penmage: (queen of narnia (rage_my_darling))
I wanted to remind you all about my Bones of Faerie giveaway! You still have a few days left to enter, and you can gain extra entries by linking to the giveaway post and posting book reviews. I'll announce the winner this Sunday, so get your entries in while you can!


The Red Queen's Daughter by Jacqueline Kolosov

Mary Seymour, daughter of Katherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII, is determined never to be bound by love and marriage. With the example of her mother—a woman who was queen, who then was brought low when she fell in love with Thomas Seymour, who was executed a traitor—Mary is determined to keep herself free of love’s dangerous influences.

So when her new guardian, the mysterious Lady Strange, tells Mary of her destiny—to serve as a white magician in Queen Elizabeth’s court—Mary is determined that it is the right course for her. But although she spends her formative years training in the art of magic with Lady Strange, nothing could prepare her for the intrigues and dangers of Elizabeth’s court—or for the temptations of the heart. Despite Mary’s ideals and her vow to serve and protect Elizabeth, she can’t deny the way she feels around one Edmund Seymour. Edmund is Mary’s cousin, but he is also her opposite—he is a black magician who stands to use magic for his own gain and against the Queen. It will take all of Mary’s determination to find her way through the intrigues of court and the temptations of the heart.

The writing in this book is just lovely. Mary’s an engaging protagonist—one who so clearly belongs and lives in this tumultuous Elizabethan time period, but who has slightly modern feminist ideals. But unlike some feminist novels that take place during this time period, they feel rooted in reality and history.

I love the historical detail, the way Elizabeth’s court really comes alive around Mary. Reading this book felt like stowing away in a time machine—I felt completely immersed in the past.

I was so immersed in the details of Elizabeth’s court and Mary’s training as a white magician that I barely realized that it takes nearly three quarters of the book for the plot to get moving, and once it does, it barely feels complete. I am wondering if there is going to be a sequel, and that’s why things are left so up in the air. Almost nothing is concluded with any amount of satisfaction. And Mary, despite all her protestations against love, seems to topple to it without any resistance or reason at all.

Despite these flaws, the writing is so good that I really did enjoy reading it. It’s only when I think about it objectively that I realize that the conclusion didn’t really conclude, the enemies set up in the book still feel like a threat, and the budding romance that seemed on the verge of coming to a head still feels—unfinished.

I really hope that there’s more in store for us from Jacqueline Kolosov and Mary Seymour. I want to know what happens next.
penmage: (queen of narnia (rage_my_darling))

Let It Snow by Maureen Johnson, John Green and Lauren Myracle

Three YA authors come together to write three intersecting novellas about a snowed-in Christmas.

Jubilee's dreams of a perfect Christmas anniversary with her perfect boyfriend is shattered when her parents get arrested in a riot for Flobie Christmas Village pieces, and she's carted off to her grandparents in Florida--only her train get stuck in the snow, and she is stranded in Graceville. But what starts as a snowy disaster may turn into her best Christmas ever. (The Jubilee Express, Maureen Johnson)

All Tobin wants is to spend Christmas Eve watching James Bond movies with her best friends JP and The Duke. But a snowed-in train and a frantic phone call from the fourth member of their little group send Tobin and his buddies out on a quest for every dude's fondest wish--a Waffle House full of stranded cheerleaders. But the quest for cheerleader heaven will lead Tobin to something he never expected--love with an old friend. (A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle, John Green)

Addie has a tendancy to be overdramatic, but this time, she thinks she's being exactly dramatic enough. It's Christmas Eve, and Jeb didn't show. She feels awful for having cheated on him, but she wrote him a email asking for his forgiveness, and he didn't respond at all. She is heartbroken, and sure that Christmas is ruined. But two best friends, a teacup pig, and a Starbucks full of snow-braving customers may go a long way in helping Addie realize that sometimes it's not all about her--and that sometimes it is. (The Patron Saint of Pigs, Lauren Myracle)

The great thing about this book is the way all the stories intersect--the way bits and pieces of them all overlap into each other. It makes them feel homey and friendly, like this is a little town that you've been to--the sort of place where everyone knows everybody, with its fair share of harmless kooks (Tinfoil Guy!)

Maureen Johnson's novella, The Jubilee Express, is fairly unexceptional by way of content, but in typical Maureen Johnson style it's packed full of humor and personality and Maureen Johnson-y goodness, and it's a pleasure to read.

John Green's novella, A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle, is far more original and creative, and probably the most fun of the three. Tobin and JP and The Duke are certainly the most memorable of all the characters in the book, and thier quest and travails on the way to the Waffle House and cheerleader heaven are hilarious.

Lauren Myracle's Patron Saint of Pigs is...okay. It's not terrible. It's fine. Unfortunately, placed as it is after Maureen Johnson and John Green's stories, it's just not as strong. One thing that irritated the hell out of me, and I guess this isn't technically the fault of the story, is that one of Addie's best friends is Jewish, and Lauren Myracle plays her as the stereotypical Jew from hell. I mean, it's one thing to embrace your Jewish heritage and claim to be in love with bagels and lox, but it's another thing altogether to spout Yiddishisms and "Oy!"s all over the place, and make it seem like the only gifts she's interested in recieving are Jewish-themed gifts. It pulled me out of the story--every time Dorrie said, well, anything, it irritated me. Addie was also a much more annoying character than any of the others--which is kind of the point, I guess, but I still just didn't care about her as much as I had cared about Jubilee and Tobin and The Duke.

It's a fun, flufftastically awesome collection overall, and the weaker story is strengthened by the stronger stories. It's a quick read and I really enjoyed devouring it at breakneck speed.


The Secret Rites of Social Butterflies by Lizabeth Zindel

Maggie has just started the ritzy Berkeley Prep as a senior, and she's hoping to make a few friends and avoid social ignominy. But she never expects to be welcomed into the most exclusive clique at Berkeley--and she never imagined that the clique is actually a secret society called the Revelers.

The Revelers have a mission: to document what life is like for today's teenagers so future generations can learn from the past. To that end, once a week, each Reveler must bring three Truths...more Maggie has just started the ritzy Berkeley Prep as a senior, and she's hoping to make a few friends and avoid social ignominy. But she never expects to be welcomed into the most exclusive clique at Berkeley--and she never imagined that the clique is actually a secret society called the Revelers.

The Revelers have a mission: to document what life is like for today's teenagers so future generations can learn from the past. To that end, once a week, each Reveler must bring three Truths about a member of their class or the staff of their school, and write it on the Wall, a secret monument to their high school experience.

At first, the Wall seems like a fascinating social project. But as Maggie begins to bring Truths to the Wall, she begins to suspect that the Revelers have an ulterior motive in their quest for truth. How far is she willing to go to stay friends with the in crowd? And can she get out, even if she wants to?

The best thing I can say about this book is that it's better than Gossip Girl. There's a lot of brand-name dropping, but it's got more heart and personality than Gossip Girl--not that it's difficult. But the Upper East Side prep school setting, plus the clique of wealthy popular girls definitely bring Gossip Girl to mind.

The trouble with this book is that it's just very formulaic. It strives to be original and shocking and interesting--even places hints throughout the story that imply that something vastly more interesting is going to come together or be revealed--and then falls flat.

The big shocking events of the ending, quite simply, aren't shocking. It's fairly easy to predict the outcome, knowing what you do about the players and the way the first page hints at disaster. I spent the book hoping Zindel was going to surprise me with a slightly less predictable end, but she didn't.

Maggie is a sometimes engaging, mostly Mary-Sue-esque protagonist, who really doesn't seem to retain her personality--the brash, confident girl of the earlier pages melts into someone clingy and desperate for popularity, but it's not a realistic character arc. She just exists to tell Zindel's story, but she's not believable as a character herself.

I spent the whole book waiting for the book to impress me, and it never did
penmage: (the world is crumbling said bruno)

The Silenced by James DeVita

Marena, raised by her revolutionary mother, has always believed in speaking your mind and standing up for what you believe in. But her mother is dead now, condemned a traitor executed after the Zero Tolerance party came to power. Her crime? Thinking for herself and speaking out.

Now, as conditions in the government compound where Marena lives get more and more oppressive, Marena has to make a choice. Will she stay silent, keep her head down, and stay safe? Or will she make a stand, even if it means risking her life and the lives of everyone she loves? Marena knows one thing for sure: if she doesn't stand up, no one will.

I love a good dystopian novel as much as the next person--probably more. But this one never came together for me. For one thing, I can't envision the chain of events that led to the Zero Tolerance party coming to power. It's clear that James DeVita doesn't actually care about what led to this turn of events--he just wanted to fictionalize Sophie Scholl's courageous protests, and he wanted to put it in a futuristic setting so that instead of historical fiction, it would read as a "this could happen to you."

But it doesn't work. It's such a thinly veiled retelling of Nazi Germany--with futuristic lingo and technology, of course, and some small differences in technique, and also in extent--but it's impossible not to recognize Nazi Germany in the Zero Tolerance party. But I understand how the Nazi party came to power. There were a whole mess of political issues, not to mention the aftermath of WWI and what that did to the German psyche. As a historian, I've studied the past, and I understand--not how people could do these things, but how this sort of situation could come to pass. James DeVita was not interested in putting in the work to make this a believable dystopia, and so it's not believable. It feels like he cribbed it from the Holocaust--and he did.

Even worse, it's not until towards the very end of the book that I felt a clear sense of danger or feared for Marena's safety or life. Most of the time, when she resisted--it didn't feel immediate. There were a few sections of her memories that were written in first person, and I couldn't help but wonder how much more immediate the book would have felt if it had all been written in first person.

The plot was flat. I guessed a few of the most important plot twists early on, and much of the book felt like one long slog until they were revealed. And the rest of it--even if I didn't anticipate it, it was because I just didn't care enough to try.

The one redeeming factor in this book is the genuinely interested Helmsley Greengritch, who is the only character in the book who fascinated me and felt like a real person. I believed that Greengritch believed in what he was doing, unlike pretty much everyone else in DeVita's dystopia, and watching him along his journey was interesting.

DeVita very proudly admits this in the author's note at the end, that he wanted to rewrite Sophie's story. I don't think that's something to be proud of. If you want to write Sophie's story, give her the dignity of her name, and if you don't, write your own book--don't crib off of history.

If you want to read a book about the Holocaust, only futurized and with different names, this book is for you. If you want to read a ripoff of Sophie Scholl's courageous story, only without any actual Sophie in it, this book is for you. If you want to read a book where the author thinks he's so damn clever for coming up with terms like "loyalty correction", and claims in an afterward that he has achieved the same level of heroism as Sophie Scholl herself by the very act of writing this book, then this book is for you.

If you don't want any of those things, you probably do not want to read this book.
penmage: (peter and susan isn't this exciting?)

Me, the Missing, and the Dead by Jenny Valentine

Lucas Swain is almost sixteen years old, and his dad has been missing for five years when he meets Violet Park on a shelf at a cab office. Thing is, Violet Park is more than a little bit dead and living in an urn at the time.

But Lucas knows that she has something to tell him. Even though she's no longer among the living.

As Lucas tries to unearth the truth about Violet Park and what she wants from him, he realizes that there may have been a connection between Violet Park and his missing father. The more he digs, the more he begins to learn truths about the dad he's always idolized--truths he's not sure he ever wanted to know.

I love this book. It doesn't sound like much from the description, and when you hold it in your hand, a slim little volume, you won't believe that it can worm its way into your heart and make you care, but it can, and it will. In a few short pages you'll get to know Lucas. You'll hear his voice in your head, honest and contempletive and real and true, and you'll want to keep talking to him.

Because like Violet, the fact that Lucas isn't real won't stop you from getting to know him--or from caring about him.

There are lines in this book that ring so honest and true that they break your heart even as you know they're true.

"It occurs to me that all most people do when they grow up is fix on something impossible and then hunger after it...And the thing about everyone else in my family is that we are so busy being miserable all the time about impossible stuff that being miserable has started to become normal and strangely comforting.

I mean, how much would we actually like it if Dad showed up tomorrow and became part of the family again?

Wouldn't it make everyone a bit awkward?

It would be like having a stranger in the house, like a new lodger.

It would be really weird.

At some point, without anybody noticing, the impossible object of desire must turn into the last thing on Earth you want to happen."

And let me just add in one last thing--just when you think this book couldn't possibly get any better, that the ache of goodness and honest writing and characters you've grown to love in such a few short pages couldn't swell any larger in your heart--just wait for the last chapter. Just wait for it. Because it's perfect.
penmage: (fairy tale innocent [art by John Bauer])

Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner

Liza has grown up in the aftermath of the War between humans and Faerie. It was the greatest conflict in human memory, she was told—and it left its mark in the way that the world has changed. Trees reach out their branches with sinister intent, and the forest surrounding Liza’s town is full of deadly shadows that can kill with a touch. Liza has grown up knowing the rules: any trace of magic must be cast out immediately, before it turns on the town and brings destruction on their heads.

Liza knows that they have rules for a reason, and without them, their town would have been destroyed by magic long ago. But when her little sister is born with hair clear as glass—a sure sign of magic—her father leaves her to die on a hilltop. After that, everything changes. Liza’s mother leaves in the middle of the night. And Liza starts having visions—of the past and the future. She knows that she has to flee her town lest she bring danger down on the people she loves. But what starts out as a desperate escape from what she has left behind becomes a journey that may lead to hope—a hope for the future of both worlds.

What I love about this book is that an apocalypse is a large-scale thing. It affects everybody, all over the place, and a really good post-apocalyptic book makes the massive overarching aftereffects known—the way the apocalypse has really devastated humanity. And Bones of Faerie definitely accomplishes that.

But Bones of Faerie is also an intensely personal story. Taking place as it does twenty years after the War, after the devastation, it’s not just a story about global disaster—it’s Liza’s story. It’s Liza’s journey—and even as the trees rise up to kill people and shadows can detach themselves from their caster with deadly intent—even with all the dangers and perils of a post-apocalyptic world, the most terrifying villain of them all is, in the end, only human.

This is post-apocalyptic in all the best ways. The dangers of a world where vegetation is deadly and corn moans and bruises you when you harvest it are terrifying, and even more chilling is the way Liza just accepts all of this as commonplace and wonders at how the tress could ever have been tame and safe to be near. The world feels real. It feels possible.

The only complaint I have is one I have with all of the best stories: I want more. I closed the last page of the book with a faint ache in my heart. I want to explore this apocalypse a little bit further. I want to understand the connections between Faerie and the human world a little bit more. I want to spend more time with these characters I’ve grown to love and respect. (Especially Allie, who stole my heart from the moment she showed up on the page.) I didn’t want to leave this book behind me.
penmage: (i-do-believe-in-fairies!)
Guess what the Book Fairy sent me!


A review copy of [ profile] janni's Bones of Faerie, a post-apocalyptic YA Faerie novel, showed up on my doorstep today, courtesy of a kindly publicity person at Random House. Maybe somebody read my Friday post and decided to answer my hopes.

Yay! Now I can read it right after I finish the (flufftastically awesome) Let It Snow, which I have devoured and am now 2/3 done with.

I also feel the need to add that I spent most of my Friday night reading time re-reading and re-re-reading Jellicoe Road, flipping through it and flipping through it some more, jiggering and rejiggering the pieces--not to make them make sense, because by the end of the book they already do that--but to let them all slide around in my mind some more, and so I wouldn't have to give up the characters. I love them all so much. I miss them like a physical pain.

I'm still carting Jellicoe around with my next to the book I'm currently reading, as if it would be a torment to let it get too far away.

I'm going to review it soon, hopefully. Right now it's still percolating around in my head. Right now, all I can say is read it. It's amazing. Starts slow, but stick with it, because it's seriously amazing.

So watch this space! Jellicoe Road review to come, and them soon after that, Bones of Faerie!
penmage: (queen of narnia (rage_my_darling))

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (winner of the Margaret A. Edwards award! Yay!)

Lia isn’t good at many things, but she is the best at one thing—being thin, thinner, the thinnest. Once upon a time, she and Cassie were the thinnest together. They swore it in blood at midnight on New Year’s, and they knew they could do it.

But Cassie got caught, and she stopped talking to Lia, stopped being her friends, until. Until her body was found in a motel room, dead and alone. And Lia found thirty-three voicemails from Cassie on her phone.

Now Lia is struggling. Struggling to stay the thinnest while her family tries to make her fat. She’s seeing Cassie’s ghost, luring her to the other side. And as Lia dwindles away to thin, thinner thinnest, she realizes that she will have to make a choice—Cassie, or her life.

This book is searing. It reminds me of The Road, not in content at all, but in that it’s hard to get into it—Lia’s voice is so painful and raw that it almost hurts to read. But once you’re in, it’s almost impossible to pull yourself out of Lia’s head.

In high school, we used to have Health Awareness Day every year, and every single year, the topic was anorexia and bulimia, until I honestly thought I’d puke if I had to sit through one more Lifetime movie about a girl with an eating disorder. I didn’t think there was anything left on the subject that could hold my interest or attention.

