I’ve mentioned before that Pratchett is a reliable author whose prolific works I don’t try to keep up with. I just know that if there’s a gap in my listening (or, much less often, reading) schedule, there will be a Terry Pratchett book to fill it enjoyably. Such was the situation when I checked out Dodger. Set in our own London in the time of Dickens, it loosely plays off of Dickens himself and some of his characters in a dangerous mystery that crosses between the upper classes and the very lowest of the low.

DodgerDodger by Terry Pratchett. Read by Stephen Briggs. Dreamscape Media, 2012.
Our hero is Dodger, a talented young tosher, whose explores the sewers for lost treasures for a living. He’s been trained by the best, and lives with and helps provide for one Solomon Cohen, who in turn does his best to keep Dodger as honest as possible. As the story opens, Dodger bursts out of the sewers in the middle of a rain storm just in time to save a beautiful blond girl from being beaten to death by two thugs. Dickens and a doctor friend also come on the scene and take the girl to the doctor’s house to recover. But even when she returns to consciousness (not having been saved from a bad beating), she refuses to say who she is. Only to Dodger does she confess that it’s because her husband allowed the beating in the first place. Captivated by her beauty, Dodger agrees to find out who her attackers were and how to get her away from her enemies for good.

This is an exciting exploration of London’s Dark Underbelly. We learn secrets of the tosher’s trade and legends of the Lady of the Sewers, protectress of those who work there. We are introduced to Historical Figures including a certain notorious barber on Fleet Street and Mr. Benjamin Disraeli. All of this immersion in the time and place was heightened by listening to the audiobook, as Stephen Briggs does an admirable job with representing the diverse cast of characters. The book fell a little flat for me in the romance department – Simplicity (as they decide to call the mysterious girl) is never really developed much as a character. We know enough to know that she has Depth and Fortitude, but Dodger’s commitment to her is based on a combination of instant attraction and horror that anyone would treat a woman so. There’s nothing wrong with that as a starting point, and also nothing wrong with (maybe) with the character admitting they will have to get to know each other when things have settled down, but I would have liked to see the relationship build more in the book. Still, Dodger is a likeable character, and there is plenty both in action and atmosphere to keep things going. Recommended for fans of gritty Victorian fiction teen and up.

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Books I Want To Read But Don’t Own Yet for Top 10 Tuesdays

Once again, the lovely folks over at The Broke and Bookish have come up with a list idea that I couldn’t resist.
Top Ten Tuesday

Since the vast majority of books that I read are library books, the concept of not reading a book because I don’t personally own it is rather foreign to me. Following is a list of books that neither I nor my library owns. It would probably be easier for me to do a list of Top 10 books I read from the library and still wish I owned.

Three books that are or were hard to come by:

Beatrice_Cover_FrontThe Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassi Barahal by Kate Elliott. Illustrated by Julie Dillon. This is a very small print run book with official art, based on Elliott’s Spirit Walker trilogy, which I loved. Such a small print run that it looks like it’s out of print now, and I really don’t think an ebook copy of an art book would be quite the same. Available only from Crab Tank

houseofsandHouse of Sand and Secrets by Cat Hellisen.
When I read When the Sea Is Rising Red last year, I thought it was excellent, but this was only available as an ebook, and I usually want to be able to loan out books to friends if I’m going to take the extra step of personal ownership. But hooray, this has since come out in paperback!

facelikeglassA Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge.
Lots of my blogger friends love this, but the print version is only readily available in the UK.

Three books I can get in print no problem, but want on audio:
froiFroi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta.

magicthiefThe Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas.

prodigyProdigy by Marie Lu.

And (hoping it’s not cheating too badly), four books I really want to read that aren’t yet published.

bluelilyBlue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater.

thursdayswiththecrownThursdays with the Crown by Jessica Day George.

Jinx’s Fire by Sage Blackwood.

eyeofzoltarThe Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde.

