Sunday, August 30, 2015

Otherbound Review

Otherbound

Book talk: Everyone thinks that Nolan suffers from seizures, but the truth is much stranger. When he closes his eyes, he sees out of the eyes of a girl who lives in a world filled with danger and magic. He is powerless to do anything and she seems unaware of his presence. Until the day Nolan realizes he can control her and sends a message. At first she is terrified, then she is furious, but soon she realizes that they must work together if either of them want to survive.

Rave:
The premise of the novel is wholly unique. Their connection raises a lot of interesting possibilities and moral questions to consider. I couldn't help but imagine what I would do if something like that happened to me. The girl's story, full of magic, assassins, and princesses in disguise is a great adventure. My favorite part of the book though is how seamlessly the author integrates characters that are diverse in ability, race, and sexuality without turning any of those things into issues that draw focus from the plot.

Rant: I was more invested in the girl's story set in a fantasy world than the boy's in a more mundane reality. They took a while to sync up and it created a bit of an uneven pace. This meant that it took a while for me to read the book even though I really enjoyed it.

Every book its reader: I'd give it to students 7th and up looking for a fantasy adventure.

Topics and Trends: diversity, disability, race, LGBTQ, magic, assassins, princesses

Extras:

The author has a website with more information about the book.

Source: kobo ebook

Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis: buy it or check it out today!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Winner's Curse Review

The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy, #1)

Book talk: Kestrel lives a pampered life as the daughter of the Valorian General, but even she cannot avoid society's imperative to either get married and give birth to soldiers or become a soldier herself by the age of 20. She wants nothing more than to be left to play the piano, but in a militaristic society where arts are seen as a weakness that is not an option. Still, she's a keen strategist and excellent at games of chance, which is why she makes a gamble one day and purchases a slave for an exorbitant fee from the auctions in the city. Her new slave is headstrong and rude, but he opens her eyes to see her society in a whole new light. Just when they grow close, something throws them farther apart and turns Kesterel's entire world upside down. She must start asking herself difficult questions: Who can you trust when any action you take will betray someone you love? What would you sacrifice for freedom? What is the difference between revolution and revenge? What are you willing to do to survive?

Rave: I was completely swept away by the world of this novel. The society is loosely based on ancient Greco-Roman civilization but has its own unique geography, history, and culture. There's no magic or fantastical elements but it's not historical fiction either. There's no real heroes or villains in the novel and everyone populates a morally grey area as the plot twists and turns and power dynamics change. This leads not only to complex characterization and plotting but some really interesting questions for the reader to ponder about morality and good and evil. Part of the reason I enjoyed this book so much is because there are no clear choices or answers given. It's not trying to teach the reader a lesson or to think in a certain way. It presents life with all of its mess and complications and leaves the reader to make of it what she will. Plus, who am I kidding--I was completely absorbed by the relationship between Kestrel and Arin.

Rant: Parts of Kestrel and Arin's relationship sat a bit uneasy with me. Especially the fact that he started as her slave. I'm still not sure how I feel about it but I read the second as soon as it came out and I'll do the same with the third.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to fans of historical fiction, fantasy, and romance grades 8 and up.

Topics and Trends: Ancient civilizations, romance, layered characters, world-building, military & war, father-daughter relationships, colonization, slavery

Extras:

Both the author and the series have their own websites.




Source: kobo ebook

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski: buy it or check it out today!

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown Review

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Book talk: Imagine a vampire outbreak begins to spread across the world. What would you do? Hunt them down? Start stock-piling canned goods? Or would you lock them all up in contained cities and turn them into fodder for reality TV? It's hard for the camera or the public to resist vampires' unnaturally good looks and outlandish antics. At first when vampires were revealed to society it was terrifying, but now people are used to them. Beyond taking a few simple precautions, most go on as normal. Many are rabid fans of the live streams from cold towns where the vampires live. Some are even tempted to venture into the cold towns themselves. They are allowed in, but they rarely come back out. Tana knows more about the dangers of vampires than most of her peers: her mother was turned years ago and the disease caused her to attack her own daughter. Tana still bears the scars. But it isn't extra caution just pure, dumb luck that keeps Tana alive when she wakes up after a party to find all her friends slaughtered. She doesn't know how they got in, but her ex-boyfriend is the only other person still alive, and he has been infected. She saves him with help from the most unlikely source and together they venture to the nearest cold town knowing they may never come back out again.

Rave: I love the premise of this novel: that vampires reveal themselves to humanity and humanity makes them into reality television. Tana is an excellent lead willing to sacrifice herself to do what's right but carrying her own baggage and flaws. I like that she saved her ex-boyfriend despite all he'd done. I don't see a lot of books centering around relationships between exes so it was a new dynamic to see play out. Gavriel is a half-crazed, misunderstood, possible psychopath but I was surprised at how such a seemingly cliched set up of bad boy vampire and good girl human was able to avoid cliche and seem fresh and compelling. The characterization was great overall including characters with minor roles. The way vampirism is handled in the novel is interesting from the way people turn to more philosophical questions of whether it changes a person's nature or simply exaggerates it.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to 8th grade and up looking for a new twist on vampire stories.

