Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Saving Lucas Biggs

I admit to being a sucker for time travel novels even though I end up actually liking very few of them. I liked Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague. 

This is a review of the ARC received from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.

When thirteen-year-old Margaret's father is unfairly sentenced to death by the cruel Judge Biggs, she is determined to save him, even if it means using her family's secret-and forbidden-ability to time travel. With the help of her best friend, Charlie, and his grandpa Josh, Margaret goes back to a time when Judge Biggs was a young boy and tries to prevent the chain of events that transformed him into a corrupt, jaded man.

This book sucked me in in the best of ways, I wasn't expecting that to be honest. But from the first sentence I was hooked, and I could not put this book down. This is how the story begins:
In the time it took a man to speak a single sentence, I discovered three things: there's a reason a judge's robes look like the Grim Reaper's, a blooming jacaranda tree can feel like a big slap in the face, and there is such thing as a silent scream.
How all these things come together and the character giving them voice are riveting. Margaret's father has been convicted of murder and the judge has just handed down a death sentence. Imagine how that would affect a thirteen year old, particularly when her father is innocent. Margaret is falling apart, in turmoil, and will get help from any source she can. Grandpa Josh, the grandfather of her best friend Charlie, suggests a way, one that would mean breaking all the rules her family lives by. Margaret's family has an inherited ability to time travel, something Josh claims to know from being well acquainted with Margaret's great great aunt. He tells her to turn things around she can go back in time and make the life of the judge, Lucas Biggs, different. The story is told in first person, mostly from Margaret and the Josh of the past as he is an integral part of Luke's story having been his best friend. Charlie gets a few chapters too. All the voices sound different enough to be genuine. The characters are interesting too, but not thoroughly fleshed out and nuanced. This is a short book and it is incredibly plot heavy. But the story is a good one, and the characters shine as much as they need to in order to tell it.

I enjoyed the history of the town of Victory, Arizona. Through Josh's perspective, the reader gets an up close view of what life in a mining town was/is like. There is a labor dispute and terrible things happen that affect the town for decades to come, right up to the work Margaret's father was doing and the events that led to his arrest. It is a fascinating story with many difficult issues and themes explored. I like how the authors included the harsh realities and truths of all these subjects. It is first and foremost a story of redemption, and how no one is ever too far gone in one direction to turn their life around and go a different way. 

The time travel element is an intriguing one. At first I was highly skeptical, but it began to make sense in a way that fit perfectly in the book. I am fairly particular about the way time travel works and how it affects lives, and this book handles it exactly the way I like. As every character referring to it says, history resists. If you are familiar with the Oxford Time Travelers books by Connie Willis, what a time traveler can do works in same way here as it does in those books. It is never explained in more detail than those two words, history resists, but it doesn't need to be. It is shown perfectly. 

I enjoyed this thoroughly and think it is fast paced and engrossing enough that kids will like it too.

I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Harper Collins Children's, via Edelweiss. Saving Lucas Biggs is available for purchase today. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Stress and How it Affects My Blogging

Usually it doesn't. I'm a person who thrives on routine and schedules. I have a system for reading and keeping up with my review copies and it fits neatly into my life. My life as normal with the normal stress that arises from day to day living.

I am not experiencing that kind of stress right now.

Any time the stress level of my life goes beyond normal I have several ways of coping: rereading old favorites, reading adult romance novels, organizing things, taking a couple days off reading completely to just spend time in my own head. Usually it doesn't take long for me to blow off the steam from whatever is stressing me out so there isn't really a noticeable affect on the blog.

I am not experiencing that kind of stress right now.

What sort of stress am I experiencing? The stress of MOVING. I know anyone who has done this before will understand. This is a whole other level of stress. It is amplified when it is you responsible times three.

Here's what I'm dealing with in May:
1. I have to finish up the four classes I teach at our homeschool co-op. (One upper elementary and three high school.)

2. I have to continue educating my own two children, keeping them on track to finish on time so they can have a summer vacation.

3. I need to continue to feed and clothe said children while keeping the house as clean as possible at all times.

4. I have to prepare to get us from Tennessee to Michigan.

5. ALL of the books are coming out in May and I have ARCs for many of them. My review schedule is making me want to cry.

Basically, I'm like this more often than not during my day:

And did I mention I am doing all of this without the help of my husband who has already moved?


My normal coping mechanisms are not helping so much because I am often too tired at the end of the day to employ them AND they are interfering with the review schedule causing even more stress.

Except I CAN NOT allow that. The schedule is going to have to go out the window for May I think. I hate that. The book may still get read, but it may be longer before they get reviewed. I'm making no promises. This blog has never been stressful. It is my outlet, something I do mainly for me.

