Tuesday, June 30, 2015

TTT: Best Reads of 2015 So Far


This Week's Topic: Books I've Read So Far in 2015

Audacity by Melanie Chowder
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby


Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge
I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios


Jinx's Fire by Sage Blackwood
Listen Slowly by Thanhha Lai


Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand
Party Lines by Emma Barry


The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall
Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Deep Secret

I'm still making my way through the full backlist of Diana Wynne Jones. Since I was participating in the 48 Hour Book Challenge last weekend, I decided it was a good time to tackle Deep Secret. I've owned this book for a while but hadn't gotten to it yet. It was an excellent book. Not surprising.

Rupert Venables is a young Magid. As a young Magid, it is his job to look after the Empire of Koryfos. It always goes to the youngest Magid because no one else wants it. Upon returning from a trip there that fills him with as much disgust as possible, Rupert is faed with the death of his mentor. Since Magids must be replaced as quickly as possible, Rupert (who is again the default Magid responsible for this) begins his search with names Stan left him. After meeting the person he thought was his most likely candidate, Maree Mallory, and immediately taking a dislike to her, he begins a working to draw all his final candidates to one place and time so he can evaluate them all at once. The place is the Hotel Babylon and the time is a sci-fi fantasy convention taking place there over a weekend. Much to Rupert's exasperation none of the other candidates are up to snuff. Maree turns up at the convention as well and turns out to be not as bad as Rupert feared. And because everything has to happen at once, the Empire of Koryfos is falling apart after a mass assassination. No one knows who the next ruler is supposed to be, and they need Rupert's help. Now Rupert has more than one magical working in the process and may have be in way over his head.

Diana Wynne Jones excelled at writing a certain type of hero. That type of hero happens to be the type I love to read about which always makes her books fun for me. Rupert fits nicely with the others I love but he also has his own individual personality. He is arrogant and a little to sure of himself. He spirals into panic so fast when everything starts coming down around him, and it's quite delightful. I did like that he knew when he needed to get help, and that he had a supportive community willing to help him when he needed it. The narrative switches between Rupert and Maree. Maree is an excellent foil for Rupert, and her naive and innocent, yet equally annoyed perspective on everything that is happening is a great counter-point to his frustrated, overwhelmed, harried, pessimistic one. Maree's younger cousin, Nick, is also a pivotal character and is a DWJ hero in training. He is basically a younger version of Rupert, a fact Rupert is hilariously unaware of for a good deal of the story and has to have pointed out to him by more than one person. I loved all three of them and all the supporting characters.

One thing I love about Diana Wynne Jones is that her novels defy age categorization.  We need more novels that do this. Does this book work as YA? Yes. Does it work as adult? Yes. Could even work as a MG? Yes. It is good fantasy for any age reader who loves stories with magic, centaurs, zany capers, and humor. What I really like about Deep Secret is how it celebrates but also pokes fun at the industry that has built up around speculative fiction. There are some problematic aspects in this (fat jokes that are unnecessary), but for the most part it is done well and balances on a fine line. Basically in the end I loved this because it was fun and complex at the same time. It has serious moments, but it never takes itself seriously overall. I'm looking forward to reading the companion novel, The Merlin Conspiracy.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Cover Love: A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

Cover Love is a meme hosted by Shae on Thursdays at Shae Has Left the Room.

My Pick This Week:
Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.
And so she is taken in her sister's place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin's court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time.But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.
Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.\
Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.

This cover is so dark which causes the light it does have to contrast and shine that much brighter. It fits with the story being told. I also love the words and girl rising up into the sky. I have been waiting a long time for a good retelling of Scheherazade and I adore E.K. Johnston's book so I'm hoping the contents of this one are as great as the cover. (I'm sure they will be.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Uprooted

I typically don't review books that are considered adult books on the blog. I think this is a first. I've always used the blog as resource for students and parents. But Uprooted by Naomi Novik has enough crossover YA appeal I'm making an exception. Also I just want to rave about how much I LOVE THIS BOOK.

Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.


