Skin Hunger (A Resurrection of Magic, #1)Author: Kathleen DueyPublication Date: 7/24/07Publisher: Atheneum[Goodreads|Amazon]
Blurb(GR): Sadima lives in a world where magic has been banned, leaving poor villagers prey to fakes and charlatans. A "magician" stole her family's few valuables and left Sadima's mother to die on the day Sadima was born. But vestiges of magic are hidden in old rhymes and hearth tales and in people like Sadima, who conceals her silent communication with animals for fear of rejection and ridicule. When rumors of her gift reach Somiss, a young nobleman obsessed with restoring magic, he sends Franklin, his lifelong servant, to find her. Sadima's joy at sharing her secret becomes love for the man she shares it with. But Franklin's irrevocable bond to the brilliant and dangerous Somiss traps her, too, and she faces a heartbreaking decision.
Centuries later magic has been restored, but it is available only to the wealthy and is strictly controlled by wizards within a sequestered academy of magic. Hahp, the expendable second son of a rich merchant, is forced into the academy and finds himself paired with Gerrard, a peasant boy inexplicably admitted with nine sons of privilege and wealth. Only one of the ten students will graduate -- and the first academic requirement is survival.
Sadima's and Hahp's worlds are separated by generations, but their lives are connected in surprising and powerful ways in this brilliant first book of Kathleen Duey's dark, complex, and completely compelling trilogy.Review:
These days, the phrase “the study of magic” tends to evoke images of boarding schools, quirky teachers, magic potions, and cute mythical creatures more than anything else. However, when you take a look at our own anthropological record, “the study of magic” has more often been associated with a very different set of things: hours of meditation, fasting, ritualistic pain, brutal tests of endurance, isolation…and the list goes on. Kathleen Duey’s Skin Hunger
seems to take inspiration from that second list, and the result is a refreshingly realistic and dark fantasy. Skin Hunger
follows two separate timelines. In Micah’s world, magicians are hated and feared and all magical training is banned. When Micah’s mother experiences complications in the birth of his sister, his only option for help is a traveling witch woman, who accepts his money but then leaves his mother dead and his baby sister lying blue and cold on the floor. Micah and his father both become understandably narrow-minded and intolerant of anything supernatural, which complicates things for Sadima, the little girl born that night. As Sadima grows into a girl and then a young woman, she starts manifesting supernatural abilities and isn’t always able to conceal them. Suffocated by her father’s strict rules, Sadima longs to run away, especially after one afternoon when she meets a traveling wizard who seems to accept her as she is.
Centuries later, in Hahp’s world, magic is ubiquitous and widely accepted or even revered. As the extraneous younger son of a prominent family, he is sent to attend the secretive school of magic - The Limori Academy - from which only one student (and sometimes not even one) typically “graduates.” Left behind by his brutish father and his browbeaten mother, Hahp soon discovers that the “training” he is supposed to be doing will be a lot more horrifying than he ever anticipated. In fact, chances are good that he won’t survive the process.
This book is unflinchingly dark
and I loved that about it. The society that Sadima lives in is brutally disparate: masses of starving children wander the streets as the ridiculously wealthy rulers parade through the villages to celebrate their own power. Sadima finds her traveling wizard and loves him, but things are much more complicated (and many
shades darker) than a simple relationship. The dynamic between Sadima, Franklin (the traveling wizard), and Somiss (his magic-hungry friend) is downright sickening.
But it was Hahp’s life at the academy that really fascinated/horrified me. Hahp and his classmates are isolated, starved, and tortured psychologically and physically – all to help them learn magical ability. And it works.
It also kills a few of them and scars the survivors deeply. It twists Hahp’s thoughts into ugly, hate-filled, violent things. *shivers* I’m still
thinking about certain scenes in that damn academy.
However, as much as I love dark, twisted fantasy (and believe me, I do) this wasn’t a perfect read for me. I got exasperated with Sadima, who relies on the “Snow White,” “I’m going to cook and clean and sacrifice myself to make everything better for everyone” strategy a bit too much. I wasn't always able to understand why she would stay in such a twisted relationship with someone she barely knew. However, she did seem to be growing a teeny tiny backbone by the end, which I hope gets a lot bigger in the second book.
Also, as the book progressed it became clear that the two timelines were in fact linked. I kept waiting and waiting for the moment when they would cross somehow. I truly expected a huge devastating “reveal” scene at the end. Highlight for spoilers: for example, I really expected Sadima to turn up somewhere in Hahp's academy (terribly twisted and evil now, of course), OR alternatively I expected her to die in the past world. I expected to be given some hint as to how Franklin and Somiss got to the place they're at in the future.
But instead, this book just kind of…ended. It feels very much like an overfed prologue.
However, I find now that I don't have much energy to complain further about this book. What I remember most about it right now is just how dark and original and compelling it all was. This book has really lingered in my mind. If I had had the sequel in my hands when I finished this first one, I would have started it immediately. As it is, I am going to pick it up very soon.*
*Update: I picked it up from the library the other night and I was so excited to start it that I read the back flap while walking and almost ran into a concrete pillar. I finished it in one day. Perfect Musical Pairing
Sarah Jaffe - Pretender
I’ve wanted to use this song for a while now and I think it’s perfect for Sadima. I love the deep, sinister sounds of the string base and Sarah’s voice – she sounds like she’s pleading almost. It all reminds me so much of Sadima – of her hopeful hard work and sacrifice and in the end, of how little it brought her.
Thank goodness, past week was much calmer than a few before that. It doesn't mean vigorous discussions haven't been going on, but the absence of obvious crazy helped to keep the tone of all these discussions at a reasonable level. A couple of interesting topics surfaced in the aftermath of the mess created by the well-known-in-the-worst-way bully site. Cuddlebuggery launched a series of blog posts that give advice on how to preserve your online anonymity and safety
. So that no crazy people could use your unwittingly exposed private information to harm you in real life.And, it looks like Goodreads is reacting to the scandals as well, it is in a cleanup mode, with fresh plans to modify its review policies. From where we stand, it sure looks like Goodreads, instead of effectively enforcing its existing policies (which should have eliminated much of the nastiness in the first place), is going in the direction of Amazon
, making interests of select few authors with fragile egos and plenty of free time to watch each and every review their priority. Hurray? Hmm, we'll see how it turns out. Vacuous Minx has a few thoughts on this development too
In the world of YA, our primary area of interest, NPR needs you to vote on the list of 100 best ever teen novels
. We are curious as to what we all are going to end up with. Leaving voting to the public doesn't necessarily mean that best books will make it on the list. Can we hope that at least books like Fallen
and Hush, Hush
stay off of it? Pretty please? Fingers crossed, the whole process will be less controversial than the process of modifying that infamous 100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader compiled by Bitch magazine a year and a half ago
. Clear Eyes, Full Shelves' Sarah reminds us all that not every book which is not adult is YA.
We agree that it is astonishing how many adult readers (including those who write for major publications like Guardian
and The New York Times
) have no understanding of what makes a book a YA book, and that ignorance leads them to writing various stop-reading-children's-books nonsense articles
and generally look down on any adult reader interested in books written for teens.
(Via YA Highway
) Justine Larbalestier dispels the myth that YA Novelists Are In It For The Money
. We definitely agree that the vast majority of YA writers are in it because they simply love writing for teens. But we also know of a few who view YA market as a cash cow ready for milking
and who think writing for teens is a task requiring limited mental effort, because these teens can't appreciate good writing anyway
If you want to stay away from books and authors like that, you might find it very useful to follow Stacked Kelly's advice on how to educate yourself to know more about YA books available to you and start reading beyond the books that receive publishers' marketing support and gain bestseller's status
. We can't stress enough the value of perusing publishers' catalogs and reading reviews in professional publications (Kirkus
can be a very good source of information) to discover quality YA fiction.
In our last episode of She Made Me Do It
, we asked the queen of reader's advisory, Karen, to give us a few recommendations. She responded by giving us each
three books that we'd never heard of and that basically all sound amazing. Next week I (Catie) will be reviewing one of her picks for me: Serena
by Ron Rash, which was dark and brutal and right up my alley. But in the mean time, while we've all been slacking off, Karen has already read all four
of the books we recommended to her! Here today, we are happy to host two of her reviews. These are the recommendations for Karen from Flannery: a double dose of Gary D. Schmidt. Take it away, Karen!
The Wednesday Wars
Author: Gary D. Schmidt
Publication Date: 5/21/07
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt[Goodreads | Amazon]
Blurb(GR): Gary D. Schmidt offers an unforgettable antihero in THE WEDNESDAY WARS—a wonderfully witty and compelling novel about a teenage boy’s mishaps and adventures over the course of the 1967–68 school year.
