Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Carry On

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
  • A boy magician, identified at age 11 as "the Chosen One" and taken away to a magical British school
  • A series of books about the boy and his friends as they battle the enemy of all Wizard-kind
  • Lots of magic, magical creatures, action, adventure, mystery, and good vs evil

You know the boy I'm talking about, right?  Yes!  It's Simon Snow!

Wait.  What?

Simon Snow's evil roommate Baz says that Simon is probably the worst Chosen One ever chosen, and he's probably right.  Most of the time Simon doesn't know what his magic is going to do...if it does anything.  His magic wand is a hand-me-down, his spell casting is capricious, and although the Sword of Mages comes to his hand sometimes when he needs it, it's never reliable.

And then there's Baz:  rich.  pale.  mysterious.  wicked.  and a vampire.

Wait.  What?

The reader joins Simon and Baz mid-story, after they have already survived adventures in six other books fighting chimeras, goblins, bone-teeth hunters...and each other.  Unlike that other series of books about a boy magician in a magical school, this series has never been written.  And Carry On isn't the series itself either, it's a fan-fiction novel.

Keep up, will you?

Only Rainbow Rowell could write a fanfic salute to a series that she invented as a "prop" for a different novel...and only Rainbow Rowell would start by writing the end of the story but not the beginning!

And just wait until you get to the romance between Simon and XXXXXXXX    ....oops.  Sorry, no spoilers here.

Fast-paced adventure and a flawed hero with flawed friends, awesome love story and terrific world-building.  

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Last Leaves Falling

The Last Leaves Falling  by Sarah Benwell

18-year-old Abe Sora lives in modern-day Kyoto with his mom...and with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).  He is dying, and he's scared.

Sora derives some comfort from a book of haiku poems written by ancient samurai warriors, but is helped even more by the love of his mom, his grandparents, and new friends Mai and Kaito, whom he met online.  As Sora's body fails him, he must face the knowledge that, as much as he longs to face his future with dignity, soon he will have no control over his life or death.  He makes a plan, and he asks Mai and Kaito to help.

The sparse language of the story is perfectly suited to the character of Sora and his love of both haiku poetry and Hayao Miyazaki's animated movies.  Neither of these forms wastes time or syllables to explain a situation, but rather depends on the intuition of the reader/viewer.  So it is with Last Leaves, in which characters meet online and form a strong friendship (and possibly a romance between Mai and Kaito!) without a bunch of exposition from the author.  

Sora's end-of-life choices may be distressing to some readers and objectionable to others.  However, the grace of the telling is undeniable.  This is an excellent book for discussion.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Nightingale

The Nightingale  by Kristin Hannah

WWII is on, the Nazis have invaded, and France is occupied.  Elder sister Vianne is committed to surviving and to keeping her daughter safe.  Younger sister Isabelle is outraged, and determined to join the RĂ©sistance and beat the Germans.  The siblings rarely agree and are separated by time and politics for almost the entire duration of the conflict.

The point is made several times during the story that "war stories" are almost always about (and told by) men, and that the Nazis often overlooked the role of women in warfare, sometimes to the tremendous detriment of the Third Reich. 

Not everything goes well, of course.  Some of the wrong people are taken away, some of the characters that readers attach to come to grievous harm.  Very few of the characters would be objectively considered "good people"...and yet, the details of their lives are so compelling that the book is difficult to put down.

Written for adult audiences but with plenty of teen appeal, especially for readers of Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire.  Sexual situations are mostly off-page, but some of the violence (and torture) is not.

Highly recommended for readers ages 14 to adult, and especially for book discussion groups.

Monday, January 11, 2016


Mechanica  by Betsy Cornwell

Nicolette is an inventor of amazing tools and toys, just like her mother before her.  

Oppressed by her selfish "Steps," she spends days cooking, cleaning and sewing, and spends her evenings in the magical hidden workshop left behind by her mother, where she builds gadgets to help her with the daily tasks.  But when the king announces a spectacular Exposition and Gala (with accompanying ball to seek a prospective wife for the Prince), Nicolette emerges from her sooty basement to grasp at the opportunity.

This recasting of the traditional Cinderella story is delightfully constructed, with nods to a fairy godmother, a magical coach, and the essential glass slipper...but with an unexpected twist.  And perhaps a sequel?  We can hope!

Fans of Cinder will demand this similar but unique tale.  And they will join us in demanding a second book. 

Recommended for ages 12 to adult.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Stars Never Rise

The Stars Never Rise    by Rachel Vincent  
Delacorte Press, 2015.  978-0-385-74417-1.  $17.99.  359p

Sixteen-year-old Nina and her sister Melanie struggle to survive while their mother is strung out on drugs sleeping all day.  

In this dystopian world, the Church rules everyone through the fear of demons, purity, and people who must die to “gift” their soul to a new baby (all born without a soul.) 

Nina is an exorcist and must try to save her sister, now pregnant without consent of the church, and without being married.  And of course, save herself since all “real” exorcists are rogue. Including the really cute boy with amazing green eyes.  

This wild ride of a novel is the first in a series, which might be good, since the book raises more questions than it answers.  Woven in through the novel are people who inhabit dual bodies, sexual situations, lots of innocent dead bodies, and of course, demons.  

Because of the world setting, there was a lot of information to get across, and some of that bogged the story down.  The twists are nicely done, and your nerves will be raw by the end.

Recommended 14 up

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


Joyride   by Anna Banks
Feiwell and Friends, 2015.  978-1-250-03961-3  $1799.  276p

Carly Vegas lives with her older brother, going to school and working at night, helping to earn enough money to pay the smuggler who will bring her parents and younger twin siblings back across the border.  

She needs to keep a low profile, not attracting attention because what they are doing is obviously illegal.  She needs school to get a real job, a good college, and  move ahead. Her life revolves around school, grades, and work.  So why then, does she keep finding herself going out with Arden Moss, son of the local sheriff?

The attraction of the two opposites, we know, will lead to disaster.  It is impossible not to watch and root for the two.  While it is heartening to see racism addressed in YA lit, the sheriff father’s racist reactions to Mexicans is just too stereotypical.  Carly’s reactions to racism in the book are spot-on.  She is a smart, capable heroine who has goals and sticks with them.   Arden is a less-defined character.  Although likable, he carries lots of baggage, dealing with it in inappropriate ways.  There is growth on his part, but in the long run, life is too easy for him.  Even Carly comments on this.

The ending is too swift, too pat to be believable.  Although this was a Quick Pick, many teens will find that it drags in the middle.  It is also sad that Banks uses the need to make money as a reason why the family promotes a “you shouldn’t care about school” attitude. 

Despite these problems, the book is still a good read.
recommended 12 up

This Raging Light

This Raging Light   by Estelle Laurie.  
Houghton Mifflin, 2016.978-0-544-53429-2.  $17.99.  288p

“These are all the things Mom did while nobody noticed.  I notice her now.  I notice her isn’t.  I notice her doesn’t.”

In her senior year, Lucille gets her little sister Wren ready to begin 4th grade.  It appears that their mom has left them, although she declared that she “just needed a vacation.” Dad is in an alcoholic rehab. 

During the rest of the book, Lucille deals with keeping their family together, facing all the things you need to do as part of a routine:  making breakfast, making a lunch your sister loved yesterday but hates today, doing laundry so you have clean clothes.  Lucille is determined, but has difficulty keeping away adults who notice.  While she can keep Wren’s teacher at bay with notes and visits, excusing her mom, she can do little about the dwindling money.  Then things fall more apart:  best friend Eden stops talking to her; the car dies.  She gets a job with little trouble, but without Eden babysitting, Wren is a problem.

Then there is Digby, the twin of her best friend.  Who has a girlfriend.  For whom she has fallen.  The fact that he helps her with babysitting Wren and is just NICE doesn’t help. 

Lucille deals with her issues like any overloaded teen:  guilt, over-compensation, and overwork.  She loves Wren, but understandably hates their circumstances and the fact that she can’t deal with what should be adult issues.  She is in uncharted territory,  at home, at work, and with the non-boyfriend boyfriend.  Lucille deals with it all in a humorous, teen angsty, even poetic, way.  Everyone itries on the adult persona, and fails– then tries again.  And again.

Recommended 12 up