Monday, June 30, 2014

The Kiss of Deception

The Kiss of Deception by Mary Pearson is a book I looked forward to with much anticipation. I will always read a political intrigue fantasy story, even if many times they leave me dissatisfied. As I began to read, I thought this might be one of those. I almost DNFed it. In the end I'm glad I didn't because once stuff started happening, it got really good.

Synopsis:
In a society steeped in tradition, Princess Lia’s life follows a preordained course. As First Daughter, she is expected to have the revered gift of sight—but she doesn’t—and she knows her parents are perpetrating a sham when they arrange her marriage to secure an alliance with a neighboring kingdom—to a prince she has never met.
On the morning of her wedding, Lia flees to a distant village. She settles into a new life, hopeful when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deception abounds, and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—even as she finds herself falling in love.


I loved the opening chapters of the book. I was entranced by the cadence of the words, the world-building, and Lia herself. I thought the build-up to Lia's flight and the carefully given glimpses into her life to explain it were truly well done. Then the narrator introduces the prince and the assassin in two chapters each form their point of view. And then a great deal doesn't happen but romantic angst for about 150 pages. This is where the author almost lost me. There isn't so much political intrigue as romantic intrigue. It is possible to do this well, but it felt a little forced here, like the author was trying so hard  to be coy, she lost what could have been a lot of great character and plot development as a result. It didn't help that Lia mentions that there is a lot banter exchanged between her and Rafe (and she enjoys this), but we as readers are not privy to this banter. Hello! I love good banter. I crave good banter. If you are going to spend so much time developing a romance, DEVELOP IT. Don't just tell me about it. I feel like this middle part could be much shorter and it would do the book a world of good. Eventually something happens that moves the plot forward and things get amazing from then on.

The latter third of the book is where Lia's character begins to turn into a person I will follow and cheer from now until the end of the trilogy. She comes across as spoiled (or at least she did to me at first). Not because she wants fine things and is unwilling to work, but because she abandoned her family and her people at a time they truly needed her. Running away from your father the king may seem brave but when it risks a war that will costs innocent lives, you are the one that is in the wrong. Lia's naiveté about the world and the way it works starts to melt away as she is forced to confront some harsh realities. The Lia that is present at the end of the book is very different from the one at the  beginning and I like her so much better, but it was interesting to watch her get there. That change happening as it did was what was needed to make her the hero she will need to be for what is coming next. 

Speaking of....this book has what could be called a cliffhanger ending except it really kind of just ends. It's not like we got to the climax and were left hanging. There is no climax. This feels like all rising action, which, I suppose, one could argue is fine in the first part of a trilogy. I personally just like each of my installments in a series or trilogy to have its own distinct plot arc. The writing is engaging though, and now I'm hooked. There is no way I'm going to let this trilogy go unfinished. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens in book two.

One other concern I had going in was that there was going to be a love triangle, and while what manifested here vaguely resembles one, I feel like Pearson dealt with that well. I can only hope that continues because I will be unhappy if Lia actually waffles at all between these two. I don't want to spoil anyone so I will just say this about the boys: one of them is amazing, one of them is so not. (Like getting drunk and assaulting her so not.) 

Overall this one is enjoyable, though I think the pacing could have been much better. The end really saved it for me and I'm glad I kept reading.

I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Henry Holt, via NetGalley. The Kiss of Deception goes on sale July 8. 


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Quarterly Review Round-Up with GIVEAWAY

It is time for the Quarterly Review Round-Up where I talk about the best of the best, the one's I couldn't finish, and the adult novels I'm reading that I don't review here. Plus there's a GIVEAWAY.

The DNFs (links to my reasons why-if I shared them-on Goodreads):
The Falconer by Elizabeth May
The Lost Planet by Rachel Searles
Royally Lost by Angie Stanton
The Things You Kiss Goodbye by Leslie Conner

Adult Books (links to reviews on Goodreads):
About That Night by Julie James
Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart by Sarah MacLean
It Happened One Wedding by Julie James
A Lot Like Love by Julie James
Love Irresistibly by Julie James
Sun-Kissed by Laura Florand

Old Favorites I Reread:
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

The Best of the Best (where the Giveaway comes in):

Links to my reviews unless otherwise noted.

