Sunday, October 26, 2014

What's on my iPod?

Quick update to let you know what I've got on my e-reader for my flight to Ottawa tomorrow. (I'm going to visit my daughter; maybe I can convince her to make me those Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls she was boasting about!)

I've already read Stray and loved it, so I'm excited to continue the series. Parallel world sci fi with psychic ninja warriors and nanotech. Will definitely blog about these ones when I'm done.

This is book 2 of the series I just started (reviewed the first book here): magic coming of age in alternate frontier America. Can't wait to see what Allie gets up to next.

New one from Sherwood Smith, straight-up historical romance I think, which is a departure for her. I briefly started it and I'm already immersed in the world.

Five hours there and then five hours back again; these should keep me going! Oh, and I'm also bringing along the library book I'm half through:

It'll be next week's MMGM if I keep liking it this much.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Conjured, by Sarah Beth Durst

I guess it must be the season subconsciously influencing me to pick spooky books. Or maybe there's a dark magic spell influencing all the authors I like to write spooky books. The last Sarah Beth Durst book I read was Vessel, which was a great desert adventure fantasy. Conjured is something entirely different, and I couldn't put it down.

First line: "Your name is Eve. Remember that."

Main characters who have forgotten everything about their past are always fun. The mystery of identity has to be the central mystery of everyone's life. So a character trying to piece herself together from a very few clues and dreams is always compelling and sympathetic. Said character instantly becomes more interesting when she can do odd magical things without knowing why. Suspense is added when she doesn't know who is telling the truth or who she can trust, and when everyone around her seems pretty terrified of something awful happening to her.

Conjured has all these excellent building blocks and out of them Durst creates a fascinating, terrifying, heartwrenching, living, breathing tale of love and freedom and what it means to be a person. Eve doesn't know how to undo a seatbelt, can't remember that she licked jelly donut off her fingers last week, doesn't know why the agent she's supposed to call Malcolm makes her feel safe and the one called Aunt Nicki doesn't like her. But out of all her emptiness her personality shines. She is creating herself before our eyes with every choice she makes. She chooses to cooperate, to pretend to be normal, but as "Malcolm" and "Aunt Nicki" introduce her into the world, her choices broaden. Particularly when she meets Zach at the library. (I really liked Zach.)

The visions that may or may not be pieces of her past are excellent creepy carnival scenes, textured with colour and scent and emotion. At first they're so cryptic they make no sense, but as the images build they start to hint at their own story. Like Eve, we're given all the puzzle pieces but it's hard to put them together without knowing what they're supposed to look like.

I just went to Goodreads to get the link for this book, and I was surprised by some of the negative reviews, but I can understand them. You have to be patient with this kind of narration: it's frustrating to spend half the book not knowing what's going on—but that's the frustration Eve is living through, so for me it created empathy and suspense.

The writing is beautiful. Durst uses all her senses in her descriptions, and she has surprising and apt metaphors. I love how her magic is wondrous and beautiful even when it's underlain with horror.

Another excellent Halloween read, and I guess that's why pumpkins seem appropriate. Maple pumpkin pie, I think, another invention of my daughter's that I didn't get to try because I'm a five-hour flight away.

Monday, October 13, 2014

MMGM: The Boneshaker, by Kate Milford

Have you heard the song "The Devil Went Down to Georgia?" If not, go listen to it here.

Have you read Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes? If not, October is the perfect month to rectify that grave omission! It's such a wonderful October book.

Now imagine a cross between that song and that novel.

And then throw out whatever you imagined because Kate Milford did it even better.

The Boneshaker is delicious on so many levels. The ghost town at the crossroads. The dusty little community with secrets. The creaky old carnival rolling into town. Such an evocative setting, and evoked with such loving detail!

Then there are the characters: Old Tom Guyot, who can play his guitar like nothing and nobody and who has a story about that crossroads. Inexplicable Simon Coffrett living alone in his mansion on the hill. Grandiose Dr. Limberleg with his wild red hair and his suspicious glares and his increasing desperation.

