November 21, 2017

Cybils SpecFic Bookmark: MURDER, MAGIC, AND WHAT WE WORE by KELLY JONES

The Cybils Speculative Fiction Bookmark:

As a panelist for Cybils YA Speculative Fiction, Round 1, I'm going to be briefly writing up some of the hundreds of book I read as part of the award. As panelist conclusions are not for public consumption, the purpose of these write-ups is to keep track of what I'm reading, and will mostly touch on plot synopsis, with minimal comments on thematic tropes.


Synopsis: Annis Whitworth's world quietly crumples when it's discovered that not only has her father died under rather unlikely circumstances (but why was he traveling on a night with no moon?) that all of his money has vanished. The father she barely knew is, in a way, only a minor loss, but Annis had been promising herself for too long that she was going to get to know him -- and now it's too late. It feels like it's too late for everything, including regret. The servants are sent packing, the lease on the house is terminated, and Annis and her Aunt Cassia are away to make their way as governesses or companions. Only, Annis isn't going to go quietly. As she is taking in a rather ghastly mourning gown, she makes the discovery that she has the power within her hands - and within her needle - to save them. All she has to do is ply her trade -- but despite her friendships with woman who manage shops, Cassia insists that no girl in trade will ever be able to hold her head up. Determined, Annis whips up a disguise and sets herself up as a dressmaker.

For anyone else, it would be a tame endeavor to measure, cut, and sew, tamely minding a shop created solely to outfit Society women, but not for Annis. She saves a friend by chasing off a would-be rapist, delves into the secrets of the Quality, finds clues and trails after strangers. She decides to follow in her father's footsteps and set herself up as a spy. After all, if he could do it, why not?

Observations: Fans of Patricia C. Wrede's SORCERY AND CECELIA, Mary Robinette Kowal's SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY or Gail Carringer's ETIQUETTE series will find a kindred spirit in Annis Whitworth. Grieving, impetuous, and ridiculous, Annis is everything we love about Regency heroines. She is well-dressed and well-spoken, hyperfocused on gossip and Society, completely oblivious to ways to avoid trouble, and slightly unable to avoid saying just the wrong thing. This novel gently mocks the social conventions and the mores of the Regency, while celebrating girlhood friendships, bluestockings, and the flinty spirit of womanhood which, when backed into a corner, is unpredictable and can do ANYTHING.

Conclusion: An unusual magical power, spies, and derring-do bring together a fast-paced and satisfying Regency romp celebrating the power of demure womanhood, and leaves rooms for readers to want seconds.



I received my copy of this book courtesy of the public library. You can find MURDER, MAGIC, AND WHAT WE WORE by Kelly Jones at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

November 14, 2017

Cybils SpecFic Bookmark: THE EPIC CRUSH OF GENIE LO, by F.C. YEE

The Cybils Speculative Fiction Bookmark:

As a panelist for Cybils YA Speculative Fiction, Round 1, I'm going to be briefly writing up some of the hundreds of book I read as part of the award. As panelist conclusions are not for public consumption, the purpose of these write-ups is to keep track of what I'm reading, and will mostly touch on plot synopsis, with minimal comments on thematic tropes.


Synopsis: Eugenia "Genie" Lo - one of way too many Eugenias of her generation - has always been a bit of a firebrand. Unlike her fashionable friend Yunie - another Chinese Eugenia - Genie finds her center in her homework - which she does routinely, expertly and superbly - and in ignoring her mother's ranting, which she also does like a boss, because her mother is always screaming about something. A Bay Area kid living in the SiliValley, she also bitterly acknowledges that she's just like most of the hordes of teens living in the land asphalt, parking lots, bubble tea shops and strip mall nail salons: she's an education junkie. She's high-achieving. She's Asian. She's desperate to get out of the reach of her mother's voice, and into A Good School. Princeton, for preference, or even Harvard. So, when this weird new guy at school scopes her out and says, "You belong to me...?" Oh, nu-uh. Nope. Not in this lifetime. Genie Lo has way too many other plans - mainly to work on not being just like her father and to get the heck out of dodge.

But Quentin Sun - new guy - is not prepared to leave Genie alone, and soon, Genie realizes she needs him - and not just because he's ridiculously good looking. Quentin is all Genie has to teach her what she needs to know to save the world... and soon it's time to school herself on perfecting a whole new set of skills -- those of demon fighting. Genie's pretty sure she can't do it, but Quentin Sun is only an international transfer student in Earth's realm... in the Heavenly Realm of the Jade Emperor, he's the Monkey King, down to the love of peaches and the fuzzy tail. ...And Genie? Well, she's a reincarnated sidekick of his. Quentin's convinced that he and Genie's shared power will be enough to answer the rash of demon incursions on Earth - and into the Bay Area. They're terrifyingly strong and flesh-eating, and it's crucial Genie gets on board with the plan before more people - human people on the earth plane - are brutally murdered and eaten. But, what about being on track for an Ivy League? What about all of her plans? Right now, Genie's got a lot of studying to do - about everything, including the world as she once believed it to be - and there's not enough time...

Observations: Many YA readers were first introduced to this oldest and greatest of Chinese fables, the story of the Monkey King, in Gene Luen Yang's AMERICAN BORN CHINESE. The adventures of the Monkey King in that book are myriad and surreal. Author F.C. Yee renders these same surreal battles between "the good guys" and the demons through the eyes of one of the newest good guys - a sarcastic, short-tempered California teen who just wants to get on with things so she can polish up her college entry essays and go back to crushing her opponents on the volleyball court.

Readers seeking the trope of the "strong female character" will find a lot more than they bargained for here. Genie is strong both physically and mentally, and by meeting these characters from Chinese myth, she is learning to be strong spiritually. There is a lot of humor and snark which will appeal to many teens, and a lot of exploration of the various roles of Bodhisattva, gods, and monsters in the Buddhist pantheon, which also makes this an unique foray into the mythological and folktale history of Chinese literature.

Conclusion: This novel is written cinematically, in that readers may be able to envision each chapter as a television episode along the lines of THE MIDDLEMAN or a comic book. The colorful descriptions and sharp-edged snark combined with completely surreal demons and monsters make this a fast-paced, quick read which engages the attention and doesn't let it go.



I received my copy of this book courtesy of the public library. You can find THE EPIC CRUSH OF GENIE LO by F.C. Yee at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

Cybils SpecFic Bookmark: WONDER WOMAN: WARBRINGER by LEIGH BARDUGO

The Cybils Speculative Fiction Bookmark:

As a panelist for Cybils YA Speculative Fiction, Round 1, I'm going to be briefly writing up some of the hundreds of books I read as part of the award. As panelist conclusions are not for public consumption, the purpose of these write-ups is primarily to keep track of what I'm reading, and will mostly touch on plot synopsis, with minimal comments on thematic tropes.


Synopsis: Diana knows, as her mother's daughter, that everything she does is going to have more weight. Her mother is the queen of the Amazons, and Diana has her place on Themyscira by accident of birth, rather than right of sisterhood as the other warriors there have earned. Diana knows that everyone believes her to be small and easily broken, the least of her tribe. She only wants her chance to prove herself -- which seems to come in the form of a plane crashing off the shore of their hidden island. Diana saves the human girl from the wreckage, but breaks Amazon law... and soon discovers she's made more of a lasting, horrific mistake than her little law-breaking led her to believe. Meanwhile, the human girl, Alia, was only on the plane - without her brother's permission - because since their parents' death, he NEVER let her go anywhere or do anything, ever. She just wanted to prove that she didn't need the Keralis name to protect her, and she could take a biology internship with strangers, and do just fine. But, no - a bomb on the plan changed those plans, and now she's stuck with a half-dressed supermodel type who was obviously raised in cult. She thinks Alia is some kind of violence magnet -- and she's trying to convince her that she needs to go to Greece to stop a world war.

The people chasing the two girls are not imaginary illusions from a cult, regardless of what Alia longs to believe. It is going to take nerves of steel to outwit their pursuers, survive betrayal, and make herself safe again... if she even survives. The only way to do this is to trust her shieldsisters and stand together.

