Friday, July 31, 2015

Finding Someplace

Finding Someplace by Denise Lewis Patrick tells the story of a girl experiencing and recovering from Hurricane Katrina. It is one of several books to come out in the past couple years that tell a similar story, but it is my favorite that I've read so far.

Reesie is enjoying the days leading up to her 13th birthday, but as the day draws closer her beloved city of New Orleans seems to be under the growing threat of Hurricane Katrina. Her mother wants them to leave. Her father doesn't believe in leaving the city due to chances of a little high wind. However, he agrees that maybe Reesie should leave her party with her aunt and uncle for Baton Rouge. But then her parents decide to cancel her birthday party. As the storm draws ever closer, Reesie is increasing danger. Her mother, a nurse, and her father, a policeman, are both at work leaving Reesie alone. She goes to a neighbor's house to wait out the storm. But there is no waiting out the water when the levy breaks and the Ninth Ward begins to flood. Fortunately Reesie and Miss Martine have the clear headed help of one their friends and are able to make it to the roof of the house. Rescued and taken to the Superdome, Reesie must try to find her mom and dad. Reuniting with her parents is just the first in a long series of steps to Reesie's finding her way back to a safe secure place.

Reesie is an easy heroine to like. She is so full of life and enthusiasm. She is artistic and creative, designing and making her own clothes. The Boone family is a close one. Her brother spends his hard earned summer money on new shoes for Reesie just before returning to college for the year. Her parents are loving and supportive and work hard for their kids. Reesie's friends and neighbors show a true sense of community too. Patrick does an excellent job of establishing multiple characters and their connections to each other in a short amount of pages while making them all feel real. Miss Martine is a particularly wonderful character who gives Reesei more than just a place to fell safe and not alone during a hurricane. (I want to read a book all about her younger years.)

I enjoyed getting to see the neighborhood through Reesie's eyes. Patrick does an excellent job of bringing all of New Orleans with its unique sights and culture to life while also establishing the neighborhood feel needed to make the story specific to the Ninth Ward work. I liked how the story developed and how it had that heightened rushed feel of an actual disaster. Characters develop relationships quickly and are just as quickly separated. The portrayal is realistic without being emotionally manipulative. There are emotions abounding in Finding Someplace but they feel organic to the story and characters. I also enjoyed how the ending showed the hard road to recovery but was full of hope for the future.

A quick read through of the synopsis makes this sound a lot like last year's Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere. It also centers around a protagonist surviving Katrina on her birthday. If I were told I had to choose one, I would choose Finding Someplace. The New Orleans Patrick presents feels more real and the characters just jumped off of the page for me. Finding Someplace is also shorter and easier to read, but covers far more. There is an actual real look at the recovery from the disaster, the psychological effects, and stress and strain both cause on a family unit.

Bonus: Unlike all the other Katrina books I've read there is no dog. Patrick is able to tell an emotional  tale without throwing potential of animal death in there to strike fear in the hearts of her readers. Thank you, Ms. Patrick.

I read an ARC made available via Edelweiss by the publisher, Henry Holt & Co. (BYR). Finding Someplace is available August 4th.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Most Likely to Succeed

Most Likely to Succeed is the final book in the Superlatives trilogy by Jennifer Echols. Though these books are not dependent on one another and you can read them individually, I think this one finishes out the themes and characters that all three books share very well.

Kaye is a planner, and she has her entire life planned out. For those plans to happen she needs her senior year to follow a certain path. That path does not include breaking up with her long time boyfriend and falling for the school's bad boy, Sawyer. Kaye knows she needs to focus on her grades, her work as student government vice president, and her position as head cheerleader. But Kaye and her boyfriend, Aidan, have been growing apart. When she dares to challenge him in a student government meeting and they break-up, it becomes harder and harder for her to deny her growing attraction to Sawyer. Ever since his first day in town, Sawyer has been battling the reputation that preceded him. Sometimes that has meant battling himself as he's made some admittedly bad decisions to feed that negative reputation. But Sawyer is not as careless as most people imagine him to be. There are some things he takes very seriously, and his feelings for Kaye included. Kaye and Sawyer both have to see beyond the lines that divide them if they're going to make a future together work.

Kaye is ambitious and driven, but she has reached that point in her senior year that many people hit. The moment when you suddenly start to question all the goals you've been working toward and whether or not you are the person you truly want to be. This has been the overarching theme in all three books, but Kaye's experience of it is slightly different. She is not only contending with her own plans for her future, which are not small, but also her mother's plans for her future. Kaye and her mother have a fraught relationship. Her mother came from an impoverished family in a crime ridden part of Tampa and worked her way out. She pushes Kaye constantly, and is often not a pleasant person. This is actually where the biggest conflict in the story lies and is, in my opinion, one of the best relationships developed in the three books as well. It just has so much depth to it. A relationship between a mother and daughter is always hard to navigate during this time in the child's life, but when the two personalities involved are more alike than they want to admit, it makes it even harder. There is a lot of fighting and consequences in Kaye's home life. She is rebelling a bit (a truly little bit) for the first time in her life. She feels a tremendous amount of pressure thinking she needs to be eight times better than everyone else because she is black, a girl, and her mother's daughter. Kaye and her mom are at odds often, but there is still a special bond there. Even when they are angry at each other, it is clear. There's a particularly great moment when Kaye's mom comes to help her roll hair before Homecoming. I enjoyed reading the interactions between Kaye and her father too. Both parental relationships shine a clear light on how Kaye became the girl she is and what motivates her.

In writing about Kaye I'm very conscious of being a white woman reviewing how another white woman wrote a black protagonist. From where I sit it was well done, but I acknowledge that I the place where I'm sitting is on the outside looking in. I do like Echols included some discussions of race (though I was a little uncomfortable at one point by Sawyer trying to tell Kaye that something she interpreted as racist wasn't). She also included Kaye's feelings of love for her hair and the intricacies of styling it.

Sawyer was a scene stealer in the first two books, and this book is sure to please all of the many fans I know he's accumulated with his crazy antics. He is not really a "bad" boy and not just because he has recently stopped drinking and smoking pot. He is incredibly hardworking and loyal to the people in his life he allows to get close enough. He is charming and compassionate. Other than telling Kaye how she should interpret certain remarks directed her way, he is all around fantastic. He has loved Kaye forever, and is prickly towards her in order to protect his heart. She has a lot of power to hurt him. I enjoyed the conversations between them and the development of their relationship. My one complaint about this is actually what I find to be the book's biggest weakness. They have a major confrontation in which Sawyer is incredibly hurt and angery. His flip afterwards was so fast I almost got whiplash. In many ways we got more of a resolution to Kaye and her ex Aidan's relationship than Kaye and Sawyer's relationship.

It was also lovely to get snapshots of all the other characters I've come to love from the other books. This is a wonderful group of friends. I particularly enjoyed Will. He is not my favorite romantic hero of the three, but in this book he is the ultimate friend to both Kaye and Sawyer.

I'm sad to say goodbye to this school and these characters.

Content Note for the Interested: underage drinking, mild sexual descriptions

I read an ARC made available by the publisher, Simon Pulse, via Edelweiss. Most Likely to Succeed is available for purchase on August 4th.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Favorite MG Realistic Fiction Heroines

Continuing in my celebration of my favorite heroines of all time, I want to spend some time focusing on the girls of MG Realistic Fiction. (I already talked about Anne Shirley in my original heroine post.)


Enola Holmes from the Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer: She's Sherlock's little sister and she manages to outwit him regularly and does awesome stuff for Victorian girls while she's at it.

Juli from Flipped by Wendelin Van Drannen: Juli's journey in this book is just so real and heartwarming in so many ways. I love her heart and courage.



Claudia from From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg: When you sit back and think about all the things Claudia accomplishes in this story, it is truly mind boggling. And every girl deserves the opportunity to imagine they are capable of getting away with something like this.

Bridge, Tab, and Emily from Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead: These girls are from my most recent MG read. There is, I suppose, a chance my current boundlessness of my love for them will diminish over time but I doubt it. They are fabulous new additions to the family of wonderful MG girls.


The Penderwick Sisters from The Penderwick series by Jeanne Birdsall: All four of them are equally amazing in all their different strengths and flaws.

The Gaither Sisters from the Gaither Sisters trilogy by Rita Williams Garcia: I love the way these three girls stick together and the way they fight too. Another story about very different girls tied together by blood who stand against hardships together.

 


Mai from Listen Slowly by Thanhha Lai: I love Mai in all of her snarky sarcastic hard to impress middle school glory.

Turtle Wexler from The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin: I really wish I had room for Turtle on my original top ten list because she is so amazing. Strong, smart, temperamental, and a terrible yet perfect sister and friend. She's the whole package.

Who are some MG heroines in realistic fiction that stand out for you?

Other editions of Favorite Heroines:
MG Speculative Fiction
YA Speculative Fiction 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Goodbye Stranger

I've made no secret that I'm a huge fan of Rebecca Stead, and I firmly believe that her books get better and better with each release. Goodbye Stranger has only confirmed that belief.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Bridge is an accident survivor who's wondering why she's still alive. 

