Saturday, November 29, 2014

Shorter Musings: YA Fairytale Retellings

Here are few shorter musings on some recent YA fairytale retellings I've read:

Kill Me Softly  by Sarah Cross
I enjoyed the concept of this story, which is a lot like Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends but with a more solid thought through world building behind it. It is a retelling of "Sleeping Beauty" and "Bluebeard" combined, which in itself is genius. Who would think to combine those two??? And I really wanted to love it, but I had too hard of a time liking the main character, Mira. When EVERYONE you meet is telling you that a guy is dangerous stay away, he runs a shady casino, and is a little too suave, maybe you should pay attention. Her stubbornness regarding this, particularly once she knew what was going on was more than I could buy into. Another thing that bothered me was the Felix plot thread left dangling at the end. Where was he? What was he planning? I did like Blue's character a lot, and the dialogue and interactions between him and Mira. The other supporting characters were also enjoyable and I would be happy to read more of their stories set in the town. Particularly Freddie's story now that his hero act is over and Layla's story because I love "Beauty and the Beast" and I loved her. The next novel in the series comes out in January. 

Princess of the Silver Woods by Jessica Day George
This is the conclusion to the story that began in Princess of the Midnight Ball. It is 10 years after the sisters and Galen defeated The King Under Stone, but things are not all happily ever after. The girls are all being visited by the princes in their dreams and forced to dance once more. Princess of the Silver Woods focuses on Petunia, the youngest of the sisters, and Oliver, an earl who lost his lands during the war and has taken to banditry. He joins with the girls, their husbands, and staunches supporters to break the curse once and for all. I liked this volume the most of the thee. Again, the love part happens awfully fast. They have a total of three whole interactions before Oliver is willing to die for her, yet it works because he freely admits he's also willing to die to stop the evil, Petunia threatened or not. Petunia is DELIGHTFUL. Having been so young when the original curse was stopped, she is the most vocal and feisty of the girls when things start back up. As a little red riding hood heroine, she is perfect.

Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay
This isn't a retelling so much as a continuation of Sleeping Beauty. Ror (Aurora) is the daughter of Sleeping Beauty and the prince who rescued her a bit too early from he enchanted sleep. Ror has to saver kingdom, her brother, and worry about the effect her "curse' can have on the men in he life. I was hoping to like this one a lot more than I did. The character development was incredibly well done, but I was so bored for a lot of the story. I also felt the whole thing was a bit anti-climatic. This was particularly disappointing because I enjoyed Of Beast and Beauty so much.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

TTT: Books on My Winter TBR

This week's TTT topic: Books on My Winter TBR

Shadowed Heart by Laura Florand (December) This is a rare thing-a sequel to a romance that is about the same couple as the original (The Chocolate Heart) and I absolutely can not wait. Florand is superb with character development and Luc and Summer are two of her more complex characters.

Party Lines by Emma Barry (January 12) This one is a CAMPAIGN romance. Democrat boy, Republican girl, opposite teams: this should be a whole lot of fun. And there will probably be amazing banter because its Emma Barry and there's that set-up.

Perfect Couple by Jennifer Echols (January 13) I read the first book in the Senior Superlatives earlier and LOVED it. It was my first Jennifer Echols experience and I have been making my way through her backlist. I'm most interested to see what she will do with this couple.

All the Answers by Kate Messner (January 27) I adore Messner's books and they are such easy sells to  MG readers I know. Also, I've already heard a ton of great things about this book.

Love, Lucy by April Lindner (January 27) I haven't read any of Lindner's other books, but this one is a retelling of A Room with a View so I have no power to resist it.

Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen (February 3) Any regular reader of this blog knows I have a weak spot for fairy tale retellings and since Beauty and the Beast is my favorite fairy tale....and this is gender swapped.

 I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios (February 3) I adored Demetrios' Something Real. She is an excellent writer of realistic fiction, and the letter she wrote that went with the ARCs to this is amazing.

Villain Keeper by Laurie McKay (February 3) There are so many books about kids who are transported to the real world from a magical land. I love that this is the reverse of that. And that it takes place in Asheville,NC!

Listen Slowly by Tanhha Lai (February 17) It's a new Tanhha Lai book. I don't need any other reasons.

