Monday, February 29, 2016

Flunked by Jen Calonita, 2015

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on Goodreads 
Would you send a villain to do a hero's job? An exciting new twisted fairy tale series from award-winning author Jen Calonita.
Full of regret, Cinderella's wicked stepmother, Flora, has founded the Fairy Tale Reform School with the mission of turning the wicked and criminally mischievous into upstanding members of Enchantasia.
Impish, sassy 12-year-old Gilly has a history of petty theft and she's not too sorry about it. When she lifts a hair clip, she gets tossed in reform school-for at least three months. But when she meets fellow students Jax and Kayla, she learns there's more to this school than its sweet mission. There's a battle brewing and she starts to wonder: can a villain really change?

(256 pages)

This book is so cool.

Honestly, that's all I really have to say about it. In yet another fairytale mashup world, this time we get to see what happens when the fairytales are over and the baddies are either reforming or on the run. Gilly's father was the one who fashioned Cinderella's classic glass slippers - which are in demand all over the kingdom - but Ella's fairy godmother rips off his designs and poofs the shoes up to sell herself. This means that the family is struggling to even stay fed, that Gilly's opinion of the royals is less than rosy, and that she has begun to steal from the obnoxiously wealthy in order to help her family get by.

Needless to say, Gilly eventually gets caught and sent to the "Fairy Tale Reform School" - so called because it's built to transform villains into heroes (or at least respectable citizens). It's a whole new world there, and Gilly finds herself hobnobbing with villains from all backgrounds and walks of life. There are trolls, fairies, mer-creatures - anything you can think of! And their crimes are as varied as their appearances. I just love that premise, don't you?

But it's not all about adjusting to cool new classes and getting along with the Snape-like Evil Queen from Sleeping Beauty (otherwise known as the school's therapy teacher). There are some big baddies out there who might just be threatening the school, and Gilly doesn't know what to do or who to trust. I don't want to give away too much of the story, but it's very engaging from start to finish. It might not be the all-time best book I've ever read, but it's definitely a great premise very well-realized and I'm excited to see how the characters and plotlines will be developed as the series continues.

If you like fairytale spin-offs, then I definitely recommend this one. It's meant for a slightly younger audience than, say, Jessica Day George's Princesses of Westfalin trilogy, but it's still a very engaging read. Definitely check it out if you get the chance - and let me know what you think!

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Key to the Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd, 2016

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on Goodreads 
Everyone in Emma's family is special. Her ancestors include Revolutionary War spies, brilliant scientists, and famous musicians--every single one of which learned of their extraordinary destiny through a dream.
For Emma, her own dream can't come soon enough. Right before her mother died, Emma promised that she'd do whatever it took to fulfill her destiny, and she doesn't want to let her mother down.
But when Emma's dream finally arrives, it points her toward an impossible task--finding a legendary treasure hidden in her town's cemetery. If Emma fails, she'll let down generations of extraordinary ancestors . . . including her own mother. But how can she find something that's been missing for centuries and might be protected by a mysterious singing ghost?
With her signature blend of lyrical writing, quirky humor, and unforgettable characters, Natalie Lloyd's
The Key to Extraordinary cements her status as one of the most original voices writing for children today.
(240 pages)

This is a really great book.

And I'm surprised by that, because I was expecting a good book, not a really great one. You see, I'm one of the very few people who didn't fall completely in love with the author's debut, A Snicker of Magic. I'd seen a lot of potential in Snicker, though, so I was excited to see what she came up with once she got going.

I just didn't expect her to get going so fast. Wow oh wow, is this a good book. I can't quite put it into words, but everything just comes together in a way that is really satisfying to read. Even though on paper the basic premise of Emma's story is kind of kitschy, it never feels that way - instead it feels meaningful and emotional and real. I devoured The Key to the Extraordinary in a single sitting, and I didn't just set it aside and forget about it when I was done, either. The story and its characters have stuck in my brain in the weeks since I read itand I find myself pausing to think about them every once in a while. I'm definitely going to re-read it in the future, too - because I really, truly will enjoy rediscovering it once I've forgotten the details that make it special.

I think what makes The Key to the Extraordinary so appealing is how deep and meaningful it is. This isn't just a fluffy book; Emma's dealing with the hole in her heart (the "Big Empty") that her mother's death left. She's also struggling with the fact that her grandmother, Blue, is considering selling their bakery because she can't afford to run it any longer, and questioning her own special purpose in the world as she awaits her very own magical Destiny Dream. Around Emma, others are struggling to deal with various things as well. My favorite of the secondary characters (though he's major enough I'd really call him a main character) is Earl, who hasn't spoken a word since he was stuck outside during a fierce tornado the year before. I just want to reach into the book and give him a big hug, and tell him everything's going to be okay.

I will footnote my endless praise of The Key to the Extraordinary with this: it's not the best book I've ever read. The ending isn't entirely believable (and no, I'm not just talking about the fantasy elements!), and the conclusion to the mystery isn't as exciting as I'd hoped it would be. It's still plenty thrilling (and very surprising!), so I'm really not complaining too loudly, but I just thought I'd throw these thoughts out there so I'm at least pretending to be presenting a balanced review. I'm not really, though, because I really really loved this book and I totally think you should go read it.

So, yeah. Go read it please. And then come back and tell me your thoughts.

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

Monday, February 22, 2016

See How They Run by Ally Carter, 2015

Warning: this review will have some major spoilers from the first book in the Embassy Row series, All Fall Down (click here to read my review).

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on Goodreads 
Inside every secret, there's a world of trouble. Get ready for the second book in this new series of global proportions--from master of intrigue, New York Times bestselling author Ally Carter.
Grace's past has come back to hunt her . . . and if she doesn't stop it, Grace isn't the only one who will get hurt. Because on Embassy Row, the countries of the world stand like dominoes, and one wrong move can make them all fall down.
The twists get twistier and the turns get even more shocking in the second thrilling installment of Embassy Row.

(336 pages)

I reviewed All Fall Down pretty soon after it came out, and I really loved it. Usually I don't go in for hype, but with All Fall Down I actually agreed with all the other rave reviewers: it was a good book. A really good book. And I couldn't wait to read the sequel.

Which is why I bought a copy of See How They Run from Half-Priced Books a few days after it came out. I'm a very impatient person, and the library just wasn't quick enough for me. It was discounted, so I payed like fifteen dollars instead of twenty. Or, really, my aunt did - I used her giftcard to buy it.

Anyway, was it worth it? Um, kind of. I did enjoy See How They Run (and I was infinitely excited that it didn't travel down the campy road All Fall Down's ending hinted at), but the characters and story have lost a certain spark that was so evident in the first book. Alexei is still very sweet, but the beautiful relationship of unspoken trust and dependence that was built up in the first book has morphed into a more aggressive form of attachment that I still enjoyed pretty well but not as much as before.

A lot of other reviewers said that they got sick of how whiny Grace is throughout the book. My mom, who never reads any books reviews, had the same issue when she finished reading it. I can definitely see the basis for these complaints, because Grace spends a lot of time talking about how damaged she is and about how it's really not okay, no matter what people say. She also wanders around saying rude things to people who are trying to be polite about her condition, like "Yeah, you're treating me gently because I'm mentally unstable and killed my own mother. Just come off it and say the truth." That definitely could be annoying. But, for me, I feel like Grace's behavior is simply realistic. I'm very tired of MC's going through big traumatic events and then just shaking themselves off and continuing on like nothing happened. Grace has been through some huge trauma lately, and she shows it - and I may not always like the way she's fixated on her past or the way she interacts with the people around her, but I appreciate that she's being real.

I also love how it takes so long to figure out what the story's about, and we don't ever really know until literally the last sentence of the entire book. There's so much going on in the book I feel like some things got shortchanged (Grace sure brushes off the ancient secret society pretty quickly - I know I, for one, would have been way more interested in finding out the history behind it!), but there's a lot of room for the next book in the series to expand some of the more intriguing elements of the story.

And now for that ending. I can't say anything about it, because of massive spoilers, but I have some very mixed feelings about the big revelation at the end of the novel. On one hand, my inner girly-girl is squealing. On the other, my inner cynic is rolling its eyes big-time. I guess I'll have to wait and read the third book before I find out how I really feel about this particular development.

Until then, I guess I'll just put my two Embassy Row books up on the bookshelf and settle in for the long wait for Book Three.

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Last Boy at St. Edith's by Lee Gjertsen Malone, 2016

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on Goodreads 
Seventh grader Jeremy Miner has a girl problem. Or, more accurately, a girls problem. Four hundred and seventy-five of them. That's how many girls attend his school, St. Edith's Academy.
Jeremy is the only boy left after the school's brief experiment in coeducation. And he needs to get out. His mom won't let him transfer, so Jeremy takes matters into his own hands: He's going to get expelled.
Together with his best friend, Claudia, Jeremy unleashes a series of hilarious pranks in hopes that he'll get kicked out with minimum damage to his permanent record. But when his stunts start to backfire, Jeremy has to decide whom he's willing to knock down on his way out the door.
Written with equal parts humor and heart, Lee Gjertsen Malone's debut is all about fitting in, standing out, and finding the place where you belong.

(224 pages)

Honestly, sometimes I struggle more writing the "meh" reviews than I do with reviewing books that incite stronger reactions in me. I think it's because the very fact that they're "meh" books means a) I have a much harder time even remembering the story enough to discuss it and b) I don't have any burning reactions I'm just dying to spit out on the page.

I mean, I liked the book - sure I did. I requested it in the first place because I loved the idea of a boy being stuck as the very last male attending an all-girl school, surrounded by no one but females all day long. I thought it was a pretty cool angle, one that I'd never seen done before, and I was excited to see it put into action.

And on one hand I enjoyed the book, because it does offer what it promises: the story revolves around Jeremy's struggle to fit in at an all-boys school, and his attempts to get expelled through a series of pranks that are mainly the brainchild of his best friend Claudia. The thing that hurts the story, for me at least, is that this is pretty much it for interesting storylines. The other storylines aren't very interesting (to me at least - you might find them more to your taste), and one - with the girl Jeremy has a crush on, and a girl who announces late into the book that she has a crush on him - is honestly just sort of cringeworthy. And I don't really like the thoughtless way Jeremy treats the people around him throughout the story.

I enjoyed reading The Last Boy at St. Edith's, but at the same time I wasn't completely engrossed. I don't usually flip forward to see how many pages are left, but I caught myself doing just that in this book. And it's not because I was thinking "oh, this is such a horrible book," but just because the small void in the back of my head wasn't absorbed enough in the story to stay quiet, and so it started whispering distracting things like, "I wonder how long this book is? Let's flip forward and see!"

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying The Last Boy at St. Edith's was the worst book ever or anything like that. It's got a cool premise, and I bet there are a lot of people out there who would absolutely love it. I'm just not one of those people, and while I did enjoy reading it - I swear I did! I'm sorry if this review is too negative! - I instantly forgot it when I put the book down. And I may come back and read it again in the future, if I'm bored and I see it sitting on a shelf, but I'm not so in love with it that I am purposefully planning to return to it someday; in fact, with all the amazing books out there just waiting to be discovered, I doubt I'll ever wind up reading this one again.

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

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Teaser Tuesdays: The Last Boy at St. Edith's by Lee Gjertsen Malone (Feb 16)

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 The Last Boy at St. Edith's by Lee Gjertsen Malone.

Seventh grader Jeremy Miner has a girl problem. Or, more accurately, a girls problem. Four hundred and seventy-five of them. That's how many girls attend his school, St. Edith's Academy.
Jeremy is the only boy left after the school's brief experiment in coeducation. And he needs to get out. His mom won't let him transfer, so Jeremy takes matters into his own hands: He's going to get expelled.
Together with his best friend, Claudia, Jeremy unleashes a series of hilarious pranks in hopes that he'll get kicked out with minimum damage to his permanent record. But when his stunts start to backfire, Jeremy has to decide whom he's willing to knock down on his way out the door.
Written with equal parts humor and heart, Lee Gjertsen Malone's debut is all about fitting in, standing out, and finding the place where you belong.


Here's this week's teaser, from page 1:
It was the third day of the ninth week of school when Jeremy Miner decided to get kicked out of seventh's grade.
Let me know what you think of the book, and check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Princess of Trelian by Michelle Knudsen, 2012

Spoiler warning! This is the second book in the Trelian series, and there will likely be spoilers from Book One. Click here to check out my review of the first book in the series, The Dragon of Trelian.

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on Goodreads 
The hundred-year war with Kragnir is over, and Meg will soon be named the princess-heir of Trelian. But her connection to her dragon, Jakl, is making her parents’ subjects uneasy. Will they ever accept this dragon princess as their future queen? It doesn’t help that Meg is suffering horrible nightmares and sudden, uncontrollable rages—and with the link joining them, Jakl is feeling the rages, too. Meg is desperate to talk to Calen, to see if he can help her figure out what is happening and how to stop it before she or her dragon does something terrible…
Meanwhile, Calen is having troubles of his own. He’s far away, gone off with Mage Serek to receive his first true mage’s mark. But his marking ceremony is disrupted by a mysterious magical attack, and ominous prophecies predict a terrifying new danger. The Magistratum’s greatest enemy may soon reappear—and the other mages believe that Calen himself may have a hand in his return!

(448 pages)

This book. Can you believe the cliffhanger it leaves the story on?! No, of course you can't, you haven't read it yet. Suffice to say that it was very cruel of Knudson to wait four years to publish the sequel, because - seriously. I literally spent years foaming at the mouth to find out what happened next

That said, what about the rest of the story, besides the ending? It's a good book, arguably funner to reread than the first book in the series (which had to focus more on initial setup and world-building). There is so much going on throughout The Princess of Trelian, from Meg's troubles with Jakl to Calen and Serek's issues with the other mages, and Calen's ubiquitous role in the upcoming confrontation with the main villain. I think it's pretty impressive that Knudson can make Meg do some pretty idiotic things in Princess - things that would probably make me despise any other character - but can still make me feel affection towards her. I don't exactly love Meg to pieces, but I can understand her reasoning and sympathize with her desperation to protect both Jakl and her country. I don't agree with the way she attempts to do this (and honestly, we are pretty much complete opposites when it comes to . . . well, everything), but I do understand her motives and I love her in a slightly-disapproving-older-sister sort of way. So, basically, the way Maerlie loves her.

As for Calen - ah! I love my favorite character. He has a hard journey in this book, and I feel for him every step of the way. It's hard to say too much about what happens, but from the moment the book begins he's being mistreated and doubted and judged . . . for something that he hasn't even done yet, and very well may never do at all. It's hard for him, because he's constantly being cut out of plans and kicked out of meetings, and while I'm also slightly frustrated with some of the choices he makes towards the end of the novel, I completely understand his motives and honestly don't really blame him at all. He was in a really tough spot.

I don't have much else to say about the book, because it's mainly build-up for the series finale, The Mage of Trelian. I love the Trelian series because the books don't dip in quality as they go along, and I highly recommend the entire series (barring any major problems with Mage, which I haven't read yet). If you get the chance to read it, definitely let me know what you think!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

"Rise of the Wolf" Giveaway Winner!

Hi, guys! I had a blast hosting this giveaway of Jennifer A. Nielsen's Rise of the Wolf, and I hope you had just as much fun as I did. If you're interested in finding out more about Nielsen's books, you can check out her author page on Goodreads, where you can also read more about Mark of the Thief and Rise of the Wolf. I'd love it if you would also check out my reviews of both books (Thief here and Wolf here), or - if you've really got some time to kill - take a look at this convenient list of all my book reviews.

