March 4, 2015

Review: Rose and the Silver Ghost

Rose and the Silver Ghost Book four of the Rose series (my reviews)
By Holly Webb
Available now from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Review copy

In the final novel of the Rose series, Holly Webb brings Rose's parentage to light through a mysterious mirror, a dangerous gang, and two loyal women.  There's still war brewing on the horizon, but it is mostly an afterthought, something the grown-ups are focusing on while Rose and her friends chase the truth and run straight into danger.  But the kids will be drawn back in before the end.

I thought ROSE AND THE SILVER GHOST was a wonderful end to the series.  It stays true to the lessons Rose has learned about magic and responsibility.  The events of the novel also force Rose to face the ways she's changed, and that she can never go back to just being a maid.  I'm not entirely happy with the way she was forced to give up the last bits of her earlier identity, but she really isn't that little girl anymore.  ROSE AND THE SILVER GHOST also continues the darker direction that started in the third book, although the story is still appropriate for younger children.  There are some things they might find scary.

I will miss Rose, Freddie, Bella, and Bill.  All four children had distinct, memorable personalities and worked so well together.  Then there was Gus.  I can think of very few books that wouldn't be improved with the addition of a talking cat.  It's just common sense.

I doubt ROSE AND THE SILVER GHOST would be that exciting for anyone who hasn't read the first three books on gone on this journey with Rose.  But these books are short and delightful, so there's no reason not to catch up now that the entire series is available in the US.

March 3, 2015

Review: The Bunker Diary

The Bunker Diary By Kevin Brooks
Available now from Carolrhoda Books (Lerner, USA) and Penguin (UK)
Review copy
Carnegie Medal Award 2014

It's no secret that I prefer books with happy endings.  But Kevin Brooks has written many books with unhappy endings that I've loved, most especially MARTYN PIG, which I first read way back as a teensy little sixth grader.

THE BUNKER DIARY makes the rest of his books look happy.

At the same time, I find it strangely optimistic.

Linus Weems is a sixteen-year-old runaway who has been on the street for almost half a year when he falls for the oldest trick in the book: helping a disabled man get something into the back of a van.  He wakes up in a bunker with six rooms, six notebooks, six plates, and six cups.  There's water, but no food.  And there are cameras everywhere.  Eventually, there are five other people too.  They don't know why they've been taking or what their captor wants, but they have to try to get out.

What's interesting to me is that as bleak as THE BUNKER DIARY is, there's hints of worse things around the edges.  Linus is the one writing the narrative, but he mostly dismisses the odd interplay he hears between one of the men and the woman who are trapped in the bunker is well.  He focuses mostly on Jenny, the second captive who is a little girl, and Russell, the final captive who is dying without his medication.

It's also interesting that Brooks doesn't have things simply devolve to THE LORD OF THE FLIES level.  Most of the captives don't like each other, but they aren't leaping at the opportunity to hurt each other either.  Perhaps it is because they're being hurt enough by their captor, who sometimes turns off the heat or turns it way up or withholds food or blasts noise through the bunker.  Seriously, this is a dark book about people struggling in a very unpleasant situation.

I'm not surprised that THE BUNKER DIARY winning the Carnegie was controversial.  It has an ending that makes you question whether the book was worth it, whether it was worth reading something so unrelentingly bleak.  I'm leaning toward yes, but I'm not sure I have the answer.

March 2, 2015

Review: Red Queen

Red Queen First in a series
By Victoria Aveyard
Available now from HarperTeen (HarperCollins)
Review copy

RED QUEEN is not a good book, if I'm going to tell the truth.  It's also true that I thought it was insanely fun to read and I want the sequel right now.  The plot basically runs on convenient things happening and the world isn't explored half as much as it could be, but the characters sell it.

The setup of RED QUEEN is fairly simple and familiar.  Mare Barrow is a Red, who are basically normal humans.  When they turn eighteen, if they don't have jobs, they're conscripted to join the army.  Mare steals to survive because she wants her family as well off as they can be before she has to join the army in a few months.  It's fairly believable.  Plenty of countries have mandatory conscription, and the exception for people with jobs offers the populace just enough hope. 

The Silvers, implied to be a different species who invaded (but this is never explored), are on top and each has a superpower of a specific type.  It's also believable that an equal population of people with superpowers could rule over a population of normal people.  It's also believable that the people who are on the bottom still wouldn't be happy about this and would seize chances to rebel.  There's not much depth there, but it's plausible enough that you can go with it.  RED QUEEN is silly, but not stupid.

Mare's life changes when she turns out to have a power despite being a Red.  She finds herself proclaimed a lost princess and engaged to the younger prince, Maven.  Enter the surprisingly tolerable love triangle.  Mare has a best friend back home she'll do anything to save (who is equally loyal to her), but there's no indication that it's romantic.  Hooray for platonic male-female friendships!  Mare is attracted to Cal, the perfect older prince.  She also finds herself falling for Maven as he becomes her ally in the palace - and further. 

Mare does not forget where she came from, or that her people will always be in danger if things stay the way they are.  She sets out to act, to blend in so that she doesn't die needlessly but to still help the rebellion.  She doesn't spend her time swooning over boys' attractiveness, although she might notice them in the moment.  And she romantically favors one option over the other because he seems more sympathetic to her cause, and that's the way to her heart.

RED QUEEN ponders terrorism and propaganda at times, although it generally remains shallow instead of really digging into the ideological costs.  But Mare's voice is appealing and the story moves along at a good pace.  I cared about what happened next to these characters.  It's cliche YA fantasy, but debut author Victoria Aveyard does it well.  I hope that in the sequels she continues to play to her strengths and gather the courage to depart from form more.  I'll definitely read them, especially after that ending.

February 27, 2015

Some Fine Day launch giveaway!

Some Fine Day You could win a Kindle Paperwhite with a custom cover, preloaded with SOME FINE DAY by Kat Ross. I own a Paperwhite myself, and I absolutely love it.  I use it every day during my lunch break.  There's also a second place prize (two winners) of a signed copy of SOME FINE DAY and a third place prize (two winners) of the audiobook on CD.  The contest runs through March 7th.

You might be familiar with SOME FINE DAY as it was originally slated to be released from Strange Chemistry before Angry Robot closed the imprint.  Skyscape subsequently acquired it.

A generation ago, continent-sized storms called hypercanes caused the Earth to flood. The survivors were forced to retreat deep underground and build a new society.

This is the story that sixteen-year-old Jansin Nordqvist has heard all of her life.

Jansin grew up in a civilization far below the Earth’s surface. She’s spent the last eight years in military intelligence training. So when her parents surprise her with a coveted yet treacherous trip above ground, she’s prepared for anything. She’s especially thrilled to feel the fresh air, see the sun, and view the wide-open skies and the ocean for herself.

But when raiders attack Jansin’s camp and take her prisoner, she is forced to question everything she’s been taught. What do her captors want? How will she get back underground? And if she ever does, will she want to stay after learning the truth?

Some Fine Day is available for purchase on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

About the author:

Kat Ross was born and raised in New York City and worked several jobs before turning to journalism and creative writing. An avid traveler and adventurer, she now lives with her family - along with a beagle, a ginger cat, and six fish - far enough outside the city that skunks and deer wander through her backyard. 

You can find Kat on Twitter and her website.

You can enter the giveaway below or on Kat's website.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

February 26, 2015

Review: Listen, Slowly

Listen, Slowly By Thanhhà Lại
Available now from HarperCollins
Review copy

Thanhhà Lại's second novel is also her first novel in prose.  INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN announced her presence on the children's lit scene in a big way, winning both a National Book Award and a Newbery Honor.  LISTEN, SLOWLY makes it clear that her debut was no fluke.

Mai is eagerly anticipating her summer with her best friend and crush, excited that at twelve, she's almost a teenager.  But when a detective brings news that her Ong (grandfather) might be alive, she finds herself accompanying her grandmother to a small village in Vietnam for the summer.  Mai is a bit of a whiner at this point, but no more than any kid giving up summer in the beach for summer with access to dial-up if you go to the local cafe.  Worse, she only kinda sorta speaks the language.

I loved Mai's gentle growth throughout the novel.  The first real connection she makes is easy, with a teen guy who is an exchange student in Houston during the school year and who can speak English with her.  As she opens up, she makes more friends and learns more about the lives of the people around her.  (And gets some good advice regarding using sunscreen not made for your face on your face.)  She also becomes interested in the mystery of her grandfather, tracking just what happened to him after he escaped capture during the Vietnam War.

Thanhhà Lại develops her scenes sensually, with both pleasant and unpleasant details.  There are itchy bug bites and glowing frogs and squelching mud.  Mai makes visits to major cities as well, finding that life there is very different and she's equally unprepared for getting around.  I also liked how she dealt with Mai's frustration that her family wants her to know more about her roots, but refuses to talk about why and how they emigrated.  Mai's connections to her specific and unspecific roots both feel authentic.

LISTEN, SLOWLY is a book that makes you want to listen, slowly.  It has family secrets and cross-cultural barriers and female friendship and all sorts of good stuff.  It has a focus on language, getting it right, translating for others, and learning how to speak it so those less proficient can understand.  Most of all, it has great writing.  It's not a long read, aimed at fourth grade or so, but it is one that has enough depth for older readers too.


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