Monday, December 19, 2011

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages--not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.

When one of the strangers--beautiful, haunted Akiva--fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

I'd walked past this book a dozen times in bookstores and every time I thought "Oo what a pretty cover... But 'winged stangers'? Star-crossed love? Meh..." Then I noticed the bit about a mysterious shop, monsters, and an interestingly named, blue-haired heroine. That was enough to convince me to give the book a chance and I am so glad I did. 

Taylor's writing is fantastic. I cared instantly about Karou, couldn't wait to learn more about the "monsters" in her sketchbook, and was completely drawn into the shadowy streets of Prague. It may seem redundant to point out the magic realism in a fantasy book, but that's honestly one of my favorite things about this book. Even the mundane seems magical thanks to Taylor's lush writing, and it makes you feel that even our own world is full of weird, strange, terrifying and wonderful things just around the corner. Her writing style reminds me of books & stories by Neil Gaiman, Charles DeLint, Alice Hoffman and even Jorge Luis Borges, and I don't mean to imply that she is copying any of them. She's just that good. 

I'd write more about the plot, but I think this is one of those books where the more discoveries you make for yourself, the better. I will say that I loved it, that it is one of my favorite books I've read all year, and that the ending will leave you on tenterhooks for the sequel.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Why Labyrinth is a Classic, Or: Why Sarah Would Kick Bella's Butt

**Another article copied by me, Emily, for ease of reading and commenting. Enjoy! 
Suburban Fantasy, Gender Politics, plus a Goblin Prom: Why Labyrinth is a Classic
Muppet Week on Suburban Fantasy, Gender Politics, plus a Goblin Prom: Why Labyrinth is a Classic
Labyrinth was Jim Henson’s second collaboration with artist Brian Froud, following The Dark Crystal four years earlier. Labyrinth was clearly a very different, more expansive type of project; Henson and Froud were joined by George Lucas as executive producer, Monty Python’s Terry Jones wrote the screenplay, and rock demigod David Bowie signed on to star, as well as write and perform the movie’s soundtrack.
Whereas The Dark Crystal is often seen as Henson and Froud’s freewheeling homage to fantasy àla Tolkein, Labyrinth is much more structured and far more aware of its influences; it’s also wonderfully allusive and meta at points, filled with references to the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, L. Frank Baum, Lewis Carroll, Maurice Sendak, and Walt Disney. And yet the movie doesn’t limit itself to clever references — it’s very clearly participating in the classic tradition of works like The Wizard of Oz, the Alice books, and Where the Wild Things Are, in which a young protagonist escapes a humdrum existence into an exotic, sometimes threatening, alternative reality.
Muppet Week on Suburban Fantasy, Gender Politics, plus a Goblin Prom: Why Labyrinth is a Classic
The film opens with our teenaged protagonist, Sarah, lost in her own little world, preferring to hang out in costume reciting plays in the park than she is in “normal” teenaged stuff like dating. The first ten minutes of the movie do a stellar job of setting up Sarah as the heroine of her own suburban fairy tale, the put-upon Cinderella who stomps her way huffily through interactions with her more-exasperated-than-evil stepmother and nice-but-clueless dad. It’s a tribute to Jennifer Connelly’s performance that Sarah manages to exhibit all the hyper-dramatic martyrdom of your average 16-year-old while still seeming sympathetic and likeable — it’s easy to identify with her in the same way that we identify with Alice, or Dorothy Gale, or Sendak’s Max.
Perhaps on some level, the petty tyrannies of bossy adults, no matter how well-meaning, are always going to strike a chord with anyone who’s ever been a kid. In spite of Sarah’s mini-tantrum over having to babysit her baby brother (played by young Toby Froud, whose parents met while working on The Dark Crystal), it’s hard to blame her for feeling unappreciated and angry at not having any say in the matter…except that she is, unexpectedly, given her say. By none other than Mr. David Bowie.
Muppet Week on Suburban Fantasy, Gender Politics, plus a Goblin Prom: Why Labyrinth is a Classic
Well, technically, Sarah’s wish is granted by Jareth the Goblin King, who happily complies with her request to spirit the screaming Toby away to his castle, to her immediate regret. She demands that Jareth return the baby, and when she refuses to accept his gifts or be swayed by his arguments, he leaves her at the titular labyrinth, telling her that she has thirteen hours to solve it and rescue her brother, or Toby will remain with the goblins forever. Confidently, even cockily, Sarah sets off on her quest, but soon finds that her expectations thwarted at every turn.
She is consistently frustrated by the bizarre, whimsical, through-the-looking-glass logic of the labyrinth and its inhabitants, fails to ask the right questions, acts on her assumptions rather than facts. She learns the hard way that faeries bite, and that a good many other things in the labyrinth are not what they seem to be. As a friendly worm tells her early on, “You can’t take anything for granted,” and Sarah soon internalizes that advice, learning to think for herself, accepting that she won’t always get her way, facing up to the fact that reality isn’t going to bend itself to her whims. The labyrinth is nothing but a continuous series of choices, but as Sarah finds herself in control of her destiny, she soon realizes that choices can be a tricky, and all decisions have inescapable consequences.
Muppet Week on Suburban Fantasy, Gender Politics, plus a Goblin Prom: Why Labyrinth is a Classic
She also begins to make friends along the way, but even that isn’t easy. Sarah’s first companion on the journey is a dwarf named Hoggle, and their relationship is forged through a complicated process of distrust, bonding, betrayal, guilt, and redemption: Girl meets Goblin-like creature, Girl is disgusted by Goblin-like creature and his craven, fairy-killing ways, Goblin helps Girl after girl bribes Goblin, Goblin abandons Girl, then saves her, then double crosses her by means of a spiked peach, finally learns to be heroic and is forgiven. Like everything else in this film, friendship and trust is anything but simple; it’s a learning process, with ups and downs, and entails risk as well as reward.
Meanwhile, as Sarah makes her way through the labyrinth (as well as the series of epiphanies and life lessons lurking around every corner), Jareth watches her progress with increasing displeasure, pouting on his throne while sporting a riding whip and high-heeled boots, as goblin kings are wont to do, and occasionally performing a baby-juggling musical number. As much as I’m tempted to make fun of Bowie’s over-the-top performance (and costumes. And wig and makeup), I actually think he was a brilliant choice for the role. If we think about Labyrinth as a commentary on the role of fantasy in the modern world, a kind of updated fairy tale for the late 20th century, who better to embody the lure of the fantastic than a rock star, especially as one as otherworldly as Ziggy Stardust himself?
Muppet Week on Suburban Fantasy, Gender Politics, plus a Goblin Prom: Why Labyrinth is a Classic
Characters like the Goblin King, or my own personal favorite fairy tale villain, the Snow Queen, tend to represent an unsettling mix of childhood fantasies and adult fears and desires; they draw their would-be victims in through a disturbing blend of infantilization and seduction. Throughout the movie, Jareth attempts to distract Sarah with baubles and gifts, and when that fails, he simply tries ordering her around: “Sarah, go back to your room. Play with your toys and your costumes. Forget about the baby.” Unable to deter her, he has Hoggle slip her the aforementioned poisoned peach, spiked with some sort of potent magical Goblin-roofie.
The resulting hallucination finds Sarah in the midst of what my friends and I always refer to as “Goblin Prom”: dressed in a very grown up, gorgeous ball gown and gloriously big hair, Sarah makes her way through a claustrophobic masquerade ball filled with vaguely threatening masked dancers and Bowie/Jareth, in his best formal glam Goblin King finery. As the soundtrack swells, the sexual undertones of the masquerade are unmistakable — Sarah is clearly the innocent, suffering the smirks and laughter of the debauched, almost predatory revelers swirling around her. She’s the only one not wearing a mask, since even Jareth hides behind several disguises as he quasi-stalks her through the crowd.
Muppet Week on Suburban Fantasy, Gender Politics, plus a Goblin Prom: Why Labyrinth is a Classic
Finally, he reaches her; they begin to dance and as he sings to her, we realize that this is, undeniably, a seduction scene…and something is very wrong. Fighting her way back to reality, Sarah realizes that her time (and Toby’s) is running out, and, in what is simultaneously the worst special effect and the most punk rock moment in the entire film, smashes her way out of Bowie’s smarmy, sexy, smirky distraction-bubble. It’s an amazing sequence — beautiful and unsettling and creepy, and her rejection of Jareth in the scene is powerful precisely because of the uncomfortable juxtaposition of Connelly’s youth and innocence and the much-older Bowie’s rock star magnetism and sinister allure.
The film tends to oscillate between these strategic attempts to distract Sarah by appealing to more selfish, childish desires on one hand and more adult, exotic freedoms on the other. This makes sense the more we realize that the Goblin King is entirely Sarah’s own creation — her belief in him brings him to life, gives him his power, and he needs her imagination and innocence to survive, but she is not prepared to have her whole identity squeezed into an obedient, docile package as a naïve little girl, and not as the prospective Mrs. J. Goblin King, either.
In their final showdown, Jareth offers to fulfill all of Sarah’s dreams, for a price, telling her, “I ask for so little. Just let me rule you, and you can have everything you want.” It’s clear at this point that Sarah must make a choice between the occasionally unpleasant uncertainties and unfairness of life in the real world, or surrender herself to her fantasies by giving up her free will, agency and power, and she barely hesitates before answering, “You have no power over me.” BOOM. Game over, Major Tom.
Muppet Week on Suburban Fantasy, Gender Politics, plus a Goblin Prom: Why Labyrinth is a Classic
With that one line, balance is restored. Sarah and Toby find themselves safely back at home, and while Sarah is relieved to be back, the movie takes the extra step of assuring her (and the audience), that the world of the labyrinth will always there if she needs it. This has always been one of my favorite aspects of Labyrinth — as much as I see it as a continuing the great coming-of-age-through-fantasy tradition of classic children’s literature, the last scene reassures us that fantasy isn’t necessary meant to be shut out or ignored, any more than reality is. There’s no black and white here: in real life as in the labyrinth, it’s impossible to be a slave to logic. Reality has room for the irrational and the fantastic — life should be a healthy mix of both, and clinging to either extreme is problematic — rejecting reality, or completely rejecting fantasy and imagination are equally unacceptable, by the movie’s reasoning.
I’ve always thought of Labyrinth as the anti-NeverEnding Story — where the power of imagination eventually trumps all in the latter, Labyrinth is all about the balance between the real world and imagination, and about finding joy in both. It’s a sentiment that runs throughout all of Jim Henson’s career, but I’ve always seen it most clearly, here, in his tribute to all the great works of imagination that inspired him along the way.
There are so many amazing things I haven’t had a chance to mention in this film — the truly wonderful script, replete with delightful, Pythonesque touches, the fabulous characters (Ludo! Sir Didymus!), the gorgeous design and puppeteering—but I’m aware that some people love this movie, and others think it’s ridiculous, and there are people in both camps that completely dismiss it as anything but pure camp. And I just have to say that I could not disagree more — I adored Labyrinth as a little kid, and even more as a teenager, then throughout college and I still love it now as an adult, for many, many reasons. But the reason I love it most is that it features a headstrong young female protagonist taking on the world in jeans and sensible shoes.
If that doesn’t sound like much to you, then take into account the fact that the movie revolves around Sarah’s refusal to be treated as a princess (a word never once used in the script). One of the things that this movie does brilliantly is systematically reject the usual “princess” trope — Sarah’s happy ending isn’t going to be found on the arm of some fantasy heartthrob; her adventures in the labyrinth force her to abandon any such princess-y delusions. Her identity is her own, and she isn’t about to be swayed by any bedazzled, leather-loving, tight-panted gigolo with a castle, even if he is some sort of king.
It’s an incredibly subversive approach to the usual fantasy heroine that seems to go unnoticed in the midst of all the muppetry and cleverness and stunning visuals, but to a kid raised on Disney and mediocre sitcoms, it was simply revolutionary, camp or no. In the end, Sarah was allowed to be exactly who she wanted to be — not a child, not an adult, but very much her own person all the same. Labyrinth is a movie about learning to think differently, learning to think for oneself, regardless of people’s expectations, and even more impressively, it’s also a film that practices what it preaches. For that reason, I think that even Alice and Dorothy and Max would agree that this film is, and always will be, a classic.
Muppet Week on Suburban Fantasy, Gender Politics, plus a Goblin Prom: Why Labyrinth is a Classic

