March 31, 2014

Review: Attachments

Attachments By Rainbow Rowell
Available now from Plume (Penguin Random House)
Review copy
Read my review of Fangirl

I enjoyed both of Rainbow Rowell's new novels, ELEANOR & PARK and FANGIRL.  Thus, I was excited to go back and read her first novel, ATTACHMENTS.

It's 1999, and everyone's worried about Y2K.  Lincoln is in IT at a newspaper, reading the email messages that get caught in the filter.  That's when he becomes aware of Beth and Jennifer, whose long email exchanges are often flagged.  He keeps reading their email, even though he knows it is an invasion of privacy.  At the same time, he begins coming out of his shell, finding new friends and independence.  He's been stuck in a rut, living with his mom and working at a job he hates and not getting out except to play D&D.

Setting ATTACHMENTS in '99 gives Rainbow Rowell one big advantage: every bit of pop culture the characters reference is still well-known and respected.  There's no obscure references, no ephemeral and forgotten fads.  It also means that the technology involved is still pretty new to people.  Email is easy of course, but print journalism is still going strong.  Employees slacking off on the Internet is new.  Weirdly, no one ever seems frustrated by dial-up. 

The romance didn't entirely work for me.  I kept waiting for Beth and Lincoln to meet.  I liked reading about their individual journeys, but I was in it for the attachment.  The real love story only takes up the last 10% of the book.  At that point it's kind of awkward because of the privacy invasion.  Rowell does her best to mitigate it, but I still found it creepy, even though I really liked Lincoln.

What did work very well were all the depictions of different friendships.  Friendships between women, men, both.  Work friendships, college friendships, friendships that lasted since high school.  The friendship between Beth and Jennifer is particularly great, of course, but I also really liked Lincoln's new friendship with an older coworker.

Rowell's publishers are pushing ATTACHMENTS more now that ELEANOR & PARK and FANGIRL are hits.  It's a good move, because ATTACHMENTS has the same strong character work.  It also shares a theme of anxiety with FANGIRL.  It's a strong debut, and it's easy to see how Rowell has grown.  It also builds anticipation for her upcoming adult novel, LANDLINES. 

March 29, 2014

Two cool Kickstarters

I love going through the projects on Kickstarter.  I don't always find one I want to back, but I always find them interesting.  (Sometimes I find too many to back!)

Here are two that I thought ya'll might find interesting:

Birds of Lace 2014 Letterpress Chapbooks & Broadsides

Birds of Lace is a small publisher featuring women authors, mostly known for their poetry.  I haven't donated myself yet because I don't know what I want.  (Okay, I want the $150 everything pack but I'm gonna be realistic.)  I still have 25 days to make up my mind!  Birds of Lace has been operating since 2005, so it's unlikely they'll be unable to fulfill the rewards.

Dirty Diamonds #5: COMICS

Dirty Diamonds is a series of all-women comic anthologies.  The theme for the latest, biggest issue is comics.  This one particularly caught my eye because it features work by Alison Wilgus.  Plus, the cover is so pretty! There are 20 days to go to back this project.  Since this is the fifth anthology, there is good reason to believe the rewards will be delivered successfully.

March 27, 2014

Review: The Shibboleth

The Twelve-Fingered Boy Book two of Incarcerado trilogy
By John Hornor Jacobs
Available now from Carolrhoda Lab (Lerner)
Review copy
Read my review of The Twelve-Fingered Boy

When I read THE TWELVE-FINGERED BOY, I wasn't quite sure how to take the ending.  In fact, in my review I said:
I'm not enamored with the ending of THE TWELVE-FINGERED BOY.  While Shreve and Jack to manage to accomplish something important, because the ending made the entire novel seem somewhat pointless.  I'm certainly curious about what will happen next, and at least next time I'll know that the end isn't really the end.   
Now, having read THE SHIBBOLETH, I am very glad I returned to the series.  Shreve is pretty beat down by the events of the first book, and he's lost his power on the inside.  At the same time, he's gained a more visceral power - he can go into people's heads, see their memories, puppet them.  Even though Shreve tends to me more of a good guy than a bad guy, it's a power that's easy to abuse when you're locked up with nothing to do except get bullied by the guards and other inmates.

