The Storyspinner: A Review

The Storyspinner by Becky WallaceThe Keepers have been searching for the long-missing princess for years. They have used their magic and more traditional skills but the princess, long rumored dead, has proven elusive leaving room for rival dukes to compete and connive as they struggle to claim her throne for themselves.

Johanna–a Performer left without a troupe after her father’s grisly demise–thinks such matters are far above her station in life. Until murdered girls begin turning up across the kingdom bearing a striking resemblance to Johanna.

Desperate to support her family and a victim of circumstance Johanna is soon forced to work with Lord Rafael DeSilva. Unfortunately for her, Rafi is boorish and insufferable. Not to mention he shares an equally low opinion of Johanna.

When her path aligns with the hunt for the princess, Johanna finds herself at the center of a dangerous web of secrets that could cost Johanna her life in The Storyspinner (2015) by Becky Wallace.

The Storyspinner is Wallace’s debut novel and part of a duology that concludes in The Skylighter.

This novel is written in close third person and alternates between seven points of view including Johanna and Rafi. This multitude of main characters allows Wallace to balance two narrative threads that eventually converge and maintain some surprise although transitions between chapters and characters are often abrupt. Making so many characters into “main” characters leaves little room to develop any of them. Instead of a multi-faceted ensemble cast, The Storyspinner feels like it is populated by one note characters including from the sage wielder of magic, the resentful sister trying to prove herself, and more.

Wallace situates her fantasy in a fictional world that borrows heavily from Portuguese culture with language, food, and more. While this adds flair to the story, it seems out of place with an explanation for where these elements come from.

The Storyspinner starts strong with an intriguing premise that fails to get very far before it is mired in an overly large cast of characters. Recommended for readers looking for a plot driven story that is light on the world building and heavy on the action.

Possible Pairings: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, The Shadow Queen by C. J. Redwine, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

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The Marvels: A Review

The Marvels by Brian SelznickThe story starts in 1776 with Billy Marvel, the only survivor of a shipwreck. Alone in the world and looking to start over Billy finds himself drawn to a London theater beginning a dynasty of actors and theater performers that will span five generations.

In 1990 Joseph Jervis runs away from his boarding school to the home of an estranged uncle he has never met. Uncle Albert’s house is like nothing Joseph has ever seen. As he struggles to find his place in the world, Joseph will also have to unravel the mystery of the strange Marvel family and how their story is intricately linked to Joseph’s family and his own future in The Marvels (2015) by Brian Selznick.

The Marvels is Selznick’s third novel in his innovative blend of traditional prose narrative and wordless illustrations. This time the illustrations and prose offer two distinct stories that blend together in surprising ways by the end of the novel.

The Marvels begins with wordless illustrations following the larger-than-life Marvel family and their exploits on the London stage from 1776 with Billy Marvel down to 1900 when young Leo Marvel wonders if it is time to choose another path.

The prose narrative picks up in 1990 as Joseph arrives in London desperate to find somewhere he can call home–even if it is with a prickly uncle he has never met in a strange house filled with artifacts whose important Joseph will come to understand over the course of the book.

The less you know about The Marvels before you read it, the better. This book is one that should be experienced cold as readers work with Joseph to make sense of Uncle Albert’s mysterious house and all of the secrets it holds.

The Marvels is an obvious progression of Selznick’s work as he masterfully brings together two seemingly unrelated narratives to create a cohesive story that is as complex as it is enthralling. Definitely a must-read of 2015.

If you want to know more about Selznick’s inspiration and process, check out this article: http://www.vulture.com/2015/08/brian-selznicks-latest-the-marvels.html

You can also check out the trailer which Selznick created to get a sense of the sweeping beauty of this novel.

Possible Pairings: A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine, Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai, Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt, Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool, One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, Weedflower by Jacqueline Woodson

Famous in Love: A Review

“I can’t touch him. The only thing I want to do is run to him and have him put his arms around me, to take me someplace that isn’t here. Someplace it’s just the two of us and none of this matters. But I can’t do that because no one knows. Not Wyatt and not Sandy, not even Cassandra. They think we’re just friends–that I belong to someone else. They don’t know that I’ve made a huge mistake. They don’t know that, like August, I chose wrong.”

Famous in Love by Rebecca SerleSeventeen-year-old Paige Townsen never expected her audition to for the coveted part of August to come to anything. She never thought she’d be the only unknown picked to star in the next big blockbuster when the bestselling book Locked was adapted for the big screen.

Except that’s exactly what happens and suddenly instead of starring in community theater productions and high school shorts, Paige is at the center of a major production. Her co-star, Rainer Devon, is right at Paige’s side helping her make sense of her sudden fame and the rigors that come from movie production.