Meet Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grader at Camillo Junior High, who must spend Wednesday afternoons with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, while the rest of the class has religious instruction. Mrs. Baker doesn’t like Holling—he’s sure of it. Why else would she make him read the plays of William Shakespeare outside class? But everyone has bigger things to worry about, like Vietnam. His father wants Holling and his sister to be on their best behavior: the success of his business depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has so much to contend with? A bully demanding cream puffs; angry rats; and a baseball hero signing autographs the very same night Holling has to appear in a play in yellow tights! As fate sneaks up on him again and again, Holling finds Motivation—the Big M—in the most unexpected places and musters up the courage to embrace his destiny, in spite of himself.
this book is very...sweet. and ordinarily, a sweet book would make me feel like i had chiggers or something else foul crawling under my skin, and its earnest gee-whizzery would make me
feel unclean just because of my mental rolodex of words that are more satisfying to say in moments of astonishment or crisis than "gee whiz."
but this one was different. this one was entirely wholesome, yeah, but wholesome and satisfying like fresh-baked bread, and i didn't want to roll my eyes at all.
this book is many things, but for me, the best part is the inspirational-teacher aspect of it. i loved the way holling's character changed under mrs. baker's ministrations; how his worldview expanded through shakespeare as he was able to find parallels between the stories of shakespeare and the trials facing him in his own life.he went from a boy who was scared of his teacher and believed everyone was against him, to a confident, articulate boy who found the strength to stand up to his father,fight injustice and face his fears.
my only complaint is that there isn't much in the way of dramatic tension. you learn pretty early on that any time something negative could
happen, it is like there is a teflon bubble of groovy sixties optimism that just protects him from bad times. and this despite the backdrop of the vietnam war. but it is middle grade, and who wants to make a ten-year-old cry, right? but- yeah - it is pretty forrest gumpy, down to the running and everything. but it means well, and it is a sweet story that i am glad i read. 4/5 Stars
Okay For Now
Author: Gary D. Schmidt
Publication Date: 4/5/11
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt[Goodreads | Amazon]
Blurb(GR): Midwesterner Gary D. Schmidt won Newbery Honor awards for Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boys and The Wednesday Wars, two coming-of-age novels about unlikely friends finding a bond. Okay For Now, his latest novel, explores another seemingly improbable alliance, this one between new outsider in town Doug Swieteck and Lil Spicer, the savvy spitfire daughter of his deli owner boss. With her challenging assistance, Doug discovers new sides of himself. Along the way, he also readjusts his relationship with his abusive father, his school peers, and his older brother, a newly returned war victim of Vietnam.Review:
ariel is going to be so cross with me - this betrayal is worse than my love of graceling
. but it has to be said: i liked this book even better than the wednesday wars
i gave them both 4 stars because i'm nutty like that, but i feel more for this character than for goody-gumdrops holling, even though i did love the wednesday wars
doug's obstacles are just so much greater than having to wear feathers on his b*tt, and while he remains eerily good-natured throughout his struggles, he does occasionally lash out in a way that feels realistic, even though considering how much he has had to endure, you would expect his reactions to be even stronger and more dramatic.
but this is not that kind of book.
despite the stakes being raised much higher in this one, the bottom line is still the same: people have something to offer, even people who seem completely inflexible, and everyone can be useful if you take the time to figure out where they are coming from and get past their prejudices or their seeming indifference or surface-meanness. it is about helping people and being helped in turn, but it isn't some feel-gooderie karma-novel. yes, it is about the importance of taking into consideration where people are coming from before you judge them or write them off, but it definitely isn't all sweetness and light.
this book, like the first, is full of inspirational-type adults. it is bursting with that small-town "it takes a village" mentality that is largely absent from modern life and storytelling. and it feels good. but it also touches on the other half of small-town living - how quickly gossip spreads and public opinion can turn the tide and treat even a kid with a cold shoulder when the gossip flows against his family.
also like wwars, it is about a kid learning about something and using it to see the world in a new way. with wwars, it was shakespeare, with this one, it is through art. which sounds facile, but schmidt really pulls it off.
a good deal of this book hinges on the problematic nature of perception, and how frustrating it is to be judged by the actions of one's family. doug comes from an abusive home, and this book has one of the most shocking acts of cruelty i have ever read, which i did not see coming at all. he has two brothers, one of whom is perceived as a hooligan, and accused of all manner of nefarious acts. the other has gone off to the vietnam war, and comes back greatly changed. his father has "fast hands," and regularly steals the few things doug treasures. compound that with having to move to a shabby house in a new town, and a serious academic liability, and it would be completely understandable if he became hard and cruel, or alternately retreated into himself and became a cowering mess. but he is neither. some people, when faced with early childhood trauma, emerge, not unscathed, but tempered by what they have had to endure and become devoted to righting injustices to shake off their feeling of powerlessness.
and that's what doug does. nothing grand, nothing precociously eye-rolling, but when mr powell, the inspirational librarian, begins to teach doug to draw, using an original of audubon's birds of america
, and laments that some of the plates have been sold to help the town's finances, doug vows to get them back.
but that is only a portion of this novel, which gets bigger and bigger the more i reflect upon it.
the character of lucas was particularly well-done, and i felt for him the entire time he was on the page. just beautiful stuff. if only i could cry...
but, yeah -a great book. the ending was the only thing that prevented this from a five-star, it seemed like he wanted to throw in just one more obstacle and it felt imperfectly-done. but other than that- seriously - a phenomenal book. wow.
Thank you so much for joining us again today, Karen!
All three of us would probably list young adult fantasy as one of our favorite genres. We are all drawn to these books, particularly the shiny, hype-infused new releases. Recently I (Catie) had put myself on a Netgalley request ban, only to stumble across Cassandra Rose Clarke’s Assassin’s Curse
and fall helpless to its pull. This year has brought more new releases in young adult fantasy than we’ve known what to do with, and that’s wonderful news for us…in theory. In practice, it’s actually not all that wonderful.
When a genre gains sudden popularity, the market becomes flooded with titles as publishers rush to fill the demand. That’s a plus in the sense that some hidden gems which would have never been purchased are now garnering attention. That’s also a huge minus, because every other book and its sister is also getting picked up. And let’s face it – the mediocre offerings probably outnumber the gems by at least 10:1 (totally unscientific assumption). In the case of YA fantasy, we now find ourselves drowning in incredibly average titles. The YA landscape is suddenly very difficult to wade through for us. I know that we’ve all had a few (or many) disappointments this year. So today we ask, is there hope for YA fantasy? Is it all becoming one mass-produced slurry of average or is there still original, inventive, brilliant fantasy to be found out there?
In an attempt to analyze this question objectively, I decided to take a look at the data. Are the YA fantasy novels that I'm reading this year really not as great as the ones I read last year? To the laboratory! (ie, the excel program on my computer.)
As you can see, despite reading half as many YA fantasy new releases as last year, I already have three times as many two star ratings. My average rating for new releases in YA fantasy for 2011 was a 3.78, and as of now (with half the year gone), my average is 3.25 (includes new releases only). One thing I noticed was that I've read quite a few more new releases, percentage wise, than last year. New releases account for 80% of my YA fantasy reads this year, whereas last year they only accounted for 34%. Which might be a huge part of my problem.
However, even with these discouraging results, I still have a lot of hope for YA fantasy. There are truly brilliant works being released this year, but in my opinion (with maybe one exception), they aren't getting the attention they deserve. So I say to you all: please, give the following books a little love! There's nothing derivative or pedestrian about any of these books. These authors each have imagination coming out of their ears. These are some of my favorite reads of 2012, full stop - never mind their genre. Aren't they beautiful all lined up there? Sometimes you really can judge a book by its cover, apparently.
Listed by release date:
A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge[Goodreads|Amazon]Review
This was my second Frances Hardinge and once again, she completely blew my mind. I thought her 2009 release The Lost Conspiracy
(also titled Gullstruck Island
in the U.K.) was fantastic and this one was just as brilliant, if not better. I am completely disappointed in myself for missing the release date on this one and not picking it up until July. Shameful!
What kind of rabid fan am I? This is the mind-bending story of an underground society and the outsider girl who grows up there and longs to get out. Class politics, assassination, theft, revolution, friendship, madness, and exploding cheeses ensue. JUST READ IT. And then thank me later.Railsea by China Miéville[Goodreads|Amazon]Review
China Miéville's second "young adult" offering came out this year and just like his other novels, it is breathtaking in scope and contains some of the most detailed, immersive world-building I've ever come across. (& it also contains more ampersands and giant moles than any other novel this year, guaranteed.) Whether this book is truly "young adult" or not is matter for debate, but personally I am thrilled to see writers (& particularly fantasy writers) come out with work that is so new and different that it resists definition. China Miéville has accomplished that time and again in his career and he does it once more here, with this beautiful (& fun!) high-rails adventure.Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson[Goodreads|Amazon]ReviewOut of the four books on this list, I think that this is the one that I truly hope gets more attention. Not only did this book take my breath away with its clever inventiveness (djinns, hackers, and revolution...who does that?!), it is incredibly relevant to our time. This book made me see the very real, modern day middle east in a completely different light and it drew my attention to the current struggle going on there. Of course, all of this relevance is wrapped up quite nicely in a fun adventure story which features (and I seriously can not believe I forgot to mention this in the review) a TALKING CAT. Please, everyone read this.
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman[Goodreads|Amazon]ReviewI am so gratified to see this book popping up all over the internet these days and I hope it continues to get lots of love and attention - and awards maybe? I can hope. This is actually (gasp!) the only book on my list that's a part of a series. I can't wait for the next installment to come out. Do I really need to tell you what this book is about?Some honorable mentions that haven't been released yet, but that I'm 99.9% sure will be great: The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente, Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta and Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor.
