Tags: books: ya/children's

mmm books

Hardinge, Frances - Verdigris Deep and The Lie Tree

I feel like I have been hearing about Frances Hardinge from my dwircle for quite some time now, and I've finally gotten around to reading her after a reading binge that I blame on [personal profile] skygiants' posts on the Fionavar Tapestry. (I started with The Fionavar Tapestry last weekend and then.. kept reading things! It was great! I think I read more books this past week than I have all year to date!)

Verdigris Deep

Ryan, Chelle and Josh are desperate for bus money one night, and Josh ends up sneaking down a well to grab some of the wishing coins. But then each of them begin developing strange powers (I am still viscerally creeped out by Ryan's), and they find that they have to start granting the wishes tied to the coins they took. And since granting wishes never goes well, things slowly start to go very, very wrong.

I've seen many comparisons of Hardinge with Diana Wynne Jones, and this book in particular feels very much like DWJ--the oddball kids, the way some unlikable characters grow likable and others turn bad, the slowly growing sense of dread and uneasiness. This book was very creepy in that damp fingers down your spine kind of way, which was not what I had been expecting. There's a lot here about what you wish for on the surface and what you actually want, and how you can be trapped in wishes you've outgrown. I also liked that even though Ryan, Chelle and Josh band together because both Ryan and Chelle would have been picked on at school if not for Josh, Hardinge takes time to show what bits are being friends just because there's no one else and how you can kind of be friends with someone and only get to know them better later.

The Lie Tree

So, I thought Verdigris Deep was creepy. The Lie Tree is SO MUCH CREEPIER O_o.

Faith's father is a discredited paleontologist who has taken his family and a secret project to an island to avoid the public eye, but growing a tree that feeds on lies that you spread never turns out well. This is set in the late 19th century, and it manages to make the time period feel just as alien as a built-from-scratch fantasy world. Hardinge makes fossils and the radical idea of evolution feel terrifying and world- and faith-shaking in a way I haven't really encountered before, and there's a matter-of-factness to the Victorian focus on morbidity that makes the entire worldview feel foreign. I went and looked up tons of details on Victorian photography and mourning rituals after this.

I loved Faith, who is clever and angry and not particularly nice, how she despises her mother and desperately wants her father's acknowledgement even though he is a terrible human being. I love that Hardinge doesn't try to file off her edges (or anyone else's, for that matter), and although it's not particularly new to talk about just how circumscribed women's roles were, it's rare to get that visceral feeling of being slowly stifled. Also, bonus points for not magically making Faith believe in evolution and other things we now know are scientifically correct; one of my favorite exchanges consists of one person arguing that something is caused by animal magnetism only to be pooh-poohed for being unscientific, as obviously it is spiritual energy instead.

This is a very, very good book, and I've been deliberately holding off on binging on more of Hardinge so I don't get through all her back catalog too quickly.

Links:


Link me to other write ups! I'm sad I missed the conversations!

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teru teru

Lin, Grace - Starry River of the Sky

This is a companion book to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and is very similar to the previous book in terms of retold tales and storytelling as a conceit within the book. I don't remember Where the Mountain Meets the Moon well enough to figure out if there are any direct connections, although given the retold stories, I wouldn't be surprised if there were mythological figures in common.

Rendi is running away from home, and he ends up working at an inn in the Village of Clear Sky. There are several interesting guests whose true identities are slowly revealed, local grudges, and the mystery of why the moon has disappeared from the sky.

I was less interested in this in the beginning compared to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, probably because I wasn't as sympathetic to Rendi, but I was still charmed as all the story threads started to merge and fold in on each other. I guessed most of the twists well beforehand, partly due to the book being aimed at a much younger audience and partly due to being familiar with the mythologies in question. As with the previous book, I'd love some sort of DVD-style commentary on specific changes Lin made to various stories; I caught a few, but probably nowhere near all of them.

