Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: One-Off Fantasy/Magical Adventures

by Tessa

Read about the whys of this series here.

Possibly my favorite genre of comics, and one of the larger lists to be culled from the nominations this year – graphic works are suited for describing the fantastic if done well, and there’s a lot of fun and variety in these selections, so if yo u find your attention waning partway through, please take a break and come back to appreciate the back end of the list with fresh eyes.

singnoevil

Sing No Evil

JP Ahonen, writer

KP Alare, artist

Abrams

Anticipation/Expectation level: Another one I’m on hold for – excited to read this! Although the comics I’ve read about people in bands are usually disappointing, this one looks like it could be fun.

Art Taste:

singnoevilpreview

giganticbeard

The Gigantic Beard that was Evil

Stephen Collins, writer and artist

Picador

Anticipation/Expectation level: Based on the title, pretty high?

My Reality: It’s one of those gentle stunners of a book that is somewhere closer to adult picture book on the graphic novel spectrum. A fable-like story about an island named here where everything is in its place, surrounded by a sea that leads to There, an unknown place of frightening chaos. An inhabitant of the island has one hair on his chin that goes haywire, causing problems for all of the island’s society and culture.

The text is gentle, with a sure tone and an almost-rhyming feel. It is very rhythmic and I sang part of it to my cats as part of their integration therapy. The art is penciled, with a sense of lighting that adds to the otherworldliness and gravity of the story. Collins balances the softness of his pencils and the lulling of his words with the helplessness of the unknown that lurks beneath both. It is a treat.

Will teens like it?: Yes, it doesn’t have an immediate hook apart from the great title, but it’s not hard to get into and provides its own rewards.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes – much like The Arrival, this is the kind of book that isn’t marketed towards teens but would be great to use in a book club, to introduce to an arts loving teenager or foist upon a book club with success, because there’s not really an impediment to getting something from it other than the thought that it might not be like what one is used to reading.

Art Taste:

The Gigantic Beard that was Evil

BUZZV1_-_4x6_COMP_FNL_WEB_large

Buzz!

Ananth Panagariya, writer

Tessa Stone, artist

Oni Press

Anticipation/Expectation level: It looked fun, but I knew nothing of it going in. I like the name Tessa.

My Reality: Like Hicks’ and Shen’s Nothing Can Possibly Go WrongBuzz! is a solid entry into the teen high school slightly off adventure comic market. It’s easy to pick up off the shelf and recommend because it’s a new concept (underground spelling bees) running on standard tropes (outsiders who used to be insiders take on powerful conglomerate with the help of a talented newbie, betrayal from sort of within happens). And there’s nothing that is objectionable unless you object to a hint of magic. The action starts quickly and escalates quickly and the art is dynamic, hitting a spot between Faith Erin Hicks and Brian Lee O’Malley (as does the tone of the story). In short: fun.

For me, the action was a bit too quick and I never felt any resonance with the characters or their struggles, everyone was a bit too blithe. However, I don’t really count my feelings as meaning much because I’m not the ideal audience for this book. I don’t think it’s meant to be resonant, and I don’t think it has to be to be a successful comic. In fact, as a teen services librarian I wish for more of these fun, one-off books for my shelves.

Will teens like it?: Yes.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes.

Art Taste:

buzz_panels

breathofbones

Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem

Steve Niles and Matt Santoro, writers

Dave Wachter, artist

Dark Horse

Anticipation/Expectation level: I’v always been a fan of golems.  I was interested to see what this book would do to distinguish itself in the saturated WWII market. (Pretty sure there are even already books about golems in WWII).

My Reality: A straightforward tale, as far as a tale about using a Golem against Nazis goes. A boy loses his father to World War… One, I think. Or two. Anyway, enough time that he grows up a bit in between. He’s waiting in a small village with his grandfather and other elderly people, all Jewish or mostly Jewish. He’s still waiting when a plane crashes outside of town. This is bad, because it is an Allied pilot who will bring scrutiny from Nazis. There is barely enough time to flee, so his grandfather entrusts  him with the secret of golem-making, and makes a Golem.

In keeping with the folsky, mythical vibe of the Golem, the tale is focused on the elemental parts of the story: good over evil, nobility over greed, sons discovering their strength in the absence of fathers and father figures. The Golem itself is elemental: the protection of earth and faith. The historical detail of the story adds another layer of pathos and dignity. And the art is gorgeous: detailed, black and white with a nice flowing sense of space and shadow, highlighted by brushy washes of grey and black. Unfortunately, by focusing on the elemental parts of the story, the story ends up being kind of forgettable. It’s evocative during reading, but might fade from the mind over time, merging with other golems or other WWII tales.

Will teens like it?: I can see some teens liking it.

Is it “great” for teens?: It’s good. I don’t know if it crosses over to great. For teens. But I bet someone else could argue it.

Art Taste:

bobtag1p3

lilychen

The Undertaking of Lily Chen

Danica Novgorodoff, writer and artist

First Second

Anticipation/Expectation level: High, because I read Slow Storm and Refresh, RefreshI loved those books and was excited to read a longer work with a more clearly defined plot from Novgorodoff.

My Reality: If The Undertaking of Lily Chen were a movie it would be a fast talking movie in the mold of 30s and 40s flicks and it would be a farce, only set in China and having to do with a less-loved son finding a corpse to bury with his dead, too-venerated older brother. It’s a strange mix but one that works – Novgorodoff is good at finding the groove in uneasiness.

The main story is a chase/road trip type format, with Deshi Li dealing with the abrupt and violent end of his brother (by his hands), his place within his family, and his desperation to find a corpse or someone to murder to become a corpse bride. He runs into Lily Chen, who is brassy and adventurous in contrast to Deshi’s sad and anxious mode. She is trying to get to Shanghai from the poor countryside by any means possible. She becomes Deshi’s target and companion. The story, as it is, is not the strongest part of the book. The central idea of the ghost marriage as an impetus is interesting, but not enough to sustain the whole book – that would fall on Deshi’s shoulders, and he never really proves himself as a main character. Lily, being the titular character and the more naturally active person, is compelling, but so concerned with her movement away from her past that it’s hard to admire more than her gumption.

What really pulls everything together is the art. Sweeping, melancholy vistas of mountains. Twlight and dawn-light. Out of body experiences. Novgorodoff mixes delicate watercolors with pen-line shadows and outlined characters, the exaggerated with the realistic, creating a world slightly beyond the real.

Will teens like it?: Yes. It’s intriguing and well-paced.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes  – the shortcomings of the characterization are balanced out by the art and themes that emerge near the end.

Art Taste:

lilychen lilychen2

MoonheadCoverFull

Moonhead and the Music Machine

Andrew Rae, writer and artist

Nobrow Press

Anticipation/Expectation level: I like Nobrow.

My Reality: This hit all the sweet spots for me. Palpable depictions of awkwardness that lead to heartwarming scenes of celebration of being weird. Joey Moonhead has a moon for a head. No one talks about it, but he and his family are the only ones who are visibly different from all the other humanoids. Joey is out of it and kind of shy, but he wants to build a music machine for a talent show. His first attempt is pitiful but he is discovered by a new friend – a ghost-person, dresssed in a sheet, who is kind of a musical genius, and he blows off his long time buddy to pursue the dream.  I found it to be relatable, a story that has been told, but a heartfelt, personal take on it that works. Rae’s art is all clear lines with a great sense of storytelling beats through the pacing of the panels. And he draws great creatures.

Will teens like it?: Teens might think it’s too weird or off their usual path, but I bet they would like it if they gave it a chance. Or they might think its message is too simple.

Is it “great” for teens?: I think it’s great!

Art Taste:

Moonhead_Page14-600x402

moonheadpreview

downsetfightcover

Down Set Fight!

Chad Bowers and Chris Sims, writers

Scott Kowalchuk, artist

Oni Press

Anticipation/Expectation level: Verging from neutral to vaguely wary about sports content.

My Reality: Down Set Fight! is unapologetically a book about fighting. To be specific, it’s about a football player who is most famous for fighting on field and has abandoned his career and aged into being a high school coach. Until mascots start seeking him out to fight him. (There’s also a back story with his sleazy dad.) The fun the writers had dreaming up the mascots is readily apparent, and although there’s a mystery element to the plot, it is really all about Chuck fighting mascots and figuring out why they want to fight him. It’s all done with a sense of whimsy and over-the-top violence that isn’t gruesome or realistic in anyway, and I admire that.

Will teens like it?: You could sell this to a teen.

Is it “great” for teens?: I don’t know if it’s great. I’m on the fence.

Art Taste:

pachyderms

BEAUT_DARK_cover-full

Beautiful Darkness

Fabien Vehlmann, writer

Kerascoët, artists

Drawn & Quarterly

Anticipation/Expectation level: Read a preview of this last year and really, really wanted to read it.

My Reality: Possibly one of the best books I’ve read, period. It is beautiful and terrible – terrible in the sense of being deeply frightening. Or maybe the right word is horror, or is there a word of witnessing the consequences of bad decisions or acts of god(s) and being struck by the impassive blankness of nature? It’s that. There are very visceral moments in here that will stay with a person.

So, the book is about these tiny fairy-ish people who emerge from the body of a dead girl in a forest. It’s not clear who they are or how they ended up in the body but they now have to survive in the forest. Some are oblivious to the dangers, some scheme to get power, some try to help out, some go out on their own. The team of Kerascoët is the perfect choice to illustrate this world, with their sure, delicate pen lines and richly colored, realistic backgrounds.

Why should I say more when you could be reading this book?

Will teens like it?: Yes. It might scar younger readers, but will also fascinate them.

Is it “great” for teens?: I mean… it’s great.

Art Taste:

BEAUTIFUL-pg61-817c1

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Morsels: Delightful little things I’ve recently read.

by Tessa

There are few things more miraculous to me than a really good picture book. It must be economical in prose and relatively bold in picture, but immediately suggest a whole world and character, or cast of characters. It has to have details that mark it as a unique thing, but carry a universal message so it can be quickly resonant to its readers. Comfort and novelty in a well-designed, beautiful package.

I just read a slew of good, short books. Some are picture books, some are books with  pictures. But they all share a talent for attention-catching. Here are my morsels:

1. Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon

hermanandrosie

I was tipped off to this title by super-librarian Betsy Bird’s Fuse No. 8 review on SLJ. As usual, her review covers all the bases illuminatingly, but I’ll add my personal likes.  The basic plot is that Herman and Rosie love similar things (Herman: “potted plants, playing the oboe, wild boysenberry yogurt, the smell of hot dogs in the winter, and watching films about the ocean” Rosie: “pancakes, listening to old jazz records, the summertime subway breeze, toffees that stuck to her teeth, singing on the fire escape. . . and watching films about the ocean.”), and live near each other. They both are sustained by their music and their routines despite feeling sort of lonely. . .until things fall apart. Will they find each other?

I’m not a NYC-fetishiser, but I do enjoy a city-in-the-winter, lonely-in-a-crowd vibe, and this captures it. Gordon’s palette ranges from bright blue piercingly sunny winter days to muted brown snowy nights. Nothing’s ever too bright; he brings the duality of neon and worn down floorboards of ajazz club to the picture book. He plays around with the page, repeating formats occasionally, but not over and over. Because the story is about 2 characters who are experiencing similar life journeys (and who obviously must meet by the book’s end!) there’s a lot of mirroring going on, in a seamless fashion. The art itself is full of collage and faux-scribbly elements, with a base of watercolory wash.

2. Fata Morgana by Jon Vermilyea

fatamorgana

Koyama Press and I both described this as “a feast for the eyes” . . . independently! Actually, I said “visual feast” and they said “feast for the eyes and mind”. Potato potahto. The day after I read this I looked up what Fata Morgana means, and listen to this: according to the Oxford Dictionary of Weather, 2nd ed. (by STORM DUNLOP!!), Fata morgana is a specific type of mirage, “in which the image of the actual surface appears in the form of a wall. The effect occurs when the temperature profile has an inflection, but is also relatively gentle. The atmosphere exhibits lensing properties but these are astigmatic, resulting in a redistribution of brightness within the image, often creating the effect of light and dark arches, and distant buildings.” and, according ot the Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 2nd ed., comes from “a mirage seen in the Strait of Messina between Italy and Sicily and attributed to Morgan le Fey, whose legend and reputation were carried to Sicily by Norman settlers.” And if you don’t know, now you know.

Jon Vermilyea‘s Fata Morgana is a wordless, mostly plotless book of not-quite-psychadelic fever dreamscapes. So I’d say the title is apropos. Vermilyea’s cartooning suggests the weight of its characters. It has a real density to it, and he covers every landscape with intertwining details that push to the forefront of the page, forming a wall of round, drippy lines forming trunks and faces and bridges and who knows what. The coloring is bright, mixing pastels with bold, almost neon tones. It’s disorienting at times, and my only wish is that it were a series of fold-out posters so the gutter hadn’t gotten in the way.

3. The Bramble by Lee Nordling & Bruce Zick

thebramble

Fun fact: It turns out that Lee Nordling was the comic strip editor for Nickelodeon’s Rugrats comic. It’s not apparent right away, but after knowing that, I can see the influence of the Rugrats in the human characters of The Bramble. But the kids in this story skew more towards older picture books. They could exist anywhere from the 70s to now, and that’s what I like about them, with their skinny limbs, bulbous noses, and giant heads.

The Bramble is printed in blues and browns, and concerns a boy, Cameron, who bravely tries to make friends by crashing a game of tag, but is obliquely muscled out of his notions of friendship by the other boys refusing to play along with him. Instead, they just shout “You’re It!” over and over. Dehumanizing, no? Funnily enough, there’s a giant bramble patch right at the edge of the park. A creature is spying on the failed tag game, and Cameron catches a peek of it. In its haste to hide itself, it leaves its necklace behind. So Cameron follows it into the Bramble to return the necklace.

Thus follows a not-so-vaguely Wild Things type adventure. Cameron ends up defeating a weird sentient blob/tongue/wave thing by using the same bullying Tag tactics that were used by him, which endears the creatures of the Bramble to him and makes him more confident and able to leave the Bramble and befriend the bullies.

Clearly I have issues with that part of the story. What resonated with me was the wordless sequences where Cameron opened himself up to rejection, was rejected, entered a new, strange situation, and this time found acceptance. The emotional tone was spot on there, and it’s worth taking a look at the book just for that. I’m excited to see more picture books take a darker tone at times, since the shelves can sometimes feel glutted with pastel bunny love fests (they have their place, for sure,  but shouldn’t be the only thing out there.)

4. The Hole by Øyvind Torseter

thehole

“The Hole has simple, expressive drawings created by pen and computer, and there’s a hole punched right through the book, so it exists in real life, even if it can’t be explained.” – Enchanted Lion Books description

So, apparently Enchanted Lion Books has been around since 2003 and I’m just learning about it via The Hole. Now I have a whole backlist to discover!

