Friday, June 30, 2017

Quarterly Round-Up

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.

The DNFs'
The Book Jumper by Mechthild Glaser
A Clatter of Jars by Lisa Graff
A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi
The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle by Gabrielle Kent

Adult Books
Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare (historical romance)
Forever a Maverick by Genevieve Turner (contemporary romance)
The Girl With the Make-Believe Husband by Julia Quinn (historical fiction)
Her Best Worst Mistake by Sarah Mayberry (contemporary romance)
The Irish Prince by Virginia Nelson (contemporary romance)
The Thing About Love by Julie James (contemporary romance)
Trust Me by Laura Florand (contemporary romance)
Trust Me by Farrah Rochon (contemporary romance)

My Favorite Reads (links to my reviews unless otherwise noted)

Thick as Thieves by Meagan Whalen Turner*

Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

*I don't have a review of this book because I can't review this series. I don't have the words. But you should read it if you haven't.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Shorter Musings

Here are some shorter musings on recent reads.

Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean by Kirsty Murray
I saw this at the library and decided it looked interesting. I had not heard about it before seeing it on display. It is a fascinating combination of narrative short stories and graphic shorts created by Australian and Indian authors and illustrators. The point of the book is to highlight struggles of teen girls with harassment. The book came out of a series of events that occurred close together in both countries where teen girls were the victims. Many of the stories depict a future where girls are still having to deal with the every day terrors of misogyny. All of them are empowering. The art in the graphic stories is all excellent. There were stories I enjoyed more than others, but they were all incredibly good.

Geekerella by Ashley Poston
This is super cute and adorable. It is told in alternating point of view between Elle and Darien so we get the perspective of both the Cinderella character and the prince character. It is a really great nod to cons and fan culture. There have been several books with this focus released the past year or so, and this one is definitely my favorite. I really enjoyed Darien as the hero. The supporting cast of characters adds a great dimension to everything too. The pacing is a bit off and I would have liked more on page time with Elle and Darien together. I'm going to be recommending this to a lot of teens I know though.

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein
This is a prequel to [book:Code Name Verity|11925514] and follows a younger Julie as she has to say goodbye to her grandfather and ancestral home. It is an excellent book that captures the feeling of summer when you are a teen and everything is ending, but everything is also beginning. This is a little mystery and a lot of coming of age. It is a fascinating look into Julie's past. In this book we see Julie become Queenie and in this we see the firm foundation of Verity.

A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin
In the Stranje House series, Kathleen Baldwin explores an alternate historical timeline in which Napoleon returns from Elba, the Congress of Vienna is disastrous, and the chaos of the Napoleonic wars continue. In England there is a school that takes in the unusual daughters of the aristocracy with the promise to render them normal, biddable misses. Except that's not what's happening at all. The girls are being trained to use their talents in the interest of their country and to revel in who they truly are in a place where they're appreciated for the first time in their lives. For the most part, I enjoyed the concept. I found the main character of this volume, Georgie to be frustrating. It took her way too long for her to figure out what the school really was for someone as intelligent as she was purported to be. It wasn't like they were keeping it that much of a secret. I wasn't as impressed by the ship as some either. The romance was a fun addition, but not something that I was particularly invested in. (I can see myself being invested in Tess's story in the sequel more. I'm not sure if I'm going to read it or not though.) Some of the girls do have paranormal (not sure that is quite the right word but I'm going with it) abilities so this is definitely a fantasy for those reasons as well as the alternate timeline. One thing that really  bothered me was the use of the words  "Oriental" and "exotic" to describe non-white characters. I know that this is taking place in a time when those words would have been used but as the rest of the language in the novel is modern, it wouldn't have altered anything to use words people from those groups mentioned find less offensive. And it's an ALTERNATE history after all so those could have been left out.

Shuffle, Repeat by Jen Klein
This is a fun contemporary story about two seniors in high school who are forced to ride to school in the same car every day courtesy of their mothers' friendship.  Oliver and June have a great chemistry. The banter between them is inspiring. Oliver is a popular jock who embraces everything high school has to offer and revels in it. June is a sneering, rather pretentious smart girl who can't wait until it is all over. The morning car ride leads to a competition involving their differing music tastes and opinions about high school. I enjoyed how their characters developed. June is rather hard to swallow at times, but she reminds me so much of many teens I've worked with. The payoff for their relationship in the end is worth it. I really couldn't buy the  music battle though. YA authors you really have to let go of this idea that all teens are super into the 80s. Even with Stranger Things, they are only flirting with the decade. None of them are going to argue over the Ramones and Whitesnake.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming

J. Anderson Coats' debut novel, The Wicked and the Just, is one of my go to recommendations for historical fiction. When I discovered she had a new MG book coming out this year, I couldn't wait to read it despite being unsure of whether the premise would work for me or not. It completely did though. The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming is excellent.

Jame Deming is not living her ideal life. Her father was killed in the Civil War and she lives with her incredibly young step-mother and two year old brother. She had to quit school at 9 to take care of her newborn baby brother while Mrs. D went to work in the Lowell factories. But now Jane has an opportunity for a new life. Mrs. D is taking them to live in Seattle, WA. They are going on a ship to start a new life. Mr. Mercer is taking a boat load of young ladies and some widows to the Washington territory. Jane has read Mr. Mercer's pamphlet so many times she nearly has it memorized. She can't wait to begin her new life, she only hopes that she has the heart and mind for it. As the journey unfolds and Jane adapts to her new life, she has to learn a lot about who she is, what is important, and how to be in her new life. One thing she knows for certain is that she wants to be a person no one ever refers to as a "poor dear" ever again.

Telling the story of the second group of Mercer girls to go to Washington Territory from the point of view of an 11 year old works really well. Jane's age gives access to the time period for a younger audience. It's also an interesting in to the situation from a modern adult perspective too, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Jane has taken on a lot of responsibility for one so young, but none that was unheard of for a girl in her time. She is the primary care giver for her brother. She does this job incredibly well, but finds herself feeling resentful of her step-mother (understandably). Jane is smart and longs to continue her schooling. She has opinions, fears, hopes, and dreams that make her so incredibly REAL. As I was reading her story, I was struck by how much I felt like I knew her which speaks to how well Coats crafted her character. The book has many strong secondary characters too that see the potential in Jane in work to foster it. Being 11, Jane is in a position of not really being a Mercer Girl, but her responsibilities make her more than a child too. She struggles with always being in the middle and not having a real place. Yet the Mercer Girls treat her with care and compassion even as they get caught up in their own lives and passions. Once she's in Washington, Jane makes friends that bring out other aspects of her personality. Then there is Charles Wright, who Mrs. D ends up marrying. This man may be the most amazing father figure in all of MG fiction. I loved him to pieces. Each and every character in this book is memorable and impacts the story. I was further impressed by Coats' ability to write a two year old into the story realistically.

Jane's story begins in New York. The reader travels with her on the ship to San Fransisco and on to Washington. The last third of the book takes place in Washington is about Jane learning to be in the territory and adjusting to her new family set-up. What I really appreciated was how there was no added unnecessary drama as is often the case in historical fiction for children. The history itself is dramatic and compelling enough, and Jane's story is hard to put down in its authenticity. Her voice and personality carry the book so well. I also appreciated how Coats showed frontier life and how she included the Native people's struggles.

 Westward expansion/settlement stories have never been a favorite of mine, but The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming is one I love. I highly recommend it. It definitely rises above most similar books and would be an excellent addition to school libraries and US history units.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

When Dimple Met Rishi

I am trying to read as many of the Own Voices debuts as I can this year. (There are many! Yay! Still not as many as there should be but YAY!) As a result, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon went on my TBR as soon as I knew about it. As I saw more an more people finishing it, I grew more and more excited. That excitement was met and then some. This just may be my favorite YA romance of all time. I have a thing for prickly, ambitious heroines though so my love for this book is understandable. Dimple. Is. The. Best.

Dimple Shah is over the moon that she not only convinced her parents to allow her to attend Stanford for college, but also that they are letting her spend a huge chunk of her summer at the prestigious Insomnia Con where selected students are given the opportunity to develop and code an app. The winner gets to consult with Dimple's idol in the programming world. She is surprised, but doesn't question it too much when her parents let her go.

Rishi Patel is bound for MIT. Not much interested in web development, he is attending Insomnia Con because his parents thought it would be a good opportunity for him to meet Dimple. The parents have been corresponding and think the two would make a good match. Rishi, who finds tradition and respect for his elders incredibly important, heads off excited to meet his future wife.

The problem is Dimple has no idea. Her parents didn't tell her. When her first encounter with Rishi results in her throwing her iced coffee in his face, things get interesting fast. Assigned as partners, Dimple and Rishi have to work together. As they do, they begin to see each other (and themselves) in new and interesting ways.

Dimple is the best. I mentioned that already, I know. But it bears repeating. She has goals. They do not include finding the "Ideal Indian Husband", no matter what her mother wants. Dimple wants to be web designer. Marriage and children aren't even on her radar. Dimple is fierce, independent, highly intelligent, and stubborn. She also has a vulnerable side. She constantly feels as though she is not living up to her mother's expectations of who she should be. She's  the nerdy girl who doesn't dress right and won't wear make-up. Her vulnerability comes out when she is around her peers too as she often feels like she doesn't fit in. Yet she is unafraid of trying to experiences and putting herself out there. Rishi on the other hand has a lot of confidence. He is good at confronting micro-aggressions and outspoken about what he believes in. Except, he has a passion for art and graphic novels he is suppressing in his quest to be the perfect son. Tradition and honor are incredibly important to him so he is following his parents' wishes for him to study Engineering at MIT. The first meeting between Dimple and Rishi isn't the best. He is a complete dork (in the most adorable way), but he freaks her out because she doesn't know who he is or about their parents plans. Dimple's anger is quickly directed toward her parents and she sort of feels sorry for Rishi being dragged into this. She agrees that they can work together and there is no harm in being friends. Particularly as his artistic skills are going to come in handy in animating her app idea.

And so it begins. The relationship development here is so exactly my brand of romance drug that I'm not anywhere close to being unbiased in my assessment of it. Rishi is all in from the start. Completely boggled and bowled over by this vibrant, energetic girl. Dimple is closed off, wary, and ready to run at the slightest provocation. The friendship and partnership that develops between them is wonderful and their banter is fabulous. The more they learn about each other, the more they like. The romance that ends up brewing as a result is my kind of perfect. As in all romances, there is a conflict that arises. I felt that it was in context with how the characters were thinking and feeling throughout the book and made sense for the circumstances surrounding them. And its resolution was worth it.

When Dimple Met Rishi isn't just about the romance though. I appreciated the other relationships in the book as well. The parental relationships both teens had were very well done and showcased how a people-pleaser will deal with his parents and how an independent rebellious one will deal with hers, but it showed that neither way was necessarily all good. Both of them came to see their parents in new lights and work out things that needed to be worked out. Overall it was so lovely to see to sets of parents in a YA novel who just love their kids so much. Rishi's brother plays a rather large role in the book too. He is two years younger and a lot more like Dimple in how he sees their parents Indian traditions. He and Rishi have to work through some of that. I love sibling relationships that are hard work but show the work is worth it. Dimple is an only child, but her relationship with her roommate is important and highlights interesting things in her personality as well as society at large.

I loved all the Indian culture, words, and concepts that were just there in the story. I learned a lot, but am so happy for all the people for who this book will just be a mirror for. I appreciated the view of the Hindu religion this book offered too. It was interesting to watch Dimple and Rishi navigate what they believe, what their parents believe, and how they would integrate that into their lives. (Particularly when it came to sex, which they talked about a bit and thought about a lot before they went ahead with.)

I loved this and will reread it. I recommend to everyone. If you like romance, read this.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Future Favorite Friday (3)

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.
If you haven't yet read this year's amazing Midnight Without a Moon, you really should. It is a wonderful story and Rose Lee Carter captured my heart fully. I can not wait to catch up on the next chapter in her life when the sequel comes out in January.

After the murder of Emmett Till, thirteen-year-old Rose is struggling with her decision to stay in Mississippi. Torn between the opinions of Shorty, a boy who wants to meet violence with violence, and Hallelujah, her best friend who believes in the power of peaceful protests, Rose is scared of the mounting racial tension and is starting to lose hope. But when Rose helps Aunt Ruthie start her own business, she begins to see how she can make a difference in her community. Life might be easier in the North, but Mississippi is home and that's worth fighting for. Mid-Century Mississippi comes alive in this sequel to Midnight Without a Moon

Release Date: January 2, 2018 from HMH Books for Young Readers

E.K. Johnston is an auto-buy author for me. If she writes it, I will pre-order it and read it as soon as humanly possible. So. But even if that were not the case, I would STILL desperately want this book because THAT PREMISE. 

Set in a near-future world where the British Empire never fell and the United States never rose, That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a novel of love, duty, and the small moments that can change people and the world.

Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendent of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history two centuries earlier. The imperial practice of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage like her mother before her, but before she does her duty, she'll have one summer incognito in a far corner of empire. In Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire's greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir apparent to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an unusual bond and maybe a one in a million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process —just like the first Queen Victoria.

Release Date: October 3, 2017 from Dutton Books for Young Readers

What are some releases your anticipating as Future Favorites?

Monday, June 5, 2017

MG Fantasy Shorter Musings

Here are some shorter musings on recent reads.

The Castle in the Mist by Amy Ephron
This is a story of sister and brother spending their summer vacation in England with an aunt because their father is a journalist in Afghanistan and their mother has cancer. They meet a young boy in a mysterious castle on the top of the hill. Odd things occur. It is all very typical, which isn't always bad as there are always new kids who need to discover books. The problem here is it's not new and it's not executed very well. There is almost no character development and there are a lot of holes in both the plot and the world building. I feel like Ephron got it into her head that writing a children's book would be easy and then didn't bother to read any of the genre to help her know what she was about.

The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi
The concept of this is Jumanji in reverse-instead of the game coming to life around you, you are part of the game board. The fantastical elements and their origin in Middle Eastern mythos and culture is wonderfully done. The cast of characters is diverse. It is a plot driven, shorter read so perfect for the many many kids who want such books full of adventure and fun. The peril level is low enough that it will appeal to the younger end of the MG spectrum too. On a personal level, I am too much of a character reader to truly love this for myself. I had a lot of questions regarding characterization, particularly many motivations for things that were done. I'm happy to have it for recommendations though!

Prisoner of Ice and Snow by Ruth Lauren
This is a fun, quick MG fantasy read. Valor gets herself arrested and sent to her kingdom's prison for children in order to rescue her twin sister who was arrested for theft of an important object needed by the royal family to complete a peace treaty. In the prison Valor has to learn who to trust and how to survive to complete her plan. This is a plot centric story and moves very fast. As a result, the characterization isn't terribly in depth or surprising, but there is a strong group of young teens working together and forming bonds. I think this works really well as a book to give MG readers who are flirting with fantasy and want to try it out. It is not too long. I was under the impression that this was a stand alone and was really excited to have a MG stand alone fantasy on the shorter side. But alas, the ending clearly sets up a sequel so that isn't the case. Still. It's a good addition to any upper elementary/middle school library.

The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby
This is an excellent choice for any and all readers who love puzzles, ciphers, and strategic solving of things. As I am not so much a fan of those, the book took me longer to get through than it normally would. The writing is excellent. Ruby knows how to draw in an audience, develop characters, and create meaningful, layered relationships. All of that was definitely my thing. Theo, Tess, and Jaime are all excellent characters and their friendship along with the relationships with their wider families was well done. The world of New York City Ruby created with its alternate history is a fascinating one. Honestly, that is the book I would rather be reading. The Prologue was so much fun (as was the end). I would read the heck out of that series. I'm going to continue reading this one as well, but there were definitely places where I wished this book were shorter and the pace a bit quicker. But again, I'm not a puzzle person.