July 18, 2017


Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

Synopsis: Fifteen-year-old Aya has lived in hiding for as long as she can recall - because not to hide is to be caught by the Trackers, to be owned and bred. The census keeps track of girls, polishing and preparing them to be someone's forever wife, as fecundity is a valuable thing. Not every woman can bear children, and not every family is in favor of that kind of life, thus Aya's family are resistors. It doesn't last forever, however. One day, the hunters come and take her, and she is dragged away to the Garden, to be polished as a bride for the Magnates and Merchants. Aya continue her defiance alone -- with a ridiculous flower name the Governess gives her, with scanty outfits and with eyes always on her - weighing, judging, comparing, competing eyes. Aya's not competing to "win" a man, though - she has a sort-of maybe-kind-of friend, but the rest of the girls are sheep she wants nothing to do with. Her noncompliance gets her starved and roughly handled, left out of doors in all weather - but mostly free. She's made a real friend - a wolf pup - and has caught the attention of one of the mute beast handlers who work with the horses. He's trying to help - but Aya knows she can't depend on a man, even one outcaste and mute, even one who is all but invisible to the people at the Garden. Aya can depend on no one but herself... right?

Observations: One of this author's strengths is her worldbuilding; though there's a familiar feeling with this dystopian setting, the level of detail and ...logic in the cause and effect of the politics of the world is strongly plotted. This is one of the author's definitely strengths, and what will make this book a pulse-pounder for dystopian fans.

This book is marketed as THE HANDMAID'S TALE meets BLOOD RED ROAD, and I agree at least on the HANDMAID'S TALE portion, anyway. The commodification of women and the pitched battle of control over their bodies is something which has hovered outside the real of fiction since Margaret Atwood wrote her startling work -- and YA lit has frequently revisited the concept of a lack of control over the young female body. Simmons takes it a step further with the idea of fertility being controlled corporately, and being sold to the highest bidder.

The immediacy of the writing, and the fast pace of the scenes make it a little difficult for the reader to get a grip on details such as the size of the world or how far flung this insanity is with control over women - is it just the equivalent of North America, or the whole world? Are there other places where women have learned how to deal with this madness, or have overturned it? Because Aya grew up free, she never, ever, ever stops fighting for a return to that freedom. Sure, soft beds are nice; sure, good food you don't have to prepare is great -- but nothing extinguishes her desire to be on her own again, and one imagines that surely there are other girls who are so determined. I found myself wishing for a little more from the author on that score.

While there was subtle diversity in the novel, I wished that there could have been more - which is another question which returned me to 'where is this happening, and how widespread?' It seems this is set in a mostly white pseudo-America.

Conclusion:I found it ironic that there is a mythos in this culture that all their troubles began with a bad love triangle. I find myself wondering if the author isn't having a private laugh at the prevalence of love triangles in YA fiction, and this is a warning that they'll bring ruin upon us all! Likely not. ☺ For readers who enjoy the oft-clich├ęd "strong female character" who is digging in and being brave, finding love in unexpected places (There's no insta-love here, which readers will appreciate), and making fast-paced, life-or-death decisions, this book is for you. With strength of conviction Aya digs in to create the future she wants out of the present within her hands - something we could all learn better to do.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. After August 2, you can find THE GLASS ARROW by Kristen Simmons at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

July 17, 2017

Monday Review: DREAMER'S POOL by Juliet Marillier

Synopsis: The Blackthorn & Grim trilogy by Juliet Marillier, which starts with the novel Dreamer's Pool, is not technically a YA trilogy, but readers who already enjoy her books that were specifically written for young adults (such as the Shadowfell trilogy, reviewed here) will definitely enjoy this one. It's got slightly more mature moments, but it makes a great crossover series. Set in a version of medieval Ireland, it's got hints of Celtic mythology and a dash of the fey—but, as always, it's the author's ability to weave a fascinating plot around compelling characters that makes these books truly shine.

When Dreamer's Pool starts, we are plunged into a rather gritty scene as we are introduced to the primary narrator: a young woman who has been imprisoned for the past year in the lockup of sadistic chieftain Mathuin of Laois. At first, we know her only as Lady—the nickname given to her by her fellow prisoner, Grim, who resides in the cell across from hers. And then something miraculous happens: the prison is destroyed, the roof partly collapsed, and she and Grim find themselves…free.

Sort of. The newly released Blackthorn—the new name she gives herself for a new life—is subject to a bargain. A mysterious fey named Conmael has decided to give her another chance, but only on the condition that she defer her desire for murderous revenge on Mathuin for at least seven years. Why, she doesn't know—and Conmael has also forbidden her to go anywhere near Mathuin. Instead, he bids her go to the settlement of Winterfalls and set herself up as a wise woman there, healing the residents, and never refusing to help anyone who asks. The first needy person who shows up in her life happens to be Grim, and so the two become somewhat reluctant companions…and soon, partners in solving the mystery of a bizarre occurrence at an uncanny spot called Dreamer's Pool.

Observations: Throughout the trilogy, we not only see the story through Blackthorn's eyes, we also get the perspective of quiet, stoic Grim, who has a traumatic past of his own. In fact, both Blackthorn and Grim are broken, recovering—something that the author not only gives due attention to but has also researched in terms of PTSD and recovery from trauma. This invests both characters with a wrenching, believable realism, and it makes the whole trilogy stand out from the "fantasy Ireland" genre.

There is also something of the detective duo about Blackthorn and Grim—in each novel, there is a mystery of sorts to be solved, one which our two narrators are uniquely able to address. And, of course, one of my favorite things about having read this trilogy in one big gulp (all three books are currently out and available!) was the ability to follow the character development of both Blackthorn and Grim throughout the three books, which reach a very satisfying conclusion in the final volume, Den of Wolves.

Conclusion: Highly recommended for fans of historical fantasy and stories about British lore—these have some violence and trauma but should be fine for more mature YA readers. Fun fact: the author is an actual member of a Druidic Order! How cool is that?

I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library's ebook collection (book 1) and Amazon.com (books 2 and 3). You can find DREAMER'S POOL, TOWER OF THORNS, and DEN OF WOLVES by Juliet Marillier at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

July 10, 2017

Monday Review: THE RELUCTANT QUEEN by Sarah Beth Durst

Synopsis: Book 2 in Sarah Beth Durst's Queens of Renthia series is out--The Reluctant Queen--and it's a wonderfully bingeworthy summer read and a highly enjoyable sequel to the first book, The Queen of Blood (reviewed here). If you haven't read that yet, note that this review contains some minor spoilers…also, if you're a fantasy fan, do yourself a favor and go read it!

Okay, then. The Reluctant Queen picks up the story of Daleina after she has become queen of Aratay. Now she is the one tasked with keep the land's bloodthirsty elemental spirits under control. But there's a complication: Queen Daleina is deathly ill, and must find a successor to take her place or the spirits will go on a deadly rampage and destroy her people.

Queen Daleina sends her trusted champions out to find a likely candidate to be her heir, and after a long search they find someone powerful enough to be worthy of training. The problem is, Naelin is married, has two young children, and has NO interest in being anybody's heir or even in using her power at all…

Observations: This is a somewhat unusual and refreshing approach to a fantasy heroine: not someone who is young and untested, ready and willing to prove herself, but instead someone who is older, ornery, and has neither the need nor desire to go off questing. She has to be goaded, coerced, tricked, and even forced into taking on the role, and even when she decides to go for it, she has misgivings. I liked that about this book—it was surprising from the beginning, and there were new surprises at every turn. All of it, of course, takes place in a wondrous setting full of magic and danger of the sort that Durst is so good at.

Conclusion: I am really getting back into my fantasy reading these days, but gravitating toward books with strong, prickly heroines who know their own minds—and this is an excellent example. Highly recommended for older YA and adult readers alike.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the author/publisher (Thank you!!!). You can find THE RELUCTANT QUEEN by Sarah Beth Durst at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

July 03, 2017

Call for Presenters: KidLitCon 2017, Hershey, PA

Just popping my head up from my imminent deadline to remind you that the Kidlitosphere Conference has released its official Call for Presenters!

You don't have to put together anything too formal (unless you want to), and any topics related to children's/YA literature, and/or blogging about said literature, are welcome. From the official post:
Repeat visits to past topics are welcome alongside new ideas. A few thoughts—we’ve never talked specifically about historical fiction (is there such a thing as “getting it right?”) or religion (books written for a specific audience, books specifically addressing social and cultural topics related to religion). There’s always room for conversations about class, race, disability, sex. gender, politics, and pictures!
Contact the organizers by August 1 with your ideas, and check out this post for more details. 


Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

Synopsis:Sophia's moved to Montego Drive in LA with her lawyer father and her gorgeous mother, and her elder sister, Lily, who is going to college. With Montego Drive comes a new housekeeper, the disapproving Mrs. Baylor, and her handsome and much bragged-on son, Nathan. Sophie, going on thirteen next October, is trying to clutch every last day of her and Lily's last summer at home together. Beautiful, brave Lily is going to Spelman in the fall, but before then, she's trying to find her own feet, and branch out a bit from the family. She insists that Sophie branch out, too -- after all, she's going into a new high school, and it's time for her to quit being so odd and bookish, and to get more friends than the little white girl across the street. But, Sophie's happy being Jennifer's best friend, and following where Jennifer leads. It's easier than putting herself forward - after all, there are so many tiny pitfalls to actually admitting to herself that she wants things like to play with the other girls in the neighborhood, the ones who are quick to judge her, and turn their backs, because Sophie is Colored.

This is the rockiest summer in Sophie's memory. Sophie's parents are fighting -- really fighting. Lily wants to go to UC Berkeley, even though the historically Black women's college Spelman is her mother's dream for her. Sophie wants to write a novel, or take the lead in a play, but it doesn't seem like anyone else believes that she can do these things, not even her best friend. But her parents rocky marriage and Sophie's own disappointments abruptly take a backseat to the happenings in downtown Los Angeles. An interaction with the police takes a turn for the violent, and suddenly a neighborhood called Watts is full of rioting, angry Colored people, burning trash and throwing bricks through windows. Racism has landed with an ugly growl into the American conversation, and Sophie's world is unraveling. Is this how things will be, from now on? What does it mean, to be black and American? Is it possible to be those things, and a writer, and a regular girl, too?

Karen English leaves her readers with no easy answers, but takes an honest, heartfelt look at the complex realities of blackness in America.

Observations: IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THIS has an old-fashioned feel to it; English comes across stylistically like the greats from YA's golden age; Paula Danziger, Norma Fox Mazer or Carson McCullers. The book is crammed with details from the time period and Sophie's familial details are also almost overwhelming - which is par for the course for a slice-of-life novel from the golden age of YA lit. Sophie is like any other straight-speaking tween from the 1960's, seriously observing her life and the lives of everyone around her, eavesdropping, listening on phone extensions, snooping through her father's desk and her mother's briefcase, and finding out waaaaay more dirt on everyone than she expected. The vaguely romanticized view of life Sophie is getting comes face to face with baseline microagressions and racism, and she is baffled and vaguely hurt and then slowly but surely learns what real hurt, institutionalized racism, and denial of basic human rights is all about. It is an awakening for both Sophie's and the neighborhoods of Los Angeles; both personal and universal, and part of growing up as a young woman, and, in a broader sense, as a country.

Conclusion: While many YA books portray the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's as a neatly monolithic lock-stepped march through history and on Washington, the reality is that it was a messy, intensely personal awakening, as black people realigned what they'd been taught about themselves and their place in American society with a new reality of greater visibility and potential equality. While for some, this brave new world seemed suffused with opportunity, for others whose greater privilege had all along afforded them broader respectability among white Americans, this "movement" seemed foolish, dangerous and disturbing. Seen through a twelve-year-old's unflinching point of view, IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THIS tells the story of the jagged truths which break in on one Los Angeles family's smoothly suburban existence the summer of 1965, and strip away the lies about who they believe themselves to be.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of my agent, who thought I'd enjoy it. He was right. After July 11th, you can find IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THIS by Karen English at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

June 30, 2017


Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

This bright, cute cover was just one of the reasons I picked up this book; another reason is the author, who is a friend of the blog, and a pretty sterling human being. Solidly in the category of a problem/solution novel for younger middle graders, this book is one of my favorite impulse-picks so far this summer.