The guy in The Hole has moved into an apartment. It has a hole, and the hole keeps moving. Of course, the hole is not moving, the drawings are moving. But the drawings are reality, if the reader accepts it, so the hole is moving. We see the dude realize what’s happening, call someone about it, capture the hole, and take it somewhere (I won’t spoil it, ha ha.) The one simple conceit is magical in and of itself, and Torseter’s simple lines and open spaces make it more charming, like you’re watching someone drawing the story for you (very Harold and the Purple Crayon!) There are some good photos of the art at the Brain Pickings review.

5. Hilda and the Troll by Luke Pearson

hildandthetroll

Hilda’s been around a while. This is the Flying Eye Books edition of Nobrow’s Hildafolk. Luke Pearson also wrote and illustrated Hilda and the Bird Parade and Hilda and the Midnight Giant, the former I’ve read and really liked, the latter of which I am looking forward to reading. He says that The Midnight Giant is “a follow up to Hildafolk, my 24-pager of one year ago, but it’s more of a reboot than a sequel and is hopefully the first of a series of albums exploring the same world.”

I had no trouble reading them out of “order” – Hilda is a self-assured girl and goes about her world so matter of factly that I couldn’t help but folow with a sympathetic attitude. (As in, my brain tuned into her vibes or something).

In this adventure, Hilda goes out to draw rocks, finds a troll rock (a troll that is in rock form), puts a bell on its nose for safety, and falls asleep instead of getting back to her house. The troll wakes up, and Hilda has to find her way home and also find a way to make things right with the troll. Trolls hate bells and she has set it up for eternal torment, because its arms can’t reach the bell on its nose to remove it.

The magical Scandinavian world here is a delight. It’s our modern world, but a more tuned into things like trolls and horned foxes and tree men. I love Hilda -she’s serious about her self and her interests, and still realistically a kid. She learns to see a bit more about her assumptions in this book, and her carelessness, and in the Bird Parade this learning continues. And she knows the value of being cosy in a rainy tent:

hil5

I hope all of you have something nice to read while sitting on a couch or in a tent, watching the snow fall or the rain drizzle or the breeze blow things around.

The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle #2) by Maggie Steifvater

A Review of The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle #2) by Maggie Stiefvater

Scholastic Press, 2013

The Dream Thieves The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

by REBECCA, September 16, 2013

I was so excited to read The Dream Thieves, the second in The Raven Cycle, because I adored The Raven Boys. I promise that this review will have no spoilers, since the book’s not out until tomorrow (though there are spoilers for The Raven Boys, in case you’ve not read it yet). The cycle looks like it’s going to be at least two more books, going by Goodreads, which shows untitled numbers 3 and 4 for release in 2014 and 2015.

The Raven Boys by Maggie StiefvaterThe Raven Boys was tightly-plotted and set in a world that was about 70% realist—there’s Blue Sargent’s family of psychics and scryers and a ghost. We met Blue, the only non-psychic in her family, and the eponymous Raven Boys, who attend the posh Aglionby Academy in Blue’s town. There’s Gansey, who is obsessed with tracing the ley lines in town with the hopes of finding Glendower, a Welsh king whose location will, the tales say, result in great favor. Adam is a local who feels constantly out of place in Aglionby because he’s poor and unconnected, unlike the rest of its students. Ronan is passionate and angry and hates Aglionby, though he stays out of loyalty to Gansey. Last and least is Noah, who, we learn, is a ghost, killed by his Aglionby roommate years before, who was also looking for Glendower.

Where The Raven Boys was a tightly-plotted, 70% realist first novel, The Dream Thieves is an expansive, 70% non-realist second. The Dream Thieves is a book packed full of ideas and featuring a piece of world-building that makes for limitless possibilities. Like The Raven BoysThe Dream Thieves is still heavy on character and atmosphere, but where the former was Gansey’s book, this one is Ronan’s.

When Ronan’s father was killed, he was disallowed from returning to his family home. Now things have begun happening, both in real life and in his dreams, that make him determined to return and solve the mysteries that his father’s death left behind. The plot about Glendower takes a bit of a back seat here to Ronan’s personal abilities, and I enjoyed the hell out of that. Ronan was the character I was most interested in from The Raven Boys, so I was thrilled to follow his journey. We get the introduction of a threatening new character, Mr. Gray, who is in Henrietta searching for something that intersects with the quest for Glendower, and Kavinsky, a Raven Boy who will change everything for Ronan.

The Raven Boys by Maggie StiefvaterLike I said, The Dream Thieves is chock-full of ideas. As such, it gets a little baggy in the middle, where I felt I was being re-introduced to themes and character traits. It couldn’t have been the first book in a series, certainly. As a second book, though, I found its meandering moments forgivable, particularly since the ideas Stiefvater is playing with really are shiny enough to justify diversions. As you can guess from the title and final line of The Raven Boys, this book is about stealing from dreams. So. Good. My favorite thing about The Dream Thieves is the way Stiefvater effortlessly juggles the effects of this concept, which includes every imaginable (dreamable) possibility.

Whereas the end of The Raven Boys pointed strongly to where the next book would go, The Dream Thieves raised the stakes of the story so much that I find myself totally unsure where the third book in the cycle will go. But I trust Stiefvater and I love these characters, so count me in for the ride, wherever it goes!

procured from: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle #2) by Maggie Stiefvater will be available tomorrow!

Down but not meowt: Claws by Mike and Rachel Grinti

clawsgrinti

Claws

Mike and Rachel Grinti

Scholastic, 2012

review by Tessa

Characters

Emma Vu

Helena Vu

Mr. & Mrs. Vu

Jack the Magic-less Cat

Hook

One day Emma’s older sister Helena is around and life is happy. Then Helena goes missing, and her family is quickly losing all its money in trying anything to find her – including associating with crags, or magical creatures, a culturally-shunned segment of the population. It isn’t long before Emma takes advantage of her parents’ distracted and stressed out state to accept the help of cats in order to pursue her own investigations.

UK cover!

UK cover!

Worldview

So, unfortunately I haven’t had time lately to read much middle grade fantasy so I’m not even going to try to couch my comments in relation to the field as a whole. I’m just going to tell you why Claws grabbed me.

It’s set in a world where magic is known but not socially accepted, except by excitable teenagers who watch a show called Gnomebots, read Tiger Beat style magazines about the glamorous (literally) lifestyle of fairies, and read dubious information about the magical world on CragWiki. However, most people avoid crags and, therefore, Emma’s first encounters with them are a little scary and not what she expected. The book opens with Emma and her parents moving into a decrepit house next to the big forest that took over a human city some years ago. Crags live near there, but most humans have relocated. Emma’s parents have had no luck with normal policework in finding Helena, her father has lost his business, and he’s ready to try the magical underground for any information on his missing daughter.

Emma finds that her next door neighbors are a boring snake-man who has a lecture for everything and a hag who has had all of her teeth pulled so she won’t eat any more children – doomed to a life of unfulfilled hunger- but that doesn’t stop her from trying to lure Emma into her house.

magic cat photo by flickr user SuziJane

magic cat photo by flickr user SuziJane

Pretty much immediately, Emma finds that a cat has been living in her family’s new house, and he doesn’t intend to stop doing so. Cats are magical creatures and can talk in this world, and this cat, Jack, has done something to get him kicked out of his pride. But he also has a way to transfer the pride’s power to Emma. He wants her to do this, and in return, he’ll help her find Helena.

I loved reading a good fantasy grounded in reality that didn’t exalt magic but still made it exciting, dangerous, and fun. Each crag that Emma meets has his or her own personality, and the crag world, apart from the class tensions between it and humans, has clear tensions between creature groups and within peer groups. The Grintis pack all of this effortlessly into 250 pages. The reader doesn’t have to work to see it happening, but it’s not explained in expository dialogue, either (thank goodness).  The facts that are presented straightforwardly come in quotes from CragWiki at the beginning of every chapter, and serve to deepen the world.

Does this book fulfill its intentions?

Claws hit a sweet spot for me, readingwise. Emma doesn’t hesitate very long before accepting Jack’s deal. I could easily see the book veering off in a much different alternate-future direction, where it spends the first book with Emma hemming and hawing about her decision, in order to stretch out and become a trilogy.  Instead Emma goes for it. In a sense she has nothing much to lose – her friends at school have turned against her now that she lives in an undesirable area, and she’s lonely all the time – she misses her sister and her parents are fully preoccupied and brokenhearted for the same reason. But I feel like she also decides to accept Jack’s offer of the Pride Heart because it’s exciting. I’d be willing to bet that most 12 year olds have an innate sense of their own impending destiny – who among us wouldn’t have accepted the chance to assume the source of power for a pride of magical cats? (Cat-allergic peeps aside.)

My cat is obviously magic.

My cat is obviously magic.

Once her decision is made, Emma is set up for a crash course in Adventure and Split Second Decisions, and after a few false starts it seems she’s well-suited for it. I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone, but I will say that the end set-piece, which takes place in a faery-run high rise in the human downtown, is a particularly well-done example of the ways in which the faerie can be simultaneously attractive and deeply, primally scary. It involves something called eye-puppets.

In addition, Claws was refreshing because it provided intrigue and a personal-growth story with real emotion and imagination, and, because of its target market, had none of the love triangle or sexy urban werewolvery that has become so tiresome to me, even secondhand from reading reviews. I could read it and wholeheartedly enjoy it in the moment as a grown lady, and also think about how much I would have loved it as a younger person.

Disclosure/Digressions

– I met Rachel Grinti at a local conference where I was co-presenting something and she gave me a copy of Claws for free cuz she’s nice. I’m so glad that she did.

-Emma’s parents are Vietnamese-American and when she’s feeling tired of her new family life as The Girl With the Missing Sister and worn down by her new cat magic responsibilities she reminisces about the better times when her family would make homecooked meals. I think it’s safe to say that this is the only book I’ve read that could make me want to eat banana pudding.

Readalikes, as far as imaginative worldbuilding goes.

KieselWarTeachersKids

The War Between The Pitiful Teachers and the Splendid Kids by Stanley Kiesel

The world of this book isn’t strictly magical, it’s just weird and surreal and things matter of factly happen that you as a reader know are totally crazy but you don’t care because it has hooked you with its very weirdness. A girl eats a janitor and it blew my mind that that could even happen in a book.

how-to-ditch-your-fairy

How to Ditch Your Fairy  by Justine Larbalestier

The fairies in this book are very much fairies and not faeirie as in Claws, but Larbalestier brings the reader into her sort of complicated world–where everyone has an invisible fairy that bestows specific luck or powers onto their human, and it’s luck of the draw whether you get a good one or a useless one, or just a really annoying one–with ease.

Why Aren’t You Reading… The Tapestry Series by Henry H. Neff?

houndofrowanthesecondsiegethefiendandtheforgethemaelstrom

by Tessa

Maybe you’re already reading this series, about a boy named Max who finds out that he’s the son of an Irish mythological figure, and goes to magical boarding school in America (not in that order) and then the world irrevocably changes because the wrong book gets into the wrong allegedly-demonic hands,  in which case RAD, can we chat about it together?

BUT – I’m guessing that lots of people haven’t – at least it hasn’t been written up in the many places that I go to hear about books. Granted, there are way more places to go read about books that it’s just not possible for me to visit. There are a couple of reasons that may explain this – the series is older middle grade and the first two books read very much like American Harry Potter, so I feel as though it may have been dismissed as reductive in some people’s minds.

There are some very compelling reasons (I hope) to give The Tapestry series a second look if you weren’t into the first book or a first look, if you haven’t  yet heard of it.

Pros:

– Irish mythology!

Ever since I read The Myths and Folk-Lore of Ireland, collected by Jeremiah Curtain, I’ve been into the meandering, tough, hyperbolic, funny stories from that country. Even though I know I’m mispronouncing all the names when I read it in my head. Max finds out (spoiler alert?) that he’s the sun of Lugh Lámhfhada, an Irish god associated with the sun and athleticism, which means he’s the half-brother of Cúchulainn, the Hound of Ulster, which is why he’s known as the Hound of Rowan (Rowan being the American Hogwarts stand-in here). Not that you have to know anything about Irish mythology to read the series, I just enjoy that Max has a grounding in a mythology that exists outside of the books.

Cuchulainn Slays the Hound of Culain via Wikipedia

Cuchulainn Slays the Hound of Culain via Wikipedia

This also means that Max is a real badass. He’s full of Old Magic and a member of the Red Branch (magical CIA type people) and although he wields the Gae Bolga, a sword/spear embedded with the terrifying bloodlust of Cúchulainn, he’s a pretty thoughtful kid thrust into a world where he has to make life or death decisions for, like, the entire human race.

Actually there are 3 children of Old Magic in this series. They all have their own strengths, and their own secrets. The magic is well spread out among the students and teachers and the political intrigue is well done.

– Totally epic, metal demons

Demons are a big part of this series. They are trying to infiltrate Rowan to steal a powerful book that can rewrite REALITY ITSELF… and they eventually do. But they don’t turn the world into a stereotypical hell. It becomes more feudal, and more pastoral. But still with tentacled horrors that live inside wells and terrorize families. As the present becomes the past… with demons, things are correspondingly more epic. It recalled the lyrics of metal bands such as the brutal (read:rad) Absu. This is from a song off of 2009’s Absu:

The old woman of Nippur
Instructs Ninlil to walk the banks of Idnunbirdu
She thrusts he magic (k)
To harvest the mind of the great
mountain-lord Enlil

The bright-eyed king will fall to your anguish
His soul lures the hexagonal room
He who decrees fates – his spirit is caught
His soul lured to the hexagonal room

Nunbarshegunu
A silk veil strewn over you
Your face is the cosmos
You hide it in shame

I admire an author who is not afraid to change the entire nature of the Earth. Neff does it and pulls it off without becoming too lost in the large canvas he’s created.

A new kind of adversary

Astaroth is the main antagonist, although the political intrigues of the demon world shift around during books 3 and 4. He’s firmly not in the Eye of Sauron all seeing all evil all the time camp. He’s an activist godlike figure. Like if NoFace from Spirited Away had all the powers of Old Testament God but not all the wrath – Astaroth pretends he’s a softy but really the world is just his plaything. He’s doing it for humanity’s own good. He thinks humanity is better without choices. His face is an always-smiling white mask.

an imagining of Astaroth from the Dictionnaire Infernal (1818) - via Wikipedia

an imagining of Astaroth from the Dictionnaire Infernal (1818) – via Wikipedia

Cons:

– The first book is deceptively Harry Potter-like (with a dash of Riordan’s The Olympians)

I dunno, this isn’t a huge con for me, but it’s worth noting. Also, if you read the first book and were not into the Hag “humor”, it is much diminished in the others.

– The illustrations can take away from the story sometimes.

I hate saying this because Henry Neff is the writer AND illustrator, so these are the representations of the images that inspired the story that I enjoy reading so much… however, there have been times when seeing the illustrations takes the wind out of the much creepier thing I was thinking of in my brain, inspired by the prose.

– His website uses Papyrus as a title font.

 

Obviously the pros are much stronger than the cons, so what are you waiting for?

