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This is entirely [profile] bookelfe's fault, because a little while ago she did a post on the terrifying profusion of YA high school AU versions of things that have been coming out lately. Things like So Shelley, which is Byron, Keats, and Shelley committing hijinks in a U.S. high school, or Falling for Hamlet, which is exactly what you think it is.

And the one on her list that seemed most cracktastic to me was Another Pan, in which Peter Pan is a hot supernatural gang leader at a ritzy Manhattan private school who is seducing Wendy and searching for-- I am not making this up-- the lost Egyptian secrets to immortality.

It is the sequel to Another Faust (which would be why the school is called the Marlowe School).

So, laughing hysterically the whole way, I went to the library, discovered that the book was sitting right there, checked it out, brought it back, and spent a few days cackling every time I looked at it. Today I read it, and the most surprising thing happened.

You guys-- I can't believe I'm saying this; something may have gone wrong with the karmic balance of the universe and/or me-- people, this is a completely reasonable and fairly proficient YA fantasy novel. It reminded me highly of Rick Riordan. It also-- I can't believe I'm saying this either-- although it is nowhere near as good-- it reminded me vaguely of Frances Hardinge.

It isn't even a paranormal romance. Because while there is a romance, it is completely and entirely not the point of the plot. It's like fourth or fifth down on the list of subplots.

The deal is that Wendy Darling and her younger brother John are faculty brats at a school full of rich kids, and their father is an Egyptologist who can't get tenure anywhere because he keeps babbling about unorthodox and poorly attested mythology, which is why he's teaching high school. But because he is personally liked by his old professors, and because the school and its students have more money than God, and because no one cares about the things he thinks are critically important to his research, the British Museum sends over some artifacts (not considered terribly valuable) so the school can have a little exhibition and he can teach an archaeology class. Among the things they send is a copy of something called The Book of Gates, which claims to be a text telling you how to find five mummies of people who died with horrible unresolved grudges. If you mix the dust of all the mummies together, you become immortal, but they're all in a terrible netherworld ruled by a powerful death goddess and guarded by horrible beasts.

Peter turns up on the mummy-hunt and figures the Darling kids are his door in to exhibit access, especially since John is desperately trying to become a social success in his first year of Terribly Rich High School, and Wendy thinks Peter's hot.

The thing that makes this book actually work is simple. Kindly take a moment to imagine what a Peter Pan would be like who knows, with absolute, bone-deep solidity, that if he accomplishes this one thing, he will be eternally himself, with the network of Lost Boys he's built up, with everything he is intact forever.

And if he does not do this one thing, he will grow old, and become human, and die.

... pretty creepy, huh? Yeah. He is. And the book takes it for all it is worth. He has all the heartlessness and charm of Barrie's original, all the ruthlessness, all the smarts, all the inability to remember or care about anything that doesn't affect him and his interests directly.

But the alternative to working with him is the triumph of a massively grudge-holding goddess of death who's going to take out anything around The Book of Gates and make the school property contiguous with Hell. Not an easy decision. (And you see why I said it isn't a romance.)

This is not a spectacularly good book. The prose is only solid, and there are maybe a few too many threads, and one too many subsidiary villains, and I am not sure there should have been any romance involved at all. Also there is some plot-coupon-type racing around to find mummy parts, and it's odd how Wendy keeps sitting down and sussing out in one session riddles Peter's had a lot of brilliant people working on for decades. But the creepy is creepy, the portrait of John as a kid who desperately wants to be some kind of cool and isn't making it is nuanced, the adults are as three-dimensional as the teenagers, and some things about the ending are nicely ambiguous. Given that this should by all rights have been a review I spent pointing and laughing, I am really very pleasantly surprised.

I actually unironically want to read Another Faust now. On the title page of this one it says 'Book Two of Another Series', and I laughed, and I know I was meant to and I appreciate the joke. If Daniel and Dina Nayeri, who are apparently that oddest of writing combinations, a brother-sister collaboration, want to keep this sort of thing going indefinitely, they can for all of me.
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Read August 9th.

Extremely fun YA centered around food and cooking. Elaine is a senior in high school whose mother is chef and part-owner of a nice-sounding fusion restaurant, and Elaine's been cooking since she can remember. She knows the kitchen is home, and she knows she wants to spend the rest of her life in it-- in fact, she would like her own cooking show. As she puts it, "Do you know how many African-American female celebrity chefs there aren't?" But her mother wants her to keep her options open about liberal arts colleges, and do things besides cooking absolutely all the time, and her best friend from when they were younger (and on whom she has a crush) is going through a rough patch with his parents, and it all collides.

There are many lovely things about this book. One of my favorites is the way that it is nuanced, the way that Elaine is being a teenager and knowing that her mother doesn't understand her, and in some ways her mother doesn't. But there're also bits like the thing where her mother's telling her, maybe pick up a business degree too? and Elaine doesn't notice, but in the background we can see her mother struggling with the bills and publicity and the whole business end of being a chef. Elaine thinks it's an attempt to sidetrack her, but it's an attempt to help her go forward. Except that it never occurs to her mother to sit down and say to her look, you will need business skills in the life you have chosen and should consider all angles, which means it is, in fact, her mother deciding what's best for her, which is what Elaine does not like. You see. Nicely complicated.

And the kitchen stuff is right. It's an unusually polite kitchen, but there are some like that out there-- I've heard that nobody uses language in the kitchen at Nobu that would shock anybody's grandmother. The logistics are right. The thing where Elaine gets yelled at viciously in a way that's never happened before during a rush and it hurts and she doesn't notice that it's because she's getting treated exactly like staff and not like a teenage intern/owner's daughter was perfect.

There are recipes, too, and they are that rarity that one basically doesn't see in cookbooks, or fiction, for that matter: recipes in restaurant format. They could have been torn out of the book of the place I worked-- there are places things are crossed out and rewritten just to make the print more clear, because someone's gonna have to consult it on the fly. There are notes on the process of coming up with the dish, notes about what could be changed, notes about directions to experiment and whether the recipe-writer has tried them, notes about possible menu accompaniments, all in the same legible, carefully responsible, someone-not-me-has-to-make-this-dish-recognizably-in-ten-years house-standardized manner. I haven't even tried any of them and I can tell you: these are good recipes. Whether or not one might happen to like the food. (I suspect I would. Carrot macaroons!)

The Great Peril of this sort of YA novel has been summarized neatly by [personal profile] buymeaclue in the review in which she stated about some book or other, "Too much boyfriend, not enough roller derby". There is boyfriend in this book. I do not think there is too much of him. I will freely admit that I would prefer it if there were none at all and it were an entirely kitchen-centered slice-of-life day-to-day teen cooking book, but that is me, and Elaine does, in fact, have to learn some things about people and the ways that they behave outside kitchens and the ways that food does and does not serve as a social aide under different circumstances. Her reaction to everything is to cook. One's reaction to some things should be, for instance, to talk to people about them. This is a fair point. It's just, I'm a person who stress-bakes myself. My reaction to the stresses Elaine has in this book can be summarized as 'clafoutis', which is, you know, worse than muffins but not as bad as brioche. (My reaction to the last couple of months of my own life is 'I MUST MAKE CHINESE DUMPLINGS FOR EVERYONE I CAN CRAM INTO THE ROOM FOR MY BIRTHDAY. SIX KINDS OF THEM. TRY TO STOP ME.') So when the guy was stressing Elaine and she wanted him to go away or stay put or just make sense so she could bake, I was right there with that.

In short, this is a very good book, and it gets a lot of complex things right without sacrificing readability. And, thank you, O marketing department, one reason I picked it up was that I thought 'Huh. Nice-looking teenage black girl on book cover with foodie title, which cover turns out to correctly represent the protagonist. When was the last time I saw that?' So good job there.
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Read August 2nd.

When I was growing up, my father had a large collection of Golden Age science fiction and fantasy, starting circa E.E. Smith and cutting off, very short, at Dangerous Visions, which was where he decided the field had gotten too post-modern and depressing for him. (Not for me.) So we had in the house Heinlein-Asimov-Clarke-Anderson-etc., and when I got to the point in life where I started looking for lists of Writers In This Genre I Should Know About, we had all of them-- before 1970.

What it took me longer to learn was that my father is not a completist. When you've had the work of an author sitting on shelves in your house for eighteen years, and there are a whole bunch of books by said author on those shelves to boot, it does not, necessarily, occur to you that maybe you should go the library and make sure there isn't more.

So I have some weird holes. And despite having been handed Have Space Suit, Will Travel at six, I had never read this particular Heinlein juvenile.

It's not bad. It feels scraped to the bone, edited to the point where some of what should be actual story is elided, but I think this is because of the limits of YA publishing at the time.

The protagonist is attending school on Earth when a war seems likely to break out between Earth and Venus (which has a Terran colony, but is also the home of its own intelligent species). He has dual citizenship, having been born in a spaceship near the Moon, and his parents are on Mars, so they send for him to get him out of the combat zone. Unfortunately, the fighting blocks all transport to Mars, the government of Earth is very interested in something his parents wanted him to bring them, and he winds up a hundred million miles out of his way washing dishes in a Chinese restaurant near the Venerian pole.

The parts of this story that are most interesting to me are the ones you can't get into a juvenile in the fifties: the mode-switch between frightened and displaced refugee kid to a man with a job and a livelihood is covered reasonably well, but he doesn't fall as far as he would, and bounces a lot more quickly than most people might on discovering that they're on the wrong planet and the currency all their funds are in is illegal. And the further mode-switch between man with a job and a livelihood to guerilla soldier in a nasty jungle war is really, really elided, because the narrative is not going to tell you what he did to gain his combat reflexes. This is a book that would be a lot different if it had been written in the last few years.

But it does have things I like in it, specifically the Venerian dragons, who are wonderful, and there isn't enough of them; and the way it becomes slowly obvious to the protagonist that war is real and he is in it; and the way that there are few women, but they are as competent or more than the men, and it's his mother who's the more important scientist/spy.

This feels like a bridge between the juvenilia and the later stuff, to me, and has the flaws I'd expect of that, but I'm glad to have read it, because it fills a hole in Heinlein's work I'd theorized might be have something in it but not been certain about. And it brings back the nostalgia of being very small and reading all these books for the first time, the same now, but different.
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Links to the reviews I posted during the recent LJ outage. I am not reposting, but anonymous and open ID commenting are open over there (though I would appreciate some kind of name signed to anonymous comments so as to be able to maintain continuity of conversation).

Day 325: Trilogy, H.D.. Poetry, unfairly overlooked lesbian author.

Day 326: Paying For It, Chester Brown. Graphic novel. Interesting but highly problematic memoir about prostitution from the perspective of a customer.

Day 327: Faerie Winter, Janni Lee Simner. Good YA fantasy by a friend of mine.

Day 328: The Invention of Morel, Adolfo Bioy Casares. Unfairly obscure Argentinian science fiction indirectly responsible for the movie Last Year at Marienbad.

Day 329: Earth X, Alex Ross and Jim Krueger. Graphic novel. Dark Marvel Comics AU with a very interesting take on Captain America.

Day 330: Dragonbreath: No Such Thing As Ghosts, Ursula Vernon. Fifth in Vernon's fun series of illustrated kids' books; not a strong entry.

And the two since made it through crossposting.
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Review of the book I read on Friday, July 22nd. Obligatory disclaimer: author is a friend.

This sequel to Bones of Faerie continues that novel's taut writing, interestingly post-apocalyptic worldbuilding, and complicated character dynamics. The war between Faerie and the human world came very close to destroying both: plants are hostile, spring continued without the season changing for decades, and humans eke out a precarious existence battling their own food sources. Children have started to be born with magic. In Liza's village, for many years, that was grounds for exposure on the hillside, but, partly due to Liza's efforts, things are beginning to change. Liza's own magic involves summoning, calling, and being able to tell things what to do.

Because of Liza, winter has come for the first time in her lifetime. The worrisome thing is that it doesn't seem to want to leave again-- how long is winter supposed to last, anyway? And although some of the Fae have begun to view humans as sentient, including the one who has become Liza's teacher, not all of the great Fae think the war is even over. One in particular sees winter as a sign that both worlds are, inevitably, dying...

I enjoy the characters in this; it makes a fine followup to the first. I found the dynamic between Liza and her shapeshifter boyfriend Matthew somewhat too similar to the dynamic between the protagonist and her shapeshifter boyfriend in Simner's earlier Thief Eyes, but hey, I like shapechangers as much as the next person, and at least Simner is managing to avoid the new tropes of teen paranormal romance nicely. I also find it moderately coincidental that Liza's family is so tied up with the causes and duration of the War, but this is the sort of coincidence people have been using for plot purposes forever, so mostly it just causes me to sigh slightly and go well, I suppose one wants to tell stories about people who are close to important historical events.

And I really love the uneasy blend of trust and distrust that Liza has for her mentor figures: she's just not able to trust anyone fully, and she wouldn't actually be right to do so, even the ones who love her, because people do just keep lying to her. The adults are all morally ambiguous in ways adults don't often get in YA.

So I recommend this. I don't know whether you'd have to read the first book for it to make sense, but I read the first when it came out and haven't reread, meaning I don't have a sharp memory of the details, and this worked anyway. It would therefore probably stand alone reasonably well. I think there's going to be a third? This certainly ends in a way that does not require a sequel while still allowing one, as did the first book.
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So on the one hand this is a fairytale retelling set in a world based on medieval Mongolia, which is not a common thing in a book. On the other hand, while the fact that it's very clearly Not Really Medieval Mongolia (different religion, kingdom structure, magic, class system) means that I should not be annoyed about inaccuracies in how it portrays medieval Mongolia, I... kind of can't help that.

I think the things that bother me are the places where reality is more complicated than what we get, and/or the worldbuilding is bent around the demands of the plot.

Said plot involves a highborn lady and her maid, who are shut into a tower for seven years because the lady refuses to marry as her father tells her to and insists on picking her own suitor. The book is an account of their imprisonment by the maid, Dashti. The tower scenes are very well done logistically, the descriptions of how they have to work at fighting off rats, conserving stores and candles, the ways in which imprisonment wears on them. And when the suitor the lady wants comes to talk to his betrothed through the small flap they use for waste disposal, it's plausible that the lady is no longer in any kind of psychological shape to cope with talking to him, and insists that Dashti pretend to be her and speak in her place. Things of course proceed from there about how you'd expect, and the man the lady's father picked is nicely menacing.

However, I think Hale was looking for a plot reason for Dashti to be unwilling to take her mistress's place, a reason stronger than the fear of getting caught, because Dashti has to keep insisting on her unwillingness for the entire book, even in circumstances where any sane person would just have gone with it (her employer doesn't want to be a lady anymore, and is actually pretty happy not being). Therefore we wind up with an entire culture centered around a belief that the gentry are more than mortal and favored of the gods and must be obeyed so that Dashti can keep being terrified that she isn't sufficiently shiny to do this. And because the lady has to be locked up in a tower, the gentry have to have towers, meaning they aren't nomadic, meaning that we then get this settled people as good/noble/etc. vs. nomadic people as dirty/poor/etc., so that Dashti is always managing to do useful survival-related things because of her nomadic background and talking about how much she enjoyed traveling with her mother and their herds while at the same time going on about how she is not worthy to even be a lady's maid and is just not cool or anything and ought to be killed for being so presumptuous.

THIS IS NOT HOW PEOPLE FEEL ABOUT NOMADS IN CENTRAL AND NORTHERN ASIA. And it bothers me because the USSR tried very hard to wipe out nomadism among the peoples of Mongolia and Tuvia and Kazakhstan and the other areas they conquered, spent years insisting that everybody settle in one place and build collective farms. While semi-European feudalism may be sometimes possibly be a better option than forced collectivism-- though there have been wars about that question; I can think of three without really having to work at it-- the imposition of semi-European feudalism into a nomadic culture as a scaffolding for story annoys me, because there have also been actual revolutions, plural, over the right of people to maintain their nomadic ways of living. ACTUAL MONGOLIAN NOBILITY STRUCTURE WAS TOTALLY DIFFERENT. I HAVE CITATIONS um if anybody cares there is an anthropological slapfight that's been going on for a while about whether you can apply the word 'feudalism' to a non-agrarian society and the general consensus is no, no you cannot.

The fairy tale is from the Brothers Grimm. If it could not be told in the setting Hale wanted without these changes to the setting, I would have made the setting less recognizable and/or changed the story more.

That said. Hale is trying. This is not a terrible book. It is well written, well characterized, the creepy guy is actually creepy, the romance is fairly believable. I don't like the way the shamans come off as villains because shamanism is something that has been persecuted in portions of Mongolia since the Buddhists moved in some several centuries back and started being the state religion and beating everyone else up, but hey, there is shamanism. Dashti is a pleasingly competent heroine and her mistress is convincingly crazy enough for it to be an issue in believable post-traumatic ways. You could really do worse.

I guess what I'm saying here boils down to 'when a particular way of life or custom has been oppressed and nearly wiped out for long periods of time, it would be nice if the only times it turns up in novels do not show it as bad/inferior/damaged/villainous'. Like, if there were seventeen other books out there set in pseudo-medieval-Mongolia, I would be a lot less annoyed about the class structure of this one. But there aren't.

Although on that note, it's not fantasy, but you all really, really want to read Kaoru Mori's A Bride's Story, v.1 available from Yen Press, which is the best volume of manga I have read this year. Set on the Silk Road, late 18th/early 19th century, somewhere Uzbek-ish, and oh God, so beautifully researched and gorgeously drawn and gently funny and the main characters are adorable and there is a bonus hilariously dorky British anthropologist living with the principal family whose purpose in life is to ask whether the ridiculous things that are going on are customary or are just, you know, this week. I go incoherently handwavy about this manga. SO GOOD. SO, SO GOOD. Absolutely one of those things I recommend to people who don't read manga. This is how to write fiction about places one does not live.

Hale... means well.
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Yesterday's review.

The second of Rick Riordan's Kane Chronicles continues to be a pleasant and erudite ramble through Egyptian mythology in the same way the Percy Jackson series is for the Greek. I think the Kane books are aimed one notch up in age of audience; they certainly have more factions and more complex motivations for the primary villains.

However, in basic outline, this is of course Egyptian mythology's Greatest Hits. Last book we had the Horus/Osiris/Isis story; this time we get the journey of Ra through the underworld in the boat of the sun-- well, not precisely the journey of Ra, but the journey of Sadie Kane and her brother Carter to try to get Ra back into the cosmic driver's seat so that there's a chance of defeating the evil chaos snake Apophis. Sadie and Carter have on occasion been possessed by Isis and Horus, which means that the human magicians who ought to be their greatest allies against Apophis don't trust them, because it is not reasonable to trust gods as far as you can throw them. (Very sensible.) This is a world in which it's plausible for everyone to be against the protagonists, even the factions which are actually on the side of good, and I appreciate the complexity of the various sides' motivations, which are thoroughly tangled but also expressed clearly and without confusion.

I think Riordan is generally improving as he goes; the Percy Jackson books got better as the series progressed, with the first book of series two being definitely his best so far, and the writing of the Kane books is at about that level. The major issue I have here is that the Egyptian stuff is sticking to the Greatest Hits, that I could predict the exact plot of the endgame of this book at fifty paces and the general outlines by reading the title. He did a lot better at making the Greeks surprising-- there are some references in those that are genuinely obscure. I get the feeling Egypt is not his primary field.

But this continues Riordan's wise-cracking voice, fast-paced action scenes, and ability to deliver good execution of the scenes you can see coming ten miles away, so it's completely readable and I'm sure I'll pick up the next. It just... well, if you'll forgive me, Throne of Fire never quite ignites.
rushthatspeaks: (sparklepony only wants to read)
As I have mentioned before, sometimes the universe conspires to throw things at your head. I've had recommendations from four separate people in the past few days for every single one of Frances Hardinge's four novels.

This one did not disappoint. Apparently the British title was Verdigris Deep, which I prefer, because 'witch' is not the correct word for the thing that Ryan, Chelle, and Josh encounter. They're in a situation that happened to me far too frequently as a child-- namely, they're in a part of town they're not supposed to be anywhere near, and they've missed a bus and are out of cash-- and they take some coins from the bottom of a well for fare home. What lives there isn't very happy about that. It's a wishing well, and taking the coins means taking on the responsibility of granting the wishes. Each of them gets some degree of power to assist in paying off that debt, but of course wishes are never, ever a simple thing to deal with, or an easy one.

Hardinge is both writing a very good YA horror novel here, one which is genuinely profoundly creepy, and I say this as a person who is not easily creeped out, and also gleefully jumping up and down on the tropes of a certain kind of kid's book. Most writers would play this as social comedy, with the kids having to get themselves into all kinds of awkward situations granting wishes, and in fact Diana Wynne Jones did (Wilkin's Tooth/Witch's Business, early DWJ and inconsequential but not terrible). But if there's a Diana Wynne Jones this should really be compared to, it's The Time of the Ghost; the books share a knack at depicting messy and awkward relationships and distinctly unique and threatening inchoate evil powers. Everyone in the Hardinge would love this to be a social comedy. However, it isn't, even if some of the characters want to try to play it that way, and Ryan, the protagonist, knows that from day one: we get his perspective because he sees the most clearly what's going on, not that that's difficult to do after you grow a few subsidiary eyes.

The motor of this book is the characters, who are all three-dimensional, even the adults the kids initially discount in that kids'-book-adults-aren't-important way. (And it bites everyone in the ass that that happens.) At its heart, this novel is working with complex issues about desire and choice and the fact that it's possible for relationships to be terribly unhealthy even when you're too young to be able to notice and analyze what's wrong, and it is very clear on the sheer amount of total mental overthrow it can take to produce the faintest smidgeon of hope that things might get better. It never stops moving as a story, it never becomes a book I wouldn't have gotten at the protagonist's age (eleven), it has some extremely impressive imagery, and it refuses to cheat in either overly optimistic or overly pessimistic directions.

And it never stops shredding those tropes. How much do I love a book in which a) the protagonist remembers to go to the library to try to discover what to do about The Problem, only to b) find that the copious information available boils down to 'things are actually even more fucked than you had remotely imagined possible, and no one previously has come up with a solution'? Nobody does that! It was great.

I'm looking forward to the rest of Frances Hardinge very much.
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On the one hand, an unexpected flight delay meaning that we will arrive at our destination at ridiculous o'clock in the morning is annoying. On the other hand, this airport has free internet, so at least I don't have to write my book review at ridiculous o'clock in the morning, which is... something, I guess.

Anyhow! This is the third of the series which began with Dragon of the Lost Sea and Dragon Steel. The dragon princess Shimmer and her traveling companions have a list of things they need to do to set the world to rights that has become truly ridiculously long, and the unofficial motto of the series remains 'it is always more complicated'.

This is yet another notch up from Dragon Steel, although that may be a more purely fun book; this one is darker, concentrated on numinous and eerie instead of action and adventure. It's really good numinous and eerie, too, everything from soldiers who apparently spontaneously generate from snow to a woman who has a shell on her back like a snail, and not one but two of the better shut-into-a-small-space-with-something-whose-intentions-we-cannot-determine sequences I've seen. The plot threads from the first two are starting to cohere, and it's as interesting to see what Chekhovian guns haven't gone off yet as to note which ones have.

Also, because apparently the book just needed to be that much more awesome, this one is actually narrated by Monkey, who is of course a never-ending fountain of snark. I am extremely impressed by Yep's ability to communicate that things are actually creepy and serious while using a narrator who is constitutionally incapable of being anything other than perky and flippant. (I am devoutly hoping for at least a cameo by Tripitaka in the fourth book, as he has been mentioned several times and that could be very interesting. Don't tell me.)

All in all, this is some of my favorite of Yep's writing, definitely my favorite of his fantasy (although I do want to see where the series he's in the middle of now goes), and I hope he sticks the dismount, because the fourth book has the potential to be really impressive.
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This is the sequel to White Cat, and you should really read that one first.

These are a fascinating combination of boarding school book and fantasy noir, twisty and full of moral ambiguity and double-crosses. They take place in a world where a not insignificant percentage of the population has the ability to curse other people through the touch of a hand-- unsurprisingly, being seen without gloves is in some ways worse than being seen naked. Curse workers face discrimination on legal and societal levels and are heavily concentrated in criminal organizations and Mafia families as a result.

Cassel, the protagonist, comes from a family who are not quite entirely Mafia (though not quite entirely not), a group of professional con men and grifters. His mother, for example, is an emotion worker, who can make anyone feel what she wants them to feel, and as a result almost never pays her own way anywhere. Cassel is in a complex situation involving the general amorality of his family, the general ubiquity of the Mafia, and the to-him unusual fact that he has real friends in high school for the first time ever. Also, things about his life have attracted the interest of the federal government. I would not dream of telling you anything about the plot, except to say that this is one of those books where the ramifications of things that happened in the first book are fully gone into and explored and taken seriously, which is awesome because the nature of those things was such that that needed to happen.

The first one was actually based somewhat on the fairy tale of the White Cat, but if this one is based on a specific fairy tale I have yet to identify it, although I note that Cassel is the youngest of three brothers and therefore metaphysically Most Likely To Succeed, which does I think show.

There is one way in which this series is a little odd for me to read, because one of the principal characters shares my first name, and it's an unusual first name, so I have not had the opportunities to get used to that that people do who have common ones; this is in fact the character I've run into in fiction with my name who has the most pagetime, and also the only one who isn't some kind of succubus or sex android. So it feels weird, though of course I am not letting it stop me.

Seriously, read these. This is some of the best work going on in YA today, although I have trouble thinking of it as YA-- it's YA the same way that, say, Megan Whalen Turner is, where at least one bookstore I know of shelves copies of the Attolia books in both adult and teen sections.

Because this only just came out, please indicate in comment titles if you intend to put spoilers in a comment. I've been trying not to spoil the first one in this review, either, which isn't easy, so warning for that in comments would be nice of you but I don't require it.
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Very kindly lent me by [personal profile] dorothean.

And well worth waiting for; this is a really good book. It's the sequel to Dragon of the Lost Sea, and the thing is that Dragon of the Lost Sea has the kind of ending that could have been a one-off, that could have stopped there. So Dragon Steel is one of my favorite kinds of book, the kind that points out that endings are beginnings and that it is just never going to be that easy. This book is therefore quite intimately tied to its predecessor, and I would not start here, because there isn't really a recap-- well, there's an attempt at one, but it's a terrible poem, and it both could have been left out and doesn't help one remember any useful information. I think it's the book's major flaw, perpetrating terrible poetry on page one, but once you get past that everything is much better.

The thing that's not going to be so easy is getting that Lost Sea back. The exiled dragon princess Shimmer and her young human friend Thorn have defeated one of the major obstacles in doing so, but now they have to go to the High King of the dragons to explain the remaining issues, and things become... complicated, as they tend to do when you combine the words 'exiled' and 'High King'. Also, Monkey shows up, which is both a help and a hindrance no matter what one might happen to be doing. And there's a Chinese version of the Wild Hunt, which I can only describe as awesome.

This is a book full of beautiful atmospheric detail (since it takes place in an undersea dragon kingdom, primarily), interesting political factionalism, dragons fighting krakens, and various people facing various crises and growing from the experience. It's so good, in fact, that it retroactively makes me annoyed at Yep's entire later Tiger's Apprentice trilogy, which is, and I am in no way exaggerating, ninety percent of the plot/setting/characters of this redone except at half the quality level. I can go through this book and tell you who got translated into which character in that trilogy. I cannot imagine what he was thinking, and I retract my earlier recommendation of the later two books of that one, because it's become obvious to me that he was badly handling material there that he had already done very well. Why would a person do this sort of retread? I don't get it. Fortunately, his currently running fantasy series does not share the same subject matter at all.

I am now looking forward immensely to Dragon Cauldron and Dragon War, which ought to be easier to come by, since the library claims to have them both. (Another thing in life I don't understand: stocking books one, three, and four of a series.) If the next two live up to the first two, I expect I'll want to buy all four and keep them around, because they'll be quite an achievement.
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Via [personal profile] rachelmanija, whose reasons for not finishing this book got it onto my find-and-read list.

Hm.

I really, really wanted to like this book. There are many things I do like about it. But.

If I had to pick a genre for Bleeding Violet, I suppose it is a teen paranormal, although only technically a romance; but one of the many things I do like about it is that it is so different from anything else I've seen in that direction. If it reminds me of anything it's of Clive Barker.

Sixteen-year-old Hanna arrives on her mother's doorstep unexpectedly in the middle of the night, to find that her mother's small town in East Texas is actually full of randomly opening portals to other dimensions, many of which release monsters and oddities into the town at no apparent provocation. Hanna is biracial, bicultural (her father and extended family on his side were Finnish), bright, promiscuous, socially maladjusted, and mentally ill. She mentions several diagnoses she's been given, but the one that seemed obvious to me is schizophrenia. As a result, the intersection of the dangers of the town with her own interior problems and her attempts to build a relationship with a mother she'd never met quickly produces exponentially multiplying badness, which isn't helped in any way by her acquisition of an apprentice-demon-hunter boyfriend.

Some things I liked: the setup in general. The various monsters and dangers, all of which are original, different, unexpectedly timed, and genuinely dangerous: this is a town in which you can lean casually against a picket fence and have a tentacle punch through it and start sucking blood out of your arm, or in which the swirling red lights that live inside windowpanes can lure you into becoming a glass statue. The fact that Hanna is genuinely promiscuous both because she likes sex and because she uses it for social leverage, and the text never punishes her for it-- any bad consequences are entirely due to her actually being a jerk about it. The willingness of the book to have an amount of gore in it that I do not recall previously seeing in YA. The way that no relationship in the book is easy, no trust is ever absolute, and yet no human being in it can ever be totally written off as unwilling to do the right thing. The way that Hanna has to try to reality-test the things she sees, because even though it's obvious that the freaky stuff is real and the town is really magical, she could still, in individual instances, be hallucinating. The way that the book never, ever falls into the trap of thinking that it is automatically okay for her to be off her meds because things she thought were hallucinations turn out to be real, and so bad things happen when she goes off her meds. The Mayor of the town, who is very spoilery to talk about, but extremely awesome. The demon-hunting clan's attitude, which I can only describe as incredibly Texas from my experience of living here-- their reaction to 'something terrible is in my windowpane' is 'well don't touch the windows anymore and call us when you really have a problem, but when you do we will be there with bells on, as long as you aren't being a wimp about it'.

And some major things I didn't like, which inevitably involves talking about more of the plot than people who would find this interesting might want. )

Ah well. I really wanted to like this book. I do like large chunks of it.

And it's a first novel, and it's a really ambitious high-wire act of a first novel, even if I think it falls off. If Reeves keeps being this ambitious, hopefully some day she'll stick it. She has already attained originality, and that can be difficult enough. I need to stop being annoyed at her for not being Gemma Files, because I only run across writers like Gemma Files every once in a blue moon. Reeves could get there eventually and I devoutly hope she does.
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A book from B.'s childhood, which I read as a) I had never really heard of the series and b) he has all of them.

This is that interesting thing, the first book of a series from which the series could go in any direction. It is the protagonist's childhood and backstory prior to setting off into the world, and as it is limited in scope, there is no way to tell what kind of world he is going to set off into. There could be anything out there and it would not surprise me much.

At any rate, our protagonist is Gom, who is the son of a woodcutter and the strange woman who appeared in his house, married him, bore him ten children and then vanished. Gom, unlike anyone else in his family or surroundings, can talk to animals, the wind, and various other forces, but isn't aware that this is peculiar.

Mostly this is a quiet, domestic sort of book about living in a wild space, and the ways in which a person who lives on the outskirts of society can and can not afford to be different, and about the mountain itself and the turning of the seasons and the animals. It does nothing that I haven't seen before, but it does it very well, and in a kindly and pleasant tone, and the magic is well done. I could wish it were more different from everything else out there, but this is a book that achieves its goals perfectly; that they are modest goals does not detract from that.

And I really do find it impressive that after an entire book I have no idea of the overall direction or plot of the series. I know the protagonist, and a little bit of what he can do, and what the tiny place he grew up in was like. The rest is as conjectural to me as to him, and that is very rare.

So, a pleasant thing, although I would not go to great effort to seek this book out, necessarily; but if you find yourself alone with it for an hour or two, it will not go amiss.
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Via [personal profile] janni.

A YA fantasy romance which reminds me both of Shannon Hale (note: not a positive association for me) and early Robin McKinley (note: very positive association for me).

George is the prince of a kingdom in which animal magic-- the ability to communicate with, and sometimes turn oneself into, wild animals-- is punishable by death. Naturally, he has inherited animal magic from his mother, and has to hide it at all costs. He doesn't even have the ability to take comfort from household animals, because animals who live too much with humans lose their own languages and cannot be spoken to.

Since he's perpetually hiding huge chunks of himself and can't get close to anybody, George hopes for civility and nothing more out of his arranged marriage, with the princess, Beatrice, of a neighboring kingdom. Beatrice, however, though she doesn't have the magic, is inseparable from her gigantic hound-- and just as miserable as George is.

You might think, from this description, that this is something of a typical-nowadays YA angst-fest. ... yeah, kind of. But it's quite well done; the reason it reminds me of McKinley is its portrayal of people who have complimentary damage that nonetheless does not make them easy with each other. I approve of books in which even the relationships that are obviously going to work out do not settle down into being simple and straightforward. And it's reasonably well-plotted, in ways which I'm not going to go into, because while I did not find them surprising, I am incredibly difficult to surprise. As in, I think one book has managed it this year. This is probably a book with good plot twists for people who are not perpetually internally trying to hack the plot of all books in advance, but that's a thing about myself I can't actually turn off.

So I'm not saying this is spectacular-- I have about had it up to here with the standard European-cod-medieval fantasy-country setting in which everyone is white and straight and somehow has reasonable teeth-- but it is so much better than it needed to be, and its characters are genuinely good, its darkness dark, its bits of light well-worked for. I will probably read the sequels.
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This is technically the third of the series which began with The Neddiad and The Yggyssey, but as it follows a minor character from the second one into her own story, it can probably be read independently.

Big Audrey, the cat-whiskered girl, has at the start of the book left Los Angeles and all her friends to go in search of her destiny. As was inevitable in the sort of universe Pinkwater writes about, she ends up working at a New Age-UFOlogist bookstore in Poughkeepsie. Then things become odd, in a dimensional travel sort of way, involving possible ghosts, probable aliens, definite flying saucers, and random fairy tales and other novels wandering in and out of the plot. This is a book in which the protagonist and her best friend travel down the Hudson River on a coracle paddled by a miniature giant, in order to meet a werewolf-like thing named Max who lives on a remote island with a bunch of trolls (yes, hello Sendak), and you realize reading it that that was pretty much how you expected things to work.

Which is kind of the problem, really. I don't think this is as good as either of the first two (granted, I think The Neddiad is the best book Pinkwater's written), and I think that the quality issues are because it is both mildly predictable (okay, if you've read a lot of Pinkwater) and very episodic. In general his work has a lot of stuff going on in it, but there's usually an underlying coherency, a plot that comes together in a way that makes emotional if not logical sense. This one has bits that just actually seem to wander through and never become relevant again. There is not, necessarily, anything wrong with that, but it gives the book a very loose feel-- paradoxically, I don't think it's as rich as his more tightly plotted things. Mind you, it's possible it's too early to judge, as while there is a satisfactory ending, this has been left so open for a sequel that it says on the final page that it is being continued in a sequel and gives the title. It may be it will be a better-structured series, or this may even be secretly the first half of a novel. But as a stand-alone, it is while pleasant not brilliant.

But it is pleasant. I like Audrey, who is a smart and canny protagonist who is unwilling to believe in unlikely things even when everyone around her is insisting on them. I like this version of Poughkeepsie, which does not come across to me as clearly as L.A. did in The Neddiad, but which is still a loving and cheerful version of an obviously real place. And the thing I outright love about this book is the way that Audrey's cat-whiskers do and do not make a difference in her environment. I kept thinking of [personal profile] rax's recent class in transsomatechnics, the theories about human and animal bodies and the ways they cross and connect-- Audrey spends the entirety of the book as some kind of catgirl, anything from just the whiskers to points in which she is basically a bipedal cat. It does not affect how anyone treats her, for the most part. People just take the whiskers in stride; her employers assume she's an extraterrestrial but also assume it is none of their business. When she's more catlike, she occasionally has to tell people to change the vocabulary they're using about her ('Could we make it just girl and not cat-resembling girl?') but that's really all, and she herself does not seem remotely bothered or confused about anything related to the way her species fluctuates. And it all comes across as a weird kind of psychologically plausible, despite the fact that in most books people simply do not have this sort of non-reaction to this sort of fluidity. I took a great meta-enjoyment in it, and from identifying the various novels and stories that cameoed, even when the cameos weren't doing much.

In short, I wouldn't start Pinkwater here, or read this if you know you do not like him, but if you do it's a perfectly respectable middle-of-his-quality fun little book. (Note: sequel not out yet.)
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Man, the people who made the movie Cube owe Sleator royalties.

In this young adult novel from 1974, several orphaned sixteen-year-olds are dumped into a seemingly endless space containing flight after flight of interconnected stairways, something of an Escher-scape. There's a toilet, which also provides drinking water, and a machine which dispenses food... if they're willing to follow the rules the machine tries to impose on them.

I honestly don't know whether I should spoiler-cut for this book or not, because it is more than thirty years old and even the book's dedication makes it pretty obvious what is actually going on. But I guess discretion is the better part of valor?

For those of you who don't want to look under the spoiler-cut, the one-sentence summary is: clunky, the opposite of subtle, makes no damn sense in several major ways, but is still very readable, even if you sit there afterwards shaking your head sadly and sighing.

Spoiler cut. )
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You may recall that I recently read Block's teenage werewolf novel, which was hilariously bad, and found out that she had written a teenage vampire novel. I got the vampire novel out of the library, and...

it's not bad.

I am as surprised as you are.

I mean, it's not, you know, a brilliant work of transcendent art that will last the decades or anything, and it is certainly not a book I would recommend to everybody, for reasons I'll go into below, but I was expecting it to be a train wreck, and it is a perfectly decent little novel.

The thing is, it combines two things that Block is genuinely good at: Los Angeles and prose so lush it's basically indigo. It's playing to her strengths, and what she's done here is used the essential melodrama of the vampire elements to ramp up the prose even further. The reason I don't think everyone would like this book is that it is so far over the top you can't even see the top anymore. Every element, every bit of lace and brand-name perfume, is so precisely more than it ought to be that the effect is one of careful calculation, and the quiet emotional notes underneath everything actually come through the artifice. It reminds me somewhat of Tanith Lee. It's like a painting so supersaturated it turns into chiaroscuro, and this is an approach I hadn't known I wanted somebody to take with a teenage vampire novel.

