The Falconer

by Elizabeth May
First sentence: “I’ve memorized every accusation: Murderess.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s a lot of violence, and some “improper” situations. It would be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

A year ago Lady Ailena Kameron witnessed her mother’s death at the hand of the Faerie Queen. It changed her life forever, not only because of the death of her mother, but because she was wearing a special Scottish thistle that allowed her to see the faerie… not just that night, but always. Bent on revenge, she found a fae — 3,000-year-old Kieran — to train her in the art of killing. Little does she know, though, that the problem is much, much bigger than simple revenge: the seal that has kept the fae at bay for 2,000 years is breaking and she’s the only one who can fix it.

On the one hand: awesome cover, fierce girl, steampunk. evil faeries. On the other hand: it didn’t quite work. I wanted it to. I really did. I even finished it, hoping that it would turn fantastic. But, it… didn’t. It was set in 1844 but felt off with the steampunk-ish-ness: both too progressive with the technology and too regressive with the way that society treated Aileana. It was a weird mix. And I disliked the love story — it just didn’t work. I did like the action sequences and I loved Derek, Ailena’s pixie friend. But other than that, there wasn’t much to, well, recommend it.

Which is really too bad.

Traitor to the Throne

traitortothethroneby Alwyn Hamilton
First sentence: “Once, in the desert kingdom of Miraji, there was a young prince who wanted his father’s throne.”
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Others in the series: Rebel of the Sands
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some almost off screen sexytimes and a lot of violence. It’ll be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

It’s been a bit since Amani has joined the Rebel Prince to try and claim the throne from his father, the Sultan. Things aren’t going so great for them; they’ve had several setbacks and it’s starting to seem hopeless. Then Amani is kidnapped by her aunt and sold to the Sultan. Suddenly, it looks like things might be turning around for the rebellion.

Of course, it’s not as easy as it seems: the Sultan is crafty and conniving, and Amani finds herself more than under his control; she’s stuck in the haram trying to find a way out. And all she can hope is that she comes out on the winning side.

It took me a bit to get back into the world, to remember what I really liked about Rebel of the Sands, but once I got going, I found I couldn’t put this one down.  I loved Amani’s fierce style, her problem-solving, and the way she was able to make plans, even under the direst of circumstances. There wasn’t as much of her and Jin, and he was more in the background of this book, but I did enjoy the moments when he did show up.

Mostly what this book was about was the politics of leadership: what makes a good ruler, how firm or fierce one should be, and the reasons subjects do or don’t follow one. I found that part fascinating.

I am definitely committed to the story line, and curious about where Amani and her rebel friends will go next.

Reread: Wintersmith

wintersmithby Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “When the storm came, it hit the hills like a hammer.”
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Others in the Series: The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky
Content: There’s a bit of mushy love stuff, but it’s fairly understated. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I spent the review the last time I read this talking about the characters and how they’re what really matters when reading this series. And that’s true. Tiffany Aching wouldn’t not be Tiffany without the other witches, like Nanny Ogg or Granny Weatherwax or Annagramma or Petulia, or without Roland or the Nac Mac Feegle. Or the Chalk. But, what stuck with me was not the characters (perhaps because I’m reading all these one right after another) but the plot.

Basically, Tiffany disrupts the seasons when she gets impulsive during the winter dance and joins in. The Wintersmith, the elemental who runs winter, is intrigued and decides that he needs to woo Tiffany. Which, because he’s Winter, involves a lot of ice and snow and cold weather. And because of this, spring is delayed. Tiffany has taken on the role of Summer in this dance, and has to figure out how to get out of it. Before the cold starts killing animals and people.

I loved the way Pratchett was playing with Old Stories, with mythology. I loved the way Tiffany had to take responsibility for things, even though it was impulsive and she didn’t “mean” to. This time, I enjoyed what it was about as much as the journey.

This series is just so great.

Audiobook: Out of Abaton: The Wooden Prince

woodenprinceby John Claude Bemis
Read by Ralph Lister
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Content: There are some scary parts, but not many. I don’t know how it is as a book, but the story is good for 3rd grade and up.

In this magical steampunk retelling of Pinocchio set in a Renaissance-like Vienna, Pinochhio is an automaton, Geppetto is a alchemist, and there are chimera and a magical kingdom ruled by an immortal ruler. All the elements of the story (or at least the Disney movie; I’ve never actually read the story) are there — the blue fairy, the carnival master, the whale (it’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie) — but in an entirely new, and fantastical form.

I think this is one I would have liked better reading than listening to. The narrator was fantastic; it often sounded like an ensemble rather than just one person. But, there were sound effects added in, and they drove. me. nuts. They were super distracting and sometimes gross (really, do we need a sound effect for throwing up?), and sometimes made it hard for me to understand the dialogue.

