Friday, July 31, 2015

School For Sidekicks by Kelly McCullough, 2015

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on Goodreads 
Evan Quick is a GIANT superhero geek who dreams of one day becoming a superhero himself. Every morning he checks to see if he's developed his powers overnight, and every day there's nothing. No flying, no super strength, no invulnerability—that always hurts to check—no telepathy, no magic. Not even the ability to turn off the alarm clock without smacking the switch.
But then Evan somehow manages to survive a supervillian's death ray, and is sent to the Academy for Metahuman Operatives. Unfortunately, his new school is not what he expected, and instead of fighting bad guys, Evan finds himself blacklisted, and on the wrong side of the school's director. If Evan ever wants to realize his dream, he must convince his "mentor" Foxman, a semi-retired has-been, to become a real hero once again.
(336 pages; Release date August 4, 2015)

All right, I'm starting on the deep end with this one: School for Sidekicks was just a little too, well, politically correct for my tastes. Evan's father had two mothers, one of the students at the school is a gender-neutral shapeshifter, a girl tries to kiss another girl - each of these were completely unnecessary to the plot, and really only served to send the not-so-subtle message of "Look at me, I'm a liberal author!" I can understand having things like that in a book when they're central to the plot or are in a book directed at the gay community, but in this case McCullough went out of his way to add them to a kid's book that totally didn't need them at all. And I'm really sad that he did that, because it totally hurt my enjoyment of the book.

Political correctness (which, I am perfectly aware, won't even bother a lot of readers) aside, School for Sidekicks is still just a little too . . . much. This is apparently McCullough's first children's book, and it's pretty obvious that he's not used to toning his material down the way you have to for MG. Besides Foxman (who, as I said, is a recovering drunkard), there are a few points where the violence becomes a bit too graphic for me. At one point, somebody literally dies a few times but is basically rebooted each time. The deaths aren't described extremely vividly, but they're still deaths and they're not exactly peaceful deaths. At another point, a professor teaches his students a class on killing bad guys with common objects they might have at hand. He goes in-depth into describing what organs you can hit when you stab which spots at which angles, and I honestly had to skip over a paragraph or two because it was getting a little too much for me. Sure, I'm a wimp, but that's not exactly the sort of thing middle-school kids should be reading about, either. There's also some pretty bad language scattered throughout, including the "D" word and the "B" word (the one for "illegitimate child").

Now let's talk about the good aspects to the book. McCullough did a good job inserting as many twists as he possibly could into the dry formula, and I really enjoyed a lot of the aspects of his take on the superhero universe. Foxman, Evan's superhero mentor and a recovering alcoholic, was my personal favorite character because he was so different from all of the other usual superhero tropes. Plus, he was hilarious! I wish I could have someone like him to talk to when I'm down. The big reveal at the end was pretty mind-blowing, too, and really makes you rethink everything. It also sets up for some very interesting sequels. I really loved Evan as well, because I could see myself in him. As a massive Harry Potter/Doctor Who fangirl, I can totally relate with his obsession with superheroes - I just wish I was lucky enough to attend Hogwarts and meet all the characters in Harry Potter, the way he attended the "School for Sidekicks" and met all his favorite heroes. Even if some of them did turn out to be total losers!

Honestly, though, I feel like the bad-to-good ratio on this one is just too high. I won't be recommending it to anyone, and I doubt I'll be reading the sequel. If the bad points I've mentioned don't turn you off, though, then you could still give it a try. I know that without them, I would definitely have really enjoyed School for Sidekicks.

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

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ten Fellow Bookworms (Who Happen to Live in Books Themselves)

I love to read. You may have picked up on this by now (the book blog being such a dead giveaway), but in case you haven't I just want to say it: I. Am. A. Bookworm. This is why I absolutely love reading about characters who take after my own heart, and spend their days reading. Here are ten of my favorite bookish characters:

1. Miri from Shannon Hale's Princess Academy trilogy (my review of the first and third books)

2. Henry from Violet Haberdasher's Knightley Academy trilogy (my review of the first book)

3. Trey from Margaret Peterson Haddix's Shadow Children series

4. Natalie from Andrew Clements's The School Story

5. Emma from Heather Vogel Frederick's Mother-Daughter Book Club series

6. Hermione from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series

7. Amy from the 39 Clues series by Scholastic

8. Jessica from Rob Buyea's Terupt trilogy

9. Isabelle from Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret

10. Catherine from Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey

Who are your favorite characters who read? Let me know in the comments section, and make sure to check out more Top Ten lists over at The Broke and the Bookish!

Teaser Tuesdays: School for Sidekicks by Kelly McCullough (July 28)

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 School for Sidekicks by Kelly McCullough, release date September 4th.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Being a hero isn't always what it's cracked up to be in this funny and genuine novel from adult fantasy author Kelly McCullough.
Evan Quick is a GIANT superhero geek who dreams of one day becoming a superhero himself. Every morning he checks to see if he's developed his powers overnight, and every day there's nothing. No flying, no super strength, no invulnerability—that always hurts to check—no telepathy, no magic. Not even the ability to turn off the alarm clock without smacking the switch.
But then Evan somehow manages to survive a supervillian's death ray, and is sent to the Academy for Metahuman Operatives. Unfortunately, his new school is not what he expected, and instead of fighting bad guys, Evan finds himself blacklisted, and on the wrong side of the school's director. If Evan ever wants to realize his dream, he must convince his "mentor" Foxman, a semi-retired has-been, to become a real hero once again.
(336 pages)

Here's this week's teaser, from page 54 of the Amazon Look Inside feature (because I'm not supposed to quote ARCs):
"He's one of us, then?" The Captain again. "Metahuman?"
"No doubt of that," she continued. "Our boy Evan is well on his way to wearing a mask." 