Observations:

Sister in battle, I am shield and blade to you. As I breathe, your enemies will know no sanctuary. While I live, your cause is mine."

Readers seeking representation of strong female friendships will find them in this book. Alia, Nim, and Diana do not always trust each other, nor believe in how the other sees them, but in and out of the face of danger, their interactions are both amusing and instructive in terms of sisterhood and how true friends should be.

Diana is inexperienced in terms of American society, but she isn't ignorant or naive, her people having studied men, nations outside their own, disease, weapons, religions and history for years before coming across examples of the real thing. Likewise, though she is uneducated in all things Greek mythology, Alia is able to inform herself by reading and study, which allows her to be prepared.

"It's a trap for us. Alia and I always have to be better. We always have to be a step ahead. But the stronger you get, the more you achieve, the more people want to make sure you know your place." He bumped the back of his head gently against the rock. "It's exhausting." - WARBRINGER, p. 272-3

Including Diana's friends as people of color in this novel allowed the author to make some interesting choices and parallels between the lives of superheroes and the lives of successful people, especially people of color. I found it intriguing that she often explored the limitations society puts on people of color and allowed Diana as a character to explore her own society's limitations as being matriarchal and female-exclusive, and how that allowed the Amazons to both identify - and misidentify - the mores of their culture and their world.

Conclusion: One of the strengths of this DC novelization of the iconic Wonder Woman backstory is that readers with little to no experience with the comic books, the cartoon, or 70's era TV show can still find their feet in the story. A place of entry for those unfamiliar with the Wonder Woman superhero universe, this fast-paced story is full of peril and humor, betrayal and determination, and shows the grounding and powerful force true friendship can be.



I received my copy of this book courtesy of the public library. You can find WONDER WOMAN, WARBRINGER by Leigh Bardugo at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

November 10, 2017

Cybils SpecFic Bookmark: THICK AS THIEVES by MEGAN WHALEN TURNER

The Cybils Speculative Fiction Bookmark:

As a panelist for Cybils YA Speculative Fiction, Round 1, I'm going to be briefly writing up some of the hundreds of books I read as part of the award. As panelist conclusions are not for public consumption, the purpose of these write-ups is primarily to keep track of what I'm reading, and will mostly touch on plot synopsis, with minimal comments on thematic tropes.


Synopsis: If he can just get past his master's few bad day here and there with life and soul intact, Mede slave Kamet will continue to prosper as he minds his Master's business. His Master is an important man - brother to the emperor - and Kamet knows his ultimate destiny is to be his Master's gift to that great man. And what a life that will be! Kamet has so many plans and ambitions. The appearance of an Attolian soldier offering him his freedom is nothing short of hilarious -- why would a slave who sleeps in luxury want to squat in that cesspit when he has all of Mede at his fingertips by the will of his Master? But all of Kamet's hopes and dreams come crashing to the ground when he is warned by a beloved friend that his Master has been poisoned. Kamet knows he is doomed, for Mede isn't exactly a culture that makes sense. Sure, everyone knows it was probably the emperor or one of his men, but now the slaves will be tortured to confess, and to implicate others... and they will all. be. killed. From the youngest to oldest. If Kamet flees, he can perhaps take the burden of guilt only onto himself - and save the lives of the youngest boys, and his dear friend. Weaker than he ever believed himself to be, Kamet is now desperate for that Attolian's offer of freedom.

Of course, nothing is simple when the world is turned upside down -- the Attolian is immensely stupid and coarse, and it seems that his Master's reach is longer and faster than he could possibly have believed. Kamet ricochets between the frying pan and the fire, a scribe turned fugitive who is in no way prepared for life outside his golden cage, who struggles to be civil to the inferior man to whom he owes his life, who is filthy, guilty, exhausted, grieved, and terrified.

It's the escape of a lifetime - and when it's over, Kamet isn't sure he ran the right direction.

