Friday, January 31, 2014

Black Dog

I love that when I pick up a Rachel Neumeier novel I am always surprised at what I end up getting. (In a very good way.) She is such a diverse writer and covers so many different types of fantasy and characters. I went into Black Dog the slightest bit wary because I don't ordinarily enjoy paranormal fantasy, but I trusted her enough to know it would probably be something I ended up liking in the end. I didn't like it, I LOVED it.

(This is a review of an ARC received in exchange for a fair review.)

Natividad is Pure, one of the rare girls born able to wield magic. Pure magic can protect humans against the supernatural evils they only half-acknowledge – the blood kin or the black dogs. In rare cases – like for Natividad’s father and older brother – Pure magic can help black dogs find the strength to control their dark powers.
But before Natividad’s mother can finish teaching her magic their enemies find them. Their entire village in the remote hills of Mexico is slaughtered by black dogs. Their parents die protecting them. Natividad and her brothers must flee across a strange country to the only possible shelter: the infamous black dogs of Dimilioc, who have sworn to protect the Pure.
In the snowy forests of Vermont they are discovered by Ezekiel Korte, despite his youth the strongest black dog at Dimilioc and the appointed pack executioner. Intrigued by Natividad he takes them to Dimilioc instead of killing them.
Now they must pass the tests of the Dimilioc Master. Alejandro must prove he can learn loyalty and control even without his sister’s Pure magic. Natividad’s twin Miguel must prove that an ordinary human can be more than a burden to be protected. And even at Dimilioc a Pure girl like Natividad cannot remain unclaimed to cause fighting and distraction. If she is to stay she must choose a black dog mate.
But, first, they must all survive the looming battle.

When I did my TTT wish list a few weeks ago I said I would love to see more sibling stories in YA, and that is what Black Dog is first and foremost. The whole story centers around the bond between Alejandro, Natividad, and Miguel, a black dog, a Pure girl, and a human boy, and their love and loyalty to each other. After the death of their parents, they flee to the only place they imagine they will be safe. While dealing with their grief and tragedy, they must learn to navigate the politics and personalities of the powerful black dog family who has taken them in and begin to trust people outside of each other for the first time. The story is told in third person and follows all three of them, with a stronger focus on Natividad and Alejandro. And through all three of them the reader also gets a thorough introduction to Dimilioc's Master and Executioner, Grayson and Ezekiel. I love all these characters so much, but I particularly enjoyed the book when it followed Alejandro. It was fascinating to look through his eyes as he shifted between a human body and that of a black dog. There is a wonderful exploration of the duality in human nature between light and dark. This is also there in Natividad and Miguel, but in more subtle ways. Natividad is a stubborn and independent soul. She is mourning her parents, working hard to keep peace in her new home at a time of war, and knows that as a Pure girl her job is not to be protected but to protect. The men her life all want to protect her, but she does what she knows needs to be done. This often puts her in danger, but I never felt she was being unthinking or stubborn for the sake of proving her independence. She did what needed doing. I had a great respect for her as a character. Miguel is the strategist and critical thinker. He is also incredibly persuasive when he wants to be. The three siblings make a terrific team. Ezekiel, who was chosen for his role of executioner at the age of 13, is a complicated character. Through all three Toland siblings different sides and nuances of his character are shown. I found that I wanted more about him still though. He is thoroughly fascinating. My one complaint is that I wanted more of him and less Grayson (who is interesting but not as interesting).

The world of Black Dog is an intensely interesting one. It takes place in contemporary times and picks up following a war between vampires and the Black Dogs. The vampires lost and are gone, but the black dogs did not fare much better. Black dogs, as much as they may sound like it, are not werewolves. Neumeier did new and interesting things with the old stories here and I enjoyed the combination of legend, magic, and politics. A outside threat to Dimilioc involves a renegade black dog who is after the Tolands, most particularly Natividad, for the power she wields. Neumeier did not shy away form the consequences of vicious creatures at war with each other. This book has a pretty high body count and is quite gruesome in some respects. I loved the realism of this. I can't stand it when situations like this are made unrealistically safe for the protagonists and the people they love. Or when innocent bystanders remain unaffected. This is a story that shows all of that, and then tackles the emotional consequences as well. Nativdad, as a Pure girl, is expected on her 16th birthday to choose one of the Dimilioc dogs as her mate. Ezekiel makes it quite clear he is going to destroy anyone other than him that she picks. The two of them share some intense moments, but there is no strong romantic element to the story, something I also appreciated. (I'm choosing to assume here that Natividad's relationship with Grayson is NOT heading in that direction because that squicks me out.) The book takes place over only a week's time, and they are fighting a war. Natividad is confused, and Ezekiel is determined, but mostly they are just trying to stay alive. 

Black Dog has so many elements I look for in my favorite books: strong characterization, deep and layered relationships, rich setting and world-building, and an intense plot that doesn't shy away from the darker elements it explores. It is going on my favorites shelf and will be one I revisit again. And I'm really hoping there will be a sequel sooner rather than later. (I've heard there is going to be one, though this works perfectly as a stand alone.)

I read an e-galley received via the publisher, Strange Chemistry, on NetGalley. Black Dog is available on February 4th. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Musings on ALA Midwinter

As I posted on Friday, I attended the ALA Midwinter meeting in Philadelphia over the weekend. It was my first time, not only at Midwinter, but at any ALA event. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience and learned so much. The adrenaline high I was on when I came out of the YMAs on Monday morning was unbeatable. I'm going to need to return just for that.

Here are some highlights of my weekend, chronicling the things I enjoyed the most.

The Youth Media Awards:

I watch these on my computer all by myself every year, BUT NOTHING can compare to actually being there for it. The energy and excitement in that room are palpable. Listening to the audience reactions on the webcast is nothing beside actually feeling it as it sweeps through the room. The one drawback is that I was unable to write my usual reaction post right away. And I won't be writing a full one up at all. My short thoughts: I love and adore the Schneider, Corretta Scott King, Belpre, and Caldecott committees to the moon and back. While I didn't love the books the Newbery committee chose, I appreciate how they found those books to be distinguished. I applaud the Printz committee for choosing Navigating Early as an Honor book and acknowledging the younger portion of the age bracket the Award covers. And I'm looking forward to finally reading Midwinter Blood.

What made the YMAs even better was I was sitting on a row of people from SLJ's Heavy Medal blog and Battle of the Books. I have been interacting with these people online for a few years now, and it was marvelous to finally have faces to go with names. We stood around and talked for sometime after and it was great. (I also enjoyed talking to DaNae in line as we were both there at 6:00 AM.)

The Teen Session of the BFYA:
Basically three amazing librarians brought in three groups of teens who had read a sampling of the books on the list of books under consideration by the committee for the Best Fiction for Young Adults list. For two hours those teens stood in line for an opportunity to talk about the books they had read,  and they were unflinchingly honest about them. While they sometimes contradicted themselves, they were such a joy to listen too and I love that their opinions were asked for.

I also attended the BFYA committee to see how they conducted their meeting, and I attended part of a session for ALSC's Notable Children's Books Committee. It was interesting to see the differences in how they ran, and how each committee discussed the books under consideration.

And of course, there was the Exhibit Hall, which was full of ARCs and publishers. It was hot, crowded, and loud. I had a great deal of fun just people watching in there. Good times. I was able to meet both Jonathan Auxier and Tom Angleberger and get their new books signed for Bit, who is beyond excited. And yes, I got some ARCs for myself as well. Here are the books I'm most excited to have (MG on left and YA on right):

I had a wonderful time visiting Philadelphia, a place I had never been prior to this. It is a lovely city (the parts I saw) and the people were all so friendly. This is definitely an experience I want to have again.

Good-bye Philadelphia! Next year Chicago!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Spell Robbers (Quantum League #1)

I'm a fan of Matthew Kirby and will read anything he writes, but when I discovered his new book was the beginning of a new series about kids with super-hero type powers I was even more excited than usual. While I've been able to encourage many of my students to read his other books, this is one whose very concept will sell it without me even having to say a word. Spell Robbers doesn't disappoint, delivering a story full of action, intrigue, and twists.

(This is a review of an ARC received in exchange for a fair review.)

After Ben Warner is recruited to join a “science camp” led by the eccentric quantum physicist Dr. Madeleine Hughes, he quickly realizes it’s no regular science camp. Along with his new friend, Peter, Ben discovers the secret, powerful art of Actuation—the ability to change reality by simply imagining it differently.
When a mysterious group of men invade Dr. Hughes’s laboratory, abducting her and stealing her precious equipment, Ben and Peter are suddenly caught up in a turf war between dangerous actuators desperate for Dr. Hughes’s innovative technology. And as Ben and Peter are pulled into a perilous, hidden world full of impossibilities now made possible, will their combined powers be enough to save Dr. Hughes and vanquish their enemies before it’s too late?

As the first in a series, Spell Robbers has quite a bit of set up and world-building at the beginning. Learning about the intricacies of Actuation and what it means, I felt a little of a disconnect from Ben in the beginning. But then the plot really takes off and I realized exactly how much I had learned about the sort of person he was in that first section. He is a fascinating character. Despite her penchant for uprooting him and moving him around, he really loves his mom and does what he can to help and take car of her. He is smart, stubborn, and independent. As someone who moves around a lot needs to be. I particularly enjoyed how once he discovered what Actuating truly was and what the world he had stumbled into was like, he wanted little to do with it. It is a refreshing change from the kid who discovers he's special and jumps on the chance to change his whole life. Ben actually liked his life and he just wants it back. Kirby has a real talent for creating nuanced characters and he uses it well in this book. Ben is driven by many different things, and I really came to appreciate exactly how true it was every time he insisted, "I am my own man." Another fascinating character is an adult rogue agent named Ronin. He is likable and savvy, but there are some dark aspects to his characters. He makes a great foil for Ben. (Or perhaps a projection of what Ben could become someday if he allows his bitterness to control him.) Because so much time was spent on Ben and his mission in this book, the other two characters depicted on the cover, Peter and Sasha, don't get as much page time. Both of intriguing back stories though and I'm looking forward to discovering more about them as the series continues.

The concept Kirby developed here is interesting. Actuation sounds a lot like magic (and they do mention that is what it once was thought to be), but there is some science behind it. Mechanical physics is mentioned and the person who discovers Ben uses some equipment to help the children work their Actuations. The Quantum League is a group of Actuators who use their powers for good and to protect others. There are Actuators out there who use their powers for criminal purposes, and The Quantum League's goal is to stop this. Or so they say. Not everything is perfect in the League either and Ben is wary of them from the start. I really liked how there were some very clear bad guys, but no real clear "good" organization. There are many characters it is easy to like and see the good in, even when they do some rather despicable things, but the shades of gray are many and leave Ben unable to truly trust anyone but himself. The plot is slow at first as Ben begins at his "science camp", but once the action starts it doesn't slow down at all. It takes off into hyperdrive and there are so many twists and turns.

I'm looking forward to the next installment, and can not wait to get this one into the hands of my students. (Who are aware I already got to read it and are more than a wee bit jealous.)

I received an ARC made available by the publisher, Scholastic, via NetGalley. Spell Robbers is available for purchase on January 28th. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Shorter Musings: YA Realistic

Sometimes I read a book, and I even enjoy it, but I don't have much to say about it. I jot down a few thoughts and then I move on. When these start to pile up, I put them together in one post.

Here are some YA Realistic books I've read recently.

The Boy on the Bridge by Natalie Standiford 
I really enjoyed this book as a historical fiction on Soviet Russia and as a story of cultural collision. The setting is rendered incredibly well. The story has a true sense of place, and that was my favorite part of the book. I did have a hard time with the characters. I just couldn't trust Aloysha and felt that Laura was being too naive and trusting and I never connected with either as a result. Their relationship felt rushed and superficial even though it developed over the course of a semester.

The Fine Art of Truth or Dare by Melissa Jensen
The Fine Art of Truth or Dare had so many elements that could have been so good: the large loving Italian family, the boy and girl from different worlds romance, the art. All of it fell short for me though. Way too many pages were spent on Ella's imaginary conversations with dead artist Edward Willing. Most of the characters never make it beyond stereotypes. Alex had potential to be swoon worthy but not enough time was spent developing him or their relationship.

How Zoe Made Her Dreams (Mostly) Come True by Sarah Strohmeyer
I really enjoyed the concept of this one. It was unique in many mays and a perfect set up. It's not camp, but having the kids doing a job that takes them away from their parental supervision for a summer, places them in dorms together, and has them competing. It's a perfect formula for crazy antics, swoon worthy romance, and drama. And Strohmeyer strikes the right balance between all of these. Zoe is a wonderful heroine, able to keep up with her demanding boss, the stress of attending to so many teen actors playing fairy tale characters in one place, and hold her own when it comes to charming guys who are not all they seem to be. (I LOVED that Zoe always used her mind and thought through scenarios first.) At the same time, she is dealing with the loss of her mother after years of battling cancer. While the book is fun and lighthearted, this gave it an extra layer of depth and complexity. I also very much liked Zoe's romantic opposite as well as the other supporting characters. My one problem is that the surprise twist didn't really seem all that feasible to me.

I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan
So. Much. Expository. I think I really could have loved this book if not for that. Yes, I realize then it would be an entirely different sort of book, but that highlights best why this book just wasn't the right fit for me. I actually like to see scenes unfold, hear conversations in my head, live with the characters as I read. The long passages of exposition in this made that impossible and distanced me from both Sam and Emily. Added to that were all the details about all the countless people who don't really matter to the story being told. I get that Sloan was trying to make the reader feel the connectedness of the cosmos and all that, but there was too much of that and too little focus on the characters who mattered. As a result Emily is flatter than a pancake and Sam is too perfect to be real. It is a good story idea and I adored Emily's family and Riddle. It was for them that I kept reading to the end. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

ALA Youth Media Awards

Monday is the day the Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, and assorted other award will be announced at ALA Midwinter. Usually I sit on the edge of my seat watching the webcast to see who will win. But this year, I WILL BE THERE IN PERSON. Yep, as this posts I'm on my way to Philadelphia for the Midwinter Meeting of the American Library Association. It's my first time attending and I'm so excited.

There are several lovely books I would like to see win this year. (And a handful I DO NOT, but I won't mention those. Keeping this positive.)  Regard this as a wish list and not predictions. It is what I want to see grab some shiny stickers. 

Newbery Award Hopefuls (In the order I read them): 

If you're thinking, wow she has a lot of fantasy on this list, you would be right. It was a good year for MG Fantasy. I also read all of it because I was a Cybils panelist in that category. I'm seriously lacking in non-fiction and poetry consumption this year. I wasn't really feeling realistic fiction in any sort of way. (At least that are Newbery eligible) The exceptions are before you.

The Printz (None of these are going to win, because the Printz committee never likes what I like.):

I am in not position to comment on any of the other awards this year. I would like to see Journey  win the Caldecott, but have not familiarized myself as well with the field. 

Do any of you have any wishes or predictions? 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

I will admit it: sometimes I see things on NetGalley and think cute cover, MG fantasy, I want. And don't even read the synopsis. Particularly if the book is from a publisher whose books I typically like. Such was the case with Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee. Then I began reading and discovered it was a retelling of "The Snow Queen". And it was good. 

Unlikely heroine Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard doesn't believe in anything that can't be proven by science. She and her sister Alice are still grieving for their dead mother when their father takes a job in a strange museum in a city where it always snows. On her very first day in the museum Ophelia discovers a boy locked away in a long forgotten room. He is a prisoner of Her Majesty the Snow Queen. And he has been waiting for Ophelia's help.
As Ophelia embarks on an incredible journey to rescue the boy everything that she believes will be tested. Along the way she learns more and more about the boy's own remarkable journey to reach her and save the world.

As a heroine, Ophelia shines. Her greatest strength is that she is a normal little girl. She has no particularly special talents. She enjoys science and is curious. But for the most part she is just a quiet little girl with asthma who is mourning the death of her mother. When she stumbles on the Marvelous Boy and he requests her help to save the world, she scoffs. But she remembers her mother, who wrote stories of the dark and fantastic. Her curious mind won't let her leave well enough alone. And she becomes a heroine. I love stories like this, a story any person can imagine themselves in. Kids love these sort of stories too and will have no problems finding a part of themselves in Ophelia. She is in every way an ordinary ten year old girl. The Marvelous Boy is mysterious. His name is hidden to give him a way to return home. He has waited 300 years in captivity for Ophelia to turn up and help him. His back story is told by him to Ophelia within the mainframe of the story. His story reads like a traditional fairy tale and does involve quite a bit of exposition, but is told in short bursts so as to maintain the interest of the reader. 

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a quick read, with a tight plot. Foxlee keeps the story moving at a quick pace. All the action occurs within three days, other than the Boy's story.  As a retelling of "The Snow Queen" the novel excels in many ways. Ophelia has a series of quests she must go on in order to free the Boy. These all occur within the confines of the museum curated by a woman who is cold and remote. During these quests Ophelia encounters help she never could have imagined and is attacked by various minions of the Snow Queen, causing her to be intimidated at times but she never gives up. The one big difference is the motivation of Ophelia. Since she only just met the boy, she is motivated by her curiosity, their developing friendship (rather than a longstanding one), and the love she feels for her father and sister (who is in danger). I would have liked a little more closure in the relationship between Ophelia and the Boy, but other than that it was a fully satisfying read.

This book is going to be an easy sell. With interest in "The Snow Queen" rising due to the movie Frozen, it won't be hard to get kids interested. Once they start reading, they will stay interested because the story will pull them in. It is also a book that will make an excellent read aloud for kids in younger grades. 

I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Knopf Books for Young Readers, via NetGalley. Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy will be available on January 28. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

TTT: Reading Wish List

This week's TTT topic: Things on My Reading Wishlist

1. Friendships
I love romance, don't get me wrong. But friendship is an important part of everyone's life too and I love reading stories (such as Code Name Verity or Sorow's Knot) where friendship is the most important element of the story, and romance is not a part of that relationship at all.

2. Sibling Stories
MG books are good at this, but YA books aren't as much. I would like to see more of it in YA.

3. More Family Stories
I love Amy Spalding's books because she writes about families and how every member of a family impacts the others. I wish we had more books like this.

4. FUN Fantasy
like The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas or The Nightmare Dilemma by Mindee Arnett

5. Christian Protagonists
There really aren't a whole lot when you think about it.

6. Failure that Doesn't Lead to Romance
Let a YA protagonist fail and learn to move on without the help of true love.

7. Search for Change in Life that Doesn't Lead to Romance
See #6.

8. Diversity in Main Characters
Not everyone in the world is white middle class. Protagonists should reflect this.

Really I don't know where people get this idea. Homeschool kids have a different school environment but they are not quirky or weird. Any more so than traditionally schooled kids anyway.

As a bonus, one thing I want to see less of:
I don't do survival. I don't do nature. I'm over this whole trend.

What is on your wish list?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Cruel Beauty

"Beauty and the Beast" is my favorite fairy tale and it derives from my favorite myth, the myth of Eros and Psyche. I am drawn irresistibly to any story that plays off either of them in any way. It is why Till We Have Faces is my favorite C.S. Lewis novel (one of the reasons anyway). It is one of the (many) reasons The Queen of Attolia is my favorite book of all time. Yet I have never fallen in love with a full length novel that was a retelling of the fairy tale and not just using elements of it. Until now. Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge is perfect for me as a reader in every way imaginable. 

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.
With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she's ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.
But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle-a shifting maze of magical rooms-enthralls her.
As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex's secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.

Nyx is a girl with a heart full of venom and rage. No one in her world is spared from the bitterness she carries around. Her father made a deal with the Lord of demons, and she was the daughter chosen as the sacrifice. Who wouldn't be bitter? She has been trained for years for one purpose and one purpose only: destroy the evil ruler of her kingdom. She is not expected to survive the experience. She walks into her situation determined, but hating it all the same. Nyx is manipulative and not above hurting others to get what she needs, or simply for the satisfaction of seeing them hurt. There is nothing about her that is "likable'. I adore her. She is complex, driven, intelligent, and in desperate need of someone to love her for what she is, poison and all. Enter Ignifex. Generally, I don't go for the Lord of demon types in books, so I was worried about this aspect. I do go for characters like Ignifiex though. He is sarcastic, flip, outwardly lazy, highly intelligent, and a pessimist to the core. He is also full of bitterness and disappointment with the world, and is not at all what Nyx originally believes him to be. And while he warns her that there are many dangers that could destroy her in the house, he never once presents himself as one of them. The interactions between these two are some of the best scenes of banter. And I love excellent bantering between two intelligent people whom I find myself invested in. I couldn't wait to get to the pages where they were together so that I could have more. I appreciated how, despite Ignifex's power, they were very much equally and well matched. Each gave as good as he/she got and both wielded power in their relationship. 

The plot of Cruel Beauty follows the plot of the fairy tale, but is infused with so much more at the same time. And it is all my favorite things. There is Greek mythology woven through all of it, but the myth of Pandora is used the most and quite effectively. There is also, much to my everlasting delight as it is another favorite of mine, elements of "Tam Lin". I was in love with the book already for its rich prose, vivid imagery, layered characters, and excellent dialogue, but when the Kindly Ones were first brought in and I realized Hodge had included faerie lore elements too, my love soared to the heavens and knew no bounds. And how she brought it all to a conclusion was most satisfying. Woven through all of this are themes of pride, forgiveness, sacrifice, and the war in every one of us between light and dark. As I was reading I was reminded in so many good ways of the themes in Till We Have Faces, and was not at all surprised to read in the Afterward that Hodge is also a fan of that book and that it had a great impact on her. 

Anything I say here can only touch the surface of how I felt while reading this book. It was a story I experienced in every and I can't convey all of that experience here. Sadly. I can see how for some people it won't work, but for me it is perfect. 

I read an e-galley received by the publisher, Balzer and Bray, via Edelweiss. Cruel Beauty is available on January 28th. 

Friday, January 17, 2014


It always a bit sad when a trilogy or series I love comes to an end. Even though rereading is certainly an option, it is still a good-bye to the characters I have come to love. This is why I spent a couple days just gazing at the (very pretty) cover of Moonkind by Sarah Prineas before reading it. As sad as it is to say good-bye, Moonkind is a wonderful end to what has been a joyful reading experience since I first opened Winterling two years ago.
As the Lady of the Summerlands, Fer has vowed to serve her people without the deception of the glamorie and she had trusted other leaders to fulfill the same promise. But not all the Lords and Ladies want to keep their oaths, and they've unleashed the consequences of their betrayal onto the lands. Only Fer, with the help of the puck-boy Rook, can fight the stillness invading the lands. But can she trust Rook? And can she protect her people before it's too late?

What I love most about this trilogy is how much about relationships of every kind it is, and how Prineas shows these relationships while maintaining intriguing plots and building a gorgeous world. This final installment has all those elements at their finest. Fer made a massive mistake when she demanded an oath from the defeated Lords and Ladies at the end of Summerkin. Yes, she was correct about the deceptive and wrong nature of glamories, but the change was too sudden and the oaths impossible for most to keep. Fer faces the consequences of this mistake head on, showing courage and strength in the face of opposition. She is a very different Fer from the one who first entered the Sumerlands in Winterling. This is a story about her changing and how it has changed her relationships with everyone around her, most especially Rook. This has never been just Fer's story, it always belonged equally to Rook. Rook is featured in this book prominently, and his character really and truly shines. It was lovely to see him be all I knew he was capable of being, and yet maintain everything that makes him equally endearing and exasperating. The relationship between Fer and Rook has always been fraught, and watching it morph and grow in this final installment was so rewarding. These two and their not-quite-friendship has been the best part of the trilogy for me and I was beyond satisfied with how everything came together there in the end.

As well as being about relationships of various kinds, the entire trilogy has also been about change. The changing of the seasons, the growing-up of children, and the questioning of the rules that govern. That part of the story is also fulfilling as Fer tries to change the world around her for the better, and Rook starts to see change as something that is good and embrace it too. Prineas has a talent for effective imagery, and she wields it extremely well here as she describes all the various places, the Stilth taking over the land, and even some important giant spiders introduced in this book. (I could have used a little less imagery there maybe. Page 24 actually had me flailing and squealing, much to the amusement of my family.)

The ending is everything I hoped for in this book. It is filled with hope and promise. It isn't an end so much as a new beginning and is a spark for the imagination. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

SLJ BoB 2014

In case you missed it, the contenders for the School Library Journal Battle of the Books was posted yesterday. If you have never followed BoB before, it can be great fun. Sixteen books and fifteen author judges deciding between them. Honestly, I have mixed feelings on the process, but I get super invested in it at the same time. I love to root for the books I love, and hope the ones I don't like are eliminated early. Checking the judge's decisions is the first thing I do every day during the month of March, and boy can those be revelations in and of themselves. I have decide to read some authors based on the decisions they have written. And many decisions have left me scratching my head. But overall it is a tons of fun to follow and interact with other people who are as passionate about children's literature as I am.

This year I don't have an all time favorite as the competition begins. I have no idea what I'm going to do about the Undead Poll, but I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

The books I read and thoroughly enjoyed:

Boxers and Saints by Gene Yang (my review)

A Corner of White  by Jaclyn Moriarty (my review)

Doll Bones by Holly Black (my review)

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (my review)

P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams Garcia (my review)

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein (my review)

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt (my review)

The books I read and didn't enjoy so much:

Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo (my review)

Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli (my review)

The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata (I don't have a review for this because I DNFed it. I was so bored. So. Bored.)

Books I still need to read:
All the Truth That's In Me by Julie Berry
Impression: I wouldn't read this if not for the battle, but I'm glad I'm being prompted to.

The Animal Book by Steve Jenkins
Impression: I've heard great things and I've been meaning to read it for a while.

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal
Impression: I don't think this is going to be a book I will like, but it may surprise me. I am glad my library has it so I don't have to buy it.

March Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
Impression: I had not even heard of this book, but am excited to read it now that I know it exists.

Midwinter Blood by Marcus Sedgwick
Impression: I've heard nothing but good things about this book and have wanted to read it for a long time. My library doesn't have it though, which is what has kept me from it until now. Excuse to buy accepted.

What the Heart Knows by Joyce Sidman
Impression: Another one I've been dying to read that my library still doesn't have. (That's really a head scratcher for me. How can you not immediately purchase a new Sidman book?)

I will have to buy the latter three books if I want to read them. I've never had to buy that many before and I'm rather nervous about it. I still want my money back from buying Life an Exploded Diagram for the 2012 BoB. (No, I'm never letting that one go.)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

WoW: The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing

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

Small towns have rules. One is, you got to stay who you are -- no matter how many murders you solve.
When Miss Lana makes an Accidental Bid at the Tupelo auction and winds up the mortified owner of an old inn, she doesn't realize there's a ghost in the fine print. Naturally, Desperado Detective Agency (aka Mo and Dale) opens a paranormal division to solve the mystery of the ghost's identity. They've got to figure out who the ghost is so they can interview it for their history assignment (extra credit). But Mo and Dale start to realize that the Inn isn't the only haunted place in Tupelo Landing. People can also be haunted by their own past. As Mo and Dale handily track down the truth about the ghost (with some help from the new kid in town), they discover the truth about a great many other people, too.

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing is Sheila Turnage's follow-up to her delightful Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky. I enjoyed the first book, but think I will like this one even more. The plot is more my style and I absolutely can not wait to read more about Mo and Dale. Excited that they are going to have a new member to their team as well.

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing comes out on February 4.

What books are you looking forward to right now?

Monday, January 13, 2014


The summer between senior year of high school and freshman year of college is an exhilarating and terrifying time in life. Torn between nostalgia for the past and  excitement for the future, it is a summer where everything is changing and yet a person tries to hold on (to varying degrees depending on the person) to what they are leaving behind. Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando captures this precarious and brief time period beautifully.

It's time to meet your new roomie.
When East Coast native Elizabeth receives her freshman-year roommate assignment, she shoots off an e-mail to coordinate the basics: television, microwave, mini-fridge. That first note to San Franciscan Lauren sparks a series of e-mails that alters the landscape of each girl's summer -- and raises questions about how two girls who are so different will ever share a dorm room.
As the countdown to college begins, life at home becomes increasingly complex. With family relationships and childhood friendships strained by change, it suddenly seems that the only people Elizabeth and Lauren can rely on are the complicated new boys in their lives . . . and each other. Even though they've never met.

Roomies is a fascinating look at this one brief but major point in the lives of many young people. The dynamic between Elizabeth and Lauren is complicated. On the one hand, they will be living together, sharing the same small space for at least a year. On the other hand, they are largely anonymous at the time they are emailing each other and they sort of use that (and each other) as a way of unloading a lot of their secrets, fears, and musings on the world in general. It is an exchange that can only take place in the era where it so easy to hit that send button and so instantly regret it. There is an interesting commentary underlying it all on how we judge online interactions and build a person around words on a screen. It was a pivotal moment when Lauren suddenly thinks of Elizabeth as a person outside of the words they have been typing back and forth. At the same time this is a fairly typical YA story. Two fairly typical stories actually about two girls whose lives are changing and the ways in which they are coping with that (or not). Taken apart the stories have nothing about them to make them stand out from everything else. Put them together, tied by the emails that are part of both of their coping mechanisms, and you get a richer story that is about more than just one person and a life changing experience. It is about relationships, how we build them and tear them down, and how it is possible to simultaneously hold on and let go. 

Lauren is the character whose life I was able to relate to the most. She is a focused and driven. She has earned a full scholarship and works two jobs while also helping her parents out with her six younger siblings. She has great supportive parents and a wonderful home. She worked so hard through most of high school that she never had time to just relax and have fun. She comes across as judgmental even when she is trying to be diplomatic, but is also genuinely trying to figure out what she believes about things. (Like how important or not her virginity is.) Elizabeth comes from a single parent home. Her father is gay and left her mom, but in the process he abandoned her too. She hasn't seen him since she was seven. Her greatest wish is to get as far away from her small town and small life as she can. Her life comes with a lot of drama (soap opera drama as she calls it-Lauren's response to that was my favorite email in the book). I truly think I would not have liked either of their stories much separately.  Together though, they work really well. Despite being able to relate to Lauren more, I had more sympathy for Elizabeth and felt like her character was more rounded. Both girls have boys in their stories and while I don't think either romance was amazing, I did like both boys. I also liked that they were there, because I think that it is fairly typical to use a romantic connection as a way to hold you to what you are leaving behind at this time in life. I do like the realistic way the future of both relationships was looked at by all involved. 

I enjoyed the time I spent reading Roomies and the thoughts (and memories) that it inspired. It is certainly a book that anyone who is or has experienced this transition could relate to.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Shorter Musings: MG Contemporary Fiction

Sometimes I read a book, and I even enjoy it, but I don't have much to say about it. I jot down a few thoughts and then I move on. When these start to pile up, I put them together in one post.

Here are some MG Contemporary books I've read recently.

Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Garbenstein
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library has a large cast of characters all working toward the goal of winning the game and being the first to get out of the library. It is most certainly an engaging and fun read. It is rather clear who the winners will be almost from the beginning, so the fun is in seeing how they win, not if they are going to. And that is a lot of fun. It hinges on one particular child being so utterly irredeemable as to be a caricature of a villain though. Even as someone who loves books, the references and tossed out titles got to be a bit much and I wondered what they were in there for. Is the author trying to highlight books he loves? Books he thinks kids should read? I can't see kids knowing all the references, or bothering to look up the ones they don't know. I can see kids, like Kyle, enjoying the game aspect even if they don't like books. It is fun that way even if it is in no way as good as either of the books it seems to be borrowing most from, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Westing Game.

Mother Daughter Book Club by Heather Frederick Vogel
I really enjoyed the concept of The Mother-Daughter Book Club. Four very different girls are forced into a book club together that is the brain child of a post-yoga discussion between their mothers. The first book they read is Little Women because they live in Concord, MA. I loved the setting and the details the author included about it, Alcott, and Little Women. I enjoyed all four girls to and felt that their voices and problems were realistic. This is the first in a series and it is a well-written and fun read to give any 9-12 year old series devourer you know. I would have liked it so much more if not a couple of issues I had. I don't like how the book relied on so many stereotypes to depict the characters. I'm hoping that after this set up and the series continues the characters are developed a bit more in their own rights. I also really didn't like the way the girls were sort of being encouraged by their moms to indulge in petty insulting behavior toward mean-girl Becca and her mom (who she clearly learned the act from). As a mother myself I see how that may be easy to allow to happen, but it still bothered me, particularly as it was concentrated on making fun of the size of her rear end. It seemed they didn't mind their daughters (or themselves) being petty when it came it to dealing with unpleasant people. I found it too annoying to truly love the book. I AM heartened to see that Becca and her mother are joining the group in the 2nd book, so maybe some of my issues will be put to rest there. I will be giving the series a continued chance, taking that into consideration.

The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher 
This is a fun MG mystery. Fast paced from the beginning, Kittscher has woven together a tale of intrigue and danger where the kids get to save the day. It is one of those books that MG readers who like mysteries will love. The mom-reader in my was side-eyeing it through a good deal though because I don't like it when kids take risks I can realistically see my own thinking would be awesome. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Latte Rebellion

The Latte Rebellion by Sarah Jamila Stevenson has been on my TBR for years. It's one of those books that I just kept pushing down the list for newer ones as they came out. Then I saw it on display while at the library a couple weeks ago and decided now was the time to read it. I'm glad I did. 

When high school senior Asha Jamison gets called a "towel head" at a pool party, the racist insult gives Asha and her best friend Carey a great money-making idea for a post-graduation trip. They'll sell T-shirts promoting the Latte Rebellion, a club that raises awareness of mixed-race students.
Seemingly overnight, their "cause" goes viral and the T-shirts become a nationwide fad. As new chapters spring up from coast to coast, Asha realizes that her simple marketing plan has taken on a life of its own-and it's starting to ruin hers. Asha's once-stellar grades begin to slip, threatening her Ivy League dreams, and her friendship with Carey is hanging by a thread. And when the peaceful underground movement turns militant, Asha's school launches a disciplinary hearing.Facing expulsion, Asha must decide how much she's willing to risk for something she truly believes in.

Asha is a character easy for me to relate to. She is driven and good at organizing things. She also has a deep seeded fear of failure and disappointing her family. The idea to form the Latte Rebellion was not strictly a social awareness campaign. It started as simply a way to raise money for a post senior year trip and as a way to quietly express annoyance at some of the racial slurs that had been so easily thrown at them by some members of the school. Asha herself is surprised by how much the Rebellion comes to mean to her. I liked how her character developed as the story unfolded and how she came to see that there was more to this issue than just herself and opened up to all of it. I also liked the realistic portrayal of the changing dynamic in the friendship between Asha and Carey. The story here definitely belongs to Asha though it takes a while to get to the point where you feel she actually understands the importance of what she has started. 

The story unfolds over Asha's senior year. At the end of each chapter, there is a scene from the disciplinary hearing to determine whether or not Asha will be expelled for incidents resulting from the Rebellion. The contrast between the building movement and Asha's fear over what will happen to her builds suspense. This is countered somewhat by how many details of meetings and meetings and more meetings there are. I did find myself skimming a bit here and there. Overall though, I really enjoyed the story and the themes Stevenson explored through it. The complicated relationships, both in Asha's friendships and family, made this worth it for me. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Forbidden Stone (The Copernicus Legacy)

The Forbidden Stone by Tony Abbott is the first in a new fantasy adventure series called The Copernicus Legacy. Perfect for lovers of quests, spy stories, and secret societies it is a wild crazy ride around the world.

It all began when four friends-Wade, Lily, Darrel, and Becca-received a strange, coded email from Wade's uncle Henry shortly before the old man's sudden death. They set off for Germany to attend the funeral with Wade's father, Roald, and discover that Uncle Henry left them yet another baffling message that they suspect is the key to figuring out how and why he died.
The message leads to a clue, and the more clues they discover, the farther they travel down a treacherous path toward an ancient, guarded secret. Soon they are in a breathless race across the globe, running for their lives as a dangerous shadow organization chases them around every corner. Their only hope of saving themselves-and the world that they know-is to find twelve magical relics from a hidden past that will unlock the Copernicus Legacy.

Wade loves math and astronomy. His dream is to follow in his father's footsteps and make them his career. His step brother, Darrel, loves music and food and dreams of being a rock star. Wade's cousin Lily loves her the Internet and using her phone to document everything. Lily's friend Becca loves books and studying anything she can get her hands on. She's definitely a genius as she can speak several languages and is on her second reading of Moby Dick at the age of 12. The four work really well as a team. Wade and Becca are the puzzle solvers, the ones with the background knowledge to unlock the secrets to the code they've been given. Darrel and Lily handle most of the more practical parts of the mission. Their characters really don't go deeper than the surface. The relationships likewise. Becca and Wade clearly have crushes on each other. Lily and Darrel have one of those relationships that could clearly go there one day. Wade and Darrel are best friends as well as step-brothers. The interactions between the characters are fairly limited to the quest and solving the riddles. There is a lot of talking at each other about stuff, but little real dialogue. It works for the type of story this is, but left me frustrated as I wanted to know the characters better in order to care what happened to them. Wade's father is also a key player, and this is where my credulity couldn't stretch far enough to buy into the idea. While I thoroughly enjoyed having a fantasy novel where a parental figure was not only present but involved, I couldn't help but wonder why he didn't have those kids on a plane back home. Kid readers won't have a problem with this. They love stories where kids get to be heroes. As a parent, I couldn't stop wondering what he was thinking or of what Becca's (who he has really no legal right to be doing anything with) parents would think of it.

The concept of the novel is a good one. There are several riddles to solve, a race across the globe, and some very real danger. People are killed and the villains will stop at nothing to get what they want. What they want is not made entirely clear until about two thirds of the way through the book. The reader discovers what is going on as the heroes do. Despite all of the chases and danger there were large parts of the novel that are simply exchanges of chunks of information. Information about Copernicus, his work, the Guardians, the cities they are in. All of it is informative and in dialogue, but can be lengthy at times. It took me longer than it should have to read what is really a short book. 

This is a great book to give to kids who love books like Kate Messner's Capture the Flag series and N.D. Wilson's Ashtown Burials. In my opinion this book is not the same caliber as either of these but it does fall into a reading range somewhere between those two levels. 

I read an e-galley made available via Edelweiss by the publisher, Katherine Tegen Books. The Forbidden Stone is available for purchase now. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Being Sloane Jacobs

I was utterly enchanted by Lauren Morrill's debut novel, Meant to Be (my thoughts). When the synopsis for her second novel, Being Sloane Jacobs, was released I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. It has such an intriguing concept and I knew that if Morrill brought the same magic she brought to Meant to Be, it would be very good indeed. I was excited when I was approved for the book on NetGalley. It is different from Meant to Be in many ways, but completely enjoyable and excellent in its own right.

Meet Sloane Emily Jacobs: a seriously stressed-out figure-skater from Washington, D.C., who choked during junior nationals and isn’t sure she’s ready for a comeback. What she does know is that she’d give anything to escape the mass of misery that is her life.
Now meet Sloane Devon Jacobs, a spunky ice hockey player from Philly who’s been suspended from her team for too many aggressive hip checks. Her punishment? Hockey camp, now, when she’s playing the worst she’s ever played. If she messes up? Her life will be over.
When the two Sloanes meet by chance in Montreal and decide to trade places for the summer, each girl thinks she’s the lucky one: no strangers to judge or laugh at Sloane Emily, no scouts expecting Sloane Devon to be a hero. But it didn’t occur to Sloane E. that while avoiding sequins and axels she might meet a hockey hottie—and Sloane D. never expected to run into a familiar (and very good-looking) face from home. It’s not long before the Sloanes discover that convincing people you’re someone else might be more difficult than being yourself.

The narration switches back and forth between Sloane E. and Sloane D. Due to this and the nature of the story, the set up takes a little longer in this book. I was worried that I would have a difficult time connecting to the characters because of the dual narration (this often doesn't work for me), but in this case I had no trouble. Sloane E. is quietly rebellious, sarcastic, and hiding from some harsh realities she has recently discovered about her father and her family. Discovered in the worst sort of way too. Sloane D. is aggressive, more openly rebellious, and hiding from some harsh realities of her own. Both of their voices ring true and I never, not even in the beginning, had the slightest problem with telling their narrations apart. I enjoyed the supporting characters in each girl's story as well. I like how they both made friends that helped them and had to face challenging personalities they had not encountered before. Both of the girls grew and changed over the course of their story and I really liked how they were not only changed by their different situations but by each other. The most important relationship in this story for me was the one between the girls and I like that they ended with a friendship that never would have occurred under normal circumstances. Both girls have a romantic interest in their stories, but they take a back seat to the story and life the Sloanes. Both boys are pretty great, but I liked that they were sort of on the periphery of what was actually happening.

The plot of Being Sloane Jacobs is brilliant. Who doesn't want to try out someone else's life just once? The Sloanes have the ability to that, but both girls are doing it as an escape from some serious issues they can't handle. There is some rather large wish fulfillment happening in the story. The girls are able to use their new lives to figure out what they want, who they want to be, and how to relate to the other people in their lives. There are consequences and there is some drama as a result of their deception, but Morrill really kept a tight reign on this part of the story. Never did I feel like it was overblown or too much. My only complaint is that both romantic elements seemed a bit tacked on and rushed. I would have been perfectly content if this had just been about the girls. 

In a word this book made me happy. It is one of those that you just read and can trust it is going to end well and go along for the wonderful ride. This is the second time I've found this enjoyable experience in a book written by Lauren Morrill and confirms that I will want to read any other book she writes. (The one coming out in 2015 is about a high school band trip! *cue excited squealing*)

I read an e-galley made available via the publisher, Delacorte, on NetGalley. Being Sloane Jacobs is on sale January 7. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Cybils Shortlists

The Cbyils Shortlists can be found here. As I mentioned back in October, I was a First Round Panelist for MG Speculative Fiction so that particular list is special to me. Now I know exactly what goes into this process: the work, the discussions, the compromises. I have to say that despite how time consuming it was it was one of my favorite things to do. I hope I have the opportunity to participate again. It was a great experience and I "met" someone wonderful people.
Here is the shortlist my panel decided upon:

Jinx by Sage Blackwood

Lockwood &Co.: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

Rose by Holly Webb

Sidekicked by John David Anderson

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt

The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore

All of the other lists are wonderful too. (I particularly like the YA Fiction list.) Go check them all out!

Most Anticipated Reads of 2014

A new reading year has begun!!! There are a whole new crop of books to get excited about, and excited I am. Here are some of the books that I'm most eager to get my hands on.

MG Reads:

The Islands of Chaldea by Diana Wynne Jones (Release Date: 2/27)

Horizon by Jenn Reese (Release Date: 4/8)

Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson (Release Date: 4/8)

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier (Release Date: 5/20)

Greenglass House by Kate Milford (Release Date: 8/26)

YA Reads:

Cress by Marissa Meyer (Releases 2/4)

Death Sworn by Leah Cypess (Releases 3/4)

The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn  Moriarty (Releases 3/24)

The Chapel Wars by Lindsey Leavitt (Releases 5/6)

Winterspell by Claire Legrand (Releases 9/2)

And here are two 2014 releases I've already read that you should too:

(They both come out January 7th.)

What 2014 books are you anticipating?