Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Runaway King

Man oh man can Jennifer Nielsen write a story that captures you and won't let you out of its grip until it's done. That was the case with last year's The False Prince (my thoughts) and its sequel, The Runaway King, has the same effect.

**Spoilers for The False Prince ahead. If you haven't read that one, read it, then come back and read this.**

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Just weeks after Jaron has taken the throne, an assassination attempt forces him into a deadly situation. Rumors of a coming war are winding their way between the castle walls, and Jaron feels the pressure quietly mounting within Carthya. Soon, it becomes clear that deserting the kingdom may be his only hope of saving it. But the further Jaron is forced to run from his identity, the more he wonders if it is possible to go too far. Will he ever be able to return home again? Or will he have to sacrifice his own life in order to save his kingdom?

 The Runaway King starts fast and doesn't let up the entire time. The world of this second book is larger and the plot has more action. Reading it is rather like taking a ride on a roller coaster that occasionally jerks to a halt and drops you blind onto some unseen track. I loved that about it. This volume has assassins, thieves, and pirates. There is plenty of action and adventure, but it remains a story about Jaron and his quest to find his place in the best way he can. Jaron is figuring out what type of ruler he is going to be and exactly what is the best way to help his country. In Jaron Nielsen has created a character the reader can truly care about and root for. I sure do. This is problematic for the steadiness of my emotions as Jaron is as reckless as they come with his own safety. He acts on plans with little knowledge or assurance that they will come right, and often they only do due to a convenient twist in events.  Jaron is clever and tries to pave his own way but he is often left having to catch up with what he doesn't know about what others are doing and planning. I like the balance between the two as it is realistic. No one ever has all the answers. Though I did feel Jaron should have been more clued in and less shocked about the true colors of a certain character.

In addition to Jaron many of the other characters from the first novel return and I loved reading about all of them again. There are also some wonderful additions to the cast. I really like the way Nielsen creates all these characters that I care about and want to see succeed while keeping up such a fast paced plot at the same time. Again, there were a few events that were a little too convenient, a couple times when I had to suspend my credulity a bit or wonder how something could be truly possible. Those moments are greatly overshadowed by the fact that I love the story and all the people in it so much. 

Warning: The end is going to make you want the next installment immediately. 

I read a copy joyously received from the publisher via NetGalley. The Runaway King is on sale March 1.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Nightmare Affair

When I discovered there was a book coming out about a girl who was a literal Nightmare I was super excited. The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett has a great concept. When I began reading it I was afraid the execution would not quite live up to it. I'm glad I stuck with it though because I thoroughly enjoyed the second two thirds.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Sixteen-year-old Dusty Everhart breaks into houses late at night, but not because she’s a criminal. No, she’s a Nightmare.
Being the only Nightmare at Arkwell Academy, a boarding school for magickind, and living in the shadow of her mother’s infamy, is hard enough. But when Dusty sneaks into Eli Booker’s house, things get a whole lot more complicated. He’s hot, which means sitting on his chest and invading his dreams couldn’t get much more embarrassing. But it does. Eli is dreaming of a murder.
Then Eli’s dream comes true.
Now Dusty has to follow the clues—both within Eli’s dreams and out of them—to stop the killer before more people turn up dead. And before the killer learns what she’s up to and marks her as the next target.

 Dusty and Eli are a dream-seer pair, a very rare phenomenon. She is a nightmare who feeds on dreams and when she feeds on Eli's they can see things that are going to happen or that have happened. Which means they have no choice but to work together no matter how either of them feels about it. Dusty is uncomfortable with feeding on Eli and Eli is seriously angry at her for dragging him into this strange world where he doesn't belong. My concern at the beginning of the book was that it was going to have all the elements I hate finding in YA fantasy: boy and girl bound together by a supernatural destiny neither of them can fight=love, boy half of duo being dangerous and sparking feelings of fear, a love triangle, cliche high school politics (exchange mean sirens for mean cheerleaders). I kept reading though because I did love the concept and I couldn't help but like Dusty's snarky yet vulnerable voice. I'm happy to say that most of my concerns were laid to rest as the story unfolded. 

