Monday, October 31, 2016

Rebel Genius

Rebel Genius is the first book in a new series by Michael Dante DiMartino. I wanted to read this book as soon as I found about it as DiMartino was one of the co-creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender. I know enough kids still obsessed with that series that I knew being able to book talk this would be important. Even without this I would have been interested though because it sounded like a great story. I was surprised by how much I ended up loving it. (Though I don't know why I was surprised.)

Giacomo lives in the sewers only coming out at night to study a famous fresco and try to learn as much as he can from it to help his own art. One fateful night Giacomo is attacked and in a moment of panic sets off a strange occurrence he cannot explain. He is healed and suddenly in possession of his very own Genius. A genius is a bird type creature that is the living embodiment of an artist's creativity. At twelve Giacomo is supposed to be too old to suddenly have a Genius. They are supposed to arrive when an artist is very young. Now Giacomo must live in fear for his life. Geniuses are forbidden by the ruler of the land who has outlawed all but her own. If any Genius is found, it is captured. Separated from a Genius, an artist loses their mind and becomes a Lost Soul. Less than a day into having a Genius, Giacomo has no idea how he will keep it a secret when he is found by three other children with Geniuses who take him to villa where there is a hidden studio where they learn their art apprenticed to a famous master. Soon after arriving at the villa, it becomes obvious that Giacomo has an extraordinary ability. When word comes that an evil artist is searching for the Sacred Tools so that he can overthrow the kingdom, the four children set out to beat him to it.

There is A LOT going on in this book. A lot. The world DiMartino has created is rich and layered. Based on Renaissance Italy, it is full of opulence, treachery, ruthless tyrants, and dangerous politics. The foundation of all of this is the marriage of art, science, and mathematics. There are a couple of moment that can best be described as "describing a tesseract" moments. The magic well the Geniuses help their artists tap into involves Sacred Geometry. (I know right? GEOMETRY.) But it actually works really well. The moments where things are being explained only make the world building stronger and do not slow down the action of the story at all. It's a fast paced adventure that follows a fairly typical fantasy set up plot wise: orphan finds extraordinary power, gains companions he's wary of, goes on quest, faces treachery, discovers something about himself he never knew. The familiarity of the plot elements do not render them tired or worn out though. They are tired and true because they work so well and DiMartino adds his own twists and flair to the story. The writing is deceptively simple and pulls the reader right into the story.

Just as there is a lot going on, there are also a lot of characters. I was surprised by how attached I was to all of them by the end of the book. There is definitely more character depth that needs to be added to each, but DiMartino does a good job of giving us an introduction to each and providing action that highlights their flaws and strengths. Giacomo is a true hero who is empathetic and feels deeply for every being he comes in contact with. The other children in the book foil Giacomo in various ways. Some of them are developed better than others and their relationships with each other is something that I hope is explored in more depth in future books, but a good foundation for that is laid here. There are several villains to counter the party of heroes, but one thing I really appreciate about all the characters was how the line between the two was not always clear. It wasn't as black and white as that.

DiMartino is exploring some fascinating and relevant themes through the story, political and moral. I'm really looking forward to seeing where he is going with all of this.

The book has internal illustrations that are beautiful. It is fairly long with small print so might appeal more to the upper end of the MG spectrum (which is who it seems intended for). I see this straddling the MG/YA line and appealing to readers in both age brackets. It is a fantastic story to a new series. For fans of DiMartino's previous work on Avatar and anyone who loves complicated fantasy worlds, this is a sure hit.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Shorter Musings: MG

Some shorter musings on some recent reads.

Baker's Magic by Diane Zahller
I typically enjoy Zahler's books, but this one was particularly fun to read. It has many fairy tale type elements: missing parents, helpful guardians, evil guardians, simple magic, and a precocious pet. There are also pirates. All of these come together to make an exciting, adventurous tale. There is a quest and magical baked goods that made me hungry for raspberry tarts. I recommend this to any person who enjoys fairy tale type stories of magic and epic quests. I feel the story is not being served well by this rather boring and innocuous cover.

