Give me magic, gadgets, monsters, zombies, everything that seems impossible, and throw in some tough chicks with swords. That's the stuff.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Recent Middle School/YA Reads

Here are three Middle School/early YA reviews. Two are already released, and one will be available in March. All have strong female leads, but I would still recommend them for boys - I actually have an issue with the idea that just because a book features a girl that boys "can't" read it. Seriously - I have a son and he reads the same stuff my daughter does and he loves it. He does appreciate stories that are more action-packed, but a female lead doesn't drive him off. [Mini-rant done.]

Winterling by Sarah Prineas

I really enjoyed this fairytale - and it did feel like a fairytale with a more modern, darker bent.

Fer is different. She doesn't fit in at school, in town, and when she is close to the town, she doesn't feel good. She feels better in the woods around her Grandmother's home. Her Grandmother keeps a close eye on her and teaches her healing and spells, but doesn't answer many questions about Fer's parents. Mostly, Fer wants to escape, to feel like she belongs, and to know more about her parents.

One night, she runs off to the woods and saves a boy from wolves. This opens the Way to another world, one that feels very familiar to Fer, although something also feels very wrong. She meets the Lady, a beautiful woman who commands a group of magical beings. The Lady says she knew Fer's mother, and has plans for Fer. Fer needs to find out what is happening in this strange place, what happened to her parents, who to trust, and how to make things right. She uses what she has been taught to help others, to make new alliances, and to do what is right. There is some good action in here too.

This was a very fast-paced read and I loved that it was a complete story. Not that you couldn't have more adventures, but if this is a standalone it works well (there's no cliffhangers waiting at the end). There is violence and death, but nothing too gory. I liked the characters and their decisions made sense.

Out now.

[I received an Advance Reader's Copy of this book to review for Amazon Vine.]

The Humming Room by Ellen Potter

I read and loved The Secret Garden as a child, and it remains a favorite, that said, I'm not a purist and I also enjoyed this retelling.

Roo, sullen, underfed, neglected, a thief and a master at hiding, was in her usual hiding place when someone killed her drug-dealing parents. She is sent to live with an uncle she never knew existed on a foreboding, isolated island that used to house a children's hospital. The atmosphere is creepy, and most normal children would be scared or lonely, but Roo isn't normal, so she blossoms as she explores the island. She discovers a mysterious boy, hears strange crying coming through the walls, and finds hidden doors leading to a seemingly dead garden.

For the first 3/4-ths of the book, I was enthralled. Things move along at a quick pace, but it didn't feel too rushed until the end. I feel like if we had just 2 or 3 more chapters, this would have been a more satisfying book. Things were resolved too quickly and neatly, and the dramatic conclusion didn't have the power it should have had.

That said, up until that point, I really enjoyed the book. Knowing my kids, they would enjoy it too.

Out now.

[I received an Advance Reader's Copy of this book to review for Amazon Vine.]

Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby

I liked it, I just had some bumps along the road.

I usually pick fantasy reads, but circuses are a draw for me, so I was looking forward to this one. Portia escapes from a home for wayward girls with more than a few secrets of her own. She is looking for her father, and given events in her childhood, has dreamed that he ran away to join the circus. She ends up getting a job at Mosco's Wonder Show (a circus sideshow with a strongman, albino family, bearded lady, etc.) She knows she's living on borrowed time, however, since Mister, the ominous master of the home for wayward girls always finds the ones who run away.

I liked the sideshow aspect, showing a bit of the reality of the time and of living with a physical reminder that you are different from everyone else. There are several dark moments, but you also see how people can come together, adapt, and survive. I did like Portia, although she could be difficult and a bit of a hothead. I also liked the supporting characters. He isn't seen much in the story, but Mister comes across as quite villainous, enough that the persistent fear of being sent back was very real.

I've read books where you get multiple POVs (usually 3rd following 2 or more characters, although sometimes 1st following a few characters), or even when there is a jump from 1st to 3rd and back again. Sometimes it works out really well, but most of the time, this has a jarring effect that boots me out of the story for a bit. In this book, we have multiple POVs, from the main character, Portia, to a lot of the side characters. It also switches from 1st to 3rd many times for more than one character. The multiple POVs I could handle. Since the resident employees of the sideshow tend to keep their secrets close, it is a way to get to know them. However, the 1st to 3rd jumping combined with the multiple POVs was a bit much. I could ignore it after a while, but it did interrupt the flow for me.

Also, I just didn't get enough interaction between Portia and the Wonder Show folks to justify the ending. Maybe with a few more chapters I would have felt better about it. That part just went by too fast.

Still, if you have a reader who is tired of the paranormals and romances, this might be one to check out, especially if they have an interest in circuses and the Depression.

Out March 20.

[I received an Advance Reader's Copy of this book to review for Amazon Vine.]

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