Death Marked by Leah Cypess (March 3) I am wary about where this is going to take the story, but absolutely unable to resist its allure.

What are you looking forward to reading this winter?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Pennyroyal Academy

Fantasy boarding schools are nothing new. They weren't even new when Harry Potter was published. But certainly trending and hot right now are Fantasy boarding schools where a fairy tale tradition is somehow incorporated into the world-building. Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson is the latest such book and is a fun inventive take on the concept.

A young girl completely lacking memories of her past except a few snatches here and there, not knowing even her name, is in an enchanted forest with naught but an advertisement stating all people, even those of common blood, may apply to be cadet Princesses and Knights at Pennyroyal Academy. Unfortunately she ends up in the house of a witch. Fortunately a knight candidate is on hand and they manage to rescue each other. Arriving at the school, the girl is given the name Cadet Eleven, Evie to her friends, and embarks on her education to become a Princess. But being a princess is a different reality than many were expecting. For it is the destiny and occupation of a princess to fight witches, a reality that is terrifying as a band of powerful witches is sweeping over the countries destroying one after another. As the reality of the war she has stumbled into is made clear to Evie, she needs to make some tough decisions about the road ahead. A task that becomes even harder as she is faced with her resurging memories, a most unpleasant fellow cadet, and the strange effect she has on one of the knight cadets.

I quite enjoyed the world of Pennyroyal Castle. Of all the fairy tale boarding school books to come out recently, this is definitely my favorite. It doesn't have the internal logic problem of Ever After High or the multiple issues I had with The School for Good and Evil. At Pennyroyal girls are trained to be princesses to fight witches. (Except in Evie's year there is a groundbreaking boy princess candidate.) Boys are trained to be knights to fight dragons. The school runs like a military academy with fairly godmother drill sergeants. The princesses frequently yell the four traits every princess must have to succeed in the war against witches: Courage. Compassion. Kindness. Discipline. I love all of it. The classes, the challenges, the obstacle courses, the partnerships with the knights: all of it creates a very real world and an interesting one at that.

Evie is an excellent heroine, though one it is tough to connect with at first as she has no memory that includes no name and is rather quiet and reserved. There is enough mystery there that I was engaged from the start. And Evie's growth through the book is wonderful. There are times when switches and revelations happen a bit too abruptly. So abruptly it forced me to reread several pages. However that is a minor complaint in the face of the delightful characters and unique setting. Evie's friends, a few fellow princess cadets and the knight cadet she meets at the beginning (Remington) form an excellent team and are wonderfully supportive of each other. I thought the relationship between Remington and Evie had exactly the right amount of romance for a MG book, enough to keep fairy tale lovers happy, but not overwhelm those who don't wish for that aspect in their books yet. I kind of adore Remington as a character too and am very much looking forward to future installments of this series.

The plot mostly revolves around Evie figuring out who she is and setting up the world. It has several lovely twists, a couple I guessed but most I did not. It is just a lot of fun and recommend it to anyone who loves fantastical boarding schools, magic, and fairy tales.

Friday, November 21, 2014


I was pretty excited to read Nightmares! mostly because of the authors. I adore Jason Segel (or maybe  I just adore Marshall-hard to say.) And I love Kirsten Miller's Kiki Strike books. A book written by the two of them together was too good a prospect to pass up. While fun, I didn't love it quite as much as I expected to.

All his life the mysterious purple mansion on the hill has fascinated Charlie Laird. But now that he's living in the mansion, he's not longer so excited about it. Another thing he's not excited about is his new stepmother, Charlotte. He's convinced she's a witch. What other explanation is there for the witch who haunts his dreams at night? After all the witch looks too much like Charlotte to be a coincidence. Charlie is doing everything he can to stay awake so the nightmares don't come. Then Charlie discovers his friends are also having strange recurring nightmares and the mysterious new principal features in a lot of them. When the witch from his nightmares takes his brother into the Netherworld (world of nightmares) through a portal in the mansion, Charlie follows and has to face and defeat his worst nightmare.

Charlie is having a rough time and he's taking it all out on the people around him driving those who love him away. He is angry and resentful. He is still highly sympathetic because it is clear he misses his mother, his old house, and doesn't know how to embrace the changes in his life if it means letting the past go. His relationship with his brother and father are suffering. He feels like his life is being consumed by darkness. Charlie's story is peppered with many doses of humor and at times their is a lighter treatment to the issues, but it is a hard journey. I did like how the darker themes were balanced with enough lighter elements to make it fun and have depth at the same time.

The concept of a world in which nightmares live is an interesting one. I enjoyed how the kids only had to face their fear-what the nightmare truly represented-and defeat it to be free. It wasn't necessarily easy, because first they had to figure out what the underlying fear was. And it showed how nightmares can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Though I feel Charlie's confrontation with his "worst nightmare" didn't ring true with the rest of Netherworld, but it was a scene that made me cry.

This is a book that will have a lot of appeal and is well done. I can see kids really loving it. And the cover is marvelous.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

TTT: Sequels I Can't Wait to Read

This week's TTT topic: Sequels I Can't Wait to Read

The as Yet Unnamed Book 5 of the The Queen's Thief Series-Nothing else tops my want for this!!!!!!

The Silent Bells, Book 4 in The Ashtown Burials Series by N.D. Wilson

The Next Lion Hunter Book by Elizabeth Wein

Jinx's Fire by Sage Blackwell

The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall

The As Yet Unnamed Sequel to Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

Perfect Couple by Jennifer Echols

Party Lines by Emma Barry

Shadowed Heart by Laura Florand

I will be waiting for some of these longer than others. What sequels are you looking forward to most?

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Ex Games

I am continuing to make my happy way through Jennifer Echols' backlist. This past week in keeping with our first wintry weather of the year, I read The Ex Games.

Hayden was excited when her family started over again in Colorado after a traumatic couple of years in Tennessee following her broken leg. She was even more excited when, on her first day in her new seventh grade, the cutest boy in school plopped down beside her and swept her into a month long dream romance. But it turned out Nick had made a bet with his friend Gavin about getting the new girl to date him. When Hayden finds out, she breaks up with Nick in a spectacular display that most of their classmates witnessed at the movie theater. Four years later, Hayden and Nick are juniors and their relationship has mostly consisted of snarking each other. Now that Hayden's best friends have hooked up with Nick's best friends, everyone in the school assumes they will get back together providing entertainment for the whole student body. Hayden even thinks it might happen. Then Nick demeans her winning a snow boarding competition and says she would never be competitive against a boy. The challenge is on now in a three event personal comp between Hayden Nick, but the competition extends to everyone in the school. Girls versus Boys for concert tickets. Everything is riding on Hayden beating Nick, including her own plans for her future. Can she conquer her fear of jumps and truly become a professional snow boarder? And will her and Nick ever be able to get it together and stop fighting long enough to make a relationship work?

What I really love about Echols's books is how realistically teen her characters are. They do behave in ways that would drive me bananas if these were adult books, but as teens their decisions, drama, and cluelessness make so much sense. Her characters remind me of teens I actually know. I particularly appreciate this about her male characters as often in YA books the boys are too ridiculous perfect. Echols's boys are not, and Nick is no exception. He does dumb teen boy things. He says dumb teen boy things. He has no clue how to make up with Hayden for being a dumb teen boy and so he stumbles around their relationship like a newly born blind kitten knocking things down all over the place. Hayden isn't much better about negotiating their rocky relationship. That's what's so much fun about this book, watching them learn and try to figure it out. And in the end they are both good people you want to see happy. They both have their insecurities they need to work on, but I couldn't help but want to see them fix things together.

The Ex Games is a fun romantic read to get in the winter spirit. It is no longer available in print, but can be purchased as an e-book.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Shorter Musings: MG Fantasy

Here are some shorter musings of recent MG Fantasy reads. These are all Cybils nominated books in my category of MG Speculative Fiction. 

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle by George Hagen
Based on Norse mythology and in a contemporary setting, Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle is an interesting story about a family who has a proclivity for bonding with ravens and the sinister links some of this has to the past. I found it to be an adequately entertaining book if a little long. One thing that kept annoying me was how often Gabriel blindly trusted random people with the full story of what was going on. And nothing came from that. He was so trusting and everyone he trusted turned out to be trustworthy. Even when he thought momentarily one or two would betray him, turns out they are, in fact, totally willing to be on his side. How nice and convenient for him. I think this would be a great book for people who love riddles. (Though they are basically all the same riddle with similar answers and structure.)

Hook's Revenge by Heidi Schulz 
I can see why so many people like Hook's Revenge a lot, but it is not written in a style I find particularly enjoyable so reading it was more of a chore than not at times. I do say hurrah for an intrusive narrator who talks to the reader without making himself obnoxious. Well, no more obnoxious than intrusive narrator is automatically. In the beginning I found Jocelyn to be entirely unlikeable and only made sympathetic by how much more unlikeable and gross everyone else around her behaved. This doesn't ever work for me as a tool for characterization. However, by the end of the books some actual real character development had happened, and I liked Jocelyn very well indeed. Her adventures in Neverland are perfect, as is her quest. And I absolutely loved the characterization and treatment of Peter. 

The League of Seven by Alan Gratz
This is fun and I enjoyed the concept of the seven heroes coming together each with a different talent and focus. I can see kids really enjoying this. I've seen steampunk not work in several MG books but I think it works well here. For me personally this is one too many books I've read recently with Edison as the big bad villain turning him almost cartoonish. So many books have been doing this lately with, of course, Tesla on the good side. (Albeit as crazy as he ever was.) It is becoming a bit of an overused trend. I get that Edison was a terrible human being and he did many people wrong, but I think we've hit the threshold with him as evil sic-fi villain. Let's do something different now.

Seven Wild Sisters by Charles de Lint
Seven Wild Sister takes place many years after the end of The Cats of Tanglewood Forest. I liked this considerably more than it predecessor as it was more of a typical fairy tale and less meandering in its telling. I didn't love it though and think that may just come down to this author's style not being my thing. It was an interesting story and I did enjoy the fairy war and how that turned out. I also loved the sibling aspect, which is what kept me reading this all the way to the end.

Winterfrost by Michelle Houts
This is an adorable and fun read perfect for 3rd-4th graders around Christmas time. It would probably make a great 2nd grade read aloud too and would fit very well into a study of the way different cultures and countries celebrate the holiday season. I enjoyed the characters, and the adventure was a good one though the level of peril was quite low. I do find it hard to understand why any parents would leave a 12 year old home alone with a baby, but okay.

Thursday, November 13, 2014


I'm way behind. I know. I bought Cress by Marissa Meyer when it first came out and I was so excited, but I was also swamped with review books. Then something strange happened. I became less excited and more wary of reading it. It is so long. And it has been my experience that books don't typically need to be that long. So it kept getting put off. Finally I was in the perfect mood for it, I guess, because I didn't want to put it off anymore. Yes, it's too long in a way that required more editing. Yes, there are some issues. But it is also a whole lot of fun.

Cress has lived for seven years on a satellite hacking into Earth's computer systems for Mistress Sybil and Queen Levana. Her latest job is to track down the Rampion carrying Cinder, Thorne, Scarlet, and Wolf. She did this, and then immediately scrambled their signal and has since been protecting them from capture while lying to Sybil about her ability to find them. Cress has also been studying up on the occupants of the Rampion and has developed a moon size crush on Captain Carswell Thorne. When the fugitives contact her for help, they discover her situation and decide to rescue her. Except the rescue goes horribly wrong and now they are all separated and in different sorts of danger. Thorne and Cress crash land in the desert. Cinder and Wolf go to find Dr. Erland. Scarlet is taken captive. While all this goes on, the royal wedding between Emperor Kai and Queen Levana draws ever closer. A wedding that must be stopped if Levana is ever going to be ousted from power.

My favorite thing about these books is that Meyer has taken fairy tale heroines and made them into heroines who do science. A mechanical engineer, a pilot, a master hacker and programmer, these aren't the typical female protagonists in fairy tales, but we could definitely use more of them. And I kind of love how both Cinder and Scarlet have their respective men wrapped around their fingers and pining for them as we usually only see girls do for the hero. Cress has a different sort of story. She has been alone for so long and knows little about human interaction and socialization, particularly of the romantic sort. Her massive crush on Thorne, built entirely on her own assumptions from reading a few reports on his life, is understandable and so sad at the same time. Some of the conclusions she jumps to about his character as a result of what she reads of the "reasons" for his various misdeeds left me like:
As for Thorne himself...well. Let's just say that a lot of my love for him in Scarlet came from what I was hoping he would be. Kind of like Cress. Huh. WELL DONE, Ms. Meyer. The reality of Captain Thorne is a tad disappointing. Yes, he's dashing. Yes, he's snarky. Yes, he has that whole devil-may-care attitude. But I wanted him to develop more substance. I wanted him to be more. Cress is less upset about this than I am, but I rather liked where they end by the finish of the novel. I kind of hope she finds some other guys to date and lives a little first though. (Ummm....assuming they survive book four.) 

I did enjoy the further development of the other characters, though I feel this book was light on Scarlet and Wolf (but they're my favorites so that may just be me). I'm still rolling my eyes at Kai a little bit. Cinder is still awesome, and I enjoyed how this book showed her strain more than the others really have. And Dr. Erland is just the best. I also loved the intro we had to both Winter and Jacin.

I really love these characters. I wish they were developed a bit more. These books are so plot heavy, and that is what they have to be for the story they are telling, but I will say that all starts to get more unwieldily in Cress. There is so much going on, and it's happening in five different places. There is a lot of jumping around and it's not at all smooth. There is a bit too much time spent on conversations and descriptions that are unnecessary, while I feel like there's other things missing that should be there. And I had a hard time buying how easily Thorne was able to get around and do things given his particular injury from the crash landing. Really??? I feel that these books may be suffering from being rushed into print to keep the hype going and not getting the full editing they truly deserve. It makes me sad because I do love these characters and the concept, but feel like the whole thing could be so much more than it is.

I'm very much looking forward to how things turn out in book four, which we still have a year to wait for. (Starting to appreciate that I waited to read this.) In the meantime there will be a bridge novel about Levana coming out in January called Fairest. I will admit to concerns that the characters I love the most are the expendable ones. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

TTT: Characters Who I Want to See Have Their Own Books

This week's TTT topic: Characters Who You Want to See Have Their Own Books

CHAZ SANTANGELO from Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
I'm a little strange because, while I adore Jonah Griggs, he's not my favorite Marchetta boy by a long shot, and isn't even my favorite one in Jellicoe Road. Yes that's right, I do like Chaz more. I like his leadership skills, his loyalty, his protectiveness, and even his inability to let something rest. And, of course, any book that has a Chaz as the main character will have to have lots of Raffy in it too. If anyone could write the perfect best friend to love that's also a hate to love story, it would be Melina Marchetta. And Chaz and Raffy are certainly an interesting combination of both of those.

THE MINISTER OF WAR and THE QUEEN THIEF from The Queen's Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner (AKA: Gen's parents)
These two capture my imagination in so many ways. I know there is probably no way Turner will ever write this book, but oh how my heart wants it. Reading between the lines of the story we can see that the alliance between Gen's grandfathers was shaky at best. Gen's father himself had fairly contemptuous views of the role of Thief. I so want the story of this stolid, rule following prince who is all about discipline and honor being knocked off his feet by a mischievous, thieving girl who likes laughing and dancing. Knocked off his feet to the point he's willing to defy his father, the King, to be with her. Sigh.

SIMON and SOPHIE from Jinx Trilogy by Sage Blackwood
And speaking of prequels I know I'll never get. This one would probably have to be YA or adult and Jinx is definitely MG. But oh man would I ever love to read the story of Simon being the tricky, snarky, magical rebel causing all sorts of trouble is Sophie's orderly world. And her not wanting to like him but being unable to help herself. It would be a fairy complicated story because it's clear they have a fraught and complicated relationship, but it would be so worth reading.

HAYDEE from The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
In the hands of a truly talented author this could be a marvelous spin on The Count of Monte Cristo. Give us Haydee's story of her father's death, her childhood in slavery, and her rescue and life with the Count. Now a lot of people would probably be squicked out by this due to the age difference between her and Edmond, but in the hands of the right author it would be so good.

THALIA HAMILTON and JOSH FLETCHER from The Dare Island Series by Virginia Kantra
The Dare Island Series is an adult romance novel series that takes place on an island NC's Outer Banks. Josh and Thalia are two minor teen characters who have been in every book so far. Maybe it's just my love of YA lit, but these two have captured imagination utterly. The little snippets we get of both of them in each book just make me want more. I adore them, and they are fascinating people. I want them to have their own book. Sooner rather than later. (I would accept two separate books if that's the way it has to be. But really I want them to figure out how to make their lives work together. There isn't enough of the young/first love that can survive stories out there. And some of us know it works because we're living it.)

