Friday, January 29, 2016

The Maypop Kidnapping by C.M. Surrisi, 2015

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on Goodreads 
A mystery has washed ashore at the coastal town of Maiden Rock. Quinnie Boyd's teacher, Ms. Stillford, hasn't shown up on the first day of school—or the day after that. Quinnie thinks it's a kidnapping case. Her mom, the town sheriff, doesn't believe her, but Quinnie's going to follow her instincts—even if she has to tiptoe around her mom to do it.
Quinnie's investigation will take her through a damp marsh, a lobster pound, and more of Maine's messiest places. On the way, she'll have help from her glamorous new neighbor, Mariella from New York, whether Quinnie wants it or not. As the girls hunt for clues around Maiden Rock, they'll encounter a swarm of cats, two nuns with a speeding habit, and a group of tattooed rocker-types who've been pigging out on lobster fries at the town café. And if Quinnie's hunch is right, the search may lead them right into danger . . .

(304 pages)

I initially sent an e-mailed request to the publisher for this book because I thought it looked cute. When they told me they were out of physical copies but could approve it on Netgalley I took the plunge and joined up. That's right - I'm a brand-new Netgalley reviewer! Rah-rah team and all that. I feel like I'm quite on the in-crowd now - me and twenty thousand other reviewers. It took me like half an hour to get it set up so I could read Netgalley books on my iPad. This is normal, right?

Anyway, when I finally managed to download the Kindle app onto my iPad, set up the email address for it and then send the book over from the Netgalley website, what did I think of it? Well, I like it - a lot. It's a very fun, quirky read, and I enjoyed almost everything about it: the characters, the setting, the mystery . . . the only things I didn't really love were a) the way Quinnie kept setting her sights on someone and insisting that she just knew they were the culprit and b) the ending, which just feel that realistic.

This isn't going to be one of those reviews where I say, "I liked everything well enough, but it just didn't warm my heart because of these little flaws." No, this book most definitely did warm my heart - and I would be very happy to read a sequel (hint hint, Ms. Surrisi!). I'm just saying that there were things that could have made this into even more of a stand-out book. As it is, I enjoyed it and I'd happily read it again but in five years I'm going to have a hard time really remembering it.

Sometimes books set in quaint towns grate on my nerves, because they feel so obnoxiously "cute" that I just can't stomach it. The Maypop Kidnapping doesn't ever fall into that, though there were a couple times towards the beginning (especially when Quinnie's mother is introduced, with her different desks for her different jobs) when I thought it would. All played out smoothly, though, and Quinnie's tight-knit small-town life fits the story like a comfy old pair of warn-in jeans.

Quinnie is a great girl, very conscientious, and she tries very hard to obey her parents until her mother shuts her down one too many times and Quinnie decides she's the only one who really knows how to look for her teacher. I appreciated the fact that her parents weren't just obstacles to be overcome (as they are depicted in a lot of middle-grade novels) - instead, they're real individuals who love their daughter very much and just don't always communicate in the best of ways. Quinnie's not a brat to her parents and they're not inattentive to the point of negligence - both huge points in the book's favor.

If you think this book looks interesting to you, then by all means check it out -  I don't think you'll be disappointed!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary eARC of this book from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Dragon of Trelian by Michelle Knudsen, 2009

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on Goodreads 
Calen, a lonely young mage-to-be, never dreamed that Princess Meglynne would become his friend. And impulsive Meg never imagined that secretly tending a baby dragon would cause her to be "linked" to the winged beast — for life. Being attuned to a dragon’s thoughts and feelings is exciting but scary, especially when their destinies are tied (for better or worse). And now Meg’s sister is about to marry a prince to end a war between kingdoms, a celebration that only Meg and Calen know is endangered by a murderous plot. How can a girl, a boy, and a dragon merge their magic and strength to bring down a powerful traitor before it’s too late? From the author of Library Lion comes a classic middle-grade fantasy soaring with sorcery and suspense, spunk and adventure, friendship and first romance, and a cast of truly enchanting characters.
(416 pages)

