Friday, December 13, 2013

The Different Girl by Gordon Dahlquist

The Different Girl by Gordon Dahlquist (Penguin - Dutton Juvenile) is one of the most interesting—and frustrating—books I read this year. Veronika is a girl; she lives on the island with her three sisters and Irene and Robbert. The girls’ parents died in a plane crash, and now, every day, they learn about learning…in a way that will tweak the brains of philosophers. They are observed, and they obey, and they struggle with a new idea: you must obey, but you must also decide.

When May washes up on the shore, after a storm that disrupts the supply boat schedule, the girls must unravel this mystery: who is the different one? Or are they not different, any of them?

The Different Girl draws from classic SF in a way that many YA books don’t in that it brings science and technology to the forefront, and it doesn’t wrap things up neatly, which is both a feature and a bug.

What makes this book tick:

  1. Really, really trusts the reader. 
  2.  Philosophical questions are embedded here; a good book for that reader who still asks "Why?"
  3. An open ending (perhaps it’s a series; I prefer this as a standalone) that leaves room for discussion and imagination.
  4.  Asks: what does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be different, and how is that constructed?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

Sybelle, assassin of the convent of St. Mortain, is Death's daughter--but she's also the daughter of d'Albret, who would kill you if the shadows on your face hinted of your disloyalty. Or maybe just because. In the war for Brittany to remain separate from France in the late 1400s, the convent takes the side of Brittany, and sends forth its assassins, including Sybelle, to murder those who are marqued for death.

Sybelle, however, is not easily led. She struggles with the rules of the game; she's not nearly the pawn others would have her be. When she has to flee with a mysterious knight who's been held in a secret dungeon, her mask is torn away, and she must fight openly. And somehow, she must be willing to face Death and all its attractions head on.

What makes this book tick:
1. Sybelle, Katsa, and Katniss deserve a quiet retreat together....
2. Subtle meditation on identity and faith wrapped up in a violent war setting.
3. Romance that does not require the heroine to take a back seat.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

When We Wake by Karen Healey

When We Wake by Karen Healey (Little, Brown - Books for Young Readers) starts off in the not-so distant future--and in Melbourne, one of my very favorite cities. Tegan is your average teenager (without that awful "normal" boringness that sometimes pops up before stories take off). She's going to a protest with her friends, and she's in her first breath of love, and she's got a lot of life left to live. The next thing she remembers is waking up...a hundred years later. It's not as simple as taking the next breath; Tegan has to decide what to do in the world she has to inhabit.

What makes this book tick:
1. Dystopian elements extrapolated from modern-day Australian and other politics
2. Science and psychology
3. Rebellion!
4. Inventive story frame

Monday, December 2, 2013

All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill (Disney - Hyperion) wasn't in my most-urgent reading pile for the Cybils. The cover, while nicely done, fits the mold of a dozen other orange-blue "adventures" I've seen lately. But I thought I'd share this as an example of how all nominated books are being viewed and reviewed by the first round judges--it's great to open to the first pages and be surprised! After a bit of a mysterious start, the action is non-stop.

Em is imprisoned. What she knows is that she dreads the drain, and that Finn, on the other side of the vent, is her whole world, the only person she can talk to. Then, one day, she steals a spoon and opens the drain, and finds a letter, to her--from her. And there's one instruction: kill him.

What makes this book tick:

1. Time travel!
2. Nonlinear storytelling.
3. Questions about fate versus free will.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst

Oh, the Cybils and its abundance of riches. This year, it seems like review copies are coming in about two weeks later than normal, so I'm hustling along as best I can...

One book that stopped me in my reading tracks was Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst (Bloomsbury - Walker). Eve hardly knows anything that the agents in the protection program don't tell her. She needs instructions on the basics of everything in her life. But when she looks at the birds on the wallpaper, she can make them fly. She remembers...a magician, a storyteller, a circus, deaths. But when she uses her magic, when she remembers, she's sick and loses time. The only way to use her magic safely is to breathe it into Zach, a boy who can take it and shape it anew.

Who is she? What do her memories mean?

What makes this book tick:
  • Memory as mystery
  • Secrets! Lies!
  • Meditation on humanity
  • Following your heart to find justice

Monday, November 11, 2013

Antigoddess by Kendare Blake

Antigoddess by Kendare Blake (Macmillan - Tor Teen) swings away from the ghostly toward the gods. They aren't gone from this world, but they're trying their best to live quiet lives away from the stresses of being, well, gods. Now they're getting sick, and there's a war coming. Knock off another god, and you'll live longer...

What makes this book tick:

  • Larger-than-life characters who are also still teens
  • Sharp, dark writing
  • Dark take on mythology, including the Trojan War
  • Combines fantasy and horror

Friday, November 8, 2013

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff (Penguin - Razorbill) has a sort of lazy, hot, oppressive feel to it, and not just because the book takes place in midsummer. Hannah has a friend who’s always hanging around; wherever she goes, Lillian goes too. The thing is, Lillian is dead. And pretty soon, she's not the only dead girl Hannah knows, since there's a killer leaving bloody valentines in the park.

What makes this book tick:

  • Excellent imagery
  • Believable teenagers
  • Murder mystery
  • Characters who don’t fit the everyday stock types

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Rose Throne by Mette Ivie Harrison

The Rose Throne by Mette Ivie Harrison (Egmont) gave me a lot to think about. It follows the lives of two princesses in what could be called rival kingdoms. Both are of an age where they’re expected to take on their royal duties and marry for strategy, and both has to push against the boundaries of what girls are allowed to do. What gives The Rose Throne an extra twist is that there are two kinds of magic—one that’s the province of women, and one the province of men. To have the “wrong” magic can be a death sentence…

What makes this book tick:

  • Interesting gender-related magic
  • …that gets deconstructed
  • Romance
  • High-level politics

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

This is one of my absolute favorite series from the past few years--yes, I have collected the set of ARCs and the set of hardbacks. Don't think there aren't paperbacks coming. And I've put off reading the novellas (something I usually skip when reading series) because I wanted to have one last bit left....

The tags feature should show you a few past reviews; I am loath to give away anything if you haven't started from the beginning. Start at the beginning! Suffice to say that The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson (HarperCollins - Greenwillow Books) wraps up the series in spectacular fashion.

What makes this book tick:
  • More exploration of the idea that with great power comes great responsibility
  • More complication of the relations between Elisa's kingdom and her neighbors
  • Political intrigue!
  • Kissing
  • Sacrifice
  • Acceptance of leadership
  • Family relationships, and related self-esteem
  • Negotiation
  • Big, epic adventure

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson (Scholastic - Arthur A. Levine) marks the first of my 2013 Cybils (short, spoiler-free) reviews. I've been saving up this review because, well, this is a hard book to put into a review without spoiling it, even just as an opening summary.

In a far, far future Brazil, in Palmares Tres, a sort-of enclosed city ruled with a heavy hand by its matriarchy, June is caught up in the cycle of the Summer Prince, the selection of men and boys who are political and social sacrifices. Enki wins over June and her best friend, Gil--and inspires June to greater artistic heights than ever before.

What makes this book tick:
  • Complete teenage rawness--the idea of being abuzz with hormones and life, and perhaps never closer to foolish death
  • The compelling, contradictory desire to both be seen and to be invisible
  • The need to make some sort of mark on the world and to prove oneself
  • Tension between generations
  • Flawed characters who keep moving through space
  • The intersection of art and technology, especially once it's out in the world for consumption
  • On the literary side of SF--no hand-holding on the worldbuilding or when the plot changes streams
  • Explorations of class within an imagined culture
  • Politics and being socially aware

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Cybils 2013

I'm excited to say that I'll be returning as a first-round panelist for the 2013 Cybils in the young adult speculative fiction category. The Cybils are book awards selected by bloggers in areas ranging from book apps to nonfiction to picture books to young adult books (split into contemporary and speculative fiction because there are close to 500 books nominated between the two, nowadays, and only about two months to select a short list for each). You can nominate books to be considered from October 1-15,. A shortlist is announced January 1 and the winners are announced in February.

Mid-September until mid-October are my busiest time of year because of Sirens, but once that's over, you can expect posts about what I'm reading. Some years, I stay up until the nomination form opens because I'm always hoping I'll pick a winner (and I've had years when most of my picks hit the short list). This year, I'll have to focus on battling my reading nemesis, the fantastic Tanita Davis, who I think sneaked past me in the last few days of 2012 and read the most books in our division for the year.* I'm also thinking about changing up how I review during the Cybils; I think that quick "what makes it tick" posts for more books would be fun.

*The rules state that judges don't have to read the entire book. I've found that I start by reading 10 or 20, and then reading parts of the ones that I track down later on to see if they're competitive with what I've already read. Sadly, there's only room for a short list of finalists, and there are more great books than can make the cut.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Palace of Spies by Sarah Zettel


I am not usually one to post about a book I haven't read, nor one to agree to any sort of promotion before I've come to an independent decision that I absolutely must tell everyone about a particular book. This, however, came through my inbox via Netgalley and it was too cute not to share. Palace of Spies by Sarah Zettel (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Group) is out in November. It looks like it might fill a little bit of the whole left by, sniff, the closure of the Gallagher Girls books by Ally Carter.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

I'm going to call If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan (Algonquin Young Readers) brave--but not for the reasons you might think. I picked up this book at a BEA buzz panel, and stuck it in my purse for the trip home. Now, I had a comfy seat, tired feet, and I thought that perhaps I'd read a chapter or two before napping; instead, I was glued to the page for the entire flight.

Sahar loves Nasrin with all of the intensity of first, fiery love. She would do anything for Nasrin. Anything. In Iran, it's a crime for two girls (or two boys) to be together, but the government will gladly pay for a sex change, after which the relationship will no longer be illegal.

Think about that for a second. It's hard for me to wrap my head around.

Nasrin is engaged to be married, and married soon, so Sahar pursues the operation--without really knowing what she's getting into. As she learns more about what she asks of and for herself, and about the operation (and what it would mean for her, and for a group of people she meets who have had it), everything starts to fall apart.

A spoiler or three...

Given how often--fairly--books about GLBTQ people end in tragedy are questioned for those tragedies, I think it important to note that If You Could Be Mine is not all sunshine and sparkles, so that if you've had one too many, you can consider whether or not to read. Personally, I think that the author treated her subject matter with the utmost respect, and that she paints a clear picture of the challenges faced by her characters.

And to continue spoilering, what I thought was brave about the book is tied up in that. Nasrin, for example, is so very beautifully imperfect, and Sahar's love and slow growing realization of the imbalances in their relationship is so very real. (I really like seeing books that explore why people are not ALWAYS Meant to Be; first loves usually aren't.) Sahar blunders through problems with all the grace of, well, a teenager. There's a sense of inevitability coupled with hope that, in another time and place, everything could be so different...

At any rate, I found If You Could Be Mine to be a gripping, thought-provoking, and important read. It's out now.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Ghost's Child, Tea Rex

I haven't forgotten about books! I have just been very busy, sick, and overwhelmed. But I thought I would drop in and talk about two books I've read and loved recently, since--strangely--this blog still gets a lot of hits.

Tea Rex by Molly Idle. There are certain sorts of picture books that are beautifully absurd, with pictures that appeal to a wide range of readers and not-yet readers, and that amuse adults just as much as children. These could be called Muppet Show books for the special something that makes the book readable on multiple levels. Two small children invite a dinosaur over in Tea Rex; it's the polite thing to do, and everyone will act in certain ways, and the afternoon will be perfect. Except that, well, the rules of engagement are not the same for all parties. The message I took away, though there are several, is that you and your friends may have very different procedures, but that doesn't mean you can't get along. The texture of the dinosaur is fabulous, too. Molly Idle also created the fabulous Flora and the Flamingo, and if I recall correctly, she has another book in the pipeline.

The Ghost's Child by Sonya Hartnett. Confession: I haven't finished this yet; I've been sipping it two and three pages at a time, and while I sampled the first lines of a few Goodreads reviews, I haven't been spoiled so far. Maybe I should spoil myself--I'm reading a review copy, and since this was published in the US in 2008, very behind in my reading! I'm listing this as a YA read, but it really seems ageless, and I'm not sure it really fits in any category; the main characters are a young boy and an old woman, with most of the story in flashback to when the old woman was teenage-ish. Maddy once traveled the world, seeking, but what she sought didn't please others; she finally pleased herself best with the mysterious Feather, a wild boy she meets on an Australian (?) beach. Unfortunately, the shiniest love may not be enough, for them or for their unborn child. Hartnett nails a fairytale sort of voice, the sort of voice that is very hard to nail, and the sort of voice that I usually can't be on board with, because it's affected or old-fashioned or dull or more suited to being presented orally and with awareness of storytelling conceits. But I kinda love this. And maybe I love this because it's bleak and beautiful, perfect for the sort of tale where the land and the sea touch, over and over, but can never really be together.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Australia Trip, Part 6


We woke up early because our tour departed early. Handily, people in Cairns understand tropical problems, and the mirror had an unfoggable bit on it. (Handily, there was also a clothesline in the shower. I used to see those all the time, but I never touched them; I thought they were part of the drain, or something to put a hanger on, so I was surprised when C pulled a rope out of the wall.)

Despite the early, the tour came a bit after we expected. I do get it--give people a time so they can be late and it won't matter. Hmph! We were carrying some granola-like bars (mine was nuts and coconut) and water, and I had a windbreaker, which turned out to be much too warm as we made a bunch of pickups and headed out of town. It seemed that a couple of different (perhaps not entirely full) tours were collapsed into one; some of us were on a day trip, and others were staying overnight in the rainforest.

I'm not quite sure where we stopped, but we went out along the coast (on the Captain Cook Highway, I think) and had a moment for pictures. It was strange to me to get out of the van and find myself in warm, humid air right along the coast, where I'm more used to being cold! The strangeness of the combination made me very unsettled that day, and I'm not sure why (or whether I ought to just blame things on, still, not feeling very well).

If only that had been in a certain book.

Our guide shared that they dye the emergency vinegar blue to prevent people from using it on their chips--and that the strategy doesn't really work.

But this is what scared me. Crocodiles? In the OCEAN? And also, the title of that book In the Sea There Are Crocodiles kept running through my head for days.

Our next stop was--I think, as I broke the handle off my file drawer that has receipts and things in it--was the Cairns Tropical Zoo. There are a number of zoos in the area, including some that are mostly open at night so that you can see animals that only come out then. It turns out that while on vacation, I mostly like going to the zoo, the beach, seeing nature, and sleeping in nice hotels! So this was one of the highlights.

First, we were greeted by zoo staff and we walked through a part of the zoo, including the enclosure for the dangerous, even deadly, cassowary. Take a close look. That's not a colorful turkey. That's a dinosaur with feathers, my friends. See its eyes? It's intelligent. See its feet? They will CUT YOU. They are aggressive, territorial birds. They chase away their young. But if I recall correctly, dad has to raise the babies! Also, there are a number of rainforest plants that only the cassowary can digest, so those plants depend on the cassowary to have a bite and poo out the seed for their future generations.

An owl of a sort I've forgotten, but I think it ate toads, maybe.

Kookaburras! Notably, I did not see a single one in a gum tree--and as I'll relate once we get to Hamilton Island, not really gumdrop eaters.

Then we had a talk about koalas, I think, while one crawled into a tree to eat a bunch of fresh leaves. A nifty thing: though koalas sleep most of the time, I saw more awake and feeding koalas than sleeping ones. Something I didn't realize is that koalas may have a preferred kind of eucalyptus tree, and may prefer the newest leaves, so any disruption in their growth can be a big deal for the koala population--already in danger due to their high incidence of chlamydia! Poor babies.

At most zoos I visited, there were options to take a picture with various animals, mostly as a fundraiser. In most of Australia, you can't actually hold a koala; they're hung on a tree branch, and you can pet them and take a picture with, but it's still possible in Queensland, and it was possible at this zoo. (I assume that the reasoning is that koalas are really shy and sensitive to stress, and I can understand that. At the same time, everywhere I went that it was allowed to actually hold the koala, the keepers were extremely careful to keep them happy. Those koalas were hand-raised or tame, often previously injured, with no possibility of returning to the wild; they were only allowed to "work" for short stretches of time, and for a short period so many days; you had to follow very specific rules for handling the koala, including being old enough, strong enough, and tall enough, since koalas don't like to be on the ground; and at any sign that the koala was done, that was it, and it was whisked away. Tip: Even in the zoo, they're wild animals with teeth and big claws. They're not just going to let you have a cuddle.) Anyway, C knew that we'd have an opportunity to hold a koala (and a snake, and a bunch of other things) later, so we went ahead and wandered around with our free time and breakfast time.

There was a tree full of rainbow lorikeets near where tea was set out for us.

C and I began to wander the zoo, but pretty soon, we realized that they had kangaroo kibble for sale. And that there was a big, open kangaroo and wallaby enclosure. And...well, I will have to never tell C that if we'd been on our own, we could have fed lemurs and red pandas, too! At least, maybe in pictures.

When we first found the enclosure, it didn't seem like there were many kangaroos around, but we were approached by this little hustler.

But we eventually found some that were at least as tall as we were--and there was a hierarchy! The biggest ones gently pushed their way to the front, but not so gently we forgot about their ability to kick you right over. And then all of the, say, 5' kangaroos made sounds like disgruntled Marge Simpson while the 5'6" kangaroo had a snack. The smallest ones nibbled delicately, but the largest, well, they were pretty drooly.

After a while, we bolted some tea and fruit and pastry and hopped back in the van, but this was definitely a spot I'd have loved to spend more time at. And we were off...

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