Beneath the Citadel

by Destiny Soria
First sentence: “Four people were supposed to die at sunrise.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s multiple instances of one swear word, and some violence. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Things I really liked about this book:

  1. The time frame was super condensed: most of the action took place (shock) beneath the citadel, where the council of Eldra has been hiding, listening to prophecies, and determining the Fate of the citizens of their country.  Likewise, the entire book took place over four days. 
  2. Even though there was shifting perspectives (I really am kind of over that) between the five characters, Soria kept the action propelling forward, and I never found myself losing interest in the story. 
  3. Which is to say: Soria really knows how to write. No, the sentences weren’t lyrical and lovely all the time, but the characters and dialogue popped, and she kept me guessing throughout the whole book. And she doesn’t hold back any punches. 
  4. I really liked the world Soria built, and the conflict between prophecy and free will. It was a nice tension, and the fact that who the “bad guy” was kept shifting was pretty impressive as well. 

In short? I really enjoyed this one. 

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The Agony House

by Cherie Priest
First sentence: “Denise Farber stomped up the creaky metal ramp and stood inside the U-Haul, looking around for the lightest possible box.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher for the Cybils. 
Content: There is some violence, but it’s not bad. And some mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore. 

Things I really liked about this: I liked that it was set in New Orleans, post-Katrina, and that white people moving into underdeveloped neighborhoods and displacing the black population was an issue, if only in passing. I liked the subtle feminism in the story, as well as the fact that the parents were really good. I liked that Priest highlighted a New Orleans that wasn’t voodoo or jazz music. And I liked the way she wove the graphic novel into the story.  

Things I didn’t like: it just really didn’t work terribly well as a ghost story, for me. I never felt terribly threatened or scared by the ghosts, or even terribly worried for the characters (even though the ghosts were causing a LOT of damage to the house). I also didn’t like that the main character was balancing her new life in New Orleans — her mom and step-dad moved her there right before her senior year — and her old life in Houston. It was realistic, sure, but it felt unnecessary to the overall plot (which was the ghost story). 

It wasn’t a bad book, but it wasn’t as good as I was hoping. 

LifeL1k3

by Jay Kristoff
First sentence: “They kill my father first.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher for the Cybils. 
Content: There is some mild swearing and some very offscreen, alluded-to sex. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore. 

Eve doesn’t remember much — just snippets, really — from her childhood. She mostly just remembers the two years she’s been living in the Dregs with her grandfather, scrapping for work, and fighting the bots in the WarDome. But then, one fateful night, everything changes. Eve “manifests”–she destroys a bot with a wave of her hand — and suddenly she, and her best friend Lemon (Lemon Fresh, named for the box she was found in as a baby) and her bot Cricket are on the run for their lives. But what they find — a Lifel1k3 bot, which everyone assumed had been destroyed, among other things — will rock their worlds forever. 

The best thing about this one, for me, was that Kristoff is playing with the old “robot rules” that Asimov had set up. Not only does he envision a future in which bots are a huge part of everyday life (and the world is run by megacorporations, which is probably the way it’s gonna be), but a world in which bots can not only “pass” as human, but aren’t subject to the “rules”. Which begs the question: are they human or not? 

I was describing this to a friend at work, and she said “oh, like the Romanovs in Russia” and she’s right:it is, very loosely, based on the Romanovs as well. Which kind of makes it cooler. A futuristic, dystopian, robot story based on Russian history. Kind of cool.

I really liked the world Kristoff built: It actually felt a lot like Uglies to me, with the slang and the shortcut languages and the techie world. But I could see how the slang would get tiresome to some readers. Even so, I loved that it was fast-paced, and I loved that it was playing around with ideas of how tech might play a role in the future. 

I really enjoyed this one.  

Monthly Round-Up: November, 2018

I think it’s been a very long time since a month has gone by and I have not read a SINGLE Middle Grade book. I don’t know if that’s going to get fixed next month (to be really honest, there isn’t a lot of middle grade out right now that I’m interested in reading!), but it really came as a bit of a surprise. 

My favorite this month was rereading this (I joined Maggie Stiefvater’s read-along group):

Howl’s Moving Castle (link is to original review)

It really was as delightful this time around as it was the last time.  As for the rest: 

Young Adult: 

Isle of Blood and Stone
Reign the Earth
What If It’s Us
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (audio)
A Winter’s Promise
A Room Away from the Wolves
Dry
Summer of Salt
The Traitor’s Game

A Room Away from the Wolves
A Winter’s Promise
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (audio)
What If It’s Us
Reign the Earth
Isle of Blood and Stone

Graphic Novels:

Cobalt Prince

Non-fiction:

Heartland (audio)
Evicted
American Dialogue

What was your favorite this month? 

Isle of Blood and Stone

islefobloodandstoneby Makiia Lucier
First sentence: “The outing had been planned on a whim; an afternoon lesson up in the ills, away from the smoke and stink of the city.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some mild swearing and violence. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, even though the characters are 18/19 years old.

Eighteen years ago, the two princes of Island of St. John del Mar were kidnapped with the chief navigator and their nurse, never to be seen again. The king (and everyone, really) presumed them to be dead and went to war with a nearby island, Mondrago, ravishing it. Fast forward, and the king’s remaining son, Ulises, has become king, and his two friends, Mercedes — half Mondragan and Ulises’ cousin — and Elias, the son of the former chief navigator, have discovered some maps with a riddle about that fateful event 18 years ago. And, at the king’s command, Elias begins to look into it.

What he finds is a complex and tangled riddle, full of lies and information that will shake not only Elias’s beliefs, but perhaps the entire kingdom.

On the one hand: this was a compelling book, and a fantastic idea. I liked both Elias and Mercedes (who were roughly our narrators; it was written in third person, but we never followed Ulises around), and I loved the twists and turns as Elias uncovered information about the princes’ disappearance.

What held me back from really loving the book, however, was that I felt that Lucier told me what was going on rather than showing me. There was a LOT of exposition, and a lot of narrative, which isn’t necessarily bad, but what it did was keep me at an arm’s length. Like, Elias and Mercedes ended up falling in love (mild spoiler), but I had absolutely no connection to that. At all. There were strains of racism and sexism, but I felt like it was all at a distance, and never really connected with any of it.

Which is too bad. I really wanted to love this one.

5 Worlds: The Cobalt Prince

cobalt princeby Mark Siegel, Alexis Siegel, Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeler, and Boya Sun
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: The Sand Warrior
Content: There is some fantasy violence. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Picking up where the first book left off, we get more of Oona’s backstory as she tries to figure out how to light the rest of the sand beacons and change the fate of the five worlds. The Cobalt Prince is the leader of the blue planet, Toki, which conquered the sand planet, and destroyed the sand castle. Turns out, though, that he has been taken over by the Mimic, an evil spirit that wants to gain control of the universe. Oona finds her sister there, working with the Cobalt Prince. Can she figure out her past, and save her sister and stop the mimic?

I put off reading this but honestly, I shouldn’t have. This is such a great series. I like the art, and while there’s a huge cast of characters, I think the authors juggle everything incredibly well. I also like how each individual one has it’s own arc while being a part of the larger whole; it makes it so each can be read as a stand-alone, which is nice.

Here’s to waiting for the next one!

Reign the Earth

reigntheearthby A. C. Gaughen
First sentence: “There was a scorpion in my tent.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s violence, including spouse abuse (both verbal and physical). Also, though the main character is 17, she marries a man 10 years older than her. It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

The basic plot: a desert girl, whose nomadic country has been at war with a bigger, more powerful, oppressive country, is married off to the king of the country in order to achieve peace. Said peace is only tentative as long as the king is happy (and he’s not often happy, for many reasons) and as long as desert girl keeps her magic powers a secret from her husband.

There’s more to it: including a prophecy and a resistance and a secret love, but really, that’s it.

I’m being a little snarky, but I did like this enough to finish it. I did have a big issue with this: the main character is married to an abusive man. It starts out with him raping her on their wedding night (he kind of couches it in “I don’t want you to be uncomfortable” but he doesn’t really take her comfort into mind) and it just escalates from there. Granted, our main character does, eventually, stand up to him (and he is the “bad guy” of the story), but I couldn’t help but wonder: is this really a book for teens? I don’t mind darkness in books, or even dealing with issues like abusive relationships, but this one felt more… adult than usual. I know the marriage has something to do with it, but I’m not sure that’s all. I don’t know if I can put my finger on it exactly.

Also: I feel like this one could have been better if it were an own voices story. Again, I’m probably nit-picking, but I felt like it was just “desert girl saves white oppressed culture” and not much else.

So, while I liked it enough to finish it, I didn’t love it.