Jane, Unlimited

by Kristin Cashore
First sentence: “The house on the cliff looks like a ship disappearing into fog.”
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Release date: September 19, 2017
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are six (or so) f-bombs, some mention of sex (none actual). It will be in the Teen Section (grades 9+).

Jane’s guardian, her Aunt Magnolia, made her promise one thing before Magnolia left for Antarctica (and then subsequently died): don’t turn down an invitation to Tu Reviens, the home of the eccentric millionaire Octavian Thrash. Jane promises, and so when her former tutor, and Thrash child, Kiran invites Jane to a gala the mansion, Jane agrees to go, unsure of what she’ll find.

At this point, the book reads like your typical YA novel: a girl who’s trying to find herself, a dead “mom”, a mansion with secrets. But, at one point, Jane is asked to make a decision of which person to find and talk to: Mrs. Vanders (the housekeeper), the little girl (whom Jane has seen around the mansion), Kiran, Ravi (Kiran’s twin), or Jasper (the basset hound). And from there the novel diverges into incredibly unique territory. Jane is allowed, throughout the course of the novel, to make each of those decisions, and in doing so, lives five different versions of the day.

I’ll be frank: it took a bit to settle into this. But, as the different versions went on, I caught on to what (I think) Cashore was exploring. One version of “reality” bled into the next, and it got more and more fascinating as it went on. I liked the exploration of the idea of multiverses, I liked seeing how Jane reacted to each of the situations she found herself in. And I found myself getting caught up in each version. Of course, Cashore’s writing is impeccable, and while I caught the Jane Eyre and Winnie the Pooh references, I missed the biggest homage: to Rebecca. (Which means, I should reread this one!)

It really was a delight to read.

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Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict

confessionsby Laurie Viera Rigler
First sentence: “Why is it so dark in here?”
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Content: I know there was mild swearing, with a couple of f-bombs, some talk of sex, and one (failed) sex scene. It would be in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Courtney has had a life-long relationship with Jane Austen. She finds herself turning to Austen’s books after a breakup, or when she’s stressed, or just when she needs comfort. There’s wisdom in Austen’s words, and Courtney finds herself pining for simpler times.

That is, until she wakes up in Edwardian England, as Jane Mansfield, a 30-year-old spinster (oh the horror!). It takes a while for her to believe her situation, and even longer still for her to accept that this has really and truly happened (and isn’t a dream) and then to accept that she may never get back “home” to L. A. and to just throw herself into this strange and foreign world.

It’s a silly premise, and a lot of the intrigue of the book comes from the juxtaposition of the 21st century woman trapped in a 19th century world. But, Rigler spends too much time with chasing men (ah, it’s a romance after all), and while she gives us glimpses of Austen’s world, it’s not nearly enough for me. It was a silly fluff of a book, but in the end, left me mildly dissatisfied.

That said, Lost in Austen (the British miniseries that bears similarities to this) is a lot of fun.

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by Ingrid Law
First sentence: “Please, Mrs. Foster– I’ve seen your future, and you really don’t want to buy this soap.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher rep.
Others in the series: Savvy, Scumble
Content: It’s pretty basic for younger kids (though I think it might be a handful for some 3rd graders), and though there’s some kissing and a little bullying and some scary driving in the snow, it’s mostly harmless. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

One of the things I like best about Law’s books is that even though they’re a trilogy, they’re also three stand-alones. Sure, it helps if you know what a savvy is and what scumbling means, but other than that, the whole story is basically self-contained. And that’s wonderful.

This one is Gypsy’s story (who was a wee babe in the first book). It’s a couple months after Gypsy gets her savvy, which is seeing a person’s future (or past) when she looks at them. It’s a tough one to scumble, but she’s trying. Then comes the news that her Grandma Pat (her dad’s mom, one without a savvy and who doesn’t really like the Beaumont kids) is deteriorating and needs to come live with them. This is not something that Gypsy is happy about; she and her grandma don’t really get along. But, she doesn’t have much say in the matter, so she’s dragged along to Colorado when her mom takes her and her brothers Samson and Tucker off to Colorado to fetch Grandma Pat.

