Friday, February 28, 2014

Death Sworn

I enjoyed the first two books by Leah Cypess, but felt they didn't reach their full potential. Her latest book,  Death Sworn, does reach its full potential and more. Magic, assassins, intrigue, mystery, and backstabbing (literal and figurative) make this an exciting read from start to finish.

Synopsis:
When Ileni lost her magic, she lost everything: her place in society, her purpose in life, and the man she had expected to spend her life with. So when the Elders sent her to be magic tutor to a secret sect of assassins, she went willingly, even though the last two tutors had died under mysterious circumstances.
But beneath the assassins’ caves, Ileni will discover a new place and a new purpose… and a new and dangerous love. She will struggle to keep her lost magic a secret while teaching it to her deadly students, and to find out what happened to the two tutors who preceded her. But what she discovers will change not only her future, but the future of her people, the assassins… and possibly the entire world.


The world Cypess has created is shrouded in  mystery for the majority of the novel. It is inherently fascinating due to this mystery. There is an evil empire who uses black magic taken from dead and dying victims to thrive. That is what Ileni has spent her whole life believing. In opposition to that are the Renegai, people who broke off from the Empire due to their magic torturing ways and have been building back up their resources and powers for the past four hundred years. In between the two, in a vast network of caves dwell the Assassins, boys of all ages training to be the deadly weapons to bring the Empire down. They all follow the orders of their Master absolutely. Ileni, who is losing her ability to do magic, is sent to instruct those with magical abilities. The entire plot takes place inside these caves. Which should have been dull, and may be for some people, but worked well for me. Like an Agatha Christie novel where all the potential victims are trapped with the killer. Except in this case there are a lot of potential killers and only one targeted victim. I enjoyed the questions Cypess raises as Ileni attempts to carry out her mission, questions of good and evil and what degree people will go to for a cause they believe in. There is also some food for thought here on the power of indoctrination. The Assassins believe fully and wholeheartedly that the Master knows everything and to question him is fundamentally wrong. They are working to bring down the Empire and their lives are to be given in that cause. It is all for the greater good. But most of them have been there since they were young children too young to question what they were being taught. And that the Master has power can not be denied. As I said, the world isn't fully explained and shrouded in a lot of mystery. The entire plot centers around what is going on in the caves so that is the only part of the world, the only view the reader gets. It is, of course, just the first part of the story. One other book will follow. I'm looking forward to see what Cypess does with this world as it expands beyond the confines of the cave. 

The plot was just the sort of one I like, where the protagonist doesn't know who to trust and every move is covered in danger. Ileni has to solve a murder and keep herself alive while negotiating the inner politics of the Assassins. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute and was unable to put it down. While I saw one aspect of the reveal coming, there were others I was surprised by. The end moved a little fast and I was a bit disconcerted with the lack of closure. It isn't exactly a cliffhanger, but it is open-ended and one thing Ileni does in the end is going to have some MAJOR consequences and that was sort of glossed over more than I would have liked for the end here.

Ileni is a fantastic heroine. She is smart and actually keeps her wits about her. Even when she is feeling attracted to and falling for her Assassin bodyguard, Sorin, she keeps her head. She has reached a point where she's convinced herself that her life means little to her and is completely focused on her mission. As a result she is snarky, not at all obedient, and a bit reckless. At the same time, she has no desire to die until she has completed what she came to do and she is singleminded about that. There is a lot in her to admire. I like that she is the one with the romantic experience too, while Sorin is the one who is stumbling into his first relationship. That is a refreshing change. Sorin is harder to figure out. He is definitely an Assassin to his very core, which causes me to not be completely on board with his character. I wanted him to question more. I wanted him to let out the rebellious side that is very clearly there. This, however, is exactly how Cypess wanted me to feel I expect because it is how Ileni feels. He is also not entirely trustworthy due to his loyalty to the Master, which adds a fraught aspect to the relationship that develops between him and Ileni. I loved that their relationship started out as merely business and developed slowly. Ilenis is given no choice but to trust him as her protecter and, smart girl that she is, she warded herself against attacks from him first thing. He isn't supposed to be involving himself with her on that level. It's not in his orders. Their relationship is a slow burn one and I enjoyed their interactions. I also liked that most of their romantic interplay was conducted off-page. I was quite satisfied with the way Ileni conducted every part of their relationship, particularly the end. Let's just say, the next book will be quite interesting in more ways than one.

