Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Reading on a Theme: Girls Disguised as Boys

The "Girl Disguised as a Boy" motif is one that never gets old for me. I'm so excited to bring back this Reading on a Theme. It's one we haven't had the chance to feature since 2014 (post here).

Arabella Ashby is a tomboy with a talent for mechanics. Her happy life on Mars comes to an end when her mother takes her back to earth for an education in how to be a young woman. A family misfortune has Arabella scrambling for a way to get back to Mars. Her solution is to disguise herself as a boy and get a job aboard the trading ship Diana. Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine is a fun steampunk space adventure. The setting is a clever alternate version of the Regency era where the Napoleonic wars have spread to the skies. Arabella is a plucky heroine who is smart and capable and not willing to sit idly by as duty dictates. I'm excited to read the sequel, Arabella and the Battle for Venus, out this July.

Iolanthe Seaborne is an elemental mage. She can control water, earth, and fire. Prince Titus VII is looking for the elemental mage prophesied to help rid the world of the Bane and release the people from the shackles of New Atlantis. Once Titus finds her has to hide her, so he takes her to his all-boys boarding school in non-magical 1883 England and disguises Iolanthe as Fairfax. Now he just has to convince her to help him change the world. The Burning Sky is full of everything I love most about the fantasy genre: a colliding of two worlds, complex political intrigue, prophecy, cool training facilities, and a terrifying villain. See why we love Sherry Thomas's series. It's perfect for anyone really missing Harry Potter.

Jordan Sun is tired of getting nowhere in the acting program at her prestigious art school. There just aren't a lot of parts for an Asian Alto II. When a spot opens up in a men's a cappella group, she decides to audition, disguised as a boy. I was excited to read Noteworthy because it sounded so fun. A cappella, a girl disguised as a boy, what could be better? I found the book had depths I wasn't expecting and tackled weighty issues. It wasn't the light read I anticipated, but it was rich and reflective. Riley Redgate's Noteworthy has a little bit of everything and was well worth the read. Noteworthy was out May 2, 2017. Review copy from NetGalley.

Historical Fantasy:
Mariko, the daughter of a noble samurai, is on her way to the imperial city to meet her betrothed when her convoy is ambushed and she is left for dead. Determined to discover who ordered her death, Mariko infiltrates the Black Clan disguised as a boy. Life among the Black Clan is invigorating and opens Mariko's eyes to life beyond the confines of her home and sex. Mariko continually has to remind herself that these men are her enemies, not her friends. And yet, secrets are everywhere. Who are these bandits really? Flame in the Mist begins a great second series for Renee Ahdieh filled with interesting and complicated characters, a gorgeous setting, and a heady romance. I do wish I understood the magic system a bit better. Perhaps more will be revealed in the second book.

Historical Fiction:
Samantha and her father are the only Chinese people in their tiny village and many are none too happy they're there. So when Samantha's father dies in a fire, her life is put in jeopardy. With the help of a runaway slave, she heads west. She and Annamae disguise themselves as boys and join a group of cowboys on their way across the country. Stacey Lee is a beautiful writer. The images she paints are incredible. I really appreciated the friendship between Sammy and Anna. They take great care of each other throughout the book. Under a Painted Sky is an excellent historical fiction that captured the struggles and triumphs of life on the Oregon trail. P.S. More Westerns.

Arabella of Mars, The Burning Sky, and Flame in the Mist reviewed by JoLee.
Noteworthy and Under a Painted Sky reviewed by Paige.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Highly Anticipated Books for the Second Half of 2017

These Highly Anticipated posts (more here) are always really fun for me to do. I like digging into the lists of what's coming out in the next few months and determining what I really am excited about with no strings or obligations attached. So here we go, the second half of 2017. Any of these on your list?

Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab:
Technically this one is not a second half of the year book, but I didn't read the first book in the series before I wrote my first Highly Anticipated post of the year, and it's definitely highly anticipated.

Lucky in Love by Kasie West:
If I'm completely honest, Kasie West's books have a lost a bit of their shine for me, but I'm still looking forward to reading this one. (Kasie West's other books here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

Arabella and the Battle of Venus by David D. Levine:
Arabella of Mars was such a fun steampunk space adventure. I'm looking forward to the second in the series.

The Dire King by William Ritter:
The conclusion of Will Ritter's marvelous debut series that began with Jackaby. I hate to see it end! (series featured here, here, and here.)

There's Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins:
I've loved all things Stephanie Perkins, and I'm curious to see how she tackles a new genre: horror. (Stephanie Perkins other books featured here, here, and here.)

Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore:
A new Kristin Cashore!! I love the Graceling Trilogy with a fervor, and I feel like I've been waiting forever for Ms. Cashore's next book. So thrilled it's almost here. (Graceling featured here and here.)

One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake:
The sequel to the fantastic Three Dark Crowns.

The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud:
Of course the next Jonathan Stroud is on this list. I think it's the series finale. Sob. (The many mentions here.)

Among the Red Stars by Gwen C. Katz:
Another book about the Russian Night Witches! How lucky am I to get two in one year. (See here.)

That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston:
Set in a near-future world where the British Empire never fell. I'm intrigued.

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater:
A new Maggie Stiefvater. And it's set in my home state of Colorado! (All my love for Maggie Stiefvater here. All my love for The Raven Cycle here.)

Far from the Tree by Robin Benway:
After the gloriousness of Emmy & Oliver, I am completely sold on anything by Robin Benway. (Emmy & Oliver here and here.)

The Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan:
I adore the Magnus Chase series.

Renegades by Marissa Meyer:
A new Marissa Meyer with super heroes and secret identities. (All my love for the Lunar Chronicles here. Heartless here.)

Lock & Mori: Final Fall by Heather W. Petty
I flew through the second book in this trilogy. And this one's the final book in the series. (The rest in the series here and here.)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Few Thoughts: On Reluctant Readers

Reluctant readers are the subject of many discussions by educators, writers, and parents and that’s not going to change anytime soon. We all want to know how to help someone find joy in reading. We believe reading will enrich a life, as it has enriched ours. We love reading and we want others to love it too.

I don’t know that I have anything new to add to the discussion, except my own experience as a recovering reluctant reader.

It seems unthinkable to me now—a parent, teacher, and storyteller—that there was a time when I didn’t do much reading. My mom says I stopped reading for fun around third grade and she had no idea why. I don’t know why either. I’ve thought of several possible reasons as I look back (did I discover it wasn’t cool or get frustrated when a book was too advanced for me?), but I honestly don’t remember the actual reason.

I was a junior in high school, driving home from a doctor’s appointment with my mom when she asked the question that changed things: What do you like to read? I told her I liked Harry Potter because there was no long exposition. You jumped right into the story and it had your attention right away. That’s when Mom suggested Mary Higgins Clark.

I started with Where Are the Children and it definitely jumped right in and caught my attention, but it was All Around Town that hooked me. I read at least ten Mary Higgins Clark books that summer, which was a big number for someone who didn’t read for pleasure. The next summer, I read everything my parents handed me, including Dune and Rebecca.

Here’s what I learned from this experience. First, it doesn’t have to be great literature. I guarantee that at that point, Dickens and Austen would not have worked for me. I needed to get back into the swing of reading, to remember what it felt like to get lost in a good book. For me, that meant reading something fairly easy, that caught my attention on the first page.

Second, it’s all about what the person likes to read. As I’ve looked back, I wonder if some of my problem was that I wasn’t trying to read the right kinds of books for me. Most of what was available to me was realistic fiction. I wonder if there had been more fantasy options for young readers at the time (or in my house), if it would have been easier for me to come back to reading. It’s possible I was more of a fantasy and mystery reader as a kid and we simply didn’t know.

Third, it doesn’t have to be a book. I got American Girl magazines in the mail as a youth and I read those cover to cover. Sometimes finding what the person loves to read is less about finding the right book and more about finding the right medium.

If there’s a reluctant reader in your life, ask them what they like to read and do what you can to find something to fit their preferences (feel free to peruse our blog if you need suggestions). 

My name is Paige and I am a recovering reluctant reader.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Pair It With: Saints and Misfits and That Thing We Call a Heart

In this Pair It With I've brought together two books that feature Muslim-American teens. Both books are own voices and feature main characters who fall in very different places on the faith spectrum. I really loved both.

 Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali

Publisher / Year: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers - June 13, 2017

Genre: YA Contemporary

Source: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble 

Janna Yusuf is not sure she fits in anywhere. As an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager she definitely stands out at school. And her divorced parents, Flannery O'Connor obsession, and crush on a non-Muslim friend from school, make her wonder about her place in her tight-knit Muslim community as well. One thing she does know is that her best friend's cousin is a monster masquerading as a saint, but will she have the courage to say something? Will anyone believe her when he seems so perfect on the outside?

I loved this debut from S.K. Ali. Saints and Misfits is a classic coming-of-age story. Anyone can relate to Janna's tale because her struggles over who she is and who she wants to be are a universal part of growing up. At the same time, I really enjoyed reading a story set within a Muslim community. S.K. Ali so effortlessly brings the reader into Janna's world. The contemporary YA scene is branching out more and more with diverse characters and viewpoints, and this story is such a lovely addition to that direction and an important one as well. I'm always happy when I find a book that treats faith and faith communities with realism and respect.

Janna's story works so well because she is so honestly herself.She's a fantastic narrator with a strong voice and a distinct personality. Saints and Misfits is populated with side characters who the reader can't help but love. And I really enjoyed watching Janna reassess her initial impressions of many of them.

Also, I absolutely love the cover of this book. The ombre and the script are gorgeous, and I am so happy that they put a hijabi teen on the cover. 


That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim

Publisher / Year: HarperTeen - May 9, 2017

Genres: YA Contemporary

Source: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble 

Shabnam Qureshi is a Pakistani-American teen growing up in New Jersey. As the story begins, Shabnam's relationship with her best friend Farah is rocky. The reason is that Farah started wearing hijabi without discussing it with Shabnam. Shabnam, who is Muslim but not particularly religious, is worried that this means that she and Farah might be growing apart, and she struggles to understand why Farah would make such a big decision without discussing it with her first. Does this mean they aren't as close of friends as Shabnam thought?

Shabnam then begins a relationship with Jamie, a boy who scores her a job at his aunt's pie shack. Jamie finds Shabnam fascinating, and Shabnam falls for him pretty hard, but Farah is less certain about Jamie's intentions.

That Thing We Call a Heart is a complicated book in the best way. Shabnam is not a wholly likeable character. She makes some pretty hurtful decisions and can be self-centered. Farah can be judgmental and lack understanding, and Jamie has suspicious motives. These flaws make Sheba Karim's characters feel like real people who are making real mistakes.

The complications in That Thing We Call a Heart also have to do with Shabnam's position when it comes to faith and culture. Shabnam is very disconnected from Islam and Pakistan. The theme of The Partition of India and refugees that runs through the book is one way that Shabnam begins to open her mind up to her heritage (albeit with lots of starts and stops and missteps).

I love that Sheba Karim tells the story of a girl like Shabnam. People are all over the map when it comes to faith of any kind, and Shabnam's voice is one I appreciated.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Reading on a Theme: Teens on the Internet

There are all sorts of creative things you can do on the internet, like run a book blog, for instance. Today we've rounded up five books about teens with large online followings. Check out what these teens have created, how they navigate fame on the internet, and come to grips with the way their online persona bleeds into their daily life.

Beauty Vlogger:
YouTuber Lacey Robbins' dream is to get a sponsor, and she seems closer to her dream than ever when she lands an internship with On Trend Magazine in New York City. As driven as she is, Lacey is not thrilled when she learns the celebrity contributor for her issue is Tyler Lance of former boy band and bad boy fame. As work gets more complicated, Lacey begins to question her assumptions about Tyler and sponsorship. At First Blush is so much fun. If you like makeup, YouTube, or celebrity romances, this is definitely the book for you. Although light and fun, Beth Ellyn Summer really made me think about self-made celebrity. At First Blush is out April 4th, 2017. Review copy from NetGalley.

Fantasy Podcaster:
Frances, known online as Toulouse, is thrilled when she is invited to do an art segment for her favorite podcast, Universe City. The creator of the show is a complete mystery, but she has been a fan since it's inception. As she becomes involved with the show, a friendship with Aled Last begins and many mysteries begin to unfold. Radio Silence--the name of the narrator of Universe City--is a book about dreams, and friendship, and finding your own way. The tone of the book is subdued, but intense, and I felt it mirrored the tone of Universe City. I enjoyed the transcript excerpts and they way they lined up with the story of Frances and Aled. Alice Oseman created a haunting story of friendship and strength. Radio Silence was out March 28, 2017 in the U.S. Review copy from Edelweiss. 

Photoshopping Instagrammer:
With severe social anxiety, being unseen is often the only way for Vicky to get through the day. Lonely after her best friend moves away, Vicky invents Vicurious (herself in disguise) and photoshops her into scenes she wishes she were a part of. As she uses Vicurious to reach out to the lonely of the internet, her followers skyrocket and she realizes no one is truly alone. I really enjoyed following Vicky's journey in How to Disappear. She learned a lot of things as Vicurious, my favorite being that no one has a perfect life, and it was very satisfying to learn along with her. I was amazed at how Sharon Huss Roat's novel really stuck with me. How to Disappear is out August 15, 2017. Review copy from Edelweiss.

Web Comic Creator:
Eliza Mirk is the anonymous creator of the hugely popular webcomic, Monstrous Sea. She may be famous online, but in real life she's a nobody. Misunderstood by her athletic family and uncomfortable with social interaction, most of Eliza's friends are online. That begins to change when she meets Wallace, an outsider who loves Monstrous Sea as much as she does. The biggest problem is that he doesn't know she's the creator. I loved Francesca Zappia's debut, and I thought that Eliza and her Monsters was every bit as good. Eliza's difficulties navigating her life online and in-person felt so true to life. Also, I really thought Monstrous Sea sounded really interesting. I'd love to read it. Eliza and Her Monsters is out May 30th, 2017. Review copy from Edelweiss.

Fashion Blogger:
Alterations is a retelling of the movie Sabrina. Stephanie Scott's Sabrina character, Amelia Blanco, is an aspiring fashion designer with a huge online following. She lives with her mother and grandmother in the service apartment of the wealthy Laurenti family. Amelia's longtime crush, Ethan Laurenti, doesn't notice Amelia until he sees how much she's changed after a summer internship in New York. By this time, Amelia has agreed to help Ethan's twin brother, Liam, with a fashion app. Cue lots of confused feelings. I really enjoyed the Miami setting and all the fashion in this book. Liam was really sweet. The crazy reality TV show was amusing. This is such a cute read.

At First Blush, Eliza and Her Monsters, and Alterations reviewed by JoLee.
Radio Silence and How to Disappear reviewed by Paige.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Reading on a Theme: Dreams and Dreamers

The common thread in this Reading on a Theme is that all of these books contain characters who can enter dreams. In this mix, we've got a highly anticipated new book by a beloved author, some old favorites, and a couple of great debuts. There's a dream for every mood.

Librarians and Gods:
Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone series is one of my favorite trilogies, and I've been eagerly anticipating her next book ever since I finished it. Strange the Dreamer is what everyone calls Lazlo Strange, an orphan who works in a library and dreams of seeing the hidden city of Weep. A second perspective, focusing on a child of Weep, also involves dreaming. Ms. Taylor writes the loveliest slow-burn fantasy. I'm absolutely fascinated by the world that she created in this book, from the Medieval Monastic feel to the god-slayers of Weep. The book has some similar themes to The Daughter of Smoke and Bone--gods and monsters and which is which and the collision of cultures.

Dream Catcher:
When near someone dreaming, Janie becomes a witness to the dream. She doesn't know how or why, and it makes for some very uncomfortable moments. In Wake, Janie, with the help of a few very special people, starts to figure out what her dream walking is all about, how she can control her abilities, and what she can give to the dreamer. Lisa McMann's Wake trilogy is a great choice for fans of crime thrillers who also a love a little bit of the supernatural. I found this series so compulsively readable. I thought the writing style with its terse language and the dark and gritty atmosphere really added to the suspense of the books.

The Boy in Her Dreams:
Every night Alice meets Max in her dreams. He is wonderful and funny, and they have had a lifetime of adventures together in her dreams. And she thought that's all he was. A Dream. When Alice moves back to her family's home in Boston, she meets Max at her school. He's real, but he's not quite the same as the Max in her dreams. Or is he? Dreamology is all about the crossover between dreams and reality. And sometimes it's difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. Lucy Keating's debut is so light and quirky. Little details, like how Alice's dog always shows up in the dreams, are what made this book so cute.

Dreams and Monsters:
Odea Donahue can enter dreams. She must. She grows sick and weak if she doesn't. She has always carefully followed the dreamwalking rules set by her mother, never entering the same person's dreams more than once and never letting the dreamer see her. That is until she falls for Connor. She wants to be close to him, so she enters his dreams night after night even though she knows she shouldn't. And that's why the monsters find her. Dreamland is suspenseful and exciting. Robert L. Anderson's book kept taking turns that I was not expecting. I really liked Dea's narration, and I loved that this book is part horror story, part crime fiction, and part fantasy. This book is perfect for Halloween.

