Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cover Love: Hero's Guide to...

Cover Love is hosted by Bookshelvers Anonymous and is for the purpose of sharing the love of amazing and wonderful covers.

Today I am featuring Christopher Healy's Heros Guide books. These covers are some of my favorites to show up in the past couple of years. As a bonus the cover is even better when you spread the whole jacket out and see it in its entirety. (At least it was with book 1, hoping for the same with book 2.)
 I adored The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom cover from the first time I saw it. Then I read the book and loved it even more because it just nails the whole things so perfectly. Characters, story, ambiance. It gets it right. The fierce defiant look on Ella's face. The sneering bratty face on Briar Rose. Liam's face and the what-is-wrong-with-you-girl-why-would-I-want-to-marry-someone-like-you expression he's giving Briar Rose. Perfect.

I really didn't think they would be able to match that first cover. But they did. The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle comes out on April 30th and from the look of this cover it will be just as entertaining as the first. I love how all the princes look completely out of their element-except for Gustav!-and Ella is again the fierce "Let's do this!" one. And then there is the mystery. What's with the creepy rabbit? What is Duncan pointing at? What is Liam side-eyeing this time? Why does Frederic seem to be the only one concerned about what is in FRONT of them. And why on earth is Snow White using this moment to make shadow puppets? (That is Snow White right?) I mean really. And maybe one of them should turn around. Oh there is so much to love

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

First Light

Being greatly fond of both When You Reach Me (my thoughts) and Liar & Spy (my thoughts) I thought is was high time I read Rebecca Stead's first novel First Light. I am very glad I did.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Peter is thrilled to join his parents on an expedition to Greenland, where his father studies global warming. Peter will get to skip school, drive a dogsled, and–finally–share in his dad’s adventures. But on the ice cap, Peter struggles to understand a series of visions that both frighten and entice him. Thea has never seen the sun. Her extraordinary people, suspected of witchcraft and nearly driven to extinction, have retreated to a secret world they’ve built deep inside the arctic ice. As Thea dreams of a path to Earth’s surface, Peter’s search for answers brings him ever closer to her hidden home. 
 
Like Stead's other works First Light is a mystery of sorts. I love the way she writes, creating a tone of uncertainty and yet connecting the reader to the characters so well. This is not as flawlessly done in First Light as it is in her later works, but it is still there. And saying that a book by Rebecca Stead is not quite as good as her others still puts it far above most other things available for reading. I will say I think the mystery was handled better here. I was genuinely surprised by the turn of events in this book. I am going to say little about the plot so as not to give too much away, but it was well executed in most respects. There was quite a bit of background in mitochondrial DNA at one point (just a couple pages) that had my eyes starting to glaze over, but I have long since established I am not a person to be interested by talk of the scientific.

I enjoyed both Peter and Thea as characters, though I liked Thea just a little more. She felt more real and fleshed out to me. I don't know if this is due to the nature of their personalities or because I happen to be a girl. I loved the little details of both of their worlds that made the settings come to life. There are a lot of unanswered questions regarding the past of Thea's people and the technology available to them that may bother those of a more scientific bent than myself. I was fine with the unanswered and was willing to accept the world as Stead presented it.

This is a great choice for anyone who is wary of sci-fi and fantasy but required to read one. Or if you are just looking for a wonderful story, something Stead always delivers on.

Monday, January 28, 2013

And The Winners Are...

Newbery
Honors:
Bomb: The Race to Build-and Steal-the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

My Thoughts: I really like this group. Bomb was my favorite going in and I'm happy to see that it won an Honor. I like that this is a diverse group of books with many different strengths and a wide range of appeal.

Printz
Honors:
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe written by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Dodger by Terry Pratchett
The White Bicycle by Beverley Brenna

My Thoughts: As usual when confronted with a Printz winner all I can think after reading the synopsis is, "Wow that sounds hopelessly depressing." Some of the Printz Award winners have surprised me (two actually). I'm really disappointed Code Name Verity didn't win, but at least it won an Honor.

Caldecott

Honors:
Creepy Carrots! illustrated by Peter Brown, written by Aaron Reynolds
Extra Yarn illustrated by Jon Klassen, written by Mac Barnett
Green illustrated and written by Laura Vaccaro Seeger and published by Neal Porter Books
One Cool Friend illustrated by David Small, written by Toni Buzzeo
Sleep Like a Tiger illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, written by Mary Logue

My Thoughts: SURPRISE! Jon Klassen won and got an honor!!!! And the book that won wasn't the one of his we were expecting. I really liked This is Not My Hat and don't know why it didn't get talked about more. Simple because I Want My Hat Back didn't win last year?

