Friday, August 29, 2014

10 Books By Women (About Girls) That Boys Should Read

A couple weeks ago Melissa at The Book Nut wrote this post and I loved the idea so I asked her if I could co-opt it and make my own list. She told me to go ahead. I like so many of the books she mentioned, but thought others would be good as well. I imagine if lots of people made lists we would end up with a lot of different books. There would be some crossovers, but in the end we would have a pretty diverse list I think.

Here is mine. 5 MG books and 5 YA. Several of these I have already given to boys with enthusiastic response.

The MG:

The YA:

And a bonus book of poetry for the YA crowd:

What would be on your lists? 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Shorter Musings: Recent MG

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 fantasy fiction I've read recently:

Finding Ruby Starling by Karen Fox
Finding Ruby Starling is a novel about finding who your are and your place amidst the pains of growing up like most MG books. It is unique in that it throws in twin sisters who never knew the other existed. Ruth, who is adopted, finds Ruby online and they begin an exchange of emails that changes their lives forever. This is an epistolary novel, told through the emails the girls send each other, their friends, and their parents. There is some boy drama and quite a bit of angst about figuring out how they fit together. All of it is good, but a little long. There were a lot of e-mails I skimmed quickly. The read genuinely like 13 year old's emails, and that includes a lot of totes and ridic and the like. I found the amount Ruth used these words to be thoroughly annoying, but that won't bother everyone. I enjoyed this and would recommend it to any lover of realistic MG fiction. 
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Arthur Levine, via NetGalley.

Spirit's Key by Edith Cohn 
I enjoyed Spirit's Key. While I was reading it, it was difficult to put down. It is one of those books that sucks you in due to the mystery, which is incredibly well done. The hints are given out slowly and just enough to keep you engaged and waiting for the next tidbit. I was also pleased that I was only able to half figure out what was going on. The book left a lot of unanswered questions in my head as well. I was never able to fully suspend my disbelief enough to completely buy into the fantasy element. This seems to be a problem just I have. Most others seem to be dealing with it just fine. It is a good book and a wonderful recommendation to give to kids who love fantasies and animals.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Farrar Straus & Giroux, via NetGalley.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

WoW: Kissing Ted Callahan (And Other Guys)

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

After catching their bandmates in a compromising position, sixteen-year-old Los Angelenos Riley and Reid become painfully aware of the romance missing from their own lives. And so a pact is formed: they'll both try to make something happen with their respective crushes and document the experiences in a shared notebook.

While Reid struggles with the moral dilemma of adopting a dog to win over someone's heart, Riley tries to make progress with Ted Callahan, who she's been obsessed with forever-His floppy hair! His undeniable intelligence! But suddenly cute guys are popping up everywhere. How did she never notice them before?! With their love lives going from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye, Riley and Reid realize the results of their pact may be more than they bargained for.

I love Amy Spalding's books. I adore her characters and real they are. I like how the situations in them have meat and tension, but the books are also full of humor. And music. Humor and music are the greatest things life has to offer other than books. 

Kissing Ted Callahan (and other guys) will be out on April 14, 2015.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You My Pretty

I am not a huge poetry fan, but once in a while a poetry book comes along that I can not pass up the chance to read. Poisoned Apples: Poems for You My Pretty by Christine Heppermann was just such a book.

The Woods
The action's always there.
Where are the fairy tales about gym class
or the doctor's office or the back of the bus where bad things also happen?

And so begins a beautiful collection of poems that combine fairy tale and real life to illustrate the struggles of teen girls everywhere. Eating disorders, boys who see and treat you as an object, seeing and treating yourself as an object, the never-ending quest for impossible perfection to live up to an artifiical standard of beauty-it's all blended and folded together against a backdrop of familiar characters and scenarios. The poems, which are mostly in blank verse, are hauntingly beautiful. They are more than that too though. They challenge preconceived notions, force thought, and are, in the end, empowering. It is a feminist book. It is a powerful book. It is a human book. It fills me with a zeal to buy copies for all the teen girls I know. And all the adult women. All the boys too for that matter.

In addition to the poems the final copy of the book will be full of art. I read an e-galley, so it is not all there or as clear as possible, but what I saw I very much liked. I pre-ordered this book months ago based on its concept alone. Having read it already, I do not regret that decision in the slightest. I can not wait for my copy to come so I can read it again and see the art in all its beauty with the poems.

I love fairy tales. Actual real fairy tales for all the darkness, horror, and awful truth they contain. I love them because the lines between fairy tales and reality are hard to find when you start thinking about what the stories are really about. Hepperman mentions her similar thoughts on this in the Afterward. This shows clear in every poem,which is based on a tale with a known character, but so tragically real at the same time. It combines all the aspects of fairy tale riffs I adore.

I highly recommend to everyone.

Content Warning: sexual references, strong language, alcohol and drug use

I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Greenwillow Books, via Edelweiss. Poisoned Apples is available for purchase on September 23rd.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Rose and the Magician's Mask

I adore the Rose series. Seriously adore. They are just wonderfully fun, full of magic, and Rose is such a great character. The newest (US) installment, Rose and the Magician's Mask, lives up to the previous two and adds to them in interesting ways.

This installment picks up where the last installment left off. Rose and her friends are trying to track down the evil mastermind behind the plot in Rose and the Lost Princess. When a series of events leads them to believe he has absconded to Venice with a priceless and dangerous national treasure, there is only one solution. Road trip! Mr. Fountain must track down the artifact and the criminal. He takes Rose, Freddie, and Bella with him. Then Bill decides to stowaway too. Basically, all of my favorite characters in this series teamed up to go on a journey for a famous artifact and defeat the evil bad guy trying to take over the world via magic. It is a high fantasy quest novel wrapped up in the delightful alternate historical fantasy it has always been. It was the most perfect combination. There were even some hints given to Rose's mysterious past and how she is most likely higher born than she  believes herself to be. So perfect. The beginning does start off a bit slow as a lot of the previous books are rehashed in typical kid series fashion, but once I got past that, I could not put this book down. 

Rose continues to grow in her magic, as do both Freddie and Bella. They are all three growing as individuals too. Rose is showing a desire to be more bold and to figure out more of who she is an what she really wants in life. She is no longer content to hide in the shadows. Freddie is learning to broaden his horizons and give people more of a chance. Bella is learning to respect and listen to others. Bill was a wonderful addition to the magical team, even though he is not capable of magic himself. His common sense and fierce loyalty make him the perfect foil for the other three as they adventure. He has skills the others do not, and they come in handy more than once. Gus is, of course, still the best part of these books with the exception of Rose herself. He shows himself to be capable of far more than the others had previously seen and leaves them astounded in many places. There is an addition to the team in this book too. Miss Fell is a powerful magic worker, knows a lot about the world, and clearly suspects something of Rose's past. She is also one of those brilliant adults who allows the kids to go on their way being heroes with some assistance but also the knowledge that sometimes they must put themselves in danger and risk much to be those heroes. 

This series just keeps getting better and better with each new volume. I am sad to see there is only one more book to go, Rose and the Silver Ghost, which will be released in March of 2015 in the US. It is currently available in the UK. 

I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, via NetGalley. Rose and the Magician's Mask will be available for purchase September 2. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Courting Magic

I have made not secret about how much I adore Stephanie Burgis's Regency fantasy Kat Incorrigible books. When I closed that last page of Stolen Magic, I was left feeling satisfied with the end of Kat's story in those books, but I couldn't help wanting more. When Stephanie started talking about a novella she was writing that would take place upon Kat's debut into society and her own romance, I was beyond thrilled. Courting Magic is everything I wanted it to be. It left me with a huge grin on my face that hasn't faded. It is, in fact, only growing larger as I type this and think about it all over again. 

In Kat Stephenson's Regency England, magic is even more shocking than a stolen kiss. But now that she's eighteen, it's time for wild and magical Kat to be introduced to high society by her older sisters, whether she likes it or not...and to finally have a romance of her own!
Of course, her true love is hopelessly ineligible. But when has Kat ever let Society's opinion stop her from making up her own mind? Once she realizes she's found her perfect match, she's not going to let anything or anyone stand in their way - even if she does have to solve a magical mystery, matchmake for an old friend, and break a few rules along the way!

Kat has aged well in the five years since the end of her adventures in Stolen Magic. She has learned to control her tongue and temper. She is still irrepressibly Kat though. Her family still treat her like the girl she was though, telling her what to do, talking over her at times, and not crediting her with the sense that time and experience have instilled in her. I enjoyed this element because this is so true to life. Our families know us so well, but they don't always see us the clearest because they are too close. Mr. Gregson on the other hand, seems to fully trust Kat. He has seen his years of training pay off time and time again. She is a full-fledged guardian and fighter against evil magic. It is rather impressive. Most of the characters from the previous novels make a reappearance here. I didn't realize how badly I needed to see how Lucy's life turned out, until there she was. Her role in this story is marvelous. Reading this is like attending a reunion where I just want to sit and watch these people I love interact with each other. It was incredibly well done.

The plot involves a magical mystery that must be solved. Kat and her entrance into Society set the perfect scene for an undercover operation that involves her taking on three others with guardian magic as her would-be suitors, all of them in the pursuit of justice. Shenanigans of the hilarious and romantic variety ensue. Kat helped all three of her siblings into true love and it was so rewarding to see her find her own. I don't want to spoil much about that, but the romantic element is well done. There is everything that makes a good romance: amusing banter, heated looks, some misunderstanding, and some pretty great kissing. The hero is everything Kat deserves in a partner and their whole dynamic in this story is just lovely.

If you have young MG age fans of the original trilogy in your life and you are wondering at letting them read this, have no fear. There is some kissing and giddy descriptions of attraction, but nothing more than kids this age generally get from movies and other books for their own age group. I let Bit read it (and she loved it too). 

Basically this book was all that I could have asked for. Happiness bubbled up inside me as I was reading it, like I was a bottle of soda being shaken up. It just made me effervescent when I was done, walking around grinning like a fool.

Stephanie self-published this and here is her post on all the places you can purchase it if you wish. (And you should most definitely wish to.) 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Greenglass House

Kate Milford is one of my favorite authors, and I don't think her books get the attention and love they so deserve. She writes unique stories with such care and attention to detail. Greenglass House is different from her previous two novels in setting and plot, but no less excellent in its execution, unique voice, and brilliant storytelling. 