This is how Agnieszka's story begins. She is one of the girls who will be lined up as a potential companion for the Dragon. She is not angry but not overly worried. Everyone knows what type of girl the Dragon chooses and she is not it. Her best friend Kasia is. Their entire lives Kasia and Agnieszka have prepared for the day when Kasia will leave and Agnieszka will be left behind. Except that's not what happens. In a startling turn of events-before Agnieszka can even begin to process it-she's the chosen one and in the Dragon's tower. He doesn't even give her time to say good-bye. Agnieszka stumbles through her first weeks alternating between fear, anger, and sadness. The Dragon, Sarkan, just seems overall fed up and exasperated with her. Soon Agnieszka realizes the strange magical interactions she is having with Sarkan are unique and something the other girls were not subjected to because she is a witch and she needs to be trained. Agnieszka isn't exactly amendable to the Dragon's training though and figure her own unique way of performing magic, one she can intertwine with his to make them both stronger. Before her training can get very far though, the dangerous Wood begins its first moves in a plan to bring down the entire kingdom. Agnieszka finds herself in the middle of a web of political intrigue and old dark magical debts to be paid. 

This is everything I want in a fantasy novel written in such a way as to make it absolutely perfect. 

CHARACTERS! CHARACTERS! CHARACTERS!
Agnieszka is a wonderful heroine. Awkward and clueless in the beginning (as is anyone who is suddenly thrown into a life they never contemplated living), she soon discovers how to wield her new found power and figure out how to manage Sarkan at the same time. As the novel progresses she becomes more bold, assertive, and a force to be reckoned with. Her arc is truly wonderful and watching her grow is so much fun. She is clever from the beginning, and even though she is also naive, she learns so fast. And she does not suffer fools lightly. 

Kasia is equally wonderful but in different ways. She has been trained to be brave. She has been trained to be the one who leaves not the one who is left behind and quickly has to adjust her entire way of thinking and deal with the fallout. Then her entire world is rocked even further, ripping her out of the life she was just adjusting to and sending her down a terrifying new road. 

Sarkan is exactly the kind of hero I love. He comes across as a surly jerk, but it's because he is a lone nerdy wizard who has no idea how to socially interact with others. He's also a little vain and likes the comforts of life. He doesn't like change, and doesn't bend to it easily, but is able to when it is required. 

Then there are all the minor characters, each of who stand out as important, three dimensional, real people. I cared about every single person in this book even the ones who were at odds with Agnieszka and co. 

AMAZING RELATIONSHIPS!
There are so many great relationships in this book, both major and minor. The friendship between Agnieszka and Kasia is beautiful. They see the worst each in other-not intentionally but it happens-and they emerge on the other side of it stronger. There is not much they won't do for each other. I love seeing amazing nuanced female friendships and this one is particularly well rendered.

I have lots of feels about the relationship between Agnieszka and Sarkan, which developed exactly as I hoped it would. I love how quickly they found equal footing with each other, and that Agnieszka was not dependent on him for much for long. Her magic is so different from his, and while he bristles at having to accept this new view that it's possible, he adjusts rather quickly to seeing her as an equal he can trust. Everything about how their connection unfolded was just perfect to me, and I loved its resolution as well. They are both powerful and important and together they make a great team.

I loved how much you could infer about all the other relationships in the book too. Parental, sibling, community, working, all of it is so well done. Form the small villages to the King's court in the capital you can see the threads of respect that bind people, and the discord that keeps some apart. It is woven subtly in to the text too without it having to be explained.

PLOT AND POLITICS AND INTRIGUE AND MAGIC
The plot is a complex mix of magic and politics. My favorite kind of fantasy novel. There are fairy tale elements woven through it as well. It is a complicated and dark story with varying shades of gray. And not everyone gets the end they necessarily deserve which I always like to see because it is so true to life. I like how the book highlighted the complicated consequences of violence, war, and surfeit of ambition that can be easily manipulated to go astray. The way Novik pulled everything together in the end and made me believe the outcome was pure artistry. 

I reread several parts of the book as soon as I finished because I didn't want to leave it behind. This is going to be a go to comfort reread for me. I can see that already. (I actually knew it about 50 pages in.) I'm so glad I went ahead and bought it when the library copy was taking to long for me to wait for. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

48 Hour Book Challenge End Post

I still technically have an hour, but since we leave for church in 15 minutes, I'm finished. I did not get nearly as much in as I wanted to. Considering the reading slump I just came out of, I'm just happy I was able to read as much as I dd while enjoying it.

Hours Reading/Reviewing: 13 hours

Social Media Time: 1.5 hours

Books Read: 4 (Uprooted, The Thief reread, Mechanica, Deep Secret)

Pages Total: 2,117

Reviews for Uprooted and Deep Secret coming later this week. Here are my quick Goodreads thoughts on Mechanica


Friday, June 19, 2015

48 Hour Book Challenge First Update

My first 12 hours are up and my stats are seriously lame because life intervened a bit today.

I read/reviewed: 6.5 hours

Social Networking/Commenting: .5 hours

So that's just a total of 7 hours.

Pages read 435

Because I read only one book and I'm not even ashamed to say that because I reread several parts of it immediately after finishing. And wrote a gushing review which you can read on Thursday. Uprooted is a favorite forever for me now. I LOVED it. I still don't really want to move on which will make continuing this challenge difficult....ugh. Will persevere.

48 Hour Book Challenge Starting Post

I do love and look forward to this weekend every year. I can't quite as all in as I did in the first couple years when I actually slept as little as possible and read the entire time, but it is still fun to read as much as possible and have a weekend dedicated to it. My hope is to get 24 hours in total. I should be able to come close as this is a pool day for me and the kids and my husband wants to go to the lake tomorrow. Those are good environments for reading.

I don't have much of a plan this year either. I have three books I've been waiting to read (two of them for a very long time), and I want to start my annual reread of the Queen's Thief this weekend. I will try to knock out some of the ARCs I have on my Nook too. Hopefully this is just my start-up pile and will get through even more.

Want to participate? There's still time! Sign up here.

ETA: I scheduled this to post at 9:30 AM, but my official start time is 10:00 AM.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Serafina and the Black Cloak

Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty is a thrilling tale of mystery and adventure set at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC in 1899. Having lived in Asheville and visited the house several times, there was no way I was going to pass up a chance to read this. (Also it's MG fantasy, always a bonus for me.)

Serafina lives in secret in the basement of the Vanderbilt's spacious vacation home. She has lived there most of her life. Her father worked on the house as it was being built and is the mechanic who runs the massive generator and keeps the electricity going. Serafina is the chief rat catcher, slipping through the halls of her massive home secretly and quietly. She is light on her feet, sees well in the dark, and is quick enough to catch the vermin and keep them out. Serafina knows she if different and strange. Her father insists she stay hidden. But all that changes when one night Serafina witnesses a horrible crime. A little girl, a guest in the house, is fleeing from a cloaked predator who seems to consume her whole in his cloak before Serafina eyes. She soon learns that the young Clara is not the first person to go missing. In a daring move, Serafina decides to investigate the matter herself and meets the young nephew of the Vanderbilts, Braeden. The two children investigate the matter together. They know Braeden is the next victim and Serafina is determined to keep him, the only friend she has ever had, safe. To do so, she must face the evil that is stalking them and confront the truths about herself and her mysterious past.

Serafina is a bold and decisive heroine who doesn't always follow directions, but does what she believes to be right and good. The story focuses on the mystery of the cloak, who is wielding it, and what exactly it does, but through this we also get to see Serafina's inner struggles. She wants to fit in but knows she doesn't. She is desperate to understand who she is and where she comes from, but is also afraid of the answers she might find. I liked how the relationship between her and Braeden developed. Both children are loners and so their friendship is not as unrealistic as it otherwise might be for a barely servant and member of the family to have. Braeden's character is not as defined or nuanced as Serafina, but he has an interesting backstory and serves his purpose in the book well.

Beatty beautifully sets the scene for Serafina's tale. He does an excellent job of describing the house and the surrounding land and forest. How dark, forbidding, and dangerous the forest can be gives the story an eery feel. Added to this is the intense harrowing events that keep the reader flipping pages to see what happens next. The action is intense and there are scenes that involve blood and gore. The peril feels very real and the stakes for Serafina are high. It is an intense yet fun read, perfect for summer. There is a good balance between scary and humorous, but this is definitely a book for kids who are comfortable with creepy stories and aren't afraid of the dark.

As an adult reader, I found the end to be a little too perfect and a bit saccharine. This was particularly disappointing to me as I really enjoyed the book up until that point. There seemed to be a definite difference it quality of the writing as everything was tied into an extremely neat and tidy bow. Children readers will probably not have this issue as much, and I can see this becoming a favorite for many. It's definitely a must have for upper elementary classroom and school libraries.

I read an ARC provided by the publisher, Disney-Hyperion, via NetGalley. Serafina and the Black Cloak is on sale July 14th.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Emmy & Oliver

I was looking forward to reading Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway. Not only does it have an interesting concept, but I've enjoyed Benway's books in the past. Emmy & Oliver really surpassed my expectations though.

Oliver disappears over a three day weekend in second grade. He was abducted by his father and it changed the lives of his three best friends, Emmy, Caro, and Drew forever. Emmy's life was devastated the most. She was his best friend, next door neighbor, and they had been inseparable since they were babies. Stowed away in her room is the last memory she has of Oliver, the note Caro passed to him asking him whether or not he liked Emmy on the Friday he was taken with the yes circled three times. Oliver left a hole in Emmy's life and forever altered her view on the world. It also caused her parents to turn extra cautious and protective. Ten years later all Emmy wants is to make her own choices and live her own life. Her world is changed again when Oliver is found and returned home. Now that he is back Emmy has to figure out who this person that she knew so well but doesn't know at all anymore fits into her life. (And how she fits into his.)

The characters in this book are wonderful. Emmy is smart, caring, and makes a good sounding board and support system for Oliver. She is also deceptive and isn't sensitive enough to the feelings of Caro and Drew as she gets so wrapped up in Oliver when he returns. Oliver is a great guy, but also a hot mess. Finding out everything you thought for the past 10 years is a lie can really mess with your head, and Oliver is confused and out of place and ridden with guilt. The relationship between Emmy and Oliver develops organically. She listens. He talks. And vice-versa. They have a wonderful chemistry, but the genuinely are friends too. Drew and Caro are just as alive and nuanced as Emmy and Oliver. They have their own strengths and weaknesses and problems. The struggle Oliver has trying to fit back into this group when he's missed ten years of experiences with them is genuine. Watching them all try to fit their new selves together with their old memories-memories that are barely there for Oliver-makes for a rich and full story. The dialogue between all four of them is pitch perfect.

In addition to the strong characterization of the four teens, the parents are also well drawn and multi-dimensional. The relationship between Emmy and her parents is the perfect mix love and frustration with all the emotions involved in a child wanting to let go while her parents are still holding on. The fraught relationship between Oliver and his mother is also very well done. As is Oliver's confused feelings toward his father.

I was a little concerned going in that the book would rely on some crazy drama or twist to spice up the book, but all of the conflict made sense in the context and developed organically. I thought it was an incredibly realistic look at the psychology and fall-out of such a situation. I recommend this read for anyone who enjoys well written contemporary stories with in depth characters and amazing relationships.

I read an ARC made available by the publisher, Harper Teen, via Edelweiss. Emmy & Oliver is available June 23rd.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Devil You Know

I love Trish Doller's books and I was super excited to read her latest, The Devil You Know. It is a bit different than her previous two novels in that it is a bit of thriller, but it has the same wonderful level of writing and amazing character development that made me love her books in the first place.

