Monday, December 16, 2013

My Nerd Wishes for 2014

I had a lot of fun putting my list together last year, and a lot of them actually came true! Or at least half true- S.H.I.E.L.D. was picked up, but is neither awesome nor Whedony, at least not yet, and while Community did return, it was a soulless mockery of itself. But that's ok because!

10) Dan Harmon's return will put an end to the Darkest Timeline. This is not so much a wish as it is a dearly held belief.

9) S.H.I.E.L.D. to get better. There's so much potential, but so far it's lacking that essential spark and I just don't care about anyone other than Coulson most of the time.

8) The chance to go back to NYCC. I went this year and it was amazing and even better than last time (Sleepy Hollow cast! Spirited feminist debates! Hugs and love from John Barrowman!). Here's hoping the third time is the best so far.

7) To not say appallingly stupid things to the Supernatural cast at the con I'm going to in September. Or to swoon during my photo op with "Sam" and "Dean."

6) This is pretty vague, but more movies that say "feh" to traditional gender roles and romantic tropes. Pacific Rim was a really fun surprise, partially for this reason, and everything I've heard about Frozen is encouraging.

5)  For the Daughter of Smoke and Bone film adaptation that's in the works to do the book justice. I would say it's not that hard, but it kind of is, which is why I'm not even cautiously excited that there's going to be a movie in the first place. Just, could we not? Thanks.

4) More Simon Pegg and Nick Frost collaborations, ideally with Edgar Wright.

3) For Sleepy Hollow to continue being the breakneck whirlwind of supernatural cheese, ethnic diversity, pair bonding and gleeful insanity that we've come to know and love. With Orlando Jones with his finger on the fandom pulse, I think we're in safe hands.

2) A live-action miniseries with the Eighth Doctor. I don't want to hear your reasonable excuses. He was back for The Night of the Doctor and people loved it so la la la la la.....

And finally:

1) A female-led comic book movie because COME THE HELL ON ALREADY. Marvel please, I don't trust DC with this.

What's on your nerdy wish list this year?

Top Ten Teen Books of 2013

It's that time of year again! Time to agonize over picking my ten favorite books this year, and then find ways to cheat slightly to include a few more. ;-)

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

Actually, I had a bit of trouble putting together this list because so many of my favorite books this year were firmly in the Adult category. Still, plenty, like this one, have broader appeal. While the movie is fun, and it's great to have an addition to the ZomRomCom genre, the book outstrips it by a mile. Contemplative, horrifying, and emotionally resonant for a generation, Warm Bodies should definitely claw its way onto your reading list.

 I mentioned the cheating, right? Here's a big one- the ninth spot on my list belongs to the collections of critical essays based around popular TV shows that I've read this year. It's been a big year for fandoms, and what better way to celebrate than by delving deeper into the history, psychology, and cultural relevance of your favorite Time Lord, Vampire Slayer, Hunter or Browncoat?

Again with the cheating. Last one though. Probably.

I'm giving the Eighth spot, and I swear that this was actually a coincidence, to the Big Finish audio stories featuring the Doctor's  Eighth incarnation, as voiced by Paul McGann. This year marks the show's 50th anniversary, so it seems fitting to include them. Even if you've  never tried audiobooks before, these can be a fun introduction as they're really more radio plays with multiple actors, many well-known to Whovians. I highly recommend a viewing of the (cheesy but lovable) 1996 Doctor Who movie, then listening to some of these audios. Fair warning: you will fall head over heels in love with Eight's "Edwardian Adventuress" companion, the fantasic Charley Pollard.

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Aaaand, back to the teen books! Series are a fact of life in the realm of teen lit, and this can sometimes be wearying, so it's always a pleasant surprise to find books that you actually can't wait for the next installment of. With engaging characters, an increasing amount of magic, and enough quippy banter for any CW-hardened fan of genre fiction, these books are a fun ride that I wholeheartedly recommend.

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente

Speaking of series that you're actually excited for! If you've seen this blog before you know I turn into a babbling sack of enthusiastic superlatives where the Fairyland series is concerned, so I'll spare you. If you haven't already, please start this series. It's waiting to welcome you with open arms and a fresh pot of spiced tea.

Another Little Piece by Kate Karus Quinn

Not my usual, but I really enjoyed this creeptastic bit of madness and body horror. Recommended for fans of Stephen King.
The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna

I feel like there's a shortage of good sci-fi being released for teens. Maybe that's just because I don't read enough sci-fi in general to be on top of these things, but so much of it seems like quickly churned out dystopian filler. Not so here, where the focus is on the ethical issues of cloning, and the story plays out in an all-too-possible future. It's chilling and uplifting and really makes you think- exactly as good science fiction needs to.

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

English. Snarky. Magical. Mysterious. Romantic. Gothic. Funny. Yes good.

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

I struggled with this spot, and almost had it be a tie with Ashfall (which is one of the only YA books with a male protagonist I've read this year, and was a damn good story to boot), but I decided I'd done enough cheating. Besides, this one feels that little bit more unique, even if it is perhaps a bit less polished. I've had just about enough dystopian novels, but this one, which happens on the outskirts and to everyday people, made things interesting again. Bleak but powerful, this is an intriguing portrayal of survival and love in the face of overwhelming odds.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

I had despaired of vampires ever being even tolerable in a YA novel again. And then this happened. Sexy and scary by turns, exactly as the best vampire lit should be, this is a fun ride into a dark and glittering world of ballgowns, teenage angst, shameless media consumption, marketing, death and romance. This is my kind of vampire book people, and it might just be yours as well.

And there you have it! Not as many books as I was completely in love with as some previous years- and as much as I love The Dream Thieves and The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, the inclusion of two series installments on this list is telling.

What made your top ten list this year?

