Thursday, April 30, 2015

Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, book one)
By Sarah J. Maas
Expected publication May 5, 2015 by Bloomsbury Children's

Feyre has learned to be a survivor - she can't rely on any of her family members, so she must rely only on herself. But when she kills a wolf, her survival skills have unexpected consequences. Now, she is carried off to the land of the faeries, where she must live with Tamlin, a high lord and a creature of legend. Not all is as it seems in this land, though, and soon Feyre finds herself on a dangerous quest to save not only herself, but the faeries she has grown to care about.

This is one of the most anticipated new series in YA fiction this spring. Maas is already a wildly popular author, thanks to her first series (which is still ongoing). Despite winning her first book in a contest, it remains on my shelf, unread (I swear I'll get to it someday!). But when I saw this listed as an auto-approval for me on NetGalley, well, I couldn't resist the call of the buzz.

It's not difficult for my to see why Maas is a popular author - this book sucked me in from page one and held me until the very end. I was impressed with nearly every aspect of this book - the characters, the world, the romance, the plot, the ending. I thought it was all done incredibly well. If this book is any indication, I am very much looking forward to going back and reading Maas' other books, as well as anticipating the next title in this series (which really needs a shorter series name!).

As I said, nearly everything about this book impressed me, so let me break it down just a bit, starting with the characters. Feyre is a complete badass. She reminded me of Katsa and Bitterblue combined - a fierce woman who has been forced to endure tragedy but must find a way to keep herself afloat. She has little interest in letting anyone get close to her - they will just become another person she must protect, if they don't disappoint her first. Each member of her family has their own unique struggle as well, and I really liked the variety of relationships demonstrated amongst them all. The characters in the faerie world are all great as well. I loved Tamlin - of course (SWOON - and I do that rarely!) - but I also really loved Lucien and Rhysand and the villain. All unique and all richly developed. Oh, and I'd like to point out that Rhysand definitely has a Darkling vibe, which I loved, so I'm looking forward to how that will develop in future books.

Also excellently developed is the world. Feyre inhabits multiple worlds throughout the course of the story and they are all described very evocatively. I loved the complexity of the faerie world, with its court system and the curse that has sickened it and threatens to spill into the mortal world. The magic system is intriguing and, like I said before, the villain is truly horrible - which worked beautifully here. I loved the intricacies and complexities of the world here and there is so much more to explore that I can easily see this series running for many, many more books.

The romance - whew! Sexy times are sexy in this book. Be aware of that as you're recommending this one; it does not shy from the sexual content. I appreciated the way Feyre's sexuality was handled, though, and I think mature readers will appreciate it as well. Obviously, I knew how the romance would develop (this is being billed as kind of a Beauty and the Beast retelling, so it's not hard to figure out), but it was still interesting to become invested in it.

I thought the plot moved along at a steady pace. Like I said, I was hooked from the first page and stayed enthralled until the end. It's no short journey from start to finish - over 400 pages - but I think it keeps readers engaged throughout. And I thought the ending was really well done - I loved the tasks that Feyre had to complete (well, they were pretty awful, but you know what I mean) and I thought Maas pulled it together in the end quite nicely. My one complaint is that it felt very obvious to me that she wanted to make this a series - there is a little moment in the last few pages that feels like its only purpose is to set up a storyline for the sequel, and I'm not sure it needed to be there. As I mentioned previously, even without that moment, there is plenty more of this world to explore in future books, so that little moment felt a bit unnecessary. But, we'll see how it plays out in the series going forward.

Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read, definitely recommended for fantasy fans. I'm excited that I have several other books by Maas to enjoy while I await the sequel to this. This is definitely going to be a hot summer read.

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

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


I have made it to the 1000th post! Is it an honor or a dubious distinction? Who knows?

As I mentioned recently, I've been blogging for four years now. The blog has mostly been a way for me to keep track of my thoughts and opinions on books over the years. It has helped with my terrible memory, though sometimes I wish I included more spoilers and exact details of books to help my memory even more. Of those 1000 posts, almost 900 have been reviews, so it's been a busy four years for me. I have no intentions of slowing down, though I hope to try to incorporate more of my other thoughts into the blog when I can.

What is in store for the next 1000 posts? There's really no telling, though, as I said, I'm going to try to add more of my thoughts on literature related things when applicable. Of course, there will still be lots of reviews, as I'm still reading as feverishly as ever. I do wonder if I will ever get to the point of legitimately feeling "caught up" with the blog - it hasn't happened yet.

As I pass these milestones, it seems unlikely that my little blog will garner me fame and fortune, but I hope my reviews have been helpful to someone - that's really all I hope for. If you enjoy my reviews, please leave a comment once in a while - I love getting them and hearing what others think. Thanks for reading my blog and I hope you'll continue with me for the next 1000 posts!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Review: Omega City

Omega City (Omega City, book one)
By Diana Peterfreund
Expected publication April 28, 2015 by Balzer + Bray

Gillian's dad is a little bit out there - he believes in some conspiracy theories and occasionally, her family has had to go off the grid when he thinks that someone if after him or his research. Most of his research has focused on one man - Dr. Aloysius Underberg, a rocket scientist during the Cold War. Gillian shares some of her dad's beliefs, so when she finds a missing page from Dr. Underberg's diary, she's convinced that she can restore his reputation. The missing page sends her and her friends on a crazy treasure hunt - and they're not the only ones looking for Dr. Underberg's secrets. Has Gillian put her friends' lives at risk for nothing? Or will they uncover the truth?

This is Peterfreund's first foray into middle-grade territory and, as I've enjoyed her YA offerings and am always looking for new middle-grade reads, I wanted to give it a shot. I was pleased to see it available for download, so I finished it up just prior to publication.

I must admit I'm a bit disappointed in this book. I had pretty high expectations - as I said, I've quite enjoyed her YA titles, so I had reason to believe this book would be excellent as well. Unfortunately, this book is a bit more middle of the road for me. What I think this book excels at, particularly for its target audience, is the action and tension. The characters find themselves in perilous situation after perilous situation pretty much constantly throughout the book, leaving readers wondering how they'll possibly escape each new dangerous encounter. The tension is high as they are pursued through a dark and dangerous underground city. Will they find the proof they need to restore Gillian's dad's reputation? Or will they end up trapped in Omega City forever? And just who is pursuing them, and why? It is definitely action-packed and edge-of-your-seat stuff.

But it also gets a bit tedious. I mean, it is a middle-grade novel, so in all likelihood, they're going to be just fine. So, for me, the tension was not quite so high. Additionally, what I really missed here was characterization. Gillian is the narrator and, while she certainly has a personality, I felt like it could have been developed a bit more. The same can be said of the secondary characters - I mean, I didn't really buy that Nate wouldn't make them abandon their mission at the first sign of danger, so a clearer explanation of his motivations would have been helpful. That being said, I think the conspiracy theory stuff is pretty cool, though I do wonder how much of that will be lost on the target audience (I don't remember being aware of any conspiracy theories when I was 10-14 and some of the ones incorporated here are a bit more obscure). I liked the humor and pop culture stuff that was woven in, and the science was all pretty interesting.

This is listed as the first in a series, and I'm interested in checking out the next book. I imagine we'll find out more about the shadowy group trying to destroy evidence of Underberg's inventions. Actually, I'm just now wondering if this book won't make some kids paranoid, with its government cover-ups and whatnot. This is a decent enough adventure story that I imagine it could be pretty popular, though I hoped for a little more. I'll still be recommending it, particularly over the summer.

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

Monday, April 27, 2015

Review: Fork-Tongue Charmers

Fork-Tongue Charmers (Luck Uglies, book two)
By Paul Durham
Published 2015 by HarperCollins

Read my review of book one here.

Though Rye O'Chanter now at least knows who her father is, that knowledge is certainly not making her life any easier. Her family has been declared outlaws by a sinister new lawman and, in order to survive, they must relocate to the Isle of Pest. But Pest holds secrets of its own - more secrets about Rye's family - and soon, Rye finds herself in the middle of another terrifying and life-threatening adventure.

I read the first book just a few short months ago (and named it our Cybils winner!) and was thrilled to discover that the sequel would be released soon. One of the benefits of changing up my reading resolution is getting to keep up with series as they're released, and I definitely took advantage of that here.

I almost feel like you could just read my review of book one again and you'd know how I feel about book two. I absolutely love these characters. Rye's frustrating and anxiety-inducing pigheadedness is once again present in this volume and, of course, it leads her into some trouble. But she makes these stubborn decisions out of the love and goodness in her heart, so it's pretty difficult to fault her for them. Though I was glad that Folly and Quinn accompanied Rye to Pest, it did feel a bit too convenient. Durham still manages to introduce some local characters in Pest and I like both Folly and Quinn immensely as well, but it just seemed a bit of a plot contrivance for them to abandon their families and accompany Rye's.

I think Durham does a nice job creating a new and intriguing environment on Pest as well - I particularly enjoyed the scene with the shellycoats. Taking the characters to a new location was a great way to introduce more backstory about Rye's family and their personal history with the Luck Uglies. Once again, I liked that Durham didn't shy away from the dark stuff - the villain is, again, pretty awful, and that personal history with the Luck Uglies I mentioned is full of some not-nice stuff.

Again, Durham manages to wrap up the story in one volume while still connecting it to the first. I think this is a great way to write a series that will keep kids engaged, but also won't completely alienate readers who skip around within the series. I'm very much looking forward to more volumes in this series - I could read about these characters all day (and I'm still waiting for more with Quinn)!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Picture Book Saturday

Rex Wrecks It!
By Ben Clanton
Published 2014 by Candlewick Press
I've enjoyed Clanton's books before and I almost never resist a dinosaur on the cover, so obviously I read this one when it arrived at our library. It's a story that's been done before - Rex the dinosaur always wrecks whatever his friends are playing with and they're sick of it - but it's very simple and still a cute story. In the end, the friends figure out how to work together so that everyone is happy. The simplicity of the text here makes it perfect for a toddler time and they'll love the repetition of the titular phrase.

Shh! We Have a Plan
By Chris Haughton
Published 2014 by Walker
I saw this one getting some attention for an award, so I was eager to see it for myself when it finally arrived at our library. Four friends want to catch a bird and they come up with a variety of plans to do so. Of course, none of their plans work out until the littlest friend takes a shot - and then success! Quite honestly, I expected more from this book. Don't get me wrong - it's fun and I love the use of the dark blues and blacks throughout the illustrations. But I wasn't overwhelmingly impressed with the story. That being said, I'm pretty sure kids will really like this one for its silliness.

Little Owl's Day
By Divya Srinivasan
Published 2014 by Viking Books for Young Readers
This is a companion book to Little Owl's Night and I am absolutely enchanted by Srinivasan's illustrations, so I was delighted to see it arrive. Little Owl one day wakes up early and discovers that the forest he knows so well during the night is completely different in daylight. So, he sets off to explore this new version of the forest. It's a simple story, but I like the variety of animals Owl encounters and, as I said, I love the illustrations. I think this would be great in storytime.

Just Right for Two
By Tracey Corderoy, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
Published 2014 by Nosy Crow
Dog keeps all his special things in a suitcase and it's just right. But when Mouse comes along, Dog discovers something he's been missing. Another story that's been done about a million times before, but still just as sweet. Dog and Mouse become friends by sharing their special things, which is a cute lesson for young ones. The illustrations are very sweet and I think this would be a good fit with other stories about friendship.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Review: Shadow Scale

Shadow Scale (Seraphina, book two)
By Rachel Hartman
Published 2015 by Random House Children's Books

To read my review of book one, go here.

Goredd has lived in an uneasy peace for all of Seraphina's life but, after recent events, it seems the peace will be no more. Knowing that she is specially poised to play a role in avoiding a truly catastrophic war, Seraphina sets out to unite her people and hopefully save her home.

This was one of my most anticipated books of the year, so I happily put my name on the holds list as soon as possible. I knew I probably wouldn't be in for a quick read, but I very much looked forward to enjoying this one.

I definitely did. Everything I loved about the first book was at play again here - it's an epic fantasy with an extremely rich and complex world and mythos. I still love what Hartman's done with the dragons - I find them fascinating. I liked that other parts of dragon society are explored in this volume, and I particularly enjoyed the time spent among the quigutls - an area previously unexplored.

What I loved most is, I think, what many other people have been complaining about but what I've looked forward to since finishing book one - the denizens of Seraphina's garden. Yes, she spends an extremely long time searching for and meeting the inhabitants of her garden in the real world. But I found them all fascinating, and I loved seeing how the version of them she had in her head related to them in real life. Ooh, and Jannoula - what an incredibly fascinating character Hartman created in her! I am amazed at the creativity that has clearly birthed all these unique and astounding characters. I'm impressed that I grew to care for them as deeply as Seraphina in just one novel and I mourned the loss of some right along with her. I was thrilled to spend the time alongside Seraphina finding the half-dragons and attempting to unite them.

But, what I really missed was the relationship with Kiggs. As Seraphina spends the majority of this book travelling about in her efforts to unite the ityasaari, she doesn't spend much time with Kiggs. The time that they do spend together doesn't feel quite the same as it did in the first book - their banter and longing mostly seems to be missing. Additionally, I thought the little plot twist with Glisselda made Seraphina into a bit of a Mary Sue - it felt out of place for me. In the end, I found the wrap-up of the romance supremely unsatisfying - I had too many questions. I think I can see what Hartman was trying to do with it, but I wanted more of Kiggs and Seraphina together, the way they were.

Overall, then, I loved the characters and plot, but I missed the romance (something I never thought I'd say). I'm sad that this is only a duology, but I hope Hartman will take advantage of the rich world she's created here and return, even if it is with other characters.

A quick aside here: today is my 4-year blogiversary! (It feels like much longer - haha!) I have written almost 1000 posts here. Any ideas for what specialness I should do for my 1000th post?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Review: This Shattered World

This Shattered World (Starbound, book two)
By Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
Published 2014 by Disney-Hyperion

Read my review of book one here.

Jubilee Chase is one of the youngest and fiercest soldiers stationed on Avon - and, so far, the only one immune to the Fury. Flynn Cormac is a native to Avon and the brother of its most infamous rebel, but Flynn longs to find another way. A split second decision brings Jubilee and Flynn on a collision course with consequences not just for Avon, but for the entire Galactic Council.

So, despite my deep distrust of all things set in space, I read and quite enjoyed the first book in the series. My fiance recently listened to the first book on audio, so when I checked out the next book for him to read, I decided to read it as well.

I was particularly interested to see how the series would work, being set in the same universe as the first but featuring new characters. While it initially took me a while to warm up to these new characters, I really liked this approach. It has worked for me in a few other series I've enjoyed (Diana Peterfreund's For Darkness Shows the Stars, Carrie Ryan's Forest of Hands and Teeth), so I'm not surprised to have enjoyed it here. It makes all the more exciting that moment when the characters from previous books make their appearance in the new book. I thought it was handled particularly well here - I was actually cheering out loud!

Anyway, I actually think the story here is stronger than that of book one. I felt that book one focused a lot on the star-crossed romance (which I didn't really buy into - the star-crossed part, not the romance part) and the others parts of the plot were secondary. Here, I really enjoyed the main storyline - Flynn's desperate attempt to solve the mystery of his planet's delay and what that means for Lee. I really enjoyed reading about both sides of the story and it was heartbreaking to see how far the rebels were willing to go to bring justice to their cause. I think part of the reason why this book is stronger is because it builds on the foundation of book one, deepening the conspiracy and amping up for what is sure to be a catastrophic finale. I am definitely looking forward to book three.

Once again, I think the unique qualities of the world created here are interesting. I'm starting to wonder if maybe I don't hate space as much as I thought I did. Like I said, I'm very much looking forward to book three, and I'm interested in reading more by these authors - I know Kaufman has a new series launching in the fall that sounds really intriguing. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Review: Pennyroyal Academy

Pennyroyal Academy (Pennyroyal Academy, book one)
By M.A. Larson, read by Susan Duerden
Published 2014 by Penguin Audio

A girl has no memory of who she is, where she comes from, or where she should be but she knows there is something for her at Pennyroyal Academy. She enlists, making friends with the princesses and knights enrolled, all learning the most important thing: how to fight witches and dragons. But strange memories begin appearing to her and it isn't long before she is on a dangerous quest to discover the truth.

I downloaded the audio edition of this recently, as I was in need of something to read and I thought this sounded interesting. Initially, I didn't think this was a great choice for a listen - the story begins with no context, with readers (and listeners) simply dropped into the forest with our main character. It was a bit much to try to follow at first, particularly as the main character has no name until one is given to her at the Academy.

Despite a bit of a rough start, I ended up enjoying this book. It's got a lot of familiar elements, but I think it tells an interesting enough story to hold its own. I really liked the friendships that Evie (as she is eventually called) develops at Pennyroyal, and most of the secondary characters are pretty entertaining. There is a bit of romance that, while predictable, was charming and plenty of action. The big reveal is probably not terribly surprising, though I didn't see it coming.

Overall, though, I don't have much to say about this one. It's not very memorable, but I enjoyed it well enough while reading. It's listed as the first in a series on Goodreads, though no word yet on when a sequel might appear. I'd be interested enough to check it out if it ever does.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Review: Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke

Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke (Prisoner of Night and Fog, book two)
By Anne Blankman
Expected publication April 21, 2015 by Balzer + Bray

Read my review of book one here.

Gretchen has escaped from under the thumb of her Uncle Dolf and found a peaceful new life with her beloved Daniel. But Uncle Dolf has not slowed down and it's only a matter of time before he becomes the most powerful man in Germany. When Daniel's cousin is attacked, he returns to Germany, only to be accused of murder. Can Gretchen and Daniel clear his name and find a way to stop Hitler and the National Socialists?

After my ambivalent feelings about book one, I was hesitant to come to book two, but willing to give it a try. When I spotted the e-galley available, I downloaded it and got busy reading.

Many of my criticisms of book one hold true for this volume as well. I generally find Gretchen to be the least interesting of the characters, despite her being the protagonist. This book was especially difficult to truly become invested in because Gretchen and Daniel have been separated from the characters we met in book one. I think one of my favorite parts here was the reappearance of Gretchen's former best friend (and Hitler's mistress), Eva. It's fascinating to see her at the beginning of her long and tumultuous affair with Hitler and how it has changed her, particularly in Gretchen's eyes. Once again, Gretchen's internal struggles don't feel terribly authentic to me, though the source of her struggles is different in this volume. Here, much of the focus of Gretchen's angst is on figuring out how she and Daniel can have a happily ever after, which really seems pretty unlikely considering the time and place their story is set.

Additionally, as in my review of book one, much of the worldbuilding here in book two feels like an infodump. The entire storyline of Gretchen and Daniel and the ringverein seemed to exist because it was an interesting bit of information that Blankman stumbled upon and wanted to fit into her story somehow. It works, but it felt a bit forced. The romance feels very melodramatic in this one and, as I said, I was not expecting a happy ending for the couple (I won't tell you whether I was right or not), so mostly I was bored by Gretchen's dithering over how to make things work between them.

Again, where this book works for me is in the central mysteries - that of the Reichstag fire and the murder for which Daniel has been framed. The added temporal pressure of the Enabling Act also ratcheted up the tension for me. However, it wasn't until the author's note that I realized this series was to only be a duology - in the note, Blankman outlines the fates of most of the real-life figures involved in her story, making it clear that this would be our last interaction with them. I would have been intrigued to see what Blankman could have done by continuing the series during World War II, but it would have almost certainly had a very tragic ending.

Ultimately, an interesting piece of historical fiction, exciting enough to recommend to reluctant genre readers. Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Review: Challenger Deep

Challenger Deep
By Neal Shusterman
Expected publication April 21, 2015 by Harper Teen

Caden is sailing on a ship and trying to decide if his allegiance lies with the captain or with the parrot, knowing that his decision will have irreversible consequences. Caden is also attacking strangely enough that his parents start to notice, that his friends slowly pull away. Which is Caden's real life? Will he ever be able to tell the difference?

I was really looking forward to reading this one. I've read Shusterman's Unwind Dystology and really enjoyed it and I've been meaning to read his other work. When I spotted his newest book available on Edelweiss, I eagerly downloaded it and couldn't wait to dive in.

This book is quite clearly very different from Shusterman's other novels. Most of Shusterman's previous work is speculative fiction. This book, while it has some seemingly speculative elements, is very much a realistic contemporary novel. While it's true that most of what I read is speculative fiction, I still greatly anticipated this novel. I think Shusterman's writing is fantastic and I was interested to see his skill telling a story about a teen with mental illness.

I was not wrong to anticipate this book. It is excellent. It is heartbreaking and anxiety-inducing and complicated and a little bit hopeful. As expected, Shusterman's writing is quite good, if a bit different from the previous novels I've read. This story is split into two parallel narratives: one of Caden's life with his family and friends and another of Caden's life as a crewman aboard a ship. Shusterman does an excellent job of highlighting the similarities between these two lives, showing how difficult it is for Caden to understand which one is real. It is heartbreaking and haunting to read this book - it opens your eyes to what life is like for people who struggle with mental illness. You so desperately hope for Caden to understand his illness and find a way through, but at the same time, you can see how difficult such a thing will be. I appreciated that Shusterman doesn't given Caden a specific diagnosis and that he acknowledges how complex they are to understand (with similar symptoms, different cases presenting differently, etc.). I think it highlights how little we know about mental illness and how alarming it is that we don't talk about it more. I was a bit sad that Shusterman mostly mentions medications as numbing agents - this is a dangerous narrative in our society, one that often leads to people not seeking treatment, and I was disappointed that Shusterman employed it here. There is a section of the book that takes place after Caden stops taking his medication and then begins again, showing how difficult it was for him to function without the medication, but this piece seems to pale in comparison to the more prevalent discussions of drugs as numbness.

I appreciated that Caden's parents had a presence in the novel, albeit not a large one. It was difficult to see them a bit reluctant to realize that something was different about their son, but it also felt realistic. Because we don't talk about mental illness often in our society, many families have a hard time accepting that it could happen in their own - in fact, it's pretty likely. I liked that Caden's parents continued to have a presence even after his admittance to the hospital - I feel like the typical scenario would have focused solely on Caden and the other patients. Other patients are discussed, but this is still mostly Caden's story. I actually found the piece with Calliope to be a bit superfluous - I though the story with Hal was much stronger.

Really, I thought about just copying down what I think is the most important quote from the book and having that be my entire review. "Dead kids are put on pedestals, but mentally ill kids get hidden under the rug." That one sentence says so much more than I really can about how important this book and others like it are for not just for teens but for our society as a whole. We really need to bring mental illness out of the dark and talk about it for what it is: an illness. One that can be difficult to diagnose and even harder to cure, but certainly one that can be treated and supported.

Ultimately, this is a difficult but important book, one that I hope will start a conversation about how we can better support kids with mental illness. I'm grateful to Shusterman for writing this book.

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

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Picture Book Saturday

By Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers
Published 2014 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Book for Young Readers
This is a very simple exploration of Copeland's career path to becoming the dancer she is today. It is inspiring, and will definitely encourage young women, particularly those of color, to dream big. I wanted to like this book more than I did, though. For me, the text stumbles a few times and didn't really achieve the level I hoped for. The illustrations are nice - they capture the beauty and movement of dance quite well. I wish a bit that the book hadn't focused specifically on the Firebird role - one that I'm not at all familiar with - and been just a bit more general, but maybe that's just me.

Louise Loves Art
By Kelly Light
Published 2014 by Balzer + Bray
This is a great story about both art and siblings. Louise loves creating art and she loves her little brother, Art, as well. But when Art tries to help Louise with her other love, he helps in that way that all people who've known helpful young children will recognize. Louise very gracefully forgives and helps Art discover how he truly can be helpful. It's a very sweet story and the illustrations are great as well. A new fun title for talking about art with kids.

The Iridescence of Birds: A Book about Henri Matisse
By Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper
Published 2014 by Roaring Brook Press
This is a very simple yet beautiful book about a young Matisse and how he found the inspiration to become the artist he is known as today. MacLachlan's prose is absolutely stunning - just a few words per page but they add up to something quite beautiful indeed. Hooper's illustrations are soft and complement the text excellently. I loved how evident it was exactly what level of work went into creating this lovely book. I quite love the rise in wonderful picture book biographies.

Red Knit Cap Girl and the Reading Tree
By Naoko Stoop
Published 2014 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
I picked this up because I love Stoop's style - she's actually an artist I discovered on Etsy before she had published anything. I find Red Knit Cap Girl quite charming and, of course, her reading tree appeals to me as a librarian (with some minor concerns for the welfare of the books kept in said tree). It's a cute story about the value of libraries and reading without being too in your face. The illustrations are just so charming. I'm not sure how kids will feel about it; I'd love to have a library-themed storytime to find out!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Review: Hunger

Hunger (Gone, book two)
By Michael Grant
Published 2009 by Katherine Tegen Books

Read my review of book one.

 It's been three months and life inside the FAYZ is only getting worse. Sam is not sure he wants to be in charge anymore but no one else is stepping up. With more kids developing powers every day and the food supply dwindling at an alarming rate, someone needs to be the boss. And the job will only be more difficult when The Darkness is discovered - calling kids, and changing them.

So, I was an extremely latecomer to this series and, as is the typical pattern of my life, even later to finish it. This book, book two, was first published in 2009; I didn't read book one until 2012 and it took my until 2015 to pick up book two. But! I have book three currently checked out from the library, with every intention of finishing the series before the year is over (we'll see how I do).

Since it had been such a long time between books, it took me a few chapters to get back into the story. Luckily, Grant is pretty good at keeping readers guessing and engaged with the story - so many new developments happen in this book that, even if I hadn't waited so long between books, I still would have been in for surprises around every corner.

As the title makes glaringly obvious, the main focus of this book is the extremely limited food supply that the characters find themselves with. The crazy powers that they (and apparently other creatures) have developed make procuring more food a bit of a challenge. Grant doesn't shy away from exploring the extreme lengths starving people will go to in their attempts to remedy their desperate situation. Much like the first book (and, I imagine, the rest of the series) this is not for the faint of heart. There are some nasty characters doing terrible and twisted things in this book and I appreciate that Grant is not afraid of going to that dark place.

On a similar note, I liked the introduction of new characters as well as learning more about previously minor characters. I worry a bit that it will get to be too overwhelming in future volumes, though I think I can say with confidence that some of these characters are not going to last the whole series. There are still characters who I'd like to know even more about, so I'm interested to see if I get my wish.

Though I enjoyed the book (and am hugely impressed by how Grant can make 500 pages fly by), it didn't grip me quite as much as the first. Like I said, I have book three out from the library, so I'm still wanting to know what will happen next. If you have any readers who haven't read this series yet, I think I'm safe to recommend it - for fans of action, dystopia, and conflict.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


If you were here last week, you probably noticed my break from regular reviewing. And then you probably also noticed an immediate resumption of pretty much just reviews as usual. I still worry that my little forays outside of reviewing are just one voice, lost in the crowd, but I feel more sure of the importance of saying something when I feel like doing so.

On that note, if you were on Twitter on Tuesday, I hope you noticed and followed the #ToTheGirls hashtag. It was conceived of by YA author Courtney Summers, to coincide with the release of her newest book, All the Rage (about which I've heard nothing but immense praise), and to reach out to young women where they're at. The purpose of the hashtag was to let young women know the things we wish we'd known when we were there age, the things that other people might try to hide from them.

I have to admit - I kind of forgot about the hashtag until I opened Twitter on Tuesday (y'all, my memory is just NOT GOOD). But, immediately, I saw so many inspiring tweets. I had goosebumps. Tears. So many warm fuzzies. And so much anger. Anger that something like this is so necessary, that young women so often are not allowed to just be themselves, that some people try so hard to stifle them and stuff them into little boxes that they think are the definition of being a woman. Anger that it took almost 30 years for me to get to the point where I felt confident enough to offer advice to the next generation of young women, advice that I desperately could have used myself as a young woman.

But, it's important not to dwell on that anger because, ultimately, the hashtag gave me joy. Unbelievable joy. To see so many voices calling out and supporting young women. To know that some of those voices joined in despite threats or other people trying to suppress them. To feel inspired enough to compose my own tweets.

Though I don't know Courtney Summers personally, I am so proud of her for this beautiful bit of the internet she created for the girls - and I hope we can make it a little bit bigger every day.

You can read some of the beautiful and inspiring messages by searching Twitter for the hashtag: #ToTheGirls. You can also read articles about the movement at Huffington Post and The New York Times. Most importantly, you can keep the message alive by encouraging and supporting the young women in your life in any way you can.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Review: Anyone but Ivy Pocket

Anyone but Ivy Pocket
By Caleb Krisp
Expected publication April 21, 2015 by Greenwillow Books

Ivy is a young maid who find herself in need of a new position. Luckily, she is summoned by a wealthy and dying Duchess, who enlists her help in carrying out her final wishes. Unfortunately, doing so puts Ivy in unimaginable danger. It's a good thing Ivy has such a plucky spirit - otherwise, she'd never survive.

I'm pretty sure this was a title I downloaded simply because it was middle-grade and it sounded like it might be fun. I'm not really sure what to make of this book in the end.

I had a really hard time getting into this. First, Ivy is a bit of a pill. It was never entirely clear to me if she was meant to satirical or serious, so I struggled with her as character. Her personality doesn't really change throughout the story and her inability to think any way other than her way leads to some frustrating moments. Additionally, I had a hard time believing Ivy as a 12-year-old. Well, perhaps that statement isn't exactly true. I had a hard time believing she was a 12-year-old with a full-time job that no one seemed all that concerned about. Partly because of Ivy's character, I also struggled with the tone of this one. Is the whole thing meant to be a satire, poking fun at characters like Amelia Bedelia? Or are we meant to take Ivy and her situation seriously? I don't know and the tone doesn't make it any clearer. Additionally, Ivy's inability to think outside her own little box seems to be the only thing that really drives the plot forward. This makes for a somewhat tiring sequence of events.

However, the plot does pick up a bit eventually. Readers are introduced to the complicated history of the artifact Ivy has been tasked with delivering and it's pretty interesting. There seem to be hints of more books in the future; certainly there is a very complex secret society kind of thing going on that could be further explored in future volumes. If there are to be more books about Ivy, I don't think I'll be coming back for them. Overall, there wasn't enough in this to capture my interest. Other reviews seem to generally be more favorable, and there is certainly a history of characters like Ivy in successful children's literature, so your mileage may vary.

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

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Release Day Review: Jack

Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk
By Liesl Shurtliff
Expected publication April 14, 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Jack is the seven-greats grandson of the infamous Jack the Giant Killer and he knows it's only a matter of time before he lives up to that kind of destiny. So, when giants descend from the sky and kidnap his father, Jack knows his moment has arrived. It turns out, though, that giant slaying is not as easy as it sounded and the world where the giants live is more complicated than Jack had imagined.

So, you might know by now that I'm a big fan of fairy tale retellings. Shurtliff's debut, Rump, was on last year's state reading list and I just recently listened to the audio version. I'm really glad I managed to squeeze it in before reading this one.

Though you needn't have read the first book to enjoy this one, I think the experience of Jack is made richer if you have. In fact, I think that was my favorite thing about this book - seeing how Shurtliff tied the world she'd created in the first into the new world she was building in the second. I thought it was brilliantly done and I loved coming upon characters and situations I knew from the first book. As I said, it's not necessary to have read Rump before reading this one - it is almost an entirely new set of characters and any reappearing characters are introduced as though the reader would be unfamiliar with them. Surprisingly, I didn't find this annoying - I think Shurtliff managed to make a read that would be richer for having read the first book but not alienating if you hadn't. Like I said, this was my favorite thing about this book and now I'm eager to see what other stories she'll introduce to this world.

As for this story on its own, I quite enjoyed it. I thought Jack was a fun character, though I admit I liked his little sister just a bit more. I admired Jack's desire to rescue his dad and live up to his name, even though it led to some frustrating moments. I enjoyed the appearance of a variety of fairy tale creatures and I liked the perspective that Jack brought to the world Above, particularly as it contrasted with the perspectives in Rump.

The book does get a little message-y at the end, but it is a good message and one that I think speaks particularly to children (it certainly would have spoken to me as a child), so it didn't bother me too much. Even if it does get too preachy for some readers, it's really a small fraction of an otherwise action-packed and exciting story, so they shouldn't mind too much.

As I said, I'm looking forward to seeing what other tales Shurtliff will introduce to this world - it looks like Red's story will be next! Very enjoyable and I can imagine lots of patrons I'll be sharing this one with!

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

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Picture Book Saturday

This Book Just Ate My Dog!
By Richard Byrne
Published 2014 by Henry Holt and Co.
I mean, this book is exactly what it sounds like - completely breaks the fourth wall when Bella, the main character, walks her dog, who is then summarily devoured by the spine of the book. Kinda weird and maybe a bit disturbing, but interactive and different. I'd have to use this with a group of kids to see gauge their reactions to it, but it was just okay for me.

By Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jen Corace
Published 2014 by Chronicle Books
Once again, this book is exactly what it sounds like - the characters are playing a game of telephone. In this case, the characters are birds on a telephone wire - just for extra punniness. Mama bird wants to get a message to her baby bird, so she sends it down the line. Of course, as we all know, the message gets garbled along the way. Each bird seems to hear the message based on its interests (which we get clues to through their appearances). Everything works out in the end, and this is a fun book. The illustrations strike me as rather sophisticated, though I think the complement the simplicity of the text pretty well. Obviously, this is a good way to teach about rumors and the art of listening.

The World According to Musk Ox
By Erin Cabatingan, illustrated by Matthew Myers
Published 2014 by Roaring Brook Press
I've been a big fan of Musk Ox's previous books, so I was pretty excited to see the newest one. Musk Ox and Zebra travel the world, exploring continents and landmarks. The trademark humor is once again present, rife with puns and visual humor. The illustrations are, once again, bold and eye-catching, and I just love the style. My main complaint about these books is that they're not really meant for storytime settings. This makes me sad because I want to share them as much as I can!

Flora and the Penguin
By Molly Idle
Published 2014 by Chronicle Books
Please, please, please tell me this means that we are going to get a whole beautiful series of Flora books! As much as I'm terrified of birds, these books are too lovely to ignore. I would absolutely relish a series of books with Flora dancing with a different kind of bird in each - I hope Molly Idle is listening! In this volume, Flora tries her hand at ice dancing with a new penguin friend. Soon, though, Flora gets a bit of a big head. Can she and the penguin collaborate again? I wish I had even a fraction of the talent of Idle - I just want to frame every page of this book and hang it on my wall. Simply lovely to look at, this is a book I'll be giving to the special children in my life for a long time to come.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Review: No Normal

No Normal (Ms. Marvel, Volume One)
By G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona
Published 2014 by Marvel

Kamala Khan loves superheroes but she never imagines she could be one herself. Inexplicably, though, that is exactly what happens. Now, Kamala must figure out what being a superhero means - particularly for a Pakistani American Muslim teenager.

I picked this one up for YALSA's Hub Challenge and because I'd heard lots of rave reviews about it. I figured it was time to see what the fuss was about.

To be honest, I didn't love this one. I wanted to like it more than I actually did. However, I think this is completely my own personal bias - I've never really read superhero comics and I don't have a lot of interest in them (in fact, I kind of roll my eyes at the sheer amount of superhero comics that exist). When I pick graphic novels, I tend to choose the ones that more closely resemble my other reading interests - horror, historical, mystery, literary, etc. That's not to say that I would never enjoy a superhero comic, but, generally speaking, they're not really my bag.

So, perhaps I was predisposed to be a bit underwhelmed by this one. I appreciated the diversity of the main character and female superhero - YAY! But, I felt like most of the characters were not developed beyond a superficiality and that was disappointing. Also, while I liked Kamala's journey to figure out how best to use her powers, I thought the actual plot was pretty uninspired. Obviously it hints at bigger bads to come, but I just didn't find it all that interesting. That being said, I'll probably check out the next volume, but my expectations will be much lower this time around.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Review: Jackaby

Jackaby (Jackaby, book one)
By William Ritter
Published 2014 by Algonquin Young Readers

Abigail Rook finds herself in need of employment. With not much initial luck, she finds herself taking on a most unusual assignment - assistant to one Mr. R.F. Jackaby, a very peculiar individual. Jackaby confesses that he can see the supernatural and, as they begin investigating a truly bizarre series of murders, Abigail starts to think that it may actually be true.

I remember hearing about this book prior to its release last year. I thought it sounded interesting, so of course I added it to my giant TBR list, knowing that it would likely be some time before I actually got around to reading it. I once again decided to participate in YALSA's Hub Challenge, prompting me to pick up this title much more quickly than I might have otherwise.

This book is billed as a cross between Doctor Who and BBC's Sherlock - neither is a show I watch. However, it's pretty easy to see where this billing comes from. Jackaby is quite clearly inspired by (if not a direct derivative of) the very idiosyncratic and no-nonsense Sherlock Holmes. Throw in a bit of the unexplainable (though, in this first volume, no aliens or time travel) and that's basically what you've got. It's quite entertaining, actually, and I'm glad I read it, but I'm not sure it'll stay with me forever.

I liked the characters, though I don't think they were as deeply developed as they could be. They really mostly seemed to exist as an excuse for the story - i.e. we're reading about these characters solely because Ritter needed a reason to put forth this paranormal mystery. There are glimpses of deeper characterization for Abigail and Jackaby (as well as several of the secondary characters) but, in this first volume, they feel pretty basic.

The story itself is fairly interesting - it actually kind of reminded me of an old episode of Supernatural. I thought the mystery was complex enough to keep me guessing and I liked that Ritter incorporated both well-known and lesser-known mythological/paranormal creatures. I'll be interested to see what other kinds of legends show up in future books.

So, I suppose that makes it clear that I'm interested in checking out more books in the series as they come. I thought it was a fun, quick read that kept me guessing.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Review: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces
By Isabel Quintero
Published 2014 by Cinco Puntos Press

Gabi's last year in high school is not going to be easy. Her dad's a drug addict, her best friend is pregnant, her other best friend is coming out, and she's trying to navigate it all. Plus, there are college applications, her antagonistic relationship with her mother, and boys. Will Gabi figure out a way to not only survive, but thrive?

If you were on the blog yesterday, you may have read my little tirade (I hope you did). Reading this book last week may have been another one of the things that pushed me to finally get my thoughts out. Because this book is SO IMPORTANT.

I wish this book had existed when I was a teen girl. Reading Gabi's thoughts on what it means to be a woman, or to be Mexican, or to love food, or to have an addicted family member - it would have meant a lot to me as a teen. Many of Gabi's thoughts are the same ones I had but was afraid to express. Why is it okay for boys to behave one way but not for girls? Why are boys allowed to be in control of their sexuality while girls are supposed to hide it? What does it really mean to be Mexican (or Asian or Black or White or Native or whatever)? Who decides? Why are overweight women judged so much more harshly than overweight men? Why isn't my love enough to fix my addicted family member? These are just a few of the kinds of thoughts that Gabi has in this novel and I recognized myself in a lot of them. My life is, on the surface, very different from Gabi's, but there are more similarities than I would have initially thought.

What resonated most with me was Gabi's exploration of her sexuality. I thought Quintero wrote this part of her character and story very realistically - it reminded me so much of my own experiences and it felt universal. So many girls are taught that they are not worth loving - that their bodies are not the right size or their skin is not the right color or their dreams are not the right ones. This leads these girls to think they don't deserve to find happiness, that they should settle for the first person to show some interest in them because who knows if there will be a second. I felt this way when I was a teen, so it didn't surprise me that Gabi did as well. I liked that Gabi's exploration of her sexuality led her to question her role in society and the role of women in general. I liked that she began to question how women are treated and how it can vary depending on many factors but some things stay pretty consistent.

Gabi's relationship with her dad also resonated deeply with me, as I also was a teen with an addicted family member. Her struggles were my struggles. I thought Quintero did a great job capturing what it feels like loving someone who is addicted and the many different things their addiction can do to your emotions.

Gabi's voice is so authentic and what she has to say is so important. I applaud Quintero for telling this story and I'm looking forward to what she might do next. In the meantime, I'll be recommending this book as much as I can.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Break from the Regularly Scheduled Program...

I started this blog a long time ago, with lots of dreams and ambitions for what it could be. But then I got busy (or a little bit lazy) and the blog became pretty much what it is today - mostly just book reviews, with a handful of other things thrown in occasionally. Part of my goal this year in attempting to stay caught up with my reviews was to have the possibility to respond to things that are happening in the blogosphere, or the children's lit world. So far, though I've mostly stayed caught up in my reviews, I haven't really done the latter at all (aside from responding to the ALA Youth Media Awards, which I've done for the past several years).

Part of my hesitation in responding to things that are happening around the Internet or in the publishing world is a lack of confidence in my own abilities. Do I really have something to add to the conversation? Can I really say it as eloquently as I've seen others do? Or am I just going to be shouting into the void? And, above all, if I have something to say, shouldn't I say it, no matter how few people might hear it?

It would appear I've mostly been content to live in my own little corner of the Internet, chugging out reviews and hoping my efforts will help at least a few people. I don't have the stats or pageviews that would make my blog a big name and, as I mostly just write reviews (and generally, not terribly critical ones), I don't really have the content for that either. I'm not blaming anyone but myself for this - I'm notoriously terrible at small talk (in real life) and networking (both IRL and virtually). I read a lot of blogs, but do I ever try to engage with them? Not usually, no, and I don't have a good reason for that. I love Twitter, and I follow a lot of librarians and authors but, since I can't be on it during the workday, I often feel like I'm missing out on a lot of what happens and by the time I would get to commenting, I'd be too late to the conversation.

So, why am I telling you all this, reader who likely is surprised to not see a review here? Because I guess I do have something to say. And it's this: I'm tired.

I'm not tired of blogging (generally, although some posts are certainly more effort than others). I'm certainly not tired of reading and loving children's and teen books (I literally cannot imagine that happening).

I'm tired of sitting in my corner of the Internet and pretending that I have nothing to say and that the rest of the world doesn't effect me.

I guess what really motivated me to sit down and write this was Maggie Stiefvater's tumblr post, "The Anatomy of Rage." But really, I think that post is just the tipping point. I read it a few days ago and haven't been able to stop thinking about it and all the things that have preceded it. The We Need Diverse Books Movement. The Andrew Smith kerfuffle. Stacked's "About the Girls" series. Even the just-announced Hugo Award nominations. And probably a million other things that I'm just forgetting about in the moment. But I read Stiefvater's post and thought, "Yes. This. All this. This is exactly what I would say." Of course, I haven't had the exact same experiences as Stiefvater (I don't drive a rally car or play bagpipes or write bestselling novels, obviously), but I needn't to feel exactly the same way as she feels.

Perhaps what makes me saddest is how ingrained staying silent is in me. I consider myself a feminist and someone who is generally not shy to speak her mind. I'm not afraid to complain when something doesn't work out like I expect and I've threatened to walk away from businesses when they haven't given me what I need. But speaking up about the rampant and inherent sexism that runs through my life - well, I never felt like I should. After all, other women certainly have it worse. I mean, I may be a woman, but I'm easily perceived as a straight, white woman. I know other women have it much more difficult. Like I said, my corner of the Internet is usually pretty quiet, so in all likelihood, I won't have to worry about death threats or stalking just for posting my thoughts on the issues. But I certainly worry on behalf of other women and the fact that I have to horrifies me.

I'm tired of trying to explain to people that racism still exists. I had to walk away from a conversation with coworkers because I was worried I would say something that might get me fired if I didn't. I'm tired of pretending that I don't see just how sexist my library is - when multiple male coworkers feel they have to mansplain a broken piece of equipment to me, when a whole department made of men gets their positions reclassified to make more money, when coworkers look shocked at me for speaking my mind. I'm tired of living in a world where women, particularly young women, are of so little value that the things they care about are constantly mocked and belittled. I'm tired of being almost 30 and still being viewed mostly as a commodity or a potential baby-making machine or a bitch. I'm tired of women taking the blame for everything, from the rise of divorce to the failure of our school systems to our pervasive rape culture. I'm tired of worrying that the women I respect and admire will be harassed or stalked or threatened just for speaking up and calling out the shit that we deal with every day.

When my fiance (a white male) has nightmares, it's usually about some horrible accident befalling someone he loves. I had a nightmare last night. It was about being sexually assaulted - because that is what women have to be afraid of in our society.

I'm tired of it.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Review: Cody and the Fountain of Happiness

Cody and the Fountain of Happiness
By Tricia Springstubb, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
Expected publication April 14, 2015 by Candlewick Press

Cody is thrilled about summer vacation. She is going to make the most of it. But, it seems that everything is conspiring against her. Her brother is moping about a girl he loves, her mother is stressed about a promotion at work, and her father is away on business. When a new neighbor loses his cat, Cody sees the opportunity for a new friend and maybe some summer fun.

I don't read a lot of early chapter books (as an aside, is there an agreed upon term for these? geared toward 7-10 year-olds, similar in difficulty to Magic Tree House - I'm just going with early chapter). This is partly because there are just too many books I want to read to fit them all in and also at least partly because I envision myself getting all too familiar with these books at a point in my future (i.e. when I have kids). But this one showed up at my desk and it looked cute, so I figured why not give it a quick read? (That's the beauty of these - extremely quick reads!)

While it is a cute story, it was a bit boring for me. There were bits that I liked (Cody's parents are fun characters with interesting jobs, Spencer and Mew Mew and GG), but it just wasn't terribly exciting. I think that might be pretty typical for early chapter books and I can definitely see why that works for this age group - they like to read about kids like themselves, doing things they might do. But, as an adult reader, it's a bit mindless. Also, while I can appreciate Cody's spunk, I also found her a bit trying at times.

I don't have much else to say - cute enough, but probably not terribly memorable. Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Picture Book Saturday

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus
By Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Published 2014 by Eerdman's
This is the picture book biography of Roget, the man behind the most famous thesaurus. Being a book nerd, I gravitated to this immediately. But, even if I wasn't, it's a hard book to ignore. Sweet's illustrations are absolutely stunning and really help make this book a whole package. These illustrations are meant to be savored time and again, discovering something new each time. Bryant excellently incorporates the use of synonyms throughout Roget's life story in a way that feels natural and emphasizes his desire to create a thesaurus. Everything about this book is just lovely, and it was one of my favorite for the Youth Media Awards, so I was not surprised to see it receive a Caldecott Honor and the Sibert Medal.

Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos
By Stephanie Roth Sisson
Published 2014 by Roaring Brook Press
This is a simple and appealing picture book biography of Carl Sagan. It explores how he initially became interested in the cosmos. Both the text and illustrations depict science a bit dreamier than in other science books for young people. The information is here but it's not presented as simple facts and figures. It's presented in an engaging way, one that I imagine will trigger the desire to explore space in other young people. Unlike many other picture book biographies, this one is legitimately age-appropriate, explaining concepts in ways that children who gravitate toward picture books will understand. I really appreciated this book - another lovely non-fiction read.

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel
By Kathryn Gibbs Davis, illustrated by Gilbert Ford
Published 2014 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Can you tell that a bunch of non-fiction picture books arrived in the library at the same time? I have a hard time resisting these books - they are short but I always learn something I probably wouldn't have discovered otherwise. This is the story of George Ferris and the invention of the Ferris wheel, as well as its introduction to society. There is lots of information in here, but it's really interesting, and budding young inventors will definitely be intrigued by Mr. Ferris. His story is a great story about innovation and perseverance and I think this book highlights that really well. The illustrations are bright and captivating as well. Very cool.

The Storm Whale
By Benji Davies
Published 2014 by Henry Holt and Co.
A story about a lonely little boy who brings a whale home after it is washed ashore during a storm. The boy is lonely because his father is busy working all day, so the boy treats the whale as a companion. A sad start but, of course, there is a happy ending here. For me, the strength is more in the illustrations - they definitely speak of the sea and the shore. Compared to the illustrations, the story is not as captivating for me.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Review: Catch You Later, Traitor

Catch You Later, Traitor
By Avi
Published 2015 by Algonquin Young Readers

Pete Collison loves Sam Spade and detective stories but he never expects his life to turn into one. But that's just what happens when an FBI agent shows up on his doorstep, asking questions about his father's involvement in the Communist party. It can't be true - can it? Soon, Pete is playing Spade himself, trying to uncover the truth about his father's past, but what he finds might not be what he expected.

This is one of the ARCs that showed up at my library. We get a handful every few months and the middle-grade titles get passed along to me for review. Usually, I'm already aware of the titles, but I'll still set aside the ones that interest me and try to make time to read them. This book happened to be one of those kinds of titles, considering my love of historical fiction.

I haven't read a lot of books set during the Red Scare, so I thought it was definitely a unique time period, but one that works really well for a children's book - the atmosphere of fear and paranoia make the stakes for everything seem especially high. I thought the characters and setting were realistically done - it felt like a very accurate portrayal of life in Brooklyn in 1951, where kids were a lot like Pete. I did start to get a bit frustrated with Pete - he really goes into all-out spy mode on his dad and begins to suspect pretty much everyone. However, I think my frustration mostly stems from not remembering what it's like to be a kid when you discover that your parents had this whole other life before you - that they had parents and maybe brothers and sisters that they did or didn't get along with and that they maybe made choices that turned out to be not so great after all. So, what maybe came off sometimes as a little lack of compassion from Pete to his father is not really what it was - it was more a reshuffling of Pete's entire worldview to accommodate the new information about his dad.

The mystery turned out to be more complex than I initially anticipated, so that was a nice surprise. I liked the ending fair enough - mostly with regards to the Kat storyline. Overall, I think this is a nice book to recommend to kids looking for a historical story with a gripping storyline - they'll be easily drawn into the mystery of Mr. Collison's past and searching for the answers alongside Pete.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Review: Across the Universe

Across the Universe (Across the Universe, book one)
By Beth Revis, read by Lauren Ambrose and Carlos Santos
Published 2011 by Penguin Audio

Amy was supposed to awake 300 years after she was put to sleep. She was supposed to awake alongside her parents, scientists essential to settling a new planet. She was supposed to awake on that new planet. But she doesn't. Instead, Amy is awoken 50 years early, aboard the spaceship Godspeed, where nothing is as it seems. Together with Elder (the future leader of the ship), she must discover who woke her - especially once other are unplugged and left to die.

When my fiance and I travel by car (which we prefer to air travel), we like to listen to audiobooks to pass the time. It's always my responsibility to choose the audiobook partly because I'm the librarian but also partly because my fiance can be pretty indecisive. It's pretty easy for me to pick something because our tastes are not all that different, but I tend to go for speculative fiction when we're listening together. We can get engrossed in the worldbuilding, and usually the plots move along quickly, so we stay interested the whole ride.

This book is one of the audiobooks we listened to together - well, we started it together (actually, quite some time ago) and then, after my iPod's recent demise, we both decided to download and finish it separately (though we finished within 24 hours of each other). I tend to lean more toward the fantasy side of speculative fiction than the science fiction side, but I knew my fiance would be into this one, so I decided to give it a chance.

I think it was a good choice on audio. Generally, I enjoy audio productions that feature multiple voices, and it was, of course, a natural choice to have two narrators for this book. I liked Santos' narration slightly better, but that's mainly because Ambrose had a tendency to get whispery, something which really irritates me in audio productions. I know they were simply reading it as written, but I did find it a bit tediously unnecessary that they stated the character's names at the start of each chapter.

As to the book itself, I found it enjoyable enough, but nothing to really write home about. I thought Revis did a decent job of creating the world on board the ship, though, mostly, it's nothing you haven't seen before. The suspense is well-done; I enjoyed learning about the ship and its inhabitants alongside Amy and trying to pinpoint who would want to kill innocent people. There is a twist at the end that I hadn't seen coming, so that was nice, too.

Character-wise, I liked Elder more than Amy. I found Amy's habit of referring to her father as "Daddy" just particularly annoying, to the point where I couldn't ignore it. However, I think they're both complex characters and Revis did well giving them rich, multilayered stories.

I'm a bit disappointed in this as a series starter; the story is completely self-contained in this volume. There are about a million directions that could be explored in other volumes, so I would have liked, perhaps, a bit more explicit set-up for book two. I'll still probably check out the rest of the series (and I know my fiance wants to, as well), but this was a pretty middle of the road opener in my eyes.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

March Check-In

It's time once again for the monthly wrap-up! Here's what I read in March:

Early-chapter: 1

Middle-grade: 4

Teen: 11

Adult: 3

Picture books: 12

Library books: 23

Books owned: 8

I think my pace has been pretty steady so far this year, which actually surprises me. Planning a wedding and all that entails has taken up a lot of my time, so I'm impressed with myself for still managing to read as many books as I have. As of right now, I'm still on pace to meet my goal for the year (250), but who knows what the coming months will hold. I'm still trying to find the right balance between library books and books I have at home, including digital galleys. I've been making an effort to not download any new galleys (unless they are ones I already highly anticipated), so hopefully within the next couple of months, I'll only have a couple here and there and can get back to focusing on the physical books I own. How's your reading going so far this year?