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When I was a teenager, I was a big fan of historical romance. In college, I would read Georgette Heyer during exam weeks to relax. As an adolescent, I really liked that "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, Well, maybe you're not so bad" storyline in a historical setting. So I picked Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge off the Cybils Young Adult Speculative Fiction nomination list for one reason and one reason only: The main character has been raised to marry and murder a demon who has had control of her country since before she was born but falls for him before she can complete her task. Okay, it was paranormal and not historical, but I was dealing with a speculative fiction list, after all.
Now, though I seem to read a lot of fantasy, it's mainly because a lot of children's and YA books are fantasy. It's not because I'm so fond of it. I don't get excited about fantasy elements, as a general rule. I'm not crazy about houses that are always changing, for instance, as the one in Cruel Beauty does. I was kind of mystified about who the Kindly Ones were in this book, especially since there seems to be an alternative Greek mythology thing going on here and where do the Kindly Ones fit in? But that didn't matter because the demon was very witty and clever and our protagonist wasn't a particularly nice person, which I like in a heroine.
Yes, Teen Gail would have loved this thing. Cruel Beauty should be on a list of teen vacation reading that is totally inappropriate for school papers.
But If You Want To Write A School Paper On It, Try Talking About Jane Eyre
However, if someone really wants to sell this as a subject for a high school paper, I think they might be able to do a Jane Eyre
comparison. Cruel Beauty
is being marketed as a Beauty and the Beast meets Greek mythology tale, but I kept thinking of Jane Eyre
was not assigned reading for me when I was a teenager. I read it on my own, as I read a great many things back then. I did not find it particularly memorable, except for the scene where poor Jane sits on the sidelines during an evening event at Mr. Rochester's house. That probably speaks volumes about my adolescence. I didn't become a fan of Jane's until I re-read it in 2003
after reading The Eyre Affair
. The Good Reading Fairy
had hit it, and I've become a bit of a Jane Eyre groupy, looking for and reading retellings
. Cruel Beauty
may not be an intentional retelling, but I still think an enterprising student could make a case that would convince a teacher to at least accept a Beauty/Jane Eyre
is about a prickly young woman who doesn't inspire affection in traditional relationships, such as the one with her aunt. In the course of acquiring what is by the standards of her time a good education, she is not treated very well. She enters a wealthy (wealth is power) man's home as a governess. Said wealthy man is unhappy and bitter over the life he has been forced to live. These two damaged, unromantic people find something in each other.Cruel Beauty
is about a bitter, angry young woman, her father's least favorite child, the one he bartered away to a demon. He provides her with what is by the standards of her world a good education so she can kill the demon he's marrying her off to. The plan will mean her death as well, explaining her bitterness and anger. She enters a powerful male's home as his wife. Said powerful male is amusing and attractive but resigned to a fate he brought upon himself, one we're not aware of for a while. These two damaged, I can't say unromantic because I'm sure we're supposed to think they are, people recognize something in each other.
In Jane Eyre
, there's a madwoman in the attic. In Cruel Beauty
, there's a little something in one of the house's many rooms.
Jane and Mr. Rochester's story in Jane Eyre
is framed with a beginning piece about Jane's rough youth with her family and boarding school and an ending bit about her suffering after she leaves Rochester. Nyx and Ignifex's story in Cruel Beauty
is framed with a beginning piece about Nyx's rough youth with her family and an ending bit about her suffering after she and Ignifex are separated. Some have argued that Mr. Rochester's blindness is a punishment for what he planned for himself and Jane, a punishment that was alleviated when Jane returned to him. A clever high school student could argue that Ignifex was punished for all he had done, a punishment that was alleviated when Jane returned to him.
There you've got it, folks, the beginning of a Cruel Beauty/Jane Eyre
Wait! There's more! It's kind of a stretch, but if enterprising students wanted to, they could claim there's a bit of a torn-between-two-lovers thing going on in Jane Eyre
what with Jane being proposed to by both Mr. Rochester and that creepy minister named St. John. The author of Cruel Beauty
does something interesting with the torn-between-two-lovers cliche.
Okay, lads and lasses. You're welcome to this material, but put it into your own words.
I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora is about a group of teenagers who set out to increase To Kill a Mockingbird's popularity by making it appear to be disappearing and thus unavailable. Everyone wants what they can't have, right? Part of their plan is to take their project viral. Some readers might think that they were unrealistically successful with that. All the characters, teen and adult, are amusing and clever, though some readers might find that they sound a lot alike.
