Saturday, December 15, 2012

Top 10 Teen Books of 2012

This was a tough list to put together. To make decisions slightly less wrenching, I decided to limit this to fiction I read this year for the first time, specifically series openers or standalones- which is not to say that I didn't read some fantastic sequels and nonfiction this year, because I definitely did. Maybe next year I'll have time to read more of both of those, and add some new categories. I tried to think about a lot of different aspects before putting these books in order: how much I liked them, how well written I thought they were (not always the same things), how memorable they were, and how likely I am to reread them when I have more time (ha).

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield

Atmospheric, suspenseful, and violent, this thriller definitely got under my skin. I don't read much realistic or crime fiction, but I'm glad I made an exception for this dark tale of death in a small town.

 Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

Another realistic fiction makes the list! In terms of character study this was one of the strongest books I read this year. Danforth excels at writing believable, recognizable teen angst without sugarcoating, melodrama, or preaching, and teen books dealing honestly with GLBTQ themes are always welcome (but too few).

 Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

What can I say, this book has some faults but I loved it anyway. It's a fun ride through an exciting new world, with plenty of fascinating people (and storm tigers) to meet along the way, plus a much needed and not (too) preachy environmental message. I can't wait for the sequel.
Zombies VS. Unicorns by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (Editors)

I read a bunch of anthologies this year, but for best premise, number of stories I loved, and best editing, this is hands down my favorite. These stories are funny, creepy, gross, thought-provoking and memorable, but it's the back and forth between Black (Team Unicorn) and Larbalestier (Team Zombie) that I really loved. Which team will you choose?

 Team Human by

 Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

 Blake claims her character Cas' last name is Lowood, but I think it's really Winchester (of the Sam and Dean Winchesters). He's got a great narrative voice, his very own Scooby gang, a witch for a mom, and ghost for a love interest. Top that, paranormal romances!

 For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

You can't go wrong with a Jane Austen retelling set in a post-apocalyptic dystopian society. Oh, wait, come to think of it, you really, really could. Unless, of course, you're massively talented author and Austen aficionado Diana Peterfreund! Love her. Love the cover. Love Elliot North. Love this setting. Love all the tea drinking and farm equipment. Capital. 

 Across the Universe by Beth Revis

When I saw this author at NY Comic Con, she said something about being inspired by Agatha Christie when writing this deep space murder mystery, which just made me love it (and her) more. Not only was the sci-fi better in this book than any other I read this year (generation ships! Cryogenics! And it all made sense to layperson me!), but I found myself caring more about her characters and their problems than those of most other books this year. A great job all around, with sequels to squee over.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver/If I Stay by Gayle Forman

I decided to sneak both of these in by having a tie, which is more or less justified. Both knocked my socks equally far and dealt with girls looking death full in the face, albeit in very different ways. Before I Fall impressed me because I could not put it down despite it being a Groundhog Day-eqsue rehashing of the same day multiple times (I trope I normally hate to tiny bits), featuring the Queen Bees of the school, and with a hefty length. It was so, so good.

If I Stay was shorter, more intense, and in a way, simpler, with the heroine spending the majority of the book out of body and trying to decide whether or not to return to her injured body after a horrendous car accident. It's heartwrenching and emotional, and you will fall completely in love with her, her musician boyfriend, and most of all her family. Set in Portland, Oregon during the winter and in the music scene, this book has an authentic feel all its own- which makes the tragedy within hurt all the more.

Again, I'm not normally a fan of realistic fiction or tearjerkers, but these books transcend the genres and are just stunning.

The Diviners by Libba Bray

While I changed the order of this list several times, there was never a time that this wasn't in first place. Bray just nailed every single aspect of this book, from the blended genres (the historical setting is perfectly chosen, lovingly researched, and perfectly portrayed, while the elements of folklore, horror, and crime/mystery are all strong and complement each other well), the large cast of diverse characters, the pacing, and most of all, Evie.

Best. Character. Of. The. Year.

This book is like if someone put American Gods, Veronica Mars, and Chicago (or The Great Gatsby, or really anything that has flappers with that cool wavy hair) into a blender and then spiked it with gin. It's delicious and fantastic and I need more. More, I say!!

Honorable Mentions

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood

Lips Touch Three Times by Laini Taylor

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

And there you have it, my top teen books of 2012. How does it compare with your top ten? Is there something you loved that I didn't list or didn't review?

Monday, December 10, 2012

My Nerd Wishes for 2013

For 2013, I wish for....

10) The S.H.I.E.L.D. series to be picked up and be awesome and Whedony.

9) The Outlander series to be picked up and be awesome and star Chris Hemsworth and an actress good enough to play Claire.

8) The Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell series to be picked up and be awesome and star David Tennant.

7) The chance to go back to NYCC.

6) The Walking Dead to not kill all of my favorite characters (I know I shouldn't have picked any, ever, but Season Three's midseason finale made me realize how much I care about Daryl, Glen and Maggie. Blast). Also, while I'm wishing for things from AMC, I'd really, really like for Jesse to survive the finale of Breaking Bad, and for the show to close on a scene ten-fifteen years later of him teaching a chemistry class.

5) David Tennant to be involved with the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special, double points if Billie Piper is involved as well, and even moooooore points if they bring back Donna Noble, K-9, and/or Captain Jack Harkness. Pretty please, Steven Moffat?

4) Actually, Moff (may I call you Moff?), if you're doling out favors, here's another wish: cast Benedict Cumberbatch as the Master on Doctor Who. Pretty please? It's a complete no-brainer- Cumberbatch could talk circles even around the Doctor, and I'm sure he could bring a chilling, biting calm to the role to replace the madcap wackiness of the last go-round, while being more menacing by far. Also, and this is perhaps the biggest factor in we wanting to him play the Master: the Internet. Would. Explode. Tumblr would SHUT DOWN and the "squees" of Whovians and Sherlockians would be heard by the Mars rover.

3) George R.R. Martin to keep on trucking. I could pretend that I mean simply "to continue writing," but, shamefully, I also mean that I am fervently wishing for his continued health. The world needs him to finish his life's work, for we shall all perish in fits of frustration and woe if Westeros is left kingless (or queenless! Go Dany!) Go for a walk, ease up on the football and maybe eat a few salads, George? <3 p="p">
2) Community to come back and be the same show we know and love. I want the absurdly obscure references, the episode long homages to tv tropes, the bizarre and easy to miss throwaway lines, the Spanish raps, the insanity that is Senor Chang, Jeff's narcissism and inspiring speeches, Abed's inability to relate to the world without the lens of television, Inspector Spacetime, the Dreamatorium, paintball, Shirley's purse, the heartwarmingness of the group, the magic of the study table, and the unabashed oddness. I don't want it to be more relatable, I want it weird and wonderful like always. Six seasons and a movie!!

1) Firefly to come back. I know it's been ten years, but you can't stop the signal, nor can you take the sky from me. We will rise again, Browncoats unite, and we're still flying. Now that Joss has had a triply awesome year, maybe, just maybe, this can happen. Even if it's only a radio play, or even better, an animated series, I just want my big damn heroes back.

*Some of these (#5) are more likely than others (#1, *sniff*). But that's why they are wishes and not "Things I Fully Expect to Have Happen."

**There's a noticeable lack of books on this list, mostly because the world of publishing is a safer, steadier world of pre-established release dates and planned series. For a book to be released, it "simply" needs to be written and approved by the publisher. There's (almost never) any issues involving who has the rights to what characters/franchise, there's no cast to bring together, no sets to build, no competing time slots, and nowhere near as many budgeting issues. Short of worrying about whether an author will run out of ideas and/or keel over at the keyboard, books seem far less precarious to me.

What nerdy things are you hoping for in the coming year?

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Brides of Rollrock Island

The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

On remote Rollrock Island, men go to sea to make their livings--and to catch their wives. 

The witch Misskaella knows the way of drawing a girl from the heart of a seal, of luring the beauty out of the beast. And for a price a man may buy himself a lovely sea-wife. He may have and hold and keep her. And he will tell himself that he is her master. But from his first look into those wide, questioning, liquid eyes, he will be just as transformed as she. He will be equally ensnared. And the witch will have her true payment. 

Margo Lanagan weaves an extraordinary tale of desire, despair, and transformation. With devastatingly beautiful prose, she reveals characters capable of unspeakable cruelty, but also unspoken love.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

I'd been seeing the cover of Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels all over the place and it's been on my To Read list for awhile now, but when I saw that she'd written a young adult book about selkies I had to have it immediately. Having read this, I am completely bewitched and will be seeking out her books and stories from now on. 

Getting accustomed to Lanagan's prose took several pages. I had to reread passages to see if I had missed a crucial detail, or tease out some other meaning to her words. I felt like I wasn't seeing her words from quite the right perspective, but then something shifted, everything clicked, and I was transported to Rollrock. She writes so evocatively that once you catch her rhythm, it's incredibly easy to visualize the windswept beaches strewn with seaweed, the Spartan cottages, and the pounding waves on the shore. It's unflinching in a way that reminded me of Robin McKinley's Deerskin, and offers a powerful sense of place and people like the best of Alice Hoffman's magic realism. 

Rather than being your standard linear novel, this book is broken up into stories told by various narrators at different points in time and over a few generations. One of the most intriguing is from the perspective of Misskaella, the so-called witch, but my favorite was voiced by a boy growing up on this lonely island. There was a point where I worried that the book would meander too much, that the loosely related stories would not come together, but things do come together to tell a satisfying story you won't soon forget.

Not your typical YA fare, this fantasy is strange, dark and lyrical. If you enjoyed Mermaid: a Twist on the Classic Tale by Carolyn Turgeon, or if you're a fan of Donna Jo Napoli, Neil Gaiman, or Jane Yolen, or have worn out copy of The Secret of Roan Inish, give this book a try.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Curse Dark as Gold

A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce

This ravishing winner of the ALA's William C. Morris YA Debut Award is a fairy tale, spun with a mystery, woven with a family story, and shot through with romance.

