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Rather than be forced into an arranged marriage to a prince from another country who A) can't be bothered to even MEET her before getting hitched, let alone even CORRESPOND WITH HER, and B) expects her to have a magical ability that she DOESN'T HAVE, Princess Arabella Celestine Idris Jezelia, First Daughter of the House of Morrighan, runs away with her maid.
They travel hundreds of miles, doubling back and leaving false trails and doing everything they can to avoid being followed—disobeying the king, after all, is an act of treason, and punishable by death—and eventually make their way to a small fishing village on the coast, where they settle down and get jobs as barmaids. It's hard work, and a very different life than either girl is used to, but they're both very happy there.
But despite their best efforts at avoiding detection, there are at least two men on their trail: one is the prince, who is partly angry about Lia's flight but MOSTLY curious about her, and the other is the assassin who has been ordered to kill her.
EVERYTHINNNNNNNNNNG. There's action and romance and romantic complications; the characters are smart and strong and the emotions are palpable; the focus seamlessly shifts from Lia to the Prince to the Assassin and back again; the worldbuilding and creation of multiple cultures is super; the details about daily life are just as compelling as the action sequences. As you'd expect from a girl who's grown up a princess, Lia is capable of being QUITE imperious when roused as well as QUITE bossy, but she's also wonderfully stubborn and hugely empathetic and even if I didn't always AGREE with her decisions, I understood them. There are threads about family and duty and friendship, and OH MY STARS, IF YOU LIKE HIGH FANTASY, THEN JUST READ IT.
Very occasionally, the dialogue would veer from Semi-Olde-Fashionedy-Formal-Fantasy ("You serve the Kingdom of Morrighan well on this day, Arabella.") to Modern-Day-American ("Pull your royal head out of your ass and get used to it!"), but that is a TOTALLY minor quibble in the face of SO MUCH AWESOME.
OH MY GOD DO I SERIOUSLY HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL 2015 FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT?
He’s a fan of wordplay, and has developed his own personal slang, a creative combination of stream-of-consciousness, cockney rhyming, pop-culture references, and plain-old Scottish teenager. All that, when peppered with the unintentional vocalizations that fly when he’s nervous or upset, guarantees that you’ve never read anyone quite like him.
Aspiring “authors” Kendall, 18, and Kylie, 16, arrived for their book signing at Barnes & Noble at the Grove in Los Angeles, where they posed with the novel for three minutes, scowled and refused to answer questions, then sat down for their obligatory book signing with all the enthusiasm of teenagers in a summer school algebra class.
Photographers stood in awe as security staffers surrounded the pair just minutes later, declaring “the signing is over.” Barnes & Noble organizers plead in vain for the girls to fulfill their duties, but no dice.
ETA: I have now educated myself by reading their Wikipedia pages. Yay.
The New Visions Award, which was created in 2012, will be given to a middle grade or young adult fantasy, science fiction, or mystery novel by a writer of color. Established by Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW that publishes YA and middle grade science fiction and fantasy, the award is a fantastic chance for new authors of color to break into the world of publishing for young readers.
A couple of weeks back, I put together a list of stories about airships. Included on the list was Lucy Saxon’s Take Back the Skies, which is one I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time. It’s about a girl who disguises herself as a boy and stows away on a smuggler’s airship to escape her abusive father and avoid an arranged marriage. Romance, steampunk adventure, and SAVING THE COUNTRY all figure in. Sounds fun, right?
Despite all of the emotionally charged issues (adoption! cancer! dead dog! grief! first love! coming of age! unreliable parents! the meaning of life!) and interest-piquing details (mysterious psychic! stolen ice cream truck! vintage cookbook that includes intriguing personal notes! cameo by Jude Law!) and plotting that is moved along by many serendipitous events, The Secret Ingredient is just kind of...dull. Although her meditations on cooking and food have a nice placid sort of energy, the rest of Olivia’s narration plods, and despite the likable nature of most of the characters, the dialogue feels superscripted—heavy conversation after heavy conversation after heavy conversation, and none of the characters ever seem to have any trouble whatsoever articulating anything—and thus, unbelievable.
Here's a tip for all the fictional characters out there: If your book begins with a quote from Pride and Prejudice, don't go out with a guy named Wickham. You should know better than that. Go for the grouchy brooding guy. He'll be rad. I promise.
Readers who stick with it will learn that McNeal knows exactly what he's doing: Jacob is on just as much of a journey as our young protagonist is, and as he changes and grows, his deepening connection to and affection for Jeremy & Co. makes that emotional distance shrink and disappear. As the story goes on, his voice grows steadily warmer and warmer...and then, when the darkness comes—AND HOO BOY, IT COMES—steadily more frustrated, worried, urgent and, as he has the benefit of hindsight: guilty.
Fans of Gratton's work—if you haven't discovered her yet, you're in fora treat—have probably already read this one. It's another roadtrip story, this one about a berserker and a prophetess searching for Baldur, who's gone missing. While the relationship dynamics and the family secrets are totally compelling, and while Gratton does a great job of integrating familiar myths but keeping the plotting unpredictable, for me, this one was all about the worldbuilding, which was FANTASTIC.
My publisher, Tor Books, is sending 200 free copies of the paperback of my novel Little Brother to Booker T Washington High School, because it's the first school where any of my novels has been challenged by the school administration. Little Brother had been selected and approved as the school's summer One School/One Book reading pick, and the school librarian Betsy Woolley had worked with Mary Kate Griffith from the English department to develop an excellent educational supplement for the students to use to launch their critical discussions in the fall. The whole project had been signed off on by the school administration and it was ready to go out to the students when the principal intervened and ordered them to change the title.
1. Back up your assertions with pearl-clutching statistics that don't really mean anything: Most YA books are bought by adults, omg the shockhorror. Most groceries are also bought by adults, but that doesn't mean that said adults are ingesting all of that food.
As I said to my father when he was concerned that the dude at Sam Goody thought he was buying that New Kids on the Block cassette for himself, "Um, I doubt it. And also, do you really think he cares? And also also, why exactly do you care so much about what the cashier at Sam Goody thinks?"
2. Base all of your sweeping generalizations on two blockbusters: Good job, you've read The Fault in Our Stars and Eleanor & Park. You are now totally justified in assuming that every other YA book is exactly like one or both of them.
I'm going to start doing that with EVERYTHING now: Rather than read a broad range of adult fiction, covering lots of genres and eras and styles, I shall read two extremely popular modern realistic fiction titles that have been adapted into movies—say, one by Nicholas Sparks and one by Janet Evanovich—and then I'm going to go ahead and judge ALL OF ADULT FICTION on the basis of those two novels. Because logic.
3. Show off your knowledge about the topic by name-dropping titles you've read... like The Westing Game and Tuck Everlasting. So what if neither of those books happens to be a YA title? PIDDLING DETAILS DON'T MATTER WHEN TALKING ABOUT LITERARY JUNK FOOD.
4. When there is pushback about your sweeping generalizations, be pithy and dismissive! Be sure to shake your head sadly and comment about how surprised you are that teachers and librarians and parents and booksellers and authors and agents and editors and publicists AND YES, EVEN REVIEWERS—people who have spent hours and days and years immersed in this rich, diverse, multi-faceted world—are taking this all so personally. After all, when you said "Fellow grown-ups, at the risk of sounding snobbish and joyless and old, we are better than this," you weren't talking to or about THEM.
You were just talking to the idiot masses, who should be reading Dickens.
Read @slate YA piece. It dismisses satisfying endings and sympathetic characters as YA, then says Dickens, king of both, is ok.
5. Rather than taking the opportunity to recommend readalikes, shame readers for what they enjoy! Telling them that they're stupid and immature and incapable of reading critically will definitely make them rely on you for future advice, to trust your opinion in all things, and above all, to PUT DOWN THE YA AND PICK UP THE UPDIKE!
Putting this list together, oddly enough, was inspired by a sweet, sad, lovely coming-of-age story about Mira Levenson, a twelve-year-old British girl of Indian and Jewish descent who's journaling the last month of her beloved grandmother's life (among many other things).
Although the Rwandan Genocide wasn't the primary focus of the book, it was an integral part of Mira's new, more complex understanding of the world (not to mention her crush, Jidé), her discovery and exploration of it was a huge part of her coming-of-age journey, and the scenes of her doing research made me wonder what fiction was out there. (Hence, as I said above, this list.)
In addition to all of the book's other virtues—seriously, it's so, so good—there's also a really nice thread about how her PARENTS react to and deal with Mira's maturation. On the one hand, they want to protect her from the horrors in the world, but on the other, they realize that she's growing up, and that learning about and understanding these hard things (as much as understanding is possible, anyway) is a part of that process. It's just really nicely handled.
I'm so very much looking forward to the sequel, which is out in September.
This one is heavily based on interviews with Rwandan refugees, and chronicles the life of a young Tutsi girl who witnessed her mother's murder when she was five years old. Now fourteen, living with the Hutu woman who took her in, still wracked by nightmares, she has to decide whether or not to testify in Gacaca court. According to the reviews I've read, the prose is quite spare, but Combres doesn't pull punches about the subject matter.
This fictionalized biography, translated from the original German, got multiple starred reviews as well as a Batchelder Award. It's about eight-year-old Jeanne d'Arc Umubyeyi, who was ultimately her Tutsi family's only survivor. The book doesn't only chronicle the violence, but the regular life leading up to it, and oddly enough, every review I've read has made me think of Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now, because the book is narrated by a child who is experiencing all of the trauma of a horrific event, but without any real understanding of the political situation that lead up to it.
The descriptions of these sound somewhat didactic to me (the Hankins title alone is pretty cringeworthy), but they both seem to have had decently positive receptions, so, onto the list they go. The Walters is about a fifteen-year-old boy who develops a friendship with a homeless soldier whose last mission was as a peacekeeper stationed in Rwanda; the Hankins is about a fifth grader who discovers genocide isn't just something that affects far away people—it's something that has touched people he knows. These two and the Combres were originally published in Canada.
Wood is disturbed by profanity and sexual references in the book, written from the perspective of a Native American teenager. She cites her religious beliefs and "good morals" as to why she wants it off library shelves and out of students' hands.
"I'm Christian, OK? This is disgusting to me. It's very undesirable for our children to be reading, much less being taught, this kind of thing in a classroom." Wood said. "We don't use these words in Christian homes. I object to these words. I object to the masturbation."
While she has no children of her own enrolled in the district, Wood asked, "Is not every adult on this Earth responsible for the souls of all our children?"
What she seems to be suggesting here is that everyone in the world should conform to her exact same value system and worldview.
Which, obviously, doesn't work for me.
She also seems to assume that she's speaking for all Christians, everywhere, which I'm pretty sure is inaccurate.
...I wrote aboutJex Malone, a book I thought I would like a whole lot more than I did:
But, as Kirkus and I don’talways agree, I went ahead and read it anyway. The premise ALONE demanded that I read it; knowing it included quotes from famous girl detectives ranging from Jessica Fletcher to V.I. Warshawski to Jane Marple to Nancy Drew was just icing on the cake. Sadly, underneath that lovely frosting, the cake was lumpy and underdone. As I have a tendency to let metaphors get away from me, I’ll just say it flat-out: Kirkus was right about this one.
...I wrote about Jennifer Donnelly's Deep Blue, which, well, I hated:
In reading the Prologue to Jennifer Donnelly’s Deep Blue—a description of a group of water witches swimming around, chanting rhyming couplets about six chosen ones with disparate talents who will have to band together to save the world—I got the distinct impression that not only had the book been specifically written with a film adaptation in mind, but that I had already SEEN said movie many, many times before.
It's rare for me to walk away from a book without anything nice to say.
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?
I've been looking forward to reading this one for quite a while. And since I literally GROANED OUT LOUD when I finished the excerpt—I didn't want it to be over!—I shall have to pick it up ASAP. MAYBE EVEN TODAY....
Read the rest of this post
What with the popularity of steampunk, there are a WHOLE LOT of books that feature airships. As there are SO MANY, I've tried to focus on stories in which the majority of the action takes place ON AN ACTUAL SHIP.
In Emilie and the Hollow World, which I wrote about over at Kirkus, Emilie stows away on a MAGICAL SUBMARINE and has a very Jules Verne-y adventure. It is an AWESOME book, perfect for readers who're always looking for old fashioned adventure stories. Shipwrecks, sunken cities, action, adventure, different cultures and species, politics and family drama, a plucky heroine (who, by the way, is described as having "brown skin and dark eyes," as are most of the other people from her region), a super blend of fantasy and science fiction elements, a strong emotional core, humor, heartache, and even a smidge of romance.
In Emilie and the Sky World, our heroine—who is now employed by the folks she stowed away with in the last installment—heads into the sky (duh), where she has ANOTHER adventure, this time involving a patchwork planet, a missing expedition, an intelligent plant-based lifeform, and yes, there's another stowaway. Like the first book, it's super-fun in every way, and this one has the added excellence of multiple storylines about trust, friendship, and family dysfunction that play off of and complement each other really nicely.
I LOVE THIS SERIES, AND WANT MORE PEOPLE TO READ IT.
In this book—I still haven't read Curtsies & Conspiracies, so I can't speak for that one—Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality is located on a bunch of connected dirigibles. Which adds even more entertainment value to a world and plot that is already bursting with it.
Okay, these were actually published for the adult market, but there were some sexytimes that OCCURRED on an airship in the first book, and one of the main characters in the second one is an airship captain, so I'm including them.
Girl stows away on an airship to avoid an arranged marriage, but it turns out to be a smugglers' ship; adventures and romance ensue. This one is due out next week, and is the first in a SIX-BOOK SERIES.
I know, I KNOW. I'll get to them! (Especially the Oppel series, as the comparisons to Verne and Stevenson are PULLING ME IN. I think I might even have Airborn on my Kindle. But then again, Josh loved Leviathan, so I should probably buy the other two so that we have them in the house...)
Multiverse story about a boy from our world who hooks up with the crew of the airship Everness (and gets romantically involved with the captain, I think?) and proceeds to have lots of adventures. The cover art of the first one, especially, doesn't do much for me, but the book itself sounds SUPER, so I'm bumping this one right up the list.
This is actually the sequel to Innocent Darkness, which appears to be a futuristic-steampunk-faerie-reform-school mashup. After the events of the first book (which, based on the descriptions I've read, sounds ridiculously fun), the heroine joins the crew of an airship. SO ONTO THE LIST IT GOES.
An impending foreclosure; a runaway mother; a father who won’t leave his bed; a televised trivia challenge; special cakes that are rumored to make people fall in love; a new friendship and a prank turned ugly; a suspicious sheriff's deputy; a baker who looks like Santa Claus; an unlikely act of forgiveness; a mysterious antagonist; and through it all, a sense of impending doom, dread and darkness: You name it, Far Far Away probably has it.