Friday, July 31, 2015

Review: Piper Green and the Fairy Tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Review: Goodbye Stranger

Goodbye Stranger
By Rebecca Stead
Expected publication August 4, 2015 by Wendy Lamb Books

Bridge almost died in an accident. She's spent a lot of time since then wondering what her purpose is. Now, in seventh grade, she may be closer to finding out than ever before. At the same time, an unnamed girl spends her Valentine's Day trying to figure out where her friendships went wrong and if they are beyond repair.

This is not my first time at the Rebecca Stead rodeo. In fact, I think I've read all of her books (save her first). Despite this fact, I would never say she's an author I like. It's weird. I have sort of a love-hate relationship with her books. I tend to walk away from them thinking, "Okay, I get it. She's a good writer. But that doesn't mean I liked it." Friends, I may have finally figured out what the fuss is about.

Because with her newest book, this one here, I can finally say I liked it. Actually, I really liked it, more than I could have expected to, particularly considering my ambivalence about her previous titles.

I have never questioned Stead's ability to write. In fact, it is the one thing that has impressed me with every book of hers I've read. She manages to pack so much complexity (and simplicity really) into her novels, which usually come in on the short side of middle-grade books nowadays. She manages to create fully realized characters that readers will actually care about in these limited pages and usually explores complicated topics and emotions as well, all without sacrificing the meat of the story. Her sentences are beautiful and all of her books have lovely quotes and phrases that will surely speak to their young readers. There is no doubt in my mind that Stead is quite deserving of her literary accolades and I'm sure we haven't seen the last of her work honored.

But, this book, unlike her others, spoke to me in a different way. This is a book about friendship, about growing up, about falling in love, about choosing who you will be. I loved the relationship between Bridge and her friends. It's clear that they are moving at different paces toward the next step in their development but there is never a sense of whose pace is right or wrong - they are just themselves. I loved that, no matter how differently they may be responding to the changes around and within them, they love each other fiercely. I loved the quieter relationship between Bridge and her brother - it's not explored in depth really, but there is a beautiful moment that captures it later in the story and it brought me to tears. I loved that the unnamed character is also thinking about friendship and wondering how she can be a better friend, how she can fix the mistake she made, and if she can be forgiven. I loved the tender development of first love - it was absolutely lovely to watch and made me fall in love with my own partner all over again.

I really fell for Stead with this book and now can't wait to release it to readers and see what she'll do next.

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

Monday, July 27, 2015

Review: While You Were Gone

While You Were Gone (Duplexity, book two)
By Amy K. Nichols
Expected publication August 4, 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

To read my review of book one, go here. 

Eevee is an artist in a world where art is highly regulated. She must work extremely carefully to not upset the status quo, despite hidden desires to create more abstractly. Things only get more complicated when she meets Danny, a boy who has somehow slipped here from another world.

After feeling mostly ambivalent about book one, when I spotted book two available for download, I figured I'd read it and get it over with. I feel even less warmly about this one than I did the first.

In my review of book one, I stated that I could tell what would happen in book two. I was wrong. Because book two is not really a sequel. Book two is more of a companion, telling the story that's happening in the alternate dimension during the same time frame as the story in book one. If it sounds a bit confusing, well, that's parallel universes for you.

Most of what I felt about book one I felt again here. While the story is quick-moving and engaging enough that the 300 pages pass by swiftly, most of it feels underdeveloped. I still found myself wanting to know more about the world and the characters. I felt that the problems and the big secret discovered in this volume were solved far too quickly to really make a satisfactory conclusion. Similarly, the overall issue of the parallel universes in both books was tied up far too neatly in a short epilogue in this volume. The romance felt even more false in this universe - it seemed out of character for both and made them both seem...feeble? I don't know how to describe it but it seemed to undermine both of their characters.

Overall, this was a bigger disappointment than book one and reminded me why I usually stay away from science fiction.

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

Another quick note: I apologize again for what has essentially been a multiple-week absence from the blog. As I mentioned, I moved and it took a lot out of me. I have fallen behind in wedding planning so that has been stressing me out. In addition, I haven't been terribly excited by most of what I've read over the last month, making me not terribly excited to write about it either. As I said, I'll likely be posting short reviews to catch myself up and only slightly longer reviews for the ARCs I read during my absence.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Review: The Secrets of Blueberries, Brothers, Moose and Me

The Secrets of Blueberries, Brothers, Moose and Me
By Sara Nickerson
Expected publication July 21, 2015 by Dutton Books for Young Readers

Missy and her brother somehow convince their mother to let them get jobs as blueberry pickers this year. For Patrick, it's a chance to earn money to change his identity when the next school year begins. For Missy, it's an opportunity to keep herself busy while everything around her seems to be changing. But neither is prepared for what this summer will really have in store for them.

This book came my way through the Penguin Young Readers Author Program. I hadn't really heard much about it prior to reading, and haven't seen much talk of it since either. I'll admit that it caught my eye with the title - I kind of assumed it would be set in Maine (it's not).

I'm a bit conflicted with this book. I think Nickerson does a decent job of capturing the struggle of remaining true to oneself while everything around you seems to be changing. She also deftly explores how relationships can change even when that may be the last thing we want and we may do everything in our power to stop the change from occurring. I liked the exploration of both friendships and familial relationships and I loved Missy's discovery of a truer sense of self while in the blueberry fields.

But, I had a really difficult time sympathizing with Missy. I could not relate to her at all. Maybe it's because I didn't experience a lot of what she does, but, really, I don't think that's it. I think part of it is that Nickerson doesn't fully explain the reasoning behind many of Missy's actions until much later. Because of this, her actions often seem out of proportion to the instigator she is reacting against. This makes it difficult, at least for me, not to judge her for behaving in ways that I find awful and mean.

Additionally, this book felt overly long. It seemed to drag a bit and I'm not sure the connection between the brothers of the blueberry field and Missy's own life was made as strongly as it could have been.

Ultimately, this book was disappointing for me. It will likely find readers among girls who gobble up all my middle-grade contemporary stock, but I'm not sure I'll be endorsing it too heavily.

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

Monday, July 13, 2015

A Quick Note...

Hello out there!

For any regular readers of the blog, my apologies for not posting in a week or so. I have a couple reviews lined up still and a half dozen more still to write. The reason for the radio silence is, of course, my personal life. I had to move unexpectedly, so that has taken up all my free time over the last few weeks. I have barely been reading during this time and haven't had any time to write reviews of things I finished at the end of June.

I'm hoping that the move will be all squared away shortly and then I can get back in the swing of things here. You may still see abbreviated reviews of those final June reads, though - I haven't felt like I've had terribly much to say about what I've read lately (with a couple exceptions), so it might not be exactly like old times for a little while here.

I hope you all have been having more successful reading adventures!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Review: The Thief and the Sword

The Thief and the Sword (Cleopatra in Space, book two)
By Mike Maihack
Published 2015 by GRAPHIX

Read my review of book one here.

Cleopatra just recovered the ancient sword - and now a thief is trying to steal it! Cleo is determined to get it back, but her teachers have other plans for her. And what's the deal with that pesky prophecy anyway?

I read the first volume in this series for last year's 48 Hour Book Challenge and thoroughly enjoyed it - it was entertaining and diverse and an extremely quick read. I was eagerly anticipating the second volume. When it was ordered at my library, I put my name on the waiting list and finally got around to it in June.

Much like the first volume, this second entry in the series is highly visual - it's mostly action panels for the first several pages and continues in this vein for much of the book. There is not a lot of text, making this a very quick read (though not quite as quick as the first). This has a bit more of tween angst in it - Cleopatra is not really fitting in at the Academy and her friend Akila is a bit jealous of all the attention she's getting. There is still lots of action throughout, but the addition of some drama might make the story a bit more relatable for readers. I'm still anxious to see how the prophecy develops, particularly with the twists of this volume. I was extremely interested in the introduction of the thief here - I won't spoil his identity, but it definitely seems he'll be making many more appearances in future volumes. I really enjoy this series and I'll be happily recommending it to patrons all summer long!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Review: Sea Hearts

Sea Hearts (alt. title: The Brides of Rollrock Island)
By Margo Lanagan, read by Eloise Oxer and Paul English
Published 2014 by Bolinda Audio

Misskaella discovers a powerful magic on remote Rollrock Island - she can make a woman from a seal. Soon, her seal-wives are in high demand by the men of the islands. But at what price?

I was really excited to see this title as one of this summer's Sync titles - this book got tons of buzz the year it was published and I thought it sounded really interesting. After reading one of Lanagan's short story collections (and enjoying it quite a bit), I was even more excited to read one of her novels and get a better sense of her writing.

When I first started listening, I was quite enchanted. Her way with words is evident and magical and the story reads like a very dark fairy tale - my favorite kind. I liked that Lanagan used multiple narrators and points of view to tell the strange story of Rollrock Island and its seal-wives. The multiple POVs were also quite confusing - not only are we navigating between characters, but we are moving between time periods. It's sometimes quite difficult to figure out where in the story we are situated at any given moment. This is especially tricky with an audio version of the story.

As the story continued, though, I began to wonder what the point was - and then I came to the end. There is no point. There isn't really a climax to this novel and, when readers get to the end, I'm not sure they'll feel like they're in a different place than where they began. So, while the writing is lovely, I don't normally enjoy prose for prose's sake - I also need a story I can lose myself in. This one just didn't work for me.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

June Check-In

It's time for the monthly check-in! Here are my stats for June!

Early-chapter: 3

Middle-grade: 8

Teen: 9

Adult: 0

Picture books: 25

Library books: 38

Books owned: 7

Overall, not too bad a month for me. Slightly lower number of books than normal when you don't include the early chapter books, and no adult reads this month (I started a couple but haven't finished anything). I am still ahead with my digital galleys, but that might change over the next month. We are unexpectedly having to move, so now we are a bit behind in wedding planning. I imagine I will not be getting much reading done over the next month as all my free time will be spent moving or working on the wedding. I know I will probably still try to read more than I'll really have time for, so we'll see how it goes.