Tuesday, September 30, 2014

TTT: Books That Were Hard for Me to Read


This week's TTT topic: Books That Were Hard for Me to Read

This can be interpreted several ways. I'm choosing to highlight books that were hard for me to read due to subject matter and/or because they put me outside of my comfort zone, but that I'm so glad I did.











Monday, September 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 Fire Wish by Amber Lough
Nuts to You by Lynn Rae Perkins
Stray by Elissa Sussman
Sway by Kat Spears
The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye
Winterspell by Claire Legrand

Adult Books (links to reviews on Goodreads):
Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare
The Comeback of Conn MacNeill by Virginia Kantra
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare
The Passion of Patrick MacNeill by Virginia Kantra
Practice Makes Perfect by Julie James
Private Politics by Emma Barry
Special Interests by Emma Barry
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
The Temptation of Sean MacNeill by Virginia Kantra
A Week to Be Wicked by Tessa Dare

****KNOW that if they were available at Book Depository (which is where I get Giveaway books) Emma Barry's Private Politics and Special Interests would be included below because they are FANTASTIC. If you have an e-reader and like good smart romance about smart people with great chemistry and dialogue, BUT THEM.****

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

Links to my reviews unless otherwise noted.

The City in the Lake by Rachel Neumeier
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Greenglass House by Kate Milford
The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge

The Magic Thief: Home by Sarah Prineas*
The Perilous Sea by Sherry Thomas*

Poisoned Apples by Christine Hepperman
Something Real by Heather Demetrio's


The Story of Owen by E.K. Johnston
Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols

The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud*
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

GIVEAWAY Rules

*Indicates later books in a trilogy or series. If you are wanting to begin with the first book and you win, I will allow you to choose that as your prize.

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 if you do.)
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 Monday, October 6 at 8:00 PM EDT.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Shorter Musings: Contemporary YA

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 a few good YA Contemporary romances I've read recently.



Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally
I read my first Miranda Kenneally book (Things I Can't Forget) back in December. I've been meaning to read the other ones ever since, but it took so long because I had a feeling this would not be as much of a book that I would love. I just don't like football. At all. Despite that, I still found it to be mostly enjoyable. It has the feel of more of a starter book, the writing not as developed as it is Things I Can't Forget , but that is to be expected. I liked Jordan a lot. I liked her bravery and gumption. Her ability to fight for what she wanted, even if I didn't understand AT ALL why she wanted it. I'm excited about reading Stealing Parker soon.

Going too Far by Jennifer Echols
For whatever reason I had a harder time getting into this one than I have Echols' other novels. I still enjoyed it, but felt myself more distanced from the characters than I usually do in her novels. I wasn't completely convinced of either of their motivations for their behaviors which was a big part of the problem for me I think. I'm still looking forward to reading the rest of Echols' backlist though as I have pretty much LOVED everything else by her I've read.

Open Road Summer by Emery Lord 
I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I liked Reagan and thought her mixture of vulnerability, bravado, and snark were perfect. She and Matt have great chemistry and their romance is a lovely slow burn. Matt is a bit too perfect of a character to seem real at times but I did enjoy the flirting between the two of them. I wish there had been a bit more evidence of the friendship between Reagan and Dee. I also felt there were parts that really dragged. And since the romantic misunderstanding is one that is a pet peeve of mine the ending was a bit frustrating for me. It is a fun read though and great for people who love romance, music, and road trips.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place

With a title like The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, the cover, and the synopsis, there was no way I wasn't going to read this new book by Julie Berry despite not always liking her previous titles. Well, I liked this one quite a lot. It is so much fun. 

Synopsis: 
There's a murderer on the loose—but that doesn't stop the girls of St. Etheldreda's from attempting to hide the death of their headmistress in this rollicking farce. 
The students of St. Etheldreda's School for Girls face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at Sunday dinner. Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home—unless these seven very proper young ladies can hide the murders and convince their neighbors that nothing is wrong. 


This is the second MG book I've read this year involving a mystery over a short period of time in a house with many residents. I LOVE these sorts of books. If this is a new trend, I'm all on board. Keep them coming. All the members of the Scandalous Sisterhood are wonderful characters. They each have their own very distinct personality and voice. Berry wisely uses a descriptor before each of their names, but that becomes unnecessary after the first third of the book as they are not at all hard to tell apart. Their ringleader Kitty was my favorite, as I'm fairly sure she's meant to be, but all the girls are likeable in their own ways while also having enough flaws to make them human. There is a large cast of characters. In addition to the girls there is an entire town's worth of people from the minister to the doctor to the hired help to the old Admiral who is a neighbor to the mysterious young men in town with whom the girls must contend. With all these and two dead bodies, the girls are quite overwhelmed. One can see how they arrive at the decision to hide the murders, and at the same time, see how it could never possibly work. The book takes on a humorous tone because the reader gets to watch as the girls lose control and everything inevitably unravels. 

The mystery is actually quite good. There were aspects of it that I figured out, but others took me completely by surprise. There is one glaring plot inconsistency that bothered me, but I'm willing to overlook due to how much fun the rest of the book was. It isn't always fast moving despite the dead bodies and the humor. There is a lot of sitting around and discussing what's to be done and who knows what. This is the sort of book that requires a patient reader who doesn't mind waiting for the pay-off. The humor is subtle but there are some truly hysterical scenes. I thoroughly enjoyed myself while reading it. 

The age for this is definitely upper MG and would appeal to YA audiences too. 

I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Roaring Book Press, via NetGalley. The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place has a release date of September 23rd. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

TTT: Books on My Fall TBR


This week's TTT topic: Books on my Fall TBR List

My fall reading is going to mostly consist of reading for the Cybils. So in reality my TBR for fall is going to consist of the book in the list of nominations that start October 1st in the category of Elementary and MG Speculative Fiction. But that doesn't mean I won't have time for other books too and I hope to fit all these in.

 

Carolina Blues by Virginia Kantra (October 7) 
Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson (October 7)

 

Thursdays with the Crown by Jessica Day George (October 7) 
Exquisite Captive by Heahter Demetrios (October 7)

 

Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch (October 14) 
Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand (October)

 

Empire of Shadows by Miriam Forster (November 4)
Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier (November 4)

 

The Map to Everywhere by Carrie Ryan and John Park Davies (November 4) 
Princess of Thorns  by Stacey Jay (November 4) 

What are you looking forward to reading this fall? 



Monday, September 22, 2014

Chocolate Book Meme

Chocolate and books are my two favorite things. (Outside of the people in my life of course.) When I saw this post on Chachic's Book Nook, I knew it was something I had to do too as it combines my two great loves.

Dark Chocolate: a book that covers a dark topic (abuse, domestic violence, rape, loneliness, bullying, death, etc.) 
Melina Marchetta is definitely the first author I think of when I think of someone who writes these books well. I love all of her realistic books: Looking for Alibrandi, Saving Francesca, Jellicoe Road, and The Piper's Son. (Saving Francesca is my favorite. I know, I'm strange. Everyone else's favorite is Jellicoe Road.)

White Chocolate: your favorite lighthearted/humorous read
I can't thing of humorous books without To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis jumping into my mind. Julia Quinn's novels also come immediately to mind, particularly her first five Bridgerton books (those five are my favorites of hers).

Milk Chocolate: a book that has a lot of hype that you're dying to read
This is a hard one for me. Hype usually turns me off a book rather than making me want to read it, and I'm fortunate enough to read so many books in advance and have access to an excellent library that I don't have to wait long to read books. So for this I'm choosing two 2015 releases already garnering talk that I can not wait for: Shadowscale by Rachel Hartman and Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein.

Chocolate with a Caramel Center: a book that made you feel all gooey in the middle while you were reading it
No one makes me have that feeling better than Laura Florand, who writes romance centering around chocolate and French desserts. She deserves to be on this list more than anyone. :)

Wafer Free Kit-Kat: name a book that surprised you lately
Emma Barry's books Special Interests and Private Politics. I knew they were contemporary romance novels set in Washington D.C. and centering around politics, which is what attracted me to them, but I was unprepared for how smart and funny they are. This is now one of my favorite series and I'm really looking forward to the third book.

Snickers: a book you are going nuts about
Books I can't stop talking/thinking about that I've read lately are: Greenglass House by Kate Milford and The Perilous Sea by Sherry Thomas.

Hot Chocolate with Cream and Marshmallows: what book would you turn to for a comfort read?
The Queen's Thief books by Megan Whalen Turner. ALWAYS. Most people wouldn't find these "comforting" maybe, but to me they are. They are the best hot chocolate made with dark chocolate, slightly bitter but still sweet and they stick with you long after you've finished them.

Box of Chocolates: what series have you read that you feel has a wide variety and a little something for everyone
I'm changing this from series to author and saying Diana Wynne Jones. She wrote so many books and though they are all fantasy, they cover a great deal of sub-genres. And I think that even die-hard realistic fiction readers could find at least one of her books to love.

What do you think of my choices?

It's your turn now! If you participate let me know so I can read your post.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson is the THIRD collection of poems in novel length I've read and enjoyed this year. I may have to revise my "I hate verse books" stance if this keeps up. It's been a very good year for them.

Brown Girl Dreaming is a collection of poems about her childhood Woodson wrote. It begins with her birth and goes through about 5th grade and chronicles her early years in South Carolina and her elementary years in New York City. Both southern and northern city girl, Woodson's poems reflect her desire for a home and place, but the pull of two and not really belonging fully to either. As she was born in 1963, the book is set agains the backdrop of Civil Rights, Black Panthers, and Vietnam. There are difficult themes and scenarios explored, but all through the view of her child's eyes, making them easy for child readers to relate to and understand. In giving the world her story, she has opened a window on the time period, but also given us all a window into how a child perceived it. It is excellent and very well done.

What struck me most about the poems was Woodson's use of imagery. The places she is are so well described you feel like you are actually there. Her talent for imagery and description extends itself to the people around her so that I felt like I actually knew them and could picture them plainly in front of me. The book made me cry and laugh. I do think it is a little long, but since it is poetry it is still a rather quick read.

The long list for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature was released this week and it is no surprise that Brown Girl Dreaming is on it.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Not in the Script

Not in the Script is a book I was so excited to read because I love these types of story lines about people with lives so different from your own that seem glamorous and fun. I was also nervous because I like to feel like even when these stories are showing me a fantasy life, I want them infused with some realism. Also I didn't want to dislike the book because I think Amy Finnegan is a lovely person and that always gets awkward. Fortunately, I did like it and spent a wonderful afternoon soaking in all its fun fluffy romance (with some substance-just like I wanted)!

Synopsis:
Millions of people witnessed Emma Taylor’s first kiss—a kiss that needed twelve takes and four camera angles to get right. After spending nearly all of her teen years performing on cue, Emma wonders if any part of her life is real anymore . . . particularly her relationships.
Jake Elliott’s face is on magazine ads around the world, but his lucrative modeling deals were a poor substitute for what he had to leave behind. Now acting is offering Jake everything he wants: close proximity to home; an opportunity to finally start school; and plenty of time with the smart and irresistible Emma Taylor . . . if she would just give him a chance.When Jake takes Emma behind the scenes of his real life, she begins to see how genuine he is, but on-set relationships always end badly. Don’t they? Toss in Hollywood’s most notorious heartthrob and a resident diva who may or may not be as evil as she seems, and the production of Coyote Hills heats up in unexpected—and romantic—ways.

I really like both Emma and Jake. Emma is a focused actress and diligent student. She has made several poor choices in her dating life over the years, going out with guys who are egomaniacs and end up cheating on her. Unfortunately for her, her dating mistakes are broadcast all over the country courtesy of her being a famous actress. But despite haven a very grown up job, Emma is still only 18 and learning her way in the world. She grew up with the spotlight on her. She is down to earth and lives a fairly normal life with great parents who support her, but the Hollywood lifestyle still has its affects and makes her life difficult. Jake is a model who is taking on his first acting role so that he can stay in one place long enough to go to college. It's his life long dream to go into business. He is a devoted son, good friend, and genuine nice guy. He too has faults though, makes mistakes, and is young. I loved how genuine both of them are. They act exactly how I imagine kids their age who already have careers to manage and juggle with life would act if they were mature responsible human beings. It's great. Together they are even better. Often at ease with each other, but with exactly the right amount of sexual tension. It was lovely watching their relationship develop and seeing them come to terms with what they want. I also love the dialogue int his book and the easy banter between these two characters especially. 

There is a fair bit of drama. This is to be expected. It's a story about actors after all. I think Finnegan did a masterful job of making this drama realistic and never too cliche. I particularly like how she handled the characterization of both secondary female characters and their relationships with Emma. I typically don't like stories where there is more than one guy romantically interested in the main female character, but felt Finnegan handled that aspect well too. I love that Emma, star though she was, also had the ability to be star struck. I also felt that Brett's level of manipulation was perfectly conveyed, but that even he wasn't completely a villain. All the characters here have nuance and substance. 

This is a fun book. If you like contemporary romance, definitely pick it up.

I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Bloomsbury Children US, on NetGalley. The release date for Not in the Script is October 7, 2014. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Cybils Judges Announced

The Cybils Judges in all categories were announced today. I'm so happy to be a part of this process again in Round One Elementary and MG Speculative Fiction. It was such a wonderful experience last year and I love every thing about this process and the award.


My Fellow Panelists:

Rana at Reader Noir

Sherry at Semicolon

Maureen at By Singing Light 



Charlotte at Charlotte's Library

I'm looking forward to working with these ladies to make a short list out of the dozens to hundreds of books that will be nominated. That is where you can play a part in this process. Nominations for books will open on October 1st. Be ready!



Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Crossover

I have said before I don't love verse novels. Do you know what I love even less? Basketball. Not a  fan. Not even a little bit. With those two things working against it, I really didn't want to read The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. But it's getting a lot of award buzz so I finally (rather petulantly) picked up a copy. Ahem. This book is AMAZING. I loved it. This is why we should always stretch ourselves to read even those things that we don't think are "our type" of books.

