Saturday, December 20, 2014

#AMonthofFaves: Fave new-to-me authors I discovered in 2014

Kirsten at We Be Reading has been following this meme hosted by Estella's Revenge all month, with daily prompts to make various lists of favourite books from the past year. It's generated some awesome lists on people's blogs, so it's worth checking out (if you want to add a ton of things to your TBR!)

I'm not nearly organized enough to a) do that much blogging and b) look back and analyze my reading all year. (People count the books they read? In categories?? People have reading goals and measure their progress toward them???? My reading does NOT work like that!)

But this prompt (from Dec 9, so I'm only 10 days late) really works for me because it's been a great year for finding new authors. And it doubles as a chance to quickly review a lot of my travel reading.

I'll even divide it into categories for you:

YA Fantasy:

Rachel Neumeier  —  After really enjoying The Floating Islands and The City in the Lake (the only two books available at my library), I decided to buy The Griffin Mage trilogy to read on the plane. Was not disappointed. Yet another original magic system; awesome griffins; heart-breakingly complex characters whose stories interweave with each other over the trilogy; beautiful descriptions; Neumeier's trademark ability to create intense conflict without anyone being an actual villain, because everyone has such good reasons for what they're doing (even if they're griffins who want to wipe out all the humans). Excited to read her more recent stuff: no more waiting for the library to get them, Neumeier is now on my "I fork out hard-earned cash for anything she writes" list.

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel  —  So far I've read the first two of her Night Calls series—spooky witch stories set in an alternate frontier America—and I love the characters and the setting. Kindred Rites has seriously scary evil sorcerers that Allie gets kidnapped by and runs away from, with some nice realistic surviving-in-the-winter scenes. As with Night Calls, the details of every day life are immersively vivid, and the magic just seems like one more realistic detail. I've got the third book to read yet, and I also picked up the first book of an interesting-looking sci-fi series, Fires of Nuala.

YA Sci-Fi:

Andrea K. Höst  —  The Touchstone Trilogy was so much fun. And All the Stars is just as much fun: it's a sort of Invasion of the Body Snatchers /Host/ Animorphs story (did you ever read the Animorphs? I thought they were awesome!). An implausible premise but she makes it feel so real. I doubt a huge spire is going to appear in every large city in the world, dispersing dust that kills lots of people but (slight spoiler if you want to be surprised by what happens) gives some people superpowers and then allows unbodied aliens to take them over and use them in dominance challenges—but if that ever did happen, we would all react exactly the way Höst describes it. Great use of the Sydney, Australia setting, great cast of diverse characters. So far I've liked Höst's sci-fi better than the one fantasy I tried—Medair had an intriguing premise and was compelling enough to draw me along, but I felt as though the most interesting things were happening in the flashbacks, and I really wished she had told the story in the order it happened; I'd be more invested in it that way. So I haven't read the sequel yet (also because the blurb makes it sound like it's going to be sad, and I don't want a sad ending! So maybe I'm more invested than I'm willing to admit!). But she's such a good writer that I'm willing to try another of her fantasies, especially since her books are on sale on Kindle for .99 right now! (Quick, go snap up the Touchstone Trilogy!)

Fantasy: (I was going to say Adult Fantasy, but that would give entirely the wrong impression!)

Patrick Rothfuss  —  Finally decided to see what all the buzz was about, and I'm with the majority on this one: he's an amazing writer and I wish he'd hurry up and finish the third Kingkiller book! (But I'm willing to wait if it means it's going to be as good as the other ones.) Traditional magic kingdom fantasy with a great protagonist and just really good writing. Here are links to my Goodreads reviews of The Name of the Wind, The Wise Man's Fear, and The Slow Regard of Silent Things (which would be on a Top Ten Books that Blew My Mind list (the Dec 16 prompt), were I to make one).

Jo Walton  — I first encountered her name in a review for her non-fiction work, What Makes This Book So Great, a collection of her Tor reviews of science fiction (which I still haven't laid my hands on). I went over to Tor.com to see what sort of things she was writing, and have been following her ever since. She's incredibly widely read, and smart, and snarky in a compassionate way, and she just has this angle of view on things. So when I saw that she had recently come out with a novel (Among Others), I figured I'd like it. I did (link to my review). Then I tried her alternate history Small Change trilogy, and was wildly impressed. I've got Tooth and Claw on my iPod now (Victorian novel plot and setting, but with dragons. What's not to like?!), and I'm waiting until I have the time to devote to it to get My Real Children, which sounds amazing. If you want a quick taste, she has a number of short stories online in various places, including a couple of Christmas ones on her blog.

