Saturday, December 31, 2011

Twilight Robbery

by Frances Hardinge

Grade: To Own
Story: Conmen! Kiddnappings! Plots! Murderous geese!
Sequel to Fly by Night.

Review: Hardinge is one of the few living authors (added to the ranks of Megan Whalen Turner, and until lately Diana Wynne Jones) whose books I will buy without reading a single review or looking up any details of the book whatsoever. I have NEVER known her to write a book that I didn't love almost unreservedly, and this was no exception.

It had the best kind of plot twists: a combination of totally surprising but perfectly suited twists, and twists that I'd guess at the beginning but somehow forget about completely due to the complexities of the plot.

It had the best kind of characters: a plump middle-aged conman with a taste for long words; a strong-willed, black-eyed young ragamuffin with a tendency to change the fate of cities (described once as "This shivering, clench-jawed scarp of damp doggedness"); a goose who frightens even the most hardened of soldiers; plus a plethora of most excellent secondary characters.

It had the best kind of setting: a world of strange names and divided towns and evil locksmiths, of midnight pawn-brokers meetings, strange clawed girls, and invisible musicians.

Plus, in the words of the esteemed author herself:
"[I]t is an adventure story, a sort of crime thriller, with lots of lies, spies, double-crosses, triple-crosses, secret passages, and at least one chase through moonlit streets by lots of people disguised as skeletal horses."
(Taken from this interview:

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Zombies vs. Unicorns

ed. by Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black

Grade: Good
Story: Short stories exploring the long-standing battle between zombies and unicorns. Which makes for more powerful stories? Which has more creativity and passion? Which is more AWESOME? Read to find out.

Review: Unicorns won. Sorry Larbalestier.
The unicorn stories were, in general:
  • More fun.
  • Equally as creepy without being simply gross and unpleasant.
  • Less concerned with the type of romance which is not to my taste.
  • Definitely as unique and original, and arguably more so. Lots of people do zombies nowadays.

"The Highest Justice" by Garth Nix
Garth Nix is so awesome that Team Unicorn won almost immediately simply from having him on their team. This one wasn't the best GN I've ever read, but it was still interesting and well done.

"Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Meh. Didn't like this one. Didn't finish it. I find it very difficult to like love stories anyway, and this one wasn't good.

"Purity Test" by Naomi Novik
I seem to like Novik's short stories considerably more than her novels. She's good at unique dialogue and characters, which I find pretty essential for short stories, but I'm never quite interested in them enough to last through a whole book.

"Bougainvillea" by Carrie Ryan
Meh. The changes in time were simply confusing.

"A Thousand Flowers" by Margo Lanagan
Creepy, creepy. Bleh. It was fascinating, but rather horrible.

"The Children of the Revolution" by Maureen Johnson
This one was creepy, but in a good way. I think it might have been my favourite Zombie story. Unlike the two stories before it, it felt very contained and to the point, which I like in short stories.

"The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn" by Diana Peterfruend
This was lots of fun, though I can see inklings of some of the issues CH might have had with her longer novels.

"Ioculata" by Scott Westerfeld
This was ok--some interesting ideas.

"Princess Prettypants" by Meg Cabot
This one was simply Great Fun.

"Cold Hands" by Cassandra Clare
Probably my second favourite zombie story. Slightly creepy, but not overwhelmingly so, and a love story that was strange, but not too much for me (actually, I'm not even sure if it counts as a love story, exactly).

"The Third Virgin" by Kathleen Duey
Again slightly creepy, but I liked it. Quite a different take on unicorns than even all the other original takes in this book.

"Prom Night" by Libba Bray
I didn't really get this one. Maybe because I was trying to read it and listen to a fascinating conversation at the same time? At any rate, I didn't understand quite what happened, plus it seemed like a not quite as good version of Michael Grant's Gone series.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Spell Book of Listen Taylor

by Jaclyn Moriarty

Grade: All right
Story: Listen Taylor finds a spell book and loses all her friends; Cath Murphy meets a handsome 2nd grade teacher; Cassie Zing runs a lot and plays word games; Marbie Zing has an affair with an aeronautical engineer; Fancy Zing talks to the Canadian next door and sends exuberant amounts of notes to her daughter's school teacher.

Review: It wasn't quite as good as I was hoping, considering how much I've enjoyed some of Moriarty's other books (see The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie, The Ghosts of Ashbury High, Top Ten (Or So): Australian Authors and Books). In fact, I'm rather surprised I finished it at all. The plot was rather sparse, practically only consisting of my summary up above. This wouldn't be so bad if the character study was interesting (as in Hilary McKay's books), but this seemed to mostly consist of women considering having affairs. I don't like affairs, or divorce, at ALL. I would have stopped, except I was hoping if I read to the end, everyone would get back together again and it would all be lovely and ok.

