Thursday, October 30, 2014


I started reading Forbidden by Kimberly Griffiths Little a half hour before I was planning to go to bed thinking I could get several chapters read. After just one chapter, I had to stop because I knew if I kept reading there would be no be sleeping. It seemed like a book I wouldn't be able to put down. This was true. Not that I'm throughly in love with it, but it was hard to put down.

Jayden is a young girl in a desert tribe, betrothed to the son of her tribe's King. She is destined to be a princess, but is repulsed by her future husband, Horeb. On the day the tribe is to move for the last time of the year, Jayden's mother goes into labor dying in the process. Her family is left to bury her mother and try to catch up to the rest of the tribe. After the burial a young man named Kadesh approaches Jayden and begs assistance. Injured and alone, Kadesh is taken in by Jayden's father and assists in the journey across the desert. The journey is full of hardship and heartache for Jayden. She is forced to give up the things most precious to her in order to survive, and every day she loses her older sister a little more to the goddess worship Leila finds so fascinating. Upon reaching their tribe things do not improve. Horeb is as vicious and leering as ever and Jayden can't stand to be near him. Convinced of their love for each other, Jayden and Kadesh make promises of the future. Promises that are difficult to keep with treachery lurking around every corner.

Jayden is exactly the kind of heroine I love. She is fierce and independent. She has a great sense of family loyalty. Her strength and planning fit her historical context well, and she acts in ways that make sense for her life and time. Her character's emotions and growth are organic and make sense in terms of the story. The other characters are not fleshed out nearly as well, and that includes Kadesh. Given the time period he and Jayden are not given a lot of time alone together which makes their devotion to each other seem rather sudden and is not well developed. He is shown as honorable, good, and pure, but I never really got a sense of him as a person. Just a character sketch. The same can be said for all the other characters. Mostly people are just shown as how they are inferior to Jayden. Her sister and Dinah, her nemesis, are shown as spoiled brats. Leila was developed a bit beyond that, but not sufficiently. Horeb is a mean bully and going to make the worst sort of king, but I could never see him as anything more than a characterization of a bully. Even when he was at his most violent with Jayden, I didn't feel any real fear for her, which is usually a given in situations similar to that one.

The setting of the book is where Little truly excels. We don't have much Ancient Mesopotamian historical fiction, and Little paints a vivid picture of what nomadic desert life was like. It is also clear that she did her research and knows her geography of the time. The story takes place during the time of Hammurabi and is a fascinating look at warring cultures. Jayden's tribe are "children of Abraham", an allusion, I assume, to the descendants of Ishmael. (There is another reference to the nation of the twelve tribes of Jacob.) Their tribe travels the desert and eschews the cities, yet the cities are growing up everywhere and the hold an allure for the younger members of the tribe. The idol worship of Baal and Asherah are also tempting to the younger members. Several of the girls, including Jayden's sister, wish to be temple prostitutes. The temple sends recruiters out to convince these desert girls that this is a life to crave and envy. I'm really hoping this is touched on more as this trilogy continues because I can't believe that life as a temple prostitute is all that it's cracked up to be. I think that not showing the perils and disillusion of a life of sexual servitude in a book aimed at young girls would be negligent, but I'm hoping its going to come up. Here Little does do an excellent job of showing the lures used to pull girls into actually desiring such a life. Leisure, riches, and the promise of always being cared for are difficult things to turn your back on when you are a girl with nothing. I did like the way that Jayden is shown to be fascinated by the idol worship herself, but sticks to what she has been raised to believe. She truly wants to be a dedicated servant of God and to be a wife and mother. She wants to choose her husband and father of those children though. There are a lot of interesting themes about womanhood and choice explored and that was my favorite part of the novel.

I was rather annoyed to reach the end and realize this wasn't a stand alone novel. I thought it was. There was no series information on Goodread or Edelweiss (that I saw). When I reached the end, I suspected there would be more, and sure enough the author's website calls it a trilogy. Sigh. I will read the next one, but find myself irritated by the end here. Not every story NEEDS three books to tell it. I'm so over this.

I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Harper Collins, via Edelweiss. Forbidden is available for purchase on November 4.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

TTT: Books to Get Into the Halloween Spirit

This week's TTT topic: Books to Get Into the Halloween Spirit

My two FAVORITE Halloween reads, both Tam Lin retellings so the climax takes place on Halloween night:

Books That Make Me Feel all Fall Like (Some creepy, others not):



And an extra one, because no one can forget their first experience of a Hogwart's Halloween Feast:

What are some of your favorite reads this time of year?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Thrones and Bones: Frostborn

Fans of Norse legends and fantasy that incorporates that, Frostborn by Lou Anders, the first book in the Thrones and Bones series, is for you. It is a fun, adventurous MG fantasy with wyverns, frost giants, barrows, and one very large dragon.

