January 30, 2015

Review: The Honest Truth

The Honest Truth By Dan Gemeinhart
Available now from Scholastic Press
Review copy

I was 100% sure I did not want to read a novel about a twelve-year-old boy with cancer, but I was convinced to give this one a try anyway because of some trustworthy people gushing about the writing.  I must say that the writing is lovely, especially the little haiku Mark comes up with on his journey.

THE HONEST TRUTH evokes old-school adventure novels, just a boy and his dog surviving on their own.  The boy is not stranded by a plain crash nor parental death or abandonment.  He runs away to climb Mt. Rainier, which he promised to climb before he died.  And he's afraid, and angry, now that his cancer is back.  He fought a long, four-year fight, and Mark's not sure if he's up for fighting again, even if he doesn't want to die.

That angry part is important.  I loved that Mark is not a nobly suffering kid with cancer.  He is tired of being the nobly sick child.  He makes a lot of bad decisions in THE HONEST TRUTH, but they do feel like they come from an honest place.  They come from anger and despair and fear.

There are places where the novel falls apart for me.  The chapters alternate with interstitials from Jessie, Mark's best friend who knows where he is running.  I wasn't thrilled by the depiction of their friendship, but horrified that she wouldn't realize this is not a time to keep her friend's secret, especially when the weather turns worse.  I find the adult who knows that Mark is the runaway on television and does nothing to stop his foolhardy plan absolutely unbelievable.  I must agree with Mrs. Yingling that Mark choosing to take his small dog on this dangerous journey is unspeakable, rather than a beautiful portrayal of the bond between boy and companion.

I thought THE HONEST TRUTH was a beautifully told story, and I really liked that Dan Gemeinhart didn't turn it into a tearjerker.  THE HONEST TRUTH was much less sad than I expected.  At the same time, if you're handing this book to someone actually in the intended audience, I'd accompany it with a discussion about bad decisions.  I can just forgive the ailing twelve-year-old, but so many of the other characters act like they have no sense.

January 29, 2015

Review: The Vanishing Girl

The Vanishing Girl First in a trilogy
By Laura Thalassa
Available now from Skyscape (Amazon)
Review copy

I'll admit that I wanted to read THE VANISHING GIRL entirely because I thought the cover was gorgeous.  I like the colors and the abstract strangeness, like a bit of classic sci-fi sneaking into a modern YA cover.

The eponymous girl is Ember Pierce, who teleports for ten minutes every night just after she falls asleep.  She thinks she used to it until she wakes up in a club and flirts with a man named Adrian, only to find a gun in her purse and a note telling her to kill him.  Rather sensibly, she panics more over someone knowing what she can do and trying to use her instead of attempting to assassinate a complete stranger.

Then she finds out that her parents could only have a child through an experimental program, and she now owes two years of service to the military.  It's very obviously illegal and preposterous, even in a world where people can teleport, so you just have to go with it.  At the school she's taken to she's paired with Caden Hawthorne, who is infuriatingly good at keeping her from escaping.  Ember falls for him in a rather rote manner, although I did appreciate that there wasn't a forced love triangle with Adrian.  The scenes between Ember and Caden are written with lots of tension, its just hard to believe she falls for him after how terribly he treats her at first.

Ember, unsurprisingly, starts to find more and more evidence that the school is sinister.  Because secret experiments on babies and being kidnapped weren't enough evidence that everything was bad new.  I sound cranky, I know.  I enjoyed reading THE VANISHING GIRL, and thought it was a a fun ride.  But after I finished, it was hard to seize on anything as a standout moment.  Also, it was one of those books without a real ending, which drives me nuts.

I am, however, eager to read the second book.  THE VANISHING GIRL ends with a cliffhanger, and I'm not sure how Ember will survive or how she'll react to what happened in the next book.  I also hope the next book has more Adrian, who is conducting his own investigation into the school and experiment outside its walls.

January 28, 2015

Review: Pacific Fire

Pacific Fire Sequel to California Bones (my review)
By Greg van Eekhout
Available now from Tor (Macmillan)
Review copy

I've gotten used to series where one book leads directly into another.  PACIFIC FIRE starts ten years after CALIFORNIA BONES ends, which is a refreshing change of pace.  In fact, the entire book is a refreshing change of pace.

First, if you haven't read CALIFORNIA BONES, please do so.  It is a heist novel wrapped up in a well-developed urban fantasy world with a generous dollop of horror for flavor.  If you haven't read it, this review will be full of spoilers.

Daniel Blackland spent those ten years after the heist on the run with Sam, the Hierarch's golem.  Both are wanted because they'd be perfect ingredients in someone else's spell.  When Argent, an old frenemy comes with news that various factions in LA are banding together to build a dragon, Daniel knows he has to leave hiding to stop it.  The point of view switches between the three men, giving multiple perspectives on a dangerous mission gone wrong.

I love the world Greg van Eekhout is developing.  It's full of sinister and helpful characters, a lovely mix of the wonder of powerful magic and the horrible things that are done to make it stronger.  Despite the fact that most of Daniel and Sam's bonding happens off page, there's never a doubt about their father-son relationship.  It is a strong emotional anchor for the novel.  I liked that most of the characters from CALIFORNIA BONES who survived showed up again, although lamented that Cassandra gets the least to do.

This is a fast-paced novel that ends in a killer cliffhanger.  It is looser than CALIFORNIA BONES, since it doesn't have the heist structure.  But as crazy as things get, they never feel like they're out of van Eekhout's control.  I can't wait for the next book, because things are going to go down.  And based on the strength of PACIFIC FIRE and CALIFORNIA BONES, I trust van Eekhout to stick the landing.

January 27, 2015

Review: Tear You Apart

Tear You Apart Companion novel to Kill Me Softly
By Sarah Cross
Available now from EgmontUSA
Review copy

EgmontUSA may be shutting down, but at least they're releasing their 2015 slate. The first one I just had to read is TEAR YOU APART, the companion to KILL ME SOFTLY.  The first book introduced Beau Rivage, the town where descendants of faerie-human unions are forced to live out curses, curses worse than living in Mississippi for the rest of your life.

One of the big differences between TEAR YOU APART and KILL ME SOFTLY is that Viv grew up in Beau Rivage.  She knows exactly what story she's living, and she fears it.  She is Snow White, which means the Huntsman Henley will either kill or save her.  If he saves her, her stepmother Regina will keep trying.  Once Viv loved both Regina and Henley.  But when Regina betrayed her true colors and Henley was cursed, Viv decided she couldn't trust anyone.  She can't keep herself from Henley, but she can't bring herself to trust him again either.

TEAR YOU APART weaves together "Snow White," "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," and "Rumpelstiltskin" in a darkly romantic tale.  Viv can be an utter spoiled brat, but getting out of her comfort zone and talking to people really forces her to take measure of her life.  And even when she's in spoiled brat mode, I admire her dedication to her own survival.  I liked the romance between her and Henley, but liked that she takes a chance when her prince Jasper shows up.  Even more, I like that she grows into being her own rescuer (as much as she can).

TEAR YOU APART will satisfy fans of fairytales who aren't afraid of some rather large liberties and some of the darker endings remaining in place.  Fans of KILL ME SOFTLY will enjoy that the cast of that novel makes cameo appearances.  Also nice: a reoccurring character is confirmed as a lesbian and there is a princess and princess couple that no one remarks upon.  Little details like that help the updated fairytale concept really work.


In other news, today is Multicultural Children's Book Day.  The sponsors are holding a virtual book drive to support First Book.

January 26, 2015

Title Twins!

ETA:  Through 2/8, you can preorder VANISHING GIRLS for 4.99!

(Today is the last day to donate to the National Book Foundation in honor of National Readathon Day!)

I always love when I spot two books with (almost) identical titles.

The Vanishing GirlVanishing Girls

I just finished reading THE VANISHING GIRL by Laura Thalassa, and I have VANISHING GIRLS by Lauren Oliver in my TBR.  I think the similarity in the authors' first names makes this one even better!