Bridget McGovern is already writing another post about this movie for Bowie Week...coming sooner than you’d think. Also, she would like to apologize to her three younger siblings for repeatedly trying to get the goblins to come and take them all away. Especially since it never worked.

Me again! Labyrinth has been one of my favorite movies for years, and this article made me remember/realize why. There is so much to love here and really, who doesn't want to dress like a princess, live through a fairytale, befriend some muppets, and vanquish an overly-eyeshadowed goblin king/David Bowie? I know I would.

I thought McGovern did an excellent job of examining the themes at play in this film, and I had never thought to compare it to the current trends in YA literature. How had I not, though? The Sara/Jareth dynamic has paranormal romance all over it, albeit in slightly more vague ways and (thankfully), the tension is never acted upon. If you missed out on this movie as a kid, now might be a perfect time to check it out. I rewatched it after reading this article and I can say that to me, it honestly did not feel too dated, which is something I am very grateful for. 

To those of you who have seen the film, what do you think?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Love Triangles in YA

**The blog post below was written by Diana Peterfreund, author of The Killer Unicorn Trilogy. I, Emily, Fantastic Finds blogger, copied it for the sake of easy reading and so that I could discuss it afterwards. Enjoy!

Love Triangles in YA

There has been a lot of discussion recently on the state of love triangles in the current crop of YA literature. Most of the discussion has focused on how gosh darn prevalent it is, with a lot of the usual refrain of “I’m so sick of love triangles” or “do all YA novels have to have love triangles in them” and etc. Some of the discussion has raised the point that there seems to be a particular focus, in love triangley books, for there to be a girl choosing between two guys, rather than the other way around. Others have pointed out the fact that book publisher publicity departments get a lot of mileage out of pushing a “Team X” vs. “Team Y” campaign on readers (I’m looking at you, Hunger Games).
While I will not deny that there are a lot of novels out there that have borrowed the love triangle formula (in the mathematical sense) that worked so well in Twilight, it’s not a singular occurrence. Also incredibly popular after the worldwide, game-changing, publisher-floating, industry-saving and genre-creating success of Twilight? Books about EVERYTHING that Twilight was about. Books about vampires, books about beautiful immortal people, books about unusual families of paranormal humanoid creatures living amongst us, books about girls with paranormal boyfriends, and books in which high school girls fall into extraordinarily quick and everlasting love. All of these are available in ready supply right now, all of them owe at least some part of their current popularity to Twilight.
This is a good thing. People finding new things they like in books and then reading more books about those things? Wonderful.
And one of those things, yes, is “a girl in love with two boys” love triangles.

