Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sorrow's Knot

Sometimes it is so hard being a blogger, because books like Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow come along. A book that is so beautifully written, heart wrenching, and immediately beloved that I know whatever words I come up with to tell you about it will be woefully inadequate.

Synopsis:
The girl who remade the world was born in the winter. 
The dead do not rest easy. Every patch of shadow might be home to something hungry, something deadly. Most of the people of this world live on the sunlit, treeless prairies. But a few carve out an uneasy living in the forest towns, keeping the dead at bay with wards made from magically knotted cords. The women who tie these knots are called binders. And Otter's mother, Willow, is one of the greatest binders her people have ever known.
But Willow does not wish for her daughter to lead the lonely, heavy life of a binder, so she chooses another as her apprentice. Otter is devastated by this choice, and what's more, it leaves her untrained when the village falls under attack. In a moment of desperation, Otter casts her first ward, and the results are disastrous. But now Otter may be her people's only hope against the shadows that threaten them. Will the challenge be too great for her? Or will she find a way to put the dead to rest once and for all?

The writing in Sorrow's Knot is wordcraft at its most eloquent. Otter's story is a complicated one that ties the mythology of her people with their present dangers. Otter hears the stories, some of which are forbidden, from her best friend who is training as a storyteller. She also finds herself living a story. A story in which she, a binder, plays an integral part just as another binder did so many years ago. Bow uses all of these elements in the structure of her story. Every word and sentence has the cadence and rhythm of a story being told. In Otter's world the storytellers use drums and rattles as they spin their tales, and I swear you can even hear that in the way Bow strung her words together. Then there is the binding aspect. Every piece, every segment, every word is tied together the same way Otter ties her wards, creating magic but also binding the reader. As I read there were places where I could feel those bonds tightening on me as they were on Otter. 

And let's talk about Otter, who is now holding the number one spot for best heroine in a book I've read this year. She is facing difficult odds, rejected by her mother, adrift, not knowing what she wants to do. The only this she ever wanted to be was taken from and at first she does nothing to move out of her drifting state. Bow established early and well that Otter has courage, power, and will though and all of those things come to serve her well as she is faced with ever increasing hardships. She has to make so many difficult choices and they don't always turn out for good. In fact they often turn out quite horribly. I love how she learns, grows, and faces what comes next even when she has just pulled through horror that could break most people. (And indeed does.) Otter is as successful as she is though because she has an amazing support team in her best friends, Kestrel and Cricket. I loved both of them just as much as Otter. Each has their own strengths and faults and the three of them fit together so well as a team. Later in the book an equally wonderful character, Orca, also joins Otter in her journeys and struggles. All four of these characters forever hold places in my heart. 

The world here is reminiscent of pre-colonized North America, but is not based on any particular culture. That is all Bow's brilliant creation. The world feels so real that you can almost believe it to be true though. Bow's prose brings the forests, the caldera, the frozen river, every place her characters go to vivid and colorful life. Her descriptive talents also manage to create one of the most horrific monsters I have read of in some time. The White Hands are not fully evil, which makes their hunger and anger all the more terrifying. Through Otter's story so much is said of tradition-both its importance and the importance of challenging it, how knowledge and understanding of the past can illuminate your present and direct your future, and the importance and magic in the words of the story.  A favorite quote:
"A storyteller can spin a web that will hold the dead listening until they dry up like stranded eels. A storyteller can change men's minds. Tell their futures. Compel their help. Create their love. With a little work and time, Kestrel, this storyteller could drive you quite mad." 

Sorrow's Knot has a definite place in my top 10 list for the year. It is actually one of the top three books I've read this year. I can not recommend it highly enough. 

I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Arthur Levine Books, via NetGalley. Sorrow's Knot is available for purchase now. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Rules for Ghosting

This has been a great year for books with ghosts. (Maybe this is the case every year except I've just actually been reading them this year.) Either way, Rules of Ghosting by A.J. Paquette is a fun addition to this years crop of ghost books, particularly good for the younger MG reader who wants to read a haunting tale without being creeped out or scared.

Synopsis:
Twelve-year-old Dahlia has always lived at Silverton Manor-having spent fifty years as its resident ghost. When Oliver Day and his family show up as house-sitters the day Mrs. Tibbs, a Liberator sent by the Spectral Investigative Council, arrives to teach Dahlia the proper rules for ghosting, Dahlia can't wait to make new friends. But the unscrupulous ghost hunter, Rank Wiley, and the crooked town councilman, Jock Rutabartle, plan to rid Silverton Manor of its ghosts and sell it to the highest bidder. With her home and friendships at stake Dahlia may have to break the rules of ghosting as quickly as she learns them to solve the mystery of her death and save the manor.


Rules for Ghosting has a wonderful cast of characters. Dahlia is a ghost who learned how to negotiate her ghostly existence all on her own. She star gazes, gardens (catching dead flowers to add to her collection), and has her own special room in the house. She is bound to the grounds of the property where she died, and has never figured out how to leave. This changes when Mrs. Tibbs arrives to explain a mistake has been made and she is there to help Dahlia locate her anchor and move on. Mrs. Tibbs is a wonderful mentor, kind, understanding, and hard working. On the heels of Mrs. Tibbs, Oliver and his family arrive to fix up the Manor for sale. Oliver takes one look at the house and knows this is his family's dream house. They need to do everything they can to remain in it. He enlists the help of his siblings, and they are able to help not only themselves but Dahlia and Mrs. Tibbs too, who are in danger from a devious ghost hunter there to trap and experiment on them.

I love stories with old houses, mysteries, and hidden rooms. This story has all of them. There is an old curse on the house that is rumored to have caused terrible damage to many family members. More than one mysterious death has occurred there. It is up to Dahlia and her human friends to untangle the mystery of the curse and her own death so that she can move on and they can save the house. As I also always love a good sibling story, this aspect of the book worked really well for me too. Silverton Manor is the perfect setting for such a story, the villain  strikes just the right tone between creepy and easily duped, and the heroes are likeable.

If you know a person looking for a ghost story, who isn't quite looking for the darker elements found in books like The Year of Shadows (my thoughts) and The Screaming Staircase (my thoughts), this is a wonderful choice.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

COVER LOVE: New DWJ Covers

Cover Love is hosted by Shae Has Left the Room and is for the purpose of sharing the love of amazing and wonderful covers.

The UK editions of Diana Wynne Jones's books have been getting new covers over the past few years. These covers have all been magnificent. I'm not going to lie, I have ordered new copies of all of them from Book Depository as soon as they became available. This latest batch will be no exception. They are beautiful. And boy do they capture the  spirit of the books.




Aren't they gorgeous???? 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Cinder and Scarlet

I love fairy tales and fairy tale retellings and I ordinarily try to read them as soon as possible. I decided to wait on Cinder by Marissa Meyer because I knew it was first in a series. Also I'm sort of over the futuristic thing for the most part, even if it's futuristic fairy tales. (Haha-so I told myself.) I was going to be cool and calm. Then Scarlet came out and my interest level went up. Way up. I mean, a retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood"!?! How often do we see that? Not often. Still. I was cool and calm. Then they revealed the cover for Cress and I gave up the whole cool and calm thing. I'm in now. I'm all in.

Cinder Synopsis:
Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl.
Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future
.


 Cinder is a wonderful heroine. She's a brilliant mechanic (grease spots instead of ashes). She is a smart, caring, and fierce when angry. I really liked her relationship with her nice stepsister and her family's android. Experiencing her adjustments to her rapidly changing reality was a wonderful ride. The plot is fast paced and interesting. I loved the world Meyer created and found the Lunar people, who were human colonists on the moon who changed to have some Fae type abilities. The blending of this old type of folklore with the futuristic setting was genius. I also enjoyed the twists that Meyer gave the original tale, including not ending it in the manner one would expect. Prince Kai is a bit of  a disappointment, not at all swoon worthy, but I LOVED that aspect and can't wait to see where Meyer is taking this whole thing. In this volume a lot of time is spent building the world, so the characters other than Cinder aren't developed as well as I normally like. Still, the book is so much fun and I'm sure the rest of the series will be the same. I do like how she managed to introduce elements of the three other heroines into this one.

I came away for Cinder feeling greatly entertained, with an longing to know what would happen next, but without any real intense feelings. Then I read Scarlet...

Scarlet Synopsis:
Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She's trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she'll be the Commonwealth's most wanted fugitive.
Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit's grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn't know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother's whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.
 


I really enjoyed what Meyer did with the tale of Red Riding Hood, how she manipulated and made it her own. And how she managed to include the fraught sexual themes of the tale without getting into a creepy weird dynamic or being explicit. At all. That was really well done. And when I say that the relationship dynamic wasn't creepy weird that truly means something. I have no attraction to stories about dangerous men and the girls who fall for them. I hate them quite frankly. This made m e a little wary going into this one, but the way Meyer presented the situation it worked for me. I actually adored everything about Wolf and Scarlet. Separately and as a team they are both wonderful. 

The BEST part of this story though I wasn't even expecting..

The story here bounces back and forth between Wolf and Scarlet and what Cinder is up to. She is escaping from prison and also trying to find Scarlet's grandmother. Along the way she picks up a companion. An accomplice. His name is Captain Thorne. OH. MY. GOODNESS. As much as I wasn't turned off by Wolf, I didn't find him swoon worthy either. Kai also continues to be not swoon worthy. Thorne is making up for their lacks already. He is vain, sarcastic, and has a penchant for picking up items that belong to other people. Any regular reader of this blog knows there was no question about my falling for him. And did I ever. Given his name and personality I have high hopes for his amount of page time in Cress.Which I basically want NOW. This is why I wasn't going to start this until they were all out. Sigh. Still. I have no regrets.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Shorter Musings: MG Fantasy WITH ANIMALS!

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 (animals included) I have read recently with my thoughts.


The Adventures of a South Pole Pig by Chris Kurtz
 I concede it was well written. And it will appeal to a certain group on the younger end of the MG/upper end of the Early Chapter Book spectrum. I did not enjoy it at all.  I almost DNFed it. I would have except I didn't have a back up book the day I was reading it. (Lesson: ALWAYS have a back up book.) This book embodies everything I LOATHE about animal stories and it was far too precious. In a world where Charlotte's Web exists why do we need this book? (We don't.) 

Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo 
I adore the concept of Flora and Ulysses. A squirrel receives super powers (that involve poetry writing) after being sucked up by a new ultra-vacuum and pairs up with a lonely girl to save the world. The book is filled with larger than life characters and adventures that kids will find hilarious while reading it, if they can get through the difficult language. (Words like posit and malfeasance are regularly used by the two child protagonists.)The sentence level writing is excellent, but overall this book was just too full of quirky for me to love. Way too full. This is a one way ticket to Quirky Town in Quirky Country, residents all super-quirky. A little quirky gives a book a certain shine. Too much quirky and I'm going to not enjoy it. Unfortunately this one fell in the latter camp for me. I do think it would make an outstanding read aloud and could be tremendously useful teaching writing to upper level elementary students.

The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck
The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail is a cute read about a young mouse who lives at Buckingham Palace in the days surrounding Queen Victoria's Jubilee. He is an engaging little mouse and his story includes all of the requisite elements of a mouse tale: an encounter with a cat, a barn scene, some startled royalty, a flight around in the talons of a flying creature, and a discovery of his importance despite his small size. Nothing new or ground breaking, but it is all well written and fun. It would make an excellent read aloud for the 1st-3rd grade crowd.

Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paulo Bacigalupi
  IT HAS COWS! IT COUNTS!
I didn't enjoy reading this book at all. The characterization was shallow and there was little actual plot development. When you factor in the didactic tone and the grossness of it all, I had a hard time finishing it. It had so much potential, but all the characters are one note stereotypes. Even the heroes had very little to offer that was likeable. Bacigalupi definitely wanted to write a book that shed some light on the issues of the exploitation of illegal immigrant workers and the overall dodginess of the meat packing industry. All well and good. We should be discussing and thinking about those things, but his execution of this was heavy handed. Kids will be drawn to it because they like creepy gross books, but beyond that there is nothing on offer here.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Favorite City Settings

I love big cities. I would live in one if it were at all possible right now. As it is, I spend as much time as I can in my small city's downtown. It makes sense then that I am drawn to books that are set in large cities. Here are some of my favorites:

LONDON:
NEW YORK:


PARIS:



SYDNEY:

MELBOURNE:
LOS ANGELES:


What about you? Do you prefer city or rural settings? What are some of your favorites?


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Empire of Bones

I love anything N.D. Wilson writes, but his Ashtown Burials Series has become one of my all time favorite series and that status was cemented when I read an e-galley of its latest installment, Empire of Bones.

This is a series and you need to read the first two installments before reading this one. They are The Dragon's Tooth (my thoughts) and The Drowned Vault (my thoughts). If you haven't read those, go now. Don't waste any more time.

Synopsis:
Cyrus and Antigone Smith have thwarted Dr. Phoenix's plans—for the moment. And they've uncovered a new threat from the transmortals and managed to escape with their lives. Their next adventure will take them deep into the caves below Ashtown, where they will look for help from those imprisoned in one of Ashtown's oldest tombs. 

Like its predecessors, Empire of Bones gets off to an action packed start and just keeps going. There are moments of calm but they are briefer than ever as the heroes are racing toward an unavoidable confrontation with two sets of opponents. This book is mostly about that confrontation and the immediate events leading up to it. Through this the characters that have made the series so outstanding continue to be nuanced and wonderful. The amount of growth in Cyrus over the three books so far is impressive. In this book Antigone also has some growing to do as she confronts her fears and her changing relationship with her little brother. Antigone is seeing the difference in him and there is some reconciling reality with expectation that she needs to do. There is a conversation between Antigone and Diana about Cyrus that only a guy's sister and a girl most definitely not his sister can have about him. It's one of my favorite scenes because it so deftly developed all three of their characters so much more in just a couple of pages. That is the way to do character development.

As for the other characters, they are ALL back again in this volume. Characters from the first book not in the second even make a return (this includes the giant turtle Leon). Nolan continues to be one of my favorites, as does Arachne (but she was not around as much as she was in the last book). A few new characters were  introduced into the mix yet again as well. It all reached a point about halfway through the book where I wondered if it had grown too big and maybe the whole creation was going to topple like a house of cards. Not that it was wobbly, I just couldn't possibly see how it would all come together. Wilson managed it though and with great finesse. There is a major battle, lives are lost, and people are seriously hurt. This was all done realistically without being overly graphic and violent.

One thing I really appreciate about this series in contrast to others of its ilk is how present and accounted for the adults are. They are true mentors, trying their hardest to teach the kids and protect them, while acknowledging they are in danger no matter what. The relationship between Cyrus and Rupus is particularly interesting. 

The aspect of the book that impressed me the most though was Wilson's deft use of biblical symbolism and how he wove it into the story. I really like how he handled that, and how he took a rather different tack than other authors who have dealt with similar themes. 

As usual, I marked so many pages with amazing quotes, but I think I will limit myself to just one:
In every herd, many stampede, while only a few turn to face the lions. Cowards live for the sake of the living, but for heroes, life is a weapon, a thing to be spent, a gift to be given to the weak and the lost and the weary, even to the foolish and cowardly.

Every word this character speaks for the next two pages is wonderfully poignant and true. Then Cyrus's response is FUNNY and it struck exactly the right balance and released so much tension. That is the craft of writing at its finest. 

The Ashtown Burials are among those books that straddle the upper MG/lower YA ends of the market, but they are for anyone-whatever age -who loves adventure, mystery, mythology, and darn good writing. 

I read an e-galley made available from the publisher, Random House Books for Young Readers, via NetGalley. Empire of Bones will be released October 22.  