Josh Bell
is my  name.
But Filthy McNasty is my claim to fame
Folks call me that
'cause my game's acclaimed,
so downright dirty, it'll put you to shame.
My hair is long, my height's tall.
See, I'm the next Kevin Durant, 
LeBron, and Chris Paul.

Josh's voice. It is so perfect. The book isn't entirely blank verse, as you can see from the above. It is a combination of several different styles and types, but what they all have in common is Josh's voice. His voice which is so real, vulnerable, confused, cocky, angry, resentful, giddy, and everything that is perfect 13 year old boy. Josh is a star basketball player, twin to another star basketball player, son of a former basketball Olympian and a middle school assistant principal, and an eighth grader. Through each poem that tells of the few months of Josh's 8th grade basketball season, the reader is given a clear picture of Josh and every detail of his life, thoughts, and feelings. Few words are used but reams of information and emotion are conveyed. I could read and read it over and over and always find new things to be in awed of. I wanted to read it again promptly upon finishing and I haven't experienced that urge in quite some time. It's blowing my mind that I experienced it over a verse novel about basketball.

The book is about basketball. There's a lot of basketball in it. It is also a story about brothers, change, and the power of family. But don't let anybody tell you it's not a sports book. It is. And you know what? Even if you're not a sports fan, it doesn't matter. Excellence is excellence, and this book is excellent. The basketball is essential and provides a great deal of the metaphor in the book, but it is also really, like all MG books, a story about growing up, facing change, and how one's relationships alter and are affected by growing up (particularly when members of the opposite sex are involved). Josh's twin, JB, has a girlfriend for the first time. He's less interested in basketball and doing things with Josh. Josh is angry. Their father is clearly suffering from heart problems but refuses to go to the doctor. Josh is worried. All of this is set against the backdrop of the basketball season. It's a short read, but a powerful one.

The prose is excellent in terms of imagery and evoking thoughts and feelings. For example:
The gym is a loud crowded circus.
My stomach is a roller coaster.
My head, a carousel..
The air, heavy with the smell
of sweat, popcorn,
and the sweet perfume 
of mother's watching sons.

I could quote so much, but then there would be no reason for you to go and find a copy of your own to read which you must do. Now.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Story of Owen

I waited too long to read this book. Seriously. When it came out back in March, I was intrigued. Many people I trust said read this. It's good. Why did I wait so long? The Story of Owen  by E.K. Johnston is a perfect blend of myth, reality, sly humor, and exhilarating action-adventure.

Synopsis:
Listen! For I sing of Owen Thorskard: valiant of heart, hopeless at algebra, last in a long line of legendary dragon slayers. Though he had few years and was not built for football, he stood between the town of Trondheim and creatures that threatened its survival. There have always been dragons. As far back as history is told, men and women have fought them, loyally defending their villages. Dragon slaying was a proud tradition. But dragons and humans have one thing in common: an insatiable appetite for fossil fuels. From the moment Henry Ford hired his first dragon slayer, no small town was safe. Dragon slayers flocked to cities, leaving more remote areas unprotected. Such was Trondheim's fate until Owen Thorskard arrived. At sixteen, with dragons advancing and his grades plummeting, Owen faced impossible odds armed only with a sword, his legacy, and the classmate who agreed to be his bard. Listen! I am Siobhan McQuaid. I alone know the story of Owen, the story that changes everything. Listen!

As the title implies, this is the story of Owen, a teenage dragon-slayer-in-training who helps guard the small town of Trondheim from dragons while trying to pass Algebra. Yet this isn't just the story of Owen. In fact, it isn't even mostly the story of Owen. It is really the story of Siobhan, the gifted musician who Owen encounters on his first day at his new school when they are both late for English. Like it was fated. Except not that kind of fated. Siobhan's talent makes her the perfect partner for Owen. Even though the tradition has long since died, every good dragon-slayer needs a good bard and Owen and Siobhan are about to resurrect the art. Siobhan is the one telling this story, in a voice that is both straightforward and trickily slides away from the telling the whole truth at the same time. The Siobhan telling the story is telling it from somewhere in the future. The writing is well done and has a dry wry wit that is subversive and oh so well balanced. I like both Siobhan and Owen, but I really like their partnership and how we see it unfold and grow. Their loyalty towards each grows in a natural way as the book progresses as does the strength of their companionship. And I love that is all their relationship is. I hope it stays that way in the future volumes.  I love romance and am hopeful that there will be some eventually, but not between the two of them. One other thing I appreciated about both of them is that they are not super-heroes. They are kids who are talented yes, but who work at what they are good at to make themselves even better. And they work hard. I also really liked the supporting cast of characters, particularly Owen's aunts, Lottie and Hannah. I do feel that Siobhan is lacking in emotional depth enough that she kept me too removed from the story. I think that is probably due to the device of her being a bard and telling the story from the future, carrying we only know what baggage, wounds, and heartache. But it felt as though she didn't feel strongly enough about anything or anyone. Even the descriptions of her music have a vaguely detached air (which makes a bit more sense at the end), but the effect of all that was I wanted to know everyone and feel this story more deeply than I did. That is my one and only complaint though.