Uncatagorizable in a sort of steampunky way (but for sure not steampunk):

Max Gladstone  —  Maybe it's too soon to put him on a favourites list, since I've only read one book, but Three Parts Dead would also go on that hypothetical Books that Blew My Mind list, so I'm fairly confident that I'm going to keep liking the Craft Sequence books. Also, look at those covers. So gorgeous; so colorful, and by that I mean notice the different colors of people on them. It's like he's writing books about humans or something. Quite radical. And I love the titles even more after reading this post explaining his chronology. (Also I'm liking Max Gladstone more after reading it. Smart, funny guy.) (Of course, now I can't decide which book to read next, since apparently it doesn't matter.)

Monday, December 8, 2014

MMGM: Whales on Stilts! by M. T. Anderson

I've seen this book several times at the library and almost taken it out, but then put it back because I thought it might be dumb. Then I noticed that one of its sequels was a Kirkus pick for 2014, and I thought maybe I should give the series a try. Well, Whales on Stilts is definitely as silly as it sounds, but it's also smart and funny and, in the end, quite heartfelt.

Anderson obviously has a lot of affection for the type of dime-store serial adventure story he spoofs in M. T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales. Absurdly ridiculous plots, unbelievably competent heroes/heroines, bombastic villains with their evil lairs and plans for taking over the world. (Sounds a lot like James Bond, actually!) Anderson stretches all the incredulity way past its breaking point (I mean, whales on stilts?) and plays it all with a perfectly straight face.

Contender for best opening line ever (and then the second line just tops it off):

On Career Day Lily visited her dad's work with him and discovered he worked for a mad scientist who wanted to rule the earth through destruction and desolation. 
Up until then life hadn't been very interesting for Lily.
Lily makes this book for me. "Most people didn't know that Lily herself was interesting." She has two very interesting friends, Katie Mulligan, real-life star of the Horror Hollow books, and Jasper Dash, Boy Technonaut, but it's Lily who's the heroine of this tale. Quiet, observant Lily is the one who notices there's something fishy about her dad's boss, with his blue, rubbery hands and the bag over his head. And after all of Jasper's inventions and Katie's helpful ideas, it's Lily who figures out how to stop his evil plan for world domination.

I love the completely oblivious adults. There's some satire of corporate culture with Lily's dad and his co-worker Ray, so caught up in minutiae that they miss the blatantly obvious:
"We're a little bit behind schedule. But you know, sometimes it almost makes me curious—why all of the giant, destructive lasers? And why all of the maps of North America?"
"Yeah. Sure. I guess. Oh, Ray, have you seen the memo about the meeting with Paul?"
(Reminds me of the sitcom Better off Ted. Used to be on Netflix. Really weird humour, very pointed satire.)

I was impressed at Anderson's deft handling of tone. Yes, a lot of the humour is over-the-top, but there are subtler layers, and when it comes to Lily's character the writing can be downright lyrical. And don't skip the footnotes or the "Guide to Reading and Thinking" at the end; they're delightful.

I'll be returning to the library to pick up The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, book 2 in the series that will become Pals in Peril!

Salty, buttery popcorn, you can never get enough of it.

It's been a while since I've contributed to Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday, but every Monday there are always a gang of folks with great recommendations on Shannon Messenger's blog.

 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Blue Lily, Lily Blue, by Maggie Stiefvater

Well, she did it again.

Have you ever used a juicer? You throw whole fruits and vegetables in at the top and out the bottom comes all the flavour and nutrients and juicy goodness extracted into a cup of pure concentrated apple essence. Or carrot. Or whatever.

The point is, Maggie Stiefvater is a juicer. When she writes, she extracts all the emotion and drama and knucklebiting tension and aweful magic out of her ideas and delivers them to us in juicy, concentrated scenes of pure oomph. Every scene. Like a fist to the gut.

If you've been enjoying the Raven Cycle, you know you have to read Blue Lily, Lily Blue, and I can assure you you won't be disappointed in any way. More magic. Greater understanding of Glendower and what he might be doing in West Virginia and why these particular characters are the ones who might be able to find him. More in-depth character and relationship development. You didn't think they could be developed any deeper? Oh! Adam and Ronan and Gansey and Blue. Noah, too. And the Grey Man. (I love the Grey Man.) Just, oh, my heart!

