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[personal profile] kareila
I loved reading this book with my kids. It inevitably reminded me of the Phantom Tollbooth - a young girl finds herself on a quest in a land of whimsical encounters based on abstract concepts. Instead of a watchdog or a humbug, her companion on this quest is a chameleon named Xor who changes color to stand out from his surroundings instead of blending in. Along the way they have to decrypt messages, crack passwords, design algorithms, and more! Many of the concepts Laurie and Xor encountered were already familiar to my kids from Code.org assignments in school, and there's an excellent guide at the back of the book that provides more detailed summaries of each concept. It's both a fun story and a gentle introduction to big ideas.
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I had seen positive reviews of this book online, but I was disappointed. The story wasn't very compelling, and the characters were too derivative to be terribly interesting. The only aspect of the book that I enjoyed was the worldbuilding, but that wasn't enough to keep me engaged past the first few chapters. I skimmed the rest and moved on.
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[personal profile] kareila
This would seem to be the start of a third Percy Jackson series. The first focused on Greek demigods, the second on Roman demigods, and now our protagonist is the god Apollo himself, cast into teenaged mortal form as punishment by Zeus. Whether he actually deserved the punishment is another question, but this much is immediately clear: Apollo is a brat, and having to perceive events from his narcissistic point of view isn't very enjoyable, especially since as the god of poetry he decides to start every chapter with a terrible haiku.

Only a few months have passed since the defeat of Gaea, after which Apollo went missing, only to now show up on Percy's doorstep looking for assistance. Percy's mom is pregnant, and Annabeth is off in Boston looking for her cousin Magnus Chase, so Percy doesn't want to get involved in any new quests, but he agrees to escort Apollo and his new companion, a feral demigod named Meg, to Camp Half Blood.

Once they arrive at camp, they discover that the Oracle still lacks the power of prophecy, communications have been cut off, campers have gone missing, and Will Solace is dating Nico di Angelo. (At least it's not ALL bad news.) A new villain seems to be planning to destroy the demigods, and Apollo realizes it's up to him and Meg to try to save the day in the usual way: by blundering around attacking things that want to kill them.
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[personal profile] kareila
This is an engrossing fairy tale set in North Carolina at the end of the 19th century, at the country estate of scions of the wealthy Vanderbilt family. Serafina lives secretly in the basement with only her father, the estate's master mechanic, for company. The author never describes Serafina's skin, so I imagined her as a child of mixed race, especially given the mystery of her true heritage, which I won't spoil here.

Although the characters are quite wholesome and the story has a beautifully happy ending, the details of the villainy are gruesome enough that I'd probably flinch at seeing them acted out, especially since it involves bad things happening to innocent children. That said, I look forward to reading more books in this series, since girls who use their special talents to protect others are a favorite narrative subject of mine.
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[personal profile] kareila
This novella doesn't attempt the impossible task of making Lunar Queen Levana sympathetic, but it does humanize her. Shown to be the unwanted younger child of the royal family, scarred and mocked by her cruel and faithless older sister, Levana is starved for affection and seizes on the simple kindness shown to her by a member of the royal guard, making him her unwilling husband.

Levana's husband has a daughter from a previous marriage, Winter, who is the Snow White princess: fairest in the land, even without the use of glamour to enhance her beauty. Although that makes Levana the wicked stepmother of her story, mirrors are not her ally; they show her the truth of her disfiguration, which she is able to hide from living eyes. When Levana's older sister, Queen Channary, dies of seemingly natural causes, Levana is left to rule as regent until Channary's daughter, Selene, is of age. But Levana discovers that she has an aptitude for leadership and politics that her older sister lacked, and uses it to justify murdering others to retain her power.

The Lunar Court, full of casual falsehoods, manipulation and glamour, reminds me of the fabled Faerie Court, and Levana's desperate seduction of her husband is like the tale of the hapless mortal who falls under the Faerie Queen's spell. There is the barest hint that if Levana had ever dropped her pretenses and ambitions, she might have found some measure of happiness and not become such a monster, but her history and position made her villainy inevitable.
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[personal profile] kareila
Spoilers for Cinder )

I'm starting to feel some concern about the number of happy endings this series is going to require. Each book introduces a new fairy tale heroine and a new romance. Levana and her chief thaumaturge, Sybil, are both unequivocally villainous women with no such entanglements. The closest the story comes to having any moral gray areas is in Wolf and Thorne, men with shady backgrounds who are each trying to prove themselves worthy of their heroine's love, and in Dr. Erland, the man who revealed the truth about Cinder's heritage but has his own share of secrets in his past.

When reading the second book, I was impatient for Cinder to get back to Erland as well as to find Cress. Now we finally find out what Erland has been up to, and why Cinder waited to find him. As for Cress, she turned out to be more helpless than I expected when compared with Cinder and Scarlet, but I did appreciate that she brought out the best in Thorne.
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[personal profile] kareila
I’m really glad I reread Cinder first, because Scarlet picks up right where Cinder left off and doesn’t slow down. The story mostly alternates between Cinder’s viewpoint in New Beijing and that of Scarlet in rural France. Scarlet is a young farmer searching for her missing grandmother, who was kidnapped by... wolves? Yep, she wears a red hooded sweatshirt.

Spoilers for Cinder )

Both Scarlet and Cinder pick up new and interesting sidekicks. Cinder accidentally liberates fellow prisoner Carswell Thorne, a good-natured rogue who substitutes handsomeness and bluster for intelligence. Scarlet, of course, is accompanied by Wolf, a dangerous yet sympathetic fighter with a hidden past, who may or may not be trustworthy.
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I picked this up in the YA section of the library because of the cover blurb about found family on a rusty bucket of a spaceship, but I was hoping for a space opera, and it turned out to be much more of a stereotypical romance: spoiled rich boy grows up hating poor smart girl, boy gets amnesia and is kidnapped by girl, boy and girl end up confined on a spaceship together and resolve their differences, etc. In contrast to the ensemble cast of Firefly, this story is very much about these two; the other quirky members of the crew are merely supporting characters. According to Goodreads, there is a forthcoming companion novel that focuses on two other crew members, but I didn't like this one enough to bother tracking it down.
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This conclusion had several highly satisfying moments as well as many terrifying "You Did NOT Just Do That" moments. A+ would read again.

And now I am done with all the Leigh Bardugo until the sequel to Six of Crows comes out next month.
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[personal profile] kareila
This continues the story of Alina, who has attempted to flee the Darkling's grasp but is quickly drawn back to Ravka and its politics. For a middle book, it is very good, establishing new supporting characters while also occasionally revisiting old ones, and showing how Alina's growing power and importance affect her priorities and her judgment. Of course, it also ends with another desperate confrontation and cliffhanger, but luckily I already have the third book in hand.
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I had read this book once before many years ago, but wanted to return to it now that the series was complete. For those who don't know, it's a sci-fi reimagining of the Cinderella story. Cinder is a mechanic who is treated with contempt by her stepmother because she is a cyborg, not seen as fully human. She lives in the city of New Beijing in the Commonwealth of China, one of eight surviving Earth nations following World War IV. There are two main threats to the welfare of the citizenry: a plague with no antidote, and a power-mad extraterrestrial queen who is prepared to declare war on Earth if the Commonwealth's crown prince does not agree to marry her. Of course Cinder and the prince meet and fall in love, but the rest of the story is refreshingly unpredictable.
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[personal profile] kareila
This is the first book I've read in the rebooted Star Wars expanded universe, and it's the best Star Wars story I've read in a very long time (although to be fair, I haven't read many, at least not recently). The story is set about 20 years after the Battle of Endor, which puts it about 10 years ahead of Force Awakens. It shows some of Leia's time as a Senator in the New Republic and foreshadows the rise of the First Order and the Resistance. Maybe most surprisingly, it reveals minor spoilers )
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[personal profile] kareila
While I was waiting for my library hold on the sequel to Shadow and Bone, I got my hands on this, Bardugo's newest book, the first of a new series in the same world, maybe five years later? So, minor spoilers for the eventual outcome of those events, plus a cliffhanger for a book that hasn't been published yet. Sigh.

