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Teenage assassins are a dime a dozen in fantasy and in dystopia, and they aren't ALL that uncommon in historical fiction, but they appear far less often in contemporaries—even stories about teenage spies usually cast the protagonist in an unquestionably heroic role (like Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider series) or focus on less-problematic skills (like Robin Benway's safe-cracking heroine in Also Known As and Going Rogue).
So, let's look at a few slightly more Questionable Characters!
Four years ago, he learned the truth about his parents, and four years ago, The Program took him in. He was trained physically, mentally, and emotionally, and now he works for them. They give him a target, he infiltrates that target's life, gets close enough, and then moves in for the kill. (Literally.) Then he moves on. Always moving, always alone.
He doesn't know it yet, but this next job will be different.
I Am the Weapon will not be a good fit for every reader: If you dislike the present tense, it won't be a good fit, ditto sentence fragments and antiheroes. Me? It was a GREAT fit.
Benjamin (not his real name) has a voice that is strong and distinct, both emotionally distant and emotionally fragile. He reads like someone who has been programmed, but not entirely brainwashed—he feels trapped in his situation, but hasn't entirely reconciled himself to it; sometimes, he reads like a sociopath, but it's always clear that it's a created state, not a natural one—because he remembers his past, remembers how he came to The Program, he doesn't entirely trust them, isn't entirely in their corner. But he doesn't feel that he has any direction to move in OTHER than theirs, so he falls back on the rules of the game again and again as a way of justifying his actions and of convincing himself to keep moving forward, of not giving up. His keepers see him simply as a tool, as an asset, as a weapon to point at their enemies... but he's more than that: he's a survivor.
Because of his emotional and mental conditioning, because of the way he's lived for the past four years, he doesn't entirely understand human connection—even though he craves it. Although he has been programmed to follow orders, to kill without hesitation or regret or guilt, he remembers the warmth and love he knew as a child, and those memories, in tandem with getting to know his target—not to mention his target's beautiful daughter—are making it more and more difficult for him to perform his duty.
As I read, I found the romance element FAR less interesting and satisfying than in Benjamin's slowly-growing friendship with bullied hacker Howard, but ultimately, Zadoff makes it all work, AND HOW. The sequel is due out in a few weeks (<--Oh, look, it's a Little, Brown title, so Amazon won't let us pre-order it, the jerks), and I'm VERY MUCH looking forward to reading it.
While neither one focuses on a teenage assassin—Miller's is about a pickpocket and Jinks' is about a hacker—and while an argument could be made that they're science fiction OR fantasy OR both, really, I'm including them anyway. They're both about schools for the criminally-minded, and both include characters who're being taught to be assassins. While I was a big fan of both books, I felt that How to Lead a Life of Crime, especially, deserved WAY more attention than it got when it came out.
This one has been promoted as a story about a teenage girl who happens to be a serial killer, but everything I've read about it suggests that she's actually an assassin with little-to-no conscience. Which is different. Judging by reader reviews at Amazon and GoodReads, response has been EXTREMELY VARIED, so I just ordered a copy so I can make up my own mind.
Boy is forced by his mother to take their Lithuanian exchange student to the prom, it turns out she's an assassin. Hijinks ensue! In the sequel, Perry runs into Gobi in Venice, and there are MOAR HIJINKS. These sound like big, action-movie-esque fun, and I'm going to make a point of reading them soon.
So, I'm sure you've got others to recommend, right? Right?
Best Young Adult winner Annabel Pitcher (for Hachette’s Ketchup Clouds) pithily commented that “Young Adult Mystery novels are no more watered down adult mysteries than young adults are watered-down adults.”
Heh. You go, Annabel Pitcher.
See the other YA nominees here, and the rest of the winners and nominees here.
The Swedish publisher of the best-selling The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy said Tuesday it has hired an author to write a sequel to the series by Stieg Larsson, who died in 2004.
Norstedts said it signed a contract with David Lagercrantz, the author of I am Zlatan, a biography of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the captain of Sweden's soccer team, to write a new novel about journalist Mikael Blomqvist and hacker Lisbeth Salander that is scheduled to be published in August 2015.
Eva Gabrielsson is quoted as calling the endeavor "tasteless", and I'm inclined to agree with her. (Of course, we'll probably never know whether or not her feelings would be the same if she owned the rights...)
I'll most likely skip it in favor of getting caught up on Carol O'Connell's books. LONG LIVE KATHY MALLORY.
Tell us a little about the genesis of Kathy Mallory.
Whenever I go out on tour, someone will ask if Mallory is autobiographical. It always startles me. I like to think that I show no markers for a sociopath. Mallory is purely a work of imagination. This answer disappoints everyone.