But Shreve can't stay in juvenile detention forever.  Mr. Quincrux is trying to recruit him now.  And something is preventing something people from sleeping, and everyone is getting edgy.  THE SHIBBOLETH deepens the mythology of the series and gives Shreve a chance to define himself, without Jack, and with his new abilities.  It's exciting and scary.

Some bits of THE SHIBBOLETH feel a little like a retread of THE TWELVE-FINGERED BOY.  It starts in juvie, then there's a cross-country trip . . . but at the same time, things aren't the same at all.  The Shreve and Jack in THE SHIBBOLETH aren't the boys they used to be.  And it isn't certain whether that's a good thing or a bad thing yet.

I love how THE SHIBBOLETH has clear antagonists, but the most interesting one is Shreve himself.  He could grow up to be a great man, or he could grow up to be another Mr. Quincrux.  I'm eager for the third book, for both the final confrontation and the conclusion of Shreve's coming of age.  This unique series is truly just waiting to be discovered by all sorts of readers, particularly fans of the X-Men and Darren Shan.

March 26, 2014

Review: Mafia Girl

Mafia Girl By Deborah Blumenthal
Available now from Albert Whitman Teen (Albert Whitman & Company)
Review copy

I have a weakness for books involving the mafia.  It started when I was a kid and wanted to grow up to be a mob boss, before I realized I didn't have a lot of the prerequisites and am ridiculously law abiding.  But it still tempts me in fiction.

Gia is the daughter of a crime boss, but she has other hopes for her future.  She's going to go to college.  And really, it's not that she wants to get out of the life.  She's sick of being worried about her father's safety, but she's perfectly happy having money and a powerful name behind her, no matter the source of that money or name.

MAFIA GIRL does follow a period of some change in Gia's life.  She gets arrested for driving drunk and crushes hard on the arresting officer.  She also decides she's going to run for class president, get something more positive on her record.  The class president plotline worked fairly well for me.  Gia's friends are pretty interesting (particularly neglected Clive) and it forced Gia to be somewhat introspective and think about what she had to offer.

The romance didn't work for me at all.  MAFIA GIRL is very clear that Gia is recently seventeen.  Meanwhile, Michael is a police officer who did a stint in the military.  So, even if he just did a four-year active term, he's twenty-two at the very least.  (Although I'd say closer to twenty-three at the least.)  It might not be so weird if MAFIA GIRL addressed the age difference at any point.  Instead, the only difficulty Gia and Michael see is her father and his line of work.  I can see Gia just having a crush on an older guy, but I never figured out why Michael reciprocated.  Because she looks good?  Their early interactions don't really make a great case for Gia's personality.  (In fact, to ensure they meet again, she employs a bit of stalking.)  And, oh yeah, she's underage and he knows it.

I wanted to like MAFIA GIRL, but it was a bit of a mess.  There was a hollowness at the core.  The romance is creepy and the ramifications of Gia's father being a mob boss are never explored.  I guess he's just one of those nice mob bosses.  I'll stick to SON OF THE MOB.

March 25, 2014

Review: The Mark of the Dragonfly

The Mark of the Dragonfly First in a series
By Jaleigh Johnson
Available now from Delacorte BFYR (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

Piper is a scrapper.  Where she lives, you survive by mining debris fields right after a meteor shower and selling what you find.  She makes a better living than most since she's skilled at repairing machines, a skill that is in high demand.

Then, she comes across a girl, the sole survivor of a group stuck in the middle of a meteor shower.  Piper takes her home to recuperate, at which point she's already gotten herself involved in something more complicated than she could ever guess.  Piper and Anna set off for the capital, because Anna bears the mark of the dragonfly - and that means the king has some interest in her fate.