I originally read the Trelian books several years ago, when I checked them out of the library on a whim. I fell in love with the world, the magic, the characters, and pretty much everything else, and have been obsessively checking back periodically for the third book in the trilogy to be announced. It wasn't even a blip on the horizon for the longest of times, but when I checked in on Goodreads last month I discovered that not only did the book, The Mage of Trelian, have a title and a cover, but it was also coming out this year! How exciting is that? Extremely. I immediately sent in a review request for it (fingers crossed!) and requested both of the published books from the library. I devoured them in the space of about two days, starved as I was from not reading them in a few years, and now I'm going to review them.

That said, let me take this back a step and say that these are not the Best Books Ever. I love the Trelian books, but they're not mind-blowing or incredibly unique. They didn't win any big awards or sell a million copies, and - to be perfectly honest - they aren't as fun to reread as some of my other old favorites are. I skipped over a good chunk of the middle of Dragon of Trelian this time around because, after three or four times, certain betrayals and revelations just don't hold my attention since a) they're emotional and painful, so I don't like reading them when I'm looking to relax with an old favorite, and b) when I know what happens, I can skip over them and really not feel like I'm missing anything.

Okay, so that's the negative. But I did enjoy rereading Trelian - not all books can be as awesome to reread as Jennifer Nielsen's The False Prince, right? - and the question is more whether you would want to read it a first time, not whether you should read it a fourth time like I did. And I say, "definitely!" The Trelian books are extremely engaging, very well-written, and compelling enough that they have kept my attention and affection despite the passing of the years. Meg and Calen are great main characters, both brimming with personality and surprising depth. Neither of them ever feel like cardboard cutouts or indeed even really strike me as "characters" to be analyzed any more than I would analyze myself or my friends - they just feel like people, with their good points and their bad. Calen is my favorite person in the series (seriously, he's awesome!), but I love Meg - and her dragon, of course - as well. And also Meg's little sister Maurel, who doesn't get nearly as much screen time in The Dragon of Trelian as I would like.

So go on, pick up The Dragon of Trelian. If you haven't blown through all three Trelian books by summertime, I'll . . . well, I'd eat my hat if I had one. I don't, though, so instead I'll read them myself. That's right: if you read all the way through The Dragon of Trelian and you don't immediately want to read The Princess of Trelian, I'll check the books out from the library and read them all again. I'm that certain that you'll enjoy them (and that I'll enjoy rereading them for the umpteenth time). So go: enjoy them. You won't be disappointed.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Rise of the Wolf by Jennifer A. Nielsen, 2016

Update 2/1/16: Interested in Rise of the Wolf? Click here to enter my giveaway and try to win an ARC!

Warning: This is a review of the second book in the "Mark of the Thief" series, and there may be spoilers for the first book. You can read my review of Mark of the Thief here, or check it out on Goodreads here.

Click to view
on Goodreads 
Nic may have escaped enslavement in the mines outside of Rome, but his troubles are far from over. The Praetor War--the battle to destroy Rome from within--is in full force, and Nic is caught in the crossfire. The secretive Praetors are determined to unlock a powerful amulet--one sure to bring the empire to its knees. Worse, the Praetors believe Nic holds the key to finding this amulet, and they will stop at nothing to steal it, even if that means harming the people Nic holds most dear.
When the Praetors capture Nic's mother, Nic knows he must do anything to save her. He challenges the Praetors to a chariot race. If he wins, they will release his mother. But if he loses, he must hand over a magic that will certainly destroy Rome and end his own life. Can Nic once again harness his magic and gather the strength to defeat his enemies? Or will he lose his mother and bear witness to Rome's destruction?

(352 pages)

First things first: isn't the cover absolutely gorgeous? I swear, Nielsen's books get the best cover artists ever. I used to say the Ascendance trilogy books were the prettiest ones on my shelf, but I don't think that's true anymore - honestly, those turquoise shades are even more breathtaking in person! And the silver armband really pops (Caela looks like she's sticking her snout of the picture at me!), and the spine is the most amazing light blue, and . . . sorry, I think I'm rambling now.

