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1. Review: An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. Razorbill. 2015. Reviewed from ARC.

An Ember in the Ashes
The Plot: It's been 500 years since the Martials defeated the Scholars. At various times Rebellion has been threatened, but the Martials always destroy it.

Laia, 17, is a Scholar. The once studious and education people are now banned from anything hinting at learning. Laia lives with her older brother, Darin, and her grandparents, until the night their home is raided by the Martials and their terrible agents, the silver-faced Masks. Her grandparents are killed, Darin is arrested, and Laia flees into the night.

She stumbles upon rebels who agree to help her free her brother, for a price. Go into the heart of the Martial training ground and spy on their Commandment. To do so, she'll have to pretend to be a slave. But for Darin, she'll do it.

Elias, twenty, is a Martial who has been trained to be a Mask since the age of six. Except he has a secret, kept hidden and deep. He hates the death and torture and violence of what he his, of what he is trained to do. He doesn't want his face to be forever silver. He dreams of escape, even though it will dishonor his Grandfather, but anyone caught running away is brutally executed. As each day goes by, he finds himself increasingly bound to the Martials and to his friends and wondering if the only escape is death.

The Good: Read this book. Now. The only down side of reading this book ASAP is that the sequel is out next summer, and you're going to have to wait that long to find out what happens next.

Read this book. It is a wonderfully complex setting, influenced by the Roman Empire and other ancient cultures. Sometimes a cultural setting such as the one in An Ember in the Ashes either downplays or ignores the consequences and reality of its setting. This book does not do that; it is a brutal, violent world and both Laia and Elias have been shaped and formed by that brutality. (For those who wonder about the violence on the page, I'll put it this way. A book can describe a death in a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter -- this book goes for the sentence or two. Does it lessen the horror of that death? No, it doesn't drag it on for pages and pages.)

Laia masquerades as a slave, but, no, that's wrong. While Laia is spying, she is actually a slave and all that implies. She is owned by the Commandment, who can do anything she wants to the slaves she owns. Laia is beaten and whipped; her name is taken from her. Other slaves have been scarred, branded, mutilated. The possibility of sexual assault and rape is real. So she has to survive both the change in status from free to slave but also figuring out how to be a spy for the rebellion.

Elias has been trained since the age of six to become a Mask, like his mother and grandfather before him. (His mother is the Commandment.) He has seen children whipped to death; he has been beaten; he has killed. He has followed orders. He has become one of the top soldiers. And he hates it. One of the things I love about An Ember in the Ashes is that while it's easy to hate the Martial class and all that Elias is and represents, the reader can't help but like Elias and root for him. To like his friends and understand his loyalties.

If you're wondering, because there is a girl and a boy and it's a young adult book, whether there is a romance -- well, yes and no. Again, complexity! While Elias may look at Laia and see a pretty girl, Laia looks at Elias and sees a dangerous soldier. Elias also is the type who sees Laia as a pretty girl who is a slave so is someone who for that reason shouldn't be touched (not a sentiment towards slaves shared by others.) There's a young man who is a rebel who Laia begins to have feelings for, and Elias has feelings towards another soldier, a young woman, and he's trying to deny them. So this is more a rectangle than anything else, and very realistically done given the different positions of power people have.

The Martial Empire is HORRIBLE. I wouldn't want to live there. But, again with reasons I like this -- when Laia learns more about the history of the Scholars, she realizes that her history and society is more complex than good/bad, vanquished/conquered. Elias looks around him and doesn't like how the Empire treats people, and he may be alone in this. It's hard to tell, because to confess such things would to betrayal, punishment, torture, death. His friends, though, are also likable, though part of this may be that we only see them in a context where they aren't arresting and killing and torturing, though we know that is what they have been trained to do. And truth be told while the ways of his training are harsh and I'm running out of words that mean "brutal," it's also realistic in terms of what is needed to create the perfect killing machine -- and that appears to be the sole aim of Elias's training and schooling.

The ending -- the ending!!! Don't worry, it's a great ending for a first book in the series in that it both works well as an ending for this book but there is also a great lead in to what will happen in the next book. I don't feel cheated or frustrated; I just feel MORE MORE MORE.

And the plot is so great that I don't want to say a word about it.

One more thing. The women in this story! Of course, there is Laia, who will do anything to save her brother but has been fairly sheltered up to this point. Poor, sometimes hungry, but always loved and protected by her family. Her strength is in her ability to survive, to love, to do what it takes.

Then there is Helene. Female soldiers are only accepted once in a generation, and so she is not just the sole female in her class, she's the sole female in her school. She has to be twice as good, ignore twice as much, as those around her. The friendship between Elias and Hel is one of equality and respect.

And Elias's mother, the Commandant. She was the female soldier of her generation. And as the head of the school that trains and forms soldiers, she is the one that every student fears. She is the one every slave fears. And with good reason: punishments, torture, and death all take place at her whim.

There is the Lioness, a legendary head of the Rebellion, brilliant but ruthless and willing to sacrifice anything for her cause.

And there are Laia's fellow slaves, Kitchen Girl and Cook, who have survived years in the Commandant's house, watching other slaves come and go. (And by "go" I mean die, whether at their own hand or the result of the Commandant's brutality.) There is more to each of them . . . .

One more thing. With this book there is always one more thing. I recognized the ancient Rome references in names and family structure; Tahir's guest post at the Perpetual Page-Turner goes into that research, as well as the research needed for everything from weaponry to the names of the other nations and groups in the book.

