Monday, April 29, 2013

Wednesdays in the Tower

This is a good year for sequels. Often they can be disappointing, but all the ones I've read thus far this  year have been wonderful. Wednesdays in the Tower by Jessica Day George is no exception. This is a delightful sequel to Tuesdays in the Castle (my thoughts).

There are a lot of things that can hatch out of an egg. A chicken, for example. Or a dragon. And when the egg is the size of a pumpkin, and almost as orange, not to mention burning hot, you know that you're far  more likely to get a dragon than a chicken. So when Celie found the egg-large, orange, and too hot to touch-lying in a nest of oddly vine-like moss in the new tower, she was convinced that it held a baby dragon. Where it had come from and what would happen when it hatched were two more questions that she wasn't sure she wanted answered. 

Thus begins the latest  installment in the adventures of the Glower royal family. Celie is continuing to map the castle and it is still showing a special attachment and fondness for her. She is the only one it allows near the mysterious egg after all. But the castle is behaving oddly too, rearranging and adding rooms at an alarming rate. The family is worried and when a mysterious acting wizard arrives to "assist" Bran with some things but only seems to be stalking Celie and Rufus to see why they are so fixated with  a certain aspect of the castle's history things get even stranger.

What I love about these books is how much the focus is on family. Celie has a wonderful relationship with her siblings and parents. These stories are her stories, but the rest of her family plays a large part as well. This volume focuses more on Bran and her relationship with him. It was nice to have all of the beloved characters from the first book back again in this one too.

I don't want to say too much about the story so as not to spoil anything. I will simply say it is full of excitement, adventure, humor, and mystery. Any reader who loved Tuesdays in the Castle will love this too. The third book had better be ready soon because readers will definitely want it after the way this one ends...

I read an e-galley made available from Bloomsbury. Wednesdays in the Tower will be available for purchase May 7, 2013.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Shorter Musings: Contemporary YA

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

Here are some YA Contemporary Fiction books I've read recently and my shorter musings on them.


Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison 
I don't know why I put off reading this so long. It has a great title, it's British, and it is an iconic YA book. Maybe if I had read it earlier I would have been more impressed. I can see why so many people like this book. It is entertaining. Georgia is one of those characters that teens can identify with and is seriously flawed enough to be real. I am just not the right audience for this one. Girls like Georgia and her friends were why I was friends with boys in high school. Does anyone have thoughts on the movie? Can't decide if I should watch it or not. 


The Disenchantments by Nina Lacour
I really wanted to love The Disenchantments. It's about music and a road trip and life altering decisions. I enjoyed it but couldn't love it. It is well written but I think I was looking for something other than what the author was giving and that it explains my dissonance with it. I just didn't connect with any of the characters. I can see how it would have a devoted audience though.

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
This was a lovely romantic read. I know there were many people who LOVED Anna and the French Kiss. I wasn't one of them. (my thoughts)  I enjoyed it for sure, but there were many parts that bothered me enough to matter. I liked Lola and the Boy Next Door much better. For me this book didn't stretch out the tension to what was more than believable. While there was a lot of drama and conflict it didn't feel as melodramatic as the first book. (I did think her dads overreacted a bit at one point, but dads are prone to that in such a situation.) I understood Lola and why she was so conflicted. I especially liked how she stepped back and took the time to build herself back up and reassess herself rather than jumping from one relationship directly to another. I feel like this novel came closer to the potential for greatness I saw in the writing of Anna. I'm really looking forward to seeing how Isla and the Happily Ever After turns out, especially since Perkins is taking longer to write it than originally intended.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Iron Hearted Violet

It took me a while to get around to wanting to read Iron Hearted Violet by Kelly Barnhill. It looked and sounded like a book I would love, but it also looks dark and dreary.

Synopsis:
In most fairy tales, princesses are beautiful, dragons are terrifying, and stories are harmless. This isn't most fairy tales.
Princess Violet is plain, reckless, and quite possibly too clever for her own good. Particularly when it comes to telling stories. One day she and her best friend, Demetrius, stumble upon a hidden room and find a peculiar book. A forbidden book. It tells a story of an evil being -- called the Nybbas -- imprisoned in their world. The story cannot be true -- not really. But then the whispers start. Violet and Demetrius, along with an ancient, scarred dragon, may hold the key to the Nybbas's triumph . . . or its demise. It all depends on how they tell the story. After all, stories make their own rules.
Iron Hearted Violet is a story of a princess unlike any other. It is a story of the last dragon in existence, deathly afraid of its own reflection. Above all, it is a story about the power of stories, our belief in them, and how one enchanted tale changed the course of an entire kingdom.


Princess Violet is a difficult heroine for me to like. She is curious to the point of reckless and thinks a little too much of her own intelligence. That prideful attitude leads to her downfall, so why she is hard to like she is still sympathetic. She does grow during the story and reaches the place where she is truly a protagonist to care about. The lessons she learns, how they change her, and how she applies them make her a more nuanced character by the end.The narrator isn't my favorite either. The story is first person from the viewpoint of Lord Cassion, the court storyteller, so it reads like third person with an intrusive narrator. One that calls his readers "dears". We all know how much I love that.  The presence of Violet's best friend, Demetrius, saved me from not caring about any of the characters for the first half of the book. I adored this courageous, patient, loyal, and determined boy who was willing to risk anything to save his best friend and kingdom. 

The world building is layered and interesting. The world of the story is a multiverse created by the old gods. The portion our characters live in imprisons a malevolent god who tried to rule the multiverse by enslaving dragons. He wants out of his prison and will use his considerable skill with lies and manipulation to achieve this. This makes for an interesting story, but a bleak one most of the way through. There are interesting ideas explored through this, the nature of good and evil, how one's choices affect the world, and the idea that stories are important and have the power to shape and change the world. None of this is happy though and there is very little humor to break up the weight of heavy subject matter. In that way it is a hard read. But it's also a beautiful one.
In the hours before she disappeared, Violet read the story of the Nybbas, over and over and over again. She couldn't stop. She couldn't slow down. The story had weight and meaning and voice. It breathed in her ear and whispered against her skin. Its voice spun a tale around her heart an dulled it tight, and all the wile it told her things-awful things-and Violet believed them.
Kelly Barnhill knows how to weave words and weave them well.

I can't say I enjoyed reading this book, but I appreciated the experience. 

Note for My Fellow Christian Parents: There are some themes and statements in this book that some will find theologically problematic. If your child wants to read this book I would recommend that  you read and discuss it with them.  There are some interesting questions raised and they are certainly ones that would lead to some great conversations. 


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Tragedy Paper

There are books that reader me loves and teacher me exalts in. The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan is such a book.

As Duncan enters The Irving School for his senior year he is worried about three things: what dorm he's assigned, what treasure has been left by the previous occupant, and his looming Tragedy paper. The Tragedy paper is the Irving equivalent of a senior thesis and Duncan, more of a Math than English lover, is concerned. There are a lot of traditions at Irving and a big one is that the departing seniors leave a treasure for the upcoming seniors occupying their rooms.  Duncan is dismayed to find that he is assigned the one room no one wants. The room that Tim, the Albino kid, had the year before. On the desk he finds his treasure: a stack of CD's and a letter:
Dear Duncan,
When I was told you'd be living in this room, I have to be honest, I couldn't believe it. 
Maybe you can guess what I'm going to say, but I''m going to tell you anyway. It's important that you know why and exactly ow everything happened. Someone has to-someone might be able to use the information and not make the same mistakes I made. Maybe. I don't know.
Let me say one important thing I would be money you didn't expect and then I will leave with your senior year: what you are about to hear, the words, the music, my downfall, as well as your perceived or actual role in it, will serve you better than you could have imagined. Basically, I am giving you the best gift, the best treasure, you could ask for. I am giving you the meat of your Tragedy Paper.
Yours Truly,
Tim

As Duncan listens to Tim's story of events over two months the year before both of their lives unfold before the reader. Tim is a forceful narrator using words to weave a web that draws the reader in. Duncan's sections are jarring in comparison. He is less wordy, more confused, and, strangely, more tormented. The way the two boys' lives intersect and diverge is a fascinating story in contrasts, as are the questions about fate, tragedy, choices, and life the story brings out. The minor characters aren't as fleshed out, but that is the result of seeing most of them through Tim's jaded and fogged vision and Duncan's insubstantial memories. I really like Duncan's girlfriend though and feel she adds so much to his story. I love how their relationship is a quintessential teen romance too. They were sweet, awkward, and a little too precious at times, but this reflects the reality of what so many teen age dating relationships are like. 

The book is a treasure trove of literary allusions and the perfect text to use for teaching the concepts of tragedy in literature. (This very much excited teacher me. I have so many plans that center around using this book in a classroom now.) At the same time the book manages to have hope and beauty. It is realistic, but never gets bogged down with unnecessary angst.

I loved this book for the characters and settings and look forward to reading more from Ms. LaBan in the future. 


Friday, April 19, 2013

Favorite Friendships

Often times romance is talked about so much in books that truly great literary friendships are pushed to the side or, in some cases, seen as less important. I love a good romance as much as anyone else, but I also appreciate good friendships. Today I want to take some time to focus on some of my favorites.

Aluna and Hoku in the Above World Trilogy:
Aluna and Hoku are such perfect complements for each other. She forces him out of his shell and to be more proactive than he would be on his own. He forces her to think calmly and not be so heedlessly reckless. Hoku's contribution of technological smarts and her contribution of fighting skills make them a nearly unstoppable team.

The Polygoners in The Ashtown Burials Series:
I use the term "Polygoners" to describe all of the people in both books in the series so far who have allied themselves with Cyrus and Antigone. They are a ragtag motley group to be sure, and that is what makes them so wonderful. They all have different strengths and they balance out each other's weaknesses. I really enjoy how this group is multi-generational as well. This isn't just a group of kids. There are adults who work, fight, suffer hardship, and laugh right along with the kids.

Verity and Maddie in Code Name Verity:
Seriously, typing their names made me tear up. It makes it hard to write about them coherently really. Their devotion to each other and their cause is epic. There is no other word for it. I can't say much because you know spoilers. But if you haven't yet read this amazing story of friendship you should.

Jeffrey and the Penderwick Sisters in The Penderwick Series
This friendship borrows a lot from the friendship of Laurie and the March sisters in Little Women, but only in the best of ways. I love how Jeffrey fits into their group and how he complements both Sky and Jane. I adore how he watches out for Batty. It will be interesting to see if their friendship continues to parallel the one in Little Women as the series continues or if it will diverge. I like the way this story has gone better so far. And Batty is far more likeable than Amy ever was.

Timothy and Linden in Rebel/Wayfarer
There is much tension between these two as they meet and become friends over the course of their journey because they are so different. If they weren't in the situation they probably would not ever be friends. Timothy is cynical and jaded where Linden has faith in abundance and wide-eyed certainty that right will win the day. She drives Timothy crazy with it. Yet these two are able to learn so much from each other and help the other to become a better person. I was so happy that they remained just friends too.

Several non-specified friendships in The Queen's Thief series:
 Non-specific because of spoilers as most of them are surprising. That is probably because the two main protagonists of the series would not make the easiest of friends for anyone. That is what makes the friendships that do develop all the more poignant in how they are written.

Francesca and Co. from Saving Francesca and The Piper's Son
I fell in love with Saving Francesca because of the group of friends Francesca draws around her in the story. Everything about their interactions is so genuine. I really did laugh and cry with them. There is no shorthand to describe the group as a whole but I love how Tom reveals in The Piper's Son that he and Jimmy referred to the girls as The Four Horsewomen of the Apocalypse. Speaking of The Piper's Son and genuine, I appreciate how this book showed the group five years later and how it had changed. They weren't the same people, they interacted differently, and made room for new friends. I like how Will, while not completely fitting, found a place among them. And I love the addition of Ned.

What about you? Do you have any literary friendships that you love to read about?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Thief

Featuring Bit, age 8

I have never reviewed Megan Whalen Turner's books because sometimes it is hard to talk about something you have THAT MUCH love for. They come up in My Favorite Things posts a lot. I wrote this for The Queen's Thief Week Chachic hosted. But writing individual reviews? I just have never been able to contemplate that. Yet if it is possible to write a review for one it is The Thief.

