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.)

Girls Like Us by Gail Giles

Girls Like Us by Gail Giles -- Biddy and Quincy are both in the Special Ed program at school, but that doesn't mean that they have anything in common. When their social worker arranges for the two of them to live together after graduation, both girls have their doubts, but they will soon learn that they can be stronger together than they were on their own. This is a skillfully written book with a lot of heart. Biddy and Quincy's struggles are touching and relatable, and there are surprising flashes of humor as well. Highly recommended.

(Reviewed from an electronic copy borrowed through my library system.)

Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye by Tania del Rio and Will Staehle

Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye by Tania del Rio and Will Staehle -- Orphaned Warren is heir to the family hotel, but until he comes of age the hotel is managed by his lazy uncle Rupert and Rupert's evil wife Annaconda. Warren believes that Annaconda only married Rupert in order to get her hands on the legendary All-Seeing Eye, thought to be hidden somewhere in the hotel. Warren doesn't know where the Eye is, but he knows he'd better find it before Aunt Annaconda does!

This is a fun, quirky tale (appropriate, considering the publisher) that relies equally on text and illustrations. The secondary characters are a bit flat, and I thought the plot took some leaps in unexpected directions, but the story is generally enjoyable and the pacing is good. This tale is the sort that readers of The Mysterious Benedict Society and Floors ought to investigate.

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

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky

Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky -- Four teenage superfans of a popular boy band inadvertently kidnap a member of the band. Hijinks ensue. This was an okay read for me. The plot was engrossing enough that I finished it in a day, but I didn't like any of the characters (which may have been kinda the point, but still). I can totally see this being made into a teen movie someday.

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

Christy and Todd: The Married Years trilogy by Robin Jones Gunn

Forever With You, Home of Our Hearts, and One More Wish by Robin Jones Gunn constitute a trilogy continuing the story of some of this prolific inspirational romance author's best-loved characters. Christy and Todd are a young married couple just out of college. Over the course of these three books, they face challenges with jobs, finances, and housing. They learn to communicate and compromise, and start planning for the future, including the possibility of children. They also reconnect with many old friends known to Gunn's readers from other connected stories.

I probably would not recommend these books as a starting point for readers unfamiliar with Gunn's works -- she uses this trilogy to tie up several loose ends and catch up with many old characters. Readers who have not already "met" Doug and Tracy, Katie and Eli, Sierra and Jordan, and the many others who appear in these pages would probably be a bit confused -- like going to a party where you don't know anyone, but everyone seems to know everyone else. On the other hand, readers who are familiar with Gunn's stories will enjoy catching up with everyone. Gunn's greatest strength as an author is her skill at creating memorable, relatable characters. I felt that the writing was rather weak compared to some of her earlier works (I always feel that the Glenbrooke series is her best). In this trilogy the authorial voice veered to the preachy side at times, which I've never noticed before in Gunn's writing. I also found myself occasionally rolling my eyes at the coy references to sex. I get the feeling that Gunn was taking special pains to keep the books squeaky clean for the youngest and most innocent of her readers, but it comes across a bit stilted. Of course, none of that kept me from burning through these books in a very short amount of time. I appreciate getting some closure for several long-running story lines, and I hope to see Gunn move on to focus on creating some new characters for her readers to enjoy. (When I saw the title of this series, I joked, "What next? Christy and Todd: The Parenting Years? Christy and Todd: Midlife Crisis? Christy and Todd: The Retirement Years? Christy and Todd: Til Death Do Us Part?" I think I may be kind of over Christy and Todd.)

(Reviewed from my personally purchased electronic copies.)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo -- A wealthy and powerful man has a job that needs to be done. It won't be easy. In fact, some might say it's impossible. But if Kaz can pull it off, the rewards will be enormous. Kaz pulls his team together: Inej, Jesper, Nina, Wylan, and Matthias. They've never worked together before, and some of them hate each other, but Kaz needs the unique skills and knowledge that each of them brings to the table. Will it be enough?

What can I say: I'm a sucker for a good fantasy heist novel. This one has seamless plotting and snappy dialogue -- Jesper's quips had me snorting with laughter more than once. The characters are complex and a real mix of good and bad, and none of them are completely and immediately likable, though I found that they mostly grew on me over the course of the novel. This book was recommended to me because I enjoyed The Lies of Locke Lamora, and I think that recommendation is a good one. If you liked that, you should try this -- and if you enjoy this, keep an eye out for that if you haven't already read it.