"If my child picked up the book out of the library, then your child has the ability to do it too," said Bennet. I Hunt Killers was on the Henry Clay High School reading list, along with dozens of other books. Bennett's son chose it from the school library, but she wants to know why it was even an option.
Now Bennett said the book needs to go, and parents need to be kept in the loop. Therefore, school officials are taking a closer look at the list, but want everyone to remember one thing. "You never can judge a book by its cover," said Quenon.
Fayette County Schools said no student is required to read I Hunt Killers, it is simply a book they can choose.
Which reminds me, I really need to read the sequel.
Simukka’s rapid success abroad is unusual for an author from Finland.
Exceptions are Tove Jansson’s Moomin stories, historically the country’s
most famous children’s book export; and the most internationally
notable Finnish publishing story of recent years, Sofi Oksanen’s Purge,
which appeared in English two years after it had picked up Finland’s
most prestigious literary prize, Finlandia, and reached the top of
national bestseller lists. The Snow White trilogy hasn’t yet become a
bestseller, as adult fiction typically dominates the charts in Finland.
But the series has gained international notice thanks in large part to a
relatively new phenomenon in Simukka’s home country: the literary
That said, I hope that the main character isn't ACTUALLY "Lisbeth Salander for a young adult audience", because I'm already somewhat tired of Salander-ish characters. And anyway, I still mantain that Salander herself isn't nearly as cool as Kathy Mallory, who is ALSO a damaged hacker genius-type, but whatevs. Add a Comment
To his admiring peers,Mr. Leonard did not merely validate the popular crime thriller; he stripped the form of its worn-out affectations, reinventing it for a new generation and elevating it to a higher literary shelf.
Reviewing “Riding the Rap” for The New York Times Book Review in 1995, Martin Amis cited Mr. Leonard’s “gifts — of ear and eye, of timing and phrasing — that even the most indolent and snobbish masters of the mainstream must vigorously covet.” As the American chapter of PEN noted, when honoring Mr. Leonard with its Lifetime Achievement award in 2009, his books “are not only classics of the crime genre, but some of the best writing of the last half-century.”
In his honor, I shall make a display of his books and order Justified (and Out of Sight and Get Shorty and Jackie Brown) for the library.
ELIZABETH PETERS AND ELMORE LEONARD IN THE SAME YEAR. I hate you, 2013.
As I suspect I'll be doing a decent amount of readers' advisory for adults at my new job, I decided that I need to bone up a bit on adult fiction—over the past few years, I've read very little of it. SO, going forward, I'll be periodically posting about adult books.
TL;DR: Look at me, reading a grown-up book.
Mike Bowditch is a rookie game warden, only a few months into his very first posting on the coast of Southern Maine. One night, he gets home after dealing with a call about a black bear stealing a drunk guy's pig to find a message on his answering machine from his estranged father, who asks for his help.
He erases the message, but it sticks with him, and he tries to track his father down the next day—no easy feat on the best of days, considering the lack of cell phone reception in Northern Maine and his father's habit of heading off into the woods for days at a time. Then the news breaks: a cop has been shot and killed up north... and Mike's father is not only the prime suspect, but a fugitive.
As Mike puts it, his father is "a bar brawler, not a terrorist", so he heads on up to his childhood stomping grounds to try and figure things out. The local police want nothing to do with him, as they're convinced his father is the killer... so Mike puts everything on the line—his personal relationships, his career, even his own life—in his attempt to put things right.
Man, what is it about crime fiction that inspires me to break out every single hackneyed cliche there is? I can't help it. I love writing in Movie Trailer Voice. ANYWAY.
I enjoyed this one. Mike's a pretty classic crime hero, in that he's a loner with relationship troubles—both parental and romantic—though he doesn't have the issues with addiction that so many other literary detectives do. He speaks straightforwardly and distinctly—though not particularly distinctively, as he's not prone to literary flourishes or flights of fancy or dialect or other quirks—and he's got a great eye for detail, both in describing the people of Maine and capturing a sense of place.
He does a great job of showing the age-old love/hate feelings many Mainers have about people From Away, as well as portraying divides in economic class and level of education and so on. There's loads of really interesting state history that's interwoven into the narrative—actually, I guess that his tendency to digress into stories like that would count as a narrative quirk—and the author's note at the beginning lists a whole bunch of books I want to check out soon.
The only drawback was this: although the storyline dealt with issues of abandonment and betrayal, with faith and how hard it is to overcome our own past, oddly enough, I didn't find it all that emotionally engaging. The mystery itself was competent, though, and I truly didn't see the resolution coming, which is always cool.
