Monday, June 29, 2015

Review: Plague

Plague (Gone, book four)
By Michael Grant
Published 2011 by Katherine Tegen Books

WARNING: Spoilers for the earlier books in the series. Read my reviews here, here, and here.

It seems that things can always get worse in the FAYZ; the list of problems they've faced just gets longer and longer. Now, they're dealing with a sickness that causes kids to cough themselves to death, one that even Lana can't heal. Add to that bugs that eat you from the inside out (and seem invulnerable) and the monster Drake, who has miraculously reappeared.

I'm determined to finish this series before the year is through, so I've taken to checking out the next one whenever I bring one back (I'm still trying to read down the piles of books I own).

I was looking forward to this entry in the series - my fiance, who read them all this winter, told me it was one of his favorites. But he'd also told me that book three, which I loved, was his least favorite, so maybe I should have taken his opinion with a bit of salt. That being said, I think this volume is MY least favorite so far.

I'm pretty surprised to not have enjoyed this one - I generally like plague/epidemic novels. I find them fascinating. I did like that this plague evolved to be immune to the healer - it made it so there was no easy solution to the problem. What's interesting is that, while I liked the plague evolving an immunity to the characters' powers, I was irritated that the bugs were immune to pretty much everyone's powers. Maybe I'm just getting a little tired of all the tribulations these kids are enduring, particularly when there is no way of knowing if they'll ever get a happy ending.

For the most part, I just found this entry in the series kinda boring. Like I said, I might be getting tired of the never-ending list of problems the kids are facing and I'm having a hard time imagining how the final two books will be unique enough to really stand out. I'm still planning on finishing out the series, but I'm a little less excited than I was initially. Well, less excited for book five - I still can't wait for answers about the FAYZ and whether or not the kids will ever get out in the final book.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Review: The Ring and the Crown

The Ring and the Crown (Ring and the Crown, book one)
By Melissa de la Cruz, read by Jennifer Ikeda
Published 2014 by Recorded Books

Marie-Victoria is heir to the throne. Her mother, the Queen, is about to announce her engagement to the Prince of Prussia, thereby securing peace between their empires. The problem is that Marie-Victoria does not want to be Queen. She will attempt to enlist the help of her oldest friend, Aelwyn, in finding a new path. But none of them know just what is at stake and that changing one's destiny may not be as easy as they think.

I was thrilled to see this as one of the titles for this year's SYNC schedule and happily downloaded it as soon as it became available, making it my next audiobook listen. I was not disappointed.

I really enjoyed this one. I loved the multiple story lines and perspectives, trying to figure out how they would all come together in the end. I loved the opportunity this presented for getting to know more characters more deeply - this way allowed us to really understand the motivations and inner workings of several characters instead of focusing on just one or two. The characters are unique enough that it's not difficult to tell them apart and I never got confused about which story I was listening to at any point.

I liked the courtly intrigue that this book covers - it's one of my favorite aspects of historical fiction (at least that set among royalty). Additionally, I really enjoy the combination of historical fiction and fantasy. I liked the magic here, though I think it could have been covered more in-depth. I feel the fantasy took a bit of a backseat to the historical court part of the novel and I would have more enjoyed an even split. Also, I was pleased that this book had some surprises in store for me. I bragged earlier on that de la Cruz had not opted for subtlety, that it was extremely obvious what was going to happen with Marie-Victoria and Aelwyn's story. I was wrong. I'm not ashamed to admit it, and I was happy to have been fooled.

A couple of things that didn't exactly work for me: the varied romances. They all felt entirely too convenient and fortuitous. I mean, what are the odds that every single romantic feeling in this book, among any characters, is returned wholeheartedly? There are no unrequited love stories in the whole bunch, and that felt a little too false for me. Also, nearly every romance here is certified insta-love, adding to my dissatisfaction with the romances. In addition, I was not so crazy about the end. It felt rushed and incomplete. I suppose this can be partially explained by this being book one in a planned series, but that doesn't explain why the complex events in this volume are explained away in a brief summation.

