Thursday, March 31, 2016

Quarterly Round-Up and Giveaway

It is time for the Quarterly Review Round-Up where I talk about the best of the best, the one's I couldn't finish, and the non-fiction and adult novels I'm reading that I don't review here. Plus there's a GIVEAWAY.

The DNFs (links to my reasons why-if I shared them-on Goodreads):
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd
Secrets of Valhalla by Jasmine Richards
Sword and Verse by Kathy MacMillan

Non-Fiction (links to reviews on Goodreads):
Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin
Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson

Adult Books (links to reviews on Goodreads):
Carolina Dreaming by Virginia Kantra (contemporary romance)
Diary of an Accidental Wallflower by Jennifer McQuiston (historical romance)
Her Bull Rider's Baby by Genevieve Turner (contemporary romance)
Knowing the Score by Kat Latham (contemporary romance)
Mad Dog and Annie by Virginia Kantra (contemporary romance)
Rescued by Her Firefighter by Genevieve Turner (contemporary romance)
Sleeping with Her Enemy by Jennifer Holiday (5 stars! contemporary romance)
Sweet Disorder by Rose Lerner (historical romance)
Vicious by V.E. Schwab (science fiction)

The Best of the Best (where the Giveaway comes in):

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina
Secrets of the Dragon Tomb by Patrick Samphire

When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds

Links to my reviews unless otherwise noted.


*Indicates later books in a trilogy or series. If you are wanting to begin with the first book and you win, I will allow you to choose that as your prize.

If you want to win one of the 4.5/5 star books I read this quarter, leave a comment below and tell me:
1) A favorite book of yours from the past few months.
2) Which of these books you are interested in if you win. (You can change your mind if you do.)
3) A way to reach you (email or Twitter handle) if you win. If you are using a Twitter handle, you may want to follow me in case I need to DM you.

Open to any reader who lives where Book Depository ships for free.

I will close this GIVEAWAY and choose a winner on Thursday, April 7 at 8:00 PM EDT.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

TTT: Most Recent 5 Star Reads

This Week's TTT Topic: Most Recent 5 Star Reads

Links to my reviews:

 Burn Baby Burn  by Meg Medina
Sleeping with her Enemy by Jenny Holiday

Secrets of the Dragon Tomb by Patrick Samphire
When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds

Star Dust by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

A Pocket Full of Murder by R.J. Anderson
A Nearer Moon by Melanie Crowder

A Wish Upon Jasmine by Laura Florand
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

TTT Books I Love But Haven't Talked About in a While

This Week's TTT Topic: Books I Love But Haven't Talked About in a While

In blogging we can sometime get so focused on the new and shiny we forget to talk about backlist and old favorites. Are there any old favorites you want people to know about?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Shorter Musings

Shorter Musings are quick reviews of books I've read but don't have a lot to say about.

Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes
This is a great book to hand to 3rd-5th graders who love stories of magic, friendship, and family. I enjoyed the relationship between Maddy and her grandmother most of all. This is a story rich in history and tradition. The bayou setting is beautiful, detailed, and feels exactly as I imagine the bayou to be. The books only real weakness is its pacing. There are parts that are a little too slow and others that feel rushed. This may have been intentional for the plot, but it made for a disconcerting reading experience at times.

Fridays with the Wizards by Jesica Day George
This series has been one of my favorites, but this volume fell flat for me. That could be because I expected it to be about something entirely different than from the set up at the beginning than it ended up being about. I thought the last 2/3s of the book would be away from the castle as the family began their journey to Luth's country. But it isn't. Arkwright needs to be captured. Again. The castle may be in trouble. Again. Celie feels like no one listens to or appreciates her. Again. This book rehashed a lot the elements of the first three books while not adding anything to the series. I will still read a fifth book if there is one, but it won't be as much of a priority.

The Hollow Boy by Jonathan Stroud
Stroud's level of writing from a plot and thematic perspective continues to be distinguished and impressive with this third book in his Lockwood & Co. series. The world continues to be interesting for the most part too. There are so many different ways the spirits manifest and Stroud has a way of brining each detailed incident to vivid life. I'm not entirely comfortable with the direction some of the reasoning and explanations for certain phenomena took in this book. And I'm starting to grow weary of Stroud's characterizations in this book. Lockwood in particular. Since Lockwood is very Sherlockian, this is not surprising. Sherlock bores me after continual exposure too. However, I feel all the characters were done a disservice in this book and it left me not as invested. I will certainly be reading the next volume though. I'm very interested to see where Stroud is going to take all this. (Though I'm very nervous I'm going to wish I had stopped.)

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste
This is a creepy fantasy based on folklore not often seen in western publishing, particularly children's books. It reads on the younger end of the MG scale, and it is the perfect book to hand to children who enjoy being slightly scared. Honestly the cover for it is perfect. It is going to attract exactly the audience that is ready for the contents. Like most MG books, at its core this is a story about friendship and community. Baptiste winds these into her story very well and I loved the island setting.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

TTT: Books on My Spring TBR

This Week's TTT Topic: Books on Spring TBR

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston (contemporary YA) OUT TODAY!!!