Bit begged for months to have this book as a read aloud. I kept putting it off because a) I thought it might still be too mature for her and b) if she didn't like it I would have been devastated. Recently I decided it was time to give in, particularly as I could make it fit in with the study of Ancient Greece and Rome we have been doing for history. I couldn't have been happier with her reactions.


The Story
(From Goodreads)
The king's scholar, the magus, believes he knows the site of an ancient treasure. To attain it for his king, he needs a skillful thief, and he selects Gen from the king's prison. The magus is interested only in the thief's abilities.
What Gen is interested in is anyone's guess. Their journey toward the treasure is both dangerous and difficult, lightened only imperceptibly by the tales they tell of the old gods and goddesses.


My Thoughts
I read this book before I started blogging which is why I have always been comfortable with its not reviewed status. I can not stress enough how much I fell in love with this book and its hero. From the first paragraph I was enraptured. Gen's voice is perfect and having it in my head is one of the things that keeps me coming back time and again for reareads. This book was also the first book to completely surprise me in a long time. The story is meticulously crafted and one where the slightest details matter. It is even more rewarding on rereads, which is saying something given the pay off from a first time read. There is also they mythological aspect which I love. Turner completely made up a religion and its culture for her invented world and she uses it to tie her character's to their present story. The book is sheer genius from start to finish. There are some pacing issues in it here and there. This worries me every time I have shared it with any kids. The kids I taught this book to last year still bring it up in class all the time though. It moved them and changed the way they read in so many ways. It has had a similar impact on Bit. 

Bit's Thoughts
I loved The Thief. It's my favorite book of all time now. Gen is the best character. I like Gen because he is brilliant and very good at what he does. Gen is also funny and sarcastic. I like how it all pieces together at the end. I was beyond surprised. I have never been surprised like that before in a book. I enjoyed the mythology because it links with the mythology I'm studying right now. I think it's awesome how Megan Whalen Turner thought up all of the parts of the book. I want to say all the things in my head but it's hard to talk about without spoiling it.

Bit is already asking when she can read The Queen of Attolia. I think she needs a couple more years of emotional maturity before she can handle it though. 

What Bit and I are reading now: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince    

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday: The Wells Bequest

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

A wonderful surprise  came my way about a month ago when I discovered this book while looking through the publishers' catalogs on Edelweiss. It's always fun to discover there is going to be a companion to one of your favorite books and you had no idea it was even in the works. YAY!

Synopsis (from Indiebound):
Leo never imagined that time travel might really be possible, or that the objects in H. G. Wells’ science fiction novels might actually exist. And when a miniature time machine appears in Leo’s bedroom, he has no idea who the tiny, beautiful girl is riding it. But in the few moments before it vanishes, returning to wherever—and whenever—it came from, he recognizes the other tiny rider: himself!
His search for the time machine, the girl, and his fate leads him to the New-York Circulating Material Repository, a magical library that lends out objects instead of books. Hidden away in the Repository basement is the Wells Bequest, a secret collection of powerful objects straight out of classic science fiction novels: robots, rockets, submarines, a shrink ray—and one very famous time machine. And when Leo’s adventure of a lifetime suddenly turns deadly, he must attempt a journey to 1895 to warn real-life scientist Nikola Tesla about a dangerous invention. A race for time is on!


Cue the hyperventilating. The cover! HG Wells! Tesla! And it is connected to The Grimm Legacy which I loved. (my thoughts)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Just One Day

Just One Day by Gayle Forman is a book I was excited about reading. I really enjoyed both If I Stay and Where She Went (my thoughts) and was intrigued by the premise of the new story, particularly as it was going to be another duo with both perspectives.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
When sheltered American good girl Allyson "LuLu" Healey first meets laid-back Dutch actor Willem De Ruiter at an underground performance of Twelfth Night in England, there’s an undeniable spark. After just one day together, that spark bursts into a flame, or so it seems to Allyson, until the following morning, when she wakes up after a whirlwind day in Paris to discover that Willem has left. Over the next year, Allyson embarks on a journey to come to terms with the narrow confines of her life, and through Shakespeare, travel, and a quest for her almost-true-love, to break free of those confines.