THE MARK OF THE DRAGONFLY is a terrific introduction to a new middle grade series and author.  (Jaleigh Johnson has written some tie-in novels for Wizards of the Coast.)  You might not guess it from the cover, but this novel is steampunk and features an awesome train guarded by a dragon.  I don't even know why that's not on the cover, because it is the best and the people on the train are the best.  And Johnson knows how to make a train journey exciting and dangerous.

Some of the adventures in THE MARK OF THE DRAGONFLY felt like setup for future books rather than part of the current story.  For instance, there's a group of raiders just determined to get their hands on the train's young head of security.  But for the most part, the story is self-contained and completely satisfied.  I'm excited that this is a series, since I like the characters, but I wasn't left disappointed by a half-hearted ending.

There is plenty of the world left to explore.  There's tensions between the world powers and the upper and lower classes, for instance.  Certain species of people are discriminated against.  There's slavery, which is obviously bad.  There's Piper and Anna's growing friendship, a true sisterly bond.  There's Piper's potential romance, which is kept low-key for the intended audience.

I think that THE MARK OF THE DRAGONFLY will appeal to fans of fantasy and adventure stories, particularly ones with great girl heroes.

March 24, 2014

Review: Don't Even Think About It

Don't Even Think About It By Sarah Mlynowski
Available now from Delacorte Press (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

Sarah Mlynowski's newest novel, DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT, pulls off a very neat trick: it's written in fourth person.  It's a little disorienting at first, but then I started going with the flow of dipping in and out of heads and sometimes getting an opinion from several narrators at once.

You see, in DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT, a group of high school students gain telepathy from a tainted batch of flu vaccine.  This leads to some fun, but it also leads to them leaking all their secrets, learning nasty things people think about them, and never being able to hide when they have an ugly thought about someone else.  (Or a sexy thought.)

Mlynowski does focus the chaos by keeping the attention on a few storylines revolving around four or so of the newly telepathic kids.  It does still feel a bit scattered due to the nature of the narration.  There's a girl who is super shy and nervous, one who is super driven and determined to use her power to get ahead, and one who just wants to keep her boyfriend from knowing she cheated on him.  Then there's her boyfriend, who learns that is not the only secret people have been keeping from him.

I thought that DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT was inventive and fun, albeit with a mildly sinister undertone at times.  This novel doesn't overthink the teens' powers, but that doesn't mean there are no consequences.  YA fans will enjoy Mlynowski's sly references to other popular titles in addition to the story itself.  This is lightweight sci-fi with appealing characters, even if I did wish for a little more time inside individual heads.  But hey, that does give you an idea of what it feels like for the characters.

March 18, 2014

Six years, six discoveries

I told Charlotte that I might steal this idea.  (I modified it a little.)  In Bed With Books is now six years old, which I cannot believe.  I started this blog on a total lark.  It's been six years of reading, writing, attending author events, attending conventions, judging awards, and more.  It's been incredibly rewarding and I intend to do it for the foreseeable future.

You might have noticed a little schedule slip lately.  What can I say?  I just moved (and, in fact, went two weeks without internet).  I've got a full-time job.  Writing an average of 215 posts a year ain't easy.  It's hard work.

But it's the funnest sort of hard work.

So in celebration, here are six of my best bookish discoveries that wouldn't have happened if I wasn't a book blogger.

1. The 2013 Cybils Speculative Fiction Finalists in Middle Grade/Elementary

I started out reviewing YA books.  I was 19, it was still cool.  I never really got shamed for reading down when it came to YA.  I had given up kid's books, however.  (Except for special things, like finding out how A Series of Unfortunate Events ended.)  Book bloggers - adult book bloggers - proudly talking about middle grade and its merits helped me pick up some books for younger readers again.  Unsurprisingly, many of them are good books.  I'm hella proud of the shortlist that I helped curate, especially because they're all books I might not've picked up a few years ago.  I hope I lead others to them, child or adult.

2.  Maggie Stiefvater

She's a bestselling author, so I probably would've read her books eventually.  But I'm so happy I've been able to read her stuff from the beginning, when she reached out to me as a debut author.  Plus, her books just keep getting better.

3.  So many small presses!

I was the weird kid who paid attention to imprints, but I still tended to stick to the big names.  Blogging has opened me up to several smaller imprints that I adore, like Flux, Strange Chemistry, and Carolrhoda Lab.  Even at the library, I tend to be limited to the spines that jump out at me.  I've become more adventurous because blogging has made me more aware.

4. A.S. King

Shortly after I started blogging, everyone started going crazy over THE DUST OF 100 DOGS.  (Particularly the then hugely popular Reviewer X.)  Everyone was right to go crazy, because A.S. King is a national treasure.  She's got the Printz Honor to back it up.

5.  Angieville

I love all of you, I promise.  Angie, however, can talk me into reading anything.  She's got the silver tongue of book persuasion.  And I let her reviews talk me into buying stuff because she is right, like, 99.9% of the time.  (If you'll excuse me, I just wasted time reading her newest review instead of finishing this post.  She is so spot on about Laura Weiss and she says so many things I wish I'd said first, but I'd never have managed to articulate them so well.)

6.  Tumblr!

I am not social media savvy.  I mean, I'm not hopeless, but I'm not gonna pretend to be expert level.  But Tumblr is so much fun and so filled with people who love books and talking about books and drooling over pretty books and bookshelves.  (BTW, I could use some bookshelf recs for my new place.)  Tumblr is the social network for me, and I never would've found it if not for book blogging.

So there's my six discoveries!  Thanks for visiting, commenting, sharing, whatever.  And if I've helped you discover anything through my blog, please let me know.

March 13, 2014

Review: Wicked Little Secrets

Wicked Little Secrets Book two of the Prep School Confidential mysteries
By Kara Taylor
Available now from St. Martin's Griffin
Review copy
Read my review of Prep School Confidential

Anne Dowling is back!  She solved the murder of her roommate, but she's not satisfied.  One of the few remnants of Isabella she has is a photo of a crew team with "THEY KILLED HIM" written on the back.  Him is Matthew Weaver, and his disappearance is an unexplained mystery at Wheatley Prep.  Anne might not have as good a reason to pursue the truth behind Matthew's disappearance as she did Isabella's murder, but she can't keep herself from snooping.  The possibility of foul play haunts her.

I just love Anne.  She's assertive and fierce, but still deeply gutted by her roommate's awful death.  She can be thoughtlessly cruel and petty, but makes up for it by being allergic to injustice.  As I said in my review of the first book, good mystery series need good detective.  Anne is a great detective.

I am happy that the third book, DEADLY LITTLE SINS, has already been announced.  It comes out August 5, 2014.  When WICKED LITTLE SECRETS was coming to an end, I thought there might not be a hook for another book!  But oh, there was.  And there's more than just another twisty, surprising mystery to look forward too.  Anne has made her romantic choices, but she's still got these pesky special feelings that will never go away - and she's not about to put up with jealousy.

Look, I don't want to give too much away, because so much of the pleasure in a mystery is not knowing what happened.  I will give away that WICKED LITTLE SECRETS is wicked funny, despite the darkness within.  Pick up this series if you're into protagonists who do the right thing because it's the right thing.  These books are serious underrated gems.

March 12, 2014

Review: The Sowing

The Sowing Book two of The Torch Keeper
By Steven Dos Santos
Available now from Flux (Llewellyn)
Review copy
Read my review of The Culling

Last year, I enjoyed THE CULLING, a brutal dystopian about Lucian "Lucky" Spark surviving the worst job application process ever in the wake of a bitter betrayal.  When THE SOWING opens, he is quietly rebelling against the government using his power as an insider.  But when things go inevitably awry, he's right back where he used to be - except this time, he has to rely on others to save him.  People who have no reason to want him alive.

THE SOWING cemented my love of The Torch Keeper series.  I thought THE CULLING was well paced and well developed, but I was put off by the extreme violence (and other bad things).  THE SOWING is no less brutal, but it's just the teeniest bit more optimistic.  Plus, it isn't a mere retread of the first, as the setup seems to promise.  It takes a turn and then never stops turning, revealing so much about Lucky's world that neither he nor I ever contemplated.

By dint of most of the old cast being dead, there had to be new characters.  I thought the new additions were very well done, even if I often got to love them just in time for their horrible death.  (Steven Dos Santos has one sick imagination, and he employs it fully.)  I don't want to give too much away, especially not to people who haven't read the first book, but I think there are characters for almost everyone to identify with.  There's a range of ages, sexualities, and more represented.

THE SOWING is tense, heart-wrenching fun.  I am eager to read the third book and see what trouble Lucky gets into next as he tries to rescue his loved ones and fellow citizens from an awful fate.  This series is the definition of intense.

March 11, 2014

Review: The Shadow Prince

The Shadow Prince Book one of Into the Dark
By Bree Despain
Available now from EgmontUSA
Review copy
Read my review of The Dark Divine and my interview with Bree

I liked The Dark Divine trilogy, so I was eager to read Bree Despain's next series, Into the Dark.  This series puts a modern spin on Greek mythology.  THE SHADOW PRINCE concentrates on the stories of Persephone and Hades and Orpheus and Eurydice.  If that doesn't give it away, yes this book does deal quite a bit with the Underworld.  In fact, protagonist and co-narrator Haden Lord is a prince of the Underworld.  A disgraced prince, but that doesn't stop the Oracle from picking him as a Champion.  His quest: to go to Earth and convince Daphne Raines to join him in the Underworld in six months, when the gate opens again.

Haden starts the book incredibly arrogant and rather unthinking of others.  Luckily for him, both of his companions are excellent at pointing out his selfishness.  (They're a bit less awesome about making him do anything about it.)  He also manages to drive Daphne away the first time they meet, by trying to get what he wants immediately and not bothering to think things through, which is basically his flaws in a nutshell.

Daphne has lived with her mom her whole life, but moves in with her dad when he gets her into one of the finest music programs in the country.  She's talented and plans to use her voice to go places.  (And no, places is not code for the Underworld.)  She's understandably put off by Haden, and avoids him like a sensible person until she gets an explanation that recontextualizes his actions into something nonthreatening.  But Haden and Daphne might have bigger problems than the Underworld, starting with the fact that something is killing people and no one else seems to care.

I thought Into the Dark was a great start to the series.  There's some interesting worldbuilding, and Haden's people are neither entirely right nor entirely wrong.  There's a fairly large cast, but all of the characters are appealing and at least somewhat defined.  The romance is not instant, but developed through interaction.  There's another important guy in Daphne's life, but he's just a friend.  Love triangle: avoided.  If there's one misstep, it's that Despain begins to set up the plot of the second book a bit too far in advance.  I spent much of THE SHADOW PRINCE wondering when that plot thread was going to come into play.  I must admit, I did not see it slotting into place when it did, which did provide some redemption.

I know Persephone and Hades are super trendy right now.  I think THE SHADOW PRINCE succeeds in putting its own spin on the story.  Despain's fans won't be disappointed.

March 10, 2014

Review: The Good Luck of Right Now

The Good Luck of Right Now By Matthew Quick
Available now from Harper (HarperCollins)
Review copy
Read my review of Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

THE GOOD LUCK OF RIGHT NOW is Matthew Quick's first adult novel since 2008's THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK.  Now, I am a huge fan of his young adult novels, which are just as unconventional and challenging.  But I am happy to see him returning to a story about adults, because Quick isn't the kind of writer to be boxed into writing about one thing.

Bartholomew Neil had a codependent relationship with his mother, who died recently.  Now almost forty, Bartholomew is struggling to make friends his own age and to ask a woman on a date.  While my life doesn't resemble Bartholomew's at all, it is a struggle I connected with.  It can be really hard to meet people if you aren't in school or don't work for a big company.

Bartholomew's story is told through a series of letters written to Richard Gere.  Why Richard Gere?  Because his mother had a letter from him about Tibet in one of her drawers, and she called Bartholomew "Richard" while she was in the hospital.  He researched Gere and his Buddhism and activism as a result, and feels a connection to the actor - that connection he's struggling to make with people in real life.  It sounds incredibly off-putting as a narrative choice, but it works on the page.

The people in Bartholomew's life at the beginning of THE GOOD LUCK OF RIGHT NOW include Father MacNamee, his life-long priest, and Wendy, his grief counselor.  They don't always have the same ideas about how to best help him move on and start his own life.  Along the way, he meets a foul-mouthed man grieving for his cat and the man's sister, both of whom could become new family for Bartholomew.

Quick's standard touches are in play.  The dysfunctional characters are not scorned at, but treated with compassion.  Everything is filtered through Bartholomew's point of view, which is somewhat naive, so sometimes it's hard to completely grasp the other characters.  There are lots of questions about coincidence, coping, just living life.

THE GOOD LUCK OF RIGHT NOW is a quick read, but a thought-provoking one.  It's not my favorite of Quick's books, but that's a touch competition.  It will definitely appeal to fans of THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (book or movie version).

March 7, 2014

Review: Returning to Shore

Returning to Shore By Corinne Demas
Available now from Carolrhoda Books (Lerner)
Review copy

RETURNING TO SHORE is a brief book, not particularly fast paced but a quick read by virtue of its brevity.  It's cover is bleak, but the book is anything but.  It's a simple tale, enlivened with a touch of quirk and symbolism.

Clare has lived with her mother since her parent's divorce.  She loved her stepfather, and still misses him, even as her mother is marrying for the third time.  But she doesn't have much time to contemplate her dislike of her new stepfather before she's swept off to a small Cape Cod island to live with her father while her mother honeymoons.  Her father knows absolutely nothing about raising a teenager, and he's distracted by his work with turtles (terrapins, to be more specific).  It's egg-laying season, and he intends to make sure that those eggs survive.

Seriously, it's a book about a daughter and father finding each other and themselves, and the father is obsessed with turtles and ensuring that their offspring survive.  It's kind of absurd and obvious and it works.  It's partially because turtle conservation is a real, serious thing.  But it's more because the characters are richly drawn and their development is subtle.

In a novel as short and simple as RETURNING TO SHORE, everything hangs on the protagonist.  I think I was first drawn to the clear gulf between what Clare knows and what the narrative insinuates that she doesn't.  That her mother's relationships, particularly that with her first stepfather, are more complicated than she's been led to believe.  Then there's her father, who knows quite a bit that he holds too tightly - knowledge that he should tell his daughter, at least if they're going to have a real relationship.

There's also a small subplot about Clare making friends of necessity with the other teen girl who lives on the island.  There is, of course, inherent friction in the relationship made more out of proximity than true interest in what the other has to offer.  At the same time, it's not like it's two people hanging out who secretly hate each other.  Then, as Clare learns more about her friend, it conflicts with the things she's learned about her dad.  And it's more than just differing environmental views.

RETURNING TO SHORE is a novel that doesn't rely on romance to deliver deeply felt emotion.  It's a wonderful coming of age story, with a picturesque setting and a strong environmental message lurking not-far-back in the background. Is it strange to say that this is a book for Studio Ghibli fans?  Because it is.

March 6, 2014

Review: Boy, Snow, Bird

Boy, Snow, Bird By Helen Oyeyemi
Available now from Riverhead (Penguin Random House
Review copy

I've heard quite a bit of praise for British novelist Helen Oyeyemi, who is known for combining mythology and other traditional stories with more commonplace matter.  BOY, SNOW, BIRD is her fifth novel and the first one I've read.  I'm having difficultly untangling my feelings about it.