I have only published one book with that kind of love triangle in it: My first novel, Secret Society Girl, which came out in 2006, right when Meyer was lighting the world on fire with New Moon. Like Bella, my character Amy has to make a choice between two boys she likes who both like her.
However, I have written two books with this supposedly rare “two girls one guy” love triangle: Rites of Spring (Break), in which Amy competes for the affections of a guy, and the upcoming For Darkness Shows the Stars, which is based on Persuasion, and therefore includes the Anne Elliot — Captain Wentworth — Louisa Musgrove triangle so beloved (or beloved-to-behated) by its fans.

So, having published one of these and seen years worth of reader reactions (and read enough reactions to the Persuasion one to know it’s the same), I can tell you right now why the Twilight kind is more popular:
  1. most of the readers of these types of novels are girls
  2. These readers are moved by the “tough decision” facing a heroine with two fabulous guys after her.
  3. Which leads to “team” formation, by individual readers, in fan circles, and by publicity departments.
  4. Whereas the heroine competing for the affections of a guy against another girl gets one reaction: beat the “other woman.”

(Note: this is very typical Louisa Musgrove treatment in Jane Austen fandom.)
If the other woman is a normal woman with faults like the heroine, she is labeled an irredeemable b****. If the other woman is a saint, she is allowed to be pitied, but we still root for the heroine to get the man. Why? Because to do otherwise would mean the reader is rooting against the heroine. And, almost without exception, that ain’t good.
In Rites of Spring (Break), Amy does not win her love triangle. And despite the fact that I very clearly demonstrate that the guy at the center of it is NOT the one for her, and soon after I embroil her in a fabulously delicious romance with a new guy, you would not believe the number of emails I get demonizing both other parties and wishing that Amy had won. Even though, if she HAD won, she would not have going on to her wonderful romance that they also say they love so much.
The way I look at it is like this: even if you know your ex or the guy who would never ask you out in high school  was TOTALLY wrong for you now, you still want to look drop-dead gorgeous at your high school reunion, right? Just because you’re better off without them doesn’t mean they shouldn’t still pine for you. It’s not the most enlightened of all feelings, but it’s a fantasy.
(Hello, exes. Yes, this is what I Iook like every single day. No, I do not currently have bags under my eyes because Q was up half the night or applesauce in my hair because, well, see previous.)
And it’s that fantasy — of having multiple people madly in love with us, that is so compelling to so many readers.
But here’s the problem: because it’s so compelling, and because publisher publicity departments (understanding this visceral response readers have to this storyline) have pumped it up, its prevalence in the book on the shelves and, perhaps more importantly, in the marketing material for books on the shelves, has trained readers to expect a love triangle in their novels When people complain “why does there have to be a love triangle in every YA novel” they are often complaining about things that a few years ago would not have been considered a love triangle at all.
How do I know this?
Because there was no love triangle in Twilight.
Bella loved Edward, and Edward loved Bella. There might have been a few other people who were interested in dating Bella, just like there was some lingering resentment on the part of Rosalie that she hadn’t good enough for Edward while Bella was, but neither of those things weighed particularly heavily on either of these characters’ minds (and Rosalie has been long since happily matched up).
But if that book were published today, with the microscope readers have been trained to place on any whiff of something that might be a love triangle, they might see this:

And maybe that’s a compelling story, told from the point of view of Mike or Jacob. Poor guys, they secretly love Bella, but she only has eyes for the vampire. Indeed, as the series progressed, Meyer chose to dwell on this facet of Jacob’s story. But that’s as the series progressed.
I read reviews of books all the time where they talk about love triangles that range from a stretch to completely non-existent. I have received emails about the “love triangle” in Ascendant. At first, I spent a lot of time scratching my head. Then I realized they were referring to the fact that Astrid is pursued by one boy while dating another.
To me, that was no more a love triangle than the fact that every boy in Forks instantly goes ga-ga over the “new girl” Bella is somehow indicative of a love tetrahedron.You kinda need love to have a love triangle. Or at least the idea of choosing one over another. The love triangles in my friend Carrie Ryan’s books (The Forest of Hands and Teeth, etc.)? LOVE. TRIANGLES. Mary is in love with Travis but betrothed to his brother. Gabry feels enormously guilty over her growing attachment to Elias after her old boyfriend got infected with the zombie plague… for her. Angst galore! What will she choose? Who will she end up with?
If you’ve read Ascendant, you know that’s not Astrid’s problem. And not in the sense of “she has bigger problems” (which she does), because girls on the run from zombies ALSO have bigger problems, but more in the sense that those questions are not on the plate for her.
However, I also agree with Carrie’s point in her own post on love triangles, in which she says:
“To me, that’s the essence of a love triangle — each man is a viable choice for the heroine but each speaks to a different part of who she is.  The heroine isn’t choosing between two men, she’s choosing who SHE wants to be and that will dictate who the right match is.”
I first read about this conceptualization of a story’s love triangle in a screenwriting class in 2005, and it really stuck with me. When I looked at the love triangle in my first book through this lens, I realized not only why neither prong would work but who, in fact, it was that was right for my heroine.

(When Meyers claims in interviews that the books are anti-human, this is what it means. If you can swing your vampirism the way the Cullens do — going off and eating venison in the woods — there is absolutely no downside to vampirism. Bella’s choice reflects the fact that, very reasonably, she’d rather be an eternally healthy, beautiful, young, powerful, awesome vampire then get old, get sick, get hurt, and die in a frail human form.)
But of course, all choices a character makes is reflective on who she is. The choices that Astrid makes in Ascendant regarding her love life have very little to do with the boys involved, and everything to do with her depression, isolation, and eventual nihilism. And though you can argue that Giovanni is a reflection of one facet of Astrid’s character, choosing him would not magically make that Astrid manifest, and Astrid knows it.
One of my favorite scenes in Buffy the Vampire Slayer comes from season five. Buffy and her friends have just overcome a spell that was meant to split Buffy into her component parts: normal girl and vampire slayer. Her boyfriend Riley tells her that he loves all of her — both parts. That to him, she is indivisible.The tragedy comes when later in that same episode, he posits that it is this elemental wholeness of Buffy that makes her unable to love him. (And where he goes from there is truly tragic.)
(I know a lot of people dislike Riley because of the things he did AFTER this revelation, and I used to be right there with you, but upon repeated rewatching, I’ve come to the conclusion that Riley’s mistakes — and he makes plenty — are not so much him having a problem with a strong woman — since he ends up marrying another — as him deciding, maybe or maybe not falsely — that he’s not good enough for Buffy without magical powers. To be discussed in detail later. People often liken Astrid and Giovanni to Buffy and Riley, though I think a more apt corollary would probably be Buffy and Xander, which never happened on the show.)
Buffy may have chosen Riley, but choosing to have a relationship with this nice, normal guy (instead of her occasionally sociopathic vampire ex-boyfriend) doesn’t make Buffy a normal girl. Over and over in the series, Buffy is forced to make a choice between her love life and her job, often explicitly. Save Angel, or save the world, etc.? Again and again, they ask Buffy who she is, and her answer is “slayer.”
Sometimes, the triangle doesn’t even involve another guy. Sometimes it’s about the heroine choosing not to be with someone, full stop.


