Mini Review: The Marvels by Brian Selznick

Written by: Brian Selznick
Release Date: September 15th 2015
Pages: 665, Hardback
Series: Standalone
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Caldecott Award winner and bookmaking trailblazer Brian Selznick once again plays with the form he invented and takes readers on a voyage!

Two seemingly unrelated stories–one in words, the other in pictures–come together. The illustrated story begins in 1766 with Billy Marvel, the lone survivor of a shipwreck, and charts the adventures of his family of actors over five generations. The prose story opens in 1990 and follows Joseph, who has run away from school to an estranged uncle’s puzzling house in London, where he, along with the reader, must piece together many mysteries.

Mini

The number one thing I cannot stress enough is how much better Selznick gets with each and every book. Wonderstruck blew The Invention of Hugo Cabaret away, and now The Marvels has blown Wonderstruck away. If Selznick keeps going like this I don’t even know where we’ll be by the time he finishes publishing. Because holy wow this book was amazing.

This book took me longer than the others simply because it was written so differently. The first half of the book took me all of half an hour, because it was told entirely through pictures. I loved the narration, instead of the pictures adding to the story, or complicating the story (As it was with Hugo and Wonderstruck) this was a story completely held within the images. When the book itself picks up you’re left a little confused but the pieces quickly start coming together in a surprising and wonderful way.

Another thing I love about Selznick’s books is the way he handles subjects. In Wonderstruck it was deafness, in The Marvel’s it’s being gay. The man’s husband is treated no differently than if he’d had a wife. It’s mentioned as a simple fact and I can’t say how much I enjoy books that don’t make a big deal. They don’t scream that this book is LGBTQ+ and try and throw it in people’s faces, it just simply is.

By the end of the book when everything is coming together, well, I won’t spoil it, but let me tell you the twists were so beautiful, and and the story came together in such an unexpected way that I can say I’m so thrilled with this book. Overall I can’t really rave enough about how this book came together. I just want you to experience it for yourself. So don’t let the huge size get in your way, trust me, just jump in and enjoy it.

Sondra

Mini-Review: All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Written by: Jason Reynolds, Brendon Kiely
Release Date: September 29, 2015
Pages: 316, hardcover
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BookIn an unforgettable new novel from award-winning authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, two teens—one black, one white—grapple with the repercussions of a single violent act that leaves their school, their community, and, ultimately, the country bitterly divided by racial tension.

A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galuzzi, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement?

But there were witnesses: Quinn Collins—a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan—and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team—half of whom are Rashad’s best friends—start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before.

Written in tandem by two award-winning authors, this tour de force shares the alternating perspectives of Rashad and Quinn as the complications from that single violent moment, the type taken from the headlines, unfold and reverberate to highlight an unwelcome truth.

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I actually don’t have a whole lot to say about this book. It pretty much speaks for itself. But I think this book is amazing and important and I want to make as many people as possible aware of its existence, hence this mini-review!

Basically, this book has two points of view: Rashad, a black boy who is assaulted by a police officer, and Quinn, a white boy who witnesses the assault and know the officer who did it. We follow both boys as they deal with the consequences with the event and are forced to confront important questions about racism and violence, questions we all need to be asking ourselves given how many black people are killed by the police every year. (During one of the strongest scenes in the book, the names of some of these black people are called out at a rally, a reminder that even this book is fictional, the events it forces us to confront are all too real.)

The book is sharp and honest and unflinching, and by the end I felt for both of the boys and appreciated their journeys.  And of course, the book’s messages are so, so relevant–the most salient one being that racism is still real, and ignoring it or staying neutral doesn’t make it go away. As Quinn realizes, “If I wanted the violence to stop, I would have to do a hell of a lot more than say the right things and not say the wrong things.”

Polina

Book Review: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

Written by: Erin Bow
Release Date: September 22, 2015
Pages: 384
Series: Prisoners of Peace, #1
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The world is at peace, said the Utterances. And really, if the odd princess has a hard day, is that too much to ask?

Greta is a duchess and crown princess—and a hostage to peace. This is how the game is played: if you want to rule, you must give one of your children as a hostage. Go to war and your hostage dies.

Greta will be free if she can survive until her eighteenth birthday. Until then she lives in the Precepture school with the daughters and sons of the world’s leaders. Like them, she is taught to obey the machines that control their lives. Like them, she is prepared to die with dignity, if she must. But everything changes when a new hostage arrives. Elián is a boy who refuses to play by the rules, a boy who defies everything Greta has ever been taught. And he opens Greta’s eyes to the brutality of the system they live under—and to her own power.

As Greta and Elián watch their nations tip closer to war, Greta becomes a target in a new kind of game. A game that will end up killing them both—unless she can find a way to break all the rules.