SARAH GUJAHR from Special Interests and MOLLY MASON from Private Politics by Emma Barry
I always say the mark of a good author is how much interest they are able to spark in even the most minor of characters. These women both only have brief scenes in their respective books and their purpose is to clarify how the hero feels about the heroine. However, both of them in those brief scenes sparked my interest. Some of that is due to them not being the typical "other" woman in a romance, some of it is Barry's fine talent for dialogue that brings all her characters to life, and some of it is that I never want Barry to stop writing these DC set political romances so bring on books about all the minor characters.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Jupiter Pirates: Hunt for the Hydra

The cover for The Jupiter Pirates: Hunt for the Hydra by Jason Fry pretty much sells itself. Hold this up to a bunch of upper elementary kids and watch their eyes light up with anticipation. To seal the deal all you need to say are three magic words: Pirates. In. Space. Now try not to get knocked over. This book is all kinds of fun, but also has some more serious elements tossed in that make it so much more than it first appears.

The Hashoone family are privateers licensed by their home government on Jupiter to take Earth merchant ships as prizes. They mostly live aboard their ship, the Shadow Comet. Twelve year old Tycho Hashoone is a member of the bridge crew along with his twin sister, Yana, and his older brother, Carlo. Their mother is the Captain and their father is the First Mate. Their grandfather, the former Captain, does a lot of curmudgeonly grumbling about how things aren't like the good old days of pirating while his daughter tells him to be quiet. When the Shadow Comet captures a ship that has a mysterious and suspect diplomat from Earth on it, they take the ship home and allow the court to decide if its fair game or not. Soon they realize that one ship is only one layer of a conspiracy by Earth that involves an old enemy and a dangerous mission to find out what is happening to Jupiter ships and their crews that are disappearing.

There is a lot of adventure and mystery in Hunt for the Hydra. The book has all the elements one could possibly want in a book about pirates in space. There are space battles, close calls, intrigue, shadowy figures doing shady things, and ships to capture. In all of this there are underlying themes of diplomacy, the politics of war, slavery, and humanity. There is also the interesting question of how different is a pirate and a privateer? Where does one draw the line? The Hashoone's grandfather is not quite as ethical and honorable as his daughter. Where does that leave him? On the side of the good guys? Are there any good guys? It is a lot of thought to pack into a 200 page book of adventure, but Fry does it well. We are left wondering a lot about this futuristic world in which there were space colonies of earth all over the galaxy, some kind of rebellion that gave them the right to rule themselves, and now a war between some of the former colonies and Earth.

What is the most interesting part of the book for me is the dynamic between the three siblings. Tycho is definitely set up as the hero of the book. The book follows his perspective and thoughts. He is not the best at anything. His brother is the better pilot, and he is quite full of himself as a result. His sister has her own special talents, and has an attitude to go with it that includes challenging her mother, the Captain, far too often. The interesting thing about them is only one of them will be able to take her place. They are in active competition for the role of Captain of their family's ship, and they know it. This does an interesting thing to the sibling dynamic, which is always fraught and full of competitiveness to begin with. These kids aren't just competing in their own minds, their parents have set up a computer log to track and rank everything they do on the ship from simulations to actual battles. Talk about pressure. They have no ideas what the logs say, and their parents don't tell them. This family has some serious issues as a result of this, but they also clearly love and care for one another. They have each other's backs and work together (the kids have a hard time with that from time to time thanks to the competition, but make improvements as the book continues). It's a really fascinating character study.

And again, I'm impressed with Fry's ability to do all of this and the heart pounding action in 200 pages. Bit pretty much snatched this out of my hand the second I was finished with it. I wasn't kidding about the appeal to kid factor at play here. If you have a young lover of adventure stories in your life, this is a book to add to your home, school, classroom, etc.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Maid of Deception

I read and throughly enjoyed Maid of Secrets by Jennifer McGowan a couple weeks ago and immediately checked out Maid of Deception, the second book in the series. I enjoyed this one even more.

Lady Beatrice Knowles has worked hard to reach her wedding day. She serves Elizabeth well even though she doesn't like the queen, and the queen doesn't like her. Beatrice has lived her life playing the games of the court, being a pawn of monarchs, and trying to keep her family's secrets from ruining them. She plotted to become betrothed to the perfect Lord of the realm only to have her wedding day ruined when the queen orders a postponement, and then orders Beatrice to play the flirt with a young Scottish Lord named Alasdair. Caught between the queen's politics and plotting, her family's troubles, her own plans, and her unwanted feelings for Alasdair, Beatrice increasingly feels caught in a game she can't win. And that she may be heading toward a disaster of her own making.

I enjoyed the way McGowan dealt with Beatrice's character in the first book. She is the beautiful, well established, popular, and snotty one. Yet she is never simply a stereotype and she really showed how nuanced she was by the end of Meg's story. And here in her own story she truly shines. I loved how she is so vulnerable and yet projects an image to the world that is unbreakable. She is always outwardly in control even when she is desperately trying to hold together all the strands of her life and keep them from unraveling. The queen, who sees most things, sees this. And she uses it to mess with Beatrice. I really liked the antagonism between Beatrice and Elizabeth. They have a history. Beatrice knows something about Elizabeth the queen wishes she didn't. Beatrice, being quite savvy, went to great lengths to protect herself from Elizabeth doing anything nefarious to silence her. Elizabeth can, and does, strive to make her as miserable as possible though. In the first book the way McGowan showed Elizabeth was historically accurate. She is wise. She is cunning. She is insightful. She is generous. She is dangerous. In this book Elizabeth is seen as all those things still, but also petty, vindictive, and spiteful. There is historical data that backs up both versions of Elizabeth. She was a complicated woman, made out of a combination of great intelligence, a horrific childhood, too little trust in her life, and a desire to maintain her own power. I find it fascinating that McGowan is using the maids' feelings and interactions with her to highlight different aspects of her personality. The Elizabeth Beatrice must contend with is quite different to the one Meg contends with, but she is the same Queen. And despite the way Elizabeth treats her, Beatrice is still fiercely loyal. And it isn't entirely due to fear or the machinations of a mind bent to the most convenient political ally, Beatrice is bravely serving her monarch in the best way she can. I find this truly admirable since she doesn't like her as a person.

The plot of this book isn't as sinister as the last Maid of Secrets. That was a murder mystery complete with all the danger that entails. This is quieter in many ways, full of the politics that go on behind closed doors, the careful dance between serving both your country and yourself, and the wider intrigue of the court in general. Again, I felt that there was a little too much detail and that the book should have been shorter. This aspect is better than in the first, but still needs some work. I also felt that the romance wasn't particularly exciting. I LOVE Alisdair (the same way I loved Rafe), but something is lacking in the development of the relationships to make me that invested. I'm okay with that though because all the other relationships are done so well.

My favorite aspect of the book is the relationship between Beatrice and her father. I just adore Lord Knowles for everything he is. He is a man greatly flawed, but he is also a wonderful person who tries hard to do what right he can given his position and weaknesses. Beatrice is quite dismissive of her father, but as the story unfolds and she begins to see his hand at work-and how it's always been at work-in her life, her perspective changes. Good father/daughter dynamics are not run of the mill inYA literature, so this is a rare treat.

Of course, Beatrice's fellow maids also play a major part in her story. I adore the friendship and camaraderie that has developed between these five and how they have each other's backs no matter what. I absolutely can not wait to get every one of their stories. I think that's likely, though as far as I know Sophia's book (coming out next year) is the only other one yet scheduled. I really hope Anna and Jane get books too because they are my favorites.

In the meantime, there is also a prequel Christmas e-book that looks like a lot of fun.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

TTT: Books I Want to Reread

This week's TTT topic: Books I Want to Reread

There are books that I reread often because they are comforting and I love them. The Queen's Thief series are the books I reread the most. Obviously. (If you hang around here at all frequently you know those are my most fervent book passion.) But there are other books I loved on a first read that I would really love to reread if only could find the time.

Here are the 10 books I've never reread, but really really want to:

What books are you longing to read again?

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Boundless

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel is a fun adventurous story that is historical fantasy of a time we don't see often.

