Monday, April 24, 2017

MMGM: This list should keep my 13-year-old nephew busy all summer!

This started in response to my sister-in-law's request for book recommendations for her 12-year-old son last year, and I've been very (very) slowly fulfilling it, one post at a time. Sorry, Stacey, it's taken me so long to compile this, and this is by no means a complete list, but I think it's long enough now! Be sure to visit my previous posts, here, here and here, and check the comments for more recommendations.

Science Fiction

The Fog Diver, by Joel Ross. Earth is covered in a dangerous nanite fog, so people have to sail around in airships. There are pirates.
Mars Evacuees, by Sophia McDougall. Dangerous adventures on Mars with a hilariously useless robot companion.
Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card. Classic military academy adventure.
Nomad and Ambassador, by William Alexander. Kid chosen to be ambassador to aliens (because adults just aren't open-minded enough.)

Adventure in non-modern (usually fantasy) settings

Airborn trilogy, by Kenneth Oppel. Straight up adventure with airships. Great series.
Leviathan trilogy, by Scott Westerfield. More adventure on airships, but these ones are whales. No, really, it's awesome.
Sabriel series, by Garth Nix. Really cool magic and necromancy. The Old Kingdom is one of the best created worlds out there.
Graceling trilogy, by Kristen Cashore. Kick-ass heroine who's even better at using her brain.
A Stranger to Command, by Sherwood Smith. Might be hard to find, but if you liked Ender's Game, this is similar (just not in space).
The Thief series, by Megan Whalen Turner. If you like tricky, unpredictable main characters, he's the best. (I don't know what happened to my copy of The Thief, but you can see sequels The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia in the photo.)
Jinx trilogy, by Sage Blackwood. Reluctant hero has to save enchanted forest; he's quite grumpy about it. Very fun.
The Floating Islands, by Rachel Neumeier. Flying people, what more do I need to say?

Dragons

Wings of Fire series, by Tui T. Sutherland. Magic, friendship, adventure, finding out what you're good at: Harry Potter except everyone's a dragon.
Dragonhaven, by Robin McKinley. Boy grows up in a natural reserve for dragons, rescues a baby dragon. Turns out dragons are very hard to raise.


Adventure (possibly fantastical) in modern settings

Submarine Outlaw series, by Phillip Roy. Canadian libraries might have this one. Kid builds his own submarine and sails around the world having adventures.
Heir series, by Cinda Williams Chima. For everyone who knows they're really a warrior/wizard/dragon/sorcerer at heart.
Inkheart trilogy, by Cornelia Funke. A classic for a reason: books come to life. Because they do.
100 Cupboards trilogy, by N. D Wilson.  Not just one door to another world, but 100.
The Grimm Legacy trilogy, by Polly Shulman. What if you could borrow fairy tale objects from a library?
The Chronus Chronicles, by Anne Ursu. Looking for more Greek mythology after Riordan? These are really well done, and funny, to boot.

Humour

The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex. Aliens invade and it's really, really funny.
Terry Pratchett. If you like witches, try the Wee Free Men series. If you loved The Borrowers, try the Bromeliad trilogy.
Skullduggery Pleasant, by Derek Landy. A wisecracking skeleton solves mysteries with a snarky 12-year old.

Intriguing mysteries (fantastical or not)

The Mysterious Benedict Society trilogy, by Trenton Lee Stewart. For geniuses only. (The Society, not the books.)
Any and all of Frances Hardinge's books. They're fantasy, but I'm putting them under mysteries because they all have a certain creepy mysteriousness about them.
Greenglass House, by Kate Milford. A bunch of strangers trapped by a blizzard in an old house with a history of smuggling.

Phew! Isn't it wonderful how many wonderful books there are? Please add more to my list in your comments!

For ongoing recommendations, every Monday you can go to Shannon Messenger's blog for Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday. Also Boys Rule Boys Read! is a great blog aimed at boys: always new books to find there.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Summer in Orcus, by T. Kingfisher

This book is simply wonderful.  You know you've found a special book when the way a plot comes together makes you cry, it's just so perfect. And you were already crying because of the character development (because you care so much about her and look what she's finding out about herself), and what's actually happening in the plot is making you cry (not necessarily because it's sad, but because it's so beautiful), and you end up in a blubbering mess even though it's a perfectly respectable happy ending. (Not that I'm saying this one is; wouldn't want to spoil it for you!)

There aren't many books like that, and Ursula Vernon (who is T. Kingfisher when she's writing less easily categorizable books) has written quite a few of them now. The T. Kingfisher stories are often fairy tale retellings, or stories that sound like they could be folk tales. Summer in Orcus is a portal fantasy, but it starts out with Baba Yaga's hut appearing in Summer's back alleyway, so the folk-tale roots are deep and resonant. (And, much like Every Heart a Doorway, but in a different way, Vernon is re-writing the paradigm of the portal fantasy.)

Summer in Orcus might start out seeming like a middle-grade book, but it gets darker and deeper as it goes on, and it's just not quite written like a middle-grade book. (Vernon explains why in her very interesting afterword. She was going for a more realistic depiction of what would happen if a 12-year-old was sent into a fantasy world on a quest.) A very sophisticated younger reader could handle it. A reader who understands who Baba Yaga is, and why Summer should be quite afraid of her but can probably trust her. At least, in certain particular instances. (Antelope women, however, are not to be trusted.)

So original, so vividly imagined. I don't want to spoil any of the surprises; some of her ideas made me laugh out loud, they were so weird and funny and yet, perfect. I keep wanting to use that word, because even though this story seems a hodge-podge of crazy fantasy ideas, everything works together into a cohesive, perfect whole. It reminds me of A Face Like Glass, by Frances Hardinge, which is also full of crazy imaginative ideas, but none of them are throwaway; they all end up being important, somehow. Writers who have that kind of vision are really impressive. Also, writers with the knack for humour as truth-telling are infinitely rare and valuable. (She's up there with Terry Pratchett.)

And Summer is a wonderful heroine; incredibly realistic and sympathetic. She's not a hero, but she chooses her path and keeps going even when she really, really wants to go home. She has the weaknesses and strengths of a 12-year-old who might be a little wiser than her years, but doesn't quite know it yet. “It would be a good day for the world if I could not find a child who knew terrible adult things. But I will be a great deal older before that day comes, I think.”

I stayed up late to finish this, and then couldn't sleep, it moved me so strongly. Ursula Vernon is a well-known and acclaimed author, but more people need to discover what she's doing when she's T. Kingfisher.

Creamy chorizo pasta (saute onions and peppers and sliced cured chorizo, add spinach or kale, chopped tomatoes or a bit of tomato paste, pour in cream, serve over a substantial pasta shape like rotini). Delicious comfort food with bite.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

More books for my now 13-year-old nephew

It's been nearly a year since I wrote a couple of blog posts (here and here) in response to my sister-in-law's request for books to give her 12-year-old after he finished Artemis Fowl, Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, so maybe it's about time I wrote the promised follow-up post on more recently-published books he might like.

For starters, I'm going to send you to 50 Best Books for 11-and 12-year-olds, an excellently useful list by Brightly. I have not read the majority of the books in this list, so I've got some catching up to do! Here are a few quick highlights of the books on this list that I have read (all of which I can heartily recommend.) (Some of which count as classics, but, hey, you can never have enough classics.)

Dealing With Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede. Cute, funny fairy-tale-type story about an enchanted forest and a girl who, yes, has to deal with a dragon. (There's more in the series, too.)

Eragon, by Christopher Paolini. Brutal honesty here: I thought the first book was great, the second was okay, and the third was unreadable. But if you like dragons, this one's a good pick.

Doll Bones, by Holly Black. She's a great writer with intriguing fantasies that are creepy but not too creepy.

His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman. Not sure I'd recommend this fantasy trilogy to 11-year-olds, but sophisticated 13-year-olds will love it. It's pretty mind-blowing.

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster. A classic, often imitated, never equalled. Still funny

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, by Chris Grabenstein. This one's pretty recent! Contemporary puzzle-solving mystery. A library-lover's fantasy.

Hoot, by Carl Hiassen. Contemporary story about saving owls that's really, really funny.

Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale. Okay, probably not something a tween boy would pick up, but honestly, it's got a great story. Anything by Hale is worth reading, but a 13-year-old boy might want to start with the graphic novel Calamity Jack, or the superhero story Dangerous.

The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin. This is the classic that other puzzle-solving mysteries try to live up to.

When You Reach Me and Goodbye Stranger, by Rebecca Stead. Slightly mind-bending, very honest books about friendship and other stuff tweens worry about. She's an amazing writer. Liar & Spy is also just as good.

Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli. He writes great contemporary stories about fitting in and standing out. If you liked Wonder, you should try this one.

Okay! I'm going to have to split this one into two posts as well. Do you have any recommendations I should add to my next post on great books for 12-13-year-old boys?






Monday, April 3, 2017

MMGM: Villain Keeper, by Laurie McKay

Villain Keeper is the first book of The Last Dragon Charmer, a middle-grade series that would have fallen right under my radar if Charlotte and Ms. Yingling hadn't reviewed it and its sequels. It doesn't have a particularly  eye -catching cover, and the title doesn't really stand out, but it's got a great premise that isn't used nearly often enough, if you ask me: someone falls through a portal into another world, but the world they land in is ours, and the one they come from is the fantasy world with kings and magic and dragons.

So what would happen if a twelve-year-old prince on a quest to kill a dragon landed in Asheville, North Carolina? He (and the annoying sorceress acquaintance who got sucked through the portal with him) would get picked up by the police eventually. The police would confiscate the prince's sword and take his proud Galvanian snow stallion to a boarding stable, and the prince and the sorceress would end up in foster care and have to go to school.

Of course, the school is more nefarious than it first appears. There's a suspiciously nasty math teacher and a frighteningly mysterious vice-principal, not to mention the lunch-workers (aren't they always evil?). But of course the police aren't going to believe Caden when he warns them. They already want to give him a psych evaluation because he keeps insisting he's a prince and he's perfectly capable of taking care of himself, thank you very much.

I loved the tension between Caden and Brynne's beliefs about their capabilities and the well-meaning adults' desire to care for them and keep them safe. (I suspect this will resonate particularly with middle-grade readers.) I love that the villains at the school are the only ones who take Caden seriously.

I love that Caden is really annoying because he was brought up as a prince, and gracious and commanding behaviour doesn't go over well at a public school. I love the developing relationships between him and his foster brother Tito, who tries to teach him to fit in while gradually coming to believe his story, and Brynne, who seems annoyingly adept at coping with this strange world.

I really loved all the characters, including the adults. There's a nice underlayer of poignancy to Caden's adventures, because what Rosa and Officer Jenkins believe about him is actually true: despite his skills, training and magical gift, he is a lost child who needs someone to take care of him. (This probably resonated more with me, the adult reader.)

Villain Keeper ends with one plot thread neatly tied up, but a lot of questions still unanswered, and I look forward to the next book.

Belgian double-cooked fries: super crispy on the outside and super soft inside, with garlic aioli and chipotle mayo to dip in.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Pretty Covers, Excited About the Books

Despite the date, none of the following is a joke. (Unlike this awesome one!)

Cover reveal!


Interview with Maggie where she talks about the cool premise (saints who grant pilgrims the miracle of seeing their own darkness) and the setting (1960s Colorado). Also no hints whatsoever about her promised Ronan Lynch trilogy. (Insert appropriate GIF with fireworks, balloons and dancing people.)(But, you know, cool, ironic ones.) A whole trilogy. About Ronan. Are we all squeeing yet?


Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor is now out! Will be reading this one soon. (Think I'll buy it in hardcover, just for the cover.)



Rachel Neumeier just released White Road of the Moon, and Winter of Ice and Iron is coming in the fall. She's so ridiculously prolific it keeps astounding me how good every one of her books is. (The Winter of Ice and Iron cover is the same artist as Mountain of Kept Memory. Just gorgeous.)



What else amazing is coming out this year that I need to be looking out for? (Don't worry, I know about Thick as Thieves!)(One more month!)


Friday, March 24, 2017

More K-drama, in case I managed to addict you with my last post about it

So, yeah. My Netflix icon is being shunted aside due to lack of use. North American shows just don't seem remotely interesting to me anymore, (sorry Hollywood). (Though I hear the new Anne of Green Gables is worth watching!)

