Review: Wayfarer

Wayfarer
Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a sequel goes, this book is much better than a typical second book, but that’s probably because Bracken has avoided a trilogy. Nicholas and Etta begin separated and, while readers know from the end of PASSENGER that Etta is alive, we don’t know where or when she is. Neither does Etta for that matter. Lots of surprises in this installment including Etta meeting her dad, discovering that Julien is alive because he was stranded just like Etta, and the insertion of a mystical Faustian figure in the Belladonna. The travelers take us through early 20th century revolutionary Russia, San Fransisco after the Quake in 1906, Carthage during the Roman siege, and an alternate historical timeline in which Etta’s beloved New York is completely destroyed. Rose’s history is more fleshed out in this book, making her manipulation of Etta more understandable, but not necessarily more acceptable. This book blends Rose’s past, with the Thorns emerging as a force that really exists, with the journeys Nicholas and Etta are taking to try and get back to each other. At the center of it all is the astrolabe, which just about everyone has come to agree must be destroyed to prevent Ironwood, and an even more evil power-the Shadow, from getting their hands on it.

I’m a fan of a happy ending as much as the next girl, and this one delivers. The things that saves it from being a complete saccharine overload is that there is some delayed gratification in getting to the happy ending. I think one or two more deaths would have made it less tied-up-with-a-bow, but Alice stays dead and not everyone comes out of the struggle unscathed. The overall message is also one I can get behind: We can’t rely on others to keep our world free from evil-we have to make the world around us the kind of place we want to live.

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Review: Passenger

Passenger
Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a BIG book. Lots of pages, yes, but Bracken tackles a lot with time-travel world building including passages to different eras and locales. Her main character is a headstrong, violin playing, steel-willed heroine, Etta, who pairs up with a biracial, former slave now self-proclaimed “privateer” (read pirate), Nicholas, to steal a magical astrolabe from an evil megalomaniac who also happens to be Nicholas’s grandfather. The pacing in this one is breakneck once you make it through the slow intro. Following the travelers from place to place proves challenging to keep up with and Bracken chooses both familiar and exotic locales for her characters to traverse.

Etta makes a few jumps in conclusive logic after she’s spirited away by Sophia that seem unrealistic. Her mother, Rose, is emotionally distant, and the leaps Etta makes in connecting her new time-traveling situation to assumptions about her mother’s intentions for her as a traveler are unbelievable in their accuracy. If her mother was as closed off as we are supposed to believe, Etta would need a lot more help in navigating this new wrinkle in her life and discovering her mother’s intent for Etta’s role in this game Ironwood is playing. Supporting character, Sophia Ironwood is deliciously awful and is at once pitiable for the callous way in which her grandfather Ironwood dismisses her, and easy to hate given her venomous attacks on Nicholas which, seem at first racially based, but develop a more complex nuance as the story progresses. Nicholas is trapped by the social constructs of his time and is sometimes annoying with his Doomsday View of his future, particularly when he becomes entangled with Etta. I always want love to overcome.

Ultimately, Bracken weaves it all together and brings the strengths of each character into play. The cliffhanger ending had me cursing the time lag between publications. Clearly, I enjoyed this one since I read it twice. I read it last spring after it had been out for a bit, and revisited it this month to prepare for reading Wayfarer, the conclusion to the story. I applaud Bracken for limiting herself to two installments since three or more seems to be The Thing in publishing these days.

BRIDGE: This would be a great title for lovers of historical fiction. It would pair well with a study of American Revolutionary time period or WWII Britain, those two locales receiving the most description and time in the story. The series itself would be a good one for character study as Sophia and Nicholas both change so much throughout the arc of the series.

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Review: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

My rating: 0 of 5 stars

Harry’s story is intriguing and tragic, yet despite that, I couldn’t keep reading. Maybe if I had been reading it instead of listening to it I might have been able to finish it. The concept is interesting: a man is part of a special group of people who relive their lives over and over again retaining the knowledge and memories from their previous lives. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to keep my interest. Almost halfway through, I am still not sure exactly what the conflict in the story is. I thought there was something to resolve with his biological father, but no – that happens early. Then I thought it might be about how to avoid the reliving lives thing. Again, no. I kept going because I thought maybe Harry was looking for his one great love. No. Ultimately the thing that clinched my quitting it was the endless passages of existential self-introspection. Paragraphs and paragraphs of wonderings about the meaning of time and the meaning of life. Even more paragraphs of scientific hypothesizing about how time works and the scientific, moral, and historical implications of changing history. I couldn’t take it. Perhaps I’ll go back to it at some point, but for now it goes on my Abandoned list.