When troubled actor Jordan Wilder is cast as the final piece in the love triangle at the center of the film, Paige’s life begins to uncomfortably imitate art as she is torn between these two very different young men. With everything changing, Paige will have to figure out who she is before she can begin to choose who she wants in Famous in Love (2014) by Rebecca Serle.

Famous in Love is the first book in a trilogy. The “book-within-the-book” Locked is also slated for a tie-in publication.

Serle draws inspiration from real life celebrity drama to create this story of fame and romance. Readers will be with Paige from the start when she first hears about the audition right through to the post-production of the first film. While Paige vacillates between Rainer and Jordan throughout the book, both relationships feel authentic and offer very different things for Paige.

Although Paige’s friends and family often feel like one-note characters, they are happily present showing that Paige had a life before getting famous and will have support for whatever pitfalls Hollywood may have in store. Being the first in a trilogy, readers can expect a lot more love-triangle based drama as Paige is forced to choose both on-screen and off.

Famous in Love is an all-access pass to what happens off camera and behind the curtains of a movie production. Sure to appeal to hopeless romantics, celebrity junkies and movie fans alike.

Possible Pairings: Behind the Scenes by Dahlia Adler, Now & Forever by Susane Colasanti, Not in the Script by Amy Finnegan, A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall, Open Road Summer by Emery Lord, The Romantics by Leah Konen, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

*A copy of this book was required for review consideration from the publisher at BEA 2014*

Since You’ve Been Gone: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Since You've Been Gone by Morgan MatsonEmily had planned to have the Best Summer Ever with her best friend Sloane. Ever since she met Sloane two years ago, it felt like everything was better. Emily could be braver and more interesting just by virtue of being around Sloane.

But then Sloane disappears. No emails. No calls. No texts. Suddenly, the perfect summer Emily had imagined with her best friend is a lost cause. With her little brother busy trying to climb everything in sight and her parents starting a new play, Emily is expecting some quality wallowing time in her near future.

Then the list arrives after Sloane has been gone for two weeks.

This isn’t the first time Sloane has sent Emily a list of random, sometimes scary, things to do. But now, with Sloane gone, Emily hopes that completing the list might also help her figure out where exactly Sloane has gone.

With the help of some unlikely friends, Sloane starts working her way through the list. Apple picking at night should be easy. Dancing until dawn might actually be fun. Kissing a stranger could go either way. Skinny dipping? Stealing something? Those might take a little more work in Since You’ve Been Gone (2014) by Morgan Matson.

Since You’ve Been Gone is Matson’s third novel. (It includes a surprise behind the dust jacket so be sure to check that out!)

From the cover and book design to the plotting and story, Since You’ve Been Gone is a perfect package. Every piece makes sense. Every aspect of the story clicks. Matson delivers a strong and immediately accessible story here.

Most of the story occurs during the course of Emily’s summer. Matson also includes key flashbacks to Emily and Sloane’s relationship to highlight the arc of their friendship. The flashbacks also add just the right amount of tension to the story as readers wonder what might have changed between these two girls.

Emily is a deceptive narrator, initially seeming passive and very meek. During the course of Since You’ve Been Gone readers can see Emily’s obvious growth as a character. Matson also delivers spot-on secondary characters ranging from Emily’s quirky brother and playwright parents to the friends she never expected to find in Frank, Collins and Dawn.

While Emily loses Sloane before the novel even starts, this book is very much about finding things–including a very authentic and charming romance. In her efforts to complete the list, Emily finds inner courage and maybe even a little bit of herself. Sloane’s tasks also add a nice structure to the story as each chapter focuses on one task and how its completion unfolds–often in unexpected ways. Since You’ve Been Gone is an effervescent, delightful read that is sure to leave readers smiling.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, City Love by Susane Colasanti, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Reunited by Lauren Weisman Graham, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson, The Romantics by Leah Konen, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, Open Road Summer by Emery Lord, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills, Flannery by Lisa Moore, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, Even in Paradise by Chelsea Philpot, Damaged by Amy Reed, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott

Just Being Audrey: A Picture Book Review

Just Being Audrey by Margaret Cardillo, illustrated by Julia Denos

Just Being AudreyAs the title suggests, this picture book is about Audrey Hepburn–her early life, her aspirations to become a ballerina, her success in Hollywood and her later-life work with UNICEF.

I love Audrey, who doesn’t? Cardillo’s text was an interesting insight into the background of an actress who many still remember as the epitome of style and elegance. The text offered an interesting but slightly unbalanced look at Audrey’s life from her childhood to her old age. (A timeline at the back details key events that were not mentioned in the narrative.) However there are very few transitions with each page spread seeming to have little connection to the pages that come before or after. The overall effect was a very choppy story albeit one filled with interesting tidbits.

Denos’  illustrations are gorgeous with beautiful details and color. The pictures all have a lovely sense of movement as Audrey “glides” through the pages.

There is certainly enough here to pique a child’s interest about Audrey Hepburn but fans looking for more thorough information will have to find a different book.

This would be a fun addition to a “non-fiction” or “biography” themed storytime with it’s large, bright pictures and relatively short text.

Just One Day: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Just One Day by Gayle FormanAfter a whirlwind tour through Europe, Allyson is looking forward to returning home and starting college in the fall. Even if it means missing Paris and even if the tour wasn’t everything Allyson thought it would be.

Two days before she is set to return home, Allyson sees an underground production of Twelfth Night that unexpectedly changes everything.

Accompanied by a laid-back Dutch actor named Willem as her guide, Allyson spends a whirlwind day in Paris where, finally, Allyson understands what her European tour was meant to feel like. As she and Willem grow closer, Allyson starts to understand what a lot of things are supposed to feel like.

At least, she thought she did.

When Allyson wakes up the next day to find Willem already gone, Allyson’s previous certainty shatters.

Starting college in the wake of Willem’s abrupt departure, Allyson starts to fall apart. She knows what is expected of her. She even knows most of what’s wrong. But she has no idea what she wants. No idea how to fix anything.

One day gave Allyson the chance to change everything even if it meant losing Willem. With one year, Allyson might be able to finally find herself in Just One Day (2013) by Gayle Forman.

Just One Day is the first novel in a duet. Willem’s story, Just One Year is set to publish in fall 2013.

Forman expertly chronicles Allyson’s self-destruction during her first semester of college as well as her efforts to start fresh (with a tabula rasa, if you will) in the following term. Allyson’s changing relationships with her family and friends are also handled well in the story.

Filled with travel and a variety of settings, Just One Day is a vivid trip through Europe filled with descriptions of all of the sights Allyson takes in over the course of her story. I also loved the inclusion of so many Shakespeare references as counterpoints to Allyson’s experiences. The underlying buoyancy and serendipity of the story is refreshing as (after the obligatory wallowing) Allyson works on moving forward.

Told over the course of one whirlwind day and the subsequently turbulent year, Just One Day is ostensibly a love story–or at least a story of lost love. Except it’s also a more than that. Knowing that the book is part of a duet, there will of course be answers about Willem’s disappearance and his own feelings about Allyson. However, by the end of the story, that’s very secondary to the story of Allyson finding herself and figuring out what she wants.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, City Love by Susane Colasanti, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, Stranger in the Forest by Eric Hansen, Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes and The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, Summer in the Invisible City by Juliana Romano, Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, As You Like It by William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, The Statistical Probability of True Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Drama: A (graphic!) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Drama by Raina TelgemeierCallie loves everything about theater productions even if a certain lack of skills will keep her backstage. That’s okay because Callie is a great set designer and she is totally pumped about her middle school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi.

But creating a Broadway-worthy set with a middle school’s budget (and rules) isn’t easy.

Turns out staging a production brings a lot of drama both onstage and offstage for Callie and her friends. Will the play survive cranky actors, prop malfunctions, and a whole production’s worth of romantic mishaps? Will Callie get to make the cannon that is crucial to her vision? Will Callie’s best friend Liz survive all of her trips to the spooky basement costume storage?

It might get messy but no one can say this year’s production will be anything less than exciting in Drama (2013) by Raina Telgemeier.

Drama is a totally endearing, full color graphic novel full of effervescent fun. The story itself is almost as exuberant as our intrepid heroine, Callie. Plucky, fun, refreshingly confident and outspoken Callie is a girl readers will love as someone to cheer for (and maybe someone they recognize from their own experiences).

Telgemeier offers up another delightfully cheerful story with substance and fantastic artwork. No detail is forgotten in the illustrations–even body language and whispers are perfectly clear. Drama completely immerses readers into Callie’s life and the intricacies of being part of the stage crew. A great read for anyone with a love of musicals and the theater.

Possible Pairings: Will by Maria Boyd, Skinny by Donna Crooner, Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg, Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks, The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow, Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson, A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2012*

Exclusive Bonus Content: I’m seeing some reviews talking about the content in this book being too “mature” for the intended audience (or maybe younger as some mentioned fourth and fifth graders). I completely disagree BUT if you are wondering SPOILERS can explain: Several characters come out during the course of the story which contributes to the overall drama. One kiss is shown and nothing else. I don’t have experience with such topics but the number of kids (because, really, I do think seventh and eighth graders are still kids not teens) who were comfortable and aware enough of their sexuality to identify as gay felt . . . surprisingly high. THAT SAID I think Telgemeier handled everything she presented perfectly given the intended audience and I’m sure a lot of middle school kids are going to eat this up. As with most content-related issues it absolutely depends on the reader. At the end of the day, it’s totally fine to walk away from a book because it’s not what you wanted it to be–no matter what the reason.