If you haven't yet started the Raven Cycle, you can't start here. (I mean, you could, because she gives enough little hints about what happened before that you probably wouldn't be too confused. But why would you?) Go get The Raven Boys—I'm sure your library has a copy—and get to know the boys as Blue does. I promise you'll get completely sucked into this story of sentient forests and dreams and psychics and ghosts and friendship and sleeping kings. And other sleepers who must definitely not be wakened.

In case you didn't realize, the Raven Cycle is more than three books long. This one ain't the end! Stiefvater is excellent at completing a satisfying story arc while leaving significant questions unanswered so you are heavily invested in reading the next book. Which we now have to wait for. (It's not a cliffhanger, though. Unless you read the epilogue. Then, yeah, not so much hanging off a cliff as stepping off it and wondering when you're going to start falling.)

Sticking with the juice metaphor, I'll say Blue Lily is the freshly squeezed orange juice I had every morning for breakfast in Morocco. (The oranges in Morocco taste so much better than any other orange you have ever had anywhere else. Seriously. You must go to Morocco just to taste the oranges there.)

Friday, November 7, 2014

More books on my iPod

I'm leaving, on a jet plane. Again.  This time for much longer, so I need significantly more books on my little old device. This is what I've got queued up for the 9 hour flight to London followed by 3 hours to Marrakech. (I do hope I sleep on the way to London!):

A few Andrea K. Host, since I enjoyed the Touchstone trilogy so much. The Medair duology (two books for the price of one!), and And All the Stars (best tag line ever)


Some Rachel Neumeier I haven't read yet: the Griffin Mage trilogy (three books for the price of one!)


A Sharon Shinn sequel I somehow missed when it came out: Royal Airs (sequel to Troubled Waters).


And the hotly anticipated next book in Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Cycle: Blue Lily, Lily Blue.


Aren't they all gorgeous?! (Too bad my copies are all virtual . . .)(But I couldn't take them all on the plane with me if they weren't.) I may or may not take a couple of paperbacks with me, just in case. (My husband looked at everything I was stuffing into my carry-on and said, "Are you really going to lug these books around Europe with you?" The expression on my face must have answered him, because he said, "I guess having books for you is kind of like having oxygen." Very true.) The horror of international travel without a book to read . . . I can't begin to contemplate it! As it is, I'm excited to get to the airport so I can start reading! (But which book do I start with????)

I will be sans computer for two and a half weeks, so no blog entries (I was going to be all organized and write some reviews ahead of time and schedule them for while I'm gone, but, yeah, didn't happen. Sorry.) But I should have a ton of great reviews when I get back!





Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Touchstone Trilogy, by Andrea K. Höst

Did you know it's Science Fiction Month? At least, it is according to the bookish folk over at Oh, The Books and Rinn Reads. They're hosting a month full of blogs and events that sounds like a sci-fastic idea, and I would definitely sign myself up to participate if I wasn't going to Morocco for three weeks.

But in the spirit of celebrating Science Fiction in all its mutations, I offer you this awesome alternate world science fantasy trilogy which you should definitely read this month, if not sooner.

Stray, Lab Rat One, and Caszandra are the diary of Cassandra Devlin, Australian girl who accidentally ends up on another planet and has to deal with what she finds there. There's lots of cool plot and setting details, but the strength of these novels is Cassandra's voice and character. Normal, practical, stoic but not immune to panic and despair, with a great self-deprecating sense of humour—it's the way she deals with everything the plot and setting throws at her that riveted me to the page.

I debated whether to say anything about the plot in this review. I read it without really knowing what I was in store for, so I got the fun of discovering all the surprising things that happen right along with Cassandra, and I really enjoyed that experience. So if you don't want any spoilers at all, then stop reading this blog, take my word for it that you'll like these books (and if you don't believe me, believe Sherwood Smith and Rachel Neumeier), and go start reading Stray.




Okay, you still need a little more convincing?

Stray begins with Cassandra walking home from school in Australia and accidentally walking out of the world.* I think we all (all of us who read Narnia, anyway) secretly wish that would happen to us, but  Höst takes that trope and gives it the realistic treatment it deserves: how would an average Australian girl figure out how not to die on a strange, unpopulated planet with only the supplies in her school knapsack? I was completely sucked into the story and probably would have kept reading even if the whole story was just Cassandra alone vs planet.

(If it's sounding good to you then stop reading now!)

But then she gets picked up by some patrollers and taken to the safe planet where people actually live, and injected with a nanotech interface in her brain so she can learn the language and figure out how to live in this completely alien (but human) society. And that was pretty cool, and I would have kept reading even if it was all just adapt-to-new-technology-and-social-norms-and-make-friends-and-come-to-terms-with-never-going-home-again.

(Last chance. Don't make me tell you what happens next. Just go get the book now!)

But it turns out that a lot of people here have various crazy psychic powers, and Cassandra discovers that she enhances people's powers when they touch her. So off she gets whisked to the psychic ninja warrior training facility, because this planet is constantly fighting off monsters from non-real planes of existence, and someone who enhances psychic powers would come in really handy.

That is definitely all I'm going to tell you. No mention of really hot warrior guys in way cool form-fitting nanotech suits will cross my lips.

These books were a lot of fun, and they made more than five hours of travel time fly by. They also had so much substance, all kinds of interesting ideas, such fascinating world-building—that I know I'll be rereading them.

Something chocolate and chewy . . . oh! the dessert we shared when I took my daughter out for dinner in Ottawa: chocolate brownie tart with peanut butter mousse. Mmmmm. Yes.



*That sentence suddenly reminded me of a book I remember loving when I was young: A Walk Out of the World by Ruth Nichols. I don't remember anything about the plot, but just seeing the cover again when I googled it brought back intense happy feelings. This book obviously impacted me greatly; I should try to get my hands on a copy and reread it.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

What's on my iPod?

Quick update to let you know what I've got on my e-reader for my flight to Ottawa tomorrow. (I'm going to visit my daughter; maybe I can convince her to make me those Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls she was boasting about!)

I've already read Stray and loved it, so I'm excited to continue the series. Parallel world sci fi with psychic ninja warriors and nanotech. Will definitely blog about these ones when I'm done.

This is book 2 of the series I just started (reviewed the first book here): magic coming of age in alternate frontier America. Can't wait to see what Allie gets up to next.










New one from Sherwood Smith, straight-up historical romance I think, which is a departure for her. I briefly started it and I'm already immersed in the world.









Five hours there and then five hours back again; these should keep me going! Oh, and I'm also bringing along the library book I'm half through:

It'll be next week's MMGM if I keep liking it this much.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Conjured, by Sarah Beth Durst

I guess it must be the season subconsciously influencing me to pick spooky books. Or maybe there's a dark magic spell influencing all the authors I like to write spooky books. The last Sarah Beth Durst book I read was Vessel, which was a great desert adventure fantasy. Conjured is something entirely different, and I couldn't put it down.

First line: "Your name is Eve. Remember that."

Main characters who have forgotten everything about their past are always fun. The mystery of identity has to be the central mystery of everyone's life. So a character trying to piece herself together from a very few clues and dreams is always compelling and sympathetic. Said character instantly becomes more interesting when she can do odd magical things without knowing why. Suspense is added when she doesn't know who is telling the truth or who she can trust, and when everyone around her seems pretty terrified of something awful happening to her.

Conjured has all these excellent building blocks and out of them Durst creates a fascinating, terrifying, heartwrenching, living, breathing tale of love and freedom and what it means to be a person. Eve doesn't know how to undo a seatbelt, can't remember that she licked jelly donut off her fingers last week, doesn't know why the agent she's supposed to call Malcolm makes her feel safe and the one called Aunt Nicki doesn't like her. But out of all her emptiness her personality shines. She is creating herself before our eyes with every choice she makes. She chooses to cooperate, to pretend to be normal, but as "Malcolm" and "Aunt Nicki" introduce her into the world, her choices broaden. Particularly when she meets Zach at the library. (I really liked Zach.)

The visions that may or may not be pieces of her past are excellent creepy carnival scenes, textured with colour and scent and emotion. At first they're so cryptic they make no sense, but as the images build they start to hint at their own story. Like Eve, we're given all the puzzle pieces but it's hard to put them together without knowing what they're supposed to look like.

I just went to Goodreads to get the link for this book, and I was surprised by some of the negative reviews, but I can understand them. You have to be patient with this kind of narration: it's frustrating to spend half the book not knowing what's going on—but that's the frustration Eve is living through, so for me it created empathy and suspense.

The writing is beautiful. Durst uses all her senses in her descriptions, and she has surprising and apt metaphors. I love how her magic is wondrous and beautiful even when it's underlain with horror.

Another excellent Halloween read, and I guess that's why pumpkins seem appropriate. Maple pumpkin pie, I think, another invention of my daughter's that I didn't get to try because I'm a five-hour flight away.