The Girls at the Kingfisher Club

It’s just a few short hours until the Cybils nominations open at midnight PST on October 1! Be thinking of your favorite children’s books from the last year to nominate, and take a look at the rules on the Cybils blog! (Thanks for making me laugh out loud at work, Anne!)

How could I resist another 12 Dancing Princesses retelling?
The Girls at the Kingfisher ClubThe Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine. Atria Books, 2014
In 1920s Manhattan, there is a group of glamorous girls who show up at the speakeasies for dancing. People call them all “Princess”, as they don’t tell anyone their names. They don’t put up with any misbehavior on the part of their dance partners – but can they ever dance!

From an opening with a mythic feel describing the sisters from the point of view of the men in the clubs, we turn to the background story. Joseph Hamilton, a self-made addition to Manhattan’s upper class, needed a son to secure his legacy. His wife bore him daughter after daughter until she died. As his disappointment mounted, he got more and more restrictive, firing the governesses and no longer letting them go for walks (only ever permitted in groups of two or three) so that no one would comment on his large family. Jo, the oldest daughter, sensed her rebellious next older sister about to crack at the sounds of the dances next door they weren’t allowed to attend. Terrified that she would do something that would bring their father down, Jo started taking them out dancing, looking carefully for clubs where they wouldn’t be photographed. What started with just the oldest sisters going out expanded as the younger sisters grew old enough to come along. Life was tenuous, but bearable, the glitter of the nights balancing the bleak days.

Then their father decided to marry them off.

I’d heard good things about this, and I was not disappointed. 1920s Manhattan, dark and glittering, torn between old and new attitudes towards women, was brought to life. I was literally lying in bed at night worried about the characters, even when I’d last read about them over my lunch break. The hardest parts of any 12 Dancing Princesses retelling are keeping the large cast from blurring together and giving them real motivation for all that dancing. This was a great success on both counts. There are also some good men to balance out the abusive father, but – thankfully – they are not rescuers of helpless girls. This might not work for fans of fairy tale retellings who want actual magic in their retellings – but it is gorgeous dark historical fiction.

Posted in Books | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Eighth Day

Here’s a contemporary fantasy with an Arthurian twist. I was happy to win an ARC from fellow book blogger Akossiwa Ketoglo.
The Eighth DayThe Eighth Day by Dianne K. Salerni. Harper Collins Children’s, 2014.
Recent orphan Jax Aubrey, 13, through some legal manipulation he doesn’t understand, is stuck with 18-year-old stranger Riley Pendare as his guardian. Riley is often gone and there’s never enough food in the house, so Jax is doing everything he can to move back in with some cousins. Then he wakes up one morning to find that all the people have vanished, leaving him alone in an abandoned world. After making his best preparations for disaster survival, he wakes up the next day only to find everything normal again.

Finally, Riley starts to give him some very limited explanations: Jax has inherited his father’s ability to live through the Eighth Day, an extra day magically sandwiched between Wednesday and Thursday. There are three types of people in the world: normal people; transitioners like Jax and Riley who experience all eight days; and the Kin, forever exiled to just the eighth day. The magic dates back to the time of King Arthur, when Merlin created the spell. In the modern era, this results in a culture where swearing fealty is still an important part of everyday life and people get tattoos featuring their family crests to enhance their magical powers.

Jax finds himself caught up in a war between factions. The only person he really trusts is Evangeline, the teenage Kin girl whom Riley has been keeping locked up in the house next door to theirs. But Jax’s ignorance of his new world and his determination to free Evangaline start things spiraling quickly out of control. Soon they find that they will need to save not just themselves but the whole world!

This is an exciting, action-oriented book, which I wanted to like more than I did. A lot of the problems could have been avoided if Riley had just been upfront with Jax at the beginning, always frustrating. The connection to Arthurian legend was tenuous enough to be disappointing to me, since I really like that. A love triangle that was introduced at the last minute felt out of place, and in general, I prefer more character focus in my reading. On the other hand, the idea of the eighth day is fun and original, and Jax and Evangeline are likeable characters. I could really see Percy Jackson fans getting excited about the possibility of being part of a society where magical family daggers are still important. I’d happily give this to readers, middle school or so, who want an adventurous contemporary fantasy book.