Charlotte Miller has always scoffed at talk of a curse on her family's woolen mill, which holds her beloved small town together. But after her father's death, the bad luck piles up: departing workers, impossible debts, an overbearing uncle. Then a stranger named Jack Spinner offers a tempting proposition: He can turn straw into gold thread, for the small price of her mother's ring. As Charlotte is drawn deeper into her bargains with Spinner-and a romance with the local banker-she must unravel the truth of the curse on the mill and save the community she's always called home.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

Having just come off a historical farm recreation documentary binge (hey, it's a thing! Check out Tales from the Green Valley, Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm, and Wartime Farm, or the similar but less agricultural Victorian Pharmacy or, maybe the best place to start, 1900 House for some entertaining but educational tv about bygone crafts and ways of life), I was thrilled to find a fairytale reimagining dealing so heavily with the intricate workings of a small mill town in the 18th century. So much of this book is spent describing the workings of the mill, the roles of the workers, and how wool goes from sheep to gown- but in an interesting way! If you're a bit odd and fancy that sort of thing, that is...

Anyway, even for those of you who don't get a bit fixated on spinning terms, period language and scenery, there's still a very compelling story of a young woman working to save her family business, protect herself and others from various machinations (worldly and otherworldly), plus some lovely and memorable characters to boot. I liked the village midwife with her herbs, eldritch knowledge, and unflappable good sense. I really liked the eccentric old dyeing master. I rooted for Charlotte's feisty sister, Rosie, and for Harte, steadfast and reliable. Most of all though, I loved the love interest, Mr Woodstone. He's a bit like a (capable/sensible) Mr. Bingley. All warmth and charm and good intentions, plus a wiser head on his shoulders. As for Charlotte herself... I respected her and admired her perseverance and heart, but she has a knack for misunderstanding the words and intentions of those around her rivaled only by Katniss Everdeen. She makes a few several decisions I didn't agree with, but even then they were (mostly) understandable from her point of view. 

As with the best fairytale retellings, Bunce fleshed out the original well, and added twists that mesh will with both the original and her version. After reading her author's note, I was even more impressed. 

For Anglophiles, history buffs and fairytale fans.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Friends with Boys

Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

A coming-of-age tale with a spooky twist!

Maggie McKay hardly knows what to do with herself. After an idyllic childhood of homeschooling with her mother and rough-housing with her older brothers, it’s time for Maggie to face the outside world, all on her own. But that means facing high school first. And it also means solving the mystery of the melancholy ghost who has silently followed Maggie throughout her entire life. Maybe it even means making a new friend—one who isn’t one of her brothers.

Funny, surprising, and tender, Friends with Boys is a pitch perfect YA graphic novel full of spooky supernatural fun.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

There are so many perfect touches in this book- the snappy dialogue, the artwork, the family and friend dynamics, Maggie squeeing over Ripley (Alien, spluh), and the genuine emotion that never slips into melodrama. Hicks perfectly captures the terror of the first day of high school, life as a tomboy, and, from what I can infer from other reviews, the experience of having several older brothers. I loved every character in this graphic novel and can't wait to read more things from this author. Actually, I'd love to see her write for TV- now that we're starting to live in a more Whedon-inspired media 'verse (yay!), I would think that her ability to write an intelligent teen ensemble (with supernatural happenings!) would be a bonus.

Also, this was published by :01 First Second, my new favorite publisher. Some of their other graphic novels include American Born Chinese, Anya's Ghost, Zita the Spacegirl, Robot Dreams, The Color of Earth, and Sailor Twain: Mermaid in the Hudson. WOW.

A Bride's Story

A Bride's Story Volume One, by Kaoru Mori

Acclaimed creator Kaoru Mori (Emma, Shirley) brings the nineteenth-century Silk Road to lavish life, chronicling the story of Amir Halgal, a young woman from a nomadic tribe betrothed to a twelve-year-old boy eight years her junior. Coping with cultural differences, blossoming feelings for her new husband, and expectations from both her adoptive and birth families, Amir strives to find her role as she settles into a new life and a new home in a society quick to define that role for her. -Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

The art, people, the art. I wanted to make that word longer for emphasis, but it would be too piratical. But seriously. THE ART. 

Oh, and story and character and plot. Those are actually really good, too. The setting is so unique- Central Asia in the early 19th century. The costumes and other tribal things are amazing, and I love Amir's character. Despite being placed in an arranged marriage with a boy 8 years her junior (more on this later), she is upbeat, pleasant, and can shoot rabbits from the back of a horse. Damn. 

The family dynamics are fascinating, too, and the pacing is perfect, allowing the reader to become familiar with the unique characters and setting while enjoying nomadic slice of life episodes and tensions when an outside force threatens. Everything in the text and pictures blend perfectly to form a truly interesting whole. I'm not surprised, Mori was the mangaka responsible for Emma, another excellent historical manga/anime series. 

Buuuuuuuut, the relationship between Amir (20) and her child-husband (12), though historically accurate, sweet and mostly chaste, is, well, slightly icky to the modern sensibilities. It's not a huge deal and it's  not the focus of the story, but it's still jarring. 

Despite that, I'm hoping that a library in my consortium adds the subsequent volumes soon.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Curiousities: A Collection of Stories

The Curiousities: A Collection of Stories by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff

From acclaimed YA authors Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff comes The Curiosities: A Collection of Stories.

- A vampire locked in a cage in the basement, for good luck.
- Bad guys, clever girls, and the various reasons why the guys have to stop breathing.
- A world where fires never go out (with references to vanilla ice cream).

