December 12, 2017

Cybils SpecFic Bookmark: BROKEN CIRCLE by J.L. POWERS & M.A. POWERS

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: Adam just wishes he could sleep. That's what normal people do: see their fathers. Sleep. Go to school. Talk to people they might kind of crush on. Normal would be great, but it's just not in the cards. First, Adam's mother vanished when he was four, and his dad is always gone, and never around when he needs him... except Adam sometimes sees him in his dreams. Adam instead lives with his cranky, paranoid grandfather, who believes everyone is out to get him. Adam's next challenge is that he can see... shadows on people. He knows when they're going to die, and no matter what he does to try and tell them... they die anyway, even if he's changed their path. Finally, speaking of dreams, there's this kind of... monster who basically hugs him to death when he dreams, and then he wakes when his dream-Dad saves him. Lacking sleep and overdosed on coffee, Adam fights monsters in a waking dream at school one day. Unfortunately, he wakes up with everyone believing he's had a nasty psychotic break. In the name of getting him "help," his father enrolls him in a residential school... which isn't for kids with psychiatric problems at all. It's for kids with the power to be soul guides. Adam finds opening to him a world he could never have imagined in his deepest, scariest dreams. He finds a place to belong, which surprises him, and feeds his soul. He also finds out about his mother - who disappeared in mysterious circumstances - and the whys and wherefores of his parents' relationship. He also finds himself going up against a shadowy organization which is bent on destroying him, and maybe his school, too. Adam's going to need to accept a few key things before he can move his story further - and unravel the unknowns between him and his goal of being normal... well, as normal as a guy who can drop into Limbo can be.

Observations: In many ways this story is familiar - there have been myriad other Secret Identity novels in which the Lost Prince or Boy Who Lived is unaware of a birthright world just on the other side of a bland retaining wall. He twists in the wind in a world where he doesn't belong until, voila, the hidden door opens, the wall vanishes, and the world, with its thousand shades of gray, opens. Nothing is pure good or pure bad anymore, the character stumbles and drifts until he meets a band of plucky outliers, and together they navigate this new plane. There are PLENTY of Potter elements in this book, but it is not about the new-things-per-page lovely whimsy which drive the earliest Potter novels. This book is dark and grim and Adam's existence is both snarkily amusing and realistically painful. While there have been other YA novels riffing on the idea of the Grim Reaper, and while the cover with the elegant scythe on it is a dead giveaway of some of the narrative elements, there is a lot of difference here to be discovered. Readers will rejoice in the brother-and-sister team's worldbuilding, which is rich and detailed, and while the twists in this book are mostly known before the character knows them, the characterization and remix of mythology will keep readers reading. Adam's self-effacing, sarcastic voice will work well for many readers.

Conclusion: Come for the sarcasm and the familiarity, stay for the unknown and the yet undiscovered! While this book wrapped up nicely in an "episode" fashion, there are some unanswered questions which leave room for a sequel - stay tuned.

"The Powerses' worldbuilding and writing will keep [readers] hooked. They will find themselves questioning what is fact and what is fiction and cheering Adam on as he journeys in this new, strange world. A gripping, philosophical paranormal thriller." --Kirkus Reviews



I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. You can find BROKEN CIRCLE by J.L & M.A. POWERS at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

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!