Posted in Books | Tagged , | Leave a comment

State of the Book Basket – September

Here’s what’s currently in our library book basket – but just the books checked out from the library where I work. Both kids are now going to the school library weekly, and just had a trip to the library with Daddy yesterday, as well, so the books listed below are probably only half of what we have out right now.

For my daughter, aged 5:
She is so thrilled to go to the library by herself right now! She’s bringing a ripping plastic sack of books home every week, mostly Barbie and Disney Princess books with a smattering of Rainbow Fairies and a dash of Franklin. We also just got her Julia’s House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke for her birthday.
A Big Guy Took My Ball by Mo Willems
Uni the Unicorn by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
If Kids Ruled the World by Linda Bailey
Magic Tree House Collection Books 30-32 by Mary Pope Osborne on audio for the car

For my son, aged 9:
He doesn’t tend to go as crazy at the library himself, taking just a book or two out each week. This week, true to type, he brought home a large picture-heavy nonfiction book about castles.
Geeks, Girls and Secret Identities by Mike Jung as a read-aloud
The Ghost Ship by Jan Burchett for reading to himself (he just finished it – I’d better check and make sure he has another book lined up!)
Jinx’s Magic by Sage Blackwood as a read-aloud
Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo on audio in the car
The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare on audio

For my love:
Even More Bad Parenting Advice by Guy Delisle
Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater (audiobook)
X-Factor: the Complete Collection by Peter David
The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang
Fables volume 20: Camelot by Bill Willingham

For me:
Cybils nominations will open up this next week, so I’m trying to get started reading books I think might be nominated – except that I just started the Magic Thief books and am having trouble putting them down. Only a book and a half until I get to the last book, which will be eligible this year!
The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove (currently reading at home)
The Runaway King by Jennifer Nielsen (currently on my ereader)
The girl who soared over Fairyland and cut the moon in two by Cathrynn M. Valente (currently reading at work)
The Magic Thief: Lost by Sarah Prineas (on audio in the car)
The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
Odin’s Ravens by Kelley Armstrong (I read the first chapter to my son when we were out without another book, and it was a big hit!)
Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

Posted in Books | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Shadow Hero

A More Diverse Universe 2014
I’m tagging in at the very end of the More Diverse Universe that Aarti over at Booklust is hosting. Looking closely at the rules, I realized that none of the books with diverse characters that I already have waiting to be reviewed counted for this, as they weren’t written by diverse authors (at least, not that I could tell!) I was very glad for the reminder to read this book, and put my name on the list for William Alexander’s Ambassador, a middle grade science fiction book that fits in with this theme as well.

The Shadow HeroThe Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang. Art by Sonny Liew. First Second Books, 2014
This is a book where the back story hooked me. Way back in the 1940s, the Golden Age of comics, a small comics company hired a Chinese-American artist to draw their new comic, The Green Turtle. Legend has it that the artist asked to have the Green Turtle be Chinese-American as well, but was denied. Sticking to the letter of their request, the artist never showed Green Turtle’s face at all, leaving his ethnicity open to the imagination.

In The Shadow Hero, Yang and Liew start the story over again, this time explicitly creating an origin story for the first Asian-American superhero, including explanations for many of the unexplained strange things in the original comic. Hank is the 19-year-old son of Chinese immigrants who run a small store in Chinatown. When his mother is saved from a thief by another superhero, she decides that being a shopkeeper is no longer good enough for her son: he must be a superhero. Every time she hears of a new superhero’s origin, whether it’s coming in contact with a toxic spill or visiting a spiritual medium, she drags Hank over to try it, all the while making him take fighting lessons from an old beau of her own. Hank doesn’t acquire any superpowers, but he does get skin that turns hot pink whenever he gets wet, thus explaining the lurid skin color the Green Turtle has in the original comics.

When Hank’s half-hearted attempts at playing superhero wind up getting his father killed, his mother gives up on the idea, while Hank decides to use his superhero persona to bring down the criminal ring that caused his father’s death. Fortunately, he now has some superpowers, courtesy of the Turtle Guardian who came from China with his father.

Liew’s art does a good job of telling the story and keeping all the characters straight with a style that ranges from comic-book realistic to touching on Asian stereotypes. It’s colored in a limited palette that recalls both the time period and the old four-color comic books.

The Shadow Hero is a solid superhero origin story, complete with adventure, failure, humor, and a touch of romance. The highs and lows of Chinese culture in the 1940s are also on display, along with the less-than-understanding reception of Chinese by other Americans. This is an impressive and highly enjoyable book – hopefully just a start to a series! Highly recommended, especially to superhero fans teen and up.

Posted in Books | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Three from Kate Milford

I’d been meaning to read Kate Milford for a while, but having a big package of her books show up from the Book Smugglers was a big incentive to actually do so!

Boneshaker Boneshaker by Kate Milford. Clarion Books, 2010.
It’s 1913 in Arcane, Missouri. Thirteen-year-old Natalie is dealing with a few challenges in her life already: the beautiful old-fashioned bicycle that she and her father refurbished and which she can’t actually ride due to the large hinge in the middle of the frame, and her mother’s mysteriously dwindling energy. Then Jake Limberleg comes to town with his traveling medicine show, complete with automata that Natalie can tell don’t have any power supply and thus shouldn’t work. She realizes, too, that the stories her mother has been telling her all her life are true, and that old Tom Guyot who hangs around downtown is still playing the beat-up guitar he defeated the devil with years ago.

This is a fascinating layered story built around old legends of the devil (I remember reading a whole book of such stories from the library as a child) and the power of the crossroads, with lots about the power of stories and the magic of science. Natalie is a compelling and likeable heroine. This is a story that edges towards the darker side of fantasy, while still including plenty of humor and staying appropriate for middle grade children – at least those up for something scary.

The Kairos MechanismThe Kairos Mechanism by Kate Milford. The Clockwork Foundry, 2012.
This is a self-published novella companion to Boneshaker. Natalie’s still adjusting to life after the events of that book, as well as dealing with boys who had been her friends suddenly treating her differently. One day, two teen boys in Civil War uniforms walk out of the corn field with the fresh corpse of a man who had been killed in that war. Natalie develops a friendship with the younger of the two boys, fourteen-year-old Ben. He tells her some of the secrets of how they got there and their uncomfortable mission. This is of course a chance for Natalie to get herself into more awkward situations! I very much enjoyed this story, and I’d really love to see the special reader-illustrated edition!

The Broken LandsThe Broken Lands by Kate Milford. Clarion Books, 2012.
Now, a prequel to the two previous books. It’s Coney Island in 1877, during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Teen-aged Sam Noctiluna is a professional card sharp, earning his living on the boardwalks of Coney Island with his card-playing skills. And then one day, an older man is sitting in his spot. Sam challenges him to regain it – and loses. But his lost spot pales in comparison to some of the other changes that are coming. He meets the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen, a girl in trousers with a long black braid, throwing blue fireworks out of her hands. Jin works for the Fata Morgana fireworks company, about to do a display at the swanky Broken Lands Hotel at the same time it’s hosting a reunion for veterans of the War Between the States, including Tom Guyot. Jin and Sam are drawn together as they run into two very unsavory creatures, Walker and Bones, who are trying to claim the city for Jack Hellcoal.

Once again, Milford gives us a multi-stranded plot that weaves all the pieces together into a harmonious and pleasing whole instead of a confusing jumble. At the same time as she’s telling an exciting fantasy story, we see the historical truth behind many of the events: the hope and danger that went into building the Brooklyn Bridge; the struggles of immigrants and minorities to be accepted in society. Jin and Sam are a little older than Natalie, and there are a couple of fairly gruesome murders, so this feels more solidly a teen book than the first two. I loved The Broken Lands, passed it and both of the other ones on to my mother, and put my name on the waitlist for Milford’s latest book, Greenglass House.

Posted in Books | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Target Practice

Target PracticeTarget Practice. Cleopatra in Space Vol 1. by Mike Maihick. Graphix, 2014.
Cleopatra, before she was queen, was a teenaged girl trying to worm her way out of formal lessons so she could spend more time perfecting her slingshot skills. One day, she found her way through a portal to the far future, where they are sure that she is going to save them. She’s not sure from what, but meanwhile, it turns out that there are boring lessons even in the far future – and detention for those who try to skip. It’s all quite confusing, but it turns out that her skill at the slingshot translates really well into laser gun skills! It doesn’t take long before she’s involved in rollicking, school-sponsored adventures.