I know the question at issue is, "Is there hope for YA fantasy?," and my answer is yes, but unsurprisingly, I keep thinking about other things. First, about how many fantasy books have come very highly recommended to me and which I have yet to read, and second, about how exciting it is to read what might become the classics of the future. (in terms of quality, not age) It is so easy to get disheartened about the current state of any genre if you are reading so many frontlist books. Every book that is published will not withstand the test of time, but some outstanding ones will find an appreciative audience, either now or sometime in the future. I found one of my favorite fantasy novels, The Perilous Gard
, thirty years after it was published...in a secret section of children's and young adult books in my college library. That my best friend and I randomly found that section still feels a bit like a fantasy novel plot.
I try to temper my excitement about books these days because I easily get my hopes up and then they are sliced to pieces when a book doesn't come through for me. That said, there are many upcoming YA fantasy books I am looking forward to sampling. I say sampling only because I am fairly positive at least half of the fall 2012/winter 2013 books won't be as great as I'm hoping they will be. I'm also excited about some of the books Tatiana and Catie mentioned but that goes without saying, even though I just said it.
Prophecy by Ellen Oh
Publication Date: 1/2/13
The greatest warrior in all of the Seven Kingdoms... is a girl with yellow eyes. Kira’s the only female in the king’s army, and the prince’s bodyguard. She’s a demon slayer and an outcast, hated by nearly everyone in her home city of Hansong. And, she’s their only hope...
Murdered kings and discovered traitors point to a demon invasion, sending Kira on the run with the young prince. He may be the savior predicted in the Dragon King Prophecy, but the missing treasure of myth may be the true key. With only the guidance of the cryptic prophecy, Kira must battle demon soldiers, evil shaman, and the Demon Lord himself to find what was once lost and raise a prince into a king.
Jepp, Who Defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh
Publication Date: 10/9/12
Is it written in the stars from the moment we are born?
Or is it a bendable thing that we can shape with our own hands?
Jepp of Astraveld needs to know.
He left his countryside home on the empty promise of a stranger, only to become a captive in a strange and luxurious prison: Coudenberg Palace, the royal court of the Spanish Infanta. Nobody warned Jepp that as a court dwarf, daily injustices would become his seemingly unshakeable fate. If the humiliations were his alone, perhaps he could endure them, but it breaks Jepp’s heart to see his friend Lia suffer.
After Jepp and Lia perform a daring escape from the palace, Jepp is imprisoned again, alone in a cage. Now, spirited across Europe by a kidnapper in a horse-drawn carriage, Jepp is unsure where his unfortunate stars may lead him.
Before Jepp can become the master of his own destiny, he will need to prove himself to a brilliant and eccentric new master—a man devoted to uncovering the secrets of the stars—earn the love of a girl brave and true, and unearth the long-buried secrets of his parentage. And he will find that beneath the breathtaking cruelty of the world is something else: the persistence of human kindness.
City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster
Publication Date: 2/5/13
The girl with no past, and no future, may be the only one who can save their lives.
Nisha was abandoned at the gates of the City of a Thousand Dolls when she was just a child. Now sixteen, she lives on the grounds of the isolated estate, where orphan girls apprentice as musicians, healers, courtesans, and, if the rumors are true, assassins. Nisha makes her way as Matron’s assistant, her closest companions the mysterious cats that trail her shadow. Only when she begins a forbidden flirtation with the city’s handsome young courier does she let herself imagine a life outside the walls. Until one by one, girls around her start to die.
Before she becomes the next victim, Nisha decides to uncover the secrets that surround the girls’ deaths. But by getting involved, Nisha jeopardizes not only her own future in the City of a Thousand Dolls—but her own life.
The Cadet of Tildor by Alex Lidell
Publication Date: 1/10/13
Having already survived six years at the Tildor’s top military academy, sixteen-year-old Renee De Winter is determined to graduate, training day and night to compete with her male classmates. When the boys overpower her parries, she works harder. When a bully sabotages her gear, she fights without it.
But when an underground crime group captures her mentor for its illegal gladiatorial games, she must choose between her career and her conscience. Determined to penetrate the group’s inner circles, Renee will leap from academia to the crime filled streets, pick up a sword, and weigh law against loyalty.
These all sound very exciting to me, particularly the last one because I love me some badass female gladiators. I am envisioning some sort of amalgamation of Yelena's training in the Study
series, Tamora Pierce's fierce ladies, and the cage fight scenes in Blood Red Road
. I've had an ARC of Jepp
from the bookstore for a few weeks but I haven't gotten around to it, despite my high level of anticipation. I had to take a break in Throne of Glass
and I haven't tried Shadow and Bone, Stormdancer, Grave Mercy, Bitterblue
, or either of the Fairyland
books so I'd like to knock all of those out before year's end, as well as all of Frances Hardinge's work as per Catie's glowing recommendation and China Mieville's. Am I aiming too high? Yes, definitely. But what can I say? I am filled with excitement. I tend to be more lenient with my fantasy than my cobloggers, I think. I can forgive a lot for a fun plot--I'll even allow some love triangle nonsense and world-building fails if the story is moving along. However, I've been repeatedly let down and I have at least half of the recent fantasies I've tried are currently sitting in half-finished limbo. But I'll never stop hoping to find more beloved fantasy novels. When they're amazing, they're lifelong loves.
The way I see it, there is still hope for YA fantasy, only it's going to take more and more time and effort to find anything good among mediocrity. Like with all the genres that experienced great popularity recently (PNR, UF, dystopias, SF now), once all publishers jump on what they think a winning trend, the overall quality of the genre drops significantly. If just a few years ago select genre fiction works were picked for their literary merits, now they are published more or less for simply fitting a trend. YA fantasy explosion isn't in full swing yet, but it's coming, and with it oh so many disappointments. Mostly these disappointments will be caused by the publishers' insistence on heavily promoting not the best books, but those they view as the most commercially promising. It's hard to say why fantasy is on the rise right now. Maybe
it has something to do with the popularity and success of Kristin Cashore's Graceling
. Maybe R.R. Martin and HBO are at fault. Or maybe it's just all artificially generated by publishers who strive to hit the next genre gold mine.In any case, I am very skeptical of
this trend, and my skepticism is enforced by the fact none of the fantasies released this year I enjoyed (sorry, fans of Grave Mercy
, Throne of Glass
, Shadow & Bone
). The utter failure of these new books made me think back at the past great fantasy works that are bound to be lost in a shuffle while so-so books are heavily promoted. So, what I want to talk about is older fantasy novels that deserve, IMO, much more attention than many of the new ones.
While Jay Kristoff's Stormdancer
is enjoying an intense pre-publication buzz (I am not going to argue that it's not justified, that novel may be just not my thing) for its unique Japanese-inspired setting, there are already books that can offer similar cultural experience and intrepid heroine with special powers - Alison Goodman's duo of books Eon
, set in Chinese-inspired Empire of the Celestial Dragons
. And, in my opinion, these two books are much more exciting and easier to read than upcoming Stormdancer
. So if you are dead set on reading Stormdancer
, I don't think it will hurt to indulge in some Eon
action while you are waiting for September to come. Then, I hope, you will tell me which book is better.
I have no idea why A Resurrection of Magic
books are not more well known, even though the first book in this trilogy - Skin Hunger
- received a National Book Award Honor and general high critical acclaim. Are these books too challenging, too dark (imagine Hogwarts where every school room is a torture chamber), the narrative structure is too non-linear, too little romance? But these books are so unique and so special, it pains me that not more people give them a try. This series is unlike anything else I've read and manages to constantly keep me in suspense (just like it does its own creator - Kathleen Duey). Even though I believe these books won't satisfy everyone's reading taste - they are not exactly a commercial type fiction, but they are well worth at least checking out.
The following are books I keep recommending over and over again.Before Katsa and Fire, there was Robin McKin
ley's Harry riding her horse, coming to terms with her magical powers and finally finding her place in the world. I just love how rich and romantic The Blue Sword
is, by far McKinley's best.Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia books might be just my most favorite fantasy books ever. I
like to say that if I were a writer, I'd love to have written these books, because Turner's writing style is something that appeals to me greatly - the tightness, the intricateness, the precision and intelligence of her prose never cease to wow me. And, of course, Melina Marchetta's fantasies. I keep coming back to the
m, like I do to all her books, because of the character, who are like a family to me.
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In terms of what fantasy books I look forward to, I am afraid I don't have any big hopes for novels written by debut or unknown to me authors. I am very mistrustful of the hype and flashy blurbs. Fantasies written by the authors I already know and respect are another story. Melina Marchetta's Quintana of Charyn
is at the very top of my to read list, and I am counting days until its release. And Margo Lanagan's The Brides of Rollrock Island
is sure to at least surprise, if not shock.
What about you, our friends? Are there any great YA fantasy books on your TBR that we missed?
Unwind (Unwind Trilogy, #1)
Author: Neal Shusterman
Publication Date: 11/6/07
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Blurb: Connor, Risa, and Lev are running for their lives.
The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child "unwound," whereby all of the child's organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn't technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state is not enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive.Review:I approached rereading Unwind with trepidation.
