December 08, 2017

Coming Soon to a Blog Near You

If you haven't yet had a chance to grab Sara Lewis Holmes' newest book The Wolf Hour the following posts and her various guest post/interviews around the web will raise this book on your TBR list.

Sara's talking music with picture book writer Liz Garton Scanlon. Calling it a "musical novel by a lyrical poet," Liz's interview arrives just in time for Poetry Friday. Liz asks Sara questions which are both deep and broad, and, frankly, Sara says, have her learning more about her book post-publication than she knew going in! That sort of interest and scrutiny is what we can all only hope for in our book interviews!

Sara's earlier interviews on THE WOLF HOUR can be found at Laura Purdie Salas' site, where she also talks of the music in poetry; at Charlotte's Library where she unpacks some of the deeply intriguing quotes from the book; Maureen Eicher's review at 'By Singing Light' and our interview here at Wonderland, which kicked off this slowly perambulating blog tourback in September.

Cheers, and happy reading!

December 05, 2017

Cybils SpecFic Bookmark: THE MARROW THIEVES by CHERIE DIMALINE

Happy December! The Cybils Countdown Continues!

The Cybils SpecFic Bookmark: As a panelist for Cybils YA Speculative Fiction, Round 1, I'm going to be briefly writing up some of the hundreds of book I read as part of the award. As panelist conclusions are not for public consumption, the purpose of these write-ups is to keep track of what I'm reading, and will mostly touch on plot synopsis, with minimal comments on thematic tropes.


Synopsis: After the Melt, nothing is the same as it was, though Frenchie has heard stories. Epidemic disease, flooding, earthquakes and other disasters rage and the natural world is wildly out of balance. And then, the madness takes hold, as people lose the capacity to dream. In tribal communities, whispers of "Recruiters" surface. It seems that, together with the Church, the world has discovered a cure for the hopelessness and madness, and a way to save themselves. As always, this salvation comes through the blood of sacrifice - but only the sacrifice of some. The indigenous people in North America have not been touched by the chaos in the larger world. Their communities remain ...sane, and in the marrow of the indigenous peoples has been discovered to be a cure. "Recruited" into "helping" to save the world, indigenous people are being forced into residential housing and robbed of their bone marrow. It saves those unable to dream - and decimates the tribal populations.

With his father gone, his mother abandoning him and his brother lost to him, Frenchie at sixteen is shattered, heartsick, desperate and ill. Feverish and self-destructing, he stumbles on two other Elders and a passel of little kids also seeking their loved ones and trying to make some sort of a family and a home on the run. Wary and hopeful, he falls in with their pack, and begins to lose his heart to this band of survivors - and to make room in his heart for real love. Survival, however, can wear a person to the bone, and then disaster, which is always so close, strikes. In their quest to regain what they've lost, Frenchie and his team find what they weren't expecting -- in loss, promise, in conviction, re-connection. Through disaster and rebuilding, they learn that the things we love we truly never let go.

Observations: Every time I hear people telling me that post-apocalyptic fiction or dystopia is dead, I find a book in which there is a new and clever way of fleshing out what could be a stale and weary literary device. The author doesn't just plug North American indigenous tribes into a trite formula, however, but deeply weaves truth and metaphor into a conflicting and revealing story.

That the world ends badly and everything goes to hell is, of course, the basis of a post-apocalyptic novel, but too often speculative fiction then retreats into a story of mostly white females escaping from zombies or something. I especially appreciated this book because a.) there is a family here, with the sacred love between siblings that allows them to sacrifice for each other, b.) the story has nonwhite allies who have put their sweat and blood into saving people, and thus does not further the white savior narrative, c.) there is love of all kinds, and in fact that love story rises above the darkness and desperation of familiar losses and desperation. The disaster-and-survival aspect of the post-apocalyptic narrative is another place where the book is different... despite the impacts of global warming, earthquakes, and floods, the survivors don't seem unable to face the task. Not that living rough as an 'Apocalyptic Boy Scout' is anything but wearying and at times, dangerous; not that people don't sometimes greet a bed in an abandoned hotel with the greatest of joy. It's that these characters have their Elders and stories of the past on which to draw courage and techniques to survive. They each take up their burden - with only minimal outbursts of the unfairness of it all - and they get on with their true task, which is to rescue their lost ones, and recover their families again.

Bone marrow is the spongy tissue inside our bones, which, in newborn babies, produces new marrow cells, or stem cells. By young adulthood, the marrow inside the bones of the hands, feet, arms, and legs stop producing new marrow cells, and active marrow remains only in the spine, hip and shoulder bones, ribs, breastbone, and skull. All bone marrow produces blood cells, called red blood cells, platelets, and white blood cells - the things which are key to life, growth, and our survival, by which we fight off disease. When the "Recruiters" come to steal the marrow from the indigenous people in the book, this echoes the metaphor of what was done in American and Canadian history to indigenous children in the Westernizing residential schools. In taking their freedom and their language, their cultural health was being stolen in return for emptiness and death.

Conclusion: There is an exquisitely painful irony in the idea that marrow is what cures society of its inability to dream, and that they are taking the marrow from the indigenous peoples in the story. Despite the metaphor and shifting layers of depth and meaning, this is still an active story with a heart - at turns grim and painful, brutal and inevitable, and in other moments, tender and careful, hopeful and beautiful. It is not a fast-paced adventure, and this is not a book you will be able to skim through and put away. It draws readers in and they may find they care deeply about the wisdom and sacrifice of Minerva; about Miig and the memories he holds around his neck, a pouch full of glass shards and lost hope; about Rose and her round cheeks and flinty will; about Frenchie, and his longing for something - safety, maybe, freedom, and hope. This book will likely resonate with readers who enjoyed Walter Dean Myers' post-apocalyptic novel ON A CLEAR DAY, Patrick Ness' THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO, Moira Young's BLOOD RED ROAD, or Ann Aguire's ENCLAVE series.



I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. You can find THE MARROW THIEVES by Cherie Dimaline at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

December 01, 2017

Cybils SpecFic Bookmark: SONG OF THE CURRENT by SARAH TOLSCER

Happy December! The Cybils Countdown Continues!

The Cybils SpecFic Bookmark: As a panelist for Cybils YA Speculative Fiction, Round 1, I'm going to be briefly writing up some of the hundreds of book I read as part of the award. As panelist conclusions are not for public consumption, the purpose of these write-ups is to keep track of what I'm reading, and will mostly touch on plot synopsis, with minimal comments on thematic tropes.


Synopsis: The Oresteia are the river - they've never been anything or done anything but skim up and back, hauling and freight throughout Riverlands as is their fate, through the auspices of their god. A fair bit of smuggling happens up and down the river, too, but the god stays mum, the wherries are sturdy, and there's always extra space for whatever, right? It's a free and easy life, freight-hauling, smuggling, and knowing the other wherrying families moving through the waterways. Caro was sure this was her fate, too, but the god never speaks to her - she's of age and past it, but even though she trolls her fingers into the water and listens hard, she never...quite...hears. It is the private heartbreak of her life, to be calling and calling, and never answered. And then, on a day when too many other of the wherry families have lost their barges due to a terrifying act of piracy, Caro's father is arrested. Smuggling's the charge, but it's mainly for refusing to ferry goods for soldiers. What's IN that ridiculous crate, anyway? To spare his life and commute his sentence, Caro agrees to carry the box without her Da -- only to realize she's being pursued, first by a mysterious fast cutter, and then, by every two-bit pirate and murderous dog in Riverlands. The smooth-talking courier who claims to know everything is obviously not telling her the truth. If only Caro knew which way she was supposed to go!

Politics, treachery, and lies are also in the churning waves - as well as gods and monsters. As Caro immerses herself in the current, a steadying hand on the tiller, she has to navigate these waters safely, or more than just her life and her father's life will come to an end.

Observations: Readers who enjoy fast-paced adventures with a whiff of politics will like this one. There's no overwhelming feeling of danger, as the plot twists aren't hidden, but easily discerned. This reads more as a safe adventure, in which the reader can be carried along without anxiety, knowing that, even though there are a few unexpected splashes along the way, the river runs true.

The idea of gods and them speaking is not often encountered YA lit, and this book contains an interesting exploration of this. Many readers will find the idea of life-guaidance via water entity an intriguing one. Readers who enjoy books which tell a simple story, and reveal a simple truth may find themselves drawn to the characters in this novel. Mistaken - or hidden - identity is often a fun trope, and though the way in which it is used in this novel is as familiar as a song, and readers will likely see it coming, it is nonetheless still fun. Who we are, and where we belong is something which can be determined ONLY BY US, and many teen novels, with their emphasis on the herd's decisions or parental input, can miss this. As teens, we spend a lot of time hoping this is true, and not sure we believe it, but this novel verifies: there is a place for us, and only we can find it, defying what our mothers are, or what our fathers say, there is a way forward for just US... if we have the courage to take the wheel and sail that cutter into the sunset.

Conclusion:Readers who enjoyed girls-on-the-sea books like HEIDI HEILIG's THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE duology, or Emily Skrutske's ABYSS duo will enjoy this story of a lively sailor girl who wants to be the terror of the high seas... eventually. Once she figures out to whom she belongs, and where. There's a bit of sailing jargon, which might produce a learning curve, and there's tons of travel, but the book is supplied with a map, so the intrepid reader shouldn't lose their way.


I received my copy of this book courtesy of the public library. You can find SONG OF THE CURRENT by Sarah Tolscer at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

November 30, 2017

Just Reporting In...

...with a quick "hello, we aten't dead." But, between Cybils season, day jobs, time-stealing leisure activities, rewrite hell, and Thanksgiving family hijinks, both Tanita and I have been sort of quiet on the blog front. But we are persisting and keepin' on, and will be back soon. Speaking for me personally, I will have a LOT more time starting in about three weeks, when the fall semester ends and I finish grading the hilariously gigantic backlog of student assignments I have left. So expect some reviews after that point from me, and possibly one or two quick posts in the meantime.

In any case, you can also find me Monday, Wednesday, and Friday posting at the Cybils blog, highlighting judges' reviews of nominated books. And, oh, I suppose you can find me procrastinating on Twitter a few times a day.

Hasta luego!

November 28, 2017

Cybils SpecFic Bookmark: JANE, UNLIMITED by Kristin Cashore

The Cybils Speculative Fiction Bookmark:

As a panelist for Cybils YA Speculative Fiction, Round 1, I'm going to be briefly writing up some of the hundreds of books I read as part of the award. As panelist conclusions are not for public consumption, the purpose of these write-ups is primarily to keep track of what I'm reading, and will mostly touch on plot synopsis, with minimal comments on thematic tropes.


Synopsis: Jane is unmoored within her own life. College doesn't suit, living with three grad students and working at a coffee shop is hideous. The world is unfair and awful, but it's what Jane has, after the death of her Aunt Magnolia. She longs for something nameless - and it walks into the coffee shop. Her old tutor, Kiran Thrash is rich, disaffected, and deeply unhappy. She doesn't understand Jane's staying in her world, going in circles, when she could come home to the Thrash family mansion to be unhappy with an old friend. So Jane packs up her possession, including her trunks of umbrellas, which she makes as ongoing art projects, and goes away with Kiran, to Tu Reviens, the island mansion her aunt told her to visit if she ever got an invitation. After months of directionless wandering, at least Jane has this.

Or, so she thinks. There's something SUPER weird going on at Kiran's. First, Kiran's stepmother has just vanished - entirely. No one knows where she's gone. Second, while there's a gala happening in a few days, and there are tons of people there, there is more than just party-prep going on as rafts of people wander in and out. Some of them seem to disappear in hallways or in the library, others of them seem to have found a secret door - and was that a man with a gun!? The house either has a haunting spirit, or a baby somewhere, from the wailing in the walls. And there was this one little girl she saw, digging holes in the lawn. There's a rambunctious dog, a couple of wealthy ladies, and whole raft of bewildering servants - some of whom act a whole lot more like they own the house than that they work there - Kiran's boyfriend, and Kiran's very handsome brother, Ravi, who adores the priceless - odd, and sometimes tacky - art located throughout the mansion, and has just had his prized Vermeer stolen.

Jane should really just hang out with her lathe and saw and finish working on her precious projects. No artist in the world has it as good as she does, with the ability to just potter along and make art in this gorgeous, gorgeous place, surrounded by the sea, with amazing food to eat whenever she wants it, and a beautiful suite of rooms -- but Jane can't help her curiosity and her desire -- her need -- to figure out what's going on at Tu Reviens. As it turns out, the servants knew her aunt! Surely there's something of her left behind - more than just her photographs. Surely, someone can tell her something about the woman she adored, but discovers that she didn't fully understand. But, every bit of knowledge changes Jane - and every choice comes with a price. Leaping down the rabbit hole after any number of clues she doesn't understand could change Jane's story forever.

Observations: NB Readers who come to this book looking for a GRACELING or BITTERBLUE readalike will be disappointed, as it is not medieval-era fantasy, nor are there swords or kingdoms.

After the death of her parents, the discovery that college wasn't really a good fit, and then the death of her Aunt Magnolia, who has for so long been her touchstone, Jane doesn't have much control over the elements of her life. Going to Tu Reviens, to fulfill a quirky request from her aunt seems like a single direction that makes sense. At the house, there are either/or feelings too - Ivy or Ravi, upstairs or down, answering which call from whom first - all of these options are before her. The idea of divergent roads, multiple universes, retries and do-overs would seem, to her, deliciously compelling. Teen readers, too, who fear regret and making "wrong" choices will find these ideas appealing. What choice Jane ultimately makes - and where the book actually ends, is anyone's guess... and the reader's choice.

Conclusion: The charm of the mid-80's Choose Your Own Adventure craze was the power over a story, in which readers could, through a combination of skill, luck, intuition, or sheer randomness, power themselves through the life of the book, avoiding ignominious conclusions to emerge triumphant in a glittering heroic ending. Since real life doesn't work like that, the appeal of the books is easy to see. Cashore capitalizes on the idea of second chances and do-overs to make five weirdly compelling - and compellingly weird - branches from the spokes of her metaphorical literary umbrella. An intriguing puzzle box of a book, readers will come away thoughtful - and will likely read it again, to see what they missed.



I received my copy of this book courtesy of the public library. You can find JANE, UNLIMITED by Kristin Cashore at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

November 21, 2017

Cybils SpecFic Bookmark: MURDER, MAGIC, AND WHAT WE WORE by KELLY JONES

The Cybils Speculative Fiction Bookmark:

As a panelist for Cybils YA Speculative Fiction, Round 1, I'm going to be briefly writing up some of the hundreds of book I read as part of the award. As panelist conclusions are not for public consumption, the purpose of these write-ups is to keep track of what I'm reading, and will mostly touch on plot synopsis, with minimal comments on thematic tropes.


Synopsis: Annis Whitworth's world quietly crumples when it's discovered that not only has her father died under rather unlikely circumstances (but why was he traveling on a night with no moon?) that all of his money has vanished. The father she barely knew is, in a way, only a minor loss, but Annis had been promising herself for too long that she was going to get to know him -- and now it's too late. It feels like it's too late for everything, including regret. The servants are sent packing, the lease on the house is terminated, and Annis and her Aunt Cassia are away to make their way as governesses or companions. Only, Annis isn't going to go quietly. As she is taking in a rather ghastly mourning gown, she makes the discovery that she has the power within her hands - and within her needle - to save them. All she has to do is ply her trade -- but despite her friendships with woman who manage shops, Cassia insists that no girl in trade will ever be able to hold her head up. Determined, Annis whips up a disguise and sets herself up as a dressmaker.

For anyone else, it would be a tame endeavor to measure, cut, and sew, tamely minding a shop created solely to outfit Society women, but not for Annis. She saves a friend by chasing off a would-be rapist, delves into the secrets of the Quality, finds clues and trails after strangers. She decides to follow in her father's footsteps and set herself up as a spy. After all, if he could do it, why not?

