Thursday, June 30, 2016

Quarterly 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):
Flirting with Scandal by Chanel Cleeton

Adult Books (links to reviews on Goodreads):
Act Like It by Lucy Parker (contemporary romance)
After the Kiss by Lauren Layne (contemporary romance)
Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn (historical romance)
Chase Me by Laura Florand (contemporary romance)
Chasing Jillian by Julie Brannagh (contemporary romance)
Earth Bound by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner (historical romance-5 STARS! this is now my FAVORITE romance novel of all time)
The Forbidden Rose by Joanna Bourne (historical romance)
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine (historical)
Her Cowboy Rival by Genevieve Turner (contemporary romance)
Just One Night by Lauren Layne (contemporary romance)
Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase (historical romance)
Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis (historical fantasy-5 STARS! PERFECT ME BOOK)

The Best of the Best  MG and YA (where the Giveaway comes in):

Links to my reviews unless otherwise noted.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner (link to Goodreads; my review posts next week)

Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand
A Tangle of Gold by Jaclyn Moriarty*


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

If you want to win one of the 4.5/5 star books I read this quarter, leave a comment below and tell me:
1) A favorite book of yours from the past few months.
2) Which of these books you are interested in if you win. (You can change your mind if you do.)
3) A way to reach you (email or Twitter handle) if you win. If you are using a Twitter handle, you may want to follow me in case I need to DM you.

Open to any reader who lives where Book Depository ships for free.

I will close this GIVEAWAY and choose a winner on Thursday, July 7 at 8:00 PM EDT.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

TTT: Books Set in Summer

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

This Week's TTT Topic: Freebie (I chose Books Set in Summer or with a Summery Feel.)


What books that take place in summer do you love?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Save Me a Seat

I always enjoy books by Sarah Weeks. She writes heartfelt, fun, quick MG reads. They are universally easy to book talk and sell. Whenever she has a new book out, I try to read it as soon as possible. I was even more excited by Save Me a Seat due to its synopsis and format. Sarah Weeks wrote this book with Gita Varadarajan and it follows two boys in their first week of fifth grade.

Ravi is newly arrived in America from India. He is excited about starting a new school. He was at the top of his class in India and an excellent cricket player. He knows he will impress all of his new classmates and teachers. He will begin to make friends and things will be wonderful. Things do not go as Ravi planned however. His teacher implies he may need help with English even though he speaks English just fine. His Math process is completely different. The one person he thought would be his friend turns on him.

Joe is not exited about starting school. After all, he's gone to this school since Kindergarten and knows exactly what to expect from class bully Dillon. It doesn't help that his only two friends moved over the summer and his mom has taken a job as a lunch monitor. Joe always has one eye on Dillon because he's learned from experience the unpleasant results of letting Dillon sneak up on him. Joe knows exactly what is in store for Ravi, and but Ravi doesn't seem to want his help.

Any one familiar with the tropes and stories of MG lit is not going to be surprised by the course this book takes. What makes it special and stand out is the strength of the voices and characterization of both of the boys. The story is told in first person perspective in alternating chapters from each boys' point of view. Individually each boy's story is strong. Through Ravi we get a brilliant picture of what it is like to try to navigate a completely foreign place that you now live. Even though the language barrier is not there because Ravi speaks English (as do many immigrants). Ravi is a bit over confident and grows a lot over the course of the book. Joe has a sensory disorder that makes school hard for him. He is smart but has a hard time focusing. This plus his size as the largest kid in the class makes him a target for the class bully. Joe also grows a lot over the course of the book learning to be more assertive and speak his mind. Eventually the two boys form an alliance with the potential to be a great friendship. Their individual stories are made stronger for being combined. Having both fills in gaps and shows a greater wider picture of the school culture. This is not only a brilliant story telling device abut also serves the larger theme of the story incredibly well.

Aside from the boys, my favorite part of this book is the adults. There are fantastic teachers in this book and I found how they worked with the kids to be incredibly accurate. Even better than that is the involvement and care of the parents. Both Ravi and Joe have parents who care deeply for them and want to help even as they come up agains misunderstanding and the boys' push for independence and desire to fix things themselves. As things that take place at school are influenced by home (and vice versa), it was important to see both environments balanced in both boys' stories.

I haven't seen much talk about this book and would love to see more. It is an excellent work of realistic fiction that will work as both a window and a mirror for almost any child. Like most of Weeks's other books, it is short and easy to book talk. I'm really hoping we see more from Varadarajan in the future too.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Shorter Musings: Realistic MG

Here are some shorter musings on recent reads.

As Brave as You  by Jason Reynolds
This is a quiet book about that centers on complicated family dynamics. It is the second book I've read this year where the protagonist spends the summer with grandparents they haven't met so that the parents can try and work on their marriage. (The other is Some Kind of Happiness.) As Brave as You is an excellent addition for any school or classroom library and a good book to recommend to kids looking for a summer read that truly feels like summer. It is not quite as good as Reynolds YA books, and it is also longer. I can not figure out why it needed to be this long either.

How to (Almost) Ruin Your Summer by Taryn Sounders
A cute, fun story about summer camp and branching out into things that challenge you. I think MG readers will laugh at a lot of the scenarios that arise. I felt the characterization was a little flat and the character's actions predictable, but most of the target audience won't have those quibbles. There is nothing ground breaking here, but it is fairly well written as a whole and does what it intends to well. It is a good short read for summer vacation.

Poison is Not Polite by Robin Stevens
I really enjoy how this series balances serious core problems of humanity with the fun of children outwitting adults and solving crimes. The racial issues that are a daily hardship for Hazel when she's not at school were brought a bit more in this book. But this is mostly a more in depth look at Daisy's life, which we see through Hazel's eyes but are given a clearer view of here. Poor Daisy who has philandering mother, a weak and sad father, and an angry brother. Daisy's Uncle Felix was everything I hoped for and I definitely want to see him again in future volumes. (I would also like to see another adult character who I adored again.)


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

TTT: Favorite Reads of 2016 So Far

This Week's TTT Topic: Favorite Reads of First Half of 2016 (Links are to my reviews.)

The MG:

Secrets of the Dragon Tomb by Patrick Samphire

Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand

The YA:

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

A Tangle of Gold by Jaclyn Moriary

When I Was the Greatest  by Jason Reynolds 

The Adult: 

Earth Bound by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner

Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis

Sleeping with her Enemy by Jenny Holiday 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Dara Palmer's Major Drama

Emma Shevah's Dream on Amber was a gem of a book I discovered as a Round One Cybils panelist for MG Realistic fiction last year. It quickly became one of my favorite MG reads of the year. As such, I was excited to get to read her 2016 release, Dara Palmer's Major Drama, early.

Dara Palmer has one goal in life: She is going to be a famous actress. A superstar. She will live in Hollywood and everyone will know her name. For now, she is a school girl in England who can't seem to get a part in any of the school plays. It is an outrage. She and her best friend are clearly so much more talented than all of the people who are given starring roles. Aren't they? But the drama teacher says Dara needs work and would benefit from her Drama Class. Dara is horrified, but decides to give it a try. This comes at the same time Dara is beginning to think more about her life in Cambodia before her adoption. She notices that there are no famous actresses that look like her. It feels like all her plans are falling apart. She will have to come up with a way to make her dreams come true.

I was split in two.
I was English but I wasn't.
I was Cambodian but I wasn't.
I was in the family but I wasn't really part of the family.
And now my heart was hacked in half as well.

Dara's voice is unique and full of energy. Reading this book is almost exhausting for an introverted person like myself. Shevah did an excellent job of capturing the effervescent, always going, fully engaged with life voice of a dramatic middle grade student. Dara is loud and bright in all of her endeavors. She dresses to fit the part in life she wants to play. She is also incredibly self absorbed and oblivious. The events of the book cause her to open her eyes and start seeing herself and others better. Her conflicted feelings over her adoption and her identity ring true for someone in her situation with her personality. I particularly liked this aspect as we need more books that deal with the feeling of internationally adopted children.

One of the great strengths of Sheva's writing is the way she presents family dynamics. Dara has a wonderful family. Her parents are supportive and understanding. Her older brother Felix is smart and tries to make time for her when she needs it. Her younger sister Georgia (adopted from Russia) is the one member of her family Dara does not get along with. They are completely different people, but as the story progresses, Dara is forced to look at life through her sister's eyes and discovers a lot about both of them. In a lot of ways, the family situation here is very ideal, but it is also realistic. There are squabbles, misunderstandings, and heartache.

I think this will be an enjoyable book for anyone in the target age group. It is written in such a way that the reader falls right into the story. I think most MG readers will feel like they are hearing their own voice or the voice of a friend as they read the prose.

I received an ARC made available by the publisher, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, via Edelweiss. Dara Palmer's Major Drama is on sale July 5th.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

TTT: Anticipated Releases for Rest of 2016

This Week's TTT Topic: Most Anticipated Releases for Second Half of 2016

The Left Handed Fate by Kate Milford (August 23)

Rose &Thorn by Sarah Prineas (September 13th)

Crosstalk by Connie Willis (September 20)

Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge (September 27)

A Little Taste of Poison by R.J. Anderson (September 27)

Foxheart by Claire Legrand (October 4) 

When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin (October 4)

Spindle by E. K. Johnston (December 6)

What books are you looking forward to in the last half of the year? 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

TTT: Why I Love the Queen's Thief Series

This Week's TTT Topic: Reasons I Love X

X= The Queen's Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner

This is my favorite series containing two of my top ten favorite books and my favorite character of all time. I have never written reviews of these on the blog because sometimes something just means too much to put it coherently in to words, but this format allows me to sort of explain myself without having to find the perfect words for each aspect of all four books.

1. Irene Attolia-The titular character of the second novel in the series, Attolia, is rare for me to find in a book. I don't often get heroines who see the world and interact with it as I do, but she does. (I'm fairly certain if she took the test, her personality type would be INTJ.) I know a lot of people who read these books don't like her (or her actions in the infamous chapter three of the second book), but from my first reading of that book I understood what motivated her and felt equally terrible for her as the recipient of said actions. (I DID write an entire post on her once, but beware, it contains spoilerish information.)

