Archive for the ‘Teen Fiction Review’ Category

Review of Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

Long Way Down

by Jason Reynolds

Atheneum, 2017. 306 pages.
Starred Review

Will’s brother Shawn just got shot. And Will is sure he knows who did it.

And there are three rules Shawn taught him:

No crying, no matter what.

No snitching, no matter what.

If someone you love
gets killed,

find the person
who killed

them and
kill them.

So Will takes Shawn’s gun and sets out to kill the person who killed him.

He gets in the elevator on the 8th floor. And on each remaining floor someone new gets on… someone who’s dead.

The first dead person in the elevator is Buck – a brother even older than Shawn. He knew the Rules, too, and taught them to Shawn.

In fact most of the people who show up on this elevator lived by the Rules. The thing is: They’re dead now.

This is a novel in verse (and artistic, well-crafted verse), so it’s quick reading. It does pack a punch.

jasonwritesbooks.com
simonandschuster.com/teen

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green

Monday, October 30th, 2017

Turtles All the Way Down

by John Green

Dutton Books (Penguin Random House), 2017. 286 pages.
Starred Review

At the start of this book, Aza’s best friend Daisy asks her a question that changes her life. “Didn’t you go to school with him?”

Aza asks who Daisy is talking about – and it’s Davis Pickett, the son of a billionaire. Aza and Davis went to “sad camp” together years before after Aza’s father died and Davis’s mother died. They were friends back then, but that was a long time ago.

Well, Davis’s father was about to be arrested for bribery, but the night before the raid, he disappeared. There’s a hundred thousand dollar reward for information leading to his return. Daisy is determined that Aza should revive that acquaintance so they can get the reward.

Aza does remember a motion-sensitive camera the family used to keep in the woods by the river. And Aza still has her canoe. It turns out that Davis was feeling lonely and might even be glad to see her.

That’s the outer story. But the inner story is laced all through with Aza’s obsessive thoughts about her health and about bacteria and about all the things that could kill you.

This is a well-written story of a girl with obsessive-compulsive disorder and what it means for her life and her friendships. And the outer story – the mystery of the missing billionaire and the budding romance with the billionaire’s son – is compelling and fascinating as well.

Now, I have to say that whenever I read a book by John Green, I hear John Green’s voice in my head, reading it. This is because I’ve watched many of his video blogs, so I’m used to hearing him talk. But it’s also because all of his characters talk like he does, using big words with quirky ideas and connections. However, I really enjoy listening to that kind of nerdy talk – so it works for me.

But I haven’t communicated how much this book pulls you in. Who knew that “hearing” obsessive-compulsive thoughts would be so compelling? You feel the frustration, the lack of control, along with Aza. I think what ripped me up most inside was when she gets a glimpse of how her friends see her.

But bottom line, this is a hopeful and uplifting book. Aza will overcome. So surely the reader can, too.

johngreenbooks.com
PenguinTeen.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor, read by Steve West

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

Strange the Dreamer

by Laini Taylor
read by Steve West

Hachette Audio, 2017. 18.5 hours on 15 CDs.
Starred Review

Note to self: Any time I start a new book by Laini Taylor, even if it doesn’t say “Book One” on the cover, check the last page for the words “TO BE CONTINUED.” This one has those words – and I would have been less dismayed if I had been prepared.

Laini Taylor’s imagination will never cease to amaze me. Every new world she builds is completely different from anything that’s ever been done before.

In this new world, we start with a boy named Laszlo Strange. He’s an orphan and is being brought up by monks. One of the monks tells him stories about a mythical long-lost city. Later, when he grows up, he becomes a librarian and finds more tales of this city.

And Laszlo knows that magic exists because of this city. For one day, suddenly, he forgets the city’s name, and all he can think of is “Weep.” Any writings about the city have the new name, Weep.

A lot more goes on. As a librarian, Laszlo helps the golden boy of the city, an alchemist, because he thinks there is a clue to the secret of alchemy within the writings about Weep.

Along the way, when talking about alchemy, we learn that everyone in this world has two hearts – one that pumps blood, and one that pumps spirit. (Where does Laini Taylor come up with these ideas?)

We also periodically visit an isolated family of five children with blue skin who live in a citadel and have special powers. A large part of the book is finding out how these two threads come together. The whole thing is stunning, and an incredible work of imagination. And okay, I really hate that these eighteen hours are only the beginning.

And yes, I said eighteen hours. Fortunately, I started this book on the way to South Carolina to see the total solar eclipse – and with traffic, it took me 13 hours to get home. I think it helped me get mesmerized by the story because I got to listen to most of it in one sitting (though I still had a lot left).

The book is long, and she repeats herself in a few places, but it was absolutely perfect for a long car drive. And Steve West may be my new favorite narrator. He distinguished between the voices of the various characters, and the voice he used for Strange the Dreamer was just plain dreamy. So I didn’t mind listening to his voice for a very long time. I hope he narrates however many books are still to come.

StrangetheDreamer.com
lainitaylor.com
HachetteAudio.com

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Maud, by Melanie J. Fishbane

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

Maud

by Melanie J. Fishbane

Penguin Random House, 2017. 400 pages.
Starred Review

Maud is a novel based on the teen years of Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon.

I actually didn’t expect to like this book too much. I’ve read all of her journals, and they are wonderful – and I was skeptical that they could be written as a novel even close as good as the journals themselves. I have read a biography of L. M. Montgomery, written by Harry Bruce, and it was dissatisfying after reading the journals.

But though I still think the journals are better and L. M. Montgomery’s writing itself is unsurpassable, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Now, I knew what was going to happen, and the characters felt like old familiar friends. It’s been awhile since I’ve read that first journal, so I didn’t necessarily remember every detail, either. It was like someone telling me a favorite story I’d almost forgotten.

And I did really enjoy this book. It’s easier reading than the journals, told in a coherent story, with some themes throughout – Maud looking for a place where she belongs and determining to make her mark as a writer – and being willing to sacrifice the normal ambitions of her friends – finding a husband – in order to follow that dream of being a writer.

It has been awhile since I read the journals, but I do believe that Melanie Fishbane stuck very close to the actual details of Maud’s life. So readers can enjoy this book with the knowledge that it’s true and really happened.

And the novel did help me understand why Maud turned down her suitors, including boys she actually loved. Getting married young, in those days, really would have cut off her chance to go to college and to become a writer. I understood better the choices she made when they were presented in novelized form.

Bottom line, this book presents a lovely and inspiring story of L. M. Montgomery’s teen years and the rise of her ambitions to make her name as a writer – ambitions that she went on to fulfill. If you don’t know her story, I highly recommend this book. And it turns out, even if you do know her story, you will thoroughly enjoy this retelling.

@MelanieFishbane
penguinrandomhouse.ca

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Upside of Unrequited, by Becky Albertalli

Friday, September 8th, 2017

The Upside of Unrequited

by Becky Albertalli

Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins), 2017. 340 pages.

This is a nice solid contemporary teen romance – or teen not-romance. I related to Molly, the protagonist, because I was all about unrequited crushes when I was 17.

Okay, maybe I didn’t have as many as Molly, who’s had crushes on 26 different guys. But I know the feeling of watching seemingly everyone else pair up, and wondering if it will ever be your turn.

The book starts out when Molly meets Mina, of all places, in the restroom at a club. Mina is exactly the type of girl who Molly’s twin sister Cassie falls for.

Sure enough, Cassie and Mina hit it off. But though Cassie has plenty of experience, she’s never had an actual girlfriend before. When it happens, Molly starts feeling left out.

And Cassie decides she’s going to get Molly a boyfriend. And she’s chosen Mina’s good friend Will, who is admittedly hot. But meanwhile, there’s this sweet geeky guy working at Molly’s new summer job. Cassie points out that while Molly has never been kissed, she’s also never been rejected. Maybe she needs to put herself out there? Cassie will make sure it happens!

This is all set during the summer of 2015, when the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal – and so Molly’s and Cassie’s two moms decide to get married. The family has a wedding to plan!

Like I said, I related to the plight of unrequited love. You don’t see it often enough in young adult books! Though my heart went out to Molly – because all of her friends were talking about sex – who had it and what it’s like, guys and girls both – just emphasizing that she seems to be the only one with no opportunity. It felt realistic for a modern teen – but I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with that. So Dear Reader, be warned – this is a sweet teen romance, but there is a lot of talk about sex.

But this is indeed a sweet story. I loved the characters. I loved the joy of the girls’ moms when they could get married. (Living in Maryland, they drove past the White House to see it lit up with rainbow lights.) The twins had some other close friendships and I enjoyed the way those were portrayed, besides the pressure when everybody seems to have their own idea of who Molly should fall for.

And I do like the look at this question – Can anyone possibly fall for a girl whose own grandma calls her fat? Aren’t unrequited crushes much simpler?

beckyalbertalli.com
epicreads.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of When the Moon Was Ours, by Anna-Marie McLemore

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

When the Moon Was Ours

by Anna-Marie McLemore

Thomas Dunne Books, 2016. 273 pages.
Starred Review
2017 Stonewall Honor Book

Samir and Miel live in a small town and they are best friends. Sam’s family is from Pakistan. He paints moon lamps and hangs them all over town. He’s a gentle person, and when Miel fell out of the old water tower and seemingly materialized out of water, Sam was the one who calmed her down. He and his mother found a home for Miel with Aracely, who lived next door.

Hinting at her mysterious origins, the hem of Miel’s skirt is always wet. Even more mysterious, though, is that she grows roses out of her wrist. After one blooms and falls away, another grows. The color of each depends on what Miel has been thinking about.

As you can probably tell, this book is full of magical realism, which isn’t really my thing. I like fantasy with rules of magic that make sense, that seem understandable. This has several wild things going on, which I wasn’t crazy about, although I did enjoy reading the beautiful prose.

Here’s a section toward the beginning:

They’d touched each other every day since they were small. She’d put her palm to his forehead when she thought he had a fever. He’d set tiny gold star stickers on her skin on summer days, and at night had peeled them off, leaving pale constellations on her sun-darkened body.

She’d seen the brown of her hand against the brown of his when they were children, and holding hands meant nothing more than that she liked how warm his palm was in the night air, or that he wanted to pull her to see something she had missed. A meteor shower or a vine of double-flower morning glories, so blue they looked dyed.

All these things reminded her of his moons, and his moons reminded her of all these things. He’d hung a string of them between her house and his, some as small as her cupped palms, others big enough to fill her arms. They brightened the earth and wild grass. They were tucked into trees, each giving off a ring of light just wide enough to meet the next, so she never walked in the dark. One held a trace of the same gold as those foil star stickers. Another echoed the blue of those morning glories Sam could find even in the dark. Another was the pure, soft white of the frost flowers he showed her on winter mornings, curls of ice that looked like tulips and peonies.

The main problem of the book arises when the four Bonner sisters decide they want Miel’s roses, that those roses belong to them. Miel had been offering them to her mother by drowning them in the river. But now Ivy Bonner tells Miel that if she doesn’t give them her roses, they will tell the whole town that Sam’s name is really Samira.

Miel knows that Sam has a girl’s body, but she also knows that he is a boy, and his body doesn’t matter. In fact, the book opens with the first time they sleep together.

One thing I loved about the book was this dealing with a transgender person as the person he really is. Along with everything else, this book is fundamentally a love story, and a beautiful one. This is the first time I’ve read a love story involving a transgender person, and that aspect of it was beautifully done.

The Author’s Note at the back explains why Anna-Marie McLemore can write this so well. She met her own husband and fell in love with him when they were teens – but before he had admitted to himself that he was transgender. Combined with the questions she had about her own life, it sounds like this book came from a deep place in her heart, her own questions and struggles growing up beautifully expressed in magical realism.

This book is about secrets and truth and power. But it’s also a love story about two teens discovering who they really are.

http://author.annamariemclemore.com
thomasdunnebooks.com
stmartins.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of When Dimple Met Rishi, by Sandhya Menon

Thursday, August 10th, 2017

When Dimple Met Rishi

by Sandhya Menon

Simon Pulse, 2017. 380 pages.

When Dimple Met Rishi is an adorable teen romance. Dimple Shah has a passion for coding and web development. She has gotten accepted to Stanford and is super excited about attending – even though she’s sure about her parents that “the only reason they had agreed was because they were secretly hoping she’d meet the I.I.H. [Ideal Indian Husband] of her – no their — dreams at the prestigious school.”

For the summer, Dimple wants nothing more than to go to Insomnia Con, where participants “come up with a concept for the most groundbreaking app they could conceive during their month and a half at the SFSU campus.” It costs a thousand dollars, so she’s a little suspicious when her parents readily agree.

Meanwhile, Rishi Patel is looking at a picture of Dimple, a girl his parents have picked out for him to get to know. She is the daughter of their long-time friends who are from the same part of Mumbai as they are. And to get to know her, he can attend a summer program in San Francisco….

Rishi is very traditional and appreciates his parent’s loving concern for him. Naturally, he assumes Dimple’s parents have filled her in, too, and that she’s amenable to these plans.

So when Rishi sees Dimple at Starbucks as soon as he gets on campus, he tries to joke about their meeting:

“Hello, future wife,” he said, his voice bubbling with glee. “I can’t wait to get started on the rest of our lives!”

Dimple stared at him for the longest minute. The only word her brain was capable of producing, in various tonal permutations, was: What? What?

