The Boneshaker: A Review

Strange things can happen at a crossroads. If a town is near that crossroads, well, strange things can happen there too.

Arcane, Missouri is filled with odd stories about the town and the crossroads. Just ask Natalie Minks. She might only be thirteen, but she already knows all about the eerie goings on at the crossroads thanks to her excellent storyteller (and terrible cook) mother.

As much as Natalie loves a good story, she loves machines and gears more. Her father is an expert bicycle mechanic and Natalie is learning too–it’s 1913 after all and machines are popping up everywhere.

Even, it turns out, in traveling bands of snake oil salesmen.

Doctor Jake Limberleg’s Nostrum Fair and Technological Medicine Show promises entertainment, information, and a cure for any and all ailments. Natalie is enchanted by all of the bicycles and automata the show brings along with its tents and patent medicines. But she can’t shake the nagging feeling that something is wrong, horribly wrong, with the medicine show and its four Paragons of Science.

To figure out how wrong the medicine show is Natalie will have to get to the bottom of an age-old bargain, tame the fastest bicycle in the world, cash in a dangerous favor, and ask a lot of costly questions–all before the medicine show can take Arcane for everything it’s worth in The Boneshaker (2010) by Kate Milford with illustrations by Andrea Offermann.*

The Boneshaker is Milford’s first novel.

The Boneshaker tackles a lot of narrative ground with unexplained visions, mysterious automatons, strange bargains, and a whole town’s secrets. The ending of the story leaves a lot up in the air with Natalie’s future and even her place in the town. The narrative also takes a lot of time to tie things together and explain details of the lore surrounding Arcane as well as to explain certain things Natalie begins to learn in the story. The premise is interesting and Natalie is a great protagonist but the whole package was not quite as well-realized (or resolved) as it could have been.

That said, Milford writes like a natural storyteller. The opening pages of this story draw readers in with prose that sounds like a traditional folk tale and a setting that immediately evokes the era and feel of a midwestern town at the turn of the last century. Everything about The Boneshaker is charming from Natalie and her cantankerous bicycle to the vivid illustrations by Offermann that bring Natalie’s world to life.

This story is well-written and will find many fans in readers of fantasies and historical novels alike.

*The Boneshaker is not to be confused by a similarly titled but completely different book by Cherie Priest called Boneshaker.

Possible Pairings: Plain Kate by Erin Bow, The Search for Wondla by Tony DiTerlizzi, Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale and Nathan Hale, Holes by Louis Sachar, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Exclusive Bonus Content: This is probably just me, but The Boneshaker reminded me a lot of Plain Kate–the book that I had the most issues with from 2010. Like Plain Kate this book starts with the whimsical feel of a light(ish)-hearted middle grade novel. Then by the end it veers into dark (very dark in the case of Plain Kate) territory that grounds the story more firmly in the young adult audience area. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but it felt like a big leap here that did not work effectively for me (though as I said, I might be particularly touchy about this since I’ve noticed it in several books already).

Rise of the Darklings: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

On the day she found out about the the fey and the hidden war being waged in Victorian London, twelve-year-old Emily woke up praying for snow. Snow would mean that she could stay home with her brother William instead of running through alleys and side streets to get to Mrs. Hobbs to buy a bunch of watercress to sell for the day.

But there is no snow and Emily does have to venture out. Unfortunately instead of a day spent peddling watercress in the cold, Emily stumbles upon a faerie battle right in a London alley.

Emily would love to forget about what she saw and go back to her normal life even if life as an orphan is hard. But the faeries won’t let her forget them–not until she gets them something they desperately want. Even if Emily could do that, there’s The Invisible Order to contend with. A secret society meant to protect humans from the fey, the Invisible Order wants Emily to work with them instead.

Everything Emily knows is soon turned upside down and she has no idea who to trust besides her friend Jack. But can two children possibly rescue Emily’s brother and save London before it’s too late? Emily doesn’t know that answer yet, but she knows she has to try in Rise of the Darklings (2010) by Paul Crilley.

Rise of the Darklings is the first book in The Invisible Order trilogy.

Crilley combines traditional elements from fairy tales (gnomes, giants, piskies, and even a famous wizard) with a well-realized, completely evocative London setting. The plot is well-written with enough twists to keep readers (and Emily) guessing along with humor and action in spades.

Rise of the Darklings truly has it all: action, adventure and faeries all in the beautifully realized setting of Victorian London. Throw in a determined and clever heroine, fast talking characters like Jack and Corrigan,  well-dressed gnomes and you have all the makings of a spirited start to a wonderful trilogy.