Topics and trends: vampires, LGBTQ, romance, fantasy, reality tv

Extras:

The author has a website and at tumblr and the book has a trailer (embedded below)





Bonus Quotes:
“I promise I will repay you.”
“Oh yeah?” she asked, looking at him, with his bare feet and plain, dark clothes. “With what?”
The smile stayed on his lips. “Jewels, lies, slips of paper, dried flowers, memories of things long past, useless quotations, idle hands, beads, buttons, and mischief.”

“If she was going to die, she might as well die sarcastic.”

“Even from the beginning, that was the problem. People liked pretty things. People even liked pretty things that wanted to kill and eat them.”

Source: kobo ebook

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black: buy it or check it out today!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

My True Love Gave to Me Review

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories

Book talk: Whether you love or loathe the holidays everyone can agree that it's a time of year when emotions run high.  That's why they make such a great backdrop for these short, romantic stories.  An all-star cast of authors brings variety to this collection from serious to sweet to laugh-out loud funny. The only thing they all have in common is a holiday setting from Hanukkah to New Year's Eve and a romantic plot line. A perfect pick to get into the holiday spirit any time of year.

Rave: Like any collection there were some stories I enjoyed more than others but there weren't any I disliked.  There were a few I absolutely adored by favorite authors or new ones I have to now investigate.  The stories do a good job representing a diverse range of characters and love stories.  Bonus hint: the couples in the stories are depicted on the cover of the book.  It's like a game trying to pick each one out as you read their story.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to anyone 7th grade and up looking for a light, romantic read.

Topics and Trends:  LGBTQ, diversity, holidays, romance, short stories

Source: gift

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins: buy it or check it out today!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Brief Reviews Fall 2014 part 3

Panic“Panic began as so many things do in Carp, a poor town of twelve thousand people in the middle of nowhere: because it was summer, and there was nothing else to do.”  Panic is a game that can change your life or take it away.  Every school day every student pays a dollar to the pot for the winner.  On the first day of summer any senior can enter the game by participating in the opening jump.  For the rest of summer, participants compete in challenges like walking on a slippery board 50 feet up with no net.  Secret judges watch their progress and eliminate the slow and the scared.  The winner walks away with enough money to change their life forever.  The losers sometimes can no longer walk at all.  But for $67,00 many think it's worth the risk.
This book was certainly gripping and kept me eagerly turning the pages.  The characters are well drawn and are perhaps best described as living lives of frantic desperation.  After all, to participate in these stunts you'd have to be pretty desperate.  This goes way beyond your average game of truth or dare.  The main character's mother struggles with substance abuse and the effect this has on her daughters is shown in an unflinching and deeply moving way.  Every participant is broken in some way and hoping that Panic will be the answer to all their problems.  Which brings me to my main (SPOILER) issue with the book--it is the answer to their problems.  The game itself is completely unethical from the way that they collect money like some high school mafia beating up kids who don't comply (a dollar a day adds up especially in a town with such prevalent poverty and the source of the money is never questioned or depicted as problematic) to the game itself where at one point they have to cross six lanes of a highway blindfolded.  That is insane.  It's mentioned that there were some deaths in previous years but there's no real consequences for any of the characters during the novel.  In fact at the end their experiences brought them all closer together so they're all coupled off, richer, and happier than they were before thanks to their participation in this immoral, illegal, and completely insane game.  There's not even any mention at the end that Panic should stop.  It seems like all the characters are content to let it continue in perpetuity and why wouldn't they?  It worked out pretty darn well for them!  If you're just looking for a quick paced read then this will fit the bill but do not try this at homePanic by Lauren Oliver: buy it or check it out today!

Sway I was eager to read this story when I heard it was a retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac.  That play is very near and dear to my heart, which might have made my expectations unreasonably high, but the fact remains that I was sorely disappointed. Cyrano is the story of a noble, heroic figure with a gift for sword fighting and poetry whose disfigurement leads him to believe that his love, Roxanne, would never return his affections.  So he agrees to the nearest thing he can get--wooing her for the better-looking but less-eloquent Christian.  Christian turns out to be a heroic figure himself with some integrity and after winning Roxanne through Cyrano's letters insists that Cyrano tell her the truth because he wishes to be loved for the fool he is or not at all.  In this version Cyrano is a drug dealer and swindler who accepts payment to stalk a girl so he can help a jerky jock woo her.  Not only does the Christian figure lack the complexity of the original instead filling the usual stereotypical jock role but Cyrano's (completely serious) closing advice to a kid who wants to become popular is that he should become a drug dealer.  This story has a vague resemblance to the bare-bones plot points of the original but has very little of the poetry, complexity, or heart. Sway by Kat Spears: buy it or check it out today!

Rebel Belle (Rebel Belle, #1) I read this book for my book club.  It was billed to me as similar to Buffy but the comparison did not serve it well.  Buffy is both a feminist and geek icon as well as a cheerleader. Her empathy and understanding of others helps her fulfill her destiny as much as her powers.  The main character of this book meanwhile spends most of the novel judging every other character for everything from wearing hipster glasses "I mean, it’s the twenty-first century. There are fashionable options for eyewear." to when she says "--ew--role playing games." None of the characters were really sympathetic or even believable to me.  The boy who teases her (because he likes her and is apparently five) is a journalist and reads biographies of the greats and tries to take his profession seriously.  Yet he has no trouble throwing journalistic ethics out the window when it comes to printing rumors about his crush. Her boyfriend meanwhile pulls a total jerk move towards the end of the book that seems completely out of character and whose only explanation seems to be because it was convenient for the plot. Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins: buy it or check it out today!

The Song of the Quarkbeast (The Chronicles of Kazam, #2)This book was just as absurd and hilarious as the first.  It's like Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for fantasy instead of sci-fi.  My favorite idea from this book was a light globe that runs off sarcasm.  If only I had one of those I'd never have to buy a light bulb again! Instead of describing the book I'll just share some of my favorite humorous quotes from it.
"The only time we get to fight the powers of darkness is during one of the kingdom’s frequent power cuts."
“If a shred of integrity fell into your soul, it would die a very lonely death.”
"'It’s complicated.' 'Love always is,' said the moose, sighing forlornly. 'I’m only a vague facsimile of a moose once alive, but I share some of his emotions. Ach, how I miss Liesl and the calves.'"
The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde: buy it or check it out today!

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Thickety Review

The Thickety: A Path Begins

Book talk: When Kara was six, her mother was executed for practicing witchcraft.  She can still remember that terrible day.  Now her father is a shadow of the man he was and her family is ostracized by the community for the taint of sin upon them.  They can just barely scrape by in their miserable lives.  But when Kara follows a bird into the Thickety she discovers a book that belonged to her mother.  A book of magic.  The book could give her the power to make all their lives better, but if she is caught with it she'll suffer the same fate as her mother.

Rave:  The basic concept of a witch being persecuted by a religious community is pretty well-trod, but the setting and the style of magic in this novel are completely original.  The Thickety is an ominous presence full of unknown dangers and Kara's feelings of excitement and foreboding as she discovers her power are palpable.  The characters are layered and believable as their father copes with grief and members of the community are silenced by fear of persecution.

Rant: The rules of magic in this world are unlike anything I've read before and at times it can seem a bit confusing or arbitrary.  I'll be interested to see how the mythology and magic of this world develops in the second book.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to students 5th and up looking for a fantasy adventure novel with strong characterization.

Topics and Trends: Magic, fantasy, witches, outsiders

Extras: 

The book's website has posters for some of the creatures found in the Thickety as well as classroom discussion guides: http://thethicketybooks.com/

The author has a website with interviews and other extras: http://jawhitebooks.com/

There's a book trailer by the publisher on YouTube:


Source: school library

The Thickety: A Path Begins by J.A. White: buy it or check it out today!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Greenglass House review

Greenglass House

Book talk: "There was a city that could not be mapped, and inside it a house that could not be drawn."  Milo lives with his parents in a rambling old inn filled with as many secrets as the smugglers that come to stay there.  The inn sits high on a hill overlooking a harbor with two ways up: a steep path, or a cable railway.  Tourist season was long over and snows were arriving to leave them stranded from the main town.  Milo didn't mind--he was looking forward to the time alone with his parents--which is why he was surprised and upset when the cable railway's bell rang to notify them of a waiting passenger.  Soon Milo's quiet holiday has turned into a loud and chaotic mystery as eccentric guests fill the inn and begin to sabotage it in their hunt for hidden treasure.  Milo joins forces with a new friend to solve the mystery and find the treasure the guests are after but what starts as a game to pass the time soon turns into a dangerous adventure.

Rave:  
The premise of the story is filled with intrigue and excitement and it only gets better from there!  An old inn in a smuggler's bay trapped by a winter storm--what more could you ask for from a mystery setting?  The characters are eccentric but instead of using these eccentricities as a cheap jokes they're another layer in these well-rounded characters. The story has a strong emotional core that holds all the adventure aspects together and makes them more resonant.  Milo is portrayed with all his flaws and frustrations and fears.  The way he works to get to know each guest and make their lives better despite the fact that he didn't want anyone to be there is touching.  Most touching is the way the book deals with Milo's feelings around his adoption and an author's note reveals that Milford wrote the book while going through the process of adopting a child herself.  Did I mention that Milo and his new friend  use the framework of a role playing game to provide a cover for and give them courage to investigate the inn's mysteries?  And in case I haven't made it clear yet the main plot revolves around a bunch of thieves competing to find a treasure hidden in an inn that used to be owned by an infamous smuggler.  So much to love about this book!

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to anyone looking for a good adventure or mystery especially those with an interest in role playing games.  I'd say it's fine for 4th grade and up.

Themes, Topics, and Trends: Adoption, Smugglers, Treasure Hunts, Mystery, Competent Adults, RPGs, Ghosts

Extras:  

Kate Milford has her own website

You can find a fake website for the Nagspeake Tourism Board (the city the book takes place in) to find out more about the setting of the novel.

Source: ebook from public library

Greenglass House by Kate Milford: buy it or check it out today!