These are but a few of the curiosities collected in this volume of short stories by three acclaimed practitioners of paranormal fiction.

But The Curiosities is more than the stories. Since 2008, Maggie, Tessa, and Brenna have posted more than 250 works of short fiction to their website Their goal was simple: create a space for experimentation and improvisation in their writing—all in public and without a backspace key. In that spirit, The Curiosities includes the stories and each author's comments, critiques, and kudos in the margins. Think of it as a guided tour of the creative processes of three acclaimed authors.

So, are you curious now?
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

This book is really unique. Not only have all three authors (longtime friends and collaborators) chosen stories from their website, they've added notes (and doodles) to each other and readers in the margins! It's a nifty way to get a peek into their creative processes and friendship. There's also plenty of incidental tips for writers that I'd imagine would be helpful when writing fiction, and plenty of comments give additional insight into the stories. At one point Maggie Stiefvater describes the writing process in a way I'd never heard but immediately liked: "... a story is really a reverse telescope of narrowing opportunities. With every sentence you write, you reduce the number of paths open to you as a writer."

Every anthology is a bit of a mixed bag, but this was one of my favorites this year. The aforementioned caged vampire one was a standout, as was one about a viking's widow, a retelling of Snow White, a Halloween dumb supper, and my personal favorite, one that begins thusly: "I was created of beeswax and honey, with a butterfly for a heart. He should have used a spider or an iridescent beetle." Instant love. 

If you like a good fantasy anthology, this is a solid choice. If you are a fan of any one of these talented ladies and/or a writer, I would recommend this book even more highly.

For Darkness Shows the Stars

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

It's been several generations since a genetic experiment gone wrong caused the Reduction, decimating humanity and giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed most technology.

Elliot North has always known her place in this world. Four years ago Elliot refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, choosing duty to her family's estate over love. Since then the world has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists is jump-starting the wheel of progress, and Elliot's estate is foundering, forcing her to rent land to the mysterious Cloud Fleet, a group of shipbuilders that includes renowned explorer Captain Malakai Wentforth—an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliot wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot exactly what she gave up when she let him go.

But Elliot soon discovers her old friend carries a secret—one that could change their society... or bring it to its knees. And again, she's faced with a choice: cling to what she's been raised to believe, or cast her lot with the only boy she's ever loved, even if she's lost him forever.

Inspired by Jane Austen's Persuasion, For Darkness Shows the Stars is a breathtaking romance about opening your mind to the future and your heart to the one person you know can break it.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

Between the author, the premise, and the cover, this is one I've been waiting all year for. I was a little bit afraid it wouldn't live up to the hype, but it did!

First of all, I was really curious about how the Persuasion retelling would work, especially in this new setting. It's not my favorite Austen novel, mostly because I wish poor Anne would just show more Lizzie Bennett-esque spark. Luckily Elliot is a heroine I can root for. Intelligent, caring, and both fully aware and capable of taking on the responsibility of managing an estate despite her (seemingly) feckless father and sister (though not without difficulty or allies). She's not a washed out girl (or, to be fair, 27 year old) pining for lost opportunities but a resourceful young woman striving to hold onto her family's land for the sake of those in her care. 

Malakai Wentworth is a bit harder to warm to- often with good reason, but, eh. I was more interested in Eliot and the other characters, especially the admiral's mysterious wife, and in the setting in general. There's quite a lot of agriculture and industrialization and domesticity and noblesse oblige and social gatherings happening, too- perfect for the Austen flavor. Oh, and there are epistolary asides! Nice touch, Peterfreund.

The dystopian label is thrown around pretty liberally these days. I can see why this book is labelled as "dystopian," but please don't go into it expecting something like a government-toppling Regency space adventure (although I would also read that). More time is spent on character development, world-building and relationship tensions than questioning authority or uncovering the answers to menacing questions (namely, what the hell happened to all these Reduceds/Post-Reduceds??) I was a little bit disappointed by all this UNTIL I checked and saw that there will in fact be sequels. (And then I had a twinge of disappointment because other than the burning desire to know more about the calamity that changed the world, and a wish that Elliot's had pushed herself a bit harder in terms of idealogies/coming to grips with the moral issues of her society, the book is pretty complete unto itself).   

Fans of Austen, light dystopias, and even alternate history will find things to love here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Days of Blood and Starlight

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a world free of bloodshed and war.

This is not that world.

Art student and monster's apprentice Karou finally has the answers she has always sought. She knows who she is—and what she is. But with this knowledge comes another truth she would give anything to undo: She loved the enemy and he betrayed her, and a world suffered for it.

In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Karou must decide how far she'll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, secrets and impossible choices, Days of Blood & Starlight finds Karou and Akiva on opposing sides as an age-old war stirs back to life.

While Karou and her allies build a monstrous army in a land of dust and starlight, Akiva wages a different sort of battle: a battle for redemption. For hope.

But can any hope be salvaged from the ashes of their broken dream?
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads 

This was the book I was most excited for this year. Daughter of Smoke and Bone knocked me off my feet in 2010, and I've been dying to know what would happen to Karou, Akiva, and their worlds. So was it worth the wait and the hype?



