Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Four books by Eva Ibbotson

The Reluctant Heiress, A Company of Swans, The Morning Gift, and A Song for Summer are four romances by Eva Ibbotson. These were all rereads for me, so I'm going to briefly review them in one batch. Frankly, the plots are all fairly similar: a young girl with not much experience of the world, a handsome and enigmatic, yet somehow vulnerable, man a few years older than the girl, a sweetly blossoming romance, a misunderstanding that threatens to separate them, and then a satisfying conclusion. It's not a bad formula for a romance, but it is a formula, which is obvious when you read these all at one go. Ibbotson has a knack for likable characters, and the settings (mostly Europe around WWI or WWII) are deftly rendered; I'm longing for a trip to Vienna now.

There is a fifth book that would go with these four: A Countess Below Stairs, which I reviewed last spring. It does fit in with the formula, but in my opinion it is the best of Ibbotson's romances and stands out from the crowd. Of the four I'm reviewing here, A Song for Summer is my favorite and A Company of Swans is my least-favorite, with the other two falling about equally between those two. If you're a fan of historical romance, I definitely recommend these books, though you may want to read other things in between!

(Reviewed from my personally purchased copies.)

Mini Reviews: Witches, Fairies, Berries, Ducks

Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood
In an alternate-history New England at the end of the nineteenth century, Cate and her sisters are secretly witches. In their strictly controlled society, ruled by a group of men called the Brotherhood, terrible things will happen to them if they are discovered. Cate is determined not to let that happen. I had a hard time getting into this book -- it took me forever to read it, and I never connected with the characters. I thought it was a little heavy-handed in some aspects, though the romance was nicely done. I'll admit that I picked this book up because of the pretty cover, but I'd only recommend it if you are really intrigued by the premise.

Curse of the Thirteenth Fey by Jane Yolen
Gorse, youngest of the Shouting Fey, nearly misses a command appearance at the christening of the baby princess because she falls into a trap where two other fey have been imprisoned for hundreds of years. Can she help them escape and make it back in time for the christening? I love retold fairy tales, and this was a good one, despite the fact that the Sleeping Beauty story is only a minor subplot in Gorse's story. I like Yolen's take on the fey in this book, and the setting she has created for them.

My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer by Jennifer Gennari
Twelve-year-old June and her mom have always gotten along fine -- but now Eva, her mom's girlfriend, has come to live with them, and June is not sure what she thinks about that. The book is set in 2000, just after Vermont passed civil union laws, and June and her family are caught in the upheaval over that decision. It may not be the best time for June to put herself in the spotlight by entering one of her pies in the county fair, but it's the one thing June has her heart set on during this tempestuous summer. This book is pretty brief, which young readers will probably approve of, but I thought it needed a little more development in spots.

 Lulu and the Duck in the Park by Hilary McKay
Lulu, a fervent animal lover, rescues a still-warm duck egg that rolls out of a nest during a class field trip to the park. Her teacher has strictly forbidden Lulu from bringing any more animals to school, but an egg is not an animal . . . right? This book is sweet and charming, though I didn't love it as much as McKay's Casson series (Saffy's Angel, etc.). It fits right in with other early chapter books about precocious young girls like Clementine and Marty McGuire.

(Reviewed from copies borrowed through my library system.)

Monday, January 28, 2013

ALA YMA 2013!

*bounce bounce bounce*

I'm pretty happy about the American Library Association's 2013 Youth Media Awards.  If you haven't seen the results yet, the full press release is here.  I'm going to squee a little about my favorites, and the links below will go to my reviews.

I read all of the Caldecotts, and all but one of the Newbery books.  I'm super excited about One Cool Friend's Caldecott honor -- it's one of the three best things from the awards today (I'll get to the other two in a minute).  The other four Caldecott honors were all books that I thought might do the trick (though Creepy Carrots was the biggest surprise), and if you'll recall, This Is Not My Hat was one of my top picture book picks!

I mentioned The One and Only Ivan in my chapter book post, and I'm quite pleased to see it win the Newbery.  I'm a little more excited about Splendors and Glooms getting an honor, and a little less excited about Three Times Lucky -- well, that book wasn't for me, but apparently it did the trick for the committee, and I know they put more effort and discussion into their readings of the book than I did into mine.  Bomb is the one I haven't read yet, but I certainly will do so before too long, as it garnered not only a Newbery honor, but also the Sibert medal and the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction award.