Since her mother's death from cancer, Cadie has given her teen years to being the responsible and reliable good girl. She helps at her dad's store, practically raises her younger brother by herself, and does most of the housework. Cadie has sacrificed soccer, her GPA, and her boyfriend for her family. All she can see in her future is more of the same, living the same life while she looks at the map on her wall holding all her dreams of future travels that will never happen. Disgusted with her father and saddened by her lack of choices, all Cadie wants is one weekend to be a teenager and live and do something spontaneous and unpredictable. When she meets two good looking cousins and they offer to take her and one of her friends on a road trip, she jumps at the chance. Noah makes Cadie's entire being come to life, her body buzz with a thousand lights, and she feels connected with him. Matt is also cute and fun to flirt with. As the weekend continues, Cadie begins to feel more unsure about her choices and safety. Then she makes a horrific discovery that turns her fun weekend into a terrifying fight to save her life.

Cadie is my favorite Doller heroine yet. She loves her family and has so many dreams. Her frustration with life is something I really felt and understand. She has sacrificed more than she should have needed to of her life, and even though she is lauded by the adults she knows for this, it doesn't change her increasing bitterness over the situation and anger toward her father. I also loved how opinionated and forceful she was. The decisions that lead Cadie into danger might be considered unwise by some. One always has to be wary of taking off with strangers, but it wasn't like she left with no one knowing where she was going or who she was with. She knew one person coming along and she had her phone. And I completely got why she needed to this because Doller did an amazing job of making me believe it. My heart ached for Cadie's confusion and her terror and the choices she was forced to make as the story unfolded, and I loved how she came out of it all in the end.

I'm going to say very little else about the other characters or details of the plot because I want to keep this as spoiler free as possible. (This kind of kills me because there are some things I'd like to say about both boys, but alas. Just know that I highly approve of how Doller wrote both their characters and how she spun out their stories too.) What I will say is that Dollar does an incredible job at writing a thrilling tale. It is exactly as long as it needs to be, and each part flows perfectly into the next. There are clues perfectly left for the reader to look back at. The atmosphere is so well done as well. The secluded setting of the Florida swamps was perfect for the story and how it progressed. I really felt like I could feel it too: the heat, the rain, the oppressive humidity.

This book, like all Doller's books, has a tremendous heart to it too. It is about community and relationships and how choices, from the smallest to the largest most life changing, make us who we are. The Devil You Know also has a strong feminist core and has a lot of good needed things to say about sexual consent and female empowerment over sexual choices. One thing that bothered me about that was how it presented the idea of sexual purity before marriage from a Christian perspective  but that is not something I can blame on Doller. That is the fault of the terrible way it's too often (and incorrectly from a theological stand point) taught by actual Christians. I actually really can't wait until my daughter is old enough to read this so we can talk about even that point too.

This book excels in every area and does so with economy of words and a lot of emotion. I highly recommend it.

Content Heads-Up: some mature language, underage drinking, sexual content

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

TTT: Most Anticipated Releases for Rest of 2015

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

This Week's Topic: Most Anticipated Releases for Rest of 2015


Most Likely to Succeed by Jennifer Echols on August 4th

A Pocket Full of Murder by R.J. Anderson on September 8th


The Hollow Boy by Jonathan Stroud on September 15th

Ash & Bramble by Sarah Prineas on September 15th



The Marvels by Brian Selznick on September 15th

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson on September 22nd


The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow on September 22nd

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston on October 6th


Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt on October 6th

The Immortal Heights by Sherry Thomas on October 13th

September is going to kill me as is usual. WHY, PUBLISHERS, WHY????? And this was a really hard list to make because there are so many good books yet to come this year. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Favorite YA Speculative Fiction Heroines

I got behind on these for various reasons but here is the next installment of my favorite heroines series. This time I'm focusing on YA Speculative Fiction Heroines. These are in addition to the ones I listed in my original favorite heroines' post. (Irene Attolia)


Roza and Petey from Bone Gap by Laura Ruby: These girls are incredibly different but both amazing in their own ways. This book is well worth reading for both of their stories.

Nix from Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge: This girl is fierce and broken and wonderful.


Natividad from Black Dog and Pure Magic by Rachel Neumeier: Natividad is so young but she is so powerful. I love how she is also one of the sweetest people there are, and I love how she wields her power carefully.

