Etiquette & Espionage

Etiquette & Espionage
Etiquette & Espionage

Etiquette & Espionage
Gail Carriger
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Age: Young Adult
2013

Genre: Young Adult, Steampunk

Summary: Sophronia is 14, a troublemaker and decidedly not a lady, which is why her mother decides to send her to a distinguished finishing school. What Sophronia’s mother does not know and what Sophronia is about to find out is that this is not just any finishing school. Sure, she will finally learn how to properly curtsy, but she will also learn how to successfully hide a knife in the folds of her skirt. To tell the truth, Miss Geraldine’s Finishing School is actually in the business of turning out spies, and Sophronia thinks she just might have died and gone to troublemaker heaven.

My take: This book helped me realize an important truth about myself -steampunk novels would not be my first choice.* I struggled to get into this book, and even though I did hit a point where I couldn’t put it down, that wasn’t until page 250 or so (Whew). The plot does drag quite a bit and the main character was not all that surprising or different from other plucky, tom-boyish characters I’ve read before. In the case of this steampunk novel, everything felt forced and loud, like – “look at me! I’m different and weird! I’m taking things that don’t usually go together and mashing them together anyway!” That is probably unduly harsh, but was it necessary to include vampires and werewolves as well as mechanical maids, mechanimals and the like? It was just too much for my taste. I also took issue with the dialogue. For example, the vampire professor ends most of his sentences with “whot!” which, for some reason, was like fingernails on a chalkboard.  On a positive note, I will say this about the book – I liked when the plot finally picked up near the end, I liked that I was wrong about who the “bad guy” might be and I love the cover.

The verdict: If you or someone you know is a fan of steampunk then give it a try! Anyone who enjoys a boarding school setting with crazy technology and ladies in large pinafores will enjoy this.

The rating: 4

Coming up next: Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

*I will admit that the exception to this statement is Leviathan by Scott Westerfield, though it did take me awhile to get into that one too.

A Girl Called Problem

A Girl Called Problem
A Girl Called Problem

A Girl Called Problem
by: Katie Quirk
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
Age: Middle Grade
2013

Genre: Middle Grade Mystery

Summary: Big changes are on the horizon for the people of Litongo. The elders of the small village have decided it would be best for everyone to move to Njia Panda, a larger and more progressive village. As to be expected there are grumbles of disagreement and fear, but for thirteen-year-old Shida there is nothing but excitement. Moving to a larger village means that Shida, a name that translates as “problem” in Swahili, can finally go to school and learn how to become a nurse. However, soon after they arrive in the new village strange things start happening – things like clothes going missing, cows disappearing and children getting sick. Everyone thinks the village is cursed and perhaps they should have stayed in Litongo. It is up to Shida and her cousin Grace to figure out what or who is causing all of the trouble and prove once and for all that moving was the right decision – for everyone.

The good: This book is so wonderful that I am not even sure how to adequately review it without gushing all over the place. I am a huge mystery fan, so I was really excited to read this one. Then, to my utter delight and surprise,  I discovered that it isn’t just a mystery but also a fascinating look into a different culture with a strong female character to boot.

The setting is vivid and wonderfully imagined. I love that after reading this book I have a picture in my head of 1967 Tanzania, East Africa. Not only is the setting well executed but the character development of Shida as well as several of the supporting characters is so well done. One example is Shida’s mother who undergoes a dramatic transformation that is beautifully handled. After losing her husband thirteen years ago, Mama Shida is angry, disheveled and often called a witch by the other children in the village. Shida has to essentially carry the responsibility of keeping a house and taking care of her mother while also being a healer in the village, going to school, helping the local nurse and figuring out the mystery of the curse. Slowly we see Mama Shida shed her grief and open up to Shida about her dreams of being a healer. When Shida wants to give up because of losing a little girl to malaria it is Mama Shida who comforts her and encourages her to always stay true to herself. Mama Shida’s transformation does not feel forced or contrived; rather, it is natural and beautiful to witness.

There is so much in this story about the bravery, strength and ability of women. There is dissension in the village about girls going to school and doing anything other than getting married and having babies, but Shida and her cousin Grace prove that girls can and should be educated so they can pursue their dreams. Ah! Beautiful!

The verdict: Ok, top three reasons you should give this book to any middle grade girl you know:

  1. Shida is a wonderful example of someone who has a dream and works hard to get it, even though she may struggle and want to give up at times.
  2. This book is a fascinating and educational peek into African culture. The author actually lived in Africa for awhile and a lot of her experience informed this book. I loved the endnotes, pictures and glossary at the end of the book.
  3. It is a mystery! For kids! And it’s fun! Is it just me, or are books about Africa usually about heavier fare such as slavery and war? While I think those books have their place, it is refreshing to read something fun.

The rating: 9

Coming up next: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

Coming up

I just started reading A Girl Called Problem by Katie Quirk, and I have to say that I love it so far. At the moment, all I can tell you is that the story is about a girl in Tanzania, Africa who desperately wants to move to a larger village so she can learn how to become a nurse and healer. I don’t know about you, but I love reading stories about girls (or boys) who live in a completely different culture from my own experience. I can also tell you that this book is a mystery, which makes me even more excited because I can’t think of very many mysteries for a middle grade audience that are set in historic Africa. If all of that doesn’t make you excited about this book, just look at the cover:

A Girl Called Problem
A Girl Called Problem

 

Isn’t it gorgeous?

Since the baby is napping and my coffee is warm, I am going to go read this gem right now. Hopefully, a review will be forthcoming in the next few days.

 

Winger

Winger
Winger

Winger
by: Andrew Smith
Simon & Schuster BFYR
Age: Young Adult
2013

Genre: Young Adult, Coming of age

Summary: School is back in session at Pine Mountain, a school for rich kids, and Winger is not sure how the year is going to turn out. First of all, Ryan Dean, or Winger as he is affectionately called by his rugby team, is a 14-year-old junior, which means he is two years younger than his class. Second, this year he is living in O-dorms, the place where they send the “bad” kids. Not only is he living away from all of his friends, but his roommate is none other than Chas “Betch” Becker, who will probably kill him before the semester is out. Ryan Dean is determined that this year, despite a few minor setbacks, is going to be different. He is finally going to tell Annie Altman he loves her and he is going to prove to everyone that he is not a loser and he is not a little boy. That shouldn’t be too hard, right?

The good: This book is…what is it? It is a coming of age novel. It is hysterically funny and then all of a sudden heartrendingly sad. It is about differences and the way that some people handle those differences. It is well worth the read.

Andrew Smith excels at creating characters that are unquestionably true. Even though I have never been nor will I ever be a 14-year-old boy, I did not question the validity of Ryan Dean’s perspective. Though, I will admit to asking my husband if all 14-year-old boys think about sex as much as Winger does. The answer is…yes.

There is a huge twist near the end of the book that I think most people will attribute to the success and appeal of this book, but for me it is the character development of Winger that really made me love this book. Winger, or Ryan Dean, starts out the book as a “loser” who spends most of his time thinking about girls, sex, rugby, or how he is going to get the snot beat out of him by his bully of a roommate, Chas Becker. But by the end of the story he stops, at least for the most part, objectifying women, apologizes for his actions that have hurt other people, and realizes that not everything is about sex, rather it is all about love. While part of his transformation is due to the twist that I won’t spoil for you, it is also has to do with the relationship he has with his best friend Annie Altman and the friendship that develops with Joey Cosentino. These relationships are powerful in how they shape Winger’s character, and I think that is true depiction of real life. A teenager, if I can remember back that far, is most interested in the opinion and respect of his or her friends. Parents and other authority figures take a back seat to peers and friends, and this book does an excellent job of portraying all of the angst, fear, and love that come from those relationships.

The verdict: This book is the real deal. I heartily recommend it to you. As a word of caution, Winger does not hold back in his vocabulary or content. I would recommend this to teens – 14 & up, but use your own discretion.

The rating: 8

Cinder GIVEAWAY

Cinder

Cinder
by: Marissa Meyer
Feiwel and Friends
Ages: 13 & up
2012

Genre: Young adult, Fairy Tale, Science Fiction

Keywords: Cyborgs, Cinderella, Plague

Summary: It is just another day at the market for Cinder, one of the best mechanics in New Beijing, until Prince Kai shows up and asks her to fix his broken droid. Even though Cinder and Kai hit it off, Cinder tries not to entertain any fantasies about him. If he ever found out she was actually a cyborg…well, he would probably never talk to her again. However, being a cyborg is the least of Cinder’s worries when Peony, the step-sister she actually likes, comes down with the dreaded plague. Even though Cinder was also exposed to the disease, she is not infected. In fact, she is immune and could be the cure everyone has been hoping for. When Cinder submits to medical testing she uncovers the startling truth about her forgotten past – a past that has the power to change everything.

The good: As a kid I loved the story of Cinderella, and as an adult I still have a soft spot for the story. So this re-imagination of the tale was exciting and fun. I mean, how great is it that Cinderella is a cyborg??! (I also have a soft spot in my heart for Battlestar Galactica. Go figure.) The main elements of the fairy tale – mistreated girl, evil step-mother, going to the ball – are all present, but the plot is entirely different. For example, I did not mention this in the summary, but there is conflict between New Beijing and the evil Queen of the planet Lunar, which Cinder gets inextricably tangled up in. Also, I don’t want to give anything away, but Cinder’s true identity is not difficult to predict; however, I don’t think the predictability takes away from the story. In fact, the pacing of the plot is excellent and held my interest all the way through. As for the audio version, I loved it. The reader does a fantastic job of changing her voice to fit the characters. Folks, this is a fun, uncomplicated read (or listen). I do not think it will win any awards for literary excellence, but if you are looking for an entertaining book you should give this one a try.

The verdict: I would recommend this to girl readers who enjoyed books such as: Divergent by Veronica Roth, Delirium by Lauren Oliver, or even Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Basically, if they like dystopian thrillers or romantic/fairy tale adventures I think they would like this one.

The rating: 7

The giveaway: I am giving away an audiobook copy of Cinder provided by the wonderful folks at Macmillan! If you would like to enter the giveaway just leave a comment that answers this question:

What is your favorite fairy tale?

Are you mad about Hansel and Gretel? Crazy about Snow White? Or do you, like me, love Cinderella?

Just leave a comment on this site (Facebook won’t cut it) and you will be entered into the drawing.

One entry per person, please.

Winners will be announced Sunday night!

Good luck!

What is coming up

I apologize for my total absence from this blog!

(sheepish sigh)

Now that school is finished and the baby is here (for one whole month already!), I am back!

In the works right now is a review of Cinder by Marissa Meyer, which includes a giveaway of the audio version.

In the future I’ll be posting weekly reviews of some current juvenile fiction that I think might be in the running for Newbery 2013.

So, keep checking back! I’m back!

In the meantime, look at this loveliness: