Tag Archive | ARCs

Book Review: Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis

My family name was once Fayleure. But somebody changed it. I’d ask that you get your “failure” jokes out of the way now. I am anything but.

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Timmy Failure has a lot going for him, really. A successful business with an unparalleled partner, his own transportation, and all the answers. Okay, so his business partner is a polar bear named Total, so their business is officially named Total Failure, Inc. And “successful” might be stretching things. And his transportation – the Failuremobile – is his mom’s Segway, which she has said he is allowed to use “Never. Ever. Ever.” And his answers might be a little, well, not quite correct. But he has big plans for the “Timmy Empire” and world domination, if he can just get his business off the ground.

Well, and his mom’s Segway out of the hands of his arch-nemesis.

To tell the truth, when I first saw this cover, I rolled my eyes a bit. Another Wimpy Kid read-alike, I thought. But Timmy has a certain charm in his complete obliviousness of the world around him, and his irrepressible optimistic nature. He is absolutely determined that he is going to conquer the world. He is convinced that he is the smartest detective ever, even though the reader can hardly help but laugh out loud at the conclusions Timmy draws from the clues he gathers. Pastis slyly reveals the reality of Timmy’s life at home and at school, as much as Timmy lives in denial of the facts, and the side of Timmy that is a really sweet kid underneath his tough talk. By the end, I was completely won over, and I can hardly wait to get this first volume of the series into the hands of middle-graders at my library (not mention my own hands on volume two).

On shelves: February 26, 2013

Source: ARC provided by the publisher at ALA Midwinter Meeting 2013

 

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Book Review: Starters by Lissa Price

Hearing his words made it all too real. Creepy old Enders with arthritic limbs taking over this teen’s body for week, living inside his skin.

Starters (Starters, #1)
Starters by Lissa Price
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

 

Synopsis:
A year ago, Callie lived the life of an average teenager in Southern California. She lived in a house with her mom and her dad and her little brother, Tyler. Then the war that had been raging so far away hit home with the detonation of a Spore missile and the subsequent disease that killed almost everyone between the ages of 20 and 60. Without older living relatives to claim them, Callie and Tyler have been on the run from the authorities, squatting in abandoned buildings and fighting off dangerous Renegades. They are running out of resources, and Tyler is ill. But in Beverly Hills, there is a place called Prime Destinations, a company that will pay handsomely if she will do the nearly unthinkable: allow them to use her body as a rental for elderly “Enders” to experience being young again. Desperate, Callie signs on, only to learn that both Prime Destinations and her final renter have plans worse than she could have imagined.

 

Review:
A post-apocalyptic Los Angeles is the setting for this entry in the popular Dystopian YA genre. In Price’s version of the near future, the “sandwich generation” is gone, leaving a world populated by elderly “Enders” who now live well in their second century and under-20 “Starters”, who have no rights at all until they come of age at 19. The lucky ones are those with grandparents, great-grandparents, and other senior relatives to “claim” them. The unlucky ones are on the run, scrounging for food, hiding out in filthy squats, hoping to run out the clock to age 19 before getting picked up by the authorities and locked up in an Institution. Prime Destinations is strongly reminiscent of the eponymous location in Joss Whedon’s short-lived series Dollhouse, with the twist that the clients are actually inhabiting the “dolls”.

The interesting premise is undermined by some shaky world-building. With people living to 200, it seems like there would be more living grandparents, great-grandparents, great-aunts and -uncles, and other relatives available to claim kids like Callie and her brother. What happened to their own grandparents (and great-grandparents) is never explained. The only Enders and Claimed Minors Callie encounters are wealthy; what happened to the middle- and working-class kids who had living relatives to claim them? Finally, while it is clear that the post-war world is a huge change for Callie (and everyone else), life before the war was clearly different from what we know, but it is unclear how things got from here to there.

