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 Indiekör. 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.)

Monday, April 24, 2017

MMGM: This list should keep my 13-year-old nephew busy all summer!

This started in response to my sister-in-law's request for book recommendations for her 12-year-old son last year, and I've been very (very) slowly fulfilling it, one post at a time. Sorry, Stacey, it's taken me so long to compile this, and this is by no means a complete list, but I think it's long enough now! Be sure to visit my previous posts, here, here and here, and check the comments for more recommendations.

Science Fiction

The Fog Diver, by Joel Ross. Earth is covered in a dangerous nanite fog, so people have to sail around in airships. There are pirates.
Mars Evacuees, by Sophia McDougall. Dangerous adventures on Mars with a hilariously useless robot companion.
Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card. Classic military academy adventure.
Nomad and Ambassador, by William Alexander. Kid chosen to be ambassador to aliens (because adults just aren't open-minded enough.)

Adventure in non-modern (usually fantasy) settings

Airborn trilogy, by Kenneth Oppel. Straight up adventure with airships. Great series.
Leviathan trilogy, by Scott Westerfield. More adventure on airships, but these ones are whales. No, really, it's awesome.
Sabriel series, by Garth Nix. Really cool magic and necromancy. The Old Kingdom is one of the best created worlds out there.
Graceling trilogy, by Kristen Cashore. Kick-ass heroine who's even better at using her brain.
A Stranger to Command, by Sherwood Smith. Might be hard to find, but if you liked Ender's Game, this is similar (just not in space).
The Thief series, by Megan Whalen Turner. If you like tricky, unpredictable main characters, he's the best. (I don't know what happened to my copy of The Thief, but you can see sequels The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia in the photo.)
Jinx trilogy, by Sage Blackwood. Reluctant hero has to save enchanted forest; he's quite grumpy about it. Very fun.
The Floating Islands, by Rachel Neumeier. Flying people, what more do I need to say?

Dragons

Wings of Fire series, by Tui T. Sutherland. Magic, friendship, adventure, finding out what you're good at: Harry Potter except everyone's a dragon.
Dragonhaven, by Robin McKinley. Boy grows up in a natural reserve for dragons, rescues a baby dragon. Turns out dragons are very hard to raise.


Adventure (possibly fantastical) in modern settings

Submarine Outlaw series, by Phillip Roy. Canadian libraries might have this one. Kid builds his own submarine and sails around the world having adventures.
Heir series, by Cinda Williams Chima. For everyone who knows they're really a warrior/wizard/dragon/sorcerer at heart.
Inkheart trilogy, by Cornelia Funke. A classic for a reason: books come to life. Because they do.
100 Cupboards trilogy, by N. D Wilson.  Not just one door to another world, but 100.
The Grimm Legacy trilogy, by Polly Shulman. What if you could borrow fairy tale objects from a library?
The Chronus Chronicles, by Anne Ursu. Looking for more Greek mythology after Riordan? These are really well done, and funny, to boot.

Humour

The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex. Aliens invade and it's really, really funny.
Terry Pratchett. If you like witches, try the Wee Free Men series. If you loved The Borrowers, try the Bromeliad trilogy.
Skullduggery Pleasant, by Derek Landy. A wisecracking skeleton solves mysteries with a snarky 12-year old.

Intriguing mysteries (fantastical or not)

The Mysterious Benedict Society trilogy, by Trenton Lee Stewart. For geniuses only. (The Society, not the books.)
Any and all of Frances Hardinge's books. They're fantasy, but I'm putting them under mysteries because they all have a certain creepy mysteriousness about them.
Greenglass House, by Kate Milford. A bunch of strangers trapped by a blizzard in an old house with a history of smuggling.

Phew! Isn't it wonderful how many wonderful books there are? Please add more to my list in your comments!

For ongoing recommendations, every Monday you can go to Shannon Messenger's blog for Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday. Also Boys Rule Boys Read! is a great blog aimed at boys: always new books to find there.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Summer in Orcus, by T. Kingfisher

This book is simply wonderful.  You know you've found a special book when the way a plot comes together makes you cry, it's just so perfect. And you were already crying because of the character development (because you care so much about her and look what she's finding out about herself), and what's actually happening in the plot is making you cry (not necessarily because it's sad, but because it's so beautiful), and you end up in a blubbering mess even though it's a perfectly respectable happy ending. (Not that I'm saying this one is; wouldn't want to spoil it for you!)

