Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas!

My annual trip to our local KidsBooks to treat myself. I went looking for Diana Wynne Jones' last book (finished by her sister, Ursula), and for The Princess in Black, The Most Magnificent Thing and Kandinsky's Noisy Paint Box. I was happily surprised by a sequel to the beautiful wordless picturebook, Journey, and a prequel Garth Nix wrote to his brilliant Old Kingdom series (I didn't have any idea he was writing more in that world. So excited!) My Christmas picture book (I try to buy a new one every year) is a Carl book—wonderful wordless picture books starring a very intelligent dog. And I also pick up a few graphic novels every year; decided to go for the space theme this time. Links to Goodreads, and a few comments on the ones I've read, below.

Hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday with your favourite people and favourite traditions, and hope you all have a good book to curl up with with a mug of hot chocolate!

The Islands of Chaldea, by Diana Wynne and Ursula Jones
Clariel, by Garth Nix
Quest — I loved Journey, and Quest is just as gorgeous. It's Harold and the Purple Crayon with the background filled in (which, I agree, kind of defeats the whole point, but it's so pretty!)
The Most Magnificent Thing — Everyone who has ever tried to create anything needs to read this! So true, so inspiring.
The Princess in Black — I'm going to give this to my two nieces, because every little girl who loves princesses needs to know about the Princess in Black. And it's an early reader, and the oldest niece is just at the right age to read it for herself. Aren't I the best aunt?
Kandinsky's Noisy Paint Box — because I love Kandinsky's art
Carl's Christmas —I have lots of Carl books, because they're so adorable and funny and subversive
Earthling! — I decided to buy this graphic novel after flipping through it and noticing the rather sly humour. The story is fun and the art work is great. 
Zita the Space Girl – loved this one. Think I'll give it to my nieces in a few years (when they're finally out of their princess phase!). The characters are all so wonderful, and the art is quite beautiful. Reminds me of the Amulet series, but for younger readers. There are a couple of Zita sequels out now, and I want them.

And as a little Christmas gift, some music from my tradition:

Saturday, December 20, 2014

#AMonthofFaves: Fave new-to-me authors I discovered in 2014

Kirsten at We Be Reading has been following this meme hosted by Estella's Revenge all month, with daily prompts to make various lists of favourite books from the past year. It's generated some awesome lists on people's blogs, so it's worth checking out (if you want to add a ton of things to your TBR!)

I'm not nearly organized enough to a) do that much blogging and b) look back and analyze my reading all year. (People count the books they read? In categories?? People have reading goals and measure their progress toward them???? My reading does NOT work like that!)

But this prompt (from Dec 9, so I'm only 10 days late) really works for me because it's been a great year for finding new authors. And it doubles as a chance to quickly review a lot of my travel reading.

I'll even divide it into categories for you:

YA Fantasy:

Rachel Neumeier  —  After really enjoying The Floating Islands and The City in the Lake (the only two books available at my library), I decided to buy The Griffin Mage trilogy to read on the plane. Was not disappointed. Yet another original magic system; awesome griffins; heart-breakingly complex characters whose stories interweave with each other over the trilogy; beautiful descriptions; Neumeier's trademark ability to create intense conflict without anyone being an actual villain, because everyone has such good reasons for what they're doing (even if they're griffins who want to wipe out all the humans). Excited to read her more recent stuff: no more waiting for the library to get them, Neumeier is now on my "I fork out hard-earned cash for anything she writes" list.

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel  —  So far I've read the first two of her Night Calls series—spooky witch stories set in an alternate frontier America—and I love the characters and the setting. Kindred Rites has seriously scary evil sorcerers that Allie gets kidnapped by and runs away from, with some nice realistic surviving-in-the-winter scenes. As with Night Calls, the details of every day life are immersively vivid, and the magic just seems like one more realistic detail. I've got the third book to read yet, and I also picked up the first book of an interesting-looking sci-fi series, Fires of Nuala.