And some other winners:
Morris: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (YAY!)
Geisel: Up, Tall and High! by Ethan Long
Sibert: Bomb: the Race to Build-and Steal-the World's Most Dangerous Weapon (So happy it's getting the love it deserves!)
Wilder Medal: Katherine Paterson (Awesome!)
Edwards: Tamora Pierce (I still haven't actually read any of her books-shhh!)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Monday's Award Announcements

Monday is the day that all kid lit lovers look forward to with bated breath. After months of reading, analyzing, discussing, and rooting for our favorites we will know the winners of the 2013 Caldecott, Newbery, and Printz medals. Exciting stuff. As always I have some thoughts. And they are MY thoughts. I don't do predictions.

The Newbery is the award I'm the most familiar with both in terms of past winners and current contenders so we will start there.

I will be over the moon with happiness to see any of these win:

I will be almost as pleased to see a host of other books get that shiny gold sticker: The One and Only Ivan, Splendors and Glooms, Starry River of the Sky, Crow, (though I would like to see another genre than historical fiction win the day this year). I may cry if Wonder (which I liked but think is far from the most distinguished book of the year) or Summer of the Gypsy Moths (which I neither liked nor found distinguished) wins. I think it would be tremendous if the committee completely surprised everyone by choosing a book without any buzz-I have some in my mind that would be perfect. (My hopes for Peaceweaver or Above World live on.)

Now for the Printz, which I freely admit I'm nowhere close to being an expert on. I usually can't stand the books that win this award, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta being the exception that proves the rule. I'm hoping 2013 will be another such year and that the award will go to:
Really any other outcome is going to be, for me, a colossal disappointment. I do love Seraphina as well but I'm hoping it comes away with the Morris award and I would be delighted to see it win a Printz Honor.

The Caldecott is tricky for me because, try though I might, I can't judge this one. I love reading people's opinions on it, but they bring me no closer to understanding how one judges illustrations. Still I know what I like and this year that is:

Yes. I really like Water Sings Blue.

Sadly this year I will be behind on this as I will be teaching when the awards are announced. Teaching in a building that has  no wireless and spotty-at best-cell service. It may be HOURS before I will know and can comment. I will miss experiencing the revelation and discussion that immediately follows so much this year. *cries quietly thinking about*

Thursday, January 24, 2013

SLJ's Battle of the Books 2013

The contenders for School Library Journal's Battle of the Books has been posted. This should give everyone plenty of time to read all the books. I am excited because I only have three to read. The list this is year is the top notch. Monica, Roxanne, and Jonathan did a great job as usual.

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin (my review)

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (my review)

Endangered by Eliot Schrefer (my review)

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (my review)

Jepp Who Defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead (my review)

Moonbird by Philip Hoose (my review)

No Crystal Stair by Vauda Micheaux Nelson (my review)

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (my review)

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (my review)

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz (my review)

Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin (my review)

Temple Grandin by Sy Montgomery

Three Times Lucky by Shiela Turnage (my review)

Titanic by Deborah Hopkinson 

Wonder by R.J. Polacio  (my review)

I would be happy with almost any of these that I have read winning. Of course I do have my favorites and I know exactly what I will be voting for in the Undead Poll. (Not that I think it will make a difference. Once the Nerdfighters find out about that poll there will be only one possible outcome.)

In other news they are thinking of shaking up the brackets this year and not doing them alphabetically! If you have opinions/suggestions on that be sure to share them in the comments.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Hattie Ever After

Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson is the sequel to her incredibly popular much beloved Newbery  Honor book Hattie Big Sky. It's been a while since I read the first book. I remember enjoying it, but I enjoyed Hattie Ever After even more. Probably because I am a city girl and my eyes sort of glaze over reading anything about the prairie. Also Hattie Ever After is really well crafted.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
After leaving Uncle Chester's homestead claim, orphan Hattie Brooks throws a lasso around a new dream, even bigger than the Montana sky. She wants to be a reporter, knowing full well that a few pieces published in the Arlington News will not suffice. Real reporters must go to Grand Places, and do Grand Things, like Hattie's hero Nellie Bly. Another girl might be stymied by this, but Hattie has faced down a hungry wolf and stood up to a mob of angry men. Nothing can squash her desire to write for a big city newspaper. A letter and love token from Uncle Chester's old flame in San Francisco fuels that desire and Hattie jumps at the opportunity to get there by working as a seamstress for a traveling acting troupe. This could be her chance to solve the mystery of her "scoundrel" uncle and, in the process, help her learn more about herself. But Hattie must first tell Charlie that she will not join him in Seattle. Even though her heart approves of Charlie's plan for their marriage, her mind fears that saying yes to him would be saying no to herself. Hattie holds her own in the big city, literally pitching her way to a byline, and a career that could be even bigger than Nellie Bly's. But can making headlines compensate for the pain of betrayal and lost love? Hattie must dig deep to find her own true place in the world. 

The greatest strength of the novel is Hattie's voice. From word one she is there with you, her own independent person telling you a story. Hattie is distinctive, a character not to be confused with any other or the reader's own self. Lively, independent, and head strong Hattie sets out to make a name for herself, to find her own place in the world outside of anyone else's shadow. I admire how Larson used Hattie to highlight the emergence of women  in the work force following World War I and the struggle they had, while at the same time maintaining the light tone of the novel. Hattie is a vibrant and happy girl and even when knocked down she finds the hope and light in her situation. There are times when the reader can see Hattie's naivete is allowing others to take advantage of her. At the same time, without it she wouldn't be Hattie.

The setting is a close close second to voice as far as strengths go. Larson makes 1919 San Fransisco come to life giving just enough details to help you envision it without overdoing it. This is a fine balance in historical fiction and Larson is a pro at it. I could see the city, the Chronicle's newsroom, the hotel where Hattie lived, all of it. The people of the city are captured well too and, while some are stereotypical, none are flat.

I loved reuniting with Hattie and following her on yet another adventure, watching her grow and change yet again. This was an almost perfect read. The end felt rushed, but as the outcome was so much to my liking I'm having a hard time caring too much about that.

This is a review of a copy received from Random House via NetGalley. Hattie Ever After will be available for purchase on February 12.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Boyfriend List

There are several YA titles that came out when my daughter was first born that I missed out on and I have wanted to read for ages. I decided that I should probably do something about that rather than just thinking about it. I started with The Boyfriend List: 15 Guys, 11 Shrink Appointments, 4 Ceramic Frogs and Me, Ruby Oliver by E. Lockhart. I read the much acclaimed The Disreputable History of Frankie  Landau Banks by Lockhart and had mixed feelings overall, but liked the writing so much that I really wanted to give one of her other books a go. This one I enjoyed oh so much.


Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Fifteen-year-old Ruby has had a rough ten days. During that time she:
   * lost her boyfriend (#13 on the list)
   * lost her best friend (Kim)
   * lost all her other friends (Nora, Cricket)
   * did something suspicious with a boy (#10)
   * did something advanced with a boy (#15)
   * had an argument with a boy (#14)
   * had a panic attack
   * lost a lacrosse game (she's the goalie)
   * failed a math test (she'll make it up)
   * hurt Meghan's feelings (even though they aren't really friends)
   * became a social outcast (no one to sit with at lunch)
   * had graffiti written about her in the girls' bathroom (who knows what was in the
   boys'!?!)

But don't worry—Ruby lives to tell the tale. And make more lists.

Ruby tells the convoluted and twisty story of how all of the above happened resulting in panic attacks and visits to a shrink. Lockhart walked a fine line with Ruby making her unique and genuine at the same time. Ruby has a distinct voice and personality. She becomes an actual person you are listening to as her story unfolds. At the same time she is a character that I believe the majority of teen girls (or women who remember) can identify with. The scenarios that play out in her story play out in thousands of schools, homes, parties, and dances across the country every day. The realism that Lockhart brings to these situations, not overly dramatizing them and not minimizing the importance of them, make the whole easy to relate to. Ruby's story is not the worst thing that has ever happened to a person, but it's not fun. Yet the way she tells it gives it a light feel.


Despite it's mostly light tone the book does explore serious themes. There is a lot that the book very subtly says about the way girls look at and treat each other, the culture that has a double standard for the way girls behave and boys behave, and how much a teenage girl defines herself in terms of how she is viewed in the eyes of those around her. I appreciate this all the more for how light and entertaining the book is. Lockhart did this with a deft hand, it is there but it she is not whacking anyone over the head with it. I can think of many teens I know who would enjoy this book and get so much out of it. (Boys and girls.) I also think it is one that is beneficial for parents to read. Just to remember what it's like. It's so easy to  forget.

I liked the way this wrapped up so much that I'm a little hesitant to pick up the other books in the series. Not because I didn't love this book, but because I did. I probably won't be able to resist though.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Order of the Phoenix

Featuring Bit (Age 8)

Bit and I are continuing our slow reading of the Harry Potter books. (This journey will be coming to an end this summer as I have promised to read books 6 & 7 back to back. I'm really kind of sad about this.) I was nervous about The Order of the Phoenix because aside from the first book and last book it is my favorite. I didn't have as many issues reading this one aloud as I did with The Goblet of Fire (our thoughts).

The Story
Harry Potter is due to start his fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. His best friends Ron and Hermione have been very secretive all summer and he is desperate to get back to school and find out what has been going on. However, what Harry discovers is far more devastating than he could ever have expected...

Bit's Thoughts
 I really liked The Order of the Phoenix, but I think Harry is getting too obnoxious. He's whiny and spends too much time feeling sorry for himself. Now I wish it didn't have to be told from only Harry's point of view. My favorite character is Ginny and I loved that she was in this book more. I think Luna is an interesting new character. One of my favorite parts is when they meet Luna because it is interesting to see what she is like. The scariest part is when they go into the Ministry of Magic at the end. I liked learning why Voldemort wanted to kill Harry.

Disclaimer: I am careful about not sharing my thoughts on books in the series with Bit before reading them to her. She was not influenced by my feelings about Harry in this one because I never shared them prior to reading. Her reaction to this was genuinely hers.

My Thoughts
Why is this one my favorite of the middle books? I just love the themes. Rowling did a surprising thing in this book following the return of Voldemort at the end of book 4 when she pushed him to the background and brought in an entirely new and different style of villain. Choosing to spend an entire book focusing mainly on the corruption in the Ministry of Magic, the politics of governing a school, and the power of propaganda was an odd thing to do from a fantasy series stand point. Yet this plot line and its themes work beautifully and are a true strength of this volume. And I adore how she portrayed the students resistance, their quiet when it needed to be and loud when the time came for it rebellion against the authoritarian rule that had overtaken them. It is an important year for growth in all the characters, main and secondary. It doesn't mean I think it a perfect book by any means. It is, again, too long. There is a lot that could have been cut. (I did notice that while the over description of places and routes taken to get to them was a bit better than in book 4 it was still a problem.) I have a difficult time not rolling my eyes at Harry through a great deal of this book, but he was never my main motivation for reading these nor was he ever my favorite character.

What Bit and I are reading now: The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Scarlet

I enjoy a good Robin Hood retelling. I truly do. And because I don't have a great love for the source material I don't really care what people do to it. I was looking forward to reading Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen. Unfortunately the experience did not quite live up to my expectations. It is a good swashbuckling adventure story. But I had some issues.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Posing as one of Robin Hood’s thieves to avoid the wrath of the evil Thief Taker Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only the Hood and his band know the truth: the agile thief posing as a whip of a boy is actually a fearless young woman with a secret past. Helping the people of Nottingham outwit the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham could cost Scarlet her life as Gisbourne closes in.
It’s only her fierce loyalty to Robin—whose quick smiles and sharp temper have the rare power to unsettle her—that keeps Scarlet going and makes this fight worth dying for.


Scarlet is a knife wielding loyal member of Robin's band. She feels the desperation of the poor they help deeply and works hard to help maintain them. It is her brilliant thieving skills and espionage tactics that keep the band in gold and information. There is a lot of worthiness in her character. When you add to that the camaraderie of the band and the action, I can see why many have enjoyed this one. The plot is predictable but action filled, and there is plenty to keep you on the edge of your seat. 

