June 30, 2014

Review: Fan Art

Fan Art By Sarah Tregay
Illustrated by Melissa DeJesus
Available now from Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins)
Review copy

Jamie is a senior in high school, and pretty popular due to being nice and reasonably good looking.  He's in band, and art, and part of the student literary magazine - not the coolest activities, but he's made some great friends.  His best friend of all is Mason, but there is some trouble in paradise.  Namely, Jamie is in love with Mason, but afraid to come out because he can't handle losing his best friend.  Jamie is also busy going out with his lesbian friend Eden to help her with her religious parents and trying to get a LGBTQ-themed comic into the literary magazine despite the editor's objections.

FAN ART is a cute contemporary that will appeal to fans of LGBTQ romance.  Between each chapter are poems that various characters submit to the magazine, which reveal other parts of the story.  I really enjoyed these interludes, although some felt too sophisticated for the characters supposedly writing them.  The central comic is also pretty cute, although a bit oddly paced - Jamie's passion for it does seem a bit over the top even though it does speak to him personally.

I felt that FAN ART had some issues delivering the romance.  Mason is much more of a cipher than Jamie, partially because his point of view is only briefly glimpsed and partly because Jamie avoids him for a great deal of the book.  By the end, I found Mason's motives somewhat confusing.  I was also put off by the fact that all of Jamie's friends 'ship' him with Mason.  The book does make the point that such actions can have consequences when done with friends instead of fictional characters.  It still felt so intrusive and made me wish Jamie told them off quickly instead of getting embarrassed that someone thought he was gay.

I liked FAN ART well enough.  It's definitely a popcorn novel, but there's nothing wrong with that.  I just had really high hopes for this one because I loved the literary magazine angle.  I suspect FAN ART will find an appreciative audience despite its flaws.

June 26, 2014

Review: Thorn Jack

Thorn Jack The First Night and Nothing novel
By Katherine Harbour
Available now from Harper Voyager (HarperCollins)
Review copy

Finn Sullivan and her father move to the small town where he grew up in the wake of her older sister's suicide.  There, Finn attends college and makes two good friends, Sylvie and Christie.  She's finding the rhythm of life again.  Then she meets gorgeous Jack Fata at a concert.  The Fatas are beautiful, strange, and scary - soon Finn, Sylvie, and Christie are in over their heads.  They must be clever to save themselves.  But Finn doesn't just want to save herself; she wants to save Jack as well.

I felt that THORN JACK started slowly.  For one thing, the college sounds nothing like a college and it really bothered me.  It's called HallowHeart.  What kind of name is that?  It's even a college with a phys ed requirement.  Plus, Finn and her friends all live at home and generally seem more like high schoolers than college students.  I don't think it would've changed the story to put them in high school, and several little things would've made more sense.

I did enjoy being slowly pulled into the mythology of the Night and Nothing series.  It's fairly traditional, as THORN JACK is based on the Tam Lin ballad.  But it incorporates a few non-Celtic traditions and has its own spin on things.  I also liked that the danger to the main characters felt very real.  They mostly survive because the Fatas have plans for them, although they do a little better once they learn how to protect themselves and to fight (with poetry).

Katherine Harbour is a debut novelist, but she has strong control over her language.  THORN JACK is very lush and lovely, although she repeats some of her best images until they become almost meaningless.  Generally, however, the beautiful imagery enhances the horror elements. 

If you're familiar with Tam Lin, you know where everything is headed in THORN JACK.  But Harbour makes the story worth reading.  Finn is a heroine who is somewhat foolhardy, but also loyal, determined, and inventive.  Jack may be dangerous, but he's protective of Finn.  (For a moment, it did look like THORN JACK was headed for the TWILIGHT mode.)  Finn's best friends are great additions to the story.  I am eager to read the next two books in the Night and Nothing series and to learn more about the wolf-eyed man.

June 25, 2014

Review: Summoned

Summoned Book One of Redemption's Heir
By Anne M. Pillsworth
Available now from Tor Teen (Macmillan)
Review copy

Fascinated by the Cthulhu Mythos, Sean Wyndham goes with his best friend to an occult bookshop to find a book about the mythology.  While there, he discovers a strange ad from hundreds of years ago asking for an apprentice - to apply by email.  When he answers, he's given a ritual as a test.  But Sean messes it up and unleashes a predator upon his town - one that only he can banish.

At first, SUMMONED annoyed me.  I think the Cthulhu stuff is great fun, but I really dislike it when authors treat it as something that was around before Lovecraft.  For some reason trying to force it into reality like that gives me unpleasant thoughts of Scientology.  And, well, I thought Sean was super dumb for getting involved with a guy who got his power through Nyarlathotep.  I mean, you don't have to read that much to know that's a power you don't want to get involved with.

But then Sean actually summoned the Servitor, and I got sucked into SUMMONED.  The ensuing adventure involves blood, insanity, stores that aren't really there, monsters that aren't really there, and monsters that are unfortunately actually there.  There are lots of grade-A horror scenes in this novel, no "for YA" disclaimer needed.  (I will note that I am not particularly sensitive to violence towards animals, but there was a scene that I found very upsetting.)

I appreciated that Sean had an involved, concerned father.  It was a convincingly close father-son relationship that still got the father out of the way long enough to allow bad things to happen.  I also liked that SUMMONED splits the point of view between Sean and a twenty-something woman who is also discovering her own power.  There were a few too many secondary characters for all of them to get much development, but there is time for that given sequels are on their way.

As I read, I even started to enjoy the conceit that the Mythos was real and something that Lovecraft had actually experience before writing it down.  Plus, debut author Anne M. Pillsworth's homage was expertly done.  You don't need to be familiar with Lovecraft's stories to enjoy SUMMONED, but I felt that she got to the heart of the terror wonderfully.

SUMMONED is a terrific little horror adventure.  I'm excited to know that more books about Sean are on their way, but gratified that SUMMONED stands just fine on its own.

June 24, 2014

Guest Post by Zoraida Córdova: ON SUPPORTING CHARACTERS

I really love big casts. I love it when there isn’t just one hero. This makes sense since my favorite show is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I think it’s important to give a hero a good support system. I picked three of my favorite supporting characters from The Vicious Deep Trilogy.

Marty McKay: Marty is a character that transitions through all of my books. He’s an all around peace keeper and messanger for a society called The Thorne Hill Alliance. The Alliance is consisted of the magical creatures in the tri-state area. When Marty joins up with Tristan, he’s not supposed to be as involved as he gets. His involvement doesn’t start until there is a new king. But he’s very much still young (relatively for supernatural types), and he loves some merman tail, and of course wants to protect Coney Island, he stands behind Tristan.