Eli is not at all dangerous or a bad boy. At all. He is actually a really nice guy who wants to be a cop and loves mythology and folklore. He sticks up for the little guy and though he is angry at Dusty he never mistreats her. Dusty and Eli are attracted to each other but both are trying to ignore it. He is dating someone else and so is she. Their characters are not as fully realized as I like my characters to be, but I definitely enjoyed them and their story which is full of action, adventure, and mystery. In addition to Dusty and Eli there are several minor characters who I really enjoyed particularly Selene, Dusty's best friend. I love the way Arnett has given a new spin to old folklore and what she has done with the world here. The book is hard to put down and engrossing to the very end.

The book is a fun mystery with a magical flavor. It is lighter in tone than other books of the same genre and I enjoyed that element. I will definitely be back for more as I'm fairly certain this will be a series.

I read an e-galley received via the publisher from NetGalley. The Nightmare Affair is on sale March 5.

Friday, February 22, 2013

When Someone Asks You to Pick a Favorite Book...

“Picking five favorite books is like picking the five body parts you'd most like not to lose.”-Niel Gaiman

I love this quote because it is true. If you are a book lover this question should cause  you to panic a little. I try to never answer it. Yet for some reason I was thinking about it one night. Maybe it was reading Fahrenheit 451 with my high school students this year. Or maybe it was reading Inside Out & Back Again with my 4th-6th grade students and the part where Ha has to choose just one thing to take with her from her home. Do you know how many books I own that I would want to take? Whatever prompted the wondering there it was: If I HAD to choose...If I was told I could only own ten books what would they be?...Which books would I be heartbroken to have to live without? Deep thoughts we have while taking showers...

 In a strange coincidence my sister emailed me the very next day and asked me this very question. She said, "I know it will be hard but I need you to pick your 10 favorite books." I don't know what she is planning on doing with this information. She is crafty. (In both senses of the word.) So I had to do it for real and while it was hard I did it. These are the books I chose (in alphabetical order):

  It turned out to be a fun exercise. Of course if I was really told I could only have 10 books one of these (probably The Perilous Gard) would be replaced with The Bible, but for the purposes of this I left that out.  

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Odette's Secrets

Odette's Secrets by Maryann Macdonald is a historical fiction novel based on facts from the life of a real girl who fled Paris and lived as a hidden child during the Nazi occupation because she was Jewish.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
For Jews in Nazi-occupied Paris, nowhere is safe. So when Odette Meyer’s father is sent to a Nazi work camp, Odette’s mother takes desperate measures to protect her, sending Odette deep into the French countryside. There, Odette pretends to be a peasant girl, even posing as a Christian–and attending Catholic masses–with other children. But inside, she is burning with secrets, and when the war ends Odette must figure out whether she can resume life in Paris as a Jew, or if she’s lost the connection to her former life forever.

 Stories of the many Jewish children who hid within other families and pretended to be some one they aren't are fascinating to me. Odette's story is no different. The first person narration helps the reader really see through Odette's eyes and fell the things she is experiencing. The story spans five years, from the Nazi invasion until the end of the war, which makes the story complete and gives it full resolution. I thought the author did a great job conveying Odette's confusion and struggles over what is truth and what is fiction. The atmosphere of the book conveys the danger and horror of the period without being too harsh or frightening for younger readers. That is a fine line to balance.

The book is written in free verse and that is not a style I enjoy and this did impact how much I liked the book. If a book is in free verse I need to see it as a necessity, like there was simply no other way to tell the story and that just wasn't the case here. In some places I felt it lent a stilted awkwardness the prose that was jolting more than anything else. Being in free verse makes it a quick and easy read which is always a good thing to have on hand for kids who don't like or can't read longer books.

Kids who love historical fiction and want to read more about World War II will enjoy this book. 

I read a copy of this book made available on NetGalley. Odette's Secrets is on sale February 26.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Revenge of the Girl With the Great Personality

Why did I want to read Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg? The title was a huge motivating factor. Then I found out beauty pageants were involved too and couldn't resit. It's a good book, though not entirely what I expected it to be and I was a little disappointed as a result.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Everybody loves Lexi. She's popular, smart, funny...but she's never been one of those girls, the pretty ones who get all the attention from guys. And on top of that, her seven-year-old sister, Mackenzie, is a terror in a tiara, and part of a pageant scene where she gets praised for her beauty (with the help of fake hair and tons of makeup).
Lexi's sick of it. She's sick of being the girl who hears about kisses instead of getting them. She's sick of being ignored by her longtime crush, Logan. She's sick of being taken for granted by her pageant-obsessed mom. And she's sick of having all her family's money wasted on a phony pursuit of perfection.
The time has come for Lexi to step out from the sidelines. Girls without great personalities aren't going to know what hit them. Because Lexi's going to play the beauty game - and she's in it to win it.

Lexi is enslaved to her mother's obsession with making Mackenzie the next great pageant queen. Lexi sews for the pageants and works at a store in the mall so that she can have money to pay for her own food and the summer program she desperately wants to attend. All of the family's money goes to the pageants and  there is  never enough of it. Lexi's is tired of it all, but feels there is nothing  she can do. Her startling transformation from average to gorgeous begins as a dare from her best friend Benny. If she puts on make-up, he will talk to the boy he likes. It escalates from there until Lexi is causing mouths to drop and both she and Benny have boyfriends. Only the boyfriend Lexi has isn't the one she truly wanted. I really liked how Eulberg used Lexi's transformation to connect high school and the pageant world. Lexi is a character you will sympathize with and want to protect even as you want to occasionally smack her upside the head. Mostly you will want to cheer her on though. She has a couple of truly cheer worthy moments in the book for sure. For a girl who has it pretty rough she is remarkably level headed and proactive. I admire this about her. She has two best friends, Benny and Cam, who are wonderful and supportive. I liked how there was no big friend drama in this book. The friendship between the three of them is strong and I enjoyed seeing how they worked through their issues. The boy drama I could have done without as much of. I feel like a smart girl like Lexi could have kept that situation from becoming what it did. The target audience will probably not mind though and relate.

I expected this book to be more humorous and lighter in tone than it was. It can't be though because Lexi's family has some serious issues. Her mother is a monster. And I'm not exaggerating. She has the potential to not be one but she has some serious issues and therapy is clearly very much needed. Her father's absence from the scene doesn't make him much better. The end of the novel is more than a little unresolved, but there is no way you could tie this story in to a neat package without undermining everything that happened and so I like this about it. I like that Lexi's future is open to the imagination. Things are resolved enough, just not all the way. 

The book is more serious than its title and cover may lead a person to believe. It is a good read and one that will be thoroughly enjoyed by many-so long as they know what sort of story they're getting.

I read an e-galley of this received from the publisher via NetGalley. It will be available for purchase on March 1, 2013.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Jepp, who defied the Stars

Jepp, Who Defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh would not have been a high priority read for me were it not chosen to compete in this year's SLJ Battle of the Books. The premise intrigued me, but I probably would have waited until my library received a copy. BoBs prompted me to buy it and push it to the top of my TBR. I'm grateful for this because I LOVED it. (BoB, this more than makes up for making me buy Life: an Exploded Diagram last year.)

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Fate: Is it written in the stars from the moment we are born?
Or is it a bendable thing that we can shape with our own hands?
Jepp of Astraveld needs to know.
He left his countryside home on the empty promise of a stranger, only to become a captive in a luxurious prison: Coudenberg Palace, the royal court of the Spanish Infanta. Nobody warned Jepp that as a court dwarf, daily injustices would become his seemingly unshakable fate. If the humiliations were his alone, perhaps he could endure them; but it breaks Jepp's heart to see his friend Lia suffer.
After Jepp and Lia attempt a daring escape from the palace, Jepp is imprisoned again, alone in a cage. Now, spirited across Europe in a kidnapper's carriage, Jepp fears where his unfortunate stars may lead him. But he can't even begin to imagine the brilliant and eccentric new master--a man devoted to uncovering the secrets of the stars--who awaits him. Or the girl who will help him mend his heart and unearth the long-buried secrets of his past. 

Historical fiction. It attracts and repels me. I love it when it's done well, but it is so often done wrong that I am more than a little afraid to read it anymore.  Jepp, Who Defied the Stars is done right. Marsh brings 16th century Netherlands to vivid life in this story. The lives of the commoners, the court, academics, the pull between superstition and science, a world clinging to the past while on the brink of a new era is all wonderfully rendered. And at the center of this marvelous world is a dwarf by the name of Jepp.

Jepp's voice and character is the strongest factor of a novel that is full of strengths. As a reader I could relate to his plight even though I've never experienced anything like it. I felt sympathy for him. Most of all I wanted to see him succeed and find happiness. I wanted him to break free of his chains and live the life he could. Marsh truly makes him a real person, one you can feel for and love. As a result his story is a gripping one that I couldn't put it down even in its slower moments. (I read the whole thing in one glorious sitting.) The other characters have just as much life and depth as Jepp. Both antagonists were a little flat and predictable, but they serve their functions well.

I enjoyed how Marsh presented the pull between fate and free will. She brings up questions everyone struggles with at some point and arrives at the inevitable conclusion. Jepp's journey to this is one that will fascinate readers and that they can also identify with.

This is one of those books that doesn't fit nicely into any age classification. The bookstore I purchased it from had it shelved with the MG books. The protagonist is in his mid-late teens like most YA. The story is one I can see appealing to adult readers, even ones who don't normally enjoy "children's books". It is a great story whatever the age of the interested party who picks it up.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

2012 Cybils Winners!!!!

It is Valentine's Day and you know what that means! BOOKS! This is the day the Cybils are announced and it's International Book Giving Day. I always take my kids to the bookstore and they get to pick out any book they want. Then we go to are local cupcake bakery and get cupcakes. Good day all around.

I was most excited to wake up this morning to see what books had won the Cybils. After months of hard work and reading by so many bloggers the results are in. You can see the full list here.

Here are some I'm particularly excited about!

Fiction Picture Book Winner: A Home For Bird by Philip C. Stead
This makes me so  happy. I love this book. My kids love this book. It is just utterly perfect in so many ways. I love Stead's artistic style and the story is the right mix of sweet and humorous.

Nonfiction Picture Book Winner: Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Another truly excellent choice. I never knew this story before reading the book and it is so interesting. My daughter loved the book too, particularly as she would like to be a designer some day and she also has a yearning to explore. She read it several times before we returned it to the library and got so much out of it.

MG Fantasy Winner: The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen
I like this book a whole lot and my students LOVE it. This was a great choice, if not my favorite of the finalists.

MG Fiction Winner: Wonder by R.J. Palacio
I'm not at all surprised by this and I can see the reasoning even if it is not my favorite.

Nonfiction Winner: Bomb! The Race to Build-and Steal-the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
YES!!!!! I love how this book is winning all the things because it definitely deserves them all.

YA Fantasy: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
I love this book and so am over the moon that it won. Especially since it is the only one on the Finalist list I read. (Not a big fan of the other sub-genres.) I'm particularly happy that an high fantasy with dragons and epic world building is getting so much love and attention. Some of us do still prefer this fantasy to the contemporary, urban, dystopian, or paranormal kind.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities

Countless people have praised high and low Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities by Mike Jung. So many people I know and trusted recommended this book that by the time I finally acquired a copy my anticipation level was pretty high. And it totally lived up to it.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Can knowing the most superhero trivia in the whole school be considered a superpower?
If so, Vincent Wu is invincible.
If not (and let’s face it, it’s “not”), then Vincent and his pals Max and George don’t get any props for being the leaders (and, well, sole members) of the (unofficial) Captain Stupendous Fan Club.
But what happens when the Captain is hurt in an incident involving BOTH Professor Mayhem and his giant indestructible robot AND (mortifyingly) Polly Winnicott-Lee, the girl Vincent totally has a crush on?
The entire city is in danger, Vincent’s parents and his friends aren’t safe, the art teacher has disappeared, and talking to Polly is REALLY, REALLY AWKWARD.
Only Vincent Wu has what it takes to save the Captain, overcome Professor Mayhem, rally his friends, and figure out what to say to Polly. But will anyone take him seriously? Seriously. Anyone??

