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Last book of 2017

31 Dec

You’d think I would end the year with a happy book. I didn’t, but The Marrow Thieves,  by Cherie Dimaline was really good.

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Publisher’s Summary: Humanity has nearly destroyed its world through global warming, but now an even greater evil lurks. The indigenous people of North America are being hunted and harvested for their bone marrow, which carries the key to recovering something the rest of the population has lost: the ability to dream. In this dark world, Frenchie and his companions struggle to survive as they make their way up north to the old lands. For now, survival means staying hidden – but what they don’t know is that one of them holds the secret to defeating the marrow thieves.

That description doesn’t really indicate the power of the writing. Main characters’ back stories are told in “coming to” chapters. Storytelling is woven in. And Dimaline creates a Canadian wilderness impacted by global warming that seems terrifyingly probable.

The book is full of loss and sacrifice, but the beautifully lyrical language of the book makes it worth reading.

Armchair travelling

26 Nov

One of the upsides of a five-day weekend is the opportunity to dive deeply into a good book and this very long weekend I took an armchair journey to Oxford.

Not the Oxford of the BBC’s Inspector Morse,  but Lyra’s Oxford, the once created by Philip Pullman. Did you know he has a new series, set in the Oxford before the His Dark Materials series. I went on my journey with an infant Lyra and learned something of her backstory in La Belle Sauvage the first book in his new series, The Book of Dust.

Here is the US cover

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And here is the UK cover.

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Publisher’s Summary: Malcolm Polstead is the kind of boy who notices everything but is not much noticed himself. And so perhaps it was inevitable that he would become a spy….

Malcolm’s parents run an inn called the Trout, on the banks of the river Thames, and all of Oxford passes through its doors. Malcolm and his daemon, Asta, routinely overhear news and gossip, and the occasional scandal, but during a winter of unceasing rain, Malcolm catches wind of something new: intrigue.

He finds a secret message inquiring about a dangerous substance called Dust—and the spy it was intended for finds him.

When she asks Malcolm to keep his eyes open, he sees suspicious characters everywhere: the explorer Lord Asriel, clearly on the run; enforcement agents from the Magisterium; a gyptian named Coram with warnings just for Malcolm; and a beautiful woman with an evil monkey for a daemon. All are asking about the same thing: a girl—just a baby—named Lyra.

Lyra is the kind of person who draws people in like magnets. And Malcolm will brave any danger, and make shocking sacrifices, to bring her safely through the storm.

I loved Malcolm and wished he was a student in my class. I was drawn into the story immediately and I am now thinking, while I wait for the next book, I might reread the His Dark Materials series.

 

A new heroine

24 Nov

One of my complaints with a certain genre, the  kind of fantasy that brings ancient myths into the real world, is that they usually end up being mostly action scenes of battles with the bad guys. This is a problem for me, but what makes true fans of the genre love the books. But there is a new heroine in town.

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Two things set The Epic Crush of Genie Lo  apart from the pack. First, there is a strong female character. Female fans of Percy Jackson and other series have to be content with a female sidekick. Genie Lo is the hero! Additionally, it utilizes the stories of Chinese mythology, a much lesser known mythological canon.

It isn’t a perfect read, but it has some really funny lines and is definitely worth picking up.

Publisher’s Summary: She annihilates standardized tests and the bad guys.

Genie Lo is one among droves of Ivy-hopeful overachievers in her sleepy Bay Area suburb. You know, the type who wins. When she’s not crushing it at volleyball or hitting the books, Genie is typically working on how to crack the elusive Harvard entry code.

But when her hometown comes under siege from Hellspawn straight out of Chinese folklore, her priorities are dramatically rearranged. Enter Quentin Sun, a mysterious new kid in class who becomes Genie’s self-appointed guide to battling demons. While Genie knows Quentin only as an attractive transfer student with an oddly formal command of the English language, in another reality he is Sun Wukong, the mythological Monkey King incarnate—right down to the furry tail and penchant for peaches.

Suddenly, acing the SATs is the least of Genie’s worries. The fates of her friends, family, and the entire Bay Area all depend on her summoning an inner power that Quentin assures her is strong enough to level the very gates of Heaven. But every second Genie spends tapping into the secret of her true nature is a second in which the lives of her loved ones hang in the balance.

Warcross

16 Nov

You’ve probably seen or heard about this one

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Publisher’s Summary:For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down Warcross players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty-hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. To make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.

I liked Lu’s Legend series but couldn’t get into the Young Elites  series. I figured I had a 50/50 chance with Warcross. 