Will's father was a train brakeman and worker on the transcontinental railroad in Canada. Will pores over his father's letters seeping up all the adventures he's had, including an encounter with a Sasquatch. When Will is finally reunited with his father the day the railroad is finished, an accident causes a tremendous reversal in their fortunes and Will's father eventually runs the rail company taking the new and innovative train, The Boundless, for its maiden run across Canada. But there are those who feel they were cheated in the building of the railway, and they want their due. These villains are willing to risk anything including the lives of the passengers and any worker who stands in their way to get it. Will ends up witnessing a murder and with one of the two keys that access the car which holds the great treasures The Boundless carries. Hiding out among a traveling circus on the train, Will must make hard decisions about who to trust, how far he's willing to go to protect the treasure, and come to terms with where his future is headed. Does he become the company drone his father wants him to be or does he make his own path?

I enjoyed how Will is not the stereotypical fantasy hero. He is a talented artist and decent human being, but for the most part he is an ordinary boy who always feels like he's watching life happening around him. He sees the stories, he's never a part of them. He longs for more. After the reversal in his family's fortunes, he went from being a starving urchin to an educated and polished young man. He longs to go to art school, but his father wants him to begin as a clerk with the railway. Will reluctantly knows that he will cave to his father's wishes. Once the action really gets underway, it isn't so much Will's intrinsic bravery as his survival instinct that keeps him going. He also has a keen sense of right versus wrong though, and he desperately wants to do what is right and be stand-up sort of man. As a foil to Will, we have Maren, a tightrope walker with the circus. Maren is a determined girls with plans and sees nothing wrong with bending certain rules and laws to make those plans happen. She does defy gravity on a regular basis after all. Her courage, gumption, and survival skills inspire Will while his loyalty, conviction, and trust move her. They make a great team. Mr. Dorian, the circus master, is the most fascinating character in the book to me. Also not above bending rules, he isn't even likeable most of the time, yet he hides Will, provides for his workers well, and commands their loyalty. He is not without honor even when he goes about attempting things not quite honorable. I really liked the duality of his character, which is in all ways a lighter variation of another great literary character bearing the same name.

The book is an alternate history in which Sasquatch and creepy swamp witches exist and attack humans. There is also the sort of technology that can make a miles long train stay together as it travels across a continent. The combination of this alternate history and the historical setting make for an adventurous and fun read. It was hard for me to put down and I couldn't wait to see how it all ended. Also, it appears to be a standalone and we don't get enough of those anymore.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Almost Super

Super hero books are always a lot of fun, and Almost Super by Marion Jensen is no exception.

Every Leap Year any Bailey that has turned 12 since the last Leap Year gets their super power. Because the Baileys are a family of Supers. This time its Rafter and his brother Benny's turn. On the much anticipated day, disaster strikes. Instead of getting amazing powers to help their family of supers fight crime, Rafter and Benny get silly ridiculous powers. Benny can change is belly button from an innie to an outie. Rafter can strike a match on polyester. This is bad, and the boys are worried because they go to school with Juanita Johnson. The Johnsons are a family of super villains and Juanita was supposed to get her power too. But she didn't get an amazing power either. The Baileys suspect the Johnsons are up to no good as usual, and the Johnsons suspect the Baileys are up to no good. After Juanita confronts Rafter and Benny at school, it is clear that there is much confusion. Because the Johnsons think they're the heroes and the Baileys are the villains. When all the supers lose their powers, it is up to Rafter, Benny, and Juanita to figure out what has gone wrong and save the day.

I have said it before, but it's always worth repeating. Kids love stories where the kids run circles around the grown ups when it comes to being the heroes. Almost Super is a book that captures that well. In the process it makes all the adults seem a bit too ridiculous, but for the tone of this book it works just fine. I enjoyed all three of the kids, but Rafter and Juanita steal the show in this one. They both have a fierce sense of what is right and a desire to do good. Rafter can not wait to take on the mantle of hero. Juanita is more reluctant, but has her reasons. She definitely comes through when her friends and family need her though. I thought Benny's character acted a little younger than his age, but that could be his immaturity next to Rafter. He seemed more like an 8 year old than a 12 year old though.

The mystery in this was a fun one, and watching the kids figure out what the grown ups have been missing for decades is entertaining. There are also exciting gadgets, hidden lairs, and everything that makes a good super hero tale. This is on the younger side of MG, perfect for 3rd-5th graders who love super hero stories but aren't quite ready for Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities or Sidekicked yet.