Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter!

This is just a quick post to say Happy Easter, and to announce that I will be doing the April Blogging From A To Z Challenge!

I'm pretty excited to get back into the habit of frequent blogging--I've been so out of steam that I don't even have any books to write up today!  That's right--I didn't finish a single book this week!  There were some unusual circumstances, mostly having to do with work, but I can't remember the last week I didn't finish even one book.  I am deep into a re-read of Grave Mercy--as much as I wanted to leap straight into Dark Triumph, I had also been looking forward to this re-read.  It's so worth it.  Because, I mean...Duval.  Come on

Anyway, enjoy your Easter/new Doctor Who/new Call the Midwife (in the US)/new Game of Thrones, and check back tomorrow to see what "A" topic I'll be blogging about!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sunday Sunshine: Long Reads Edition

You have one more day to enter my giveaway of Brent Hartinger's books!

This week, I read one adult non-fiction book, in preparation for teaching it, and I thought that might be it.  It took me a few days, and then I picked up one of the longer books that's been on my TBR for quite a while.

Yeah, but then that book was so good I stayed up WAY past my bedtime finishing it.  So I'm happy to share my thoughts on two great longer reads this week!

I also can't wait to finish this blog post and go pick up a new book--for some reason, on my trip to Barnes and Noble yesterday, I was able to pick up a copy of Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers--the follow-up to Grave Mercy!  According to everything I looked up online when I got home, the release date seems to be about two weeks away, so I'm not sure why this was on the shelves...but I got so, so excited when I found it in the store.   It's not often these days that a release date sneaks up on me, and I had forgotten how exciting it is to stumble across the next book in a series I love. So, thanks, B&N!

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't read a lot of non-fiction, but this is the kind of non-fiction writing that makes me want to read more. The three strands of narrative in this book--the story of Henrietta Lacks and her family, the scientific and legal developments connected to Henrietta's cells, and the author's own efforts to learn more about Henrietta--all wove together to create a really fascinating and compelling story. This is definitely a good bridge for readers who haven't read much--or any--narrative non-fiction; I imagine regular readers of non-fiction will love this one as well.

The Miseducation of Cameron PostThe Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been putting off writing this review because I don't feel finished with this book. Do you ever read a book where you feel like it could just keep going, and you'd just keep reading? That's how I feel about this book. Not because it's the most action-packed or hilarious or even heart-breaking (although it is frequently suspenseful and funny and incredibly sad)--but because it feels so real. I can't remember a book I've read that felt more like actual real life. Not that it's similar to my own life--it's that the characters feel so, so much like real people. There's a part of my brain that really thinks I can track down Cameron and ask her what happened next: how's her sweet, batty, diabetic grandma? What about her well-intentioned, loving aunt with a nerve condition? And her aunt's new husband the mild-mannered Schwan's man? I want to know what happened to every single character in the book, minor or major, because the book does such an incredible job making them real. That means that sometimes the story meanders, twisting and turning, and it's not always clear how things will work out for Cameron.

Losing your parents at age twelve isn't easy. Questioning your sexuality, and coming to understand that your community doesn't accept it isn't easy. Feeling stuck in your small town, or actually being committed to an alternative boarding school dedicated to changing who you are definitely isn't easy. Nothing about Cameron Post's life is easy, and nothing about her story is simple. But I think the way it's told in this book is as truthful and honest as it can be.

View all my reviews

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sunday Sunshine: Debut Author Edition

Don't forget to enter my giveaway for a set of books by Brent Hartinger!

I've been totally slacking off on my reading for the Debut Author Challenge, so this week, I read two books from the (long, awesome) list of debut YA books out this year.  I liked them both a lot, but guys, one of them BLEW MY MIND.  I can't promise that it will have that effect on everyone, because it was one of those books for me--you know, when you're reading it, thinking, HEY, [AUTHOR OF BOOK], GET OUT OF MY BRAIN!  Not that it's a book that you would have written, or anything, but like it's the book you didn't know you'd been waiting your whole life to read.  I'm pretty sure Starglass by Phoebe North is this year's Scorpio Races for me--the book that makes me feel like dancing around the house.  The one I just want to carry around with me and slip under my pillow (except, I can't yet, because it doesn't actually come out until JULY, which is killing me.)

