Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Book Review: Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan

Title: Tell the Wind and Fire
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Published: 2016
Source: Netgalley

Summary: In this paranormal retelling of A Tale of Two Cities, New York City is divided between the Dark and the Light magic wielders. The Dark side is shackled and boundaried, and the Light rules.

Lucie is that rarest of rare, a Dark-sider who escaped to the Light. She's famous for it, in fact, the half-Light, half-Dark girl who escaped the Dark and now lives in the Light side of town, dating Ethan, the shining son of the mayor. But as she fights to hold onto her sheltered life on the light and Ethan, the boy she loves, she's drawn to his Dark doppelganger, Carwyn.

First Impressions: I liked Carwyn much more than Ethan. I loved how snarky and mean Lucie became with him. The end made me cry.

Later On: I always like retellings of classics, mostly because it's very fun to see how the themes and characters gets filtered through a modern lens. This is one of my first experiences with reading the retelling without having actually read the original. As such, the ending knocked me for a loop. Can you call it a spoiler when just about everyone knows that Sydney Carton died in the original? But because I wasn't paying attention to the details and callbacks, I was surprised and disappointed when it went there.

When I say I liked how snarky and mean Lucie got with him, this isn't because I like mean girls. More, it was because the self that Lucie was when she was with Carwyn felt more honest. With Ethan, and by extension, with all of the Light side, I had the sense that Lucie was putting on a big show of how very, very Light side she was. With Carwyn, she didn't have to pretend that the Dark side of herself didn't exist. I didn't have a whole lot of faith that Lucie would be able to hold on to this honesty of self without Carwyn around to remind her. Maybe she will, though.

Overall, this was a wonderful book, full of meditations on the nature of fame and public perception and how meaningless labels can be, but the ending works less well for me the farther I get from the actual experience of reading it.

More: Why Did I Do That Thing I Did in Tell the Wind and Fire? by Sarah Rees Brennan (spoilers for other of her books, so read carefully)
Kirkus

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Book Review: Burning Midnight by Will McIntosh

Title: Burning Midnight
Author: Will McIntosh
Published: 2016
Source: NetGalley

Summary: In a world where strange, inexplicable spheres grant people enhanced skills and abilities, and the sale of a really rare sphere can set you up for life, fifteen-year-old Sully works as a sphere hunter to keep himself and his mother alive. He scrapes by on common to middling finds, but dreams of another find like the one that was stolen from him by the villainous businessman Alex Holliday. When he meets Hunter, another sphere hunter in even more desperate straits, she enlists him in an audacious scheme to find the rarest sphere of all - before Holliday can.

First Impressions: Well, that was a fun quest/chase caper took a completely weird turn in the last 15% of the book.

Later On: Truly, I enjoyed this right up until the last chunk of the book. It's an enjoyable little-guy(s)-against-the-corrupt-businessman caper, complete with quixotic quests across national borders and feats of derring-do like diving into old water towers and climbing statues.

Then I got whiplash when the true nature of the spheres was revealed. (highlight to read SPOILER - they're like bait, and the fisherman are aliens headed down to earth to eat everybody in horrific ways.) In some ways it could have been a fun twist, but it was such a departure from where the story was headed up to that point that I was genuinely bewildered and felt like I'd wandered into a different book.

More: Kirkus

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Origami Yoda Doubleheader

Since I read these two books close enough to each other that they were both still hanging out in my blogging document, and because the first ended on something of a cliffhanger, I figured I might as well do a doubleheader.

Title: The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett
Author: Tom Angleberger
Published: 2013
Source: Local Library

Summary: The origami kids find themselves facing a great evil - the looming specter of standardized testing, and the cramming sessions that go along with them, which have taken the place of all their favorite elective classes. Can their rebellion defeat the Evil Empire?

First Impressions: Entertaining anti-test story. I also loved how many different kinds of kids wound up working together, and how the principal wasn't the ultimate evil. But - uhoh! Cliffhanger.

Later On: This remains a realistic and entertaining middle-school series. The multitude of characters started to lose me, especially when introducing new ones that weren't around or weren't important in the first few books, but the central characters (Dwight, Harvey, and Kellan) are all there and all distinct. This is also taking on a more series-oriented arc with the rebellion against mandated testing.
This isn't the one to start with (all those characters!) but for fans of the rest of the series, it's a worthy entry.

More: Kirkus

Title: Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue
Author: Tom Angleberger
Published: 2014
Source: Local Library

Summary: Picking up where the previous book left off, the McQuarrie Middle School gang's attempts to defeat the deadly dull test-prep program, FunTime, seem doomed to failure. But Princess Labelmaker's got a secret plan - to turn the records of the Rebellion over to Principal Rabbski, in a last desperate hope to get her on their side against the evil test company that's sucking the life out of their school.

First Impressions: Most of these tend to be episodic, but this one was very much so. Still enjoyable, but I can't quite tell whether it's the end or not.

Later On: I really started to lost track of who was who in this book, especially since they each seemed to get one or two mini-stories in this, relating how the Origami Rebellion has changed them and helped them see the world differently. Kids who have been devoted readers probably won't encounter that problem, though.

Apparently there's one more book in the series, Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus, which will follow the kids on the Washington, DC trip that they fought to get back during this book.

More: Ms. Yingling Reads

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Book Review: Velvet Undercover by Teri Brown

Title: Velvet Undercover
Author: Teri Brown
Published: 2015
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: After her father disappears, Samantha Donaldson is conscripted to spywork in Germany during WWI.

