Friday, August 31, 2012

The Magicians

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Quentin Coldwater is brillant but miserable. He's a senior in high school, and a certifiable genius, but he's still secretly obsessed with a series of fantasy novels he read as a kid, about the adventures of five children in a magical land called Fillory. Compared to that, anything in his real life just seems gray and colorless.

Everything changes when Quentin finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the practice of modern sorcery. He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. But something is still missing. Magic doesn't bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he though it would.

Then, after graduation, he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

One of the most common quick and dirty summaries for this book is "Harry Potter with college kids." While this is a bland generalization, it's also damn accurate in that it does deal with students at a magical university, and, more to the point, was written for fantasy fans. However. This is a love it or hate it book, and if you go into it looking for the same familiar, comfortable, escapist tropes of many fantasy books, you're in for a rude awakening. 

When I say this is a book for fantasy fans, I mean that it is a book written about a character who is one. Quentin has fallen irrevocably in love with a Narnia-esque series, and has convinced himself that his real life is a pale imitation of what it could be. If only magic were real. If only he could break through the wardrobe, onto Platform 9 3/4, down the rabbbit hole. Then, oh, then he would be happy. 

(If you have never had this thought, then I'm not entirely sure what you're doing reading this blog.)

The greatness of this book is how relatable Quentin is. Even if when you want to smack him in the face for being such a self-centered whiner, it's fascinating to see someone who grew up reading about magic dealing with it. It's impossible not to wonder how you would fare at Brakebills, if you would be satisfied, or if, like Quentin, you'd have to start coping with the fact that in life, getting what you want is so often not the happy ending you were banking on. 

The story is a little bit dark, often cynical, and will challenge how you view fantasy. The magic here is that Grossman pulls all that off while reminding you why you love fantasy in the first place. He's not taking snarky jabs at a genre he doesn't care for- he's just giving you a peek behind the curtain. 

(One more note on the tone: Grossman has stated that he was depressed while reading this book, and that after treatment, is a much happier person. I am very interested to see how this affects the next books in the series)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Visitor's Guide to Mystic Falls

A Visitor's Guide to Mystic Falls: Your Favorite Authors on The Vampire Diaries by

I've read and liked other collections of essays before (Buffy, Ballads and Bad Guys Who Sing: Music in the Worlds of Joss Whedon, and The Girl Who Was on Fire: Your Favorite Authors on Suzanne Collin's Hunger Games Trilogy were also excellent), but this book shines for its skillful combination of insighful, academic, and just plain fun aspects. One of my favorite entries was from the point of two female fans debating Team Stefan VS. Team Damon. By comparing the Romantic Hero to the Gothic Hero. And summoning the ghosts of Jane Austen and Emily Brontë. It's called "In Which Our Intrepid Heroines Discuss the Merits of the Bad Boy Versus the Reformed Bay Boy with the Help of a Couple of Dead Women Who Know About Such Things" and it is fantastic.

Some of my other favorite essays include a scathing review of Stefan's supposed nobility by Diana Peterfreund, an essay praising Elena's character and ability to hold her own despite being 1/3 of a fangy love triangle by Sarah Rees Brennan, and Jennifer Lynn Barnes look at the overlooked Caroline.

This book was written with just one season to work with- now that the fifth season is set to air in a few months and there is far more material to to draw from, I am very much hoping for a sequel.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Team Human

Team Human by

Just because Mel lives in New Whitby, a city founded by vampires, doesn't mean she knows any of the blood-drinking undead personally. They stay in their part of town; she says in hers. Until the day a vampire shows up at her high school. Worse yet, her best friend, Cathy, seems to be falling in love with him. It's up to Mel to save Cathy from a mistake she might regret for all eternity

On top of trying to help Cathy (whether she wants it or not), Mel is investigating a mysterious disappearance for another friend and discovering the attractions of a certain vampire wannabe. Combine all this with a cranky vampire cop, a number of unlikely romantic entanglements, and the occasional zombie, and soon Mel is hip-deep in an adventure that is equal parts hilarious and touching.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

I don't even know where to start with this review, because I loved the whole damn book. It's snarky, it's clever, it's got fascinating and original world building, it's funny and scary and just so freaking good. From some descriptions, I thought it was a Twilight parody, and there are some elements of that (Mel's best friend Cathy does fall hard and fast for the vampire new kid at school, who is suitably broody and pale), but mostly it does its own thing. There are some really awesome sequences in this book- all of Mel's eyerolling/genuine concern while Cathy and Francis (yup) make googly eyes at each other, her breaking into a vampire's house with unexpected results, a trip to the Center for Vamps That Came Out Wrong, and a heart-pounding conclusion. If you're going to read one paranormal YA book this year, read this one.

