Sunday, February 26, 2017

Rest of the Cybils shortlist

Last week I posted about four of the seven books shortlisted for the 2016 Cybils YA Specualtive Fiction award, and now I'll tell you about the other three. Illuminae was the winner, (follow the link to see all the winners), but I really think all seven books deserve attention. And it was wonderful how diverse they were in style, theme, genre, characters and authors. A great representation of the impressive things going on in YA spec fic these days.

Keeper of the Mist, by Rachel Neumeier, is a fairy-tale-type fantasy about a magical kingdom under threat from its magical neighbours. I'm a big fan of Neumeier, so I was thrilled to see this one on the list. It has an engaging heroine: Keri the baker who is suddenly chosen to be the Lady of Nimmira (everyone knew she was the illegitimate daughter of the Lord, but no one expected the magic to descend on her) and has to rise to the occasion. The strength of this book is in the relationships between Keri and her Bookkeeper, Doorkeeper and Timekeeper, who have to figure out how to use their strengths to protect the kingdom, and between Keri and her older brothers, who think they could do a much better job than her but have to work with her and learn to trust her. Friendships and family bonds (and a little bit of romance) in a beautiful and original fantasy setting.

Labyrinth Lost, by Zoraida Córdova, is often called a Latina Alice in Wonderland. It starts in the real world, where Alejandra is about to come into her powers as a bruja. But Alex wants to reject her magic because of its potential for harm. When she disrupts her Death Day ceremony, her family are all whisked away to the magical realm of Los Lagos, and Alejandra has to travel through its strange, dangerous landscape with a boy she doesn't trust in order to rescue them. I really liked the depiction of a multi-generational family, with all the tensions and warmth of a normal family, plus magic to complicate things. Los Lagos is beautiful, surreal and frightening, and the magic is fascinating to me, based as it is on Latin-American mythologies I'm not familiar with. It has a great first line: "The second time I saw my dead aunt Rosaria, she was dancing."

The Door at the Crossroads, by Zetta Elliot, is a time-travel novel that connects post-9/11 New York with the Civil War era and the draft riots. It's the second book describing Judah and Genna's struggles to find each other after being transported back in time and encountering slavery and the people fighting to end it. It works as excellent historical fiction, highlighting a number of unfamiliar (to me) aspects of the time period (had you ever heard of the free black community called Weeksville? Worth looking up, it's pretty cool!) while being a tense story of modern teens encountering the brutality and humiliation of slavery and the sacrifices of those trying to free them. Judah and Genna are both well-drawn, engaging characters, and the writing is vivid and sometimes heartwrenching.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Cybils Awards Announced!

Ahem. Two days ago, actually. But in case you're as behind the times as I am, here's the link to all the winners. And the book we chose for YA Speculative Fiction is . . .

Illuminae, by Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. I reviewed it last year when I first read it, and on a reread I still found it a lot of fun. We judged that it would have a ton of appeal to teen audiences, and we were impressed by the innovative format, which made the whole reading experience a little meta.

We did have a lot of debate before deciding on Illuminae, however, because we got a stellar short list to choose amongst. So I want to highlight the rest of the books, because they all deserve notice and recognition.

This Savage Song, by Victoria Schwab, is a dystopian Romeo and Juliet (sort-of, except they don't actually fall in love, so really not at all, but it totally has the "Two households both alike in dignity" thing going on) in the same vein as Marie Lu's Legend series. I really liked the monsters—the concept of how they're created, and the way the story questions what it means to be a monster. I liked the way music is used; I liked the way family relationships are explored. I loved both protagonists, their struggles with their own identities, and the prickly friendship they develop. The story comes to a satisfying close but definitely needs a sequel, which I will be eager to read.

Still Life With Tornado, by A.S. King. Brilliantly written book about an artist who can't do art anymore. Or about a family falling apart, or starting to heal. It kept surprising me, as King's books tend to do. It didn't seem like speculative fiction, except that it was definitely surreal. The protagonist is incredibly annoying at first, but just funny enough to put up with, until she breaks your heart. It's one of those books with lots of pieces that are interesting enough on their own, but when they finally all come together you have to gasp a little at how beautiful the final picture is. Not an easy book to describe, but a book you have to read.

When The Moon Was Ours, by Anna-Marie McLemore is gorgeous, lovely, luminescent, tender, and a little bit unsettling. Magical realism at its most magical, it's a love story between Miel, who grows roses from her wrist, and Samir, who has a secret that, above all else, the four Bonner sisters cannot find out. There are glass pumpkins and cures for lovesickness and paper moons, and it's really not like any other book I've read. It has important things to say about choosing our own identity, and it says them beautifully.

I'll highlight the other three in my next post!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

New Maggie Stiefvater!

Thought you might be as excited as I was when I saw her post:

I finally get to tell y’all the release date and title of my next novel: it’s a young adult standalone novel, it’s coming out on 10/10/17, and it’s called ALL THE CROOKED SAINTS.
No cover yet, but definitely go to her blog to see the very cool art she did "inspired" by the novel.

I'm almost as excited about this as I am about the new Megan Whalen Turner. (May! It's coming in May! It's almost May, right??)

If you follow my blog, then you probably already know and love both these authors, but if by some chance you haven't read anything by either of them, you must immediately drop everything you were doing, sweep the rest of your TBR off the shelf, and start either The Thief or The Raven Boys. No, really, I promise, you have to.

Also, just because I'm squeeing about stuff I'm waiting for:

Friday, January 27, 2017

In which I discover K-Drama

Still can't talk about the books I'm reading: another couple of weeks before we have to decide on a winner, and it is proving to be a very difficult decision. What I can say is that I highly recommend all seven books on the shortlist for the Cybil's YA Speculative Fiction category. And they're all completely different from each other. Great illustration of how diverse YA and Spec Fic can be.

Back when I talked about discovering manga, I referred to the rabbit hole I was falling into. Well, I found another rabbit hole, and I'm in deep. It started with Nirvana in Fire, a Chinese historical drama that I blame Sherwood Smith for recommending. Have you watched it yet? Seriously, you have to watch it.

I got tired of all the ads and decided to subscribe to (which licenses Asian shows for fan translators to subtitle. The subtitles aren't always awesome, but they do the job.) After watching everything I could find with the actors I loved from Nirvana, (you have to watch The Disguiser just to see Wang Kai in a long blue wool coat and Hu Ge being badass. Aiiish! And Ode to Joy so you can see Liu Tao's fantastic wardrobe.)(They're also just great actors.) I decided to try some of the shows Viki was recommending, which led me into the Korean drama section.

Turns out there are a lot of Korean dramas.

Here are a few I've really enjoyed so far (note that I'm using the titles as translated by; there are other translations):

Descendants of the Sun: straight-up romance between a soldier and a doctor in a gorgeous setting. So pretty, and cute, lots of witty banter and exciting action. A lot of fun. And Song Joon Ki looks really good in military fatigues and sunglasses!

The Legend of the Blue Sea: romance/fantasy about a mermaid and a man who love each other in two different lifetimes. This one has everything: both period costumes and modern-day setting, sweet romance, a sort of murder-mystery, lots of humour, great side characters. And Lee Min Ho.

My Love from the Star: I loved Jun Ji Hyun so much in Legend that I decided to try this romance/fantasy about an alien who's been on earth for 400 years, and right before it's time for him to go back he very reluctantly falls in love with an actress. This one's just a lot of fun.

The Great Doctor: I needed me some more Lee Min Ho, and I have to say I'm a sucker for these historical settings. This one's basically Outlander in ancient Korea: the king's chief military guy goes through a portal to the 21st century to bring back a doctor to save the queen's life. Lots of political machinations, great bad guys, lovely romance, and I much prefer this haircut on Lee Min Ho. Just saying.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Happy New Year! Mountain of Kept Memory, by Rachel Neumeier

Happy 2017 to all of you!

One of the exciting things that happens on Jan 1 is the announcement of the Cybils Award shortlists. If you're looking for good childrens/YA books to read, these lists are a great place to start. This year I'm judging the YA Speculative Fiction category, so I get to read all seven of these books and discuss them intensely over the next few weeks with my fellow judges. (If anyone has any tips on how to get a bunch of images to line up neatly in Blogger, I would welcome the advice!)

Thanks to the Round 1 judges for an appealing and very diverse list to judge amongst! I can't say anything more about them until we make our decision and announce a winner.

So, in the meantime, I'll review another new Rachel Neuemier novel that came out this year.

The Mountain of Kept Memory is "technically" an adult book (Neumeier's words), I suppose because the characters are older than typical YA protagonists, but I think it totally works as YA. That gorgeous cover is just perfect for it: conveys the really beautiful world-building—kingdom in peril, prince and princess trying to save it—but with a hint that this isn't your typical magic kingdom fantasy, because it isn't.

Oressa is one of my favourite princess characters yet. In the opening scene she is crouched uncomfortably in a hiding place so she can overhear the King and his counsellors decide that the best way to placate an invading prince is to marry her off to him. I love that she is clever and subtle, afraid to be noticed, but defiant enough that she will have none of this. She and her brother come up with their own plan, which might count as treason depending on how you define treason ...