I generally enjoy revisiting books in series before each new release, but two reasons held me back in this case:1) My original reading of Unwind
left me completely horrified and I wasn't sure I would want to relive this story again (my husband is still too scared to revisit it); and2) Unwind was one of the very first books I read when I had just discovered YA
back in 2009, and it was also one of my very first dystopias. I didn't have much to compare it to then and, let's be honest, I liked quite a bit of crap YA at that time. Plus, there have been so many dystopias published since then, surely it would be very unlikely for an older novel to be better than newer ones?I shouldn't have worried. Unwind proves once again that most of the best YA dystopias were
published way before the current dystopian craze. What stood out for me the most this time is how political this novel is.
Reading the latest YA releases would make you think that dystopias are all about running around and snogging while hiding from the big bad government that wants to kill you for no good reason. But Unwind
, while containing all these tropes (running, hiding, and a bit of romance), has plenty else to think about in relation to the oppressive government.
I know some readers can't quite swallow the premise of this book, find it unrelatable, implausible, etc., etc. (Catie can tell you all about her problems with this novel
) - yeah, the idea that people in a country would ever resolve the pro-life vs pro-choice conflict by abolishing abortion but allowing parents of the unwanted, troublemaking teens ages 13 to 18 to have an option to "unwind" them into parts that are later used for transplants is a pretty crazy one. Parental love and all that. BUT, I am not oblivious enough not to know that there are parents who sell their children into prostitution in order to have money to feed the rest of their family, who throw their newborn daughters into the dumpsters because dowries are strenuous on family finances and boys are just plain better, that entire nations were and are involved in genocides and scientific experiments on people (adults and children) that are deemed not racially desirable (Nazis anyone?) And don't get me started on the pro-life movement, members of which are preoccupied with saving lives of the not-yet-born, but have absolute disregard for the mothers' health or the well-being of those children when they are born and need monetary support for medical care or education, or, alternatively, this forced abortion story fresh off Jezebel's presses
. So yes, the premise is far-fetched, as far-fetched as stories about the inhumanity of clones (The House of the Scorpion
, Never Let Me Go
), women used for nothing more than breeding (The Handmaid's Tale
) or children forced to play survival games (The Hunger Games
) are, but I believe in it, because I've seen things just as vile in real life. ... And back to the politics of Unwind. (I
get carried away so easily
...) Besides the most obvious from the synopsis issue of pro-live/pro-choice conflict, Shusterman skillfully incorporates into his story domestic terrorism, religious brainwashing, and, the most disturbing part - the politics of transplant therapy, because an opportunity for adults to have an easily available supply of young organs (or hair!) sweetens the whole unwinding deal so nicely.
I like when an author makes his young audience think about these issues without openly pushing his personal agenda, especially now when these particular issues are so heated and in your face. Unwind
is a dynamic, scary story that is carried by charismatic teen characters who are at times defiant and so easy to hate, yet they prove they deserve to live just as much, if not more than any "proper" adult.
Glad to say, I feel like I can safely continue recommending this novel. And I can't wait to read more about this unsettling world. UnWholly
, evidently, has a character made entirely of spare body parts! Goodness, I don't think I am fully recovered from Shusterman's variation of Humpty Dumpty
yet... 5/5 stars
We were really hoping that all the drama we started out with last week would go away by now, but it hasn’t. Instead, it has gotten about three times more infuriating. I think I can safely say that all three of us considered ourselves pretty moderate in this whole debate only one short week ago – while we all three abhor Stop the Goodreads Bullies and everything its creators have done, we think that in general there could be more level-headedness and understanding on both
sides. Frankly, we find all of this drama
exhausting and unnecessary and we wish that we could all just go back to gushing about new book covers
or discussing the Catching Fire casting choices
However, things escalated this week when one of our goodreads friends reported receiving threatening phone calls in her home.
And only days later, The Huffington Post
published an article they had apparently solicited from the people behind StGRB, giving them a platform that only exaggerated the drama. That article was ridiculously whitewashed, in our opinion, and doesn’t deserve to be linked to. The Guardian
even got in on the discussion, posting an article on their book blog titled “Literary Feuding Sinks to a New Low.”
The backlash on twitter was immediate, prompting an apology and an explanation from
Andrew Losowsky, editor of the books section at The Huffington Post. They also posted an article from Foz Meadows
, to give voice to the other side of the story. My favorite part of her post is this: “What hasn't happened, despite some speculation about the identity of the site's creators, is an eye-for-an-eye reaction. The STGRB writers might have retained their anonymity, but their targets have kept their integrity.”
Yes. StGRB went way over the line when they posted personal information and details about goodreads reviewers, in some crazily misguided attempt to “encourage” them to be “nicer.” However, it makes me proud to be a blogger when I consider that none of us have responded in kind.
Things got even more surreal when StGRB started removing the personal details they’d posted and claiming they were never there to begin with. While we are ecstatic that those details have been removed, we’re baffled that the creators of StGRB apparently think that they can rewrite history. The internet has a long memory, and bloggers, many of whom have been targeted by this sort of thing before, have learned to document. On Friday, Gossamer Obsessions posted very detailed evidence of what StGRB had initially posted, and what they had removed
And that, unfortunately, wasn’t the only brouhaha this week. Indie author Michele Gorman posted about her experience with bloggers attempting to charge her for reviews
, prompting the bloggers in question to threaten her with legal action. Founder of Popehat,
Ken, wrote a funny and easy to follow wrap-up of the whole fiasco.
Writer Aja Romano also wrote a an article about this fiasco and the StGRB madness, over at The Daily Dot.
If you are as disgusted and exhausted as I am after reading all of these, I suggest you go to some of these sites for a little comic relief and optimism: Gossamer Obsessions’ hilarious post from last week with pictorial instructions about how to respond to negative reviews for authors. John Scalzi: “Bad Reviews: I Can Handle Then and So Should You”
And especially this one – from Libba Bray, about the horrible tragedy in Aurora this week
. Even though she wasn’t writing about anything near as petty as our little issue here, I think her words apply.
“When terrible things happen, when we feel lost in the face of such senseless violence, but we are still not powerless in the world. We have choices. We have understanding. We have love. We have empathy and compassion. We have the ability not to be lost to the undertow of violence and terror. That is the stronger arsenal.”
Today, a double dose of Tana French love!
Broken Harbor (Dublin Murder Squad, #4)
Author: Tana French
Publication Date: 7/24/12
Blurb: The mesmerizing fourth novel of the Dublin murder squad by New York Times bestselling author Tana French
Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy, the brash cop from Tana French’s bestselling Faithful Place
, plays by the book and plays hard. That’s what’s made him the Murder squad’s top detective—and that’s what puts the biggest case of the year into his hands.
On one of the half-built, half-abandoned "luxury" developments that litter Ireland, Patrick Spain and his two young children are dead. His wife, Jenny, is in intensive care.
At first, Scorcher and his rookie partner, Richie, think it’s going to be an easy solve. But too many small things can’t be explained. The half dozen baby monitors, their cameras pointing at holes smashed in the Spains’ walls. The files erased from the Spains’ computer. The story Jenny told her sister about a shadowy intruder who was slipping past all the locks.
And Broken Harbor holds memories for Scorcher. Seeing the case on the news sends his sister Dina off the rails again, and she’s resurrecting something that Scorcher thought he had tightly under control: what happened to their family one summer at Broken Harbor, back when they were children.
With her signature blend of police procedural and psychological thriller, French’s new novel goes full throttle with a heinous crime, creating her most complicated detective character and her best book yet. Reviews:
After more than 6 months filled with disappointments that came like blows from my favorite authors (Bitterblue
, Holier Than Thou
, Gone Girl
, The Calling
), I thought I couldn't count on any of my precious to deliver the goods. Apparently, I can still rely on Tana French to keep up her standards. Broken Harbor
is not maybe my favorite novel of hers (I think Faithful Place
is), but definitely not weaker than any of her previous works. All her books are psychological thrillers, not fast-paced, not action-packed, but slow-moving and
interrogation-heavy, and Broken Harbor
sticks to the same format. At first, I intended to say it was possibly the "most psychological" out of her psychological thrillers, and the most crazy-driven. However, if I look back, all her novels without fail explore the depths of human mind, power of memories and their effect on investigative work, and involve mentally unstable characters.
Like detectives in all previous books in Dublin Murder Squad series, the chief investigator Mick (Scorcher) Kennedy is full of mental baggage of his own (who doesn't have it though?). I have only the vaguest memory of him from Faithful Place
, so he is almost a completely new personality to get to know within the framework of this series. Behind Scorcher's unwavering, never-failing, upright cop facade, there is a lot of tension and a lot of self-control that come only to people who have battled through serious life challenges and learned to cope by keeping themselves tightly guarded and emotionally removed. Even though Scorcher has dealt with most of his childhood traumas, he is not free of them. His half-mad, volatile sister is a constant reminder of past dealings with mental illness and a disturber of his peace. When Scorcher dives into investigation of the assault of the Spain family, French, as you would expect, pushes
him into facing the darkest corners of his memory. Gradually learning of the economical and psychological demise of the Spains, Kennedy finds it hard to watch the parallels between the Spains' and his own family's stories. Will he be able to keep his cool and stay objective, not let his personal feelings influence the investigation? You'll just have to read and see. The murderer in this case is fairly obvious and pretty early in the book, I would say. The pool of suspects is just too small. But the pleasure of unpacking this novel is not exactly in knowing who, but why and how.