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Review: Exit, Pursued by a Bear

Exit, Pursued by a Bear
Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

BRIDGE: (obvious) A Winter’s Tale by Shakespeare, Tess of the D’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy, or House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

READ ALIKES: The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, or

REVIEW: I’m usually a sucker for a happy ending, but this one left me with a weird taste in my mouth. I saw E.K. Johnston speak at ALAN in Nov. 2016, and I knew it would be an idealistic portrayal of a rape victim’s experience. I found myself continually thinking “Wow. That would never happen that way” or “Hermione is really handling this well”. On one hand, this book could be a good “instructional” read for families and communities on How To Deal with rape cases and victims. On the other hand, this could have an adverse affect on rape victims themselves. Hermione is so calm and well-adjusted throughout her ordeal, I worry that any reader who may have had an experience with sexual assault or is the victim of rape will feel that any reaction other than one like Hermione’s is a “wrong” reaction. While a situation like this without stumbling is sometimes reality, it is hardly the norm and I worry that it’s too easy.

That being said, Johnston’s writing is great and Hermione’s life and community are fullfilling. I also enjoyed a look into a high school cheerleading world that doesn’t involve airheads or cattiness. Again, perhaps not 100% reality, but cheerleaders get a bad wrap in YA and it’s nice to see the commitment to competition and their sport. Polly is a tremendous best friend and we should all be so lucky to have such a loyally fierce and supportive person in our corner. It’s a lovely snapshot of what humankind could be if we choose love and support.

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Review: George

George
George by Alex Gino

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the most important book I’ve read this summer-maybe the most important book since Speak. George is certain of her identity but uncertain about all her family and friends’ reactions. With the help of her friend Kelly, she is able to navigate letting the world know that she is a girl. There are so many students who need this book and families who could benefit from the insight provided by the 1st person narrative. While George is a 4th grader, any age readerĀ could read and appreciate this book, making it an excellent crossover novel and invaluable resource. George is lucky that her best friend is so understanding and the revelation provides clarity to her brother Scott’s confusion about George’s personality. George’s “village” is slower to understand, which is realistic, and as George’s mother says, there is a long road ahead of all of them. But what a powerful message to kids that owning your identity is ok and speaking out and making oneself heard is the best way to understanding those we live with. I can’t wait to offer this book to my students and POSSIBLY help them discuss and understand that no matter how differently we are all made, it is truly important to BE WHO YOU ARE.

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Review: Winger

Winger
Winger by Andrew Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent look into the mind of an adolescent boy in all his sexually charged, self-doubting glory. Ryan Dean is endearing and aggravating at the same time. The Annie plot-line is predictable but sprinkled with good banter. The conflict involving Joey builds subtly for the second half of the book while Smith does some superb distraction with JP. West’s eventual self-actualization is a bit far-fetched for a 14 year-old but the fallout from the climax hits home. Learned a bit about rugby and how little guys and girls really differ emotionally. Can’t wait to get my hands on Standoff.

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Review: Incarceron

Incarceron
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Unbelievable world building and dueling narration make this a can’t miss. Incarceron is a centuries-old self-contained, idealized prison that has become a Lord of the Flies-esque battle for survival for its inmates. I wish the differences between the Civicry and the other groups of inmates had been explained better. The immensity of Incarceron is clear but vaguely mapped. I would have liked a bit more concrete description of the “lands” within Incarceron. Perhaps that will come in the sequel.

Lots of cliffhangers to keep readers turning pages. Claudia is a strong-willed character who is rightly suspicious of her father, The Warden. Finn knows he doesn’t belong with the Winglord and the Comitatus but isn’t sure where to go instead. I enjoyed this reversal of gender roles. Fisher does a good job of weaving the two worlds together and leaves myriad possibilities of exploration and resolution for the sequel.

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