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As previously mentioned, I wish I had the physical book for this; the ebook has all the illustrations, but Where the Mountain Meets the Moon was so gorgeous that I would like this one for my shelves as well.

I am also tempted to reread Where the Mountain Meets the Moon to see how that book's mountain and moon mystery compares to this one.

And as a minor note, once I realized one character's identity, I wondered if it should be obvious to the people in the book due to his name (as opposed to the reader, who can't see the hanzi used). I will handwave and say that he used a character that sounds the same but is written differently.

Anyway, this is charming and relaxing.

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mmm books

Reading Wednesday

Yay, I actually read something this week, even if I didn't finish anything!

What I've read: As noted, haven't finished anything =(.

What I'm reading: Wendy Christensen's Outsmarting Cats, for the obvious reasons. I probably won't finish, as there doesn't seem to be much in there that I can't already find on the Internets. I was, however, very amused at the introduction and the whole "cats have been domesticated for much less time than dogs, so inside your cat lurks a wild and ferocious predator!"

And I started Grace Lin's Starry River of the Sky, which is a companion to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, which I loved. So far, there aren't any direct connections between the books, but the structure of stories within the main story is the same. It is so nice having a book that plays to my love of retold tales where said tales are not only not Eurocentric, but also ones I grew up with. Like the previous book, I'm enjoying the little changes Lin makes as she weaves them all together. I'm reading this as an ebook, though I feel I should get it (and the previous book) in paper so I can look more closely at the illustrations and the typesetting and etc.

What I'm reading next: Er, if I actually keep reading, hopefully finishing the Lin? Also, I have had Cold Steel for a while now and still haven't started, despite my anticipation. Cecilia Grant's new romance has also been out for a few weeks, and I vaguely intend to read, but haven't been in much of a romance mood. Instead, I want to get my hands on Spillover to read about pandemics or My Beloved Brontosaurus to read about the latest in paleontology. The latter is sparked by a rewatch of Jurassic Park a few months back, and as for the former... no idea, except that I like reading about diseases and parasites? I have several books about plague and disease and hospitals on my ereader, but am of course hankering after the one I don't have.

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Sentar, Lianne - Tokyo Demons, vol. 1

Disclaimer: I got a review copy of this from the author.

This is the first volume of the Tokyo Demons light novel series, which can also be read online. It's clearly part of a larger arc, but the volume has a complete plot and resolution. It's very much in the tradition of "teens with superpowers/mutant powers/psychic abilities/etc." where here, said teens are dropped in the middle of yakuza, gangs, and a secret organization with nefarious goals.

I feel like I should have had much more fun reading this than I actually did, given the premise. There are some cool bits, particularly re: Ayase, one of the POV characters, figuring out creative ways to use her powers (her body turns into a swarm of bugs), but one initial problem was just that the plot takes so long to kick in! Some elements are being set in place early on, but it felt like there were too many instances showing Ayase being withdrawn or Jo (the other POV character) being tough and street smart without anything actually happening. The plot finally gets a jump kick halfway through, with the teens disclosing their mutant powers and finding out about Nefarious Organization, but that's a long time to have various characters wandering around, not knowing what's going on, and mostly going through the same loop of not wanting people to find out about their powers or ... something, in Jo's case.

My main issue, though, was that I found it really difficult to connect with the characters. They seem interesting enough on paper—Ayase, the paranoid girl trying to hide her ability; Jo, the pickpocket smoker who tries to not care about anyone; Sachi, the nice guy who is trying to bring everyone together—but it doesn't quite gel in the execution. For example, I never really bought that Jo secretly cared about people while trying to maintain his tough demeanor. You see a lot of him waffling on getting involved, but he never seemed invested in any of the characters as people with personalities, with the possible exception of Mitsuko, who he wants to bone. I also completely don't buy Sachi as the heart of the gang. The emphasis is always on how much he wants to help and how he tries to get close to various people so he can, but to me, it felt like him repeatedly crossing boundaries and signals to get people to interact with him, which is creepy. Ayase probably gets the best character arc of the bunch, but it's really frustrating watching her get maneuvered into a potential romantic triangle.

I also wish there were more women. There are some in the organization fighting Nefarious Organization, but there isn't much interaction among the women. It's also frustrating that Ayase is so far the only girl teen mutant among a group of around five of them, and that she's already getting embroiled in aforementioned romantic triangle. Mitsuko shows up later and seems cool, but she also primarily interacts with the guys, and in a very sexualized manner at that. She's supposedly the sempai for a lot of girls in the school, and she helps out Ayase at one point, but most of that is background to her relationship with Jo and another supporting male character. One of the older women in Nice Organization is cool, and another mostly seems to be there due to her relationship with another one of the guys.

So, fun plot when it kicks in, but the characters all feel a bit too flat for me, and it could use a lot more women.

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mmm books

Reading Wednesday!

What I've just read: Finally finished Cecilia Grant's first book and read the second (interesting new author, see review), which lead to a bit of a romance spree. Went through Sherry Thomas' Tempting the Bride, which I liked due to longing and unrequitedness and amnesia, though tbh, didn't really buy the hero's sudden non-taunting of the heroine even though I love it due to aforementioned angst. Read Meredith Duran's That Scandalous Summer (like the heroine, bleh for the hero, got really disinterested toward the middle and end) and her novella, Your Wicked Heart, which has a heroine who reminds me a great deal of Olympia from Laura Kinsale's Seize the Fire. Also, I think it has the hero I've liked best out of her books so far... I love Duran's prose and I love her heroines, but I frequently want to brain the heroes and get really lost during her plots. Then Rose Lerner's A Lily Among Thorns, which has an adorkable tailor hero who asks about clothes and fashion and can cook. Couldn't completely get into it, though, I think because the dialogue sounded too modern for me? (Then again, I know zero about Regency outside of romance novels.)

Finally finished Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, which I had been reading for so long that I forgot to include it on my "currently reading list" for the past few Wednesdays.

Also read Alaya Dawn Johnson's The Summer Prince, which I REALLY liked. The reviews on Goodreads seem to be very love it or hate it, though. Also, I rolled my eyes at the ones that were all "There's so much sex in this! Homosexuality and bisexuality is no big deal?!" and reviews complaining about too many original terms ("waka," "grande," etc.). I suspect I have very different expectations compared to the current YA SF audience?

...the length of this section correlates inversely with how much sleep I have been getting. orz

What I'm reading now: Still in the middle of Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London. Probably something else I started months ago and promptly forgot?

What I'm reading next: Er, hopefully the book I'm reviewing for my Con or Bust offer. More realistically, probably a ton more romance novels.

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mmm books

Johnson, Alaya Dawn - The Summer Prince

After a nuclear apocalypse and subsequent global cooling, the enclosed glass pyramid that is the city of Palmares Tres rises in what used to be Brazil. Palmares Tres is ruled by a queen and Aunties, but every five years, the city elects a Summer King. And at the end of the year, the Summer King is sacrificed as he selects the next queen.

June Costa and her friend Gil are very caught up in the current Summer King elections, and when their favorite candidate Enki wins, Gil and Enki quickly fall in love as June plots with Enki to create politically risky art installations. This sounds like it should be your standard post-apocalyptic YA romance triangle, and it really isn't. Gil and Enki's romance mainly acts as a backdrop to June constantly having to balance social approval against radical art.

I am having a terrible time writing a summary of this. There's June's battle with her desire to win the prestigious Queen's Award while knowing that anything too daring will disqualify her. There's Enki pushing her more and more toward radicalism as he uses his Summer King position to make the city focus on its poorest citizens. There's June's terrible relationship with her mother and stepmother, with the death of her father haunting them. There's the city's anti-technology tendencies in a world where many people have abandoned their bodies to become datastreams. There's the conflict between the wakas (the powerless youth of the city) and the grandes (the non-youth) along with the class conflict June has been too privileged to pay attention to before Enki. And all the layers are so easily intertwined with the others: this is a future city that feels incredibly real and complicated.

I've previously liked but not loved Johnson's books—Racing the Dark felt too crowded and lacking in focus while Moonshine had a great world but too much paranormal-romance-genre-flavored romance for me. The Summer Prince manages to juggle a bit of romance with a lot of worldbuilding, along with a great YA coming of age story that is June coming into her political and artistic own, and it really feels like Johnson has come into her own as a novelist as well.

And all this is ignoring the incredibly powerful narrative of a Summer King's year and the ritual the city was founded with, the choice of mortality and sacrifice and how it impacts everyone in the book.

This is a really good book on so many levels. I love Palmares Tres and the little glimpses we get of the world outside, I love having same-sex relationships casually in the background, I love little things like June's relationship with her rival Bebel and how that unwraps, I love the bits and pieces of Brazil and the South American African diaspora, I love the non-dystopian and non-utopian matriarchy, and I really really love how it's about sociopolitical moral dilemmas and art and expression written in a way that is complicated and difficult and very personal.

Anyway, go read!

Links:
- [personal profile] skygiants' review
- [personal profile] starlady's review

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mmm books

Reading Wednesday

!markdown

I was going to say that I didn't manage to finish a book this week, but then I managed to read on the bus yesterday without getting carsick and then sped through the book at home.

**What I've just finished:** Martha Wells' *The Wizard Hunters*, the first book of the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy. It is *so nice* to be able to luxuriate in sf/f worldbuilding and plot again, and even better when I manage to like the first part of a series. I looked at the next two volumes (or, well, their listing in my Nook) with great pleasure and anticipation: hours more of enjoyment! More time finding things out about the world! I usually read for character and still do, but it is a very nice feeling to be able to juggle more than one aspect of a book again.

I feel I should also note that I finished my audiobook listen of Tamora Pierce's *Magic Steps*. It seems that the return of plot brain also means the return of "brain whirring too much before sleep" and ergo the need for more meaty content to distract it. The Circle books have been really comforting to listen to and they soothe my anxiety.

**What I'm reading:** I stalled out on the Andrea K. Host. I think I am just not up for books that focus so much on the protagonist's inner life right now, which I find amusing, since that was basically all I could read for the past five years or so. Other than that, just started the next Ile-Rien book and am currently listening to *Street Magic*. I like the narrator's voice here better than Tamora Pierce's, who narrated all the other Circle books so far. I also really like the person doing Evvy. Other than that... Oh Tamora Pierce. You try so hard, but the vaguely West Asian coded villains in *Magic Steps* and the entire setting of *Street Magic* is making me facepalm.

**What I'm reading next:** Probably the third Wells book, and then maybe her Raksura trilogy? Or, hopefully by then I will have gotten my greedy hands on Karen Lord's next book.

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Marchetta, Melina - Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn

(books two and three of the Lumatere Chronicles)

You can read the first book of the trilogy, Finnikin of the Rock, as a standalone, but these work best as two halves of a single book.

Trigger warning: The book has a lot of abuse (sexual and non-sexual) in it.

Three years after the events of Finnikin, former Lumateran exile Froi is sent into the royal court of neighboring country and enemy Charyn. As he's there, he's intrigued by the despised princess Quintana and quickly entangled in really messy political stuff.

I'm not sure these books are better than Finnikin, as Finnikin has much better pacing and structure, but once I finished both of them, I'm pretty sure I like them even more. If you thought the topics of healing (both individual and country-wide), instutionalized violence and abuse, found families, war, and making peace were difficult in Finnikin, they are even more so here. Ditto the proliferation of really awesome women, and I was incredibly happy to see a gay character with a canonical gay romance.

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I feel like the last few paragraphs have all been about my quibbles with the books, but honestly, they are very, very good, and they tackle issues and do a lot of things that a lot of fantasy doesn't. Both books aren't paced nearly as well as the first book, but they cover a lot more territory and plot, so despite the unevenness, I like them much more. Definitely recommended.

Links (assume spoilers):
- [personal profile] skygiants' list of ways the books are a romantic comedy

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mmm books

Marchetta, Melina - Finnikin of the Rock

(book one of the Lumatere Chronicles)

Warning: there is a fair amount of sexual violence in this book

Ten years ago, the impostor king slaughtered the royal family of Lumatere. In the panic, the people of Lumatere turned on the Forest Dwellers, an oppressed minority in the country, and when they burned one of them at stake, she cursed the land and the people. As such, half of the Lumaterans are trapped in its borders and the other half are wandering exiles who don't know anything of what is now going on within their country. Finnikin of the Rock is one of these exiles, and he and his mentor are recruited by a girl Evanjalin who claims she can lead them to the heir and break the curse.

Marchetta says, "I was told often that I couldn't write fantasy unless I had read all the greats and knew the conventions well." I think the book is a good example of both why this is right and wrong. The worldbuilding isn't the best I've read, but it's also not bad: Marchetta has thought about things like trade and economics and minority populations and how each country has its own subpopulations. I particularly like notes such as how one country hates the Lumateran exiles because the Lumateran curse has cut off their access to the river trade and thereby improverished the country. On the other hand, I wanted a broader range of cultures and governing styles across the countries, especially because this book is so concerned with hereditary rulers and blood. It's also, like so much of fantasy, vaguely Eurocentric in inspiration, and I found that and the focus on prophecy and gathering together enough plot tokens people to defeat the curse not nearly as interesting. One specific prophecy in the book rears its head several times quite annoyingly.

That said, this is above-calibre fantasy in terms of characters; I didn't mind the various people Finnikin and Evanjalin had to round up because I found them all interesting. Also, I love that the book explores themes about community and nation and loss, how big the loss of Lumatere is to all the Lumaterans but also how they all react differently. I kind of wished that the journey to gather all the exiles had taken longer and been more difficult, especially given how many qualms Finnikin has about their quest.

Also, while the book seems very heavy on the male characters, Evanjalin is absolutely awesome and terrifying in a way I think many female characters don't get to be.

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Also, I am really not sure why this was published as YA, except for YA being Marchetta's usual genre of choice.

In conclusion: very good, and I really hope Marchetta keeps writing fantasy and hopefully starts to mess around with more genre conventions. (Also, I totally blame this book for completely wrecking my sleep schedule.)

Links:
- [personal profile] rilina's review
- [personal profile] lab's review (middle of entry)

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Wein, Elizabeth E. - Code Name Verity

A young woman is captured as a spy in Nazi-occupied France. And there's stuff about female pilots in WWII.

This is one of those books you want to read while knowing the least possible amount about the content. If you do know more, it won't ruin the book, since I think the book will stand up well to multiple readings, but it is a spy narrative.

As a note, potential trigger warnings for oblique interrogation details, along with wartime violence.

For people who want to know more, this book has amazing female friendship (SO SLASHY), excellent characters, Nazis in WWII who are genuinely terrifying and prosaic at the same time, plots within plots, and given how in love I was with stories about the French Resistance in WWII, this would have been my absolute favoritest book EVAR EVAR EVAR if I had read it as a kid.

Not that it isn't a favorite now, but younger me probably would have made up stories and fic and enacted key scenes and made her friends play different parts and such.

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I don't really have a conclusion, since my main reaction is to flail and wave my hands and tell people to read it so I can talk about it with them. But this is definitely on the "best books I've read in 2012" list, and I knew it even though I finished it back in May.

Links:
(all links go to the day post to preserve spoiler cuts)
- [personal profile] skygiants' review
- [personal profile] musesfool's review
- [personal profile] rachelmanija's review (no spoilers in post or comments)

Assume spoilers in comments!

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