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."
--p.157

------

"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."

--p.221

------

"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."

--p.311
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! [livejournal.com 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.
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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.

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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: (metamorphosis and discovery)


A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce

When Charlotte Miller's father dies, her world feels flipped on its head, but she knows what she has to do: what she always has. The Stirwaters Mill has been in her family for generations, and it has always been at the center of the town of Shearing. All of the townsfolk work in and around the Mill--it provides livelihood for all of them.

And so Charlotte knows that she must pick up where her father left off, and, with the help of her sister Rosie, run the Mill and keep the town afloat.

But one spate of bad luck after another foul all of Charlotte's plans and labors, until she must face the terrible possibility of failure. And that's when the mysterious Jack Spinner shows up, with the power to spin straw into gold, and the ability to rescue Charlotte and Shearing from despair.

Accepting his help is tantalizing and impossible to refuse. But is it worth the cost? Charlotte is sure that she will sacrifice anything to keep her family and friends afloat, but when she learns the true price of Jack Spinner's aid, Charlotte will have to fight to protect her town, her home and her family.

Where do I begin with what I loved about this book? I loved everything. I loved the way that marriage is presented as imperfect, as flawed, as not the happy ending, but instead as merely the middle of someone's story. I loved the strong female characters, Charlotte and Rosie both, and I loved their flaws. I loved the very creepy ghost story.

This book is gut-wrenching. There were a few spots that were so awful I needed to literally close the book and stop reading for a little while, because it was too much for me. I was so pained for the characters that it hurt to read--I turned the pages with great gasping breaths.

It starts slow, but once you get into it is sucks you in and steals your will to do anything but find out what happens, how the story evolves and how the characters grow. It's utterly compelling.

It's a lovely story that shares some similarities with Sharon Shinn's Truth Teller's Tale series--vivid descriptions of country life, and a plot that is small in stature--it's not the fate of the world on the line, just the fate of one family and one small town--but the danger and terror and overwhelming price of failure is heavy nonetheless.

This is a beautiful book, all around. It's a little slow in the starting, but once you get sucked into the narrative, you won't be able to get it out of your mind until long after you turn the last page.
penmage: (batgirl fights to make the world safe!)


Revealers by Amanda Marrone

Jules, Dani, Zahara, Sascha and Margo may look like typical teenagers, but typical teenagers don’t ride around on broomsticks in the dark of night, cast hexes at each other, or vanquish the forces of darkness. Jules and her friends are Revealers, members of a coven of witches who exist to drive back the dark forces. By day, they’re regular high school students, but at night, the hunt down supernatural baddies and force them to reveal their true nature before vanquishing them.

When the girls turn eighteen, they are to be initiated into the coven’s inner circle, where they will learn the secrets of the coven. Jules is pretty excited to be initiated, but when her friends go through their initiation, it’s clear that something is deadly wrong. Jules is the youngest, and therefore the last, but she knows that she needs to start finding out the coven’s secrets now, before the secrets tear her friends apart.

This book kept me up at night reading. I could not put it down. The writing is tight, the story is snappy, and the witches are engaging. There’s none of the cheesy Charmed-style witch stuff that would have turned me off this kind of book—it’s like Charmed meets Buffy, and Revealers takes the good parts of both and leaves the annoying parts behind.

Jules and her friends are great characters, and I loved the female bonding. Some of the guy stuff was a little over the top, and the ending felt a little flat—but I suspect (hope!) that is because there is a sequel in the works. It certainly left room for it. And it’s not a cliffhanger—things are certainly tied up at the end, which is nice.

-----------------------



The Devouring by Simon Holt

Regina Halloway loves scary stories. She reads them compulsively--she even works in a horror book store. Sometimes, she thinks she might be reading them to distract her from the truly scary things in her life--like the fact that her mom ran out on them, and they haven't heard from her in over a year, or the fact that her father is more and more distant every day. Or the fact that she is singlehandedly raising her little brother, Henry.

But mostly, Reggie just reads horror because she loves it. And when she finds an old journal called The Devouring, she brings it home and reads it. It tells of creatures called Vours that can attack people through their fears, and then inhabit their bodies. They come into our world on Sorry Night, the eve of the winter solstice.

Naturally, Reggie and her best friend Aaron can't resist summoning the Vours on Sorry Night. But they aren't the ones who are possessed--instead, Reggie's little brother Henry starts acting stranger and stranger, until Reggie realizes that he's not Henry anymore--he's something older and darker. Something terrifying.

To save her brother, Reggie will have to face her deepest fears.

The writing in this book is not strong, and it nearly lost me with its clunkiness in the first couple of chapters. It felt a little cliche and tired, and I could predict exactly what would happen.

But then the horror starts, and damned if this book isn't scary. It's truly, terrifyingly scary. At one point, I almost had to stop reading and take a breath.

So it's not a work of great literature. What it is is a top notch teen horror novel. Fans of Darren Shan will eat this up.

A warning--though this book does have a satisfying ending, it's the jumping-off point of a series, and is open-ended. I definitly want to read more.
penmage: (bsg monsters (grass_stained))


Generation Dead by Daniel Waters

Phoebe has always been a goth girl, and she's never really fit in with the popular crew. But up until now, she's usually been below their radar. Not anymore--not since she fell for Tommy Williams.

What makes Tommy Williams unique is that, technically, Tommy is dead. For reasons no one really understands, dead teenagers in America are coming back to life. Referred to as the living impaired, biotically different, or, less politely, as zombies or worm feasts, undead teenagers are attending schools, walking and talking among the living.

Mostly, they keep to themselves. But Phoebe's fascination with Tommy is breaking barriers and changing the rules. It's disturbing to everyone--from the popular kids to her best friend Margi, to boy-next-door football star Adam, who has just begun to realize his feelings for Phoebe. Some people are ready to embrace the new and different--and some want to stop it, no matter how.

This book starts very slow, and at the beginning just feels like another teen novel--albeit one with zombies in the mix. But it doesn't feel like a zombie novel--indeed, at the beginning, it hardly feels like the zombies are zombies at all. More like they're a metaphor for some other minority or misunderstood group. Like if you replaced "undead" with "gay" you'd have the same book.

And that never quite goes away. But then it gets more interesting and more thoughtful. While we never find out exactly why the dead teenagers are coming back, once the living characters start interacting with the undead, this becomes a seriously compelling teen read.

The reason it works is because of the characters, living and dead both. They feel real. Phoebe lingers dangerously on the border of being a Mary Sue, but manages to just barely stay on the other side of the line. Adam feels like a real kid. Tommy and Karen especially are utterly compelling--Karen's fascinating with food is heartbreaking.

The novel raises all sorts of interesting questions about the legality of the undead, and the potential that there is some sort of special ops team hunting them down--not to mention the possibility that the Undead Studies workstudy program is actually involved in something sinister.

All these questions are raised, enough to whet the palate, but not answered. I assume there's a sequel in the works--at least I hope so. At the very least, I found the end to be very abrupt--I felt like I was left hanging.

I wanted more out of this book, but I'm not sure that's fair. It's an interesting read that supposes about what would happen if undead kids really did attend high school--the discrimination, the fascinating, the problems--even the way that, at the start of the book, most of the living students never interacted with the undead, and only knew gossip about them.

It feels realistic. It feels possible. The dialogue feels natural. I'll be interested to see where else Daniel Waters takes this setup.
penmage: (reading pigeon)


The Robe of Skulls by Vivian French

Evil sorceress Lady Lamorna is determined to have a chillingly beautiful new robe, embroidered with skulls and spiderwebs and all sorts of other evil things. There's only one problem: her treasure chest is empty.

Naturally, there is only one thing to do: an evil scheme involving magic powder, turning frogs into princes, and demanding a ransom to turn them back.

Unfortunately for Lady Lamorna, there are some opposing forces at work: the goodhearted, much-abused Gracie Gillypot, a couple of chatty bats, a scruffy prince, and some Ancient Crones. Will they be enough to save the princes and stop the sorceress?

This book is lighthearted and silly, and full of gentle good humor. The evil isn't too evil, the danger never feels too dangerous, and none of the characters are that fully realized. But that's okay. It's not that kind of book. This is a fun book, a gently scary adventure story that's perfect for younger readers who like a teeny tiny bit of a thrill, but not too much, nothing that will keep them up at night. It's a sweetly scary read that will kids will eat right up. I also found that the black-and-white interior illustrations added a pitch-perfect humor to the story. I see that it's listed as only the first tale from the Five Kingdoms. I will definitely keep an eye out for the next.

Reminder

Oct. 13th, 2008 05:55 pm
penmage: (reading pigeon)
This is just a quick reminder--you only have two days left to nominate books for the cybils! Nominations close October 15, so go on and nominate your favorite books of 2008 now while you can!

Also, I totally saw Christian Slater on my way to work this morning! Just saying.

And now I'm off. See you in two days.
penmage: (vmars take my hand (varsityletter))


Bliss by Lauren Myracle

Bliss is excited to start Crestview Academy. Fresh off the commune, dumped on her grandmother's doorstep by her parents who are off to Canada to avoid Nixon's war, she is eager to make friends and experience real life, like she sees on the Andy Griffith show.

Crestview may be bright and beautiful and ivy-covered, but it's full of secrets, too. There is a voice that only Bliss can hear--a voice that whispers of blood and bones and tombs. Bliss figures she'll be okay as long as she stays away. But there are secrets among the students, too, hiding in the most unexpected of place. Dangerous secrets that will enmesh sensitive, kind Bliss in their web, and destroy anything--and anyone--in their path.

I am haunted by this book. Literally. I fell asleep while reading yesterday (a commentary on my state of mind, not the book) and dreamed over and over again about it. And last night, even as I struggled to stay up and finish it, when I fell asleep, I dreamed about it again. And now that I've finished it, I can't stop thinking about it.

I am awed and impressed by what Myracle has done here. This is a genuine, actually scary ghost story for teens. (And let me say, this is one creepy package that absolutely does justice to the inside. Gorgeous!) She doesn't pull any punches. She never holds back. This story is really freaking creepy. There were times, reading last night alone in my living room, that I had to close the book, because I had the creeps.

She's not gory. Never gory. But Myracle packs this novel full of atmosphere and voice, and she builds the suspense and the creepy so very well that as it rises to a close, you feel it gripping you in the throat.

Here it gets spoilery. )
penmage: (read to someone you love)


The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas

Conn is a thief--a pickpocket, lockpick and gutterboy. Living in the Twilight, the seedy district of the magical city of Wellmet, there's not much else he could be. But when he picks the pocket of the wizard Nevery and comes out with Nevery's locus magicalicus, he's stolen more than he expected.

Nevery expects Conn to be dead--and fast--but when Conn doesn't die, Nevery decides to keep him around--just for a little while. Just until he figures out why not.

While Nevery may think that Conn is his servant, Conn knows that he's really Nevery's apprentice--and that he is meant to be a wizard. But there are a few obstacles standing between Conn and his plans. He has to find his own locus magicalicus within thirty days, or he's out. And between going to school for the first time and trying to help Nevery solve the dangerously low level of magic in Wellmet, Conn is running out of time.

This book is. so. good. Conn is utterly, ridiculously, wonderfully likeable. That's the first thing. Once you start reading his first-person narrative, you don't want to stop. And Prineas's fascinating magic system is clever. Best of all, Wellmet is a fully realized city in a fully realized world--and even as Conn only sees bits and pieces of it, we pick it up on the periphery of his vision--kind of like the way we learned about Lyra's Oxford in The Golden Compass.

This book is the real deal. An honest to goodness great adventure, a feel-good fantasy read that you won't be able to stop reading and will be sorry once the book is over.

Lucky for us, it's the first in a trilogy.

So if you haven't read Sarah Prineas's The Magic Thief yet, why not? Get to it. You will not regret it.
penmage: (wind)


Impossible by Nancy Werlin

Lucy Scarborough doesn’t really believe in true love. She believes in being practical, in being content in her life with her beloved foster parents, Soledad and Leo Markowitz, and the friendship of guy-next-door Zach. And most of the time, she can keep her birth mother Miranda, who is insane, lives on the streets, and sometimes shows up to harass her, out of sight and out of mind. But that’s before the nightmare begins—the rape, her pregnancy—and the discovery of an ages-old curse.

Lucy is one in a long line of Scarborough women—women who get pregnant when they are seventeen, and are doomed to madness from the moment their daughter is born—unless they can complete three impossible tasks. Lucy is afraid—but she is determined to try to succeed, even though generations of Scarborough women before her have always failed. But she has something they don’t—the love of her foster parents, and the strength and courage of Zach—who is becoming more than a friend with every passing day.

This is the kind of book that I love most: a retold fairy tale that fits, doesn’t feel forced, and allows for modern influences. It reminds me of Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin—with both the implied positives and negatives of that title. I felt a little bit like the first half of the book—up until Lucy really discovers and believes in the curse—dragged. It’s unavoidable, I guess, but as the reader, I knew that the curse was true, and I was just waiting for Lucy to discover it and believe it herself. It made me impatient for the book to get moving.

But once it picked up, it certainly did get moving. Once Lucy and her family accept the reality of this crazy curse, the modern approach to solving an ancient puzzle is fascinating and compelling. There are certain moments in the book that feel a little silly—but they are mitigated because Werlin has the characters recognize that they’re silly, or that certain reactions or decisions don’t make any sense at all, but they’re making them anyway.

I also found the omnipresent feeling of dread in the book abolutely fascinating. The introduction of Padraig Seeley is chilling--even as Lucy and her supporters don't recognize the gravity of the threat, the reader does, which adds an element of urgency that, for much of the book, made me want to yell at Lucy to get moving. And once Lucy does realize just how awful things could be--the possibility of failure is absolutely chilling. Kudos to Werlin for making me utterly afraid for Lucy as the book neared it's close--and also for not ignoring the fact that even though a happily-ever-after may solve the immediate supernatural problems, there are still as many real life (though not as life-threatening) problems caused by the solution and the aftermath.

Overall, it’s a good solid read and a great contribution to the growing canon of retold modern fairy tales. As an aside, I do think it’s fascinating how retold ballads always seem to contain a pregnancy—like in Tam Lin.

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