Penny: Penny is one of my favorites because she’s a normal young mom. She’s got a kid who is a genetic freak (he has a real turtle shell on his back) and she herself has fingers that can shift into tentacles. She is one of the Landlocked of the Sea Court. Her mother was banished to shore and gave Penny up for adoption. It wasn’t till she was in her teens that she realized where she came from, and found the support of other Landlocked in Brooklyn. She’s a baker and waitress at a cupcake shop, but when it comes time to defend her home, she gets right in it. She has one of my favorite scenes in The Savage Blue. In The Vast & Brutal Sea, her loyalty to Tristan still remains. 

(When I saw this image on Tumblr, THIS IS HOW I PICTURE HER HANDS. ONLY HER HANDS. Penny has hair and a tan.)

Arion: Arion is a merman who is magically bound as the masthead, and Captain, of a ship. His job as long as there is a king, is to carry out his father’s punishment. His father was a traitor and rebel who aligned himself with the Silver Mermaid during her first attempt to steal the throne. Despite Arion’s fierce loyalty to the throne, he was forced to carry out his father’s sentence. It’s part of the Sea Court’s traditions that makes Tristan extremely uncomfortable, as it should. Arion was a dragon slayer during the war with the dragons, and his reward became a punishment instead. Arion is one of my favorite because he’s named after one of my best friends from high school. When I write his dialogue, I can hear his baritone voice. In The Vast & Brutal Sea, I had to cut some of his backstory for pacing, but hopefully I’ll write his a short story one day.

Want to know more about other characters in the books? Shoot me an e-mail at zoraidawrites@gmail.com, or ask in the comments! Catch up on other blog tour stops at www.zoraidacordova.com

Review: The Vast and Brutal Sea

The Vicious Deep Book three of The Vicious Deep
By Zoraida Córdova
Available now from Sourcebooks Fire
Review copy
Read my reviews of THE VICIOUS DEEP and of THE SAVAGE BLUE

Tristan Hart has been through a lot since he learned that he was a merman and a candidate for the throne.  But now his girlfriend Layla has been kidnapped and he's been betrayed by two of his closest allies.  Shortly after THE VAST AND BRUTAL SEA begins, things get even worse for Tristan and his companions.  But he's still determined to defeat his aunt Nieve, save the sea, and keep his promises.

I love this trilogy so very much.  I think it is the best of the many mermaid books and series that have come out in the last several years.  Much of that rests on Tristan's shoulders.  He's come a long way from the shallow teen boy he was before the series began.  He's humble, overmatched, and still determined to do his best by his people.

The diverse supporting cast (in nationality and sexuality) is terrific too, including the new additions to the cast.  I'm sorry that the ongoing war means some of them must die. The Vicious Deep series might have a male protagonist, but it has never shied away from including a variety of well-rounded female characters.  THE VAST AND BRUTAL SEA also fills out antagonist Nieve's painful past.  She needs to be defeated, but one can understand how she came to make her choices.

THE VAST AND BRUTAL SEA is a stunning conclusion to a series that ranges through the wild ocean, abandoned magic isles, and Coney Island.  It's also the story of choice for anyone who wants to see a melee involving vampires, giant turtles, merrows, and demigods.  It is a final battle to be remembered.  I am sad to part ways with these characters, but I look forward to whatever Zoraida Cordóva writes next.

Be sure to come back later today for a guest blog by Zoraida.

June 23, 2014

Review: Great

Great By Sara Benincasa
Available now from HarperTeen (HarperCollins)
Review copy

Confession: I don't really like THE GREAT GATSBY.  I find Scott Fitzgerald's prose overly self-conscious and I found the love story off putting.  But when I heard about a lesbian YA retelling, I couldn't resist.  GREAT transplants the original Jazz Age novel to the modern Hamptons and keeps the plot almost wholesale while eliding or confusing some of the themes.

I didn't expect the original themes to be kept intact; I expected the modern, lesbian update to play around and perhaps comment on them.  I didn't feel any commentary though, just a sort of remainder of rich vs. poor, upper class vs. low, without any sort of old money vs. new money remaining.  Narrator Naomi's new money mother is pretty accepted in the Hamptons, as is Naomi herself.

GREAT also didn't feel like it lived up to the promise of being a lesbian THE GREAT GATSBY.  Naomi, the narrator, is straight.  GREAT takes almost half the novel before Jacinta (Gatsby) and Delilah (Daisy) meet.  When they do, it is a case of obsessed meeting self obsessed.  Even the characters point out that it isn't much of a love story.  Neither Jacinta nor Delilah like or love anything about who the other really is.  At least there was some sense of requited love in THE GREAT GATSBY.  The main change Delilah's bisexuality and Jacinta's lesbianism add to the novel is a chance for Teddy (Tom) to add homophobia to his suite of unattractive attributes.

It's hard for me to judge GREAT on its own.  As I said, I don't like THE GREAT GATSBY, but I thought I might enjoy something playing off of it in a modern way.  I felt like GREAT kept most of the elements I didn't like and made changes that just made me less likely to dislike the novel.  Jay Gatsby might have been a little nuts, but he was also a force of nature.  Jacinta Trimalchio is definitely a little off, and I just wanted someone to help her find a good therapist.  Delilah's sole redeeming quality is that she's nice to Naomi.

I did like Sara Benincasa's style.  I'd be willing to try a different book by her.  I'd even read the book about Skags, Naomi's butch best friend back home in Chicago, romancing the head cheerleader over the summer.  That rarely referenced sub-subplot intrigued me far more than a rehashing a novel that never quite manages to make me thing that the updates to the original work.  GREAT was a touch too faithful, instead of finding its own voice.

June 20, 2014

Strange Chemistry is no more

I enjoyed the Strange Chemistry imprint quite a bit, so I am saddened by today's announcement that it is closed effective immediately and all upcoming books are cancelled.

Per the press release:

As you will be aware, Angry Robot Books has a history of innovation and we continue to go from strength to strength. We’re constantly trying out new concepts and new ideas, and we continue to publish popular and award-winning books. Our YA imprint Strange Chemistry and our crime/mystery imprint Exhibit A have – due mainly to market saturation – unfortunately been unable to carve out their own niches with as much success.
We have therefore made the difficult decision to discontinue Strange Chemistry and Exhibit A, effective immediately, and no further titles will be published from these two imprints.
The core Angry Robot imprint is robust, however, and we plan to increase our output from 2 books a month, to 3. We have no plans to cancel any titles other than those of Strange Chemistry and Exhibit A.

This also makes me wish I'd requested some of the upcoming titles from NetGalley so that I could at least read them. The YA market is a tough one, particularly because it is full of lots of quality reads.  I understand Angry Robot's decision and have no desire for them to go under to save a sinking ship.

I'm glad Angry Robot is still going strong and hope the Strange Chemistry authors and their books find new homes.  (Publishers, please pick up the last Pantomime book and the Black Dog sequel, kthnxbai.)  But I'll miss this little imprint.  I didn't love all of their output, but it was full of hidden gems.


Rachel Neumeier's reaction 
Laura Lam's reaction
Bookshelves of Doom coverage

Review: The Rules for Breaking

The Rules for Breaking Sequel to The Rules for Disappearing
By Ashley Elston
Available now from Disney-Hyperion
Review copy

So I didn't know THE RULES FOR BREAKING was a sequel until after I read it, but that explains so much.  I didn't feel lost reading the book, because things were explained, but I felt like it opened in an odd place.  After all, that action Anna describes would be a great book in itself!  Turns out it was.

I was sucked into Anna's story instantly.  She's been in the Witness Protection Program since seeing her crush and his father murdered.  The assassin left her alive because she knew where some information was.  She's trying to build a normal life with her boyfriend Ethan, but recently Thomas - the assassin - made contact with her again.  Soon enough, she, Ethan, and her little sister Teeny have been kidnapped.

Anna felt very realistic to me.  She sometimes makes uninformed or shortsighted decisions, but her motivations are clear.  (They're mostly to keep herself, her boyfriend, and her little sister alive.)  Her relationship with her traumatized sister was sweet, despite the circumstances.  Her relationship with Ethan was a bit close to too perfect, although his possessive streak helped temper it.  The villains were quite chilling, particularly the one who fancied himself friendly.  (I don't want to give too much away!)

THE RULES FOR BREAKING is a story with multiple twists and turns.  It seems fairly predictable at first, but then things start turning inside out.  I guessed a few of the twists, but not all.  It's not deep, but it is fun.  Anna's growth throughout the novel was well done, and her strong personality helped ground the book during the more ludicrous twists.  I definitely want to pick up the first book to see what I missed!

June 19, 2014

Review: The Return of Zita the Spacegirl

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl Zita the Spacegirl, Book Three
By Ben Hatke
Available now from First Second (Macmillan)
Review copy

THE RETURN OF ZITA THE SPACEGIRL is the third and final Zita graphic novel (for now).  Zita has saved many people and multiple worlds since leaving Earth to rescue her classmate Joseph.  She's also made enemies, which has led to her being thrown into a terrible underground prison.

The Zita series is extremely popular for a good reason.  The books have a lot of sci-fi action, colorful and creative character design, and an intrepid heroine determined to save the day.  I really enjoyed how THE RETURN OF ZITA THE SPACEGIRL brought back old characters, such as Piper and Madrigal, and introduced new ones, such as Zita's hilarious cellmates.  It also has a strong theme of unintended consequences in addition to the usual selfless heroism.

I think THE RETURN OF ZITA THE SPACEGIRL can be enjoyed alone, but it's best if you're familiar with the characters.  Each of the novels is a pretty quick read, so there's no reason not to read the first two.  Ben Hatke's Zita trilogy combines the appeal of Raina Telgemeier or Matt Phelan's art with a science fiction story reminiscent of Bruce Coville.

Fans of the series should be aware that THE RETURN OF ZITA THE SPACEGIRL is darker than the first two books.  It is still suitable for children, but some aspects might require a bit of discussion with an adult.  (There are discussions of slavery, for instance.)  I did appreciate that Hatke raised the stakes and let Zita go out strong.  This trilogy is a great all-ages graphic novel read.

June 18, 2014

Review: The Walk-In Closet

The Walk-In Closet By Abdi Nazemian
Available now from Curtis Brown Digital
Review copy

Kara and Babak, called Bobby, have been living together for years.  Now that Kara is turning thirty, Bobby's parents are upping the pressure for them to get married and have kids.  The only problem is that Kara really is just Bobby's roommate; they let his traditional Persian parents think otherwise so that Bobby can stay in the closet.  It helps that she loves his family's traditions.

I swung back and forth on whether I liked THE WALK-IN CLOSET.  I laughed quite a bit, and enjoyed the peek into the lifestyle of Tehrangeles.  One of the themes of the novel is that both Kara and Bobby need to grow up.  Their immaturity can make parts of THE WALK-IN CLOSET a difficult read.  For instance, when Kara confronts her ex-boyfriend and he gives her some lame philosophical line about her inability to have multiple relationships, she decides that he's right and she should just have some casual sex.  Thus, she has Bobby set her up a profile on Craigslist.  Craigslist.

(And let's not even get into the scene where Kara tells a man that only women can use "No means no."  I probably would've stopped the book there if I wasn't reviewing it.)

These attempted hookups lead Kara to Kyle, a man she can see herself having a relationship with.  Her continued relationship with Kyle and the pressure from Bobby's parents push her to finally confront what she wants and to stop being complacent about her life.  It's a bit of well-needed character development, but the pressure definitely gets to Kara.

THE WALK-IN CLOSET is fairly fun if you accept the heightened reality and the arrested development of the characters.  The final twist is fairly telegraphed, but it still added a strong plotline that the book needed.  This was a good enough summer read, but I prefer something somewhat more mature.

June 17, 2014

Review: Broken Hearts, Fences and Other Things to Mend

Broken Hearts, Fences and Other Things to Mend First in the Broken Hearts & Revenge series
By Katie Finn
Available now from Feiwel & Friends (Macmillan)
Review copy
Read my review of Since You've Been Gone

It is hard to believe that Katie Finn and Morgan Matson are the same person.  BROKEN HEARTS, FENCES AND OTHER THINGS TO MEND starts out promising, with a strong narrative voice from a young girl getting over heartbreak.  But things go off the rails with a plot that is way too drawn out and requires the heroine to act like an absolute idiot.

Gemma ruined several lives when she was 11.  I found what she did suitably devastating for a dark past secret, but found it unbelievable that none of the adults in the situation spoke enough to each other to figure out what was actually happening.  Now, Gemma has run in to two figures from that summer: her old best friend, Hallie, and her brother.  Luckily, Gemma is carrying a cup labeled "Sophie" so they don't realize it's her.

Gemma is determined to make amends, and she's also falling for Josh.  Their relationship is really sweet, and their conversations about past relationship traumas make their connection something believable and more than physical.  At the same time, bad things keep happening to Gemma.  It absolutely can't be because of an extremely obvious twist.  Seriously, Gemma may not be the smartest, but she's smart enough to put two and two together, so it's frustrating that she doesn't.

(And I will eat my hat if Hallie and Josh's mother isn't the author of the ersatz Twilight novel.)

Basically, BROKEN HEARTS, FENCES AND OTHER THINGS TO MEND wastes good character work and a terrific summer romance on a glacial, silly plot.  I somewhat want to finish the trilogy to see Gemma grow up, but I doubt I will.  This was a fairly frustrating reading experience.

