Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Lions of Little Rock - Review

Title: The Lions of Little Rock
Author: Kristin Levine
Rating: 5/5
Age Group: Middle Grades

GoodReads Run Down: 
Two girls separated by race form an unbreakable bond during the tumultuous integration of Little
Rock schools in 1958

Twelve-year-old Marlee doesn't have many friends until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is bold and brave, and always knows the right thing to say, especially to Sally, the resident mean girl. Liz even helps Marlee overcome her greatest fear - speaking, which Marlee never does outside her family.

But then Liz is gone, replaced by the rumor that she was a Negro girl passing as white. But Marlee decides that doesn't matter. Liz is her best friend. And to stay friends, Marlee and Liz are willing to take on integration and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families.

Review: Middle grade fiction is an area I'm just beginning to explore. Lucky for me I'm on a committee for J and YA so I have to read an array of books from both levels and all genres. The Lions was a nomination from one of my friends and to be honest, I wasn't looking forward to reading it. Another period piece in the time of civil rights - there just seem to be so many of these types of books and I'm plum worn out.

Oh, but how wrong I was to dread this book! Levine is a master of her art. The setting of this book is a bit off the normal path in that it's just after the Little Rock Nine made it through their fist year of school AND it's told from a white girl, white family perspective. Marlee is a white girl from a middle class house hold. Her parents are teachers and her older siblings typical teenagers. Marlee is an introverted, middle school mathematician.

What I really like about this is that it's a little read perspective for me and speaks to how I think many real changes happen - the middle class is pushed into action.**I had a big section about society and change but after reading some of articles about bloggers and haters I decided to remove it so it can't be misquoted or read the wrong way. **

Okay, so that was a bit of a rambling social journey we just took but that's what this book does. It doesn't preach, it doesn't talk to down to kids or even adults, rather it starts a conversation, it introduces interesting, some times difficult, and sadly relevant topics.

Marlee is quite and doesn't fit in but isn't a full outcast, she has a siblings who are, dare I say, normal and she has a little group of friendemies. Then one day she meets a real friend the world opens up, letting the good and bad into her life. Levine does a beautiful job of allowing the sad, scary, horrible elements into the story but in a way that distances them just enough that readers feel the emotions but aren't over whelmed. I found myself sad and a little afraid of the choices Marlee and her friends had to make. I loved that Marlee was able to see her classmates and friends as complex people finding their identity.

I also loved that her taboo friendship doesn't focus much on the fact that she's white and Liz is black - it's a friendship that only kids could have and I love it. There is more of a focus on finding your voice, finding how and when to speak, who to be friends with...

"I think a friend is someone who helps you change for the better. And whether you see them once a day or once a year, if it’s a true friend, it doesn’t matter.”

 
Marlee is great in that she does not instantly demand that her friends agree with her beliefs, be liberal and understanding (something I'm REALLY bad about...). Nope, not Marlee. She actually thinks about the different elements of her friend's lives, thinks about why they might think and feel the way they do. THEN, and this is even better, she typically seeks to help them see the path she thinks is best. Most adults I know don't do this and this could easily make Marlee unrealistic or distant or too perfect. Nope, Levine does a beautiful job of making Marlee wonderful and accessible and far from perfect but strong and everything I wanted. 

It's book like this one, memorable. beautifully written, and heart warming that makes me excited about middle grade fiction. This is such an exciting time in youth literature and though I'm bummed I've strayed for so long.

“He said that things could be different in Little Rock, if only the right people could find their voice. I wanted to be on of those people.”

Read this sweet, thoughtful little book.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Glass Casket Review

Title: The Glass Casket
Author: McCormick Templeman
Rating: 4/5
Age Group: YA

GoodReads Run Down:
 Death hasn't visited Rowan Rose since it took her mother when Rowan was only a little girl. But that changes one bleak morning, when five horses and their riders thunder into her village and through the forest, disappearing into the hills. Days later, the riders' bodies are found, and though no one can say for certain what happened in their final hours, their remains prove that whatever it was must have been brutal.

