This is a review of a book provided to me by Strange Chemistry (the YA imprint of Angry Robot books).
The Premise: The Toland siblings, Natividad, Alejandro, and Miguel, have fled from their home in Mexico, all the way across the United States, and have just reached their destination in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. Their father's old enemy, Malvern Vonhausel, still stalks them despite already destroying their village and murdering their parents. Now the siblings are making a desperate gamble: that Dimilioc, a stronghold for shapeshifters called black dogs, will take them in. They have very little to convince Dimilioc's Master -- only that their father was once a Dimilioc wolf, and that Natividad is Pure. Their father told them that Dimilioc protected the Pure, but it never tolerated strays. Miguel may be granted amnesty because he's human, but Alejandro is black dog and may not be treated so kindly.
Read an excerpt of Black Dog here
My Thoughts: Before reading Black Dog, the other books I'd read by Rachel Neumeier were two-thirds of The Griffin Mage Trilogy, and House of Shadows. These are all straight fantasy, and for some reason (probably my own obliviousness), I thought Black Dog was the same. I didn't realize that until I began reading it that this is urban fantasy. This was not a bad thing. It felt nice to be surprised that Black Dog was Neumeier's own riff on werewolf mythology. The world is not far off from our own as it is now, but Neumeier alters all we know by setting Black Dog right after a war. This war is one that is not necessarily fully explained, but what we do know is that it has wiped out all vampires, and vampire magic happened to hide the supernatural from regular people. It also has the devastating consequence of Vonhausel tracking down the Toland family and slaughtering everyone in their village. Black Dog opens in the midst of the siblings' flight from home, with the plan to be taken in by the group of black dogs that their father once belonged.
Black Dog is narrated in the third person but focuses on Natividad and Alejandro, and as you would expect when a supernatural murderer is after you, this story has a desperate edge. First there is the fear of getting caught before they reach Dimilioc, and then there is the stress over what to say that would most likely keep them alive once they get there. After that the challenges just keep coming. So this has a quickly moving plot, but beyond that, the world building and the characters kept me engaged as well. The Tolands' Mexican upbringing is part of the narrative (the dialogue is peppered with Spanish), and that mixed with their having to grow up quickly kept these characters real and vulnerable.
What black dogs and the Pure are, are organically introduced as necessary. It isn’t difficult to catch on that a “black dog” is a shapeshifter that turns into a monstrous dog, but Neumeier throws in her own touches, from the superficial (like their black fangs and claws, intense heat, eyes of “fiery gold and red”, and black ichor of their wounds) to the fundamental (that they are two separate selves, one human, one shadow, housed within the same body). The Pure, which Natividad is, is more difficult to grasp. Natividad demonstrates that she has powers that she uses to protect and hide her brothers from their pursuers, but as the story moves forward, it becomes clear that’s not all she’s useful for. Adding to the mystery is the strange relationship the black dogs have with the Pure. Black dogs are drawn to the Pure, but while one half of their nature wants to protect them, the other wants to destroy. It’s not certain that even the Pure and the black dogs know how they are linked.
The Dimilioc wolves believe in protecting the Pure. In fact, they are prized, which is one of the reasons Natividad and her brothers have decided to go to them. Here is where things get sticky though, because Natividad is willing to sacrifice herself in exchange for her and her brothers’ survival (“I’m not a puta; I won’t lie down with them all. But if you take us into Dimilioc, I will take any one of your wolves you say”). Whether Natividad really has any agency is one issue, that she is only fifteen years old (while the youngest of her options seem to be in their twenties, there are men much older than that here), is another. I suppose I should feel better that it’s one of the youngest who is most aggressive in the pissing contest over Natividad, but when you are fifteen, a five or six-year age difference is significant. Any further romance or consent would be questionable. On the other hand, things don’t progress far enough for me to really question what is happening. All this is sort of there, in the background, percolating, while the Toland siblings deal with more immediate life or death situations. Yes, there is attention and Natividad isn’t immune, but there is the sense she wonders whether it’s real. I feel hopeful, because of the thoughtfulness of the writing, that when this series continues I won’t be disappointed by what happens to Natividad. I am not completely against a romance, but I’d feel better if Natividad got to grow up first. I also wonder whether the controversial romance is deliberate. It’s interesting when you pair the situation with Natividad’s nature, which involves a lot of placating of the black dogs and defusing aggression with teasing jokes made at the right moment. I also noticed a mirroring of Natividad’s situation in another (male) character. Needless to say, I’m very interested in finding out where this is going to go. Unfortunately, Strange Chemistry has been discontinued, but it sounds like Rachel Neumeier still expects to be able to publish the sequel, Pure Magic, one way or another.
Overall: Every time I read a book by Rachel Neumeier, it becomes my new favorite by this author. I think this is because of a mix of super thoughtful writing plus an element of surprise. Black Dog is no different. This was the kind of read that you gobble up quickly, with a lot of life-threatening action squeezed into the space of the few days, but it was the quieter moments between the life-or-death situations, where the characters are planning and anticipating and arguing, that lingered long after the book was closed. For those looking for no more than action and adventure, you will find it here. For those looking for something deeper – Black Dog sometimes made me uncomfortable in a way that is never resolved. Depending on how things go, I think this series has the potential to be more subversive than you’d initially expect.
Buy: Amazon | Powells | The Book Depository
Bunbury in the Stacks @ Tor.com – “Black Dog is, like the characters within its pages, frightening and beautiful and solid right down to its core.”
Chachic’s Book Nook – “Rachel Neumeier made a successful foray into urban fantasy with Black Dog.”
On Starships and Dragon Wings – “I was excited to get to know some characters a little different from the typical young adult cast, but I was completely unable to connect to them for reasons I’m honestly still not able to pin down.”
(As usual click the Bookish Gifts tag for more posts, and on the images to embiggen).
1. Lord of the Flies poster ($15) 2. 1984 pouch ($12) 3. A Clockwork tote ($22) 4. Doubleplusgood necklace ($30) 5. 1984 t-shirt ($24) 6. Thought Criminal tote ($12) 7. Lord of the Flies brooch (about $13)
8. Fahrenheit 451 6x6 print ($12) 9. China Glaze Capitol colors set ($42.30) 10. Big Brother wall clock ($30) 11. Fahrenheit 451 11x17 print ($25) 12. Hunger Games Katniss Black Label Collector edition action figure (price varies) 13. Moloko Plus mug ($18) 14. Hunger Games
15. Soma sticker ($2.64 - other products w/ this design available) 16. Soma Print ($15 - other products w/ this design available) 17. 1" Brave New World buttons ($11 for a set of 10) 18. The Giver Quartet 20th Anniversary boxed set ($45.26) 19. Animal Farm tote ($18) 20. V for Vendetta mask ($3.12) 21. V for Vendetta graphic novel ($11.29) 22. Mockingjay pin ($8.90, also available: a gold plated version)
I've been on vacation for a couple of weeks (Paris, London, Bath) because my brother just got married in Paris, and boy do I have a lot of bookish things to talk about the trip, but since there are 1600 pictures I need to wade through to write that post up, I'm going to talk about BEA first.
What BEA is and my experience this year: I've talked about Book Expo America (BEA) here in the past, but for those not in the know, it's a trade show that focuses on books. Since 2009 there has been a Book Bloggers Conference (now called the BEA Blogger's Conference) affiliated with BEA. If you have a BEA Bloggers badge, you can go to BEA. BEA has been limited to industry professionals, (and in the past few years, to book bloggers as well), but last year they opened up one day to the public with a "Power Readers" day. This year Power Readers got rebranded into BookCon, but more on that later.
Although I signed up for the BEA Blogger's Conference, I ended up not going. It was on Wednesday and didn't feel comfortable taking time off mid-week when I'd just taken time off, and I haven't exactly have had much time to blog either. This is also why I didn't RSVP to any invitations to publishing parties. In the end, I just went to BEA on Friday and Saturday, and I made up for my time off on Friday by working on Sunday.
I think this year was the year that I was the most laid back about BEA - I didn't have the same "I can't sleep" feeling the night before (although jetlag may have had something to do with it), and I only looked at what books would be available the night before. What ended up happening was that my list of books to get was 2 to 4 books per day, so I had a lot of free time to wonder around and just stand in lines for books that sounded interesting and to try to get a few books for other people. The downside of this is that not having a lot of books I specifically wanted made me have more time to wander and more time to get more books ("Well, I have nothing else to do, may as well go to that galley drop...", "OK, I guess will take that book you are offering me", "Excuse me, what are you in line for?")... this was a terrible strategy for keeping books out of my house.
However, because I only went 2 days, I had a lot more energy on the floor this year than previous years, which includes that energy I need to be sociable. I'm practically a mute elsewhere, but I feel safe striking up a conversation at BEA. I met Asma of A Reading Kobocha waiting for a Holly Black signing, Emily of Oktopus Ink while in line for Alex London, Stephanie of Views from the Tesseract in a line for John Scalzi, and Celia of Dragons Den Publishing while waiting for a couple of RWA signings. I also got to see a few old faces - Kate and Alyssa and Mr. Raging Bibliohol, and fellow YAckers Nicole and Sandy. And that's not including everyone I randomly talked to or shared a cab with or sat next to on the shuttle back to Grand Central. I also got to have dinner with YAcker Heidi because real life overlapped with online life and we have a friend in common who lives in Manhattan (related: we have a system to send books to each other via people we know, aka our book mules).
When I was in London, I felt very American because I could hear myself whenever I said, "It was awesome", but "awesome" is what I think about talking to book people at BEA. The only downside of enjoying their company is missing their familiar faces when they aren't there. There were a lot of bloggers that didn't come to this years BEA that I missed.
Anyway, picture time.
Holly Black signing The Darkest Part of the Forest
Seen on the floor:
The Penguin Book Truck
Lego Star Wars figures for Star Wars Reads Day III (@ DK Publishing)
Let's Get Lost car (@Harlequin)
Out of Print booth
Fahrenheit 451 matches (@ Out of Print)
BEA versus BookCon:There seems to be some murmurings about BookCon and how it's changing BEA online. I like the concept of the public getting to experience BEA, but I did find the crowds really crazy / anxiety inducing. I would go to the BookCon side of the floor only when I had to, and go back to the BEA side when I needed to breathe. Here's some comparison pictures. I guess that's all I have to say about it. BEA is on the left, BookCon is on the right.
The Haul: Finally, these are the books I ended up with.
Today I have a guest post from Sharon Lynn Fisher, author of Ghost Planet, a science fiction romance which had a premise I loved, which is that everyone that lands on Ardagh 1 eventually has the ghost of someone they once knew attach themselves to them. She's also the author of the recently released The Ophelia Prophecy that takes place on Earth in the aftermath of genetic research gone awry. The Manta, products of human and insect DNA experiments, are now the dominant culture, and this story is about a Manta and a human getting thrown together and the resulting clash and fallout -- another great premise. I was quite excited to hear from Tor about hosting a stop on her blog tour, and actually very pleased she picked the question I'd asked about world building. Enjoy.
(Tor has also offered 3 copies of The Ophelia Prophecy to give away to 3 readers of this site, so check that out at the bottom of this post).
I’m going to start off this post with the terrific question provided by Janicu:
I imagine that writers, like a lot of creative people, are like magpies that save little bits of something from the world, internalize it, and remake it, rearrange it, add a whole lot of their own magic, and voila. What would you say are little pieces of inspiration that went into the making of this new story? (If you wanted to mention ECHO 8, I wouldn't mind hearing about that too)!
World building is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I’ve mentioned in a few interviews how I used to hate it. I found world building really intimidating, and thought of it as the stuff that happened between bits of “real” story (action, dialogue, romance).
I have since become disabused of that oversimplified understanding. World building is so much more than descriptions of setting (though that part is pretty important too). It fuels just about every other aspect of the story. It helps develop character and motivation. Drives creation of the plot.
But moving on to this magpie thing, because Janicu really hit on something there.
In my current release, THE OPHELIA PROPHECY, I built settings based on real-world locations. Places I had visited and wanted to return to. Sanctuary, the last human city, is located in the otherworldly landscape of Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. After Asha, the heroine, is abducted from Sanctuary by the hero, Pax, their next stop is Connemara, in County Galway, Ireland. Connemara is one of my favorite places on Earth (based on what I’ve seen of it so far). Dramatic and often bleak landscapes, and a living sky, constantly shifting from sun to rain to wind. You can feel its history. You can almost hear the voices of the people who’ve lived and died there. No wonder Ireland produces such amazing writers.
But the real showcase setting of OPHELIA is the Manti capital in Granada, Spain. The Manti are the human/praying mantis transgenic organisms that all but destroyed humanity with a targeted plague. I needed a location suited to them — exotic and sensual, with a complicated history. This Moorish city is charming just as it is, but I depicted the fictional version as enhanced by the Manti to included living, organic architecture inspired by Gaudi structures I’d seen in Barcelona (and then finished it off by layering on some political and religious conflict). One key location, a tavern called Debajo, was inspired by an image I came across on the Internet. A stone, squat, clearly medieval building situated among the more graceful architecture of the Albayzin. This tavern peddles a drug inspired by a flower I saw and learned about on a trip to Costa Rica.
As my hostess mentioned ECHO 8 — my third book from Tor, due out early next year — I’ll say a word or two about that. That book is set in current-day Seattle, and also on an alternate Earth that has been devastated by an asteroid strike. The primary location is an old school building visible from I-90 on the way out of Seattle. I used to drive past the circa 1900 building with its boarded-up windows and thought what a shame it was that someone was going to tear it down eventually. But they didn’t. It was renovated and converted to an African American history museum, with affordable housing on the upper floors. For ECHO 8 it became the Seattle Psi Training Institute. Another key location is the creepy decommissioned ferryboat, Kalakala, which has a very colorful past. I once lived in a tiny house on a dock on Lake Union, near downtown Seattle, and this massive derelict was parked there for a time. I always wondered about it, and when I started writing ECHO 8 I did a bunch of research, and it became a setting (and almost a character) in my book.
But the book of mine that best illustrates the magpie idea, I’m working on now. I don’t want to say too much about it yet, as it’s still in the earlyish stages, but it’s set in Portland and features an artist heroine and a physicist/warrior poet hero. The heroine, Neve, IS a magpie. She collects bits of garbage she passes on the street, and she turns them into art books. She sees meaning and beauty in discarded objects as ordinary as a dry ballpoint pen or a popped balloon.
Magpie (photo by Adrian Pingstone)
Writers are just like that. It can be things or people or places or even garbage. They are captured and cataloged every day of our lives. And they decorate our mental landscape. I remember one day I was walking down a busy street in downtown Seattle, near the Pike Place Market. I saw a woman walking toward me carrying a box. As she came closer, I saw she was wearing a fairy costume, and she looked annoyed. As she passed, I noticed her wings were in the box. There she was, a whole story walking down the street in broad daylight. And nobody seemed to see her but me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A Romance Writers of America RITA Award finalist and a three-time RWA Golden Heart Award finalist, SHARON LYNN FISHER lives in the Pacific Northwest. She writes books for the geeky at heart—sci-fi flavored stories full of adventure and romance—and battles writerly angst with baked goods, Irish tea, and champagne. Her works include Ghost Planet (2012), The Ophelia Prophecy (2014), and Echo 8 (2014). You can visit her online at SharonLynnFisher.com.
Enter here, easy peasy:
- This giveaway is for U.S./Canada only
- Contest ends: Wednesday, April 30th.
- One entry per person please!
The Dream Thieves was one of the more coveted YA books at BEA last year, and rather difficult to get (the publisher gave out the time to grab the book only to those who specifically asked, and then handed them out so quickly they were gone in 10 minutes). I was hoping to get an extra copy for book blogger friends who only asked for this one book, but I don't think I had any luck. Anyway, this came out September 2013, and was another pick for the YAckers. They had a lovely chat about The Dream Thieves which is up online now. Of course, being the reprobate that I am, my contribution to this chat was something along the lines of "I'm still reading it, you guys talk about it without me." This was the right thing to say because it took me a whole month to read this book, mostly thanks to the day job sucking away my time and attention, but I do wish I could have talked about it with the gang because I have the sneaking suspicion that I am the outlier again when it comes to this series. I've actually refrained from looking at the chat before I finish this review because I'm afraid of how far off my opinion is going to be.
This is the second book of The Raven Cycle. If you haven't read the first book yet, I recommend you read my review of The Raven Boys instead of this one, because possible spoilers for that book lie ahead.
The Premise: Despite the freedom of summer break, a newly awoken ley line, and Ronan's unveiled talent, the search for Glendower is no easier than it was before. Shady characters have appeared in Henrietta, drawn by the power spikes from its ley lines. The trail runs hot and cold as energy grows and dims without explanation or clear source. Similarly, the all is discordant amongst Blue and the Raven boys. Noah disappears and reappears with each dip and surge in energy. Ronan toys with more dangerous pursuits. And a lingering tension hovers between Adam, Blue, and Gansey that threatens to fracture the whole group.
My Thoughts: When I look back at my review of The Raven Boys, I had problems with the fragmented focus – there are a lot of characters, each with their own individual back story, and it was difficult for me to tell who the main protagonists were and where the whole story was going. Then I reminded myself that despite having trouble with the meandering storyline, I loved the characters, enjoyed the writing, and would road trip to Henrietta in a heartbeat. I said to myself that this was the cost of set up when there were multiple characters involved and a dreamy supernatural backdrop to explain. And because the framework was taken care of in The Raven Boys, it seemed a reasonable expectation that I would fare better with The Dream Thieves.
Unfortunately, I had very similar issues with The Dream Thieves that I had with The Raven Boys. I don't know what else to do but sigh over this, but before I go into why this book didn't set my heart aflame, I want to point out it might do just that for someone else by reiterating what I said when I reviewed The Raven Boys: "If you are one who can sit back and enjoy a character-driven story with lovely prose and you don’t need to know where it’s all going, this will do quite well." If you are one of those readers, this story is made of words that are simple yet arranged in very pleasing ways. It has characters who you want to follow around and learn what makes them tick. And yes, there is magic.
"In the shower, Adam scratched a thumbnail across his summer-brown skin. The line of his nail went from white to angry-red in a moment, and as he studied it, it struck him that there was something off about the flow of the water across his skin. As if it was in slow-motion. He followed the stream of the water up to the showerhead and spent a full minute watching it sputter from the metal. His thoughts were a confusion of translucent drops clinging to metal and rain trembling off green leaves.
There was nothing odd about the water. There were no leaves."
If that's enough for you, you can probably skip the rest of the review and go enjoy the book. Otherwise be prepared for my kvetching because I really wrestled over what exactly didn't work for me. This was a review more to work out my own demons than anything else.
I feel a little despondent that what this book has going for it wasn't enough for me, but ultimately it comes down to what kind of reader I am, and like I said when I reviewed the first book, I need structure. It doesn't have to be all business right away, and The Dream Thieves started out promisingly with a continued search for Glendower and tantalizing hints about Ronan’s ability, but as I read on my enthusiasm slowly waned. I was surprised by the introduction of a morally ambiguous "heavy" (appropriately named The Gray Man), but he seemed interesting so I read on. By mid-book, I felt like things were moving slowly, but I was still hopeful I could like this story if I could just get some answers, such as what Declan really knew and where things were going. A bit after that mid-way point I began to question. Three-quarters of the way was where I realized I wasn't going to get that direction I was hoping for and I was officially frustrated. Of course the last few pages of the book is where the story takes off, but by then I wasn't as engaged as I wanted to be.
Thinking back on it now, if I had approached this as a side-story that was about Ronan and not a "traditional" sequel to The Raven Boys, my expectations would have been calibrated properly. Because I thought there would be progress with the Glendower search, it didn't compute when the search was mired and another mystic concept, the Greywaren, was thrown in as if out of no where. Things were happening, but to me it was a slow inching trek toward an unknown destination, and I was in a frustrating place where I didn't know if what I was reading was taking me anywhere. In my mind I was in the second book of a series feeling like I actually hadn’t gone beyond the set up stage of the story.
What compounds my problems with direction and plot is that this is a multi-character story with multiple focuses. Ronan has a bigger role in this second book (which I expected, based on the title and the cover), and I was looking forward to it because he's so enigmatic in The Raven Boys, but because every chapter was a short flash on a single character before moving onto the next, his voice was one of many. It was easy to forget that this was "Ronan's book" when the focus moved away from him so often. While Ronan’s power to bring dreams to life is explored, two new characters (the aforementioned Gray Man, and Kavinsky - an obnoxious street-racing-fellow-student) are introduced, and Blue, Gansey, Adam, and Noah continue to have their own problems. Not to mention what all the women living at 300 Fox Way get up to. Again I was reminded the first book, where the fragmented focus made me unsure of who the main characters were. In the end, the characters that get the most page time (Ronan and The Gray Man) were the characters I was happiest with because there was enough pulling back of the veil to see their inner workings, even if I wasn't completely satisfied with their particular story arcs (that's a whole other thing that goes into spoiler territory though). As for almost everyone else, it was as if there were too many characters for there to be more for the reader than to touch their outside edges, let alone grasp them whole.
Where I really felt this was with Adam, Blue, and Gansey, whose interrelationships are complicated by romance, rivalry, class, and a curse. What we got of them only makes the loss greater: subtle scenes between Gansey and Blue, a raw honesty between Blue and Adam, and tests of friendship between Adam and Gansey. Despite this, I had only my own guesses to things like why Adam's character was so alien (more angry than vulnerable) from what he once was. I can't help but feel like I'd trade one or more of the minor characters' space in The Dream Thieves for more Adam, or Blue, or Gansey.
I know, I know. Due to my (faulty?) wiring, even though I kept thinking of certain wonderful bits and pieces of this book long after it was finished, I was just too bothered by all of the above for The Dream Thieves to be a hit with me. I'm sure I'm in the minority in this.
Overall: My reaction is the dreaded "I wanted to like this more than I did". While I found a lot of things to like about The Dream Thieves, for each aspect about this story that I enjoyed, there was another that really didn't work for me. One problem was my expectations and that I was approaching this story thinking that it was a continuation of The Raven Boys rather than something that was more of a companion piece that intertwines into the greater whole. Another was that I just don't do well with a lot of characters and an unfocused destination. Since I had similar issues with The Raven Boys and hoped I would fare better in this book, The Dream Thieves rated lower than The Raven Boys on my visceral reaction scale, but would probably rate higher if I could repress my feelings and look at this with more neutral eyes. I suspect I would like this book more the second time around now that I know what I'm getting.
Angieville - "If you're looking for a story worth living and breathing, The Dream Thieves will take you there."
Book Harbinger - "When somehow the Raven Cycle comes to its impossible, filled-to-the-brim-with-potential conclusion, we’re in for a treat."
Bunbury in the Stacks - "I am unable to find all of the proper words needed to express my love of book two of The Raven Cycle"
Yup yup, everyone liked this more than I did. I will go hide now.
1. The Big Sleep and Murder at the Vicarage mugs (£8.95, AU$14.99, US$9.95) 2. Poirot Mustache stud earrings ($60) 3. Green Popular Penquins (AU$7.99-$9.95) 4. Detective Novel scented candle ($10) 5. Nancy Drew Drawer Pulls ($40) 6. Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson felt dolls ($80) - also available Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot ($45 ea). 7. Sherlock Holmes in The Hounds of the Baskervilles, a Baby Lit sound primer ($8.99) 8. Whodunnit applique pillow ($101.29) 9. 221B button ($2.56)
10. The Complete Sherlock Holmes box set ($59.99) 11. Nancy Drew Pillow Cover ($38 to $41, depending on size) 12. Hardy Boys Pillow Cover ($35 to $45, depending on size) 13. Crime Classics phone wallpaper (FREE) 14. Nancy Drew Girl Detective Doll ($149) - other versions available, see link. Also The Hardy Boys and Dick Tracy) 15. The Complete Adventures of Tintin (from about $100) 16. Red Herring Greeting Cards ($2.40 ea) 17. Nancy Drew Taxi Wallet ($49) 18. Question Mark Ring ($13) 19. Private Eye perfume oil ($15)
20. The novelist & the detective (set of 6 pencils - $8) 21. Tiny gun necklace ($15) 22. Secret Message Writing set ($9.59) 23. Secret Decoder Ring, Pig Pen Cipher ($15) 24. White's Books Fine Edition Sherlock Holmes: His Greatest Cases (from $23.82) 25. Pipe pin badge ($8.56) 26. Agatha Christie 1" buttons (set of 10 for $11) 27. Nancy Drew with redesigned covers ($6.99 ea)
I think it was two (or was it three?) years ago when Graffiti Moon was enthusiastically recommended on almost every YA book blog I read. It's been on my mental "one day" list for a long time, but I never actually got around to buying myself a copy (I think it was a combination of wanting a paperback edition and preferring the Australian cover to the American one). Finally, I had my chance to read it through Holly of The Book Harbinger. Thanks Secret Santa!
The Premise: (from the back blurb) "Senior year is over, and Lucy has the perfect way to celebrate: tonight she's going to find Shadow, the mysterious graffiti artist whose work appears all over the city. Somewhere in the glassy darkness, he's out there, spraying color, spraying birds and blue sky on the night. And Lucy knows that a guy who paints like Shadow is someone she could fall for -- really fall for.
The last person Lucy wants to spend this night with is Ed, the guy she's managed to avoid since punching him in the nose on the most awkward date of her life. But when Ed tells Lucy he knows where to find Shadow, the two of them are suddenly on all all-night search to places where Shadow's pieces of heartbreak and escape echo off the city walls. And what Lucy can't see is the one thing that's right before her eyes."
My Thoughts: This is a story told from mostly two points of view: that of Lucy, celebrating the end of year twelve with her friends Jazz and Daisy, and that of Ed, a high school dropout who has a few hours to kill before he and his friends Leo and Dylan plan to break into the school. Ed and Lucy know each other, but between them lies a gulf filled with awkwardness. They had one date that ended in humiliation, and neither of them have quite gotten over it. For Lucy, it cemented her belief that outside of books (and the possible exception of her obsession, Shadow), looking for a kindred spirit amongst the local boys only leads to disappointment. For Ed, their date was yet another demoralizing event in a long string of demoralizing events.
It's not really anyone's fault. Lucy doesn't know a lot of things about Ed because he never confided in her. And Ed is so used to hiding the truth that it's led to a spectacular failure of a date and his dropping out of school. It doesn't help that Ed and his mom were barely scraping by before he lost his job. Now he's worried about the rent and making decisions out of desperation rather than good judgement. That brings them to where they are now: Lucy and her friends with nothing more pressing on their minds than a night of fun and possibility, Ed and his friends going along, but keeping their secrets.
What follows is a read that hit the sweet spot: not too short, but not overly long; sweet but not fluffy; predictable in a comforting way, but also utterly different from anything else I've read. And just the right amount of humor to keep everything going. I couldn't help liking Lucy and Ed immediately. Lucy with her instant friendships and her take-no-nonsense edge, and Ed, who is a little bit lost and deserves a break. Most of this book was just Ed and Lucy talking, and their banter is pretty great, but also reading what each is thinking about the other as we switch back and forth between them makes their interactions even better. Ed's unease with hiding things from Lucy makes for some parts particularly poignant.
The book that Graffiti Moon is probably most compared to is Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. Music is to Nick and Norah, as Art is to Graffiti Moon. When the shared interest in creativity comes with a night-long adventure on the town, bumping into ex-girlfriends, and skirting from trouble, it's no wonder that the two books are considered similar. But the similarities are superficial. These stories hit me in different ways. I feel like Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist has a young adult world that's separate from authority figures and responsibility; it exists within an intimate sphere and is about the magic that happens when people develop a connection. In Graffiti Moon, that frisson is there too, it's just that here the characters aren't so separate from their day-to-day lives. This is particularly true for Ed, who is constantly struggling to just get through life because he worrying about money and helping his single-parent mother who's making her way through nursing school. Ed's mind is always in quiet turmoil, and there's this tension in watching someone who knows better start to take the wrong turn.
I think that what really got me with this book was how being a dreamer and using creative expression was portrayed so positively, beyond just being the common denominator between Ed and Lucy. My sister is the artist in the family, and I can tell you that going to the MoMA with her is a whole different experience than going with non-artist friends. Because of this, I just loved reading Lucy geeking out over art. And I loved that art could change Ed's life in a real, not just metaphorical way, if only Ed would let it. I also loved that Ed and Lucy have parents and mentors who encourage them instead of dissuading them. It was nice to read the interactions between Ed and Lucy and those adults. I loved all these things because every time either Ed or Lucy think about something that inspires them, their words became particularly poetic. It made me root for them to keep this.
Overall: Really good. I think this one will have wide appeal -- its writing is unassuming and accessible, but if you want depth you'll find it. Also this is one of those books that pleasantly lingers. It could be because of the beautiful artwork painted with words, or because certain things here make you ruminate afterward. I found myself thinking about how Graffiti Moon was about the juxtaposition between imagination and reality and when I saw that theme I couldn't stop thinking of examples: in the way Lucy and Ed's lives became the basis for their art, in Lucy's expectations of Shadow versus the truth as Ed knew it, and in the way art affected both their lives. It was nice to think about art and life for a little while.
I love hearing recommendations from other readers, and today Rachel has a fantastic list of books that might not have gotten the attention they deserve. There's a few here I've not heard of that I have to get my hands on now, and I can tell you she's not wrong about the books that I have read.
Thanks for inviting me over to Spec Fic Romantic – it’s a pleasure to be here!
I’ve been writing a good many guest posts about Black Dog lately, so this time I’d like to try writing on a topic that’s slightly removed: I’d like to share with you a handful of my favorite books that should be right at the top of your TBR pile, but that you might not have heard of because they are old, or have been “flying under the radar,” or are simply outside your normal reading range.
These days, I think many of us get most of our book recommendations from blogs and Twitter. Certainly I do, especially now that I have a Kindle. One enthusiastic recommendation from a blogger whose taste matches mine, and I may very well just pick the book up immediately. Naturally, following book-review blogs leads to a huge TBR pile and promotes some excellent books, but I suspect it also leads to a concentration of social-media attention, so that a handful of new releases pick up the lion’s share of notice. Often those books are great and deserve every bit of the attention they get, but all too often an equally great title languishes because it didn’t happen to get that initial buzz. And, of course, anything published before the social media Phenomenon is simply out of luck. With all the new, shiny titles hitting the shelves, it’s almost impossible to generate buzz for anything published more than a year ago, much less more than a decade ago.
On the other hand, blogger recommendations can lead you straight to titles or authors you wouldn’t ordinarily try, which is an unmixed blessing.
So, here we go. I think that anyone whose taste runs toward character-driven stories with beautifully drawn settings ought to consider trying the following titles.
1. I thought I’d start with the oldest. How many of you have ever read anything by Rumer Godden?
Godden wrote a whole lot of books from 1936 right up through 1997, an amazing career that ended a trifle in advance of the social media explosion. In This House of Brede was published in 1969. It is not fantasy. It is not adventure. It is not a romance. It is a contemporary novel (not actually contemporary anymore, true, but set in our world).
I read mostly fantasy, with some science fiction, mysteries, and historicals thrown in. I don’t read many contemporary novels. But this one? This one is simply one of the best and most powerful novels I’ve ever read, of any genre.
For those who particularly enjoy YA, Godden’s Thursday’s Children is one you should really look up. Especially if you love dance. I don’t know anything about ballet, but this perfect little novel had me completely enthralled with the story of a gifted boy who tags along with his sister to ballet class. Read it the first time for pure enjoyment and a second time as a character study, because the depth of characterization is amazing.
2. The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson is a true contemporary published only a year or so ago. This one is a good example of a single blogger recommendation leading to an out-of-the-usual purchase for me. Ana at The Book Smugglers raved about this book, so even though it’s a YA contemporary, I picked it up. It is a very intense book and you should have a box of kleenix handy when you read it – but you should read it. And then go back through and read all the scraps of poetry:
At 4:48 pm on a Friday in April / my sister was rehearsing the role of Juliet / and less than one minute later / she was dead. / To my astonishment, time didn’t stop / with her heart.
This is a story about grief and recovery, but it is also a story that celebrates friendship, family, and love. I think absolutely everyone should have this title right at the top of their TBR pile.
3. I really don’t read many romances, so this next one, a contemporary romance series set in Paris, represents an even greater departure from my normal reading range. In fact, this is another example of a series I tried solely because of a blogger’s review. But, whether romance is your first love or not, you just have to try Laura Florand’s Chocolate mysteries.
The first is The Chocolate Thief, which is light and fun; the series deepens as you go on. My favorite is the third, but all of them are wonderful. Florand can make any character sympathetic; it’s amazing. The poor little rich girl? Yep, sympathetic. Anyone could learn plenty about characterization and using backstory to deepen character from this author. Luckily, she is a fast writer and has brought a good many titles out over just the past couple of years.
4. I do like mysteries and read a fair number of them, but one mystery series that has completely faded from view is the “Dolly” series by Dorothy Dunnett. You’ll also find them referred to as the “Johnson Johnson” mysteries. I think a lot more people have read Dunnett’s fat historicals – which I like a lot – than have even heard of her mysteries. Dunnett wrote these in the seventies, but they’ve all been recently republished under different titles.
I discovered this series when I was just starting to think seriously about writing, and I found Dunnett’s technique fascinating. Every book in this series is told in the first person by a different young woman, but the real protagonist is arguably Johnson Johnson himself – famous painter, owner of the yacht Dolly, and perhaps a bit more than he seems at first glance – whose point of view is never shown to the reader.
5. RA MacAvoy wrote a good handful of fantasy novels in the eighties, of which one of my favorites is Tea With the Black Dragon. This is a wonderful little gem of a novel, with just the most subtle fantasy elements laid into what seems on the surface a straight contemporary. I mean, is Mayland Long really a dragon or isn’t he? (Personally, I’m positive he is.)
Plus, Tea is one of those vanishingly rare stories where the romance involves middle-aged people. How often do you see that, right? I can’t really talk, because most of my protagonists are young, too. But I really enjoy seeing a great story where one of the central characters is an older woman.
6. While on that topic, anybody who hasn’t read Martha Wells is missing out. Her standalone fantasy Wheel of the Infinite is a great story, with wonderful worldbuilding – wonderful everything, actually, but Martha Wells just excels at worldbuilding. This one has a Southeast Asian feel to it. Plus, the main protagonist in Wheel is an older woman who is at the height of her power and basically doesn’t ever need to be afraid of any ordinary threats. How often do you see that in a fantasy novel, right?
Wheel has been out for more than a decade, but Wells’ more recent Raksura trilogy, starting with The Cloud Roads, was only completed in 2012. Again, spectacular worldbuilding, this time of a world that is completely unique among fantasy settings. You trip over an ancient city built on an immense turning platform, or whatever, everywhere you go. The nonhuman shapeshifter protagonists are equally unique; these are not just funny-looking humans who sometimes have wings, but a different species with their own body language and ways of thinking.
Plus, people, let me tell you, you really don’t want to miss the giant zombie sea serpent.
7. I wonder how many people know that Jacqueline Lichtenberg wrote two books as Daniel R Kerns? Hero was first published in 1993 and Border Dispute in 1994, and it’s a crying shame Lichtenberg didn’t go on to write half a dozen more. I don’t know whether to call these books space opera or military SF, but either way, if nonhuman protagonists appeal to you, these slim little novels will make you stand up and cheer. It’s not that there aren’t humans in these books, but the protagonist, Indiw, certainly is not human. His confusion at human behavior is endless, and Commander Falstaff is certainly equally confused by Ardr behavior. I don’t know of anyone who has ever done this kind of culture clash better than Lichtenberg.
8. Speaking of military SF, Tanya Huff’s Valor series is amazing. If military SF doesn’t normally appeal to you, well, pick up Valor’s Choice and see if that doesn’t change your mind at least for this one series. Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr is a wonderful protagonist, smoothly handling her superior officers so that she can do her best by her mission and her people. I don’t know what inspired Huff to make the protagonist a sergeant rather than the commander, but it was an excellent choice. Every book stands pretty well on its own, but there’s also plenty of room in this five-book series for another installment, and I sure hope Huff has one in the works.
9. Nick O’Donohoe wrote a handful of widely disparate books in the eighties and nineties, of which the best, if you ever thought you might like to be a veterinarian, is the Crossroads trilogy. The first book, and probably the best, is The Magic and the Healing. If you’d like to know how to repair the horn of a unicorn or diagnose gout in a griffin, this is the series for you. The veterinary medicine is well done (says my vet, who borrowed these books from me), and the actual story is top notch as well. I have a soft spot for The Magic and the Healing, which demonstrated to me the difference between an author declaring a character is smart when she is actually stupid as a post; and the author actually writing a smart character. Obviously, this is book offers an example of the latter. BJ Vaughn is one of the most perceptive characters I can think of, in her quiet way.
The griffin in this book also directly inspired the griffins in my Griffin Mage trilogy. Though O’Donohoe’s griffin is actually nothing at all like mine, he made me fall in love with griffins.
10. I don’t usually read self-published books, but enthusiastic reviews from The Book Smugglers and from Heidi at Bunbury in the Stacks made me pick up And All the Stars by Andrea Höst. That one was good enough that I went on to pick up Höst’s Touchstone trilogy. And that was so good it was my top read of 2013 and led me to pick up the rest of Höst’s backlist.
Lovers of romance should particularly look for her Medair duology and And All the Stars, both of which offer stunning plot twists that will leave you absolutely dumbstruck. Everyone should read the Touchstone trilogy, which is a wonderful portal SF story that explores issues of technology and privacy while following the battle of, um, psychic space ninjas against extradimensional monsters. Sort of. Anyway, Cassandra’s voice is wonderful, the slow-burn romance is wonderful, the setting is wonderful, and this trilogy (plus the Gratuitous Epilogue) belongs right at the top of everyone’s TBR pile.
So there you go, ten excellent authors that might not be the subject of a lot of current buzz, but are well worth a look. I hope you’ll look up one or two of them no matter how many new titles you have cluttering up your TBR piles. Enjoy!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Rachel Neumeier started writing fiction to relax when she was a graduate student and needed a hobby unrelated to her research. Prior to selling her first fantasy novel, she had published only a few articles in venues such as The American Journal of Botany. However, finding that her interests did not lie in research, Rachel left academia and began to let her hobbies take over her life instead.
She now raises and shows dogs, gardens, cooks, and occasionally finds time to read. She works part-time for a tutoring program, though she tutors far more students in Math and Chemistry than in English Composition.
I've been thinking of doing a bookish gift post that had a specific fan theme, and since it's the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice I spent this weekend surfing the web for Jane Austen themed doodads. It should be no surprise, knowing how popular Jane Austen is, that I found a lot of Jane Austen themed objects. This is even with me making sure I wasn't repeating bookish gifts I had featured here before. Enjoy. (Click pictures for enlarged views).
1. Jane Austen bandages ($5) 2. Jane Austen Literary Chocolate (set of 6, €25) 3. Pride & Prejudice Hollow book safe ($62) 4. Jane Austen - Pride & Prejudice illustrated postcards (set of 5 - about $10) 5. Replica of Jane Austen's ring (£130 in gold, £60 in silver) 6. Pride & Prejudice Literary Transport mug (£7.95) 7. Made You Book sweatshirt ($42.99) 8. Pride & Prejudice peacock cuff ($40) 9. Pride & Prejudice book scarf ($42)
10. Totes Adorbs pillow ($20) 11. Persuasion Book Purse ($55) 12. Jane Austen Bust (£18.00) 13. Austen hand drawn quote bookmarks ($12.51) 14. Jane Austen Book Titles Tote ($23.63) 15. Mr Darcy Literary T-shirt ($24.95) 16. Baby Lit Board books - Pride & Prejudice (counting); Sense & Sensibility (opposites) ($9.99) 17. PBS: The Complete Jane Austen Collection DVD combo ($111.99)
18. Cozy Classics Board Books (Emma and Pride & Prejudice - $9.95 each) 19. Pemberley Rose Soy Candle ($12) 20. Jane Austen Silhouette necklace (pendant is laser cut in acrylic) ($19.90) 21. Pride and Prejudice pouch ($12) 22. "I Dearly Love a Laugh" quote pendant ($37.39) 23. Jane Austen mini button ($3) 24. Jane Austen library travel tin candle ($8) 25. Jane Austen graphic novels - Marvel classics (retail price between $15-$20 each) 26. Jane Austen stamp set (£5.30) 27. I Heart Darcy tote ($20) 28. From the Desk of Jane Austen - 100 postcard set ($20) 29. Gail Wilson Jane Austen inspired doll ($595 finished, $125 kit, extras from $10)
30. Penguin Clothbound/Hardcover Classics (about $20 each) 31. Persuasion mug, Pride and Prejudice mug (£8.95) 32. Jane Austen/Mr. Darcy cookie cutter set (about $16) 33. Persuasion book clutch (other Austen covers available! - 60€) 34. Jane Austen and modern day DVDs: Lost in Austen and Clueless ($4-$10) 35. Jane Austen font (free for personal use) 36. Jane Austen and Bollywood DVDs: Bride & Prejudice, Aisha (Emma adapation), and I Have Found It (S&S adaptation) ($6-$15 each) 37. Jane Austen quote pencils (6 NZD)
Hope you liked these! If you're interested in more of this kind of thing, check out the bookish gifts tag. P.S. There are so many Austen-inspired books I could have put here but I restrained myself. And if they existed, I would have included pre-order links for The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Austenland. Next time.
This is a review of a book provided to me by Orbit books.
The Premise: In the town of Lonne, in the country of Lirionne, a merchant dies, leaving behind his eight daughters. The women can't own their father's business, and without their father, they're destitute. The only path is for the oldest to marry so her husband could own the business and let her level-headed sister run it. This way they should make profit in a few years. The only problem is that no marriage can take place without a dowry. To save their sisters, two of the women volunteer to be "sold". Karah, the second oldest and everyone's favorite, secures a remarkable price at Cloisonné House, the best keiso house in the candlelight district. Eccentric Nemienne, the other sacrificing sister, turns her oddness into an asset when she goes the Lane of Shadows to become a mage's apprentice. Meanwhile, a bard named Taudde is caught in Lonne (in violation of the the treaty of Brenedde) and is forced by his captors to carry out their agenda. As war looms between Lirionne and its neighbor, Karah earns a protector in Leilis (a young woman who is not a servant but also not a keiso) against the jealousy of the other deisa, Nemienne explores the mage's house and is led to unexpected places, and Taudde struggles to escape the conspiracy he's been entangled in.
My Thoughts: House of Shadows is a multi-protagonist story where the point of view cycles between three main characters. The first chapter's focus is on the sisters and their decision to sell two of their number, the second's on Leilis of Cloisonné House, and the third's on Taudde and his difficulties. Because of the rotating points of view, it takes a third of the book (about 100 pages) before a unified plot makes itself known. (This review is going to talk about the threads, but not necessarily explain how they interweave because I try not to give away specific details on plot if it happens after page fifty).
There's always the danger with multiple protagonists that I'll end up invested in one character's storyline and want to skim everything else. At first I was afraid this would happen here because I really liked Karah and Nemienne's storyline. The death of a merchant father, the eight sisters--each with their own unique ability, and the necessary sacrifice to sell their loveliest and their strangest, infused the story with a fairytale quality I wanted to explore. I saw Beauty and the Beast in the sisters trading themselves in for their loved ones' comfort. I wanted to dive into a story that revolved around their training to be a keiso and a mage. The shift to Leilis, a servant who is not really a servant was a surprise, but she was still in the same orbit as Karah, and smooths Karah's transition into the House, so it wasn't a bad shift. Also, Leilis is mysterious and I wanted to figure out what was behind someone who could be unobtrusive and also navigate the in-house politics of Cloisonné. It was when the the story moves to Taudde in the third chapter that I struggled the most. That's when I really had to accept that the focus wasn't just on the two sisters forging new lives. On the other hand, with Taudde, the the scope of the story widened from personal drama to political intrigue. This wasn't the story of two sisters that I was expecting, but the world building combined with wanting to know what was going on lured me forward.
What I liked about the world building in House of Shadows is that you can feel the influence of other stories on it, but it still remains distinct from them. I've already mentioned fairy tales when I talked about the sisters' story, but there's also hints of it elsewhere: an unexplained curse, enigmatic animal guides, a man with an iron will. The sense of fairy tale also compliments how the magic of Lirionne is described. Lonne seems to be seeped in magic, yet most of the city is totally unaware, so when it is encountered, it's strange and secret. I felt like there was a sense of wonder and mystery because here was something complex and unpredictable. The best example of this (and my favorite) is the mage's "oddly outsized" house built into the mountain, where rooms may move and hallways stretch and bend. I love the "magical buildings that grow at will" trope.
Another influence I could see was Japanese culture -- appearing here as the keiso, Neumeier's version of geisha, with an emphasis she says, on "their roles as artists and high status women". Beautiful, respected, and independent thanks to their artistry, keiso are sought after and could even marry, becoming "flower wives" to wealthy men (their sons would be acknowledged by their fathers). I liked that this suggests a different kind of world building than the default Western-based one. The cover reflects that, depicting a girl with with Asian features, but in the book, race is actually hazy: Karah has blue eyes, "creamy skin", and "clouds of twilight hair", Leilis has "storm-gray eyes" and hair "so dark it was almost black", while another character has "dark eyes" and "straw-pale brows", his hair, "a shade lighter". That this story nods at Japanese culture, but it's only a facet of the world building, not all of the world building, is good too.
Overall: This was a nice multi-protagonist story and bonus: it's standalone, which isn't too common in Fantasy (the ending leaves the door ajar for further adventures, but I haven't heard any news about a sequel). The one complaint I have is that I wouldn't have minded getting to know individual characters more, but it didn't feel like there was room for that and to have the plot threads interweave so neatly and so well-synchronized. Character development is a big part of my personal scoring system, but I loved the world building, so in the end this fit into a middle-ish "liked" category for me.
The Book Smugglers - 8 (Excellent)
Bunbury in the Stacks - " I enjoyed the fairy tale beginning, but it was from halfway through to the end of this book that I was truly glued to the pages and unable to put it down."