Friday, January 31, 2014

Review: Boxers & Saints

Boxers & Saints
By Gene Luen Yang
Published 2013 by First Second

In Boxers, Little Bao is determined to defend his countrymen from the evil missionaries roaming the land. He calls upon the ancient Chinese gods to help him raise an army of Boxers. In Saints, Vibiana finds herself and her calling in Christianity, never imagining that her fellow Chinese will brand her an enemy for this. The stories of Little Bao and Vibiana will collide.

When discussions for this year's Pyrite were just getting started at Someday My Printz Will Come, this book featured prominently (and did throughout the course of discussions). However, many questions of eligibility were raised. Most significantly, the questions boiled down to: is this one book or two?

Personally, I think it's difficult to consider the books separately, as they are clearly meant to be read in conjunction with one another. Back then, I wondered if there was a person who had read Saints before Boxers, as that seemed the natural order to read them in, or if either could be considered on its own. I don't recall if I ever got answers to these questions (surely I did, because I definitely do not know everything), but, for me, these books are two pieces of the same whole.

The same brilliant whole, I should say, as these may have been my favorite books I read last year. I read them as listed, Little Bao's story first, followed by Vibiana's. Over at Someday, I also wondered if the ending of Saints would have the same impact if one hadn't read Boxers first. In my mind, I have doubts - I think Vibiana's story is made stronger by its crossing with Little Bao's and the ending of her story is even more effective having read both volumes completely. I also wondered if the epilogue type bit at the end of Saints would matter to someone who hadn't read Boxers - this I sincerely doubt, but, as I'm not a time lord, I can't travel back and find out for myself.

All that being said, I adored these books. Though I love historical fiction, I was definitely not a history fan for the majority of my life. That being said, I knew almost nothing about the Boxer Rebellion prior to reading these books. Yes, I am fully aware that these are works of fiction, but I think they are rooted very clearly in history and certainly made me aware of my ignorance on the topic.

I think I'd be hard-pressed to find a flaw with these books, unless you consider what I perceive to be their reliance on each other for completeness to be a flaw (which I don't). I loved the characters of Little Bao and Vibiana - they felt achingly real. Their stories broke pieces of my heart. The art is absolutely phenomenal. I loved the incorporation of both the Chinese gods and Joan of Arc. I think these books are just masterful examples of storytelling. So wonderful and highly recommended.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Review: Salt

Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War
By Helen Frost
Published 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Anikwa and James have always been friendly. Their families live near each other in the Indiana Territory. Though Anikwa is a member of the Miami tribe and James is the son of an American trader, the boys have lived peacefully, discovering nature together. That will all change as the War of 1812 comes to their land. Will their friendship survive?

So, Helen Frost is a pretty big deal in the world of novels in verse - many of her books are award winners. Despite this and despite my love of verse novels, I'd never read one of her books before. So, when I binged on novels in verse this fall, her latest seemed like a natural choice.

Maybe I am too much the perfect reader for this book - a lover of novels in verse AND historical fiction - but I really enjoyed it. I loved that Frost was able to make the voices of James and Anikwa very distinct, utilizing different poetic styles for each very effectively. I enjoyed reading about the boys and their families, though at times it was frustrating to see the misunderstandings they put each other through. Though I'm not sure how realistic the ending is, I thought it worked well for this story and provides a good takeaway for readers of this novel.

One thing I'm unsure about: I don't know if I believed the boys as 12-year-olds. Weren't children mostly viewed as miniature adults historically? If so, I felt like these boys seemed a bit too naïve. Additionally, I felt like they would have been more keenly aware of what was going on in the war around them than they are presented here. But perhaps I am wrong about this; it just seemed a bit off for me.

The back matter is very helpful here - an author's note and a glossary. I very much appreciated reading these. This is a great book for readers looking for a friendship story, or those looking for great historical fiction.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Review: The Weight of Water

The Weight of Water
By Sarah Crossan
Published 2013 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Kasienka and her mother have just moved to England from Poland and everything is different. Her mother is unbearably sad, searching for her father. At school, Kasienka doesn't fit in. But when she swims, Kasienka feels just a little bit better about her life.