Otter and Kestrel from Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow: These two have complementary but equally important skills and their friendship and the way they work together is beautiful.


Elisa from The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy by Rae Carson: Elisa is a heroine who grows into her power and awesomeness. It's a delightful story to experience.

Tori from Quicksilver by R.J. Anderson: She's an engineer, a genius, and so tough and dedicated to the paths she chooses for herself it's mind-boggling.


Briony from Chime by Franny Billingsley: Briony is broken and damaged and scared, but she is also brave and smart and determined.

Tiffany Aching from The Wee Free Men (and sequels) by Terry Pratchett: Tiffany Aching is the reason the phrase "made of awesome" was born.


Sophie Hatter from Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones: Any girl who can wrangle and handle Howl is worthy of adulation.

 Other Heroine Lists: MG Speculative Fiction

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Valiant

Valiant by Sarah McGuire has so many elements I love in a book: fairy tale elements, a brave yet flawed heroine, a determined hero, kingdom politics, and a land in peril. There was so much I enjoyed about the book. (Not the least being I actually read a book I liked! After weeks of hating everything.)

Saville has always known her father loves the fabrics he sews as a tailor more than he's ever loved anything or anyone else including her. She resents those fabrics, her father's trade, and the life they've led her to in Reggen. She is determined to escape as soon as she can. When her father has a stroke shortly after their arrival, Saville sees her opportunity for escape disappear. In order to save them from destitution, Saville makes a dangerous gamble disguising herself as a boy and gaining a commission from the King himself. But Reggen is a city on the verge of disaster. Reports are coming in of an army of giants razing towns and leaving no survivors, led by a dangerous human Duke claiming he is the rightful Emperor. Saville is skeptical until her young errand boy finds himself captured by two scouts larger than the oak trees they stand next to. In a daring game of trickery, Saville convinces them she has greater strength and finds herself the champion of the city-a position that comes with it the hand of the princess. When the King and his advisors discover her true identity, she is kept at the palace half prisoner and half assistant to Galen Verras, the cousin of the king and only person in the castle actively working on a solution. Together Saville and Galen make startling discoveries about their foes and make great sacrifices to save the city and the people they love.

Saville is my favorite type of heroine. She is brave, smart, hard working, and loves with all of her heart. She is also scared, impetuous, and hurt by her father's attitude toward her. I love how she came up with such a daring plan to save her and her father, but was actually not all that great at pretending to be a boy. I also adored how she was unable to suppress her compassionate nature and was moved to help people even when it might have been wiser for her to retreat. Galen is a wonderful complement to her. He is also intelligent, brave, and hard working. He can sometimes be too cautious though and this balances well with Saville's utter lack of caution at times. I enjoyed his complicated relationship with his royal family members as well.

The supporting characters are interesting and add a lot to the story as well. The king, the princess, and the young boy Saville saves (Will) all have important roles to play and are layered characters. There are also fascinating dynamics at work in the camp of the giants. The villains are little one note and predictable, but given the fairy tale style of the story that works okay.

Saville's story gripped me from the beginning. It was interesting to see her character react to the challenges she faced as each new life altering event occurred. Once she was in the castle, things slowed down a bit. I did like the slow development of the relationship between Saville and Galen, but felt this part of the novel dragged overall. The end sees the excitement reach new heights though and I adored how it all resolved.

On the whole this is a fun book which is why I enjoyed it so much. The sentence level writing is not the best at times. There are a lot of unnecessary run on sentences and stock phrases that tend to drive me crazy used. (Including the ever annoying: "I released the breath I didn't even know I'd been holding.") Still this is a great book to give fans of fairy tales, adventures, and for those who like a dash of romance.

I read and ARC made available by the publisher, Egmont, at ALA Midwinter. Valiant is available for purchase now.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Pure Magic

Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier was one of my favorite books of last year. I basically wanted the sequel from the moment I closed the book. When its publisher, Strange Chemistry, closed its doors, I knew a moment of panic that I would never see it. Fortunately Rachel Neumeier is self-publishing the  sequels. (I reviewed the collection of short stories a few weeks ago.) Pure Magic, the second novel, is available now, and it is fantastic.