This is my favorite type of fantasy, and the sort of book I would love to see more of. I can not wait to read the sequel, which will hopefully come out sooner rather than later. 

I read an e-galley received from the publisher, Greenwillow, via Edelweiss. Death Sworn will be in stores on March 4. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

WoW: Empire of Shadows

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


Cast out of her family three years ago, Mara turned to the only place that would take her—a school where students train to protect others. But Mara is stunned when guarding a noble girl in the Empire’s capital turns out to be more dangerous than she could’ve imagined. More shocking still, she finds the boy she thought she had lost forever outside the gates of her new home.
Mara knew her life in the dizzying Imperial city would hold dangers. How could she have known that her heart, as well as her life, would be at stake?


I read Forter's City of a Thousand Dolls last year and was immediately swept into the world she created. I knew she was writing another book set in the same world and was looking forward to it. Once the cover and synopsis were released, I became even more excited. The release date for Empire of Shadows is November 4, 2014. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods is a new acquisition at my local library that caught my eye. I checked it out despite the crazy amount of ARCs I currently have to review and was excited when I found a slot where I could actually slip it into the schedule. It is a heartwarming story of family and identity and I'm glad that I found it. 

Synopsis: 
Violet is a smart, funny, brown-eyed, brown-haired girl in a family of blonds. Her mom is white, and her dad, who died before she was born, was black. She attends a mostly white school where she sometimes feels like a brown leaf on a pile of snow. She’s tired of people asking if she’s adopted. Now that Violet’s eleven, she decides it’s time to learn about her African American heritage. And despite getting off to a rocky start trying to reclaim her dad’s side of the family, she can feel her confidence growing as the puzzle pieces of her life finally start coming together. Readers will cheer for Violet, sharing her joy as she discovers her roots.

Violet is a typical MG age girl. She longs for a kitten, fights with and loves her family, enjoys spending time with her friends, and likes to ice skate (but is not overly ambitious about it or talented at it). All this makes her an easily accessible character for any reader. Her voice is strong and pulls you into the story right aways, making her sympathetic even if you have no way of identifying with her particular struggle. I found the way Woods set up Violet's conflicted feelings and struggle with her heritage to be believable and subtle. She does this by presenting different scenes where aspects of Violet's daily interactions, the prejudices and questions she has to deal with, are revealed clearly. Her frustration with it is palpable. This just makes her all the more relatable and her situation seem that much more important and real.

The plot is a slow one. This isn't a book with a lot of action. It is about a girl figuring out her place in her family and the world, and focuses more on character. What is nice, is that Woods doesn't drag it out. She keeps the prose, while beautifully worded in places, from being too philosophical or didactic. She tells her story in such a way that a reader in the target audience can maintain interest despite the lack of intense action. There are places where I found the prose to be a little awkward, particularly in certain conversations. Yet there are places where true brilliance shows through in the prose too. 

This is a perfect book to give a reader who likes realistic fiction, particularly stores about friendships and family. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Nightmare Dilemma

Last year I read the first book in Mindee Arnett's Arkwell Academy series, The Nightmare Affair (my thoughts), and I fell in love with the fun premise and combination of mystery and fantasy. I was so excited to read the second volume,  The Nightmare Dilemma, and I wasn't disappointed. These books are so much fun.

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

Synopsis:
Dusty Everhart might be able to predict the future through the dreams of her crush, Eli Booker, but that doesn’t make her life even remotely easy. When one of her mermaid friends is viciously assaulted and left for dead, and the school’s jokester, Lance Rathbone, is accused of the crime, Dusty’s as shocked as everybody else. Lance needs Dusty to prove his innocence by finding the real attacker, but that’s easier asked than done. Eli’s dreams are no help, more nightmares than prophecies. 
To make matters worse, Dusty’s ex-boyfriend has just been acquitted of conspiracy and is now back at school, reminding Dusty of why she fell for him in the first place. The Magi Senate needs Dusty to get close to him, to discover his real motives. But this order infuriates Eli, who has started his own campaign for Dusty’s heart.
As Dusty takes on both cases, she begins to suspect they’re connected to something bigger. And there’s something very wrong with Eli’s dreams, signs that point to a darker plot than they could have ever imagined.