Heck Yeah, Covens! Moonset #1

A Review of Moonset (Legacy of Moonset #1) by Scott Tracey

Flux, 2013

Moonset Scott Tracey

by REBECCA, April 1, 2013

characters

Justin: our protag, he is a bit awkward and a bit sweet and mostly goes with the flow

Jenna: Justin’s twin, as confident and demanding as he is chill, she is desperate to learn magic so they can protect themselves

Malcolm: the eldest brother in this motley crew, he’s buff and pretty uninterested in the whole magic thing

Cole: the hyper, jokey brother

Bailey: the youngest, she is sensitive but powerful

Quinn: a Witcher, the green berets of magic, he is a protector and possibly an ally?

Ash: the brash, entitled girl in their new town who takes Justin under her control wing

hook

Justin, Jenna, Malcolm, Cole, and Bailey are the children of the Moonset coven, the most infamous terrorists in the magical world. As the children of treasonous criminals they are suspected by other witches and the magic they’re taught is limited. But now they have been attacked and moved to a small town in New York where things keep trying to tear them apart, but they don’t have the knowledge to defend themselves. What happens when the power you need to defend your family might just be the power that turned your parents to the dark side?

worldview

The setting of Moonset is one in which the magical world keeps itself secret from the rest of the world. Witches are taught magic in school, and covens are highly controlled by bureaucracy. It is a setup similar to Harry Potter only instead of the boy who lived, Justin and his siblings are the kids of the coven that killed. The word “moonset” is synonymous with terrorism, treason, and evil, so when Justin and his siblings find Moonset’s symbol popping up all over the new town where they’ve been relocated they know that nothing good is coming. After being attacked by a wraith as they were moved from their last school, they sense that there is something in play that they (and the people who are supposed to be looking out for them) know nothing about. And, since people are too scared that they’ll go dark side if they learn magic, they can’t exactly protect themselves. What is clear, however, is that Justin and his siblings are not their parents . . . and maybe their parents weren’t exactly what they thought either.

what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?

Scott Tracey Witch EyesMoonset is a fun read. I love Scott Tracey’s other series, Witch Eyes, which I review HERE and HERE. As I mention in these reviews, Tracey writes books that, to me, read cinematically—or, I should say, televisually—and Moonset is no different. This means, really, that reading Moonset is kind of like watching a CW show, in the best possible way (I love the CW, as I’m sure you know!), and this book is the first eight episodes of the season. You know, the first episode starts with the siblings walking trepidatiously into their new school and we see how they left their old school in brief flashbacks; then we get one episode that fills in the back story of each of the siblings and teases some stuff about their history together; then, just as we think we know what the main conflict is, the scale of things changes. Like, good tv, is what I’m saying.

But I think that, like a juicy tv show, which is better watched all at once, Moonset, the first in Tracey’s new series, might be more satisfying if I could read the whole series at once. That isn’t to say that Moonset isn’t an enjoyable read—it absolutely is. It’s just that this first volume feels introductory, especially in terms of character, even though the plot is definitely complete. Tracey has a knack for making me love or hate characters immediately upon meeting them (well, ok, maybe I do that with people in real life too . . . ). I liked Malcolm immediately—he’s the sturdy, a bit removed from it all, oldest brother—and hated Ash the first moment she opened her mouth. I think I’m supposed to like Malcolm, and I think maybe Ash is supposed to be polarizing, but in a way that’s realistic; we’ve all seen the nice people who are really attracted to the Ashes of the world, who are flippant, over-confident, demanding, and expectant in a way that (I guess?) seems intriguing and exciting. I found her obnoxious and mean, but I suspect others will be charmed by her version of I-don’t-mind-making-you-feel-uncomfortable-because-we-both-know-you’re-attracted-to-me. But again, I enjoyed my dislike of her because it was very realistically evoked.

The Secret Circle L.J. SmithJustin is sweet and, for the most part, even-tempered, a counterpart to his twin, Jenna (my sister’s name!). Jenna reminded me a bit of a Faye from The Secret Circle (the books, not the show, fortheloveofgod) type; she is fierce and will do whatever it takes to feel like she and her family are safe. Justin, though, seems to be the one that is being targeted by whatever force is messing with the siblings. And, as the threat grows, Justin begins to see that Jenna might be right—maybe they do need to find a way to learn magic so that they can protect themselves. But, as Justin begins to walk down that path, he finds himself wondering where the line is between power and corruption, and questioning whether he trusts himself not to follow in Moonset’s footsteps. This is a plot that is always interesting to me: the temptation of a power you know could turn you evil weighed against the necessity to gain that power for a good reason.

Moonset definitely follows hallmarks of the genre, but Tracey isn’t trying to hide those predictabilities—rather, he seems absolutely comfortable with them, using them to structure the plot and then getting out of the way as his characters take it home. His writing, as always, is fast-paced and at times quite amusing:

“Jenna could take a perfectly simple math problem like 2+2 and wind up with an answer equaling the square root of paranoid.”

“‘Figures she’s a Meghan,’ Jenna muttered . . . ‘I’ve never met one that wasn’t a raging bitch.'”

“Christmas had come to Carrow Mill, and it had vomited all over our house.”

But he also has moments of understated beauty and insight:

“Ash buried her head against my chest, and that moment of comfort sparked a lifetime of habits.”

I didn’t love Moonset as much as I love the Witch Eyes series, but I’ll definitely keep my eye out for the next in the series.

readalikes

Scott Tracey Witch Eyes Demon Eyes Scott Tracey

Witch Eyes and Demon Eyes by Scott Tracey (2011 & 2012), of course. Braden flees rural Montana to the small town of Belle Dam, Washington. Once there, he attends high school for the first time, gets caught up in a feud between witch dynasties, accidentally releases some hellhounds, and starts falling for a compelling and infuriating boy . . . whom he might have to kill.

The Secret Circle L.J. Smith The Secret Circle L.J. Smith The Secret Circle L.J. Smith

The Secret Circle series by L.J. Smith (1992). Ok, so the CW failed us on this one, not that I still didn’t watch the whole thing, obvsly, but Smith’s series is one of my all-time faves (check out my review HERE). Similar feeling: new town, new school, witchy powers, and the threat of coven infiltration. Delightful!

procured from: I received an ARC of this title from the publisher (thanks!) with no compensation on either side. Moonset by Scott Tracey will be out next week.

Play Me A Song!: Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater

A Review of Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie (Books of Faerie #2) by Maggie Stiefvater 

Flux, 2009

Ballad Maggie Stiefvater

by REBECCA, February 4, 2013

           Ballad is the sequel to Lament, the first in the Books of Faerie series. Check out my                review of Lament HERE!

characters

James Morgan: bagpiping prodigy James has had the crap stomped out of him lately, isn’t speaking to his best friend, and is starting a new school where he doesn’t know anyone. And the school year hasn’t even started yet.

Nuala: a half fairy who must feed on the genius of humans, she has her sights set on James.

Mr. Sullivan: James’ English teacher . . . and, it turns out, much, much more.

Deirdre: James’ erstwhile best friend (and crush), she is also the cloverhand who has drawn Nuala and the other fairies to her and James’ school.

hook

“Music prodigy James Morgan has joined his best friend, Deirdre, at a private conservatory for musicians. James’ almost unearthly gift for music has attracted the dangerous attentions of Nuala, a soul-snatching faerie muse who fosters and feeds on the creative energies of exceptional humans until they die. Composing beautiful music together leads James and Nuala down an unexpected road of mutual admiration . . . and love. Haunted by a vision of raging fire and death, James realizes that Deirdre and Nuala are being hunted by the Fey and plunges into a soulscorching battle with the Queen of the Fey to save their lives” (Goodreads).

review

Lament Maggie StiefvaterBallad picks up soon after the events of Lament leave off. Ballad, though, is a very different book. Different setting (music conservatory Thornking-Ash), different characters, and different narrators (James and Nuala).   James, still distraught over losing Deirdre to Luke Dillon and almost being eviscerated by the fairy queen, is at sea in his new school. There is no music teacher who has anything to teach him on the pipes, he doesn’t know anyone, and he’s depressed. Also, he hears mysterious music emanating from a mysterious and otherworldly horned creature. Into this mess, enters Nuala, who offers to make James’ musical gift even more otherworldly (in exchange for his life force, of course, no big deal). James turns her offer down, but Nuala keeps hanging around and though they begin antagonistically, they are increasingly drawn to each other.

