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Saturday, April 30, 2016

REVIEW: The Complete Alice in Wonderland (Graphic Novel)

*Thanks to Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for a fair review*

The Complete Alice in Wonderland is Lewis Carroll's classic two part tale (Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass) adapted into a graphic novel by Leah Moore and John Reppion with illustrations by Erica Awano.  Alice's adventures are stunningly retold in beautifully artistic panels.

Altogether this upholds the true essence of the classic some 150 years later.

Imaginative. A little creepy. A little weird. However, unforgettable with its famous characters and sense of whimsy.

Recommended for purchase for a public or school library, grades 3 and up.

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Follow Moore on Twitter: @leahmoore

#AliceInWonderland #ThroughTheLookingGlass #graphicnovel #netgalley #classic #review

Thursday, April 28, 2016

REVIEW: Tell the Wind & Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan

Lucie Manette lives in an alternate New York; however, the city is divided in half.  Born in the Dark half to a light medic father and a mother with hidden light magic, Lucie had a loving but turbulent childhood until tragedy robbed her of her mother and left her father imprisoned.  Through careful manipulations, she was able to save her father and win them a home in the Light.  This new life brought her celebrity status and a rich, loving boyfriend but the past is never truly gone.

When she discovers that her boyfriend, Ethan Striker, a dark secret of his own, her world is turned upside down. With the appearance of a untrustworthy and despised stranger, Lucie is one of the few to know the truth about their connection. As revolution sparks on the horizon, all that she loves is in danger, especially since the rebels have decided Lucie is their beacon toward a new future. With both halfs of the city in peril, can Lucie save either boy or herself?

I'll give this a 3 and that is generous. I typically like Brennan's books and style but this wasn't for me. What didn't I like?  Overall, it was kinda boring and confusing. I found that there was inconsistency with character development and world building. There are so many questions about the magic system left unanswered. I really didn't care for Lucie, her relationship with Ethan is kind of a mess, and the one character I did like because he was at least interesting --Carwyn--had to be the sacrificial lamb.

Admittedly, I've never had the chance to read Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities but I'm pretty certain it is better than this modern retelling.  I feel a bit bad about being this critical but I was super underwhelmed and disappointed. The audiobook didn't help sell the narrative either. All that being said, I did appreciate that this is a standalone, the cover is striking and it had a memorable ending.

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @sarahreesbrennan

#TelltheWindandFire #TaleofTwoCities #magic #revolution #romance #sacrifice #YAlit #standalone #books

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

REVIEW: Sword in the Stacks by Jen Swann Downey

*Thank you to Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for a fair review*

Expected publication: June 7, 2016

Sword in the Stacks is the second in the juvenile/tween fiction Ninja Librarians series.  Dorrie and her brother, Marcus, have been recruited as apprentices to the Petrarch Library. They'll train to become Lybrarians, a secret society that transcend time and space in order to protect the world from nefarious forces.  The apprentices balance their classwork while assisting the Lybrarians in their quest to find a missing key that might destroy their fortress and place foe, the Foundation, in power.

Dorrie soon learns that a training expedition to 1912 London brings her dangerously close to the enemy and is determined to spy and help the cause; however, any misstep might lead the villains right to the people and places she and her friends are determined to protect.

A drawback is that the series and individual book title are misleading based on what actually transpired throughout the narrative. The cover is eye catching but there aren't actually any ninjas and swordplay is occurs in just a fraction of the story--I can't speak for the first entry in the series. While appealing, readers might experience some letdown if they are hoping for stealthy ninjas. The writing and world building are engaging and deceptively sneaky (which I love). Readers learn about historical figures and events in a fun and creative way.

Check out ALA's Intellectual Freedom Blog for my upcoming post about the book's connection to the larger conversation regarding intellectual freedom.

Overall, this is a cute book for middle grade readers (grades 5 thru 8). There is a great sense of adventure and mystery plus a good deal of humor which will appeal to many young readers. Any history buff or library lover will get a kick out of the premise. I remain of the mindset that anyone who knows a librarians and what we do would consider us superheros and this book does just that. I'd recommend this as a read-a-like for anyone who loved the Magic Tree House or Time Spies books as a younger reader or who enjoy Rick Riordan or even Ink & Bone by Rachel Caine.

Final rating: 3.75/5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @jenswanndowney

#ninjalibrarians #swordinthestacks #intellectualfreedom #libraries #middleschool #adventure #humor #history #netgalley

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

REVIEW: The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

Expected publication: April 26, 2016

Cursed with a dark horoscope leaving her fated to marry Death and Destruction, Princess Maya is scorned and feared by all within her father's kingdom.  With war looming on the palace's very doorstep, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience in hopes to quell rebellion.  Maya is devastated since the act takes her away from scholarly pursuits as well as her beloved half sister.

The fateful day arrives with some surprises. Maya soon finds herself whisked away, becoming queen of Akaran and wife to Amar. Here she finds her voice and power as his equal. But trust is not easily won in this mysterious kingdom made up of locked doors, gardens of glass and a tree that bares memories instead of fruit. Maya must unravel her own past and an ancient mystery spanning many reincarnated lives in order to save those she loves.

Chokshi's writing is lush and beautifully descriptive. I felt transported to these kingdoms and longed to see the vivid silks, jewels and embellishments for myself. The Star-Touched Queen fits nicely within the trend of a middle eastern-esque setting with supernatural flare. The author's exploration of Indian mythology and lore makes for a truly unique reading experience that will entice audiences from the first page. The cover art is captivating as well.

Overall, I appreciated the story's pacing and development. I found Maya really fascinating and think her voice will resonate with readers. I've had some limited Twitter interaction with Chokshi and she's just been delightful. I wish her all the best with this publication.  I definitely recommend this for purchase --ages 14 and up for those who enjoy fantasy steeped in mythology, mystery and romance.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @NotRashKnee

#startouched #roshanichokshi #fantasy #YAlit #romance #mystery #netgalley #books

Saturday, April 16, 2016

REVIEW: What You Always Wanted by Kristin Rae

*I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review on behalf of ROYAL*

Maddie Brooks is the new girl, something she never imagined would happen with the beginning of her junior year on the horizon.  She had big plans for Chicago and moving to small town Texas wasn't on the agenda.  Luckily, her new school has a great drama department and Maddie excels at fitting in.  With insanely high standards for guys, it's highly unlikely than anyone will come close to the singing and dancing perfection of Maddie's classic Hollywood crush, Gene Kelly. She is conflicted when her afternoon carpools with her good looking and charismatic neighbor, Jesse Morales, reveal that he just might the perfect guy. Tensions rise through this relationship of self discovery--especially both characters' struggles with life choices, identity and communication.

What I liked...

This is a relatable, evenly paced realistic read with specific interest for romance readers. The characters are well developed and feel authentic as do their struggles. There is a good amount of humor, angst and classic charm.  The novel itself will appeal to genre readers who also enjoy Sarah Dessen, Katie McGarry, Meg Cabot and the like. Bonus, if you have YA readers who are involved in theater, dance, or the arts.

What I didn't like...

There is a lot of potential for Rae to go deeper into Jesse's story. He feels immensely weighed down by parental pressures and ethnic stereotypes but this isn't explored to the lengths that felt satisfying to the reader.  We get glimpses of his pressure from his father to perform well in baseball, forsaking his talent and love for dance, and the final turnaround; however, we're left wanting more.

What You Always Wanted is the 8th book in the If Only series published by a handful of authors from Bloomsbury. I highly recommend these for purchase in a public or school library setting. There is mass appeal for the target audiences (ages 14 and up).

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @kristincreative

#YAlit #ROYAL #KristinRae #IfOnly #WhatYouAlwaysWanted #romance #books

Friday, April 8, 2016

REVIEW: Unforgiven by Lauren Kate

Thank you to Delacorte Press for a review copy on behalf of ROYAL (SWON Libraries).

Unforgiven is a companion novel in Kate's Fallen series. With the wrap up of the final book, Rapture, Daniel and Luce found their happily ever after. Unforgiven is fallen angel, Cam's story.

Centuries ago he met and fell in love with Lilith; however, despite their great love, the relationship ended badly. Doomed to spend an eternity in Hell as a punishment for Cam's crimes, Lilith's only constant is a profound love of music and hatred of Cam.

In order to set her free, Cam makes a bet with Lucifer--get Lilith to forgive him and fall in love with him again in 15 days and they can be together forever.  If he fails, Cam must return to Hell and be Lucifer's second in command.

Way back when, I enjoyed Fallen but thought the rest of the serious failed to live up to the first book. Personally, I just didn't care for the direction of the characters or the overall story.  That being said, one highlight for me was always Cam.  He was such a sexy, brooding and mysterious character.  I loved that Kate wrote him with a lot of snarky, angsty personality.  When the series ended, I felt as if there were too many loose ends with some of the other characters and was pleasantly surprised in discovering Cam would get his own sense of closure in Unforgiven.

So what did I think?

Overall, this is solid with nice appeal to the right audience. It works well as a standalone but also as a tie-in to the series. This is well written and follows a common plot outline: star-crossed lovers separated, one seeks redemption and self sacrifice to save the other, a malevolent presence threatens the quest, but true love prevails, redemption is attained and they all live happily ever after.

One drawback is Unforgiven's timeliness.  Fallen, Torment, Passion and Rapture were published from 2009-2012. With 3+ years in between, much of the potential audience for this YA series has aged out of the genre. Furthermore, the popularity of angel-centric YA fiction has also waned in favor of other popular genres.

Recommended for purchase for public and school libraries.  The ideal reading audience is ages 12 and up. The target reader is female and one who enjoys paranormal romance, especially angels & demons.  Notable readalikes are the Hush Hush series by Becca Fitzpatrick, Angelfall by Susan Ee, Unearthly by Cynthia Hand, Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulton and Halo by Alexandra Adornetto.

Final rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @laurenkatebooks

#Unforgiven #LaurenKate #YAlit #angels #demons #romance #teen #books

Saturday, April 2, 2016

REVIEW: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Rebel of the Sands is a magical debut from author Alywn Hamilton. The desert is a harsh and desolate landscape. While mortals may rule the nation of Miraji, fearsome creatures of legend roam the wilder, remote areas and rumors swirl that djinn still perform magic.

Amani Al'Hiza feels trapped in this unforgiving place.  Poor, orphaned, and female, her future seems sealed to either wed or die. As a talented gunslinger, with perfect aim, she hopes that this might lead to enough money to escape Dustwalk. When Amani meets Jin, a captivating foreigner, she sees him as her way out, but she never expected that his complicated and dangerous ties would lead to her own self discovery and alter her future forever.
“Haven't you ever wanted something so bad that it becomes more than a want? I need to get out of this town. I need it like I need to breathe.” 
This novel is one of several in the latest YA trend blending an exotic desert setting with Middle Eastern ideals and folklore. Hamilton builds a detailed world full of beautiful description and memorable characters. Amani is a fantastic female protagonist exhibiting relatable qualities of some of the greatest YA heroines. She's kick butt, no nonsense and snarky but also practical and vulnerable.

I liked the greater commentary regarding feminism and expected societal roles.  Amani realizes that her status as a young woman in her culture limits her future. Women are used and abused--and if she doesn't leave Dustwalk, she'll be forced to marry (most likely her uncle) or end up dead. Hamilton introduces a supernatural element as a means for Amani to gain power and some semblance of control over her life.  I enjoyed this development--especially the author's stance on the djinn as powerfully magical beings of fire rather than figures enslaved in a bottle waiting to do another's bidding.

The addition of the rebellion and its surprising ties to Amani as well as the passionate romance developing between Amani and Jin makes for compelling reading. Hamilton builds layers within each chapter by delving into a thought provoking plot. There's great adventure and some pretty scary creatures (I do not want to encounter a skinwalker or nightmare EVER!) but...I totally want a cool mythical desert horse!

I highly recommend the audiobook as narrated by Soneela Nankani (@soneela). The performance was engaging; so much so, that I couldn't stop listening!

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Follow the author and on Twitter:  @AlywnFJH

#RebelOfTheSands #AlwynHamilton #YAlit #teen #romance #magic #adventure #djinn