Let me know what you think of the book, and check back on Friday for my ARC review!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Song of the Wanderer by Bruce Coville, 1999

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on Goodreads
Cara must return to Earth to save her grandmother, the Wanderer. But to do so, Cara must first travel through the wilderness of Luster, land of the unicorns, full of unknown creatures and perilous adventure around every bend in the road. Only at the back of the dragon Ebillan's cave will she find the gate that can return her to Earth.
Embarking on the journey of her life, Cara will face vicious terrain, delver attacks, and a surly dragon. Beyond all this looms one more danger: Beloved, Cara's infamous ancestor, who has dedicated a lifetime to ridding the earth of unicorns. Is Cara strong enough to resist Beloved's ruthless magic and trickery? Can she bear betraying her own blood?

(336 pages)

I reviewed the first book in the Unicorn Chronicles, Into the Land of the Unicorns, a few months ago. It was a good book, but very short (not even hitting the 200-page mark). Nothing about it particularly wowed me, but I did enjoy reading it and I looked forward to reading the later books. My biggest fear about the rest of the series? That they wouldn't be able to flesh the tale out as much as I anticipated was possible, because of their meager page counts. As you can see, this fear was laid to rest the minute I got my copies of the second and third books from the library. Song of the Wanderer is the size of an average novel at 330 pages, and the third book, Dark Whispers, was a cool 480 pages. The final book in the series, titled The Last Hunt (which I haven't been able to get my hands on yet), takes the cake at just over 600 pages. Yipe!

So we've got the room for fleshing things out. But did it really happen? Why, yes indeed. Of the three books that I've read, Song of the Wanderer is definitely my favorite. It's got danger, excitement, friendship, family, and (of course!) unicorns. Cara still feels a bit like a vanilla character, with no real depth besides the usual "bravery, loyalty, and love," but somehow that doesn't really bother me with these books. I think it's because she serves almost purely as a stand-in for the reader, so I get to feel even more absorbed into the story.

I still don't like her father, though, and of all the characters in the entire  series he is the only one who honestly just feels . . . fake. His motives, his actions, his words - it all comes across as a little too two-dimensional, like he's just a pawn on the board put into place by the author. I don't mind if Coville wants to use him that way (after all, characters basically are pawns controlled by the author!), but it definitely shouldn't feel like he's only behaving the way he does to move the story along. I also had trouble with him in the third book, but I'll go deeper into all of that when I review it.

Now I have to say that the ending was absolutely awesome. I totally didn't see it coming, and really loved where it took Cara's story! I had to immediately jump into the third book (review coming) because I was dying to find out what happened next. It's what really made the story for me. Everything came together beautifully, setting up a huge amount of potential for the third book.

All in all, this is absolutely my favorite book in the series so far. As for the series as a whole, I wouldn't call it one of my all-time favorites but it's definitely a great, well-written (if occasionally long-winded in the later books) series that I am really looking forward to finishing. As soon as I can schlep myself all the way over to the only county library in my state that actually has a copy of The Last Hunt (which went out of print after, like, five minutes).

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Dragonfly Effect by Gordon Korman, 2015

I tried not to spoil the first two books of the Hypnotists series, but it's pretty hard to review the third book in a trilogy without ruining something from the preceding books. If you have never read any of the Hypnotists books before, get off this page right now. Here, why don't you check out the first book on Goodreads?

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on Goodreads 
The government has promised to protect Jax Opus and his family from enemies that want to use his hypnotic power to bring more evil into the world. Jax has reluctantly agreed to be protected. But protection has its price -- and soon Jax learns that if the government is going to help him, it's going to want some help in return.
The reach of Jax's hypnotic talents is especially dangerous because he doesn't have to be looking at people directly to control them. No, he can hypnotize people through video broadcasts -- so a person can be innocently checking a computer, and suddenly have a hypnotic message planted.
Even worse? Jax is not the only person who can do this. He is up against a hypnotic mastermind who has more than a few tricks up his sleeve.
It's a race against time and the power of evil in this heart-stopping adventure from #1 New York Times bestselling author Gordon Korman.

(256 pages)

Rather cheesy covers aside (honestly, just look at that green block text - did someone tell the cover artist The Dragonfly Effect was a horror novel?!), the Hypnotists books are great MG reads, and I've enjoyed reading them. If asked, I would have chalked my enjoyment for the first book almost entirely up to Korman's writing rather than the story itself, because it felt a little too much like other MG books about kids who discover they have powers. The second book, Memory Maze, continued to have Korman's uniquely compelling writing style, but also delved into some of the implications of hypnotism, going into the psychological effects it had on Jax. With The Dragonfly Effect we continue to explore the (sometimes horrifying) uses for hypnotism, the ethics involved in letting an organization like the military use hypnotism for their own ends, and the very real pain that can spring from the misuse of such power.

I think my favorite thing about this trilogy is that it never treats hypnotism like this awesome get-out-of-jail free card - no, that's not right. It's a get-out-of-jail free card, yes, but it's also the card that puts you into jail in the first place. Jax's hypnotism is pretty much just a curse for him, because it forced him to flee for his life and go into hiding. His parents, who love him dearly and readily sacrificed their entire careers for Jax's safety, are terrified of looking into his eyes because he might accidentally hypnotize them. The "gift" that Jax has comes at a terrible cost, and that cost is safety, peace of mind, familial trust, and, basically, childhood innocence.

Mako is an interesting villain because his innate skills are supposed to be weaker than Jax's, and yet he always seems so much stronger. This comes from the sheer ruthlessness with which he brandishes the ability, doing whatever it takes to reach his goals no matter who gets hurt in the process. That sort of cruel single-mindedness makes him a huge threat to Jax, because Jax is a genuinely good kid who is much too nice for his own good. I liked the almost Harry-Potter-esque contrast between good and evil there, especially with the addition of a third major party in the stand-off (whom I won't name for fear of spoilers - but for those of you who have read the book: I really loved him/her!). In a perfect world, one in which The Dragonfly Effect was a longer book, I would have liked to learn a little bit more about Mako's history. Was he always such a terrible person, or did something happen to make him that way? There could have been a fascinating (and probably heartbreaking) story there, but instead we just got the pretty much one-dimensional villain with a crazy evil scheme that would (as far as I can tell, anyway) hurt him as much as it did anyone else.

And that brings me to the biggest issue I had with this book: the ending. Everything was just too convenient. I obviously can't talk too much about it, but why on Earth would Mako set things up so that his opponents could do what they did? For a smart man, he's pretty stupid. And the thing with the airplane was exciting, but a little contrived. As for the number of casualties? Puh-lease.

Then again, this is Middle Grade fiction. And honestly, I actually really loved the way things ended. Sure it wasn't the most realistic series of events, but this is a MG book about kids with hypnotic powers. And the ending was really thrilling, with danger and excitement and a horse trotting through downtown New York. If I said I wanted a more realistic ending, I would totally be lying.

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Top Nine Books That Feature Diversity

Okay, this week's prompt is a tricky one for me. I don't really think about diversity in my books, or at least I don't proactively go "I am looking for diversity." I just read what I read, and don't really think about whether specific books are "diverse" or not, so I'm not really sure about the criteria for identifying books as diverse. If any of the books on my list don't count as diverse, let me know in the comments section and I'll switch them out.

1. The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
This one is easy. Riordan inserted diversity into the Percy Jackson universe with the subtlety of a sledgehammer when he devised this series. There are three girls and four boys. The races are: three caucasians, one Native American, one African American, one Chinese Canadian, and one Hispanic. One character (not part of the main seven) is gay. The whole series basically revolves around resolving differences between two "types" of demigods (Greek and Roman). It's all wonderfully diverse, and only sort of makes me dizzy.

2. All Fall Down by Ally Carter (my review)
Diversity is certainly not the focus of this great book about the granddaughter of an ambassador, but it's still ever-present on "Embassy Row," where people from dozens of different countries live side by side in their embassies. Grace's friends range from Russian to Israeli, just because all of her neighbors happy to be the kids/grandkids of ambassadors from other countries.

3. The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (my review)
This isn't a book about racial diversity, but instead focuses on a girl with a clubfoot. She has spent her entire life living in a single room under the tyranny of her abusive mother, and the onset of World War II spells salvation for her as she flees to a world so completely different from her own.

4. Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff (my review)
There aren't many books written about below-average kids, so I think this can count as diversity. The main character provides a very different sort of "hero" than the usual super-talented smart kid.

5. Full Ride by Margaret Peterson Haddix (my review)
Again, diversity really isn't the focus of this amazing book. But it still plays a role, as Becca becomes friends with a group of kids from very diverse backgrounds/races and struggles in school. I think their varying identities help her to become comfortable with her own identity, even as she struggles to hide her past from them.

6. The Princess and the Foal by Stacy Gregg (my review)
This is a book about a Middle-Eastern princess, so I think diversity can be assumed. It doesn't deal directly with "diversity" per se, but the entire book paints the picture of a life very, very different from our American ones.

7. Ungifted by Gordon Korman (my review)
I can't even remember if there are any minority races in Ungifted, but I do know that the entire book is about a school for smart kids, where an average kid accidentally becomes enrolled. Donovan teaches his classmates lessons about living life off the academic path, and the contrast between "gifted" and "ungifted" is a good showing of diversity. Right? I don't know if I'm reaching a little too far here . . .

8. Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
This is a gorgeous book, by the way! The main character loses his hearing in a thunderstorm when he gets struck by lightning, so it's told partly in pictures. The whole book revolves around being deaf, and I'd say that's pretty diverse.

9. The Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage
This seven-book series isn't really about diversity . . . but then, it also is. Some of Septimus's siblings go through some pretty wild periods, and their parents never, ever give up on them. Even when Simon goes evil, and the four middle boys go live in the Forest for like two years, and Jenna turns out to be the heir to the throne, they never for a moment pause to question why they still sacrifice everything for their kids. This sort of love and devotion is what should be at the core of diversity, I believe, because true diversity is simply loving others regardless of what they've done or how they look.

Whew, done! What do you think? Do you actively seek out books that feature diversity?

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep & Joanne Ryder, 2015

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on Goodreads
Crusty dragon Miss Drake has a new pet human, precocious Winnie. Oddly enough, Winnie seems to think Miss Drake is her pet—a ridiculous notion!
Unknown to most of its inhabitants, the City by the Bay is home to many mysterious and fantastic creatures, hidden beneath the parks, among the clouds, and even in plain sight. And Winnie wants to draw every new creature she encounters: the good, the bad, and the ugly. But Winnie’s sketchbook is not what it seems. Somehow, her sketchlings have been set loose on the city streets! It will take Winnie and Miss Drake’s combined efforts to put an end to the mayhem . . . before it’s too late.

(152 pages)

This was a fun book! It's a bit shorter than I'm used to, which is a pity because I would have enjoyed reading more about Miss Drake and Winnie. Especially Miss Drake, the dragon who sees the humans as pets even as they see her as theirs. She just seems like someone I'd love to spend time with, sipping tea and shopping for interesting objects. She's rather rough on the outside, treating Winnie as though she were nothing more than a bother and a pest, but very sweet inside. She reminds me a little bit of a proper old British granny, all stiff and sharp towards her grandkids because of "the principle of the thing!" but then secretly slipping them sweets under the table when no one will notice.