Synopsis: Chloe Cho has lived in a very boring small town for most of her elementary school experience. Her father's pet store and her mother's work as an astrophysicist, Chloe feels could have happened anywhere but no, they choose to live in the dullest, most white-bread town, ever. There are no other Asians in their town. Certainly, no other Koreans. It's tiresome to be the only anything - and when Chloe's school gets a new teacher whose last name is Lee, Chloe is beyond excited. Finally, another Korean! Even better, Ms. Lee is open to Chloe exploring her Korean background and doing a Model UN project about South Korea.

Unfortunately, Ms. Lee is the only one who's excited about it. Chloe's parents are not. They would really prefer she concentrate on being ...an American. It's what the Chos are now, right? Americans?

Chloe is desperate not to feel like a fish-out-of-water anymore, and does all she can to learn, on her own, about who she is... but what do you do when you really are nothing like the people around you? How do you cope?

Observations: Okay, I did not see the plot twist in this novel coming. At all. Well done to the people who did the advertising. I was reading along, and said, "Wait, what? WHAT!?" So, that was excellent. Second, I wish that I'd had this novel when I was teaching the fifth grade, because we often talked about the deeper meanings behind the friendships we had, and the identities we had as human beings: as people of color or white people, as child people who were younger or older siblings or adult teachers and friends. This is a book about multiple identities - about having and losing and choosing them. Chloe is trying very hard to align the identity she has inhabited unknowingly with the identity she discovers, and this allows readers to consider the question, how much of who we are is simply who we choose to be?

All of us, school aged or elsewhere in life, have felt stupidly out of step with our peers, but not everyone weathers the realization that they're a square peg, and still comes out a ...shape on the other side, to really drag the metaphor out. ☺ Chloe, as she comes through this difficult time, fails to do so gracefully -- arguing with teachers, feuding with her best friend, and screaming at her parents as she struggles to balance being the Only in her community, and wondering if the love and support and position she's found for herself within the community is entirely false. The very realness of her reaction makes this story relatable to everyone, but I think it's especially relatable to kids who have been adopted or who are of mixed race in an environment where they are in the minority. Sometimes a minority person can wonder, "do people like me because they think that X - whatever is different about me - is cool? or is it truly me in which they're interested?" Chloe struggles with why her best friend actually likes her -- and her best friend has to explicitly explain to her why by leading her back through the situations they've been through together. This is the proof that an unbeliever needs to see that they are loved. More than that, Chloe and Shelley also model strong communication techniques that are the basis of what keep a relationship strong.

Conclusion: There so much I can't tell you about the narrative behind this book because that takes all the fun out of reading the story and discovering it for oneself - but this quiet, snarky, fun little book is a gateway and a bridge to some deeper conversations between adults and kids that a quiet summer afternoon seems the perfect time to delve into.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the public library. You can find UNIDENTIFIED SUBURBAN OBJECT by Mike Jung at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

June 27, 2017


Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

Spin-offs, sequels, retellings. Love it or hate it, there's never a moment when a Jane Austen novel isn't getting some play somewhere, whether with text messages, zombies, or space ships. Funnily, I don't recall who suggested this book (Book Smugglers? Smart B's?) and by the time I came to it in my TBR pile, I'd forgotten why it was suggested... I figured dragons? I was halfway through the book before I recognized it - I blame the sinus infection. If you enjoy novels of repressive Victorian society, manners, and mores; if you adore costume and courting ...if you love Our Jane, this one's for you.