The Boys in Her Dreams:
Liv and her sister just moved to another country. Again. In Dream a Little Dream, Liv finds herself having very strange dreams. It's getting difficult to distinguish the difference between dreams and reality. Liv's dreams always involve a group of boys from her new school. What's the weirdest part is the boys seem to know things they could only know if they had been in her dreams. Liv, who loves Sherlock Holmes, is more than happy to try and find out why. Follow Liv as she uses her detective skills to uncover why she's having the same dreams as the four boys from her school. Kerstin Gier's book is an interesting read. I really liked the interactions between the boys and Liv. Definitely not my typical genre but I enjoyed the plot.

Strange the Dreamer, Wake, Dreamology, and Dreamland reviewed by JoLee.
Dream a Little Dream reviewed by Sarah. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Reading on a Theme: Alice in Wonderland

If you love Alice in Wonderland you have come to the right place. Today we are featuring five YA books that take a different spin on Wonderland.

Steampunk Duchess:
Last year we featured the first book in Wendy Spinale's series in our tribute to Peter Pan. The second book is a retelling of Alice in Wonderland. Pete, Gwen, and the lost kids have found shelter at Castle Alnwick under the care of the young Duchess Alyssa, but the horrors of the Horologia virus continue. Alyssa journeys through a dangerous labyrinth with the help of the castle's wild gardener, Maddox Hadder, to find the final ingredient for the cure. Umberland combines steampunk and World War II with Alice. I'm curious to see which story will be the inspiration for the final tale. Any guesses? Mine is Snow White. Umberland is out May 9, 2016. Review copy from Edelweiss.

Reluctant Queen:
Marissa Meyer, of Lunar Chronicles fame, sets her Wonderland tale before Alice's adventures. Heartless is an origin story that tells how Catherine became the Queen of Hearts. Heartless is a tragedy. You know it must be going in because you know Catherine's destiny. But, despite my knowledge of what was to come, I still desperately wanted Catherine to be happy and to live her dreams. I wanted her to be with Jest, however impossible that might be. And, I think the fact that I was so invested in her happiness, even knowing it could never be, says a lot about how well this story is told. I loved what Ms. Meyer did with the Wonderland source material. This book is a stand-alone, but I would read a sequel in a heartbeat. 

Mad Granddaughter:
Alyssa Gardner is a descendant of the Alice who fell down the rabbit hole. All the women in her family are cursed with madness, and Alyssa is worried she too will succumb. She already hears the whisperings of bugs and flowers. Then Alyssa learns that Wonderland is not a fairy tale after all and that all the troubles suffered by her family are the result of the problems caused by Alice. It's Alyssa's job to fix her great-great-great grandmother's mistakes. With Splintered, A.G. Howard does a fantastic job with the creepy, weird, mad atmosphere of Wonderland. I love the clever ways that Alyssa fixes Alice's mistakes. They fit in perfectly with the original tale.

Unloved Princess:
Colleen Oakes's Queen of Hearts is the story of Dinah, princess and heir to the throne of Wonderland. With her coronation approaching, Dinah hopes that she will be able to make a real impact on Wonderland, but her father is reluctant to relinquish his throne. I really enjoyed seeing how Colleen Oakes adapted Lewis Carroll's world. Ms. Oakes's Cards, Cheshire, Mad Hatter, White Rabbit, and Queen of Hearts are brilliantly connected to Carroll's originals and simultaneously unexpected. I loved that with this story, Dinah, the future Queen of Hearts, gets some life and nuance beyond Carroll's "off with her head" creation. And Ms. Oakes's descriptions of Wonderland absolutely do justice to this fantastical world.  

Zombie Slayer:
Alice in Zombieland is a loose take on Alice in Wonderland with, well zombies. The night Ali's family died was the first night she saw them. Now she knows that the monsters her father always feared are real. Ali finds herself drawn to a group of troublemakers at school and soon learns the reason is because they too can see the monsters. Gena Showalter's mash-up of Alice in Wonderland and Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a lot of fun. This book has all the typical paranormal tropes, and it reminded me why that genre can be so much fun. Alice with a dash of zombie is a pretty fun romp.

All books reviewed by JoLee.
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