Thursday, December 31, 2015

Librarian of Snark's Best Reads of 2015

So, I'm taking a little pause from the massive review round-ups over the next couple of days to focus on some year-end/year-beginning stuff. Today, I'm going to highlight my favorite reads of the year. I'll also have my posts about my most anticipated reads of next year, my final monthly check-in with totals for the year, and perhaps a separate post about my reading goals and resolutions for 2016.

Normally, I'd do several posts to highlight my favorite reads of the year - usually, broken up into picture books, middle grade, and young adult. This year, since I find myself woefully behind on pretty much everything, I'm just going to put it all here in one post. Links to reviews where possible and short comments included. Additionally, this year, I'm not going to make a distinction between books published this year and books I read this year that were published prior to 2015 - these will just be my favorite reads of the year, regardless of publication date.

Favorite Picture Books Read in 2015

I Don't Like Koala by Sean Ferrell

Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry

Families, Families, Families! by Suzanne Lang

How to Surprise a Dad by Jean Reagan

Lloyd Llama by Sarah Jones

Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood

Here Comes the Tooth Fairy Cat by Deborah Underwood

I Will Take a Nap! by Mo Willems

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson

Sea Rex by Molly Idle

Bear Counts by Karma Wilson

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton

So, I cheated and picked 12 instead of 10, but, honestly, I probably could have picked several more. I think my absolute favorite was The Princess and the Pony - just an absolute delight. I stopped reviewing picture books on the blog and I don't really miss it. Maybe I'll go back to it in the future; we'll see.

Favorite Middle Grade Books Read in 2015

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson - review

Piper Green and the Fairy Tree by Ellen Potter - technically not middle grade, but my review here

The Hollow Boy by Jonathan Lockwood

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead - review

Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko - review

The Marvels by Brian Selznick - review

Nightborn by Lou Anders - review

Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes

Dark Life by Kat Falls - review

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell - review

The Dragon Lantern by Alan Gratz - review

Fork-Tongue Charmers by Paul Durham - review

Once again, I feel like I could pick more here, but I'm trying to limit myself. Brown Girl Dreaming was far and away the best.

Favorite Young Adult Books Read in 2015

Unbound by Neal Shusterman

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King - review

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero - review

Uprooted by Naomi Novik - review

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Cut Both Ways by Carrie Mesrobian

Gone (series) by Michael Grant - I read the first one three years ago, but finished the series this year. My review of the last (which will lead to the others)

Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet - review

The Ring and the Crown by Melissa de la Cruz - review

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman - review

And, again, I could have picked more. It's been a pretty good year for reading.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

YA Reviews Part Four

These Shallow Graves
By Jennifer Donnelly
Published 2015 by Random House Delacorte
Reviewed from e-ARC
Jo wants to be a reporter, but that's simply not an option for well-to-do young women in the 1890s. But when her beloved father dies, Jo senses something suspicious - and she'll put her investigative skills to the test to uncover the truth.

I certainly love me some historical fiction and I generally enjoy headstrong female characters, but this book didn't really work for me. I mostly felt bored while reading this and I can remember several instances of rolling my eyes at the text also. The book is excessively long - nearly 500 pages - and I really felt every one of those pages. A lot of the action is quite tedious and repetitive. I didn't care terribly much for Jo and I absolutely did not believe in her romance with Eddie. The mysterious was never terribly mysterious and the historical setting felt like set dressing more than a fleshed out world. After my disappointing experience with Revolution and now this, it would take an awful lot to convince me to read the next Donnelly.

By Meg Wolitzer, read by Jorjeana Marie
Published 2014 by Listening Library
Jam wishes more than anything that she were back at home with her boyfriend Reeve, but instead, she's at a bizarro boarding school in rural Vermont and Reeve is dead. To top it off, she's enrolled in a mysterious class - Special Topics in English. When a journal-writing assignment leads Jam to Belzhar, she must decide which truth she wants to live.

I'd heard lots of good things about this one and had enjoyed another audiobook from Wolitzer, so it seemed natural to pick this up when I needed a new listen. It was mostly what I expected - almost ethereal writing with magical realism - and then, suddenly, it wasn't at all what I expected. I had no idea that Jam was an unreliable narrator and I definitely didn't see the truth coming at all. Once the secret was revealed, though, it changed my view of the book. The people that Jam befriends at the boarding school have real problems - not to minimize the trauma of rejection, but Jam's tragedy really didn't compare for me. I'm fully willing to accept Jam's depression over her perceived loss, but if she has created the reality for herself that readers have seen up until the twist is revealed, then she has significant mental issues that will require much more work for resolution than Wolitzer gives her in the end. Ultimately, I liked the book well enough, but would have enjoyed it more without the twist.

Vivian Apple Needs a Miracle (Vivian Apple, book two)
By Katie Coyle
Published 2015 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Probably spoilers for book one ahead.
Vivian and her friend Harp have uncovered what they believe to be the truth about the Church of America and now, they'll stop at nothing to make the public see what they do.

I enjoyed the first book in this duology well enough that I put the second on hold as soon as it showed up in our library catalog. I was a bit more hesitant this time around - the ending of the first book had been a bit of a hot mess, so it was difficult for me to see where it would go from there. Fortunately, I enjoyed this book much more - perhaps because I already knew some of it would be difficult to swallow? I thought the characters really fleshed out in this one, and the relationship between Viv and Harp is quite delightful to explore. I also really enjoyed getting to know Winnie and seeing that relationship grow. In the end, I'm quite pleased that this is just a duology - I thought the ending here was perfect for the two books.

March, Book One
By John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
Published 2013 by Top Shelf Productions
John Lewis is a name all Americans should know - a powerhouse in the civil rights movement and later a Congressman. Now, he recounts his story, beginning with his youth and his early entry into the fight for civil rights.

I'm classing this a YA book because I think it will have most appeal for that audience, but I loved it as an adult and I don't think there's anything that would prevent me from handing it to a capable middle-grader. Perhaps the only thing I didn't enjoy about this is the frame story - Lewis is recounting his youthful experiences to a young boy he meets just prior to attending an important event. It felt unnecessary to frame the story this way, though I understand that one of Lewis's goals is to reach a young audience and make it accessible. As a grown person, it just felt a bit hokey. However, that's really my only complaint about this otherwise captivating graphic novel. The art is a perfect match for the story and the story is gripping, heartwrenching, and eye-opening. I am very, very much looking forward to picking up volumes two and three.

Light (Gone, book six)
By Michael Grant
Published 2013 by Katherine Tegen Books
It's time for the final battle. Can the kids of the FAYZ defeat the gaiaphage once and for all?

HOLY CATS, Y'ALL - I FINALLY FINISHED THIS SERIES! I am so thrilled to be able to cross this series off my list and, wow, this final volume really held nothing back. As I've said in my various reviews for the series (here's the last one I did), what I enjoy most about this series is how much I actually care about the characters. This final volume is no different - and with the stakes so high, I really cared about what happened to each of them. Yes, some do not survive, particularly in this last battle. And yes, you will care one way or the other about everyone's fate. Even though I was decidedly not surprised about who made the ultimate sacrifice, I still think Grant did a wonderful job with this series. I enjoyed the "aftermath" section - I always loved movies with little epilogue-type bits that tell you where all the characters ended up later - though with such a large cast, not every character was included in this section. An extremely satisfying conclusion to an excellent YA series.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Middle Grade Reviews Part Three

The Shrunken Head (Curiosity House, book one)
By Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester
Published 2015 by HarperCollins Children's Books
Reviewed from e-ARC
Welcome to Dumfrey's Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders - or, as Philippa, Sam, and Thomas like to call it, home. But when Max arrives, all sorts of strange things begin to happen, and a chain of events is set in motion that will change the lives of all four children and the fate of the Museum.

