Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Top Ten Books to Read If You Like Harry Potter (Also, I'm taking a Break)

As you probably noticed, the school year started about a month ago. As you may or may not have also noticed, I've been sporadically skipping Top Ten Tuesday and Teaser Tuesday posts since then - this isn't because I make a conscious choice to do so, but because I honestly forget to write the posts until it's too late. I am a senior in high school taking four AP classes, and I'm discovering with the workload that I basically have to spend all of my free time blogging if I want to maintain my usual posting rate. I don't want to do this - I'd prefer to have time to actually, you know, read! So I've made the painful decision to stop posting Top Ten Tuesday posts. That way I can spend my time focusing on reading and reviewing. If, sometime in the future, my classes get easier then I will resume TTT. I don't really see that happening, though - AP Calculus and Computer Science aren't exactly known for getting easier as they go along, you know?

I am typing this on Monday, the day before it's due to be posted, and I simply don't have the energy to write even a last TTT post. Fortunately, I already wrote a Top Ten post that meets this prompt: 
My Top Eight Recommendations For People Who Like Harry Potter. This list has some of the best readalikes I know (including The City of Ember, Septimus Heap, and the Prydain Chronicles), and I honestly don't think I could top it if I tried. Click the link above to go check it out!

Teaser Tuesdays: The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester (Sep 29)

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 Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester. I'm rereading it in preparation for the release of its sequel, The Boy Who Knew Everything, which comes out October 27.

You just can't keep a good girl down . . . unless you use the proper methods.
Piper McCloud can fly. Just like that. Easy as pie.
Sure, she hasn't mastered reverse propulsion and her turns are kind of sloppy, but she's real good at loop-the-loops.
Problem is, the good folk of Lowland County are afraid of Piper. And her ma's at her wit's end. So it seems only fitting that she leave her parents' farm to attend a top-secret, maximum-security school for kids with exceptional abilities.
School is great at first with a bunch of new friends whose skills range from super-strength to super-genius. (Plus all the homemade apple pie she can eat!) But Piper is special, even among the special. And there are consequences.
Consequences too dire to talk about. Too crazy to consider. And too dangerous to ignore.
(328 pages)

Here's this week's teaser, from page 208:
My ma told me that there isn't anything in this life worth having that comes easy. She told me that every road I walk down's gonna have a price. But what she didn't tell me and what I learned since I've been here is that if you don't choose the road you're gonna walk, sooner or later someone else'll do that for you.
Let me know what you think of the book, and check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Circa Now by Amber McRee Turner, 2014

Click to view
on Goodreads 
Twelve-year-old Circa Monroe has a knack for restoring old photographs. It's a skill she learned from her dad, who loves old pictures and putting fun digital twists on them. His altered "Shopt" photos look so real that they could fool nearly anybody, and Circa treasures the fun stories he makes up to explain each creation.
One day, her father receives a strange phone call requesting an urgent delivery, and he heads out into a storm. The unimaginable happens: a tornado, then a terrible accident. Just as Circa and her mom begin to pick up the pieces, a mysterious boy shows up on their doorstep, a boy called Miles who remembers nothing about his past. The only thing he has with him is the photograph that Circa's dad intended to deliver on the day he died.
As Circa tries to help Miles recover his identity, she begins to notice something strange about the photos she and her father retouched-the digital flourishes added to the old photos seem to exist in real life. The mysteries of the Shopt photos and Miles's past are intertwined, and in order to solve both, Circa will have to figure out what's real and what's an illusion.
With stunning prose, captivating photographs, and a hint of magic, Circa Now is a gripping story full of hope and heart. 

(288 pages)

This book was not at all what I expected it to be. It was much, much more than that. I thought it would be a pretty frilly book about a girl who misses her father after he dies, but then realizes that this boy who shows up on her doorstep is really her father reincarnated (sort of like Fluke, but the father becomes a boy instead of a dog), and they all live happily ever after because their family is reunited again.

This is not what happened. And I'm not spoiling anything, just correcting a misconception that you'd probably get from the teaser, because Circa Now never pretends to be a book about reincarnation. Circa and her mother aren't just there as placeholders to mourn for Circa's father; they are real, complex humans who are dealing with their own issues. Circa's mother in particular is nothing like I expected her to be - she is actually a recluse struggling with depression, who never goes anywhere except her home, her studio (where she's a professional picture-taker), and her church five blocks down the road. Circa's father always helped her through the rough spots, cushioning whatever he could for her, but now he's gone and Mrs. Monroe has to fend for herself in the big, bad world. When Miles shows up on her doorstep, her strength is tested even more as she has to take care of him (including taking him to the police, the doctor, etc).