LetsTalk

So the important way to preface this is by talking about me and dystopians.  I find them at the store, I think OH MAN THAT LOOKS SO GREAT I WANNA READ IT. I start the book, I get super into the book, and then there’s always this moment where I just get turned off. I don’t know what it is exactly, usually something to do with the gritty underbelly of a dystopian. I can read about the same type stuff in a High Fantasy and just eat it up like candy, but when it comes to a dystopian? I just get turned away. I usually finish the book, but with less excitement and I just walk away feeling meh.

Surprise, surprise, The Scorpion Rules was one of them. There’s nothing overly wrong with The Scorpion Rules at all! In fact the world building is absolutely amazing, the characters are great, the romance is a complete surprise, and the plot is actually really different. It’s just not a “Sondra Book”. That being said I’m gonna try to talk about the book itself and keep my own personal feelings about dystopians out of the question.

Greta’s story was a very interesting one to read, and I can only imagine the planning and world building that went into the plotting of this book. So much of this book is just subtext or background information that the readers pick up on before the characters do, or as a reader we wind up as blindsided as the Greta, which I feel is always something that I give major credit to authors over. I really liked getting to know all of the Children of Peace, and reading the background information to all of the world.

Didn'tWork

The pacing was so weird in this book. Like nothing would have happened, we tended to the garden as the Children of Peace do, and there was no real plot happening in the least…and then I look down and realize I’m 150 pages into the book. I really don’t know where those pages went or what even happened in them. The actual plot of the book could probably fit into a 50-100 page novella.

The ending was very ambiguous, the plot was wrapped up, but it was so wrapped up it felt like a standalone, but apparently this book is continuing on as a series. I honestly don’t understand how. Like I can see how we can follow the characters more, that they have more story to tell, but I’m just really confused as to why it’s needed?

DidWork

The world building was fantastic in this book. I loved the idea of the Children of Peace, the way that they deal with the world around them. Talis was a wonderful character and I adored him(and the way the author represented him) the way he interacted with people was a great thing.

The romance was another thing that was just fantastic. Based on the jacket copy I was expecting a very straight forward(Possibly instalove) heterosexual romance. I was completely 100% pleasantly surprised when this book took a homosexual turn and the romance was built so naturally that it made perfect sense. Greta’s sexuality is never named, or pointed out directly. No more than if she had stayed in the heterosexual romance. It was just so well done I was thrilled and loved them both.

Pickup

If you enjoy dystopian books then yes pick this one up. Because I can tell you as a dystopian it’s really quite something.

Sondra

ARC Review: Serpentine by Cindy Pon

Written by: Cindy Pon
Release Date: September 8, 2015
Pages: 300, hardcover
Series: Kingdom of Xia, #1
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Thank you to Month9Books for the ARC!

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Inspired by the rich history of Chinese mythology, this sweeping fantasy is set in the ancient Kingdom of Xia and tells the coming of age story of Skybright, a young girl who worries about her growing otherness. As she turns 16, Skybright notices troubling changes. By day, she is a companion and handmaid to the youngest daughter of a very wealthy family. But nighttime brings with it a darkness that not even daybreak can quell. When her plight can no longer be denied, Skybright learns that despite a dark destiny, she must struggle to retain her sense of self – even as she falls in love for the first time.

LetsTalk

Serpentine has two of my favorite things in the world: monstrous girls and female friendships. Add in a world with unique mythology based on Chinese legends and an author who was recommended to me by a lot of people I trust, and it’s safe to say that my expectations were pretty high.

Here’s the thing. I got exactly what I wanted with the parts I was excited about. I got the two girls loving and supporting each other even as the boundaries between them began to grow. I got the heroine who discovered a secret about who she was and came to terms with it in a subtle-but-kickass way. I got the different and vibrant mythology. And I really liked all of it.

But I still felt like there was something missing, like I got a gorgeous but not-very-detailed sketch. I think the book maybe could have been longer, with more development of the world and some secondary characters. I don’t know how long the actual book is, but the arc was a little over 200 pages, in VERY large print, and it maybe suffered because of that.

Despite my issues with that, and with the romance, I have to stress that I really liked Serpentine. With gorgeous imagery, a subtly strong heroine, and a powerful friendship between two women at the heart of the story, I think this book will appeal to a lot of people, and I highly encourage you all to check it out.

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Book Review: Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas

Written by: Sarah J. Maas
Release Date: October 13, 2015
Pages: 648, Hardback
Series: Throne of Glass, #4
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The queen has returned.

Everyone Celaena Sardothien loves has been taken from her. But she’s at last returned to the empire—for vengeance, to rescue her once-glorious kingdom, and to confront the shadows of her past . . .

She has embraced her identity as Aelin Galathynius, Queen of Terrasen. But before she can reclaim her throne, she must fight.

She will fight for her cousin, a warrior prepared to die for her. She will fight for her friend, a young man trapped in an unspeakable prison. And she will fight for her people, enslaved to a brutal king and awaiting their lost queen’s triumphant return.

The fourth volume in the New York Times bestselling series contrinues Celaena’s epic journey and builds to a passionate, agonizing crescendo that might just shatter her world.

 

LetsTalk

How do I even begin to explain Queen of Shadows.

The last book, Heir of Fire, was mainly set-up and (amazing) character development, not too heavy on things actually happening until the very end. On the other hand, Queen of Shadows was an Everything Happens So Much book, full of fun action scenes, brain-exploding reveals, and the beginning and continued build of some wonderful relationships. This is probably the Throne of Glass book I had the best reading experience with, though Heir of Fire is still my favorite.

To be honest, Queen of Shadows feels a little bit like fanfiction. I know a lot of people who have said that mean it in a bad way, but I don’t think feeling like fanfiction is necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. In this case, I’m leaning more towards ‘good’.

I feel like, even with the awesomeness that was Heir of Fire, I’ve still been going back and forth about whether or not I like the series as a whole for the past year, and Queen of Shadows cemented that, YES, I love this series, Aelin is the queen of my heart, the secondary characters are all beautiful (and OH MY GOD this book had SO MANY amazing female characters and friendships! that was for sure my favorite thing about the book), I’m emotional about a million different, and this series is a ride-or-die for me.

Since this has been a point of contention for the fandom, I’m going to address Chaol and his relationship with Aelin. First of all, I genuinely don’t understand how anyone can read this book from beginning to end and hate Chaol, or think Sarah J. Maas wanted them to hate Chaol, especially with that ending. Maybe the fandom was making such a big deal out of it that I was expecting him to be completely terrible and he…wasn’t. He had his asshole moments, but so did Aelin, and I understood where he was coming from and thought he actually brought up a few good points. I also think Chaol’s worse moments in this book, while more extreme than we’re used to, came from flaws that were established in previous books.

I don’t think the conflict was handled perfectly. Some of the accusations Chaol and Aelin threw at each other did make me squint a little, but I had to remind myself that neither of them had read Heir of Fire, so they had no way of knowing what the other person had been through the past few months. I also felt like the narrative framed Chaol as being wrong and Aelin being right a little too much–I would have preferred a balance there–but of course Chaol turned out to be right about a very important thing. Add in Chaol’s unflinching loyalty to Dorian and his actions at the end of the book and…yeah, I have more good things than bad to say here.

Also, I’m really happy that at the moment, all signs point firmly away from Aelin ending up with either of the guys from the original love triangle. I shipped Chaolaena a lot in the first two books, and when I reread Crown of Midnight recently I still felt a lot of things about them, but it’s over now and I’m fine with that. I’ve read so many books with love triangles where it was really obvious who the main character would end up with from the beginning that it just makes me really happy that Sarah J. Maas broke away from the format instead of dragging it out for the whole series. And I know people complain about how many love interests Aelin has had (I don’t think four in three years is all that much but that’s beside the point) but I do think it allows for some great messages: that you can fall in love more than once, that you can have more than one soulmate, that someone can be great for you at a certain time of your life but not so much at another, that just because it doesn’t work out romantically doesn’t mean you can’t be friends. And I love that the romance is pretty secondary; it’s an important part of Aelin’s life, but it definitely isn’t the only part.

This book is just So Much. My brain is bursting with things to say. I didn’t love everything about it, but I loved a lot of things, more than I ever would have expected to love in a Throne of Glass book when I started the series. Queen of Shadows is filled to the brim with excitement and adventure and feelings and women being awesome and I can’t wait for books five and six to explode my brain even more.

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ARC Review: Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman

Written by: Erin Bowman
Release Date: September 1, 2015
Pages: 336, Hardback
Series: Standalone
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Thanks to HMH Books for Young Readers for the ARC!

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When Kate Thompson’s father is killed by the notorious Rose Riders for a mysterious journal that reveals the secret location of a gold mine, the eighteen-year-old disguises herself as a boy and takes to the gritty plains looking for answers and justice. What she finds are devious strangers, dust storms, and a pair of brothers who refuse to quit riding in her shadow. But as Kate gets closer to the secrets about her family, she gets closer to the truth about herself and must decide if there’s room for love in a heart so full of hate.

In the spirit of True Grit, the cutthroat days of the Wild West come to life for a new generation.
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I’ve never been a big Western fan, at all. I’ve probably seen a total of two western movies in my life, both of which thanks to my late Grandmother who loved them with an undying passion. But for me it was always more of a meh thing. So I’m not exactly sure what drew me to Vengeance road truthfully. Quite possibly it was that cover(Have you SEEN it?), or maybe it was that the plot sounded interesting? I’m not sure really, either way when I got the chance to get an ARC at TLA I was actually really excited to snag a copy.

