painted with the same brush.) 

I can't imagine attempting to teach a unit on The Boxer Rebellion and not using these. It would be negligent. Yang included all the main points that needed to be there, the problem with the opium trade, the influence of the weather and failed crops, the bandits who used the church as a means of bullying, life in the Legation Quarter as compared to life around it, the burning of the library at Hanlin Academy, and the looting of the expeditionary forces, and also brings the story to life giving the events and places faces to go with them and feel for. Truly excellent in every way, these are well deserving of their National Book Award nomination. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends

A review featuring Bit, age 9.

I didn't want to read The Storybook of Legends. On the one hand, it's by Shannon Hale and I often like her books. On the other, it is a commissioned series to go with a line of dolls produced by Mattel. Ugh. But it was nominated for the Cybils and then Bit found the book in the Scholastic flyer and had to have it. (She misses having a fairy tale series to follow since The Sisters Grimm has ended.) Anyway the book came to our house, we both read it, and had different reactions.

The Story
At Ever After High, an enchanting boarding school, the children of fairytale legends prepare themselves to fulfill their destinies as the next generation of Snow Whites, Prince Charmings and Evil Queens...whether they want to or not. Each year on Legacy Day, students sign the Storybook of Legends to seal their scripted fates. For generations, the Village of Book End has whispered that refusing to sign means The End-both for a story and for a life.As the daughter of the Evil Queen, Raven Queen's destiny is to follow in her mother's wicked footsteps, but evil is so not Raven's style. She's starting to wonder, what if she rewrote her own story? The royal Apple White, daughter of the Fairest of Them All, has a happy ever after planned for herself, but it depends upon Raven feeding her a poison apple in their future.What if Raven doesn't sign the Storybook of Legends? It could mean a happily never after for them both.

Bit's Thoughts
I really like The Storybook of Legends. I knew from the first page I would love it. I love stories based on fairy tales and I think it's so cute how she combined modern life with fairy tales. My favorite character is Raven. I like Raven because she is smart and sarcastic. I admire her bravery and ability to question what everyone thinks is true. I also like Madeleine Hatter. Maddie is funny and she's Raven's best friend. I really want to read more. 

My Thoughts
I agree with Bit on a couple of her points. Raven is a wonderful heroine. She is brave, smart, questioning, and a bit of a rebel. Her desperate desire to write her own story and not be her mother's daughter combined with the thrill she sort of gets when she realizes the potential of her power make for a nuanced and layered character. Maddie Hatter is a great friend and supporter to have on her side too. She is the kind of friend anyone would want to have on their side. Apple White, the girl Raven is destined to poison, is a perfect foil for Raven. I think we are supposed to consider both of them protagonists, but I just couldn't do that. Apple works as a foil, highlighting Raven's different personality traits and filling in her character. She doesn't stand on her own as much of a character yet. The story Hale tells here is, at its heart, a good one. I love the themes of questioning tradition, self-discovery, independent thought, and courage that play out in the course of the plot. 

My main problem with the book was how formulaic it was. How it clearly was set up to sell a product. The inner workings of the world building here make little sense if examined too closely. All these characters kids are almost the exact same age or close to it. And shouldn't there be quite a lot of incest and marrying of cousins happening amongst the Royal set since they keep reliving their parents stories? Yet few of the princes and princesses are actually related. Where are these people coming from? Another thing that bothered me, as much as it enchanted Bit, were the working in of modern pop culture. The kids have "mirror pods" and listen to "Tailor Quick" and "One Reflection" singing "You Don't Know Your Charming". (My eyes almost got stuck in my head I rolled them so hard.) It also overuses cutesy phrases. Text becomes Hext in every usage. "I'll  hext you later!" "I lost my hextbook." 

Given what this is, it is done as well as it could be I think. I asked Bit if she wanted to participate in this review to highlight how the target audience is eating it up. Most of the girls on Bit's swim team discovered this over their fall break and everyone was talking about it at practice when they returned, delighted that they had found it and that their friends had read it too. (These girls range in age from 9 to 12. Target demographic achieved.) I would have loved this as a kid too I think, and it will certainly be a thing. I truly hope that reading this series will push girls to read Hale's other books too, which have the same strong heroines and amazing themes but with fewer plastic sparkle components. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Favorite Picture Books of 2013

November is Picture Book Month! This is the one time of year I do anything about picture books on this blog. The MG/YA scene is more my thing. Still I read a lot of picture books every year too and this is the perfect time to share my favorites. As always, the only criteria used for this list is that I and my test subjects thoroughly enjoy the books.

My Test Subjects:

All the Mo Willems: A Big Guy Took My Ball, I'm a Frog! , That is Not a Good Idea!
LM is at the best age for Elephant and Piggie right now, and this year's additions to the series are his favorites to date. I have quite enjoyed them myself. Reading them aloud is a ton of fun.  That is Not a Good Idea is just perfect in its twisty humor. It took LM a couple of times to get that one. Bit was delighted with it from day one.

Battle Bunny by John Scieszka and Mac Barnett, illustrated by Matthew Myers
This book is not for everyone. If you l like saccharine sweet fluffy children's books, look elsewhere. Everyone else will love this though. And kids will embrace it wholeheartedly. It is funny and imaginative. 

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel
THIS BOOK! It has my heart. Bit really enjoyed it too, reading it several times. So simple and yet conveys so much information and packs a punch. I particularly liked:
"Clara smolders with anger, not just for herself, but for all the factory girls, working like slaves. This was not the America she imagined."
"They break six of her ribs, but they can't break her spirit. It's shatterproof." 
"Her throat is hoarse, her feet are sore, but she has helped thousands of people. 
Proving that in America,
wrongs can be righted,
warriors can wear skirts and blouses,
and the bravest hearts
may beat in girls
only five feet tall."

The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen 
I was a little scared of this book before I read it. The minds of those two collaborating is a rather scary thing to contemplate. It is delightful though, and LM is a big fan. 

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
This has gotten mixed reviews, but I found it to be fun, delightful, and full of wry humor. My kids also find it delightful, particularly LM who colors all things in rainbows. He feels a lot of sympathy for those crayons.

Follow Follow by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josee Masee
This is a book of reverso poems, and it is brilliant. I find it to be even more brilliant than its predecessor, Mirror Mirror. It is one of Bit's favorite books of the year. She has read it several times. 

LM has this thing about squirrels. He is on a personal mission to chase them all from our property. He seems to think they have evil intent. So color me surprised when he decided this was one of his favorite reads of the year and wanted it read over and over. It was his first Scaredy Squirrel experience and we have checked out several others now as well. 

Both my kids love this one. It is  a story about loving yourself and knowing and appreciating your strengths. It misses being didactic and sweet though. It has rainbows, glitter, and cupcakes but is not at all cutesy. It is funny and perfect in every way. 

Here is my Pinterest Board that has more recommended picture books from the past year.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Magician's Tower

The Wizard of Dark Street by Shawn Thomas Odyssey has been on my TBR since it came out. Sadly, other things keep coming up. When its sequel, The Magician's Tower, was nominated for the Cybils I decided to go ahead and give it a try anyway. At least I would know if it could stand on its own. It can and it is such a fun story I am now looking forward to reading its predecessor even more. (Come January.)

Despite her extraordinary magical abilities and sleuthing skills, Oona Crate’s detective agency has failed to take off. But a new challenge captures her attention—The Magician’s Tower Contest.
Held every five years, no one has ever completed the array of dangerous tasks (such as racing on flying carpets or defeating a horde of angry apes). As the competition commences, a case emerges. A rare punchbowl—one with unparalleled magical powers—has disappeared from the carnival surrounding the Magician’s Tower. If Oona can find the culprit, she could use the bowl to answer her question about her mother’s and sister’s tragic deaths so many years ago—was she really at fault?

I adore a good fun mystery, and that is what The Magician's Tower is first and foremost. It is also an adventure full of riddles and, of course, a fantasy. All things prepared to make me have quite a bit of fun with a book. And did I ever have fun reading this one. The competition is  set up in an interesting manner and watching as Oona attempts the feats and tries to solve more than one mystery at the same time is thrilling. 

Oona is a wonderful main character. She is persistent, brave, clever, and also possessing of a remarkable amount of common sense. And when her common sense fails her she has a talking pet raven to remind her when its gone missing. I thoroughly enjoyed the interactions between these two characters. Oona's rival in the competition, Isadora, is a bit over the top, but that is what makes her character fun and a perfect foil. She was frightfully annoying, as she is intended to be. Oona's cursh on Adler is sweet and perfectly described for the intended age group. I quite liked  the villain as well, and was pleasantly surprised to find that I was not able to figure every piece of this mystery out before the reveal.

I enjoyed the mixture of genres and am delighted to have found another book and series I know I can get my students, many of whom also love both these things, interested in. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

TTT: Covers I Wish I Could Redesign

This week's TTT topic: Covers I Wish I Could Redesign

Yes, there is the old and overused saying: Don't judge a book by its cover. But we all do it. A lot if we're honest. Sometimes I find a book I love so much and am greatly saddened that its cover does not reflect its amazing inside. Here are some of those.

The hardcover (left) was bad, but I felt they went and made it even worse with the paperback redo. This is one of my favorite books and the cover does nothing to capture the story.

 This is a wonderful story, and I feel like the cover does not come close to realizing the brilliance of the contents. The other two covers for LaZebnik's Austen retellings are cute and at least a little intriguing. This one is so boring.

 This trilogy is epic. The covers are anything but.

No, I'm not a big fan of girl in central object cover. Could you tell? (Read this book though because it is  awesome.)
I thought this book was a western the first time I saw it. (It's not. Not even in the neighborhood.)
This book has other covers, but really I'm not happy with any of them. This one is the one that gets to me the most though and is unfortunately the one I own. It is one of my all time favorite books and I want a better cover.

To be honest, I forgot about this one until this morning when I got on the Broke and Bookish site and saw they had included it, but it needs to be included. This looks like a steamy romance novel, and that is not at all what this book is. And I think it does what it really is about a disservice.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Of Beast and Beauty

"Beauty and the Beast" is my favorite fairy tale so I have a serious love/hate relationship with retelling of it. To be honest, I've never found a retelling of it to love, so more accurately a like/hate relationship. I almost returned Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay to the library unread, but Christina happened to be reading it at the time and was saying good things about it on Twitter. I decided to actually read it and I'm so glad I did. Jay did a fantastic job.

In the beginning was the darkness, and in the darkness was a girl, and in the girl was a secret...
In the domed city of Yuan, the blind Princess Isra, a Smooth Skin, is raised to be a human sacrifice whose death will ensure her city’s vitality. In the desert outside Yuan, Gem, a mutant beast, fights to save his people, the Monstrous, from starvation. Neither dreams that together, they could return balance to both their worlds.
Isra wants to help the city’s Banished people, second-class citizens despised for possessing Monstrous traits. But after she enlists the aid of her prisoner, Gem, who has been captured while trying to steal Yuan’s enchanted roses, she begins to care for him, and to question everything she has been brought up to believe.
As secrets are revealed and Isra’s sight, which vanished during her childhood, returned, Isra will have to choose between duty to her people and the beast she has come to love.

I love how Jay manipulated the main elements of the fairy tale and included them into this story. The roses in particular, are a delightful twist on the old tale. But the most interesting twist for me was her reversal of the roles. The monstrous boy is the one held captive, left as a hostage by his father to accomplish a mission, the one who leaves and almost doesn't make it back in time to save the girl he loves. The princess is the one who forces the captivity and is none to pleasant about it at first. She is the one cursed, bound to the roses and their evil.  The reversal of roles highlights the underlying theme of both story and novel, we all have the potential for both in us. Isra is a desperate girl, determined to help her cursed people, stubborn, yearning for freedom. I sympathized with her need to see and know. And her need to feel as though she had been truly useful in her life. Gem is also desperate, to help his starving people, to break the curse on the land outside the domed cities, to see life flourish again. He is manipulative and deceitful but also brave, daring and loving. The romance between them develops over time and working together in the garden. The reader does not see this take place, and this is the one part that was rather frustrating to me. However, when they are together it is plain that there relationship grew and changed and that they truly care for one another. 

The world building here is fascinating with a bit of sic-fi thrown in for good measure. This is in a future where humans have populated another planet and centuries have passed. The mythology and customs that grew up out of the fear of the people and changing of the land was well done and makes perfect sense in the world Jay created. There is plenty of political intrigue thrown into the story as well. That's always going to make me happy. There are villains, separate from the evil behind the roses, but they are more nuanced than most fairy tale villains. There are shades of gray in everyone. What the villains do is wrong, but they believe they are working for the best. All of it, characters, plot, theme, tie together wonderfully to make a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Also Known As

Earlier this year I read Robin Benway's Audrey Wait! and enjoyed it. When my library got copies of her latest novel, Also Known As, I snapped one right up. It was a cute, fun story of a teenage spy, mystery, and first love.

Being a 16-year-old safecracker and active-duty daughter of international spies has its moments, good and bad. Pros: Seeing the world one crime-solving adventure at a time. Having parents with super cool jobs. Cons: Never staying in one place long enough to have friends or a boyfriend. But for Maggie Silver, the biggest perk of all has been avoiding high school and the accompanying cliques, bad lunches, and frustratingly simple locker combinations.
Then Maggie and her parents are sent to New York for her first solo assignment, and all of that changes. She'll need to attend a private school, avoid the temptation to hack the school's security system, and befriend one aggravatingly cute Jesse Oliver to gain the essential information she needs to crack the case . . . all while trying not to blow her cover.

Following the action of this book requires a large suspension of disbelief, but that is obvious from the first reading of the synopsis. I was willing to suspend and enjoy. I did think Maggie's parents and their willingness to expose their daughter to their dangerous lifestyle, no matter how altruistic, was not the best parenting choice possible. However, Maggie herself is a delightful main character. Confident and knowledgeable of the world, high school is not that much of a hard change for her. She has studied enough to know how to roll with it and to take it all in stride. Her transition may have been a little too easy, but I rather liked this element as she is one who has had to learn to blend her entire life. I also liked her willingness to befriend Roux and actually be a true friend to her. Roux is another wonderful character, full of snark and bitterness, she has a softer side to her too. Jesse and Maggie have great chemistry and I adored their banter. In fact, I was thinking of giving up on this one simply  because I was in a weird mood while reading it, but then I hit their first conversation and it turned everything right around. I also enjoyed how round of a character Jesse is. Maggie and Jesse do seem to trip into "love" awfully fast, but it isn't without getting to know each other first and they are teenagers. (Many teens do seem to fall in love awfully fast. Or at least think they do.)

The action in the story is interesting, though I didn't think the big mystery was all that hard to figure out. I had fun watching Maggie get there and the stress over having to target Jesse added to the tension. There are wonderful scenes between the two of them of the romantic sort, but there are also chase scenes, intense moments of safe cracking, and a helicopter. Fun all the way to the end. 

When I picked this up, I didn't realize it was the first in the series, but am delighted to discover it is. The sequel, Going Rogue, will be released in January.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

WoW: Horizon

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

Aluna and Hoku, Kampii from the City of Shifting Tides, and their friends, Equian Dash and winged Aviar Calli, are determined to stop a war. The maniacal ex-scientist Karl Strand is planning to conquer the world with his enormous army of tech-enhanced soldiers . . . unless the four friends can get to Strand first. Aluna’s plan is dangerous: pose as Upgraders and infiltrate the army. But the enemy isn’t what they expected and the strategy begins to crumble. When the friends are torn apart by conflicting allegiances, their slim chance of avoiding war seems to disappear completely. For Aluna and Hoku, what began as a quest to save their own people has become a mission to save the world. But do Aluna and her friends have any hope of defeating Strand if they can’t take him on together?

Let's all take a moment ot pause and admire the gorgeous cover, which just happens to be my favorite color. 

That synopsis has me rather stressed out. I just love all four of these main characters so much. I will be totally unable to choose sides if they split up. I can't believe I still have months to wait before I can experience this one. In the meantime I will reread Above World (my thoughts) and Mirage (my thoughts).

Horizon will be available on April 8. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Planet Thieves

Traditionally the books of the inter-galactic battles and alien politics a la Star Trek have not been my thing. At all. That seems to be changing though. I'm becoming more enamored with them, and The Planet Thieves by Dan Krokos was such a book that grabbed my attention instantly and held it all the way to the end.

Two weeks ago, thirteen-year-old Mason Stark and seventeen of his fellow cadets from the Academy for Earth Space Command boarded the SS Egypt. The trip was supposed to be a short routine voyage to log their required spacetime for summer quarter.
But routine goes out the airlock when they’re attacked by the Tremist, an alien race who have been at war with humanity for the last sixty years.
With the captain and crew dead, injured, or taken prisoner, Mason and the cadets are all that’s left to warn the ESC. And soon they find out exactly why the Tremist chose this ship to attack: the Egypt is carrying a weapon that could change the war forever.
Now Mason will have to lead the cadets in a daring assault to take back the ship, rescue the survivors, and recover the weapon. Before there isn’t a war left to fight.

The Planet Thieves makes use of that most popular of MG literary devices: something goes horribly wrong and it is up to the kids to save the day, the universe, and the adults. There is a reason this device is so popular. It works. Kids love this idea. Krokos made good use of it in this book and turned out a story full of adventure, peril, and intrigue. There are great battles, one on one combat, and the greater conflict of negotiating a high stakes adult situation as inexperienced youngsters. The concept of warring species fighting over the same world is not a new one either, but Krokos gives it a fresh voice and some delightful spins. 

The character development is a bit sketchy. There is so much action going on from the very first page that there is not much space for it. Mason is certainly a likeable hero, one who also has his fair share of faults. And he does grow over the course of the book from a reckless prankster to a strong leader. His character certainly shines out above the rest. I did thoroughly enjoy the supporting cast, but felt like many of them were there as plot devices rather than actual people. This is the case with Mason's best friend Merrin. I wanted to see her fleshed out more. She is integral to the story and yet I never really got a full sense of who she was as a person. I'm hoping this will be different with the second book.  

The Planet Thieves is an exciting adventure story perfect for anyone interested in this type of story. I know several of my students will love it. It is the first in a series. The second book is scheduled for 2014.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Friday Favorites: The Perilous Gard

Friday Favorites is a weekly meme hosted at Tressa's Wishful Endings that spotlights a favorite author, book, series, publisher, cover, blog, etc. Basically whatever bookish thing that you love, recommend, and want to tell others about.

I recently discovered this meme and thought it would be a fun way of putting the spotlight on some individual favorites. This week I'm featuring the book I'm currently reading aloud to Bit (an old favorite of mine):

As a Tam Lin retelling, The Perilous Gard is also a perfect read for this time of year. I have a weak spot for Tam Lin retellings. Most of them don't live up to expectations. Or maybe it is more accurate to say that most of them don't live up to the standard set in this book. I love everything about The Perilous Gard, the setting, the mystery of the Queen and her people, the intrepid heroine, Katherine, and Christopher (who is amazing). This book also contains one of the best proposals/declarations of love of all time.