That being said, I still quite liked this book and am certainly looking forward to the sequel. I thought the audio was well-done; Ikeda affects different accents for different characters and none of them are irritating or seem ill-suited, so that's good. The pacing of the audio works well and, as I said, it wasn't difficult to keep the various stories separate. I'll be recommending this one to fans of historical fantasy (including my fiance) and anticipating the coming of the sequel.

Oh, and I also love that this book opens with a quote from Beyonce.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Review: Stonewall

Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights
By Ann Bausum
Published 2015 by Viking Books for Young Readers

While the fight for gay rights continues to this day, Bausum takes readers back to the beginning of this long civil rights struggle: the Stonewall riots of 1969.

While I enjoy reading non-fiction, particularly that geared toward young people, I don't often find much time to work it into my reading schedule. I'd heard of this title and added it to my to-read list. I also ordered a copy for our library. When it came in, I read it instantly.

This is a great work of non-fiction for its intended audience. It is honest and truthful and depicts the events accurately and succinctly. Bausum manages to sugarcoat nothing but also doesn't overwhelm readers with horrifying details. She strikes a great balance between the truth and too much honesty. Readers will walk away from this book with a complete understanding of how difficult it was to be gay in the 1960s (and in most of the decades that followed) and how the fight for gay rights began (and continues even today).

Clearly and concisely, Bausum captures the beginning of the gay rights movement in short and insightful chapters. She begins by setting the scene, providing a landscape of what life was like for gay youth prior to the Stonewall riots. She explores the history of the Stonewall Inn and the events that led to its pivotal role in the beginning of the movement. She, of course, captures the riots themselves, and then further investigates their role in the expansion of the movement. She then discusses the emergence of AIDS and the impact the disease had on the gay rights movement. A final chapter briefly explores the state of the gay rights movement nowadays (highlighting the fight for marriage equality).

This is a fantastic resource for young adults wanting to know more about the gay rights movement, what it was like to be a gay person over the past several decades, and the riots themselves. Very well-done, and wonderfully researched. Highly recommended.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Review: Until the Beginning

Until the Beginning (After the End, book two)
By Amy Plum
Published 2015 by HarperTeen

WARNING: Spoilers ahead for book one. Read my review of that title

Juneau and Miles have made a death-defying escape from the men desperate for Juneau's secrets. Literally death-defying - Miles was shot in their escape. Using the secrets of her clan, Juneau has brought him back, but he's not the same person he was before. Can Miles use his new abilities to help Juneau rescue her people? 

I was a bit disappointed with the first book in this series - mainly because it didn't answer any of my questions by the time I reached the final page. But, of course, it was only the first book in a series, so I couldn't expect too many answers there. Wanting to know the full story, I requested the sequel as soon as it was available in my library and sped through it.

I'm pretty sure this is it for the series - a duology instead of a never-ending series. I'm pleased with that, though I can still see potential for more volumes in the future. I hope Amy Plum leaves the story here - I think it came to a good conclusion with these two volumes. The story is very compelling and fast-paced - I think it only took me a couple hours to read this second book. I think the dual narration helps keep the story moving along. Switching back and forth between Juneau and Miles' narrative keeps things moving and allows slightly different stories to emerge. Both characters are moving through their individual arcs and readers can easily see them both through the alternating chapters. Both characters undergo a lot of change throughout this book and I think their individual journeys were well-executed.

However, there isn't really a lot of tension in this book. It never really feels like a question as to if Juneau will free her clan; it's more a matter of when. There also doesn't seem to be any tension regarding what will happen between Miles and Juneau - the development of their relationship seems a foregone conclusion. I can see that this lack of tension may lessen a reader's interest in the book. For me, the writing is easy and the story engaging enough that it didn't dampen my wanting to read through to the end. This was kind of an escapist book for me, not complicated but still with enough unique aspects to keep my attention.

Overall, I enjoyed this series, mostly for its unique take on earth magic. I think fans of adventure stories or dystopian fiction would enjoy these books and I'm interested to read what else Plum has written.

48HBC: Finish Line

Well, this year's 48 Hour Book Challenge was a pretty big failure for me. It was already not a great weekend for me (with an after-hours event at the library on Friday night and my anniversary on Sunday), but it got worse on Saturday when we discovered we have one month to find a new place to live. That pretty much killed any momentum I might have had for the weekend and I struggled to find energy to do much of anything, including read. So, here are my extremely paltry stats for this year.

