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:


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.


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?


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.


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.


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 (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.