Book Review: Sophie Someone

Sophie Someone
By Hayley Long

My Edition:
Hardcover, 258 pages
2017, Candlewick Press
ISBN: 9780763689957

Fourteen-year-old Sophie Nieuwenleven has lived in Belgium for almost as long as she can remember, though she knows her family left England. As the past begins to catch up with them, Sophie starts piecing together details from her past until her family’s terrible secret is revealed and it changes everything she thinks she knows about herself. So Sophie tells her story, but in the only way she feels comfortable – in her own language.

I wasn’t expecting the writing to be so stylized, so right off the bat I was confused. Sure, the back of the book mentions Sophie telling her story in the only way she knows how, but I wasn’t paying attention to the back of the book, was I? (No. No I wasn’t.)

So we have a sort of…modified English where certain words are swapped out for completely different (yet for the most part, essentially similar and mostly coherent) words, creating what appears to be gibberish at first. Examples include “hashtag” for hand, “quibble” for question, “Mambo and Donny” for Mom and Dad, “pigeon” for person, and “supernova” for suitcase. My first thought was that I was just reading a bunch of nonsense and it was frustrating.

However, as I made my way through the book, Sophie’s words, while still silly sounding, started to make a weird sort of sense to me. It’s clear that Long put a lot of thought into her…er…translations. There were still some words that threw me and I did spend the whole book mentally translating each replacement word I encountered. Had I been able to let go of that, I might have had an easier time reading, but I just HAD to know what the words really meant. At times this probably took me away from the story, but that’s just how my mind works.

This is a great story if you can get past the language and Sophie was funny and endearing. This is among the more original contemporary middle-grade novels I’ve encountered and if you’re looking for something different, I highly suggest this.

Also, the cover art is beautiful, see pictures below!

I received this book for free from LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.
Hayley is super adorable and has a cute little site.

Book Review: Bridge to Terabithia

The Bridge to Terabithia
By Katherine Paterson

My Edition:
Paperback (40th Anniversary), 179 pages
1977, Harper
ISBN: 9780064401845

Jess Aarons works hard on his family farm – with his father working long hours and his four sisters nearly useless, Jess is constantly harangued by his mother. To distract himself, he’s been practicing running and hopes to be the fastest runner in 5th grade. When Leslie Burke, the new girl in town, easily beats him in a race, he finds he’s not nearly as fast as he thought, but more importantly, he finds the beginning of a strong friendship.

UGH THIS BOOK.

Disclaimer: I’ve never seen the movie, but I was aware of the most significant plot point going in to this book. I still think the book is incredibly emotional and powerful, so even if you’ve seen the movie or you know the plot, I think you should read this book.

Also, from what I can tell from movie trailers (I’ve no desire to watch the movie), there’s a big fantasy element in there that really isn’t found in the book. Yes, Jess and Leslie create a magical world named Terabithia and they go there to hang out, but this isn’t a fantasy novel. If you’re looking for middle-grade fantasy, Terabithia is not the place to find it.

It is, however, the place to find FEELS.

Jess is the sort of kid that you feel for, even before his blossoming friendship with Leslie. He can’t seem to catch a break, but he doesn’t let himself get too down about it. He has a semi-secret passion for drawing – his father would see it as weak and his classmates at school would tease him, but he continues to draw and imagine what he would draw despite all that. Leslie has pluck and she’s incredibly intelligent and does a little gender-bending given that the book is set in the 1970s.

There are not a lot of pages in this book, so I feel a little constrained in regards to what I say because really you should just read this book (AND FEEL THE FEELS) for yourself, if you haven’t yet. I don’t know why I didn’t pick it up sooner, honestly. This is easily one of my top middle-grade books and I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a contemporary tale of friendship and loss. Also, my cover is gorgeous.

Paterson’s website

Judging A Book By Its Cover: More Charles de Lint

This is my weekly post where I highlight and appreciate cover designs and the general physical appearance of books. We all judge book covers to some extent. I can’t say that I’ve ever decided against a book with terrible cover art if I liked the sound of the plot, but I have purchased special editions of books or multiple editions of books based on their cover art. If book covers didn’t matter, publishers wouldn’t put out so many beautiful editions!

Charles de Lint is one of the authors that I hoard (and am sadly totally behind in actually reading) and I was happy to find both these illustrated companion novels on BookOutlet. Both books are published by Little Brown and illustrated by Charles Vess with cover design by Saho Fujii. Cats was published in 2013, ISBN: 9780316053594. Sisters was published in 2014, ISBN: 9780316053525.

Book Review: A Pocket Full of Murder

A Pocket Full of Murder
By R.J. Anderson

My Edition:
Paperback, 368 pages
2016, Atheneum Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 9781481437721

Isaveth’s father has just been arrested for a murder she knows he didn’t commit. Determined to seek justice and prove her father’s innocence, she teams up with a wise street urchin and begins unraveling a plot that winds its way through the divide in social classes in her magical city of Tarrenton. The rich have all the magic they could want, while poor folk like Isaveth and her family can barely afford spells for heat and light. The unrest of the common citizens is at its boiling point and the murder pinned on her father will only make matters worse unless she can prove he didn’t do it.

-stares open-mouthed into the distance for a moment- Oh! I finally understand the title! Ahem, anyway.

I purchased this book at the same time as A Sliver of Starlight and if you’ve seen my Judging Post, you’ll know I was lured in by wonderful cover art. But I was also intrigued by the plot and A Pocket Full of Murder didn’t disappoint!

Here’s a middle-grade mystery adventure that deals with religious persecution, the struggle of the lower class, the use (and abuse) of welfare (known as “relief” in the book) and standing up for justice, no matter the cost. Looking back, there are some potentially heavy themes in this book, but they were folded neatly into the story of a young girl who aspires to uphold justice like her favorite champion in the talkie series and save her father.

Isaveth is lower class and she and her family struggle to make ends meet since the death of her mother and her father losing his job. On top of that, they are Moshites and because of their religious beliefs, they are often discriminated against. Anderson managed to write about Isaveth’s plights without feeling preachy or heavy handed and Isaveth is a determined, bright heroine.

The world Anderson created blends steam power (yes!) with magic to create a world similar to our own, yet also very Victorian feeling. I especially loved the baking element of magic. Different spells and potions are crafted before they can be used. The upper-class use a different type of magic because they have different materials available to them, like metals. Isaveth, unable to afford materials like that, follows her mother’s cookbook and through her “spell baking” she creates tablets and potions at home out of ingredients like flour and sunlight.

I’m very fond of the character names Anderson uses as well. I don’t know about you, but I’m very picky when it comes to character names. Especially in the fantasy genre, it can be hard to create an original or uncommon name without making the reader mentally choke on too many vowels or consonants (ie: Cealeanae from Throne of Glass). Isaveth, Mimmi, Annagail, Lilet, Eryx, Quiz – I liked them all!

If you’re looking for a magical mystery with a Victorian feel, I highly recommend this. I’ll be purchasing the sequel as soon as it’s in paperback – gotta make sure my editions match!

Check out Anderson’s website for more about her other books.

Book Review: Piratica

Piratica
(Being a Daring Tale of a Singular Girl’s Adventure Upon the High Seas)
By My Queen Tanith Lee

My Edition:
Hardcover, 288 pages
2003, Dutton Children’s Books
ISBN: 0525473246

Art has been banished to the Angels Academy for the last six years of her life, learning deportment and other ladylike qualities that bore her to death. A fall down the stairs and a knock to the head suddenly causes her to remember her childhood, which was spent at her mother’s side on a pirate ship. Art quickly escapes the academy, finds her mother’s old crew and revives their spirits by basically forcing them back into a life of piracy as she lives in the spirit of her legendary mother, Piratica.

-screams- TANITH! Er, ok, so, I’ve read a ton of middle-grade this month and, sadly, none of it has impressed me. It was time for a change and I knew just what would do the trick – Tanith Lee! I’ve been sitting on this Piratica series for FAR too long and I don’t know why. I love how atmospheric her Claidi series is and my semi-recent re-read of The Unicorn Trilogy made me recall the special place her middle-grade/teen (I feel like all these series fall somewhere in between) books have in my crusty little heart.

From the first page, I was giddy at the thought of diving into another of Tanith’s worlds and Art’s didn’t disappoint. Tanith has created a semi-Victorian (Regency? I don’t know time periods, sorry!) world in the year of Seventeen-Twelvety (how awesome is that?!) which somewhat resembles the actual year of 1802. This world primarily differs from our own in how the countries are laid out and there’s a handy map in the front that I actually referenced for once. But because this is Tanith and I am a flappy-handed fangirl for everything she’s written (ugh except Greyglass  -tosses if off a cliff-) I felt there was something subtle about her world that differed from an actual historic period. I can’t explain this further and likely I am crazy.

Art is fantastic. She’s bold and witty and smart and super talented at being a pirate, despite not having been one for the past six years. She could potentially suffer from special snowflake syndrome, but she doesn’t because she has to work to win over her crew and she doesn’t have the shining, sapphire eyes and porcelain doll-like features of your usual heroine. And oh, the sun doesn’t shine out of her ass. Anyway! She’s a great lead, but her crew is small enough that most of them actually (I think I’m saying this word too much in this review, but I’m too lazy to change it) feel different and developed, where they could easily have fallen to the wayside (portside?)

There’s a lot to the plot that I can’t talk about or I’ll spoil the fun, but from the moment Art rediscovers her crew and takes on her new life as a pirate, I had this underlying sense of something more. I knew something else was up and it was a nice feeling, knowing that the plot had another element that wasn’t being revealed, even though the plot was acting like everything had been revealed.

Look, I have a hard time analyzing Tanith’s work because I am super biased. But I can say, if you’re looking for a witty, semi-middle-grade-semi-teen pirate adventure with swashbuckling, a fantastically charming ragtag group of pirates, talented parrot and dog companions, a strong female lead and totally hawt boi, but no love triangles and no breaths being held unbeknownst to the holder, then Piratica may be just what you’re looking for! I can’t wait to read the other two books (even though the third was never published in hardcover and therefore doesn’t match the first two.)

Sadly, Tanith doesn’t really have a website, but her Wikipedia page does a decent job of at least listing out all her work.

Book Review: A Sliver of Stardust

A Sliver of Stardust
By Marissa Burt

My Edition:
Paperback, 376 pages
2015, Harper
ISBN: 9780062291561

Wren Matthews is desperately trying to win the Science Trivia Olympiad, if only the large white falcon swooping around the room would disappear. The falcon does disappear, after dropping off a packet of sparkling papers containing nursery rhymes and an invitation to a place she’d never heard of. Joining her sort-of friend and rival in science, Simon, Wren embarks on a journey into a magical world that’s been right under her nose her whole life. Using nursery rhymes and stardust, Wren and Simon learn to weave the magic of the Fiddlers, but they may be in over their heads when an ancient evil threatens to resurface.

Not gonna lie, I was lured in by the cover of this book (and you can check out my Judging post for more detail). Naturally, the fact that it is also a middle-grade fantasy novel appealed to me as well. Sadly, it didn’t impress me, though I don’t think it’s a bad book.

What I enjoyed most was the way Burt wove familiar nursery rhymes into the story, using them to hint at things to come in each chapter and making them essential in the way Fiddler’s weave their spells. Fiddlers, those with the ability to use magic, use stardust and rhymes to perform all their spells. Some of the rhymes are twists on ones I remember from my childhood and others are crafted to suit specific needs like healing or creating light. Actually, all the rhymes used could be derived from others that I’m just no familiar with. Either way, I liked this part.

I also enjoyed Wren’s insecurities and emotional response to using magic. She takes everything in stride as she finds out about her new life and skills, but once immersed in the world of the Fiddlers she struggles to learn simple spells that Simon appears to master. Paired with strange dreams and little moments of shock about how her life has changed, this made Wren feel more solid than the other characters. One thing I can’t stand in any book is when someone from a non-magical world finds out they’re actually magical, or that magic exists, just says “oh, ok” and instantly adapts to their new surroundings. Simon fell into this category and I thought Wren was headed that way at first, so I’m glad she had a little more depth than that.

Otherwise, the story didn’t grab me and I didn’t feel immersed in the world of the Fiddlers. Many of the adult characters were paper thin (wokka wokka) and when Wren wasn’t having prophetic dreams most of her time was spent doing chores for Fiddlers or in Fiddler magic classes. Even though I don’t constantly read “magic school” type books, I am tired of that plotline.

Rhymes aside, the plot and characters weren’t strong enough to hold my interest and despite the action-packed ending, I won’t be reading the next book in the series.

Here is Burt’s website.

Book Review: Furthermore

Furthermore
By Tahereh Mafi

My Edition:
Hardcover, 401 pages
2016, Dutton Children’s Books
IBSN: 9781101994764

Alice of Ferenwood was born without color. In a world where color is riotous and magic is currency, twelve-year-old Alice often feels like she doesn’t belong. When her father goes missing, Alice loses what might have been her only friend. But when a childhood bully comes to Alice for help and lures her in with the promise of being able to save her father, Alice leaves behind all she knows for a land even more strange and magical than her home.

When Mum sent me a picture of this book and asked if I wanted it, I immediately said yes. I knew it was middle grade and strange and the cover was beautiful so I figured I’d love it. It seemed like it would be a take on Alice in Wonderland, especially considering the main character is named Alice. While this book was just as whimsical as Alice, the silly tone and oddball world building lost me so completely that I couldn’t enjoy the story.

I don’t have much to say about this book because it’s hard to describe and most of the time I had no idea what was happening. If you’ve seen Disney’s animated Alice (a movie I still enjoy to this day), Furthermore is very similar in that up is down and left is right and right is wrong and people eat flowers. Alice’s hair and skin are devoid of almost all color and the world she lives in has something called “rainlight” and townspeople use magic that has somehow been compressed into objects that look like buttons as currency. Alice loves to eat flowers and her mother eats hard to find berries to cure her depression and everyone is a vegetarian. I know it sounds like I’m just naming random things from the book, but that’s sort of what reading it felt like.

The land is magic and somehow gives magic to its people, who are born with different gifts. Alice believes her gift is dancing to the music of the land. She’s been practicing and hopes to win the Surrender, the annual ceremony where all children who turn twelve present their gifts and are then given different tasks that will benefit their society in some way. Alice hopes to win the Surrender and earn a great adventure so she can finally leave town and hopefully find her missing father.

I did actually enjoy the idea of the Surrender and it was one of the few parts of the story that made sense. Alice doesn’t win however, but her old rival Oliver presents her with a chance to leave Ferenwood for Furthermore, a strange land that Alice thought was a myth, and search for her father.

Futhermore is even more wild and nonsensical than Ferenwood and their magic flows more freely. It’s a dangerous place as almost all inhabitants are cannibals – they like to eat visitors with magic in order to gain their magic. I have no idea if they actually physically murder and devour people or just do something to gain their magic that also kills them, but if they are truly cannibals that lends a much darker tone to the story that would be out of place with its general silliness.

Furthermore seemed odd for the sake of being odd. Maybe it was because I was somewhat tuned out and thoroughly confused, but I didn’t understand the point of much of what took place in this alternate world. Alice and Oliver were constantly making blunders that endangered their lives because Alice wasn’t open-minded enough to accept the strangeness of Furthermore and Oliver couldn’t be bothered to explain the rules of the world to Alice because the plot needed him to remain aloof.

My favorite part in the whole book was a deliciously described filet mignon, that, of course, the kids don’t eat because they’re vegetarians and Alice doesn’t even know what filet is. Maybe most twelve-year-olds don’t, but I really wanted to eat that dinner.

The takeaway from this book is to embrace your differences and be proud of your skills and keep an open mind in order to better understand others. While that’s a nice message and an important one for young readers, it was really hammered home at the end and it frustrated me that it was the only clear point in the whole book. Maybe if I’d been younger when I read it I might have enjoyed it more. Perhaps, like Alice was at the start of the story, I was too close-minded to enjoy the strangeness of this book. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t an enjoyable read for me.

Stay tuned for a Judging post though – it is a well-designed book and I’m crazy about the cover art.

Visit Mafi’s lovely website here.

Book Review: Phoenix Rising

Phoenix Rising
By Bryony Pearce

My Edition:
Hardcover, 333 pages
2017, Sky Pony Press
ISBN: 9781510707344

Toby grew up on his father’s ship, The Phoenix, scouring the seas for any bits of their previous society that they can salvage while avoiding the government, who is after several crew members, including Toby’s father. Now they’re questing for near-mythical solar panels that would eliminate their need for fuel. Before they can set follow the coordinates Toby’s father has found, rival pirates from The Banshee attack and jeopardize The Phoenix’s shot at the panels.

A middle-grade book about pirates in a post-apocalyptic setting? Sign me up! When I initially requested this book I thought it would give me Shipbreaker vibes. Unfortunately, I was disappointed on all counts and wish I’d just re-read Shipbreaker.

My biggest issue with this book was my inability to picture most of what was going on. The bulk of the story takes place on the ship and the trash-filled sea and I couldn’t clearly picture either. From what I gather, a series of natural disasters destroyed the society as we know it and knocked out much of our technology. The sun disappeared for a few years, but now it’s back. The ocean has some sort of deadly levels of salt or acid or something and it’s full of trash and old vehicles and all sorts of stuff that pirates could salvage. None of this information gave me a clear picture and it felt like disaster overkill.

The Phoenix is mostly wood, I think, but maybe also had some metal parts and the bridge is made of glass (not sure why that’d be beneficial, but what do I know?) It has two different types of engines, one for traditional fuel and another for combustibles, and it also has paddles. There is a diagram of the ship at the beginning of the book but when it came to trying to imagine the characters navigating the ship, I simply couldn’t do it and just imaged the deck of a basic, ye olde pirate ship.

Pair my confusion with the fact that next to nothing happens for the first 50% of the book and I was ready to call it quits. I primarily kept going because I requested the book and the writing isn’t bad, it just didn’t capture my attention and I think perhaps the book was taking on too much at once. Even with the low level of action at the start of the book, the characters didn’t feel well developed either.

The crew of The Phoenix is forgettable. The captain is kind but firm and dedicated to his ragtag crew of semi-criminals. Various crew members are mentioned throughout the book – some more than others, and they seem to either like Toby or dislike him. There’s a pair of bully brothers, who I think are much too old to be tormenting and threatening the fourteen-ish-year-old son of the captain. Toby feels much younger than his age and is more caring and trusting than I think a child who grew up with a hard life at sea, amidst a ship full of wanted men and women, should be.

There’s even a mechanical parrot who goes by the clichéd name of Polly. She was apparently created by the captain before the world completely fell apart and though I think she’s supposed to add a steampunk feel to the novel, she felt magical instead. She has a metal skeleton and many of her abilities are explained with her “biomass” something-or-other and she has real feathers and looks real, but she needs to vacuum up pellets (of unknown substance) for power. She can store and download information like a computer and her personality is “cares for Toby.”

No one on the rival ship really matters except its captain, Nell, and her daughter and second in command, Ayla. Nell is mean, bent on vengeance and not very violent considering she’s so ruthless and her crew is supposed to frighten the pants off everyone else. Ayla is pretty, smart, good with a sword and doesn’t require her head shaved and a skull tattoo like every other crew member (male or female) likely because she’s the captain’s daughter and Toby’s potential love interest. Despite her purported awesomeness, I didn’t understand why she was chosen as second in command as a fifteen-year-old and I didn’t peg Captain Nell as one for nepotism.

The plot picks up somewhat at the end, but based on the opinion I’d formed of Toby I didn’t find his role in a rescue mission believable. His relationship with Ayla is an awkward back and forth of trust issues and unwarranted care for each other and I kept forgetting they were teens because they behaved more like ten-year-olds. The stakes felt low because I had no connection with any of the characters and there was some info-dumping that could have fleshed out the characters some, but I was too tired to care at that point.

I think Pearce was trying to cram too much into one book and as a result, the world-building, characters and plot all fell flat for me. This book is clearly a setup for the next in the series, but I won’t be continuing.

I received this book for free from Sky Pony Press in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.
Here’s Pearce’s website.

Judging A Book By Its Cover: More Middle Grade

This is my weekly post where I highlight and appreciate cover designs and the general physical appearance of books. We all judge book covers to some extent. I can’t say that I’ve ever decided against a book with terrible cover art if I liked the sound of the plot, but I have purchased special editions of books or multiple editions of books based on their cover art. If book covers didn’t matter, publishers wouldn’t put out so many beautiful editions!

This week I’m showing off two fabulous middle-grade books (that I’ve yet to read) who have a similar feel to their cover art. A Sliver of Stardust has cover design by Michelle Taormina, cover art by Jakob Eirich and lettering by David Coulson. Published by Harper in 2015, ISBN: 9780062291561.

A Pocket Full of Murder features cover design by Sonia Chaghatzbanian and cover illustration by Tom Lintern. Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers in 2015 ISBN: 9781481437721.

Top 13 of 2016

Hi friends! I had an excellent reading year and of course want to point out my favorite (and later my least favorite) reads. I picked 13 books because that’s how many I really wanted to highlight and it turns out that’s how many I highlighted last year, so this will be my thing now. These are in no order other than when I read them throughout the year.

Austenland – Shannon Hale
The book and the movie are friggen adorable and I can’t get enough. Plus, as an Austen fan, I’d love to visit a place like that!

The Oversight – Charlie Fletcher
I was drawn in by the fabulous cover and kept hooked by the refreshing gaslight fantasy plot. Eagerly awaiting the third book!

Beastkeeper – Cat Hellisen
Everything I could ever want in a dark middle-grade/fairy tale retelling.

Nimona – Noelle Stevenson
A fun, snarky, beautifully illustrated comic about villains – my favorite!

The Wild Robot – Peter Brown
A book after my own metallic heart! So many feels and illustrations by the author!

Alias Hook – Lisa Jensen
Oh my gourd, talk about a dark retelling. Plus sexiness. Plus villains! I want this Hook so bad.

Wolf Road – Beth Lewis
This book had some unexpected twists and a wonderfully depressing tone.

Pax – Sarah Pennypacker
More heavily emotional middle-grade! Just drown me in it, please. Not to mention an incredibly well-done animal POV.

Dark Matter – Blake Crouch
Another book that pleasantly surprised me. I love sci-fi that gets me thinking “what if?”

Cold-Forged Flame – Marie Brennan
Yes, a novella of only 100 pages made my top list.  In such a short time I was thoroughly engrossed in this world and desperate for more!

The Haunted House Project – Tricia Clasen
Middle-grade was slaying me this year. Emotionally powerful and contemporary, for once.

Ship of Fools – Richard Paul Russo
More sci-fi that had me thinking and totally creeped out.

Liesl & Po – Lauren Oliver
The fifth middle-grade on this list. Magical, emotional, dark and illustrated. Need I say more!?

~

So tell me, do you agree with me on any of my favorites? Or disagree, even? Let’s discuss!