Forgive me if there is less content, more memes, and what not over the next month. I swear I will be back on my game as soon as I can be, and this is the one and only time you see me complaining. (I won't even complain on Twitter. Much.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

TTT: Characters I Would Adopt

This week's TTT topic: Character Who X where here X=Characters Who I Would Adopt

As a mom, often when I am reading, I will get all maternal about the character in question and want to give them a life better than the one they are getting in the book. This happens particularly often in the MG books I read, so I am featuring characters who I would adopt.

 Turtle Wexler from The Westing Game: This girl's parents do not deserve her or appreciate her as they ought.

Kat Stephenson from Kat Incorrigible: Kat's family love and appreciate her, sometimes not as much as she deserves and sometimes in spite of herself. I just think she would be great fun to have in my house. Though the combination of her and Bit would possibly lead to said house's destruction.

Sage in The False Prince: The entire time I was reading this book I just wanted to give Sage a hug and bake him some cookies. This only applies to him in this book.

Alunna in Above World: This is another girl whose family seriously needs to be better appreciated by her family. Of course her adversity makes her into the amazing heroine she is, but I would open up my house for her to come and hang out whenever she needed peace. Again though, this would be another dangerous combination with Bit.

Jinx from Jinx: Yes, I LOVE Jinx's relationship with Simon. I really wouldn't want to interfere with that. But it would be great if Simon, Sophie, and Jinx could live next door to us and I could semi-adopt him. He would be a great surrogate big brother for my kids. He may even outsnark Bit.

Olivia Stellatella from The Year of Shadows: Oh my does this girl need love and acceptance. I wouldn't want to change her at all because she has a great personality, but as I was reading I could picture an environment in which she would thrive beautifully.

 Rose from Rose: Rose needs a happy place to come home to at the end of the day with people who will not hate or fear her.

Neverfell from A Face Like Glass: Never have I wanted so much to jump into a book and yank the character out of any and all danger as I did her.

ALL the Casson children: Any one who reads these books and doesn't want to smack the parents upside the head is devoid of all human feeling.

Doug Swieteck from Okay For Now: Again, this is another one you can't read without wanting to yank Doug out of his home situation. Breaks my heart.

Have you ever read a book and wanted to adopt the main character?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Knightley & Son

Knightley & Son by Rohan Gavin is a perfect read for budding mystery enthusiasts who may not be quite ready for Sherlock Holmes. I was drawn to this book not only because of the mystery, but also because of the father/son dynamic that the synopsis promised.

This is a review of an ARC received from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.

The once highly in-demand detective Alan Knightley has just woken up after an unexplained incident kept him asleep for four years. While he was out cold, his son, Darkus, took it upon himself to read of all his dad's old cases, and he's learned a lot about the art of detection. It's a good thing too—because suddenly the duo find themselves caught up in a crazy conspiracy that involves a group of villainous masterminds (who keep appearing and then vanishing), some high-speed car chases (that will have everyone fastening their seat belts), and a national, bestselling book with the power to make people do terrible, terrible things. But because Alan is still suffering the effects of his coma, he tends to, well, fall asleep at the worst possible moments, Meaning that young Darkus might just have to solve this mystery . . . by himself.

Darkus and Alan both bear a strong resemblance to iconic detective Sherlock Holmes. Darkus is socially awkward, but mature and super polite. Both he and his father have a strong observation skills, and Darkus is particularly good at deducing through rational thought. Alan is a bit off his game having been asleep for four years. This gives Darkus an advantage over his father making him the hero. Kids love it when this device is used in their books, and Gavin does a good job with it. At the same time Darkus and his father have a continuously developing relationship that is interesting in itself. Alan was an absent workaholic prior to falling into his long sleep, and he firmly believes that keeping his distance from his son is the best thing for him. In the years his father has been asleep, Darkus decided to become as much like him as possible in order to impress him when he woke up. Alan is impressed, but also chagrined, chastened, and a bit incredulous. Alan is not at all a likeable character. At one point he even says, "She was distracting, Doc. As female counterparts often are." This is an attitude that shines through his entire life, including his dealings with his ex-wife. Darkus fortunately doesn't seem swallow his father's anti-women in the business sentiments. The girl in question here is Darkus's stepsister, Tilly, who is a marvelous character. She needed to be in the book more, and will hopefully be featured more prominently as the series continues.

The mystery is a fun one featuring a mysterious book that is causing people to commit heinous crimes. Alan believes a sinister organization is behind it all. As the case continues, it becomes clear that something with a lot of muscle and little conscience is behind it all. It is one of those mysteries that is a race agains time. It is an engaging read. I know several of my students will be highly interested in it.