There aren't many books like that, and Ursula Vernon (who is T. Kingfisher when she's writing less easily categorizable books) has written quite a few of them now. The T. Kingfisher stories are often fairy tale retellings, or stories that sound like they could be folk tales. Summer in Orcus is a portal fantasy, but it starts out with Baba Yaga's hut appearing in Summer's back alleyway, so the folk-tale roots are deep and resonant. (And, much like Every Heart a Doorway, but in a different way, Vernon is re-writing the paradigm of the portal fantasy.)

Summer in Orcus might start out seeming like a middle-grade book, but it gets darker and deeper as it goes on, and it's just not quite written like a middle-grade book. (Vernon explains why in her very interesting afterword. She was going for a more realistic depiction of what would happen if a 12-year-old was sent into a fantasy world on a quest.) A very sophisticated younger reader could handle it. A reader who understands who Baba Yaga is, and why Summer should be quite afraid of her but can probably trust her. At least, in certain particular instances. (Antelope women, however, are not to be trusted.)

So original, so vividly imagined. I don't want to spoil any of the surprises; some of her ideas made me laugh out loud, they were so weird and funny and yet, perfect. I keep wanting to use that word, because even though this story seems a hodge-podge of crazy fantasy ideas, everything works together into a cohesive, perfect whole. It reminds me of A Face Like Glass, by Frances Hardinge, which is also full of crazy imaginative ideas, but none of them are throwaway; they all end up being important, somehow. Writers who have that kind of vision are really impressive. Also, writers with the knack for humour as truth-telling are infinitely rare and valuable. (She's up there with Terry Pratchett.)

And Summer is a wonderful heroine; incredibly realistic and sympathetic. She's not a hero, but she chooses her path and keeps going even when she really, really wants to go home. She has the weaknesses and strengths of a 12-year-old who might be a little wiser than her years, but doesn't quite know it yet. “It would be a good day for the world if I could not find a child who knew terrible adult things. But I will be a great deal older before that day comes, I think.”

I stayed up late to finish this, and then couldn't sleep, it moved me so strongly. Ursula Vernon is a well-known and acclaimed author, but more people need to discover what she's doing when she's T. Kingfisher.

Creamy chorizo pasta (saute onions and peppers and sliced cured chorizo, add spinach or kale, chopped tomatoes or a bit of tomato paste, pour in cream, serve over a substantial pasta shape like rotini). Delicious comfort food with bite.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

More books for my now 13-year-old nephew

It's been nearly a year since I wrote a couple of blog posts (here and here) in response to my sister-in-law's request for books to give her 12-year-old after he finished Artemis Fowl, Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, so maybe it's about time I wrote the promised follow-up post on more recently-published books he might like.

For starters, I'm going to send you to 50 Best Books for 11-and 12-year-olds, an excellently useful list by Brightly. I have not read the majority of the books in this list, so I've got some catching up to do! Here are a few quick highlights of the books on this list that I have read (all of which I can heartily recommend.) (Some of which count as classics, but, hey, you can never have enough classics.)

Dealing With Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede. Cute, funny fairy-tale-type story about an enchanted forest and a girl who, yes, has to deal with a dragon. (There's more in the series, too.)

Eragon, by Christopher Paolini. Brutal honesty here: I thought the first book was great, the second was okay, and the third was unreadable. But if you like dragons, this one's a good pick.

Doll Bones, by Holly Black. She's a great writer with intriguing fantasies that are creepy but not too creepy.

His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman. Not sure I'd recommend this fantasy trilogy to 11-year-olds, but sophisticated 13-year-olds will love it. It's pretty mind-blowing.

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster. A classic, often imitated, never equalled. Still funny

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, by Chris Grabenstein. This one's pretty recent! Contemporary puzzle-solving mystery. A library-lover's fantasy.

Hoot, by Carl Hiassen. Contemporary story about saving owls that's really, really funny.

Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale. Okay, probably not something a tween boy would pick up, but honestly, it's got a great story. Anything by Hale is worth reading, but a 13-year-old boy might want to start with the graphic novel Calamity Jack, or the superhero story Dangerous.

The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin. This is the classic that other puzzle-solving mysteries try to live up to.

When You Reach Me and Goodbye Stranger, by Rebecca Stead. Slightly mind-bending, very honest books about friendship and other stuff tweens worry about. She's an amazing writer. Liar & Spy is also just as good.

Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli. He writes great contemporary stories about fitting in and standing out. If you liked Wonder, you should try this one.

Okay! I'm going to have to split this one into two posts as well. Do you have any recommendations I should add to my next post on great books for 12-13-year-old boys?






Monday, April 3, 2017

MMGM: Villain Keeper, by Laurie McKay

Villain Keeper is the first book of The Last Dragon Charmer, a middle-grade series that would have fallen right under my radar if Charlotte and Ms. Yingling hadn't reviewed it and its sequels. It doesn't have a particularly  eye -catching cover, and the title doesn't really stand out, but it's got a great premise that isn't used nearly often enough, if you ask me: someone falls through a portal into another world, but the world they land in is ours, and the one they come from is the fantasy world with kings and magic and dragons.

So what would happen if a twelve-year-old prince on a quest to kill a dragon landed in Asheville, North Carolina? He (and the annoying sorceress acquaintance who got sucked through the portal with him) would get picked up by the police eventually. The police would confiscate the prince's sword and take his proud Galvanian snow stallion to a boarding stable, and the prince and the sorceress would end up in foster care and have to go to school.

Of course, the school is more nefarious than it first appears. There's a suspiciously nasty math teacher and a frighteningly mysterious vice-principal, not to mention the lunch-workers (aren't they always evil?). But of course the police aren't going to believe Caden when he warns them. They already want to give him a psych evaluation because he keeps insisting he's a prince and he's perfectly capable of taking care of himself, thank you very much.

I loved the tension between Caden and Brynne's beliefs about their capabilities and the well-meaning adults' desire to care for them and keep them safe. (I suspect this will resonate particularly with middle-grade readers.) I love that the villains at the school are the only ones who take Caden seriously.

I love that Caden is really annoying because he was brought up as a prince, and gracious and commanding behaviour doesn't go over well at a public school. I love the developing relationships between him and his foster brother Tito, who tries to teach him to fit in while gradually coming to believe his story, and Brynne, who seems annoyingly adept at coping with this strange world.

I really loved all the characters, including the adults. There's a nice underlayer of poignancy to Caden's adventures, because what Rosa and Officer Jenkins believe about him is actually true: despite his skills, training and magical gift, he is a lost child who needs someone to take care of him. (This probably resonated more with me, the adult reader.)

Villain Keeper ends with one plot thread neatly tied up, but a lot of questions still unanswered, and I look forward to the next book.

Belgian double-cooked fries: super crispy on the outside and super soft inside, with garlic aioli and chipotle mayo to dip in.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Pretty Covers, Excited About the Books

Despite the date, none of the following is a joke. (Unlike this awesome one!)

Cover reveal!


Interview with Maggie where she talks about the cool premise (saints who grant pilgrims the miracle of seeing their own darkness) and the setting (1960s Colorado). Also no hints whatsoever about her promised Ronan Lynch trilogy. (Insert appropriate GIF with fireworks, balloons and dancing people.)(But, you know, cool, ironic ones.) A whole trilogy. About Ronan. Are we all squeeing yet?


Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor is now out! Will be reading this one soon. (Think I'll buy it in hardcover, just for the cover.)



Rachel Neumeier just released White Road of the Moon, and Winter of Ice and Iron is coming in the fall. She's so ridiculously prolific it keeps astounding me how good every one of her books is. (The Winter of Ice and Iron cover is the same artist as Mountain of Kept Memory. Just gorgeous.)



What else amazing is coming out this year that I need to be looking out for? (Don't worry, I know about Thick as Thieves!)(One more month!)


Friday, March 24, 2017

More K-drama, in case I managed to addict you with my last post about it

So, yeah. My Netflix icon is being shunted aside due to lack of use. North American shows just don't seem remotely interesting to me anymore, (sorry Hollywood). (Though I hear the new Anne of Green Gables is worth watching!)

Here is my first post about discovering K-drama (Korean dramas, in case you weren't in-the-know)(I wasn't in-the-know until a few months ago, so don't feel bad).

And here are some more shows I can highly recommend:

Goblin: Love the fantasy premise of this one and the way it's played out. A betrayed general is cursed to become an immortal goblin. 400 years later he's sharing a house in modern Seoul with a Grim Reaper (lovely irony), using his powers for good and searching for the Goblin Bride, the only one who can grant him death. Of course, when he finally finds her, he falls in love with her. Funny and poignant, with great acting, gorgeous scenery (nice use of Quebec City as a romantic backdrop), and interesting things to say about fate, free will and messing with what's meant to be.


Healer: Reminds me a bit of Arrow, except cuter (both show-in-general and lead actor!). Kick-ass martial arts expert does shady deliveries for people who don't like questions, until one job leads him to a girl struggling to make it as a reporter. They are both connected to a wrongful death from the past,  and Healer might be willing to go straight if it means he can protect her. Fun action, adorable romance, and another great performance from Kim Mi Hyung, who was my favourite character in Faith (The Great Doctor).


Kill Me, Heal Me: Fantastic acting in this story of a chaebol (wealthy corporation) heir with multiple personality disorder. One of his personalities falls in love with a girl (who happens to be a psychiatrist), and things start to get complicated. This is one of my favourite dramas I've seen so far. It is a treat to watch Ji Sung play five different personalities, and then play the main persona changing as he integrates each personality. Sounds serious but there's a lot of humour.


Sungkyunkwan Scandal: this one is just so fun and cute I never wanted it to end. Girl dresses up as a boy and gets into the Sungkyunkwan Academy. Hijinks ensue. There's romance (of course) and people plotting against the king (of course), and Song Joong Ki, who is reason enough to watch anything.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

God Smites and other Muslim Girl Problems, by Ishara Deen

I read a review for this one right before I left on my Spring Break trip (can't remember which blog it was: thank you whoever you are!); since she's a Canadian author (and I'm a little patriotic) and the book was only 4.99 on Kindle, I decided to buy it (note to price-setting people: 4.99 is cheap enough that I'll buy something on a whim).

I did not regret my purchase.

God Smites is a very, very funny book about a Muslim girl who just wants to lead a normal life. Oh, and solve a murder. And maybe have a conversation with the boy she has a crush on.

Asiya's voice is so real, you can't help becoming best friends with her. Her inner and outer conflicts are achingly, hilariously believable. I loved the conversations she has with God, where she's genuinely trying to figure out the right thing to do, while justifying what she wants to do. I'm sure anyone who believes in God has the same kinds of conversations all the time. (I know I do!)(not that I've ever tried to justify breaking-and-entering, but, you know, same general idea!)

I loved that faith was presented matter-of-factly as a part of life. Asiya believes in God and is striving to live her religion. She chafes against her parents' strictness, she questions whether Satan will really appear if she's alone with a boy, she strongly dislikes her Imam (she and her friends have a great nickname for him that becomes a running joke), but she doesn't question being Muslim. It's a part of her identity and she's happy with it.

What was the last YA or children's book you read in which religion was a positive, normal part of characters' lives (what was the last book you read in which it was even mentioned??)

So, kudos for cultural and religious representation (and #OwnVoices). And for having a brown girl on the cover with her whole face showing, looking confidently out at the reader (what was the last book you saw ...). But mostly kudos for being well-written, engaging, and highly entertaining. I loved all the characters, particularly Asiya's parents, who are well-rounded and play important roles in the plot, not just as obstacles. Great relationship dynamics within her family, with her friends, and even with the other adults. The murder mystery was fun—there were a few scenarios that tested my suspension of disbelief, but any story with a teen sleuth is going to be a tad unrealistic.

There is room for a sequel, and I will be looking for it. I think Ishara Deen is going to be another Susan Juby or Eileen Cook—we've got some great humourous writers up here in Canada!

(Also you should go read the Book Wars review of this book, because it's hilarious.)