And, to be fair, I kept fading in and out of the story, so I missed a bunch of the story line. Though, it didn’t really seem to matter. I was a bit disappointed it was a first, as well. I wanted it to be a wholly contained story, but it seems a stand-alone speculative fiction isn’t something that is often written anymore.

It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t the best experience, either.

Audiobook: The Inquisitor’s Tale

inquisitorstaleby Adam Gidwitz
Read by the author and Vikas Adam, Mark Bramhall, Jonathan Cowley, Kimberly Farr, Ann Marie Lee, Bruce Mann, John H. Mayer, and Arthur Morey
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Review copy provided by the publisher for the Cybils.
Content: There’s a lot of poop and fart jokes, plus a bit of a running ass/donkey joke. It’s also a bit, well, long, and some violent moments. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but it’d probably be good up through the 8th grade or so.

I’ll be honest here: I tried reading this one and I didn’t make it through the third chapter. It just didn’t grab me.

The story is this: in the 13th century there are three children who can perform miracles. And someone is asking about them, collecting their story. Told in stages by several people over the course of a night, it follows the children — Jeanne, a peasant girl who has vision; William, a super strong oblate; and Jacob, a Jewish boy with healing powers — how they met, their run from the church and then the king, with a showdown outside of Mont-Saint-Michel.

It’s a very religious story (which shouldn’t have surprised me, considering when it was set), but it also deals with race relations and bigotry and just oppression in general. I think audio was the way to go for me on this one. I loved that the different tale tellers had different narrators reading the tale, each giving it their own spin. It made the tale come alive for me. (Maybe this is one that’s better read aloud?)

So, I’m glad I gave it a second chance. It was worth it.

Like a River Glorious

likearivergloriousby Rae Carson
First sentence: “Sunrise comes late to California.”
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Others in the series: Walk on Earth a Stranger
Content: There are some difficult scenes of emotional and physical abuse. The book is in the YA section (grades 6-8), but I’d let people know about the abuse before handing it to them.

Lee Westfall and her friends have made it to California, and Lee, with her “witchy” gold sense, have found them a pretty prime spot for gold hunting. Things are going well, until Lee’s awful (doesn’t even begin to describe it) uncle sends his henchmen to fetch her. They kill a couple of her friends, set fire to the camp, and basically kidnap Lee and a couple of others, including her beau, Jefferson. They end up at Lee’s uncle’s camp, which being run horribly, to say the least. He’s kidnapped Native peoples to do the work, and beats them while keeping them in squalor and nearly starving them. He’s “hired” Chinese workers, but doesn’t treat (or pay) them well at all. Lee is horrified, and doesn’t want to help this awful man, but he beats up Jefferson and her other friends in order to gain her cooperation. It’s awful, but it works. The question is: how can she survive in this situation while looking for a way to get out.

I’ll be honest: this one was slow starting. I picked it up and put it down several times, but after about 50 or so pages, it picked up considerably. So much so, that I didn’t want to put it back down. Carson doesn’t airbrush the treatment of the native peoples, and she is quietly feminist as well. Hiram (Lee’s uncle) is horrible, awful, and downright scary (I was thinking he was going to rape her at one point…) and while the ending is a bit too pat, it does wrap things up nicely.

A solid historical fantasy.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World

squirrelgirlby Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
First sentence: “Doreen Green liked her name.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher
Release date: February 7, 2017
Content: There’s a bit of violence, but it’s mostly cartoonish. There are some complicated words and it’s a bit long for younger readers, but the chapters are short and action-packed and I think reluctant readers will take to it. It will be in the Middle Grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore, but I’d give it to 6-7th graders as well.

Doreen Green was born with the abilities (and tail) of a squirrel. For her her whole life (all 14 years of it) she’s been home schooled and told to keep her abilities secret. But she and her parents have recently moved to the suburbs in New Jersey, and there are Things that need to be Done, and can only be done by a superhero. And it looks like that Dorreen, with the help of her new BFFAEAE (best fried forever and ever and ever) Ana Sofia and the local squirrel contingent, is the hero her town needs.

I have to admit that it took me a bit to get into the feel of this book. I generally like the Hales’ sense of humor, but for some reason this one felt a bit too over the top for me. But, I settled into it (also: not really the target audience), and they had me laughing by the end. (I especially liked the text conversations with Rocket Raccoon.) I liked that Doreen’s parents were basically good people, and understood the need to get out of their daughter’s way. And even though the book started out slow, it finished exciting.

A lot of fun!