Anyway, I can't say I'm enjoying the Mark of the Thief series as much as I did Nielsen's Ascendance trilogy, but in all fairness that was a pretty insanely high bar to hit again. I think the trouble is that Nic isn't quite as clever as Sage. He's powerful, sure - much more powerful, in a physical sense, than Sage ever was - but Nic doesn't have Sage's powerful intellect or objective way of looking at things. Nic stumbled into this world of treachery and deceit, and he's stumbling around inside it trying to save the people he loves. He doesn't really want any of the power or strength that has been dropped onto his lap, and he is pretty much a sitting duck for any manipulative baddy who comes his way and makes a swipe at him.

On the other hand, what Nic lacks in drive he makes up for in motivation. He genuinely cares about the people who are close to him, and he is doing his very best to protect them. He's not lazy by any stretch of the imagination; he's not purposefully making sloppy choices. It's just that every alley is blocked for him, and he's flailing around as best he can in an attempt to find a safe way out. Do I agree with all of his choices (or the way he makes those decisions)? No, I do not. But I have a hard time being too mad at him when I know how hard he's trying to do the right thing.

My favorite addition to this second novel is one that does at times feel rather forced, but which is just such a fingernail-biting dilemma that I can't hold anything against it. Nielsen seems to be a fan of playing with forced marriages (first in The Shadow Throne with Jaron and Amarinda, and now here in Rise of the Wolf). I think that's pretty dang awesome, because I've always loved those sorts of conundrums. I don't want to say anything else about this part of the story because I'd hate to spoil it for you, but it definitely adds a whole new angle to Nic's internal conflict.

I can't say this is my all-time favorite of Nielsen's books but I did still enjoy it and I'm glad I read it. This is a great series for young fans of Ancient Rome, and I can definitely see it bridging the gap for kids who've finished Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson novels but aren't quite ready for Megan Whalen Turner's "The Queen's Thief" books.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm just going to go sit and stare at that gorgeous cover for like an hour.

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

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Teaser Tuesdays: Rise of the Wolf by Jennifer A. Nielsen (Jan 19)

Okay, so for those of you who are new to this meme, here's how it works:

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My current read is Rise of the Wolf by Jennifer A. Nielsen, which comes out next Tuesday. It's the second Praetor Wars book, so don't read on unless you're okay with spoilers from the first book, Mark of the Thief.
Nic may have escaped enslavement in the mines outside of Rome, but his troubles are far from over. The Praetor War--the battle to destroy Rome from within--is in full force, and Nic is caught in the crossfire. The secretive Praetors are determined to unlock a powerful amulet--one sure to bring the empire to its knees. Worse, the Praetors believe Nic holds the key to finding this amulet, and they will stop at nothing to steal it, even if that means harming the people Nic holds most dear.
When the Praetors capture Nic's mother, Nic knows he must do anything to save her. He challenges the Praetors to a chariot race. If he wins, they will release his mother. But if he loses, he must hand over a magic that will certainly destroy Rome and end his own life. Can Nic once again harness his magic and gather the strength to defeat his enemies? Or will he lose his mother and bear witness to Rome's destruction?
(352 pages)

Here's this week's teaser, from page 1:
My life no longer made sense. At least, not according to the usual rules of logic. But the absence of logic didn't bother me. A strange feeling of peace had come over me once I accepted that the only person I could trust in this world was also trying to kill me.
Let me know what you think of the book, and check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Cute Emergency by Tony Heally, 2014

Click to view
on Goodreads 
Are you having a bad day? Is life getting you down? Do you wish you could go back to bed? Sounds like you've got a cute emergency on your hands!
With over a million followers, the Cute Emergency Twitter feed brings sunshine into people's lives every day. Cute Emergency is dedicated to trawling the internet and rooting out the sweetest animal photos in existence: from sleeping kittens, to tiny piglets, to heart-melting puppies. Now, for the first time, this charming book gathers together the very best of its collection.
It's guaranteed - there's an animal picture within these pages to thaw even the frostiest of hearts.

(176 pages)


I'm sure you're wondering why I'm reviewing a book with a grand total of about fifty words in the entire thing. Well, you may know from reading this blog that I recently moved cross-country (and that my dominant wrist is back in a splint - yippee). The first week or so of moving in, Cute Emergency became available for request on the review site Blogging for Books. It offered me pictures of baby animals to cure my stress, and - can you blame me? - I requested it right away. I honestly can't say I'm sorry I did: it was a great stress reliever not only for me, but also for all three of my siblings (who took turns stealing it and leaving it random places - it took me a month just to get my hands back on the book again!).

And oh, gosh, this book is so adorable! After sitting down and reading it cover to cover a few minutes ago, my lips are still perking up into a smile even as I type this review. It's a fact that I just can't see that many adorable animals without flipping out. I don't know if many people can.

The book is divided into five chapters, or "emergency levels," labelled from "Low" to "Extreme." Reading through the book cover to cover, there actually really is a noticeable increase in cuteness from section to section; in the first one or two chapters I was thinking "this is nice, but nothing special," but by the end I was smiling and laughing so much I almost choked trying not to laugh out loud. I think it's pretty cool that there really are different "cuteness intensities" in the different chapters. There are a few captions that don't really match the picture very well or aren't very funny, but most of them are great and turn a cute picture into a hilarious one.

If you like cute pictures of animals, then this book is definitely for you - and if you know someone who loves cute animals, then I just found you the perfect present for them. A 176-page book not enough for your fluffy-animal needs? Then check out the Cute Emergency Twitter account here. I used to follow them myself, before Cute Emergency was ever a book. The pictures, I can attest to firsthand, are adorable, though there sure are a lot of them. Only follow the Twitter account if you're prepared for cute-animal overload!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book through the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Stolen Chapters by James Riley, 2016

This is just a heads-up that The Stolen Chapters is the sequel to James Riley's Story Thieves. If you haven't read that, you might not want to read this review if you're afraid of spoilers. You can click the links to check out Story Thieves on Goodreads and read my review of it.

Click to view
on Goodreads 
Owen Conners would never jump into a mystery. There are too many hidden clues, twists that make no sense, and an ending you never see coming. Mysteries are just not Owen’s thing. So how exactly did he end up in one with his memory erased? And that’s far from the only question.
How did Kiel Gnomenfoot, boy magician, lose all of his magic? Where’s Bethany, their half-fictional friend? And who’s the annoying guy wearing the question mark mask and Sherlock Holmes hat, taunting Owen and Kiel that Bethany is in grave danger?
Bethany is trapped in a hidden room that’s slowly filling with water, and she can’t escape until her friends find her. But is she imprisoned by more than just chains and a locked door? What’s she hiding from Owen and Kiel?

Maybe some mysteries just shouldn’t be solved…
(368 pages)

What a contradiction Jame's Riley's writing is: so juvenile and plastic one minute, and so clever and heartwarming the next. I alternately think he's one of the most over-rated authors I've read, and one of the most under-rated. The Stolen Chapters provokes this unique frustration most of any of his books yet, and I am still struggling to come to grips with how I feel about it.

Because at first, I kind of hated The Stolen Chapters. It felt dry and contrived and forced, chock-full of overused tropes and uninteresting dilemmas. I didn't care very much about the characters, and everything seemed somehow less lovable than it had in the first book.

But then, in the second half, I found myself falling back in love. And the really irritating thing is that I can't even say why or how, or just how clever everything really was and how Riley tricked me and I love it so much - and you know why I can't talk about any of that? Because it's all a spoiler! His books are so clever and awesome, so that one minute I can be positive I've figured the story out and the next he turns everything on its head. Authors are lauded all the time for "keeping things fresh" and writing a story with "unexpected turns," but Riley's books are some of the genuinely twistiest books I have ever read.

I still don't absolutely love Stolen Chapters to pieces, though, certainly not the way I love Riley's amazing Half Upon a Time trilogy. I forgive Stolen Chapters for not engaging me in the beginning, because it was for a good reason, but I'm not sure other readers will be able to make it to the point where everything goes from cliche to great. And I love all the amazing twists and turns, but - okay, no downside to that; I genuinely loved the twists. I haven't fallen completely in love with the characters in Story Thieves, but they've definitely grown on me since the first book. I've even come to like Bethany pretty well, after finding her so annoying in Story Thieves, and I really like the new characters added in this book (especially the villain - who I really wish I could discuss without spoiling the ending!).

The writing is by no means complex, but it's very humorous and both books were a big hit with my fourteen-year-old brother. I recommend these books to middle schoolers, and to older kids/adults like me who still enjoy a good middle-grade read that's deeper than it appears at first glance.

And don't you dare skip the acknowledgements section - it's honestly even more hilarious than the book itself!

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

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Teaser Tuesdays: The Stolen Chapters by James Riley (Jan 12)

Okay, so for those of you who are new to this meme, here's how it works:

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My current read is Story Thieves #2: The Stolen Chapters by James Riley, which comes out next Tuesday.

Owen Conners would never jump into a mystery. There are too many hidden clues, twists that make no sense, and an ending you never see coming. Mysteries are just not Owen’s thing. So how exactly did he end up in one with his memory erased? And that’s far from the only question.
How did Kiel Gnomenfoot, boy magician, lose all of his magic? Where’s Bethany, their half-fictional friend? And who’s the annoying guy wearing the question mark mask and Sherlock Holmes hat, taunting Owen and Kiel that Bethany is in grave danger?
Bethany is trapped in a hidden room that’s slowly filling with water, and she can’t escape until her friends find her. But is she imprisoned by more than just chains and a locked door? What’s she hiding from Owen and Kiel?
Maybe some mysteries just shouldn’t be solved…
(368 pages)

Here's this week's teaser, from page 14:
Owen turned to find himself staring at a short figure wearing a brown overcoat, a Sherlock Holmes hat, and a white mask with a black question mark where the face should have been.
Well. That wasn't good.
"Gentlemen," the masked figure said, crossing his arms over his chest. "I would say the game is afoot, but unfortunately, your game is already over." 
Let me know what you think of the book, and check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, January 11, 2016

I Don't Know How the Story Ends by J.B. Cheaney, 2015

Click to view
on Goodreads 
The bustling beginning of Hollywood comes to life in this funny yet touching novel.
When Isobel Ransom is dragged on a long vacation to Hollywood, she anticipates nothing more than homesickness, especially with her father away at war. But that's before she meets her cousin, Ranger. Ranger's making his very own motion picture, and he insists that Isobel and her little sister, Sylvie, be a part of this secret project. But it soon appears that Ranger hasn't yet found a story to tell - that is, until Isobel's injured father returns from the front. Movie stars, eccentric directors, and the wild-west atmosphere of early Hollywood form a lively context to this story of learning how to make sense of an unexpected world.

(288 pages)

I know pretty much nothing about the history of filmmaking. What little I do know comes from Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I know much more now, though - I Don't Know How the Story Ends is a very educational book! That's not its priority, though, that's not what it's first and foremost meant to be. It's just that it's set during WWI, in Hollywood, and the main characters happen to be making a movie.

This is a rather strange book, filled with a mixture of old movie-making and timeless relationship issues. Isobel is torn apart between missing her father - who is serving as a doctor in the war - being proud of him, and worrying that her mother is forgetting about him. Charlie Chaplin approaches Isobel's mother partway through the story, offering her a role in his next movie, and Isobel is afraid to see her mother blushing and laughing with him. When her father comes home injured - pretty mutilated, really - Isobel's internal conflict takes center stage for a while as she can't cope with the fact that her handsome father has been turned into such a scarred, hideous creature.