The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell
The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson (review posts next week)
The Islands of Chaldea by Diana Wynne Jones

The Last Best Kiss by Claire LaZebnik
A Matter of Souls by Denise Lewis Patrick

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
Pointe by Brandy Colbert
Revolution by Deborah Wiles

GIVEAWAY Rules

If you want to win one of the 4.5/5 star books I read this quarter, leave a comment below and tell me:
1) A favorite book of yours from the past few months.
2) Which of these books you are interested in if you win. (You can change your mind later.)
3) A way to reach you (email or Twitter handle) if you win. If you are using a Twitter handle, you may want to follow me in case I need to DM you.

Open to any reader who lives where Book Depository ships for free.

I will close this GIVEAWAY and choose a winner on Sunday, July 6, 2014 at 8:00 PM EDT.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Rereadathon/Shelf-Sweeper

My friend Shae at Shae Has Left the Room is co-hosting, along with  Beauty and the Bookshelf, a Rereading AND Shelf Sweeper event for the month of July. I participated in the Rereadathon last year and was unable to get as much in as I wanted. I'm hoping to do better this year, and love that it is combined with the Shelf Sweeper concept-reading backlist books that have been on your shelf for too long. Yay! If you want to participate, you can sign up here anytime during the month of July.


So what are my goals? Well, they are really not any more specific than to read as many books that fall into these two categories as I can. There are SO MANY books I want to reread. I need to go with whatever I'm in the mood for with that. As for the Shelf Sweeper category: City in the Lake by Rachel Neumeier and The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge are my top priorities. Then I have a lot of e-books I bought on special that need to be read.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

On the Fence

Last year I read Kasie West's The Distance Between Us. While not perfect, I really enjoyed it. West has the sort of voice I look for in my light contemporary YA, a voice that is hard for me to define but I know when I find it. Could I be any more vague? Probably not. This voice as well as some other more concrete positives are why I looked forward to reading On the Fence which is every bit as good as I hoped. 

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

Synopsis:
She's a tomboy. He's the boy next door…
Charlie Reynolds can outrun, outscore, and outwit every boy she knows. But when it comes to being a girl, Charlie doesn't know the first thing about anything. So when she starts working at a chichi boutique to pay off a speeding ticket, she finds herself in a strange new world. To cope with the stress of her new reality, Charlie takes to spending nights chatting with her neighbor Braden through the fence between their yards. As she grows to depend on their nightly Fence Chats, she realizes she's got a bigger problem than speeding tickets-she's falling for Braden. She knows what it means to go for the win, but if spilling her secret means losing him for good, the stakes just got too high.


Quite honestly I've never been a big fan of tomboy embraces girly side she never knew she had because no one ever showed her before stories, so I was a little concerned about this one going in. No one lives in that much of a bubble. Unless it's a bubble they create for themselves. And that is why the trope works so well the way West let it play out. At least it worked well for me. Charlie's cluelessness when it came to fashion and make-up was a choice even if she didn't fully realize why she was making it, and her embracing of it is minimal. I loved that this book wasn't about her changing because she needed fixing or realizing she had missed out on something essential. It is about her journey to discover herself and that her perceptions of how people viewed her were what need to change. I also liked that while she briefly does attempt to act different for a boy, it's short lived and not drastic. And boy does she get called on it. And it's not for  THE boy. THE boy is Braden, her brother's best friend and a regular fixture in her home. He's always been there. He is a truly great guy. Clever, caring, and unafraid to confront Charlie with hard truths, he is an excellent hero. I'm always a sucker for the friends to romance trope when it has great banter and chemistry and this one really does. I loved their late night fence talks and how it helped them to learn each other in new and different ways. 

Another aspect of the novel that stands out is the family dynamic. I love a good sibling story and Charlie's three older brothers are prominent characters and play a huge part in her life and everything she does. Very different, they each contribute to Charlie's life and help her in ways that are both sweet and funny. The interactions between the four are wonderfully realistic in their bickering and teasing affection. Charlie's dad is also a key character in the novel and it was really great to see a relationship like theirs between a girl and her dad, not something you find in YA too often. 

On the Fence is a great summer romance read, but it is a book that is about so much more as well. Charlie's journey to discover more about who she is and what she wants out of life is just as great as the romantic element. Any one who has enjoyed West's books in the past and likes contemporaries of this type should snap this up.

I read an e-gallye provided by the publisher, Harper Teen, via Edelweiss. On the Fence is available July 1st. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Revolution

I read Countdown by Deborah Wiles when it came out and loved it. I loved the documentary style format (with some reservations) and the story.  I highly anticipated the release of the companion novel, Revolution. It was well worth waiting for and is a powerful and moving story. 

Synopsis:
It's 1964, and Sunny's town is being invaded.  Or at least that's what the adults of Greenwood, Mississippi are saying. All Sunny knows is that people from up north are coming to help people register to vote.  They're calling it Freedom Summer.
Meanwhile, Sunny can't help but feel like her house is being invaded, too.  She has a new stepmother, a new brother, and a new sister crowding her life, giving her little room to breathe.  And things get even trickier when Sunny and her brother are caught sneaking into the local swimming pool -- where they bump into a mystery boy whose life is going to become tangled up in theirs.


Revolution chronicles the events that took place in Mississippi 40 years ago when the "invaders" came, groups of students from all over the country for Freedom Summer. Their goal was to help register black voters and teach in Freedom schools. Many of them were arrested and, three ended up missing their burned car found making national news. In this crucial and tense time in Greenwood, lives a girl named Sunny who longs for adventure and is having difficulties adjusting to the new realities of her family life. Her mother left when she was a baby and her father recently married a divorced woman with two children of her own. Sunny is tired of being told what to do and how to do it. Her life is in enough turmoil as it is when the "invaders' come to town and start stirring things up even more. Sunny is petulant and spoiled through much of the novel. (I seriously thought her parents deserved sainthood for their patience with her.) It isn't hard to understand and feel for her hurt and pain over her mother, figuring out where she fits in her new family, and watching how her new family navigates the treacherous times occurring in her town. What is nice to see is how much she grows and how realistic that growth is. Sunny never before questioned the way of life in Mississippi before this summer, but the coming of these outsiders and a chance encounter with a black boy named Ray begin to change the way she thinks. 

Ray is an amazing baseball player with a desire to have what the white kids have, a chance to spend his summer playing, swimming, and seeing movies in a safe nice environment. He sees the way his parents and neighbors work and still can't make ends meet. He saw how his sister died of appendix rupture because the white doctor refused to treat her. Ray is angry and fed up. When his family takes in Jo Ellen (Franny's sister from Countdown and one of the Freedom Summer workers) and he begins to spend more time with SNCC workers, he decides to become more involved in the movement. He does things that are brave and pays some significant consequences. 

Together Sunny and Ray's stories (along with a couple chapters from Sunny's step-brother Gillete's point of view) paint a vivd and wrenching picture of what that summer in Mississippi was like for all the parties involved. The supporting cast that surrounds both of them are really well done too, particularly Sunny's parents and grandmothers. Through this lens you get a real feel for all sides and thoughts of the situation during the time. From the white adults too afraid to break the status quo but knew the status quo was wrong to the ones who were brave enough to the ones who thought the status quo was just fine to the ones willing to commit violence to make sure it stayed the way it was, every angle is fully explored. 

As in Countdown Wiles uses a documentary style format placing in significant and strategic places pictures, quotes, song lyrics, and primary source documents from the time. It is clear that much thought went in to what would be included, how, and where it would be placed and most of it enriches and makes the story better. And here is the one quibble I have with this and it is similar to the same one I had with Countdown though for different reasons. The essays (reports?). I honestly don't think they add anything significant to what is being done here and just end up making what is already a very long novel even longer. I think most kids would skip them entirely and that they might even throw many readers out of the story completely, which would be tragic because the rest of it is so amazingly well done.  The way Wiles writes her characters, setting, and plot combined with the power of the pictures, quotes, and documents tells the story wonderfully. 