I told you the Printz was hard to predict!  I haven't read In Darkness, which won the award -- barely even heard about it, really.  I don't know if I will read it or not, as teen books are less of a priority for me than picture books or middle grade.  I'm pleased about Code Name Verity getting an honor, looking forward to reading Dodger, thinking I'd better read Aristotle and Dante because it got a handful of other awards as well, and never heard of The White Bicycle.  I'm super thrilled, though, about Seraphina winning the William C. Morris award -- that was the second of my three best things.

And while I think Katherine Paterson is a good choice for the Wilder award, my third best thing was Tamora Pierce getting the Margaret A. Edwards award -- so perfect!

On the other hand, I can't believe that Wonder didn't get the Schneider Family Book Award -- that was one I thought I could call with a fair amount of confidence!  I haven't read the book that did win, A Dog Called Homeless, but I probably will, as long as the dog doesn't die.

A couple more award-related shoutouts: The Fault in Our Stars did get the Odyssey award for audiobook production, and Ghost Knight and Monstrous Beauty got honors -- I've read all three of those, though I didn't listen to the audio versions.  I notice that Katherine Kellgren read Monstrous Beauty, so hooray for my favorite narrator getting another Odyssey honor!  I was also pleased to see that I Have a Dream got a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor, Drama got a Stonewall Honor, and Pure was on the Alex Award list.

The blogs are buzzing with reactions to the awards -- what are you thinking, readers?  Did any of your favorites win?  Was the book you loved best completely passed over?  Has your reading list exploded with award-winning books now?

Young Adult Roundup

Now that I have posted about some of my favorite picture books and chapter books of 2012, it's time to look at the wild and wonderful world of young adult literature!  There is an award for young adult books, akin to the Newbery (but administered by a different ALA division, the Young Adult Library Services Association) -- the Printz award.  I always look forward to the announcement of the Printz winner with some trepidation: will the books they recognize be ones I have read?  Will I have even heard of them?  Sometimes the Printz winners are books that I actively dislike (for instance, I was not particularly enthralled with last year's winner.)  Often, the book I love the best is completely passed over -- I'm thinking here of the year that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie won absolutely nothing.  So, while I would be quite pleased if any of my picks below were to win a Printz medal or honor, I'm not even calling this a list of predictions, because while all award committees are unpredictable, the Printz committee is, to me, doubly so.  Here are my five favorites, and then a few more that are worth mentioning:

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (my review)
I love a rich, intelligently-written fantasy, and this one does not disappoint.  There's so much depth to this book -- the characters, the setting, the plot -- and it's so satisfying.  While some books are obviously series-starters, this is a self-contained story that I hope will be the beginning of a series, not because of dangling plot threads, but because I so much enjoyed living, for a little while, in the world of the book.  I'm sure already that this will be one of my personal favorites that I will return to many times in the future.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (my review)
Remember how much everyone loved The Book Thief? Code Name Verity is the best WWII book I've read since The Book Thief.  I don't want to draw too many comparisons between the two, though, because they are very different in tone and content.  Code Name Verity has all of the wonderful stuff going on that I have mentioned in my reviews of other favorites (plot, setting, characters, blah, blah, blah) but there are two things that really set it apart.  The first is the way the plot twists -- there were so many things that were, to me, completely unexpected, but if I had, perhaps, paid closer attention to the clues, I would have seen them coming -- and the friendship between the two main characters.  And I would hate to give anything away, so I'll just say that this is a book that engages the mind and the emotions in equal parts, and I definitely recommend it.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (my review)
When is a cancer book not a cancer book?  When it's written by the incomparable John Green, of course.  Though the narrative does focus on two teenage cancer patients, this book manages to transcend the soppiness of all of those dying-teenager books I read in my adolescence.  There's definitely tragedy here, but also humor and romance and friendship.

Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl (my review)
After all of that depth and seriousness and tragedy, it's nice to be mentioning a title that's on the lighter side.  While Keeping the Castle may not be quite as high on my list as the others I've mentioned, it's a thoroughly enjoyable read -- and there's definitely something to be said for that.

The Opposite of Hallelujah by Anna Jarzab (my review)
I was fairly impressed by this book when I read it, and it has stuck with me since then.  It does a great job of handling some weighty issues.  The main character is flawed, but sympathetic, and secondary characters are equally complex. 

Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan (my review) -- I picked up this book expecting a fluffy parody, but instead got great characters and a cool plot, with the expected level of humor to boot.  Will this win any awards?  Probably not, but it sure is a fun book.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith (my review) -- This book is sweet, but not cloyingly so.  I really liked the main character's complicated relationships with her family.  The romance is nice, but the book is about more than the romance, which elevates it a tad from the common herd.

The Crimson Crown by Cinda Williams Chima (my review), and
Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore (my review), and
The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson (my review) --
I'm lumping these three together because they are all books in fantasy series that I have really enjoyed.  They don't stand on their own, nor should they; they build on the excellent earlier volumes that their authors have created.  I think they're definitely worth mentioning as some of the best books I've read this year.

That's all, folks!  In just a few short hours (8am Pacific, 11am Eastern), the Youth Media Awards will be announced -- if you're so inclined, you can watch the live press conference here.  I'll post again soon with my thoughts and reactions!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Chapter Book Roundup

So, I did a picture book post and talked about my Caldecott predictions.  Now I'm going to talk Newbery, but I have to confess, first, that I did not read much nonfiction at all last year.  So, while blogs like Heavy Medal and For Those About to Mock are throwing in some great nonfiction predictions, I'm going to stick to the most common Newbery fare: the middle-grade chapter book.

Here's the thing with chapter books this year: I don't have a clear favorite.  I read a lot of really enjoyable books, including several that are getting some buzz around the internet.  I'm going to toss out my top five predictions, and then some bonus outliers that I enjoyed but that might have less of a chance at the actual award.

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz (my review)
This is one of those books that could go either way.  I've talked to people who love it, and people who couldn't even get through it.  I think that, if the committee can get past the Victorian pacing (this book has an almost Dickensian feel, to me), there's a lot of good at the heart of this book -- good writing, good characters, good story.

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead (my review)
I think that the main thing people have against this book is that it's not When You Reach Me.  Once I got over that particular mindset, I discovered that I really loved this book's flawed and slightly unreliable main character.  His feelings and reactions are just so spot-on.  It's a quieter book than most of the ones I've read this year, but I think it has a great deal of substance.

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine (my review)
This is the most traditional Newbery choice: historical fiction with a female protagonist who experiences a coming-of-age moment.  That sounds like I'm talking this book down, but I'm not: there's a reason for the enduring popularity (if you will) of this kind of story.  It's a great vehicle for exploring a specific period or event in history, the main character undergoes significant character development, there are interesting relationships to explore between the chracters, there's some humor and some gripping, exciting moments -- and all of that is as true about this book as it is about other books like it.  While this isn't my first choice for the award, I'd call it a solid contender.

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny -- Detectives Extraordinaire! by Polly Horvath (my review)
This is a quirky book, to be sure, but quirky in a good way.  I've read at least one outraged review by a grown-up who did not get the tongue-in-cheek tone and took the entire book at surface value.  Don't do that.  There are definitely layers to this book, and they don't interfere with the flow of the story, either.  Plus, it's quite hilarious, and funny Newbery books are hard to come by.  I have my fingers crossed for this one.

Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin (my review)
Here's another type of traditional Newbery book, the hero's quest, with roots planted in the fertile ground of mythology and folklore.  This is one of those books that invites the use of metaphor in describing it (as I have already done) -- there are threads woven together, there's flowing water and growing and branching . . . I'm trying to restrain myself, but if the similie fits. . . . At any rate, I think this is another book that has all of the necessary elements for excellence: characters, plot, writing, etc.  It's also one that I think it would be easy to build consensus around. 

So, those are my top five.  I like them all, but can see at least one or two little flaws in each, and I have not given them multiple careful readings the way the members of the Newbery Committee will have read the books they are seriously considering.  I'll be interested to see whether any of them are recognized, but only my pride will be hurt if none of them are.  There are plenty of other books, and I want to mention a few more before I go:

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (my review) -- I liked this one enough that it's pretty much interchangable with the last three listed above; on a different day, in a different mood, I might have chosen it for one of my top five.  It's an animal book that doesn't feel too manipulative (well, at least most of the time) and a verse novel that doesn't feel like chopped-up prose.

See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles (my review) -- I cried buckets over this one, but in retrospect I don't find it quite as memorable as some of the other books I've read this year.  It tugged at my emotions, but didn't stick in my mind.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio (my review) -- This is a good book and an important book, and it's certainly a popular book (and it's got the Schneider Family Book Award in the bag, I feel confident in saying) . . . but I think it has a few shortcomings that will keep it from winning the Newbery.

