My feelings for Clair LaZebnik's books have run from lukewarm to extreme love. I was on the fence about reading Things I Should Have Knownbecause I knew it dealt with autism, and I was worried about how that would go. All her other books I've read have been fluffy, romantic modern Austen retellings. I was thoroughly pulled into this story and characters though. This is definitely on the extreme love end of my LaZebnik book rankings.
Chloe's sister Ivy has autism so even though Ivy is older, Chloe has always felt like the older sibling who has to take care of and watch out for Ivy. When Ivy walks in on Chloe making out with her boyfriend and begins asking a lot of questions about feelings and romance, Chloe thinks Ivy wants a boyfriend. After assessing all of Ivy's friends at her special school, Chloe encourages Ivy to text a boy named Ethan who is also on the spectrum. Ivy agrees to meet with Ethan for yogurt, but only if Chloe goes with her. When they arrive, Chloe finds that Ethan is accompanied by his brother David, the one guy in school she absolutely can not stand. As Ivy and Ethan continue to meet, David and Chloe tag along and discover they have a lot in common. As the friendships between all four of them develop in unexpected ways, Chloe begins to learn more about her sister, herself, and the people around her.
The story is told in Chloe's first person point of view so the way she sees the world affects the way the reader sees the world, but Ivy, David, and Ethan become just as real and nuanced people. So do Chloe's boyfriend James and her best friend Sarah. (The fact I remembered all their names and didn't need to look any of them up speaks volumes about this. I have a hard time remembering the names of secondary characters in contemporary novels.) Chloe is beautiful and popular. She is smart, but she also works hard. To unwind she enjoys gossiping with Sarah and making out with James. She is in every way a typical teen, but she has a maturity about her that comes from years helping Ivy navigate the world. Her sister is the most important thing in the world to Chloe even when she gets frustrated with her. Her quest to help Ivy find love is not entirely selfless as Chloe knows it will give her a little more freedom. But she's not looking for too much freedom. She's making her college plans around how close she can stay to Ivy just in case she needs her.
This book is first and foremost a sibling story. I adore sibling stories and this is a good one, with not one but two sets of very different siblings both with amazing dynamics. Chloe and Ivy have issues at home: their father died shortly after Ivy's diagnosis, they have a new step father Chloe doesn't particularly like, their mother suffered from depression in the past. The girls rely heavily on each other. David and Ethan are much the same. Their mother left after Ethan's diagnosis and their step mother is paranoid their new baby brother will be autistic too. David does pretty much everything with Ethan. David has absolutely no social life because he leaves school to help his brother. And that's it. Because there really is no one else. Chloe is able to have more freedom because she has her mom and step dad, but in David she finds someone her own age who finally really gets what she deals with every day. And he begins to see her in a different light as well. The best part about the dates is watching David and Chloe interact with their siblings and guide them through the world as best they can. These interactions build all four of their characters well. The second best part of the dates is watching the understanding, familiarity, and friendship grow between Chloe and David.
The romantic thread is definitely secondary to the rest of it, but how it develops is interesting and atypical for a YA romance. Chloe is the outgoing, experienced one. She likes boys, kissing, and making out and has had a lot of experience with all of it. David is basically a hermit. Part of that is because of his dedication to Ethan, but a good chunk of it is because deep down he is a socially awkward, arrogant nerd. (So we know how I feel about him.) Their relationship is really a friendship first. The two of them banter with the best of them, but their physical attraction is slower to get going. And their first kiss isn't fabulous because it's David's first kiss ever. (Though Chloe is much delighted with being the instructor in that which was so refreshing to see.)
I can't really assess the portrayal of autism as that is not my lane at all. I love both Ivy and Ethan as characters. They are different people with strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. They process and deal with the world in different ways. I thought that the way LaZebnik presented the reactions of people around them in public and how all four teens dealt with this was really enlightening. From my limited perspective, it all felt nuanced and well done.
There is another thing that comes as an element in Ivy's interactions with Ethan that is handled really well too. I don't want to say much about that because of spoilers (but I don't think it's very difficult to figure out once you start reading). I just really enjoyed all the reactions and the events that came out of it made perfect sense.
I recommend this to people who enjoy realistic stories about family, friendship and life.