This is where the leisurely pace and lengthy interrogations work the best - you have an opportunity to get into all the suspects' minds, and what's inside is not pretty - psyches ravaged by strains of financial hardship, instability, uncertainty and, surprise! online bullying (of sorts). How current!It is interesting that Broken Harbor
has a very similar setting as Gone Girl
- a well-to-do family loses financial security, and almost immediately loses its integrity, both material and psychological. But where Flynn's characters annoyed me with their, what I perceived, self-entitled whining, French's characters made me live through their difficulties as if they were my own.
I know, this review is kind of vague, I tiptoe around the subject a lot, trying not to spoil the reveals, but just know this - Broken Harbor
is a story a picture-perfect family that crumbles under the weight of money problems and a desire to save public face at all cost. And this story is horrifying and sad. 4/5 stars
Tana French is responsible for some of the most all-consuming, vivid characters I’ve ever experienced. Reading her books, for me, is often like becoming a different person for a little while. She doesn’t just write
characters; she seems to channel
them. More than just about any other writer’s, her characters are like real people to me - and these are not simple, happy people. These people have pasts.
They have layers and layers of coping mechanisms and justifications and habits that shield them from those pasts. And most of all, they have gaps in those layers – tiny ones that even they don’t know about – where the outside world can get in.
Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy has his rules and he has control. Oh sure, his childhood was a bit difficult (is what he’ll tell you), but he got over that. He put in the work – in therapy, rigid vigilance, and in his precious hard-earned control – and it paid off. Now he has the best record on the Dublin Murder Squad. When a high profile case comes in – the murder of two children and their parents in the quiet suburbs – Scorcher is assigned the case. With his rookie partner-in-training Richie, he dives into it with single-minded determination.
“My solve rate is what it is for two reasons: because I work my arse off, and because I keep control. Over situations, over witnesses, over suspects, and most of all, over myself. If you’re good enough at that, you can compensate for just about anything else. If you’re not, Richie, if you lose control, then it doesn’t matter how much of a genius you are: you might as well go home. Forget your tie, forget your interrogation technique, forget all the things we’ve talked about over the last couple of weeks. They’re just symptoms. Get down to the core of it, and every single thing I’ve said to you boils down to control.”
The case appears simple at first, but of course there’s far more to the story. I'm not going to give away any details, because I don't want to ruin it for anyone. Tana French truly got me with this one. For the first time in one of her books, I genuinely had no idea who the murderer was or what happened on the night of the crime until she wanted me to. All I want to say is that, in my opinion, this is the most tense, frightening book she’s ever written. There were a few places where I had to put it down for a while and go hug my family for comfort. And of course, this is Tana French, so a large part of the reason I was so deeply unsettled was because I could relate at least in part to just about everyone
here – the victims, the family, even the murderer. But most of all, I related to Scorcher Kennedy. He got under my skin so very much.
In his mind, the world falls into a rigid order – if you play by the rules and do everything right, then you will survive. If you don’t, then you will pay the price. But what if there is no rhyme or reason to this world? What if horrible, unthinkable things can happen to people who do everything right? Everything that he believes about himself rests entirely on his flawless control.
So what happens when he loses it? Who is he then?
“All those years of endless excruciating therapy sessions, of staying vigilant over every move and word and thought; I had been sure I was mended, all the breaks healed, all the blood washed away. I knew I had earned my way to safety. I had believed, beyond any doubt, that that meant I was safe.”
He infuriated me with his self-important lectures to Richie, he disturbed me with his unhealthy relationship with his sister, and he surprised me with how viciously pleased I felt at some of his more callous policing tactics. His loss of control felt satisfying and thrilling and terrifying and painful and so very real. This book is another triumph in psychological mystery for Tana French. Perfect Musical Pairing
Arcade Fire: The Suburbs
Tana French does another brilliant turn in this book by overlaying the entire mystery with the current economic climate in Ireland. With thousands unemployed and many suburban housing developments that were half-built during the economic boom now sitting abandoned, the suburbs of Ireland have a lot of dark, desperate potential these days. The setting here immediately made me think of Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, which is about loss of innocence and the slow but unstoppable crumbling of suburban life.
Tuesday was a complete whirlwind and I am still recovering! I got up at the crack of dawn and headed out to the glamorous bus depot near Union Station in Washington, D.C. to meet my chariot to NYC. Unfortunately, there was construction all around the station and D.C. already has notoriously tiny street signs, so I got pretty lost, had a panic attack on the phone to my husband, cried, and then stumbled upon the parking garage completely by accident. I sprinted down two non-functioning escalators to meet the bus, got in the wrong line, and finally, finally made it into my bus only two minutes before it was supposed to depart. And then I waited there for forty five minutes because the driver was late.
It was a horrible start to the day, ameliorated somewhat by a cheeky Brit up front who called out loudly for some “common courtesy” and then called the driver a “twatter.” I’m pretty sure everyone on the bus appreciated it.
The drive up was largely uneventful, except that I had completely forgotten how quickly I can read when I’m not constantly being interrupted. It’s a good thing I came prepared, book-wise. Everything else…eh, not so much. This was my first time in NYC and it was hot. And loud. And crowded and dirty and most of all, draining. It was also fun and exciting in a frenetic way. Granted, I only saw a tiny part of it, and what I saw was most likely the touristy-est part. But still…I think I could have been more prepared.
Here is what I wish I had brought to New York with me:
- Personal shower
- Change of clothes
- Make up
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Cattle prod
Here is what I actually brought to New York with me:
- Seven books
Luckily, the very lovely Heidi from Bunbury in the Stacks
agreed to meet up with me right off the bus, so I at least had someone awesome to walk around with in the hot, evil sunshine. Heidi was really fun to hang out with and was a great guide to NYC – we never got lost and we made it to the event an hour and a half early. Books of Wonder is a beautiful store with titles for children, middle-grade, and young adults. I found a really nice hardcover copy of Antonia Michaelis’ Dragons of Darkness
in their sale section for only $4.00! I also bought Finnikin of the Rock,
because I didn't own it yet and Heidi brought me Being Friends With Boys!
Their meeting room was quite tiny, however, so Heidi and I ended up standing behind the measly 15-20 seats they provided. (Yes, in answer to your unspoken question – we were there an hour and a half early and still somehow managed to not get a seat. I blame the heat exhaustion.) The event itself was amazing. It was clear from the beginning that these three women are all fans of each other’s work and friends as well. Instead of each giving a talk/reading, they decided to interview each other.
Kristin Cashore started things off by bringing up the interesting fact that all three of them wrote companion
novels and not necessarily sequels. Even more interesting is that all three of them wrote the first novel in their respective series intending it to be a standalone. This actually happened twice for Melina Marchetta, both with Saving Francesca
and Finnikin of the Rock.
Melina said, “I didn’t like Froi; I used him as a tool.” It wasn’t until later that she realized he had a story of his own. However, Quintana of Charyn
was always intended as a sequel. As Melina put it, she realized that there was a problem when she was five hundred pages into the book and the pregnancy
(no spoilers!) was only five months along. She contacted her publisher, feeling very stressed but as soon as her publisher heard the word “trilogy” all was well.
They then spoke about some of the decisions they made in their first books that impacted their second books in frustrating ways. For example, Kristin Cashore mentioned that in Graceling,
she wanted to slow down the pacing a bit and so decided to add in the impenetrable forest and impassable mountain. However, when she was writing Bitterblue,
she wanted the pacing to move more quickly but found it difficult because of the forest/mountain sitting there, in the way. Melina Marchetta brought up that in Saving Francesca
there’s a part where Tom and Justine are said to have similar musical taste and both enjoy musicals. However, in The Piper’s Son,
there’s a scene where Tom thinks “it can’t get worse” than Jesus Christ Superstar. Melina Marchetta laughed, saying that she was all prepared to explain that inconsistency by saying that Tom had grown out of his love for musicals over the years, but that the question has never come up! She also said that she never expected Froi to lead the companion novel for Finnikin of the Rock,
based on his actions in that book, but also because he has a “dumb name.” Then Gayle Forman piped in, saying that if there were one thing she could change about Where She Went,
it would be Adam’s band name! (Ha!) Kristin Cashore then mentioned that “Po” actually means “butt” in German so the name had to be changed in the translation. And apparently Katsa is somewhat similar to a word for the male anatomy in Italian.
This is how small the room was!
The topic then changed over to (dun dun dun!) reviews. Kristin Cashore was frustrated by some reviews that made assumptions about her beliefs about marriage, saying, “I’m apparently anti-marriage and I hate children” – all based on her decision to write one character who doesn’t want to get married or have kids. She then said that if we could all see her phone, we’d know how wrong that assumption is, saying “my phone is full of babies!” She eventually decided that she couldn’t just brush off the bad reviews or negative emails anymore. She doesn’t ever visit her goodreads page and she doesn’t allow comments or emails through her blog.
Melina Marchetta said that she doesn’t often read reviews and that she’s come across some good ones and some bad ones. She said that she tries to keep in mind that she’s “not the audience of the review” and that mostly, she stays away. Gayle Forman then interjected, saying, “the opposite of love is indifference, right?” She said that a lot of readers got upset about Adam’s swearing in Where She Went, but for her, his swearing didn't feel like a big deal. She said that swearing doesn’t connect to morality. They all agreed that they write for themselves as readers and for readers like themselves. Not everyone will like their work, but that’s okay.
Gayle Forman led the next question, saying that in her opinion both Kristin Cashore and Melina Marchetta write some of the “most delicious sexual tension.” Melina Marchetta, using the example of Taylor and Jonah (from Jellicoe Road), said that for her it’s about letting the insecurities and damaged places come through. She said it’s about “the belief that they [the characters] are the only two people who could put each other back together again.” Kristin Cashore then expanded on that, saying that for her it’s also about equality in power – “the only two people who could take each other on” – an even match. They both agreed that what you don’t say is often more evocative than what you do say. Gayle Forman said that she also loves that in both Melina Marchetta’s and Kristin Cashore’s novels, the love interests often start out as adversaries which creates immediate tension between them.
Then they were each urged (by each other) to read scenes laden with sexual tension, which I thought was hilarious. Gayle Forman wasn’t going to read, but after Kristin Cashore went, they convinced her to. Here are the videos:
They went on to speak about why they felt the need to continue their one-novel-standalone-stories. Melina told a very funny anecdote about two of her students who would sort of tease her by blaring out “You Raise Me Up” by Josh Groban
whenever she would ride with them in a car, simply because they knew she disliked it. They would also call her on the phone and hold up the receiver whenever that particular song was played at their Catholic school assemblies. One day she was listening to that song and reading the scene where Froi gets hoisted up on someone’s shoulders in Finnikin of the Rock.
“That dumb song” (“it’s not really dumb” – she later corrected) made her realize that Froi was a major player in the story. Also, after writing Tom Mackee, she looked forward to tackling another unlikable, antagonistic character – someone who was difficult to like at first.
Kristin Cashore said that it was fun to see Katsa, a character who is very much not in tune with herself, through the eyes of Bitterblue, someone who is. She then struggled a bit to describe exactly why that was interesting for her, and Melina Marchetta suggested it might just be that she’s getting the opportunity to see her character through a brand new perspective. Gayle Forman said that it’s very interesting to her as a writer to explore the exact same timeline but from a new perspective. And Kristin Cashore added that changing perspective can actually change how you see your own characters. When she was writing from Leck’s point of view in Bitterblue, she found that she had to keep going back to his words again and again, to make them “more creepy.” She only realized then just how disturbing he really was.
They moved on and spoke a bit about point of view. Melina Marchetta said that Quintana of Charyn will have multiple points of view, just like Froi of the Exiles, but they will all be introduced at the beginning so that the reader knows what she’s getting into. Kristin Cashore suggested that sometimes simple boredom might be an issue with point of view – it’s more interesting to change perspective when she’s writing.
Gayle Forman gushed a little bit and said that Melina Marchetta is her favorite contemporary YA author and then went on to express some anxiety about how difficult it must have been for her to switch over to fantasy – to which Melina Marchetta replied, “It’s not that dramatic.” Apparently, Kristin Cashore is also switching gears and writing a contemporary novel next. I didn’t know this, but her first and third novels (unpublished) are also contemporaries. She said that for her, it's the character who leads her to contemporary vs. fantasy. Katsa appeared to her with powers, so she wrote a fantasy.
Melina Marchetta spoke about what motivated her to write a fantasy, telling a “New York story” about a two month period where she had switched homes with “Justine and Scott” (ie, Justine Larbalestier and Scott Westerfeld) and stayed in NYC. She was riding the train and saw a poster showing a camp in Africa. Then she noticed that everyone in the carriage was speaking a different language and she thought about how “so many people are not in their home lands.” She said that she feels very strongly about refugees and people who lose their homes, and she feared that a contemporary novel would feel too political. She sent an email that day, asking her editor to “talk her out of it.” But when she asked if her editor thought she could possibly write it as a fantasy, her editor replied, “of course you can.”
Some highlights from the audience Q&A (abbreviated):
How do you create characters that are abrasive and difficult to like and then make us like them so much it hurts?
Gayle Forman said that it was quite easy to write Adam, because he's so much like herself. Kristin Cashore said that difficult characters are the most fun to write, and if you (the writer) are having fun, then the reader will enjoy it. Melina laughed and said that she gets a bit sad when people say they "hate Georgie" because that's the character she thinks is the most like herself. Melina Marchetta went on to say that it was important to her that Tom Mackee was genuinely unlikable at the beginning, but that she slipped in little hints, like "a promise to the reader" that he was a decent guy. For example, in the email exchanges between Tom and his sister, his address is "annabelle'sbrother" which is a cue that he's not all bad. Kristin Cashore then piped in to say that she gave Death a cat in Bitterblue with much the same intent.
What was the most helpful advice you've received from your editor?
Kristin Cashore: after handing in her 800 page draft that took three years to write, her editor said "would you consider starting from scratch?"
Gayle Forman: couldn't think of a simple piece of advice but said that her editor often "gives her the key to unlock the book."
Melina Marchetta: "The word 'said' is a good word. Use it." And, "don't be a thesaurus; use a thesaurus."
Melina Marchetta: doesn't let any of her books go to print unless she's 100% happy with what's inside. If she's 100% happy, then anything negative a reviewer might have to say won't affect her. Also gave this sage advice: "stop reading the review after the words, 'I really wanted to like this book but...'"
Kristin Cashore: doesn't like when reviewers try to speculate about what she was trying to do with the book, or about who she is as a person.
Melina Marchetta: the characters are just there, in her mind. She begins by listening to her characters and waiting to see who they bring along with them. She waits for them to come to her and she spends a lot of time listening to their dialogue before she commits anything to paper.
Kristin Cashore: is somewhat the same. She listens to her characters' dialogue and waits for them to reveal themselves.
Gayle Forman: her characters often surprise her and she doesn't always know where they're going to go. Sometimes as she's writing, a scene will come out completely different than she initially pictured it. Her characters sometimes seem to have a mind of their own.
Melina Marchetta then spoke a bit about Quintana's dual nature in Froi of the Exiles. She was confused because Quintana would sound one way in one scene, and then another way a few scenes later. She couldn't figure it out until Quintana finally revealed her secret - it was a big surprise.
On world-building in fantasy:
Kristin Cashore said that with Graceling, she let the world develop more as she wrote it and didn't really pre-plan it out. She said that she regrets that now and she thinks that planning it out before-hand works the best for her. Melina Marchetta said that she does a bit of both - planning and just going with the flow. She uses a lot of her real-world travel destinations as inspiration for her fantasy worlds. They both agreed that making up swear words or using the more "quaint" swear words is really fun. I think Melina Marchetta said "swiving" about five times during that conversation, haha.
Where's Jimmy Hailer? (this from an audience member who called Melina Marchetta "her goddess")
Melina Marchetta: "three words: I don't know." She went on to say that Jimmy was based on a student of hers who was very angry at the time, but has since gone on to become very happy in his life. She said that she feels content to leave him there, to let him be happy. She also thought that Jimmy's absence in The Piper's Son would speak more loudly than his presence.
After the Q&A, we all lined up to get our books signed. I felt bad that I only had books for Melina Marchetta (and also that I'd been walking around all day and was a sweaty mess) but I made it to the head of the line and they were all so wonderful! Melina Marchetta gave me a hug (poor woman) and I got a picture! I look like complete hell and my eyes are like half closed, but Melina looks gorgeous. And isn't that all that really matters? In fact, I'm just going to warn all of you right now that every picture of me from this day is pretty rough. But I'm gonna share them all, because I know you guys love me for my heart and not my (usually) not-so-sweaty face.
Of course, Sash
and I had to take our customary photo at events such as these. I was really hungry, so you'll have to excuse the excessive baring of teeth. Watch out Sash!
And look, more awesome people!
On the left, the lovely Janice from specificromantic
. With me in the middle and wearing the absolutely stunning knitwear is my tour guide Heidi. And on the right with me is the goddess of goodreads - Karen! Karen was amaaaazing and heroically walked with me through what I can only describe as several million blocks
to drop me off at Port Authority safely at 9:30 at night. Not only did she save my life once on the journey (true story!), she left me with the very wise advice that I probably shouldn't just stand on the street corner waiting for my bus and looking "directionless." I took that advice, and I'm happy to say that I survived New York City. I had a blast, but I have to be honest - seeing the national mall all lit up in the distance as I picked up my car in the middle of the wonderfully dark and silent night was one of the best feelings I've ever had.
A Face Like GlassAuthor: Frances HardingePublication Date: 5/10/12Publisher: Pan Macmillan Children's[Goodreads|Amazon]Blurb(GR): In Caverna, lies are an art - and everyone's an artist... In the underground city of Caverna the world's most skilled craftsmen toil in the darkness to create delicacies beyond compare - wines that can remove memories, cheeses that can make you hallucinate and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer, even as they slit your throat. The people of Caverna are more ordinary, but for one thing: their faces are as blank as untouched snow. Expressions must be learned, and only the famous Facesmiths can teach a person to show (or fake) joy, despair or fear - at a price. Into this dark and distrustful world comes Neverfell, a little girl with no memory of her past and a face so terrifying to those around her that she must wear a mask at all times. For Neverfell's emotions are as obvious on her face as those of the most skilled Facesmiths, though entirely genuine. And that makes her very dangerous indeed...Review:
What if Alice grew up down the rabbit hole, and she needed a little white rabbit to lead her…out?
That’s a very basic, watered down one-liner that sort of
describes what this book is about. You have to admit that it’s catchy though.
However, to say that this book is derivative of anything,
even a classic like Alice in Wonderland,
would be selling it extremely short. This is the kind of fantasy that I want to read – completely original and imaginative to the point of near insanity. It’s the kind of fantasy that makes me stretch and contort my brain into brand new outlooks. It makes me consider perspectives and possibilities that never crossed my mind before. It feels brand new. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any more out-there and unreal, it tethered me right back to reality with its incredible depth.
In the twisting tunnels and echoing chambers of the cave city Caverna, the children are born a little bit different:
“In the overground world, babies that stared up at their mother’s faces gradually started to work out that the two bright stars they could see above them were eyes like their own, and that the broad curve was a mouth like theirs. Without even thinking about it, they would curve their mouths the same way, mirroring their mothers’ smiles in miniature. When they were frightened or unhappy, they would know at once how to screw up their faces and bawl. Caverna babies never did this, and nobody knew why. They looked solemnly at the face above them, and saw eyes, nose, mouth, but they did not copy its expressions. There was nothing wrong with their features, but somehow one of the tiny silver links in the chain of their souls was missing. They had to be forced to learn expressions one at a time, slowly and painfully, otherwise they remained blank as eggs.”
When Master Grandible, a reclusive cheese artisan, discovers a lost child in his highly secluded tunnels, he realizes immediately that the girl is different. Seeing an opportunity but also wishing to protect her, he takes her in, hides her strange expressive face behind a black velvet mask, and raises her as his apprentice. Weary of Caverna's society, he barricades them in, dealing only with a select few through his well-defended door. Seven years later the girl, called Neverfell, follows a small white rabbit to a crack in her master’s domain and wanders out into the world of Caverna.
Caverna’s inner city is beautifully detailed and immersive – there are sparkling petrified forests and ravenous trap-lanterns, cheeses that can make you remember long-lost truths and wines that can make you forget the last ten minutes. The passages and caves are so convoluted that anyone who tries to map them goes mad. The elite families, each the master of a different rare art, are at constant war with each other for control of the city, and for the favor of the Grand Steward. The Grand Steward is so obsessed with staying in control that he has artificially extended his life and cleaved himself into two beings so that one part of him will always be awake. Intrigue, blackmail, coercion, and assassination are all daily events.
“’It draws you in. You twist your mind into new shapes. You start to understand Caverna…and you fall in love with her. Imagine the most beautiful woman in the world, but with tunnels as her long, tangled, snake-like hair. Her skin is dappled in trap-lantern gold and velvety black, like a tropical frog. Her eyes are cavern lagoons, bottomless and full of hunger. When she smiles, she has diamonds and sapphires for teeth, thousands of them, needle-thin.’ ‘But that sounds like a monster!’ ‘She is. Caverna is terrifying. This is love, not liking. You fear her, but she is all you can think about.’”
The members of the elite class are trained in a wide array of facial expressions, each carefully donned for the greatest manipulative effect, while the drudges are not allowed to have visible emotion and must wear only five approved faces. And yet, there is no stark dividing line here of evil vs. downtrodden. The characters on both sides are three-dimensional and grey. In many ways, the elite are just as trapped as the drudges or even more so. The Grand Steward may be the most imprisoned of all. Frances Hardinge draws him so subtly and with so much nuance; it’s hard not to feel sympathy for him. He even made tear up in one scene.
As bizarre as the setting and doll-like faces of the characters are, this book brought me home to reality so many times. Frances Hardinge quite clearly thought a great deal about her premise and all the ramifications of being the one person always expressing her complete truth in a society of fabricators. Neverfell is feared and pitied. The ruling families aren’t sure whether to assassinate her, imprison her indefinitely, or manipulate her for their own ends. Neverfell, confined to a very small set of tunnels for her whole childhood with only a grumpy cheese artisan and several hundred feisty cheeses for company, is understandably naïve. She’s guileless and prone to trust anyone who gives her a friendly face, no matter how false. She
even admits that she’s annoying, but she’s also honorable, clever, and resilient in completely unexpected ways.
“It was all very well being told that she could do nothing to make things better. Neverfell did not have the kind of mind that could take that quietly. She did not have the kind of mind that could be quiet at all.In many respects, poor Neverfell’s overactive mind had coped with her lonely and cloistered life in the only way it could. It had gone a little mad to avoid going wholly mad. To break up the dreary repetition of the day it had learned to skip unpredictably, to invent and half-believe, to shuffle thoughts until they were surprising and unrecognizable.”
Her progress in this story is truly heart wrenching – from wide eyed hopefulness to crushing disillusionment to discriminating maturity.
The dynamic between the elite and the drudges is also explored in very interesting ways. She made me think about how jaded I sometimes feel as an adult, and how seeing things through my children’s eyes can sometimes make everything new again. She made me think about how intrinsic the ability to express ourselves is to being human and how cruel it is to take that away from someone. She made me ponder whether expressing a feeling and actually feeling
a feeling are even close to being the same thing.
And this story has so much more – it’s about letting go of control and having faith. It’s about acknowledging your feelings even when they're distasteful and ugly. It's about revolution. It’s an exodus story. It’s a fast-paced twisty mystery. It’s the kind of mystery that somehow manages to slip under your radar until you’re left staring into space as all the details that you should have been paying attention to suddenly align, and your coffee cup goes crashing to the ground
. And if you haven't already noticed from my excessive use of quotes, her writing is brilliant too. It's quirky and original but somehow also neat and precise. I spent equal time swooning at its beauty and marveling at its elegance.
The whole book is a masterpiece, in my opinion, but what really blew my mind was the epilogue (and not just because it felt right
and necessary). In a stroke of pure genius, Frances Hardinge suddenly switches the perspective to that of an outsider for the final pages. Reading from his point of view, it suddenly came crashing down on me just how far down this particular rabbit hole I had really gone. I had fallen for Caverna and in doing so, I had gone a bit mad. Perfect Musical Pairing
Talkdemonic - Final Russian
Talkdemonic, the strange and wonderful pairing of a viola player and a drummer, feels like something I never knew I was missing. Their music is out-there and quirky but it also feels elegantly assembled. Each piece of this song, no matter how odd or beautiful or oddly beautiful, seems to fit just so. The resulting whole is something that I want to listen to over and over again.
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Book vs. Movie
Howl's Moving Castle
Written by Diana Wynne Jones and published in 1986
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki and released in 2004
Hayao Miyazaki’s production of Howl’s Moving Castle is the movie that I most frequently list as my favorite movie of all time. So, I admit that I was terribly nervous to read this book. There’s a reason our six star rating is subtitled “Inconceivable!” – how often does a movie production actually surpass the book? No, more often than not, the book will blow any film attempt out of the water. And I admit that I really didn’t want this movie to be ruined for me, even by a book that I would probably love.
Well, guess what? That’s exactly what happened. And I can’t even be sorry about it because Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones is now one of my favorite books of all time. Sorry movie; I still adore you and all but you’re just not the same. While the movie does a great job with some aspects of the book and does, in my opinion, capture the overall flavor of the story, it really misses the mark in some key areas.
As the book opens, we are introduced to Sophie and her family. Sophie is the eldest of three, which in this universe means that she will be doomed to poor prospects. All of her parents’ (her father and not-so-wicked stepmother's) hopes are placed on the shoulders of the youngest sister, Martha. The middle sister, Lettie, is a strong-willed girl who likes to get her own way.
When Sophie’s father dies unexpectedly, her stepmother realizes that she will not be able to support them all. Sophie’s sisters are sent out to apprentice at a bakery (Lettie) and with a witch (Martha). Sophie is left to apprentice in the hat shop. Resigned to her fate, she works day and night designing and building hats, becoming more and more isolated and fretful. It gets so bad that she’s afraid to even visit her sister down the street. She also develops a rather kooky habit of speaking to the hats she’s building.
The movie condenses Sophie’s sisters down to one – Lettie – who works in a bakery. Sophie’s mother runs the hat shop and Sophie’s father is simply not present. While I think the movie excellently portrays Sophie’s isolation and dreariness, it fails to capture the extent of her fear and she’s never, not once, shown speaking to a hat. Which is a damn shame.
In the book, Sophie finally gets up the courage to visit her sister, but ends up heading out on May Day, amidst a riot of celebration and flirting. Halfway there, she runs into a striking looking man with a silver and blue suit, white-blond hair, and eyes like green marbles. She’s jumpy and he teases her a bit for being afraid, calling her a mouse and saying that the only wished to take her out for a drink. Ultimately, he wishes her well and leaves her be. The movie follows this same basic path, except that instead, Sophie is set upon in an alley by two smarmy officers who are very much into rape-flirting. Howl (the striking looking man, of course!) comes along to rescue her from them. Then they escape some giant black blob-men by flying through the sky. Which is a tad…different.
When Sophie reaches the bakery, she finds out that her sisters Martha and Lettie have used a magic spell (learned from Martha’s apprenticeship) to switch places. Martha is now quite a hit at the bakery, where she has already received dozens of proposals and Lettie is finally being challenged as a magician’s apprentice. Martha tells Sophie plainly that she believes her stepmother is taking advantage of her. Sophie seems to have some sort of talent for fashion, and her stepmother is constantly away “gadding” while Sophie is left in the shop. She doesn’t even earn a wage. Stunned by this revelation, Sophie leaves, intending to confront her stepmother.
All of this is really played down in the film. “Lettie” – Sophie’s one sister simply says “do something for yourself once in a while, okay?” as she’s leaving. The mom is never mentioned.
Back at the shop, Sophie feels more and more discontent. She snarks hilariously at customers and grumbles when her stepmother promises her a wage but then forgets all about it. Just when she’s about had enough, a “carefully beautiful,” glamorous patron enters and demands to see her hats. This elegant lady is, of course, The Witch of The Waste. (Dun dun dun!!!)
In the movie TWoTW does look rather…imposing…I guess, but it must be said that she also looks like a complete freak show. Observe:
In either case, the result is the same. Sophie gets cursed by TWoTW and suddenly she’s been aged by about seventy years. She’s ancient. But, instead of getting upset about it, Sophie decides to locate her heretofore hidden giant cojones and set out into the world immediately to seek her fortune and give that witch what’s coming to her. The movie basically captures this, but Sophie is shown fretting about her decision to leave quite a bit more and putting it off until the morning. Sophie’s journey toward her destiny is also a bit different, which brings me to the first MAJOR CHANGE.
MAJOR CHANGE #1: Sophie's Character
Sophie of the Book
- Ginger hair
- Frequently tells all and sundry just where they can go
- Cleans as a way of escaping her present circumstances
- Strong magical ability
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Sophie of the Movie
- Brown hair
- Kind, if a bit gruff
- Frequently invites all and sundry to live in Howl's castle without his permission
- Knows her feelings very well
- No magical ability whatsoever
Sophie as a character has a completely different feel between the book and the movie. Sophie of the book is a complete badass who tells it like it is but also has a tendency to avoid her problems by indulging in a little angry-cleaning. She’s stubborn to a fault, nosy, and she tends to hide her vulnerability behind a wall of irritation. In the movie, she feels more emotional, more considerate, and more child-like almost. In the book she also (it is later revealed) has a very strong magical ability. When she speaks to everyday objects, like her hats, she influences them magically with her words.
In the book, Sophie pulls a scarecrow out of a hedge and helps free a trapped dog on her way to seek her fortune. She accidentally speaks the scarecrow to life and it follows her. Sophie is completely repulsed/scared of the scarecrow and repeatedly does everything she can to get away from it in the book. In the movie, the scarecrow is already alive. It brings her a walking stick and leads her to Howl’s castle. She gives it a nickname (“turnip-head”) and seems quite content in its presence.
Once Sophie finds the castle, she has to run after it, force her way in, and then engage in a little trickery to convince Howl’s fifteen year old apprentice, Michael, to let her stay the night. In the movie, the castle stops, lets her in right away, and Michael is nowhere to be seen. The next day he appears, although in the movie he’s a nine year old boy named Markl (seriously...). In both cases, Sophie speaks with Calcifer, Howl’s fire demon and agrees to a deal: she’ll help him break his contract with Howl if he helps remove her curse. Sophie pretends to be Howl’s new housekeeper and cleans the heck out of that pigsty, including Howl's much-used bathroom, which leads to the most hilarious scene in both the book and the movie.
I don't see the point in living...
Oh yes, I think that lovers of this story in either of its forms will know exactly what I am talking about: THE TANTRUM. In both the book and the movie, Sophie mixes up Howl's beautification potions somehow and he ends up dyeing his hair a different color than usual. Emotional breakdown ensues. They actually do a very good job of showing this in the movie, complete with howling ghouls, screaming, and green slime. However, in the book it's even funnier because Howl's hair doesn't get turned black (as in the film) - it merely has a few added reddish/gold strands. And yet, green slime. Sophie of the book is a lot less emotional about it. She doesn't cry; she merely leaves until he settles down and then stomps back in to shunt him into the bathtub and call him a big baby. In the book she sheds a few tears for her hurt feelings and then essentially does the same thing.
Which brings me to MAJOR CHANGE #2: Howl Loves War, Not Girls
First, let's just get this whole "war" business out of the way: never happened. That's right, in the book there is no crazy war going on, fought by winged blob men and questionably aerodynamic buzzing ships. That whole part was manufactured just for the movie. And let's be honest, it doesn't even really fit in the movie.
So, in the book, Howl is constantly busy either primping himself or taking up his guitar to go woo various girls across the country. His main goal in life is to avoid all decision-making and responsibility of any kind. Whenever one of his ladies starts to return his "love" he immediately tucks tail and runs. In the movie, he's constantly busy as well...with the war. Some girls gossip at the beginning that he likes to "eat young girls' hearts" and he mentions later that he once pursued TWoTW, but he's definitely not the flirty drama queen that I know and love from the book. Again, this is a damn shame.
One thing that I thought they did very well in the movie was the visual of Howl's front door. In the book it has a dial which can be turned so that the door opens up on different areas of the kingdom and they show this very well in the movie. However, there is one MAJOR CHANGE here.
MAJOR CHANGE #3: Howl's Hideaway
In the movie, the black section of the dial opens up into what looks like a giant space filled with smoke, fire, and blackness into which Howl flies (ostensibly to go fight that damn war some more). In the book, it opens up to an inch of indescribable black-ish thickness, which then leads to...WALES. Yes, Wales. As in, modern day (1980's) has computers and cars and suburbs...Wales. It turns out that our man Howl is actually Howell, a modern day Welshman who somehow found the door between worlds and left his old life to study magic in Sophie's realm. Pretty neat, huh? This is all totally cut from the movie.
Another thing that I love about the movie is how the animators visually represent both Howl's descent into evil and Sophie's gradual breaking of her curse. In the movie, Howl is shown changing into a giant black bird over and over again when he fights, and is eventually unable to turn back. While this doesn't happen in the book at all, I thought it was a really interesting way to show him losing the fight against his curse (more on the curse later). Likewise, the animated Sophie is shown throughout the film changing subtly from old to young and back again depending on her mood. This also does not happen in the book, but it's an ingenious way to show that she's fighting against her curse.
And now, for MAJOR CHANGE #4: The Curse.
In the book, Howl once caught a falling star, gave it his heart, and joined in a contract with it for more powerful magic. That star was Calcifer. This is essentially the same in the movie, except that the bigger picture surrounding this story has been completely changed. Howl of the book was actually cursed to complete this task (along with a long list of other things inspired by a John Donne poem) by TWoTW. See, in the book, she is what's known as the BIG BAD. She and her fire demon have been gunning for Howl ever since he dumped her way back when. In the movie, TWoTW does attempt to curse Howl but he easily deflects it. She later loses all of her magic to the movie's big bad (with an assist from some giant light bulbs and harmonizing shadows) and is reduced, by the end of the film, to a rather pillowy-looking grandmother figure.
MAJOR CHANGE #5: The Big Bad Now Loves Mob Caps
With TWoTW stripped of her big bad status, the movie replaces her with this gal to the left. She's the King's wizard, named Suliman. In the book, there is a character called Ben Suliman who is the King's wizard, but he's:
a) a man
b) not evil and
He's also, coincidentally, also from Wales and is really named Ben Sullivan. Suliman from the movie seems in part a fabrication and in part stolen from another character in the book: Mrs. Pentstemmon, Howl's old tutor (who is also not evil in any way, and is actually murdered by TWoTW in the book). And now that the MAJOR CHANGES are coming fast and furious, I'll just move on to
MAJOR CHANGE #6: This is the One Where I Throw Together All the Random Things That Happen in the End.
So, it turns out that TWoTW's eeeeevil plan was to kidnap both Wizard Suliman, the King's son Justin, and Howl and stitch together all of her favorite parts from each of them to create her perfect mate. Naturally, she has been waiting for Howl's pretty face to be the head. The spare/leftover parts she combined into the scarecrow, a skull, and a man who can change into a dog (this is the kind of logic that only makes sense to a true BIG BAD). Howl does battle with TWoTW and her fire demon while Sophie figures out the curse and eventually transfers Howl's heart back into his body. Sophie's family reappears, the various body parts get magically put back together the right way, and Calcifer breaks Sophie's curse. And then Howl and Sophie decide to live happily ever after. Awwww.
In the movie, Sophie breaks Howl's contract with Calcifer by reinserting his heart, the "big bad" suddenly decides to stop with the warring (pffft, some big bad), and this scene happens:
which, honestly...I never thought I'd stop loving. I mean, what could ever, ever beat this?
“Wow, Sophie your hair looks just like starlight. It’s beautiful!”
Do you think so? So do I!”
Unfortunately, this is yet another scene that Diana Wynne Jones' wonderful, horrible book stole from me. Observe:
“‘Would you call your hair ginger?’
‘Red Gold,’ Sophie said. Not much had changed about Howl that she could see, now he had his heart back, except maybe that his eyes seemed a deeper color – more like eyes and less like glass marbles. ‘Unlike some people’s,’ she said, ‘it’s natural.’
‘I’ve never seen why people put such value on things being natural,’ Howl said, and Sophie knew then that he was scarcely changed at all.”
Sigh...now that's what I call romance.
I know that this is still a pretty positive rating for the movie, but it still pains me a bit to give this adaptation:
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"You're in for a treat. We all are."
(From The Witches, by Roald Dahl and directed by Nicolas Roeg in 1990)
There were some minor changes that we didn't like, but for the most part this was a decent adaptation.