cybilsI’m late mentioning this, but once again I’ll be a judge for the Cybil Awards! I’m doing the YA Speculative Fiction category this year as I did last year. I’m really excited to be working with the other judges.

Part of the reason I love the Cybils is the fact that it’s a very open award–anyone can nominate their favorite book in the relevant categories as soon as October 1st comes along. So if you have a favorite book published for children or teens between October 16, 2015 and October 15, 2016, you should definitely nominate it! I’ll try to provide a list of books I would love to see nominated.

bookish posts reviews

Cybils round-up: Ritter, Traver, O’Neill

beastly bonesBeastly Bones by William Ritter: Beastly Bones is a sequel to last year’s Jackaby, which I did enjoy. Abigail Rook, Jackaby, and Charlie return for this one, which features a mystery surrounding a recently discovered skeleton. I think I actually liked this one better than the first, as I felt that Abigail’s talents  and personality were a little more foregrounded. Jackaby certainly dominates the story, but I got more of a sense of who Abigail is and why she finds the work she does with Jackaby rewarding. I also liked the relationship between Abigail and Jenny. While these aren’t books of my heart, they are smart and engaging, and I’ll likely be back for the rest in the series.

duplicityDuplicity by N.K. Traver: Sci-fi ish, with a heavy emphasis on the -ish. I struggled with the beginning of this one as Brandon is such a deeply awful person to pretty much everyone around him. (Also calling your creepy mirror double Obran, for Other Brandon, severely tests my suspension of disbelief.) As the story unfolded, I did get drawn in a bit more, although I feel that the narrative lets Brandon off pretty easily and I had issues with one of the big plot points and how it unfolded. If you have a reader who wants a creepy book about hackers, this might be one to hand them.

only ever yoursOnly Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill: I’m still mulling over my exact reaction to this book. It has more than a bit of a Handmaid’s Tale feel to it (I don’t think the fact that the main character’s name is freida is a coincidence), but here’s where I admit to bouncing pretty hard off Handmaid’s Tale. I know. At any rate, I think this is an important book, and that it’s showing very clearly the destructive effects of a certain kind of gendered thinking. At the same time, I struggled with how bleak it is, how little hope it gives its female characters–and I know that’s the point, and yet. And yet. I worry that this narrative reinforces the idea that this societal setup is inevitable, and that girls will always destroy each other. And I’m not sure the degree to which this is personal preference vs. a flaw in the book (I do, more objectively, think the ending is a little too abrupt, diminishing the power of what happens.) As I said, I’m still mulling over my reaction, which I think boils down to: I get it, but I don’t like it. Your thoughts welcome!

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November 2015 round up

Books I’ve already talked about
This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee
Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson
Sylvester by Georgette Heyer
The Chocolate Thief by Laura Florand
Among Others by Jo Walton
The Wizard Hunters by Martha Wells
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Other books
Private Politics by Emma Barry: I like Emma Barry’s contemporary romances a lot–they’re smart and fun, and even though I don’t love Washington politics, they manage to engage me.

The Wanderers by Kate Ormond: Cybils book. There seems to be a circus theme this year! At any rate, I had kind of an ambiguous reaction to this one–I liked the concept and the writing was perfectly serviceable, but I didn’t find the whole particularly memorable.

Half a Creature From the Sea by David Almond: Cybils book. Almond is a wonderful writer–great at magical descriptions and dreamy, eerie stories. I do wonder who this short story collection is FOR; the stories themselves are mg/YA, but the framing distances the narrator from that age and for me set up an unnecessary barrier between reader and story.

Ash & Bramble by Sarah Prineas: Cybils book, that I was planning to read already. So, I really love Sarah Prineas’s books, and I was looking forward to this one a lot. I did find that I liked it a little less than I was expecting; I’m not sure if it was just me & the mood I was in, but I wanted just a little more depth. It’s an interesting dark fairytale mashup, and I suppose that part of the issue is just that I’m not a huge fan of fairy tale mashups (as opposed to retellings). All in all, I think I need to consider whether there’s an actual issue with the book, or whether it’s just not quite for me.

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore: Cybils book. It’s another circus story! I actually was reminded quite a bit at the beginning of Gwenda Bond’s Girl on a Wire, but they stories go very different places. I liked the writing, which had a great sense of magical wonder, and the characters; I’m not quite as sold on the plot but overall this one worked pretty well for me.

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys ed by April Genevieve Tucholke: Cybils book. A collection of short horror stories, which draw on a reference of film or book. As is usually the case with short story collections, I REALLY liked some stories and REALLY disliked others. Nova Ren Suma’s “The Birds of Azalea Street” opens the collection and absolutely blew me away; I also found Leigh Bardugo’s “Verse Chorus Verse” genuinely unsettling.

Serpentine by Cindy Pon: Cybils book. I’ve enjoyed Pon’s books in the past, and I liked this one as well. I believe it is the first book in a new series and for me the ending was pretty abrupt, but it’s a nice start.

Other posts
Made and Making: October
Made and Making: November
Apple-cheddar pie
[Witch Week] Slantwise fairy tale retellings
Comfort Reads
Ten favorite quotations

bookish posts reviews

Cybils review: The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn

shadow behind the starsI read Hahn’s debut, A Creature of Midnight, last year and appreciated a lot about it, while also feeling ultimately slightly detached from the story. So I was interested to see how her second book, The Shadow Behind the Stars, would play out. I thought it was excellent and showed Hahn’s strengths and growth as a writer.

The Shadow Behind the Stars is narrated by Chloe, the youngest of the three sisters known as the Fates. Well. Sort of the youngest; all three were born at the same moment, but they show themselves to others, and to a certain degree see the world, as different ages of women. One of the questions the book teases out is the degree to which the Fates themselves are fated–must Chloe be rash and impulsive? Does Serena find herself drawn to children because she truly loves them, or because it is the slot she fits into? I found the treatment of this aspect really interesting and well done.

I noticed how much of A Creature of Moonlight was focused on women’s stories and friendship, and this is definitely the case in this book as well. The sisters’ relationships to each other and Aglaia form the heart of the book, and even when they venture into the wider world, many of the people they actually interact with are women. It’s not that men are completely absent, but the weight of the story is on female experience and voices, which I found very refreshing!

It’s also a story of change, of choices that both humans and the Fates make. Aglaia, the human girl who arrives at their doorstep, forces them to step outside their mostly-comfortable routine (we get hints that things are not quite as smooth as they immediately seem, and later these hints are explained a bit more). I liked the way her humanness was portrayed–sometimes in books where non-humans interact with humans, it can be hard to tell the difference, but here we see Aglaia’s impulsiveness, passion, and stubbornness through Chloe’s eyes.

And Chloe herself is a great character. She’s not exactly an unreliable narrator, but because the story is told in first person narration through her perspective, I kept remembering that everything is filtered through her. She has authority; she’s much older than she looks, and she is after all one of the Fates. But she also has things that she won’t admit even to herself, and part of her journey in the book is coming to terms with this, letting herself admit that the things which happen hurt.

There are definitely sad things that happen in the course of this story, but I felt like, appropriately for this story, they had weight and meaning. (I may have cried a bit.) (Also Monster, why.) I am struggling to decide exactly how I feel about the ending, which I won’t spoil so I can’t just say what I’m trying to tease out. But I think there is a difference between doing something because it’s what you’ve always done and doing it because you mean to.

All in all, this was one I was impressed by–I didn’t even mention Hahn’s prose, which is lovely!–and also moved by. It’s definitely one for readers who like quieter, character driven stories, especially retellings of myths and folktales.

Book source: public library
Book information: 2015, Simon & Schuster; YA historical fantasy

Other reviews: The Book Smugglers @ Kirkus; Teen Reads; Eater of Books, you?

I read this book for the Cybils, but this review is my personal opinion.

bookish posts reviews

Cybils round up: Rowell, Swendson, Brockenbrough

  carry onCarry On by Rainbow Rowell: I’ve been simultaneously intrigued and concerned by Carry On ever since its publication was announced. How on earth was this going to work? Was Rowell going to write as Gemma T. Leslie? Would it just be a weak Harry Potter readalike? As it turns out, it worked for me! For one thing, it’s Simon’s final year, ie the story we don’t get any glimpse of in Fangirl. It’s also doing some interesting things with the Chosen One trope, and with Simon’s relationships and friendships–I particularly liked that we get pov sections from Agatha and Penelope, and that they’re allowed to be their own characters with their own arc. Is the plot predictable? Maybe; I certainly saw some aspects coming from several miles away. But at the same time, I felt that we were meant to see them coming, that this is a book very aware of the traditions and tropes it’s engaging with. To the extent that I have reservations, it’s that I’m not quite sure what the subtext is saying, or trying to say, with the conflict between the established families and the Mage. Nonetheless, I found this both enjoyable and effective.

rebel mechanicsRebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson: Alternate history, where the British still rule the American colonies in 1888. The main character is Verity Newton, a young governess who finds a job working for one of the families of Magisters who control magic and its use. But the family and Verity herself have secrets. This is one of those books that I found slightly frustrating, because I liked it, but I wanted to love it. It’s a fairly quick and light read, which is really my issue: I felt like it was teetering on the verge of saying something really thoughtful and interesting about colonialism and rebellion and identity, but never quite managed any of those. On the other hand, it’s perhaps not fair to want a book to be something that it’s simply not; certainly if you’re looking for a coherent and fun steampunk adventure, this is a good one!

