March ARC Roundup

In which I review all the March ARCs I've read this month. #spon | Book reviews from NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received each of the books below for free from the publisher or author. All opinions are my own. All summaries via NetGalley, unless otherwise noted.

I miiiiight have gotten carried away with the number of ARCs I requested in January! I’ve finally gotten around to writing quick reviews for each of them. Several of them are so good, and I can’t wait for you all to get the chance to read them!

Journey on a Runaway Train and The Clue in the Papyrus Scroll

This is a modern-day continuation of the Boxcar Children series. I loved this series as a child, so of course I picked up these two books, the first in a short series featuring Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny’s travels around the world.

I must say, I forgot how shallow the writing is for these books and how little adult supervision the kids get. Reading as an adult, it seems kind of ridiculous! Still, if I were a kid reading this, I’d enjoy the travel to different countries and the mysteries the children face. Don’t read it for nostalgic reasons, though–some memories should be left in the past.

Stormy Seas

This book is a beautifully designed middle grades picture book about real kids who became refugees and escaped their homeland by boat. These short stories, about children from Germany, Vietnam, Cuba, and more, are sad and encouraging and very timely. Stormy Seas would be a great conversation starter with your children.

Daughter of the Pirate King

When the ruthless Pirate King learns of a legendary treasure map hidden on an enemy ship, his daughter, Alosa, knows that there’s only one pirate for the job—herself. Leaving behind her beloved ship and crew, Alosa deliberately facilitates her own kidnapping to ensure her passage on the enemy ship. After all, who’s going to suspect a seventeen-year-old girl locked in a cell?

Then she meets the (surprisingly perceptive and unfairly attractive) first mate, Riden, who is charged with finding out all her secrets. Now it’s down to a battle of wits and will… Can Alosa find the map and escape before Riden figures out her plan?

If you’re into YA romance that focuses on pirates and sirens and spying and forbidden love, this is probably the book for you. I’m not a huge romance fan, but I enjoyed the half pirate, half siren protagonist Alosa and her budding romance with Riden as she finds herself taken captive on a rival ship.

Fly By Night

Mosca and Eponymous Clent are great characters who find themselves on the wrong side of the law and the wrong side of the powerful guilds. Mosca is a young, beaten-down girl who is pretty much alone in the world, so she attaches herself to conman Eponymous Clent. But Clent is entangled in some dangerous circumstances, and Mosca finds herself wondering who she can trust. This is the kind of fantasy I can get behind!

Real Friends

Shannon and Adrienne have been best friends ever since they were little. But one day, Adrienne starts hanging out with Jen, the most popular girl in class and the leader of a circle of friends called The Group. Everyone in The Group wants to be Jen’s #1, and some girls would do anything to stay on top . . . even if it means bullying others.

Now every day is like a roller coaster for Shannon. Will she and Adrienne stay friends? Can she stand up for herself? And is she in The Group—or out?

This is such a sweet story about growing up, making friends, breaking up with mean friends, and getting along with aggressive siblings. Shannon Hale is one of my favorite authors, and I loved hearing about her totally relatable childhood. Plus, this graphic novel is filled with lovely art by LeUyen Pham. Middle grades kids–especially girls–will love this one.

Witch Chocolate Fudge

Since arriving in the tiny Cotswolds village of Tillyhenge, Caitlyn is discovering that there are lots of perks to being a witch (although sadly, magic still can’t make your thighs thinner or stop you acting like an idiot every time you meet handsome “lord of the manor”, James Fitzroy).

But when the nasty housekeeper at Huntingdon Manor is murdered and Caitlyn becomes the main suspect, she finds herself surrounded by suspicious villagers. With the help of her sassy American cousin, a mischievous black kitten and a slobbering English mastiff – not to mention the old village witch and her shop of enchanted chocolates – Caitlyn sets out to clear her name. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I did enjoy the first book in H.Y. Hanna’s new magical cozy mystery series, but unfortunately this one is not as good as the first one. There are some strange plot points, and the murderer seems to come out of nowhere (and not in a good way). Still, I enjoyed the characters and the touches of magic (who wouldn’t want magical chocolate?), and I hope that in the next book, the plot will perk up.

The Other F Word

Milo has two great moms, but he’s never known what it’s like to have a dad. When Milo’s doctor suggests asking his biological father to undergo genetic testing to shed some light on Milo’s extreme allergies, he realizes this is a golden opportunity to find the man he’s always wondered about.

Hollis’s mom Leigh hasn’t been the same since her other mom, Pam, passed away seven years ago. But suddenly, Leigh seems happy—giddy, even—by the thought of reconnecting with Hollis’s half-brother Milo. Hollis and Milo were conceived using the same sperm donor. They met once, years ago, before Pam died.

Now Milo has reached out to Hollis to help him find their donor. Along the way, they locate three other donor siblings, and they discover the true meaning of the other F-word: family.

This book offers compelling characters in an interesting situation. Hollis and Milo begin to contact their half-siblings and search for their sperm donor (Milo enthusiastically, Hollis reluctantly), and almost despite themselves, they and their families begin forming bonds with these long-lost relatives. It’s a subject I’ve never read about before, and I really enjoyed it.

Close Enough to Touch

One time a boy kissed me and I almost died…

And so begins the story of Jubilee Jenkins, a young woman with a rare and debilitating medical condition: she’s allergic to other humans. After a humiliating near-death experience in high school, Jubilee has become a recluse, living the past nine years in the confines of the small town New Jersey house her unaffectionate mother left to her when she ran off with a Long Island businessman. But now, her mother is dead, and without her financial support, Jubilee is forced to leave home and face the world—and the people in it—that she’s been hiding from.

One of those people is Eric Keegan, a man who just moved into town for work. With a daughter from his failed marriage who is no longer speaking to him, and a brilliant, if psychologically troubled, adopted son, Eric’s struggling to figure out how his life got so off-course, and how to be the dad—and man—he wants so desperately to be. Then, one day, he meets a mysterious woman named Jubilee, with a unique condition…

Remember how I said earlier that I don’t really enjoy romances? Well, this book proved me wrong. Close Enough to Touch is a super sweet romance about Jubilee and her allergy to human touch, and her relationship with library patrons Eric and his son, Aja. Jubilee has to overcome her fears of being out in the world, while Eric comes to grips with the fact that he might be unable to keep Aja from harm.

Jubilee is a fun character who learns to love life and face her fears, despite her dangerous allergies, and she bonds deeply with Eric and Aja. This sweet romance will draw you in (and possibly make you cry).

ARC: Geekerella

Geekerella is a fun YA romance where Cinderella, You've Got Mail, and geeky fandoms meet. #spon | Book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

He’s an up-and-coming movie star, set to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot of the cult classic, Starfield. She’s a Starfield superfan whose blog is the perfect place for her to vent about the choice of pretty boy Darien for the new reboot (and to escape her awful stepmother and stepsisters). These unlikely friends unknowingly begin a You’ve Got Mail-esque texting relationship, but what will happen when they both arrive at the same con?

As you might have guessed, Geekerella is a Cinderella retelling. Elle can’t wait to graduate so she can leave behind her horrible stepmother and her gorgeous, snooty twin stepsisters. Her one solace is Starfield, the TV show that brought her mother and father together and which her father taught her to love before he died. The ball she wants to attend is cosplay at the con her father started, and her fairy godmother is Sage, her coworker at an appropriately pumpkin-themed food truck.

Meanwhile, Darien is nervous about portraying his hero, Carmindor, on the big screen. He’s being harassed by Starfield fans (including Elle) for not understanding the deep cult following the show has–they don’t know that before he was famous, he liked nothing better than to roam ExcelsiCon with his (now former) best friend. Desperately lonely, when Darien texts Elle on the mistaken assumption that she’s in charge of the con he’s being forced to attend, they start to bond over their shared love of the show.

I’ve talked before about how much I love You’ve Got Mail. The book I reviewed that touted itself as a food-themed You’ve Got Mail didn’t quite live up to expectations, but Geekerella absolutely did. Elle and Darien turn to each other when the stresses in their lives become too much, not knowing that they’re actually supposed to hate each other. As they get closer to meeting, this ratchets up the tension–what will they do when they realize he’s famous and she’s the blogger who’s trying to take him down?