Time spent reading: 9 hours, 32 mins (1 hour, 47 minutes with an audiobook)
Social media time: 22 minutes
Pages read: 527 (60 from my audiobook)
Books: A Million Suns by Beth Revis (finished), The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins, The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey, A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty (audiobook in progress), Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Really not a good showing for me. Despite over nine hours of reading, I only finished one book and barely made progress in any of the others. And with my grand total just under 10 hours, I didn't even make the minimum time. Unfortunately, this weekend has just been a disaster. Here's hoping next year will be much better!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

48HBC: The Starting Line

I think this is my third year participating in Motherreader's 48 Hour Book Challenge and, once again, it has fallen on a tough weekend for me. But, I will try to read for at least 12 hours.

We had an after-hours event at my library last night, so I didn't get out of work until 11 p.m. I'm considering that my start time (Friday, 6/19, 11 p.m.), so I'll finish up on Sunday evening at 11 p.m. So far, I've mostly managed time with my audiobook (commuting home from work and then a 6 mile run this morning). I'm hoping to devote the rest of the afternoon and evening, as well as all of tomorrow to reading.

In my stack for the challenge (my extremely ambitious stack, I might add):
A Million Suns by Beth Revis
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Firefly Hollow by Allison McGhee
Dream a Little Dream by Kerstin Gier
The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Plus, I've got lots of digital ARCS calling my name. We shall see how I progress! Good luck to all other participants!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Review: Ratscalibur

Ratscalibur (Chronicles of the Low Realm, book one)
By Josh Lieb
Published 2015 by Razorbill

Joey is not thrilled with his move to the city. As a welcome gift, his Uncle Patrick gives him a rat. But when the old (and apparently magical and also dying) rat bites him, Joey is unprepared for the adventure that's about to come. Joey is about to become a rat himself - and the rats need him to save their kingdom.

I've mentioned before that animal fantasy is not really my thing. However, I've enjoyed several examples of the genre over the last couple of years, so maybe that's not really true anymore. Either way, when the e-galley of this came my way (via Penguin's Young Readers Author Program), I wanted to give it a shot.

This is basically a straight-up retelling of the Arthurian legend, but with creatures of the "low realm" - rats, cats, squirrels, and crows. I liked the playful riffs on the legend - Joey the Rat pulls the "spork from the scone" for example. I don't know if things like this will be lost on kids these days (do they still watch the old Disney Sword in the Stone?), but I appreciated them. The explanation of the magic is quite unusual, not really like anything I've seen before, and definitely interesting. There is plenty of action to keep readers engaged and the pacing is good. The chapters are short and there are many illustrations throughout, so this is probably a good choice for those who are struggling with longer chapter books.

Outside of the retelling aspect of this story, there isn't much to say. Joey never feels fully developed and neither do any of the secondary characters, which is disappointing. There isn't much added to the original legend, except for Joey's concern over what his mother is going through as he traverses through the low realm. The magic system is unique, but it really is little more than the story of Arthur with rats. That being said, animal fantasy never seems to lack fans, so I imagine this will do relatively well among its target audience. I'll be interested to see what the next volume will cover; I'll probably give it a shot.

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

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Review: The Underground Abductor

The Underground Abductor (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales, book five)
By Nathan Hale
Published 2015 by Amulet Books

Famous spy Nathan Hale spins his latest yarn for the executioner, this time telling the tale of Harriet Tubman.

As I said in my recent review of book four, this series was one of the ones I was most sad about not reading last year when a new release was published. I remedied that as soon as I could this year and put my name on the waiting list for this, the newest title.

I also said in my recent review that I wasn't a huge fan of the fourth book - for me, it was my least favorite. This newest title? It may be my favorite so far. One of the main reasons I love these books is because I always learn something new and this volume was no exception. I learned so much about Tubman's life - I actually got chills while reading this story as I thought about what a truly exceptional woman she was. She really was one in a million. Her story is painful but inspiring and I think kids will be completely taken with her journey. What she endured is difficult for me, even as an adult, to fully comprehend, so I imagine many of these kids' minds will be completely blown reading about her daring rescues.

This series is absolutely one of my favorites and I can't wait to keep reading and learning, discovering what monumental event or person Hale will tackle next. I highly recommend these and will be pushing them to many young readers this summer.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Review: Emmy & Oliver

Emmy & Oliver
By Robin Benway
Expected publication June 23, 2015 by HarperTeen

Emmy's life changed forever when she was seven - her best friend, Oliver, was kidnapped by his father. Now, ten years later, Oliver is back, but both of them are different people. Can they renew their friendship? Can Emmy possibly understand what Oliver's life has been like? Can Oliver understand what Emmy went through?

I don't remember how I first heard about this book. I've never read Benway before, but I thought the concept of this sounded really interesting. I'm fascinated by true crime stuff and that includes fiction inspired by it, so I was excited to see what this story had in store for me.

I have been pretty unimpressed with most of my recent reads: nothing has been truly awful, but not much has really stuck out either. This book might be the exception, and I'm kind of surprised by that. See, this book is not terribly flashy - it's not getting an insane amount of buzz (though I've seen it talked about in a few places) and it doesn't have a crazy complicated plot or some sort of gimmick to entice readers. It's kind of a quieter story, pretty straightforward, an exploration of growing up after a traumatic event and how to reconcile a friendship that was essentially halted for a decade. Perhaps it's because of the lack of flash and bang that this book has been one of my favorite recent reads.

Without all that complicated stuff and gimmicks, this book gave me a chance to focus on the story and the characters. Benway really succeeds in both of these aspects. I know I just said that there isn't a lot of complicated stuff here, but that was maybe a little bit false. Yes, boil it down to its bare bones and this story is really about two characters figuring out how to be with each other. But, both are dealing with extremely complex situations. I loved that Benway was able to explore both Emmy and Oliver's situations without making one seem any easier or less complex than the other. They have lived very different lives but both were forever changed by Oliver's disappearance and Benway doesn't make one's journey more awful than the other.

That being said, the characters really made it easy to fall into this novel. I loved Emmy, Oliver, and everyone else. They felt truly authentic and I think they will feel so for teens as well. Emmy reminded me a lot of other teen characters I've enjoyed - she wants to please her parents and her friends but she also wants to be true to herself and finding that balance is something a lot of teens struggle with. I thought Oliver was written honestly as well and I appreciated how well Benway handled the conflicting emotions Oliver felt.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one. It felt genuine and compelling and unique. I'll definitely be reading more by Benway in the future and will happily recommend this to teens.

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

Friday, June 12, 2015

Review: X

X: A Novel
By Illyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon, read by Dion Graham
Published 2015 by Candlewick on Brilliance Audio

Malcolm Little had always believed he could do anything he wanted - his parents told him so. But when his father is murdered, his mother is committed and his family is torn apart, he no longer knows what to believe. All he knows is that he must start a new life somewhere. But will Malcolm make the right choices on this new path? Or is he bound for a dangerous future?

I have been participating in the Sync program for several years now and I love it - I listen to audiobooks regularly anyway, and this is a way to listen to some that may not be available through my library. I was thrilled to see it come back again this summer and even more excited to see the line-up of titles. Just when I was in need of something new to listen to, this title hit the rotation.

My main disappointment with this book is that it ends when there is still so much of Malcolm's life to explore. However, I completely understand why this book ends - it is a study of Malcolm's adolescence, his growing into a young man, his becoming the person most know as Malcolm X. My disappointment is only that I don't actually know much about Malcolm X - before, during, or after the time he was known by that name and this book made me want to know more. Really, what this means is that this was a great book, one that inspired me to find more information about something I know very little about.

This is a fictionalized account of Malcolm X's coming of age and it was very engaging. Keeping up with the various timelines (the story jumps around a bit between points in time) was a bit tricky while listening, but overall, I enjoyed listening to this one. I thought Graham was a great narrator (I think I've listened to him before) and I loved the subtle changes he used for the different characters.

While this book made me want to learn more about Malcolm X's life, it also felt a bit serial - just a series of events occurring without a unifying thread (aside from the fact that someday this person will grow up to be Malcolm X). There's nothing terribly extraordinary about his life before he becomes Malcolm X, but that doesn't mean his life is not worth reading about. It captures a very interesting point in our history and the author's notes at the end of the story may have been my favorite part of this. Shabazz explains why she chose to tell this story (she is one of Malcolm's daughters) and then goes into the characters and historical context of the novel. I really enjoyed hearing more about the real world connections to the fictionalized version of events I'd just read and I think this may have been a big part of my feeling inspired to learn more.

I think this is a really fascinating piece of historical fiction, if a bit disjointed in its telling. But I'm glad to have read it and hope to explore more about Malcolm X in the future.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Review: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood

Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales, book four)
By Nathan Hale
Published 2014 by Amulet Books

Read my review of the earlier titles here.

The hangman wants another story and this time, he wants to hear a war story. So, Nathan Hale will tell him the story of the Great War and it will be entertaining, he promises.

One of the 2014 releases I was most sad to miss in my Year of No Library Books was this, the latest Hazardous Tale from the truly amazing Nathan Hale (yes, that's his name). It was at the top of my list to check out once the year was over and when I spotted it sitting on the shelf recently (and right before book five was released), I snagged it and devoured it pretty much in one sitting.

Unfortunately, I think this is my least favorite of the Hazardous Tales so far. I think the reason I didn't love this one as much is that Hale here is trying to tell an extremely large story in the same way that he told much smaller stories in the first three books. Trying to tell the complete story of World War I in one graphic novel that clocks in at less than 150 pages is pretty ambitious and it just didn't work for me. Despite his clever use of different animals to represent each of the countries involved, I had a difficult time keeping the countries straight throughout the story. The parts I liked best were when Hale once again focused on a small story - like the story of the hero pigeon, or the quick aside about the Christmas truce. I think trying to cram the entire war into one book just wasn't successful.

However, these graphic novels are still among my favorites. They are extremely eye-catching and appealing, they combine real information with humor and great storytelling, and I always, always learn something I didn't know. I'm thrilled that I almost never see our copies sitting on the shelves at the library - I'm glad kids are loving them as much as I do. I already have book five checked out and can't wait to find a moment to read it. I look forward to seeing what other fascinating historical stories Hale will shine his light on in the future.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Review: Lies

Lies (Gone, book three)
By Michael Grant
Published 2010 by HarperCollins

Spoilers ahead for the earlier books in the series. Read my reviews of books one and two.

Just when the kids think the FAYZ can't get any weirder, it does. A girl they buried now walks again among the living. A prophetess claims that they can get out of the FAYZ and their parents are waiting for them on the other side. And the boy with the tentacle arm, the one Sam is sure was killed, has been seen again. What is really going on? Can the kids uncover the truth?

As I said in my earlier reviews, I am not the norm when it comes to this series - most people I know who've read it devoured it as quickly as they could (including my fiance, who has been very frustrated with my slow progress through the series). BUT! I've read books two and three now this year and once again have the next one already checked out, so I'm really intending on finishing out the series before the year is over.

I had been a bit hesitant about this entry in the series - my fiance told me it was his least favorite and, since we obviously have very similar tastes, I worried that I would feel the same. Thankfully, I didn't, though of course I haven't finished the series yet. But, I liked book three more than I liked book two.

What I liked in this book was the exploration of what true desperation will lead you to do. From the lies that Astrid and the council feel compelled to tell the rest of the kids, to the number of FAYZ residents who fall under the sway of Nerezza and the prophetess, to both Lana and Mary's struggles with what is real and what isn't, it's clear that Grant is not messing around with this series. He is exploring some deep and dark issues in these books and I continue to be impressed by the combination of compulsive readability and thought-provoking content.