The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen (my review) -- I liked this book and had a lot of fun reading it, and I always want to champion fantasy boks for the major awards, but I found enough weak spots in this one that I'd be surprised to see it win out over the other strong contenders I've mentioned.

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis (my review) -- This is my dark horse prediction, the book that I really love but that I've heard almost nothing about in the blogs I follow.  I'd be thrilled to see it win something, but also very surprised.

Okay, readers . . . what are your favorite 2012 chapter books?  Do you want to make any bold Newbery predictions?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Picture Book Roundup

Last year, around this time, I did a series of posts talking about my picks for the Youth Media Awards (which are announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting each January).  It was so much fun that I'm doing it again, and will, of course, do a follow-up post after the awards are announced.

I'll start out with picture books.  I've done a Mock Caldecott at my library two years in a row now.  While I'm still no expert on art, I do think that it helps me be exposed to a wide variety of picture books, more than I might come across in my haphazard perusal of the new materials shelf at my library.  I do have my favorites, but I think there are a lot of strong contenders this year, so I would not be surprised if none of the ones I particularly love garner shiny stickers.

One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by David Small
This is my personal favorite picture book of the year, but when I was looking at books to include in my Mock Caldecott, I had to think long and hard about whether I loved the illustrations, or the story.  In the end, I decided that the illustrations do support the story in a truly fascinating way -- there's a really funny twist at the end of the book, and when you go back and reread, the pictures give hints to the twist that make you question some of the things you thought you knew on your first read-through.  Am I being cryptic enough?  Go read the book and you'll see what I mean!

I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King, Jr., illustrated by Kadir Nelson
This book knocks my socks off in terms of artistic quality.  Kadir Nelson does things with oil paint that are unrivaled, as far as I'm concerned.  There is a luminous quality to the artwork in this book, particularly the portraits -- you can sort of get a sense of what I mean from the cover image above, but there's so much more within.  Take a look when you get a chance.

Bear Has a Story to Tell by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
This book is bound to become a staple of my bears/hibernation story time theme, but the artwork takes it beyond "just another cute bear book."  I love the way Stead uses color so sparingly -- there's a lot of white space, so when there are pops of color (or entire spreads full of it) they really stand out.  There's also a lot of texture there; take a look at Bear's coat and you can see what I mean. 

This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen
Another funny book -- what can I say, I have a weakness for them.  This cheeky little fish has a lot in common with the rabbit in last year's I Want My Hat Back . . . there's a lot of hat-related drama in Jon Klassen's picture book world.  In this book, the fish is telling one story, while the pictures are often telling another, and the ending will delight readers who have been paying attention to both.  Klassen has illustrated three books eligible for the award this year, if I am counting correctly (I've heard a lot about Extra Yarn and hardly anything about House Held Up by Trees), but this is my favorite of his in terms of making the artwork do the work of telling the story.

Oh, No! by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann
There's an air of "instant classic" about this book.  It's kind of perfect for reading aloud, the kind of book that kids are going to love and demand to hear again and again.  But there I go, talking about the text again! This is another case of the artwork doing a lot of the work of telling the story -- in fact, the story begins on the endpapers at the front of the book, and ends (or perhaps I should say, continues) on the endpapers at the back of the book.  I did some research on the medium used by Rohmann for this book -- he created it using block prints and something called the reduction method, which I had to look up.  Basically, it involves making a linoleum block print, then carving out a little bit more of the block for each layer of color that goes into making the illustration.  It sounds fabulously complicated and (if I were to try it) frustrating.  Does having a complicated process automatically make the artwork more distinguished?  Of course not -- but I can't help being impressed by both the process and the results in this case.

Those are my top five, pretty much in order of preference.  As I mentioned above, it's been a good year for picture books and I'm sure the committee has their work cut out for them!  What about you, readers -- do you have any picture book favorites from 2012?

(Reviewed from copies borrowed through my library system.)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey

I listened to the audiobook of Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey. I'm not sure why it took me so long to pick up this book, when I was fairly certain it would be one that I would like. One of my library school friends (hi, Rachel!) gave me paperback copies of this book and its sequel several years ago, hoping to encourage me to read it -- I'm sure she'll be glad to know that I finally did!

Mennolly, daughter of a fishing family, dreams of being a musician, a Harper -- but in the strict traditions of her homeland, girls are not allowed to become Harpers. When the situation at home becomes untenable, Mennolly escapes, and runs into a fantastic adventure that may, in fact, take her just where she wants to be.