And Natalie herself, the odd, determined heroine who senses something not right about Dr. Limberleg's Nostrum Fair and Technological Medicine Show. She pokes her nose in where it isn't wanted until she finds out far more than is safe about what's really going on.

So much to love about this book! Natalie's beautiful bright red Chesterlane Eidolon, fastest bicycle in the world, built just for her by her father, that to her endless shame she hasn't figured out how to ride. The stories Natalie's mother spins for her, the magic of stories that Natalie begins to figure out for herself. Natalie's prickly relationship with her friend Miranda. Terrible moral dilemmas. The hints of a more complex mythology, only just touched upon in this book. (Now I want to read The Broken Lands and the two Arcana books, all set in the same world.)

Oh, and great illustrations.

My daughter just told me she's making a masala-spiced turkey with rice stuffing and butter chicken gravy (butter chicken gravy???). I wish I could go to Ottawa and try some! I imagine that meal would make a good metaphor for The Boneshaker: complex flavours redolent of tradition but with a spicy twist.

I first heard of The Boneshaker from the Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday crew over at Shannon Messenger's blog. You can be sure to find more wonderful recommendations there every Monday.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Night Calls, by Katherine Eliska Kimbriel

Sherwood Smith is responsible for a lot of my reading pleasure, not just because of the books she writes, but because she lists the books she's reading on her blog, and it turns out that she has great taste in books! I've taken to buying the books she recommends if they're not in the library because I'm so sure I'll like them. I haven't been disappointed yet.

The latest I've read is a marvelous coming-into-one's-magic story set in a spooky alternative version of early 1800s Michigan. In Night Calls, Alfreda learns she has the Gift when she can hear the werewolves calling. (Just to be clear, these are scary, dangerous werewolves, not hot sexy ones.) Her large extended family takes her in hand and devises an educational plan for her, because an untrained Gift is a danger to herself and to others. Alfreda may not like the idea at first, but her magic is a responsibility that she learns to accept. Pretty standard plot, really, but it felt entirely fresh and new.

 I like frontier America as a fantasy setting: there are so many possibilities to explore. I really enjoyed Patricia C. Wrede's Thirteenth Child series: it's big and adventurous with grand, sparkling magic and fantastic dangerous beasts. Night Callsis the Jane Austen version: it's cozy and quiet with creepy dark demons (okay, pretty sure there were no demons in Jane Austen; ditto werewolves, vampires and witches. But I stand by the comparison.) Kimbriel is all about the characters—great, vivid characters!—and their relationships, about towns and how they function, about families. One of the early dramatic moments is Alfreda's confrontation with the minister about having a service for dead werewolves. It's a credit to Kimbriel's writing that this scene is just as gripping (if a tad less scary) than a later confrontation with a vampire.

Kimbriel gives her world so much texture and depth I was completely immersed in it. She must have done a ton of historical research; there is a Little House on the Prairie feel to the book just because of all the authentic details of frontier life. But the magic feels just as meticulously researched (and I'm pretty sure she made that up!)(Although she does incorporate many different folk traditions, so that's probably why it seems so authentic.) I loved all the various magical objects.

The cover says it's a tale of dark magic, and this is Halloween-worthy stuff. Not horror, quite (I don't read horror!), but there are pretty nasty creatures out there, and Kimbriel does a great job of setting up suspense and tension. Again, it's all in the details: the letter covered in a miasma of evil just because it came through the haunted town; the odd behavior of the townspeople; the grim look on the practitioner's face.

This book is definitely something with pumpkin in it. A hearty pumpkin apple soup maybe, something made with stores from the root cellar that could simmer on a hook over the fire and warm the belly on a cold, dark winter night.

This cover plays up the fear factor maybe a little too much!
I like this one, but maybe it's not scary enough? Covers are difficult!