Friday, July 14, 2017

What I'm taking on the plane: Ireland edition

Aughh! I'm so behind on reviewing books I've read! Blame my garden. I'm leaving for Ireland in an hour, (mom, aunt, sister trip; going to be awesome; we've never been!) and I'm actually all packed and ready (I think: what have I forgotten??), so I can spare a quick post to tell you what I'm bringing to read.

After hearing about it from several bloggers I trust (we should make a new acronym: from here on you are BITs!), I finally ordered Alison Croggon's The Naming from Interlibrary Loan. It just arrived, so of course I'm taking it on the plane (I promise I won't lose it!).

Also from the library, in hardcover, and it's really thick, so not an ideal plane read, (The Naming is pretty thick too) but whatever! The second book in Alwyn Hamilton's Rebel of the Sands trilogy. I'm excited about Traitor to the Throne!

Ebooks from the library:

The next two Genevieve Cogman Invisible Library books, The Masked City and The Burning Page.

In keeping with the same theme I thought I'd try Djengo Wexler's YA book The Forbidden Library.

And there was a book I'd never heard of called Palace of Spies, by Sarah Zettel, that I thought I'd try because it looks fun.

Purchased for my Kindle:

Blood for Blood, the sequel to Ryan Graudin's Wolf by Wolf. (I know I said I was going to read the sequel right away, but I got distracted.)
A Peace Divided, the next in Tanya Huff's Peacekeeper series.
In the Garden of Iden, the first book in Kage Baker's Company series.


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Noteworthy, by Riley Redgate

This is another random choice from the New shelves at my library. The tagline, "A cappella just got a makeover" drew my eye, and the premise hooked me (but you have to know that I've sung in choirs all my life and I love a cappella music, so I couldn't really help it): girl with a low voice pretends to be a guy so she can get into the exclusive all-guy a cappella group on campus.

Noteworthy could have been a cute cross-dressing caper and I would have liked it, but it turned out to be so, so much more.

For starters, the writing is fantastic. Redgate crafts her sentences with tight finesse (rather like a good choir arrangement). Here's a random example:

I snuck the word out into the air. "Yeah." It hung there for a moment, hesitant, before settling. Then smiles started creasing faces, heads started bobbing, and the inimitable relief of crossing some sort of finish line rushed into me, cold and overwhelming.
I may be using a lot of music analogies to describe this book, because Redgate is musician herself and it shows. She interweaves themes like she's writing a symphony. Friendship, identity, belonging, truth—plus some countermelodies about race, sexuality, privilege, status, family dynamics—if you look at all the things she manages to cover you might wonder if it's a mess, but everything ties together harmoniously.

Also, all the songs in the book are Redgate's songs. As in, she wrote them. And sings them. Can I just spend a moment here to be envious of the girl with all the gifts?

Our narrator, Jordan/Julian, is a wonderful head to be in: dryly self-depreciating, witty, brave, open and thoughtful.
Find a dog whistle and blow it, try to sing that note, and the resulting gurgling shriek will probably sound like my attempt to sing a high F-sharp.
I loved all the Sharpshooters, each with their own sense of humour, their own passions and hangups and fears. Redgate describes them all so well, physically and personality-wise, that I would instantly recognize them if I saw them in a cafe. It was a pleasure to spend time with them. The Crow's Nest is a vividly realized hang-out space that made me wish I'd gone to school at an uppity New England college that might have an old tower room like that. (And I've never, ever before wished I'd gone to an uppity New England college!)

The book Noteworthy most reminds me of, despite being not the least bit fantastical, is Stiefvater's Raven Boys. Redgate is just as good at characters, and at showing the bonds of a friendship so real it feels like another character. The members of the Sharpshooters coalesce into a family full of jokes and tension, secrets and loyalty. Jordan/Julian is lonely for various reasons—I love all the ways that she is an outsider, because every reader will find at least one to relate to—and she values her connection with them so much it's painful. She risks so much, because it's so worth it.

When I was looking through for quotations to use, I got sucked right back into the story and probably would have reread the whole thing if I'd had time. I love writing like that, so comfortable and assured that I can feel at home in it.