Any regular reader of this blog knows that I have strong feelings about The Queen's Thief series. I talk about them kind of a lot. They are in so many of my lists: Favorite Books, Favorite Series, Favorite Female Characters, Favorite Male Characters, Favorite Secondary Characters, Favorite Romantic Relationships....well you get the point.
I've reread the first four books in the series so many times I've lost count, and each time I find things I had not noticed before. I never grow tired of reading them. That doesn't mean I haven't wanted with a desperation the next book in the series. Waiting for it has been hard.
Really it's only been 7, but in publishing years 7 feels like 84.
AND TODAY IT SHALL BE MINE!
My love for these books is such that I don't review them. I talk about them a lot, but I don't review them. I can't. Because of this, I passed up several opportunities to get an ARC. I don't regret that decision. At all. And I want to reflect on that for a moment. Reading for reviewing often changes the way I read. I wanted to just experience this book the same way I experienced its four predecessors (which I read pre-blogging). I gained something else from not picking up the ARC I wasn't expecting. I remembered what it was like to truly anticipate with every fiber of my being something I'm passionate about. No chance for spoilers. (Our tiny fandom is super courteous. They are the best.) No having to keep all my thoughts to myself before everyone had a chance to read. I got to just sit back and be a fan of a YA book and enjoy it as it is. I'm deeply grateful to past me for finding the backbone to walk away from all those shiny ARCs at Midwinter and refuse the offers I got from others who had it. I needed this dash of excitement and joy these past few months. I needed the delicious agony of this wait and the months to just revel in rereading the other books.
Anyway if you haven't read these books yet, what are you waiting for? How have I not convinced you? What more can I do?
Here is a post I wrote last year on why I love them. Start there. In the mean time I'm going to enjoy this day and look forward to when I get to do this again. (Though hopefully it won't take 84 7 years for the final book to come out.)
This is a feature I am starting to highlight upcoming books I'm particularly excited about. If you would like to join me, you are welcome. Please just link back to this post in your own. I've included a Mr. Linky at the bottom. Right now I'm only going to do it the 2nd Friday of the month, but I'm open to doing it more often if there is enough interest.
When Ghost came out last year, I didn't realize that each book in the series was going to feature a different kid as the main character. I'm even more excited about this sequel knowing that and who it is about.
Patina, or Patty, runs like a flash. She runs for many reasons—to escape the taunts from the kids at the fancy-schmancy new school she’s been sent to since she and her little sister had to stop living with their mom. She runs from the reason WHY she’s not able to live with her “real” mom any more: her mom has The Sugar, and Patty is terrified that the disease that took her mom’s legs will one day take her away forever. So Patty’s also running for her mom, who can’t. But can you ever really run away from any of this? As the stress builds up, it’s building up a pretty bad attitude as well. Coach won’t tolerate bad attitude. No day, no way. And now he wants Patty to run relay…where you have to depend on other people? How’s she going to do THAT?
Release Date: August 29, 2017 from Atheneum Books
Next up is a sequel I've wanted since the moment I read the last word of Shadowshaper.
Sierra and her friends love their new lives as shadowshapers, making art and creating change with the spirits of Brooklyn. Then Sierra receives a strange card depicting a beast called the Hound of Light -- an image from the enigmatic, influential Deck of Worlds. The shadowshapers know their next battle has arrived.
Thrust into an ancient struggle with enemies old and new, Sierra and Shadowhouse are determined to win. Revolution is brewing in the real world as well, as the shadowshapers lead the fight against systems that oppress their community. To protect her family and friends in every sphere, Sierra must take down the Hound and master the Deck of Worlds . . . or risk losing them all.
Release Date: September 12, 2017 by Arthur Levine Books
It takes a lot for an adult novel from a new author to catch my eye before release. But a sibling story? Forbidden (or discouraged) associations that might possibly turn to romance? Betrayal? Intrigue? Sign me up.
Since the death of Ragnvald Eysteinsson's father in battle, he has worked hard to protect his sister Svanhild and planned to inherit his family's land when he comes of age. But when the captain of his ship tries to kill him on the way home from a raiding excursion, he must confront his stepfather's betrayal, and find a way to protect his birthright. It is no easy feat in Viking-Age Norway, where a hundred petty rulers kill over parcels of land, and a prophesied high king is rising.