Dimple didn’t know what to think. Serial killer? Loony bin escapee? Strangely congenial mugger? Nothing made sense. So she did the only thing she could think to do in the moment – she flung her iced coffee at him and ran the other way.

Well, despite that inauspicious beginning, what follows is a sweet romance. I would have liked Dimple to resist a little longer, but the way things unfold is quite plausible and a lot of fun.

Now, I do have some skepticism regarding Insomnia Con. But I haven’t done any research – perhaps there does exist a web development program like that where a lot rides on a talent show (really?) in the middle of the program. Perhaps working in pairs never runs into trouble of two people both passionate about their app idea. Some of the subplots worked out a little too neatly as well.

Now, in case my readers need a warning, yes, they have sex – that’s pretty standard in teen romance any more, even when both participants are from families where they know their parents don’t want that for them. The book doesn’t dwell on it – or on any consequences of how it affects their relationship. (They give lip service to thinking about it before they do. And they think about it maybe a day.)

But make no mistake about it – I thoroughly enjoyed this book – enough that it kept me reading all through the night.

This is a sweet story about a girl with a passion and what happens when she finds herself falling in love, against all her plans. Combined with a story about a boy whose well-laid plans get shaken up when confronted with an actual person. Very fun.

sandhyamenon.com
simonandschuster.com/teen

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Pearl Thief, by Elizabeth Wein

Friday, August 4th, 2017

The Pearl Thief

by Elizabeth Wein

Hyperion, 2017. 326 pages.
Starred Review

The Pearl Thief is a prequel to the brilliant Code Name Verity. You can read the books in any order. They don’t overlap at all. You’ll learn more about the character of Julia Beaufort-Stuart, who took the code name Verity during World War II.

In this book, Julie comes home to Scotland from boarding school during the summer she is to turn sixteen. Her grandfather the Earl of Strathfearn has recently died, and her grandmother had to sell the estate to pay bills. So workmen are all over the grounds, preparing to turn it into a school, and the family is packing up their things and spending one last summer at Strathfearn.

Julie arrived home a few days early, when no one was expecting her. The house is empty, so she put on some old clothes and went down to the river – and there she got whacked on the head and left unconscious.

When Julie wakes up in the hospital, the nurses think she’s a Scottish Traveler, a Tinker. Some Travelers found her and brought her in, and no one knew that she was coming home so early.

The man who was in charge of cataloging the Murray collection went missing the same day Julie got hit on the head. As Julie’s memory comes back, she remembers seeing him in the river. Did he commit suicide? Or was he murdered? And who hit Julie?

Meanwhile, Julie makes friends with the Traveler family and sees how everyone in the neighborhood would like to pin the crimes on them.

In this book, it’s fun to again enjoy carefree and bold Julia Beaufort-Stuart. But there’s also plenty of mystery. Also missing from the Murray collection are some Scottish river pearls. And there’s an ancient log boat in the river that the workers carelessly start dredging up – then revealing parts of a body.

We’ve got a story dealing with assault, murder, theft, ancient treasures, and prejudice. And the mystery wraps up with some thrillingly dangerous moments as well. It’s also a coming-of-age story, as Julie experiments with kissing, learns to drive, and wants to be seen as an adult.

I like everything Elizabeth Wein writes, so I have some bias by now. I thought the mystery was a little bit rambling, but mostly it was great to again be in the company of the delightful Julia Beaufort-Stuart.

elizabethwein.com
hyperionteens.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Ms Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal, by G. Willow Wilson

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

Ms. Marvel, Volume 1

No Normal

by G. Willow Wilson
art by Adrian Alphona

Marvel Worldwide, 2015.

I normally don’t read graphic novels, let alone superhero graphic novels. I picked up this one because it was a Cybils Finalist.

And then, looking inside, I got hooked – this is the origin story of a superhero whose secret identity is a Muslim teenage girl! Her family’s from Pakistan and she lives in Jersey City and just wants a normal life. Her parents are on the protective side. They don’t want her to go to parties, let alone fight crime.

This first volume covers how she attains and tries to deal with polymorph powers. While trying to keep her parents happy and keep up with her schoolwork. But it’s her parents’ teachings that motivate her to do good when the opportunity presents itself. Little did they know it would mean she’d be fighting crime and rescuing people in danger!

There are more volumes in this series, and I probably won’t review them all. (But, yes, I want to read on.) But superhero comics have come a long way since I was a kid! Now even a brown-skinned Muslim girl can become a superhero! Wow!

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Thick as Thieves, by Megan Whalen Turner

Monday, May 1st, 2017

Thick as Thieves

by Megan Whalen Turner

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), May 16, 2017. 339 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s how eagerly I’ve been looking forward to this book: First I reread three books in the Queen’s Thief series in the week before ALA Midwinter Meeting in January. (I couldn’t find my copy of the first book, The Thief. I am going to order myself a new copy.) I looked up the number of the HarperCollins booth at ALA, and on opening night of the exhibits, I went straight there, without passing Go. I asked for and received an advance reader copy of Thick as Thieves. I had my reading material for the rest of the conference!

There’s a note at the front of the advance reader copy from the author. She says, “If you’ve read any of the other Queen’s Thief books, there are characters here you might recognize and be happy to spend time with again. If you haven’t read any of my other books, you can start with this one if you like. Every book spoils some other book, just a little, so there are advantages and disadvantages no matter where you begin.”

On the back of the book, it says that Megan Whalen Turner is the “bestselling and award-winning author of four other stand-alone novels set in the world of the Queen’s Thief.” The “stand-alone” part is arguable. I think you’ll enjoy them more if you read at least the first three books in order.

However, they have a case about this book being stand-alone. I think I might have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t been so impatient for Eugenides (the Queen’s Thief) to show up and for me to find out what he was up to. (I knew he was up to more than met the eye.)

Anyway, this book is set in the Mede empire, focusing on Kamet, the slave of the Mede ambassador to Attolia, who was a part of the second book, The Queen of Attolia. Now they are back home, and Kamet is again close to great power. His master, whose affairs he manages, is the nephew of the Mede emperor, and brother of the emperor’s chosen heir.

As the book begins, Kamet is accosted in an alleyway by an Attolian, who tells Kamet to meet him at the docks after dark. The Attolian will escort Kamet to freedom.

Kamet pretends to go along with it, but he’s laughing inside. Here are some of the reasons why he is happy in his place:

As a slave in the emperor’s palace I had authority over all of my master’s other slaves and most of his free men. I had my own money in my master’s cashbox. I had a library of my own, a collection of texts in my alcove that I carefully packed into their own case whenever my master moved households. I not only could read and write, I could read and write in most of the significant languages of the empire. My master had paid good money for it to be so. Someday he meant to make a gift of me to his brother, and then, as the next emperor’s personal slave, I would be one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in all the empire. I wouldn’t have taken the Attolians’ offer even if I’d believed it was sincere – and I didn’t. They meant to slice my throat and toss me in a sewer, I was sure.

But that same day, something happens to change Kamet’s mind. A friend in the household informs him that their master has been poisoned in his room.

When a man is murdered, his slaves are tortured. If any confess, then all are executed whether they share in the guilt or not. No one will buy them and they can hardly be freed – what a temptation that would put before the enslaved population. In the case of a poisoning, where the administration of the poison is unclear, the slaves are put to death on principle. The Medes fear little in quite the way they fear their own slaves.

So Kamet lets the Attolian help him escape. Most of the book deals with their adventures trying to escape the Mede empire and get to Attolia. All the while, Kamet has not told the Attolian that his master is dead and he’s a wanted man. The Attolian thinks that the emperor’s elite guard are after them because an important slave has escaped. They must deal with pursuit, slavers, hunger, illness, and many other pitfalls along the way.

As with the other books in the series, Megan Whalen Turner has her characters telling each other myths about the gods. I enjoyed that this time, as tales from the Mede empire, they are in a completely different style from the tales told in the earlier books. Those resembled Greek myths, and these resemble Assyrian tales. As before, the tales told mirror situations the travelers face.

Now, I wanted the journey to finish a lot sooner than it did. I suspect that might not be as much of a problem for folks who aren’t already familiar with the series. Also, the Advance Reader Copy has blank pages that it says will be filled with maps. I think maps would really help me enjoy the story of the journey more, so I could see that the two are making progress. As it is, without a map it feels like the journey is going on and on, facing obstacle after obstacle. This is enough motivation for me to preorder the finished book, despite having this advance copy. (And advance copy isn’t enough for one of my very favorite series!)

In the big picture of the series, we know that the Mede empire is eventually going to attempt to annex the three kingdoms of the peninsula. In the previous books, the big picture story focused on getting those three kingdoms to stop fighting one another so they could deal with the Mede threat. In this book, we saw one small step in holding off that threat a bit longer.

The author says at the front that she’s not done with the world of the Queen’s Thief, and she’s definitely not done with the Queen’s Thief. I’m so glad! Of course, she spends so much time crafting her tales, it’s time to settle in for another long wait. Good thing the wait is always worth it!

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