Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Top Ten Teen Books of 2015

Now that I'm working full-time as a young adult librarian I haven't been posting nearly as much, but I wanted to at least do my end of the year lists!

1) Ms. Marvel: Generation Why by G. Willow Wilson

I love this comic series overall, but this one so clearly nails a lot of the things I've heard from teens recently. Their annoyance at older generations misjudging and underestimating them, their ability to come together despite differences, and their genuine desire to make their worlds a better place. Kamala Khan is just a fabulous protagonist overall, relatably trying to juggle her friends, family, faith, education, and, oh yeah, newfound superpowers. Plus, the cameos. The cameos. So many familiar faces from the Marvel universe have appeared, which is especially fun because Kamala is such an unabashed fangirl. I really can't praise this series highly enough- just go check it out for yourself.

2) Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson

Sensing a theme? 2015 was a huge year for ladies in comics and genre fiction, and this list will be no different. So in the number 2 spot, Lumberjanes! This series is a bit younger, but the diverse cast, bonkers action, poppy dialogue, and lush art should appeal to all ages. Billed as a mix between Gravity Falls and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, these comics follow the adventures of five girls at a summer camp where all is not as it seems. It's kind of like if a woodsy Leslie Knope ran a camp for her Goddess Girls but also there are monsters and riddles and lost artifacts and raccoon hats. It's a blast with a sweet (but never saccharine) core.

3) The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

"Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh." 

I'm not going to tell you anything else about this one, except that it's one of those books written for adults that would easily appeal to teens. Also, I highly recommend the audiobook, performed by Finty Williams, who just happens to be the daughter of Dame Judi Dench.

4) The Martian by Andy Weir

"Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there."

Like The Girl with All the Gifts, this adult book has plenty of teen appeal, and it also makes for a fantastic audio book. I'm a sucker for survival stories already, but with the premise of an astronaut stranded on Mars (!!!), I was hooked. Suspenseful, terrifying, hilarious and moving, this is a story you won't want to miss. Plus, it's so, so quotable. "I'm gonna science the shit out of this!" 

5) Redshirts by John Scalzi

For fans of classic sci-fi TV, this irreverent jaunt through space is a must. As the title and cover image proudly announce, this book is heavily inspired by Star Trek, but even casual fans will find plenty to love here. This was my introduction to John Scalzi and after reading it I immediately sought out more of his books (if your interests lean more towards AI and/or political thrillers, try his also excellent Lock In.) This was a quick, fun read by an author who clearly has a lot of love for old school Trek. The audiobook, narrated by Wil "Wesley Crusher" Wheaton himself, adds to the appeal.

6) Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

 Ballister Blackheart just wants to keep chipping away at his rivalry with arch nemesis (and heroically handsome) Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. Too bad the irrepressible shape-changer Nimona has other plans! Noelle Stevenson has built a whole world of heroes, villains, sidekicks, scientists, dragons and more, and if her fast-flowing dialogue and gorgeous art don't win you over, her well-rounded and unique characters will. While it may seem like zany fun (and it is), this story packs a surprising punch, and has plenty of heart. This began as a webcomic and has become one of the biggest hits of 2015.  

7) Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

"Because we don’t have your typical gaps around here. Not gaps made of rocks or mountains. We have gaps in the world. In the space of things. So many places to lose yourself, if you believe that they’re there. You can slip into the gap and never find your way out. Or maybe you don’t want to find your way out." 

For readers looking for something other than the standard YA fare of apocalypses, dystopias, love triangles, vampires, and zombies. There's.... this. I wasn't sure what to expect, but this odd slice of magic realism set in the American midwest was right up my alley. After Finn witnesses the abduction of a friend, his life begins to unravel. No one believes his version of events, which might not be so strange, since they involve her being stolen away from a cornfield by a faceless man. Highly recommended to fans of small town stories, subtle retellings, and stories where weirdness waits just behind normal life.

8) The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

"It's the accident season, the same time every year. Bones break, skin tears, bruises bloom.

The accident season has been part of seventeen-year-old Cara's life for as long as she can remember. Towards the end of October, foreshadowed by the deaths of many relatives before them, Cara's family becomes inexplicably accident-prone. They banish knives to locked drawers, cover sharp table edges with padding, switch off electrical items - but injuries follow wherever they go, and the accident season becomes an ever-growing obsession and fear."

But why are they so cursed? And how can they break free?"

I fell hard for The Accident Season. I love when YA books manage to surprise me, and this one did. While it drew me in with the promise of a cursed family and generations of their stories (think Alice Hoffman), I ended up getting so much more. Magic and secrets and dark, tangled histories. If you liked Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Unspoken, or The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, check out this Irish import.

9) A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis

"Grace Mae knows madness.

She keeps it locked away, along with her voice, trapped deep inside a brilliant mind that cannot forget horrific family secrets. Those secrets, along with the bulge in her belly, land her in a Boston insane asylum."

This book was dark, harsh, and painful to read. I loved it. Grace Mae has been torn from her place among the well-to do Bostonians of the 19th century, and cast into hell. Almost literally. Can she find her voice and reclaim her life? Does she want to? Or will she lose herself to madness and violence? Highly recommended to fans of historical fiction and mystery, and those with an interest in early forensics, the (almost always) awful treatment of the mentally ill throughout American history, and women's rights (this is basically what I had wanted Jennifer Donnelly's These Shallow Graves to be) . Oh, and Thomas Harris fans should also find things to savor.


10) Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

 "Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen.

That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.

Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up."

If you spent any amount of time writing Harry Potter fanfic, shipping non-canon pairings, or thinking that actually, Dumbledore was kind of a jerk, this one's for you. If you're a fan of school stories, books about learning magic, fandom in general, or romance with a hefty serving of angst, check this one out. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014


 Jackaby by William Ritter

“Miss Rook, I am not an occultist,” Jackaby said. “I have a gift that allows me to see truth where others see the illusion--and there are many illusions. All the world’s a stage, as they say, and I seem to have the only seat in the house with a view behind the curtain.”

Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary--including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police--with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane--deny. 

Doctor Who meets Sherlock in William Ritter’s debut novel, which features a detective of the paranormal as seen through the eyes of his adventurous and intelligent assistant in a tale brimming with cheeky humor and a dose of the macabre. -Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

After DNFing Girl from the Well, plodding through Storm Front (the first entry in the very popular Dresden Files series), and being underwhelmed by Fiendish, I was dying for a good supernatural read. I've had my eye on Jackaby for months- here's what I typed frantically into Goodreads when I first heard about it:
I didn't even get past “Miss Rook, I am not an occultist,” before thinking "oh my god YES." Then I skimmed the rest of the intro and saw the bit about it being "Doctor Who meets Sherlock in William Ritter’s debut novel, which features a detective of the paranormal as seen through the eyes of his adventurous and intelligent assistant in a tale brimming with cheeky humor and a dose of the macabre."

Oh my hopes. They have been raised exceedingly high.
 So was the wait worth it? Definitely. Ritter knows exactly what he is about in terms of blending these two genre favorites, and if you enjoy the recent BBC adaptation of Sherlock and new run of Doctor Who, I can't imagine you'll read this without smiling. Abigail Rook is an able and progressive protagonist, and what jaded reader can't get behind a girl who ditched her restrictive Victorian future to dig for fossils and, eventually, help solve spooky mysteries? She's as much Charley Pollard as she is Rose Tyler, for all you Whovians, and I love her for it.

Jackaby serves as your Sherlock/Doctor/Howl/Chrestomanci/Eccentric Intellectual stand-in, and while never quite reaching the heights of his forbears, he has his own skillset to offer and is plenty likable. (He may be clueless enough to mistake gunpowder for paprika, but he knows his lore and is a fantastic advocate for the strange and overlooked.) I was really concerned about the seeming likelihood of a romance between our two leads, but that was dismissed almost immediately, and the two instead have the makings of an excellent platonic team. Don't worry though, there is potential for romance for Abigail and Jackaby from amongst the side characters, several of whom are fully-realized and could support books of their own.

While it's not exactly horrifying, there are chills to be had and cases to be cracked. The dialogue occasionally falters a bit in terms of historical accuracy, but if you're anything like me you'll be having to much fun to be really bothered by it. I can't wait for the next installments in a promising new series!

Saturday, September 27, 2014


Inland by Kat Rosenfield

Callie Morgan has long lived choked by the failure of her own lungs, the result of an elusive pulmonary illness that has plagued her since childhood. A childhood marked early by the drowning death of her mother—a death to which Callie was the sole witness. Her father has moved them inland, away from the memories of the California coast her mother loved so much and toward promises of recovery—and the escape of denial—in arid, landlocked air.

But after years of running away, the promise of a life-changing job for her father brings Callie and him back to the coast, to Florida, where Callie’s symptoms miraculously disappear. For once, life seems delightfully normal. But the ocean’s edge offers more than healing air … it holds a magnetic pull, drawing Callie closer and closer to the chilly, watery embrace that claimed her mother. Returned to the ocean, Callie comes of age and comes into a family destiny that holds generations of secrets and very few happy endings.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

 I was completely drawn in to Rosenfield's Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone, and had high hopes for the creeping horror in this novel, many of which were met. The prose was gorgeous. Callie's family mysteries were intriguing. The romance was mostly sweet and believable while not overwhelming the plot. I loved the ambiguity of Callie's condition- is she really ill, or is she some depth-dwelling horor-beast with gills?? 

Unfortunately, that's exactly where this book lost me. I really can't blame Rosenfield. It's not her fault that I'm so much more likely to believe, and be interested in, a fantasy plotline than a mental illness one. A book can drop all the hints it wants that the narrator is unreliable and likely disturbed- I'll still root for them being a mermaid or visited by fairies.

(One exception to this rule is Caitlin R. Kiernan, but I think that's because she writes about people encountering supernatural occurrences while also battling depression or schizophrenia, all with a deft hand and distressingly evocative language)

So, while there were plenty of things I liked about this book (and gave it 5 stars on Goodreads), I think it's one that will work better for its target teen audience, especially those who haven't binged on similar titles. If you're looking for something more adult on related marine themes, check out Caitlin R. Kiernan's The Drowning Girl or Sarah Monette's Somewhere Beneath Those Waves, and there's always the Mermaid tag on this very blog! 

If you need me, I'll be rereading "The Shadow over Innsmouth."

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Did Not Finish

I was going to write a review of Elizabeth May's steampunk fairy-flavored fantasy, The Falconer, but I just don't feel motivated. It wasn't great. It wasn't bad, so I have no ax to (hopefully) humorously grind (do I get more points for splitting an infinitive twice?). It's not one I'll be recommending far and wide, so, meh. Instead I'd like to write a bit about the dreaded DNF.

I've found myself bailing on books more and more often lately. Two recent books that I bailed on were Gilded and The Queen of the Tearling, both of which I had been waiting excitedly to read. Just a little way through both though, I jumped ship. 

There are plenty of people who, having started a book, are committed until the bitter end. I used to feel that way, but a former supervisor once pointed out that life is just too short. If you're 50 pages into a book and just aren't into it, why keep forcing yourself to read? I've taken this advice to heart. I have plenty of time wasting going on in my life (oh tumblr, who let me join you), I don't need to spend additional time slogging through unenjoyable fiction.

Additionally, at any given time I have at least 100 books on my To Read shelf on Goodreads, plus dozens of things at home that I would love to have read, but never manage to make time for. I'm very proud of my mythology/folklore/occult library, but how many of those books have I actually read cover to cover? Sadly few.

So how can you tell when you've got a DNF on your hands? If you've barely started and the language seems clunky, or if the tropes are piling up, or if the dialogue is grating on your nerves, it's probably safe to say you won't be enjoying the rest of your reading experience, at least not enough to justify forging ahead. As the saying goes, "If you’re gonna bail, bail early. This applies to relationships, college classes, and sledding." Should it apply to books? Can you really tell in just a few chapters if a book isn't your cup of tea? I think so.  Unless you've gotten recommendations from friends with similar reading tastes, or have heard that it picks up later, I'd say don't bother.

While I no longer feel obscurely guilty for not finishing a book, it's still disappointing, especially when it's one I was looking forward to. At the same time, it can feel surprisingly liberating to start pruning back on one's reading commitments. It leaves me the time and freedom to keep crossing things off my To Read list, finally get around to enjoying a classic or something that's been sitting on my shelf for too long, or even to reread an old favorite. So sorry, tired dystopias, forced love triangles, whiny protagonists, drawn out trilogies and overcomplicated world-building, but I have other things to read.

How about you? Once you start a book do you cling on like grim death, or do you ruthlessly cut ties? Any notable DNFs? What would it take for you to shut the book and say "nope"?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What's on My Holdlist?

ALL THE THINGS.So many things. Here are a few of them. I won't be putting in the full summaries for all of these, just a bit about why I'm excited to get my hands on them.

House of Ivy & Sorrow by Natalie Whipple

Witches. Curses. Secrets stretching back generations. Probably a shadowy and explorable rundown house. YES. Gothic witchy YA fiction (done right) is my jam. It's worked well for Unspoken, The Raven Boys, and Dark Companion, although I think it failed in The Madman's Daughter, and failed spectacularly in Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.
The Falconer by Elizabeth May

I'll admit it, I'm a little hesitant about this one. Can we even talk about it without touching on the extreme Merida vibes of this cover? Brave much? (I'm a child of the 90s, what do you want from me). This has some very cool elements- alternate19th century Edinburgh, a war between humans and fae, a potential kickass redheaded heroine... But I'm just not sure. We'll see.
Gilded by Christina Farley

Again, here is so much potential but also a lot of places it could stumble. I'm beyond tired of the "kid finds out they're related to deities" plotlines but this is a Korean American kid! And she'll get to explore a mythology that's been sadly absent from YA lit. But.... her love interest is described in the blurb as "irresistible and charming." To borrow another 90s catchphrase, gag me with a spoon. I'm holding out hope that it's just a marketing ploy. Ideally I'd like to come for the mythos and stay for the romance, but I'll settle for just not running screaming from the romance.

Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson

I've been lusting after this one since seeing a cover reveal on Tor, and I was lucky enough to win a galley from them. Unfortunately, it's been sitting on my bookshelf ever since. I really am interested to read it though, and I'm hoping it might fill some of the holes Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Catherynne M. Valente have left in my heart.
The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

This one should be interesting. There's been a lot of buzz about it on Goodreads, and also a lot of 5 and 1 star reviews. Hm. The elevator pitch sounds like it's "The Hunger Games meets Game of Thrones," which could be awesome or just awesomely terrible. I think it'll hang on how the protagonist is written and how much (or if) she develops. Fantasy-meets-court intrigue is often a great genre, but it seems a little shaky in YA books sometimes, with the fabulous exception of Sherwood Smith's Crown & Court Duel duology.

Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper

Just look at this description and tell me it's not begging to be a windy beach read on an overcast day. Ideally in a ramshackle cottage/lighthouse:

Sixteen-year-old Avery Roe wants only to take her rightful place as the witch of Prince Island, making the charms that keep the island's whalers safe at sea, but her mother has forced her into a magic-free world of proper manners and respectability. When Avery dreams she's to be murdered, she knows time is running out to unlock her magic and save herself.

 Jackaby by William Ritter

I'm trying (and failing) not to be too excited about this book that seems to take all my favorite aspects of Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, and Supernatural, plus the odd gothic romance, and put them through a blender. Please be good pleasebegoodpleasebegoodpleasebegood.

“Miss Rook, I am not an occultist,” Jackaby said. “I have a gift that allows me to see truth where others see the illusion--and there are many illusions. All the world’s a stage, as they say, and I seem to have the only seat in the house with a view behind the curtain.” PLEASE BE GOOD.

Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

Fabulous cover. Author whom I love dearly, except when I don't. (Actually, I seem to have liked that book more when I read it than I do now, so, take from that what you will.) Another island setting with dark magics and mysterious happenings and damn, I'm really kind of sad I'm not going to the beach this year. At least I'll be there in spirit.

And there you have it, folks. These are some of the books I'll be reading and reviewing in the next few weeks. What have you been reading?

Friday, August 1, 2014

Let's Get Caught Up, Shall We?

So I'm a few dozen books into 2014, but here are some highlights to get us back on the same page (get it? you get it).*

Ashen Winter by Mike Mullin

After blazing through the excellent Ashfall last year, I was itching to get my hands on its sequel, which did not disappoint. Alex made it through his first harrowing adventures through midwest America following the eruption of a supervolcano, but the challenges he faces in this novel make even that terrorscape look like a walk in the park. A few corrupt government officials and the odd group of violent thieves pale in comparison to roving gangs of cannibalistic gangbangers, and that's in addition to the brutal weather and constant challenges of living in a perpetual, ash-cloud winter. These books are intense but realistic, brutal but not without hope. I highly recommend this series to fans of The Walking Dead, but even if you don't have the stomach (sorry) for that series, check these out if you enjoy survival fiction in general.

Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

After a steady onslaught of gritty dystopian fiction, this lighter and more romantic take on classic romances with a sci-fi twist is a tonic. I really enjoyed For Darkness Shows the Stars, a reimagining of Persuasion, and for this outing we're headed to a Hawaii-like setting ("New Pacifica") for a twist on The Scarlet Pimpernel. And yes, the book works perfectly well without having read the originals (I've read Persuasion, but not Pimpernel). For your fix of YA romance with beautiful gowns, without sacrificing compelling characters or a plot.

Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

Three teens team up to form their own paranormal detective/defense agency in a rambling mansion? With swords and sass and tea and toast and murder and a chronic lack of funds, but never of charm? Um, YES. Don't think too hard. Just read it. It's wonderful and scary and fun. For fans of SuperWhoLock (literally there's something for all of you here) and anyone getting into that spooky autumn mood already.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

I feel like I've been let down by magic realism for teens before, but not this time. I'm not sure what to say about it, other than that I highly recommend it to fans of early Alice Hoffman who, like me, have had it with the crippling angst of her later books. That's not to say that this book is all airy lightness, there is hurt and pain and sadness to be sure, but there is also love and family and, yes, magic.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

Speaking of magic realism with some heft! This book is gorgeous through and through, with two spectacularly well-realized leads (who may make you want to brush up on Good Omens). This is not a young adult novel per se, but with themes of discovering/developing oneself, finding community, and love in a variety of forms, this is a perfect crossover. History for the history buffs, an excellent sense of time/place (New York City/early 20th century), and a large cast of unique characters round out this fantastic title. Look for it again in my Top Ten list for the year. I can't see it being displaced from the top spots anytime soon.

(If these last two books appeal to you, you might also enjoy The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman. My recent griping notwithstanding, I mostly liked it, and it hits a lot of the same historical/magical notes, also in turn of the century New York. See also The Diviners by Libba Bray) 

Sunrise by Mike Mullin

Remember when we talked about Ashen Winter? (I hope so, if not please seek medical attention soon, I'm very concerned about your health). Well, here's the final book in the sequel! I can't even touch the plot without spoiling things, but I will note that one of my favorite things in this series is the resourceful ways characters find to survive seemingly desperate situations, and to work towards a future when everything seems impossible. It's rare for me to commit to a series any more, but I'd be willing to read still more of this one.

And there we go! Stay tuned for a peek at my hold list, and some brand new reviews coming soon.

*Book puns.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

It lives!

Apologies for the long gap in posts! After a month settling (somewhat) into my new position as a Teen Librarian (yay!), I'm feeling the need to start posting again. I'll do a few catchup posts before getting back to the more regular one book at a time review.

What have you been reading? Watching? Listening to? Making shadow plays of? Tell me in the comments!