Shuffle, Repeat: A Review

Shuffle, Repeat by Jen KleinJune knows with every fiber of her being that high school doesn’t matter. The friends she makes, the traditions, the classes–none of it matters in the long run. At the start of her senior year of high school, June already has her eye on starting college when her real life can begin.

Oliver loves high school. He revels in the rituals like prom and sports, the traditions like senior pranks. Oliver plans to make the most of his high school experience and be able to look back on every moment fondly when he gets older.

June and Oliver have known each other for years, an annoying side effect of their mothers being best friends. But they don’t get to know each other until the start of their senior year when their mothers arrange for Oliver to drive June to school. Every day.

Awkwardly quiet drives slowly begin to shift to heated debates about music, musings about life, and more. As they get to know each other, both June and Oliver will have to decide if young love has a place in a world where high school doesn’t much matter. Unless maybe it does . . . in Shuffle, Repeat (2016) by Jen Klein.

In this standalone contemporary, Klein throws together complete opposites and explores what might happen next. Despite much of this story taking place during car rides, Shuffle, Repeat has a strong sense of place with evocative descriptions of June and Oliver’s quaint town.

June and Oliver are both white but the book is filled with a varied cast of misfits among their unique groups of friends. June’s best friend–a gay boy with Indian family–gets an especially heartwarming side story throughout the novel.

Philosophical discussions about what matters in life contrast well with vocal discussions of music and classic high school moments (the book begins with June nervously making her way to prom and then backtracks to the start of the school year).

June is an often abrasive first-person narrator. She is not afraid to state her opinions and she is stubborn when those convictions are challenged. She jumps to conclusions and is, frankly, judgemental when it comes to her preconceived notions about Oliver.

But Shuffle, Repeat isn’t about June being right all the time. Instead, through her relationship with Oliver and generally moving through the school year, June begins to realize she might have been wrong about a lot of things.

Shuffle, Repeat is a smart story with a fun romance. Snappy dialogue, an honest-to-a-fault narrator, and plenty of senior year shenanigans make this a great summer read. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Never, Always, Sometimes by Adi Alsaid, The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, P. S. I Like You by Kasie West

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The Wonderful Things You Will Be: A Picture Book Review

“When you were too small

To tell me hello,

I knew you were someone

I wanted to know.

 

“For all of your tininess

Couldn’t disguise

A heart so enormous . . .

And wild . . .

And wise.”

The Wonderful Things You Will Be by Emily Winfield MartinThe Wonderful Things You Will Be (2015) by Emily Winfield Martin is the rare picture book that truly has something for everyone. This thoughtful, quiet story imagines all of the things little ones (both babies and bigger kids) will grow up to be including creative and clever as well as brave and bold.

Martin’s rhyming text moves the narrative along with lyrical narration reminiscent of a poem or a lullaby. Although this book is an obvious choice for parents to read with their children, it can also work just as well in a story time program. The text is just a tad too long for a baby story time but I could see toddlers or school age children being drawn in by the bright colors and rhymes.

This picture book also add just the right touch of whimsy with subtle touches including children dressed as animals and other fantastical aspirations. Each page has ample white space for text combined with bright, colorful illustrations. The Wonderful Things You Will Be includes children from a variety of backgrounds as well as boys and girls. It also thoughtfully circumvents many gendered or cultural stereotypes to create sensitive depictions of each child.

The Wonderful Things You Will Be is a subtle, charming picture book sure to appeal to readers of all ages. A joy to read.

(Thanks to Stefani at Caught Read Handed for recommending this one to me!)

Unmade: A Review

*Unmade is the third book in Rees Brennan’s Lynburn Legacy trilogy which begins with Unspoken and continues in Untold. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one!*

Unmade by Sarah Rees BrennanThe boy Kami loves is gone. She is tied to a different boy. Her town is under siege. And her enemies are only getting stronger.

Kami tries to push her grief for Jared aside because she refuses to imagine a world where Jared might not be okay. But even with a new link between herself and Ash, Kami isn’t sure she will be strong enough to fight Rob Lynburn and save Sorry-in-the-Vale.

Rob is demanding a sacrifice. And Kami isn’t sure her town is strong enough to resist. Kami will have to risk everything in order to save her town and the people she loves in Unmade (2014) by Sarah Rees Brennan.

Unmade is the third book in Rees Brennan’s Lynburn Legacy trilogy which begins with Unspoken and continues in Untold. Rees Brennan pulls no punches in this action-packed final book.

The novel picks up a few months after the conclusion of Untold with Kami and her friends still reeling from Jared’s disappearance and Rob’s crushing victory in taking control of Sorry-in-the-Vale.

With time running out and the stakes climbing ever higher, Kami and her friends face impossible choices (and sacrifice in their efforts to save their town). These moments are tempered with Rees Brennan’s signature wit and the banter readers of this series have come to expect. Unmade also happily features Kami’s father, the delightfully irreverent Jon Glass, and Lillian Lynburn in more prominent roles.

Although Unmade is very action-driven, the story also spends time with all of the characters readers have come to love in this series. Readers coming to this series for the romance will not be disappointed as Kami gets to deal with kissing and break ups while fighting evil and performing magic. Watching Lillian’s changing feelings about Ash and Jared is especially touching while Kami’s own changing family dynamic is suitably realistic.

Unmade is a clever ending to a truly unique trilogy. Rees Brennan takes time to give each character the sendoff that they deserve. This series is highly recommended for readers looking for a modern take on the Gothic novel, witty banter, and loads of excitement.

Possible Pairings: Compulsion by Martina Boone, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Dreamology by Lucy Keating, The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow and David Ostow, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, The Dolls by Kiki Sullivan, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Veronica Mars

Untold: A Review

*Untold is the second book in Rees Brennan’s Lynburn Legacy trilogy which begins with Unspoken. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one!*

“Let’s not front. We all know magic is real.”

Untold by Sarah Rees BrennanKami Glass thought she knew everything there was to know about her small English town Sorry-in-the-Vale; she was certain she had her town’s story figured out.

Then the Lynburns came back, bringing magic with them as well as Jared Lynburn–the boy Kami has known for her entire life as a voice inside her head.

Now everything is changing in Sorry-in-the-Vale. Even the boy Kami thought she knew better than anyone. With their link broken, Jared feels farther away than ever and Kami isn’t sure how they can ever bridge the new and foreign distance between them.

Rob Lynburn is gathering his sorcerers and preparing to make Sorry-in-the-Vale a battleground as he tries to bring the old ways ways back to town when sorcerers ruled and everyone else cowered.

Kami has never been much for cowering.

Everyone tells Kami that without magic she is helpless and of no use when sorcerers choose to fight. Kami refuses to believe that. Trouble is coming to Sorry-in-the-Vale. Kami intends to do her part in the thick of it in Untold (2013) by Sarah Rees Brennan.

Untold is the second book in Rees Brennan’s Lynburn Legacy which begins with Unspoken.

Untold picks up shortly after the shocking conclusion of Unspoken. Kami and Jared are barely speaking. Sorcerers are choosing sides. Life in Sorry-in-the-Vale has never been messier. Or more dangerous.

Rees Brennan once again delivers a refreshing blend of witty humor and chilling moments in this decidedly modern take on Gothic mysteries. Untold expands the world of Sorry-in-the-Vale as Kami uses her journalist know-how to research more about the town’s history and the role of the Lynburns therein.

Kami’s ensemble of friends (and potential love interests) returns in this installment. Everyone is as dimensional and well-written as they were in book one. Third person narration and shifting viewpoints also help to give secondary characters larger storylines and more opportunities for witty banter.

Untold is very much building to the conclusion of this series in Unmade and has quite cliffhanger ending as a result. At the same time, Untold also has a contained and generally complete arc for the characters. This books offers a thoughtful exploration of what it means to be dependent on a person versus what it means to have a person on whom you can depend. Rees Brennan artfully explores character relationships, particularly between Kami and Jared, as our intrepid heroes are forced to test their mettle both together and apart throughout the novel.

Untold is a story all about choosing who you want at your side and holding on tight. Another excellent installment in a favorite series. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Compulsion by Martina Boone, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Dreamology by Lucy Keating, The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow and David Ostow, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, The Dolls by Kiki Sullivan, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Veronica Mars

Shadow Scale: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“The world is seldom so simple that it hinges on us alone.”

Shadow Scale by Rachel HartmanThe kingdom of Goredd has had an uneasy peace with the dragons found in the neighboring Tanamoot for the past forty years–a time in which the arts have flourished while Goredd’s dragon-fighting tools have languished.

When mounting tensions between humans and dragons threatens to draw Goredd into the middle of another treacherous war, Seraphina reluctantly finds herself as the center of the conflict. Goredd has few tools left to fight dragons save for rumors of a magical weapon used during the Age of Saints. A weapon Seraphina might be able to recreate with help from other half-dragons like herself.

After spending years hiding her true self, Seraphina sets out across kingdoms to seek out the other half-dragons–beings she’s only ever previously encountered in her own mind–before war breaks out.

As Seraphina gathers her motley band of allies, she soon realizes that war is not the only threat to the half-dragons, her kingdom, or even herself. With so many trying to stop her, Seraphina will have to embrace her true identity, and the ramifications it will have for herself and the other half-dragons, if she has any hope of stopping this senseless war in Shadow Scale (2015) by Rachel Hartman.

Shadow Scale is the highly anticipated sequel to Hartman’s debut novel Seraphina. While this book does an excellent job of explaining key events from book one, it’s still crucial to read these in order.

Every aspect of Shadow Scale is handled brilliantly and often surpasses the achievements and charms of Seraphina, which is no small feat. This book is intricate, clever and often unexpected as many given facts from Seraphina are challenged or turned upside down.

Shadow Scale picks up shortly after the conclusion of Seraphina but soon moves the story in a new direction as readers learn more about Seraphina’s connection to the other half-dragons and how she uses her mind garden to interact with them. Where Hartman’s first book is about Seraphina finding herself, Shadow Scale is surely about Seraphina finding her place in the world.

Hartman blows  Seraphina’s world wide open in Shadow Scale as she crosses borders and visits neighboring kingdoms in her search for the other half-dragons. This book is the full package complete with a map and glossary to highlight all of the wonderful details that Hartman has included in this much-expanded world.

The way different plot threads and pieces of this world knit together is fascinating and wondrous to behold as this story asks (and sometimes answers) questions about ethics, friendship, love and even what being family can really mean. I can’t wait to see what Hartman does next.

Shadow Scale is a satisfying and often surprising conclusion to a story where nothing is ever truly neat or perfect but everything does have the potential to be beautiful. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine, Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

*An advance copy of this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration*

The Strange Maid: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“In a week and a half I’ll be seventeen. It’s a decade since I climbed the New World Tree, since Odin Alfather, god of the hanged, named me the next Valkyrie of the Tree, and still I have not won my place on the Valkyrie council.”

The Strange Maid by Tessa GrattonSigny Valborn dedicated herself to Odin when she was seven years old. She was told one day she would join Odin’s Valkyrie council and fill the long vacant place of the Valkyrie of the Tree. That was before she read the riddle. Before she left her Death Hall and her sister Valkyrie behind.

The Valkyrie of the Tree will prove herself with a stone heart. Signy knows that is her riddle. But after traveling far and wide through New Asgard for years, she is no closer to finding an answer.

Until a mysterious troll hunter named Ned Unferth appears with a proposal. Ned speaks in riddles as well as ancient poetry and truths that feel more like lies. But he promises Signy that a greater mountain troll holds the answer to her riddle and offers to train Signy to hunt them. Signy has never been so close to her future and has little choice but to accept Ned’s help.