And one bonus… hopefully in the works Pegasus II by Robin McKinley.
I know there are lots more that are slipping my mind right now… but as I’m limited to ten anyway, this will have to do for now.

What about you?

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Courting Magic

Most often, if I want a book that the library doesn’t have, I’ll either interloan it from another library or ask one of my colleagues to get it for me. Here was a book that I had to buy for myself, because it’s only available as an ebook. (I got it from Smashwords)

Courting MagicCourting Magic by Stephanie Burgis. Five Fathoms Press, 2014.
This novella takes place five years after Kat’s last adventure in Stolen Magic. Having ensured that all of her older siblings found their perfect partners, in spite of a complete lack of cooperation on their parts, it’s now her turn to enter society. Kat is less than enthusiastic about an official society debut, but she’s learned a lot in the past five years – maybe more about socially acceptable ways of getting what she wants than giving up entirely. In any case, she loves her sisters, and they have their hearts set on a debut. In the middle of a dress fitting, though, she’s called away to the Hall of the Guardians. Someone has been robbing people using magic to impersonate high society people. Kat and three young gentlemen posing as her suitors are to track him down, as the kinds of events where he or she would be hunting are the same kind appropriate for Kat to be attending. Kat’s magical control has improved a lot in the last five years, but she doesn’t really have any practice at romance – nothing like what she’ll need when she starts falling for someone completely inappropriate.

My only real complaint about this is that it was too short, and there is no more. Really, though, Burgis crams a lot of wonderful into a very short number of pages without things feeling rushed. Kat is a delight as always, headstrong as ever even if she can show more restraint. It’s wonderful to see Kat’s relationship with her sisters and their partners (brother and sister-in-law aren’t present) – Brandy at Random Musings of a Bibliophile got it just right saying that the story shows how you can grow up but siblings don’t necessarily notice or believe it. They both know her better than anyone else and yet not as well as people who’ve only known her recently. And the romance – well, I don’t want to spoil things, but I’m happy to see Kat set up with someone so perfect for her, and the relationship feels remarkably well-developed for taking place over such a short period of time, both in pages and book-time. (There’s also nothing to make it inappropriate for young fans of the original series.) I’m really, really hoping for more in this world!

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August State of the Book Basket

It’s almost the end of summer – this week is the big back-to-school picnic at the lake, where the children find out what teacher they’ll have next year. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that my daughter gets the same K/1 teacher my son had (though I’ve heard only good things about the other teachers), because she is wonderful and because my daughter has been visiting her class every day she was in the school for four years, including two years when my son wasn’t in the class.

And what are we reading? Continue reading

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Rose and the Lost Princess

I really enjoyed reading Rose, one of the Cybils finalists this year, and I was so happy when I won this copy of the sequel from Liviana at .

Rose and the Lost PrincessRose and the Lost Princess by Holly Webb. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2014.
When Rose was taken on as an apprentice to Mr. Fountain, the king’s chief magician, while keeping her useful and practical job as one of his housemaids, it seemed like the perfect solution. She’d thought, too, that having caught a wicked magician by magic would have made people in general more comfortable around magic. But the reality turns out to be much different. She’s exhausted from trying to do two jobs at once, and overall feelings towards magicians are downright hostile – even from her former friends on Mr. Fountain’s staff. When snow comes and stays in October, she feels sure there must be a magical cause, but not even Mr. Fountain can figure out how anyone could make it happen. Then Princess Jane, beloved of the military despite her three older sisters, is threatened. Rose is assigned to be her undercover guard in the palace – but will even that be enough? Rose will have to get a lot more comfortable with her powers very quickly to stop the kingdom from falling into complete chaos!!!!

Often magic feels the very opposite of practical and down-to-earth, which is maybe partly why Rose, who is all three of those things, is such a delightful character. Rose works to make friends on all levels of society, while disrupting devious and dastardly plots. The kingdom feels very British, but the enemy is the nearby kingdom of Talish, which I found a little distracting – is it alternate history or a completely new fantasy world? Even though the cover is pink and swirly, I’m sure my own boy at least would find this to be action-focused enough to make an enjoyable book, while girls and adult fans of children’s fantasy will eat it up with no difficulty at all. This continues to be a delightful series, and I’m very much looking forward to Rose and the Magician’s Mask coming out in September.

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Bud, Not Buddy and The Mighty Miss Malone

Before I get on to books, I wanted to let all of my blogging friends not already connected with the Cybils know that Cybils season is coming up. If you’re interested in being a Cybils panelist, you can apply now through the end of August! I am trying very hard not to hold my breath until the judges are actually announced. (See my list of bookish goals.)

Towards the end of the school year, we got an email from the 4/5 literature teacher, letting us know that Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry was on the reading list for next year (that would be the one just about to start now), and that any parents who objected should let her know.

I told her that Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is a great book and brought her a small stack of new books on similar topics. (Revolution by Deborah Wiles, The Girl from the Tar Paper School by Teri Kanefield, and A Dance like Starlight by Kristy Dempsey.) I also decided that it was time for the boy and me to listen to some in a similar vein. I’d read and loved Bud, Not Buddy in library school (dating myself here… it was very new!) but hadn’t yet gotten around to The Mighty Miss Malone, though it was on my pile for the 48 Hour Reading Challenge.

Bud Not BuddyBud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. Read by James Avery. Random House Listening Library, 2000.
The Great Depression is especially hard on orphans in Flint, Michigan. Bud Caldwell has been bounced around a lot since his mother passed when he was six. The orphanage keeps trying to find foster homes for him, and the homes keep sending him back. When his most recent foster home turns out to be even more cruel than he’d feared, Bud decides to go on the lam. He and his orphanage friend hope to catch the train out west to find work. But while Bud meets a sweet girl, Deza Malone, in the cardboard Hooverville outside of Flint, he doesn’t catch the train. Instead, he decides to walk across the state to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he hopes to find the man he thinks is his father – Herman E. Calloway, the leader of the band The Dusky Devastators of the Depression!!!!! (I really love that name!) On the way, there’s attempted car theft, a small dose of early union organizing, lots of jazz, and things not going according plan.

There are times when I feel like the Newbery committee may have missed the mark, and times when I feel they’re spot-on. This is one of the latter. A book about the Depression certainly has a lot of potential to be depressing, but Bud is anything but. He’s full of humor and pluck and has his entertaining list of rules for having a funner life and being a better liar. James Avery’s rich voice is the perfect accompaniment for the story. My son and I both enjoyed, and he was all about going straight on to the next book.

The Mighty Miss MaloneThe Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis. Read by Bahni Turpin. Random House Listening Library, 2012.
In Bud, Not Buddy, we met Deza Malone, who was with her mother and brother trying to find her father. In this more recent book, we hear the story of how the family came to be separated. Things are tough in general in Gary, Indiana – Mr. Malone can’t find work, and they don’t have money to get Deza’s cavities filled or to figure out why her older brother Jimmie has stopped growing. But Deza is excelling at her all-black school, with a best friend and a very supportive teacher. After Joe Louis is defeated by the German Max Schmelling, the whole town falls into a depression. Her father is in a boating accident that kills his best friends, and decides that he must leave to find work in his hometown of Flint, Michigan. Months later, with no word from him, Mrs. Malone decides that they need to find Mr. Malone, and they set out with just what they can carry. But there’s no sign of Mr. Malone in Flint, either, which is how they end up in Flint’s Hooverville. Can Deza keep the rest of her family together until they can get back on the path to wonderful?