2. Eugenides: It has been long documented on this blog that I have a thing for male characters who are brilliant but choosy about applying that brilliance, ambitious but lazy, arrogant but slightly insecure, and who can snark with the best of them.  Gen is all of these things and I adore reading about him. (It was heartbreaking when I started reading Queen and it was not in his first person point of view. I love having his voice in my head every time I read The Thief.)

3. Pretty much every other character in the books: Turner has a way of making every single one of her characters an actual real person even if the sum total of words written about them is around fifty. There are so many secondary and incidental characters in this series that fire the imagination. Royal attendants, soldiers, misguided kitchen workers, I want to know everything about all of them.

4. Politics: I know. This is the part where I'm losing a lot of you (especially in our current climate), but hear me out. These books are political intrigue fantasy at its finest, and I love how this touches on the theme of the utter thorough destructiveness (but sometimes unescapable) reality of war, the harsh reality of consequences from decisions that impact multitudes, and how two rulers can want the best for their people and be in complete opposition to each other at the same time. The intrigue that goes on behind closed doors (and out in the open) is so well done too. Power will always draw ambitious schemers intent on making their mark. Some of those people are noble and good, but their methods are not always. And then there is the majority who are just out for themselves. Navigating who to trust in such situations is a minefield.

5. Mythopoeic: I LOVE books that play with mythology, and none does that better than these do. Turner created a pantheon of gods and goddesses, wrote their stories (to play off familiar ones from our own world), and uses them to say a lot about the relationship between the human and the Divine, what that looks like in every day life, and how it plays out on a greater stage.

6. Depiction of Women in Power: This is a series that has not one, but two, strong queens. They are both incredibly different women with different strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, ruling styles, and relationship skills. Neither is portrayed as more or less than the other. They are both good at what they do and have done the best with the countries and situations handed down to them. Also they run circles around their one male counterpart on their small peninsula.

7. The Romance: This is one of the most subtle romances rendered and yet it is so amazing. (There are actually two romances so far, both equally subtle.) I will focus on the main romance for this which is, to me, absolute perfection. It is all seen from mostly afar, but all of the scenes involving it have power. My top favorite kiss in a book is in the third book of this series. It's not from the point of view of those engaging in it, but the people who witness it. And it's utter perfection.

8. The World: The world building here is excellent. There is a rich history, religion, structure of commerce, and social structure. The countries of Sounis, Eddis, and Attolia are like real places and I would love to visit them.

9. The Writing: The books are not exactly perfect. There are some pacing issues from book to book, but there aren't many pages that don't have examples of stellar writing. I've used chapter three of The Queen of  Attolia to teach high schoolers how to write using extraordinary imagery. Turner uses her words sparingly. She can convey pages of information about characters and place with a few short sentences.

10. The Fandom: The QT fandom is small but dedicated. I first found them years ago on Livejournal. Most of us are scattered over Twitter and Tumblr now. There is amazing fan art and head canons. And I will never get over discussing and analyzing these books with the other wonderful people who love them. I also have these books and the community to thank for meeting some truly wonderful people who I have discussed many books with, met (some) in person, served on award panels with, and had numerous discussion on a variety of topics. (Maureen, Charlotte, Chachic, Beth, Shae, R.J., Kate, Jade, Hallie: I'm so thankful for all of you!!!!)

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

WoW: Bright Smoke, Cold Fire

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

When the mysterious fog of the Ruining crept over the world, the living died and the dead rose. Only the walled city of Viyara was left untouched.

The heirs of the city’s most powerful—and warring—families, Mahyanai Romeo and Juliet Catresou share a love deeper than duty, honor, even life itself. But the magic laid on Juliet at birth compels her to punish the enemies of her clan—and Romeo has just killed her cousin Tybalt. Which means he must die.

Paris Catresou has always wanted to serve his family by guarding Juliet. But when his ward tries to escape her fate, magic goes terribly wrong—killing her and leaving Paris bound to Romeo. If he wants to discover the truth of what happened, Paris must delve deep into the city, ally with his worst enemy . . . and perhaps turn against his own clan.

Mahyanai Runajo just wants to protect her city—but she’s the only one who believes it’s in peril. In her desperate hunt for information, she accidentally pulls Juliet from the mouth of death—and finds herself bound to the bitter, angry girl. Runajo quickly discovers Juliet might be the one person who can help her recover the secret to saving Viyara.

Both pairs will find friendship where they least expect it. Both will find that Viyara holds more secrets and dangers than anyone ever expected. And outside the walls, death is waiting. . . 

Part of me is wary of this book. The plot sounds incredibly complicated. However, I have learned that Hodge excels at complicated, twisted plots. I trust her. I wouldn't be able to resist it even if she hadn't earned my trust though. A magical retelling of Romeo and Juliet where the synopsis men tons FRIENDSHIP being an integral part? Yeah, there is no way I'm missing that. Book, you better deliver on that promise.

Bright Smoke, Cold Fire releases on September 27th.