This was another of the novels in verse I binged upon this past fall. I really, really liked the simplicity of the poetry in this one - it felt true and powerful. I think this simplicity helps lay bare the facts of this story and pulls no punches. While this is most definitely a middle-grade book, it deals with some not-childish issues and it does so honestly and expertly. This book, perhaps even more than most realistic fiction stories, felt exactly that - realistic. I feel like this is an honest portrayal of what it's like to be this child - a child with one parent and that parent not being one who speaks English very well. The new girl in a strange place, alienated from her peers. Just everything about Kasienka and her story felt achingly real.

I enjoyed the secondary characters as well, including Kasienka's heartbroken and stubborn mother and William, the friend she makes (among others).

Overall, I think this was a more powerful and affecting book than I was expecting. Definitely recommended.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Picture Book Saturday

The Spooky Box
By Mark Gonyea
Published 2013 by Henry Holt and Co.
Kind of a silly little book, but I enjoyed the creativity of it. I can see using this in a spooky storytime for younger kids, and it's great for interactive, dialogic reading. I really like the look of this one, simple and bold, which I think works really well for the simplicity of the book itself. A fun one.

About a Bear
By Holly Surplice
Published 2012 by Tiger Tales
This is a great bear book for the younger crowd, featuring very simple sentences paired with lovely and expressive illustrations. Mainly, we follow the bear as he explores his world and discovers emotions. Great for helping little ones see the range of emotions and the bright colors make it visually appealing for a young age group.

By Gordon McMillan
Published 2012 by Sleeping Bear Press
Another simple story for young readers, this one about a small terrier who loves his red ball and must search for it when it goes missing. He might find more than he anticipates along the way. Interesting art style - I wonder how this style appeals to children. While I often find myself drawn to retro-style illustrations, I wonder if kids find them appealing as well. A basic story that feels just a little overdone.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Double review: Eva of the Farm & After the River the Sun

Eva of the Farm
By Dia Calhoun
Published 2012 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Eva loves her farm but she is worried. They've had a couple of hard seasons and it seems like the bank is going to take the farm away from her family. And then her baby brother gets sick - very sick. Eva will try anything to save her family's farm.

After the River the Sun
By Dia Calhoun
Published 2013 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

After a devastating accident, Eckhart is sent to live with his distant uncle on his orchard. Eckhart does not love the outdoors and he has no interest in helping his uncle, particularly when his uncle doesn't seem to like him very much. But, one day, Eckhart meets a creative and daring girl and he begins to see the quest before him.

I have professed my love for novels in verse on this blog before and, occasionally, I will binge on them, unable to resist their siren song any longer. Such was the case this past fall - a number of novels in verse had been released over the summer and I could no longer deny myself the joy of reading them. So, I snatched these two up and read them straight through.

Billed as companion novels, they can indeed be read individually, though one might have a very different reading of Eva if they had read After the River first. I thoroughly enjoyed both books, but After the River is the more memorable for me. I liked the surliness of Eckhart - it is easy to understand where it comes from, but I think it makes his journey through the book more memorable. Strangely, I liked reading about Eva from a distance more than I liked reading her own voice. As I said, I enjoyed them both, but I found Eva more of an interesting secondary character than narrator. I felt the theme of After the River was, at times, laid on a bit too think, but perhaps that is part of what made it the more memorable book.

I'm not sure if there is a huge audience of middle-grade readers who, like me, adore the verse novel; I certainly hope so. I think these definitely have appeal to readers looking for contemplative reads with a good sense of place.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Review: White Space

White Space (Dark Passages, book one)
By Ilsa J. Bick
Expected publication February 11, 2014 by Egmont USA

Emma has these weird moments where she "blinks" - she watches scenes of someone else's life while still living hers on autopilot. They seem to be happening more frequently. And when Emma finds herself in a truly bizarre situation, she hopes she's uncovered the truth behind her blinks. But does she really want to know?

I'm sorry. That summary is awful. Mainly because almost two weeks after finishing this book, I'm still going, "what the what did I just read?" Unfortunately, dear reader, I don't have a proper answer for you.

I spotted this book on Edelweiss and, despite not completely loving the earlier novel of Bick's that I read (see review here), the premise sounded too awesome to pass up. A girl with the ability to jump into the white space of books, between the lines, where the worlds in books are created and destroyed. ABSOLUTELY YES, SIGN ME UP. But - I don't think this book is that.