The characters populating this world are also problematic. Callie’s fierce determination makes her an appealing heroine. Unfortunately, she is the only character who really gets any development. After Tyler and Callie’s friend Michael are introduced early on, they spend most of the novel “off-screen”, as Callie is separated from them. Even secondary characters who are more involved in the plot are left static. Complicating this, of course, is the whole body-switching issue; after first meeting someone, he may be quite literally a different person the next time he appears! There are several supplementary stories slated to appear in addition to the sequel that look like they might explore the characters a bit more.

Despite the flaws, this is a promising debut novel. The plot is compelling enough to distract from the sorts of questions that make it impossible to suspend disbelief (at least, until putting it down), and a final twist keeps the reader on the hook for the forthcoming sequel. This is an enjoyable, entertaining read. Just try not to pick at the details.

On shelves March 13, 2012.

 

Final Word:
An intriguing premise and compelling plot compensate for some shaky world-building in this promising Dystopian YA debut.

 

Source:
e-ARC via NetGalley, provided by the publisher by request

 

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Book Review: Dangerous Waters by Gregory Mone

The whole city had come out to watch Titanic and the strong, heavy smell of coal filled the air. After a few breaths, gritty black dust coated his tongue. The taste of progress, as Mr. Joyce called it.

 

Dangerous Waters: An Adventure on the Titanic by Gregory Mone

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 

Synopsis:
April, 1912: The RMS Titanic sets sail for her maiden voyage with more than 2000 people aboard. Among the passengers on the “Queen of the Sea”: a wealthy book collector with a rare and valuable volume, a cunning thief desperate for money, and a young steward looking for a chance to be a part of something great.

After his father died, Patrick Waters left school and went to work in a Belfast pub. His widowed mother is determined to make him a practical working man like his older brother, not a dreamer like his late father. At age twelve, Patrick hopes to associate himself with greatness. His brother is about to embark on his ninth trip across the Atlantic, this time shoveling coal into the boilers of Titanic. When an unexpected opportunity on the ship arises, he wastes no time getting himself aboard. To his surprise, instead of shoveling coal, he is assigned to wait on Harry Elkins Widener, a book-lover whose latest acquisition might be worth much more than either of them can imagine. There is someone on board who thinks he does know, though, and he will stop at nothing to get the book for himself. There is danger at every turn as the ship itself heads for disaster.

 

Review:
With the centennial of the shipwreck approaching in April of 2012, new Titanic books are hitting the shelves. It is one of those topics (like Amelia Earhart’s disappearance or dinosaurs) that kids ask about again and again, endlessly fascinated. In this fictional take for middle grade readers, Mone skillfully blends real-life historical figures with his own characters. An Author’s Note at the end explains that Harry Widener really was a book collector who perished on board the ship, while young Patrick and the other main characters are the inventions of the author.

From the taste of coal dust to the color of a partially-cleaned spittoon, the narrative is packed with rich sensory details, bringing the sights and sounds and smells of the scenes to life. Mone uses playful language in his descriptions; in the first chapter, he says of the thief Berryman that “the local baker refused to loan him so much as a roll.” Quick-paced action keeps the pages turning as events come to their inevitable conclusion.

In addition to the drama of the collision, Mone intrigues readers with a mystery that is just a little bit reminiscent of Dan Brown. The perspective shifts between sweet Patrick, who can’t help but follow his own sharp eyes and ears, and the thieves after something they think will bring them untold riches, if only they can decipher a coded message within. The reader, of course, knows more than any single character, and hints are offered about the secret message before its meaning is finally revealed.

On shelves March 13, 2012 (just in time for the anniversary).

 

Final Word:
An original mystery offers a fresh take on a popular historical event for middle grade readers.

 

Source:
e-ARC via NetGalley provided by the publisher by request

 

 

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Book Review: Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard

I’m wearing quick-dry khaki capris, a crispy Windbreaker, and hiking shoes that make my feet feel like Clydesdale hooves. They’re brand-new. Like my too-short haircut and my purple suitcase, along with everything in it.

