Friday, August 28, 2015

Favorite YA Realistic Fiction Heroines

This is a continuation of the series of amazing heroine posts I've been doing throughout this year originally inspired by this post. These wonderful girls in YA Realistic fiction are in addition to Maddie Brodatt who made the original list of 10.

Clara Lemlich from Audacity by Melanie Crowder: I know Clara Lemlich is an actual historical person but this is a somewhat fictionalized look at her life though as based on fact as it could be as a novel. She was an amazing person and this book tells her story beautifully

Princess Goewin from A Coalition of Lions by Elizabeth Wein: Goewin is brilliantly strategic and gets stuff done working hard to protect the interests of her country and people during harsh times.

Taylor Markham (and Raffy) from Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta: Taylor is hard on the outside, but a hot gooey mess on the inside. Going with her on her journey to figure out her past and how it will connect with her future is heart wrenching but so worth it. And Raffy is the perfect foil and best friend that Taylor needs.

Theo from Pointe by Brandy Colbert: Theo has so much strength, but it's being tested under the harshest of conditions and she is learning how much she is capable of. And also when she needs to reach out for help. I love her story so much

Francesca Spinelli (and Justine, Tara, and Siobhan too) from Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta: *whispers* I actually like Francesca more than Taylor. Francesca is snarky, resentful, and stubborn. She is vulnerable and scared as her foundation for life is rocked by her mother's depression. The story of this one year of her life and all its ups and downs is one of the best I've read and is (strangely enough) a go to comfort read for me. Her three best friends balance her out in all the right ways, and the friendship the four of them have is my absolute favorite in all of YA realistic fiction. (Yes, it even beats Maddie/Julie for me though only barely.)

Rose and every single female character in Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein: Rose begins her story young exuberant innocent and full of ideals. She is broken in many ways by her captivity in Ravensbrück. Watching her put the pieces of herself slowly together again is almost as hard as reading the events that broke her apart in the first place. But so worth it. And every woman in this book has an important voice and story that needs to be heard.

Maya from This Side of Home by Renee Watson: Maya is proud, stubborn, smart, and angry at a lot of the changes happening in her neighborhood and the fallout she sees from that. Watching her navigate the changing landscape of her world and arrive at new conclusions about it and herself while staying true to who she is, is time well spent.

Sibylla and Louisa from Wildlife by Fiona Wood: Sibylla and Louisa are two very different girls facing two very different types of heartache. The way their stories intertwine and the unexpected things they learn from each other is truly wonderful.

Piddy Sanchez from Yaque Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina: Piddy's story is truly heartbreaking and all too real, but she is a character you want to wrap up and love and protect.

Here are the other posts in this series:
MG Speculative Fiction 
MG Realistic Fiction
YA Speculative Fiction

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

TTT: Books on my MG Lit Syllabus

This week's TTT topic: Books That Would Be On Your Syllabus If You Taught X  101
X=MG Literature

This is a mix of classic and new, award winning and popular (many are both) that I think would lead to excellent discussions and comparisons which is why I chose them.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Pocket Full of Murder

R.J. Anderson is one of my favorite authors. Being a voracious reader, I have a lot of authors I really like, but she is included in a special group of authors whose books I would scoop up in my arms if I was escaping my house in a disaster. They are all excellent and stand up to multiple rereads. Anderson has written books about (awesome) faerys and amazing girls in a mind boggling sci-fi duology. Her latest book, A Pocket Full of Murder,  is a MG magical murder mystery and it is a perfect book for me in every way possible.

Isaveth's family has fallen on hard times since her mother's recent death. Her father, a builder, lost a major job he was counting on and has fallen into despair. Her sister had to quit school to get a job in a sweatshop factory. Just when things begin to look better for the family and her father's commission is restored, a worse tragedy befalls them. When the man who had fired then rehired Isaveth's father is found dead by means of Common Magic, Isaveth's father is arrested. Isaveth knows her father is innocent, but she's not sure how to go about proving it. As she begins to investigate, she is joined by a street boy with an eye patch named Quiz who has eyes and ears all over the city and a knack for getting at information. Together they begin to try and discover the real murderer in a case that has too many suspects and disastrous consequences for both of them if they fail.