While Winnie comes across a bit strong at times (what little girl is really that comfortable the first time she meets a fierce dragon?), you can't help but love her fiery spirit - and if you're sick to death of perfect girls with "fiery spirits," Winnie also has a soft spot: her sorrow and yearning for her father who died a year or so earlier. You can really tell that his death cut Winnie very deeply, and that there are times when she's still deeply in mourning. Miss Drake is also in mourning, for her old "pet" (Winnie's grandmother), and there are a few very touching scenes about needing to let go of lost loved ones.

I was surprised by how much I liked this book, and I think a lot of that comes from the fact that I never felt talked down to. Too many books written for younger readers become so simplistic and silly that I put them down in disgust. This time, though, it felt like a real, actual story with compelling characters and an important plot. There's really nothing I can say against this great little book (except maybe that it's too short!), and I highly recommend it for fantasy lovers of all ages. Also, if there's a sequel I am totally picking it up. Because a) it will be good, and b) it will be so short  I'll be able to read it in like half an hour. For a busy high school student, that can be a good change of pace once in a while!

Friday, July 17, 2015

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, 2007

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on Goodreads 
It all starts with a school essay.
When twelve-year-old Gratuity (“Tip”) Tucci is assigned to write five pages on “The True Meaning of Smekday” for the National Time Capsule contest, she’s not sure where to begin. When her mom started telling everyone about the messages aliens were sending through a mole on the back of her neck? Maybe on Christmas Eve, when huge, bizarre spaceships descended on the Earth and the aliens – called Boov – abducted her mother? Or when the Boov declared Earth a colony, renamed it “Smekland” (in honor of glorious Captain Smek), and forced all Americans to relocate to Florida via rocketpod?
In any case, Gratuity’s story is much, much bigger than the assignment. It involves her unlikely friendship with a renegade Boov mechanic named J.Lo.; a futile journey south to find Gratuity’s mother at the Happy Mouse Kingdom; a cross-country road trip in a hovercar called Slushious; and an outrageous plan to save the Earth from yet another alien invasion.
Fully illustrated with “photos,” drawings, newspaper clippings, and comics sequences, this is a hilarious, perceptive, genre-bending novel by a remarkable new talent. the planet from a really big catastrophe.

(423 pages)

I heard really excellent things about The True Meaning of Smekday, so I decided to read it even though my mother really didn't like it (she thought it was stupid). After finishing it, on one hand I can see what she means about the book being stupid fluff - after all, it's a silly book about a girl and an alien driving across the country in a floating car after the aliens invaded Earth. Yeah, not a lot of depth there. But on a different level, a deeper level, The True Meaning of Smekday is much more than a silly romp through cliche action tropes. On that other level, it's actually mocking those cliches. Case in point: this quote from the book (which I added to Goodreads because it was too long to put in here).

Underneath the entertainment fluff, it's actually a pretty serious look at racism and "racial superiority." There are a lot of parallels between the Boov's colonization of Earth and the European colonization of America, and I think it's an amazing way to point out the terrible mistakes made in the past through a first-hand exploration of the colonization of the Boov, who honestly believe that humans are basically like dogs and don't really mind being relocated into cramped human reservations. The parallel is accentuated by one of the secondary characters, a Native American man who has spent his entire life dealing with bias. It's also extremely powerful, at least to me, that every time Tip talks about her mother she has to explain to people that her mom is Caucasian, not African American. The idea that a black girl can have a white mom doesn't jive with people's perceptions of race, and it throws them for a loop.

But enough about the serious stuff. Let's get into the characters who make this book so funny! Tip is a fun narrator because she's so down-to-earth and sarcastic. She is such a realist it's hilarious, and she's constantly saying things like "this is the way things should happen: [insert what usually happens in novels] . . . and, yeah, that didn't happen." This was incredibly refreshing to read, and made her feel so much more realistic. Her life isn't like something out of a storybook, things happen that are messy and ridiculous and embarrassing. And sure, crazy stuff happens that will never, ever happen in real life, but it never feels like the book jumps off the real end because Tip is just so . . . so human that it really feels like her story is perfectly reasonable.

Now let's talk about J.Lo. He has to be my favorite character! I love his way of speaking English, slurring words together and using them incorrectly at the funniest times. He's like a combination of an adult and a little kid, altering between adult-level skills (like dealing with complicated machinery) and making kiddy mistakes/having the simplistic reasoning skills of a child. It works out to be hilarious, and heartwarming, and I just want to bring J.Lo home and have a long conversation with him about, I don't know, just about anything so I can hear more of his goofy reasoning.

All in all, a great book that I highly recommend. It's the most engaging social commentary I've ever read, and the awesome thing about it is that you can totally not pick up on any of the underlying messages, and still have a great time with it! The message doesn't drive the plot, the characters drive the plot and the message just kind of hitches a ride underneath.

P.S. You've probably heard of the movie Home, which is based on The True Meaning of Smekday. I watched it right after finishing the book, and I really enjoyed it. You should definitely watch it if you're interested. Don't watch the movie first, though, because it cuts out a lot of the best parts from the book, and spoils the rest of them!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Last Ten Books to Come Into My Possession

So, I am constantly bringing a stream of books into the house. Because I am a cheap-skate, and because I only have one bookshelf, most of these books are from the library. Here are the last ten books I got from the library for myself. Head on over to The Broke and the Bookish to find out what books other bloggers have been bringing into their homes.

1. Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier
I'd seen a lot of great reviews of this book around the blogosphere, and the covers of all three books were pretty! I've already read it, but I don't think I'll post a review.