Circa is still in deep mourning for her father, and she struggles to deal with her feelings as she must also try to fill his role in helping her mother cope with the world. She wants to finish her father's big project, which is a wall of pictures from her hometowns history. It was supposed to be a huge community service project, as well as a labor of love for the elderly citizens of the Alzheimer's facility in which the pictures are going to be placed. Circa is desperate to complete the job both in honor of her father and because she wants to help the patients at the facility rediscover their pasts. Her method of coping with her father's death is to try and "step up to bat," picking up all of the pieces she can (while also straining to believe that he somehow hasn't left her for good).

There's some conflict between Circa and her mother, because they have a very hard time understanding each other. Their methods of coping are often opposite, and cause them to butt heads as Circa is determined to finish her father's project, but her mother is just as determined to keep Circa from doing it because she doesn't want Circa to feel like she has to fill her father's place. This conflict felt very real, and added another dimension to the story.

My favorite dimension, though, was the one with Miles. From the minute he walked onto the page I knew that he was going to be a very interesting character. No matter where his amnesia came from, it made him very fascinating - and turned him into a very tortured, lonely boy. I was rooting for a happy ending from the very beginning, because I couldn't help but feel that he (along with all of the other main characters) desperately needed one.

I enjoyed Circa Now, but it wasn't my all-time favorite book. Because it's MG it didn't dive as far into the concepts as it could have, which was frustrating at times. It could have taken things to such wonderful depth! Circa Now still raises some fascinating points about the meaning of life, family, and happiness, though, and I'm glad I read it. If it interests you, then definitely give it a try!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Loot by Jude Watson, 2014

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on Goodreads 
On a foggy night in Amsterdam, a man falls from a rooftop to the wet pavement below. It's Alfie McQuinn, the notorious cat burglar, and he's dying. As sirens wail in the distance, Alfie manages to get out two last words to his young son, March: "Find jewels."
But March learns that his father is not talking about a stash of loot. He's talking about Jules, the twin sister March never knew he had. No sooner than the two find each other, they're picked up by the police and sent to the world's worst orphanage. It's not prison, but it feels like it.
March and Jules have no intention of staying put. They know their father's business inside and out, and they're tired of being pushed around. Just one good heist, and they'll live the life of riches and freedom most kids only dream about.
Watch out! There are wild kids on the loose and a crime spree coming . . .

(272 pages)

I have to say that when I picked Loot off of the library shelf I had no idea what it was about. I read the tab, thought it really did sound good, and slipped it into my (already full - it's well established that I'm a hopeless book hoarder) bag of books to check out. I read it a few days later, while I was really tired, and started skimming so badly I swear I almost want to go back and read the whole thing over.

Almost. But not really. Because it's really not that complicated, that I could miss too much nuance if I skip a line here or there. I do like the story idea, and it makes a very exciting plot (lots of daring heist scenes) while still maintaining a lot of emotions and heart. It's a story about thievery and lost jewels and mysterious curses, but it's also about friendship and family. And I really liked that.

What I didn't like so much was the fact that thievery is placed in such a good light throughout the book. Yes I realize that the kids don't have much choice, and that they make a point of only stealing from people who "won't be harmed" because they're so rich they'll barely notice, but that doesn't change the fact that March spent his entire life learning the "art" of stealing, and that he's very, very good at it. And I can be impressed with his scheming, but I'm also a little wary of being all gungho behind him as he steals from people - no matter how much money those people will still have in their bank accounts.

Other than that, I did like that Loot was a deeper novel than I was expecting for this sort of MG adventure novel. Jules has some legitimate anger towards the father who dumped her on his sister-in-law in favor of her twin, and at first she's really not very happy about being back with March. As they slowly grow closer, I appreciated that she learned to comfort March when he mourned for their father, even as she couldn't mourn for a man she'd never really known. This level of complexity in relationships isn't always achieved in middle grade, and it was done well here.

All in all, Loot is a great middle grade book that I probably won't be reading again any time soon (because really, I think I'm just not the target audience), but which I'd definitely recommend to a middle schooler looking for a book down this particular alley. My only hesitation in recommending Loot would be if the kid in question seemed easily swayed by what he read: I wouldn't want him to adopt the attitude of the characters in the book, in which thievery can actually count as a valid form of employment as long as you only steal from the rich.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack, 2000

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on Goodreads 
Ping was an adventurous duck who lived on a beautiful wise-eyed boat on the Yangtze River. He liked his life on the riverboat just and liked his large family and his kind master. He didn't like to be the last in line to board the boat at night, for that unlucky duck got a loud spank. So what did Ping do when it seemed that he would be the last on line? What else but set out on his own to explore the fascinating world of life on the Yangtze River.
The Story about Ping is one of the best-loved and enduring children's books, both for its spirited and irrepressible hero and for its beautiful evocation of a distant land and way of life. Every child can sympathize with a dawdling duck who wants to avoid a spanking, and share his excitement and wonder as he sails down the river.

