It’s Not Summer Without You: A Review

cover art for It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny HanBeing with Conrad was supposed to make everything better, but instead it’s one more thing that’s fallen apart in the aftermath of Susannah getting sick again.

Belly doesn’t know who she is without summers at Cousins Beach. She doesn’t know what to make of Conrad’s apathy or the distance that’s grown between them since last summer.

In a year where so many things have changed, Belly isn’t sure if she can keep pining for Conrad. All she really knows is that when Jeremiah calls to tell her that Conrad has disappeared, she has to help find him in It’s Not Summer Without You (2010) by Jenny Han.

Find it on Bookshop.

It’s Not Summer Without You is the second book in Han’s Summer trilogy which begins in The Summer I Turned Pretty.

Belly narrates most of this book with a few chapters interspersed from Jeremiah’s point of view. Belly spends so much of this series focused on Conrad that it was interesting to see more of Jeremiah’s perspective.

With the addition of Jeremiah’s chapters and the story shifting away from Cousins, all of the characters are more developed here. The tension between Belly and both Fisher boys is palpable as all three try to reconcile themselves to the loss of the summer cocoon that used to bind them together.

It’s Not Summer Without You is a melancholy installment but the series is stronger because of it as another layer of depth is added to the story. Han takes the familiar elements from The Summer I Turned Pretty and inverts them to make this an entirely new reading experience.

It’s Not Summer Without You is, of course, a must-read for fans of the series and as much of a page-turner as you’re likely to find in a breezy contemporary–let’s just say I gasped more than once as I made my way to the end of this book!

Possible Pairings: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen, The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon,Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian, The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg

A Conspiracy of Kings: A (Reread) Review

Sophos has always known that he is too soft and too scholarly to be a proper heir to his uncle the king of Sounis. When he is exiled to the island of Letnos after parting ways with the magus and a thief who proved too clever for his own good, Sophos is free to spend his days reading poetry and contemplating philosophy even if it is in the company of an odious tutor.

All of that changes the moment Letnos is attacked and Sophos is abducted. Hidden away and rendered unrecognizable, Sophos has a chance to turn away from his responsibilities as Sounis’ heir.

It is not easy to become a king. But it turns out it’s even harder to forsake your own country. Navigating the murky waters of friendship and sovereignty, Sophos will have to decide if old friends can become new allies and whether or not honor, or freedom for that matter, have anything to do with ruling a country in A Conspiracy of Kings (2010) by Megan Whalen Turner.

Find it on Bookshop.

A Conspiracy of Kings is the fourth book in Turner’s Queen’s Thief series and continues Sophos’ story–a character first introduced as one of Gen’s travel companions back in The Thief. Sophos narrates this novel in the first person. Throughout most of the novel he is talking to someone as he relates the story of what brought him all the way to Attolia after a dangerous journey across Sounis. The second person is a hard tense to negotiate but it works well here and realizing who Sophos is talking to is a revelation in itself.

Perception always plays a role in Turner’s books and A Conspiracy of Kings is no exception. The manipulations here are even more subtle as Sophos tries to fit the present Eugenides as king of Attolia with his memories of Gen the thief. In addition to that, Sophos’ own self-perception also comes into play with a fascinating character study through his narration.

Sophos is a guileless character and he is very aware of his limitations throughout the story. He is sensitive, he blushes at the drop of a hat, he is not an experienced swordsman, the list goes on. Because of this, Sophos’ narration is refreshingly forthright and direct. Sophos is quick to explain his internal struggles and even some of his shortcomings as he tries to come to terms with the shocking reality that he is responsible for the fate of an entire country. Of course, that only tells part of the story as Sophos fails to notice the ways in which he himself has changed and grown on his journey to becoming a king in his own right.

Much of this series focuses on Eugenides’ journey from boy to man and by extension from his path from man to king. A Conspiracy of Kings is a slightly different story as Sophos acknowledges not only that he is a king but also that he might have been meant to be king all along.

This book has my favorite ending of the entire series. I love the dialogue that concludes this story and I especially enjoy tracing the path of Sophos and Gen’s friendship as they begin to meet each other on equal footing. A Conspiracy of Kings is another arresting story filled with evocative prose and characters that are guaranteed to resonate.

If you enjoy A Conspiracy of Kings, you can read more about Eugenides (and Eddis, Sounis, and Attolia) in The Thief, The Queen of AttoliaThe King of Attolia and Thick as Thieves.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers,Soundless by Richelle Mead, Sabriel by Garth Nix, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The Sky is Everywhere: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You can tell your story any way you damn well please. It’s your solo.”

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy NelsonLennie Walker plays second clarinet, reads avidly, and always acted as a sounding board and companion for her dynamic older sister, Bailey. Lennie had always known that Bailey was the star of their family. She never minded.

When Bailey dies suddenly, Lennie feels like the world has tilted off its axis. Her grandmother and Uncle Big are both hurting too. But none of them seem to know how to talk to each other anymore let alone articulate the full scope of their grief.

Toby, Bailey’s boyfriend, offers Lennie an unlikely source of comfort. Toby is just as wrecked as her and might be the only person who can fully understand the enormity of Bailey’s absence. Lennie knows her sister wouldn’t approve of the physical turn their relationship has taken. But Lennie also doesn’t know how to stop.

Joe, a new boy in town, seems determined to befriend Lennie and lift her out of her sorrow, Lennie finds herself swept along with his exuberant enthusiasm for life. Joe makes Lennie happy and reminds her of the girl she used to be before Bailey died–and maybe even shows her an improved version she can be now. After. But Lennie doesn’t know how she can ever let Joe make her feel so happy and so alive when Bailey is gone.

Lennie knows that Toby and Joe can’t exist in the same world, that they can’t both be part of her life forever. But she also doesn’t know how to choose in The Sky is Everywhere (2010) by Jandy Nelson.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Sky is Everywhere is frenetic, serendipitous, and sometimes painful–things readers will recognize in Nelson’s subsequent Printz/Stonewall Award winning I’ll Give You the Sun.

This story has the same sense of wonder, the same vibrancy found in I’ll Give You the Sun. Even Lennie’s narrative voice is familiar compared to that of Noah and Jude. Unfortunately, The Sky is Everywhere lacks the tight plotting and pacing. While utterly sympathetic, Lennie’s story often feels meandering and contrived.

This novel is peppered with memorable characters, especially in Lennie’s grandmother and local Lothario Uncle Big. Moments of share grief are contrasted sharply against these quirky and strong personalities.

Lennie’s hurt and grief are palpable as she tries to reconcile the fact that she is still alive and growing up with the reality that Bailey never will. Nelson expertly communicates the suffocating nature of that sadness in Lennie’s first person narration. Each chapter also begins with a poem Lennie has written and left somewhere around town.

Although Lennie spends the novel torn between two boys, The Sky is Everywhere is largely introspective and firmly focused on Lennie. In some ways both Toby and Joe often feel under-developed by comparison as they help Lennie’s development. Romantic elements aside, this book is very much about a character learning to find her voice and articulate her wants and feelings.

The Sky is Everywhere remains a solid debut and a thoughtful meditation on grief, loss, and moving on. Nelson includes a compelling romance with a bit of a love triangle and, of course, an empowering character who only grows stronger and more confident as the novel progresses. Recommended for fans of Nelson’s and readers looking for a story in this vein. (Just don’t expect it to measure up if you read I’ll Give You the Sun first.)

Possible Pairings: Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali, Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go by Kristin Bartley Lenz, The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, You Are the Everything by Karen Rivers, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Odd One Out by Nic Stone, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Library Wars: Manga Series Review

Library Wars by Kiiro YumiLibrary Wars: Love & War by Kiiro Yumi (based on the novels by Hiro Arikawa, translated by Kinami Watabe)

The series follows Iku Kasahara as she joins the Library Defense Force in near-future Japan. The LDF is a militant group comprised of librarians and soldiers who work together to fight the forced censorship of the Media Betterment Committee through any means necessary.

Iku has dreamed of joining the LDF since one of its soldiers stepped in to save her favorite book from being confiscated–something Iku could not do herself as a mere schoolgirl.

Inspired by the shining example of her so-called prince, Iku is determined to become the best LDF operative that she can. Iku’s dedication is challenged when she butts heads repeatedly with Instructor Dojo. While he is competent and can teach Iku a lot, he also seems to have it in for her. Will Iku survive training? Will Dojo ever warm up to her? Will Iku ever learn the true identity of her prince?

All of these questions and more are answered over the course of this fifteen volume manga series.

Library Wars: Love & War is far and away my favorite manga of all time.

I discovered this series in 2011 when I was in library school. Since then I faithfully read every volume as they came out and became available at my library. It was bittersweet when I read the final installment this summer and realized the series was truly over.

Because of the serialized nature of mangas, this series is a great choice to binge. I devoured these volumes and even though I just finished the series, I’m already thinking about a re-read. Yumi’s artwork is expressive and humorous as Iku negotiates her fraught relationship with Dojo with the everyday rigors of life as an LDF agent.

Library Wars: Love & War is fast-paced and filled with action (and if I’m being honest with lots of flirting and romance too). The love-hate dynamic between Iku and Dojo is, of course, at the heart of this series and remains a driving force for most of the installments.

As a librarian, Library Wars: Love & War holds a special place in my heart (though I’m glad I don’t have any militant aspects to my current job!). Highly recommended for anyone who is bookish and looking to get into manga. A great choice for someone looking for a series with a set number of volumes too.

Birthmarked: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'BrienIn a future where the world has been baked dry and the Great Lakes are empty craters, sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone’s world is divided by the walls of the Enclave. The privileged few living inside the walls want for nothing; their lives the stuff of legend with decadence and comfort documented for all to admire at the Tvaltar.

Gaia Stone has always known that her place is outside the walls. The Enclave does not welcome people with scars or burns especially not when they are as visible as the one on Gaia’s face. Like her mother before her, Gaia works as a midwife helping the women in Western Sector 3 deliver their babies. Like her mother, Gaia also fills the baby quota each month by “advancing” a handful of newborns to live inside the Enclave walls.

It is only after her parents are arrested that Gaia begins to wonder about the true purpose of the baby quote and what else the Enclave might be hiding. Gaia knows she has to try to infiltrate the Enclave and rescue her parents no matter the risk in Birthmarked (2010) by Caragh M. O’Brien.

Find it on Bookshop.

Birthmarked is O’Brien’s first novel and the start of her Birthmarked trilogy which continues with Prized and Promised.

Birthmarked is utterly engrossing and atmospheric. Readers are immediately drawn into Gaia’s world and the complex politics surrounding the Enclave. Third person narration and flashbacks to Gaia’s past lend an introspective quality to this otherwise taut narrative.

Gaia’s arc throughout the story is handled extremely well as she begins to learn more about the Enclave and the politics surrounding it. O’Brien expertly demonstrates Gaia’s growth as well as her changing attitudes throughout the novel.

Every detail in Birthmarked is thoughtfully placed within a complex world and intricate prose where even the vocabulary is often unique and the dialog simmers with unspoken chemistry. Although this novel starts a trilogy, it also offers a self-contained story that leaves room to ponder and to savor. Birthmarked is a fast-paced, vibrant book that is absolutely brilliant. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Eve by Anna Carey, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Wither by Lauren DeStefano, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, Everless by Sara Holland, The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Skyhunter by Marie Lu, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

A Spy in the House: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y. S. LeeMary Quinn is twelve years old when she is arrested for theft and sentenced to hang in London in 1853.

Rescued from the gallows, Mary receives an extraordinary offer of an education and proper upbringing at Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls. Hidden behind the cover of a finishing school, The Agency works as an all-female investigative unit.

Five years later, with her training nearly complete, Mary is offered her first assignment working undercover as a lady’s companion. Stationed in a rich merchant’s home, Mary is tasked with helping along the investigation into missing cargo ships.

As Mary delves deeper into her investigation she soon discovers that everyone in the household is hiding something in A Spy in the House (2010) by Y. S. Lee.

Find it on Bookshop.

A Spy in the House is Lee’s first novel. It is also the start of The Agency series (and consequently sometimes referred to as The Agency–by me at least).

Lee presents a well-researched, thoroughly engrossing mystery here. A Spy in the House evokes the gritty and glamorous parts of 1850s London with pitch-perfect descriptions. The dialog also feels true to the period with no jarring, obviously modern, turns of phrase.

The story is filled with twists and also some very smart observations about race, feminism and what being a woman with agency might have looked like in 1850s London. Although the ending is a bit rushed there is still an ideal balance between closure and hints of what to expect in future installments. The resolution is quite surprising in a way that is especially satisfying for a Victorian mystery.

Mary is a capable, pragmatic heroine who is as smart as she is endearing. With just a hint of romantic flirtation that is realistic and witty (and decidedly lacking in instant love), A Spy in the House

Possible Pairings:  I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter, The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, Dangerous Alliance: An Austentacious Romance by Jennieke Cohen, These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, The Invention of Sophie Carter by Samantha Hastings, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson

Death Cloud: A Review

Death Cloud by Andew LaneDeath Cloud by Andrew Lane (2010)

Summer 1868: After an interminable year away at boarding school, fourteen-year-old Sherlock Holmes is eager to return to the family home where he can explore to his heart’s content and see his father and mother. Sherlock is crushed when his older brother Mycroft instead tells Sherlock he will be staying with distant relatives in Hampshire.

Dismayed at this horrible turn of events, Sherlock is prepared for a terrible summer. Then he meets a drifter about his own age named Matty Arnett as well as an unconventional tutor named Amyus Crowe. Together the trio are soon drawn into a mystery involving a dead body, noxious gasses and–strangest of all–a cloud that seems to move with purpose.

Death Cloud is the first book in Lane’s Young Sherlock Holmes series.

Mystery fans and fans of the worlds greatest detective will all find something to enjoy in this action-packed adventure. Lane gains momentum throughout the narrative seemingly becoming more comfortable with writing about this famous character as the story progresses. Much in the grand tradition of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original novels, Lane offers a madcap mystery with imaginative devices and a villain that will likely follow young Sherlock throughout the series.

Lane also offers nods to what seasoned readers know lies in store for Sherlock as well as new insights into how Crowe, Shelock’s tutor, helped shape his deductive reasoning. In fact, the biggest problem with Death Cloud is reconciling this young boy who is observant but often also less-than-learned with the brilliant detective that has become part of the public consciousness. While some teachable moments between Sherlock and Crowe feel forced (as Lane tries to use what Sherlock doesn’t know to anticipate that which younger readers may not know) the story and characters come together nicely here.

Death Cloud is an approachable, engaging mystery that will appeal to readers (and Sherlock fans) of all ages.

Possible Pairings:  Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley-Archer, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy, Jackaby by William Ritter, The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

The Space Between Trees: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Space Between Trees by Katie WilliamsSixteen-year-old Evie is always ready to share a good story. The problem is that sometimes those stories start to look a lot like lies. Especially when Evie tries to claim the story as her own in the telling.

That’s how things start with Jonah Luks. Before she knows it, Evie is spinning out a largely imagined relationship with the older college dropout she encounters every week on her paper route. It’s a harmless story and an even more harmless crush. Nothing else.

Until Evie sees Jonah report the dead body he found in the woods. Until Evie watches the body being pulled out of the woods in a bag.

In her efforts to write herself into this new, worse, story Evie’s lies become bigger; harder to contain and impossible to ignore. Everything changes after the body is found in the woods and people begin to wonder what sort of violence has come into their secluded community. What Evie doesn’t realize, at least not right away, is that in the wake of this story she might change too in The Space Between Trees (2010) by Katie Williams.

The Space Between Trees is an expertly told story with flawless pacing. The mystery surrounding the murder unfolds in a natural and believable way that makes for a seamless plot. Evie is a fascinating narrator. She is unreliable on a very basic level with everyone she interacts with during the story. Nothing Evie says can be taken as the exact, full, truth. Yet to readers Evie is achingly honest as she shares her observations and hopes in equal measure.

This is a deceptively short story with layers upon layers of interpretation and a nice bit of substance under the mystery elements. Williams raises interesting questions here about what it means to tell stories versus the truth as well as pondering along with Evie how experiences (both told and lived) can shape a person.

The Space Between Trees is literary and thoughtful in a way that feels effortless. Evie is a strong and utterly original narrator who is as flawed as she is insightful. Like its heroine, this mystery that will stay with readers long after the final story is told. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Shift by Jennifer Bradbury, What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, All Fall Down by Ally Carter, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller,The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Liar by Justine Larbalestier, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, I am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Blank Confession: A (Rapid Fire) Review

Blank Confession by Pete HautmanBlank Confession (2010) by Pete Hautman

Shayne Blank doesn’t expect to make friends or even really get to know anyone when he comes to town. Then he walks into the police station to confess to a murder. Shayne’s confession is woven with a narrative from the perspectives of Shayne’s newest (most well-dressed) friend Mikey and the world weary detective interviewing Shayne.

The story here has good writing as well as an intriguing premise. Unfortunately that does not make for a good book in this case. Mikey, who narrates most of the story, is a caricature at best with his pipsqueak persona and suit-wearing style. The phrasing throughout the novel verges on the absurd with motorcycles being referred to as “crotch rockets” at least three times, among other atrocities.

Shayne is an under-developed character. Readers learn more about him in the last chapter than they do in the entire rest of the novel. While the idea is sound, and the story is short making it potentially great for reluctant readers, the characters drag this book down. The premise of a high school bully having the capacity to menace an entire town quickly wears thin as do the stunningly flat female character (because yes, there is only one).

Cloaked in Red: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande VeldeSome fairy tales are just problematic. Rumpelstiltskin’s motivations are fuzzy at best. Does Rapunzel’s mother really need lettuce that badly?

Then you have Little Red Riding Hood. How oblivious can one child be? Why was she left unsupervised in the woods? Why a red hood at all?

Many questions. Not so many answers.

Plenty of opportunities for new retellings in Cloaked in Red (2010) by Vivian Vande Velde.

This collection runs in the same vein as Vande Velde’s earlier collection The Rumpelstiltskin Problem. An author’s note starts the volume in which Vande Velde outlines the numerous problems with the original Little Red Riding Hood.

In the eight stories in this collection Vande Velde offers a different slant on the story. “Little Red Riding Hood’s Family” offers a very clever, whimsical explanation of why Little Red would not be concerned to find her grandmother looking like a wolf. “Granny and the Wolf” delves deeper into the relationship between Granny and the woodcutter (not to mention the wolf). “Deems the Woodcutter” is a delightful story about a myopic woodcutter who misguidedly helps quite a few familiar fairy tale characters while out gathering wood.

While this collection ignores some of the darker undertones of the Perrault* version of the story–and only nods to the Grimm version in “Why Willy and His Borther Won’t Ever Amount to Anything” without mentioning Perrault at all–the collection is solid with a range of stories to appeal to readers of every age and persuasion.

With a snappy tone and amusing starts to every story along the lines of “Once upon a time, before department stores and designer labels . . .” Cloaked in Red is filled with stories that are approachable and fun. This would be a great collection to pair with picture book versions of Little Red Riding Hood, to read aloud, or even to use as a primer on short story writing.

*The moral from the Perrault story is as follows: “Children, especially attractive, well bred young ladies, should never talk to strangers, for if they should do so, they may well provide dinner for a wolf. I say “wolf,” but there are various kinds of wolves. There are also those who are charming, quiet, polite, unassuming, complacent, and sweet, who pursue young women at home and in the streets. And unfortunately, it is these gentle wolves who are the most dangerous ones of all.” It’s safe to say the moral is hinting at a bit more than actual wolves.

Possible Pairings: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Curiosities by Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stiefvater and Brenna Yovanoff, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

You can find some different version of Little Red Riding Hood (including both Perrault’s and Grimm’s) here: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/type0333.html