2. The Seelie Wars #2: The Last Changeling by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple
I love this series so much, and I only just discovered it! My mom made a separate library run just to pick up The Last Changeling, because she was so eager to read what happened next. Keep an eye out for my reviews of both books in the next few weeks.

3. Geaneology Online For Dummies from the Dummies series
I got this because I was playing with the idea of doing some geaneological research this summer. I don't think I'll be able to because I have a pretty busy summer, but this particular library copy wouldn't have been much help even if I had (it was published in 2009).

4. Curse of the Thirteenth Fey by Jane Yolen
I am totally falling in love with Yolen's books, one novel at a time. I had such an easy time getting my thoughts about Curse of the Thirteenth Fey down that I even already reviewed it!

5. Smek #2: Smek for President by Adam Rex
Hey, I'm just writing these down in the order I checked them out, okay? I got them both out on the same day, though, and you can see that item #8 is the first book in the duo. I've read them both already (and they are hilarious!), so keep an eye out for my reviews.

6. The Unicorn Chronicles #2: Song of the Wanderer by Bruce Coville
This is the second in a four-book series that my friend recommended to me back in May. I read and reviewed the first book, Into the Land of the Unicorns, but I only just now got around to getting the second and third books out. This was my favorite of the series, and I will most definitely be reviewing it soon!

7. The Unicorn Chronicles #3: Dark Whispers by Bruce Coville
This is the third in the series that my friend recommended. I'll be reviewing it in the next few weeks, as well.

8. Smek #1: The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
This book was so good! I had seen so many positive reviews on Goodreads that I couldn't resist checking The True Meaning of Smekday out from the library when I saw it on a shelf. I'm very glad I did, and I will be reviewing it very soon.

9. A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder
This is another book that I learned about on Goodreads, and saw a lot of positive reviews about. I read it and enjoyed it, and am about halfway done with my review.

10. The Arctic Code by Matthew J. Kirby
This is one I'd been highly anticipating, and I finally got my hands on it! I've already reviewed it, and while it wasn't quite as good as I had hoped I still definitely enjoyed reading it.

Have you read any of the books on my list? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Wish Stealers by Tracy Trivas, 2010

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on Goodreads 
When a sinister old woman leaves Griffin Penshine a box of twelve shiny pennies, she sets in motion a desperate quest—because the old woman was a wish stealer, and each penny represents a wish she stole from a wishing fountain decades earlier. Somehow, Griffin has to make things right, or the opposite of her own wishes will come true—and it could literally be a matter of life and death. The Wish Stealers introduces a new voice in middle-grade fantasy, as bright and sparkling as Griffin’s pennies.

So, I thought this was going to be really bad. It wasn't, though - I really liked it! I mean, it looks kind of boring and/or cliche, right? Well, it sort of was but it sort of . . . wasn't. Griffin's efforts to return the pennies to people who need them (while wrestling with her new identity as a "Wish Stealer" - does that mean she's a bad person now?) leads her to a lot of great places, not to mention a lot of great people.

The basic premise is pretty unoriginal at first: a girl gets some magical objects foisted off on her that bring bad magic upon her head, and she must scramble to set things aright while discovering some truths about herself. However, once the story got going it never felt dry. I never paused while I was reading and thought "gee, this is so boring and unoriginal." I simply read it, and enjoyed myself doing so.

Griffin is dealing with a lot of stress, from worrying about her grandmother's health to hoping for a healthy baby sister to starting middle school. Her life becomes pretty hectic as the story goes on and she struggles to accomplish her goals, become/remain friends with a boy named Garret at school, and balance her fears about the baby and her grandmother all at the same time.

There are a few things that stick out a little bit, like the way Garret is supposed to be the hottie all the girls chase. Trivas mentions this a few times at the beginning, making him into the "popular but shallow" boy who will inevitably turn out to be more than he seems, but then drops the whole popularity thread and makes the popular girls actually tease him along with Griffin later in the book. It didn't feel congruous to the plot. Also, Garret and Griffin both start with G. I read extremely quickly, registering words basically by their first and last letters and nothing more. When I'm reading dialogue between two people whose names start with G (especially when the girl's name could also be a boy's name) it is . . . difficult. And slightly annoying.

Other than that, though, I really have no complaints. Wish Stealers was a great read, and one I would definitely recommend in the future.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Curse of the Thirteenth Fey by Jane Yolen, 2012

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on Goodreads
Gorse is the thirteenth and youngest in a family of fairies tied to the evil king's land and made to do his bidding. Because of an oath made to the king's great-great-ever-so-many-times-great-grandfather, if they try to leave or disobey the royals, they will burst into a thousand stars.
When accident-prone Gorse falls ill just as the family is bid to bless the new princess, a fairytale starts to unfold. Sick as she is, Gorse races to the castle with the last piece of magic the family has left--a piece of the Thread of Life. But that is when accident, mayhem, and magic combine to drive Gorse's story into the unthinkable, threatening the baby, the kingdom, and all.

(304 pages)

Isn't the cover just gorgeous? That's why I picked it up in the first place - well, that and the fact that it's written by Jane Yolen. I was interested to read a longer book by Yolen, because while I enjoyed her book A Plague of Unicorns, my big complaint was that it had a very rushed ending. The writing had been great, though, and the story a fun idea, so I thought a 300 page book by Yolen would have a lot of potential.

And boy, did it! Yolen took the entire story of Sleeping Beauty in a direction utterly different from every other version I've ever read (and let me tell you: I've read quite a few). For one thing, the very reason the fairies are at the christening is really neat - a complete change from the usual "this is just what fairies do" shtick. I don't want to describe it too much because it isn't completely explained until pretty far into the book, but basically they aren't coming by choice; they have to obey the royal family, including by blessing new children, or they will literally burst into a thousand stars.