Anyway, you don't want to hear me blathering on, do you? You want to know who won! Well, without further ado, here we go. The winner of the Rise of the Wolf giveaway is:

Natalie Valentin. Congratulations, Natalie!

Thank you so much to everyone who participated! I never knew hosting a giveaway was so much fun. I'm definitely going to do this again sometime in the future! Post in the comments below telling me what your favorite prizes are to win in giveaways.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Now, for a bit of housekeeping. This was my first-ever giveaway, and I thought it went pretty well but I'm curious to see what you think. Is there anything you would have done differently? Anything that annoyed you, or that you wish I had done more of? Any general advice? I welcome any feedback you'd like to share!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Baker's Magic by Diane Zahler, 2016

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on Goodreads 
Bee is an orphan, alone in a poor, crumbling kingdom. In desperation, she steals a bun from a bakery, and to her surprise, the baker offers her a place at his shop. As she learns to bake, Bee discovers that she has a magical power. When a new friend desperately needs her help against an evil mage, Bee wonders what an orphan girl with only a small bit of magic can do. Bee's journey to help her friend becomes a journey to save the kingdom, and a discovery of the meaning of family.
(336 pages)

First, a confession: I'm writing this the night before it goes live. I usually have my reviews written at least a few days before they're scheduled, but with this one it took a long time to even access the book (because apparently, Capstone doesn't let you read their Netgalley ebooks on Kindle). I just finished reading Baker's Magic yesterday, and I figured I'd go ahead and review it now anyway because a) it just came out the first of the month (so it's still new enough that it would be better for me to post my review sooner) and b) I'm having wrist surgery this coming Tuesday, and I don't really want to have a late review hanging over my head while I'm doing all of my typing one-handed.

Anyway, that's probably far more than you really wanted to know about the inner workings of my scheduling woes. You're really here to read about the book, aren't you? And I'm happy to say that this is definitely a good one! Rather dark cover - which actually made me hesitate to request it in the first place - aside, this is a fun, though not necessarily fluffy, book that plays with a large number of tropes so subtly that you barely notice what's going on at all.

Take Wil, for example. He's a nice boy, the blacksmith's son who's trapped into following his father's footsteps, and he and Bee have a fun, bantering relationship right from the beginning of the story. But do they fall in love? It's not much of a spoiler to say that they don't - and that the story lacks nothing for having no love interest for the main character. What's more, all of the usual tropes - the pirates, the quests, the mages, the princess, etc. - all play out differently than you would expect. I don't want to say much more about how things turn out, or I'll spoil the entire book, but suffice to say that it is a pretty fresh take on things.

Also, I really love the story line with the trees. That's an entirely new angle, and it is really cool - especially because Bee is a baker, and so she really appreciates the entire worlds of opportunity that open up with fruits like lemons and apples to cook with. I can't imagine living in a world without wood, but that is the environment Bee and her friends grew up in and so it's really cool seeing them encounter trees for the first time as the story goes on.

This wasn't the absolute best book I've ever read (I will say that the pacing was a tad strange), but it was a very enjoyable one that I am glad to have gotten the chance to read. If you give it a go, I'd love to hear your thoughts about it!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ecopy of this book through Netgalley.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Teaser Tuesdays: Baker's Magic by Diane Zahler (Feb 9)

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 Baker's Magic by Diane Zahler.

Bee is an orphan, alone in a poor, crumbling kingdom. In desperation, she steals a bun from a bakery, and to her surprise, the baker offers her a place at his shop. As she learns to bake, Bee discovers that she has a magical power. When a new friend desperately needs her help against an evil mage, Bee wonders what an orphan girl with only a small bit of magic can do. Bee's journey to help her friend becomes a journey to save the kingdom, and a discovery of the meaning of family.
(336 pages)


Here's this week's teaser, from page 1:
Bee had never been so hungry in her life.
Oh, she'd been hungry plenty of times. Stomach-growling, eat-a-big-meal hungry. But this was different. This hunger clawed at her insides, making her legs weak and her vision blurry. 
Let me know what you think of the book, and check back on Friday for my review! Also, while you're here, why don't you check out my giveaway? You can enter to win an ARC of Jennifer Nielsen's latest novel, Rise of the Wolf!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Whitney Miller's New Southern Table by Whitney Miller, 2015

Click to view
on Goodreads 
Following her great-grandmothers examples of creatively stretching meals during the Great Depression, Whitney Miller transforms recipes from her Southern roots, preserving flavors of traditional family dishes while offering the excitement of her own special touches. She offers a taste of her family table with dishes like Southern Horchata, PB&J Chicken Satay, Dehydrated Okra Chips, Sweet Corn Grit Tamales, Peach Bread Pudding with Sweet Tea Rum Sauce, and much more. Using new techniques and cooking methods, Miller reimagines classic recipes and experiments with flavors from around the world, inspired by her travels since winning MasterChef.
(288 pages)

Okay, so I saw this cookbook available for review and I thought it would be fun to have an excuse to try out some new recipes. I always want to cook but never have time for it, so this was meant to be my motive for actually getting my butt off the chair and into the kitchen.

Yeah, it didn't really work. I tried one recipe (the olive oil biscuits - definitely recommend!) and then handed the book off to my brother and made him cook a few of the recipes for school. I know, I'm an awesome teacher, aren't I? This is what happens when you make the sixteen-year-old her brother's Spanish teacher. It wasn't a complete waste of time for him, though: he had to translate the recipes into Spanish first and then use his copy to make the recipe. I don't think I've ever seen him so motivated to do his Spanish homework as when he was scrambling to try out that homemade white hot chocolate recipe!

All of the recipes that we tried were pretty easy - once we managed to track down the ingredients, that is. Whitney Miller may have stone-ground grits or pear juice just sitting in her pantry all the time, but we had to wait for our mom to get some. She kept forgetting when she went to the grocery store, so that significantly slowed our progress in the recipes. Assuming you actually have everything you need, though, the recipes are quick and easy (far simpler than the recipes in my beloved Harry Potter cookbook, which are delicious but ridiculously convoluted).

Now for the big question: are the dishes in the cookbook tasty? And from our experiments, I'd say it's a very strong maybe. Some of them are delicious - I don't think I've ever had such wonderful biscuits before (though to be fair, I'm not exactly a biscuit aficionado). Other recipes, though, produced rather mixed responses in our taste testers. The white hot chocolate that my brother was so excited about, and that he slaved over for half an hour on the stove, was certainly tasty but it was so rich half of us got stomachaches afterwards - including me, and I couldn't even bring myself to finish my cup, it was so rich. And this from the girl who absolutely adores white chocolate.

There are still a number of dishes I really want to try, especially the Pb&J Chicken Satays, which looks extremely delicious. There are others, though, like the Creole Succotash Salad that don't really appeal to me - they're just a little too far outside of my comfort zone. All of the recipes seem very good, though, and I think it's just a matter of what sort of food you like. I like about two-thirds of the foods in this recipe book, so I think it will be supplying me with tasty new treats to try for a long time.

Especially if I can't even manage to get myself into the kitchen more than once a month.

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

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Only Girl in School by Natalie Standiford, 2016

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on Goodreads 
From the acclaimed author of The Secret Tree comes the story of a girl who finds herself a sudden outsider in the loneliest place in the world--middle school.
When Claire's best friend moves away just before the start of fifth grade, Claire suddenly becomes the only girl in the entire elementary school. While the boys are resentful that she gets a bathroom all to herself, Claire soon sees the lonelier side of things--until a few incidents put her quite literally in the spotlight.

(256 pages)

I wonder what it is about playing with gender in schools.

This isn't the first book I've reviewed this year about someone attending a school with a bunch of classmates of the opposite gender. In fact, Lee Gjertsen Malone's The Last Boy at St. Edith's is almost the exact same story as The Only Girl in School, except with a gender swap - here it's a girl amongst boys, and in the other it's a boy amongst girls.

The thing is, though, that even though the two books are so similar they still manage to have some very large differences - mainly with the setting and the side-plots - and Standiford manages to win me over far more than Malone ever did. And it's sad, because I really love the concept and would have happily gobbled up two books approaching it from opposite sides (in fact, that's why I requested ARCs of both books), but The Only Girl in School does such a great job (and without the attempts at political correctness) that The Last Boy at St. Edith's pales in comparison.

Enough about The Last Boy at St. Edith's, though - my review of that book will go live in a couple of weeks, and you can more of my thoughts about it then. In the meantime, let's talk about Standiford's novel. Do I think it was the best book ever, and that it will be raised up onto pillars of greatness and admired for all of eternity? Why no, no I don't. But I did enjoy it, from the small-town setting to Claire's lonely outcast position, and I was engaged from page 1 to page 256. And yes, the book doesn't even hit three-hundred pages. It's pretty short, definitely, but there's enough going on that it doesn't feel overly clipped.

A word about the setting: I actually lived in Maryland for four and a half years (up until two months ago!), so I thought I knew most of what there was to know about it. I never imagined, though, that the same state that held Baltimore City could have such a small-town island like the one Claire lives on. Claire's home in The Only Girl in School actually reminds me a lot more of Quinnie's in The Maypop Kidnapping (my review) than it does of my own experiences in Maryland. And I find that really funny because The Maypop Kidnapping is set in rural Maine, which is not really something I would normally associate with Maryland. The author bio says that Standiford was born and raised in Maryland, though, so I'm just going to assume her home was more rural than mine and that the setting is realistic. It makes me interested in finding out whether Foyes Island is a real place.

The technique of telling the story in letters actually works really well here, much better than the diary format I've seen in some other books. A few times Bess (the girl who moved away, leaving Claire as the last female student) responds to Claire's letters, and we don't get to read her letters but we do get the gist of what she says through Claire's responses. That works really well to keep the narration realistic (and often funny), while still keeping the narrative focus squarely on Claire.

The only other thing I wanted to touch on was the bullying that Claire faces at school, the majority of which rings true. I didn't really like Henry's mean behavior throughout the novel, because he's a total jerk to his ex-best friend and his motives (which are explained in the denouement) are: a) no real excuse, and b) kind of unrealistic, considering how old they're supposed to be. I understand the need for him to behave the way he does, for the sake of the plot, but I still kind of hate him for caving so easily to societal expectations and basically dumping his best friend in the dirt the minute she was slightly uncool. I also don't completely approve of the way Claire treats Gilbert, the boy with a crush on her whom she calls "Yucky Gilbert."

All in all, though, this was a fun read that I really enjoyed. It's the kind of story I can see being a big hit with kids in elementary and middle school, and which would make a fun discussion starter about bullying and the struggle to fit in.

Also, I bet kids will love Claire's hunt for Smuggler Joe's treasure.

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

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Teaser Tuesdays: The Only Girl in School by Natalie Standiford (Feb 2)

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 The Only Girl in School by Natalie Standiford.


From the acclaimed author of The Secret Tree comes the story of a girl who finds herself a sudden outsider in the loneliest place in the world--middle school.
When Claire's best friend moves away just before the start of fifth grade, Claire suddenly becomes the only girl in the entire elementary school. While the boys are resentful that she gets a bathroom all to herself, Claire soon sees the lonelier side of things--until a few incidents put her quite literally in the spotlight.
(256 pages)

Here's this week's teaser, from page 1:
Dear Bess,
Here's how I imagine your first day of school:
You hated it. The kids are mean. Your teacher is mean. And boring. It's very strict with lots of dumb rules that make no sense, like No one is allowed to go to the bathroom without a buddy. Which means you can never go to the bathroom at school, ever, because there is no other girl IN THE WHOLE ENTIRE SCHOOL to be your bathroom buddy.
Oh, wait. That was MY first day.
Let me know what you think of the book, and check back on Friday for my review! Also, while you're here, why don't you check out my giveaway? You can enter to win an ARC of Jennifer Nielsen's latest novel, Rise of the Wolf!

Monday, February 1, 2016

ARC Giveaway: "Rise of the Wolf" by Jennifer A. Nielsen

One of these copies of Rise
of the Wolf 
could soon
 be yours!
EDIT: This giveaway has ended. Click here to go to the winner announcement page!

I've never hosted a giveaway before, but then I've never had an opportunity to do one as perfect as the one that just fell into my lap. You see, New York Times-bestselling author Jennifer A. Nielsen's latest novel Rise of the Wolf  just came out in late January and I've got an extra copy.

That's right, I have two ARCs of the sequel to Mark of the Thief! Yes, I know, it's unfair - there are so many people who are dying to get their hands on Rise of the Wolf, and here I am with two just lying around my bedroom. I decided to even things out by giving away one of my copies, so another Jennifer Nielsen fan can enjoy her latest novel.

This is open to U.S. residents only (I'm so sorry, but international shipping is murder!), and I'll announce the winner in both this post and a new one the day after the giveaway ends. I'll also e-mail the winner, and if they don't respond within 48 hours I'll have to pick a new one. The book will be sent via media mail soon after I get the winner's mailing address. If you have any questions about this giveaway, I'd be happy to answer them in the comments section below. Good luck!

Here's some more info about the book:

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)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

While you're here, take a minute to check out my blog! Here is a complete list of my book reviews, and here is a list of some of the best Top Ten Tuesday posts I've done. If you're a fellow fan of Jennifer Nielsen's books, you might also be interested in my review of A Night Divided, her historical fiction novel about a girl living behind the Berlin wall in post-WWI East Berlin.

The Root Cellar by Janet Lunn, 1996

Click to view
on Goodreads 
It looked like an ordinary root cellar. And if twelve-year-old Rose hadn't been so unhappy in her new home, where she'd been sent to live with unknown relatives, she probably would never have fled down the stairs to the root cellar in the first place. And if she hadn't, she never would have climbed up into another century, the world of the 1860s, and the chaos of Civil War.
(256 pages)

I feel like I would have liked this one a lot better if I'd read it for the first time when I was younger.

It's not so much that it's geared for younger kids (in fact, it's kind of too gruesome for little children), but that the plot feels sort of . . . wobbly. On one hand it's a really cool concept, and it imparts a lot of history without being too painful, but on the other it relies on unrealistic characters and events to carry it on its way.

Rose is the worst offender when it comes to being an unrealistic character. She is, to put it in a single word, unpredictable. And not in the cool, the-author-did-this-on-purpose sort of way. No, she just up and completely changes halfway through the book for no reason other than "she went back in time, so she suddenly went from being an inhibited, emotionally-constrained doll-like girl to a headstrong, determined firecracker with a strong mind of her own." It's not that I dislike either side of her character, but I just don't like the way she so radically changes with no real impetus.

The other main thing I found confusing about the book was that it was set in Canada . . . but was about the American Civil War. And by the end, when I'd figured everything out, it was a really cool angle - I'd never known that Canadians came to fight in the war! - but it took me way too long to figure out the basic facts: that Rose is American, and that she's living with her relatives in Canada near the American-Canadian border. For a while, I honestly thought that Rose was Canadian and her relatives were the Americans. I think part of that confusion comes from the fact that Lunn grew up in America, but moved to Canada at eighteen and lived the rest of her life there: there's no real sense of an American identity for Rose to contrast against that of her relatives from Canada, because the author was a member of both countries and didn't herself differentiate between the two. That must be it, because that's the only reason I can think of for the rather muddled distinction between the two nationalities.

I did enjoy the book, though - it was a good feel-good read (except for the gruesome battle descriptions, of course). I can't see myself going out of my way to recommend it in the future, but I'm sure there are some readers out there who would be perfect for this odd little time-travel novel. When I meet one I will happily hand over my copy of the book, and probably forget entirely about it the next day.