Tuesday, August 30, 2016

TTT: School Stories

This week's TTT topic: Back to School Freebie (any school related topic)

The topic I'm choosing is "School Stories" or books where school is the main setting.

These are all MG books. Maybe I'll do YA school books next year.

What are your favorite books with a school setting?

Friday, August 26, 2016

Shorter Musings: Recent YA Reads

Some shorter musings on recent YA reads.

The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, and June by Robin Benway
While recently browsing the shelves at the library, I came across this and realized it was the only book by Robin Benway I had not read so I checked it out. I don't know why I had never read it as we all know how I feel about sibling stories. April, May, and June are sisters born 13 months apart. Their parents are recently divorced and they've just moved. Each experiences a heightened "sense". April cans see flashes of the future. May can turn invisible. June can read thoughts. The sisters try to navigate their new life and the problems their powers bring them while not letting any of it tear them apart. I enjoyed this but think it would have been better without the fantastical powers. I know that probably sounds like nonsense since that means the entire plot would have to change and it would be an entirely different book. But I loved the sisterly bond and I loved all of the characters. The banter is fantastic. The boys are awesome. (I fully approve of the Stephenson sisters taste in boys.) The concept didn't fully work for me. It was an enjoyable afternoon's read however.

The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
This is one of those situations where not reading the synopsis in advance was not good for my reading experience. I honestly wouldn't have picked it up if I had, because the personification of ideas like love and death NEVER works well for me. It is a credit to Brockenbrough's writing skills that I kept reading once I knew exactly what I was reading. I liked both Flora and Henry as characters and might have loved this book if it was straight up historical fiction without the characters of Love and Death. The end rather ruined things for me overall, but that's tied into the conceit of the book, which as I've said is not my thing. How the reveals and resolution played out just left me dissatisfied.

P.S. I Like You by Kasie West
This is a cute predictable contemporary YA romance keeping to West's usual style but lacking a certain something I found in her earlier books. I couldn't connect with the characters well at all. They were incredibly standard. Like I said, it's all very predictable. I also thought it was longer than it needed to be given its predictability. I did like Lily's siblings a lot. It is nice to have another Kasie West book for recommendations though. The teens I work with mostly like their books to not have sex, drinking, or swearing and West can be counted on to deliver for those teens. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Do You Want to Be a Cybils Judge?

The call for judges for the 2016 Children and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards is out! The Cybils Award process happens in two rounds and they need a lot of volunteer judges to make this work.

Do you:
  • love children's and youth literature?
  • read a lot of it?
  • blog about it?
  • like discussing it?
  • want to get to know other kidlit enthusiasts?
If so, you will find being a Cybils judge a lot of fun. I have been a Round One panelist the last three years (two in MG Speculative Fiction and one in MG Fiction) and can say I was able to all of the above and throughly enjoyed it. 

If you are interested in this, you will find the application here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

TTT: Books On My TBR Since Before The Blog

This week's TTT topic: Books on Your TBR From Before You Started Blogging

So many adult titles I will never get to....

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Left-Handed Fate

Kate Milford is an auto-buy author for me. I love all of her books. The Left-Handed Fate, which I was lucky enough to read an ARC of, is no exception. It has been a long time since I was so thoroughly enraptured with a book and in that mode where I never want to stop reading or leave this world and its characters.

Max Ault is attempting to complete his late father's mission to put together the pieces of an ancient puzzle that lead to the building of a magnificent machine-a machine that will have the power to end all wars.

Lucy Bluecrowne is a privateer determined to help Max complete his mission and continue her family's legacy of honor and commitment.

Oliver Dexter wants to live up to the legacy of his famous ship captain father and not embarrass himself as a midshipman turned captain of a prize vessel.

Liao Bluecrowne just wants everyone to stop fighting and let him make fireworks in peace.

Together these four headstrong determined characters have to dodge the most undiplomatic of French diplomats, outrun mysterious pursuers dressed in all black whose ship seems to appear out of nowhere, navigate the mysterious unexplainable port of Nagspeake, and deal with betrayals, plots, and politics. Most importantly they have to learn to trust each other and work together before they all lose everything they are working hardest to hold on to.