Possible Pairings: Gideon the Cutpurse (AKA The Time Travelers) by Linda Buckley-Arhcer, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood, Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

The Clockwork Three: A Review

When Giuseppe finds the green violin, he doesn’t think it will help him escape. He doesn’t think anything can help him get away from his ruthless padrone and back to his home and his siblings in Italy–certainly not a violin, even if it is so much finer than the one he usually plays on street corners every day.

Frederick doesn’t need to escape anything, but he must become self-sufficient–of that he is certain. Being apprenticed to Master Branch is fine for now. But the sooner Frederick can complete his clockwork man, the sooner he can become a journeyman. The sooner that happens the sooner he can have his own shop–his past at the workhouse left far behind.

Hannah has already given up so much she scarcely knows what to want. Since her father’s stroke she has had to leave school and take work as a maid. Her family is just scraping by on her meager salary. When Hannah hears talk of a secret treasure, she starts to wonder–could it be the way back to her old life? If she can find it can she really solve all of her family’s problems?

Giuseppe, Frederick and Hannah don’t know each other. Under normal circumstances they might never have met. But soon the magic of the green violin and other strange happenings bring these three children into each others lives. Together they might solve all of their problems and make their dreams come true–if they can learn to trust each other and themselves along the way in The Clockwork Three (2010) by Matthew J. Kirby.

The Clockwork Three is Kirby’s first novel.

This book is an interesting blend of realism and fantasy, adventure and steampunk. Kirby weaves the elements together seamlessly creating a city so real it is easy to forget that the backdrop of this story is fictional.

The story takes a sudden turn near the middle of the story as some of those fantasy and steampunk elements manifest. They work and they add to the story, but part of the semi-realistic charm of the story is lost in favor of more fantastical elements. Perhaps because this turn appears so late in the story some aspects of the plots resolution felt rushed or abrupt although still satisfying after a fashion.

Kirby’s writing is particularly excellent at the beginning of the story as he subtly brings the children together in chance encounters until all of their stories overlap. The writing is atmospheric and often quite charming.

Possible Pairings: A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, Clockwork by Phillip Pullman, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Enchanted Ivy: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

enchantedivyLily Carter’s future is at Princeton University. Her grandfather went to Princeton. Going to Princeton would allow Lily to move away from home without feeling guilt about not taking care of her mother. It’s the perfect school. Most importantly, Lily desperately wants to follow in Grandpa’s footsteps to make him and her mother proud.

Turns out her chance at Princeton might come sooner than she thinks when Lily accompanies her grandfather and mother to Princeton Reunions weekend where, thanks to Grandpa’s connections, Lily has a chance to take the top secret, super exclusive, Legacy Test. Passing the test means claiming what Grandpa calls her destiny. Oh, and it also means automatic acceptance to Princeton.

The only problem is that instead of filling in multiple choice bubbles or writing an essay, Lily has to find the Ivy Key. She has no idea what it looks like or even what it is. She has no idea where to start.

Still, Lily starts on the path to the Ivy Key. A path that leads Lily to talking gargoyles, a mysterious boy with orange and black striped hair, demonic library shelves, and magic. Lots of magic. Because Princeton isn’t a normal school and Lily might not be a normal girl.

If Lily can get to the bottom of Princeton’s secrets, she might also find answers about her mother’s illness and her family’s hazy past, she might even find her own place at Princeton in Enchanted Ivy (2010) by Sarah Beth Durst.

I loved Enchanted Ivy. Truly loved it. It’s a perfect fantasy with an original premise, a great plot and top notch world building. As a girl who once asked for a gargoyle for Christmas* I especially loved the gargoyles in the story which, according to Durst herself, are all really at Princeton–how cool is that?

Gargoyles aside Enchanted Ivy is a strong story with appealing fantasy elements and truly delightful characters on every page. Lily is an authentic and likable heroine at every stage of her journey. To call Tye** a wonderful addition to the story is a vast understatement. Durst’s writing is complex, subtle and a real pleasure to read.

In addition to being a fun fantasy, Enchanted Ivy is a clever spin on the usual college admission woes seen in realistic YA novels. At the same time it has elements of mystery and action. The narrative asks hard questions with wit and aplomb. And there’s a whole section that takes place in a library. Seriously, what more do you want? Go, read this book, right now!

*No, really. I did. Here he is sitting on my signed copy of Enchanted Ivy:

You could say this book is gargoyle approved. Or Miss Print approved. Either would work.