ARGH. I want to revisit this world, even though I was so worried about Laia that at times I could read no more than a few chapters at a time. My heart just couldn't take it.

OF COURSE this is a Favorite Book of 2015.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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2. Review: Kissing Ted Callahan

Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys) by Amy Spalding. Poppy. 2015. Reviewed from ARC.

Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys)The Plot: Riley and Reid walk in on our their band mates Lucy and Nathan -- to their surprise, Lucy and Nathan are together. Together-together.

Riley is stunned, especially because Lucy is her best friend and Lucy never said a word. Riley and Reid both resolve to pursue love (and kissing and maybe even sex), and to share each detail, and to help each other out.

The top of Riley's list is her crush, Ted Callahan; Reid's is Jane.

How successful is their plan? Well, there will be kissing. Of Ted Callahan, and other guys.

The Good: This is primarily Riley's story, but because Riley and Reid share notes and progress reports and suggestions in a Passenger Manifest journal, and part of that is written by Reid, it's both their stories.

Kissing Ted Callahan is about Riley shaking herself into action. Oh, she's hardly passive. Her goal is rock star, so her time has been taken up with the band. And her best friend is Lucy, and she's friends with Reid and Nathan, but she's been satisfied, kind of, with that.

Riley isn't satisfied anymore. And confiding in Reid, instead of her usual Lucy, helps push her to do things like offer Ted Callahan a ride home. Or kiss Garrick. Or call the number of the cute boy she met at the CD store. Riley goes from zero love interests to three. Kissing Ted Callahan is about Riley (and Reid) navigating teen age dating, figuring out the difference between like and love and lust and love, wondering just what is right to tell someone if there isn't any real commitment yet.

Reid's story in some ways mirrors Riley's The first girl he pursues turns out to already have a boyfriend, and Riley doesn't really make the connection to her own situation. The next girl is -- well, it's a bit funny, because Reid makes a list of potential girls. Ones who talk to him, ones he likes, who has potential? Unlike Riley, he's not acting on a crush. It's more that he wants someone, and there is something very sweet and likable in how he keeps himself open to any possibility rather than requiring a crush first. It's also very honorable that he pursues a girl he likes being with, ignoring that his friends don't really like her.

At one point, rather late in the story, their Passenger Manifest goes missing and Riley and Reid have to deal with the consequences. For Riley, that ends up being the consequences of not having conversations and not talking. Kissing and sex may create a connection but it doesn't replace talking. Yes, there is a sex scene,  butwhile Riley may be kissing three boys there is only one that she really likes. No, I won't say who.

What's nice about the emphasis on communication is that it is clear from the beginning that Riley's failure at spoken honesty, and desire to not confront, isn't something that just happens with boys. Remember Lucy? Part of what drives the whole book is Riley's continuing inability to talk with her best friend, Lucy. Part of Riley's growth is realizing she has to have the tough conversations, whether it's about the status of a friendship or of a relationship.

I also like how this explores attraction and relationships (both friendship and more), and that Riley (and Tom and Garrick and Milo) is not just about who she is dating or kissing but is about creating real friendships and how those friendships are made. Lucy, Riley, and Reid have known each other since kindergarten and those types of friendships sometimes means someone has a hard time making new friends -- they don't have the skills. Riley is developing those skills, though admittedly mainly because she is seeking a boy. And mainly because she assumes that Lucy's changed relationship with Nathan means that Lucy's friendship with Riley is different.

Finally! It's also about a band, and I loved how being part of the band is used for the story, from being what ties Riley and her friends together, to her passions and interests, and also the time it takes outside of school. Their dedication is clear.

One final thing: this may be a spoiler, so stop reading if any type of spoiler bothers you. This is not the type of book where Riley looks at her good friend Reid and sees him in a different light while he has an unrequited crush. This is about two people who are friends, whose friendship grows stronger but whose friendship remains a friendship.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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3. Books & Christmas with James Moloney

Meet James Moloney, author of The Beauty is in the Walking (Angus&Robertson, HarperCollins) James Moloney is a statesman in the world of Australian YA and children’s books.  The hilarious Black Taxi and Kill the Possum for YA and Dougy, Swashbuckler and Buzzard Breath and Brains  for children are among my favourites of his books. I store his […]

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4. I Cried a River Over NOT AFTER EVERYTHING by Michelle Levy

Review by Leydy NOT AFTER EVERYTHING by Michelle LevyHardcover: 336 pagesPublisher: Dial Books (August 4, 2015)Language: EnglishAmazon | Goodreads Tyler has a football scholarship to Stanford, a hot girlfriend, and a reliable army of friends to party with. Then his mom kills herself. And Tyler lets it all go. Now he needs to dodge what his dad is offering (verbal tirades and abuse) and

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5. The Blackthorn Key - an audiobook review

The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands
Read by Ray Panthacki
Simon & Schuster Audio, 2015
7.25 hrs
Grades 5-9

Christopher Rowe, is a lucky lad.  Plucked from the orphanage for his intellectual potential, Christopher is apprenticed to the kindly apothecary, Master Benedict Blackthorn. Despite his lowly upbringing, relayed by narrator Ray Panthacki's hint of a Cockney accent, Christopher receives training in Latin, astronomy, ciphers, potions, and other tools of the apothecary's trade. In the midst of a suspicious atmosphere following great political upheaval, a mysterious cult of murderers arises. Christopher will need all his skills and more to decode a series of clues to a dangerous plot that threatens to upset the balance of world power. Panthacki clearly defines each of The Blackthorn Key's large cast of characters, creating distinctive voices that reflect their standing in British society.  Christopher's best friend is Tom, an apprentice baker.  Like Harry Potter and Ron, they are a memorable pair, and their dialogue sounds honest and warm.   Whether in terror, danger, or mere horseplay, the listener feels the emotion in and between the characters.  The only thing that slows the pace of adventure in this gripping mystery is the occasional reading of lengthy ciphers. Print readers may well try their hand at decoding them, but for listeners, they're primarily a drag on the action. The setting is as rich as the plot in this mid-17th century adventure brought to life by veteran actor Ray Panthacki.


