Bitterblue (ARC 5/1) by Kristin Cashore
I read this last month and somehow I forgot to post about it—how could I do that? I just adore with world and writing of Kristin Cashore. She is one of the best fantasy writers out there and the long-awaited Bitterblue did not disappoint. It’s set as Queen Bitterblue is really beginning to take charge and rule after her father, King Leck’s, disastrous reign. Her advisors have secrets; the people’s minds are still muddled. The kingdom is a mess and Bitterblue has to somehow figure it all out. Btterblue is a well-developed and sympathetic character, the romance is handled extremely well, and I loved the details about codes. This wasn’t my favorite novel in the Graceling realm (Graceling will always remain on top), though, because it was a bit long and meandering. The novel was really about Bitterblue figuring out what she didn’t know she didn’t know; and it goes without saying that that’s a difficult thing to write about! Luckily, as I mentioned before, I just want to live in this world so any slight flaws are easily forgiven. A recommended read.
Variant by Robinson Wells
I read this book for a Harper-sponsored book club but only got about a third of it read before the discussion. Normally when that happens I just say “oh well” and move onto the next book I need to read. But for Variant I had to read it! It’s a great boarding school story that is actually told from a boy’s point of view which is so fresh. And the twist? I totally didn’t see it coming! There was a great mix of action, romance, and mystery in this book and I look forward to reading the sequel. A recommended read.
When Rory moves from Louisiana to a boarding school in London she doesn’t expect for a Jack the Ripper copycat to begin murdering victims in her neighborhood. (Spoilers head!) She especially doesn’t expect to see the murderer when sneaking out of school one night and become the star witness in the case. But Rory’s friend Jazza didn’t see anyone there and soon Rory is seeing lots of people that no one else can. When a third roommate shows up and Rory discovers that she’s an undercover cop—for ghosts—her whole life is turned upside down. Joining the ghost hunters Rory confronts the Jack the Ripper copycat ghost and succeeds in sending him away to the afterlife. My feelings on this book are surprisingly neutral. There are definitely some strong moments; Rory is an authentic teen (she and I literally had one of the same concerns before living in London!) and her friendship with Jazza felt so real. They were a great pair. The setting was well described, the pacing was quirk, and the language enjoyable. There were a few questionable elements, though. First, as soon as the undercover cop entered the book (roughly halfway through) Jazza is relegated to the background. Although ghost hunting is cooler than roommate-bonding Jazza was such an authentic character I really missed her. It felt very odd that such a major character in the first half could so quickly become a minor character in the second half. Secondly, there were brief sections from other point of views; adults (nurse, researcher, techie) who had something to do with the Jack the Ripper case. The book even opened with one of these sections. It was jarring to get these brief sections from other points of view; although the information they gave the reader enhanced the reader’s understanding of the situation it wasn’t necessary information and could have be presented through Rory listening to the news, for example. This is a new direction for Maureen Johnson and is missing the quirkiness I loved in Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes. A good comp for this is a ghost-paranormal-with-slight-historical-bend the Haunting Emma series by Lee Nichols which I think is stronger than this title. However, I love London so any book that brings the city to life as much as I did is a fun pick. And the cover is fantastic!
The Moves Make the Man by Bruce Brooks
This is an engaging tween coming-of-age story about friendship and responsibly set on a backdrop of basketball. Jerome, an African American boy in the 1970s South, thinks he can handle everything—but when he’s the only black kid to integrate the schools he meets Bix, a troubled while boy with plenty of problems. As Jerome struggled through several problems, including his mother’s hospitalization, he tries to figure out Bix. The boys bond over basketball and form a tentative friendship.
The style of narration is sure to capture readers, especially reluctant readers, because the first chapter tells of what is to come with Jerome breaking into Bix’s house and telling readers that Bix has disappeared. This is a great hook and the rest of the book is spent as a flashback showing Jerome and Bix’s growing friendship. The issues, quick writing, and basketball backdrop, and 1985 Newbery Honor are sure to keep this book popular in classroom.
Bartimaeus: The Amulet of Samarkand by Johnathan Stroud
I can’t tell you have many people both inside and out of the industry have recommended this middle grade fantasy series. And all those people were so right—the world building of this book is such a delightful mix of contemporary London and true fantasy elements. The story centers on neglected but extremely talented magician’s apprentice Nathaniel who has raised a djinni to extract revenge on a powerful magician by stealing a powerful amulet. Multiple adventures ensue and Nathaniel even ends up saving the Prime Minister. One of the most charming elements of this book was the first person narrative of the djinni, which includes many irreverent comments, often in the footnotes. A recommended read.
Full Manuscripts: 8