I read this book almost entirely while on vacation over Christmas and I quite frequently said to my boyfriend, "I don't know what is happening in my book. My book is really, really strange," or something along those lines. Because that is absolutely the truth. This book makes no sense. This book throws you face-first into an incredibly complicated fantasy world that the characters try to explain to you with complicated, high-level scientific jargon and, even by the end, I don't think you know which way is up. Maybe I am just not smart enough to understand media like this - after all, I don't think I really *got* Inception. But I think I'm a pretty smart girl so maybe it's just that this book is way too complicated and crammed full of every crazy thing that Bick could think of. Oh, and don't forget - it's only book one!

I'm honestly not sure that I can judge any aspect of this book fairly because I don't think I fully understood or followed any of it - and that includes things like characters and plot. The narrative style, even, is pretty out there and I can definitely see it putting some people off with its seemingly random head-jumping and many, MANY unfinished sentences. What I think is that Bick set out to write the most mind-bending book she could think of and I guess maybe it's just not my kind of book. Maybe some of the confusion will be cleared up in future books but my main reaction to this being book one of a series (upon completion) was, "where in the world is Bick going to go from here?"

I think this book will definitely have its fans and, I should note, that I did, in fact, read the whole thing (and rather quickly - the book is over 500 pages long). So, there is something about the book that is compelling, even if I don't completely get it.

Have other people read this? Someone explain it to me!

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Review: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy
By Karen Foxlee
Expected publication January 28, 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Ophelia's father has just been chosen to help curate a very important display for a museum in a very cold and snowy city far from their home. So, Ophelia, her father, and her sister head for that icy city. But Ophelia stumbles upon something remarkable in a less-traveled part of the museum: the Marvelous Boy. And this Marvelous Boy believes that Ophelia can help him defeat the Snow Queen. Can Ophelia believe it about herself?

I snagged the e-ARC of this in my never ending quest to read more middle-grade and read it on a recent trip. I will say it's the perfect wintry read and I imagine it's also probably a good read-alike for the movie Frozen, though I haven't seen it yet so I can't say for sure.

Anyway, I liked the fairy tale feel of this story and I really liked the backstory of the Marvelous Boy. I'm not as familiar with the story of the Snow Queen as I am with other folk tales so maybe some of Foxlee's story is pretty typical, but I found it very fascinating. I liked Ophelia as well. She is smart and brave, though she is still struggling with self-confidence. I think it will be easy for kids to relate to her. I'm of two minds when it comes to the dead mother aspect of the story. On the one hand, I think it adds another layer to the book that works really well and explains a lot of the character motivations. On the other, it's so typically fairy tale that it seems just a bit too convenient. I think, ultimately, I fall down on the side of the former, but it's a pretty close call.

While there is quite a bit of action and adventure in this story, it's more of a quiet sort, if that makes any sense. The main thrust of the action seems to be to get Ophelia believing in herself and I think it serves that purpose well. I think the nature of the action here is quite unique as well, so it worked for me.

The main thing that bothered me about this book was the setting. It's referenced frequently as a large city in a cold place where it always snows. But it's never given a name. I get that maybe Foxlee didn't want to set the book precisely in this world, but I was distracted the entire time trying to figure out if she meant Moscow and if she did, why didn't she just say it already?

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Picture Book Saturday

Romping Monsters, Stomping Monsters
By Jane Yolen, illustrated by Kelly Murphy
Published 2013 by Candlewick Press
As I've mentioned before, I cannot resist a monster book, nor one with adorable illustrations, and this book has both, so naturally I picked it up. However, this book was definitely a disappointment for me. Yolen has written another picture book about monsters and I didn't absolutely love that one either, so I suppose I can't be too surprised. What's disappointing is that this book didn't have to be disappointing - for me, the failure lies in the rhyming. There are some instances where it just doesn't work for me and if Yolen just didn't feel it necessary to rhyme this book, I don't think I'd have a problem with it. It just doesn't work for me.

By Todd H. Doodler
Published 2013 by Scholastic Press
Everyone I work with fell in love with this book as soon as they saw the cover and, you must admit, it's pretty darn cute. The story isn't half-bad either. Rex is bigger than everyone in his school and he doesn't like that people think he's scary, so he goes about changing their minds. Mostly, this book is just really stinking adorable and I think the kids will find it easy to relate to Rex, too.