I admire Maggie Stiefvater for doing a series where the focus totally changes from the first book to the second. I really like James as a character and I was excited to read a story from his perspective. Ballad felt like it could be a stand-alone novel in some ways. And, bonus, Thornking-Ash is a boarding school. And you know how we feel about boarding school books!

Ballad Maggie StiefvaterI love music and was really taken with the premise of Ballad. But it was a slow starter for me—I think because I didn’t really like the character of Nuala. Nuala just wasn’t a character who really came alive for me. The narrative shifts back and forth from Nuala’s perspective to James’ and Nuala’s sections just fell a bit flat, especially in comparison to James, whom was a great, complex character. I loved seeing the hints of James that we saw in Lament really get filled out here. Little details, like the way James writes on his hands, came together beautifully with the cosmology of the book (but I won’t say how), and it’s just such little details that make me such a fan of Stiefvater’s work.

It was interesting to think of Ballad as a rehearsal of some of the themes that come so to life in Stiefvater’s most recent book, The Raven Boys, which I loved (full review HERE). The sections of the book that involve Mr. Sullivan and James’ roommate trying to figure out what’s going on with fairy magic reminded me so much of The Raven Boys.

Requiem, the third in the Books of Faerie series is forthcoming next year. To quote Maggie Stiefvater, “currently, the first two words of the rough draft are ‘Luke Dillon.’”

procured from: the library

Oceanic Gothic: Teeth, by Hannah Moskowitz

A review of Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz

Simon Pulse, 2013

Teeth Hannah Moskowitz

by REBECCA, January 14, 2013

characters

Rudy: a lonely, thoughtful guy who is torn between loyalty to his family and the companionship of a mysterious fishboy . . .

Teeth (Fishboy): a sad but strong loner (by necessity), Teeth doesn’t know his own story until Rudy shows up.

Dylan: Rudy’s little brother who is sweet, weird, and dying.

Diana: A strange shut-in, she lends Rudy books, and occasionally more.

Ms. Delaney: Diana’s mother, her family discovered the island’s magic fish, and her history is complicated.

Rudy & Dylan’s parents: they mean well, but are totally consumed by Dylan’s health problems.

hook

When Rudy leaves everything he knows to move to an island whose magic fish might be able to cure his brother’s cystic fibrosis he knows things will never be the same. What he can’t know is that he’ll meet someone who changes everything he knows about himself . . . and presents him with a life and death dilemma. How will Rudy choose between two people he loves?

worldview

Emblazoned on the (absolutely gorgeous and apt) cover of Teeth is “miracles always come at a price,” and for once that isn’t just a dramatic tagline. For Rudy’s family, the miracle is an island where the local Enki fish have magical healing properties when ingested by the ill. The price? Well, that’s part of the complexity of Teeth‘s mystery. Rudy’s five-year-old brother is dying from cystic fibrosis and moving to the island is his last hope, but even if people are healed by the Enki fish, they mustn’t stop eating them or their powers will wear off. And, so, sixteen-year-old Rudy finds himself in a cold, eerie house on the edge of the ocean, every iota of his family’s energy and resources bent toward keeping his baby brother alive. Rudy draws and runs and reads, but he has no contact with the outside world, no future with his family since he’ll leave the island to go to college and they’ll stay with his brother, and, until he meets Fishboy, not even anyone to talk to.

When he first sees Fishboy (who, he learns later, goes by Teeth), Rudy is coming home from the market.

I turn away from Ms. Delaney’s mansion and that’s when I see him, sitting on a rock with a piece of seaweed hanging out of his mouth. . . . And before I notice anything else about him, I realized he’s about my age. And then the rest of him hits me: webbed fingers, the scrawny torso patched with silver scales, and a twisted fish tail starting where his hips should be, curling into a dirty fin. A fish. A boy. The ugliest thing I have ever seen. Can’t be real. . . . He gives me a funny smile and a small wave. And then he pushes off the rock and dives into the water. I find him with my eyes a few seconds later. He’s swimming out past the surf, hard. I see his fin hitting the water behind him with each stroke, setting up waves that push him farther and farther away from the shore.

He can’t be a mermaid, because he has to come up to breathe. He’s stopping to pant. He’s tired. Mermaids sing underwater. Mermaids can’t get tired. Because mermaids aren’t real. And then he’s gone.”

Merman skeletonTeeth lives in the ocean around the island and doesn’t even know how old he is or where he came from. He learned English by listening to the fishermen and the islanders talking, so there are many things he doesn’t know the words for and replaces with “whatever,” which is a really charming character trait, because it both frustrates Teeth that he can’t fully express himself and also allows him to seem uncaring about things that hurt him. And a lot of things hurt him. He was abandoned in the sea as a very young child and had to learn to survive; he is the only one of his kind, so he’s been very lonely; and the fisherman who sell the Enki fish routinely rape and abuse him.

Goodreads describes Teeth as “a gritty, romantic modern fairy tale,” and I can see why they do: Teeth is a moody, elliptical book with a toe each in the oceans of magical realism and fantasy. But “fairy tale” does justice to neither the complexity of Hannah Moskowitz‘s characters nor the ethical ambiguity of its murky waters. Rudy loves his brother, but resents the loneliness of the island; he wants to save his brother by procuring the Enki fish for him, but doesn’t want to harm Teeth once he learns of that procurement’s effect on him; he’s only ever been attracted to girls, but finds that he is drawn to Teeth in a powerful way that he doesn’t fully understand.

dark oceanIn a blog post I wrote over the summer about YA books that feature the ocean, I mentioned that I wished there were enough dark YA books about the ocean to facilitate me naming the sub-genre “oceanic gothic.” Well, I submit that Teeth is precisely the kind of book that belongs in that category. Awful things happen in this book, but the mood is so dreamy and, well, oceanic, that it seems as if Rudy and Teeth are experiencing them from underwater. I am a huge obsessoid about the ocean (hi, Pisces here) and I definitely think there is an aesthetic and a mood that seem to fit with the darkness of the ocean. This is a tidal, salt-rimed, shivery, rusty fishhook of a book that I couldn’t help but be pulled under by. And I loved every minute of it. It’s heartbreaking and creepy and sad, but  all its feelings issue from a kind of exhausted or cold-numbed place, so it’s all a little detached in a way that dulls what might otherwise have been a rather melodramatic edge.

I won’t say much more about the plot because it’s a beautifully crafted mystery that unfolds slowly, but Moskowitz’s prose is simply lovely, by turns lyrical, cutting, and funny. Here is how Teeth opens:

At night the ocean is so loud and so close that I lie awake, sure it’s going to beat against the house’s supports until we all crumble onto the rocks and break into pieces. Our house is creaky, gray, weather stained. It’s probably held a dozen desperate families who found their cure and left before we’d even heard about this island. We are a groan away from a watery death, and we’ll all drown without even waking up, because we’re so used to sleeping through unrelenting noise. Sometimes I draw. Usually I keep as still as I can. I worry any movement from me will push us over the edge. I don’t even want to blink. I feel the crashing building up. I always do. I lie in bed with my eyes open and focus on a peak in my uneven ceiling and pretend I know how to meditate. You are not moving. You are not drowning. It’s just the rain. It’s your imagination. Go to sleep.