(However, if you are interested in reading it yourself, Macmillan started a readalong yesterday, so now is a good time.)

June 16, 2014

Review: Faking Normal

Faking Normal By Courtney C. Stevens
Available now from HarperTeen (HarperCollins)
Review copy

Courtney C. Stevens' debut novel could be a giant mess.  The heroine was raped; the hero's father killed his mom after years of abuse.  But it's a really lovely book, one that explores the issues it raises with compassion and a focus on character.  (Note: it takes a long time for the word rape to be used in the novel, but it's fairly evident early on what Alexi is not saying.)

I'm a little conflicted about some elements.  I love Bodee, the hero.  He's a sweet boy who is very understanding of Alexi and her boundaries, but still finds ways to help her recover even as he's dealing with his mom's death and the fact he has to give a deposition about what he witnessed.  At the same time, Bodee is a total manic pixie dreamboy.  He's a perfect romantic fantasy.  But his improbable lightness helps keep the dark subject matter from being over the top.  I think Bodee works for the purposes of FAKING NORMAL, but he might bother someone looking for strict realism.

Alexi's real struggle is finding her voice.  She couldn't bring herself to say no during the rape, although she signaled a lack of consent in nonverbal ways (such as sobbing through the act).  She feels guilt and shame for not saying no.  She doesn't want to speak up now, because she'll ruin her rapist's life.  He's nice, he just made a mistake, she insists to herself.  She can handle seeing him all the time.  Alexi's inner conflict about what happened and how to handle it really showcases the terrible messages many people internalize about rape, rape victims, and rapists.

There were a few other parts that strained my credulity.  Alexi manages to find real, solid memories of why she couldn't say no.  I found it more believable that she just couldn't in the panic of the moment.  Alexi's sister's cruelty goes a bit beyond sibling teasing.

But I really did enjoy FAKING NORMAL.  I particularly liked Alexi's two best friends, who have their own relationship troubles but want the best for Alexi.  They know something is wrong, and just try their best since they don't know why.  And, again, Bodee is wonderful in his perfection.

I don't think FAKING NORMAL will be the book for everyone, but I liked that it tackled rape and abuse with a slightly lighter hand.  It's a strong debut for Stevens, and I look forward to whatever she does next.

June 13, 2014

Review: Hexed

Hexed By Michelle Krys
Available now from Delacorte Press (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

HEXED owes a strong debt to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but fortunately stands on its own. Indigo Blackwood sees a man die, then two very creepy men come to interrogate her about what she witnessed.  It all leads to an important family heirloom being stolen and Indigo discovering that she's a witch.

Indie shows great courage in tough situations, which really endeared her to me.  She's determined to help people, but unable to do anything effective until she's trained in how to use her abilities.  The other characters ranged in interest for me. 

I liked Paige, the hanger on who turns out to be there for Indie in a way her other friends aren't, but she disappeared for long stretches of the book.  (Until the cliffhanger ending, I totally forgot about Paige.)  Bishop is the bad boy in leather who Indie of course falls for.  I am still boggling at a romantic hero with a naked Betty Boop tattooed on his neck.  Just what.  (I hope I am not spoiling anything for anyone by mentioning that Indie insists that he cover it up, thank goodness.)  Indie and Bishop do have a nice amount of snarky, belligerent chemistry.

The bad guys, sorcerers who want to kill witches, are quite threatening.  These are not villains who just stand around posturing.  Indie is very lucky that they want her alive to break a spell on the heirloom.  Those around her are not always so lucky.

HEXED is an entertaining debut for fans of witches and stories with lots of action.  It's nothing too original or exciting, but it's not totally paint by numbers either.  There is a complete story here, but be warned that there is a sudden cliffhanger ending that sets up a sequel.  I must admit, I wasn't a big fan of that hook.  I might read the second book, I might not.

June 12, 2014

Review: When Mr. Dog Bites

When Mr. Dog Bites By Brian Conaghan
Available now from Bloomsbury
Review copy

Scottish author Brian Conaghan draws on his own experience with Tourette's Syndrome to tell the story of Dylan Mint, who has Tourette's and is convince he's going to die in March.  He's inspired to create a list of things to do before he dies, but it also makes it harder for him to keep a leash on "Mr. Dog" as well as his own behavior.

Dylan might be sixteen, and sex with Michelle Malloy might be the top thing on his list, but he's almost painfully naive.  His innocence makes it easier to sympathize with him when he's being difficult, for instance when he's biting back at his mother for disciplining him.  It's also sweet when he's defending his best friend Amir, despite not comprehending some of the racism leveled against him.

The language of WHEN MR. DOG BITES is involving, because it relies heavily on Scottish, rhyming, and other slangs.  Dylan loves playing with words, and it is interesting to fall into the rhythm of his thoughts.  Given that he has Tourette's, some of that language is strong, but it's less intrusive than I expected when I started reading.

I wasn't in love with WHEN MR. DOG BITES.  I enjoyed the diversity of the characters and the use of language.  But I felt the plot relied too strongly on Dylan being utterly guileless.  I never quite believed that he was sixteen.  Fourteen, maybe. 

June 11, 2014

Review: The Strange Maid

The Strange Maid Book two of the United States of Asgard
By Tessa Gratton
Available now from Random House BFYR (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

THE LOST SUN ended up being one of my favorite books last year.  The romance, the loyalty, the world - it all combined to form a delicious reading experience.  But I was not prepared for the sequel.  THE STRANGE MAID starts before THE LOST SUN, and is the story of Signy Valborn, a disgraced Valkyrie who couldn't be more different from Soren.  Soren longed to escape his violent destiny.  Signy would like to bring back human sacrifice.

Signy is a delightfully unique heroine.  She dances on the edge of madness and chaos, delights in battle and revenge, has sex with whoever she wants and doesn't apologize for it.  Her story is likewise violent, sexy, and just a little crazy.  Also, fitting for a story set in a US where the Viking gods are real and everyone still worships them, there is a strong vein of BEOWULF running through the plot.

I loved how much more of the world Gratton explores in THE STRANGE MAID.  Soren shows up eventually, but he doesn't take over the story.  Signy's story stretches over even more of the land, and she spends time integrating into more groups.  For all that THE LOST SUN involved a road trip, it was more insular.  THE STRANGE MAID also gives more insight into the berserkers, in addition to the Valkyrie.  I'm not entirely sure where Gratton is going with this series, but she obviously has a plan.  Clearly, I have no idea what might happen next, and I love it.

I think that I prefer THE LOST SUN to THE STRANGE MAID, but that's because I loved the central triangle of Soren, Astrid, and Baldur in THE LOST SUN so much.  I think THE STRANGE MAID has stronger worldbuilding and a more sophisticated plot.  It's a rich exploration of grief, revenge, entitlement, destiny, choice, and faith.  Plus, like her critique partner Maggie Stiefvater, Gratton knows how to use her words.  THE STRANGE MAID is a beautiful novel.