Some favorite quotes: 
Believe me there are only so many times you can sing "I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart" before you have no more joy at all, anywhere. None. Zero. It's already as hot as blue blazes in the sixth-grade Sunday School room, and all I can feel is the hot-hot-hot-hot down to my toes. I cannot believe I'm sitting here. I didn't have any joy to begin with.

He did the right thing. When you come clean, when you tell the truth, you lift a great weight off your shoulders. It's not that you don't ever do anything you shouldn't do ever again, of course not. You're human , an sometimes the vagaries of life are just too delicious to ignore. Sometimes you are impetuous. Sometimes you are impulsive. And sometimes that's okay. Sometimes it's not. It's just that, when you know you're caught and you've done something you shouldn't have done, you own up to it. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Shorter Musings: MG Fantasy

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

Here are some reviews of MG Fantasy novels I've read recently. 


Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times by Emma Trevayne
This is a well written and fun story. I am not the best reader for it. I am now convinced I like MG steampunk better in theory than in reality. This book has some really great elements of steampunk, including mechanics dragons. Set in an alternate London, it tells the story of one boy from our world who finds himself in this world of mechanics and Fae, at the mercy of the changeable and ruthless Lady and her most loyal henchman. There are a lot of characters, and there was so much moving around it was difficult to get to know them well. I do think the sinister action and fascinating world building will draw readers into it. I know I have some students who would be very interested in this book.

Nightingale's Nest by Nikki Loftin
Originally DNFed. Tried again and finished. 

I get why this is getting so much buzz. It is exactly the sort of book adults like for kids to read. I was swept away by the excellent prose and the nod to Anderson's tale, but have some pretty major issues with how the end wrapped up. The book is sad, sad, sad, and then in a rush of 20 pages there is a happily ever after that left me feeling flat. That much awful wrapped up that perfectly and fast left me feeling cheated. There was no real closure.


Secrets of the Terra Cotta Soldier by Ying Chang Compestine and Vinson Compestine
This is an action-adventure tale that is both historical fiction and fantasy. Taking place during the Cultural Revolution in China, it tells the story of the unearthing of the Terra-Cotta soldiers protecting the tomb of Emperor Qin. Co-author Ying Chang Compestine grew up in China during this time and brings her real life experiences to life in the tale of Ming. I really appreciated this part of the story. The fantasy element comes in when the first soldier found, Shi, comes to life and tells young Ming stories of the Qin's rule, the raids of the Mongols, and the building of the Great Wall. All of this is also fascinating. There is an interesting comparison here between QIn's rule and the rule of Mao. Through Shi the authors were also able to include all the folklore and superstition involving the tomb of Qin. While Shi coming to life and telling his story doesn't bother me, I do have issues with the liberties taken in the unearthing of the tomb itself. The story elevates the fictional character of Ming as a hero who gets the credit. This is a great book to educate about a time period few Americans know anything about and does it in a fun and active way. The language is a little stilted and awkward in places with some info-dumps, but is still an engaging read. This would work well paired with The Great Wall Of Lucy Wu (which I prefer).


The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
dam Rex has a great sense of humor and he is able to wrap up a lot of wonderful social commentary into it. This book is a prime example of how well he does that. It is funny, heartwarming, and full of adventure. I loved the interactions between all the groups of people and the main characters, Gartuity and J. Lo, are fantastic. I did feel it was a little too long, but that is a typical complaint of mine with Rex's novels and one my students never seem to share.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Don't Call Me Baby

When I discovered what Don't Call Me Baby by Gwendolyn Heasley was about, I immediately wanted to read it because I like books that explore online dynamics and family dynamics. A book with both seemed a perfect fit for me and this one does both fairly well.