As I'm completely uninterested in movie-making both past and present, some parts of the story kind of dragged for me as the kids wandered around filming shot after shot. By the end of the story I was a little more invested in the movie-making process, though, and the movie itself intrigued me because it was like a puzzle: they had all these scenes, shot out of order, and no idea what sort of story they would make. It was pretty cool seeing the story evolve as shooting went along. The movie they eventually produced was really great, too, though the scene where they reveal it fell a bit flat for me. I'm not sure why - perhaps I just wasn't invested in the characters enough.

That's probably my main issue with the book, really, is that I wasn't quite as absorbed into the story and the characters as I usually am. Perhaps it was just me, perhaps I was having an off-day, but I never truly reached the place where I abandoned my surroundings and dived whole-heartedly into Isobel's. I liked Isobel, but I kind of hated the way she reacted toward her father; I liked Ranger, but he sometimes struck me as being a rather contrived character; I like Isobel's little sister Sylvie, but - actually, no buts there. Sylvie was perfect, just as annoying and gullible and precious as any real-life little sister. I think she may have actually been my favorite character.

Anyway, I do recommend this book to you if you like the history of filmmaking or reading about the families of men who went off to war. I think many people will like this book more than I did, so don't skip it because I liked but didn't love it. There are a lot of different things to chew on in I Don't Know How the Story Ends, a lot of different themes that different people will draw out of the story, but I personally didn't get anything out of it besides a few hours of entertainment.

And really, a few hours of entertainment is benefit enough all on its own.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Lizzie and the Lost Baby by Cheryl Blackford, 2016

Click to view
on Goodreads 
Cheryl Blackford's debut novel is set in England during World War II and told from the dual perspectives of ten-year-old Lizzie, a homesick girl evacuated from bomb-blitzed Hull to the remote Yorkshire valley, and Elijah, a local gypsy boy. When Lizzie discovers an abandoned baby, her dangerous friendship with Elijah is put to the test. Will Lizzie be able to find the baby's parents? And if she does, can she and Elijah remain friends in a world clouded by prejudice and fear?
(192 pages)


First things first: the teaser is pretty much entirely misleading. Lizzie and the Lost Baby is not the story of a girl who befriends a gypsy boy, discovers a baby, and finds their friendship threatened as they hunt for the child's parents; it's the story of a homesick girl who finds a baby in a field, a troubled gypsy boy whose arm was twisted into leaving his sister in that field, and the world of hurt and prejudice that lies between what's right (bringing the baby back to her family) and what's easy (leaving her with Lizzie's foster mother, who thinks the child is her own dead toddler). It's a story about people who are blinded by prejudice, and about the extremes children sometimes have to go to in order to get around the twisted decisions made by the adults.

The storyline did sometimes feel a little contrived - the adults especially struck me as being rather one-dimensional (they seriously don't think twice about stealing a baby? And they refuse to discuss the morality of such a choice with Lizzie when she thinks it should go back to its birth family?). Part of that, though, could be that they are presented from the point-of-view of a ten-year-old. Little girls aren't exactly known for presenting very nuanced views of adults, are they?

My other main question about the story is about the relationship between the Gypsies and the townspeople. I know absolutely nothing about this aspect of life in England during WWII (I don't know much of anything about Gypsies in general, to be perfectly honest), so I was shocked by the horrible bias the English people had toward the Gypsies, basically making them out to be terrible scoundrels who were less than human. This level of prejudice is upsetting in anyone, but even more startling when it's during WWII but taking place in England, rather than Germany. I guess I have to assume it's an honest depiction, though I'd like to imagine Blackford got it wrong.

Lizzie and the Lost Baby is a small book, only 192 pages with pretty large font, and it's not a very complex book in terms of storylines - there's pretty much only one, focused around a few fairly well-developed children and some rather one-dimensional adults, and the novel follows it from beginning to end without weaving in too many other subplots. I found it a little too quick a read for my tastes, but can see it being a great book for middle-school kids not ready for more complex, hard-hitting books about life for minority groups during WWII. Honestly, I think most of my issues with the book can be explained away by the fact that I'm used to expecting more: more meat, more complexity, more depth. I forget that this is a book that kids as young as nine or ten could read, and that for them it's actually quite thought-provoking. This could be quite a conversation starter about prejudice and moral choices (and, for that matter, when it's permissible for kids to disobey authority figures).