Karn is the youngest child but only son of a hauld. One day all the responsibilities of the family farm will be his to be bear including the bothersome and boring art of trading. All Karn wants to do is work on his Thrones and Bones game, a strategy game similar to chess. He often plays himself working out new and inventive ways to win. Unfortunately, Karn isn't paying enough attention what is going on around him and doesn't realize that real life is a strategy game all its own, where someone has marked him as a pawn to be moved off the board. Tricked into awakening an old dead king trapped in a barrow, Karn is forced to flee for his life into the mountains. Thianna is half human and half frost giant. She is at constant war with herself, discontent with her weaker human half. Growing up on the mountain with her fellow giants, she always felt less than she should be. When Thianna discovers something that belonged to her human mother, she unwittingly draws the attention of teh very villains who sent her mother fleeing into the mountains in the first place. Betrayed by a nemesis, Thianna must flee her home in order to protect it. Karn and Thianna had met and spent time together on a trading mission with their fathers. Fleeing for their lives, they meet up again and join forces to survive and defeat their foes.

Both Karn and Thianna have strong characters and their development happens in a believable and wonderful way. They find the power within themselves they need to do what must be done, coming to terms with the things that were holding them back, and learning so much. This is woven organically into the story of their adventure. I loved their friendship and how it developed over time. This too was realistic. They start out wary of each other, as most children are and break the ice with rough play. Karn and Thianna are different, but respect each other's differences and honor each other's strengths. It's a partnership that works well.

In the course of their adventures Karn and Thianna encounter trolls, a massive city burning (and eating) dragon, and the mysterious wyvern riders who will do anything to capture the object that Thianna holds, not to mentions the draugs (zombie soldiers of barrow king) who are after Karn. These adversaries are a nice balance of funny, frightening, fiercely cruel, and, in the dragon's case, all of these things plus witty and intelligent. It gives the story a nice feeling of peril while balancing that with a lighter tone. There is a lot of fighting and perilous scenes, and the pace is quick. It is hard book to put down and vastly entertaining.

This is a perfect read for young fantasy fans, particularly ones who like fantastical creatures.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

WoW: Crimson Bound

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

When Rachelle was fifteen she was good—apprenticed to her aunt and in training to protect her village from dark magic. But she was also reckless— straying from the forest path in search of a way to free her world from the threat of eternal darkness. After an illicit meeting goes dreadfully wrong, Rachelle is forced to make a terrible choice that binds her to the very evil she had hoped to defeat.

Three years later, Rachelle has given her life to serving the realm, fighting deadly creatures in an effort to atone. When the king orders her to guard his son Armand—the man she hates most—Rachelle forces Armand to help her find the legendary sword that might save their world. As the two become unexpected allies, they uncover far-reaching conspiracies, hidden magic, and a love that may be their undoing. In a palace built on unbelievable wealth and dangerous secrets, can Rachelle discover the truth and stop the fall of endless night?

Rosamund Hodge's Cruel Beauty is one of my favorite reads of this year. I LOVED it. I'm willing to read (and pre-order) anything else she writes. To make this even more enticing, Crimson Bound is a retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood". And it comes out the day after my birthday (May 5, 2015) Happy Birthday to me. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Empire of Shadows

Empire of Shadows by Miriam Forster was a highly anticipated read of mine. I really enjoyed City of a Thousand Dolls when I read it and could not wait for the companion novel which goes back about 20 years into the past of the Bihnian Empire and tells the story of an attempted with all sorts of intrigue.

Mara is a Tiger Sune (yes, A TIGER) who is trained as a highly elite bodyguard. As a way to redeem herself after she commits a tragic crime, Mara dedicates her life to the protection of others. She must pledge herself to one specific person and protect that person's life with her own. She makes her way to the capital and meets many people along the way including a charming fabric seller named Emil. She also meets Revathi, a noblewoman, and her fiancĂ©. Mara agrees to be Revathi's bodyguard until she decides to whom she will pledge her life of protection. Mara never transfers into her tiger form anymore and is, indeed, afraid to. She suddenly finds herself in the palace where nothing is as it seems, and everyone lies. Emil, charming goat herder and fabric seller, is the other half of this story. He is bound for a life of leadership of his tribe, but does not want it. He longs to be in charge of the trade, like his uncle, not the leader like his father. When his brother decides to join a group of mercenaries and runs away, Emil defies his father and goes after him taking his friend Esmer  (a spotted cat Sune) with him. Suddenly Emil and Esmer find themselves immersed in a conspiracy to overthrow the Emperor, one that has dragged Mara and Revathi as well as Emil's brother into serious danger.

Mara is amazing. I mean, she's a TIGER, so how could she not be? But she is also fiercely loyal and a wonderful friend. She is just a truly good person with high ideals and a powerful desire to do what is right. She fell far and hard once upon a time and is doing everything in her power to atone for it. Revathi is also a great character. Harsh and hardened by the life in the Emperor's court, it takes her time to warm to Mara, but it happens eventually. I just really liked the friendship that developed between these two. Mara was meant to protect Revathi, but they both end up protecting each other and it is great. Emil is also a character who it is easy to love. He has a firm opinion of what is right for him. He went along with his father for as long as he could, but when it came time to do what was right and reconcile with his brother, he never flinches from the hard perilous road he is traveling. Esmer is a wonderfully loyal friend as well, and one who knows Emil well enough for them to work perfectly together. Because she knows Mara's secret, she is also able to work with and help her. The friendship between Emil and Esmer was another favorite part of this book for me. It is just a friendship and those male/female friendships with absolutely no hint of romance are rare. I love that this book gave us so many wonderful relationships: the friendships, the brotherly love between Emil and Stefan, the relationship between Revathi and her grandmother, the two young princes' brotherly bond, and the love of the Emperor for his children. These were all shown so beautifully.

A relationship that didn't satisfy me at all in this was the romantic relationship. There really wasn't sufficient time to devote to its development with the way the plot was set up so it felt very rushed. There is very little actual page time where Emil and Mara are actually together yet it's true love. I almost had whiplash from how fast that happened. Romances like this are never satisfying for me. I would have preferred the hint at romantic potential with some development (the kissing scene was fine-liked that) without the LOVE part. The epilogue would take care of the rest. 

Because this story isn't really a romance. 

It's a story about politics, loyalty, honor, and knowing yourself as a person and where you stand. I appreciated how there were so many shades of gray in this too. There are several situations in which any decision could be construed as the "right" one. There are so many different ways things could have gone. Forster captured the chaos of battle and the affect of threats on a person's actions so well. I also liked that Forster was unafraid to let her villains be villains. They do stuff that will have you cringing. She never takes the easy way out of a situation and the effect is incredibly realistic. 

I really liked this though I do like the first book slightly more. The romance part was just a little too much for me in this one. You can read this separate from City of a Thousand Dolls. You may be spoiled for some surprises in this if you read that first, but the opposite is also the case. Read this first, and you will have inside information going into City of a Thousand Dolls. Whichever order you decide to read them in, you should certainly read them if you're a fan of political intrigue fantasy. 

I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Harper Teen, via Edelweiss. Empire of Shadows is available for purchase on November 4th.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Shorter Musings: MG Fantasy Series Starters

Here are some shorter musings reviews of several first books in new MG fantasy series that started this year. Ummm....most of them I'm not too excited about-two I outright hated.

The Blood Guard by Carter Roy

The Blood Guard will certainly have a vast amount of kid appeal, and I can see why. It is fast-paced, adventure packed, has both male and female protagonists, and a lot of twists that are going to take child readers by surprise. There wasn't much in it that set it apart from a lot of series starters I've read lately. It has a very video game type feel to it. There is quite a bit of violence, but none of it really matters because of plot twists. There is a dehumanizing factor to that I didn't like personally. Also the whole concept of the novel had me rolling my eyes quite a bit. 36 "pure" people who are just deep down good hearted and don't know it keep the world in balance and God from destroying it? What even. ETA: The what even is that this is based on the Tzadikim Nistarim-a belief that comes from the Kabbalah. It is actually a part of a mythology then and wasn't just reached arbitrarily. Good to know, but I really wish it had been expanded a bit more. The way it was thrown in there had me so skeptical and unable to buy the world-bulding at all. 

Shipwreck Island by S.A. Bodeen
I probably wasn't the best reader for this book in the first place. I loathe The Swiss Family Robinson. Loathe. It. But this looked so short I figured it might be a better, more fun update of the same concept. It's only short because it is the first in a series. (If I had known that, I wouldn't have read it.) That in itself is not enough to make me dislike a book as much I disliked this one. So what are my reasons? It begins like one of the WORST made for Disney Channel movies. The parents are ridiculously clueless. The kids, newly brought together by their parents' marriage, are self-absorbed and obnoxious. It even has the famous two boy and one girl formula that Disney uses for everything and each of them fit into some caricature-the smart snotty one, the super geeky quirky one, and the stoic brave level headed one. There is little to no character development done beyond that. The plot trips along in an absurd manner until halfway through the family is stranded on an island after the boat begins to sink in a storm and the Captain dies. The island is all kinds of mysterious, but we can't tell exactly what kinds yet. It is hinted in just a few short pages that there are possible ghosts, weird people-chasing-weather-phenomena, and animals the likes of which one would find residing with Dr. Moreau. Then the book ends. Just. Like. That. Like this is a TV pilot and they want you to be sure to tune in again next week to see what happens next. I know that works great for TV shows, when you only have to wait A WEEK. But nothing makes me angrier than when books do it, because the next book isn't coming out next week. It's an even dirtier trick to pull when you do it with a book. The parents, being the type of people they are, haven't clued in to the strangeness of the island yet. So what is the sensible thing for the kid who has experienced the strangest aspects to do? Lie about it, of course! Even when it means contradicting his step-sister and making her look like an idiot. Needless to say, despite the best efforts to get me to read the next book with that cliffhanger ending, it will not be happening. 

Sky Raiders by Brandom Mull
This is the beginning of a new series by Brandon Mull who is particularly good at cranking out series sure to entertain MG students everywhere. This one kicks off to a particularly dark beginning. A group of 5th-7th graders kidnapped en masse and sold into harsh slavery in a world not their own is some serious stuff. That sense of peril never lessens making it hard to put down. The world building is interesting, and I like all the main characters. Mull has another good one on his hands with this. 

The Thickety by J.A. White
When I first read this, I had several issues with it, most of which I don't care to get into. After discussing the book with a friend, I realized I had overlooked a MAJOR issue that I don't have any trouble getting into. This is why I love the book and blogging community. Because discussions with friends help me find strengths in books I had not previously seen, and they also open my eyes to my own privilege and how I could allow a serious issue to slide by without commenting. The villain in this story is a girl born with a disability, a disability that she uses to manipulate other and be generally mean, spiteful, and specifically plot awful things toward the protagonist. While her environment can be blamed for how she turned out, the way she is portrayed ties her disability too closely to the evil machinations of her mind. Also, the word "cripple" is used to describe her, which is not acceptable in anyway. 
Do I understand that evil and cruel intentions are something that people with disabilities can have? Of course! I'm not naive. However, kids with disabilities see themselves so little in books as it is. When they do have the opportunity to see themselves in a book, do we want them to see themselves as the villain? That is worse than them being the sympathetic sidekick (looking at another popular MG book from this year). We need more books like [book:Handbook for Dragon Slayers|13624404] where these kids get to see themselves as the heroes. 
This combined with the issues I already had means I can't endorse this book in any way. Upon further thinking of the book, I've also decided that the writing isn't of the quality enough to save it from it's weaknesses. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Love and Other Foreign Words

Erin McCahan's Love and Other Foreign Words is a novel I was excited to read. I had heard good things and I enjoyed most parts of her previous YA,  I Now Pronounce You Someone Else, particularly the writing and character development. Love and Other Foreign Words had those aspects plus a storyline I as able to love more so I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. 

Can anyone be truly herself--or truly in love--in a language that's not her own?
Sixteen-year-old Josie lives her life in translation. She speaks High School, College, Friends, Boyfriends, Break-ups, and even the language of Beautiful Girls. But none of these is her native tongue -- the only people who speak that are her best friend Stu and her sister Kate. So when Kate gets engaged to an epically insufferable guy, how can Josie see it as anything but the mistake of a lifetime? Kate is determined to bend Josie to her will for the wedding; Josie is determined to break Kate and her fiancé up. As battles are waged over secrets and semantics, Josie is forced to examine her feelings for the boyfriend who says he loves her, the sister she loves but doesn't always like, and the best friend who hasn't said a word -- at least not in a language Josie understands.

Josie is a genius but this means she is often out of the loop when it comes to how average people interact. She is incredibly gifted with all the quirks that go along with that. She especially enjoys foreign languages and studying them. She does an exercise in her head where she translates people's words into "Josie". High school speak, college speak, etc. She has particular trouble translating love though, a concept that escapes her entirely. The book chronicles several months where Josie attempts to come to terms with her sister's engagement, her love for her sister, and get her own love life. It is a book all about relationship. Sibling relationships, dating relationships, friendship, and parental relationships all play a major part in the story. That's because these are all important relationships in Josie's life. Relationships of any type experience a high frequency of change, and change is something Josie has major issues with. She is having to contend with her much loved older sister getting married to a man of whom she is not fond. In her attempts to understand love she explores dating, changing the dynamics of several of her friendships along the way. The book is so captivating because of Josie's voice, which is so well done. She is super intelligent and odd as a result, and being in her head is truly fascinating. Watching as she sorts out her feelings toward the people around her as she herself grows and changes makes for a great read.

As I said, this is a story about all sorts of relationships, but it is most particularly a sibling story. I love sibling stories and this is a good one. The relationship between Josie and her sister is wonderful. Then there are Josie's parents who are fully involved and engaged in her life. Lovely to see in a YA.  I also LOVED the relationship between Josie and her best friend, Stu. Stu is a genius as well and he speaks fluent Josie even though he has a language entirely his own. The rapport between the two of them is perfect and I loved their banter. Seriously, there is some excellent banter between these two. I had a goofy grin on my face while reading them in several places. And I just adored the ending.

Love and Other Foreign Words is a book that really sticks with you. At first I just wrote a quick few word review on Goodreads, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it and felt it deserved the full treatment here on the blog. If you enjoy contemporary YA, this is not to be missed.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

TTT: Places Books Made Me Want to Visit

This week's TTT topic: Places Books Made Me Want to Visit (Real or Fictional)

Eddis and Attolia from The Queen's Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner
I'm not saying I want to hang out in the court of the King and Queen of Attolia because that would be scary. But I would love to see the mountains and the dystopia. Also I like olives and wine quite a lot so YUM! And I wouldn't mind seeing the greatest monarch couple ever from a distance. A very very far distance.

