Friday, September 30, 2016

The Thief's Apprentice by Bryan Methods, 2016

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All of London lives in fear of the Ruminating Claw. He's silent. He's ruthless. And he's been living inside Oliver Diplexito's family home. In fact, he's the man who serves Oliver his dinner!
Timid Oliver has the shock of his life when he learns his father's butler, Mr. Scant, has a secret life as an infamous thief. Oliver expects to be the Claw's next target, but the truth is far more frightening. Mr. Scant wants Oliver to be his partner in crime!
As Oliver bumbles through the darkest corners of England, he discovers secrets within secrets. Mr. Scant is waging war on a society of thieving tycoons, taking from the crooks and giving to the rightful owners. But when the society strikes back, it could mean doom for the Claw and his apprentice . . . 

(272 pages)

It took me four months to finish The Thief's Apprentice. I think that has more to do with my own insanely busy summer than it does with the book itself, though. I read the first few chapters back in May, and enjoyed them, but then I went on a week-long trip and decided to leave my copy at home for when I would have time to really focus on it. By the time I got back, though, I'd forgotten everything I'd read so far. I kept meaning to get back to The Thief's Apprentice, but every time I'd crack it open I would read only a page or two before I needed to run off again. Then more urgent books, with release dates staring me right in the face, began pressing in on my reading time. I began to hoard my increasingly scarce free time, saving it only for books I had to read immediately and the occasional shiny new library book that caught my eye.

Finally, though, The Thief's Apprentice worked its way to the top of my priority review list. And when I picked it up to read a chapter before bed . . . I got sucked in for and hour and a half. Because I discovered all over again how fun this book really is.

Actually, I think that's the perfect word to describe The Thief's Apprentice: "fun." It's chock full of danger and excitement and drama that's extremely unrealistic but, somehow, even more appealing for its craziness. It's also set in historical London, which–if you're American, anyway–adds an extra layer of charm to everything. It's a pity I didn't read The Thief's Apprentice sooner, because it's just the sort of silly escapist fun I wanted last summer.

I'll pause for a minute and talk about the downsides of the book, so I can get them over with. For one thing, the first few chapters are not as gripping as they could have been. Part of the reason I wasn't more aggressive about finishing The Thief's Apprentice was the fact that I wasn't completely sucked in by the beginning. In fact, the vibe I got from the book's beginning made me think that it would be an exciting but also dull sort of story–the kind that drives eleven-year-old boys wild with excitement, but whose thrills are a little too unrealistic for the rest of us. As I said in the last paragraph, it's not like that at all: the unrealistic nature of the action actually adds an escapist charm to the story. But in the first few chapters, I was having my doubts.

The only other real problem I had with The Thief's Apprentice was that it skated over some things I would have preferred details of. Perhaps this is just it's middle-grade targeting coming through, but the narration almost entirely skips over describing Oliver's day-to-day life. We get sketches of his home and school situation, enough to whet my appetite for more, but that more never comes. I also would have liked more details of what, exactly, Mr. Scant was having Oliver study and how he managed to so rapidly improve in his studies.

While this is a book targeted specifically toward kids–and I did occasionally get the vibe that I really wasn't the target audience–I was surprised by how witty and clever it still was. Some of Oliver's observations about everyday life are very spot-on, and he makes them in a manner that's almost tongue-in-cheek. I also spotted a literary allusion or two, which was fun as well.

When it comes down to it, I think The Thief's Apprentice is a great, fun (yes, there's that word again!) book. It didn't completely blow me away, or leap right up to a top position on my favorites list, but I enjoyed reading it and I'll be interested in reading the sequel sometime down the line. I have a sneaking suspicion my younger brothers (who are more a part of the target demographic) will be even more enchanted than I was by Oliver's thrilling tale.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Eden's Escape Blog Tour (+ Giveaway!)



All right, guys, it's time for my blog tour post for Eden's Escape! I've got several goodies for you today: an excerpt from the book, a Top Ten list by M. Tara Crowl herself, a giveaway for signed copies of both Eden of the Lamp books, and (slightly less exciting, I know) my own review of Eden's Escape. Read on for the first three items I just mentioned; to read my review, click here (and here for my review of Eden's Wish). Before we get going, though, let's learn about the books themselves:

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on Goodreads
All twelve years of Eden's life have been spent in an antique oil lamp. She lives like a princess inside her tiny, luxurious home; but to Eden, the lamp is nothing but a prison. She hates being a genie. All she wants, more than anything, is freedom.
When Eden finds a gateway to Earth within the lamp, she takes her chance and enters the world she loves. And this time, she won't be sent back after three wishes.

Posing as the new kid at a California middle school, Eden revels in all of Earth's pleasures-- but quickly learns that this world isn't as perfect as she always thought it was. Eden soon finds herself in the middle of a centuries-old conflict between powerful immortals. A ruthless organization run by a former genie will stop at nothing to acquire the lamp and its power-- even hurt Tyler and Sasha, the new mortal friends who have given Eden a home. To save her friends and protect the lamp's magic, Eden must decide once and for all where she belongs.
(272 pages)

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on Goodreads 
Eden's new life on earth begins in New York City under the guidance of her new guardian: Pepper, a petite, bubbly genie alum who's also a Broadway actress. Before she has a chance to settle in, though, Eden is whisked away for a granting-- only to find herself trapped in a laboratory. David Brightly, owner of the world's leading tech company, cares more about tapping into the lamp's power than making a wish and starts performing tests on Eden. With Brightly's plasma shield around the lamp, Eden has no way home. Left without a choice, she escapes the lab and goes on the run. After her daring exit, Eden finds herself on the streets of Paris-- home to Electra's headquarters. Left in a strange city with a price on her head (courtesy of scheming Brightly), Eden has to keep her wits about her. She dons a chic disguise and flits around Paris incognito, investigating Brightly Tech. Assisted by Pepper and her old adversary Bola, as well as some new friends, Eden embarks on a quest to retrieve the lamp and protect the secrets of the genie legacy.
(320 pages)

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About the Author:
M. Tara Crowl grew up in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. She studied Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, then received an MA in Creative Writing at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. She lives in New York City.







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Okay, now here's an excerpt from Eden's Escape itself. It's from Chapter 12; Eden's friend Melodie is helping her try to avoid Brightly by going incognito.

“Wow,” Eden said. “You do love clothes." 
“I told you.” Melodie started to sift through the racks. “Now, what we’ve got to do is find something that looks like the opposite of anything you’d ever wear." 
“Isn’t the point for me to go unnoticed?” In Eden’s line of sight were an orange jumpsuit that looked like a prison uniform, a shiny green skirt like a mermaid’s tail, and a feathered Native American headdress. “I don’t think I’d blend in wearing most of this stuff." 
“We’ll put you in something subtle.” 
Taking it all in, Eden wondered where exactly Melodie planned to find that. 
Though Melodie’s wardrobe seemed chaotically disorganized from an outsider’s perspective, she seemed to know precisely where everything was. After careful consideration, she pulled out a white collared shirt, a navy blazer, a pleated green-and- navy skirt, shiny black shoes, and a navy beret to top it all off. Eden put all of it on as instructed. 
“See?” Melodie said delightedly. “You’re just a regular student in Paris!”

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And now it's time for my personal favorite part of this tour: the Top Ten list by M. Tara Crowl herself!

M. Tara Crowl

My top ten places to write and/or be inspired in NYC

So much has been written, sung, and said about New York. One person can never experience everything it has to offer, and no two people will experience it in the same way. And that’s one of the things I love most about it. It’s a city so vast that you’ll never tackle it all, but you can still make it feel like your own.
August 30 marked my five-year anniversary of living in NYC. I’ve been elated, frustrated, heartbroken, and rejuvenated in this city. When I set out to write my new novel, Eden’s Escape, I knew there was nowhere else in the world that I’d want to be the first home on Earth for my protagonist, a twelve-year-old genie named Eden.
Eden has the rare privilege of being shown around the city by someone who’s lived there for hundreds of years: her new guardian, a genie alum named Pepper. In Eden’s Escape, they explore some of these locations together. Others, she’ll have to discover later. But here they are: my top ten places in NYC to write and/or be inspired.