First Impressions: This felt very WWII to me, perhaps because I've read so many more WWII spy stories in the last few years, so any detail that screamed WWI tripped me up a lot. Not particularly memorable honestly.

Later On: Yep. I still don't remember it very well. Everything sort of fades into a wartime mush in my head.

More: Both Bookshelves of Doom and Ms. Yingling liked it rather more.
Bookshelves of Doom for Kirkus
Ms. Yingling Reads

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Book Review: The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett

Author: Terry Pratchett
Published: 2015
Source: Local Library

Summary: The fairy nation is set on invading our world, and the witches who would normally stand in their way have just lost their not-a-leader. It's up to her presumptive heir, Tiffany Aching, to defend the Discworld from them just as she's struggling to cement her place among the witches and among the community.

First Impressions: Sniff. Last Terry Pratchett ever. I think it was a good one to go out on, especially with Granny Weatherwax, but others were better.

Later On: Tiffany is still working out how to be a witch of the chalk, how to belong someplace and bear responsibility toward a whole community. While she's battled the queen of the fairies and the hive mind and all sorts of other monsters, she's absorbing the lesson that has been built over the series that people are the most complicated of all.
The death of Granny Weatherwax seems oddly prescient. Where Pratchett has faked us out before, this time he went for it, and the way that Tiffany feels rudderless and lost after the loss of her second major matriarch figure (the first being her own grandmother before the start of the series) serves to bookend this series and emphasize that you never quite get there to that magical place where you just always know what you're doing at all times, but you can get a little further along.

My love for the Tiffany Aching series comes from the realism of her growth over the series. Where she started as a young girl (albeit a ferocious, clear-sighted, and competent one), this Tiffany is wobbling on the edge of adulthood, and it's as good a place as any to leave her.

As has been stated in many places, this book is essentially unfinished. Oh, it has a beginning, a middle, and an end, but it doesn't quite have all the flourishes that make up about 75% of the enjoyment of a Terry Pratchett book. He died during the editing process, so this unfinished feeling is completely valid. Still, it feels like a Pratchett book (an early one, maybe, before he really developed his powers) and I enjoyed it as such.

More: Book Nut

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

Title: The Girl from Everywhere
Author: Heidi Heilig
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Nix Song grew up on the high seas, traveling from place to place and time to time with her time-traveler father. But it's been a lonely childhood and a frustrating teenagerhood, especially when her father is obsessed with finding a map that can take him back to Hawaii in the 1840s, when Nix was born, and her mother died. When they land in Hawaii, but several years too late, they get caught up in a plot to thwart American colonialists' plan to co-opt the island nation for American interests. At the same time, Nix meets a mysterious old woman who was present at her birth, and a handsome young American who wants to show Nix Hawaii

First Impressions: While I really liked the premise, this dragged for me pretty hard, and the love triangle felt both unneeded and unresolved.

Later On: I really wanted to like this. I did! Time travel via historical maps? A biracial (white and Chinese) girl who grew up all over time, and who has a prickly relationship with her father and a mystery surrounding her long-dead mother? The Hawaiian setting??? (And not just tourist Hawaii; this is Hawaii the way the people who live there see it, complete with all its ugly colonial history.) An audacious con plot? A roguish and charming love interest/BFF? Sign me up!

All these elements, unfortunately, didn't combine into anything very compelling. The third point of the love triangle was about as interesting as oatmeal, and nothing was really resolved there even though pages and pages were spent on trying to build a relationship between them. I can point to individual things that were done well, particularly the twisty turny it'll-get-you-coming-and-going nature of time travel and the secrets of her mother, but this book just never gelled for me. Which is really too bad.

More: Charlotte's Library

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Book Review: Winter by Marissa Meyer

Title: Winter
Author: Marissa Meyer
Published: 2015
Source: Local Library

Summary: The war for Luna is on. Cinder and all her friends are running an underground rebellion, while Kai works on the political scale to quietly undermine Luna. It's a dangerous game they play, with consequences for both worlds. Meanwhile, the broken and mad princess of Luna, Winter, may end up being the wild card of this war after all.

First Impressions: For as many moving parts as this book had, I think Meyer did a pretty good job of pulling it all together, and giving all characters relationships with each other, not just their love interest.

Later On: You definitely could not read this book first of the series. There are too many threads that have to get tied up from other books. But it's a giant fat book that I could not put down. It dragged me through all the ups and downs, through the tangled and interweaving storylines, to the triumphant and still slightly somber end.

Meyer also does something nice in that almost every character on the good guys' side has at least one scene with every other character where they're working together and depending on each other. The story is not broken out into one couple does this, another couple does this. You get the sense that this whole set of eight people (plus Iko) all really like and support each other and they can work together, even with their differences. For a series that's structured as four romances, it's a way of showing that people still have important platonic relationships outside their love story that I really appreciated in a series aimed at teens.

I do wish we'd gotten more of Winter earlier in the series. While she had some great character moments, she veered into the poor manic mystic territory a lot, and I mean that both in the manic pixie dream girl sense and in the mental illness sense. The lunar people loved her so much that she impacted the course of the war, but mostly because of how beautiful she was, not for anything she ever really did. I was not entirely satisfied with her characterization, which is a shame in the book that was named for her.

More: Smart Bitches Trashy Books
Forever Young Adult