Monday, April 22, 2013

Whitney roundup: Romance and Middle grade

This was a good reading week--I finally finished all the different books I was working on last week, so it makes it look like I did a lot of reading this week, when really I was tying up loose ends. (Also, I have a bad habit of reading 3-4 books at a time, depending on my location. I just happened to finish a bunch of books I started a while ago).

My title promises my response to the Whitney Romance and Middle Grade categories, so before you get lost in reviews, here are my thoughts.

The Romance category had some strong contenders this year. I've liked all of Melanie Jacobson's books, and her two nominees (Smart Move and Twitterpated) were no exception. Stacy Henrie's Lady Outlaw had an unusual premise and I liked the western flavor of the novel. Krista Jensen's Of Grace and Chocolate is reviewed below: some of the writing was lovely and I liked the honesty between the two main characters.  However, I have to say that Julianne Donaldson's Edenbrook was my favorite: I'm a sucker for a good Regency romance.

The Middle Grade category was pretty competitive as well; I think this is, in part, because four of the five books were published by national presses. J. Scott Savage's Zombie Kid is a nice blend of humor and horror (reviewed below); Freakling was unusual (I think) as a middle-grade dystopia. Epic Tales of a Misfit Hero was a harmless story, but a little out of its league. I am a long-time fan of Shannon Hale, so I enjoyed her Palace of Stone--especially her efforts to make rhetoric understandable for younger readers. The writing wasn't as strong as Princess Academy, but I still enjoyed it. However, Jennifer Nielsen's False Prince was one of my favorite novels from last year and none of the others changed my opinion; I think Nielsen actually has a good chance of winning best novel with this (although Dancing on Broken Glass is also very strong).

53. A. L. Soward, Espionage (Whitney, historical). This novel follows Peter Eddy, an American spy set down in Calais to convince local Nazi leaders that a decoy invasion in Calais is the real thing. Naturally, in such a setting, he encounters a variety of villains and heroes, including a French resistance fighter Jaques Olivier and his sister Genevieve. I thought the writing flowed smoothly and the pace, particularly of the last third of the novel, was good. However, I wasn't in love with the characters or the voice--the characters, to me, all seemed sort of similar (the good guys similarly virtuous and the bad guys similarly evil). It's hard not to contrast this with the brilliantly written Code Name Verity, which takes on a similar topic, but with a more distinctive voice.

54. Krista Lynn Jensen, Of Grace and Chocolate (Whitney, Romance). There was a lot to like about this novel, about a young woman, Jillian Parish, working to rebuild her life after a difficult childhood. Early on, she meets Scott (or re-encounters, as it turns out Scott figured in a pivotal episode in her youth, one that Jillian remembers but Scott doesn't). Jillian isn't interested in the relationship that Scott offers, but when Jillian's kid sister shows up at her doorstep with a baby and then vanishes, leaving Jillian with the baby and a host of questions, Scott becomes the friend she doesn't realize she needs. Some of the things I liked: some of the writing was gorgeous (an early chapter about Scott and Jillian's past was beautiful). I liked how the characters, Jillian in particular, had flaws but were trying to work through them. And I liked how their LDS faith was woven into the novel in a natural, rather than pedantic or preachy way. Some things I didn't like: I felt like the novel couldn't quite decide if it was a romance or a thriller, so it wound up having a little bit too much suspense and not enough romance for my taste (since I went into it expecting a romance). I thought the complex family issues were plenty of meat for the novel; it didn't need the additional danger and suspense.

55. J. Scott Savage, Case File 13: Zombie Kid (Whitney, Middle Grade). According to my sister, this is my 9-year-old nephew's new favorite book. I can see why: this is an almost pitch-perfect blend of humor and not-so-scary horror that would appeal to young readers. After Nick's creepy great-aunt dies, an encounter in a cemetery leaves Nick with a strange illness, one that Nick and his horror-mad friends think looks a lot like some kind of zombie plague, which is awesome, right? That is, until Nick starts loosing brain functions and body parts and it's clear that the three friends are going to have to find a cure, and quick.

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