Observations: Fans of Patricia C. Wrede's SORCERY AND CECELIA, Mary Robinette Kowal's SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY or Gail Carringer's ETIQUETTE series will find a kindred spirit in Annis Whitworth. Grieving, impetuous, and ridiculous, Annis is everything we love about Regency heroines. She is well-dressed and well-spoken, hyperfocused on gossip and Society, completely oblivious to ways to avoid trouble, and slightly unable to avoid saying just the wrong thing. This novel gently mocks the social conventions and the mores of the Regency, while celebrating girlhood friendships, bluestockings, and the flinty spirit of womanhood which, when backed into a corner, is unpredictable and can do ANYTHING.

Conclusion: An unusual magical power, spies, and derring-do bring together a fast-paced and satisfying Regency romp celebrating the power of demure womanhood, and leaves rooms for readers to want seconds.



I received my copy of this book courtesy of the public library. You can find MURDER, MAGIC, AND WHAT WE WORE by Kelly Jones at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

November 14, 2017

Cybils SpecFic Bookmark: THE EPIC CRUSH OF GENIE LO, by F.C. YEE

The Cybils Speculative Fiction Bookmark:

As a panelist for Cybils YA Speculative Fiction, Round 1, I'm going to be briefly writing up some of the hundreds of book I read as part of the award. As panelist conclusions are not for public consumption, the purpose of these write-ups is to keep track of what I'm reading, and will mostly touch on plot synopsis, with minimal comments on thematic tropes.


Synopsis: Eugenia "Genie" Lo - one of way too many Eugenias of her generation - has always been a bit of a firebrand. Unlike her fashionable friend Yunie - another Chinese Eugenia - Genie finds her center in her homework - which she does routinely, expertly and superbly - and in ignoring her mother's ranting, which she also does like a boss, because her mother is always screaming about something. A Bay Area kid living in the SiliValley, she also bitterly acknowledges that she's just like most of the hordes of teens living in the land asphalt, parking lots, bubble tea shops and strip mall nail salons: she's an education junkie. She's high-achieving. She's Asian. She's desperate to get out of the reach of her mother's voice, and into A Good School. Princeton, for preference, or even Harvard. So, when this weird new guy at school scopes her out and says, "You belong to me...?" Oh, nu-uh. Nope. Not in this lifetime. Genie Lo has way too many other plans - mainly to work on not being just like her father and to get the heck out of dodge.

But Quentin Sun - new guy - is not prepared to leave Genie alone, and soon, Genie realizes she needs him - and not just because he's ridiculously good looking. Quentin is all Genie has to teach her what she needs to know to save the world... and soon it's time to school herself on perfecting a whole new set of skills -- those of demon fighting. Genie's pretty sure she can't do it, but Quentin Sun is only an international transfer student in Earth's realm... in the Heavenly Realm of the Jade Emperor, he's the Monkey King, down to the love of peaches and the fuzzy tail. ...And Genie? Well, she's a reincarnated sidekick of his. Quentin's convinced that he and Genie's shared power will be enough to answer the rash of demon incursions on Earth - and into the Bay Area. They're terrifyingly strong and flesh-eating, and it's crucial Genie gets on board with the plan before more people - human people on the earth plane - are brutally murdered and eaten. But, what about being on track for an Ivy League? What about all of her plans? Right now, Genie's got a lot of studying to do - about everything, including the world as she once believed it to be - and there's not enough time...

Observations: Many YA readers were first introduced to this oldest and greatest of Chinese fables, the story of the Monkey King, in Gene Luen Yang's AMERICAN BORN CHINESE. The adventures of the Monkey King in that book are myriad and surreal. Author F.C. Yee renders these same surreal battles between "the good guys" and the demons through the eyes of one of the newest good guys - a sarcastic, short-tempered California teen who just wants to get on with things so she can polish up her college entry essays and go back to crushing her opponents on the volleyball court.

Readers seeking the trope of the "strong female character" will find a lot more than they bargained for here. Genie is strong both physically and mentally, and by meeting these characters from Chinese myth, she is learning to be strong spiritually. There is a lot of humor and snark which will appeal to many teens, and a lot of exploration of the various roles of Bodhisattva, gods, and monsters in the Buddhist pantheon, which also makes this an unique foray into the mythological and folktale history of Chinese literature.

Conclusion: This novel is written cinematically, in that readers may be able to envision each chapter as a television episode along the lines of THE MIDDLEMAN or a comic book. The colorful descriptions and sharp-edged snark combined with completely surreal demons and monsters make this a fast-paced, quick read which engages the attention and doesn't let it go.



I received my copy of this book courtesy of the public library. You can find THE EPIC CRUSH OF GENIE LO by F.C. Yee at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

Cybils SpecFic Bookmark: WONDER WOMAN: WARBRINGER by LEIGH BARDUGO

The Cybils Speculative Fiction Bookmark:

As a panelist for Cybils YA Speculative Fiction, Round 1, I'm going to be briefly writing up some of the hundreds of books I read as part of the award. As panelist conclusions are not for public consumption, the purpose of these write-ups is primarily to keep track of what I'm reading, and will mostly touch on plot synopsis, with minimal comments on thematic tropes.


Synopsis: Diana knows, as her mother's daughter, that everything she does is going to have more weight. Her mother is the queen of the Amazons, and Diana has her place on Themyscira by accident of birth, rather than right of sisterhood as the other warriors there have earned. Diana knows that everyone believes her to be small and easily broken, the least of her tribe. She only wants her chance to prove herself -- which seems to come in the form of a plane crashing off the shore of their hidden island. Diana saves the human girl from the wreckage, but breaks Amazon law... and soon discovers she's made more of a lasting, horrific mistake than her little law-breaking led her to believe. Meanwhile, the human girl, Alia, was only on the plane - without her brother's permission - because since their parents' death, he NEVER let her go anywhere or do anything, ever. She just wanted to prove that she didn't need the Keralis name to protect her, and she could take a biology internship with strangers, and do just fine. But, no - a bomb on the plan changed those plans, and now she's stuck with a half-dressed supermodel type who was obviously raised in cult. She thinks Alia is some kind of violence magnet -- and she's trying to convince her that she needs to go to Greece to stop a world war.

The people chasing the two girls are not imaginary illusions from a cult, regardless of what Alia longs to believe. It is going to take nerves of steel to outwit their pursuers, survive betrayal, and make herself safe again... if she even survives. The only way to do this is to trust her shieldsisters and stand together.

Observations:

Sister in battle, I am shield and blade to you. As I breathe, your enemies will know no sanctuary. While I live, your cause is mine."

Readers seeking representation of strong female friendships will find them in this book. Alia, Nim, and Diana do not always trust each other, nor believe in how the other sees them, but in and out of the face of danger, their interactions are both amusing and instructive in terms of sisterhood and how true friends should be.

Diana is inexperienced in terms of American society, but she isn't ignorant or naive, her people having studied men, nations outside their own, disease, weapons, religions and history for years before coming across examples of the real thing. Likewise, though she is uneducated in all things Greek mythology, Alia is able to inform herself by reading and study, which allows her to be prepared.

"It's a trap for us. Alia and I always have to be better. We always have to be a step ahead. But the stronger you get, the more you achieve, the more people want to make sure you know your place." He bumped the back of his head gently against the rock. "It's exhausting." - WARBRINGER, p. 272-3

Including Diana's friends as people of color in this novel allowed the author to make some interesting choices and parallels between the lives of superheroes and the lives of successful people, especially people of color. I found it intriguing that she often explored the limitations society puts on people of color and allowed Diana as a character to explore her own society's limitations as being matriarchal and female-exclusive, and how that allowed the Amazons to both identify - and misidentify - the mores of their culture and their world.

Conclusion: One of the strengths of this DC novelization of the iconic Wonder Woman backstory is that readers with little to no experience with the comic books, the cartoon, or 70's era TV show can still find their feet in the story. A place of entry for those unfamiliar with the Wonder Woman superhero universe, this fast-paced story is full of peril and humor, betrayal and determination, and shows the grounding and powerful force true friendship can be.



I received my copy of this book courtesy of the public library. You can find WONDER WOMAN, WARBRINGER by Leigh Bardugo at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!