That pounding noise is just pavement under your feet, is sex, is your mother’s hands on your brother’s chest, is something that is not water. It’s not working tonight. I sit up and grab my pad and pen to sketch myself, standing. Dry. Sometimes the waves hit the shore so hard that I can’t even hear the screaming. But usually I can. Tonight I can, and it hits me too hard for me to draw. I need to learn how to draw a scream.”

what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?

fishTeeth asks important and compelling questions: “How much could you hurt one person you love to save another?” “When is weakness unforgivable?” “How long should you sacrifice your own needs for someone else?” “Is living a long life really the most important thing?” These questions are, in general, subtly posed, but Teeth isn’t an overly polished book, and that’s a good thing, I think. It’s raw, it’s desperate, it’s desirous, and those are its strengths. Hannah Moskowitz has written a top-rate story with complex characters and an intriguing mystery, but the real star of Teeth for me was its mood.

There are elements I wasn’t crazy about: Diana Delaney, the girl Rudy meets and begins quasi-canoodling with, is undeveloped (whether intentionally or unintentionally) and therefore functioned mostly like a plot device for me—although of what I shall not say. Relatedly, Diana and Rudy’s discussions of books felt realistic, especially in the context of bored teens trapped on an island, but the books they discuss felt, in some moments, jarringly contemporary enough to wrench me out of the murky anywhere of the island (“This isn’t Looking for Alaska,” Diana says). In other moments, iconic books they discuss hang unpleasantly heavily over the rest of the narrative, overemphasizing themes that would have been quite clear enough without them. These were the only false notes for me, however.

Anatomy of a fishhookOne of the things that I most appreciated about Teeth was the slow and subtle build of Teeth and Rudy’s relationship. There is nothing overtly sexual or romantic about how Rudy sees Teeth, mostly because he’s never thought of guys in that context. But, little by little, as Teeth becomes more and more important to Rudy he begins to feel passionately for him. Teeth’s fishboyness could have easily been turned into a clunky and over-played metaphor for feelings of isolation by queer teens, but it is so much more interesting that he is actually half fish.

All in all, a captivating and thoroughly original read. Vive la Oceanic Gothic!

procured from: I received an Advanced Reading Copy from the publisher (thanks!) with no compensation on either side. Teeth is now available.

Tender Morsels Margo Lanaganreadalikes

I can’t honestly think of anything that I’ve read that is actually that similar to Teeth. In terms of other oceanic gothics that I want to read, there is Night Beach by Kirsty Eagar; as for other merpeople books that look interesting, there is Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama . . .  But, really, the only thing that comes to mind as being somewhat similar in mood is Margo Lanagan’s very excellent Tender Morsels.

Any thoughts about readalikes? Tell me in the comments!

All I Want For Chanukah Are These Snazzy YA Reads!

Eleanor & Park Rainbow Rowell Winger Andrew Smith Paper Valentine Brenna Yovanoff

by REBECCA, November 26, 2012

As I write this, it’s the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving, which means that it’s the time for cursing my father for making me drink so much this weekend thinking about what holiday gifts we want! In the spirit of turning our backs on giving thanks and preparing to say “thank you!” for the gifts to come, here is a list of the books I’m hoping some lovely Chanukah fairy might send winging my way. Sure, I know some of these won’t be out in time for Chanukah, but a girl can dream, no?

So, wipe that turkey off your face, recycle all those empties, and join me in lusting after some delicious stories! (Plot descriptions from Goodreads.)

The Ocean at the End of the Lane Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman

I love me some Neil Gaiman, and I can’t wait for this one. Primal horror, family drama, and unknown ancient powers? I’m in.

It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed—within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it. His only defense is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.”

The SIn-Eater's Confession Ilsa J. Bick

The Sin-Eater’s Confession, by Ilsa J. Bick

Chanukah has come early via NetGalley on this intriguing tale. I really enjoyed Bick’s Draw the Dark, so I can’t wait for this one.

People in Merit, Wisconsin, always said Jimmy was . . . you know. But people said all sorts of stupid stuff. Nobody really knew anything. Nobody really knew Jimmy. I guess you could say I knew Jimmy as well as anyone (which was not very well). I knew what scared him. And I knew he had dreams—even if I didn’t understand them. Even if he nearly ruined my life to pursue them.

Jimmy’s dead now, and I definitely know that better than anyone. I know about blood and bone and how bodies decompose. I know about shadows and stones and hatchets. I know what a last cry for help sounds like. I know what blood looks like on my own hands. What I don’t know is if I can trust my own eyes. I don’t know who threw the stone. Who swung the hatchet? Who are the shadows? What do the living owe the dead?”

How to Lead a Life of Crime Kirsten Miller

How To Lead A Life Of Crime, by Kirsten Miller

This looks awesome; plus the cover looks kind of like the opening sequence of Stick It. Dudes, it’s not called gym-nice-tics!

A meth dealer. A  prostitute. A serial killer. Anywhere else, they’d be vermin. At the Mandel Academy, they’re called prodigies. The most exclusive school in New York City has been training young criminals for over a century. Only the most ruthless students are allowed to graduate. The rest disappear.

Flick, a teenage pickpocket, has risen to the top of his class. But then Mandel recruits a fierce new competitor who also happens to be Flick’s old flame. They’ve been told only one of them will make it out of the Mandel Academy. Will they find a way to save each other—or will the school destroy them both?”

Paper Valentine Brenna Yovanoff

Paper Valentine, by Brenna Yovanoff

Number one, this cover rocks my world. Number two, I loved the subtle creepiness of The Replacement, and can’t wait to read Yovanoff’s latest.

The city of Ludlow is gripped by the hottest July on record. The asphalt is melting, the birds are dying, petty crime is on the rise, and someone in Hannah Wagnor’s peaceful suburban community is killing girls. For Hannah, the summer is a complicated one. Her best friend Lillian died six months ago, and Hannah just wants her life to go back to normal. But how can things be normal when Lillian’s ghost is haunting her bedroom, pushing her to investigate the mysterious string of murders? Hannah’s just trying to understand why her friend self-destructed, and where she fits now that Lillian isn’t there to save her a place among the social elite. And she must stop thinking about Finny Boone, the big, enigmatic delinquent whose main hobbies seem to include petty larceny and surprising acts of kindness.

With the entire city in a panic, Hannah soon finds herself drawn into a world of ghost girls and horrifying secrets. She realizes that only by confronting the Valentine Killer will she be able move on with her life—and it’s up to her to put together the pieces before he strikes again.

Teeth Hannah Moscowitz

Teeth, by Hannah Moskowitz

I’m a Hannah Moskowitz fan, but more importantly, this is a gay mermaid story. Can’t wait!

Rudy’s life is flipped upside-down when his family moves to a remote island in a last attempt to save his sick younger brother. With nothing to do but worry, Rudy sinks deeper and deeper into loneliness and lies awake at night listening to the screams of the ocean beneath his family’s rickety house.

Then he meets Diana, who makes him wonder what he even knows about love, and Teeth, who makes him question what he knows about anything. Rudy can’t remember the last time he felt so connected to someone, but being friends with Teeth is more than a little bit complicated. He soon learns that Teeth has terrible secrets. Violent secrets. Secrets that will force Rudy to choose between his own happiness and his brother’s life.”

Winger Andrew Smith

Winger, by Andrew Smith

Anyone who reads Crunchings & Munchings knows I love Andrew Smith—check out reviews of Stick and The Marbury Lens HERE and HERE. He has three books coming out in the next year and a half or so (yay!) but I’m particularly intrigued by Winger because it sounds like it shares some thematic interests with one of my favorite movies, The Reflecting Skin.