It looks like if you want a book about vanishing women, however, you have to go nonfiction:

Vanishing Women

January 24, 2015

National Readathon Day

Today is National Readathon Day!  Here's the basics from the Children's Book Council:
The National Book Foundation, GoodReads, Mashable and Penguin Random House are joining forces to launch the first-ever National Readathon Day. The Readathon will take place on Saturday, January 24, 2015 from 12 to 4 PM (in each time zone), at which time readers across the country will settle down for a reading session to raise funds for the National Book Foundationdelivering books to communities in need.
  • Bookstores, schools and libraries are also invited to join the Readathon by hosting “reading parties” for their local communities. Visit Penguin Random House’s Resources section to download supporting materials and register your venue.
However you participate, be sure to share your experience online using the hashtag #timetoread
Many local bookstores are holding events, such as BookPeople in Austin.  The funds raised from the readathon pledges will go to National Book Foundation programs such as BookUp, 5 Under 35, the Innovations in Reading Prize, and the National Book Awards.

The National Readathon Day was brought to my attention by Casper Mattresses.  In one of the more unique pitches I've received, they asked me to post about my book list for the readathon.  And if you can't tell from my blog title, yes I will be reading in bed.  (Oh, the joys of lazy Saturdays!  Plus, there's nothing like piling the blankets on on a cold day.)

Here is my current reading list:

TEAR YOU APART by Sarah Cross - This is the sequel to KILL ME SOFTLY and is a twisted retelling of Snow White in modern-day Beau Rivage.  This is the book I'm currently reading; I have about 40% left.

PACIFIC FIRE by Greg van Eekhout - Another sequel! I loved CALIFORNIA BONES last year, so I'm reading for another thrilling and terrifying ride.

MARK OF THE THIEF by Jennifer Nielsen -  I love Nielsen's middle grade books, so I am very excited about the start of her new series.

SHADOW SCALE by Rachel Hartman - That's right, the sequel to Seraphina showed up on my doorstep just yesterday.  I have so many books that are coming out sooner on my docket, but no one blames me for skipping them to read this, right?

THE WINNER'S CRIME by Marie Rutkoski - This is the sequel to THE WINNER'S CURSE.  (I know, so many sequels!)  Like TEAR YOU APART, I've already started reading this one.  Let me tell you, it is good.

So join with me in reading and donating.  You can donate at my fundraising page.  You can also join my fundraising team.

January 23, 2015

Matt de la Peña at Blue Willow Bookshop

Yesterday I went to see Matt de la Peña at Blue Willow Bookshop.  He read a little from THE LIVING, then a little from THE HUNTED after we asked, and answered some questions from the audience.  If you haven't seen him speak before, he has a lot of upcoming events, including YAK Fest in Fort Worth this Saturday.

And if you haven't read THE LIVING, you should.  It is one of the seven books on the Cybils shortlist for YA Speculative Fiction.

A few highlights:

    My True Love Gave To Me
  • Shy, the protagonist of THE LIVING, is the same character in his story "Angels in the Snow" from MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME (my review) and his One Teen Story "Passing Each Other in Halls".  He's been trying to find a good home for the character for ten years, so he kept trying him out in different ones.  THE LIVING and THE HUNTED were the novels that worked.
    The Hunted
  • THE HUNTED begins with a radio conversation, and part of it takes place at Sony's studios.  It comes out in May.
  • When de la Peña wrote THE LIVING, he wanted to stretch himself and write something different from his other books, something more commercial.  He wants to reach as many readers as possible.
  • There will be more Shoeshine in THE HUNTED and some of his mysteries will be revealed.
    The Living
  • de la Peña wrote a lot of THE LIVING while running, to make himself as uncomfortable as possible.  That way he could think of more uncomfortable things to happen to the characters. 
ETA: Here's a pic of the crowd!

January 22, 2015

Review: Alex as Well

Alex as Well By Alyssa Brugman
Available now from Henry Holt & Co. BFYR (Macmillan)
Review copy

ALEX AS WELL is a 2013 release from Australia finally making its way to our shores.  The protagonist, Alex, was raised as a boy but has recently realized that she identifies as a girl.  Her gender identity is complicated by the fact that she's intersex and doesn't fit neatly into either category.

