The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (2014)

Conversation

Dad, do you miss playing basketball? I ask.
Like jazz misses Dizzy, he says.

Huh?
Like hip-hop misses Tupac, Filthy, he says.

CrossoverJosh and Jordan Bell are brothers, twins, basketball phenoms. Standing six feet tall in seventh grade, the boys are simpatico, inseparable. Until the new girl at school comes between them. Then their father gets sick. Feeling alone, Josh strikes out at his brother, causing a gulf to open between them.

Winner of the 2015 Newbery Award, the committee had this to say: This powerful novel in verse paints an authentic portrait of a closely-knit family on the brink of crisis. Swish! This book is nothing but net!

I agree. Though I personally thought Brown Girl Dreaming (named as a Newbery Honor book) deserved the prize. Both are excellent and will, hopefully, appeal to many children.

The Riverman by Aaron Starmer (2014)

To sell a book, you need a description on the back. So here’s mine: My name is Fiona Loomis. I was born on August 11, 1977. I am recording this message on the morning of October 13, 1989. Today I am thirteen years old. Not a day older. Not a day younger.

RivermanHow do I describe The Riverman?

Well, it begins with a twelve-year-old boy name Alistair Cleary. When he is approached by his former childhood friend, Fiona Loomis, to write her biography, his life forever changes.

Fiona has been to the magical world of Aquavania where children with of great imagination and courage are invited to make their dreams reality. Aquavania is the place where stories are born.

But there is trouble in paradise. The dreamers creating these worlds are disappearing and a mysterious figure referred to as the Riverman appears to be stealing their souls.

Initially, Alistair believes this fairy tale is Fiona’s way of dealing with real-world trauma. He becomes intent on discovering its source. But he is wrong, and the Riverman is closer to him than he realizes.

Riveting, lyrical, suspenseful and playfully surreal, I highly recommend this book and eagerly look forward to the sequel coming March 2015.

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski (2014)

“I know,” he said, “because of this room’s position in your suite, the cream color of the walls, and the paintings of swans. This was where a Herrani lady would pen her letters or write journal entries. It’s a private room. I shouldn’t be allowed inside.” “Well,” said Kestrel, uncomfortable, “it is no longer what it was.”

WinnersCurseThe Herrani have been conquered and subjugated by a vast militaristic empire. Though the narrative attempts to paint seventeen-year-old Kestrel with a different brush, she is no different than her peers. She is a slave owner and her life proceeds comfortably. Her father is a general – wealthy and well respected. He spends much of his time attempting to convince Kestrel (who has a clever mind for military strategy) to join the army. According to the rules of her society, at the age of twenty-one, Kestrel must either marry or join the military, though she cares little for either option so long as she can play her piano.

Enter Arin, a slave who is bought by Kestrel spontaneously at an auction. Arin is fierce and defiant. He’s skilled and clearly has musical talent. Kestrel is predictably intrigued. Arin comes to admire her. But he has his own agenda…

As some Goodreads reviewers have pointed out, the writing is good and individual scenes are enthralling, but the overall picture is rather tame (slavery is candied and the book’s reality suffers greatly from it), the heroine is less clever in her reasoning than her brilliant deductions would have us believe, and Kestrel is hardly likable (does she feel strongly about anything other than her piano – geesh!). She’s a flip-flopper to boot, unable to make up her mind about her friends and her feelings toward them.

Fans of Kristin Kashore and Leigh Bardugo will enjoy this fluff (though it doesn’t quiet belong in the same field) and those who enjoy better, like Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief, will want to steer clear. This is very light reading – what I call popcorn fiction.

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion (2014)

“To the world’s most perfect woman.” It was lucky my father was not present. Perfect is an absolute that cannot be modified, like unique or pregnant. My love for Rosie was so powerful that it had caused my brain to make a grammatical error.

RosieThis delightful novel does not rise to the height set by its predecessor, The Rosie Project, nor does it disappoint. I thoroughly enjoy Don Tillman’s struggle to navigate the new interpersonal dynamic thrust upon him by Rosie’s unexpected pregnancy. I enjoyed Don’s new friends and his interactions in the workplace as well as his observations as a bar tender.

The layered disasters that resulted from his unique behavior and world view are less ably constructed. Too many moments that were brilliantly comic (Don’s arrest in the park) become drawn out and tedious. And some are not capitalized on enough (Lesbian Mothers Project).

But there are so many gems that I couldn’t put the book down. I would eagerly pick up another book about Don Tillman.

“I thought you were happy about having a baby.” I was happy in the way that I would be happy if the captain of an aircraft in which I was travelling announced that he had succeeded in restarting one engine after both had failed. Pleased that I would now probably survive, but shocked that the situation had arisen in the first place, and expecting a thorough investigation into the circumstances.

Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios (2014)

The bottle was a tiny, bejeweled thing attached to a thick gold chain. Indestructible and protected by magic. Malek wore it around his neck at all times, a constant reminder that she was his (p 4).

CaptiveNalia is a jinni, stolen by a slave trader from her other worldly home and sold to Malek, a wealthy, seemingly ageless man of great social influence on Earth, via the dark caravan. But Nalia is no ordinary jinni. She is Ghan Aisouri, the highest class of jinni. They alone can harness the power of all four elements: air, earth, water and fire.

Until Malek makes his third wish, Nalia is bound to him and unable to rescue her brother, a captive of the Ifrit jinni who whip their slaves with fire.

The exposition is lengthy and Demetrios undermines a solid plot and good world building with Nalia’s unnecessary internal melodramatic monologues, repetitive language, and an unconvincing portrayal of extreme wealth.

Though glowingly reviewed by Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly, I am more inclined to agree with SLJ reviewer Emma Carbone: “The well-realized world of Arjinna is similarly overshadowed by stiff descriptions and numerous explanations.” Not a series I intend to continue reading.

A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn (2014)

You will remember what I said about the girls who vanish into the woods not ever finding their way back home. It’s true. It was true for Annel, and it’s true for almost all the girls who skip off into the trees.
Almost all but not quite.
One got lost, just as the hundred girls before her did. One ran away, following a laugh on the wind, believing in a wild dream, and her family fell into pain, just as the families of all those girls do.
But this one, ten months later, as the snows were melting, this one came back. She stumbles, shivering, out of the trees and ran all the way home, and her father near didn’t recognize her, and her brother cried and cried with joy to see that she yet lived. Then it was with joy.
Later, the tears turned to fear, and then the fear to rage.
See this one girl didn’t come back alone. She was carrying me within her — the child of the woods, the child of the dragon (p 39).

MoonlightYoung Marni is a child of two worlds: the daughter of a princess – forsaken by the kingdom and murdered by her brother – and the dragon of the forest – a being of myth and magic that is rumored to lure young girls into the forest and grant them their heart’s desire.

Now on the cusp of adulthood, the forest beckons to Marni. Only her Gramps, the former king and Marni’s sole companion, keeps her tethered to the human world. When he dies suddenly, Marni must decide between the freedom of nothingness offered by the forest and her rightful place as heir to the throne.

The rhythmic, poetic prose work an enchantment on the reader in this mesmerizing tale. Marni’s voice is strong and gossamer like a spider’s web. She has quickly become on of my favorite female characters for her charming vernacular, strong voice and independent spirit. Secondary characters comes to life vividly yet their descriptions allowed my imagination to run riot. I smelled the pine and longed to be a creature of the forest one moment and felt suffocated by trees closing in on me the next.

Well done. Deep fantasy for the soul. Highly recommended.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (2011)

Literature could turn you into an asshole: he’d learned that teaching grad-school seminars. It could teach you to treat real people the way you did characters, as instruments of your own intellectual pleasure, cadavers on which to practice your critical faculties.

ArtofFieldingI have mixed feelings about this novel.

There were flashes of insight (especially about athletes) and well-written passages (especially on the diamond) that drew me in and kept me reading. Intermittently, there were clunky passages (though I’m sure it would have helped to have read Moby Dick – not that I have any interest) and daffy relationship developments that left me bewildered.

Ultimately, Mike and Pella were so darn pathetic that I cared very little for either of them. I was left wondering if Henry would ever find redemption – the poor kid (and what happened to his sister, a character I would have liked to know more about until she swooned like a dumb bimbo over Starblind in typical two-dimension fashion). And Owen was a god-like figure who dabbled with these sniveling idiots at his pleasure… Yeah. Very mixed feelings about this book.

Prodigy by Marie Lu (2013)

I tap restlessly on the hilt of my knife. Be careful, June. That’s the only certain thought running through my head. Be careful — for your sake and for ours (p 238).

Prodigy_Marie_LuPicking up immediately where Legend ended, Day and June are on the run from the Republic soldiers, heading to Las Vegas to seek refuge and assistance from the Patriots. Upon their arrival in Las Vegas, the Elector dies and young Anden, the Elector’s son, is pronounced Elector across the ubiquitous JumboTrons.

In exchange for shelter and resources, the Patriots demand Day and June work together to assassinate Anden in the hopes of sparking a revolution. Ascending to an unsteady throne and a fractured Republic facing riots and uprisings on a large scale, Anden purports to be a different man than his father, but June recognizes the ambition in him.

Will they become murderers in order to overthrow the Republic?

As Day and June navigate a milieu of uncertain feelings for each other and a tenuous allegiance to the Patriots, their faith in each other holds true through their separate missions. Lu’s world expands and we see the larger republic as well as the Colonies. Ultimately, there is no haven save that which Day and June can forge for themselves and their people.

Legend by Marie Lu (2011)

Rumor has it that Day once scaled five stories in less than eight seconds. If the Republic’s most-wanted criminal can pull that off, then how are we ever going to catch him if we’re not just as fast? And if we can’t even catch him, how are we going to win the war?

Legend_Marie_Lu_Book_coverIt’s a future North America where the United States is no longer. Instead, the Republic forms the western front, clashing for land with the Colonies who hold the eastern front with a waterfront line starting in Texas (and splitting the state) running north along the eastern edge of Colorado and the Dakotas.

June is a prodigy, a young fighter who scored a perfect mark on her Trial test. She’s analytical, physically strong and cunning (think River Tam from Firefly/Serenity). Then there’s Day, who failed his Trial, lives on the fringes and disrupts the Republic’s war efforts at every turn.

When June’s brother, Metias, is murdered during a raid by Day, June is tasked with hunting down her brother’s killer. Her mission will bring her into the underworld of the Republic and have her questioning everything she’s been taught.

An enjoyable read that follows a familiar structure but manages to engage none-the-less.

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd (2014)

SnickerThis one is popping up in mock Newbery discussions (Heavy Medal, Eva Perry Mock Newbery Club). It has received several starred and glowing reviews from the media (NY Times Book Review, Kirkus) and book bloggers (Books and Beautiful World, Nerdy Book Club).

It is not on my list. Call me old and jaded but I couldn’t read more than 50 pages before the saccharine language induced nausea. I put the book down, revisited one page a few days later and finally declared it inedible.  It was too cloyingly cheerful, painfully paced, and heavy handed in its plotting. I simply could not see it through. Not for me.