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

Greenglass House has so many elements I love: an old house that needs exploring, guests trapped in an Inn with a mystery happening, intrepid children who embrace their imaginations and save the day. And it's Christmas. What more could you ask for? I can not stress enough how much this book seems just tailor made for me. Every single aspect of it is one that I love and Milford's writing is so clever here.  The book has a rather nostalgic feel to it, but not in an old tired way, rather the same way the Penderwick books feel nostalgic to adult readers but kids still love them. I think Greenglass House will have a similar effect on both groups of readers. Milford builds her mystery slowly. In the tradition of all the great mystery writers she introduces each player one at a time giving the reader a glimpse at who they are and setting them in their places on the chess board of her story. The house itself even feels like a character as Milo shows each guest to the room they will occupying as they are all snowed in the week before Christmas. Not everyone is who they claim to be, none of them are honest about why they are there, and one of them is actually dangerous. All are connected through the house in some way and it is the house that has brought them all together. When Milo finds a strange map and then it is taken from him, he and Meddy team up to try and uncover the mysteries which are numerous and are leading them to uncovering buried truths of the past. This requires exploring the house, questioning the guests, and in a stroke of brilliance on Milo's part, having them each tell a story to entertain the others at night as they are trapped by the snow. These stories help Milo and Meddie piece together the mystery and reveal fascinating details about everyone's past. I enjoyed how this showed the interconnectedness of everyone and forged a community amongst the guest that would never have come about without it. The stories in themselves are fun too.

Milo is the central character and,while all the characters are drawn well, he is the one that connects everyone and pulls everything together. He is a typical kid looking forward to a few days of peace to begin his winter vacation. The Inn doesn't normally have guests before Christmas. He even does all of his homework on the first afternoon so it will be out of the way. When the guests begin to arrive, he is less than pleased. While  he does what his parents require of him, it is with enough reluctance and temper that it strikes the perfect chord for a child his age. Milo is of Chinese descent and is adopted. This is another thing about his character that is really well done. He loves his parents, but he wonders about his birth parents too. He sometimes goes as fas as imagining he was still with his birth parents in a family that looks like him. At other times he even imagines what his life would be like if someone else had adopted him. He feels so conflicted and guilty about these fantasies. I really loved how Milford used this to make him relatable and also into something more than a cliche' of a character. Milo's struggles with adoption are real but not dramatic or a huge issue. In order to solve the mystery Milo and Meddy adopt role-playing characters and this too was a lot of fun. Milo is skeptical at first but soon embraces the idea that he can imagine himself to be whoever he wants with the skills necessary to do what must be done. He  is surprised to find he is actually able to take on his character so well. Meddy is more shy and withdrawn, always hiding from the other occupants and only talking to Milo. She is his silent shadow and her role is to observe and collect information, which she does very well. They are a great team and wonderful foils for each other as they work to uncover the mystery.

Milford has combined the best elements of mystery, history, folklore, and reality to weave a wonderful tale that is both thoughtful and adventurous. The action is not page-turning exciting, but the way Milford writes kept me hooked and wondering what would happen next. The language and imagery is so well done, and this book would make a great read aloud, particularly during the month leading up to Christmas. I plan on rereading it myself during that time. Greenglass House has shades of both Agatha Christie and Charles Dickens, but is wholly its own story and told in such a way that it will be enjoyed by kids and adults alike. 

I read an ARC received from the publisher, Clarion Books, at ALA Midwinter. Greenglass House is for sale on August 26. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Million Ways Home

Honestly what attracted me to A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget was the cover. That cover attraction proved to be really strong because I usually do not jump on books whose descriptions begin with: "A moving middle-grade story about love, loss, and the unlikely places we find home." Because that usually screams guidance-counselor-fiction-looking-for-grown-up-readers-who-will-force-it-on-kids to me. I try to avoid those. I'm so happy that I didn't avoid this one because it does not read like those books at all and I adored it.

Poppy's life has been turned upside down after her grandma (and guardian) had a stroke and ended up in the hospital. But Poppy is working on a plan to help Grandma Beth so their life together can go back to normal. But when she witnesses an armed robbery, "back to normal" slips even further out of her reach. To keep Poppy safe, the budget-strapped police devise an unusual "witness protection program," wherein Poppy will stay with Detective Brannigan's mother. Soon Poppy is feeling almost at home, even making sort-of friends with a girl named Lizzie and definitely friending Gunner, a beautiful dog with an uncertain fate. But it's still not home. So while she and Lizzie navigate a rocky friendship and plot to save Gunner's life, Poppy also tries to figure out a new plan to save Grandma Beth and their home, all while avoiding a dangerous robber who might be searching for her. But what if Grandma Beth can never come home and the robber is put behind bars? What will happen to Poppy then?