The world-builiding here is excellent. It is our world set in modern times with all our modern gadgets and technology. The difference? Dragons. Dragons have been a scourge on humanity in this alternate world for all of history but with the beginning of the age of modern industrialization they became an even bigger scourge. Dragons, you see, crave carbon fuels. It's like candy for them and they instinctively seek out anywhere they can find it. Cities with factories, roads with cars, water with boats, if you are anywhere these things are chances are you will be attacked by a dragon. The political ramifications of this are so well done, and Johnston raises so many provocative questions about our own world and how things are managed through them. Siobhan, Owen, his family, and some of their friends are trying to change the way the world works, but change does not come easy or free. I enjoyed how the world-building was so detailed throwing in so much history, not only maintaining my interest as a reader, but heightening it. It is also through the world-building that the major themes are developed. One thing that is highlighted is how easy media and history are to manipulate and I appreciated that aspect particularly. Siobhan is not just there to be a cheerleader for Owen, she is in charge of shaping perception not just about him, but dragon-slayers in general, and advancing the political and social causes their group deem important. It's fascinating stuff. 

The writing brings this world to vivid life. What I felt it was lacking in character emotion, it more than made up for in terms of top rate plotting. The humor in the book is dry and tongue-in-cheek, something else I truly appreciated.

I highly recommend this for all fans of fantasy, particularly if you enjoy a good Nordic tale retold. It has all the feel of Beowulf, while being set in the present time. Truly excellent. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Whispering Skull

I was a huge fan of The Screaming Staircase when it came out last year and couldn't wait to get my hands on the sequel, The Whispering Skull. Stroud brings his talent for eerie creepiness, mystery, and snarky humor to this latest edition and it is so much fun.

Synopsis:
In the six months since Anthony, Lucy, and George survived a night in the most haunted house in England, Lockwood & Co. hasn't made much progress. Quill Kipps and his team of Fittes agents keep swooping in on Lockwood's investigations. Finally, in a fit of anger, Anthony challenges his rival to a contest: the next time the two agencies compete on a job, the losing side will have to admit defeat in the Times newspaper.
Things look up when a new client, Mr. Saunders, hires Lockwood & Co. to be present at the excavation of Edmund Bickerstaff, a Victorian doctor who reportedly tried to communicate with the dead. Saunders needs the coffin sealed with silver to prevent any supernatural trouble. All goes well-until George's curiosity attracts a horrible phantom. 
Back home at Portland Row, Lockwood accuses George of making too many careless mistakes. Lucy is distracted by urgent whispers coming from the skull in the ghost jar. Then the team is summoned to DEPRAC headquarters. Kipps is there too, much to Lockwood's annoyance. Bickerstaff's coffin was raided and a strange glass object buried with the corpse has vanished. Inspector Barnes believes the relic to be highly dangerous, and he wants it found. 


In the six months since the first novel ended, Lockwood, George, and Lucy have made good on the reputation they established in the first book. They have been busy banishing ghouls and continuing to build their business. The plot of The Whispering Skull begins with a bet with their rival team at the Fittes Agency and springboards them into an even more intense and circuitous mystery than their last. There is a mysterious artifact that has disappeared into the London underworld that kills those who look at it, and it seems to have a startlingly hypnotic effect on George. The criminals who want the artifact are also killing for it, and the mysterious skull in the jar has finally decided to start talking to Lucy once again, its interest awakened by the mystery it knows too many details of. The mystery here was rather easy for me to solve, as with the first, but also like the first that was okay with me because it is all about the journey the characters take to get at the answer. The setting of this book is expanded as the team goes out across the city of London. There is quite a lot of adventure, danger, fighting, and narrow escapes as Anthony, Lucy, and George strive to solve the mystery before the evil object takes another life and it's one of their own. 

I enjoyed the way the characters grew and expanded in this book. After his performance in the first book, I was particularly happy to see Anthony falter a couple of times in this one. He made some mistakes and his thinking was wrong and off the mark on a couple of occasions. I was worried after the first book Stroud may turn him into one of those characters never allowed to fail, but he fills him in a little more in this book. Secrets Lockwood wants to bury come to light in this book too which I think is probably the set-up for the next book. It's fascinating and how it's revealed shows a lot about the growth of his character and his changing relationship with Lucy and George. George was given more of a role in this book too, a chance to be more than just a stock character to foil Lockwood and Lucy. Lucy's talent is growing and becoming something more and she has many mixed feelings about this. Her character, despite being the narrator, was the one I felt grew and filled out the least. I'm hoping that will change with the next book.

