Friday, September 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):
The Eye of Midnight by Andrew Brumbauch
The Gallery by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
The Kidnap Plot by Dave Butler
Serpentine by Cindy Pon
A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallari
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
The Wolf's Boy by Susan Williams Buckhorn

Adult Books (links to reviews on Goodreads):
The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne (historical romance THIS BOOK-my heart!)
Close-Up by Virginia Kantra (contemporary romantic thriller)
My Lord and Spymaster by Joanna Bourne (historical romance)
Rogue Spy by Joanna Bourne (historical romance)
Roses and Rot by Kat Howard (fantasy/fairy tale)
The Spymaster's Lady by Joanna Bourne (historical romance/adventure)
The Stepsister Scheme by Jim Hines (fantasy)
Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler (contemporary; Taming of the Shrew retelling)
The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold (science fiction)
The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold (science fiction-LOVE)

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

The Left-Handed Fate by Kate Milford
Two Naomis  by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick

Links to my reviews unless otherwise noted.


*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 Friday, October 7 8:00 PM EST.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

I'm a Cybils Judge!

The 2016 Cybils Judges were announced today.

I am so happy to be back on MG Speculative Fiction this year. I'm a Round One Panelist which means all of my reading is about to become Middle Grade Science-Fiction and Fantasy.

I will be working with these lovely ladies:

Charlotte Taylor from Charlotte's Library

Sherry Early from Semicolon

Kristen Harvey from The Book Monsters

Brenda Tjaden from Log Cabin Library

What's next? Nominations for the Cybils open on October 1st. Start making your lists of books you want to nominate. Books need to have a US publishing date of October 16, 2015-October 15, 2016.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Shorter Musings

Some shorter musings on recent reads.

Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbit
Cloud and Wallfish is a story of friendship and adventure set in East Berlin in 1989. It is an interesting look into a time and place that we typically don't see much of in MG. Each chapter has a "case file" addition that give some explanations and historical background. I'm not entirely sold on this format, but these sections are not necessary to the story and kid readers will make up their own minds what they will do with that. I adored both Noah/Jonah and Claudia and the growth of their friendship. I was really annoyed by Noah's parents through the entire book. It lessened my enjoyment of the overall story quite a bit. I kind of hated them. It is a fun story though and definitely one I'll be adding to recommendation lists.

I received an ARC from the author.

The Extincts by Veronica Cossanteli
Kids who get part time jobs working at a farm for extinct animals have many adventures. How cute is that? This is one of those zany madcap short fantasy adventures perfect for kids transitioning from early chapter books to MG novels. It isn't my particular cup of tea, but it is perfect for its target audience and a definite must have for elementary libraries. Every kid who loves books about animals will gobble this up.

The Magic Mirror: Concerning a Lonely Princess, a Foundling Girl, a Scheming King, and a Pickpocket Squirrel by Susan Hill Long
This is a fairy tale story. It's not a retelling or reworking, it is a story with a fairy tale set-up that is wholly its own plot. With shades of the Canterbury Tales via a band of mismatched traveling companions with their own agendas and stories. It isn't anything special all told. There are far better fairy tale stories out there. What is nice about this one is it is a mostly humorous and heart warming story geared more for the upper middle grade range where we see less of those. Yet there are still kids who want them. It's also a good pick for strong younger readers. There is a lot of exposition especially at the end and at times it is easy to confuse some of the characters. Overall it's a good book to have on hand for recommending to kids who can't get enough of fairy tales.

Moo by Sharon Screech
The story here is fine. I guess. Incredibly predictable and cliché, but there's nothing terrible about it. The characters are fairly stock with little development. There is definitely emotional manipulation at the end to tug on your heartstrings and make the book feel important. Yawn. The worst thing about this book is its atrocious formatting. It is a "blank verse" poetry novel, which is often used as a blanket way of covering all sorts of linguistic sins. This could be the textbook example of a book that didn't need to be blank verse, had no reason to be blank verse, but being blank verse made it easier to fill the required number of pages. The strange (and truly frustrating ) part of this is that I use the term "blank verse" VERY loosely. There are paragraphs of narrative prose inserted into the book will-nilly for no other seeming reason than "why not?". There will be a whole chapter that's all narrative followed by a chapter of verse. Or verse, random paragraph, more verse. There is no rhyme or logic to it and it serves no purpose.

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk
Yes, it is yet another much hyped and lauded MG book of 2016 I don't like. It will be easy for many to dismiss me as simply having a contrary year, but really why the love for this book in the kidlit world? It is extremely well written. It is not a book for children though. I'm not saying this in a way that means "teacher book" like I would call Pax or that it's like a Pixar movie in book form like I would call Hokey Pokey. It is an adult literary fiction novel never mind the age of the protagonist. You know how the Flavia de Luce books by Alan Bradley could technically be sold as MG because of Flavia's age? Yeah. I think any one who has read those books is in agreement their placement in adult mystery fiction is right. Just because this book is about bullying and a young protagonist doesn't make it MG. It's non-linear in many places, it meanders in stream of consciousness thought, it wallows in the misery of human existence, and is hopeless hopeless hopeless. It is everything I hate about adult lit fic. It exemplifies all the reasons why I spend my time reading (actual) children's fiction and only read genre fiction when I read adult. I won't be recommending this to anyone, but if depressing adult fiction is your jam, you may want to try it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Two Naomis

Two Naomis by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick first caught my eye due to its cover (well done Balzer and Bray). I'm so happy that I decided to read it and that this book now exists in the world.

