Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath by Ishbelle Bee is a garden of horror and delight 

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The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath by Ishbelle Bee is a garden of horror and delight 

I’ve read a lot of strange things in my life, but I’ve never read anything this weird.  That isn’t to say that I didn’t like it, but it is definitely a niche read for an audience who doesn’t mind a lot of macabre in their lace trimmed Victorian fairy tale.  The intricate language is tiresome, but if you want the horror and delight of a strangely evocative nightmare, this is a book for you.  Think Sweeney Todd and scary Alice in Wonderland.  This is not what I would consider YA, but it might appeal to the more adventerous YA reader. This book publishes on June 2, 2015.

  
Goodreads Summary

1888. A little girl called Mirror and her shape-shifting guardian Goliath Honeyflower are washed up on the shores of Victorian England. Something has been wrong with Mirror since the day her grandfather locked her inside a mysterious clock that was painted all over with ladybirds. Mirror does not know what she is, but she knows she is no longer human.

John Loveheart, meanwhile, was not born wicked. But after the sinister death of his parents, he was taken by Mr Fingers, the demon lord of the underworld. Some say he is mad. John would be inclined to agree.

Now Mr Fingers is determined to find the little girl called Mirror, whose flesh he intends to eat, and whose soul is the key to his eternal reign. And John Loveheart has been called by his otherworldly father to help him track Mirror down… 

My Thoughts

While this book isn’t for everyone, it was an intriguing work for fans of the strangely beautiful and horrifyingly unusual.  It creates an interesting juxtaposition of enchanting and dreadful for the literary adventurer, and both the prose and plot contribute to the feeling of tipping between the sweetest dream and the most ghastly nightmare.  While Mirror and Goliath are the titular characters, the narrative structure works harder to parallel the inner clockwork of John Loveheart. Readers will find the ever shifting sands of the story draw both disgust and grudging adoration for the enigmatic Loveheart, and he is really the heart of the story.  While the narrative winds and turns back on itself, leaving some characters to an uncertain fate until it loops back around, it added to the funhouse carnival disorientation, and it really wasn’t too hard to pinpoint the timeline once you had the knack of it.   I will say that I was annoyed by the prose at times.  Sometimes it became the incoherent babble of madness to illustrate a character’s rotten inner workings, but at others, it really was just overindulgent.  Victorian whimsy and wonderland madness soften the gruesome aspects to some degree, but readers should be prepared for some rather appalling behavior from the the deceptively genteel characters who populate Ishbelle Bee’s London.  I haven’t ever read anything like it, but I think if you were mesmerized by Louis Carroll’s Wonderland or unnaturally intrigued and delighted by the most grim fates in the traditional fairytales, this is your book.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Disruption by Steven Whibley – start your summer reading with an adrenaline fueled YA espionage adventure (and repeated explosions)

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Disruption by Steven Whibley – start your summer reading with an adrenaline fueled YA espionage adventure (and repeated explosions)

So, you’ve already read all of the Alex Rider books and you even picked up Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick based on my glowing recommendation.  Now, you find yourself bored, with adrenaline to spare, and you can’t find anything remotely interesting.  Never fear.  I have your next book!  Disruption by Steven Whibley is exactly what you have been looking for.  Action packed and as funny as a cabin full of psychopathic teens can ever be, this book will undoubtedly hold your attention.  Fast paced, action packed and full of explosions, combat, and a little bit of bumbling luck, this book will keep you guessing and keep you reading.  

  
Goodreads Summary

At fourteen, Matt Cambridge has executed so many pranks – the latest nearly destroying his school – that his parents are out of discipline options. So his father pulls a few questionable strings to get his son into Camp Friendship: A camp that promises to strengthen the moral compass of today’s youth. With a name like Camp Friendship Matt imagines three punishing weeks of daisy chains and Kumbayas.

Within minutes of arriving at the camp, however, Matt’s nearly killed–twice. It doesn’t take long for him to realize there’s more to this picture-perfect place than meets the eye. What sort of summer camp has programs in forging passports? Why do they have endless fight training, and weapons drills, and what is with the hidden rooms? Matt wonders if his parents realize they’ve enrolled him in what seems to be some kind of freakish, elite spy school.

What Matt doesn’t yet know – and is soon to find out – is that Camp Friendship’s ultimate purpose is far more sinister than he could possibly have imagined. With each dot he connects, he begins to understand that in the end he’ll be left with two choices: pull the prank of a lifetime to escape this place…or die trying. 

My Thoughts

The summary doesn’t really do this one justice.  Sure, Matt starts out acting like a bratty fourteen year old, but he reads like a real YA as he quickly has to mature to acclimate to this dangerous setting.  I thought he would skew a lot younger than he did, but I’m delighted to say he is a narrative voice that will appeal to YA readers in high school and beyond. He actually is a moral compass in the extreme world of Camp Friendship, and this seems to be what allows the best parts of him to balance out the juvenile glee he gets from causing mayhem.  Secondly, this summary fails to really get the point across that Camp Friendship is no game, and the “pranks” they keep referencing?  They go well beyond setting off a cherry bomb in a toilet.  This place is deadly, and Matt is only surviving because of dumb luck (until he isn’t).  Fast paced and absolutely full of action, weapons, and a unique take on camp activities (read: lessons on withstanding interrogation and torture), this book has little time for lulls or boredom.  If you like high octane action and a little humor in your spy stories, this is definitely the book for you.  I gave it five stars because it exceeded my expectations for this genre.  It is also only $3.99 for your kindle ($0 if you have kindle unlimited).  It is appropriate for grades 7+, but it does have a lot of violence.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Jeffe Kennedy’s The Twelve Kingdoms series gives readers romance, tough leading ladies, and a touch of magic.  

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Jeffe Kennedy’s The Twelve Kingdoms series gives readers romance, tough leading ladies, and a touch of magic.  

Sometimes I come across a book that isn’t YA but that my more mature YA readers might enjoy.  The Twelve Kingdoms series by Jeffe Kennedy is an adult fantasy series that follows three very different sisters.  The oldest, Ursula, is the heir, warrior,  and favorite of their father, the King.  Princess Andromeda is the invisible middle sister who has a future on a throne that no one could have predicted.  Princess Amelia is the youngest and the  beauty, the apple of every man’s eye, and she, too, has no idea what big plans fate has in store for her.  Each sister has her own book, and together they form a nicely finished trilogy (though I have heard the author has been signed to two more books).  These are essentially medieval-like romance novels with a nice touch of magic and a good dose of strong female protagonist. Because these are romances, there are scenes of sensuality, and there are a few that are more graphic than I would normally recommend to a student, but mature readers won’t be terribly shocked, and you can always skip those scenes. These books should be read in order for the best experience, but the first book is the weakest and the third one is my favorite.   If you like the Sarah J. Maas Throne of Glass series, or if you enjoyed  Robin LeFever’s His Fair Assassin books, you will probably like these.  Hopefully each cover is linked and will take you to the Goodreads page for the individual books (fingers crossed).  

 

Book 1: Princess Andromeda’s story

 
 

Book 2:  Princess Amelia's story

Book 2: Princess Amelia’s story

Book 3:  Princess Ursula's story

Book 3: Princess Ursula’s story


I received an ARC of the 2nd and 3rd book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Awesome by Eva Darrows is the book your mom definitely doesn’t want you to read, but it’s sooo fantastically awesome that you might just need to read it anyway.

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The Awesome by Eva Darrows is the book your mom definitely doesn’t want you to read, but it’s sooo fantastically awesome that you might just need to read it anyway.

I adored this book with every fiber of my slightly evil being.  It is absolutely in my top ten for 2015.  Just don’t tell your mom where you got the nod on this one, and we can all be happy, rebellious and empowered ladies.  

  
Seventeen year old Maggie knows monsters, she kills them as an apprentice to her monster hunting mom.  Maggie knows who she is, and it isn’t the hot vampire slayer in leather pants and high heel boots (so not sensible, plus that whole muffin top thing).  However, she has no idea how she is going to conquer the one thing standing in the way of getting her own hunting license — losing her v card.  Unapologetically crude, unforgettably empowering, unerringly witty — this is the book your mother warned you about, and the one your friends will be talking about.  A mix between a good Stephanie Plum adventure and an early Anita Blake (before she got ALL freaky), I laughed out loud from cover to cover.  Even the extremely crass humor and mature language couldn’t disguise positive messages about the bonds between family,  the importance of personal acceptance, and the surprising things you find when you look past your prejudices.  Wildly engaging and wildly innappropriate, The Awesome is a book I want to recommend to all my students, but, alas, it is never going to be approved for my classroom library.  It might accidentally end up “abandoned” in the cafeteria with a little note that sends it on a fantastic forbidden journey a la Are You There, God?  It’s Me, Margaret.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  

Polaris Awakening May 26

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Polaris Awakening May 26

If you enjoy science fiction, especially YA science fiction, this anthology surely has something for you.  I don’t read many short story collections because I never order an appetizer when there is steak on the menu, but I’m glad I gave this one a shot. Space, aliens, rebellion, young love, revenge, giant desert space lizards – the variety is guaranteed to give you something you will adore.  As a matter of fact, there was only one story I didn’t like.  So, even if you just buy it for your coffee break reads or, you know, as bathroom literature, I don’t think you will be disappointed.

  
Goodreads Summary

ZEUS PROTOCOL 000101: REBOOT, SCAN. 

DANGER DETECTED. 

THREAT LEVEL: UNKNOWN. 

RECOMMENDED ACTION: INCREASE MILITARY PRESENCE.

There’s trouble brewing on Polaris. Under the watchful eye of the space station’s supercomputer, Zeus, the lower classes are awakening to the corruption of their wealthy, privileged, and protected leaders. When the quiet voices of protest get louder and alliances form, change dawns on the horizon. But the small acts of resistance won’t be enough to subvert the system for long. Zeus is alert to the growing threat level, and he will do whatever’s necessary—including purging the lower levels of Polaris—to preserve stability for all.

Inspired by the mythology of the constellations hung around Polaris, the seven stories in Polaris Awakening reimagine the classic characters in a futuristic world where alien creatures are commonplace, combat arenas are used for entertaining foreign dignitaries, slaves and soldiers stand side by side, and music orchestrates a revolution. And their first acts of defiance are just the beginning. Polaris will never be the same.

ZEUS PROTOCOL 000099: ENGAGE THREAT. 

My Thoughts

This is a strong YA science fiction anthology. Each story is connected to the Polaris space station, a station whose systems are indicating a higher rebellion and threat level than before.  Causes are unknown, but readers will soon see how love, betrayal, greed, revenge, and the universal conflicts of growing up contribute to the unease.  I enjoyed all of the stories, but I also remembered why I don’t particularly like short story anthologies – I wanted all of them to continue!  While I initially felt baffled by the intro, I quickly picked up on the social and political systems behind the society in and around Polaris.  Some stories connect with only the overall structure, while others have crossover elements, but each one has a unique plot and a set of characters that readers will care about.  My favorite story was “Gemini” by Janna Jennings.  It involves a missing space princess, a seriously upgraded boxing match, and a regret that left me dying to finish what this story started.  

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Weight of Guilt by Jon Ripslinger

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The Weight of Guilt by Jon Ripslinger

Look, I know I’m a grown up, and thus, suspect, but, kids, I promise this is solid advice:  Don’t hang out with guys who have dead girlfriends piling up in their wake.  It’s dumb.  I know you think he needs you to rescue him.  I understand.  Still.  If you still don’t believe me, you can read this book, which will tell you something different, but will ultimately prove my point.

  
When Charlie’s best friend is found floating in the Mississippi, the obvious suspect is the new guy in town.  After all, the last girl to leave a party with John also ended up dead.  But Charlie knows that Megan was keeping secrets, and her gut tells her that the biggest threat in her small town is not John.  The alternating narrative between Charlie and John, has appeal for both male and female readers, but it does result in some repetition of events, which slows the pace.  There are plenty of secrets and suspects, but I was able to guess the murderer long before the characters puzzled it out, so most readers will find their experience is more about the tension of dramatic irony than suspense.  The action is fairly well paced, but I did find the resolution was a little overly complicated, and, ultimately it demanded a suspension of disbelief I wasn’t prepared for in a contemporary mystery.  I think this is an enjoyable, if average read.  It is a little edgy, and it certainly feels like the threat to characters is real, so I think my high school readers, the target audience, will find it engaging.  More discerning readers will find it less compelling.  

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Lion Heart is a five star conclusion to A.C. Gaughen’s Scarlet Trilogy

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Lion Heart is a five star conclusion to A.C. Gaughen’s Scarlet Trilogy

If you haven’t read A.C. Gaugin’s Scarlet or Lady Thief, stop, turn around, and read those first.  This review will be somewhat of a spoiler for an excellent series that you don’t want ruined!  If you have read the first two books in this series, you may proceed.

Goodreads Summary

The eagerly-awaited conclusion to the Scarlet trilogy delivers another action-packed and romance-filled adventure.

Scarlet has captured the hearts of readers as well as the heart of Robin Hood, and after ceaseless obstacles and countless threats, readers will finally find out the fate of the Lady Thief.

Imprisoned by Prince John for months, Scarlet finds herself a long way from Nottinghamshire. After a daring escape from the Prince’s clutches, she learns that King Richard’s life is in jeopardy, and Eleanor of Aquitaine demands a service Scarlet can’t refuse: spy for her and help bring Richard home safe. But fate—and her heart—won’t allow her to stay away from Nottinghamshire for long, and together, Scarlet and Rob must stop Prince John from going through with his dark plans for England. They can not rest until he’s stopped, but will their love be enough to save them once and for all?

My Thoughts

This is one series that just got better with each book.  Lion Heart is a strong conclusion to the Scarlet Trilogy, and fans will not be disappointed about a single thing with the way things end, except the fact that their time with Robin and Scarlet is over.  Finding out that she has royal blood changed a lot of things for Scarlet, but it didn’t change her fiercely protective and stubbornly self-sacrificing nature.  Lion Heart isn’t a simple wrap up book — there are still plenty of challenges to overcome, battles to fight, and treasures to steal, um, I mean, guard.  All the scheming, combat, and trickery that readers have come to expect are present in this book, but the stakes are higher as Prince John’s end game threatens more than just the people of Nottingham.  Scarlet must use her new found power to undermine him as never before, but bigger stakes mean bigger rewards and bigger sacrifices.  Can she once again let the people she loves put themselves in the line of fire, especially now that she has seen how far Prince John is willing to go to punish those who get in his way?  The pacing is spot on, the romance is sweeter, and the characters have finally become the people they were meant to be.   I’m sure there are grumps who will find a million things flaws, but this was one book that gave me what I wanted, how I wanted it, and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.  Well, except for a follow up novella.  I can ask for that, right?

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Misfit Debutantes, Espionage, and Something Stranje add up to a fun YA Historical adventure in Kathleen Baldwin’s A School for Unusual Girls

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Misfit Debutantes, Espionage, and Something Stranje add up to a fun YA Historical adventure in Kathleen Baldwin’s A School for Unusual Girls

If you enjoy YA historical books like Y.S. Lee’s The Agency series, Gail Carringer’s Finishing School series, or Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle books, this is a good bet for you.  Settle in with a new set of misfit debutantes working to protect their country from Napoleon’s evil clutches.  Adventure, romance, and smart girls abound in this delightful little book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and read it straight through in an evening. The pacing of the adventure means the pacing of romantic relationships is rushed, but it didn’t effect my overall enjoyment. Many girls of Stranje house were still an enigma to me by the end of the book, but that left room for development and surprises in future installments of the series. 

 
Goodreads Summary

It’s 1814. Napoleon is exiled on Elba. Europe is in shambles. Britain is at war on four fronts. And Stranje House, a School for Unusual Girls, has become one of Regency England’s dark little secrets. The daughters of the beau monde who don’t fit high society’s constrictive mold are banished to Stranje House to be reformed into marriageable young ladies. Or so their parents think. In truth, Headmistress Emma Stranje, the original unusual girl, has plans for the young ladies—plans that entangle the girls in the dangerous world of spies, diplomacy, and war.