I was wrong. Lia is real. She thinks and breathes and feels, and she’s honest. This book is for everyone who has ever been a teenager, who has ever felt inadequate or useless or fat or stupid, who has ever felt like cutting themselves out of their own life. It is for anyone who thinks teenagers don’t feel as deeply and honestly as adults. It’s for anyone who knows a teenager.

Lia is honest. Not always with herself, but always with us, the reader. She gives us a window on what it’s like to hate the skin you’re in, on what it feels like to feel wretched and helpless, and what it feels like to wrest back any control you can find—the one thing you’re good at, the one thing you can do.

Wintergirls is not an easy book to read. It’s awful at times, and always haunting. You will not be able to forget it. And you will never again be able to think about eating disorders without hearing Lia’s searing voice in your head.
penmage: (queen of narnia (rage_my_darling))

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

Evie is fifteen when the war ends and her beloved stepfather Joe finally comes home. She and her mother have waited a long time for Joe--first, the long years while her mother was raising her on her own, and now for the three years since Joe went off to war. But now he's back, and they're going to be a family, the way they were always meant to be.

That's when Peter Coleridge shows up, an old war buddy of Joe's. He's handsome and charismatic, and Evie is drawn to him. All Evie can see is the first man she's ever fallen for--the first man with whom she feels like a woman instead of a kid.

It's all too easy for Evie to ignore the web of lies and deceit that have come into their lives along with Peter, and so she does--until on one fateful day, everything comes to a head in one tragic moment that will force Evie to see everything as it really is.

And in that moment, Evie has to make a choice that will determine where her loyalties lie, and what kind of a person she is, and what kind of person she wants to be.

The trouble with award-winning books is that the expectations are too high. I am fairly sure that if I had read this before it was even a twinkle in the National Book Award committee's eye, I would have been more impressed.

But going into it knowing that it won the NBA, all I could think of was this won over Chains? Really? This?

It's a good book. Very well-written, with a lot of emotional punch behind a very subtle exterior. It's a train wreck of a book deliberately--starting at a point towards the disastrous end, so you know that no matter the outcome, things are going to be No Good by the time you get there.

The real strength of the book is watching Evie grow, subtly, from an emotional child to an emotional woman. The loss of innocence, the loss of complete trust in parental figures. The reimagining of truth, justice and the American Way. The way the war is a metaphor for everything that we lose.

The more I think about it, the more I like it, actually. This is a book that you think is hitting you over the head with it's story--but the emotional core of the story is subtler and far more haunting than the surface story.
penmage: (batgirl fights to make the world safe!)

Airman by Eoin Colfer

Conor Broekhart was born in the sky—literally. He was born as his parents were shot down in a hot air balloon, and it was an omen of what was to come. Conor always knew that one day, he would fly.

His early years were idyllic—he spent them roaming the halls of the castle on his home of Great Saltee with his best friend, princess Isabella, and learning with his beloved tutor, Victor Vigny, who shared Conor’s dream of the skies. But when Conor discovers a terrible plot against king and country and tries to intervene, he is branded a traitor and thrown into the island prison Little Saltee.

In Little Saltee, Conor must struggle to survive against cruel prison guards, vicious fellow prisoners, and the treacherous conditions of the diamond mine. But all the while, Conor knows that he will one day escape—in the only way that has never yet been tried: through the air.

This is a great book, and I gulped it down in less than twenty-four hours. I have a tendency, when I’m not thoroughly engrossed in a book, to check and see how many pages there are in the book, just so I know how much I have left to go. With Airman, I was on p.288 before I realized I hadn’t even thought to check. It was just that good and engrossing.

And I was so surprised, too, because I really didn't love Artemis Fowl. I read this book under duress. I'm sorry I waited so long.

Conor is an engaging protagonist, and I enjoyed the way he thinks and sees the world: as a scientist. And the villain of this book is mad, and thoroughly, terribly evil—but also wily as a fox. I also liked that in this book, blows and beatings hurt, and can incapacitate a person. I liked that Conor wasn’t ridiculously brave or bold, that he felt pain and fear and suffered and struggled like any person would. I liked watching him grow and mature—realistically, believably, and wonderfully.

Airman is an adventure story, a survival story, and a revenge story. It’s a great book for boys, or for anybody.
penmage: (fairy tale innocent [art by John Bauer])

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George

When the lass is born, the last of nine children, her mother is so disappointed in having another girl that she refuses to name her, and just refers to her as “the pika”—the girl. It’s hard to be the youngest, and nameless, especially in the frozen Northern lands where trolls haunt the edges of everyone’s fears. But when the lass (given this name by her older brother, Hans Peter) frees a white stag from a patch of thorns, she is given two gifts—a name, and the ability to speak to animals.

The second gift comes especially useful, and it brings the lass a measure of respect in her town. It also brings danger to her door, in the form of a massive isbjorn, a huge polar bear who asks her to come live with him in an ice palace for a year and a day. In exchange, he will give her family wealth and comfort. It is not a hard choice, and the lass goes with the bear.

The ice palace is a mystery to her. There are strange carvings on the walls that seem to tell a terrible story. The servants, inhuman but kind, begin disappearing one by one. And a strange man climbs into her bed alongside of every night, fully clothed, and is gone by morning light.

The lass knows that there is an enchantment at work, and she is too curious to leave it alone, despite the warnings of the servants, the isbjorn, and her brother Hans Peter. And so she begins to seek the truth—and when she learns it, she throws everything that she loves into mortal peril.

It is then that her real quest begins—a quest for the man she loves, wrapped in the guise of an isbjorn, and a quest to put an end at last to the evil that has kept her Northern home frozen in an endless winter.

This is a lovely retelling of the East of the Sun, West of the Moon fairy tale. Jessica Day George has a flair for likeable characters who seek out their own paths (as I noticed in Dragon Slippers and Dragon Flight) and she has a very readable narrative. I enjoyed the first three quarters of this book very much—I loved watching the pieces of this very strange fairy tale weave together into a coherent and compelling story.

However, the last quarter of the book fell apart for me. My favorite thing about retold fairy tales is when the retelling makes sense of an otherwise nonsensical fairy tale. Like in A Curse Dark as Gold, where we finally understand what could have possessed the miller’s daughter to promise a child, and what Rumplestiltskin’s motives were all along.

This book does that beautifully—until the last quarter of the book, where it stops spinning a new tale out of an old one and falls back on simply retelling the old-school fairy tale. There’s no explanation or interpretation—it’s straight-up fairy tale.

I also took issue with the lass’s relationship with the isbjorn. One of the lovely things about the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, and all iterations of it (like this one) is that it’s one of the rare fairy tales where the hero and heroine actually have a chance to get to know each other on the road to True Love.

There were so many chances for that here—the lass lives in the ice palace with the isbjorn for a long time, and I have to assume that George intended for us to infer that she got to know him and fell in love with him during that time.

But we don’t see it. We see the lass trying to solve the curse, and we see her being clever (though, sometimes her cleverness looks like clever stupidity when she investigates something that everyone, everyone begs her to just leave alone) and we see her getting to know and care for the servants. And we see her growing less afraid of the isbjorn. But we never see her getting to know the isbjorn. We never see that relationship blossoming, and therefore her rush of “He is my true love and I must rescue him” feels false.

It’s not a bad retelling of a fairy tale, but it lacks that certain something—that twist, that “ah-ha!” feeling that lives in the fairy tale retellings I love best. It’s got lovely writing and an engaging protagonist, and I would have loved it as a kid. But it’s not at the top of my list of favorites.
penmage: (reading pigeon)

The Unnameables by Ellen Booraem

Medford Runyuin lives on an island called Island. Everything and everyone who lives on Island is named for their purpose. Everyone except Medford. Medford, a foundling from Mainland whose parents died at sea, is saddled with a meaningless name, yet another reminder that he doesn’t fit in. To make matters worse, Medford is hiding a secret. It a secret so deep and terrible that he can’t tell anyone—not his foster father Boyce Carver, not his best friend Prudy Carpenter.

On Island, the things that are valued are Useful things. Things without a purpose are useless, and therefore nameless. And if anyone knew that Medford was spending time making Unnameable things—he would be exiled from Island, the only home he has ever known.

But something is about to change for Medford and the people of Island. There is someone coming to Island, and he is going to expose Medford’s secret. And when he is done, nothing and no one on Island will ever be the same again.

One of the things I love about this book is the fact that Unnameable items aren’t considered bad because of some long-lost superstition or ridiculousness that makes it hard to take these people seriously. The people of Island consider useless items bad because making them takes time away from making items that their town desperately needs to survive and thrive. If you waste your time on something that is not essential, you are endangering the town. It makes sense, and I like that.

Of course, that can never be the bottom line, and like all good books, this one turns Island’s traditions on its head.

The other thing I love about this book is the humor. It has a sweet sly humor that peeks out at the most unexpected of times—quite like real life, actually. There are moments in this book that made me laugh out loud—things I couldn’t really explain, because the reason they were so funny was built up on everything that had happened in the book so far. There’s a good humor and a good nature to this book that’s welcoming and comforting and a joy to read.

And then there’s Medford and his Goatman, who are unforgettable.

I won’t try to make sense of the Goatman. Or the time period where this book is meant to take place. In some ways it reminds me of Ember a teeny-tiny bit, a society set off from time and the modern world, living on their own, their traditions warped and changed by isolation.

I enjoyed this book so very much. What it has to say about the importance and value of art, and friendship and following your heart—it’s all important to hear. But more importantly, it’s a joy to read.
penmage: (don't mess (by etoilepb))

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

In the seven kingdoms, there are some children who are born different. They are marked with eyes of two different colors, and they are called Gracelings. Gracelings have abilities beyond the natural, and they are feared and shunned by most people. There are many different Graces—some are benign, like the Grace to swim long distances, or to juggle. And some or deadly.

Katsa, niece to King Randa of Middluns, has a killing Grace. Since she was a small child she has been able to kill a grown man easily with her bare hands. She lives as King Randa’s enforcer—he sends her to maim, torture and kill those who defy him.

But Katsa has a secret. Far from just being King Randa’s mad dog, she is also a part of a secret Council that does its best to watch over the seven kingdoms and bring justice and right to its people. When a Council mission brings her face to face with Po, a Lienid prince Graced with combat skills, Katsa has met her match for the first time. Po isn’t afraid to meet her mismatched eyes. And Po can match her in a fight, blow for blow.

Together, Katsa and Po begin an investigation into a mystery that has deadly roots in the most unexpected of places, and they will face a terrifying enemy who can confound even Katsa’s Graced skills.

At stake is nothing short of the fate of all seven kingdoms.

The thing I really love about this book is the Council. Even from the opening page of this book, Katsa is living and thinking and acting for herself. All the other reviews I’ve read make a big deal about how flawed Katsa is, and how wonderful it is to have a truly flawed heroine. I won’t argue with that—that’s definitely nice.

But what’s even better is, instead of watching Katsa grow into a strong young woman is seeing that she is one from the first page. The Council is amazing. I love that from the moment we meet her, Katsa is already stepping up and doing good. Watching her grow from that into someone who recognizes her own self-worth is a joy.

But that’s not the only great thing about this book. The first few chapters throw you right into the action, and the mystery—so abruptly that I was confused, and I had to go back and reread those pages once I figured out what was going on. But good confused. The kind of confused that makes you want to know and understand.

The politics of Katsa’s world intrigue me—I’m very glad that there are going to be other books set in the seven kingdoms so I can understand it more.

There’s a lot going on in these books, and once you realize where the plot is going—well, it’s terrifying. The bad guy is seriously scary, and the possibility of failure is terrible. Graceling is an old-school adventure/romance that feels fresh and vibrant and new.
penmage: (canon - horns horns horns (roguebelle))

Nation by Terry Pratchett

Mau is on his way home from the Boy's island when the wave hits. He has left his boy soul behind, and he is about to receive his man soul--and then the wave hits, and there is nothing left. His people, the Nation, are gone, and there is only him. Him and Daphne, a trouserman girl, the only survivor of a shipwreck caused by the wave. They don't speak the same language, but they are the only two living souls on the island, and so they must work together to survive. And slowly, they are joined by more stragglers, more survivors. And as they work together to survive, they begin what may be the greatest adventure of all time.

I was hesitant to even try to blurb this book. It's one of those rare books, like Elizabeth Knox's Dreamhunter/Dreamquake (even though it's nothing at all like them) where there is just no imaginable way to do it justice with a blurb. It's impossible.

This book is too good--too throat-catchingly, painfully, heartbreakingly good--to sum up in an easy paragraph. Which is to say, it's vintage Pratchett. It's funny--hysterically funny at times--and then it gets you where it hurts, and is suddenly dead serious and important. It's an interesting departure from Pratchett's Discworld books, which, aside from being excellent books, are all parodies of something. It's not a parody of anything, and it stands entirely alone.

This is a book about redefining yourself when you've lose your compass and everything you used to use for that task. It's about seeing your culture and your life through new eyes. It's about what it means to believe, and what it means to care. It's about being human. It's honest and heartbreaking and excellent and I beg you to read it.

Words don't do it justice. So I'll leave you with some quotes from the book:


"He's frightened of me, Mau thought. I haven't hit him or even raised my hand. I've just tried to make him think differently, and now he's scared. Of thinking. It's magic."


"How are you?

Mau's brow wrinkled, and she knew that one wasn't going to work. They had got a language working pretty well now...but it was for simple everyday things, and "How are you" was too complicated because it didn't really ask the question you thought it asked."



"The dark, piercing eyes stayed fixed on her for a while, and then it seemed that she had passed some test.

"You are very clever," said the old man shyly. "I would like to eat your brains, one day."

For some reason the books of etiquette that Daphne's grandmother had forced on her didn't quite deal wit this. Of course, silly people would say to babies, "You're so sweet I could gobble you all up!" but that sort of nonsense seemed less funny when it was said by a man in war paint who owned more than one skull. Daphne, cursed with good manners, settled for, "It's very kind of you to say so."

penmage: (heroine addict mina (by cleolinda))

Dragon Flight by Jessica Day George

Creel is settling into life after the Great Dragon War--and her identity as Heroine of the Great Dragon War. She owns a tailor shop now, along with her friend Marta, and the two of them are running a bustling business, sewing and designing gowns for nobility--including for Lady Isla, who is marrying Crown Prince Milun. Marta is also trying to prepare for her wedding to strong and silent Tobin. And Creel? She's struggling with her feelings for Luka, second prince and her friend, currently two countries away in Citatie on a diplomatic mission.

And that's when disaster strikes. A letter from Luka, informing Creel--and the King and court--that Citatie is preparing to move on Feravel--and that they have an army mounted on the backs of dragons.

Naturally, Creel can't leave Luka there dealing with a dragon threat all by himself. And so she, Marta, Tobin, and a few of their dragon friends decide to travel down to Citatie to try to figure out what's going on.

What they find in Citatie is shocking--hundreds of dragons being controlled and commanded by King Nason, being prepared for a conflict with Feravel. But when Creel and Marta do some digging, they discover that a far greater and older threat is at the source of the battle.

The thing I love about these books is the way Creel is a heroine on her own terms. She's not a fighter. What she is is brave, and determined to stand by her friends. She uses the skills and talents that she already possesses--sewing--to get her places and accomplish things. I also love how Creel isn't the only independant and capable woman in this world--she's not the outlier. Marta in this book is just as capable and heroic--in fact, one of my favorite moments in the book belongs to Marta.

The dragons are, of course, engaging, and the plot moves briskly along. I'll definitly pick up a third book in this series.
penmage: (jack (fireriven))

The City in the Lake by Rachel Neumeier

The Kingdom's heart is the City. The City's heart is the King. The King's heart is the Prince. And the Prince is missing--stolen, vanished, gone. And ever since he vanished, nothing has been right in the Kingdom. New life is stillborn, and there is a shadow that lies across everything. Everyone in the Kingdom can feel it.

Timou, in her remote village, can feel it too. Solemn, strange Timou, daughter of the mage Kapoen, has trained at her father's side for her entire life, and she can feel the wrongness pressing in on her like invisible eyes on her back. When her father travels to the Kingdom to investigate and doesn't return, Timou knows that she has to seek out the truth--even if it means leaving behind everything she loves and understands. Even if it means confronting terrifying truths about her heritage.

This book is stunning. No real words can do it justice. Let me just say that up front. It reminds me of Robin McKinley's Deerskin and The Blue Sword, or of some of Patricia McKillip's work. It's lush and dreamy and gorgeous, but never so lush that it bores you with description.

I'm a speed-reader, which means that most of the time I auto-skim books. This book made me slow down and savor every word.

I love Timou. She's a wonderful protagonist--she's different, and powerful, but never Mary-Sue-ish about it. And I love even more Lord Neill, the Bastard, who manages to break my heart in just a few short chapters. Rachel Neumeier, you are a genius and I applaud you.

I love the sparseness of the prose. The way it says so much with so few words. There are scenes that are mere paragraphs, but I had to read them over and over again because of the weight of emotion that they carried. There were moments that made my breath catch in my chest. There were moments, in this slim little book, that I felt the fear and terror of the moment so much I could barely turn the page.

I love the ideas in this book. I love how they are interwoven so gracefully with the plot--they don't leap out at you, shouting and yelling, "here I am--look how clever I am!"--they're subtle and fascinating and take root in your mind, so that you can't help but turn them over and over again.

This is the kind of book I have always wanted to write, and the kind of book that I have, for as long as I can remember, always wanted to read. From the opening paragraphs to the last scene, I loved everything about this book. It still haunts me, the Kingdom and the City and its stone tigers.

I think this book will haunt me for a long, long time.
penmage: (peter and susan isn't this exciting?)
Attention attention! [ profile] elisem is having another fabulous clearance sale. Somebody go buy something, because my wallet and my self-control aren't speaking to each other right now.

I am actually wearing a pendant I bought from Elise right now--I love it dearly. So go see if something calls your name!

ETA: If you link to the sale in a public post, you can get entered into a drawing for a gift certificate. And here you thought I was just being charitable, giving you all this friendly PSA.

Damosel by Stephanie Spinner

Damosel is a Lady of the Lake, and as such, she is bound by many rules. Rules about ettiquete, rules about magic usage, rules about promises. She is happy in the solitude of her lake, but when she promises the wizard Merlin that she will look out for the young king Arthur, she is forced to pay attention--and get involved--in the goings-on of mortals.

Twixt is a dwarf, stunted and tormented by one cruel master after another. When he encounters and aids Sir Tor, he finds himself first in the employ of the knight--and then in the employ of King Arthur himself. And so Twixt has a front row seat as the drama of Arthur's life explodes.

This book was a funny reading experience for me. I found Damosel herself very off-putting--sometimes she felt too silly, too bound by the Rules that I couldn't quite buy her or her world--and sometimes she felt too distant. I have trouble suspending disbelief when a character talks about something that happened when she was "just a child of ninety years old." And I certainly didn't buy Damosel's romance, which, despite being a major plot point, felt very forced to me.

What I did buy was Twixt. While Damosel's chapters kept jarring me out of the Arthurian world, Twixt's chapters kept pulling me in. Whenever I was reading Twixt, I could hear his voice, believe in his character, his world. Twixt was very real to me. When I came out of his chapters, I felt like I was blinking in sudden, too-harsh light. His voice lingered in my ears--sometimes, when I moved on to the Damosel chapters, I was confused, because my head was still with Twixt, and I couldn't understand what Twixt would be doing in a lake.

This book is definitly an interesting take on Arthurian legend. It doesn't feel very young to me, but I can imagine myself eating it up as a teen. The Damosel chapters are like Mists of Avalon lite--very lite. But the Twixt chapters are marvellous. I would have loved a whole book of Twixt.
penmage: (scc - come with me if you want to live)

Dream Girl by Lauren Mechling

Claire Voyant has always had visions. Pointless, annoying visions--and when she follows up on them, she usually ends up trying awkwardly to explain herself. But when her fabulous grandmother Kiki gives her a cameo broach on a chain for her birthday, suddenly the visions get a lot clearer, a lot sharper, and a lot more black and white. Oh, and more accurate, too. Suddenly, Claire is having visions that may actually be useful--and as she starts following up on her hunches, she realizes that her visions may mean the difference between life and death for some of the people she cares about the most.

This book is sooooooo good. Claire is my new favorite fictional teenager. She's up there with Veronica Mars and characters in Maureen Johnson novels.

Let me tell you why this book is awesome. Mostly it boils down to character and voice, like everything that's ever awesome about a book, but I want to be specific, because I want you to read this review and run out and buy yourself a copy of this book and then read it right away so you can love it too.

First of all, Claire. Claire is hilarious. She's sarcastic and funny, but she's not unreasonably or irritatingly smart or wisecracky. She's utterly and completely believable and real. I feel like we could be friends, Claire and I. She's crabby and loves her little brother, and her parents are sometimes annoying, and she's a good friend. And that brings me to the next thing I like about this book: friendship. Claire's friendship with Becca is so honest and natural and real. They work as friends. They're not just friends because the author wants them to be friends as a plot device--the friendship grows and develops and works, and it's a pleasure to read.

The rest of the supporting characters are great too, from Claire's fabulous grandmother Kiki who lives in the Waldorf Astoria, to her little brother Henry who likes to take long walks, to her French professor father and her wishes-she-was-French mother, to her neighbors, to her school friends, talented Ian and Silent Eleanor. They sound madcap and crazy, but they're not. They're just colorful and interesting, the way real people are, and they interact with each other naturally, comfortably. All of the supporting characters, no matter how minor, feel real and realized and interesting.

Even if nothing happened in this book at all, it would be fun to read about them hanging out with each other.

Oh, and let's talk about the plot. Claire is a fantastic crack detective! She's not as all-knowing and all-seeing as, say, Nancy Drew or Veronica Mars, but she's smart and determined, and willing to stick her nose into things, especially when a friend is at risk. It's fun to read about a girl detective who's realistic (aside from the whole vision thing.) She puts the pieces together, and you can see the thought process.

And another thing. Her name is Claire Voyant, and she has visions. Claire Voyant. Get it? Get it? Of course you do. But here's the thing--instead of being lame, the author calls it out right at the beginning--Claire acknowledges that her name is lame, and quotes the fact that her grandmother doesn't think that a child with the last name Voyant should have ever been named Claire, but them are the breaks. And then it's not mentioned again for the rest of the book. Which somehow makes this cheesy name totally cool.

Rock on, Lauren Mechling. I am impressed. Impressed and entertained and totally recommending this (pretty clean) book to all the teenagers I know.
penmage: (kitty whatever (alexicons))

Oh. My. Gods. by Tera Lynn Childs

Phoebe could not be less thrilled when her mom returns from a trip to Greece with a brand new fiancé, and announces that they’re moving to the tiny Greek island Serfopoula, just in time for Phoebe’s senior year. All Phoebe wanted to do was finish out high school with her two best friends and win a track scholarship. Now, she has to travel halfway around the world to attend a superexclusive academy where she doesn’t know anyone except for her bitchy stepsister—oh, and where all the students are descendants of the Greek gods and have godly powers.

Phoebe is determined to survive her senior year without getting zapped by her stepsister, keep up her average and win her track scholarship. But life is anything but simple on Serfopoula. From the killer academics to the cute guy she can’t seem to figure out, Phoebe is going to need to stay quick and alert if she wants to come out on top.

Oh. My. Gods. is a quick, breezy read, and before I say anything else I want to call it out for something that it does right—the internet. Lots of teen novels try to have its characters talk in IM or email, and it almost always comes off as kind of lame, and not quite right. In this book, Childs nails the IM culture—including one supremely awkward moment when Phoebe mixes up IM windows and sends the wrong message to the wrong person. Usually internet use in these books makes me grit my teeth—in this book it felt natural.

I wanted the book to explore the Greek gods side of things a little bit further—did we ever even find out who Nicole was descended from? I wanted to know more—does the god you’re descended from ALWAYS affect your personality? Are you necessarily doomed to be bitchy if you’re descended from Hera? And what about kids who are descended from two different gods? Do they get to choose which social circle to belong to? I felt like there was so many interesting places this book could have gone, and it fell short. Which is not exactly a fair critique, but there you go.

That said, taken as a breezy, entertaining teen read, it works wonderfully.


I'm reading Dream Girl by Lauren Mechlin right now, and loving it. I'll keep you guys posted. I'm waffling about my next book. I was thinking of reading Once Upon A Time in the North by Philip Pullman, because it's so short, but then I was thinking maybe Damosel by Stephanie Spinner. But after hearing fellow Cybils panelist Laini Taylor rave about The Gypsy Crown, now I'm waffling in that direction.

Hmmmmm. So many books. Never enough time!
penmage: (reading gnome 2)
I got more books in the mail yesterday! I cleared off the bookshelves I've been using for game storage to create a special Cybils shelf.

I took a picture, if you're curious to see what I've got so far! )

I just finished reading The Order of the Odd-Fish by James Kennedy, which was very good, and I'm still mentally chewing it around. I'll hopefully review it here soon. I just started Lauren Mechlin's Dream Girl this morning, and so far, I really like the voice.

And now, another review.


Thornspell by Helen Lowe

Growing up in West Castle, on the outer edge of his father’s kingdom, Prince Sigismund has always dreamed of noble knights on valiant quests. He yearns to follow in their footsteps—even as he knows that he is destined to follow in his father’s, and rule the kingdom.

And then Sigismund starts having the dreams. In his dreams, he is traversing the forbidden wood that lies on the edge of West Castle. In his dreams, he is exploring a castle where time seems to have stopped altogether. And he keeps seeing a girl—a girl bound by thorns.

Before long, Sigismund realizes that he has a part to play, a part in a story that is nearly a hundred years old—a legend about a curse and a sleeping princess. Sigismund will have the chance to realize all his dreams—but the forces against him are powerful and insidious, and he will have to use all of his courage to defeat them.

This is, obviously, a fairy tale retelling. It’s well-done—it recreates a compelling quest-style story that turns into the classic Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. It’s an enjoyable read in the old, medieval-esque fantasy way, the kind with made-up kingdoms and heroic princes.

What it isn’t is anything new. It doesn’t bring a new element to the table at all. The thing about fairy tales that I find so compelling is that they always feel like we’re only getting the bare bones of the tale, and there’s still so much missing from a full understanding of the story. Who the characters are, how they got there. How the fairy tale bones create a skeleton for a lush and fully-realized story. That’s what makes a fantastic fairy tale retelling--A Curse Dark as Gold is a classic example of that sort of thing. Something that takes the old story and makes it fresh and new and compelling, and still true to the old tale.

Thornspell is compelling, but it’s not fresh and new. The writing is good, and the story moves, but it lacks teeth. It feels familiar, and that’s sometimes comforting, but it’s rarely memorable. Read it if you like fairy tale retellings, but don’t expect anything surprising.
penmage: (reading pigeon)
A whole bunch of review copies came in the mail today! Two boxes and three smaller packages.

I took a picture, for your viewing pleasure )

While you wait for me to make it through that stack, and whatever else comes my way, here's a review for you lovely people.

Boots and Pieces by Emily Ecton

Arlie Jacobs has issues. She has a big sister who bosses her around, an incompetent town sheriff who always seems to think she's up to something, and the best dressed pet Chihuahua (Mr. Boots) you've ever seen. Oh, and something is eating the kids in her town.

Arlie has never been one to sit around at home and do nothing when there's something more interesting going on, so she and her best friend Ty decide to do some investigating. And that's when they discover the mutant gummy monster that lives in the local polluted lake. The local lake which is the site of the upcoming prom. One thing's for sure: if Arlie and Ty can't do something about the gummy monster soon, half the kids in town are going to end up as monster hors d'overs.

This book surprised me. It's funny and clever, and a little bit gross, and the tiniest bit gory. The monster is actually (ridiculously) scary. Arlie is a likeable, grumpy, engaging protagonist, with a fantastic voice. She's really funny. She's like an underachieving Buffy without the Slayer powers. This is a book for reluctant readers, girls and boys, who like their fiction with a little bite and fast-paced, funny action. Read this book. You'll like Arlie, and if you've ever had a big sister, or been the dorky kid in school, or wanted to save the day, you'll like this book.

And let me leave you with the first line:

If Ty hadn't kicked me in the head that day, I probably wouldn't even have noticed when Stacy Sizemore disappeared. Heck, nobody else really seemed to, not at first anyway. Not until they found the pieces.

How can you resist a book that starts like that?


penmage: (Default)

January 2016



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