The other big issue in A Plague of Unicorns (a ton of world-building before the action actually begins) shows up a little bit in Curse of the Thirteenth Fey as well: all of Part One (the first seventy pages) is basically just setting the stage for what happens in Parts Two and Three. However, this time around it works a lot better. For one thing, the world that Yolen builds is pretty breathtaking. I mean, it's so unique everything literally has to be laid out for the reader to understand; there's no "and you know the rules of the fey, yada-yada-yada." Instead, we're starting on square one with "this is where the fey live, this is who they are, this is how their magic works," and on and on. It's really fascinating, if perhaps a little dry for the beginning of an adventure novel.

The story itself, once it gets going, is a very interesting mix of the traditional and the new. Everything feels like it comes straight from a storybook, and yet it's a little . . . different. Gorse makes quite a few discoveries that feed into what she knew of her Family's past (again, going back to the long backstory in Part One), while also struggling to get an understanding of the men who seek her help.

I really enjoyed reading Curse of the Thirteenth Fey, and I'm already looking forward to re-reading it. It's a great book, but I wouldn't call it amazing because I don't think everyone would enjoy it as much as I did. It's full of a lot of talking, a lot of complicated Family history, a lot of danger covered by talking and sitting and doing (apparently) nothing. A fast-paced adventure novel it is not, and while I liked it, I wonder if less patient readers might find it rather dry. If you've read it, I'd love to hear whether you enjoyed it as I did or if you had a harder time getting through it.

Also, I think I'm officially in love with Yolen's books. Does anyone have any recommendations for which I should read next?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Ten Hyped Books That I Have Never Read

There are a few books that (almost) everyone else on the planet has read, but I haven't. You've probably read most of the books on this list, and I'm positive you'll have heard of at least the majority of them. I'm the lone one out on a lot of these, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who just isn't interested in reading about kids with cancer, adults having sex, or vampires marrying humans. Also, check out the Broke and the Bookish site to read other people's lists of hyped books they've never read.

1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Sorry, but . . . not sorry. This is a book about kids. With cancer. And people die in the end (yeah, someone spoiled it for me). How on earth does this sound like an attractive read to anyone? My own grandfather died of cancer, I have zero desire to read a book about teenagers struggling with the disease (no matter how "gripping" a tale it may be).

2. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
I'm not so much antagonstic towards this book as I am ambivalent. I checked it out of the library at one point because the movie was coming out, but my mom read it and said she didn't want me to. I didn't push it because I didn't care, and maybe someday down the road I'll see it sitting on the shelf and pick it up. Or maybe not.

3. Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Yes, I did indeed reading The Hunger Games when the movie was coming out - even though my mother didn't really want me to. I've even seen the first two movies! But I know what happens in the third book, and I have no desire to either read or watch Mockingjay. I quickly caved to Mom on this: it's so terrible, I just can't cope. Plus, I guess I'm the only person on the planet who just doesn't care too much for Collins's prose. I'm really not going to put up a big fight about reading the last two books in the trilogy when I can just read the Wikipedia summary and get the jist. And that's really all I can handle.

4. The Divergent trilogy by Veronica Rother
I thought these looked pretty good until I heard how romance-heavy they were, and then I bailed. I honestly don't really mind the romance in the Hunger Games books, but it just looks so stupid in the Divergent trilogy that I'm not even going to try. Plus, I hear it also has a rotten ending.

5. The Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer
Yeah, I read the Wikipedia summaries on these. I feel slightly bad about that, but not very. I don't really do paranormal books, but now I know the story well enough I can catch references to it in pop culture. And that's all I really need.

6. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
Yuck. Yuck, yuck, yuck. I am never ever reading this, and that is it. Nothing else I can say on that front.

7. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
I thought this looked really neat, but my mom read Cinder and didn't like it. I think there was too much romance or something. Anyway, she didn't want me to read it so I didn't. I might come back and try the series again someday, but it's really not very high on my priority list - my mother is usually pretty dead-on when it comes to weeding out books.

8. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
She should stick to writing MG/YA fantasy. I was so excited when The Casual Vacancy came out, but one flip through it told me there was no way I could read it. Same goes for the Robert Galbraith books - double bummer because I love murder mysteries. If only Rowling could lay off the profanities.

9. The Selection series by Kiera Cass
The covers on these books are seriously gorgeous, but I just can't get away from the fact that the series is one big love triangle. And I am not going to deal with that.

10. The Winner's trilogy by Marie Rutkoski
Again, the covers are just gorgeous. I actually went so far as to check The Winner's Curse out from the library because I liked the premise, too, but my mom read it and said it was too romance-heavy (and not in a good way). Too much angst, too much physical attraction, too much of all of that. So I am perfectly fine not reading these books, though I may or may not stop to pet the covers when I see them in bookstores.

I'll end with a disclaimer: I have never actually read the books in this list, and have no first-hand knowledge about the veracity of the assumptions I have made about them. Please don't bite my head off if I just dissed your favorite book/series.

Teaser Tuesdays: Curse of the Thirteenth Fey by Jane Yolen, 2012 (July 7)

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 Curse of the Thirteenth Fey by Jane Yolen.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
A reimagining of Sleeping Beauty from a master storyteller.
Gorse is the thirteenth and youngest in a family of fairies tied to the evil king's land and made to do his bidding. Because of an oath made to the king's great-great-ever-so-many-times-great-grandfather, if they try to leave or disobey the royals, they will burst into a thousand stars.
When accident-prone Gorse falls ill just as the family is bid to bless the new princess, a fairytale starts to unfold. Sick as she is, Gorse races to the castle with the last piece of magic the family has left--a piece of the Thread of Life. But that is when accident, mayhem, and magic combine to drive Gorse's story into the unthinkable, threatening the baby, the kingdom, and all.
With her trademark depth, grace, and humor, Jane Yolen tells readers the "true" story of the fairy who cursed Sleeping Beauty.
(304 pages)

Here's this week's teaser, from page 13:
Now, this story really begins with a Royal Bidding, and Royal Biddings always start the same way. Some idiotic prince or princess or other member of the royal family demands a charm or favor, and we must respond. We cannot do otherwise. It has been laid upon us as if it's a Curse, and it's my opinion it certainly is.