Synopsis: Aliza's grief at the loss of her sister to the vicious talons of gryphons, underscores the reasons Lord Merybourne strained his slender resources to hire a troop of Riders to eradicate them. The farmers and craftspeople of Hart's Run have suffered bitter losses from the Tekari, the Oldkind which are enemies of mankind. Aliza's father's way of dealing with his grief is to immerse himself in Lord Merybourne's estates, and in their management, remaining a loving yet vague presence in the lives of his daughters. Aliza's mother's way of dealing with her grief is to get her children away from Merybourne Manor by any means necessary. The Bentaine purse doesn't stretch to sending all the girls away to finishing school and none of them show a particular bent to be apprenticed in any art, but they're girls, after all. They can marry out. Riders must have noble blood, and the ability to communicate with their Shani - or friends of mankind - Oldkind mounts - some of which are dragons - and their work pays them well and takes them far. Since they're already in Hart's Run to eradicate the nest of gryphons...

Aliza, and her older sister, Angelina, are both amused and troubled by their mother's single-mindedness in marrying off one of her daughters, but at least one of the Riders, Lord Brysney has caught Anjey's fancy. The other Riders are either indifferent or, in the case of the dragon-riding Daired Lord, horrible snobs. Aliza isn't too fussed about one distasteful man. She's a competent herbologist and healer, and there's always something going on in the garden, or with her hobgoblin friends who live there. There also was an Oldkind at Lord Merybourne's party, threatening someone... who? Brysney's sister, Lady Charis, whose loss of her wyvern mount causes her great grief, seems quite willing to be Aliza's friend... sometimes. As Anjey and Brysney become closer, it becomes clear that there is more to the Riders than meets the eye. But, all of the household drama pales in comparison to the earthquakes and oddities going on. The Tekari are rising -- something truly wicked is coming for Hart's Run... and there's nowhere to hide. The Shani, with their Riders are going to have to work their magic, supported by the commoners the Riders may have scorned for any of them to survive.

Observations: I was amused to see this book listed as an historical fantasy... and while I know that it is, and what that means, I also laugh since there's been no time in OUR history, anyway, that people have ridden dragons...! Despite sounding like its set in Victorian times, with the costumes, social stratification, and Lord-ing/Lady-ing, the decision to include green-haired hobgoblins did not extend to human author people of color in this non-noble farming and crafting community. As there were doubtless persons of Asian, South Asian and African ancestry in the Victorian England in which Austen set her original series, it is an unfortunate erasure.

The addition of dragons (and the odd wyvern and bearlike beoryn)to any Austen novel has the potential to enliven it! I won't say "improve," since Austen novels don't really need "improvement," per se. While an examination of the manners and mores of Victorian times doesn't necessarily translate into this fantasy retelling, the observant snark and humor of the narrative find their place in this novel. Aliza doesn't take her mother's machinations very seriously, nor does she suffer unduly from the dislike of the Daried lord. He's just a donkey's bum, no big deal. Mari, rather than being obnoxious, is simply introverted and much more amused by time to herself with a book than dressing and going into society - and the author makes clear that there's nothing wrong with it. Readers will appreciate Aliza's relationship with the lesser Oldkind, as it makes plain the kindness of her personality, that no Shani creature is too small for her consideration, and that muddy hems are a small price to pay for friendship. Her no nonsense dealings with the care of her sister during illness, and her bravery in turning down the offer to learn to kill more Tekari also speak to a girl who knows her own mind, and regardless of what others might believe she should be doing, or how they believe she should be reacting, she will go her own way.

Conclusion: You might indeed be well over Austen retellings, or find the original tale tedious and frustrating. And yes, Aliza's mother still needs a brisk slap, but at least the reasons for her behavior make much more sense this time, and you'll appreciate that Leyda is redeemed and doesn't have to live with her mistake for very long. This novel's brimstone of dragonfire and slash of wyvern's talons breathes adventure into a familiar story, making it more accessible to certain audiences. Magic, adventure, war, and romance, this is one to tuck into your bag to make airport delays something you don't even notice.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the public library. You can find HEART STONE by Ella Katharine White at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

June 23, 2017


Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

Summer 'flu is the pits, the absolute pits, so I'm lucky that, along with my cough drops and wads of tissues, I have a stack of great books.