Poppy makes so many decisions that are not well thought out or anywhere close to being good. She is impulsive and headstrong, a dangerous combination. And more than one time over the course of the novel danger is exactly what it lands her in. Poppy is also a girl with a huge heart and a desire to keep a place for herself in the world. Her life is spiraling out of control and she wants to regain balance. Fortunately for her the impulsive decisions and danger bring a police detective, his mother, a lonely girl, and a dog in need of love into her life. She changes them and they change her and it is a lovely story to read, one about relationships, cause and effect, and discovery. The characters and their relationships are at the core of this novel. Poppy and her grandmother are close and her grandmother works hard to do what is best for her. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the relationships develop between Poppy and Trey and Marti. Trey is the detective in charge of Poppy and Marti is his mother. The relationship between Trey and Marti is a wonderful one as well. Relationships between an adult and their parent are often not seen much in MG fiction unless central to a generational story involving the child so it was refreshing to see. It is not focused on, but it is there and it is a great thing. One thing I really appreciated about this book is all the adults behaved the way you would expect adults to behave. They were adults. That is something that shouldn't be quite so rare in MG fiction, but is. 

There is a whole lot of dramatic action in this plot, some of it violent and full of terror. It causes the book to get off to a crazy start and sucks you in until the very end. I had a very hard time putting it down. It is a book about relationships, home, and family, but there is also a murder investigation going on and a suspect on the loose with the protagonist right in the middle of all that. It makes for an engrossing read. I felt that the drama was not overblown though, it was exactly realistic enough and kept the danger at a distance that is close enough to see as real, but not frighten a child reader. I will also add that this book had its sad moments. I'm not a crier when I read, but this book had me tearing up. I did think the plot and end were predictable (then again I'm an adult reader with years of experience), but the emotions behind the end were strong and conveyed in a perfect non-sappy way. 

A Million Ways Home is a great choice for those who enjoy realistic fiction, thrillers, animal stories, or just darn good books.

I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Scholastic Press, via NetGalley.  Million Ways Home goes on sale August 26th. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Favorite Historical Fiction Novels

Historical Fiction is a topic I've never covered on My Favorite Things before. That's because I don't read as much historical fiction as fantasy or contemporary. If I'm reading historical, I'm usually reading non-fiction, but there are a few authors of historical fiction I will absolutely read no matter what.

Anything by Elizabeth Wein (And not just Code Name Verity or Rose Under Fire, read her Ancient Ethiopian books too!)

Anything by Gary Schmidt (And may I say, it has been too long since we've had a new Gary Schmidt.)

Anything by Rosemary Sutcliff:

 Mara Daughter of the Nile:

And because these are great historical fiction with a splash of fantasy:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Coming Soon: Cybils Season

Fall. It is a time of crisp golden leaves, sweaters, cold-but-not-too-cold air, and, most important, the Cybils begin. What are the Cybils you may ask? Only the most wonderful and fun book award given in all genres and age categories for children's literature.

I've followed the Cybils for several years now. I began by just watching it all unfold, following closely as nominations came in, then the shortlists, and finally the winners. I loved it then. I stuck my toes in the water of actually participating by nominating books. I loved it even more as I watched the process unfold and eagerly waited to see if my nominations made it to the next round. Last year was my first year as Round One panelist. I can not tell you how much fun I had. It was like Christmas and my birthday all rolled into one. Reading the books, meeting and getting to know some bloggers I didn't already, and discussing our love of books and children's literature together. It was a great experience.

Well if this sounds like fun you are interested in having, the call for judges is coming soon. From August 18-September 5 you can visit the Cybils site where you will be directed toward the form to fill out if you want to volunteer. It is a lot of work and a time commitment, but is well worth it in my opinion. Here is the FAQ page if you are curious or want more information.

Now excuse me while I go try and figure out what posts I will submit with my application. I will only change my mind 100 times between now and Monday.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Falling Into Place

Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang is a book I added to my TBR because a couple of people on Twitter were saying how amazing it was. Then I discovered it's published by Greenwillow so excitement rose. I got it from Edelweiss without even reading the synopsis. Imagine my surprise when I started reading and was not expecting a book that was quite so intense, dark, and sad. It's probably a good thing I didn't know because I probably would have put off reading it. Despite bringing all my parental nightmares to vivid life, this is a book that says and reveals important things about the teen experience. It's a book I think many parents are going to freak out about, but they should all read. 

On the day Liz Emerson tries to die, they had reviewed Newton’s laws of motion in physics class. Then, after school, she put them into practice by running her Mercedes off the road. 
Why? Why did Liz Emerson decide that the world would be better off without her? Why did she give up? Vividly told by an unexpected and surprising narrator, this heartbreaking and nonlinear novel pieces together the short and devastating life of Meridian High’s most popular junior girl. Mass, acceleration, momentum, force—Liz didn’t understand it in physics, and even as her Mercedes hurtles toward the tree, she doesn’t understand it now. How do we impact one another? How do our actions reverberate? What does it mean to be a friend? To love someone? To be a daughter? Or a mother? Is life truly more than cause and effect? 

Liz Emerson is her school's most popular girl. Everyone knows her, most people hate her. The latter is well deserved. Liz is not a nice person. No one in this book aside from Liam, the boy who sees something else in Liz and is the one to find her car, is. Liz is the ultimate mean girl. She deliberately goes about trying to destroy other people. It is her way to prop herself up against the world and keep herself separate. But she is killing herself with this long before she attempts suicide through car crash. Each act, each destroyed life, every choice she makes that is about image rather than self, works to destroy her. In addition to Liz this is the story of her two best friends, Kennie and Julia, girls both swept up in the force of Liz's personality. They are just as unlikeable and broken as she is. Despite being the quintessential mean girls, all three of them are very real and human in their fears, doubts, struggles, and horrors. Through vivid imagery and prose, Zang brings to life their high school experience and the harsh reality that is being a teen. My heart broke for all three of them. 

I usually don't like books that skip around in the way this one does, but here the format works perfectly. It moves from the timeline of Liz's accident and what occurs after to flashbacks of the months leading up to the accident (but not in order!) to some snippets from Liz's childhood. There is very linear movement. However, it was absolutely perfect in how it fully depicted all of the characters and still got the point of the story, which is a powerful one, across. The prose is vivid and emotive. Zang really makes you feel what her characters do causing a physical ache in places. 

Yes, this is an excellent book, but it was not without its aspects that bothered me. I really grew to hate how often Liz's full name was used. Liz Emerson feels...Liz Emerson does....Liz Emerson wants... Enough already! The entire premise of the narration grated on me too. I didn't really see it as necessary and it was actually rather silly. This book has so much good going for it that it did not need to depend on a corny gimmick like that narration trick. The best parts of the story, in my opinion, were the ones where the narrator got lost and it felt like it was just third person. Then that annoying first person would pop up again and UGHHHH. This is a typical problem for me when this narration is used in any book. I'm not a fan of The Book Thief either, and my inability to buy the conceit of the narrative is a big reason why.  It was less intrusive here, but still got in the way of my fully falling into the story. The final aspect that bothered me is the end. It does end on a rather hopeful note. One I found completely unbelievable. I know I always say I love a good depression to hope story. There are authors that do it extraordinarily well: Melina Marchetta, Trish Doller, Meg Medina. What makes those authors so good is how they show the characters climbing out of the darkness. It is an arc I can see. That wasn't as evident here. 

Despite the things that didn't work for me, I do recommend this book, particularly for fans of contemporary YA who enjoy heartrendingly real stories. 

Content Warning: strong language, sexual references, drug and alcohol use I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Greenwillow Books, via Edelweiss. Falling Into Place is for sale on September 9th. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Fourteenth Goldfish

I am going to be honest, I'm not one of Jennifer Holm's biggest fans. Don't get me wrong, I book talk her books, put them on recommended reading lists, and buy them for my daughter (who is a huge a fan), but her writing style is not my particular cup of tea. I was really surprised then to find myself enjoying The Fourteenth Goldfish as much as I did. 

Galileo. Newton. Salk. Oppenheimer.
Science can change the world . . . but can it go too far?
Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this pimply boy really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth?

The Fourteenth Goldfish is a story about life and how it is in constant flux. At the center of that story are Ellie and her grandfather, Melvin. Ellie has just started middle school, a time in one's life when it never becomes more clear that life is all about change. Her best friend has moved on to a different group. Everything is different and she is constantly having to adjust. Into all this change comes her grandfather in the form of a 13 year old boy. He wanted to find a way to roll back time. He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. As Ellie is caught in the first truly great phase of change in her life when everything is new, her grandfather is caught in a desperate bid to stop time, life, and all that change.

The science and the sci-fi element is not nearly as important to the story as the relationship between Ellie and her grandfather. Through their shared time together as Melvin once more has to negotiate middle school, Ellie learns a lot about herself and science. She also discovers more about her grandparents and her mother by watching the interactions between Melvin and her mom. The Fourteenth Goldfish is truly a story about family, growth, identity, and life exactly like all of Holm's historical fiction is. But this time I think she does it all so much better. That may be because the one thing that drives me crazy about her other books is the juvenile actions and attitudes of all the adults. Here Melvin does sometimes act juvenile, but it is understandable given his situation. The other adults conduct themselves the way adults ordinarily do, making it easier for me to read. I think Melvin's true age plays into this some too as he is desperately trying to regain something that can not be regained. The moment Ellie realizes this is a beautiful one and the most poignant moment of the book. Holm did an excellent job with the themes in this book and bringing it all together. 

I am sure this will be a huge hit among kids, even more so than her historical fiction as readers will be drawn to the intriguing concept and the weird thought of being the same age as your grandparent. My daughter read my ARC and loved it, reading off lines every other page and giggling non-stop.

I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Random House Books for Young Readers, via NetGalley. The Fourteenth Goldfish goes is available August 26th.  

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Such a Rush

Here I am, continuing my way through Jennifer Echols's backlist. I remember Chachic and Maureen raving about Such a Rush when it first came out, but my library didn't have it so it wasn't a high priority for me. Big mistake. Boy is this book good. 

When I was fourteen, I made a decision. If I was doomed to live in a trailer park next to an airport, I could complain about the smell of the jet fuel like my mom, I could drink myself to death over the noise like everybody else, or I could learn to fly.
Heaven Beach, South Carolina, is anything but, if you live at the low-rent end of town. All her life, Leah Jones has been the grown-up in her family, while her mother moves from boyfriend to boyfriend, letting any available money slip out of her hands. At school, they may diss Leah as trash, but she’s the one who negotiates with the landlord when the rent’s not paid. At fourteen, she’s the one who gets a job at the nearby airstrip.
But there’s one way Leah can escape reality. Saving every penny she can, she begs quiet Mr. Hall, who runs an aerial banner-advertising business at the airstrip and also offers flight lessons, to take her up just once. Leaving the trailer park far beneath her and swooping out over the sea is a rush greater than anything she’s ever experienced, and when Mr. Hall offers to give her cut-rate flight lessons, she feels ready to touch the sky.
By the time she’s a high school senior, Leah has become a good enough pilot that Mr. Hall offers her a job flying a banner plane. It seems like a dream come true... but turns out to be just as fleeting as any dream. Mr. Hall dies suddenly, leaving everything he owned in the hands of his teenage sons: golden boy Alec and adrenaline junkie Grayson. And they’re determined to keep the banner planes flying.
Though Leah has crushed on Grayson for years, she’s leery of getting involved in what now seems like a doomed business—until Grayson betrays her by digging up her most damning secret. Holding it over her head, he forces her to fly for secret reasons of his own, reasons involving Alec. Now Leah finds herself drawn into a battle between brothers—and the consequences could be deadly.

Here is what I love so much about Echols's writing: her characters are messed-up real people. The have faults and flaws aplenty, and those will sometimes outweigh their finer traits. They are just so real. Leah and Grayson exemplify this perfectly. Leah is the product of a teenage pregnancy and her mom has never come around to the idea of being the responsible adult. Leah decided she did not want to be her mother and made goals for herself. She is desperate and vulnerable in so many ways. She is one mistake away from losing everything she wants for her future. She wants out of the trailer park. She wants into college. She wants to fly. People who are desperate and vulnerable often don't make the best decisions when they feel threatened. This is certainly true for Leah. She has lines she will not cross, but they are not the same lines people who live comfortable lines would have. It is easy to judge and look down on her as a character, but that would come from a high place of privilege that doesn't realize how true poverty and drive to escape it can warp one's decision making processes. Grayson is there to take full advantage of this, but in true Echols's fashion there is more to him. I should never like a manipulative boy as much as I do Grayson, but it's because there really is so much more to him. He is blackmailing Leah. Holding her future over her head to get her to do what he wants. He doesn't ask her to do anything awful though and he pays her well for her flying skills. Asking her to date his brother is an idiotic move, one he holds on to way longer and with far more tenacity than he should. But this is where I think Echols really succeeded with his character. For all his maneuvering and taking over a business, running it and learning how to take taxes out of paychecks, he is still just an 18 year old boy. One who is heartbroken, confused, and desperate to arrange what's left in his life in a way that makes him feel his heart is safe and secure. Does he pick the dumbest plan on the planet to accomplish this? Oh yeah. But again I say, 18 year old boy. It is incredibly realistic.

The romance in this book made me nervous when I first heard about it, and played a part in my not wanting to rush it to the top of my TBR. I was afraid this was going to turn more melodramatic than necessary. And while there was some melodrama involved, it didn't manifest itself in quite the way I thought it would. Also all of the melodrama fit the story, made sense to who the characters were, and never seemed too much for me. All of the chemistry and heat in the book come from Leah and Grayson. Alec and Leah's relationship is practically a non-starter from the start for several reasons, the main one being neither one is trying that hard. Leah isn't at all okay with faking an interest in Alec, particularly when she likes Grayson, and Alec has is own reasons. In addition to the romance in the book, there is also much focus on Leah's relationship with her only friend, Molly. Leah has a completely undeserved reputation that causes most girls to hate her guts. Molly is different, but their relationship is a fraught one. 

Echols tackles some weighty themes in this book too. Leah's poverty is a very real thing, as is the neglect she suffers under mother's lack of care. She has raised herself, but there is a limit to what she can do. She becomes highly upset at some of the prying and poking Alec and Grayson do into her life and why she does some of the things she does. Privilege has a hard time seeing how hard true poverty can really be. Through Leah's interactions with people at school there is also some treatment of slut-shaming and how hard society can be on girls. Leah is a beautiful and sexy girl. Men and boys are drawn to her and tend to want to help her. She is much hated for this, but she honestly is oblivious to her affect on the male sex. Despite her reputation, Leah's only ever had sex with one person. Like I said she has lines she doesn't want to cross to mess-up her plans. Plans that do not involve teenage pregnancy. Another thing I like about Echols's books is that they are very sex positive. Of her three books I've read, the female mc's have been a virgin, a highly picky non-virgin, and a girl who is neither a virgin or picky. All of them are view sex as a positive thing though, something they want to experience and enjoy. Their standards are different, what they are looking for is different. In Leah's case she doesn't want to get pregnant and her focus on other things. I really like the way Echols weaves this into her stories and shows so many different and realistic ways teenage girls live their lives and make their choices. 

Still loving exploring this author's work and can't wait to read more. 

Content Warning: mentions of underage smoking and drinking, some sexual content 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Always, Abigail

Always, Abigail by Nancy J. Cavanaugh captured my attention because I saw in the synopsis that it it told through letters, journal entries, and lists. I love books like that and don't know that I've ever read one in the MG age category. 

Abigail and her two best friends are poised for a life of pom-poms and popularity. But not only does Abigail end up in a different homeroom, she doesn't make the squad. Then everyone's least favorite teacher pairs Abigail up with the school's biggest outcast, Gabby Marco, for a year-long "Friendly Letter Assignment." Abigail can hardly believe her bad luck. As her so-called best friends and entire future of popularity seems to be slipping away, Abigail has to choose between the little bit of fame she has left or letting it go to be a true friend.

Middle School. Ugh. Who ever wants to have to do that again? For those currently in the thick of it, Always, Abigail is the perfect book. Abigail's voice is so perfectly honest and real. She comes across as genuine, vulnerable, and sympathetic. I was wondering how well the list/letter format would work in a MG. The tricky part of writing a book like that is that the voice has to completely reflect the character. The author can't sneak in  or it becomes glaringly obvious. Cavanaugh avoided this pitfall nicely. As an adult reading this book, I wanted to shake Abigail quite a few times. She was being mean, cowardly, and downright silly about what she though was important. For a kid negotiating the minefield that is middle school society, Abigail will seem like a true reflection of their inner selves. She doesn't want to be a mean girl, but she doesn't want to be a social outcast. One would think a balance could be reached between those two, but it is easy to see how Abigail wouldn't see it that way. Everything feels so urgent and dramatic when you're 11. Gabby's character was also well done. The two girls truly bond, and that is seen clearly in their notes and activities. I loved Gabby's voice in her letters to Abigail, particularly that first one. She is subversively snarky and she is a brilliant foil for Abigail. The only characterization I wasn't happy with were Abigail's best friends, Allie and Cami, who she collectively refers to as Allicam. I really didn't understand why there needed to be two of them, when they were so easily conflated into one snotty unpleasant persona. 

The school setting of the book is incredibly realistic. I liked how Abigail's homeroom teacher operated, and that she was rather clueless at times but also an inspiration. Far more realistic than teachers are often portrayed. I also liked how real the behavior of the kids on the bus was, and how the nothing was done to stop it. Everything in the book is very true to life. When the time comes for Abigail to make a choice, there is no cheesy made-for-TV-hero moment either. And the way she loses her temper in the slightly crazy way girls her age so often do, not really accomplishing much but making herself feel better, was the perfect touch.

I enjoyed Always, Abigail very much and can not wait to share it with my daughter (who I know will love it).

I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, via NetGalley. Always Abigail is available for purchase now. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

TTT: Books I'd Give Readers Who Have Never Read MG Fantasy

This week's TTT topic: Books I'd Give Readers Who Have Never Read X

X here=MG Fantasy (Of course!)

The book noticeably not on this list is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I LOVE that book, but have found that fervent "I never read MG fantasy" readers have indeed read that one MG fantasy book.

I also left off some other classically famous and popular MG to highlight books I feel demonstrate just how thoughtful and well-written MG genre fiction can be but don't get anywhere near the attention they actually deserve.

This was SO HARD to keep to 10. I originally had way more than that, but I take a sort of ruthless pride in keeping these lists at 10 and not going over.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina won much praise and awards when it was released last year. It has also earned more than its fair share of controversy as people have tried to remove it from library shelves and disinvite Ms. Medina from author visits due to its contents. I am happy to say I've finally read, and it deserves every bit of praise it's received and more besides.

One morning before school, some girl tells Piddy Sanchez that Yaqui Delgado hates her and wants to kick her ass. Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui is, never mind what she’s done to piss her off. Word is that Yaqui thinks Piddy is stuck-up, shakes her stuff when she walks, and isn’t Latin enough with her white skin, good grades, and no accent. And Yaqui isn’t kidding around, so Piddy better watch her back. At first Piddy is more concerned with trying to find out more about the father she’s never met and how to balance honors courses with her weekend job at the neighborhood hair salon. But as the harassment escalates, avoiding Yaqui and her gang starts to take over Piddy’s life. Is there any way for Piddy to survive without closing herself off or running away?

I had strong visceral reactions to this book. Tension, fear I could taste. I felt sick to my stomach in several places. The writing is so emotive I think anyone will experience some similar feelings. Mine were was even stronger because I transferred from a relatively safe academically driven high school to a high school with more gangs, drugs, and violence between my sophomore and junior years of high school. I know how it feels to be scared when you walk down the halls when that's not something you've ever experienced before. I know that desire Piddy feels to keep her head down, vanish, become nothing to save herself from being noticed. I don't know what it's like to actually be a specific target though, and watching Piddy's life unravel as the bullying got worse and worse was so hard. 

One could say that this is an "issue book", a book about bullying to build empathy for those who may experience it and to educate everyone on what it looks like and the effect it can have. It is that. But more importantly, it is a book about a person. Piddy is smart and she has plans for her life. Plans she begins to throw away one at a time as she is further victimized. With few words and just showing Piddy's life, Medina paints a vivid picture of how terror can break a person and break them to pieces, more than just the physical results of a beating. Piddy's story is more than just the story of her problems with Yaqui Delgado though. It  is about her strained relationship with her mother, further strained by the events presently occurring. It is about her relationship with her best friend, changing by absence after so many years of closeness. It is about her relationship with her mom's best friend, who is like her aunt and is her confidant. It is about her relationship with her community. All these work together to bring the setting and story alive without requiring a whole lot of description.

The book is also in many ways, the story of Yaqui Delgado. I really liked that Medina made no attempt at the whole redeemed bully story here. Yaqui is not a pleasant person. She is hardened. She is mean. But by simply presenting the facts of the world in which she lives, Medina highlights how the system is failing kids like Yaqui. It shows how truly overwhelmed, exhausted, and hand tied the school workers are when dealing with too large a population of students that they don't have the resources to help. 

While not an easy book to read, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass is an important book to read and one I look forward to sharing with my daughter in a few years. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Kronos Chronicles

Set in an alternate 19th century and in such places as Prague, London, and the heart of the Roma camps, the trilogy has steampunk, political intrigue, and plenty of adventure.

In this first book we meet our three indelible heroes, Petra, Tomik, and Neel. Petra is the daughter of a mechanics maker. Her father creates, using his magic, small critters who have personalities and can talk and other creations. After he is returned from Prague and a job with the prince with his eyes removed so the prince can use them as his, Petra runs away to Prague to try and steal the eyes back and find herself in a center of international political intrigue. Tomik is Petra's best friend in her home town. He also possesses magic and creates extraordinary things. His creations play a huge part in the plot even though he is absent for much of the plot. Neel is a Roma thief with extended ghost fingers Petra befriends in Prague. He helps her in her searching of the palace and pilfering of the prince's mysterious Cabinet of Wonders when it comes time to retrieve what she came for. This book is the kind of book I like to point to when people say children's books are simple or easy. There is a lot going on here in a world that works nothing like our own with interesting developed characters and rich themes. I enjoyed watching Petra learn about the world even though she had to make mistakes to do it. I feel l like her level of naiveté and inexperience were exactly right. Neel is also a great character, but I always have a soft spot for brash outspoken thieves. The rest of the cast of supporting characters shine as well, especially Petra's pet animatronic spider, Astrophil. The pacing is top-notch, moving Petra from village to plan to Prague to palace to resolution quickly and yet with no holes. Once I finished this one I could not wait to get my hands on the sequel even though this one ends this particular plot nicely. Scattered through the book are little gems of wisdom that I love to find in my books such as:
It's easier to blame you sorrows on one person than on a group of them. Then you can believe that if only that person were to disappear, everything would be different, better. Maybe that's true sometimes. But more often than not it's just wishful thinking.
If you would like to know how easy it is to overlook evil, to see it for something else, Petra could tell you: it is the easiest thing in the world.

The Celestial Globe
 gets off to a fast paced start and I was instantly pulled into the story. Of course Prince Rodolfo discovered what Petra was up to in the first book, and he goes about trying to locate and annihilate her in the worst sort of way. Fortunately for her, the mysterious and complex John Dee comes to her rescue. At the same time, in one of the craziest and likely coincidences I've seen in a plot in some time, Tomik and Neel find themselves on a gypsy ship together. I have to say I wasn't nearly as enamored with this volume as I was the first. If I had to sum up my feelings in one word, that word would be FRUSTRATION. My frustration has a name. It's Petra. She had the right amount of naiveté and innocence in the first book. She has had months to ruminate over what took place in Prague and then witnessed exactly how ruthless the prince can be, but still chooses to fly through life relying on her emotions. It got real old real fast. This girl is one of whom it can be said once her good favor is lost, it is lost. Except who loses her favor and who doesn't is completely arbitrary and based on her petulant childish need to have her own way in all things. Now one can argue she is a child, and can be forgiven. Yes. But one can also argue that she has experienced enough and is close enough to adulthood in her world to get over herself. I pretty much lived for the scenes that switched to what was going on with Neel and Tomik. I thoroughly enjoyed watching these two make a tentative alliance that gradually grew into true friendship. I also quite liked the addition of Margaret and Madinia, Dee's daughters. Sadly most of the book focused on Petra and her refusal to THINK logically. Or at all really. By the end of the book I was so throughly annoyed with her it put me in a rather bad mood. I really couldn't understand why she would hold someone who tried to help her in contempt for so long. And even if she didn't want to like him, she at least could have taken advantage of what he was trying to teach her. Even after she found out things about him that were truly good and everything pointed to him being an honest, compassionate man, albeit a powerful and dangerous one, nothing would changer her mind. Yet the traitor who nearly gets her killed deserves her forgiveness. Okay.

The Jewel of Kalderash
This book made me want to weep. I liked the first book so much, but things just kept getting worse instead of better. I don't really have much to say about this book. It brings all the favorite characters together for the end and tragically kills one of the best ones. Not that Petra the Petulant cares much because what does she care about???? Her  father. Astrophil. But yeah, that pretty much covers it. But I think that caring is in itself fairly selfish. I wanted to reach my hands into the book and wring her neck on multiple occasions. SHE is the one who is important. SHE is the one who matters. SHE made some stupid decisions in the last book, but other people who never did anything to hurt or harm her face her mistrust because SHE made the decision to trust someone she shouldn't. UGHHHHH!!!!!! I stopped caring entirely. Because despite her bratty petulance, everyone still loved her. She lies, she walks all over people, she puts people in needless danger, and yet she is the hero. I just can't even.

My recommendation? Read the first book, which ends in a way that is satisfying enough and great fodder for the imagination. Skip the rest.