However, I enjoyed it even more than Shadow and Bone, although I think it probably still works better to read that first, as this one seems to piggyback off the worldbuilding done in that book. Most importantly: it reminds me a LOT of The Lies of Locke Lamora, so if you loved that, I would definitely recommend this. Both tell the story of a gang of quirky, talented thieves trying to pull off an impossible heist in a pre-industrial setting, with a bit of mafia-flavored violence thrown in to keep things gritty.
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[personal profile] kareila
I devoured this in one sitting this evening. It imagines a war-torn fantasy world with a country called Ravka (vaguely Russian-flavored) that has a group of Herald-like magicians called Grisha. The heroine, Alina, turns out to be a unique Grisha who can summon the power of light. She is discovered by the leader of the king's army, himself a rare summoner of darkness, who plans to use her to reunite the kingdom. She struggles to learn to use her newfound power and to reconcile a burgeoning attraction to the warlord (known only as the Darkling) with her loyalty to the childhood companion/love interest that she was forced to leave behind. The book ends with vague spoilers ), so I'm eager to get my hands on the next installment of the trilogy.
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Really enjoyed this. It's what I wanted and didn't get from Lev Grossman's magicians: gifted kids who embrace empathy instead of nihilism, who are articulate and acknowledge their flaws and apologize when they screw up. I fell in love with all of the characters - yes, even Theodolphus - and wish I knew what happened to all of them after the story ended.

Update 10/25: What happened to Berkley.
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[personal profile] kareila
This is a juvie sci-fi story with an interesting premise: some centuries after breeding autistic-type traits out of the human gene pool, the interstellar Earth Force discovers they need to breed the traits back into a new generation of astronaut-soldiers, who will have the increased sensitivity needed to use alien technology to "bound" through space in quantum leaps and fight off a secret alien threat. The story spans the first six weeks of training for the new cadets, and offers to set up a whole series of adventures. Not as thrilling as Ender's Game, but not as problematic either.
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[personal profile] kareila
Although the writing style grated on me at times, I found this account of the early space program to be very interesting. It follows the personal and professional lives of several of the women who worked at JPL from its founding during World War 2, through the Voyager program in the 1970s and beyond. The women were all "computers" in the pre-microchip sense of the term, responsible for the calculations behind the earliest rocket designs, then spacecraft trajectories, signal acquisition and processing, and eventually modern software engineering. Because the earliest supervisors of the computing group were determined to maintain a sisterhood of brilliant women working alongside the male-dominated engineering fields, a culture was formed that persisted through an era where maternity leave was nonexistent and women could be fired for getting pregnant. Every woman featured in the book married at some point and most did have children; some left and never came back, but others were able to leave and return, relying on a great deal of domestic support. Another marker of social progress was the JPL beauty contest, named Miss Guided Missile in the 1950s, the Queen of Outer Space in the 1960s, and finally phased out in the 1970s. I'm glad the author was able to interview so many of her subjects and include their first-hand reminiscences in the material for her book, but I found myself wishing she had tried to use their exact words instead of paraphrasing their recollections into a reconstructed narrative.
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[personal profile] kareila
Still having trouble finding time for any meatier fiction this year, but I enjoyed this fluffy (furry?) fairy tale, a feminist retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story where the people are rodents, the ogres are cats, and the horses are quails. It's at the same reading level as Vernon's Dragonbreath series, with a similar mix of text and illustrated dialogue. Looks like this one is going to be a series as well: there is already a sequel that takes on the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses.
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[personal profile] kareila
I found this lovely photo album featured in the juvenile biography section of my local library. Since Sally Ride was my biggest RL childhood hero, I couldn't pass it by.

This volume was compiled with narrative text by Dr. Ride's life partner, who gave some rare insight into the life of a very private person. It talked very frankly about her homosexuality, which I appreciated, given how taboo the subject was when I was growing up. It also gave equal weight to Ride's childhood, her college studies, and her post-astronaut career. It was informative and engaging.
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[personal profile] kareila
This is a totally charming graphic novel about a hearing-impaired child and her struggles to fit in at school and find friendship. I found it to be very believable and relatable, in spite of the fact that all the characters look like rabbits.

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