Monday, March 31, 2014

Sky Jumpers

Sky Jumpers (Sky Jumpers, #1) (Whitney Finalist, middle grade)

Peggy Eddleman's Sky Jumpers is a terrific middle grade novel--it's easy to see why it's been getting all the buzz it has. It's got a great action sequence combined with heart, and should appeal to most young (and not-so-young) readers.

After the green bombs of World War III wipe out most of humanity (but don't destroy the planet because they're "green"), the survivors struggle to rebuild their communities. Some fifty years or so after the war, 12 year-old Hope lives in a unique community in White Rock, a rich farming community inside a bomb crater, protected from marauding bandits by a ring of deadly, super compressed air known as "Bomb's Breath." Because so much of the pre-war technology was lost, Hope's community values inventors and inventions above anything else. And Hope--who is smart, funny, and courageous--is a lousy inventor. What she likes to do, more than anything else, is jump through the "Bomb's Breath," where the denser air catches her and slows her fall.

But when bandits find a way into White Rock and demand the last of their critical medical supply, Hope realizes it's time for her to use her strengths. Since the bandits only count adults and youth 14 and up, Hope and her friends are able to sneak away. But it takes all of her considerable smarts and resourcefulness to find the help her town desperately needs.

Eddleman's writing is pretty straight-forward and unadorned, but that works perfectly for this novel, as it doesn't get in the way of the action. But what I liked best was that, in addition to the great concept, Hope has a rich character development, as she finds a way past her concerns about fitting in and making her parents proud. The central message--to find your strengths and use them--is one that all children need to hear.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Diamonds and Deceit

Diamonds and Deceit (At Somerton, #2) Leila Rasheed's Diamonds and Deceit is the sequel to Cinders and Sapphires and is every bit as frothy, drama-laden, and fun as its predecessor (and yes, reminiscent of its Downton Abbey comparisons).

In this book, the season is in full swing. Ada struggles to contain her misgivings about her engagement to the seemingly perfect Lord Fintan--who has promised her an Oxford education as part of their marriage deal. And yet, Ada doesn't feel anything for him like she did for her first love. There's also the not-insignificant detail that Ada's new stepsister Charlotte is in love with Lord Fintan.

Rose, the former housemaid elevated to lady, struggles with the backbiting and unkindness of other debutantes, even as she manages to snare the interest of one of the season's most eligible--if unpredictable--bachelors, Lord Alexander Ross.

And back home at Somerton, the putative heir William is going through money at an astounding rate while also harassing his young son's nurse, Priya. And Ada's stepbrother Sebastian grieves that his former valet/lover Oliver is in jail for a crime he didn't commit.

So--lots of drama, no? Very Downtonesque. Throw in pretty girls, parties, lovely dress descriptions and you have this novel. It's reasonably well-written and fast-paced and a fun brain-candy read. There are a lot of side stories and I wasn't equally invested in all of them--and I felt like the ending wrapped things up a bit too neatly. (Though I'm sure if there's a sequel I will read that too . . .)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Safe Passage

Carla Kelly, Safe Passage (Whitney finalist, historical)

Safe PassageI'm a long-time fan of Carla Kelly's--my mother, an avid Regency romance reader, discovered her years and years ago and introduced me to her books. And I've stayed a fan even with her shift to western, mostly LDS, historical novels. I thought her previous book, My Loving Vigil Keeping, was one of her very best. So I went into this book with admittedly high expectations.

Safe Passage follows some of the Mormon colonists in Mexico at the start of the Mexican revolution. Ammon Hancock manages to get himself to Utah, only to find that his estranged wife, Addie has stayed behind with her dying grandfather. Of course Ammon goes back for her, and the bulk of the novel is the story of how the two manage to evade the different factions of the Mexican army, guerillas, and even a mountain lion.

The historical details--of a time period I admittedly do not know much about--were fascinating. I liked, too, that this novel was told primarily from Ammon's perspective (something not as common from historical romance novels), and that it explores the reconstruction of a marriage rather than the typical meet-fall-madly-in-love scenario. That said, I wasn't always convinced by the on and off relationship between the two main characters and found the initial reason for their estrangement a little far-fetched: not that it couldn't have resulted in misunderstanding, but that the two allowed that misunderstanding to grow to the point it did.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Liesl Shurtliff, Rump (Whitney finalist, Middle Grade)

Rump: The True Story of RumpelstiltskinAs one might suspect from the title, Rump is a retelling of Rumplestiltskin, from the point of view of the title character. In this version, Rump is a twelve-year-old boy who is perpetually a little cold and a little hungry as he and his grandmother scratch a living out of the mines in the mountain. But when Rump discovers an unexpected talent for spinning, his life beings to change, and not necessarily in a good way. Red, the closest thing he has to a friend, warns him that all magic has a cost--and the more powerful the magic, the bigger the cost. And she's right.

In his attempt to figure out his gift and to right some of the mistakes he's made (leading, among other things, to the miller's daughter being taken by the king to spin straw into gold) take him to parts of the kingdom he's never seen before, brings him in close contact with pixies and trolls, and teaches him about his own abilities, his name, and the kind of person he wants to be.

There was a lot to love here: I loved Shurtliff's effortless writing, and Rump's charmingly flawed character. I loved his off-beat sense of humor and his propensity for rhymes. I as also impressed with the way Shurtliff stayed true to the original retelling (down to the promise of the first-born child) and still make Rump likeable. And I liked Shurtliff's exploration of the power of names, something I've long been fascinated with. Overall, I think this is a delightful middle grade book--one most young readers would find fun, relatable, and funny to boot.

*I'm also predisposed to like this because the author is one of my sister's critique partners (it was fun to see her name in print, even if only in the acknowledgements!)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Cinders and Sapphires

Leila Rasheed, Cinders and Sapphires

Cinders & Sapphires by Leila RasheedThis was my indulgence read for the week. Set in early 19th C. Edwardian England, this book seems to be a young adult version of Downton Abbey, replete with housemaids with extraordinary dreams (Rose wants to compose music), beautiful if antagonistic (step) sisters, a handsome dissolute son and heir (with his own romantic entanglements and a secret he desperately wants to hide), a handsome but ineligible suitor for Ava (the main character, who longs to study at Oxford) and a wide ranging cast of characters. Very much ala Downton Abbey, the story is soapy and fun—as long as you’re willing to sustain a certain suspension of belief.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Esther the Queen

Heather B. Moore, Esther the Queen (Whitney, Historical)

Esther the Queen by Heather B. MooreEsther has always been one of my favorite Biblical heroines, and I enjoyed reading Moore’s meticulous recreation of her story. Thought the overarching plotline remains true the Bible account (if the timeline is abridged), Moore does a nice job of fleshing out other details. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the backstory to Haman, but I thought the accounts of the harem and Persian court culture were fascinating, and Moore did a great job making the romance between Esther and the king believable and compelling. My major complaint is that the story wrapped up too quickly. After building for some time to the confrontation between Esther and Haman, things seemed to resolve fast.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Martina Boone, at  Adventures in YA publishing, issued the following affirmation challenge:
I would love it if you would let me be a small part of having you achieve the impossible by affirming your dream aloud. Yes, I think that's important. Affirmations. Repeating a thing until it becomes true for ourselves is part of the magic of creation, and finding the courage to live and take chances is one of the themes in the book.
And she's included some great giveaway opportunities for those who participate in the challenge, so check it out!

I have to admit that I find this affirmation slightly terrifying. I don't know why. My family has known I wanted to write since I inflicted a horrible novella on them in junior high. Maybe before then (there was also that dramatic play I wrote and then forced my siblings to act when I was about 11).

But somehow admitting publicly feels risky--even fraudulent. Sometimes I feel like I'm a living cliche: the aspiring writer. Worse, the English professor who aspires to write, because don't nearly all of us?

Maybe I am a fraud. Worse, maybe I'm a hack. It doesn't matter. I want to write. More than that, I want to put a story in front of readers that I can be proud of. I don't know yet exactly what form that will take, though I'm currently hoping for traditional publishing.

So here's my affirmation, my public avowal of my private aspirations. 

House at Rose Creek

Jenny Proctor, The House at Rose Creek (Whitney finalist, General)

The House at Rose Creek by Jenny ProctorWhen aspiring young marketer Kate inherits her late aunt’s house in Rose Creek, she’s touched but also astounded. Though her aunt’s funeral has brought her a little closer to the cousins she was raised with, Kate still feels the effects of their recent estrangement, and she knows her cousins resent their mother’s bequest. And Kate isn’t sure what to do with the house—she has a busy job in Atlanta and can see no life for herself in the sleepy town. But she takes a couple of weeks off work to put her affairs and the house in order, and makes a few discoveries that unsettle her world. First, she meets Andrew, a handsome young architect. Second, she discovers an old journal left by an ancestor in the attic of the house that raises all kinds of religious questions for Kate. And finally, she discovers a legal action against the property that might cost her the house she’s coming increasingly to love.

Proctor does a great job establishing the southern setting of this novel, and I thought she did a great job characterizing Kate. I do agree, though, with the question Shelah raised about the book’s audience. For a primarily Mormon audience, some of the long explanations of the faith Kate begins investigating seem unnecessary; for a non-Mormon audience, they might seem a little didactic. Personally, I enjoyed the other plotlines (particularly the complex relations with her extended family) more than the faith substory.