Monday, December 31, 2018

Favorite Reads of 2018

Woooowww. This has been a LONG year. How long? When I was going through my highest rated books on Goodreads, I was floored to realized the last Penderwick book came out this year. It feels longer.

Here are my top reads of the year. These books were truly something because they pulled me out of my funk long enough to actually read them AND enjoy them.

Links are to my reviews

 A Sky Full of Stars by Linda Williams Jackson

The Girl with the Dragon Heart by Stephanie Burgis (Review Coming!)

The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall

Patina by Jason Reynolds 

Free Fall by Emma Barry & Genevieve Turner

Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel José Older

What are your favorite reads from this past year? 

Friday, December 28, 2018

Hello! I'm Still Here

Hey everyone! It's been a while. This has been a year in which I read very few new to me books. And I just haven't had the energy or desire to write. Honestly it's been a year where I've been able to do very little of what I love. The end of December is often a time of reflection, and as I reflect over this past year, I wonder where it all went, and what I was doing with myself.

Teaching. Getting back into the groove of that and working with my own kids are definitely the good parts of this year. Other than that...

I think I was just finally reacting to the stress of that past few years. We moved houses three times in three years, states twice, and lost both of my husband's parents in that time. I think all of that finally caught up with me and just consumed...everything.

Don't get me wrong. A lot of wonderful things happened this year too. I was able to see Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, and Mean Girls in New York City while spending an amazing time with my daughter. My husband and I were able to take a few days vacation BY OURSELVES for the first time in I don't know how long. After years of being a fan, I was able to go to my first ice skating show. We took the kids to Harry Potter World. I have a lot to be thankful for.

However, the day to day things that I feel make me who I am went missing this year. Over the past several weeks, I feel like I'm getting some of it back. I have definitely made a conscious decision to try to get my routine and habits back on a better course.

Hopefully 2019 will see a return of regular posts here. There are definitely a lot of books I'm excited for this year.

I will be posting a Best Books of 2018 post on Monday. (Much thanks to my friends and incredibly talented writers Stephanie Burgis, Emma Barry, and Sarah Prineas for writing books this year that actually motivated me to read something new, and that I loved.)

I also have a Most Anticipated Reads of 2019 in the works for Tuesday. There's even a review coming sometime in the next week.

For those of you still out there who read this, thanks for sticking around. Onward and forward!

Friday, September 14, 2018

Future Favorites Friday

I take the 2nd Friday of every month to highlight some upcoming releases I am looking forward to that I hope are Future Favorites. Feel free to do your own post, just please link back to my blog and tell me about your post in the comments.

I love Anne Ursu's books and her Twitter. She is a fabulous human and a talented writer. It feels like way too long since we've received a new book from her, but our wait is almost over.

When you’re an identical twin, your story always starts with someone else. For Iris, that means her story starts with Lark. Iris has always been the grounded, capable, and rational one; Lark has been inventive, dreamy, and brilliant—and from their first moments in the world together, they’ve never left each other’s side. Everyone around them realized early on what the two sisters already knew: they had better outcomes when they were together.

When fifth grade arrives, however, it is decided that Iris and Lark should be split into different classrooms, and something breaks in them both. Iris is no longer so confident; Lark retreats into herself as she deals with challenges at school. And at the same time, something strange is happening in the city around them, things both great and small going missing without a trace. As Iris begins to understand that anything can be lost in the blink of an eye, she decides it’s up to her to find a way to keep her sister safe.

Release Date: February 12, 2019 from Walden Pond Press

I geeked out and squealed about this one all over my social media the moment I discovered it. (Megan Whalen Turner posting things like teasers worthy of her main character is the whole reason I joined Tumblr in the first place. It has PAID OFF.) I'm sure most of you know about this one already and can guess how excited I am. Take this opportunity to admire and be perplexed by the cover yet again. Become anxious and imagine all the worst case scenarios as you read the synopsis. Despite it only being two sentences, there's a lot to unpack there. They may be the two most stressful sentences to ever grace a book copy. But we trust MWT. She will end this well. I CAN NOT BELIEVE IT IS ACTUALLY ENDING THOUGH!!!!!!! *whispers* please let both Gen and Irene be okay please please please*

Neither accepted nor beloved, Eugenides is the uneasy linchpin of a truce on the Lesser Peninsula, where he has risen to be high king of Attolia, Eddis, and Sounis. As the treacherous Baron Erondites schemes anew and a prophecy appears to foretell the death of the king, the ruthless Mede empire prepares to strike. 

Release Date: March 19, 2019 from Greenwillow Books

Stephanie Burgis is one of those amazing authors who can shift back and forth between children's an adult novels seemingly seamlessly. She is a top-notch talent at both. This is the prequel to last year's Snowspelled. I adore this universe Burgis has created and the strong-willed, intelligent women who inhabit it. (And the men who would throw themselves in front of any danger for them.)

Amy Standish is a born politician, and she's spent all her life training for the moment when she will finally step into the political arena with a rising mage as her match...which makes it entirely unfortunate that, just as all of her careful plans are coming together, she is faced with the hopelessly impractical and irresistible prospect of Jonathan Harwood - a man who will never, ever be a mage. 

Now, on the night of the Harwoods' Spring Solstice Ball, in an underwater ballroom full of sparkling fey lights and danger, Amy will have to fight the greatest political battle of her life to win a family and a future that she could never have imagined...and it will take an entirely unexpected kind of magic to keep everything from crashing down around her.

Release Date: September 30, 2018 (You can get it now as part of the anthology The Underwater Ballroom Society

What upcoming releases are you looking forward to? 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Ghost Boys

Joining a list of excellent books that includes The Hate U Give and  All American Boys amongst others, Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes is a story about police violence and racial prejudice toward African American boys. What makes it stand out for me is that it is the first MG novel on the topic we've gotten. Yes, I do think it's MG even if my library shelves it in the Teen section. (I have THOUGHTS on this.)

Jerome is enjoying a bit of rare freedom to play outside when someone calls the police on him. He has a toy gun (one he knows his family would not approve of him playing with). The officers who arrive on the scene don't ask questions. They just shoot. Now Jerome is a ghost hovering around as his family grieves. The only living being who can actually see him is the daughter of the man who took his life. Sarah is struggling with implications of her father's actions and the reality of the boy she is getting to know. Joining Jerome and Sarah is the ghost of Emmet Till. Jerome and Sarah have to figure out how to help each other and the people they love most move on and try to make a difference.

Nothing I wrote in that synopsis is a spoiler as you get all this information rather early in the book. This is not a book about surprises and plotting (though the plotting is well done) so much as it is about the journey and themes. The narrative shifts between dead Jerome and alive Jerome so the reader gets all of the pieces to what happened a little at a time. Jerome has a strong voice and is indisputably young. He is only twelve when he dies. Sarah is likewise twelve, and you get a true sense of her youth too as she struggles to understand what's happened and come to grips with her father not being quite the man she thought he was. Again she is so very young.

Rhodes handles this narrative well and kept it well within the reach of the intended MG audience. I am impressed by how well she managed that. All of the characters have depth. The historical thread involving Till is educational and relevant to the story being told and the characters' journeys. The plotting is superb. Rhodes keeps the reader engaged from beginning to end while filing the story with layers and nuance. Thematically this is a masterpiece that touches on the complexities of policing in America while also not pulling any punches about what needs to change and how we are, on the whole, failing an entire population of people. This is done at the perfect level for the MG audience to take it in and comprehend it.

Share this with the kids in your life. Talk about it. There can never be enough awareness of how we let our internal bias rule us or how deep institutionalized racism in this nation goes.

