Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Quarterly Review Round-Up and 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.

Adult Books (links to reviews on Goodreads):
Autumn Sage by Genevieve Turner*
Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley
Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand*
Party Lines by Emma Barry*
The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig
The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy by Julia Quinn
The Secret Heart by Erin Satie
The Sheriff Takes a Bride by Genevieve Turner
The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan
Sugar Rush by Diana Kauffman

*These were all 5 stars reads. Because I do the Giveaway through Book Depository, they can't be included but know they are part of the Best of the Best and come highly recommended by me.

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

 
Audacity by Melanie Crowder
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
 I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios
Jinx's Fire by Sage Blackwood*

Listen Slowly by Thanhha Lai
The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall*

Links to my reviews unless otherwise noted.

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 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, April 6 at 8:00 PM EDT.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Arctic Code

The Arctic Code is the first book in a new MG sci-fi series by Matthew Kirby. I tend to like Kirby's books and the way he writes character relationships. The Arctic Code is no exception and has an exciting fast-paced plot to pull readers along on the adventure.

In a not so distant future, the Earth is experiencing an unexpected Ice Age. The ice sheet has taken over, forcing most of the surviving inhabitants toward the Equator. Energy is a coveted resource and the UN has given a great deal of power to a company called GET. Eleanor is a girl living in Arizona while her geologist mother works on finding a new energy source in Alaska. Eager for adventure, Eleanor is often doing things that most consider unwise. When her mom goes missing after sending Eleanor files of information with the warning to keep it all a secret, Eleanor stows away on a plane headed for Alaska to discover what has happened to her mom. Upon reaching Alaska, Eleanor discovers that mysterious sites are appearing on the ice sheet and GET is enforcing all sorts of new and menacing rules. Eleanor and her new friends, sons of another missing scientist, decide their best bet is to head into the frozen wasteland themselves to find their parents. What they end up finding, will change their view of the world and lead to a whole new set of troubles.

I don't typically like futuristic doomsday type of books whether post-apocalyptic, dystopian, or earth in peril. I also typically don't like survival stories. I wouldn't have picked this up at all if it hadn't had Matthew Kirby's name on the cover. (The cover does grab the eye and make you curious on its own though.) Despite the presence of two things I tend not to enjoy, I did enjoy this book. Kirby set up his story very well, and it is mostly a fast paced, edge of your seat adventure. (There is a scene in a science class early on where there is a lot of information given in the form of a lesson, but even that is executed well as Eleanor herself is bored. Well played.) Eleanor's every step is shadowed by fear. She knows GET is not entirely honest, and she doesn't want them to get a hold of the files her mom sent to her. And her meeting with the CEO and his minions later on only makes her more determined. There is also a fear of death, because survival in the harsh climate is no small matter. In Alaska the air is so cold breathing it in might kill you. Then the story morphs from being a perilous futuristic adventure to a sci-fi thriller with some fascinating twists. Not all of the elements of the plot are handled as completely as I want. Eleanor has an ability that isn't entirely explained. I'm sure it will be in future volumes, but for this as a stand alone it made her seem like a little too special in comparison with everyone who couldn't do this thing.

Eleanor is an excellent heroine despite this unexplained specialness though. And not simply because she is special. She is reckless, impatient, and rebellious. She is also brave, loyal, and incredibly smart.  I do like that the reader gets to thoroughly know her as Eleanor before the reveals in the end. The opening scene has her creating snow using a fan and water at her school construction site while planning to sled down a dangerous incline from a partly finished building. She ends up getting arrested with two of her friends. Fortunately for the 12 year olds, no charges are pressed. But it is a perfect way to show everything Eleanor is to prepare for her actions as she recklessly hops a plane with a stranger to Alaska. That stranger is a pilot named Luke who wants no part in being responsible for a 12 year old girl, but given no choice he embraces his duty admirably. Luke is a good guy, but also a complicated one. I found myself really wanting more of him and hope that will happen as the series progresses. The other characters aren't developed quite as well, but Finn and Julian, the boys who set out with Eleanor into the frozen wild, have distinct personalities and interactions with her.

