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The Muse, Amused
24 October 2009 @ 09:43 pm
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Creature of the Night by Kate Thompson

Bobby knows exactly why his mother has moved his family from Dublin to Clare, and he's not happy about it. She wants him to straighten out, to stop running with the lads, to stop stealing and doing drugs and destroying cars. In other words, to stop doing everything that makes his hopeless life worth living.

Bobby doesn't plan on sticking around long--just long enough to steal a car and get himself back to Dublin. But there's something odd going on in their house. The previous tenant disappeared under mysterious circumstances. The family that used to live there left under an odd scandal of murder. The family down the road warned them to leave out milk and cake for "the fairies", and now Bobby's little brother can't stop talking about the little woman in the kitchen.

As Bobby finds himself getting more involved in Clare, and more frightened by the odd circumstances, he realizes that he may have to make a choice that will determine the course of his future--and the course of the rest of his life.

This book is an exercise in atmosphere, mood and tone. Every time I picked this up to continue reading, I sank seamlessly back into the gritty hopelessness of Bobby's Ireland. Bobby is a deliberately unlikeable character--he steals--from other people, from his mother, from people who are trying to help him--without a second thought, he is harsh to everyone in his life, and he is generally entirely selfish and self-centered. He's exactly the sort of character I usually have a lot of trouble caring about. And yet within a couple of chapters, I was in Bobby's head, I understood the painful place he was coming from, and I felt very strongly for him.

Minor spoilers below the cut.Collapse )
The Muse, Amused
22 October 2009 @ 09:28 am
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Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund

Aerin is a fugitive, running from the memory of her father’s death and the last seven years of her life on a slave planet. Dane is a privileged rich boy who chafes against the boundaries of his family and his life. The only thing they have in common is that they are both students at Academy 7, the most prestigious school in the Alliance—and that they are both living with buried secrets, secrets that haunt them.

What starts as an academic rivalry soon turns to mutual admiration, and then friendship. As Aerin and Dane grow closer, they begin to let down some of their walls. But there are some secrets that are too deep to share with even the closest of friends—until they begin to realize that maybe, their respective secrets are larger than just themselves.

It’s the oldest story in the book—boy meets girl, rich kid falls for the girl from the wrong side of the tracks. It’s not original, but it works very well here—because Osterlund focused her energies on making these characters people who we care about. This book is an excellent study in character. Aerin and Dane are both multifaceted and compelling, and watching them grow and change with each other is a joy. Aerin especially is a great strong female protagonist—she’s tough and determined.

It’s also fairly rare to find real teen science fiction these days, amidst the popularity of fantasy and paranormal and vampires and whatnot. Not that I don't enjoy those, too--but it's very refreshing to find a book that's straight-up SF. This book doesn’t focus too much on the science fiction elements, but they are there, and they’re tantalizing. I enjoyed the glimpse I got of Osterlund’s Alliance and the universe beyond, and I hope she plans on taking us back there on day.
The Muse, Amused
16 October 2009 @ 06:05 pm
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As You Wish by Jackson Pearce

Viola has been feeling terribly alone and out of place ever since her best friend and boyfriend told her he was gay, and broke up with her. She desperately wishes to understand the elusive formula to belonging, to feeling like part of the group--and that's when Jinn shows up. Viola has made a true wish, and now Jinn is bound to her until she makes three wishes.

At first, Jinn is desperate for Viola to make her wishes so he can return home to his perfect jinn world. But Viola, scared of wishing for the wrong thing, is hesitant to make any wish at all. As Jinn and Viola spend more time together, they begin to realize that maybe they have what they need without wishing, after all. But Jinn is still bound to grant wishes, and still bound to disappear from Viola's life forever once they're made...

This book is an interesting case study in packaging. I ordered this book from the library after it got nominated for the Cybils, but when it came, I frankly wasn't that interested in it. The cover wasn't appealing to me at all. But now that I've read it, suddenly, the cover works perfectly. It's simple, it's sassy, it's a little bit innocent--just like Viola. I wonder what that says about the cover? It would never have made me pick it up, but having read it, I love it.