I was introduced to the work of Rachel Neumeier during the 2016 Cybils, where I was a first-round judge for YA speculative fiction. I was so impressed with her left-of-center tale of a hidden princess, and made a quiet note to myself to seek out more of her work. I was expecting a similar tone to this book, but the feel is entirely different. It starts quietly and then the plot thickens like a good stew. There's a lot going on, as in traditional high fantasy, a journey, a quest, a cast of characters to keep track of, but if you could come to grips with Patrick Rothfuss, Kristin Britain, Brian Sanderson, C.S. Lewis or Tolkien, you'll be in fine shape for this.

Synopsis: Meridy Turiyn was eleven when her mother took the White Road of the Moon into death, and now, at fifteen, her cold, practical Aunt Tarana has apprenticed her to a soap-making washerwoman and is happy to be rid of her. Meridy, with her dark hair and eyes, is the village outcast. Dark-eyed Southerners like Meridy can see the quick dead - ghosts who remained in the real, anchored to the living whose love or hatred keeps them close, and the small, fair and blue-eyed villagers are terrified of them. Perhaps worse, Meridy is educated. She's memorized the classic tales of the God, and poetry; her mind is stuffed with literature and art and all kinds of bits of history. Meridy has always wanted to travel, to see the world, to know, things which her practical aunt deems pointless, and her cousins mock as stupid. Staying in the tiny village where her mother is buried, where she is reviled and feared, was never going to be an option, but now that she's expected to be a washerwoman, it's impossible.

At the prompting of an storytelling ghost, Meridy leaves the tiny village and goes to seek her own way. When a ghost of a boy with a gorgeous ghost-dog directs her to an injured man, Meridy is prickly at their assumption that she can do anything for them, but she does what she can. It turns out to be just enough to embroil her in a mystery. The man and the boy need her for something - but neither will quite explain what, and Meridy doesn't have time to fuss with figuring it out. She's a girl alone on the road, and things are treacherous enough. But the mystery pursues her, putting her in the way of witch kings, ancient sorceries and a 200 year old injustice that is gathering momentum from the past. She's just an over-educated village girl with dark eyes and a tendency to collect ghosts. How is she supposed to save a kingdom?

Observations: This novel stays true to the trope of the "unexceptional loner with hidden depths." Meridy is full of unexpected depths -- really unexpected depths, but her lack of confidence and the chip on her shoulder at first hinder her from fulfilling her role in a game bigger than she can imagine, as forces from long-dead empires rise again. There are the equivalent of cryptic sages and romantically poetic knights -- and Meridy's irritation with the poetic speech and vague hints is a bit of fun. At one point she shrieks, "Can't you speak like a normal person?" Well... actually, no. Welcome to high fantasy, lovey.

High fantasy is not always terribly accessible; the worlds of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien are full of swords and sorcery, but also full of Arthurian Eurocentricism with its talk of white witches and impossibly ectomorphic fey in varying shades of blonde with violet eyes. While a reader doesn't require lookalike protagonists to enjoy a work, consistent erasure of diversity throughout the traditional high fantasy canon has created imaginary worlds which seem to murmur Whites Only. Many times nonwhite readers can feel unwelcome in high fantasy, but Neumeier invites readers to identify with the main character - a black haired, dark-skinned, dark-eyed Southerner. Slightly scrappy, not especially pretty, Meridy has wild dark curls and a vast education that I'd imagine might provoke people to exclaim, "Wow, you're so articulate! The assumption of her ignorance based on her class and coloring is just as insulting to Meridy as it is to those of us in the real world. In a subtle twist, it is only when Meridy sets aside her prickly pride and expectation of rejection and embraces her dark eyes and Southern heritage, it is only then that she can actually help anyone else.

I love the inclusion of faith in this novel. It is not a recognizable denominational faith, necessarily, but much of what Meridy accomplishes is based on faith - in herself, in the purposes of the God, and in those around her.

Conclusion: NB: This is a friendship novel, and does not contain romance.

This novel starts quietly and builds - as all quest/journey novels do. The scene is set very early in the book, with the rules of the world and its magical drawbacks in terms of ghosts, etc., and then, with those concerns taken care of, Meridy begins her evolution as a character Doing Things. Don't give up reading those quiet, detailed beginnings! Especially with this novel, you will be rewarded.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the public library, our greatest resource. You can find THE WHITE ROAD OF THE MOON by Rachel Neumeier at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!