Plus, look how pretty:

Anyway, here are my thoughts on What I Read This Week:

StarglassStarglass by Phoebe North
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Um, please forgive me if I sound like I'm losing my mind, but...I am a little bit. That's how much I loved this book. And now I have to figure out how to talk about it without sounding crazy OR giving any spoilers?

Ok: here goes.

First of all, if you loved the Godspeed series by Beth Revis (beginning with Across the Universe) and you've been moping around because you want more great YA Sci-Fi set on a generation ship? Here you go. Starglass takes on a similar setting and similar issues, but in a very, very different way. The social structure on this ship is just as strict and incites just as much tension as the one on Godspeed, but it's set up completely differently.

The society and culture on board the Asherah is unlike anything I've seen in science fiction--maybe I haven't been reading enough science fiction, but I think this one stands out. It feels more human--there are still shops, and cats, and food (proper food, that people cook themselves) and people get to choose (to an extent, at least) who they will marry. Things are dusty and dented and there aren't computers everywhere or loudspeakers blaring commands--heck, there's a belltower, and someone to ring the bell! And, the culture itself is derived from Judaism--the aspects that remain are the secular ones, and in many cases, Jewish culture has been pressed into the service of what the ship's leaders feel is the greater good, but it's pretty neat to see how the Jewish origins of the ship still influence its culture. All in all, the Asherah feels a bit like a shtetl in space, which made my brain explode with its awesomness.

And then there's Terra. I love this girl. I love her bittersweet, complicated, but basically loving relationship with her best friend. I love that she really, really wants to mess around with boys because it feels good and she's a teenager, but that doesn't mean she's a flirt or goes bedhopping or any of the traits usually assigned to girls who enjoy that kind of thing. I love that even though she thinks hooking up is a really good time, she is also looking for her "bashert", essentially her soulmate, because who doesn't want that? But the book never looks down on her for enjoying getting physical with a guy she knows is not her bashert. I love that she talks about her cat a whole bunch. I love that she loves to draw, and that she wasn't magically perfect at it right away but that she got better over time. I love the way her relationships develop over time, with boys and with her family, her best friend, and her boss. She's complicated and she changes and I really loved her a lot.

And the ending! It was the perfect blend of satisfying and cliff-hanging. Obviously I am very excited for the sequel, but since that won't be out for AGES, I'll content myself with looking forward to the release of Starglass so you all can read it for yourselves!

I received a free advanced e-copy through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Dancing in the DarkDancing in the Dark by Robyn Bavati
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this book to be really fascinating and engrossing. Ditty is growing up in an extremely strict orthodox Jewish family. They follow religious rules governing everything from food to clothing to technology: television and the internet are absolutely off-limits. But when Ditty and her friend Sara discover a TV hidden in Sara's mother's room, Ditty gets her first glimpse of ballet. She is immediately drawn to it and eventually winds up starting ballet lessons against her parents wishes (and without their knowledge.)

I thought this book did a pretty good job of portraying a variety of viewpoints toward extreme religious observance: Ditty's own spiritual journey is three-dimensional, as she weighs the beliefs she's grown up with and her love for her family against her passion and talent for dance. But she is also surrounded by family members who find real peace and joy in being strictly observant, a best friend who is willing to make small transgressions but balks at larger ones, a cousin who is being raised more permissively who encourages her to follow her dreams, and eventually non-Jewish friends and teachers at ballet school. Each of the half-dozen or so supporting characters has his or her own views, and none of them are portrayed as silly. I couldn't help but root for Ditty to keep dancing, but I thought the book was at least mostly respectful of the characters who felt otherwise.