One thing I really liked was that the Britishisms were not Americanized. THANK YOU!

I read an ARC received from the publisher, Bloomsbury USA Children's, at ALA Midwinter. Knightley & Son is available for purchase now. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Dyerville Tales

When I read Juniper Berry a couple of years ago, I was excited about what future stories M.P. Kozlowsky would give us. The Dyerville Tales is just as unique and engrossing as Juniper Berry was while being incredibly different. 

I read ARC received from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.

Vince Elgin is an orphan, having lost his mother and his father in a fire when he was young, but beyond that, his life hasn't been much of a fairy tale. With only a senile grandfather he barely knows to call family, Vince was remanded to a group home, where he spun fantastical stories, dreaming of the possibility that his father, whose body was never found, might one day return for him. But it's been a long time since the fire, a long time since Vince has told himself a story worth believing in.
That's when a letter arrives, telling Vince his grandfather has passed away. Vince cannot explain it, but he's convinced that if his father is somehow still alive, he'll find him at the funeral. He strikes out for his grandfather's small hometown of Dyerville carrying only one thing with him: his grandfather's journal. The journal tells a story that could not possibly be true, a story of his grandfather's young life involving witches, giants, magical books, and evil spirits. But as Vince reads on and gets closer to Dyerville, fact and fiction begin to intertwine, and Vince finds that his very real adventure may have more in common with his grandfather's than he ever could have known.

Vince uses stories to keep the hope inside of him alive. Hope for the future. His. I love this so much. It made me want to scoop him up out of the book and adopt him. Readers in the target audience will have a different reaction of course. They will be able to identify with him. Because this is how so many of us cope with the day to day of our lives, tragic or not. Vince has a lot of tragic to cope with and yet he still believes in good and that there is hope in the future. Even when he tells himself he is being silly and tries to turn cynical, he can't. And I just love that. I love that his life his harsh and he says that, but refuses to believe that's all it can be. He is a hero I was willing to go along with. Vince's story is told alongside that of his grandfather's (also named Vince). The grandfather died recently and Vince is left with a book of tales about his life as a young man. As Vince travels to his grandfather's funeral, he reads the stories. They are fantastic and unbelievable, but Vince is convinced they hold truth. They also hold interesting parallels to Vince's own life. 

Once Vince decides to leave the orphanage against the head's wishes to attend the funeral and he starts reading the book, the story moves quickly. It was a little slow before that, but I think many children will be caught at the beginning with the tale of how Vince's parents died. The tale is not a pretty one. I liked this about the book actually. Just as in Juniper Berry, Kozlowsky deals with the grim darkness of reality, but does in a way children can appreciate and respond to. There were some things about the plot that didn't entirely make sense to me and many mysteries left unexplained. But such is life. I enjoyed the parts with Vince far more than the fantastical tales of his grandfather though. I'm interested to see how others respond to this. 

This is a great story and I'm eager to share it with the kids I know. It is one I can see appealing to many of them.

I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Walden Pond Press, via Edelweiss. The Dyerville Tales goes on sale April 22nd. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Talker 25

I was pretty excited to read Talker 25 by Joshua McCune because, well, DRAGONS. Despite futuristic-the-world-sucks novels not at all being my thing, I couldn't wait for this one. Again I say, DRAGONS. I will read anything with a dragon in it. Unfortunately this book is heavy on the life-sucks and light on the dragons. (Except when they are being tortured in horrific graphic detail.)

I read an ARC received in exchange for a fair review.

It's a high school prank gone horribly wrong-sneaking onto the rez to pose next to a sleeping dragon-and now senior Melissa Callahan has become an unsuspecting pawn in a war between Man and Monster, between family and friends and the dragons she has despised her whole life. Chilling, epic, and wholly original, this debut novel imagines a North America where dragons are kept on reservations, where strict blackout rules are obeyed no matter the cost, where the highly weaponized military operates in chilling secret, and where a gruesome television show called Kissing Dragons unites the population.

The writing in Talker 25 is almost hypnotic. I was certainly drawn into the story and it was riveting reading. When I was reading it, I was completely engaged. Dragons came to earth 15 years ago, no one knows how or why (including the dragons). Some people got killed. The government went into high security mode, locked down the population, and went on a dragon killing rampage. They are still attempting to annihilate the remaining dragons. There are groups of insurgents trying to protect the remaining dragons. The military is engaging in controlling dragons and injuring civilians in order to blame the insurgents. They've even created a war camp where they hold teens capable of telepathically communicating with the dragons to help control them. The plot is fast paced and, while purely derivative of other stories, explores some interesting themes about modern entertainment, loyalty, government power, and ethics in war. The problem is the execution of all this is incredibly muddled and this is largely due to the characters.