My review copy was provided by AudioFile MagazineMy review of The Blackthorn Key for AudioFile Magazine (along with an audio excerpt) appears here. [http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/reviews/read/107274/]

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6. Liars! 3 books

CrenshawThe books I have read in the past few days all revolve around lying - lying to survive, lying to hide hard facts from oneself, lying to avoid confrontation - lots of untruth telling going on.

In The False Prince, by Jennifer A. Nielsen,  Sage's survival depends on how well he can lie.   In an attempt to save the kingdom of Carthya, (or so they are told), Sage, Tobias and Roden are being groomed to impersonate the lost prince, Jaron.  Their training is a fight to the death.  The boys not chosen as Prince will meet an awful fate.  Trickery, dishonesty, secret passages, dungeons are followed by a jaw-dropping master stroke.  This is the first in a trilogy.

In Crenshaw, by Katherine Applegate,  Jackson has been homeless before and he knows that his parents are struggling, again.  The return of his imaginary friend, Crenshaw, a six foot tall cat, does nothing to calm his fears.  The lying in this book is the "everything is all right" kind, harmless on the surface but nasty and dangerous, nonetheless.

Dear Hank Williams by Kimberley Willis Holt, is a novel in letters.  Tate P. Ellerbee decides that the rising star, Hank Williams, will be her penpal for her class penpal project.  She is more than faithful in writing to Mr. Williams, and in return she receives three signed photographs.  And the reader learns just how Tate spins tales to make herself feel better about her absent parents and other difficulties.  All is revealed in the end, in this clever and emotionally satisfying book.  Set between 1948 and 1949, this is also a well-researched look at rural America in the aftermath of WWII.

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7. THE SWORD OF SUMMER: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #1 by Rick Riordon \\ OMG OMG OMG!

Review by Reagan  THE SWORD OF SUMMER Age Range: 10 - 14 years Grade Level: 5 - 9 Series: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard (Book 1) Hardcover: 512 pages Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (October 6, 2015) Magnus Chase has always been a troubled kid. Since his mother’s mysterious death, he’s lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, keeping one step ahead of the police and the

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8. Something Went Very Wrong Here }} THE ANATOMICAL SHAPE OF A HEART by Jenn Bennett

Review by Valerie THE ANATOMICAL SHAPE OF A HEARTby Jenn BennettAge Range: 12 - 18 yearsHardcover: 304 pagesPublisher: Feiwel & Friends (November 3, 2015)Amazon | Goodreads Artist Beatrix Adams knows exactly how she's spending the summer before her senior year. Determined to follow in Da Vinci's footsteps, she's ready to tackle the one thing that will give her an advantage in a

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9. Review: The Scorpion Rules

The Scorpion Rules (Prisoners of Peace) by Erin Bow. Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Books. 2015. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Our world, about 400 years in the future. For various reasons (wars, water shortage, environmental changes) an AI (artificial intelligence) named Talis seized control of, well, everything, and first forced peace on the world by blasting a few cities.

Then Talis realized there was a better way. That destroying towns wouldn't create world peace. But hostages would. Child hostages, to be specific. It's simple: take a child of each leader. Hold onto them until they are 18. If the leader declares war, the child hostage's life is forfeit.

Greta Gustafsen Stuart is the Duchess of Halifax and the Crown Princess of Pan Polar Confederacy. She has been a hostage since the age of five. She is now sixteen; if she can make it until eighteen....

But her country has water. And others don't. And she knows that one day, sooner rather than later, war may be declared and her life may be forfeit.

The Good: Alright, let's cut to the chase: this is a Favorite Book of 2015. Hell, I'll go on record and say this is easily a top ten book. I'll go even further: I'll be damn disappointed if this isn't on awards lists and best lists at the end of the year.

And to say why this is so, why I am so passionate about this book, I'll be talking spoilers. So fair warning: stop now if that bothers you, read The Scorpion Rules, then come back.

The Scorpion Rules is a dystopia, or, at least, a dystopia for those children of rules and leaders who are sent away to be held hostage, knowing that if their parents pick country over blood they will die. They have been taught history to understand their role and their history, including ancient history to give a broader, perhaps colder, perspective on people and war and violence.

Greta, like her friends and fellow hostages, have been taught about their role; have been taught to accept it; have been taught to not fight back. To not resist. To not escape.

And then a boy comes to their school, a boy whose grandmother just gained power so he's been sent as hostage, a bit older than most, and less royal, so less prepared. Elian.


Yes, it's dystopian; but like I said, at least for this book, it shifts the burden of the dystopia to the upper class, to the privileged. And the Children of Peace, the hostages, realize both their burden and their privilege. And it's grounded in real history -- the exchanging and taking of hostages has historic basis. (Fans of the TV show Reign will remember King Henry saying he and his brothers where hostages in the Spanish Court. That was true.) I say at least for this book, because we haven't seen much of life beyond where Greta lives, so I can't be sure of how others live. There is a hint that Talis controls and meddles with the lives of others, but it's unclear just how much of an impact that has.