From the start, it’s clear that much-loved Deza with her long not-quite-understood vocabulary words is a very different character from Bud, left on his own for so many years. She’s brought beautifully to life by Bahni Turpin, who reads the whole varied cast of characters very convincingly. Even though Deza isn’t an orphan and there are still plenty of funny moment, I found The Mighty Miss Malone a harder book to read. There are just so many injustices that burn in the belly, from the Malones being evicted even though the rent is paid ahead, to Deza’s white teachers in Flint giving her Cs on her report card in spite of getting As on all her tests. The story of her father’s boating accident was disturbing and had my son asking if such a thing would really happen. I really like the family dynamic, where the adults always seemed like loving, involved parents, but there was still room for the kids to make serious contributions. Deza finds ways to hold on and works to bring her family together again even when her mother or brother temporarily gives up hope, proving that she is the Mighty Miss Malone. Curtis’s afterword explains more about the Schmelling/Louis fights and highlights the continued income gaps between whites and minorities in the U.S.

Both of these books hook readers with a combination of great characters and excitement, giving an inside view of life for those hardest hit by the Depression of the 1930s along the way. They’re wonderful, entertaining stories in their own right and recommended for everyone middle grade and up.

What are your favorite books for exploring racial injustice and/or the Great Depression?

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Traitors’ Gate

I’ve talked before about the trouble I’ve had finishing series, especially since I became a librarian and book blogger. There are just so many series to try! This book is the last in the series I was feeling most guilty about not finishing, since Kate was kind enough to comment that the last book wasn’t as difficult as the second. It still took over a year to get to it both because the series is heavy and because I knew I’d have to set aside two to three weeks to get through it.

Traitors' GateTraitors’ Gate. Crossroads Trilogy Book 3. by Kate Elliott. Tor, 2009.
This is the third book in the trilogy and therefore, spoilers for the first book are inevitable. In the first book, Spirit Gate the land of the Hundred was regulated between the reeves riding the giant eagles who chose them and the temples of the various gods. Everything used to be overseen by the Guardians, but no one has seen the Guardians in generations. Now they have been sighted again – but instead of bringing increased order, they are laying waste to the kingdom, burning, raping, pillaging, and overturning the temples of the gods. Our large cast of characters from inside and outside the kingdom attempts to bring order to the situation, all for their own reasons and with slightly different end goals. In the second book, <em>Shadow Gate</em>  (very broadly summarizing), there were a few victories and a large number of defeats. Now in the third book, the tide finally seems to be turning in our allies’ favor – but this also serves to highlight the differences in their approaches and the need for a consolidated approach.

Here are just a few of the many things going on: Keshad, the slave who bought himself and his sister out of slavery, travels with Eliar of the minority Ri Amarah, to neighboring Sirniaken to spy for Captain Anji, who needs the Sirniakens to acknowledge his right to a peaceful life in the Hundred. Things do not go as planned. Meanwhile, Keshad’s sister Zubaidit, a trained assassin of the Merciless One, is undercover in the evil Star of Life army, where we meet our first relatively honest Star of Life character, Captain Arras. Captain Anji’s wife Mai (probably my favorite character) continues her work trying to integrate the Qin men into the life of the Hundred. Her life now is woven through with the needs of her nursing baby – a rare and beautiful depiction of this stage of motherhood in a working mother’s life. Mai is shaken to her core by the arrival of her mother-in-law, trained to ruthlessness in the Sirniaken court. We are introduced to some of the non-human intelligent beings of the Hundred: wildlings, firelings, and demons.

Larger themes look at the big picture: if some of the Guardians are corrupt, does that mean they should all be done away with? Can there be a true religion, and what does it mean for its future if religion can be corrupted and used for evil? We also look at the impact of the Qin on the culture of the Hundred, bringing order and peace on the one hand, but also military rule, much more limited roles for women, and intolerance for homosexuality. Overall, this final entry in the series, while not what you’d call easy, gentle reading, is much less violent than the first two. (Warning: still a couple of babies killed in front of us.) There’s so much going on that you really need to read the other two first, but this is more of plus for the fans of deep, complex fantasy that the series is aimed at. The ending is complicated, heartbreaking with a little sweet, but ultimately hopeful. Ultimately, the investment in time and emotional energy that reading the Crossroads Trilogy requires is well worth it.