I'll be reading the others in the series for sure, but more for the Maine stuff than for anything else.
I think we may all be little children about the people we love. It is easy to say ‘I can’t believe she’s gone’, and the phrase is a cliché because it has been true so often, of so many much-loved people. I find myself thinking that if maybe I don’t read that last book, the one I can’t read till the next one comes out, maybe, somehow, she won’t be gone, because she’ll have to write that next book for me, for all of us.
Bursting into tears minutes before leaving for work = AWESOME.
Go. Read the whole thing.
(And, in case you didn't know, we're in the middle of an ongoing DWJ Celebration.)
This issue picks up not long after the first one ended: the body of the murdered man—one of the Young—is now being prepped for autopsy. Everyone is still at a loss about the hows of the death—the as-yet unidentified man hadn't been impaled, incinerated, or decapitated—let alone the whos or whys.
While we see the beginning of CI Suttle's investigation—including the identification of the victim, some research into the strange burn marks on his neck, and a conversation with his valet—as well as a bit more about Suttle's household, including Louisa's reaction to being newly-Young, this issue is really more about providing some background about the world.
Artwork? I'm still not blown away, though I just noticed that all of the Young appear to have amber-colored eyes. The faces, especially, still aren't doing much for me, though I noticed something cool: while the faces of the Young all share a bland similarity (beyond eye color, I mean), the faces of the humans are more varied, and some of them have features so exaggerated that they almost resemble caricatures.
Storyline? As this issue provided more backstory, it got a little infodumpy as it caught new readers up to speed and then introduced more history, but not in such a way that it was egregiously offensive.
I especially like this aspect of the world: the Young (vampires) and the Bright (human) are divided not only along mortal lines, but along class lines. The Young are the upper crust, and the bright are the working class. Which means that the ruling class is very concerned with keeping the details of this murder quiet—if it gets out, as Suttle's superior says, "We won't seem so bloody superhuman and immortal after all, will we?"
Keep going? While this issue didn't do a ton for me, I'm going to keep reading because I do love the premise. I hope very much that ultimately, I'll love it for the story and the characters as well. But my hopes for the series are a little less high than they were.
Bestselling YA author Andrea Cremer has agreed to do an adult erotic trilogy for Dutton. The author, who is best known for her popular Nightshade series (which Penguin’s Philomel imprint publishes), sold world rights to three books that will be set within the Nightshade world. ... The first book in the series—Dutton said it’s about “the lives, passions, and betrayals of lovers whose very desires invite their dooms”—is scheduled for October 2013.
John Banville, under the name Benjamin Black, is writing a new book:
This idea has been germinating for several years and I relish the prospect of setting a book in Marlowe's California, which I always think of in terms of Edward Hopper's paintings. Bay City will have a slightly surreal, or hyper-real, atmosphere that I look forward to creating.
The issues raised in this book—which, remember, is set almost 100 years ago—are frighteningly similar to many of those raised in the most recent election cycle. While that may sound scary and depressing, it isn’t. Rather, by the end, Sirens is a celebration of girl power, sisterhood, and hope for the future.
On the Fifth Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me five gold rings...
There's only one gold ring in Storm Catchers, but it's important. Thirteen-year-old Ella is snatched from her family's house in the middle of the night, and, fearing for her life, her parents follow the kidnapper's instructions and leave the authorities out of it.
Wracked with guilt—he was supposed to be home with Ella and their three-year-old brother Sammy—fifteen-year-old Fin turns Ella's GOLD RING into a dowsing pendant, and together, he and Sammy attempt to find Ella before it's too late. BUT. There's much more going on than at first glance, and since Ella's kidnapping, Sammy's mysterious imaginary—or is she?—friend has been drawing him into ever-scarier, ever-more-dangerous situations, and there's this old tramp who's been hanging around...
Storm Catchers reminded me a little bit of Susan Cooper—it's set in Cornwall, is totally creepy, and it has that Old Fashioned '70s Adventure flavor—though it's heavier on action than any Cooper I've ever read. There's a little bit of Mary Downing Hahn in here, too: as in Wait Till Helen Comes, there's a ghost girl and a whole lot of crappy behavior on the part of the parents. Fin's father, especially, is absolutely insufferable—he's very open about blaming Fin for Ella's disappearance, even though SPOILER the whole situation has come about due to his own actions a decade ago END SPOILER—and neither parent ever thinks to turn to Fin and say, "IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT. YOU'RE A FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD BOY, CLEARLY NOT A FIGHTER, AND EVEN SMALL FOR YOUR AGE. IF YOU'D BEEN THERE, YOU COULD HAVE BEEN HURT OR KILLED, AND IT'S LIKELY THAT ELLA STILL WOULD HAVE BEEN TAKEN. WE'RE GLAD THAT YOU'RE SAFE." Bowler taps right into that ADULTS ARE UNFAIR NO-NOTHINGS feeling, but some readers are bound to be annoyed that Fin never voices any sort of frustration with any of it. Then again, he's kind of busy trying to find his sister, to keep his younger brother safe, and to figure out what the heck his father is hiding. So maybe he just doesn't have the time for a good old gripe session.
