Tuesday, March 27, 2012

YA Mystery: I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

Series: Flavia de Luce #4
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Date: November 2011
Format: hardback
Acquired: from LibraryThing Member Giveaways
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 293
Reading time: three days

From GoodReads: It’s Christmastime, and the precocious Flavia de Luce—an eleven-year-old sleuth with a passion for chemistry and a penchant for crime-solving—is tucked away in her laboratory, whipping up a concoction to ensnare Saint Nick. But she is soon distracted when a film crew arrives at Buckshaw, the de Luces’ decaying English estate, to shoot a movie starring the famed Phyllis Wyvern. Amid a raging blizzard, the entire village of Bishop’s Lacey gathers at Buckshaw to watch Wyvern perform, yet nobody is prepared for the evening’s shocking conclusion: a body found, past midnight, strangled to death with a length of film. But who among the assembled guests would stage such a chilling scene? As the storm worsens and the list of suspects grows, Flavia must use every ounce of sly wit at her disposal to ferret out a killer hidden in plain sight.

My review: After all the great things I've heard about the Flavia de Luce series, I must say that I was slightly disappointed by I Am Half-Sick of Shadows. I just expected too much given all the raves I've heard about the previous books. This book is well-written, and the main character is certainly fascinating and, at times, quite entertaining, but I was never totally absorbed in the story. The plot seemed to develop so slowly, without much interesting filler. The dramatic events were not treated dramatically, though I would expect a murder in the midst of a gathering of half the townspeople to cause quite a hysterical concern! In my opinion, there were too many things left unexplained or underdeveloped. Several of the characters obviously had dark secrets from back during the Second World War, yet these were only briefly mentioned and rarely investigated. Perhaps I just need to visit the previous books to realize what is so marvelous, rather than simply somewhat enjoyable, about the series.

Friday, March 23, 2012

MG/YA Fiction: Chomp by Carl Hiaasen

Publisher: Knopf
Date: March 27, 2012
Format: ARC
Acquired: from publisher
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 293
Reading time: day and a half

From GoodReads: Wahoo Cray lives in a zoo. His father is an animal wrangler, so he's grown up with all manner of gators, snakes, parrots, rats, monkeys, snappers, and more in his backyard. The critters he can handle.  His father is the unpredictable one. When his dad takes a job with a reality TV show called "Expedition Survival!", Wahoo figures he'll have to do a bit of wrangling himself—to keep his dad from killing Derek Badger, the show's boneheaded star, before the shoot is over. But the job keeps getting more complicated. Derek Badger seems to actually believe his PR and insists on using wild animals for his stunts. And Wahoo's acquired a shadow named Tuna—a girl who's sporting a shiner courtesy of her old man and needs a place to hide out. They've only been on location in the Everglades for a day before Derek gets bitten by a bat and goes missing in a storm. Search parties head out and promptly get lost themselves. And then Tuna's dad shows up with a gun . . .

My review: I just love Carl Hiaasen's ecology-inspired novels for teens! They are always laugh-out-loud hilarious while also being quite informative, and Chomp is no exception. Chomp departs from Hiaasen's previous novels, however, in that it seems to be less of a mystery directly aimed at one of the forces threatening Floridian wildlife and environment. The reality show coming to the Everglades isn't doing any specific harm...its members are just idiots who have harm done to them by the local animal inhabitants.

Maybe it's just because my sense of humor and reading style have changed since middle school, but I didn't find Chomp quite as funny and engrossing as I did the author's other books. It's still plenty entertaining, though, and I was amazed at how many environmental facts Hiaasen incorporates just into the random bits of flashbacks to some of the reality show's worse moments in the wild. If you enjoyed the author's other books for this audience, I would definitely suggest picking up this one, too!

I also love how all of Hiaasen's MG/YA novels have similar cover designs and monosyllabic titles:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

YA Sci-Fi: The Jenna Fox Chronicles by Mary E. Pearson

*these reviews may contain spoilers*
Title: The Adoration of Jenna Fox
Series: Jenna Fox Chronicles #1
Publisher: Henry Holt
Date: April 2008
Format: hardback
Acquired: purchased
Read: because I wanted to read the sequel
Pages: 265
Reading time: two days

From GoodReads: Who is Jenna Fox? Seventeen-year-old Jenna has been told that is her name. She has just awoken from a coma, they tell her, and she is still recovering from a terrible accident in which she was involved a year ago. But what happened before that? Jenna doesn't remember her life. Or does she? And are the memories really hers? 