Friday, August 10, 2018

School Starts

The best part about being back in Knoxville is that we are once again reunited with our Homeschool Co-op, which means I'm once again teaching classes of kids literature. This is what I love doing more than anything else. It does mean that I have been very busy preparing lesson plans and have had less time for reading and keeping up with this blog. I know posts have been sporadic anyway since the move, but I felt like I was going to get back to a regular schedule eventually. I can't imagine that will be the case anymore. It doesn't mean I'm quitting. Just that things are going to continue the same way they have for the past year. When I get the chance to post, it can be a pleasant surprise for all of us. That being said I do post bookish content more frequently on both Litsy and Instagram. If you are on either of those platforms and care, I'm brandymuses on both.

I am truly excited about what I get to teach this year. School began this week, and, while not without its hiccups (like any first week), it was truly fantastic. Here are some of the great books I get to share with middle schoolers and high schoolers this year.

5th-7th Literature:

6th-8th (Full ELA class where the writing focus is on US History):

Freshman English:

British Literature Survey (11th-12th grade):

As you can see, I have four separate preps to do every week in addition to the grading. And, of course, teaching all the other subjects to my own children thy need throughout the week. Also, Bit is now a Freshman (if you can believe it). I have discovered that my time is less my own with a young teen than when she was a preschooler. I controlled her social life completely then. Now, there is so much she knows about and wants to do, yet she can't drive herself anywhere. I feel like half my time is spent driving her back and forth places. So I'm very very busy. Please bear with me as I figure out a new rhythm for my writing here with all of these changes. Thank you so much for still being here after all this time!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Shorter Musings: YA

Here are some shorter musings on recent reads.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman
I have had this on my list since it came out. Then I thought I might wait unlit the trilogy was finished. One of my teen book club girls chose it for our June book, so I read it earlier than intended. It is quite excellent. I am well and truly over dystopians, but this is so well done. I appreciated the philosophy and exercises in ethics found throughout, as well as the themes on the corruption of man and our lust for power. I also loved the adult characters in the book. They are truly fascinating. The two teen protagonists could have been developed a little better, which is the only reason this isn't getting 5 stars from me. (Funny thing is, this was the prevailing opinion of the teens too.)

Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel José Odler
I enjoyed this sequel to Shadowshaper. It is a broader book, requiring knowledge of both plot and characters for the previous book in order to fully enjoy it. (If you haven't read Shadowshaper, start there and know you have TWO amazing books awaiting you.)  Shadowhouse Fall picks up a few months following the end of the first story. Sierra is training her Shadowshapers and trying to grow into her role as Lucera. In the midst of all of this, The Sorrows are again on the move eager to use Sierra's youth and naivety to gain power again. The world Older created in the first book in the series is widened here, showing many layers and depths. Several new characters are introduced, all of whom add new angles to the story. This is an excellent series that uses mythology and magic and also highlights many social injustices and societal issues. Older does an exquisite job of balancing hope with the starker realities of the world. I also appreciate how there is closure but everything isn't tied up perfectly.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Shorter Musings MG Historical Fiction Edition

Here are some shorter musings on three recent MG historical fiction reads.

Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Renee Watson
This book is a narrative on the life of Betty Shabazz's childhood. This is the little girl who would grow up to be the wife of Malcom X and a community leader. It is considered fiction because of the way the story is told, but her daughter is one of the author's so the basic facts of Betty's life are true. The book is a short, quick read. It's perfect for kids who love historical fiction or stories about complicated families and friendships. I found it engaging and hard to book down.

The Journey of Charlie Little by Christopher Paul Curtis
This book is about a share cropper's son who must travel with a slave catcher to Michigan in order to pay of a debt his father incurred before his tragic death. Charlie doesn't like the overseer he is indebted to and finds everything about their journey distasteful. I enjoyed this mostly because it is a glimpse into a part of this country's history we don't see much in children's books. There are many books that cover slavery, but not from the point of view of slave catchers. I was sort of disappointed because I went in with the expectation that this was more about a friendship between Charlie and the son of the family he is being forced to retrieve. This was not the book's fault, but I would have liked to have seen a bit more character development all around.