(32 pages)

I know, I know. Since when I do even read - let alone review - baby books? Well, I'll tell you when: since my AP English teacher assigned a book review of The Story About Ping. I've been struggling to find time to blog between my four AP classes and the (very time-consuming) process of applying to colleges. Thus, when I saw that I had to write a book review for school I jumped at the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.

Anyway, on to the review. I originally read The Story About Ping when I was little. Going into my re-read, all I could remember was that it involved a baby duckling who gets lost when his family's boat leaves without him one morning. It turns out that I remembered correctly; what I'd forgotten was why Ping is left behind. You ready for this? The last duck on board their boat gets a spanking from the man who owns the boat. Ping sees that he'll be last, because he didn't hear the call to come back to the boat, and decides that he'll just sleep in the water that night instead so he doesn't get spanked.

Yeah. For real. I think it's supposed to be a lesson about the dangers of avoiding your rightful punishment, but I'm sitting here going "wait, why is the guy spanking his ducks? And why does Ping 'deserve' a spanking for making an honest mistake? And wouldn't this sort of arbitrary punishment make all of the ducks reluctant to come home at night, not just Ping?"

I'm just not so keen on the man's duck-keeping skills in general. For example, we see in multiple pictures that the ducks board the boat single-file with him standing right there (which is why he is able to spank the last duck on the boat). Does he just sit there, picking his nose and waiting to hit a duck, instead of actually counting the stream of birds passing in front of him? Surely a more responsible duck-keeper would keep track of his ducks, and count them before driving off to a new place altogether. Sure, Ping shouldn't have chosen not to board, but the man should have noticed that someone wasn't there. I mean, come on!

Maybe I'm reading too much into it. This is a kid's book, right? I can definitely see kids falling in love with The Story About Ping for the same reason they become obsessed with any story: they're kids, and they latch on to just about any random thing that catches their fancy. I personally don't fancy this story very much, both because of believability issues and because it seems a little creepy in parts - especially when Ping sees the birds who have choke collars around their necks that won't let them swallow the fish they catch.

But then, I'm really not one to talk: my childhood obsession was Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, 2013

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on Goodreads 
Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life... until now.
Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.

(380 pages)

On one hand, I absolutely loved this book. Sloan has a wonderful, magical way with prose and I could just sit here quoting page after page of wonderful narration from Counting by 7s and never grow tired.

But then she sometimes randomly jumped into the heads of different people around Willow, and it was really confusing because I kept thinking a chapter was being told in someone else's POV only to realize no, wait, this is actually still Willow narrating. 

And I absolutely loved Willow for being so smart, and so clever, and so strong even with everything that's happened. She's a beautiful character because she really, truly cares about the world around her. She may be an oddball, but she's a wonderfully clever oddball, and one you can't help but love.

But I don't really like the way Willow is some sort of under-the-radar genius child, because I feel like that's getting to be a bit over-done. And the genius kid doesn't always have to be the socially inept oddball, you know? I mean, I get that it's just a story, and that it's so much more powerful because Willow is the way she is, but at the same time I can't help but wish smart kids could be portrayed as the popular kids for once.

And I love how Counting by 7s feels kind of random, the way everything at the beginning seems so out-of-the-blue and how there are so many random people drawn into Willow's life and how she becomes the lynch-pin that holds all of them together, when normally they wouldn't have even met in the first place. Sometimes life really is that random, and it's beautiful watching the way events unfold.

But - you guessed it - I didn't really like how random it was. For example, what exactly was the point of the scene with Willow's parents, where we discover why her dad forgot to check the intersection before going forward? I can understand if Willow was going to discover the information that we learn there, and maybe it helped her come to grips with things or made her come to some profound realization about the meaning of life. As it was, I just didn't get the point.

Or what about the taxi driver? I love him, and he seems really nice, and I liked the whole side-plot about all the ways Willow helped him. But then he also seemed a little superfluous, because we already had Dell to fill the role of male screw-up needing Willow's help. And I didn't quite understand the choice to bring Dell into the story, and make him so important, and then make Jairo (the taxi driver) suddenly also important in the end.