So, I really loved Oliver's first foray into children's lit and I'm always into a museum of oddities. I couldn't resist downloading this galley when it became available. It's easy for me to see how appealing this book will be to middle grade readers - tons of action and adventure, lots of mysterious secrets uncovered and hinted at, the notion of being different and not quite fitting in but longing to find the place where you do, and a museum full of very unique characters. The action keeps the plot moving along at a brisk pace - I think it took me two hours to read this one - and there are lots of things to keep kids guessing. The pasts of all the children are still a mystery, so it's clear that will be explored more in future volumes. There are enough hints, though, to definitely pique interest. The characters are all very well developed and I loved getting to know all of them, not just the children. It's a fun book and I'll be interested to see where it goes from here.

Too Much Good Luck (Piper Green and the Fairy Tree, book two)
By Ellen Potter, illustrated by Qin Leng
Published 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Piper is having an extremely lucky day. Too bad her friend Jacob is going to rain on her parade - doesn't Piper know that sometimes too much good luck is bad luck?

This is not really a middle-grade read; it falls more into the beginning chapter book category, but I read so few of those books every year that I figured I'd stick my review in with this batch. I quite liked the first book in the series and book two published simultaneously, so I didn't have to wait long to pick it up. I liked it just as much as book one. Piper is a delightfully realistic narrator - I find her quite charming. I also like that the adults are actually a presence in these books; often, children's books find it more convenient to ignore the adults in their young character's lives. I think Potter does a great job of including them here without moving the focus from our young protagonist. Once again, Piper is dealing very authentically with a realistic experience and I think Potter absolutely nails the emotions of a kid this age. I can't wait for book three!

Switch (Savvy, book three)
By Ingrid Law
Published 2015 by Dial Books
Gypsy can't wait for her savvy, but on her thirteenth birthday, it turns out to be nothing like what she expected. Soon, everyone's savvy has gone haywire and the mixed-up savvies put Gypsy and her family in a dangerous crisis. Can she figure out how to fix everything before it's too late?

I was extremely excited to read this book from the moment I discovered its existence - Savvy is one of my favorite middle-grade reads and I enjoyed Scumble as well. I was pleased and surprised that there would be a third book set in the same world. I love that each can stand alone but that they also work together so well. I really, really enjoyed this one. I thought Gypsy was a wonderful character - actually, I thought all the characters were great. Gypsy goes through a lot of growth in this book and it works wonderfully - it doesn't feel preachy; it feels difficult and true. I love the combination of fantastical problems butting up against real-life problems - in this case, switched up savvies and a grandparent with Alzheimer's. It gives the book a greater depth and makes a potentially scary topic a bit more approachable for a middle-grade reader. It's a lot of fun - Gypsy and company go on some crazy adventures while trying to prevent a disaster from happening - but it's also quite poignant. A delightful read!

Serafina's Promise
By Ann E. Burg
Published 2013 by Scholastic Press
Serafina wants to become a doctor, but her life in Haiti makes that dream more complicated. And when a life-changing earthquake hits, will Serafina ever find a way to make her dreams come true?

I'm a sucker for a novel in verse and this one was on our state reading list a few years back, so it wasn't a hard choice for me to pick it up. It was a quick read, as verse novels often are, but not a light one. I liked reading about a place that I know very little about - with the verse, Burg made it very easy to get a picture of life in Serafina's Haitian village. Just like every American life is unique, I'm sure every life in Haiti is as well, but I liked shining a little light on this particular life. I thought the tough topics were dealt with quite well and, perhaps what I liked most was how hopeful the whole thing is. Serafina's life is not easy, not at any point in the novel, but she never loses hope. Yes, she stumbles and doubts, but ultimately, she believes she will find a way. I don't go in much for relentless optimism but I thought it worked well here. Eye-opening and heartwarming.

The Marvels
By Brian Selznick
Published 2015 by Scholastic Press
This is the story of the Marvels, a theatrical family that spans many generations before seeming to disappear. It's also the story of Joseph, a boy whose run away to his estranged uncle. The mysteries he finds will tie him to the Marvels in unexpected ways and will certainly change his life.

A new Selznick is always cause for celebration, so I was delighted to discover one releasing in 2015. I read it almost as soon as it arrived at our library. I think his books get better after you step away from them for a while. Immediately after finishing this one, I told a coworker that I thought it lacked the magic of his earlier books. Now, several months later, I find myself marveling (OH YEAH, PUN INTENDED) at how Selznick managed to weave the threads together so well and tell such a compelling and beautiful story. I'm, of course, endlessly amazed by his artistic abilities - seriously, I could stare at the first half of this book for hours, it's just so blooming gorgeous. But Selznick has serious narrative chops as well, a fact that I think gets overlooked in the face of his stunning imagery. I'm in the midst of reading his May Hill Arbuthnot lecture, where he talks about how his books are all essentially variations on the theme of finding and defining one's family and I'm impressed at this astute observation while also in awe because his books all tell that tale so uniquely. The relationship between Joseph and his uncle is complicated and fraught and develops wonderfully here and provides the most heartbreaking ending to this story. Truly, truly beautiful.

My Diary from the Edge of the World
By Jodi Lynn Anderson
Published 2015 by Aladdin
Reviewed from e-ARC
Gracie has lived in Maine her whole life and it's been mostly unremarkable - as long as one avoids the dragons, Sasquatches, and mermaids. But now, the unthinkable has happened - a Dark Cloud has come for her baby brother, and once a Cloud chooses a person, inevitably, they will die. But, Gracie's family is nothing if not determined, so they set off to find a supposedly mythical place - the Extraordinary World, where things like dragons and mermaids and Dark Clouds are the myths.

I thought the premise of this sounded phenomenal - a world exactly like ours but with mythical things being real. It's told in diary format, a very popular choice, and I think it works well for this story. Gracie is a delightful narrator - she is very particular but she also loves her family with such clear devotion that it's absolutely charming to read. The adventures that the Lockwood family undertakes are fun but also suspenseful - will they find a way to get to the edge of the Extraordinary World? Does it even really exist? Can they outrun the Cloud long enough to find out? As an adult, the twist of the book was unsurprising, but it was still very emotional and poignant. Overall, I think the book is a good balance of fun and feeling. Definitely an easy sell to readers.

The Wrinkled Crown
By Anne Nesbet
Published 2015 by HarperCollins
Reviewed from e-ARC
Linny knows the rules, but she just can't help herself - not only has she touched a lourka (absolutely forbidden for girls under the age of 12), she's made one from scratch! But if only people understood that she had to, maybe they wouldn't be so cross. Unfortunately, her rule-breaking has endangered her best friend and now Linny must travel to the city and hope to find a way to save Sayra from Away.

This was a bit confusing for me at times - the contrast between Plain and Wrinkled seemed a bit too obvious a metaphor but also not terribly well explained. There are a lot of people who want to use Linny for their own purposes in the city and, for me, this just muddled the central conflict a bit too much. I really only cared whether or not Linny would find the medicine to save Sayra. As of right now, this book is not listed as part of a series on Goodreads, but with all the discussion of war and the mysterious Girl with the Lourka, it seems set up to head in that direction. I don't know if the book had enough pull for me to want to come back to an additional volume, but, as I said, that's just me speculating. This volume was a bit scattered and all over the place and not quite as charming as I expected from the cover and the first couple chapters. Maybe it just got a bit too heady for me. Still, Linny is a fun character and her overwhelming desire to save her friend was so heartfelt that it made me feel like a terrible friend (surely not the book's intention). I think there is definitely an audience for this; it just barely missed the mark for me.

Monday, December 28, 2015

YA Reviews Part Three

This Monstrous Thing
By Mackenzi Lee
Published 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books
Reviewed from e-ARC
Alasdair and his father are Shadow Boys - secretive mechanics who will repair men with clockwork parts, even though it's illegal. Alasdair has an even bigger secret, though - he's brought his brother, Oliver, back to life. But Oliver is not the same young man he was before - and when Frankenstein is published, life is more dangerous than ever for the both of them.