Observations: When an author creates memorable worldbuilding and highly complex characterizations, it's often difficult to resist, at the end of a series, to add epilogues and promising notes to readers that they "all lived happily ever after," and everything was fine. Turner offered no "PS" and instead left readers at the end of A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS with a six year gap, and for some, a belief that the series was over. Resurrecting the same characters in the same world after that length of time in this fifth book of the Attolia series was thus highly anticipated. Readers will find that though not all the familiar characters appear, that the worldbuilding and writig style remain solidly excellent and consistent. The choice to elevate a minor character to a main character allows readers to reenter the world from a new door, giving them deeper insights and probably a need to reread the entire series to discover what other nuances they may see revisited as the series reboots.

Conclusion: Readers who have not yet read other Attolia books will be able to read this book for its adventure and the narrative arc introducing Kamet and his world. They will not, however, fully understand the subtext and won't be able to appreciate the genius of the Attolian-Medean history, nor the history of the Thief. It is advised that readers begin the series with THE THIEF, and carry on from there.



I received my copy of this book courtesy of the public library. You can find THICK AS THIEVES by Megan Whalen Turner at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

November 03, 2017

Cybils SpecFic Bookmark: MILES MORALES, SPIDER MAN, by JASON REYNOLDS

The Cybils Speculative Fiction Bookmark:

As a panelist for Cybils YA Speculative Fiction, Round 1, I'm going to be briefly writing up some of the hundreds of books I read as part of the award. As panelist conclusions are not for public consumption, the purpose of these write-ups is to keep track of what I'm reading, and will mostly touch on plot synopsis, with minimal comments on thematic tropes.


Synopsis: Miles is a Brooklyn Boy who attends the prestigious - and aggravatingly rich boy - Brooklyn Visions Academy, on scholarship. When he's back in his neighborhood, he's just a guy - yawning through early Mass with his mother, rolling his eyes at his Dad while taking out the trash, and cracking wise while playing video games with his best friend Ganke. He's also, through all of that, trying to listen to his spidey-senses... which lately have been acting a bit weird. Spider-Man duties don't quit, even while Miles is at school, so when Miles is suspended for abruptly leaving class one time too many - with no explanation to his least favorite teacher, Mr. Chamberlain, his parents are through, especially his dad. Miles is pretty certain it's time to give up the Spider-Man gig, because Spider-Man or not, it's Miles' mother's worst fear that he'll turn out to be a hood like his Uncle Aaron, his Dad's brother. And Miles' father is determined that no son of his turn out to be thieving hustlers like he and his brother were. The neighborhood is Miles' responsibility, his father pounds into him over and over - but to Miles it feels like he's been charged and condemned to fix something that he never broke.

Maybe Miles isn't meant to be good at saving the world. Maybe Miles' best bet is to save himself - get out of his corner of Brooklyn, and make his parents proud. But, it's hard to change overnight - there are clearly some evils still abroad, and one of them is Miles' history teacher, Mr. Chamberlain. Miles cannot stay silent while his teacher essentially lies about the effects of slavery and the modern prison industrial complex. Mr. Chamberlain tries to make Miles feel bad about who he is - a young black man - and who he has the potential to be. And when Miles protests in class, Mr. Chamberlain lets Miles know that his scholarship can disappear just. like. that.

If this is what it means to be a superhero, Miles isn't sure he wants to stay signed up.

Observations: Readers coming to these episodes in the life of Miles Morales may feel that they are missing something, and indeed, references are made to previous adventures. However, this book is well-written enough to stand alone without having read any of the comics, as I had not.

This book is less about superhero-ing and more about the realities of a regular life. It is against a backdrop of teen-and-parent tension that the superhero stuff is displayed. What may surprise readers the most is that Miles is not "good" in the single-dimensional comic book sense. He is himself - a normal teen, which means he makes good decisions and poor decisions, and he does normally stupid things. He has self-doubt and struggles, too.

We learn more about the specific pressures and privileges which shape a hopeful, successful, and genuine human being than we do about the Spider-Man canon, which for some superfans of the comic strip will be not as appealing, and especially those who disagree with Marvel's decision to create a black Super-Man. However, the commonality of the challenges Miles faces are what makes him, in this setting, unique, and are what I feel will bring more readers to this superhero world.

Conclusion: Miles embraces his Puerto Rican and African American heritage, tries to be the type of man worth knowing, and cooks bad ramen dinners. He also crawls up walls and finds a way to overcome the racist antipathy of a teacher, taking superhero-ing into a new and different direction. His story reminds every reader that they have within them the ordinary-guy chops to be a superhero, too.



I received my copy of this book courtesy of the public library. You can find MILES MORALES, SPIDER-MAN by Jason Reynolds at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

November 02, 2017

Happy NaNoWriMo 2017!

Hey, it's November, and that means it's National Novel Writing Month! As per usual for me lately, I don't even have a wisp of a dream of a hope of participating--but that doesn't mean I don't LOVE NaNoWriMo. I've been a participant (and a completer) a handful of times in the past, and I'm here to encourage you to GO FOR IT if you can. You never know what greatness might occur; what jewels in the rough; what bezoars in the poo, or whichever metaphor you prefer.

Don't believe me? Well, two of my three PUBLISHED novels started during NaNoWriMo. I wouldn't necessarily describe myself as either a panster or a plotter, but the evidence seems to tip me into the former category, doesn't it? When you let the words flow, sometimes that's what you need to find your voice and loosen your imagination.

So. No excuses (unless you're like me and have enough work this month for at least two months' worth of stress)--grab your computer and get going!

October 31, 2017

Cybils SpecFic Bookmark: LEIA PRINCESS OF ALDERAAN, by CLAUDIA GRAY

The Cybils Speculative Fiction Bookmark:

As a panelist for Cybils YA Speculative Fiction, Round 1, I'm going to be briefly writing up some of the hundreds of books I read as part of the award. As panelist conclusions are not for public consumption, the purpose of these write-ups is to keep track of what I'm reading, and will mostly touch on plot synopsis, with minimal comments on thematic tropes.


Synopsis: Leia is an atypical princess in that her life has been spent not at the mercy of nannies and waiting women but mostly with her parents, Breha and Bail Organa, who have taught her and helped her to develop interests and ways of thinking close to their own. This closeness has resulted in Leia noticing when the relationship between she and her parents gradually deteriorates. Suddenly her mother is a super-socialite, instead of being the kind of Queen who cares for her people. Suddenly her father is too busy to talk. As the distance between the once tight family grows, Leia is at first bewildered, then grieved, and finally resentful. She decides to get her parent's attention by excelling at her body, mind, and heart challenges, the traditional ceremonial challenges presented to an heir of Alderaan in order to earn the right to the throne. Leia figures that if she does something real using her body, mind and heart, they'll remember that she's a real person, and not a decorative object.

As it turns out, convincing her parents is not as easy as it seemed, and Leia goes to further and further lengths to prove herself to herself - to her classmates, and to her erstwhile parents. Meanwhile, the cold eye of the Empire is watching, as Leia flies closer to some disastrous political situations. Is the way to help to rebel against the powers that be, or is there anything else that a once decorative princess might do to help people? Leia figures there's only one way to find out.

Observations: Unlike many of the pop-culture tie-in books on the Cybils list this year, this one takes its canon entirely from a 70's era film, and not a WW2 era comic book series, thus making a space for a feminist ideal in which a young woman has agency, wit, and desire to do something with her privilege. It may give some readers a bit of a pinch in the heart to see a sketch of a young Carrie Fisher on the cover, but there will only ever be one Leia, because the film is, as always, the roots of the canon.

The author balances the headstrong and commanding rebel Leia from the Star Wars films with a wholly new character - filling in the echo of who that same person must have been at sixteen. Thus this Leia is written as impulsive, big-hearted, sensitive, and over-achieving. While she spends an inordinate amount of time pouting which seemed both remarkably "young" and out of character for a sixteen year old, and for a young lady who has been reared to the grace and dignity of a throne, the emotional tailspin the distance between them gives her reads as genuine.

