Monday, March 21, 2016

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

Pax by Sara Pennypacker -- When Peter's father goes off to war, Peter must go live with his grandfather, and Pax, Peter's pet fox, must be returned to the wild. Peter immediately regrets this course of action, and determines to run away and find Pax. Pax is also determined to return to his boy. But the journey will not be easy for either of them...

I knew this story was going to make me cry, and it did. The writing is strong and the characters are well-developed, the pacing is good . . . this has all of the elements of an award-winning book and an instant classic. If you can handle the emotions inherent in this sort of animal story, this is a must-read.

(Reviewed from a finished copy, courtesy of the publisher.)

Sunday, March 20, 2016

All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill -- Em used to be sweet and naive, and maybe a little self-centered. Her biggest worry was how to make her best friend James see her as more than a friend. That was then -- now, she's trying to save the world.

This is a fast-paced YA dystopia with a time travel element. I was impressed at the plotting and the pacing. The time travel wasn't exhaustively explained, but we get enough information to buy in to it, and the plot moves along quickly and keeps the reader engaged. I also liked the characters, and thought the author did a good job of showing the development from their past selves to their future selves. I have some problems with the ending, but I won't get into that here and spoil it for you (though, if you've read it, I'd love to discuss). Bottom line: if this type of story appeals to you at all, you should read this book.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Marvels by Brian Selznick

The Marvels is another tour de force by Brian Selznick, who has pioneered this particular format of illustrated novel. In the first half of the book, through illustrations, we follow the story of a theatrical family in London. The second half of the book, in text, is the story of a troubled young boy in the 1990s who runs away from school and ends up with his curmudgeonly uncle, who lives in a most extraordinary house. The two stories come together in magical and surprising ways.

I enjoyed this book more than Wonderstruck but not as much as Hugo Cabret. I've seen the three books referred to as a series, or companion novels, but they are really tied together only by format, as there is no overlap in characters or plot that I can see. I found the story intriguing, and now I have another place on the list of attractions to visit next time I go to London!

(Reviewed from an advance copy, courtesy of the publisher.)

Friday, March 18, 2016

Playing Juliet by Joanne Wetzel

Playing Juliet by JoAnne Stewart Wetzel -- For as long as she's been involved with the Oakfield Children's Theatre, Beth has dreamed of someday playing the role of Juliet. She knows she's not ready yet, but with a few more years of experience, she thinks she might have a chance. But she may not get a few more years of experience, because it's rumored that the theatre will have to close. Can Beth and her friends find a way to save the theatre -- or will her dream role remain only a dream?

This was a fun light read in a setting that I, as a theatre nerd, appreciated. I felt that Beth's Shakespeare knowledge was a bit beyond her years (it's a rare 12-year-old indeed who can grasp the complexities of Shakespeare's language without help), but that didn't take me out of the story. Young readers who enjoy books with a theatrical setting will eat this one up.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

See How They Run by Ally Carter

See How They Run by Ally Carter is the second book in the Embassy Row series. I wasn't too impressed with the first one, so I'm not sure why I picked this one up. The lure of a free galley, I suppose, and then the need for a fast-paced, light read. It was a mistake, though: the main character's histrionics wore on my nerves. So, learn a lesson from my experience, and pass this one up if the first book didn't do anything for you. On the other hand, fans of the first book will probably enjoy this one, too.

(Reviewed from an advance copy, courtesy of the publisher.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox -- An evil enchantress is stealing the souls of children, and logical Kat and her siblings must figure out how to stop her. This is a lovely, creepy tale set during WWII. I really enjoyed it (though, in my current reading slump, it took me much longer to finish it than usual). Recommended to readers who like historical fiction with some fantastical and gothic elements.

(Reviewed from an advance copy, courtesy of the publisher.)

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly

The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly -- Soledad and her little sister Dominga moved to America with their father and stepmother, but their father went back to the Philippines for a visit and never returned. Now Sol and Ming live in a small apartment with their abusive stepmother. Ming hopes for rescue by Aunt Jovelyn, an imaginary relative that their mother used to tell them stories about, but Sol knows that the two of them will have to save themselves. Can she find a way to make Ming's summer magical?

This story has some lovely elements, like the relationship between the sisters, but it never completely came together for me. There were jumps in the plot that had me going back to see if I missed something, and threads were left dangling that I wanted to see tied up. It's a promising novel, and readers looking for stories with diverse protagonists should keep it in mind, but I wouldn't recommend it across the board.

(Reviewed from an advance copy, courtesy of the publisher.)

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Seven Dead Pirates by Linda Bailey

Seven Dead Pirates by Linda Bailey -- Timid sixth-grader Lewis is sad when his great-grandfather dies, but excited when the terms of the old man's will require Lewis and his parents to occupy Shornaway, Great-Grandfather's old house, in order to inherit it. Lewis claims the tower bedroom, pleased to be sleeping some distance away from his controlling (but loving) parents. Lewis is less pleased to discover that the tower room is haunted by seven pirates! The motley crew is hoping that Lewis can help them get back to their ship, now on display in the local museum -- but Lewis is not sure he's the bold and capable lad they're looking for. In fact, he's pretty sure he's the opposite of bold and capable!

What a fun read! I just enjoyed this book all the way through. The pirates are a delight, and Lewis is believable (though he seems a bit young for his age). I'll certainly recommend this to young readers looking for a swashbuckling tale.

(Reviewed from a finished copy, courtesy of the publisher, via the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program.)

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell -- To the wealthy elite of St. Petersburg, wolves are good luck. To General Rakov, commander of the Tsar's armies, wolves are vermin. To Feo and her mother, however, wolves are family. And when the wolves of the wealthy turn on their owners, those wolves are sent to Feo and her mother, who return them to the wild. When General Rakov imprisons Feo's mother, Feo determines to break her mother out of prison. She and her wolves make their way to the city, but along the way, they pick up Ilya, a former child soldier who dreams of being a dancer, Alexei, a teenage revolutionary, and a band of children, all of whom have seen first-hand the devastation wrought by Rakov. Feo's rescue attempt is starting to look more like a revolution!

This is a lovely and atmospheric tale. The writing style will be immediately recognizable to readers who have enjoyed Rundell's other works. I had a little trouble staying engaged in the story, but I think I was just not in the mood; I don't think the book was at fault. The characters and setting are exceptionally strong, and the emotions run deep in this book. Readers who love Russia, wolves, or good writing should pick this one up.

(Reviewed from an advance copy, courtesy of the publisher.)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Silver in the Blood by Jessica Day George

Silver in the Blood by Jessica Day George -- Cousins Dacia and Louisa are both excited and nervous about visiting Romania and meeting their mothers' family. There seems to be some sort of family secret, and nobody will explain it to them. When they learn the truth, it will be more shocking than they could have guessed.

This book has a lot of excellent elements, though it falls short of distinction in a few ways. I liked the two main characters, though they were hard to tell apart, at least at the beginning. I also found the love interests... interesting. I wanted to see more development of those stories, because they really took a backseat to the main action of the story. This was probably as it should be, but I think a little more attention could have been paid to that aspect of the book, because it felt a bit rushed. The pacing lagged in places, though I don't know if I would have noticed that if I had not been listening to the audiobook. I also felt that the villains were flat, entirely evil and without nuance. All that said, I did enjoy the book. Many of the secondary characters are well-written and the setting is fairly good. Mostly, I wanted a little bit more from this book, but I liked the things it did accomplish. I'd recommend it to readers who enjoy books like Juliet Marillier's Wildwood Dancing.

(Reviewed from an audiobook received courtesy of the publisher through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.)