Rowan's village was once a tranquil place, but now things have changed. Something has followed the

path those riders made and has come down from the hills, through the forest, and into the village. Beast or man, it has brought death to Rowan's door once again.

Only this time, its appetite is insatiable.

Review:  
Typically I don't care for scary anything but this October I've been in the mood for creepiness. This book has a creepy cover and the back made it sound like it would be scary. Lucky for me (as I sometimes think, oh, I want to be scared. Then I can't sleep for days and I realize how silly I am...) it's not actually a scary book but it has some creepy elements.

This is hailed as a retelling of Snow White - one of my least favorite fairy tales. Upon reading it I pretty happy. The connections to Snow White are there but they are pretty loose and if you're looking for a Snow White retelling you'll most likely be disappointed. If you're looking for an interesting read that keeps you turning the pages then you'll like this.

Set in a little village tucked in the mountains at the end of winter, this is a perfect read for October or anytime in the winter. There are lots of shadows and deaths and something is hunting from the dark woods. Love it! What I really like as well is that there isn't tons of action. Sure, many things happen, but there's more a feeling of suspense than anything. It's like an old school Bette Davis movie instead
of a modern Rob Zombie movie. This won't appeal to most fans of horror but will to those who like to turn pages and feel pulled into an interesting world. In fact, I would love it if there were a sequel to this that followed the adventures of our characters.

I do wish the atmosphere had been a stronger, it would have made it a scarier book. Creating a stronger myth of the land would have probably helped this. The bits about the far away sea cities and their myth were interesting and I wanted to know more but I  REALLY wanted more of the mountain and the Goddess. The atmosphere needed that lift to take to that extra creepy level. There was time too because the book is a slow burn - which I actually really enjoyed. It's fun to read a book where there is tension but not non-stop action.

Good book, I flew through it and would love for more - more of all the characters and the world. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Rump and Mercy Reviews

It's been a couple of weeks since I read these books but they are good enough that they deserve a little screen time - so, mini-reviews! *My internet is acting up so it's been difficult to post recently.*

Title: Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin
Author Liesl Shurtliff
Rating 5/5
Age Group Early Middle Grades

This is such a sweet story. I'm not normally one for retellings from the villain's perspective but I've
never thought Rumpelstiltskin was a bad guy. As a kid I was confused by his story. He helps the girl out and expects payment. Sure, I was a child from a "capitalist" society so it made perfect sense that he would do a job and expect to get paid for it, I would too. Then the whole baby thing happens. I was thrown for a loop there because ew, who would want a baby?! They are hard work, I knew, even as a kid, that I wasn't easy and that single parents had it even harder than the rest of the world - didn't matter if they could make straw into gold. Yes, I was an odd child and a strange adult. Anyway, I was always a bit outraged for Rumpel when he didn't get his payment and then was eaten by the earth. This just seemed very unfair and the princess was a not nice person.

My views on the story haven't changed much since I was kid. I still don't understand why he want a baby and I think the princess/queen/miller's daughter was rude (among other things). This retelling is so perfect. It addresses all my childhood questions and concerns in the sweetest way possible. Poor Rump isn't just a victim or a villain or hero - he's all of them because, in the end, he's just a kid trying to figure things out. Shurtliff does a beautiful job of making you laugh and cheer for Rump and his spunky friend Red. It's the perfect beginners chapter book. Fun, sweet, asks questions that kids thinking without being preachy, and even has some cute illustrations. A very fast, must read for anyone who enjoys fairy tales. I can't wait for Shurtliff's Jack retelling - even though I've never been a big fan of that story. Little, glorified thief!
 