As for the big announcement a certain someone makes at the end? Come on! That is a) so incredibly unrealistic and b) just sad. So sad. I feel so bad for some certain people, whose mother so obviously didn't pay attention to their feelings at all.

But anyway, despite all of my griping Counting by 7s is still a gorgeous book. When the prose is that beautiful, I simply can't help but enjoy the book. There are some very touching themes running throughout the novel, and I loved the way Willow turns facts about her plants into lessons about life. I am sure I'll be re-reading Counting by 7s in the future, and that I'll pull even more from it, but I just had a few too many bones to pick to be completely satisfied.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Last Ten Books I Got For Free

This week's Top Ten Tuesday prompt is a "freebie," and I literally am so overworked that all I could come up with was books I got for "free." Is that unoriginal or what? I've gotten a lot of great books for free lately, though, so I'm excited to show off some of my latest acquisitions. They're only roughly in order, though, because I don't really keep track of exact dates. And by "don't really" I mean "don't at all."

1. Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
I got this as my free book in the Barnes & Noble summer reading program. I know the program says it's for kids through middle school, but you know what? I read the fine print, and there is nothing in there restricting prize-winners to a certain age group. So I am so totally participating in this program every summer until I die! Or until I become embarrassed by how old I am and still turning in the kids' program, whichever comes first. :P Anyway, my review of Counting by 7s will go live on Friday. It was a gorgeous book, but had some serious believability issues.

2. The Marvels by Brian Selznick
Funnily enough, my review of The Marvels went live this past Friday. This was an ARC I got from Scholastic, after I sent a semi-begging e-mail going on about how much I love Selznick's books and I needed to get my hands on this new one now because I just knew I was going to love it.

Well, I didn't. And I feel bad about that. Because the first half of the book, which told a story completely through pictures, is absolutely beautiful. The second half, told in text, is . . . less beautiful. Click here to check out my full review.

3. A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen
This is another Scholastic ARC that I requested. Unlike The Marvels, which I liked much less than I'd hoped, A Night Divided actually surpassed my (already very high) expectations. It's a wonderful book, one that I will most definitely be re-reading over and over again in the years to come. I posted my rave review here.

4. Project Inspired by Nicole Weider
I got Project Inspired through the BookLook Bloggers program about a month and a half ago. It wasn't what I'd thought it was when I requested it (for one thing, it had only a fraction of the page-count I expected), but it was still pretty good. I'm keeping my copy for now in case I want to use it as a reference, but I have a feeling it will vanish during my next belongings purge (i.e. when I go off to college).

5. Cheap Chic by Caterine Milinaire and Carol Troy
This is a book I got through the Blogging For Books program, which usually has slightly better options than BookLook Bloggers. I'm in the middle of it now, and it's pretty interesting: a fashion advice book from the 70s, written for girls who don't have much money. Half of the advice boils down to "don't buy much, but spend lots on what you do," so I'm not sure how helpful it would have been for the truly destitute. Then again, I'm only halfway through it so we'll see. I haven't made up my mind about it yet.

6. The Looney Experiment by Luke Reynolds
This is another BookLook Bloggers read, and it looks pretty interesting. Between my other books and the start of the school year I haven't gotten to it yet, but it's (almost) at the top of the TBR list.

7. Diary of a Jackwagon by Tim Hawkins
This is, yes, yet another BookLook Bloggers book. I only got it two weeks ago and I haven't (as of writing this post, September 2) started it yet. I'm really excited about it, though, because it's by the Christian comedian Tim Hawkins. He's one of the funniest guys alive, and I have literally been sucked into YouTube vieos of his shows for hours on end. I can't wait to start Diary of a Jackwagon!

8. All Fall Down by Ally Carter
This one is only sort of a book for free, because I bought it with a Half-Priced Books gift card from my grandparents. That still counts as free, right? I wanted to put it on thsi list because I'm so excited about it. Anyone who's read my review knows that I really loved it. So finding a hardcover in brand-new condition for only $8, at a store where I had a giftcard, was exciting enough. Imagine the thrill when I opened the cover and discovered that it was autographed! That's right, my new beauty was signed by Ms. Carter herself. Now I call that $8 of free money well spent!

9. Frosted Kisses by Heather Hepler
This was an unsolicited ARC from Scholastic, which I got a few weeks ago. It's sitting on my TBR pile - my "to be reviewed" one, that is, not "to be read." It's in that in-between stage when I've already read it but I haven't gotten my act together enough to actually write a review of it. So I haven't gathered my thoughts about Frosted Kisses yet, but in a nutshell I thought it was a cute story with maybe a little too much petty schoolgirl drama for my taste. Keep an eye out for a proper review coming out October 23.

10. The Missing #8: Redeemed by Margaret Peterson Haddix
This was a Simon and Schuster ARC, arguably one of my most exciting ARCs ever! I'd been reading and adoring the Missing series for like five years, and I was desperate to read the long-awaited conclusion. I poured that desperation into an e-mail to Simon and Schuster, and was overjoyed to find out that my entreaties had been heard - and that a copy was in the mail! Needless to say, all productivity stopped while I devoured the beautiful sucker (because seriously, the cover was gorgeous). It was one of the hardest reviews I'd ever written, though, because I had so much to say I wound up with an abscenely large review that no one would ever want to read. It's shorter now, though still longer than most of my reviews. If you're a fan of the Missing series (i.e. are ready for the spoilers that come with discussing the eighth book in a series) you can click here to check out my review.

Well, what do you think? I've gotten some pretty good books lately. I can't wait to dive into the ones still waiting on my to-be-read pile!

Teaser Tuesdays: Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan (Sep 15)

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 Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
In the tradition of Out of My Mind, Wonder, and Mockingbird, this is an intensely moving middle grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family.
Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life... until now.
Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.
(380 pages)
Here's this week's teaser, from page 67:
I've never understood coloring books.
Either draw a picture, or don't. But why waste your time coloring in someone else's work? 
Let me know what you think of the book, and check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Snow in Summer by Jane Yolen, 2011

Click to view
on Goodreads 
With her black hair, red lips, and lily-white skin, Summer is as beautiful as her father's garden. And her life in the mountains of West Virginia seems like a fairy tale; her parents sing and dance with her, Cousin Nancy dotes on her, and she is about to get a new baby brother. But when the baby dies soon after he's born, taking Summer's mama with him, Summer's fairy-tale life turns grim. Things get even worse when her father marries a woman who brings poisons and magical mirrors into Summer's world. Stepmama puts up a pretty face, but Summer suspects she's up to no good - and is afraid she's powerless to stop her.
This Snow White tale filled with magic and intrigue during the early twentieth century in Appalachia will be hard to forget.

(256 pages)

Snow in Summer is a Snow White retelling moved to a 1930's small-town setting, and while going in I was really excited about all the potential (especially because it's written by Jane Yolen!), I finished the book with a wrinkle on my brow and a "what in the world did I just read?" look in my eye. Because this book was weird. Just flat-out, honest-to-goodness weird.

For one thing, I wasn't really comfortable with the Satanic vs. Christian themes throughout the book. I think Stepmama is supposed to be some sort of Satanic something-or-other, i.e. a witch, and that alone is really creepy. When you add in the horribly scary church she takes Summer to later in the book and the disgusting caul Summer's Christian aunt/godmother gives her for protection (the caul=a piece of membrane that covered Summer's face when she was born), I was supremely uncomfortable. And grossed out. I mean, can it get much more disgusting than a salted, dried piece of old membrane? The answer is an emphatic no!

I do like the way Yolen took so many different aspects from the original story and twisted them around (like the way the main character's name is "Snow in Summer," and her mother called her "Summer" but her step-mother calls her "Snow"), and I've never read a Snow White story like Snow in Summer. But whereas Yolen's Sleeping Beauty retelling Curse of the Thirteenth Fey (my review) twisted everything in really cool ways that made an awesome new story, Snow in Summer twists things in ways that are . . . well, they're twisted. And repelling. And I really didn't like it.

I don't know, maybe other people would like this book better. I can't really think of any situation in which I would recommend this book, but I suppose if anyone asked me for a really funky/creepy retelling of Snow White with weird religious undertones, this would be my go-to suggestion. Because I don't think any other book fits the bill.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Marvels by Brian Selznick, 2015

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on Goodreads 
Caldecott Award winner and bookmaking trailblazer Brian Selznick once again plays with the form he invented and takes readers on a voyage!Two seemingly unrelated stories--one in words, the other in pictures--come together. The illustrated story begins in 1766 with Billy Marvel, the lone survivor of a shipwreck, and charts the adventures of his family of actors over five generations. The prose story opens in 1990 and follows Joseph, who has run away from school to an estranged uncle's puzzling house in London, where he, along with the reader, must piece together many mysteries.
(672 pages; Release date September 15))

 I absolutely adored Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret. The way he combined text with gorgeous pictures awed me to no end, and I loved the (also gorgeous) movie Hugo, starring Asa Butterfield. I also read Wonderstruck, Selznick's second book using this combined medium, and really loved the story, the pictures, the way I got to see the world through the eyes of deaf kids . . . and pretty much everything else about the story as well!