YA Sci-Fi:

Andrea K. Höst  —  The Touchstone Trilogy was so much fun. And All the Stars is just as much fun: it's a sort of Invasion of the Body Snatchers /Host/ Animorphs story (did you ever read the Animorphs? I thought they were awesome!). An implausible premise but she makes it feel so real. I doubt a huge spire is going to appear in every large city in the world, dispersing dust that kills lots of people but (slight spoiler if you want to be surprised by what happens) gives some people superpowers and then allows unbodied aliens to take them over and use them in dominance challenges—but if that ever did happen, we would all react exactly the way Höst describes it. Great use of the Sydney, Australia setting, great cast of diverse characters. So far I've liked Höst's sci-fi better than the one fantasy I tried—Medair had an intriguing premise and was compelling enough to draw me along, but I felt as though the most interesting things were happening in the flashbacks, and I really wished she had told the story in the order it happened; I'd be more invested in it that way. So I haven't read the sequel yet (also because the blurb makes it sound like it's going to be sad, and I don't want a sad ending! So maybe I'm more invested than I'm willing to admit!). But she's such a good writer that I'm willing to try another of her fantasies, especially since her books are on sale on Kindle for .99 right now! (Quick, go snap up the Touchstone Trilogy!)

Fantasy: (I was going to say Adult Fantasy, but that would give entirely the wrong impression!)

Patrick Rothfuss  —  Finally decided to see what all the buzz was about, and I'm with the majority on this one: he's an amazing writer and I wish he'd hurry up and finish the third Kingkiller book! (But I'm willing to wait if it means it's going to be as good as the other ones.) Traditional magic kingdom fantasy with a great protagonist and just really good writing. Here are links to my Goodreads reviews of The Name of the Wind, The Wise Man's Fear, and The Slow Regard of Silent Things (which would be on a Top Ten Books that Blew My Mind list (the Dec 16 prompt), were I to make one).

Jo Walton  — I first encountered her name in a review for her non-fiction work, What Makes This Book So Great, a collection of her Tor reviews of science fiction (which I still haven't laid my hands on). I went over to to see what sort of things she was writing, and have been following her ever since. She's incredibly widely read, and smart, and snarky in a compassionate way, and she just has this angle of view on things. So when I saw that she had recently come out with a novel (Among Others), I figured I'd like it. I did (link to my review). Then I tried her alternate history Small Change trilogy, and was wildly impressed. I've got Tooth and Claw on my iPod now (Victorian novel plot and setting, but with dragons. What's not to like?!), and I'm waiting until I have the time to devote to it to get My Real Children, which sounds amazing. If you want a quick taste, she has a number of short stories online in various places, including a couple of Christmas ones on her blog.

Uncatagorizable in a sort of steampunky way (but for sure not steampunk):

Max Gladstone  —  Maybe it's too soon to put him on a favourites list, since I've only read one book, but Three Parts Dead would also go on that hypothetical Books that Blew My Mind list, so I'm fairly confident that I'm going to keep liking the Craft Sequence books. Also, look at those covers. So gorgeous; so colorful, and by that I mean notice the different colors of people on them. It's like he's writing books about humans or something. Quite radical. And I love the titles even more after reading this post explaining his chronology. (Also I'm liking Max Gladstone more after reading it. Smart, funny guy.) (Of course, now I can't decide which book to read next, since apparently it doesn't matter.)

Monday, December 8, 2014

MMGM: Whales on Stilts! by M. T. Anderson

I've seen this book several times at the library and almost taken it out, but then put it back because I thought it might be dumb. Then I noticed that one of its sequels was a Kirkus pick for 2014, and I thought maybe I should give the series a try. Well, Whales on Stilts is definitely as silly as it sounds, but it's also smart and funny and, in the end, quite heartfelt.

Anderson obviously has a lot of affection for the type of dime-store serial adventure story he spoofs in M. T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales. Absurdly ridiculous plots, unbelievably competent heroes/heroines, bombastic villains with their evil lairs and plans for taking over the world. (Sounds a lot like James Bond, actually!) Anderson stretches all the incredulity way past its breaking point (I mean, whales on stilts?) and plays it all with a perfectly straight face.