What makes this slightly better than the first book is the sly humor that is woven in it to it. I think it is so much more amusing and that the comic is there as relief against the drama in a much better way here.

Anyone who enjoyed the first book is sure to enjoy this one as well. I'm pretty invested in all theses characters now and am in this series until the end for sure.

I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Disney Hyperion, via NetGalley. The Whispering Skull has a release date of September 16th. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Wildlife

I have wanted to read Fiona Wood ever since people were talking about Six Impossible Things when it first came out. I waited impatiently for it to be picked up in America. And for some reason it still hasn't been. But I was more than happy to jump on the chance to read Wildlife instead. I'm happy to report that all the praise Wood received for her writing was well deserved, and I can only hope this being published in the US means Six Impossible Things has a chance now too.

Synopsis:
During a semester in the wilderness, sixteen-year-old Sib expects the tough outdoor education program and the horrors of dorm life, but friendship drama and an unexpected romance with popular Ben Capaldi? That will take some navigating.
New girl Lou has zero interest in fitting in, or joining in. Still reeling from a loss that occurred almost a year ago, she just wants to be left alone. But as she witnesses a betrayal unfolding around Sib and her best friend Holly, Lou can't help but be drawn back into the land of the living.


Wildlife is a character study. It focuses on two girls, Sibylla and Louisa, who are experiencing opposite phases of life. Lou is devastated after the death of her boyfriend, Fred. She was a happy, focused, and intelligent young girl with dreams and happiness pouring out of her. She knew who she was and was content in her world. Now her world has been shattered and her dreams left in pieces. She is still fiercely intelligent and owns who she is as a person. All her sadness, grief, anxiety, and fear are part of who she is now. At the same time she hasn't really stopped living. It's subtly there in the words she speaks to others, how she still engages in the world, looks at it with critical eyes, and is making plans for her future. Sibylla,on the other hand, is not and never has been really sure of who she is. Yes, she is smart, on the nerdy side, a girl who doesn't like parties or being the center of attention. But thanks to a one off modeling job and the social climbing plans of her best friend Holly, Sib has the chance to enter the world of cool kids she hasn't really been a part of before. Bound together by being assigned to the same house and through their mutual friendship with Michael, a new friend for Lou and Sib's oldest friend, the girls are drawn toward each other too. Through their stories Wood gives an accurate picture of the heartaches of growing up and the intricacies involved in navigating the minefield that is the high school social world while you're still trying to figure out who you are and what you want. 

Wildlife is not just a study of these two girls. Through them it is also a study of the people around them. Holly, Sib's best friend, is a conniving needy attention seeker who uses Sib and is just plain ugly to most everyone else. Yet you can also see how and why she is the way she is and how lost and vulnerable she is at the same time. Michael, the boy who is friends with both girls, is super smart, talented, and driven. He is a rock to both of them, but also has is points of weakness. Ben Capaldi, Sib's boyfriend, is the golden boy. He isn't as nuanced as the other characters, but I do like how he is so typically teenage boy. In fact, that is a plus for everyone in the book. They are very much teens, and through their eyes all the struggles, ridiculous choices, amazing intelligence, and thirst for the world that can be found in teens is exhibited.

Female sexuality and how teen girls are just as much sexual beings as their male counterparts is a theme that is important to this novel and explored well. Both Lou and Sib are (or have been) sexually active. This is another way in which the two foil each other. Lou's sexual relationship with her boyfriend was thought out, discussed, planned for. Sib is an example of how one can find oneself going from "we need to talk about this but I like how you make me feel even though I'm not really ready" to "whoa I just had sex". The conversations the other students have about everyone else's sex life is realistic as well.

I enjoyed Wildlife very much. While slow moving, it is a book that does characterization so well you feel you are drawn into their lives completely.

Content Warning: sex scenes only barely described, drugs and alcohol used by some at parties, strong language

I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Poppy, via Edelweiss. Wildlife's US release date is September 16th. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Magic Thief: Home

For fans of the Magic Thief series by Sarah Prineas, the latest installment, The Magic Thief: Home, is a much anticipated and highly welcome addition. It also has the potential to draw in new fans as a new chapter in Conn's life and the city of Wellmet begins. Whether readers are old fans or newly experiencing the magic for the first time, every reader of this book is in for a fantastically twisty tale of magic, mayhem, discovery, and intrigue. 

Synopsis:
Despite successfully securing a balance between the competing magics of Wellmet, Conn is not happy. Duchess Rowan has promoted him to ducal magister, but the other wizards see him only as a thief. But something sinister is brewing, as magicians’ locus stones are being stolen and magical spells are going awry. As Conn faces old enemies and powerful magical forces, is he strong enough to save the city he calls home?