This is a fun and fast-paced adventure with lots of appeal for elementary school kid. Is there a whole lot of logic behind Cleo travelling in time like this? Why, yes – it gives her an excellent excuse to have a talking cat as a tutor and a sphinx-shaped space glider thingy. I didn’t really notice much in the way of character development, but it is an awful lot of fun. The art bring the action to life with a sense of innocent and wide-eyed enjoyment of the adventure.

Posted in Books | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Witch’s Boy

I was hearing a lot of buzz about this book, so I was very excited to be approved for a digital ARC for it through Edelweiss.

Witch's BoyThe Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill. Algonquin Press, 2014.
Once upon a time, in a tiny kingdom by the sea, past the impassable mountains and forest, there were twin boys. One of them was good at everything and loved by all, while the other was awkward and struggled to keep up. When they were seven, they built a raft to go down the river. But they were only seven – the raft broke, and both boys were tumbled down the river. The talented, best-loved twin died, while the other one lived – just barely, as his mother, the town witch, had to use her magic to keep him alive. Now Ned goes around not even able to talk, crippled by the magic that kept him alive and the knowledge that he is the wrong boy.

And then his mother leaves to help the Queen and the Bandit King comes to steal the witch’s magic, which lives in a jar in their house. Ned may be the wrong boy, but he is the only one. He must carry the magic inside himself to save it, and the magic is opinionated and made up of many conflicting voices. Meanwhile, Aine, the Bandit King’s daughter, recognizes that her father is about to do something unforgiveable and sets out, in her practical way, to do something about it. She’s not the sentimental type, and she doesn’t really want to help Ned or to be friends with him – but she will do what she must.

All of this is told with a lyrical, timeless style and a narrator that talks to the reader once in a while. For me, this adds delightfully to the slightly old-fashioned feeling, though I know many people who don’t appreciate this at all. I really enjoyed both dreamy Ned and practical Aine, who both start and end in believable places as character while running counter to gender expectations. The magic, sentient in its own right, is really cool, while still illustration beautifully the dangers inherent in power. I also really enjoyed the adult characters, involved in the plot in their own right while leaving plenty of room for the kids to be instrumental in the story. At 384 pages, it’s longer than my son would be willing to read to himself. I read this over a more extended period than usual, just once or twice a week when I was taking my kids to activities, which leaves me a little unsure of the pacing. It felt just perfect to me every time I read it, but in retrospect it seems like what feels perfect to me might be a little slow for readers who like lots of action in their stories. It was, however, just about perfect for me, and I recommend it highly to fans of fantasy with a fairy tale feel.

Posted in Books | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Rest of the Series is Awesome

My audiobook listening seems to have been a lot of teen books of late. Here are a couple of them.

bostonjackyBoston Jacky. Bloody Jack Book 11 by L.A. Meyer. Narrated by Katherine Kellgren. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2013.
Jacky finally returns to Boston, hoping to make it a permanent home and that her beloved Jaimy will soon return to her. Unfortunately, there are enemies old and new in Boston, and a lot of people who don’t like the large numbers of Irish immigrants she’s been shipping over. She finds herself involved in the politics of rival subscription firefighting crews, some of them not above setting fires to prove the point to people who don’t subscribe to fire protection. Jaimy arrives, but decides he’s unsure of Jacky’s loyalty and hides his presence from her.

This was probably my least favorite entry in a series I’ve really enjoyed. There was too much politics, too much of Jacky’s supposed friends treating her cruelly, too much heartbreak, no real romance. Jaimy seems less and less like a person I’d want her to end up with, being so upset at her flirtations with other people when he’s gone farther himself more often, except that finding her a new romantic partner this far into the series also seems unpleasant. I listened to it all the way anyway, trying to let go of these things and enjoy the Jacky adventures that remained and Katherine Kellgren’s wonderful narration. I’m invested enough in this series that I’m sure I’ll go on to the last book in the series, Wild Rover No More, which is coming out in November. Hopefully there will be a happy ending to the series!

froiFinnikin of the Rock. Lumatere Chronicles Book 1. by Melina Marchetta. Read Jeffrey Cummings. Brilliance Audio, 2010.
This is a series that I’ve been wanting to get to for a long time. I’ve read several of Melina Marchetta’s realistic fiction books, and heard such good things about this that I couldn’t imagine not liking this fantasy series as much or more.