Well, perhaps I should have known better. Frankenstein is one of my least favorite books (particularly since it was required reading more than once); however, I love retellings, and stories that put new twists on classics. Additionally, I loved Kenneth Oppel's take on the Frankenstein story, so I never like to make assumptions. Unfortunately, this one did not work for me. I can't pinpoint exactly why. Maybe the characters didn't really click for me - I remember thinking Alasdair was pretty unsympathetic and his antagonist was a bit too obviously villainous for me. Maybe the setting didn't work - it's set, obviously, during the publication of the original novel, but it didn't give me the feelings that a great historical novel usually does. I'm not sure. What I do know is that most other people seem to have enjoyed this one, so your mileage may vary.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here
By Patrick Ness
Published 2015 by HarperTeen
Reviewed from e-ARC
Everybody knows the story of the Chosen One, but what if that's not you? What is the Chosen One is some guy in your English class who you once worked with on a project? What if you were just in the background of the Chosen One's story - never an immediate part of the action but irrevocably effected by the Chosen One's presence all the same? Well, that's Mikey.

I would describe myself as a big fan of Patrick Ness generally, but I didn't care terribly much for his last book. When I heard about this one, it sounded great - I love Chosen One narratives (hello, Buffy, the Vampire Slayer is my favorite show) and I imagined an author as skilled as Ness would be able to riff on it in some really fascinating ways. So, I was thrilled to have the digital galley. But...I didn't love it. I liked it (3 stars on Goodreads), but my more immediate reaction was disappointment. And I can't fully explain my disappointment without a spoiler so LOOK AWAY IF YOU WISH TO REMAIN COMPLETELY UNSPOILED. For as much as this book purported to be the story of a group of kids who weren't the Chosen Ones, Mikey's best friend is a demigod! What?! How does that not make him a Chosen One? Yes, you could make the argument that this is mostly Mikey's story, so perhaps his best friend's status as a potential deity shouldn't matter, but it irritated the daylights out of me. It made the book the opposite of what it claimed to be. Maybe this is a minor quibble for some, but for me, it was the tipping point. Add in the underwhelming story and characters and I was disappointed. I like what I read as Ness's message - you have to step up and be the Chosen One of your own life - but it's nothing I haven't seen before. I'll still look forward to whatever Ness publishes next, but I'll be hoping for something more along the lines of the Chaos Walking series.

Fear (Gone, book five)
By Michael Grant

Published 2012 by Katherine Tegen Books
It's been a year since the FAYZ was created and the kids have survived more than they ever thought possible. But still, nothing could prepare them for the newest embodiment of the Darkness.

I finished book four with less than enthusiastic thoughts about the next in the series - I was maybe getting a little worn out and wondering exactly how much these kids would be made to endure before things would end finally. Luckily, I enjoyed book five much more than the previous entry. I loved that Grant started providing perspective from outside the FAYZ - it felt refreshing at this point in the series to finally hear what exactly the world thought about the happenings inside the bubble. I also really appreciate Grant's ability to make me care about so many different characters - and I mean that both in terms of number and in terms of personalities. There is not a single character that I feel ambivalent about - I either love them or hate them and I sure as heck remember them all. Finally, I really like that Grant deals with some spectacularly tough issues in this series - in this one, motherhood and maternal instincts is a topic at the forefront for several characters. I like that Grant is getting teens to think about these issues in a way that isn't overwhelming and might make them care about thinking through these topics.

The Sorceress (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, book three)
By Michael Scott, read by Paul Boehmer
Published 2009 by Listening Library
Perenelle is trapped in Alcatraz, Scatty is missing, and the twins are still learning to harness their powers. Can Flamel keep them safe from the forces of evil?

I probably have the least to say about this one. My husband and I have listened to the first three books together and I think our feelings on the series are pretty similar - neither of us is particularly impressed. Sure, it's got enough adventure and excitement to keep you mostly engaged, but it tempers all that with a lot of long info-dumping passages that explain something from history or mythology. It throws off the pacing of the book and, at times, can feel condescending to readers (and the characters, I suppose). I still think Josh and Sophie are my least favorite characters of the books, which should probably be a big red flag right there. But I liked that this one had a separate Perenelle-focused story. I missed Scatty, though.

The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles, book two)
By Mary E. Pearson
Published 2015 by Henry Holt and Co.
Probably spoilers for book one. You've been warned.
Lia is now a captive and in order to ensure her safety - as well as Rafe's - she must continue to hold the attention of the Vendans, particularly the Komizar. But she walks a very fine line between holding attention and flaunting her disobedience. Will Lia make the choices that will keep her alive?

I felt mostly ambivalent about book one, but the cliffhanger ending ensured that I'd be returning for book two. I'm glad I did. I think this one is a marked improvement on the first - things are starting to make more sense, details of the worldbuilding are filling in, and I genuinely care about the characters now. I still find the forced tension between the two male characters quite tedious - NOT EVERYTHING NEEDS A LOVE TRIANGLE, AUTHORS! - but since I actually like them both, I'm glad they're both in the novel. I enjoyed seeing Lia really come into her powers here - and not just her supernatural powers. She really embraces her womanhood and uses it to her advantage. Ooh, and I really loved the ending, when Lia and Rafe finally get news (of a sort) from his kingdom. And this one ends on an even bigger cliffhanger than book one, so, yup, anxiously awaiting book three!

Friday, December 25, 2015

YA Reviews Part Two

Dark Shimmer
By Donna Jo Napoli
Published 2015 by Wendy Lamb Books
Reviewed from e-ARC
Dolce has grown up an outsider but a tragedy gives her a new lease on life in a place where no one knows her past. Unfortunately, secrets have a way of revealing themselves. Will Dolce get her happy ever after?

I am always ready for a fairy-tale retelling and this one's medieval Venetian setting only made it more intriguing. I liked that it wasn't entirely obvious from the beginning exactly which fairy tale is being retold - there are hints for several early on and it's fun trying to guess which one it will actually be. Once it's clear which tale we're hearing, it's obvious which character we're getting to see another side of, and I really enjoyed that. For me, the second part of the story was not as strong as the first - I appreciated the variety of POVs in the second part, but Dolce's story is the one I was most interested in. The setting is extremely well-done - I've been to Venice and I recognized several things in this novel. This was a decent retelling, but nothing spectacular.

By Julie Murphy
Published 2015 by Balzer + Bray
Reviewed from e-ARC
Willowdean has always been pretty comfortable in her own skin. But when her crush actually likes her back, she begins to doubt herself. Will entering herself in the local beauty pageant (run by her mother, a former pageant queen) help her get her confidence back?

I hate to admit it, but I was underwhelmed by this. Maybe the buzz machine killed it for me - I heard so much early praise for this one and nearly all of it was extremely high praise. While I really enjoyed the book, it didn't quite live up to my lofty expectations for it. I thought Willowdean was an awesome character - she felt incredibly realistic and just a lot of fun to read about. I liked the other female characters a lot as well, and I appreciated the relationships explored between Will and her aunt and Will and her mom. The romance was sweet, though it felt like probably the least authentic aspect of the book. I really liked the journey that Will makes during the book and I loved the end. So, it didn't quite live up to all my hopes and dreams for it, but I still enjoyed it. I'll happily read more by Murphy in the future.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Middle Grade Reviews Part Two

Firefly Hollow
By Alison McGhee, illustrated by Christopher Denise
Published 2015 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Reviewed from print ARC
Firefly and Cricket both have dreams bigger than the hollow where they live. With the help of Vole and a miniature giant named Peter, will they find a way to make their dreams come true?

So I don't usually go in for animal fantasy novels, though there are a few exceptions (Charlotte's Web, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH). However, these types of fantasy are extremely popular with middle grade readers and this one featured incredibly charming illustrations, so I figured it couldn't hurt to give it a shot. I was pleasantly surprised to find a very sweet and heartwarming story that I think kids will really enjoy. This would be an excellent family read-aloud, precisely in the vein of Charlotte's Web. Like that book, it does have moments of sadness, so be careful with sensitive readers.