As always with Milford's work, the characters shine brightest in The Left-Handed Fate. I can not even begin to tell you how much I love these people. My brain is a jumble of incoherent ramblings and heart eye emojis. Lucy is brave, smart, strategical, and a masterful leader. Max is determined, loyal, intelligent, and capable of backing down when necessary. And can the boy ever think outside the box. Oliver is vulnerable yet stalwart, honorable, and smart enough to know when he is in over his head and ask for help. Liao is wise beyond his years, energetic, and artistic. The way Milford weaves their relationships to bring out their characteristics is nothing short of phenomenal writer's craft. Through it we see the people they are in how they behave with each other. And different interactions and groupings bring out different characteristics and shades of who they are. It. Is. Brilliant. Oliver is a foil for both Lucy and Max. He has certain qualities in common with Lucy and others with Max. This shows how much Lucy and Max really have in common despite seeming to be complete opposites. In addition to that, Oliver is very much his own character. Liao is so completely self-possessed and runs circles around the older characters and it is vastly entertaining. I loved all of Liao's scenes. The developing relationships and how each is carefully circling around the others for a variety of different reasons makes for fascinating reading too. I adored each of these characters individually and every permutation of them together. I loved how they needed each other to be their best possible selves too. (My favorite is Lucy/Max though because I'm a  hopeless romantic and I shipped that hard from the first chapter, which, if you read this blog often enough, will tell you everything you need to know about Lucy and Max.)

The plot is fast paced. There is really no peace at all to be had while reading this book. The end of each chapter just left me wanting to know more, desperate to see what happens next. I've made no secret of how little I tend to enjoy books that take place on boats. I had no trouble with this here. There was exactly enough about ships for me to be firmly set in the world without making me want to go set fire to an entire fleet out of sheer frustration if I got one more detail about how ships work. This is a fine balance no other author writing about boats has managed for me. Milford does a fabulous job of showing life on ship and also the bringing to life the town of Nagspeake, which is changeable and hard to pin down. I was fully immersed in the world she created from beginning to end.

The story takes place during the War of 1812 shortly after America's declaration of war. The Left-Handed Fate is a British privateer vessel. Oliver is a midshipman in the US Navy. Max is doing what he is doing to help Britain stop the advance of Napoleon. I appreciated how well Milford added historical details including how complicated the politics of all this were at the time. Max has a line about how inconsequential the American war is in comparison to Britain's problem with Napoleon. (True.) She also manages to include how awful and unfair impressment and the British seizing of America's ships was. (Also true.) She does this deftly, not turning her plot into a history lesson. It is simply part of the world and who these characters are. These issues color how the characters see each other, how they choose their words, and what actions they take. At the fear of repeating myself too much, it is BRILLIANT.

I am labeling this as Middle Grade because that's how it is being marketed, but truly it is one of those books that defies age category. (Okay, that's also a trademark of Kate Milford's books. She is in the same category in my head with Diana Wynne Jones, Elizabeth Marie Pope, and Megan Whalen Turner that way.) Child. Teen. Adult. Who cares? Enjoy a good adventure with politics and characters who will feel like family? Then this book is for you.

I read an ARC made available by the publisher, Henry Holt and Co., via Edelweiss. The Left-Handed Fate is on sale August 23rd.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

TTT: Books Set in Places I Grew Up

This week's TTT topic: Top Ten Books with X Setting

X Being Places I've Lived

Because my father was in the Air Force, I moved a lot growing up. My husband, while not in the military, has a transient career as well so I'm still moving. I thought it would be fun to choose a favorite books set in the places I grew up.

Nebraska (ages 2-7)

Why: There aren't a whole lot of books set in Nebraska that I've read. Rowell's books are the books there I've read, and this is still my favorite book she's written.

England (ages 7-11)

Why: I know may of you are probably thinking, what on earth. Whhhyyyy??? After all, there are so many books that take place in England. Well, I love too many of them so I tried to find a book that I love, and that was set as close to where I actually lived (Suffolk) as possible. So here we are. This isn't my favorite Sayers' novel by any stretch, but it is her writing and still very good as a result. 

California (ages 11-14)

Why: I love Turner's entire Las Morenas series and Autumn Sage is my favorite. Her descriptions of Cabrillo remind me of a place I went on a class trip once. I enjoy how these books incorporate so much California history into them and are exactly as diverse and complex in that as they should be. 