All the Restaurants, Patisseries, and Chocolatiers in Laura Florand's Amour et Chocolate Series
If you haven't read these books, you can not quite comprehend the level of want in this. Florand's description of desserts is absolutely sinful and will have you weeping for the lack of artisan pastry and chocolate in regular town America. A trip to France to visit all these wonderful places would be the best trip ever. (The shop I want to visit the most? It's a tie between La Maison de Sorcieres in The Chocolate Kiss and Dom's shop in The Chocolate Touch.)

Shrewsbury College at Oxford University form Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
Sayers made up Shrewsbury, but it has much grounding in reality. A lot of crazy things go down there in Gaudy Night, but I love how it is a place where smart women do, think, and talk about smart things with each other (mostly getting along).

Dare Island from Virgina Kantra's Dare Island Series
Dare Island is a made up island in North Carolina's Pamlico Sound. I LOVE the Outer Banks and Kantra does a wonderful job of describing life there. And I want to live there now. Or at least be one of the tourists mentioned (though not as obnoxious as many mentioned are).

Chrestomanci Castle from Chrestomanci Chronicles by Diana Wynne Jones
I love everything about all the inhabitants of Chrestomanci Castle. The best time to visit would be sometime after the events of The Pinhoe Egg for getting to know the optimal number of awesome people. It would, or course, need to be during a time when Christopher was actually there.

Gardam Street from The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall
This neighborhood is the neighborhood I always wanted to live in growing up. It's actually quite similar to the ones I did grow up in on the military bases I lived on, but the families in those changed too often. I like the stability and community of Gardam Street.

Discworld from Terry Pratchett
I admit, I have barely begin to scratch the surface of this world. I just really want to hang out with Tiffany Aching and the Nac Mac Feegle.

Wellmet from The Magic Thief Series by Sarah Prineas
True, things are often exploding there, but I want to hang out with the leaders of this place because they are awesome. Also, one would never get bored while there.

Urwald from Jinx trilogy by Sage Blackwood
Another dangerous place to be, particularly at the point we currently are in this trilogy. But I'm certain Jinx is going to do something about that and then it will be truly awesome and not just scary awesome.

And of course, no list of places to visit in books would be complete without:

Monday, October 13, 2014

Tesla's Attic

One reason I really love being a Cybils panelist is that I am prompted to read so many books I might otherwise not choose to read. And many of them I end up liking. Tesla's Attic by Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman is one of these. While nothing ground-breaking or amazing, it is a good solid MG science-fiction novel, just the sort I love being able to recommend to kids. 

After their home burns down, fourteen-year-old Nick, his younger brother, and their father move into a ramshackle Victorian house they've inherited. When Nick opens the door to his attic room, he's hit in the head by a toaster. That's just the beginning of his weird experiences with the old junk stored up there. After getting rid of the odd antiques in a garage sale, Nick befriends some local kids-Mitch, Caitlin, and Vincent-and they discover that all of the objects have extraordinary properties. What's more, Nick figures out that the attic is a strange magnetic vortex, which attracts all sorts of trouble. It's as if the attic itself has an intelligence . . . and a purpose.
Ultimately Nick learns that the genius Nikola Tesla placed the items-his last inventions-in the attic as part of a larger plan that he mathematically predicted. Nick and his new friends must retrieve everything that was sold at the garage sale and keep it safe. But the task is fraught with peril-in addition to the dangers inherent in Tesla's mysterious and powerful creations, a secret society of physicists, the Accelerati, is determined to stop Nick and alter destiny to achieve its own devious ends. It's a lot for a guy to handle, especially when he'd much rather fly under the radar as the new kid in town.

Nick is new in town. His mother died in a tragic fire. His father is drifting in grief. He needs something good to happen to him. Instead he gets a bunch of weird household items that he sells at a garage sale, and then realizes have unreal, possibly dangerous properties. Most readers will be able to relate to Nick's desire to fit in and fly under the middle school radar. At the same time, Nick has an insatiable curiosity about the items and is drawn irresistibly into the sort of adventure and intrigue it's great to experience through the pages of a book. The cast of supporting characters is well done as well. I enjoyed Caitlin's varied personality and activities and how deep her feelings were portrayed. Mitch's characters also well layered and strong. The villains in the book are mysterious and dangerous. I liked how realistically dangerous they are. The are willing to go to any length to get to what they want, and don't just talk a good talk. They do nefarious things.

The plot draws the reader in and contains much adventure and intrigue. There is a lot of sneaking around, investigating behind the adults backs, and bonding over odd occurrences for the main characters. The danger is real and has real consequences. At times the action is a bit overblown, but it fits within the context of the novel. The humor is sly and understated. One issue I had was how fast the action at the end of the book moved despite the dire events that were occurring. This is one in a long line of books that have released lately in which Tesla and his inventions play a major role. As does the vilifying of Thomas Edison. It's an interesting little trend, but for many of the target audience, this will be the first introduction to Tesla they get. It is one that may prompt them to want to know more.