Synopsis:
All her life, Imogene has been known as the girl on THAT blog.
Imogene's mother has been writing an incredibly embarrassing, and incredibly popular, blog about her since before she was born. Hundreds of thousands of perfect strangers knew when Imogene had her first period. Imogene's crush saw her "before and after" orthodontia photos. But Imogene is fifteen now, and her mother is still blogging about her, in gruesome detail, against her will.
When a mandatory school project compels Imogene to start her own blog, Imogene is reluctant to expose even more of her life online...until she realizes that the project is the opportunity she's been waiting for to tell the truth about her life under the virtual microscope and to define herself for the first time.


I have never understood the world of mommy-blogs. To be perfectly honest, they creep me out. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who don't get why people blog about books either, but at least I don't have to talk about MY KIDS on the book blog. (I know I do occasionally but only briefly and I always ask permission first.) I was perfectly prepared going in to completely side with Imogene and not her mom. No surprises there, that is what happened. Meg is absorbed with her blog (the entries she writes are super obnoxious). It has taken over her life. She has lost sight of who her daughter is and what she wants. Every little thing they do revolves around the blog in some way. Imogene does not respond in the most mature manner to her mother's blogging. She is young and her voice definitely reflects that. At her school the 9th graders are still in junior high and not at the high school yet. She has had a fairly sheltered life which causes her to sound even younger. Her best friend Sage is the daughter of a blogger too. Her mom runs a vegan/organic eating blog. Sage rebels by gorging herself on junk food from the mall food court on a regular basis and eating sugar from any source she can get it. Together the girls launch their own blog to counteract their moms. Imogen grows a lot over the course of the book and discovers things about herself, her mom, and the complications of life. While Meg is an example of how not to deal with a teenage daughter, she really does love Imogen and they don't have a terrible relationship. The way their situation was resolved is believable and makes sense. My favorite character is Imogene's grandmother (Meg's mom) who lives with them. I really enjoyed the inter-generational interactions and conversations from this.

The book is an interesting inspection of online versus offline life, the motives people may have for sharing what they do online, and the benefits of unplugging it all for a little bit. There is also an interesting look at who is really more obsessed with social media, teens or their parents. All of this is good stuff even if it is not as well executed in places as it might have been. Mostly though it is a book about family and relationships. What I enjoyed the most were watching the interactions between the three generations of women in this family and how they loved each other despite their differences.  It is certainly worth a read if these are things that interest you and I am now interested in picking up Heasley's other novels.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

TTT: Books on Summer TBR


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

In Order of Release Day:

On the Fence by Kasie West (July 1)
The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson (July 15)

The Fire Wish by Amber Lough (July 22)
Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand(August)

Magnolia by Kristi Cook (August 7)
Courting Magic by Stephanie Burgis (August 12)

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins (August 14)
Fiendish by Brenna Yovanoff (August 14)

Greenglass House by Kate Milford (August 26)
The Fouteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm (August 26)

What releases are you anticipating this summer?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Minion

I read John David Anderson's Sidekicked last year and throughly enjoyed it. I was on the committee that shortlisted it for the Cybil's. I liked the shades of gray in the story and the attempt to look at the good and evil combined in each person. The companion novel, Minion, has all of this and I liked it even  more. 

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

Synopsis:
Michael Morn might be a villain, but he's really not a bad guy. When you live in New Liberty, known across the country as the City without a Super, there are only two kinds of people, after all: those who turn to crime and those who suffer. Michael and his adoptive father spend their days building boxes—special devices with mysterious abilities—which they sell to the mob at a price. They provide for each other, they look out for each other, and they'd never betray each other.
But then a Super comes to town, and Michael's world is thrown into disarray. The Comet could destroy everything Michael and his dad have built, the safe and secure life they've made for themselves. And now Michael and his father face a choice: to hold tight to their life or to let it unravel.

There are those moments in your life, you know, when the last screw is tightened and the green light flashes and you realize that your whole worldview is a loose thread dangling from the blanket you've wrapped so tight around you. And somebody's gotten ahold of that one thread and is starting to pull. And most of you wants to tug back. To stay warm. To stay safe. To keep things as they were.

And then part of you wants to watch it unravel. Just to see how far it will go.