Yes, yes, "some readers" is me.
Okay, let's talk about the intriguing things in I Kill the Mockingbird:
- This book really is about literate teens. These kids aren't just spokespeople spouting the party line on classics. They can actually discuss a book. They know why not everyone loves To Kill a Mockingbird, for instance. No, no, I am not one of the dislikers. But, nonetheless, I understand why not everyone embraces it and appreciate that mindset being expressed.
- This book is about religious observance. I do not mean it is about dogma or doctrine. It is about kids who go to religious services and religious school. There are hundreds of thousands of young people who attend the services related to whatever faith their families follow. I don't see a lot of that reflected in children's books.
- This book does have some of the "this-is-an-important-book-about-death" thing going on. Though it's more an-important-book-about-not-dying-and-having-to-get-over-it thing. And, yes, that's different.
- I liked the father's reason for thanking God--it's always good to be polite. And the mother's argument that we are only able to enjoy living because we're able to pretend we're not going to die. And the discussion of "Ordinary Time," a season in the Christian church calendar? The main character gives a meaningful explanation of its significance. Though I was a Catholic child, I didn't learn about the church calendar until I was a Sunday school teacher in a Congregational church. I thought Ordinary Time was just that period of the year when nothing else was happening.
I liked I Kill the Mockingbird
for all the odd little things I found in it. It's getting all kinds of loving
from people who probably liked it for other reasons.I Kill the Mockingbird
is a Cybils nominee in the middle grade category
I was very taken with Peter Sis's book The Wall back in 2008, so when I heard he'd written and illustrated another book, this one about Antoine St. Exupery, for whom I'm a groupy, I was enthusiastic. I've never really understood The Little Prince, and I don't really get Sis's The Pilot and the Little Prince, either. It's beautiful (and very well reviewed), but I'm embarrassed to say that I find the layering of information difficult to manage. There's narrative, sometimes there's little facts in circles in a straight line above the narrative, and sometimes there are facts sprinkled above that. An older child who is into nonfiction and just plain loves facts might eagerly suck this stuff up. This older reader is stuck in her ways and needs a more linear reading experience.
A New York Times reviewer said, " Sis suggests in his new title that the Pilot of “The Little Prince” is Saint-Exupéry and the Little Prince his child self." I totally missed that. I'm not saying it's not there, just that I didn't get it.
However, I did pick up on the fact that Guerlain named the perfume Vol de Nuit for one of St. Exupery's books. That's the kind of thing a St. Exupery groupy wants to know.
The Pilot and the Little Prince is a Cybils nominee in the picture book category.
It most definitely was
is the third in The Lunar Chronicles
, which began with Cinder
, a book I definitely enjoyed. Scarlet
I wasn't quite so taken with. I'm back on board with Cress
does really well is get readers into the story without leaving them mystified because this is part three of a serial and who remembers what happened in part two? Book One was a clear and clever Cyber Cinderella story. Book Two was an intriguing take on Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, but connecting it to Cinder's story a little awkwardly. The awkwardness is gone in Book Three.
Cress is a techie Rapunzel figure, trapped on a satellite for years doing the evil queens bidding. She is also an inexperienced romantic who believes the space cowboy she ends up leaving the satellite with is the hero of her dreams. It makes sense that she gets pulled into Cinder's scooby gang, which is plotting to save a Prince Charming from having to marry an evil Moon Queen who is planning to...
There's some romance going on in these books. It's pretty clear to me that all kinds of couples are going to come out of these Chronicles
. I don't usually care for romance. But there are clever things going on with these people. Cress, for instance, is such an over-the-top sucker for romance and the object of her affections is so bad-boy questionable that there is almost a little parody going on there.
This is a serial, and I do wish I'd been able to read them in a binge instead of over a few years. That's pretty much my only complaint at this point.Cress
is a Cybils nominee in the YA Speculative Fiction category
by Victoria Schwab
It hasn't even been a year since Ben died, and Mackenzie Bishop is already forgetting what her brother looked like. Her mother copes with the grief by throwing herself with artificial cheerfulness into projects, while her father copes by retreating into himself.
