December 30, 2014

Countdown to Cybils Finalists! Two More Days...

We've been resting and recovering and just generally taking a much-needed media holiday here at FW, but the New Year is fast approaching, and with it, one of our favorite annual bookish events:
the announcement of
the Cybils shortlists!
Finalist titles in all of the categories will be posted on January 1st at the Cybils website. As one of the Cybils organizing crew I've had a sneak peek, and I can tell you there are some wonderful finalist titles in store for you to peruse. But I'm keeping mum until the official announcement--you won't be able to bribe, beguile, or beat it out of me. Just rest assured it's the best list yet. Of course, we say that every year...

Stay tuned!

December 15, 2014

Monday Review: UNMADE (THE LYNBURN LEGACY #3) by Sara Rees Brennan

Cool font, spooky like.
Summary: Okay, so, I have read books 1 and 2 of The Lynburn Legacy and failed to write about those, so this is really a review of the entire trilogy. I know, I know; I really MEANT to write about them individually. But, what can you do? Anyway, I will, as per usual, try not to give too much away, but if you have a pathological fear of spoilers, I suppose you might want to just go read the books now.

Right: for those of you who are still here! Unmade is the third book in this trilogy; Unspoken was the first, and Untold the second. In this story we meet Kami Glass, who lives in the wonderfully picturesquely-named English village of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Kami's a pretty normal girl; she's part Japanese (go mixed race protagonists!), she wants to start a school newspaper, she has two little brothers and a Goth-y best friend named Angela. Oh, and she hears a boy's voice in her head—and he answers back. That kind of keeps her on the outside of things, for obvious reasons.

SO she isn't totally normal. But she's been talking to Jared in her head ever since she can remember. She doesn't even know if he's real or not, but it is what it is. Until the legendary Lynburns return to the village and everything changes. The Lynburns used to "rule the town"—whatever that means, thinks Kami. Who cares if the youngest Lynburn, the super-hot Ash, starts going to her school and even wants to join her newspaper staff? Who cares about all those crazy rumors? Well, turns out that makes a pretty juicy news story…but what she uncovers is dire and magical and frightening. And it involves generations of sorcerers and their unusual relationship to the village they supposedly protect.

Oh, and then—Jared appears. In the flesh. IRL. That's when things start to get really weird, not only for Kami, but her friends and family, too.

Peaks: I really like the fact that nobody is truly safe in this story. It isn't just the protagonist, Kami, putting herself in danger, but her entire family is threatened, and the village's way of life as they know it. Friends become enemies; enemies become friends—their small world goes topsy turvy and it isn't a secret to anyone in the town. There are no clandestine adventures, had by only young people, that no adults ever find out about; it's all too real for everyone, and so much is at stake. That was really well done, and Kami makes for a very interesting and quirky (and diverse! without it being a Thing!) protagonist who isn't your average heroine, but someone who prevails due to her wit, her inner strength, and her love for her friends and family.

Valleys: I guess if I have to pick at something, on occasion I found the characters' witty banter to be a little too perfect. OK, there, I said it. All joking aside, that's a tough balance to strike, and opinions may vary, too. And, of course, there's always that love triangle thing that shows up so often in YA romance. (We should all have been so lucky. Or unlucky.) But it's handled well, I'll admit.

Conclusion: The story is both lovely and dark; atmospheric and spooky but with a lot of humor, too. Fans of Maggie Stiefvater, Cassandra Clare, Holly Black—definitely don't miss this one. A very enjoyable adventure, and a must read for fans of magical stories set in Britain.

I borrowed my copy of this book from my local library. You can find Unspoken (The Lynburn Legacy), and the other two books in the trilogy by Sara Rees Brennan at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

December 12, 2014


The Pineapple Express, she is expressing, and, at least on TV, there is extreme weather and pouring, driving, spattering rain. Here at home, it's just... like... raining. Which sometimes, despite all drought-without-end claims to the contrary, it does. Anyway. When it rains, I just want to read, and fortunately, here I am, doing just that!

Summary: The post-apocalyptic society has figured out a way to fix its problems with crime -- brain scans, to stop criminal behavior before it starts. While this does away with innocent until proven guilty, its' not as if there are courts and trials anymore anyway - it's the will of the Cardinal who makes the world work. Anyway, it's not that bad -- the guilty are taken away from the MidWest Territory into the PIT (Permanent Isolation Territory) before they can transgress, and the rest of the community goes on in happy comfort. Every citizen of the Territory is tested at the age of sixteen, the boys in their prom dresses, the guys in their tuxes. It's a kind of coming-of-age thing, where first contacts for eligible partners are found and formed. All everyone has to do is approach The Machine and be scanned. That's all. It's the rite of Acceptance, and it's just the first step toward being an adult. Sixteen year old Rebecca is ready. She's well-dressed, well-educated -- well, as far as girls get educated, anyway - and well-versed in the things that will make her a functional member of her society. She is ready to be a mother, a nurturer, and a pillar of the home in support of her husband. Unfortunately for Rebecca... her first step into the adult society is her last. The Machine claims that she has a criminal mind, and her life is now in the penal colony with the rest of the losers. Rebecca - who knows nothing of how to survive, only how to sew and make casseroles, is thrown into a refugee-style camp with psychopaths, murderers and rapists. And, as she believes, she deserves it.

Peaks: Every time I think, "Okay, enough, I am well sick of post-apocalyptic novels," I find another which mildly intrigues me. While the concept isn't entirely fresh, I did find that the execution was somewhat original. Rebecca is not plucky. She's not heroic. She's passive, an observer, and naive. As a matter of fact, she doesn't even TRY to save others or herself at first, and that kind of pissed me off - but it's realistic to how some personality types would react when thrown into the system in innocence - she really didn't know how to handle herself, and she suffered for it. Because her whole life had been spent acquiescing to authority figures; first her mother, then the State, she didn't even have the emotional wherewithal to say, "They say I'm bad, but I know better, because I know ME." She hasn't a rebellious gene in her DNA. She simply accepted what she was told. Does this make her kind of dumb? ...For me, it just made her really young, possibly younger than her age. She was prey because her society created prey... but they also somehow saw in her that she had the potential to become an apex predator, which they didn't want.

Valleys: I have questions about the motivation behind some of the character's actions, including the BIG SPOILERY REVERSAL that happens midway through the novel. There is a betrayal, but the motivation behind it is dubious.

Second, Rebecca finds herself in a love triangle that isn't a real triangle because she... doesn't like one of the guys. While allegedly the heroine of the novel, Rebecca is at times alarmingly passive, and just sort of ...waits for the situation to resolve itself. Um.

Finally, while in many ways this novel is a brilliant exploration of societal expectation for women and of the struggle to balance freedoms vs safety through government intervention, I felt that it was largely disingenuous in its avoidance of certain issues. This is a post-apocalyptic America, yet the issue of race, as linked to criminal mindsets in American society, which is a HUGE and pervasive conflation which has persisted from slavery onward and is largely responsible for racial profiling and vastly inequitable policing - that issue is ENTIRELY absent from the novel. As a matter of fact, there is a mixed race relationship in the novel, and it's like - nada. Nothing at all strange about that, no thoughts that Rebecca has, as coming from a struggling middle-class home, any prejudices or ideas about race or class or crime. I really cannot understand how this would have just been conveniently washed away when society has been pushed back into pre-Victorian ideals for women... they were, at one point in our history, either chattel or at least seen as "less than," as were slaves or people of other ethnicities. I find it difficult to see how the post-apocalyptic society would pick-and-choose on that score and only limit women's upward mobility, especially when the Cardinal's entire platform is "see how good I am at preventing crime." Maybe this is a specious argument, but I really do feel like it was disingenuous of the author not even to touch on this. Maybe the society has figured a way past this, but privilege is an ingrained, reflexive and very convenient-to-return-to privilege. To leave this out of the novel entirely and expect that to be believable didn't work for me.