You will find this on the first page of Minion. I knew I would love this book from the moment I read this because it just nails it perfectly. Who hasn't felt this way at least once in their life? And who amongst us didn't experience this or something very similar to it in our early teens. It perfectly sums up that whole time of your life. It makes this book, and its main character, Michael, relatable. The book is all about Michael. Minion doesn't have as much action sequences as Sidekicked did, though they are still there. This is more about Michael figuring out who he is and where he stands in the world. He has been involved in many criminal activities. His best friend is a henchman for a crime boss. His father supplies questionable inventions to the same crime boss. Michael assists both of them. But Michael has some very strong opinions on the world and how he wants to live his life in it, and when confronted with hard choices and obstacles, he proceeds with a determination and bravery that is commendable if not always perfectly right. 

Like Sidekicked, Minion is not a typical super-hero tale. It is even less of one really. The super-hero and his sidekick make very few appearances in this. Anderson has highlighted an interesting concept in doing that. What makes a true hero? Who are the everyday heroes in life? The ones that try to do what is right even when it is hard? These questions are all explored and Anderson does it in an interesting and fun way. 

You do not have to read Sidekicked to read Minion. They are set in the same world but are two entirely separate stories with different characters. Both are good, but they are different. I do think most readers who enjoy fantasy and super-hero stories will be happy to read either one. 

I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Walden Pond Press, via Edelweiss. Minion will be on sale June 24th.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Matter of Souls

I received a copy of A Matter of Souls by Denise Lewis Patrick at ALA Midwinter, a signed copy after I met the author. I'm going to confess that I shelved it and forgot about it after returning until I unpacked it this past week after moving. I was reminded of the #weneeddiversebook campaign and decided the weekend of the 48 Hour Book Challenge was the perfect time to read it. I feel so bad for having neglected it for this long, but I feel even worse that I didn't see much buzz about it to remind me. WHY are more people not talking about this book???? 

Synopsis:
From the shores of Africa to the bowels of a transatlantic ship to a voting booth in Mississippi to the jungles of Vietnam, all human connection is a matter of souls. In this stirring collection of short stories, Denise Lewis Patrick considers the souls of black men and women across centuries and continents. In each, she takes the measure of their dignity, describes their dreams, and catalogs their fears. Brutality, beauty, laughter, rage, and love all take their turns in each story, but the final impression is of indomitable, luminous, and connected souls.

A Matter of Souls is a collection of short stories. This is a format we don't see enough of in YA and these stories are so well written. Patrick has a way with words, pulling the reader into the story in just a few and holding them with the characters she has created. Each setting unique and yet not as they all center around the same basic theme and struggle. Each character is unique and their struggle, while familiar in general is unique to that person. Patrick gives each story equal glory. There is sadness in these pages. Heaps and heaps of it. There is death and darkness and the worst humanity as to offer. There is also life and hope and the struggle for more and better. There are glimpses of the better humanity sometimes attempts to strive for as well. 

I really appreciate how the title and the final story ties the whole together. Every story anywhere is really a matter of souls and Patrick does an excellent job of illustrating that and the interconnectedness of all. The book makes an excellent resource for anyone teaching US History or creative writing, but needs to be talked of more simply because it is an amazingly good and powerful book. Read it. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Homeward Bounders

I am still making my way through Diana Wynne Jones's backlist. I probably wouldn't have read The Homeward Bounders for a long time to come as it's currently out of print in the the US (except as an e-book) if it weren't for a conversation on Twitter I had with Sage Blackwood in which she said she heard some consider it to be a metaphor for life as a military kid. My interest level rose exponentially and she was kind enough to send me an old used library copy to read. (Much thanks for that.)

This book, like all of Jones's books, has had many covers. I'm using the latest UK cover because I really like these covers for her books.