I love Vincent's voice. He reads as genuine as they come. Completely a geek. Completely a middle school boy. Completely wonderful. (As an adult I particularly enjoyed his observations on the adults in his life.) Sometimes he is overly dramatic. Sometimes his self esteem hits bottom. Sometimes he is ranty. Sometimes he is considerably full of himself. I love how real he is. The people around him are real and true characters as well. Max and George are great best friends and I loved each of their very different personalities. And Polly is just pure awesome. 

The world the story takes place in is a world where super heroes and super villains fighting on the street are a common occurrence. Anyone who has ever enjoyed any type of story with these types of characters will immediately have access to and understand this world. It is a book you can hand to pretty much any kids with an assurance that they will enjoy it. It also is written well making it a book I want to give to kids even more.

I can't say much more about it because it is an action packed ride that deserves to be enjoyed with no spoilers. It is a fun read and I highly recommend it to anyone. (Bit read it, loved it, and highly recommends it too.)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Favorite Kissing Scenes

When thinking of a favorite things post I could do for February I decided it would have to be kissing. I've already done couples and I was feeling in the mood to do something fluffy and Valentine's related. So kisses it is. I read more MG than YA, and the YA I read tends to not focus on romance so this was actually harder than I expected it to be though a few jumped into my head right away. (And one of my choices does actually come from a MG book. One is adult. Gasp!)

The actual scene from the book is quoted followed by my thoughts.

The king lifted a hand to her cheek and kissed her. It was not a kiss between strangers, not even a kiss between a bride and a groom. It was a kiss between a man and his wife, and when it was over, the king closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the hollow of the queen's shoulder, like a man seeking respite, like a man reaching home at the end of the day
.-The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
Turner doesn't write these scenes often but when she does she is, or course, brilliant at them. I love the way she describes it so that it is not detailed and we see it from the outside. She tells the reader (and the onlookers in the scene) so much about their relationship with this and uses few well placed words to do it.

The Proctor, stumping grimly past with averted eyes, reflected that Oxford was losing all sense of dignity. But what could he do? If Senior Members of the University chose to stand-it their gowns, too!-closely and passionately embracing in New College Lane right under the warden's windows, he was powerless to prevent it. 
-Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
This is another scene that is viewed from an outsider happening to see it. And you may be thinking I'm crazy, that there is nothing romantic about this at all. If you read these books you get it. Because it took so long to get to this point, three books and five fictional years. Long time. The scene that comes before this makes it even better, but it is excellent simply because it is Peter and Harriet and it does say "passionately".

And then we're both at that moment where you both go and get what you want or you both go back. The moment when you say, Stuff being scared; what's on the other side is better. That moment when you inch closer to each other little by little, till your skin starts and ends in the same place. Till your faces get so close your lips start and end in the same place, too. Till you taste milk shake and salt and sugar days and the world spins and the stars sound like harmonicas.
 -A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley
I love this one because it is such a wonderful perfect description of everything a first kiss should be. And fits the voice of the narrator so well. As a reader you can't help up but be so happy for Charlie, that she has reached this moment and that it is as wonderful as it should be for her.

My heart pounds and I feel the tingle starting in my toes again. Jason drops his phone in the grass and uses the free hand to brush a fat, wet curl out of my eyes. His fingers brush my cheek and I feel that pull in my bell button that goes straight through to my spine. As he tucks the hair behind  my ear, his hand cups my chin. It's surprisingly soft, and I nuzzle lightly against it. He leans down slightly then pulls back a bit. So many thoughts are whirling around in my head at once, I can't hold on to any of them. Is he-? Does he want to-? Do I want to-? Are we going to-? And then he's kissing me.  
-Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill 
Another romantic one. It's raining and they are laying-mostly in the mud-in a field in Stratford Upon Avon. What's so great about this scene to me is the surrounding action. I love everything about Julia and Jason. Their chemistry is great and this whole scene is one of my favorites. The field. The rain. The geese. And I love Julia's uncertainty and Jason's hesitancy as they are both still figuring things out at this point.