The story opens with Dusty being called to dream feed on a fellow student who has been gravely injured. While breaking the Will was the right thing for Dusty to do at the time, it has created a chaotic atmosphere at the school and in the wider magical world. Kinds are attacking each other and violence abounds. Dusty and Eli are asked to use their dream sessions to figure out who is behind this violent attack. The mystery in this novel is not about figuring out who is behind the attacks, but figuring out what is going wrong in Dusty and Eli's sessions and why Dusty is having a recurring dream herself about a mysterious plinth with a word she feels compelled to discover. There's a lot going on in the story as Dusty and Eli's evolving (or not as evolving as she would like) relationship is a major issue as well. Despite the number of pieces in the story, Arnett fit them together well and perfectly. I never felt that it was too much or that anything was left undone. The villains in the piece are not surprising, but they are not intended to be either. This is a mystery of how/why, not who, and there are some surprises regarding Dusty and Eli's dream seer relationship that are surprising. The entire book is a page turner, and every page is a joy to read. I simply adore the combination of mystery and fantasy that Arnett has in these books. 

The characters are another aspect that will keep returning to this series. Dusty continues to be impulsive, rash, and heedless of danger though she is working on all three of these. Her intelligence and bravery shine through as well. Eli is a perfect foil for her in every way, and I adore the way they balance each other and work together as a team. Also Eli is just a pretty amazing guy. The further development of Selene, Lance, and Paul worked really well in this story too and I also liked how the adults were shown to have more sided and nuances. 

The romance is something else that makes these fun. Dusty and Eli are more than just a great dream seer/crime fighting team. They have great chemistry too. The interaction between them is far more angsty in this book than the first though. For a long time their relationship remains undefined and that is frustrating to Dusty (and me!), but soon a secret is revealed that shakes the whole thing up. I sort of could  have done with out that. It ratchets the angst factor through the ceiling and I have a feeling will be the central focus of at least the next book, if not more. I can see the point behind it though, and am interested to see where Arnett takes it. I will go along with her for the ride, but honestly I wouldn't mind if these books were just Dusty and Eli solving crimes and occasionally making out in their free time. But I am not a member of the target audience either. I think they will eat this up.

I am definitely in this series for the duration. I'm already eagerly awaiting the third installment. 

I received an ARC via the publisher, Tor Teen. The Nightmare Dilemma is available for purchase on March 4. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Shadow Throne

Sigh. It is always hard to write a review like this one. I really enjoyed my experience reading The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen (my thoughts). I didn't like The Runaway King as much, but was eager to see how Nielsen would finish. Alas, The Shadow Throne left me feeling disappointed.

Synopsis:
War has come to Carthya. It knocks at every door and window in the land. And when Jaron learns that King Vargan of Avenia has kidnapped Imogen in a plot to bring Carthya to its knees, Jaron knows it is up to him to embark on a daring rescue mission. But everything that can go wrong does.
His friends are flung far and wide across Carthya and its neighbouring lands. In a last-ditch effort to stave off what looks to be a devastating loss for the kingdom, Jaron undertakes what may be his last journey to save everything and everyone he loves. But even with his lightning-quick wit, Jaron cannot forestall the terrible danger that descends on him and his country. Along the way, will he lose what matters most? And in the end, who will sit on Carthya's throne?


Jaron played the odds brilliantly in The False Prince. Much of his success was due to luck, but he made the most of the opportunities that came his way and manipulated them in the fashion he needed. In The Runaway King I was frustrated by how he seemed to be less savvy and capable, as if his ultimate success had to be delayed until a predetermined page number for plot reasons. This caused his character to stagnate, and he still hasn't recovered. What was a problem in the second book, becomes an even bigger issue in this third volume. I didn't feel like I was reading about people I cared about at all. The characters lost all their life and are merely plastic pieces on a board the author is playing with. Luck and coincidence continue to play major roles in Jaron's success. He makes some brilliant plans, but they don't come together because of his brilliance. Nielsen is not the first author to use this. It occurs a lot in this type of fantasy. Rae Carson and Megan Whalen Turner have used it too, and it hasn't bothered me. The difference? They made me believe in and love their characters. That never happened over the course of this trilogy for me. As it continued, I felt less connected to the characters not more. They seemed to become flatter, not more rounded. So this book became an exercise in reading battle after battle, scene after scene, and not caring at all.

The plot here is fast paced and full of action. It will please readers who enjoy sword fights, races on horseback, and danger. The motivations of the villains did not make sense to me, and the resolution was hard to swallow. I can't discuss what is my largest issue with the plot is without divulging spoilers, so I will keep that to myself. It was enough to leave me feeling disappointed with my entire experience reading these books though. This makes me sad because I saw so much potential in that first one. The dialogue felt stilted and forced, which was another issue for me. It's a reflection of the lack of characterization and the path the story took, I think. 

Anyone who has gotten this far in the series will probably want to finish it by reading this volume, but may want to lower their expectations. Though my expectations were not that high, remembering the disappointment I felt reading the second.

I read an ARC picked up at ALA Midwinter. The Shadow Throne is available on February 25th. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Threatened

If Endangered had not been a National Book Award Finalist a couple years ago, I may have never discovered Eliot Schrefer and that would have been sad, because I love his writing. I just don't tend to gravitate toward books like Endangered (my thoughts) and his latest, Threatened. As I said in my last review, I don't do survival stories, especially if they have anything to do with animals, so the fact that Schrefer is able to keep and hold my interest and, more importantly, make me care and feel every bit of these tense situations is a testament to the fine writing in these books.

Synopsis:
When he was a boy, Luc's mother would warn him about the "mock men" living in the trees by their home -- chimpanzees whose cries would fill the night.
Luc is older now, his mother gone. He lives in a house of mistreated orphans, barely getting by. Then a man calling himself Prof comes to town with a mysterious mission. When Luc tries to rob him, the man isn't mad. Instead, he offers Luc a job.
Together, Luc and Prof head into the rough, dangerous jungle in order to study the elusive chimpanzees. There, Luc finally finds a new family -- and must act when that family comes under attack.


In Endangered Schrefer took us out of our comfort zone and into war torn Congo. That book has a protagonist who grew up in the US giving readers at least some connection to the life she had. Seeing Africa through the eyes of someone with a similar paradigm made the story  seem more comfortable, at least starting out. In Threatened Schrefer takes this last bit of comfortable connection to US readers away, and it works beautifully. Luc is an AIDs orphan working to pay off his dead mother's hospital debt to a moneylender. The story is told in first person from by him and a couple sentences was all it took for me to fall completely into the spell of his voice and story. I have no concept of Luc's reality. I've never seen most of the things he describes and I can not come close to imagining the life he lives, which is why I appreciate this book. It is a window into a world I will probably never in my comfortable life even glimpse. Luc is someone I felt like I knew even after a few brief pages though. His voice pulled me into his world and I felt as though I was right there with him. Schrefer has a real talent for making you feel a character's emotions and experiences. It isn't just Luc's world in Gabon that the reader is pulled into though, it is also the world of the chimpanzees in the jungle, or as Luc calls it "the Inside". And here is where the writing really impressed me because I never thought I could come to love a group of chimpanzees and see their individual personalities like I did the ones in this book. When I say I am not an animal person, I honestly mean I don't think about them unless they're right in front of me for some reason and then my attention is brief, so that I found my self growing attached to fictional apes is a testament to the skill of the author telling their story. From adorable baby Mango to  her fierce older brother Drummer to the patron of the clan, I found myself by turns fascinated by, concerned for, and troubled with their lives. The man who brings Luc into the jungle goes by the name of Prof and he is also an intriguing character. The small details of his life that are revealed make him into a nuanced and deep character. His intentions are good, his methods are not always. Of course all of the information on the other characters is coming from Luc and his voice has so much power that he made me feel the doubts, hesitations, loyalties, and tenderness he was feeling towards all of them.

The jungle setting of the book is eerily beautiful. Schrefer's vivid imagery brings the place to lush hot life. I found myself swatting at imaginary bugs and feeling like things were crawling on me more than once. While not exactly pleasant, I am impressed by how immersed I was in every aspect of the book. This is a story of the relationship between man and his environment and the creatures who share that environment. Schrefer does an excellent job at highlighting the similarities between humans and chimpanzees and through this highlighting the dangers facing the chimpanzees in the wild. Never does the book take on a didactic or self-righteous tone though. All this is told through Luc and ultimately it is the story of him finding a family he loves and wants to protect. I think this is summed up perfectly in a quote spoken in the book by the Prof: "You know, when you think about it, all survival stories that end happily are also family stories." 

I read an ARC received from the publisher, Scholastic, at ALA Midwinter. Threatened is on sale February 25. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Favorite Declarations of the Romantic Sort PLUS GIVEAWAY

HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY!