Synopsis:
"You are now a discard. We have no further use for you in play. You are free to walk the Bounds, but it will be against the rules for you to enter play in any world. If you succeed in returning Home, then you may enter play again in the normal manner." When Jamie unwittingly discovers the scary, dark-cloaked Them playing games with human's lives, he is cast out to the boundaries of the worlds. Only then does he discover that there are a vast number of parallel worlds, all linked by the bounds, and these sinister creatures are using them all as a massive gamesboard. Clinging to Their promise that if he can get Home he is free, he becomes the unwilling Random Factor in an endless game of chance. Irresistible Diana Wynne Jones fantasy adventure, featuring an insect-loving shapeshifter, an apprentice demon hunter and a whole host of exotic characters clinging to the hope that one day they will return Home.

The Homeward Bounders unfolds slowly. For the first part of the novel Jamie is all alone simply telling his story about how he came to be a Homeward Bounder and the way the worlds work. As he tells his tale little things about Them (the players) are revealed, and what is revealed is rather chilling. They have no regard for lives. They are ruthless in pursuit of the game they are playing. The game they are playing is us and our lives. And the lives of countless other beings in countless other worlds. We are all pieces on a giant board game helped along by computers and players (the identity of who is a brilliant reveal). Who hasn't wondered about that at some point in their life? This is the sheer genius of Diana Wynne Jones, taking the things everyone ponders and expanding on them and turning them into a brilliant story. Jamie is thrust out of his world after discovering the game. A "discard", he is forced to wander the worlds in search of home. He is alone for a great deal of his search and that loneliness comes off the page and affects the reader. Finally Jamie is able to find some companions. Helen is special in her world, but has been exiled because she also discovered too much.   Joris is a demon hunter apprentice, a slave with so much devotion he was dragged into life as a Homeard Bounder by a demon he refused to let go. These three are misfits and they form a strong if somewhat squabble team. A team that doubles when they are able to convince some actual non-Bounders of what is going on. But of course, this can't last forever. They are not going to allow them to remain together without a fight. I really enjoyed Jamie as a character all alone, a wander traveling the worlds. And I loved his interactions with the family he cobbles together from the people he meets. Helen and Adam are particularly fun to watch him with.

The Homeward Bounders is tragic, far more so than a lot of Jones's books are. It is a sort of tragic that is full of purpose though. The trials are not for nothing and the people suffering them learn to adjust, though it leaves scars and yearnings they will never shake. Yes, I can see why some people have likened it to life as a military brat. There were some sentences that made me cry because, yes, they do describe the feelings you have, the feeling that home is a place out there somewhere if you could only just find it, but deep down you know you never will because you missed that chance. That your life is out of your control. That you form attachments only to have them ripped away from you so why bother forming them at all anymore. There is something utterly profound in the conclusion of the book that relates as well. The lack of choice the Bounders have about how long they stay in one place (but they do know approximately how long it will be) and their lack of choice in where they end up next speaks to it as well. Whether Jones did this intentionally or not, I can't help but wish I had this book growing up.

The Homeward Bounders is not a book everyone is going to like, but it is perfect for me. I think it is one of Jones's best actually. It doesn't have the charm and quirk of Chrestomanci, Howl, or Derkholm, but it still has a sly and ironic humor that keeps it from being too tragic. And in the end it really is a beautiful story that is brilliantly crafted.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

TTT: Top Ten Books I've Read so Far in 2014


This week's TTT topic: Books Read so Far This Year

I have been having a really good reading year thus far, so this was a hard list to make, but in the end these are the ten books that won through.
Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier
Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson

The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

 
A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge
The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones (Review posts Thursday!)

Horizon by Jenn Reese
Moonkind by Sarah Prunes


The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
Nomad by R.J. Anderson

And a bonus favorite that I read in 2013, but that came out in January:
Jinx's Magic by Sage Blackwood

All these series I've loved so much that have come to an end this year, but boy are they ending well. I don't even want to think about how hard doing a top 10 at the end of the year will be.

What are some of your favorite reads of the year thus far?




Monday, June 9, 2014

Pointe

I never read any reviews for Pointe by Brandy Colbert because I knew I was going to read it no matter what and I have a policy against reading reviews of book I know I'll read so as not to be influenced. I had heard it was powerful. I had heard it was heartbreaking. I knew it had something to do with a kidnapping. Other than that I had no idea what I was getting into. Whoa. This book is a HARD read, and not only because it is about hard things. It's because Colbert gave us a protagonist with a voice that makes you feel her pain in every way. 