Following a tragic flash flood that took the life of his mother, Justin is wandering with no direction. One night after accepting the hospitality of a priest, he finds himself the target of a vicious werewolf attack. Two other werewolves intervene and save his life. These two are more civilized, but very insistent that Justin come with them to a place called Dimilioc claiming he is Pure and that this attack won't be the last. In fact they're completely confused as to how Justin has survived this long not knowing anything about the magic running through his veins. They are also surprised that he is a Pure male. This is new. Justin finds himself reluctantly accompanying them to the mysterious Dimilioc to meet their Master and discover the dangerous heritage in a violent world he only vaguely understood from the new before this. There he meets the other Black Dogs and Natividad, a Pure girl who can help him unlock his abilities and teach him how to wield his power. But Justin is not convinced he belongs in this world, and he wants some answer. He decides to go and see what his grandmother learns and Natividad leaves with him on a mission of her own. There are dangerous and violent changes occurring in the world of the Black Dogs though and that danger is going to stalk the two Pure and help from their Black Dog allies may be too far away-and too distracted by their own troubles-to help them.

Coming into the world Neumeier created from an outside perspective in this second novel is an interesting way of reintroducing all of the important players and elements and also adding to the layers of the world. Justin is so much more than a vehicle for the reader though. Confused, angry, desperate, and so sad, he is overwhelmed by all of the new information coming his way when he was already feeling alone and emotionally wrecked. His reactions to being thrown into this world and experiencing the violence of the Black Dogs up close for the first time are completely relatable and serve as an interesting contrast to Natividad and Miguel's easy acceptance of the life they were born into. As a new character in the story, he also brought out aspects of the other character's personalities and revealed new things about them. Justin's relationship with Keziah does not start off well. There are expectations about relationships between Black Dogs and the Pure. Even though Justin is the first Pure boy anyone at Dimilioc has encountered, matching up with Keziah is the first thing that pops into everyone's heads. She's not happy about it. He is even less so when he realizes what everyone is thinking. She terrifies him (understandably), and he terrifies her in a different but no less potent way. I really enjoyed watching the two of them warily feeling each other out. Justin actually learns Pure magic quickly because he is a math genius and I loved this dimension of his character.

Natividad has just as much page time in this novel as Justin does and is still very much a main character. Her 16th birthday is rapidly approaching, and she is still trying to figure out exactly where she stands in Ezekiel's mind. Is she merely a convenience being the only Pure girl around or does he really want her? Natividad uses her road trip with Justin to work through some of her confused feelings. I loved the way both of these relationships developed over the course of the book. Natividad and Justin make a really good team and they bond rather quickly. Granted they have little choice but to learn to work together quickly or die. However, they do work hard to understand and learn from each other. The development of Natividad's relationship with Ezekiel is more complex. Again, Ezekiel is my favorite part of this book. (There is an added dimension to the tension here that comes from having read his story in the short story collection. You can still appreciate everything that happens here without reading it, but it's so good and adds so much that I highly recommend you do.) He makes some decisions that won't entirely make sense if you don't fully understand his past. It was a nice change to see him not so entirely in control in this and more than a little vulnerable.

There is a lot going on in the plot of this book. The Blood Kin, who the Black Dogs thought they had completely eradicated, seem to be rising again. There is a rogue band of Black Dogs wreaking havoc. With Dimilioc's decreased numbers from the war, they are vulnerable on every side. Justin and Natividad putting themselves at danger by going on a road trip without protection spreads Dimilioc thin. And basically all Hell breaks loose in more than one place and threats are everywhere. It is an action-packed thrill ride from start to finish and I could not put the book down. I love all these characters and thoroughly engrossed in their lives and the story unfolding. There are a lot of unanswered questions still as there is another three books yet to come, but this one ends in a satisfying way. (Though I still can't wait for the nest book.)

I read an ARC sent to me by Rachel Neumeier.