The Geekerella spin on the old Cinderella tale works well for the most part, too. My biggest complaint about the book is how straight-up evil Elle’s stepmother is. We’ve seen the evil stepmother before; can’t we have a more nuanced, realistic version? There are plenty of ways a stepmother can be unknowingly cruel without actually trying to be horrible, as Catherine does. The stepsisters get a bit more nuance than the stepmother, but I felt that Elle’s family relationships left something to be desired. Fortunately, her friendship with quirky seamstress Sage allows for more depth.

On the other hand, I absolutely loved how Darien (the Geekerella prince) got a lot more to do than the original Cinderella prince. He struggles with being famous for playing a part on Seaside Cove that’s not even close to who he is, and he wants to prove to himself and the other Starfield fans that he can do justice to an iconic character, even at age eighteen. Darien’s relationships with his pushy, calculating manager (and father), his slightly incompetent handler, and his stoic bodyguard are all wonderful as well.

This is one of those books that, once I got about halfway through, I knew I was going to stay up late to finish reading. Not only are the characters interesting and sympathetic, but the romance is super sweet. Anyone who considers themselves a part of any fandom, anyone who has attended (or thought of attending) a con, will definitely enjoy this YA romance.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

YA Roundup: February

This YA roundup is chock full of fun, new (and old) YA books. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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This week I’m posting a YA roundup of all the YA books I’ve read over the past couple of months. There have been some great ones that I’ve read recently, even though most of them are backlist–I’m slowly but surely working through my TBR list! (All summaries via Goodreads.com.)

I’ll Give You the Sun

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

This book was huge when it first came out, but it took me a long time to be convinced by the hype. Teen drama isn’t usually my thing (Everything, Everything is a notable exception). Still, once I finally picked up the book, I could see why it was so popular. I’ll Give You the Sun shows how Jude and Noah, twins who were once inseparable, play out the many ways you can hurt the ones you love the most.

There is a lot of drama here, and I found the book slow to start. Still, I thought the ending was nice. It tied everything together and, while it didn’t fix every problem, came pretty close to it. (For me, this is a good thing. Those who don’t like neat and tidy endings might have a problem with it.)

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Young World

Welcome to New York, a city ruled by teens.

After a mysterious Sickness wipes out the rest of the population, the young survivors assemble into tightly run tribes. Jefferson, the reluctant leader of the Washington Square tribe, and Donna, the girl he’s secretly in love with, have carved out a precarious existence among the chaos.

But when a fellow tribe member discovers a clue that may hold the cure for the Sickness, five teens set out on a life-altering road trip, exchanging gunfire with enemy gangs, escaping cults and militias, braving the wilds of the subway – all in order to save humankind.

This dystopian novel was a fun addition to the long list of YA dystopian books I’ve read. A mysterious sickness kills everyone except teenagers, which keeps lifespans short and instability the norm. I loved Donna and Jefferson; the audio book that I listened to had great narrators for each of these main characters and provided two very different perspectives on the same event.

The plot–a mix between dystopian survival and coming-of-age road trip–kept me interested the whole time. The characters were fun and sympathetic, the love triangle that inevitably cropped up was short-lived and surprisingly mature, and the descriptions of the various gangs and tribes that developed throughout New York City added richness to the story. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a huge fan of the twist ending, and I probably won’t read the next book in the series. I’m content to think of this as a wonderful stand-alone novel.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Dumplin’

Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

I loved the heck out of this book. There’s a distinct Texas flavor to Dumplin’, making the setting almost as important as the characters. And speaking of which, the characters are all amazing. There’s the usual teen drama, romantic missteps, and falling out with friends, but (unusually for a YA novel) the characters actually make decent, logical decisions most of the time.

The story itself is fun–Will (or Dumplin’, as her mother calls her) is content with her body, until a super sweet (and conventionally attractive) boy starts flirting with her. As she struggles to stay comfortable in her own skin, Will finds herself joining the local beauty pageant and leading a group of misfits almost against her will as she attempts to deal with her changing relationships and the loss of a beloved family member.

This is definitely worth reading. Whether or not you can relate to Will’s struggles with her weight, you will almost certainly relate to her attempts to stay true to herself and allow herself to change at the same time.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Egg & Spoon

Elena Rudina lives in the impoverished Russian countryside. Her father has been dead for years. One of her brothers has been conscripted into the Tsar’s army, the other taken as a servant in the house of the local landowner. Her mother is dying, slowly, in their tiny cabin. And there is no food. But then a train arrives in the village, a train carrying untold wealth, a cornucopia of food, and a noble family destined to visit the Tsar in Saint Petersburg — a family that includes Ekaterina, a girl of Elena’s age. When the two girls’ lives collide, an adventure is set in motion, an escapade that includes mistaken identity, a monk locked in a tower, a prince traveling incognito, and — in a starring role only Gregory Maguire could have conjured — Baba Yaga, witch of Russian folklore, in her ambulatory house perched on chicken legs.

This story sounds depressing at first glance, but there’s a humor to the writing which is really wonderful. Kat and Elena do a “Prince and the Pauper”-style swap, and Elena seizes the chance to better the lives of her family and friends. Meanwhile, spoiled, skeptical Kat meets up with Baba Yaga, the Russian witch.

I absolutely loved Baba Yaga! She was the funniest character throughout the book and the catalyst for a lot of the magical adventures the girls find themselves on. This is a fun fantasy for anyone with an interest in Russian folklore.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Comics and Graphic Novels Roundup

I don't read a lot of comics, but I did devour all of the Adventure Time comics lately. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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These books/comics don’t really have anything to do with each other than that they’re all focused on the art. I’m not usually a fan of comics, and there are very few graphic novels I’ve read so far, but the last few months have found me reading more books in those categories than normal! (All summaries via Goodreads.com.)

Adventure Time

If you don’t know anything about the Adventure Time TV show, I’m not sure I can explain it to you. If you have seen the show, this series of comics is actually based on the show, not the other way around, so I’m sure you’ll find plenty of in jokes and such to keep you entertained. If you haven’t seen the show, well, neither have I, and I still found these comics really fun.

The characters and the plot are bizarre, but in a good way. The cotton candy-colored post-apocalyptic world is always presenting strange situations based only on Adventure Time logic. If you can put up with some weird and wacky stuff, you’ll probably enjoy these comics. If you like your stories to follow some semblance of real-world logic, maybe give these a pass.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Castle Waiting

Castle Waiting graphic novel tells the story of an isolated, abandoned castle, and the eccentric inhabitants who bring it back to life. A fable for modern times, Castle Waiting is a fairy tale that’s not about rescuing the princess, saving the kingdom, or fighting the ultimate war between Good and Evil, but about being a hero in your own home.

This graphic novel is full of funny, fairy tale-esque stories. None of them are the classic Snow White or Cinderella tales (although there is a modified version of Sleeping Beauty here), so you get the feeling of those medieval tales with fresh stories. Very fun.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Adulthood is a Myth

If you haven’t been following Sarah’s Scribbles, you’re really missing out. Sarah captures the emotions of many broke, introverted Millennials in her hilarious web comic, and this book is a collection of new and old comics. It’s pretty much guaranteed to make you laugh.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

P.S. Do you have any ideas for the next graphic novel or comic I should read? Let me know in the comments!

Lumberjanes

This fun series of comics follows the Lumberjanes as they fight supernatural creatures and build friendship to the max. | Review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley are new friends at the Lumberjanes summer camp. But things aren’t as simple as they seem.

Throughout this fun series of comics, the girls and their reluctant counselor Jen battle supernatural creatures, solve riddles, and develop friendship to the max. Although the girls are very different and have their disagreements, they always end up working together to creatively solve their problems.

I love that the Lumberjanes are a diverse group of girls who love each other despite their differences. I also love that this is a girl power story without the stereotypical “strong woman” character. Each character is unique and complex: April loves cute clothes and mermaids, but she’s also ultra competitive. Ripley is small and scrappy with a ragged, blue-dyed haircut, and she loves giving out hugs. Each of the girls is a fun character on her own, but together, they are magic (sometimes literally).

Even if you don’t usually like comics (I don’t), you should check this series out. The artwork is great, the characters are awesome, and the story is super fun. I can’t wait for the next issue!

“Did you have a plan?”

“I thought adrenaline would take over but it did not.”

This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can find the rest of the posts in this series here.

Dodger

Dodger is a fun story from Terry Pratchett about a street urchin in Dickens' London. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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A storm. Rain-lashed city streets. A flash of lightning. A scruffy lad sees a girl leap desperately from a horse-drawn carriage in a vain attempt to escape her captors. Can the lad stand by and let her be caught again? Of course not, because he’s…Dodger.

Seventeen-year-old Dodger may be a street urchin, but he gleans a living from London’s sewers, and he knows a jewel when he sees one. He’s not about to let anything happen to the unknown girl–not even if her fate impacts some of the most powerful people in England.

From Dodger’s encounter with the mad barber Sweeney Todd to his meetings with the great writer Charles Dickens and the calculating politician Benjamin Disraeli, history and fantasy intertwine in a breathtaking account of adventure and mystery. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

So I’ve never read a Terry Pratchett book (except for Good Omens, which he co-wrote with the amazing Neil Gaiman). I know, I know! How can this be? Well, fantasy isn’t usually my thing, and all I know about Terry Pratchett is his massive Discworld series. One day I’ll tackle that, but when I came across this standalone novel in audio form, I thought I’d give it a try.

But Dodger wasn’t anything like what I thought it would be. For one thing, there are no sci fi/fantasy elements in it at all! Dodger is a young man growing up on the dirty streets of Victorian London, but when he is caught standing up for a young woman, his life takes a sudden turn. He meets Charlie Dickens, Sweeney Todd, and Benjamin Disraeli, mixing actual historic figures with those from fiction.

Dodger is a great character, and his scrapes on (and below) the streets of London were fun to read about, and the audio version I listened to had a great narrator, but on the whole I found this book forgettable. Here’s hoping that the next Terry Pratchett book I pick up will wow me like I was expecting this one to do.

Of course, in keeping with my Write 31 Days series called Lovely Words, here are a few of my favorite quotes from Dodger. (Terry Pratchett has such a clever way with words.)

“Money makes people rich; it is a fallacy to think it makes them better, or even that it makes them worse. People are what they do, and what they leave behind.”

“There were two ways of looking at the world, but only one when you are starving.”

“The man gave Dodger a cursory glance that had quite a lot of curse in it.”

Rating: Good but Forgettable

This post is part of the Write 31 Days series Lovely Words. You can read the rest of the series here.

June YA Roundup

This June YA roundup contains a few forgettable books and one really stellar one. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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As I try to dig myself out from my stacks of books, I’m going to be doing a few roundups to give you some quick reviews on the books I’ve been reading lately (and a few books that I read months ago… oops). Today’s post is a YA roundup. Enjoy! (All summaries are via Goodreads.com)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

There’s no wonder that this book has become a modern YA classic. It has hilarious illustrations, a great writing style that captures the voice of a teenage boy, and it is sad and triumphant and angry and eye-opening. Junior faces prejudice both from the white school he attends and the people on the rez that he left behind. He watches many of his friends and family member succumb to alcohol, but no matter what happens, Junior keeps drawing. I know this book doesn’t cover all the varied experiences of Native Americans, so I’d love to read more books featuring Native American characters in the future.

There is a fair amount of swearing and sexual content in this book, so be forewarned.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Grounded

In Hemlock Hollow, life isn’t easy, but it is simple. Things in my community haven’t changed much in over three hundred years, since the time my Amish ancestors came to what is now the Green Republic. I milk my cow by hand, make fresh bread every morning, and hope to be courted by Jeremiah, a boy I’ve known since childhood.

When my father falls ill, the English doctor says a hospital outside the wall can heal him. Jeremiah convinces me to go on rumspringa, to experience the outside world as an Englisher in order to be closer to my father during his recovery. Others have gone before me. They claim it’s an adventure. But adventure turns to horror as an ordinary light switch thrusts me into a new world, and revelations about my personal history make me question everything I believe.

All my life I’ve worked to be simple. I can’t pretend anymore. Nothing about me is simple.

The idea of this book is great. Basically, the main character, raised Amish, suddenly finds herself in the outside (dystopian) world. While there, she discovers she has incredible powers that she can’t control. With little knowledge of the modern world or her own powers, she falls in with a boy who has a similar power and must decide who she can trust and how she can save her father.

Although I really liked the idea, I found the MC annoying and naive. (Honestly, I can’t even remember her name.) I won’t be looking into the rest of this series.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Alias Hook

“Every child knows how the story ends. The wicked pirate captain is flung overboard, caught in the jaws of the monster crocodile who drags him down to a watery grave. But it was not yet my time to die. It’s my fate to be trapped here forever, in a nightmare of childhood fancy, with that infernal, eternal boy.”

Meet Captain James Benjamin Hook, a witty, educated Restoration-era privateer cursed to play villain to a pack of malicious little boys in a pointless war that never ends. But everything changes when Stella Parrish, a forbidden grown woman, dreams her way to the Neverland in defiance of Pan’s rules. From the glamour of the Fairy Revels, to the secret ceremonies of the First Tribes, to the mysterious underwater temple beneath the Mermaid Lagoon, the magical forces of the Neverland open up for Stella as they never have for Hook. And in the pirate captain himself, she begins to see someone far more complex than the storybook villain.

With Stella’s knowledge of folk and fairy tales, she might be Hook’s last chance for redemption and release if they can break his curse before Pan and his warrior boys hunt her down and drag Hook back to their neverending game.

I have always hated Peter Pan and his eternal boyhood. So I was interested by this book, which presents Pan as the powerful dictator of Neverland and Hook as the selfish but exhausted appointed nemesis. Hook, cursed many years ago by a scorned lover, is basically there to satisfy the whims of selfish little boys. He works for years to discover a way out for himself and his men, but none is apparent–until one day Stella appears.

I enjoyed the twist on the old Peter Pan story, especially since it paints Pan as the villain (like I said, I’ve always hated him). Still, I wasn’t a big fan of the romance, and reading about Pan’s actions just made me mad.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

No and Me

Parisian teenager Lou has an IQ of 160, OCD tendencies, and a mother who has suffered from depression for years. But Lou is about to change her life—and that of her parents—all because of a school project about homeless teens. While doing research, Lou meets No, a teenage girl living on the streets. As their friendship grows, Lou bravely asks her parents if No can live with them, and is astonished when they agree. No’s presence forces Lou’s family to come to terms with a secret tragedy. But can this shaky, newfound family continue to live together when No’s own past comes back to haunt her?

I picked up this book without knowing anything about it, other than the fact that it was a book in translation (I read it for a book challenge). So I was pleasantly surprised by the story that I was given. Lou lives in Paris, and she surprises herself and her family when she asks them if the homeless girl she’s been interviewing can live with them. No has had a rough past (obviously), and it follows her and threatens the new beginning she’s been given.

Well written (and well translated), unusual characters, and a powerful story. I’m glad I picked this one up.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

ARCs: YA Fiction

These two new books from YA fiction are interesting, but my favorite was definitely "Freedom's Just Another Word." #spon | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received these books free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Summaries are via NetGalley.com.

I’ve not been reading as much YA fiction as I usually do, and both of these ARCs were pretty lackluster. (Hopefully I’ll have more luck with YA fiction again soon–until then, I have a stack of adult fiction to keep me busy!)

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

“Hawthorn wasn’t trying to insert herself into a missing person’s investigation. Or maybe she was. But that’s only because Lizzie Lovett’s disappearance is the one fascinating mystery their sleepy town has ever had. Bad things don’t happen to popular girls like Lizzie Lovett, and Hawthorn is convinced she’ll turn up at any moment—which means the time for speculation is now.

So Hawthorn comes up with her own theory for Lizzie’s disappearance. A theory way too absurd to take seriously…at first. The more Hawthorn talks, the more she believes. And what better way to collect evidence than to immerse herself in Lizzie’s life? Like getting a job at the diner where Lizzie worked and hanging out with Lizzie’s boyfriend. After all, it’s not as if he killed her—or did he?

Told with a unique voice that is both hilarious and heart-wrenching, Hawthorn’s quest for proof may uncover the greatest truth is within herself.”

I thought this book was all right. I found Hawthorn very irritating, especially at the beginning: She’s self-centered, whiny, and jealous, and while cynics might say, “That’s just how teenagers are,” I have to think that most teenagers reading the book would be put off by Hawthorn. The plot itself was nothing special. I was expecting something a little more thriller-y, and this definitely wasn’t. I did like Hawthorn’s family (though, of course, she loathed her mom’s quirkiness and hated her brother’s “interference” in her life). Maybe look elsewhere if you’re looking for either a mystery/thriller or a coming-of-age story.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Freedom’s Just Another Word

“The year Louisiana – Easy for short – meets Janis Joplin is the year everything changes. Easy is a car mechanic in her dad’s shop, but she can sing the blues like someone twice her age. So when she hears that Janis Joplin is passing through her small town of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Easy is there with her heart – and her voice – in hand. It’s 1970 and Janis Joplin is an electrifying blues-rock singer at the height of her fame – and of her addictions. Yet she recognizes Easy’s talent and asks her to meet her in Texas to sing. So Easy begins an unusual journey that will change everything.”

This book was pretty interesting, if a little sad. Easy is an African-American girl growing up in the 1970s, and her one dream is to become a blues singer. So when Easy meets Janis Joplin and gets invited to sing with her in Texas, Easy jumps at the chance–even though it means road-tripping with a couple of nuns to get there.

During the course of the story, the author discusses racism, being judgmental, and drug and alcohol abuse. There’s nothing too heavy, but it’s not a lighthearted book, either. The one thing I disliked about Freedom’s Just Another Word is that some parts felt disjointed, and certain plot threads were wrapped up too quickly. Still, this book is worth a look if you’re interested in getting a glimpse of early 1970s American culture.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Last Dragonslayer

A fun YA book about modern-day magic, dragons, and the teenage girl who finds herself running the business. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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In the good old days, magic was indispensable—it could both save a kingdom and clear a clogged drain. But now magic is fading: drain cleaner is cheaper than a spell, and magic carpets are used for pizza delivery. Fifteen-year-old foundling Jennifer Strange runs Kazam, an employment agency for magicians—but it’s hard to stay in business when magic is drying up. And then the visions start, predicting the death of the world’s last dragon at the hands of an unnamed Dragonslayer. If the visions are true, everything will change for Kazam—and for Jennifer. Because something is coming. Something known as . . . Big Magic. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book has been on my TBR list forever, and I finally picked up a couple of months ago. I wasn’t expecting much, but I found myself really getting into it. It’s a funny and sarcastic look at modern-day magic, in which magic has been outpaced by technology and is relegated to fixing clogged plumbing or bad electrical wiring. But when the last dragon in the world seems to be dying, teenage businesswoman Jennifer finds herself dragged into the controversy.

As I’ve said before, this book is sometimes touted as Harry Potter for young adults, but I don’t really see it that way. Sure, there’s the whole magic thing, but that’s about where the similarities end. This story isn’t sweeping or heart-wrenching the way Harry Potter is–but that’s not a bad thing. The Last Dragonslayer is hilarious and irreverent, and Jennifer is a fascinating character who has had to fend for herself from an early age. (I guess Harry did too, but he didn’t end up running a business because of it.) The magic itself, and the magical characters that inhabit this world, is different as well. So please, take this book on its own merits. It is truly fantastic, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

ARC Roundup: Mysteries

The latest mysteries and suspense novels for teens and adults--some great, some forgettable. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received free digital copies of these books from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All summaries are via NetGalley.com

My love of mysteries is no secret; N&B’s archives are full of cozies, thrillers, and whodunits. Thus, this collection of ARC mysteries and suspense novels. Some I recommend, but others are best left alone.

Love, Lies and Spies

Juliana Telford is not your average nineteenth-century young lady. She’s much more interested in researching ladybugs than marriage, fashionable dresses, or dances. So when her father sends her to London for a season, she’s determined not to form any attachments. Instead, she plans to secretly publish her research.

Spencer Northam is not the average young gentleman of leisure he appears. He is actually a spy for the War Office, and is more focused on acing his first mission than meeting eligible ladies. Fortunately, Juliana feels the same, and they agree to pretend to fall for each other. Spencer can finally focus, until he is tasked with observing Juliana’s traveling companions . . . and Juliana herself.

The idea of this novel is awesome. It’s touted as homage to Jane Austen and her spunky heroines, with a little bit of mystery thrown in as well. Unfortunately, the execution does not live up to the idea.