Night of Cake and Puppets

Night of Cake and Puppets by Laini Taylor

In Night of Cake & Puppets, Taylor brings to life a night only hinted at in the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy—the magical first date of fan-favorites Zuzana and Mik. Told in alternating perspectives, it’s the perfect love story for fans of the series and new readers alike. Petite though she may be, Zuzana is not known for timidity. Her best friend, Karou, calls her “rabid fairy,” her “voodoo eyes” are said to freeze blood, and even her older brother fears her wrath. But when it comes to the simple matter of talking to Mik, or “Violin Boy,” her courage deserts her. Now, enough is enough. Zuzana is determined to meet him, and she has a fistful of magic and a plan. It’s a wonderfully elaborate treasure hunt of a plan that will take Mik all over Prague on a cold winter’s night before finally leading him to the treasure: herself! Violin Boy’s not going to know what hit him. -Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

I haven't been completely won over by ebooks. Don't get me wrong, I'm far from a hater. Plenty of friends have told me they read more since getting an ereader, and that is fantastic. I love that people can access hundreds of thousands of books from nearly anywhere in the world, instantly. Hell, I used my Nook a lot when traveling this year, especially while waiting in lines at NYCC. Still, I haven't made the switch to electronic books and never will. BUT!

There's something really, really cool happening because of ebooks. Authors are releasing short stories, novellas, and assorted material that, for whatever reason, isn't to be found in their printed books. This story, for example, happens during the events of Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It doesn't have any business in that novel though, as it's from the perspective of a character other than the protagonist, has a very different tone, and would detract from the narrative flow of DoSaB. Instead of trying to shoehorn it in, or never write it in the first place, Taylor has provided this magical story in a completely independent format. Yay! 

I'm really impressed that this story manages to be sweet and magical and romantic without ever seeming trite or saccharine. Zuzana, Karou's "rabid fairy" friend is far too cool for such twee, Hallmark nonsense. Instead, we're treated to more trips down the crooked streets of Prague, along its twisty rivers and between medieval buildings. We get to revisit the Poison Kitchen, with its gas masks, coffins, and sugar bowls labelled "Arsenic." Best of all, we get some romantic tropes turned on their heads and a peek inside Zuzana's slightly mad, puppet-infested brain while she sets out to win the heart of "Violin Boy."

It's a joy to read, especially at this time of year and while waiting (im)patiently for the third book in Taylor's phenomenal series. If you loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone, go ahead and spend the $3 to buy this novella. You won't regret it.

Sunday, December 15, 2013


Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan

It’s time to choose sides… On the surface, Sorry-in-the-Vale is a sleepy English town. But Kami Glass knows the truth. Sorry-in-the-Vale is full of magic. In the old days, the Lynburn family ruled with fear, terrifying the people into submission in order to kill for blood and power. Now the Lynburns are back, and Rob Lynburn is gathering sorcerers so that the town can return to the old ways.

But Rob and his followers aren’t the only sorcerers in town. A decision must be made: pay the blood sacrifice, or fight. For Kami, this means more than just choosing between good and evil. With her link to Jared Lynburn severed, she’s now free to love anyone she chooses. But who should that be?
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

There's so much to love in these books. I've already raved about Kami's family and friends, and how competent and fun she is as a protagonist (parallels may have been made to Veronica Mars). This sequel offers more of the same, with more complex relationships, an expanded cast of characters, a darker, more menacing tone, and of course, more romantic entanglements. Add to that the allure of a small, mysterious village in the days leading up to the winter solstice and you have one atmospheric read. 

Highly recommended, but definitely be sure to read the first installment before facing up to some original worldbuilding and a diverse cast of characters.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

All the Truth That's In Me

All the Truth That's In Me by Julie Berry

Four years ago, Judith and her best friend disappeared from their small town of Roswell Station. Two years ago, only Judith returned, permanently mutilated, reviled and ignored by those who were once her friends and family. Unable to speak, Judith lives like a ghost in her own home, silently pouring out her thoughts to the boy who’s owned her heart as long as she can remember—even if he doesn’t know it—her childhood friend, Lucas. But when Roswell Station is attacked, long-buried secrets come to light, and Judith is forced to choose: continue to live in silence, or recover her voice, even if it means changing her world, and the lives around her, forever. This startlingly original novel will shock and disturb you; it will fill you with Judith’s passion and longing; and its mysteries will keep you feverishly turning the pages until the very last. -Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

I can't believe that I gave a book written in second person narrative a 5 star rating on Goodreads. But there it is! This book is compelling, genuinely mysterious, and intense. The less you know going in the better, so I can't say too much here. I would maybe advise not to go in expecting some massive Shyamalan-esque twist (the summary plays up the weirdness angle a bit more than it needs to), even though I did and can't say I was disappointed by the plot at all. There is weirdness aplenty here, and unease, but also some captivating human drama. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Not a Drop to Drink

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

Regret was for people with nothing to defend, people who had no water.

Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn't leave at all.

Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. Having a life means dedicating it to survival, and the constant work of gathering wood and water. Having a pond requires the fortitude to protect it, something Mother taught her well during their quiet hours on the rooftop, rifles in hand.

But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers. The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it…
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

I'm very much done with the dystopian craze. If I have to read one more story about a Very Special Teen leading a revolution I will start my own (the Catching Fire movie is completely exempt and it was awesome). Luckily, there's been a mini-craze of post-apocalyptic survival stories lately (Ashfall, After the Snow), and since stories like My Side of the Mountain, Hatchet, Julie of the Wolves and Island of the Blue Dolphins were some of my favorites in middle school, I'm very happy about this. 

Here's the thing- Lynn isn't bothered about trying to fix the world, save her people, or topple a fascist regime. Lofty goals, all, but our girl has more immediate problems. Water. Namely, the lack of it. She and her mother have spent the last few years grimly holding on to their tiny watersource, while others have sickened, fought, and died for their own. Lynn's mother has a shoot first, ask questions later policy when it comes to strangers (although she does offer them the courtesy of a warning shot- most don't), and she has kept her daughter safe from wild animals, thieves and raiders. The two of them have staked out an efficient existence, spending their days on the roof with their rifles, collecting and purifying water, hunting, and preserving food. Early on in the book though, something happens that rips this routine out from under them and changes Lynn's world forever. 

There's so much about this that works- the bleak rural setting, the life Lynn and her mother have carved out for themselves in a harsh but realistic world, the dialogue (regional but not hokey. YES.), the dystopia- oh, what's that? Did I say this wasn't a dystopia? Yeah I kind of lied. There is a dystopian government, and its workings do shape the plot, but it all happens very much in the background so instead of yet another story of political awakening and credulity-straining rebellion, we get to see what happens to the people on the edge and damn it I've just realized that I like this book because it reminds me of Firefly. It is to the dystopian genre as Firefly is to Star Trek-type sci-fi. Don't go in expecting snark, heroics, and a ragtag crew though, this is a survival story first and foremost. 

The one thing I didn't love was the romance, which didn't always ring true to me. That's a minor quibble though, and the end was surprising enough to leave me satisfied. This is a riveting book, often stark, sometimes emotional, and impossible to put down. Highly recommended. 

(There's a strong possibility that one of the reasons this book worked so well for me was because I mentally cast one character as Samantha Ferris, and another as Jim Beaver. Supernatural junkie right here). 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

School Spirits

School Spirits by Rachel Hawkins

Fifteen-year-old Izzy Brannick was trained to fight monsters. For centuries, her family has hunted magical creatures. But when Izzy’s older sister vanishes without a trace while on a job, Izzy's mom decides they need to take a break.

Izzy and her mom move to a new town, but they soon discover it’s not as normal as it appears. A series of hauntings has been plaguing the local high school, and Izzy is determined to prove her worth and investigate. But assuming the guise of an average teenager is easier said than done. For a tough girl who's always been on her own, it’s strange to suddenly make friends and maybe even have a crush.

Can Izzy trust her new friends to help find the secret behind the hauntings before more people get hurt?
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

I really liked the Hex Hall series, and I wasn't sure that this spinoff was going to stack up. Younger character? Different setting? Eh...

But actually, I think I liked this one better. It's more focused, and Izzy is a slightly more unique character who comes from a really interesting background. Her whole family have been hunters, but now that her older sister is missing, she and her mom are the last ones standing. Thanks to this setup, we not only see a fifteen-year-old struggling with braving high school for the first time, but also trying to live up to her mother's expectations and her own birthright, while trying to discover what happened to her sister. Hawkins balances these elements well, and each aspect was compelling. 

One of the best parts of this book is definitely the Scooby gang Izzy suddenly finds herself a part of at school. Who doesn't love a group of high school misfits with an interest in the paranormal? Added bonus that one of them is a bit of a dandy with exceedingly good manners and a quick wit, while another is a girl so dead-set on solving supernatural mysteries that she talked her school into allowing an official paranormal investigation club. I really enjoyed prickly Izzy trying to make a place for herself as a normal teenager, complete with dating confusion, girly bonding, and a healthy dose of spectral ass kicking. Definitely recommending for fans of, well, any of those things I just mentioned. The ending definitely leaves room for at least one more book, so fans of Hawkins' Prodigium setting will be happy.

Sleepy Hollow

Any regular or even occasional reader of this blog could probably come up with some of my favorite shows (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, Community), but aside from the odd name drop or reference, I've never reviewed a show on here.

Until now. *dramatic music*

Why now, you ask? Because now there is a little show called Sleepy Hollow and it is INSANE and I can't stop talking about it. Here are some reasons why.

The Plot
Well, ok, actually the plot is the thing that made me initially want to stay far, far away from Sleepy Hollow. Time-travelling Ichabod Crane solving crimes in the 21st century? Puh-lease. Actually though, it's shaping up to be a pretty great supernatural series, with some "freak of the week" monsters, as well as season/series long arcs. The horror parts are actually kind of terrifying, and even the ridiculous elements are so fun you'll probably just enjoy the ride.

The Setting
Small historic city with loads of colonial buildings, twisty rivers, and misty woods? Um, yeah, I'm there.

The Characters
Like the better Supernatural (see what I did there?) shows, this isn't all about wacky hijinks and mysterious beasties. It's about the relationships between the characters. Lieutenant Abbie Mills is a skeptic, and not just because there needs to be one on a show like this. She's a skeptic because she and her sister witnessed something as kids that caused massive fallout for them that they are both still struggling with. Ichabod Crane doesn't just have to cope with automatic doors and a 10% levy on baked goods ("insane!"). He's been awakened in a time not his own, one in which his wife has been dead for 200+ years and he has no one to turn to. The chemistry that these two have is amazing, which brings me to... 

The Cast
I love this cast. Even when the show is at its craziest, the actors do an amazing job of injecting gravitas, emotion and humor. Watching them interact is one of the best things about the show, and while it's not overdone, watching Mills try to translate modern quirks for Ichabod is so fun.

A lot has been made of the diversity of the cast, and rightly so. There are several main characters who happen to be POC, and guests stars of various backgrounds have been introduced as well (with mixed results, the Native American episode was a little off). Orlando Jones, who plays Mills' commanding officer (police chief? detective inspector? no hang on...) has promised more and better to come, so here's hoping this trend will continue.

Tom Mison. Tall. Dark. British. His voice nearly knocked me off my chair the first time I heard it, and he's forever doing things that, having been brought up on a steady diet of English costume dramas, make me swoon. He shoots with his arm behind his back. He dashes about in an excellent (if worse for wear) coat. He pronounces "Lieutenant" "Leftenant" and makes use of their extreme and wonderful height difference to hold up police tape for his partner. Also he speaks Middle English and has the best bitchface this side of the Winchesters. Move over Hornblower, I've got a new 18th century man.

The Fandom
This is the first time I've been part of a fandom from the start and it is a blast. Thanks to tumblr, I can see other fans reactions to episodes, share gif sets, art and fic from moments that happened hours before, and geek out about Tom Mison's overly expressive eyebrows to my heart's content. And it's not only the fans. The creators and cast are in on it too, especially the amazingly lovely Orlando Jones. He live tweets episodes, refers to fans lovingly as Sleepy Heads, shares fan art, teases future episodes, acknowledges and praises fan participation with the show, and ships IchAbbie as much as any of us- with the occasional nod to IchaTrina. Be still my nerd heart.

Speaking of shippers... Ship wars can often be the worst part of a fandom, as people take sites, bitterly defend their own OTPs, and lash out at other pairings and shippers. I haven't seen any of that in the Sleepy Hollow fandom yet, which may only be because the fandom is so new, but I like to think it's because we have learned from past mistakes (the Hannibal fandom also seems pretty much free of ship wars, so hopefully this is becoming the norm). 

The Surprise
Honestly, I still can't believe how much I love this show. If you had told me 6 months ago that I would be more excited by this hunk of supernatural cheese than by the new Joss Whedon (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) show, I would have scoffed until I hurt something.

Now? I hate to say it, but other than the always charming and perfect Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is leaving me cold. It's making me flashback to when Dollhouse was on. I watched that religiously, afraid that if I missed one episode it would be cancelled out from under me and I would have no right to complain (obviously, this happened anyway). People would ask me if it was good, and I would pause, trying to find the will to gush, and then mumble something about the cool tech and gorgeous set pieces. But I didn't love it, and that bummed me out more than I can reasonably say. Since then I've come to appreciate Dollhouse more, and to genuinely enjoy it. Unless S.H.I.E.L.D. has a whole arsenal of surprises, though, I don't see that happening here. I want to love it, I took it for granted that I would love it, but the characters are missing some essential spark, and the Bus just looks like Serenity in ways that hurt my still broken Browncoat heart.

But Sleepy Hollow!! I don't know what else to say other than that I love it, unreservedly. The first 5 episodes are on Hulu so there is plenty of time to catch up. I hope you like it.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Another Little Piece

Another Little Piece by Kate Karyus Quinn

On a cool autumn night, Annaliese Rose Gordon stumbled out of the woods and into a high school party. She was screaming. Drenched in blood. Then she vanished.

A year later, Annaliese is found wandering down a road hundreds of miles away. She doesn't know who she is. She doesn't know how she got there. She only knows one thing: She is not the real Annaliese Rose Gordon.

Now Annaliese is haunted by strange visions and broken memories. Memories of a reckless, desperate wish . . . a bloody razor . . . and the faces of other girls who disappeared. Piece by piece, Annaliese's fractured memories come together to reveal a violent, endless cycle that she will never escape—unless she can unlock the twisted secrets of her past.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

This one is not for the faint of heart. It's dark and scary, and slightly confusing in a way that ends up being more disorienting and creepy than seeming like a flaw. The horror is given weight by family trauma, and the guilt Annaliese feels. Secondary characters are well-developed and complex, and the plot will keep you guessing until the bloody end. Quinn doesn't back down from grotesque horror or realistic high school issues. If you're a fan of intense horror and psychological drama, check this one out. If you can't handle something like Hannibal you might want to give this a pass.

Highly recommended for some last minute Halloween scares.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Ghost Bride

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

"One evening, my father asked me if I would like to become a ghost bride..."

Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy port town of Malacca, ghosts and superstitions abound.

Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family's only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.

After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim's handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits and monstrous bureaucracy—including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family's darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family—before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

Title? Sold. Cover? Double sold. Summary, setting, premise? I needed this book two days before I'd even heard of it. I was immediately hooked, and once I got my grabby little hands on it, I tore through it in two days. 

Almost everything about this book worked for me. Choo offers so many cultural and historical details that were entirely new to me, and most of them fit seamlessly into an engaging plot. I loved learning more about the historical dress, diet, and history of late 19th century Malaya (Malaysia), and that was before I got to the rich superstitions and folklore. This was all to the good because although the plot is engaging, it is not quick. You really have to want to wander the streets of this port city with Li Lan and her Amah, to visit with the fortune teller, explore the market place, get lost in the afterlife, and be haunted by a variety of spirits. Luckily that's pretty much all I wanted to do, so, no problems there. 

Besides, the pace does pick up in certain parts, especially as Li Lan unravels more of the mysteries facing her and uncovers more of her family's past, while racing to reclaim what is rightfully hers. Fans of Spirited Away or historical/magic realist novels should be excited about this one, and while most libraries will probably have it shelved with adult fiction, its young protagonist, supernatural elements, and romance will appeal to many readers of YA. 

(To get especially nerdy for a moment, I would trade a small, non-essential organ to have this adapted into a video game by Vanillaware, the company that brought us Odin Sphere and Muramasa: The Demon Blade. The combination of mythology, spirits, exploring underworlds, fighting otherworldly perils, helpful companions, and taking time out for noodles and other traditional foods makes me long for an RPG adaptation in the WORST way)

The Art of Wishing

The Art of Wishing by Lindsay Ribar

He can grant her wishes, but only she can save his life.

Margo McKenna has a plan for just about everything, from landing the lead in her high school play to getting into a good college. So when she finds herself in possession of a genie's ring and the chance to make three wishes, she doesn't know what to do. Why should she put her life into someone else's hands?

But Oliver is more than just a genie -- he's also a sophomore at Margo's high school, and he's on the run from a murderer. As he and Margo grow closer, she discovers that it will take more than three wishes to save him.

A whole lot more.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

I was a little hesitant about this book. Maybe because so much of the action happens at the high school, and I don't usually go for realistic fiction. Maybe because I wasn't all that interested in genies, and it seemed like the genie/master relationship could very easily go off the squicky rails- actually, let's be honest, that's most of the reason why this book appealed to me in the first place. I wanted to look at paranormal romance from a different perspective, and to see if the author would deal with the iffy consent issues inherent in a relationship where one person is forced to grant the other's wishes. Also, that cover is pretty irresistible. 

And guess what? I loved it. Ribar does handle those issues, albeit with a light touch. The best part was that Margo's relationship with Oliver doesn't dominate the plot, or her attention. She's at least as focused on doing well in the school play, writing music, and trying to repair her relationship with her mother. Bonus- Margo is a massive Neko Case fan, which endeared her (and Ribar) to me immediately. 

After slogging through other paranormal angst and fluff, The Art of Wishing is a welcome breath of fresh air, enlivened by excellent secondary characters, a few surprises, a winning romance, and plenty of Aladdin references.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

In Defense of Strong Female Characters- And Their Fans

“I want [female characters] to be allowed to be weak and strong and happy and sad – human, basically. The fallacy in Hollywood is that if you’re making a ‘feminist’ story, the woman kicks ass and wins. That’s not feminist, that’s macho. A movie about a weak, vulnerable woman can be feminist if it shows a real person that we can empathize with.” Natalie Portman

I hate Strong Female Characters.
Sherlock Holmes gets to be brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong. - Sophia McDougall

Don't let my title confuse you, I wholeheartedly agree with both statements. If you haven't read McDougall's article, check it out now from the hyperlink. Teen media especially is suffering from an overabundance of "Strong" but simple and dull female protagonists. Even authors I like have put out books where it seems like they are far too concerned with having a strong female lead, rather than a believable, sympathetic, or realistic one. I'm all for girls kicking ass and copping 'tude, but a gun and some snark do not add up to a personality. (For an instance where this does work because the author has added other layers, check out Paranormalcy's Evie, who rocks her job as a paranormal investigator while toting a sparkly pink taser and worrying about missing her favorite teen dramas). In the name of Joss, yes, bring on the complex women, strength be damned.

HOWEVER. I heard something really interesting at the Kill or Be Killed: Crafting a Powerful Female Protagonist panel at NYCC this weekend. A fan asked the authors how they go about crafting a strong female character. This resulted in a discussion about strength, and how it doesn't have to be physical, it can be moral, emotional, etc. The moderator, Thea James, referenced McDougall's article, and some time was spent discussing the variety of women we have on TV these days (one author professed her love for Breaking Bad's Lydia). Finally, Lauren Oliver, author of the Delirium series, spoke up to defend the idea of strong women. Put simply, it is still extremely empowering for girls and women to see characters like Ripley from Alien or Sarah Connor from Terminator 2 kicking ass and taking names. 

Ideally we'd live in a world where we didn't need to be conscious of specific female empowerment- everyone would already be equal. Until we get there though, we shouldn't be writing off these characters, just mindful that variety and complexity are also needed.

Happily there are works with great balances of gender roles, and with racial diversity as well (Sleepy Hollow and Lieutenant Abbie Mills for the win). I haven't watched Person of Interest, but after seeing their panel I will definitely be checking it out. They opened with a video sequence in which one of their police officer characters, who happens to be both female and black, took down a crooked cop to thunderous applause from the audience. I don't know about the entire cast, but just on the panel were two other prominent female actors, including Amy Acker who plays an offbeat computer scientist. Check out my video of Taraji P. Henson answering a fan question about the diverse roles for women on the show:

  Please pardon the low quality

While we're on the subject, I attended panels from both Marvel and DC comics, and at both panelists were asked about the roles of women in their franchises. At the Marvel panel, a fan asked (pleasantly, but seriously) where our female-led movie was already. The panelists smiled coyly, and asked if she planned to see The Winter Soldier. While that is a Captain America movie, it also stars Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow. The fan quite rightly pointed out that this wasn't a lead role, and the panel advised her to wait and see. The whole tone seemed to point to a high likelihood of a female-led movie, maybe spun off of The Winter Soldier- or perhaps the end credits will tell us more? Either way they seemed comfortable with the question and had encouraging things to say about it.

DC..... was another matter. Many of the same fans attended this panel, and the questions were tougher. Where are the strong women in the movies? What happened with Batwoman? Where did Wonder Woman's pants go? (there was a Wonder Woman redesign a few years back that gave the Amazon a jacket and trousers, but this has been undone). Unlike Marvel, several panelists and especially the moderator looked uncomfortable or downright annoyed by these questions. An artist who works on the Wonder Woman comic said that from a purely artistic standpoint, that costume was harder to draw action for, and it was hard to differentiate Wonder Woman's black pants from her black boots. Excuse me? Then why aren't the men in short shorts and go-go boots?
To the panelists credit, they were being put on the spot, but tough. These are fair questions that need to be asked, and judging from the applause and cheers following each question, these fans were not alone in their opinions. The one woman on the panel did say that she has never had an issue as a woman in the comic book world, which was good to hear, but if absolutely nothing else plenty of people perceive there to be gender bias in that realm and discussions clearly need to happen. And ok, grumpy moderator, it is a fair point that female fans should buy titles that contain themes and characterization they're looking for, but perhaps your company needs to make more of an effort to be inclusive in the first place. One fan asked if DC has considered reviewing their hiring practices to include more women and minorities. The response? The artists aren't there. It's mostly men anyway, so, feh. I seriously, seriously doubt that. Just look at the world of fan art. Squillions of those artists are female, and before anyone rolls their eyes, the creative team behind Avatar: The Legend of Korra also attended NYCC, and stated that they have already hired three artists based on fan art. 

There was a great deal of talk at the con about the role of women in geekdom as a whole, most of it positive and enlightening. So it was doubly jarring to attend a panel where I felt that these important questions were met with annoyance and dismissal from a moderator. Still. Keep asking questions, fans, support the things you like, and make even more noise about the things you don't. Also, keep up the gender-swapped cosplay because I can't tell you how delighted I was by all the female Sherlocks, Castiels, and Malcolm Reynolds(es) I saw, in addition to some truly tremendous Kaylees, Korras, and Katnisses.

EDIT: One of my very favorite blogs has posted an article about the Marvel and DC panels here. Go check it out!

The Dream Thieves

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after... -Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

I knew I was right to like Ronan. As I've seen other reviewers put it, he's a "tough sell," with his rudeness, tough guy shtick, and general obnoxious behavior. But I knew a guy who could be so smitten with a baby raven couldn't be that bad. Much of this book is focused on Ronan, so we get to see through the chinks in his leather jacket (this is especially metaphorical as I'm not positive he did wear a leather jacket, I just know that he would). Most revealing are the descriptions of his childhood home, and the passages with his brothers- one younger, who worships him, and one older, the officious Mycroft to his Sherlock. We learn more about Ronan's dream abilities, and his relationships with the rest of the ensemble cast. Stiefvater pulls off some of the best character development and description I've yet read, and I loved putting the pieces of Ronan's story together.

Adam, to me, was a much harder sell. Adam's the only male character who grew up in Cabeswater, and as expected, the course of trailer park to preppy private school never did run smooth (I've been watching too much Shakespeare lately, gimme a break). He's believably drawn- of course someone in his position would fear losing it, struggle with the financial and cultural divides between himself and his peers, and be fiercely independent. That's all well and good, but there's only so many times I could read him lashing out at his well-meaning friends and shooting himself in the foot before I got seriously annoyed. Still, his circumstances pretty much speak for themselves, and I did finish the book liking him again. I do think a lot of the drama in future books will center more around him even than Gansey, and I'm dying to see how that plays out.

Blue took a bit of a back seat in this story, which was a shame, but it really is an ensemble cast and the story will play out over a few more books, so I'm not too bothered. We did get to see more of her witchy family, especially her mother, in scenes I really enjoyed, and that reminded me of the best bits of Practical Magic.

Also, can we talk about the Gray Man for a second? CHILLS. He reads like a Thomas Harris villain, and I can honestly say that this is the first time I've been this scared of a YA antagonist in years, and many of the best twists, turns and scares are courtesy of this enigma. Staggeringly good writing, Ms. Stiefvater.

If you liked The Raven Boys, you need to read this sequel. You may want to reread it, or at least read a summary before diving into this one. You will not be disappointed.

(And then send me a private message so we can dish about the romance without fear of spoilers ;-) )

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

If you know me, or have seen my somewhat alarming Goodreads account, you know that I read a lot. Really rather a lot. Kind of unhealthy a lot. So when I say that I stayed awake one night to finish this book, and that that hasn't happened for years, I want you to get my full meaning. 

This book will sink its fangs into you and not let go, giving your neck a bit of a shake when you start to coast. It's suspenseful and absorbing and dark. It reminds you that vampires are horrifying and dangerous, while still agreeing that, ok yeah, they are, but of course people are still drawn to them. It deals with vampires in some of the same ways True Blood does at the top of its game- by exploring how people would react to vampires now. In this book, that means strict quarantines. It means reality shows. It means tacky merchandise. It means disenfranchised kids glorifying the undead, identifying with them, and naively running away from home to join them. It means, in my new favorite example of an author actually understanding youth culture, tumblr GIFs

Tana is fierce, reckless and self-destructive, but protective and intelligent all the same. Her ex Aidan is even more flawed, and a train wreck in slow motion, but hardly a villain. Black does a good job with her sympathetic vampire character, but it is slightly well-worn territory. Much more interesting is the world-building, and the secondary characters. This book has something for every YA reader. Vampires, ballgowns, dystopian cities, disaffected youth, a handful of really steamy romance scenes- Black has you covered.

Zombies Calling

Zombies Calling by Faith Erin Hicks

Joss' life sucks. She's in the middle of university exams and student loan debt when she'd much rather be watching the zombie movies she loves. So it's no surprise that when she tells her roommates that she's been attacked by a swarm of real-life, brain-hungering zombies--zombies!--they think the stress has finally cracked her.

But Joss knows she's sane--and it's a good thing, too! Because the zombies are real, and she's the only one who knows how to fight them. Armed with "The Rules," truths about fighting the undead gleaned from zombie movies, Joss, Sonnet and Robyn just might make it out of their dorm alive.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

Anglophile protagonist. Close knit group of misfits. Zombies as metaphors for current life issues. Frequent pop-culture callbacks. Mutant Enemies that say "grr argh!" Yeah, it's safe to say that I am completely in love with this one. It's a quick read and you can kind of tell that this began as a webcomic, but you'll have too much fun to mind. If you're a fan of Shaun of the Dead or Scott Pilgrim (I'll give a cookie to anyone who leaves the connection between the two in the comments) I think you'll enjoy this one.

Joss has the rules of zombies movies down.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Fall Preview

I had pumpkin flavoring in my coffee today, which means something very, very important- fall is almost here! To celebrate this, the best of all seasons, here is a sneak peek at some of the books I will be reading and reviewing over the coming months.

Another Little Piece by Kate Karyus Quinn

Since this paranormal thriller is being billed as a cross between the writings of Stephen King and Pretty Little Liars, it promises a hefty dose of chills, drama and intrigue. I, a fan of CW dramas, particularly of a supernatural nature, am so there.

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

"One evening, my father asked me if I would like to become a ghost bride..."

"Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy port town of Malacca, ghosts and superstitions abound. Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family's only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price." Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

Paranormal historical fiction with a gorgeous cover? Why is this not already on my shelf? 

Untold, The Lynburn Legacy Book Two by Sarah Rees Brennan

You can read my gushing glowing review of Book One here. I love this series, with its mysterious small town setting, gothic trappings, quirky family dynamics, and well-rounded characters. The romance is a bit over the top, but, given the aforementioned fondness for the CW, I can hardly pretend to be above bad boy (or are they?!) love interests with leather jackets, motorcycles, and weird abilities, especially when their female counterpart is interesting, capable, and intelligent. 

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Holly Black has traded in fae-flavored urban fantasy for a vampire dystopia, and I am so on board. I'm hoping for some well-thought out and compelling vampire worldbuilding similar to what I read in Team Human (which is FANTASTIC, close this tab and read it immediately), rather than the slightly Mary Sueish genre lumbering from Julie Kagawa's The Immortal Rules, but we shall see.

Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff

The first book, Stormdancer, was a bit love or hate for most readers, and I loved it. Sure, Kristoff borrows a lot from Japanese culture, and it doesn't always work, but I give him major points for even approaching Steampunk from a different cultural perspective than "white upper middle class Englishman." Also, I have a mighty need for more Buruu in my life. Plus, when do I ever turn down a demon-hunting protagonist? Ok, sometimes, but a demon-hunting protagonist with her very own talking griffin? Not bloody often, mate, that's when.

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Guys. GUYS. More Raven Boys. More Blue Sargent and all her clairvoyant family. More ghosts and romance and Ronan. And his baby raven. AAAAHHHH.

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente

I can't even tell you how much I want to be back in Fairyland with September, A-L, and the other characters from this series. I tend to get a little carried away when talking about this series, so you might just want to read the first two blog posts I've done, before I get carried away again. 

There are more, of course, many of which are on the scarier side (Halloween being not far off, after all), but I don't want to give everything away at once. Stay tuned, folks.

Foretold: 14 Tales of Prophecy and Prediction

Foretold: 14 Tales of Prophecy and Prediction edited by Carrie Ryan

Have you ever been tempted to look into the future? To challenge predictions? To question fate? It's human nature to wonder about life's twists and turns. But is the future already written—or do you have the power to alter it?

From fantastical prophecies to predictions of how the future will transpire, Foretold is a collection of stories about our universal fascination with life's unknowns and of what is yet to come as interpreted by 14 of young adult fiction's brightest stars
. -Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

This anthology collects stories from:
Malinda Lo (Ash)
Lisa McMann (Wake)
Kami Garcia (Beautiful Creatures)
Margaret Stohl (Beautiful Creatures)
Laini Taylor (The Daughter of Smoke and Bone)
Michael Grant (Gone)
Saundra Mitchell (The Vespertine)
Richelle Mead (The Vampire Academy)
Matt de la Pena (I Will Save You)
Meg Cabot (The Princess Diaries)
Heather Brewer (The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod)
Diana Peterfreund (Rampant)
Simone Elkeles (Perfect Chemistry)
Carrie Ryan (The Forest of Hands and Teeth)

All anthologies are inherently a bit of a grab-bag, and Foretold is no exception, or if it is, the difference here is that nearly all the stories are ok. There were two I skipped, and one I LOVED (I'm a huge Daughter of Smoke and Bone fan, I'll give you three guess which story that was, and of course the first two don't count). The others were just pretty decent, in my opinion. Your mileage may vary, especially if you're a big Vampire Academy fan (that trailer was surprisingly good, right?). Oh, and I did really like the story about vampires in apocalyptic Paris, but just the fact that I'm struggling to think of stories to talk about says a fair bit about the collection. An enjoyable read, but I wouldn't bump other things off your reading lists for it.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Star Cursed

Star Cursed by Jessica Spotswood

With the Brotherhood persecuting witches like never before, a divided Sisterhood desperately needs Cate to come into her Prophesied powers. And after Cate's friend Sachi is arrested for using magic, a war-thirsty Sister offers to help her find answers—if Cate is willing to endanger everyone she loves.

Cate doesn't want to be a weapon, and she doesn't want to involve her friends and Finn in the Sisterhood's schemes. But when Maura and Tess join the Sisterhood, Maura makes it clear that she'll do whatever it takes to lead the witches to victory. Even if it means sacrifices. Even if it means overthrowing Cate. Even if it means all-out war.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

I've been waiting for this for a year, and that much buildup may have tarnished my enjoyment of it a bit. I loved the first installment, with its alternate 19th century New England details and seasonal flair, not to mention sisterly relationships that reminded me of Little Women, plus witches and an evil patriarchy for good measure. What's not to love? But this second entry in the series is weighed down by politicking and prophesy. Some things I loved from the first shone through, but not the romance, and Cate spent too much time dithering and not nearly enough time becoming a leader or not being manipulated. Still, the world-building is intriguing, the characters memorable, and I'll be happy to see if things pick up in the third book of the Cahill Witch Chronicles.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Somewhere Beneath Those Waves

Somewhere Beneath Those Waves by Sarah Monette

The first non-themed collection of critically acclaimed author Sarah Monette''s best short fiction. To paraphrase Hugo-award winner Elizabeth Bear's introduction: '"onette's prose is lapidary, her ideas are fantastical and chilling. She has studied the craft of fantastic fiction from the pens of masters and mistresses of the genre. She is a poet of the awkward and the uncertain, exalter of the outcast, the outre, and the downright weird. There is nothing else quite like Sarah Monette's fiction." -Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

Ok, so this isn't YA. I was getting desperate for another post, and I know there are people who may read this blog occasionally who would love this one. Before this one I had read The Bone Key, her collection of short stories about Kyle Murchison Booth, a sort of supernatural detective. She really captured the feel of Lovecraft's horror in some of those stories, without getting bogged down in the prose or offering faceless narrators. She also has the detective story thing down, and I'd love to see a Mystery! production of Booth's stories, in the same vein as Miss Marple or Poirot. 

Both these points, while true, don't do any justice to Monette's own voice as an author, which is distinct, memorable, and masterful. These stories will creep up on you- the language is evocative and conjures up images that will stick with you. The other thing that sets Monette apart, and that many other reviewers have commented on, is the feeling of Otherness embodied by most of her narrators. Her protagonists are, for the most part, outsiders, people who find themselves treading boundaries. To call them quirky would be an insult- they aren't stock characters with a twist, or exploding with irritating eccentricities. They are three-dimensional people, drawn believably but with surprisingly few strokes. Some, like the cops in "A Night in Electric Squidland" and "Impostors," and the aforementioned Booth, are recurring characters. Others, like the courtesan/spy from "Amante Doree" or the heartbroken musician from "Katabasis: Seraphic Trains" (possibly my favorite story), you'll only see for a few brief pages but are unlikely to forget. 

I'd recommend this, and The Bone Key, for fans of Neil Gaiman, Margo Lanagan, Charles DeLint, Catherynne M. Valente (the Seraphic Trains story really reminded me of Palimpsest), Lovecraft, Hellboy, Supernatural (not only are there paranormal cop buddies, there's a naive but tetchy angel), urban fantasy, horror, and magic realism. 

*A caveat: some of these stories are extremely dark, and not just in the sense that they deal with supernatural beings and gothic situations ("The Séance at Chisholm End" is a fantastic period piece about spirit mediums). No, some of these stories deal openly with some heavy stuff, like the loss of an older brother to Vietnam ("Letters from a Teddy Bear on Veterans Day"), surviving conquest ("A Light in Troy") and trauma ("After the Dragon"), and the horrors of war ("No Man's Land"). Serious trigger warnings for these, especially the last.   

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Why the lack of posts?

Poor blog, I haven't been posting much lately. I haven't been reading as many teen books as I did last year- this is partially because I've been away, or there have been adult books I've wanted to read. But, here's a bit of a confession:

Sometimes I get a bit tired of reading young adult books.


Before I go any further, let me say a few things clearly and emphatically.

Not all teen books are the same.

It's not a genre, it's just a target age group.


SERIOUSLY. NOT A GENRE. So there aren't set guidelines as to tone, content, setting, violence, characterization, voice, perspective, length, complexity, intelligence, competence or style. There are scads of of important, meaningful, technically skilled works of literature that also happen to be aimed at a teenage audience.

Are we clear?

Ok, good.

With that in mind.... there are certain popular trends in teen lit right now, namely dystopian novels and paranormal romances. As one would expect, publishers are fully aware that these are popular marketable themes, and are flogging the hell out of any book they can get away with claiming might be the next Hunger Games or Twilight. This means that there are soooooooooo many books which, on the surface, appeal to my interests, but were written hastily, accepted for their perceived money-grabbing potential, and add nothing to the already teetering heap. I'm pretty burned out on those, and haven't been reading as many books that don't already have some serious buzz surrounding them (or if I just can't resist the summary). In some ways this is good, as I am becoming more selective, but it also leads to a bit of a rut wherein I find myself mostly picking up sequels or things that seem like pretty sure bets anyway.

There's also a bit of an issue that really is not an issue- teen books are aimed at teens. And I'm not a teen. One way to look at this is in terms of romance. Many teen books are dealing with first loves, and often idealized ones. Big, sweeping, tragic, epic PERFECT romances. Which is perfectly fine. But sometimes I want to read something a bit more complex, or edgier, than fluttery, sweet, will they-won't they soulmatey crap. To put it in vampire terms (as you do), sometimes I want Buffy and Angel making eyes at each other in the Bronze, and sometimes I want Buffy and Spike wrecking house.

Or maybe I want to read about someone else struggling with their job, not math class.

(Again, this is not an issue of genre. Someone could reasonably suggest that I look to, say, modern literary fiction, but I would be just as happy reading about, say, a demon hunter being frustrated with her crappy midlevel position in the research and development department of a paranormal defense organization. It's a stage of life thing, not a setting thing).

None of these are complaints, I'm just putting down some thoughts that have to do with the lack of entries. I still love teen media, and have dozens of young adult books on my to-read pile that I can't wait to get my hands on. Maybe I'll post more about movies here, or branch out? I've been keeping it pretty YA-specific in the name of job-hunting, but I don't know.

Any thoughts, guys?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Unnatural Creatures

Unnatural Creatures edited by Neil Gaiman

Unnatural Creatures is a collection of short stories about the fantastical things that exist only in our minds—collected and introduced by beloved New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman.

The sixteen stories gathered by Gaiman, winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards, range from the whimsical to the terrifying. The magical creatures range from werewolves to sunbirds to beings never before classified. E. Nesbit, Diana Wynne Jones, Gahan Wilson, and other literary luminaries contribute to the anthology.

Sales of Unnatural Creatures benefit 826DC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students in their creative and expository writing, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

It's a good time to be a Gaiman fan. Good Omens might finally get its long awaited adaptation, and HBO is developing a multi-season American Gods Series (I'm actively restraining myself from getting too excited about my own casting choices. "Benedict is too busy, don't get your hopes up" is a new mantra). On top of that, The Ocean at the End of the Lane was better than I had expected- while Gaiman builds on themes he's been exploring his whole career, the book never feels stale and if anything, the pseudo-autobiographical elements add weight to the narrative voice. Check out Tor's excellent review here. Add to that an anthology of stories about mythical creatures and you've got one happy fantasy fan. 

For one thing, how great is the cover design? I love the sketchy antler-tentacle design, and the longer you look the more things you see. I like the font, too, and the contrasty blue text (graphic design people, feel free to weigh in here!). As for the stories themselves, well, most were good, a few were boring, and one or two I loved. Some I had read in other collections, including Gaiman's- which turned out to be one of my favorites. It's not brilliant, but it's got a good variety and plenty of shelf appeal. Plus, the proceeds go to a very cool charity!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Anglophile Reads

To celebrate my upcoming trip to England, I thought I'd post a few of my favorite titles set across the pond.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend

At thirteen years old, Adrian Mole has more than his fair share of problems - spots, ill-health, parents threatening to divorce, rejection of his poetry and much more - all recorded with brilliant humour in his diary.

I remember this being a bit grittier than the cover art implies, but maybe I just read it a bit young?

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Dodie Smith's first novel transcends the oft-stodgy definition of "a classic" by being as brightly witty and adventuresome as it was when published nearly fifty years ago.

Another diary novel, but this time one of my absolute favorites, and, as I recall, perfectly suited for a June read. PBS fans, this one's for you.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Let's be honest, this doesn't even need a caption ;-)

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?

Regency, magic, and spunky female lead? Oh, rather! I blogged about this one before, and am rereading it and its sequel before I go to Bath.

 The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.

Who doesn't love a kid's story that kicks off with "the grisly murder" of the protagonists entire family? (If you are raising your hand, you can put it the heck back down unless you are willing to pretend you don't like Disney movies. I thought so.)

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

Catherine, a spirited and inquisitive young woman of good family, narrates in diary form the story of her fourteenth year--the year 1290.

This book is probably 80% of why I love stories set in the Middle Ages, and features one of the earliest cranky, snarky heroines I remember loving.  

 The Chronicles of Chrestomanci by Diana Wynne Jones

In this multiple parallel universes of the Twelve Related Worlds, only an enchanter with nine lives is powerful enough to control the rampant misuse of magic--and to hold the title Chrestomanci... The Chants are a family strong in magic, but neither Christopher Chant nor Cat Chant can work even the simplest of spells. Who could have dreamed that both Christopher and Cat were born with nine lives--or that they could lose them so quickly?

Oh how I love this series. There are interesting characters and cool magic, but mostly I remember the sprawly house and grounds, lots of chapters where people eat lovely things like marmalade toast, and the eccentric wizard in garish dressing gowns. If you haven't read any Wynne Jones yet, you should fix that immediately by picking this one up today.

I'm realizing that these are mostly for the 10-14 set. For older readers there is The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, and I'm sure there are hundreds more that I'm just not remembering at the moment. Oh, well there was The Wicked and the Just, set in Wales. Have there been any decent retellings of Shakespeare or Robin Hood? Any Jane Austen with a twist sorts of things? Please share your favorites in the comments!