Connect the Stars
By Marisa de los Santos and David Teague
Published 2015 by HarperCollins
Reviewed from e-ARC
Aaron and Audrey are both a little quirky - quirky enough that they sometimes have trouble making friends. So, when they meet at a wilderness camp, expectations are low. But when things start going haywire, will they be able to rely on each other to survive?

I read de los Santos' previous middle grade novel and found it interesting, though time travel isn't usually my thing. In this book, the focus is more on magical realism - both of our narrators have a special ability that makes life just a bit more difficult for them. Aaron remembers everything he sees and hears - but memory does not necessarily equal knowledge. And Audrey can always tell when someone is lying, which sounds great - until you realize how often people tell even little white lies.I liked the dual narration, though their voices were sometimes a bit too similar. I really enjoyed the relationships that were forged at the wilderness camp - the other kids in their group were just as interesting as Audrey and Aaron. The adventure is enough to keep the plot moving along at a nice pace, though the conclusion seemed a bit melodramatic. Overall, though, I think this one should appeal to kids.

The Afterlife Academy
By Frank L. Cole
Published 2015 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Reviewed from e-ARC
Walter doesn't know what to expect when he dies - but it's certainly not becoming a Guardian Angel. Entrusted with a High Level Target, Walter will have to use all his skills to protect Charlie - without any training. This could be trouble.

Well, I try. I try to read as much middle grade as I can. But then, I come to books like this. I think this actually was the start of my reading slump this fall. I just didn't like it - nor did I like several of the others I read around the same time. I could see where Cole was trying to go, but it all felt obvious and not very successful. There are only so many instances of incredible luck fighting powerful demons that I'm willing to believe. It felt predictable and the humor was a big miss for me. It read open enough that there could potentially be a sequel, but I'm not interested in revisiting this world.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Middle Grade Reviews Part One

Nightborn (Thrones and Bones, book two)
By Lou Anders
Published 2015 by Crown Books for Young Readers
Karn is ready to get back to what he's good at - gaming. Yeah, the adventures he had with his new best friend (and half giant) Thianna were pretty cool, but he could use some peace for a bit. Unfortunately, that's not in the cards, and now Karn is off on a rescue mission, using all his resources to find Thianna. Little does he know that someone is on his trail - and with much darker intentions.

I read book one of this series prior to its release and, as I'm trying to be a bit better about keeping current with series, I read book two shortly after it came out. Much of what I enjoyed about book one was repeated in book two - the characters are immensely relatable, the action is non-stop, and the pacing is excellent. In my review of the first one, I expressed some hesitancy about it becoming a series - I think Anders believably drew both of the original characters into a new journey. I was pleased with the introduction of new characters as well - I thought they added to the story. The continuation of the story still seems to have an obvious direction, so we'll see what the next volume brings.

Will Sparrow's Road
By Karen Cushman, read by Katherine Kellgren
Published 2012 by Listening Library
Will Sparrow is running away, in search of a better life. On his journey, he meets a cast of colorful characters, but will he find someplace to settle in for good?

I remember having a passing interest in this when it was released, as I do with most historical fiction. This focused on a time and place I knew very little about. So, when looking for something new to listen to, I stumbled on this one - and narrator Kellgren sealed it for me (she's AMAZING). I found this rather unremarkable, though, and, as I write this review, months later, I'm hard-pressed to remember anything of significance about the book. I do remember being mildly impressed about early appearing characters reappearing later in the book and I thought Will was quite realistic (though he felt a little young at times, particularly for his time period). I can definitely see this having more appeal to younger readers, for whom a lot of the historical information will be new and surprising (though I wasn't familiar with this PARTICULAR time period, it felt quite similar to others I know a bit more about). Overall, though, a mostly forgettable read.

A Pocket Full of Murder (Uncommon Magic, book one)
By R.J. Anderson
Published 2015 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Reviewed from e-ARC
Isaveth's father has just been arrested for murder and she'll do everything in her power to prove his innocence. Luckily, she befriends street-wise Quiz, and together they investigate the murder, which may be more complex than it initially appeared. But does Quiz have his own secrets that may put Isaveth in danger?

I want to read pretty much every middle grade speculative fiction book that I discover, which is a near impossible task. But I do make time for as many of them as I can. This had a lot of complexity to it that I wasn't expecting - dealing with issues of poverty and classism, religious intolerance, sexism, and murder. Oh, and fan-fiction. Yes, it's a bit all over the place, but it's mostly an intriguing ride. Some of the weightier issues slow down the action of the plot a bit, which might be frustrating for readers in the target audience - then again, they open the book up for some excellent discussion. I did not see the twist with a character's identity coming, but it certainly added a new depth to the plot. I'm not sure how I feel about this being first in a series - we'll see when book two is released how compelled I feel to pick it up.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

YA Reviews Part One

By Naomi Novik
Published 2015 by Del Rey
Reviewed from print ARC
Agnieszka loves her village, though she doesn't love the Dragon who lords over it. Every ten years, he chooses a village girl and she never returns. She knows that, with her plain looks and seeming lack of skills, he won't choose her, but she worries for her beautiful, graceful, talented best friend Kasia. Of course, when the Dragon arrives and makes his decision, neither girl will ever be the same.

So, I'm still not entirely clear on whether this was pubbed as teen or adult, but I thought it was being published as YA, so that's what I'm going with. Anyway, I loved everything about this book - the lush language, the brilliant characters, the complexity of the plot, the emotions throughout - I loved it all. I tore through this book and didn't want it to end. I am actually thrilled that I've never read Novik before, because now I have so much to look forward to! Absolutely one of my favorites of the year.

Shades of Earth (Across the Universe, book three)
By Beth Revis

Published 2013 by Razorbill
Amy and Elder and the rest of those on board Godspeed have finally reached their destination. But just what awaits them there?

One thing I want to do in the new year is finish up series I've started (where possible) and not have so many loose ends hanging around out there. I was happy to plow through the final two books in this series earlier this fall - one less end to tie up. I thought this was a good conclusion to the series, which as a whole, I enjoyed more than I anticipated I would. I liked the unknown planet aspect of this story, but I found the character twist to be incredibly obvious. My husband liked it more than I did.

Cut Both Ways
By Carrie Mesrobian
Published 2015 by HarperCollins
Reviewed from e-ARC
Will is pretty clueless when it comes to romance - so he's more shocked than anyone when he ends up making out with his best friend Angus. But, he's not gay, right? Because then he meets Brandy, and he definitely likes kissing her. So, is he bi? All he knows is that he doesn't have it in him to give up either of them because they are the best things in his life.

I read Mesrobian's debut novel and then nothing since then, but this one sounded interesting and I had an ARC, so why not? I'm always looking for more books dealing with the complexities of sexuality. I really enjoyed this one, though it's less focused on Will's sexuality than it is on Will's familial relationships and his growing up. Maybe that's what I liked about it - yes, he is struggling to figure out his sexual identity, but at the same time, Mesrobian lets readers know that that's not the only way he defines himself and he's also got all this other stuff going on and really life is pretty damn complicated. I like that there was no easy answer at the end of this one, but, if my coworker is any indication, I can also see why this has so many negative reviews on Goodreads. For as much as it's billed as a book about bisexuality and a love triangle, it's not really a book about either of those things, and readers coming into it looking for that are likely to be disappointed. I thought this was an incredibly realistic portrayal of a teen guy, dealing with a lot of junk in his life. I'll continue to watch Mesrobian's career.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Capsule Reviews: Graphic Novels

So, in addition to not having much time for reading, I haven't had much free time for writing reviews either. As such, I'm feeling behind in my reviews. So, I'm just going to write some short ones for older titles I've read lately. This post might be a bit long, as I've been reading lots of graphic novels.

By Raina Telgemeier
Published 2014 by Graphix
An autobiographical account of the relationship between Raina and her younger sister, particularly during a road trip they took one summer. I love Telgemeier's artistic style - it's cartoony but realistic and very appealing. I think her books are so appealing to kids because they so perfectly capture what it's like to be that age. I really enjoy books that explore sibling dynamics and I thought this book did a great job with that. Though my sibling situation was very different, I thought Telgemeier perfectly captured the complicated emotions of a sibling relationship.

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant (Delilah, number one)
By Tony Cliff
Published 2013 by First Second
I remember seeing this one getting some buzz when it was released and I thought it looked fun. On my recent graphic novel tear, this one happened to be on the shelf, so I snatched it up. It is indeed quite fun, and I liked Delilah. She's pretty kick-ass (if a bit anachronistic). The beginning was a bit confusing, though - I had a hard time figuring out what was going on with Delilah and Selim. It just seemed like there was something missing between panels for the first few pages. However, once I focused on the adventure of the story, I enjoyed it. I'm interested to see what will happen in the next volume.

By Bryan Lee O'Malley
Published 2014 by Ballantine Books
Another one I'd heard buzz about and was interested in, but didn't pick up until recently. We've got it shelved in our young adult section, but I'm not sure it belongs there. Katie is nearly 30 and a lot of her problems are definitely more adult in nature. I'm sure older teens will relate to her struggle with doing the right thing and trying to attain one's dreams, but the complexities of romantic relationships may not be in line with their experiences. I thought the notion of the mushrooms and being able to change one mistake was really interesting and I liked the incorporation of the house spirits. Really unique concept and I could definitely relate to Katie's struggles as a young adult.

Generation Why (Ms. Marvel, volume two)
By G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jacob Wyatt
Published 2015 by Marvel
I was pretty ambivalent with volume one. I don't read a lot of superhero comics, but many people I trust loved this one, so I wanted to give it a shot. I figured I'd started it, so I'll stick with it. I enjoyed this volume more than the first. I didn't love the appearance of Wolverine in this one, though I get the necessity of tying it into the greater Marvel universe. I liked it enough to immediately pick up volume three, though.

Crushed (Ms. Marvel, volume three)
By G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa and Elmo Bondoc
Published 2015 by Marvel
This is my favorite volume of the comic so far. As much as I didn't love Wolverine's appearance in volume two, I really enjoyed Loki showing up in this volume. Maybe it's just because I enjoy Loki's brand of snark a bit more than Wolverine's, but I found his appearance more entertaining. However, I do not love the storyline with Bruno - it just feels a bit too predictable right now. I liked a romance for Kamala is made even more complicated because of her powers. I did quite enjoy the twist at the end of this volume, though, and I'm interested to see what's going to happen next.

Foiled! (Foiled, book one)
By Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallaro
Published 2010 by First Second
I'd seen this one around over the years and thought it looked intriguing but never bother picking it up. Finally, while weeding our graphic novels, this one was on my list of titles to pull, so I figured I'd read it first. While it was indeed an interesting premise, I didn't find it particularly memorable.

Curses! Foiled Again (Foiled, book two)
By Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallaro
Published 2013 by First Second
As with the first title, the sequel was on my weeding list and I figured I might as well read them both before letting them find new homes. I enjoyed this volume more than the first (maybe because Baba Yaga?), but still didn't find anything particularly noteworthy.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Real Talk

All right, y'all. It's closing in on the end of 2015, I've read over 250 books, and I haven't posted a review here in three months. What can I say? I got married in October, which means I had zero free time in the last few weeks leading up to the wedding. And, even since we've started settling into married life, I still feel like it's been pretty non-stop crazy busy (I guess the holidays haven't helped to alleviate that feeling). So, I've managed to squeeze in reading time (mostly by way of graphic novels), but I haven't been doing any reviewing. However, I've been wanting to get back into it, particularly as the clock looms closer to ticking into the new year.

So, what's it mean? Well, as I said, I've mostly been reading graphic novels over the last couple months, and mostly for adults at that. However, I have read some kid's and teen books and I'd like to give them their due. In reality, though, with my terrible memory and the short amount of time remaining in the year, reviewing each in full is just not going to happen.

So, what you'll see in the coming days are very short reviews of the books I've read in the final months of 2015 (unless I find I have more to say about a particular title). I'll lump several together in each post and hope to get through everything I have backlogged. Then, as per usual around these parts, I'll post my favorites of the year, though I may just make one post with all my favorites instead of several different posts as I've done in the past. And, come January, I'll highlight the titles I'm most excited about for the coming year, talk about what I expect my reading year will look like in 2016 and hopefully be back on track with regular reviews. Sound good to everyone? Great! See you shortly with some reviews!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

November Check-In

So I still haven't recovered the blog writing since the wedding, but I promise I'm going to fiercely try in December. Here's what I read in November!

Early-chapter: 2

Middle-grade: 7

Teen: 7

Adult: 30

Picture books: 52

Library books: 93

Books owned: 5

Don't let the numbers fool you; I read A LOT of graphic novels. Our fiscal year started up again, so a bevy of new picture books also arrived. As I said, I'm still in a reviewing rut after taking time off for the wedding, but I want to get back into the swing of things soon. I also am wanting to focus on finishing up series I've started and clear out more of the books in my house. I'm contemplating another year without library books next year, but we'll see what happens.

Monday, November 2, 2015

October Check-In

Another new month, another review of what I read!

Early-chapter: 1

Middle-grade: 3

Teen: 7

Adult: 5

Picture books: 7

Library books: 20

Books owned: 3

And that's it. Another mostly lackluster month for me, justified because I got married the second week of the month, but a bit disappointing on the reading front. I haven't gotten completely back into the swing of things since returning from the wedding, so we'll see how November goes. I still feel mostly only interested in reading adult graphic novels - I have a giant stack checked out from the library - but obviously I squeezed in some other reading this month. I still have lots of ambitious plans for reading (finishing series, reading more of what's in my house), but actual progress on those things is slow-going. Here's hoping I can finish the last two months of the year strongly.

Friday, October 2, 2015

September Check-In

Woo boy - so somehow I managed to miss actually publishing this when September ended. Perhaps it had something to do with my impending wedding? Either way, here's what I read in September!

Early-chapter: 0

Middle-grade: 6

Teen: 3

Adult: 21

Picture books: 46

Library books: 69

Books owned: 7

I didn't get a lot of reading done this month - wedding planning (and stress) was definitely a contributing factor. What I did read was mostly graphic novels - that's pretty much all I've felt in the mood for over the last couple months. I enjoy the satisfaction of finishing a book every day when I'm reading graphic novels. I did find some time for a few other things, but I don't see my graphic novel kick ending any time soon. I'm imagining October will play out much like September did, with the first two weeks consumed by the wedding and the last two weeks a frantic scramble to catch up at work and finish reading anything.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

August Check-In

 It's time again to see how I've fared this month!

 Early-chapter: 0

Middle-grade: 7

Teen: 12

Adult: 4

Picture books: 0

Library books: 15

Books owned: 8

Well, my numbers would seem pretty impressive, but I mostly read graphic novels. The wedding is now just over a month away, so my free time for reading is very much limited these days. I'm still trying to squeeze in as much as I can, but it's actually a little bit stressful. I'm still expecting myself to read as much as when I don't have a million other things going on, even though I shouldn't expect that. For some reason, I can't help it - reading is my hobby and I want to devote time to it just like any other hobby. I guess I just don't deal well with too many things eating up my time. Anyway, I'm expecting this next month to go pretty poorly, as well, though I do have several graphic novels lined up again. We'll see!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Review: Everything Everything

Everything Everything
By Nicola Yoon
Expected publication September 1, 2015 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Madeline has lived her entire life in her house. She is allergic to everything, so leaving her house is potentially fatal. Really, though, she doesn't mind too much - until Olly moves in next door. And even though she knows better, Madeline starts talking to him. If you've ever been a teenager, you know this probably isn't going to end well.

So, this book has been getting tons of buzz and I was very pleased to see an e-galley available for download. I snatched it up. On a slow night at work, I started reading it and was immediately sucked in. I couldn't put it down.

Here's the thing: this book was an extremely engaging and quick read. The chapters were short and Madeline's voice was realistic and fascinating to read. Though the story with Olly was pretty predictable, it was hard not to fall in love along with them. I appreciated the diversity and I was really intrigued by Madeline's disease. I enjoyed reading about the everyday details of her life and I found it refreshing that Madeline has such a strong sense of self.

BUT. There is a big twist in this book and it kind of undermined the whole story for me. I don't want to give it away, but I'm not sure I can fully explain my disappointment without spoiling it. What I'll say is this: I would have enjoyed the story much more without the twist. I wanted to see how the story of Madeline and her disease would play out and if a happy ending would be possible for a character like her. The twist made it impossible to follow the story as it began.

While the twist didn't completely ruin the book for me, it did lessen my enjoyment. That being said, though, I think this book will definitely be a hit with teens. I just wish the story had ended where it began.

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Review: Violent Ends

Violent Ends
Edited by Shaun David Hutchinson
Expected publication September 1, 2015 by Simon Pulse

It's possible that Kirby Matheson's name is unfamiliar, but everyone will know it soon enough. This is the story of Kirby told by people who knew him and people who didn't. It's the story of Kirby before and it's the story of Kirby after - after he brings a gun to school and kills six people.

I'd heard a lot of buzz about this book for some time. It's a series of interconnected stories, written by a variety of authors, telling the story of a school shooting. I was intrigued by the concept and I think it's an important topic to examine, so I was pleased to see the e-galley available.

I expected to like this a lot more than I did and I actually find myself at a bit of a loss regarding what to say about it. Generally, I love books of interconnected stories - I think it's a fascinating narrative approach. I really liked its use here - getting the stories surrounding the school shooting through a variety of voices. And I really appreciated the wide variety of voices used in this collection - there is even a story from the point of view of the gun (maybe my favorite, certainly the most memorable of the collection). I liked discovering the degrees of connectedness to the central incident through each story - some of them surprised me quite a bit (I'm thinking of one in particular with a startling reveal at the very end that left me with significantly more questions than answers). But, as with all collections of stories, some are better than others. I appreciated the complex dimensions this book reaches - violent crime is a problem in our society, one that we often blithely choose to ignore in favor of personal freedoms, but it's a problem that needs to be discussed. I appreciated that this collection addressed the mixed emotions felt by all involved in a tragedy such as this - relief, guilt, confusion, anger, sadness, and many more. There are no easy answers here and I'm glad the book took that approach.

My main complaint about this is strictly due to my reading it in digital ARC form - the author names were not listed at the start of each story, so I couldn't tell who wrote what. Ultimately, it doesn't matter since the author wouldn't affect my feelings about the story, but I was far too lazy upon reaching the end to thumb back and figure out who wrote what. Obviously, this won't be a problem in the print version (I find it easier to flip back and forth in print than electronically), so this is really a non-issue for readers.

Overall, I thought this book was well-done but I'm not sure all of it was memorable enough to stick in my mind.

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Review: The Wolf Wilder

The Wolf Wilder
By Katherine Rundell
Expected publication August 25, 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Feo and her mother live a solitary existence - well, if you don't count the wolves. Once upon a time, wealthy Russians would keep wolves as pets until their natural instincts took over. These wolves - halfway between domestic and wild - would have to be trained again to live in the wild. Feo and her mother are wolf wilders. Feo loves her life with the wolves. That's why she'll stop at nothing to get it back when the Tsar arrests her mother and threatens to kill her wolves.

I've read Rundell's previous books and enjoyed them well enough - her first more than her most recent. In fact, I was well ready to write off Rundell altogether after her last title. But then, fortuitously, I spotted this e-galley available and downloaded it. I'm glad I had a change of mind.

Much to my surprise, I absolutely loved this book. To be clear, I can see it likely has some faults, but I fell completely for this story. What is most interesting to me is that many of the things I faulted her previous title for - a headstrong, brash main character and a repetitive series of adventures - were the things I loved most about this title. Feo reminded me of Wilhemina (the protagonist of Rundell's previous novel) - she's grown up mostly removed from society, surrounded largely by animals rather than people. As such, her social skills often leave something to be desired. For some reason, though, in Feo's case, it comes off less harshly and selfish than it did in Will's. It seemed more obvious to me that Will's intentions were always in the right spot, even if her actions weren't the proper ones. Feo always seemed more flexible and willing to learn from others as the story progressed and circumstances took her far beyond her comfort zone. These were qualities that I felt Will lacked. Feo and her interactions with others made me laugh rather than cringe, so clearly I was inclined to like this one more than her previous.

I quite enjoyed the other characters as well. Every time a new one was introduced, I was eager to hear their story and I don't think I was disappointed by any of them. Rundell does an excellent job here of infusing even relatively minor characters with some small hint of a life beyond her pages and I loved discovering these. Some of it is not so subtle (from the moment he appears, it's obvious Ilya will play a significant role), but it never bothered me.

As I said previously, the adventures do get a bit repetitive - Rakov is villainy, Feo escapes, Rakov catches up, etc. However, it never grates because the stakes feel devastatingly real. This book is not afraid to be a bit dark. So, although Rakov is a tiny bit of a villain caricature, the book never feels cartoonish. Spoilers maybe, but people and animals get hurt in this book and it feels heartbreakingly real. I'm not ashamed to admit I cried during this one - that's how engrossed I was with this story.

For the faults I can obviously acknowledge: Rundell takes extreme liberties with her wolves here. Personally, I didn't consider this a fault because I wasn't reading this as a piece of straight historical fiction (and I'm not sure it ever purports to be that). But, I can certainly see some readers balking at Rundell's depiction of wolf behaviors and attitudes. Additionally, later in the book, it touches upon some Russian politics which I can imagine might get boring for the reader but felt like a natural part of the story to me.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this and am very glad I didn't overlook it because of my past ambivalence with the author.

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

Monday, August 24, 2015

Review: Lair of Dreams

Lair of Dreams (Diviners, book two)
By Libba Bray
Expected publication August 25, 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

WARNING: There may be spoilers for book one ahead. Read my review of that title here.

After a showdown with a real-life creepy-crawly, Evie's secret talent is not so secret anymore. Now, she's the "Sweetheart Seer," making a living off of her supernatural gift. But is all of America ready for the Diviners to reveal themselves? At the same time, a mysterious sleeping sickness has hit the city, claiming more and more victims every day. Are the Diviners ready for another showdown?

I don't think I can explain to you how excited I was when I was approved for the e-galley of this. It took all my willpower not to drop everything and start reading it immediately. I've been looking forward to this book for more than two years, after all!

So, perhaps it comes as no surprise that this book failed to live up to my expectations. After completely loving book number one and then waiting (rather impatiently) as the publication date for this was pushed back and pushed back, I was ready to be blown away by book two. And I wasn't. It makes me sad to say it but, for me, this didn't live up to the promise of the first.

While I still love the cast of characters, Evie lost a bit of her charm for me with this one. I think it was all the dithering about Jericho and the flutters she begins to feel for Sam - does there have to be a love triangle? Particularly with a character I view as no-nonsense. It just irked me. Additionally, the stories with each of the characters felt a bit more disjointed in this one - I had a hard time trying to see how they were all going to tie together. I assume that Bray still has some master endgame in which the Diviners must all unite to battle the biggest supernatural baddie of all and save life as we know it, but it was difficult at times to keep that notion in mind while reading this book.