Conclusion: Entertaining yet uneven, this first book in a post-apocalyptic trilogy will intrigue plenty of readers who love the genre.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. You can find RIGHT OF REJECTION by Sarah Negovetich at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

December 11, 2014

Thursday Review: WHEN WE WAKE and WHILE WE RUN by Karen Healey

Summary: When We Wake--and the companion/sequel While We Run--are the newest spec fic/sci-fi books by Karen Healey, whose books The Shattering (reviewed here) and Guardian of the Dead (reviewed here) I really enjoyed. If you're already a Karen Healey fan like me, you won't want to miss this fast-paced, frightening, all-too-believable sci-fi adventure.

We've all heard the half-joking references to cryonics—freezing someone's head or body and reviving them sometime in the future. In the world of these two books, cryonics isn't a joke. The beginning of the story takes place in 2027, the near- but still-recognizable future. Tegan is sixteen, lives in Australia, and she's pretty cutting edge: her hobbies are guitar-playing, parkour, urban exploration, and going to protests with her best friends Alex and Dalmar. Dalmar, who she hopes will soon be more than a friend.

…Until one day's protest changes everything, and Tegan wakes up a hundred years in the future.

Peaks: Without giving too much away (because the constant surprises and twists are what really make these two books so compulsively readable), I really thought this was a fantastic premise, and one that hasn't (yet) been done to death, at least not in this specific way. Who hasn't wondered what it would be like to just wake up sometime in the future, just catch a glimpse of what's in store? And yet, the author has created a world that is still recognizable, still our own in fundamental ways; the story's not set in space or on another world or anything like that. Humanity's not quite there yet. In fact, humanity's still pretty horrible in a lot of ways, and this is a story that doesn't pull any punches about the potential for stuff seriously going down the tubes.

Kudos on not whitewashing!
In the midst of all that, Tegan (in the first book) and Abdi (in the second book) make very relatable narrators. Tegan is the one whose story we hear first, and the one who was uprooted from her world and tossed into a new, scary environment where she's locked in a government hospital and nobody will tell her what's going on. Her already-mentioned skills at jumping around abandoned buildings make her attempted escape more realistic, but it doesn't take long for her to figure out she has to cooperate, at least for now. She has to learn what life is like in this unfamiliar new world before she can strike out on her own. IF they let her…

Valleys: I have to admit—I'm not generally speaking a fan of all these books featuring teens who do parkour and urban exploration and building scaling and whatnot as a hobby. How widespread is that, honestly? As a character trait, that always tends to feel more like a wish fulfillment fantasy than anything else. But beyond that, there really are no negatives as far as I'm concerned. The characterization in all other respects was fantastic: the good guys were relatable, the bad guys were truly scary and despicable, and there were plenty of people who fall into the in-between gray area, including an array of interesting side characters, allies and enemies alike.

Conclusion: I think I've succeeded in pushing this enough without giving too much away. Fans of lightly futuristic action/survival (like Carbon Diaries or Rot & Ruin or Mila 2.0) will really like this one. Though I wouldn't call this one dystopian per se, I'd also not be afraid to hand it to fans of The Hunger Games, Maze Runner, or Across the Universe.

I borrowed my copies of these books from my local library. You can find When We Wake and While We Run by Karen Healey at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

December 08, 2014

'Tis the Season to Go Shopping...

...and there's very little I personally hate MORE than "going shopping," especially when it's the season of Everybody Shopping. Shopping online, therefore, is kind of what saves me during this time of year. I just made my first holiday purchase this morning and that reminded me to remind YOU: you can benefit the Cybils Awards just by doing your Amazon shopping, if you click through using one of the Cybils Amazon links from their website (see this Cyber Monday post from the Cybils blog).

You don't even have to buy the book in question! You can buy some other book. Or a plant. Or a big-screen TV, or a Rolls-Royce, or stock in Kim Kardashian's butt. (I assume they sell that on Amazon. They sell everything.) But regardless of what you buy, a teeny percentage will go towards the Cybils, and we'll use those not-so-ill-gotten gains to fund nifty prizes for the award winners. So, in the name of the big C, by which I mean Cybils, go forth and shop!

December 05, 2014


It's a blustery, rainy day, and I have hot tea and lemon and have just finished a novella I've been looking forward to for weeks. All is well in the Wonderland treehouse, people. Happy, happy times.

I'm generally not attracted to prequels as much as I am to sequels, and, as I said when I joined the cover reveal for ROSE EAGLE, this is the prequel to KILLER OF ENEMIES that you didn't know you needed. I was jonesing for a sequel pretty hard, but KoE was such a perfect book that I decided to suck it up and (hope for a movie and) live with its singular perfection.


Then, I got a little obnoxious with my reader greed. Fortunately, the prequel then dropped neatly (well, "neatly," for a given value of my lack of tech competence in downloading an ebook. Thanks for your help, Hannah!) into my lap.

This novel isn't full of adventurous surprises around every turn - as a matter of fact, the nasties are ones we met before with Lozen. This novel is mostly endurance - a lot of walking - but Rose Eagle is quite a relatable character. Completely unsure of herself, lacking in confidence, and apt to scream for help while killing what she's afraid of, Rose made me smile, and her sidekick is a quiet pleasure as well. I think that's a good couple of words for this book - a "quiet pleasure." That's ROSE EAGLE, in a nutshell.

Summary: Seventeen-year-old Rose Eagle is a Lakota girl living with her aunt and others in what's left of a mining plant. After the Cloud came, the silvery magnetic ball from space which knocked out all power, digital and electronic stuff, (which we read about in KILLER OF ENEMIES), the genetically modified Overlords are dead or being chased down by the genmod monsters they created and The People are working together to survive. Because of the clarity of the true dream Rose's aunt has had, she knows she's meant to be something -- important? Useful? -- but Spirits aren't the easiest thing to understand. After Rose's sweat lodge experience is kind of ...disrupted, she's dismayed to find that one of her aunt's old beaus has emerged from the woods with new information about the world outside of the Big Cave and its woods. The familiar and orderly world Rose inhabited is about to change - she's got a job to do which will take her from the world she knows, and change everything -- if she could just figure out how to get there without showing anyone she's terrified, feeling stupid, and not sure she can actually do it.

At the close of the novel, the author acknowledged a debt to the Lakota people and his Lakota friends for sharing their culture, and for their help with this book.

Peaks: Rose has a gift. Like Lozen's knack with weapons and, you know, killing enemies, Rose has a knack for animals. The "hopeful, feathered things" that take refuge on her shoulders are a treat. Also, I would very much like a badger to live calmly near me. Just putting that out there for the universe.

I appreciated that Rose wasn't a superhero like Lozen, since it takes all kinds. She got tired, got cold, was sad, hungry, felt filthy and itchy and dirty and had to use the bathroom. This isn't often granted to protagonists leading adventures, and I always love those details. Though the book wasn't unpredictable, it did have a satisfying narrative pace - a quest, a journey, an unexpected bonus gift on the way, the quest is fulfilled, and everyone goes home. Or, at least, starts out that direction. I also appreciated how much I learned, in an entertaining fashion, in this novel, and should I ever go to South Dakota, I'm guessing I'll know a little more than the average tourist about its land and residents.

Valleys: It is too short. Okay, yeah, so this is a novella and not a full novel, but still. I could have stayed in this monster-ridden, post-apocalyptic dystopian-type universe a couple more hours and been perfectly happy. However, even good books must end.

Conclusion: This ebook prequel companion to KILLER OF ENEMIES is a sweet and satisfying morsel which will whet your appetite for the sequel.

I bought my copy of this book courtesy of a Tu Books special. You can find ROSE EAGLE by JOSEPH BRUCHAC at an online e-tailer, or at Tu Books online.

December 04, 2014


Summary: I'd just like to start by saying how much I have LOVED Catherine Fisher's work so far--both the Incarceron books and the Obsidian Mirror books. Incarceron in particular is up there with my (admittedly rather long) list of favorites. So I was excited to see her latest in my library: Circle of Stones. Unlike the others, this one is a stand-alone; somewhat like Obsidian Mirror, Circle of Stones involves intersecting characters and timelines that weave ever closer, not entirely comprehensible in their relationships until the end of the story.

This one's got three stories in three different timelines, to be exact: the briefest--almost atmospheric and mythical in its feel--is the story of Bladud, an ancient druid king. Then we have the alternating stories of Zac, an architect's apprentice in the 18th century, and Sulis, a mysterious young woman hiding from her tragic past in modern-day Bath, England.

Peaks: In fact, all three stories take place in what is now the city of Bath; what was already in Zac's time the burgeoning spa city of Aquae Sulis (the waters of Sulis, a local indigenous goddess who became absorbed into the Roman pantheon as Sulis Minerva), where the wealthy and poor alike would flock to take the waters. Having been to Bath a few times, and having just read a rather interesting non-fiction book called Hubbub: Filth, Noise, and Stench in England about English city life in the 1600s and 1700s (Bath was one of the cities featured in the book), I was really intrigued to read a story set there at different times in its past.

Of course, one of the wonderful aspects of Fisher's writing is that you don't have to have visited Bath to get a feel for its buildings of sandy golden stone and its bustling but still somehow magical tourist section with its Roman and Neoclassical buildings and its ancient cramped medieval alleyways. Sulis, in modern-day Bath, shows us the city in all its glory, working at the Roman Bath Museum and trying to regain her independence in her new life. All is not well, however, as Sulis begins to feel that her past is catching up with her. In THE past, meanwhile, Zac helps the architect (fictitious, but loosely based on a real person) Forrest try to realize his dream of a circular court of houses, all connected by the facade, perfectly aligned like the stone circles of old. That circle--the King's Circus--is where Sulis lives, so we know it was built--eventually. But at what cost, and with what sacrifices? The intertwining storylines are very subtly done, and nothing ever feels forced or prodded into place. Both Zac and Sulis are sympathetic and very real-seeming teen characters; the suspense created by Sulis and her ever-increasing sense of impending doom helps move all three stories along.

Valleys: This isn't the same sort of action-packed fantasy quest that Incarceron was, nor is it a desperate race to save the world, like Obsidian Mirror. Those looking for more adventure will instead find a quieter story about transcending one's past to become somehow more, about living with and moving past the flaws in our own hearts so that we can embrace our full selves and what we are meant to ultimately be. (Can you tell I'm trying not to give too much away?)

I also have somewhat mixed feelings about the end of Sulis's narrative. I think it's because I expected a story that was more based on fantasy, that had more actual magic, but instead the magic here is a touch, an aura, the ghosts of the past. It's well done, truly. But in this case, the defying of my expectations felt a little bit like, "...Oh. So that's what this is about."

Conclusion: Overall, though, I really did enjoy this book. If you like Catherine Fisher's other work, give it a read. If you liked The House on Hound Hill (which I really did), and that sense of the past imbuing a place with ancient echoes, read this one.

I got my copy of this book at the library. You can find Circle of Stones by Catherine Fisher at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

December 03, 2014


This book is non-fiction, and was originally self-published, because the filmmaker Nick Gray was so convinced this was a story we should know. Nonfiction what we usually review on the blog, but though this particular tale is about two real boys, they are part of an ongoing story about a culture clash, a small group being swallowed up by a larger group, and religious differences. Their story is about growing up, finding convictions, leaving what only looks like safety - and finding the will to go forward into the unknown, in hope of the real thing. I was attracted to this book because when we lived in Glasgow, one of our flats faced a Buddhist temple, and we often saw priests going about their lives in their saffron robes, riding bikes and sipping Irn Bru. It never even occurred to me to ask why they were there, or where they'd come from, or if they'd always been in Scotland. It feels a little silly now, when they were so friendly, that I never asked...

China invaded Tibet and annexed in 1950... and, because it was a tiny country far away, nobody really did more than shrug. But, looking at the faces of the boys on the cover of this book, we know that they were real people whose lives changed terribly that day. Ironically, this past week, I got a colorful flyer in the mail advertising a National Geographic trip to Tibet. It's perfectly safe, the travel guides assure us, for climbers and mountain-lovers from other nations. Privilege strikes again.

The narrative is straightforward and the prose is clean. The author, together with a forward by the Dali Lama, lays out the political, cultural and religious situation in Tibet in a simple manner, and then explains what people are doing about it. Though the danger is very real, the risk very high, and the violence dreadful, the narrative voice remains pragmatic and low-key, letting the story simply unfold as it will. Readers are left with a bittersweet account of brothers choosing a better life that will appeal to pilgrims and sojourners in every culture.

Summary: It is 1994. Tenzin is eleven, and he, his mother, and two brothers have been working their tiny farm in Tibet for as long as he can remember. His nineteen-year-old brother, Pasang, has been gone now for five years - five years, since he to the Buddhist monastery where he was training to be a priest, and a little less than that since he ran away from the monastery. Suddenly, Pasang is back, and while Tenzin is excited, he's also beginning to realize faintly that his brother being back isn't all good. When he'd run away, the Communist Chinese authorities has searched the village and threatened his mother. Now that Pasang's back... they're at it again. Refusing to hide, Pasang faces his accusers. Sneering, swaggering, and eying him, the soldiers bully and press. They're just waiting for Pasang to do something. So is Tenzin. Pasang has a quick temper and restless feet. If he doesn't explode and pop a guard in the nose, Tenzin is terrified his brother is, one night, simply going to disappear into the anonymous world. Pasang and his mother are already having quiet, intense talks when he's not close enough to overhear. Tenzin is heartbroken - his brother has served as his father as well, and when Pasang is gone, Tenzin has to step up to help protect his smaller siblings and his older brother whose developmental delays have damaged his brain and left his body strong. What will the family do without Pasang?

Then one morning, instead of walking to school, Pasang tells him to get up in the ox cart with he and their mother. Pasang is going to take him away - to India. Mother refuses to leave - can't see letting their youngest sibling go, and knows the older one will just slow them down, so Pasang has chosen Tenzin alone. There's nothing for him in Tibet, where they can't practice their religion as they want, and show their cultural heritage. There's no point in staying, Pasang explains carefully. Tenzin is just ecstatic to be adventuring somewhere. But, his mother weeps - and soon, the trip on the bus to the big city doesn't seem like a big deal. They can't use much money, so they sleep on the streets -- Tenzin has to learn a few words of a Chinese dialect so that they can beg - and everywhere, soldiers are rousting the beggars and putting them in jail. Everything feels dangerous, and repeatedly Pasang snatches them away, just ahead of danger - but others don't always make it to safety. Eyes wide, Tenzin soon learns the brutality of the Chinese military. And then, he and Pasang get caught.

Only contempt for their abused bodies by the soldiers who have hurt them allows them to escape at the last. A fortunate meeting with a monk connects the brothers with a guide, and others looking to cross the Himalayas. It won't be easy -- climbing near the pass where Americans go up over Everest -- it's suicidal. It's insane! But, Tenzin realizes, it's that, or go back home.

Through altitude sickness, snow-blindness, frostbite, bad food, scabies and and incredible weariness, an eleven-year-old and a nineteen-year-old make an incredible journey to a life that makes sense to them - a life where they can practice religion or not, a life where they can be free. From myriad setbacks to their triumphant meeting with the Dali Lama, Tenzin's subsequent realization that he and his brother are in a movie (he was so sick he doesn't remember being filmed) and being granted the freedom to become British citizens, the novel tells a fantastic story which is a bit scary in parts, but would be perfectly suitable for Middle Grades and up.