This was a slow start for me. I wouldn't say I was expecting too much and was disappointed, I think I was just expecting a quicker pace, more answers, and the same magic & awe of the first book. I should have remembered how the first book ended, and realized I was in for a bitter war story. Instead of starry-eyed romance, glittering cityscapes, magical beasts and thrilling heroics, it's more of a fight for survival, and the fallout of the last book's ending. Which is in no way a bad thing. 

I won't go into much detail for fear of spoilers (for both books, really, but if you're a regular reader I know this is not the first time you've heard me gush about this series, so what's the holdup?? :p), but I will say that I am still completely in love with Karou, Akiva, this setting, and Taylor's writing. As an added bonus, Karou's friends Zuzana and Mik are back, and even better than I remembered them. I saw almost none of the plot twists coming, and once the book starts to pick up speed it does not let go. The villain in this piece is far and away better developed and more menacing than is the norm for YA lit, and he'll have your skin crawling more than once. (Actually this is true for both Big Bads). Oh, and the aforementioned romance, cityscapes, magical beasts and thrilling heroics? Don't worry, they're all in there, too.

If any of the series I've reviewed lives up to the name of this blog, it's this one. FANTASTIC.

Friday, November 16, 2012


Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

Griffins are supposed to be extinct. So when Yukiko and her warrior father Masaru are sent to capture one for the Shogun, they fear that their lives are over. Everyone knows what happens to those who fail him, no matter how hopeless the task.

But the mission proves far less impossible, and far more deadly, than anyone expects – and soon Yukiko finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in her country's last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled griffin for company. But trapped together in the forest, Yukiko and Buruu soon discover a friendship that neither of them expected.

Meanwhile, the country around them verges on the brink of collapse. A toxic fuel is slowly choking the land; the omnipotent, machine-powered Lotus Guild is publicly burning those they deem Impure; and the Shogun cares about nothing but his own dominion. Yukiko has always been uneasy in the shadow of power, when she learns the awful truth of what the Shogun has done, both to her country and to her own family she's determined to do something about it.

Returning to the city, Yukiko and Buruu plan to make the Shogun pay for his crimes – but what can one girl and a flightless griffin do against the might of an empire?
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

Chances are, you will either love this book or dash it against your wall in a fit of rage. I happened to love it, which earned it a review here, so I'll try to talk about that first before getting to the caveats and addendums. 

This book was fun. And cool. And had lots of nifty things. The set pieces are amazing- Kristoff describes each new scene in such a detailed fashion that I really felt like I could see the whole detailed picture. There are just so many cool details here: the clan tattoos, the mostly familiar mythology (Oni, for one, which are pretty damn intimidating) but also new creatures (Thunder Tigers). Yukiko is a well-executed blend of kickass katana wielder and griffin-loving girl. The baddies are very, very bad and the world-building is exhaustive. Battles are exciting, relationships emotional, and Buruu is just fantastic. Here is an "interview" with him that won't give anything away. This was a world I really enjoyed getting to know and I'm eagerly awaiting the sequel.

Ok, now on to the controversial stuff. So, Kristoff borrows very, very heavily from Japanese mythology, fashion, music, military history, and language to build his fictional world of Shima. For many readers, the phrase "Japanese steampunk" will probably be irresistible. However, these are also the people most likely to take exceptions to some of the quirks in this book. Here are the biggest that I noticed while reading and subsequently looking at other reviews:

1. "Hai" is used as a universal substitute for "yes."
2. "Sama" is used on its own, not always as a suffix
3. Some concepts are used a bit cavalierly, like when Yukiko "throws on a light kimono"

If this list has you foaming at the mouth, just chill, and find a different book. It's ok. There's plenty of good stuff out there (although, sadly, probably not very much Japanese steampunk). These things didn't bother me too much, partially because I'm not an East Asian studies major and also because, look, it's Kristoff's world and it's not Japan so WHO CARES. It's very probably intentional- he never has characters refer to each other as "Chan" or "San," so I think he understands how honorific suffixes work and just thought he'd use "Sama" as a way to address some characters. No biggie. 

There are a few more criticisms I could make- the descriptions do go a bit overboard sometimes, and the plot is a bit slighter than I would like, but honestly? I don't care. It was still a fun read that left me wanting more and I would highly recommend this one despite a few flaws.

Something Strange and Deadly

Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

The year is 1876, and there’s something strange and deadly loose in Philadelphia…

Eleanor Fitt has a lot to worry about. Her brother has gone missing, her family has fallen on hard times, and her mother is determined to marry her off to any rich young man who walks by. But this is nothing compared to what she’s just read in the newspaper—

The Dead are rising in Philadelphia.

And then, in a frightening attack, a zombie delivers a letter to Eleanor…from her brother.

Whoever is controlling the Dead army has taken her brother as well. If Eleanor is going to find him, she’ll have to venture into the lab of the notorious Spirit-Hunters, who protect the city from supernatural forces. But as Eleanor spends more time with the Spirit-Hunters, including their maddeningly stubborn yet handsome inventor, Daniel, the situation becomes dire. And now, not only is her reputation on the line, but her very life may hang in the balance.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

Well, that pretty much sums it up. There's a lot to like here- steampunky devices, an increasingly plucky heroine, shuffling corpses, and some pretty Baritsu-tastic fight scenes (short of a cricket bat, a parasol might be my new favorite zombie weapon). There's also a lot of talk about electricity, especially in terms of battling the undead, which makes me long for a book with Tesla traveling the world fighting eldritch forces of supernatural dread.