As for the book itself, it's a quick, fun read. What I loved about is was the friendship relationships--the friendship of Viola and Jinn (which, if you've read just about any teen novel before, you can predict where that's going), Viola and Lawrence, and most of all, Lawrence and Jinn. What other girly teen novel can you think of with a strong, noncompetitive friendship between two guys? It's unusual, and very satisfying, and I kind of love it.

I also like that Viola isn't a total social reject--for all her complaints about being Invisible Girl, even before she wishes, she's still friendly with the (as she calls them) Royal Family of her high school. They know who she is. They're friendly to her. They talk to her. Viola isn't a nerd catapulted to popularity (though lord knows I've got nothing against nerds!) She's just somewhere in the middle, somewhere average, which makes her extremely relatable.

I would have liked for some of the peripheral characters to be developed better, like Aaron and Ollie, and some of the rest of the Royal Family, who sort of get shunted off to being totally superficial and fake. But that aside, this is a fun, fast romantic read.
The Muse, Amused
15 October 2009 @ 09:33 am
The National Book Award finalists were announced yesterday. Of course, the category I care the most about is Young People's Literature. This year's list is interesting in aaaaaall sorts of different ways.

The finalists are:

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Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborag Heiligman
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose
Stitches by David Small
Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor
Jumped by Laini Taylor, Lips Touch: Three Times (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic)
Rita Williams-Garcia

Interestingly, three out of the five books are nonfiction. One of them (Stiches by David Small</i>) is a graphic novel that was published by an adult imprint, which has jump-started a lot of fascinating discussion throughout the kidlitosphere about what it means to have an adult title on the kidlit finalist bracket.

And one of them is by my friend and fellow co-panelist from last year's Cybils, Laini Taylor.

Now, I would be thrilled for Laini even if I hadn't had a chance to read Lips Touch yet. But it just so happens that I just finished reading it this weekend, and I am in awe of it, and of Laini. It's one of the most beautiful books I've read all year--intricately written, full of lines and paragraphs and phrases that get you right in that place where you keep all the best fiction--the ones that feel true.

I seriously can't recommend it enough, and I am thrilled beyond words that this beautiful and unusual book has gotten this kind of attention. It absolutely deserves it.

Congratulations, Laini!
The Muse, Amused
11 October 2009 @ 09:04 pm
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Fairy Tale by Cyn Balog

Morgan Sparks and Cameron Browne have been best friends and next door neighbors for as long as either of them can remember. They have also been totally in love with each other since before it was cool to have a boyfriend. They're the perfect couple. The forever couple.

Until Cam's strange relative Pip shows up, and informs Cam that he is actually a fairy prince, exchanged as a baby, and living the life that was meant for Pip. Now, his older brother is dead, and his father the fairy king wants Cam back to serve as his heir.

Morgan is determined to save her boyfriend from getting shunted off to the Otherworld, but as Cam changes more and more, Morgan needs to decide whether their forever love can survive so many changes--and whether they want it to.

What works in this book is Morgan. She's got a great snappy voice, and it makes this book a quick page-turner. It's fun spending time in her first-person narrative. What also works is the way Cam's parents are in on the fact that their son is apparently a changeling from the start. It always bothers me when the people closest to the person affected are kept in the dark, for some mysterious reason. Here, Cam's parents knew what was happening from the start. I also REALLY liked that aside from a short period of necessary disbelief, all the relevant parties accepted the reality of Cam's true identity fairly quickly, and moved on to dealing with it.

Spoilers below the cut!Collapse )

Plotting flaws aside though, I really did enjoy this book. The voice is what really sells it--I breezed through it.
The Muse, Amused
09 October 2009 @ 12:11 am
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Bad Girls Don't Die by Katie Alender

Alexis Warren is comfortable with her loner status. She's a pink-haired rebel more at home behind the camera than in the halls of high school, and she likes it that way. At home, she easily navigates her constantly-working mother and her distant father. But she and her doll-obsessed little sister Kasey are close, the only real constants in each other's life.

