When You Trap a Tiger

by Tae Keller
First sentence: “I can turn invisible.”
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Content: There are a few heavy subjects, like a loss of a parent. It would be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore if it hadn’t won the Newbery. As such, it’s in the Newbery section of the bookstore.

Lily has always been the quiet one in her family. It’s her older sister, Sam, that is loud and opinionated and always in trouble with their mom. But when their halmoni (their grandma) gets sick and the sisters and their mom move in with her to help, things change. Lily is convinced — by a magical tiger — that her halmoni stole something from the tigers god and if Lily just gave it back, her halmoni would get better.

This is such a lovely little book. A testament to the power of stories and passing those stories on. And not just book stories, but the stories of family, of Home (whether it be spiritual or ancestral). There are no stories that shouldn’t be told; even the sad ones have merit. It’s also a sweet book about family connection, surviving loss, and being strong and brave and what that means. Plus, it’s incredibly well-written and feels just perfect; not a single word or scene that’s out of place.

Definitely earned that Newbery it won. Excellent.

The Bees

by Laline Paull
First sentence: “The old orchard stood besieged.”
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Content: There is exactly one swear word used. There is some graphic violence, but nature is graphic, I guess. It’s in the adult section of the bookstore.

Flora 717 isn’t your normal, average sanitation worker bee. She can speak, for one, and she’s incredibly curious. So, she breaks the norms of the hive and instead of working in sanitation, drearily cleaning up after more important bees, she goes to take on the jobs of several other of the kin clans, working in the nursery, serving the male drones, foraging for pollen and nectar, and even serving the Queen herself.

This book was simultaneously really really weird — anthropomorphizing bees is not something I’d ever think needed to be done — and also really really compelling. I was fascinated by the way that Paull depicted the hive (do bees really act like that? — not the speaking and everything, but the actions — How much, exactly, is rooted in science and observation?) and the interactions between Flora and the different classes of bees. For not a lot happening — it basically follows Flora through the year of her life (how long do bees live, anyway?) — it was incredibly captivating to read about.

Weird as all get out, though.

When I was telling the family about it, they mentioned that it sounds a lot like Watership Down and I think that’s a super apt comparison. Which is also a pretty good marker for whether or not you’d like a book about an odd little bee in a beehive.

A Vow So Bold and Deadly

by Brigid Kemmerer
First sentence: “The weather has begun to turn, allowing cold wind to swoop down fro the moutnains and sneak under the lather and fur of my jacket.”
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Others in the series: A Curse So Dark and Lonely, A Heart So Fierce and Broken
Content: There are two sex scenes, both off-screen. And there is a lot of violence. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Things look bleak for our characters: Grey is in Syhl Shallow, trying to convince them that he’s not going to turn traitor and kill the armies when they march on Emberfall. Lia Mara is trying to find a balance between having her people respect but not fear her, and still maintain control. Rhen feels increasingly like he’s pinned into a corner by Lilith, the enchantress who initially cursed him. And Harper’s just trying to forgive Rhen (or at least move past) for imprisoning and beating Grey. As the two countries head toward war, everything looks like it’s going to come crashing down around everyone.

This was a really good conclusion to a series that started out as a Beauty and the Beast retelling. It became something much more: a treatise on violence and when it’s warranted, and the choices that we make because we feel we have to or are forced to. I did enjoy spending time with the characters, and while I didn’t necessarily find it swoon-worthy, it was fun. Which is all you need, sometimes.

It’s a good, solid series, and now that all three are out, there’s reason not to read them.

Audio book: Fable

by Adrienne Young
Read by Emma Lysy
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is some violence and some off-screen, implied sex near the end. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

It’s been four years since Fable watched her mother die in a storm that sank the ship that they, along with Fable’s father, were on. And four years since Fable’s father dumped her on a god-forsaken island, abandoning her to her fate. Now, she’s found a way off the island on a ship captained by West, a young trader who has bought her gems for the past couple of years. And Fable is determined to take her place in her father’s crew.