I'm sure that there are a lot of reviews out there that will declare Melissa as unlikeable. And she is. She is supposed to be. She is an angry, confused, lonely teen as the story opens. There's little there to like. But she is so very human and I appreciated that about her. Her character almost made me really like this, but there was too much I couldn't overlook. One of those things is that none of the character's motivations every made any sense to me, and that included Melissa's even though the story is told in first person from her point of view. This a plot heavy story, and with so much action and characters, the character development is bound to suffer. I think it is a major flaw though when the reader can't figure out why anyone is doing anything they are doing. Melissa's original hatred of the dragons was understandable. Her sudden desire to rescue a random insurgent boy (hot, of course) in the midst of a military hospital is less so. She throws some line about the dragons not being what they thought out during this scene, which I read four times to figure out where the heck that came from. I still don't know. If you ask me, she still had reason to be wary of the dragons. They aren't evil incarnate, like the government is making them out to be, but they aren't fluffy bunnies either. They are often hungry and they like to eat humans. And at this point she had no real reason to fear the military both of her parents worked for. She spends a very brief time at some dragon caves communing with a couple dragons and not liking them much still. Once she is captured by the military and sent to the camp, she suddenly becomes the dragons biggest champion. Part of this is a deep-seated desire to not be broken, which I can appreciate. And it turns out the government is evil incarnate. They are killing innocent people, torturing dragons, and being all around horrifically cruel and villainous. And for the life of my I can't figure out WHY. I know power corrupts and all that, but the villainy here is almost cartoonish and a bit excessive. In books like Fahrenheit 451 and 1984, I understood the government's motivations. One of my major complaints about modern books of this sort, is this. I can't figure out why the governments even want to be doing what they are doing, and this book suffers greatly from that flaw.

Another issue I have is how gruesomely detailed the violence and torture scenes are. You can write scenes of great impact that leave the reader chilled and horrified without going into gruesome detail. (I offer as evidence chapter three of The Queen of Attolia and all of Code Name Verity.) In fact, I am often MORE impacted by descriptions that leave more to the imagination. I have a very good imagination. And when violence is this descriptive I simply start to shut down. 

Reading Talker 25 was rather like experiencing a video game to me. And I didn't particularly enjoy the experience. I'm sure there will be readers out there who will and won't have the same issues I do, but I can't really recommend this without serious reservations.

Content Note: graphic violence, strong language, sexual references, may be a trigger for those who have suffered sexual assault or abuse

I read an ARC received from the publisher, Greenwillow Books, via Edelweiss. Talker 25 is on sale April 22. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Islands of Chaldea

The Islands of Chaldea is the last novel from Diana Wynne Jones. Almost finished when she died and completed by her sister, it is sad to think that it the last time we will get a peek into her vast and varied imagination. However, I am MUCH HAPPIER with this as her final book than I was with Earwig and the Witch being her final. While not as wonderful as my favorite DWJ books, it is still very good. And a not as a good as the best DWJ is still far superior to almost everything else.

This is a review of an ARC received from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.

Aileen comes from a long line of magic makers, and her Aunt Beck is the most powerful magician on Skarr. But Aileen's magic has yet to reveal itself, even though she is old enough and it should have, by now. When Aileen is sent over the sea on a mission for the King, she worries that she'll be useless and in the way. A powerful (but mostly invisible) cat changes all of that-and with every obstacle Aileen faces, she becomes stronger and more confident, until her magic blooms. 

Aileen is the next in a long line of Wise Women. She is supposed to have magic and power, but she messes up her Initiation and is left wondering if she is bound to be a disappointment. This is hard for her living in the shadow of her Aunt Beck, who is highly powerful and a strong, decisive, no-nonsense personality. Aileen is smart and resourceful. She pays attention. And even though she feels inferior at times, she uses these situations as an opportunity to learn. When Beck is taken out of commission and unable to lead their expedition, Aileen rises to the occasion and truly comes into her own. She must think quickly and have much courage, and is a truly great heroine. The cast of supporting characters is as diverse and quirky as one would expect from a Jones novel. On the quest with Aileen and her aunt are a prince, a boy exiled from his land, a priest, a parrot, and a strangely magical ugly cat. I loved every single one of them, their interactions, and the dynamic of the group. Aileen and Ogo (exiled boy) are my favorites, while the others provided a good deal of comedy relief. Relief sometimes needed as the group encounters more than one Queen who wishes them ill will, a ship captain who doesn't seem to care whether they survive the voyage or not, cultural differences that almost see them arrested more than once, and finally the confrontation with a villain willing to destroy the world to gain power over it. Good good stuff.

The Islands of Chaldea are varied and the inhabitants of each have different cultures and norms, but they are all connected. You can see the influences of Scotland, Ireland, and England in them but they are their own places as well. The world-building is excellent as always and comes with no explanation. They are an experience and the reader does experience them thoroughly as the intrepid group of heroes makes their way through them in an attempt to reach the one blocked island that has been separated from the rest by a barrier. It is a fascinating tale and one that moves quickly. I did thing some things at the end were a bit rushed and could have used more explanation. (How things resolved in Prince Ivar's situation for one. That was a bit abrupt.) For the most part though I was delighted with the story from beginning to end. It is Aileen's story above all and I love how everything worked out for her. 

Fans of DWJ are not going to be able to resist this one, nor should they try. I was nervous going in, but that was soon replaced with joy and delight as I sank into the engaging and fun story.

I read an e-galley made available via the publisher, Greenwillow Books, on Edelweiss. The Islands of Chaldea is available for purchase on April 22. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

WOW: The Perilous Sea

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

fter spending the summer away from each other, Titus and Iolanthe (still disguised as Archer Fairfax) are eager to return to Eton College to resume their training to fight the Bane. Although no longer bound to Titus by a blood oath, Iolanthe is more committed than ever to fulfilling her destiny—especially with the agents of Atlantis quickly closing in.
Soon after arriving at school, though, Titus makes a shocking discovery, one that makes him question everything he previously believed about their mission. Faced with this devastating realization, Iolanthe is forced to come to terms with her new role, while Titus must choose between following his mother's prophecies—and forging a divergent path to an unknowable future.

Let's take a moment and admire that cover first. The colors are beautiful and that is a DRAGON MADE FROM WATER. How gorgeous is that?

I read The Burning Sky last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was fun fantasy, and we don't have nearly enough fun fantasy. I have a feeling that things will get darker and harder in this volume. It is the second in a trilogy after all, but I think it will still be fun. I love this world and the characters and can not wait to read this one when it comes out on August 26, 2014. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Last Best Kiss

Claire LaZebnik is the most amazing at Jane Austen retellings. There is not anyone else who can do them quite like she can. She adapts these stories into a modern teen setting so well. Yes, she makes some changes in doing that, but they are necessary changes and I personally adore what she does with them. The Last Best Kiss is her latest, a retelling of Persuasion, and it is excellent. What makes it so excellent is not only the decent update of Jane Austen it is, but as always LaZebnik has again created a story that is appealing and relatable to teen readers who may have never read Austen or even know this is a retelling.

I read an ARC received from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.

Anna Eliot is tired of worrying about what other people think. After all, that was how she lost the only guy she ever really liked, Finn Westbrook.
Now, three years after she broke his heart, the one who got away is back in her life.
All Anna wants is a chance to relive their last kiss again (and again and again). But Finn obviously hasn’t forgotten how she treated him, and he’s made it clear he has no interest in having anything to do with her.
Anna keeps trying to persuade herself that she doesn’t care about Finn either, but even though they’ve both changed since they first met, deep down she knows he’s the guy for her. Now if only she can get him to believe that, too....

Of all Austen's novels, Persuasion probably lends itself best to being reworked into a high school setting. When in our lives are we ever more persuadable than when we are young teens? True some people never grow out of that, but most of us hit our low point there. Anna does. She is in 9th grade and wants nothing more than to be accepted by her friends. Her family life is terrible and school is the only place she is not alone. Finn fills her life with joy and fun. She adores him, but is too afraid to stand up for him and what she feels for him. Finn has good reason to be angry at her. (Better than his original counterpart did if you ask me.) She did embarrass and hurt him for no better reason than being afraid of what others might think of her. When he moves back during senior year, however, he is much cuter and less nerdy. The nerd is still there, but he lets that part of him out far less. I love that when it does escape it is usually in relation to Anna and something she has done to set it off. And she loves that part of him and wants to see it more. Their story is adorable for what it is even without knowledge of the original. I really liked Anna and how she tried to make amends, knows she did something truly wrong, and attempts to move on. She is still fixated on Finn, but it is not in an unhealthy or overly emotional way. As for Finn...well. He is exactly the sort of boy I always liked in high school. (The sort of boy I married even.) Let's just say I liked him lots. The supporting cast of characters are all truly well done too. The group of friends Anna and Finn have are fantastic. They are all very different but they have a great rapport and the banter between them all is wonderful. Lily (who is the Louisa counterpart) can be obnoxious, but the reasons for that become clear and she isn't that way simply because she is Anna's competition for Finn. 