It is also International Book Giving Day. In this spirit of both days I bring you a swoon post and a giveaway.

On Tuesday I posted my TTT post on Books That Make Me Swoon. I wanted to do my own separate Valentine's post today and decided to go with favorite Declarations of the Romantic Sort, whether they are the first admission of love, a proposal of marriage, or an admission of the first attracted interest (or all three of those at once! Looking at you here, Lord Peter.)

In the interests of trying to be as non-spoilery as possible I will put the title of the book said declaration comes from but no other information. Just the quote and title with author.

"Don't you see Elisa? I love you the way a drowning man loves air. And it would destroy me to have you just a little."
-Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

"But given…the obvious road block, I'm not sure how much we can get to know each other." He rushes on. "As people, because you're an interesting person and I value that in friendship. That's seriously what I'm after, not that I'm after you and I'm not talking about, you know, 'knowing' each other. Like in a biblical way or anything, although you're obviously pretty, I mean , very pretty and totally worth knowing both ways…Okay, shut it, Oliver, Shut it."
-Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt

"I think we should live happily ever after. It should be hair-raising."
-Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

"I've never thought of it like that. How could I? If you were any other woman, I could tell you I loved you, easily enough, but not you-because you've always seemed to me like a part of myself, and it would be like saying I loved my own eyes or my own mind. But have you ever thought of what it would be to have to live without your mind or your eyes, Kate? To be mad? Or blind? I can't even talk about it. That's the way I feel."
-The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope

"In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.""
-Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

"The only, only thing I ever did wrong," he remarked. "It was in the green glass all along wasn't it?"
"I didn't know how to get the bottle out of my cloak without your seeing it," I answered, in a  voice that was suddenly shaky and exhausted. "So the only chance was to let you see it, because you might think it was amusing to pretend you hadn't….And I shouldn't attempt to rise if I were you, Captain Sherwood. You'll be unconscious in another moment."
But Peaceable had risen already-to this day I don't know how he did it-swaying dizzily, with one hand clenched over the back of his chair, yet insanely, unbelievably, erect and unruffled.
"A gentleman can hardly continue to sit," he said in his serenest and most level voice, "when he asks a very remarkable young lady to do him the honor of marrying him. And-" he somehow contrived to grin at me wickedly, "I usually get what I want Miss Grahame," he added and pitched over in a tangled heap on the floor.
-The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope  

Typing the entire scene of Peter's first meeting with Harriet in Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers would take up ridiculous amounts of space, and there is no one quote to fully capture the perfection of it, but it definitely belongs on the list. When a man known for his smooth moves and silver tongue manages to introduce himself and propose marriage in a most awkward fashion within a matter of minutes it is always good reading.

"Before you make a decision, I want you to know that I love you."
-The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Now for the Giveaway.

I will give away one copy of any book mentioned in this post or Tuesday's post to one reader. To enter simply comment below including which book you are interested in and a way for me to reach you if you win (email or twitter handle). Open to anyone who lives in a place Book Depository ships free to.

Giveaway closes at 8:00 PM EST Sunday, February 16.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

TTT: Books That Make Me Swoon


This week's TTT topic: Books That Make Me Swoon

A fun TTT topic for Valentine's Week! I'm not explaining WHY any of these make me swoon due to possible spoilers. But here they are:

 








What are some books that have made you swoon?

Come back around on Friday and I will be having a Valentine's Day giveaway.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Nomad

You know I like a series and the work an author produces when I'm willing to order the books from the UK because they are just not available in the US. In fact, when  it comes to R.J. Anderson's Faery books I pre-order them. The wait for Nomad seemed eternal because I have been waiting for it ever since the day I finished reading Swift (my thoughts). It was worth every minute of the wait.

Synopsis:
Exiled from her underground home by Betony, the jealous queen of the piskeys, Ivy sets out to make a new life for herself in the world above – a quest that leads her to mystery, adventure, and a hoard of spriggan treasure. But a deadly poison still lingers in the Delve, and Ivy cannot bear to see her people dying under Betony’s rule.
With the help of some old friends she sets out to warn the piskeys of their danger, urging them to rise up and free themselves before it is too late. Yet Betony will not give up her kingdom without a fight... and when her evil threatens the friends and family Ivy holds most dear, it will take all Ivy’s courage, daring and determination to save them.