But things are not what they seem in this cutthroat world of trading and selling. And West is not everything he seems. Can a girl — even one who was raised the daughter of a captain and who has special gifts — make her own way in this world?

I really enjoyed the world that Young built here. It’s rich and lush, and very Pirates of the Caribbean-y. Which, in my book, is a good thing. There’s magic, of a sort, but it’s very slight. I liked Fable’s journey getting off the island, and the slow reveal of her past and her place in her father’s empire (of sorts). The romance was a bit out of nowhere (all of a sudden they were kissing, and while I don’t mind that, it did feel a bit, well, unearned.) but it wasn’t the focus of the book, which was a relief. I did feel Young did a bit too much telling rather than showing, but it’s the first in a duology, and she needed to set up the world, and I’d rather some telling all along than a big infodump at the beginning.

Lysy was good as a narrator, even if she did over-emphasize her Ts at the end of sentences. (Once I noticed it, I couldn’t unhear it.) She kept me engaged and kept the story moving forward. I think I enjoyed this a lot more on audio than I would have otherwise.

And the book ended on a bit of a cliffhanger (there got to a be a point about 3/4 of the way through where I kept expecting something bad to happen. And it did. In the last chapter.) so yes, I’ll be checking out the sequel.

Piranesi

by Susanna Clarke
First sentence: “
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Content: There’s some talk of murder, it’s pretty intricate in its writing and there are about a dozen f-bombs at one point. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

I’ll be honest here: I wasn’t going to read this one. I remember reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell when it first came out and thought it was a bit overblown. But, I have to admit, my interest was piqued when Maggie Stiefvater said she loved this one. And then M read it and suggested I give it a try (after I picked it up for her to take back with her).

And… the less said about the plot, the better, I think. Know Piranesi is a person who lives in a labyrinth a House full of Statues, and who is mostly alone. There is a mystery of sorts, and perhaps the less you know about that, the better. But know that the mystery really isn’t the point of the book (if you do think it’s the point then you are bound to be disappointed at the Big Reveal like I was). The point, as M pointed out when we were talking about it, is that it’s an homage to curiosity and to resistance. And it’s a meditation on being alone versus being lonely. It’s a charming little book with a completely engaging main character.

It’s probably not going to be my favorite book ever, but I’m not sorry I read it.

Audio book: Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything

by Raquel Vasquez Gillliland
narrated by Inés del Castillo
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s swearing, including many f-bombs and description of sexual assault as well as almost-sex. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

It’s been three years since Sia’s mom disappeared in an ICE raid that sent her back to Mexico, a place where she had never been, having been brought to the US by her mother when she was young. Sia’s mom since disappeared, and was presumed to be dead. By everyone. So, for three years, Sia has been harboring grudge and aching for revenge on the sheriff who turned her mother in.

And… here’s where everything gets a little weird. I was enjoying this book about a girl who was dealing with her mother’s death, with the inherent racism in her town, with trying to keep her best friend together, with liking a new boy who just happens to turn out to be the estranged son of the sheriff. And then the book slants sideways and there are aliens? An Sia’s mom is not dead, but instead has spent the past three years being tested on in a secret government conspiracy? And it took half the book to get there?

I don’t know. I wanted to like this one more than I did. I adored the narrator; I think, in the end, she is what kept me listening (that, and I wanted to see just how far this alien thing would go) because I was annoyed. Annoyed that the jacket blurb gave away the aliens. Annoyed that they didn’t show up until halfway, and yet were so vital to the plot. Annoyed because it was a good book about a girl who was dealing with grief and loss and moving on, and all of a sudden: ALIENS AND YOUR MOM ISN’T DEAD.

I know there are people out there who liked this one. I’m just not one of them.

Return of the Thief

by Megan Whalen Turner
First sentence: “Unlike others who claim to be well-informed, I am an eye-witness to the events I describe, and I write this history so that future scholars will not have to rely, as do so many staring into the past in my day, on secondhand memories passed down over the years, their details worn away by time and retelling.”
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Others in the series: The Thief, Queen of Attolia, King of Attolia, Conspiracy of Kings, Thick as Thieves
Content: It’s long, it’s political, and the characters are mostly adults. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore but only because that’s where the others are.