That summary barely scratches the surface of the story, but I'm trying not to give away too much of the plot. I was impressed at the intricate worldbuilding evident in just this novel. I know that there are scads of books set in the Pern universe, but I didn't feel like I was missing a lot, not having read them. This is an all-around enjoyable read, with great characters, plot, and setting. I'll definitely read the sequel, though I don't know if I will invest time in reading the entire massive series.

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

Monday, January 14, 2013

Secret Society Girl by Diana Peterfreund

Secret Society Girl by Diana Peterfreund is the story of a college girl who is, much to everyone's surprise, tapped for her school's most exclusive secret society.

Amy Haskel, student at the prestigious Eli University, fully expects to be tapped for the not-particularly-prestigious literary society, and she's fine with that. When she gets an anonymous phone call demanding that she appear in a certain place at a certain time, she thinks she knows what to expect. When she gets to her meeting, however, she finds that the call was not from the people she had expected to hear from -- instead, slightly sinister strangers who seem to be privy to all of the details of her life start questioning her in a probing (and somewhat insulting) manner. Amy soon finds that she is in far over her head: Rose and Grave, the super-exclusive (and formerly all-male) secret society that is rumored to have influence over everything major that happens in the country, has decided to start initiating women. But not everyone is happy to see Amy and the other female initiates join the club: certain powerful alumni might threaten Amy's carefully planned future if she doesn't agree to meekly back away from membership in Rose and Grave. Unfortunately for them, Amy is anything but meek . . . .

This was a fairly fun light read, but I find I don't really feel any particular urge to continue with the series. If you're intrigued, by all means check this book out. I did find it a timely read, in that there seems to be a lot of buzz in the publishing world (or at least on some of the blogs I follow) about the so-called "New Adult" genre, or books written for the age range just above YA. This book would fall into that category, though in the past I would have just called it chick lit and thought nothing of it.

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

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Goose Chase by Patrice Kindl

I've been meaning to read Goose Chase by Patrice Kindl for several years now, and finally picked it up and did so.

Alexandria Aurora Fortunato is a plain, orphaned goose girl until the day an old hag asks her for a meal. Alexandria's generosity and good manners prove to be her downfall when the old woman blesses her with beauty and wealth. Soon, Alexandria is as lovely as the dawn, shedding gold dust from her hair, and weeping tears of diamonds -- and imprisoned in a tower, forced to marry either the bumbling Prince Edmund, or King Claudio the Cruel. With help from her geese, Alexandria escapes the tower and runs away. On her journey to safety, she encounters hungry ogresses, vile dungeons, and a greedy baroness. In the end, Alexandria discovers that she and her geese share an extraordinary destiny.

This light, fairy-tale inspired read was a lot of fun. It reminded me of books by E.D. Baker and Gail Carson Levine. While the characterization is not very deep, the plot moves quickly and there's plenty of humor (plus the lightest touch of romance). I'd recommend it to fans of the middle-grade fairy tale retelling, with the understanding that there's not a lot of substance in this otherwise enjoyable book.

(Reviewed from my personally purchased electronic copy.)

Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer

Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer is a murder mystery set in an English country house in the 1930s.

It's Christmas time, and curmudgeonly Nathaniel Herriard has been cajoled into playing the host for a gathering of family and friends. A more inimical group of people could hardly be imagined, and tempers are running high . . . even before Nathaniel is found dead in his room, obviously murdered. Inspector Hemingway of Scotland Yard is called in to solve the case: who murdered Nathaniel Herriard (nearly everyone at the house party had a motive), and how did they do it, as the corpse was discovered in a locked room?

I have read several of Heyer's Regency romances, but this is the first of her mysteries that I have tackled. I liked the setting and the characters assembled at the house party, but thought the mystery was not as strong as others I've read. I also didn't care for Inspector Hemingway, who comes across as conceited -- he falls short in comparison to his contemporaries of the golden age of detective fiction: Lord Peter Wimsey, Hercule Poirot, Roderick Alleyn . . .

That's not to say that this wasn't worth reading -- I did enjoy it, and it took me perhaps longer than it should have to figure out who the murderer was. I'll probably read more of Heyer's detective stories in the future, but her real strength lies in romances, not mysteries.

(Reviewed from my personally purchased electronic copy.)