**Tye may or may not be the aforementioned mysterious boy with orange and black striped hair. . . . Okay, I lied, Tye is totally the aforementioned mysterious boy with orange and black striped hair.

You can also read my exclusive interview with Sarah Beth Durst.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Exclusive Bonus Content: Another reviewer raised the issue that the Princeton library in the book uses the Dewey Decimal classification system instead of Library of Congress. (The actual Princeton seems to use an amalgam of Library of Congress and classification systems made specifically for the Princeton libraries.) This change did not bother me for several reasons: first it’s a fantasy, second LoC is way hard to navigate, and third I just like Dewey better. It is a superior system. If you don’t think agree at least now you’ve been warned.

The Beautiful Between: A Review

Connelly Sternin is good at pretending. She’s especially good at imagining things and, sometimes, at making things up. It’s easy when she has spent most of her life convincing everyone at her school that her parents are divorced when really her dad died and Connelly has no idea how.

But it’s okay. Sometimes Connelly thinks of herself as a kind of Rapunzel–a princess trapped in a tower watching life through a window. Maybe she’s being punished, living in the tower. Or maybe it’s protection from a secret too painful to talk about.

Pretending is easier than actually being involved anyway. It’s easier to watch Jeremy Cole walk through life like some kind of crown prince instead of talking to him. It’s easy to marvel at his little sister Kate and how perfect everything is for her and her brother.

Except maybe things aren’t so easy. For either of them.

As Connelly starts an unexpected friendship with Jeremy she learns that appearances can be deceiving and perfect doesn’t always last forever. As she learns more about her own past and Jeremy’s uncertain future, Connelly realizes that the truth might be harsher than pretending–but it’s also the only thing that can help her move on in The Beautiful Between (2010) by Alyssa B. Sheinmel.

The Beautiful Between is Sheinmel’s first novel.

The Beautiful Between is an interesting book because parts of it were really engaging. And some parts were not. The main problem is that the book is poorly summarized on the jacket. The plot there has next to nothing to do with the real plot. I tried to be more accurate in my summary here, but this one is hard to pin down partly because it is so subtle.

Sheinmel’s writing has moments of brilliance interspersed with a plot that is sometimes predictable and often simply too short (the whole book is 182 pages). In some ways the story finishes where I wish it could have began because I wanted to hear more about Connelly, Jeremy, and what the future had in store for them.

Other aspects of the novel felt strange. The smoking motif felt incongruous in a book written in 2011 although I did know kids who smoked in high school–probably everyone does. I didn’t love that Connelly smoked just to be close to the boy. Similarly the extended fairy tale metaphor was interesting–it was one of the main reasons I picked up the novel honestly–but it didn’t really make sense with the plot. It worked but it didn’t need to be there.

Ultimately The Beautiful Between is a story about friendship, loss and how to survive both. It is complex and subtle even if some elements didn’t work perfectly. I look forward to picking up Sheinmel’s next novel to see how she has grown as a writer because, really, a lot of this book is very promising.

Possible Pairings: The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd, The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron, Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCullough. The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

The Wish Stealers: A (Rapid Fire) Review

The Wish Stealers by Tracy Trivas (2010)

This is a cute story about a girl named Griffin Penshine who loves to wish. That is until an evil wish stealer cons her into accepting a box of cursed pennies. Griffin has to return all of the stolen wish pennies or risk becoming a wish stealer herself.

I liked this story. The optimistic, small town vibe was charming and Griffin really is an adorable heroine. The story dragged a bit in the middle as Griffin flounders with how, exactly, to return wishes that were stolen years and years ago. There is a lot going on in the story between Griffin adjusting to her new school and the sixth grade (both of which were handled realistically), waiting for her mom to have Griffin’s baby brother or sister, worrying about her sick grandmother, AND working on a science project with the cutest boy in the sixth grade. Everything is handled well but the sheer amount of plot prevents anything from being looked at too thoroughly.

This is probably just me, but I also wasn’t totally comfortable with Griffin trying to reunite her friend Garrett with his absent father. As a child of a single parent I was uncomfortable with Griffin seeing Garrett’s lack of a dad as something to “fix” even if she had the best intentions and totally meant well.

That said this is a charming story with a great message. Who doesn’t love a book about the power of wishing?

The Lonely Hearts Club: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Penny Lane Bloom is done with boys. Love might be all you need, but Penny has her doubts. Especially when the dating pool is limited to the losers, players, jerks and wannabes otherwise known as the male population of McKinley High School.

After a summer romance gone wrong once again leaves Penny miserable because of a guy she decides to call it quits. No more boys. No more dating. At least until the end of high school. Taking inspiration from the only men who never let her down, Penny decides to start her own anti-dating club: The Lonely Hearts Club, total members: one.

But when her friends join and the girls at school hear about the Club, Penny finds herself at the center of attention as news of her stance on boys and her club spread throughout the school.

As Penny builds a community of strong, capable girls she might even realize that some boys–even if they aren’t John, Paul, George, or Ringo–might be okay (and maybe even worth dating) in The Lonely Hearts Club (2010) by Elizabeth Eulberg.

Everything about Eulberg’s debut novel* The Lonely Hearts Club is charming from the cover to the delightful plot, not to mention the Beatles motif throughout the novel.

Penny is a clever, authentic narrator. Readers will love her frank tone and her humility as her Club morphs from an angry declaration against all boys to an important force for good at her high school. Penny’s journey throughout the story both as leader of the Lonely Hearts Club and as a girl who has been burned by one too many boys is realistic and well-written.

What really sets this book apart and makes it so wonderful is that the book is literally filled with strong female characters. In fact, that’s kind of the whole point as Penny and the other Club members learn to focus on themselves and put their own interests first instead of focusing on boys. In short The Lonely Hearts Club is really the perfect blend of old fashioned girl power feminism and romantic sentiment. (And it’s really fun and includes tons of Beatles references besides!)

*Previously the mastermind behind publicity for the Twilight books (and lots of other titles you would recognize), Eulberg wrote this book in 2010. She followed it up with Prom and Prejudice in 2011. She also recently announced that she was planning on pursuing her writing career full time which, as a fan of her work, is extremely exciting!

You can also visit Eulberg’s website for a full list of the Beatles’ songs mentioned in the novel. (Click on “The Beatles”)

Possible Pairings: Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg**, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Boy Book by E. Lockhart, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott

**I don’t usually list an author’s other books in possible pairings because I feel like it’s implied but I made an exception here because I think the two books, aside from both being delightful, really hit some of the same high notes and pick up the same themes and they just work well together aside from being by the same author. (Want to see what I mean? Read this review.)

Exclusive Bonus Content: Just wanted to take a moment to applaud Becky Terhune and Elizabeth B. Parisi for the fabulous jacket design here. Also props to Michael Frost for the ah-may-zing cover photo. Needless to say this is one of my favorite covers ever.

While you’re reading this, let me ask: Is going to a dance alone still really as radical as it is in this book? I went to my senior prom alone (and met a group of friends at the door). I didn’t realize it could create such a sensation in some circles. Regular readers must be seriously wondering about my high school career by now between this and my ramblings in my Ruby Oliver book reviews . . .

After the Kiss: A (poetic) Review

After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoyCamille isn’t impressed with her new town. It’s nothing like her old town (or the one before that, or the one before that). It’s tedious making new friends during senior year only to move on like she always does, like they all will with college around the corner. Still, she’ll put on a show and pretend it all matters while she marks time until her escape like she always does.

Until she meets Alec at a party. He isn’t the boy she left behind. But he’s here. He’s smart. He’s a poet. That’s pretty close to perfect.

Camille doesn’t want to get involved or care, not really. But when Alec kisses her out of nowhere at a party isn’t that what he’s asking for? Isn’t that the right thing to do?

Becca is in love and it’s wonderful. She sees Alec after school, on the weekends, during her free time. Being with him, being a girlfriend to his boyfriend, doesn’t leave a lot of time for other things. But Alec is enough. He’s smart. He’s a poet. He’s perfect. In fact, they’re perfect for each other.

At least, Becca thought so until Alec kisses some girl at a party.

After the kiss Becca is heartbroken, Camille is confused. In another life they might have been friends. That won’t happen now, but maybe after everything they can find themselves instead in After the Kiss (2010) by Terra Elan McVoy.

Love triangles are nothing new in young adult literature, or any literature really. But McVoy looks at this familiar situation in a new way and from all sides in this clever verse novel. Even though the book is ostensibly about a kiss and romance, it’s more than that too. Both Becca and Camille are forced to take a hard look at who they are before and after the kiss in alternating narrations in their own unique poetic styles.

Both of the characters, especially Becca for me, are authentic narrators who grow and change throughout the story. They are achingly human with moments where they are far from perfect. Still by the end of the story readers will find themselves cheering for both heroines and wondering, like the girls themselves, how things could have been different without that kiss.

After the Kiss is McVoy’s second novel. It is also a smart, smart book written in verse that is filled with emotion, humor, and even nods to other famous poets. If you are an English major or just a poetry lover After the Kiss is a must read.