Although I have almost no interest in online gaming, I got into Warcross quickly and was carried along by the fast-paced writing.  I figured out who the bad guy was early on, but Lu planted enough red-herrings to doubt my theory, though I never really abandoned it. I like the strong, but flawed, female protagonist, and the diverse cast of characters.

Warcross  isn’t the best book I’ve read this year, but it was rather enjoyable.

A lovely surprise

30 Oct

I picked up Midnight At the Electric expecting sci-fi.

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Although it is set, in part, in the future, the book is much more than that. It is about love, friendship, the power of women alone and together, and how love, determination, and hope can change a person’s fate.

Publisher’s Summary: New York Times bestselling author Jodi Lynn Anderson’s epic tale—told through three unforgettable points of view—is a masterful exploration of how love, determination, and hope can change a person’s fate.

Kansas, 2065: Adri has been handpicked to live on Mars. But weeks before launch, she discovers the journal of a girl who lived in her house more than a hundred years ago and is immediately drawn into the mystery surrounding her fate.

Oklahoma, 1934: Amid the fear and uncertainty of the Dust Bowl, Catherine’s family’s situation is growing dire. She must find the courage to sacrifice everything she loves in order to save the one person she loves most.

England, 1919: In the recovery following World War I, Lenore tries to come to terms with her grief for her brother, a fallen British soldier, and plans to sail to America. But can she make it that far?

While their stories span thousands of miles and multiple generations, Lenore, Catherine, and Adri’s fates are entwined in ways both heartbreaking and hopeful. In Jodi Lynn Anderson’s signature haunting, lyrical prose, human connections spark spellbindingly to life, and a bright light shines on the small but crucial moments that determine one’s fate.

So, if you haven’t picked it up because you don’t like sci-fi, give it a chance.

Another finale

16 Oct

The third and final book in the Court of Fives  series, Buried Heart, has come, and gone, for me. Kate Elliott wrapped everything up nicely.

Buried Heart cover (resized)

Publisher’s Summary:

Choose between your parents.
Choose between your friends.
Choose between your lovers.
Choose who you are.
 
On the run from the murderous King Nikonos, Jessamy must find a way for her beloved Kalliarkos to take his rightful place on the throne. Only then can he end the oppression of the Commoners by their long time Patron overlords. But Kal’s rise to power is fraught with manipulation and shocking decisions that make Jes question everything they promised each other. As their relationship frays and Jes’s family and friends beg her for help, will she cast Kal and her Patron heritage aside? Will she finally join–even lead–the rebellion that had been burning among the Commoners for years?
This explosive finale of World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott’s Court of Five series forces Jessamy to confront an inescapable truth: with or without her, the revolution has begun.
 I really liked about this series because Jessamy is a strong female character. She grew from a disobedient, rebellious girl in the first book. She is able to look beyond herself and care for the concerns of her family and her people. Kate Elliott invents a new world and a new sport.
If you have someone looking for something a little different, look no further than this series.

Steampunk fairy tale

7 Sep

Yesterday, I taught my kids how to speed-date books.

I set tubs from my classroom library on each table and gave them 4 minutes to find title to add to their “To read” lists. The best comment I overheard was ” These books are way better than in elementary school!”

One table had tubs of “Dystopian” and “Steampunk” books. For most sixth graders, these are new genres. One book in the “Steampunk” tub was Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell.  I picked up at Powells this summer, on a SALE table.

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Author’s Summary:Nicolette’s awful stepsisters call her “Mechanica” to demean her, but the nickname fits: she learned to be an inventor at her mother’s knee. Her mom is gone now, though, and the Steps have turned her into a servant in her own home. When she discovers a secret workshop in the cellar on her sixteenth birthday—and befriends Jules, a tiny magical metal horse—Nicolette starts to imagine a new life for herself. The timing may be perfect: there’s a technological exposition and a royal ball on the horizon. Gorgeous prose and themes of social justice and family shine in this richly imagined Cinderella retelling about an indomitable inventor who finds her prince . . . but realizes she doesn’t want a fairy tale happy ending after all.

I recently discovered that Betsy Cornwell has written a sequel, Venturess, that came out in August. I have it on hold at the library.

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Author’s Summary: Nicolette’s Cinderella story is over, and she’s finally living her own fairy tale happy ending. She’s a successful inventor now, free of her horrible stepfamily, and content in her loving friendship with Caro, a palace servant, and Fin, the prince of Esting.

Then she receives a message from her long-lost housekeeper, now a revolutionary, begging her to bring the prince to Faerie for a diplomatic meeting. Nicolette fears a trap, but decides that the chance to end the bloody war waged by their kingdom is worth the risk.

Together with Fin and Caro, she ventures across the monster-filled ocean to the lush continent she’s always dreamed of visiting. There, mechanical armies and dark magic await as they uncover devastating secrets about the past and fight for a real, lasting happily-ever-after for two troubled countries – and for themselves.

