Sunday, February 7, 2016

Six of Crows


23437156 There's a lot I could say about this book, but I'll settle for just saying that it was just as good as I had hoped. A heist story, in the Grisha-verse, with a variety of damaged characters. The pacing was non-stop, but it wasn't just about plot: the characters all have their own unique backstory and baggage that they bring to the story, complicating the heist arc in interesting ways.

I was a little scared to read this because I admire Bardugo's books (Her Grisha series were one of my comps when I queried and when my book went on submission)--and yes, reading it did make me question everything about my own writing. But only when my brain wasn't actively engaged in the story, which was most of the time, so it's all good.

Really though, a fun, dynamic story. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Beyond the Red

Beyond the Red Sci-fi tends to be hit or miss for me--I adore Connie Willis and Lois Bujold, but other sci-fi series sometimes leave me cold. Luckily, that was not the case for Ava Jae's debut Beyond the Red--partly because the book, while technically sci-fi, has the feel of an epic fantasy. Part of that is the politics, which remain mostly on-planet. Kora is an alien queen, struggling with the growing riots of her people, who want to see her displaced in favor of her twin brother. But Kora knows that letting him take the throne would mean ruin for her people. A twist of events puts Eos, a half-human, half-Sepharon, in her path--and rather than having him killed (as her brother encourages her to do, since half-breeds are an abomination), Kora takes him on as a slave-body guard. Their growing friendship and attraction only complicates their situation--Kora has to marry well to ensure her throne's stability, and Eos risks his life if anyone suspects his feelings for Kora.

I thought the relationship was well-drawn and I rooted for both Kora and Eos. But what really fascinated me was the world-building here--the desert planet with its ruthless, terrible beauty, the fragile peace between humans and Sepharons, the treachery and dangerous political navigation Kora has to undertake to survive.

Ava Jae is a young writer (she graduates college this spring!) and definitely one to watch.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Witch Hunter

The Witch Hunter (The Witch Hunter, #1) About 18 months ago, I first encountered writer Virginia Boecker via her blog. She was a Pitch Wars mentor, and of the mentor posts I read, hers was one of my favorite. Imagine, then, my thrill when Virginia chose me as her mentee. I will say that her feedback changed my book--she encouraged me to dramatically increase the pacing, and that advice was just the kick I needed to cut a substantial part of the story.

Needless to say, I pre-ordered this book as soon as I could. (It has taken me a shamefully long time to get to it--I need to stop going to the library when I have other books to read, because the library books always end up taking precedence.) I finally had a chance to read it, and am happy to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. (Of course, I might be a tad biased. See above). 

Elizabeth Grey is a witch hunter in an alternate Elizabethan England where magic is not only forbidden, but an offense punishable by death. Despite Elizabeth's skill, her loyalty blinds her to certain dangers, and when she is betrayed and herself accused of witchcraft, she discovers that the only thing that might save her is allying with the very witches she once fought against.

The premise is great: high stakes that were borne out in the strong pacing. I liked Elizabeth, who struggles to reimagine her place in a world that no longer values her, but who remains strong and determined. But I loved her friends, and the tentative threads that bind them as their adventures unfold. Her growing relationship with a handsome healer was particularly strong, and I look forward to seeing where Virginia takes their relationship in the sequel.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

This Monstrous Thing

This Monstrous Thing Mackenzi Lee's debut, This Monstrous Thing, reimagines Frankenstein in an alternate steampunk world, where the resurrection is accomplished through gears and gadgets. So far, the book is easy enough to sum up. But Lee has done much more with this retelling. It's a lovely homage to the original, down to the inclusion of Mary Shelley herself as a complicated character. The historical details shine, creating a vivid story world. But the heart of the story is the relationship between brothers Oliver and Alasdair--and in keeping with real sibling relationships, this heart is complicated, bruised, hopeful, loving, powerful.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Circus Mirandus

Circus Mirandus After seeing a couple of friends raving about this new middle grade novel, I snatched it up at my library. I'm glad I did. Cassie Beasley's debut, Circus Mirandus, is a charming, magical story about a boy and his grandfather--and a magical circus.

Micah Tuttle has believed in magic his whole life, thanks to his grandfather Ephraim's stories about the Circus Mirandus. But now his grandfather is dying, Micah's life is being overrun by his horrible aunt Gertrudis, and a miracle from the Lightbearer (a Circus magician) may be the only thing that can save his grandfather. With the help of his friend Jenny Mendez and a few unexpected visitors, Micah sets off to find a miracle.

I thought the story was delightful--just the right amount of magic and heart. Now I'm trying to get my kids to read it.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Convicted

Conviction I picked up CONVICTION after it was short-listed for the 2016 Morris award, so my expectations going into Kelly Loy Gilbert's debut novel were already pretty high. And this book still blew me away.

First, there was Gilbert's prose--clear, deft, and powerful. The way Gilbert writes about baseball made even me interested in it. Braden felt like such a real character, trying to live up to the rules of honor expected both on the playing field and in the church. The plot, of course, was wrenching, as Braden struggles through the aftermath of his father's being accused of murdering a local cop. But that wasn't what kept me reading so compulsively. The heart of the book was the relationships: Braden's relationship with his father, with his friends, with his half-brother Trey--and with God.

What stands out to me the most about this book is its sensitive, true depiction of teen faith. Without ever seeming condescending, Gilbert present's Braden's evolving faith as a real thing. When so many YA books don't even touch on the issue of faith (unless it's to gloss over it), I thought Gilbert's book was brave and much-needed.

Did I enjoy this book? I don't know--what I felt (continue to feel) about it isn't easily summed up in enjoy. It moved me profoundly. It made me hurt, it made me angry, it made me hopeful. I'm still mulling over the ending. A powerful book by a powerful new writer. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Summer of Supernovas

Summer of Supernovas by Darcy Woods SUMMER OF SUPERNOVAS was just as charming as you might expect about a headstrong young woman, Wilamena (Wil) Carlisle, who plots her future according to her astrological chart. Believing this summer to be her last shot at finding true love until the next time the stars align in nearly a decade, Wil is determined to find her one true love. Naturally, just as Wil decides she's meant to find true love, she stumbles across two boys: one who's perfect on paper, the other who makes her heart sing, but is totally, fatally wrong for her according to their astrological signs. As Wil tries to navigate a tricky tangle of relationships, hilarity and heartbreak ensue.

I adored Wil: she was complex, funny, strong, sweet, and loyal. I would have gladly followed Wil through just about any story--it was just my good luck that hers happened to be an epic romance. But for all that the romance had my heart pounding and twisting in a painfully good way, the core of the story was about much more than that. This was a story about friendship and family and finding yourself even as you fall more deeply in love with the ones around you.