The Goblin's Puzzle: The Adventures of a Boy With No Name and Two Girls Called Alice  by Andrew Chilton
There are a lot of characters and several storylines. A quarter of the way through the book I found myself very annoyed at the jumping around and lack of cohesion. The storylines still hadn't come together in any way and because it was bouncing so much I felt like I didn't really have a feel for any of the characters. But I decided to keep going anyway. Even though things do come together a bit better, I never connected to the story or characters in any real way. It didn't sit well with me thematically either. I think it could be a fun read for some, it was definitely not for me though.

A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee
This was a really fun find. I didn't realize Foxlee had a new book out this year until I found it at the library. The plot moves quickly and doesn't leave much room for character development so sometimes I was disbelieving at how fast Annabel embraced her "destiny" and attacked her quest. Annabel is sent to her great aunts shop in the not so fabulous part of London when her mother suddenly needs to go abroad. While with her aunts, Annabel discovers she is a witch considered "a most magical girl" destined to save magic kind from an evil dark wizard. It goes along like standard MG fantasy fare but I do like that Foxlee subtly twists the chosen one trope.

The Scourge by Jennifer Nielsen
This is a blend of dystopian like fantasy. The world building is incredibly weak, but the characters make it entertaining enough to overlook most of that. I personally found the plot to be far too predictable, but a middle grade audience who hasn't read as widely may find it more exciting. Nielsen has a problem with pacing in her novels and that is just as true here. There are places where it drags and the end is incredibly rushed. For kids who really enjoy thrilling tales with just the right amount of peril, this is a goo done to have on hand even though it isn't ground breaking or amazing.

Sticks and Stones by Abby Cooper
Sticks & Stones is about a girl who has the words people are thinking about her show up on her skin. This is problematic as she is entering the minefield that is middle school. It's an interesting concept and the book has good things to say about embracing who you are, not allowing others to dictate how you feel about yourself, and the pains of growing apart from friends and everything changing. These lessons don't come with a light touch though. It's very much a Lesson book and the writing is awkward and clunky in many places. I think there are a lot of books that do what this one is doing better and with more subtlety.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Evil Wizard Smallbone

The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman is a book I could not wait to read. The cover, synopsis, and praise it received seemed to make it a perfect fit for me. And it was. I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon I spent reading this book. It has a magical bookshop. A MAGICAL BOOKSHOP.

Nick runs away from his abusive uncle and cousin after years living with them following his mother's death. He is not exactly prepared for his escape and finds himself cold, hungry, and in search of shelter during a snow storm. He happens upon the home and bookshop of the Evil Wizard Smallbone. When Nick lies to Smallbone about his ability to read, Smallbone agrees to feed him and take him on as an apprentice. Nick's first job is to clean the dirty bookshop. In doing so Nick begins to learn magic as the bookshop gives him the books he needs to help him on his way. And Nick will need all the magic he can find. The sentries that have guarded the village of Smallbone and protected them from the wizard's nemesis and his cohort of werecoyote bikers are failing. The villagers are terrified and even Smallbone seems at a loss as to how to save the town or himself.

Nick is pretty much everything I adore in a main character: snarky, independent, outwardly lazy, super smart and motivated about what he cares about. He's the total package. Smallbone is the perfect complement to him. These two have excellent banter and a relationship that is coated in surly sniping but deep down they come to care for each other in their own ways. The animals that live in the house with them also have their own distinct personalities as does the bookshop itself. There are several villagers from the town Smallbone created who add a lot to the story as well. The villain is actually rather terrifying and I honestly wondered how he was going to be defeated in the end a couple of times. When you add the very real world sort of danger of Nick's uncle and cousin, there was a lot of true evil (not the Smallbone kind) to overcome. It made for an engrossing read that was difficult to put down.

The world Sherman created for her story is fascinating. Both the bookshop and the village are brought to life by her imagery and the descriptions of the interactions of the people within them. I am impressed by how well she was able to render a sense of place and character together through these interactions, especially in the case of the bookshop where the animals far outnumbered the humans. The bookshop helped Nick and the books communicated with him in their own delightful ways. The villagers interactions with each other, Nick, and Smallbone paint a clear picture of what the place is like and Sherman's imagery made it a clear place in my mind.

This is one of those plots where the curiosity and stubbornness of children win the day. The reason these stories keep being published is because they work so incredibly well and leave children with a sense of empowerment. Nick's story will definitely leave kids feeling empowered. I appreciated how even though Nick was a loner he ended with a strong group of people he could count on when he needed them. I also like how Sherman brought themes of the importance of community and emotional ties.

The Evil Wizard Smallbone is a great addition to the collection of anyone who loves fantasy!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Girl Who Could Not Dream

When my hold on The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst came in at the library, I picked it up and was immediately put off by the cover. I didn't want to read it. It was nominated for Cybils though so I was going to have to. I'm so glad I did. This book's cover does not do it justice.

Sophie lives with her parents in a bookshop. She is a lonely girl with no friends because she is different from others around her. Not only can she never dream, her parents are dream distillers. They take other people's dreams and bottle them to sell to other people. They have a secret room where dreams are distilled and labels on shelves. The one time Sophie dares to take a sip just to see what dreaming is like, she brings a monster in her dream back into the real world with her. That's when Sophie learns it is dangerous for her to dream. She goes about her life helping her parents with Monster by her side to protect her. Sophie has a talent for seeing which kids in her school have nightmares. She gives them dream catchers made in her parents' shop. When two of the kids she takes nightmares from go missing, and she just manages to rescue another, Sophie knows that there is trouble. Then her parents go missing and Sophie has to rescue them and save the world from nightmares brought to life.

Sophie's feelings of isolation and like there is no place for her among her peers will resonate with MG readers. Just as many readers will be able to relate to Ethan and the other children who have nightmares. What is excellent about Sophie's journey is that she learns that being different doesn't mean she needs to be alone. Ethan, who was simply curious about why the dream catchers worked so well, stands by Sophie through all of the weird and strange things that are going on. Sophie picks up a few other human friends along the way too. Monster remains Sophie's most stalwart friend though and is definitely my favorite character in the book. Every kid who reads this will probably want their very own Monster.  He is snarky, surly, and fiercely protective of his girl.

The plot is fast faced and full of adventure. The villain, appropriately named Mr. Nightmare, is rather predictable but he achieves exactly the right sort of menace for a book of this nature. Sophie has to harness the power of dreams to be able to stop him. There are twists and several surprises that will have young readers on the edge of their seats. The book is also full of humor, both outrightly funny and subtly subversive. Aside from the main villain there is a mysterious organization (rather like a magical FBI) Sophie and her parents are afraid of though this element was a little too vague to feel like an actual threat.

I want to wholeheartedly endorse the book, but I was concerned about the use of the dream catchers with no mention of their Native roots or the mythology behind them. I think adding just one paragraph of this to the book would have made their use feel more legitimate. As it was, I was a little uncomfortable about it being appropriating.

For kids who like "spooky but not scary" stories and fun magical adventures, this is an excellent choice.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Wooden Prince

Pinocchio has never been a favorite of mine. Not the original novel. Not the Disney movie. In The Wooden Prince, John Claude Bemis retells this old story in a way that works for me as it never had before.

Pinocchio is an automa who serves in the doge's palace until he is stuffed in a box and sent to the alchemist Geppetto. As soon as he is placed in the box, Pinocchio begins to change. He feels. Automa are not supposed to feel. He is soon united with his new master who has been declared a traitor to Venice and is in hiding. Together Pinocchio and Geppetto must try to escape the soldiers chasing them and figure out why Pinocchio is changing from a wooden automa into a real boy. Before they can get far, they are separated and have to endure many trials to reunite, solve the mystery, and save a magical kingdom.

The Wooden Prince is a steampunk fantasy that takes place in Venice and references many real world places. The structure of the plot follows the original story in many ways. There are scenes that will be familiar to those who know Pinocchio. Bemis included all the iconic moments. What he did that I liked was change the the thematic presentation up a bit. It is about community, friendship, family, and sacrifice. There is also an exploration of what it means to be real and alive. Beyond that, Bemis just made the plot more fun. There is a lot of action and it is fast paced.

The fast pace of the plot makes it hard to connect on a deep level with any of the characters. The are also quite a few characters to get to know. However, Pinocchio is one I was invested in. I had a discussion with some people on Twitter a few months ago about how difficult it is to make inanimate-objects-come-to-life have real stakes. Bemis manages that here and manages it beautifully. This ties into the themes brilliantly too. The books is peopled with a cast of human and magical characters that do add to the story even if they're characterization is not filled out well. Maestro, the tiny sarcastic musical cricket, adds a subtle humor. Pinnoccio befriends chimera in the forms of different animals and the fairy daughter of a magical immortal king. All of these combine to make the story both familiar and brand new.

I can see this appealing to kids who love anything that reminds them of Disney (it is published by Disney-Hyperion) or are just into magical tales with animal/human friendships.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

WoW: Thick as Thieves

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

Kamet, a secretary and slave to his Mede master, has the ambition and the means to become one of the most powerful people in the Empire. But with a whispered warning the future he envisioned is wrenched away, and he is forced onto a very different path. Set in the world of the Queen’s Thief, this epic adventure sees an ordinary hero take on an extraordinary mission. 

I have just enjoying hugging this news to my heart since it was released a couple weeks ago. I waited for six and a half years for news of this book and in one week we got a title, cover, release date, and synopsis. I needed time to recover and ruminate.

I can not tell you how excited I am for this book or how much this series as a whole means to me. (Though if you scroll through old posts, you will see how often it gets mentioned.) When the synopsis came out, it was pretty much the best thing I could have hoped for. I've wanted a book about Kamet since he was introduced in the second book.

The only slight disappointment I have is with the cover. I LOVED the 2005 repackaged covers. They are the covers of my heart, and I would really love to have a matching set. There is a petition here to request a limited print run with a cover that matches the previous ones. If you are a fan and are interested, please sign.

I'm buying the book no matter what though because this is my favorite series with my two favorite books of all time in it. And the cover doesn't alter the amazing contents.

Thick as Thieves has a release day of May 16, 2017.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Shorter Musings MG

These are some shorter musings on recent reads: one contemporary realistic, four fantasies.

Foxheart by Claire Legrand
I like that there have been so many prickly heroines in MG this year that are chock full of flaws. Quicksilver is an excellent addition to these. Sassy, opinionated, and mostly out for her own benefit, she does a lot of growing over the course of the story and learns to be a little less self involved but also retains all of her bounce and verve. I like that. The rest of the characters didn't work for me quite as well. It's a good story that doesn't break a lot of new ground but is satisfying in what it does. It has quite a different feel from Legrand's other books and isn't my favorite, but its an excellent addition to MG fantasy shelves particularly in places where there are many fans of magic and animals together.

Ghost by Jason Reynolds
I say this every time I review one of Jason Reynolds' books, but that man writes his characters' voices better than anyone. Ghost isn't just a character on a page, his words ring in your head like he is sitting right next to you telling his story. Reynolds just gets his characters on every level and that brings them to startling reality. The plot and themes of Ghost are simple but the way the story is told make them shine. There are scenes and reveals that are really well done. Overall it's just a really excellent story that has a timeless feel to it. Every library that serves middle schoolers needs this on their shelves. 

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
The sentence level writing of this book is beautiful. Barnhill is adept at stringing words together to create sentences that sing and beautiful imagery. The thematic treatment in the book is also excellent. The book is all about the power of love, how it can be unlimited, and the overcoming of fear. I also enjoyed the treatment of what constitutes a family. However, there are characterization and plot pacing issues for me that I can't ignore to completely love this book. There are so many characters. I really wanted to read the story of the titular character, but it's not really her story. This could have worked if Barnhill developed the characters a bit more, but there are so many of them and there is so much going on in the plot. The omniscient narration means we see several scenes over again from the perspectives of different characters making the book longer than is necessary and throwing off the pacing. It truly is a lovely story, it just feels fettered by all of that. 

Grayling's Song by Karen Cushman
I always want to love Karen Cushman's books more than I actually do in reality. The concept for Grayling's Song is excellent. Grayling has to travel through the land trying to figure out why all the witches and wizards have been turned to trees (including her own mother) and by whom. It is a quest fantasy with an animal companion and a young girl who is scared but determined to be brave and do the right thing. It is short and may appeal to some kids on the younger yet precocious end of the MG spectrum. The language was troublesome to me as I read it. This is often the case with Cushman's books and part of why they tend not to work for me. Her awkward attempts at an old fashioned country dialect throw me out of the story every time. 

The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary
Saki is egocentric and determined to think the world is out to target her. A common affliction when one is in middle school. Her parents drag her to the middle of nowhere Japan from Tokyo to spend a holiday honoring ancestors with her grandmother. After Saki makes several selfish choices, she ends up with a death curse hanging over her that she has three nights in the mythical Night Parade to undo. Each night she gets a different animal guide in the mysterious spirit realm. The story works really well and has all that is necessary to make an engrossing quest tale.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Firefly Code

The Firefly Code is my favorite book Megan Frazer Blakemore has written yet.

Mori, Julia, Theo, and Benji live in Old Harmonie-a small village started by Mori's great grandmother and her friend. It was meant to be a community fostering imagination, creativity, and cooperative living. Decades later it is one of many Utopian towns across the globe run by a corporation. These towns are cut off from the larger chaos of the diseases, storms, and crime of the outside world. The children in the communities are given "enhancements" to help them become their best selves with the understanding they will take their place working for the company as their parents did. The four friends live on Firefly Lane. When Ilana moves onto their street, she and Mori become close quickly. But it soon becomes clear that not all is as it seems with Ilana or the perfect world the Firefly Five are growing up in.

The Firefly Five. I love these five kids. The story is told from Mori's first person point of view, but all five kids are incredibly important. The four original occupants of Firefly Lane are a cohesive team, each with their place and talent. Mori loves plants and is curious about everything, though not recklessly brave. Theo loves solving puzzles and his recent surgery to bring out his "latency" has only made him a better strategist. Beni is a tech genius and athlete, incredibly good at a number of things. Julia is the ultra-completive, athletic one. Ilana comes into their world and brings with her disturbance changing the dynamics of the group. Mori and Ilana instantly bond making Julia jealous. It doesn't help that Ilana is beautiful and pretty much good at everything. Theo is concerned about Mori. Benji just wants to keep peace and skateboard. The dynamic between the five of them captures the middle school friend group so well. They are all eager yet frightened by the prospect of forging their own independent futures while desperately clinging to the bonds of community and friendship they have. Just their friendship alone is enough to make this excellent MG fare.

The world here is a fascinating one. Set in a not so distant future, there are several elements about the world that are close enough to our own to make it familiar and all too plausible a possibility. Blakemore did an interesting thing with the community. It's not terrifying. It's not a dystopia. But there are things going on that are not entirely good. It makes the stakes interesting. Because if the kids rebel, it's not as though they are rebelling against an evil force. It brings up some interesting ethical issues that need to be thought about, and it presents them in a way the intended audience will understand. The book is fast paced and hard to put down. There is a certain mystery to the story that holds the reader until the end.

I found myself not wanting to leave the world or the characters. I would be really happy to discover a sequel. It doesn't need one. I just want one.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

TTT: Recommended Books I've Loved

This week's TTT topic: Books I Read on Recommendation from Others


 What are some favorite books you got on recommendation from someone else?

Friday, October 7, 2016

Cybils Nominations Ongoing

Cybils nominations have been underway a week. We still have a week to go! Here are some eligible books in the MG Speculative Fiction category that are eligible that haven't been nominated yet. If you haven't nominated yet, get moving! (Go here.)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Rose & Thorn

Last year's Ash & Bramble was one of my favorite books of the year. I was very much anticipating its follow-up Rose & Thorn so when author Sarah Prineas offered to send me an ARC, I said YES very quickly. I'm happy to say it is excellent and my favorite Sleeping Beauty reworking yet.

Rose has lived her entire life with her guardian Shoe in a valley protected by the Penwitch's power. When the protection is broken, Rose's circumstances change overnight and she must venture into the world on her own. The Forest brings her to the City where the Watchers carefully guard against the power of story. Instantly recognized as Cursed by Story, Rose is taken to the Citadel to have her curse removed.

Griff is the son of the Protector of the city and lives an austere life. The Watchers fight Story by living rational lives that leave no room for anything other than duty. As a Watcher and a Curse Eater, it is Griff's task to remove Rose's curse. When he can't do that due to its actually being three curses braided together, he is tasked with guarding her and using her to draw out the rebellious Breakers working in the City to fight Story's power through stories of their own.

Rose is determined to flee the city with the help of the Breakers and ends up dragging Griff reluctantly along. Forced to take refuge in a castle during a storm, Rose, Griff, and their companions find themselves caught in Story's web but are willing to fight its power with every weapon they have.

Rose & Thorn takes place several decades after the end of Ash & Bramble. It is very much its own story and I think it can stand well on its own from a plot standpoint. A lot of the world building is done in Ash & Bramble, but the world has changed a bit for this story too. Ash & Bramble is a perfect blend of fairy tale and dystopia. Rose & Thorn is likewise an interesting mix, though different in some aspects. In the City there is a perfect picture of what happens when you try to avoid one danger and up ending in a different one entirely. The lives of the City people are desolate and sad and lacking vibrancy. There is more than one way to enslave a person and though the City is mostly free of Story, they are now enslaved to Rationality. I loved this contrast and how both are dangerous. It's also interesting that the rational austerity of the Watchers actually make them, particularly Griff who longs for light and love, more vulnerable to Story.

Rose and Griff are main characters it is easy to like and feel sympathetic toward. Rose is beautiful. She is a fairly tale princess after all, but she is really oblivious to this. She has lived her entire life with an old man who loved her for being Rose so her first venture into the outer world is fraught with danger. It doesn't take long for her to discover that her looks are dangerous to her. Rose has a core of steel though and she works hard to forge her own path. She is a vivacious chatterbox who wants to see the good and possibility in everything. She is naive but not stupid, optimistic but not oblivious. Griff is the strong silent type. I usually don't really like this type of hero (mainly because it tends to get in the way of good banter which is what I like best in romantic pairings), but Griff really works for me. He is incredibly dedicated to duty and doing what he is ordered to. At every turn in this story, he is confronted with something new that changes how he has to see himself and the world. His austere upbringing did not equip him for that. It certainly didn't equip him to deal with Rose, who is constantly bouncing up to him and breaking through his reserve. I really loved the two of them together. As in most tales of this nature, their relationship develops incredibly fast but they do know each other well. Rose being Rose is even able to fantastically banter with his silences. So that's fun. I loved how she was the one who took most of the initiative in their relationship too. They are very much opposites but not in a way that puts them in opposition. It's in a way that they work well together side by side and need each other to thrive. (Ahem. See title and cover imagery.)

Rose and Griff are joined by Griff's Watcher partner Quirk and a Breaker woman named Timothy. These two are equally as important as Rose and Griff and I loved them just as much. They have really good chemistry and fill in the banter when needed. Quirk and Timothy are both connected to the story in Ash & Bramble so they have more knowledge of what the group is fighting and how to do it, but even they are blind when it comes to much of what is going on under the surface. There knowledge also prejudices them in ways that are sometimes detrimental.

Many of themes from Ash & Bramble are revisited here though from a different angle and I appreciated that. I liked how Prineas flipped a lot of things around that I can't get into because of spoilers. Above everything though I enjoyed the look at what happily ever after looks like outside of Story. That it is full of heartache, joy, and the memories of a life well lived.

I read an ARC sent to me by the author. Rose & Thorn goes on sale October 18.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

TTT: Most Compelling Villains

This week's TTT topic: All About the Villains

I'm going with Most Compelling Villains. The ones I love to hate.

 Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling 
(I would not be surprised to find she's the most featured character on these posts today.)

Lo Melkhiin from A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston
(Or rather the demon who possessed him, killed 300 girls, and terrorized a country.)

IT from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L' Engle
(This book was so formative in my life. And IT is still one of my biggest fears for the world.)

(Sadistic, controlling terrors who have no compassion.)

The Medes from The Queen's Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner
(Seriously. You have enough land and wealth. Let our heroes live happily ever after. Go home.)

A complacent, apathetic society controlled by the government from The Giver by Lois Lowry
(I....think this is self explanatory.)

The man from Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
(I'm pretty sure he doesn't have a name and that's kind of the point. A man who repeatedly ignores a woman saying no because he knows what she really wants is the scariest to me.)

Madame Therese Defarge from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
(She knits the names of her enemies while sitting ankle deep in their spilled blood. I mean, come on.)

Who are some villains you love to hate?

Monday, October 3, 2016

A Little Taste of Poison

R.J. Anderson is an auto-buy author for me (and also a friend), but her Uncommon Magic books may be absolute favorite. A Little Taste of Poison is the follow-up to last year's A Pocket Full of Murder. It is the perfect follow-up and surpassed all the expectations I had.

Isaveth has an amazing opportunity to attend Tarreton College on a scholarship and be trained in Sage  Magic. This is not something any commoner, never mind a Moshite, has ever done. Isaveth grasps the opportunity though she know it will be difficult. Yet it would also give Isaveth a chance to see Esmond again. They have not seen each other since freeing her father from the false murder charges against him. Both Isaveth and Esmond are eager to have the true mastermind of the crime brought to justice, but he is always two steps ahead of them.

It's always hard to write reviews to sequels without any spoilers of the first book. I attempt it as much as possible but can never avoid it altogether. If you haven't read A Pocket Full of Murder, read that first and then come back here.

Isaveth and Esmond are such an incredible team and magnificent characters. Both of them are developed more in this story. In A Pocket Full of Murder Esmond was in Isaveth's world for the most part, and this time that is switched around. We also see Esmond's family more. This switch works incredibly well and, taken with the first book, it rounds both of their characters out incredibly well. As a result of the revelations of book one, Isaveth and Esmond also have to renegotiate how they react to and deal with each other. They still can not spend time together openly which makes things challenging. Isaveth feels awkward as the Esmond she sees in public is so very different from the boy she came to know and care for in his disguise as Quiz. Another change in this book is that we see Esmond's family interactions and theses are fascinating and insightful as well as a minefield of intrigue and smart people trying to outsmart each other. It's brilliant.

There are several familiar secondary characters who return and it feels like seeing old friends. I particularly enjoyed seeing Isaveth's sisters again. Several new characters are introduced as well. Isaveth has new enemies waiting for her when she arrives at school, but she makes new friends too including Eulalie, the vivacious daughter of an important law enforcement official. Isaveth and Esmond had to do so much alone in the first book, it is wonderful to see them have more people they can rely on. It enriches both of their characters so much. Seeing what this brings out in Esmond,  who is not used to being able to rely on anyone else, is great. I can't tell you who my favorite secondary character is because of spoilers but know you're in for a treat!

The mystery in this book is even better than the first one. (And that's saying a lot.)  The book is impossible to put down and fast paced. There are so many twists and turns and surprises, each one of them more delightful than the last. And it continues that way to the very last page. I was squealing with delight and happiness at the end of the story and then nearly fell off the couch after reading the Epilogue.

Read the book. Read both the books. You'll thank me.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Cybils Nominations Have Started

The Cybils nominations began this morning. If you have a favorite read published in the last year. Books published October 16, 2015 through October 15, 2016 are eligible. Anyone can nominate.

You can find nomination information here.

I'm a first round panelist in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction which means I have to read as many of the nominated books as possible. I actually very much look forward to this. If you are wondering what to nominate and need some inspiration, here are some eligible books in my category. Some of I read and loved. Others I haven't read yet, but would really like to.