Conn is a bit out of sorts since finishing with the magics of Wellmet, returning home, and having his magicalicus swallowed by a small dragon he calls Pip. Who is he? Where does he belong? What is he meant to do now? The magics in Wellmet are similarly out of sorts, competing for the power of the town. Conn is the best one to deal with the magics as he understands them best, but when he is in such turmoil himself, embroiled in another spree of crime, mystery, and intrigue he has to solve, it is difficult to stay focused. I loved the way the magics reflect and contrast Conn's own character. He is wild, not meant to be locked down, and hates being manipulated, but at the same time wants a purpose and stability. He thrives on danger. Of course, everyone who loves Conn just wants to protect him. Ro and Nevery feel the best way to do this is to make him the ducal magister but Conn is having none of that. Conn's stubbornness is familiar to older reader's of the series, as is his friends' exasperation with him. It has a different feel in this book though and is not just he same old story as the original trilogy. They've all grown a lot and are facing a new reality. Conn is starting to realize he needs help from time to time and relying on others is okay. The others are starting to realize trying to manage Conn is a lost cause, and one by one they fall to trusting him to do what must be done and do it well.

One of the great strengths of this series is how it highlights character and relationships so well, but does it simply through showing them in the context of a fast moving, exciting, and twisty plot. It is so subtle and yet you can not read these without coming away feeling connected to all these characters and seeing their strong connections to each other. I love the friendship between Conn and Ro, and how it is just a friendship. (Please, please, let that continue to be the case. And there are hints that it will continue to be the case, thank goodness. I like the direction of those hints a lot.) I love it when books can show a good male/female friendship that is nothing more than that. (Yes, they do exist!)

The story finds Conn yet again trying to prove he is not the gutter-boy thief he once was, but it is interesting that there are actually very few people who assume he is. There are some, as there will probably always be, but for the most part, he is trusted by those around him. The story is from his point of view, yet it is clear that he is still reacting to how people used to see him automatically rather than how they are reacting to him now. Conn's talents and spotted past are essential to unwinding the knot of magic and criminal acts being visited on Wellmet. This leads to some dangerous situations and a couple moments of peril that had me visibly trying to restrain myself from reacting since I was reading the book in public. All my emotions were fully engaged and that made for some fraught moments for my poor heart.

Fans of this series definitely do not want to miss this latest installment. It very nicely lends itself to new readers too. The necessary events from the previous books are included in clever ways that new readers will know what is going on, and old readers won't be bored reading a lot of information they already know. (It's also a nice refresher for those who may have forgotten.) At the same time, this is a new phase in Conn's life and the story reflects that. It isn't a continuation of the old story so much as the beginning of the next part of Conn's story. I do think new readers of the series will find themselves unable to resist going back and reading the first three.

I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Harper Children's, via Edelweiss. The Magic Thief: Home will be available September 16.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Isla and the Happily Ever After

I know I'm weeks behind everyone else in the blogging community in reading and reviewing Isla and the Happily Ever After. Better late than never? Honestly, it wasn't a huge priority for me as I liked but had some pretty serious issues with Perkins's prior two books. And I didn't want to have issues with this one. I liked Isla and I LOVED Josh in Anna and the French Kiss and was afraid this wouldn't live up to my expectations as the other two sadly hadn't. No worries on that score. This is definitely the best of the three in my opinion.

Synopsis:
From the glittering streets of Manhattan to the moonlit rooftops of Paris, falling in love is easy for hopeless dreamer Isla and introspective artist Josh. But as they begin their senior year in France, Isla and Josh are quickly forced to confront the heartbreaking reality that happily-ever-afters aren’t always forever.

I was destined to fall in love with this particularly story as Isla and Josh have the character dynamic I love in my romances, because it is one that reflects my own reality. Isla is a reserved, book reading, quiet, good girl. She studies and works hard, wanting to prove her worth to the people in authority over her. Josh, on the other hand, doesn't care so much to jump through hoops for the sake of proving he can. He knows he can. He also knows most of those hoops aren't necessary for what he wants to do in life so he finds ways to circumvent them. A lot of people perceive him to be lazy or a slacker for this. But Isla sees that he is actually brilliant. He is going to choose where and when and with whom to use that brilliance. She forces him to inspect his work and life from different more serious angles. He forces her out of her shell and into actual adventures rather than just book adventures. They fit together very well. 

I thoroughly enjoyed watching Isla and Josh's relationship unfold as it went from longing crush to flirting crush to actual relationship. I also appreciated the obstacles that were placed in their paths to happiness were real to life. They fit so well the struggles one has in senior year of figuring out life and where your next phase is going. Isla's responses and reactions to Josh fit with her characterization and the insecurities she felt. The one thing I wasn't completely convinced about was her choice in college. Still not real sure why she made that particular decision. (Other than Josh's proximity affecting it.) What I appreciated the most is that there is NO CHEATING in this book. YAY! This is all about Isla and Josh and the lives they are building and the demons each needs to deal with. It didn't require any other drama and I was relieved that there were no other romantic entanglements to deal with.

