Speed Reviews

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
World-building definitely takes the day in this one – it’s incredibly creative.  And the story is gripping.  I hope that we will see more of the world outside the prison in the next book – while the prison itself is interesting, the politics of this country that cannot use modern conveniences by law are the part of the book that really grabbed my attention. (Review copy provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter)

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
I thought this might be one of those books that is capital-G goofy in a desperate, “kids like this stuff, right?” kind of way.  How could I ever believe that of Adam Rex?  Is it goofy?  Absolutely.  Pitch-perfectly goofy, and all in the service of a good story.  Gratuity is a delight, especially in her relationships with her mother and J Lo.  As far as I’m concerned, this is the gold standard of goofy alien-invasion stories.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
Now here’s a YA dystopian novel with some serious teeth.  This is a world that is nasty, where everything and everyone is out to get you, but these kids are way too busy staying alive to whine about it.  Fast pacing, fantastic central relationships, and a story that raises a lot of great questions about environmental stewardship and class issues without ever feeling like it’s moralizing at you.  Nailer’s dad deserves a nod in any discussion of the scariest fathers in YA.  (Review copy provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter)

White Cat by Holly Black
Mobsters and magic, written by Holly Black?  Sold!  I didn’t connect with the characters in this one as strongly as I might have liked, but I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the world, and I will look forward to more in the series.

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
Honestly, this made me sad.  I was so excited about it, and then it felt like a faded rehashing of the Percy Jackson series.  I loved Basta, but she was the only thing in the book that made me care – or even made me laugh very much.  I’m hoping that maybe I was just in the wrong mood for this book – I’ll give the next one a try.  But I was definitely disappointed.

The Heart is Not a Size by Beth Kephardt
Lovely book, if not my favorite of Beth Kephardt’s.  She has that strange way of making it feel like not much is happening even when there is a good bit of story going on – and making that slow pace feel right.  The internal lives of her characters are so rich.  And we can add this to the pile of recent books for teens that address religion in ways that go beyond the obvious – a pile I’m pleased to see grow. (Review copy provided by publisher)

Sorcerers and Secretaries Vol. 1 by Amy Kim Gantner
Cute and relatable, but didn’t stick with me at all.  And the romantic interest drove me nuts.

The Demon’s Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan
Excellent second book in a series – does a nice job of avoiding the “middle book in a trilogy that doesn’t have it’s own narrative arc” pitfall that drags many a good series down.  The strange sibling relationship between Nick and Alan, which was my favorite thing about The Demon’s Lexicon, gets even more interesting here.

Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes
Read this one at the urging of one of my patrons, and it was just about what I expected from it – a sweet, quick read with a strong female character that will appeal to lots of my beginning readers.  It’s really exciting to see so many books for this age range with great POC characters popping up recently – a trend I hope to see reach down to easy readers soon as well.

Britten and Brulightly by Hannah Berry
Somewhere in between baffling and brilliant.  The art is stunning and perfectly suits the tone of the narrative.  Features some great old-school noir lines – the kind that make me want to put on some bright red lipstick and a hardboiled gumshoe accent and say hardened, brilliant things.  But I still have NO idea why he was a teabag.

Scarlett Fever by Maureen Johnson
I unabashedly love these books.  And yes, I am absolutely one of the hordes who are in love with Spencer – his deliciously silly plotline was the highlight.  This was even better than the first one.

I So Don’t Do Mysteries by Barrie Summie
I pretty strongly disliked the main character in this one, who had no faith in herself and very little curiosity, and I wasn’t ever able to get past that dislike.  I was also bothered by how easy the suspension of disbelief was.  But I know some kids who will like this a lot, so I’ll give this series another chance and hope for a little more character growth. (Review copy provided by publicist)

The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz
As a bit of a music geek, I appreciated a lot of the music-geeky characters – they shine when they’re talking about their favorite albums or making a mix.  But the romance subplots were obvious, and the exponential growth of her blog was unrealistic enough that it pulled me out of the story.

Plain Kate by Erin Bow
When Arthur Levine raves about a book and makes comparisons to one of his previous acquisitions, The Golden Compass, I stand up and listen.  And this fantasy did remind me of Pullman’s masterpiece in some ways – both authors show respect for their young readers by telling stories that are sometimes dark and always complex, without ever writing down.  And this is genuinely dark – much more than I expected it to be.  Russian folklore provides a rich base for Bow’s story, and her characters are wonderful.  This is one to watch for.  (Review copy provided by publisher at BEA)

The Half-life of Planets by Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin
A sweet romance between a girl who’s trying to get over her addiction to kissing and a music-loving boy with Asperger’s.  I did feel like quirky traits took the place of genuine character-building sometimes, and I was really annoyed at Lianna’s complete inability or unwillingness to understand how Hank’s actions are affected by having Asperger’s.  But despite those reservations, I enjoyed this. (Review copy provided by publisher at BEA)

Mistwood by Leah Cypess
I think this fell victim to too many Graceling comparisons – not that it wasn’t a good book, but it didn’t meet the extremely high standard that I had set in my mind.  The story is interesting, and the court politics are great – particularly anything that involved the prince’s sister Clarisse, who is a total Machiavellian ass-kicker.  I started to really enjoy it towards the end as Isabel began to realize exactly what was happening to her, which gives her a little bit more depth as a character.  (Review copy provided by publisher at BEA)

The Body at the Tower by Y.S. Lee
Another solid entry in this series.  Mary starts to actually acknowledge how distant she feels from her Chinese background and how eager she is to keep it hidden in public, which I would really like to see explored further – I thought it was the most interesting part of this book, and it was mostly glossed over.  But the mystery was entertaining, and the romance was still quite a bit of fun. (Review copy provided by publisher at BEA)

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness
Oh man oh man oh man.  These books kill me.  Todd and Viola have their final showdown with Mayor Prentiss, Mistress Coyle, and the Spackle, and it is a doozy.  Patrick Ness knows how to send readers on an emotional rollercoaster, and he has turned the volume up to 11 here.  I have rarely felt so physically battered by a  book.  I didn’t quite believe Mayor Prentiss’ plot arc – toward the end it was a little too much for me.  But that hardly mars a truly exceptional series.  I can’t wait to see what Patrick Ness has in store for us next.  (Review copy provided by publisher at ALA)

Gunnerkrigg Court Vol. 1: Orientation by Tom Siddell
A group of my library kids have been raving about the Courtney Crumrin series, and I’m planning to buy this series and hand them over to those guys.  It has the same kind of delightfully ho-hum response to really unusual situations, and similarly great characters.  I loved the episodic feel – especially when it means there can be a one-pager featuring Fox Mulder.

The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter
I wasn’t wild about the ending of this one, but it was certainly unexpected and I think will appeal to a certain type of reader.  However, the ride that the Hardscrabble children take to get to that ending is a terrific one.  The narrative voice is definitely the star here – although Great-Aunt Haddie and her castle folly threaten to steal the show.  (Review copy provided by publisher at ALA)

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
A younger, more innocent turn for Cohn and Levithan.  I really enjoyed the scavenger hunt conceit, and I loved Lily and Dash’s opposing feelings about the holidays – Dash’s bah-humbug compared with Lily’s cheerful-Christmas-elf cracked me up.  I think Lily’s relentless good cheer was a bit of a stretch for Rachel Cohn – it was definitely a stretch for me.  But as we started to see some cracks in her Christmassy armor I warmed up to her.  A sweet read.  (Review copy provided by publisher at ALA)

The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle
Engle is so good at getting to the core of her historical characters – their voices really shine.  And this is such a rich story, even with the very sparse actual historical detail that exists about Rosa and her husband.  I am starting to think that verse novels are an ideal way to tell fictionalized versions of true stories from history – the form forces the author to distill the story down to its most essential parts.  And Engle is the reigning champion of these historical verse novels.

2 thoughts on “Speed Reviews

  1. I liked the premise of Incarceon but not the follow through. The True Meaning of Smekday was a little too goofy for me.

    I totally agree about the father from Ship Breaker.

    I loved Scarlett Fever – Spencer at the wedding reception one of the best scenes of the year.

    I really like Barrie Summy’s main character, Sherry. She has little confidence in the beginning but it grows. Sherry gets extra points for being into makeup, boys and solving mysteries. Usually females characters are suppose to chose one or the other. The second book in the series is better. Though the third one didn’t work for me, which made me sad because I was really looking forward to it.

  2. Doret – thanks for providing a different perspective. Especially on the Barry Summie books – you’ve given me the push I need to try them again. It’s so hard to know sometimes if you just weren’t in the right mood to enjoy a certain book.

    And I totally agree on the Spencer scene at the wedding.

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