But where Ragnvald is expected to bleed, and even die, for his honour, Svanhild is simply expected to marry well. It's not a fate she relishes, and when the chance to leave her stepfather's cruelty comes at the hand of her brother's arch-rival, Svanhild is forced to make the ultimate choice: family or freedom.
Drawing from the Icelandic Sagas, The Half-Drowned King takes inspiration from the true story of Ragnvald of Maer, the right hand man of King Harald Fairhair, first king of all Norway, and his sister, Svanhild, as she tries to find freedom in a society where the higher her brother rises, the greater her worth as a political pawn.
Release Date: August 1, 2017 by Harper Collins
What are somereleases you are anticipating as future favorites?
Stephanie Burgis became an auto-buy author for me because I know I can always count on her books to be both well written and the among the best of whatever fantasy angle and age category it falls in. Her newest release, The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, is a perfect example of this.
Aventurine is a young dragon who has yet to find her passion in life. All dragons have them. Her brother studies philosophy. Her sister is an oh so perfect epic poet. Adventurine doesn't want to study books and she doesn't want to stay safe inside her family's mountain. Knowing she is old enough and just needs to prove herself, she sneaks out of her mountain. In doing so she finds her life's passion: Chocolate. Unfortunately for her, the chocolate comes from a human who enchants it. Aventurine finds herself in a human body quite incapable of avenging herself on the Food Mage she was planning to take back to her family as a treat. Alone and forced to find her way in her new state, Aventurine makes her way to the city of Drachenburg where she manages to force her way into an apprenticeship at a chocolate house. As she learns the ins and outs of working with her passion, she also learns a lot about humans. When her family come to the city, and both the dragons and humans she loves are threatened, Aventurine must find a way to save both and learn how to balance her two natures.
Aventurine is the best. She is determined, stubborn, brave, and reckless. As a dragon, she is loved, sheltered, and adored. As a human, she has to learn to survive, make allies, and navigate a strange world of feelings. It is no small feat to write a well developed and rounded personality of a single species. That Aventurine is very much a dragon and very much a human at the same time is a marvel. At times her dual natures are in conflict. Watching her find her way as a human, is a fascinating study in nature and character dynamics. I enjoyed how much of a dragon she remained. I read for pages getting used to thinking of her as a girl and suddenly there would be a line like: "I just wished that all the horses I passed didn't look so delicious." It is delightful. The way Aventurine boldly finds her way in life is wonderful too, but I love that there was a flip side of this. As a dragon, she did something reckless and paid a high price for it. As a human, she makes mistakes too and learns how her actions as both dragon and human affect all those who love her. (And eventually the whole city of Drachenburg.)
Joining Adventurine, is a wonderful cast of supporting characters in a novel that is packed full of girl power. Silke is a savvy city girl who takes Aventurine under wing when she is newly arrived in the city. The girls develop a business partnership based on mutual respect that blossoms into a great friendship. Marina is the prickly, artistic, driven yet recovering from a failure she finds difficult to move on from mistress of the chocolate house Aventurine works at. Aventurine and Marina learn mutual respect and assist each other in facing down their fears and achieving their goals.
The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart will appeal to those who love fantasy and magic. It is a comforting sort of read (at least for me) that was reminiscent of the Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles. It had the same sort of humor mixed with empowerment. I think this novel will appeal to a slightly younger audience, but is certainly for people of all ages.
Warning: Have chocolate on hand. You will want it.
I read a copy made available by the publisher, Bloomsbury Children's US, at ALA Midwinter. The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart goes on sale May 30th.
Stephanie Burgis is an auto-buy favorite author of mine. Her latest MG book combines some of my favorite things: dragons, strong girls, female friendships, and chocolate. I am so pleased to debut the trailer for the book today.
I decided to do books that have covers mainly featuring my favorite color. Green has been my favorite color for as long as I can remember. I went through a Pre-K peer pleasing phase where it was pink for like two weeks. But other than that it's always been green. Looking at my book shelf, I discovered a lot of my favorite books have green covers too. Is it because I'm attracted to that color so I read more green covered books? I don't know, but these books are all excellent in contents as well.