This book is a fun read and one that kids who enjoy adventure and sci-fi will enjoy. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Maid of Secrets

I probably would have skipped Maid of Secrets by Jennifer McGowan completely if it weren't for Shae singing its praises so loudly. And that would have been so sad because this is a fun and exciting beginning to what I hope is a five book sequence. (I know that it has a sequel and another book scheduled for 2015. But that will still leave my TWO FAVORITES without books. They better get books.)

Orphan Meg Fellowes makes her living picking pockets—until she steals from the wrong nobleman. Instead of rotting in prison like she expected, she’s whisked away to the court of Queen Elizabeth and pressed into royal service, where she joins four other remarkable girls in the Maids of Honor, the Queen’s secret society of protectors.
Meg’s natural abilities as a spy prove useful in this time of unrest. The Spanish Court is visiting, and with them come devious plots and hidden political motives. As threats to the kingdom begin to mount, Meg can’t deny her growing attraction to one of the dashing Spanish courtiers. But it’s hard to trust her heart in a place where royal formalities and masked balls hide the truth: Not everyone is who they appear to be. With danger lurking around every corner, can she stay alive—and protect the crown?

Basically? Yay for smart girls who spy, study, actively train, and come together to run circles around the men trying to control them! I mean really. It has everything that you could possibly love if you are a character loving reader of adventurous political intrigue. This book focuses on Meg, who is an actress and has been for almost all of her life. The Queen insists that means Meg doesn't truly understand who she is and in many ways the Queen is correct. But Meg yearns to know and discover. She is proud of her talents and determined to win her freedom from the gilded prison she finds herself trapped in. This book as the first in the series also introduces Meg's four fellow Maids of Honor, Beatrice, Jane, Sophia, and Ann. All of the girls have issues. They all have different strengths and different weaknesses. They don't always get along or like each other. But what develops between them is a true bond of friendship and common purpose. I love how they come together to go over the heads of their superiors and outwit them. 

I'm rather picky about my historical fiction and am happy with what McGowan does with the historical setting here. It is clear she did her research and knows her stuff. She manages to stay mostly true to historical accounts of real people while bringing their personalities to fascinating life. Of course, she has taken liberties here and there, but none that the history major in me who took a semester long class on Tudor/Stuart Britain was upset at. I particularly enjoyed her portrayal of Elizabeth for many reasons, most notably how manipulative yet vulnerable she is. 

There is also a touch of romance, which was lovely but not at all the focus. There is just enough of it and it's level is pitch perfect for the sort of work Meg does and the kind of things she's involved in. I did feel that the fervor of the boy was a little extreme for the brief acquaintance but it was done so well that it worked for me. I also liked the realism of the resolution there.

This book has so many fun elements to attract and keep readers: adventure, mystery, intrigue, romance, and smart girls who have each other's backs. I can't wait to read the sequel, Maid of Deception

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Cybils Nominations

Nominations for the Cybils has been open for a week. There is still a week left to nominate. If you haven't nominated yet, here are some books that haven't been nominated yet in the category for which I'm a panelist. Links to Goodreads.

*Eligible Books Published Between October 16, 2013 and October 15, 2014 in US and Canada

Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction:
Dreamwood by Heather McKay
Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times by Emma Trevayne
Game Over Pete Watson by Joe Schreiber
Horizon by Jenn Reese
Mindscape by M.M. Vaughan
Moonkind by Sarah Prineas
Nightmares! by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller
Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson
Rose and the Lost Princess by Holly Webb
Rose and the Magician's Mask by Holly Webb
Shipwreck Island by S.A. Bodeen
The Dyerville Tales by M.P. Kozlowsky
The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler
The Nethergrim by Matthew Jobin
The Swap by Megan Shull
The Twistrose Key by Tome Almhjell
The Quantum League: Spell Robbers by Matthew Kirby
Winterfrost by Michelle Houts

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

TTT: Character Driven Novels

This week's TTT topic: Books for Readers Who Like Character Driven Novels

 I love all the characters in the Queen's Thief but the titular character of The Queen of Attolia is my favorite character of all time. And even though all these books have quite a lot of action, it is the characters that drive the story.

Briony is one of the most complex and fascinating characters to read about. Being inside her head while reading Chime is like wandering through a maze blindfolded, but man is every wall you smack into worth it.

Fire and Hemlock is probably the novel Diana Wynne Jones wrote that is the most difficult to recommend. It has to go to the right sort of reader, and a reader who loves character is certainly the right sort. 

I love all of Melina Marchetta's contemporaries, but Saving Francesca is my favorite. This book is wholly driven by Francesca's character arc and her relationships with the people around her and I adore all of it. 

