Saturday, July 04, 2015

Book Review: Will Sparrow's Road by Karen Cushman

Book: Will Sparrow's Road
Author: Karen Cushman
Published: 2012
Source: Local Library

Sold by his father for ale, mistreated by his new master, twelve-year-old Will Sparrow takes off, vowing to care only for himself. But the world of Elizabethan England isn't known for its kindness to the young and the vulnerable, and Will is taken advantage of time and again.

When he falls in with a most unusual group - a dwarf man, a cat-faced girl, their wagon full of oddities, and Tidball, the man who owns them all - Will thinks he's found a place to belong, at least for a little while. But how long can such a life last?

I love Karen Cushman's writing for the vivid way it brings history to life, but also for its complicated, realistic, and not always likeable main characters. Will is both hardened by life and tremendously naive, taking people at face value yet unsurprised when they betray him. Both of these qualities are things he has to unlearn in the course of the book. When he meets Fitz and Grace Wyse, he dismisses them as freaks and believes in his new master's promises of food and pay. But as Tidball breaks those promises over and over, and both Fitz and Grace prove to be more than the brawler and the monster Tidball calls them, he learns both to look beyond the surface and to trust that others will be there for him.

History is generally a hard sell for kids, and the first part of this book moves somewhat slowly. It picks up when he meets Tidball, but the changes in both Will and how he sees others still unfold at a gradual, if realistic pace.While it takes place four hundred years ago, Will's loneliness and his found family will strike a chord with kids willing to dive in.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Reading Roundup: June 2015

By the Numbers
Teen: 13
Tween: 7
Children: 4

Sources
Review Copies: 11
Library: 11

Standouts
Teen: Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt
Riffing on both Rapunzel and the Princess and the Pea, this story about a frustrated, sheltered, and naive girl becoming a self-reliant young woman caught me hard. I just had to hang there through the slow start.
Tween: The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm
This story of a grandfather who's discovered the fountain of youth and a granddaughter who's discovering science, and the way they both learn to accept that life is about change, tugged at my heart with its humor and emotional honesty.
Children: Locomotive by Brian Floca
Do you know a history-and-trains-obsessed kid? They will eat this up.

Because I Want To Awards
Precious Cinnamon Roll: Sebastian in The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler
The younger brother of the love interest, Sebastian is also a little boy who adores mermaids, and gets enormous flack for this love from his father and the town, but never lets that daunt him from dressing up as the princess of the sea. Ockler places no labels on him, other than "loves mermaids," and it's a beautiful thing.
Brains Not Brawn: The Doublecross by Jackson Pearce
A lot of books overtly express that value, but this one really lays it down by showing how Hale's intelligence and ability to coordinate a team stands him in much better stead in spycraft than being able to run a mile.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Book Review: Emmy and Oliver by Robin Benway

Book: Emmy and Oliver
Author: Robin Benway
Published: June 23, 2015
Source: review copy from publisher via Edelweiss

Emmy and Oliver have been best friends since the day they were born. But when he was seven, he disappeared, kidnapped by his own father. Emmy spent the next ten years not knowing what became of him.

Ten years later, Oliver is back, but he's changed. He's no longer a second-grader. He's taller, he's quieter, and he's spent the last ten years hidden away by his father. He's a completely different person - except for the moments when he remembers an old joke, an old event, or even just smiles in a particular way that reminds her of the little boy who was her best friend.

Emmy's not the only one feeling unsettled by Oliver's return. His relationship with his mother is rocky, he struggles to connect to other kids at school, and he's not so sure that his return was the best thing for anybody. Is there a way to find some semblence of normal again, for any of them?

One of the reasons I wanted to read this book so much was that Robin Benway's stories have  a surface lightness with a surprising depth and heft once you get into the story. The narration is light and witty, the characters enjoyably snarky, but the themes that move through the book aren't light or fluffy. In this book, that theme is the impact of a traumatic event on friends and on the community.

Oliver's disappearance, its immediate aftermath, and the years of just not knowing, have had a profound impact on Emmy. She thinks about it often, recalling the media circus, the police interviews, and her own seven-year-old's realization that the world is big and scary and nobody, not even your parents, can protect you.

Emmy's parents, while loving, are overprotective to the point of stifling, and that's a direct result of Oliver's disappearance. She can't even tell them that she's surfing secretly and wants to go to UCSD instead of staying at home for community college. Oliver's return starts to dredge up all the feelings that led up to that overprotectiveness, and ultimately make it possible for Emmy break free of it.

Truly, I expected this to be a dual-POV book, which has been fashionable in YA so long as to become nearly a trope, especially for teen romances. Unlike some others, this would have worked pretty well in that structure. But the book is thoroughly Emmy's point of view, and it works awfully well that way too. She's the only one that Oliver feels normal around, and their growing intimacy allows him to tell his story to her.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

48-HBC: Finish Line

I'm calling it done right now, even though I started at 1:00 on Friday, because I have to go to work this afternoon.

Books Read: 8
Time Read: 11 hrs, 22 minutes (just shy of the 12 hour mark, boo)
Time spent on my audiobook: 4 hours, 24 minutes
Time spent Blogging: 4 hours, 11 minutes
Time spent cheering others on via Twitter and visiting their blogs: 41 minutes

Besides having to work, I also had a family birthday lunch to go to on Saturday, as well as laundry and cleaning, so I definitely did not get as much time in as I wanted. That's okay, though, I still got a lot of books read!

While I tend to focus on YA in this blog, I found myself picking up a lot of middle grade novels for this challenge. Maybe because I happened to have a lot of them checked out from the library? Maybe because I didn't really have the energy to tackle big fat books (except one)? Who knows.

Thanks as always to Pam for running this crazy game, and thanks to everyone who sent me their encouragement! Happy reading, everyone!

48-HBC Book 8: The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

My last book for this challenge was Jennifer L. Holm's The Fourteenth Goldfish.

From my review: "I especially loved that she didn't just go the "rah-rah-science!!" route. A major theme of the book is the negative consequences of scientific discovery, such as Marie Curie's death from radiation poisoning or the aftereffects of Oppenheimer's atom bomb.  At the same time, Holm balances that with the wonder of discovering the world and its possibilities - a more nuanced rah-rah-science theme than most."

I'm going to write a wrap-up post and also take some knitting time with my audiobook before I have to get ready to go to work.

48-HBC Book 7: Goblin Secrets by William Alexander

I started Goblin Secrets by William Alexander last night, hoping to get it done before I fell asleep. But I crashed pretty hard, so I finished it up this morning.

From my review: "I kept reading this for the world of goblins and witches. Alexander has a way of dropping grotesque and magical details about the world and the people that indicate intriguing secrets, which we never fully get but know are there. I also read this for Rownie himself, discovering the magic of acting and his own strength, which both help him when he finds his brother again."

I have a couple of hours before I have to go to work, so I'm going to find a book I can read in under an hour.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

48-HBC Book 6: Gabby Duran and the Unsittables by Elise Allen and Daryle Conners

My sixth book was another fluffy, zany middle grade novel, Gabby Duran and the Unsittables by Elise Allen and Daryle Conners.

From my review: "I think kids will enjoy the breakneck pace, the goofy action, and the familiar, everyday events given a silly sci-fi twist."

I'm debating whether to pick up a thick, weighty tome or go for another fluffy one. I only have until noon tomorrow and I do plan to sleep tonight.

48 HBC Book 5: The Doublecross (and other skills I learned as a superspy) by Jackson Pearce

My fifth book was the middle-school funfest, The Doublecross (and other skills I learned as a superspy) by Jackson Pearce.

From my review: "This is a book you probably shouldn't think about too closely, what with its prepubescent spies and I-Spy antics. It's awfully fun once you have a generous suspension of disbelief. The plot romps along, with plenty of explosions and gadgets and excitement, as well as humor."

I think I'll take some time for knitting and listening to my audiobook before I pick up my next book.

48HBC Book 4: Starglass by Phoebe North

My fourth book for this challenge, which I started late last night and worked on throughout the morning and early afternoon, around chores and meeting family for a birthday lunch, was Phoebe North's Starglass, a weighty tome at 439 pages.

From my review: "This is a doorstop of a book, but I didn't want to put it down. Terra's world and her narration were completely compelling. Sometimes it's hard to put up with Terra herself. She seems naive, self-centered, often clueless about the motives and emotions of others or the political system that rules her world. And there are also times when she willingly keeps her blinders on, going along with what's expected because it's easy, trying to be a good Asherite because it's too hard to swim upstream. These things also make her tremendously real and sympathetic, and made me willing to see how she was going to change and grow."

I actually have the second book on my shelf, a review copy from the Cybils that I hadn't gotten around to reading yet because I wanted to read Starglass first. I'm debating whether to pick it up this weekend, because it's also a doorstopper of a book and those get wearing in a marathon like this. At the same time, I would really like to see what happens after the cliffhangery ending of the first.

Friday, June 19, 2015

48-HBC Book 3: 5 to 1 by Holly Bodger

My last full book for the night was Holly Bodger's 5 to 1.

From the review: "I have to be honest: I've been completely over the whole novels in verse thing for awhile, so while Sudasa's free-versified thoughts and feelings were interesting, I was always relieved when I got back to the prose of Contestant 5's sections. That being said, seeing Sudasa slowly realize that there was a life for her outside of Koyangar and her grandmother's control was a fascinating character arc. I just wished it had been more fleshed out. Free verse tends to be extremely spare, without a lot of detail. This is obviously a personal preference, so your mileage may vary."


I had trouble with the formatting until I tweaked the settings on my reader about 2/3rds of the way through, so I spent a lot of time squinting and angling my reader. I'm going to pick up one of my library books for my bedtime reading and into tomorrow.

48-HBC Book 2: Will Sparrow's Road by Karen Cushman

My second book for this challenge, Karen Cushman's Will Sparrow's Road, was shorter and younger-skewing. I haven't been reading or writing about as much middle grade lately, so it was good to get into that.

From the review: "I love Karen Cushman's writing for the vivid way it brings history to life, but also for its complicated, realistic, and not always likeable main characters. Will is both hardened by life and tremendously naive, taking people at face value yet unsurprised when they betray him. Both of these qualities are things he has to unlearn in the course of the book."

I think I may pick up something more sci-fi-ish for my next book. I've been in a sci-fi mood lately.

48HBC Book 1: Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway

I started my 48-Hour Book Challenge at lunchtime, and spent it reading Emmy and Oliver by Robin Benway.

From my review: "One of the reasons I wanted to read this book so much was that Robin Benway's stories have  a surface lightness with a surprising depth and heft once you get into the story. The narration is light and witty, the characters enjoyably snarky, but the themes that move through the book aren't light or fluffy. In this book, that theme is the impact of a traumatic event on friends and on the community."

I'm going to take some time to visit blogs and Tweet before going onto my next book.

48-HBC: It Begins

This weekend is the 48 hour Book Challenge, hosted by MotherReader. I'm so in, you guys!

As in years past, I'll write up a review of each book, but not post the whole thing this weekend, just a snippet. I'll space my reviews out on my regular Saturday schedule. (One of the reasons I love doing this is because it gives me content all summer and sometimes into the fall, depending on how much I read. It also flexes my reviewing muscles and I find myself reviewing more afterward.)

I'm not reading on any particular theme this year, just whatever looks good to me. My audiobook will be an old favorite, Beauty by Robin McKinley.

My starting time was 1:00 pm on Friday, which means my 48 hours will be up on Sunday at 1:00. Although I have to work Friday afternoon, I also have to work Sunday afternoon, so between the two I picked the earlier.

Cheer me on (as well as all the other readers) via Twitter (#48HBC) or by visiting our blogs. Want to join in or see who else is doing this crazy thing? Go to the starting lineup post over at MotherReader. It lasts until Sunday night.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The 48-Hour Book Challenge starts Friday!

Time once again for one of my favorite challenges in the kidlitosphere, the 48-Hour Book Challenge, hosted by MotherReader. This is a special year because it's the 10th annual. Tenth! We've been doing this for 10 years! That's the Mesozoic in the life of the Internet.

How it works: pick 48 consecutive hours in between the start and the finish and read, read, read! Blog about your reading and cheer others on Twitter and Facebook with the #48HBC tag. Check out MotherReader's blog post for more details and to throw your hat into the ring.

I love doing this because I often get my TBR pile winnowed down and build up a stock of reviews for my busy summer months. Plus I also make new friends!

It starts at 7 am on Friday, June 19th and concludes at midnight on Sunday the 21st. That's just about enough time to order your pizza, gather up your books, and worm out of all but the most pressing social engagements.

Will you join in?