Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Book Review: Burning Kingdoms by Lauren DeStefano

Book Cover Burning Kingdoms Lauren DeStefano
Burning Kingdoms, the sequel to Perfect Ruin, suffers greatly from "second book syndrome."

I really enjoyed Perfect Ruin. In it, we were introduced to a unique world -- a floating island above the earth, with a strange political system to add to the intrigue. Now, if you haven't read Perfect Ruin, you should stop reading this, because I'm going to talk about the ending.

Morgan and her group have escaped the island and landed on Earth. About 70% of Burning Kingdoms is that group becoming acclimated to the differences between Internment and Earth. They eat new food, they see a movie, they explore, they get drunk, they learn that on earth even though there isn't a problem with having enough space, they still have their own problems and are actually at war. I understand that we need to know what things are like on Earth to compare and contrast it with Internment, but not for 250 pages.

They are staying with an adviser to the king and his 5 children in what is a hotel during tourist season. Since it is now winter, the hotel isn't open for business. We are re-introduced to the characters, and it took me a while to remember the details of their relationships. I remembered the characters (the Princess, Morgan's Brother, her best friend, her betrothed) but I had a hard time remembering how each of them felt about each other at the end of Perfect Ruin. I think catching up on these relationships at the beginning gave this book a slow start.

Morgan knows a secret that might help them get back to Internment, but she doesn't want to tell anyone. After all, do they want to return? The Princess definitely does, but she has her own motives that also are a secret.

We eventually learn these secrets. At about 70%, exciting (and horrific) things begin to happen and some progress is made with the plot. But not much. It's a good thing that DeStefano is a good writer, or I would have quit. Really, there's no reason to take up over 300 pages to tell this story. Especially when there isn't even an ending. You are reading, and suddenly there aren't any more pages. I was reading an ARC and I'm hoping that's really not the way the finished copy is going to end, because it was horrible. I mean, I can't even call this a cliffhanger. There is no build up of tension or anything to indicate a denouement. It just stops. Really, I want this to be a mistake, because I can't believe any author, editor, or publisher would think this constitutes a book.

Suffice it to say, Burning Kingdoms was a disappointment. There is virtually no character growth, and the plot progression could be accomplished in 50 pages. I still think Perfect Ruin is a good book, but maybe I would wait until the rest of the series is out so you can read them all together.

Published by Simon & Schuster BFYR, March 10, 2015
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
320 pages

Rating: 2.5/5





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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

2016 Illinois Teen Readers' Choice Award Nominees


2016 Abraham Lincoln Award

Today is one of my favorite days of the year. The nominees for next year's Teen Choice Award have been announced and here they are:
 
Author Title
Saenz, Benjamin Alire Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Sepetys, Ruta Between Shades of Gray
Quick, Matthew Boy 21
Lange, Erin Jade Butter
Hodge, Rosamund Cruel Beauty
Bracken, Alexandra The Darkest Minds*
Rowell, Rainbow Fangirl
Kwok, Jean Girl in Translation*
Zadoff, Allen I Am the Weapon (previously published as Boy Nobody)
Nelson, Jandy I'll Give You the Sun
Farizan, Sara If You Could be Mine*
Anderson, Laurie Halse The Impossible Knife of Memory
Ballard, Chris One Shot at Forever
Kline, Christina Baker Orphan Train
Rawl, Paige Positive: A Memoir
Maberry, Jonathan Rot & Ruin
McGovern, Cammie Say What You Will
Sanderson, Brandon Steelheart
Sales, Leila This Song Will Save Your Life*
Lockhart, E. We Were Liars

The titles in RED are the ones that were chosen by the teens on the committee. They are allowed to choose four titles, anytime during the discussion without any input from the librarians. I think it's a great list. My library already owns 15 of the 20 books, and I've read eight of them. My TBR just got a lot longer!

We are now voting for the 2015 winner, which will be announced on March 20. Here's a list of those nominated titles. Which one would you vote for?





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Monday, March 2, 2015

Book Review: Breaking Sky by Cori McCarthy @CoriMcCarthy

Breaking Sky by Cori McCarthy book cover
Breaking Sky is a fast-paced story about teen fighter pilots à la Ender's Game.

Chase (call sign Nyx) is being trained to fight a very specialized, very fast jet called a Streaker, along with Pippin, her navigator. She is one of two pilots being trained to fly this jet that is the United States' only hope of winning the war, when it comes, against the Ri Xiong Di and their red drones.

Unlike Ender's Game, these pilots are at the end of their training. There's very little about how they were chosen or their background. I liked that we are already in the thick of the danger when Breaking Sky starts.

Chase is a dare devil, and doesn't always follow the rules. She has trouble building relationships. She accidentally uncovers a military secret -- there's a third Streaker. But who is flying it?

There are details to the story that make the characters seem real. There's an urgency that is palpable, as these teens and their leaders are certain that war is inevitable. The United States is already suffering, and can't last much longer because it has been isolated from the rest of the world. A bit of a romance occurs, although it's very secondary to the story. There is a lot to keep you turning the pages.

I didn't like Chase. She's impulsive, arrogant, and makes stupid decisions. Sometimes readers say they can't connect to a character they don't like. Well, I definitely connected to Chase, in a negative way. Did that keep me from enjoying Breaking Sky? No way. Chase is a typical (unlikable) teen. Some of them just need to do some growing up and we adults may not like them. It's realistic. Chase does do some maturing at the end, but still -- she was totally annoying.

The pilots are all nervous about their upcoming trials because supposedly only two of them are going to be picked. This didn't make any sense and really this plot point could have been left out. The military needed every jet it could get -- and were conducting these trials to get funding for more. So, how did these teen's concerns make any sense?

The ending of Breaking Sky is dramatic and heart-wrenching. It is also satisfying. I'm not sure if there are  more books planned for this world and these characters, but with the ending the author could go either way. I would be happy to read more, though!

Breaking Sky is a great book for boys or girls and I can't wait to give this to some of my students.

Published by Sourcebooks Fire, March 10, 2015
eARC obtained from NetGalley
416 pages

Rating: 4/5





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Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Other Side of Life - My Winter Project

Old blog header from The Housework Isn't Getting Done

I'm using these posts to occasionally describe other things I enjoy (besides books.) I used to post these projects on my other blog, but I posted so seldom that I decided to include them here. Feel free to skip this one, if you are strictly in it for the books.

Every year after Christmas, in the dead of winter, I get the urge to work with yarn. I know how to knit and crochet, but lately I've been more into knitting. I usually make small projects like scarves, but this year I made an afghan. Here's the finished project:
Knitted cable blanket

Knitted cable blanket closeup

I used the free Cranberry Cable Blanket pattern from Jo-Ann. I'm really pleased with the way it turned out and it was fun to make.

Onto the next project!





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2015 EBook Challenge -- Post Your March Reviews


Here's the sign up page for the 2015 EBook Challenge, if you're interested.

You can see my progress for the entire year on my 2015 Challenges Page.


You can link up your MARCH Reviews below:



Hope you are enjoying this challenge!





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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Stacking the Shelves - I Read More than I Got!

I read three books this week and only got one new one. That's the direction I'm trying to go at this point, so I'm happy. Here's what I got....

For Review:


Book Cover After the Red Rain by Lyga, DeFranco, Facinelli
After the Red Rain, by Barry Lyga, Peter Facinelli and Robert DeFranco from Edelweiss and NetGalley
I'll read anything Barry Lyga writes.

So, that's it for me. How about you? Leave me a link! Thanks for stopping by and don't forget to visit our hosts, Team Tynga's Reviews. See you soon.





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Friday, February 27, 2015

Feature & Follow Friday: Out of the Fire

Alison Can Read Feature & Follow
Time for Feature & Follow hosted by Alison & Parajunkee. Here's this week's question:

Your house is burning down and you have time to select three books you own to take with you. What three books? - Suggested by Alison Can Read.

I have several autographed books that would be nice to have, but I'm not sure that's where I would go first. I have some old children's books from when I was a kid that I would hate to lose, but they're kind of packed away and I doubt I could get to them.  Maybe I need to rethink their location! So if I'm answering the question as asked, I'd have to say The Night Before Christmas from me and my siblings' childhoods. And some other children's books. One would be Never Tease a Weasel, one of my favorites.

Most books are replaceable, right? I used to say I'd grab my photo albums, but now most of my pictures are electronically stored too.  What do I want to save? I would grab my backup hard drive--I have one with just pictures on it. I would grab my computer. I have a tub in my closet with old photo albums -- the ones before pictures were digital -- so I'd try to grab that. This is such a hard question and I hope I never have to actually make that decision!

Thanks for visiting. Leave me a link with your thoughts on this one. Have a great weekend!





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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Book Review: Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran

Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran book cover
Prepare for some gushing about another great historical fiction, Rebel Queen.

The Rebel Queen is India's Queen Lakshmi from the mid 1800s. The British are slowly taking over India. Our narrator is Sita, a young girl from a small village that has trained for years to be one of the queen's guards. In her village, she was subject to purdah, the seclusion of women from public. She never left her home, unless she was in a covered buggy.  The family is very poor and there is no chance of a dowry so that Sita can marry, so her father plans for her to become a member of the Durga Dal, the group of elite female soldiers that protect the queen.

Sita's life changes dramatically after her arrival at the palace, and she wins favor with the queen because she can speak English. Tensions continue to mount, as the British take over more and more of India. After unbelievable tragedy, the queen has no power. The British are prepared to relieve her of her kingdom. But the queen, Sita, and the other Durga Dal won't let that happen without a fight.

The customs of India are engrossing. The characters are vivid and interesting, each with distinct personalities. Sita makes mistakes but is always strong. There's heartbreak and brutality beyond belief. There's romance and devotion to god. I was fascinated by every minute of this story, which is based in fact. I couldn't put it down.

I've always been a Moran fan, and Rebel Queen just solidifies my admiration. I still haven't read Nefertiti, but it's going on the list! Anyone who enjoys historical fiction will love this well-written beautiful story. And, if you are interested in the history of India, Rebel Queen will captivate.

Published by Touchstone, March 3, 2015
eARC obtained from Edelweiss and NetGalley
368 pages

Rating: 5/5





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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Book Review: Bone Gap, by Laura Ruby

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby book cover
I was surprised by the weird paranormal aspect of Bone Gap. I was enjoying an engaging contemporary story with what I thought was an unreliable narrator. Maybe that's what it is? I have mixed feelings.

Bone Gap is narrated mostly by Finn, who is unusual. Bone Gap is a very small town in Illinois and everyone knows everybody. Finn and his older brother were abandoned by their mother, and now live alone and take care of each other.

Roza is another main narrator. She lived with Finn and his brother for a while in a small apartment in their house. They found her in their barn one morning, beaten and abused. Roza never explained where she came from. They nursed her back to health, and she cooked for them and took care of their garden. Finn's brother was smitten.

Roza disappears, and Finn tries to tell everyone that he saw a man take her away -- that she was kidnapped, but Finn can't describe the man, and everyone thinks Roza left of her own free will.

Finn is feeling guilty because no one will look for Roza. There are many other aspects of the story. Someone leaves a beautiful horse in Finn's barn. Finn becomes romantically involved with a local teen girl, who is also somewhat of a misfit. The next door neighbor is also unusual and keeps his chickens in his house.

At first I thought that maybe Finn has Aspergers, because he never looks people in the eye, but that's not what it is. I thought both Roza and/or Finn may be unreliable narrators, because as Roza talks about where she is being held, it doesn't really make sense. Or else she was drugged. Turns out there is a paranormal aspect, along with a bizarre medical condition that explains those things....or does it? I'm just not sure how I feel about the resolution.

I had difficulty with all the flash backs and flash forwards. It was hard to tell what time we were in -- Roza goes way back into her past, and jumps around to the present, and then to a more recent past. Somewhat randomly, without warning. Finn does the same thing. I needed better transitions, or indicators of a change in time.

The writing was great. The story swept me along and I became involved with these characters. I just felt a bit jarred by the whole premise of the unexpected ending. Bone Gap is easy to read and may be a good book for book clubs to discuss. I'm just unsettled.

Published by Balzer + Bray, March 3, 2015
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
368 pages

Rating: 3/5





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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Book Review: Dreaming Spies, by Laurie R. King

Dreaming Spies, Laurie R. King book cover
Dreaming Spies gives the reader a little taste of a classic Sherlock Holmes story.

This is the first Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes book that I've read. I think this is the 12th book in this series. Once I got through the first 1/3 of the book, I really enjoyed it.

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are married and in this series they solve crimes or mysteries. It's the 1920s and they are on a cruise ship going to Japan for a vacation. Well, that's not going to happen.  They meet a Japanese woman on the ship who agrees to teach some of the passengers about the culture and language of Japan. This woman turns out to be much more than she seems. There's a missing book and a British Earl who is a blackmailer, and Holmes knows it. As in most stories about Sherlock Holmes, the details of the case don't matter, it's all in the solving.

Dreaming Spies takes a long time to get going. The first third of the book is all introduction of character and setting. I really had to convince myself to continue reading, but I had heard so many people rave about these books. Dreaming Spies did eventually pull me in, and I ended up very glad I decided to finish it.

The actual case is interesting, but I was expecting more "Holmes" kinds of deciphering clues and solving puzzles. Most of the investigation and solution involved physically breaking in to places and some clever costumes and personifications. There was no, "I know he was recently divorced because of the lighter skin where his ring used to be" kinds of observations that I expect from Sherlock Holmes.

I did enjoy their unique way of traveling through Japan. They end up having to prove their worthiness to actually help solve this mystery and that was the most compelling part of the story.  I always find the Japanese culture to be fascinating and this added to my knowledge.

I would consider reading more books in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series. I will also recommend these books to my mystery lovers. I think those teens would find these characters and stories very interesting.

Published by Bantam, February 17, 2015
eARC obtained from NetGalley
352 pages

Rating: 3.5/5





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