Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Reading Roundup: December 2013

By the Numbers
Teen: 15
Tween: 1
Children: 6

Sources
Review Copies: 2
Purchased: 1
Library: 18

Standouts
Teen: Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker
I admit, there were some parts in the hyper-conservative worldview of the town and the church that made me go, "Whoa . . . okay." However, this was a compelling look at the moment when your faith is tested by direct contradiction of the things you've always known, and whether it's possible to come through with that faith intact.
Tween: No standout this month.
Children: Animal Fights by Catherine Ham
Poems about fighting animals? You wouldn't think it would work. It does, which can be attributed equally to the poems, which are accessible and fact-based, and the great photography.

Because I Want To Awards
Move Over Veronica Mars: Deadly Cool by Gemma Halliday
Okay, not really, because VMars doesn't move over for anybody and will tase you if you try. But this story of a snarky, clever teen sleuth got me and I'm quite sad that there's only one sequel. Yeah, the plot's a little uncertain, but I was taking the ride with Hartley.
Veronica Mars in 1942: The Girl is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines
Why did I enjoy this one? See above. Less snark, more history, definitely more character growth as Iris learns painful lessons about the world, her father, her mother, and herself. And there's a sequel to this one too. Yay!
Wow, That Was Something!: Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade by Melissa Sweet
I've seen these balloons all my life and never stopped to think of all the engineering and creativity that went into them. This book brought that to life, and what makes it even more stunning is that the first idea and execution came from one man.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Reading Roundup: November 2013

By the Numbers
Teen: 15
Tween: 7
Children: 2

Sources
Review Copies: 12
Library: 10

Standouts
Teen: Burnout by Adrienne Maria Vrettos
When Nan falls off the wagon, she wakes up hungover in the subway. I loved how she tracked backward, not only through the night she forgot, but exploring the destructive friendship that brought her there.
Tween: 13 Gifts by Wendy Mass
Shuttled off to the weirdest town on the planet after kidnapping her principal's goat (no, really), Tara finds herself propelled off the sidelines and in the middle of the most random scavenger hunt ever. While this required a lot of suspension of disbelief, it left me smiling.

Children: Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African-Americans by Kadir Nelson
We all know about the Civil War, civil rights, etc, but there's a lot more to African-American history than that. Starting with the European settlement of North America, Nelson shines a light on a history too often hidden in the shadows.

Because I Want To Awards
Swoooooooooooon: Crash Into You by Katie McGarry
Okay, granted, I wanted to smack both main characters more than once. But like the others in this series, this book really evokes that heady rush of the first time you're in Capital L Love, and the complications of living up to those feelings.
A Fine Finish: United We Spy by Ally Carter
Like Harry Potter 7, this took place mostly outside of the school that's so important to the series as a whole. But everything worked for me.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Interview: Danielle and Delco Library Notes

This was homework for Sheila Ruth's Kidlitcon session on CSS and HTML, but it was also a chance to highlight a brand-new blogger. This is one of my favorite parts of Kidlitcon, discovering new or new-to-me bloggers and what they have to say.

Q.
Who are you and what is your blog?

A.
I am Danielle Guardiola and I work at Delco Primary School as the school librarian. My blog, Delco Library Notes, is for teachers, parents, and kids, to showcase what the library is doing. I review books and talk about the skills that the kids are learning.

Q.
What got you into blogging?

A.
I was exposed to social media resources during library school. I saw many early-grade/picture book blogs and thought I could do this as a way to showcase what the school library is doing for kids.

Q.
What do you hope to learn at KidlitCon?

A.
I'm hoping to acquire practical tips on increasing the blog's reach, how to blog better, and how to keep myself consistently blogging.

After the conference was all over, I caught up with Danielle again to see how she'd liked her first Kidlitcon. If you notice a difference in the interview, it's because I just listened and took notes for the first section, but this second section I actually recorded and transcribed later.

Q.
So what did you learn from KidlitCon?

A.
I think I got a big focus of what I want to start with my blog. Because the one that I have right now is for school, and the purpose of that one is just to inform parents of what we do in the library. But besides that, I want to start one where I'm reviewing literature. I've noticed a big need in bilingual books, that we sometimes don't find good quality bilingual books that are available for students. I've talked to several people who said they thought I could be a really good resource, so I think I found a really good focus. That's one major thing, and just a lot of practical tips on how to reach out to other people, how to stay connected with one another and just also be able to go to the Kidlitosphere website and find as much support as possible. That session about the burnout, I was like oh god, it's good I'm hearing this now.

Q.
Yeah! Well, it's something that happens to a lot of people . . .

A.
[It's good] to know that you're not always going to get a lot of responses, that sometimes you're writing for yourself, and that's okay. So overall there was a wealth of information, but those are the three big things: a focus, a community, and a sense of a place where I can go for help, and just not to get overwhelmed.

Much thanks to Danielle, who let herself be interviewed (twice!) in the middle of what must have been a couple of dizzying days. Visit Delco Library Notes and say hi!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

KidlitCon 13

Every year, I set aside some vacation and make my way to KidlitCon, wherever it may be. It's been in D.C., Portland, Minneapolis, Chicago, New York, Seattle, and now Austin.

Other bloggers have done lovely roundups of the different sessions. Since I live-tweeted most of the sessions (see #kidlitcon13 for everybody's tweets) I won't attempt to be comprehensive, especially since the sessions aren't my primary reason for being there. They're useful and informative, don't get me wrong. The session on blogger burnout in particular gave me a lot to chew on, as did the session on diversity. I got to sharpen my tech skills and contemplate the future of blogging.

But my reason for being there was the people. Walking into the pre-con get-together and immediately getting a big hug from Pam of MotherReader, being able to say hello to Lee Wind and Jen Robinson for the first time in years, hanging out with Kelly Jensen of Stacked and Leila "Bookshelves of Doom" Roy and discussing the horrendous addiction that is Candy Crush (seriously, so many of us seemed to be playing it this weekend!), meeting Kim (also of Stacked), Sherry Early of Semicolon, and brand-new blogger Danielle of Delco Library Notes, and that was just in the first day! I also got to room with Sheila Ruth from Wands and Worlds, and dine with Charlotte Taylor and Melissa Fox of Booknut and Sarah Stevenson of Finding Wonderland, as well as many others that my brain is just a little too fried to remember.

I am not a person who loves meeting people, you have to understand. But I always, always love meeting people at KidlitCon, because I know without being told--by the fact of their presence--that they are kindred spirits, a term brought up in the future of blogging session. They love something that I love, and that's a pretty steady foundation. These folks do it for the same reason I do it; for the love of it. Some of us have been doing this for years; some have just started.

We all come at it from different directions. Our keynote speaker, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and Lee Wind both discussed the diversity within ourselves. Sitting in a room with an archaeologist, a computer programmer, a film critic, many parents, and a number of librarians, I completely understood that! But we've all got that in common, our shared love of reading, of kidlit, and of spreading that love as far and wide as possible.

Thanks to the organizers, Pam, Jen, Sarah,  Kim, Kelly, and Leila. Also, Tanita from Finding Wonderland and Jackie of Interactive Reader (who both deserve some kind of award for putting in all this work and not even being able to make it!) for another lovely year.

Next year, the West Coast! Will you be there?

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

KidlitCon Ahoy!

This weekend I'll be on my way to KidlitCon, to hang out with friends old and new. Keep an eye on this space, and on Twitter under mosylu and the hashtag #kidlitcon13. I might actually say a few things. 

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Book Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Book: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
Author: Holly Black
Published: 2013
Source: ARC acquired from publisher at ALA 2013

It's like the start of an urban legend. Tana Bach wakes up in a bathtub after a party so wild she doesn't remember most of it. But it's not her blood spattering the house. It's everyone else's. In the rush of the party, somebody forgot basic precautions and left a window open, letting the vampires in.

Among the mutilated bodies, she finds her ex-boyfriend, Aiden, tied to a bed. He’s going Cold, but not in the dead sense. It’s what they call someone who has been infected, but isn’t yet a vampire. You can survive going Cold, they say, but it will be up to eighty-eight days of craving blood past the point of madness. The safest place for him right now is Coldtown, the quarantined portion of the city where vampires reign supreme. But first they have to get there.

She also finds Gavriel, a fully-fledged vampire who agrees to help them in exchange for getting him safely to Coldtown ahead of the vampires pursuing him. Now Tana’s on the road with a stone-cold killer, an obnoxious ex that she has to keep human, and oh, she might be infected herself.

For me the best part of this book (besides the gritty toughness of Tana herself) was the world-building. How would the world react to vampires coming out the shadows and chomping down? Well, this one reacts with websites and Twitter feeds, and, naturally, reality shows. There are also border guards at Coldtown and PSAs on the TV. Coldtown itself is a far cry from the reality shows. And of course, there’s the nasty and twisted world of vampire politics, which is as classically Byzantine as every other vampire novel ever has promised.

In some ways this book is guilty of the things it's trying to undermine about vampires. There is a sensual glamor about her vampires, blood soaked as they are. But it’s that balance that makes this book (and vampires themselves, I guess) so intoxicating. They are stone cold killers with a sheen of glamor overlying the fangs, and to your own horror, you find yourself sympathizing with their ageless pain, at least until they start ripping throats out.

Lush, horrifying, gritty, and powerful, this is Holly Black at her very Holly-Black-est.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Reading Roundup: October 2013

By the Numbers
Teen: 10
Tween: 8
Children: 9

Sources
Review Copies: 8
Swapped: 2
Library: 15

Standouts
Teen: Unthinkable by Nancy Werlin
This prequel/sequel to Impossible was in some ways awfully hard to read. Fenella and her quest are hard to support, but I got sucked in by seeing her brought back to life by the love of her family.
Tween: Golden Girl by Sarah Zettel
More of the American Fairy trilogy! This time Callie's caught in the glamorous web of Old Hollywood, which is of course the natural place for the glamorous Seelie Court. Do we doubt that she can extricate herself? Answer: No. We do not.
Children: Well Wished by Franny Billingsley
While I enjoyed the riffing on Heidi, what I most enjoyed was the realism of the friendship at the core of this novel. Because honestly? They didn't like each other most of the time, but they were friends because they were each other's only option.

Because I Want To Awards
Most Troubling: Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow
On the one hand, I really liked the way this was put together, narratively and thematically. On the other, the hazy background of generic Native-American-ness, without reference to specific tribes, is troubling to me.
Most Realistic Ending: Gaby, Lost and Found by Angela Cervantes
With her mother deported and her dad barely around, Gaby tries to find her own home. My notes: "Omigosh. How much do I love the realism in the way this shook out? A LOT. I love it A LOT." Without giving anything away, it was positive without being sugary or unrealistic.
Just Right for Third-Graders: Velcome by Kevin O'Malley
This book purports to be packed with spoooooky Halloween stories, but in reality are punny groaners that mid-elementary types will get a massive kick out of. Think of it as "Silly Stories to Tell in the Dark."

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Book Review: Across a Star Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

Book: Across a Star Swept Sea
Author: Diana Peterfreund
Published: October 15, 2013
Source: Review copy from publisher via Edelweiss

Everyone on the tiny island of Albion knows silly, fashion-obsessed Persis Blake. The princess’s best friend wouldn’t think of going anywhere without her custom-genetically-engineered sea mink or in an outfit that didn’t match her bright yellow (not blond, yellow) hair. What nobody knows is that she’s the daring Wild Poppy, personally responsible for rescuing aristos from the bloody Revolution in the neighboring country of Galatea. And she likes it that way.

When she gets in a jam, it's one of the Revolution's shining stars, Justen Helo, who comes to her rescue. But can she trust him? Until she has her answer, Persis will have to work overtime to keep her secret, or more than her own life might be forfeit.

Although this book takes place in a radically climate-changed future Earth, I kept wanting to call it “The Scarlet Pimpernel . . . IIIIINNNN SPAAAAACE.” The Scarlet Pimpernel influence is obvious, and the IIIINNNN SPAAAACE part? Well, it’s that kind of sweeping sci-fi adventure. Like her earlier book in this world (For Darkness Shows the Stars, otherwise known as "Persuasion . . . IIIIIINNNN SPAAAAACE") Peterfreund uses a future society and technological advances to evoke and examine a much older time and more rigid class system than what we're used to.

I did spend awhile wanting to smack Justen, who’s so busy being self-righteous and trying to atone for his own sins that he almost misses what’s right in front of his eyes - namely that there’s quite a bit more to Persis than she lets on. But given that she’s working so hard to fool everyone, I can give him a pass on this.

Persis herself - what can I say about her? She’s smart enough to get away with everything from genetically-engineered disguises to making an entire society think she’s a dingbat. She’s tough and loyal and turns on a dime, and yet she’s got great yawning vulnerabilities, chief among them her mother, who is succumbing to an Alzheimers’-like condition brought on by flawed genetic engineering. In some ways, though, she’s having a little too much fun, being a little too clever, which is when she puts herself and her mission in the most danger. While the stakes are deadly serious, it’s still a game, which is one of the appeals of the Scarlet Pimpernel character.

The ending didn’t completely satisfy me. Though I loved them dearly, the inexplicable appearance of Kai and Elliot from the earlier book threw me off. Unless there’s a wrap-up third book coming our way, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense. But the rest of the book was such a rush that I can forgive it.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Reading Roundup: September 2013

By the Numbers
Teen: 13
Tween: 6
Children: 6

Sources
Review Copies: 13
Purchased: 2
Library: 8

Standouts
Teen: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein (link leads to my review)
The companion novel (not sequel!) to Code Name Verity delivers all the same grit and darkness of wartime. I've seen some reviews that say it's darker but I think it's a different quality here.
Tween: The Real Boy by Anne Ursu
This is a standout pick because of Oscar, who is shy and bewildered by anybody who is not a plant or a cat. Ursu's deft, honest narration brings you right into that place with him.
Children: Year of the Jungle by Suzanne Collins
So . . . this is the story Collins chose to tell after finishing The Hunger Games trilogy. It's about being a child touched by war, and slowly coming to understand how much it can take away from you. I predict we'll see it in a lot of military libraries and homes because it's honest and doesn't sugar-coat fear, yet there is a positive ending.

Because I Want To Awards
I, Um, Actually Wanted More Football: Wild Cards by Simone Elkeles
Okay, I Do Not Like football and a football book usually has to promise some real good stuff to get me to read it. That being said, this first in Elkeles' new swoony romantic trilogy didn't have quite enough football to suit me. It was very important to both characters, yet I felt as if we saw very little of it. Hmm. Strange reaction on my part.
Gothic and Sexy and Did You Expect Anything Else?: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
Black took a short story she wrote under the same title from an anthology and spun it out into this captivating, dark novel. Does pretty much what it says the tin.
All of the Firsts, All at Once: Mira in the Present Tense by Sita Brahmachari
As her beloved grandmother is dying, Mira is encountering any number of other firsts in this quietly reflective novel - first period, first crush, first dawning awareness of how desperately unfair, and beautiful, life really is.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Book Review: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

Book: Rose Under Fire
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Published: September 10, 2013
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley


Rose Justice is a girl from Pennsylvania, who grew up next door to the Hershey Chocolate factory and captained the basketball team. But her knowledge of piloting planes, her determination to help with the war effort, and a stupid stunt over France have landed her in a German concentration camp.

There she will discover how low she and her fellow prisoners can sink. Huddled together with three and four other women in a single bunk, deprived of food, water, and clothing, and reduced to a number, she finds everything that has ever made her Rose Justice is stripped away.

She also discovers her own strength, and that of the women she is imprisoned with. From the girls who go to their deaths with their heads held high to her bunkmates who create a little family in the most morbid of conditions, Rose sees the durability of the human spirit.

But human spirits are sheltered in human bodies, and human bodies are frail. In a system which famously slaughtered millions, Rose and her friends have very little chance of making it out alive.


At one point I put down this book and wondered why I was reading it. I’m a wimp, really. Stories of privation and torture and hardship are not my cup of tea, especially when I’m so aware that they actually happened. Then I realized that I was in it for Rose. I wanted to be there to witness what she went through, as if she were a personal friend. You know that she made it out, because the conceit of the story is that she's relating it after being saved. But you become terribly, terribly concerned for her friends in the concentration camp. Who made it out? Who died? They're all so carefully drawn that their fates hit you almost as hard as Rose's.

There’s a macabre Hogan’s Heroes feel to Rose's relation of their endless schemes to keep themselves alive. They manufacture riots to cover up condemned prisoners escaping into hidey-holes. They switch out ID numbers to befuddle the guards. They use dead bodies to make the roll call come out right. It’s almost funny, until you remember why they’re doing it, and then you feel a little weird about giving the book an approving grin as they outsmart the guards one more time.

Like Wein's earlier novel, Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire is about female friendships in wartime, and not the hand-holding, brave-smiling homefront portrayals that we normally get. These are women who are fighting the same war as their brothers and fathers and husbands, and showing just as much courage and spirit.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Book Review: The Rules by Stacy Kade

Book: The Rules
Author: Stacey Kade
Published: 2013
Source: ARC borrowed from a friend

Ariane lives by the rules. 1. Never trust anyone. 2. Remember they are always searching. 3. Don’t get involved. 4. Keep your head down. 5. Don’t fall in love.

They’re all that stands between her and discovery. If anyone learned that she was different in any way, the evil GTX corporation would recapture her and drag her back into the bowels of their research division. Yes, recapture. Because Ariane lived the first six years of her life like a mouse in a maze, showing GTX what she could do. And why was what she could so much more special than any other child?

Because she’s not fully human.

Built of human and alien DNA to be GTX’s pet assassin, she was freed at age six by the man who now calls himself her father, and it’s his rules she lives by. She never thought Rule 5 would be a problem - Don’t fall in love - until she starts to get involved with Zane. Popular Zane. Gorgeous Zane. Sweet, gentle, fascinating Zane. The son of the local sheriff, who wants more than anything to get in good at GTX.

This . . . might be a problem.

Like her prior Ghost and the Goth series, this is written in a dual POV, something that’s happening a lot in YA lately. Often, I don’t really know why. In this book, it pretty much works, because Zane and Ariane have very different viewpoints of GTX, but also of their friends, schoolmates, and obviously, each other. Ariane doesn’t trust Zane (for good reason, because his friend Rachel is as mean as a snake). Zane is fascinated by the formerly mousy Ariane’s buried strength, as well as being very concerned about her home life. Seeing the way that their views gradually change was one of the things that kept pulling me through this novel.

There are some things that don’t hold up. For instance, how is it that this girl lived 10 years in the same town with GTX, with her father working for them, and never once thought, “You know, this isn’t the smartest place for me to be.” There’s a spoileriffic reason for that situation, but her unquestioning acceptance of it is what makes me do the simple-dog head-tilt. Plus, Ariane is very delicate, bruising and breaking bones easily, which is part of the reason Zane becomes convinced she’s being abused. How does that work for an assassin, even if she can kill people with her brain?

Overall, however, I liked this book. I’m told (by Goodreads, and if we can’t depend on that, then who can we depend on?) that this is the first in a series. I feel as if it could have just as well been a standalone, but I’ll try out the next one.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Reading Roundup: August 2013

By the Numbers
Teen: 16
Tween: 3
Children: 5

Sources
Review Copies: 9
Library: 13

Standouts
Teen: Burn for Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian
In lesser hands, this could have been a standard, soapy girl-power revenge plot. But Han and Vivian are good at characters, brimming with flaws. While I sort of cheered on the girls' vengeance, I also saw their victims as real people who were really getting hurt by their actions and may or may not have wholly deserved it. I had to immediately start reading the sequel.
Tween: The Summer Before Boys by Nora Raleigh Baskin
A mother away in Iraq, changing relationships, and the dumb things you do for your first crush perfectly captured the general topsy-turvy of t
hose first shaky steps into the teenage years.
Children: Dumpling Days by Grace Lin
On a family visit to Taiwan, Pacy struggles with being in a place where she feels like an alien but is expected to feel right at home. For every kid who's ever been caught in the middle and had to carve out their own place, this is for you.

Because I Want To Awards
Almost a Standout: Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst
The first half of this book is so confusing, because the character herself is so lost and confused, that I really had to hang in there and trust the author. Luckily, the second half came together.
Most Batshit Story Element: Gated by Amy Christine Parker
This story of a girl breaking free of a murderous, apocalyptic cult held me captivated, except that every time I came across one of their core beliefs--that the earth was going to reverse its rotation--I looked up from the book and went, "What?" Okay, maybe I'm nitpicky, because they also believed that they'd been chosen for survival by benevolent alien overlords, but boy did that bump me out of the story.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Book Review: The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishaswami

Book: The Grand Plan to Fix Everything
Author: Uma Krishaswami
Published:
2011
Source: Local Library

Dini is devastated to learn that her parents are picking her up and moving her to India for two years. What about her best friend, Maddie? What about Bollywood dance camp!?

When she arrives in India, however, things start to look up. Swapnagiri, the tiny mountain town where her doctor mother is stationed, is right out of a storybook in its charm and quaintness. She might make a few new friends. And best of all is the rumor that her favorite, favorite Bollywood star, Dolly Singh, might be in the area!

When I finished reading this book, I squealed, “Awww, this was so cute!” And it was. I don’t know whether it’s Krishnaswami’s regular style or an attempt to copy the Bollywood movies that are so important to the plot, but this felt a little like reading a Bollywood movie. The unlikeliness of the plot (not just a movie star hanging around a tiny mountain town, but several other coincidences), the fanciful language, the quirky supporting characters. There’s even a giant song-and-dance number.

There are plenty of entries in the “sweet and charming” genre for middle grade readers. This one stands out because of its setting, but in all other ways, it fits just right. Keep it on hand.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Book Review: Legend by Marie Lu

Book: Legend
Author: Marie Lu
Published: 2011
Source: Local Library

She is the darling of the Republic, a brilliant, detail-oriented prodigy who achieved a perfect score on the state-mandated Trial and graduated from university at the age of fifteen. When her beloved older brother dies, June Iparis vows to hunt down his murderer and make him pay.

He is the wiliest trickster to ever harass the city of Los Angeles. After flatly failing his Trial, Day found himself on the street. Officially, he's dead; unofficially, his wits are the only thing keeping him from that fate. Five years later, he's made himself into a legend, committing daring acts against the military and the government to get enough money to buy the plague vaccines that will keep his family alive.

They seem fated to be enemies. But when she tracks him down, June and Day discover that they have a bigger common enemy - the Republic itself.

What I would like to know is why I haven't seen this on the big screen yet. It seems to have all the elements: a star-crossed romance, a cruel dystopian future, lots of pulse-pounding action. It was even, famously, optioned months before publication. So? Guys? What are we waiting for?

Okay, enough whinging about that. Why did I like this book, besides the stuff up there? It's because Day and June were so clearly a match for each other, both as enemies and romantically. They're equally smart, equally gutsy, equally compassionate. And they're not just book-smart: both have a tactical awareness and an ability to think flexibly that more than once saves their lives. (That's probably why a twist, introduced late in the book, didn't surprise me one little bit.) These are two people that I'm more than willing to spend a whole trilogy with.

The second book, Prodigy, is already out. I'll be waiting for the third with bated breath.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Book Review: The Sweetest Dark by Shana Abe (with bonus sequel reviewlet)

Book: The Sweetest Dark
Author: Shana Abe
Published: 2013
Source: Review copy from publisher via Netgalley.com

Eleanore “Lora” Jones is less than nothing. An orphan found wandering the streets of London during the first decade of the 20th century, she was raised in an orphanage and--briefly--in a madhouse. She hears songs nobody can hear, she has rebellious thoughts she shouldn't. Now, with the onset of WWI, she’s being farmed out to the country. She’s lucked out and landed a place in an elite boarding school in Wessex. As a charity student, she’s still the lowest of the low, but she’s doing better than she has in a long time.

Then she meets two extraordinary boys. Spoiled Armand is the second son of the duke who is the patron of the school. Jesse is the nephew of the school’s groundskeeper. He’s mute, but he’ll talk to her. And what he tells her changes Lora’s view of the world and herself forever.

I have a confession to make. In my teen years, I didn’t read YA. Instead I read--no, gulped--no, devoured romance novels. That changed over the time, obviously, but I still fondly remember a few authors. One of them is Shana Abe, not for her characters or the particular tightness of her plot, but for her lush and romantic style. That’s why I glommed onto The Sweetest Dark and its sequel, The Deepest Night.

Was it all that I hoped? Yes and no.

The yes: I liked the worldbuilding, even though it felt like there was a lot I wasn't seeing (which is true; these books are in some fashion attached to an adult series that she writes). I also liked Lora's physical and mental power.

Watching Lora come into her own and understand her strange abilities as facets of herself rather than symptoms of madness was my favorite part of this novel. This girl has teeth! When a privileged schoolfellow pulls the old trick of framing her for theft, she not only realizes what’s going on, but neatly upends the situation, saving her own skin and smacking the mean girl down in the process.

The no: I was dissatisfied by the love story, and being that I first got to know Abe's writing in the romance genre, that's a big disappointment. It’s not quite a love triangle, though it leans that way. Armand is intrigued by her and she couldn’t care less about him romantically, so she’s not really torn. However, Jesse the Perfect Destined Beloved bored me, especially since he was amazingly cagey about what he would tell Lora until the very end.

Note: I held off posting this because I wanted to see how I felt about the second book in the series, The Deepest Night, which came out this week. And how did I feel? Errrrm. She does become closer to Armand, which I liked because he was far more interesting to me than Jesse. She comes into her powers more, and there’s a great adventure with them tearing across Europe to rescue Armand’s older brother, who is a German POW.

But there seemed to be more Mysterious for the Sake of Mystery stuff, and that just annoyed me. There also seemed to be a tendency toward Everybody Loves Lora, which just made me roll my eyes. Will I read the last one? I think so, but I’m not slavering for it.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Book Review: The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee by Tom Angelberger

Book: The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee
Author: Tom Angleberger
Published: 2012
Source: Local Library

With Dwight off at a new school and Origami Yoda retired, Tommy, Kellen, and their friends think that life is going to become boring. But that's only until Dwight passes along the Fortune Wookiee, and his trusty interpreter Han Foldo. Now the kids of McQuarrie Middle School have a mystical origami puppet to consult about all the burning problems.

In between how to avoid Grandma's scary meatloaf and how to get the attention of the person you like, Tommy is also trying to figure out what's wrong with Dwight. Because even though they don't see him much anymore, Tommy knows that there's something wrong. Call it an imbalance in the Force, call it millions of voices crying out in terror, call it whatever you like. Dwight's just not . . . Dwight anymore.

Seriously, how can you have an Origami Yoda book without Dwight? Luckily, that's a question we won't need to answer, because Dwight pops up here and there. Only this time, he's the one who needs help. The third book in this enduringly popular series is still fresh, funny, and realistic. And anyone who didn't hear the Imperial March as they read the last page . . . well, they just aren't in tune with the Force.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Book Review: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

Book: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
Author: Jennifer E. Smith
Published: 2012
Source: Local Library

It all starts when Hadley misses her plane. She's going to London to attend her father's wedding to the woman for whom he left her, her mom, and their country. As anyone could guess, she's extremely disinterested in being there, and had scheduled things to spend as little time in the UK as possible. Being put on a later flight means that she'll be lucky to land on the church doorstep in time.

But being put on a later flight also means she gets to sit next to Oliver, a British boy only a year older than herself, who draws ducks on napkins and keeps her talking. She finds herself telling him that she's never told anyone else, as if they'd known each other forever.

But it's only a plane flight, no matter how many time zones they cross. When they land at Heathrow, they'll never see each other again. Right?


The thing that kept drifting across my brain, especially as I got toward the end, was that this was not a romance. It's not the story of Hadley-and-Oliver. It's the story of Hadley, period. (Full stop, if you're reading in the UK.) This is a book about Hadley finally accepting the upheavals of the past couple of years, understanding her parents' imperfections, and still being able to love them. Oliver, for all his swoony quirky cuteness, is a mirror that allows her to see things clearly.

This is not a dig at the book. I really enjoyed it and I thought it worked well as a story about a girl starting to see that flaws and mistakes don't mean that you have to cut someone out of your life.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Reading Roundup: July 2013

Guys, I think I'm going to blame the tardiness of this roundup on Summer Reading Program and the resultant brain-fry. Yeah, that sounds good. Let's go with that.

By the Numbers
Teen: 18
Tween: 8
Children: 5

Sources
Review Copies: 16
Library: 12

Standouts
Teen: Across a Star Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund
The Scarlet Pimpernel . . . IN SPACE. Well, no, not really. But the classic adventure of deliberately mistaken identity gets a sci-fi sheen and that's good enough for me.
Tween: The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami
Got a middle-grade girl (or boy, possibly) who loves sweet and charming and rather unlikely? Give them this one.
Children: Journey into the Deep: discovering new ocean creatures by Rebecca L Johnson
Every page was full of wild and weird aliens from this very planet. Truth really is cooler than fiction.

Because I Want To Awards
I Know the Feeling: This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
This story of a girl trying to find her place in the world while remaining true to herself echoed most of my teenage years. Especially the poetry castle part.
What's This I Hear? Non-White Fantasy Protagonist?: Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox
While rather rambling, this book gets points for the setting (the New Zealandish Southland) and the ethnicity of the protagonist (native islander with an illustrious mother).
Speaking of Adorably Unlikely: Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle
What do you do when you have Broadway dreams in Janksburg, Pennsylvania? Hop a bus to NYC and the open auditions for ET: The Musical! (Yes, really.) I especially liked that he had very tween-appropriate attractions. By which I mean, he was noticing boys and men, but in the way that tweens do, mostly by blushing and looking away.
Protagonist Most in Need of a Hug: Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobson
I spent most of the book going, "Oh, honey!" because Jack was so clearly used to taking care of himself at an age when somebody should have been taking care of him.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Book Review: Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Book: Every Other Day
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Published: 2012
Source: Local Library

Half the time, Kali D'Angelo is a normal, if lonely, teenage girl. She goes to school, she comes home, she avoids talking with her dad. The other half, she's a demon hunter, with supernatural reflexes, superfast healing abilities, and an urge to find all the things that go bump in the night and kill them dead. She doesn't know why or how she makes this switch at sunrise, human one day and supernatural killing machine the next, only that she does.

But on one of her human days, she realizes that popular-girl Bethany Davis has a deadly little parasite. Chupacabras drink all your blood within a few days, and Bethany doesn't have much time left. Kali takes the gamble that she can survive to the next sunrise, and coaxes the parasite to jump over to her instead.

But oh, there's so much more to this than a simple bloodsucking demon. Before she knows it, Kali is fighting bigger and badder things than ever before. Even having allies--Bethany, "little bit psychic" Skylar and her brother Elliot, and a mysterious voice in her head only known as Zev--doesn't mean that Kali will get any of them out alive.

When this first came out, I actually requested it from NetGalley. Unfortunately, it expired before I got to it. (Everyone else who uses NetGalley knows the pain of this.) That's why I was so excited to read this. Now that I have? Aw, man, I wish I had read this a year and a half ago!

I'm probably not the first person to make the Buffy comparison, but I'll do so anyway. Combine supernatural beasties, a tough and snarky demon killer, and Ominous Bad Guys, Inc, well, the name of the Slayer is going to be invoked. Does this book stand up to the comparison? Yes, I think so.

What I loved best was that the most important relationships in this book weren't with boys. They were with other girls. Sweet and chirpy Skylar and bitch-queen Bethany form Kali's Scoobies, and the boys (and most of the potential romance, triangular or not) are firmly on the back burner.

While the end seems to make it clear that this is a standalone, I wouldn't mind reading a sequel.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Book Review: Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl

Book: Keeping the Castle
Author: Patrice Kindl
Published: 2012
Source: Local Library

Althea Crawley is a very beautiful girl. She's also very practical, and knows that her beauty is the only thing that's likely to save her family and her ancestral home from ruination. She has to marry for money.

Unfortunately, all the best catches seem to be slipping through her fingers. So when the wealthy Lord Boring (no, really) comes back to the neighborhood, Althea sets her mind and all her considerable charms to catching him, and she seems to be succeeding. If only his blunt, sarcastic cousin, Mr. Fredericks, didn't insist on hanging around, quarreling with Althea at every turn.

One of my first book reviews on this blog, lo these many years past, was this author's Owl in Love. The thing I remember most was how the humor and the warmth came organically from the characters, and it's the same in Keeping the Castle.

Althea could very easily have been a really difficult character to like, mercenary and manipulative. After all, it's her stated intention, right from the start, to marry the biggest fortune she can find. That's balanced out by a clear portrayal of how desperate her situation is. Living in a castle that needs a new repair every time she turns around, remaking ballgowns every time there's a party, and pinching pennies until they scream, Althea is very aware that her family is just hanging on by their fingernails. (And the obnoxious stepsisters, who refuse to share even a penny of their own money with the household, don't make life any easier.) Her quest therefore becomes entirely reasonable and practical.

My favorite character, for obvious reasons, is Mr. Fredericks, who really is astonishingly bad at social intercourse, but proves a wonderful foil for our main character. The world of a small country neighborhood is built on polite fictions, and it's those polite fictions that Althea is navigating and manipulating in order to get what she wants. Mr. Fredericks has no capacity or patience for polite fictions, but he proves a better neighbor and friend than the people who have known Althea all her life.

My only quibble with this book is precisely who the audience is. Though content-wise, I wouldn't mind giving it to a middle-grade reader, I wonder how interested they're going to be in the marriage machinations of a time long ago. The best audience, I'm guessing, will be those kids who already enjoy a light romance.

But for this reader? Touches of Cinderella, Jane Austen, and Georgette Heyer made this book all I hoped it would be.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Book Review: The Unseen Guest by Maryrose Wood

Book: The Unseen Guest
Author: Maryrose Wood
Published: 2012
Source: Local Library

Fresh from a madcap adventure in London, the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place are about to expand their ornithological horizons. That is, they're about to go on a hunt for an ostrich. Unfortunately, the ostrich's owner thinks that three wolfish children would be a dandy addition to his traveling wildlife show.

Who will save them from this fate? None other than plucky governess Penelope Lumley, with the help of all the unlikely allies she can muster. It might take a wolf mother, a seance, and a really awfully nice young man that makes her heart go pitter-pat, but she's going to ensure that the children stay right at Ashton Place where they belong.

While stuffed with all the madcapacity (I hereby declare that a word) and tongue-in-cheek asides of the first two, this book felt slower-moving. It could be that I was fairly tired while reading, but still I wish that it had been trimmed down some.

The larger mysteries of the childrens' origins, and the origins of Penelope herself, seem to be moving at a glacial speed. I don't know how long Wood has planned this series for, but we got very few clues in this book as to what, exactly, is going on around here.

I'll keep reading this series, because I do love Penelope as a character. She is staunch in the face of every danger, from feral children hanging out windows to possibly-dead-possibly-not gentleman who clearly don't mean any good. I also really want to figure out just what is going on around Ashton Place, and how everybody is involved.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Book Review: Ink by Amanda Sun

Book: Ink
Author: Amanda Sun
Published: June 25, 2013
Source: review copy from publisher via Netgalley.com

Katie Greene is a stranger in a strange land. Transplanted to Japan to live with her aunt after her mother's death, she feels out of step and confused about everything from following along in math class (in Japanese!) to remembering to change out of school slippers and into street shoes. Lonely and grieving, she just wants to return to North America.

Then she meets mysterious Tomohiro Yuu, who acts like a jerk sometimes and other times like a sweet and sensitive artist. What's more, his drawings are so realistic she could swear they sometimes move. But that's impossible, isn't it?

She soon discovers that Yuu is a kami, a magical spirit who can bring his own drawings to life. But this is about more than flowers and birds. People, including Yuu, have suffered the effects of his drawings before, and the criminal underworld wants to use him as a weapon against his will. She keeps getting warnings to stay away from him, but she can't stop herself from seeking him out.

I really love a book with a strong sense of place. This novel has that in spades. Katie provides us with a window into modern Japan, replete with schools, sports, and teen hangouts, as well as some of the mythology that underlies a culture so different from our own. It does require the non-Japanophile to pay pretty close attention. Luckily, there's a glossary/dictionary in the back to explain Japanese terms and traditions. I found myself getting especially confused over all the different names, but manga-loving teens will probably be just fine with that.

Katie is unfortunately more a witness than a protagonist. She spends most of the time looking on, trying to get and stay in Yuu's orbit, and it's only close to the end that we even realize she has anything to do with the ink magic. I'll pick up the second book in order to return to Katie's Japan, and to see how she becomes a more active player in her own story.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Reading Roundup: June 2013

By the Numbers
Teen: 17
Tween: 6
Children: 2

Sources
Review Copies: 5
Library: 18

Standouts
Teen: The Space Between by Brenna Yovanoff
The daughter of a demon and a fallen angel falls in love with a suicidal human boy. Oh yes, it really is that tortured and glorious. I don't think I would have turned off my oh-please meter for anyone but Brenna Yovanoff, but that woman's Facebook statuses probably ooze atmosphere.
Tween: Zombie Mommy by M.T. Anderson
When you're in a bad mood, there's nothing for it but some madcap lunacy, and this fits the bill. Click the title to see the actual review I wrote.
Children: The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver
A good old-fashioned kiddie adventure, in the vein of Gregor the Overlander and E. Nesbit. Not what I was expecting from this author.

Because I Want To Awards
Still Good Stuff: The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee by Tom Angleberger
How can you hate on this series? Answer: You cannot. It's impossible for human types.
Need Some Buffy Methadone?: Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
What else can you call a book about a tough, snarky demon hunter and her human friends? Luckily, it stands up to the comparison.
Where is the Third Book?: Messy by Heather Cocks and Jessica
While it's dressed up in the Fug Girl's tradesnark, this is at heart a sweet and unlikely teen romance, and I lapped it up. Can we please have a third book, because I want to see where Brooke is going, like now.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Late Roundup this month

I'm just back from ALA and in no shape to do a roundup tonight. It'll be up tomorrow!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Book Review: Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury

Book: Wrapped
Author: Jennifer Bradbury
Published: 2011
Source: Local Library

At seventeen years old, Agnes Wilkins is about to make her debut into Regency London's high society. Most girls would be thrilled. But Agnes prefers reading to parties, languages to flirting, and adventure to social success. It seems she's doomed to get the latter and not the former in all cases.

When her suitor, Lord Showalter (such a catch, her mother insists) throws a mummy-unveiling party, Agnes is looking forward to the chance to brush up against new and exotic worlds, even if she does have to wear a party dress. Then she finds a tiny jackal head in the mummy's wrappings, and suddenly Agnes, who longed for adventure, is catapulted into the middle of one. Egyptian artifacts, international espionage, and the safety of the British Isles are all at stake.

Agnes, of course, is having the time of her life.

When I first heard of this book, the promise of a mix of Regency London and an adventure story straight out of Indiana Jones caught my attention. I'm happy to report that I wasn't disappointed. Although I did get a little impatient with her blindness regarding the identity of the villainous French spy (seriously, how could you not know it was that dude?) I seriously enjoyed this, especially her relationship with British Museum drudge Caedmon. Is it a particularly realistic portrayal of the social mores of Regency London or espionage during the Napoleonic Wars? Nah, but gosh it's fun.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Book Review: Zombie Mommy by M.T. Anderson

Book: Zombie Mommy
Author: M.T. Anderson
Published: 2011
Source: Local Library

What ho, chums! Lily Gefelty and her pals are back - in peril, that is. It seems Lily's mom came back from her vacation very different than how she left. It could have something to do with her going to Todberg, a town infested with the undead. Because where else are you going to go on vacation?

There's clearly nothing for it. Lily, Katie, Jasper, and Drgnan must journey to Todberg themselves to investigate. But this time around, they're saddled with Madigan Westlake-Duvet, Katie's snobby cousin from New York City. Still, they're not going to let her intimidating wardrobe and overwhelming nastiness stop them, because nobody's going to save Lily's mom if they don't.

There are some book series that I give up on because it's the same thing over and over again. There are some that I joyfully return to because it's the same thing over and over again. This is one of the latter. I can pretty much count on a Pals in Peril! book to be a kooky romp, with plentiful potshots taken at the tropes and cliches of kids' books past and present.

One of the clearest potshot targets in this one is the Gossip-Girl genre, in the form of Madigan. The jokes come fast and furious - she has an iSquawk, drops brand names like rain, and goes to Snott Academy. That last leads to a joke about snotballs that made me imagine Anderson giggling over his keyboard for days on end as he slowly set it up.

Smart and silly in equal measure, this was just what I needed for a fast and funny read.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Book Review: Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

Book: Enchanted
Author: Alethea Kontis
Published: 2012
Source: Local Library

The seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, Sunday is overshadowed by her more extraordinary siblings. But when she meets a talking frog in the forest, he's the first creature who's ever paid attention to just her. Even though he's an amphibian, she tumbles into love.

Then her frog disappears, she learns that she has an extraordinary magical destiny, and the long-missing Prince Rumbold comes back to the kingdom, prompting a three-night/three-ball celebration. But there's more drama afoot. Three royal balls mean more than just three nights of pretty dresses and sparkling jewels. Sunday's lovely and ethereal sister Wednesday will become engaged to the king, a strangely long-living king whose former wives have all died. Sunday will meet the prince and find that she's slipping into love with him, too.

But what about her frog?

While I enjoyed this book and read it straight through, there were so many characters and so many plotlines that I had a hard time keeping hold of them all. I also had a really hard time figuring out where the story was going and who was supposed to be the antagonist until about halfway through. I also had a hard time believing that they could have fallen in love in a couple of talks in the forest. (That being said, I felt more sure of it during the balls, when they connected more strongly.)

I liked Sunday and Rumbold very much. It was also fun to pick out the fairy-tale touches and I think I'll read the sequel, Hero, since this book hints that it's about Sunday's long-lost oldest brother, Jack. I just hope it's a more focused story than this one.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

48-HBC Finish Line!

Hours read (including audiobook): 19:36
Hours blogging: 3:17
Hours networking: 0:54
Total: 23:47

Woohoo! For a 48-hour period in which I had to work eight of those hours, just under 24 hours of reading is not shabby at all. The audiobook certainly helped. I found that I really battled the sleepies on Friday and Saturday nights, but today was much better.

I didn't have any marathon-length books this year, but I also only had a couple that were fast reads. Most sat pretty comfortably in the 250-400 pages range. This helped out because I got a regular rhythm going, particularly today when I could wake up and just hit the books.


I didn't network as much this year. I think a big part of that was because I was out of loop for most of one day. I did miss that, and I hope to do better next year.

With nine books finished, that's at least ninety dollars going to charity. I'll wait a couple of days to count up comments on the blog and see how much the final total is.

 So now I have nine (count 'em!) reviews to schedule throughout my summer, and a reminder that yes, this review-writing stuff is really not that hard when you buckle down to it. A valuable thing to remember, always.

Another great year! Thanks to Ms Yingling for hosting, and everyone who joined in the adventure!

48-HBC Audiobook: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Time: 5:15
Source: Local Library

As I said in my starting line post, I've really been wanting to re-read this book ever since I finished the second in the series. The first time around was back before publication, and I was tearing through it, trying to get a handle on the political machinations and wanting to get to the good stuff between Duval and Ismae. This time around, because I was listening instead of reading, I got to slow down and I saw just how well-drawn the characters were, and how the good stuff was there between Duval and Ismae from the start.

I found it fascinating to see Ismae again. At the very, very beginning, raised with a brutish father and married off to a pig farmer at the age of fourteen, she has nothing and nobody. So her fierce loyalty to the convent and her pride in her own deadly skills are understandable. After all, before she acquired them, what was she?

Speaking of that, her attitude toward death is downright unsettling. I've been using the "assassin nun" as a booktalk hook basically since I read this the first time. But now as I listen, I realize that Beginning-of-the-Book Ismae views murder solely as an exercise of power. She is very casual, almost flippant, in considering murder because someone is being inconvenient. Her first kills are greeted with glee and a sense of accomplishment. Look! I won! Knowing how her views change at the end of the book makes this a more impressive starting place for her.

I've also been considering why I was so thrilled at the love story in this book. Besides my general bias toward romance, I think the answer lies in how Duval sees Ismae as compared to how others do. As a child, Ismae was an annoyance, an unwanted mouth to feed. In the convent, she is being honed as a weapon, like a beautiful knife. Neither setting permits her to be a full person. While in the beginning, he often gets exasperated with her impulsiveness and her black-and-white outlook, I never got the feeling that Duval viewed Ismae as anything less than a person, with strengths and vulnerabilities. Yes, she is an extraordinary killer, but she's also a loyal Breton and an intelligent woman, and the fact that Duval sees all these things in her is what made this romance really swoonworthy for me. You can have your star-destined love and your sparkly vampires, girls, I'll take this one.

48-HBC Book 9: The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee by Tom Angleberger

Time: 46:18
Source: Local Library

I picked this one out because I knew it would be under an hour, leaving me ample blogging time. Also because I knew I would enjoy it mightily.

Capsule Review: "Seriously, how can you have an Origami Yoda book without Dwight? Luckily, that's a question we won't need to answer, because Dwight pops up here and there. Only this time, he's the one who needs help. The third book in this enduringly popular series is still fresh, funny, and realistic."

Well, that's the last book I have! With only about 40 minutes to go, I'm going to rest my eyes by listening to the audiobook for the rest of my time.

48-HBC Book 8: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

Time: 1:04:42
Source: Local Library

This one went unexpectedly fast. I am now debating whether to start the shortest book I have or just listen to my audiobook for the next two hours. Hmmmmm.

Capsule review: "The thing that kept drifting across my brain, especially as I got toward the end, was that this was not a romance. It's not the story of Hadley-and-Oliver. It's the story of Hadley, period. (Full stop, if you're reading in the UK.) This is a book about Hadley finally accepting the upheavals of the past couple of years, understanding her parents' imperfections, and still being able to love them. Oliver, for all his swoony quirky cuteness, is a mirror that allows her to see things clearly."

48-HBC Book 7: Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Time: 2:14:34
Source: Local Library

Nom, nom, nom! I started reading this book and eating lunch at the same time. Considering the first scene is a hellhound slaying, that says something about the strength of my stomach. How was the rest of it?

Capsule review: "I'm probably not the first person to make the Buffy comparison, but I'll do so anyway. Combine supernatural beasties, a tough and snarky demon killer, and Ominous Bad Guys, Inc, well, the name of the Slayer is going to be invoked. Does this book stand up to the comparison? Yes, I think so."

I have about four hours left of my allotted 48, and I think I can fit in two more books if I push, and one more if I take it easy. Although I'm doing better right now than I have in past years, I'm going to take it easy.

48-HBC Book 6: Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl

Time: 1:29:58
Source: Local Library

My first full book of the day! I've been looking forward to this one. Kindl is one of those authors who simply doesn't write fast enough.

Capsule review: "My only quibble with this book is precisely who the audience is. Though content-wise, I wouldn't mind giving it to a middle-grade reader, I wonder how interested they're going to be in the marriage machinations of a time long ago. The best audience, I'm guessing, will be those kids who already enjoy a light romance.

But for this reader? Touches of Cinderella, Jane Austen, and Georgette Heyer made this book all I hoped it would be."

Some lunch and then back to the TBR shelf!

48-HBC Book 5: The Unseen Guest by Maryrose Wood

Time: 1:51:00
Source: Local Library

I think yesterday hit me harder than expected. That's what I get for working during the 48-HBC. Ah well. Last night's (and this morning's!) book was the next Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place. And what did I think?

Capsule Review: "While stuffed with all the madcapacity (I hereby declare that a word) and tongue-in-cheek asides of the first two, this book felt slower-moving. It could be that I was fairly tired while reading, but still I wish that it had been trimmed down some."

Off to peruse the TBR shelf!

Saturday, June 08, 2013

48-HBC Book 4: Legend by Marie Lu

Time: 1:58:14
Source: Local Library

I seem to crash in the early evening, especially if I've worked that day. I'm letting it happen. I would rather read fewer books with all my attention and energy than read more with only a few working brain cells. Besides, I seem to get a second wind late at night and I'm good for at least one more book. Anyhoo, Legend!

Capsule review: "What I would like to know is why I haven't seen this on the big screen yet. It seems to have all the elements: a star-crossed romance, a cruel dystopian future, lots of pulse-pounding action. It was even, famously, optioned months before publication. So? Guys? What are we waiting for?"

Next up? Networking, a little of the audiobook (Ismae has just met Duval! I forgot how charged that first interaction was), and then I'll see what my TBR shelf holds.

48-HBC Book 3: Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury

Time: 1:50:23
Source: Local Library

This was my work-day book. I read a little last night, a little this morning before going in, and a little during lunch, finally finishing it up after I got home. 

Capsule review: "When I first heard of this book, the promise of a mix of Regency London and an adventure story straight out of Indiana Jones caught my attention. I'm happy to report that I wasn't disappointed. . . . I seriously enjoyed this, especially her relationship with British Museum drudge Caedmon."

Next, some networking, a knitting break and some audiobook, then I think I want to tackle something meaty. I've been going for fun and lightweight and I'm ready to change that up.

Friday, June 07, 2013

48-HBC Book 2: Zombie Mommy by M.T. Anderson

Time: 45:58
Source: Local Library

I don't know whether it was my late-night second wind or my choice of books, but I blew through this one, cackling to myself all the way. The Pals in Peril series is one of my consistent favorites.

Capsule review: "There are some book series that I give up on because it's the same thing over and over again. There are some that I joyfully return to because it's the same thing over and over again. This is one of the latter. I can pretty much count on a Pals in Peril! book to be a kooky romp, with plentiful potshots taken at the tropes and cliches of kids' books past and present."

I picked out a longer one to read next, to ensure that I don't finish it tonight before I fall asleep or tomorrow during my lunch hour. Good night all!

48-HBC Book 1: Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

Time: 2:11:50
Source: Local Library

As always, I worried that I wouldn't be able to focus on my books during the 48-HBC. Something about the onset of Summer Reading just blows my concentration to pieces. And once again, when I make the effort to focus, I can power through my books and find that I enjoy them and think about them deeply enough to write a reasonable review. Probably it helps that my phone was across the room.

So how was this pick, as my first?

Capsule review: "While I enjoyed this book and read it straight through, there were so many characters and so many plotlines that I had a hard time keeping hold of them all. I also had a really hard time figuring out where the story was going and who was supposed to be the antagonist until about halfway through."

Ah well. I think I did pretty well, even if I did crash a little bit after a long day at work and another one tomorrow. I plan to listen to some of my audiobook and start a fairly lightweight and zippy book for my next one.

48-HBC: Starting Line!

Huzzah, it is time again for the 48-Hour Book Challenge! The pizza is in the fridge, the phone is set to vibrate, and the friends are notified that I am AWOL. My official starting time is 7 pm MST, Friday night, which means I have until 7 pm MST, Sunday night to read and blog and tweet as much as I can.

That not-very-good photo you see there is my TBR shelf. As you can tell, it's gotten pretty stuffed of late. The books that have little Post-It flags are there standing in for books I have in electronic format to read on my Nook, because I'm like that. I've been making a point lately of requesting those books from the library that I'm really looking forward to, so I have some energy for this marathon. I also have a few ARCs from NetGalley and other sources.


Last year's capsule reviews worked out so well for me that I plan to do the same thing this year. I'll write a full-length review on each book, because I love how this reminds my blogging muscles how to work. However, I'll save and schedule those posts for later in the summer. During the 48-HBC itself, I'll just post a few lines from the review, plus an update on how I'm doing.

This year, I intend to donate $10 per book finished to my local literacy charity, Make Way for Books. Each comment posted to my blog will add another dollar onto that amount, so don't be shy! You can also cheer me on via Twitter @mosylu. Everything will be hashtagged #48HBC, so check out how other readers are doing.

I have to work tomorrow but I will be reading as hard as I can tonight, and tomorrow when I can. And of course, all day Sunday. I will also be taking full advantage of the audiobook option during my driving and those times when my eyes really need a rest. My first book will be Enchanted by Alethea Kontis and my audiobook will be Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, which I terribly want to re-read since finishing the sequel.

If you want to join in the fun, or just find other blogs that are doing the same thing, hop on over to Ms. Yingling Reads.

Here I go!

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

48-HBC, now with a new Hostess!

Yes, my dears, the 48-Hour Book Challenge is coming! It commences this Friday, June 7, and concludes Sunday night, June 9. How does it work? Select 48 consecutive hours in that period and spend the whole time reading, blogging about what you read, and connecting with other bloggers doing the very same thing.

Meals? That's what Domino's is for. Showers? Eh, you can hold the book out of the spray. Walking the dog? Isn't that why you had kids? Sleep? Well, I guess we all have weaknesses.

I'm looking forward to it. I've been in a slumpy sort of place for about a month with my reading. A lot of books I really felt "meh" about. I prepared for this weekend by requesting and checking out books that I'm really looking forward to, and I'm fairly sure I will like. I've done this for a number of years, and it has always served to relax and energize me, stock up my blog with plenty of reviews during the crazed months of Summer Reading at work, reinforce my ties with the blogging community, and of course, trim down my TBR shelf.

This year, the inestimable Ms. Yingling is hosting it. If you want to participate, please stop in at her blog on Friday morning to sign up!

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Reading Roundup: May 2013

By the Numbers
Teen: 15
Tween: 4
Children: 3

Sources
Review Copies: 10
Library: 11

Standouts
Teen: Dare You To by Katie McGarry
Skater-girl Beth and jock-boy Ryan have nothing in common, so why is they're the only ones who can get through to each other? This novel of two flawed and struggling teens falling in love just made me happy.
Tween: Below by Meg McKinley
Born the day her town drowned under a man-made lake, twelve-year-old Cassie finds herself drawn to that lake and the secrets it holds. With thoughtful and perceptive kid characters and absolutely no hint of romance at any time, this book was just beautifully put together.
Children: Toys Come Home by Emily Jenkins
I just love these short, sweet, quick reads. For being soft toys, the characters are fully fleshed out. This one takes you back to the origins of their sojourn in the Girl's room, including a surprisingly dark episode involving a walrus.

Because I Want To Awards
Red Pen, Please: Maid of Honor by Jennifer McGowan
This novel about covert girl bodyguards/dogsbodies to Queen Elizabeth I felt overstuffed. It seemed like there were about five or six plotlines and maybe twice that many major characters in this book, and not all of them were fleshed out to my satisfaction. I enjoyed it, when I knew what was going on, but I hope that the rest of the series is more focused.
Who Knew?: Wheels of Change by Sue Macy
I never thought about how technology, specifically bicycles, affected the women's movement, but this book opened my eyes. Also pretty fascinating to see the negative reaction to the increasing freedom that bikes afforded.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Book Review: The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Book: The Summer Prince
Author: Alaya Dawn Johnson
Published: 2013
Source: ARC borrowed from a friend

In the future Brazilian city of Palmares Tres, they have a tradition. Every five years, they elect a king, who lives and revels for a year before he is sacrificed on the altar, and in his sacrifice, he selects the queen who will rule the city. This has been the tradition for hundreds of years, and nobody questions it anymore.

June isn't concerned with politics, even though her stepmother is an Auntie, a powerful political figure. She isn't concerned with anything except her best friend, Gil, and making art. She may be a waka, disdained and overlooked because she's under thirty, but she knows that her work can force people to sit up and take notice.

But when Gil falls in love with Enki, the new Summer King, June finds herself dragged along. Because Enki wants people to sit up and take notice, particularly of the injustices in their city, and June's art is fast becoming his favorite way to do it.

The copy I got had no summary or teaser on the back, so all I had to go on was the cover. When I picked this up, I vaguely thought I was in for another cookie-cutter dystopia, or possibly a faerie-world romance, and I prepared to put it down in 50 pages. (Cynical much?) By the time fifty pages rolled around, you couldn't've pried it out of my hands with dynamite.

Yes, some of the same elements are here. Palmares Tres definitely counts as a dystopia. There is a star-crossed romance, albeit one which includes a number of gutsy choices. There's sparkly tech and glittery parties. But make no mistake, this book is unique.

I'll start with the sexaulity. Not just the characters who have sex, but the  sexual orientation. Bisexuality seems to be the norm - June's mother remarried a woman after her father died, June divested herself of her virginity with her friend Gil and flirts with other female characters, and Enki, well, Enki sleeps with everybody. And it ain't no thang. I loved this. I loved it a lot, especially since Enki falls in love with both Gil and June and both are treated as valid and equally powerful at the same time. That's refreshing in the "one boy for-evah!!" culture that we seem have to going in YA right now.

Then there's the setting. How often do you see a South American setting in YA sci-fi? Or for that matter, any setting that's not basically Western European? I'll tell you: hardly ever. And while the book mentions that climate change has made the Tropic of Cancer just about the only livable portion of the planet, Palmares Tres is not a Western European city transplanted into the jungle. It has deep and flourishing roots in Brazilian culture. I got the sense of enormous richness in this setting, as if I could go digging around for several more books and still find new and interesting things.

Most of the elements I'm gushing about here fall into the "Wow! That's new and fresh and very cool!" category. But I want to emphasize that these are all backed up with crackerjack writing. The book is not a romance, even though it seems to be and will probably be sold as such. It's about politics and corruption and ageism and oppression and art and love (yes, even though it's not a romance). It's about a young woman beginning to understand that if she wants to affect the world, it's going to affect her right back.

According to the author's website, this is a standalone, so I am pouting to myself and hoping to see more YA from Johnson in the near future.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Book Review: Under Shifting Glass by Nicky Singer

Book: Under Shifting Glass
Author: Nicky Singer
Published: 2013
Source: review copy from publisher via Edelweiss

When her beloved great-aunt dies, Jess feels as if she’s gone into a tailspin. With her mother and stepfather totally focused on her twin baby brothers, and her best friend gradually pulling away in favor of boys and popularity, there’s nobody left who really gets her. She feels lost, overlooked, and helpless to change any of the big things happening in her life. Then, in a desk she inherited from her great-aunt, she discovers a bottle with a strange mist inside. What is it? Where did Aunt Edie get it? And mostly importantly, what connection does it have with her baby brothers, born conjoined and fighting for their lives in the hospital?

I’ll be upfront and say that I fell in love with this book, mainly due to the no-answers exploration of spiritual questions. However, it wasn’t perfect. The ending was a little too pat, everything slotting neatly into place when the point of the book prior to that was that there are a lot of mysteries out there and very few of them can be solved so easily and neatly.

But there were a lot of things going for this book anyway, even with the ending. Jess rings very true as a lonely girl whose life is changing at top speed, and every character has a little something more to them than you’d expect. I especially liked the resolution of her relationship with her best friend. As I said before, Jess also delves into spiritual and religious questions, visiting a Buddhist temple and thinking deeply about her own Christian theology for the first time. This book won’t be for everyone, but for a kid who wants to start tackling some of the mysteries of the universe, give it a try.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Book Review: The Garden of My Imaan, by Farhana Zia

Book: The Garden of My Imaan
Author: Farhana Zia
Published: 2013
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

In many ways, Aliya is the girl next door. She has friends and enemies, she worries about popularity and bullying and grades. Though her family is Muslim, they aren’t strict about it. Though she tries to eat halal, she doesn’t have to wear the hijab.

Then Marwa comes to her school. Marwa is far more open about her Muslim-ness than Aliya, wearing the hijab and responding calmly in the face of racist bullying. Aliya starts to resent being “the other Muslim girl.” At the same time, she finds herself longing to explore the faith that she’s always taken for granted, talking to Allah in daily letters and trying to fast for Ramadan. But how can she possibly measure up to Marwa when she keeps failing so massively?

This is not a hugely dramatic book. Simple, everyday things happen - student council elections, class projects, social questions (do I go to Carly’s party or accept Marwa’s invitation to dinner?). Nobody’s house gets vandalized, no mosques get bombed. There is prejudice, but it touches Aliya’s life without shattering it. This is Islam in daily life, and an American Muslim girl starting to understand what that means.

I’d also like to mention that this book shows some of the variety to be found in American Muslims. While some characters are Arab-American or recent immigrants, Aliya and her family are Indian-American, and have been for generations. Some families are strict, some are not. Her great-grandmother Badi Amma, who might have been expected to be the “strict one” when it comes to matters of faith, is permissive and understanding, telling her that “Allah rewards good intentions.”

I’m always on the lookout for books that show different faiths in the lives of contemporary kids without being didactic, and this one fits the bill just right.