One thing that really did bother me, like it's driving me nuts bothered me is that Josh voted in his first election of his dad's reelection as Senator in November and then the Olympics were the following February. As in 3 months later. THAT'S NOT POSSIBLE. Those things both happen in the same year. I'm a person timeline matters for a lot and this is driving me crazy every time I think about it.

If you're a reader out there who didn't love Anna and Lola, I recommend you still give Isla and the Happily Ever After a try. The romance is wonderful, the city settings marvelous, and the characters real and vibrant.

Content Warning: Some sexual scenes with light description. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

My Year of Epic Rock WITH GIVEAWAY

When I saw My Year of Epic Rock by Andrea Pyros show up on NetGalley, I knew immediately that I had to read it. I love books about music, friendship, and fitting in. These are the type of realistic books that appeal to my daughter and her friends right now, and that I have no trouble selling to kids looking for recommendations. It is always nice to find one that is especially well done and is truly relatable to the kids who read it. I think My Year of Epic Rock is one of those for sure.

Synopsis:
How to survive the seventh grade? Make some Noise!
A funny relatable tale about friendship, first crushes and…anaphylactic shock?        
It’s the first day of seventh grade, and Nina already can’t wait for the year to be over. When her best friend ditches her to hang out with the popular new girl, Nina is forced to socialize with “her own kind”- banished to the peanut-free table with the other allergy outcasts.

Nina thinks she’s finally found her feet when she forms a band with the other allergic kids called the EpiPens. But then a whole new set of middle school mine fields head her way- like how to win her BFF back and what would happen if she finally kisses her crush for the first time after he’s just eaten a PB&J sandwich.

Nina's voice is spot on seventh grade girl. It is genuine in every way possible, as is Nina's journey of self-discovery through the rocky start of the school year. Who hasn't weathered the pain and heartbreak that comes from a friendship changing or ending due to the trials of growing up? It is a story so many people can relate to, and that a good deal of the target audience may be experiencing as they read this. Pyros does such a great job of depicting the emotions and confusion involved so well. I particularly liked this thought of Nina's: I felt like the way girls feel in songs when they sing about a boy leaving them. How come no one ever sings a song about a friend leaving you for a newer friend.? This had to hurt as much as a romance ending, right? Or maybe a guy breaking your heart was worse. In which case, remind me never, ever, to fall in love. Because losing your best friend IS as devastating if not more so, particularly at this age when everything feels like it is spinning out of your control anyway. What I really like about Nina's story, is that it is just her story. Readers may find in it that they are not alone and they may find some inspiration for making it through a similar situation, or it can be read just as an interesting look at this one girl's life and journey through middle school. Nina is also awkward, an ordinary student, makes some normal mistakes, and tries to make up for them the best way she knows how. She is incredibly easy to relate to, and yet her voice is also strong and so assuredly hers, that she comes across an actual real person in her own right. (Not so flat and lacking nuance that the reader can just insert themselves into her position.)

The cast of supporting characters is equally engaging. Nina's parents are supportive and active. They are typical parents who love, annoy, and embarrass their middle school daughter. She appreciates them for all these things. The other EpiPen members each have their own distinct personalities and contribute to the story as well. Some more than others, but as a team they are all essential. I also appreciated how the personalities of Brianna (the former best friend) and Shelly (the new super popular girl) are handled. They say some mean and snarky things as 7th grade girls are wont to do, but they are not superficially inflated into caricatures of middle school villains. I also love how diverse the cast of characters is, and how that diversity isn't remarked on, it just is. 

The book is mostly a school and friendship story that uses the plot of the band to move things along a set timeline. I do like the way the band stuff was handled. All of the kids come into it already knowing how to play their instruments. When they start out, they are terrible. They actually have to work hard and practice to be able to perform. There was no magic, "hey we're suddenly awesome" moment. And while their performance goes well, it is accompanied by the awkwardness and nerves typical of a middle school talent show. 

This is a novel I will be recommending to the kids I know who love these sorts of books, my own daughter being top on my list. She will definitely enjoy it. It is certainly one I would recommend having on hand in a school and classroom libraries. It is written in a way that the 4th-5th graders who want to read (and there will be lots) will be a able to, and at the same time middle schoolers will enjoy it and relate as well. 

GIVEAWAY: I'm giving away one paperback copy of My Year of Epic Rock courtesy of the publisher, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. This giveaway is restricted to US and Canada only.

Rules:
1) Leave a comment below saying why this book interests you.
2) Include a way I can reach you (email or twitter handle)
3) Giveaway closes at Sunday, September 7 at 8:00 PM EDT. Entries must be received by then.