Conclusion: Readers who are not hardcore Star Wars fans will be able to read this novel as a standalone and enjoy the story of a privileged, talented young girl with a big heart and an impulsive nature who makes mistakes and keeps trying to do something with who she is, for the betterment of all. Fans who are hardcore fans, having read all the books and the radio drama pre-Disney typically come down on either the love-or-hate side, but most fans agree that this novel is true to the canon. Fans of the film series only who come to this seeking the same enveloping Star Wars universe won't enjoy quite the same all-encompassing feel, but will find the roots of the epic stretching out and taking their place to support a galaxy-wide storyline.



I received my copy of this book courtesy of the public library. You can find LEIA, PRINCESS OF ALDERAAN by Claudia Gray at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

October 27, 2017

Don't Miss...!

If you haven't yet had a chance to grab Sara Lewis Holmes' newest book The Wolf Hour the following posts and her various guest post/interviews around the web will raise this book on your TBR list.

This week, Sara's talking music with poet Laura Salas. Interestingly, the poetry in THE WOLF HOUR is something that Sara, a poet herself, excels at -- but isn't something you'd ordinarily expect in a fairytale, which is what makes it significant and fun.

Sara's interviews elsewhere can be found at Charlotte's Library where she unpacks some quotes from the book; Maureen Eicher's review at 'By Singing Light' and our interview here at Wonderland, which kicked it all off is right here.

Cheers, and happy reading!

Cybils SpecFic Bookmark: REBEL SEOUL by AXIE OH

The Cybils Speculative Fiction Bookmark:

As a panelist for Cybils YA Speculative Fiction, Round 1, I'm going to be briefly writing up some of the hundreds of books I read as part of the award. As panelist conclusions are not for public consumption, the purpose of these write-ups is primarily to keep track of what I'm reading, and will mostly touch on plot synopsis, with minimal comments on thematic tropes.


Synopsis: Lee Jaewon is doing what he has to, to stay in the Neo Seoul military school where he attends. His side-hustle in this war-torn place is actually three jobs - one of student, doing his best to hang on to his grades, and the other two as couriers for war vets - and those who need black market items. He's barely making ends meet, but he's got rent money and food, at least. Alone in the world - abandoned by his bestie, who stepped away from him to gain power in a gang, and by his mother, who, after the execution of his father for being a traitor to the new state, left Jaewon to the Old Seoul gangs when he was eight, so he'd have a "better life," Jaewon is a realist - and bitter. As a realist - and the son of a traitor - the worst thing Jaewon could do is get mixed up with the Director's son and his mad schemes, but here he is -- being recruited to the military weapons complex in Neo Seoul. He's a senior with everything to lose, so he's going to do his best to make his mark, take his money at the end of two years, and escape his past.

At least that was the plan before he discovered what his job for the military is going to be - working in weapons development. And the weapon is a supersoldier... a girl who doesn't exist, who has no future, and no past. She's a weapon. When Jaewon realizes that he sees her as a person, he tries to keep his distance. She warns him that she will hurt him -- that eventually, she hurts everyone. As events hurtle to a confrontation between New and Old Seoul, the state and the seething rebellion of the people, Jaewon wonders what it is that he's been fighting for - and if any nationstate is worthwhile if it treats people as objects. There are choices to be made.

Observations: There are myriad Korean words used within the text, many of which the reader will be able to decipher from context clues, and many Asian groups represented in authentic and matter-of-fact ways, including the correct ordering of their patronymic and given names, which is nice to see. This is a wildly futuristic novel, and the setting is chock full of bright lights, K-Pop style bands, vice and luxury existing alongside filth and poverty, all set against the backdrop of an endless rebellion after the war in the East Pacific. Yet, for all of the Blade-runner vibe, this is a sweeping, deeply sentimental romance -- boy meets girl, girl could break boy in half, they fall in love anyway. The deeper theme of both loving and criticizing a national ideology are especially pertinent for readers of all nations just now, and engage critical thinking beyond the satisfyingly swoony and dramatic romance.

Conclusion: A sure hit for teens seeking cinematic, action-packed, futuristic science fiction, this novel also touches on quieter emotions such as loneliness, loyalty, and love.


I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. You can find REBEL SEOUL by Axie Oh at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!