I liked that ALEX AS WELL gets beyond the usual struggle focused on in books about gender dysphoria.  Alex knows she's a girl and is quite firm about it.  Her struggles are more about her relationship with her parents (especially her mother), getting her birth certificate changed, enrolling in a new school and making new relationships, and finding a job.  Honestly, everything but the relationship with her parents goes fairly easily for Alex, but that one thing is bad enough she deserves some easiness.

Interspersed throughout ALEX AS WELL are blog posts by Alex's mother Heather and the resulting comments.  The difference between the way Alex and Heather's tellings is striking - particularly the way Heather omits details like hitting Alex with a phone in a moment of passion.  By the end Heather is somewhat over the top, but I like that Alex realizes that it is abuse and she doesn't have to put up with it.  No matter what anyone tells her, she's not just a selfish teenager.

I thought there was an interesting progression in the narration in ALEX AS WELL.  In the beginning, she thinks about conversations with the boy Alex pretty frequently and relies on song lyrics to express her emotions.  She gets less reliant on both as she becomes more comfortable with her new life.

ALEX AS WELL is a short, engaging novel with a unique heroine and plenty of humor to balance  the darker family drama and one hideous instance of bullying posted on YouTube. 

If you're excited about ALEX AS WELL, I recommend reading Molly Wetta's list of LGBTQ fiction for teens coming out in 2015.

January 20, 2015

Interview with Valerie Tripp

Valerie Tripp
Today I am posting an interview with Valerie Tripp, who is best known as the author of many American Girl novels. She's written for Felicity, Elizabeth, Josefina, Samantha, Nellie, Kit, Ruthie, Emily, and Molly.  Unlike most of the interviews I post, this one was not conducted by me.  The questions were asked by Jonathan Sprout, an award-winning children's artist.

You can click on any of the book covers to go to their Amazon page.


Jonathan Sprout: You write about fictional heroes. What qualities do you look for
when creating your fictional characters?

Valerie Tripp: I don't have to look far for heroic qualities because my characters are inspired by my readers, and my readers are heroic to me because they face their daily challenges with humor, empathy, curiosity, generosity, and kindness. All of my books have the same message: Yes, disappointments and troubles will come your way, but you’ll be okay. You are the hero of your own life story.

“I don't have to look far for heroic qualities because my characters are inspired by my readers, and my readers are heroic to me.” - Valerie Tripp

Jonathan Sprout
Jonathan: Your books essentially take us back in time and bring history to the present. You must do a lot of research. What is your process?

Valerie: I love to do research. It is not a process; it is a way of life. When you become interested in a time period, it is as if the universe is full of the information you need – you just have to start to pay attention! Research for me is travel, reading, talking to people who are experts and people who lived when my character did, looking at movies, and listening to music. It is also observing and being delighted and inspired by girls of today. Research can also be looking back at my own experiences as a child. Research is active: it can be taking cooking lessons, going for a horseback ride, swimming in the Rio Grande river, and trying to knit a sock (unsuccessfully, by the way!)

Jonathan: When you are creating a character, do you think about the parents, caregivers or teachers of these girls and boys and how your
characters will inspire dialogue between them? Can you elaborate?

Second Chances
Valerie: I always hope that my stories will spark conversations among generations. Molly, who is my WW2 character, has led girls to ask their families about their great-grandparents’ experiences during the war. More than one Army uniform has been lifted out of a trunk in the attic! And the emotional content of a story can spark conversations as well. Josefina’s aunt comes to live with her family, and many girls tell me they have spoken to their parents and step-parents inspired by Josefina’s dilemma: can she be loyal to her Mama and still love her new step-mother? One of the loveliest purposes literature can serve is to connect us by being a vehicle for conversation.

Jonathan: Your books encourage boys and girls to understand that they too can be “heroes” in their everyday lives (i.e. you don’t have to be famous to be a hero). What are your thoughts on this?