Rebound by Kwame Alexander
This a prequel to the Newbery winner [book:The Crossover|18263725] (one of my all time favorite MG books). I had a harder time clicking with this one. I think part of the reason is that I put up a wall between the characters and me because I know what happens in the future. The end when it ties into The Crossover did make me tear up. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

Quarterly Review

Here is a round up of all the books I chose not to finish, adult reads, and favorite reads of the last three months.

The DNFs (with links to my reasons why on Goodreads):
The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter

Adult Books
Beginner's Luck by Kate Clayborn (contemporary, romance)
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (historical, literary)
One and Only by Jenny Holiday (contemporary, romance)
A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole (contemporary, romance)


The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall

Sunday, July 1, 2018

June Stats

Here are my reading stats for June with my favorite reads of the month.

Did you read any book in June you want to recommend?

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Favorite Books of 2018 So Far....

As you can probably tell by how quiet it's been around here, this hasn't been the best year of reading for me as far as numbers go. There are a lot of reasons for this. The books I am reading though are great, and there have been some truly fantastic ones. Here are some of those:

What are your favorite books of the year so far?

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Lost Books: The Scroll of Kings

Sarah Prineas writes amazing books and I love and own them all. There are more than one copy of most of them in my house because my kids loved them too and need their own copies. I often get nervous when I read a new book from an author whose books I adore because there is the niggling worry that this will be the one I don't like. I'm becoming more and more convinced that's just never going to happen with Sarah's books. Her latest The Lost Books: The Scroll of Kings had me riveted from page one and made me feel real, true, unadulterated love for a book. Something I haven't felt in quite a while.

Disclaimer: This is a review of an early copy sent to me by the author who I am friendly with.

That was what a librarian was, he realized, and he wanted to curse himself for being so slow to figure it out. A librarian was not just a cataloger, a sweeper, a duster, a collector of grass, an alphabetizer, a keeper of keys. A librarian was a protector. Of books. 

Alex is a Librarian. He knows it deep in his heart. He has known it since the day he found his way into his father's library and began to read the Red Codex. As he read, the words marked him and he has never been the same. Alex's problem is convincing everyone else he is a Librarian. His father wanted him to be a soldier. The Librarian he apprenticed for did little to train him. When Alex finds that Librarian dead, Alex knows the book the man was reading at the time is responsible. Then Alex discovers a letter revealing the Royal Librarian died in similar circumstances. Alex travels to the Winter Palace pretending to be his dead master to take up the mantle of Royal Librarian and the mystery surrounding the deaths. Alex knows books are full of life. He knows they can be dangerous. The young queen, Kenneret, is not impressed with Alex but gives him a trial period to work in her library knowing she can easily get rid of him at the end of this time. She has more important things to deal with including her delinquent brother who has been kicked out of yet another school, her uncle who seems constantly disappointed in her, and the weight of ruling a nation of people on her young shoulders. When the dangers in the library and the dangers in the palace appear to be intertwined. Kenneret and Alex have to work together to solve the mystery that is threatening the books, their lives, and the fate of the Kingdom.

This book is so perfect for me it is rather hard to be objective about it. Alex is a snarky, rather arrogant, smart yet often oblivious boy. I mean. Check one on the list of things I love. Kennie is a prickly, pragmatic, determined and ambitious girl. So yeah. The two main characters of this book are my everything. There was no chance I wasn't going to love this. I wasn't also expecting to love Kennie's younger brother Charlie equally as much. He is a strong, soldier type, but a deep thinker who sees nuances Alex and Kennie miss in their more no-nonsense approach to everything. The three of them make a fantastic team once they manage to come together. The process of them dancing around each other to get there is fun too. So much snark.

The plot is well crafted and the action moves along at a brisk pace. I was not able to put this down or stop reading for even a minute until I was finished. The mystery of the books and what was happening with them was compelling as was the political intrigue part of the story. I was particularly impressed by how this part was there, but on exactly the level it needed to be for the intended MG audience. I'm not going to say much more to avoid spoilers, but this is definitely a page turner full of adventure, excellent dialogue, and plenty of action.

Of course, being me, I also appreciated the theme of the importance of books, reading, and the role librarians play. The fact that the books in this story are in danger while being a danger at the same time was quite brilliant.

I'm looking forward to book talking this one in the upcoming school year. It is one of those books that will be easy to spark kids' interest in.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Future Favorite Friday: June 2018

I take the 2nd Friday of every month to highlight some upcoming releases I am looking forward to that I hope are Future Favorites. Feel free to do your own post, just please link back to my blog and tell me about your post in the comments.

Two Naomis was one of my favorite reads of 2016 so I was understandably excited it's getting a sequel. 

In this sequel to Two Naomis, now that Naomi Marie’s mom and Naomi E.’s dad are married, the girls have learned to do a lot of things together, like All-Family Sunday dinners, sixth-grade homework, navigating the subway system by themselves, and visiting their favorite bakeries. Until sixth grade in a new school presents a whole new set of surprises and challenges.

Trusting her gut has worked for Naomi E. all her life, and she figures that it will be an asset to her role as a Peer Mediator—until she realizes how much of the job requires the Art of Compromise, which she’s only just starting to get used to at home.

Naomi Marie is excited about making new friends—but she wants to keep old ones too. And when she sees that some in the school community have a hard time with the realities of “diversity in action,” she wonders if the new members of her family can see those realities as well.

As the girls deal with the ups and downs of middle school and the mysteries of family dynamics, they learn that even when life and school try to drive you apart, it’s ultimately easier to face everything together.

Release Date: September 11, 2018 from Balzer & Bray

This is a new Angie Thomas book. No explanation necessary

Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least get some streams on her mixtape. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill. But when her mom unexpectedly loses her job, food banks and shut-off notices become as much a part of her life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.

Release Date: February 5, 2019 from Balzer & Bray

I have been longing to feature this one since I first saw Emma talking about it on Twitter. I was waiting for it to have an official release date and now it does! (Also if you haven't read this series yet, you can order the "boxed set"of ebooks that include the first two novels an a novella plus extras. All the buy buttons are here on Emma's website. And you should read them. Earth Bound is my favorite romance novel of all time.)

Houston, Texas, 1965 

When an accident rocks the American Space Department, threatening the race to the moon, the agency is determined to eliminate distractions, including those in the bedroom. 

Astronaut Dean Garland, on track to become the first man to walk in space, is fine with putting a temporary hold on his love life. Except the directive comes too late to prevent the biggest distraction of all: Vivian Muller… Garland. But now that he’s married, Dean is determined to follow the rules until he makes history with his spacewalk. 

Vivy never expected to find herself pregnant or in a shotgun marriage, much less a sexless one. While her new husband might pretend to be perfectly happy sleeping alone, Vivy’s never believed in pretending or holding back. She’s determined to make her husband fall for her, even if it means bending—or breaking—the rules. 

Dean’s resolve to keep marriage and work separate hits another serious snag: the suit he’s supposed to wear in the killer vacuum of space isn’t reliable, and his new father-in-law manufactured it. As Dean unravels the technical problem and Vivy tries to win her husband’s love, their hearts and his life hang in the balance.

Release Date: July 31, 2018 self-published

What upcoming releases do you expect to be Future Favorites?

Monday, June 4, 2018

Love, Life, and the List

Kasie West is a must read author for me though a couple of her recently published books were not my favorites by any stretch. Her latest Love, Life, and the List is everything I fell in love about her books originally and is my favorite of her books so far.