Possible Pairings: Something Like Fate by Susane Colasanti, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg, Reuinted by Hilary Weisman Graham, The Boy Book by E. Lockhart, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altedbrando, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

You can also read my exclusive interview with After the Kiss author Terra Elan McVoy!

Exclusive Bonus Content: How great is this cover? Looking at it never fails to make me happy. Brilliant design by Cara E. Petrus.

In other news: Remember today is Poem in Your Pocket Day. The poem in my pocket is this whole book. Don’t forget to carry a poem of your own in your pocket today to share!

Real Live Boyfriends: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Ruby Oliver has been in therapy. She has gone through Reginald several times. Her ex-boyfriend has cheated on her and turned into a pod-robot. Her best friends weren’t such good friends. She has conquered bake sales, November Week and befriended a pygmy goat named Robespierre.

Some of it was hard, some of it was fun. All of it led Ruby to a new group of strange but dependable friends and, maybe more surprisingly, to a new boyfriend.

Noel is the perfect boyfriend. He’s Ruby’s real, live boyfriend and everything is perfect. At least it is for a while.

But then everything gets complicated again. Noel shuts down and shuts Ruby out. Her parents are fighting. Hutch has gone to Paris to study and do whatever retro-metal fans do in France. Megan is busy with her real live boyfriend. Things with Nora are still kind of a mess. Then Gideon shows up. Shirtless.

It’s all a mess but with little patience and a lot of mishaps Ruby might be able to survive these recent debacles, her panic attacks, and even manage to make a few lists about the whole thing in Real Live Boyfriends: Yes. Boyfriends, plural. If my life weren’t complicated, I wouldn’t be Ruby Oliver (2010) by E. Lockhart.

Real Live Boyfriends is the fourth book in the Ruby Oliver Quartet. Ruby’s earlier adventures are chronicled begining in The Boyfriend List and followed by The Boy Book and The Treasure Map of Boys.

I love reading about Ruby’s misadventures and all of her friends. Almost everything about this conclusion was spot on. My only real complaint: I wished Hutch was around more. Because he was my favorite character.

Real Live Boyfriends was the right conclusion to a really fun, sincere series. Reading through the books Ruby felt like a personal friend and it’s hard to believe her adventures are over so quickly (I only started reading the series a couple months ago). The book picks up during the summer before Ruby’s senior year and conclude during at the end of the first semester. Lockhart provides closure for Ruby’s panic attacks, her friends, her parents and even Robespierre the pygmy goat. Questions are answered about Kim, Nora, Cricket and Gideon.

It’s sad to see the end of the series but Roo fans will find a satisfying if bittersweet conclusion. Loose ends from the series are tied up while still leaving Ruby looking at a future that can be whatever she wants it to be. And knowing Ruby, you can bet it will be a bright, zany future.

Possible Pairings: Something Like Fate by Susane Colasanti, The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Girl at Sea by Maureen Johnson, Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee

Exclusive Bonus Content: I’ve already mentioned being dubious about the new covers that show Ruby but not Ruby wearing glasses. I still feel that way. But then I noticed the Ruby on this cover is wearing white fishnets. So almost all is forgiven.

All You Get is Me: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Fifteen-year-old Aurora “Roar” Audley is a city girl at heart. Especially after two years living on a farm with her father under protest. Roar can’t wait for her big chance to get away from this farm girl life that she hates.

At least until a tragic accident brings Roar and her father to the center of attention in town. And brings a mysterious boy to the center of Roar’s attention.

Suddenly everything seems different. Maybe the life Roar’s been so desperate to leave behind is really the one she’s meant to have in All You Get is Me (2010) by Yvonne Prinz.

This was an interesting, quick read. Roar is likable enough but ultimately a lot of the plot elements felt superficial. Roar’s best friend Storm comes off as a cartoon. The romance angle is simplified despite all of the potential pitfalls. There is a lot going on but Prinz brings in so many elements (Roar is a photographer, her mother disappeared, she’s in young love, the lawsuit, the accident, the farm, a photography contest) that everything gets a very perfunctory treatment instead of going into more detail. At 288 pages All You Get is Me is a fairly short book and ultimately needed tighter pacing and plotting to be really compelling.

The jacket copy makes comparisons to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Which, surprisingly, does actually work. The slice of life treatment, though not as well done as Lee’s classic, does bring to mind To Kill a Mockingbird. All You Get is Me could be an interesting modern companion to that title even if it may not be quite as memorable.