Emily has new curves and an almost-boyfriend who wants a certain kind of picture. 

Tabitha sees through everybody's games--or so she tells the world. The three girls are best friends with one rule: No fighting. Can it get them through seventh grade? 


This year everything is different for Sherm Russo as he gets to know Bridge Barsamian. What does it mean to fall for a girl--as a friend? 


On Valentine's Day, an unnamed high school girl struggles with a betrayal. How long can she hide in plain sight?

First and foremost this is a book about friendship and community. Bridge, Emily, and Tab have an excellent friendship. Each of them have different interests, passions, and personalities, but they are also a cohesive well-functioning team who made an agreement long ago to never fight. You can imagine what 7th grade does to this pact. But the girls really do have a strong relationship, and the story of how they weather the ups and downs of the scandals, changes, betrayals, and tumultuous twists of the year makes for an emotional and engrossing read. The developing relationship between Bridge and Sherm is wonderful as well. They have a great rapport and they both need each other's friendship exactly as it is exactly in the place they're both in. I love how both of them are strong enough to hold on to it through all the peer pressure surrounding them to be a couple too. They are both independent and self-reliant and this helps. It's an interesting contrast to the relationship between Emily and her sort-of-boyfriend Patrick. Those two are both more vulnerable and far too open to the manipulative powers of the middle school collective brain. The friendship between the three girls and the developing friendship between Bridge and Sherm also contrasts the unnamed teen's struggle with her relationships in high school as she looks back on her own tumultuous year.

The story is told in a mixture of third person telling the story of the 7th graders, letters Sherm is writing to his grandfather, and the teen's story told in second person. Second person is usually a point of view that will have me throwing a book down and running as far away from it as I can possibly get. And I'm not going to lie and say that Stead's writing was such that she made me forget my deep and abiding hatred for the second person. I was still thrown out of the story and frustrated by the use of "you" in action and thoughts I was not having myself. (Seriously, second person is so frustrating. So. Frustrating. I'm not in the book. Artificial means of putting me there only succeed in doing the opposite.) BUT. It didn't make me hate the book like it usually does, and I can even see the literary argument for having those sections told from this perspective. I do think this is the book's one weakness though. However, they are short and fit into the rest of the narrative well enough. And the rest of the story is so strong from a characterization and thematic stand point that it makes up for it.

The books themes are incredibly strong too. It is a wonderful look at feminism, body shaming, the disparity in how boys and girls are treated by adults and by each other, and the unfairness inherent in all of that. It's also about friendship, community, family, and what one's purpose on earth is. I can not wait to read this book with my own daughter. The parents in this book make plenty of mistakes but love their kids and incredibly realistic. I like the way Stead was able to touch upon such timely themes and subject matter without being at all didactic about it. Goodbye Stranger is a story of realistic kids navigating school and life and each other. They make mistakes. They stand up for each other. They are figuring out life. Reading about their struggles and triumphs will be something many young readers will relate to and enjoy.

I read an ARC received via the publisher, Wendy Lamb Books, at ALA Midwinter. Goodbye Stranger  is on sale August 4th. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Shadows of Sherwood

Shadows of Sherwood by Kekla Magoon is a fun new update to the Robin Hood legend in which the majority of the gang is made up of girls. And it's pretty great.

Robyn Loxley likes to tinker with old tech and the best place to find that requires her to sneak out of her house in the middle of the night. On the Night of Shadows, one such excursion saves her life when Governor Crown sends the military police out to assassinate and/or remove from their homes any Parliament member who would speak against his rule. Spouses and children are included in his directive. On this night Robyn returns home to find her parents gone and blood in the kitchen. Her father has tried to prepare Robyn for just such an eventuality. As she goes on the run, she has a few clues to help her and picks up some friends along the way. But learning to trust other people and navigate the terrifying new world they find themselves in does not come easily for a loner such as Robyn.

Robyn is independent and likes to do things her own way. She seems to have had few friends in her old life, mostly missing her parents and not really mentioning any one else. It takes her a while to trust the friends she begins to make, and she does several things that puts them at risk due to her own unthinking bravado. The conflicts that result from these situations helps to round out her character and adds to her journey. It also helps to develop the other characters as well. Robyn is a mixed child, she has a black father and a white mother. It is because of this that she is set up to be such a hero in the world, and I loved that aspect. The rest of the gang is also interesting. Laurel is an orphan and an expert thief. The mysterious Key is good at knowing what is going on and gathering intelligence. He is also good at strategy and has a mysterious past. Scarlet is a tough girl who is a top-notch hacker who uses her talents to undermine the Governor's regime. Tucker is a divinity student who gives them all sanctuary when they need it. Merryan is the niece of the Governor who moonlights as a volunteer in hospitals for the needy and begins to question her uncle's rule. The team is still new and has its issues, but I enjoyed watching them all get to know each other and figure out how they would operate.

The book is set in a futuristic world. The world building is the book's one great weakness. There's a lot of stuff about moon lore that weighs the book down at times particularly when it is not quite clear what its import is or how it will impact the action. The political issues are harsh and real enough without this aspect. Without the lore the book would be shorter but also tighter from a plotting perspective. The story wanders a little too much and seems unsure of its direction due to the number of threads being used to weave it.

Right now the villains are fairly predictable and two dimensional. Little is known of Crown. His chosen head for the military police, Marissa Mallet Sheriff of Sherwood District, is the face of the villainy in the story. She makes an excellent villain but there is not much else to her but that-at least no yet.

I love the diversity and girl power in this book. I'm looking forward  to recommending it to the kids I know who love these types of stories.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Rebel Mechanics

Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson caught my attention with the title and held it with the synopsis. This sounded like a great fit for me and the perfect read for the mood I was in at the time. While I have a few quibbles, it is a fun read that brought me much enjoyment.

Verity Newton is newly arrived in New York City after being not so gently pushed out the door by her father. Her trip to the city was eventful as the train she was riding on was robbed by the infamous Masked Bandits. Then upon her arrival, she meets up with the equally troublesome Rebel Mechanics who are not so quietly rebelling against the against the Magisters who are the ruling class of British aristocracy in the American Colonies. The Rebel Mechanics are trying to prove that they can build even better machines that run on science and engineering. Verity procures a position as governess in the home of the a young Magister who has the guardianship of his nieces and nephew (the three children also happen to be the grandchildren of the Governor). Verity becomes friends with several members of the Mechanics and is drawn to their cause, writing articles for the illegal newspapers they circulate. At the same time, she is being drawn deeper into the world of her employerShe soon finds herself torn between what she knows of both worlds she is straddling. And she is keeping secrets that could destroy her own life as well as the causes of her closest friends.

Rebel Mechanics takes place in an alternate 1888 where the American Revolution never occurred due to the ruling class of British having magic when the lower class citizens did not. But now that science and invention have taken hold in those classes, there is a fighting chance for actual change. Many of the Magisters don't even really know how to use their own powers relying on the ingenuity and work of their ancestors to keep their world running. It is a fascinating and fun concept, and I enjoyed how well Swenson drew her world without over explaining it. The machines the Mechanics have invented are interesting. The Masked Bandits add a dash of exciting capers to the mix. The politics are interesting and colored in exactly the right shades of gray to show the complexities of revolution.

Verity is a heroine I enjoyed following and rooting for. She is incredibly intelligent but has led a very sheltered life in her parents' home. She has had no interactions with Magisters and only faintly heard about the revolutionary aspects of her country. There is a sense of wide-eyed innocence about her. She is incredibly trusting. There were times as a reader where I knew she was being taken advantage of, but she didn't even suspect. It worked because it made sense for her. Verity is savvy though and she figures things out quickly enough that I never lost my belief in her as a character.

Talking about the rest of the characters is now hard without spoilers. I will say these things:
I loved the three children. (Even Flora in all her teenage elitist snobbery.)
I ship the ship VERY MUCH.
I had a hard time liking the people taking advantage of Verity because I thought the way they were deceiving her was particularly gross and underhanded.

This leads me to my main quibble with the book. I found myself really frustrated through the middle because even though I understood how Verity would not see how she was being manipulated, I still wanted to move past all that and get to the part where she realized and did something about it. Also it was interfering with my full enjoyment of my ship.

I am definitely in for the rest of this series though and am looking forward to the sequel.

I read an ARC made available by the publisher, Farrar Straus and Giroux (BYR), via Edelweiss. Rebel Mechanics goes on sale July 14th.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Cover Reveal: Secrets of the Dragon Tomb

Today I'm thrilled and excited to be hosting the cover reveal for Secrets of the Dragon Tomb by Patrick Samphire. I've been looking forward to reading this book since I first heard about it, and I'm so happy it's release is that much closer. The cover is wonderful too. It's as unique as the book's concept and fits its synopsis so well. As a bonus, Patrick has answered some questions and given a little more information on the book.

Without further ado:

Mars in 1816 is a world of high society, deadly danger, and strange clockwork machines. 

Twelve-year-old Edward Sullivan wants to become a spy like the ones he reads about in his favorite magazine, Thrilling Martian Tales, but he’s far too busy keeping his eccentric family from disaster. All of that is about to change. In the north, great dragon tombs hide marvels of Ancient Martian technology, and the villainous archaeologist Sir Titus Dane is determined to loot one. 

When Sir Titus kidnaps Edward’s parents, Edward, his sisters, and their mysterious cousin set off in pursuit across the Martian wilderness. Together they must battle Sir Titus’s minions, dodge hungry pterodactyls, and escape fearsome Martian hunting machines in order to rescue Edward’s parents and uncover the secrets of the dragon tomb.

SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB is an exciting, funny middle grade adventure.
Publication date: January 12, 2016
Publisher: Christy Ottaviano Books / Henry Holt / Macmillan
Artist: Jeremy Holmes (http://www.jeremyholmesstudio.com/)

Q&A with Patrick Samphire (Author Website): 

Tell me a little bit about the cover.

The cover and the illustrations inside the book are by the wonderful artist Jeremy Holmes. He came up with three concepts for the cover, and this one was the one that everyone loved. The book is set on Mars in 1816, but it's a very different Mars from the one we know. It's full of weird creatures and plants and very, very strange machines. 

The two children on the cover are Putty (the girl) and Edward (the boy), who are sister and brother, and they are the main heroes of the book. Edward is our point of view character, and Putty is his far more brilliant and unpredictable sister. The cover isn't a particular scene from the book, more an amalgam of various parts of the book and the world. 

What I love about the cover is the vibrant colors and sense of adventure. There's so much going on in the book, and Jeremy has managed to capture the excitement and energy of it. I think he's also managed to capture Edward and Putty's personalities really well.

If you were guiding tourists around 1816 Mars, where are some of the places you would take them?

In fact, the Grand Tour of Mars is an extremely popular diversion among wealthy young men and women, particularly since Napoleon's armies have conquered mainland Europe, leaving Britain isolated and weak. 

If you were planning your Grand Tour of Mars, the absolute first priority would be the dragon tombs of Lunae Planum, where the bodies of the Ancient Martian emperors were buried along with the preserved bodies of their dragons and the marvels of technology that have transformed both Mars and Earth. You would probably want to visit the hanging ballrooms of Tharsis City, the capital of British Mars, and take a relaxing holiday on Gadsden's Floating Hotel, from where you can take a trip on a submersible to the strange ruins far below the surface of the Valles Marineris.

Those who are of the more adventurous disposition would definitely want to try sky leaping in the air forests of Patagonian Mars and explore the ice caverns below New Guangzhou.

And, of course, if you have the inclination, a trip to the most impressive relic of the Ancient Martian civilization, the Great Wall of Cyclopia, 750 miles long and three hundred yards high, which cuts off the whole of the Amenthes Peninsula and beyond which you can find those terrible reptiles, the dinosaurs.

Who would you recommend this book to?

SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB is a thrilling adventure story, first and foremost. I would recommend it to anyone who loves middle grade and who wants their adventures fast, funny, and full of quirky invention.

Is this a stand-alone novel or a series?

It's the first book in a series, although you could certainly read it on its own. There aren't any frustrating cliff-hangers at the end! The second book in the series is THE EMPEROR OF MARS, which will probably come out a year later (I don't think the exact publication date has been set yet). 

About the Author:
Patrick Samphire has been charged at by a buffalo in Africa, been lost in a rainforest in South America, and been scared by a camel in Egypt. He has worked as a physicist, a teacher, an editor, and a web designer. He now lives with wife and two sons in Wales. He has not yet gotten to Mars, but he’s still trying. SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB is his first book.

Wednesday, July 1, 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.

The DNFs (links to my reasons why-if I shared them-on Goodreads):
Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
Every Breath by Ellie Marney
The President's Daughter by Ellen Emerson White
A Rogue By Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean
Silver in the Blood by Jessica Day George
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Adult Books (links to reviews on Goodreads):
High Country Spring by Genevieve Turner
Uprooted by Naomi Novik (see below)
Suddenly One Summer by Julie James

Pure Magic by Rachel Neumeier is a YA book that belongs in Best of Best but can't be included in the giveaway because it's not available on Book Depository. But you should really read it.)

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

Cuckoo Song by Frances Harding
Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones


Omega City by Diana Peterfreund
Uprooted by Naomi Novak

Links to my reviews unless otherwise noted.

GIVEAWAY Rules

If you want to win one of the 4.5/5 star books I read this quarter, leave a comment below and tell me:
1) A favorite book of yours from the past few months.
2) Which of these books you are interested in if you win. (You can change your mind 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 Wednesday, July 8 at 8:00 PM EDT.