Me again! So, what did you think? I had always been annoyed with what I saw as the love triangle trend. After reading this though, I had to stop and re-evaluate some of the books I thought had that. That alone diffuses most of my crankiness at this seemingly over-abundant trope.

Also, I loved what she articulated about how when a heroine (or hero) chooses between two potential partners, they are basically choosing a side of themselves. Will Katniss be a revolutionary guerilla fighter (Gale), or will she gravitate towards family, togetherness, and peace (Peeta)? Granted there is a danger of oversimplifying here, but this idea pretty much diffused any further crankiness for me, anyway.

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Name of the Star

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it's the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago.

Soon "Rippermania" takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn't notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities. -Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

I didn't read the description very carefully for this book. I saw the GORGEOUS cover, something about Jack the Ripper and maybe ghosts, and knew I had to have it. I'll admit I was disappointed for about half a minute when I realized that this is set in contemporary London and featured an American heroine (I'm an Anglophile. It's a disease). But after that 30 seconds was over, you couldn't have pulled this book out of my hands for love or money.

It. Is. So. Good. Rory's voice rings true immediately and she is a bunch of fun. I was amazed at how authentically written both the American and English characters were, so I checked the bio flap and it turns out she spends her time in both countries. The only other writer I know of who can capture both voices so convincingly is Joss Whedon, who spent much of his student life in England. But I ramble.

This works so well as an American in England story, a school story, a crime thriller (interspersed with Rory's story are occasional chapters detailing the misdeeds of "the modern Ripper," a ghost story, and best and most surprisingly, a paranormal investigation story!! My favorite! ^_^

I spent my time equally snorting over my tea and being on the edge of my seat worrying about the Ripper. Best of all, this is apparently the first in a planned series: The Shades of London. I'm crossing my fingers that the next installments are as good.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Return of the Dapper Men

Return of the Dapper Men by Jim McCann and Janet Lee

Enter a world in between time, where children have played so long it's almost become work, machines have worked so long they have begun to play, and all the clocks have stopped at the same time. This is how this land has remained, until 314 dapper-looking gentlemen rain down from the sky and set off in different directions to start the world anew. Now Ayden, the only boy to still ask questions; Zoe, the robot girl all other machines hold dear; and the Dapper Man known only as "41" must discover what happened that made time stop, understand what their true places are in this world, and learn what "tomorrow" really means. The sun is setting for the first time in memory, and once that happens, everything changes!

The Return of the Dapper Men is a visually stunning fairy tale that combines steampunk with fantasy and science fiction with Renaissance style, brought to life from the minds of award-winning playwright and comic book writer Jim McCann (New Avengers: The Reunion) and critically acclaimed visual artist Janet Lee. Together they have created a world where J.M. Barrie, Lewis Carrol, and Maurice Sendak meet Jim Henson and Tim Burton. All sharply dressed in a pin-stripe suit and a dapper bowler hat. -Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

Since I diverged from the "spooky" theme to post about the Steampunk anthology already, I thought I might squeeze in another off-theme book. This graphic novel is honestly a piece of art. If you are interested in reading it, please do yourself a favor and read from a hard copy rather than an ereader. This way, you will get to appreciate the whole effect of the book's construction, from the slightly textured cover, to the endpapers, to the bonus artwork at the back of the book. And don't miss the introduction from, slightly oddly, Tim Gunn! I'm not one hundred percent clear on why Project Runway's fashion guru and dispenser of calm was asked to write the introduction, although Jim McCann describes him as "the original dapper man" on the dedications page. Anyway. 

The art is gorgeous and stunning, the story is enchanting, and this work is an ode to so many good things: stories, being yourself, silliness, wisdom, and nice warm cups of tea. As stated in the summary, this work would certainly appeal to fans of J.M. Barrie, Lewis Carrol, Tim Burton, etc. I would add Neil Gaiman and Norton Juster to the list, and I can't believe that no other reviews have pointed out how endearingly similar the Dapper Man known as "41" is to a certain Doctor....

This is a must for fans of Steampunk, graphic novels, or anyone interested in but weighed down by the dystopian trend.

Monday, November 21, 2011


Steampunk!: An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories  edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant

Imagine an alternate universe where romance and technology reign. Where tinkerers and dreamers craft and re-craft a world of automatons, clockworks, calculating machines, and other marvels that never were. Where scientists and schoolgirls, fair folk and Romans, intergalactic bandits, utopian revolutionaries, and intrepid orphans solve crimes, escape from monstrous predicaments, consult oracles, and hover over volcanoes in steam-powered airships. 

Here, fourteen masters of speculative fiction, including two graphic storytellers, embrace the genre’s established themes and refashion them in surprising ways and settings as diverse as Appalachia, ancient Rome, future Australia, and alternate California. Visionaries Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant have invited all-new explorations and expansions, taking a genre already rich, strange, and inventive in the extreme and challenging contributors to remake it from the ground up. The result is an anthology that defies its genre even as it defines it. -Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

I've been interested in Steampunk for a long time in a sort of vague "well my friends are into it, and I like Victorian clothing and twisty copper/bronze metalwork, so maybe I like Steampunk?" way. When I saw this anthology on the shelf, and noticed that it included stories by some of my favorite authors (Garth Nix, Holly Black, Libba Bray), I thought I would give it a shot. I'm glad I did.

There is a great mix of stories here: some funny, some adventurous, several at least slightly creepy and nearly all will kickstart your imagination. There is something for everyone here, and I really enjoyed that the editors included two graphic stories. If you are already a fan of the genre, or want to get a better feel for it, I would definitely recommend this anthology.

NB: I am soooo not a Steampunk expert. From my limited knowledge, I can tell you that you might enjoy the genre/movement/fashion trend/scene if:

-You are a fan of Westerns, Sci-Fi, and/or Period Pieces in general
-You enjoyed The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (film adaptation, not graphic novel), The Golden Compass (film version),  Howl's Moving Castle (the Hiyao Miyazaki film adaptation), Sherlock Holmes (the one with Robert Downey Jr.), Wild Wild West, Last Exile, or other works from this list
-Corsets and full skirts sound like fun everyday wear (I know they do to me!)
-You enjoy top hats, goggles, pocket watches, bronze, copper, brass, tubes, gears, automata, clockwork, difference engines, alternate histories, and of course, steampowered mechanical... things

For more info on the genre, check out or go to Etsy and just do a search for "Steampunk." There are thousands of examples of gorgeous hand-made jewelry, fashion, statues, paintings, odd little things with gears, and more.

Monday, November 14, 2011

It's here it's here, it's finally here!

Fellow Mockingjays, rejoice! The Hunger Games trailer has arrived!

So? What do you think?

Friday, October 21, 2011


Rampant by Diana Peterfreund

Forget everything you ever knew about unicorns...

Real unicorns are venomous, man-eating monsters with huge fangs and razor-sharp horns. Fortunately, they've been extinct for a hundred and fifty years.

Or not.

Astrid had always scoffed at her eccentric mother's stories about killer unicorns. But when one of the monsters attacks her boyfriend—thereby ruining any chance of him taking her to the prom—Astrid finds herself headed to Rome to train as a unicorn hunter at the ancient cloisters the hunters have used for centuries.

However, at the cloisters all is not what it seems. Outside, the unicorns wait to attack. And within, Astrid faces other, unexpected threats: from the crumbling, bone-covered walls that vibrate with a terrible power to the hidden agendas of her fellow hunters to—perhaps most dangerously of all—her growing attraction to a handsome art student ... an attraction that could jeopardize everything.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

So, this is book one in the Killer Unicorns trilogy. Yup. Killer unicorns. That almost put me off the series, and I'm really glad it didn't. This book is a ton of fun, with a diverse and engaging cast of characters led by one kick-ass unicorn hunter. The mythology is fascinating, the action exciting and tense, and Peterfreund even raises issues of gender, environment, and violence without ever seeming boring or preachy. Astrid is one of my new favorite heroines, and happily the second book (Rampant) is out and the third is on the way. 

Hex Hall

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

Three years ago, Sophie Mercer discovered that she was a witch. It's gotten her into a few scrapes. Her non-gifted mother has been as supportive as possible, consulting Sophie's estranged father--an elusive European warlock--only when necessary. But when Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, it's her dad who decides her punishment: exile to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters. 

By the end of her first day among fellow freak-teens, Sophie has quite a scorecard: three powerful enemies who look like supermodels, a futile crush on a gorgeous warlock, a creepy tagalong ghost, and a new roommate who happens to be the most hated person and only vampire student on campus. Worse, Sophie soon learns that a mysterious predator has been attacking students, and her only friend is the number-one suspect. 

As a series of blood-curdling mysteries starts to converge, Sophie prepares for the biggest threat of all: an ancient secret society determined to destroy all Prodigium, especially her. -Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

I liked Hex Hall, but I can't say I loved it. The setting was promising, the mystery is absorbing, and Sophie's pink-loving, reluctant-vampire roommate makes for a great best friend character. Those aside though, the book fell a bit flat for me. I was hoping for a bit more world-building, or at least more magic...? I'm not sure. Either way, not a fav.

I have heard this book described as a cross between Harry Potter and Twilight, which I think works. If you're looking for a school story, a paranormal romance featuring a witch instead of the normal line-up of vampires and werewolves, or if you're a bit nostalgic for Sabrina the Teenaged Witch, you might want to give this one a shot.


Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

Weird as it is working for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, Evie’s always thought of herself as normal. Sure, her best friend is a mermaid, her ex-boyfriend is a faerie, she's falling for a shape-shifter, and she's the only person who can see through paranormals' glamours, but still. Normal.

Only now paranormals are dying, and Evie's dreams are filled with haunting voices and mysterious prophecies. She soon realizes that there may be a link between her abilities and the sudden rash of deaths. Not only that, but she may very well be at the center of a dark faerie prophecy promising destruction to all paranormal creatures.

So much for normal.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

Oh, *bleep*! I loved this book! Evie is a fantastic narrator: quippy and fun, but still sympathetic and believable. How could you not love a girl who divides her time between hunting spooks and devouring fluffy teen dramas with her mermaid best friend, all while slinging impressive amounts of snark? So. Much. Fun. For any fans of Buffy, Hellboy, Vampire Diaries, The Killer Unicorn trilogy, or if you're just looking for some fun paranormal fare, this is a must-read.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Replacement

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

Mackie Doyle is not one of us. Though he lives in the small town of Gentry, he comes from a world of tunnels and black murky water, a world of living dead girls ruled by a little tattooed princess. He is a Replacement, left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago. Now, because of fatal allergies to iron, blood, and consecrated ground, Mackie is fighting to survive in the human world.

Mackie would give anything to live among us, to practice on his bass or spend time with his crush, Tate. But when Tate's baby sister goes missing, Mackie is drawn irrevocably into the underworld of Gentry, known as Mayhem. He must face the dark creatures of the Slag Heaps and find his rightful place, in our world, or theirs.
-Plot summary borrowed from Good Reads

This was a great atmospheric, creepy read. The author does a fantastic job of establishing the rust-belt, something's-not-quite-right feel of Gentry, and puts some great new twists on fairy lore. I also love when a book seems tied to a certain time of year, and this book just felt so Octobery to me. It makes you want to pull up your collar and rush home, looking over your shoulder at shadows. Mackie is an especially likable protagonist who never lets his angst get too Emo, and his quest to find his crush's baby sister is gripping. I'd definitely recommend this one.

(For other dark fae fiction, you might also want to check out Tithe by Holly Black, or The Good Neighbors graphic novel trilogy by the same author. )

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan.

In Mary's world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But, slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future—between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death? -Plot summary borrowed from Good Reads

I started this book at around 11 pm, thinking I would read a few pages before falling asleep. Two hours later my eyes were glued to the page and my heart was pounding. Not only was I really pulled into the story, but I'm not too proud to admit that I was pretty sure the zombie apocalypse was about to begin, and I wasn't about to be caught napping. This is one tense and scary read, especially if you're a bit of a zombie wimp like your's truly.

Ryan's world-building is also exceptional and I loved the thought of a post-apocalyptic puritanesque village trying to survive in a zombie-ridden landscape. Also, the zombie scenes? Chills. This one is a great choice if you're looking for something with more bite (sorry!) than the fluffy paranormal romance stuff.

If you enjoy this one, you're in luck! There are two more in the series: The Dead-Tossed Waves and The Dark and Hollow Places.

Things That Go Bump in the Night

Autumn always feels like the perfect time for some spookier fare, so for this season I've decided to focus on books with a paranormal bent. Ghosts, werewolves, vampires, changelings, zombies, slayers, etc etc etc. There is just so much to choose from, especially in the post-Twilight wolrd of YA fiction. So sharpen your stakes and plug in your nightlights, it's time for some supernatural stories!


It's been awhile since my last post. I was trying to wait out on more mermaid book I had on hold (Lost Voices by Sarah Porter) before I started on my new theme, but alas, no luck. Oh well. I hope you enjoyed this summer's theme; I know I did. Overall I have to say my two favorites were Forgive My Fins (it's just so fun and bubbly, doesn't take itself too seriously, but still tells a relatable story) and Mermaid: a Twist on the Classic Tale (fantastic imagery and a much more literary feel). If any of you read one of the books I reviewed, please feel free to weigh in with your opinions! I'd love to get more discussion going here. ^_^

And now, a new theme!

Monday, September 12, 2011

YA Authors Told to "Straighten" Gay Characters by Agent

Apparently I should be reading Rose Fox's work over at Publishers Weekly more often, because she keeps coming out with really interesting articles. This time she's using her column to relate the difficulty YA authors Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith encountered when their (unnamed) literary agent attempted to force them to alter a gay character's orientation in their upcoming post-apocalyptic YA novel. In their own words:

"Our novel, Stranger, has five viewpoint characters; one, Yuki Nakamura, is gay and has a boyfriend. Yuki’s romance, like the heterosexual ones in the novel, involves nothing more explicit than kissing.

An agent from a major agency, one which represents a bestselling YA novel in the same genre as ours, called us.

The agent offered to sign us on the condition that we make the gay character straight, or else remove his viewpoint and all references to his sexual orientation.

Rachel replied, “Making a gay character straight is a line in the sand which I will not cross. That is a moral issue. I work with teenagers, and some of them are gay. They never get to read fantasy novels where people like them are the heroes, and that’s not right.”

The agent suggested that perhaps, if the book was very popular and sequels were demanded, Yuki could be revealed to be gay in later books, when readers were already invested in the series.

We knew this was a pie-in-the-sky offer—who knew if there would even be sequels?—and didn’t solve the moral issue. When you refuse to allow major characters in YA novels to be gay, you are telling gay teenagers that they are so utterly horrible that people like them can’t even be allowed to exist in fiction.

LGBTQ teenagers already get told this. They are four times more likely than straight teenagers to attempt suicide. We’re not saying that the absence of LGBTQ teens in YA sf and fantasy novels is the reason for that. But it’s part of the overall social prejudice that does cause that killing despair.

We wrote this novel so that the teenagers we know—some of whom are gay, and many of whom are not white—would be able, for once, to read a fun post-apocalyptic adventure in which they are the heroes. And we were told that such a thing could not be allowed.

After we thanked the agent for their time, declined the offer, and hung up, Sherwood broke the silence. “Do you think the agent missed that Becky and Brisa [supporting characters] are a couple, too? Do they ever actually kiss on-page? No? I’M ADDING A LESBIAN KISS NOW!” "

You can read the full article over at the PW website.

This is just really sad. I'm used to hearing about religious groups or parents complaining about content in books, and I've read about librarians censoring materials when making ordering decisions, but I never really considered how much censorship can (and apparently does) happen so close to the source: the publishing companies. This makes me wonder how many books that have been altered by authors willing to make concessions to their works to get them published. Then again, I know tons of authors who are anti-censorship advocates, so it's hopefully really rare that an author caves.

What do you think?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Tempest Rising

Tempest Rising by Tracy Deebs

Tempest Maguire wants nothing more than to surf the killer waves near her California home; continue her steady relationship with her boyfriend, Mark; and take care of her brothers and surfer dad. But Tempest is half mermaid, and as her seventeenth birthday approaches, she will have to decide whether to remain on land or give herself to the ocean like her mother. The pull of the water becomes as insistent as her attraction to Kai, a gorgeous surfer whose uncanny abilities hint at an otherworldly identity as well. And when Tempest does finally give in to the water's temptation and enters a fantastical underwater world, she finds that a larger destiny awaits her-and that the entire ocean's future hangs in the balance. -Plot summary borrowed from Good Reads

When I started with the mermaids theme for the summer, I really had expected more of them to be Paranormal Romances a la Twilight (love triangle, dark mysterious stranger, etc etc etc) and this has been the first to actually fit that mold. And that's not a bad thing.

While Tempest Rising reminded me a lot of Twilight (which as a reader I loathe but as a librarian, I grudgingly acknowledge that it does get teens reading, so, all grumbling aside it does do a lot of good) in the setup, Deebs does a lot of things Meyers did not. Tempest has a loving family that she is an active part of, she has a supportive network of friends, she has hobbies, an emotional life beyond her romantic life- I could go on. I did almost give up on the book when Kona, the requisite Mysterious Dark Stranger is introduced and Tempest is immediately and inexplicably drawn to him despite her misgivings blah blah see previous post. BUT, Deebs almost immediately fleshes out his character and makes it clear that there are reasons to trust and like him. 

Best of all, this novel talks a great deal about choices. Tempest has a choice whether to be human or mer, it will just be a difficult one. She can choose which, if either, boy she loves and will be the best for her. She makes one choice that has terrible consequences, which she must then face.

This was also a good read, an definitely interesting in terms of the mermaid theme. Tempest despises the idea of becoming mer (this happened a bit in Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings, but it wasn't clear why, other than the idea of having a fish tail weirded out the protagonist). For Tempest, becoming mer means becoming more like the mother she was abandoned by, and will mean leaving her family forever if she cannot resist the lure of the ocean. To me, this is much more meaningful. The mer world is not a sparkly, happy place like in Forgive My Fins, because this is a much darker book all around. Despite that, there are light moments and I enjoyed the relationship between Kona and Tempest as being much more realistic and likable than many other paranormal pairings. 

If you like paranormal romance but are looking for a heroine with a bit more of a backbone, this is a solid bet. (If you're looking for an even tougher heroine, check out Rampant by Diana Peterfreund).

It hasn't been announced yet, but I'd be surprised if a sequel is not in the works.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Disturbing Trend in Paranormal Romance?

Down with Destiny
Rose Fox -- August 30th, 2011

"While going over my page proofs today (yes, on paper, with a pencil, because we are seriously old school over here), I caught the term “bond-mate” in two consecutive reviews. I took one out and replaced it with an equivalent term, but this got me thinking about how many paranormal romances seem to revolve around the idea of destined partners, much as fantasy epics often revolve around the idea of destined jobs or tasks.

Does anyone else find this idea really disturbing? It’s like all the worst parts of arranged marriage with none of the upsides. It throws us back to a time when women were property and there was no divorce. You can’t even blame your parents; Fate or Destiny or God has made the choice for you, and you don’t get to argue. Initially dislike the other person? Too bad! Fate or Destiny or God has also slipped you a roofie, and you will be so compellingly attracted to your destined mate that your arousal overwhelms your very reasonable concerns. The super-hot compulsive sex will just have to make up for your partner not being someone you otherwise want to be in the same room with.

In anything resembling the real world, this would be a recipe for marital disaster and profound self-loathing. The compulsive arousal/attraction thing particularly makes me cringe. There’s a word for sex you don’t want but are forced to have, and I think that word is applicable even when it’s Fate or Destiny or God forcing two people to behave a certain way rather than one of those people forcing the other. How terrible would it be to be repeatedly compelled to have sex with someone you’re bound to forever, possibly for multiple centuries or lifetimes depending on the paranormal setting, and to have your body aroused by it every single time even when it’s really not what your mind wants, and to know that you can’t escape because Fate or Destiny or God will inexorably draw the two of you back together no matter how far you run? Even if you loved your partner truly and deeply, how could you bring yourself to touch them, knowing that their responses aren’t under their control and that in this setting there is no such thing as consent because neither of you can really say no?

If the destiny is in some way related to race or heritage or gender–all men are fighters, all elves prefer bow-and-arrow to swords, each man gets one woman and each woman gets one man, the prince raised as a woodcutter will be a terrific king because kingliness is inherited, etc.–you get double extra “no” points. Essentialism is bad enough without setting up an entire fictional world that supports and enforces it.

I could be all analytical and muse about why so many readers and writers find these concepts even remotely appealing, but I’m going to keep it personal. The more I encounter destiny tropes, the more they turn me off. Destined love is the opposite of romantic.

Freedom to choose one’s own path in life is such a fundamental necessity that wars have been fought over it and people have marched by the millions demanding it. Let’s stop mining the emotional power of restriction and the quest for freedom by writing endless narratives of people who not only have no choices but whose character arcs begin with defiant struggle and end with giving in. When destined partners fall helplessly in love, it’s no different from “He loved Big Brother”. [Boldface is mine, because this is chilling!]

Give me protagonists who make choices, even terrible choices, maybe especially terrible choices. Give me all the character development that comes from debating those choices. If Fate or Destiny or God forces them to do certain things, they’re not protagonists anymore; they’re puppets, hollow and voiceless, following their script to its depressingly inevitable conclusion."

Fox, Rose. "Down with Destiny." Publisher's Weekly on the Web 30 Aug. 2011. Genreville. 31 Aug. 2011

To paraphrase yet another author (Tina Fey), huzzah for the truthteller! I really am tired of this trope, and it feeds into all the things that make me feel queasy about paranormal romance as a genre. I'd love to get Freud's view on the whole "teen girls going nuts for monstrous characters they have no choice but to love!" phenomenon. It's just so sketchy.

How do you feel about this? Is there a problem with what these books are telling their readers? (I hasten to add that I am not in any way suggesting that books with this theme be supressed or censored, but still.) Is this potentially damaging, or harmless fluff?


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hunger Games

Hey fellow mockingjays. There are some interesting new fansites for the upcoming film. Not too much content now, but some are speculating we could receive an announcement from President Snow anytime now.

Also, check out for links to the facebook fan pages for the Capitol and each district.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Forbidden Sea

Forbidden Sea- Sheila A. Nelson

When Adrianne comes face-to-face with the mermaid of Windwaithe Island, she is convinced that the mermaid means her harm. After all, the island is steeped in stories of mermaids' curses and the ill-luck that they bring. But Adrianne is fierce-willed and courageous and is determined to protect her family and the islanders from danger. Yet when the islanders find out about Adrianne's encounters with the mermaid, her family is scorned. They believe that once active, the mermaid cannot be quieted until an islander sacrifices herself to the sea. But is the legend true? And will their fear make them force Adrienne to test it? This is a haunting story of love, surrender and strength. -Plot summary borrowed from Good Reads

This one was a bit of a disappointment. The setting was obscure- pilgrims... kind of? (New) England.... maybe? Most of the secondary characters were underdeveloped, and it all felt a bit Mary Sue somehow. Oh, and the mermaids are barely a factor until the last third of the book, and when they do play a major role they seem bland, unrealistic and don't seem to fit with the rest of the book. And there are major plotholes- at one point Adrianne is offered a job at the Manor, is thrilled, and then proceeds to never mention it again. Ho hum.

There are some upsides, including the interesting and complicated family dynamics. Adrianne loves her little sister and mother fiercely, despite her mother's extremely passive role and willingness to allow Adrianne to shoulder all responsibility for the family (Katniss Everdeen, anyone?)/harsh criticisms from a meanspirited, old maid of an aunt living with them. The setting is interesting if murky, and there are some bits with horses as well as the mermaids, which might be enough for some readers.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings

Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings by Helene Boudreau

Freak of nature takes on a whole new meaning...
If she hadn't been so clueless, she might have seen it coming. But really, who expects to get into a relaxing bathtub after a stressful day of shopping for tankinis and come out with scales and a tail?
Most. Embarrassing. Moment. Ever.
Jade soon discovers she inherited her mermaid tendencies from her mom. But if Mom was a mermaid, how did she drown?
Jade is determined to find out. So how does a plus-size, aqua-phobic mer-girl go about doing that exactly? And how will Jade ever be able to explain her secret to her best friend, Cori, and to her crush, Luke?
This summer is about to get a lot more interesting... -Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

Ok, getting a smidge tired of the "I'm a teen girl whose parent died/drowned/disappeared, and oh no, now I'm part fish!" plotline now. Especially when it may turn out that the parent did not in fact drown, as they were also part fish. Ho hum. This is what I get for picking a mermaid theme, I suppose. ^_^

Tired premise aside, this book was ok. You can't help loving Jade and Bridget Jones-esque ability to place her foot firmly in her mouth, while struggling with her weight and trying to manage her relationships with friends, family and crushes. This one was pretty fluffy, but still a decent read. On the bright side, there are a few things that make this mermaid novel stand out a bit. For one, Jade is pretty freaked by the thought of being a mermaid, and her search for her mother yields some interesting questions about mer-biology (is fresh water as good as salt water? How do mermaids communicate above/below water? How does the transition from legs to tail and vice versa work?). Another fairly satisfying beach read, but not the best of the pack (school? what is the collective noun for mermaids, anyway? Super bonus points for an answer!).

Forgive My Fins

Forgive My Fins, by Tera Lynn Childs  
Lily Sanderson has a secret, and it’s not that she has a huge crush on gorgeous swimming god Brody Bennett, who makes her heart beat flipper-fast. Unrequited love is hard enough when you’re a normal teenage girl, but when you’re half human, half mermaid like Lily, there’s no such thing as a simple crush.

Lily’s mermaid identity is a secret that can’t get out, since she’s not just any mermaid – she’s a Thalassinian princess. When Lily found out three years ago that her mother was actually a human, she finally realized why she didn’t feel quite at home in Thalassinia, and she’s been living on land and going to Seaview high school ever since, hoping to find where she truly belongs. Sure, land has its problems – like her obnoxious, biker boy neighbor Quince Fletcher – but it has that one major perk – Brody. The problem is, mermaids aren’t really the casual dating type – when they “bond,” it’s for life.
When Lily’s attempt to win Brody’s love leads to a tsunami-sized case of mistaken identity, she is in for a tidal wave of relationship drama, and she finds out, quick as a tailfin flick, that happily-ever-after never sails quite as smoothly as you planned. -
Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

This book was a cute, fun read, a sort of  teen rom-com with mermaids. Lily's voice always rang true and despite her unreasonable fixation on Brody and the fact that she can be pretty dense in the romance department, she was really likable. Combine a great cover and an upbeat, quick read about a teen mermaid and you have one great beach book. Looking forward to the sequel, Fins are Forever, out now.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mermaid- A Twist on the Classic Tale

Two sheltered princesses, one wounded warrior; who will live happily ever after?
Princess Margrethe has been hidden away while her kingdom is at war. One gloomy, windswept morning as she stands in a convent garden overlooking the icy sea, she witnesses a miracle: a glittering mermaid emerging from the waves, a nearly drowned man in her arms. By the time Margrethe reaches the shore, the mermaid has disappeared into the sea. As Margrethe nurses the handsome stranger back to health, she learns that not only is he a prince, he is also the son of her father's greatest rival. Sure that the mermaid brought this man to her for a reason, Margrethe devises a plan to bring peace to her kingdom.

Meanwhile, the mermaid princess Lenia longs to return to the human man she carried to safety. She is willing to trade her home, her voice, and even her health for legs and the chance to win his heart….  

A surprising take on the classic tale, Mermaid is the story of two women with everything to lose. Beautifully written and compulsively readable, it will make you think twice about the fairytale you heard as a child, keeping you in suspense until the very last page. -Plot summary borrowed from Barnes & Noble

Ok, this really is not a teen book. But I am a young adult and I enjoyed it, so let's go with it. ^_^

I was really taken with Carolyn Turgeon's prose. Her writing is detailed and yet poetic enough to conjure up a very strong visual picture of her settings. You really feel as if you are standing on a rocky, windswept beach with Margrethe, or gazing up at the ceiling of Lenia's amber palace.

Not only that, but the author managed to re-tell a well-known story with originality, grace and heart. I've always hated the Andersen original, but, while still keeping the basic framework, Turgeon has reworked the story beautifully. Actually, some other reviewers called this a much darker take on the original. Have they read the original?? It's a far cry from the Disney version. This novel didn't strike me as all that dark, unless you are comparing it to the Walt Disney movie, or some of the lighter teen mermaid fare like Forgive My Fins. To my mind it's far less twisted than Andersen's story.

The strongest praise I have for this novel is that the author has created not one but two likable female protagonists. Both were strong, interesting individuals with believable motivations for their actions (while both were in love with the prince despite only brief superficial meetings with him, their additional reasons for seeking a life with him carried the story beyond romantic drivel). I was on the edge of my seat waiting to find out which, if either of them, would make it to happily ever after.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Mermaid's Mirror

The Mermaid's Mirror, by L.K. Madigan

Lena has lived her whole life near the beach — walking for miles up and down the shore and breathing the salty air, swimming in the cold water, and watching the surfers rule the waves — the problem is, she’s spent her whole life just watching. 

As her sixteenth birthday approaches, Lena vows she will no longer watch from the sand: she will learn to surf.

But her father — a former surfer himself — refuses to allow her to take lessons. After his near drowning years ago, he can’t bear to let Lena take up the risky sport.

Yet something keeps drawing Lena to the water . . . an ancient, powerful magic. And one morning Lena catches sight of this magic: a beautiful woman — with a silvery tail.

Now nothing can stop Lena from seeking the mermaid, not even the dangerous waves at Magic Crescent Cove.

And soon . . . what she sees in the mermaid’s mirror will change her life forever. -Plot summary borrowed from Good Reads

I loved this book. Lena and her family were really likable and well-developed characters and I enjoyed following their stories. There was a lot in this book that could easily have felt forced or artificial (teen dialogue, family drama, IM conversatios, surf lingo) but to me Madigan pulled it off and made everything feel pretty natural. Her writing is uncluttered but still full of lovely descriptions and gives the reader a great sense of setting, and really lets you get to know the characters. The plot was never too predictable and the ending leaves you wanting more.

I especially enjoyed the underwater setting. All of the undersea dwellers were named for famous merfolk of various extractions (Lorelei, Rusalka, Merrow), which I thought was a nice and non-cheesy way of adding in some mermaid lore. At times the story veered close to the Hans Christian Andersen story, and Lena references it herself a few times, but this is definitely an original story and not a fairytale reboot. Still, I think fans of retellings would enjoy this story as well.

Sadly, the planned sequel is not to be. L.K. Madigan (real name Lisa Wolfson) passed away in February 2011. :(

Summer Sirens

Ever since Twilight, YA lit has been flooded with vampires. Then werewolves. Then an assortment of angels, demons, ghosts, fairies and dragons. Not that I'm complaining, mind. But I was wondering what was left. As far as I can see, mermaids are the next big (brace yourself and I apologize in advance) splash.

I figured summer would be a perfect time to catch up on some of these new additions, so keep an eye out for some mermaid book reviews over the next few weeks!

The picture to the left is the cover of Donna Jo Napoli's Sirena from 2000. I won't be reviewing it here, but it is one I'd recommend!

Saturday, July 2, 2011


Unwind, by Neal Schusterman

The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child "unwound," whereby all of the child's organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn't technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state is not enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive. -Plot summary borrowed from Good Reads

This book was chilling. Sure, the premise is completely unrealistic (hacking teenagers to bits in a creepy lab setting is a "compromise" that would horrify pro-choicers and pro-lifers equally), but once (/if) you can get past that, this is a suspenseful ride through a truly scary setting. You can't not root for these kids, especially as they mature and attempt to overcome their situation. Lev's character is especially interesting as he goes from an eerily willing sacrificial lamb to a jaded runaway and ultimately to something completely new.

I think it was a smart move on the author's part to not just show kids due for "unwinding," but to show the many different reasons parents or other authorities would opt for this horrendous procedure. Kids acting up? Why not cut your losses?  State can't afford a ward who underperforms musically? Let's break them down for their useful component parts! Want to show your support for your society? Offer up one of your kids, you can always have more! All areas of abortion politics are explored here, including the idea of unwanted newborns. In this setting, parents unwilling or unable to raise their child are able to "stork" them, leaving the infant on someone else's doorstep. Whoever opens that door becomes the child's official legal guardian.

Schusterman covers as much ground as possible, and answers through various happenings pretty much every question a reader can think of. What happens to the consciousnesses of the unwound? Can a parent change their mind after ordering their child to be unwound? What happens if someone did not want to be "storked"? Does anyone in this society realize how crazy this all is??

He does give one chapter detailing the unwinding process, which is not for the faint of heart. Never mind that you may have found the idea of unwinding silly, this will Freak You Out. If you are a fan of dystopias, or biopunk, or suspenseful stories with engaging protagonists and a philosophical bent, I would definitely recommend Unwind.

Friday, July 1, 2011


Bumped, Megan McCafferty
When a virus makes everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, would-be parents pay teen girls to conceive and give birth to their children, making teens the most prized members of society. Girls sport fake baby bumps and the school cafeteria stocks folic-acid-infused food.
Sixteen-year-old identical twins Melody and Harmony were separated at birth and have never met until the day Harmony shows up on Melody’s doorstep. Up to now, the twins have followed completely opposite paths. Melody has scored an enviable conception contract with a couple called the Jaydens. While they are searching for the perfect partner for Melody to bump with, she is fighting her attraction to her best friend, Zen, who is way too short for the job.
Harmony has spent her whole life in Goodside, a religious community, preparing to be a wife and mother. She believes her calling is to convince Melody that pregging for profit is a sin. But Harmony has secrets of her own that she is running from.
When Melody is finally matched with the world-famous, genetically flawless Jondoe, both girls’ lives are changed forever. A case of mistaken identity takes them on a journey neither could have ever imagined, one that makes Melody and Harmony realize they have so much more than just DNA in common. -Plot summary borrowed from Good Reads

Dystopias for the 16 and Pregnant/Juno/Gloucester "pregnancy pact" generation. Like Matched and Wither, this is another internalized dystopian novel from a feminine perspective, although there is far less emphasis on the Evil Authority, and more on the quiet day to day consequences of living in a society where teen pregnancy is not only encouraged, but commercialized. Having Melody and Harmony as alternating narrators really helps to shed light on the issues of this society from both sides of the argument, as well.

My only real problem with this book was trying to get a fix on the slang, like, rilly. Even that was kind of intriguing in terms of world building, though, as much of it was based on pregnancy-related terms: bumping, preggo, negging (reneging on a contract is a major faux pas), terminating, fertilicious, etc.

Check this one out if you're looking for a less than challenging but relevant dystopian novel, or something to read after ODing on a Teen Mom marathon. The sequel, Thumped, is due out Spring 2012.