And that’s when things get interesting: somehow their savvys are switched. Mom is no longer perfect, Samson went from being invisible to being the Lord of the Fire, and Tucker, who is only eight, got his savvy five years early. And Gypsy discovers she can stop time. Then Grandma escapes the house (she has Alzheimer’s and is determined to go to a school dance) in the middle of a blizzard and it’s up to Gypsy, Samson, Tucker, and their new friend Nola to bring her back.

It had very much the same feel as Law’s other books: sweet, family-centric, with a bit of unbelievableness thrown in. I had a hard time suspending my disbelief: why on EARTH were they wandering around in Denver during a BLIZZARD? But, aside from that I loved Gypsy and Samson (and Tucker was adorable, though acted a bit young for an eight-year-old; he felt more like five). I liked the story, I liked that most of the book was over one night, and I liked that Gypsy learned to understand and accept her grandmother for who she was, not who Gypsy wanted her to be.

I’m not sure it’s my favorite of the series, but it’s a solid addition.

The Return: Disney Lands

by Ridley Pearson
First sentence: “
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: I was made a bit wary when I started and discovered that the main characters are high school graduates, but (aside from the age) it really is a middle grade novel. Lots of action, a little bit of romance, and easy to follow. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

I got an email, as part of my new role at the store, that Ridley Pearson was interested in coming to visit. I got excited, said hey sure! And then promptly realized that the only thing I’ve ever read by him was Peter and the Starcatchers, which I didn’t really think of as “Ridley Pearson” but more “Dave Barry and the other guy.” So I had the publishers send me a book, partially because I wanted to read it, but also because I wanted to test their claim that it would “bring new readers to the series.”

The series is this: there are five kids who, at night when they sleep, become holographic hosts at Disney World and Disneyland and fight the evil Disney villians for control of the world. They thought their job was done, they’re moving on — graduated from high school and are off to Bigger and Better Things — but WAIT, something has happened and they need to Fix It.

On the one hand, this book is an elaborate set-up, so yeah, it worked for me. I’m sure I missed some in-jokes, and some references went over my head, but as a start of a new adventure, I Got It. The best comparison I can think of (and that I’ve been using with customers) is that reading this without reading the first series is kind of like reading Heroes of Olympus without reading Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. You can do it. It’s probably not the best way to go about it, but it can be done.

In fact, there’s a lot of similarities between Pearson and Riordan’s writing styles: short chapters, a lot of action, overarching mythology, a plethora of characters (7, in fact) to keep track of. The difference is that Pearson is playing around in the world of Disney rather than Greek Mythology. No, they’re not as fun as Riordan’s books (but then, I’m saying that as a long-time Percy Jackson fan), but they are good. It’s good, solid, accessible, middle grade fantasy. Nothing SuperWowAwesome, but it’s not horrible either.

As for the event…

The Slanted Worlds

by Catherine Fisher
First sentence: “The Bomb fell in a split second of silence.”
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Others in the series: Obsidian Mirror
Content: There’s some violence and (much like the first one) this takes some effort to follow. Not for the reluctant of readers. It’s in the YA (Grades 6-8) section of the bookstore.

A few spoilers for the first one, obviously. You’ve been warned.

Both Jake and Venn have become increasingly desperate to use the mirror, to make it work right. Jake, in order to find his father. Venn, because he wants to turn back the clock to get his wife back. Neither of them know of the outside forces controlling the mirror — that’s a knowledge known intimately to Maskelyne, an old, old time traveler, who may have been the one who invented the mirror — but both are willing to do whatever it takes to keep the mirror safe, and bring back the ones they love. Including involving Summer, the leader of the Shee, the fae-like creatures.

I have realized while typing the above that I could recount the plot of the entire book and it probably wouldn’t make any sense to those who haven’t read it.

There are other factors, as well: Sarah’s still around, trying to destroy the mirror and rid the world of Janus, and she’s willing to involve the Shee as well.  In fact, the Shee is the wild card here: Summer is the chaotic evil here, working toward her own end, but we have no idea what that end it.