And, speaking of supernatural baddies, after the amazingly creepy Naughty John and the story of the end of the world cult, the villain in this entry fell extremely short. I was not at all creeped out while reading this one and that was a great disappointment to me. I mean, I guess they can't all be mind-numbingly terrifying, but I expected much more horror than I got. Perhaps because of my lack of interest in the villain, this book also seemed to move much more slowly than the first book and I really felt the 600 pages I read to finish it. Bits of this actually felt like filler, which just boggles my mind, but I suppose if I believe in the endgame bit, it'll probably all turn out to be relevant in the end. Despite my disappointment in this entry, I adored book one so much that I will definitely be back for the next installment (which I imagine will take another two years to arrive).

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

Monday, August 17, 2015

Review: The Creeping

The Creeping
By Alexandra Sirowy
Expected publication August 18, 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

When Stella was a young girl, she disappeared with her best friend. She came back. Her best friend never did. But Stella has tried to move on with her life. Then, a body is discovered - the body of a little red-headed girl, a body that reminds Stella all too much of her disappeared best friend. When Stella learns that other red-headed girls have vanished over the years, she knows she must solve the mystery.

The promise of a creepy mystery drew me into downloading this e-galley when I discovered it. I love reading horror novels but I haven't had a ton of luck with YA horror. Nevertheless, I'm determined to keep trying them.

Here is my main problem with this book: any creepiness that may be generated by the possibly-uncovering-a-spooky-monster-in-the-woods-that-eats-little-red-headed-girls-and-anyone-who-comes-close-to-discovering-it is completely nullified every single gosh darn time Stella worries that her image might be tarnished by trying to solve the mystery with her former best friend and current high school loser, Sam. And, lo, my friends, those times are many. I literally could not believe how much of her headspace and time Stella devotes to worrying about being seen with Sam or concerned that her terribly abusive new best friend, Zoey, will be pissed when she finds out that Stella has been seeing Sam behind her back. I mean, there may be a scary monster that eats people out there and you may be next on its list (or maybe it's a creepy multi-generational cult), but let's go ahead and worry more about drama surrounding the boy you like. Just, excuse me while I try to stop my eyerolling.

That being said, I thought the book did a decent job of walking the line between a supernatural monster and a human one, keeping readers guessing until the very end which kind it will turn out to be. Personally, I worried that the monster was going to be the one I didn't want (no, I will not tell you which of those options I mean), but I was happy when the ending resolved things in a way that felt believable to me. So, though I struggled with the atmosphere of the book and the characters, the mystery itself was well done and I'd be interested in reading what Sirowy does next.

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

Friday, August 14, 2015

Capsule Reviews: YA Edition

A Million Suns (Across the Universe, book two)
By Beth Revis

Published 2012 by Razorbill
Review of book one
Three months have passed since the events of the first book. Amy still struggles to find a place for herself aboard the ship. Elder struggles to become the leader he knows he must be. It isn't long before another crisis arises, catapulting both Amy and Elder into a frantic hunt for the truth among all the lies that make up Godspeed.

After listening to the first on audio, I picked up the print version of book two for both my fiance and I to read. I was interested to see what direction the series would go in, as book one didn't set up an explicit course. This continues in the time-honored tradition of "main character discovers ancestors have kept very important secrets" and I found it mostly enjoyable. I find the exploration of sexuality and sexual assault interesting and, at the same time, a bit misplaced in this series. I think it was used as a plot device here, which I didn't terribly enjoy. The plot moves quickly again, and I continue to enjoy the dual narration. I still favor Elder's character, though he got a bit whiny in this entry. The setup for book three is much more explicit here and I currently have it checked out. I hope to read it soon.

A Corner of White (The Colors of Madeleine, book one)
By Jaclyn Moriarty, read by Fiona Hardingham, Andrew Eiden, Kate Reinders, and Peter McGowan
Published 2013 by Scholastic Audio
Madeleine lives in Cambridge with her mom, adjusting to a quieter life than she's used to. Elliot lives in Bonfire, in the Kingdom of Cello, determined to solve the mystery of his father's disappearance. Inexplicably, their lives will cross, changing them both forever.

This was one of Audiofile's SYNC titles this summer. I remember discussion around this book when it was released and I thought it sounded interesting, so I took the opportunity to squeeze it into my schedule as a listen. I actually think this book signified the beginning of my reading slump. This was a long listen and I struggled with it. It takes a long time for this book to make sense. It's not until maybe 3/4 of the way through that you fully understand why you're reading both Madeleine and Elliot's stories - they don't really have a strong connection for the majority of the book. In addition, I had problems with both readers (as a side note, I don't know why there are 4 readers listed in everything I found - I only noticed two). The reader of Madeleine's story adopted an extremely strange accent for her voice - which, to be fair, is exactly what the text says. But to actually hear it spoken - I didn't enjoy it. The reader for Elliot's story was terrible at inflection - everything was read in a monotone and it was very distracting. So, as I said, I struggled with this. It picked up at the end a bit, enough that I'd like to see where the story goes next but it's fair to assume I won't be checking out the audio version.

The Living (The Living, book one)
By Matt de la Pena, read by Henry Leyva
Published 2013 by Brilliance Audio
Shy needs money, so he takes a summer job working on a cruise ship. It can't be all bad, right? But then, the biggest earthquake recorded hits and suddenly Shy finds himself in a massive fight for survival.

Another of the SYNC titles this summer, I happily downloaded it when it was available. I'd heard lots of great things about this book, so I was really looking forward to squeezing it into my reading schedule. That being said, I was pretty disappointed in this one. First, it's a trivial thing, really, but I couldn't get past the main character being called Shy. I sometimes have a hard time with names that just don't sound right to me and this was one of those times. It didn't really seem to suit the character or the story, but your mileage may vary. Second, this book was just not what I expected. I expected zombies - I don't know why really. Maybe the cover gave me that impression. But I expected zombies and was extremely disappointed. Third, it's billed as a survival story but it never really felt that way to me. Perhaps the audio just didn't convey the direness of the situation well, but I never truly felt like Shy was in significant danger. I really didn't enjoy the conspiracy part of the plot at all. I also don't love that this is the first book in a series - where is the series going to go from here? I don't know and I'm only mildly curious to find out.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Capsule Reviews: Middle Grade Reviews

Anywhere but Paradise
By Anne Bustard
Published 2015 by Egmont USA
Peggy Sue certainly did not want to move to Hawaii but, unfortunately, she has no choice. Her beloved cat is stuck in quarantine and Kiki, a classmate, relentlessly bullies Peggy Sue. Things only get worse when a tsunami hits and Peggy Sue's parents are unaccounted for.

An ARC of this arrived at my library back in the spring and I set it aside as something I wanted to read before passing it along to the kids. It eventually became the book I read during slow times at the children's desk, so it took me quite some time to finish it. What I liked most about this book was the setting - Hawaii in 1960. I'm hard-pressed to think of another novel set during this same period and in this same place, when Hawaii's statehood was still brand new. I liked learning more about Hawaiian culture and I liked the small historical details peppered throughout. I did think that there could have been more of both - as a whole, the book focuses on small dramas and there were a lot of pieces that I thought would have benefited from being expanded upon. The chapters are very short, making this a quick read during those times I had a chance to read it. A good choice for more unique historical fiction.

On the Day I Died: Stories from the Grave
By Candace Fleming, read by a full cast
Published 2012 by Listening Library
In a cemetery outside Chicago, a teen finds himself surrounded by ghosts, eager to share their stories. He's in for a long night...

I was in between SYNC titles this summer, so I downloaded this audio, a book I'd been wanting to check out since its publication. Short story collections are often a mixed bag and I think this one was no exception. I enjoyed the variety of time periods covered throughout the stories and the occasional appearance of a historical figure (gangsters play a significant role in one story). I liked that this is basically a newer version of scary story collections I read as a child (though, in this case, you know the outcome of every story since the ghosts are telling them). However, none of the stories were really that scary (I realize I am saying this as an adult person reading a novel intended for middle graders, but I don't think young me would have been frightened either) and some went on a bit long for my taste. Additionally, one line in one story stood out to me so much that I wrote it down: "Having three younger sisters, I had a soft spot for the weak and defenseless." REALLY? That one line bothered me so much that I half tuned out to everything I listened to after it. So, while I'm sure this will appeal to many readers, it was not my favorite.