But something is wrong with Kasey. Her sweet, shy little sister has been acting weirder than usual. She's been saying things Kasey would never say, stealing classmate's genealogy projects from school. Dangerous accidents seem to happen around her, and perhaps most frightening of all, half the time Kasey's pale blue eyes have turned a frightening stranger green.

Alexis is the only one who realizes just how dangerous Kasey has become, and she's the only one who can stop her little sister before it's too late. But what if she can't stop the evil and save her family without stopping Kasey, too?

First and foremost, this book succeeds as a genuinely creepy, really scary ghost story. It's actually frightening, and I like that in a ghost book. Some of the plotting is overly simple and predictable--while one plot twist evaded me entirely, I predicted most of the others long before they happened. And the ending was a little too neat for my tastes.

But Alexis is chock-full of personality, the ghost story is scary, and the writing is compelling. I absolutely enjoyed, and stayed up to finish.
The Muse, Amused
06 October 2009 @ 03:40 pm
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Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink

Lia Milthorpe is grieving for her father's mysterious and untimely death when she notices a strange mark that suddenly appears on her wrist. It is only the first of many strange occurances, because as Lia is soon to realize, she is the latest in a long line of twin sisters who play a part in an ancient prophecy. It is a prophecy that can bring about the end of days--the apocalypse--or prevent it. And the more Lia learns about it, the more she understands that the prophecy has pitted her against her twin sister, Alice.

Now, Lia and Alice race against each other to unlock the secrets of the prophecy.

The best part of this book is the lush writing and setting. Zink really knows how to write really atmospheric scenes that vividly evoke the 19th century setting. She does dark and brooding really well--throughout, I could totally envision everything she was depicting.

Unfortunately, while there was a lot of interesting potential in this book, most of it was wasted. My first major problem is with Alice. The setup of the book has Alice as the traditionally dominant sister, and suggests that Lia and Alice were at some point close. But we never see that. We only see Alice as distant and ominous. She's a chilling character from the beginning, but it's hard to understand what hold she has over Lia, because we never see them as friends or caring about each other at all.

The second problem is the pacing. The book moves veeeeeery slowly, and nothing much happens. One of my major quibbles with books in general is when the reader figures something out light years before the characters--and this was the case here. It was obvious almost instantly to me what the Keys were, and it annoyed me to no end that it took Lia and her friends so long to catch on as well.

Even the big confrontation and action at the end feels rushed. It's not a bad book. It's very atmospheric, and has potential. But more than feeling like it dragged, it felt like it wasn't going anywhere.
The Muse, Amused
30 September 2009 @ 12:20 pm
I am thrilled to announce that I am going to be participating in the Cybils again this year!

Children&apos;s and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards

I'm on the YA SFF Round I panel along with a host of other awesome kidliterary people. My co-panelists are:

Steve Berman, Guys Lit Wire
Gwenda Bond, Shaken & Stirred
Tanita S. Davis, Finding Wonderland
Sheila Ruth Wands and Worlds
Angie Thompson, Angieville
Samantha Wheat, Twisted Quill

And a shout-out as well to our counterparts, the Middle Grade SFF panel:

Anamaria Anderson, bookstogether
Cindy Hannikman, Fantasy Book Critic
Brian Jung, Critique de Mr. Chompchomp
Eva Mitnick, Eva's Book Addiction
Charlotte Taylor, Charlotte's Library (The fabulous Charlotte was my co-panelist last year. MG SFF is lucky to have her!)

Nominations open tomorrow, and I can't wait. It's going to be a great year!
The Muse, Amused
28 August 2009 @ 07:14 pm

Soulstice by Simon Holt

Six months after the events of The Devouring, Reggie Halloway is still haunted by nightmares of Vours and fearscapes, but aside from the terrifying dreams, she hasn't seen anything of the Vours since she saved her little brother from possession.

But the memory of her awful encounter haunts her daily. Her little brother Henry is still suffering from nightmares and having violent episodes. Her best friend Aaron is worried about her. And the investigation into the disappearance of town golden boy Quinn Waters--who is currently drowned at the bottom of a lake after being possessed by a Vour--is getting closer to home every day.

And that's when the Vours begin to attack again. First it's terrifying visions. Then they move on Aaron.

That's when Quinn shows up. Turns out he survived being almost frozen and drowned, and now the Vours are after him, because he's so imperfect. He suggests a dangerous team-up to Reggie, and she has no choice but to accept.

As Reggie investigates deeper and deeper into the current resurgence of Vour activity, she learns some frightening things about the origins and true nature of the Vours. But will her newfound knowledge be enough to save her from a second Vour attack?

This book starts MUCH stronger than the previous. There is already a palpable sense of tension in the air from the first page, and Reggie is an exhausted but valiant warrior against horror. In some places, Reggie begins to remind me almost of a sort of Buffy character--only instead of being chosen, she's made her own choices.

There are plenty of twists and turns in this book, as well as actual new information. Too many times, a series feels drawn out and like you aren't really discovering anything new with each additional book. This may be the second book in a series, but it definitely feels meaty and weighty on its own. The details we learn about the Vours are fascinating and compelling, and raise this from a bloody, gory horror novel for the sake of being gory to something fascinating and compelling (with plenty of gross-out creepiness, don't worry.)

This is another strong, top-notch teen horror novel that's actually gross and scary enough to compel serious horror fans. And you've got to love the packaging! The jacket images for this and The Devouring are both so eye-grabbing. I gulped it down, and I'll continue to wait eagerly for the next installment.
The Muse, Amused
12 August 2009 @ 10:36 am

How It Ends by Laura Wiess

Hanna knows what she wants, and what she wants is Seth. She's wanted him since she noticed him on the first day of sophomore year. So what if he sometimes acts like a jerk? So what if he seems to prefer vacuous girls who wear ankle bracelets? Hanna pursues Seth--and she gets him. But having Seth isn't quite as wonderful as she imagined it would be. Seth can be loving, warm and affectionate--but he can also be as jerky and mean to her as he was before--only now it hurts more, because he also tells her that he loves her.

Confused, Hanna seeks refuge with her elderly neighbor Helen, who has been her surrogate grandmother since she was very small. But Helen, who is slowly dying from a terminal disease, can't provide the same advice and comfort Hanna is used to. Instead, all she can offer is an audiobook, a memoir of a life. Hanna gets drawn into the story, but before long she begins to question what is fiction and what is history--and how it all connects to the present day and the people she loves.

Wiess's writing is strong, strong, strong. She's got the complex teenage girl down pat. Hanna is a fascinating, multifaceted character, with lots of different angles. I love the portrayal of a party girl who is also a good girl. Hanna goes out and drinks, but she also loves her parents and spends time with her elderly neighbors. These two things are not mutually exclusive. Some writers forget this, but not Laura Wiess.

What doesn't work as well is the pacing. The first half of this book alternates from Hanna's POV to Helen's, but mostly Hanna's, mostly the pursuit of Seth which is so frustrating because Hanna seems to be the only person who does see that Seth is a jerk and won't stop being a jerk ever.

And then you have the second half of the book, which alternates between Helen's audiobook, and Hanna listening to it (and thinking about Seth)--but mostly the audiobook story. It's a fascinating, horrific, compelling story, and you just want to hear it through to the end--and it doesn't disappoint. But it feels only loosely connected to the first half of the book. Hanna's own tribulations just don't feel like enough to connect them.

As Hanna complains to her mother, before she realizes the full import of the audiobook, it was hard for me to know what kind of story this was. A love story? An abusive boyfriend story? A family story? A horror story? It felt like all of them, but not in the beautiful inclusive way--more in the patchwork way.

I think the ending was supposed to be shocking, but to me it just felt--expected, almost, and the only possible proper ending to one of the story threads.

There's one thing I can say about Laura Wiess, and that is that she always makes me think. I like that in a book. I just wish this one was a little surer of what kind of book it wanted to be.