BOY, SNOW, BIRD is inspired by Snow White and American history.  (It's set in the fifties.)  Boy, the narrator of the first and the last section, is a young woman who runs away from home when it becomes clear that her father might kill her one day.  She makes a new life for herself in a small town, friendships, dates, a job, the works.  But her new life has unexpected complications, including the other two eponymous characters.  Bird narrates the second part, and Snow doesn't narrate at all.  I want Snow's point of view, but it makes sense, given that so much of the book is about how people perceive Snow and whether their perception is right.

One thing I truly enjoyed is how my perception of BOY, SNOW, BIRD changed as I was reading it.  It wasn't the story I - or Boy - expected.  There are, for instance, little seeds of what will become major plot points in the first half, but it's easy to overlook them as just bits of set dressing.  BOY, SNOW, BIRD is a novel that tackles complex subjects while keeping the focus on people and their actions.  The Snow White theme provides structure, but BOY, SNOW, BIRD has no easily digestible moral.

My issue is that I felt adrift at the end of the novel.  I was thoroughly engrossed, and then it ended.  There's a small catharsis at the end, but very small.  I felt like the characters' journeys weren't through.  I don't think there was much story left, but there was something.  I was fascinated by BOY, SNOW, BIRD and thought it was full of wonderful ideas wonderfully expressed.  But in the end, I'm not sure that it went anywhere or that anything really happened.  It is perhaps too quiet and subtle.

BOY, SNOW, BIRD blends literary fiction quite beautifully with just a hit of fairytale sensibility.  I loved Boy, and her complicated relationships with the people she loves.  Bird and Snow were likewise interesting, compelling characters.  Halfway through BOY, SNOW, BIRD, I thought it was going to be a favorite.  But I don't love it, although I do think it was a good reading experience.  I am eager to read more of Oyeyemi's work.

March 5, 2014

Review: Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood

Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood By Varsha Bajaj
Available now from Albert Whitman & Company
Review copy

Abby Spencer doesn't know her father.  She knows the story of how her parents went separate ways after college - with him going all the way back to India - and her mother's attempts to contact him failed.  But when she nearly dies from a surprise allergy, she and her mom know that it's time to contact him, if only to get his medical history.

Abby Spencer also doesn't know that her father is India's biggest movie star.

ABBY SPENCER GOES TO BOLLYWOOD is a Cinderella story wrapped up in a story about experiencing a new culture with a delicious cherry-on-top of complex family relationships.  There's joy, there's frustration, there's sadness that communication never happened earlier.  ABBY SPENCER GOES TO BOLLYWOOD is a super fun book, but it's not afraid to get real.  Especially not when it comes to the viciousness of the paparazzi.  (Strangely timely, considering current efforts in the US to prevent paparazzi from taking photos of celebrity's children.)

From the cover, I thought that ABBY SPENCER GOES TO BOLLYWOOD was a YA novel.  However, Abby is thirteen and this is firmly middle grade territory.  I do think that the cover means that an older teen reader won't be afraid to carry it around without shame.  As it is middle grade, what little romance is included is sweet and pretty chaste.  I thought it was cute and added to the story without taking away from the family drama. 

I recommend ABBY SPENCER GOES TO BOLLYWOOD to readers interested in non-nuclear families, modern Indian culture, and anyone who has ever dreamed that their parent was a movie star all along.

March 4, 2014

Review: Half Bad

Half Bad First in a trilogy
By Sally Green
Available now from Viking Juvenile (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

HALF BAD is the first in a trilogy, coming out on a massive wave of buzz.  Huge bidding war at the Frankfurt Book Fair, sales to multiple countries, and so on.  I enjoyed HALF BAD quite a bit, although I did expect a good more.  It's a good introduction to a series, but it comes to an end when things really kick into gear.  I'm excited about Nathan's future adventures, probably more excited than I am by anything in HALF BAD itself.

Nathan was born to a family of White Witches, but his father was a Black Witch - the most infamous Black Witch, in fact.  As he grows older, his freedom becomes more and more curtailed until he ends up in a cage.  His ordeal is harrowing and told in an immersive fashion, but it can be difficult to spend so much time on horror.  I did like the glimpses of the wider witch world, as more ambiguous figures start coming out of the woodwork once Nathan begins journeying.  Much explanation of how the witches work and how they interact with the larger human is told very generally, partially because Nathan is kept deliberately ignorant and HALF BAD is restricted by his point of view.

The romance starts out fairly predictable.  Nathan falls hard for Annalise, a full White Witch from a family of Hunters.  (Hunters hunt Black Witches, fairly obviously.)  It's your bog-standard star-crossed romance.  I preferred Nathan's interactions with the more morally ambiguous characters who show up toward the last third of the novel, including one with a major attraction to Nathan.

HALF BAD is an intense read.  It brings up some interesting questions about morality, ethics, and disobeying authority.  The child abuse can be tough to take, although it's not told in a prurient manner.  I'm excited by the potential for the future books, for the world of White and Black Witches to be explored more and for Nathan to grow, free of the cage.

March 3, 2014

Review: Grim

Grim Edited by Christine Johnson
By Ellen Hawkins, Julie Kagawa, Amanda Hocking, Claudia Gray, Rachel Hawkins, Kimberly Derting, Myra McEntire, Malinda Lo, Sarah Rees Brennan, Jackson Pearce, Jeri Smith-Ready, Shaun David Hutchinson, Saundra Mitchell, Sonia Gensler, Tessa Gratton, Jon Skovron, Christine Johnson
Available now from Harlequin Teen
Review copy

I've repeatedly mentioned that I love fairytales and love seeing them retold.  How could I resist the lure of an anthology gathering some of the hottest names in YA plus a bunch of my personal favorites?  There were also a few authors I haven't read, which is an advantage of anthologies - a short and sweet introduction to a new voice.

Despite the title (GRIM), not all of the stories in the collection are based on Grimm's fairytales.  Some are French tales, others are Hans Christian Anderson, some are other traditional sources.  Some of the sources are used more than once.  They are almost all retellings, though it took me embarrassingly long to figure some of them out.  For instance, opening story "The Key" by Rachel Hawkins is based on one of my favorite tales and I still didn't get it until after I finished the story.  (I don't think "Untethered" by Sonia Gensler is a retelling, which makes its inclusion odd.)

I did like this anthology overall.  There were a few stories that I thought were too brief, and Ellen Hawkin's prose debut left me underwhelmed.  I found Sarah Rees Brennan's "Beauty and the Chad" a bit too silly at first, but it's really stuck with me.  Another one of my favorite authors, Tessa Gratton, wrote a Beauty and the Beast story called "Beast/Beast," which had an intriguing take on the central relationship and its evolution.  "Figment" by Jeri Smith-Ready was a standout, one I'm sure I'll re-read to put a smile on  my face.  Julie Kagawa's "The Brothers Piggett" was another simple, silly one, but I enjoyed its gruesome twists.  Another favorite of mine was "Sharper Than a Serpent's Tongue" by editor Christine Johnson.  It's a tale of two sisters, but they aren't the straightforward bad sister and good sister of classic fairytales.

If you're a fan of fairytales or any of these authors, then GRIM is a wonderful choice for you.  I do wish the anthology had been all Grimm fairytales, with no repeats, but as it is, some of the repeats were my favorites.  The book does stand out in diversity, both in authors and characters.

March 1, 2014

Middle Grade March Kicks Off!

Middle Grade March
I've never participated in Middle Grade March (hosted by Deb Marshall) before, but I think this is a good year to participate!  I've been paying more attention to middle grade between the CYBILs and all, so why not give it a little special attention?

The month is kicking off with a readathon, from now until midnight tomorrow.  I'm busy moving even more of my stuff (I moved on February 15th), but I'm sure I'll read at least one book!

Details available here.

ETA:  I all but finished JINX'S MAGIC.  This weekend got away from me, including attending my nephew's soccer game at which he refused to play.


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