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Bronte Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne by Catherine Reef

My first book of the year is a juvenile biography: The Bronte Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne by Catherine Reef.

I found this book informative and engaging. It describes, as you might expect, the lives of the Bronte siblings (including two older sisters who died young, and a brother who lived to adulthood but died within a year of Emily and Anne). The author draws parallels from the lives of the sisters to memorable scenes and characters from their books. It's clear that Reef has done a great deal of careful research, and that her subjects live in her imagination and therefore in the pages of the book.

While I have read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, I haven't yet read anything by Anne Bronte -- perhaps I will find myself inspired to pick up Agnes Grey or The Tenant of Wildfell Hall some time this year.

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

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Under a Maui Moon by Robin Jones Gunn

Under a Maui Moon by Robin Jones Gunn is an inspirational romance novel by one of the authors I enjoyed reading as a teen. (As a matter of fact, I have read three of her books this year).

Carissa is under a lot of stress. After 24 years of marriage, she and her husband Richard are no longer as close as they once were. When an unsettling incident with a prowler around their house is followed by Carissa unexpectedly losing her job, Carissa's life is thrown into turmoil, and she no longer feels that she can turn to Richard for support. The chance to vacation in Hawaii drops into her lap, so Carissa takes off by herself. In Hawaii, Carissa doesn't find the peaceful vacation paradise she had imagined -- her own unsettled feelings get in the way of relaxation. Moreover, Carissa meets Kai, a handsome single man of about her age, and she starts to wonder . . . is her marriage with Richard worth saving?

Gunn's affection for the island setting is clear from the loving descriptions of Hawaiian geography and culture in this book. I enjoyed reading the tidbits of Hawaiian history worked into the story. There's also an all-too-brief cameo of certain characters from the Glenbrooke series. Those were the parts of this book that I enjoyed the most. On the other hand, I didn't find Carissa a particularly sympathetic character, and too many of the plot elements felt familiar from other books by the author (particularly Whispers, Wildflowers, and Sisterchicks Do the Hula). Gunn's strongest writing is still the Glenbrooke series, and I advise readers of inspirational romance to start there.

(Reviewed from my personally purchased copy.)

The Cup and the Crown by Diane Stanley

The Cup and the Crown by Diane Stanley is the sequel to The Silver Bowl, which I reviewed when I read it last year.

In this book, Molly, Tobias, and a few companions travel far from Westria in search of a Loving Cup -- one of the magical goblets created by Molly's grandfather. Their journey takes them to Harrowsgode, a secluded city that does not readily welcome visitors. Molly is obviously related to one of the city's leading families, so she and Tobias are permitted to enter . . . but leaving the city proves even more difficult. Will Molly and Tobias be able to find the cup -- and even if they do, will they be able to return with it to Westria?

This book has many of the same strengths and weaknesses as its predecessor. I enjoyed reading about Harrowsgode, and thought the setting was very rich. Many of the secondary characters, on the other hand, were fairly flat. The plot moves on relatively quickly, and it's not a long book. While I enjoyed reading it, I suspect that it will not stay in my memory for long. Readers of juvenile fantasy will find this a solid, though not particularly exciting, addition to the genre -- if you're interested, I do recommend reading The Silver Bowl first.
(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Cold Cereal by Adam Rex

Cold Cereal by Adam Rex is a zany tale of magic and corporate greed.

When Scott Doe's family moves to a new town because of his mother's work, he little suspects that he will soon be caught up in a plot beyond his wildest imagination. His mother's new employer, the GoodCo Cereal Company, has been exploiting magical creatures for years. By an odd coincidence, Scott is one of a few people in the world who can see magical creatures, though he always wrote off his mysterious visions as hallucinations related to his frequent migraines. When a leprechaun tries to steal his backpack at the bus station, however, Scott starts learning more than he wanted to know about the magical creatures in the world around him, and about the dark side of GoodCo. There are plenty of questions that need to be answered, but the biggest one is, what is GoodCo doing with all of that magic they've stolen?

That's an extreme over-simplification of this novel's sprawling plot. Rex has done a fantastic job of weaving together an incredible number of plot threads, and everything does connect in the end. There's plenty of action -- the audiobook did a great job of keeping me awake on a car trip that, thanks to a major wrong turn, ended up being two hours longer than it should have been. It's obvious that there will be a sequel, though the conclusion of this book is satisfying enough that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it, if complicated stories with elements of fantasy, mystery, and action-packed adventure appeal to you.

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