December 23, 2014

Last Minute Gifts

I've been enjoying my Christmas vacation and scrambling to buy last-minute finishing touches and wrapping material, so I haven't gotten much written up for the blog.  Sorry not sorry!

But that doesn't mean I don't have gift ideas!

Out of Print has an amazing sale going on.  Using code EGIFT30, you get 30% off any of their egift cards.  That means I just bought a $50 gift card for $35.  That's some mighty nice savings.  If you aren't familiar with Out of Print, they sale shirts, totes, jewelry, and more inspired by book cover designs.  (Officially licensed, don't worry.)  In addition, they partner with Books for Africa to send books to those in need for every item sold.

ETA: eGift cards are 20% at Litographs.  Just use code GIFTCARD20. You can give them a gift card for the exact amount to buy a specific product.  Litographs also sends books to communities in need for each product sold.

You can also pick up an Amazon gift card if you don't want to stick to egift cards.  They offer free one-day shipping on the physical gift cards, so you've got a little bit more time to buy one in time for the holidays.  I recommend using the http://smile.amazon.com address so that 10% of the profits from your purchase go to your choice of charity.

If you don't want to support Amazon, there's always a gift card to the independent bookstore near your gift recipient.  Or perhaps a gift card to DTFBA for the John Green-loving reader in your life.

You can also go personal.  Pick out one of your favorite books and include a personal note about what it means to you and why you're passing it on.  You can buy a new copy or give them a copy straight from you, clearly loved.

Got any other last minute gift ideas for the readers in your life?

December 17, 2014

Review: Captain Underpants and the Tyrannical Retaliation of the Turbo Toilet 2000

Captain Underpants Book eleven in the Captain Underpants series
By Dav Pilkey
Available now from Scholastic
Review copy

The Captain Underpants novels have been a perennial favorite of kids since the first one came out in 1997.  Dav Pilkey writes and illustrates these tales of two fourth graders, their principal cum Captain Underpants, and various fiendish foes.

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE TYRANNICAL RETALIATION OF THE TURBO TOILET 2000 showcases, obviously, the return of the Turbo Toilet 2000.  The first couple of chapters make light of the fact that this series now has a fairly complicated mythology and consequences that stretch out between several books.  But there is a decent amount of recapping for forgetful readers or for those who pick up a book in the series at random.

The illustrations are as simply charming as ever, and the text is quite funny.  (I particularly like the joke about a "flush wound.")  The flip-o-rama action is terrific low-budget, self-powered animation.  If you're not afraid of a little potty humor, this is a great series for kids.  (Who, let's face it, will love the potty humor.)

I must admit, I did find part of CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE TYRANNICAL RETALIATION OF THE TURBO TOILET 2000 not funny.  Some of the antics get the principal put in a mental hospital.  It isn't quite mental illness played for laughs, but it's close.  However, it could be a chance to talk to your children about why resources for mental health are important.

This silly series is still going strong eleven books in.

December 16, 2014

Review: Glory O'Brien's History of the Future

Glory O'Brien By A.S. King
Available now from Little, Brown BFYR (Hachette)
Review copy
See my A.S. King tag

A.S. King has frequently dabbled in magical realism, and GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE brings that aspect of her style to the fore.  When Glory and her 'best friend' Ellie drink a petrified bat (long story), they start seeing visions when they look at people.  Ellie mostly sees domestic histories, but Glory sees a war coming in fifty years - a war over women's right to work, among some other women's rights.

Her work with character is as on point as ever.  Glory has just graduated high school and intends to take a gap year.  Already unsure of what she wants to do next, the fact that she doesn't see anything about her own future deepens her worries about her path in life.  She becomes obsessed with a journal that her mother left behind after committing suicide, a tome full of musings and (haunting) photos and family secrets.  The past, the present, and the future intermingle as Glory discovers all sorts of new connections between the people in her town.

Back to those scare quotes around best friend.  Ellie is a member of a commune run by her mother.  She and Glory haven't truly been close since she left to be homeschooled, but Ellie clings to Glory as her connection to life outside.  Glory is uncomfortable with the divide between them, especially Ellie's greater experience with boys.  I really liked how King explored the fraught relationship between the girls, and what the way they related to each other and their powers meant about them as people.

I didn't always find the future sections convincing.  I mean, the leader of the conservative side of the Second Civil War calls himself Nedrick the Sanctimonious.  Maybe if his enemies called him that ...  I can see the roots in current events, but still thought it was too extreme.  However, the various implications about the length and outcome of the war made it work a little better for me.  It still felt a bit far-fetched and sketchy.  At the same time, it is supposed to be sketchy since Glory only sees the future in intimate flashes.

GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE will satisfy A.S. King fans, and perhaps draw in some more who are intrigued by the stronger speculative element.  King's agenda is pretty obvious, but tempered by the nuanced way she writes Glory's present-day feminism.

December 15, 2014

Review: A New Beginning: My Journey with Addy

Click here to read some of my thoughts on this series as a whole.

A New Beginning By Denise Lewis Patrick
Available now from American Girl
Review copy

Of all the Beforever books I read, A NEW BEGINNING was by far the best.  It takes you back to 1864, where Addy is a former slave living in the North.  Your character is also a little black girl.  So unlike most of the books, some of the stories in A NEW BEGINNING have actual stakes.

To wit, I really enjoyed the story where the girls are chased by slave catchers.  It demonstrates the danger of the time while still being appropriate for a younger reader.  Most of the other storylines are less harrowing, although they do contain interesting historical information.  There are less storylines than most of the other books, but the focus is on quality over quantity.

If you're looking to pick up one of the American Girl CYOA books, this is the one I recommend.

December 12, 2014

Review: Illusive

Illusive By Emily Lloyd-Jones
Available now from Little, Brown BFYR (Hachette)
Review copy

Ciere is a great thief, and not just because of her ability to create illusions.  (She's not that good at it really.)  But her last heist of $40,000 put her in trouble with the mob, and her next heist is being eyed by the Feds.  It'll take quick thinking and good friends to get her out of this trouble.

I love books about superheroes, so ILLUSIVE had one point in its favor when I started.  I'm not big on dystopias, especially ones based on plague, so that was a point against it.  In the world of ILLUSIVE, a small percentage of people developed powers after being given the vaccine for the plague.  For some reason, the vaccine was outlawed and the formula destroyed instead of everyone trying their hardest to get superpowers.  (I mean, c'mon?  Good health and a chance of superpowers? Go for it.)  Those that are superpowered are mostly snatched up by the government.  The ones that aren't are mostly criminals who hide their abilities.  In a way, it is a similar setup to Holly Black's WHITE CAT.

ILLUSIVE switches between two points of view: Ciere and her fellow crew member Daniel, who has been captured by a very dangerous man.  They're good friends, but circumstances are pitting them against each other.  I really liked and sympathized with both characters.  Honestly, you'd think the plot would be the highlight of a book centered around a superpowered heist, but I adored the character actions.

However, that meant I was let down by the ending.  I think two characters in particular were badly served by their comrades for no reason.  Ciere leaps into danger to save someone she's known for days, while dismissing two friends from her life.  One gets a rather cutting farewell and the other is left to be a virtual slave. Characters I'd gotten to know and care about were shoved aside in favor of the new guy.

That being said, I'll be there with bells on for a sequel.  ILLUSIVE was fun, fast paced, and offered some genuinely thrilling twists.  Plus, superheroes.

December 11, 2014

Review: Princess of Thorns

Princess of Thorns By Stacey Jay
Available now from Delacorte Press (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

PRINCESS OF THORNS takes the Sleeping Beauty story and runs with it.  Aurora and her brother are the twin children of the Sleeping Beauty of legend, whose fate went awry when she was awakened early.  Aurora is key to stopping the trolls, including her evil stepmother, from taking over.  But she must face the trolls because they're holding her brother hostage.

PRINCESS OF THORNS involves so many things I like.  It has a character in disguise (Aurora pretending to be her brother), a romance that blooms slowly, and an emphasis on redemption over revenge.  Aurora's companion on her quest is Niklaas, a prince from a neighboring kingdom who is desperate to marry her (which is awkward, since he thinks she's her brother).  He's living out the story of the seven swans, and only has a short time left as a human.  However, he's not willing to just give up his secrets, which makes his life more difficult.  Niklaas and Aurora deserve each other's stubbornness.

What amazes me about PRINCESS OF THORNS is that Stacey Jay made me enjoy a villain point of view.  I often find villain points of view useless, telling the reader too much and wallowing perversely in murder, torture, and other such delights.  Yet Jay uses the stepmother's point of view to flesh out troll culture and further the themes of the novel.  She manages to make the stepmother a sympathetic character despite her hateful actions at the beginning of the story.

PRINCESS OF THORNS is a compelling read for any fairytale fan.  It stitches several together (including Little Red Riding Hood) while still managing to do its own thing.  Jay isn't so devoted to nodding to tales that she forgets the story she wants to tell.  It helps that her characters are not the half-sketched things of fairytales.  Aurora, Niklaas, and the Ogre Queen are all forceful characters.

I devoured this book (and possibly spent a bit longer out at lunch than I should have) because I had so much fun reading it.  I definitely need to read that Jay book I bought last year but never got around to!

December 9, 2014

Review: Martyr

Martyr Book one of The Hunted
By A.R. Kahler
Available now from Spencer Hill Press
Review copy

I've heard good things about A.R. Kahler's Immortal Circus series.  (After all, what isn't to like about books set in circuses where strange things happen?)  But I have so much to read that it's hard to go back and catch up on a series.  So when I saw that he had a new book out in a different series, I decided to give it a try.

MARTYR is set in a post-apocalyptic war.  Some people have magic powers granted through the use of spheres.  Some of these people worship a dark goddess and managed to unleash a plague of various types of zombies on humanity.  Tenn is a Hunter, one of the people with magic left to fight the monsters.  The Hunters aren't widely liked, since they're viewed as somewhat responsible.  (And, oh yes, it's the magic people who can turn into monsters or create more.)

Still, Tenn and the other Hunters do their best.  But when Tenn's magic acts up on a routine patrol, he finds himself being pursued by Tom├ís, an incubus, and other members of the Kin (that is, the people who unleashed the monsters).  Between the pursuit and his suddenly out of control powers, Tenn is in way over his head.  The only people he has to rely on are his boyfriend and the twins (two other Hunters), but they might not be powerful enough to survive Tenn's new enemies.

I found MARTYR very thrilling.  It's a chase story, which keeps up the momentum.  I thought that Tenn's emotional state was well conveyed.  He's in a time of turmoil and grief, and his powers force him to dwell on his most unpleasant memories.  I did find the worldbuilding a bit confusing at times, since it was very similar to our world except for the spheres.  Where the spheres always a thing?  When were they discovered?  What is going on outside of the US?  How far do the monsters spread?

MARTYR is a fun dark YA story, with potential to become something better as the sequels deepen the world.  I liked the main characters quite a bit, so I'm eager to see their future adventures.  There's also plenty of answers to be found about why Tenn is so important.

December 8, 2014

Review: The Lilac Tunnel: My Journey with Samantha and The Glow of the Spotlight: My Journey with Rebecca

Click here to read some of my thoughts on this series as a whole.

The Lilac TunnelBy Erin Falligant
Available now from American Girl
Review copy

My favorite American Girl was always Kirsten, but I knew so many girls who adored Samantha.  This book takes the reader to 1904, in the persona of a girl dealing with her relationship with her stepmother and stepsister.

The stakes are pretty low in all of the possible Choose Your Own Adventure paths.  There's a pretty simple message about staying true to your beliefs, and I do like how it is exemplified by Samantha's aunt, a suffragette.  I do wish there had been some deeper or more exciting storylines.  Nellie, my favorite character from the Samantha books, only gets a few mentions.

This is a good read for Samantha fans, but not essential, even for fans of the other American Girls.

The Glow of the Spotlight By Jacqueline Greene
Available now from American Girl
Review copy

This book takes you to 1914, ten years after Samatha's time, to explore life as a Russian Jewish immigrant in New York City.  Rebecca Rubin dreams of becoming part of a vaudeville show, and thinks you're in experienced member of a troupe -- that is, in some of the stories.  In others, you're escaping illness.

The stakes are pretty low in all of these storylines, but I found them high in interest.   I think most of the illness storylines are more interesting, although I can see more kids picking the way that leads to performances.  Either way, every path is so short you can go through several before getting bored.

I recommend THE GLOW OF THE SPOTLIGHT for children who like to dance and perform (aka my niece).  It's got a lot of information for them about a certain type of performance, and offers other bits of history as well.  Because of Rebecca's background, there's also a decent amount of cultural information.

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