The plot follows along the same basic lines as Persuasion. I do like that we saw some of Anna and Finn's freshman year relationship and the person he was before she embarrassed him. The whole "accident" scene makes far more sense in this context as well. While I liked seeing the connections from this plot to the original, it is one that can be enjoyed for itself without knowledge of the original novel. It is a story relatable to teens in so many ways: societal pressure, fears of the future, stress about college, and the family and friendship issues that plague everyone. In addition it is just a delightful romance. I had so much fun reading it. I seriously hope LaZebnik continues these.

Content Note: There is some discussion of sex, some underage drinking, and illegal drug use.

I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Harper Teen, via Edelweiss. The Last Best Kiss is on sale April 22. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Luck Uglies

When I first saw the cover and description for The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham, I knew  it was a book I had to read. It is a great MG Fantasy that combines folklore, ruffians, and adventure to tell a fun a story.

I read an ARC provided by publisher in exchange for a fair review.

Strange things are happening in Village Drowning, and a terrifying encounter has Rye O'Chanter convinced that the monstrous, supposedly extinct Bog Noblins have returned. Now Rye's only hope is an exiled secret society so notorious its name can't be spoken aloud: the Luck Uglies. As Rye dives into Village Drowning's maze of secrets, rules, and lies, she'll discover the truth behind the village's legends of outlaws and beasts...and that it may take a villain to save them from the monsters. 

In many ways The Luck Uglies is a familiar story. It is typical of its genre in theme, setting, and characters. I enjoyed this aspect of it. I knew what I was getting and what to expect, and while what it does is nothing terribly new, it is done incredibly well. And most readers in the target audience will not have read as many fantasies of this type. They will thoroughly enjoy discovering this type of book through The Luck Uglies.

Rye is an adventurous girl who does not always make the best decisions. She is a child though and the often ridiculous things she does make perfect sense in her young mind. I could see a lot of my daughter in her while I was reading, and this will be a book I think she would love. Rye has two best friends, one boy one girl (of course) and a wonderful mother and little sister. This is a family story as much as it is anything else, and those are always great reads. Combining a good family story with action, adventure, and some monsters to terrorize a village always makes for a fun read.

The Bog Noblins are an eery monster, fierce and scary. They eat animals and people, viciously tearing them apart in the process. Durham does not shy away from the gory horror of this and there are some cringe worthy scenes that most kids are going to love. The Bog Noblins aren't the only evil lurking in Village Drowning. In fact, they aren't event the worst of the evil. There is also the dastardly Lord of the village, who is not hesitant to sacrifice his people to save his own life. Durham explores some interesting themes through this.

The Luck Uglies is the first in a trilogy, but I didn't know that when I read it. It is a complete and full story in and of itself and can be read as a stand alone.

This is an excellent and fun book, one that I will be delighted to hand to my students who I'm sure will love it.

I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Harper Children's, via Edelweiss. The Luck Uglies will be available for purchase on April 9.

Friday, April 4, 2014


Happy sigh. It is always nice when a trilogy I love ends on a high note, and Horizon, the final book Jenn Reese's Above World trilogy, does just that.

This is a review of an ARC received in exchange for a fair review.

Aluna and Hoku, Kampii from the City of Shifting Tides, and their friends, Equian Dash and winged Aviar Calli, are determined to stop a war. The maniacal ex-scientist Karl Strand is planning to conquer the world with his enormous army of tech-enhanced soldiers . . . unless the four friends can get to Strand first. Aluna’s plan is dangerous: pose as Upgraders and infiltrate the army. But the enemy isn’t what they expected and the strategy begins to crumble. When the friends are torn apart by conflicting allegiances, their slim chance of avoiding war seems to disappear completely. For Aluna and Hoku, what began as a quest to save their own people has become a mission to save the world. But do Aluna and her friends have any hope of defeating Strand if they can’t take him on together?

My favorite thing about these books have been the characters. Aluna, Hoku, Calli, and Dash won my hearts thoroughly in Above World and Vachir, Nathif, and Tayan found their own places in it during Mirage. I went into this book with a whole lot of love for these characters and an equal amount of fear for their safety and well-being. I was also concerned about their relationships with each other based on the synopsis, as that is the main reason I love them all so much. They are who they are because of the way the care for, stand with, and help each other despite their differences. There are some sad moments in the book. They are all separated, Dash and Vachir going one way, Calli returning to Sky Feather Landing, and Aluna and Hoku returning to Shifting Tides, as they are all driven by a need to save their own people. What I really liked though was how they worked through that and understood what the others had to do and why. It was cause for minor conflict and there were some misunderstandings, as is always the case when people are tired, stressed, and scared, but through it all the foundation of their friendship and loyalty to each other stayed strong. From the beginning I've loved the theme of family and choice of community that is woven through these stories. This final installment stays true to that while also demonstrating how complicated and hard the world is to live in and how nothing is ever simple, particularly the choices we have to make in a crisis. It also manages to introduce even more characters who have earned places in my heart too.

All four of the main characters experience some harrowing things over the course of their final journeys. It is all very definitely there, but not too detailed and in your face, a perfect balance for the intended audience. The book starts with them all together and then as they start to split up follows them each in the places they are going. It's a lot of action, but it was not at all difficult to keep track of. I particularly enjoyed watching Aluna, Hoku, and Calli return to their homes. They've all seen and experienced so much of the outside world and it changed them. Watching them all face the changes in themselves with their new views of their homes is fascinating, and one I think will appeal to the older MG reader who is questioning their own place in the world and seeing their families and communities through a different lens than they did as a child. I really liked the way the story ended too, but won't go into too many details of why to avoid spoilers. 

This trilogy is also a favorite of my daughter, who is nine, and several of my students so I know how well this works with the MG demographic. I think they are going to eat up this book as fast and happily as they did the others. 

I received an e-galley from the publisher, Candlewick Press, via NetGalley. Horizon will be available on April 8th. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Geography of You and Me

Jennifer E. Smith is a sure thing when it comes to heart-warming, fun YA contemporary romance. Her latest book, The Geography of You and Me, is exactly that. Truly delightful. 

This review is of an ARC received from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.

Lucy and Owen meet somewhere between the tenth and eleventh floors of a New York City apartment building, on an elevator rendered useless by a citywide blackout. After they're rescued, they spend a single night together, wandering the darkened streets and marveling at the rare appearance of stars above Manhattan. But once the power is restored, so is reality. Lucy soon moves to Edinburgh with her parents, while Owen heads out west with his father.
Lucy and Owen's relationship plays out across the globe as they stay in touch through postcards, occasional e-mails, and -- finally -- a reunion in the city where they first met.

I was a little wary in the first few pages of the book. I am always a little put off by characters who have absolutely NO friends outside their family. Even I, an extreme introvert who moved every couple of years, always had friends. And in this book we are supposed to buy that scenario involving not just one character, but two. And yet Smith made it work for me. Lucy is a loner. She does not really care to be social or hang out with other people besides her brothers. Something I can understand. She had a brief relationship with a boy, but not too serious before meeting Owen. Owen, for his part, used to have friends, but since the death of his mother, has given up on everyone in his former life. He feels to separated from them. Lucy and Owen stumble into each other at the perfect time for both of them, just when they need a connection to someone the most. 

The first night they spend together in the dark of the blacked out city is gorgeously described. Smith has knack for the sort of imagery that makes you feel like you are there, the situation is real, and manages to build romantic tension at the same time. All of that is fully employed in the first few chapters. The end is also keenly felt as both Lucy and Owen are snapped quickly back into their chaotic lives and find themselves suddenly on opposite sides of the Atlantic. On a whim they begin sending each other post cards and on Lucy's part, an occasional email. I really enjoyed how this section had them not fixating on the other person though. They were both trying to meet other people in their new locations. They both have relationships with other people too. The cycle of their entire relationship in this book is one I really liked. Most of the time they are apart, a great deal of the book they are not even on "speaking" terms, but I feel like it added to rather than detracted from their relationship, and it made the book about so much more than just a romance. I also liked watching the changes in each of their relationships with the people around them. Lucy's tentative, but growing stronger relationship with her parents was lovely. However, my favorite relationship in the whole book is the one between Owen and his dad. Love these two together so much. There were a couple of scenes between them that had me tearing up. They are both at a loss since the loss of Owen's mom, but they are still together and struggling on. And yes, his father makes some questionable decisions regarding the Owen's education for his senior year, but it is at Owen's (correct) insistence that he has the grades and credits for it to not matter. You don't see many positive father/son relationships like this in YA and it was so refreshing and so well done. 

And for me, the book ended in exactly the right way and at exactly the right point. I did think a few little details ironed out a bit too perfectly, but it was exactly right for the tone of the book.

I read an e-galley received by the publisher, Little Brown Books for Young Readers, via NetGalley. The Geography of You and Me will be available for purchase on April 15. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

TTT: Gateway Books

This week's TTT topic: Gateway Books (The books that got me hooked.)

My Gateway To Independent Reading

Great Illustrated Classics: I was in second grade and we were moving halfway through the school year from Nebraska to England. (Yes, you read that right. Military kid.) Anyway, friends of my parents gave me a whole box of these right before we left at Christmas. It was after the movers came so I had them all with me on the trip. I remember reading The Wizard of Oz on the plane. I didn't care for that one, but A Tale of Two Cities, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Pride and Prejudice were repeated rereads and still in my top ten favorite books. I read the actual real versions now though.

My Gateway To Bookish Obsessions
Little House on the Prairie Series: Once I made my way through my box of illustrated classics, I started checking out Little House books from the school library. I loved the TV show, so I thought the books were a perfect next step. I read the entire series three times in a row, begged for my own set, and then read those until they fell apart. Rereading them as an adult has not been as enjoyable, but I still have the good childhood memory of how much I loved them.

My Gateway To Sci-Fi Fantasy
A Wrinkle in Time: I was in fifth grade when I discovered this one, and it completely changed the way I looked at the world and reading. I had read a few other fantasy novels, but none of them fully sucked me into the genre like this one did. I wanted to be Meg so much. And Calvin was my first book boyfriend. I read the entire series and then every other book by L'Engle I could find. (A Ring of Endless Light is my second favorite by her.)

My Gateway To Regency Romance
The Viscount Who Loved Me: When I was in high school, I read a lot of historical romance novels, but they weren't Regency era. Then I went to college and became the biggest literary snob. My first year of teaching cured me of THAT. I needed light, fun books that had nothing to do with my job and would completely distract me from the emotional stress that the first year of teaching is. I picked up The Viscount Who Loved Me at the bookstore on a whim one day, and couldn't have been happier. Julia Quinn is FUNNY and her Bridgerton books are the best she has. Reading her backlist got me through my first year of teaching and I always had her new release to look forward to right after summer break started every subsequent year.

My Gateway To Rediscovering Current MG Fiction
Leepike Ridge: After leaving teaching following the birth of my daughter, I used any spare time I had to catch up on all the adult non-fiction and classics I had been wanting to read but never had time for while teaching. After a few years I really began to miss MG fiction though. It is the category where some of the best stuff is written. N.D. Wilson's Leepike Ridge was a reminder to me of why I loved MG books so much and brought me back to reading them.

My Gateway To Discovering the World of Book Blogging
The Queen's Thief Series: I had a copy of The Thief in my classroom library all four years, and never read it. I had several students who read it and loved it, but I never did. Then because I loved Leepike Ridge, I began reading N.D. Wilson's website and he recommended Turner's books. I finally read The Thief and immediately wanted to go back in time and force myself to read it sooner. I read The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia three times each in the space of a week. I didn't spend much time on the computer at this point in my life. I had two small children, but I needed to find other people who had read these and would talk about them with me. I discovered the livejouranl community of Sounis and through that discovered that book blogging was actually a thing. SO. GLAD. I. DID.

My Gateway To Mysteries
Gaudy Night: I was never much interested in mystery novels. I had read a couple Christie novels and Sherlock Holmes, but overall it was a genre that held no interest to me. Then the folks at Sounis (see above) kept talking about how wonderful Sayers books were, particularly the ones with Harriet and I went out to find them. I didn't realize Gaudy Night was actually the third in the Peter/Harriet books until I started reading it. No matter, I was hooked. I was hooked on Peter and Harriet and them together, but I was also hooked on the mystery aspect in a way I had never been before. Despite having read some really bad ones since giving the genre a more thorough try, I do enjoy most of the ones I read.

My Gateway To Contemporary YA
Saving Francesca: Prior to reading Saving Francesca, the only YA I read was the occasional YA fantasy book. But several of the book bloggers I had started following kept mentioning how brilliant Melina Marchetta was and how everyone had to read Jellicoe Road. (All of those people are right.) Why didn't I read Jellicoe Road then? Who knows. I often like to not do what people are telling me to and reading Saving Francesca first was a way to sort of do that. I loved it and it made me realize I should probably give the genre as a whole more of a chance. It is still my favorite though. (Yes, I DO like it even more than Jellicoe, though I love it very much too.)

My Gateway To Adult Contemporary Romance
The Chocolate Thief: This is the newest one, starting just this past year. I have always been super opposed to reading adult contemporary romances. Why? I never had a good reason. But I avoided them and barely paid attention when people raved about one they had read. What made the difference when Chachic started talking about these books on Twitter? Well, chocolate and Paris were mentioned a lot. Then, because Laura needed MG recommendations for her daughter and Chachic sent her my way, I discovered she was a delightful and interesting person. So I read her book. And then I read every single book that followed and most of the books she's recommended. (Several of her recommendations are still sitting unread on my Nook, but I'm getting to them!)