Synopsis:
Theo is better now.
She's eating again, dating guys who are almost appropriate, and well on her way to becoming an elite ballet dancer. But when her oldest friend, Donovan, returns home after spending four long years with his kidnapper, Theo starts reliving memories about his abduction—and his abductor.
Donovan isn't talking about what happened, and even though Theo knows she didn't do anything wrong, telling the truth would put everything she's been living for at risk. But keeping quiet might be worse.


Theo is a dancer with tremendous potential. She is a daughter with two loving and supportive parents. She is a friend who cares and strives to be compassionate and helpful. She is a broken girl whose life was shattered and the saddest part is she doesn't see exactly HOW it was shattered. She knows it was, but she mistakes it for something it wasn't and therefore has never dealt with it. And that is what Pointe is essentially about. It is a book about a girl who think a thing about herself and important people in her life that is a lie. It affects her behavior in everything she does. (Other than ballet which is her happy place.) This is a story about a broken girl having to realize how she was broken and who broke her, and how she can be mended. I'm not entirely comfortable using exactly those words, because obviously people are not vases. It's more complicated than that, but those words convey enough without giving too much away. Colbert pulls the reader into Theo's story with a deft hand. Hints are given here and there. The story circles around and gives pieces of Theo's story a piece at a time as she confronts them. It is not easy reading this and seeing how she thinks of herself and the actions she is driven to at times in search of a feeling to make it all better. She is a character you can empathize with and whose story should make your heart break. I love the journey she went through in this book and the hard subject matter it dealt with. The way it all came together in the end was thoroughly satisfying to me. I like when a book deals with harsh realities, but doesn't leave out hope for the future and recovery.

I'm keeping this short, not because I didn't truly love this, but because I think it is one of those that needs to be experienced rather than read about. There are going to be people who take issue with some of the things in this book, but the truth is it confronts a topic that needs confronting and confronts it with unflinching realism. It is worth it for that.

Content Warning: Underage Drinking; Recreational Drug Use; Some Sexual Content; Possible Triggers

Sunday, June 8, 2014

48 HBC Final Update

I stopped counting time after my last update. I figured I would barely make 12 hours at the rate I was going so why not just sit back and enjoy? So I did. I had a lovely day exploring the shores of Lake Michigan with my family and reading as much as I could. Here's a summary of the rest of the books I was able to get in. I finished 6.5, just shy of my goal of 8.

What I read:
My review on Goodreads
Review coming next Saturday. (WHY ARE MORE PEOPLE NOT TALKING ABOU THIS BOOK???)



Saturday, June 7, 2014

48 HBC Update 2

And so ends the second quarter and first half of my participation in the 48 Hour Book Challenge. I did need to get some a lot of sleep, but here is what I was able to read:

Review will post on Monday.

An adult novella to give me some recovery time after Pointe. Goodreads review here.

I read the first quarter of The True Meaning of Smekday and am going to finish it now.

I'm trying not to focus on how sad my numbers are going to look in comparison to my numbers from last year. (Last year I was awesome.) But I really did underestimate how exhausted and ready to crash the move would leave me this first weekend of relaxation in weeks.

The Numbers for this Round:
Reading: 2 hours 45 minutes (350 pages)
Reviewing: 35 minutes
Social Media: 15 minutes



Friday, June 6, 2014

48 HBC First Update

Happily reading away. Here are the books I've finished in the first 12 hours:
Review here on Goodreads

Review coming June 16th!

I'm halfway through Pointe by Brandy Colbert now and it is more intense than I thought it would be not having read any reviews of it since I knew I was going to read it no matter what. I'm taking a break to blog because my brain and heart need it.

Totals so far:
Reading: 4 hours 25 minutes (695 pages)
Review Writing: 25 minutes
Social Media: 25 minutes

Not bad considering in the last 12 hours I've also cooked a meal, took my kids to the pool for 2.5 hours, and went to the grocery store.