Friday, February 28, 2014

The Shadow Throne by Jennifer Nielsen

The Shadow Throne by Jennifer Nielsen is the final book in the Ascendance Trilogy.

Jaron may be the king of Carthya, but his position is by no means secure. The country is on the brink of war, and Jaron will need every bit of cunning to stay a step ahead of the conflict. As battles rage across the land, Jaron schemes and plots his way through -- but his survival will come at a heavy cost.

I like this series well enough, but I don't quite love it. In this book, the dialogue seems a little stilted in places, and too much of the plot relies on coincidences for me to find it really satisfactory. On the other hand, I do love Jaron's snarky attitude! Readers who enjoyed the first two books in the series will certainly want to see how this one turns out. And I do think the series is a great introduction to high fantasy for kids.

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

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason

The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason has a little bit of everything -- steampunk, Sherlock, time travel, Egyptology, romance, mystery.

Mina Holmes, daughter of Mycroft, and Evaline Stoker, sister of Bram, are brought together by Irene Adler to investigate a series of mysterious deaths. Mina, who aspires to follow in her uncle's footsteps, is a skilled (if inexperienced) investigator, and Evaline is a highly trained (though also inexperienced) vampire hunter. Together, they must infiltrate a secret society dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet and discover why upper-class girls like themselves have been dying under mysterious circumstances. Along the way, they are sometimes helped, sometimes hindered by an all-too-clever Scotland Yard investigator, a charming pickpocket, and a strange young man from a future where electricity, not steam, is the preferred source of energy.

I wanted to enjoy this book, but I think perhaps it tries to do too much. The time travel element is unnecessary, the mystery is left partially unsolved, and the romantic elements are rather unsatisfactory. There are a few instances where the dialogue is a little too modern for the setting, and a few holes in the plot strained my credulity. I did enjoy parts of this story, but when I closed the book, I found myself thinking that the whole of the story came out as less, somehow, than the sum of its parts.

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

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares is a time travel dystopia, so a little different from her earlier realistic fiction (or, well, magical realism, because I would contend that a pair of pants that flatters four entirely different body types would have to be magical -- but that is entirely beside the point of this review).

Prenna is part of a group of immigrants from the future. In Prenna's world (the USA of 2087), the environment has been pretty much destroyed, and disease runs rampant. Using time travel technology, a group of settlers returned to the USA of 2010, ostensibly to try to correct the problems that will result in the devastation they have experienced. It's been four years, though, and from where Prenna sits, it's looking more and more like the settlers are interested in just being absorbed into the culture, rather than making an effort to change it. They've become a strictly regimented society, with secrecy as their primary purpose in life. When a homeless man tells Prenna that he has isolated the fork -- the point at which the future went into a tailspin -- and that he needs her to stop the murder that started everything, she doesn't know what to think. She would write off the conversation as deranged ramblings, except that the man knows too much about her and her society -- and he also knows that the date of the murder had been written in permanent marker on Prenna's arm when she arrived in the present, though she has never been able to remember how it got there. Now, with the help of one trusted friend, Prenna has the opportunity to change the course of history, if she dares -- but to do so, she will have to go against everything she has been taught for the past four years.

This was a good, gripping read, one that fans of dystopias and time travel stories will enjoy. It's a little message-heavy, but readers who are absorbed in the story as I was will be willing to forgive that, at least while they are reading. There's a romantic subplot that is handled really well, and Prenna's adventures are believable for the most part, though there are a few small plot holes. I'd recommend this to fans of the genre as well as fans of this author.

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

Sunday, February 23, 2014

One Came Home by Amy Timberlake

One Came Home by Amy Timberlake is one of this year's Newbery Honor books.

Georgie doesn't believe her sister Agatha is dead. Agatha ran away from home a few weeks ago, and now the sheriff has brought back a badly mutilated body found in the woods, wearing the remains of Agatha's dress and with the same auburn hair. Thirteen-year-old Georgie feels that there's more to the story of Agatha's disappearance. She rents a mule from Billy McCabe, her sister's former sweetheart, and sets out to find the truth. Of course, she doesn't plan on Billy tagging along -- and that's only the first unexpected occurrence on a journey fraught with mystery and, occasionally, danger. Will Georgie ever learn exactly what happened to Agatha? Is this trip about finding her sister, or is it about coming to terms with her sister's death?

This well-researched and well-written piece of historical fiction is well-deserving of the honors it has received. Set in 1871 Wisconsin, the story is told against the backdrop of the passenger pigeon migration. The characters are fully rounded and always interesting, though not always likable. Some of the events in the final chapter feel tacked on for the sake of historical interest rather than being essential to the plot, but all in all this is an impressive novel, and I hope to see more by this author in the future.

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

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Alienated by Melissa Landers

Alienated by Melissa Landers is a YA sci-fi interspecies love story.

Cara is highly competitive, valedictorian and star of the school debate club. She's looking into colleges, and will need all of the financial help she can get, so when a scholarship opportunity comes her way, she jumps on it -- even if it is a little unconventional. In Cara's world, an alien race called the L'eihr has recently made first contact, and now they are interested in an exchange program. A few L'eihr students will come and live on Earth for a time, and then their human counterparts will do the same on L'eihr. Cara's family will host Aelyx, a L'eihr boy of about Cara's age. Though L'eihr and human DNA are virtually identical, Aelyx at first seems cold and strange to Cara, with his preference for muted colors and bland foods, and his insistence that his own culture, where violence is rare and crime unheard of, is infinitely superior to that of Earth. But as she makes an effort to get to know him, Cara finds herself liking Aelyx more and more. Unfortunately, a political battle is raging over the visiting L'eihr, and Cara finds herself on a different side of the issue from her closest friends. When things start to get ugly, Cara will have to make a difficult choice.

I enjoyed this story, though I wouldn't say I loved it. The writing was fairly good, and the premise was interesting. I would have liked to have a few things better explained, but the book is obviously the first of a series (probably a trilogy), so perhaps a few puzzling points will be clarified in future volumes. I though Cara was a little bit the stereotypical fiery redhead, and Aelyx was hard to like, but mostly because his alien nature was well written. I probably won't pursue future volumes in this series, but I can see myself recommending it to teens who might like a sci-fi love story.

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

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Interrupted Tale by Maryrose Wood

The Interrupted Tale by Maryrose Wood is the fourth book in the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series. Young governess Penelope Lumley and her three charges travel to Swanburne, Penelope's alma mater, where Penelope will give a speech at an alumnae event. Alas, all is not well at Swanburne, especially with the enigmatic Judge Quinzey sitting on the Board of Trustees! Who is Quinzey, really, and why has he fixed his attention on Swanburne?

This book is just as delightful as earlier volumes in the series. Answers to some mysteries are revealed, but not all -- Penelope and her charges will have to wait for another book to discover how all of the elements in their story come together.

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

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Jinx's Magic by Sage Blackwood

Jinx's Magic by Sage Blackwood is the second book set in the Urwald, the dark and deadly forest of fairy tale and legend.

In this story, Jinx must learn more about his own magic, which is tied to the power of the Urwald, and he must figure out if he is controlling it, or it if is controlling him. He also travels to Samara, where the Urwald is just a legend, and learns a new way of looking at magic while making new friends and helping an old friend who is in terrible danger.

In my review of Jinx, I compared this author's writing to that of Diana Wynne Jones, a comparison I do not make lightly. This second book is just as charming and funny and delightful. It is the second book in a series, and the ending is rather abrupt -- but that's the only complaint I have, and it's really only a complaint because I want to read the next book right now! Anyone who enjoys juvenile fantasy should take a look at this series.

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

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Chapel Wars by Lindsey Leavitt

The Chapel Wars by Lindsey Leavitt is a fun YA romance set in Las Vegas.

Think Romeo and Juliet . . . but with Las Vegas wedding chapels. Seventeen-year-old Holly's beloved grandfather has just died, and he left her an unusual legacy: his business. Holly is now the owner of the Rose of Sharon Wedding Chapel, which is about to be crushed under a mountain of debt. To make things worse, Holly's grandfather had a long-running feud with the owner of the tacky chapel next door . . . but Holly might just have a little bit of a crush on said owner's grandson Dax. Holly doesn't have time for a secret romance -- she's too busy finding ways to raise enough money to save the chapel (and dealing with friends and schoolwork, as well). But when Dax proves to be as interested in Holly as she is in him, it proves hard to resist his considerable charms. Can Holly save the chapel and keep her relationship with Dax a secret?

This is a cute and fun YA romance. It does deal with a few deeper issues, like Holly's grief at her grandfather's death, but the overall tone is fairly light. Readers who like books by Jennifer Smith and Stephanie Perkins, or who have enjoyed other books by this author, are likely to enjoy this.

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

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Strange Sweet Song by Adi Rule

Strange Sweet Song by Adi Rule is one of the galleys I picked up at Midwinter. It releases in March, so if you find it interesting, you do not have too long to wait!

Sing da Navelli, daughter of a famous singer and a renowned conductor, is a new student at the Dunhammond Conservatory, a place seeped in mystery and legend and surrounded by a dark, deep forest. Sing is there for the music, not the mystery -- she sees Dunhammond as the place where she will finally come into her own as a singer, stepping out of the shadow of her dead mother's musical legacy. She knows that she can sing well, but her confidence is undermined by her own mental comparisons of her voice to her mother's, a problem that is exacerbated when the school puts on her favorite opera Angelique, and she is cast as an understudy to the lead. The opera, written long ago by the school's founder, is said to have been inspired by the forest around the school. It tells of the Felix, a creature that often brings destruction, but occasionally grants wishes to the most desperate. Is the Felix real? And even if it were, what would Sing wish for?

This book does a good job of creating atmosphere and tension. I found the setting strong and the competitive nature of the music conservatory well described. Sing is a complex and not always likable character, but her motivations are clear and realistic. On the other hand, many of the secondary characters are fairly flat, and the romance that comes in toward the end of the book seems hurried and abrupt. The author has chosen to write in present tense, using past tense only for the occasional flashback chapter -- a choice that may irritate some readers. However, if you can get past those quibbles, if you enjoy boarding school stories with music and magic, you might find this book a worthwhile read.

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