I love the relationship between Oressa and her brother Gulien. I love the way royal family dynamics are so true to families everywhere but with nation-changing implications. One of the things Neumeier is very good at is having multiple characters with conflicting agendas, all of which you can empathize with and get invested in. Even the really bad guys—they have plans that make perfect sense given their understanding of the way the world works. And the interplay between everyone's different understandable motivations makes for an interestingly twisty plot. It can't be possible that everyone you've come to care about actually gets what they want in the end!

Another thing Neumeier does well is invent original magic systems that are cool and interesting and make complete sense. I particularly enjoyed the is-it-magic-or-is-it-technology fantasy elements in this one. The Keiba and her mountain were very cool, and the kephalos is an awesome character. (I can't tell you anything about the kephalos without spoilers, sorry!)

There's a little bit of highly satisfying romance, but mostly this is a coming-of-age story (two, actually): a prince and princess each discover the role they were meant to play, and then choose to make the sacrifices necessary to accept that role. (I think my favourite kind of plot involves characters making hard choices that allow them to become who they really are.) It's a standalone (another mark in its favour), but I would grab a sequel if she decided to write one.

White chocolate gingerbread blondies: a really delicious square that I tried to make for Christmas this year and utterly failed (sometimes it doesn't matter what size the pan is, and sometimes it really, really does). Have to try again.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A few Christmassy Things

I don't seem to have had time to read very much this month. In fact, I have no idea where December went. It isn't already the 20th, it can't be! (I'm not one of those people who start getting ready for Christmas in July. I haven't even put up my Christmas tree yet!)

I have been doing pretty well with the #LIGHTtheWORLD challenge I decided to take on: do an act of service every day in December leading up to Christmas day. I've babysat people's kids, driven a friend to the hospital, driven a friend's cat to the vet, made soup for my son and his girlfriend when they had the flu, organized meals for a friend with a new baby, helped prepare and put on a church Christmas party, fed my friend's cat (yes, the same one) . . .  I'm not exactly following the "25 ways over 25 days," but that's just a guideline, really. (I can never say that line without hearing it in Geoffrey Rush's voice.) It's surprising how easy it is to find ways to help people, once you're specifically looking for them. (And there are lots of interesting ideas on the website—the theme is how to be like Jesus, but the ideas for service are non-denominational.)

I did finally bring my Christmas decorations out of storage and start putting some up, and one of my key decorating objects are the Christmas picture books I've been collecting. Here are a just a few:

This year in my annual visit to Kidsbooks (ostensibly to get gifts for nieces/nephews, but I always come away with a few presents to myself)("Would you like these wrapped?" the cashier asks. "Oh, no, that's fine. These are for me."), I didn't add to my Christmas book collection, but I got a couple of lovely picture books (in case you can't see it, the light blue one is Teacup, by Rebecca Young with stunning illustrations by Matt Ottley), and I splurged on the illustrated Harry Potter.

Here's hoping that you get the books you want most, and that the books you give will be truly appreciated! You've all been a light to me this year; thank you for sharing your love of books and your care for the world. Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah—oh, it's the Winter Solstice today, isn't it! Blessed Winter Solstice! The light now begins to return! 

And have a Happy, Happy New Year!

Monday, November 28, 2016

MMGM: What I'm getting my nieces for Christmas

I'm late for Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday, and I don't have a whole review for you, but I thought I could share what I'm getting my two bright, spunky nieces (ages 7 and 5) for Christmas, in case you have a bright, spunky girl on your list and she doesn't already own these must-have books.

I haven't even read the sequels to Harriet the Invincible, Hamster Princess, (I've got Of Mice and Magic on hold at the library), but I know they're going to be awesome, so I'm getting all three currently published volumes for the girls. The first one turns Sleeping Beauty on its head (my review is here (along with some other books that would also make great gifts)), the second one updates the Twelve Dancing Princesses, and the third is clearly a redo of Rapunzle (can't wait to see what she does with it!).

I got the girls the first Princess in Black book last Christmas, and it was a big hit, so I have to catch them up on that series. They've already got books 2 and 3, so I'll just get them The Princess in Black Takes a Vacation. Haven't read it yet, but, again, I have every confidence that Shannon Hale will give us another really fun story about the princess with a secret identity.

I finally got around to reading the first of the Hilda graphic novels, by Luke Pearson, and the entire series immediately made it onto my must-buy-for-the-nieces-plus-another-copy-of-the-whole-set-for me list. I didn't think anyone could outdo Harriet in the smart, spunky adventuress department, but quiet, idiosyncratic Hilda is now my favourite character ever. And the sly, clever humour of the story is my favourite kind of humour. (It also helps that it reminds me ever so slightly of the Moominland books, which I love. Something about the cozy but also existential whimsy of it, and the art style.)

Here's my niece; you can see why she needs books about brave adventuring girls!