Kings, Queens and Thieves

3 Sep

As soon as I cracked open the newly designed paperback cover of The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, I was hooked (haha)  and tore through the next two books.

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Somehow, I missed the arrival of A Conspiracy of Kings. I don’t know why.

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But after hearing MWT talk at ALA this summer, I read the fifth book, Thick as Thieves.

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Thick as thieves has the newest cover design, not the luxurious style of the first four books.  They now have covers in the new style.

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Having read Thick as Thieves, I went back and read A Conspiracy of Kings. This is the sort of series in which you can do that. The first three books should be read in order. The two most recent books are about minor characters who appear in the first three. Although they are in chronological order, reading them out of order did not impede my understanding or enjoyment.

 

The Fall of Constantinople

31 Aug

It is inservice week and teachers are complaining. We want to work in our classrooms and get ready for Tuesday, not sit on backless cafeteria tables for three hours. I hit my low point today and made four trips to the bathroom because my brain and back had reached  their limits.

A teacher at my table was working on a unit about the Byzantine Empire, and I couldn’t help but get off topic to tell him about the portrayal of the Fall of Constantinople in Kiersten White’s Now I Rise,  the second book of The Conqueror’s Saga, about a female Impaler, who we know best as Dracula.

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Second books in trilogies can be tricky things. They are often disappointments because they are repetitive or feel like a place holder for the forward momentum that will come in the final book. Fortunately, Now I Rise does not suffer from second book syndrome. Readers who enjoyed  And I Darken,  will be captivated by the two narratives: Lada’s political aspirations in Wallachia, and Radu’s experiences in Constantinople before, during and after its fall.

Author’s Summary: Lada Dracul has no allies. No throne. All she has is what she’s always had: herself. After failing to secure the Wallachian throne, Lada is out to punish anyone who dares to cross her blood-strewn path. Filled with a white-hot rage, she storms the countryside with her men, accompanied by her childhood friend Bogdan, terrorizing the land. But brute force isn’t getting Lada what she wants. And thinking of Mehmed brings little comfort to her thorny heart. There’s no time to wonder whether he still thinks about her, even loves her. She left him before he could leave her.

What Lada needs is her younger brother Radu’s subtlety and skill. But Mehmed has sent him to Constantinople—and it’s no diplomatic mission. Mehmed wants control of the city, and Radu has earned an unwanted place as a double-crossing spy behind enemy lines Radu longs for his sister’s fierce confidence—but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. Torn between loyalties to faith, to the Ottomans, and to Mehmed, he knows he owes Lada nothing. If she dies, he could never forgive himself—but if he fails in Constantinople, will Mehmed ever forgive him?

As nations fall around them, the Dracul siblings must decide: what will they sacrifice to fulfill their destinies? Empires will topple, thrones will be won . . . and souls will be lost.

As a history buff, I loved the glossary, the  list of major and minor characters, and the author’s note. It helped me see what we know from history and where White got creative.

The final book in the trilogy is scheduled to come out in June 2018. I am sad that I will have to wait, but I am glad to have something to look forward to read in Summer 2018.

 

Revisiting old friends

13 Aug

Although I got the book over a year ago, I finally read Stars Above by Marissa Meyer.

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This was a great way to revisit my old friends from the Lunar Chronicles series, without rereading the whole series. A collection of nine short stories, we learn a little more about the characters and their backgrounds.

CONTENTS

The Keeper: A prequel to the Lunar Chronicles, showing a young Scarlet and how Princess Selene came into the care of Michelle Benoit.

Glitches: In this prequel to Cinder, we see the results of the plague play out, and the emotional toll it takes on Cinder. Something that may, or may not, be a glitch….

The Queen’s Army: In this prequel to Scarlet, we’re introduced to the army Queen Levana is building, and one soldier in particular who will do anything to keep from becoming the monster they want him to be.

Carswell’s Guide to Being Lucky: Thirteen-year-old Carswell Thorne has big plans involving a Rampion spaceship and a no-return trip out of Los Angeles.

After Sunshine Passes By: In this prequel to Cress, we see how a nine-year-old Cress ended up alone on a satellite, spying on Earth for Luna.

The Princess and the Guard: In this prequel to Winter, we see a young Winter and Jacin playing a game called the Princess and the Guard…

The Little Android: A retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” set in the world of The Lunar Chronicles.

The Mechanic: In this prequel to Cinder, we see Kai and Cinder’s first meeting from Kai’s perspective.

Something Old, Something New: In this epilogue to Winter, friends gather for the wedding of the century.

 

 

Randy Ribay

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