Must do a music analogy for this one, of course. It's not an a cappella choir, but Vienna Teng's "Level Up" is both upbeat and heartfelt enough to capture the feel of the novel. (I love the video: the dancing is beautiful.)



And if you want a choral version of it, I love this choir. The expressions on the kids' faces make me so happy.



I also adore this song, (also Vienna Teng), and hey, it's a cappella:



And now I'm going to drop everything else I was doing and watch all the rest of the videos from Indiek├Âr. This choir is awesome!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman

The Invisible Library was utterly delightful, with huge servings of awesome-sauce on the side. It gave me the happies on almost every page. I mean, there's a Library, so, yeah. And dragons. You'd think that would be enough (that would be enough for me). But, no, there's more! There's a super-smart detective who could convincingly be played by Benedict Cumberbatch. And airships. And remotely-controlled alligators, because, every plot can be improved by the addition of remote-control alligators.

(And Cogman gets the tone pitch perfect: just self-aware enough to take itself seriously without being ridiculous.)

Irene is a fabulous character, right up there with Prunella (from Sorcerer to the Crown. This book is right up there with Sorcerer to the Crown. Possibly even surpasses it. Wouldn't want my life to depend on picking one over the other.) She's competent, firm, thinks on her feet, rises to the occasion, but she's also still a junior Librarian who doesn't have all the information or experience she needs. She has moments of panic, doubt and sheer frustration and it's lovely to watch her deal with them—actually, it's lovely to listen to her narrate how she deals with them.

It gets better. There are, not one, but two really hot guys who spend the whole book being impressed by Irene, talking to her as equals and respecting her opinions and decisions. I could eat this stuff with a spoon; it's better than ice cream. There is a wonderfully complex rivalry between Irene and another woman Librarian. There's a fascinating alternate London, plausibly steampunk and infested with chaos (in the form of Fae, vampires and werewolves, among other things). And there's the Library, with its strange rules, twisted politics and mysterious purpose.

It's all fun as heck, and I can't wait to dive into the next book!

This might not technically be YA, since the characters are over twenty, but it would work just as well for YA or adult.

I'm feeling another music analogy this time: "Starlight" by Muse.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Iron Cast, by Destiny Soria

I picked Iron Cast up from the New shelf at the library, and it turned out to be a great debut from a novelist I will follow eagerly. The gorgeous cover drew me in, and the setting matches: 1919 Boston, the Cast Iron nightclub. It's right before Prohibition, but there's still something illegal going on at the Cast Iron: hemopaths are performing.

I love the 1920's—flappers, speak-easies, jazz, independent women, gangsters and shady backroom deals. Add magic and you've got a smoky, intoxicating backdrop for a tale of two girls from the opposite sides of town with a friendship strong enough to take on the world.

The magic was intriguing—hemopaths have an "affliction of the blood" that makes iron painful to them but gives them various magical talents, like manipulating emotions, creating illusions, changing their appearance. I loved how the magic was associated with an art: musicians use their music to make people feel emotions; wordsmiths use poetry to create illusions, actors can change their appearance.

The plot was twisty with betrayals and the looming menace of the Haversham Asylum (what exactly are they doing to hemopaths in the basement???). All sorts of divisions—class, money, race, background—are mined for all the tension and mistrust they create. But holding fast at the centre of it all is the friendship between Ava and Corinne. Rich, white, high society Corinne and poor, black, immigrant Ava have an unshakeable loyalty and trust between them that was a pleasure to watch. So many fist-pumping moments where one girl comes through for the other, who never doubted she would.

I also loved the two romantic relationships, which were realistic and respectful (I mean both the characters' treatment of each other and the author's treatment of the characters: they were all real people who weren't being crammed into a plot device), but I was very happy that the key relationships were the friendships. As this goodreads reviewer cleverly points out, Iron Cast is all about trust, and it was explored in so many different ways through all the different characters.

So many happy things about this book! I don't know much about '20s food, so I'll compare it to jazz—not the boring kind, but the swinging, be bop kind you can dance to. Sing Sing Sing (here it is with awesome dancing from that fantastic movie Swing Kids):



Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Thick as Thieves, by Megan Whalen Turner

So ... what did everyone think??!!

I was not going to drop everything and read this in one sitting, I really wasn't. But we've been waiting for so long; it was too tempting! I had to at least look at the first page, to see where the story starts. And once I started, it's not like I could stop.

It was worth the wait. I was not disappointed.

I don't really want to do a non-spoilery review: if you've read the other books, you're going to read this one no matter what I say, and if you haven't, (why haven't you? I'm sure I've told you several times that you absolutely must read these books!), then you need to start with The Thief, not this book. (I mean, you could certainly start with this book; it doesn't require knowledge of the other books. But it's significantly enhanced by knowledge of the other books, and, like each book in the series, it rather spoils the surprises in the previous ones. So don't start with this book.)

I do want to have spoilery discussions with people once you read it, so I'm going to put a big photo in the middle of this post and then say spoilery things after, and we'll call the comments on this post a WARNING SPOILERS zone.

Okay, here are just a few non-spoilery things I can say:

It felt short to me—hard to tell because I got it on Kindle, but I'm sure it wasn't as long as the last two. It didn't need to be longer—it told exactly the story it needed to tell—but I would have loved if it were! It has a relatively simple plot (don't worry, there are twists!); I would say it's more character-driven. Which, since I loved both the characters, was awesome.

I loved the relationship—let's just go ahead and call it a bromance—between the main characters. I loved the way mythology was woven through the story. I loved the encounters with Eugenides.

Aaaaannd I think that's all I'm going to say. Just go read it, and then join me after the photos to squee about our favourite moments.

A scene they might have seen along their travels, maybe?



Perhaps they went to a theatre like this one:




HERE ON IN THERE BE SPOILERS!


So, Kamut. (This isn't exactly spoilery, since the description says he's the MC.) I didn't think I was going to love him as much as I did. He was pretty obnoxious in Queen, so I was prepared for more obsequious arrogance‚ and I got it, but, hey, after that opening scene how could you not sympathize with the guy? I thought MWT did an awesome job of making it totally believable that he would be complicit in his own slavery and actually have a hard time even wanting to be free. I loved his journey to believing in himself and his parallel journey toward trusting others. (Hilarious that the person he ends up having to trust is Eugenides, but I guess that's the central irony of the whole series, isn't it?)

This is more spoilery, though I was certainly hoping we'd see him again: yay Costis! I knew it was him almost right away (I mean, when we first met him I was hopeful, then I was pretty sure, and by the time they were on the boat I was positive.) I loved seeing him from an external pov, as the competent, resourceful soldier we know he is. I loved that he's clever but still guileless, and he genuinely wants to help Kamut. He knows stealing him is a political move, but he really believes Kamut will be better off in Attolia. But that's just because he knows Eugenides. I love his attempts to explain his king to Kamut—when Kamut finally meets Attolis, he thinks Costis was being deliberately misleading by making his king out to be a fool, but I don't think he was. It's just really hard to explain Gen to anyone, especially to someone naturally suspicious. Central irony again: in order to truly know Gen's motivations, you have to be honest and trusting.

I enjoyed the stories of Immakuk and Ennikar (very much based on Gilgamesh and Enkidu). At first I was worried about the poetry slowing the story down, but I quite liked the rhythm of it. And I loved the way the characters were both real, showing up in the story at key moments, and a great metaphor for Kamut/Costis.

I confess I did not see the big twist coming, though it's classic Eugenides. And I would love to have a short story about the discovery of the Mede fleet! 

(Should I have known who Ansel is? I would love to see the scene where Eugenides convinces him to steal the statue!) Oh, and the young Erondites—not a brother, surely? A cousin?

Now I have to reread Queen and pay more attention to Kamut (I don't think there are any hints in there of Gen as the sandal polisher?? It would be pretty forsightful of MWT if there are!)

Thoughts? Reactions?? Now we have another how many years to wait again!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Awesome bookstore!