Seraphina is an epic fantasy about dragons and music and tricky politics. Books like this are usually all about the plot or the world building. Those things are certainly mighty important, but it is Seraphina herself who is the most pivotal part of this story. Her thoughts, her emotions, her music, her loyalties, her brokeness, and her embracing who she is are what made me love this book.

Till We Have Faces is one of C.S. Lewis's lesser read books. This is a shame because it is my favorite. It is a retelling of the myth of Eros and Psyche from the perspective of Psyche's sister. It is a beautiful and haunting story about the relationship between the human and the divine.

The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my earliest reads (in an abridged version) and therefore one of my most reread favorites. Looking back, I can see how it formed my love for the character driven narrative. The reason all the movie adaptations of this are so awful is because it is impossible to convey the complexity of Edmond's journey and the impact he has and others have on him in so short a period. Therefore his arc gets butchered and the story loses its power. Read the book. 

Dorothy Sayers writes character driven mysteries. The mystery plotting in them is excellent, but when it comes down to it her books are all about the character's journeys, most especially Lord Peter's journey. But Gaudy Night is all about Harriet Vane. She is coming to terms with her past, what she wants for her future, and how she is going to manage use her present circumstances to make it happen. The mystery in this novel takes a back seat to her thoughts on life, her own and the lives of those around her, and figuring out a woman can possibly have both passion for lover and passion for work. 

What are some of your favorite character driven stories?

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Glass Sentence

The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove is an ambitious fantasy with an intriguing concept.

She has only seen the world through maps. She had no idea they were so dangerous.
Boston, 1891. Sophia Tims comes from a family of explorers and cartologers who, for generations, have been traveling and mapping the New World—a world changed by the Great Disruption of 1799, when all the continents were flung into different time periods.  Eight years ago, her parents left her with her uncle Shadrack, the foremost cartologer in Boston, and went on an urgent mission. They never returned. Life with her brilliant, absent-minded, adored uncle has taught Sophia to take care of herself.
Then Shadrack is kidnapped. And Sophia, who has rarely been outside of Boston, is the only one who can search for him. Together with Theo, a refugee from the West, she travels over rough terrain and uncharted ocean, encounters pirates and traders, and relies on a combination of Shadrack’s maps, common sense, and her own slantwise powers of observation. But even as Sophia and Theo try to save Shadrack’s life, they are in danger of losing their own.

The Glass Sentence is pretty much all about the world building. The world is complex. Complex in a way that the author felt the need to be extraordinarily detailed in its description. In fact, I found myself getting lost in the details and explanations and long dialogues about how things work. Not lost in a good way. I confess it. I was bored in several places. The world is fascinating in many ways. I was immediately intrigued by the Great Disruption and how it created different eras in different parts of the world so that it was difficult for international cooperation to work because no one was in the same era. The idea of all the different sorts of maps and their powers and legends was a bit much though as were the lessons full of dialogue where they were explained. So much exposition. So much info-dumping. Both of these things are somewhat necessary in a large scope fantasy world, but then again an author with a deft hand can convey reams of information with few words. Megan Whalen Turner has spoiled me I suppose, but I have little patience for books where the author feels their knowledge of the world and all of its small parts is so important that every minute detail needs to be shared with the reader in order for them to understand the story. I skimmed a lot here and got the story just fine.

The plot minus all the exposition is a good one if a tad predictable. (Predictable for an adult reader, probably not for child readers.) The politics, the mystery, the journey, and the working with maps is all a lot of fun. There are creepy bad guys, helpful pirates, and hidden things that must be found. It is a story where the kids take center stage without grown up supervision or interference for most of it. It would have been thoroughly engrossing if not for the details. Oh so many details.

What suffered the most from all those world building details? The character development. This is what made the book only average for me. I may have overlooked the amount of world building minutia if the characters had managed to crawl out from under it to shine. But for me they didn't. They are your basic caricatures of fantasy characters seen a thousand times with little development an no arcs. 

I can see myself recommending this book to patient kids I know who love fantasy with intricate world-building, but it fell far short of being a favorite of mine. In a year where so many amazing MG fantasy novels came out and told amazing stories within fewer pages, this can't stand out for me. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Exquisite Captive

I really wanted to love Exquisite Captive.  I would like to read a book about a jinni that I can fall completely into. Since I read and absolutely adored Heather Demetrios's Something Real earlier this year, I thought this might be the one. Alas, no such luck.

Nalia is a jinni of tremendous ancient power, the only survivor of a coup that killed nearly everyone she loved. Stuffed into a bottle and sold by a slave trader, she’s now in hiding on the dark caravan, the lucrative jinni slave trade between Arjinna and Earth, where jinn are forced to grant wishes and obey their human masters’ every command. She’d give almost anything to be free of the golden shackles that bind her to Malek, her handsome, cruel master, and his lavish Hollywood lifestyle.
Enter Raif, the enigmatic leader of Arjinna’s revolution and Nalia’s sworn enemy. He promises to free Nalia from her master so that she can return to her ravaged homeland and free her imprisoned brother—all for an unbearably high price. Nalia’s not sure she can trust him, but Raif’s her only hope of escape. With her enemies on the hunt, Earth has become more perilous than ever for Nalia. There’s just one catch: for Raif’s unbinding magic to work, Nalia must gain possession of her bottle…and convince the dangerously persuasive Malek that she truly loves him. Battling a dark past and harboring a terrible secret, Nalia soon realizes her freedom may come at a price too terrible to pay: but how far is she willing to go for it?