A Tangle of Gold byJaclyn Moriarty (fantasy YA) March 29th Release

Chase Me by Laura Florand (Romance Adult) April 5th Release

Booked by Kwame Alexander (Contemporary MG) April 5th Release

Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis (Fantasy Adult) April 12th Release

The Legend of Sam Miracle by N.D. Wilson (Fantasy MG) April 19th Release

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (Fantasy YA) April 19th Release

Poison is not Polite by Robin Stevens (Historical MG) April 26th Release

As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds (Contemporary MG) May 3rd Release

Earth Bound by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner (Historical Romance, Adult) May Release

Friday, March 11, 2016

Cover Reveal for Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet

Anne Nesbet is a must read author for me. I've enjoyed all of her books. (If you haven't read last year's The Wrinkled Crown, you are missing out on one of the best MG books of 2015.) This being the case, I'm so excited to bring you the cover reveal for her 2016 release, Cloud and Wallfish. 

The  cover is amazing.

The synopsis has me wanting this book NOW.

Anne's interview following the cover and synopsis is a must read that offers insight into the books and characters. (Did I mention I want to read this book now?)

And without further ado:

Friends you make while the world is falling apart are friends you keep forever. 

Noah Brown's ordinary, everyday life is smashed to smithereens the day his parents tell him his name isn't really Noah, his birthday isn't really in March, and his new home is going to be East Berlin, on the other side of the Iron Curtain. It's 1989, and everywhere all around countries are remaking themselves, but in East Germany the air is full of coal smoke, secrets, and lies. It's not safe to say anything out loud in the apartment. It's not safe to think too much about where you came from or who you used to be. 

It's also about the least likely place in the world for a kid from America with a lot of secrets of his own (and an Astonishing Stutter) to make a friend.

But then Noah meets Cloud-Claudia, the lonely girl who lives one floor down with her terrifying grandmother. Something has happened to her parents, but what?

Armed with a half-imaginary map and a shared fondness for codes and puzzles, Noah and Cloud-Claudia have to find their way in a world where walls--and the Wall--are closing in.

Publication Date: October 4, 2016
Publisher: Candlewick 

Barnes and Noble 

Anne answered some questions about the cover, the story, and characters.

Can you tell us more about the cover?

Oh, I was so thrilled when I saw this cover! I hadn't imagined anything like it. In fact, I do believe my "imagined cover" was a sort of teal blue color and had stick figures on it--which just goes to show why I should be kept far away from visual design or even (as my students can attest) chalkboards. The genius behind this cover is Maryellen Hanley. Let me just point out a few of the wonderfully clever things she has done here:

1. The color scheme (black-red-gold) is that of the flags of both the Federal Republic of Germany (aka "West Germany") and the German Democratic Republic (aka "East Germany") The cloud and whale icons are the color of paper, which is appropriate, too.
2. The map in the background is an East German map of East Berlin. The blank space on the left is where "West Berlin" should be, but West Berlin was left blank on East German maps.
3. The word for "whale" in German is Walfisch, which my main character hears as "Wallfish." That becomes his nickname, due to--reasons explained in the story.
4. "Cloud" is the nickname for my main character's East German friend, Claudia. Notice that Maryellen Hanley even managed to put Cloud's cloud icon over the "East Berlin" part of the map, and my main character Noah's whale icon over the blank "West" (as an American, he comes from the western side of the Wall). 

5. I have always secretly thought my name--"Anne Nesbet"--was about the dullest and most boring name anyone ever had. But looking at this cover, I realize that I just should have been adding little black dots before and after! They magically make my plain old name look awesome! 

What drew you to this particular time and place as a setting?

Cloud and Wallfish  is a story very close to my heart, because like Noah, I spent much of the eventful year 1989 living in East Berlin, doing research for my dissertation. Like Noah, I found myself caring deeply for the people I came to know on the other side of the Wall. We improvised feasts together, using cabbage and onions and North Korean soy sauce. We went on long walks in the woods surrounding Berlin and went to see experimental plays and listened to writers speak slant-wise about their hopes for the future, and we talked and talked and talked while walking through late-night East Berlin, under the watchful eye of the Television Tower. Ever since that time, I have wanted to speak about this strange-but-familiar other world I lived in for a while, on the other side of the Wall.

Reading the copy, one might assume this is a historical fiction with no fantasy element. Is this historical fiction or historical fantasy? Can you talk about why you chose to write whichever one it is?

My first three novels (The Cabinet of Earths, A Box of Gargoyles, and The Wrinkled Crown) were all fantasies, the first two set in Paris, and the third set in an imaginary place I made up myself. But Cloud and Wallfish is historical fiction, set in a real place (East Berlin) at a real point in history (1989)--though it could also be said to be like The Wrinkled Crown, in that it's about a divided world. The main characters in the story, Noah and Cloud-Claudia, do construct a sort of fantastic world of their own, however, inspired by the map of East Berlin.

What was your favorite part about writing this story?

I absolutely loved immersing myself in 1989 again. And I went back to visit East Berlin while writing the first draft of Cloud and Wallfish, which was a great joy. Also the spy-versus-spy interrogation scene was incredibly fun to write, though not so much fun for my poor characters to experience.