I'm going to go with fish pakoras for my food metaphor, because now that I've thought of them I'm craving some: crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, little bites of yumminess.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Wolf by Wolf, by Ryan Graudin

Oh, my heavens, I need the second book now!

*checks Amazon. It's already written, and published! And there's a short story, too! I can buy it with one click!* *clicks* #theadvantagesofnotgettingtoabookonyourtbruntilitsalreadybeenoutforafewyears

Never mind about the review, I have to go start reading.

Okay, okay, I'll pause long enough to tell you THIS IS A FREAKING AMAZING BOOK—HAVE YOU READ THIS? WHY NOT? YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK!

Oy vey. (I wish I were actually Jewish so I could convincingly use this phrase in daily conversations. I would use it all the time if I could.)

The premise is so breathtakingly brilliant that it will take your breath away: Germany won WWII, and the world is now divided between the Third Reich and Imperial Japan. Every year there's a celebratory (for the Axis powers) motorcycle race across Europe and Asia, and the winner meets Hitler and Emperor Hirohito at the Victor's Ball. This year, someone is going to win the race and kill Hitler at the ball. (Because, of course we're still trying to kill Hitler.)

Wait, it gets better: the heroine is a death camp survivor who, as a result of being experimented upon, can shift her skin to look like anyone she has seen. So she can mimic last year's race winner, and thus enter the race (so she can win it and kill Hitler). (No, really, this is a good plan. It will totally work.)

Are you thinking it sounds a little too implausible? This is crazy alternate history with a sort of paranormal kick, and Graudin pulls it off spectacularly. I was riveted from page one, completely pulled into the world, completely captivated by Yael.

Oh, Yael.  Fierce, broken, bitter, hopeful, with a will of iron and nerves of steel. She squeezed my heart until it ran dry. Then there's Felix, the brother of the girl Yael is mimicking, and Luka—her enemy? her lover? just what exactly happened between Adele and Luka during the last race? none of Yael's research can tell her, so how the heck is she supposed to navigate these relationships and not give away the fact that she isn't actually Adele Wolfe? (Yes, wolves are a bit of a motif in this book.)

So, yeah, great plot, great characters, fantastic pacing—tense, tense, tense all the way through. But the writing. Ryan Graudin's prose. Visceral, muscular, intense, poetic the way a boxing match can be poetic. Beautiful writing that never gets in the way of pacing because it creates the pacing. I started highlighting sentences that made me stop in my tracks they were so perfect, and the whole book is now pink. A few non-spoilery examples:
His irises were blue. The shade of a sky scraped bare and a skeleton soul. The color of veins just beneath skin, needle-ready.
Kilometers, cool darkness, and speed threaded through the gaps between Yael's fingers as she reached out.
His scarred, daughterless hand grabbed her marked, fatherless arm.
I found myself rereading passages the way I lick the bowl clean after eating something delicious and chocolaty.

But no, this is a meaty book: soy-ginger braised short-ribs served over garlic mashed potatoes to soak up every bit of the sweet-savory sauce. (And yes, I would lick the plate clean.)

Now, on to book 2!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Spring Break Reading

I'm escaping the multiple personalities that have been winter in Vancouver this year and heading to a sunny beach for a week, and this is what I'm bringing to read:

E-books borrowed from the library (a completely random selection of books from my TBR that happened to be available as e-book borrows):


I also put this one on hold, so hopefully I'll get it before I leave:


Books I bought for my Kindle:



These include the latest Lois McMaster Bujold Penric novella, a T. Kingfisher (otherwise known as Ursula Vernon) book I know nothing about but I bought it because it's by her, two different manga volumes (I don't really like reading graphic novels on the Kindle, but I'm buying Yona to support it (I've already read up to volume 24 online and I'm buying the official ones as they get published) and I bought Seraph of the End on a whim), all seven Chrestomanci books, because it will comfort me to know they're there, and a YA novel by a Canadian Muslim writer.

I'm also halfway through this one, which is amazing:


Physical books I'm carrying with me, because what if all electronics suddenly fail?


Plus the printed-out manuscript of my novel, which I intend to do another editing pass through.

Think I'll have enough to occupy me for a week??


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 Viki.com (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 Viki.com; 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.