Contender for best opening line ever (and then the second line just tops it off):

On Career Day Lily visited her dad's work with him and discovered he worked for a mad scientist who wanted to rule the earth through destruction and desolation. 
Up until then life hadn't been very interesting for Lily.
Lily makes this book for me. "Most people didn't know that Lily herself was interesting." She has two very interesting friends, Katie Mulligan, real-life star of the Horror Hollow books, and Jasper Dash, Boy Technonaut, but it's Lily who's the heroine of this tale. Quiet, observant Lily is the one who notices there's something fishy about her dad's boss, with his blue, rubbery hands and the bag over his head. And after all of Jasper's inventions and Katie's helpful ideas, it's Lily who figures out how to stop his evil plan for world domination.

I love the completely oblivious adults. There's some satire of corporate culture with Lily's dad and his co-worker Ray, so caught up in minutiae that they miss the blatantly obvious:
"We're a little bit behind schedule. But you know, sometimes it almost makes me curious—why all of the giant, destructive lasers? And why all of the maps of North America?"
"Yeah. Sure. I guess. Oh, Ray, have you seen the memo about the meeting with Paul?"
(Reminds me of the sitcom Better off Ted. Used to be on Netflix. Really weird humour, very pointed satire.)

I was impressed at Anderson's deft handling of tone. Yes, a lot of the humour is over-the-top, but there are subtler layers, and when it comes to Lily's character the writing can be downright lyrical. And don't skip the footnotes or the "Guide to Reading and Thinking" at the end; they're delightful.

I'll be returning to the library to pick up The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, book 2 in the series that will become Pals in Peril!

Salty, buttery popcorn, you can never get enough of it.

It's been a while since I've contributed to Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday, but every Monday there are always a gang of folks with great recommendations on Shannon Messenger's blog.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Blue Lily, Lily Blue, by Maggie Stiefvater

Well, she did it again.

Have you ever used a juicer? You throw whole fruits and vegetables in at the top and out the bottom comes all the flavour and nutrients and juicy goodness extracted into a cup of pure concentrated apple essence. Or carrot. Or whatever.

The point is, Maggie Stiefvater is a juicer. When she writes, she extracts all the emotion and drama and knucklebiting tension and aweful magic out of her ideas and delivers them to us in juicy, concentrated scenes of pure oomph. Every scene. Like a fist to the gut.

If you've been enjoying the Raven Cycle, you know you have to read Blue Lily, Lily Blue, and I can assure you you won't be disappointed in any way. More magic. Greater understanding of Glendower and what he might be doing in West Virginia and why these particular characters are the ones who might be able to find him. More in-depth character and relationship development. You didn't think they could be developed any deeper? Oh! Adam and Ronan and Gansey and Blue. Noah, too. And the Grey Man. (I love the Grey Man.) Just, oh, my heart!

If you haven't yet started the Raven Cycle, you can't start here. (I mean, you could, because she gives enough little hints about what happened before that you probably wouldn't be too confused. But why would you?) Go get The Raven Boys—I'm sure your library has a copy—and get to know the boys as Blue does. I promise you'll get completely sucked into this story of sentient forests and dreams and psychics and ghosts and friendship and sleeping kings. And other sleepers who must definitely not be wakened.

In case you didn't realize, the Raven Cycle is more than three books long. This one ain't the end! Stiefvater is excellent at completing a satisfying story arc while leaving significant questions unanswered so you are heavily invested in reading the next book. Which we now have to wait for. (It's not a cliffhanger, though. Unless you read the epilogue. Then, yeah, not so much hanging off a cliff as stepping off it and wondering when you're going to start falling.)

Sticking with the juice metaphor, I'll say Blue Lily is the freshly squeezed orange juice I had every morning for breakfast in Morocco. (The oranges in Morocco taste so much better than any other orange you have ever had anywhere else. Seriously. You must go to Morocco just to taste the oranges there.)