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Monday, February 9, 2015

January Reads & Giveaway!

Welcome to February! I have to say that my 2015 got off to a roaring reading start with some wonderful young adult and middle-grade titles. Here's the ones I'd recommend to all of you. Scroll down to the bottom to enter a giveaway for any of the above, and I'll send the winner a brand-new copy of his/her favorite. (Hey, the sun is shining and I'm counting the days till spring. I'm feeling generous today. Take advantage.)

YOUNG ADULT

title & author: RUSH by Eve Silver
pub info: Katherine Tegen Books / HarperCollins, 2013; 361 pp
audience: 12+ / YA
genre: science fiction
caveats: no sex, but the story is violent, and there is one teen death in this book, which the author handles very sensitively.
Goodreads summary:
When Miki Jones is pulled from her life, pulled through time and space into some kind of game — her carefully controlled life spirals into chaos.

In the game, she and a team of other teens are sent on missions to eliminate the Drau, terrifying and beautiful alien creatures. There are no practice runs, no training, and no way out. Miki has only the guidance of secretive but maddeningly attractive team leader Jackson Tate, who says the game isn’t really a game, that what Miki and her new teammates do now determines their survival, and the survival of every other person on this planet. She laughs. He doesn’t. And then the game takes a deadly and terrifying turn.
my thoughts:
A smart, well-paced sci-fi story with well-drawn characters. I like Miki especially; both her family life and her game life are complex. The writing is not flowery, but good and solid. It's an interesting story concept, especially as Miki begins to question her role and the nature of reality. There's nothing too heavy here, though, and the novel zips right along. For those who like a nice romance, the elusive Jackson Tate provides a good bit of intrigue. CAUTION: This book doesn't so much end as stop. It's the first of a three-part series (known as the Game), and if you want the rest of the story, you'll need to go on to PUSH (2014) and CRASH (due out in June).

find Eve:
Learn more about award-winning and best-selling author Eve Silver at her website, Twitter account, and Facebook page.

title & author: Graceling by Kristin Cashore
pub info: Harcourt, 2008; 471 pp
audience: 12+ / YA
genre: fantasy
caveats: a pretty bloody book--not all that graphic, but there's a lot of killing; some sex, but more implied than described
Goodreads summary:
Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight--she's a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king's thug.

When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.

She never expects to become Po's friend.

She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace--or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away.
my thoughts:
If you've read a lot of tough-heroine-plus-romance YA--e.g., The Hunger Games and its many copycats--Graceling will seem a bit old hat. But remember that it was published in 2008, so it came at the beginning of this wave. Katsa is a marvelous character--interesting, sympathetic, a bit of an oddball. I love her. The romance? Eh. It will thrill those who love that stuff, but it's not my bag. Despite its length, I raced through this book because the writing is tight and marvelous, much more seasoned than you'd expect from a debut. Cashore does a wonderful job of creating her complex world, and I was immediately immersed in it. The ending was a bit abrupt, but all in all, a great read. There are two more books in the series, but they're more companion novels than sequels; Graceling is a complete story, and I don't think Katsa appears in the other two books, Fire (Dial, 2009) and Bitterblue (2012).

find Kristin:
Kristin blogs regularly here. Learn more about her through her FAQ page, and find out where she's appearing next right here.

MIDDLE GRADE


title & author: A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff
pub info: Philomel / Penguin, 2013; 240 pp
audience: 9+ / MG
genre: real-world fantasy
caveats: none
Goodreads summary:
Told in multiple viewpoints, A Tangle of Knots is a magnificent puzzle. In a slightly magical world where everyone has a Talent, eleven-year-old Cady is an orphan with a phenomenal Talent for cake baking. But little does she know that fate has set her on a journey from the moment she was born. And her destiny leads her to a mysterious address that houses a lost luggage emporium, an old recipe, a family of children searching for their own Talents, and a Talent Thief who will alter her life forever. However, these encounters hold the key to Cady's past and how she became an orphan. If she's lucky, fate may reunite her with her long-lost parent.

Lisa Graff adds a pinch of magic to a sharply crafted plot to create a novel that will have readers wondering about fate and the way we're all connected.
my thoughts:
I adored this book. The writing is beautiful without being difficult. The characters' interconnected lives are like one of Cady's elaborate layered cakes. While this is a world where (almost) everyone has a magical Talent, it's very much our own real world as well--children are ornery, parents disappoint, friends are made and betrayed. My only caution to readers is not to let the book sit. There's a lot going on, and if you return to the novel after leaving it alone for a few days, you'll find yourself flipping back through the chapters to maintain the thread of the different viewpoints. Do yourself a favor and just lose yourself in it for a while. You won't regret it. Shortlisted for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature in 2013.

find Lisa:
Lisa's website will tell you all about her books and latest news. Look for her on Twitter and Facebook, too. Her most recent book, Absolutely Almost (2014), earned multiple starred reviews,  landed on several "Best of" lists, and is an ALA Notable Book.

title & author: The Arrival by Shaun Tan
pub info: Lothian Books, 2007; 128 pp
audience: all ages
genre: fantastical picture book/graphic
caveats: none
Goodreads summary:
In a heartbreaking parting, a man gives his wife and daughter a last kiss and boards a steamship to cross the ocean. He's embarking on the most painful yet important journey of his life--he's leaving home to build a better future for his family.

Shaun Tan evokes universal aspects of an immigrant's experience through a singular work of the imagination. He does so using brilliantly clear and mesmerizing images. Because the main character can't communicate in words, the book forgoes them too. But while the reader experiences the main character's isolation, he also shares his ultimate joy.
my thoughts:
I'd been wanting this book for years, and when I finally saw it in the bookshop (while Christmas shopping for other people), I snapped it up. It is simply amazing. I've labeled it "for all ages," though it isn't a picture book for a toddler. It's a complex story of an immigrant man who leaves everything he knows to venture off into a new life. What he finds there is both familiar and fantastical. The story is told entirely through Tan's amazing illustrations--no text--but it is endearing and utterly captivating. I'm a words person, yes, but I wouldn't have added a single one to this beautiful book. It made me cry and laugh and "read" it--absorb it--again and again. Everyone needs this book!  That means you.

find Shaun:
Shaun's superfun website can be found here (don't illustrators have the best sites?). He is the author of many graphic novels and picture books and even an Oscar-winning animated short (The Lost Thing, 2011). His blog is gorgeous, too.  

And now for the giveaway ... 
Let me know which of these wonderful books YOU'D like to win! U.S. entries only, please.

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