[edited to include the name of the second book in the series 8/19/14]

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Sparrow Hill Road

Apologies for the quiet, friends – I am just back from a wonderful internet-free vacation. This was not the year where I planned posts ahead to fill my absence – so I’ll just start trying to catch up where I left off.

I very much enjoyed Seanan McGuire’s Velveteen Vs. books, so when I heard from the Book Smugglers that she had a new book out, and further saw that it was on the shelf at the library, I took it right home.

Sparrow Hill RoadSparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire. DAW books, 2014.
This is a series of ghost stories building on the afterlife and legend of Rose Marshall, the Phantom Prom Date, hitchhiking the roads since 1952.

Rose was born on the wrong side of the tracks in tiny Buckley Township, Michigan, and fell as hard for handsome Gary as a sixteen-year-old could. But she was run down on her way to prom by the handsome but evil Bobby Cross, who fuels his immortality with the souls of those he crashes. Now Rose is sweet sixteen forever, using borrowed coats to stay warm and borrow flesh for a night. At the same time, she smells what kind of accidents are coming up and tries to prevent them if she can and guide the souls of the lost in the right direction otherwise. Rose is our guide to the different kinds of supernatural beings that haunt the roads – hitchhikers, homecomers, crossroads ghosts and route witches, as well as the occasional friendly bean sidhe. We explore the magic of well-travelled roads and the sacredness of roadside diners through stories that range from scary to sweet with a good dose of spookiness throughout.

Ghost stories are not really my favorite, and I wouldn’t have read this at all if I hadn’t enjoyed McGuire’s other works so much. Many of the stories worked beautifully for me, and I really enjoyed the magic around roads, diners, and risky bargains made at crossroads at midnight. (“Of course diners are magic!” said my love, when I told him about it.) Some of the stories were a little too gruesome for me, and since I never knew what the next story was going to be like, I stopped reading it at bedtime. Rose herself is a fine character, one who’s had to make peace with her new afterlife and formed a new identity for herself apart from the good, sweet girl she used to be. (There are fairly frequent but mostly inexplicit mentions of sex.) This is another one that was originally published as a series of short stories, and this shows in the storytelling, even as there is an arc that gradually emerges from the seemingly unconnected and decidedly nonlinear stories. I wasn’t sure that the ending quite lined up with where things had been reading, but it was still satisfying overall. I’d recommend it heartily to readers who like ghosts and books tinged with an edge of horror.

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American Born Chinese

Gene Luen Yang is a well-known graphic novel author. I can reel off a list of five or six books and series he’s written, but until now, hadn’t actually read any of them. I decided to remedy this problem starting with this Printz award-winning book, now included in the reading list of just about any graphic novel course you’d care to take.

American Born ChineseAmerican Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. First Second, 2006.
American Born Chinese starts off telling three distinct stories. In one, we hear the mythic adventures of the Chinese trickster god, the Monkey King. In another, two Chinese boys, both rejected by the white kids at their school, rather reluctantly make friends, bonding over their shared Asian identity and their love of transformer-style toys. At one point, waiting for his mother at a traditional Chinese store, Jin Wang shows the elderly proprietress his transformer. She tells him, “It’s easy to become anything you wish… so long as you’re willing to forfeit your soul.” In the third story, a blond boy named Danny is mortified when his cousin Chin-Kee comes to visit, insisting on going to high school with him and playing out every horrid Asian stereotype out there, quickly ruining any chances Danny has of social success.