I also appreciated the focus on dance, religion, family, friends, and Ditty's personal growth--in short, everything but romance. Not that I don't love a good swoony story ('cause I do!) but it often seems that contemporaries with a non-romantic focus have become the ivory-billed woodpeckers of YA fiction.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Q&A with Brent Hartinger and GIVEAWAY!

Brent Hartinger with Cameron Deane Stewart, who is playing Russel Middlebrook in the upcoming film version of Geography Club!

As I mentioned on Sunday, I'm very excited to present Reading on the F Train's first-ever author interview!  Brent Hartinger is the author of (among other things) the Russel Middlebrook series, about a gay teenager (Russel) and his friends.  My post about the first three books (Geography Club, Order of the Poison Oak, and Double Feature: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies/Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies) can be found here; read on for my thoughts on Brent's latest (The Elephant of Surprise), plus my interview with Brent and a giveaway of all four Russel Middlebrook books!  

The Elephant of Surprise by Brent Hartinger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Russel Middlebrook and his friends are back, and this time they get into more intense, suspenseful adventures than ever before. The stakes are raised, the law is broken (more than once!) and relationships come and go. When Russel, Min, and Gunnar encounter a pair of freegan young adults in the dumpster behind their school, they aren't sure what to think of the whole lifestyle: occupying a vacant house, foraging for food (anything from wild greens to supermarket discards to...well, you'll see), and trying to live outside the system as much as possible. As Russel gets to know one (super good-looking) freegan, though, he starts to understand why someone might live that way.

Don't worry--while I found the information about freeganism fascinating, that's not all that makes this book good. Gunnar has decided to document his entire life--no, really, his entire life--on the internet; Min's girlfriend Leah is acting strange, and Russel has to sort out his feelings for Otto (the great guy he met at camp), Kevin (Russel's first boyfriend--who might be a huge jerk), and Wade (the hot freegan who's expanding Russel's worldview.) I think the romantic/swoonworthy scenes in this book are the best in the series, even when it's hard to decide who to root for. Plus, the aforementioned lawbreaking adds a ton of adventure. It's always exciting when a series actually picks up steam as it moves along--this one is doing just that!

I received a free digital copy in advance from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

View all my reviews

Interview with Brent Hartinger: 
1) What advice do you have for straight writers of YA fiction who want to include LGBTQ characters in their writing?  

You know, I sympathize with how touchy this can be. Everyone says they want diversity in books and movies, but there are so many mixed messages. You can definitely pay a price in the eyes of publishers and readers and reviewers, at least if it's a leading character: suddenly it's a "niche" book. And what if people accuse you of writing stereotypes? A lot of writers think, "I don't need this headache." Not just on the gay issue, but also on race and other issues.

But it is just so important. And more importantly, it's truthful. I read books or watch TV shows with big casts, and none of them are gay or all of them are white, and I think, "People don't live like this anymore. This doesn't seem real to me." Or at least I think, "I don't know if I want to spend time with characters who have such limited perspectives."

That said, if you’re not LGBT and you’re writing a LGBT character, you have to do your research about those communities and get the details right. You also have a responsibility to be aware of existing media stereotypes about LGBT people, all the tropes and cliches. Basically, there are still a lot of raw nerves out there among a lot of minorities, because they've been burned before. So if you choose to employ minority stereotypes or tropes anyway, you should absolutely know that you’re doing it and also know exactly why

But let me repeat: writers, please don’t be scared of LGBT characters and stories. Frankly, I sometimes think non-gay folks can offer an extremely interesting perspective on our community. None of the three writers involved with the movie Brokeback Mountain (the original prose writer or the two screenwriters) were gay, but they were able to create a uniquely and profoundly “gay” story. 

All I know is that, for writers, there's ultimately much more to be gained here than there is to lose.