This book is really a book and a half. In the first part, we are introduced to Phares, the grandson of disgraced Baron Erondites (from King of Attolia), who is disfigured and mute, who is sent to live in the palace as the attendant to the King as a joke. Gen, however, sees through this ploy, and keeps Phares on, as he witnesses events that occur in both Conspiracy and Thick as Thieves. In many ways, this first part is to catch us up on what was going on in the palace while those books took place away from Attolia. And while it’s not a bad section, it does lack a plot — aside from the fate of Phares and more insight into Gen’s character — and the pace is slow.

The second part is where the book picks up and everything really begins. Costis (who left with Kamet at the end of Thick as Thieves) comes racing back to the palace with one message: the Medes have invaded over land. It is, in fact, war. And the rest of the book is Gen, Irene, Helen, and Sophos figuring out how to unify their three countries and head to war. Gen is Gen, and there are political maneuverings, and it’s a sweeping book as the countries try to fend off the invaders.

The book — the whole series really — is exploring the ideas of a small nation/state verses a larger one, and the ways politics play into it. It’s perfect for people who are interested in historical fiction, even if the “histories” in these books are not real. But, really: it’s the characters who are the most important part of these books. The way the are loyal to each other, the ways in which they betray and frustrate each other. It’s delightful winding our way through the world and even if her narrative is slow, it’s never uninteresting.

It’s not my favorite of the series, and I think it’s a good ending. She wrapped up most of the threads (to be honest: I was expecting something with the volcano, which never happened) that were hanging around throughout the series. I will miss having new stories in this world, but I am glad for the stories we do have.

The Queen’s Thief Series

I recently reread the series in anticipation of reading the new book (I figured I’d need a refresher). And then I thought I’d update my thoughts on each book. Plus: pretty covers!

The Thief
by Megan Whalen Turner
First sentence: “I didn’t know how long I had been in the king’s prison.”
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Original review (also reread review)
Content: There is some intense moments, and it gets a bit slow for impatient readers (I haven’t been able to convince any of my kids other than M to read these). It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Quick thoughts: Ah, Gen. Seriously. I adore this one. And it works as a stand alone. Even if you don’t read the rest of the series. Read. This. One.

The Queen of Attolia
By Megan Whalen Turner
First sentence: “He was asleep, but woke at the sound of the key turning in the lock.”
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Original review
Content: There is some graphic(ish) violence and trauma. It’s in the YA section (Grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Quick thoughts: I think I liked this better this time around. I didn’t remember hardly anything about it, and the trauma happened much earlier than I thought it did. I don’t know if I buy the love story part, but it’s not gushy. It’s very plain, an aside to the actual story — how Eddis can end the war(s) she didn’t mean to start, and how the countries of Attolia and Eddis (and Sounis) can keep the Medes off their shore. It’s a political book, but one in which people are underestimated and use that to their advantage. That said, I found myself unable to put it down.

The King of Attolia
First sentence: “The queen waited.”
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Original review
Content: There is some violence, and it’s long. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

The thing that struck me this time around is that Turner tried to make the reader believe — as the Attolians did — that Gen was a fop and a waste as a king. It really is about Gen coming to accept his role as king — a throwaway line the Eddis ambassador says to the queen: “He didn’t marry you so he could become king. He became king so he could marry you.” While this is Gen’s story, it’s also Costis’s — how his derision of the king (the book opens with Costis punching Gen in the face) turns into loyalty, respect, and love. Turner masterfully gives us just enough information for us to guess at what is going on, without it seeming obvious. It really is a delight rereading these.

A Conspiracy of Kings
by Megan Whalen Turner
First sentence: ““The king of Attolia was passing through his city, on his way to the port to greet ambassadors newly arrived from distant parts of the world.”
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Original review
Content: Like the others, it’s very dense and political. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I knew this was more Sophos’ story than Gen’s, but I had forgotten how much. The thing is: the plot blurb on the back isn’t correct. It’s 1/3 Sophos’ telling the Queen of Eddis the story of his year after being kidnapped (which happened during the King of Attolia, if I remember right; there’s a brief mention of it in passing), a little more than 1/3 of Sophos being re-acclimated to royal life and the compromise swearing loyalty to Gen as Attolis. And then the last bit is Sophos becoming king in his own right. It’s political and twisty, with lots of machinations and back-handed dealing. And it’s brilliant. Really. I love the subtle details: how the book switched from first person to third person and back. And the small things, like the way Turner uses names. And, at the center of it all, sits Gen, who is wonderful and infuriating, and definitely worth swearing fealty to. I liked this one the first go-around, and I still think the first half of this series is stronger, but I found myself enjoying this one all the more for having read the others in quick succession.

Thick as Thieves
by Megan Whalen Turner
First sentence:  “It was midday and the passageway quiet and cool.”
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Original review
Content: The main character is an adult, and there is some violence. It’s in the YA section of the bookstore.

This one is the outlier of the series. Gen is really not there for most of it, with the main character being the slave of a former Mede ambassador (back in The Queen of Attolia). He was a minor character there, so it might seem, at first, a bit weird to have a book entirely from his perspective. But. He’s a fascinating character and over the course of the book his relationship with “the Attolian” (from The King of Attolia) grows. It’s an interesting narrative all the way through, but it’s the end that really makes this one worth it.

All this to say, if you haven’t given this series a try, you really should!

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

by V. E. Schwab
First sentence: “A girl is running for her life.”
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Content: There is a handful of swear words, including the f-bomb, some drug use, and some tasteful on-screen sex. It’s in the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore.

Where do I even start with this one? I put off reading it for months and months (I had an early copy) because I was afraid. Mostly because I enjoyed Schwab’s other stuff and I didn’t want this to be awful. And then I put it off because so many people came into the store asking for it, and not the usual science fiction/fantasy-type readers either. Maybe it was one of those books that was too Literary for me and I wouldn’t like it. But this past weekend, after a long week of work, it seemed just the right thing.

And it was.

It’s nominally the story of Addie LaRue, a woman who, on the eve of her wedding in 1791, makes a deal with the darkness: she wants to live a free life. The darkness, in return, takes away her ability to be seen, to be remembered. It’s her story as she flits through the ages, living, trying to figure out her curse, locked in a battle of wills with a fickle god. But it’s also a book about Humanity and Art and the little things that make life worth living. (Hint: it’s being loved, yes, but it’s More Than That, too).

And it was beautiful.

I loved Addie and her story, and Henry — the one person in Addie’s 300 years that actually remembered her, and the twists and turns. It’s a gorgeous book, full of life and heartbreak, and it’s a good thing people are buying it on their own, because I would be a wreck trying to handsell it.

Which is to say, if you haven’t read it yet, you probably should.

Tristan Strong Destroys the Universe

by Kwame Mbalia
First sentence: “Nobody likes getting punched in the face.”
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Others in the series: Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky
Review copy provided by the publisher
Content: There is some violence and talk of trauma. It’s in the middle grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

Tristan Strong fixed the problems that he created in the first book in this series. And then he returned to our world while Alke rebuilds. Except: there is a new foe. The Shamble Man has is wreaking havoc on Alke and he has come into our world and kidnapped Tristan’s grandmother. Which leaves Tristan no choice but to return to Alke to get her back. And what he finds is a whole lot messier than he thought it would be when he left.

This is very much a second book in a series — being a bit more dark and dismal than the first. However, I enjoyed that Mbalia not only gave us a complete story. No cliffhangers here. I also appreciated along with the humor and adventure, Mbalia addressed the underlying trauma that happens when things — bad things, hard things — happen. It’s a clever and good way to introduce the concept to kids, and to allow for an opening to talk about them. It’s handled really well. But, even though Mbalia tackles tough subjects, it’s still a lot of fun to go with Tristan back into the world of Alke. I adore Gum Baby and her silly bravado, and I liked the way Tristan was able to work with people he initially found difficult to work with.

In short: it’s smart, it’s fun, and it’s definitely worth checking out.