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Completely Justified: The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron

Welcome back!

I love it when you’ve been excited to read a book for years and when you finally get to that book you were completely justified in your excitement! Well, that’s what happened with The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron.

When Katharine Tulman’s inheritance is called into question by the rumor that her eccentric uncle is squandering away the family fortune, she is sent to his estate to have him committed to an asylum. The Dark Unwinding by Sharon CameronBut instead of a lunatic, Katharine discovers a genius inventor with his own set of rules, who employs a village of nine hundred people rescued from the workhouses of London.

Katharine is now torn between protecting her own inheritance and preserving the peculiar community she grows to care for deeply. And her choices are made even more complicated by a handsome apprentice, a secretive student, and fears for her own sanity. As the mysteries of the estate begin to unravel, it is clear that not only is her uncle’s world at stake, but also the state of England as Katharine knows it.

I don’t know why The Dark Unwinding isn’t talked about more by bloggers (maybe it was when it first came out?) but I think this is one of most underrated books I’ve read. There is just so much that I’m naturally drawn to in a story; romance, historical British setting, and mystery! It’s all here and it’s all combined to create a beautiful atmospheric read. The plot itself is abundantly creepy with it’s abandoned English manor house full of strange waxen models and perplexing house staff, and Catherine’s odd uncle with his strange preferences, but placing the story on an already bizarre historical setting makes it that much more unsettling!

We see Katherine, our narrator, as innocent, honest, yet conflicted and absolutely reminiscent of Catherine Morland in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.  She is sent to Uncle Tully’s estate, Stranwyne Keep, with what seems like a pretty straight forward task, only to be faced with an inexplicable situation; an uncle who clearly has what we now know to be autism, and two entire towns completely dependent on him for their livelihoods. Katherine wants to do what’s right, but feels stuck in an impossible situation and needs the help of other supporting characters. These supporting characters are all so bright and vivid that you begin to fall in love with them just as Katherine does (with one in particular!!).

The story has a slight steampunk edge woven into the real life historical setting. If you haven’t yet heard of the strange history of Welbeck Abbey (Nottinghamshire, England), once you’ve read this book you’ll rush to your laptop to learn more about this weird estate where every room was painted pink!

The Dark Unwinding is the first book in a series and I can’t wait to get my hands on the second book, A Spark Unseen. Middle grade readers and up who are interested in a light steampunk read will find The Dark Unwinding mesmerizing.

Author: Sharon Cameron

Publisher: Scholastic Press (August 27, 2012)

Format: paperback

Length: 318 pages

Series: First book in The Dark Unwinding series

YA/MG: MG/YA

Buy the Book:

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Give It A Go: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Hi there!

Today is the last day of school! WHAT! WHAT!

With that said, it is a little odd that today I’m reviewing a book that is all about the start of school! OOPS!

BookTasty is generally a blog for Young Adult and Middle Grades fiction. Once in a while, however, I read a New Adult book.

If you’re not familiar with the New Adult genre, you should know that NA is, “typically, a novel is considered NA if it encompasses the transition between adolescence (a life stage often depicted in Young Adult fiction) and true adulthood. In NA, “protagonists generally fall between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six, though exceptions may apply. NA characters are often portrayed experiencing: college, living away from home for the first time, military deployment, apprenticeships, a first steady job, a first serious relationship, etc.” (NA Alley)

It’s not my favorite genre out there, since I prefer YA and MG, but I’d been hearing good things about Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (and the cover is so perfect!) so I figured I’d give it a go!

———————

Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan…

Fangirl by Rainbow RowellBut for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere. Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

———————

At first, it was a little weird for me to be reading about characters who are in college! But even though it was totally different from my usual I think that Fangirl is a really good introduction to the NA genre because at it’s heart, Fangirl is a story about learning how to deal with change. All of Cath’s Simon Snow fandom obsession is simply a symbol of Cath’s inability to deal with change on a major scale. Ever since her mother unexpectedly left, Cath has been in a way stunted emotionally. She clings to what she knows as if she’d literally stop breathing if she let go, which is why Cath’s first year in college is so challenging for her.

As a main character Cath is lovable and heartbreaking at the same time. I really think Cath is someone I’d want as a friend, however, as someone who is pretty independent I did struggle with her at times. I got easily frustrated with how she was so uncertain and scared of doing things on her own, like figure out how to navigate the dorm dining hall (she didn’t eat a real meal for weeks). But once the cause of this fear of change began to be made known to me, it clicked somewhere in my mind and my heart started to hurt for Cath.