2) How can teachers and librarians make all their students and young readers (especially LGBTQ students) feel comfortable and included?

It always frustrates me when I hear teachers or counselors (!!) say that they don't have any LGBTQ students at their school. I don't hear it as much as I used to, but I still do.

And, of course, since every school and probably every classroom has some LGBTQ students, that's proof right there that they're doing a terrible job of making those teens feel comfortable and included.

Books in the library, GSAs, inclusive curricula, those are important, but ultimately it all comes down to language. If you assume everyone is straight, or even if that's sort of your "default" assumption, you're sending a very loud and very clear message that, for you, the LGBT issue is strange or unusual or weird or uncomfortable. 

So assume nothing. Use LGBT-inclusive language. Say "the sex you're attracted to," not "the opposite sex." If a student mentions they're dating someone and you're talking to a girl, don't assume it's a boy. Don't censor references to same-sex couples in class -- acknowledge in class the artists or historical figures that are thought to have been gay or transgender. Remind students who forget that some families have two fathers or two mothers.

Again, this is simply a question of being truthful, of describing the world accurately. But LGBT students are used to people not recognizing they exist. So they'll get the message right away that you're not like that -- that you're a "safe" adult.

Of course, some people will interpret talking like this as you having an "agenda." Which I guess you do if you consider treating all your students fairly and equally an "agenda." 

3) If you could send three books, other than your own, to every classroom and library in the country, which three would you choose and why?

Can I cheat and say I'd sent three e-readers? That way, since books are so personal, everyone can choose their own!

No, I know that's not fair. So if we're talking gay-related, I'll also say The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams (my favorite play); Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin (a gay classic, and a beautiful book); and the Neanderthal Parallax by Robert Sawyer (a really interesting and unique sci-fi series).

4) What has been the highlight of your writing career so far?

It's all about the people -- the email I've received, or the personal interactions I've had over the years with people who were somehow touched by my books. It just never gets old.

But it's also the experiences: giving keynote addresses in front of massive crowds; attending the premieres of my plays (and having it go well -- whew!); traveling to unfamiliar cities and towns; visiting the set of the movie version of my book.

It's already been a crazy ride, and I feel like I'm only just getting started.

5) Obviously you're running the show for Russel Middlebrook, but I know writers can't always be kind to their characters (or books would get pretty boring.)  If Russel Middlebrook was a real teenager, what would be the one piece of advice you would give him?

Oh, he really needs to relax. Things never work out exactly the way you expect, but things are almost never as bad as you think. And when they are, worrying doesn't make it any better anyway -- it actually makes it worse.

But that's easy for me to say -- I've already learned all the lessons he's just learning now.

Fortunately, Russel has already learned the most important thing I could ever tell him: how important your friends are. I'd say, "You chose well. Now fight like hell to keep them, and make sure you never lose them."

Questions? Comments? Visit me at

Thanks for the thoughtful, detailed responses, Brent!  

Enter below to win copies of all four Russel Middlebrook books!  If you already have them, or think they're not up your alley, you can always designate a school or library in your area to receive the books if you win!

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sunday Sunshine: Stay Tuned! Edition

I read like a madwoman this week!  All the books I read were quick, fun reads, great for reluctant or struggling readers (I will never stop thinking like an English teacher) but good enough that all kinds of readers will enjoy them.

But this is also an exciting week because once you read my write-ups of the first three books in Brent Hartinger's Russel Middlebrook series, stay tuned for an interview with Brent later this week, plus my write-up of his latest book, The Elephant of Surprise, and a giveaway to celebrate its release!  This is my first-ever author interview, and I'm really excited that it's with Brent Hartinger!  Geography Club was part of an early wave of YA with gay main characters, and it's being turned into a movie as we speak.  I hope you'll all check out what I have to say about these books and stop by in a few days to see what Brent himself has to say!

What I Read This Week:

Geography Club (Russel Middlebrook, #1)Geography Club by Brent Hartinger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Here's the thing with this book: I want to say it feels dated. A group of high school kids who fall all along the popularity spectrum form a secret club with the dullest possible name to hide the fact that it's secretly a support group for gay teens. Hiding the true nature of the club is a HUGE deal to them, and when the student body thinks one student, then another, might be gay, they immediately ostracize and avoid those students.

In my regular life, the one where I'm an adult living in New York State in 2013, with degrees in theater and theater ed, friends with mostly liberals, etc etc? It feels light years away. It even feels pretty far off from my own high school experience, because I spent all my time with the theater kids (and my school was big enough that intra-clique popularity mattered way more than inter-clique popularity.) But then I think about the school where I taught up until last year. We were in a Queens neighborhood that was very ethnically diverse, but many of the communities represented in our area were relatively conservative. There were many recent immigrants, some from countries where being gay is actually a crime. And there were definitely still vestiges of the working class macho Queens idea of masculinity that gave the whole place a vastly different feel from my home in Greenwich Village. Obviously, not EVERY recent immigrant or EVERY conservative or EVERY Queens dude thinks the same--I don't mean to imply that. But the fact remains that in my school, coming out was not a common occurrence, especially for guys. I don't think I had a single student who was out to everyone in his life; I barely had any who were out to anyone at all. So for those students? This book might still ring very true.

Enough has been said about this book--which is now held up as a recent classic of LGBT YA fiction--that I feel a little repetitive in explaining why it works. Russel, the narrator, is flawed and snarky and self-consciously jokey (like teenagers are). The book gets into other aspects of his life and his friends' lives--bullying, sports, dating--but it recognizes the way that being gay (or lesbian, or bisexual) colors all of those things. It's a lively story and a quick read--I wish I had read it when I was teaching back in Queens, because it would have been a really interesting novel to teach. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

The Order of the Poison Oak (Russel Middlebrook, #2)The Order of the Poison Oak by Brent Hartinger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I especially enjoyed this installment of the Russel Middlebrook series because it's set at a sleepaway camp, where Russel and his best friends are counselors. While the book correctly points out that sleepaway camp and day camp are vastly different, my experience as a day camp counselor and as a teacher made Russel's struggle to win the respect of his kids very familiar to me. I liked the new setting and characters, and there were a few very suspenseful moments! Russel continues to be a basically good guy who wishes he could be a better one--he knows the right thing to do in most cases, and he wants to do it, but he struggles with that at times and he gets it wrong some of the time. This is another quick read that might be a good choice for struggling or reluctant readers, but one that's enjoyable enough to recommend to anyone.

Double Feature: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies/Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain ZombiesDouble Feature: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies/Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies by Brent Hartinger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't want to ignore the first half of this book, which continues the story of Russel Middlebrook, but I was so excited when I got to the second half and discovered that it was narrated by Russel's friend Min. As scarce as YA fiction about gay teenagers is, YA fiction about queer girls and/or bisexual teenagers is even harder to find, so I loved seeing Min get her own story. It was also nice that we got to see a few different styles of parenting--in fact, I think a strength of this book is the way it portrays different people reacting to finding out that their children/friends/parishioners are gay.

I also loved that much of this book takes place on the set of a zombie movie in which Russel and his friends are playing teen zombies. It was a really fun setting that brought in some new characters and kept things moving.

I'm impressed with how different all three Russel Middlebrook books feel from each other, but still manage to continue Russel's story in satisfying ways. I'm really looking forward to the latest installment, The Elephant of Surprise.

The Runaway King (The Ascendance Trilogy, #2)The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's tricky to review a second-book-in-a-trilogy like this one. I will say that I think Jennifer Nielsen has deftly avoided the dreaded Second Book Syndrome--this book has its own story, its own objectives, and its own enemies to defeat. It actually would work pretty well as a standalone story, I think.