I had to share some photos of the largest outdoor bookstore in the world(?) (or maybe North America?) anyway, its in Ojai, California, and it's the most amazing bookstore I've ever been in.

Bart's Books is a used bookstore with a fantastic collection. The SFF section was particularly impressive. (In case you were wondering, I came away with  Mendoza in Hollywood, by Kage Baker (if anyone has read this series, do you think it's okay for me to start with book 3? They didn't have Garden of Iden), Cuckoo's Egg, by C.J. Cherryh (also book 3 of a series, as it turns out), and A Thousand Words for Stranger, by Julie Czerneda. I didn't have time to get past the C's! (Nor would I have had space in my luggage.))










Saturday, April 29, 2017

Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor

Aiiiiieeeeeeee! How can you do this to me Laini Taylor!

Why didn't I notice that this isn't a standalone? At least then I could have been the teensiest bit prepared. I mean, I've read all her other works. I know the cruelty of her cliffhangers.

Allow me to go tremble a while in silence before I continue with my review.

Ahem.

This woman's brain. Laini Taylor's, I mean. She's written yet another beautiful, terrible, ecstatically wrenching book, and I've figured out how she does it: she's a monster herself. And I mean that in the nicest possible way! (Sort of like the monsters in Kristin Cashore's Fire: beautiful but deadly.)

Only Laini Taylor could come up with the rapturous, lovely ideas in Strange the Dreamer, and yet somehow understand malice and hatred to such a depth. Oh, the goodness and evil in men's hearts, laid so bare!

I'm not being very coherent, am I? It's one of those books.
Lazlo's mind was afire with marvel, the lit match touching off fuse after fuse.
I don't want to tell you anything about the plot. You really want to discover the mysteries of the Unseen City as Lazlo Strange discovers them: slowly, painstakingly, piecing together the forgotten language from old trade documents and explorers' diaries (it's okay, you don't actually have to do this), with passion and faith in the stories no one else believes, so that each big reveal lands in your open mind like a gift, a dream come true.

(You may notice that reviewers of Laini Taylor books have a tendency to wax eloquent. Or, at least to try. It's our feeble attempts to do justice to her writing.)

If you've read her other books, you'll find familiar motifs and themes in this one—wings, for example, and monsters, and questions like, how do you overcome inherited hatred? what happens when you love your enemy?—but in an entirely different setting and a really, really unique plot. I mean, how does she come up with this stuff? Blows my mind.
. . . their edges fading like the evanescent white bird, Wraith, as it phased through the skin of the sky.
If you love her previous work, you won't be disappointed. If you're already a fan, that's all you need me to tell you.

If you liked the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, but weren't a huge fan of the, admittedly, very insta-love . . . weeeelllllll . . .  Okay, there's a pretty impetuous love (not quite instant), but I have to say I thought it was handled better. Given these characters and the circumstances in which they meet, yeah, I'll buy that they fell in love pretty quickly. And, wow, what a unique love story!

If you haven't tried the intoxicating fantastical brew that is a Laini Taylor story, I promise you that you will fall in love with her characters even as you are mesmerized by her imaginary world. Lazlo Strange, orphan, librarian, dreamer—humble, passionate, kind, persistent—I dare you not to love him. He's just the nicest guy! "A dreamer in whose mind the best version of the world grew like seed stock. If only it could be transplanted into reality." And to watch his rare, gradual triumphs was a genuine delight.
It wasn't just metals and magnets anymore, but ghosts and gods and magic and vengeance, and while he wouldn't call himself an expert in any of those things, he had more to recommend him than the others did, starting with an open mind.

You've been warned about the cliffhanger.

I will also say, Laini Taylor's husband is one lucky guy. Or maybe it's Laini who's the lucky one. From what I can gather (after reading this novel), *ahem* she really, really knows how to kiss.

Thomas Haas bittersweet chocolate filled with passionfruit ganache. (Sorry, has to be Thomas Haas, and I don't know if they sell online but if they do and you like chocolate you owe it to yourself to order some. Or come to Vancouver, because you can't really order hot chocolate online.)