Shakespeare!!!!

He can be used for both good and bad. I'm happy to say in this case it's all good. Forman did an excellent job of weaving the ideas and themes of the plays she chose to highlight into Allyson's own story in so many ways. There is so much to love here about the practice of theater and the way the words we speak and the masks we choose to wear define us. 
"You're just trying on different identities, like everyone in those Shakespeare plays. And the people we pretend at, they're already us. That's why we pretend them in the first place."
I loved Allyson's journey of self discovery, her complicated relationship with her parents, the changing dynamic with her best friend, the relationships with the new friends she encounters along her way. All of this made for a grand and sweeping story that is far more than the sum of the romance of the book. Just like Shakespeare. Well played, Ms. Forman.

This combined with her witty prose, excellent dialogue, and layered characters made for a wonderful read. Which is good because I was having some trouble relating to Allyson's feelings of love in day and depression when it was over. Then again this is another way the story mirrors Shakespeare.

I absolutely can not wait to read Willem's story when Just One Year comes out in October.  

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Shorter Musings: MG Historical 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. Some of those are starting to pile up so I thought I would put them all together in one post.

Here are some MG Historical Fiction books I've read recently and my shorter musings on them.

One Came Home by Amy Timberlake
 One Came Home is solid historical fiction, a mystery, and tale about a gun toting girl who lives on the Wisconsin frontier. The plotting is interesting and the pacing works for the plot. Sort of. The story has several flashbacks and these are sometimes jarring and rambled. I know that was meant to show Georgie's frame of mind, but it made the story rather awkward in places. The mystery and action are wonderfully done when they're included and will probably keep readers engaged, particularly if they are into this sort of story. I would have liked this much more if I had liked or appreciated any of the characters but they all seemed to me to be stereotypical with little to no depth. Also the last couple pages are a little preachy in tone for my taste. Almost like the author wanted to sum up the whole thing with "And the moral is..." 

Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus
Shadow on the Mountain is a story of spies and espionage in WWII Norway. It is a fictionalized account of true events. It is an excellent choice for anyone who enjoys historical fiction and wants to know more about World War II. There isn't as much action and adventure as you might expect from a novel about spies, but that grounds it in reality more. It is very episodic in nature and covers a lot of years and I had trouble connecting to or caring for the characters as a result. 

The Unfortunate Son by Constance Leeds 
The Unfortunate Son is strong historical fiction. The story is very plot centered so there is a lot of this happened and then this happened. The characters were not well developed and I felt a distance from the story as a result. I'm a character reader and I felt the characterization was lacking a lot here. The story was an interesting one. It is not often that you get a story of a European boy being taken captive as a slave to Africa. I have to say that the ending bothered me quite a bit. The story just sort of stops with little resolution.
 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Dodger

Confession Time

Confession #1: I have confessed this before. I'm not a Dickens fan. I LOVE A Tale of Two Cities. It is one of my all time favorite books. Everything else he wrote? Not so much. I have never been able to make it all the way through Oliver Twist.

Confession #2: Until Dodger I had never read anything by Terry Pratchett. I would ask why some of you never told me to. But you did. Repeatedly. 

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
A storm. Rain-lashed city streets. A flash of lightning. A scruffy lad sees a girl leap desperately from a horse-drawn carriage in a vain attempt to escape her captors. Can the lad stand by and let her be caught again? Of course not, because he's...Dodger.
Seventeen-year-old Dodger may be a street urchin, but he gleans a living from London's sewers, and he knows a jewel when he sees one. He's not about to let anything happen to the unknown girl--not even if her fate impacts some of the most powerful people in England.

Dodger is a character written for me to love:
And he cried real tears, which was quite easy to do, and it shocked him inside, and he wondered if there was anything in the boy called Dodger that was totally himself, pure and simple, not just a whole packet of Dodgers. Indeed, he hoped in his soul that Simplicity would embrace the decent Dodger and put him on something approaching the straight and narrow, provided it was not all that straight and not all that narrow.
Yes, he appealed to all of my love for heroes who are truly honorable but flirt with the darker side of life. And manage to keep their sense of humor alive while doing it. I also adored Pratchett's portrayal of Charles Dickens. These two characters together-watching them interact-make this a fascinating read from start to finish. 

