Book Review: A Single Stone (Standalone Sunday)

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Standalone Sunday is a feature created by Megan @ bookslayerReads where each Sunday you feature a standalone book (not part of a series) that you loved or would recommend!

Sometimes, the smallest little thing can set off a landslide. That’s exactly what happens for Jena, the hero of A Single Stone, by Meg McKinlay. This standalone middle grade book was originally published in Australia, but Candlewick Press released it here in the U.S. on March 14th! I was lucky enough to get a copy through NetGalley, and I’m glad I did, because this book is not like any I’ve read before.

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In an isolated society, one girl makes a discovery that will change everything — and learns that a single stone, once set in motion, can bring down a mountain.

Jena is the leader of the line — strong, respected, reliable — a job every girl in the village dreams of. Watched over by the Mothers as one of the chosen seven, her years spent denying herself food and wrapping her limbs have paid off. She is small enough to squeeze through the tunnels of the mountain and gather the harvest, risking her life with each mission. No work is more important. This has always been the way of things, even if it isn’t easy. But as her suspicions mount and Jena begins to question the life she’s always known, the cracks in her world become impossible to ignore. Thought-provoking and quietly complex, Meg McKinlay’s novel unfolds into a harshly beautiful tale of belief, survival, and resilience stronger than stone.

A Single Stone is incredibly unique. Jena lives in a village trapped in a ring of mountains. Her ancestors became trapped in their high valley after a catastrophic event closed off the only pass back to the coast where they used to live. Living in the shadow of the mountains means hardship; there’s not much light to grow crops, and in the winter, snowdrifts taller than houses form, sealing people into their homes and blocking their chimneys. To burn a fire is to risk suffocation by smoke, but to not burn one is to risk freezing to death.

Because of this winter plight, girls like Jena must harvest mica, a mineral that can give off light and heat without burning. However, it can only be found deep within the mountains in black caves and crevasses. Survival is never a guarantee in Jena’s community. Or in her job.

Jena is proud, determined, fearless, and hardworking, which is why she’s earned the respect and admiration of the village. It’s also the reason that she won’t stop investigating when she begins to suspect that the leaders of the community are doing something dangerous and unethical. Her grit and bravery bring a lot to the book, and it’s wonderful to watch her character development as she begins to realize that doing what’s right could jeopardize all the things she has worked the hardest for.

“By rights, she should return it; at the very least, leave it where it lay.

But it was cool to the touch, irresistible. And it was just one stone, she told herself. What could it hurt, to move a single stone?”

It would be a huge mistake to dismiss this book as another forgettable dystopian novel based on the synopsis. The world McKinlay has crafted is nuanced and thoughtful. There are no true villains or evil-doers, only people struggling to make the best decisions they can. The clever intertwining of religion, politics, and ethical dilemmas takes A Single Stone into territory beyond other genre hits.

McKinlay’s story is so creative and unusual that I really can’t think of anything else like it. A Single Stone is much like the mountains it revolves around: you can’t quite understand the experience of it until you step into its shadows and walk the path yourself.


All in All…

  • 5/5 sea stars
  • Published March 14, 2017, by Candlewick Press
  • 272 pages
  • For fans of The GiverThe Hunger Games, speculative fiction, Earth’s Children series

I received this book free through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  

Top Ten Tuesday: Spring TBR

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish for sharing your favorite contenders in different book categories.

Spring is (somewhat) in the air, and loads of exciting new releases are blooming on the horizon. I’m a very impulsive reader, and whatever TBR lists I try to make tend to get thrown by the wayside, but today’s Top Ten Tuesday is for Spring TBR highlights! Here are ten things that I hope to get through in the coming months. Fingers crossed.

A Single Stone, by Meg McKinlay

This one was released in the U.S. by Candlewick Press today! Well, yesterday, since the clock just rolled over. Currently reading, courtesy of NetGalley.

The Star-touched Queen, by Roshani Chokshi

Chokshi’s debut novel has been on my radar, but her impending second book, A Crown of Wishes, is getting a lot of hype. I got the former from the library and the sequel from NetGalley, and I intend to finish them both before Chokshi attends a discussion at a bookstore in my town at the end of the month!

Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo

After coming out of a long reading hiatus, I only caught the tail end of the hype for this duology’s first book. I’m getting a vibe from it that is half The Lies of Locke Lamora and half Throne of Glass. Hopefully there are good things in store.

Caraval, by Stephanie Garber

I’ve been waiting for this from the moment I laid eyes on the cover. I finally got to the front of the hold line at the library, and picked this up today!

Strawberry Summer, by Melissa Brayden

Another NetGalley find. An adult, contemporary LGBTQ romance that will add some variety to my reading and should be sweet as can be!

The Others

The Wrath and the Dawn, An Ember in the Ashes, and A Darker Shade of Magic have all been in the back of my mind since before I even became a part of the bookish community and saw hype for them. It’s about time for me to give them a spin, and part of me can’t believe that I haven’t checked them out already!


What about you?

What are your reading priorities for the near future? Life is busy and I’m sure I won’t actually get all of my Spring TBR books finished. Are there any books on my list that I definitely should not pass over? Let me know, and help me have a fun season of reading!

 

ARC Review: The Queen of the Frogs

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What hops and has more allure than almost anything else on four legs? If your answer is a rabbit, I will have to respectfully disagree, because my very best childhood animal memories are of frogs and toads.

To this day, I am a notorious softie for amphibians, so I was delighted to find a children’s book almost custom-tailored for me on NetGalley: The Queen of the Frogs, by Davide Cali.

32717296 Frogs, in this book, have a delightful society. They write and sip beverages at lilypad cafes, catch flies, host concerts, and above all, they sing together. Life as a frog is grand–until a mysterious crown falls into the pond, that is, and all the denizens decide that the frog who found it should be queen.

The queen and her advisors quickly put other frogs to work feeding and pampering them. They are so demanding that none of the frogs even have time to sing anymore! Finally, the disgruntled pond-goers issue a challenge to the queen. In the end, the queen loses the crown and pond life is as it should be, with every frog catching their own flies.

Cali’s amphibious tale advertises that it is a book about leadership and the importance of humility, but it reads a bit like Baby’s First Animal Farm. The story reflects on government more than on individual character. The unjust governing class is brought down by the clever laborers, and all becomes idyllic once more.

The arc of the story is cute and appealing on a basic level, but there are no real characters to connect strongly with. The titular queen is the only individual, but she has the least action in the book, and makes few decisions on her own; mostly, she goes along with what the advisors or other frogs suggest.

In spite of the plain, forgettable writing and story, The Queen of the Frogs still made me smile. Marco Soma’s charming illustrations breathe some much-needed life into the book. His quirky realization of quaint, old-timey frog fashions and society is a treat for all ages.


All in All…

  • 3/5 sea stars
  • Publication March 20, 2017, by Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers
  • 38 pages
  • For fans of Toy Story, cute frog faces, political science

I received this book free through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Blue Hour

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To me, tranquility is a calm, balmy hour after dusk, when the breeze is gentle, the air is soft, and the light is low. Everything melts into the most mysterious and alluring hues, and I’m surrounded by my favorite color. Author and illustrator Isabelle Simler must feel the same way: how better to lull children to sleep than with a book about the most soothing time of day? The lush, gentle illustrations of The Blue Hour reflect the idea perfectly.

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The Blue Hour is an adventure through the cool side of the animal kingdom’s color spectrum. It highlights many different species of animals in varying stages of getting ready for nighttime, as well as some plants and even one fungus! I appreciate the diversity of organisms included. The animals in the book come from all over the world, and acquaint readers with all kinds of branches of the tree of life. One of my favorite inclusions was the blue dragon, Glaucus atlanticus, an epic example of a swimming sea slug. The illustrations are gorgeous, giving all the species plenty of personality.

Some of the text is unnecessarily complex for a children’s book, especially since this genre is often read out-loud. This tongue-twister especially gave me pause the first time through: “Vulterine guineafowl eagerly flock together, perching on tree branches with a final metallic cry.” Even so, the visual experience is so inviting that this hardly impacts the experience.

As a rookie naturalist, I have to nitpick: I do wish Simler spent as much time learning about the featured animals as she did studying their forms to illustrate. There are a couple animals depicted in the wrong habitats, or shown in ways that don’t reflect their true behavior and life history. It also rubbed me the wrong way to see songbirds from four continents perching together on one branch.

While I wouldn’t use this as an educational tool, The Blue Hour is serene, lovingly rendered, and sure to spark curiosity about the natural wonders of our little blue planet.


All in All…

  • 4/5 sea stars
  • Published February 20, 2017, by Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers
  • 42 pages
  • For fans of Goodnight Moon, Planet Earth & other nature documentaries

I received this book free through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Magic Words

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Children’s books have a special magic to them. Even as an adult, I appreciate the creativity, whimsy, heart, and unexpected beauty that these books can bring. I also love sharing the joy of stories with kids through work, and environmentally-themed ones are particularly important to me. As such, I’ll be bringing a dose of picture book wonder here on occasion through reviews, starting with Magic Words, from Vanita Books!17239243

Magic Words is not a story, but a translation (of a translation?) of an Inuit poem. The poem was recorded by a Danish explorer, Knud Rasmussen, on a voyage in the early 20th century. Edward Field then translated this and several other poems, and in 2013, Vanita Books and illustrator Mike Blanc made this child-friendly version a reality.

Magic Words is all about an idea of the beginning times, in which humans and animals were as one, and magic was a part of the world. One of the takeaway themes of the poem, that words have a power of their own, is sure to resonate with any lover of books. The idea of a culture deeply tied to the natural world is one that is deeply rooted in my heart, as well, and is exactly the sort of message I strive to share with children.

Field’s translation is light and elegant; the simplicity of the phrases draws your imagination in to fill the boundaries thrown open by well-chosen words. The real star of the book, however, is Blanc’s illustrations. They are bold, vivacious, and brimming with energy. Each page is a world unto itself, and I want to explore them all over and over again.

This book is a beautiful, entrancing introduction for kids to the world of folklore and the many rich oral traditions of Native America. I can easily see myself pulling this off the shelf regularly for storytime at work, or sharing this with young people in my own family one day!


All in All…

  • 5/5 sea stars
  • Published September 1, 2013, by Vanita Books
  • 24 pages
  • For fans of Native American legends, animal stories, colorful artwork, imagination

I received this book free through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Monthly Wrap-Up: February 2017

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In elementary school, I had the most awesome principal. She was a person with a lot of vision, and she really cared about improving our school experience and our parent involvement. One of my favorites among her initiatives was a month-long extravaganza: Fight February Fatigue with Fun. The idea was that February was the hump day of the school year, and if you could keep students engaged and get them over the hump, they would build up their own momentum again in March, when there were days off again, and better weather, to boot.

I need to get some momentum this March, because 2017 gave me a serious dose of February Fatigue. Continue reading

Stacking the Shelves: February

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Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga’s Reviews, dedicated to showing off all the wonderful new book treasures that we hoard bring into our lives.

I had to go to the library today to return A Shadow Bright and Burning and Three Dark Crowns, as well as to pick up a hold that came in.

“Had to,” I say, as though I wasn’t filled with glee the moment I decided to grab my keys and go. The library is one of my very favorite happy places. I managed not to go too overboard this time, only coming home with two books that I hadn’t planned on getting.

Continue reading