Thursday, December 31, 2015

Librarian of Snark's Best Reads of 2015

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

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

Favorite Picture Books Read in 2015

I Don't Like Koala by Sean Ferrell

Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry

Families, Families, Families! by Suzanne Lang

How to Surprise a Dad by Jean Reagan

Lloyd Llama by Sarah Jones

Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood

Here Comes the Tooth Fairy Cat by Deborah Underwood

I Will Take a Nap! by Mo Willems

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson

Sea Rex by Molly Idle

Bear Counts by Karma Wilson

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton

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

Favorite Middle Grade Books Read in 2015

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson - review

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

The Hollow Boy by Jonathan Lockwood

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead - review

Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko - review

The Marvels by Brian Selznick - review

Nightborn by Lou Anders - review

Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes

Dark Life by Kat Falls - review

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell - review

The Dragon Lantern by Alan Gratz - review

Fork-Tongue Charmers by Paul Durham - review

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

Favorite Young Adult Books Read in 2015

Unbound by Neal Shusterman

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

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero - review

Uprooted by Naomi Novik - review

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Cut Both Ways by Carrie Mesrobian

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

Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet - review

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

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman - review

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

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

YA Reviews Part Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Middle Grade Reviews Part Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 28, 2015

YA Reviews Part Three

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

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

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

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

Fear (Gone, book five)
By Michael Grant

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 25, 2015

YA Reviews Part Two

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Middle Grade Reviews Part Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Middle Grade Reviews Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

YA Reviews Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Capsule Reviews: Graphic Novels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Real Talk

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

November Check-In

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

Early-chapter: 2

Middle-grade: 7

Teen: 7

Adult: 30

Picture books: 52

Library books: 93

Books owned: 5

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