GAHHHHHH!!!!! I don't really know where I want to start with this. I have so much love for every part of this book, and my brain just keeps doing cartwheels and squealing LOVE LOVE LOVE. Trying to calm it down and act rationally is a challenge. I even waited a few days after finishing to give myself space so I could write this. But as soon as I started thinking about the book again, I got a rush of endorphins and lost control of my critical thinking skills. I will start with what I always love most, the characters, and hope my brain calms enough to cooperate.

Isaveth is smart, courageous, and stubborn. When her family is having hard times, she pulls down her mother's book of magic recipes and concocts spells to sell on the street to give them a little extra money. She has a passionate love for dramatic crystal set (radio) shows and writes fanfiction for it on any scrap of paper she can get  her hands on. She is perfecting her craft. Her imagination is vast and she's bursting with twelve year old idealism mixed with the harsh realities of the life she is living. She is desperate to free her father, and her headlong rush into investigating the crime causes her to stumble into unfortunate situations at times and make rash judgements and mistakes. This includes not listening to Quiz on the occasions when he tells her to slow down and think something through.

Quiz is no stranger to dashing into dangerous situations without thinking them through first himself though. He is also a bit of an adrenaline junkie who rides down hills at breakneck speeds and is prone to getting into sticky situations in defense of those who need defending. He is adorably awkward around Isaveth at times. When he's interacting with her sisters you can see how badly he longs for a regular family and normalcy. Together Isaveth and Quiz make a fantastic team. He can go places and get information she can't, and vice-versa. He is there to give her rides when she needs them and generally back her up when she's in a tough spot. And when the tables are turned and he is in the tough spot, she does the same for him. I have all these FEELINGS for both of them, separate and together. Feelings I will never be able to properly put into words.

The mystery is a good old fashioned mystery where there are clues that seem to lead to everywhere or nowhere, lots of suspects, and a few good twists. (Some of which I saw coming due to reasons I imagine will not be the case for the majority of the readers of this book.*) The ways in which Isaveth and Quiz find their information makes sense for the world they live in, and they are reliant on those older than them for crucial things. Isaveth's older sister plays a major part in helping them collect information. The way the mystery all came together in the end was fascinating and the resolution complex and layered, but simple to understand for the intended audience.

The world Anderson created for this book is one where society is split between nobility and those who are not. The nobility has a very specific sort of magic they use to keep the world running smoothly. Common Magic is for those not so privileged and was a hard won ability for the regular people. The city of Tarreton where Isaveth and Quiz live is divided. The common people are tired of being abused, underpaid, and unable to make decisions. Rebellion is whispered of and unrest is high. These political issues are an integral part of the story and woven into the texture of the character's lives perfectly. Religion plays a part in this as well. Isaveth's family are Moshites (very similar to real world Jewish faith) and therefore looked on as outsiders, if not dangerous dissenters. It's part of the reason her father makes such a perfect frame for murder. Anderson presents the religious and political aspects as part of everyday life important in different ways to different people and this makes the world she has built all the more realistic as a result.

I highly recommend this book to all lovers of mystery and fantasy of any age. There is something here to enjoy for everyone. I can not wait until my pre-ordered copy arrives so I can read it again. And so my daughter can read it because this is exactly the sort of book she adores.

*I saw some of the twists coming because I am a fan of the source material that was Anderson's inspiration. A HUGE fan actually. If you are completely unaware of what that source material is or anything about it, you have lots of surprises in store. I'm including this note for those of you who know what inspired this and love it as much as I do. I just want you to know that Anderson did an awesome job with that. It's a nice little treat for those of us who know and love that particular literary detective. (And if you don't know what I'm talking about, but want to, ask in the comments and I'll tell you. Not spoilers. Just what the source material is.)