So much I knew going in. And I knew that the stories eventually all tie together. You have to stick in until then, because frankly, the individual stories up until then aren’t all that interesting. (Me being me, I liked the stories of the Monkey King best.) After they come together, they are brilliant. It’s a look at the painful reality of prejudice and the costs on either side of trying to fit in or retain the old culture. One of the things that stuck out the most is how the kids at the schools depicted, from elementary up through high school, are never accepting of the minority kids. I asked my love to read this, because he, unlike me, has experienced being the only Asian kid in school. Happily, it sounds like his experience was much less harsh than those of the characters in the book – and maybe my status as a high school reject owing to painful introversion and nerdiness was more similar to that of the characters in the book. We both still thought it an excellent book, deserving of the awards it’s received.

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12 Spec Fic Books for Teen Boys Starring Girls

Way back in November, I wrote a list of my top ten fantasy books for middle grade boys starring girls. It’s taken me a while to put this companion list together – but here are a dozen favorite fantasy and science fiction books for teen boys with girls in the lead. Because sometimes we need reminding that a good story is a good story no matter the gender of the protagonist. As my son is too young for most of these yet, I’ve tested them instead on my younger brother (when he was still a teen), as well as on my love. I’d love to hear your favorites, as well!!

Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books for Teen Boys Starring Girls
Coldest Girl in ColdtownThe Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black – A girl wakes up the morning after a party only to find that the rest of her high school classmate have been slaughtered by vampires in a book where the romance and the ickiness of vampires meet head on. I read this in print, while my love enjoyed the audiobook.

daughterofsmokeDaughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor – 17-year-old Karou finds herself in the middle of a battle between angels and demons, where the lines of good and evil are nowhere near as clearly drawn as you might think. The first book in the series has more of a romantic angle, while the second (I’ve heard) is even more a war story.

girloffireGirl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson – Overweight and insecure Princess Elisa is sent to marry a king – who soon dies, leaving her not officially queen of a strange country. There’s survival in both desert and jungle and a whole lot of political intrigue in this impressive series.

gracelingGraceling by Kristin Cashore – In a world where having eyes of two different colors means that you have some sort of superpower, Katsa is Graced with the ability to kill. She’s been used by her uncle as an assassin since childhood, but now tries to strike out against him. This one both my love and I read, and gave to his brother.

heroandthecrownThe Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley – Okay, our heroine Aerin is a princess, but one who avoids balls with a passion in favor of dragon hunting, eventually tangling with characters from her country’s mythic past. I’ve read this aloud to both my brother and my love.

howlsmovingHowl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones – Sophie, oldest of three siblings, is convinced she’ll never amount to much. Then she gets turned into an old lady and falls in with the aggravating Wizard Howl and his moving castle.

huntressHuntress by Malinda Lo – Two young women accompany the prince on a perilous journey through dying lands troubled by monsters on the way to meet the Queen of the Xi, who may or may not be disposed to be friendly.

leviathanLeviathan by Scott Westerfeld – A young woman disguises herself as a man in order to join the British Air Services, while young Prince Alek in Austrio-Hungary learns that his parents have just been assassinated. This is a riveting steampunk World War I alternate history – and though we keep it in teen here, my son is addicted to this series.

namingThe Naming by Alison Croggon – 16-year-old Maeryd escapes from slavery and learns to use the magic of the Bards in this fantasy with powerful echoes of Tolkien by Australian poet Croggon.

peaceweaverPeaceweaver by Rebecca Barnhouse – A story set around the legend of Beowulf, as Hild deals with dragons and murderers on the way to her mission as Peaceweaver, tasked with making peace between two warring tribes. This is half of a duology; the hero of The Coming of the Dragon is male.

sabrielSabriel by Garth Nix – Necromancy! And bonus – the audiobook is read by Tim Curry! And a new book in the series coming out this fall! We’ve successfully marketed this series to Picky Teen Readers of our acquaintance.

starcrossedStarcrossed by Elizabeth Bunce – A puzzle mystery with lives at stake, mostly set in a snowbound castle and starring an undercover thief.

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