Abby and Cooper have been best friends since 8th grade when Abby moved to town. Their group is rounded out by Rachel and Justin who are both leaving the country for the entirety of the summer. Abby and Cooper will spend a lot of time just the two of them. Abby doesn't consider this to be a problem even though she confessed her love to Cooper the previous year and then played it off as a joke when she saw the panicked look on his face. Having Cooper as a best friend is the best even with her unrequited love she can't get rid of. When Abby is rejected for an art show she has her heart set on because her work lacks depth and emotional maturity, Abby makes The Heart List-a list of things she will do over the summer to grow her heart. Cooper sees the list and joins in. What follows is a summer of new people and experiences which leads to confrontations, heart break, joy, and renewal.

Love, Life, and the List is a first person narrative (as is usual with West's works) from Abby's perspective. I was thoroughly engaged by Abby's voice from the first chapter. I find this interesting because I'm nothing like her so didn't have a common thread to latch on to, yet I was compelled to keep reading and wanted to know more about her and understand what motivated her. In a lot of ways she's lived an insular life. She has a tight knit small friend group. She moves between home, school, and the art gallery where she works with her friend time filling in the spaces. She leads a very regulated existence for an artist. Some of this has to do with her dad being in the Army. Some of this has to do with her mother's anxiety about leaving the house, which is getting worse and worse. A lot of it is that Abby is comfortable with the status quo and doesn't like change. Her list forces her out of her comfort zone in so many ways. I enjoyed  how the things she and Cooper were doing were realistically teenage activities too without either of them feeling the need to do anything stupidly dangerous (or dangerously stupid) and self-destructive. Cooper is an interesting character in his own right. Incredibly different from Abby, but they fit together well. He is a fundamental part of her life and she his, which makes Abby's feelings for him all the more complicated. Cooper isn't clueless. He knows how Abby feels. The way he interacts with her shows how much he values her in his life. The conflict that arises between the two of them in the plot is caused by factors both of them are responsible for. I don't want to spoil anything with details, but the way West handles this conflict is my favorite part of the book. It was so well done. Cooper ends up carelessly and unintentionally hurting Abby. Her response to that is extreme, but entirely necessary for where she is in her journey and her feelings for him. I was impressed by how strong she was in her convictions and how she stuck to what she knew would be best for her. Cooper also shows what a great guy he is by backing off and giving her the space she asks for. The resolution to this is exactly what you would expect from a romance, but the journey there is so well done. I'm not a huge fan of the unrequited love of one best friend for another for years trope, but it worked for me so well in this context and with how it played out.

Another aspect of Love, Life, and the List that makes it excellent is Abby's relationship with her family. Her grandfather, who she shares a lot of personality traits with, lives with them. Her father is deployed (as he often is). Her mother struggles with leaving the house and is only getting worse. Often that much conflict is too much, especially in a romance, but here it works so well. Each relationship  helps build Abby's character and is written in such a way that each character is fully formed and completely human, not just a plot device. Every adult in her life loves her despite the issues that keep them from being  100% there for her all the time. The reader sees that in all of their interactions. The balance of family conflict, relationship conflict, and work conflict in Abby's life is balanced perfectly in the narrative.

All of this isn't even mentioning the new friends Abby makes over the summer who are both good for her and expand her horizons.

I thoroughly recommend this for anyone who enjoys stories of relationships with excellent character development.

Friday, June 1, 2018

May Stats

Hey Everone! Here are my favorite May reads with general stats for the month. I didn't do a monthly stats report for March or April because I didn't read many new books and had no new favorites to add. But I seem to be getting my groove back this month. I even have TWO whole posts schedule for next week. GASP! One is the review for the favorite May read on the right and the other is the return of Future Favorites Friday. Hopefully I still have readers.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Penderwicks at Last

The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall is the fifth and  final installment of the series that began with The Penderwicks: The Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy back in 2005. I awaited its release with equal parts excitement and trepidation. It's always hard to face the end of a favorite series, especially when one has developed Opinions about the characters and their destinies. I'm happy to report I was quite satisfied with the way Birdsall wrapped everything up. It is not anywhere close to my favorite book in the series, but it fulfills its purpose as a final volume well and is still quite excellent.

Most of the Penderwick children are grown and out of the house. Rosy and Jane both have apartments in their hometown. Skye is in Californian working on her post graduate degree. Batty is finishing up her first year at college in Boston. Honorary Penderwick Jeffrey has spent the last few years in Germany working on his music. Ben and Lydia are the only ones left at home. Ben is a teenager who want to be the next great Hollywood director. Lydia is a born dancer, moving through life to her own rhythm and the choreography in her head. The family is coming together again at Arundel where everything began to celebrate Rosie's wedding to her childhood sweetheart. Lydia and Batty are the first two Penderwicks. to travel down to begin preparations. Lydia is filled with wonder and excitement at the prospect of exploring and experiencing the place she has heard of only through stories. Her adventures start with meeting Alice whose parents are part time care takers of Arundel. Her father is the famous Cagney who owned the rabbits famous in the stories Lydia has heard. Things only get more exciting as the dreaded Mrs. Tifton appears unexpectedly, Batty's ex-boyfriend gets stranded while delivering gifts, and the Penderwicks are in for a last minute wedding surprise they hadn't planned for.

It was a brilliant idea to end the story where it began and to bring Cagney and Mrs. Tifton back into it after so many years of their absence. Arundel works really well for the setting and it is delightful to discover it through Lydia's fresh eyes. Lydia is open and compassionate. The family jokes that she has never met a person she doesn't like. Lydia steadfastly likes to bring up the two times that wasn't true. The family is proven correct though when Lydia shockingly becomes the one Penderwick Mrs. Tifton not only stands but actually seeks out and seems to enjoy. Alice is a perfect foil for Lydia. More prickly and capable of holding grudges, she is in a competition with her older brother who is visiting Canada to prove who is having a better time during their summer. Arundel is just as chaotic. Cagney has traded rabbits for chickens named for historical Egyptians. There are more dogs present in this story. And as soon as the Penderwicks plus Jeffrey are reunited the regress and begin acting like children again. Soccer balls everywhere, music constantly performed, and everyone trying to out talk the others.

Birdsall finds ways of bringing out the characteristics w'eve come to love and appreciate in  all the siblings  over the years while aging them (mostly) well. Fans of the series will know what happens to all of their favorites. Many will be happy to know that Jeffrey has matured quite a lot and it shows. He is calm and patient, dealing with his mother firmly but lovingly. Batty shines with all of the realized promise of the previous book. Rosy is deliriously happy. Jane is working hard but hasn't stopped dreaming. Skye has done everything she set out to do with her life so far and managed to surprise even herself by ending up neck deep in love. (Skye in love is a delightful revelation.)

I think fans of the series will be pleased with this final installment. Birdsall wrapped things up while also leaving aspects of the future open to the imagination and wondering.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Shorter Musings MG

Here are some shorter musings on recent MG reads.

Beast & Crown by Joel Ross
I wasn't a huge fan of Ross' first works. It was a me thing. I've never been super into dystopia, and I was well and truly done with it by the time his first two books came out. This was much more my type of story. It is a quest fantasy with a great cast of characters to love and root for. The heart of this team is Ji, who is a snarky lying thief. (And yes, that is my character weak spot.) There is a great deal of treachery and plot twists. Definitely worth an addition to any MG shelves. I was a bit thrown out of the story due to the world being a weird mix of British manors and California culture, but the target audience is not going to notice that as much.

A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander
A fun, quick read about kids who have to save their town from a malevolent ghost. This is one of those MG books where the adults can't do what needs to be done and the kids rise to the occasion. It takes place in a world where hauntings or normal except in this one town. The mystery revolves around figuring out why and why that seems to be suddenly changing. The characters are easy to identify with and the world is built enough to understand without going into too much detail. I would've liked to see more resolution on a couple of points on the plot and character development though.

Rules for Thieves by Alexandra Ott
For kids who can't get enough of adventure fantasies, Rules for Thieves is a fun one to have on hand. There is a Thieves Guild, a murder, intrigue, mysterious identities, a strong fierce heroine, and a sneaky accomplice. From a personal perspective, I felt the whole thing could have been more layered and fleshed out. The world-building is scant and the characterization is fairly basic. I was also not enamored of that end. I prefer books that have more closure (even when they are getting a sequel).

Friday, April 20, 2018

Crossing Ebenezer Creek

I debated whether or not I was going to write a full review for Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden or just include it in one of my shorter musings posts. It's a hard book to discuss because there is a lot the reader just needs to experience. In the end, I decided to write a full review simply because it was one of those books that kept me thinking for days after I finished it.

Mariah is a slave who longs for freedom. When a contingent from Sherman's army shows up at the plantation she is on to procure food and supplies, she jumps at the chance to leave with them. Caleb was born free and works for the army driving a cart and helping with supplies. He offers Mariah and her brother a ride in his wagon. There are many former slaves who have joined Sherman's march to the sea as it makes its way south. Mariah and her fellows from her plantation find their place among them, offering the skills they need. Caleb helps them adjust an gives them as much help as he can. He finds himself continuously drawn to Mariah, her brother, and the people she is close with. Mariah and Caleb hesitantly begin to have hopes for the future despite the tragic harshness of both their pasts. But things are not perfect with the Union Army either, and there are many, even those in power, who don't want the former slaves with them.

The book shifts between the perspectives of Mariah and Caleb. Both are in their mid to late teens, but they read older as the lives they are living are fully adult lives. Both are characters you can't help but grow attached to as they tentatively explore the possibilities of a future where the Union has won and slavery is no more. It is tentative because they still deal daily with the how white people view them as lesser. Aside from the Captain running the contingent Caleb works with, many of the officers do not treat the former slaves well and they allow their subordinates to do what they wish. Mariah is solely responsible for her younger  brother and also helps take care of an older woman from her plantation who is quickly deteriorating. Both Caleb and Mariah are allowed to be whole people. I loved how Bolden showed the vastness of their anger, fear, resentment, and bitterness toward all that had happened to them.

The plot covers the march from shortly after the burning of Atlanta to the crossing of Ebenezer Creek. (That crossing is a historical incident I didn't know about prior to the release of the book so I would say the book is worth reading just for that.) The reader gets a clear view of the Union army from the perspective of a former slave and it is interesting. The book is short (around 200 pages) and it was difficult for me to put down. Yet I wasn't riveted by the plot so much as Mariah and Caleb themselves.

Crossing Ebenezer Creek is not an easy book to read nor is it a happy one. If you do know why Ebenezer Creek is important then you know why. Bolden also doesn't shy away from the dangers the women on the march faced, both from their former lives and from the soldiers on the march. The way this is referenced may go over many heads, but it is there. My library has it shelved in the J shelves, but it is definitely one of those books that straddles the MG/YA line. If it were me, I would probably shelve it as Teen, but it would well work for a middle school library.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Quarterly Review

Here is a round up of all the books I chose not to finish, adult reads, and favorite reads of the last three months.

The DNFs (with links to my reasons why on Goodreads):
Wintersong by S. Jae Jones

Non-Fiction (with links to reviews on Goodreads):
Samurai Rising by Pamela Turner

Adult Reads (with links to Goodreads reviews):
 Acute Reactions by Ruby Lang (contemporary romance)
Always My Girl by Samantha Chase (contemporary romance)
Forever a Bad Boy by Genevieve Turner (contemporary romance)
Love Walks In by Samantha Chase (contemporary romance)
Made for Us by Samantha Chase (contemporary romance)
This is Our Song by Samantha Chase (contemporary romance)

The Best of the Best (links to my reviews):

Patina by Jason Reynolds

A Sky Full of Stars by Linda Williams Jackson