Thursday, March 1, 2018

Reading on a Theme: Girl Spies

The great thing about a good spy novel is that it works in every setting. In this bunch of girl spy novels, we've got fantasies, historical fiction, super heroes, and steampunk.

Children's Governess:
In this alternate history, the British still rule the American colonies in 1888. Verity Newton is trying to make her way as a governess for an upper-class family. She befriends several rebels who hope to overthrow the magic-wielding British with steam-powered machines. Soon Verity is using her position to gather valuable information for the rebels. I love a good alternate history, and I thought Rebel Mechanics, with its great characters and interesting premise, was a lot of fun. The mixture of magic, steampunk machinery, and the New York Gilded Age is quite appealing to me. Shanna Swendson's tale would appeal to readers who enjoy Gail Carriger's Etiquette and Espionage.

Witch's Child:
Julia and her bother, Dack, are part of Spira City's underground. Working for a group of spies and thieves, Julia finds herself spying in a grand house full of mystery. Her interest in the house's activities are piqued when a witch and her young son enter the household. Julia Vanishes has such a rich setting. I love that Spira City is split into many different sections and it's easy to tell the rich areas from poor ones based on their names. There are many religions in this book as well as folklore, witches, and magic, all with great details. For instance, witches only do magic when they write things down. Catherine Egan has truly created a magical world and I loved every minute. (It was also a great audiobook!)

Matchmaker's Apprentice:
In Erin Beaty's debut, Sage Fowler botches her interview with the matchmaker (not a huge surprise since she has no interest in getting married). Now Sage is the matchmaker's apprentice, serving as her spy to help determine the personalities and compatibility of her potential clients. Her spy duties get much more dangerous once their military escort realizes they are accompanying these ladies into an uprising. I thought this book was a little slow. I had a hard time fully investing, but one thing that did make The Traitor's Kiss fun is that we had two main characters who were spying on each other.

Super Villain:
Nova is an Anarchist, a member of the villain group that was overthrown by the Renegades a decade ago. Nova wants to see their downfall. Adrian is a Renegade who has been experimenting with his powers and moonlighting as a vigilante. When Nova infiltrates the Renegades as a spy, these two characters start working together. Renegades felt like a little bit of X-Men, a little bit of This Savage Song, a little bit of The Orphan Queen. It has a lot of aspects you've read before. Still, it's so fun. I love all the powers that Marissa Meyer came up with. So many of them are incredibly creative. I do think that this book is a little long. I wasn't invested in the story right away, and it took a while for me to get the hang of the world. But once I was in, I was all in.

Annis Whitworth just lost her father and all of her money. Society says she must become a governess to earn her way, but she is certain there is another possibility. Annis is also convinced that her father's death was no random occurrence, and she will do what she must to find out the truth. Murder, Magic, and What We Wore was pure fun. Set in an alternate early 19th-century England, this book has as much to do with fashion as it does spy work. Annis is a great character with so much spunk, and I loved the magical elements--sewing glamours is such an interesting magical power. Kelly Jones has written a book that will bring a smile to your face. It really was so fun. Review copy from NetGalley.

Rebel Mechanics, The Traitor's Kiss, and Renegades reviewed by JoLee.
Julia Vanishes and Murder, Magic, and What We Wore reviewed by Paige.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Reading on a Theme: Women Aviators of World War II

I'm so excited about this week's World War II Wednesday. I love reading about the women who served during World War II, and the volunteer aviators are especially intriguing. (Probably in part because I have no desire to go up in a small plane. Ever.) I'm especially thrilled with this line-up because I've long thought that the subject of the Russian Night Witches would make for an amazing YA book, and I got my wish in 2017 with not one but two publications on the subject.

American WASP:
Seized by the Sun is a biography of Gertrude "Tommy" Tompkins, the only one of the 38 Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) confirmed or presumed dead who is still missing. James W. Ure tells the story of Gertrude's life, from her childhood in New Jersey, her struggle with a speech impediment, her love of flying, to her training with the WASPs. Ure also writes about the ongoing search for Gertrude's plane, presumed to have gone down in the Santa Monica Bay. After reading many fictional accounts of WWII women aviators, it was very interesting to read about a real WASP and the details of her training, work, and friendships with fellow pilots. Seized by the Sun is out July 1, 2017. Review copy from NetGalley.

Russian Bomber:
Sixteen-year-old Valya longs to be in the air fighting the Germans. Instead she's trapped in the besieged city of Stalingrad. When a sniper kills her mother, leaving Valya alone, she makes her mind up to join the Night Witches and find her sister who is fighting with them. I loved Kathryn Lasky's book. Night Witches is written for a younger YA audience, and I thought it was an excellent introduction for its target audience. I loved Valya. She is strong and smart and feisty. It was so interesting to learn about the Night Witches' tactics, which allowed the female pilots to have great success against the more advanced German planes. Harrowing and compelling, Ms Lasky's books takes readers to the eastern front.  Night Witches is out March 28, 2017. Review copy from Edelweiss.

British ATA:
Elizabeth Wein has written three books that feature young women aviators. In Code Name Verity best friends Verity (the spy) and Kittyhawk (the pilot) are trapped in Nazi territory on the wrong side of the English Channel. Verity, in order to buy time, draws out her interrogation by writing the story of their friendship in the guise of a confession. All the praise you've heard about this book is well deserved. It is truly remarkable. The writing is superb. The action is harrowing and horrifying. The friendship is so real. And Verity is the epitome of the unreliable narrator. This book is crazy good. And completely heart-wrenching. I love the second in the series too, Rose Under Fire.

Russian Bomber:
Small town girl, Valka Koroleva's world changes suddenly when Russia enters World War II. Her best friend Pasha is conscripted into the Russian army, and Valka and her cousin Iskra leave home to join the all-female aviation groups organized by Valka's hero Marina Raskova. Gwen C. Katz populates her story with many of the real aviators who flew in the all female units. I loved feeling like I got to know them a little, even though this is a fictional tale. It was also fun how Katz attributes some of the Night Witches trickier methods to Valka's experience with a faulty engine back home. The camaraderie between the women and the truly terrifying circumstances were conveyed so well. This topic continues to be a personal favorite. Among the Red Stars is out October 1, 2017. Review copy from Edelweiss.

American WASP:
Ida Mae Jones belongs in the air, but the local aviation college refuses to give her a license because she's a black woman. With the war on, there's no fuel to fly anyway. Then Ida hears about the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Ida wants to join, but she knows they'll never accept a black woman.  Desperate to live her dream, Ida passes for white and is accepted into the program. No she has to make sure no one learns her secret. I've wanted to read Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith for years, and it did not disappoint. I really enjoyed how Ida's training and friendships are underscored by the issue of race in America in the 1940s.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Reading on a Theme: Troubled Siblings

Sibling relationships can be complicated. We have here five poignant tales of siblings and what it means to be family. (Troubled Sisters post here.)

Adam and Julian:
Adam Blake reconnects with his former foster brother, Julian, when Julian becomes a high school freshman. Adam quickly wraps Julian into his gregarious and fun-loving group of friends, and Julian starts to feel happier than he has in a very long time. But soon it's clear that everything is not right with Julian's home life. A List of Cages is one of those books that will just about destroy you. And, I have to caution, that you if have a hard time reading about child abuse, this book will be very triggering. It's got one of the most extreme and painful cases I've ever read. Robin Roe's debut is an emotional read. Be prepared to be wrecked. Review copy from NetGalley. 

Grace, Maya, and Joaquin:
Far from the Tree is about three adopted siblings who meet one another for the first time as teenagers. Each of the siblings is dealing with something big. Grace has recently put up a baby for adoption. Maya's parents are constantly fighting and she feels out of sink with the rest of her all-of-a-kind family. Joaquin has been in foster care his whole life. He's now with foster parents who love him, but letting himself love them back is scary. Robin Benway writes a beautiful story about how these teens grow to love one another, forgive themselves, and open up about their pasts. It's an emotional read. I really enjoyed this book. Review copy from Edelweiss.

Odette and Trudchen:
Odd & True is the story of two sisters, Odette and Trudchen, at the turn of the century. Abandoned by their parents, they grew up with their strict aunt. But Od was always able to make Tru's life a little more magical by telling her fantastical stories about their past. Cat Winters spins a story that alternates between Od's past and Tru's present. For most of the book, the reader doesn't really know if the stories that Od tells are true; if monsters really exist; if the girls really are destine to hunt them. I liked the bond between to the two sisters, but I especially loved the unraveling of Od's true past. Slowly but surely the past is revealed and the implications for the present become clear. Review copy from NetGalley.

Noah and Jude:
Noah and Jude are twins, and, as twins, they've always shared a special bond, but that was before so many things went wrong. I'll Give You the Sun alternates between Noah's narration of what happened before the troubles and Jude's narration of the aftermath. The reader wonders how the siblings could have both changed so much and what went wrong. I really loved Jandy Nelson's story. Noah and Jude are both artists, and all the art was a real bonus for me. This book has some big issue-type topics in it, but they never overwhelmed the story which remains very character driven. The themes of finding oneself, finding one's family, and being honest were my big takeaways.

Teva and her Sisters:
Teva doesn't grow up in the normal way. Every year, near her birthday, Teva unwillingly clones herself. She lives in a house full of younger Tevas, whom she address by their year (Thirteen, Fifteen, etc.), and this house full of bizarre "sisters" is challenging and involves a lot of secrets. The newest Teva is determined to be the last. When I picked up More of Me I was hoping it would have a bit of a Cat Patrick vibe, and it definitely did. Kathryn Evans's book is so weird, which is a good thing because it is definitely supposed to be weird. I really enjoyed how the reader wasn't quite sure whether or not Teva's condition was real or all in her head. Review copy from NetGalley.  

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Reading on a Theme: Time Travel

It's been a while since our last time travel post, which means that it's definitely time for another one. (Yes, bad pun, I know.) Anyway, you know I can't resist a new time travel novel, especially when it has a blue (or blueish) cover. (So many blue time travel novels here.)

Romance in Time:
The Next Together is a story about two people who find each other again and again throughout history. It takes place during four different time periods with four pairs of Katherines and Matthews. The story moves from time period to time period even within chapters. I found this method of story telling to be kind of difficult to get into, but I really wanted to know how the pairs were all connected, and, as the story progressed, the potential for cross-over seemed to increase. Lauren James's book is a romantic adventure story, and I'm hoping we'll get a look at who controls the strings in the sequel, The Last Beginning, which comes out in the US in February 2018. Review copy from the publisher.

Time Accidents:
2016 is a glittery tech-utopia. It's the kind of world that the sci-fi of the 1950s predicted. That is until Tom Barron takes the first trip ever back in time and makes a colossal mistake. His return trip doesn't take him back to his 2016 but to ours. This alternate version of the world appears as an utter wasteland to Tom, but his family, his career, and his relationships have much more potential in this timeline. All Our Wrong Todays is a campy time-paradox conundrum that at the same time manages to be kind of heartbreaking and emotional. I really enjoyed Elan Mastai's debut novel. Review copy from NetGalley.

Time for Art:
Conjuror was such a pleasant surprise. The book is about Remy, who can do magic with music, and twins Matt and Em, who can create magic with their drawings. I admit, the art was a major draw for me. Matt and Em can travel through paintings. There's also a bit of a time travel element because several figures from the past travel through paintings to the present. Some of these travelers are even famous artists.  Remy, Matt, and Em will have to work together to defeat some very dangerous (and disgusting) historical figures. This was my first time reading a book by siblings John Barrowman and Carole E. Barrowman , and it was a really fun ride. Review copy from NetGalley.

Time Pirates:
All Farway Gaius McCarthy has ever wanted to do is to follow in his lost mother's footsteps and become a time traveler. As the only child to ever be born outside of time it seems only fitting. And Farway is good. The best. Destined for greatness. Until his final exam is sabotaged. With no other way to live his dream, Farway takes a job as a time pirate. With his handpicked crew, he steals from the past. And then the saboteur shows up at a job. Invictus by Ryan Graudin is a lot of fun. The characters are snarky and belong together, the stakes are incredibly high, and the time paradoxes are headache inducing. (That's just how I like them.) Review copy from NetGalley. 

Time Loop:
Wellcome Valley was a quiet place. Eddie Dane had his best friend and his grandmother but not much happened until Scarlett came to town. Scarlett's arrival ushered in a murder, an accident, an investigation, and a long-lost family member. Now Eddie is trapped in a time loop reliving the same day over and over again. No True Echo was a surprising delight. The concept of trying to discover the true timeline through an increasingly complicated investigation was so trippy. (Just how I like my time travel novels.) I'd recommend this one by Gareth P. Jones to the true time travel diehards. Review copy from NetGalley.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Highly Anticipated Releases for the First Half of 2018

Over the past few years, these highly anticipated releases posts have become a bit more difficult for me to do. This one took some serious thought. The reason is that when I put books on these lists, I feel a bit of pressure to, you know, actually read them.

Iron Gold by Pierce Brown:
I loved the Red Rising Trilogy, and I've already heard good things about the newest addition to the world from some trusted friends. (Series Salute to the trilogy here.)

Purple Hearts by Michael Grant:
Honestly Silver Stars was a bit of a slog for me, but I've heard this is a great conclusion to the series, and I would like to finish it off. (series featured here and here)

Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce:
All the love for Tamora Piece over here at Intellectual Recreation. And as we are such big Emperor Mage fans and intrigued by Ozorne, we are all in for a Numair series that will get us up close and personal with the ambitious prince. (Much Tamora Pierce love here)

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman:
Seraphina is one of my all-time favorite books. I'm so thrilled that I get to go back to her world. (series featured here)

More Than We Can Tell by Brigid Kemmerer:
Letters to the Lost was one of my favorite books of the year last year. I'm definitely up for anything new by Ms. Kemmerer.

Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff:
The conclusion to the Illuminae series is probably (no most certainly) my most highly anticipated book of the year. (series featured here and here)

The Beauty that Remains by Ashley Woodfolk:
I'm all in for sad books these days. This one looks heart-breaking.

Defy the Worlds by Claudia Gray:
The first in the series, Defy the Stars, was one of my favorite reads of 2017. I'm so excited that this story is continuing. (But, ick, I do not like the new covers.) (series featured here)

Trouble Never Sleeps by Stephanie Tromly:
I'm such a big fan of Trouble is a Friend of Mine and Trouble Makes a Comeback. (series featured here and here)

The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hynotik by David Arnold:
I really enjoyed Kids of Appetite, and I've heard marvelous things about David Arnold's forthcoming novel.

Legendary by Stephanie Garber:
The sequel to the intriguing Caraval.

Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel:
Gotta find out what happens next ASAP after that cliffhanger. (series featured here)

The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan:
I will never tire of Apollo as narrator. I wonder if my guess as to who the next emperor is is correct.

A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir:
A Torch Against the Night was so good. Bring on book 3. (series featured here and here)

Invisible Ghosts by Robyn Schneider:
Extraordinary Means was a favorite a couple of years ago. I'm ready for another book from Ms. Schneider. 

My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows:
So excited to see what the Lady Janies do next. This is one is a very close second behind Obsidio. (series featured here)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Reading on a Theme: What the Dead Left Behind

What can I say, maybe we just enjoy shedding a few tears while we read. More on this theme here.

New Habits:
I had heard really good things about Julie Buxbaum's Tell Me Three Things, so I decided to read her 2017 release. One day Kit, who is struggling with her dad's death, decides to sit with the class loner, David. And somehow he says just the right things, and an unlikely friendship begins. What to Say Next is like the YA version of The Rosie Project. David is awkward and lovable, but I also really appreciate that Ms. Buxbaum doesn't shy away from the difficult aspects of David's condition and their very real consequences. In her afterward, Ms Buxbaum she writes about wanting to create a character who looks like her own daughters. That personal connection made the book more endearing.

A Witness:
I decided to spend December reading the books that I really felt like I needed to read before the end of the year. Up first was Angie Thomas's breakaway debut The Hate U Give, which is winning all the things. Ms. Thomas's book is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. It's the story of Starr who witnesses her friend get shot and killed by the police. The Hate U Give is definitely an issue book, but it is so well done. The book is very nuanced and does a fantastic job really showing the difficulties of the situation Starr is in. The book is filled with fantastic characters. Starr's family is awesome. I'm excited that making a movie. I think it will be very powerful. Review copy from Edelweiss.

Speed of Life is probably my favorite middle-grade read of the year. After her mother dies, Sofia begins writing to Dear Kate, the advice columnist for Fifteen magazine. Soon Dear Kate is a very important, but very secret, part of her life. Then she finds out that Dear Kate, Katherine Baird, is her father's new girlfriend. There was just something so sweet about this book. So many things change for Sofia over the course of the book. And, the title really is so fitting because the book is about how fast we grow up. Carol Weston's book reminded me of Goodbye, Stranger another middle-grade coming-of-age story that I adore. Review copy from NetGalley.

Missing Memories:
When Genevieve wakes up in the hospital she can't remember the car accident that killed her boyfriend, Dallas, an aspiring musician who had just gotten his first big break. To escape the media frenzy that follows, Genevieve goes to live with her dad in Southern Utah. No one there knows about Dallas, and she starts to heal while working at Zion's National Park, but then the memories begin to return, and it's hard to escape the internet. I've really enjoyed all the books I've read by Paula Stokes, and I was looking forward to This Is How It Happened. Even though I didn't like this book quite as much as I expecting, I appreciate the examination of media and the consequences of internet shaming.  Review copy from Edelweiss.

Suzy's best friend died over the summer in a drowning accident at the beach. Suzy believes that Franny's death was caused by the sting of a rare jellyfish, and she plunges headlong into an investigation to prove this is the case. The Thing About Jellyfish is a strange and lovely tale. Suzy's grief is so tangible, and it's made even more so by the secrets that are slowly revealed as the story moves back and forth between before and after Franny's death. Suzy is an intriguing character, and one gets the sense that Suzy's inability to cope is tied up with some greater personal challenges. Ali Benjamin's debut novel is truly an emotional journey. Review copy from NetGalley.

Friday, January 12, 2018

J's Favorite Books of 2017

The end of the year is my absolute favorite time to be a book blogger. I don't think I could ever get tired of reading year-end favorites and best-of's posts.

I read 118 books this year, and I gave 18 books 5-stars. It was so hard to pick my favorites this year. The historical fiction category was particularly difficult, but I persevered for all of you.

Without further ado, presenting the best of my bests in a variety of fun categories.

Favorites from mid-year here.

Favorite Series that Ended in 2017: Lockwood & Co. by Jonathan Stroud
For the last several years I've had this lovely tradition of reading the newest Lockwood & Co. for Halloween. This year, with the final book coming out, I reread the entire series. I cannot recommend a series more enthusiastically. If I could have my way, the series would go on forever so that I could continue my favorite Halloween tradition. (featured here)

Favorite Fantasy: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
I loved Graceling and Fire, the first two books in Kristin Cashore's Graceling Realm trilogy, and I finally read the third book in the series this year. So many fantasies are about overthrowing a horrible regime, and I really loved how Bitterblue thinks about what comes next. Bitterblue made me so nostalgic for the types of fantasies that were being written circa 2008. 

Favorite First Book in a New Series: Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray 
I love Claudia Gray's books. Defy the Stars is so entertaining. I can't seem to get enough of the the sentient AI motif, and Gray's book is a great addition to this subgenre. I also love that Ms Gray handled religion and the idea of souls with so much respect and honesty. (featured here)

Favorite Audiobook: Sleeping Giants & Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

I've been telling everyone that Sleeping Giants is like the adult version of Illuminae. If you loved one, read the other. The story is told through a series of interviews and journal entries, so it is well-suited to the audio format. Plus, it has a full cast of voice actors. It's very entertaining.

Favorite Book Club Book: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
The beautiful, poignant, sad, and celebratory book about a neurosurgeon who learns he has terminal cancer was such a perfect book club pick. I listened to When Breath Becomes Air in one day. Maybe even in one sitting.  

Favorite New Book by a Beloved Author: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
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 gorgeous and fascinating. Laini Taylor writes the loveliest slow-burn fantasy. (featured here)

Favorite Middle-Grade Book: Speed of Life by Carol Weston

There was just something so sweet about this book. So many things change for Sofia over the course of the book. Carol Weston's book reminded me of Goodbye, Stranger by Rebecca Stead, another middle-grade coming-of-age story that I adore. Beyond the similar setting, they both have a similar tone.  

Favorite Multi-Perspective Narrative: The Arsonist by Stephanie Oaks
Oh my, The Arsonist is such a strange and wonderful book. I really loved it. Told in a series of letters and journal entries written by the three main characters, the masterfully constructed story that unfolds reveals secrets, lies, and family tragedies. I also love the layers of symbolism in this book. (featured here)

Favorite "I Should Have Read this Forever Ago" Book: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
I had wanted to read Station Eleven for years but was slightly intimidated by it for some reason. When I finally got the audio book from the library, and I listened to almost the entire book in one day. It's that good. What I really loved about this book is the way that art is so essential to human existence even when individuals are fighting just to survive.  

Favorite Series Finale: Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han
Aah. This series is pure fluff, but I guarantee it'll make you smile. A couple of things that I absolutely love about this series. First off, Lara Jean's family is great. I love her dad and sisters, especially Kitty. Secondly, I really like how this book handles the transition to college. Finally, what makes this book truly marvelous to me is just how normal Lara Jean is. I find her so relatable. 

Favorite Sequel: Now I Rise by Kiersten White
Definitely read this book if you are in the mood to feel raw and heartsick. Kiersten White has written some of the best and most emotional depictions of war and conquest that I've ever read. There are betrayals upon betrayals in this book, and all of the characters do such terrible things. Ms. White handles subtleties and complications so well. 

Favorite Historical Fiction: The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry
This book is a fantastic work of historical fiction, made all the more enticing by the fact that it is set in a time and place that gets very little attention
when it comes to fictional narratives--the 13th century in southern France

Favorite "Fits in Multiple Categories" Book: A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielson

A Night Divided is on par with books like The War that Saved My Life. This novel is emotional and gripping, and I wanted so badly for it to end well, but I was so afraid that it wouldn't. Jennifer A. Nielsen did a spectacular job conveying the tense atmosphere of the German Democratic Republic.  (featured here)

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