 

Wanderlove
Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Synopsis:
After graduation, Bria Sandoval was supposed to go to Europe with her boyfriend before they started Art School together. Instead, they broke up shortly after admissions notices came out. Her two best friends were going to fill in as travel companions, but then they backed out. Getting handed a simple pamphlet seems like a sign, and its question, “Are you a Global Vagabond?” inspires her. She longs to be like the beautiful people posing gracefully atop a Mayan ruin in the pamphlet photograph, but when she arrives in Guatemala, she immediately feels out of place in her tour group full of middle-aged vacationers. An unexpected invitation to join experienced backpacker Rowan and his sister Starling offers Bria the chance to finally break the rules. Getting even more lost might be just what Bria needs to find herself again.

 

Review:
After reading Hubbard’s debut, Like Mandarin, as part of the Debut Author Challenge last year, I said, “I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for her next book,” and I am so glad I did. Wanderlove is a gorgeous read, lush with detail and Hubbard’s graceful style.

With the first-person narration, Hubbard walks a delicate line. Bria has to reveal things about herself before truly recognizing them. The magic lies in the way her introspection feels natural; she is a lonely young woman in a place where she literally doesn’t speak the language. She has to talk things out with herself, and by extension, the reader. Bria’s metaphorical distance from her friends and parents and her figurative abandoned map of her future are made manifest as she travels thousands of miles away from home with barely a glance at the itinerary.

When the reader meets Bria, she is lost and confused. Art – drawing, in particular – was her constant, her comfort. “I used to be an artist,” she thinks on the plane from L.A.X., where she can’t even bring herself to draw in the sketchbook she opens. Her self-image has crumbled. When the girl in the seat next to her asks about her travel plans, Bria lies, wanting to sound cooler and worldlier than she is. She is trying so hard to become a new person, and it all comes crashing down by the last line of the first chapter: “So much for reinvention.”

Hubbard has a gift for representing sensory details, especially the visual element, in her prose. Bria’s artist view of the world leads her to pick out telling details. Her first glance at her Global Vagabonds tour group consists of “mustaches, baseball caps, doughy calves marbled with varicose veins.” It is not a flattering depiction, by any means, but it reveals more about Bria than it does about the tourists. Later, Bria describes an incident with Marcy, the tour director: “While the rest of my tour group browsed market stalls, I bought a chicken tamale from a street vendor. Before I could unwrap it from its banana leaf, Marcy velociraptored up behind me and snatched it from my hand.” The use of “velociraptor” as a verb is just perfect, a striking image that captures the feeling of that moment. When asked if she has ever been in love, Bria’s memory of her now-ex-boyfriend “bubble up, like acid reflux.” That phrase captures the pain she feels, the feelings she insists on hiding: “I force them down with a shrug.”

Bria grows and changes at a reasonable pace over the course of the novel, while secondary characters are simultaneously developed. Rowan, the handsome backpacker boy with the shadowy past and seemingly too-good-to-be-true Starling are no mere foils for the narrator. They are complicated individuals in their own right, and closing the novel feels all too much like losing what might have been good friends.

Just as the pull of “wanderlove” is more than the “itchy feet” of wanderlust, Wanderlove is more than just a road trip story. It is a richly detailed journey both within and without, ultimately bursting with an inspiring love for life well-lived. Whether tucked into a backpack to read on bumpy backroads buses or kept and enjoyed on a comfortable couch, this is a companion to be cherished.

On shelves March 13, 2012.

 

Final Word:
A richly detailed and beautifully rendered journey across Central America and within the heart of a girl who needs to get lost before she can find herself. Caution: may inspire re-examination of your own map of the future.

 

Source:
e-ARC via NetGalley, provided by the publisher by request

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Book Review: The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

The afternoon my parents died I was out shoplifting with Irene Klauson.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
by emily m. danforth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Synopsis:
In the summer of 1989, twelve-year-old Cameron Post kissed her best friend, Irene. The next day, her parents died in a car accident. For Cameron, the two events would be forever linked, not that she could explain that to her born-again Aunt Ruth, who moves into Cameron’s house in Miles City, Montana to become her guardian. Cam knows enough not to talk about her attraction to other girls, let alone how she spends her time with them in the secrecy of haylofts and under the dock at the lake. But during the summer after her first year of high school, just when it seems that the girl she has fallen for might become more than a friend, her aunt finds out. Cam is packed off to God’s Promise, a “Christian School & Center for Healing” for an indeterminate stay. While the staff there tries to help her “break free from the bonds of sexual sin and confusion”, Cam realizes she risks losing herself before even finding out who that really is.

 

Review:
This is a beautifully written book. Danforth has the sort of polished style I expect from graduates of MFA Fiction programs (and she does hold an MFA in Fiction from the University of Montana, along with a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln). This is both a blessing and a curse, because it produces a feeling of distance between the reader and the narrator, despite the first-person voice, and between the narrator and the events. Maybe because Cam is clearly telling her story from some point in the future, it lacks immediacy.

Then, there is the setting. The rich description and attention to detail bring Miles City into clear focus, engaging all the senses. The location isn’t the only aspect of the setting, though. Equally important is the time period. The book is set two decades ago, when a teenager like Cam had to depend on letters through the postal service, access to the family phone, and the availability of movies for rent to pop into her VCR. Her world is limited by the boundaries of her small town and the people who live in it. The realistic portrayal of both the place and the time add to the feeling of distance from the events. It is all too easy to read this book and think, “Oh, but that was 20 years ago. That wouldn’t happen now.” But it could and it does, as Danforth reports in an author’s note at the front of the book. (At least, at the front of the Advance Reader Copy; I don’t know if it will appear in the final version.)

Cameron comes to terms with the wrong done to her by recognizing that these are deeply held convictions of people who truly believe they are working in her best interest, a realization that would seem to come with the perspective of time passed, and she refuses to outright condemn the sort of program that God’s Promise represents. Instead, she allows the reader to live through her experience, letting him form an opinion based on life on the inside of the program, the side its supporters rarely (if ever) really see.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is an expertly crafted work, a fine example of Literary Fiction that happens to feature a lesbian teenager as its protagonist. And that is a wonderful thing, a fantastic thing. I would love to see more literary fiction with queer characters. After all, must a protagonist be a straight white male for the work to be one that “explores universal themes of truths and/or humanity in general” or, perhaps more significantly, “broadens the reader’s impressions of the human experience”?

I would also love to see more lesbian YA romance.

When it comes to this book, my negative feelings aren’t really about the book at all. They are about the marketing of this book as a teen title, when, really, it feels like an adult novel featuring a teen protagonist. The book itself is lovely. I worry, though, that it will have trouble finding readers who will enjoy the style enough to finish the story and reach the absolutely perfect ending.

On shelves February 7 2012.

 

Final Word:
An expertly crafted literary coming-of-age tale set in Big Sky country.

 

Source:
ARC provided by the publisher at ALA Midwinter 2012.

 

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Book Review: Cold Cereal by Adam Rex

He steered toward the local park, down the storm drain shortcut he’d discovered yesterday, dodging broken glass and a man with a rabbit head, up the embankment toward the gap in the fence, and — was that a man with a rabbit head?

Cold Cereal
Cold Cereal by Adam Rex
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Synopsis:
Life for Scott Doe has always been a little odd, from his full name (Scottish Play Doe) to his mom’s new job with Goodco (what does a cereal company need with a physicist?) and the family’s recent move to the company town of Goodborough. So, maybe he just should have expected to start seeing weird things, like a man with a rabbit head in the park.

Erno and Emily Utz have always lived in Goodborough, in the same house but with a series of foster parents. Their current foster father regularly gives them tests in the form of brain-teasing puzzles. (Emily always solves them first.) Erno has never really thought about the reason behind the tests, but he is just about to find out.

In the town of Goodborough, very little is really as it seems, and there are goings-on that (literally) the people don’t see. Erno, Emily, and Scott are more important than they know, and there are forces at work that would love to keep them from discovering the truth about themselves, the town, and Goodco.

 

Review:
Rex brings his trademark satiric sensibility to this fantasy mystery for the middle grades. From Scott’s dad – John Doe – to the Goode and Harmliss Toasted Cereal Company to Merle Lynn (C.P.A.), the puns come fast and furious, along with delightfully twisted takes on cereal commercials, conspiracy theories, and Arthurian mythology.  The shifting third-person perspective includes Scott, Erno, and an unnamed narrator who provides some background information and sometimes cracks just a bit too wise. When focused on the kid’s-eye view, Rex excels; when he zooms out, the lighthearted wit gets bogged down. (In The True Meaning of Smekday, Tip’s first-person “essay” narration keeps the story a bit more grounded, if I can use the word “grounded” in relation to a story of aliens coming to Earth and relocating the human population of North America to Florida.)

I thoroughly enjoyed trying to solve the riddles alongside Erno and Scott, although I wasn’t quite clever enough. My e-ARC includes incomplete artwork (as did the paper ARC I thumbed through at ALA Midwinter), so I am looking forward to seeing the final product. The illustrations I could see were just the right complement to the text; I expect good things to come. There are even a few sneak peeks available at the author’s blog (KoKoLumps, anyone?)! By the book’s end, the immediate crisis has been solved, but there is a wide opening for the next volume in the planned trilogy.

On shelves February 7, 2012.

 

Final Word:
Fantasy, mystery, and satirical humor all swirled together in a tasty treat for middle grade readers (and maybe some grown-ups, too).

 

Source:
e-ARC via NetGalley, provided by the publisher by request.

 

 

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In My Mailbox: ALA Midwinter Special Edition

Before we get to the good stuff, I think I have to address the elephant in the room. Since my first ALA Conference, the summer before I started Library School (lo those many years ago), I have loved getting the freebies. Who wouldn’t? Honestly, at that first conference, I was stunned when booth reps and panel organizers pressed free books into my hands. I had no idea what an ARC was. But I read the books and I talked about them to other people and I passed them on. That year, Annual was held in my home city, and it was easy for me to take a bunch of stuff home.

Over the years, I grew more selective about what I took. Posters almost never survived the trip home. Pens and sticky notes, on the other hand, were always useful. (One year, I won a bottle of wine, back when you could take liquids on a plane.) Books were a mixed bag, really. I loved getting them, of course, but they were heavy and took up a lot of room. As airlines have begun charging for checked baggage, I had to take a hard look at my options. I am unwilling to pay to ship a bunch of stuff I got for free. That’s just where I draw my personal line.

If you follow my twitter feed, you’ve already seen the first pile of books I picked up at the Midwinter Exhibits. And the second pile of books. And then the pile of books I was reluctantly giving away because they wouldn’t fit in my suitcase to go home.

Some of those books were unexpectedly hot commodities over the weekend. I got a few of them Saturday afternoon when I got trapped in a stampede at the Penguin booth. Their Book Buzz session had just let out, and I happened to be in the booth looking at books when the reps ducked behind the tables, pulled out boxes and began handing out ARCs. The crowd kept growing. After a while, I realized that I really had to get out, because there was a signing I wanted to get to in just few minutes. “If you let me out, there will be more for you!” seemed to be the magic words.

From other reports, what I saw was nothing. I am horrified at the descriptions of people literally shoving other people out of the way for an ARC. This is a professional conference, not the Running of the Brides.

I love using NetGalley, and I wonder if more publishers will be putting their material there rather than printing up bound galleys. I have noticed several houses tightening up their rules on who gets approved, which makes me wonder if their requests have increased a lot.

I don’t know what the solution is. Book Bloggers and Librarians are not enemies. We are (usually) on the same side. Some of us have a foot in both camps. But we shouldn’t have to tell people basic rules like “Don’t take the books that have a sticker that says ‘Do Not Take’ on the cover.”

Well. The Exhibits in Anaheim should be interesting.

While we’re all pondering what to do, I present what actually ended up coming home with me:

Here Come the Girl Scouts!Who Am I? Balloon Toons: The Super Crazy Cat Dance (Balloon Toons Early Readers) Balloon Toons: Doggie Dreams Big Bad Sheep Prairie Evers Racing The Moon The Moon Over High Street Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms: Magic, Mystery, and a Very Strange Adventure Remarkable The Paradise Trap The Case of the Deadly Desperados (The Western Mysteries, #1) The False Prince (The Ascendance Trilogy #1) The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook Neversink Between You & Me The Miseducation of Cameron Post The Difference Between You and Me Kiss the Morning Star In Darkness Gilt Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip Beneath a Meth Moon Ice, Mud and Blood: Lessons from Climates Past (Macmillan Science) Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

And four more with no cover art yet:

Most of them were ARCs, but there were a few free finished books in there: both Balloon Toons books (thanks, Blue Apple Books!), In Darkness (thanks, Bloomsbury USA!), and Ice, Mud and Blood (thanks, MacMillan!). I bought the copy of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (for $5 – thanks, Grove/Atlantic!) so that Jeanette Winterson could sign it for me along with the ARC of her new memoir. (I tweeted my excitement about meeting her – I’m entirely too amused by the “women” glyph floating above our heads.) The Balloon Toons and In Darkness have gone to the library to be processed into the collection. The others I’ll be reading, reviewing, and passing onward.

So, #ALAMW12-ers, what did you bring home?

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Book Review: The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis

“Once upon a time…”

If I could get away with it, that’s how I’d begin every essay I write.

Those are the four best words to use when you start telling about yourself because anything that begins that way always, always finishes with another four words, “… they lived happily everafter.”

 

The Mighty Miss Malone

The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 

Synopsis:
Deza’s family firmly believes that they “are a family on a journey to a place called wonderful”, but times are hard. The year is 1936, and in Gary, Indiana, there are few jobs to be had, and even fewer for black men. After her father sets out for his mother’s home in Michigan to look for work, things go from bad to worse. Deza, her brother, Jimmie, and their mother head toward Flint after him, but they end up in a Hooverville outside the city. Jimmie’s talent for singing offers him a way out, while Mother and Deza find a new home and keep hoping to bring the family back together.

 

Review:
I came to this book without having read Bud, Not Buddy (I know, I know. Bad Librarian!), where Deza Malone first appears. In a note to the reader at the beginning of the book, Curtis explains that one of his prompts to write the story was the question he was asked at a visit to a Detroit mother daughter book club: “… what we’d really like to know is what business that little girl in the Hooverville had kissing a stranger like Bud Caldwell the way she did.” In The Mighty Miss Malone, Deza tells her version of that night, along with events before and after. Despite the reservations about writing from a girl’s perspective that he mentions, Curtis does an admirable job bringing Deza to life. Deza is, of course, a born storyteller, and her personality shines through in her strong voice. Her story takes sharp twists and turns; just as I would settle in comfortably, a chapter would end with a sentence like, “I walked upstairs and got in bed to finish my last good night of sleep for a long, long time.” Still, her irrepressible spirit kept me going, believing, just as she does, that things will work out all right.

Deza refuses to give in to self-pity. Her life is what it is, and Curtis uses this to masterfully set the scene. Important details about the hardships faced by the Malones and the families around them are given freely and naturally, without the sort of extra explanation for modern readers that sometimes crops up to thoroughly destroy the mood in historical fiction. This title is getting some Newbery buzz already, and for good reason.

On shelves January 10, 2012.

 

Final Word:
Spirited storyteller Deza tells her own tale of hope and hardship in this companion to Newbery winner, Bud, Not Buddy.

 

Source:
e-ARC via NetGalley, provided by the publisher by request.