One aspect of the novel I particularly enjoyed was the fraught relationship between Eleanor and her mom. There is a lot of love there but also a lot of hurt and misunderstanding. This is the sort of relational writing Kirby excels at.

I'm eager to see where the next volume in this series takes the stories and characters. I know this will be an easy sell to kids. Kirby's books usually are.

I read an ARC received from the publisher, Balzer & Bray, at ALA Midwinter. The Arctic Code is on sale April 28th.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Fun and Funny MG Reads for Whole Family

In case you missed it, I made a list for the Cybils blog this week entitled Fun and Funny Fantasy Read Alouds for the Whole Family. You can see the list here.



Saturday, March 28, 2015

The YA/MG Battle is Now Just MG

I can not say that this displeases me. It's funny because this final round could have gone one of three ways based on the four books that went into Round 3: two Aussie YAs duking it out, one Aussie YA and one MG (repeating both versions of round 3), or two MGs. I kind of like the MG books are ruling they day as that is where my heart of hearts is. (And I did have a hand in facilitating that.)

Tune in Monday to fine out the ultimate winner between:

Friday, March 27, 2015

Favorite MG Speculative Fiction Heroines

The Top Ten Tuesday topic from a few weeks ago was Favorite Heroines and I wanted to include so many girls that I decided to keep that post for my absolute top ten favorites and then do a series of lists through out the year that celebrates smart, fierce, independent female characters who EVERYONE should read. Celebrate the girls. That's never seemed more important. While I was working on this the #womeninfiction tag happened on Twitter and it was amazing. Check it out if you haven't yet.

I'm starting with the age category and genre most near and dear to my heart, MG Speculative Fiction.

Kat Stephenson from the Kat Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis: Kat loves her family and is fierce about protecting them all even when they don't appreciate it. 

Fer from Winterling by Sarah Prineas: She is a heroine who saves her people and land. She is a leader who makes some hard mistakes and does the harder work of atoning for them. 

 Ivy from Swift and Nomad by R.J. Anderson: She has the courage to speak out even when it costs her everything and then has the courage to fight to get it back.

Alunna and Callie from Above World by Jenn Reese: Both of these girls are leaders. They have different strengths, but together they make a great team.

 Eilonwy from The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander: She is a princess and a warrior and owns both roles in equal measure.

Zita from Zita the Space Girl: She is fierce, smart, and sacrificing.

Neverfell from A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge: Neverfell is trusting and kind and good in every way imaginable. And she's a true hero.

The MG SFF heroines that were in the original post who you can read more about here
Kate Sutton from The Perilous Gard
Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time
Hermione Granger from Harry Potter Series
Millie Chant from the Chrestomanci Chronicles
Aravis Tarkheena from The Horse and His Boy

Do you have any favorite MG Speculative Fiction heroines?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

SLJ BoB Round Two Thoughts

Round Two of SLJ's Battle of the Books is over now. Here is what is moving on to Round Three:

 
 

This is a really strong Final Four. Even though I'm not a big fan of West of the Moon personally, I see why others do like it so much. I think this may be the first year ever I'm not completely confused by how one of the books made it this far.

But just as the judges have to choose, so will I. The books I want to see go to the final are: El Deafo and The Port Chicago 50.

Of this round I liked Elizabeth Wein's decision the best despite its length, because of her unbridled enthusiasm for the competition and for referencing Roger Sutton's judging of the judges. (And I'm glad she did because I was starting to think he might need to take that up again as a reminder.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

YA/MG Book Battle Round Two Results

These are the books moving on:


Four amazing amazing books. And guess what? I'm the one who has to choose between Saving Francesca and The Perilous Gard. I may have considered leaving the country so Beth would never find me and I wouldn't have to do it. But, alas. I promised. You can see my decision, the one ripping my heart in two, on Thursday here

Monday, March 23, 2015

Black Dove White Raven

I'm a huge fan of Elizabeth Wein's books, both her more recent World War II historicals, and the Ancient Ethiopian books so I was so excited to read her latest, Black Dove White Raven, which is sort of a combination of the two.