It's a LOT to cram into two hundred pages—kidnapping, ghost, family secrets, big-time betrayal, blackmail, telepathy, magic, and tragic death—so some of it feels somewhat undeveloped, but overall, it's well-written, atmospheric, the action sequences are fast-paced and cinematic, and at points, it's super scary. Fun stuff, and bound to appeal to readers looking for that semi-wholesome (er... there's no romance or major profanity, anyway, though the storyline involves marital infidelity) old-fashioned adventure feel.
It’s a solid thriller with a cool premise—think Rear Window, but starring a Parkour-practicing heroine who has Xeroderma Pigmentosum, a condition that makes sunlight not just dangerous, but life-threatening—strong dialogue and character development, exciting action, suspenseful plotting, and the requisite smootchies, AS WELL AS being a really believable, effective story about friendship, secrets and lies.
In other recent Kirkus columns, I covered April Lindner's Catherine (Wuthering Heights in NYC) and Adrienne Kress' The Friday Society (Charlie's Angels goes steampunk).
I absolutely guarantee that some of you will want to throw this book across the room. For one, some readers are bound to be hugely disappointed by the prosaic solution to the mystery. Much more problematic, however, is the portrayal of the one black character—an adoptee from Uganda; he is constantly exoticized and, in more ways than one, comes off as very much “other.”
There are no firsts, and there is no coming of age. When the book begins, Finn has already joined the adult world. He’s already dealt with major loss (when his mother abandoned him), is way past experimenting with mind-altering substances and he lost his virginity years ago. As he’s no longer in school, he’s working full-time—pretty much supporting the household. When his father dies, there isn’t a big reckoning about responsibility, finances or authority. His dealings with adults are all on adult terms; while he doesn’t get a whole lot of respect from them, that’s less about his age and more about his demeanor. In a nutshell, Crusher isn’t a crime story that also portrays an aspect of the teen experience. It’s a crime story, period.
The specialness isn’t just in Rosenfield’s description, turns of phrase or how she captures the slow, heavy feel of summer. It’s about how she makes every single action, interaction, sometimes even the briefest of moments...feel like a turning point. There’s a constant sense of dread, inevitability and change.
Trust me? Add this to your list. Don’t trust me? Add it to your list anyway. Fan of historical fiction? Espionage? World War II stories? Add it, add it, add it. Even if your tastes don’t usually tend in that direction, you need to pick it up anyway. It will make you dissolve into a puddle, and then, once you’ve recovered, you’ll immediately read it all over again. That’s what I did.
I've read four of the five YA titles. (And I still don't think that Crusher is actually YA, but whatevs.)
I really need to go back and read Brenna Yovanoff's The Space Between, because somehow I never made time for it last year. Which is ridiculous, because I enjoy her so very much: her stories satisfy my weird, vaguely uncomfortable fascination with the macabre without coming off as sensationalized or exploitative. She also writes sensitively about difficult topics—in the case of Paper Valentine, about grief and eating disorders and the nature of sociopathy—but without getting maudlin, and with a good deal of dark humor.
It's been six months since Hannah Wagnor's best friend Lillian died, and Hannah is still reeling... but not for the reason you'd assume. No, Hannah's having a hard time letting go of Lillian because Lillian won't let go of her: she's been haunting Hannah ever since she died.
As Juliet Stevenson's character in Truly Madly Deeply could attest, being haunted by the ghost of a loved one—no matter how loved—is not a comfortable, comforting thing. For one thing, you're constantly faced with a reminder of your loss... and for another, even in death, your loved one still has all the obnoxious habits that drove you bananas when s/he was still alive.
On top of that, it's the hottest July on record (SUCH a treat to read about in January, for reals); Hannah's had a couple of moments with Finny Boone, the town's resident delinquent; and someone in Ludlow is murdering young girls. Lillian is convinced that it's a serial killer, and she wants to catch him. Dead or alive, Lillian gets what she wants... so, despite the danger, Hannah starts investigating.