My review: I loved, loved, loved The Adoration of Jenna Fox! It's so different from most of the other recent YA sci-fi releases, focusing on identity, guilt, and expectations rather than dystopian or post-apocalyptic scenarios. It's also quite thrilling! I thought I had the background to the plot all figured out, only to find that I was missing several crucial bits! Overall, I thought the novel was very well-written, though I found one part about Jenna's time in the "box" before she awoke to be underdeveloped and therefore a little confusing. Also, her parents are so creepy! It makes me glad to have parents who are supportive but not perfectionists.

Title: The Fox Inheritance
Series: Jenna Fox Chronicles #2
Publisher: Henry Holt
Date: August 2011
Format: ARC
Acquired: from publisher
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 291
Reading time: two days

From GoodReads: Once there were three. Three friends who loved each other—Jenna, Locke, and Kara. And after a terrible accident destroyed their bodies, their three minds were kept alive, spinning in a digital netherworld. Even in that disembodied nightmare, they were still together. At least at first. When Jenna disappeared, Locke and Kara had to go on without her. Decades passed, and then centuries. Two-hundred-and-sixty years later, they have been released at last. Given new, perfect bodies, Locke and Kara awaken to a world they know nothing about, where everyone they once knew and loved is long dead. Everyone except Jenna Fox.

My review: The ending of The Adoration of Jenna Fox didn't leave much room for a sequel, but Pearson solved that pretty well in this second book of the series. Again, the novel is different from so many of the recent YA sci-fi books because it focuses more on concepts of humanity rather than dystopian scenarios. Pearson's vision of the future is well-done, covering more than just the immediate issues surrounding Locke and Kara. The potential results of many of the current issues in today's world are explored in addition to the basic plot.

But...I didn't enjoy The Fox Inheritance as much as I did the first book. I couldn't always tell what direction characters were headed towards, which made it frustrating at times when they seemed inconsistent. Overall, the book just didn't seem as well-developed. Towards the end, I quit really caring about the outcome. The storyline wasn't boring, but it was dragging a bit and simply lacked the ingenious spark of The Adoration of Jenna Fox.

Monday, March 19, 2012

In My Mailbox #25

My parents are going to kill me for getting more books. We're trying to clean out the house, but I need a new bookshelf and keep getting new books! Though, in my defense, my mom picked out and brought me all the books from my grandparents.

The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist
Yay, European sci-fi!!!
On Viney's Mountain by Joan Donaldson
Squee! YA utopian historical fiction! I only know of two of these (the other being Brides of Eden by Linda Crew)...does anyone know of any other novels that take place in utopian communities?
The Yellow Wave by Kenneth Mackay
Racist "invasion literature" of the late 19th century - I am quite excited to FINALLY have one of the Wesleyan Early Classics of Science Fiction novels! (Besides the racist part about China invading Australia.)

Won, many thanks to Bloody Bookaholic:
Legend by Marie Lu
Squee!!! (Again.) I'm always looking for more YA dystopias...
Mad Love by Suzanne Selfors
This was actually one of the first books I ran across when I began blogging. I love retellings of myths and fairytales!
Scones and Sensibility by Lindsay Eland
I also like retellings of classic literature.
The Enemy (Enemy #1) by Charlie Higson  
Another post-apocalyptic zombie novel.
Day of the Predator (Time Riders #2) by Alex Scarrow
"Travel to the prehistoric past. Protect the future. Save the world." - sounds interesting
Going Underground by Susan Vaught
Halo by Alexandra Adornetto
Notes from the Blender by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin
Love Drugged by James Klise
The Debutante by Kathleen Tessaro
Vampires: The Occult Truth by Konstantinos
This one's actually nonfiction.
Aberrations by Penelope Przekop
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
Behind Every Illusion (GreenEarth #1) by Christina Harner
Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime by Mizuki Nomura        

These all came from my grandparents, who are downsizing again:
This Side of Innocence by Taylor Caldwell
Christy by Catherine Marshall
I've read this before, but I'm glad to have my own copy.
Man's Religions by John B. Noss
Myths and Motifs in Literature by David J. Burrows
American Triptych by Pearl S. Buck
Lord Hornblower (Hornblower Saga #5) by C.S. Forester
The River Road by Francis Parkinson Keyes
Lydia Bailey by Kenneth Roberts
Norton Library History of England, three volumes
The Epic of Hades by Lewis Morgan
I had never heard of this author before! But the book is from 1886, which makes me wonder where my grandmother got it from. None of her other books are that old.
Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Finally, an English edition of this! For some reason, my family only has a copy in German. Ironically, this new one is actually a German textbook for learning English.
Ladies of Liberty by Cokie Roberts

 What did you get in your mailbox this week?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

School Reading: Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Publisher: Signet Classics
Date: 2006 (1891)
Format: paperback
Acquired: purchased
Read: for British Lit II
Pages: 405
Reading time: nine days
*spoiler alerts*

Tess Durbeyfield is just another simple country girl at the beginning of this novel. Her father is an alcoholic who, upon discovering he is descended from the once-elite d'Urberville family, sends Tess out to try her fortune with the distant remnant of the family. Come to find out, however, these distant relatives are not blood kin, having recently purchased the name. Tess falls to the lust of Alec d'Urberville and retreats back to the countryside. She falls in love with Angel Clare, a parson's son turned farmer, but can he accept that she is not the innocent maid everyone thinks?

I was pleasantly surprised that this was not the difficult, slow-moving novel I had expected. I found the writing quite easy to read and understand, while the plot was consistent and rarely dragged. The first half of the novel was interesting, and the romance between Tess and Angel was sweet. After that, though, I wasn't a fan of any of the characters. Alec is inconsistent, going from a seducer to a dedicated proselyte and back to a seducer again. Angel is, basically, an idiot. He wants Tess to forgive him for once sleeping with another woman, but he leaves Tess when she tells him what Alec did to her. Instead of moving past these issues, he runs off to Brazil. And almost takes another woman with him. And doesn't bother to write to Tess or make any form of contact with her for about a year. Meanwhile, Tess is being too proud to get help from her in-laws and not having enough spine to stand up to Angel or tell him what's going on before it's too late. And while Hardy could turn all of this into a somewhat pro-feminist tale about how society constrains women and has a double standard of sexuality, the fact of the conclusion remains: Angel forgives Tess, too late, and Tess dies, leaving Angel free to marry her sexually pure younger sister. But wait, I'm not even going into the slightly odd pagan references that Tess' situation is due entirely to fate, not the misdeeds and inaction of certain male characters. Feminist FAIL, Hardy!

Friday, March 16, 2012

MG/YA Historical Fiction: The Last Song by Eva Wiseman

Publisher: Tundra Books
Date: April 10, 2012
Format: hardback
Acquired: from LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 225
Reading time: two days

From GoodReads: Spain had been one of the world’s most tolerant societies for eight hundred years, but that way of life was wiped out by the Inquisition. Isabel’s family feels safe from the terrors, torture, and burnings. After all, her father is a respected physician in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. Isabel was raised as a Catholic and doesn’t know that her family’s Jewish roots may be a death sentence. When her father is arrested by Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor, she makes a desperate plan to save his life – and her own.

My review: This is another historical read that picks up readers and lands them smack-dab in the era. Wiseman certainly makes real to her readers the fears and trials experienced by the Jews during the Spanish Inquisition. Isabel has a fast track from her sheltered, innocent childhood and adolescence to the real world of emerging adulthood in a time turbulent for her people. The author also covers a wide range of 15th-century Spanish society, from the Familiars of the Inquisition to the Moorish slaves of a New Christian family.

The only thing I could have wished for is more writing. Wiseman could easily have fleshed out the book more than its little over 200 pages, which would have allowed for more character and plot development. Much of the romance and overall sequence of events seemed rushed, at times jumping a number of days or weeks without any filling-out. The complete story, however, certainly makes a worthwhile and informative historical read for a variety of audiences.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

MG Historical Fiction: Behind the Masks by Susan Patron

Series: Dear America
Publisher: Scholastic
Date: January 1, 2012
Format: hardback
Acquired: from the publisher
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 290
Reading time: one morning

From GoodReads: Growing up in the wild gold-mining town of Bodie, California, in the 1880s, Angeline Reddy has seen it all -- saloons, brawls, and a whole lot of desperation. When her father, Bodie's greatest lawyer, is declared murdered, Angie knows deep in her heart that he isn't dead and decides it is up to her to solve the mystery of what happened to him. But when her mother takes ill and a mysterious ghost appears, putting together the puzzle pieces seems impossible. Not to mention, a gang of vigilantes, the 601, is raging out of control, running folks out of town, and nobody seems safe. Will Angie, with the help of her friends Ellie and Ling Loi, and the mysterious and tragically handsome Antoine, be able to uncover the secret of her father's disappearance?

My review: I was a bit worried that the latest addition to Scholastic's Dear America series would fall to the stereotypes of the "Wild West," but Behind the Masks generally managed, as with the rest of the series, to rise above what is expected. Like the rest of the excellent series, it provides a tale rich in historical detail - albeit this time with a touch of mystery and ghostliness. 

Having been a fan of Dear America since early elementary school, I found Behind the Masks to match the historical accuracy of the earlier books, bringing to life the time period and the characters for readers. Being a more discerning reader than I was in elementary school, I also found parts - mostly the mystery ones - to seem a little rushed and confusing. Other than that, however, the author presents a lifelike young voice from the time period. I learned quite a lot about California frontier life, especially its socio-political aspects, from reading this! I also appreciated that Angeline is not the all-perfect character; her "sidekicks" are as every bit as important to the uncovering of the Bodie mystery as is she. Behind the Masks is certainly a welcome and satisfactory addition to the series!

First sentence: I known I'm going to have to look in Papa's casket just to prove he's not in it.

Monday, March 12, 2012

MG/YA Historical Fiction: Yesterday's Dead by Pat Bourke

Publisher: Second Story Press
Date: April 2012
Format: ARC
Acquired: from LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 250
Reading time: one day

From GoodReads: Thirteen-year-old Meredith yearns to become a teacher but must leave school to help support her family. To find the best paying job for a young girl of her class, she travels to the city to work as household help in a doctor’s home. From the start, her life is made difficult by the cantankerous and prickly butler, and confrontations with Maggie, the doctor’s spoiled thirteen-year-old daughter. As the deadly Spanish Flu sweeps across the city, members of the household fall ill one by one. With the doctor working night and day at the hospital, only Meredith, Maggie, and Jack, Maggie's handsome older brother, are left to care for them. Every day the newspapers’ lists of “Yesterday’s Dead” add to Meredith’s growing fears. When Jack becomes gravely ill, Meredith must stop fighting with Maggie so they can work together to save him. As Meredith wrestles with questions of duty and responsibility, she opens the door to a future that she thought had been closed forever.

My review: Yesterday's Dead promptly picks up readers and drops them into WWI-era Canada, right before the Spanish Flu hits Toronto. Meredith is a likable character - young, intelligent, outspoken, caught in a negative situation, but not too rebellious. She suits both the time period and the readers' expectations of her behavior. Pat Bourke makes real to younger readers the terror of being struck with an epidemic little understood by the public at the time. The somewhat unusual position in which Meredith is caught at the outbreak is perfectly plausible given the plot set-up beforehand, and it accentuates the chaos and worry surrounding the epidemic. I found some of the characters to be a bit stereotypical, like the rude, spoiled rich girl who undergoes a conversion and the mean guy who, too late, is revealed to have tenderer secrets - but I suppose that, in a children's book, these stereotypes aren't all that bad to include. Yesterday's Dead comes out overall as a quick, highly informative historical read, perfect for its intended audience and for others of us as well.

I love the covers for the book! (This one came from the publisher's website; I'm assuming it's the finished copy.) Not only are the figures in historically-appropriate dress, the backgrounds are actual newspapers from the time.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Mini-Reviews: The Gathering Storm and The Age of Miracles

The Gathering Storm (Katerina Trilogy #1) by Robin Bridges
source: author (won in a giveaway?)
A mini-review for this because there's little good I have to say about it. The characters were inconsistent, the plot was always either rushed or dragged, no one ever explained anything, the overall storyline was confusing, and there were just too many different types of magical beings running around. I never found it clear as to who was evil, what their motives were, what type of powers they had...overall, a frustrating read.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
release date: June 2012
source: GoodReads First Look
I'll post a full review closer to the pub date. I absolutely loved The Age of Miracles; it's basically what I most enjoy about sci-fi: the genre is used as a springboard to explore other issues. This particular novel is beautiful in its writing and story, reminding me much of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. It's a magnificent debut for the author, and I had very few little nit-picky issues with it.

In My Mailbox #24

Geez, I wasn't expecting such a haul this week! So much to read, so little time...
For review:
Yesterday's Dead by Pat Bourke - LibraryThing Early Reviewers
It's rare to find historical fiction about the 1918 flu epidemic. I'm hoping it'll be pretty good.
*OK, so I'm about 2/3 through the book now: a quick read, but it really drops you into the era.
The Last Song by Eva Wiseman - LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Another interesting historical fiction read - the Spanish Inquisition. 
Chomp by Carl Hiaasen - publisher
I had entered the Shelf Awareness giveaway for this and was so happy when a copy came! I'm a fan of Hiaasen's other YA, ecology-inspired novels, having read Hoot, Flush, and Scat in previous years.

Bereft by Chris Womersley - thanks, Curiosity Killed the Bookworm!
Ironically, another WWI-era novel. I heard it described as "gothic," which caught my interest as much as the historical fiction part.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey - thanks, Autumn Blues!
I'm interested in seeing what this turns out to be like, since I've heard magical realism, fantasy, and fairy tale so far...
The End of This Day's Business by Katharine Burdekin
1935 feminist utopia. Purchased with an Amazon gift card that I won at a quiz bowl competition for being one of the highest individual scorers. :)

Bought from Amazon with a gift card, thanks to Adam at Roof Beam Reader:
Field of Honor by D.L. Birchfield
Squee!!! Native Americans + speculative fiction should prove to be an interesting combination...
Unveiling a Parallel by Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Ella Merchant
With this, I think I now own all of the (few) late 19th/early 20th century feminist sci-fi novels. :)
The Last Day by Glenn Meier
Rant time!! I ordered the early 19th-century post-apocalyptic The Last Man by Jean-Baptiste Cousin de Grainville, and this thriller came instead! Not only that it's not the book I actually ordered, it's a book I'm highly unlikely to ever read AND it came in poor condition. At least I got a refund. Amazon rant over.

From Random Buzzers:
The Nightmare Garden (Iron Codex #2) by Caitlin Kittredge
Another "squee!!!" I absolutely loved The Iron Thorn!!
The Queen's Lady (Lacey Chronicles #2) by Eve Edwards
I went ahead and got the sequel while it was available, though I haven't read The Other Countess yet.

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin
Utopia! (I think)
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Well, I read A Tomb for Boris Davidovich last year, which is the book I always get confused with this one, which was only $1.
The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The second Marquez in two weeks (and the third this year)! Because One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of my absolute faves.
Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley     
Huxley is another of my favorite authors. It's hard to find most of his other novels, too.
The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri Tepper
I seriously did not intend to get two three four feminist sci-fi books in the same week...
Impossible by Nancy Werlin
I'm interested in seeing how a retelling of a ballad will turn out.   

 What did you get in your mailbox this week?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Awesomeness: Help The Star Get Translated Into English

You may have already seen this on a few other blogs, but La Estrella (The Star) is a YA novel by Javi Araguz and Isabel Hiero currently published only in Spanish and Portuguese. It's described as fantasy, "greenpunk," dystopia, romance, and adventure. A synopsis is below:

Centuries ago a catastrophe turned Linde into a hostile place. Since then, the survivors have learned to live in isolation within the boundaries of the Safe Limits. But the planet is constantly subjected to a change in shape and people are lost, never to return. After a violent planetary transformation, Lan, a courageous girl from the Salvia clan, wakes up in the middle of the desert, only to be rescued by her worst enemy.

Anyway, a request is going out here that La Estrella be published in English (or any other language besides the original). Isn't that cool?! I'm always interested in books, especially speculative fiction ones, that aren't from English-speaking countries. Too few of them seem to find their way into translation, so this is a great opportunity to increase their audience!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

In My Mailbox #23 - with commentary

Well, I got a ton of great books this week! A couple came for review, a couple wins, a couple from Amazon, and a bunch from a local used bookstore. So many exciting choices for things to read...

For review:
Behind the Masks (Dear America) by Susan Patron - thanks, Scholastic!
I love Scholastic's Dear America series! I'm so happy I got a review copy for one of their latest releases!
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker - GoodReads First Look
Am I alone in thinking this looks like a YA version of Salvation City? Either way, it sounds interesting as a sci-fi coming-of-age novel.
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (Flavia de Luce #4) by Alan Bradley - LibraryThing Member Giveaways
Um, I haven't read any of the other Flavia de Luce books. Sad, I know.

The Demi-Monde: Winter by Rod Rees - thanks, Suzanne @ Preternatura!
This one's a chunkster!
I Am Number Four (Lorien Legacies #1) by Pittacus Lore - thanks, Izzy @ Quirky Girls Read!
Squee!!!! I've been wanting to read this series for so long!!

For book club:
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Not my usual reading, but others in the group wanted to read it.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox (Jenna Fox Chronicles #1) by Mary E. Pearson
I have the sequel, but I've been waiting to read it until I could get this one.
The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
I always get this and The Master and Margarita mixed up as to which one is Faustian and which is not...
Love in the Ruins by Walker Percy
This one actually is Faustian, and I was correct in assuming from the sparse cover description that it's sci-fi. :)
Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut
Gotta love some Vonnegut...
Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
I absolutely adored Babbitt and have been trying to acquire cheap copies of Lewis' other novels.
Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Magical realism, hoorah!
Honey for the Bears by Anthony Burgess
I haven't read A Clockwork Orange yet, but this satire looked like fun.
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
I haven't tried Carter yet, either, but I'm interested in more fantasy like hers.

 What did you get this week?