The writing reminded me a bit of the fan-fiction flavor shared by another YA steampunk book: The Girl in the Steel Corset. However, where that was a bit of let-down, I enjoyed this one much more, and I liked it more as I got further into it. Speaking of readalikes, if you enjoyed Masque of the Red Death (the Bethany Griffin YA book, not the Poe novella) you would probably also enjoy Something Strange.

It's not a zombie book either- I've seen some reviews where readers were disappointed on that score. It's more alternate history with necromancy, voodoo and some new concepts for good measure. For those who enjoy well-researched period pieces with a twist, this is a great series opener.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente

September has longed to return to Fairyland after her first adventure there. And when she finally does, she learns that its inhabitants have been losing their shadows—and their magic—to the world of Fairyland Below. This underworld has a new ruler: Halloween, the Hollow Queen, who is September’s shadow. And Halloween does not want to give Fairyland’s shadows back. 

Fans of Valente’s bestselling, first Fairyland book will revel in the lush setting, characters, and language of September’s journey, all brought to life by fine artist Ana Juan. Readers will also welcome back good friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. But in Fairyland Below, even the best of friends aren’t always what they seem... -Plot summary borrowed from Amazon

I don't think I can overstate how utterly and madly I love this series. It's like going home. It's like reading a book in a dream that is so exactly what I long for in a book that it couldn't possibly exist upon waking. It just needs need to be read.

It's been almost a year since September's first adventure in Fairyland, and she's a bit more grown up in this one- the action begins on her thirteenth birthday. Much was made in the first book about children being heartless:

 "All children are Heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb high trees and say shocking things and leap so very high grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one. But, as in their reading and arithmetic and drawing, different children proceed at different speeds. (It is well known that reading quickens the growth of a heart like nothing else.) Some small ones are terrible and fey, Utterly Heartless. Some are dear and sweet and Hardly Heartless At All." 

This time around September has definitely begun to grow into her heart, and compassion, sympathy, love, betrayal, and forgiveness are major themes for our heroine to contend with. That being said, while September has matured in some ways and much of the novel is pretty dark both literally and figuratively, the novel itself is seems just a bit more whimsical than its predecessor, more Phantom Tollbooth and less "through a glass darkly." (On a third hand, Valente makes no bones about the fact that these books are partially spiritual sequels to Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass respectively, so there are lots of satisfying references to chess, queens, knights, mirror images and so forth this time around).

There are new companions and old friends, riddles to solve, glorious puns, and prose you just want to roll around in to soak up all the lovely imagery. It's hard for sequels to match up to the first in a series, especially ones so beloved by many, but I think Valente has done an excellent job of expanding her world and allowing her protagonist to grow and explore while still making the reader feel at home. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride

Sam leads a pretty normal life. He may not have the most exciting job in the world, but he's doing all right—until a fast food prank brings him to the attention of Douglas, a creepy guy with an intense violent streak.

Turns out Douglas is a necromancer who raises the dead for cash and sees potential in Sam. Then Sam discovers he’s a necromancer too, but with strangely latent powers. And his worst nightmare wants to join forces . . . or else.

With only a week to figure things out, Sam needs all the help he can get. Luckily he lives in Seattle, which has nearly as many paranormal types as it does coffee places. But even with newfound friends, will Sam be able to save his skin?
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

Hurray, more irreverent supernatural happenings/paranormal investigation/ensemble fun! This book is filled to bursting with music references, laugh out loud moments, bizarre dialogue ("So, you're telling me the zoo commissioned you to make a zombie panda in order to avoid a potential international incident."), supernatural beings, setting-specific Seattle details, and waffles. 

I really enjoyed this book, especially believable drop-out Sam and tough as nails were-pack-leader-to-be Brid, but there were a few first book bumps (POV characters narrated some chapters I wasn't especially interested in which sometimes slowed Sam's more interesting plot, etc). Happily, from peeking at a few reviews of the sequel, Necromancing the Stone, McBride's second offering is a bit more polished.

If you liked some of the other books I've reviewed like The Raven Boys, Paranormalcy, or Anna Dressed in Blood, or if your idea of TV goodness includes True Blood and Dead Like Me, give this snarky series-opener a shot.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron

Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron edited by Jonathan Strahan

Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, Diana Peterfreund, Margo Lanagan, Peter S. Beagle, and Garth Nix are just a few of the authors who have toiled over their cauldrons and conjured up bewitching new creations inspired by and celebrating the might and mystery of the witch. Assembled by one of the most well-regarded anthologists in the science fiction/fantasy world, this rich, intelligent collection will enchant readers of all ages. -Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

I have been itching to read this book since I saw the list of contributors (which also includes Charles de Lint, Tanith Lee, Delia Sherman, Jim Butcher and Jane Yolen among others) and the gorgeous cover. I'm happy to say that I was not disappointed!

Every short story collection is a bit of a mixed bag, but after the slightly underwhelming collection of vampire stories called Teeth, I was pleasantly surprised by these shorts. I liked or loved nearly all of them, and there were only two that I skimmed over. This was a really fun, witchy read that introduced me to several new (to me) authors to keep an eye on. Fly on over to your local library and grab a copy today!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

October Love

Could there be a better time to curl up with a book? You can read under a tree gone all sorts of beautiful colors, in a warm sweater and with some tea in a thermos. You could read by a roaring fire while it pours outside. Now is the perfect time for adventures, ghost stories, and old favorites. What are you waiting for?

"Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns."
~George Eliot

"There is a harmony in autumn, and a luster in its sky, which through the summer is not heard or seen, as if it could not be, as if it had not been!"
~Percy Bysshe Shelley

“There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir, We must rise and follow her; When from every hill of flame, She calls and calls each vagabond by name.”
~William Bliss Carman

“I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.”
~Henry David Thoreau

“October is the fallen leaf, but it is also a wider horizon more clearly seen. It is the distant hills once more in sight, and the enduring constellations above them once again.”
~Hal Borland

“I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
~ L.M. Montgomery

"It was, as I have said, a fine autumnal day; the sky was clear and serene, and nature wore that rich and golden livery which we always associate with the idea of abundance. The forests had put on their sober brown and yellow, while some trees of the tendered kind had been nipped by the frosts into brilliant dyes of orange, purple, and scarlet."
~Washington Irving

“Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves,
We have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!”
~Humbert Wolfe

“October is crisp days and cool nights, a time to curl up around the dancing flames and sink into a good book.”
~John Sinor

Monday, October 15, 2012

Girl of Nightmares

Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake

It's been months since the ghost of Anna Korlov opened a door to Hell in her basement and disappeared into it, but ghost-hunter Cas Lowood can't move on.

His friends remind him that Anna sacrificed herself so that Cas could live—not walk around half dead. He knows they're right, but in Cas's eyes, no living girl he meets can compare to the dead girl he fell in love with.

Now he's seeing Anna everywhere: sometimes when he's asleep and sometimes in waking nightmares. But something is very wrong...these aren't just daydreams. Anna seems tortured, torn apart in new and ever more gruesome ways every time she appears.

Cas doesn't know what happened to Anna when she disappeared into Hell, but he knows she doesn't deserve whatever is happening to her now. Anna saved Cas more than once, and it's time for him to return the favor. -
Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

Oh how I love it when a sequel stacks up for a first installment! Everything I loved from Anna Dressed in Blood was back in spades- Cas' snarky, hardboiled paranormal investigator narration, the Scooby dynamic shared by Cas and best friends Thomas and Carmel, an increasingly developed supernatural world, and some serious scares. There's a scene in what's known as the Suicide Forest that scared the pants off me. Yikes. 

There's no official word on a third book, but I seriously doubt we've seen the last of Cas, his friends, his witchy mom, or the world they inhabit. Hurray!

Definitely don't read this without reading the first in the series, but I wholeheartedly recommend both.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Teeth: Vampire Tales

Teeth: Vampire Tales edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

The first bite is only the beginning.

Twenty of today's favorite writers explore the intersections between the living, dead, and undead. Their vampire tales range from romantic to chilling to gleeful—and touch on nearly every emotion in between.

Neil Gaiman's vampire-poet in "Bloody Sunrise" is brooding, remorseful, and lonely. Melissa Marr's vampires make a high-stakes game of possession and seduction in "Transition." And in "Why Light?" Tanith Lee's lovelorn vampires yearn most of all for the one thing they cannot have—daylight. Drawn from folk traditions around the world, popular culture, and original interpretations, the vampires in this collection are enticingly diverse.

But reader beware: The one thing they have in common is their desire for blood. . . . -Summary borrowed from Barnes & Noble

I was thrilled when I saw that Datlow and Windling had put together a collection of vampire themed stories. Their collections are almost always stellar, and their Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest and The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm are two of my very favorite story collections. I was also intrigued by the number of contributing authors that I'm a fan of: Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, Catherynne M. Valente, Garth Nix, Emma Bull, Delia Sherman, and more. Also, vampires! Hurray!!

All that being said, I wish I could say I love this book. Don't get me wrong- I really liked it, it was good seasonal reading, and some of the stories really stood out ("Baby" by Kathe Koja is one of the creepiest things I've read in a long time, I would be thrilled to read a novel length sequel to Delia Sherman's circus themed story, "Flying," and "Late Bloomer" by Suzy McKee Charnas was poignant and explored a facet of vampirism I'd never thought much about/seen explored this way elsewhere). And hey, maybe someone without a pile of other books to read clamoring for their attention would be able to settle down and enjoy this collection as much as I wanted to.

If you're looking for a new vampire read, or if you're looking for some new authors and would like to get a sample of many at once, or if you're a big fan of any of the authors mentioned, OR if you just think the cover is nifty, I would recommend this book.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Diviners

The Diviners by Libba Bray

Evie O'Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City--and she is pos-i-toot-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult--also known as "The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies."

When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killer--if he doesn't catch her first.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

I almost passed this one by. 1920s? New York? Eh, cool, but not really my thing. But I kept being drawn back in by The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult- and I'm really, really glad.

This book has pretty nearly everything I love. It captures the chilly, haunting, exhilarating feeling of fall. It's bursting with lore, legends, creepiness, urban legends, folklore, and mythology. The historical setting is fully realized, vibrant, detailed, and dovetails perfectly with the plot and characters. Bray could have chosen any setting, but the frantic energy of New York City between the World Wars, full of dream chasers, immigrants, the haves and have nots, the old and the new, is crucial to the story. There are murderers, psychics, flappers, professors, doomsday cults and newsies. For the first time in a long time, I felt completely connected to a full set of diverse, complex, unique characters, and was as invested in their stories as the plot. 

Speaking of which, the plot is fantastic. Despite a length of 575 pages, I never felt tempted to skip ahead. Instead, I would go back and re-read passages to soak up all the prose and to make sure I didn't miss any clues to a character's past or the mystery unfolding. It never seemed like things were moving too slowly, and Bray almost perfectly balanced the tricky task of answering some questions while leading the reader to ask others. 

Finally, Bray gets massive kudos from me for pulling one of the hardest feats in young adult literature- writing an authentic, believable, lovable and strong female protagonist. I'm more than a little in love with Evie right now. She's feisty, resourceful, clever, reckless, caring, vulnerable and strong all at the same time. So many books I've read this year have had passable but not incredibly memorable characters-  Hemlock, Under the Never Sky, Cinder- but The Diviners is different. Evie is phenomenal, and I found myself caring very nearly as much about gentle giant Jericho, an aspiring Harlem poet/healer named Memphis, wild child Theta, and others.

Do not miss this book. 

Some other books you might enjoy:

Teen Books Coming to a Screen Near You!

Since the Harry Potter franchise has run out of movies, the Twilight saga is about to end, and there are only so many Hunger Games films to make, studios are looking for their next Big Thing. Here are some of the movies/shows to look out for in the coming months/years:

The Selection by Kiera Cass

One of the many dystopian lite novels to debut post Hunger Games, this is the story of a girl who is chosen by lottery to compete in a televised competition for the hand of a prince. 300 years in the future, elaborate caste system, suspect leaders, etc. The writers look promising: Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain have written for major shows including Angel, The Shield, Dollhouse and The Vampire Diaries. Look for this one midseason 2013 on the CW.

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Appearing first as a novel in 1999, then a film and manga series, this is the brutal story of teens being forced to fight to the death in a televised event. Sound familiar? Many have claimed, with varying degrees of cynicism, that this is where Suzanne Collins found her inspiration for The Hunger Games. The similarities are clear, and while there are also plenty of differences, it's easy to see why the CW might be interested in releasing another series in the "Televised Teens Slaughter Each Other" oeuvre. (If you haven't already, check out the original Japanese film, it's definitely worth watching). There is no set deal in place, but a Battle Royale series sounds like a strong possibility.


City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

So far this is the most certain project on the list. Slated for an August 2013 release, a film adaptation is already in production for this highly popular opener to Clare's The Mortal Instruments series. Harald Zwart is directing, and the cast includes Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Maillet, Robert Sheehan, Godfrey Gao, Lena Headey (Queen Cersei herself!), Aidan Turner (Mitchell! *swoon* If you haven't watched the original, best, and English version of Being Human, close your browser immediately and do so. You can thank me later), Jared Harris, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. I haven't read this series myself, but I think I might have to if the movie is going to star some of my very favorite people (Aidan Turner, fwaa!)

Divergent by Veronica Roth

And the dystopias just keep on coming! Look for a film adaptation of Roth's immensely popular series beginning in May 2014. No word on the cast yet, but this movie is being produced by the same studio responsible for Twilight, so you can bet that they are fully aware of the cash-cow potential here and will look to draw some big names.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

For those of you who prefer paranormal romance to dystopian fiction, look for this story of love and werewolves coming out in 2014.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The film adaptation of this teen dystopian novel (surprised? Me neither) seems to be stuck in development hell without a green light at the moment, but Fox has the rights to this adaptation, and supposedly a script has been written and Wes Ball as been hired to direct.

Matched by Ally Condie

Even before the first book in the series was published, Disney purchased the rights for a film adaptation of this romantic dystopia-lite story. David Slade (The Twilight Saga: Eclipse) is the director and Kieran Mulroney (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) is doing the screenplay. No cast announcements as of yet.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Last but certainly not least is the long-awaited movie version of a classic sci-fi teen book.  Gavin Hood (the most recognizable movie on his resume is X-Men Origins Wolverine... I'll try not to hold that against him) wrote the screenplay and is the director, and the cast has some massive A-listers including Abigail Breslin, Ben Kingsley, and Harrison "MFing Han Solo" Ford. Ender is being played by Asa Butterfield, who you may remember from his fantastic turn in Hugo. Of all the names on this list, I think this is the one to watch out for.

Personally I would walk over hot coals for a tv show based on Libba Bray's The Diviners (review coming very soon) and, if they promised very solemnly to do it right, I would LOVE to see a film adaptation of Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

What do you think? Anything I missed, or any books that you would like to see turned into tv shows/movies?