After accidentally setting her father’s stables on fire while performing a scientific experiment, Miss Georgiana Fitzwilliam is sent to Stranje House. But Georgie has no intention of being turned into a simpering, pudding-headed, marriageable miss. She plans to escape as soon as possible—until she meets Lord Sebastian Wyatt. Thrust together in a desperate mission to invent a new invisible ink for the English war effort, Georgie and Sebastian must find a way to work together without losing their heads—or their hearts… 

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Jessica Warman’s The Last Good Day of the Year  is a chilling YA mystery 

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Jessica Warman’s The Last Good Day of the Year  is a chilling YA mystery 

The Last Good Day of the Year is a solid and well written YA mystery/suspense/thriller with an ending that left me haunted.  Time and age often change our perceptions of events, and in this case, a teen realizes she isn’t so sure about an accusation she made as a child – an accusation that put a boy in prison and may have let a killer walk free.  I gave this four stars, and I can’t wait to get it in our classroom library.

Goodreads Review

A new powerful thriller from the globally-embraced author of Between.

Ten years ago, in the early hours of New Year’s Day, seven-year-old Samantha and her next door neighbor, Remy, watched as a man broke into Sam’s home and took her younger sister, Turtle, from her sleeping bag. Remy and Sam, too afraid to intervene at the time, later identified the man as Sam’s sister Gretchen’s much older ex-boyfriend, Steven, who was sent to prison for Turtle’s murder.

Now, Sam’s shattered family is returning to her childhood home in an effort to heal. As long-buried memories begin to surface, Sam wonders if she and Remy accurately registered everything they saw. The more they re-examine the events of that fateful night, the more questions they discover about what really happened to Turtle.

Master storyteller Jessica Warman keeps readers guessing in this arresting page-turner.

My Thoughts

This was a compelling mystery that kept me guessing, and the end was chilling.  This isn’t an action packed book, but it is well paced to develop the complex miasma of damage, guilt, and questions that haunt a family who has lost a child.  Samantha is a perfectly situated narrator.  Hovering between the innocent child and the aware young adult, Sam is trying to make sense of what she thought she knew and her growing suspicions.  Her hesitation to upset the finely balanced life her family now lives makes sense to readers.  Her compulsion to understand what really happened is equally clear. I thought this was very engaging and I read it in one sitting.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Hold Me Like A Breath is the first in a series of fairy tale retellings that are part Grimm and part The Sopranos

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Hold Me Like A Breath is the first in a series of fairy tale retellings that are part Grimm and part The Sopranos

I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I picked up Hold Me Like A Breath, and it took me a long time to decide I did like this story of a physically weak female in a brutally violent world, but by the end, I was so sold.  This is certainly something different from the long list of books featuring impossibly tough female protagonists, but realism does have its perks.

 

 

Seventeen year old Penelope lives within the guilded cage built by the money from her family’s dealings in the black market organ transplant business.  It isn’t just the guards and gates that keep her inside.  A severe blood disorder guarantees that she is coddled and protected in a thick layer of cautious air kisses and soft padded spaces.  She dreams of being free, but when she finally escapes, it is in a hail of gunfire brought on by a rival family.  Left to find her way in a world she has never been prepared for, Penelope will learn what it means to live, to love, to lose, and to survive.  While I expected Penelope to be a really strong female protagonist, someone who seizes power and respect, she just wasn’t that girl.  That was okay with me.  We can’t all be Katniss, and the strength that Penelope has is more realistic for the average reader to aspire towards – grit.  She is absolutely knocked on her tail many times in this story, and her blood disorder forces her to admit her weakness isn’t just an underestimation of her abilities by the patriarchical structure of society.  She really doesn’t know how to navigate a world were every friend has become a suspected enemy, and neither does the reader who sees everything through her perspective which creates a lot of anticipation and suspense.  I really had a hard time putting this book down once the action started, and the line in the summary about betrayal had me wrapped in knots because I knew it was coming, but I just didn’t know who or where it would come from.  The romance in this story was sweet and gently romantic.  Penelope has all the longings any teen girl will relate to, but the author takes the time to develop a companionship between her characters, and if the love that grows from it felt a little rushed, it can be explained by the rocky and bruising circumstances.  Readers who recognize this as fairy tale realism will be quite pleased with the mix of human limitations and romantic idealizations. I tried not to ruin the inspiration for this story (one I didn’t pick up on until I read the author’s notes) — it was such an Ohhh! moment, and I think others will enjoy it as well if they can wait that long to peek.  This is the first in the “Once Upon A Crime Family” series, and I will certainly be looking for the next.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.