Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Archenemies by Marissa Meyer

Nova remains undercover with the Renegades, while Adrian has his own secret identity as the Sentinel. If either secret is discovered, it will mean disaster. But the two find themselves drawing closer, despite the secrets that they can't share. Meanwhile, the Renegades develop a new weapon, and Nova struggles to find something to help the Anarchists achieve their goals.

I don't know, I just feel like this book has a bad case of Middle Novel Syndrome. It has some action, but none of the big plot twists of the first book. I'm also not terribly invested in the love story. I listened to the audiobook, and had a big gap in the middle of listening, and I found I wasn't anxious to get back to the story. Most of what happened seemed to be setup for the final book, which I look forward to reading -- especially since none of the predictions I made in my review of the last book were fulfilled in this one, but I still think they will be in the next one!

(Reviewed from an e-audiobook borrowed through my library system.)

Monday, April 8, 2019

Juana & Lucas: Big Problemas by Juana Medina

For as long as she remembers, Juana's immediate family has consisted of herself, her Mami, and her dog Lucas. But, suddenly, things are changing. Mami is wearing her hair in a different, fussy way that Juana doesn't like, and Mami is also wearing perfume and lipstick more often. Mami also has a new friend, Luis, who likes photography and jazz and occasionally takes Juana and Mami to his country house for a weekend. (Actually, Juana finds that she also likes photography and jazz, and she really likes the country house where she and Lucas can have lots of messy outdoor fun.) But still, she's not sure about Luis. One of her cousins says that her Mami and Luis will probably get married. What will that mean for Juana and Lucas? Will she have to wear a fussy, itchy dress and be a flower girl? (Not if she doesn't want to, Mami promises.) Will Luis move into their apartment -- or are even bigger changes on the way?

This illustrated chapter book, like the first book in the series (Juana and Lucas), is a pleasant story, great for newly independent readers, especially those who know a little (or a lot of) Spanish, as Spanish words are sprinkled, untranslated, throughout the text (definitions are not provided, but most can be inferred from context). Recommended to readers who enjoyed the first book in the series.

(Reviewed from an advance copy, courtesy of the publisher, via the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.)

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Eventown by Corey Ann Haydu

If you could escape grief by giving up your memories, would you? Something terrible happened to Elodee’s family, and now her parents have decided to move to Eventown for a fresh start. Elodee and her twin sister Naomi are initially excited about the things they remember from a visit a few years ago: the amazing ice cream shop, the beautiful views at the end of a hike, the way the air always smelled like roses. But while Naomi is eager to embrace the perfection and blend in to life in Eventown, Elodee misses her creative, imperfect way of doing things. In Eventown, she can use the recipes she was given to cook perfect meals every time, but she’d rather try her own wild flavor combinations, even if they don’t always turn out the way she wants. And she would rather remember the things Eventown wants her to forget, even if the memories sometimes hurt.

I thought the premise here was interesting, but it felt to me like the author belabors the point. For a relatively short book, it dragged at times, and the narration rambled. I got sidetracked by details: a rose bush is described as blooming in March, in a place where Elodee mentions the need for down coats? (In Eventown the roses apparently always bloom, but this rose bush was blooming in their old town.) Elodee’s cooking skills are pretty advanced, but otherwise she and the other kids seem young for their age. Also, considering that one of the main messages of the book is about embracing discomfort and the messiness of life, I thought the ending was a little too neat. All in all, this didn’t entirely work for me, but it’s gotten great reviews and a lot of people love it. If you enjoy juvenile fiction with magical realism, and don’t mind concept trumping plot, you might like this better than I did.

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

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee

Tash is at her sister’s graduation when Unhappy Families, the web series she wrote and directs, goes viral. Suddenly, instead of a few hundred people watching her modern adaptation of Anna Karenina, she has over forty thousand subscribers. Over the course of the summer, Tash will deal with drama onscreen and off, balancing filming schedules and the delicate egos of temperamental actors, family drama, friendship drama, and a tentative text and email relationship with another vlogger — except Tash is asexual, so she’s trying to figure out how that might work when they meet in person.

These characters are so great — realistically flawed and sometimes awful to each other, but you find yourself rooting for them all the same. I loved all of the parts about filming the web series, which rang true to me in terms of actors and techies interacting. I also loved Tash’s warm and (mostly) loving family, and the fact that a certain plot twist regarding them really came as a surprise to me. Plus, it’s set in Lexington, Kentucky, my favorite place, so I got an extra thrill when familiar spots were mentioned.

One small quibble: Ormsbee chose to make Tash’s dad Eastern Orthodox, so Tash mentions that a few times, but I never get the sense that the author knows much about Orthodoxy and how it differs from other branches of Christianity. For instance, Tash talks about hearing a certain Bible verse at an Easter service, but the readings for Pascha (Orthodox Easter) are set, and don’t include that verse. Later, she mentions attending services at “Christ Church Cathedral,” but that’s not a very likely name for an Orthodox cathedral, which would typically be named for a saint or a feast of the church. Lexington has a Greek Orthodox Church, Panagia Pantovasilissa (Holy Mary Queen of All) and an Antiochian Orthodox Church, St. Andrew. I can totally see why the author would want to use a fictional church name rather than a real one (she made up a fictional high school, though mentioned real establishments elsewhere in the book), but she could have chosen a name that fits existing naming conventions. But I’ve already written more about Orthodoxy in this review than the author did in the entire book, so like I said, it’s a very minor issue. All in all, an enjoyable book that I stayed up late to finish, and one I’d recommend if you enjoy realistic YA fiction.

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

Friday, April 5, 2019

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow

Morrigan thought it would be so simple once she was accepted into the Wundrous Society. She would have a place in the world, a purpose, and eight friends who would stick as close as family. She would learn how to use her astonishing abilities. Of course, nothing goes as expected...

This book was just as good as the previous one, with tantalizing hints of future wonders and complexities. I could hardly put it down, and I’m itching to pick up the next one (if only it were published)! For those hesitant to start an unfinished series, let me reassure you that there’s no cliffhanger here — this book’s plot wraps up satisfactorily, though of course there are plenty of hints about future adventures.

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

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Morrigan Crow is cursed. She’s always known it, just as she’s always known that she, like all of the other cursed children born on the last Eventide of the previous Age, will die on the final Eventide of this Age. But, when Eventide arrives, Morrigan is swept away by the charismatic Jupiter North, to be a candidate for entrance into the Wundrous Society. Only nine places are available, so the 500+ candidates must face four trials. There’s one big problem: the fourth trial requires each candidate to display a knack — something good, and interesting, and useful. Morrigan doesn’t have one. Jupiter says he will take care of it, but how can he? And of course, those first three trials won’t exactly be a walk in the park...

I knew I would like this book. Other readers whose opinions I trust recommended it to me. Reviews and summaries and blurbs all appealed to me. I carried it with me on at least two vacations, but never started it. Had it been overhyped? Would it prove a disappointment?

Reader, it did not disappoint. I loved it: the whole mad, creative world of Nevermoor and the Hotel Deucalion in particular, prickly Morrigan and her happy-go-lucky pal Hawthorne, the trials, the plot twists, the hilariously funny lines throw in here and there — oh, just everything! It’s not entirely like Harry Potter, but I would recommend this to readers who enjoy Harry Potter — and I know that’s a dangerous comparison to make. You may have noticed that I don’t make it often.

Also? Jupiter North. He’s infuriating. I think I love him.

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

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

New Kid by Jerry Craft

Jordan's parents are excited to send him to prestigious Riverdale Academy Day School. Jordan, not so much. He'd rather attend an art-focused school, but he promises his parents he'll give RADS his best shot. As it turns out, he's one of a small handful of minority students, which adds a whole extra level of difficulty to being the new kid.

This is a great and timely addition to the realistic graphic novel shelf, and fans of Raina Telgemeier's books are sure to gravitate to it. It has the potential to be a good discussion starter, and will give readers a lot to think about without being heavy-handed. There are plenty of fun, funny moments, and the strong characters have lots of appeal. Recommended.

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

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede -- Tired of life as a princess, with all of its rules and traditions, Cimorene runs away to be a dragon's princess, and finds herself much more suited to that life. While in the caves of the dragon Kazul, Cimorene uncovers a plot by the Society of Wizards, and befriends a witch, a fellow captive princess, and a prince who has been partially turned to stone.

This is an old favorite of mine, one I turn to when I need a light read that I am sure to enjoy. It always does the trick. If you're a fan of humorous, fairy-tale-inspired fantasy, I recommend this book.

Searching for Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede — Mendanbar, King of the Enchanted Forest, has a problem: someone appears to have burned a large chunk of his domain, and he thinks it might have been the dragons. At the advice of a witch, he goes to see Kazul, the King of the Dragons. Kazul is missing, and Mendanbar and Cimorene set out to find her.

This is a delightful quest that expands on the world established in the previous book. Readers get to learn more about the Enchanted Forest and its magic, as well as meeting some of the colorful residents of the surrounding area. New characters Mendanbar and the magician Telemain are just as much fun as returning favorites. Readers who enjoyed the first book should pick this one up as soon as possible.

Calling on Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede — The wizards are up to no good again, and this time it starts with a seven-foot-tall rabbit named Killer who ran afoul of the residual effects of a spell. The wizards have stolen Mendanbar’s sword, and Cimorene, Morwen, Kazul, and Telemain set out on a quest to recover it — along with a couple of Morwen’s cats and Killer, who seems to have an absolute genius for getting into magical mishaps.

There’s so much to love here. The interactions between characters are fantastic, the humor is delightful, and the plot moves briskly on through various twists and turns. This is my favorite book of the series, even though it does end in a whopping big cliffhanger. Read it, but have the sequel at hand.
Talking to Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede — On the day when a wizard destroys the front door of their house, Daystar’s mother hands him a sword and tells him not to come home again until he can explain why she sent him away. Questing his way through the Enchanted Forest, Daystar befriends a lizard, a fire witch, and a young dragon, and encounters elves, dwarves, witches, wizards, and many others before his quest is complete and he learns the truth about his extraordinary sword.

Not my favorite of the series, but still a very good book, and it does an admirable job of answering the questions left unanswered at the end of the previous book. It’s a good ending to the series, but I never want the series to end — maybe that’s why I don’t love this book best of all?

(Reviewed from my personally purchased copies.)

Monday, April 1, 2019

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Teen poet Xiomara grapples with first love, questioning faith, and her fraught relationship with her mother.

I almost gave up on this book early on. The angst was nearly too much for me. However, I gave the book a second chance, and I’m glad I did. Xiomara is a character who really struggles and earns the things she accomplishes by the end of the book. There’s a lot of powerful, raw emotion here. Recommended.

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

Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Boy, a hunchback goatherd, is taken into service by a pilgrim in his way to Rome. The pilgrim is on a quest to recover seven relics of St. Peter, and needs Boy to help him. Along the way, the reader will learn that both travelers have their secrets...

I very much enjoyed this medieval quest tale. It's a quick read with some lovely moments and an interesting twist (I thought I knew Boy's secret after the second chapter, but as it turns out, I was quite wrong!). I'm not sure how much appeal it will have for kids, but it would make a good readaloud. And it's definitely the sort of book I'd recommend to adults who enjoy the occasional juvenile title.

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