Ten years ago, during the Five Days of the Unspeakable, the kingdom of Lumatere was overthrown. Its royal family was slaughtered and most of the population driven out and kept out by a magical barrier while an imposter king took over inside.

Finnikin is the son of the former chief of the king’s guard, raised together with Prince Balthazar and Balthazar’s cousin Lucian, while the annoying younger princess tagged along. Shortly before the takeover, Finnikin and Lucian had vowed on their own blood to protect the royal family at all costs. Now, his stepmother dead and his father imprisoned, Finnikin has been trained by his father’s friend Sir Topher to act as a leader among the now oppressed exiles of Lumatere. When he receives a message from a young novice that hints that Balthazar might still be alive after all, he and Sir Topher travel to meet the novice immediately. But the novice Evanjalin is not what he’d been expecting. The two are constantly at loggerheads, and she is insistent that he stop working to improve the treatment of the exiles and instead work to retake Lumatere.

It took me a while to warm up to this book. Finnikin is one of those arrogant teen boys that teen boys seem to love and who just irritate me. Evanjalin is slightly better, but they still have that kind of relationship where they will only hurt each other, both physically and verbally, without being able to tell the other person they care about the other. I was feeling this way even though the world building and the basic plot were good. The reader, while perfectly competent, gave a lot of the characters annoying nasal voices which were hard to listen to. Halfway through the characters started to treat each other somewhat better and I got more invested in the story. I finished the story liking it quite well – and everyone seems to think that the second book, Froi of the Exiles is much better. I need to read that one next for sure, but this is still a series I’ll keep in mind for our teen epic fantasy fans, who likely will not be bothered by the same things I was.

Posted in Books | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Cybils 2014!

It’s official! I’m a Round 1 Judge on the Cybils Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Panel! Follow the link through to see everyone else who’s involved- I am so very excited to be working with so many wonderful bloggers, from those who are already blogging friends to those who will be soon! Cybils-Logo-2014-Rnd1

Posted in Blog | Tagged | 4 Comments

The Seat of Magic

I am still recovering from our large Talk Like a Pirate Day celebration at the library on Saturday – but since official Talk Like a Pirate Day isn’t until the 19th, you still have time to celebrate if you haven’t already!

The Golden CityThe Seat of Magic: A Novel of the Golden City by J. Kathleen Cheney. Penguin, 2014.
This is the sequel to The Golden City, which I read earlier this year and very much enjoyed. As the story opens, our hero Duilio is distressed over the failure of Oriana Paredes to return to the Golden City after going back to her home islands. His magical senses are telling him that something is wrong, but he doesn’t want to push their fragile relationship by looking for her too soon. In fact, she is in great danger, but happily soon returns to her usual state of refusing to be ordered around.

Things are bad in a general sense as well, as numbers of young women are going missing. Many of them are women of supernatural origin – otter girls, selkies, and sereia – found brutally murdered with parts missing. Oriana and Duilio discover the existence of an ancient text, The Seat of Magic, banned for its talk of dissecting magical creatures to discover just which pieces are magical. Duilio and Oriana together investigate the murders, which fall outside of regular police responsibilities because magical creatures are still banned from the Golden City.

There’s also the ongoing, very slow burn romance between Duilio and Oriana. While they know they’re attracted to each other, it’s very difficult to navigate the extreme differences in their class and culture – Duilio was raised in a patriarchal society, while the sereia society is strongly matriarchal. I felt that Cheney did a good job of addressing these real issues while still making the romance one I could believe in.

The Seat of Magic is a nice genre-blending book, good for fans of fantasy, mystery or historical fiction with a nice bit of romance as well. The mystery aspect was little more gruesome than I like personally – but I know that I have a low tolerance for that sort of thing, and regular mystery readers would probably not have these issues. I’d say this one is for adults and older teens, and highly recommended for those to whom this particular blend sounds appealing.

Posted in Books | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment