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
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

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

Review Copies: 16
Library: 12

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.