Friday, January 29, 2016

Review: The Rose Society

The Rose Society (Young Elites, book two)
By Marie Lu
Published 2015 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Spoilers for book one ahead.

Adelina has been betrayed and now she'll seek her revenge. With the help of her own society of gifted young adults, she'll go after those who made her care and then turned their backs. But the Young Elites have their own tricks up their sleeve.

I was pretty pumped for this book - though I'd found bits of book one predictable, I was definitely interested in seeing where Lu would take this series and these characters. However, I got less excited for it once I checked it out - I pretty much put off reading it until right before it was due back at the library. Part of my reluctance to read it was that I'd had a string of mostly disappointing books and didn't want to find out if this would be another. Another part was because my husband had read it before me and was mostly unimpressed. Did I agree with his assessment?

Here's what I liked about this one: Lu went DARK. Like, seriously dark. It's not the darkest I read - mostly because it takes place in a world dramatically different from our own, thus making it impossible to come true (stuff that actually freaks me out is stuff like Unwind - where I can actually imagine a future like it for our country). But this book is a dark place and readers should be well aware of that. However, I liked the darkness. I liked that it's clear that Lu set out to write a dark character and so far hasn't backed away from that. I like that Adelina is tortured and is likely going to pay an extremely hefty price for her choices, but she's embracing the darkness anyway. I liked that Adelina can see where she is making wrong decisions, but she's making them anyway. I liked the alternating viewpoints, though I would have liked a bit more consistency in their usage.

I did not like the introduction of a new potential love interest - can we just leave the romance out for once? Some of the plot did not make a whole lot of sense to me - in fact, most of the Young Elites political decisions seemed a bit odd. But, then again, I hate politics, so maybe they actually were smart decisions.

I liked the revelation about what it really means to be a Young Elite and I'm very anxious to see that play out in the rest of the series (not sure how many books there will be).

Overall, a very intriguing follow-up and a series to watch.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Review: Secrets of Valhalla

Secrets of Valhalla
By Jasmine Richards
Published January 19, 2016 by HarperCollins

Reviewed from e-ARC

Buzz really wishes his mom would come home. Nothing has been the same since she's been gone. His dad's obsession with mythology has distanced him from both Buzz and his sister and things only get stranger when Saturday begins repeating itself. Along with his new friend, Mary, Buzz discovers that the Runes of Valhalla are missing and it's up to them to find them and reunite them with their deities before the world descends into total chaos.

So, this was the second Norse-mythology inspired book I read in the span of about a month and I enjoyed this one much more than the other (I know, I was surprised, too). Now, I'm not saying this is the upper echelon of literature, but this was fun and incorporated the mythology well. I enjoyed all the characters (though sometimes Buzz and Mary's dialogue felt stilted and unrealistic for kids of their age - though I suppose there could be an explanation for at least Mary's part of that). I felt like I learned a lot more about Norse mythology in this book than in my other recent read, though it still doesn't go as in-depth as other mythology-based books I've read. That being said, I thought it explained things clearly and interestingly - it doesn't FEEL like the book is trying to teach you (well, at least most of the time) and it's all easy to understand. I thought the journey the characters underwent was fun and I liked visiting the different gods and realms. The ending is a bit overly sweet and tidy, but I was glad that things worked out. Overall, a cute story and bonus points for characters of color as the protagonists.

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

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

YA Graphic Novels

I've read several young adult graphic novels this month, so I figured I'd review them all at once.

A Brave is Brave (Junior Braves of the Apocalypse, book one)
By Greg Smith and Michael Tanner, illustrated by Zach Lehner
Published 2015 by Oni Press
Tribe 65 has just returned from their camping trip, but the world is not as they left it. They can't find their parents and the adults they do run into have gone a bit...weird.

Well, I mean, how could I resist a series called Junior Braves of the Apocalypse? Obviously, I could not. So I picked up this first volume when it arrived at the library. It was very reminiscent of The Walking Dead and I won't be surprised if it continues that way. Actually, most zombie apocalypse lit is pretty similar, moving from one safe space to the next as new challenges and problems arise. I found the panels a bit difficult to follow at times, but overall, this was a pretty fun read. I'll be looking for book two.

Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir
By Maggie Thrash
Published 2015 by Candlewick Press
Maggie has spent every summer at the same camp but the summer she is fifteen, one unexpected moment changes her life forever.

I'd heard a lot about this graphic memoir in the weeks leading up to its publication and immediately after, so I was definitely interested in checking it out. Since I've been reading so many graphic novels lately and it happened to be on the shelf when I picked up a few new ones, I figured now was a good time to read this one. I really enjoyed it. I liked the simplicity of Maggie's story and I sure related to it. I think many teens will be able to relate to Maggie and her story. I liked all the people we meet throughout as well. I wasn't as crazy about the art style, but as the story progressed, I thought it suited the tone of the book well. Definitely recommend this one.

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong
By Prudence Shen, illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks
Published 2013 by First Second
Charlie and Nate are unlikely friends, but their bond is tested when Nate declares war against the cheerleaders and Charlie is unwillingly thrown into the war. With funding for school groups on the line, both sides have something to lose.

Well, honestly, for something with this title, I really expected more to go wrong. This was fun enough, with some legitimate laugh out loud moments as well as some heartfelt ones. But, as a whole, nothing about this story really struck me as extraordinary or outstanding. As I said, I expected more to go wrong - the stakes never really felt that high and I never really believed that everything wouldn't work out in the end. I just expected more from this one.

By Ayun Halliday, illustrated by Paul Hoppe
Published 2012 by Schwartz & Wade
When Sadie transfers to a new school, she has what she thinks is the perfect plan for making friends - she'll make a peanut allergy. It's interesting enough that people will want to know more, but not dangerous enough to worry about. Or so she thinks, because Sadie is about to discover it's a whole lot more complicated than she planned on.

I remember being intrigued by this one way back when it was released and it gets read enough every year that it's still kicking around our heavily weeded teen section, so I picked it up recently when I spotted it on the shelf. I did not enjoy this one. I couldn't ever get over how selfish and naive Sadie was by pretending to have this allergy - yeah, it's not the worse illness she could have faked, but it can still be life-threatening. Really, I spent most of my time reading this waiting for Sadie to get her comeuppance. And, to that end, I found the bit at the end with Zoo extremely unsatisfactory. Just did not like this one.

Level Up
By Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Thien Pham
Published 2011 by First Second
Dennis loves nothing as much as he loves video games, but when four cute but intimidating angels show up to point him in the right direction, he finds myself in medical school and on the way to living up to his dad's dreams for him.

By this point, I think I've read pretty much every graphic novel that Yang has published (at least those for young people and excepting Avatar). I never picked this one up when it was released but when I spotted it on the shelf, I figured it was overdue. I didn't get this one. The implication was that it would be about video games, but it's really not. Yes, Dennis plays video games in the beginning and again at the end, but in the main section in the middle, he really doesn't seem to care that much about them. Mostly, he seems to just care about doing something other than gastroenterology. And that moment when he controls the camera during an endoscopy? What is the point of that if he's still going to choose something else? The story just didn't add up for me. Disappointing.

Will & Whit
By Laura Lee Gulledge
Published 2013 by Abrams
Will is trying to overcome a family tragedy that has left her afraid of the dark. Will a blackout caused by a huge hurricane force her to deal with both things?

Another graphic novel I remember hearing a lot about and neglecting to pick up in a timely manner, I really enjoyed the art style of this one. The story was a bit less cohesive than I hoped - the hurricane was really nothing more than a plot device and didn't seem to effect the characters in a way that felt realistic. I liked the idea of Will dealing with her grief in a very specific way - through art - and I also appreciated that it manifested in a very specific way - her fear of the dark. It's a small but eye-opening fact to anyone who thinks that grief largely looks the same on everyone. But, as I said, the hurricane seemed like nothing more than something to advance Will's story - I wanted it to have even more of an impact. The other characters were fun, but still mostly felt like set decorations to Will's story.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Review: The Goblin's Puzzle

The Goblin's Puzzle: Being the Adventures of a Boy with No Name and Two Girls Called Alice
By Andrew S. Chilton

Published January 19, 2016 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Reviewed from e-ARC

Boy has only known life as a slave, but when he meets a goblin, he begins to question his Destiny. And Plain Alice has been mistakenly kidnapped by a dragon who thinks she's the Princess Alice. Their paths will cross and change them all forever.

I admit that the intriguingly long title is what caught my eye about this one. What I liked most about this one was the use of logic puzzles. I think books that include puzzles like that are endlessly appealing to kids - it's why I loved The Mysterious Benedict Society so many years ago. I liked that this one tackled logic instead of more traditional puzzles; it was a really intriguing way to look at the problem. I also appreciated the Alices - I liked them both quite a bit and I think they were given equal time as Boy.

What I liked less about this was the application of the logic to the existence of slaves. Something about the whole thing just didn't sit well with me. It felt like they were saying logically, owning slaves is wrong, but practically, maybe not. I'm sure that wasn't the intent, but it just felt off.

This has enough action to keep readers turning the pages, but it is at its heart a pretty standard fantasy quest novel.

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

Monday, January 25, 2016

Review: Up from the Sea

Up from the Sea
By Leza Lowitz
Published 2016 by Crown Books for Young Readers
Reviewed from e-ARC

Kai has practiced for earthquakes and tsunamis but he still never expected to experience one. And the one that hits is more massive than anyone could have predicted. Now, Kai is alone, having lost everything. How will he find a way to go on?

This caught my eye because it's a novel in verse, something I generally find hard to resist. Additionally, I don't read a lot of books set in Asia, and this one takes place during the horrific 2011 tsunami, so I was even more intrigued.

I liked Kai and his grief felt real - he has already been abandoned by his father and now the tsunami has come and destroyed everything else he loves. The way back from all this loss feels impossible. Indeed, I couldn't blame him for not caring much about anything. But I think this is meant to show us how important it is to keep going - even if you think you've lost everything, there are still people depending on you, people whose lives would be changed if you did give up. It's a pretty significant message.

I really liked the connection that Kai makes with children who lost their parents in the attacks of September 11 - the tragedies are different but they have commonalities, another significant message that could bear repeating. We have more in common with each other than we may think.

Though this is a heavy book, I didn't feel as emotionally connected as I expected to - I think the verse format may have inhibited character development in this case. Additionally, I don't care much for soccer, so that story just didn't interest me, though I understand its inclusion. A pretty solid read.

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

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Review: Blue in the Face

Blue in the Face: A Story of Risk, Rhyme, and Rebellion
By Gerry Swallow
Published January 12, 2016 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Reviewed from e-ARC

Elspeth is used to getting what she wants. After all, if her parents refuse, all she has to do is her patented holding-her-breath trick and they give in. Only this time, they don't. And this time, when Elsepth actually holds her breath until passing out, she awakes in a strange world. But does a part of her belong in this world?

I'm a big fan of retellings and this one suggested it would tackle nursery rhymes, something a bit more unusual than fairy tales. That was my favorite thing about this one, actually: the alleged truth behind the nursery rhymes. I liked that Swallow incorporated both well-known and lesser-known rhymes and made Old King Cole a terrible villain. I liked the notion that Elspeth was actually a nursery rhyme character who somehow crossed into our ordinary world, but her return to the nursery rhyme kingdom was prophesied. Elspeth herself is not a particularly enjoyable character, but the nursery rhyme characters she meets are quite delightful (I particularly loved The Cheese and the Three Blind Mice).

There aren't a lot of surprises in the story - Elspeth begins the book as a spoiled, self-involved brat but her exploits in the nursery rhyme kingdom help her grow and evolve. The "it was all a dream" ending (or was it?) was also kind of unsurprising, but I think it will make for great discussion.

Overall, a fun take on nursery rhymes. Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via NetGalley.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Review: The Sword of Summer

The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, book one)
By Rick Riordan
Published 2015 by Disney Hyperion Books

When Magnus discovers that he's the son of a Norse god, things quickly go from bad to worse. When his decision to protect innocent lives leads to his own death, it's really only the beginning of an unbelievable journey. Magnus must recover the Sword of Summer and keep it safe from those with nefarious purposes.

Here's the tl;dr version of this review: I did not enjoy this book. Like, at all.

Here's the longer version: I, like most people, eagerly anticipated the newest title from Riordan. I've read every middle-grade book he's written so far and very much enjoyed them all. I was thrilled to hear his newest series would incorporate Norse mythology - I know very little about it, but what I do know has definitely intrigued me. So, imagine my surprise when I cracked open this first entry in that new series and could only manage to read a chapter at a time. And that 4-5 page chapter would take me 30 minutes - if you read this blog, I assume you realize that, in order to read the quantity of books I do every year, I generally read a lot faster than that. Huge feeling of disappointment.

So why didn't I enjoy this one? It is much slower-moving than his previous books - I would go so far as to use the word "boring." Riordan's signature use of cliffhangers at the end of each chapter just weren't as engaging this time around as they've been in the past.

Perhaps contributing to the slow pace of this one was the fact that I really did not connect with any of the characters here - even Annabeth's appearances seemed bland in comparison to the character I've enjoyed in several other titles. I found Magnus to be uninteresting and frustrating at times. His companions are all infinitely more intriguing than he is; probably not a good sign of things to come.

The biggest flaw for me, though, was how awkward the incorporation of the mythology felt in this one. I know a little about Norse mythology, but not a lot - and even if I knew a lot, past Riordan titles indicated that I would discover much more in this book. Wrong. I'm not sure I could tell you one thing I learned about Norse mythology from reading this book. The introductions of mythological beings and the myths themselves didn't flow with the rest of the story as smoothly as they have in the past. It felt awkward and intrusive and not engaging at all.

In all likelihood, I will still read the second in the series; mostly because my husband enjoyed this more than I did and will want to read it (so if it's already around, I might as well read it too). Hopefully it won't take me two months to read like this one did.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Review: The Impostor Queen

The Impostor Queen (Impostor Queen, book one)
By Sarah Fine
Published January 5, 2016 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
Reviewed from e-ARC

Elli has lived her entire life in preparation: one day, she will become the Valtia of her people and wield the magic that keeps them safe and satisfied. For Elli to become the Valtia, the queen must die and the magic will find its new home in her. But when that happens, the magic is nowhere to be found. Is it possible that everything Elli has believed about herself is a lie? If she isn't the Valtia, who is she? And where is the magic?

I'd heard lots of good things about Fine, so when I saw her newest available as a digital galley, I figured I'd give it a shot. I liked the worldbuilding (which may be influenced by Scandinavian lore? Just my own guess there). The notion of the country's magic being embodied in one person who then uses that magic to keep her people safe was pretty intriguing. No surprise, of course, that the truth about the magic is not that simple. I thought Elli was a realistic protagonist - I liked the balancing of her thirst for knowledge with her inherent trust in what she's always known. I really liked the exploration of the relationship between the Saadela and the Valtia - I like when books dig into the complex relationships between women. I also really appreciated the LGBT aspect of this novel; it was palpably present but not the central issue, something that I think we could do with more of. I enjoyed discovering the truth of the magic alongside Elli - it felt natural. I really enjoyed Oskar and his family. I even enjoyed the romance that develops in the book, though I certainly don't think it's the most interesting aspect.

I hadn't realized when I started this that it would be the first in a series, but I'm happy to return to this world for a sequel. Thanks to the published for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Final 2015 Middle-Grade Reviews

The last of 2015 and then we move on to what I'm reading this year!

Villain Keeper (The Last Dragon Charmer, book one)
By Laurie McKay
Published 2015 by HarperCollins
Prince Caden is just about to embark upon the quest he's waited for when he is torn from his kingdom and deposited in Asheville, North Carolina. The most unmagical place that exists. Or is it? For soon, it seems Caden didn't end up in Asheville by chance. And perhaps his destiny isn't quite what he imagined it to be.

By now, y'all should know my weakness for middle grade fantasy. So, when I saw this one, I could hardly resist. I had the e-ARC but didn't get to it before it expired, so I finally picked up the finished copy in December, squeezing it in before the end of 2015. By far, the most enjoyable aspect of this novel is the fish-out-of-water experiences of Caden - his incredulity at many of the Asheville happenings was delightful to read. I also greatly enjoyed his relationship with Brynne, and the one he develops with Tito. And I liked that Asheville is not exactly what we know it to be - it has definite ties to Caden's magical kingdom that are unexpected and very interesting. Honestly, this book isn't treading any new ground, but it's a mostly delightful romp all the same. I'll be back for the sequel, eager to see what new foe Caden, Brynne, and Tito must face.

Secret Coders (Secret Coders, book one)
By Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes
Published 2015 by First Second
Stately Academy is a bit of an unusual school. Soon Hopper and Nikhil find themselves intrigued by the many mysteries they discover at the school and set out on a quest to solve them.

It's usually a guarantee that I'll pick up the latest book by newly named Ambassador for Young People's Literature Yang. I wasn't sure how I'd feel about this one, since I'm definitely not into coding at all. I was pleasantly surprised after finishing this. It integrates the coding directly into the plot in a way that is interesting and informative without feeling heavy-handed. It's educational while still being entertaining and I'm thoroughly impressed by how much I enjoyed reading this. I'm very much looking forward to picking up the next volume!

The Night Parade
By Kathryn Tanquary
Published 2016 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Reviewed from e-ARC
Saki is not excited to be spending her summer at her grandmother's countryside home. Things begin to look up when some local kids take an interest in her, but their idea of fun may have awakened the spirits of her family's shrine. Now Saki has just three nights to stop a death curse from coming true.

This was the first 2016 book I read, finishing it in the last couple of weeks of 2015. I was intrigued by the Japanese setting and lore (and also by the lovely cover). I enjoyed Saki's journeys through the spirit world, though Saki herself was a bit difficult to handle at times. I think the author did a wonderful job of evoking the spirits and scenery of the night parade, and I loved learning about the different mythological beings. I didn't understand why these beings were sometimes referred to by their Japanese names and sometimes by English descriptions (the kitsune is the clearest example to me, as I knew its Japanese name even though Tanquary doesn't use it). The ending was quite tidy, but I found this mostly enjoyable, if a bit less remarkable than I'd hoped.

The Dreadful Fate of Jonathan York: A Yarn for the Strange at Heart
By Kory Merritt
Published 2015 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Jonathan York has led a mediocre life but that's about to change. The night he gets lost in the woods, he'll discover things he never could have believed existed. Maybe Jonathan York will discover he's not so mediocre after all.

I picked this up because I thought I fell into the category mentioned in the title: "strange at heart." This book, indeed, is quite strange and I'm not sure I loved it. I can definitely get into weird (Grasshopper Jungle being one of my favorite books of the last few years) but this one just didn't quite work for me. I guess, firstly, I found it odd that an adult is the main character of this story, which is published for a middle-grade audience. That is itself is not terribly unusual (think Mary Poppins, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, etc.), but the other adult main characters I've read in children's novels tend to have frequent interactions with kids. This is not true of Jonathan York; there are no children in sight here. I do think the blend of horror and silliness will appeal to kids and the message (every adventure gives you a story to tell) is sweet. I just wish I'd enjoyed it a bit more.

The Pillars of Ponderay (Balance Keepers, book two)
By Lindsay Cummings
Published 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books
Spoilers for book one possibly.
Albert isn't expecting to return to the Core so soon, but a dangerous imbalance makes it imperative for his team to once again prove their mettle. This imbalance is worse than any seen in the Core in many generations, though, and, worse, it appears to have been created by a Balance Keeper. Can Albert and his friends correct the imbalance before it's too late? And will they discover who might be behind it?

Having read and enjoyed book one in 2014, I put my request in for book two when it was released in 2015. It took me some time to actually get around to it but when I finally did, I found it much as I had with the first book. Once again, I think Cummings handles the pacing really well - the book flies by and maintains reader interest the whole way through. I still think the world she's created it unique enough to be a draw in itself for fantasy readers who may have read widely in the genre. I still find the plot mostly predictable and unsurprising, but I don't find it any less enjoyable for being so. I liked the addition of a saboteur in this volume; I'll be interested in seeing that play out through the rest of the series. Readers who enjoyed the first will certainly like this volume as well.

Mouse Scouts (Mouse Scouts, book one)
By Sarah Dillard
Published 2016 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Reviewed from e-ARC
Violet and Tigerlily are very excited to join Mouse Scouts and are eager to earn their merit badges. They soon discover, though, that earning badges is hard work. Will they find a way to work together and get things done?

So, the final middle-grade book I read in 2016 is actually not a middle-grade book at all. This is the first in a new beginning chapter book series. I downloaded the digital galley because I was a Girl Scout for my entire childhood and I thought it sounded like a really cute idea - a play on that, with animal characters, of course. It took me about 30 minutes to read this first volume - it's got plenty of pictures and a mostly simple vocabulary for readers just starting on chapter books. The story itself is cute enough; I enjoyed that the Scouts soon discover their garden is susceptible to danger from other creatures, and the small detail that they should focus on growing things that come in miniature sizes. A sweet little story and I'm sure it will be a hit. By focusing on a different merit badge every volume (presumably), readers will be entertained while they learn something!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Final 2015 YA Reviews

Finally! The last of my reviews of books I finished in 2015!

The Trouble with Destiny
By Lauren Morrill
Published 2015 by Delacorte
Reviewed from e-ARC
Liza is not about to be the first drum major to let down her band; as the first female drum major, she definitely feels like she's got something to prove. So, when she discovers that the band is losing its funding, she enrolls them in a cruise ship contest. But pretty much everything that can go wrong does. Can Liza save the band?

I'd never read a book by this author before, but I thought the premise sounded fun: a cruise ship music contest with promises of romance thrown in. Why not give it a try? Unfortunately, I was less than impressed. There's nothing terrible about this book - it's just all overwhelmingly predictable. The romance is perhaps the plot point most guilty of predictability; it seems a foregone conclusion from the first page. Liza's rivalry with her ex-best friend was also predictable and mighty stereotypical. Liza reminded me too much of myself. Normally, this probably wouldn't be a bad thing, but Liza's need to keep everything to herself and solve everyone's problems on her own while becoming extremely anxious about this very fact reminded me too much of the anxiety swirling around in my own mind 24/7 to be anything less than more stressful. Just not a great book for me.

Carry On
By Rainbow Rowell
Published 2015 by St. Martin's Griffin
Simon Snow is The Chosen One. Unfortunately, he sucks at it. The surprisingly worse news is that her roommate and archnemesis, Baz, is not here to revel in his suckitude. Simon's not sure why this is worse, but soon, he finds himself desperate to locate Baz. Add to that the magic disappearing and Simon's year is off to a terrible start.

Okay, I absolutely ADORED Fangirl - I even got my copy signed by Rowell at an ALA conference, I loved it so durn much. So, when I found out she was going to write an actual Simon Snow story? The squees, they were endless, my friends. Fast forward to finally sitting down to read the book's like molasses. I mean, seriously, I know she loves to write dialogue (and she's great at it) but dialogue is generally supposed to make the book move faster. There is almost too much dialogue in this book. And the first 200 pages (basically everything before we hear from Baz) is a beast to get through. Thankfully, once Baz enters the story, the pace picks up, but it sure took a long time to get there. Much like with Harry Potter, for me, it's the secondary characters that really shine - Simon was my least favorite of everyone in the book and I really only cared about his well-being because Baz did and I did love Baz so. Other thing I very much enjoyed: the magic being tied to common phrases - how delightful that was! So, I didn't love this nearly as much as I expected to, but still very much a fun and romantic and magical read.

UnBound (Unwind Dystology)
By Neal Shusterman
Published 2015 by Simon & Schuster
Reviewed from e-ARC
A collection of short stories in the Unwind world, find out what becomes of Connor, Risa, Lev, and the others.

Actually, that description is a bit bogus because most of these stories take place either before the start of or concurrently with the rest of the books in the series. Regardless - I didn't even know this existed until shortly before its release but I was thrilled upon discovery. I think the Unwind series is one of the best I've ever read, and I didn't mind a chance to visit the world again (despite how disturbing that world often is). I thought this was an excellent collection of short stories. It took some minor characters and fleshed them out in fascinating and surprising ways (in a couple instances, it took me a few moments to recall that specific character from the series but, even with my terrible memory, I eventually was able to remember them all - which should say something about how these books have stuck with me). It also gave readers the chance to revisit the major characters and see a glimpse of what their futures might hold. My favorites were the Lev story, the story of the Dah Zey, Miracolina's story, and Cam's story. Highly recommended.

This is Where It Ends
By Marieke Nijkamp
Published 2016 by Sourcebooks Fire
Reviewed from e-ARC
It takes just a minute for life to change forever. A matter of seconds for an ordinary school assembly to turn into a terror-filled nightmare. And it takes just one boy and his guns to make it happen.

I don't read as much realistic fiction as fantasy, but I do enjoy it. Having initially entered college as a psychology major and generally being a concerned citizen of the world, heavy topics like mental health, eating disorders, addiction, schools shootings, and others fascinate me. I was interested in seeing how this book - told in the space of about an hour during the shooting - handled a tragedy from multiple perspectives. Ultimately, I don't think there was anything exceptional about this book. The characters we are introduced to all seem a bit stereotypical and generic and the perpetrator of the act is perhaps given the most shallow treatment of all. I'm not saying we should focus on the perpetrators over the victim - I am saying that the psychology behind a school shooting is generally more complex than this novel would have you believe. Additionally, much of the writing in this book leans toward sensationalism - moments that are completely unbelievable occur with alarming frequency in this narrative, all there simply to ramp up the tension. Lots of potential here, but the book just doesn't live up to it.

A Madness So Discreet
By Mindy McGinnis
Published 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books
Reviewed from e-ARC and finished copy
Because of a dark family secret, Grace finds herself the newest resident of her local insane asylum. But her special skills are soon discovered by a young doctor, who takes her away from the tortures of the asylum. Is he just subjecting her to new tortures, though, or does Grace actually have a chance at a new life?

This one caught my eye because it was historical fiction with an asylum setting. Yup, sounds good to me. I managed to read about half of the digital galley before it expired and was determined to finish it before 2016 rolled around. When our copy finally arrived at the library, I checked it out and frantically finished the last half of the book. I'm not sure how I feel about this one. I want to say that it's a book about Grace discovering her own agency and using what skills she has to make the best path for herself. But I'm also not 100% convinced that Grace's story isn't entirely dependent on the men in her life - first her father and then Doctor Thornhollow and finally the killer. This book is not at all what I expected - Grace's mental state is generally unquestioned, and this book does not really deal with "madness" in the way I imagined it would. It does deal with it in a different way, as this book turns into a murder mystery that Grace is attempting to solve, but many of the plot threads felt all mushed together and some (like Grace's friendships with the other female residents) could certainly have benefit from greater development. I found the ending quite unsatisfactory as well. I did very much enjoy Grace's friendships with the other female characters and her relationship with Thornhollow is complex and interesting. But not a terribly notable book for me.

Friday, January 8, 2016

YA Reviews

Dangerous Lies
By Becca Fitzpatrick
Published 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Reviewed from e-ARC
Estella Goodwin has seen something terrible and must enter Witness Protection - which frustratingly drops her in the middle of Nebraska. But she'll bide her time until she turns 18 and can be on her own - then she can get back to really living her life. What she doesn't know is that she might not be as protected as she thinks she is.

I have a history with Fitzpatrick. No, not in real life, but through her books. I read her first book (Hush, Hush) and found it so unbelievably ridiculous that I demanded everyone I know read it and revel in its silliness. I never finished that series (though I'm going to try this year!) and I never read anything else by her. Until now. And what did I discover? Nothing has changed from then until now. I found this book nearly as implausible as the book she wrote about fallen angels. Just let that settle for a minute; I'll wait. Understand me now? Good. This book and I were off to a terrible beginning right from the minute Fitzpatrick expected me to believe that the new name WITSEC gave Estella Goodwin was Stella Gordon. REALLY?????? It's a four letter difference!!! I don't think the Witness Protection Program works that way; if they did, I have a feeling there'd be a lot more dead witnesses. Unfortunately, things only went downhill from there. Stella (or Estella, it doesn't even matter) makes several terrible decisions, behaves like a spoiled child, and is extremely reckless with the feelings of everyone around her. Throw a ridiculous romance on top and there you have it - the muddled up mess that is this novel.

Zeroes (Zeroes, book one)
By Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti

Published 2015 by Simon Pulse
Reviewed from print ARC

After Ethan's special power gets him stuck in the middle of a bank robbery, her super-powered friends reunite to rescue him. Except the rescue goes sideways and these six teens find themselves in the middle of a chaos that could have life or death stakes.

I can't even tell you all how excited I was when an ARC of this arrived at my library in the spring. I greedily snatched it up (no one really fought me for it) and planned to dive in ASAP. Admittedly, I didn't start reading it until maybe a month later and took me four months to finish. Seriously. I can't really express how deep my disappointment in this book is. I have loved everything I've read by Westerfeld. I have quite enjoyed the few things by Lanagan I've read, and I don't know Biancotti, but I imagined that even if she was terrible, the other two would make up for it. I was so wrong. I don't know who wrote what here, but, honestly, it doesn't matter. For me, there was nothing good about this book. I cared not one whit about any of the characters, the plot was overblown and drawn out, and the whole thing was was longer than it needed to be. I had to force myself to pick it up and read it because I was so bored whenever I did. I could only stomach a chapter or two at a time. And, knowing this is the first in a series? It breaks my heart knowing that Westerfeld will be wrapped up in this for the foreseeable future. Huge let-down.

The White Rose (The Lone City, book two)
By Amy Ewing
Published 2015 by HarperTeen
Spoilers for the first book.
Violet is on the run. With help - some of it from unlikely allies - she has managed the escape her Duchess. But with corruption running rampant in the Jewel, does a safe place even exist?

I had some hesitations after finishing book one, but, in my continuing efforts to keep current with series, I read book two shortly after its release. Thankfully, book two has more action than the first - it would have to, as Violet and her friends spend most of their time on the run. Additionally, the Auguries and their connection to the reproductive issues are explained a bit more clearly in this volume. Finally, Violet certainly comes into her own as a character here - I actually felt like she had some personality instead of just standing in for many nameless women as I felt she did in book one. I still don't particularly enjoy the romance and I think Garnet is the most interesting character by a longshot, so I was pleased that he still had a part to play in this volume. This, of course, ends with a cliffhanger. I think it's pretty clear where the series is going to go in book three, so I'll be shocked if Ewing does something unexpected in the final volume. Overall, a decent read, but nothing spectacular.

By Noelle Stevenson
Published 2015 by HarperTeen
Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain. But if you ask Nimona, he's not living up to his potential. No worries - she'll fix that. Soon, Nimona and Ballister are locked in a battle with the heroic Sir Goldenloin - who may not be as heroic as everyone believes.

Well, pretty much everyone I know read this graphic novel (a collection of a webcomic) before I did, so I figured I should probably get around to it. It's very enjoyable - Nimona and Ballister's relationship is absolutely delightful. I loved seeing them bicker. I loved Nimona's complete impulsivity and her lack of regard for her own well-being. She has absolutely no ability to think things through before doing them, leading to peril and, of course, comedy. I was not terribly surprised to uncover the real story between Blackheart and Goldenloin, but I liked it all the same. Unlike my colleague, I found it a bit sad, though, and the resolution perpetuated that feeling in me. Still, a wonderful read and sure to be popular.

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad
By M.T. Anderson
Published 2015 by Candlewick
Reviewed from print ARC
Amidst the horror that was the siege of Leningrad was composer Dmitri Shostakovich, a man trying desperately to survive the unspeakable things he saw and translate them into music. But life under Stalin's regime presents its own terrors, and his music may just put his life at risk.

I don't read a ton of non-fiction (something I plan on addressing in 2016), but I generally enjoy it when I do. My library received an ARC of this title and I picked it up for two reasons - first, to see if we should add it to our collection and, if so, in what section, and second, because I was hearing about it everywhere. Part one of that is irrelevant to this blog, but part two - once I started reading, it wasn't difficult to see why I kept hearing about this. It is astounding. It's a fully engrossing read. It's an incredibly difficult read. It had me in tears. It had me shaking my head in frustration at the cognitive dissonance so present in Stalin's regime. It had me longing desperately to hear Shostakovich's music for myself. It had me sick to my stomach at the descriptions of the horrors ordinary people endured, both at the hands of their enemies and those of their own government. This is an intense and enlightening read - highly recommended, and I won't be surprised if there are some shiny medals on the cover before long.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Middle Grade Reviews

I'm trying desperately to finish up these short reviews of my reads from 2015; hopefully with a few more posts, I'll get there.

The Hollow Boy (Lockwood & Co., book three)
By Jonathan Stroud
Published 2015 by Disney-Hyperion
In the midst of an alarming rash of new hauntings, Lockwood introduces a new assistant to their band of investigators, disrupting the status quo.

I reviewed the first two in the series here, heaping praise upon them. I think this is an entertaining, funny, scary, and complex series for middle-grade readers. In that previous review, I mentioned that I'd seen several reviews that were a bit harsher on book two for its heavy focus on George. I disagreed, as I enjoy all three main characters equally. However, this third entry in the series tried my patience with Lucy quite a bit. I do not care about potential romantic entanglements for these characters and it seems the main purpose of introducing Holly (the perky new assistant investigator) was to rile Lucy's feelings of jealousy with regards to Lockwood's attention and devotion. I spent a great deal of this book very frustrated with her, though I can't deny that her actions and feelings seemed genuine. I wanted Stroud to focus more on the supernatural happenings than on the character clashes. Regardless, I still mostly enjoyed it and am once again waiting for the next installment.

Five, Six, Seven, Nate!
By Tim Federle
Published 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Nate's Broadway dreams are about to come true - or are they? When a series of potential disasters befalls E.T., The Musical, Nate will do everything in his power to make sure the show will go on.

I very much enjoyed Nate's first adventure and finally got around to picking up the sequel this fall. I was not disappointed. Everything I loved about book one was once again present in book two, perhaps even more so. Nate is so perfectly charming and enthusiastic that I think it's impossible to hope for anything but the best for him. I loved his clumsy missteps on his path to achieving his dreams; they felt completely believable. I also enjoyed the bit of romance that shows up in this book; it was so heartbreakingly awkward and sincere, I felt like the Grinch when he finally understands what the Whos are all about. I may or may not have teared up reading this one. I cannot wait to see what Federle does next!

Sunny Side Up
By Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
Published 2015 by GRAPHIX
Sunny is headed to Florida for the summer and she imagines it'll be Disney World every day. She's wrong. Instead, Sunny is stuck at Grandpa's retirement village, with only one superhero-obsessed kid to keep her company. But why is she in Florida in the first place?

I'm a huge fan of the Holms and their previous work (love Babymouse and Squish), so I was thrilled to see them taking a bit of a different direction with a more realistic story. A much more realistic story, as a matter of fact - I won't give it away, but the reason Sunny is in Florida is a bit dark, so be mindful when recommending. That's not to say there's no humor - there are, of course, bits of Holm humor throughout. I really liked the art here - a more muted color palette in the flashbacks to set them apart - I thought it suited the story. Ultimately, with the clamor for graphic novels in the Holm/Telgemeier vein, I imagine this will fly off shelves.

Space Dumplins
By Craig Thompson
Published 2015 by GRAPHIX
Violet's father has gone missing while on a dangerous job and when no one else in the galaxy seems concerned about finding him, Violet makes it her own mission to put her family back together.

This was a little out of my comfort zone - I don't usually do space stories very well. And, at times, the art here was a bit overwhelming - there are lots of colors, lots of strange creatures, and sometimes the pages look a little cluttered with text and art. But, the story was interesting and Violet is a delightful protagonist - fans of Zita the Spacegirl will surely enjoy her. It deals with a surprising amount of complex issues - class, consumerism, politics, etc. - but they are handled extremely well for the target age. And, if I'm not mistaken, it's a bit of a riff on Moby Dick with lots of other pop culture references thrown in for savvy readers to spot. As I said, it can feel a bit much at times, so I'd recommend more for middle-grade readers.

Monday, January 4, 2016

December Check-In and 2015 Totals!

I'm posting even though my stats are a little off (I don't have my picture books for December handy) - I'll edit the post later with the really final totals.

Early-chapter: 1

Middle-grade: 7

Teen: 6

Adult: 15

Picture books: 5

Library books: 22.5

Books owned: 6.5

I have halves this month because of a book I started in ARC form and finished in print. Not too bad a month, though I am reading mostly library books lately, something I'm really hoping to do less of in 2016. I am looking ahead to the coming year and hoping to really see some progress in these check-in posts every month.

My totals from 2015:

Early-chapter: 8

Middle-grade: 85

Teen: 92

Adult: 93

Picture books: 292

Library books: 475.5

Books owned: 94.5

So, if you add it all up, it comes to 569 books total - over 200 more than last year. Keeping in mind that all picture books and audiobooks count as library books, I still did a terrible job focusing on the books I owned rather than library books. I'll be working very hard to address that in 2016, particularly as I sense another move is coming sooner rather than later. Here's hoping I can meet more of my reading goals in 2016!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Looking Ahead...

It's time to look at my most anticipated reads for the coming year! First, a quick look back at what I chose last year - out of the 19 books I picked, I actually read seven and a half (I'm in the middle of Sword of Summer) and one was postponed until 2016, so, not a terrible record. Here are my picks for 2016!

Series Books:

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater - this is the one on my list that was postponed to 2016, so obviously, I'm still looking forward to it. (April 2016)

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas - the sequel to one of my books from last year's list, which I obviously enjoyed. (May 2016)

The Beauty of Darkness by Mary J. Pearson - the final book in the Remnant Chronicles! (August 2016)

The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home by Catherynne M. Valente - I'm a few books behind on this series, but since I know it's ending this year, maybe it'll be one of the ones I finish up! (March 2016)

Skyborn by Lou Anders - the last book in the series apparently. A very fun adventure for middle-grade readers. (September 2016)

Red by Liesl Shurtliff - not classified as a series per se, but Shurtliff's novels all take place in the same world. They are all delightful and funny and I'm especially interested in getting Red's story. (April 2016)

Rise of the Ragged Clover by Paul Durham - the third book in the Luck Uglies series! (March 2016)

Standalones/New Series:

Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor - time travel can be hit or miss for me, but it makes the best plot summaries, so I'll give it a shot. (March 2016)

Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Reese Brennan - I don't even need to read the plot description; it's a new book by Rees Brennan! (April 2016)

The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork - I've read Stork before and really enjoyed his realism and characters, so I'm looking forward to a new title from him. (January 2016)

Zoe in Wonderland by Brenda Woods - sounds like a delightful middle-grade read with a POC main character. (August 2016)

The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters - a retelling of Hamlet in the 1920s with a POC main character? Yup, sounds good to me. (March 2016)

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee - I really enjoyed Lee's debut, so I'm definitely interested in checking out her next book. (May 2016)

The Inexplicable Logic of My Heart by Benjamin Alire Saenz - once again, doesn't matter what it's about; I'll read it based on the sheer genius of Aristotle and Dante. This one doesn't seem to have a set release date yet, so we'll see if it actually releases. (2016)

Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick - a cult classic, a reclusive author, and a teen finally breaking out? It sounds like a fascinating combo to me. I've enjoyed two of Quick's previous books so this should be good. (May 2016)

The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle - I'm expecting lots of humor and lots of old movie references and a good time all around. (March 2016)

The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd - definitely interested in seeing what Lloyd will do with her next book. Her first was very charming. (February 2016)

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown - !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Peter Brown wrote a novel!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (April 2016)

I'm sure I could probably list about 1,000 more (because it doesn't take much to get me excited for a book), but these should be enough to get me through. What are you anticipating in 2016?

Friday, January 1, 2016

It's 2016!

Happy New Year everyone! It's hard to believe that 2016 has actually arrived, but time marches on, I suppose. Normally on the first of the year, I post my list of most anticipated reads for the coming year. It's probably one of my favorite posts of the year, so look for it tomorrow or the next day.

Today, a little something different. The Cybils shortlists were announced today! Go here to check out the finalists in every category. Even though I completely dropped the ball on participating this year (I didn't even find time to nominate anything!), I'm super excited to see the finalists. Of them, I've only read 2 picture books, 6 graphic novels, 1 middle-grade fiction, 2 young adult fiction, and 1 young adult non-fiction. Crazy! I apparently missed a lot of great stuff this year, but I'm kind of excited about that - it means I have a lot to look forward to reading! What about you? How many have you read?

Other than Cybils news, I wanted to use my first post of the year to outline some of my 2016 reading goals. There are a lot of things I hope to accomplish this year (not just in reading), I thought it might help me accomplish my goals to put them out there and hold myself a bit more accountable. Any reading-related goals (which are the only ones I'm going to outline for y'all here) I plan on including in my monthly check-in posts, you know, to help with that whole accountability thing. So, here goes!

- I have a general goal of reading 250 books this year; it's the same goal as 2015 and I passed it (by 30 or so). However, as I've mentioned, I did read a lot of graphic novels toward the end of the year and I don't anticipate the same for the coming year. That's why I didn't up my number at all, but we'll see how it goes.

- I plan on participating in Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge this year (along with my husband). I love a good reading challenge - I used to participate in one on Goodreads - but I can get a little obsessive. Book Riot's challenge is manageable - it works out to an average of two tasks per month - but will still push my reading boundaries in good ways.

- I want to read more non-fiction - I almost always enjoy it when I read it, but I don't seek it out as much as fiction. I think 10% of my reading is reasonable to start with, so I'm aiming for 25 non-fiction books this year.

- We built a book tree for Christmas and it made it abundantly clear just how many unread books we have in the house (as if moving in 2015 didn't make that clear enough); I want to try to remedy that this coming year. I'm not going to say no library books this year, but I'm going to try much more mindfully to focus on the books I already own first. I'm not setting a hard and definite goal here, but I'll be working at it.

- I read a lot of series - I think that's pretty common for people who love youth literature - but I'm really bad about starting a series and then not finishing it in a timely manner. I finally made a list of all the series I have in progress; it's shamefully long. So this year, I'd like to finish (or catch up for series still in progress) at least 5 different series.

- I'd like to read more diversely in the coming year. I'm not going to swear off white men (because of other goals like the books in my house and finishing up series), but I would like to include more diverse reads. Again, I'm not going to set a numerical goal here; I'm just going to try and see what I can do.

That's it! What are your reading goals for 2016?