Friday, May 30, 2014

A Snicker of Magic A Splendiforous, Hopeful Tale

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Chances are, you've seen this cover splashed all over the book blogosphere lately.  A Snicker of Magic, a debut novel by Natalie Lloyd, is getting lots of attention.  Not to mention rave reviews.  The story's a little difficult to describe so, once again, I'm going to rely on the professionally-written blurb to do my work for me:
Some people collect baseball cards.  Or hedgehogs.  Or belly button lint.  Not Felicity Pickle.  She collects words—words people are thinking about, or words they want.  Some words glow, and some dance.  Some have wings, and some have zebra stripes.                                                                                                                                                                          
Yet although Felicity has traveled all over the country with her mama and little sister, there's one word she's never seen—home.
                                                                                                                                          Felicity is tired of wandering from place to place.  Making new friends can be harder than fractions ... especially when words like loser and clutzerdoodle fill the classroom every time you open your mouth.
                                                                                                                                          But when her mama's van, the Pickled JalapeƱo, rolls into Midnight Gulch, Felicity feels her luck begin to change.  For the first time, she's found a place where she can grow some good memories ... and maybe even make a friend.
                                                                                                                                          That's because Midnight Gulch used to be magical—a town where people could dance up thunderstorms and bake secrets into pie—until a curse drove the magic away.
                                                                                                                                          At least, that's what most people think.
                                                                                                                                          Felicity can tell there's still a snicker of magic in Midnight Gulch.  It hasn't disappeared; it's just been playing hide-and-seek for a very long time.
                                                                                                                                          All she has to do is find the right words to turn it loose.
                                                                                                                                                       

Sounds like a fun story, right?  And it is.  Sure, it gets a little silly at times, but mostly it's a magical, uplifting tale about family, forgiveness, and the power of words.  The characters are as quirky as you might expect.  So is the fictional Tennessee town in which they live.  Readers will relate to the sympathetic Felicity and cheer as she and her BFF, Jonah, seek to find the magic in the people and places around them.  Overall, I enjoyed this one.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of Savvy by Ingrid Law and Sway by Amber McRee Turner)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for nothing offensive

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of A Snicker of Magic from the generous folks at Scholastic.  Thank you!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

"Re-Booted" Fairy Tale Series Just Keeps Getting Better

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Cress, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from the novel's predecessors.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

There's nothing I adore more than a YA series that's not just clean, but also original, well-written and compelling.  Surprisingly, these are very rare creatures.  Which is why I'm so enthusiastic about The Lunar Chronicles books by Marissa Meyer.  With each new installment, I love the story more; plus, I can hand the novels to my 12-year-old daughter with no reservations at all.  I mean, c'mon, what's not to love?

In Cress, the third book in the series, our cyborg heroine, Cinder, and her dashing sidekick, Captain Thorne, are on the run.  The duo, along with Wolf and Scarlet, are bent on not just stopping the upcoming marriage of Prince Kai and evil Queen Levana, but also saving their world from Levana's oppressive rule.  A bit of a tall order, even for the most famous cyborg outlaw in the land.

Cinder's best chance of success lies with Cress, a teenage girl who's been exiled on a remote satellite for most of her life.  She spends her time monitoring feeds from Earth, keeping the queen informed of any subversive action.  Cress's newest mission?  Find Cinder and Thorne.  Secretly, she hopes for the pair's success (and a future for herself and the gorgeous captain), but failing to follow the queen's orders is tantamount to suicide.  What choice does Cress really have?

As a hesitant Cress crosses paths with the quartet of fugitives, she finally gets the one thing she's been craving all along:  her freedom (meeting Thorne in the flesh is just icing on the cake).  But escaping from her satellite has bigger repercussions than Cress ever could have imagined.  And, as the day of the royal wedding creeps closer and closer, she's beginning to wonder why she pinned all her hopes on Cinder & Co., who never stood a chance against Levana in the first place.  With the fate of the world on the line, the young resistance workers have an impossible task ahead of them.  Can they pull off one of the biggest coups in history?  Or will they, too, become subjects of the domination-obsessed alien queen?

Like Cinder and Scarlet, Cress tells an exciting, fast-paced tale of adventure, romance and suspense.  Cress joins a cast of likable characters (some of whom, I admit, don't develop much in this installment), adding some freshness to the group's dynamic.  As with the other main characters, Cress shows both strength and vulnerability, making her as sympathetic as the rest.  At 560 pages, Cress isn't a quick read, but it's a fun one.  If you dig "re-booted" fairy tales, you don't want to miss this series.  I promise you won't be disappointed.

(Readalikes:  Cinder and Scarlet by Marissa Meyer)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Cress from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Hidden Like Anne Frank Heartbreaking and Fascinating in Equal Measure

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"That war will not be over until I take my last breath" (211)

Because of Anne Frank's famous diary, we're all aware that many Jewish people went into hiding during WWII to avoid being exterminated by the Nazis.  We've read about Anne's struggles, not only with being a Jew in an increasingly hostile environment, but also with the day-to-day hardships that came with forced hiding.  The details are disturbing, yet fascinating.  Unbelievable, really.

Although Anne Frank is the most well-known hider, there were thousands of others.  Lots of their stories have been shared over time, but not all.  In Hidden Like Anne Frank, Marcel Prins (whose mother's recollections are included in the book) and Peter Henk Steenhuis have collected the tales of 14 people who, as children, spent at least part of the war in hiding.  Although some tales are more dramatic than others, all are intense, compelling and, of course, heartbreaking.  Since the reminiscences are told in the person's own words, they feel very personal, very intimate, very powerful.   

One of the most interesting aspects of this book, for me, was hearing about how these people coped not just during the war, but after it.  Many of those highlighted in Hidden Like Anne Frank talk about the difficulties they had reconnecting with their parents, both physically and emotionally, after being hidden away from them for so long.  They also discuss the lasting effects of living in prolonged, terrified confinement—nightmares, depression, grief, strained relationships, etc.  These things are stated matter-of-factly, without any sugarcoating.  I haven't read much about this aspect of the Jewish war-time experience, so I found it all very fascinating.  Tragic, but intriguing.

Many books about WWII have been written for children, but I think this one brings something new to the table.  While it's too hard-hitting for younger kids, older readers would definitely benefit from studying its powerful stories.  After reading Hidden Like Anne Frank, I recommend checking out its fantastic website, where you can see more pictures of the people in the book, hear a portion of each story told in that person's own words/voice, and read other stories that were not included in the book.  

(Readalikes:  The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank; The Year of Goodbyes by Debbie Levy; The Hidden Girl by Lola Rein Kaufman and Lois Metzger; Rutka's Notebook by Rutka Laskier; etc.)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for intense situations, violence and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Hidden Like Anne Frank from the generous folks at Scholastic.  Thank you!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Quirky and Upbeat, Junction Asks What Is Beauty?

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Living with a trash hauler may not sound very glamorous, but Auggie Jones loves it.  Her Grandpa Gus finds all kinds of treasures and plenty of adventures in his line of work.  Auggie adores her grandpa and can't imagine him having a cooler job.  She doesn't care that Gus makes little money or that they live in a rundown section of town of Willow Grove, Missouri—she's happy.

When a brand new elementary school opens, Auggie and her friends are forced to attend.  Mingling with kids they don't know, many of whom make fun of them for having no money, Auggie realizes for the first time just how poor she and Gus really are.  For the first time, she feels ashamed of her shabby clothes, ramshackle neighborhood and, especially, Gus' less-than-elegant trash hauling job.  Apparently, Auggie's former best friend feels the same way because ever since they started fifth grade, Lexie has been ignoring her.

It seems as if things can't get any worse for Auggie—until they do.  The father of one of her wealthy classmates launches an aggressive town beautification project targeting homes like the one Auggie shares with Gus.  If the homeowners do not comply with improvement "suggestions," they will be slapped with an enormous fine.  Auggie knows people in her part of town can't afford to fix up their houses, let alone pay exorbitant fees to the city.  Desperate to save her neighborhood, Auggie starts her own project.  But what begins as an effort to beautify her part of towns becomes a crusade to answer some important questions:  What is beauty?  What is art?  And why should one person's opinion on the matters outweigh another's?  As Auggie finds the answers for herself, she realizes an undeniable truth—beauty exists all around her, even if she's the only one who can see it.

The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, the first middle grade novel from YA author Holly Schindler, offers a quirky, upbeat story about one girl's determination to be heard.  It's a sweet tale, one that resounds with both spunk and heart.  Kids of all ages will relate to Auggie's feelings of otherness and celebrate as she discovers not just herself, but her own voice.  Triumphant and compelling, this is one of those books that will make you cheer.  And look a little bit closer for the unique beauty in all of us.

(Readalikes:  Um, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for intense situations

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky from the always generous Holly Schindler.  Thank you!

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

Thanks to everyone who entered my giveaway for a copy of The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler.  I wish I could give you all books, but there's only one winner this time around.  Congratulations to:

Sharon Berger

Your book should be on its way soon, Sharon!


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Like the Willow Tree Another Intimate, Fascinating Middle Grade Historical

(Image from Barnes & Noble)


It's the Fall of 1918 and 11-year-old Lydia Pierce has plenty to worry about.  War rages in Europe; a vicious strain of Spanish influenza is sweeping across the U.S., leaving death and devastation in its wake; and, because the Portland (Maine) Board of Health has outlawed public gatherings, she doesn't get to go to the moving picture show, even though her parents promised to take her for her birthday.  Lydia is desolate by this disappointing turn of events.

As the flu spreads closer to home, Lydia soon realizes that missing the movies is the least of her problems. When her parents and younger sister are overcome by the disease, she must find a new home.  Eventually, Lydia and her 14-year-old brother Daniel are adopted by the Shakers at Sabbathday Lake.  Although the children are well cared for, they're flummoxed by the Shakers' strange ways.  When Daniel runs away from the community, Lydia wonders if she should follow suit.  If she comes through the epidemic alive and well, what will become of her?  Will she ever be able to leave the Shakers?  Even if she doesn't believe as they do?  And what about her family?  Can she find Daniel, the only blood relative she has left?  Or, is everything she loves really and truly gone?

Like the Willow Tree by Lois Lowry is another fine middle grade historical in the Dear America series.  The diary entry format makes Lydia's plight personal and real.  Readers can easily relate to her fear, her confusion and her uncertainty about her own future.  With vivid historical detail, as well as an intimate look at the daily lives of the Shaker people, Like the Willow Tree is as interesting as it is compelling.  Like the other novels in this series, this one includes an Epilogue explaining what happens to Lydia after 1918, a historical note and photos depicting the real events on which the story is based, and a note from Lowry in which she talks about her connection to both the novel's setting and the Shaker community.  Overall, it's a fascinating read which I enjoyed very much.

(Readalikes:  Other installments in the Dear America series; also, A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier and Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for scary images/situations

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Like the Willow Tree from the generous folks at Scholastic.  Thank you!

Friday, May 09, 2014

Coincidence or Fate? East African Author Lets You Decide

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Coincidence, a novel by J.W. Ironmonger, an author who was born and raised in East Africa, tells one of those stories that's too difficult for me to describe on my own.  Luckily, a more skilled plot summary-er has already done the work for me:
On Midsummer's Day, 1982, three-year-old Azalea Ives is found alone at a seaside fairground.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   One year later, her mother's body washes up on a beach—her link to Azalea unnoticed.                                                                                                                                               On Midsummer's Day, 1992, her adoptive parents are killed in a Ugandan rebel uprising; Azalea is narrowly rescued by a figure from her past.                                                                                                                                                                                                     Terrified that she, too, will meet her fate on Midsummer's Day, Azalea approaches Thomas Post, an expert in debunking coincidences.  Azalea's past, he insists, is random—but as Midsummer's Day approaches, he worries that she may bring fate upon herself.

Intriguing, no?  I thought so.  The book's unique premise made me snatch it up right away.  Although I think I was expecting more of a thriller than a literary novel, I still found Coincidence both interesting and satisfying.  With most of the action taking place during the scenes set in Africa, the story does gets slow at times, especially when narrated by Thomas.  Still, his ruminations on coincidence are fascinating.  While the novel's probably worth reading just for Ironmonger's vivid portrayal of the rugged beauty and senseless brutality that defines Uganda, it's also different, absorbing and, overall, enjoyable.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Coincidence from the generous folks at Harper Collins.  Thank you!

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Morton's Trademark Lushness A Win, Every Time

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

At 98 years old, Grace Reeves Bradley can't stop the old memories that flow constantly through her head.  Or the way the people and places of her past keep mixing with those of her present, making it very difficult sometimes to sort reality from reminiscences.  It doesn't help that a young filmmaker is interviewing Grace about the many years she spent serving the Hartfords, the wealthy owners of Riverton, a sprawling country estate in Essex.  Like any good servant, Grace has kept the family's secrets for years.  She intended to take them to the grave, but with the movie maker's insistence on revisiting a long-ago tragedy that occurred at Riverton in 1924, Grace fears the truth may come out.

Although all have been dead for years, Grace can't forget the charming Hartford children.  The warmth between them cast a spell on her from the very first day she met them.  Now, so many years later, she's still loathe to speak—or remember—ill of any of the three.  Even though they all played a part in the death of a young poet, as did Grace herself.  Does she dare expose the truth?  As the elderly woman's days on Earth wane, she must decide whether to unburden herself of the secret she's kept for nearly one hundred years or to keep the misdeeds of the masters to herself, like the good servant she's always been.

I'm probably the last family saga fan on the planet to read The House at Riverton, Kate Morton's debut novel, but I'm not the first to praise its richness.  Having read two of the author's other novels (The Forgotten Garden and The Distant Hours), I recognize this lushness as Morton's indelible trademark.  It's a trademark I like.  A lot.  I love sinking into books like this, getting to know characters, settings and relationships in depth.  Which is why, even though Morton's books can feel a little too similar, I still really dig them.  Yes, I saw the big reveal at the end coming.  And, yes, the whole story gets a little depressing.  BUT, I still very much enjoyed The House at Riverton.  If you're a fan of fat, juicy family secrets novel, I'm pretty sure you will, too.    

(Readalikes:  The Forgotten Garden and The Distant Hours by Kate Morton)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (1 F-bomb, plus milder invectives), violence, sexual content, and depictions of underage/excessive drinking/partying

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Monday, May 05, 2014

Wexler v. Fishman—Another Exciting Battle in an Author War of Wits (With a Giveaway)

No, your eyes do not deceive you—yes, I am participating in a blog tour, even though I swore off them at the beginning of the year.  I know.  I'm such a flake!  Actually, this one just sounded too fun to pass up, especially since I had just finished The Forbidden Library, anyway.  

Also, I jumped at the chance to offer you a chance to win a copy of The Forbidden Library.  Everything you need to know to enter the contest is at the bottom of this post.

Oh, and this is the fourth stop in the tour.  To see the previous ones, click the links below:

PART ONE at Bookish
PART TWO at The Young Folks
PART THREE at Ticket to Anywhere

Enjoy!

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 Welcome to THE FORBIDDEN LIBRARY blog tour! In honor of Django Wexler’s new series, perfect for fans of CoralineInkheart, and The Books of Elsewhere, we’ve paired Django and fellow Penguin author Seth Fishman (The Well’s End) in a battle of wits! Each day for the next two weeks, Seth and Django will challenge each other to escape from popular story scenes in the most creative way. Follow along as the two try to outmatch each other and check out some cool interior art from THE FORBIDDEN LIBRARY along the way!

Seth to DjangoI can't help it, Alice has some tea, at a party, with one hatter... if she managed to get out of Through the Looking Glass, how would the Mad Hatter's power manifest?

I can't help but think that my Alice would be irritated by whimsy and irrationality of Wonderland.  Her namesake is a more "go with the flow" sort of person, who wanders from one spectacle to the next but never seems very interested in how things fit together.  My Alice is the sort of girl of investigates things, and asks questions, and generally picks apart whatever's in front of her.  She'd want to know where the Mad Hatter gets his tea from -- does he buy it at a shop somewhere? -- and where the food comes from for all the unbirthdays.  (Being practical, though, I think she'd be right behind the unbirthday concept.)

What would the Mad Hatter's power be?  Hard to say, he's mad after all!  I think it would be something to do with wordplay -- maybe the ability to think up baffling doggerel and puns on a moment's notice, or to run verbal rings around your opponents until they're utterly confused.  Very useful if Alice ever decided to become a lawyer!  The ability to use mirrors as portals would also be a pretty neat power to have, and a logical one to get out of Through the Looking Glass

The Forbidden Library Synopsis:

Alice always thought fairy tales had happy endings. That--along with everything else--changed the day she met her first fairy.

When Alice's father goes down in a shipwreck, she is sent to live with her uncle Geryon--an uncle she's never heard of and knows nothing about. He lives in an enormous manor with a massive library that is off-limits to Alice. But then she meets a talking cat. And even for a rule-follower, when a talking cat sneaks you into a forbidden library and introduces you to an arrogant boy who dares you to open a book, it's hard to resist. Especially if you're a reader to begin with. Soon Alice finds herself INSIDE the book, and the only way out is to defeat the creature imprisoned within.
It seems her uncle is more than he says he is. But then so is Alice.

About Django Wexler: Django Wexler is the author of The Thousand Names. He lives near Seattle, Washington.

The Well’s End Synopsis:

Sixteen-year-old Mia Kish's small town of Fenton, Colorado is known for three things: being home to the world's tallest sycamore tree, the national chicken-thigh-eating contest and one of the ritziest boarding schools in the country, Westbrook Academy. But when emergency sirens start blaring and Westbrook is put on lockdown, quarantined and surrounded by soldiers who shoot first and ask questions later, Mia realizes she's only just beginning to discover what makes Fenton special.

And the answer is behind the wall of the Cave, aka Fenton Electronics, of which her father is the Director. Mia's dad has always been secretive about his work, allowing only that he's working for the government. But unless Mia's willing to let the whole town succumb to a strange illness that ages people years in a matter of hours, the end result death, she's got to break quarantine, escape the school grounds and outsmart armed soldiers to uncover the truth. 

About Seth Fishman: Seth Fishman is a native of Midland, Texas (think Friday Night Lights), and a graduate of Princeton University and the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England.  He spends his days as a literary agent at The Gernert Company and his nights (and mornings) writing. He lives in Jersey City, New Jersey.  This is his first novel (that's not in a drawer). 

----

So fun!  Okay, here's the low-down on the giveaway: If you live in the U.S. or Canada and would like a chance to win your own copy of The Forbidden Library, all you need to do is comment on this post and tell me what your dream library would include (first editions of your favorite novels; a built-in coffee/cocoa bar; signed posters of your favorite authors; etc.).  Please also include your email address, so I have a way to contact you if you win.  You have until May 20th to enter.  

A Forbidden Library Where Books "Leak" Into the Real World? Yes, Please!

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Alice Creighton's father drowns in a mysterious shipwreck, the 12-year-old finds herself adrift.  She can't stay in her big, old house alone—even if she could find a way to save it from being sold at auction.  The only solution is to do what she's told and go to Pittsburgh, where she'll stay with an uncle she's never met.  It's all very straight-forward.  The always practical Alice can think of no better alternative to her problem.

Maybe the change of scenery will help relieve her extreme sadness, an overwhelming grief that is causing her to see things.  Like fairies.  Even in Pennsylvania, Alice can't shake the strange visions—surely talking cats aren't real, even in a place like Uncle Geryon's creepy castle.  And then there's his library—a forbidden library—which Alice knows is full of even greater wonders.  Either she's insane or the strange creatures are real, people really can jump into books and there's a whole lot more than meets the eye to everyone and everything around her—including Alice herself. 

As Alice begins to untangle the vast mysteries contained in the library, she wonders how she's going to solve the most compelling one of all:  What happened to her father?  Is he really dead?  Or is he, like her, simply trapped in a vast, impossible world of magic?  Can she find him if she just knows where to look?  

The Forbidden Library, the first book in a new fantasy series by Django Wexler, introduces readers to a complex world where Readers can step inside stories, but have to fight their way out.  It's a wild treasure hunt that hops between reality and fantasy, making fairy tales come alive in the most frightening ways.  As Alice learns the rules through trial and error, the reader journeys with her, always wondering if this adventure will be her last.  Although the story gets confusing at times, The Forbidden Library is a fun, Inkheart-ish read that will appeal to book lovers of all ages.   

(Readalikes:  The Inkheart trilogy [Inkheart; Inkspell; Inkdeath] by Cornelia Funke and The Book of Story Beginnings by Kristin Kladstrup

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:  


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), scary scenes, and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Forbidden Library from the generous folks at Penguin.  Thank you!
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