The big change from the first book of this series to the second is in tone, I think. In the first book, it was each boy for himself. In this book, suddenly there are all the Regents to consider, and other countries, and pirates--all of which raise the stakes and keep things interesting, but they also make things feel more serious. That said, the action is just as intense and the pace is just as exciting and suspenseful as the first book.

One of my favorite things about this book was the way in which the female characters continued to develop. I'm particularly interested in Amarinda, who is betrothed to the king (whoever that may be). Her quiet strength and pragmatism really grabs me, even though she doesn't spend much time on the page, and I'm looking forward to seeing what becomes of her.

I really enjoyed The Runaway King and I will be keeping an ear out for word of the final installment in this trilogy!

View all my reviews

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Road Trip Wednesday: Where Am I?

 Hey!  Check me out, blogging more than once in a week.  (Geez.)

It is, of course, a Road Trip Wednesday day, and I've missed the last MONTH'S worth, so today's question feels pretty relevant:

This week's question is: Quarterly check-ins! We're already 1/4 of the way through the year--where are you on your reading and writing goals?

First, the good:

  • I've read 27 books this year!  I set a much lower goal this year than last year, but wouldn't you know it--I'm currently on pace to hit last year's goal!  I've decided to compromise and bump this year's goal from 75 books to 100 books.  That's not so many that I won't pick up a long book, but enough that I'll be motivated to keep finding time in my day to read.
  • My February Compliment Challenge here on the blog was a lot of fun; in what was otherwise kind of a blah month, finding something nice to say each day made things a little better.  All told, I got about 135 comments, contest entries, and links to shared compliments--and as it happened, a teacher I knew a little bit in grad school was about $135 away from being able to buy speakers, amps, and a monitor for his music classroom.  So I decided to give $1 for each time someone participated, and completed the project.  A huge thanks to all who participated--I'm sure you made many people's days, and this teacher and his students are very excited to get their equipment.

  • I had big plans for you, February.  Big plans.  I was gonna write and write and write!  I was gonna crank out a new-and-improved draft of my YA project, and make it into something I loved! Welllllllllll...that didn't quite happen.  I'm at a bit of a decision point with my writing.  The good news is that I've moved past the place where "Oh, just quit it, you don't have anything to say anyway," is one of my possibilities.  I hung out there for about two weeks and that was a bummer.  But right now, I've got three options:
    • Keep trying with the WiP I wrote most of during NaNo, then completely re-outlined in a way that's much more interesting to me and near and dear to my heart...but which hit a wall early on this month when I tried to re-draft it.
    • Turn my attention to the Google Doc currently titled "Shiny New Whooziwhatsit" which has an outline and the first 500 words of a new YA project I'm excited about, one that's closer to home and therefore a little scary to write.
    • Investigate the small voice in my head reminding me that MG is my first love, possibly my One True Love, and annoyingly pointing out that reading good MG fiction makes me want to run through the streets proclaiming my love of books.  So, maybe start experimenting with MG writing?  Or at least, start reading more MG in preparation for some MG writing experiments.  (Other than Wonder, and the handful I've blogged about like The Cavendish Home... and The False Prince, what MG should I be reading???)
  •  Also,  I've been a once-a-week blogger for the last month or so.  Oops.  Trying to get back on the horse.
 So that's the state of things as we cruise into March 2013.  Not as dire as I thought, when I started writing this post...but I have some choices to make.   What are you working on these days?

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sunday Sunshine: In Like A Whatever Edition

Happy March!

Unsurprisingly, it remains cold, dark, and snowy here in Buffalo, at least for a little while.  But I'm gonna try to get back on the blog-wagon this month anyway, and hope that the spring weather won't be too far behind.  For starters, I'll be blogging about the wrap-up of my compliment challenge in a few days.  I can, however, announce the winners of my giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway Congrats to the winners!  You should have received emails from Donors Choose with your gift codes; if you don't see them, email me at to let me know!

And, I had another good reading week--reading has been the one thing I've reliably had the energy for in this dark, will-to-live sapping month.

What I Read This Week: 

The DisenchantmentsThe Disenchantments by Nina LaCour
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I realize that when I give five stars to a book, it's usually done one of a few different things to me: maybe it kept me on the edge of my seat, made me gasp or cry or laugh out loud. Sometimes, though, and I think these might be my secret favorites, it's just made me feel full in a way that's hard to explain. It's not teary, necessarily, although it often makes me want to cry a little. I'm talking about books that let you feel your feelings without slapping you in the face with them. For me, this wasn't a loud or flashy or arresting read; it took its time and unfolded slowly. But before I knew it, I was at the end with that feeling in my chest that I can't quite put my finger on other than to say that most of the art I love (paintings, poetry, dance, TV, books...) makes me feel that way.

Initially, this book had me worried. See, SO MANY PEOPLE have talked about totally loving this book, and for the first 40-50 pages, I wasn't feeling it. I mean, it was fine, I liked it fine, but I was already starting to think, "My god, how am I going to blog about this if all it is is fine?"

And weirdly, I can't point to a spot and say, "Yeah, there's where it grabbed me." It was more like tea steeping--the flavor, so to speak, gets stronger and stronger over time until you have the perfect cup of tea (and then you better take the leaves out right quick before it gets bitter, but that part of the metaphor doesn't apply here, so let's say it's a nice herbal tea where you don't have to worry about that as much.)

My favorite characters were Meg and Alexa--I'd read their book, for sure. Either of their books. I loved Alexa's hope and the reality underneath Meg's impulsive boppiness. For me, they provided an entry point into a setup I'm not usually crazy about (the lovelorn boy, the deliberately withdrawn girl, their inevitable broken love story). But by the end, even Colby and Bev's sad, confusing relationship had drawn me in. It walked the line between frustrating and implausible really well, and I wound up rooting for just about everyone.

The False Prince (The Ascendance Trilogy, #1)The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Holy smokes! Talk about unputdownable! I picked this one up on my Kindle, probably on sale, who knows how long ago. With my TBR list being what it is, the reason I started The False Prince was that I found myself covering SSR at school and didn't want to get into anything that would take me too long to read. Well, ok. I tore through this like a maniac, so mission accomplished--except that the second book in the trilogy JUST came out (as in, the day I finished this) so now that is DEFINITELY the next book I will be starting. (With any luck, it will be just as good and I'll finish that one by tomorrow.)

Ok, I should probably talk about the actual book, right? So basically, imagine a mash-up of the animated movie Anastasia and Game of Thrones. (If you haven't just dropped everything to go buy this book, you and I clearly have very different tastes in media.) There's a guy going around collecting boys from orphanages so that he can groom one of them into a passable version of the long-lost, assumed-dead younger prince of Carthya after the king, queen, and crown prince are murdered. If the prince is not produced, the power struggles that will ensue will inevitably plunge the country into a war it is ill-equipped to wage.

The chosen boys must learn their role, or face their almost certain deaths-by-knowing-too-much. (Oh yeah--add a tiny dash of My Fair Lady to the mix. I'll wait while you go ahead and order the book. Ok. Welcome back.)

I have to say, everything about this book worked for me. If you are a seasoned reader, you will probably guess some stuff about the plot. I did. I didn't care. I was still on the edge of my seat wondering how the reveal would come. It was that good. This was the most fun reading experience I've had in a long time. Like, other books may have made me feel more feelings or struck closer to home or whatever, but this book just made me so happy to be reading it. It's also a fantastic book to have in my arsenal for my students (and especially guys, because Sage's voice is so great and he's so ornery and awesome) who maybe aren't huge readers but like a good story. It's a middle grade book that will grab readers of all ages, it's got the highlights of epic fantasy stories without ever ever EVER feeling long or slow or overly-detailed, and it's just an all-around blast.

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