Mac knows something her parents don't: that all the memories of the dead are archived as Histories, which look and act like the living person in every way. Histories usually sleep, but sometimes one awakens and tries to get out; occasionally they're even violent. Mac is a Keeper, tasked with guarding the Narrows that border the Archive and returning any of the Histories who escape. It's a role that she inherited from her grandfather, and one that she must keep absolutely secret, even from her parents. Knowing that Ben's History is in the Archive should be a comfort to Mac, but even a Keeper can't see the Histories, and Mac fears that she is losing her memories of Ben.
When Mac's family moves into the Coronado, an old hotel converted to an apartment building, Mackenzie gets a new territory in the Narrows to patrol. But something is not right — the Histories here are restless, and Mac is busier than ever trying to return them all. What's more, it appears that a murder was committed decades ago at the Coronado, a murder that someone went to a great deal of trouble to cover up. Mac is determined to find out the truth, even if it means putting her life at risk.The Archived
is a moving exploration of life, death, and grief wrapped up in an intriguing, character-driven mystery. Mac is tough — she has to be, to deal with the sometimes violent Histories — and she has the scars to prove it. But even her toughness doesn't make her immune to grief, and like everyone else she'll need to find a way to deal with it and move towards acceptance.
The story has a strong sense of place, and the various locations are lovingly described: the elegant, library-like atmosphere of the Archives, the creepy hallways of the Narrows, and the faded glory of the Coronado, which really becomes a character in its own right. The characters are likewise vividly brought to life. Besides Mac, there is a teen boy, Wes, that she meets in the Coronado. Wes hides a surprising depth and empathy behind a façade of good-natured humor. Mac's relationship with her grandfather is developed through flashbacks. Other minor characters, such as the Librarians in the Archives, are less fully-fleshed-out, but still distinctively characterized.
The setup with the Archives is intriguing and pleasingly unique. The internal logic is pretty consistent and well-developed, with one exception that bothered me. What is the purpose of keeping the Archives in the first place? There doesn't seem to be any reason for it. Loved ones can't visit the Histories, and no one seems to read the Histories except for the occasional Librarian seeking relief from boredom, and even that seems to be discouraged. It seems like an elaborate setup requiring considerable secrecy and no small amount of risk, for no purpose. If you can suspend that disbelief, then The Archived
is a pretty enjoyable book.The Archived is a 2013 Cybils Awards Nominee
Who would like this book:
Although the setup is not strictly supernatural — Histories aren't really ghosts — it should appeal strongly to fans of supernatural fiction. Teens who enjoy mysteries or character-driven fiction may also enjoy this.
Get it from:
FTC required disclosure: Reviewed from library copy. The bookstore links above are affiliate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.
Out of the Easy
by Ruta Sepetys
has an eye-popping first line. "My mother's a prostitute." The narrator isn't just directing an insult toward a mom who sleeps around. The mother here is your traditional, lives-in-a-cathouse, works-for-a-madam prostitute. The setting--mid-twentieth century New Orleans--and the world--of prostitutes--is the big draw for this book.
Main character Josie Moraine is an older YA character. She's finished high school and is saving to get out of the Big Easy. Her voice and those of the other characters are a little contrived, though that is understandable. This is a historical novel and the author is trying to duplicate the language and usage of another era. That's extremely difficult to do and make sound natural. As with so many YA novels, Josie is torn between two lovers. It's pretty obvious to readers (at least this adult reader) that she can forget about one of them. Josie doesn't get it. Once again, this is probably understandable given the era she lived in.
There is a mystery here, but it seems to exist in order to showcase the historical world. Everything in this book seems to exist to support the historical world. Fortunately, it's a fantastic world.Out of the Easy
reminded me of Spirit and Dust
because both books involve a protagonist on the high end of YA living in a world YA readers won't be familiar with. Little sub-genre going here?
Out of the Easy was just named a finalist for the 2013 Cybil for Young Adult Fiction
by A.C. Gaughen
was a fascinating experience. The book is the Robin Hood story from the point of view of Will Scarlet, one of Robin's band of so-called merry men. Except in this rendition, he's a cross-dressing young woman.
First, I was caught by the voice. Voice can be tricky in historical novels. Characters from the past shouldn't sound twenty-first century, but at the same time, making them sound non
twenty-first centuryish can also mean making them sound contrived or stilted. And while we know how people--particularly educated people--wrote in days of old, we can never really know how they sounded. The key to Scarlet's voice is that she's very ungrammatical. She appears to be unaware of the third person singular of the verb "to be," throwing "were" in everywhere. "That were Rob's version of a greeting." "'First, Freddy Cooper were arrested,'" I said, looking around. It weren't good news." Also, she uses the word "lads" for the other band members. I like the word "lad."
So I liked Scarlet's voice right away. What I didn't like was when she said things like, "Rob looked at me, and as were fair usual, I felt my heart jump." I thought, Oh, no. A romance. Why must there always be a romance? I don't know if I'm going to be able to take this for long.
I switched between reading Scarlet
and another YA historical novel, figuring I'd stay with the one that hooked me first. As it turned out, it was Scarlet
Because I realized I would have loved Scarlet
when I was a teenager. I...mean...loved
The girl who dresses up like a boy so she can escape the restrictions of her society and be tough and strong and do exciting things? Teenage Gail loved those characters.
The girl-who-is-torn-between-two-lovers scenario, as Scarlet is with Rob and someone who will remain nameless? As an adult, I find that a tedious cliche. As a teenager? Loved it.
The star-crossed lovers who are always misunderstanding cues and take forever to get together? As an adult, I want to slap those characters and tell them to get on with it. But teenage Gail couldn't get enough of that Elizabeth Bennett/Mr. Darcy vibe.
As I was reading this book, I felt as if I was being transported back in time. Not back into the time of the story, but back into my past. I don't think I have ever read a book that took me back to my teenage reading experience the way Scarlet
Also, there is a great reveal in Scarlet
that I never saw coming but realized immediately made sense.Plot Project
: The whole Robin Hood mythology is one of those cultural things everyone seems to know about even if we can't remember why. (Maybe even more so than King Arthur, probably because Robin Hood is a much more democratic and contemporary sounding figure. He's all about redistribution of wealth, after all.) I suspect that Gaughen tweaks much of the basic Robin Hood narrative for her plot. Good story, but what is even more impressive is the situation/world she came up with to put the storyline within. There's more going on here than just making Will Scarlet a female.Scarlet
is a Cybils nominee in the YA category
I have "known" Melissa Wiley
of Here in the Bonny Glen
for years. She's written five books
, three of which came out this year. Fox and Crow Are Not Friends
is the first that I've read.
This clever Step into Reading
book uses three tidy chapters to show Fox and Crow interacting in nonfriendly ways. At the same time, the book is a complete story with a climax and surprise reveal. The images don't just illustrate text but really do carry part of the storyline. The reveal makes sense in terms of the illustration. At the end of the story, we suddenly ask ourselves, Ah, yes. Where did the cheese come from?
And this little volume is full of literary references, starting with its title. Fox and Crow Are Not Friends
calls to mind Frog and Toad Are Friends
the first of the Frog and Toad I Can Read
books by Arnold Lobel
. I once saw this series referred to as the best I Can Read
books ever written. The chapter title A Good Smell Is Hard to Find
has to make adult readers think of Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man Is Hard to Find
, a short story I've never understood. Another chapter title, Revenge Is a Dish Best Served with Cheese
is a play on "revenge is a dish best served cold," which is not a Klingon proverb
, people! And the reveal at the end, which I don't want to give away--did it not make anyone else think of the Berenstain Bears
I hope we'll see more Fox and Crow books in the future.Fox and Crow Are Not Friends
is a Cybils nominee in the Easy Readers/Early Chapter Books
I have been a fan of the Ivy + Bean books by Annie Barrows for years. As I said back in 2007:
"Bean could be described as a Junie B. and Clementine type of child in that she tends to go her own way. Her creator describes her as "loud and wild." The difference between Bean and the other leads in the big, girl series is that Bean is comfortable with who she is. She isn't always anxiously interacting with adult characters who reassure her in some way or are involved in helping her learn a reassuring lesson. Most of Bean's interaction is with another child and not adults. She interacts with Ivy, her co-lead, who, superficially, is your stereotypical quiet little girl.
Yeah, your quiet little girl who is into magic and potions, and who is sharp as a tack. Talk about still waters running deep."
Their eighth book, No News Is Good News,
is more of the same, and the same is very good. Ivy and Bean want to take part in a school fad that requires money. Their first plan to make some involves selling potions that Ivy would make. Surprisingly, that doesn't work. So they fall back on creating a neighborhood newspaper, as Bean's father did when he was young. They grasp the concept of selling subscriptions right away. That they will have to provide something to the people who paid up comes as something of a surprise to them. They also struggle with the concept of "news."
Yes, stories about child-run newspapers have been done before. But not with Ivy and Bean.Ivy + Bean No News Is Good News
is a Cybils nominee in the Easy Readers/Short Chapter Books category.
The One and Only Ivan
by Katherine Applegate
is one of those books that is saved by a really great character. Ivan is a gorilla, and he tells his own story in short chapters laid out in short paragraphs. They aren't indented and are spaced in such a way that the material on the pages could pass for lists. This all seems to me to suggest the way a nonhuman would tell a story.
Ivan's is a hard core outsider story, because, though he describes himself as having had a life as a human at one point ("My life as a human was a glamorous one, although my parents, traditional sorts, would not have approved."), he clearly has not. He lived in a human family only as long as the human family could tolerate him. He observes humans from inside a cage.
He may not quite get that his understanding is often just a little bit off. So all his observations and philosophical sounding statements are from the point of view of someone who is watching humans but not always totally getting beyond the surface of what he observes. This is not to say that he's superficial. He does the best he can with what he's got to work with.
Applegate was inspired by a true story
of a gorilla who lived much like Ivan did. Since this included spending decades in a cage, you might think this is one of those evil people doing animals bad stories. But the entire human race isn't written off here. Even Mack, who could be described as the heavy, is portrayed as more unenlightened and maybe confused than wicked.The One and Only Ivan
is a clever, often very readable story. But it also often doesn't have a lot of narrative drive. Which brings us to an opportunity to do a Plot Project piece.Plot Project:
You could describe The One and Only Ivan
plot as being built around a character wanting something and having to overcome obstacles to get it. Ivan wants to save a young elephant. But that young elephant doesn't enter the story until about a quarter of the way through the book, and Ivan's mission to save her doesn't become clear until close to the halfway point. You could also describe The One and Only Ivan
plot as beginning with a disturbance to his world--the arrival of the young elephant. But, again, that doesn't come until a quarter of the way in. The real story here, the something that happens to somebody and so what, doesn't begin for quite a while. Until then, you're talking world building and characterization.
Ivan is a wonderful character, but it wasn't until the last third of the book that I became interested in what might happen next.
There's a discussion of The One and Only Ivan
in the comments to this review
at the Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
. The One and Only Ivan
is also a Cybils nominee in the Fantasy/Science Fiction
category. That seems an odd place for it, given what we think of as fantasy these days. But it is about a gorilla who can write a book, so...
An argument could be made that Friends With Boys
by Faith Erin Hicks
is just another outsider trying to make it in high school story. Maggie and her three older brothers were all homeschooled by their mother who, like so many mothers in children's lit/YA, is gone, gone, gone. Each one of them had to transition to public school at ninth grade. Now it's Maggie's turn. Her brothers are quite marvelous, though not particularly attentive, and Maggie is left to experience not just the terrors of high school on her own, but the whole separation from family that most kids do somewhere between the ages of 3 and 5.
Yes, the homeschooling thing is the only unusual element here in the basic story. Nonetheless, Friends With Boys
is very well done. Partly this is because those older brothers, while not particularly helpful at first, have made their way through an assortment of adolescent problems and are still standing, so there is every reason for us to trust Maggie to do the same. And partly this is because Friends With Boys
is a graphic novel and a really good one.
I am able to whip through what I consider to be a well-done graphic novel, one that uses image to communicate setting and action. Hicks does even more here. Her wonderful artwork conveys character. When Maggie's older brothers appear, our understanding of them is almost instantaneous. There are no what I call "narrative boxes" in these frames--spots where the graphic novelist has had to tell us some info in words. Absolutely everything here is in dialogue and images. You can just suck this story in, absorb it. Be one with the story.
Okay, I will admit I don't totally get the ghost. But for you people who like that sort of thing, hey, there's a ghost.Friends With Boys
is a Cybils nominee in the Teen Graphic Novels category
Minutes before I started reading Ungifted
by Gordon Korman,
I gave up reading a book that was told from alternating points of view. Several of them. None of the characters were particularly interesting, some of them were terribly cliched, and the point of view switches meant having to keep readjusting myself to a different person telling a story I didn't like very much, anyway.
Imagine my surprise when I found that Ungifted
was told the same way. The basic story is more interesting in Ungifted
, though, and the characters are all more likable and more accessible.Ungifted
is the story of a run-of-the-mill kid who has a history of stumbling into disruptive rather than criminal trouble. After accidentally causing expensive damage to the middle school gym, he takes advantage of a paperwork error so he can hide out in the district's school for the academically gifted.
I found the basic premise for the book believable. Donovan had legitimate reasons for being concerned about the financial trouble he was going to make for his family if he was fingered for the gym job. I found the slip-up that got him into the gifted program believable. I found his family's response to his sudden identification as gifted believable. For the past thirty years, at least, it has been a rare parent who hasn't spent their children's entire school careers waiting for someone besides themselves to recognize their offsprings' splendor.
I did feel the point of view switches weakened the story, though. The basic idea is that Donovan's presence at the school makes life better for the gifted students. I buy that idea
, too. But I would have enjoyed getting deeper into one point of view in order to see what's so great about Donovan.
This is a contemporary, realistic school story with a lot of humor. I see so much fantasy, paranormal, teen girl group stuff that a realistic story seems unique by comparison. A lot of kids would be happy to find this book.Ungifted
is a Cybils nominee
in the middle grade fiction category.
Well, well, well. I requested I Hunt Killers
by Barry Lyga
a while back, and by the time I got hold of it, it was a Cybils nominee for YA fiction
.I Hunt Killers
is a serial murderer story with a tormented lead who is both hunting for the killer and fearful that he could become one. It includes a quirky, much weaker, sidekick and a spunky girlfriend. It made me think of Dexter,
if Dexter had made any attempt to control himself when he was young. And had friends.
It also reminded me of Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick
in that both books seem like YA book versions of adult movies. With some changes to details, all the main characters could easily be ten years older and pretty much maintain the same plot and end up with the same story. And it seems as if it wouldn't take a whole lot to adapt them into movies because they seem so much like movies already.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. This thriller scenario may be new to YA, which is different than doing the same thing in YA over and over again simply because new readers are coming up who haven't seen it before
This idea of using adult film as inspiration for YA novels may be really taking off right now. I'm reading The FitzOsbornes in Exile
, and though I'm enjoying it, I have to say it seems a lot like a Masterpiece series.
by Gillian Philip
Seth is the bastard sun of the dun captain Griogar. His father barely acknowledges his existence, and most of the people in the dun revile and torment him, when they aren't ignoring him. But when his older half-brother Conal takes him under his wing, the two form a special bond. So when Conal is exiled to the full-mortal realm, of course Seth goes with him.
Seth and Conal are Sithe, and have the ability to speak mind-to-mind. Sithe also live extremely long lives, but they aren't immortal and can die on the point of a sword—or in a fire. And in the late 16th century, full mortals consider Sithe abilities to be witchcraft, and witches are burned at the stake. Can Seth and Conal survive long enough to live out the term of their exile and return to their own world?
Firebrand is an exciting story driven by a strong narrative voice that leaps off the page. Seth is an interesting character: stubborn, arrogant, and temperamental, yet redeemed by an abiding loyalty to his brother. Although initially he appears to care about no one but himself, he grows through his love and loyalty to Conal, and he shows a deep ability to care in spite of his prickly exterior. Gillian Philip did an amazing job of creating a narrator who should be unlikeable, but whom we can’t help but begin to like and care about.
The plot is exciting, with enough action to keep the pages turning. In fact, it leaps right into the action as Conal is about to be burned at the stake, then much of the book is a flashback that shows how they got to that point. There’s also plenty of political intrigue, and romance as well.
Firebrand appears to be primarily only available in the UK at this time. I was lucky enough to receive a review copy as a Cybils panelist. There are some copies available on Amazon Marketplace, but other than that, readers in the US may have difficulty finding copies. I hope that this excellent fantasy series will be available in a US edition before too long.
Firebrand was a 2010 Cybils nominee in the Fantasy & Science Fiction—Teen category.
Firebrand on Amazon.com (try the used and new link)
Firebrand on Amazon UK
FTC required disclosure: Review copy provided by the publisher to enable me to write this review. Some of the bookstore links above are affiliate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.
The Curse of the Wendigo
The Monstrumologist, Book 2
by Rick Yancey
This sequel to last year's The Monstrumologist, finds Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, the Monstrumologist of the title, in the interesting position of arguing against the existence of a monster. When Warthrop receives word that his former mentor intends to propose adding the Wendigo, a mythical American monster that resembles a vampire in some ways, to the canon of Monstrumology at the next conference, Warthrop prepares a speech in opposition to the inclusion of such superstitious nonsense. When Warthrop's old friend John Chanler disappears on a quest for the Wendigo, Warthrop and his young assistant, narrator Will Henry, begin a dangerous journey through the Canadian wilderness in search of Chanler, even though Warthrop believes that search to be hopeless.
I've never been a fan of horror, but I love this series in spite of my squeamishness. I probably would never have picked up the first book, especially with it's original hideous cover, except for three things: it was nominated for the Cybils in 2009, I'm a fan of Rick Yancey (here, here, and here) and my teenage son, who also doesn't like horror, gave it his highest recommendation.
The series is wonderfully written, in a style reminiscent of classic horror, yet with a modern sensibility that will appeal to today's teens. There are some, er, pretty graphic scenes, so this isn't a series for younger children or sensitive readers.
For most of the book, The Curse of the Wendigo is slightly less of a bloodbath than the original Monstrumologist book, and moves a little more slowly, relying on suspense more than outright horror. However, there are still enough detailed descriptions of bodies with entrails hanging out and eyes removed to satisfy the most jaded horror reader.
But really, The Curse of the Wendigo is very much a character driven book. And what characters! I adore Will Henry. On the surface he is obsequious and timid, yet underneath he has a depth of resolve and courage, which is revealed to a much greater degree in this book. We also see Dr. Warthrop in new light here, as some of his past, and some unexpected aspects of his personality, are revealed. Through their hardships, his relationship with Will Henry develops, and while he is still the same arrogant and impatient doctor, by the end some change has crept in. There are some new characters introduced, including Lilly, a delightfully obnoxious 13-year-old girl who makes it her mission to torment Will, and who is certainly destined to be the first female Monstrumologist.
The Curse of the Wendigo was a 2010 Cybils nominee in the Fantasy/Science Fiction: Teen category.
FTC required disclosure: Review copy provided by
I am finishing off my not very restful Thanksgiving weekend with links to my posts on YA Cybils nominees.
As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth by Lynne Rae Perkins.
Fat Vampire by Adam Rex.
I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett.
Linger by Maggie Stiefvater.
The Cardturner by Louis Sachar.
As luck would have it, I have two more Cybils nominees upstairs in my To Be Read pile. I just happened to pick them off the new book shelf at the library over the last month. I'll post about them when I've finished them.
Well, Thanksgiving is over at Chez Gauthier, for which I am very grateful. Not that I didn't enjoy it. But the three plus days of preparation spread over a couple of weeks, as well as the six hours of socializing has left me exhausted in a satisfying sort of way.
Fortunately, I planned to be tired this weekend. Over the next few days I'm going to be posting links to the Cybil nominees I happen to have read this year. I'm starting with picture books and working my way up in age because I am extremely linear, and this was the line I could most easily find.
First off we have three nonfiction nominees:
Jimi: Sounds Like A Rainbow--A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix by Gary Golio with illustrations by Javaka Steptoe.
Lincoln Tells a Joke by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer with illustrations by Stacy Innerst.
The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Suzy) by Barbara Kerley with illustrations by Edwin Fotheringham.
And my one fiction nominee:
Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton with illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld.
Now I have to find a vacant spot on which to collapse.
by Sallie Lowenstein
On the last day of the first week of first grade, Davey doesn't want to go back to school. The other kids pick on him, call him names, and push him down on the playground. Then he discovers an unusual box of cereal in the pantry. On the box is a space that reads, "Wolfley-O's! The cereal that ____________________________." After Davey fills in the blank with "Builds Your Confidence," he finds that he does, indeed, have more confidence the next day at school.
Throughout the week, more blanks for different attributes appear on the cereal box, and as Davey fills them in, he finds that things improve at school. The week culminates when a recipe for Wolfley-O cookies appears on the box, and Davey makes the cookies to share with the other kids at school.
Wolfley-O's is a fun and empowering story for kids about the power of imagination to shape our world. Sallie Lowenstein understands well, and does a great job of portraying, the fluid line between imagination and reality for young children. Is the box of Wolfley-O's real or in Davey's imagination? It really won't matter to the kids reading the story.
Lowenstein is good at getting into the mind of a child, and Davey is an appealing character that kids will identify with. The art is lovely, with great attention to detail; for example, Davey's socks are bunched up and coming off in one illustration. The kids at school start out as a child's stick figures at first, then gradually gain detail and transform into fully drawn and shaded characters as Davey gets to know them.
The recipe for Wolfley-O's cookies is included in the story. It sounds delicious enough that I'd like to try it, yet simple enough for a young child to make (with adult supervision).
Wolfley-O's is a Cybils nominee in the Fiction Picture Books category.
FTC required disclosure: Review copy (F&G) provided by the publisher to enable me to write this review.
The Ask and the Answer
Chaos Walking, Book Two
by Patrick Ness
Warning: This review is slightly spoilerish to the first book, The Knife of Never Letting Go, so if you haven't read that book, I recommend you stop now and read it first. I loved the first book, but qualified my review with a caution about the ending. Having read the second book, I can now give the series an unqualified recommendation. It's an outstanding series, and one with a lot of teen appeal. My only warning is that bad things happen, and this isn't a series for sensitive readers.
My Review of The Knife of Never Letting Go
The Ask and the Answer was an unexpected surprise. I knew it would be good - I think I hardly even breathed while reading The Knife of Never Letting Go - but I didn't expect it to go in the direction that it did. The Knife of Never Letting Go was one long, breathless flight, with Todd and Viola alternately running from and battling the forces from Prentisstown. The cliffhanger ending led you to believe that the second book would be more of the same. And while The Ask and the Answer picks up where The Knife of Never Letting Go left off, Ness turns everything upside down and forces you to question your assumptions and look at everything and everyone in a new light.
I don't want to say too much and ruin the book, but The Ask and the Answer finds Todd and Viola separated, and at times, on opposite sides. They are each, in their own way, doing what they can to stand up for what's right, but right and wrong aren't always clear, and it's hard to know who, or what, to believe.
The Ask and the Answer is a deep, powerful, and sometimes disturbing book, which asks such questions as, do the ends ever justify the means? And if one side is evil, does that make the opposition good? There are echoes of the Holocaust, particularly in the treatment of the Spackle. The Ask and the Answer is as breathlessly unputdownable as The Knife of Never Letting Go, but it's also a book that shakes you up and makes you think. It's a book that I think will have strong appeal to teens.
Guest Review by David
My 14-year-old son David also reviewed this book. Here is his review:
Oh, my gosh. Was it even possible for this book to top it's predecessor? Yup. If anything, this book is even more well written than The Knife of Never Letting Go, and that's saying a lot. The characters are all great, from the villains, to the heros, to those who just aren't sure what they are. And the plot? The plot is the best part. I don't want to give away too much, but it's almost impossible to put down The Ask and The Answer after you start. This book has quickly risen up my list of favorite books, along with The Knife. I've already reread them both twice, and I still can't get enough!
Whereas the first book ended leaving the reader with a feeling of defeat, this book, even though it has no less of a climactic ending, gives you a better feeling. More "Aaaaaaaah!" as opposed to "Noooooo!" if you will. If you enjoyed The Knife of Never Letting Go, there's no way you shouldn't read this book.
The Ask and the Answer is a 2009 Cybils Nominee
Disclosures: we received a review copy of The Ask and the Answer from the publisher at my request. The links above are Amazon.com affiliate links, and if you purchase the books (or anything else) through those links, we'll earn a very small percentage. None of these things influenced the reviews.
The following books were nominated for the 2009 Cybils in the Fantasy/Science Fiction category at the Teen level:
Soulstice (The Devouring #2)
by Simon Holt
Nominated by: Melanie
Reviewed by: Nettle
by Anne Osterlund
Nominated by: Mia Thompson
Reviewed by: Nettle
Amaranth Enchantment, The
by Julie Berry
Nominated by: Stacey (AKA Aubrey)
Reviewed by: Gwenda007
by Daniel And Dina Nayeri
Nominated by: Finn
ArchEnemy (The Looking Glass Wars)
by Frank Beddor
Nominated by: Shannon Messenger
As You Wish
by Jackson Pearce
Nominated by: Abby
Reviewed by: Nettle
by Malinda Lo
Nominated by: Michelle