Thursday, July 31, 2014

ReReadathon/Shelf-Sweeper Final

I have been participating in this fun event for July and have been able to read so much. I'm all ahead on my blog posts and everything.

The Chocolate Rose by Laura Florand

Shelf Sweeper:
Major Crush by Jennifer Echols
The Celestial Globe and The Jewel of Kalderash by Marie Rutkoski
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

WoW: The Penderwicks in Spring

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

Springtime is finally arriving on Gardam Street, and there are surprises in store for each member of the family. 
Some surprises are just wonderful, like neighbor Nick Geiger coming home from war. And some are ridiculous, like Batty's new dog-walking business. Batty is saving up her dog-walking money for an extra-special surprise for her family, which she plans to present on her upcoming birthday. But when some unwelcome surprises make themselves known, the best-laid plans fall apart. 
Filled with all the heart, hilarity, and charm that has come to define this beloved clan, "The Penderwicks in Spring" is about fun and family and friends (and dogs), and what happens when you bring what's hidden into the bright light of the spring sun.

Why am I waiting for this? Because it's a Penderwick book. Anyone who has read about this family, wants to read more. Trust me. If you never have, you definitely need to. The Penderwicks in Spring releases on March 24, 2015.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

TTT: Authors I Own The Most Books From

This week's TTT topic: Authors I Own the Most Books From

FUN TOPIC!  I can't wait to see other people's posts. Here are mine with favorite from each collection:

Diana Wynne Jones Total: 19

C.S. Lewis Total: 18

N.D. Wilson Total: 10

J.K. Rowling Total: 10

Laura Florand Total: 9

Jane Austen Total: 7

Dorothy Sayers Total: 7

R.J. Anderson Total: 7

Elizabeth Wein Total: 6

Sarah Prineas Total: 6

Whose books do you own the most of?

Monday, July 28, 2014


Magnolia by Kristi Cook captured my attention because it takes place in the south and seemed from the synopsis to be exactly the sort of love story I like. The thought of a reverse Romeo and Juliet (where the families are super close but kids are not having it) is an intriguing one. The promise of those things in the synopsis is fully delivered, and despite a little more melodrama than I typically like in my contemporary YA, it was a fun and enjoyable read.

In Magnolia Branch, Mississippi, the Cafferty and Marsden families are southern royalty. Neighbors since the Civil War, the families have shared vacations, holidays, backyard barbecues, and the overwhelming desire to unite their two clans by marriage. So when a baby boy and girl were born to the families at the same time, the perfect opportunity seemed to have finally arrived.
Jemma Cafferty and Ryder Marsden have no intention of giving in to their parents’ wishes. They’re only seventeen, for goodness’ sake, not to mention that one little problem: They hate each other! Jemma can’t stand Ryder’s nauseating golden-boy persona, and Ryder would like nothing better than to pretend stubborn Jemma doesn’t exist.
But when a violent storm ravages Magnolia Branch, it unearths Jemma’s and Ryder’s true feelings for each other as the two discover that the line between love and hate may be thin enough to risk crossing over.

Magnolia is told in first person from Jemma's perspective, but it is equally Ryder's story. Due to the close relationship between their families, he is there for every important event in Jemma's life and highly present through the entire novel. I liked both of their characters a lot. She is fiery, stubborn, and temperamental. He is loyal, patient, and all around good guy. Both of them make some mistakes very typical of their ages. I loved how brave both of them were though in pursuing their dreams and wanting to carve out their own futures, and not live the lives the parents were dreaming for them. I also liked how they are not your typical modern YA characters. He is the quarterback of the football team and she is the co-coptain of the cheerleading squad. They are not part of the quirky outcast group, who thumbs up their noses at the popular kids and demonizes them. They ARE the popular kids. And why shouldn't there be some YA books that has those kids as the heroes? It just isn't something we see as much anymore and it was refreshing. The evolution of their relationship is one that I loved. It is sort of a hate to love story, but it is ALSO sort of a best friend to lovers story. I love both of these types and never in a million years thought they could be successfully combined, but here you go. The chemistry between Jemma and Ryder is strong and there are some intense and outright hot scenes in the book. It is a slow burn type romance full of tension and heated glances and a longing for them to just get on with it already. All things I like in a romance.

The plot revolves around the life Jemma and Ryder lead, the parties, the old southern traditions, and football. I liked the way the setting is handled. I have little patience for southern novels that don't portray the south correctly, and this one does. However, the plot veered a little bit more into the melodramatic than I typically like. Jemma's sister has a benign brain tumor that needs an operation which is how her and Ryder end up alone at her house when a hurricane hits. Her parents and his mom have taken her sister to Houston for her surgery when the storm comes. And to me, brain  surgery plus tornado spawning hurricane plus romantic tension is plenty of drama for one story. That part was working just fine. Except something ELSE is added to that post hurricane that tipped the story into the too much category for me. I was invested enough in Jemma and Ryder that it is only a minor quibble for me, but it did have me rolling my eyes when it happened. 

I very much enjoyed Magnolia overall and am looking forward to reading more books by this author.

I received an e-galley from the publisher, Simon & Schuster, via Edelweiss. Magnolia is available for purchase on August 5. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Shorter Musings: MG 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 reviews of MG realistic fiction I've read recently:

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff
There are quite a few stylistic elements here that tend to annoy me a great deal, the episodic nature of the plot, how it just sort of ends with no real closure, and the tropes that are often overused in MG realistic fiction. The fact that I liked it as much as I did despite these things says a lot about the quality of the writing and character development in the book. Albie is an excellent every-kid narrator. The whole concept of being an "almost" is one so many can relate to and his voice is absolutely perfect. He tells his story exactly the way a child in his situation would (which is why the episodic plot makes sense even if it's not my favorite thing to read) and his observations are spot on and conveyed exactly like a fifth grader would do it. One of my favorite parts after a classmate calls Albie a "retard" and the principal makes an announcement that the word is "outlawed" at the school:
But Darren Ackleman doesn't call me "retard" anymore.
That's what he called me on Thursday.
Moron. Numbskull. Bozo. Idiot.
Stupid little rat.
Marblehead. Freak. Dum-dum. Hopeless. Lamebrain. Crybaby. F-minus.
That's what he called me on Friday, and every day since.
Darren Aclkleman doesn't cal me "retard" anymore.

But I think maybe it's not words that need to be outlawed.

Absolutely pitch perfect.

Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by  Julie T. Lamana
Emotionally moving and informative story of Hurricane Katrina, this is a book that packs a punch. Lamana does an excellent job setting the scene and describing what is going on. There are places where you actually feel you are and she does not shy away from including all of the ugly truths, but includes them in a way that works well for the intended audience. It is never overwhelming and has exactly the right amount of action balanced with emotion to keep readers engaged. That is no small thing to do when dealing with an event of this magnitude.

Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philibrick
Zane and the Hurricane is an interesting look at the events of Hurricane Katrina from a boy not from New Orleans but who was visiting his great grandmother who lived in the Ninth Ward. It covers all the main points that need to be covered: the evacuation notice, the levees breaking, the chaos at the Dome, and the lawlessness. For some reason I felt emotionally detached from it all though. The story did not impact me in the same way Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere , the other Hurricane Katriana MG novel that came out this year, did. This is a great pick for more reluctant readers as it is shorter though. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Major Crush

I read Jennifer Echols's Biggest Flirts earlier this year and fell in love. It was my first Echols book and I immediately decided I needed more. I knew Major Crush, while out of print, had recently been rereleased on e-book and so I bought it right away. Unfortunately, I just got around to reading it last week. I know two things: I need to read all of Echols's back list and I love books about marching bands.

(The top cover image is the redesign for the e-book. The lower cover is the original. Even though it is rather cartoonish, it actually captures spirit of book better.)

Tired of the beauty-pageant circuit, Virginia Sauter tosses her tiara, pierces her nose, and auditions for the most unlikely of roles — drum major of the high school marching band.
Virginia wins, but is forced to share the title with Drew, whose family has held the position for generations. Sure, Drew is hot, but because of his superior attitude, he and Virginia are constantly arguing. That is, until they share more than just their half-time salute...
But as the drum major's heated competition turns to sizzling romance, explosive rumors threaten everything — including the band's success. Love seemed to be a sure hit, but Virginia and Drew may be marching straight into disaster.

Virginia cherishes her role with the band and the time she spends with it. She is a great drummer, a dedicated drum major, and good friend to those she feels close to. She has a definite sense of who she is and what she wants to do. She is the first female drum major in the school's history and she wants to do well. Her problem is that Drew is a big something she wants, but feels she will never have because he hates her. Drew is the responsible one. He takes a lot of pride in it. But he also works really hard to break free and do the opposite of what people are telling him to when he has the chance. Drew is a legacy drum major-his dad and all his brothers had the position. Virginia intrigues him because of her sense of self and her free spirit. The two are opposites enough that sparks fly and it is wonderful. I love hate to love stories full of tension and this is a wonderful one. It is one of Echols's earlier works, and I could see a big difference in the writing between this and Biggest Flirts, but it is still incredibly good. 

At first I was a little put off by the band director, but I feel like his character grew. Also, I can see a young 22 year old new teacher making the exact errors he does in dealing with the students. His suggestion that Virginia buy a short skirt and boots for her uniform was inappropriate, but he's not the first male teacher to do something so sexist, she's not the first teenage girl to shrug and go along with it, and I feel they both reached a reasonable understanding of things by the end.

Major Crush is a fantastic romance and a great band story. I really liked all the supporting characters as well. Both Drew and Virginia's friends are a lot of fun. I appreciate how the mistakes each character makes are very typical of teenagers and play into the reality of the story well. There are some dramatic moments, but they are moments anyone can see actually happening. The book is full of humor too which is always a plus.

I'm really looking forward to digging into the rest of Jennifer Echols's backlist. I already have Such a Rush checked out from the library and can't wait to get to it. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Amour Et Florand

My friend Chachic is hosting this event at her blog Chachic's Book Nook. It is a celebration of the work of Laura Florand from around the blogosphere. My post for this event just went up today on how Laura's books were my gateway drug to contemporary adult romance.  If you love romance and want to check out Laura's books or don't love this genre but think you might want to try it, come by and see what all the fuss is about. Or if you already love Laura's books come and fangirl with the rest of us!

WoW: Shadow Scale

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

I was thrilled to see the reveal of this cover last week. Not only have I been waiting for this sequel since finishing Seraphina, but LOOK AT IT. It's absolutely beautiful in every way and is the perfect match to the first novel.

Here's the synopsis:
The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, part girl, part dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, she must travel the lands to find those like herself—for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful, magical ways. 

As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice: Cling to the safety of her old life, or embrace a powerful new destiny?

I can not wait to see what Seraphina's story has in store for her next. Shadow Scale releasees March 10, 2015. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

TTT: Characters I Would Want With Me on a Deserted Island

This week's TTT topic: Characters I Would Want With Me On A Deserted Island

Irene and Gen (from the Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner): Irene is an amazing manager and strategist. Her ruthless administration tactics would be a major plus when sorting out food, shelter, and assigning tasks and then making sure they were actually carried out. Gen can come because he needs to be with his wife. He can also use a sword to protect the camp and climb trees no one else would dare to bring down fruit and look for oncoming ships.

Tom and Tara (from the Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta): Tom is good at building things and we will need a builder. And Tara is good at making Tom not be lazy and do the things he needs to do.

Taran and Eilonwy (Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander); Aluna and Dash (Above World series by Jenn Reese): These are the people who would provide the camp with food. They are all used to being in the wilderness and needing to do this. Aluna can even get us plenty of food from the ocean. They all also have skills that will help with the protection. (Now that the thought of these four adventuring together has invaded my head it's all I want to read about.)

Christopher and Millie Chant: It would be silly not to have someone around with the ability to do magic, and of all the magic users there are, The Chrestomanci is the best choice. He can move between worlds and has massive amount of power. He might actually be able to get us off the island within a couple of hours. Millie needs to be with him because of what her wedding ring contains (which is one of the most romantic parts of a story EVER), and also because every group needs a good mother.

I think this group would work pretty well as long as Christopher works his magic quickly enough. I can see Aluna getting annoyed with Gen rather quickly and Irene and Dash continually having to step between them. I also think Gen and Tom might get along a little too well and figure out some way to get drunk together at least twice a week. Then nothing would get done.

Bit (my 10 year old daughter) wandered into the room as I was typing this and wanted to join the fun too. Here are her choices:
Taran and Eilonwy from Prydain Chroincles
Aluna, Dash, Hoku, and Callie from Above World (She was REALLY not happy I didn't have Hoku and Callie on mine. Because this dream team can not be separated EVER.)
Hermione and Ron from Harry Potter
Kat from Kat Incorrigible
Gen from Queen's Thief

What do you think of my list? Who would you have on your island?

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Swap

The Swap by Megan Shull takes a classic trope and gives it a slightly new spin. Usually in a body-switching plot the point is to learn that your life is not as bad as you think it is and other people have it just as difficult. In The Swap it is more of a case of the individuals learning to unlock their potential and let go of their insecurities. It was a nice change, but unfortunately there are several drawbacks to how it played out.

Ellie spent the summer before seventh grade getting dropped by her best friend since forever. JACK spent it training in “The Cage” with his tough-as-nails brothers and hard-to-please dad. By the time middle school starts, they’re both ready for a change. And just as Jack’s thinking girls have it so easy, Ellie’s wishing she could be anyone but herself.
Then, BAM! They swap lives—and bodies!
Now Jack’s fending off mean girls at sleepover parties while Ellie’s reigning as the Prince of Thatcher Middle School. As their crazy weekend races on—and their feelings for each other grow—Ellie and Jack begin to realize that maybe the best way to learn how to be yourself is to spend a little time being someone else.

Ellie and Jack are both talented kids with some insecurities and fears holding them back. Ellie has recently been dumped by her best friend, who is behaving in the nastiest way possible. As a result, Ellie wants to withdraw from her life. No more soccer. No more sleepovers. Nothing. Coming close on the heels of her father leaving her and her mother, this is a particularly difficult time for Ellie. Jack is referred to by several of the girls in his school as The Prince (he has no idea). He is cute, athletic, and an all around decent guy. His main problem is his father, who is super strict, withholds praise, and has withdrawn emotionally since the death of his mother. Switching bodies leaves Jack and Ellie with a chance to help change the other's life, and learn a little themselves at the same time. Ellie's mom and Jack's brothers are great supporting characters and the way each kid reacts to their "new family" is sweet and endearing. 

For the most part this book is cute and fun. I especially enjoyed how it did NOT take the romantic turn the synopsis made me think it would. This was a pleasant surprise. I almost didn't read it due to that "and their feelings for each other grow" line, so I'm happy that their feelings were different than I had assumed they would be. 

I do have some fairly strong issues with the book though. The idea of a gender switch is fun, and there is so much the author could have explored thematically there, but all that potential is wasted on over-blown gender stereotypes. The guys in this book are GUYS, who practically speak a different language as far as Ellie is concerned. She doesn't understand 75% of what they say. Really???? The portrayal of the girls isn't much better. They play a mean game of soccer (Yay for athletic equality!), but the way they talk to each other is....not like anything I've ever heard. Almost like they are all tween TV show character rejects. Because they are too over the top even for those characters. I work with middle school and high school students and have NEVER heard groups of kids talk to each other the way both the girls and boys here do. Even when I'm simply just listening to them and not taking with them. It was corny as all get out. Then there was the portrayal of the bullies. The obnoxious boy Jack has to contend with is given a nice backstory and some nuance. There is good closure there. The mean girl Ellie has to deal with-her former best friend-is just a typical mean girl caricature. As are her minions. The end is ridiculously perfect. Not only is it wrapped up with a bow, but the bow has curlicues and glitter thrown on for good measure  There is just so much wasted potential with the themes that it ruined my enjoyment of the book overall. 

As a teacher I would not give this to a student any younger than 6th grade. It is definitely a MG book, but it is for upper middle grade. There is a lot of talk of periods and a mention of a morning erection. I think both these things would make the book potentially horrifying for many younger MG readers. It is one where I definitely recommend knowing your younger students/patrons/children in your life before you hand it to them. Know what they are comfortable with and are mature enough to handle. 

I wanted to love this book, but sadly the minuses outweighed the pluses for me. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

School Books

July is half over and it is almost time for the Painter kids to get back to school. Usually we would be starting school now as I have us on a year-round schedule, but my parents are visiting at the end of the month so we are waiting until the first week of August. I am hard at work at preparing for it though. Here is a sampling of some of the fun things in store.

Bit is going to be in fifth grade. I am a bit blown away that my daughter is now old enough to be in the grade I used to teach. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN???? As she pointed out to her father a bit ago (nearly sending him into apoplexy), she would be getting her Hogwarts letter this year if she were a British witch.

Anyway, our history journey has brought us to Explorers through 1815. We will be reading a lot of historical fiction that takes place during the time plus some great non-fiction, plus some other books I think she will enjoy.
A sampling:

There will be some classics thrown in there too: Anne of Green Gables, Treasure Island, The Witch of Blackbird Pond. And, of course, plenty of books she chooses herself, because that is important.

LM is going to be in 1st grade. His reading, thanks to Gerald and Piggie and Henry and Mudge, has taken off this summer. He will be reading a lot of books this year, and here is a sampling of some I will be reading to him now that he's mastered the art of concentrating long enough:

I'm looking forward to this year, but sad I don't have co-op classes to teach in this new town yet. I'm going to miss having students other than my own kids, particularly the high schoolers.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Rereadathon/ShelfSweeper Update

I'm on a roll with this challenge this year! I've been reading lots of books that have been on my TBR AND rereading. This is the perfect motivator! I would like to be doing even more in both categories, but I unfortunately didn't get as far ahead in my ARC reading by the start of July as I had hoped.

Shelf Sweeper Reads:
The City in the Lake by Rachel Neumeier
The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge
Something Real by Heather Demetrios
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner
The Chocolate Thief by Laura Florand
The Chocolate Kiss by Laura Floored

I'm rereading Laura Florand's books for ANOTHER event starting on Monday at Chachic's Book Nook:

Monday, July 14, 2014

Something Real

From the moment I discovered what Something Real by Heather Demetrios was about, I wanted to read it. I am not a fan of reality TV shows that follow families around and document their lives, partly because I just feel like the worst sort of voyeur, but mainly because I feel it is an exploitation of the children involved who have no real choice or agency in what is going on. A book that explores this sounded fascinating. I was also a little hesitant because the synopsis made me think it could go places that I was uncomfortable with. The book did make me uncomfortable, but for all the right reasons and it is truly an excellent novel.

Seventeen-year-old Bonnie™ Baker has grown up on TV—she and her twelve siblings are the stars of one-time hit reality show Baker’s Dozen. Since the show's cancellation, Bonnie™ has tried to live a normal life, under the radar and out of the spotlight. But it's about to fall apart . . . because Baker’s Dozen is going back on the air. Bonnie™'s mom and the show's producers won't let her quit and soon the life that she has so carefully built for herself, with real friends (and maybe even a real boyfriend), is in danger of being destroyed by the show. Bonnie™ needs to do something drastic if her life is ever going to be her own—even if it means being more exposed than ever before.

Bonnie Baker is finally recovering from the reality TV circus that was her life for so long. She is in school for the first time and is now going by Chloe (as that is her preferred name, it is what I will call her from here on out). She and her brother Benny are moving on with their lives. They have friends. They have a life. Benny even has a boyfriend, and Chloe has a boy in her life that could be ready to move from crush to relationship. Their lives are thrown in to turmoil when their mom and stepdad decide to reboot the family show that caused so much turmoil in the first place. And no one will let them out of it. This is particularly hard for Chloe, who was a big part of the reason the show was canceled in the first place after she swallowed her parents' medicine cabinet full of pills and had to have her stomach pumped at the age of 13. 

Chloe is a bit of a mess as you can imagine. She suffers from what anyone can see is PTSD. Anytime a camera goes anywhere near her she freaks out. Building up enough courage to take her senior picture was an ordeal. Then she goes home to find the cameras have invaded her life again: The telltale signs of my childhood are everywhere: vans with satellite dishes on top, the Mercedes with the familiar BRN4REEL license plate, and the ropes of thick black cables that crawl around the house like prehistoric predators, squeezing everyone inside until they suffocate. That is Chloe's voice, full of pain, truth, and harsh cynicism. She can also be funny, snarky, and playful and it all combines to make her so real. Her journey through this book from terrified victim to a girl who grasps her own future and has agency over her own life is a truly remarkable one. It is filled with a lot of drama and bumps in the road, but watching her grow and learn from each one makes this a fantastic read. It is a book that I actually had to put down and walk around a bit while reading due to the amount of rage I was feeling toward her mother, who is the most selfish narcissistic leech on the planet. She is a terrible human being all round. The relationship between them is also portrayed realistically. Beth is Chloe's mom. Chloe feels loyalty and even love toward her despite everything. Chloe is manipulated, her privacy is invaded, and she is never listened to, but she still feels this fierce need to protect Beth and her siblings. It is a perfect picture of what a warped and dysfunctional child/parent relationship is like.

The book has a large cast of characters from the TV people, family, and school. The individual younger siblings are not focused on much, which is okay because Chloe spends little time with them really. The three oldest, who are all the same age due to a surrogate carrying two of them, are the main focus of the sibling dynamics and I loved this part of the story. Chloe and Benny have always been extremely close and the rebooting of the TV show brings them closer than ever. They both have reasons for hating it. Benny worries about Chloe falling back into depression. Chloe worries about Benny drinking too much like their father. Benny is also concerned about his relationship with his boyfriend, Matt, which they have been keeping secret. The bond and solidarity between these two is something special. They have each other's backs and work together to preserve their sanity and lives. Benny's twin sister Lexie has a more complicated relationship with them. She actually liked the show, but is dealing with her own issues from it even if she doesn't seem to realize. The three of them grow closer and become more of a team as the book progresses and I loved tracking their relationship. Great sibling stories are one of my favorite types of stories and this is certainly one of those.

It is also a great story of friendship. The way Chloe's friends react to the news that she is Bonnie Baker is very realistic, but the way they circle around her and work hard to show her how much they care is extraordinary. They are helpful. The give good advice. They push Chloe to see things in new ways. And they are incredibly supportive of both her and Benny.

Then there is the romance, which was my greatest concern going in. I really didn't want this to be a broken girl finds boy who fixes everything story. And it is not. Hallelujah. Patrick is pretty amazing and mature for a teenage boy, but boys like hime do exist in the world. He knows what he wants out of life and one of those things is Chloe. He is not afraid to pursue her even when she is trying to push him away for his own good. But he is not a magic presence that fixes Chloe's life. He gives her a lot of support and help. He is someone she can talk to and go to for comfort. In the end though, it is CHLOE who works to save herself. She makes the choices. Patrick is there to have her back and help her in those and I LOVED this about their relationship. It definitely had its moments of drama, but what relationship between 17 year olds doesn't come with that? It is the way they dealt with it all that made their relationship a positive aspect of the book.

Basically this book was everything I wanted it to be and more. It is working with the same themes and ideas Don't Call Me Baby and You Look Different in Real Life do, but this book does all of it so much better.

Content Warning: language, underage drinking and smoking, discussions of sex

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Shorter Musings: Fun Contemporary YAs

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 reviews of YA Contemporaries that would be fun light summer reads:

Ask Again Later by Liz Czukas
Overall, I really like this book and am excited to have discovered Liz Czukas as an author. I will definitely read her next book. I enjoy YA books that are about genuine teens in genuine teen situations, behaving in the overly dramatic silly way they often do. And Czukas is very good at the humorous similes, banter, and zingy one liners. With all of that and the main romantic guy in this book plus the friends this would have been a five star read for me. Except for the entire premise. And if the entire premise of a book doesn't work, it should sink it and sink it hard right? But the writing was a bit too engaging for it to sink it completely from me. I just didn't get why it was necessary. The book goes back and forth between two alternate realities. Why couldn't one have been enough? (The one I think was the reality worked just fine.) I THINK it was Heart's coping mechanism for the night. Imagining what her night may have been like if she had gone with the other choice, but it's never really explained what is going on it in that whole back and forth between two scenarios section and it bothered me. A lot. Both scenarios have the same ending and it's the ending I wanted from the moment a particular character was introduced. And like I said, it is a testament to the dialogue and characters that the back and forth didn't completely kill this for me. I just wish it hadn't been there. 

Going Rogue by Robin Benway
Going Rogue is a fun sequel to Also Known As. The situations in this book are so out of the realm of reality and yet also have enough realism injected into the characters and relationships that it works to make the outrageousness just believable enough to keep me invested. I enjoyed seeing how Maggie's relationships with those around her are changing now they know her secrets, how she is coping, and how the secrets she has always lived with affect the people who love her. Jesse remains the very best of boyfriends despite some bumpy patches in the road and Roux is as lovable and surly as ever. I'm definitely hoping for more of these because I just find these characters so delightful.

Just Like the Movies by Kelly Fiore
I enjoyed the concept of this book and how the ideas the girls had to make their lives more like the movies played out. It was very genuine and I appreciated how their developing friendship and different personalities were shown. The book is in first person and switches between their points of view. I liked both main characters for different reasons and appreciated how their stories turned out. I did feel like Lily's ending was rushed and didn't make quite as much sense. We just didn't get enough time getting to know Joe and what he might be thinking to completely understand why that turned out as it did. It's certainly fun light read and one I highly recommend to anyone looking for a romantic read for summer. It would be fun to to go through the book and have a marathon of all the movies mentioned. They are all good ones. 
Review of ARC I received at ALA Midwinter. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Lost Conspiracy

Last week was the week for reading books I hadn't read yet by my favorite authors. Frances Hardinge is definitely one of my favorites. While I don't always love each individual book, I always appreciate them for the works of art they are. The Lost Conspiracy (Gullstruck Island-UK) is one of those books that swept me away on a tide of beautiful imagery and left me clinging to each page ready to know what happened next.

On an island of sandy beaches, dense jungles, and slumbering volcanoes, colonists seek to apply archaic laws to a new land, bounty hunters stalk the living for the ashes of their funerary pyres, and a smiling tribe is despised by all as traitorous murderers. It is here, in the midst of ancient tensions and new calamity, that two sisters are caught in adeadly web of deceits.
Arilou is proclaimed a beautiful prophetess—one of the island's precious oracles: a Lost. Hathin, her junior, is her nearly invisible attendant. But neither Arilou nor Hathin is exactly what she seems, and they live a lie that is carefully constructed and jealously guarded.
When the sisters are unknowingly drawn into a sinister, island-wide conspiracy, quiet, unobtrusive Hathin must journey beyond all she has ever known of her world—and of herself—in a desperate attempt to save them both. As the stakes mount and falsehoods unravel, she discovers that the only thing more dangerous than the secret she hides is the truth she must uncover.

The Lost Conspiracy is a book that does so much right it is hard to no where to begin. The setting is beautifully treacherous, an island with jungles, volcanoes, dangerous aquatic animals, and cut off from any other part of the world. Harginge brings the island to life in vivid colors, sounds, and feelings. As Hathin and Arilou journey throughout, the reader goes with them and experiences it with them. 

Hathin is an amazing heroine. Her entire existence is based on serving her sister. It is what her entire life has always been for. She is Arilou's quiet unobtrusive shadow. People barely even realize she is there most of the time, which works out well for her because it allows her to observe and then manipulate the situation to go where she needs it to go. This life has developed her mind into a strategic, sharp instrument for getting what her sister and her people need. These skills serve her well as her world is blown apart by a conspiracy, and it is up to her to save her sister, herself, and all the Lace people of the island. There is a strong cast of supporting characters that surround Hathin from beginning to end, changing and multiplying as the story goes on. Each of these are intriguing in their own right and fully realized (I don't think Hardinge knows how to write characters any other way), but this story is Hathin's story. She deserves all the credit and glory due her for every hardship and triumph.

The plot is complicated and twisty involving centuries of myth, misunderstanding, and miscommunication. Hardinge has created a razor sharp look at colonialism and its affects with this story. The Lace are one group of the island's indigenous people. It has been a couple hundred years since the settlers came and while they intermarried with many of the other tribes, the Lace remained separate. This is mostly due to an unfortunate incident that involved kidnapping and sacrificing settlers to the volcanoes. Through the history of the island and the current politics tearing it apart, Hardinge depicts perfectly how a clash of cultures, a misunderstanding of tradition, and the easy way prejudices can be used to ignite hate, fear, and violence can cause a ripple affect that is felt and used for generations. I like that while there is clearly a villain, there is also a lot of horror that occurs because ordinary people allow themselves to be manipulated, carried away by a mob mentality, or simply don't stand up and do what's right. I like the shades of gray in that, something else Hardinge is typically good at depicting.

Some favorite quotes that show Hardinge's command of language and her themes:
There was a shout of laughter at the idea of the little Lace girl kidnapping the burly towner and taking him away to sacrifice.  It was a joke, but centuries of distrust and fear lay behind it. 
Soon somebody would say something that was sharper and harder, but it would still be a joke. And then there would be remark like a punch in the gut but made as a joke. And then they would detain her if she tried to leave and body would stop them because it was all only a joke...

And so ended the conference of the invisible, in the cavern of blood and secrets, on the night of the mist. 

"You see," Therrot added in what was probably meant to be a comforting tone, "revenge doesn't need to be face-to-face. Maybe you're not made for sticking a knife in someone...but would you feel the same way about planting a little fistful of leaves and roots?"
Hathin tried to imagine herself using her sickle to dig root space for a sly, slow killer. The idea did feel different, but she was not at all sure it felt better.

My one complaint is that it is a little long. Hardinge's books often are yet usually I can't think what would be cut out. Here I did feel there was a lot of detail in the middl portion that could have been pared down or combined to make the pacing better. This is one small detractor for me in a book that is full of amazing elements. Hardinge is a fantastic storyteller and if you haven't read this or her other books, you definitely need to pick one up. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

WoW: Jinx's Fire

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

Sometimes you have to step off the path to get where you’re going. In the Urwald, that could lead to being eaten. But Jinx has to do something, and fast: the forest is under attack, and its magic is fading.

Jinx must travel to the corners of the Urwald to convince all its inhabitants—people, trees, and monsters—to work together to defend their homeland. But he also needs to save the magician Simon and so must make a perilous journey into the icy depths beneath the Glass Mountains.

Will Jinx be able to summon enough of his magic—the bright fire within him—to rescue Simon, defeat the Bonemaster, unite the Urwald, and fight off the invaders?

In this action-packed conclusion to the acclaimed Jinx trilogy, Sage Blackwood spins an epic tale about good and evil, fire and ice, magic and knowledge, and becoming who you are meant to be.

I LOVE the cover. All the covers for these book are beautiful and they go together so well, and I can not wait to have this final book in the trilogy on my shelf with the other two. And not just for aesthetic reasons either. Because these books, I love them. I feel so perfectly at home within their pages and love all the characters desperately and completely, particularly Jinx and Simon. I can not wait to discover how Jinx will pull everything together in the end and what will happen to Simon. (And everyone else I've come to love so dearly in the Urwald. (I'm also very concerned about Elfwyn. What that girl is up to is dangerous stuff indeed.)

The waiting for Jinx's Fire already seems eternal and we still have until March 24, 2015 before it comes out. The good news is, that gives all of you who haven't read Jinx and Jinx's Magic plenty of time for catching up. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

The City in the Lake

After reading The Floating Islands a couple of years ago, I immediately put The City in the Lake on my TBR. There it sat despite the fact that I adored The Floating Islands, House of Shadows, and just really like Rachel Neumeier as a person too. After reading and loving Black Dog earlier this year I decided I needed to read this sooner rather than later and the Shelf-Sweeper challenge gave me the perfect opportunity for that. And I loved it so much.

THE KINGDOM’S HEART is the City. The City’s heart is the King. The King’s heart is the Prince. The Prince is missing.
Ever since the Prince disappeared, nothing has been right in the Kingdom. Something has disturbed the strange, old magic that whispers around its borders . . . something cunning and powerful. And the disturbance extends to the farthest reaches of the Kingdom, including the idyllic village where Timou is learning to be a mage under her father’s tutelage.
When Timou’s father journeys to the City to help look for the Prince, but never returns, Timou senses that the disturbance in the Kingdom is linked to her—and to the undiscovered heritage of the mother she never knew. She must leave her village, even if it means confronting powers greater than her own, even though what she finds may challenge everything she knows. Even if it means leaving love behind.

I would really love to know what it is like to live inside Rachel's head, because all of her books are distinctly different, wildly inventive, and not what I think I'm getting when I start reading. You would think by now I would stop being surprised by that, but I continue to be amazed at her creativity and how her writing style alters to fit each world she has created. In The City in the Lake we get a quest story set in a fantasy world. If you think you know what that looks like and you've seen it before, you are wrong. You haven't seen this one. I loved the world here and how vast it is, yet contained in a rather small setting for the story. It is impressive how Neumeier is able to convey that vastness with few words. (Those who read this blog regularly know that is a trait my favorite authors all tend to share.) I loved the idea of the two cities, one in the lake and one on it, that reflect each other. The Forest in all its mysterious darkness is brought to full intimidating life and Timou's small village is rendered in just the right way. Reading this book, I actually felt like I was in all of these places and experiencing them in the same way as the characters.

The book's action centers around the royal family and Timou, a Mage's daughter, who never knew her mother. When the prince and then the King go missing, the King's older bastard son is left in charge and Timou's father has disappeared into the city to try and help. Timou follows when he doesn't return and discovers twisted secrets and a whole lot of family drama. There are a lot of characters involved and they are all well developed despite the shortness of the novel. I loved how Timou is a character of quiet strength. She has incredibly powerful magic and yet is not at all tempted by power. She is patient, stubborn, and hardworking. Her feelings are always kept under tight control, a trick she learned from her father, but one that has her confused when she begins to have feelings for Jonah, one of the men in her village. Jonah also has a quiet strength. He is not a sword wielding, run-into-danger type of hero, but his heroism and what he chooses to do with it are even more impressive as a result. I also really loved both of the princes, who are very different in all the ways brothers are. Neill, the bastard, is a fascinating character. He is the one who caught my imagination the most due to the choices he makes-and the ones he didn't but could have. Cassiel, the heir to the throne, is young and has many traits you would expect from being the younger, favored son, but he also has a core of steel and courage that is impressive. His charm and humor only make this more appealing (even if I was choosing between them, I would choose to like his brother more.)  In dress, attitude, and actions, the villain is one of the creepiest I've read in some time. The symbolism Neumeier uses to introduce the concept of the villain into the story does an excellent job of adding to this terrifying calmness of evil the villain presents. 

The City in the Lake is exactly the sort of fantasy I love and now I'm kicking myself for not having read it sooner. The world, characters, and story all combine to make an enthralling read and Neumeier's evocative prose put me right in the story. Woven in to the magic and intense political drama is also a great tale of siblings. All of my favorite things in a fantasy plus stuff I never knew to ask for. READ IT NOW. 


Rachel has generously offered up a signed copy of this book to a reader. This is open internationally. If you would like to be entered for a chance to win comment below with:
1) what you look for in a fantasy novel
2) an email address or twitter handle (some way I can reach you if you win)

Giveaway will end on Thursday, July 10, 2014 at 8:00 PM EDT. Good luck! And thanks so much, Rachel!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Great Greene Heist

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson is one of those books that had a lot of excitement and promotion leading up to its release. Those books always make me wary. While I really wanted to read it, I worried about it not living up to my expectations. Well, that was a groundless worry. I LOVED this book and my only regret is I'm not teaching in the fall and won't have a roomful of MG kids to book-talk it to.

Jackson Greene swears he's given up scheming. Then  school bully Keith Sinclair announces he's running for Student Council president, against Jackson's former friend Gaby de la Cruz. Gaby wants Jackson to stay out of it -- but he knows Keith has "connections" to the principal, which could win him the presidency no matter the vote count.
So Jackson assembles a crack team:  Hashemi Larijani, tech genius. Victor Cho, bankroll. Megan Feldman, science goddess. Charlie de la Cruz, reporter. Together they devise a plan that will take down Keith, win Gaby's respect, and make sure the election is done right. If they can pull it off, it will be remembered as the school's greatest con ever -- one worthy of the name THE GREAT GREENE HEIST.

This is a realistic fiction book that has absolutely no grounding in reality, which is not at all a bad thing, because readers love those books. I was going to say kid readers but decided that was condescending and untrue. I love those sort of books too (and not just ones written for kids) as do a number of other adults. The romance and mystery genres make the money they do because people love this type of book so much. I don't think the MG category has nearly enough of them that are as well written as this one is. 

The concept is basically Ocean's Eleven for kids and it is all kinds of fun. There is a corrupt principal and cocky popular kid to take down and the school's clubs to save. It will take a crack team of super-smart friends to save the school's election from being stolen from the students. Does this middle school actually exist anywhere? One that has this many actively participated in funded extracurriculars and a student government with actual power? No. No it doesn't, not in the realm of public schools anyway. HOWEVER, it is the middle school every kid fantasizes about going to. One where there will be a place for them somewhere and they will be able to practice agency over their own lives. And what kid doesn't love a story where the kids get to outsmart the principal? Johnson clearly gets his audience.

The cast is diverse, which is obvious from the cover, but I don't just mean that it is racially diverse. These kids all have distinct interests and personalities. Leading them all is Jackson Greene, president of the Botany club, basketball super-star, and Earl Grey tea drinker. His grandfather was an excellent con-man, and armed with his wits and his grandfather's rules for staging a con, Jackson has perpetrated some schemes that the entire school population still talks about despite his new course on the straight and narrow. After his last job resulted in losing one of his best friend's, the girl he also happened to have a crush on, he is staying out of it. But Gaby is the one who will lose if he doesn't intervene, and for her he is willing to take on a new job. Even if she doesn't want him to. Gaby is a brilliant leader and amazing basketball player. I really liked how she balanced out Jackson and how she handled the many tricky situations she found herself in from confronting jerks to being honest with a boy about her feelings, to telling her friends what she thinks. Gaby never betrays or backs down from who she is. Each member of the team Jackson assembles to run the heist are equally distinct and rounded. Charlie is Gaby's brother, Jackson's best friend, and the editor of the school paper. Bradley is the eager, excited, office helper who is the inside man. Hash is a tech geek, Star Trek fan, and highly nervous around girls. Megan, the pretty cheerleader, is also a tech genius who is a passionate gamer and also speaks fluent Klingon. I appreciated what the author did with all these characters. While Hash is fairly stereotypical for a tech geek he still has a distinct personality and is foiled by Megan, who is not a stereotypical tech geek or cheerleader. The subtle message that comes across is that each person is not one thing, but total of all things that make them who they are. Each character highlights this in their own way but never in a manner that makes it THE MESSAGE. 

Interspersed through the book are also some clever commentaries on society. Some of these kids will get and some will go over their heads, but the way Johnson wove them in to the narrative was smart. From how easy it is to corrupt an election process, to the school secretary who can't tell students in any non-white race apart, to the power brokering of the kids with money in the school, Johnson has brought out some interesting issues. The truly miraculous thing? He does all this character development, plotting, and theme building in 226 engaging pages. How? He has pretty much mastered the art of showing and not telling. 

The Great Greene Heist is a perfect read for anyone who loves con stories, school stories, friendship stories, or just stories in general.