Let me know what you think of the book, and check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Headstrong by Rachel Swaby, 2015

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on Goodreads 
In 2013, the New York Times published an obituary for Yvonne Brill. It began: “She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job, and took eight years off from work to raise three children.” It wasn’t until the second paragraph that readers discovered why the Times had devoted several hundred words to her life: Brill was a brilliant rocket scientist who invented a propulsion system to keep communications satellites in orbit, and had recently been awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Among the questions the obituary—and consequent outcry—prompted were, Who are the role models for today’s female scientists, and where can we find the stories that cast them in their true light?
Headstrong delivers a powerful, global, and engaging response. Covering Nobel Prize winners and major innovators, as well as lesser-known but hugely significant scientists who influence our every day, Rachel Swaby’s vibrant profiles span centuries of courageous thinkers and illustrate how each one’s ideas developed, from their first moment of scientific engagement through the research and discovery for which they’re best known. This fascinating tour reveals these 52 women at their best—while encouraging and inspiring a new generation of girls to put on their lab coats.

(288 pages)

I'm not the biggest fan of science as a subject. The only science class I ever truly enjoyed was last year's AP Environmental Science, in large part just because I had a great teacher.To put it another way: in a hundred years, no one is going to put me in a list of women who contributed to science. Thus I requested Headstrong with a few reservations about my suitability for the book.

I needn't have worried. Because this isn't a chemistry textbook; it's a photo album; A photo album in words of women who did their part to change the world of science forever. Full of anecdotes, quotes, and career sketches, Headstrong contains written snapshots of different people who accomplished amazing things, often despite seemingly impossible odds.

And my disinterest in science is more than made up for by my love for people. I love to study individuals: their emotions and their surroundings and how they handled the challenges that faced them. All of history (my favorite subject in school!) is a tale of individuals doing amazing things, both good and bad, in ways that ripple through time. Headstrong is like a mini-history book, a snapshot of 52 different women whose accomplishments rippled through all of pop culture as well as the world of science.

By the end of the book the snippets begin to feel a bit repetitive, mainly because they're all so short they only focus on a few key features of each scientist's life. I think Headstrong would have been an even more fascinating read if it had gone into less scientists in more depth, instead of more scientists in less depth. But then, Headstrong is supposed to be a collection of snapshots, a sampling of sorts to introduce people to a wide variety of women scientists who made huge contributions to science. They're not supposed to be comprehensive portraits, they're just supposed to provide starting points for people to discover scientists they can read more about on their own. And as a sampler, a photo album, a compilation of sketches, and every other metaphor I've thrown around in this review, Headstrong is perfect for learning about some of the biggest players in modern science.

Even though I still don't like studying science. Oh, well.

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

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Arctic Code by Matthew J. Kirby, 2015

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on Goodreads 
It is the near future, and the earth has entered a new ice age. Eleanor Perry lives in Tucson, one of the most popular destinations for refugees of the Freeze. She is the daughter of a climatologist who is trying to find new ways to preserve human life on the planet. Dr. Perry believes that a series of oil deposits she has found in the Arctic may hold the key to our survival. That's when she disappears—but not before sending Eleanor a series of cryptic messages that point to a significant and mysterious discovery. Now it's up to Eleanor to go find her.
This search will launch Eleanor on a breathless race to unlock the mysteries of what has happened to our planet, solving the riddle of the cold that could be humanity's end—and uncovering a threat to the earth that may not be of this world.

(336 pages)

I'm a huge fan of Kirby's, and have been since I first read his beautiful The Clockwork Three. I've been devouring each and every one of his books as they came out, and enjoying every one of them. He is a wonderful writer, with a writing style that draws me in even when he's writing about topics I'm really not inherently interested in (case in point: The Lost Kingdom). I was very excited about The Arctic Code, especially because it was the start of a series and had an alluring premise (I mean, global cooling instead of global warming? How could that not be good?!).

After finishing The Arctic Code I'm . . . well, I'm rather befuddled. What on Earth did I just read? Between the global cooling, the "ley lines," the missing people, the reluctantly kind pilot, the bullying electricity company, and the very (and  I mean very!) disobedient girl, not to mention the discovery that I can't talk about without spoilers, this is a very . . . full book. And I think that's good. But the more I think about it, the more trouble I have untangling all the different topics that are broached in the first book of the new Dark Gravity Sequence. What on Earth is Kirby going to  do with the later books in the series? That is the million dollar question, and one that I am definitely looking forward to seeing answered.

I can't say I'm a huge fan of Eleanor's as of yet - actually, she kind of annoys me. She is so "different" from everyone she knows, mostly because she takes lots of daredevil risks everyone else is smart enough to avoid. And she goes to such crazy extremes to save her mother (like actually traveling to the Arctic, just for starters!) that in real life would just get her killed. That's why Luke is my favorite character, and I'm totally hoping he evolves into a father figure for her as the series goes on. He's the voice of sanity that everyone ignores, and I honestly wish Eleanor, Julian and Finn had listened to him a bit more often.

I'm not completely giving up on Eleanor, though, because I have hope for the later books. If anyone can make me like her, it's Matthew J. Kirby. And if he doesn't? Well, I still really like Luke, Julian, Finn, and X.* And I'm definitely sticking around to see where on Earth Kirby will take them.