New York (ages 14-16)

Why: There are so many books that take place in New York City. (I did not live in the New York City.) I wanted a book for this state that didn't and this is one of my top favorite books of all time anyway. I love the Revolutionary history, the characters, and it has one of the best proposals of marriage ever.

North Carolina (ages 16-26)

Why: Virginia Kantra writes North Carolina better than anyone. If you want to argue about that, I'm prepared. She manages to show southern without resorting to quirky. It is always amazing to me how many authors (even ones who live in the south) can't do this. This is the place where I lived the longest, though in three different cities. My husband is from there and my sister still lives there so it is the place I've lived I return to the most as well. I actually just reread this entire series over the past month and was struck again by how well this was handled and how much I really do love all of these characters. 

I decided to focus on places I grew up because I think those places are the most important to the person I am today. Also because the next two places on the list are New Mexico and Tennessee and I tend to not like books that take place in either state. New Mexico books tend toward the mystical or criminal telling me exactly how the author gained their perspective on the state. Tennessee books suffer from what all southern set books suffer, a surfeit of quirky. 

So that's it. And in case you're wondering, birth through two I was in Spain. I don't remember a thing about it. Also I don't think I've ever read a book set in Spain. Recommendations any one?


Friday, August 12, 2016

The Dinosaur Hunters

The Dinosaur Hunters is a novella that takes place in the world Patrick Samphire created for his Secrets of the Dragon Tomb series. The first book in the series is one of my favorite reads of this year. If you haven't read it, you should. You should also get your hands on this prequel novella that gives a wonderful glimpse into other elements of the world Samphire created and introduces a fabulous heroine.

Harriet George is determined to rescue her brother in law Bertram from his own stupidity. Bertram has bumbled his way along as a police inspector, but as rumors of a famous jewel thief no can catch coming to Tharsis City begin to spread, Bertram finds himself volunteered to capture the criminal. Harriet knows he will be unsuccessful and this will end his career leaving the family destitute. Harriet, disguised as a boy, goes along with Bertram on an expedition to hunt dinosaurs with the person believed to be the target of the famous jewel thief. The jewel thief does indeed strike, but he is not the only criminal lurking in the shadows of the hunt. Soon Harriet and Bertram find themselves investigating a murder while trying to not get eaten by the dinosaurs their expedition is there to hunt.

As a novella, The Dinosaur Hunters is a short quick read. Yet I was impressed with how much character development Samphire was able to do with the limited pages. Harriet is a force to be reckoned with. She is smart though far out of her element. She has no investigative training or much idea of how to handle a weapon. What she does have in abundance is instinct, common sense, and the ability to think quickly on her feet. I hope that this novella is the just the first we get of her in this series and that she will feature in one of the novels later.

The other characters are fairly standard for a mystery of this type, but I had no trouble keeping them straight in my head. None of them were forgettable. The plot is one of those mysteries that I love: a small group of people cut off for the most part and everyone is a suspect. The plot takes several twists along the way. I enjoyed every one of them and the ending was incredibly satisfying. The dinosaurs the expedition is hunting gave a whole other edge of danger and adventure to the story. I enjoyed seeing their place in the Martian world and connection to earth's fossils further explored.

This is a perfect introduction to the world Samphire has built if you are looking for one, and a must read for anyone who has read and enjoyed The Secrets of the Dragon Tomb.

I read a copy given to me by the author.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

WoW: Congress of Secrets

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

In 1814, the Congress of Vienna has just begun. Diplomats battle over a new map of Europe, actors vie for a chance at glory, and aristocrats and royals from across the continent come together to celebrate the downfall of Napoleon…among them Lady Caroline Wyndham, a wealthy English widow. But Caroline has a secret: she was born Karolina Vogl, daughter of a radical Viennese printer. When her father was arrested by the secret police, Caroline’s childhood was stolen from her by dark alchemy.

Under a new name and nationality, she returns to Vienna determined to save her father even if she has to resort to the same alchemy that nearly broke her before. But she isn’t expecting to meet her father’s old apprentice, Michael Steinhüller, now a charming con man in the middle of his riskiest scheme ever.

The sinister forces that shattered Caroline’s childhood still rule Vienna behind a glittering façade of balls and salons, Michael’s plan is fraught with danger, and both of their disguises are more fragile than they realize. What price will they pay to the darkness if either of them is to survive?

When Stephanie's newsletter came out last week, revealing the cover for her newest book Congress of Secrets, I knew it had to be my next WoW feature. I adore all of Stephanie's books and was utterly captivated by her first adult fantasy novel Masks and Shadows earlier this year. I am so looking forward to this one too. Politics and a con man hero? I'm always here for that combination.

Congress of Secrets releases November 1, 2016 from Pyr. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Boy at the End of the World

The Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhout has languished on my TBR for the longest time. A few weeks ago Sarah Prineas asked on Twitter if I had read it (I can't remember in relation to what). I almost responded, "No, but I plan to get to it someday." I stopped and thought, "Why wait though?" I then put it immediately on hold. I'm very happy I did because it is a wonderful adventure and I'm kicking myself for not having picked it up earlier.

Fisher wakes up covered in goo emerging from a birthing pod. He is aware he is newly born. He knows the world is dangerous. He realizes he is also in imminent danger and it is his duty to survive. Shortly after his emergence into the world, Fisher is found by a robot whose job it is to keep him alive. Fisher is part of the Ark-a place designed to preserve the human species so that they may survive following the devastation they wrought on the planet. The robot, who Fisher names Click, downloaded the Fisher profile into Fisher and activated his birth when the Ark was attacked from an unknown source. Fisher is the only survivor of the Ark's devastation. After exploring his world and discovering how much has evolved, Fisher learns there was more than one Ark and sets off to find if there are any other humans. He travels with Click and a wooly mammoth who acts like a giant dog. Fisher discovers that animals have changed in strange and unpredictable ways and that these organisms aren't the only things evolving. There is something far more sinister out there that is convinced it knows exactly what is right for Fisher-whether he agrees or not.

Whoa boy. This book has so much going for it. It is short, fast paced, full of adventure, and has a sly humor. We all know how I feel about survival stories and I LOVED this book. That should say something. Part of that is due to Fisher not completely being alone as he survives. For a robot, Click is a pretty fantastic foil. Their interactions and the eventual relationship that develops between them is wonderful. Fisher as a main character is wonderful. He is "born" as a tween and is naturally endowed with all of the snark, inquisitiveness combined with caution, and longing for a place to belong that is trademark of the age. Click for his part is quite the snarkbot himself. The banter between the two is excellent with Click acting as teacher, parent, mentor to the confused Fisher.

The world Fisher is exploring is new and different enough to make for fascinating reading too. Eekhout uses his words well. He uses them economically while still providing enough imagery to convey the world Fisher inhabits. He changes things just enough that they are familiar to the reader yet come with a new type of danger and edge. I really liked the way he made the safe not quite so safe anymore too.

The plot is fast paced and moves from one problem Fisher encounters to another as he journeys to find a human companion. In many ways this is the familiar hero-quest story except in the future with robots as companion instead of bards. It works incredibly well. The peril in the book is incredibly real. There is an insidious force at work trying to stop Fisher from accomplishing his goals and this culminates in a spectacular battle in the end.

I am so glad I finally read this because my son is now almost exactly the right age for it and this is exactly the sort of story he goes for. YAY! (And thank you for the prompting, Sarah.)

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

TTT: Books I'd Buy with a Fully Loaded Gift Card

This week's TTT topic: Books You Would Buy If Someone Handed You a Fully Loaded Book Card

I want nice editions of all my favorite classics. My husband gave me the entire set of Jane Austen Penguin hardcovers for Christmas last year, but I also want:

Can we pause for a moment and appreciate the knitting image on A Tale of Two Cities and the heart image on Frankenstein? Well played, designers. 

I have the Peter/Harriet books with the reissued UK covers, but I really want the entire series, which would put me well over ten for this so here are the two I want the most:

 I have most of the reissued UK covers of Diana Wynne Jones books, but there are still a few I'm missing:

Why did they never redo the Dalemark books in this style? If I were wishing for things that didn't exist....(That's a topic for a whole other post though.)

And last but not least, this UK edition (this book is called The Lost Conspiracy in the US):

I left this one bigger so you could fully appreciate its beauty.

Why are UK cover designs typically so much better?