What I Liked:

  • Nalia's character. She is strong, smart, and proactive. She does not accept situations as they are easily and fights for what matters to her. She is involved in a conflict between what she feels and what everyone else tells her she should be. During her early life, it was her mother and the other jinni of her kind telling her. Now it is her master, and, to a lesser extent, Raif once he arrives on the scene.
  • The relationship between Nalia and Malek, her master. This was incredibly well done. Demetrios did an excellent job of showing the psychology of such a relationship. Malek is a despicable person, but he has some good qualities as well and knows how to turn on the charm. Nalia spent two years in open rebellion against him and one in reluctant subjugation. He is now trying to change the nature of their relationship and the way Nalia, starved of any kind and loving interaction for far to long, reacts to this is completely realistic. I love how she knows and acknowledges his horridness while also feeling confused by the way she longs for the solace he offers. There is never a moment when she forgets who they both are and why there can not be a balanced relationship between them though. 
  • The politics of the jinni world and the intrigue of the Dark Caravan were fascinating.
What I Didn't Like:
  •  The world building felt superficial, as though the author threw in every thing that could possibly say JINNI! into the book, but it didn't truly feel authentic. And there was a disconnect to how the Jinni on earth were behaving for me. 
  • The multiple descriptions of skin tone with foods. Almond. Cinnamon. People are not food. Stop. This.
  • The specialness of Nalia. I like her so much as a character, but does she really have to be THE ONE AND ONLY of her kind left, completely different from all others? 
  • The convenient plot device that made any actual development of a relationship between Nalia and Raif unnecessary. Or apparently unnecessary. I could have used some development. I LIKE watching romantic relationships develop. If you're going to put a romance in a book, I want to see it develop. What's the point otherwise?
  • The writing is a bit too descriptive and detailed in places. The kind of too descriptive that found me getting bored.
Will I read the sequel? Maybe. I wasn't super excited about the end. I'm not sure I like where this is headed. This first book didn't leave me invested enough to go through a lot of drama and angst with these particular characters. 

I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Balzer & Bray, via Edelweiss. Exquisite Captive has a release date of October 7. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Thursdays with the Crown

Am I the only one who reached the end of Wednesdays in the Tower and was outraged by where it ended? I doubt it. (I actually know I'm not because I saw the look on my daughter's face when she got there.) Well, for all of us who have been waiting to know what on earth was going on and how that was going to resolve itself, the wait is finally over. Thursdays with the Crown is here. 

If you haven't read the first two Castle Glower books, read those before reading this. 

Castle Glower has been acting weird, so it’s no surprise when two towers transport Celie and her siblings to an unknown land. When they realize that no one from home is coming to get them, the kids – along with Celie’s pet griffin Rufus – set out through the forest to figure out where they are and what’s happened to their beloved Castle. Instead, they discover two wizards and an entire lost people, the oldest inhabitants of Castle Glower. And it seems they may know more of the Castle’s secrets than Celie. But do they know how to get her back home?

I have loved this series so much from the very beginning. It has all of the elements I want in a fantasy: intrigue, adventure, siblings. Throw in baby griffins and a magical castle with secrets and I'm as happy as can be. This volume maintains all the charm and fun of the first two books, while adding another level of intrigue and mystery in the land where Castle Glower originated. Here there is still a war going on that the griffins are caught in the middle of and Celie and her companions get bound up in it as well. In order to get back home they must unlock the secrets of the castle and join forces to figure out what's gone terribly wrong in the land it came from.

Celie continues to be a delightful and interesting heroine. She is less of an active force in this adventure as she and her siblings and friends find themselves with not enough information to be in a position to take much action. But when those opportunities present themselves, Celie rises to the occasion as always. I enjoyed watching the interactions between her and the other characters and the changing dynamics between some of them. There are a few new characters that are added as well. Then there are the other griffins, which are a wonderful bonus! 

I think anyone who has enjoyed the first two books in the series will be delighted by this one. It ends in a way that makes me think this series is over, but I certainly wouldn't mind having more. 

ETA: YES THERE WILL BE MORE! The lovely people at Bloomsbury informed my on Twitter today that this is not the end. There is much rejoicing in the Painter home from both Bit and me at the news.

I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Bloomsbury USA Children's, via NetGalley. Thursdays with the Crown has a release date of October 7th. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Cybils Nominations Open!

Today is the day! Nominations for the 2014 Cybils is now open. Go here for instructions on how to nominate. It's super easy. If you want your favorite books of 2014 to be considered, make sure they are nominated.