Fourteen-year-old Ryan Dean West may be the smartest 11th grader in school, but there are some things he just doesn’t get. He’s convinced that the woman living downstairs is a witch—out to destroy his life; believes the girl he’s in love with only sees him as some kind of pet; and wonders why his best friend—the only voice of reason in Ryan Dean’s life—likes other boys more than girls. A funny, sometimes dark, part-graphic YA novel about fitting in, and the consequences that can occur when big deals are made over small differences.”

Moonset Scott Tracey

Moonset, by Scott Tracey

From the author of the Witch Eyes series, which I really like (reviews of the first two in the series HERE and HERE) comes this new series about a group of young witches!

Justin Daggett, his trouble-making sister, and their three orphan-witch friends have gotten themselves kicked out of high school. Again. Now they’ve ended up in Carrow Mills, New York, the town where their parents—members of the terrorist witch organization known as Moonset—began their evil experiments with the dark arts one generation ago.

When the siblings are accused of unleashing black magic on the town, Justin fights to prove their innocence. But tracking down the true culprit leads him to a terrifying discovery about Moonset’s past . . . and its deadly future.”

Eleanor & Park Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Kelly over at Stacked has really sold me on this eighties period piece! Great cover, too.

“Bono met his wife in high school,” Park says.
“So did Jerry Lee Lewis,” Eleanor answers.
“I’m not kidding,” he says.
“You should be,” she says, “we’re sixteen.”
“What about Romeo and Juliet?”
“Shallow, confused, then dead.”
”I love you,” Park says.
“Wherefore art thou,” Eleanor answers.
“I’m not kidding,” he says.
“You should be.”

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.”

So, what about you, my desirous friends? What tasty morsels are on your Chanukah lists?

Sister Magic IS Practical Magic!

In Which I Discuss Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman (1995) & How I Came to Love Practical Magic, directed by Griffin Dunne (1998)

Practical Magic Alice Hoffman   Practical Magic Sandra Bullock Nicole Kidman

by REBECCA, November 12, 2012

Many moons ago, I’m thirteen or fourteen, and I get this book called Practical Magic from the Saturday morning library book sale for twenty-five cents because the first sentence of the blurb reads, “For more than two hundred years, the Owens women had been blamed for everything that went wrong in their Massachusetts town.” Magic, witches, persecution, stuff going wrong: sounds great! And it is great. The writing is beautiful, the multi-generational family drama well-wrought, the characters interesting, and the atmosphere exquisitely . . . well, atmospheric.

Fast forward a couple of years: I’m sixteen, and the movie version of Practical Magic comes out, starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. I see it; it’s awful; I forget about it.

Fast forward a few more years: I’m nineteen or so, in college, and home visiting my parents over the holidays. My sister and I have recently grown into being friends, since I left the house and she’s grown up a bit, and Practical Magic comes on TV during a lazy afternoon when my parents are at work and my sister and I are slobbing around in our pajamas. She thinks the movie looks good; I tell her that I’ve seen it and it’s terrible, but that the book is good and she should read it. We watch it anyway.

And we love it. It’s funny! It’s sad! It’s magical! It’s a love letter to everything about being sisters! And I couldn’t have really appreciated it until my sister and I became best friends.

Practical Magic houseAfter realizing that my sister was actually the magic ingredient in my enjoyment of the movie Practical Magic, I went back and re-read the book. And, actually, the sister-magic is far less pronounced in the book than in the movie—perhaps that’s why my enjoyment of the book didn’t hinge on that relationship. But it was just as good as I remembered it being; and rarely has the title of a book quite so aptly described what was inside.

Since watching Practical Magic with my sister ten years or so ago, it’s become something of a favorite sister-movie for us, and so I don’t watch it critically any more—sure, I can still see why it’s not a very good movie, but it’s got just the right mix of feel-good stuff to make it a win. Especially the actors, who are pretty perfectly cast (except Aidan Quinn). Yeah, I’m talking to you, Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest!

Alice Hoffman’s novel, however, is a legitimately good book. I think it often doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, because it gets lumped in with the rest of the Alice-Hoffman oeuvre (many of which I know I’ve read, but can’t tell apart from one another) as well as with a sub-sub-genre of women-oriented, garden-magic-y books that spiked in the mid-nineties. And that’s a real shame, because Practical Magic is definitely Hoffman at her best. Themes and characters that are teased or made precious in her other novels are perfectly modulated here. That isn’t to say that I don’t like other of Hoffman’s books—there are several that I enjoy a lot. But Practical Magic reads to me as if it were the one book she most wanted to write, so when she did, it all came together perfectly.

House from Practical MagicFor those of you who have seen the movie (whether you loved or hated it), the book is significantly different. The biggest difference is that the film cuts out most of the second half of the book, in which Sally’s kids are teenagers and Gillian comes back to live with them, which is some of the best stuff in the book. Sally and Gillian’s response to the girls growing up is the centerpiece of the second half of the book, and really emphasizes the story of three generations of sisters: the aunts, Sally & Gillian, and Antonia & Kylie.

Hoffman’s storytelling is the perfect combination of practical and magic itself, beautifully crafting gems that reveal each character:

“One beautiful April day, when Sally was in sixth grade, all of the aunts’ cats followed her to school . . . There was Cardinal and Crow and Raven and Goose. There was a gawky kitten named Dove, and an ill-tempered tom called Magpie, who hissed at the others and kept them at bay. It would be difficult to believe that such a mangy bunch of creatures had come up with a plan to shame Sally, but that is what seemed to have happened, although they may have followed her on that day simply because she’d fixed a tunafish sandwich for lunch . . .

On this morning, Sally didn’t even know the cats were behind her, until she sat down at her desk. . . . Sally shooed them away, but the cats just came closer. They paced back and forth in front of her, their tails in the air, meowing with voices so horrible the sound could have curdled milk in the cup. ‘Scat,’ Sally whispered when Magpie jumped into her lap and began kneading his claws into her nicest blue dress. ‘Go away,’ she begged him. . . . A panic had spread and the more high-strung of Sally’s classmates were already whispering witchery. . . .

A boy in the rear of the room, who had stolen a pack of matches from his father just that morning, now made use of the chaos in the classroom and took the opportunity to set Magpie’s tail on fire. The scent of burning fur quickly filled the room, even before Magpie began to scream. Sally ran to the cat; without stopping to think, she knelt and smothered the flames with her favorite blue dress. . . . Sally stood up, the cat cradled in her arms like a baby, her face and dress dirty with soot. . . .

Sally cried for two hours straight. She loved the cats, that was the thing. She sneaked them saucers of milk and carried them to the vet on Endicott Street in a knitting bag when they fought and tore at each other and their scars became infected. She adored those horrible cats, especially Magpie, and yet sitting in her classroom, embarrassed beyond belief, she would have gladly watched each one be drowned in a bucket of icy water or shot with a BB gun. Even though she went out to care for Magpie as soon as she’d collected herself, cleaning his tail and wrapping it in cotton gauze, she knew she’d betrayed him in her heart. From that day on, Sally thought less of herself. . . . Sally could not have had a more intractable and uncompromising judge; she had found herself lacking, in compassion and fortitude, and the punishment was self-denial, from that moment on” (9-13)

So, whether you read it for the sister-magic, the cats, the eccentric aunts, the glorious descriptions of food, the New England architecture, the small town life, the gorgeous old house, the romance, the coming-of-age, the actual magic, or the lovely prose, I have no doubt you’ll find something in Practical Magic to tickle your fancy.

What are your favorite sister-magic books? Tell me in the comments!

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