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

Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave by Jen White

Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave by Jen White -- After their mother dies, Liberty and her little sister are reunited with their father, who left them when Liberty was a preschooler. When he abandons them at a truck stop in the middle of the desert, Liberty knows that it's up to her to take care of her sister and get the two of them to safety. Liberty loves to learn about the ways animals adapt in order to survive. Maybe she will find some survival strategies of her own.

This is a good, solid read. The two sisters are believable characters and the setting is also strong. The episodic plot is fast-paced. Readers who enjoy books like Homecoming and Waiting for Normal should take a look at this one.

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

Monday, February 22, 2016

Once Was A Time by Leila Sales

Once Was a Time by Leila Sales -- Charlotte Bromley believes in time travel, and so does her best friend Kitty. After all, Charlotte's father is a scientist, and the British government has recruited him to do secret research on the subject to aid the war effort. Charlotte's father believes that portals sometimes appear, seemingly at random, and nobody can know where or when one might end up if one were to enter such a portal. Charlotte doesn't think she would enter one, even if she were to see it, but Kitty thinks it would be a great adventure. However, when the two girls' lives are suddenly in danger, it is Charlotte who slips through the portal that miraculously appears, leaving Kitty behind. Where will Charlotte end up -- and will she ever be able to return to her own time?

I really liked this book in spite of a few flaws. The dialogue and characterization are extremely strong, and the story is engaging. While reading, I had a nagging feeling that the plot relied too much upon coincidences, though the ending wrapped up at least some of them. I also felt that Charlotte was allowed to do some things she would not have been able to do in the real world, things not related to the science fiction aspects of the story. Still, I would recommend this, especially to those who enjoyed When You Reach Me.

I did not intend to read two time travel stories back to back -- it just worked out that way!

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

Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor

Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor -- Mourning the death of her mother, Hope travels to Scotland to visit family she has never before met. She learns that her mother's side of the family hides a fantastic secret: they can harness the power of the earth's ley lines in order to travel through time. Even more incredibly, Hope learns that her mother is not dead, just trapped in the past. If she wants to save her mother, Hope must travel back in time to the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine. It won't be easy, but Hope is willing to do whatever it takes. The past can be a dangerous place, though . . . and her mother's family are not the only time travelers out there. . . .

This is a very enjoyable read, with great characters and a gripping plot. While I'm not sure I completely buy into the mechanics of time travel as described in the world of this book, those details didn't bother me while I was reading. I'd recommend this, especially to fans of Outlander. While it's likely that this will become a series, the story wraps up sufficiently in order to make for a satisfying reading experience.

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

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson -- It all starts when Astrid's mom takes Astrid and her best friend Nicole to the roller derby. Astrid immediately falls in love with the sport, but Nicole is less enthralled. When Astrid decides to sign up for a summer roller derby camp, Nicole declines, electing to attend dance camp instead with Rachel, a girl Astrid has never gotten along with. Does this mean that Nicole and Astrid aren't friends any more? And what will become of Astrid's roller derby dreams when she encounters the rigors of training?

This Newbery Honor winner is a fun, fast read that will appeal to fans of Raina Telgemeier's graphic novels. I enjoyed it, and I learned a lot about roller derby, as a bonus!

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

Waylon! One Awesome Thing by Sara Pennypacker

Waylon! One Awesome Thing by Sara Pennypacker

For Waylon, fourth grade is shaping up to be, well, less than awesome. It all started when Arlo, the undisputed king of the fourth-grade boys, decided to divide the boys up into teams. At first, Arlo said he wanted Waylon on his team, but now he seems to have changed his mind. What if Arlo doesn't put Waylon on either team? Also, Baxter Boylin, troublemaker extraordinaire, has returned to school. What if Arlo puts Waylon and Baxter on a team by themselves? Waylon has always loved science facts and finding the "one awesome thing" every day, but now he's having trouble finding anything awesome about school.

I was so sad to see the end of the Clementine series, and I'm so excited to see this new collaboration by Pennypacker and Frazee. This series features a different main character from the same class, so Clementine and other familiar characters make cameo appearances, but Waylon (once described by Clementine as "the scienciest kid" in her class) is the star. And I have to say, this first book is pretty great. In fact, I suspect that this series is just going to keep getting . . . Even! More! Awesome!

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

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Immaculate by Katelyn Detweiler

Immaculate by Katelyn Detweiler -- Mina never asked for a miracle. She's a straight-A student with a caring family, a great boyfriend, and two best friends who have known her practically all her life. When a strange old woman comes into the pizza shop where she works, Mina tries to be patient, despite the fact that it's almost closing time. But the old woman's bizarre conversation takes a turn for the alarming, and Mina finds herself saying anything to get the old lady out the door. She tries to put the encounter out of her mind -- but that proves impossible once the symptoms start to show. Mina, a girl who has never once slept with a boy, is pregnant. In the months that follow, some people believe her, others brand her a liar. A few practically worship her while others hate her. Friendships crumble, grades slip -- and Mina has to wonder: why her? Why now?

The interesting concept is what drew me in to this book, and the questions raised by that initial encounter were enough to keep me reading even through some flaws: the dialogue is stilted in places, and the younger sister is a little too perfect to be true. My main problem, though, is with the ending. None of the big questions are answered. It feels like it's setting up for another book, but I'm afraid I'm just not interested enough to continue with the series. Read this one only if you find the premise fascinating and you're okay with some ambiguity at the ending.

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

The Cresswell Plot by Eliza Wass

The Cresswell Plot by Eliza Wass -- Castley's family is different. Her father believes, and teaches his family, that he is the recipient of divine revelation, and in consequence, only he and his family are going to heaven -- and only if they follow him with complete obedience. Castley and her five siblings live with their parents in a ramshackle house, selling junk their father finds on the side of the road in order to make enough money to buy food. They are alternately feared and ridiculed by the townspeople, and lately Castley has started wondering if their father's doctrine is really true, or if there's another way to live. What would it be like, to live like normal people? But she can't leave without her family, especially not without Caspar, the brother her father says she will be bound to for all eternity. As circumstances grow worse for the Cresswells, tension mounts. Their father declares that, perhaps soon, it will be time for them to go on to their eternal reward. Castley's not ready for heaven -- not yet. She's only just started exploring the possibilities of life in this world, and she's not ready to give it all up.

This chilling portrayal of a deeply dysfunctional and abusive family is a gripping read. I'm not sure the title quite matches up with the content (what plot?), and the ending left me with a few questions. Still, this is definitely a compelling and well-written book. I'd recommend it to V.C. Andrews fans.

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

Friday, February 19, 2016

Newt's Emerald by Garth Nix

Newt's Emerald by Garth Nix is a delightful fantasy of manners.

Lady Truthful Newington -- Newt, to her rowdy crew of male cousins -- is looking forward to her first London season, but everything changes one dark and stormy night when the Newington Emerald, the family's most precious (and magically powerful) jewel disappears. Determined to track down the thief, Truthful disguises herself as a man and searches London for clues. During her quest, she meets Major Hartnett. She can't deny her attraction to him, but he's of the firm opinion that all women are heartless and deceitful -- what would he say if he learned of her disguise?

This is a terrifically fun read inspired by Austen, Heyer, and O'Brian. It's different from anything else Nix has ever written, but in no way inferior. Recommended to readers who enjoy both fantasy and Regency romances.

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

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys is a companion to the author's earlier work, Between Shades of Gray. It follows Lina's cousin Joana, who faces her own harrowing journey through the turmoil of war. Joana is traveling with a group of refugees, desperately fleeing East Prussia as Soviet soldiers close in. Each member of the group carries his or her own secrets, some of which could be deadly in the wrong hands. And not all of them will survive the journey...

This story is just as harrowing and gripping as its companion work, and through it I learned about a massive tragedy with which I was unfamiliar. Just when you think you've heard about all of the horrors of World War II... Despite the occasionally grim details, I highly recommend this book, especially to fans of historical fiction.

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

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Did you miss me?

It's been a couple of months since I last posted here, and boy, were they busy!  I had a couple of big commitments that took over my free time, and the holidays added to the hustle and bustle.  I'm back now, hoping to blog more regularly in the future.  I'm cutting myself some slack when it comes to book reviews, so if my posts are shorter or less detailed than before, it's done in hopes of not ending up, as I did last year, with an enormous pile of books awaiting review, and having to eventually face the fact that I am not going to get them reviewed at all.  This year, I'm working under the assumption that a brief review is better than no review.  Of course, I'll write longer ones when possible.

Also, this year I didn't do my predictions for the ALA Youth Media Awards as I have in the past.  That was partly because I was busy, but also partly because I was serving on the Geisel committee, so I would not have been able to talk about picture books, anyway, since they fall within the purview of that committee.

Here are the books our committee selected as particularly distinguished:

I am pleased and proud of our winners, and of the work done by our committee.  And I'm looking forward to getting this blog back up and running!