The protagonist, Charlotte, is a ninety-something teenage vampire who goes to high school because she's bored, of course, and of course there's a girl who was her best friend and committed suicide in mysterious circumstances, and that girl's boyfriend, who rides a motorcycle, and of course Charlotte's controlling maker is sniffing around again, and I don't even need to summarize all this because it's basically Twilight, only, and I would like to emphasize this point, without the terrible. The entire book is one long tightrope-walk of atmosphere and tone and it worked for me. Your mileage may vary, but I do think it is objectively well done.

Except. And this is a huge except, a bookbreaking except, an except of the sort that does actually make me quite reluctant to recommend the thing. There is a page and a half of this novel that is one of the worst mistakes I have seen a writer make in a book, and I can best summarize it this way: you do not put real historical atrocities in lightweight fiction, because the fiction will always break, always. And she didn't do sufficient research or grounding to make it even clear that she was trying not to be offensive, if she was, and it is distressing when a writer who is doing perfectly well at her research on the twenties fucks up 1945. I finished the book, because I was close to the end of it. Your mileage may also vary.

So: very much not what I was expecting; both better and worse, but not mockable.
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So when the big box of books from [personal profile] octopedingenue came some time ago, I went through it looking at things, and started mentally cataloging them into short, long, fantasy, literary fiction, graphic novels, a book I really really wanted to read that Kawy sent because she is psychic (Thief Eyes by Janni Lee Simner, previously reviewed here), etc.. There was a small category, composed mostly of Crazy Beautiful (the HOOKS FOR HANDS book) which I mentally marked as 'books Kawy has sent me because they are incredibly bad'.

When I got to the Francesca Lia Block, I had absolutely no idea whether to put it in that category or not. None whatsoever. Francesca Lia Block has written books I find lovely and memorable and magnificent (Ecstasia, Primavera, the early Weetzie Bat books, The Hanged Man) and books I find utterly neutral and have trouble remembering exist (Girl Goddess #9, that one about teenage fairies) and a couple of the worst frickin' books I've ever read (Blood Roses, Echo, Psyche in a Dress). I tend to like her earlier stuff better, but there is never any guarantee that an author has gone into a permanent decline and indeed one usually hopes otherwise. Her prose usually gets critic-words such as 'lush' and 'purple' and 'adjectival' and her main issue tends to be letting language, style, and a liking for reworked myth and fairytale get in the way of thinking things through or causing them to make sense. When she doesn't run away with herself, it can work very well, and there is usually no telling in advance with any particular book which side of the line it will fall on, which is why I keep picking her stuff up.

Then I saw this was a novel about teenage werewolves.

Whoa-boy. That settled that question. Teenage werewolves are quite popular lately, and there is an entire subgenre of them, and its tropes are such that unless this book were to happen to be completely unlike and unrelated to every other book about teenage werewolves ever written, I knew this book would not just have run away with the author, but plunged off a cliff at full throttle and exploded in a mass of fireworks over the canyon. There is such a thing as a genre playing to someone's strengths, and then there is the opposite. I was holding out vague hope for this being totally unlike everything else in its subgenre, but that particular hope is always vague: never expect a book to be sui generis, especially when the subject is trendy.

Apparently she's written a vampire one, too. I-- the mind boggles. I have to read that book.

Because this? This was delightfully, enjoyably, compulsively readably terrible. )
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I expected the Percy Jackson books to be terrible, back when I picked the first one up. One of my majors was Greek religion, so I figured my reaction would be 'kill it with fire'. I was so amazed that that turned out not to be the case that the momentum carried me through the entire series.

They're not great books-- they have some major pacing issues, a couple of which serve to make the author look as though he is being stupid for fairly long stretches of time (he isn't, but one shouldn't have to spend a book and a half thinking he is), and they read very much as the work of a writer who has not, as yet, quite figured out exactly the tone and voice he is aiming for and who consequently wavers back and forth a bit. But they hold together much, much better than I had thought possible and I think they do pretty much what they were setting out to do, so I picked up the first book of the sequel series.

The first thing I noticed is that Riordan has definitely found himself. This is just simply better writing. It is also, and I do not think this is coincidental, one age group notch up from the previous. I think it suits him better, as I suspect that part of the tonal wavering was an inability to figure out the exact sophistication level of the group he was first aiming at. This is now solidly older teen: good call.

The second thing I noticed is that he has turned something which could have been a major structural problem for this series into a significant asset-- has used the introduction of a whole bunch of new characters in a very clever way to establish the series as something that can be read independently of the previous. He actually hit that rare sweet spot between 'the previous characters are cameos' and 'you can't read this without knowing who these people are'.

Also, he's using the opportunity to complexify his worldbuilding immensely. He's got the first book out of yet a third series, about Egyptian mythology, and it's fairly obvious it takes place in the same world as these two; the structure he's building here is internally self-consistent and, while really pretty obvious, fun.

He has not as yet fucked up anything mythological in this series but he has gotten to things about which I care even more and is consequently on probation until the dismount. ([profile] seishonagon? Have you bought this yet? This series is clearly For You.)

There are still major pacing issues, he's still heavily into tell-not-show, and I can still predict every major plot twist from more than two hundred pages in advance blindfolded while thinking about something else. But it's quite superior beach reading, and if he keeps improving like this, it may eventually have the potential to be something more than that.
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I knew, when [personal profile] octopedingenue sent it to me, that I was saving this book for a special occasion.

Happy birthday, [personal profile] rachelmanija! I hope it was a wonderful day, and I hope it leads into a wonderful year. As it is difficult to send an iced cake through the mail and not have it turn into a mass of crumbs and goo, I have read this impressively terrible book in your honor-- a book which honestly, in my opinion, also turns into a mass of crumbs and goo, but at least an entertaining one, although with less chocolate.

Yes, it's the terrible teenage problem novel about the boy who has hooks for hands! )

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