Here is my first post about discovering K-drama (Korean dramas, in case you weren't in-the-know)(I wasn't in-the-know until a few months ago, so don't feel bad).

And here are some more shows I can highly recommend:

Goblin: Love the fantasy premise of this one and the way it's played out. A betrayed general is cursed to become an immortal goblin. 400 years later he's sharing a house in modern Seoul with a Grim Reaper (lovely irony), using his powers for good and searching for the Goblin Bride, the only one who can grant him death. Of course, when he finally finds her, he falls in love with her. Funny and poignant, with great acting, gorgeous scenery (nice use of Quebec City as a romantic backdrop), and interesting things to say about fate, free will and messing with what's meant to be.


Healer: Reminds me a bit of Arrow, except cuter (both show-in-general and lead actor!). Kick-ass martial arts expert does shady deliveries for people who don't like questions, until one job leads him to a girl struggling to make it as a reporter. They are both connected to a wrongful death from the past,  and Healer might be willing to go straight if it means he can protect her. Fun action, adorable romance, and another great performance from Kim Mi Hyung, who was my favourite character in Faith (The Great Doctor).


Kill Me, Heal Me: Fantastic acting in this story of a chaebol (wealthy corporation) heir with multiple personality disorder. One of his personalities falls in love with a girl (who happens to be a psychiatrist), and things start to get complicated. This is one of my favourite dramas I've seen so far. It is a treat to watch Ji Sung play five different personalities, and then play the main persona changing as he integrates each personality. Sounds serious but there's a lot of humour.


Sungkyunkwan Scandal: this one is just so fun and cute I never wanted it to end. Girl dresses up as a boy and gets into the Sungkyunkwan Academy. Hijinks ensue. There's romance (of course) and people plotting against the king (of course), and Song Joong Ki, who is reason enough to watch anything.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

God Smites and other Muslim Girl Problems, by Ishara Deen

I read a review for this one right before I left on my Spring Break trip (can't remember which blog it was: thank you whoever you are!); since she's a Canadian author (and I'm a little patriotic) and the book was only 4.99 on Kindle, I decided to buy it (note to price-setting people: 4.99 is cheap enough that I'll buy something on a whim).

I did not regret my purchase.

God Smites is a very, very funny book about a Muslim girl who just wants to lead a normal life. Oh, and solve a murder. And maybe have a conversation with the boy she has a crush on.

Asiya's voice is so real, you can't help becoming best friends with her. Her inner and outer conflicts are achingly, hilariously believable. I loved the conversations she has with God, where she's genuinely trying to figure out the right thing to do, while justifying what she wants to do. I'm sure anyone who believes in God has the same kinds of conversations all the time. (I know I do!)(not that I've ever tried to justify breaking-and-entering, but, you know, same general idea!)

I loved that faith was presented matter-of-factly as a part of life. Asiya believes in God and is striving to live her religion. She chafes against her parents' strictness, she questions whether Satan will really appear if she's alone with a boy, she strongly dislikes her Imam (she and her friends have a great nickname for him that becomes a running joke), but she doesn't question being Muslim. It's a part of her identity and she's happy with it.

What was the last YA or children's book you read in which religion was a positive, normal part of characters' lives (what was the last book you read in which it was even mentioned??)

So, kudos for cultural and religious representation (and #OwnVoices). And for having a brown girl on the cover with her whole face showing, looking confidently out at the reader (what was the last book you saw ...). But mostly kudos for being well-written, engaging, and highly entertaining. I loved all the characters, particularly Asiya's parents, who are well-rounded and play important roles in the plot, not just as obstacles. Great relationship dynamics within her family, with her friends, and even with the other adults. The murder mystery was fun—there were a few scenarios that tested my suspension of disbelief, but any story with a teen sleuth is going to be a tad unrealistic.

There is room for a sequel, and I will be looking for it. I think Ishara Deen is going to be another Susan Juby or Eileen Cook—we've got some great humourous writers up here in Canada!

(Also you should go read the Book Wars review of this book, because it's hilarious.)

I'm going to go with fish pakoras for my food metaphor, because now that I've thought of them I'm craving some: crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, little bites of yumminess.