I cannot wait for book three.

June 10, 2014

48HBC Review: California Bones

California Bones By Greg van Eekhout
Available now from Tor
Review copy

You are what you eat.  In the world of CALIFORNIA BONES, magic exists even though there are few sources of it left.  At the top of the heap are the osteomancers, who get their power through consuming bones.  At the top of their heap is the Hierarch of  Southern California, who keeps his power by periodically consuming his most powerful subordinates, including Daniel Blackland's father.

Greg van Eekhout has created an inventive type of magic and a nightmarish bureaucracy that fuel a heist plot.  Now, I love a good heist.  But this one falls to pretty standard heist beats and ends up being a little disappointing because the world of CALIFORNIA BONES is so compelling that it cries out for something a little riskier.  At the same time, while the book reaches a satisfying conclusion, Eekhout seemed to be maneuvering things into place for a sequel and I will be there with bells on.

CALIFORNIA BONES follows two very different young men with similar backgrounds.  Daniel was raised as an osteomancer by his father and went into hiding after his death.  Gabriel's mother kept him from the power to keep him safe, and he grew up to join the government himself.  When Gabriel discovers that Daniel faked his death and is still alive, he becomes embroiled in the dangerous politics he so long avoided.  Meanwhile, Daniel is brought back into the fold by a major grifter for the chance to take back something the Hierarch stole.  Gabriel is out for revenge, while Daniel just wants to survive.

I liked the way the two plots inter-weaved, the way their goals both conflicted and came together.  I think I liked Gabriel's chapters a touch more.  He develops a relationship with a human "dog" named Max that really shows he isn't what he first appears to be.  Daniel's chapters are enjoyable too, but just a bit more standard and predictable.

So much of this book lingers in my mind.  The first chapter, for one.  The exquisitely grotesque imagery is going to haunt my darker dreams for awhile.  Gabriel's chapters show the senseless violence and dehumanization employed by the government in harrowing detail.  Daniel's crew exhibit their own strange and wondrous powers.  There's a beautiful mix of horror and the fantastical.  Urban fantasy fans will not be disappointed.

June 9, 2014

48HBC Review: Feather Bound

Feather Bound By Sarah Raughley
Available now from Strange Chemistry (Angry Robot)
Review copy

I was excited about FEATHER BOUND, a YA debut based on the Hagoromo/Crane Wife legend.  After seeing several negative reviews, my excitement dimmed and it moved down in my TBR pile.  But 48HBC, with its focus on diversity, pushed it back up toward the top.

The story begins with Deanna attending the funeral of an old family friend.  She's mostly there out of obligation, but she does mourn the man's son, her best friend who died when he was ten.  Cue the reveal that in Deanna's world some people are "swans" - they have feathers, which if stolen make them the slave of the one who takes them.  And that old family friend enslaved his wife.  Cue the second reveal that Hyde is still alive, taking over his father's company, and making some big changes to it as well.

Sarah Raughley's writing is fine and there are lots of good ideas in FEATHER BOUND.  Through the metaphor of swans, Raughley addresses human trafficking, coming out, and several other issues.  At the same time, that means those issues only get addressed shallowly.  Deanna is only interested in keeping herself and those she loves free; she's not interested in ending slavery or campaigning for stricter protections or ending the stigma against being a swan.  Much like a fairy tale, there is no explanation for the magical.  Swans just are.  FEATHER BOUND really requires the reader to buy in to the metaphor.  I did, but I wished Raughley had the time to go deeper.

Deanna was a frustrating heroine.  She's the type, as her sister points out, to refuse any help offered and then complain that she's all alone.  Thus, Deanna tries to go at it alone in a desperate situation while ignoring people who could and would help.  At the same time, it's easy to see why a confused, scared teenager would withdraw from the world as Deanna does.

I think fans of traditional fairy tale retellings will enjoy FEATHER BOUND.  The world's rules serve the characters journey.  It's not appropriate for most readers younger than twelve due to the sexual slavery angle, but it doesn't really have any other elements that play up the darkness of the premise.  (Okay, I am now remembering that there is another strange sexual bit that is not for younger readers.)  I did like that Deanna found her inner strength at the end.

June 8, 2014

Review: Gold Medal Winter

Gold Medal Winter By Donna Freitas
Available now from Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic)
Review copy

Esperanza Flores, called Espi, is a sixteen-year-old figure skater who gets her big break when she places second at Nationals the year one of the top US skaters is out with a knee injury.  Unexpectedly, she's on the US Olympic team.

I love figure skating.  I did it myself as a child, and I've never forgotten how much fun it is.  Plus, it's one of the funnest sports to watch.  Thus, I had very high hopes for GOLD MEDAL WINTER.  For the most part, it delivered.

I liked that GOLD MEDAL WINTER emphasizes that ice skating is tough and requires a great deal of practice and dedication.  Like most performers and athletes, Espi is superstitious.  Belief in yourself and not giving into mind games or the pressure is also part of winning.  But Espi gets caught up in a lot of drama on her way to the games.

I really didn't like the love triangle in GOLD MEDAL WINTER.  Espi has made it the the Olympics, something she's been working for for years, but instead she's going to spend her time worrying about boys?  Like Espi's coach, I was disappointed that she was giving into the drama.  I was also disappointed that in the end, their isn't much description of Espi's routines.

GOLD MEDAL WINTER is a quick middle-grade read that will satisfy ice skating and Olympics fans.  Author Donna Freitas incorporates a lot of detail about how the team is picked and such that adds to the verisimilitude of the story.  Espi's Dominican heritage also adds another layer of interest to the story.  Predicting the ending isn't much trouble, but the journey is fun.

48 HBC Finish Line

My time ended at 6:15, but I was on the road and couldn't update everything until now.

Since my last update, I spent one hour on social media, 25 minutes writing my DIVIDED review, and 30 minutes writing my SCREAMING DIVAS review.  It took me an hour and a half to finish CALIFORNIA BONES.  Then I read GOLD METAL WINTER by Donna Freitas, which took an one hour and fifteen minutes.  Next I read FEATHER BOUND by Sarah Raughley, which took one hour.  I started WHEN MR. DOG BITES by Brian Conaghan.  I read for 30 minutes and finished 25% of the book.

My total time is 16:50, with 1:40 on social media and 15:10 reading and writing reviews.  I read 8 1/2 novels in addition to a selection of kids books, for a total of 2,677 pages.  I wrote 5 1/2 reviews.  Hopefully I won't be traveling next year!  This is two years in a row.

48HBC Review: Screaming Divas

Screaming Divas By Suzanne Kamata
Available now from Merit Press (F+W Media)
Review copy

SCREAMING DIVAS is about a girl group composed of Trudy, Cassie, Harumi, and Esther.  All of them write songs in their turn, and only Harumi starts out knowing how to play an instrument. Each of the girls is angry in their own way, and the band lets them express that.  But not all of them can escape their worst impulses.

SCREAMING DIVAS dives right in with Trudy's trip to juvie and subsequent romancing of one of her father's students when she was just fifteen.  It lets you know that these girls lives are not happy, that some of their issues have engendered behaviors that just make their lives more difficult, and gives a sense that things might not all work out for the best. 

At 208 pages, SCREAMING DIVAS is a relatively short book, especially since it's telling the story of four girls.  But I felt like it still worked.  It helps that Trudy, Cassie, Harumi, and Esther are very different.  Harumi's sections, for instance, are perhaps the most positive.  She is sensible, talented, and has strength of will and character.  Her life isn't sunshine and rainbows perhaps, but she provides a bit of fresh air when the rest of the story gets too dark.  Esther's emotional journey was my favorite, as she comes to terms with her sexuality and then figures out what she wants romantically.  Cassie and Trudy were the two who worried me the most, both of them so eager to be loved.  I was so right, but at the same time SCREAMING DIVAS left me with hope.

Suzanne Kamata's sophomore novel is an appealingly gritty novel.  (I think I would've actually liked it less as a teenager due to the underage drinking and sex and such.)  It felt a bit like a soap opera at times, but in a good way.  It is a book of feminine art, rage, and pain that will appeal to fans of Stephanie Kuehnert and Courtney Summers.  Most readers will be able to connect to at least one of the four heroines.

Note: This review took me 30 minutes to write.

June 7, 2014

48HBC Review: Divided

Divided Sequel to DUALED
By Elsie Chapman
Available now from Random House BFYR (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

DIVIDED picks up several months after DUALED ends.  West Grayer has moved on from her life as an assassin, and now teaches weaponry.  But the government has discovered that she used to be a striker, and wants her to kill three teens to protect their children - and they offer her the motivation to go through with it.

I enjoyed DUALED, although I had some issues with it.  The set up of the society made sense if I didn't think about it too long.  Everyone is infertile, and born through genetic engineering.  Everyone has four parents and a twin.  Sometime during the ages of 10 and 20, you become active and kill your twin with the other set of parents, proving that you are more worthy of the city's resources and can join the army.  (Seriously, that's just a way to end up with a seriously psychologically messed up population.)  But if everyone is born through genetic engineering, just select for speed and strength and intelligence or whatever.  I also had issues with the way the heroine's murder-for-hire was presented and the way it never quite gelled with her character.  But I still moved on to the sequel.

DIVIDED does go deeper into the workings of the city of Kersh.  It answers some of my questions about things being nonsensical, but brings up others.  (Finally someone mentions that the surrounding populations must've figured out something to solve the infertile issue too, since it has been several generations and they would all be dead if they couldn't breed.)  But the worldbuilding generally happens in the background of the plot.  West's straightforward job for the government is much more layered than it initially appears.

In many ways, that works for me, because the plot does make sense.  I could understand why the characters were doing what they were doing.  I liked that the bad guy was paranoid, overreactive, and coldly murderous, but still a loving father.  I might not have always agreed with the characters' decisions, but they were based on real human emotion.

Read DUALED and DIVIDED if you're looking for a plot-driven read with a crazily set-up society as the background.  They're not bad, particularly not for dystopian fans, but not quite what I'm looking for in a sci-fi read.

Note: This review took me 25 minutes to write.

48 HBC Update 3

I know I said it might be late, but I didn't mean this late!  Today has been a day full of visiting family, so I didn't get as much reading done as I might have.  (I was also called on to navigate at some points, since my dad had never driven to Fort Worth from my apartment.)  I still got some reading done.

I started with DUALED by Elsie Chapman, which took me one hour and forty-five minutes.  Then I moved on to its sequel DIVIDED, which took me an hour and fifteen minutes.  My third book of the day, SCREAMING DIVAS by Suzanne Kumata, took one hour.  Then I started CALIFORNIA BONES, which I have read for 25 minutes.  I'm glad I didn't start it last night, because that first chapter would've given me nightmares.  (I'm not sure it won't, even having read it in the middle of the day.  That's not a scene I'm going to forget soon.)

I read to my nephew for 30 minutes.  He picked out a selection of books including THERE'S A WOCKET IN MY POCKET, DIGGER THE DINOSAUR, OH MY OH MY OH DINOSAURS, THE POKY LITTLE PUPPY, and BEDTIME BEAR.  I also played Mad Libs with my niece for fifteen minutes, but I'm not sure if that counts as reading.

Last night I was at 5:40.  I am now at 10:35, plus 5 for writing this post.  (Plus 15 if you include the Mad Libs.)

New total: 10:40

June 6, 2014

48 HBC Update 2

Time after update 1: 1:53

Since my first update, I read A TIME TO DANCE and wrote reviews of A TIME TO DANCE and COLD CALLS.  I also wrote two reviews for TGTBTU.  I spent twelve minutes finishing my review of "The Kraken King and the Scribbling Spinster" by Meljean Brook, which has an Asian hero.  I also spent 30 minutes writing a review of SIDEKICK by Auralee Wallace, in which a major character is Indian.  (Well, it isn't said outright, but her name is Indira and there is a reference to her having dark skin.)

Adding in a couple of minutes for this post and I am at 4 hours.  I am going to spend a little time blog hopping now, and then start CALIFORNIA BONES by Greg van Eekhout.  I'll also listen to a bit more of FAT ANGIE while I pack.

ETA:  I spent 40 minutes on social media and then 30 minutes listening to FAT ANGIE.  This will probably be my last update for awhile.  I'll be reading a lot as I get ready and travel tomorrow, but probably won't write an update until sometime after I get there.

ETA2: I accidentally listened to 30 extra minutes of FAT ANGIE.  Now it's really time for me to sleep.

48HBC Review: Cold Calls

Cold Calls By Charles Benoit
Available now from Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Review copy

I first heard of Charles Benoit when I saw him at the Austin Teen Book Festival.  I thought his book YOU sounded interesting, not the least because it was written in second person.  I never picked it up though, but I remembered his name.  His latest release is COLD CALLS, a high-tech thriller about three teens: Eric, Shelly, and Fatima.

Each of the teens has a secret that someone has found out.  And that someone is calling them, blackmailing them, and forcing them to bully someone at their school.  It gets them all put into an alternative program, where they meet and decide to track down their harasser.  It's an intriguing plot,  but COLD CALLS' biggest problem is having too much plot.

The story is driven by the fact that each of the teens is willing to bully someone else in order to have their secret kept.  Their motivation is key to the story working.  But each of the characters felt so shallow.  The weakest is Fatima, who doesn't get a point of view chapter until halfway through COLD CALLS.  It felt like Eric got the greatest focus in the novel, but he doesn't have much of a personal arc.  Shelly has the strongest emotional arc, but it felt like it cut away from her at a dramatic moment and then came back to her personal story once she was over it.

The super bully is chilling, but left me a bit cold.  COLD CALLS has some interesting things to say about the relationship between bullies and victims, but it felt like it went slightly over the top.  Again, it seemed like a bit more character development might've made it all work better.

I did think that the plot was interesting and moved along at a good clip.  There is quite a bit to discover, as the secrets unfold bit by bit and the three teens start getting closer to the antagonist.  COLD CALLS does engage with interesting ideas.  As I mentioned before, there is the nature of bullying.  There's also themes of personal responsibility, protecting private information in a digital world, and confession.  It's a decent choice for anyone looking for a quick, thrilling read.

Note: This review took me 20 minutes to write.

48HBC Review: A Time to Dance

A Time to Dance By Padma Venkatraman
Available now from Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

Veda is a Bharatanatyam dancer in Chennai who has just won an important competition, one that could maybe convince her parents that she's serious about becoming a professional dancer.  A car wreck on the way home destroys her foot, and her leg is amputated below the knee.  Veda struggles to recover when she's offered the chance to join a medical trial and get an advanced prosthetic.

I know the barest bit of Bharatanatyam from my lessons on South Indian music.  Author Padma Venkatraman allowed me to visualize it, despite my unfamiliarity.  She describes the poses and feelings beautifully.  As Veda learns to dance again, she comes to a new understanding of the meaning of the dance.  The spiritual and religious meaning of Bharatanatyam is explored, as well as what that means for Veda and her own relationship with Shiva.

A TIME TO DANCE is told in verse (a wonderful form for describing dance).  However, Venkatraman's long, fluid lines read almost like prose.  This is not a book that will trip up a reader unfamiliar with or intimidated by poetry.

Dance is not the sole focus of A TIME TO DANCE.  Veda's family is very important to her, particularly her beloved Paati.  She struggles to hang out with her friends the same as she did before the accident, and doesn't know how to handle the overtures of friendship from her former dance rival.  She crushes on the doctor who gets her into the prosthetic trial and her new beginning dance teacher, who is her age.  Then, of course, there is Veda's relationship with her body.  She loved its strength, but she feels like she lost her beauty when she lost her old dancing ability.

I highly recommend A TIME TO DANCE.  Veda is a compelling heroine who undergoes a complicated personal journey, and Venkatraman's writing is gorgeous.  It's also an intriguing glimpse into another culture.

Note: It took me 50 minutes to read A TIME TO DANCE.  This review took me 15 minutes to write.

48HBC Update 1

I finished COLD CALLS, which took a little less than an hour.  (50 minutes, actually.)  I listened to FAT ANGIE for one hour and one minute.

Before I write a review of COLD CALLS, I'm taking a brief break to go get dinner.  I had leftovers for dinner, but I left them at work.  (Yes, it was brilliant.)  Luckily, I have a coupon for a free sub at the new Jersey Mike's.  I'll probably read on my Kindle while I'm there.  First up on my Kindle is A TIME TO DANCE by Padma Venkatraman.

This update took two minutes to write. Total time so far: 1:53

The 48HBC: Starting Line

It is time for the Ninth Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge.  This is my official starting line.  I am attempting to read and review as many diverse books as possible in the next 48 hours.

There are some complications; I'm going out of town since I was acutely ill Memorial Day weekend and didn't see my family.  Hopefully I can read in the car while my dad drives.

I'm going to start by listening to FAT ANGIE by e.E. Carlton-Trujillo while I do chores.  Then, I'm going to start reading COLD CALLS by Charles Benoit.

Review: The Truth About Alice

Truth About Alice By Jennifer Mathieu
Available now from Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan)
Review copy

THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE is told elliptically, through the eyes of her frenemy, her ex-best friend, a grieving golden boy, and a nerd with a crush.  She gets the final word, but most of the words are gossip, innuendo, speculation, and outright lies.

It all started at a party hosted by Elaine.  Shortly after the party everyone knew Alice had slept with two guys within one hour.  Then one of those guys, Brandon, died in a car crash, and Josh blamed Alice for distracting him with texts.  That's all it takes for Alice to end up totally ostracized, as a slut and killer.  Kelsie, her former friend, thinks she can't trust that Alice didn't sleep with the guys like she says.  Kurt wants to help, if he can gather the courage to speak to Alice.

The points of view weave together seamlessly, moving back and forth through time as they reveal their secrets, how they relate to Alice, and how they led to Alice being a scapegoat.  Everyone has their pain and regrets.  What happens to Alice is incredibly cruel, but debut author Jennifer Matheiu keeps it believable.  Even more, she doesn't demonize anyone.  Brandon might've been a heinous douche, but he still didn't deserve to die.

That being said, THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE is not a subtle book.  The characters have depths, but right and wrong are clearly portrayed.  It works though, because we do live in a world where girls are shamed for sex, whether they've had it or not.  Alice's voice isn't heard until the end, and that's very intentional.  Whether she had sex with Brandon or not isn't the question.  The way her classmates and town treat her is.

THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE is loosely woven, driven more by character than incident.  It is a very good thing the book is short, because there isn't much of a plot to speak of.  But the emotional journey is very cathartic and hopeful.  This is a stunning debut, and I look forward to Mathieu's sophomore novel.

June 5, 2014

Review: Take Back the Skies

Take Back the Skies The first book in the Tellus World series
By Lucy Saxon
Available now from Bloomsbury
Review copy

Nineteen-year-old Lucy Saxon's debut novel TAKE BACK THE SKIES wears its influences on its sleeve, but that doesn't stop it from being a fast-paced adventure with a surprising ending.

Protagonist Cat disguises herself as a boy and runs away to escape an arranged marriage to a true boor.  She hides on an airship headed out of the country.  From there, it doesn't take her long to realize that her own country isn't actually fighting an overseas war.  So why, exactly, are ever more children being conscripted for the army?  It is up to Cat to rally the smugglers and use her knowledge of the country's upper class to find the answers and effect change.

TAKE BACK THE SKIES has some serious worldbuilding issues.  The world's technology is pretty inconsistent.  There are mecha and electronic locks, but there appear to be no cars and people carry around money purses that are snatched by orphan pickpockets like something out of a Victorian novel.  Every time a bit of technology was mentioned I would abruptly remember that the story wasn't set in a quasi-18th century world.  Then there's the fact that the ersatz war seems far too preposterous to have lasted seven years.  Why would anyone believe that thirteen year olds were needed for the army?  Especially when they seem to stop recruiting before eighteen.  What sort of war would make an eighteen year old too old?  There are no efforts to explain this.

At the same time, I really enjoyed the story.  TAKE BACK THE SKIES moves quickly enough that you can turn off your brain and go with the flow.  Cat is an appealing protagonist.  I liked her insistence that she could pull her own weight and take care of herself, even when I rolled my eyes at her saying that life with her neglectful father was as bad as Fox's life as a poor orphan.  Fox, the love interest, struck me as generic, but he didn't do anything to make me dislike him.  (The romance, sadly, takes a turn for the worse when the obligatory love triangle rears its head.)  The other four members of the crew were easy to remember, even if they didn't get much character depth.  (And I appreciated the inclusion of a gay couple.  Or I assume we were meant to assume that they're a gay couple.)

I'm not sure how I feel about the ending of TAKE BACK THE SKIES.  I felt like it undermined some of the themes of the story.  The blurb promises that there are five more books in Tellus world to come, but they are non-linear and explore other parts of the world.  I do hope they address some of the fallout of Cat's final decisions.  It's generally an unsatisfying ending for the character, even if it is a satisfying ending for the story.

I feel like TAKE BACK THE SKIES could've really been special with a bit more attention to how the world actually operated and a bit less attention on the bog-standard romance.  At the same time, I really liked Cat and was swept along by the plot.  It's a fine first novel.

June 4, 2014

Review: Present Darkness

Present Darkness The fourth Emmanuel Cooper mystery
By Malla Nunn
Available now from Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Review copy

The Emmanuel Cooper books just might be my favorite ongoing mystery series.  The series started in 2009 with A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE, set in 1952 South Africa.  Although PRESENT DARKNESS comes three books later, it is only one year later in story time.

The setting is incredibly important to these novels.  Apartheid legislation started in 1948.  It segregated people - white, black, mixed race, Indian - as well as services.  It also made sexual relations and marriage between people of different races illegal.  Cooper, a detective sergeant, grew up in a mixed-race slum, growing up as a "white kaffir."  In the present, he seeks to hide his sympathies even as he helps find justice for those the law would ignore.  It's becoming harder, especially since he has to hide all details of his private life.  His girlfriend is mixed race and they have a daughter together.

PRESENT DARKNESS starts with two separate crimes.  A prostitute is kidnapped.  A white couple is critically beaten, and their daughter names two black men as the attackers.  The first crime takes a long time to tie into the story, although the updates on the girl's situation are quite harrowing and make one hope that she'll somehow escape a grisly fate.  The second seems like an open and shut case.  However, one of the men she names is the son of Cooper's good friend Detective Constable Samuel Shabalala.  Cooper realizes that the crime is too neat and investigates on his own.

The mystery weaves together slowly, taking several unpredictable turns, complicated at every step by the inescapable racial politics.  Malla Nunn's hero might be impossibly progressive, but he does have his dark side, and as the case gets more personal it brings out his violence.  I thought PRESENT DARKNESS hammered a bit too hard on Cooper's concern about his secret family being discovered, but I did like how the theme of family was woven through the climax.

This series is good because Nunn's plotting is tight and twisted, the sense of place not a gimmick but an integral part of each mystery.  It is also good because Nunn's writing is so good.  Nunn got her start in screenwriting, and she has a real sense for laying out cinematic landscapes.  You can practically see the geography rolling out before you.  A new book in a favorite series is always cause for celebration, and PRESENT DARKNESS didn't let me down.  I know I'll be back for book five.

June 3, 2014

Review: The Feral Child

The Feral Child By Che Golden
Available now from Quercus
Review copy

THE FERAL CHILD is a story of imagination, loyalty, and bravery inspired by Irish folklore.  Orphan Maddy lives with her grandparents, and has been acting out some (understandably).  When she first encounters a strange boy in the woods, she doesn't know what's happening.  But when he kidnaps Stephen, the toddler next door, she sees him for what he is: a faery.

Maddy sets out to save Stephen accompanied only by her dog and her Grandpa's stories, but her cousins join her.  (They're a bit over their heads, as they meant to keep her from getting into trouble, not getting involved with actual, existing faeries.)  The adults won't do anything, because they think Stephen has been found due to a changeling left in his place.

There is nothing particularly new done with the mythology, but Maddy's journey is still captivating.  She has a lot of inner turmoil that needs to heal.  The adventures are fun in and of themselves, too.  Watching the children try to outwit the clever and devious faeries is a treat - especially because Maddy isn't always the one who has the good ideas.  Her cousin Roisin, in particular, becomes integral to the quest's success.

The ending felt a touch rushed to me.  The opening of THE FERAL CHILD takes its time setting up Maddy's life in Ireland, the woods, the strange encounter that becomes stranger.  There is no time at the end, however, for wrapping up the plot about Maddy's overbearing aunt who wants to take custody.  There is lots of sequel bait, so perhaps that is saved as an ongoing plot.

THE FERAL CHILD will appeal to young fans of fairytales and folklore.

June 2, 2014

Review: Breaking Free: True Stories of Girls Who Escaped Modern Slavery

Breaking Free By Abby Sher
Available now from Barron's Educational Series
Review copy

In my quest to read more nonfiction, I stumbled across BREAKING FREE.  It tells the stories of three women who escaped sexual slavery - Somaly Mam, Minh Dang, and Maria Suarez - with an additional section detailing more facts about sexual slavery, what to read next, and what to do to stop human trafficking.

I really appreciated that Abby Sher focuses on what Mam, Dang, and Suarez did after they escaped their captors and how they went on to help other women in sexual slavery.  She's very clear about what happened to them, but refrains from prurience.  There are none of those magazine descriptions of rape that go into every little detail.  However, I felt that Sher's writing was too simplistic.  This is a book about sexual slavery for teens, but the style often made it seem like a book about sexual slavery for children.  I preferred the quotes in BREAKING FREE taken directly from Mam, Dang, or Suarez.

The majority of the book, slightly over one third, focuses on Mam.  She has saved innumerable Cambodian girls from sexual slavery through her foundation AFESIP.  However, she resigned from her foundation after the May 21, 2014 Newsweek article "Somaly Mam: The Holy Saint (and Sinner) of Sex Trafficking" by Simon Marks.  This article revealed that Mam lied about parts of her history and coached other girls to lie about theirs.  It casts a pall over this section of the book, and the depth of Sher's research.  (There have been previous, less complete and publicized reports, of the inconsistencies in Mam's stories.)

I think others might stumble upon BREAKING FREE and be inspired by the stories of survival and activism within.  But I can't recommend it as an introduction to the topic of sexual slavery.  I do recommend that people look into the stories of Maria Suarez and Minh Dang.  They will be particularly eye opening to some readers, because both women were held captive in the United States.  Trafficking is a problem everywhere.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...