I read an ARC made available from the publisher, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, via Edelweiss. A Pocket Full of Murder is on sale September 8th.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Cybils 2015

The call for judges at The Cybils has gone out! If you love reading and discussing books for children and teens, this may be just the place for you.

Why apply?

You meet some truly wonderful people.
Truly. Interacting with fellow book lovers on Twitter, Tumblr, and through blog comments is the best thing about blogging. Being a Cybils judge exposes you to people you may not have encountered before and blogs that weren't on your radar. You get to have lovely and passionate discussions about books with these people while getting to know them. Even when I have not agreed with my fellow panelists on certain books or elements of a book, I have always enjoyed the discussion and how gracious everyone is.

You get to read a lot of books.
Book bloggers love books. If we didn't, we wouldn't do what we do. I've read books because they were nominated for the Cybils that I might never have read otherwise. And some of those books have become all time favorites. This is especially true if you are a Round One judge.

There's a category for every interest.
Picture books. Novels. Fiction. Non-Fiction. Poetry. Graphic Novels. There is a category for whatever your kidlit passion happens to be. There's even a Book App category.

If all of this sounds like something you would enjoy, and you are able to make a commitment to the work involved, head on over and apply. I've been an Elem/MG Spec Fic Round One judge the past two years, and I highly recommend the experience.

It's the 10th Birthday of the Cybils too! They have a gorgeous updated graphic too.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

TTT: Auto-Buy Authors

This week's TTT topic: Auto-Buy Authors

I'm posting the cover of the most recent purchase or pre-order from the author I've made. Some of these authors have more books out than others, but even the ones who only a few books to their name have earned my trust enough that I will buy whatever they write next even if it's completely different.

I actually have more than 10 Auto-Buy Authors but I work hard to actually make these top ten lists so I had to think about whose books I would buy even if I had to sacrifice something else.

Who are your auto-buy authors?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Ash & Bramble

I have established that I love fairy tales and fairy tale retellings. You know what else I love? Books written by Sarah Prineas. Both her MG series are great favorites of mine. When she happened to mention on Twitter long ago that she was working on a YA, I followed closely eager to read whatever the result was. Ash & Bramble is a fabulous work of genius.

(I consider Sarah a friend as well as an author I love, and she sent me the ARC I'm reviewing here.)

Pin lives in the Godmother's fortress sewing clothes with the other seamstresses tasked with producing the beautiful one of a kind ballgowns the Godmother uses for her mysterious purposes. Pin has no memories of her life prior to the day she begins her work as a slave to the Godmother's will. Everything that came before is a blank nothing. While she has no memories, she is still a person with a will and a fierce defiance to live her own life. She gets a chance to plan an escape when she is used as a foot model for the shoemaker tasked with creating a glass slipper. Shoe has learned his lesson. He knows the cost of disobedience to the Godmother. Yet he still finds himself drawn to the daring seamstress and her plans for escape. But escape is not easy. The Godmother is impossible to outrun. Pin finds herself caught up in a whole new type of prison bound by the power of story and the drive for happily ever after. The more she fights, the more she feels trapped in a life that she doesn't want that leads to a prince, a clock at midnight, and a missing shoe. Her only possible means of escape lie in the devotion of a boy willing to risk himself to break her story and her own determination to decide her own destiny.

Ash & Bramble isn't so much a retelling as a complete shaking up and flipping around of the old fairy tales. And I was not exaggerating when I used the word genius, because much of this novel is dystopian in nature. And what world is better set up to be an actual dystopian hellscape than the world of fairy tales? (Really. Think about it.) While I will never get enough of fairy tales, my patience for dystopia is long gone, but the presentation of it here completely worked for me. I can not stress enough how well the two ideas work together and how brilliantly Prineas wove them into one. It's a commentary and celebration of both while also being an engrossing, moving, and satisfying tale in its own right. I really appreciated the way Prineas used the tropes of both types of stories to twist her own dark tale and highlight the themes.