You'll have to check it out for yourself, but I'd suggest this book for children just starting to learn about prejudice and discrimination, and basic human rights. I wouldn't, though, go out of my way to recommend it to teens or adults - it's just not meant for older readers. I'll be keeping an eye out for Blackford's future books, though: if this is her debut, I can't wait to see what she'll come up with next.

Disclaimer: I received a complementary ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Teaser Tuesdays: Lizzie and the Lost Baby by Cheryl Blackford (Jan 5)

Okay, so for those of you who are new to this meme, here's how it works:

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My current read is Lizzie and the Lost Baby by Cheryl Blackford, which comes out next Tuesday.

Cheryl Blackford's debut novel is set in England during World War II and told from the dual perspectives of ten-year-old Lizzie, a homesick girl evacuated from bomb-blitzed Hull to the remote Yorkshire valley, and Elijah, a local gypsy boy. When Lizzie discovers an abandoned baby, her dangerous friendship with Elijah is put to the test. Will Lizzie be able to find the baby's parents? And if she does, can she and Elijah remain friends in a world clouded by prejudice and fear?
(192 pages)

Here's this week's teaser, from page 1:
Every window on the train had been painted black, blocking any possible view of the passing scenery. Lizzie knew the paint was necessary to hide the train's lights from German planes, but she wished she could see outside where there might be farmland, rivers, or mountains to watch. Instead, as the train sped along the tracks, all Lizzie saw was her own frizzy-haired reflection in the blank black rectangle of glass.
Let me know what you think of the book, and check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Jinx by Sage Blackwood, 2013

Click to view
on Goodreads 
In the Urwald, you don’t step off the path. Trolls, werewolves, and butter-churn riding witches lurk amid the clawing branches, eager to swoop up the unwary. Jinx has always feared leaving the path—then he meets the wizard Simon Magus.
Jinx knows that wizards are evil. But Simon’s kitchen is cozy, and he seems cranky rather than wicked. Staying with him appears to be Jinx’s safest, and perhaps only, option. As Jinx’s curiosity about magic grows, he learns to listen to the trees as closely as he does to Simon’s unusual visitors. The more Jinx discovers, the more determined he becomes to explore beyond the security of well-trod paths. But in the Urwald, a little healthy fear is never out of place, for magic—and magicians—can be as dangerous as the forest, and soon Jinx must decide which is the greater threat.
Sage Blackwood introduces a daring new hero for an innovative new world as Jinx is joined by friends, battles enemies, and discovers life beyond—and even within—the forest is more complex than he can imagine, and that the Urwald itself needs him more than he could ever guess.

(368 pages)

Now this is a book that I so totally regret not reading sooner.

I mean, seriously. I read all those rave reviews on Goodreads when it first came out, but it just sort of slid under my radar. Yay to my new library, though, because it was sitting on a shelf right at my eye-level! I snapped it up and brought it home, and read it in a grand total of two hours - I know, I'm a hopeless speed-reader. But to be fair, this was a really awesome book and I just couldn't put it down.

It reminds me of a lot of different book series I've read, in the best possible way. I can't go into all of the similarities (both because that would take forever, and because then I'd pretty much spoil the entire book), but here are some of the series it particularly reminded me of: the Magic Thief series by Sarah Prineas, the Trelian books by Michelle Knudson, the Half Upon a Time trilogy by James Riley, and the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede. You'd think, with all this similarity to other series, that the Jinx books would have been dry and cliche - they weren't, though. Blackwood does a marvelous job of keeping everything fresh, inserting twists to the formula until the basic premise only feels comfortably familiar, rather than boring.

