Wednesday, September 17, 2014

2014 book 223

Charis Cotter's The Swallow: A Ghost Story
So this is the story of two girls with opposite problems--Rose, who sees ghosts, and feels invisible, and Polly, who wants to see ghosts, and wishes for time alone away from her crazy family. Both head to their attics for some solitary reading time--only it turns out they share a wall, and end up becoming friends. And soon they're dealing with a malicious spirit and wondering whether Rose is a ghost herself. Of course, some of the way this goes is not too hard to figure out, but that doesn't mean I wasn't straight up sobbing for like the last quarter of it. Really charming and creepy--charmingly creepy? A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book is available now.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

2014 book 222

Kelly Barnhill's The Witch's Boy
Sooo there is kind of a lot going on here (in a good way), and I will try and unpack it: in a small village on the end of a kingdom, a woman guards (and occasionally uses for good) a jar of powerful magic, a role passed down by generations of her family. And then her young twin sons build a crappy raft and one of them drowns--and everyone says the wrong boy survived. Meanwhile, a practical girl living in another kingdom dreams of being a fisherman like her mother--but when her mother dies, her father moves them deep into a weird ol' forest and returns to a life of banditry. There is also a whole thing with some mysterious stones that used to be people (or at least, beings). Naturally these stories converge. I really liked the writing here, and the characters are all interesting (I particularly liked a baby wolf). Occasionally there's a little bit too much of "and she knew she loved her friends" when they met like a day earlier, but whatever, it's a kids' book. Otherwise, it's totally solid and a very engaging read. I don't know if a sequel is planned, but I'm totally up for the further adventures of Aine and Ned. A-.

Monday, September 15, 2014

2014 book 221

Jennifer Clement's Prayers for the Stolen
I'm not really sure what to say about this one--it starts off strong, if you like very depressing but beautifully written books (I do)--but kind of goes off the rails in the last third. I did like the end, though? Anyway, it's about a girl growing up in a tiny village in the mountains outside Acapulco, a village where the men all leave and the young girls are all stolen, so their mothers try and hide their beauty to protect them. The story starts to suffer when the girl (I guess I should mention that her name is Ladydi, as in Princess Diana) manages to escape to try and make a better life for herself--I just felt like all of that needed to be fleshed out a lot more. Like I said, I really liked the ending, which made up for some of what came before. B/B+.

Friday, September 12, 2014

2014 book 220

Jason Segal and Kirsten Miller's Nightmares!
I mean, I like Jason Segal a lot, and it's cool that he wrote a book, but I am 100 percent reading this for his co-author Kirsten Miller!!! (She wrote my beloved Kiki Strike books, among other things.) And this book was fine, I guess. I was annoyed at a lot of plot stuff being predicated on one character refusing to have a conversation with another--one of my least favorite fictional tropes. And a lot of the story is really predictable--I'm not sure if that's b/c I read a lot of this type of middle grade book or not. There are some funny moments, and some very enjoyable nightmare characters (I was partial to the gorgons). The illustrations definitely take the fear/tension down a notch--they're overly cutesy for the story being told. I mean, I'm sure a kid would like this, but it wasn't as awesome as I was hoping. B.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

2014 book 219

Simmone Howell's Girl Defective
I was continuing my exploration of Australian YA with this one, which seemed like it'd be right up my alley--it's about a girl whose father owns a record story--but it was a little disappointing. I really liked the first half--where the protagonist is somewhere between admiring and crushing on her badass older girl friend, and getting interested in the case of a local girl who drowned--but then things get a little bit boring/predictable/neat EVEN AS it seems like things are getting bonkers. I don't know. It was fine. B.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

2014 book 218

Mary Lawson's Road Ends
I've never heard of Mary Lawson before*, but she is now at the forefront of my mind, because this book was GREAT. It's about a troubled family in the 60s in the North of Canada, and what happens when their oldest daughter escapes their hold and moves to England, and they sort of crumble apart. They're all sympathetic characters, is the thing! It's told from the POV of Megan--who is AMAZING and gets stuff done--as well as her oldest brother, subsumed by a personal tragedy, and their father, unable to cope and also sort of subsumed by personal tragedies. And I'm not saying parts of this aren't grim, but parts of it are also very funny, and sweet, and hopeful, and all of it is wonderful. I really, really liked this. A.

This is a lie: I just checked and I've read another book by her that I also loved. Sheesh. Note to self: Mary Lawson is great and try to get that to stick in your brain!

Monday, September 08, 2014

2014 book 217

Maggie Stiefvater's Blue Lily, Lily Blue
AHHHaaaagHRHRSGGA new Raven Cycle book!!!!! I mean, do I need to say anything more than that? And should I, since I bet all of you are worried about spoilers? Let me be vague, then. This is super exciting and interesting and full of great characters, just like the first two. Various people develop their skills. Various new characters come into play. The ending is just as much of a crazy-ass game changer as the endings of the first two books. I did feel like this one had a lot of STUFF going on and was maybe more plot-driven than character-driven, but I think that impression might change on a less frantic/excitable reread.  And again, let me thank Stiefvater for writing a series where romance exists, but where adventurin' takes top billing. Such adventurin'!! AND the books are such an interesting meditation on class! Ah, this series is so good. A/A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released in October.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

2014 book 216

Maggie Stiefvater's The Dream Thieves
It's funny, the one thing I remembered from this book was the Ronan/Kavinsky stuff, which on this reading proved to be a surprisingly small part of the story. There's so much good magic stuff here, and great character work, and I appreciate how the romantic stuff is relatively minor. Off to read the third one!

Saturday, September 06, 2014

2014 book 215

Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Boys
The third book in this series comes out pretty soon, and I realized this is one of those series where it really helps to have all the details fresh in your mind, because there's a lot going on (which I mean in an entirely positive way! Stiefvater really leveled up with this series in both plot and writing). I love the intersection of magic and mythology and high schoolers on a quest. And I especially love Noah. Oh, Noah. Keeps on petting Blue's hair and you'll be just fine.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

2014 book 214

Carys Bray's A Song for Issy Bradley
Fair warning to mom friends: don't read this one, just don't. It's about what happens when a little girl dies of meningitis (which HAPPENS, it happened to the little daughter of a friend of a friend of mine and was devastating . . . like this book), and how her family deals with grief and their Mormon faith (Mormons should probably also skip this one) (The author is a former Mormon and and NAILS the details). The story manages to be completely heartbreaking while not feeling at all manipulative--a rare thing. But the end felt redemptive somehow. And obviously I enjoyed all the discussions of faith/Mormonism, especially from the two teenage children (a devout girl tempted by a cute boy, and her brother, interested only in football [soccer, this is set in England somewhere]). Seven-year-old Jacob's POV didn't always work for me--writing from the perspective of a small child is a hard thing to do well--but the other four characters were vividly drawn. Really strong overall. A/A-.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

2014 book 213

David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks
I consider myself a pretty big David Mitchell fan, even though I bogged down reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and never did pick it back up again (this book actually references that one, and Black Swan Green, and probably some other Mitchell books that I just didn't pick up on). So I was excited about this one, but in a . . . tentative way. Luckily, the opening section was GREAT and drew me right in. It focuses on 15-year-old Holly in 1984, running away to live with her sleazy older boyfriend (a reader can see this isn't going to go according to plan), and dealing with some Weird Sh-t. She is completely charming, even though she's kind of a dumb teenager (though weren't we all?). Then we jump ahead in time to an absolute asshole of a Cambridge student, who is honestly a terrible human being and exceedingly unlikable--at least until he encounters Holly. And the story keeps jumping forward in time, as we see Holly through the eyes of others (including ANOTHER person who is unbelievably horrible until he encounters Holly!), and find out more about the Weird Sh*t (which = more of Mitchell's interests in reincarnation, good vs evil, etc, manifesting themselves). The final section comes back to Holly herself (finally!!!), in the 2040s, when the world is . . . not great (post-apocalyptic, you might even say). So yes, it has more of Mitchell's playing with structure, but I feel like it has a lot more heart than some of his other books, and it certainly feels more readable/straightforward. Yes, I think I liked this a lot. A/A-.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

2014 book 212

Seanan McGuire's The Winter Long
It feels like the Toby Daye series is winding down, and I admit to being a little relieved--they're getting a bit repetitive at this point. Just how many mysteries about Toby's identity can there be? How many times can she change out of a bloody shirt (three or four in this book) or wake up after passing out (four or five in this book)? It also feels like she's drawing on some of her other works here (particularly Indexing), which is fine, it just adds to the sense of repetition for a McGuire completest. I was also a little annoyed that, although we find out WHO was behind the kidnapping and other assorted things that turned Toby into a fish, we still don't know WHY! And Toby never tells people who are kind of invested in the situation! I mean, I still enjoy the characters (particularly the Luidaeg, who gets some good development here), but I'm ready for the endgame already. B.

Monday, September 01, 2014

2014 book 211

Diana Wynne Jones' Hexwood
I'm still tracking down all the Diana Wynne Jones books I've never read, though I may stop that, because it seems I've read all the GREAT ones. This one has a plot too convoluted to even try to explain, though is entertaining enough. I might have liked it more if it was slightly more gender-balanced? Or if . . . I don't know what. It was fine. B.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

2014 book 210

Juliet Marillier's The Caller
The final book in the Shadowfell trilogy is a solid conclusion to the series, as Neryn works to complete her training in time for the rebellion to take place. Marillier does a good job showing growing civil unrest in a subtle way, and showing how hard it is not to just rush in (spoiling larger plans in motion). Really strong characterization and plot; the writing is a bit overwrought, especially at the end, but that kind of works in an epic fantasy setting? Definitely a good final chapter. A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on September 9th.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

2014 book 209

Fiona Wood's Wildlife
The publisher compared Wood to Melina Marchetta, so of course I was eager to read it! I'd also compare it to Jaclyn Moriarty--so many good Australian YA authors are making their ways to the US, and it makes me wonder who I'm missing! ANYWAY. This is about two girls whose school does a nine-week session at a wilderness camp--one girl is dealing with friend and boy drama, and the other one with the death of her boyfriend (but she's new at school, so no one knows this). I appreciated that even the more villainous characters are given some depth, and Wood writes realistically about teenage relationships and sex. I have literally zero interest in camping or, in general, being outdoors, but still really enjoyed the descriptions here. I enjoyed just about everything about this, in fact! Really a strong stand-alone contemporary YA book. A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released in September.

2014 book 208

Claudia Gray's A Thousand Pieces of You
Gray is the author of a bunch of fantasy-looking books that I haven't read, but I might have to change that, because this book was pretty awesome. It's about a girl whose parents are genius physicists, who have discovered a way to send people's consciousnesses to their bodies in other dimensions (theoretically) (I LOVE books with alternate dimensions!!!!!!). Anyway, now one of their grad students has murdered her father, stolen the technology--and jumped to another universe. So their other grad student convinces her to follow him and get REVENGE! But things are even more complicated than they first appeared--and I loved every second. Really strong characterization, good plotting and pacing (even if some of it was easy to guess, though I'm not complaining at the gratification of being right), and even the romance worked for me. This feels like the first book in a series, even though it comes to a satisfying conclusion, and I will one hundred percent be reading the next one. A/A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released in November.