Saturday, October 27, 2012

Book Review: Flutter by Gina Linko

Book: Flutter
Author: Gina Linko
Published: October 23, 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

Every so often, Emery enters what she calls a loop. Her mind travels to somewhere else. The future, the past, places she's never been in real life. She meets people both familiar and strange. The loops are beautiful, peaceful, and soothing.

Except that while her mind is journeying, her body is having seizures. And after a lifetime of these, Emery's body is starting to fall apart. She's in the hospital 24/7, being studied like a guinea pig by a team of doctors who examine her brain so closely that they can't see her heart. That team includes her own father, who thinks of her as an experiment first and a daughter second. Emery knows that she'll spend the rest of her life here, however long that might be, if she doesn't get herself out.

So she bolts, using a few thin clues to find the places in real life that she's visited in her loops. She finds herself in Esperanza Beach, Michigan, a little town in the Upper Peninsula, and there she meets Ash, a boy a couple of years older that feels awfully familiar somehow. What does he have to do with her loops? Why was she drawn here? Why is she having them? Can she hide from her father as he hunts her down?

Most importantly: can she learn to control her loops--or will they kill her first?

So, this book didn't go quite where I expected. To be honest, I didn't have a good idea where I expected it to go. Aliens? Vampires? Angels? Alien vampire angels? None of those, although I kind of want to read the alien vampire angels book now. (Libba Bray could totally pull that off. Or Sarah Rees Brennan. I'm not picky.) Nope, it's about something entirely different.

Emery is dying. She makes this much clear to us, and also makes it clear that she understands and accepts it. Her body is falling apart, and she feels as if she's wasting what little time she has left. After the escape from the hospital, a strong theme in the novel is Emery trying to live each day as it comes, with a sense of purpose and agency for the first time in her life. She is feeding herself, she's caring for herself, she's seeking out information on a situation that directly impacts her. You can see how this nourishes a soul that's been starved for years.

Ash and Emery's relationship isn't insta-lurve, though they're clearly attracted to each other and just as clearly trying to fight that attraction, for different reasons. Their relationship builds quietly, its pieces set in place as they cautiously open up to each other.

I do have one major quibble, and that's this: Emery's dad is painted as this terrible and ruthless parent who has godlike powers (including heavy pull with national agencies that go by acronyms) and could find her at any time. Really? I had a hard time believing that a teenager's seizures would be a matter of national security, no matter how medically unusual. I found myself believing the much more likely scenario that he was a single father, very worried about his terminally ill daughter, perhaps unable to communicate that worry, and just trying to find her.

That wasn't a huge part of the story, however, and I was able to dive into the rest of it without letting that bug me so much. Was it perfect? No, partly for the dad thing, and partly because the ending seemed a little too perfect and preordained. However, with its themes of life and death and its sweet and understated love story, this book does stand out from the current crop of YA, and for that reason, you should give it a try.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Book Review: The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood

Book: The Hidden Gallery
Author: Maryrose Wood
Published: 2011
Source: Local Library

After some initial rough patches, plucky governess Penelope Lumley has finally gotten her young charges in hand. They've stopped chewing their own shoes, they generally refrain from biting (unless furry hats are involved), and their Latin is progressing quite well indeed. Now they're onto a new adventure: a family trip to London! Penelope is looking forward to cultural experiences galore. Of course, she should know by now that nothing ever goes as planned.

No matter. Along with highly amiable new friend Simon Harley-Dickinson, a singularly useless guidebook, and her own powerful stock of pluck and mettle, Penelope will take on London and the continuing mystery of the children's origins. Maybe along the way, she can even solve a little of her own mysterious past.

I read the first book for the 48HBC a couple of years ago, and enjoyed it immensely. In this one, Wood retains the madcap feel of the first book, and adds a few sparse crumbs to the great mystery of the Incorrigible children. Things are starting to come together slowly, but not so slowly that it's frustrating. I particularly enjoyed Simon, who shares Penelope's most endearing trait of taking the children exactly as they come, without judgement and with a great deal of enjoyment in their company.

Luckily, there is a third book and probably more on the way. They may be raised by wolves, but the Incorrigible children are also irresistible.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Book Review: Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George

Book: Princess of Glass
Author: Jessica Day George
Published: 2010
Source: Local Library

After a childhood spent dancing every night away with her eleven sisters as part of a wicked enchantment, Princess Poppy never wants to so much as curtsey to a partner ever again. It makes life a little challenging when she pays a visit to neighboring kingdom of Breton, but she finds ways to entertain herself at balls and parties, especially when she gets to spend time with friendly and fun Prince Christian of Danelaw.

Then comes the night of the royal ball. Christian, along with most of the men in the room, is strangely ensnared by the mysterious Lady Ella. Only Poppy seems to recognize housemaid and disgraced gentlewoman Eleanora. Only she seems to understand that there's something very wicked going on, and Eleanora may be as much of a victim as the prince. In order to defeat the real foe, and rescue both Christian and Eleanora, Poppy's going to have to face her deepest fears, both on the dance floor and off.

This is a book that so easily could have had the wrong heroine. I spent a great deal of it going, "Oh for Crissakes, Eleanora, grow up." Though she is the Cinderella in this story, she's also whiny, self-pitying, and tends to depend on others to rescue her. It's our good luck that our heroine is Poppy, who is practical, capable, and brave. Having come through one evil plot, she's adept at recognizing the signs and knows that it's going to take more than a pure heart to win the day.

Though marriage and courtship feature largely in the story, I'd characterize this as a tween/young teen title, especially since the relationship between Poppy and Christian isn't so much passionate as cute and sweet. While it's not the best I've ever read, it's an entertaining, fast-paced example of the retold fairy tale trope that I particularly enjoy, with an intrepid heroine.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Book Review: The Quick Fix by Jack Ferraiolo

Book: The Quick Fix
Author: Jack Ferraiolo
Published: October 1, 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

After the last time, you'd think middle-school private detective Matt Stevens would know better than to do any jobs for juvenile crimelord Vinny Biggs again. And he's not, really. Sure, he's looking into the case of a missing "decorative piece of wood," but only because beautiful cheerleader Melissa Scott asked him first. And the Thompson twins, infamous purveyors of addictive Pixy Stix, are after it too. Vinny was merely the last in a long line.

But as usual with Matt's cases, things go south in a hurry. Melissa is publicly humiliated and sent to the Outs, a social Dante's Inferno. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here. She's unexpectedly followed by the chief hall monitor, and then Matt knows somebody's deadly serious. Combined with blackmail, Pixy Stix, a lot of money, and more questions than one seventh-grader can reasonably answer, it seems like business as usual for Matt.

Then he discovers the "piece of wood" is really a box, and what it contains could mean nothing to anyone but himself. Right?

I reviewed the first Matt Stevens book last year, The Big Splash, and enjoyed it enough to request this book when it popped up on NetGalley. The middle-school experience painted with a wash of tweaked noir conventions wouldn't have been enough for a second go-round, but I really liked Matt and I was curious about the larger mysteries that had been set up.

In general, I enjoyed myself again. Matt is as snarky, thoughtful, and clever as he was the first time. The series-level mystery of his dad's disappearance advances apace. The book-level mystery was somewhat thinner this time, often lost in all the winks at mystery types. And that brings me to the main reason I'm writing this review, which is to work out my own ambivalence toward the hyper reality of this setting.

In my first review, I mentioned: "The Big Splash can't really decide whether it wants to be funny or serious about its own tone." Is it meant to be totally tongue-in-cheek? Perfectly serious? A tongue-in-cheek lens for the always-gruesome middle-school experience? I honestly couldn't say, and I still can't.

The same thing came up for me again, particularly in the substitution of Pixy Stix as an addictive substance. I think it's because I work on a daily basis with kids whose lives are affected by the real thing that this analogue doesn't quite sit right. Imagining their reactions to the notions of mere sugar being as destructive a force as what they see in their neighborhoods and homes rattled my willing suspension of disbelief, and this is a book that really requires a lot of that.

So . . . what's the verdict here? I'm still not sure. Was it well-written? Yes. Matt is a fully fleshed character, as are most of his compatriots, though it often seemed to me that characters' reactions are much more adult in nature than a typical middle-schooler's. Will kids like it and relate to it? I really don't know. I think they'll like Matt, and read on for the mystery and the relationships. But as to how realistic the details of the setting will feel to kids not familiar with the conventions of adult mystery novels and noir storytelling, I have my doubts. If you've read it and think otherwise, please share.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Kidlitcon 2012: The Bloggers Take Manhattan

This past weekend was one of my favorite weekends of the whole year. It was KidlitCon, in which bloggers gather to talk about books, blogging, and the intersection of the two. There's also many hijinx and some drinking of alcoholic beverages.

Every year, a different city is selected and different bloggers organize it, making each KidlitCon a unique experience. This year, it was New York City, and it was put together by Betsy Bird of A Fuse #8 Production and Monica Edinger of Educating Alice.

On Friday, we were treated to publisher previews, which were apparently Monica's brainchild, as well as her blood, sweat, and tears. No word on the proportion of tears to blood and sweat. I attended the Simon and Schuster preview in the morning, and the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt one in the afternoon. I heard about a lot of exciting books coming up, and got a few advanced reader copies to take home. More valuable than that, however, was meeting publisher peeps and talking with them.

At Simon and Schuster, we got the chance to see the research and art that goes into one of Megan McCarthy's appealing nonfiction picture books. She shared with us some of the things she had to do in order to get the pictures and info she needed for her next opus, coming out Summer of 2013. (Hint: illicit photography was involved.)

At the Houghton Mifflin, we discussed Common Core and how books can be used in the classroom. For those of you not in the know, Common Core is the newest thing in education circles. Basically, it's an upgraded set of standards for teachers to plan their lessons by. Of particular interest is that it emphasizes nonfiction reading in language arts, which means librarians get to haul out all the incredibly awesome nonfiction on our shelves. We also briefly chatted about e-galleys vs print ARCs. I was interested to hear that they limit their e-galley distribution just as they do their print galleys, and they were interested to hear that I actually prefer e-galleys.

By the bye, I've since heard from others that they prefer print, so now I'm interested in the topic. How many of you like e-galleys better, print ARCs better, or don't really care as long as you get to read a good book? I may actually do a blog post. Craziness, I know.

On Friday night, the bloggers en masse descended on a midtown restaurant, decimated their sushi bar (Actual quote from a blogger who would prefer to remain anonymous [me]: "Oh, I'll try this one, it's pink!"), and heard Grace Lin speak about her journey from art school to children's-book-illustration. I hear tell that she came into the city with a very small baby and a very large Sasquatch (also in attendance) just to talk to us, and I can't help but feel flattered. We also got the chance to purchase Starry River of the Sky a few days before it was officially on the shelves. If you think we were all over that, you would be right.

Next time: How All The Bloggers astonished Maureen Johnson, and this particular one creeped her out a little bit.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Reading Roundup: September 2012

By the Numbers
Teen: 17
Tween: 7
Children: 4

Review Copies: 8
Swapped: 1
Purchased: 1
Library: 14

Teen: The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan
Like Tender Morsels, this is a complex story of flawed human beings in a supernatural situation, though this book is somewhat more accessible than that one. I loved it but it's not for everybody. Check out the review (linked in title) for more blathering on my part.
Tween: The Encyclopedia of Me by Karen Rivers
This should have felt overstuffed with Issues: biracial character, autism in the family, deceptive friends, identity, etc. Not to mention the quirky structure: written as an encyclopedia, with all the text filed under different entries, this book should have been massively confusing. The fact that it wasn't overstuffed or confusing, and that's it's a breezy, fun, funny read shows how well it's put together.
Children: Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies by Andrea Beaty, illustrations by Dan Santat
Equal parts hilarious and weird, you need this on hand for when your quirkiest young patrons come in.

Because I Want To Awards
Most Eagerly Anticipated: Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan
This send-up of the vampire craze has been on my radar for a loooong time. In general, it was worth the wait.
Most Awesome This-Meets-That: Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel
Steampunk meets zombie. True, there were huge issues with the execution, and I may expound on them in a review in the future, but by golly it was a fun mashup.
Most Applicable to Everyday Life: How to Grow Up and Rule the World by Vordak the Incomprehensible (aka Scott Seegert)
Hysterically funny guidebook to becoming a supervillain. Foisted it on a young man of my acquaintance and his mom reports that he adores it. Live in fear, people of Earth. Live in fear.