I actually fiddled around on Youtube and found ...Tenzin had posted the film! Which is pretty cool. If you have an hour, it's a documentary, and shows he and his brother on their journey, and shows a little of what happened next. They live in England now.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of Annick Press. You can find ESCAPE FROM TIBET by Nick Gray with Laura Scandiffio at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

December 02, 2014


Billed as "Downton Abbey meets The Princess Diaries," I expected a critique of manners and class striations somehow blended with the awkward, frizzy charm of a Mia Thermopolis knock-off. Disappointingly, that's... not exactly what I got. Despite its elegant cover and interesting blurb of "if Hitchcock had directed Downton Abbey," this novel includes a lot of young adult clichés which, while appealing to some, for me signal the "unholy trinity" - death, insta-love triangle, and drama. A whiplash quick plot-twist pulls the whole awkward bundle together into a messy conclusion. The jacket flap reveals that this novel is meant to be a twist on the classic Daphne du Monier's REBECCA... which I actually don't see at all, but just to put that out there. Filled with prose by turns beautiful and descriptive to breathless and heaving, the shocking conclusion to this novel which will leave you blinking... possibly in bewilderment. The end leaves some narrative strings danging, and is out-of-left-field and bemusing.

Summary: Knowing that her parents are minor peers of British royalty, Imogene, by age ten, just sees it as kind of a game - the Stanhopes bow a little lower to her grandfather and uncle than they do to her. Her cousin Lucia is a Lady, and Imogene is just... Imogene. But, none of it matters to a ten-year-old American girl. She's at her father's home in England for the summer, and what she wants to do is ride horses, play with Sebastian Stanhope, her buddy, tell secrets with Lucia, and otherwise just... be a kid. Imogene is uneasy that it looks like twelve-year-old Lucia and Sebastian are dating... and for her, there are some odd incidents involving fire and flowers, which Imogene ignores because she just wants to spend her summers unencumbered by thought. The plot accommodates this, allowing Imogene to go on not thinking - just pretending all is well. Which, honestly, shouldn't have been a surprise when it doesn't work long term.

Imogene's life is irrevocably changed when her parents and Lucia's parents apparently spontaneously combust - in the middle of the night - outside in the family's huge maze. Imogene had just seen her father in there that afternoon, and his cryptic remarks about there being something in there are the first example of heavy foreshadowing - something's in the maze. Something that eventually kills everyone - but what is it?? Lucia tries to get her cousin Imogene to stay in England with her, but her parents have a codicil in their will that returns Imogene to the United States and to the home of neighbors, who keep her as their own... and they keep her so well that they don't tell her that England has been calling... calling... calling for years. By the time she's seventeen, Imogene has all but forgotten the rest of her family, in a quest for normalcy which seems to excise anything unpleasant or past-related from her mind. I found it difficult to believe that she would nearly forget that she had blood-relatives simply because her parents died but she seems to let it all fade... until a phone call connects her with a man who has come to New York to let her know that she is the last of her family, and now the Duchess... her American family has been keeping this from her, for their own Adult Reasons, which seem to cause hardly a ripple for Imogene - I would have battled the rest of the book trying to let that be okay, but she is over years of duplicity fairly quickly. Of course, there is a cryptic and easily dismissed anonymous letter which hints that all of the deaths which it took for Imogene to be in line for the duchy are somewhat suspicious, but Imogene neatly sidesteps this, and carries on. It must be noted that one thing the character is very good at is not worrying about details, and moving on.

As soon as she arrives in England, Imogene reconnects with Sebastian, the love of her life, who was destined for her from the age of...ten...when he started to date her cousin. There's that insta-love I mentioned, and I was disappointed, because that could have been handled much better and differently. Despite Sebastian's dating her cousin for the seven years prior to her death and the whole "I never seemed to be into you except as a friend" stuff, Sebastian's ready to vow eternal love with Imogene. That for me would have been "red flag: freaky alert!" but Imogene take it as her due. Now, all they need to do is wobbly through any number of affairs of state without wearing flip-flops and chawing down on a wad of gum, figure out what is causing all the drama and random gusts of wind inside the estate, find out what's up with the grim housekeeper, what's up with Imogene, fire, and flowers and why no one demolished the maze if people died in there and there's allegedly "something" in there???

Peaks: This book is, at least in the beginning, beautifully written, with many lovely turns of phrase. The author's attention to detail in the manor house and grounds speaks to a great love for architecture and gardens, and an eye for what will interest readers with a bent to the romantic English country house or Merchant/Ivory type film.

Valleys: The plot was a disappointment for me, as I found it muddled and confusing. There were a few elements which seemed as if they'd initially set out to be about one thing, and then the author changed her mind about their significance midway. {SPOILER} Imogene has a power... which has nothing to do with anything, doesn't reveal much of anything, nor does it solve much of anything. The Maze, which features so prominently on the cover, and in the death of her parents, aunt and uncle, does not seem to be significant of anything. If one were to take out both the maze and the powers... it wouldn't really affect the novel, which makes their ominous and repeated references hollow. It was very confusing that the dramatic and high-profile, game-changing deaths of so many adults ALL AT ONCE were never... explained, explored, or solved, not really. I mean, "the spirit got mad" seems too little. The why and the how of the way they died is unnecessarily opaque, as if the author deliberately is trying to keep details of the plot from the reader... but who, then, are the details for? Additionally, there is the usual "All British People Are White" comfort-zone trope, and various types of diversity are entirely absent from this novel, though the cook is comfortably within cliché and described as stout. I found the emotional relationships less than satisfying, as I never felt that a forever-type of relationship could be founded on an attraction which started at age ten, though I recognize that others who are quite sure of themselves romantically may beg to differ.

Conclusion: This novel didn't work for me, and I felt at times like I could make no headway in getting to know neither the characters nor their motivation. Their actions lacked urgency for me; in short, I didn't care what their issues were - about the "powers" of State or the British aristocracy, etc. etc. - all things which in The Princess Diaries we're allowed to engage with and care for. The romance didn't feel genuine at all, as it was just one of those Foregone Conclusions we as readers are meant to get swept along with, and the power... I'm still not sure what it was for, or why it existed. However, for those readers who enjoy an atmospheric novel with plenty of Gothic architecture and a lot of designer-name dressing up, as well as those who enjoy explanations of British pride in their class distinctions, those readers will find this a memorable wish-fulfillment type of novel which will feed their dreams of princessdom and into which they can disappear for awhile.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. After December 9th, 2014, you can find SUSPICION by Alexandra Monir at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

November 28, 2014


This is a story about child soldiers in Uganda, in Africa, and about Kony Joseph. It's fictional, but based on a true account. Despite the boatload of honors and awards (Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults 2014, YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens List, Top Ten, 2014, YALSA Best Books for Kids and Teens 2013, starred selection, Canadian Children’s Book Centre 2014 Maverick Graphic Novel List, Texas Library Association 2014 USBBY Outstanding International Book Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers 2014, YALSA 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award, Gold Cybils Award finalist Book of the Year Award finalist, ForeWord Reviews 2014 Eisner Award, Best Graphic Novel nomination Stellar Book Award nomination), I honestly did not want to read it -- like many of you, I read fiction because I like to escape from the ugliness of reality. However, I also know that those of us who escape are privileged to do so - and I'd rather use my privilege, when I can, to bear witness rather than to hide, because all lives matter. I was further schooled by the brief note from the young man on whose life story this novel is based. The final thoughts of the character made me push through:

My story is not an easy one to tell, and it is not an easy one to read. The life of a child soldier is full of unthinkable violence and brutal death. But this is also a story of hope, courage, friendship and family. We Ugandans believe that family is most important.

I thought you should be prepared for both the bad and the good. There is no shame in closing this book now.

    - Jacob, Gulu Uganda, 2009

Okay, I thought to myself. I'm reading on.

Summary: Jacob is of the Acholi ethnic tribe of Uganda, and a student at the George Jones Seminary for Boys, a Catholic boarding school. Together, with his friend Tony, whose family is poor, they study hard and do their best. When one night, they are abducted from the school, all of Jacob's family's money and influence and extra guards cannot help him.

What follows next is a journey into madness. Brutality is the byword, from the first moment. As in many wartime scenarios, the boys are taken out by soldiers little older than themselves, beaten for imaginary infractions, and then forced on a long march. Those who fell on the march are given "rest" of a permanent sort - by the hands of boys once their schoolmates and friends. If they don't kill, they are killed. It is beyond brutal. But, just when you think you can't read anymore - a light shows at the end of the tunnel. The pace of the novel rockets forward into danger, suspense and terror. A well-written and scary account of a true-to-life abduction and escape, this book will keep you on the edge of your seat - and in turmoil, as you look at yourself, and wonder how you would have reacted - and whether what was done - and what the UN is doing now - is the answer...

Conflict in fiction is often man-against-nature. In this novel it is man-against-nature, man-against-man, and man-against-himself. The time as prisoners and the time of escape is intense and well-written. There are the personal betrayals of the self - the things we do when we are desperate and alone - and there are the triumphs of spirit that happen when we are more than we think we can be. The betrayal of society - of the larger world who is either indifferent or too frightened to do anything - is horrific, and what urged me to read this book to begin with.

Conclusion: Since this is terrorism and war, this isn't a "fun" novel, but it is a true novel - and as Jane Yolen says, "telling the true" is one of the most important gifts writers, thinkers, and speakers have to give. This is an unflinching and brave look at the inhumanity of the war without end that plagues some of the developing nations of our world, which forces us to examine the inhumanity of people to each other, and look inside of ourselves and wonder, could we do better?

The author, Sharon E. McCay, is Canadian and Irish, and grew up between Montreal and Belfast. She knows what it is to make a life filled with joy and family, in the midst of troubles. She went to Gulu, Uganda, and interviewed child soldiers to write a graphic version of this novel, with art by Daniel Lafrance, and later turned it into the novel form I read.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of Annick Press. In graphic or novel form (cover shown is the graphic novel), can find WAR BROTHERS by Sharon E. McKay at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tanita and I wish you all a wonderful holiday weekend full of book binges and marathon reading sessions. (I'm hoping to fit in a few myself!)
I found this nifty Book Turkey here.
Just a moment of gratitude, here--I could not be more grateful for all the books I have loved in my life, books which have provided knowledge, escape, imagination, ideas, comfort, recipes, household help, seat boosters, and ad hoc beverage coasters. Cheers!

November 25, 2014


Fans of Patricia McKillip, Juliet Marillier, Brenna Yovanoff, of Holly Black's plot twists, and of a good hedgehog tale will really enjoy the newest from T. Kingfisher, just in time to read whilst you're waiting for your root veg to roast before being mashed. Originally to be a "children's" novel and published as adult, this short novel gallops into YA and on past into CREEPY (think Robin McKinley's DEERSKIN) adultish fiction. For those of you looking for specifics, yes, I still would hand it to an older teen and say, "Enjoy" if that teen were worldly-wise and in need of a novel where, like in a Tiffany Aching novel, a little bit of cold iron (in skillet form) and pragmatism kicks evil's simpering butt. There is dark, dark, awful darkness and twistiness, but I think most older young adults would be fine.

T. Kingfisher's literary underpinnings shine through in a novel which explores the power differential between classes and genders, finding our voices, and holding our ground against the collective weight of society. Through the medium of a heroine's journey, by which she walks the history of the brides before her, our main character moves from childhood to an adulthood we can only envy. Also, did I mention there are hedgehogs? And slugs. These create a winning combination.

Though many prefer the simplicity of the Beauty and the Beast tale for its romantic overtones and ostensible Happily Ever After premise, I have a disturbing predilection for Bluebeard tales. THE SEVENTH BRIDE is loosely based on the 1590 Bluebeard version mentioned in The Faerie Queen, by Edmund Spenser , the one called "Mr. Fox". This is an English version, and it is from where the ominously echoed words, "Be Bold, be bold, but not too bold," come. In this version of the Bluebeard tale, we're never given an indication of who says these warnings; in Kingfisher's tale, we have an idea - a disturbing one, but it could be true. And, as in every Bluebeard tale, Mr. Fox is FULL of the disturbing - and as always, ignorance is the blanket the community weaves around themselves. Words like "all will be well" are an insubstantial and meaningless comfort. It won't be well, anyone with an ounce of brain can see that. When all is said and done, everyone knows there are indeed things worse than death... there's marriage to the baron's son.

Summary: Rhea is just the miller's daughter - she knows flour. She knows mills. She can, in a pinch, wash the dishes and tidy the house. She is NOT in the know about Lords, Ladies, Court, the King, Earl, Barons, or how to behave in Society. Unfortunately, due to a random Baron's son who just happened to wander past the mill... she's about to find out. Rhea's ...engaged. Not through any choice of hers - and it's definitely weird that a baron she's never met or clapped eyes on suddenly wants her. Also, a man that wealthy asking her father for her hand... means that the family's really not got any choices but to give that hand... and that life... and that girl...away. Rhea is in trouble.

What begins as merely disturbing quickly veers toward terrifying. The baron's house lies on a road nobody's ever seen, the house itself - with bony ravens over the gate and a sound-muffling white dust road - is beyond creeptastic. Inside, the floor drops away, periodically, the help is ...disturbingly silent, and no one living at the grand old mansion can tell her anything, really, about the groom to be. When the Baron's son returns, he keeps giving Rhea these little tasks to do, tasks that are graded on a fail/pass kind of thing, and failure means Married Right Now. Rhea's going to do her darnedest to pass, and keep passing -- and pass on the whole marriage thing, too, while she's at it.

Because, real marriage is giving your OWN hand - and respect means letting someone exercise their freedom of choice, under their own power. And, no matter that there are no good choices before her - Rhea's got a hedgehog, which means Rhea will just create some.

Peaks: Kingfisher's narrative style is very like Terry Pratchett's, when he's narrating Tiffany Aching or Susan Sto Helit - this sort of narrative which just shows you the world along the way and keeps murmuring in disquieting tones, "Hmmmm... Okay, now that's weird..." but never sounds too loud of an alarm, until -- well, there's no reason to sound an alarm, because WAH, OKAY, THIS IS BAD, WHAT THE HECK WILL WE DO. I love books like that, where the narrative voice is present, in an unobtrusive manner, and then kind of whisper shouts, This is dire. And then leaves the protagonist to Getting On With Things. (Usually with a cast iron skillet, in a Pratchett novel; here, it's with a hedgehog, because they are seriously Getting On With It kinds of animals. Or, so I've heard.)

The cover is illustrated by the author - and shows a classically elegant simplicity. The pacing is wonderful and you'll just want to sit down and swallow this whole. The fact that the Kingfisher person, in her other writing life, is producing a young adult fairytale collection just makes me really pleased.

Valleys: I found nothing which detracted from the story - nothing. While I could point out that the novel sits in the mold of the Eurocentric fairytale, what with barons and kings and all, it... doesn't. a.) It's based on an English tale, so There Will Be Englishmen, and b.) Far from having the blindingly blonde princess type, there's only sensible, pragmatic Rhea, and c.) this isn't a tale wherein personal appearance makes any difference to anyone. I can't say what Rhea looks like, except that she's not a ginormous prehistoric bird-goddess. We do know, however, that the baron looks like Evil's Eldest Son, and that's really good enough to know we should NOT cheer for him marrying anybody, HEA promised or no.

Conclusion: In the style of that one Ursula Vernon chick who managed to win a Hugo and a Mythopoeic Award, and an whole host of others, T. Kingfisher's hardworking, prosaic and straightforward heroine saves herself - her trustworthy friends - a few future slugs, and the day. This is a hot-chocolate-mucky-afternoon type of novel which will leave you dreaming of fantastic worlds where clocks are portals to another world, all the woodlands connect, and hedgehogs are true and loyal companions. Here's to more fairytales from T. Kingfisher.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of buying it myself. Unfortunately, this is only an ebook just now, but you can find THE SEVENTH BRIDE by T. Kingfisher on B&N, Amazon, iBooks, Smashwords, Kobo, or on the author's site.

November 20, 2014

Thursday Review: MORTAL HEART by Robin LaFevers

Summary: Mortal Heart is the final book (SAD FACE) in Robin LaFevers' His Fair Assassin trilogy (Book 1 reviewed here; Book 2 reviewed here). The books take place in medieval Brittany and France, a setting which the author has obviously researched well in order to write these stories in such vivid detail. (I'm always impressed by that.) They combine some of my favorite genres and themes: historical fantasy, adventure, political intrigue, strong female heroines—and throw in a bit of romance to boot. And, assassin nuns! Who serve the death god, St. Mortain! Oh, and don't forget the Website of Gorgeousness if you want to learn more about the series.

I don't want to give away too many spoilers if you haven't read the first two books. (I seem to be saying that a lot lately—lots of trilogies and series I'm finishing up, I guess.) But here's a quick run-down. In the first two books, we followed the stories of two of Mortain's handmaidens, Ismae and Sybella. Book 3 is the story of their friend Annith, the one who got left behind. As Ismae and Sybella get dispatched on their first missions as assassins for Mortain, Annith waits for her first assignment back at the convent…and waits…and waits, only to find that the nuns have another future in store for her, and NOT one that involves getting to do fun assassin things.

Being one of their star pupils, Annith is enraged by this, and begins to question the logic behind the abbess's decision. Is something else going on? The only way to find out is to take her fate into her own hands, a choice that brings Annith adventure, unexpected love and friendship, and throws her right into the heart of the conflict between Brittany and France.

Peaks: As mentioned above, these books have All The Things that I happen to like. One of my faves is the underlying idea that the strong female heroines are exacting revenge for the horrors the world has wreaked upon them. In Annith's case, she was abandoned as a child and brought to the abbey of St. Mortain. Her story, like the others', is fleshed out well and the fact that we are acquainted with her from the first two books means we're fully behind her before the book even begins. This makes it even more egregious when she begins to feel betrayed by those who raised her and cared for her.

I particularly enjoyed the romance in this book, too. Without giving too much away, it includes everything I like about paranormal romance and deletes all the stuff I hate that tends to go along with that genre, like boring heroines and saccharine, codependent relationships.

Something else that impressed me: how well these books stand alone. While the events of the larger story arc do roughly take place in a specific order from Book 1 to Book 3, reading them out of order would not be a huge problem, and the time that passed between each book's release ended up not mattering so much. They're very well crafted in that way, and I felt like there was enough information about the meta-plot to remind me what had already happened in the first two books, without deluging me with unnecessary detail.

Valleys: I remember reading the first book and noticing a few things that felt anachronistic—not enough to really bother me, but a few teeny things jumped out at me, mostly just the occasional language choice. I didn't notice that in this book. I was fully absorbed in Annith's story from beginning to end. Now I'm just sad they're over, and feel like I want to read them all again…OH I CAN BECAUSE I OWN THEM ALL!

Conclusion: I love these books—they are so much fun and I want to live there. Well, maybe not quite. But if you enjoyed books like Graceling, or anything by Tamora Pierce—stories about powerful and independent heroines who stride through the world kicking ass—you won't want to miss these.

I bought my copy of this book as soon as it was humanly possible. You can find Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

November 17, 2014

Books I'm Excited About Today

I'm still not quite back on a normal blogging schedule--I don't quite have the brain space for a review today (though the book currently on deck is an exciting one: Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers!). But I did want to share a few books which arrived on my desk that I really cannot wait to read. First up, yesterday a friend loaned me a copy of the recently-released graphic novelization of the new Ms. Marvel--if you haven't heard about her yet, she's a 16-year-old Muslim Pakistani-American from New Jersey named Kamala Khan. I was definitely excited about the idea, but I didn't realize how amazed and...moved I'd feel just holding it in my hands. What if there had been Pakistani-American superhero girls when I was growing up? How might I feel differently about my own identity? Possibly it wouldn't have changed anything, but those questions zoomed across my mind as I flipped through it.

Another one I just got in the mail is the ARC for Nova Ren Suma's upcoming book The Walls Around Us, due out in 2015. It sounds suspenseful and creepy and all-around awesome, with ghosts and a whodunit and multiple viewpoints. Also just found out that the author is teaching a Workshop/Residency on YA novel writing here in the area at Djerassi artist colony in the Santa Cruz Mountains. That's next summer, with an end-of-Feb deadline...something to consider...

Lastly, I bought a book that's supposed to be my reward when the semester is over and my teaching-related work is on a winter hiatus: the final book in the Bloody Jack series by L.A. Meyer. You know I loves me some Bloody Jack stories and I will be both happy and sad to read this one. On the other hand, I have a lot of respect for authors who are able to bring their characters through a long-long-term story arc like this one, having them grow and change and remain interesting throughout. And, in this case, the author keeps me laughing at Jacky's outrageous doings, managing to ride the line between preposterous and believable, and create a fully fleshed-out historical setting that happens to contain quite a few incorrigible rogues. Viva Jacquelina, indeed. (Viva Jacquelina being the title of the penultimate Bloody Jack book, which I believe I've lagged on reviewing...sigh.)

November 14, 2014


I received this book courtesy of Full Fathom Five Digital and while normally I prefer digital books which have paper counterparts, I made an exception this time, for Reasons. FFF Digital is an imprint of Full Fathom Five, the content creation company founded in 2010 by best-selling author James Frey, so this should tell you something about the authors they work with - they're no slouches in the make-the-most-of-interesting-stuff department. I picked up this novel because a.) the name Euphemia, b.) EUPHEMIA!? and c.) "Spy Girl" in a title is a great hook.

Also, Euphemia. If that's your name, what other options present themselves in your life, outside of occupying a 19th century English white parasol movie, but to be a spy?

Cassandra Neyenesch lived in China and Taiwan and learned Mandarin, and did some really odd jobs... all of which were possibly preparation for writing a spy novel.


"Then there's the guy with the Rottweilers two doors down. The dogs always run to the end of their chains when you walk by, and they bark like they want to rip out your thorax and use it for a chew toy. Their owner is this huge muscly guy who always waves like Hey, I'm super friendly but he doesn't do anything to make his dogs less scary - at least he could shorten their chains. I started bribing them with Jiu Jiu's offal, sneaking it out of the house in a napkin. Pretty soon they were as tame as bunny rabbits - I call them Tweedledum and Tweedledee - and they let me look in the windows of the house. Now I know why the big guy has them: so no one can sneak up on him while he's in the middle of watching a Beyoncé video and copying her moves. Though the sight of an Arnold Schwarzenegger look-alike skipping around in a unitard and belting out the lyrics to "Single Ladies" is much better entertainment than anything on TV."

- Euphemia Fan: Spy Girl, by Cassandra Neyenesch

At times the voice is engaging, confiding, and amusing. There are loads of detail, ranging from the first impressions appearance of things to revelations and explanations to imaginative assumptions about the people the protagonist meets. From the first page, you dive head first into action, and, while you're not sure where you'll land, you're immediately entertained.

Now that her sister, Lillian, has gone off toe college in New York, Euphemia Fan is the only Chinese-American girl in back-of-beyond, Brackybogue, Long Island. It's a tiny, touristy town that looks like Main Street American, and the fact that she's just seen her elderly uncle commit MURDER while she was being nosy and trying to follow a guy she thought was following HER... is kind of a problem. For a number of reasons.

It seems like all she has to do is pull on one thread, and suddenly the whole cozy and safe blanket of warmth that made up her family and her history and her world unravels in big, messy threads. Tyler, the guy who's been following her, has information and warnings about her father that Pheemi doesn't want to hear -- nor does she really want to know how he got his information! Her suddenly distant and snobby sister, Lillian, doesn't believe her until it's almost too late, and by then, the bullets are flying, and all they can do is cling to one another as their lives implode. The only way out is to keep one step ahead of danger. Are Euphemia Fan, her co-spy Tyler, and her sister Lillian together smarter than a criminal? Well - they'll have to think fast to find out.