1.     Central Park. It’s world-famous, and for good reason. I live downtown, but I try to take a trip up here at least once a season. It’s beautiful any time of year, but it’s downright magical in the snow.
2.     New York Public Library. This big, gorgeous library is right in the center of town, at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. In a city where everything aims to wow, it stands out as majestic and timeless.
3.     MoMA (The Museum of Modern Art). NYC is known for its many museums, but this is probably my favorite. Thought-provoking art, and a beautiful courtyard to sit and ponder it.
4.     Top of the Empire State Building. When Eden arrives in New York City, she’s instructed to go here to meet her new guardian. When she overlooks the city from the top, she feels like its queen. When I’m here, that’s how I feel too.
5.     The Village Vanguard. This iconic West Village jazz club opened in 1935. Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, and John Coltrane have played here, along with so many other jazz greats. You go downstairs, sit at a table, and soak in the music—no talking or phones allowed. When you’re here, it could be 2016 or 1967. The one thing you’re sure of is that you’re in New York—and when you’re here, that’s all that matters.
6.     Raoul’s. Another classic NYC establishment that transports me to another era. This Soho bistro opened in 1975. It has a colorful history and delicious food.
7.     Books of Wonder. A mecca of children’s books! Not only is this store chock full of children’s, MG, and YA treasures; its owners, huge supporters and champions of authors, host tons of amazing events. (I met Ann M. Martin here!)
8.     Nitehawk Cinema. I love going to the movies, and this is my favorite theater. Located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, it’s small and hospitable, with comfy seats, indie movies, and table service. During the movie, you write your order on a slip of paper with a little pencil, and—voila!—a server appears with your order. For me, it doesn’t get much better.
9.     Two Hands Restaurant & Bar. I’m biased on this one. My husband owns this restaurant, and my “day job” is as the office manager. But the food and coffee(!) are sublime, and the bright, airy interior and friendly staff make it a dreamy place to think and write.
10.  My living room. Ideas flow when I wander the city, but when it’s time to get real writing done, I have to hole up in silence and get to work. There’s nowhere I’m more productive than in my apartment, by myself. Books don’t write themselves!
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I've only visited New York once, but now I'm itching to go back and explore the places on M. Tara Crowl's list–they all sound amazing. Especially Books of Wonder, which honestly sounds like my dream bookstore.

Anyway, it's time to move on to the final part of today's post. I'm sure many of you avid fans of the Eden of the Lamp series are simply dying to get your hands on signed copies of both books. If so, you're in luck, because that's what I get to give away today! Enter in the Rafflecopter form below (US and Canada only), and once the giveaway's over at the end of the month I'll announce the winner on here and send their contact info to M. Tara Crowl. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And that's all I have for today. Have you read either Eden of the Lamp book? If you have, share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Disclaimer: I received complimentary copies of both books so I could participate in this blog tour; I'm also being entered into a $50 giftcard giveaway as a thank you for posting this tour post in the month of September.

Eden's Escape by M. Tara Crowl, 2016 (+ Giveaway!)

This is my review of the second Eden of the Lamp book. Don't read on unless you've read Eden's Wish (my review–which includes a giveaway for both books).

Click to view
on Goodreads 
Eden's new life on earth begins in New York City under the guidance of her new guardian: Pepper, a petite, bubbly genie alum who's also a Broadway actress. Before she has a chance to settle in, though, Eden is whisked away for a granting--only to find herself trapped in a laboratory. David Brightly, owner of the world's leading tech company, cares more about tapping into the lamp's power than making a wish and starts performing tests on Eden. With Brightly's plasma shield around the lamp, Eden has no way home. Left without a choice, she escapes the lab and goes on the run. After her daring exit, Eden finds herself on the streets of Paris--home to Electra's headquarters. Left in a strange city with a price on her head (courtesy of scheming Brightly), Eden has to keep her wits about her. She dons a chic disguise and flits around Paris incognito, investigating Brightly Tech. Assisted by Pepper and her old adversary Bola, as well as some new friends, Eden embarks on a quest to retrieve the lamp and protect the secrets of the genie legacy.
(320 pages)

Okay, well it's time for my review of Eden's Escape. It just came out earlier this month, and I got copies of both books from the author so I could participate in the blog tour. I'm posting my tour stop with all its goodies today too, so click here to check it out–I've got an excerpt from Eden's Escape on there, plus an exclusive Top Ten list written by Ms. Crowl herself just for Read Till Dawn.

Now for the review itself. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect after the ending of Eden's Wish with the announcement that Eden would be going to live on earth. I thought Eden would probably be struggling to fit in, going to school, making friends, doing all the things she did in the first book but on a much grander scale. Instead, Eden spends most of the book in hiding after a granting goes horribly wrong: a scientist named David Brightly has tracked her lamp down and rubbed it, for the express purpose of performing experiments on Edem until he can figure out how to get unlimited wishes. She makes a desperate escape, but has to leave the lamp behind; the rest of the book covers Eden's attempts to avoid being found by Brightly (a feat made a thousand times harder by the fact that his company made all the phones, and he's not at all shy about tapping phones to get the information he needs), find allies, get the lamp back, and generally set everything to rights. It seems like a pretty hopeless mess at some points, and it was interesting to watch the magic of the lamp collide with all the advantages of cutting-edge technology.

It was also fun watching Eden try to interact with modern technology for the very first time. Xavier completely neglected to teach her anything about it, because he thought it was a waste of time, so she's stuck figuring things out on her own. One of my favorite scenes is when she sits down at a computer to get on the internet. She stares at the screen for a minute, clicks the Word icon on the bottom because she thinks the "w" stands for "web," and then proceeds to type in what she needs and wait for the results to pop up. It was funny, and really realistic! It may have been slightly less realistic to see how quickly she caught on to the internet after that–I've spent some solid time teaching my grandmother how to navigate the web, and it definitely wasn't as intuitive for her. I guess being a genie makes Eden better at figuring things out than my human grandmother, though. That's one of the perks of being, you know, a magical immortal being with supernatural powers.

I don't want to talk too much about the story itself, for fear of spoilers. I would like to just touch on the interpersonal relationships, though, because I think they're both the main weakness and the greatest strength of Eden's Escape.

My only real complaint is Eden's relationship with Pepper. Now, don't get me wrong: I love Pepper. She seems like a fascinating character, and a very kind one. I would happily spend a whole book just learning about her backstory or watching her move forward in the present. My trouble, though, is that she and Eden develop a strong bond too quickly. They're together in New York for just two weeks, yet when they're separated and then reunited both act as though they were in a legitimate mother-daughter relationship. I love that Eden adores Pepper–because I do, too–but I was just a little turned off by the way she saw her as a mother figure so soon after leaving Xavier and Goldie (the couple who actually raised her, and who she recognized as her true family in Eden's Wish). You'd think there'd be a little more homesickness for her masters, but Eden barely thinks of them throughout the novel except in relation to her attempts to rescue the lamp.

The relationships are also a huge strength to the book, though, simply because they're so compelling. Whether it's Eden's relationships with the main characters from Eden's Wish, or with her new friend Melodie, or even with some of the members of Electra, there's always an interesting dynamic to watch. This goes to the character-building, too: Crowl builds dynamic characters, so that–for the most part, anyway–there are no stock characters. This is a huge plus, and it really makes the entire novel for me.

Overall, I'd say that Eden's Escape is a very strong MG fantasy novel (that's perhaps not quite as strong as its prequel). I really enjoyed reading both books, and I look forward to finding out whether there will be a third installment in the series. There's certainly room for one!

And now it's time for the giveaway. Enter below in the Rafflecopter form (the same one that's on the main blog tour post). Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: I received complimentary copies of both Eden of the Lamp books so I could participate in the blog tour for Eden's Escape. I'm also being entered into a random $50 giftcard giveaway for posting my review and the blog tour stop during the month of September.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Truth or Dare by Barbara Dee, 2016

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on Goodreads 
A few white lies during a simple game of truth or dare spin out of control and make life very complicated for Lia in this brand-new novel from Barbara Dee.
When Lia returns after a summer with her eccentric aunt, it feels like everything has changed within her group of five friends. Everyone just seems more…dramatic. And after playing a game of Truth or Dare, Lia discovers how those divides are growing wider, and tells a few white lies about what really happened over the summer in order to “keep up.” But is “keeping up” with her BFFs really worth it?

(256 pages)

When I got an email from Barbara Dee asking me if I wanted to review her latest novel, I was absolutely thrilled. I'd only read one of her books before - the amazing Solving Zoe - but I'd loved it so much that I can't believe I never looked up Dee's other books. That's why I jumped at the chance to read Truth or Dare, even though I probably normally would have said no - I figured, just this once, I could read a book about girls going through puberty and trust in the author that it wouldn't be cringe-worthy.

And you know what? I was right to say yes; I was happy to read Truth or Dare. I enjoyed it. The puberty drama was mixed in with much more serious storylines about grief, parental relationships, peer relationships, and bullying. Lia and her friends play truth or dare, sure, and Lia lies about hitting milestones that she hasn't. But the reason for this isn't just some lame one-upmanship game - instead it's the result of a complex cocktail of emotions and social politics.

I will say, though, that I never once competed with my friends in this arena the way Lia does. Heck, it never even came up! With that in mind, maybe the girls' obsession with puberty isn't exactly the most realistic thing in the world to me, but I'm willing to turn on my suspension of disbelief and accept this as the compelling, meaningful story that it is. Because Lia's dealing with some really hard things in her life: she's still trying to move past her mother's death, she's struggling to see her (rather eccentric) aunt as a mother figure, she's trying to one-up her friends because they're slightly cliquey and she's terrified of being left behind. These and many more storylines intertwine themselves throughout the book, grounding it. Making it feel real, and honest, and true-to-life even when the troubles Lia's dealing with aren't ones that I can personally relate to.

I'm not going to recommend this book to "anyone and everyone," because I don't think it would do well with such a broad audience. Most boys would be turned off by the mentions of bras and periods; some girls who actually are Lia's age might get the wrong idea about what sort of emphasis to place on the milestones of puberty. But for the rest of us, Truth or Dare is a good book. If you've read this far and you're sitting there thinking it looks cool, then I can almost guarantee that Truth or Dare will be a great book for you.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick, 2016

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It's not easy being Claire. (Really.)
Claire's life is a joke . . . but she's not laughing. While her friends seem to be leaping forward, she's dancing in the same place. The mean girls at school are living up to their mean name, and there's a boy, Ryder, who's just as bad, if not worse. And at home, nobody's really listening to her -- if anything, they seem to be more in on the joke than she is.
Then into all of this (not-very-funny-to-Claire) comedy comes something intense and tragic -- while her dad is talking to her at the kitchen table, he falls over with a medical emergency. Suddenly the joke has become very serious -- and the only way Claire, her family, and her friends are going to get through it is if they can find a way to make it funny again.

(272 pages)

I read Sonnenblick's Zen and the Art of Faking It several years ago, and really loved it. I never remembered to look him up and see if there were any other books he'd written, though. Imagine my surprise and delight when this little gem showed up in a package on my doorstep! It was exactly what I was in the mood for, too. My mother has been going through her own (much less overwhelming, but still frightening) heart problems lately, and reading about Claire's struggle to cope with her father's condition really helps put my emotions about my mom's into perspective.

Part of me, actually, wishes that Sonnenblick had put more of a focus on the rest of Claire's family, because the few glimpses we do get are very interesting as I try to decide which of them I would be. Realistically, I would likely fall into the role of Claire's brother Matthew - sacrificing my schoolwork and my time, losing out on things I loved in order to take care of my ailing parent. At least, I like to think that I would. Maybe I really would be like Claire, though, unable to look past the stroke symptoms and see my loving parent trapped inside a malfunctioning body. Whether I'd be Claire or Matthew, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be their mother - always faking a smile and trying to put a positive spin on things. There are days I barely remember to smile now, when everything is going relatively smoothly; no way would my reaction to catastrophe be to look on the bright side of everything.

I don't want to talk too much about what happens, because it will spoil the book for you, but I'll just say that this provides a very real and heart-wrenching portrait of what it's like to live with the aftermath of a medical tragedy. We see how the stroke itself is emotionally devastating for Claire, of course, but much more than that it's the day-to-day struggle of life after the stroke that takes it's toll over the long haul. Claire struggles with this, and with juggling her father's condition along with the regular dramas and worries of middle school. These are all, incidentally, very well done as well; her friends and classmates are realistic (if a tad difficult to tell apart at times), her struggles to succeed in dance and band are familiar to anyone who's ever been involved in extracurriculars, and her teachers are complex and nuanced.

If you think Falling Over Sideways looks good, then by all means pick up a copy and give it a go. I'm not going to say that everyone needs to read it, or that it's the most perfect book in the entire world, but I will say that it definitely hit all the right chords for me. If you decide to read Falling Over Sideways, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Disclaimer: I received an unsolicited ARC of this novel from Scholastic.