The first half of The Marvels was everything I had hoped for and more in a new book from Brian Selznick: stunning pictures, a beautiful storyline, compelling characters, and the pure joy that comes from devouring a gorgeous story. My favorite sequences were the ones that showed time passing, like the four pictures showing Billy growing up. Selznick's drew Billy as a little kid learning how to work the curtains, then a few years later working them under supervision, then as an adolescent working them by himself, and then working them as an adult. It's really beautiful.

But then there was the text, and it wasn't so amazing. In the past I don't remember ever being very enamored with Selznick's prose, but it was intermingled with the pictures and didn't really stick out enough for me to really analyze it. Here in The Marvels it's forced to stand by itself, though, telling its own tale without the crutch of Selznick's beautiful pictures, and it really isn't up to the task. Even before the big reveals came, I was just kind of bored by the story. I never had any reason to like Joseph, and his uncle was kind of over-the-top strange about the house. I love a good mystery as well as the next person, but what on Earth am I supposed to make of the way Uncle Albert kept all of the rooms looking as though people from the 1700s had just stepped out, but were actively living in them? I was thinking along the lines of ghosts, time travel, and just plain insanity (on Albert's part), and the real explanation was pretty original but also pretty disappointing.

Partly because of homosexuality. And that's really all I'm going to say about that, because I don't want to spoil anything for people who are going to read the book. It's one thing to put that sort of material in a book for adults, but The Marvels is (according to my ARC, anyway) geared for ages 10 and up, and grades 5 and up. That makes it MG. This is not MG material. And I didn't like being blindsided by it so far into the book, without any previous warning. To be perfectly honest, though, I probably wouldn't have liked the ending anyway - it feels like there's a lot of build-up, between the mysterious story told in the first half and the pressing questions Joseph encounters in the second half, and then the explanation at the end is pretty . . . anticlimactic. I would have much preferred a more poetic, romantic ending to the - well, the explosion we wind up getting.

So yeah. I highly recommend the first half of this book, and I very much don't recommend the second half to anyone. So unless you're going to get the book and only read the first half (which is, actually, completely reasonable - that's what I would have chosen to do, if I'd known what I do now in advance), I say just don't read it. And I'm sad to discourage people from reading a book with Selznick's amazing pictures, but I just can't encourage anyone to read the second half of The Marvels.

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

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Ten Finished Series That I Haven't Finished

There are always series that we haven't finished.

You know how it is. Life gets in the way, a shiny new book distracts your attention away from the later book in a long series, you just didn't click with the story enough to continue it . . . there are many reasons to discontinue reading a series, most of them valid (though not all - and if you haven't finished a series you're convinced you'll love, then for shame!). This week's Top Ten Tuesday prompt is to list ten series that have officially finished (i.e. all of the books are out), that you haven't finished. I went through my Goodreads bookshelves looking for series I've read and haven't finished. I even discovered a few series I hadn't known about! That's the problem with not marking books as being part of a series . . .

1. The Unicorn Chronicles by Bruce Coville
I'm actually in the middle of reading this series, and I've been doing it as quickly as I can. When I'm typing this post (August 21 - yes, I'm actually writing my TTT posts ahead for once!), I've read the first three but not the fourth, The Last Hunt. I had to go to an entirely different library system to check it out, because it's out of print, so it took a while to get down there. Now I'm on vacation (in Indianapolis - yay!), and I don't have it with me because I didn't want to lug all seven hundred pages of the series conclusion through BWI airport. When I get home, though, it's the first book on my TBR list. By the time this post actually goes live, I'll have long since read it and probably written and scheduled my review, too. You can click the links to read my reviews of the first, second, and third books in the series.

2. The Inkworld series by Cornelia Funke
This is a series that a lot of people love. I realize this. I read the first book and loved it too (or at least liked it well enough that I could convince myself I loved it). I checked out the next two books in the trilogy to finish it off, but then . . . I fizzled. Halfway through the second book, I just got bored. I started skimming, and then I skipped to the last chapter of the third book to see how everything ended, and then I just quit because I didn't like the ending. So yeah, I haven't actually read all three books in the series (which is why I put it onto this list), but I'm definitely not going to try again someday. The funny thing is that I also tried Funke's Dragon Rider and got so bored I DNF'd. I hardly ever quit reading a book, so the fact that I quit twice with Funke's books means that I'm pretty much off her for life. It's too bad, but I just can't make the connection that so many people do with her books.

3. Ingo by Helen Dunmore
I read the first Ingo book a long time ago, and thought it was okay (if maybe a little cliche). I had no idea that there were later books, and I set Ingo aside as a so-so book that really needed some sequels. Turns out, there are actually four! I'm not sure if I'll check them out, but just knowing they exist makes me feel much fonder towards poor little Ingo.

4. The Books of Bayern by Shannon Hale
I read an enjoyed The Goose Girl, which was a great book if a little strange (most of which I just attribute the utter weirdness of the original story). I checked out the next book in the four-book series, but my mother said she didn't want me to read it. Sometimes about too much romance, I think? Or maybe she didn't like the magic. My parents are totally kosher with, say, Harry Potter, but sometimes they don't like the fantasies that get too - I don't know how to describe it. Spiritualist? Theologic? Whatever it is, the Books of Bayern are on my "read someday" list but they're not very high on said list. I'm sure I'll get around to them eventually.

5. The Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien and Jane Leslie Conly
Who knew one of my favorite childhood books had two sequels? Not me! I just found out, and now that I really think about it I slightly remember hearing something about a sequel once upon a time. I'm putting the other two books on my TBR list, but it'll probably be a while before I get around to them - I'm kind of past the target age group now. And they're not actually written by the author of the first book.

6. Redwall by Brian Jacques
Yeah, this series is, like, ginormous. I've probably read a dozen or so of the books, nowhere near the 20+ books that are in the series. They get kind of old after a while, and start feeling like they're all the same. I think my quitting the series was a combination of outgrowing it, and reading so many that I caught on to Jacques's tricks (like, seriously - how did I not notice that all of the plots are almost identical until I'd read so many of them?).

Have you read any of these series? Are there any I should add back to the top of my TBR pile?

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Last Changeling by Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple, 2015

This is my review of the second book in the Seelie Wars series. Click here to check out my review of the first book, The Hostage Prince.

Click to view
This on Goodreads 
In The Hostage Prince, Prince Aspen and midwife’s apprentice Snail tried to prevent the Seelie War by making a perilous journey to Aspen’s father’s kingdom. Their journey started the war instead. Chased by two armies, Aspen and Snail find refuge with the actors of Professor Odds’ traveling troupe, dodging soldiers, Border Lord berserkers, a hungry troll, and assorted dwarfs, drows, lycants, boggles, and a cloaked spy. Will they make it out? Is any place safe for the two of them? And who, exactly, is the mysterious Professor Odds, who seems to have his own hidden powers and agenda? Fast-paced and funny,The Last Changeling, the second book of the Seelie Wars trilogy, is the perfect way to introduce newly fledged readers to fantasy.
(304 pages)

This book . . . was not what I went into it expecting. No, it was much more original than that.  I thought it would be a kind of cliche sequel focusing on Aspen and Snail as they snuck around, joined a circus troup, did performances . . . kind of like this one great book that I read ages ago and can't find back (click here to see if you can help me figure out what it's called!). Instead, even though we did get quite a few of those elements to a certain extent, it's still pretty unique. I can't say that I enjoyed The Last Changeling quite as much as the first book, because I definitely spent most of the middle of the book scratching my head a little bit going "what on Earth is going on? And, um, why should I care?" But the ending really picked up a lot, taking the story in some pretty cool directions - and leaving me desperate to read the third book.

In The Hostage Prince, I didn't really have a favorite character. That has now changed: I can say with absolutely certainty that Aspen is my fave. And that's not because I don't like Snail, but because I do love Aspen - more than I love Snail. Not that Snail is bad or anything, but I didn't think her big "plot twist" was nearly as powerful as it could have been. Aspen's, on the other hand . . . yikes. I need to get my hands on the third book as soon as possible!

Snail and Aspen's relationship was one of my favorite things in the first book, and I think it went through some interesting phases as their story continued in The Last Changeling and they faced all the challenges/experiences thrown their way. Aspen has mostly gotten over his snobbishness toward Snail, and now it's more of the push and shove that goes along with being true friends (and maybe the beginnings of a little more than that). I think the third book will be when things really take off, though.

And really, that's the meat of it. This was a pretty good book, though not as good as the first one, but a lot of it just felt like filler. Filler that's setting up for the third book, yes, but still slightly drawn-out filler. That's a common second-book-in-a-trilogy problem, though, so I'm not really holding it against The Last Changeling. I just need the third book. Like, now.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Redeemed by Margaret Peterson Haddix, 2015

Have you read the first seven books in the Missing series? No? Then go away! There are some really major spoilers in this review - and I mean spoilers from not only book 1, but from book 7 as well. Don't read the synopsis, don't scroll down to check out the last paragraph, don't do anything except hit the back arrow and leave this page until you're ready to get excited for the last book in the Missing series.

Click to view
on Goodreads
Jonah’s new twin must time travel and face off against his siblings’ worst enemy in order to save the future—and his family—in the eighth and final book of the New York Times bestselling The Missing series, which Kirkus Reviews calls “plenty of fun and great for history teachers as well.”
After traveling through history multiple times and finding out his original identity, Jonah thought he’d fixed everything. But some of his actions left unexpected consequences. His parents—and many other adults—are still stuck as teenagers. And now Jonah has a new sibling, an identical twin brother named Jordan.
As odd as all this is for Jonah, it’s beyond confusing for Jordan. How does everyone in his family have memories of Jonah when he doesn’t? How can his annoying kid sister Katherine speak so expertly about time travel—and have people from the future treating her with respect? A few rash moves by Jordan send them all into the future—and into danger. What if he’s also the only one who can get them back to safety, once and for all?

(416 pages; Release date September 8, 2015)

It's over. It's actually over. No more waiting for Missing books, no more begging my parents into driving me to Barnes & Noble on release day, no more bugging my sister/roomie with chants of "Only three more days now! Three more days!" as I count down to a new book. No more adventures with Jonah and Katherine, no more huge identity reveals that I never saw coming. I still have Margaret Peterson Haddix books to look forward to, but no more Missing books. And since I've been reading the Missing series for as long as I've been reading Haddix's books, that is really, really weird to me.

But enough about me, how was the book itself? Well, I'll start with the negatives. And they all boil down to one main factor: Jordan. Not that I have anything against the poor boy (in fact, I had been biting my nails to learn more about him since he showed up at the end of Redeemed!), but he just isn't Jonah. I spent seven books getting attached to Jonah - seven books! That's a lot of pages. Those were a lot of years. The experiences I share with Jonah simply aren't there with Jordan, and so no matter how interested in his story I am I'm still more interested in Jonah's. And sadly, we don't get as much of Jonah as I would have liked. He's there, of course, and there's definitely some tension going on between him and Jordan, but he and Katherine get separated from Jordan about two-thirds of the way into the book and then that's it. No more Jonah and Katherine. Ick.

Also, I would have liked a bit more exploration of the whole twin issue. Jonah and Jordan are practically identical (because nature and nurture were both working to keep them that way), but it did slightly grate on my when people said they were practically "the same person." I mean, Margaret Peterson Haddix of all people should be able to write about genetically identical kids raised in near-identical situations - Jordan isn't just a reboot of Jonah, a "what-if" version that would have happened if Jonah had never discovered time travel. He's a real, unique, individual person. And I couldn't tell if Haddix was ignoring this, or if she simply didn't have time to deal with it when so many things were already going on in the story.

So there's the negative. What about the positive? Again, it mostly boils down to Jordan. You know, Jonah's brother, the one who got time travel (and an identical twin) dropped into his lap. How could Jordan not be awesome?! Jonah-shortage aside, there were a lot of advantages to being inside Jordan's head this time around. He acts like a time-traveling idiot for most of the book, but somehow that never really bothered me. I actually really liked the fact that he was so naive, because it's realistic. If the Jonah from Found had been dropped into Revealed, he would have been just as terrible at time traveling as Jordan is. Speaking of our dear time-traveling pro, I also dearly love the glimpses we get of Jonah throughout Redeemed, as he tries not-very-hard to hide his disgust at having an identical twin brother dropped into his life. That's probably why I got so frustrated about not being inside his head while all of that was going on.

I also loved reading about everything through a newbie's eyes. I learned the ropes of time travel alongside Jonah (actually, inside Jonah!), and I love him to pieces but it's true that my knowledge-base is exactly the same as his. With Jordan, I'm the old hat and he's the clueless newcomer to the table. Being in his head, and watching him try to get a handle on Jonah when I already know him so well, is neat. And through Jordan we get to see how much everyone respects Jonah. Very, very cool! I also love the scene about halfway through, when they go through a re-hash of some of the most dangerous moments in the past seven books. I literally squealed when Jonah said "Richard III" and I realized what was happening! Somehow it was even cooler reliving it through Jordan's eyes, because he spent the whole time freaking out about all the crazy things that happen.

Anyway, this is shaping up to be the longest review I've written in a very long time. I guess I'll stop now, but I could go on and on. I have been waiting for this book for literally five years, and I am so, so thrilled to have finally read it. A few (fairly necessary) disappointments aside, Redeemed was everything I had hoped it would be, and I absolutely loved it.

Though part of me does still wish Jonah had narrated the epilogue.

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