Monday, October 14, 2013

Fangirl

I really enjoy Rainbow Rowell's writing, from her adult novel Attachments to her YA Eleanor & Park. I just love the way she paints pictures with words and creates characters who are real and easy to relate to. For all those reasons plus its amazing synopsis I was so excited to read Fangirl.

Synopsis:
Cath is a Simon Snow fan.
Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .
But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.
Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.
Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.
For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?
Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?
And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

I LOVE Cath. And man could I relate to her. I am a fangirl. I find it far too easy to get sucked into obsessions that have nothing to do with the real world. I completely understood her dedication to her world. I also understood her anxieties and need for space and time for herself. Many readers may find it odd that she avoided the cafeteria at college for so long simply because she didn't know how it worked and didn't want to ask anyone. I got that. In fact so much of Cath's freshman year is equivalent to mine it is scary. I adored this aspect of the book. That here was a deeply introverted character and she isn't presented as weird or strange. She is who she is. She has issues to deal with sure and a lot of room for growth, but her personality was not the problem and wasn't made to be. I also loved the boy. Every little bit of him, their interactions, and the development of their relationship (and that's all I'll say about that).

Rowell's writing style is superb as always, woven with sarcastic humor, deep emotion, and the wonderful way she has of bringing her world to life.

I do feel like there was a little too much going on and as a result not all of it was developed as well as it could be. There were a lot of threads in the story: Cath's writing, the pressure she feels over her writing, her relationship with her manic father, her relationship with her sister (who has a drinking problem), her non-relationship with her estranged mother, the boys. And all of this is interspersed with Cath's own fanfiction writing (which I will admit I skipped a lot of). I think I would have connected to the story more if this had been pared down. Still. It is a fun and engrossing read. Rowell is one of my auto-buy authors now.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

I have said it before: I don't love animal stories. I was pretty excited about The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt despite that, and not only because I heard wonderful things about it from others. No. It was because of the raccoons on the cover. See, I've always had a thing for raccoons. They were my favorite animal growing up. They began my love with rascally thieves really. And this book features a pair of adorable rascally (rascally adorable?) raccoon brothers.

Synopsis:
Raccoon brothers Bingo and J’miah are the newest recruits of the Official Sugar Man Swamp Scouts. The opportunity to serve the Sugar Man—the massive creature who delights in delicious sugar cane and magnanimously rules over the swamp—is an honor, and also a big responsibility, since the rest of the swamp critters rely heavily on the intel of these hardworking Scouts.
Twelve-year-old Chap Brayburn is not a member of any such organization. But he loves the swamp something fierce, and he’ll do anything to help protect it.
And help is surely needed, because world-class alligator wrestler Jaeger Stitch wants to turn Sugar Man swamp into an Alligator World Wrestling Arena and Theme Park, and the troubles don’t end there. There is also a gang of wild feral hogs on the march, headed straight toward them all.
The Scouts are ready. All they have to do is wake up the Sugar Man. Problem is, no one’s been able to wake that fellow up in a decade or four…


Bingo and J'miah were just as wonderful as I had hoped. Appelt gave them endearing personalities and maintained their raccoon nature perfectly at the same time. I loved how they were so different and yet the bond of their brotherhood was strong enough to keep them together through all of their adventures. In addition to the raccoons, I thoroughly enjoyed the character of Sweetums the cat. I wish there had been more of Sweetums. He didn't get nearly enough page time. The humans in the story were not as likeable for me. I can't believe I am saying this, but I would have preferred this story without them. (What is wrong with me? I may need to lay down.)

The swamp setting was well done. I could feel the humidity, the annoying mosquitoes, and hear the sounds of the night. I felt like I was there.

The style of the writing is brilliant in many ways. It flows well and Appelt used a variety of sentence structures to give the story a perfect rhythm. This will make an outstanding read aloud. One troubling aspect for me was the narrator talking to me. I understand why that was done given this has the feel of a spoken folk tale. But still. Nothing is going to throw me out of a story faster than that. I was also annoyed by the use of the term "we". I could never quite figure out if the narrator was referring to me in that we or if they were using it in the royal sense.

This is a fun tale and great to give to the young animal lovers in your life. (Or to read aloud to them, because really truly it will make a spectacular read aloud.)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Across a Star-Swept Sea

The Scarlet Pimpernel is one of my all time favorite books. On one hand it is so much fun with romance, melodrama, and mustache twirling villains. On the other hand it deals with some pretty serious issues such as what lack of respect and trust do to a relationship, what we owe our fellow man, and what individuals do to try to make the world better when their governments can't (or won't). So I was excited when I learned Diana Peterfreund's latest novel, Across a Star-Swept Sea would be a futuristic retelling of this wonderful story, and that she was flipping the genders of the two main characters. The book did not disappoint, it has the same balance of fun and seriousness as the original.

Synopsis:
Centuries after wars nearly destroyed civilization, the two islands of New Pacifica stand alone, a terraformed paradise where even the Reduction—the devastating brain disorder that sparked the wars—is a distant memory. Yet on the isle of Galatea, an uprising against the ruling aristocrats has turned deadly. The revolutionaries’ weapon is a drug that damages their enemies’ brains, and the only hope is rescue by a mysterious spy known as the Wild Poppy.
On the neighboring island of Albion, no one suspects that the Wild Poppy is actually famously frivolous aristocrat Persis Blake. The teenager uses her shallow, socialite trappings to hide her true purpose: her gossipy flutternotes are encrypted plans, her pampered sea mink is genetically engineered for spying, and her well-publicized new romance with handsome Galatean medic Justen Helo… is her most dangerous mission ever.
Though Persis is falling for Justen, she can’t risk showing him her true self, especially once she learns he’s hiding far more than simply his disenchantment with his country’s revolution and his undeniable attraction to the silly socialite he’s pretending to love. His darkest secret could plunge both islands into a new dark age, and Persis realizes that when it comes to Justen Helo, she’s not only risking her heart, she’s risking the world she’s sworn to protect.


I adored both Persis and Justen. Persis is so young, only 16, and this shows in her confusion and often tumultuous emotions. She is brilliant, a gifted diplomat, loyal, and brave. She is still so young though and I like how that was evident in her interactions with Justen and her desire and need to trust him. Justen is also brilliant. He is a medic and scientist, truly great at what he does even though he is also young. He isn't completely clueless when it comes to Persis either. He knows she isn't as vapid as she sometimes acts, but he's confused about the different sides of her he's noticed and decides she is apathetic to the important events going on around them. I enjoyed the way their relationship played out, the tentative friendship that developed, the way they fought their attraction to each other, how they discovered each others' secrets, and how it was resolved. The gender flip worked really well, particularly because it brings up such good points about expectations. Justen has some great introspective moments on his own innate snobbery and whether or not Persis was able to fool him simply because she acted the way he expected females of her ilk to act. 

The villain, Vania, is daring, rash, and slightly unhinged by the end. She fits the role of villain for a retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel perfectly. She isn't very nuanced or layered, but that's okay because what her character is works for this story.

The narration is third person omniscient and the reader knows what everyone is doing and thinking. There are no real surprises. However, this did not take a way from the action at all. Even knowing the story of the original I was on the edge of my seat. The world in this book is very different than it's companion novel, For Darkness Shows the Stars (my thoughts). The people of New Pacifica have no problems with technology and the world is full of wonderful tech gadgets, futuristic versions of things we use today. I enjoyed this aspect as well as the political themes brought out in both countries. Peterfreund did a great job of mirroring England/France, while also creating a unique and interesting world. 
  
Across a Star Swept Sea is an excellent novel in its own right and wonderful retelling of a beloved classic. It is a companion to For Darkness Shows the Stars, but can be read as a stand alone (though the world will be better understood if one reads both in order I think). I enjoyed Across a Star Swept Sea more because I loved both Persis and Justen so much and was so caught up in their story.

I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Balzer+Bray, via Edelweiss. Across a Star Swept Sea is available for purchase on October 15. 