 

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Book Review: Brendan Buckley’s Sixth-Grade Experiment by Sundee T. Frazier

Some people never ask questions. Maybe they’re afraid they’ll look dumb, or maybe they don’t think of things to ask. But not me. It’s like my brain is one big bowl of Rice Krispies and all my questions are the milk. It’s a constant snap, crackle, and pop up there.


Brendan Buckley's Sixth-Grade Experiment
Brendan Buckley’s Sixth-Grade Experiment by Sundee T. Frazier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
 

Synopsis:
Brendan Buckley is back, and he’s headed for middle school! He has all-new questions to write down and ponder, from whether he can train his new pet anole to anticipate his morning feeding to whether he can pass his next Tae Kwon Do belt test. And why doesn’t his dad show as much interest in how his entry in the national science competition is going as in how he’ll do in the martial arts tournament? Why are things weird between him and his best friend? And how does he really feel about Morgan, the girl from the Rock Club who just started at his school?

 

Review:
There is a whole lot going on in this sequel to Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It. Brendan’s just discovering girls, who are way more complicated than anything he’s ever tried to study. His dad has gone back to school to finish his degree. His parents are hoping to adopt a baby. Brendan’s new relationship with his grandfather is still developing. Frazier uses a light touch with the material, skipping easily from topic to topic at a pace just right for our young hero. He’s a likeable kid, trying to do the right thing. His confusion as he applies his scientific mind to figuring out family, school, and girls is sensitively and sympathetically portrayed, yet lightened with a good dose of humor. This is fun, realistic, contemporary middle grade fiction. Suggest to fans of Lisa Yee‘s Rancho Rosetta books and Tom Angleberger‘s Origami Yoda.

On shelves January 10, 2012.

 

Final Word:
Brendan Buckley is growing up in this sweet, lighthearted, realistic tale.

 

Source:
e-ARC via NetGalley, provided by the publisher by request.

 

 

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Book Review: Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

They called the world beyond the walls of the Pod ‘the Death Shop.’ A million ways to die out there.

Under the Never Sky (Under the Never Sky, #1)

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 

Synopsis:
Aria has lived her whole life within the walls of Reverie. She spends most of her time physically seated in the lounge while visiting a variety of virtual Realms via her Smarteye patch. The Realms are, the advertising slogan goes, “Better than Real”. Outside, the world is a largely barren wasteland under a sky of swirling Aether populated by tribes battling for survival.

One of those tribes is the Tides, led by their Blood Lord, Vale. Vale’s younger brother, Peregrine, is gifted with extranormal senses of sight and smell, making him an excellent hunter. His devotion to his nephew, Talon, keeps him from challenging Vale for Blood Lord.

When Talon is kidnapped, Peregrine sets out to get him back. Along the way, he finds Aria, who has been thrown out of Reverie for a crime she didn’t commit. The two form an uneasy partnership that slowly blooms into something more.

 

Review:
From the opening scene, in which Aria hesitantly goes along with a group breaking into a Service Dome, Rossi throws the reader right into her created world. The world-building is beautifully done, revealing necessary information at just the right pace to keep the reader from feeling lost without doing an info-dump. The sheltered (in both senses) society of Reverie and the brutal Outside are drawn with rich detail, while details of what happened to create this world are shared sparingly. The third-person narration alternates perspective between Aria and Peregrine in a natural rhythm, allowing the reader access to important information about each one without requiring Awkward Expository Dialogue.

The romance between Peregrine and Aria develops at a slow burn; there is no Love At First Sight for these two. Instead, these two complex characters bond in the course of a dangerous quest that keeps offering thrilling twists and turns. Rossi balances a strong plot with engaging (if not always likeable) characters with a deft touch.

On shelves January 3, 2012.

 

Final Word:
Clever sci-fi dystopian romance from a promising new author. Looking forward to the sequel!

 

Source:
e-ARC via NetGalley, provided by the publisher by request

 

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