There’s a lot of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff in this book, time looping in and back and forward on itself in incredibly fascinating ways. Jake is the real focus of the book; its his quest to find his father that we follow most closely. It was a good thing to focus on one arm of the conflict, though I did miss having Sarah around.

But at the end, I was left wondering: how is this all going to come together in the next book? How are we going to resolve the tension between needing to rescue those trapped in time and the need to destroy the mirror to save the world?

I suppose I’m just going to have to read the third one and find out.

The Map to Everywhere

by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis
First sentence: “Fin crouched behind a rack of bootleg flavors, trying hard to ignore the taste of rat fur and broccoli juice seeping from the grungy bottles.”
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Content: It’s kind of long, there’s some difficult made-up words, and it does take a bit of time to get into, so not really for a reluctant reader. Then again, there’s some great illustrations… Either way, it’s i the middle grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

Marrill has lived a life of adventure, following her parents around the world. Now, what was supposed to be a temporary stop in Arizona has become (mostly) permanent: her mother has cancer, and they need to stay close to doctors. But the prospect of school and a stable home doesn’t make Marrill happy.

Across the universe, Fin is the opposite: stuck in the Khaznot Quay, where he was dropped off as a baby by his mother (who then disappeared), Fin has become a master thief, mostly because he’s the guy who can’t be remembered. Literally: people look at him and as soon as they look away, they don’t remember him anymore. It’s very convenient when you tend to steal things.

But when Marrill’s and Fin’s paths cross — it has something to do with the Pirate Stream (a magical time/space continuum thing; you can sail a ship almost anywhere in the universe on it) — they end up teaming up to stop a rogue wizard from destroying the stream, and therefore the universe.

This is a perfectly fine fantasy adventure, once it got started. The main problem for me was that it took too long to get started. I almost put it down several times as I was waiting for the adventure to start, wading through the new world, and how everything connected. However, once the people and things were in place, I really did enjoy Marrill and Fin’s adventures.

I’m not sure if I’m invested in the series, but I think the kids will like it.

Obsidian Mirror

by Catherine Fisher
First sentence: “The boy put on the mask outside the door.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: Nothing objectionable, but it’s slow to start and is a  bit confusing. Not for the reader who gives up easily. It’s in the YA (grades 6-8) section of the bookstore.

This has been on my shelves for a long time. Seriously. I had the ARC, but gave that up, and finally, again, decided that I really needed to read this one. And I was in the mood this past weekend to indulge myself.

I shouldn’t have put it off. (Or maybe I should have: I’ve got the second one waiting to be picked up at the library. Shhhh. I know I said I wasn’t going to. But it’s CATHERINE FISHER.)

There’s three parts to this story. One is Oberon Venn, a very wealthy explorer who has spent the last two years in a depression because he was he cause of the accident that killed his wife, Leah. He will do anything to get her back. Including time travel. He and his trusty slave — there’s more to that than meets the eye — Piers are hidden out at Venn’s estate, trying to do just that: travel through time through the Obsidian Mirror.

The second player in this drama is Jacob, the son of Venn’s best fried. Who is missing and presumed dead. Or at least that’s what Jake thinks. So he’s headed, along with his unsuspecting teacher, Wharton,  to Wintercombe Abbey to force answers from Venn. Little does he know the web he will be tangled in.

The final player is the most complicated one: Sarah is possibly an escapee from an insane asylum. Or perhaps she’s a traveler from the future, a future where the mirror has destroyed the world, in order to destroy the mirror and prevent Venn from bringing his wife back.

There’s so much going on in this one, it’s hard to know where to begin. Yes, it’s slow and incredibly confusing to start with. I kept thinking “HUH?” But, I know Fisher’s work, so I stuck it out, and was richly rewarded. It’s time travel mashed with a mystery mashed with faery stories (yes, the Fey show up, and play a role), and if you give it time, it will begin to play out — it’s the first of a trilogy — in some incredible ways.

I can’t wait to read the next one.