The wizard Simon is my favorite kind of character: he's all grumpy and mean on the surface, but then he's also kind to Jinx in ways that make you think he's actually really nice inside. He basically adopted Jinx as a six-year-old and "raised him" (if you can call it that when he had him keep house all those years). Jinx very obviously loves Simon very much, and while he never once refers to Simon as his father-figure throughout the entire trilogy, it's very clear that this is essentially how he perceives him. That's what makes Jinx struggle so much with what Simon does in Jinx, and why I honestly struggle with it as well. I can't talk about that, though, because of spoilers.

I love Jinx, too, even though he's a little bit more of a stock character in the first book. By the end of the trilogy, though, I love how he develops away from the usual underdog hero trope and, rather than turning into the charismatic heroes of many of the series I listed above, becomes very grumpy and blunt and awesome as he constantly loses his patience with people. It's hard to describe Jinx's personality development, but it's fantastic to read.

Basically, this is a really great book. I enjoyed the second and third Jinx books as well, but it's this first one that holds the true magic. Go on, check it out. If you're anything like me, you'll gobble it up in one sitting - and then immediately request both sequels.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Under Their Skin by Margaret Peterson Haddix, 2016

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on Goodreads 
From New York Times bestselling author Margaret Peterson Haddix comes the first book in a brand-new thrilling series about twins who are on a quest to discover the secrets being kept by their new family.
Nick and Eryn's mom is getting remarried, and the twelve-year-old twins are skeptical when she tells them their lives won't change much. Well, yes, they will have to move. And they will have a new stepfather, stepbrother, and stepsister. But Mom tells them not to worry. They won't ever have to meet their stepsiblings.
This news puzzles Nick and Eryn, so the twins set out on a mission to find out who these kids are - and why they're being kept hidden.

(320 pages)

Wow. Just, wow. I can see Under Their Skin becoming so popular in the future. Haddix is at her best when it comes to her series (The Shadow Children and The Missing both make my top five favorites, easy), and she pulls no punches this time around. I absolutely love the premise of the entire series, and I can't wait to see what she does with it in the future! There's one fundamental trouble I have with it, though: it's just about murder to review without spoilers.

How do you review a book that is so much better when the reader doesn't know anything about it? Very, very carefully. Let's see, how to do this . . . Well, parts of Under Their Skin remind me of Haddix's other sci-fi books (most especially a touch of The Always War, a little bit of the Missing series, and a dab of Double Identity), all of which I absolutely adore. Unfortunately, they're all horrible books to review, too, which is why I've avoided reviewing them (except for Double Identity, which I reviewed years ago and posted to my blog here). The very things that make Under Their Skin similar to Haddix's other books (the fascinating topics, the huge reveals, the intriguing ethical dilemmas) are what make it almost impossible to discuss Under Their Skin without taking away some of the magic of that first read-through.

Because seriously, I was mulling over the central conflict for days - how would I feel in Eryn's and Nick's place? What would I do, how could I make the decisions they will have to face? I still have no idea, but I'm letting myself be neutral for now - because after all, the twins are just as confused and conflicted as I am right now. I'm sure that the next book will expand both the conundrum and its nuances, laying things out as they must come to grips with their discoveries, and I'm waiting until then to decide what I think as well.

If I'm being completely honest, though, I did have some serious believability issues with the central concept of the story. I felt like it was a rather large leap of the imagination to believe that - argh, back to the no-spoilers barrier! Well, anyway, it was a bit unrealistic. But you know what? I'm totally suspending judgement until I've read at least one or two more books in the series - because I've been reading Haddix's writing for long enough that I know she can get me to believe anything. Heck, I read an eight-book series about time travel and popped out the other side full of jargon like "tracer," "time ripple," and "elucidator." If anyone can parse something down into the nitty-gritty and make me believe in it, it's Margaret Peterson Haddix.

At the end of the day, Under Their Skin is a captivating read full of breathtaking twists, heart-stopping dilemmas, and a fascinating scenario that can only become more exciting as the series continues. My only real complaint is that the sequel isn't here already - because seriously, I need to know what happens next!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.