Henri's Scissors
By Jeannette Winter
Published 2013 by Beach Lane Books
I've said before that I love reading picture book biographies and this is no exception. This tells the story of artist Henri Matisse. It gives a basic biographical sketch and then focuses on a specific part of his life - when he lost the ability to paint. Did it keep him down? Of course not. I think this is a great and important message for kids to see. I'll be doing a program on Matisse soon at the library and I'll definitely be including this book in my materials. Very well-done.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Review: Vixen

Vixen (Flappers, book one)
By Jillian Larkin, read by Abby Craden
Published 2010 by Listening Library

Three girls discover jazz, booze, and men in the Roaring Twenties. Gloria, newly engaged, worries that her party days are over. Her cousin, Clara, sent to make sure the wedding goes as planned, has some secrets of her own. And Lorraine, Glo's best friend, longs to live outside of her shadow. What will the Jazz Age bring these girls?

I'm going to be bluntly honest with y'all - I listened to this book about 4 months ago and I'm having a hard time recalling it. What doesn't help is that I've also listened to (and have yet to finish) the first two books in the Bright Young Things series - which is also about three teen girls in the Jazz Age. These series are shockingly similar, so please forgive me if I mix about any details.

I suppose that's what I should start this review with - even while listening to this book, I felt like I'd already read this story. Godbersen's series also tells the story of the Jazz Age from the alternating perspectives of three young women. Just as in that series, one of the girls is about to be married and isn't entirely sure it's the right choice for her. I suppose those are the most glaring of the similarities, but they are pretty big ones, and important if you are reviewing the book some time after you finished reading it. Okay, I think I made my point.

To this book itself: it's not life-changing literature. This is a frothy period piece, full of drama and pretty dresses. Is there anything wrong with that? Of course not, just remember what you're getting yourself into. The girls are mostly vapid and self-absorbed, making terrible choices and almost instantly regretting them. But do I really have to care about them to want to know what kind of madness they're going to get into next? No, and so the book works just fine.

The plot is pure melodrama - one ludicrous development after the next - until the completely over the top ending. It barrels along relentlessly, which keeps the reader (or listener, as the case may be) engaged the whole way through. It's entertaining and mostly mindless, which makes it a quick and easy read. One thing I'll be interested to watch develop (as surely, I'll eventually read the next book) is the interracial romance that begins in this book. I'm definitely curious to see how Larkin is going to handle that.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Review: The Templeton Twins Have an Idea

The Templeton Twins Have an Idea (Templeton Twins, book one)
By Ellis Weiner, illustrated by Jeremy Holmes
Published 2012 by Chronicle Books

The Templeton Twins are a bit unusual. They have interests that are uncommon for children their age. Their father is a brilliant, though absent-minded, inventor. When the twins are kidnapped by another set of twins (this set being dastardly), will their unusual interests and father's brilliance help them escape?

So, the funny story here is that I read this one last fall because I picked up an ARC of the sequel. I checked out the first one from the library and sped through it, so I could read the sequel before its pub date. As things go, I still haven't read the sequel.

However, not particularly relevant to our review. What of the book itself? For me, this is very much in the vein of A Series of Unfortunate Events, though this book never quite reaches the brilliance of that series. I quite like books in this style - intrusive narrator, wry sense of humor, melodrama, and ridiculous plot contrivances. As I said, though, this one doesn't exactly reach the genius of Snicket's series. In its own right, though, I found the Templeton twins to be rather enjoyable. The twins themselves are interesting, as is their father, and I liked the family dynamic portrayed here. The illustrations are not truly necessary to the enjoyment of the story, but they do add a little something extra that I appreciated. The plot is patently ridiculous, but I think it's meant to be. And the narrative style is still one that we don't see terribly often.

Overall, this is going to be a book for a very specific kind of kid - not everyone will find it amusing and certainly many people will just get annoyed with the narrator. But, for that specific kind of kid, this book will be right up their alley.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Picture Book Saturday

Things that Are Most in the World
By Judi Barrett, illustrated by John Nickle
Published 2001 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
I don't know how anyone can resist a Judi Barrett book; I don't even bother to try. This one, which just showed up new at our library, is no exception. This is not really a story; Barrett instead provides us with some of the things that are most in the world - the stickiest, the quietest, etc. Of course, in typical Barrett fashion, none of these things are quite what you would have expected. I think this would be a really fun book to tie to non-fiction as you actually look up things that hold records for being the most at something. Definitely a great read.