Shifting Shadows: Mercy Thompson Stories 
Author Patrica Briggs
Rating 4.5/5
Age Group Adult
Okay, I adore Briggs. There are only a few of her books I've not read and that's just because I'm saving them for moments when I need a new read from her but there isn't anything. So why would this only get 4.5/5 stars? Well, I really didn't care for the first story. The story of Sam and Ariana wasn't great for me. Bran and Sam are two characters I really adore but Ariana hasn't held much sway for me and the story was so sad I just didn't enjoy it much. It wasn't bad, just wasn't a favorite, wasn't a 5/5.

All the other new stories were great though. The story with Asil was exactly what I wanted from this collection - I actually would have been happiest if the entire collection had been full of new stories totally focused on Bran's pack. That little werewolf town is my favorite part of the Mercy world - I think it's because I want to live there with them. Either way, this story was full of Bran and Asil and promise of wonderful things to come - and I hope they come! I'm not even going to explain how excited I was to read about Ben as well. Ben and Warren are my favorites from Mercy's pack and it was nice to see Ben get a little bit of positive light. 

 The other stories were great though. I have all the others in the original collections they were released with so it was nice to not only have them in one volume but be able to cull out the collections that were only around because of the Briggs' story.

Go buy this collection - all the stories are great and the perfect length of a good soak in hot bath.


 

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Rithmatist Review

Title: The Rithmatist
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Rating: 4/5
Age Group: YA

GoodReads Run Down: 
The Rithmatist, Brandon Sanderson's New York Times bestselling epic teen adventure is now available in
paperback.

More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.

As the son of a lowly chalk maker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing—kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery—one that will change Rithmatics—and their world—forever.

New York Times Book Review Notable Children's Book of 2013

Review: Sanderson is a new find for me. He has an impressive reputation among high fantasy readers and maybe even a few who just love good writing. Patrons are always telling me that I NEED, HAVE to read his work. When this book came up on a list of books I have to read I was excited but unsure. Sure, I would finally read something by this great and powerful Sanderson but the premise sounds remarkably lame. I mean, come on, magic chalk that attacks people, chalk battles, chalk drawings that eat people!  Lame sauce, right?! Nope! This book rocks. I read it in two days (which is fast for me because I’m a slow reader. Which means all you speed demons out there will read this guy in a day.)

Joel is a awesome outcast. His mom is literally the cleaning at a rich kid school and his dad is dead. He’s cute but not so much so that anyone pays attention to him and he’s nerdy as hell yet brave and kind hearted. He’s pretty much the perfect outcast, especially as he doesn’t really feel sorry for himself, just little bits every now and then (and that’s normal, it he didn’t have any of those moments he would too perfect). Joel has longing and letdown but doesn’t let it break him or make him mean. I couldn’t help but to cheer for him the entire time.

Melody is so great too - LOVE her! She draws unicorns and polar bears when everyone else draws dragons, knights, and perfect circles. Her dramatic ways could be annoying in the hands of a less skilled author but I ended up cracking up more often than not and wanting to be her friend. Her additon to the story made was wonderful. She is counters Joel perfectly and Sanderson writes her so well that she seems to come off the page.

One of my favorite elements of this book is the structure. Sanderson has a guide to the all the Rithmatist elements he uses. It’s like reading one of the texts that Joel studies and is a nice way to break up the chapters and provide interesting visuals to connect the words. Another thing I loved was that there are little illustrations in the margins of some pages that complement the text. They aren’t distracting, rather fun and one of the elements I looked forward to while reading.

The world building is strong and though I don’t normally enjoy steampunk I liked this world. One thing that could have been clearer is that this is an alternative history where the US has been broken up into islands. I’m not sure why or how this happened - it’s unclear. That was really the only problem with world building and it doesn’t distract much from the story.

Even with that little hitch I CANNOT WAIT UNTIL BOOK TWO IS RELEASED!






Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender Review

Title: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
Author: Leslye Walton  
Rating: 4/5
Age Group: YA/Adult

GoodReads Run Down: 
 Magical realism, lyrical prose, and the pain and passion of human love haunt this hypnotic generational saga.

Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava—in all other ways a normal girl—is born with the wings of a bird.

In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and naïve to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the Summer Solstice celebration.

That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to a devastating crescendo.

First-time author Leslye Walton has constructed a layered and unforgettable mythology of what it

means to be born with hearts that are tragically, exquisitely human.

 
Review: Magical realism is a genre I enjoy, sometimes adore, but don't read much of because most of the pieces that fall into the category of modern literature leave a bittersweet taste in my mind. Ava Lavender's story is no different, in fact, it's in the vein of the heavy weights of the genre. There's a little bit of Márquez and Allende in Walton's writing - which, if you don't know them, those are major players in the literature world and, really, the world at large. They address social and political issues in an aggressive but beautiful, dare I say, magical way.  Walton has tons of potential.

The writing of this is beautiful and I listened to it so I had the joy of listening to the perfect narrator - Campbell. Wow, Campbell sounded as though she was telling the story of her life. There were moments when I forgot she just reading another person's story. If you are an audio person this is a listen for you.

So the writing is beautiful, the story mingled with sadness, love, and loss that ends on an up note. I didn't feel like this was a YA novel though. Sure, many of characters are teenagers but the family saga just didn't feel like it was written for teenagers. Instead I felt like this was a great book written for the literature section but packaged for YA so it would have potential to sell better. I could be wrong, Walton might have written this with teenagers in mind but it just doesn't feel like it. One of the things that I love about YA is that it holds so much hope. No matter how dark a story gets there is always that under an underlining feel of hope that this story doesn't really have. I mean, sure everything ends in hope and it's beautiful but there isn't the fervent passion and hope that typically lives in YA. That doesn't mean you shouldn't read this, but it does make me think about YA as a genre.

Anyway, before that can is all the way open, this is a great book that holds beauty, magic, insight into the human hearts and just a little bit of hope sprinkled in at the end, when you need it.  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

I'll Give You The Sun: Review

Title: I'll Give You The Sun
Author: Jandy Nelson
Rating: ALL THE STARS! 5/5
Age Group: YA

GoodReads Run Down: 

A brilliant, luminous story of first love, family, loss, and betrayal for fans of John Green, David Levithan, and Rainbow Rowell

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah's story to tell. The later years are Jude's. What the twins don't realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

This radiant novel from the acclaimed, award-winning author of The Sky Is Everywhere will leave you breathless and teary and laughing—often all at once.


Review: This is another one of those books I've had around for a while. The arc was given to me by a friend at the library and it got pushed back to the end of the list because it just didn't seem like my kind of book. SO WRONG. I adore this book. I LOVE this book. I want to re-evaluate all my other 5 star reviews because most don't compare to my adoration for this book or Nelson. 

Noah. My heart bleeds and weeps and sings for Noah. His journey is so heartbreaking and beautiful and sad and...relate-able. There were moments when I cried because it was like re-living high school. When his mom walks in - I'm not telling you what's going on but you'll know it when you read it - I had to put the book down because my own memories were so intense of my mom and a similar situation.

Then the way he sees the world - it's magic. I wish I saw the world the way he does, and actually, I think I might have for a while as kid but it was lost to me as I hit middle school. That, of course, is why Noah is so special because he doesn't lose it when he's in middle school or going through puberty. He clings to it like a badge of honor and flaunts it. Then, of course, he doesn't. I was worried about how Nelson would end our time with Noah. How could the tangled web of the story wind so that I would be okay with his destination? It took me a while to trust Nelson but I did and I'm glad I did because she does a great job with the ending. I was happy with how we leave Noah. Though, I would LOVE another installment but then I don't because it would have to have conflict and I don't want anything to happen to him...well, maybe one thing could happen and I could live through that but I don't like the idea of him being hurt or sad. Yes, I'm more attached to him than a normal person.

"...before I cared if I was any good or good enough to get into some stupid art school. I mean, seriously, like who fucking cares...it's so not about that. It's about magic." - Noah 

Next we have Jude. Jude was a more difficult sale for me. Her chapters are good because they give us a glimpse of the future, as they are three or so years ahead of Noah's chapters. Poor Jude just took a while to grow on me. For most of the book I felt like she had everyone. There's constant talk of teams in this book. Who is the favorite child, who has Dad on their team, who has the stars on their side. For most part it seemed like Jude had everyone on her side, even when she didn't. For that reason I had a difficult time with Jude. There was almost a poor little rich girl feel to her. Strange to say but I had the same off-putting experience with her as I've had with poor little rich girls.

In the end I liked Jude, felt for her. As I read I realized my adult self has more in common with Jude's personality than I would like. I also think the problem with Jude was that by the time I got to her chapter I was so in love with Noah I had a hard time making room for Jude because she had done some fairly nasty things to him before we get to her side of the story.  She won me over in the end though and I love her about as much as Noah.

I could go on and on about the other characters but I'm going to skim over them because I want you to meet them fresh. AH! I so envy anyone who gets to read this book for the first time - it's magic. I want to open up my chest and put it next to my heart.

Anyway, Guillermo is amazing and I adored him from the moment he entered the story. So great on so many levels, everything about him just makes sense. Though, the kids' mom, I have a problem with her. She was selfish and bothered me. The fact that she was going to make a huge life decision without her kids meeting the other people involved or thinking about them at all really bothered me. Of course, that was one of many issues I had with the mom but such is life. Both parents needed work but I guess, who doesn't?

I'm going to stop gushing now though and leave you with a great quote before you go read this amazing book:


"Even God, he have to make the world twice...so if God can have two tries, why not us? Or three or three hundred times?" - Guillermo

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Winter Long: Review

Title: The Winter Long
Author: Seanan McGuire
Rating: 3.5/5
Age Group: Adult

GoodReads Run Down: 
 Toby thought she understood her own past; she thought she knew the score.

She was wrong.

It's time to learn the truth.


Review: This is a solid series that I've enjoyed for years. The characters are strong and the world
interesting. Lately, as in the last three or so books, McGuire has been better about not killing pretty much everyone. It's easier to read these books now because I'm not afraid everyone is going to die. The problem is that so many people have died and things have been so difficult Toby is getting bitchy. I can't remember if I had this problem with the last book but ugh, Toby was on my nerves for parts of this book because she was just rude at times.Of course, the world is ending and such, so maybe we would all be rude but if it's always ending for you then you would think that it would get a bit easier.

The other characters were great as always. Quentin and Raj made me smile and I wish they would get some short stories or something because they crack me up and are just plain fun. My favorite character, the Luidaeg, played a large role in this book as well. I was happy to have her around but her story was pretty depressing. Her appearances do make me wonder if Oberon, Maeve, and Titania are going to return at some point in the series.

While I'm glad that McGuire has stopped killing everyone, this wasn't my favorite book in terms of plot. Talk about twisting and turning and a Doctor Who arch written by Stephen Moffat for Matt Smith's Doctor. Things were supposed to start lining up in this book but they didn't always because things just got so convoluted. I should have re-read the other books before reading this one but I'm not so in love with these books that I want to so I just went with it.


Part of the time I was just sitting there rolling my eyes because there were stretches where it didn't make sense for Toby to figure some things out or for her to do some of the stuff she did. Such has her favor for Luna. Really? That was just stupid because she was 90% sure of the answer to the question and it really seemed like there had to be other ways to figure it out. I didn't dislike that scene as much as I just dislike Luna at the point and think Toby is a bitch to everyone but Luna and Sylvester and it's annoying because they suck. Also, just to add with eye-rolling, why the hell can't Toby ever get sleep? She gets it a couple of times in this novel but is drives me crazy that every stupid book starts with her not getting sleep and only getting it when she passes out - such a small thing but it drives me crazy.

Even with my complaints this is a good read. The world is great, most of the characters awesome, and it's an easy read - an action movie drawn out to book length. I'll be interested to see what happens next, get some of the answers this book left, and just generally hope that Toby gets a nap.