This dystopia also makes sense; it's coherent, enough is given to explain why and how this system was accepted and evolved. It's also thoughtfully and realistically diverse. The Children of Peace come from all over the world, from all types of countries. Some, like Greta, are their for hereditary reasons -- she is the crown princess, born into this world, born to be a hostage. Others, like the Children from what was the United States, are there because parents have been voted into/taken charge by other means. They have no titles; they may arrive at the school older, with their status sudden and unprepared for. That is Elian.

And it's also grounded in science fiction, not fantasy -- the AI that controls the world, Talis, and the link between humans and computers is a scientific element of the story, not a fantastical one, and it's not just the push for the story. Talis is present throughout, lurking in the background, moving to the forefront.

Also, the threats are real. The Scorpion Rules starts with a child hostage being taken away because his country declared war. There is a graveyard by the school. There is torture, there is manipulation, not nice things happen again and again.

Now, on to the love triangle. Which isn't. There is new boy Elian and there is some sort of connection or attraction between him and Greta, but more important than that, is that Elian shows Greta another way. That submission and acceptance is not the only path in life. That no matter what, there is choice.

And then there is Greta's best friend and roommate, Xie. Greta has not just accepted the way she has been raised, the future she's been told to expect. She has also buried most of her emotions and feelings, avoiding emotional risk. And yet when Elian helps provide the catalyst for her to open up, and change, and question, it also helps her unlock her frozen feelings for Xie.

See? It sounds like a triangle because there are two people -- but it isn't. It so, so isn't.

One last thing: Greta may have accepted her part in life and politics; she may have tried to avoid certain deep attachments; but she is also a royal. Born to be a hostage, born to live a role, but also born to take her place if she lives past 18. Born to be a leader, and at her school, she is a leader. She's not a follower. She's not passive, even if to someone like Elian, the Children of Peace hostages look passive and accepting.

So, go, read it, and like me, look forward to the next book. Because I have no idea what will happen next -- and that? That is a great feeling to have.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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10. Review of The Emperor of Any Place

wynne-jones_emperor of any placestar2 The Emperor of Any Place
by Tim Wynne-Jones
High School   Candlewick   328 pp.
10/15   978-0-7636-6973-7   $17.99

“So much of grief is unlearning,” observes Wynne-Jones in this perceptive and 
multi-layered page-turner. When Evan’s single father, Clifford, dies suddenly, the high-schooler must work through his own grief while dealing with Clifford’s estranged father Griff, a military man who Clifford had claimed was a murderer. Griff’s also a control freak and is somehow tied to the strange book that was sent to Clifford just before he died. As Evan reads the book — the translated journal of a WWII Japanese soldier stranded on a mystical island with an American Marine plane-crash survivor — he experiences a strange sense of déjà-vu. Wynne-Jones skillfully weaves the World War II journal into Evan’s own story, building suspense and keeping Griff’s part in the proceedings just obscure enough to create a cracking mystery. The author’s conversational tone provides occasional comic relief when things start to get too sinister, and the immediacy of his writing leads to some evocative descriptive passages (such as when Evan and his father listen to Miles Davis: “A night breeze stole into the room and was doing a slow dance under the jazz. Evan could feel it on the back of his neck, the sweat on him cooling. He shivered”). There’s a whole lot going on here: Evan’s and Griff’s shared heartbreak, exhibited in very different ways, and their own increasingly complicated relationship; the stark contrast between the mainly nondescript “Any Place” of Evan’s suburban Ontario and the horror of the desert island; and the unlikely friendship between enemy soldiers in the story-within-a-story. All these seemingly disparate parts come together in fascinating ways, resulting in an affecting and unforgettable read.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

The post Review of The Emperor of Any Place appeared first on The Horn Book.

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11. Book Briefing: In Which Becca & Andye Command You to Read HELLO? by Liza Wiemer

by Andye & Becca HELLO?by Liza WiemerPaperback: 320 pagesPublisher: Spencer Hill Contemporary (November 10, 2015)Language: EnglishGoodreads | Amazon Tricia: A girl struggling to find her way after her beloved grandma's death. Emerson: A guy who lives his life to fulfill promises, real and hypothetical. Angie: A girl with secrets she can only express through poetry. Brenda: An actress and

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12. Soon (Book #5 in the Felix and Zelda family of books) by Morris Gleitzman

It's 1945 and the war is over but not the danger.  Felix, now 13, and Gabriek are hiding out in a relatively safe albeit rather wrecked building, and have one simple rule - Stay quiet and out of sight.  There are roving bands of men wearing badges that say Poland for the Poles and never hesitate to shoot anyone who is Polish, and that includes Felix, who is Polish, but he's also Jewish.

The war was hard on Gabriek and Felix who lost quite a few people they loved very much, and now Gabriek spends most of his time sleeping off the cabbage vodka he makes in his still, when not doing repair work to get food for the two of them.

Felix, who wants to become a doctor, goes how on the streets with his "medical bag" and the skills he learned from Doctor Zajak, when he and Gabriek joined the partisans before the war ended.  While out looking for people to help, Felix runs into two people - Anya, a mysterious girl wearing a filthy pink coat and carrying a gun, and Dimmi, who threatens the lives of Felix and Gabriek because the lock they fixed for him has broken.

Felix isn't out on the street long before he is kidnapped by the Poland for the Poles thugs who require his "medical services."  Luckily, Felix escapes and back on the street, a woman throws her baby to him just before she is shot to death.  Felix is immediately smitten by the baby and brings him home to an unhappy Gabriek.  

It turns out that Anya is living in an orphanage with other kids under the care of Dr. Lipzyk, who invites Felix to visit his medical library anytime he wants to.  But things happen that make Felix uncomfortable about the doctor.  First, nothing seems to be done about Anya constant vomiting, then, Felix makes a deal with Anya for an endless supply of powdered milk and other baby needs for Pavlo (yes, Felix and Gabriek name the baby a nice Ukrainian name, since his mother was from the Ukraine), and lastly, the doctor cold attitude toward him when he sees Felix without pants on.

In the post-war danger and chaos in Poland, where hate and bigotry still seem to rule the day, will Felix be able to retain his hopeful spirit that the world will someday be a safe and happy place?
I wasn't expecting a 5th book and I may have jumped the gun a little in my need to find out more about Felix's experiences during World War II when I ordered it from The Book Depository.  It's out in Australia, New Zealand and Britain, but I don't know when or if it will be published in the US.  But is is do worth reading, even though I didn't get any sense of closure when I finished it - but perhaps that is as it should.

Soon is an action packed novel, partly because Felix is able to go out among people in a way that he hasn't been about to for a long, long time.  And amazingly, Gleitzman has managed to keep Felix a consistent character in Once, Then, After, and now Soon even as he matures, and despite some of the horrific things he has witnessed (I don't count Now because it is about Felix at 80 year old and not told from his point of view).  Felix is a character who seems to understand human behavior instinctively even if he does still read some behaviors incorrectly at first, but that is just because he is an optimist.  And readers can't help but care about what happens to him.

Soon can be read as a stand alone book, but it would be a much richer experience if readers at least read the first three books.  And like all of the Felix and Zelda family of books there is violence, but not sex or bad language.

Once again, Gleitzman has explored themes of family and friendship in the worst of times and written a powerful, appealing novel and now I would really like to know what happens to Felix next, but I have a feeling it's not going to happen this time.

You can read an except of Soon on Morris Gleitzman's website HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was purchased for my personal library

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13. Five questions for Tim Wynne-Jones

Tim_Wynne-JonesAt the start of Tim Wynne-Jones’s The Emperor of Any Place (Candlewick, 14 years and up), Evan, reeling from the death of his single father, has no choice but to contact his paternal grandfather, Griff — whom Evan’s dad called a murderer. A gripping story-within-the-story unfolds about a WWII Japanese soldier stranded on a haunted island. How Wynne-Jones weaves these strands together is elegant, surprising, and exhilarating.

1. How much did you know about WWII Japan and Japanese folklore before writing this book?

TWJ: Very little! I’ve had the good fortune to travel in Japan, and loved it, but I cannot claim any particular prior knowledge of Japanese culture or folklore. For years I had wanted to write a World War II book to honor my father, whose experience of the war in Europe scarred him. What we would call PTSD now, but which he did not acknowledge as more than “shell shock,” haunted him and had an effect on us, his children. War does that: spirals down the years and decades, affecting generations. Whenever I tried to write myself into the war, so to speak, I found it impossible, and only after a great deal of time did I come to the realization that the European war was my father’s war. Which left me with the “Other War,” in the Pacific Theater, the one I knew next to nothing about. That gave me the freedom to research deeply, to dig and imagine and finally find a corner of the war that I could inhabit, fictionally.

As I was getting to know Isamu Oshiro, I realized he would have grown up with the folklore of his people just as I have grown up with the folklore of mine. And as soon as I started reading up on that, I knew it would be an integral part of Kokoro-Jima. I have played with the idea of the jikininki, giving them a unique back-story. This is what Bram Stoker did with Dracula: take an existing folktale and breathe new life into it. It has happened down the ages and was one of my favorite parts of writing this book.

2. Did you write the different threads of the story one at a time or were you working on them all at once?

TWJ: Oh, the threads. The threads were a complete schmozzle! There were so many threads — far more than made the final cut. At one point I had thirteen point-of-view characters all clamoring to tell their stories. “Me, me!,” they shouted until my head hurt. What really came first was the story-within-the-story, that of Isamu’s adventures on the island of ghosts and monsters. Then there was the very lengthy task of finding out who else was going to make their way to that mysterious place and how it would all play out and how those people were related to the contemporary characters. I drew a whole lot of family trees!

wynne-jones_emperor of any place3. Did you make Griff up? Or is he based on someone you know?

TWJ: Griff grew out of my research and wide reading about the war, but with aspects of various people I’ve met, including my father. War shapes a man, whether he wants it to or not. A lifetime of fighting wars has shaped Griff. There was a whole novella-length part of the book that I eventually took out, about when Griff was a young man, Evan’s age, stationed in Iceland, before he was shipped over to the Pacific after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It was, among other things, a love story. He alludes to that in the novel, but originally I had the whole story as part of this book. That was when the novel was over six hundred pages long and…well, something had to go. But I’m so glad I wrote his story. It really helped me to get to know him and see that he wasn’t always like he is now. Once he was young and in love, with his whole life before him.

4. This book is: realistic family story; fantasy; mystery; ghost story; historical fiction; war story; contemporary fiction; story-within-a-story; and more. How’d you make that all work?

TWJ: Phew! Put that way, I’m not sure! It took a long time, I’ll say that much. I usually spend a year or so writing a novel. This one took more than three and a half years. There were so many parts of the story I wanted to tell, and I juggled all that in such a way that there were many, many versions. Gradually, the stories that needed to be there stayed and the other parts fell away. Along with the Griff novella, there was another whole novella telling us Hisako’s story as she lived through the invasion of Sampei. I think it was only when Evan rose to the top as my central character that I knew what I could include and what had to go, no matter how interesting it was to me in and of itself. This is, in the end, Isamu’s and Evan’s book, and there is nothing in it now that doesn’t shore up their stories and, hopefully, weave them together: the Emperor of Kokoro-Jima and the Emperor of Any Place.

5. Do you believe in the afterlife? (Or the beforelife, in this case?)

TWJ: Do you want the long answer, the short answer, or the truth? The afterlife has been a part of human culture — the Human Mind — for so many millennia it’s not something one can simply dismiss. I don’t believe in heaven as a place, per se, so much as a deeply rooted concept, but I do believe that the idea operates on us and through us while we are alive. So in a way it does exist as we live in a world with this unanswered and persuasive question hanging over our heads. It was only after a long time of writing this novel that I came up with the idea of preincarnation, and I loved the poetry of it. I quickly learned that there are other definitions of this word out there, but my own definition and its appearance on Kokoko-Jima captivated my imagination. I love the idea that there was — is — this magical island in the largest of our oceans where the future waits in ethereal form and recognizes us for who we are, if we happen to wash up on the shore there. I suppose that even if heaven is only a metaphor, it’s a particularly powerful one. And I take metaphors very seriously. A metaphor is how we describe something we have no description for. Sounds like heaven to me!

From the November 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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14. Boys to remember

Four novels featuring teenage boys — in both contemporary and historical settings — take on big issues, with memorable results.

reynolds_all american boysAll American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely is a ripped-from-the-headlines story written with nuance, sharp humor, and devastating honesty. When a quick stop at the corner store suddenly escalates into a terrifying scene of police brutality, two high school classmates are linked and altered by the violence — Rashad (who is African American) as its victim; Quinn (who is white) as its witness. The authors have brought together issues of racism, power, and justice with a diverse cast of characters and two remarkable protagonists forced to grapple with the layered complexities of growing up in racially tense America. (Atheneum/Dlouhy, 14 years and up)

leavitt_calvinThe seventeen-year-old star of Calvin by Martine Leavitt believes that his life is inextricably linked to the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes — a belief reinforced by the constant presence of the voice of tiger Hobbes in his consciousness. Recently diagnosed with schizophrenia, he’s convinced that if he can persuade the famously reclusive cartoonist Bill Watterson to draw a final cartoon of a teenage Calvin without Hobbes, he himself will be cured. On a pilgrimage to find Watterson, Calvin sets off across frozen Lake Erie, accompanied by old flame/current frenemy Susie. Along the way, Calvin and Susie examine — sweetly and humorously — their relationship and ponder the big existential questions of life. (Farrar/Ferguson, 14 years and up)

quintero_show and proveIn the summer of 1983, best friends — and alternating narrators in Sofia Quintero’s Show and Prove — Raymond “Smiles” King and Guillermo “Nike” Vega are working as camp counselors at a summer enrichment program in their South Bronx neighborhood. Smiles is crushed when he loses out on a promotion to senior counselor; Nike thinks that winning a break-dancing competition will impress his crush. As the summer goes on, neighborhood tensions and secrets are revealed, from the camp’s budget concerns to racial and religious conflicts among black Caribbeans, Puerto Ricans, and Palestinians. The novel features two vibrant, fully realized narrators with complex lives, a memorable supporting cast, and a complete immersion in the zeitgeist of the eighties, from music to politics. (Knopf, 14 years and up)

schmidt_orbiting jupiterIn Gary D. Schmidt’s Orbiting Jupiter, sixth-grader Jack’s family fosters a fourteen-year-old boy with a troubled past. Joseph attacked a teacher, was subsequently incarcerated at a juvenile detention center, and has a baby daughter whom he’s never seen. Jack and his parents gradually peel away Joseph’s protective veneer, but the teen’s single-minded desire to parent his daughter — and then the arrival of Joseph’s violent father — leads to strife. The book’s ending is bittersweet but as satisfying as a two-box-of-tissues tearjerker can possibly be. (Clarion, 11–14 years)

From the November 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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15. Lincoln's Spymaster: Allan Pinkerton, America's First Private Eye - an audiobook review

Lincoln's Spymaster: Allan Pinkerton, America's First Private Eye by Samantha Seiple, Read by Danny Campbell
Scholastic Audiobooks
3.5 hours
Best for upper middle grades and/or high school

I recently reviewed Lincoln's Spymaster for AudioFile Magazine.  A link to my review of this biography of the nation's most famous private investigator is here: [http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/reviews/read/107600/]  Pinkerton's is a compelling story, well-told and read.

Antietam, Md. Allan Pinkerton ("E. J. Allen") of the Secret Service on horseback, Creator(s): Gardner, Alexander, 1821-1882, photographer, Source: Library of Congress 

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16. CRIMSON BOUND by Rosamund Hodge }} What did I just read?

Review by Elisa CRIMSON BOUNDby Rosamund HodgeHardcover: 448 pagesPublisher: Balzer + Bray (May 5, 2015)Language: EnglishAmazon | Goodreads An exhilarating tale of darkness, love, and redemption inspired by the classic fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood and the extravagant court of Versailles, from the author of Cruel Beauty. A doomed warrior and the king's most notorious bastard must join

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Review by Leydy AN INHERITANCE OF ASHES by Leah BobetAge Range: 12 and up Grade Level: 7 and upHardcover: 400 pagesPublisher: Clarion Books (October 6, 2015)Goodreads | Amazon The strange war down south—with its rumors of gods and monsters—is over. And while sixteen-year-old Hallie and her sister wait to see who will return from the distant battlefield, they struggle to maintain their family

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18. In Which Becca & Andye Argue Over THE REVOLUTION OF IVY by Amy Engel, or The Many Ways Andye Would Like to Throttle Ivy

By Becca & Andye THE REVOLUTION OF IVYby Amy EngelAge Range: 12 and up Paperback: 400 pages Publisher: Entangled: Teen (November 3, 2015)Language: EnglishGoodreads | Amazon Beyond the fence. I am still alive. Barely. My name is Ivy Westfall. I am sixteen years old and a traitor. Three months ago, I was forced to marry the president's son, Bishop Lattimer-as all daughters of the losing side

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19. A Fun Supernatural Mystery }} FLASHES by Tim O'Rourke

Review by Krista Flashes (Flashes) by Tim O'RourkeHardcover: 320 pagesPublisher: Chicken House (October 27, 2015)Language: EnglishGoodreads | Amazon A brilliant detective thriller with a supernatural twist! Charley has visions... Flashes of things she can't explain. A girl in trouble. The sound of trains. She feels certain they are clues to a crime. But no one will believe her. Until

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20. 8 Reasons Why WOLF BY WOLF Is One Of My Favorite Books This Year... PLUS An Audiobook Review!

From Becca.. (AND ANDYE!) WOLF BY WOLF by Ryan Graudin Series: Wolf by Wolf (Book One) Hardcover: 400 pages Publisher: Little Brown, Books for Young Readers (October 20, 2015) Audiobook Publisher: Hachette Audio Goodreads | Amazon | Audible Code Name Verity meets Inglourious Basterds in this fast-paced novel from the author of The Walled City.The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the

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21. The Other Side of the Wall - a review

The Other Side of the Wall by Simon Schwartz

Translated from German by Laura Watkinson
Published by Graphic Universe, 2015
112 pages, best for grades 6 and up

Simon Schwartz was born in East Berlin in the 1980s.The Other Side of the Wall is his graphic memoir of growing up in the divided city, of his parent's three-year struggle to obtain an exit permit to leave East Berlin, and of his later forays between the two Berlins.

His parents met in college. His father came from a family of staunch Communist Party members.  His mother's family was secretly more liberal, though any deviation from expected Party behavior was cause for examination and surveillance by the Stasi, or secret German police.  It was dangerous to stray from party orthodoxy, particularly if you were a teacher, as Simon's father was. His parents became disillusioned with life in the restrictive East German city.

The Soviet Union had recently invaded Afghanistan. My dad worked on his speech, night after night.
     "God, how can you describe a war as just?  They want me to use fancy words to justify this invasion."
     "Just write something you can square with your own conscience -- at least in part."
     "I don't know if I can do that."

When his parents requested exit permits, their lives became fraught with poverty,ostracism, and physical danger.

The book's layout is as structured as Communist life - with few exceptions, four blocks per page - each bordered in black. The artwork is monochromatic, fitting for the stark reality of life behind the Wall. The story is told  in speech bubbles, text blocks that set the scene or relay back story, and the occasional footnote explaining terms that may not be familiar to readers (well-known  politicians or artists of the time, and uniquely German or Communist terms). Several panels are wordless - vague remembrances of the young Schwarz.

Back matter includes a glossary, a timeline of the Berlin Wall, and maps of Germany and Berlin 1961-1989.

I recently reviewed the historical fiction novel, A Night Divided, that describes life in East Berlin in the immediate aftermath of the Berlin Wall's construction.The Other Side of the Wall is a perfect companion book - a nonfiction, graphic novel account of the Wall's waning days.  For younger readers not familiar with day-to-day life in the Cold War Era, this is a chilling introduction.

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22. A Creative and Clever Standalone }} DREAMSTRIDER by Lindsay Smith

Review by Paola   DREAMSTRIDER by Lindsay Smith Age Range: 12 - 18 yearsHardcover: 400 pagesPublisher: Roaring Brook Press (October 6, 2015)Language: EnglishGoodreads | Amazon A high-concept, fantastical espionage novel set in a world where dreams are the ultimate form of political intelligence.Livia is a dreamstrider. She can inhabit a subject's body while they are sleeping and, for a

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23. Review of All American Boys

reynolds_all american boysstar2 All American Boys
by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
High School   Dlouhy/Atheneum   316 pp.
9/15   978-1-4814-6333-1   $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-6335-5   $9.99

Teens Rashad (who is African American) and Quinn (who is white) are high school classmates and not much more — neither even knows the other’s name. But when a quick stop at the corner store for a bag of chips on a Friday night suddenly escalates into a terrifying scene of police brutality, the two boys are linked and altered by the violence — Rashad as its victim and Quinn as its witness. During the week following the incident, and in alternating voices, the teens narrate events as Rashad deals with his injuries and the unwanted limelight as the latest black victim in the news; and as Quinn tries to understand how a cop he considers family could be capable of such unprovoked rage, and where his loyalties are now supposed to lie. Faced with an all-too-common issue, both narrators must navigate opposing views from their friends and families to decide for themselves whether to get involved or walk away. Written with sharp humor and devastating honesty, this nuanced, thoughtful novel recalls the work of Walter Dean Myers and is worthy of his legacy. Reynolds and Kiely explore issues of racism, power, and justice with a diverse (ethnically and philosophically) cast of characters and two remarkable protagonists forced to grapple with the layered complexities of growing up in a racially tense America.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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24. DREAM THINGS TRUE by Marie Marquardt }} Not what I was hoping for

Review by Leydy DREAM THINGS TRUEby Marie MarquardtHardcover: 352 pagesPublisher: St. Martin's Griffin (September 1, 2015)Language: EnglishGoodreads | Amazon Evan and Alma have spent fifteen years living in the same town, connected in a dozen different ways but also living worlds apart -- until the day he jumps into her dad's truck and slams on the brakes. The nephew of a senator, Evan

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25. Fan Girl's Guide to the Galaxy

This is a Cybils book, but the opinion expressed in this review is just mine, and not the committee's.