I couldn't fully enjoy it though because I really couldn't like either Scarlet or Rob. Much of Scarlet's worthiness of character comes at the expense of his. The two of them have zero chemistry too. All of their conversations are miserable competitions to prove which one is more awful. (I'm the worst most despicable human ever. No I am. No I am. Seriously do you know how many awful things I've done? I bet I've done worse. Repeat. Repeat. Ad nauseum.) This is their bond. Despite being "the hope of the people" Rob was a complete and total jerk. His whole I-hurt-you-because-that's-the-best-way-to-hurt-me routine should send Scarlet running for the hills, particularly after he called her a whore. And then barely apologized for it by using the self loathing excuse.  John isn't much better with his inability to understand that no means no and "I don't want to be grabbed and kissed" is not an invitation to do just that. And for those paying attention, yes this means there is a love triangle here. Scarlet has all the boys wanting to love, protect, and kiss her. She is one of those special ones. 

For those who, like me, are history nerds and care there are some anachronisms that may bother you depending on how exercised you get about those. One of the guards searching the forest at one point says, "That's not on." The word fiancee is also used several times and that word wasn't being tossed around 13th century England. Betrothed. It's betrothed.

There are many people who have adored this book. I am in the minority here. If you are in the market for a swashbuckling adventure then this might work for you. What bothered me clearly won't bother everyone.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Goblin Secrets

Goblin Secrets by William Alexander came on to my radar via Betsy Bird at Fuse 8. When it was named as a National Book Award Finalist I moved it up the TBR. When it actually won the NBA I figured it was time to get serious about reading it. Two months later...It took me longer to get to this than it should have. My experience reading it has some resemblance to this. I was intrigued by the beginning but found myself easily distracted and not overly interested so it took me longer than it should have to finish it too.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
In the town of Zombay, there is a witch named Graba who has clockwork chicken legs and moves her house around—much like the fairy tale figure of Baba Yaga. Graba takes in stray children, and Rownie is the youngest boy in her household. Rownie’s only real relative is his older brother Rowan, who is an actor. But acting is outlawed in Zombay, and Rowan has disappeared.
Desperate to find him, Rownie joins up with a troupe of goblins who skirt the law to put on plays. But their plays are not only for entertainment, and the masks they use are for more than make-believe. The goblins also want to find Rowan—because Rowan might be the only person who can save the town from being flooded by a mighty river.

Goblin Secrets is a book with great atmosphere. The city of Zombay comes to life, sights, sounds, smells, and all. This is a world that the reader is dropped into, no explanation, no hand holding. As usual with well-constructed fantasy, I consider this to be a good thing. There is a steam punk element added in as well that makes it slightly different than most fantasy settings in MG novels and gives it a slight edge.

I really enjoyed what Alexander did with the concept of theater and acting. Why putting on plays is forbidden in Zombay is one of the mysteries the reader must discover as the story unfolds, and it was the one I was most interested in. It's an odd thing to forbid when the city seems to have bigger problems. I also liked how the Goblins were not a separate race but "changed" humans. Humans who had chosen or been forced to undergo a transformation into something other.  I was a little annoyed when the hows and whys of this were not fully divulged by the end of the book. The title is a little misleading. I also felt the ending was a bit rushed.

The book has many of the elements I usually love, an interesting world, twists on old standards, fascinating themes, and a mystery. Yet I found myself not caring at all. I think it is because Rownie didn't do much for me as a character. He was sort of flat, always carried along by what was happening, reacting instead of acting himself. This is not a bad thing in and of itself, but I like to see some change or growth when a character does this and I didn't. Rownie was pretty forgettable and as a result so is the book. Graba never really inspired any great fear in me either. I never thought she was an actual threat to Rownie. He felt she was. The author was telling me she was. But I wasn't feeling it. Maybe it is because she is a pale reflection of the legendary witch she derives from.

It is a good entertaining book that will delight any young person who loves fantasy, particularly if they are looking for steampunk elements.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Favorite Settings (non-fantasy)

Back in November of 2012 (remember that far?) Stacked did a week on Contemporary YA. Molly Backes wrote a post on the importance of setting during that week. It was followed by a post with a list of Contemporary YA with stellar settings. This had me thinking about the subject of setting, which honestly I give little thought to. I am a character then plot girl. Setting is seemingly less important, yet when it is done wrong it screams out at you. Likewise when it is done right it can entice you. The best authors will make you want to go where there book takes place. I wrote a My Favorite Things post on Fantasy Worlds a long time ago. I figured realistic fiction settings that inspire should get the same treatment. Why is it two months after the inspiring post from Stacked? I already had all my Favorite Things posts scheduled for 2012. Better late than never right?

These are in no particular order.

Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley
As Ed and Lucy dash all over Melbourne, Australia looking at the graffiti left by artist Shadow the city becomes almost as important a character as the two of them.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Who hasn't read the Anne books and then immediately begun dreaming of visiting Prince Edward Island? PEI is just as important to the story as Anne herself and Montgomery did a fabulous job bringing it to life.

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Not everyone who reads this book loves Dash and Lily. They are kind of annoying at times and both are, in their own ways, posers. But I think anyone who has read this would agree the star of the book is New York City.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Paris was my favorite part of this book, I'm not going to lie. Perkins did a wonderful job describing it and how intimidating it can be to newcomers.

A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck
This book has so many strengths and the setting is definitely one of them. While reading this book you feel like you are there, that you know that town and those fields and those houses. And you feel the time period in a way most historical fiction doesn't come close to achieving.

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
I love how Stead puts so much detail of the neighborhood into the book. She gives Brooklyn the feel of a small town, and shows it has a real sense of community.

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
And by Penderwicks I refer to the all three books as yet written in the series, because no matter where they are, Arundel, Gardam Street, or Point Mouette, you feel like you are right there with them.

Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill
London, England, my favorite city in the world. (That I've been to so far.) Morill did a great job of it and not in a cheesy or touristy way. This book would not have captured my heart like it did had she gotten this part wrong.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
Middle School. No one's favorite place to remember, and Angleberger captures it perfectly. So perfectly those who are out of it will cringe remembering and those who are still in the trenches there will hug the book to them happy to have someone who understands their plight.

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Lai brings the beauty of Vietnam to life with her spare prose in this book, both in her descriptions and the comparison to Alabama.

To see a combined Fantasy and Realistic Fiction list of favorites setting see this Pinterest board.

What are some books that take you love the setting of ?

Wednesday, January 9, 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. Those are the books that are reviewed quickly on Goodreads 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 YA Fantasies I've read recently and my shorter musings on them.

A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix
I don't know what it is, but drop me into an Epic Fantasy world and no matter how odd the names or different the world I'm totally there. Not so much with Sci-Fi. In the first few pages as Prince Khemri was talking about all the different teks I was like-hubba wubba wha??? Still, I settled into the story and really enjoyed the first half. I liked Khemri, ignorant arrogance and all. I loved the world building and politics of the Empire. The second half didn't work quite as well for me as I had a hard time buying any of it. The romance. Khem's turn around. The end. I guess I wanted a different story than the author was telling. I don't know, it just didn't seem to fit the beginning. I was sad about that because the I was really into the first half and that doesn't happen often for me with books (or anything) set in space.

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
I love the concept of this novel, but was disappointed in the execution. The characters and plot were too shallow for me to care about that much. I liked Josh but found myself hoping Emma wouldn't get him in the end. Emma was highly unlikeable. In a way there is an interesting social commentary here, but again it is not executed well enough to pack a real punch. I'm not sure if this is a book for modern teens or people who were teens in the mid-90's. I graduated from high school at the time this story was taking place and I appreciated it from that perspective, but thought the 1996 references were a bit heavy at times, as if the authors were trying more to reference everything they could to make someone nostalgic than to create a realistic feel to the time period for the setting.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
I really enjoyed this one. It was a little technical in places for me. My computer technology savvy is just enough to get me through the day to day things required for modern life. Also I'm not at all a gamer so this was a different sort of world for me to step into. I loved the concept though and felt it was executed really well. The future world represented here is one I can buy into. It is one that could most certainly happen. Wade is a character I felt I knew and came to care about despite feeling bogged down by his exposition in places. I also enjoyed all the 80's pop culture references as I was a little kid during the 80's. I think this is going to make a most excellent movie assuming they cast it correctly.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo 
Shadow and Bone is an easy, quick, enjoyable, fast paced fantasy read. It is predictable and the characterization is weaker than I tend to like in such books. It has a great villain though, I far preferred him to the heroes. He, at least, was intriguing. The one unique element of this book was its Russianesque setting. That is not typical for fantasies and I really liked the concept. Unfortunately I had a small issue here. I KNOW that it was not actually Russia, but a sort of Russian derivative. BUT. Alina Starkov. The first time I read her name I subconsciously read it the way it should be: Alina Starkova. And if that had been the only time it was written fully I may not have noticed, but it's repeated enough that I did. The second time I realized the "a" wasn't there and that is just wrong. I don't know that much about Russian in general, but I taught enough Russian immigrant students to know the girls are fiercely protective of those "a"'s on their last names that differentiate them from their brothers. Fiercely. As in they refused to respond if called by their names without it. It made it rather difficult for me to buy into all the other elements of the world and the wrongness of it was like an alarm bell everytime I read her full name. (Which is used frequently.)
 
The Sweetest Spell by Suzanne Selfors
This was a nice take on "The Ugly Duckling Story". It has the simplicity typical of fairy tales. It is told well and I liked the characters. I wasn't entirely certain why the dual first person perspective was necessary and found that it sometimes hindered my enjoyment. I think a third person narration would have worked better for me. WARNING: Reading this book will make you want to eat all the chocolate. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Hokey Pokey

Jerry Spinelli is a prolific and much beloved children's book author. His books have always been sort of hit or miss with me. Loser, Crash, and 2011's Jake & Lily (my thoughts) were hits. Maniac Magee and Wringer were misses. Spinelli's new book Hokey Pokey falls in this latter category. Those are the books the Newbery committees seem to like though so what do I know? I know that I did not enjoy this book even a smidgen.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Welcome to Hokey Pokey. A place and a time, when childhood is at its best: games to play, bikes to ride, experiences to be had. There are no adults in Hokey Pokey, just kids, and the laws governing Hokey Pokey are simple and finite. But when one of the biggest kids, Jack, has his beloved bike stolen—and by a girl, no less—his entire world, and the world of Hokey Pokey, turns to chaos. Without his bike, Jack feels like everything has started to go wrong. He feels different, not like himself, and he knows something is about to change. And even more troubling he alone hears a faint train whistle. But that's impossible: every kid knows there no trains in Hokey Pokey, only tracks.

Jack may have been an interesting character to follow if the narrative had  not shifted perspectives so much. Jubilee may have been an interesting foil for him, an intriguing enemy, if the book wasn't so hung up on its own cleverness. That was the obstacle for me. Hokey Pokey is one big symbol for the joy of childhood. Jack is growing up. The problem with this world is that are all these made up words and places and things going on that are left unexplained so there is a healthy chance that the reader will just be confused and not want to continue. I can see that happening with many young readers who come at this book. The whole story is a metaphor and when I finished it the only word on my mind was pretentious. Just as there are adults who enjoy pretentious meta works of literature, I'm sure you can find kids who will too. Probably not as many, but when you find them they may enjoy this. I think it will be a hard sell for most kids. 

I read a copy of this provided by the publisher via NetGalley. Hokey Pokey will be available on January 8.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Navigating Early

Clare Vanderpool won the 2011 Newbery Award for her debut novel Moon Over Manifest (my thoughts). You can bet that many will be keeping their eyes on her new MG novel, Navigating Early. I personally enjoyed this one far more than the first, though not unequivocally.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
At the end of World War II, Jack Baker, a landlocked Kansas boy, is suddenly uprooted after his mother’s death and placed in a boy’s boarding school in Maine. There, Jack encounters Early Auden, the strangest of boys, who reads the number pi as a story and collects clippings about the sightings of a great black bear in the nearby mountains.
Newcomer Jack feels lost yet can’t help being drawn to Early, who won’t believe what everyone accepts to be the truth about the Great Appalachian Bear, Timber Rattlesnakes, and the legendary school hero known as The Fish, who never returned from the war. When the boys find themselves unexpectedly alone at school, they embark on a quest on the Appalachian Trail in search of the great black bear.
But what they are searching for is sometimes different from what they find. They will meet truly strange characters, each of whom figures into the pi story Early weaves as they travel, while discovering things they never realized about themselves and others in their lives.

Early is a wonderful character. In today's world he would be labeled as someone with Asperger's. In the 1940's setting of this novel he is simply labeled as strange. When Jack first meets him he tries to decipher: Was he straitjacket strange or just go-off-by-yourself-at-recess-and-put-bugs-in-your-nose strange? Jack's opinion on this wavers as the story unfolds but in the end he summarizes it perfectly. Early has a strange convoluted and amazing mind. Early's character is so incredibly likeable in all of his strangeness. The way he "sees" the story in the numbers of Pi and how he tells it is intriguing.

Jack is the voice of the story, the character through whom we see everything and I had a harder time with him. He is lonely, confused, and feeling stranded. He is most certainly a sympathetic character. He is also delightfully snarky at times. And I love a good snarky character. But there are times when he doesn't sound anything like the 13  year old boy he is characterized as. He sounds an awful lot like I imagine the author might sound. He speaks with beautiful imagery and description for sure, but it doesn't entirely fit with the picture I had of his character.  

The concept for the book is an ambitious one. The plot gets off to a slow start, but once the adventure starts events are exciting. The boys' journey is paralleled by the story Early is telling of Pi. A story he reads in the number itself. This was well executed and interesting. Mathematicians may take issue with the fact that Vanderpool made up some of the digits of Pi to tell the story. 

In many ways this is a book that has my different inner readers torn. Adult reader me thoroughly enjoyed it and couldn't put it down. Parent-teacher me thinks it will be a difficult sell. And it is too long to teach a unit on, at least for my 4th-6th graders (who I only see once a week). It is definitely a pick for readers who enjoy a more introspective voice. 

Navigating Early is available on January 8, 2013. I read a copy received from the publisher via NetGalley.  

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Most Anticipated Reads of 2013

2013 should be another great year for reading. I'm looking to many beloved series and trilogies being continued or concluded, as well as some excellent looking stand alone novels coming out. I'm already saving up money for March and April. Those two months are going to be expensive.

Coming in January:
The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd (YA): The first in an expected trilogy, this is about the daughter of the infamous Dr. Moreau from H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau. How intriguing. Releases January 29

Coming in March:
 The Runaway King by Jennifer Nielsen (MG/YA): The sequel to 2012's The False Prince, I'm very interested in seeing where Nielsen takes the story she has begun. I was unable to unequivocally love the first book, but the writing and concept have so much potential. I hope this book meets it.
Releases March 1
Mirage by Jenn Reese (MG): The sequel to 2012's Above World, I'm beyond excited about this one. Above World was one of my favorite reads of 2012. I love all the characters and can not wait to see what will happen next.
Releases March 12
Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt (YA): I really enjoyed Leavitt's Sean Griswold's Head and think the concept behind this book is so adorable. Luckily I don't have to wait until March to read it as I have a galley. I will be reading it this month. YAY!
Releases March 26

It is important to note that R.J. Anderson's Quicksilver also comes out in March. I have read it and will be posting closer to the date. Trust me when I say you want to read it. I am looking forward to rereading it when my bought copy arrives.

Coming in April:
 
Stolen Magic by Stephanie Burgis (MG): This is the conclusion to the wonderful Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson trilogy. Both Bit and I are super excited about this one, but also sad that it will be the last one
Releases April 2
The Watcher in the Shadows by Chris Moriarty (MG): I still haven't seen a cover for this one yet. It is the sequel to The Inquisitor's Apprentice which was one of my favorite reads of 2011. I squealed a bit when I saw there was finally a release date for this one!!!
Releases April 2
This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith (YA): I read and really enjoyed Smith's The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight this past year and I think the concept for this one looks like fun.
 Releases April 2
Summerkin by Sarah Prineas (MG): Summerkin is the sequel to 2012's Winterling, which I loved. I am very much looking forward to following Fer as she finds her way in her new life. And I can not wait to see what Rook gets up to in this book.
Releases April 23

Coming in May:
Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins (YA): I'm not one of Perkins' super fans, but I enjoy her books. I enjoyed Lola even more than I did Anna, so I have high hopes for this one as I see her writing getting even better. I also have high hopes because this is the book I have been waiting for since reading Anna and the French Kiss. This book has JOSH. 
Releases May 7
A Box of Gargoyles by Anne Nesbet (MG): I really enjoyed The Cabinet of Earths and am looking forward to where Nesbet will take her characters and story in this volume. 
Releases May 14

Books that I am looking forward to that are supposed to be coming out in 2013 but have no official release dates (other than the month), covers, or, in one case-a title:
Across a Star Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund
Ashtown Burials #3 by N.D. Wilson
The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson 
Dracomachia by Rachel Hartman (LOVE THE TITLE!)
Ring-Giver by Rebecca Barnhouse (Her website says in December!)
Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow
The Whatnot by Stefan Bachmann
Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

What books are on your radar for 2013?

The Cybils Shortlists Are Up!

October when we were nominating the books seems like such a long time ago, and yet it also feels like just yesterday. It's been a strange fall for me.

You can find all the shortlists here.

There are some great books on all the lists and a couple things I was surprised about. Also disappointed with, but that is ALWAYS the case when favorites don't make the cut.