Charles Dickens is not the only famous name to pop up in this tale. Dodger also encounters Sweeney Todd-the Demon Barber himself-Benjamin Disraeli, and Sir Robert Peel. Less well known personages of Victorian London make an appearance as well. The novel is considered a historical fantasy because Pratchett manipulated some facts such as dates. He also gave Dickens a large role and a personality to go with it. This might be a problem for me in the hands of a lesser author but Pratchett got the tone and feel of the Victorian era so well, and that matters to me far more. 

In many ways the plot felt like a Victorian version of Bruce Alexander's Fielding series, including its wordiness and sometimes unnecessary detail. I liked this far more though because Dodger is such an interesting and engaging character. One that will have any reader cheering for him to win the day and anything else he can get his hands on.   

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Stolen Magic

Isn't it great when a series just gets better and better with each installment? That is definitely the case with the Kat, Incorrigible series by Stephanie Burgis. The third, and final, book is the best and that is saying something when the first two were so good. There is so much to love about Stolen Magic.

Synopsis:
With just days to go before her sister Angeline’s long-delayed wedding to Frederick Carlyle, the impetuous Kat Stephenson has resigned herself to good behavior. But Kat’s initiation into the magical Order of the Guardians is fast approaching, and trouble seems to follow her everywhere.
First, Kat must contend with the wretched Mrs. Carlyle’s attempts to humiliate her sister; the arrival of the mysterious Marquise de Valmont, who bears suspicious resemblance to Kat’s late mother; and Frederick’s bewitching cousin Jane, who has Charles Stephenson tripping over his feet. But when a menacing boy with powerful magic starts hunting Kat, a dastardly villain tries to kill Angeline, and the Guardians face a magical robbery that could spell the end of their Order, propriety becomes the least of Kat’s concerns.
Can Kat save her sister’s life, the Order of the Guardians, and England itself before it’s too late?

Let's pause a moment to admire how gorgeous this cover is. That expression on her face is absolutely perfect. So much of Kat's personality is conveyed in her face there.

I loved the Regency house party set up of Kat Incorrigible (my thoughts) and I loved the mystery and political aspects of Renegade Magic (my thoughts).  Stolen Magic combines both of these so it's not surprising how much I adore it. There is more than one mystery going on here and the plot is full of action, adventure, and, of course, magic. I don't want to say much more than that about the story. If you enjoyed Kat's other adventures you will enjoy this as well.

My favorite part of this series is the characters and how they grow and change. Kat is far more disciplined even if her family hasn't quite realized it yet. Lady Fotherington continues to be as vindictive and mean as ever, but watching Kat foil her is one of the most fun aspects of each novel. Charles really comes into his own in this story. The events in Bath forever changed him and watching Kat contend with this new and improved version of her brother is just wonderful. Two new characters are introduced in this book as well and they are both amazing (and that's all I can say about that).

The twists and surprises at the end were delightful, but they definitely had me wishing for more to come. The story definitely comes to a close, tying up the loose ends and story lines begun in the trilogy. It is satisfying, but I just don't want to let go of these characters. I love them all so much. I can only hope someday there will be more.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Trouble with Flirting

I have discussed before my complicated relationship with Jane Austen retellings. When I first heard of  The Trouble with Flirting by Claire LaZebnik I figured I would be pretty safe as it is a reworking of Mansfield Park. Mansfield Park is so much a mess on its own that it's sort of  hard to ruin it. Then Christina at A Reader of Fictions wrote this review that actually made me excited about reading it. So I did and actually really enjoyed it.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Franny's supposed to be working this summer, not flirting. But you can't blame her when guys like Alex and Harry are around. . . .
Franny Pearson never dreamed she'd be attending the prestigious Mansfield Summer Theater Program. And she's not, exactly. She's working for her aunt, the resident costume designer. But sewing her fingers to the bone does give her an opportunity to spend time with her crush, Alex Braverman. If only he were as taken with the girl hemming his trousers as he is with his new leading lady.
When Harry Cartwright, a notorious flirt, shows more than a friendly interest in Franny, she figures it can't hurt to have a little fun. But as their breezy romance grows more complicated, can Franny keep pretending that Harry is just a carefree fling? And why is Alex suddenly giving her those deep, meaningful looks? In this charming tale of mixed messages and romantic near-misses, one thing is clear: Flirting might be more trouble than Franny ever expected.