The Dragon Lantern (The League of Seven, book two)
By Alan Gratz
Published 2015 by Starscape
Archie Dent is convinced that he and his friends are the latest incarnation of the legendary League of Seven. Though he knows they are strongest when together, circumstances will split up the friends as they go in search of answers to questions of their past.

I read the first book in this series last summer and enjoyed it enough to anticipate the arrival of book two, so I snatched it up as soon as it arrived at the library this summer. This was the main bright spot in my unfortunate reading slump. The action is once again non-stop, keeping me turning the pages at a furious rate. New characters arrived on the scene and more details about familiar characters were revealed. While I enjoyed the separate adventures occurring simultaneously, it was clear that Archie is meant to be the hero of the series - his adventures had two or three chapters for every one that focused on Hachi and Fergus. There is a lovely twist in this one as well and I continue to be completely fascinated by the world that Gratz has created here. I'm very pleased with this entry in the series and can't wait for the next one!

Crows & Cards
By Joseph Helgerson, read by MacLeod Andrews
Published 2009 by Brilliance Audio
Zeb Crabtree is being booted from his home - sent to apprentice with a great-uncle and ease the burden on his family. Too bad that Zeb sets off on a different path almost immediately, falling in with a riverboat gambler. Zeb soon finds himself stuck in a place he doesn't want to be - can he figure out a way out?

Yet another of the Audiofile SYNC titles for the summer, I downloaded this one because I love historical fiction. I got the feeling from the description that this book might be a bit like The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, a historical book I quite enjoyed and also listened to. However, though there may be some similarities (a boy sets out on his own path, finding a string of adventures along the way), I didn't enjoy this one as much. I didn't find it as entertaining and it seemed much slower-moving. The adventures that Zeb has are definitely not as exciting as those had by Homer. What I appreciated most was the setting - I liked that this took place right before the Civil War. All in all, though, I found this mostly unremarkable.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Review: Reawakened

Reawakened (Reawakened, book one)
By Colleen Houck
Expected publication August 11, 2015 by Delacorte Press

Lily escapes to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a morning of peace during her spring break. Unfortunately, that peace eludes her, as she instead discovers a reawakened Egyptian prince, imbued with the power of the gods and tasked with completing a ritual to prevent the god of chaos from rising. Oh, and he needs Lily's help.

When I spotted this e-galley available, I'll admit that I was immediately drawn to the cover. I really like the styling of it and think it pops. Then I read the description and thought, "Hmm...Egyptian mythology. Sounds good to me!" No surprise that I downloaded it.

Unfortunately, I didn't love it. I think the thing that bothered me most about it was (sorry if this is a spoiler but really, if you read teen books, it shouldn't be) the insta-love. I think Houck tried to make this seem more interesting by making it read as if this insta-love is just one-sided but, ho-ho, tricksy author! You can't fool me - and likely won't fool most other readers either. Lily spends so much of her time worried about being rejected by Amon that she drove me crazy. And, oh my gosh, the disordered eating that is described - how can you seriously think it's okay to write a teenage girl character and talk about how all she has is tea for lunch without even suggesting that might be a problem?!? This deeply bothered me.

The characters I most enjoyed didn't appear until quite far into the book - Amon's resurrected brothers. They, at least, had a bit of personality, something that Amon mostly lacked. The ending also felt rushed, which led to my discovery that this is but the first in a series. WHY???? Why does everything have to be a series? Why can't I just read a nice stand-alone YA speculative fiction title? I just get so weary of reading series, though perhaps my sentiments are not shared by the actual target audience. Regardless, I might have enjoyed this book a bit better if it hadn't so clearly left things open for sequels.

Overall, I didn't actively despise the book, but I found it mostly silly and underwhelming.

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

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Release Day Review: Chasing Secrets

Chasing Secrets
By Gennifer Choldenko
Expected publication August 4, 2015 by Wendy Lamb Books

Lizzie isn't interested in the things befitting a typical young lady of 1900 San Francisco. She lives for the times she gets to accompany her physician father on his house calls. It's on one of these visits that Lizzie discovers a side of the city she never knew about - a side that might be infected with the plague. Now, Lizzie must do everything she can to help the people she loves - before it's too late.

I was pretty excited to see a new book from Choldenko - I enjoyed her Alcatraz series and was interested in seeing what she could do with a new set of characters.

I haven't felt terribly excited about most of what I've read lately, but I did like this book quite a bit. I mean, there isn't much in it that I wouldn't like - historical fiction, inquisitive female character, deadly plague. Those are all things I enjoy in stories. It isn't my favorite book of the year, but I enjoyed it, and I'll definitely be happy to recommend it to readers looking for historical fiction.

Once again, the attention to details is excellent - it's obvious that Choldenko does her research before she sets down to write a story. She hasn't strayed terribly far from the Alcatraz setting of her most-famous books, but she does a great job setting the scene, so I don't really see the need for it. Choldenko has picked a little-known but extremely fascinating bit of history and built her story around it and it's definitely a success. The story is compelling (the deadly plague bit helps) and, like most good historical fiction, will get readers interested in learning the facts behind the fiction. There are some sad parts of the story - much of it revolves around the blatant racism common of the times, and there is also a character death - but they're handled well and feel natural to the story.

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

Monday, August 3, 2015

July Check-In

Oh my cats, it's August! That means it's time for another check-in on what I've been reading.

Early-chapter: 0

Middle-grade: 5

Teen: 4

Adult: 2

Picture books: 101

Library books: 108

Books owned: 4

So, two obvious things the stats will tell you this month. First, we got an absurd amount of new picture books in at the library and I DEVOURED THEM ALL. Second, that's about all I read this month. This month was not a month for accomplishing any reading. My fiance was sick for the first week and a half and we spent the first three weeks of the month prepping for and moving to a new place. This put pretty much everything else on hold. After we got the move squared away, we had to get back into wedding planning. So, I didn't read too much in July. An additional bummer: I'm in a bit of a reading slump. The things I have been reading I feel mostly ambivalent about. I've had little desire to review them; hence, extended absences here on the blog. I'm got a couple of ARCs to review, but other than that, look for short reviews of everything else. I'm hoping to get out of my slump in August but the wedding is now about two months away, so we'll see how that goes!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Review: Piper Green and the Fairy Tree

Piper Green and the Fairy Tree
By Ellen Potter, illustrated by Qin Leng
Expected publication August 4, 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers 

Piper Green rides a lobster boat to school - her island is too small for its own school. She doesn't mind, but this year, everything feels different. And that's before she discover the fairy tree in her front yard.

I don't read a lot of beginning chapter books, though many have caught my eye as I order them. I'm not sure why I don't read them more frequently - they usually only take 20-30 minutes to read through. But, I guess, among all the other books that take up more of my time, I just never squeeze them in. This book was an exception - I saw the e-galley and wanted to read it because it's set on an island off the coast of Maine. I'm a sucker for anything set in my home state.

I don't have a ton to say about this book, particularly since I don't read a lot of these kinds of books. My basis for comparison is quite limited. However, I enjoyed this one quite a bit. Piper is a lovely narrator - she is very realistic and has a great personality. She's quite stubborn, but she's also dealing with a lot of unexpected feelings - her brother is gone and she's starting a new grade (with a surprise new teacher).

The book is easy to read - I think it's great for kids just starting with chapter books (they seem to really enjoy realistic stories at that stage as well). It's fun and amusing and well-written. The illustrations are adorable as well, and definitely kid-friendly. I was a little surprised that the titular fairy tree is really just imaginary, but I think it worked well for the story. I'm looking forward to reading more of Piper's adventures in the future.

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