Pin/Pen (she goes by both names) is a girl who wants to determine her own future, a goal she fiercely holds on to even when she has no sense of her past or even her own self. Her complete loss of memory and history make it difficult to connect with her as a reader at times, but it serves to make her sympathetic. The panic she feels over this is easily experienced by the reader who enters her world as clueless and searching for the familiar as she is. Pin's lack of memory does not leave her an empty vessel for the reader to use as a placeholder. She is very much her own person, which is part of what makes it difficult to get into her head. She is an enigma to both herself and the reader through much of the book. She has a lot of amazing qualities, but a lot of faults as well. Her headstrong stubbornness results in both positive and negative actions and motivations. Even in the end I felt like I was just getting to fully understand who she was, which works well because she is only just figuring that out, and there is still so much she doesn't know. While frustrating at times, it's perfect for the story being told. And I found myself loving her even when I wanted to yell at her about some of the choices she was making. I can see why she does what she does, and a lot of what she does is truly amazing. She has to be a leader and make hard choices that have mixed consequences. She makes mistakes and is not as careful with other people's feelings as she ought to be. She is also a true hero and steadfast friend. She is unlikeable at times (who isn't) and that only serves to make her more real.

The story here belongs just as much to Shoe as it does to Pin. He isn't as forceful as Pin. He isn't as flashily confident as the prince. He has a quiet strength and stubbornness that is just as important though, and it is his determination to see Pin free to make her own decisions that allows her do to the work of freeing herself. But she does the same thing for him too, giving him the courage to embrace freedom in the first place. At times he is hesitant and giving to a fault. They complement each other well. Their relationship develops under incredibly fraught circumstances. I liked the realism in that. Dangerous and stressful events tend to magnify and accelerate the development of feelings and relationships. There are a lot of complications thrown into it too including Pen's role in Story and her relationship with the prince. I know that so many people are going to instantly think "love triangle" and not want anything to do with this. That would be a mistake. Love triangle does not always necessarily equal terrible development. They can be done well, and in this case it is a trope that is fundamentally important to the ideas of choice and happily ever after Prineas is exploring and questioning through her story. The prince, Cor, is a loyal, brave, and dedicated person. He is also smart and able to question the reality of the world around him. He is often a little to oblivious to his privilege and inclined to demand his own way, but he has a good heart. I really loved the interactions between all three of them together too. They are working as adults in their world and in leading a rebellion, but they are also very much teenagers in dealing with their feelings.

The book's numerous secondary characters are all wonderfully rendered as well including the Godmother. I'm going to say little else about that to avoid spoilers, but I loved what Prineas did with her and the fairy tale concept of the Witch. The plot gives a nod to host of tales beyond the obvious reworking of Cinderella and catching them all was part of the fun of reading it.

My favorite part of Ash & Bramble was how it explored the power of ideas, words, and Story. I always love it when books do that and do it well which this one does. I loved the dark twists that took and the ambiguousness of what was right and wrong in some of those cases. It is complicated and a lot of it left open to interpretation with unanswered questions. Yet it also has hope and looks to the future.

Ash & Bramble is everything I want in a fairy tale retelling and in books in general.

I read an ARC received from the author. Ash &Bramble is available for purchase on September 15th.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

WoW: A Tangle of Gold

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

Cello is in crisis. Princess Ko's deception of her people has emerged and the Kingdom is outraged: The Jagged Edge Elite have taken control, placing the Princess and two members of the Royal Youth Alliance under arrest and ordering their execution; the King's attempts to negotiate their release have failed. Color storms are rampant, and nobody has heard the Cello wind blowing in months.

Meanwhile, Madeleine fears she's about to lose the Kingdom of Cello forever. Plans are in place to bring the remaining Royals home, and after that, all communication between Cello and the World will cease. That means she'll also lose Elliot, now back in Cello and being held captive by a branch of Hostiles. And there's nothing he can do to help his friends unless he can escape the Hostile compound.

Worlds apart and with time running out, Madeleine and Elliot find themselves on a collision course to save the Kingdom they love, and maybe even save each other.

I feel like I've been waiting for news of this book forever and then suddenly there it was: title, cover, and synopsis all at once. I loved the first two books and have a lot of feelings about that synopsis. I'm both excited and terrified to read how this will all end. 

A Tangle of Gold comes out March 29, 2016 fro Arthur Levine Books. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Six Impossible Things

I have wanted to read Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood since buzz first started to go around about it when it came out in Australia. I waited and waited for it to be published in the US. When Wildlife was published last year I hoped it meant we would be getting this one too. (I was even more eager to read it after the amazingness of Wildlife.) It's been a long wait for this book, but it was well worth it.

Dan Cereill is not having the best year. His family has lost their fortune. His father has come out as gay and left his mom. He has to switch schools halfway through the year. He is living in the house of his dead great-aunt. The only thing getting him through his break is his neighbor Estelle who is beautiful and who he has so much in common with. His problem is that he hasn't actually met her. And how he knows they have so much in common is a secret that he never wants to think about let alone have any one discover. Especially Estelle. Once Dan starts school and reenters life, his path begins to cross with Estelle more an more until he feels like he is really getting to know her and he just may have a chance to accomplish the six impossible things that may set his life to right.

I adored Dan's voice. He is snarky and vulnerable at the same time, and his desperate loneliness is heartbreaking. Losing all of his money and most of his privilege is hard, but harder still is the break with his dad. Dan and his father were always pretty close. Dan does not have a problem with his dad being gay. He has a problem with him leaving him. All Dan wants is his family back, but he knows that isn't possible and it hurts. His mom is not the same either. Fueled by sadness and desperation, she has started a new business which she is sabotaging due to issues she has yet to resolve from her ended marriage. Best not to go into the business of making wedding cakes when one is going through a divorce. I really loved the relationship between Dan and his  mom. I liked how he tried to care for her. She wasn't at her best as a mother, but it was clear that she loved Dan and wanted him to find happiness and get through their hard time. I found their interactions and struggle with their individual and shared sadness to be realistic.

All the other relationships in the book are also done incredibly well. I loved the friendship between Dan and his best friend, Fred. They are there for each other and have each other's backs. The growing relationship between Dan and Estelle was also done very well. It was obvious it was heading toward rough times because of course she was going to discover his secret, but I felt this was handled well, and I loved the resolution. Dan also has a developing friendship with Lou (one of the main characters of Wildlife) which is incredibly enjoyable as well. It is strange that the two books were published in a different order in the US. Since Wildlife takes place later and references a devastating incident in Lou's (and Dan's) life that takes place sometime between the two books, it made for some stressful reading. Because I didn't realize that incident took place between the novels until I was more than halfway through with this one, so I was reading this in fear of that. It made it a little difficult for me to fully throw myself into certain parts of the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed this, and would be happy to read anything Fiona Wood writes in the future. I hope  she continues to get published in the US. Wood writes frank honest looks in the lives and thoughts of teens.

Content Warning for the Interested: underage drinking

I read an ARC received from the publisher, Poppy, via Edelweiss. Six Impossible Things is on sale August 11th.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

TTT: Fairytale Retellings

This week's TTT topic: Favorite Fairy Tale Retellings

Tam Lin Retellings (I know it's a ballad but it's old and there are faeries. I count it.)


 12 Dancing Princesses and Frog Prince (a two for one!):
Sleeping Beauty:

 All things Hans Christian Anderson, but particularly The Snow Queen:

My favorite fairy tales are "Beauty and the Beast" and "East of the Sun, West of the Moon", both of which derive from the myth of Cupid (Eros) and Psyche. Consequently, I judge retellings of these much harder than any others. Here are my favorite retellings of all three:

For taking my favorite fairy tale and showing the darker side of it and doing it so brilliantly (also with Hades/Persephone elements, but its connected and essential to those others I love too):

And while not a direct retelling, this has enough elements for me to count it with as THE BEST book that nods to my favorite tales:

And the winner for most creative use of fairy tales in novels goes to Laura Florand, who manages to put a fairy tale in almost every single one of her contemporary romances (they are all awesome and you should read them):

What are some of your favorite retellings?