Their winding journey will take Signy to the wilds of Canadia and beyond. Along the way she will cross paths with a lone berserker named Soren Bearstar, a monstrous troll mother, and the truth behind the destiny she was promised so long ago in The Strange Maid (2014) by Tessa Gratton.

The Strange Maid is the second book in Gratton’s Songs of New Asgard (United States of Asgard) series. It is preceded by The Lost Sun. Both books function very well as stand-alone titles however, because of timeline and character overlap, The Strange Maid does include some spoilers for The Lost Sun if you choose to read the books out of order.

Gratton once again delivers a perfect blend of myth and fantasy in this engrossing tale. Signy is a sharp, wild narrator with strong opinions and a vibrant love of poetry that comes through in every word of her frank narration. Ned, Signy’s mysterious companion for much of the novel, is a perfect foil as Signy is forced again and again to re-evaluate what she knows (or thinks she knows) about her chosen path.

The Strange Maid is a vivid story about the power of choice as well as an ode to the strength of well-chosen friendships. References to Beowulf and other Norse tales will bring these older myths to life for new readers.

Ideas of causality as well as free will are also artfully explored in this remarkable second book in a trilogy that promises even greater things to come.

Possible Pairings: Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Curiosities by Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stiefvater and Brenna Yovanoff, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers,  Freya by Matthew Laurence, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Soundless by Richelle Mead, Clariel by Garth Nix, Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Beowulf

You can also check back for my interview with Tessa starting tomorrow!

Bad Luck Girl: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Once upon a time, there was a girl named Callie LeRoux. She left her home in the Dust Bowl and traveled across three different worlds to free her parents from the evil king. Along the way she found her worst enemy, her best friend, and her own name.”

Bad Luck Girl by Sarah ZettelCallie has been through a lot since leaving behind the Dust Bowl in Slow Run, Kansas and traveling across the country to Los Angeles to rescue her parents from the Seelie King. Fast-talking and quick-thinking Jack Holland has been beside Callie since the beginning because that’s what best friends do.

Now that Callie’s parents are free, it feels like there should be some kind of happy ending. Or at least a rest. But the Seelie King is still spitting mad. Both the Seelie and the Unseelie courts want to find Callie. They hope to use her to manipulate the prophecy that Callie will close the gates between the worlds in their favor.

Callie wants nothing to do with any of the Seelies or her Unseelie relatives. After a whole lifetime not knowing him, Callie isn’t even sure she wants anything to do with her fairy Papa. She’s even less sure how to go back to being her Mama’s daughter when so much has happened since she left Kansas.

But none of them have time to think about that. Callie’s bad luck is already a known thing and it is none too helpful as Callie, Jack and her parents try to get away from the fairies chasing them.

As word of Callie’s bad luck and her connection to the prophecy spread, Callie realizes there is never going to be a happy ending or any kind of peace. Not if Callie doesn’t take a stand in Bad Luck Girl (2014) by Sarah Zettel.

Bad Luck Girl is the conclusion of Zettel’s American Fairy Trilogy which started with Dust Girl and Golden Girl.

Zettel once again delivers a perfect blend of fantasy and historical details in the conclusion to one of my favorite trilogies. Although Callie is sometimes rash and even reckless, the story still focuses on her resilience and her development as a character. Readers and characters alike will see Callie’s growth throughout this series as well as her inner strength. Callie also contends with changing feelings for her best friend Jack as well as figuring out what it means to have parents again after so long on her own.

1935 Chicago is brought to life with Zettel’s evocative descriptions which make the city just as vivid as the characters who populate it. The fairy lore and world-building builds here to several surprising twists and an ending that is as clever as it is unexpected.

Bad Luck Girl is the perfect conclusion to a nearly perfect trilogy about fairies, Depression Era America, and a girl trying to find her place in the world. I can’t recommend this book or this series highly enough.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, The Diviners by Libba Bray, The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, The Iron King by Julie Kagawa, A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff