Monthly Archives: February 2012

Graceling

by Kristin Cashore

In the Seven Kingdoms, everyone knows that those born with two differently coloured eyes are also born with a Grace–an extraordinary inborn talent for one thing or another. For some, it’s baking a mean mud pie, for others, it may be accounting. For Katsa, it’s being a brutal killing machine. Her talent is unmatched, and her role as the vengeful King Randa’s goon has made her feared throughout the kingdoms. Frustrated at her negative role in life, Katsa takes part in a secret society that tries to do good. It is on one of their missions that she meets a boy who seems to have an identical Grace and who may be part of a larger conspiracy to throw the Seven Kingdoms into turmoil. Brute strength alone won’t fix this problem, and Katsa has to figure out who and how to trust when so much is at stake.

Vancouver KidsBooks started recommending Graceling to young girls who came in to buy Twilight. It is a fantasy novel with romance, mystery, action, and supernatural abilities. There are many differences between this book and the Twilight series, but the most profound contrasts are that this book is socially responsible and incredibly well written. Not an insignificant difference, but a unique one as far as supernatural teen fiction goes. Katsa does not want to get married, can physically overpower all of the males in the book, will not sacrifice her values for romance, and is a natural leader. The male lead is respectful of women, cooperative in heroic situations, and shows no evidence of the creepy controlling-man syndrome seen in Stephenie Meyer’s books. Awesome values aside, this book was exciting and surprising, and I would love to read it again.

Even though Graceling is about a girl, I really hope book hawkers everywhere talk it up to boys as well as girls. It’s got a lot of action, bad-ass characters, surprising twists, and a nice absence of gushy romantic feelings (even if it is slightly romantic). A good book for teens of all ages who like castle fiction or supernatural action. Read before Fire!

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Ash

by Malinda Lo

An amazing Cinderella story with dark fairy lore weaved in. The fairies in this book are not like the ones Disney shows you. They are dangerous and irresistible and if they catch you alone at night they will lure you into a fairy circle from which you can never escape. Aisling, the Cinderella character, meets a fairy man in the woods, but oddly he lets her go. Since Aisling’s life is so horrible anyway, she wishes he would just take her away to live with the fairies so she would never have to return to her home with her wicked stepmother. He meets with her regularly, but says that he will not take her away until she is older. Obsessed with the fairy and the thought of being taken away by him, Aisling thinks of nothing but him as she trudges through her increasingly unbearable life… until she meets and starts to fall for the King’s Huntress.

Unlike most other queer books for teens, this one isn’t about coming out and it’s not a big deal that Ash likes a guy and likes a girl. Definitely in my top five for queer books and also one of the best supernatural teen stories I’ve encountered. The fairy stuff is well researched and adheres to traditional tales of malevolent fairies. The Irish names are also a plus.

A fantastic read for anyone looking for a queer story or a supernatural story, even if they’re not looking for something that has both. The cracked fairy-tale crowd will also enjoy it.

Prequel: Huntress

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Monster Blood Tattoo: Foundling

Rossamund is a boy with a girl’s name, who must travel from his orphanage to his post as a lamplighter. He encounters pirates, a magically-enhanced lady, and a bunch of monster creatures. That’s about it.

With a series name like Monster Blood Tattoo, I had high expectations for an action-packed adventure, but this book was so boring I could hardly get through it. The author spent years and years inventing the monsters in the book and creating a seamless magical world. It has been praised for standing out as an original fantasy series. The monsters are interesting, but Rossamund, the main character, is not. His journey from the orphanage to his work post is fraught with adventure, but none of it comes across as exciting. There are just too many things to describe, and the old fashioned England-ish setting doesn’t help hasten the pace. The book is a description of everything Rossamund encounters, but by the end of this sizeable tome I felt like nothing had been discovered. Also, there are over 100 pages of reference materials in the back. Yawn.

Probably a hit with Tolkien fans or anyone with a pre-80s attention span.

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The Gryphon Project

by Carrie Mac

Phoenix lives in a world where science has advanced enough to be able to give people a second chance at life. Actually, a lot of people get four. Depending on what class you are, you can be brought back to life up to three times, provided your death was an accident. Phoenix has had two accidents already. She is jealous of her superstar athlete brother, Gryphon, who has never died.

Until one night he does. The circumstances of his death are mysterious enough that the governing body has ruled his death a suicide, and are refusing to bring him back. But what really happened? Phoenix is determined to figure out what really happened to her brother.

I had high expectations for this book, because I think Carrie Mac usually skillfully weaves her social conscience into her books, and her stories are usually very creative. I liked the idea of the society Mac painted in this book, but I did not particularly enjoy any of the characters. The writing was even less likable than the extremely shallow characters. Everything was revealed so awkwardly in the beginning, with characters basically saying “I know you’ve told me this already, but let’s hear it one more time for the readers’ sake.” When the mystery starts to unfold, the only action keeping the story going Gryphon’s friends telling Phoenix that she will have to wait for them to tell her. Mac also tries to bring “issues” into the book, but it’s done more didactically than an after-school special from the 80’s. A mulligan in Mac’s career, but hopefully she’ll be up to Droughtlanders-level quality with her next one.

Set in British Columbia, so BC teens may enjoy it for the setting. Fans of dystopian books may enjoy the premise.

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CHALLENGE: Magical March

Something out there wants me to finally finish all the fantasy series I’ve got on my to-read shelf, and that something is the Magical March Reading Challenge.

I aim to achieve Sorcerer Class. Hopefully in March I will be reading and reviewing:

  1. Blood Red Road – Moira Young
  2. The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness
  3. The Amber Spyglass – Philip Pullman
  4. The Infernal City – Greg Keyes

and hopefully some other unexpected gems. Maybe some sequels I’ve forgotten about but that will be wicked awesome.

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Prime Baby

by Gene Luen Yang

Thaddeus hates his new baby sister. He comes up with a conspiracy theory that she is an alien because she says “ga” in prime numbers (she’ll say it once, twice, three times, five times, etc). He starts monitoring her closely, interpreting everything she does as evidence that she is an alien. His sister loves the time they spend together and babbles to him even more. Then one day, she starts puking up these rather large capsules, which are actually space ships for an alien race hellbent on bringing peace and happiness to Earth! Thaddeus is vindicated. He was right! He tells his parents, he tells the FBI, he tells everyone! Then his sister is taken away to be studied….

I loved this comic. It’s pretty short and seems more like a picture book and could be used as a nice bridge from picture books to comics. It’s a very cool take on sibling rivalry. Very different from the author’s other work and I liked it the best, maybe because it’s more for kids.

Older elementary could tackle this one on their own, but I think it’s a good read-along for parents to read with younger kids.

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Shadow Children: Among the Hidden

by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Luke has always been in hiding. He is a “shadow child,” a child born to a family that already has two children. Ever since the food crisis that started before Luke was born, the government has made it illegal to have more than two children. For Luke, that means staying hidden or risking being put to death.

His life is already limited, but when the government starts cutting down the woods that surround his home in order to make way for a new housing development, Luke can’t even go outside anymore. When he realizes that one of the new families on the block also has a third child, he has to decide how much he is willing to risk for some companionship and, ultimately, for his freedom.

This is the first book in the Shadow Children series. Like Haddix’s Missing series, this one has a lot of intrigue and suspense. I read up to the fourth or fifth book in the series and quit. The story is compelling enough and I got more than halfway through the series before the logic/common sense gaps in the story got too annoying for me.

Not for super-sensitive readers, since it is basically a story about a government that hunts and kills children, but kids who like stories of spies and intrigue will most likely enjoy it.

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Malice

by Chris Wooding

Malice is just a rumour, like Bloody Mary. Burn a few items, chant “Tall Jake, take me away” six times, and get taken away to a world seen only on the pages of the mythical Malice comic. It’s said that the kids in the comic look like kids who have gone missing, which must just be the author’s sick joke… right? When Luke gets his hands on an issue of Malice, he can’t wait to prove his bravery to his friend Heather. He says the chant. The lights go out. Then nothing happens… that night. Tall Jake only comes for you when you’re alone.

Luke’s disappearance sets a ball in motion. The main characters of the book are not Luke and Heather but their concerned friends Seth and Kady, which threw me off a little at first. Seth and Kady are well rounded characters, though, so I had no trouble getting into the story once I realized they would be the main characters. This book had me pretty giddy with horror. It’s mostly text, but some pages show the story as it is represented in the fictional comic book. The text also changes sizes and fonts for a visual effect and a few of the reveals had me shuddering. My favourite part is that it isn’t romantic! It’s the first in a two-part series, with the story continuing in Havoc.

Definitely for fans of horror. Older kids and up into teen (although I enjoyed it in my twenties).

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Rapunzel’s Revenge

by Shannon and Dean Hale, ill. Nathan Hale (no relation)

Rapunzel lives a sheltered life within high fortress walls that surround the house she lives in with her mother, whom everyone calls Mother Gothel. One day, Rapunzel decides to scale the walls and sees that Mother Gothel has used her magical green thumb to control the land and make the villagers slaves for her coal mines. Rapunzel discovers that Gothel stole her from her birth mom when she was a baby and sent her mom to work in the mines. When Rapunzel demands to be reunited with her real mom and refuses Mother Gothel’s offer to inherit the family business, Gothel locks her up in an enchanted tower of a tree. As the tree continues to grow, so does Rapunzel’s hair. She uses her lasso skills and her long braided hair to rescue herself from the tree and begins a wild west adventure to undo Mother Gothel’s evil deeds and rescue her birth mother from the mines.

The only negative thing I can say about this book is that it raised my expectations for other cracked fairy tales. I was incredibly disappointed with Tangled after having read this. Thankfully, there’s a sequel: Calamity Jack, which focuses on Jack’s backstory. I can’t stress enough how much I love this comic. Strong female main character, positive First Nations secondary character, incredibly clever writing, and good consistent drawings make this story stand out as one of the best books for kids I’ve picked up in the last few years.

Anyone who liked Jeff Smith’s Bone series will enjoy the humour and adventure of this story, and it’s a good one for those who love cracked fairy tales. Kids enjoy this book, but I also recommend it to adults who are interested in comics and appreciate a good parable about unchecked capitalism.

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The Ranger’s Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan

by John Flanagan

A good first book for a great, long series. Will, an orphan, must undergo a selection process in order to become an apprentice of some trade or other in his fiefdom. He desperately wants to be a soldier, but he is overlooked and Horace, the boy who bullies Will constantly, is chosen instead. Will has been chosen to be the apprentice of the mysterious Halt, the fiefdom’s ranger. Rangers are trained to be stealth protectors of the kingdom, and Will undergoes intense training to hone his skills in undetected movement, archery, and hand-to-hand combat. When an old enemy from Halt’s past re-surfaces, Will’s training is finally put to the test. Meanwhile, Horace has become the victim of bullies at Battleschool, and must learn how to thwart his foes without showing any weakness that might cause him trouble as a knight’s apprentice.

Honestly, the events of the first book seem boring to describe, as it involves a lot of realistic hard work and character development. Will shows a lot of promise, but he only becomes good at what he does by lots of practice. I thought it was a nice change from a lot of other books where the protagonist is “special” and comes equipped with more power than he knew he had. The mentor-mentee relationship between Halt and Will progresses as the series goes on and is really strong but not overly mushy. The books are dependably righteous adventure novels. Will never really fails or has too many moral quandaries, although he does later have to dig himself out of an accidental drug addiction.

Even though Will is 15 in the first book, a lot of younger kids will find him accessible as a character since he is pretty naive and immature. The way I sell these books to kids is by telling them that it’s set in the times of kings and castles, and a boy has to train as a king’s ranger, which is basically like a medieval ninja.

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