Yay! I'm happy to say that Paper Valentine lives up to its lovely cover art. As I said above, it's got elements of the macabre (in addition to the murders and the ghost, birds are literally dropping dead—like, falling from the sky—due to an avian virus), but it's also, very much, a story about grief and about moving on (both the desire to and fear of).
Hannah and Lillian's friendship is appropriately complex; and as the story plays out, it's clear that their friendship was just as complex in life, but in different ways. Lillian was a Queen Bee-type, and her death affected the balance within their group of friends, but she is never simply a Queen Bee. Even in death, she's a believable, real, three-dimensional person, and Hannah is just as real and believable. They both have a lot going on under the surface—as you might imagine, Hannah, especially, is under a huge amount of pressure—and Yovanoff does a fantastic job of showing that through their actions, interactions, and emotions. Oh, and bonus points for Hannah's creative side: the descriptions of her homemade clothing (not to mention the FANTASTICALLY WONDERFUL decoupage project that shows up in the last third) are super.
While I'm talking about characters, of course, I can't forget to mention FINNY BOONE, who I suspect will walk away from this book trailed by a whole parade of fangirls. The Bad Boy/Good Guy type IS ridiculously difficult to resist. He's a little bit of a stock character—Hulking Brooder Who's Been Hurt In The Past, Is Great With Kids, And Is Very Protective Of Those He Cares About—but he's still pretty irresistible.
As for the mystery component, the solution totally surprised me in the best sort of way: when I thought back, I realized that there'd been clues, and that I'd (SHOCKINGLY) just missed them. And along those same lines, I had no complaints about Hannah's detective technique: she made connections fast and acted on them quickly, and while she took chances, they weren't stupid or unnecessary ones.
Blog tours are a rarity here at Bookshelves of Doom, so on the very few occasion that one swings through, you can be confident in assuming that I feel very strongly indeed about the book in question.
It's been six years since the last Kiki Strike book, and even the most devoted fans of Ananka Fishbein and the Irregulars had given up hope of a third installment. So when The Darkness Dwellers was announced, there was much rejoicing in the kidlitosphere. And not classy, tempered, polite rejoicing, but RAUCOUS, DELIGHTED SQUEEING.
I was working when I found out, and it's possible that I whooped so long and so loudly that some of my patrons shushed me... but I'm not admitting to anything.
If you haven't read the firsttwo books, you're missed out on huge fun: Kiki Strike is a tiny, white-haired girl with life-threatening allergies, a penchant for wearing black and using her martial arts prowess on anyone who gets in her way... and is a secret princess to boot; Ananka is our narrator, has a avid interest in all things cryptozoology and conspiracy, who lives in an apartment with a private library so impressive that it would rival most public ones; Betty is a sweet-natured master of disguise; DeeDee is a science genius and explosives expert; Luz is aggressive and crabby, but a whiz with gadgets; Oona is a hacker, lock-picker, and business maven; Iris is a younger-mascot-turned-member. Because they're teenage girls, villains often underestimate them... but like Mary Quinn, Buffy, and any number of kickass heroines, Kiki and the Irregulars always use that to their advantage.
As in the first two books, many of the chapters end with sections of practical advice about how to handle oneself in a number of tight spots. In the previous books, the advice offered up would have been right at home in one of the Worst Case Scenario handbooks... but this time, in a rather brilliant twist, those sections could have come straight from Miss Manners. It's all about being a twenty-first-century lady (or gentleman): there are sections on Tea Parties and Flower Arranging, Delightful Dinners and The Rendezvous. NEVER FEAR, THOUGH, the girls haven't come close to losing their edge, and the advice sections are just as clever and subversive as fans would expect.
So, I went in with high hopes—which is sometimes a dangerous proposition—but I'm happy to report that Kirsten Miller has done it again: like its predecessors, The Darkness Dwellers is chock-full of excitement, mystery, secrets, disguises, stock market shenanigans, and smartypants humor. There are punches thrown and tires slashed; code-breaking and chemistry and cool tidbits of lesser-known history.
And while that'd be plenty to keep anyone entertained, it's ALSO an emotionally engaging story about the importance of loyalty, honor, friendship, and family; about realizing that sometimes you can rely more on the family you choose than the family you're born to, but that you also shouldn't be too quick to give up on people. That there isn't only one way to be strong; that you don't have to appear hard-as-nails to be tough; and that being compassionate, polite, and offering second chances doesn't equate to being weak... as long as you don't throw your pragmatism out the window. (And always keep your right hook in reserve, just in case.)
Kiki and friends, I'm glad you're back, even though I'm well aware that this might be your last outing. If so, I'm comfortable with that—the major plot threads were resolved, after all—but I very much hope that it won't be.