Ghost in the House
By Ammi-Joan Paquette, illustrated by Adam Record
Published 2013 by Candlewick Press
I like spooky and scary things and I'm pretty sure any kid I have is going to grow up obsessed with Halloween. That being said, this ghoulishly themed counting book is definitely appealing to me. A little ghost wanders through his house, discovering spooky surprises around every corner. The illustration style is really friendly, so even though this book is filled with ghastly creatures, I can't imagine any kid being frightened by them. A simple but fun book.

Little Owl's Night
By Divya Srinivasan
Published 2011 by Viking Juvenile
I love, love the illustrations here, probably the main reason why I picked this book up in the first place. This is a really interesting take on the bedtime story, as Little Owl journeys through the night (owls are nocturnal, after all) and observes all the amazing things that happen when the sun is down. I think this might actually help kids who are afraid of the dark or night-time. They could learn about what is happening while they are sleeping. Very cute, with lovely illustrations.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Review: The Great and Only Barnum

The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P.T. Barnum
By Candace Fleming
Published 2009 by Schwartz & Wade

Step right up and hear the all-true story of Phineas T. Barnum, one of the greatest showmen and swindlers to have ever walked this earth!

I picked this up over the summer - I was in the mood for something different and this definitely fit the bill. Plus, I knew it'd be a quick read, perfect for rejuvenating me at the end of summer when all-over fatigue began to set in. This book was basically everything I wanted it to be - quick, refreshing, and interesting. As I've mentioned before, I love reading juvenile non-fiction. It takes up less of my time and I still feel like I've learned a lot from reading it. I particularly enjoy reading biographies - they hit all the most interesting bits of someone's life without getting weighed down by a lot of pomp and circumstance that peppers adult biographies.

I didn't know terribly much about Barnum prior to reading this - I visited an exhibit at an art museum that focused on circus art, plus I'd read some historical fiction that took place in Barnum's American Museum, so I knew a bit. I really enjoyed learning more about him while reading this book. It covers his childhood and then moves into the start of his career and his growing success. Asides are given to some of the most famous residents of his museum and the whole thing is strewn with eye-catching photos. I think the graphic layout of this book is particularly well-done - it feels like a circus event. The back matter is well-done, also. I think this is a great book to prove how well-written and engaging non-fiction can be.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Review: Of Poseidon

Of Poseidon (Syrena Legacy, book one)
By Anna Banks, read by Rebecca Gibel
Published 2012 by AudioGO

Emma thought her klutziness on land was just normal teenage stuff. But when she meets cute stranger Galen and he senses a secret power in her, she discovers that it might be because she's not really meant for land. In fact, she might be better suited to the water...

I downloaded the audio version of this on a whim, when it was offered for free on SYNC this past summer. I didn't know too much about it and, therefore, wasn't expecting much when I started listening. Surprisingly, I rather enjoyed it. This is surprising because I don't typically go for mermaid stuff (though they are called by the much more sophisticated name of "syrena" in this one) and, unless I'm particularly craving it, I also don't read a lot of stuff that's heavy on the romance.

However, as I said, I enjoyed this one. I liked the exchanges between Emma and Galen, and, actually, I thought Emma was a fun character to read. Yes, she can be a bit much at times, but, honestly, when I was expecting so little from this, she didn't seem that bad. I liked the idea of Emma's heritage though I'm sure the science is beyond ridiculous - then again, I don't often go to fiction books expecting science lessons, so maybe it's just me.

Is this the best book I've ever read? No, definitely not. The writing is very basic and a lot of the action feels forced and silly. Similarly, the romance is really stilted and Banks doesn't really take any chances here. As a matter of fact, if I think about it too long, particularly in light of the truly stunning mermaid story I've read (Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama), my enjoyment of this book will be greatly diminished. But as pure escape and froth, I can get behind Of Poseidon.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Review: The Archived

The Archived (The Archived, book one)
By Victoria Schwab
Published 2013 by Hyperion

Mackenzie is a Keeper - she puts restless Histories back where they belong. But what happens when Mac discovers Histories being purposely altered? Is the organization that she's put all her trust in up to something no good?

I was given a free e-sampler of the first 100 pages of this book way back before it was released (end of 2012, I suppose it was). I was so intrigued by the premise - when people die, they essentially become Histories in the Archive, maintained by Librarians. Keepers are there sort of as a safety measure - occasionally, a History will get out and need to be returned. I tore through the sample and then waited for the book to be released. Then, I got distracted. Needless to say, I didn't finish reading this book until many, many months after starting it. Luckily, the world that Schwab created is memorable enough that it felt like I'd never been away.

For me, that's the best thing about this book. The world and myth that Schwab has created is fascinating and works really well. It may be a little weird to say this but I also found it a bit hopeful - the idea that the sum of my existence would be stored somewhere after I died. Additionally, I like Mackenzie. She's a complex and compelling character and it's easy to root for her. I thought the plot twists were well-done and I do actually feel excited to read the sequel, so that's definitely a good sign. One thing that I found a bit confusing were the flashback-type bits about Da. It wasn't entirely clear to me until rather late in the story who exactly he was to Mackenzie. It's entirely possible that I missed something obvious early on and was confused for no good reason, but I thought I'd mention it.

Overall, I thought this was a well-executed story that I actually look forward to revisiting in the future.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital sampler.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Picture Book Saturday

By Edouard Manceau
Published 2013 by Owlkids Books
I feel like I'm the only youth librarian on the planet that wasn't completely enamored by this book. In fact, we just had a resource-sharing event with local librarians at my library and no less than a handful of them talked about using this book in storytime. Yes, I completely get that it has a built-in activity for it. However, that doesn't make it a good book. I think if I were a kid, I just wouldn't get this. But, like I said, I seem to be in the minority here.

Crafty Chloe
By Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Heather Ross
Published 2012 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Chloe is nearly heartbroken when she discovers that someone else has the same idea for a gift for their friend Emma. So, Chloe decides that she will make Emma something, a one-of-a-kind gift. Only, it turns out crafting isn't as easy as she thought. This is a pretty charming little book, one that I think will definitely inspire some kids to get crafting on their own after they finish reading. A very cute story.

Millie and the Big Rescue
By Alexander Steffensmeier

Published 2013 by Walker Childrens
The beloved Millie the cow is back in another adventure. This time, Millie and her friends play hide and seek. But what happens when Millie gets stuck in her hiding spot? Who will come to her rescue? A fun story, I think what I like most about this book (and the first) is just how sweet the illustrations are. Millie looks like a cow I'd want to be friends with. She just looks so good-natured. I think kids will like the silliness of this one.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Review: The Alchemyst

The Alchemyst (Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, book one)
By Michael Scott, read by Denis O'Hare
Published 2007 by Listening Library

Sophie and Josh are twins, living a relatively calm and normal life, when they suddenly find themselves thrust into a world of legends. The biggest legend: Nicholas Flamel, the famed alchemist, said to have discovered the secret to eternal life. Sophie and Josh are about to find out the truth behind the legend.

I've been wanting to read this book for some time. I love fantasy novels and this one sounded like an interesting premise. A while back, I copied the audio version to my iPod, thinking it was something both my boyfriend and I would enjoy (we often listen to audiobooks together when traveling - we have taken some extreme road trips in our days!). And, in fact, we started listening to it quite some time ago. I think we listened to about half the book in our first go and then we didn't travel any distance for quite some time. Soon, we found ourselves making little excuses to drive so we could finish listening to the book.

So, what does that say about the book? Well, I think it's fair to say that we both enjoyed it well enough. It's fun, it's certainly action-packed, and it's got a really interesting mythology to it. I found the villain here particularly unsettling because he seems so relentlessly evil and dark.

However, the book is not without flaws. I found Sophie and Josh to be pretty poor protagonists; as in, I'm not sure how likely it is that I'd actually be rooting for them to succeed. They both seem rather self-absorbed and immature and a lot of their interactions are frustrating and silly. Additionally, I felt like Flamel should have been a bit more prominent. The series is named after him, after all, and he has the fascinating history. Perhaps he will feature more heavily in future volumes, but I would have liked to read more about him.

A lot of this book focuses on dumping information on the reader and it also feels very frustrating. It seemed like there were large sections of the book that involved Flamel and his cohorts overly explaining the centuries-old battle against the evil John Dee to the twins. It made me feel like Scott was talking down to his readers, which I do not approve of.

Overall, a very middle-of-the-road series-opener. Interesting premise, uneven execution. We did go ahead and download the second book on audio as well, but we don't seem to be in any rush to listen to it.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Looking Ahead...

This is probably my favorite post all year because I get to share the books I'm most excited about in the coming year. I know a lot of other blogs do a weekly feature highlighting books they're looking forward to; I wonder if I should as well!

Anyway, here are the things I can't wait for in 2014!

Series books:

Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor: um, YES. I want this book now. I follow Laini on Twitter and she remarked that she had to change the ink cartridge in her printer twice while printing the manuscript of this. That means a behemoth read and I am looking forward to every page. (Expected publication April 8, 2014)

The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan: I haven't reviewed book four yet, but let me just say that I am eagerly awaiting the conclusion of this series. I can't wait to see how the Prophecy ultimately plays out. (Expected publication October 7, 2014)

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo: I hope this series is getting read by lots of teens. I think it's fantastically interesting and I think Bardugo's conclusion is going to blow us all away. (Expected publication June 3, 2014)

Untitled (Raven Cycle, book three) by Maggie Stiefvater: I may have liked The Dream Thieves even better than the first book and I will follow Maggie wherever she cares to take this series. So imaginative, with characters that I actually care about. (Expected publication likely fall 2014)

Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray: I really loved the creepiness and the setting of The Diviners so I am definitely looking forward to seeing where this series is going to go. (Expected publication August 5, 2014)

Ruins by Dan Wells: this is another series that I'm not sure is getting the attention it deserves. Kira is a total kick-butt heroine and I loved the developments in book two. Very much looking forward to the conclusion. (Expected publication March 11, 2014)

Burn by Julianna Baggott: not exactly a children's/teen title (though the first in the series did win an Alex Award), but this series is so unique and absolutely fascinating. How will Partridge and Pressia's stories end? (Expected publication February 4, 2014)

Clariel by Garth Nix: I've no idea if this is actually expected in 2014 but I will anticipate it eagerly from now until its publication regardless. The Abhorsen series was one of the first that reignited my love for children's/YA literature and helped guide me to my career. Needless to say, I NEED THIS BOOK. (Expected publication September 2014)

Undivided by Neal Shusterman: how will it all end??? (Expected publication summer 2014)

Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan: no, I didn't love book two, but I'm hoping that Sarah saved up all the awesome for book three. (Expected publication 2014)

Standalones/new series:

Uninvited by Sophie Jordan: a girl is ostracized when it's discovered that she has a homicidal tendency gene. Um, maybe I shouldn't admit this but I loved The Minority Report so I am all about a YA book version. (Expected publication January 28, 2014)

The Young Elites by Marie Lu: a new series from Lu??? REJOICE! Also, it's set in a Renaissance-like world - huzzah! (Expected publication fall 2014)

White Space by Ilsa J. Bick: so I've only read one of Bick's books and I didn't love it, but I'm hopeful that this story of a girl who can jump into the white space in books - where worlds are created and destroyed - will be more up my alley. (Expected publication February 11, 2014)

Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Reese Brennan: A Tale of Two Cities retelling with magic? By Sarah Rees Brennan? TAKE MY MONEY PLEASE. (Expected publication 2014)

The Inventor's Secret by Andrea Cremer: an author I've never read before but a steampunk alternate history in which the Revolutionary War never happened? Yes, I will give that a shot. (Expected publication April 22, 2014)

Plus One by Elizabeth Fama: I was a huge and surprise fan of Monstrous Beauty and Fama's new book sounds awesome: alternate history of the aftermath of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. I imagine gorgeous writing and excellent setting. (Expected publication April 8, 2014)

Pointe by Brandy Colbert: an elite ballerina who was somehow involved in her best friend's disappearance. What happens when he shows up, four years later? Sounds like it could be a good thriller. (Expected publication April 10, 2014)

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman: a story about Adolf Hitler's niece and the questions she uncovers. This has a ton of potential, I think. Really hoping it's good. (Expected publication April 22, 2014)

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart: this book is already blowing up my Twitter feed, so I'm definitely anticipating it. Apparently, the less you know, the better. (Expected publication May 13, 2014)

Anything else I absolutely must have on my radar? Let me know in the comments!