I will make it clear from the beginning: LaZebnik messed with the plot of Mansfield Park. She changed stuff. Big stuff. I normally have no tolerance for this sort of thing when it comes to Jane Austen. But let's all be honest. Mansfield Park needs work. I love Austen, but not that book. And I LOVE what LaZebnik did with the story. She kept the basic structure of the novel and even paid homage to the importance of theater and the concept of playing a role and hiding one's true nature, important themes from the original. There is an added infusion of Shakespeare in the story to achieve this. Further awesomeness. I am not going into details of what was changed because I don't want to spoil it. Let's just say that what she did with one character in particular made me a very happy girl.

Franny is a heroine that has confidence and insecurities in equal measure. She is a relateable and flawed character. I was frustrated with her several times because I wanted her to make better choices, but I also loved how she learned from those mistakes and how she grew as a result. She is a smart girl, and yet she is young and inexperienced at life and this make a difference in how she sees things. The other characters all come to life in wonderful ways as well. My favorite thing about this book is the dialogue which had me laughing in many places. I love the interactions between the characters and how much depth the interactions gave them all.
  
This is an excellent read for anyone who likes good stories about growing up with a bit of romance, whether your an Austen fan or not.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Frogged

I love a good fairy tale retelling especially one that adds new twists and is good fun to read. Frogged by Vivian Vande Velde does and is.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
One should be able to say of a princess “She was as good as she was beautiful,” according to The Art of Being a Princess (third revised edition), which the almost-thirteen-year-old Princess Imogene is supposed to be reading. Not feeling particularly good, or all that beautiful, she heads for a nearby pond, where, unfortunately, a talking frog tricks her into kissing him. No prince appears, as one might expect. Instead, the princess turns into a frog herself! Thus launches a funny, wonderfully spun fractured fairy tale in which Imogene wonders if she will be forever frogified.

Now if you read the synopsis I know what your thinking: Another retelling of "The Frog Prince" where the girl turns into a frog post kiss. I know. I was thinking it to when I reached that part, but it's different. Trust me. She turns into a frog, but the boy-turned-frog does turn back into a boy. That is the tricky part of this curse. If someone kisses you the curse isn't broken, it passes on to them. Imogene isn't the sort of person who can pass on a curse though and so she has to figure out a way to undo it some other way. Thus starts an amusing adventure involving a cranky witch, a girl too willing to fall for a charming smile from a rogue, a couple charming rogues, an acting troupe, and some badly written iambic pentameter. 

This book is so much fun. And it's a short quick read, perfect for an afternoon of good entertainment. This is a story that can be enjoyed by a wide range of ages too.  

I read an e-galley made available via the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Frogged is on sale now.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

SLJ BoB: And the Winner Is..

I can't say I'm happy since this means Code Name Verity lost. I am happy that if it had to lose it lost to No Crystal Stair rather than The Fault in Our Stars. Even if Frank Cottrell Boyce's reasons for choosing No Crystal Stair over it had me shaking my head in confusion. I vehemently disagree with a couple things Boyce had to say: I don't think the treatment of torture in Code Name Verity was flip and I felt Julie's torment powerfully. I also laughed when he said the death in The Fault in Our Stars was a "nasty surprise". No it wasn't. I knew exactly what was going to happen in that book the moment I read the synopsis. I do think No Crystal Stair is a deserving book and I'm happy to see it get more recognition.

The best part of this year's Battle was the kid commentators. They came through with well written and intelligent critiques when the majority of this year's judges failed at this. I think we need to have the kids judge this from now on. They are who the books are for after all.

A close second to the kids was the wonderful graphic designs. I looked forward to seeing the depictions of the books battling more than the judges decisions.

As always the work Monica, Roxanne, Jonathan, and all the staff at SLJ put into this is very much appreciated. Looking forward to next year!