Suddenly, he yanks me against him and bends his head to kiss me. I melt into him as his fingers tangle in my wet hair. My mouth opens to his, and our tongues meet for the briefest instance before he pulls away. We stare at each other. I read dismay in his face, as if he can't believe he did such a thing.  
-The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson
There is a bit more swoony kissing scene than this in the book, but this is Hector and Elisa's first kiss. The one I had been waiting for since they met way back in book one, so this is the one that stands out to  me, because it made me happy. Yet it's not the most romantic kiss ever. They are in a GARBAGE CHUTE running from the bad guys. Seriously. A garbage chute Hector? But that it was completely out of character for him is what makes it sort of wonderful.

And he's coming closer and closer and the way he's looking at me makes me think that I'm going to have the most romantic night in the history of my life. I open my mouth to say something and he sticks his tongue down my throat. We're in a corner, pashing, and I don't even know what's got me to this point. A look in the corridor? A flirt outside my nonna's house? All I know is that no one exists around us. I don't know whether we're kissing for five minutes or five hours and my mouth feels bruised, but I can't let go.
-Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
And speaking of unromantic first kisses...not so cool Will. Awkward. And yet I love it. Adele at Persnickety Snark brought this one up in a recent post about First Kisses and she perfectly explains why it works so well. Marchetta builds these characters that you feel like you know inside and out, and what she surrounds this less than romantic first kiss with makes it work. Frankie and Will being Frankie and Will make it perfect. Her, "Do that sober and I'll be impressed." that ends the encounter is the perfect closer and 100% Francesca. I have made no secret of how much I love these two. I know Will is not everyone's favorite but he's mine and I can't help but smile at this introverted, awkward, slightly lost boy and his complete lack of finesse in the face of a girl who throws his world into chaos and who he doesn't know what to do with. Their later conversation about it is also brilliant. Pretty much every encounter between them whether in Saving Francesca or The Piper's Son is brilliant in my opinion.

For one quick moment we both had the same agenda. I looked at him and he looked at me. Both of our heads moved forward. It must have been in slow motion, because i had a split second there to be reminded of Mr. Birkway's drawing of the two heads facing each other, with the vase in between. I wondered, just for an instant,if a vase could fit between us. If there had been a vase, we would have squashed it, because our heads moved completely together and our lips landed in the right place, which was on the other person's lips. It was a real kiss, and it did not taste like chicken. And then our heads moved slowly backward and we stared across the lawn, and I felt like the newly born horse who knows nothing but feels everything.
-Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
Here is our MG kiss. If all awkward first kisses experienced in middle school turned out so lovely it would be nice. Creech set this one up so well too. Knowing both Sal and Ben going in helps. I read this book with my 5th graders every year and every year when we got to this part the kids would all have the goofiest grins on their faces. Yes, even the boys.

There was a clatter as the basilisk fangs cascaded out of Hermione's arms. Running at Ron, she flung them around his  neck and kissed him full on the mouth. Ron threw away the fangs and broomstick he was holding and responded with such enthusiasm that he lifted Hermione off her feet. "Is this the moment?" Harry asked weakly, and when nothing happened except Ron and Hermione gripped each other still more firmly and swayed on the spot, he raised his voice. "OI! There's a war going on here!" 
-Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
This scene. I had an issue with it, but still couldn't help but love it. Upon reflection I decided I still like it better than the movie version though. What I don't like is that the house elf comment sparked it. That was never my favorite plot line. BUT. It's Ron and Hermione. FINALLY!!! I love that Hermione initiates it and basically throws herself at him. And while Ron is gobsmacked he doesn't waste time responding and does it enthuiastically . Harry's reaction is great too.