Peaks:It's clear that the author has been intimately involved in Asian communities and has experienced being an outsider looking in. The scenes of Pheemi landing in a busy, crowded Asian neighborhood in Flushing where she rarely or doesn't understands the roar of languages she hears and is just barely holding her own with people crowding her - priceless. There's so much to enjoy in this headlong rush through a week in the character's life - an incredibly busy, dangerous, intense week -- and the breathless action keeps readers plowing forward. I find this book to be a great homage to Harriet the Spy who also looked in windows and skulked around. Pheemia uses what she knows of her neighbors from her window-peeping to great advantage and for awhile, her observation of the character and temperament of the neighbors help keep trouble at bay.

While the plot ties up neatly, to my mind, there's room for another Euphemia adventure - it's certainly the colorful, cinematic type of thing which older middle graders and younger YA readers will enjoy.

Valleys: A diverting book with quick-paced narrative, it periodically suffers from an excess of plot instead of characterization. The characters are hard to "see" for me. Additionally, while I am glad to read a novel with an Asian protagonist, it was odd to read about Euphemia's description of her Chinese-American sister as having "tilted" eyes described as "black" - that felt like an oddly self-conscious and "othering" moment - especially since eyes aren't black. The moment and the description felt false from the point of view of a narrative of another Asian character.

It seemed odd to me that Euphemia didn't seem to have feelings about her name, no one wondered really why she had it - why her Chinese-American parents chose it -- and except for a comment by a neighbor, it's left unexplored. Since it's such an unusual name, that seems odd; I expected everyone she met to have a comment or a pause, but...nada. There is also a bit of telling what Pheemi is feeling and thinking instead of showing and allowing readers to experience her inner mind with her. Additionally, there are a few odd word choices (with disappearances and goons around, a fifteen year old describes herself as being "in a pickle?") that make Euphemia sound a little non-modern for a teen, but those are fairly minor.

There is a romance in the novel; this is not a spoiler, as the jacket describes Tyler as "swoon-worthy." It's ...definitely something the reader is told, not shown or felt; frankly there's so much going on in the breakneck pace of the action that there's not actually really time to fall in anything more than crush. The budding romance between Euphemia and Tyler has a soupçon of predictable inevitability in its execution - I was pretty gobamacked at some of the declarations in the end. A crush made sense, but something lasting longer than the danger I didn't at all expect - and left me with some pesky questions about Tyler I wouldn't have otherwise had.

Conclusion: A slightly uneven book but fun; a quick and entertaining read for a dull autumn afternoon.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. After November 19th, you can find EUPEHMIA FAN: SPY GIRL by This Author at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

November 13, 2014

Read All Day? Sign Me Up!

I just heard word in my inbox of a new upcoming event for all of us voracious readers. In case MotherReader's 48-Hour Book Challenge isn't enough for you--or if, like me, it's sometimes too much--maybe this will suit: Penguin Random House, the National Book Foundation, GoodReads, and Mashable are teaming up for National Readathon Day, a brand-new collaboration.

The date in question is Saturday, January 24th, 2015, from Noon-4pm. Kind of like a walkathon, participants in the Readathon sign up for their own fundraising page on FirstGiving, and the money donated helps the National Book Foundation promote reading and literacy in America.

I may be terrible at setting aside a weekend to read (much as I'd like to), but even *I* can surely manage four hours for a good cause. If I can do it, so can you! You can even organize a fundraising team or a "reading party" (sounds like my kind of party). I'm kind of wishing we could do something as a Kidlitosphere group, but I'm not sure how...

November 11, 2014


When I first saw that Beth Revis had self-published a new novel, I wondered why. After all, her ACROSS THE UNIVERSE series was three successful books long, published in twenty languages; she had contacts and contracts and didn't really need to do the work of putting things out there by herself, did she? Interestingly, the book is a thank you - full of characters readers loved and couldn't let go. With a striking cover, it's set to fill that last little corner fans of the ACROSS THE UNIVERSE series didn't know needed to be filled. It's backstory, and kind of a prequel.

A standalone, the novel shows what was on the Earth that the space-faring families had left behind in ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, and it also has its own definite plot. It reminded me a great deal of the Will Smith movie based on the Asimov novel I, Robot, (but not the novel; the film really had very little to do with it at all), with a lot of action, a lot of confusion, and a LOT of androids and scientists. Nefarious doings, bees, frightened teens, and rampaging nanobots - a bit of romance, a bit of betrayal - just another day in SFland.

I felt this novel lacked in the characterization typical of a Revis novel; the author, however, did some things deliberately which you'll have to read to discover. I did feel like the ending summed up everything a little too sweetly; all the screaming of "what do we do, WHAT DO WE DO!?" and threatening to do something drastic, ala Jack Bauer from 24 was suddenly unkinked - all was revealed, all understood, no one else died, they prepared to sail into the future... a little tidy for me, but fans will really love having more of this universe.

Summary: Ella Shepard's brilliant scientist mother is all she has left. Her father was killed by terrorists - the price of the peace the country now enjoys. The United Countries, rather than the United States are part of the new world, and the seat of the government is in New Venice on Malta - where the most important of peace accords have begun in modern times. Ella is happy - or would be, if only her mother wasn't dying. The nanobots which her father's research created to stem the tide of her disease are no longer working... her brain and her body are shutting down. Before long, Ella will be alone, except for her mother's best friend and partner in the Reverie Spa, a place where through dreams, wealthy patrons relive their best memories. Her mother is in pain and dying - Ella wants to give her just one more good memory of her father. She does something she's not sure anyone can do -- it's based on a theory... and it messes up her brain completely. Suddenly, she's hallucinating her father, hearing bees, and catching the attention of the government. She's working for United Countries now, and she may have found the terrorists who killed her father. Or, maybe they're not terrorists at all.

Ella's not sure what her brain is telling her. She's not sure she can believe what her eyes - what her brain - tells her is true. Why does she keep hallucinating her father telling her to wake up? From what?

Peaks: The author's worldbuilding and engaging style are seen here, propelling the story along at a good clip. Though there are ... loops, where the narrative seems to repeat itself, the reader is still drawn forward, in the hopes that something more will be revealed. It's almost a mystery, what's going on, and the tale-withing-a-tale construction is well executed.

Valleys: I had some light quibbles - very light - with characterization in the novel, but most of my difficulties were with the science. I know that SF deals in pseudoscience based on the real. I think this novel lacked a clear enough explanation of the science for me to enjoy it as much as I could have. The body operates on electricity, indeed, and there's a lot of interesting applications of that within the brain that Revis ran with, and I was fine with that for the most part. The ideas in the novel of androids and sentience seem to have been pretty well covered in Star Trek, and in the I, Robot film, however the description and explanations of it all felt so fuzzy it seemed like all we were missing with Mary Shelley and some lightning. A small quibble, but there you go.

Also, one of the pivotal moments of the novel didn't work for me. As to not provide spoilers, I'll simply say that staring into the eyes of an android in hopes that you can see its soul doesn't seem to me to be a reliable way to ascertain if it has one... but, that's just me.

Conclusion: Fast-paced, with a smart girl who punches a boy for presumption (YEE HAW, that was a good moment) and a complex and slightly dizzying plot, this is a novel which will appeal so much to Revis fans. I found it diverting, though it's not my favorite book she's ever written.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley. You can find THE BODY ELECTRIC by BETH REVIS at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore - Malaprops Bookstore & Cafe in NC!

November 10, 2014

MONDAY REVIEW: REBELLION (Tankborn Book 3) by Karen Sandler

Summary: In the interests of full disclosure (and a little bit of self-satisfied squee-ing), I met Karen Sandler in person at this year's KidLitCon in October, and was able to get my copy signed and chat with the author. How awesome is that? Anyway, I was fairly new to the Tankborn books, in that I didn't get to that part of my TBR pile until earlier this year, but I'd been looking forward to reading them ever since checking out Tanita's review of the first book, Tankborn. Once I started it, I was hooked, and quickly binged on both the first book and the second, Awakening. Because this is the third and final (I think) volume of Kayla and Devak's story, I'm going to keep it brief and as spoiler-free as possible. Still, if you haven't read the first two, I'd still perhaps avoid the remainder of this review, just in case...

Okay, for those of you who aren't living in fear of spoilers (for whatever reason--I have a friend who really just does not care about spoilers and will regularly read online synopses of TV shows before watching them, which to me is just bizarre)--

By this third volume, both Kayla and Devak are deeply embroiled in the growing social revolution on their planet. They've learned a lot about themselves and each other, and about the origins of their class-based society of genetically engineered non-humans (or GENs) and the various castes of trueborns. But although their own personal sense of empowerment grows, the danger grows with it: Kayla has now been brought to the headquarters of the mysterious F.H.E. movement, only to find that her movements and activities are just as restricted here in the heart of the alleged social rebellion. Why? And will finding out put her in even more danger?

Meanwhile, Devak doesn't even know Kayla is still alive. The last time he saw her, she was engulfed by an explosion set by FHE, her body carried away by mysterious strangers. As he heals, and comes to terms with the ever-diminishing social status of his own family, he tries to find out what happened on the day of the explosion. With the help of his friend Junjie, he starts tracking down some information...and what he finds shocks him: Kayla might still be alive somewhere. But where? And even if they do find each other, what will happen to their society, their world, if everything they ever knew is torn down?

Peaks: Like the other two books, this one caught me up right away in the action, intrigue, and danger for both Kayla and Devak. The stakes for the trilogy have reached their grand climax in this volume, not just on the level of each character's personal struggles, but also with respect to the social and political forces that have been roiling ever since the first book. I won't give away too much, but the author ties everything together in a satisfying way while still throwing in some extremely fun and rewarding surprises for the reader.

Valleys: I can't say there were any major valleys for me. I always find this part awkward when discussing the work of someone I know or have met, but truly, even the sparse minor quibbles I noted in the first book have dwindled over the course of the trilogy, as the writing seems to have gotten even tighter from book to book. I think fans of the Tankborn books will be really pleased by how everything concludes.

Conclusion: I'm so glad I read these, and feel privileged to have met the author and gotten to hear her speak on the #WeNeedDiverseBooks panel. Here's a writer who practices--in writing and in life--what she preaches in terms of getting more books out there with diverse characters in ALL genres. As a fan of Spec Fic, I couldn't be happier to see books like these which tackle the topic of what really makes us HUMAN, an indefinable something that is much, much more than skin deep.

I purchased my copy of this book at KidLitCon. You can find Rebellion by Karen Sandler at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

November 06, 2014

Toon Thursday: Oldie but Goodie

Featuring everyone's favorite place to write, "Le Cafe Snooty." I'm pretty sure it's reappeared in several of my cartoons by now. Any resemblance to actual places is definitely coincidental.

November 05, 2014

TURNING PAGES: THE IRON TRIAL by Cassandra Clare & Holly Black

I take book recommendations from friends seriously, and when Charlotte said that THE IRON TRIAL was a fun book, I went ahead and snagged it when I saw it at the library. Charlotte - diffident reviewer that she tends to be - tends toward understatement and said this was one she'd consider rereading, which is her highest compliment. I say that this series has the potential to be the American Harry Potter. Which is kind of hilarious, seeing as for ages that's all publishers were looking for... and then they gave up, and started looking for the next Hunger Games (Well, hello, Divergent. Yes, we see you waving there). If you enjoy school stories, and enjoyed the friendships and scholastic bits of the Potter books, you'll enjoy this. It's not quite the same - you won't immediately be sympathetic to the protagonist, and you'll probably find the school work as literally dull as dirt - seriously dull, and painfully boring - but I think this is one of the better twists on the idea of a magical school I've read in a bit.

Summary: Callum Hunt is fairly screwed already. His Mom died when he was an infant. His Dad is this über-serious dude who hardly ever smiles. He has this leg... thing which can't be fixed surgically, which causes him to limp and shuffle. He has lots of rowdy dark hair that's always in his eyes. And he's prickly - with a chip on his shoulder and has Attitude with a capital 'a.' Since he's always in trouble anyway, he figures it shouldn't take much to get himself kicked out of this stupid magic test his father doesn't want him to pass. Sadly, that's where Callum is wrong -- no matter what he's been told about what the testers are looking for, he passes... no spoiler there. Callum fails - at failing. And once he's past the Iron Trial, he realizes he's in a much deeper mess than he could possibly have believed. It's a good thing that there are true - if not sometimes grudging - friendships to support him, unexpected discoveries and adorable puppies along the way. Otherwise, things could get a little grim...

The cover is a little misleading, as the uniforms are described in the book as more contemporary than what the characters seem to be wearing -- and I think the faces of the characters, especially the South Asian girl's, could be more distinct, but it's definitely intriguing with the "big bad" there in the background.

Peaks: DISTURBING last words. Cranky protagonists who you don't have to like to understand. A differently-abled character who the plot lets just get on with things. Overbearing helicopter magical parents. Myriad stupid mistakes which remain unremedied. Realism, in terms of the privilege and prejudices people hold and wield. It's a big deal to have a character with a physical difference which can't be magically whisked away. No wands. No aveda fixmylega. Nada. There's just This Is How It Is, and going onward. A school story which focuses on the work part of classes. Work = painful and boring: something some authors forget, in terms of magic. A well-realized world where you pop in and forget all about the real one - which is the most you can ask from a book of fantasy.

Valleys: I honestly enjoyed myself all the way through. I'm sure this book is not perfect, but there was nothing which threw me out of the story that I can remember. Some readers will be frustrated that an entire novel was really used for setting and worldbuilding and characterization, but I get the feeling that this is going to be a series which needs us to really know the students well and the world into which Callum finds himself thrown -- so I'm fine with the measured pacing that is used.

Conclusion: This novel has myriad elements that remind me of Caroline Stevener's A COLLEGE OF MAGICS, Trudi Canavan's THE MAGICIAN'S GUILD and especially with the painful tedium, Maria Snyder's MAGIC STUDY books. Oh, and JK Rowling's HARRY POTTER. There are a lot of people who have a lot to say about how Potter-y this book is - I don't think it's a comparison that the book will escape. There's magic going on... in a school. Obviously, that's what happened to Harry Potter. However, before you leap into saying that this is just like Harry Potter, you're really going to need to read the book (is there a point in addressing this to the hundreds of people on Goodreads? No? Okay, then). Then you'll see that though this a familiar trope of Motherless Boy Has Great Power and a familiar pattern of Two Boys and a Girl Having Adventures, that's largely where the similarities end. There's nothing wrong with a book which gives a nod to a groundbreaking and important work of children's lit -- how many fairytale retellings have you read lately? Harry Potter is simply a contemporary fairytale, and if we still see books which echo reminiscently of that tale, I think we can say that's okay. Further, these are two successful and prolific writers in their own right who don't need to hitch their wagons to the Rowling star to achieve familiarity with plot and characterization -- I daresay we can look at THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES, not to mention Black's other books and the MORTAL ENGINES series and conclude that either authors can do all right on her own.

I'm probably preaching to the choir, but I'm a little astounded at the energy people put into being so very negative about this book. I found it solidly readable for MG audiences from ten all the way through to younger YA readers. I look forward to MORE diversity and creativity in its following sequels. And, also to what part the wolf puppy is going to play... and it's going to do SOMETHING interesting...

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the public library. You can find THE IRON TRIAL by Holly Black & Cassandra Clare at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!