As Ivy's story continues, she is still the fierce stubborn girl, but her experiences have changed her too. She is slightly more cautious and has learned to be far more careful in trusting people. Her spirit and conviction remain strong, and though she suffers staggering set backs in her plans to save her people, she never gives up. She gathers around her people who are willing to help even if some of that help is not given for free. While figuring it out how to rescue the rest of the piskeys and save her others close to her in danger, Ivy is also struggling with her relationship with Martin. Can he be trusted? Should she care as much about him as she does? And why is she suddenly having dreams about spriggans of the yesteryear? Martin's character takes an even more central role in this story as the secrets of his past are revealed. His character grows a lot as he begins to look for the keys to his past, attempt to trust Ivy and not betray her trust in turn, and face up to the mistakes of his past. I loved what Anderson did with his character, how she grew him, showed his vulnerability and weaknesses, and gave him the opportunity for redemption. 

There are two threads of story in this novel. One is the story of the piskeys and the poison taking over their home. Ivy risks much to save her people, most of whom don't even know they need to be saved. The accepting nature of the piskeys and the way they trust everything their leader tells them, even when evidence is mounting against it is just as frustrating for the reader as it is for Ivy. (This is a talent of Anderson's and the one that makes her a favorite of mine. She really draws you into her characters lives and makes you feel what they are feeling.) As Ivy struggles to secure allies and work against her Aunt things get dangerous and people begin to be hurt. Betony is a perfect picture of how power run amok is one of the most dangerous forces there is. The other story being told here comes through dreams and visions Ivy is having of spriggans in the past due to her special connection with Martin. The bloody history of the faerys, piskeys, and spriggans is shown through these visions and we get a glimpse into how they came to be as separate as they are. These visions are important for more than just their insight into the past too. (Loved this part.) Throughout all of this there is also the developing relationship between Ivy and Martin, which was, if I'm being completely honest, my favorite part of the book. Through their dialogue and interactions, Anderson brought in the essential humor that kept the story being all serous. (Accidental marriage proposals are always entertaining.) More importantly though their relationship makes both of them face unpleasant truths about themselves and highlights the sort of people they are, how far they are willing to go to help those who matter to them. 

I'm sad that this may be the last of the faery books. As far as I know, it is. I could read dozens of these books and never grow tired of being in this world Anderson created and learning about the people who inhabit it.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Shorter Musings: Some Recent Speculative Fiction Reads

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

Here are some recent Speculative Fiction Reads (both MG and YA) and my thoughts.


Avalon by Mindee Arnett
 I wanted to like Avalon so much. I enjoyed the author's previously published work, The Nightmare Affair, quite a bit and this new book has such an interesting premise. The concept is intriguing. There is a corrupt government type agency, intergalactic mobsters, mysterious happenings in a Bermuda Triangle sort of place in space, and some pretty high stakes. AND I WAS BORED OUT OF MY MIND. I shouldn't have been. There was some intense stuff going on. I blame it on the characters, who are flat as paper and just as easily disposable. They were all types and none of them, including the narrator ever moved beyond that. When the plot twists actually started occurring it was too late. I had so little invested that I still couldn't be made to care. My disappointment is probably magnified by how much I was looking forward to this. I'm sure that it will find an audience that will love it. Sadly, I can not be a part of that group. I'm too much of a character reader.
REVIEW COPY received from publisher via Edelweiss.

Far Far Away by Tom MacNeal
Yes, Far Far Away has all those literary elements people like to declare "important" and get all excited about. I can see why people who like those sort of things would like this book. I, however, do not like intrusive narrators, and this book's narrator made me want to smack him. This is unfortunate since he is also really the main character. For the majority of the book, the reader is treated to the ghost of Jacob Grimm discussing his intrusions into the life of a young man and his observances on him and everyone else in the town. It is slooooowwwww. I couldn't connect with any of the characters because Jacob was keeping me at a distance from them as he pontificated about their lives like a pompous windbag. Then all of a sudden it kicks into a kidnapping-serial-killer book. Oh-kay. Interesting, or maybe would have been if I had cared about any of the characters. And still it managed to have the pace of a turtle stuck in mud.

The Hostage Prince by Jane Yolen

The Hostage Prince is about the ever lasting feud between the Seelie and Unseelie courts. A Seelie prince and an Unseelie girl team up to escape what they both think are their certain deaths. The story, which is not very long, took a long time to get started. There is a lot of action, but none of it feels like it is going anywhere for a long time. The characters aren't well developed. I really liked them by the end but at the point it was a little too late. It is a quick read with a lot of adventure so a good recommendation for those kids who fly through fantasy books and are always looking for a new series.

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
I may have found this book more charming and less annoying if it had not immediately followed my reading The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing. Sometimes reading order makes a difference, but I don't think it would have changed my mind too much. I have very little tolerance for the small southern town full of quirky novel, and this small fictional southern town happens to be near the southern city I live in. The plot is slow and not very much happens. It involves a lot of individual old stories coming together as one and this is not executed as well as it could have been. The book is saved from being completely disastrous by Felicity's character who is sympathetic and works hard to become who she wants to be. I will have no problem recommending this book to my students, but I didn't enjoy it much and I could think of a whole list of books I would rather give them first. It will appeal to kids who like words and language and don't mind slower plots. 
REVIEW COPY received from publisher at ALA Midwinter. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Alienated

With the cover and synopsis, it was a forgone conclusion that I would want to read Alienated by Melissa Landers. It's hard not to be intrigued by alien exchange student programs. It's just as fun as it sounds, but with some underlying depth and layers too.

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

Synopsis:
Two years ago, the aliens made contact. Now Cara Sweeney is going to be sharing a bathroom with one of them. 
Handpicked to host the first-ever L’eihr exchange student, Cara thinks her future is set. Not only does she get a free ride to her dream college, she’ll have inside information about the mysterious L’eihrs that every journalist would kill for. Cara’s blog following is about to skyrocket.
Still, Cara isn’t sure what to think when she meets Aelyx. Humans and L’eihrs have nearly identical DNA, but cold, infuriatingly brilliant Aelyx couldn’t seem more alien. She’s certain about one thing, though: no human boy is this good-looking.
But when Cara's classmates get swept up by anti-L'eihr paranoia, Midtown High School suddenly isn't safe anymore. Threatening notes appear in Cara's locker, and a police officer has to escort her and Aelyx to class. 
Cara finds support in the last person she expected. She realizes that Aelyx isn’t just her only friend; she's fallen hard for him. But Aelyx has been hiding the truth about the purpose of his exchange, and its potentially deadly consequences. Soon Cara will be in for the fight of her life—not just for herself and the boy she loves, but for the future of her planet.


Alienated deals with the clashing of cultures on an inter-galactic level, but the underpinning issues to the story can be seen with in our own world just as easily. I always enjoy when sci-fi/fantasy uses the unreal to mirror reality. The L'eihr students feel they are superior to humans. They believe their government is making a drastic mistake in wanting an alliance. The humans are just as wary of these aliens. Despite giving the world a cure for cancer, there are some that believe the price for that will be to high. HALO, the group protesting the L'eihr should look eerily reminiscent to movements we have seen where fear and misinformation rule the day. I appreciated how Landers used all of these elements and included shades of gray in all the parties. This isn't a story of good versus evil. It's a story about humanity, what it looks like to sink to humanity's lowest common denominator, and what it looks like to try and rise above it. At the center of it are two teens who want to what is best for their home and family and end up falling in love. Despite the seriousness of some of the interests addressed the book's tone is light and doesn't takes itself seriously at all which left me with something of a disconnect at times. 

Cara is a fiery, intelligent, passionate girl. She is grateful for the cancer cure that saved her mother's life. She is open-minded and willing to stand by Aelyx even in the beginning when he is behaving like a heartless drone. Aelyx is motivated in everything by a fierce loyalty to his home planet. He is unimpressed with humans and how they have treated their planet and does not wish to see the same thing happen to his own planet. He is willing to sacrifice all of earth to see his own planet safe. But Cara's courage and friendship open him up to feeling things he never has and looking at things in a new way. Their relationship develops slowly, but has some intense and heated moments. I felt that some of the character development was rushed and not as in depth as it could have been. The set up for the story took a lot of time, and most of the book is dedicated to introducing the characters and setting up the conflict so the romance feels sort of rushed once it gets it started. I liked both Cara and Aelyx though and want to see them succeed and be happy. 

It is an interesting set-up for a story. The plot has some action filled moments, but in several places is a little slow. I found myself wishing things were moving along more quickly in several places. However, I never became disinterested. I always wanted to keep reading and see where the story was headed. After all the set up, the ending felt a bit rushed. It is the first in a series and, while the story comes to a definite close, it's not one that left me feeling content. It is clear things are going to get worse for Cara and Aelyx before they get better. The sequel, Invaded, will be coming out next year and I will most definitely be getting it to see what happens next.

I read an ARC received at ALA from the publisher, Disney-Hyperion. Alienated is available now. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

TTT: Books That Make Me Cry


This week's TTT topic: Books That Make Me Cry

Most Recently:

Every Dang Time and Sometimes Just Thinking About Them:



The Ones I Felt Manipulated By So It Made Me Angry That I Cried:


 The One I Swore I Wouldn't Cry During NO MATTER WHAT (Fail):

The One That Made Me Cry So Much I Can't Reread It:


Did any of these make you cry? If not, what books have inspired your tears?



Monday, February 3, 2014

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing

When I read Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky (my thoughts), I went in expecting not to like it due to my overwhelming dislike for quirky southern books, particularly ones that take place in the state I've lived the most years of my life. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it and it overcame almost all my qualms. It was with no hesitation at all that I picked up a copy of the follow up, The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, at ALA Midwinter. It has all the charm of the first book and does it all even better. 

Synopsis:
When Miss Lana makes an Accidental Bid at the Tupelo auction and winds up the mortified owner of an old inn, she doesn't realize there's a ghost in the fine print. Naturally, Desperado Detective Agency (aka Mo and Dale) opens a paranormal division to solve the mystery of the ghost's identity. They've got to figure out who the ghost is so they can interview it for their history assignment (extra credit). But Mo and Dale start to realize that the Inn isn't the only haunted place in Tupelo Landing. People can also be haunted by their own past. As Mo and Dale handily track down the truth about the ghost (with some help from the new kid in town), they discover the truth about a great many other people, too.

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing has so many aspects I look for in a good story: mystery, an old house to explore, old secrets, family history, friendship, and strong characters. Mo's voice, already the greatest strength of Three Times Lucky, is even stronger and more assured in this book, as though Turngage grew completely comfortable with her character and let her take completely over as she was writing. I appreciate how true to their age Mo, Dale, and all their classmates are. I recognize the kids I know in them. I further appreciate the friendship between Mo and Dale and how solid it is. As they are dealing with the fall out of the events in the last book, particularly Dale's father being in jail, this is brought out fully. Mo and her big mouth make all sorts of mistakes, but Dale forgives her (eventually). Mo is learning too, which is always a wonderful aspect of characterization to see. She actually realizes when she has gone too far sometimes, and even manages to hold herself back at points. The kids relationships with the adults in the community are highlighted well too. They are working on a history project where they have to interview an older member of the community and this brings in history, but also demonstrates the importance of these generational relationships and knowing your own story. I like how Mo firmly feels a part of this community and family created around her. She still writes to her upstream mother, and she still has moments she wonders about where she comes from, but mostly she is living where she is. Harm is a new student and character introduced in this book. I throughly enjoyed the addition he made to the Mo/Dale dynamic, how he changed it. It was an interesting look at how jumping to conclusions about a person is an injustice, and how friendships can grow and change to incorporate new people and relationship dynamics. 

The mystery aspect of this story fascinated more than in the last too. As a kid, I loved stories that explored the past of a certain place and how it connected with current characters lives. I still love those stories as an adult, and this one is executed well. It focuses mostly on the kids and their immediate problems, and the mystery itself focuses on children. The ghost is the same age as the characters making it infinitely interesting to readers. As an adult reader, I would not have minded if the ghosts in the title had been completely metaphorical, but I know my students would not agree. If they are promised a ghost, they want a ghost. And Turnage delivers a wonderful ghost, complete with chilling disembodied laughter, freezing spells, flickering lights, slamming doors, and visions of scenes past. Yet the story isn't creepy so even sensitive readers can enjoy it. It is full of humor and the charm that is Mo herself. The imagery is perfect. Descriptions are short and snappy yet full of wonderful similes that readers will understand, be able to picture perfectly, and find amusing. The writing is jus top notch.

I can't wait to book talk it. I have so many pages marked with passages that I love and that will be sure to capture interest.

I read an ARC received from the publisher, Kathy Dawson Books, at ALA Midwinter. The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing will be in stores on February 4th.