I think it was the same for Cath’s roommate Reagan (whom I totally love). Reagan becomes not only a good friend to Cath, but in the end, becomes a sort of older sister to her as well. They’re relationship is just so real and it’s the kind of thing that makes you think, “That. That right there is what friendship is all about.” Reagan comes alongside a hurting and fearful Cath, holds her hand, and helps her start climbing those difficult steps. And Levi. I adore Levi as a romantic interest for multiple reasons, but mostly because he owns up to mistakes and is an incredibly loyal friend to Cath. He sees her “crazy” and doesn’t run away, but instead encourages her, like Reagan does, to get out of the fog. There is a very sweet romance here.

What is also really cool about this book is the snippets we get from both the original Simon Snow books and from Cath’s Simon Snow fan fiction. It’s interesting to think of fiction within fiction and these snippets often mirrored what was going on in Cath’s life. We saw similarities between Cath’s struggles and Simon’s stories without it being too obvious that they’re mean to support one another.

In addition to being a book about change, Fangirl is also so much more. Rowell delivers a story that is deep and not superficial. Her characters are also figuring out family, love, friendships, sisterhood, mental illness and college. And although NA is not my preferred genre, I found that if more of it was as thoughtful as this book is, I’d probably enjoy it more. With that said, if you’re interested in reading NA, but don’t know were to start, I recommend Fangirl as a strong introduction to the genre.

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Publisher:  St. Martin’s Griffin (September 10, 2013)

Format: Audiobook (Listening Library)

Length: 12 hours and 48 minutes

Narrator(s): Rebecca Lowman and Maxwell Caufield

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: New Adult (NA)

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Charming: The Sound of Your Voice…Only Really Far Away by Frances O’Roark Dowell

Hello!

I accidentally read the third book in a trilogy recently…before reading the first two! OOPS!

I honestly didn’t know The Sound of Your Voice…Only Really Far Away by Frances O’Roark Dowell belonged in a trilogy because it really did seem to stand on it’s own.

In the conclusion to the bestselling Secret Language of Girls trilogy, Marylin and Kate find that boys can be just as complicated as friendship. Marylin knows that, as a middle school cheerleader, she has certain obligations. She has to smile as she walks down the hall, be friends with the right The Sound of Your Voice Only Really Far Away by Frances O'Roark Dowellpeople, and keep her manicure in tip-top shape. But Marylin is surprised to learn there are also rules about whom she’s allowed to like;and Benjamin, the student body president, is deemed unacceptable. But maybe there is a way to convince the cheerleaders that her interest in Benjamin is for their own good.

Kate, of course, finds this ludicrous. She is going to like whom she likes, thank you very much. And she just so happens to be spending more time than ever with Matthew Holler. But even a girl who marches to the beat of her own guitar strings can play the wrong notes;and are she and Matthew even playing the same song? She’s just not sure. So when Matthew tells Kate that the school’s Audio Lab needs funding from the student government, she decides to do what she can to help him get it.

But there isn’t enough money to go around, and it soon becomes clear that only one of the two girls can get her way. Ultimately, though, is it even her way? Or are both girls pushing for something they never really wanted in the first place?

One thing I absolutely think is perfect about this book is the cover. The colors are just so bright and inviting. It is one of my favorite books to display in my media center!

Like I mentioned before, The Sound of Your Voice, is the conclusion of a trilogy. Since I read it without having read the first two books I can honestly say that I do believe it can stand alone and you don’t have to have read the previous books. Dowell does a good job of providing context in a way that doesn’t feel like she is playing catch up; there is no “previously on Dawson’s Creek” moments.

Identity and personal ethics are big themes for this book. Both Marilyn and Kate are struggling to figure out their own identities and how these identities relate to and influence the choices they make. They’re basically asking themselves questions about the type of person they will be.

The girls’ on-and-off-again friendship is completely relateable to anyone who has experienced middle school. While struggling with the shape of their own identities, they’re also figuring out if its okay for their friend to have a totally different identity – can friendship even happen with they’re so different from one another? These questions are so well known to middle schoolers that it just amazes me how well Dowell writes them. It’s like she vividly remembers what it was like to be at this pivotal stage in life.

As implied on the cover and in the book’s summary, there is some romance woven throughout the story, but it really does take a backseat to the real focus, which is Marilyn and Kate’s personal and relational issues.

For those of you who have actually read the first two books, you’ll enjoy hearing from these characters again. And for the people like me, who happened on The Sound of Your Voice…But Only Really Far Away without knowledge of the trilogy, you’ll be pleased with this charming contemporary story of friendship and identity.

Author: Frances O’Roark Dowell

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (August 27, 2013)

Format: Hardcover

Length: 192 pages

Series: Third book in The Secret Language of Girls trilogy

YA/MG: MG

Buy the Book: The Sound of Your Voice, Only Really Far Away (Secret Language of Girls)

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Waiting on Wednesday: The Secret Hum of a Daisy

Hello!

It’s time to share a soon-to-be-released title that I’m excited about! We call this meme, which is hosted by Breaking the Spine, Waiting on Wednesday.

This middle grades title does sound like it has potential to make me want to cry (and we all know how I feel about that), but I think The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer also sounds like it could be a very sweet read.

Twelve-year-old Grace and her mother have always been their own family, traveling from place to place The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczerlike gypsies. But Grace wants to finally have a home all their own. Just when she thinks she’s found it her mother says it’s time to move again. Grace summons the courage to tell her mother how she really feels and will always regret that her last words to her were angry ones.

After her mother’s sudden death, Grace is forced to live with a grandmother she’s never met. She can’t imagine her mother would want her to stay with this stranger. Then Grace finds clues in a mysterious treasure hunt, just like the ones her mother used to send her on. Maybe it is her mother, showing her the way to her true home.

This summary reminds me a little of Wild Things by Clay Carmichael, which was another sweet little middle grades read about a teen who looses a mother and is forced to live with family they’d never previously met. Also, this cover is just so lovely!

So, what are you waiting on today?

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Waiting on Wednesday: All Four Stars

Welcome back friends!

I am a middle school librarian, but reading YA is my fave.  So, sometimes I have to remind myself to read some middle grades books. It’s not that I don’t enjoy middle grades fiction, I do, I’m just naturally drawn to YA more. Well, when I heard about Tara Dairman’s All Four Stars I didn’t have to remind myself to read middle grades, I really wanted to read it! All Four Stars by Tara Dairman

Gladys Gatsby has dreamed of becoming a restaurant critic for New York’s biggest newspaper–she just didn’t expect to be assigned her first review at age 11. Now, if she wants to meet her deadline and hang on to her dream job, she’ll have to defy her fast-food-loving parents, cook her way into the heart of her sixth-grade archenemy, and battle Manhattan’s meanest maitre d’.

Isn’t that the most adorable cover?! I love it! All Four Stars sounds like such a unique middle grade read too, I mean it’s not often you see a middle grade’s character writing foodie reviews. I have some foodie students who would totally be into this one!

All Four Stars will be released on July 10!

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Waiting on Wednesday: The Falconer

Hello!

It’s time for another Waiting on Wednesday (hosted by Breaking the Spine) and today I’m showcasing The Falconer by Elizabeth May.

Edinburgh, Scotland, 1844. Lady Aileana Kameron, the only daughter of the Marquess of Douglas, was destined for a life carefully planned around Edinburgh’s social events – right up until a faery killed her mother. Now it’s the 1844 The Falconer by Elizabeth Maywinter season and Aileana slaughters faeries in secret, in between the endless round of parties, tea and balls. Armed with modified percussion pistols and explosives, she sheds her aristocratic facade every night to go hunting. She’s determined to track down the faery who murdered her mother, and to destroy any who prey on humans in the city’s many dark alleyways.

But the balance between high society and her private war is a delicate one, and as the fae infiltrate the ballroom and Aileana’s father returns home, she has decisions to make. How much is she willing to lose – and just how far will Aileana go for revenge?

I’m always in the mood for a fantasy read and The Falconer sounds like it could be a good one! I love the fact that this one takes place in 19th century Scotland because you know, I just don’t think there are enough books that take place in Scotland! Haha

Is anyone else excited for The Falconer?  If so, you’ll have to wait until May 6 to read this one…May is soon right?!

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Waiting on Wednesday: Prisoner of Night and Fog

Hello!

Are you in the mood for some historical fiction?! Well, I am which is why today’s Waiting on Wednesday features Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman.

In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Priosner of Night and Fog by Anne BlankmanGretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her “uncle” Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf’s, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet. Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler. And Gretchen follows his every command.

Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can’t stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can’t help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she’s been taught to believe about Jews. As Gretchen investigates the very people she’s always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed? From debut author Anne Blankman comes this harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she’s ever believed . . . and to trust her own heart instead.

Aren’t you intrigued?! I mean the whole idea of your uncle being Hitler…THE Hitler is crazy. I’ve always wondered about those related to Hitler and what they thought of his choices and how they must have felt after his demise. Prisoner of Night and Fog will probably be an intense read, but we have to wait until April 22 to get our hands on it.

What books are you waiting for today?

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Sheer Perfection: Better off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg

Hola!

Sometimes the perfect book comes along at just the perfect time. That’s what happened for me with Elizabeth Eulberg’s Better off Friends.

For Macallan and Levi, it was friends at first sight. Everyone says guys and girls can’t be just friends, but these two are. They hang out after school, share tons of inside jokes, their families are super close, and Better Off Friends by Elizabeth EulbergLevi even starts dating one of Macallan’s friends. They are platonic and happy that way.

Eventually they realize they’re best friends — which wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t keep getting in each other’s way. Guys won’t ask Macallan out because they think she’s with Levi, and Levi spends too much time joking around with Macallan, and maybe not enough time with his date. They can’t help but wonder, are they more than friends or are they better off without making it even more complicated? Can guys and girls ever really be just friends? Or are they always one fight away from not speaking again — and one kiss away from true love?

Seriously, this one came along at the best time. I’ve been on a pretty big fantasy kick recently (for like the past year! haha) so I think I was ready for a quality contemporary read to really dig into. And talk about quality! Better off Friends is probably one of the best contemporary romances I’ve read in a while…right up there with Stephanie Perkins and Sarah Dessen!

I’d heard this one compared to a high school version of When Harry Met Sally and for real, Better off Friends is definitely an homage to that classic film. Macallan and Levi are kind of thrown together by their school principal, but quickly form a relationship based on need and a very silly British television show. Macallan is struggling to make a new life after her mother’s death, while new-guy Levi is simply looking to fit in, so both think of their friendship as kind of a new start. I can completely relate to Macallan and Levi’s friendship because it’s always been easier for me to be friends with guys than with girls. There is a freedom that comes from a friendship with a guy that one can’t get with another girl, but as Levi and Macallan soon discover that freedom usually comes with it’s own share of drama.

Eulberg writes the swoony, drama laden friendship between Macallan and Levi with expert skill. Each chapter alternates between Levi’s narration and Macallan’s. As I’ve mentioned in the past, sometimes switching between narrators can annoy me, but Levi and Macallan’s voices are so clear and distinct that I never have to check back to see who is telling the story. In between each chapter Eulberg has inserted commentary from both narrators, just like in When Harry Met Sally, and the banter between the two is sheer perfection! These were probably my favorite parts of the story, they just added both fun and perspective to Macallan and Levi’s story.

But this isn’t just Levi and Macallan’s story. Throughout the book, we get glimpses of how friendships change as we get older, especially in that transition from middle school to high school. Also, we see the way in which Levi’s mother serves as a stand-in mom for Macallan who is navigating her teenage years without her own mother. Each of these secondary relationships are realistically painful and joyful and just so well portrayed.

You really need to consider adding Better off Friends to your TBR list. I promise you wont’ be sorry, especially if you are looking for a strong contemporary read! It is most definitely a YA title, but I believe that older middle school readers, as well as adults, will appreciate it just as much as I did.

Author: Elizabeth Eulberg

Publisher: Point (February 25, 2014)

Format: ARC (e-galley)

Length: 288 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: YA/MG

Buy the Book: Better Off Friends

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Waiting on Wednesday: Landry Park

Happy Hump Day!

As usual, it’s time for Waiting on Wednesday (hosted by Breaking the Spine).  Each week this event gives bloggers the opportunity to talk about an upcoming new release that is on our radar.

When a book is touted as “Downton Abbey meets The Selection”, I’m all in. According to the blurb on Goodreads.com Landry Park by Bethany Hagen is the love child of Downton Abbey and The Selection.

In a fragmented future United States ruled by the lavish gentry, seventeen-year-old Madeline LLandry Park by Bethany Hagenandry dreams of going to the university. Unfortunately, gentry decorum and her domineering father won’t allow that. Madeline must marry, like a good Landry woman, and run the family estate. But her world is turned upside down when she discovers the devastating consequences her lifestyle is having on those less fortunate. As Madeline begins to question everything she has ever learned, she finds herself increasingly drawn to handsome, beguiling David Dana. Soon, rumors of war and rebellion start to spread, and Madeline finds herself and David at the center of it all. Ultimately, she must make a choice between duty – her family and the estate she loves dearly – and desire.

Ohhh I so hope this one turns out to be as fun of a read as it sounds! I get simultaneously nervous and excited when a book is compared to another favorite of mine. So fingers crossed that Landry Park, which is scheduled for release on February 4, doesn’t let me down!