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.

Speed Reviews

Soul Enchilada by David Macinnis Gill – A story that sometimes got a little bit goofy, but in a very self-aware way that I enjoyed.  And I am completely in love with these characters – Bug and Pesto are too much fun.

The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan – While this one didn’t pack quite as much of an emotional punch as The Forest of Hands and Teeth, I thought that it was really well-plotted and absolutely terrifying.  And that’s exactly what I want from a zombie book.  Loved the connections between the two stories. (Review copy provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter)

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins – Cute but predictable story set in a(nother) school for kids with magic.  I did think that the mean girls side of the story was handled well, but I didn’t find this novel especially memorable. (Review copy provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter)

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood – I was completely won over by this rollicking old-time story that has tongue firmly planted in cheek.  I didn’t think that the conceit was going to hold through a full novel – was pretty sure that it would feel one-note and boring by the end – but I’m happy to say that wasn’t the case.  I think it worked because Miss Lumley and the Incorrigibles are such winning characters. (Review copy provided by publisher.)

The Color of Earth and The Color of Water by Kim Dong Hwa – While I realize that these books are about a young girl’s developing sexuality, it sure would be nice if we were ever privy to a single one of her thoughts that doesn’t center on boys and sex.  Diversify, please!  On the good side, the art is absolutely gorgeous.

She Thief by Daniel Finn – Interesting story, but suffered from some pacing issues, and the slangy sort-of-Cockney dialect was distracting.  I did like the setting a lot –  a future London that sometimes feels a lot like the past until a cell phone shows up in somebody’s pocket.  (Review copy provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter)

The Maze Runner by James Dashner – Are we in the golden age of YA dystopia or what?  I keep thinking “oh man, another depressing dystopian novel, here we go again” and then I keep getting blown away.  This was taut and exciting and surprising and exactly what you would want from this type of story.  I handed it directly to one of my library kids when I was finished, and he came back the next day gushing and asking for the sequel.  Which I need.  Right now.

The Devil’s Kiss by Sarwat Chadda – Great beginning – the first chapter definitely brings the intrigue.  And the whole things move quick and draws the reader along.  And Billi is a bona-fide ass-kicker.  And yet…  just didn’t make me care as much as I wanted to.  Can’t put my finger on why.

The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner – Ok, confession time: I read The Thief and liked it fine.  But I didn’t love it, and so I never got around to the rest of this series.  Go ahead and berate me for a couple of minutes – I totally deserve it.  This series is AMAZING.  Eugenides is THE AWESOMEST.  I need to talk about these books in ALL CAPS.  The Thief improves on re-reading, and the rest of the series is so full of intrigue by people who are smarter and craftier than I could ever be – I can’t get enough.  Read the whole series in three days.  (Review copy of A Conspiracy of Kings provided by the publisher.)

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – This is a book that you will feel intensely.  Just stunning – and a good crossover adult/YA title.  Kambili’s story is a necessary read.

Speed Reviewing!

I get so caught-up writing  in-depth reviews that I end up ignoring most of the books I read here on the ol’ blog.  And that’s a shame.  I’m going to start trying to do roundups of brief reviews every couple of weeks.  We’ll see how it goes!

Living Hell by Catherine Jinks – Take the goriest sci-fi flick you’ve ever seen and combine it with The Magic Schoolbus Travels Inside the Human Body. That’s this book.  Awesome.  Also, take a peek at that cover: tentacles and a kid with a katana!  Yowza!  (Review copy provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter.)

The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, and June by Robin Benway – You’ve read those books where a couple of sisters suddenly get superpowers, right?  This one is different.  This is what would actually happen.  Distinctive characters with great voices, and a story that brings both the funny and the emotion.  Robin Benway is pretty quickly becoming one of my YA favorites. (Review copy provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter.)

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan – Took me longer to warm up to Levithan’s Will Grayson, but I think that may have been intentional.  By half way through, I was in love with almost every character.  Tiny Cooper is a delight.  Ending didn’t quite work for me, but it’s a small quibble with this amazing book. (Review copy provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter.)

Shakespeare Bats Cleanup by Ron Koertge – Baseball and poetry squashed together – it’s like he wrote it just for me!  I was surprised by how moving I found this one.  Really great, funny voice – I don’t see enough of these good ones for the teen boys on the younger side.

The Red Umbrella by Christina Gonzalez – I was excited about this one, especially after really enjoying The Firefly Letters, but it never grabbed me – this was particularly true of the later parts of the story that take place in Nebraska.  I liked Lucia’s growth arc, but I didn’t quite believe it.  Great story that didn’t have the depth I wanted from it. (Review copy provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter.)

Skim by Mariko Tamaki – This young lady was heartbreakingly real.  Loved the art in this one – the best graphic novel I’ve read in a while.

The Annotated Cat: Under the Hats of Dr. Seuss and His Cats by Philip Nel – Wow wow wow!  So much I didn’t know here.  Sometimes it’s a bit much, and sometimes the connection to the text is pretty tenuous, but lots of cool stuff.  Like this list of things Dr. Seuss thought were funny to children: “sounds, surprise, grotesque/incongruous, falling down (the mighty falling), absurdity, horseplay.”  The Mighty Falling!  That’s my band name, right there.

My Life with the Lincolns by Gayle Brandeis – Cute story of a girl who thinks her family are the Lincolns reincarnated, with a nice civil rights angle.  But the author tried to stuff too much into the historical setting, and it all fell a little bit flat. (Review copy provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter.)

Meanwhile: Pick Any Path by Jason Shiga – This is going to be a hit with my library kids, but as someone who is a completist by nature I found it totally exhausting.  It is IMPOSSIBLE to follow every storyline, and I get seriously frustrated when I can’t do that.  Not for me, but does what it does well. (Review copy provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter.)

Notes From No Man’s Land: American Essays by Eula Biss – These essays pack a punch, particularly the first one that starts as a straightforward essay about telephone poles – until you hit a list of black men who were lynched off of telephone poles.  It’s like hitting a wall.  I think it’s really hard for most white people to look at their own life through the lens of racism in America, and most, quite frankly, choose not to.  To make it public like this – Ms. Biss is a brave woman and a wonderful writer.

All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzab – Much more intense than I expected it to be!  This looked like it was going to be a generic spoiled-rich-kid mystery, and I’m glad I gave it a chance instead of writing it off.  (Review copy provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter.)

Ashley Bryan: Words to My Life’s Song by Ashley Bryan – I had a lot of love for Ashley Bryan even before reading this beautiful autobiography.  This man is a treasure, as is this book.  Hard not to feel inspired to make art after finishing this.

This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer – Great end to this trilogy.  I loved the perspective that Miranda gains from meeting Alex.  These books always make me feel very, very lucky! (Review copy provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter.)

Ok, that was actually really fun – I might even do another one of these soon to catch up on more stuff I’ve read since Midwinter.  I’m skipping the ones that I plan to review at length – more on those soon!