What about you? Do you have a favorite? Or is all this kissing making you nauseous? Don't worry I'll be back to my usual non mushy self soon. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


R.J. Anderson is a favorite of mine. I love everything she writes, whether it is fantasy about butt-kicking faeries or mind blowing science-fiction. And boy oh boy is her latest novel, Quicksilver, mind blowing. It will mess with your head in a way only the best books can.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Back in her hometown, Tori Beaugrand had everything a teenaged girl could want—popularity, money, beauty. But she also had a secret. A secret that could change her life in an instant, or destroy it.
Now she’s left everything from her old life behind, including her real name and Alison, the one friend who truly understood her. She can’t escape who and what she is. But if she wants to have anything like a normal life, she has to blend in and hide her unusual... talents.
Plans change when the enigmatic Sebastian Faraday reappears and gives Tori some bad news: she hasn’t escaped her past. In fact, she’s attracted new interest in the form of an obsessed ex-cop turned investigator for a genetics lab.
She has one last shot at getting her enemies off her trail and winning the security and independence she’s always longed for. But saving herself will take every ounce of Tori’s incredible electronics and engineering skills—and even then, she may need to sacrifice more than she could possibly imagine if she wants to be free.

Tori aka. Niki is...just...there is really no one word that can fully embody her awesomeness. (Awesome is so overused. I can think of one acronym that would do her justice, but as I try to avoid using the words the acronym stands for I'll leave that to your own amazing brains to figure out my savvy readers.) She is an engineer with a brilliant scientific and mathematical mind. And the snark that goes with her frustration at not being taken seriously because she is a girl interested in the field makes the reader feel her frustration and want to demand justice for it. (And all the girls like her.) She is steadfast, loyal, and courageous. (I can not stress that last one enough.) Despite Tori's uniqueness and special talents she is still a character that any teenager, or anyone who has ever been a teenager, can identify with. Unlike the de rigueur in most sci-fi/fantasy YA Tori has amazing parents who are present and love her. She loves them back, but often finds herself appalled by them and somewhat mocking of them, at least in her own head. Which is extremely realistic. Take for example these exchanges:
"Who's that boy, honey?" she asked.
"Milo," I said. "You know, from work. He lives around here, so we got off the bus together."
"He's not bad looking," she mused. "For an Asian."
Oh, wow. And she was a pretty nice mom, for a racist.
"...So who's the lucky boy?"
Hello, Dad Cliche 32. Nice to know this conversation was still on a predictable course. "Milo Hwang," I said.
There was a fractional silence. Then Dad said, a little too heartily, "Well, good for you. That', great. Hope it works out."
And there it was. Liberal on the outside, redneck conservative deep down. He wouldn't forbid me to see Milo because that would be narrow-minded, but that didn't mean he was ready to invite him over for hockey and popcorn.
Who hasn't experienced moments like this with their parents over SOME topic?

And this brings us to Milo who is also amazing and totally crush worthy. I challenge you to read this book and not find him to be prime crush material, even if Tori's feelings for him are not quite the expected romantic norm. This difference is a real strength to the story and characterization.  I really liked what Anderson did with their relationship, challenging the modern concept that it's all about sex. (It isn't.) Milo is just as fully realized a character as Tori and I can't really say more without spoiling things.

I'm not saying anything about the plot that the synopsis doesn't already tell you, because it is one of those books you have to experience. It is a companion to Ultraviolet (my thoughts), but you can read it without having read Ultraviolet. In fact, Anderson's brilliant-mind-messing writing will have you questioning things that you think you know even if you have read it. I will say I liked Quicksilver more, mostly because of how much I love both Tori and Milo. I also liked the alternative perspective on Sebastian that Tori gives us.

Anyone who loves a good story told by an amazing writer this book is for you. I can not wait until my official copy arrives so I can read it again.

I read a copy made available via NetGalley. Quicksilver's official release date is March 1, but you can currently order it through your local bookstore or Amazon.

Monday, February 4, 2013

A Song for Bijou

I found A Song for Bijou by Josh Farrar one day on NetGalley and was immediately intrigued. I had not heard about it prior to that and after reading the synopsis I knew I had to read it. A contemporary book about a Brooklyn boy who falls for a newly arrived Haitian immigrant? We don't get many of those and I am happy to say that it is a good one.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Life for Alex Schrader has never involved girls. He goes to an all-boys prep school and spends most of his time goofing around with his friends. But all that changes the first time he meets Bijou Doucet, a Haitian girl recently relocated to Brooklyn after the earthquake-and he is determined to win her heart. For Bijou, change is the only constant, and she's surprised every day by how different life is in America, especially when a boy asks her out. Alex quickly learns that there are rules when it comes to girls-both in Haitian culture and with his own friends. And Bijou soon learns that she doesn't have to let go of her roots to find joy in her new life.

There are so many books that focus on boy-crazy girls. We don't get nearly enough that focus on girl-crazy boys. And those boys are out there. Oh believe me are they ever. Alex sounds like a few of the boys I taught. I loved that. I loved the genuineness of his voice and the interactions with his friends. He is a nice guy but a painfully shy one and the way he deals with this is fun to read. Bijou's character felt slightly more forced, but only slightly. She is more mature in her thinking. She has been through  a lot so that is understandable. I found her struggle to maintain who she has always been and at the same time fit into her new world a heart-wrenching one. The rules in her family will seem crazy insane to modern American readers, and she chafes under them as well. Through Bijou and her family we get a picture of the modern immigration struggle of one small community and it is fascinating. The story switches back and forth between Alex and Bijou's points of view. I liked that their names weren't tacked on the beginning of their chapters. They didn't need to be. I knew after only a few words whose point of view it was. Their voices are that distinctive.

The plot focuses on the budding relationship between Alex and Bijou as he tries (sometimes disastrously) to get to know her and she slowly lets him. Everything about the two of them is spot on middle school crush. It's perfect. As a result of this Alex, and with him the reader, get a fascinating window onto Haitian-American culture. The setting is so well rendered I felt like I was actually there. I was a little disappointed in some of the plot developments toward the end and felt that the drama there was unnecessary and detracted from what is otherwise a wonderfully written and engaging story. I'm pretty sure the target audience will love it though, and that's what matters. This is a book that will appeal to many students in grades 5-8. 

I read a copy of A Song for Bijou from the publisher via NetGalley. It will be available for purchase on February 12. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013


Beswitched by Kate Saunders has two elements I love: a boarding school and magic. It made it on to my TBR for that reason. It moved its way to the top when it was shortlisted for this year's Cybils.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
A magic spell has spun Flora into the past. She's mysteriously swapped lives with a schoolgirl in 1935! No iPod? No cell phone? No hair products? How will she survive?
Now Flora's a new girl at St. Winifred's, where she has to speak French at breakfast, wear hideous baggy bloomers, and sleep in a freezing dormitory.
But lots of adventures in the past are amazing even if they are not forever. How will she find her way back to the 21st century?

Flora is a behaving like a spoiled brat at the beginning of the novel though in a way most MG readers will be able to identify with. She does improve, but it took a little too long for me to ever really warm to her as a character. The story is an interesting one and I like the contrast between modern life and 1935 life. The magic that pulls Flora to 1935 was performed by three of her classmates, fortunately the one she is sharing a dorm with so she has help. I couldn't help but feel really sorry for the other Flora who had lived in India all her life and suddenly found herself in modern day England with no one to explain to her what had happened or why. She has no significance to this story but I couldn't help but feel really sorry for her. 

Despite its short length I found myself getting bored several times. There's not a lot of action and a lot of school detail. Normally I would by okay with that, but for some reason I just couldn't be made to care. It was probably due to my dislike for the characters more than that the story was boring itself. I knew the twist at the end was coming, but I think there are many MG readers who will be delightedly surprised with the way it all turns out.

Beswitched was entertaining enough, but not a book I could love. I tried to get Bit to read it to see what she thought. Our library has the version with the cover shown on the right and she took one look at it and said, "Ugh. That's very pink. I don't think I want to read that." There was no changing her mind.