I put off starting this one though, half because I’d read bits and pieces and I wasn’t sure about the writing style, and half because admittedly it’s a Western. So when I found the perfect lull in my TBR I decided to just jump in and read it. Well let me say this right up front, I’m so glad I did.

Vengeance Road was completely out of my comfort zone, but it was such an amazing read I’m glad I took the jump. Even if it did mean more than once I looked up from my book to answer a question and found myself talking in absolute old western slang. (It weren’t fun y’all.)

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ARC Review: This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzie Lee

Written by: Mackenzie Lee
Release Date: September 22, 2015
Pages: 384, Hardback
Series: Standalone
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Thanks to HarperCollins and Edelweiss for the e-ARC!

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In 1818 Geneva, men built with clockwork parts live hidden away from society, cared for only by illegal mechanics called Shadow Boys. Two years ago, Shadow Boy Alasdair Finch’s life shattered to bits.

His brother, Oliver—dead.

His sweetheart, Mary—gone.

His chance to break free of Geneva—lost.

Heart-broken and desperate, Alasdair does the unthinkable: He brings Oliver back from the dead.

But putting back together a broken life is more difficult than mending bones and adding clockwork pieces. Oliver returns more monster than man, and Alasdair’s horror further damages the already troubled relationship.

Then comes the publication of Frankenstein and the city intensifies its search for Shadow Boys, aiming to discover the real life doctor and his monster. Alasdair finds refuge with his idol, the brilliant Dr. Geisler, who may offer him a way to escape the dangerous present and his guilt-ridden past, but at a horrible price only Oliver can pay…

LetsTalk

I won’t lie, this book would’ve been one of those books that I added to my TBR on GoodReads, completely forgot about, and then years later gave up and deleted off. It happens to far more books than I’m cool with admitting. But a few things wound up happening that changed that, namely I met the author while she was working. I kinda stalked her, then all awkwardly jumped over and asked her to sign my autograph book. It was such a fun interaction that I knew this book had to be bumped up my list and started ASAP.

This Monstrous Thing does start out with a huge impact, it’s the classic Frankenstein scene that we all have seen portrayed in some format or another (Pretty sure my first time watching it was Veggie Tales, but I digress). But from that one iconic moment forward everything is changed and rewritten. Not only do we jump forward two years in the lives of the characters, but everything has seemingly fallen apart for Alastair, he’s suddenly seemingly alone, there’s also no sign of his monster, or the girl he was in love with, Mary.

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ARC Review: Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

00Written by: Rae Carson
Release Date: September 22, 2015
Pages: 432, Hardback
Series: The Gold Seer Trilogy #1
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The first book in a new trilogy from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Rae Carson. A young woman with the magical ability to sense the presence of gold must flee her home, taking her on a sweeping and dangerous journey across Gold Rush–era America.

Lee Westfall has a secret. She can sense the presence of gold in the world around her. Veins deep beneath the earth, pebbles in the river, nuggets dug up from the forest floor. The buzz of gold means warmth and life and home—until everything is ripped away by a man who wants to control her. Left with nothing, Lee disguises herself as a boy and takes to the trail across the country. Gold was discovered in California, and where else could such a magical girl find herself, find safety? Rae Carson, author of the acclaimed Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy, dazzles with this new fantasy that subverts both our own history and familiar fantasy tropes.

Walk on Earth a Stranger, the first book in this new trilogy, introduces—as only Rae Carson can—a strong heroine, a perilous road, a fantastical twist, and a slow-burning romance. Includes a map and author’s note on historical research.

 

LetsTalk

In elementary school, I was kind of obsessed with people travelling west across America in the 1800s. I read so many Dear America books on the subject, it’s kind of ridiculous. So right off the bat, I was immediately into this book (and Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, which I never reviewed but also loved) for nostalgic purposes. This book takes place during the San Francisco Gold Rush; the main character (who can sense gold in the ground) disguises herself as a boy and joins a wagon train going west after her uncle murders her parents.

But I liked this book for more reasons than just nostalgia. Walk on Earth a Stranger introduced me to a brave, resilient heroine and a varied cast of characters I can’t help but care about. There’s beautiful writing, very on-point discussion of racism and sexism, a story that alternates between heartwrenching and heartwarming, and a premise I can’t wait to see further exploration of in the next two books.

This book was described to me as historical fantasy, but while there are magical elements, they generally take a back seat, to the point where I sometimes forgot they were supposed to be there. I assume Lee’s powers will be more involved in later books. Either way, I thought this one worked the way it was–spectacular character driven historical fiction with just a little hint of something else.

 

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