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

CYBILS Nominations: Only a Week Left!

Nominations for the CYBILS have been going for a week now and some great books have been nominated. There are still many that haven't been though. If you have been waiting, now is the perfect time to nominate your favorites.

Here are some books in the categories I read the most from that haven't been nominated yet. I'm sure there are lots more too.

GO HERE TO NOMINATE.

EMG SPECULATIVE FICTION
The Fellowship for Alien Detection by Kevin Emerson
Frogged by Vivian Vande Velde
Garden Princess by Kristin Kladstsrup
How to Catch a Bogle by Catherine Jinks
North of Nowhere by Liz Kessler
Texting the Underworld by Ellen Booraem  
The Time Fetch by Amy Herrick
The Vengekeep Prophecies by Brian Farrey
The Watcher in the Shadows by Chris Moriarty
The Whatnot by Stephen Bachmann

MG FICTION
The Heartbreak Messenger by Alexander Vance

YA SPECULATIVE FICTION
City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster
The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett
Paper Valentine by Brenna Yavanoff
Tandem by Anna Jarzab

YA FICTION
Dead Ends by Erin Jade Lange 
Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill
Out of This Place by Emma Cameron
The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan 
The Trouble with Flirting by Claire LaZebnik
You Look Different in Real Life by Jennifer Castle

Here is a link to more lists at the CYBILS website.

TTT: Best/Worst Series Enders


This week's TTT topic is Best/Worst Series Enders.


Best Series Enders:



Series Enders that were NOT my cup of tea:


 


Monday, October 7, 2013

Texting the Underworld

I adored Small Persons with Wings by Ellen Booream (my thoughts), so when I discovered that Booream had a new book coming out about a Banshee and a trip to the Underworld I was excited as could be. I was even more excited when I won a copy of Texting the Underworld via a giveaway at Charlotte's Library.

Synopsis:
Perpetual scaredy-cat Conor O'Neill has the fright of his life when a banshee girl named Ashling shows up in his bedroom. Ashling is--as all banshees are--a harbinger of death, but she's new at this banshee business, and first she insists on going to middle school. As Conor attempts to hide her identity from his teachers, he realizes he's going to have to pay a visit to the underworld if he wants to keep his family safe.

Conor is not a kid looking for adventure. He likes his world safe and predictable. And spider free. He is not a coward however, no matter how much he thinks he is (and his sister claims he is). When push comes to shove, he rises to the challenge and I liked him all the more for his certainty that he was not cut out for this. Conor is faced with a crazy situation and a horrifying choice that could possibly break anyone. Watching as he found his inner strength to do what was required was fascinating. He has just the right amount of snarky humor to keep a reader like me smiling all the way through too. I loved Ashling, the banshee, too. She has a job, a reward coming to her if she finishes it, and is being manipulated by the Lady who controls the Underworld (for the Irish). I loved how enthusiastic for life she was and how much she craved the world and all it had to offer. She and Conor made great foils for one another, and a great team.
 
The story is one that plays with Irish mythology and the idea of reincarnation. There are interesting flashbacks to Ashling's life in the world and how it connected with a past life of Conor. I enjoyed how the story moved between this and Conor's life in the modern world, with its typical middle school problems. I appreciated the interactions of Conor's family, the parents who cared, and the role is grandfather played as well. 


Texting the Underworld is a fun adventurous mix of myth, modern technology, humor, and hard choices. I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys any of these.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Tandem

Tandem by Anna Jarzab is a book about parallel universes, political intrigue, and war. I was intrigued from the moment I read about it despite the allusion to a possible love triangle (It isn't a love triangle though so don't let that turn you off.). I was excited to receive an e-galley. It was an entertaining read, but in the end my feelings are mixed.

Synopsis:
 Everything repeats.
You. Your best friend. Every person you know.
Many worlds. Many lives--infinite possibilities.
Welcome to the multiverse.

Sixteen-year-old Sasha Lawson has only ever known one small, ordinary life. When she was young, she loved her grandfather's stories of parallel worlds inhabited by girls who looked like her but led totally different lives. Sasha never believed such worlds were real--until now, when she finds herself thrust into one against her will.
To prevent imminent war, Sasha must slip into the life of an alternate version of herself, a princess who has vanished on the eve of her arranged marriage. If Sasha succeeds in fooling everyone, she will be returned home; if she fails, she'll be trapped in another girl's life forever. As time runs out, Sasha finds herself torn between two worlds, two lives, and two young men vying for her love--one who knows her secret, and one who thinks she's someone she's not.


I really liked Sasha as a main character. She is smart, courageous, and thinks fast on her feet. I was impressed by how she refused to accept her situation easily. She knew she was in danger no matter what, but hated being controlled. I love how she chose to fight for her freedom at first and didn't just comply. I also love how she did end up complying, because by the time she did it was the best she could make of the situation. She does so much in her role as Juliana that she doesn't have to: continuing to sit with the debilitated king, trying to decipher the message he seems to be telling her, attempting to spare the feelings of Callum, the boy Juliana is betrothed to. He wants to make the best of their situation and she doesn't want to lead him on, thinking she won't be there long. Her character was well drawn and kept me in the story even when other things were annoying me enough they might have thrown me out of it. Thomas, the young operative who kidnapped Sasha from her world and is also the princess's bodyguard, is an intriguing character too. What he did to Sasha is awful, but from his soldier-take-orders-loyal-to-his-country perspective is all that can be done. I like how the reader sees his belief in that unravel, how he questions things, and how he tries to make things right. Callum felt more like a plot device than anything else, only there to move the action in a particular direction at one point. 

The book opens with an intriguing look at the Princess Juliana and her world, and then switches to Thomas coming to Earth. It is highly mysterious and intriguing. The book shifts from third person Juliana, third person Thomas, and first person Sasha perspectives. This was jarring at times and felt like a bit too much. The first few chapters are fast paced and adventurous. The pace slows down a bit while Sasha is playing the role of Juliana at the castle, but picks up again at the end. There are many twists and turns, some of which I figured out and some I didn't. My one big complaint with the book is that the romance felt too forced. It happened too fast. The majority of the book takes place in 7  days. Sasha knew she was only in Aurora temporarily. Thomas knew she was out of bounds. I know they're young, but they are both smart so their willingness to let emotion direct them so much rang untrue for me. I prefer romance that develops slower and progresses in a way that is believable. It felt contrived to make the events in the last quarter of the book more intense. I also had issues with the last page, particularly the last line. That was cheesy. Not that this will keep me from reading the second book. I liked the characters enough to keep reading and find out how the twisted snarl of all their fates will turn out. 

I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Delacorte Books for Young Readers, via NetGalley. Tandem is available for purchase on October 8.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

WoW: The Greenglass House

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

It’s wintertime at Greenglass House. The creaky smuggler’s inn is always quiet during this season, and twelve-year-old Milo, the innkeepers’ adopted son, plans to spend his holidays relaxing. But on the first icy night of vacation, out of nowhere, the guest bell rings. Then rings again. And again. Soon Milo’s home is bursting with odd, secretive guests, each one bearing a strange story that is somehow connected to the rambling old house. As objects go missing and tempers flare, Milo and Meddy, the cook’s daughter, must decipher clues and untangle the web of deepening mysteries to discover the truth about Greenglass House—and themselves.

Kate Milford is one of my favorite authors. Her books The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands are enchanting and full of interesting twists on old tales. This new book has pretty much every element I love in a book, and since it is written by her I know I'll love it.


Greenglass House comes out in August of 2014 (oh the waiting!). But in the meantime you can see the full cover and read an excerpt here at The Book Smugglers.

What are you anticipating this week?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Cybils Nominations Are Open

So many great books have come out in the past year and here is your chance to nominate YOUR favorites for a CYBILS Award.

You can find the nomination form here.

Eligible books are any book published in the US or Canada between October 16 of 2012 and October 15 of 2013.

Make sure the books you love are considered. NOW GO!