*X stands for all the people I can't name for fear of spoilers.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Liebster Award

Sunny over at Stardust and Words nominated me for the Liebster Award. Fun! I always love these posts, because I get to do something completely different from my normal posting schedule. Thanks so much for nominating me, Sunny!

Okay, so here are the rules for the award:

1. Thank the person who nominated you and link to their blog.
2. Answer the 10 questions given by the nominator.
3. Nominate and link 10 bloggers (with less than 200 followers).
4. Notify all the bloggers you've nominated.
5. Create 10 new questions for your nominees to answer.

1) Thanks, Sunny! You guys can go check out her awesome blog here.

2) Here are the questions:

1. What is one book or series that you think changed your life?
Harry Potter. Easy. I grew up on the movies from before I could even read, and read them all by the time I was eight. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Harry Potter isn't just a book series for me, it's a way of life. I literally can't imagine a life without Harry Potter.
Yes, I realize that is melodramatic.

2. If you were a writer, what kind of books would you want to write?
Well, I sort of am a writer: I wrote two books when I was in middle school/early high school, but I've never edited them or tried to get them published. One of those is fantasy and the other is what I guess would be called "contemporary fiction." I've also got story ideas for historical fictions, sci-fis, and more. So . . . a little bit of everything, I guess.

3. Do you have a preference of time period to read about in Historical Fiction?
I love Historical Fiction! There aren't really any periods that turn me off, because I enjoy being introduced to new areas of interest. I often begin by reading a historical fiction novel about some topic, and then wind up reading first-hand historical accounts about it to find out the real facts. Some of my favorite time periods (discovered from past forays into historical fiction!) are the early 1900s (a la the Titanic and the Romanovs) and the Middle Ages (out of every topic on the planet, I chose to write my AP English capstone project last year as a debunking of Shakespeare's depiction of Richard III).

4. What is your favorite place that you've ever been?
Wow, that's a really hard question! I've been a lot of amazing places. I really don't think I can pick a favorite, because I'll feel bad about all the ones I skipped. I took a trip to the U.K. last summer with my father, and saw some really amazing sites. Harry Potter Studios was awesome,  and the Tower of London was breathtaking. Westminster Abbey was pretty awesome too, once I got used to the fact that I was walking on dead famous people in the floor.

5. What book do you think is perfect for a rainy day?
Murder mysteries. Innocent rainfall can suddenly sound very sinister when you're reading a good Agatha Christie, and a well-placed crack of thunder adds the best kind of ambiance.

6. What genre have you just not been able to get into?
Well, I don't read horror books or erotica. Mostly because I'm disgusted by them, not because they "don't grab my attention" or something like that. 

7. What are the books you recommend to people who aren't that into reading?
Honestly, it depends on the person. How old are they? Do they hate reading or just don't care about it? What are their interests? For a younger kid who thinks reading is no fun, I would recommend something by Andrew Clements (whose books are shorter and easier to read, but have really fun premises). A few reading levels up, I would start pushing Gordon Korman's books. Up to middle and high school, I'd say the Percy Jackson books (word-of-mouth alone will make people more prone to give them a try), maybe Harry Potter if they're up for it.
These are just some very general markers, because it really depends on the person. I for one still read some of the books I recommend to elementary-school kids (who ever outgrows Gordon Korman?!), but some people are a bit more sensitive about not wanting to read below certain levels. I mostly just recommend books based on what content I think someone would find most appealing.

8. Best book of 2015 so far?
Agh, what kind of question is that?! There have been so many amazing books this year, I don't even know where to begin answering that. I just went to Goodreads and organized my "read" books by release date and checked out the 2015 books. I think I have to say that my favorites were All Fall Down by Ally Carter, The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Masterminds by Gordon Korman, and The Missing #8: Redeemed  by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I haven't actually reviewed Redeemed yet, and it's not out yet, but I read it last week and am still slightly in shock that it's actually over. Like, for real. No more books Missing books.

9. Last book that made you laugh? Last one that made you cry?
The last book that made me laugh was the book I just finished: The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. That book is so hilarious! I really loved it, keep an eye out for my review in the next few weeks. As for the last book that made me cry . . . hmm. I don't actually remember! I think I may have wiped away a few tears reading the scenes in The Princess and the Foal by Stacy Greggs when Haya is mourning her mother. I'm a sucker for dead-parent books, they always make me cry.

10. What is the number one thing on your bucket list?
Huh, I don't really know. My "to-do" list is much longer than my bucket list, and I'm focusing pretty hard right now on the whole college issue. So maybe right now the biggest item on my bucket list is to go to an Ivy league school with some sort of mega financial aid package so my parents don't have to bankrupt themselves for me to go there? Other than that, I'd love to meet Taylor Swift and J.K. Rowling in person. Not necessarily at the same time.

3) I'm really not feeling up to hunting down a bunch of people to tag. I'm sorry I'm so lazy! If you want to do this tag, though, consider yourself nominated. Send me an e-mail at ireadtilldawnATgmailDOTcom and I'll put your name here. I'd love to read your answers to my questions!

4) Consider yourself notified.

5) My questions:
1. Do you judge books by their covers?
2. How do you organize your bookshelves (by title, author, height, color, etc.)?
3. What do you do when you run out of shelf-space  for new books?
4. If you have books you really hate (or just don't have room for), where do you get rid of them?
5. What's your favorite thing about book blogging?
6. Do you tell people in real life about your book blog?
7. What's your biggest advice for new(er than you) bloggers?
8. Why did you start book blogging?
9. What's your go-to place for finding out about new books?
10. What is the last book you rated five stars (or, alternatively, just really loved), and what made you like it so much?