Who would you recommend this book to?

Anyone who likes adventure stories about friendship and spying! (Officially speaking, Cloud and Wallfish  is aimed at the 8-14 age range, but as we all know, real readers for any book come in all shapes and sizes and ages.)

Thank you so much for these great questions! I really look forward to seeing Cloud and Wallfish out in the world in October!

Thanks to Anne for the insight into this new book. As a fan of adventure stories about friendship and spying, I'm looking forward to this! 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

WoW: A Little Taste of Poison

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

Let's take a moment to stare in awe at the beautiful cover.

The city of Tarreton is powered by magic, from simple tablets that light lamps to advanced Sagery that can murder a man from afar. Isaveth has a talent for spell-making, but as a girl from a poor neighborhood she never dreamed she could study at the most exclusive magical school in the city. So when she’s offered a chance to attend, she eagerly accepts.

The school is wonderful, but old and new enemies confront Isaveth at every turn, and she begins to suspect her scholarship might be more a trap than a gift. Even her secret meetings with Esmond, her best friend and partner in crime-solving, prove risky—especially once he hatches a plan to sneak her into the biggest society event of the season. It’s their last chance to catch the corrupt politician who once framed her father for murder. How can Isaveth refuse?

A Little Taste of Poison is the sequel to my favorite MG read of last year, A Pocket Full of Murder. Mystery, magic, politics, and romance combine to make this series something special and I can't wait for the release of the second book on September 27, 2016. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Land of Forgotten Girls

Erin Entrada Kelly's Blackbird Fly was a book I really enjoyed last year. I finished it and knew that I would read whatever Kelly wrote next as soon as I could. I got an ARC of her new book The Land of Forgotten Girls and enjoyed it even more.

Soledad came to America with her father, sister, and newly acquired stepmom shortly after her mother's death. Soledad knows her stepmom only married her father for his papers bringing them from the Philippines to America. When her father returns to the Philippines for a funeral and never comes back, Sol and her sister are left in the care of their evil stepmother Vea. Sol works hard to protect her younger sister Ming from Vea's anger and bitter resentment. Sol tells her stories the same way their mother used to tell her-stories about a mythical world traveling aunt. Ming now believes that Auntie Jove will be there to rescue them shortly. She is packing and has the date set in her head. Sol struggles with whether she has hurt her sister more than helped her with the stories she tells.

With Soledad, Kelly and her editor have taken a risk that is seldom seen in MG fiction and given us a female main character who is incredibly unlikeable at first encounter. Too often female main characters in MG books have to be the girl strongly suffering injustice in silence. They are the bullied and not the bullies. They are loners who meet a friend who makes them feel special. Not Sol. She is prickly, abrasive, and angry. She has so much anger and it is a beautiful thing. I loved her. Ming is the one who is quiet and hides from the world. Sol attacks it. On behalf of herself and her sister, she is unafraid to face harsh realities. She has a best friend named Manny and the two of them together are not the most pleasant of teams. They steal ice cream from the corner store. They yell insults at the kids at the Catholic school. They throw acorns at one of the students who is albino. But Sol has a deep core of compassion running through her too. When she accidentally injures the girl she is throwing things at, she seeks her out to apologize and they begin a friendship. This was so well done and made sense for both their characters. The evolving relationship between the two and Manny is organic and develops exactly as middle school relationships often do. Sol is also pretty much willing to do anything for her sister and that is another place the book truly excels.

We all know I love a good sibling story, and this is an amazing one. Sol feels responsible for the death of their middle sister who died a year before their mom. Her zeal in standing between Ming and their stepmother is wonderful and heartbreaking. The shifting dynamic between the sisters as Sol tries to protect Ming from the fantasies she herself created and things start to spin out of control is displayed with heart, fairness, and even humor. Into this story, come several other members of the community and through them Kelly highlights how important friendship and community are. I was struck by how real and crucial even the minor characters were to the story being told.

Vea is a pretty terrible stepmom. She is not however painted as a villainous caricature. She is given nuance and I was able to understand her bitterness even as I was appalled at how she took it out on the children. The slow realizations Sol has about her and what she chooses to about those are an amazing demonstration in character growth from the beginning to the end of the story.

I really hope we continue to see books from Kelly. She is a wonderful voice to have in the world of children's literature. Her portrayal of the present day immigration experience is done so well in both of her novels thus far. As a Filipina American who grew up in Louisiana herself, she has the benefit of also being one of the best possible people to tell these stories, and she does it incredibly well.

I read an ARC made available by the publisher, Greenwillow Books, via Edelweiss. The Land of Forgotten Girls is on sale now.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

TTT: Unreliable Narrators

This Week's TTT Topic: Books When You're in the Mood for X

My X=Unreliable Narrators

I do love a good unreliable narrator. These are my favorite books whose narrators are unreliable either because they are being denied information, they are too consumed by themselves, they are confused, their minds work differently, or they're liars. Some of them are a combination of these. A couple of the books have multiple unreliable narrators.

 Do you enjoy unreliable narrators or do you find them frustrating? If you enjoy them, who are some of your favorite unreliable narrators?