game of love and deathThe Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough: This is a very good book for a different reader than I am. If you love books that engage with big ideas and have a sense of sweeping, epic scope, this is probably for you. If you like a heightened style of prose, this is a very well-done example. For me, a reader who is very invested in characters and prefers a quieter prose style, it was very difficult to feel connected with the story. Henry and Flora never quite convinced me that they were real people, as opposed to Love and Death’s pawns, and even their ostensible interests (music and flying) felt somewhat tacked on as opposed to organic. It was nice to see an interracial couple in historical fantasy, and the world was generally at least somewhat diverse. But I felt that the ending was too tidy, and I have questions about the arc of one of the characters. Still, as I said, this was fundamentally a book I appreciated while recognizing that it was also one I was probably never going to personally love.

bookish posts reviews

Cybils roundup: Moskowitz, Elliott, Larbalestier

This year, I’m going to try doing at least a weekly round up of the Cybils books I’ve read, if not a full blog post for one or more of them (last year I was terrible at reviewing, so sorry Charlotte!). Up first: three books I had been interested in reading already. They’re all books that don’t hold back much in terms of the subjects they’re willing to look at.

glitter and bloodA History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz: In the aftermath of a war between the tightropers and the fairies, ostensibly on behalf of the gnomes who life under the city, the only fairies left in Ferrum are Beckan and her friends. They do what they have to to survive. This one is memorable for a couple of reasons: it doesn’t shy away from what happens in wars, even fictional ones, and how that has forced Beckan and her friends to grow up very quickly. At the same time, there are things that they don’t understand, or don’t fully understand at first.

It also has a marvelously inventive & original world and society that still somehow has bits of fairy tale echoes. I found the details of the different places, as well as the interaction between fairies, gnomes, and tightropers, to be both original and convincing. Finally, the voice here is fantastic–I don’t want to give too much away, but this is a time that unreliable narration really worked for me. And there’s a sense of hard won hope that I really bought and appreciated. I’m still thinking about this book, weeks later.

court of fivesCourt of Fives by Kate Elliott: I really liked a lot of things about this one, from the setting to the complexities of the family and politics. There are a few Little Women echoes, but they’re mostly at the beginning and I personally didn’t find the comparison hugely helpful. At any rate, Elliott does a nice job of writing a character who is athletic and good at it, but who’s also smart and thoughtful. This is the first in a series (trilogy?) and I’m curious to see how the story will play out. There’s quite a bit here about the effects of colonialism and empire, which I don’t feel qualified to really comment on, but which seemed thoughtful and complex as far as I can tell. Jessamy is a compelling main character and I found that the politics of the world, and the effects it has on her and her family, worked really well for me. I do think that the book is maybe a little longer than it needs to be, although I appreciated that Elliott really shows how much training is involved in running the Fives.

razorhurstRazorhurst by Justine Larbalestier: Historical fantasy set in Sydney in 1932. This one focuses on two main characters, Dymphna and Kelpie. Much of the city is ruled by rival gangs, and it’s a pretty brutal time. The book opens with the murder of Dymphna’s boyfriend, Jimmy Palmer, and continues as Dymphna and Kelpie try to stay alive and evade the clutches of the gangs. I liked parts of this–Larbalestier has a vivid sense of description and dialogue–but for me the way the book was set up, with short spurts of narration from different characters, kept me from really connecting with either Dymphna or Kelpie. There was also a tragic moment at the end that I didn’t really feel was earned within the narrative, although I think the point is that pointless things happen. Nonetheless, if you’re interested in the time period or place, or if you want a book that really focuses on the friendship between two girls, this might be one to pick up.

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Cybils 2015!

2015 logoI am very pleased to be able to say that I’m a panelist for the Cybils awards once again! This year, I’ll be a first round judge for the YA Speculative Fiction category (sci-fi & fantasy). This means that from October 15-December 30th, you should expect me to be: reading, reviewing, putting books on hold, returning books to the library, bemoaning the lack of space on my bookshelf & floor, etc etc. I’m really excited. 🙂

Plus, my fellow judges are awesome!

Sheila Ruth
Wands and Worlds

Kim Baccelia
Si, Se Puede
Kimberly Francisco
Stacked Books

Allie Jones
In Bed With Books
Cindy Hannikman
bookish posts reviews

Greenglass House by Kate Milford

greenglass houseGreenglass House is a smugglers’ inn, but it is also Milo Pine’s home. He loves his house and his parents and he would be happy if nothing ever changed. But one snowy evening, two strangers arrive unexpectedly, setting into motion a chain of events which will force Milo to look at himself and his family.

I’d been hearing a fair amount of buzz about Greenglass House when it came out, so I was excited to see that it was nominated for the Cybils. I’ve read one of Milford’s earlier books and liked it. Plus the cover is very appealing! (I have a weakness when it comes to great covers.)

I’m happy to say that I enjoyed my reading experience immensely. Of course, it probably helped that I read this one while curled up in a little eyrie of a room in a bed & breakfast, which about the most perfect place I can imagine for this particular story. But I think I would have liked it whenever and wherever I read it.

This is an elegant book, with a puzzle-like quality to it which is very satisfying to the intellect. It’s rich with layers, imagery, and allusions. But at the heart of it is a very human, very real story which is never overshadowed by the elements that support it.

Adoption is something I’m familiar with, but only from the outside, so I can’t speak particularly to that aspect of Milo’s story. But I think Milford is both trying to accurately portray what Milo might feel, and at the same time show that longing to understand the world that’s a hallmark of middle grade books. I said of The Whispering Skull that it was “poised at the tipping point between childhood and young adulthood, when you want the next thing but fear losing what you already have.” That’s certainly here too. It’s a thoughtful, introspective look at leaving childhood behind.

It’s also a pretty awesome mystery (I guessed parts but not the whole solution!), and features a wonderful setting, which I definitely added to my mental list of Fictional Places to Visit. And Milford’s writing is really strong here, a quiet but very carefully crafted narration. All in all, this is a lovely book, and one that more than lives up to its cover.

Book source: public library
Book information: 2014, HMH Books; middle grade

bookish posts reviews

The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

whisperingLast year brought us Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase, which was a 99.9% enjoyable book for me, and one that left me wanting the sequel now.

The sequel has now arrived and I’m happy to report that I found it as engaging and entirely readable as the first book. Lockwood, George, and Lucy find themselves going head to head with their archrivals, the Fittes Agency, and attempting to battle the ghost of a Victorian doctor and possible black magician. Plus, there is a skull in a jar whose whispers only Lucy can hear.

At first the different strands of the plot seem a bit disparate. There’s the Source that they have to deal with, the bet with the Fittes agents, the skull and its suggestive comments, and Lockwood’s secrets which he keeps even from George and Lucy. But by the middle of the book, Stroud pulls them together in a fairly masterful (if slightly coincidental) way.

For me, Lucy’s voice and the interaction between the three main characters is a large part of the appeal. Lucy is loyal, sarcastic, a bit self-centered (or at least, unable to see people entirely clearly). I had some issues with the way George was described in the first book, and while that didn’t exactly go away, I can see the dynamic becoming more complicated in ways that make me feel like Stroud may ultimately do some interesting things with the questions of heroes and so on.

I also noticed that, like E.K. Johnston’s Story of Owen, the narrator is a young girl who is telling a story she is involved in but which she normally wouldn’t be considered the protagonist of. In most stories of this type, Lockwood would be firmly at the center of the narrative. Instead, he remains a bit of an enigma, his charisma described by the other characters but never entirely felt. For the most part, this works for me, because Lucy herself is quite delightful and doesn’t come across as simply a storytelling device. But I did find myself a bit hung up on why Lockwood wouldn’t tell George and Lucy anything.

And it’s also true that, because of the way the world of this book works, there’s an interesting sense of time passing, of growing inevitably older and losing something as well as gaining it, which is fairly striking. Lockwood & Co are growing up and as they grow they will lose their powers. I wonder if this is partly what makes it specifically a middle grade book: poised at the tipping point between childhood and young adulthood, when you want the next thing but fear losing what you already have.

Of course, Stroud has decided to leave us with a Big Revelation which makes me wish it was next year already. However, the main strands of the narrative are nicely tied up, with a few lingering questions to tease us all along.

Book source: public library
Book information: 2014, Disney Hyperion; upper middle grade/younger YA

I read this book for the 2014 Cybils. You’ll be able to see all of my Cybils reviews by clicking here.

(True fact: I almost said this book was written by Jonathan Strange, not Jonathan Stroud. How surprised Strange would be!)

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Cybils 2014

As I can now say, since it’s been announced, I’m going to be a judge for the Cybils Awards again! This year I’ll be in the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category, doing Round 1 judging. I’m really excited about this, and happy to be working with my fellow Round 1 judges.

This also means that from October-mid December I’ll be reading SO MUCH. When nominations open, be sure to nominate your favorites from the past year!