Emilia and Teo have grown up together as siblings. Their mothers were best friends and flying partners in an act they called Black Dove White Raven. When a horrible freak accident caused a crash that kills Teo's mother, Em's mother works to move all of them to Ethiopia. It was Teo's mother's dream to have her son grow up in a place where the color of his skin would not matter the way it does in the US. But Ethiopia is not exactly a Utopia. There are complicated bonds of service. There is a war on the horizon as Italy seeks to conquer the still independent nation. Em, Teo, and their mother, Rhoda, find themselves caught in the middle of a war that may destroy their last remaining links as a family.

Like all of Wein's books, Black Dove White Raven has characters you feel for, a truly developed sense of place, and packs an emotional punch. Teo and Em have a great sibling bond and friendship that transcends any sort of blood ties. Em is the daring, bold, outgoing one. Teo is calm, reliable, patient. They mirror their mothers in so many ways. They are willing to go to great lengths for one another. Their story is heartbreaking in so many respects. They are so young for the hardships that are placed on them, the things they have to do, and the choices they have to make. I found myself frustrated with Rhoda a lot because, as much as I try not to judge other mothers, she pushed all my maternal buttons. That's probably due to how much I liked the Teo and Em, but man, did I want to throttle her on numerous occasions. Wein has such a talent for making you have feelings for all the characters in her books, and then using those feelings to paint a wide an nuanced picture of people, place, and history.

Ethiopia during the time had its share of problems. They weren't the same problems as the US, but there were plenty of opportunities for exploitation, corruption, and vice to occur. Wein doesn't shy away from depicting this. It is an intensely interesting story rich with detail. It tells a story of a time and place we in the west know little about and does it through the lives of people living ordinary life.

The one part of the book that was difficult for me was its format. The story is told through a packet Em has delivered to the Ethiopian Emperor of essays and flight logs. The story is told through them and as a device it didn't particularly work for me. Not like the journaling worked so well in Rose Under Fire. The details in both Em and Teo's essays and flight logs were just too much, and their voices often sounded too similar despite the very large differences in their personalities. Despite this, I was able to fall into reading it and ended up really enjoying myself. I don't know that any less of a talented author than Wein could have made this work for me on any level.

While not my favorite of Wein's books, it is still excellent and one of the finest books I've read yet this year. Because saying one of her books isn't as favored as the others, still puts it heads and shoulders above most everything else being written.

I read an ARC made available by the publisher, Disney-Hyperion, via NetGalley. Black Dove White Raven goes on sale March 31.

Friday, March 20, 2015

SLJ BoB Round One Wraps Up

It has been an exciting Round One in this year's SLJ's Battle of the Books. There have been surprises, excellent commentary (mostly from Kid Commentator RGN), and some disappointments. My favorite, The Crossover, was knocked out in this round, but I have hopes it will come back from the dead for the final. My favorite judge's decision was this one from Rachel Hartman.

Here are the books moving on to Round Two:

 



I have zero strategy for picking winners in this competition. I just like to see my favorites last as long as possible. That being the case I would like to see Round 2 end with these winners: Brown Girl Dreaming, El Deafo, The Port Chicago 50, and This one Summer. 

As far as judges go, I'm most looking forward to reading Elizabeth Wein's decision. Because I will read anything she writes.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Jinx's Fire

I have been a big fan of Jinx and company from the very first book, which felt like such a perfect Brandy book. The conclusion of Sage Blackwood's trilogy, Jinx's Fire, finished the story beautifully and is definitely my favorite of the three.

Spoilers for first two books abound. Read those first:

Jinx

Jinx's Magic

The Urwald is in danger from more than one direction and has no hope of defending itself if there is not unity amongst the people. Jinx, Sophie, Elfwyn, Wendell, and a dedicated group of others are working to make this happen as quickly as they can. Time is running out. At the same time, they are still dealing with the threat of the Bonemaster from within, and the Urwald's magic is fading. Where is it going? Can it be restored? And where has the Bonemaster put Simon? Jinx is the only one who can find the answers to these questions, and harnass the Urwald's power to save them all, but only if he is willing.

Jinx has some serious attitude in this book, and I loved every single snarly word of it. He has fully grown into his snarky grumpy self. It was particularly funny for the first part of the book, because you could tell he greatly missed having Simon to take it out on. Poor Jinx surrounded by all these people far more sensitive. And Elfwyn who is not interested in encouraging him in it anymore than necessary. It made for highly amusing interactions and scenarios despite the danger Jinx often finds himself in and the fraught political situation. Blackwood fully comes into a complete and sensible balance between humor and darkness in this final book. Both elements were always in the trilogy, but in this one they both feel equally organic and necessary. I love what an imperfect hero Jinx is. He is temperamental and a little too sure of himself at times. At others he is afraid to fully jump in and use the power he has to make things right. The struggle he has with that latter is a real one and is fully convincing. While I found myself empathizing with Elfwyn's impatience with Jinx, his hesitation to use the full force of his powers is completely understandable. I feel like this story was a brilliant finish to Jinx's character arc. From the young boy left in the woods at the beginning of book one to the often surly teenager he is in this book, his story has been fully realized. I really appreciate the combination of maturity and naivety Jinx has in this story. He has a lot of responsibility, but he is still very young. His confusion and embarrassment over all romantic relationships is adorable and hilarious.

Elfwyn is another character who fully came into her own during this book. I grew quite worried about her during book two and missed her presence greatly. This book more than made up for that as she is right there with Jinx through the majority of his adventures. And she makes her opinions known and heard. I love how she takes no nonsense from him and challenges him while simultaneously showing him support and friendship. It is just all kinds of wonderful. The way he tries so hard to be considerate of her curse, listens to her suggestions even when he doesn't want to hear them, and allows her to participate fully despite his worry for her at times is equally wonderful. I want to go back and read every scene between the two of them over again.

As with the previous books, Jinx's Fire has distinct parts. The beginning is the unification and strengthening of protection for the Urwald. The middle focuses on locating Simon and the Bonemaster. The last part is the epic battle to save the Urwald from its numerous invaders. These parts all flow together well, overlap in many ways, and weave together to tell the story of people fighting to protect their home and families. I felt all of these resolved in ways that made sense for the world and characters. I especially appreciated the shades of gray in some of the decisions that had to be made and the outcomes.

As the end of a much loved trilogy, Jinx's Fire delivered for me on every level. The end left a goofy grin on my face. If you haven't read any of this trilogy yet, now is the perfect time. If you have, you definitely do not want to miss this conclusion.

I read an ARC received via Edelweiss from the publisher, Harper Children's. Jinx's Fire goes on sale March 24th.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

TTT: Books on My Spring TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a Meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

This Week's Topic: Books on My Spring TBR

 





I actually plan to start Black Dove, White Raven today. I'm bracing myself.

Here are two bonus books that I already read, but can't wait to get my official copies of:

What books are you looking forward to reading this Spring?






Friday, March 13, 2015

YA MG Book Battle Round One-What Survived?

A friend of mine puts together the YA MG Book Battle to discuss and talk about underrated books, both old and new. This is my second year participating and it's a lot of fun. Round One is now over and here are the books moving on to Round Two:





Such good books!

In the top half of the bracket, I would really love to see Greenglass House and Graffiti Moon move on.

I won't comment on the bottom half as I'm the one judging between the winners. And holy cow am I nervous about that now!