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.