Similarly, once again, Grant has introduced new characters in this volume and I'm impressed that I don't find this at all irritating or gimmicky. It was a bit convenient this time around, but I'm intrigued to discover how these characters are going to fit into the rest of the series. Again, Grant made it very clear what the next volume of the series is going to focus on and I'm definitely looking forward to it. Perhaps my favorite part of this book was the exploration of what the FAYZ might look like from the outside - is the world really going on as normal outside the bubble? Are their parents really just waiting for them? If they accept the poof, will they truly reappear outside the FAYZ, essentially no worse for the wear? I can't wait to find out all the answers as I finish this series. I've made it halfway through now - I'm very much invested and looking forward to reading the rest.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Review: Murder is Bad Manners

Murder is Bad Manners (Wells and Wong, book one)
By Robin Stevens
Published 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Hazel and Daisy love a good mystery - that's why they started their own detective agency. But, they never expected they'd actually be investigating a murder! It's true, though - a murderer has struck at their boarding school and they know they must solve the murder before the killer strikes again. Will their attempts to uncover the mystery put their own lives in danger?

I'm pretty sure I first heard about this one over at The Book Smugglers and thought it sounded great - I love historical fiction (this one takes place in 1934) and I enjoy a good mystery. Plus, it features a diverse main character! I was definitely looking forward to reading this one and was very excited to get access to the e-galley. I didn't manage to read it before the release date, but once I started, I spend through it.

I quite enjoyed this one. I thought the setting was well-done and interesting - apparently, I really enjoy boarding school stories (though I think I would have hated attending a boarding school). I liked the historical aspect; I'm not sure how necessary it was. It explains a lot of the prejudice Hazel faces initially and it figures for some fun slang, but I'm not sure if I think the story couldn't have been set in modern times just as easily. I thought the mystery was pretty well-executed as well. There were a number of red herrings thrown in and I didn't figure it out ahead of time (though that's not really saying much). I appreciated how logically the girls went about trying to solve the mystery - I thought it was a very accurate representation of how kids these age think and act.

I truly enjoyed the characters as well - I really loved reading the story through Hazel's voice and she felt pretty authentic (if a bit frustrating in her self-doubt). But this was my main stumbling block with the story: the relationship between Hazel and Daisy. Really, Daisy doesn't really seem much more than a mostly stereotypical mean girl - she knows she's the queen bee and she uses it to her advantage. She uses people as she sees fit with no regard for their feelings and Hazel is no exception. I understand Hazel's loyalty to Daisy - she was the one to first accept Hazel (though, troublingly, not until after a pretty terrible hazing incident) and, because of Daisy, the other girls grew to accept her as well. But, Daisy doesn't treat Hazel very well and, though occasionally Hazel gets tired of this treatment, she continues to stand by Daisy. Perhaps I'm just tired of the antagonistic girl friendship in novels for kids, particularly when there really isn't a whole lot of character growth by novel's end. It really dampened my enthusiasm for this novel, though.

On the whole, I liked it well enough to anticipate the sequel, but I hope Daisy will grow more in future volumes and be less of a terrible friend.

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

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Series Review: Dark Life

Dark Life (Dark Life, book one)
By Kat Falls, read by Keith Nobbs
Published 2010 by Scholastic Audio Books

Rip Tide (Dark Life, book two)
By Kat Falls, read by Keith Nobbs
Published 2011 by Scholastic Audio Books

Ty is just counting the days until he turns 18; then, he can finally stake a claim on his own homestead sub-sea. But when a girl from the Topside shows up, Ty soon finds himself caught up in a complicated plot involving the deadly Sea Blight gang.

As I've mentioned a few times now, I've gone back to the beginnings of my TBR whenever I need a new audiobook (though that's about to change soon, since the awesome SYNC program has started up again!). I've made the (somewhat arbitrary) rule that I'll only download the first book in a series if the rest of the series - or most of it anyway - is also available to download. And that's how I came up to this series.

I remember hearing about these books when they were first released. They are pretty perfect examples of middle-grade speculative fiction - they've got enough mature and complex themes and action to keep older readers engaged but they are tame enough for older elementary and young teen readers. I quite enjoyed the first one. Falls has created a really fascinating and, incredibly, believable world in these books. It actually feels like something that could happen, which I think is great, particularly if you want this book to start a discussion. Additionally, the people living under the water are essentially pioneers - a piece of history that young readers are usually quite taken with (see: the perennial popularity of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books). Ty is a great protagonist and I think kids will relate to him easily - he just wants to be normal and fit in and live the life he's been living. His desire to make a homestead of his own feels very true and it's easy to understand his frustration when that wish is in jeopardy. I really liked Gemma as well, though sometimes her actions were a bit frustrating. (I'm starting to think that the more frustrating I find a character, probably the more realistic they are - as I often find tweens and teens frustrating in real life as well.)

I greatly preferred the first book to the second - I think the plot is more interesting in book one than in book two, but that might just be a personal thing. The writing here is pretty basic - no lush descriptions or flowery tangents - but it works for this story. The action would only be bogged down by overly descriptive phrases and existential wonderings. It's certainly not bad, but I find it pretty unremarkable.

Book two finds Gemma and Ty on a new adventure which, as I mentioned, I found weaker than the first. I didn't think a second book was necessary - everything is tied up in the first book quite nicely (well, maybe there is one loose end, but I kind of liked it that way). I'm glad there are only the two books - I'm not sure I would have much enjoyed a third outing with them.

The audiobooks work well - I think Nobbs has a great voice for Ty and I liked the music that opens and closes the book. I don't have much to say about the format here. It worked well enough but was nothing extraordinary.

Ultimately, I'm glad I checked out this series and would happily recommend it to kids looking for an exciting read.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Review: Circus Mirandus

Circus Mirandus
By Cassie Beasley
Expected publication June 2, 2015 by Dial Books

Micah is in need of a miracle. Well, actually, his grandfather is. The good news is that a man known as the Lightbender promised him one many years ago. The bad news is that the miracle he needs might be beyond the Lightbender's abilities. Can Micah find a way to help his grandfather - with or without the Lightbender's help?

This book has been getting a lot of buzz. Circuses are very in at the moment and debuts usually garner a fair amount of attention, so this combo really brought this book to the limelight. I received a copy as part of Penguin's Young Readers Author program and I was excited to check it out and see if it lived up to the buzz.

I have been a bit underwhelmed with my recent reads - nothing truly awful but nothing truly outstanding either. Unfortunately, Circus Mirandus was one such title - middle of the road for me. There is nothing terrible about this - it's quite a well-written novel, actually, with a story that I think will draw readers in (there's a reason circuses are very in right now, after all) and characters that are easy enough to care about. But, for me personally, it was not nearly as magical and engaging as I expected.

Perhaps my inability to connect with this came because I am in a bit of a reading slump and was predisposed to being disappointed in this book. Perhaps I was jarred by how terribly sad this book is - I don't think it's really a spoiler to say that Micah's grandfather is dying and he's being cared for by his great-aunt, a woman who clearly sees him as an imposition on her own life. Or perhaps this book just isn't as magical as the buzz suggests it is.

As I said, though, I can definitely see the appeal of this for other readers and, after all, I didn't hate it; I just wanted more from it. There is a magical circus (despite my harping on the lack of a magical atmosphere) and Micah is a pretty outstanding character. He is not afraid to do what needs to be done in his attempts to save his grandfather. I was a bit irritated at him a few times over the novel's course, but that feels realistic for a kid his age. I also thought his friendship with Jenny was a pretty convenient development and I was disappointed with the conclusion of Victoria's story as well.

Overall, this was just not the book for me, but I certainly think it will find readers in my library and I'll be happy to point it their way.

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

Monday, June 1, 2015

May Check-In

It's time again to check my stats for the month. Here's what I read in May!

Early-chapter: 0

Middle-grade: 9

Teen: 7

Adult: 3

Picture books: 10

Library books: 19

Books owned: 10

I'm pretty surprised at my stats for the month - I thought they'd be a lot worse! I took a week's vacation at the beginning of the month and didn't get nearly as much reading done as I thought I would, so I'm happy that I managed to finish as much reading as I did in the rest of the month to make up for it. I'm still not keeping up like I want to but I am, at the moment, ahead of my e-galleys. I really hope to keep that up over the summer because I think I'll be able to better manage library books and books I own once I have that under control. We are about to kick off summer reading at the library - and once again, we're short-staffed so I imagine a very busy summer is in store for me. Similarly, my wedding is now less than four months away, so I'll be spending a lot of my free time working on the details for that. Here's hoping I can still keep up with reading amid all the chaos this summer!