Monday, August 13, 2012


Hemlock by Kathleen Peacock

Mackenzie and Amy were best friends. Until Amy was brutally murdered.

Since then, Mac's life has been turned upside down. She is being haunted by Amy in her dreams, and an extremist group called the Trackers has come to Mac's hometown of Hemlock to hunt down Amy's killer:

A white werewolf.

Lupine syndrome--also known as the werewolf virus--is on the rise across the country. Many of the infected try to hide their symptoms, but bloodlust is not easy to control.

Wanting desperately to put an end to her nightmares, Mac decides to investigate Amy's murder herself. She discovers secrets lurking in the shadows of Hemlock, secrets about Amy's boyfriend, Jason, her good pal Kyle, and especially her late best friend. Mac is thrown into a maelstrom of violence and betrayal that puts her life at risk.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

I've read a few YA werewolf books this year (the other two being Raised by Wolves and Nightshade) and this one is probably my favorite of the three. That being said, it reads very much like a CW drama, just not one quite up to the standards of The Vampire Diaries. There's plenty to like- side characters are well-drawn, the friendships/relationships of the characters are believable, and most of all, Peacock has delved pretty deeply into what might happen to werewolves in our world, including detention centers, anti-wolf propaganda, a political group/cult/Westboro-Baptistish group of hunters (think more Texan border patrol wingnuts than actual, capable, Winchestery hunters). In fact, I think I would rather have read the story that focused more on that and a bit on the mystery of Amy's death, rather than leaning so heavily on the romance that teetered dangerously close to a love triangle at times. But that's ok.

Also, if this author isn't a major Veronica Mars fan, I would be shocked. The town is painfully divided between the haves and the have nots (there's even a well-intentioned/honorable in his own way gang kid *coughWeevilCough*), a Damaged Pretty Rich Boy whose past/present relationship dynamics seem oddly familiar (rhymes with Wogan), and frequent visions of the departed best friend character urging the protagonist to solve her murder (oh, and also, she had been dating the DPRB). Hmm. None of this is meant as a criticism, really, it just seemed extremely familiar.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Keeping the Castle

Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl

Seventeen-year-old Althea is the sole support of her entire family, and she must marry well. But there are few wealthy suitors--or suitors of any kind--in their small Yorkshire town of Lesser Hoo. Then, the young and attractive (and very rich) Lord Boring arrives, and Althea sets her plans in motion. There's only one problem; his friend and business manager Mr. Fredericks keeps getting in the way. And, as it turns out, Fredericks has his own set of plans... -Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

Here is another book that has been likened to Jane Austen's novels (as well as another favorite of mine, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith). This time, it's done in a much more self-aware, tongue-in-cheek way, without feeling like either a mean spirited satire or a watered-down knock-off. You'll probably know from the opening sequence if this is a book for you:

We were walking in the castle garden. The silvery light of early spring streaked across the grass, transforming the overgrown shrubbery into a place of magic and romance. He had begged me for a few moments of privacy, to “discuss a matter of great importance.” By this I assumed he meant to make an offer of marriage.

“I love you Althea—you are so beautiful,” murmured the young man in my ear.

Well, I was willing enough. I looked up at him from under my eyelashes. “I love you too,” I confessed. I averted my gaze and added privately, “You are so rich.”

Unfortunately, I apparently said this out loud, if just barely, and his hearing was sharper than one would expect, given his other attributes.

Te he. And don't worry, Althea is not really a gold-digger. Well, she sort of is, but mostly because she's trying her hardest to maintain her family's livelihood and, well, how else was she to manage? She is very clever, as well as fiercely protective of her family/estate and extremely capable- while still being pleasantly cranky and more than a little dense when it comes to actual romance.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Kat, Incorrigible

Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis

Katherine Ann Stephenson has just discovered that she's inherited her mother's magical talents, and despite Stepmama's stern objections, she's determined to learn how to use them. But with her eldest sister Elissa's intended fiancé, the sinister Sir Neville, showing a dangerous interest in Kat's magical potential; her other sister, Angeline, wreaking romantic havoc with her own witchcraft; and a highwayman lurking in the forest, even Kat's reckless heroism will be tested to the upmost. If she can learn to control her new powers, will Kat be able to rescue her family and win her sisters their true love? -Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

Ok, my last few books were fairly dark and/or heavy reads, so here is one that is light, fun and clever. It's Jane Austen, with witches! A plucky heroine! Magic cupboards! A Regency house party! Highwaymen! There is nothing here not to love. The three sisters are all well-drawn individuals, strong in their own unique ways, and Kat's appeal just grows as the book goes on (her dramatics at the ball and subsequent adventures are a highlight of the story). For all those Pride and Prejudice fans who love a little magic in their stories, this one will be a hit.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield

Becca has always longed to break free from her small, backwater hometown. But the discovery of an unidentified dead girl on the side of a dirt road sends the town--and Becca--into a tailspin. Unable to make sense of the violence of the outside world creeping into her backyard, Becca finds herself retreating inward, paralyzed from moving forward for the first time in her life.

Short chapters detailing the last days of Amelia Anne Richardson's life are intercut with Becca's own summer as the parallel stories of two young women struggling with self-identity and relationships on the edge twist the reader closer and closer to the truth about Amelia's death. -
Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

One word: atmosphere. This book will transport you to the sticky, cicada whirring, screen door slamming town with murder on its mind. There is something very invasive about this book, and it's no stretch to imagine the oppressive, threatening air of the story. It works on several levels: teen relationship angst, murder mystery, small town strangeness. Add an arresting cover and you have an engrossing summer read.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Green Angel

Green Angel by Alice Hoffman

Left on her own when her family dies in a terrible disaster, fifteen-year-old Green is haunted by loss and by the past. Struggling to survive physically and emotionally in a place where nothing seems to grow and ashes are everywhere, Green retreats into the ruined realm of her garden. But in destroying her feelings, she also begins to destroy herself, erasing the girl she'd once been as she inks darkness into her skin. It is only through a series of mysterious encounters that Green can relearn the lessons of love and begin to heal enough to tell her story. -Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

This is one of my very favorite books of all time. It is so hauntingly beautiful, achingly sad, and still suffused with hope. The prose is steeped in imagery, but it never feels overdone or flowery to me. This is one of those books where the physical construction of the book matters. It's written in green ink, and there's something that feels very right about its compact size and creamy paper (if you read the hardcover edition, which I highly recommend). It's a short but intense read that will stay with you for a long time.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Miseducation of Cameron Post

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

When Cameron Post's parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief they'll never know that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl.

But that relief doesn't last, and Cam is soon forced to move in with her conservative aunt Ruth and her well-intentioned but hopelessly old-fashioned grandmother. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and leaving well enough alone (as her grandmother might say), and Cam becomes an expert at both.

Then Coley Taylor moves to town. Beautiful, pickup-driving Coley is a perfect cowgirl with the perfect boyfriend to match. She and Cam forge an unexpected and intense friendship--one that seems to leave room for something more to emerge. But just as that starts to seem like a real possibility, ultrareligious Aunt Ruth takes drastic action to "fix" her niece, bringing Cam face-to-face with the cost of denying her true self--even if she's not exactly sure who that is. -
Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

Wow. Just, wow. This book was amazing. I had been in kind of a slump with YA books, feeling like too many of them were too fluffy and sweet and just not very authentic. This book was a welcome reminder that teen literature, at is best, is often brutally, scarily honest and pulls no punches. Cameron is 100% believable and while this fairly long book depends almost entirely on inner character development, it still grabs ahold of you and won't let you put it down. For anyone who is having/ had a tough time as a teen (so, basically, everyone ever), there are many aspects of this book that will ring true.