But Moriarty is still lots of fun to read, and I'll definitely read any further books of hers.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Top Ten (Or So): Australian Authors and Books

When making this list, I realized that one of the things that strike me with all these Australian authors is their originality. Maybe Australians don't find it so, but I certainly find all these authors to have fictional worlds which have a distinctness not found elsewhere.
In no particular order:

--Catherine Jinks. Evil Genius is one of my favourite books--I have a soft spot for evil child prodigies, and Cadel such an amazing one (in fact, he's #1 on on my Top Ten (Or So): Evil Child Geniuses list); its sequel Genius Squad contains a character who made it to my Top Ten (Or So) Fictional Canadians; her Pagan books contain one of the awesomest Bromances; her Reformed Vampire and Abused Werewolf books are funny and fresh takes on characters that have become far too cliched recently.

--Garth Nix. Completely awesome and original--I haven't come across someone quite like him before, and this is said among a list of very original authors. Read Sabriel and it's two sequels, Lirael and Abhorsen (this is a command, not a request). Also check out his short stories--he's written lots that are spread out over all sorts of fantasy anthologies.

--Jacyln Moriarty. The Ashbury/Brookfield series is so cool that I can guarantee any one to be a fast and enjoyable read with great characters; see The Year of the Secret Assignments, The Ghosts of Ashbury High, and especially The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie--my favourite!

--Justine Larbalestier. Her Magic and Madness series is quite interesting, with complex characters and a fascinating magic system. Liar and How to Ditch Your Fairy are also pretty good.

--Alison Goodman's Singing the Dogstar Blues. Cool everything: world, characters, language, plot.

--Elsbeth Edgar's The Visconti House. Great Middle Grade fiction. Not my favourite ever, but still great and worth reading. Plus it's Australian.

--Andrea K. Höst, of the Touchstone trilogy, the Medair duology and more. Technically born in Sweden, but raised and living in Australia. Her books are scifi and fantasy with twists and surprises and survival and romance and complex, interesting worlds.

Honourable Mentions: Juliet Marillier (of Wildwood Dancing and Daughter of the Forest) and Karen Healey (of Guardian of the Dead) are both New Zealanders living in Austrualia, so I couldn't properly add them.

How to Ditch Your Fairy

by Justine Larbalestier

Grade: Good
Story: Charlie has a parking fairy. And she hates it. Thus the title of this book. Slight chaos ensues, with plenty of unintended consequences.

Review: This is one of those books that plants you in a world, complete with loads of unknown slang and rules, and doesn't explain it at all. I LOVE that. However, as with Singing the Dogstar Blues, I'm not sure how much of this is Australian and how much is simply made up. From the glossary at the end, I suspect it's made up, which is awesome.

My main problem with this book is that besides the cool and unique world, there wasn't a lot else. The plot was very simple, Steffi didn't seem to have much character at all other than being "pulchy", and the worldbuilding, though unique, was rather limited. I know the point was that the characters were totally self-absorbed with their city and school, but I still wanted to know what the rest of the country/planet was like.

So I guess it was good fun, but not Great Fun.

See: Top Ten (Or So): Australian Authors and Books.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer

by Lish McBride

Grade: Good
Story: Talking heads! Fairy werewolves! Siblings! Strange uncles! And of course--Necromancers!

Review: Great fun. I'm hoping there's a sequel, especially since it looks like Sam's best friend Ramon might be even cooler now than he was before. And of course, Sam is mega-cool now. And his mother is cool, and his half-sisters are cool, and his girlfriend is cool, etc.

In general, though, despite simply the fun of it all (did I mention werewolves and talking heads? And necromancers??), I loved the relationships. Sam had a group of friends around him, not simply his funny best friend, and they were actual friends with different ages and personalities. And his extended family was pretty darn awesome (with one exception), although they weren't in the book much. And then Brid had her brothers (who were awesome) and her whole pack, of course.

Sometimes it seemed like it could be a little tighter, mostly because the viewpoint switched so much. There were four different viewpoints at least, possibly five if I missed one, and they were rather unevenly distributed. I liked all of them, actually, but it was maybe just a bit imbalanced.

But that's only a quibble, which I suspect might be improved as McBride writes more. This is her first book, after all. Anyway, as I said, Great Fun.