Lost and Found
Valerie: I deliberately chose to write about history from a familiar and familial point of view, so that my readers might see what a regular kid’s life was like. I’m hoping that my readers will say, “Hey! That could be me. I would have been heroic just as Kit is, facing the Depression. Or I would have stood up for my friend just as Samantha does at the turn of the last century.” I am hoping my readers will see that THEY are what American History is. They are shaping our world. The decisions they make will determine what life is like for us all in the future. They are already heroes.

Jonathan: Are there differences between what girls find heroic and what boys find heroic? How has an awareness of this this helped you to
craft your stories?

Valerie: No, I don’t think there are differences between what boys and girls find heroic. Heroism is facing your own specific challenges, and no matter what those challenges are, we all have to find the inner courage to do so.

Jonathan: Tell us about your latest writing venture - writing for boys.

“I felt as though books were short-changing boys. The boys I know are funny and nurturing, passionate, goofy, adventurous, brave, and have rich inner lives.” - Valerie Tripp

Valerie: I felt as though books were short-changing boys. The boys I know are funny and nurturing, passionate, goofy, adventurous, brave, and have rich inner lives but the boys I saw in books had to solve problems with magic or bathroom jokes. The Boys Camp books show boys facing landslides, fires, near-drowning, friendship troubles, skunks, bears, snakes, shyness, and dives off cliffs! They’re jokesters and bird-watchers, tennis stars and singers – and they are ALL heroes!

January 19, 2015

Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

Book Cover By Leslye Walton
Available now from Candlewick
Review copy

THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER is an unusual read.  It is beautifully written, with unique turns of phrase and indelible imagery.  It is magical realism of the best sort, where the strange becomes mundane and yet still extraordinary.

It fits a little  awkwardly in the YA category.  Ostensibly, Ava Lavender is the protagonist and this is her story.  It reads much more like a family saga.  The book traces the lives of her great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother, as well as the men in their lives.  Sometimes it follows along the lives of other passing characters, spinning out the strange connections between them.  Almost half of the book passes before Ava is even born.

The women in Ava's family are marked by tragic, foolish love.  As much as I loved the writing, I was turned off by this aspect of the book.  The lives of her ancestors are pretty brutal and tragic, misery porn wrapped up in a layer of literary sophistication.  But I kept reading because I did love the writing, and I wanted to reach Ava and learn her story, what made her sorrows stand out above the rest.

I think THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER is an amazing accomplishment, particularly for a first-time author.  It has a singular voice and a clear vision of what it is and what it is trying to achieve.  The plot is much tighter than it appears at first, and the depiction of obsessive love is terrifying.  At the same time, I felt like I still wasn't sure who Ava Lavender was when I finished the book.  Too much of it wasn't her story.

I highly recommend THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER for readers looking for an unusual fantasy, something gorgeous and sad.  I hope Leslye Walton's sophomore novel is just as striking.

January 18, 2015

Just Add Magic!

Just Add Magic Amazon's new pilot season is upon us, and one of their potential new shows is based upon the middle grade book JUST ADD MAGIC by Cindy Callaghan.  I reviewed her novel LOST IN LONDON a few years ago.

I plan on watching the pilot to see what I think of the show - and if it is worth Amazon making a whole series.  If you watch it, leave your thoughts in the comments below!

About the show Just Add Magic:

Based on Cindy Callaghan’s young adult book of the same name and adapted by Joanna Lewis & Kristine Songco (Sullivan & Son, Fairly Odd Parents, My Little Pony), Just Add Magic is a single-camera live-action pilot directed by Joe Nussbaum (George Lucas in Love, Awkward). The story centers on Kelly Quinn and her two BFF’s, Darbie and Hannah, who stumble upon her grandmother’s mysterious cookbook in the attic and discover it has some interesting recipes. The Shut’em Up Shortcake actually silences Kelly’s pesky little brother and when the Healing Hazelnut Tart quickly heals Darbie’s ankle, the girls discover they have the power of magic. The project stars Olivia Sanabia (Extant), Abby Donnelly (Suburgatory), Aubrey Miller (Austin & Ally), and Judah Bellamy (Home).

Customers will be invited to watch and provide feedback on the shows they want to see turned into full series. All pilots will be available via the Amazon Instant Video app on Amazon Fire TV, Fire TV Stick, Fire tablets, Fire phone, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Roku, Xbox, PlayStation, Wii, as well as hundreds of other connected devices such as smart TVs—or customers can visit Amazon.com/AIV to watch online.

And here's a direct link.

January 15, 2015

Review: Say What You Will

Say What You Will By Cammie McGovern
Available now from HarperTeen (HarperCollins)
Review copy

Amy has severe cerebral palsy and requires a wheelchair and a voice box.  She's a bright girl and determined to look on the bright side.  But her classmate Matthew points out to her that she can't be that happy; after all, her only friends are adults.  So, Amy decides to request teenage helpers for her senior year of high school.

And she requests for Matthew to be one.

I loved the blooming friendship and romance between Amy and Matthew.  They're really portrayed as issues.  Amy has the drive that Matthew lacks, and she's more open about her issues since she can't hide them.  Matthew, meanwhile, is trying to deny his OCD.  I also like that Cammie McGovern went outside the box.  Not only is Amy not a paint-by-the-numbers heroine, the plot goes unexpected places.  It doesn't end with senior year and the prom, for instance.

I liked that SAY WHAT YOU WILL was realistic about Amy and Matthew's limitations, the way society views someone as physically crippled as Amy and the way mental health issues are stigmatized.  I liked that both of them had difficult journeys, but ones they could help each other with - if they approached each other with respect and understanding.  It's a hard road for two teenagers.

The charm of SAY WHAT YOU WILL started to run out for me about three quarters of the way through the book.  The ups and downs just went on for too long for me, like a soap opera.  I think I might've enjoyed it more if I read it slower, interspersed with other books.  At the same time, I still liked it a lot.  McGovern's prose is unobtrusive and she imbues both of her protagonists with charming voices.  I liked how organically the relationship grew, and that SAY WHAT YOU WILL explored what happened after high school, when the relationship is tested by long distance and other factors.

SAY WHAT YOU WILL is McGovern's first YA novel and bodes well for her future forays in the genre.

January 14, 2015

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Stone in the Sky

Stone in the Sky "Waiting" On Wednesday is hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine.

Last year, I fell in love with TIN STAR by Cecil Castellucci.  Thus, I cannot wait to read the sequel STONE IN THE SKY, which comes out next month (on the 24th).

Upon finishing TIN STAR, I said, "There is romance in TIN STAR, though it is rarely a focus.  I did, however, truly love the romance and wish that there was more time for it to be explored.  I understand that it wasn't the focus of TIN STAR, but I would adore a sequel.  I know I've been clamoring for more standalones, and now that I've got them, I keep falling in love and wanting sequels.  TIN STAR tells one heck of a story about a teen girl stranded in space."

Here is the publisher's blurb for that sequel:
Brother Blue.
His name, even the color, filled me with a furious fire of pure hatred.
Years ago, Tula Bane was beaten and left for dead on a remote space station far from Earth, her home planet. She started with nothing and had no one, but over time, she found a home, a family, and even love. When it's discovered that the abandoned planet beneath the station is abundant with a rare and valuable resource, aliens from across the galaxy race over to strike it rich. With them comes trouble, like the man who nearly killed Tula years ago—the man she has dreamed of destroying ever since.
In this sequel to Tin Star, Cecil Castellucci takes readers on an extraordinary adventure through space in a thrilling and thoughtful exploration of what it means to love, to hate, and to be human.

January 13, 2015

Review: For Real

For Real By Alison Cherry
Available now from Delacorte Press (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

I was pretty much sold on FOR REAL by the end of the first paragraph, when heroine Claire muses, "I wish I were watching this on a real television. I fear I'm missing the nuances of his six-pack."  Claire is a reality-television addict, because she wants to work in TV herself and it is the great equalizing genre.

It's always been her weird hobby, but when her sister Miranda dumps her cheating boyfriend, Claire decides to help Miranda get revenge.  It just so happens that a slot has opened up for two new teams on the reality show Sanjay's been bragging about appearing on.  It's the perfect opportunity to humiliate him in front of the whole world.

The reality show Around the World takes clear inspiration from The Amazing Race with a dating-show twist.  I loved all the descriptions of the contests and could've read even more of crazy faux-cultural activities enlivened by forced bonding.  There's nice character work to back up the humor of the competitions.  Most of the competitors only get a little shading, but there are hints of them having their own lives.  Claire works on coming out of her bubble, falling for fellow contestant Wes, and redefining her relationship with her sister now that they're both adults.

FOR REAL was exactly the light and frothy read I needed when I picked it up.  It's fun and effortlessly charming.  The relationship between the sisters is terrific - it has realistic ups and downs, but they've always got each other's backs when the chips are down.  This may be a short read, but it's a good one.

If you need a pick-me-up, I highly recommend FOR REAL.  It's light fare well executed, like the best of reality shows.  (And unlike many real-life dating reality shows, it remembers LGBT people exist, in a nice touch.)  This one put a smile on my face as big as the smiles on the hardcover.

January 12, 2015

The Flood

So, in the last few days of December my apartment flooded.  Let me tell you, that is a lovely call to get while you're on vacation.

I've been very fortunate and didn't lose much of my stuff to water damage.  However, you'll never guess what soaks up water like a sponge and was all over my apartment.  Throwing out three bags of books didn't do much for my desire to write a book blog.  I'm still kind of sad about it.

Some of it is losing several books that I took special trips to get signed.  I lost my copies of THE FAULT IN OUR STARS and AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES, both signed by John Green.  Do you know the kind of lines you have to go through to get Green's signature?  (Fortunately, he is a signing pro and keeps people moving.)  I also lost my signed and doodled copy of THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY by Adam Rex, just as I wanted to read it again in preparation for Home.  (Plus the doodle of JLo was ridiculously cute.)  I also lost my signed copy of THE PEOPLE OF PAPER, and Salvador Plascencia doesn't do many appearances.

Some of the books I lost weren't signed, but were favorites, and I'm sad about having to replace them.  LOSERS IN SPACE by John Barnes, which never came out in paperback, and UNSPOKEN by Sarah Rees Brennan, with the pretty silhouette cover.

I've got my apartment basically back in order now, aside from the fact I need to buy new bookshelves.  (No, I don't think I'll buy the cheap particle board ones again.)  It just hurts to lose your stuff.

January 8, 2015

Review: While We Run

While We Run Companion to When We Wake
By Karen Healey
Available now from Little, Brown BFYR (Hachette)
Review copy

Abdi Taalib and his best friend Tegan, who he's very much in love with, are prisoners of the Australian government.  They tried to expose the government's wrongdoings when it comes to a cryogenics project, but ended up captured, tortured, and forced to publicly recant their statements and support the project.

I haven't read WHEN WE WAKE, but WHILE WE RUN contains plenty of recap.  In addition, at the beginning of the novel Abdi doesn't know much about what is going on and is pretty preoccupied with the mental and physical stress of being a performing monkey with the promise of worse on the horizon.  I was really impressed by this opening, which drew me in despite my unfamiliarity with the setting.  It is not easy to read, but it is engrossing.  Karen Healey does not back away from the horror of the government using Abdi and Tegan as slaves, and the consequences of these months linger throughout the novel.

Healey combines strong character work with a plot from a political conspiracy thriller to bring a future world to life.  It's not too far in the future - countries and religions of today are still recognizable - but technology and social issues have progressed.  The mingling of real-world issues with future tech is very well done.  The world of WHILE WE RUN is relevant to today's reader, but doesn't come off as a blatant screed.

Actually, several elements prevent WHILE WE RUN from being a blatant screed.  For one thing, there are no easy answers.  Abdi might not have any fondness for the Australian government, but that doesn't mean that he agrees with the various terrorist/freedom fighters he encounters either.  He's very determined to make up his own mind, which forces him to face that there often are no good answers.  Then there's the delightful mix of character backgrounds. 

Abdi is a second-class citizen in Australia, but in his home country he's wealthy and privileged.  He's also atheist, but his family thinks he'll come around.  The other characters come from a variety of ethnic and economic backgrounds, and represent a variety of sexualities and genders.  This diversity helps show how all of the characters come at the issues in question from different angles.

I'm quite happy that WHILE WE RUN made the Cybils shortlist in YA Speculative Fiction this year.  It's a thought-provoking read that doesn't forget to throw in some action and keep things moving.

January 6, 2015

Review: Golden Son

Golden Son Book two of the Red Rising trilogy
By Pierce Brown
Available now from Del Rey (Penguin Random House)
Review copy
Read my review of Red Rising

GOLDEN SON starts several years after RED RISING.  Darrow is about to graduate the Academy, command his own fleet, and aid the Sons of Ares right under the nose of the ArchGovernor of Mars.  Unfortunately, his plan goes awry and he must scramble to stay one step ahead of his enemies if he wants to stay alive.

GOLDEN SON is an action-packed book that will thrill fans of RED RISING who have been eagerly awaiting Darrow's next adventure. Those who haven't read RED RISING will likely be very, very confused.  There are a variety of intricate alliances and the book makes no effort to catch readers up on what has happened before.  GOLDEN SON expects you to have a good memory.

Now, it wasn't a perfect book.  There's a lag in the middle, and Darrow continually makes surprisingly stupid decisions.  He's amazing at tactics, great at strategy, and yet he often misses the obvious or puts off doing things he knows he must do.  I forgive some of those mistakes because he is only twenty, but at the same time, this is what he's trained to do and is suppose to be a genius at.  To be fair, I mostly noticed these issues after finishing the novel.  I was too busy flipping pages to find out what happened next while reading.

I love how much happens in GOLDEN SON.  It isn't just war.  It's evaluating what you're fighting for, and how you're going to do it so that you can look at yourself in the mirror.  It's about finding the humanity in people who aren't like you, and reaching out to the best in people instead of encouraging their worst.  For a dark, grim series, there's a truly optimistic core.

I do warn you that there is quite the cliffhanger.  If you aren't a fan of cliffhangers, you might wait until the final book of the trilogy comes out next year.  Things look grim for Darrow and his allies, but I have hope that red will rise in the end.

January 1, 2015

Cybils Finalists and Other Great Nominees

Today, the 2014 Cybils finalists were announced. Our speculative fiction YA list is brilliant.

There is DEATH SWORN by Leah Cypress, about which I wrote:
From the moment Ileni stepped into a cave of assassins to teach magic and discover who killed her two predecessors, I was hooked. In Death Sworn, Ileni goes deep into a culture that values absolute obedience and killing for the greater good. Ileni herself is the novel’s greatest assassin, a heroine who overcomes her fears and doubts, managing to hide that she’s weak and easy prey. The intense tension between Ileni and her assassin protector Soren adds a touch of romance to the action, with a refreshing lack of anything resembling a love triangle. The theme of questioning authority and dogma will resonate with teens, as will Ileni’s growing engagement with the world around her as she discovers that you can forge a new path for yourself after your dreams falter.

There is also:
NOGGIN by John Corey Whaley
SALVAGE by Alexandra Duncan
THE LIVING by Matt de la Pena
THE WINNER'S CURSE by Marie Rutkoski
WHILE WE RUN by Karen Healey

A few others I particularly loved:
THE GIRL FROM THE WELL by Rin Chupeco, which came close to being a finalist. Unfortunately, chapter five presents a rather exaggerated mental hospital which seemed to perpetuate some unfortunate stereotypes about the mentally ill. It was a great book, but not one the Cybils could wholeheartedly recommend.
BLACK DOG by Rachel Neumeier
MONSTROUS AFFECTIONS edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant, which has a hilarious intro and a variety of great stories, most especially the standout "Wings in the Morning" by Sarah Rees Brennan.


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