Naomi Marie likes West African dance, board games, and being the best at whatever she attempts to do. She is an excellent big sister and adores her family. She feels lucky that she lives just blocks away from her dad and can visit him whenever she wants despite her parents' divorce.

Naomi Edith likes reading, anything creative, and spending her Saturdays with dad doing the things they love. She desperately misses her mom who has moved to California since her parents' divorce. Skype just isn't the same.

When Naomi M's mother and Naomi E's father begin dating more seriously, the girls are reluctantly thrown together. Both enrolled in a computer programming class at the Y, they don't see why they should have to spend so much time together because their parents like each other.

Two Naomis is one of those books that gets the MG voice so well. Both Naomis come across as incredibly genuine and real. They are very different girls and despite their same names it is not at all confusing. They are so different and their voices sound so much like their characters, that it is never difficult to tell them apart. Naomi M is a force of nature. She is outgoing and a little controlling. She likes to be in charge and often is due to her role as older sister. She cares deeply about her family and friends and puts a high value on loyalty and hard work. Naomi E is less sure of herself. She is more apathetic and takes the easier route in things when she can. She is really struggling with missing her mom and feeling left behind. Different as they are, they are both sympathetic relatable characters that realistically project the MG mindset. Both are a little self consumed and oblivious to things not directly involving them. The cast of secondary characters is well done too. Both Naomis best friends are wonderful. They too are very different from each other AND very different from both Naomis. They are supportive of their friends but also their voices of reason (or at least they try to be). Naomi M's little sister Brianna is all four year old. No filter, too much energy, and a full steam ahead outlook on the world. The parents are all well done too. They make mistakes and behave selfishly at some points, but they are active involved parents who are doing their best. I really like how they talk to the kids and work hard to make the best out of the situations they are in (some of which came from their own mistakes).

The plot of the book centers around the class the two Naomis take together and the project they are partners on, but the crux of the book is about relationships. I really appreciate that this is a book that shows the hard adjustments and compromises that come with one of your parents dating someone else seriously after a divorce. We have a lot of MG books that deal with the process of divorce, right after a divorce, or right after a remarriage, but I can't think of another one that deals with this aspect of the process. Both girls have to sort through a lot of complicated feelings while also learning to work together and compromise. It's just incredibly well done all the way around.

I highly recommend this for all lovers of MG realistic fiction. It is a fun, quick read with excellent characters and wonderful themes. It is definitely a book I'm adding to my list of favorite sibling stories.

I read an ARC made available by the publisher, Balzer and Bray,  via Edelweiss. Two Naomis is on sale September 13th.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Shadow Magic

I heard a little bit about Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan last year, but not much buzz since it came out. I'm curious as to why that is because, while not perfect, it is a book that kids will eat up like candy. Blurbed by Rick Riordan, Jonathan Stroud, Sarah Rees Brennan, and Cinda Williams Chima, it had some fairly lofty expectations to live up to and it for the most part it meets them.

Thorn leaves home to find his father, who was condemned as an outlaw for something Thorn did. He is captured by slavers and bought by Tyburn. Tyburn is the executioner for the House of Shadow. Thorn finds himself in the country of Gehenna residing at Castle Gloom itself. He is a peasant who befriends nobility, becomes a hero, and shares an odd bond with a bat.

Lily Shadow is the new ruler of Gehenna following the death of her parents and brother. In one day she went from being a 13 year old girl who loved to run and play to the person on whom the weight of the kingdom rests. She is reluctantly fulfilling a betrothal contract that ended a centuries long war with the kingdom of Lumina. When it is clear an assassin is stalking Lily, she must count on help from Thorn to solve the mystery of her family's deaths and stand with her as she comes into her full powers.

Certainly there is a lot in Shadow Magic that is derivative of other works of fantasy. There is a lowly hero and an exalted girl in danger. There is a rugged mysterious man with a sword on a temperamental horse. There is an unlikely trio of friends who emerge to fight the danger. There are also zombie armies, ghost puppies, and an enormous ancient bat named Hades. So it has its own stuff going for it too. Most importantly it is one of those books that sells itself, that you can hand to any kid looking for something to read when they've run out of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. The chapters are short and the action is fast paced. It makes the book hard to put down.

As regular readers of this blog know, I'm a character reader and I do think the characters are the book's greatest weakness. There are a lot of them. This in addition to the action means Khan had to rely on types a lot for what he was doing. Tyburn the executioner is never more than dark and mysterious. The villain is fairly one note. Gabriel, Lily's betrothed, is loathsome and whiny. He gets a little bit more than this as a character but not much. Even Lily and Thorn aren't as well developed as they could be, but I did really enjoy reading about them as heroes. Lily is haughty and prideful, but also compassionate and desperate for friends she can trust. Thorn is all attitude, but underneath it he is sympathetic and, as much as he'd mock it, honorable and brave. A young prince named K'leefe rounds out their trio. He is a hostage of Gabriel's father, a prince from yet another kingdom. His character is rather flat overall and mostly shows off the strengths of Lily and Thorn. However, he gets his own moments to shine too.

The world Khan created for the book is incredibly interesting and the way he presents it shows a lot of thought went in to it. He is one of those authors that is good at conveying the depths of his world building without feeling the need to explain it all. The kingdoms have a history that is fascinating and I find myself wanting to know more about all of them.

Also there is a giant bat named Hades with as much attitude as Thorn, which probably explains why Thorn is the only one who can ride him.

This book is just fun. It is a must have for all collections that cater to 5th-8th graders for sure. The book stands on its own but does have a sequel coming out next year entitled Dream Magic