Juliana is supposed to be intelligent, unconventional, and impertinent, but mostly I found her bland and forgettable. Her and Spencer’s romance takes up most of the plot, rather than the mystery that you would expect from a “spy” novel. If the concept of this novel intrigues you, sit tight–one of the books below executes it in a much more interesting way.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Murder of Mary Russell

Mary Russell is used to dark secrets—her own, and those of her famous partner and husband, Sherlock Holmes. Trust is a thing slowly given, but over the course of a decade together, the two have forged an indissoluble bond. And what of the other person to whom Mary Russell has opened her heart: the couple’s longtime housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson? Russell’s faith and affection are suddenly shattered when a man arrives on the doorstep claiming to be Mrs. Hudson’s son.

What Samuel Hudson tells Russell cannot possibly be true, yet she believes him—as surely as she believes the threat of the gun in his hand. In a devastating instant, everything changes. And when the scene is discovered—a pool of blood on the floor, the smell of gunpowder in the air—the most shocking revelation of all is that the grim clues point directly to Clara Hudson. Or rather to Clarissa, the woman she was before Baker Street.

This book is the latest in Ms. King’s series of Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell mysteries, and as I read it, I was startled to realize that I actually read the first book of the series (The Beekeeper’s Apprentice) several years ago. Although I definitely don’t recommend that you pick up this book without having read the rest of the series first–there’s very little talk about Sherlock and Mary themselves, as the book mostly focuses on Mrs. Hudson’s backstory–it was still an enjoyable read.

The most frustrating part, to me, was the fact that so much of the book took place in flashbacks–most of the first half, in fact. Especially if you haven’t read the rest of the series first (see my note above), the book focuses very little on our two main characters, instead exploring the dark secrets of the housekeeper’s past. Once you get into the second half of the book, things move quickly, but the first half is a bit of a slog.

Verdict? If you’ve read and enjoyed the rest of the series, I see no reason why you would be disappointed with the latest installment. If you haven’t, start with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and then decide if you want to continue.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

These Vicious Masks

Evelyn has no interest in marriage and even the dashing Mr. Kent can’t make her want to live up to society’s expectations. She’d much rather assist her beloved sister Rose in achieving her radical dream of becoming a doctor. But everything changes the night she meets Sebastian Braddock – not only is the reclusive gentleman both vexing and annoyingly attractive, he’s also quite possibly mad, and his interest in Rose is galling. So when Evelyn wakes up to discover that Rose has disappeared, she immediately suspects Sebastian.

But then she discovers that Sebastian’s strange tales of special powers are actually true, and that Rose’s kidnappers have worse in mind for her than simply ruining her reputation. Surrounded by secrets, lies, and unprecedented danger, Evelyn has no choice but to trust Sebastian, yet she can’t help but worry that Sebastian’s secrets are the most dangerous of all…

I’ve been hearing good things about this book for months, and after reading it, I can see why. This is what Love, Lies and Spies (see above) should have been but wasn’t. Evelyn is, in fact, impertinent and unconventional, and she pulls this off without being irritating or bland. And the romantic subplot never takes over the story–something I greatly appreciate in a YA novel.

The science (or magic) of the special powers some of the characters have is never quite clear, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s a fun story with interesting characters and a unique way of spicing up the Jane Austen era. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Sidney Chambers and the Dangers of Temptation

It’s the summer of love in late 1960s England. Basil D’Oliveira has just been dropped from the English cricket team before for a test series in apartheid South Africa; the war in Biafra dominates the news; and the Apollo 11 astronauts are preparing to land on the moon. In the midst of all this change, Sidney Chambers, now Archdeacon of Ely Cathedral, is still up to his amateur sleuthing investigations.

A bewitching divorcee enlists Sidney’s help in convincing her son to leave a hippie commune; at a soiree on Grantchester Meadows during May Week celebrations, a student is divested of a family heirloom; Amanda’s marriage runs into trouble; Sidney and Hildegard holiday behind the Iron Curtain; Mrs Maguire’s husband returns from the dead and an arson attack in Cambridge leads Sidney to uncover a cruel case of blackmail involving his former curate.

I requested this one on a whim after seeing that it has been made into a BBC series (I can’t resist the BBC!). Unfortunately, this is the fifth installment in the series, so I was a bit confused as to who each character was and how they knew Sidney, the archdeacon and amateur sleuth.

I was also disappointed that each chapter was a short story in itself. There was no overarching mystery to tie them all together, so most of them came off a little flat. Maybe prior installments were one long mystery, and they probably gave a better introduction to each character, but just based on this one book, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Rating: Meh

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