Friday, March 18, 2016

Review: The Eye of Midnight

The Eye of Midnight
By Andrew Brumbach
Published March 8, 2016 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Reviewed from e-ARC

William and Maxine are cousins sent to spend the summer with their grandfather. Only, he's nowhere to be found when they arrive. Instead, they find a mysterious symbol all over his house and a secret basement. This only marks the start of their adventures.

Well, every review on Goodreads of this is either four or five stars. I gave it only three. I am, apparently, the dissenting opinion on this title.

Don't get me wrong, this is an action-packed and exciting historical mystery for kids. It was by no means torturous to read and it moves along at a pretty quick pace, keeping you turning the pages. I can see a lot of kid appeal in the story - Maxine's desire to be taken seriously and perceived as older, William's stubborn and occasionally reckless sense of curiosity, a mysterious grandfather they barely know, cryptic symbols that hint at dark secrets, and lots of intrigue and adventure. In fact, this might be the kind of historical fiction that kids will pick up of their own accord (it's not a favorite genre at my library). It's also poised to be the first in a series, another big selling point to young readers.

So, with all that, why only three stars from me? Yes, I can see the appeal factors quite clearly and, yes, I love historical fiction. But, for me, it never really transcended into something unique. Additionally, a lot of the plot felt too convenient and the book suffers from the unfortunate trope of Middle Eastern villains. Will and Max do befriend a young Middle Eastern girl who continues with them on their quest and that provided at least one positive depiction of a person of color, but her appearance in the story also felt like one of those conveniences I mentioned. Finally, I'm not sure Brumbach really established enough background for my liking. He spends a lot of time recounting the formation and philosophies of the villains, but not as much time covering the secret society of good guys. It felt lacking.

Overall, this will be an easy book to sell to young readers, but not my personal cup of tea.

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

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Review: The Head of the Saint

The Head of the Saint
By Socorro Acioli, translated by Daniel Hahn
Published March 8, 2016 by Delacorte Press
Reviewed from e-ARC

Samuel is on a journey to fulfill his mother's dying wishes. She was all he had in this world and now she's gone. His journey leads him to a small dying town with a decapitated statue of Saint Anthony. While seeking refuge in the fallen head, Samuel begins hearing voices. Is it a gift from the saint? Or a curse?

I downloaded this galley because the plot description sounded so unique. I actually got around to reading it mostly because it's short (honesty is the best policy!).

It's definitely unique and certainly a quick read. I'm glad I picked it up. I liked the exploration of religion throughout the story and I thought the way all the threads came together in the end was really well-done. I didn't love Samuel as a character and, really, he reads much older than he is supposed to be. It's a pretty simple story but it is utterly captivating throughout and extremely well-written. It's lovely to read. I really don't have much more to say. There is just something about this that is quite stunning, something that will stay with you after you finish reading. I definitely recommend this one.

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

Monday, March 14, 2016

Review: Exit, Pursued by a Bear

Exit, Pursued by a Bear
By E.K. Johnston
Expected publication March 15, 2016 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
Reviewed from e-ARC

Hermione Winters is co-captain of her cheerleading squad. She's worked for this her whole life so far. She's determined to make this last year the best yet. But when she is sexually assaulted at cheer camp, her perfect final season is shattered.

This book has been getting tons of buzz for many months now, so I greedily requested the digital galley and made sure I read it prior to release.

First, this book is very Canadian. I did not realize that prior to starting it and there are definitely some things that will be completely foreign to a U.S. audience. In no way am I suggesting these things should have been changed for American readers, but there is likely to be confusion about some things. It may take readers out of the story at those points as well.

Second, one of the things I loved most about this book is how completely it is Hermione's story. It is the story of her passion for cheering, her being assaulted, and how she recovers and moves forward with her life after the assault. Yes, the author explores a bit how Hermione's assault affects the lives of people most important to her, but the main focus is Hermione herself. Maybe what I'm trying to say is that I appreciated how little this book focused on the rapist. It's disheartening how shocking it was to read this kind of story - where the victim is truly the focus and the rapist is more in the periphery. I won't spoil anything for you, but my love of this aspect of the book is what made the ending a bit of a let-down for me.

Third, the community of support that Hermione has is amazing. Her parents are both involved and caring and support every decision Hermione makes along her path to recovery. Hermione also has a great group of friends. In particular, her best friend Polly is wonderful. Their friendship is maybe the most kick-ass I've read recently. It made me miss my high school friendships something fierce. Hermione also speaks to a pastor while trying to make sense of things and he is a great figure of support as well.

Fourth, this book is not afraid to address abortion, though the ease with which Hermione is able to obtain one is one of those things that might seem foreign to U.S. readers. But, the scene in the recovery room is maybe one of the most powerful I've ever read.

Ultimately, I think this is a book every teenager and every person who knows a teenager should read. It provides wonderful examples of how to help someone who has experienced this trauma while also being sure to highlight that everyone's experience and recovery will be unique. Highly recommended.

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

Friday, March 11, 2016

Review: The Land of Forgotten Girls

The Land of Forgotten Girls
By Erin Entrada Kelly
Published March 1, 2016 by Greenwillow Books
Reviewed from e-ARC

Sol and Ming have not had an easy life - their mother died when they were young and their father remarried and moved them to America. And then he went back to the Philippines without them, leaving them in the care of their evil stepmother. Now, Ming believes that their adventurous, world-traveling aunt is coming to take them away. Can Sol protect Ming from the truth?

Here is another book I really wanted to like but that fell short for me (I feel as if I'm having a mostly disappointing reading year thus far). I loved the characters - all of them, from Sol and Ming to the secondary characters, are brilliantly developed. I loved the exploration of the relationship between the sisters - familial relationships are something I always pay special attention to when reading. Though I've never had a sister, it seems to me that Kelly paints a beautifully realistic portrait of what that might be like. I liked the narrative structure, with some flashbacks woven in and Sol's visits from her other (deceased) sister.  There seem to be lots of children's books dealing with grief in recent years and I'm pleased to see this (as pleased as one can be about such a sad topic). It's an important issue that we should prepare kids to discuss. In fact, there are lots of significant issues in this book that I'm pleased to see addressed in a book for middle-grade readers. They're not easy, but discussing them will certainly help kids be better citizens of the world.

I can't quite pinpoint why this didn't work for me. Maybe it's because this is a character-driven novel; by the end, I kind of wondered what the point of the whole thing was. Nothing really seems like it's going to change, at least not permanently, so why did I read this book? I guess I kept hoping for a real "Disney" happy ending to happen - which, of course, is much less common in real life. I don't mind if things don't always turn out sunshine and roses, but I just didn't love the end here.

Overall, I think Kelly has crafted a very realistic novel (with the characters, their relationships, and the world they live in feeling particularly authentic); I just expected more.

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

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Review: Rise of the Ragged Clover

A quick note before we get on to the review: you may have noticed that entries are more sporadic this year. I'm trying to review as I actually finish books and I've been reading lots of adult titles lately. I am reading! But I can't promise reviews with any regularity here. Thanks for reading all the same!

Rise of the Ragged Clover (Luck Uglies, book three)
By Paul Durham
Published March 1, 2016 by HarperCollins
Reviewed from e-ARC

WARNING: There may be spoilers for the previous books in the series. Read my reviews here and here.

Things go from bad to worse for Rye when she witnesses her father taking part in the Descent. Will her family recover? Add to that the Bog Noblins infesting the Village Drowning and the evil Slinister and it may be too much for Rye to handle on her own. Can she recruit others to help her? What about the rest of the reclusive Luck Uglies?

Woe is me - I did not realize this was to be the last in the series until I got to the end of this book! I am sad. I adore this series and these characters and I would have happily read several more volumes of their adventures. However, there is something to be said about trilogies (three does seem to be a magic number), so perhaps I shouldn't complain too much.

As in previous books, the strength lies in both the characters and the worldbuilding. Rye is the same as ever and it's just as frustrating and charming as in previous volumes. Quinn and Folly don't show up until a bit later this time around, so the story I kept waiting on with Quinn never materializes. (How lovely it would be for Durham to start a new series focusing on Quinn or Folly's story instead! - wishful thinking!). I loved that characters from previous books appeared again, particularly the Link Rats. It brings the whole thing full circle. The world that Durham has created seems full of possibilities for more stories - I feel like he's only scratched the surface with these three volumes and I absolutely love that.

Unlike book two, I think this one works best if you've read the other books in the series. The full impact of many plot points won't be felt if you read this by itself. I love the series, so obviously I think you should read them all anyway, but it's always good to note if you can jump around in a series.

It's also important to note that, as in previous volumes, Durham is not afraid to go dark places in this one. There is quite a lot that could be sad or frightening, so bear in mind when recommending.

Overall, I adore this series and I'm sad to see it come to a close. Definitely recommended for fantasy readers!

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

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

February Check-In

It's time to check in and see what I read in February!

Early-chapter: 0

Middle-grade: 4

Teen: 3

Adult: 6

Picture books: 43

Library books: 50

Books owned: 6

Read Harder Challenge: 6/24

Non-fiction goal: 3/25

Series goal: 1/5

Short stories/Novellas: 7

As anticipated my numbers are lower this month because I've been focusing more on adult reads in preparation for my trip in March. I did manage to finish out a series by reading the final book in the Luck Uglies series (review to come). I imagine my numbers for March will be even smaller; I'll be continuing to focus on reads related to my trip at the end of the month, and I don't imagine I'll be doing a ton of reading while on my trip. We'll see how it all plays out.