The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Girl Geeks Sam Maggs

Here's the guide you've been waiting for on Fandom 101, especially for girls. Everything is covered--how to get started, next steps to take, great books to read and shows to wath, how to make an awesome cosplay costume, tips for writing awesome fanfic, finding your people, and dealing with various levels of trolls. Parts of it are a general rah rah rah celebration of fandom, and parts are very nitty gritty hands-on practical advice (which sites you'll want to be on, but with a throw-away name/email that's not linked to any of your other social media)

It's great and interesting and wonderful with one major fatal flaw that made me want to throw it across the room. It's written right on the back-cover, but I didn't read it, because too much is obscured with library stickers. It's "The Geek Girl's Litany for Feminism."

I m a geek girl and I am a feminist... I don't have to prove my nerd cred to anyone, ever.

There are some great lines in there:

From SuperWhoLock to Shakarian, I accept all fandoms and ships as equally meaningful and important in our geek girl lives...I will support empowering, lady-created media and amazing female characters...

And then we get the kicker that made me roll my eyes so hard they almost fell out of my head:

Buffy, not Bella

Because, all fandoms are meaningful and we support lady-created media, right? Oh... only if they're the right ones. Yeah. That's when I flipped back to where she's introducing fandoms and in the list of major fandoms, the Twihards aren't listed at all. Sure, they might be covered under "YA Book Nerds" but the Nerdfighters get their own shout-out. Potter has its own section. In non-book fandoms, Gleeks get a mention. Squints get a mention. Scoobies are mentioned on the list, despite the fact there's a whole section on Whedonites in general. Leaving off Twihards seems pretty deliberate. And telling.

Outside the Buffy, not Bella thing, Twilight only gets name-checked in the section on how to critique media. There's a general introduction about why we need to critique media and that it's ok if we enjoy not-perfect things but... it's glib and kinda snarky ("I'm not telling you... to stop reading your guilty-pleasure YA romance novels!") And in things to look out for, there's a section on "How Healthy is that relationship, anyway?"

There a lot of media out there (like Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey) that glorifies abusive, controlling, or even violent behavior as a romantic relationship. When we read these books and think, "Wow, that's so sweet that he shows up at her house, uninvited, at night while she's unconscious, to watch her sleep!" we subconsciously accept that behavior as okay.

There could have been a great section on how things that are mostly liked by teen girls are automatically dismissed as lesser and what that says about us as a society and how to deal with that as a fangirl. Or, you know, it could just pile on.

Most importantly, it could have been a great section on how to reconcile how problematic our faves are. I know all about problematic faves. How? Because I am Buffy, not Bella. And even though this book is all over the awesomeness of Buffy (as it should be, Buffy is awesome) it never points out its problems. And Buffy has plenty of problems.

For instance, that whole thing there it's painted as "romantic" for a vampire to show up uninvited to watch his girlfriend sleep? Before Edward did that to Bella, ANGEL WAS DOING THAT TO BUFFY. Speaking as someone who got into Buffy late in the series and didn't go back and watch the beginning until after I read Twilight? Angel has most, if not all, of Edward's icky points. Buffy's other loves all come with major issues in the "healthy relationship" category. Maggs mentions Spuffy elsewhere in the book, and trust me, Spike over Angel any day, but Spike is ISSUES and their relationship is all ISSUES. And I really like Xander, but that guy is really a whole heap of Nice Guy (tm) problems.

When Twilight was still new there were T-Shirts and sayings of"And then Buffy staked Edward. The End" Yeah... Buffy wouldn't have. Edward and the other Cullens would have all been Scoobies. There's a good chance Buffy would have dated Edward. Or at least made out with him, or had a MEANINGFUL slow dance (note to self: see if there's any good fanfic with Rosalie and Cordelia as BFFs. Or Willow and Alice.)

I think the main difference is not the guys, or the relationships, but Buffy and Bella themselves. To save the world, Buffy killed Angel--I don't think that Bella could have killed Edward. BUT, BUT, BUT in one of my many conversations about this (hi, my name is Jennie, and I'm a fangirl) my Twitter friend @FangirlJeanne pointed out something major that has me rethinking that stance:

Buffy was THE SLAYER. She had a job given to her by the POWERS THAT BE. She was the CHOSEN ONE and had to deal with DESTINY. Of course she killed Angel. Bella didn't. Bella was just a normal girl who turned into a normal vampire and she still fought serious battles before and after to protect her friends and family. If Bella was a CHOSEN ONE and had to deal with SLAYER DESTINY, could she have then killed Edward? If Buffy wasn't the SLAYER, could she have still killed Angel? I don't know, but these are the kind of things fangirls think about late at night, both the Buffys and the Bellas.

Maggs went a snarky, easy route that ended up invalidating a lot of her book for me, undermining her main argument. We like all fandoms, but not that one.

And now I'm rage-defending Twilight, which is not a place a like to be. (This review sums up my Twilight feelings pretty well)

Book Provided by... my local library

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